27 February 2011
I have a ton of work to do today (including approx. 10 billion pages of readings, plus preparation for my absolutely epic upcoming week) but so far I've only been able to move from bed to couch. And shower, I guess, and do laundry, so the day's not a total loss.
Being sick makes me extremely grumpy, though, so everything I've done has been tinged with this kind of petulant floppiness. Schlepping the laundry basket down the stairs to the laundry room would, I'm sure, have been hilarious for a casual observer to watch, and I've developed this sudden inability to sit on any surface without dramatically flopping down on it with a loud sigh. This is apparently just my natural reaction to illness, since there's no one around to see it; evidently, my immune system is somehow harnessing the power of sulkiness to denature the viruses running rampant through my body.
I was planning to go to the grocery store to get some food, of which I have next-to-none. But petulant stomping for the 20-minute walk each way didn't appeal, so instead I improvised. Which led to the creation of this monstrosity:
Ladies and gentlemen, that is a green pea quesadilla. You would think that this would be completely disgusting to eat - or, at least, maybe you wouldn't, but I certainly did - but it actually tasted pretty good. The sweetness of the peas was an interesting match for the sharp Irish cheddar I used (which I had a hell of a time getting into Canada, thanks to a very grumpy U.S. Customs official!) and the vinegary kick of the Tabasco sauce. I don't think I'd make this every day, but it was shockingly edible.
Sometime this week, I'll post pictures from the Dublin trip, along with an update. But, for now, duty calls.
25 February 2011
What follows are reposts some of blog entries I've recently written and posted on my working blog which, as you can see, doesn't yet contain a whole lot to do with actual work.
In this world we live in, many people have many problems.
There are children starving in Africa.
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender, Dan Ellis, continues to lose sleep over his measly 3 million dollar contract.
The president of the United States has to deal with, on top of everything else, accusations that he was born outside of the Milky Way galaxy.
Even contemporary philosopher, Jay-Z, claims to have ninety-nine of them.
Everyone on Earth has problems, and many share the same problems. But for all the overlap, there are relatively few people complaining about my new problem: being a white male.
Yeah I know, boo hoo.
And for every way that it will be a problem, I'm sure there will be a hundred embarrassing benefits. But I don't like to stand out. I want to blend into new environments, like a tall, inept ninja. In the Netherlands, I could just keep my mouth shut and/or express a dry sense of humour and I fit right in. In fact, I've never been somewhere where I could be identified as “foreign” on sight.
It makes me uncomfortable. So sure, it's not as bad a problem as starving in Africa, but it may perhaps be on par with at least a few of Jay-Z's troubles.
San Fernando is small enough (100 000 people, give or take) that I'm likely to gain some degree of recognition after some spent wandering about town. I'm given to understand that there are few white people there, excepting the current interns and an endemic problem of old, white sex tourists.
Or perhaps these are the predictable fears of a nervous narcissist. Perhaps no one will notice me at all. Here on the very edge of my departure, the uncertainty is such that I'm not sure which eventuality would be worse.
So the only solution, for now, is to contextualize the problem.At least I don't make 3 million dollars.
The usual binary language choice I face while travelling is the following:
A) Learn the local language.
B) Fail to learn the local language, thus resigning myself to weeks or monthly of bumbling indelicately and obliviously through a foreign culture, like a delirious sea lion performing Swan Lake.
But the Philippines is – to understate things slightly – an interesting place. Depending on who you ask, there are between 110 and 175 separate languages spoken in the Philippines. I am perhaps fortunate that my choice here is limited to two of them.
It's going to be a difficult decision to make. Ilokano is the local language here in San Fernando, and is spoken by perhaps 8 million people in the world. Tagalog, on the other hand, is one of two national languages, and claims 22 million native speakers, while being understood by 55% of the population.
It's simple enough on the surface: according to the current interns, Tagalog is the language spoken in meetings, and the resources to learn it are plentiful. If I learn Tagalog, I'll stand a decent chance of being understood anywhere in the Philippines (whether you agree that that would be a good thing or not).
It might be a bit strong to suggest that Ilocano is dying, but the vultures are already circling. One of the previous interns here has become extremely invested in language preservation. He shares an anecdote in which he addressed a young child in Ilocano, only to find that his parents had made the decision not to teach the child the local language; he spoke English and Tagalog instead. Increasingly, upper class families in the region are making this decision, opening up the first cracks in the stability of Ilocano as a vibrant language.
So, sigh, I'm left to make a philosophical decision, and I already know that I couldn't make any other choice.
My insightful partner recently quoted Wittgenstein on the subject of language: "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world". A lost language represents a lost way of knowing, thinking and understanding the world; all items for which I believe in increased, rather than reduced diversity.
None of this is to say that I will actually succeed in learning Ilocano, but fueled by my residual guilt over having failed to properly master Dutch, I'm going to give it my best shot.
Vegas would give the sea lion better odds.
I've had the tremendous fortune of arriving in San Fernando during the annual city fiesta – a two-week long party and all-around good time.
Friday was boxing night.
I hadn't really gone into the city, at that point, except in a work-related capacity. I was standing outside the central plaza where the event was to take place, when a security guard from inside pushed through the crowd, pointed at me through an even larger crowd and offered me a seat in the (still empty) VIP section.
Surprised, I told him I was waiting for friends (the truth). Friends arrived an we tried to sit in the corner somewhere, but were quickly accosted by a gentleman whom I was later able to identify as the mayor's personal bodyguard.
In Canada, one is usually able to determine which offers it would be rude to decline, and which it is not really expected that one will accept. The offer of a beer is probably genuine, but the offer of one's house (after several beers) may not be. I still struggle with this distinction here, but it was clear in this instance that the request fell under the former category, so off we went to sit front and centre next to the mayor, the vice-mayor and Manny Pacquiao's trainer.1
Then there was the boxing. I'd never seen a live boxing match before, but the conceit of unearned privilege had me discussing the finer points of the left hook with the vice-mayor, as if I could possibly have done more in the ring than just bleed. Maybe whimper a little.
The following night, another Canadian and I were whisked around a crowd into an event without so much as a cursory glance at our tickets (which were free to begin with). On the rare occasions I've been given VIP treatment at home, I've lived it up like I were the Prince of Monaco, because I know that my limousine will turn back into an oversized gourd at midnight, and I'll be back in the cheap seats with the rest of the suckers.
The problem is that the cost of the cheap seats at home can pay for a whole heck of a lot over here. I don't want to be given the key to the city, for several reasons:
1) I haven't done anything to deserve it.
2) The people in San Fernando's cheap seats don't live in nice suburban houses. They're hungry.
3) The specter of neo-colonialism follows me around like an over-protective parent; escorting me through the poorest parts of town and ushering me into VIP seating.
4) Part of my purpose here is to encourage the participation of marginalized groups in environmental activities, thus decreasing their relative marginalization. I see some pretty easy conflicts of interest on this count.
No problem: I'll just implement a solid waste management plan in a couple of communities, and the entire city, if not the better part of the country, will surely be immediately hoisted out of poverty.
In the interim, a quick bout with Manny Pacquiao should be enough to keep me (permanently) grounded.
1Possibly the most famous person I've ever met, now that I think about it.
Like a 3D painting, San Fernando shows more of its depth everytime I look at it. I was shocked when Friday's boxing event featured two designated “gay boxing” cards. Dressed in full drag, the combatants clearly had no formal training, but easily had the best time of the night. The crowd loved it.
A Lady Gaga impersonator came into the ring and did a dance during the intermission. The crowd loved that too. I was enjoying it as well, all the more so after the vice-mayor leaned over and asked me “Have you met him? He works for the city library”.
These are the outer layers of San Fernando's attitude toward its LGBTQ population.
Further down presents increasing shades of grey.
Locally known as “the gays,” the mayor refers to them as the “third sex”. Locals will casually remark “look, a gay!” in the same tone that one might exclaim, “look, an iguana!”
And just as everyone likes iguanas, enjoys having them around and goes to see them in zoos, so “gays” are generally liked, and 5000 people showed up to see them at the Miss Gay San Fernando Universe pageant.
But you wouldn't want to bring an iguana home to meet your parents, and you certainly wouldn't want to be one, no matter how much fun it is to watch them crawl around on stage. The “third sex” implies an equality which is not, in reality, more than a thin layer deep.
The crowd at the Miss Gay pageant seemed to feel that it's okay to enjoy such events, but only to a point; there was something in the volume of laughter that suggested a cautious distancing and perhaps an element of derision. It would appear that, for all of the superficial acceptance, gays, like iguanas, remain spectacle.
Which is too bad, because neither gays nor greys deserve to be lumped together.
23 February 2011
I will tell you two things about Dublin in general: first, it's spring in Dublin. Trees are flowering, the air is warm (if damp), the sun even occasionally shines (damply), winter is a distant (Even damper) memory. It's actually quite lovely to smell spring in the air as I take my parents' special-needs dog for a walk.
Second, if you are ever in Dublin and have the opportunity to visit the National Leprechaun Museum, you should take that chance. I have a photo from that experience which I'll post when I get around to unloading my camera, of me sitting on some giant furniture (leprechauns, as we all know, are one-third the size of humans, and humans are one-third the size of giants, so giant furniture shows us what it would feel like to be a leprechaun, you see). edit: Here it is!
Liz: [strikes pose]
Mum: [takes picture]
Mum: Oh...it cut your head off again.
After six million repetitions, this became nothing short of hilarious, so the picture she finally managed to take of my face is sort of mid-snort. Leprechauns!
Last night, we went to see a fantastic film called Sound of Noise at the Dublin International Film Festival. We were very nearly not able to go, because the ticket agent explained that, as Syd is underage and the festival is sponsored by Jameson, a whiskey company, she couldn't go in. We solved that problem through some slight subterfuge, and all was well, which is a good thing, since I wouldn't have wanted to miss this film. The acting is stellar, the timing is very good, and there are a lot of funny moments, but what really makes it amazing is a sense of surrealism that never overwhelms the plot or distracts from it. Instead, it elevates a comedy about guerilla performance to an exploration of transformation through art, without ever losing its sense of humour about itself. Really terrific.
This afternoon, I'm meeting Mum for lunch and then we're going off to see some relics, which absolutely fascinate me, and then tonight I'm meeting a friend from undergrad, who's apparently enlisted me to join her quiz night team! We'll see how that goes.
17 February 2011
16 February 2011
When we moved in, the apartment above ours was occupied by someone I called "the piano guy" to myself - because, predictably enough, he played the piano a lot. I heard him every night, but, you know, I didn't really mind, because he was great at it and always stopped after about a half-hour or so. Then, after about two months, Piano Guy moved out, and the Upstairs Neighbours moved in.
15 February 2011
I often feel like a gigantic moron speaking up in my classes, for two reasons. First, although I have thoughts quickly, and want to express them as soon as I have them, it actually takes a long time for me to distill my thoughts into an accessible form. At King's, this process was made easier both by the fact that I felt very comfortable expressing myself, and by the willingness of my colleagues to meet me halfway and try to figure out what the heck I was talking about. That...isn't the case here, I think mostly because that's not really what we're in school to do. Philosophy education is about discourse, and learning to participate in it, and that's really not emphasized here. Which is OK; a huge part of what I'm really learning in this program is how to navigate that new set of academic values and the new challenges that brings.
Second, as mentioned at least eight billion times on this blog, I often have an outlier opinion. And I do feel that (probably mostly as a result of my first point) that opinion is dismissed as somehow irrelevant, which makes me feel like, to many of my colleagues, the world in which I live - which is often quite distinct from their own in many ways - is irrelevant. This isn't a terribly comfortable way to think about myself, or about my relationships with them.
However, something happened the other day that made it all seem worth it.
I have a colleague, whom I've mentioned in passing before. She's quite brilliant, and very mentally flexible, which makes her a lot of fun to talk to. She really seems to take genuine pleasure in considering things from another perspective with a true openness that I really love. She's also pretty opinionated, and unafraid to put her thoughts and herself out there in a way that's endearingly both bold and shy. I have a great deal of time for this woman and I respect her opinion a lot.
So it was great when, a couple of days ago, she told me that she considers me one of her top ten feminist influences.
It's wonderful to feel that all the stuff I've been saying, instead of just making me sound like some kind of rambly kook, has actually had a positive impact on someone - and someone for whom I have so much respect, on top of that. I do get quite a few positive messages from the people around me, and I feel like I may be too quick to let them get swallowed up by what I perceive as the negatives. I'm trying to take this as a lesson to keep an eye out for the good, and let it bolster me up through the bad.
That's it; just a little buoying-up moment in this week of seemingly infinite studying. A nice thought with which to end a 14-hour two-midterm day.
I especially struggle with this in the arena of opinion and perceptions. In my sullen goth teen years (yes, this happened), I dealt with the fact that I was quite obviously oriented differently to a lot of things than my peers were by adopting the uncompromising position of "I am right, you are all wrong and no one understands me." A big part of turning into something resembling a human being was training myself out of that response. Unfortunately, since I tend to commit to all of my initiatives 100% (see: a person of extremes), in recent years I've been leaning too far in the other direction, putting myself in the uncomfortable position of truly believing things that I thought, by comparing them to the views of others around me, were wrong. That's a very awkward way to live: simultaneously believing and not believing in your own worldview.
So I'm trying to come to a place of balance between these two extremes, and having pretty limited success so far. Turns out that negotiating the complexities of being a self-determining human being is a little tricky.
What I find entertaining (and the real reason behind this post) is how obviously this struggle plays itself out in my choice of dishwashing music.
14 February 2011
Just kidding. We all know what this holiday is really about: half-price chocolate tomorrow!
No, really, I received some beautiful messages from the loves in my life today, and I feel so privileged to live in the midst of such wonderful people - one talented haiku-writer in particular.
I hope all of you are as lucky as I am today.
13 February 2011
That sounds like a ridiculous thing to say. But, as the philosopher Seuss famously wrote, "It is fun to have fun, but you have to know how." I've spent the last two years or so developing my abilities to work hard, to be responsible, and to meet the expectations of others, which didn't leave me much time to work on the important business of enjoying myself.
Not to say that I haven't had any fun for two years. That would be an outright and absolutely outrageous lie. But I've come to the conclusion that there's something very positive about having active fun - organizing your life in such a way as to make sure there's fun in it. My attitude for as long as I can remember is that fun is kind of a nice bonus that you can have if you happen to have some free time after you get all your work done, and I'm slowly realising that that's just not going to fly in a satisfying life.
So I've decided to start prioritizing fun, and I would say that it's been a rip-roaring success so far.
Of course, when I say 'so far,' I mean 'since I decided to do this last Tuesday,' but you know what? I'm just going to go ahead and call this initiative successful anyway.
As with most things I do, I decided to start my fun-rediscovery with an extreme condition. I have two midterms on Tuesday: one at 8h30 and one at 17h30, which functionally means a whole day of midterms. I've been trying very hard to study for the past two weeks, but with fairly limited success, which leaves me in the unenviable position of feeling pretty unprepared to be evaluated. So, this weekend, I decided to go to Toronto.
You would think that this would be a bad idea. You'd be wrong, of course.
11 February 2011
Or maybe they're not. Maybe they're just going through a rough time; I can't know. What I do know is that the walls in this building are very thin, and the hallways echo, and everyone on my floor hears the heartbreak.
She's the one leaving. When she talks, I hear the indifference in her voice loud and clear, and I hear the gut-punched sound in his responses.
"Don't leave," he keeps saying. "You promised me you wouldn't." The list of the promises she broke is long and petty (I've heard it repeated many times): today, she was going to spend tonight there instead of going to work, but she's going in instead.
"If you loved me, you wouldn't do this to me." It's a classic manipulative tactic; ordinarily, hearing a man tell a woman this would raise the little 'danger' hairs at the back of my neck, but this is such a naked act of desperation that I don't feel anything but sadness.
"I have to go," she keeps saying. "[His name], stop. Stop. I have to go."
The door slams. Their dog starts to whine.
Stu and I are on opposite sides of this big moving rock, but I feel like he's here at these moments, when my heart breaks for this sad man and his sad dog.
As many of you know, I've been professing some serious smoothie love recently, and that hasn't changed (not even when I remembered that blueberries have an awful lot of pectin in them too late to save my all-blueberry smoothie from turning into something that looked like that cranberry sauce that comes in a can and plops out all in one wiggly cylinder). But recently, I've been feeling like it's time for a change.
Then I remembered that I have a whole container full of gluten-free oats in the cupboard! The last time I lived alone, my breakfast every morning for a good six months was a bowl of oatmeal, and one egg scrambled with tofu and Cajun seasoning. This was when I was working on the Harbour Hopper, so I needed a big, protein-y breakfast to get me going, and that definitely did the trick. As school picked up, oatmeal became a treat for when I had the luxury of cooking breakfast, to be brought back to bed and savoured, all cuddled up with a book.
Of course, when I moved into the White Hart with Stu, I definitely didn't have the time or kitchen space to be cooking breakfast every morning, and I kind of forgot about it. But today, just smelling it bubbling away on the stove made me feel instantly cosy, and every bite of warm, creamy, brown-sugary goodness is just making me so happy right now.
Simultaneous breakfast rediscovery: eggs cooked in butter.
I love trying new things, but what I love even more is revisiting old things and loving them all over again.
09 February 2011
07 February 2011
06 February 2011
05 February 2011
I staggered on through darkness / There was a hazy sky, a few stars / Which I followed as best I could
04 February 2011
It can be found here: http://environmentalmismanagement.blogspot.com/
I'll continue to update this blog as well. I'm still toying with ways of separating work from real life.