Friday, December 31, 2010

On Looking Back

I'm not much for looking back. Don't get me wrong, I'm one of the first to jump on Facebook memes like "My Year in Status" but in general, I find that it is more useful to look forward in life. Still, it's important to look back every now and then, whether it's on the first day of spring, on your birthday, at the end of the academic or calendar years, or even at Thanksgiving.

The point of looking back is not to re-live the good times and get down on the bad ones. For me, it's an opportunity to learn from past experiences and be thankful for all the progress I've made, to see how far I've come and where I now stand on the path (or new path?) that will lead me to my goals - and my future - whatever they may be. Whether or not you believe in destiny, I think we can all agree that every now and then, it's good to take stock.

So what tools have I added to my trusty toolbox of life skills in 2010?

Patience. Accepting that some things will never change. Spontaneity. Letting go and learning to truly relax. Venting in private. Trusting my instincts, even when they're saying things I don't want to hear, let alone believe. Rekindled family relations. ENJOYING life, and each and every moment in it, without over-thinking and stressing out over everything's significance.

Quite honestly, I'm still working on fine-tuning a lot of those skills. But I'm getting much better at being a better person, and at being the bigger person.

This past year, I volunteered at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver and Whistler. I finally met my Irish aunt, who has become one of my dearest family members, and my cousins too!

I went to Cuba for the first time. In fact, that's where I rang in the new year, by the ocean.

I did excellent work for an ethical and needy cause by providing media services (and so much more!) as part of the World Partnership Walk organizing committee in Montreal.

I rediscovered nature: oceans and forests, animals and snow, through travel and sport. I had a wonderful time with the outdoors this year and hope to spend even more time enjoying it in 2011.

I visited Kingston, then moved to Kingston upon being accepted into the Socio-Cultural Studies of Sport programme at Queen's University.

I worked for new clients, made new contacts, and learned a lot more about the world of live sports and broadcast production. I also made some great new friends in the industry.

I translated some very interesting museum exhibitions - and forgot to visit the finished product, every time.

I was in Toronto for G20 madness and a wedding, one of many weddings I attended that summer.

I saw friends and friends of friends get engaged, married, and have babies. Not necessarily in that order, and not necessarily the same friends. Many of my friends also started cool new jobs. It was an emotional struggle for me to balance my happiness and excitement for them with my irrational jealousy and "want".

I did a whole lot more reading, at first for pleasure and then for business. Or rather, for school. I hope that 2011 will bring more balance in this area - I would really like to get back to reading for fun!

I went to my first academic conference in a while - and my first as an attendee, rather than as a reporter. NASSS was a wonderful intellectual experience and I learned a lot from it.

In fact, in 2010, I learned a lot about myself, from optimal study habits, to spending habits, to TV-watching habits, to my friend-making habits. And possibly, the most important thing I learned is that "friendship" means different things to different people, and that once you figure out what kind of friendship you have, you can manage expectations and figure out exactly how much to invest in it so you don't get hurt.

Still, I learned that it is important to take (moderate) risks in life or you won't reach the targets you set for yourself.

In 2011, I vow to take more of those moderate risks, to be more proactive, and to stop trying to figure out my life, what things mean, and why certain things happen and just live. I will keep trying to be more patient and will accept that there are some things I can't change, at least not by attacking them head on.

In other words, I will continue to live my life and let my experiences guide the person I should become. I will take care of myself, body, mind and spirit, so I can thrive in this world, no matter where it takes me. I will not make a New Year's Resolution, but I will keep this promise to myself:

No matter what happens, doors will close. But don't despair! In time, another will open. It's up to me to find it and decide whether or not to go through it. But through it all, I will stay "me".

This mantra of sorts has become my new unspoken philosophy in life. It's time to face up, face the facts, and roll with it. Life will take care of itself as long as you try your best to be the best that you can be.

May this lesson from 2010 guide me into 2011. And may it be another blessed year full of life and love, for me and for you.

Happy New Year to all! :)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On the spirit of the season

Christmas time and the winter holidays are often said to be full of seasonal glee and spirit. The spirit of giving, that is. Between buying and receiving presents, making charitable donations, and spreading Christmas cheer, we're all supposed to feel merry and bright. But has the spirit of the season become yet another consumerist trend?

A few days ago, I saw someone post on Twitter that in the spirit of the season, he/she had picked up some trash on the street. Maybe it's just me, but I think a responsible citizen who cares about his or her neighbourhood should beautify it all the time. I also think he or she shouldn't pollute it in the first place, but that's another story entirely.

That's my issue with Christmas spirit. Shouldn't we be nice every day? Shouldn't we give generously to less fortunate people all year 'round? And quite honestly, shouldn't we not give presents out of obligation but rather out of love? Just because it's that time of the year, and especially if the recipient doesn't need or want anything in particular, why go crazy running around in malls? It seems even more ridiculous when the effort of finding the right present and the act of giving it with all the best intentions is not appreciated by the recipient. Why bother? Isn't giving all about seeing the warm glow of appreciation, excitement and thankfulness on that person's face when they discover the nature of the present?

When I am a parent, I will make sure that my children understand the values of being thankful and appreciative, of giving to people in need, and that the accumulation of things isn't the key to being happy and successful. On special occasions, my children will receive several presents, all for things they need or want and that are reasonably priced and appropriate for their age. Then, they will have to choose one of their new presents and personally donate it to someone who needs it more than they do, whether it's a friend who can't afford that gift or someone less fortunate than them whom they may not know personally, but who will greatly benefit from their new gift. Humility needs to be taught.

It is perhaps the value which we have abandoned the most in today's society. Charitable donations are down, both in amount and number, and people are increasingly selfish. They think they are in need, but in reality, most of them are just in want. While we lament about our first world problems, there are people less than a 30-minute drive away who are starving, who truly can't afford to live. They're striving to simply survive. And I don't mean that they can't afford to pay rent because they go out to dinner twice a week. I mean that they live paycheck-to-paycheck and do groceries at the Dollar Store. These are people we cross in the street every day and barely notice as different. Some of these people might work with you or serve you coffee every morning. Do you think they only deserve cheer at Christmas time? Do you, for that matter?

Love, compassion and sharing shouldn't be restricted to certain periods of the year. It should be ingrained in our personalities. It should be in our nature. After all, it's only human to care. So this year, my Christmas wish is that we spread holiday spirit all throughout the year. Making someone happy is possibly the best present you can ever give, wouldn't you say?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

On December

Wow. Has it really been that long?

December has been a bit of a whirlwind so far. I can't believe we're already less than a week away from Christmas! Soon, I'll be going home for the holidays. But it won't be a vacation!

Thankfully, I finally finished grading all of my assigned section of the final exam for the class I was TA-ing this semester. It was interesting, and I probably know all the right answers by heart now, but it was a rough ride as well. It broke my heart to deduct points from students who had nearly perfect answers, filled with more information than necessary - showing that they did understand the material - but, unfortunately, forgot to mention one crucial aspect of the answer. For example, that a diagnostic tool in determining drug and alcohol addiction focuses on both physical and psychological factors, or that a treatment addresses attitude and behaviour. I also had to give a few "0" but for those, it really wasn't my fault... I just couldn't justify giving any points!

These second year students also had serious grammatical, sentence structure, and subject-verb agreement issues. My biggest pet peeve for this round of grading? Affect vs. effect. It's really not that hard. I mean, there's even an Oatmeal poster about it! Print it out and hang it across from your desk! There were a few other glaring errors that popped up repeatedly - surprisingly not its/it's or there/their too often - but that one was surely the most annoying one, especially considering the subject matter: The effect of drugs and alcohol and how they affect our overall health.

This afternoon, once I had handed those exams back to the professor, I felt light as a feather and free as air! But unfortunately, it's not all fun and games from here! I've got my first graduate-level paper due... whenever. Sometime before I graduate. Preferably by the end of this academic year. Surprisingly (to me), paper deadlines seem to be pretty relaxed at this level. Still, I have a very busy semester this Winter (2.5 classes + TAing a tutorial + a conference), so I'm planning on getting mine done before next semester starts. I've already compiled a list of readings relating to Michel Foucault's interpretations of power - especially in the later years - and am planning on relating that concept to athletes who tweet. Who really holds the power in that situation, I ask?

I've already done a decent amount of reading, but there's still a lot left to explore. I've indexed it all, and I, in theory, know exactly how much work I have left to do. The trouble is getting through it all. After sitting on the couch for a full day reading heavy theory and its mostly political applications rather than the sports ones I'm looking for, you tend to have a hard time focusing. Your brain gets all mumbled and jumbled and you forget what you're actually thinking about and nothing makes sense anymore. Even after a few breaks, it still feels all confused. The trick is realising that it's really not that big a deal, or that important a concept, and letting it slide through you and hoping it'll absorb through osmosis. Once you hit that wall and remember to pull back from the subject matter you're examining, it actually does start to make some kind of sense, I find. Hopefully, the notes I'm taking aren't too much copy-pasting to be particularly relevant, and re-reading them at the end of my research process will give me a good recap of the situation.

My Christmas vacation, therefore, will not be much of a vacation at all. I'll take some time to relax, take in the joys of the season and spend time with my family. But mostly, I will be sitting on the couch, reading about Foucault and power, before coming home to write my paper and handing it in a good 5 days before the Winter semester starts.

Well, that's the plan, at least.