Sunday, November 28, 2010

Today's Optimism Update Is Brought To You By The Letter "S"

I woke up this morning and saw this. Please enjoy.



Palm tree in snow.

Steve the Snowman.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Study in Time Management

This is a picture that I took last night of my desk. It says so many things about me and my time in Ireland. Let's explore, shall we?

Spread throughout the frame are highlighted photocopies of articles and book chapters, all within easy reach of my right and left hands. There are also several books, one of which is open as I so diligently perused it, looking for the perfect quotation. The red folders are part of a color-coding system that I use for the printouts of my primary documents that I brought with me from Canada. Immediately at my right hand you can see a variety of highlighters, different colored pens, pencils, and post-it notes, all waiting to be used to assist in my research and paper-writing. A half-finished mug of tea sees me through the wee hours. (Remember that it gets dark at 4:30pm, so the "wee hours" start at about 11:00.) And poking out from behind my computer screen is the ticket for next week's choir concert, quietly reminding me that there is life beyond the seventeenth century, but not to the point of distracting me from my task. And finally, the center of it all, my best buddy and constant companion, my computer. Right in the center of everything, where it should be as I bang out my 20 page methodology paper. On its lovingly glowing screen you can see the fruits of my hours of labour at my desk.

That's right, Harry Potter film trailers.

We'll see how well my plan to have these papers done by Saturday morning bears up. And I'll let you know if I find any awesome-looking movies along the way.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Small Story

Once upon a time, there was a girl who had just gone through an unexpected breakup and who was feeling really down. But she loved dancing, especially contra dancing, and especially especially the waltzes. It always felt so great to have a guy leading her across the floor and twirling her around like a queen. One day just a few weeks after the nasty surprise she went to a dance and wore a brand-new hot-pink dress that flared out like a giant pink flower when she twirled. She received many compliments on that dress throughout the night, which really boosted her spirits. She was really having a great time. But one moment stuck with her longer than any other. There was a geeky guy there, with bony shoulders and longish hair, who would occasionally ask her to dance. He knew what he was doing, and though he was not one of the very best she never minded dancing with him. The night she wore the pink dress and was feeling down, he asked her to waltz. As she expected, he was not the greatest waltzer, but he had rhythm and was clearly thrilled that she had accepted his offer to dance. Partway through the dance, he gazed down at her and said, in a shy voice, "You really stand out in that dress. I mean, not that you don't stand out all the time ..." And she smiled. And she smiled and smiled, because it was one of the nicest things a perfect stranger could have said. And she smiled that he had worked up the nerve to say it. And while that was probably the only time he had ever talked to her, and possibly even the last time they danced together, she still remembers that one small shy comment that one geeky guy with bony shoulders and longish hair had worked up such a nerve to say to her once as he tried his best to twirl her around the floor. And sometimes, when she is waiting for the bus, or walking to college, or trying to decide which earrings to wear, she suddenly and unexpectedly remembers what he said and how he said it. And she smiles and smiles all over again, just as much as she had the first time.

That geeky guy will never know just how much happiness he has brought into her life by that one sentence and a half. But she knows, and she smiles.

Thank you, geeky guy, for making me happy so many times over the past year.

The end.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I'm Now A Real Grad Student

I had my first graduate student identity crisis earlier this week. Everyone has to go through it at least once; in fact, some of my friends spent their entire Master's program in one long extended identity crisis. For those of you who haven't had the unqiue joy of being a grad student, the identity crisis goes something like this:

OH NO there's a huge hole in my logic/my results didn't come out right/I've worked for 12 straight hours at this paragraph and it still doesn't makes sense/etc. etc. WHAT AM I DOING? What was I thinking going into grad school? I don't even LIKE theology/engineering/anthropology/political science. And I hate writing! I should just give it up now, before I get in any deeper. In fact, I'm going to move to northern Alberta and go to trade school/take up farming/become a miner, and never go near the printed word again. And rename myself Ralph Withers Gerrymander. And eat soup and cry myself to sleep every night BUT AT LEAST I WON'T HAVE TO WRITE THIS THESIS!!!

Etc. Etc.

This can come on quite suddenly, and often for no apparent reason. It may stay for a few hours or several months, and it may come and go in waves, like that cold that you get at the end of September that doesn't go away until mid-June. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, dizziness, tears, churning stomach, and difficulty sleeping.

My particular episode came in three waves, starting on Sunday night.

Wave 1: I realized, after coming across yet another book that deals EXACTLY with my thesis topic - how did I not find these before? - that I was never going to get all of the appropriate reading done. The more you know, the more you know you don't know. Begin panicking, especially when I realize that I have 3 weeks left to do as much research as possible while still writing 2 papers. Realize also that "new sources" include primary source material that I may or may not need when I get back to Canada, and which are held in collections with very restricted hours, and some of which are in Latin.

Wave 2: The next morning, after letting this churn about in my head all night, I somehow became convinced that this meant I was going to have to move back to Montreal full-time in the winter. Now, my plan had been to spend quite a lot of time in PEI with my parents, to take advantage of the peace and quiet (and lack of rent) for a few months to just get the damn thesis written. I have been looking forward to this - mainly the "not living in Montreal anymore" bit - for, literally, years. The thought of moving back again and having to find a place and probably another roommate almost reduced me to tears. Continue panicking, increase intensity.

Wave 3: That afternoon, as I was just trying to plow ahead and get my work done, I started thinking about my outline. Then I started thinking about potential questions about and objections to very specific things in my outline. (Note: Never do this!) I then started trying to rework my outline, which turned into me questioning the sources I had already planned to used, which turned into me actually shifting my thesis topic yet again, therefore negating work I had already done. The more I tinkered, the more I realized that, methodologically, my thesis just did not hold up. At all. Let any one person ask any intelligent question, and the whole thing would come falling down. This was tied into my being terrified of people judging my work and me having a hard time thinking on my feet when challenged: I was mainly panicking about possible scenarios that could happen at my thesis defense, which is definitely not for at least another 6 months. Panic, panic, panic, and go through bursts of identity crisis, as outlined above.

Long story short, I emailed my supervisor, who basically just wrote back saying, "You're a master's student, just chill out and get your paper written, it doesn't need to be at a PhD level of discovery, I've been tracking your reading reports and you're doing all the right things."

I emailed and talked to friends who are either going through a master's program or have recently done so. They all commiserated and made me feel better, and told me not to worry and just keep plugging on.

I called my parents. That always helps anyways.

Then I went back and wrote down all the objections I could possibly think of to anything. Then I let myself come up with answers and write them down as they came to me. Then I saved it. Then I felt much, much better.

Crisis averted. For the moment.

Good Lord, I cannot wait until I'm in PEI.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

An Unexpected Surprise

Today I went to Mass at the Pro-Cathedral again. The music and liturgy were excellent as ever, and even more so today because it was the Feast of St. Laurence O'Toole, the patron saint of the Archdiocese of Dublin. One thing that I will miss about Dublin is the availability of beautiful music and reverent liturgies. PEI is a wonderful place, but there's only so much happy-clappy 1960s nonsense that I can take. Maybe I can start a schola this spring.

At Mass this morning, there was good news and bad news. The good news was that Cardinal Seán from Boston was visiting. (Read his blog here; he updates on Fridays.) I was seated next to the center aisle, so he walked right by me in the entrance procession. I saw him in my peripheral vision and thought, "Gosh, he sure does look like Cardinal Seán!" Then when he got to the altar and bowed, I could see his brown Franciscan hood hanging down his back, and I realized that it was him, after all! I mean, how many Franciscans in cardinal's hats and big white beards are running around, really? What a small world, eh?

But, the bad news was that Cardinal Seán was visiting. You see, he's a lovely guy, and has a great blog (yes, my priorities are in order). He has a special care for pro-life ministry, young people, and immigrant communities. In fact, if anyone is in the Boston area, I know he has Theology on Tap and various dinners and things for college students and twenty-somethings on a regular basis. You should check it out. However, he's like Nanny McPhee - he's there when you don't want him, but you need him; and when you want him but don't need him, he leaves. He has a reputation for cleaning up messes, like financial or sexual abuse scandals. And not just sweeping things under the rug, either - I mean real clean-up. He was sent to Boston in 2003 or 2004 to deal with the sex abuse scandals that started breaking in 2002. One of the first things he did was to sell most of the Cardinal's property, which brought in millions - he only kept one building for his living and working space. As a Franciscan, he knows how to live in poverty. Of course, his reforms also meant closing a lot of parishes in order to more efficiently use the resources of the diocese. That meant that in Lowell, my hometown, we went from 13 parishes to 6 in the summer of 2004. Thankfully, my own church was allowed to remain open, but the church of my grade school, and the also the one from my siblings' school, was closed. (The French community grumbled - loudly - that this Irishman had come in specifically to close the French parishes. The only people who can hold a grudge longer than the Irish are the French, let me tell you.)

So he's in Dublin right now doing a visitation, helping the Dublin Archdiocese clean up their own mess from the scandals that have rocked the Irish church in the last couple of years. I bet this life - a cardinal, the go-to man for dealing with sex abuse scandals - was not the life that he envisioned when he took up his Franciscan vocation.

So that was the good news and the bad news. Though hopefully, the bad news will turn into good news soon, with faith and hard work.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Thing About The Weather

The thing about the weather in Ireland is that it's not that bad. Unless it's bad. Then it's really bad. Like, the first 10 days of November consisted of non-stop, downpouring, hurricane-like winds and rain. For 10 days straight.

But even on the days when it's otherwise nice, there are surprise rainshowers. And this is the thing about the weather: the clouds run in long, thin lines. So sometimes, if the wind is right, you will get a cloud running sideways over you. Then you get a surprise rainshower, but only for 5-10 minutes, and then the sun comes out again. The disadvantage to this is that there's hardly ever just one, so if the clouds are moving sideways, you'll probably be dealing with many short rainshowers throughout the day.

Sometimes, though, you get hit with a cloud moving longways. Then it's bad. Because a longways cloud means pouring rain for, often, hours. And to add insult to injury, you can often see blue sky on either side of you. The worst, though, is when this happens just as you step out the door, particularly if you have forgotten your umbrella (at a pub on Saturday night, ahem) or you're about to bike home (ahem-hem). There is nothing that makes you feel like either, a) Eeyore, see above or b) God is laughing at you. Maybe that's why the Irish are the way they are: they have constant weather that makes them feel like God is laughing at them. And maybe he is. I would, if I were him, anyway. But I digress.

So that is today's update from the sequestered, hunch-backed, tunnel-visioned graduate student. Papers are due in just under 3 weeks, and I am leaving in just over 3 weeks. I will miss my judo club, but not the long rainclouds. The end.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Journalism: The Coolest Career

I have decided that I officially lucked out big time with my roommate. She's doing an internship in Dublin for an online newspaper that covers news for the French expat community in Ireland. We get along really well (she being the one I went to Galway with) and we both have rather solitary work, so each of us is usually game for getting out of the house to try a new pub or explore a new corner of the city. In my case, even when I have papers due in just a few weeks and really should be heading to the library in the evenings. Ahem.

Well this afternoon, I was in the library when I got a text from her asking if I wanted to come along to a new restaurant that is opening in the shopping center about a half-hour's walk from where we live. This is one of those perks of being a journalist: she gets free passes to go to all sorts of things that I would never even hear about. Remember the horse races? That was her, as well.

Actually, I nearly said no to tonight's outing. I was comfortably entrenched in one library, with plans to head to another for the evening. These papers are bearing down on me and, knowing how much I hate writing, I have to give myself a wide berth around the due date to make sure that I can get them done well. It doesn't help that I'm leaving literally 2 days later. But anyway. I digress.

I said yes, despite my misgivings about time and work, and headed home to glam up a bit. We walked down to the place, and boy, was it fabulous! It's a Spanish tapas restaurant that just opened at the big mall, a franchise of two that are already downtown. It's located in a former cottage, so the walls are all exposed brick. Full wine bottles line the walls and ceiling, and as far as I could tell, the only lights were from the myriad candles that were placed on tables, on shelves, on bricks poking out of the walls, and even in the otherwise-unused fireplace. The wine was flowing, the flamenco dancers were twirling, the tapas were appearing out of nowhere, and the guitarist looked like he was having the time of his life.

We were seated at a table in the corner, one of the only ones left by the time we arrived. And a good thing, too: within about a half-hour the place was so full you could barely get to the bathroom! A lady and her daughter joined us for lack of space, and once we got over the initial talking-to-strangers-awkwardness (thanks to several glasses of wine), we had a great time! She works for a magazine and both she and her daughter were great at making small talk and looking interested at our responses. I envy people who have that skill. The wine kept flowing and the food kept coming, and then. And then. The manager showed up.

Let me pause for a minute to reflect on the beauty of this fine specimen of man who strode over to our table, wine glass in hand.

Thank you.

He was quite young, probably about 30, and a French guy to boot. He's been in Ireland for four years, so he has that fantastic part-Irish-part-foreign accent that is so interesting to listen to. A super engaging personality, too - he was just so happy to see his restaurant opening, and his enthusiasm was infectious. My roommate has to interview him for her newspaper. Lucky duck. I told her to bring a bottle of wine. She said she couldn't date a guy who lived in Ireland. I said I didn't mind, so could I have him? She said no. I sulked and ate some cheese with jam.

Long story short, we had a fantastic time (of course!), and the lady from the magazine even gave us a ride home at the end. Now I am tired, full, and very happy. I'm going to bed the earliest I have in weeks, and I will even read beforehand. A book book, not a research book. And I'm almost kicking myself for changing my tickets to go home early.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Bend In The Road

I think most of you reading this blog would have heard this already, but I did not get accepted for the Rhodes scholarship interview. It's a little bittersweet. It would have been nice to go to Oxford and get paid for it, and know what I was doing for the next few years, but on the other hand I now have all sorts of flexibility for future planning that I wouldn't have if I was going to Oxford in 11 months. I know, I know; let me enjoy it now before it sinks in a bit and the mandatory PANIC! What am I doing with my life?! sets in.

Let's make a list, shall we?

Reasons I'm bummed about not getting the scholarship:
* I won't go to Oxford next year
* I won't get paid to go to Oxford
* I won't get to retreat from the world by going to live for 3 years in the strange little universe called Oxford
* Now I have to make actual decisions about what I will do next year
* I was quite sure that if I got granted the interview, I would have been able to get the actual scholarship in the end
* I'm kind of on a roll with my research and it would be cool to keep the momentum going

Reasons I'm not as bummed as I could be:
* It's a super competitive scholarship, and the selection is totally subjective, so I know it's not a reflection on me or my abilities
* I won't have to deal with the scholarships lady at Concordia anymore
* I won't have to spend a lot of money to fly back for the interview for one day and buy appropriate clothes
* I don't have regular transatlantic flights in my immediate future
* I'm under less time pressure to get my thesis done as quickly as possible so I can have as long a break as possible before moving to England
* I don't have to move to England and deal with student visas and everything yet again
* I can take a nice long break (a year or two?) from studying
* I can pay off my student loans so that when I go back to school I'll have that extra $200-$300 a month to live on
* I can go live in the country for a while
* I can apply for a bunch of programs for next year and try to find an awesome program + awesome funding
* I can relax a little, for now
* My chances of meeting a handsome, strapping cowboy are exponentially higher just about anywhere else than Oxford =D

Feel free to add your own reasons to my list.

For now, I'm back to the grindstone. I'm trying to decide if it's worth it to dart over to the UCD library right now, in between rainstorms. I think I am too lazy. Maybe this afternoon.

Friday, November 5, 2010


It's been raining all week. Rain is exhausting.

It's very bizarre weather, actually - for several days we had very, very strong winds with showers and drizzle. It was like having a hurricane raging outside, but with driving drizzle instead of driving rain. I liked listening to the wind batter the roof, but not so much when it made the fan in my bathroom click just loud enough to keep me awake at night.

I've gotten very little done these last few days. Thursday I didn't do anything; I was just so exhausted that I stayed in bed most of the day. But then that evening my two roommates and I went here for an early birthday dinner for me. It's a very cool place - a renovated church that has been turned into a swank bar downstairs, a fancy restaurant on the upstairs gallery, and a club in the basement. In fact, it's the church where Arthur Guinness was married. I don't know the story behind turning it into a restaurant, though. It still has the organ up in the loft, and some remnants (plaques on the wall, etc.) from its church days. Odd, but fun. I had quite a selection of brightly colored, delightful drinks, and fresh veggies via an enormous salad.

I crave vegetables here. Europeans eat so much meat and starch, with only a small amount of cooked veggies on the side at dinner. I, on the other hand, am used to a nearly meatless, often raw diet of many vegetables all the time. I'll be so happy when I get home and I can eat what I want, when I want. And do my own laundry. I never thought I'd say that, but it's true. I will miss having my own bathroom, though. That rocks my socks.

Now it's really raining, a real proper rainstorm. At least it's not drizzle.

I worked yesterday morning, but then in the afternoon two of my roommates and I walked to the mall to do a bit of shopping. I bought some huge earrings, and we just kind of hung out and enjoyed being out of the house. Then today I was exhausted again and spent the morning in bed. I'm just going to read a book this afternoon. Whatever, it's Saturday. Then tonight my french roommate was talking about going out after dinner, so maybe we can find a chill pub with good beer and good music (and no tourists).

I've always liked listening to the rain and wind on the roof. I suppose that comes from sleeping under the eaves in the attic for half my life. It's so wild, yet you're so protected from it. And I have such a variety of roofs just outside my window because of where my room is located.

I have such a great little room. I will miss it, a little.

Monday, November 1, 2010



Pretending to be French

We have internet again. It's actually better than before, though I think this was an unintended effect and perhaps the head people don't even know about it. But right now, I'm in the study, using fast wireless. There aren't supposed to be computers in the study. There isn't supposed to be internet in the study. And there certainly isn't supposed to be wireless internet anywhere except for one room downstairs.

I'm not telling.

I've decided to go home a bit early, on Dec. 6th instead of the 20th. Have I mentioned this already? Basically, I really and truly realized that I don't like travelling. So I won't. I'll go home instead.

My French roommate's parents came to Dublin this past weekend. Initially the plan was that I was supposed to meet them when they came to visit the residence on Sunday afternoon, but I actually ended up spending the entire day downtown with them. Saturday night was when we changed our clocks (a week before North America, right?), and some cell phones automatically reset, while others don't. Mine, for instance, didn't; and so the 8:30am alarm went off at what was actually 7:30. The one day of the year when you get a free hour of sleep, blown. Oh well. I'm a grad student, and I make my own schedule. Boo yah.

My roommate had reset her phone, however, and then it reset itself, resulting in her waking up actually 2 hours late. So we ended up going downtown to Mass together, at St Mary's Pro Cathedral. The music was the Mass by Vittoria, sung by the "gentlemen of the Palestrina choir" (the boys being on midterm break). It was perfect - so much like a recording it was almost disappointing. Almost. And, interestingly, the Mass was a novus ordo in Latin! It turned out great for my roommie's parents, who not only prefer Latin, but were having a hard time understanding the English being spoken during the readings and homily (I was too, in fact, due to mumbling, unfamiliar accents, and awkward microphones). Her parents actually spoke much better English than I had expected, so we were able to have a quite bilingual day out. They reassured me that my French was very good, but they were just being polite, I'm sure. I was able to make myself understood, but it seemed like the more I tried to speak, the less able I was to remember basic vocab and grammar. Guh.

After Mass we went to the National Gallery to see the art. Like everything in Dublin, it was nice, and small, which meant that it was possible to see pretty much everything and not be exhausted by the end. We had lunch in the cafe there, which is basically a glassed-over courtyard, and then headed back to the residence to show them around and have tea with the director. I totally crashed that tea party. Whatever, I cleaned up afterwards.

All in all, her parents are just too cute. I hope I'm able to stay in touch with my roommate after we aren't roommates anymore - maybe one day I will have occasion to visit the south of France, even! But for now, I will head to bed. I have another long day of reading primary source material tomorrow.