I wanted to write something yesterday, about Canada Day and its phases of being intense and dramatic and shifting my whole self, but I hadn’t slept from the night before and was full of amorous energy that kept me in bed with my fantasies most of the day. I did manage to bike over in as little clothes as possible to Atwater Market to buy some fruit and eat lunch. I had my usual chicken satay as Alex (co-owner of Satay Brothers) sat down on the bench with me excitably remarking about the potential spaces he’s found for his upcoming restaurant. He could barely sit still and it was more like a dance with his eyes toward the world. I was too delirious from being under-slept to fully listen. Him and J made fast friends and call each other Mr. Meat Stick and Mr. Wood respectively since J will most likely outfit Alex’s meat venture with his wood. This humour is not lost on me, at all.
my summer wardrobe. spot the red square <3
Sometimes when I bike with draping skirts and dresses I imagine (it like) the scene between Lila and Chimo from Lila dit ça and close my eyes long enough to be a danger to myself and those around me.
A friend recently told me that my writing is defensive, not clear, and full of run-on sentences that are constantly jumping ideas. It’s clear that I have a certain writing style that desires poetry and flow, but because essays are academic writing, they need a certain structure and a certain style. I could write academic articles with poetic style, but in order to do so, I need to be self-assured. I am not self-assured. I hate academic writing. I hate sitting there watching the words come out of me because they are not the words I want. I stop every few minutes. I am distracted. I am upset. I see myself forcing the words out that never sound like the ideas I have. I am disparaged.
“One time in undergrad I had a prof write on my final essay evaluation that my writing is like searching for buried treasure in a deep sea. That the reader can see the shiny treasure and there’s so much of it, but it’s so deep and so difficult to get to, that once they are close they run out of air and have to be hoisted back up again.”
“How poetic… yes,” he nods in agreement.
I lower my head and start to cry into my palms, because I know this anecdote so well. I see this anecdote in my head every time I write. I have had variations of this evaluation said to me countless times by countless profs. Everyone who comes across my academic writing tells me the same thing. This started in high school. Once I received a 0/10 for writing style in a Grade 10 Media Studies Class. I had nearly 10/10 on everything else. How does someone have 0 style? I came to Canada when I was 10, I cannot blame it on that. What is it? I remember always receiving the highest marks in Creative Writing, always. But then what? Academic writing what? I wonder how it’s possible I’ve been able to receive top marks in graduate school, how it’s possible I’m in a PhD program, how it’s possible that there’s such a strong block that obfuscates the clarity and effortlessness I want for my ideas.
He says I need to practice, genuinely practice and focus on the structure, the form, the words, the sentences —without taking breaks every few minutes to waste time online. Then, I need to edit, REVISE REVISE REVISE, and give enough time to the writing. I know this already. I know this already. I have to change my writing behavior. I am faced with this now, more than ever before. I want to be a strong lucid writer. I do. I do.
Belly dancing has made me more aware of my body, my protruding neck and bad posture. I focus on parts of my body as they move, as others stay still and sometimes follow. I turn on Beyonce videos on full blast every morning and practice figure eights with my hips, stretch my legs and move my wrists in unison. Dancing moves should never be forced, they should flow out of your body smoothly, they should be a love making with the space around you, they should be everything my academic writing isn’t.
Receiving the unsuccessful doctoral SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) letter in the mail yesterday felt like the first professional 200m race I ran after I just joined the track club. The memory came up instantly. I had been a sprinter for years and had placed top 3, if not 1st in almost every race up to that point. I was the star sprinter, and was “discovered” by a coach in grade 9 who insisted I train with him. I wish I could remember whether the excitement was to be distracted from the angst of teenage-hood or if I really cared about being on the track. Maybe both? I spent most of my days either training in Nike cleats or slitting my wrists in my bedroom listening to Hole and ripping my black pantyhose arm sleeves. Ugh. I had a couple of training sessions with the group before my once-lauded hubris quickly disappeared. The runners were straight-faced and had been trained privately for years. I was the new girl that didn’t fit into their sprinter mold. Although this was probably all in my head because I was just used to being the best without much thought. Running came so naturally to me. I didn’t have to fight my body to get ahead and now my body and its movements didn’t make sense anymore. The first race came upon us really quickly, and I ran my distance – the 200m. This was not a high school track meet, this was a real track meet, with runners and their coaches pouring water into their mouths just like they do on TV. I don’t think I even ran in cleats yet, I was probably one of the few that still ran in running shoes. How embarrassing. Of course, what happened? I came in last. I mean, dead last. Imagine 200 meters is not a lot of distance, and it was noticeable how dead last I stumbled past the finish line. So there I was – a loser. The girl who took her inept relay teams to regional school championships died. Although I did run the 100m and didn’t do too poorly, it didn’t even matter, my distance was the 200m. My coach was ecstatic that my time was so bad, because to him, this meant he had a clean slate to teach me how to be a champion – and as typical as stories go, he did manage quite well. I was ready to learn everything. I think that’s when I started understanding what running was about and what it was doing to me. It’s funny how few people know this about me (…other than those who point out my legs. I’m not trying to to be cocky, but legs get sculpted with sport, especially sprinting). It came up in my therapy session two weeks ago and my therapist was pleasantly surprised because she would have never guessed it knowing me. I don’t really know what that’s supposed to mean, considering I was also a lifeguard and swimming instructor for six years until I bleached my hair and had to give up.
I guess what I wanted to say is that the score I received on my appraisal, which I can’t even mention here or to anyone in hopes of forgetting it, felt like that race. I am a strong student but I was unprepared at that point to take on the race. Even if many say luck has a lot to do with it, because even within the categories you are never really sure how they’re tabulated, there’s still the past you have to learn how to negotiate for the present. It also doesn’t help that I frequent this obsessive-compulsive graduate student forum in which a disproportionate amount of posters got the SSHRC Grant that, by the way, is either $85,000 or $105,000 over a course of 3/4 years. My supervisor’s terse answer was, “You’ve been lucky enough this year,” which is perhaps akin to the answer my old running coach had. I did at least get passed onto the national competition, whereas some others I know didn’t even pass the university-wide competition to get carried forward to SSHRC. I also got accepted to the school of my choice with a fellowship even though I applied after the deadline and a guaranteed researcher position on an incredible mobile cinema project.
A day after I received my first PhD acceptance in the mail, I was working late in the library with my two colleagues Claudia and Dave, when an email from Concordia showed up. I didn’t even hesitate, clicking and seeing that THEY MOTHERFUKING ACCEPTED ME !!!! for their Joint Doctorate in Communication and I received an entrance Fellowship (even tho I applied after the funding deadline!) and a job offer on an amazing locative media/mobile cinema project. I hugged Dave and Claudia for about two minutes and had tears in my eyes.
All the people in my life know how I spent all my energy day and night working on these applications, but especially this one, because it was the most exhaustive and demanding, and my first choice. Not to sound like some cheezy awards speech but I had an incredible support network that helped me in so many ways, and I really couldn’t have done this without them. J cooking me meals and taking care of my day-to-day, my parents bringing me meals from the ‘burbs, my friends (esp J.O, Tobias, Danielle and Dave, but there are so many of you! shit! i’m the luckiest!) keeping me in check making sure I don’t have a panic attack and blow it while giving me informal tips about the application and my area of study and understanding why I can’t hang out with them, Jovana Jankovic (my editor who stuck by my manias), Jason Nolan (my supervisor, who at one point said, “I’ve never had such a demanding grad student”), Jason Hockman (who gave me the tip to discuss my PhD plans as if I was talking to 50 Cent), Claudia Sicondolfo (the emotional and intellectual support goddess), Mitsu Hadeishi, Sara Udow, Andrew Bieler, Janine Marchessault and Kim Sawchuk who all helped edit and revise my statements over and over again. So much thanks to my letters of recommendation writers: Deborah Barndt, Janine Marchessault, Barry Wellman and Jason Nolan.
I feel so lucky, and an infinite amount of gratitude towards these people because if you’ve ever had to engage in the sort of linguistic acrobatics that a PhD Application (and a SSHRC Scholarship Application worth 35K a year two months prior) entails you will know how taxing it is on you but also on those around you. I’m quite aware that I’ve learned to be demanding in the last few years because I want things… I want life! I am so hungry! There’s no time to pussyfoot around! If you want things ask, what’s the worst that can happen? Someone says no? I think people get way too wrapped up in ego insecurity and rejection to be assertive. I admit I have a tendency to be aggressive at times, but I’d rather be aware of my agression and work through it than to be docile and uncertain how to get what I want/need.
Yesterday my ex, Jordan, came to have lunch with me in the Lab and as we were finishing I said, “Hey, tell your mom I got into the Concordia PhD and tell her I accepted.”
“Yeah, I will, I’m always telling my mom how proud of you I am,” he starts welling up.
“Yeah, I brag about you all the time. You’re so driven and motivated. It’s great.”
“Wow! Are you gonna cry?” I go over and give him a big bear hug with a huge grin on my face because as intense as our relationship was and as much as we love each other, this type of genuine sincerity wasn’t always on the top of our interactions.
HOLLA AT ME MONTREAL!
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