The Poetry of Suburbia

I've lived in the suburbs basically my whole life. And yes, it is just as Mary Reynolds sings, "little boxes on the hillside/little boxes all the same/there's a green one and a pink one/and a blue one and a yellow one/and they're all made out of ticky tacky/and they all look just the same". There is a sort of "ho-hum" feel when people think of suburbia but there is poetry in it too. The friends you meet in elementary school are often the same friends you go to high school with, the same friends who live right around the street, the same friends you hang out with in the lull of the summer, the same friends you know your whole life. 

Ever since I moved here, ever since elementary school, I've been friends with essentially the same girls. Our friendship over the years has waxed and waned...there were times when we grew apart and found new friends and times when we couldn't get enough of each other. As we've been growing older though, I think we've all come to appreciate just how precious it is to have friends who have known you all your life. Who shared those awkward teen years with you. Who were there during the giddy beginnings of your first love. Who held your hand when that didn't end up being all it promised to be. Who were there just to lament the humdrum life of suburbia with you. That's pretty damn poetic, if you ask me...and it all happened in the "little boxes made out of ticky tacky".

My longest relationship ever. It must be true love.

This year we all graduated university and just like that we've been propelled into the real world with responsibilities (or at least the expectation of it) weighing on our shoulders. We're moving on to dental school, medical school, full-time jobs, and all that grown up stuff you hear about all your life. It's weird.

We spent this summer traveling (albeit separately) before we had to go on and do all of the things I mentioned above. When we all got back from our travels, my girlfriends and I drove up to the beach as we often do during the summer. And after the excitement and rush of constantly moving around for the past couple of months, there was this indelible simplicity where the whole world retreated and we had a moment's respite. Driving along the countryside with the music pumping, our legs out the windows, the wind blowing our faces numb, the sun coming down. It was all too perfect. Like time was in suspension for us to enjoy the last few moments before our lives and our worlds would change.

I know I make this out to be incredibly dramatic, but honestly in my brain this plays out like a great coming of age movie. Except it's not a movie. It's real life. And real life is messier, richer, more nuanced, and altogether more poetic than any Woody Allen film. So to the little boxes I've known all my life, thank you for giving me the loves of my life and the perfect setting for our friendship to unfold.

Friends You've Yet To Meet

Besides the thrill of sightseeing and the adventure of being in a foreign land, the joy of traveling, for me, lies in the interactions you have with the many people you meet along the way. During my time in Europe, I met so many different people from all over the world and from different walks of life. And, however brief the encounter, I had the pleasure of getting to know them on some genuine level and share some truly incredible moments...

I once sat on a park bench for hours in front of Lake Thun, one of the bluest lakes you'll ever see, talking about politics and literature with a friend I made while hiking up the Harder Kulm. I explored a mediocre city in a setting that just oozed with romance with someone who just oozed with charm (I guess it goes without saying that I didn't think it to be so mediocre afterward). Stayed up til 5AM at our hostel common area just shooting the shit with one of the most intelligent people I've ever met, talking about anything, everything, nothing. Smoked a joint with a Texan and deconstructed the reasons why women have always been so severely disadvantaged in society and why most men thrive despite (or is it because of?) their douchebaggery. Spent an early morning breakfast talking with a musician about our families, our parents, their failed relationship, our failed relationships. Watched a sunset with a panaromic view of Firenze, got pissed drunk and obnoxiously sang 90s hits with new friends we met at our hostel (video evidence below, I have no shame). Ate cheese, drank wine, and awkwardly fidgeted on the Ponte Vecchio as a friend and our newly made friend constantly made passes at each other (oh to be the third wheel!). Danced the night away to some seriously bass-heavy dubstep (the best kind) with some randoms at an obscure Berlin club. Listened with awe as an NGO worker told me about his time in India, which subsequently prompted my quarter life crisis as I began to fiercely question what path I want to take in the future.

Every experience different and each person a unique character with his or her own little nugget of wisdom to share. Every moment ephemeral but every memory enduring.

It's amazing how much you can reveal about yourself and how deeply you can connect with a complete stranger. You're from opposite sides of the world, can sometimes barely even speak the same language, and yet somehow you find some common ground. Is it easier to connect with those you meet on your travels? The ones you share but a fleeting moment with? Because with no history and possibly no future, you can leave all your pretensions behind and just say what you want to say and just be?

"Without a wrinkle in today, cuz there is no tomorrow. Just a picture perfect day to last a whole lifetime".

In any case, meeting fellow wanderers and the conversations I had with them has added even more color to the video reel I have constantly playing in my head as I reminisce about this trip. I appreciate all of our differences but it is our similarities that I rejoice in.

And so, whether by chance or by design, I welcome and look forward to the friends I've yet to meet on my future's to more conversations, serious or not, and to more dancing, more laughing, more drinking, more singing.

...May you and I always have room for one more friend in our lives : )

Tuesdays with Barry

This morning I booked the robe rental for my graduation ceremony this coming June -- yet another sign of the finality of my time at the University of Toronto. And so begins my wistful remembering...

The university has been the site of a mental battlefield like one I've never experienced before and though apprehensive at first, the intellectual challenge is something that I've come to embrace and truly cherish. And having a professor to guide me through this time has made all the difference...

One of the most fruitful experiences of my undergraduate studies has been working with and getting to know the great Professor Barry Wellman. I first took his course, SOC356: Technology and Society, in my third year. Throughout the year we analyzed how technology plays a role in our everyday lives in the way that we communicate with our family and friends, how it has the potential to create community and what community even means in a virtual context, how it perpetuates or breaks down social inequalities, and how it affects the broader political landscape. I've always had an interest in technology but I didn't quite know how it fit with my PoliSci and Sociology major. It wasn't until Professor Wellman's class that I discovered just how beautifully and perfectly I could couple my interests like fingers interlaced. So for that alone I am thankful to him.

But Professor Wellman has done more than just open my eyes to the study of technology and society. I don't quite remember how it happened exactly but we really got to know each other throughout that year and he continued to fuel my interest in the subject. He shared and continues to share news items, articles or upcoming events that I may be interested in and happily connects me with people who may help me in this journey of mine. No other professor has shown me such unabashed generosity and kindness and for that I am forever grateful. And I know that I'm not the only one he does this for. Many of my friends have taken his class as well and we're all in agreement that Professor Wellman is one of the few professors on campus who actually takes the time to get to know your name and is genuinely interested in getting to know you.

with Professor Wellman

I was lucky enough to continue working with him in my final year. With his guidance, I conducted an independent research study on networked organizations. Even better, he recruited me to assist in the writing of two chapters from his and Lee Rainie's upcoming book -- an opportunity that undergrads only dream of! Going through draft after draft, Professor Wellman helped me develop my writing skills, which as you may be able to tell from this blog, is something that's dear to my heart. He pointed out certain aspects of my style that I never noticed before (hello, passive voice!) and he showed me how to tighten my sentences, making my arguments ooze with conviction. Seriously, how many undergrads get the opportunity to work one on one with their professor going through almost every sentence of their work and tweaking it to near perfection? I am but of the rare few and I continue to be dumbfounded by the confidence Professor Wellman had in me to take on this endeavour.

Beyond his guidance though, Professor Wellman has been a source of support and friendship for me. He's so incredibly easy to talk to and it is a joy just to hang out and, as he calls it, schmooze! He is honestly the coolest and most relevant professor I know, always in the loop and eager to learn what his students are up to. It's easy to forget about time when you're chatting with him...

With its massive size, U of T can be a cold and unfeeling place. You're lucky if you have the opportunity to actually get to know one of your professors. You're even luckier if that professor is Barry Wellman.

And with that said, I thank you once again for taking me under your wing, Professor! Even though I'm still uncertain of what exactly I want to pursue in the future, your guidance, generosity, and friendship has made all the difference. You are my advantage.

"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." - Henry Adams

questions on travel

"Think of the long trip home
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?"

-- Elizabeth Bishop

______________________________________________________ I've kind of neglected this little blog of mine while on my European adventure, which I promised I told myself I would not do, but as usual, life got in the way. I thought I'd have all the time in the world to update this and reflect on my travels but I was too busy living it and actually experiencing it all to sit in my room and write. I wanted to soak up every second and be in the moment every moment. I didn't want to miss anything... two months later, I feel like my life has changed completely. I know, I know, that sounds so cliché but hey, it's a cliché for a reason. "What a difference a day made...twenty four little hours", says María Grever. Well, try forty-nine days, one thousand one hundred and seventy six hours. Think of the difference that's been made since the time I left and the time I've returned. So many things have happened and there are so many stories to tell. It's funny for me to even think of where I was in my personal life before I'm so far from where I started, so far from where I used to be, used to know. A whole world has opened up to me...a world that only vaguely and abstractly existed in my mind. It's a wonder, really how much perspective I've gained, how many sights my eyes have beheld, how many different people and different characters I've encountered, how many friendships I've gained, how much I've learned about the world, about relationships, and about myself.

Who knew?  Two months ago, who could have known how much I would grow up during this trip? I've learned so much about myself, it's unbelievable! Shocking, even. Being alone in a foreign country with what were initially strangers? I've surprised myself with what I'm actually capable of. My first time ever traveling by myself without the parentals...might not seem like a big deal to some of you but for me? A spoiled princess living the safe, sheltered life of the good ol' Markham suburbia? It's pretty effin' epic. I've explored the streets of Central Europe on my own, struggled with maps trying to learn all the various transit systems...such simple things that I don't usually do back here at home. The feeling is amazing know that you can do these things on your own? Liberating. Empowering, really. Independence like I've never felt before...

...and the friendships I've made? Solid. Untouchable. I've made friends that will truly last me a lifetime because the things we went through and the experiences we shared is unlike any other. We explored foreign lands together. Lived and breathed each other's presence 24/7 for five weeks. It's like we share this secret that no one else can ever know or even come close to understanding. No matter how hard I try to explain to friends back home all the things I've done, seen, and experienced, there isn't the same appreciation. Only the friends that I've made on this trip can truly understand what I'm talking about. Like I's like we share this intimate secret that only we can know.  That's probably the one thing I'll treasure the most...the friendships made...because the journey would not have been the same without them...

Of course, there's also the sights. The views. The culture. The history. After all, that is the main reason why I chose to go on this trip. It's crazy to think that I've seen all these significant places where so much of human history unfolded...Wenceslas Square, Auschwitz, Schönbrunn Palace, the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, Hitler's Bunker and seen all these epic monuments...the Eiffel Tower, the Chain Bridge, the Charles Bridge, the Fisherman's Bastion, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, Rudas Bath...all these things that I only dreamed of! While I was standing in Wenceslas Square and Auschwitz or staring at the Berlin Wall's East Side Gallery or taking a dip in Rudas Bath, there was such an overwhelming feeling of humility. Like I'm standing here where thousands of people marched for their freedom, for emancipation-- at the spot where millions upon millions of innocents were brutally murdered, stripped of their dignity-- at a wall that divided our world, our common humanity, into two spheres--at a bath erected nearly four centuries ago by the Ottomans.  I've done all this and seen all this at the age of nineteen! How lucky am I? How much more blessed can a person be? My life is so much richer now having seen, lived, and breathed all that I did...

So what more can I say? It was an epic two months that I wouldn't trade for the world. Everything's different now. I'm different now and like I said, this whole new world has opened up to me and to think, I've only scratched the surface...