Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Massey day.

The show last night (Sunday) was fun! Super fun, actually. we're scared was great! I walked down with EH (the new EC) and JH, and a few other people joined us later. I'm starting to recognize people at these shows, and talked to a few of them. After the music ended a few of us ate nachos together, and this time got home before 3am. Not late at all for this crowd.

Monday I woke up relatively early and went to Massey in the afternoon in hopes of catching sight of a friend who I won't get to see for a long time. Although I chatted with people for a significant amount of time, I did get at least a couple hours of work in. But when I got home I found myself so tired that I had to take a nap. Sigh. And then it was back out for a couple hours to the Green Room, a local semi-sketch bar, to hang out with Masseyite SH. I had to walk home 'cause I missed the last train. But just as I was reaching my house, a cop car pulled up and asked if everything was ok. I occasionally see police cars driving around at night, and it's good to know they are out there. I really don't like walking alone after dark, and I shouldn't do it, but sometimes I do it anyways.

I'm slightly unimpressed with myself now---both for going out tonight and therefore not doing work, and also for not keeping track of time and having to walk home---so I should read a bit before bed.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Work and play.

I finally got back to work yesterday. That big pile of photocopies from the YMCA archives in Minneapolis has been calling my name for months. And so I started reading. And it's fun stuff. Learning lots and slowly (very slowly) making my way through it all. I keep changing my mind about what my dissertation will be about, and what my chapters will be. Now I'm also thinking I may have to do more research after this summer. Eek! But I'll worry about that later. I need to plow through and come up with a dissertation rationale and chapter outline soon. Everything else can wait.

Tonight, though, I will put the paper aside and head down to Sneaky Dee's to see PB perform. He is quite excited about it. I haven't seen him in over a week now---not usually unusual, but unusual coming off a week of lots of time spent with him. A few of us will go together. Should be fun!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Walking tours with my sister.

My sister and I had a great time together the past few days! We've never really hung out properly before, like friends, so this was totally unexpected and excellent. You already know how we toured Kensington and Chinatown and campus on Wednesday. Thursday we did part of the uptown Toronto discovery walk. Along the way we checked out an older part of campus, came across the Ontario Bicentenary Exhibit, discovered scenic and interesting parts of Ryerson University, visited City Hall, had ice cream, and sat under that strange OCAD building and watched kids build cardboard robots. We then went to the AGO. I quite liked some of the exhibits that are on now, especially the stuff they have from the Victoria and Albert Museum (London). That was quite awesome. My sister was intrigued by some of the modern Indian art (from India). After the gallery we made our way to Baldwin Village and ate some Chinese pastries. Yummy, but greasy. And then we walked some more, this time to check out College Street west of Spadina Ave.

Soon enough, though, we got distracted by large fibreglass moose on a rooftop and sounds of drumming coming from Kensington Market. A new store, Heart On Your Sleeve, was having an opening---I'd actually read about it that morning on Torontoist, but had of course completely forgotten---and there was a band of drummers performing outside. Random, unexpected fun! And the craziest part was that a couple minutes after we got there, I noticed a guy walking toward us . . . and it was a guy I went to high school with. We hadn't seen each other in 9 years! Now that was random. He was there to support his friend, the new store's owner.

We then continued our walk along College before heading north up Markham St. (My sister wanted to walk by Honest Ed's.) Once we reached Bloor St. I got to show her my neighbourhood. Soon enough we ran into FN and DS, who were on their way to SA's house for dinner. We didn't join them, preferring to head back to my place to rest a bit and eat leftovers. And then it was back out, me to a concert, and my sister to do more ambulatory exploring.

What concert, you ask? I went to the music faculty at U of T, where the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet was playing. And it was great. Although I prefer my chamber music to be performed in churches, the lack of atmosphere was made up for by the performances. I loved loved loved the last piece the group played, Nielsen's Wind Quintet (Op. 43). And I've heard it performed before, I'm sure, but I can't remember when. It was just amazing. SO GOOD. It really blew me away.

But anyways. After the show I subwayed it back home; FN, my sister, and I finished the evening by gossiping and chatting and the like. Good day.

On Friday the three of us went down to Queen St. to show my sister some different Toronto sights. We went into a few shops, but mainly just walked and talked before deciding we needed something to eat. At the Prague Deli we ate sandwiches, drank our respective hot drinks, and finished off with marvelous pastry. It was another really nice afternoon, pretty relaxed and interesting and very Toronto. Which was just the point. To end my sister's vacation in the big city, we took the streetcar ("the streetcar is facking cool," she says in a hoser voice, quoting her favourite movie) back to the subway and parted ways.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

I heart historians.

Tuesday evening FN and I walked down to the Victory Cafe to meet up with a good handful of my fellow history grad students. And we had a great time!! I am just so fond of some of these people, and some of them I definitely need to hang out with more. Excellent, excellent. And, you know, we didn't really talk about history. (Although I love talking about peoples' respective research.) Just saying, is all.

On Wednesday my sister arrived from Montreal for a visit. Once she got in we went for a walk down through campus and to Kensington Market---which she, of course, absolutely loved---and then back through Chinatown, another part of campus, past the ROM Crystal, and back home. I really do live in a great part of the city. And, there's so much more to explore, both within and without walking distance! Toronto ain't London, of course, but it's got a lot of really interesting spots, if you're interested in urban neighbourhoods. Later on today she and I will hit up the AGO for free, thanks to Massey's corporate membership. Yay!

But first, breakfast and lunch. We get to eat leftovers from last night's super yummy (FN-made) dinner with KC and a friend of his and FN. I'm feeling slightly bad about not doing any work since Tuesday morning, but there you have it. It's not often that I spend time with my sister or some of my favourite historians, so it's ok.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Nocturnal dissertator.

A familiar tale, I know. I slept through the vast majority of Monday, going to bed before 6am and only rising at 4:30pm. Yikes! And so here I am, up in the wee hours, working away. I'm taking lots of notes and things are becoming ever clearer in my head about what the heck my dissertation will be about. I'm eager to finish the current set of documents and move on to work of the YMCA. Exciting (to me)!

There really isn't much to do when everyone is asleep. So as a distraction I've been listening to random music on my computer. Notetaking doesn't require a huge amount of brain-power, so I don't mind the aural distraction. And, my, is there ever a lot of crappy music on my playlist.

The plan for the rest of Tuesday is to work some more, get a few hours sleep, and then go to Kensington to stock up on necessaries. (I love that word; it comes from my research.) After dinner I go off to the Vic to socialize with historians! Should be fun.

Oh, and I changed the name of the blog to "Narratives." Figured this made more sense than "Questioning," since the blog has become a telling of my days with only a very rare comment of potentially any interest to anyone who doesn't feel compelled to read this blog ;-).

Happy Tuesday!

P.S. This made me laugh, and this made me want a copy of the photo. (It's of the subway station half a block from my house.) There's just something about it . . . .

Sunday, July 22, 2007

One last show . . . for now.

After a few hours of dissertating yesterday, I decided I'd keep my word and go see PB's third band perform. (I'd see one of them twice, and then a third time last Wednesday; the other one I saw Thursday.) The show this time was rather out of the way for me, but thankfully it wasn't complicated to find the venue. I met FPW outside the, er, warehouse-type place at 11pm. We went inside to witness the spectacle that is BoyBallz. Wow. PB claimed they were "ridiculous and amazing." Ridiculous, yes; amazing, perhaps. But pretty entertaining. After their set, the main attraction (for me) came on: woodhands. PB and that other guy were awesome. Electronic pop or some such, very danceable. Great fun.

After the show, I hung around with PB and CG2---a dancing fool if there ever was one, helped pack up, chatted with woodhands' frontman on the drive to the storage space, and then went for pizza with the guys. It was good to get a ride home and not have to find my way back to the Annex all by my lonesome on public transportation. While at the show, I decided that it was best to get in the mood. So I danced and drank crappy (but free!) beer and made nice with the other show-goers.

Once home I managed to get in a smidge of work before bed. And then it was up early (strangely) and time for more work. Which I haven't been very efficient at today. Oh well.

My week (and a day) of EC-like adventures has now come to an end. Next up is drinking with historians on Tuesday, and then my sister comes to visit! So much for sustained dissertation work, eh?

(And now that I check out those band websites, I think CS's boyfriend is in BoyBallz. He wasn't last night, seeing as they are out of town, but . . . . Huh.)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Enough's enough.

Time to get back to work! Last night (Thursday) ended just shy of 5:30am on Friday. I mean, I was having a decently-good time with EC, her roommate JH, PB, and another guy, but it's time for me to get serious about dissertating.

Earlier in the evening I went to AB and OB's apartment, chocolate cake in hand, for a going-away party. They will be in Russia for the next year! The usual assortment of Russianists was on hand, as well as a handful of other assorted historians. I really like that crowd, even if I don't always have a ton of things to say to them. But I suppose that's true of just about anyone, so it's not a bad thing. They are lovely, interesting, entertaining people.

Just after 11pm I left the party to meet up with EC and JH at the Rivoli. PB's band, the Rural Alberta Advantage, was headlining a show. We got there in time to catch most of the previous band's set (Five Blank Pages). They were good in terms of being well-rehearsed and entertaining and all that, but I got a bit tired of some of the angst. Maybe I'm being unkind. But soon enough the RAA was on, and I think this was the best I've ever heard/seen them perform. A great show! A few of (what it seems to me are) the usual indie suspects were in evidence, dancing up a storm and otherwise supporting their friends. I took lots of pics to help EC remember her last Toronto concert for a while. She was a bit sad.

Friday evening FN and I met her good friend KC for an impromptu dinner at John's in Baldwin Village, a little stretch of restaurants and small shops just north of the Art Gallery of Ontario. He's awesome, that guy. And although I really don't think he needs 6 new suits to dress himself for his new semi-corporate job, he does look great ;-)

Right-o. Time to get back to work as I munch on fancy couscous. (Homemade, by me!)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Housebound by the rain.

Well, I lied in my last post. I did not do laundry yesterday, and now I must do it today. Except that there's a wicked storm on right now. I think it's dying down . . . hope so. But enough talk about laundry.

Last night, after finishing HP6, I met up with EC and her roommate and we all headed down to Supermarket in Kensington to take in the Gravity Wave and we're scared, one of PB's bands. The Gravity Wave is great! I was very entertained. All in all, it was a fun night, ending with Chinese food after the bar closed. I will miss EC, but get to hang out with her again tonight at another indie show, so that's good. Also on earlier this evening is AB's going-away party.

I should get a few minutes work in while I wait for the rain to stop.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

My weekend.

Since I spent most of Saturday and Sunday working, I think it's okay that I pretty much took off Monday and Tuesday to do non-dissertation things. Monday FN, EC, and I had a late brunch at Easy Restaurant in the Roncesvalles neighbourhood. (Pronounced "RON-says-veils," but said quickly.) Afterward we walked around and visited some of the many Polish shops along the strip. It's a neat area, a bit run down, but with nice residential streets and access to everything you'd need. Later that afternoon we boarded the streetcar once again and headed back east. We did some shopping on Queen West (the "Fashion District" part, though the name isn't quite apt) and met up with YT at Trinity-Bellwoods Park, where we people-, bike-, and dog-watched for a bit. Then it was time for refreshments before EC had to go leave to buy herself a bicycle. The rest of us walked and shopped some more. And FN and I walked all the way home. We did A LOT of walking that day.

In lieu of working Monday night after a yummy Chinese-style dinner, I some of read Harry Potter 6 in preparation for the release of HP7 in a few days. And then I attempted to go to sleep relatively early (for me), but alas. I spent hours awake, thinking about things. And so was quite tired when I had to drag myself of of bed to go to a dentist appointment Tuesday afternoon.

The dentist was fine (if expensive!), and once home I headed out again. This time to Kensington Market to stock up on groceries for the next few days. After another excellent dinner, I decided to whip up friend DN's vegan chocolate cake, but sans some of the vegan ingredients. It turned out well, if not quite as scrumptious as when he makes it. I think I might forgo working tonight in favour of more Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince . . . .

Tomorrow: laundry! And then I must get back to work.

[Two firetrucks with sirens blaring just drove down my street---the wrong way, of course. There's been a rash of arson attacks in residential areas in Toronto recently. Let's hope everything's ok.]

Monday, July 16, 2007

All-night dissertator.

Although I know it's not good for me long-term of stay up all night, it's working out for me at the moment. There are pretty much no distractions in the wee hours, since, well, I've already read all the websites I read during the waking hours and they aren't updated at 3AM. No one is on Facebook---though EC was tagging photos of me at 2:30AM, so that's not quite true. No one's on MSN; no one's sending me e-mail. I can't do dishes because it makes too much noise. And so I have to work. Yes, I did watch a movie today ("Letters From Iwo Jima") but have otherwise been pretty steadily working.

Yesterday afternoon I took a break from taking notes to walk down to Bloor St. to get provisions. Just as I thought to myself, "I wonder whether I'll run into anyone I know today," a guy walks out of his house and says, "Hi Jen." He's a Masseyite, and although we live on the same street, I've never run into him before. We went to the grocery store together and chatted about school and life. It was nice.

After a late dinner I was feeling lethargic, so took a nap until 2:30AM. And here I am, wide awake and ready for more notetaking!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Indie surprise party.

Friday night we partied it up to send EC off to her new town. Good friends AG and her roommate PB hosted the event at their nearby house. The usual Montreal-born crew was there, as were plenty of musicians from the local indie scene---EC's favourite groups. (Including the Rural Alberta Advantage and The Gravity Wave, who---meaning Ken---had the house jumping with a rendition of his "Footprints.") It was a fun night, and EC had NO IDEA it was coming! This, despite the fact that there were a few times when the secret nearly came out over the past few weeks. (I myself almost let it slip once, when I was talking with EC and PB a couple weeks ago.)

After a late night which degenerated into drunken shenanigans (marked by throwing up in the bathroom and screaming karaoke in the living room---no, not me doing either), EC, her best friend, her roommate and I all went to Vesta Lunch ("Toronto's Narrowest Restaurant") for a 3am meal. This is a NY-style diner just a few blocks away. It's kinda neat, and has decent, cheap-ish, 'round-the-clock greasy food. A handful of the indie kids came by a few minutes later too.

Today I've pretty much done nothing but eat, wash dishes, and sleep. I worked a bit in the afternoon after pancakes, but then felt tired so went to lie down . . . and work up 4.5 hours late. Oy. It'll be another all-night workday for me. And my sleeping meant I completely missed a Massey BBQ and a bachelorette thing I pondered showing up for. Ah well. No big loss ;-)

I must say in closing that I am kinda intrigued by the indie music scene of which EC is so a part. I may have to accompany her to a show or two before she leaves. All three of PB's bands are playing soon . . . .

Friday, July 13, 2007

And so it goes.

I'm in nocturnal mode these days, dissertating the night away.

I've also been watching movies. Or, well, I've now watched the first 5 Harry Potter movies. Did nos. 1-4 earlier this week, and went to the big theatre downtown this evening with EW to see the new one. We decided not to dish out an extra 3 bucks to see the IMAX version, but since movies are SO EXPENSIVE it still wasn't cheap. The movie was good, though it didn't blow me away. But good and kept me entertained. Excellent acting.

Last night I watched "Flags of Our Fathers" at home on my laptop. I'd been wanting to see it for a while, and am glad I did. But I must repeat my feeling of not being totally blown away. But worth seeing. I must now of course watch the other one.

And now back to the American Red Cross in Siberia . . . .

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Dissertating and feeling sorry for myself.

I've gotten back into the swing of things since Monday. Hours spent staring at my computer screens isn't super fun, but I am slowly going through more important documents, and have been thinking about my dissertation. Still lots more to do, of course.

I'm struggling with what I want to do in terms of the dissertation. I know the general story I want to deal with---I have a specific group of people working for a couple different organizations in more or less a specific place during a small number of years. Sounds ideal, right? In a way, yes. Collecting the research material was relatively easy because it was fairly clear when things were relevant and when they were not. (But even then, not as clear as one might think, leaving me with all kinds of things I will probably never use.)

But now I have all this stuff, and there seem to be so many directions I could go in. So many themes I could potentially explore, so many stories I could tell. I guess the problem is that I'm not confident enough to settle on a few key things and then move on to the next stage. The answer is just to keep doing what I'm doing---read through important material that I've collected, with a mind to what interests me. At the moment, though, it's confusing and a little frustrating. My master's thesis was so much easier than this! Although it was nearly dissertation length, I had such a small topic that I could tell the whole story (as I saw it then). For this project I will have to leave large chunks out. Deciding what to leave out---and having a good rationale for doing so---is a big challenge, and it intimidates me right now.

Recently, and not related to my school work, I've been feeling ever so slightly down. Ever since I came back from Washington in June, and maybe even since Israel in May. I didn't really click with anyone on the Israel trip, which is fine, but it just meant I felt kinda intellectually alone (in a whirlwind of activity and emotion) for 9 or 10 days. And then I had a great time at the conference last month, but a brief conversation I had there has made an impact. I don't know why, but talking to a fellow grad student who lives in a university town, is married with a house and a car, and with good prospects for future employment . . . well, it just sounded like he had such a nice life! I love Toronto and I have a great life here. But for some unknown reason, I occasionally think back to this guy---and of course my partnered-up friends here and elsewhere---and feel a bit sorry for myself. I suppose everyone has moments like this, but I have not been bothered by them this much in a long time, I don't think. Must get over this.

Good friends JDS, TC, and EC are gone or will be leaving too, which is also reason for sadness. Although of course I didn't spend huge amounts of time with any of them, it's sad that the possibility of hanging out with them has ended. AB will be gone soon also, removing any possibility of running into his excellent self when I'm at school. Sigh.

Hopefully I'll feel better in short order. Toronto is a non-stop culture explosion in the summer, and I'm looking forward to more adventures and discoveries. And I suppose I should feel the same way about my dissertation . . . the documents do sometimes make me laugh out loud, after all!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Brunch pigs and bboys.

What a nice way to end a string of fun Toronto days! We braved the risk of severe thunderstorms and hail today to have brunch with friends FPW, AM, EC, AG, and JC. The place we wanted to eat at was closed, but we hit up another venue close by, and it worked out well. Of course, I can't remember, but it's at Shaw and Dupont. Universal Cafe or something. (I'm sure Google Maps can tell me, but I don't care that much.)

After brunch AM, FN, and I drove FPW back to his industrial home and hung out a bit there. He lives in a warehouse. It's cool if not totally homey. The best/worst part was the sign he made and taped outside their exterior door. It reads something like, "This is not a urinal. Please pee somewhere else." Oy. Oh, and the little garden of flowers he cultivated was recently weed-whacked away. Sigh.

Once home, I was feeling a bit mopey and not in the mood to work. So I decided that I best go out again. FPW mentioned earlier that he wanted to check out the Beats, Breaks & Culture festival at Harbourfront. Why not go with him to that, I thought? So FN and I did, enjoying the amazing Pop, Lock & Load Finale. Or, in English, the break-dancing finals! It was awesome! Such incredible bodies/skills these young men have. Wow. And, frankly, super hot too. The winners were a couple of teenagers, Jinx and Zen. It did rain on us a bit, but there was no major downpour. After the show we walked to Burrito Boyz to dine on Toronto's best burritos. Pretty good, I must say. And then a long walk home.

And now I am fairly tired. But still not feeling particularly interested in working. Maybe I'll watch the second Harry Potter movie. (I watched the first one last night. I have to re-watch them occasionally because I never remember what happens.)


Fun! You should go to Afrofest. FN and I will likely be seen in Queen's Park again Sunday afternoon after brunch with AM and FPW. In other news, I haven't done any work since Wednesday. But whatever: work will have to wait! At the moment I am doing the living-in-Toronto thing.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

How to prepare a conference presentation.

An after-dinner discussion the other day got me thinking about the elements of a good oral presentation. See, us historians don't tend to use visual aids, and while we're used to listening, it can be difficult to concentrate at conferences. The problem is that most presenters read their papers. Accepting that this is going to happen, and that this might be the best thing for most new conference presenters to do, I have a few pointers.

Don't think of it as "writing" a conference paper. You write something for people to read. A conference paper---even one that exists in written form---will not be presented as a written document. So instead of drafting a good paper qua paper, outline your points and then write it out as you would speak it. Pretend someone is asking you about your topic. Write out your answers verbatim. This is a useful exercise, and will help get you in the right frame of mind. As you fill out your arguments and pick your examples, listen to how you speak these things, and take note. In the end, your written paper should be lively and interesting, because it will be a transcript of you delivering your paper if you were a pro at academic public speaking.

When you speak, you no doubt use shorter sentences and more colloquial language than when you write. This is a good thing. We have all spent years and years learning how to deal with complex ideas on the page, but we're not nearly so well rehearsed in taking things in orally. Do your listeners a favour: write short sentences, using "and" and "but" to connect them. Do you use "however" and "indeed" when contributing to a discussion in a grad seminar? No? Then why say these things in a conference presentation? Make use too of the declarative voice.

I haven't read the research, but people have studied things like how much information listeners can take in (and keep in). And if you've ever been to a conference, you'll know for yourself that there's not that much information from any one paper you'll remember. Heck, I count myself lucky if I know what the main thesis of the paper was by the end of the talk! If I can still remember a week or two later, then that's the mark of a good presentation. To make sure you reach your audience, be very clear about your thesis and maybe a couple supporting points. Repeat this thesis several times. When you want to emphasize something, do it: use pauses and say things like, "this is key." If you are going through points in succession, number them clearly. For example, "There are three things I want to say about this issue. The first thing is . . . . The second point is . . . . And finally, the third thing to keep in mind is . . . . These three things---[list them briefly]---. . . ." See? It seems repetitive on paper, and it is. But orally, it works well.

There's one technique that always draws me into a presentation no matter what the topic, and that is when the speaker inserts his- or herself into the paper. Tell your audience how you came across the topic, relate an anecdote from your research, or manage in some other way to come across as a human being when you begin your presentation. I am always more likely to pay attention and feel some affinity for the speaker if I know some personal information about him or her right off the bat. Is this a topic you came across unexpectedly while researching another project? Great! Say this. Are you going to argue something that you found completely counterintuitive, or that goes against established historiography? Make this clear from the beginning, and remind the audience of this again at the end (and probably in the middle too).

When you prepare a conference paper, you can still write it out (and read it when your time comes). But if you do it with these things in mind, you will end up writing a paper that sounds much better when spoken than the one your otherwise might have written. It might take more time to prepare, but I think it's worth it.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Canada Day, sick day.

Happy belated Canada Day everyone! FN and I did the proper thing and went out into public Sunday night, braving crowds of post-rock-loving hipsters, munching on Harbourfront popcorn, experiencing the new faux-beach, taking in fireworks, and eating (a second) dinner at Rol San in Chinatown. We went with CLM; much fun was had by all, though it was rather chilly for July.

Today's been kind of a write off, work- and social-life-wise. Was feeling ill and took a long nap in between complaining and reading and talking and obsessively checking e-mail and surfing the net.

One final thought: AT's JS is tres cool. Just thought I should share. Oh, and I have a place to stay in Palo Alto in late August. Excellent!