Essay 8 (7 to come) Cake vs. Pie

10 07 2011

Essay 8, Cake vs. Pie

So yes, I’m writing, and will likely post essay eight before I finish writing essay seven. Why you ask (or at least I will pretend you ask), because essay seven was just not getting written, and I wanted to try to get back on track, as I once again find myself no less than three essays behind (although I think no one is fully caught up this time, so I feel less behind). Essay seven wasn’t getting written not because I had nothing to say about it, but because I think I had too much to say, and it was tiring to write something that I wanted to be sure I explained correctly. That combined with the fact I’m suffering burnout from standardized testing x2 (that went well, huzza! *cue heavenly choir*), plus nerves over go to Quebec despite speaking very little French (I’m finally writing this on the train to Montréal), means I haven’t much felt like investing in a serious essay, so here is the much more fun essay number eight.
Editors note, I have been in Trois Pistole for a week now, its been super lovely, my French has improved noticeable in a single week, although its still pretty shaky. The good news is now I think I’ll be able to hold some decent conversation with the new students arriving tonight who speak a lot more French then I do (I did a prep week thing).

Moving on to the actual topic at hand, I’d just like to say that obviously this is a subjective subject for which there can be no right or wrong answer, and to which everyone is entitled to their own opinions. You got that? Great, because screw that, there is clearly a right answer, it really shouldn’t even be up for debate. Now at this point in my essay I still have some 70% of people on my side (most of my readings being artsci’s I’m guessing about 30% refuse to choose a side), but its time to possibly loose that comforting majority and commit myself wholeheartedly to cake. As I said there really shouldn’t be a competition. Pie has some very significant things going for it, but in the end it fails the consistency, variability, overall awesomeness tests.

To start with, I find cake more consistently satisfying. No one expects most birthday cake cakes to be of the greatest quality ever, but everyone enjoys them the same, they are tasty. This might be my fault, but I think I hold pies to a higher standard, so I am more often disappointed with them. I will grant that a great pie can go toe to toe with a great cake, but I’d prefer a moderately good cake to a moderately good pie.

Moving on the variability, despite the massive number of different fruit fillings that can be stuffed into a pie crust, I still think cakes win on the variety score. Flourless, layered, mostly moose, ice cream, and dozens of others types, cakes come in all shapes and sizes. Now I’ll grant pies should probably be extended to include such confections as crumbles, and other things which I’m totally blanking out on, I still think cakes have the variety side won. I also like cakes for the variety that they can provide one with one flavour they love. I’m a huge chocolate lover, and I’ve had the joy of eating chocolate cakes of truly impressive number of different varieties. From the humble chocolate cake mix, to German chocolate cake with its coconut layers, all the way moist fluffy mouse liberally filling rich cakes I can indulge my love affair of chocolate in a number of different varieties.

It seems incumbent upon me to address at this point what I believe the Pie side would argue is their ace in the hole, cheesecake. Now I will grant (barely), that cheesecake should be classified as pie, it contains a pastry crust a that is filled by some entirely separate mixture, which to me seems to be essence of pie, but even with this concession I still think cake should win hands down (an expression I just realized that makes no sense at all to me). First, arguable the most popular type of pie has the word “cake” in it, I mean come on people, open your eyes! Secondly, if we are including fringe classification ice-cream cake definitely qualifies as cake, and god do I love ice cream cake. It’s the best. Its refreshing, has all of the qualities of a hot fudge Sunday at a fraction of the cost, and comes in almost limitless flavours.

Just to finish, I thought I would list some of my favourite cakes of all time, just to get any doubters out there to realize how spectacular cake is. First, flourless Belgium chocolate cake (specifically from Bar Italia or Sidecar in Toronto), its so dark and rich it’s almost unbelievable. Each bite is an explosion of chocolate in your mouth. Best of all, its totally filling, even a small slice leaves you completely contended. Second, Baskin robins chocolate moose royal ice cream cake with fudge topping and liberal amount of whip cream. Baskin robins has a phenomenal whip cream that they seem to only use for cakes (it comes in a tube, rather then the canned stuff they normally use), and is super awesome. In third comes a number of layer or mostly chocolate moose cakes, the fluffy moose is almost never bad, and frequently spectacular, avoiding the unfortunateness that is dry cake.

And as a quick postscript, I feel a bit guilty coming down so much on cakes side, since the only thing I can bake is a pie (ok, actually its much closer to the crumble family, but its super awesome), and I do love making it ever so much. Also, I have yet to mention icing, since personally I’m not the largest fan and prefer good cakes to stand on their own, but fantastic icing can really save a mediocre cake, plus they can make them look super pretty, and in the end, isn’t that really all that life is about.

p.p.s. if you include the number pi, under the pi category the race becomes much closer. Also this essay is probably super filled with mistakes, cause I’m too lazy to re-read it more than once.


Essay 6: One Movie Everyone Should See

15 06 2011

A few days late, but I’m finally catching up on my essays, and I haven’t really thought about this topic at all, so great success there, which is mildly important as my GRE writing date looms less than two weeks away. But enough of this, on to the topic.

One movie everyone should see? Hmmm, I’m really not sure if I have one favourite movie that I think absolutely everyone must watch. I have a couple of different movies that I really enjoy for different occasions, but its proving a bit hard to think of one that really everyone should watch. I could do it pretty easily for a TV series (Slings and Arrows = such win, hopefully I will get to rant about how great this show is in some later essay), but I think movies are just to short to provide that level of consistent excellence that makes me want to demand that every single person see it. Still since I’ve promised myself I would keep up with this essay writing, and since I’m so close to actually being finally caught up, for lack of a better option I’m going to say one movie I think everyone should watch is Finding Nemo.

This movie sticks with me for a number of reasons, and while I’m not 100% certain it hasn’t been slightly eclipsed by later Pixar greats, it certainly does still hold up to the test of time. My enduring love for this movie almost certainly has some thing to do with the circumstances of when I first saw it, so I’ll try to explain those as best I can to get across why I think everyone should see this movie. Reason the first that I love this movie, is that I loved this movie before I really liked watching movies. For pretty much my entire life I have been an avid TV watcher, but my enjoyment and appreciation of movies grew much later in my life. In general I use to feel that movies were too short, lacking in the depth that a good ongoing series could provide, too expensive, and generally just not worth the effort it took to go see them. So with that in mind, the amount that I enjoyed Finding Nemo probably had something to do with how few movies I watched in the previous years.

Reason two, I watched it in theatres with my Dad instead of going to school. This was pretty awesome, I mean the afternoon of school I was skipping (I can’t remember if it was Grade 7 or 8) was also watching a movie, so I really wasn’t missing anything at all. I was allowed to skip because a) I was less interested in the movie that was being shown at school (it was something involving dragons, which normally would be awesome, but I’m pretty sure this particular movie was pretty terrible), and b) vaguely worried that the movie in school would give me nightmares. Ever since I has seen a horror movie sometime in my early childhood on a large screen TV any scary movie, or even those with overly creepy images or ideas would keep me up late at night as my overactive imagination kicked into high gear. Seriously, I wouldn’t get that much sleep, insomnia due to your brain playing out horrifying images and scenarios is seriously not fun. Luckily this is no longer the case and I can now happily watch the same amount gratuitous amount of gore, violence, and general terror as any other healthily desensitized North American, but at the time the potential for keeping me up was still something of a concern. Anyways, getting to skip school to watch a better movie was definitely a plus in favour of Finding Nemo, and the lack of horror couldn’t have hurt.
Thirdly, I think it was around the same time I first realized I needed glasses (I wear contact lenses literally all the time I’m not sleeping, which is why you have probably never see me wearing glasses), so special effects on screen looked so much better than anything I had seen for some years.

But getting started on the movie itself, I really do think its phenomenal. It’s really, really funny, has a great mixture of action, story development, and genuine emotion, and is just generally very well put together. Furthermore, I think one of the central themes of an overcautious dad resonated with me, and probably my Dad as well (as I side note to my readers, my dad is one of the regular readers of my blog, so writing that last sentence was a bit funny, but what can you do). Hmmm, what else do I love about this movie? Its been a bit of time since I last watched it, and the most recent time I was rather intoxicated and distracted (which is a pretty good story, but not for a blog), so many of the excellent details of the movie escape me, but what follows will be a few of things that have stuck with me as classically awesome moments or facts about the movie.

-the surfer dude turtle
-the school of fish playing pictionary with Dory
-the fact that movie opens with the death of Marlin’s wife and all but one of his children, seriously only Pixar is this dark in opening sequences (see Up if you don’t believe me). Its just such a brutally good depiction of the randomness and shortness of life.
-there are pretty jelly fish, that are also deadly, which very accurately portrays my deeply conflicted views about jelly fish, because they are both awesome, and I want them nowhere near me
-the big manta ray for a teacher, manta rays are the best!
-the fact Ellen Degeneris and, even more awesomely Alison Janey have big roles and are awesome in the movie
-the seagulls yelling “Mine!”

A last reason why I love this movie, and I guess that everyone should go see it, is because it kindled my love for Pixar and I think it might do the same for others. I seriously love that company, they do the most mind-blowing good work, are unbelievably consistent in the quality of their product, and walk that fine line between appealing to a younger audience, while still providing more hilarity and emotional content for adults than is found in almost any other big budged movie (seriously the opening of Up and the ending Toy Story 3 are the closest I’ve come to crying when watching any movie).

So while I don’t think it’s necessarily the best movie of all time, and possible not even the best movie done by Pixar, I do think Finding Nemo deserves recognition as one of the great movies made when 3D animation was still getting its feet solidly on the ground, and as it holds a special place in my heart, which is why I choose it for my one movie that everyone should see.

Essay 5, one book everyone should read.

14 06 2011

So, once again I failed at not looking at the topic ahead of time, but unlike my third essay I managed to refrain from thinking about it overmuch, so this should be reasonably good practice for me. Now to be fair, it’s rather unlikely I will be writing the GREs in a moving GO bus whilst I listen to my ipod on shuffle (Red Hot Chilli peppers are playing right now*), but still, it should do. For my own documentations sake, I’ve started writing at 10:46PM, let’s see if I can actually keep myself in my time frame for once.

*and just came on again as reread this line in editing, weird

So, one book everyone should read. My snap answer, at least for everyone in North America, really has to be the Bible. It informs so much of our culture, morality, and general society, yet it seems like the vast majority of North Americans haven’t read the darn thing. And to be honest, neither have I. I made a pretty good start in on it during a course this year, and found it really interesting, and hope some day to finish it cover to cover, but not for now. Which means I won’t be writing on it, because I really don’t feel reasonable writing an essay on a book I haven’t read.

Moving on from preachy to personal, I’m going cheat a tiny bit again and say the one book I think everyone should read is actually two books, known collectively as the Sarantium Mosaic. Written by the man who is probably my favourite author, Guy Gavriel Kay. I had to hesitate before I chose this as my option as it is a fantasy novel (although I would say it is more properly classified as mixture of fantasy and historical fiction), which I know is not everyone’s cup of tea. I also know a few people who don’t like the way Kay writes, but still, I think if I could have the power force everyone (or even just everyone I know) to read one book, this would have to be it. It embodies for me everything that good writing is. Its gripping and hard to put down, even at 2AM. Its portrayal of characters is deep, realistic, and touching. Kay does a fantastic job of making you care about even the most mundane and peripheral characters in a few short pages, to the point where their trials can be emotionally devastating. I think everyone should read this book because in my opinion it showcases all of the promise that the fantasy genre has to offer. More so than many of the classics (for example, I find the first two books of The Lord of The Rings to be incredibly slow) I think this book is capable of converting the sceptical. The fantastical world that is realized in the novel captures a truth about our world that I really don’t believe could be shown in a different way.

On a similar note, I love this book because it made me incredibly interested in a historical period I’d pretty much never heard of before (hmmm I can’t seem remember if its early or late Byzantium empire). I’ve always loved the idea of history, but I often find its study a bit dry. Kay, if I may use a very tired cliché, brings history to life. Rich with specific details that make it feel real, more so than pretty much any author I know Kay is able to transport me to a different time and place. In these books he also bizarrely manages to make me care the art of mosaics, which trust me, is no mean feat. He writes the way I wish I could write, capturing aspects of the world that seem essentially true to me. And beyond all this, its fun. Its a good story. It may take a bit to get used to his style, but when you do man does it pay off.

Basically as you can probably tell, I love everything about this book, and I would like other people to get to experience the same thing I do when I read them. I know that not everyone will feel this way if they do end up reading it, but I think a lot of people will. Which is why if there is one book I believe everyone should read, it would be the Sarantium Mosaic series.

Editors note: for once I did actually keep myself pretty closely within my time frame, Huzza!

Essay 4, useless knowledge and its oh so many uses

10 06 2011

And a first, actually starting an essay early (Wednesday night), huzza! Also the first time I didn’t know the topic ahead of time, so I can properly test my GRE thinking on feet skills, double huzza. Getting down to the essay… (Editors note, obviously I didn’t edit it nearly on time, and thus it wasn’t posted for a while).

Oh boy, useless knowledge, where do I begin. In the first place, I think I should draw attention to the fact that pretty much everyone writing one of these essays is in the artsci program, which is if not the most concentrated centre of useless knowledge outside of Wikipedia (or you know encyclopaedias in general), it’s at least in contention. We artscis tend to love a lot of things, much that would be considered useless by a large number of people. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that our program runs against specialization, and it seems to me that knowledge is only considered useful if it is specialized. There are some general forms of knowledge that everyone knows that are everyone would likely acknowledge as useful, say that you shouldn’t put your hand over fire, but in terms of academic knowledge I have generally found people to consider only the much more advanced forms of knowledge as useful. So first year chemistry = not that helpful for life, but stay with it for four years, and now you have a degree that is actually good for something (what I’m not quite sure, grad school probably, or somehow selling your knowledge to pharmaceutical companies, man for someone who was considered combining in chemistry I really know shockingly little about the chemistry world…). This seems to be universal accepted truth for most degrees that aren’t humanities degrees, which are generally mocked as being useless. This generally seems to me to be because people in humanities tend to develop a level of expertise on something that is not seen as readily useful to society. Chemist make chemical, physicists make cool things (or do really, REALLY abstract theorizing that we hope will one day lead to even cooler things, such as a quantum computers, I wants one), economist squabble constantly about the economy will do, all of these are things that society values (…somewhat surprisingly in the case of economists). Humanities students learn a heck of a lot about ancient Rome, or 19th British literature, or many other fields that aren’t of immediately apparent value (both fields I just realized that I might taking courses in next year). It’s the rare case where specialization seems to make it even less useful. Most people want to learn how to enjoy literature, or learn a bit about history, few people really want to spend years of their life researching it. We in artsci share a similar, but slightly different problem from our brethren in the humanities department, while we do have some sciences, we are not focused enough for it to appear useful to anyone. However, and I am well aware I’m preaching to the converted here, I think that there is quite some value in attaining “useless” knowledge. It’s hard to define exactly what, we as a program have a number of snap answers “it makes you a more well rounded individual”, “it teaches how to think”, “it prepares you for a wide range of future opportunities”, and while all are certainly very true, I don’t think any on its quite captures exactly why there are so many of us captivated by the pursuit of useless knowledge. If you want to feel less depressed by the value of our degree, I highly suggest attending the C2C conference (I believe in Waterloo this year), which this last year filled me with a passion and respect for our program and what its trying achieve in a way that I can’t articulate very clearly here and now.

Anyways, the point of this essay was supposed to be a pro artsci rant, so I’m going to move on to what useless knowledge means to me personally, some uses I’ve had for it, some fun times that have been brought about by it, what some of my useless knowledge is, and generally try to explain why I enjoy it so much. Now to start with, it would take a lot more than the 45 minutes I’ve given myself to list all of the useless knowledge that I know (Editors note, I wrote this in two half’s, and really exceeded my allotted time, but you know what, I’m still not going to list my useless knowledge, deal with it). Also its unlikely to be particularly interesting, since I generally need a prompt to remember interesting useless knowledge, instead of just plain random useless knowledge (ex light from the sun takes approximately eight minutes to reach the earth, although I actually find that one super cool, and am always surprised when I find out some people don’t know this fact).

Moving on, without being 100% sure why, I’ve devoted much of my life to the pursuit of useless knowledge. Be it incredibly actively, for example being on my high school Reach for the Top team (a high school trivia tournament), or passively simply in being part of the artsci program. I really, really like useless knowledge. I’ve tried to figure out why on more than one occasion. One answer that I come up with is that it helps me explain the world I live in; each bit of useless knowledge fits one more puzzle piece comfortable into place in the vast and confusing web that is my conception of existence. I like understanding why things happen, I like knowing why trees grow, why the sky is blue (although to be honest, I’ve never really learned the answer to that one nearly as well as I should, it has something to do with atmosphere and reflecting light rays and optic nerves, but beyond a general sense of that I’m sadly lacking), and why salt makes food taste so damn good (at least to me). I like my world to be one that is, if not orderly, at least moderately understandable. Probably even more so because my actual life my makes no sense whatsoever, it is so filled with random meetings, bizarre coincidences, and strange occurrences that if it were scripted parts of it definitely feel contrived and unnatural. So if my life doesn’t make any sense (in a good way, I enjoy the ridiculousness), at least the world I live in hopefully can.

As something of a non-sequitur, a second answer that I come up with is that I really like reading, and although I don’t do it nearly enough I also like writing quite a bit. The more random knowledge I have about the world, be it actually facts about how things happen (huzza for vaguely understanding solar nuclear fusion) or theories about people, I find that most everything I learn seems likely to improves my writing. Random knowledge about how things happens is pretty essential in my mind to writing passable fiction, because you really should understand the rules of the world before you break them horribly. I like my sci fi or fantasy to have fixed rules in their universe, an order to them makes sense in some way (and if its a good book, also usually doesn’t make perfect sense, much like real life), and I’d like anything I write to try to live up to at least some of the standards for what I set for what I read. Also, the more random knowledge I learn about people helps make any characters I write more real, even if they are hilariously unreal (see my drama night play for examples of this).

A final reason I like useless knowledge brings me back to my first essay topic, in which I mentioned that one of essential features is my love of learning. I like learning about things, pretty much everything, it just makes me happy, and for me that’s a pretty real and tangible benefit of useless knowledge. I simply like knowing that nectarines are a specifically breed of peaches chosen for their smooth skin recessive gene, just as I like knowing that adding salt to water raises its boiling point (that’s right RAISES it people, not lowers, this is just true, Wikipedia it if you don’t believe me).

I think that’s all I’ve got for now, I think I’m going to go write my 5th essay instead of doing what I should be doing and editing this one, but whatever, there’s no way your that desperate to read what I’ve got to say anyways. (Editors note, I totally did write the 5th essay before editing this one).

Essay 3: One thing I understand better than everyone else

7 06 2011

Essay 3

One thing I understand better than others.

So this is my first essay that I’m actually starting before it’s due, so that’s a plus. Sadly, I epically failed on my plan of not looking at the essay topic ahead of time, although it totally wasn’t my fault! I was reading other people’s wonderful essays, and a couple of them mentioned what this week’s topic was. Suddenly I was thrown into a “whatever you do, don’t think about the crocodiles” situation, and of course failed. Even worse, for some reason I was sure that the topic was “One thing you understand better than everyone else” rather than the much more humble “One thing you understand better than OTHERS”. So my half prewritten essay (including large swaths of this paragraph), doesn’t make that much sense anymore, but I’m pretty sure I’m just going to write it anyways. So, without further ado, one thing that I understand better than everyone else.

And the answer is…NOTHING! I spent a bit of time searching for a subject on which I thought I had more authority on than, if not everyone else, at least pretty much everyone I knew, and I came up with a big fat blank. I got nothing that I understand that much better than anyone else, I pretty much can always find at least one person who is better than me at anything I’m good at. However, this did somewhat ironically put me in mind of a second answer to my question, which is that one thing I understand better than everyone else is everything. So yea, that sounds pretty grandiose, and I suppose it is, but before you jump all over that statement give me a moment to explain what I mean. I do not mean that I know more about everything in the world than any other person alive, I’m certain that’s not true, if for no other reason than I’ve only been alive for a scant 21 years, so I simply haven’t had enough time to learn that much. No, what I’m trying to say is that more so than most anyone else I know I have a genuine interest in learning about an almost absurdly large number of things. Even among such a broad program as artsci I feel like I stand out a bit in the range of my interest. Last semester of university I was actually taking courses in 5 departments/faculties (I forget which is the right term). Anyways, it was a lot of different information, and it was pretty much my ideal learning situation. It was challenging, made me exercise vastly different parts of my brain, and forced me jump between thinking about gender relations in 1945 film noirs to contemplating the limitless power mind as described by 12th century Chinese Buddhist monks, all within 24 hours (Film History and East Thought II, essays due Monday and Wednesday, this actually happened). What comes along with being torn in so many different directions is a pretty impressive baseline knowledge in a lot of areas. I’m not an expert in many things, but I know a decent amount about a darn lot (geography and global politics being two very notable weak points in my learning), and I think I’m maybe willing to say that I might have a broader general base of knowledge than pretty much everyone I know (possible not, but I’m running with it anyways). Please note that my previous sentence had no less than four qualifying words and explanation in parenthesis lest I offend anyone, but really, I do think it’s kinda true.

The idea that there is nothing that I’m better at or understand more fully than anyone else leading to me being good at everything (or less provocatively titles, a wide range of things) makes a certain amount of sense to my math brain, where the concepts of infinity and zero are necessarily linked. Don’t believe me (for some odd reason), try dividing any number by zero, then try dividing any number by infinity, and see what you get.

Editor’s note goes here now. YARGGGG I was totally going to finish on time for once, but then I got called down to dinner (delicious Thai deliver, not to be passed up for anything short of the rapture, so maybe I’ll pass on it tomorrow night…Editors note the second, the joke was hilarious when it was still topical two weeks ago), and then got asked to come in to work (by none other than lovely artsci grad Victoria Weaver) because it was warm and lovely, so lots and lots people decided tonight was just perfect night for some ice-cream. Anyways, long story short I didn’t get back until 12:15, and by that time I was already passed the deadline, sadness consumes me. At least I haven’t read anyone else’s yet, kept that promise.

Anyways back on track, I pretty much see my current life as fitting neatly into the category of “Jack of all traders, master of none”, which I’m pretty darn happy with. I feel like the most likely meaning of that phrase came from the fact that “Jack” was a pretty common name, so there was always some guy named Jack who was, you know, pretty good at his job, probably could be better. However, since Jack has fallen with Ruth and Morbo off the common names list (ok that second one was probably never popular, but it should be), I prefer to think of the phrase as referring to the card jack. The jack is the third or forth highest valued card (depending on if aces are counting as high or low), and you know what, I’m pretty darn happy to be considered the third or forth best (to be fair out of 14) in a whole bunch of things. And I actually think it’s pretty accurate to my life. Except maybe for a few courses in Grade 12 I was never the top of my class (oh and one memorable history exam at the end of grade 8 that I’m still proud off…it was really hard exam!), but I usually am reasonably close. Academically on average I might actually end up somewhere in the 2/14 range, but for some reason I’m not quite as happy calling myself the queen of all trades, so I’ll stick with jack. On that note, the way I interpret jack of all trade extends beyond my academic sphere to basically my whole life. I enjoy a lot of things, and am reasonably good at a lot of things, but don’t have bursting natural talent at any of them. For instance, scooping ice cream, its actually a lot of fun, and I’m good at my job (or at least I make pretty good tips and my boss’s like me, so I assume I’m good at my job), but I wouldn’t say I’m the best at it, which is fine.

So yes, if there is one thing I understand better than anyone else, its being torn in ton of different directions, and having each of those direction seem equally valid, plausible, and rewarding. Sometimes the choice is easy (example, artsci, choosing to let myself continue to be torn for four more years really was rather obvious), sometimes it’s quite hard (course selection for the upcoming year is likely to be an example of this), but boy oh boy do I understand hating to have to make that choice. Luckily this tension also comes with the added benefit of understanding everything better than everyone else.*

*for the many disclaimers on this statement, read the above essay

Second Editors note. So yea, I finished this essay two weeks ago, but promised myself that I would carefully proofread all essays before posting them to improve my editing skills. Well, guess what I really didn’t feel like doing for the last two weeks. Personally, I blame the LSATs, it took much more time and energy to study for than I had planned for. Well, it is done now, and hopefully (and probably I think) done well, so back essay editing it is.

One Thing I Wish I Was Smart Enough to Understand

17 05 2011

So here I am again, starting to write my essay days after it was supposed to be finished. I also have yet to keep to plan to only read the topic when I start writing the essay in order to better prepare me for the GREs testing situation. But, I am writing on Notepad instead of Word, so no spell-check for me for this essay. Huzza! Although it did occur to me that it would be actually beneficial to spell check my essays after I have finished writing them in order to note which words I misspelled even after carefully re-reading the essay, so the things that will end up as my actual blog posts will likely be not quite as badly spelled as they could be.

Enough distractions, one thing I wish I was smart enough to understand. My immediate cop-out answer is EVERYTHING!!! Seriously, I love learning new things, and there are few areas that I’m genuinely not interested, just some I happen to have slightly more interest in. A second cop-out answer is why in God’s name the letter “i” is capitalized when its used as a personal pronoun. This simple fact is making my life a living hell right now, as I have to go back and correct the many, many lowercase i’s in this essay, which normally Microsoft Word would lovingly autocorrect for me. A third answer would be not really something I wish I was smart enough to understand, but more just something I wish I could do in general, which is have an absolute belief in anything. However, I won’t be writing about that because even though that’s been true for me for a long time, I pretty much stole it as essay topic from Harrison’s wonderful essay this week, and I really doubt I could do a better job with that topic than he did.

So, having established what I won’t be writing about, I’m about to break another of the rules I set for myself and do something my GRE prep book told me not to do, and not exactly answer the question. Or, to be more precise I’m going to put forward three answers. Why three you ask? Well for one thing, I thought none of three answers I could come up with would make a satisfying essay on their own, and two is just an odd [sic] number. As well, I think each thing I wish I was smart enough to understand reflects a slightly different side of who I am, and that the three together provide a tiny bit more revealing look at who I am than a single answer alone. So, getting down to business.

1) The Shape of the Universe. Specifically how the universe can both be “flat” and infinite. I took a course titled “Origins of Space-time” this year, which was super interesting. One of the concepts we discussed was the shape of the universe. Mathematically I can sort of understand how the universe is flat (sort of because we skipped over some of the ridiculously hard math bits, so I have an understanding of it, without really being able to fully explain it). But conceptually, I just don’t get it. This wasn’t the first time I had come across this concept, but for some reason I had high hopes that finally I would just “get” it. Nope, didn’t happen. I can kind of get it if the universe loops around on itself, so it looks flat because its super big, but if you travel enough in one direction you will end up back where you started, so in one sense its infinite, but in another its not. Sadly, I’m about 95% that situation doesn’t actually describe our universe, which is legitimately “flat” in some way I just don’t really understand. I find it a bit unsettling that the universe that I inhabit has a “shape” that doesn’t make sense to me. Seriously people, flat DOES NOT EQUAL infinite in my mind. I have enough trouble accepting flat when I know we live in (at least) three dimensions of space, but I think flat might then just be a geometrical metaphor and not actually the actual, I don’t know, physical space of the universe. Whatever, it is something that has always given me trouble, and some day I would love to understand it.

So with number one down, I’d like to move a bit away from academia with
2) Art. Specifically visual art. Its one of the few artistic mediums I have very little understanding off (Dance is probably at the top of the list, but that doesn’t bother me as much art for some reason). I’ve never been particularly talented at any artistic medium (except maybe creative writing, which I haven’t really done enough to know about one way or the other), but with some hard work I’ve gathered a reasonably deep appreciation of many of the more common arts. TV, and more recently Movies I find myself able to appreciate, good writing has always deeply appealed to me, theatre is vastly enjoyable, and with some years of training (mostly by playing) I now appreciate and notice music much more than I used to. For each of these mediums my understanding has started with an initial enjoyment, followed by a conscious effort to understanding the workings of the medium. I’ve learned to not just say that I enjoyed a movie, but why. Which elements I thought were particularly effective, and which could have been done better. I still have much to learn about all of these, but I feel I have reasonable level of understanding of each, and am able to articulate my understanding to others. Not so for visual art. I deeply enjoy some artwork, and if you’ve ever been to my room in Hamilton you will know that I like gather art and look at it, but at a pretty fundamental level I don’t get it. I’m not quite sure why, certainly a large part is likely due to the fact that I really, sincerely, cannot draw. I can paint a tiny bit, or at least, working with paint as medium tends to result in less horrifying results than ink or graphite, but really most visual art is beyond my talents. Collage is the closest to a somewhat legitimate visual art form I feel I have an even vague talent for, and that’s re-arranging others work. Its not that I don’t have a visual imagination, I do, a very vivid one, but I’ve never been able to express what I can see in my head in images. A lot of this is lack of formal training, but even as a youth when “art” was a mandatory class I was quite clearly not one of the talented ones, and despite my best efforts, certainly not one of the quickest learners either. Anyways, getting back on track, I like art. I like looking at it, and there is some art I clearly know that I like more than other art. As a general rule I find realistic, or at least non-abstract art more approachable and thus more appealing, but there really is wide variety of artwork that I enjoy. However, I can’t really tell you why I enjoy, or in any serious way differentiate good art from bad. My categorization of artwork extends pretty much to artwork I like, and artwork I don’t like. The thing is, I know there is large amount of artwork that I don’t like, that very smart people say is important, and more significantly enjoyable. It makes me sad that I fundamentally just don’t understand these paintings. So if I had a lot of spare time and more patience for things that I’m bad at than I currently posses, I would like to learn more about the fundamentals of art and art history to get a better understanding of the medium

And continuing my trend away from all things academic
3) Sports. I just don’t get them. Literally for many of them I simply don’t know the rules, and for the ones where I do understand the rules, I don’t get what the fuss is about. I like playing sports, at least casually, but watching them has never held much appeal for me. If I’m in the right mood, and I’m with people who are very invested in the sport, I can find watching a game enjoyable, but I’ve never watched more than five minutes of a game by myself. I simply don’t understand people’s investment in the accomplishments of others. At least for sports. I like seeing a not very well known actor/musician/writer that I like have things go well for them, but I’ve never been able to care about a sports team, or a sports player (at least not ones who I’m not already emotionally attached to for other reasons, for example my friends who play college sports). A number of people who I like and respect, including my dad, enjoy watching sports (although my dad never enough to indoctrinate me into the world of sports), but it has just never been something I can find myself getting invested in. In the abstract I can understand how one can enjoy sports, watching players work together seamlessly as team, expertly pulling of plays that could never be done with that level of artistry at any lower level of skill. I can also deeply appreciate the statistics hawks, who like to try to predict future outcomes from lists of what are to me incomprehensible numbers. But its really just never held any appeal to me. I think because its never held any appeal, I’ve never put in the effort I would need to in order to appreciate the deeper aspects of the game that an untutored eye misses, which means I can’t enjoy them on an intellectual level, which for means I can’t really enjoy them at all. I would like to understand sports because they are so much a part of North American culture, and much as I long ago accepted (and embraced) the fact that I will never be, and really have no desire to be at all like the average North American, I do like to understand people, and its fundamental aspect of our culture that I find myself almost totally unable to connect with. Thus, one thing I wish I was smart enough to understand would certainly be sports.

*Editors note (who is also the writer, but just after he’s done writing). In case your wondering how the timing/spelling is going, the answer is not perfectly, but with some hope. While there were many more spelling errors that Word caught than I might have wished for, there were many fewer than in my average first draft. Timing wise I took longer than the hour I allotted for myself, but I also generated a fairly significant amount of text, so the thing I most need to work on is not speed, but brevity, so that’s good to know.

Essay about me

16 05 2011

Well first off, in case you haven’t read my main page, which I’m certain you haven’t as I have not created it yet, you should know that I’m attempting this essay a week challenge mostly for fun, but also to try to train myself to write a solid essay that is well spelled, structured, and you know, not completely unreadable in around 45 minutes. What this means, dear reader, is that for every essay that is not this essay, I will be using a word processor that does not have spell check, in order to mimic the lovely computer based GRE’s test that I’m prepping. Which likely means many of the essays will, somewhat ironically, be rather filled with spelling and grammar errors. The hope is that the number of said errors will decrease as the weeks progress, whether this happens or not remains to be seen.

Moving on. The astute reader will have already picked up certain facts about myself, including that one of my defining characteristics seems to be my total inability to spell properly. Seriously I can’t. I mean, that’s not exactly correct, I can, sometimes. The majority of the spelling mistakes I make in essays, online posts, and even random computer notes to myself are actually the result of carelessness and haste, rather than any deeply ingrained inability to spell. With that proviso aside, apparently I really can’t spell. Some time ago I did a general intelligence test thingy, and they were like “so…Daniel is pretty smart, but he can’t spell at all, and he’s kind of slow (or something to that affect)”. The upshot of which was that now I was magically entitled to bonus time on tests. I’ve never actually taken extra time on tests, mostly because I tend to do well anyways, so it just seems unfair. Also, a bit because I like to challenge myself (sometimes), and a bit because I don’t want to write in a room all by myself. Anyways, officially, I have issues spelling, and more importantly, I also have significant issues noticing when other people misspell things, and even larger issues figuring out when I have misspelled something, it just doesn’t register. To the point where I will read a sentence three times, and not notice a glaring spelling error. The same thing can happen with whole words as well. So now you know.

Allrighty then, that was a whole big rant that was tangentially related to me, but not exactly about me, which leads me to my second thing you might able to have picked up about me. I don’t really talk about myself all that much. I mean I’m happy to, I honestly don’t mind people prying, if there is something I don’t want you to know I simply won’t tell, I’m very good at that. But, I never really initiate conversations about myself, don’t do it, possible never will. Thus, while the essay topic did start the conversation about myself, unless I have someone pulling me back on track I’ll tend to go off on tangents. Probably because a) I find tangents interesting, and b) they are much easier to write about, as they are way less personal, and thus I have much less invested in them.

Getting back to the main topic, who am I? Not really an easy question to answer, most likely because there isn’t a single definite answer. For one thing, who I am keeps changing. For another, even if that wasn’t true, I still feel like it would be hard to know for sure who I (or anyone) is. Regardless, here are some general truths about myself that you could conceivably find interesting
1) I’m truly passionate about very little. On an intellectual level I feel like I should passionate about politics, the environment, poverty, the general state of the world, and myriad of other issues that people care deeply about. I feel like I should care, but I don’t, not really. I’m interested, very interested, I like learning about them, but rarely do I feel the burning need to take action in any of these areas.

2) Taking number 1 into account, I’ve realized that if there is one thing I’m really passionate about its education. I really, really like learning. Which means when I think a professor/teacher isn’t doing a good job, or more importantly is doing a really bad job, it bothers me. It legitimately gets me angry in way that little else does. On a similar note, I abhor general stupidity, seriously, it annoys me. On the more positive side, it also means I love teaching. Having TAed this year it was honestly one of the best things I’ve ever done. It wasn’t easy, it was certainly scary at times, and occasionally I could be found cursing myself at 1AM for having to mark another paper when I had in exam in 3 days, but overall I simply loved it.

3) So you’d think, great you love teaching, thing three is that your totally going to be a teacher right? Not so much. For one thing, I’m really not sure how much I like kids. I don’t like to make conclusions without sufficient evidence (seriously, I actually tend approach my life empirically like this), but I have vivid memories of visiting my old grade 1-2 teacher when I was in grade 6 and being terrified by the number of screaming and running around children. That pretty much killed my desire to teach elementary school. Grade 7-8 is when kids are just awkward and angsty, and high school is depressing, because the students should be smart, but they really aren’t. I learned this first hand in my grade 12 writers craft class. This is a class people voluntarily took. All you had to do for the first three months was write a short story each month, read each others stories, and discuss them with the class. In a class of about 20, maybe 6 were good/showed real promise, and another 5 were passable. That left about half in the bad to appalling range. This was grade 12, the cream of the crop of the writers. *shudder*. Anyways, maybe not so much with the teaching. Being a professor sounds awesome…in the abstract. I’m just not certain I want to spend 5-7 years of life researching a single thing in order to write a dissertation on it, and then do it over and over again for the rest of my life. Also, the idea that my work will never end, that I will always have something to do, is just a bit terrifying. I love me my academics, but I also like my breaks from them. So this leaves me with life plans of…not very much, maybe lawschool, maybe grad school, maybe something random I haven’t thought of yet. On the plus side, I’m really alright with have basically no direction with my life right now, so that’s nice.

4) I’m a big fan of relativism. I’m pretty sure that’s a fairly loaded word that has a lot of different interpretations behind it, but for me it just means that there is almost always another way of looking at something. This is great, because the world is now endlessly interesting, but it comes at the rather large price of giving up some comforting absolutes. Pretty much every single thing in my life falls into the “shades of grey” region. I’m pretty sure this is large cause for my general lack of passion, because I look at a topic and I go “sure that’s horrible/great (depending on the topic), BUT…”. The shades grey of grey idea pretty much also works for my general interests in life. If there was word for omnivorous, that meant for everything and not for food, I’d be that. From music, movies and books, to which academic course I’m interested in, to who I’m attracted to, I tend to like a little bit of everything. Folk, rock, and classical; romantic comedies to sci fi, fantasy (one of my first loves) to Victorian literature I tend to sincerely enjoy most things I try. Which is great, it just means making up my mind is sometimes mind-bogglingly difficult.

5) I’m a pretty big nerd, I like nerdy things. Talk with me in person and you’ll figure this out pretty fast. I’m not the most fanatical nerd at any one thing, but I pretty broad range of nerdoms that I can comfortably nerd out in.

6) I really like to talk, generally to other people, but I also will occasionally have a tendency to ramble, hence the bloated length of this essay.

7+8) I’m a night owl, and a massive procrastinator. Which is why this essay is being written between 4:30-5:30 AM, and why my blog and essay are coming up about 10 days after they were supposed to.

Well, I’m sure I could ramble on for longer, but one of the skills I’m hoping to practice is proofreading, so I’m going to spend the next 15 minutes I allotted myself to this doing that. (editors note, it turns out it look about 25 minutes to proofread, I must make my essays shorter). I hope whatever random creepers are reading this either enjoyed my essay, or skipped to the end and feel properly guilty now for not having actually gone ahead and read the whole thing. Please note, dear creepers, that half the reason I decided to actually go ahead and write this is so that I could creep other peoples essays, and feel way less creepy.

Cheers for now, I look forward to rambling some more at you at some later date (ideally with a little less ramble later one, but writing about oneself practically screams for stream of consciousness writing, at least to my mind).