Basic Information


Strumming on a Bass Guitar, like.One of the perks of my relationship right now is that my ladyfriend has both been a professional and studied musician, and she’s of a scientific bent. This means I can ask her fairly pointless questions and get hugely satisfying, thorough explanations with very little work invested on my part.

I’ve been wondering, for example, why the bass guitar parts of musical ensembles seem to be simplistic and dull compared with the more complex parts played by other instruments—lead guitar and keyboard most obviously. This is more blatant when comparing solos, and seemed to be consistently unflattering to the bassist, presumably in terms of compositional attention (if not the performer’s ability). So, I asked Carolyn, “is the discrepancy between the complexity of lead and bass guitar parts a function of the physical characteristics of the instruments, musical conventions, the egos of band leaders, or…?”

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Valediction 2

Danny from 2016: My M.A. years, and the thesis that came out of it was an awfully dark period, marked probably by undiagnosed depression, but also a number of good things: I got fit, I met my thesis supervisor, Clare Brett, who continues to be my exemplar for the non-academic responsibilities of a mentor and good human, I experienced unalloyed, simple joy in solitude at my family cottage, and as the miasma of the struggle dissipated, I eventually became proud of what I’d produced.  It took me at least a year not to feel broken, and I still don’t think the document’s tremendously good (or useful) reading, but if you’re interested to see what all this resulted in, I’ve built a little shrine for the misshapen leviathan over here.

I started writing this in my head during a shower two days before I finished my thesis, when my albatross fell off prematurely and hope flooded in.  I felt superstitiously hubristic, but I couldn’t stop being happy and peaceful.  It was awful.

I don’t know how much those minutes of time-warped exaltation were responsible for my ambivalence when people (all the people) subsequently asked me how it felt to be done—it’s been old news since before it happened.  There’s other stuff, though: I also didn’t feel like I’d accomplished anything meaningful: my work was incredibly narrow in scope, with a rotten theoretical foundation, which makes it unlikely that I’ll be able to chop it up into articles and offer it up to Academe, which is really the only way it might begin to make a contribution.  I’m not planning to teach in Second Life.  The document, in terms of broader literary value and polish, is a crooked sandcastle rendered in sun-ripened meconium, capable of bringing joy to no one I’d be comfortable meeting without adult supervision.  The sheer output of words seems impressive, but my snobby creative self immediately points out that it could have been a novel.  The thought of going on to do a PhD right now is revolting, and I have some very good friends who, if I seriously considered the enterprise anytime soon, could be counted upon to quite rightly break my legs.  I took two extra years to finish, at a pretty significant cost to my family’s finances and emotional wellbeing.  I’m not celebrating.

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I’ve had two distinct golden ages of walking: one was during undergrad, when I explored the trails around Nipissing and North Bay listening to Teaching Company lectures, and the other seems to be right now.  I’ve been at my family’s cottage since last autumn and through the winter, with walking being a critical part of my lifestyle: the grocery store is a six kilometre round trip, and is a very boring route, so I’ve taken to adding variety by hiking the trails near Brechin and Lagoon City to get there.  This typically entails detours of another four to eight kilometres, often in completely the wrong direction.  The bush here is swampy and beautiful, riddled with nicely-maintained ATV roads and a raised, straight strip of land that used to be a railroad line, handily cutting across the wetlands in slow, stately dereliction.  The bugs, which can be monstrous during the summer because of all the standing water, haven’t yet appeared, so the walks are essentially perfect.

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Inky Doodles

After two years of flaccidly trying to get a poetry group together (and now that I’m daily trying to figure out what to spend my hour-long writing sessions on), I’ve decided to work through Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled by myself.  But, the exercises don’t start for a while, and I’m bloody-mindedly reading it from the beginning (for the fourth time), so I got twitchy.  I did a couple of mad doodles, starting with this.

Stand, deliver up thy blows,
Weak in heart and long in nose,
Cyrano, before the sun:
Silhouetted, underdone.

I have no idea what it means.  If I’m very lucky, some scholar will devote her dissertation to excavating my genius while I’m still alive, and my curiosity will eventually be satisfied.  For now, I’ll assume it’s nonsense.

I like the metre, though. 

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Unwonted Productivity

(This post starts with lots of tedious, whining context.  If you’d like to skip to the good stuff, please click here.)

Since fourth-year of my undergrad, my academic life has been a losing struggle for productivity.  Procrastination no longer tested the edge of my due-dates, but the patience of my professors.  By the first couple of years at OISE, I actually got fatalistic about it, and felt often as if I was watching my own self-destruction from a safe distance with idle, morbid fascination.  Sometimes, I could muster misery; often I dallied with shame and self-loathing (publically, even, to the grief and probable boredom of friends and family).  My rationalizations for the consistently missed deadlines, and the undeniable fact that my peers were marching past me academically and socially, were always based in some sort of reality but they became increasingly byzantine and hollow.  I incorporated my sense of futility into my identity and wondered that I had ever respected myself.  It’s likely that I was clinically depressed, but consistently, I didn’t face it.

My desperation to be done with my thesis eventually grew strong enough to break through my apathy, and I started actively working on strategies to get work done.  Brian and I had some productivity dates around the time I was working at Indigo, the semi-successful engine of which was simulated peer pressure (since neither of us would ever have dreamed of chewing the other out for flakiness).  Scheduling and proximity were a problem, though, and made these meetings inconsistent.  When I moved up north after Gideon got his job in La Loche, the distance was an issue and meetings eventually stopped altogether.  There’ve been less distractions up here, and I’d become marginally more productive than I was in Toronto, but progress remained agonizing.

Over the last five days, I have (tentatively, but optimistically) turned myself around.  As with anything like this, consistency is more important than initial, favourable results, and therefore the bubbly remains on ice.  But, I’m chronicling how it happened here so that

  1. If I lose my way, I can come back here and try to reboot;
  2. If it turns out that this changed my life, I’ve got a record of my personality on the cusp, when I was happy and hopeful, but before I got all arrogant and preachy;
  3. Maybe a variant of this approach can eventually be useful to someone else.
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Exploring Our World Meets Mark Thomas

For the last year and a half I’ve been working with Jenny to host “Exploring Our World” out of St. Clements Church with the older Youth Group kids.  This is billed (defensively, by me) as a “Secular Enrichment Class on Sundry Exciting Topics,” but essentially means I get to talk with intelligent and interested highschoolers about neuroscience, astronomy, ethics, and music.  Programming, for the most part, has been semi-prepared (read: spontaneously inspired) (alternatively, read: slapdash—deleted as applicable based on the results after the fact, typically), but we’ve just started a couple of long-term projects that I’ll be following here and wanted to tell you about.

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