Monthly Archives: April 2007

Four months

Sartre said that 3pm is either too early or too late to do anything you want to do.

I think a similar thing is true of the period of four months: it is either too long a time, or not long enough.

For instance: I came to Canada to spend 4 months. Then I liked it so much that I stayed another 4. And then another 4. And so on, and so on. It has now been 8 years.

Last Christmas I decided it was enough. I would do another set of 4 months, and go home in April. And because it was supposed to be the “last” 4 months, I stopped investing energy in trying new things, because, after all, what’s the point, I’ll be gone in four months.

The funny thing though, is that when I first came, the same justification was used for exactly the opposite behaviour. I had to try everything, and fast, because I’d only be around for four months. I had no time to lose. So I just made friends and went places and did things and was generally happy and carefree.

But whereas in my first four months in Canada the short amount of time translated into an incredible openness, in this last four months the opposite was the case. All of a sudden four months was too short a time to start anything worthwhile. Granted, it was winter time. But still. There are thousand of things you can do in four wintry months, as my friend Danilo who just moved to Montreal last Christmas can attest (

It is now April, and the four months have again been extended for another four. Will it be too long or too short to do things I want to do?

This time I want to say: it is just the right amount of time.

Mid-April Resolutions

1. To stop reading, until I’ve finished my dissertation. I’ve read more than I can fit into it already.

2. To sit down to write a single sentence, instead of waiting for the whole page to materialise at once. Or the whole dissertation.

3. To think at least 5 impossible thoughts before breakfast.

4. To write at least one of these down. Preferably in fiction mode. But maybe also dissertation mode.

5. To stop complaining, unless it is in writing. Preferably in fiction mode. Or poetry.

6. To go to the gym before going to school. No excuses.

7. To stop overanalysing everything, unless it is in writing.

8. To practice talking once in a while, but not about the things I have, am or will commit to writing.

9. To be less economical with my camera. Lower the bar about what the photographic worth of things.

10. To be less economical period. Especially with smiles. There are more where these come from.

Commitment vs. Pastime

Last week four students in my department came over my place for dinner. Coincidentally or not, all the four of them are Chinese, married, and their respective husbands (and children) are all in China.

This made me think. Sometimes I complain of the difficulties of struggling to complete a doctorate living by myself with no family in an eight-thousand-kilometer radius; that this double life is just not worth it; why am I doing this anyways; blah, blah, blah. But for these colleagues, the double-life feeling is much more drastic: their family ties stronger; the trip home much longer; the language and cultural barriers much more pronounced (at least I don’t need to learn a new alphabet).

It may be just the way I look at it, one of those “grass is always greener” type of feelings. But they not only seem to take their programme more seriously, but they take the whole process with much more serenity than I do. Is it a sacrifice for them? Certainly, but one that was carefully considered and then embraced. They seem to have a purpose as well as something at stake: something that makes all this studying make sense, and gives it some value that goes beyong studying for study sake.

As for me, do I have a purpose? Not sure. Sometimes I feel that it is all like an elaborate computer game, as a friend of mine says, which I started playing because it seemed like fun, but that now got quite challenging. My fingers are cramping, my eyes are sore from looking at the screen for so long, by brain is burning out, my social life is going down the drain, but my intellectual vanity does not allow me to quit at this point (“it’s been so many obstacles, I must be getting near the end any time now,” she says, as hours, weeks, years pass by). I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t seem to me like a motive deserving of a doctorate. I need a worthier cause. I must have more at stake than just the fear of losing face, right?

Maybe finding out what this is just the missing key that I need to move on to the next level.

Food for the Soul

Yesterday I went out for brunch at a place I hadn’t been to in a long time, and that was nice. I used to like going there because they always happened to play the Beatles. Whole albums. From beginning to end.

This time they played not Beatles, but Elvis. Not bad at all, though it made it harder to concentrate on the conversations I was having (when I was having them, that is… the interruptions were just too many). After Elvis, an assortment of oldies, that made not only myself sing along, but the people at the next table too.

I left the restaurant, and went to a bookstore to look for some inspiration to write. It came, but not so much from the thousands and thousands of attractive titles all promising to give me the solution to all my problems (I am sure the solution must be there somewhere, but my lifetime is finite, and the number books in the world — or in a bookstore — I’m pretty sure isn’t).

The inspiration came from their playing “Help”, by the Beatles, in the backgroud. Not just track number 1 from the album of the same name — which in itself reflected my mood and somehow uplifted it. They played the whole album. All the fourteen tracks of it.

As my poor younger brother well remembers, “Help” was the first album I ever bought. With customary teenage tenacity, I played it over and over and over again (I don’t know whether so “customary”, but I was 13, and my purchase power was limited by monthly allowance). I’d almost say I played this album “ad nauseam”, only I never got sick of it (not sure the same cannot be said for my brother). I learned the lyrics (even though I didn’t understand English at the time — but it sure helped me with that). I learned the chords (two things the Beatles inspired me to do: to learn English and to play the guitar. But now at the bookstore I could not for the life of me remember the last time I had listened to the album from beginning to end.

I wasn’t looking for anything in particular (other than the ultimate answer to life, the universe and all there is — as I said, nothing in particular). So I just browsed aimlessly from shelf to shelf. I went from Aboriginal Studies to Zoology, through Health and Well-Being and back through Digital lifestyles, humming — what am I saying — singing, lound and clearly, prounouncing each word deliberately, remembering the time I didn’t even know what they meant. Some people, I noticed, turned around and stared at me. Some others were too busy in their own quest, while others were busy singing along too.

At the final chord of “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” the search for inspiration was over and I came home, fully satisfied with my Sunday brunch+bookstore combo. And I could not decide whether it was the food or the music at that restaurant that made me always so happy and energised.