What your Freshman Year Will Teach You about College Life

College is a new world and there isn’t any sight of Aladdin to show you around on a savvy magic carpet. It can be confusing but let me tell you, that is nothing compared to the feeling of being in charge of your own life. And that’s what college gives you. Not just grades and assignments but experience.

Here are some pointers for the fresh batch of freshmen:

  • For once, you’ve got a monthly or maybe weekly budget to live on and at first it may seem intoxicating to have so much money on hand but be wise! Many of my friends have spent far too much on smokes and alcohol than food and basic necessities.
  • Is eating junk food everyday a lifelong dream of yours? Think again. With so much McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell comes what I can only call junk food saturation- the point where your taste buds can no longer process the same old Macs and popcorn chicken. It’s natural for college kids to go out for lunch and dinner instead of eating on campus but after a while I found myself missing out on my mom’s home made meals!mcd
  • Going to college is a lesson in itself of how many different kinds of people walk this diverse planet. From the micro society of high school comes the macro scale of university, opportunities and social connections rising in scale.
  • Your social life can take a real dive if you let that happen and it certainly might. What with deadlines, exams and extra courses it can be difficult to make time to go out for a drink or to a party even. Space things out and make sure you don’t cram college coursework in at the end of the semester, making your friends wonder what rock you’ve gone to live under. Relax.
  • Laundry is a pain the ass. Enough said.

Sharpen your skills with a 30 Day Writing Challenge!

Typewrite your way out of it
Type-write your way out of it

If you want to hone your skills as a writer but suffer from the ever-cloying writers block, then a 30 day writing challenge may be just what you need. The aim of these challenges are to provide some structured spontaneity to your writing as well as make you write on a regular basis. What may start out as a penning exercise may actually turn out to be productive and inventive in its own right!

I’ll be starting this writing challenge later on in May but you could try it out right NOW. It starts out with 30 simple words:

beginning. winter. accusation. restless.snowflake. haze. flame. formal. companion. move. silver. prepared. knowledge. denial. wind. order. thanks. look. summer. transformation. tremble. sunset. mad. thousand. outside. diamond. letters. promise. simple. future.

Write a poem, a short story or a novel with 30 chapters using these words as guidelines. Don’t take them literally, be as creative with your interpretation as possible! In the end, those 30 little words should be a work of art.

Kids and Lit

Antoine de Saint Exupéry once wrote in Le Petit Prince, “All grown-ups were once children…but only few of them remember it.” Well I’m one of those lucky few. (Not that I’m a grown up per say.)

 When I was a child I was fluent in a special language (one of my favourites to this day) called GOBBLEFUNK, the brain child of Roald Dahl. Dahl loved to twist and turn the English language to create strange and interesting words which he used in his writing.

So I can easily say I svolloped (destroyed) all of Roald Dahl’s books, reading them over and over, till my copies no longer resembled their pristine form. I lived in the world he created, full of oompa-loompas, vermicious knids, time twiddlers and blabbersnitches. I remember sitting up late in my bed, hiding under the sheets using a flashlight to read the BFG and George’s Marvelous Medicine way past my bed time, my gogglers (eyes) unable to be pried away from the pages. Then I went to sleep and had ringbellers (excellent dreams) about phizzwhizzle and whizzpopping. Who would ever want to wake up? Not me, that’s for certain.

Except as the years go by, the shelves pile up with bigger books with much bigger words and one day I did wake up….

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

There goes the sound of my alarm, waking me up after living in the land of dreams. And then I look around myself and think, “Oh no! I’m living in the ADULT WORLD!” It’s a scary place where all we do is splatch-wink (rush around in a hurry) without realising why we’re splatch-winking. What’s my first thought? I DON’T WANT TO BE HERE!

So what do I do?

Head for the time machine, that’s what.

Master of the Time Machine

There is a time machine I know of

Without buttons and gears as such

It presents a world of wonder

A world I wish to visit

Oh so very much

 Some adults refuse to leave the land of childhood and those are the best kind. If I had to pick one children’s author to call my favourite it would most definitely be Roald Dahl. Despite the fact that he was a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force and having seen the worst, he could still come back from the anarchy of war and write books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (now also a major motion picture starring Johnny Depp), The Twits, Matilda, Fantastic Mr. Fox and many others. Dahl had his own writing hut where the all the magic happened and I can safely say that it was from this very hut that the essence of my childhood was captured and cultivated from.

Reading Roald Dahl as a child is a way of living in the present. But reading Roald Dahl at the age of eighteen is way of revisiting the past. Forget the gadgetry and automated notions of time machines. If you’ve got a Roald Dahl book in your hand, you’re all set to take a trip down memory lane.

So I’m right here about to get a ticket to my childhood. There’s only one problem… I always get asked the same old pesky question. “Why don’t you grow up?”

To which I reply with the same old answer…

“Why should I?”

The Scrumdiddlyumptious Art of Writing for Children

Never tell me it’s immature to read children’s books at this age. I’ll read them even when I’m in my eighties.

 The fact is that children literature is the foundation upon which young readers catapult themselves into the depths of adult novels and other forms of literature. If I had never read my first book, Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss, I may never have discovered my passion for reading and writing. From Dr. Seuss’ picture books to Roald Dahl’s chapter books, the transition starts.

Children literature is widely underappreciated, not being given its due importance. And that’s just buggles (absolutely crazy). We grow up and forget about the books that made us who we are today and it’s a shame.

Many are under the illusion that just about anyone can write a novel for kids. In fact, they could not be more wrong. It is far more difficult to write a book catering to children than one catering to people your own age. Just try it. I dare you.

Write a story for children in not more than a couple of hundred words. Sounds simple doesn’t it?

george

Here’s the gist of what needs to be considered when writing for kids:

  • Strip back the decadent language. This isn’t the place to use studies for affectation or ornament.
  • Brevity is key and hence one must learn to pick and choose the right and best words to narrate the tale.
  • The sentence structure and vocabulary should appeal to young readers and must be written in such a way that kids can understand it. Otherwise it’s all moot.
  • Write in such a manner so as to foster a sense of anticipation in the child. Make them cry, “Mommy what happens next?” when their mothers read it to them at bedtime.
  • Lastly, use evocative and rich words that paint a picture in the child’s mind, sparking their imagination. Imagery is essential, after all.

Not quite so easy is it? Yet Roald Dahl makes it sound like a piece of cake when he said, “You can write about anything for children as long as you’ve got humour.”

To write a book for children, you’ll have to be twice as creative and more than half mad. It’s all about pushing boundaries and maybe eliminating them altogether. Anyone can write about the real world, simply because we live, eat and breathe in it. It takes a whole lot more talent to create your own world where reason is an outcast and write about it.

So never under estimate the power of a children’s author. You never know what’s going on in their head. That’s the beauty of it.

And the only way to experience the author’s world is getting into the time machine. So I take one step forward and what do you know…I’m inside.

The Arranged Marriage between Pictures and Words

The time machine starts off with a clap and a bang and soon enough I’m whizzing off to the 90’s. There are all sorts of images outside the windows, flitting past.

Let me start off by asking if you are one of those people who picture everything you read in your head, making your own mental movie out of the book. Well illustrations help the kids out with that.

Yet make no mistake, they’re not merely there to make the book more goggler-catching. Pictures happen to contribute to the multi-sensory experience of reading.

Once an imaginative world has been conceptualised, the author makes strenuous effort to distill and condense while the illustrator takes equal pains to expand, translate the words into pictures, conveying exactly what the author intends.

The relation between an author and an illustrator is rather symbiotic in nature. Just take Roald Dahl and illustrator Quentin Blake for example. The two names go hand in hand. Blake has the distinct ability to use a few strokes to express a panorama of emotion and activity.

For the BFG, Blake initially drew the giant wearing large boots but neither Dahl nor himself were pleased with the way the illustrations looked. So what did Dahl do? He sent him a scrappy old sandal and voila! Blake was inspired to draw the BFG with sandals instead. Clearly the two worked well together as demonstrated by their partnership enduring nineteen books. Their collaboration ended in 1990 due to the unfortunate passing of Roald Dahl.

I can boldly say that the stories would have been incomplete without Quentin Blake’s masterful illustrations.

 Stepping out of the Time Machine

The trip’s been great and I’m back. It might have felt too short but any time at all is more than enough. There’s only so much time one can spend in the past before being jolted back into the present. That isn’t to say that the past cannot be imbibed within the present.

So, take the time to just be a kid. Don’t let the muggles tell you otherwise because sometimes we suffer from temporary moments of insanity when everything seems to make sense. So truly, in madness lies a sense of truth and clarity. This is the magical world of children literature encompassing madness and morality.

So make no mistake, if you’re re reading Roald Dahl and the gobblefunk throws you off (there is also a Gobblefunk Dictionary in case you need it) remember what the BFG said to Sophie, “Meanings is not important.” Just have fun with it.

There’s a little kid inside everyone so please don’t forget about them. After all, they just want to come out and play. Even if for a little bit. Give them their time of day. You won’t regret it.

I solemnly swear.

Same Love

Her hand is as warm as your wife’s. Her love makes me feel just as wonderful as your girlfriend makes you feel. Why is it wrong for me to love my girl when you can love yours? 

His smile lights up my day just like the way your boyfriend’s does and when he cries I hold him tight. Why can’t I hug him the way you hug yours?

During the 1950s it was illegal, even dangerous, to be a part of any pro-gay organisation and members had to protect themselves by using a code. It was a time when even those who fought for gay rights had to hide in the closet. It was a time when AIDS was attributed to being homosexual, comparing them to lepers spreading disease. It was the time when the gay rights movement started.

Today we see a different picture. The 21st century marks great advancement in the gay rights movement with milestone achievements in the last few years and ones yet to come. 19 August 2013 marks the date when fifteen countries allowed the marriage of same-sex couples. In the United Kingdom, a law permitting the same will come into effect on 29 March 2014. And on 11 December 2013, gay sex was criminalised in India, the world’s largest democracy. In the advancing momentum of the gay rights movement across the world, this is the roadblock.

Picture2

The Supreme Court of India upheld Section 377, a 153 year old law born from the colonial era, which sets back our LGBT community. The SC verdict hasn’t been received well by the people of India and has attracted the attention of the US who also frowns upon the judgement. It appears that society has changed, people have changed but this law has not changed. This is the century where we continue to press play and move on but India has hit the pause button for the LGBT community. What does this say about us as a nation? Can we still claim that we are progressing? The answer is no, we cannot.

“Love cannot be jailed, it will prevail.”

It is sad to say that in India, murders and rapes are committed and justice is not meted out fast enough to the guilty parties but we are quick to penalise the gay community. And for what? What crime have they commited? They have not killed anyone. They have not hurt anyone. They are just being true to themselves. And apparently that is a crime in our nation.

On the other hand, Ireland, a predominantly Catholic country, decriminalised homosexuality almost 20 years ago and will hold a referendum in 2015 to discuss whether gay marriage should be legalised or not. While they are moving forward, step by step, India has taken a huge leap backwards making the total number of countries criminalising homosexuality from 76 to 77.

Even religion, usually an unwelcome and unforgiving place for gay people, is changing. Pope Francis when asked about gays said, “Who am I to judge?” and backed up this controversial statement by saying that the Church could not interfere spiritually with their lives.

Hence, it is imperative that Section 377 is amended and ultimately wiped off the pages of the constitution like the unwelcome stain that it is. This is the time to speak up and make a difference because at the end of the day, gay rights are human rights. We are all human beings and we should be able to love whoever we want.

dog gay rights

 * I tend to speak passionately about gay rights and it’s often been mistaken that I’m gay myself. Just because someone is passionate about gay rights does not necessarily mean they are  gay just like standing up for animal rights does not make someone an animal.   Also, don’t insult someone by calling them gay, that’s not a bad thing and you’re propagating backward stereotypes with what has become such a casual remark. 

Ottawa- The Heart and Soul of Canada

The capital of the country and fourth largest city in Canada, Ottawa is an undiscovered gem in the face of its neighbouring metropolis Toronto. It’s a fantastic place that you can visit any time of the year because with each new season the entire city changes too!

The Rideau Canal- the longest man-made canal
The Rideau Canal- the longest man-made canal

Winter

As winter rolls in, the people of Ottawa do anything but hibernate! The famous Winterlude festival that has been celebrated for the past three decades brings joy to everyone. The world’s largest skating rink, the Rideau Canal Skateway comes alive with more than 600,000 visitors taking part in a host of winter activities. Spectacular ice carvings grace the frozen canal for one and all to behold and maybe take a couple of silly pictures with along the way. The Jacques Cartier Park in Gatineau is home to the world’s biggest snow playground – the Snowflake Kingdom. So grab a pair of skates and head on down!

Gatineau Park foliage
Gatineau Park Foliage

Autumn

The foliage of green soon gives way to warm hues of yellow, orange and red and the best place to see the true beauty of autumn leaves is Gatineau Park. As if there weren’t enough colours on the scenic palette, the Hot Air Balloon festival held in Gatineau adds even more vibrant shades to the sky.

For Halloween, visit Saunders Farm for its Barn of Terror, Haunted House, eerie corn mazes etc. while munching on some kettle corn and sipping apple cider. The farm transforms into a scary Halloween theme park so if you’re ever in Ottawa and want to get spooked with your family and friends this is the place to be!

The Ottawa Tulip Festival
The Ottawa Tulip Festival

Spring

Ottawa receives a multitude of tulip bulbs every year from Holland as a token of appreciation for sheltering their princess during the Second World War. This is how the Canadian Tulip Festival came to be and it is one of the world’s largest tulip festivals. Over a million tulips are planted and displayed throughout the city especially in Commissioner’s Park near Dow’s Lake. The site is breathtakingly beautiful as a panorama of colour spreads before your very eyes. As if anything more were needed, the festival also features musical performances and international cuisine exhibits.

Summer

Canada Day Fireworks
Canada Day Fireworks

Come July 1st and the downtown streets surrounding the Parliament Buildings have a festive air with parades, concerts and fairs to celebrate Canada Day. The night ends with a spectacular firework display giving another meaning to the phrase ‘going out with a bang’.

For the folks of Ottawa August means only one thing: the SuperEX.  It is the most popular festival of the summer with rides, entertainment and activities for all age groups and yes, that includes adults who think they’re too old to have fun at a fair.

ByWard Market, one of Canada’s oldest and largest markets, spans an area of four blocks full of museums, boutiques, cafes and specialty food shops and is extremely pleasant to visit in the summer.

Scotiabank Place
Scotiabank Place

 Catch a hockey game at Scotiabank Place and cheer the local team the Ottawa Senators to victory!

 

Anonymity: Superhero’s Mask or Villain’s Evil Ray Gun?

Think about Batman and Iron Man. The Dark Knight appeals to a higher calling, seeking no attention for his vigilante deeds to better Gotham City. His true identity is carefully protected in the interest of the people and he becomes a symbol or a beacon of hope. On the other hand, Iron Man boasts of his extraordinary ability and mocks his adversaries with steely confidence and a charming smile in their direction. What’s the essential difference between them? Batman is anonymous while Iron Man is not. Now, the real question is whether being anonymous can be considered a boon or a bane.

iron man

 On one hand, the perks of being anonymous are many, seeing as it can eliminate bias of all sorts. All that matters is the content and not face value. A blogger writing from India can be read in Pakistan without either of them knowing one another’s nationality and hence eradicating nationalist prejudice. After all, perception is in the mind and there are many extraneous factors influencing how we receive news or a piece of writing. The Voice features judges choosing talent based on just that, talent. It improves the quality of material and ensures that we can appreciate something without judging any particular individual.

However, the thorns to the rosy bed can be exemplified by the likes of cyber bullies circling the internet for prey. Plastic Bieber on Twitter, for example, is protected from facing the consequences of his or her extreme racial comments and controversial statements. When freedom is given to an individual it is certain that there will be those few who abuse it. Anonymity in such cases is like a protective cushion for those who spout abuse and couldn’t care less.

In the end, anonymity is like a shield for all of us and with it perhaps we are like caped crusaders…or the villains of the modern world.

The Perks of Reading Perks

First written in 1999, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower has now become a popular young adult film with an impressive cast consisting of Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller. Unfortunately, what everyone doesn’t know is that the book is just as impressive.

perks cover

Charlie, a socially stagnant and awkward boy who struggles to ‘participate’ in life, tells us everything about his life. Taking us on a journey through his first year of high school, we are reminded of how confusing a place it can really be…unless you have friends like him, that is. He soon meets Sam and Patrick, step-siblings, who show him that high school, or life for that matter, isn’t half bad.

A memorable scene in the book is when the three of them are cruising through a tunnel in Patrick’s truck.Sam stands up in the back, raising her hands and feeling free as the wind blows in her face.According to Charlie, in that moment, they were infinite.

As the year progresses, Charlie’s perspective changes and he is exposed to a wide variety of influences like music, literature and films which he benevolently shares with us along the way. In this manner, Perks exposes us to so much more than the written word.

One of Charlie's mix tapes
One of Charlie’s mix tapes

Unlike other coming of age novels, Perks paints a realistic picture with characters and scenarios that we can relate to. A plethora of young adult themes such as homosexuality, molestation, suicide, love and friendship have been tastefully incorporated into a skilful plot truly making it one of a kind. Far from clichéd, there is no page-turning drama but subtle realism ringing from the words.

It starts off with two endearing words: Dear Friend. As the story unfolds letter by letter, I’d like to think that the friend whom Charlie writes to is in fact the reader.  Whether intentional or not on Chbosky’s part, his use of the epistolary format has helped readers connect to the novel and feel like it was written to us on a personal level.

Perks is full of quotes we can relate to and perhaps the best dialogue from the novel is that of Charlie’s literature teacher, Bill. He said, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” Say anything at all about this book but you cannot deny that it really makes you think.

perks quote

This reminds me of what Charlie said after seeing a film: “The movie was very interesting but I didn’t think it was very good because I didn’t really feel different when it was over”.  Like him, I agree that for a creative work to be considered ‘good’ it ought to fuel a turn of thought and Perks has certainly done that. After reading this novel, I definitely knew what it was like to ‘feel infinite’.

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The Late Night Revelations of a Lit Student- Psychoanalyses of Prufrock and Woolf

Words are the sweetest wine
Literature and psychology are connected in more ways than you think!

As a university student studying in a triple major system initially I summed it up as being the jack of all trades and the master of none. However, a background in psychology actually helped me cram for my Lit final (making it feel a lot less like cramming), in ways I never thought possible. Questions and self theorising sprouted from these moments of insight, perceiving connections between the two humanities subjects where there are no formulae to dictate direct proportionality as in physics and mathematics.

As I began reading T.S Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ , thoroughly disinterested as my eyes skipped over the epigraph, by the end where Prufrock claims to be drowning in his own self, I was hooked. More than that, I wanted to analyse his personality to answer the wave of unappeased questions flooding into my mind. Why was he so unloved by women became a more often overlooked observation as to why Prufrock did not love himself. This may be the reason why Eliot changed the initial title of his poem ‘Prufrock among the Women’.

Eliot’s adept writing skills are demonstrated in this poem, experimenting with the form of the dramatic monologue by removing the implied listeners and substituting them with Prufrock’s own self. How you may ask? Well go back to the start and read the first line, ‘Let us go then, you and I’. You and I are said to be the two personalities existing within the same persona, that of Alfred J. Prufrock-one which is shy and ashamed and another longing to be loved and looking for attention.  This is an example of a rift between the real self and ideal self that exists within the same individual. The greater dissimilarity between the two, the greater one is dissatisfied with oneself. Such is the case of Prufrock.

How Prufrock feels in the end of his monologue
How Prufrock feels in the end of his monologue

On reading the poem it is clear that Prufrock is a wallflower watching the world from his introverted perspective and he has lived long enough to wish that he were a part of the scene he was surveying. When Prufrock discusses the tedium of small talk and how he cannot indulge in the same, it is apparent that he is an introvert wanting to be an extrovert thus causing his dissatisfaction. This is probably what brought on what I consider to be a midlife crisis as he laments ‘I grow old…I grow old…’ Also, his self esteem seems to be attached primarily to attention received by women and hence both are severely lacking.  These are only some contributing factors to his inner turmoil which in turn defines him.

Now, moving on from poetry to prose, I started reading ‘A Room of One’s Own’, the feminist bible written by Virginia Woolf.

Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf

When she said, “A woman, in order to write fiction, must first have money and a room of her own.”, she inadvertently propounded the basic thesis underlying Maslow’s hierarchy, the humanistic approach to motivation. Maslow stated that in order for higher level needs such as the development of self esteem and close relationships to be satisfied, lower level needs of food, water, shelter and security need to be taken care of first. Only then will any individual become self actualised, a state wherein they find their unique potential and unlock it. By saying money and physical space are needed to cultivate the mind’s creativity, Woolf is saying just that-in a perhaps more literary manner. So did Woolf, the author of the feminist bible, unknowingly stumble upon the groundwork of a well known psychological theory? Yes but she was far too busy speaking about Oxbridge and Shakespeare’s imaginary sister Judith to realise. This calls into question whether, if Woolf had been the one to propose the hierarchy in her time, would it have been published in scientific journals and become as well established as it is today? It’s a difficult question and it seems as if only Virginia Woolf herself could have answered it. Ah, the irony.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Sports Fans- The Wildest Species in the Human Serengeti

sports

Either you are a sports fan or you know one. It’s one or the other. Yes we’re crazy and sometimes annoying but hey, we already know that. That’s why we love heading down to our favourite sports bar- the watering hole for avid sports fans as we all know- and it’s funny what happens to people who don’t follow sports but they come along anyway.

A few friends and I went into a sports bar this week and one of them isn’t a big fan, but his point of view was refreshingly hilarious.The first thing he asked when we entered was, “What’s with everyone here?” Little did he know he would soon be one of us because what is with everyone is this: sports mania. And it’s very contagious, I might add.

What else does sports mania come with? Take a look at the confessions of a self professed sports fan:

We’re loud and we know it!

The sound of loud commentary bouncing off the walls and cheers from beer-boozing fans is nothing new at a sports bar. Be it football, cricket, basketball or hockey, let’s face it, we’re all the same. Loud. We also suffer from the delusion that the players on screen can hear us.

We’ve got sailor mouths and we kiss our mothers with ’em!

I’ll admit I’ve shouted my fair share of expletives at my team when they get stomped all over, but that’s only because I love them (sports fans know what I’m talking about). We share our love through curse words, so don’t mistake this for hostility!

We love our beer

So this is how it goes for us: Feeling on edge that your team is being crushed? Drink some beer. Is your team killing it? Good, drink some beer. Did your team win? Great, chug some beer. But…did your team lose? Chug it faster man, you sure need it.Yup, the classic combo of sports and beer is unbeaten.

We have a celebratory adrenaline rush

Almost as buzzing with energy as the players, we get a little carried away when we celebrate, going all out with the high fives, fist bumps, chest bumps. All this unfailingly leads to the spillage of beer but that’s the time when we no longer care.

We’re superstitious

Just like the players who wear the same sweaty old socks or jerseys with holes because they won a game in them, we have our own superstitions. For example, if the team starts losing as soon as you tune into the game then it will make you think you’re the reason and lead to the conclusion, however irrational it may be, that if you switch the channel they will play better so long as you’re not watching yourself. I know some who don’t even eat till their team wins!

NOTHING is ever as important as a live game

Someone’s knocking at the door? Don’t care.

Phone ringing? Don’t have time.

Building on fire? I”M WATCHING THE GAME!