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Monday, 30 October 2017

Grad School + Beyond:

I'm 3 years into my PhD and I just read the statistic: "only three or four in every hundred PhD students in the United Kingdom will land a permanent staff position at a university."
The stat showed up in this article in Nature's International Weekly Journal of Science, which is written with regard to the sciences, but I have my severe doubts that the humanities are any better off: the reality is that myself and most graduate students I know will be hard-pressed to get a permanent contract with a university even after we've all become "Doctor ____."
This should cause us to pause and reflect on why we're doing these degrees in the first place.
To me, graduate studies---isolated yet competitive work culture, high-stress, long hours, low-pay, and seemingly with no promise of an academic job that most people assume they will fall into---is really only worth it if you (a) can work with the flexible learning environment it allows (/forces upon) you; and (b) can stay happy/healthy while doing it.
An alarmingly high number of students struggle to stay happy and healthy + link this struggle to their studies/work environment. Some studies like this one in Science have shown that 1 in 3 graduate students struggle with mental health on account of their workload and work environment (and, based on my friend/colleague circle, I'd speculate it's actually significantly higher than 33%.)
I assume I will be happy to have done my PhD even if I wind up in a career totally outside of academia where my PhD specifics aren't really needed (/useful?) (--but then again, I only pursued graduate studies in the first place because it provided a debt-free, albeit financially meagre, way to do full-time learning on topics that interest me.) I truly hope that other grad students feel similarly, and that they're studying their various research topics primarily because they enjoy the process of studying. (At least, I pity those of you who are wading through grad school, not enjoying it at all, but are under the [false?] hope that you will end up in a TT professorship job.)
So, if this is indeed true that the process itself ought to be enjoyable, it is most important that we focus on enjoying the actual process at hand.
A few things come to mind in this regard. I'm writing them out somewhat with the hope that I will force myself to adopt them for myself...(that is, they are pieces of advice which are thus far hypocritical due to not following them myself...)
1. Abandon the 'publish or perish' paradigm. 2. Stop stressing that I haven't read enough theories, or don't know as much of the literature as xyz. 3. Focus on learning for the sake of improving my knowledge of a topic that interests/intrigues me---not for appearing smart, not for impressing my supervisor, etc. 4. Don't try to make a perfect + brilliant thesis/paper/etc. That benchmark is unrealistic and can be somewhat uninspiring. Try to write something that is interesting, or challenging, or inspiring, or beautiful, ...and coherent. It doesn't have to incorporate everything you've learned and it doesn't have to be applauded by the academe. 5. (I would like your tips/feedback!) And, now, a poem...which I find challenging, inspiring, beautiful, and coherent.
"Every day I see or hear something that more or less
kills me with delight, that leaves me like a needle
in the haystack of light. It was what I was born for - to look, to listen, to lose myself inside this soft world - to instruct myself over and over in joy, and acclamation."
~ Mary Oliver (USA, 1935-), from “Mindful,” Why I Wake Early



Saturday, 12 August 2017

Rosemary Apple Pie/Crumble

After many months since last posting (oops) I thought I would resurrect this blog with some baked goods. Below you will find a recipe for a delicious rosemary-apple pie/crumble.


It is a great way of using rosemary in a dessert to spice (herb?) it up! But because both the rosemary and the apples I used were foraged, let me give a bit of context to that.

Three things you might already know about me:
1. I love being outside
2. I hate wasting things, or seeing wasted items
3. I find satisfaction in creating good things on minimal budgets
Add all this together and you have a pretty good combination leaning towards food foraging.



My friend took this photo today while we were foraging blackberries to make yet another crumble


I also take glee in being somewhat mischevious, and so when my former neighbours emailed me last weekend to ask if I wanted to join them in sneakily picking some apples from the back garden of my old house, the answer was an automatic yes. Together, we went into the abandoned garden and picked a large bag of apples. That same afternoon, on my way home, with my apples in tow, I grabbed a few handfuls of fresh rosemary from a rosemary bush that was taking over the public bike path. (At that particular moment, I had not yet planned this dessert.) And to top it all off I also passed a big bin of apples that people were giving away, and so I added a couple of those to my pile. 





The next day, I decided to try mixing the rosemary and apples into a pie or crumble. I used this recipe (http://mysecondbreakfast.com/rosemary-apple-pie-recipe/) as my model, though I modified it a little bit. I'd recommend looking at the recipe link if you want more specific instructions!


Step 1: The pie crust
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped finely
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter (cut into thin cubes)
~5 tablespoons of cold soy milk

Mix in order given, cutting the butter in with a pastry cutter, fork, or clean fingers. Before adding the milk, your pastry should have the texture of wet, coarse sand. Add the milk slowly, and once it holds together when you pinch it between your fingers, don't add any more milk! (You could also use dairy milk; the original recipe calls for that, but I had soy milk on hand!)

Place the pastry in the fridge for a few hours before rolling it out. (I let mine sit overnight, since I might the pie crust at 9pm and didn’t want to wait up to bake.)
When you're ready to roll it out, if you're like me and you don’t have a rolling pin, you can use a clean wine bottle. :D 


Step 2: The Apples filling
- washed, (mostly) peeled, and sliced the apples until you have a big bowl of them
-flavour with cinnamon, the juice of half of lemon, a  dash of nutmeg, splash of vanilla extract, a crack of sea salt, and some sugar; toss it around in this mixture. 


Step 3: The topping
This is an alternative to topping it with another pie crust, though you'd be welcome to do that!
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1/4 cup (30g) brown sugar (I used less)
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons rosemary, finely chopped
- 4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter (I considered coconut oil for this, since that's what I normally would do for crumble, but I decided to not add in another flavour...maybe next time!)





You can either make a regular sized pie with this crust or you can do as I did and make little pies in muffin trays. 


I put some coconut oil on the muffin tins so that the crust did not stick, and then rolled it out with a wine bottle and cut it with a large beer glass I have on hand. (Hmmm. I didn’t notice all these alcohol usages before writing it out like this.)




I placed the circle cut outs in the muffin tins, filled it VERY HIGH with apples....






...and then put the crumble on top. :D

I topped it with a few pecan pieces and then put it in the oven. I baked it at 180 Celsius for about 20 minutes. 




They were delicious! They really held their shape and the pie crust was quite tasty, with the rosemary giving a nice flavour to all of it.  Voila!



Bon appétit! 





Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Lost and Found

A significant part of my time in India this year has been focused on the beautiful but chaotic process of ever-learning more about myself and the world around me. I’ve been prompted, pushed, pulled, and sometimes dragged into experiences, events, and conversations which make me question what I value most in life and whether I am acting in a way that corresponds with my values. 

What is that I hold onto? What is it that I think is important? Do I spend my time in a way that shows that? In what way do I want to engage with the world? (Am I doing that?) How do my actions and beliefs impact other beings around me? Am I happy? Do I feel loved by others? Am I loving others? Am I loving myself?  

I feel that these are important questions—and I ask them, in one way or another, almost every day. As such, time and time again, I find myself in need of the reminder that all of this is a process. For better or for worse, we are people who are caught in change and motion rather than grounded in constancy. 
(This is felt rather poignantly when travelling to new cities almost every week, but there are other ways of noting this in our lives even when we seem to stay still…we are always changing.) I’m trying to become more comfortable with uncertainty, and also with the seeming-dichotomy of knowing something (“holding onto something”) and being open to new ways-of-knowing/being.

My desire to try out new things and be okay with change, uncertainty, and imperfection has manifested in a rather practical way for me this year, where I have dedicated some time to a new project: shooting and editing videos which tell stories which I believe to be important and interesting. You can stay tuned for the release of some of those in the near future...

Sometimes we lose ourselves to find ourselves; and sometimes those two actions seem to be indistinguishable from each other.

I’m pretty sure that’s why I wrote this song, Lost and Found. (I picked up a guitar the other day and the melody and the lyrics came out within about 4 minutes.) I suppose these thoughts have been percolating for some time now… You can listen to it on my soundcloud here or just read the lyrics below.

~


I found myself at the sea.
I found myself by the water.
I found myself as I lost all the thoughts
that I thought I had to hold onto.

I lost myself at the sea.
I lost myself by the ocean.
I lost myself as I found all the thoughts
that I thought I’d learned to let go of.

I’m still holding, I’m still losing, I’m still finding.
And searching and praying and cursing and letting go. 

Monday, 27 March 2017

Interconnectivity

Why I Wake Early
by Mary Oliver

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety – 

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.



There is something really grounding about being taken away from the busy-ness of regular life and being thrown into a life of simplicity where plenty of time is spent outdoors. I found that, through my 10-day course in Advaita Vedanta at Swami Dayananda Ashram in Rishikesh, India, I was ushered into a reminder of the importance and goodness of stepping back and slowing down from my otherwise generally-chaotic lifestyle. 

This is not to say that our days were empty...our days started early (some individuals attended a daily 5:15am temple ritual; I joined in at the 7am meditation) and ended around 9:15pm when the nightly "satsang" (literally "truth gathering" but essentially a Q&A time with our teacher) finished. In between those hours, we had 2+ Vedanta classes, yoga class, Sanskrit class, chanting class, and free time which, at least for me, generally resulted in either a visit to the library or a conversation with another camper about the material we were learning.



There are a number of key points to Vedanta philosophy which I have difficulty accepting. One of them is the idea that, fundamentally, no person or no thing is different than any other substance. On one side, I find this a beautiful thought and I think it can do much to promote equality and love, but there are some philosophical nuances/implications which I find difficult to accept. (I won't get into those now.) But I must say that having a time and space--- and the guidance of some rather wise gurus--- to contemplate the nature of the self and of reality was a very welcome thing. 

How often do we view ourselves as totally separate from the other people around us, and our very surroundings? What might things be like if we focused more on exploring the varying ways in whcih we are integreally connected? (If you are not convinced by the Vedanta argument regarding total non-dualism, that is fine. There are other ways that you can focus on the interconnectivity.) The neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor shares some interesting thoughts of her experience with a stroke/brain hemorrhage, and the way that the right hemisphere of our brain is responsible for connecting us to the world around us. 

sunset in Goa, India

Monday, 30 January 2017

A Cultural and Spiritual Transformation



---

I am still grappling with a succinct "reasons why humans hate/discriminate against/kill each other," but it is in this same vein that I am motivated to study religion/theology and its dynamic intersection with culture. We indeed need a cultural and spiritual transformation.
And, if you even glimpse at the news sporadically, you are more than aware of how much room for change there is in our many religious, political, educational, and cultural spheres. There is so much more room to love more widely and more deeply. I think all hands are needed in this--no matter your career/hobbies/skills/passions etc.--because each of us have our own ever-widening circles of influence where we can be more loving and encourage others to do the same.
And to those of us who are able to devote ourselves 'full time' to questions of religion and culture (I would place many students and scholars of religion more broadly in this category, as well as those in leadership positions of spiritual communities), well...... I hope we can find creative ways to use our insights and knowledge to evoke positive change.


p.s. please feel free to kick me in the pants whenever I (again) begin to fret more about trying to walk delicately on egg shells in some imagined-path to a tenure track job than I do about following my passion.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Unafraid of Contradictions



This quotation reminds me to not accept or construct false binaries; not everything in this world is either black or white. It also reminds me not to not jump to conclusions--especially when it's about the character of another person--and not to hate that which I've barely taken the time to know. It reminds me that these beliefs which say 'I am right and you are wrong,' or the beliefs which discourage real dialogue (even when under the guise of conversation) are painful not only in the sense that they destroy positive relationships that might have otherwise flourished, but they also imprison us. We become chained to our dogmas, to our safe interpretations of our world. It is sometimes the same walls which surround us and makes us feel protected that close out the world around us. What a pity.

"I am not an idealist, nor a cynic, but merely unafraid of contradictions. I have seen men face each other when both were right, yet each was determined to kill the other, which was wrong. What each man saw was an image of the other, made by someone else. That is what we are prisoners of."
- Donald Hogan (1972)



I wonder what we all see when we look at the people in our lives. When we see them in a positive/negative light..what is it that has encouraged/allowed us to paint them in that way?


Below are some thoughts/questions I have, which I originally wrote out for a different purpose, but they seem applicable to this conversation.


1) What convictions do you hold? Especially, which convictions do you hold to when it comes to the nature of God, reality, truth, love, etc.? Because we all hold to something. Throughout different periods of my life I have considered myself to be a Christian, an atheist, and a bewildered agnostic (to name a few!), and in each of these identities I held strong convictions. What are the convictions that you hold to?

2) How do these convictions affect those whom you love? (Or, since many religious scriptures call us to be loving to strangers and even enemies, let us go one step farther: how do your convictions affect others in your community more broadly speaking?) Is there any degree or form of hurt that results?
And, importantly, is their hurt worth more or less than you maintaining your conviction? This can sometimes be an extremely difficult question; and, like all difficult questions, I do not think there is always an easy answer.


3) In what light do your convictions paint those who think or act differently than you? Try to think of some specific people—perhaps you could choose a spectrum of “different worldviews.” How do you view these people? Are they ‘lost,’ ‘blind,’ ‘deluded,’ ‘deceived,’ ‘ignorant,’ ‘hell-bound,’ ‘naïve,’ ‘plain stupid?’ How does your worldview paint you? Are you among the spiritually elect, the elite, or the enlightened? Has God ‘chosen you?’ and what might this say in terms of the love of God.


4) What would others think of your idea of them? (And how do you think they perceive you?)

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Why 2016 Wasn't The #WorstYearEver

2016 was difficult but it was also good. Some shitty, horrible, heart-breaking things happened but it was not the infamous "#worstyearever.

I've learned a lot about myself as an individual (and a small amount about executing self-care), a lot about what it means to exist relationally/ with intentionality, and a lot about what I value in myself and others, who I want to surround myself with, and who I want to strive to become.

I think our broader communities and societies have learned a lot about what it means to fight for justice, to give voice to the oppressed and to show our support, to protect what is sacred, to stand up against what we believe to be wrong, to amplify love in the midst of hate, to choose to live vulnerably and to admit our brokenness to each other even when it’s tempting to appear like we’re self-sufficient and totally fine, to act selflessly and care for those who are in need, to persevere when things look rough, and to find ways to make positive changes even when they are small and may seem insignificant. This year had bad things (all years do) but it also had loads of good come from it. And I think history has shown that times of significant difficulty open us up to being more loving than we were before; we are often not challenged to step up when we are in our comfort zone. A ‘the stars shine best in the darkness’ sort of thing. 

So, yes, I am welcoming 2017 with open arms: the liminal space offered by the change of calendar years provides us with a sort of clean slate, and with new energy. We can use this to become better versions of ourselves and to work together to create better (move loving, more inclusive, less selfish) communities. But I’m not running away from 2016 as if I want nothing to do with it, or as if I want to pretend it didn’t leave a mark on me. It did. It has shaped me. It was not always sunshine and rainbows, and yet I have reason to smile. (Wouldn't you say the same?)


Least I seem overly-optimistic, let me reveal my stoic/realist-tendencies via this photo.



Also: not totally related, but I am really appreciating this excerpt from Seneca's letters
Let's not fear what we don't need to.


"There are more things, Lucilius, likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality. [...] What I advise you to do is, not to be unhappy before the crisis comes; since it may be that the dangers before which you paled as if they were threatening you, will never come upon you; they certainly have not yet come. Accordingly, some things torment us more than they ought; some torment us before they ought; and some torment us when they ought not to torment us at all. We are in the habit of exaggerating, or imagining, or anticipating, sorrow.

[...] Do me the favour, when men surround you and try to talk you into believing that you are unhappy, to consider not what you hear but what you yourself feel, and to take counsel with your feelings and question yourself independently, because you know your own affairs better than anyone else does.


[...] It is likely that some troubles will befall us; but it is not a present fact. How often has the unexpected happened! How often has the expected never come to pass!

[...]The mind at times fashions for itself false shapes of evil when there are no signs that point to any evil; it twists into the worst construction some word of doubtful meaning; or it fancies some personal grudge to be more serious than it really is[...]. But life is not worth living, and there is no limit to our sorrows, if we indulge our fears to the greatest possible extent[...]There is nothing so certain among these objects of fear that it is not more certain still that things we dread sink into nothing[...]."