Christmas

It wasn’t until I had a Jewish boyfriend who couldn’t for the life of him understand why I loved Christmas so much, that I was forced to really think about it. I was raised Catholic, but my parents were never really religious, so it wasn’t like the holidays had a strong religious affiliation for me. In truth, I don’t think Christmas in general has much of anything to do with Jesus’ birth, so I kind of hate that they are celebrated simultaneously. But I guess it makes Christ a lot easier to swallow for kids when they get showered with gifts on this elusive person’s birthday every year. Hell, I can’t blame them. There is something truly magical about Christmas time, and it seems almost as indefinable as the Big Man himself. We can’t kid ourselves, Christmas really is a secular consumerist holiday, and as long as we’re straight up about that, we’ll all be as happy as I am.
I love Christmas. I really do. People complain when department stores start blasting Christmas carols round the clock immediately after Halloween, but it makes navigating the busy aisles much more enjoyable. And lets be honest, it’s a huge improvement from the “80’s Greatest Hits” that these stores are so keen on repeating. The 80s died a long time ago. And for good reason. Oh and when the carols are paired perfectly with the crackling holiday fireplace channel on TV, which at first glance is a really cheesy idea, but as a backdrop for reading, chatting, or Christmas festivities it sets the mood. And yes, the malls are crazy, and some people apparently have no control when it comes to outdoor Christmas lights, but it is the best holiday.
At first I kind of hated that this was my favourite holiday, because it seems like the obvious choice, with all the gifts. But once I realized that it wasn’t even all the receiving of the gifts that I enjoyed the most, I felt a lot better about my choice. I love the giving of presents much more than I do the receiving. It is so unbelievably satisfying to put a lot of effort into finding the perfect gift for someone that you KNOW they’ll enjoy. That and the coming together of family- and combined with more delicious food than anybody can handle, you’ve got a home run. I think the very best thing though, is knowing that so many other people share the same Christmas “spirit”, making it feel like you are a part of something bigger and more unifying than anything else. Christmas crosses borders, cultures, religions, incomes. Try and find something more unifying than that (and Apple’s iPhone doesn’t count).

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Master of Nostalgia

It’s funny how having completed my Master’s less than a month ago, already I find myself looking back on it and feeling nostalgic. About this time in April I could not wait to be finished what felt like the world’s longest marathon of hell as I waded through the near-impossible-feat of finishing (and starting) four 15-20 page papers in less than a week. But even after such a short time of being separated from it my mind has a way of blocking out the gut-wrenching stress and anxiety that I know must have been there. It’s as if my constant nightmare of being crushed by my enormous ‘to-do’ list never happened!

Instead, what stands out to me the most is our amazing discussions of literary works that would naturally stumble into debates on historical and political issues of the first wave of feminism in Britain, or the eerily progressive and advanced ideas of eco-politics in the poetry of eighteenth/nineteenth-century literary giants like Coleridge and Clare. But most of all, I find myself missing my students. As a TA, I carried most of the workload for our course and next-to-none of the power… yet I felt like the one-on-one attention that I was able (and wanted) to give my students is what will really make a difference for them.

I had to return to campus a few days ago to take care of some paperwork, and as a pleasant surprise, in my mailbox I found the evaluations my students’ completed of my performance as their instructor and their general feelings about the course. Let me just say, that I am a person who is extremely confident in my abilities as an instructor, and I know that my love for what I do and did for those students came through in our time together each week- and I don’t need validation of that. Having said that, I did not expect the words of my students could affect me so much. Their glowing reviews of our classes and my performance brought me more joy than I can explain! I’m so thankful that they enjoyed the course as much as I did, and even though their enthusiasm each week probably should have been my first clue, it’s great to see it in writing. And while, unfortunately, I think my interests will take me away from teaching, I’ll be sure to carry my experiences with my students with me. My main goal for myself as an instructor was always to reach through to my students, but I don’t think I ever could have expected the impact they would have on me.

Crazy is the only way

First semester of my MA was a ruthless ride, but I learned a lot about how to cope. I learned how to manage my time, what it felt like to finally put school above everything else in my life, and how to become better at what I do.

First on the agenda: time management. With four 3 hour courses a week, 2 hours of lecture for the class I TA for, 2 hours for teaching seminars, X number of hours for marking, and 1 hour for office hours every week, it doesn’t seem that bad. Until you consider that each class probably has at least 6 hours of reading per week, including the readings for lecture, which I have to stay not only on top of, but ahead on so I can be more helpful for my students, combined with tutorial prep, my weekends and evenings are entirely spoken for. With this kind of demand, I had no choice but to focus my entire life around school- and this seemed relatively easy, considering it was only going to be 8 months. And it felt good too- to know that I was finally being forced to put the kind of effort into school that I knew I could, but had just refused to in high school and my undergrad. There was no “coasting” level here, and I’m glad I got out of that habit. I loved school, and that was partly what kept me going.

But it also killed me a little bit too- I missed everything that I didn’t have time for, terribly- most of all, my friends and family. I didn’t even have time for good friends who lived in the same city as me. And what was worse, was that I knew they didn’t understand- they couldn’t understand how busy I was, likely because I didn’t have the time to tell them. So I felt very much like they considered what I was doing as “blowing them off”, which made it worse. It took me a long time to cope with these kinds of changes, in addition to the high level of stress that I was constantly under, and that my wonderful boyfriend was (more often than not) the unknowing subject of. BUT I finally found a way to cope with the stress and the things I was missing out on..

The key? Losing your sanity.

It’s amazing the kind of weight that is lifted off of your shoulders when you accept the fact that you are insane!! I finally understood what my Professor that first week had meant when she called me an idiot- I had to be crazy for knowingly entering into this program. I had to be CRAZY to think I could manage reading the 32 novels I was supposed to read in 3 months, on top of my other readings. But crazy people also don’t care, so I went with it! I looked at my giant stack of books and instead of seeing a mountain threatening to topple me, I saw a stepping stool to reach my other delightfully crazy thoughts. The crazy was also good, because it made me crazy enough to try these crazy things. So I attempted to read every one of those books for each week- and while I may not have finished every one, the crazy also helped me cope with THAT stress too! So it seemed to me, that if it takes a crazy person to sign up for a crazy program, it also takes a crazy person to SUCCEED in said program- seems like simple math to me: crazy + crazy = crazy. I’d like to see Einstein come up with that gem.. oh wait, he DOESN’T have an English degree. One for the crazy English lit kids.