A blog advocating autism through my own personal experiences and insights.

Archive for the ‘Hobbies’ Category

My Elora Quarry Social Experiment

In my last post, I talked about how being in a social anxiety therapy group helped combat social anxiety, especially through in-group behavioural experiments that really motivated me to continue doing behavioural experiments on my own. Last week, however, it really motivated me to do something that I never considered before.

A little over 30 km to the north-east of Kitchener-Waterloo, there is this beautiful town called Elora. A few years ago, a friend had informed me about it along with its beautiful gorge The Elora Gorge. The gorge runs up to the town with gorgeous cliff walls with the Grand River flowing through it. There are also a few hiking trails along the gorge, as well as tubing. I’ve never done the tubing, but I’ve walked along the trails several times. Besides the gorge, however, the town is also home to the Elora Quarry, which is a beautiful quarry with limestone cliff walls with a lake inside it. Next to the lake is a small sandy beach and, like the Elora Gorge, the Elora Quarry is a very popular location. Like the gorge, I’ve also been to the quarry a few times before and I’m always happy to spend a bit of time there with friends.

Before last week, I hadn’t been to the Elora Quarry yet this summer. It seemed everyone was always too busy to go, which is understandable, life does get overly busy sometimes, otherwise I would’ve made my last post a lot sooner. As well, not being able to drive always presented a bit of an obstacle in getting to Elora; it was always just a little out of reach by bicycle. One solution I did find to the distance obstacle, however, was by taking GRT (Grand River Transit) buses to a small town called Elmira, which is a little north of Waterloo and from there it would be a 20 km bicycle ride to Elora. The GRT bus service is fortunately free for Waterloo and Laurier students (or at least the bus pass is automatically included in our university fees).

While I have used such a method to visit to the Elora Gorge alone before, I never visited the Elora Quarry alone before last week. But summertime was running out, and I really wanted to go. Well, how about if I go there alone by bussing to Elmira, then bicycling to Elora and once there just locking my bicycle to a sturdy-enough tree? And once I was at the beach I would just try to socialise with strangers and go swimming with them? I have to say I’ve never really considered this solution before mainly because it totally overwhelmed me with anxiety. It seemed like such a high price to pay, spending two and a half hours journeying to the quarry with no guarantee that I would find people to be with there. But that’s exactly what I did last week.

I prepared to go early in the morning. I saw an article that the Elora Quarry was such an incredibly popular place that there had been a cap put in place of 1300 people and that no one would gain entry after this cap was reached! (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/elora-quarry-number-of-visitors-limit-grand-river-conservation-authority-1.4231946) I have to admit I wasn’t overly surprised to read this news. Like I said the quarry is very scenic, and the times that I visited there before it took us several minutes (maybe even half an hour) to gain entry and the beach was always crowded. Because of this news, I decided I would go during a weekday when hopefully this would be less of a problem. Not only that, but I would arrange to get there at the start of the day. I didn’t want to venture out all that way only to have to turn around again because the cap of 1300 people had been reached.

So I got up early Monday morning. I put on my bathing suit at my apartment and wore shorts over it. I packed a towel, sunscreen, and lunch into my bag and left at 8 o’clock. I reached the quarry at about 10:30, even though the quarry didn’t open until 11 on weekdays. I was actually the first one at the gate, but soon after that cars began parading behind me on the shoulder of the road and at 11 we were all let in. There was a strong fence running around the quarry, which I locked my bicycle to and then I walked down to the beach.

At first I lay on my towel for a bit enjoying the feel of the sand and sun. As more people flooded onto the beach, there were quite a few young people around, but my anxiety always seemed to overwhelm me about approaching them. Then I started casually strolling around the beach and saw three guys tossing a volleyball around. I thought introducing myself into an activity would be less scary than simply walking over to other people were just socialising because we had an activity to occupy ourselves with. So I asked if I could join in and they consented and we spent a bit of time tossing the volleyball amongst each other. Afterwards, they went back to their beach towels, and I thought it would be a good time to ask if I could join them on the beach. I introduced myself and asked if I could join them, and one of them replied, “You might as well.” We even went into the lake together after that and swam around for a bit. I couldn’t believe it. Not only had I gotten to the Elora Quarry, but I was now having fun playing volleyball, lying around, and swimming with a group of great guys.

In the middle of the afternoon, however, they announced that they were leaving so we said our goodbyes and they left. I could’ve left then too, but I decided to stay a little longer. That was one advantage of going alone to the quarry. I could stay for as long as I wanted, as I wasn’t depending on anyone to drive me back. I could easily get back to Kitchener by bicycle and bus.

Anyway, after they left I began searching for another group of people to talk to. This was when unfortunately I encountered a couple of minor fails. For example, I saw a group of guys playing with some kind of ball and a net. Again I asked to join, but they announced you needed an even number of people to play because they had divided up into teams. After such failed attempts, however, I did manage to find a group of people kicking a soccer ball around. Again I asked if I could join in and this time I got a positive response. I joined them afterwards sitting on the beach after introducing myself to them.

After this second group announced they were leaving, it was getting to be pretty late in the day. It was coming up to 5 o’clock so I had spent almost six hours at the quarry! It was a long trip home. So I packed up and rode my bicycle to St. Jacob’s, which a little town between Waterloo and Elmira where I ate out to reward myself for what I had just accomplished. I then continued to ride my bicycle to Waterloo, but by then I was pretty tired and at which point I took the bus back to Kitchener.

I was pretty pleased with how the day had gone. I will admit there were a few things that I thought could have gone better, for example, not hesitating so much in talking to people, but given that this is the first I’ve done a trip like this, I suspect this hesitation will decrease the more I do it. Not only did I get to visit the quarry after all this summer, but I managed to do it in a way that provided very good therapy for my social anxiety. And it gives me hope of what I can continue to accomplish into the future.


UW’s Women’s Centre

This winter I tried a new extra-curricular activity. I have written a few posts on this blog related to the issue of feminism and gender-related issues, but now I’ve found a way to meet other like-minded people with respect to such issues and to actually advocate for them. I volunteered for the University of Waterloo’s Women Centre this term, which is a student-run organisation on campus that promotes feminism and gender equity. I submitted an application online to them in the fall and heard back at the beginning of the winter term that they accepted me as a volunteer.

I had to attend a one day training session on how to be a volunteer for the Centre. It basically consisted of explaining to us our responsibilities, such as holding office hours in the Centre and how to help students in need who come to the Centre, especially for peer support hours. Peer support hours are hours that run 5-6 everyday where any student is welcome to drop by to discuss any personal problems they have to the volunteer who’s on duty at that time for emotional support and resources. The Centre is in this smallish cozy room with a desk, a library on feminism, and a few comfortable couches and chairs. Besides holding office hours there, I’ve also found it a good alternative space to study.

Unsurprisingly, the rest of the volunteers are women. I’ve been involved with activities before where the majority of participants were female (for example, during my Zumba classes) so I was never really bothered by that. I do, however, find it a bit unfortunate that more men don’t get involved with these kinds of things, especially since gender inequity affects men as well as women and indeed affects people of all genders. I know that such issues have touched me as well as others, which further inspired me to volunteer in the first place and I strongly believe that feminism and gender-related issues need gender-diverse supports (besides being diverse in other ways) for its proper activism. The women I’ve worked with this term, however, have been very friendly and welcoming and I’m slowly making friends with some of them.

Besides holding office hours in the centre, I’ve also helped volunteer for various feminist events. My favourite has been the Poetry Slam, which was a night held on Waterloo’s on-campus pub The Bomber where any and all students with feminist poetry were welcome to read them. I loved hearing them all and will definitely participate myself at a future poetry slam event.

I’m glad I decided to get involved with the Women’s Centre and I look forward to continuing with it in the future.

A Switch in Passions

I have experienced a change in myself over the last half year that has caused me to reassess my life and where I’m headed with it in terms of goals, ambitions, etc. As I have elaborated throughout this blog, I have three large passions that I’ve rather built my life around: math, philosophy, and fiction writing. In the last half year, however, I have found that one of these passions has intensified, but that the other two have waned. While I am unclear as to why this occurred and whether this is anything temporary or permanent, I do feel the experience is worth sharing.

I’m currently completing a PhD in pure mathematics. When I entered the PhD program, however, I was fully aware that my other academic passion in philosophy was just as strong, if not stronger. As such, I considered doing a second PhD in philosophy after being done with the math PhD. I knew I had to make my applications as strong as possible to go for a graduate degree in philosophy. I had, after all, only done philosophy as a second major in my undergrad and did one graduate philosophy course during my master’s in pure math and wasn’t sure how this atypical philosophy background would be looked upon. As such, I made plans for making time to take some philosophy courses while completing my math PhD. I first, however, wanted to complete the major requirements for the math PhD including the course requirements and the written comprehensive exams before I attempted additional work in philosophy. It took two years for me to complete these requirements and afterwards, during last summer, I made plans to take another graduate philosophy course.

The strange thing about this was that when I signed up for a graduate philosophy course I felt I was only taking the course to strengthen my application. I wasn’t sure how passionate I was with philosophy at the moment, but I also knew my chance in taking philosophy courses was limited and so I signed up for one anyway. While the course was good and interesting in its own right and I did quite well in it, the more the course went on the more I realised I was no longer feeling passionate about it the same way I used to. The experience was rather surreal. It’s hard to describe, but I didn’t and still don’t, feel like the same person I was when I was very much into philosophy. I know for sure I was still passionate about it a year ago, and it’s hard to explain why the passion waned. During this third year in my math PhD, however, my mathematical research has picked up and I’ve made a lot of progress on two separate projects, both of which I’m very excited about and that I feel has led to an increased passion in math. As such, I ended up deciding to continue on in math and try to obtain a post-doc position in math afterwards, rather than going for another degree in philosophy.

My passion for writing fiction has also unfortunately waned. Like philosophy I cannot explain why this would be so and that I certainly felt this passion a year ago. In fact, I was feeling it up until last September. Last summer, I was doing a bit of research and plotting for a novel I was going to write. Yet, when October came around, it unexplainably vanished. Of course, I was busy not only with my PhD then, but also with the philosophy course I mentioned above. I therefore thought that it would be pointless to try pursuing writing at such a time regardless and thought I would attempt writing again this winter.

Winter has come and gone and very recently I tried to see if my passion for fiction writing really had waned. Even though I still didn’t feel like it, I forced myself to sit in front of my computer for on average half an hour per day for two and a half weeks to see if this passion could be recovered. I was coming up with a lot of good ideas for my current novel and didn’t think I was experiencing writer’s block. Unfortunately, much like with the philosophy, I felt the passion in plotting a novel had just been stripped away. After two and a half weeks was up, I thought it pointless to continue since I had hardly been feeling it for the time I wrote.

Again, I cannot explain why a 10 year old writing passion would suddenly disappear. My mind could just very well be caught up in my math PhD research for the moment and sub-consciously casting these other endeavours to the side or it could be something more permanent. If, however, I feel that philosophy and fiction writing are not suitable to pursue at this point in my life, then I won’t be pursuing them, at least not right now. If, later on, they come back, then I will act appropriately. For example, I could pursue a graduate philosophy degree later in life or somehow squeeze my way into a philosophy department after becoming a math professor. There have indeed been a number of philosophers who have started off their careers as mathematicians. As for writing fiction, that is something that has almost no constraints. All I need to do if the passion comes back is to pull up Microsoft Word on my computer and write. It all comes down to trusting your instincts to tell you what’s right for you and to be prepared to have regrets along the way. People change, people switch careers and endeavours, and have interesting life paths. As I have learned from this experience, even a passion that you can have for a long time and feeling that it has defined who you are can change.

I do miss my philosophy and writing passions and do wish I still had them. It is like having a desire to desire something. It took a bit of time to accept that this happened, but I also feel it has led to a new level of self-acceptance for me. Also, it has currently made time for other things, such as reading, doing Zumba, planning things with friends, which are things I still enjoy.

Tribute to my Nazzer Grandparents

This fall has been quite an eventful time for me. For starters it has been one of the rougher school terms for me, but I still made quite a bit of progress in it (more on that in the next blog post). On the other hand, however, one of my grandmothers passed away, which happened at the end of October. My family was able to fly me home for a memorial service we had for her in early November and I got to see a lot of family I didn’t normally see regularly growing up (everyone on my mother’s side of the family lives quite a distance away). It still seems only yesterday that my maternal grandfather passed away in Summer 2005. My Nazzer grandparents lived very near us and, as such, they were an important part of my childhood. I gave speeches at my grandfather’s memorial service when I was only 16, then at my grandmother’s 90th birthday party 4 years ago, and then again at her service this fall.
My relationship with my grandfather Don Barkeley Nazzer was a really good one. For one thing, we both had intellectual minds and we would talk about math and stuff (he was a civil engineer). When I was 12, for example, I started exploring my grandfather’s books and he ended up giving me quite a few intellectually stimulating books. In one of the books he gave me (if you really want to know what the book is it’s Mathematics: A Human Endeavour by Harold R. Jacobs) he even wrote inside the cover
“This book is now the property of John Charles Saunders. From his grandfather, Don Nazzer Dec. 26, 2000. Enjoy it!”
Looking at this handwritten note today is what helps keep his soul alive inside me and knowing how proud he would be of me if he could see where I was today. Back then, as well, I was very interested in antique calculators and I started to collect slide rules. I was fortunate enough that my grandfather had two of them that I got and still have in my possession. I also had other fun times with him. When I was a kid, my grandparents had bought me a lego set for my birthday. I wish I could say that we had built it together on that day, but I actually just let him build it first and I sat behind him, occasionally looking over his shoulder. Also, when I was a teenager he taught me how to use a ride-on lawnmower for mowing the grass at their summer place.
I also look up to him, as well as my grandmother, for their healthy lifestyles as well and how independent they both were until each of them passed away. My grandfather’s passing was very unexpected even at his age of 86 ½ and when he was in the hospital from multiple heart blockages the doctors were very impressed with how healthy a man he was. The only possible sign would be that my grandmother had gotten a little more dependent on people during the last year of her life, but she was still living alone inside her own house even up until her passing two months shorts of her 94th birthday (which would have been today and more amazing still my other grandmother who’s still around is still living alone inside her own two-storey house at 97 so I certainly have some very good genes!). I feel it’s the way we should all go, living life to the fullest until it’s time to go.
My relationship with my grandmother Margaret Irene “Sunny” Nazzer was also good, but it was a little different. She certainly loved me just as much. I’m glad she lived long enough to see me now and was always proud of my accomplishments and my intellectual mind. Unlike my grandfather, however, she was an extrovert (which I like to think is at least partly where I got my own extraverted qualities from so it looks like I inherited something good from each of them). When I was little and my parents brought me in to visit them, she would try to get me to talk more than I naturally did, even though it was like pulling teeth sometimes. My parents would also have my grandparents look after me and my sister sometimes and one time when my grandmother was tucking me into bed she would sit by my bedside and listen as I told her stories based on childrens’ movies I had seen. After my grandfather passed, she attended my high school graduation, my undergrad university convocation, and even convinced my parents (who were initially a bit hesitant in allowing her) that she should fly out to see my masters’ convocation even though she was 91 at the time!
Since my grandmother’s passing, I have inherited a few more of their belongings too. My grandfather has this neat mouse pad for his computer that looks like a rug with a complicated rug pattern on it and I also got a lot of his cuff links. As well, I also inherited a rug and a large wicker chair and a wooden case that my grandfather had since he was younger than me.
Both have been cremated and their ashes are now buried in a cemetery near where their summer home is. My memories of them will be life-long cherished.

Why I Don’t Lie

I have rarely lied at all in my life. Of course, most people do tell the truth most of the time because most of us are more or less honest people with many of them uncomfortable with lying and I would definitely put myself in this category. But for me, my reasons to avoid lying go down deeper than this. I don’t avoid lying simply because I’m an honest person and that I believe that other people need an honest answer from me. I also avoid lying because telling about an event that didn’t occur, or telling about a thought that I’m actually not having, etc. somewhat scares me in and of itself. Don’t get me wrong, this scary feeling doesn’t come from not being able to lie convincingly or afraid the other person or people will look through me. It comes from the fact that I’m describing something at least partially if not totally imaginary, something not grounded in reality. And as soon as I start talking about something not grounded in reality, and there’s nothing to hold my world “in check” (for lack of a better phrase) anymore and I just feel the world turning into a mess.

Back when I was 16 years old, I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, which is a story about an autistic boy named Christopher. There was a page in the book where I could very much relate to Christopher’s own attitude toward lying. He explains that he can’t tell lies and that writing things down that aren’t true makes him feel “shaky and scared”. Even though Christopher himself is a fictional character, I’m sure I can safely assume that Mark Haddon did his research correctly (I did hear he worked with individuals with autism, for example) and that are other people with autism in reality (even if it’s only a few) who feel this way. There was one sentence out of the book that I will quote here that really illustrates the point:

“This is another reason why I don’t like proper novels, because they are lies about things which didn’t happen and they make me feel shaky and scared.”

While Christopher’s problem with lying has reached so far as to make him unable to read fiction, it has made a less impact on me (if it didn’t, I wouldn’t have a driven passion of writing novels, for example). However, there have been moments in my life when my love of fiction has come into conflict with the lying problem. When I was very little, I remember hearing about books, but not knowing that they were about events that weren’t real. I incorrectly assumed, like the naive child I was, that some higher power made the events real in our world or that the world was so big that it could incorporate all the different possibilities so that whenever a new story came out, it was bound to be real. Also, in my late teens, I felt the strangeness of fiction not being real coming back to me, especially after reading that sentence about Christopher’s own attitude toward novels. As I recall, there were only a few down periods when I actually felt my attitude toward novels becoming more like Christopher’s and it would sometimes be scary reading or thinking about fiction sometimes and I sometimes felt it put my newly found passion of writing novels at risk. Thankfully, I haven’t experienced these feelings since they occurred when I was in my teens and I think I can safely assume that I can continue reading and writing fiction without worry about it having a deep impact on my life.

I would also like to add that this reason doesn’t affect my ability to lie by omission. Because when I’m in that situation, everything I say is still the truth, I’m just not saying all of it or not saying as much as what is implicitly required, but I do not explicitly say something that is not true. But being an honest person, I of course also try to avoid doing this as much as possible regardless.

I have also felt the issue of lying having a lesser and lesser impact on me over the years, although it still certainly contributes to my motivation of avoiding lying. So even though the impact of it on myself is certainly less than on Christopher, it still is there only in a more weak form. I’m also sure that there other individuals with autism out there who don’t experience this sensation at all.

After all, they call autism a spectrum disorder for a reason.

Learning about Others with Autism

Over the last little while, I have done quite a bit of research on autism. This is primarily driven by the fact that the I want to write a novel about autism (a series of novels actually). While I do have high-functioning autism myself and my experience will inevitably play a huge role in my novels develop, I am after all but one example of living with autism. Autism is an incredibly diverse condition and by educating myself more fully on how others with the condition live their lives, I will be able to be more accommodating to have my writing shine on their perspectives, thoughts, and behaviours as well.
So far the research is proven very interesting. I watched a full set of course video lectures on autism at AcademicEarth found here: https://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewCourse?id=495056283&s=143441.

I have also subscribed to a magazine called Autism Spectrum Quarterly on my Apple Ipad. In the magazine is a mixture of personal stories from those affected by autism and their close ones and professional articles. It even has a cutting-edge research section which has a few articles that describe in plain English on the current research conducted on . For example, there was one article that speculated on whether Autism and Asperger’s was really one part of the same entity and that Asperger’s was an extension of autism spectrum disorder off of the higher end or whether Asperger’s was something separate. There was also another interesting article on how strength of certain brain connections could indicate good ways to working with those with Asperger’s. More specifically, the article speculated that connections within local parts of the brain are stronger in those with Asperger’s, but connections between distant parts of the brain were weaker, which may explain how someone with Asperger’s behaves through such things as repetitive behaviours and intense focus. Another article that stood out was how a school called Heartspring in Kansas had come up with the idea of using robots to teach students with autism proper social skills. So the robots would be programmed to behave as a normal human would in social interaction and would interact with the students with autism. And these articles are to name but a few of the interesting tidbits of what this magazine has to offer.

I have also been researching not just autism itself, but also on the philosophy of autism and how the ideas of how the autistic mind works may have philosophical implications in the fields of ethics and what exactly a human mind is. It feels so refreshing to get all of these creative ideas for my novels. Not only is this research ensuring that I write accurately about autism and accommodate as many autistic perspectives as I can, but it is giving me an endless stream of inspiration for such things as plots, characters, etc.!
Most importantly, however, and this goes beyond my writing passion, the goal of educating myself on the so that I may speak not only for myself as an individual with autism, but also for all individuals with autism. We’re certainly a diverse group, probably one of the most diverse disability groups there is and the more I educate myself on it, the more I will be able to speak for for this group.

Getting out of my own “Head Space”

Back in January, I failed my first PhD comprehensive exam. I already wrote a post about this and how I was strategizing on preparing myself for the next exam and my next attempt at at the January one. My preparation for my next comp continues to go well so I’ll have to wait to see what happens. One of things that I thought was contributing to my failure was academic anxiety, especially exam anxiety. As such, I made contact with a psychologist in the area to see if he could help with this issue. I’ve had two sessions with him so far and I’m very much happy with the progress I’ve made (and not just for academic reasons either).
Our first session together went well enough. We spent about half of it just him getting to know me and then we began strategizing about how to lower the anxiety, such as learning how to replace negative thoughts such as “What if I get kicked out of the program?” with thoughts like, “I know I’m smart, I can do this work” and to talk with someone right before the exams to come whose voice would help calm my nerves (I have at least a couple of people in mind).
At the second session, things went a little differently than what I had expected. I thought that we would just strategize more about how to overcome my exam anxiety, but at the beginning we somewhat shifted gears. I brought up my social life with him as it was one of the last things we had discussed at the first session and one of things that can impact good academic performance. Of course, I had told him already at the first session about my autism and how it impacts my social life. He then passed a little booklet to me, which was a photocopy of half of a real book. It was called “A survival guide for people with Asperger syndrome” and was by Marc Segar (who I was told has Asperger’s himself).
He gave a copy to me and we looked inside. There were headings on the pages and after each heading, several bullet points after each was sentence or several sentences. One of the first pages was titled Worrying, which was certainly appropriate given the context. The first bullet point was:
One thing autistic people are often good at is worrying.
Another read:
Another problem you might face is that achieving things by half does not feel like enough. You may be an all or nothing person but remember, this might be the autism speaking.
Well, what do you know, my autism itself might have more of a role in all this, than I had previously thought. There were several other bullet points that I could certainly relate to. We talked about both of these, which certainly made me feel better. Then we looked inside the book some more. One other point that I could definitely relate to was under a subheading called “General Knowledge”. It was about how general everyday knowledge can be very challenging for someone with autism to obtain. One of the bullet points that I could relate to was the following:
Getting absorbed into one’s own head-space every other moment can make it extremely difficult to “learn things on the trot” which is the way most non-autistic people are used to doing it.
It certainly made sense to me. I have to admit that the way my own thoughts come and go throughout the day are very much thoughts in my own head-space. I find it quite challenging to focus, without at least one “head-space thought” pass through my mind and distract me every few seconds. When I’m learning things on my own through my own motivation, such as reading a book, my “own headspace thoughts” do come and go every few seconds, but the fact that I’m motivated to actually learn what I’m trying to learn and the fact that I can learn it at my own pace accommodates this self-absorption.
Unfortunately, such accommodations don’t come with everyday social interaction or any other situation where you have to “learn things on the trot”.
So we talked about this as well and way to learn things about the “outside world” and paying attention to the outside world, which would contribute to a more enjoyable social life. One of the exercises that I was given at the end of the second session was to be part of conversations, but to now contribute anything for the first few moments, but to simply listen and then join in later. He was offered the encouraging words that it would get better soon the more times I practised. After I had left the psychologist’s office I knew that the successful of my social interactions depended greatly on my ability to not let my own thoughts consume me. So I came up with a supplementary exercise for myself. Besides, listening in on conversations where I was part of a group, that evening, I would actually write down as much as I could about what I had listened to this day. I hoped that this exercise of my own would motivate me enough to be able to keep my own thoughts at bay.
Well, I’ve done that exercise for about a week now. I’m as of yet not talking any more in these conversations than I previously did, but I am keeping my own thoughts at bay thought both the psychologist’s and my own exercises. I’ve written up more than half a computer page single spaced each time I’ve actually gone through my own exercise. My own “head space” thoughts do keep coming up when I’m with others, but with less intensity. It also helps to say in my head, ““Not now. You can think about your thoughts in your own head space later when you’re alone.” I believe I’ve created a healthy social program for myself and that I can pass on to others (for example, the members of my Waterloo Autism/Asperger’s Support Group).
In way, I can’t but feel somewhat grateful now for failing that comprehensive exam back in January. It brought out ways to further improve myself not just academically, but socially as well (and the two are certainly very much dependent on each other).

Exploring Further

Even though I’ve lived in Kitchener-Waterloo for over two years now I’m still discovering new places, new nukes and crannies in the area. During my Master’s at the University of Waterloo, I mainly situated myself around the university and so didn’t have the motivation to explore much further. I still remember the first time I visited Waterloo town square (in Winter 2012 I believe) and later on when I first visited Downtown Kitchener for an Improv group that was meeting down there (and it still took me another year to find Victoria Park in Kitchener, which is ironically right next to the bus terminal in downtown). And then further south, Fairview Park, Conestoga College, and even Cambridge. There is certainly a lot to explore in this area between the three cities of Waterloo, Kitchener, and Cambridge.

Up until now, however, I have mainly been keeping myself within the interior of the cities and didn’t see a lot of the natural side to it. Now, however, I’ve been investigating into such things and discovering other neat gems in the area. There are a lot of tucked away natural areas here. I’ve gone on a couple of hikes in southern Kitchener along the Grand River, which has a bit of nature to it. There is also a trail that runs along the Grand River starting from Conestoga College called the Walter Bean Trail, which crosses the river on a nice pedestrian bridge and weaves along with the Grand River through a lot of nature. It’s also good exercise and a good way of bonding with people (one of the hikes was with a friend I made from Laurier and another one suggested we bicycle together this summer).

The Grand River transit bus system for getting to these areas is great as well, especially given it is free for students. The transit also goes as far as Cambridge, a place I also find very nice. The Grand River runs through the Galt area in Cambridge with pedestrian paths, parks, and at least a couple of really nice bridges.

I’m also learning about places that I currently do not have access to (specifically because right now it’s winter and I can’t bicycle right now). For example, there is the Elora Gorge and Elora Quarry to the north-east, which is a beautiful gorge with a river that runs right down the centre where you can go tubing in the summer. The quarry is a lake with a small beach with beautiful rock cliffs as well where you can go swimming.

I’m really grateful all these areas exist! It’s all about making the most of it.

Who I am as a Social Being at 25

Two days ago was my birthday and I turned 25. A quarter of a century. Halfway through my twenties. I’m the same age when my dad married my mom. However you want to look at it. And if I feel any different, it’s only the realisation that I’m a mortal being with only so many years in this world. I don’t take a negative view on this, however, (I don’t believe that death is the end anyway, but that’s another story). Rather, I take it, cliché as this may sound, as a reminder to live my life to the fullest.

And I’ve illustrated many times in this blog I’ve developed and the strategies I’ve used and keep on using to attain my goals, whether they be personal or interpersonal and how to balance my pursuit of them. For example, I’m very much academically driven and have been my whole life, but as I develop I find interpersonal and extroverted desires catching up for my attention. For example, I still attain my other social desires that I tell in this previous post My Developing Social Desires.

In my last post, I talked about how I was dealing with these two goals by still deciding to do my PhD in pure math at the University of Waterloo, but looking beyond the university in the Kitchener-Waterloo area in general for opportunities for pursuing my interpersonal goals to lead another life separate from my academics. Quite interestingly enough, the city is home to another university Wilfrid Laurier University. It’s a smaller university, but while it does have a lot of students, it reminds me a bit of my undergrad university Acadia and so I was instantly comfortable there. In fact, I’ve turned it into another outlet for pursuing my social goals. I’ve joined clubs there and doing different activities. It’s a really neat solution because while it is still an academic institution, it’s completely separate from the university I’m doing my PhD at and it’s only a walk down the street from U of Waterloo. Due to the convenience of this solution I’m finding it easier to balance my goals. It’s rather like being an undergrad back at Acadia again and I always loved the life of an undergrad student.

A couple of the new clubs I’ve joined include Acts of Random Kindness and the Harry Potter Alliance Club. Acts of Random Kindness is about doing just that: acts of random kindness. Things we have done so far include writing compliments down on cards, painting over them, and just handing them to people to scratch. We have also been part of a mental health walk at Laurier where we gave out free hugs, which I loved, as I’m a very cuddly person! The Harry Potter Alliance club is basically a Harry Potter fan club where we do fun things and do things with regards to the morals that are illustrated in the Harry Potter series. I’m meeting new people there and it feels like going to a new school even though I’m not officially a Laurier student. And even though I feel completely comfortable there, I suspect it will take a while to get used to the new place like it was for Acadia and Waterloo. But it certainly looks like I have 4 happy years ahead in Waterloo.

“Escaping” the Academic Life

One of the problems with being a graduate student is not letting your academic life overwhelm you. While my undergraduate studies at Acadia was certainly intense, graduate studies is even more so. My experience in completing a masters in pure math at the University of Waterloo has certainly shown me this and given I’ve committed myself in the long haul for a PhD starting this term, I find I have to come up with new ways in how to live a balance life. As I elaborated on in some earlier post, the social opportunities are less apparent and you generally feel less of a social vibe than what undergrads feel. For example, I’m no longer living in a dorm residence like I did for 3 out of the 4 years during my undergraduate experience and you taking classes and interacting with other students mainly within your subject (in which it would be math). And often times even if I do interact with students outside of your subject, I find it reminds me of my academic life a bit too much simply because the work I’m doing at the university is that much more intense (no offense to the Waterloo students I’ve interacted with, you’re all great!).

Thus given that the work is that much more intense, I need an even further escape from my Academic Life that I can use on a regular basis. A piece of advice I got from my past undergrad honours supervisor that addresses this issue directly is to find stuff to do and friends to make outside of the university itself. I believe this to be sound advice and it’s what I’m applying to my own situation.

Some things I have already done with respect to this is to get my own apartment instead of living in graduate residence, to make visits to a beautiful park in Kitchener called Victoria Park (which I’m fortunately in walking distance of and is also nice to study at on nice days), and to take my Zumba exercise classes off campus.  I sometimes can’t believe I’m at the same place I was for the last 2 years that I completed my masters. I’m beginning to feel a more positive experience in the life of a graduate student.