A Day in the Life: Graduate School

­Today was a quiet Monday for me. It was still a long day, of course, with meetings and class and Kapisanan work, but having submitted my CIP in the early hours of Monday morning was so good for my soul – and my body, which at this point was so sick of the effects of caffeine that I had to sleep 9+ hours everyday to compensate, with multiple naps on the weekends.

I was able to take my time waking up, and spent a good half an hour doing absolutely nothing of value other than scrolling through my Instagram feed and looking at the lovely warm morning light streaming in from the window. I finally got my lazy bum out of bed when it got too warm under the blanket, and heated up last night’s stale coffee in the microwave, using my favourite mug in a bid to pretend that this particular crime against coffee was not egregious.

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The big task of my morning off was laundry. It takes about two weeks of not doing laundry before I hit my personal danger zone – which is when I start running out of leggings and pants. And yes, I was, by Monday, running out of leggings and pants. I went to the communal laundry room in the basement at 7:45 in the morning, so nobody was there yet. Score! Thirty minutes in the wash, then another 20 minutes hanging them up to dry, and the biggest chore of the day was done!

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After a quick shower, I hopped out and made my way to campus. There are several routes from Bathurst & Steeles to the UofT St. George campus, but my current favourite station involves taking the 60 to Pioneer Village Station, then riding it all the way up to St. George Station. Having a commute that is mostly by train is wonderful – it makes my commute that much easier (and quieter)!

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A glimpse of a view from the train – I think of Yvonne whenever I look out at the landscape. She’s from Berlin, and came to Toronto over the summer last year, and on our commute from Pearson back to North York she exclaimed “It’s so FLAT!”

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This Monday was quite warm, which meant that while the snow had mostly melted away, there was a bit of a chill in the air. Some icy chunks were still lingering on the pavements, though – here’s an interestingly-shaped one, featuring my favourite pair of Timberlands:

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This is the basement of Sidney Smith Hall, which is where a lot of the Department of Geography and Planning’s graduate school offices are, including mine. It’s actually quite cozy in the lounge, and the shared office spaces are nice! My only gripe is that I personally would love sunshine, but hey, I’m almost done with this program.

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Here’s my desk! It looks cluttered, but it’s how my brain works. Everything I need to use at any single time needs to be within arm’s reach. You can see a small array of my favourite water containers/mugs/my french press in the far right.

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A closer look at the stack of books on my desk. All of these are related to my research (although two or three might or might not be for fun). Bonus points if you can tell from this pile what my research is!

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I wanted to put in a photo of me because that shirt is one of my favourites, and I have no qualms about wearing a Fall-themed button down in the middle of winter.

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Here are my notes down for a 1:45PM meeting. I’d been having tea, hence the mug. That particular clock app is also one of my favourites ever that I’d installed on my laptop – because it covers the rest of the screen, I’m less prone to distractions.

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Here’s the pretty afternoon view as I walked out to Spadina Station. My next meeting is at Yorkdale Mall, and I have just about enough time to get there.

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Yorkdale Station, finally! I was a little late, but the meeting went well.

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Back at Pioneer Village, but heading home now. This coat is quite possibly my favourite winter coat – the clasps are such a point of interest. I’m really hungry and can’t wait for dinner. Whee!

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And that was a day in the life of a graduate student. See you next time!

Thoughts on my first week back

It has been an interesting week “back,” even though I technically didn’t have the summer off as I was doing a reading course plus a TA-ship. My first few classes have brought into stark view just how lost and mentally checked out I was last year.

I am much calmer this time around, and my mind in a much better place. I have no desire to hide behind a computer screen – I genuinely want to engage with my classmates and my professors in class discussions. I know that this year’s enthusiasm has nothing to do with the classes I took last year, because even in the ones that I thoroughly enjoyed and loved writing for, I was never this invested.

Another thing I noticed was that my style has changed – last term, I was most definitively the Girl in the Loud Button-Ups. Now I’m leaning more towards solid colours with one interesting piece – you know, accenting the outfit instead of having my entire outfit be the accent. My fall/winter uniform was button-ups with leggings and knee-high boots, and looking back, I think it was because I never wanted to engage with anybody. With a loud shirt, the starting conversation often would be “hey, nice shirt!” which often didn’t require more than “thanks!” in return. I would then hide at my desk or at the library somewhere. Without the loud clothing acting as a shield, the starting conversation might be the terrifying “how was your weekend?” and I was not in any fit state of mind to talk about how I was drowning in grief most days.

The path I want to take this year is clearer to me, and to be honest, I am relieved that I’m no longer under the cloud of misery I was living with last year. I walked into class last Monday with a sense of purpose that just wasn’t there the year before. I know now that I want this always, I want this consistently: this sense of purpose that colours my stride in the mornings when I head out to campus.

Planning and Transnational Studies: Month Two

I can’t believe that month two of the first semester is done. Things went by incredibly fast, and now, we’re in week 7, of 12.  October has been particularly harsh on me this year – partly because of Impostor Syndrome,  but even more so because grief is a harsh and constant companion.

It’s been really difficult. The mourning process is complicated and it ebbs and engulfs like the tide. I had to take a week off from school because I simply could not function. There are moments when I would be sitting in bed, or cooking something, or just walking home from the grocery store when I would suddenly start weeping. For my birthday, I bought The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’ Rourke. I’m using it as a trigger for memories I have with him. The pages I have read are papered with sticky notes ranging from my first memory of him to full-on letters. It’s both cathartic and fucking painful.

Since his passing, I have come to the conclusion that I need some kind of morning routine in order to keep myself in a mental state that functions well enough to keep me from failing out of my program. For inspiration on how to weave together a routine that works with my schedule and lifestyle, I looked at articles like Forbes’ “The Morning Routine of Twelve Women Leaders”. Not that I am presently a highly successful leader, but I would eventually like to be a highly successful woman.

Right now, and please don’t judge me too harshly, my daily routine looks like this:

  • Wake up at 10AM for regular days, 7AM for the days I have a 9AM class.
  • Shower and throw on clothes
  • Walk to school for class
  • Come back home and wallow in sadness while eating a late lunch
  • Sleep my afternoons away, since social interaction depletes me of energy
  • Stay up late to work on my projects and papers

I know, I know. 10AM?! Who the hell wakes up at 10 in the morning? That’s so late! In my defense – I live in a studio/bachelor type apartment, and I put my bed in what I think is supposed to be the “closet space,” so it has no windows. Without sunlight in my face and with no alarm, I wake up at 10. It doesn’t help that the season has changed and we get shorter days and longer nights now, and I stay up late most nights reading and writing.

What I want my daily routine to look like is this:

  • Wake up at 8AM: Honestly. This gives me an extra two hours of daylight – something of value, even if I choose not to leave my flat.
  • From 8 to 8:45:
    • Browse news: I’m going to try out The Skimm for the next month, but I’m also on the lookout for Toronto-specific daily news, as well as urban planning-specific newsletters. Pray for me.
    • Breakfast: I need to start eating breakfasts instead of foregoing them entirely and just having a late lunch at 3 in the afternoon.
    • Respond to emails: this must commence being a daily thing. I almost missed one event due to having forgotten to RSVP, and that would have been a missed opportunity.
  • Shower at 9AM: I have been advocating for self-care among my friends and family, and I know that to survive this I have to take care of myself, too.
  • 10AM: Get started on writing and reading.

One more thing – one of my absolute favourite persons sent me a care package of chocolates all the way from Berlin, c/o Mikaius. In the card (emblazoned with sunflowers!) she wrote that it was “to help fight the dementors.” I wanted to start bawling when I got that package; what is a more apt description right now than dementors, for this thing that is threatening to swallow me whole? I love her so much, and the fact that she went out of her way to send me these makes me feel so cared for, I want to cry. Thank you, Yvi.

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Horrible photo, please excuse the combination of awful indoor lighting and a not-so-great phone camera.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for the piece I’m writing as a goodbye letter to my Dad, if I ever get around to dotting it.

Planning & Transnational Studies: Month One (Transnational Planning? Is that a thing? Can I make it be a thing?)

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Big things happened to me this year. 2016 has been and still is a very intense experience – here’s a recap to illustrate how many things happened to me in the past months. I’m still reeling.

1. I got engaged! I know I already wrote about that previously, but hey, it’s still an odd feeling to call Mikaius my fiance, and an even odder sensation to realize that my hand feels naked without my goddamn engagement ring. It’s an emerald solitaire in a cathedral setting with a twisted gold band that Mikaius got from the Wilson Brothers on Etsy. It’s not something I would have picked for myself (I have a love affair going on with citrine), but I love it. It’s subtle enough that I don’t feel absurd wearing it to class everyday as a broke grad student, and I absolutely adore the twisted band and the emerald.

Here it is in all of its glory:

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2. I graduated with my BA! Prepare yourself for a mouthful: Hons BA in Urban Studies & Diaspora/Transnational Studies, with a minor in English. My Mom was very proud of me, as an immigrant parent, and even prouder when I finished with high distinction. I think she cried several times during the ceremony.

Now, that is not what I say that when people ask me what my degree is. I gauge their interest before launching into the spiel, but usually just say “I studied the interaction between the city and immigration.” And then if they show any hint of interest I go full geek on them. Full. Geek.

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3. I got accepted into grad school at UofT! I was ecstatic when I got the email during the summer because – and this was not a smart move on my part – I had only sent applications to two programs, at one university. And both those programs were housed in the same department. Yeah, don’t do that if you’re applying to grad school. The anxiety really isn’t worth it.

But luckily, I got in! I am currently in year one of the Master of Science in Planning and the Collaborative Master of Arts in Diaspora/Transnational Studies. Again, another mouthful. I can never resist doing doubles. It’s an addiction. HELP ME.

The best purchase I made before starting my programs? A giant freaking planner from ban.do. It’s bigger than my laptop. It was the biggest one I could find that was also hardbound, all the better for it to withstand two years with. Well, almost two years: it goes from August 2016 to December 2017. This thing is a beast – I can write in it with both ink pens and regular pens (no ghosting!), and it came with two pages of stickers! Now I finally have the justification of using all the other stickers that had been accumulating dust in my desk drawer for years. It’s actually really great. My favourite feature about it is that there’s both a monthly and a weekly spread, so I use the monthlies for the big due dates and the weeklies for the readings/small submissions.

4. I joined a Filipino poetry workshop and performed onstage for the first time ever in my life. When I joined Poetry Is Our Second Language, a workshop facilitated by Patrick de Belen, I didn’t think that it would change my life – and to a large extent, my writing style – the way that it did. I also didn’t think I would get the chance to perform at Nathan Philips Square with a buncha dorks that I’ve come to love. It was also picked up by a radio show called Sigaw ng Bayan Montréal!

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5. I moved out of my parents’ place and into a place of my own. I’m still fixing things so I don’t have a good photo of my place, but it’s a little piece of Dani-sized heaven and it’s my space, so I feel good. I’ve been cooking a lot, making sure my frozen meat is neatly separated into meal-sized portions, my coffee maker has been working for its keep, I think I’ve stumbled upon my perfect cup of double-brewed chilled coffee, and the Loblaw’s around the corner sells twelve different kinds of apples. All in all? I’m pretty happy about where I am.

Why did I pick up blogging again? I decided to start writing about the experience because there were a lot of things I encountered that nobody had told me to expect – like how emotionally exhausting the experience would be. I came in understanding that I would be mentally and physically exhausted, but at the end of week one I was in this emotionally exhausted cloud going, woof, why the hell did nobody warn me about this? I have to write it down, both as a form of therapy and as a record of what happened. I’m going to be very nostalgic about this program when it’s over.

Bonus photo of me onstage performing. And by bonus, I mean “how the hell did this happen?” I have mixed feelings about this photo, and about photographs in general. One of my eyes is bigger than the other, a condition called exophthalmos (hurray Grave’s Disease); my arms and my thighs are thick and chunky, and my hair is very thin. BUT this photo overrides all of that because it is a photo of something I achieved, and to me, that means I’m growing up. 🙂

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