•June 26, 2011 • 1 Comment

This week’s essay topic is one that is close to my heart. Ever since I was a little boy, in fact for as long as I can possibly remember and even longer before that, I went to sleep at night with music playing in the background. As I like to joke, my life at home has its own soundtrack. Virtually every home video I’ve watched has music of some kind in the background, the mood to every poker game played in my basement has been set to jazz, and every pool party involves a visit or two to the piano.

“Is that music in the background?” I remember Michelle asking over skype a few weeks ago.


“Really? But it’s like midnight. How do you guys sleep through that?”

“You get used to it after 22 years.”

In fact for almost all of first year I would leave music on when I went to bed. All of this originates from my dad, whose played piano for most of his life. Starting out with Classical as a kid, he went through a blues/rock phase as a teen, and has been bee-bopping his way around the jazz scene for something like 20 years now. Needless to say, he’s the reason for my eclectic and varied taste in music.

I recall as a kid that I had a really hard time finding music I enjoyed. Nothing stuck out to me – nothing, that is, other than what my dad played. Alright, to be fair there were a few exceptions. When I was really young, my dad and I listened to a casette of Take Me to the Pilot by Elton John until the tape broke, and then replaced that with Steam by Peter Gabriel (yes, I get the metaphor now – remember this name though). There was also Kiss from a Rose by Seal (I know what you’re thinking…no, I’m not joking, and yes, I was weird, but c’mon, it was in Batman). But other than that, I didn’t particularly like any music, least of all modern music, so I would just listen to my dad play.

There was one song in particular that my dad would play that I absolutely loved, and that, friends, was the epic progressive rock tune known as Firth of Fifth by Genesis (whose lead singer was none other than Peter Gabriel). The tune is nothing short of brilliant: what begins as a classical piece explodes with organs and synths, soothes with a flute solo, picks up with an outstanding piano solo, and returns eventually to that same classical mode with a flair of modernity in what I believe to be the ARP Quadra. Some more vocals and guitar, throw in a little drumming courtesy of Phil Collins, and we conclude where we began with some piano to take us off.

The song is truly the epitome of epic, and that’s what Genesis did best (during their heyday under the leadership of Peter Gabriel – Phil Collins was good as a lead singer for an album or two, but then they quickly lost the grandeur of their prime). The album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is a two-disc masterpiece, where each song flows into the next as you experience the auditory journey of Rael. It is meant to be listened to all at once in one sitting, so it’s hard to pinpoint one or two songs off the album to recommend, but Fly on a Windshield is a haunting song that has always been a favourite of mine, and I always found In the Cage to be inspiring. It also has an amazing keyboard solo.

Probably my favourite song outside of those mentioned above is Can-Utility and the Coastliners from the album Foxtrot. The base song has a nice guitar melody and some good vocals mixed in with some synth work, but in the middle of the song is one of the greatest instrumental pieces I’ve ever heard. The scary thing is, it’s only the work of 4 men, and most of it originated from the many keyboards surrounding Tony Banks, the band’s keyboardist. And the best part? My dad has every keyboard/synth the band used, so he can reproduce all of the keyboard sections himself.

Another great band of a similar progressive nature is Yes, whom I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in concert twice. Both bands have amazing keyboardists in Tony Banks and Rick Wakeman respectively, although the first was more focused on sounds while the latter was extraordinarily technical. Some great songs include the classic Roundabout off of Fragile, which I learned how to play on keyboards when I was younger by ear with the help of my dad (don’t ask me to play it now), the eponymous Close to the Edge (note this is part 1 of 2, as the song is 18:45), whose opening is a glorious mix of Chris Squire’s almost melodic bass, Steve Howe’s incredible blues-meets-jazz-meets-rock guitar, and of course Rick Wakeman on the keys, and the lesser known but personal favourite, Starship Trooper, which is a rather upbeat song that slows to a crawl around in the middle with a lead-up to one of my favourite guitar solos. Ever wonder where Rush found there inspiration? Look no further.

Just like with everything else, though, my music taste has evolved. While I still love and appreciate Genesis and Yes, and revisiting their music for this essay has given me boundless joy, I don’t listen to them nearly as often as I used to. During high school, in rather typical angsty-teen fashion, I moved to harder, louder music, about being a loner, girls, school, etc. But as per usual, I still wanted to differentiate myself. While bands like Billy Talent and Our Lady Peace worked their way into my library, I also picked up lesser known and harder bands like Alexisonfire, Rise Against, Saosin, and even Senses Fail (I still listen to all but the last one). In first and second year of university, I moved to angrier music – I suppose in line with my shift in hobbies from painting and being a couch potato to fighting and lifting. I feel as though I am coming full circle (terrible pun), though, as I have recently found and fallen in love with the bands of Maynard James Keenan. The man is, quite simply, a genius, and this is evident in his music.

The first of his bands that I listened to was Tool, who, ironically, are considered to be “Progressive Metal.” Their songs are long, but there was clear forethought in everything (which, if you read my essay on Dante’s Inferno, you’ll know that’s something I admire greatly). Much like myself, the band went through an evolution: their first two albums, Undertow and Aenima, despite being great albums, are all very angry. While I absolutely love the passion found in songs like Sober, or the message and incredible music behind songs like Third Eye, I find that I can’t sit and enjoy these songs as much as I could mere months ago. On the other hand their two more recent albums, Lateralus and 10,000 Days, are noticeably different. Certainly there are still angry songs, like Ticks and Leeches, but these are far fewer in number and less angrier overall, while songs that point to social injustice like The Pot are far calmer. Maynard was actually confronted about this in an interview, and explained that he uses his music to better himself and grow, and so a shift has to be expected, an answer I can respect and see in myself from listening to his music.

Tool has some amazing songs, from the calmly dark Vicarious, which cooly points out the twisted nature of mankind, to the passion wrought from the guitar and drums of Jambi, but two songs have always held a special place in my heart, and those are the pair Maynard dedicated to his mother, Judith Mary: Wings for Marie (Pt.1) and 10,000 Days (Wings Pt.2). Maynard’s mother had suffered a cerebral aneurism when he was 11, and she died in 2003, 27 years or approximately 10,000 days after the aneurism. The album 10,000 Days and these two songs serve as his tribute to his mother, and from the first time I heard it all I could think of was my own mother, whose suffered from chronic facial pain since I was 11 or 12. I can empathize with every emotion Maynard evokes in his opus, every cry of anger and pain, and especially the line: “10,000 days in the fire is long enough, you’re going home.” His indignant rage as he calls out to god as his mother, recently ascended, is both powerful and heart wrenching, and I get chills every time I hear it: “Give me my wings.”

Of course, if you like Tool (especially later Tool), you’ll probably love A Perfect Circle as much as I do. They only have two truly original albums out (four if you count aMOTION which is all remixes, and eMotive is mainly covers), so they don’t have quite as deep a discography, but they certainly shine where it counts. Mer de Noms is there first album, and songs that stand out are the hauntingly emotional 3 Libras (I’m still not quite sure what the meaning behind this song is, but I do know that it’s amazing), and yet another song for his mother (this time while she was alive), particularly meant to target her blind faith in the lord – Judith. If you get a chance, really sit and listen to the words – “it’s not like you killed someone, it’s not like you drove a hateful spear into his side. Praise the one who left you broken down and paralyzed – he did it all for you!” Again it is clear just how much thought and emotion Maynard poured into his music.

A Perfect Circle’s second album, Thirteenth Step, is really where they came into their own as a band in my opinion. Virtually every song is amazing, from the slower song, The Noose, to personal favourites in The Outsider and Pet, which both have a harder feel, I can’t recommend this album enough.

While aMOTIVE and eMotive are remixes and covers, they are both quite good in their own rights. I would recommend listening to Mer de Noms and Thirteenth Step first, and then get into the remixes. aMOTIVE is great all around, but eMotive is a little…weird. It does have some great songs in, for example, the politically charged Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums, but this is essentially a remix of Pet from Thirteenth Step.

I hope you enjoyed this traipse through my music tastes. Feel free to leave any questions or comments, as this truly is only the tip of the iceberg.


Movies I Guess

•June 10, 2011 • Leave a Comment

It seems people have actually been reading my blog, which is a huge honour for me. At the same time, it does add a bit of pressure. Especially on days like today, where I have little to no real knowledge about the essay topic. I’ve never been a huge movie buff. I mean, I enjoy watching a good movie. Grab some popcorn, turn off the lights, pull up a warm blanket, and you have yourself an entertaining and relaxing night. That said, I’ll give this one a stab.
One of my favourite all time movies is The Usual Suspects. It has action, mystery, and Kevin Spacey. What more can you ask for? Plus, you’ll finally understand the whole “I am Keyser Söze” meme (and when you find out, you’ll shit bricks). Whenever I talk about this movie, I recall back to the first time I watched it with two friends of mine, Matt and Jared. We were in Middle School, and my mom recommended we watch this “amazing movie.” An hour and 46 minutes later, and I was in blissful shock. My friends, on the other hand, were held in a confounded stupor.

“Man that was awesome!”

“Wait… what just happened?”

I couldn’t believe it, but they actually didn’t understand the ending. Here they were, sitting atop this amazingly climactic conclusion to an hour and a half of wonder and mystery, and they were too stupid to figure it out. Explaining it to them was likewise a hassle. Thinking back to it still gives me a chuckle.

I’m afraid that’s all I have for this week, dear readers. Next week I promise a FAR more substantive post, as music is something very dear to my heart.

A Book for the Masses… Or Not

•June 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Mulling over this week’s question, I find myself at a bit of a loss. Certainly I’ve read plenty of good books, and those that immediately jump out at me are Aldous Huxley’s twisted and dark romp through the human psyche known as A Brave New World, the likewise dystopian future, albeit centered in technology rather than human pleasure, depicted in George Orwell’s 1984, or classics like Homer’s Odyssey, the story of a hero as he attempts to keep his life from floundering. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a beautifully haunting tale of how man’s unending search for truth and power, fueled by ego, almost certainly leads to his own demise, all the while juxtaposing the stark humanity of the ‘monster.’ A Farewell to Arms hurls the reader into the life of a man at war, a man in love, and a man in tragedy. Hell, Aeschylus’ portrayal of the Furies in the tragic trilogy the Oresteia was said to have been so frighteningly scary that women would have miscarriages in the audience! And who could forget the sharp comedy of Aristophanes’ Clouds? While all of these are worthy of their own blog, much less a single note of recommendation, one book has stood out to me from the pack since I read it a year and a half ago. And that book, ladies and gentlemen, is the first of a trilogy, the magnum opus of the “Father of the Italian Language”: Dante Alighieri’s Inferno.

Now to be fair, the Inferno is not for everyone. In fact, it’s actually incredibly hard to fully decipher, which is the main reason I love it so much. It’s not the largest of books, but Dante managed to fill it with an abundance of minute details. Without the assistance of scholia, it’s safe to say that we would have a very feeble grasp on the entire meaning of the masterpiece. There are just so many allusions to connect, so many subtle points to uncover, that reading it is like a treasure hunt.

The subject matter is also engrossing. Who doesn’t love a fresh mix of mythologies? Within the 9 circles you’ll find Plutus, the Furies, the Minotaur, and even some Centaurs, along with fallen angels, hypocritical priests, Satan, and a Pope or two. Between my love of mythology and my scrutiny of religion, it’s clear that I’m a tad biased.

So to summarize: if you think you’d enjoy a romp through Hell, filled with brain expanding subtleties and the occasional cannibal, read Dante’s Inferno. Experiences may vary.
For a visual representation, click here. Yes, that is the greatest catchline ever. No, Phlegyas was not actually a giant with spikes all over him.

Useless Knowledge (aka Everything I Know)

•May 26, 2011 • 4 Comments

This week’s essay is about useless knowledge, and I have to ask: is there such thing as useless information? Every bit of knowledge that we accumulate over the years adds to us in some way. I always think back to an interesting conversation I once had with the Classics Undergraduate Chair at McMaster. We were discussing course requirements, what courses I should take, ranting about Arts and Science requirements, etc. etc. I recall asking about whether I should take this course or that, and after we had figured it out he told me that regardless of what I take (as long as I fill my degree requirements), it all adds to make my intellect more subtle, so none of it is truly a waste. I think back to that conversation a lot, and I think he’s right on the money.

Sure, it doesn’t matter that I could list off the genealogy of the Olympian gods, and the fact that I know that Tool’s Lateralus follows the fibonacci sequence won’t fill my car with gas or get me through university, but it all adds to the “subtlety” of my mind. Which is pretty darn cool, if you ask me. What is the “subtle” intellect? It’s making allusions and references without beating someone over the head with it. It’s recognizing the feint message in a painting or book. When you discern and comprehend these subtle elements, you gain appreciation not just for the work itself but also its place in art or literature or television. When I read in Apuleis’ Metamorphoses that a certain ineffectual band of brigands gained ingress to a house they hoped to plunder by presenting one of their own dressed in a bear skin as though he were a wild gift, I think back to Odysseus’ ingenious plan on the fields of Ilium. Not only do I gain the base comedy of a fool dressed as though he were a bear who eventually is gutted by a butcher, but there is also the juxtaposition of idiot to genius, failure to success, unlawful to heroic, that you wouldn’t understand had you not known the story of Troy.

All of that said, I do have some knowledge that probably won’t ever be of use. For example, did you know that Wolverine’s real name isn’t Logan but rather James Howlett? Or that the Silver Surfer is an alien named Norrin Radd from the planet Zenn-La? Well I do. And a whole lot more on top of that. I can (for some reason) remember basically every comic book I’ve ever read, every plot line and character (save some REALLY obscure ones, like who the manta-ray looking chick was that Gladiator was once into). I’m sure this will serve me at some point, like if the world suddenly elevates comic books to the one true artform so I can do my PhD on why Spiderman is better than every other character ever, or why Superman is awesome and stuff but would totes lose a fight with the Martian Manhunter, but until then I am merely a repository of useless comic book information. What’s even sadder is that there are probably a ton of people out there that know more than I do. I weep for them.

Why do I know this stuff? No idea. You, dear reader, will have to be sated with the fact that I find all of it interesting and cool, and that seems to be the key to making things stick in my noggin. I hope that’s enough.


One Thing I Understand Better than Others

•May 23, 2011 • Leave a Comment

It’s taken me a while to figure out exactly what I want to say in this essay. I’m supposed to talk about something I understand better than others, a chance to make myself feel good after toiling in the things I don’t understand last week. But I’m having a lot of trouble pinpointing what I understand better than others, and I’m also not comfortable bragging or talking myself up. As a result this is turning into a rather annoying essay to write, but I’ll try nonetheless.

When I think of the things I understand most, all of the skills and information that comes to mind revolve around making connections. I’ll start with the esoteric and abstract: one thing I understand better than others is myself, and by extension, others. I think everyone has a certain level of societal understanding, based in their many life experiences, but I find that I have always been very adept in psychology. While I’ve never studied psychology seriously, I seem to have an innate understanding of its basic tenets. This could be for many reasons: as a kid I was a loner, spending a great amount of time with only myself as company in my room. It was in those moments that I truly came to understand myself, and learned what made myself tick. I was also never really a kid – I always sat with the adults, listening in on their conversations, constantly analyzing and digesting. If that weren’t enough, I acted as confidant and psychologist to my mother for as long as I can remember. I believe all of this combined to give me a keen ability to understand social situations, my own desires and needs, and a huge capacity for empathy. All of that said, this doesn’t mean I always have the ability to act accordingly or take advantage of ideal situations – far from it. I am far superior now, but when I was younger I lacked the necessary skills and conviction, and with greater sensitivity came a penchant for a wider range in mood. Thankfully while this understanding can often descend to a dark pit, it simultaneously provides the rope back to safety.

I find that this ability to make connections applies to my studies as well. Literature, arguably a study of human nature through the medium of pen and paper, has always been my strong suit. This skill was further cultivated through elementary, middle, and high school, where I was forced to dissect the minutest of details in the Pentateuch on an often daily basis. Certainly many of commentaries of the Rabbis were utter bullshit, but there were many that had value as well. Above all, though, this study provided me with the skills to understand and digest literature rapidly and effectively. And the more I understood, the more I wanted to understand. This all comes back to my thirst for knowledge; I get a great deal of satisfaction when I discover the meaning trapped behind the black bars of the page. In fact, I remember quite distinctly probably the first time I felt that kind of joy. I believe it was grade 5 or 6, and we were asked by our teacher what the line “he went up on the mountain to be with his ancestors” meant. The whole class was stumped, making a bunch of guesses, until in a eureka-esque moment I raised my hand and said, “he died.” The teacher was so impressed and proud, I remember her showing me off to other teachers and even her daughter. I think that positive reinforcement has stayed with me to this day, although it should be said that I don’t try to understand for the sake others but rather for myself.

All of this has also translated (ba-dum ching) into my study of languages. Language, much like literature, helps to illuminate humanity. You don’t “put up” with something in Latin, you “suffer” it. To be “good” in Greek is to be both “beautiful” physically and “noble” in the socio-economic sense. I love these connections, these subtle hints hidden in language that point to a culture, a people, and a way of life. I had no idea they existed until I began to study the ancient languages. And of course there’s the study of etymology, which I find to be so fascinating. For example, the word “etiology,” for all you soon-to-be doctors out there, comes from the Greek aitios, which means “to be guilty of/responsible for,” and the name Agatha originates from the adjective agathos, meaning “good.”

Interestingly enough, while most people who know me now would say that I’m a huge language buff, I actually was horrendous in languages throughout elementary, middle, and high school. My Hebrew was always decent but never really great, and my French was virtually nonexistent (I knew just enough to get me a mid-80 in grade 9 so that I would never have to take it again…which sucks, because now I need to take it again haha).

To conclude, I just wanted to add a point that I found elaborated on in a youtube video I watched recently. In it this guy discusses the similarities and differences between the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ studies, and points out how literature and mathematics are really the same thing at their core. Regardless of your opinion on this idea, he does have two points that I would like to emphasize:
1. Writer’s write on purpose.
2. Not every answer in Literature is correct, much less valid.

See you next week.

Are Ya There, God? We Need to Talk…

•May 13, 2011 • 2 Comments

Those who read my last essay may find this one to be a bit contradictory to my main point from the last one, but there is a difference in my opinion. I don’t need to know the answer to life. What I would like to know, though, is what else exists in this crazy cosmos of ours. Specifically, is there a god? And if so, what in ‘his’ name is he? If not, then how the hell did all this happen?

It’s pretty easy to answer Alec’s supplementary questions: why does this interest me? We’re talking about freakin’ GOD here. (A) BEING(S) OF HIGHER EXISTENCE, who may or may not have created… well, the entire universe. What don’t I understand? Uhhh… everything?

Okay, to get a little more specific, this topic has interested me since I was a kid. Some may be surprised to find out that at one point I was very into religion, and was considering getting more serious about it. At the time I was pretty young, looking for purpose and an easy prop up from my often dower moods, and religion was an easy answer. A being who loves me unconditionally, made me in his image, and looks after me from up above with a bag of popcorn and the power over everything in the palm of his hands? Sign me up! It gave me a comfort I desperately needed, not to mention the sense of camaraderie that went along with it. A teacher of mine, my idol at the time, was modern Orthodox, and he would have me over for Shabbath dinner frequently, which included singing, drinking, tons of great food, and board games. What more could a kid like me, someone who had been bullied and desperately sought meaning, ask for?

Well, the allure faded just as quickly as it arose. What about the other gods out there? What was Yahweh’s claim to fame? I mean, sure, he’s all well and good, but there had to be a better reason for me to choose him over the several thousand other gods out there aside from my being born Jewish. And yet, I couldn’t find one. There’s as much empirical evidence pointing to Yahweh chilling on a white fluffy cloud as there is for Dionysus running around turning pirates into dolphins. And to be fair, the latter sounds way funnier and involved far more heroism and fun, and far less asceticism and arbitrary punishment. Add to that a sprinkle of newfound historical knowledge (*cough* Crusades, *hic* Epic of Gilgamesh, *blurgh* theory of evolution… sorry, really coming down with something here), and I could no longer in good conscience allow myself to continue believing just to make myself feel better. Sure, I may be a bit of a Platonist, but truth is too important to me, even if it means I no longer have the security blanket of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent being who is constantly looking out for me and every other person on Earth (but me in particular because, let’s be honest, I’m awesome).

The problem with this, folks, is that now I was back at the start. I had, and have, nothing. Nil. Zilch (although I did have the pleasure of killing god, which is pretty darn cool). If there isn’t a god or gods, what the hell is there? Aliens? That seems like a cheap supplement, but hell, it could be. For some reason I have trouble dismissing the idea that there is something else out there, which is why I consider myself an agnostic. Whether this is because I am not strong enough to commit to an answer, or because I choose not to make judgement calls when I know so little, is up to you. To me it doesn’t necessarily have to be a ‘being’; it could just as easily be the beauty of Nature or science, unfolding in its infinitely complex way to result in the world as we know it. Perhaps the laws of physics mould and shape the universe with their complex fingers from the complex mud of biology. Add a dash of chemical magic, and voila: the universe.

Either way, I don’t know for sure. Hell, I don’t have a clue. I’m pretty damn sure that no religion has it right, though. But that’s not really good enough for me. It’s very easy to tear things down, but incredibly hard to supply a suitable substitute. Thankfully I don’t need the idea of a ‘god’ to help me sleep at night… but damn, wouldn’t that be nice?

PS: I just want to make sure for anyone who is reading this: I understand why you may believe in a god and even enjoy your organized religion. While I disagree with you intellectually, I completely respect your right to choose your own spiritual path through this world. These are simply my beliefs and the thought process I went through – I recognize that religions do have a utility for many (despite their heavily negative history). Let everyone believe what they will, as long as I retain my right to disbelieve.

Who I Am

•May 7, 2011 • 2 Comments

Well, the first topic is in from the maestro himself, and boy is it a doozy. “Who I am.” Looks like we’re going straight for the jugular, folks. I find in answering this question, if I am to be honest to you, my beloved reader, I have to add: “Who am I and how much of myself am I willing to divulge?” So with that out of the way, feel free to pick up a chair, grab some popcorn, and enjoy the ride through my crazy noggin.

The question itself is pretty damn open-ended. Which is good, because diversity in these essays is key. But it also sucks, because you’re making me think hard (and we all know how that’ll go). So I figure to get myself going on a clear path, I’ll just start listing off the things that come to mind when I think of my identity (excuse the stream of consciousness). I am, first and foremost, a human being. I have flaws, I have skills, I have desires and I have needs. Sometimes my flaws can overwhelm me, and I flounder in self-doubt. Other times I glow in my strengths, revel in my victories. It’s difficult, especially for a perfectionist such as myself, to accept that with the good comes the bad, with blue and green days where the sun hangs in the white-speckled sky there will always be the grey and brown afternoons of noise and oh so much water. But it’s always a matter of recognizing the balance and understanding that, deep down, I am just a man. And I’m happy to say that I’ve been blessed with far more sunny days than dower rainy ones.

I’m also an academic, a voracious intellectual. Now that may sound pretty arrogant, but it’s really just a fancy way of saying that I love to learn new things. I can’t stop. If I don’t learn something new (about the world, myself, the people I love) every day, I don’t know what I’d do with myself. It’s this constant pressure to learn that drives me. Right now I’m studying Classics, with the goal of completing a Masters and PhD, and I can happily say that I am doing so purely out of interest. Classics – the history, the literature, the language – drives my intellectual gears, it gets me excited and engaged. When I find subtle tricks of language (did you know that the name “Stephen” is from the ancient Greek “stephanos,” meaning “crown”?) or cool myths and histories (apparently the people of Athens were born autochthonously when Hephaestus got a little too excited while he hobbled after a rather annoyed Athena) I get excited. I know, I’m a huge nerd. It’s awesome.

You’d think that my nerdiness would be incongruent with my next identity, that of the fighter, but I’ve always been a fighter, whether it was on a physical or emotional plane. In fact, I’d say my desire to fight in the first place originated out of a need to better myself not physically but mentally. It wasn’t because I wanted to know that I could best someone in combat – I had never been in a street fight in my life (still haven’t). It wasn’t to get in good shape – I have weight lifting for that. All of it was simply to face my fears; to stand at one corner of a ring from another man, stare across into his eyes as we sway, our arms loose at our sides as we grind our mouthpieces, waiting with bated breath for the ref to ask each of us in turn, “are you ready?”  And no, you’re never ready. At least I wasn’t. I was afraid every goddamn time I put on that headgear, still stained with the blood of hundreds of punches to the face. But I did it. And I can say I did it.

And I didn’t just do it to get in there and get my ass kicked. No. I never lost a fight. And that means something to me, despite the importance of the “just go out there to enjoy yourself” mentality. I am a perfectionist, after all. And it bothers me that I had a draw in my second fight, when I should have been given the W. And it bothers me that I held back in my last fight, and I still have doubt as to whether I deserved that win. But even so, I don’t think I ever felt as accomplished as when I was discussing a sparring session – not a fight – with a teammate, Kyle. For those of you not in the know, sparring is basically the same as fighting (though often with heavier gloves to avoid broken noses), and can range from the “hi we’re friends lets pat each other in the face for a few minutes” to “I want to make you bleed, let’s do this” type aggression. We were all teammates, though, so despite a few rotten apples or if we were getting ready for a fight it’s generally at 70% power to avoid injury. Anyway, we were talking a day or two after a decidedly rough session with a guy I had never met before. I got in there – we were the same weight apparently but he was a bit taller with a much longer reach – and boy, he was not one to take it easy. In his defense, I’m pretty sure he was preparing for a fight, and I know that I was always at pique intensity when I had a fight coming up, but by the end of the first round we were slamming each other with shots. I think it’s probably the closest I’ve been to a concussion, if I didn’t get concussed right then. My blood was boiling as we were throwing some heavy leather. Hell, I even hit him with a head kick despite his height (and no, he didn’t like it one bit). A round or two later, and I was bleeding out of my nose, our coach telling us from the corner to calm down and go easier. Thankfully we decided to rotate – I got matched up with a friend, a girl whose gloves I regrettably got all red with blood after those two hard rounds. Another rotation later, and I was asked if I wanted to get back into the ring with the first guy. I can’t tell you how afraid I was. “But you did it anyway,” Kyle said, “and that’s all that matters.” And it’s true. Getting the courage to go out there and do what you need to do, whether it’s fight someone, tell someone how you feel, write an exam, all of it is predicated on that initial impetus, and fighting taught me to always take that first step.

While I’m sad to say I no longer fight, I recognize why I made the decision and understand fully its reasoning. Sometimes life presents you with more than one opportunity, and they simply cannot coincide peacefully. That’s when you have to make the tough decisions: do I continue to fight, risking brain injury while studying for an eventual Masters and PhD in Classics, or do I reduce the risks that could derail my intellectual goals, still training but without the competitive element? At this moment in time, especially having achieved the goals I set out to with fighting, the latter seems the only true option. Who knows, though – if life has taught me anything, it’s that it is extraordinarily fluid. I could be back in the gym in a year’s time, preparing for a fight.

I suppose I’ll skip the truly sappy stuff, and get to a passion of mine that I’m only just returning to now: art. I regrettably haven’t painted in years, but this year I took an enormous amount of time and devoted it to writing, my other artistic love, and wrote a book. While I’m currently in the editing stage, I was so happy to get a chance after all these years to flex my artistic muscles. My professor, the esteemed Dr. King, is also sticking around to assist me in my attempts to get it published, which has been my dream for as long as I can remember. The project has also taken a bit of an unexpected turn, as Dr. King (along with a few others) think it would be great if I included illustrations, one or two for each chapter. So it seems I’ve come full circle, and I’ll get to fully immerse myself back into the beautiful world of art.

And that’s truly how I see it. The days I spent as a kid drawing and painting were some of the most serene moments of my life. Looking for just the right blue to capture the sky on my canvas, the perfect hue of green and red to steal the leaves for my selfish devices. It forces you to appreciate the little things – the tiny speckles in my dog’s eyes, the way light plays off a quiet stream, the subtle colours of a flower. There are simply so many colours, so many textures, it’s easy (and fun) to get lost in it. And of course, I’m a perfectionist. My teachers would always tell me to work from the simple to the complex, while I preferred to jump right into the details. It was always the intricacies that interested me, but at the same time it’s a great analogy, as it is so easy to get muddled in a tiny portion and lose sight of the whole.

I won’t get into what ticks me off here – let’s keep this positive. I find, though, that the negativity generally stems from ego. When I deal with the issues within myself I relax and float through the crowds of the arrogant, the petty, and the insecure with an inborn calm and joy.

What does life demand of me? Well this one’s pretty simple. In fact, I’ve known the answer since I was six or seven: when asked what the meaning of life was, without even a pause a tiny, curly-haired Jason replied, “to live.” And I stand by that motto to this day. We don’t know what the point of all this is – are we simply threads in an infinite tapestry, woven by omniscient old hags, or perhaps we’re simply specks of dust floating in the cosmic wind? To hell with either answer – in fact, to hell with all answers. Living is enough for me.