Friday, June 14, 2013

Driving Me Crazy

I realized the other day that I really hate being a passenger with other drivers. I'm not sure when that started to happen; certainly it was after I started driving, but it's definitely there. I've never told anyone and I don't complain about it, but I also have a hard time relaxing and just letting someone else do the work. Probably the control freak in me acting up.

In some cases I completely understand why it bothers me. My brother is an alright driver, but he's still a little rough with stick shift, and dealing with that distracts him, which occasionally terrifies me. My mom is fully capable of driving stick, and has been doing it for probably around 30 years, but she's also lazy. She often won't drop to a lower gear when she should, and just floors the gas pedal instead. That bugs me, but what makes me even more nervous is the idea that, if she doesn't do that right, what other shortcuts is she taking that I don't notice?

Even with my dad, who is an excellent driver, and other people I trust, I still find myself checking their blind spots and monitoring traffic in neighbouring lanes. I don't even mean to do it, I just can't help myself. In my last relationship I did all the driving, which was probably a good thing because it might have generated a lot of friction if I had to ride with someone on a regular basis. Hopefully my next girlfriend will be happy to let me do most of the driving. It's a good thing that I actually like to drive.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Barely Trying

I think I've become a a complete cynic, with regard to school. I've always had a natural inclination toward cynicism, but it's never affected me like this. When I was an undergraduate, I would take my assignment guidelines and craft a paper that fit them. Now, I write the paper I want, ensuring that it is only in the spirit of the assignment, and then ram in the various components I still need to make it meet the requirements. I treat the guidelines like a checklist, adding in superfluous sources, covering barely related content, or doing whatever else is needed after I would otherwise be finished.

I'm not sure if this is a bad thing. I write more of what I want, which means I suppose I enjoy it more, and it has worked just fine so far in terms of grades. However, I don't know if it's exactly healthy that I'm so inclined to barely try to meet the requirements. It's probably a good thing that I graduate this year.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Last Days

Today is the last day of the 2012-13 Leading to Reading program. Not counting the ultra-short summer programs, I believe this is my fifth(!) last day. That number seems ludicrously high. It's also probably my last one, since I don't expect to finish LTR 13-14 as a Site Monitor. LTR 13-14 will be my sixth school year Leading to Reading program, and my eighth if I count the two I was merely a volunteering.

I always have mixed emotions on this day. On the one hand, I'm sad because I have to say goodbye to some really great kids and volunteers who are not returning. I also see the end of some relationships between kids and volunteers who worked really well together all year, but for whatever reason won't be paired again in the future.

On the other hand, I also know that I now get a chance to fix some mistakes and eliminate some headaches, as I start to plan for the next session. Selfishly, I also look forward to the break. For the next three weeks I can relax and work at my own pace. I can, within reason, set my own schedule, rather than being a slave to the program hours. I've had four Saturdays off since October, so the idea of three off in a row sounds heavenly. These little breaks keep me from getting burned out in this job.

I also find myself doing a lot of reflection on days like today. When I started in LTR as a volunteer, way back in 2003, I was really only doing it to get my volunteer hours for high school. However, I think I was more responsible than your average tenth grader, and so even though I didn't plan on making a career out of working with children, I was going to make sure that I did this well, because I had committed to it. I did it for one year, and then I did it again the next year, mostly because they called and asked, and I didn't want to say no. I didn't dislike it, but I also didn't fall in love with it. That said, I was in high school, and I'm pretty sure I hated everything, so not hating this was kind of a big deal.

I didn't return in 2005, but in 2006 the Site Monitor at the branch in which I was working as a Page was desperate for volunteers. She found out that I had been one in the past, and begged me to take on a session. I agreed, mostly to help her out. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

In January of 2007, the Site Monitor took a job elsewhere in TPL, and her position was vacated. In situations like that, until the position can be filled, branches appoint a Page to take over in the interim. I was actually only the third most senior Page at the time, but my branch was experiencing such a staffing crisis at that time that the two ahead of my were both already appointed to other positions. In fact, things were so dire that I agreed to pick up extra hours so that I could continue to work as a Page, as well.

The LTR Coordinator had been trying to recruit me as a Site Monitor since the day I was hired in TPL. I'm still not entirely sure why; I was reliable as a volunteer, but I don't think I was especially spectacular at it. Still, she apparently saw something in me. Claiming that the branch, which had been through a string of Site Monitors, needed stability and someone who knew LTR, rather than another new person, she pulled some strings to ensure I stayed until the end of the LTR session. She even got me a TPL email address, years before Pages were given email accounts, which helped me snare another job elsewhere in the system doing some seniors programming a couple of years later.

By summer, they had found a new permanent Site Monitor, and I returned to being a Page. But, in 2010, the same thing happened, and I once again took over the program for the remainder of the year. They thought they had found someone permanent again by the summer, but chaos within the internal hiring system, as happens sometimes, resulted in them posting the position again, and bringing a Site Monitor from another branch over for the summer. I continued to run the program on Saturdays, but not weekdays.

At the urging of just about everyone, I applied for the still vacant position. I didn't think I had enough seniority yet, so I was fairly surprised when I got the interview. The problem was, I wasn't sure if I actually wanted the job or not. I had been doing some really interesting programming work throughout Scarborough, and with my branch again in staffing chaos, I was working nearly full-time. Taking the Site Monitor job would mean less hours and less money. However, it also meant a guarantee of hours and income, while the extra hours and work I was doing as a Page could dry up at any time. In the end, that, and the fact that I realized that I really liked working as a Site Monitor, won out, and I took the job.

That was nearly three years ago, and I don't regret my decision for a second. I've been relocated since then, and I was sad to leave the branch I essentially grew up in, but I still do the same work, and that's what matters. LTR has become a part of my identity now, without me even realizing it. It makes me sad that, when I graduate this fall, I'm going to have to try and leave this job. More than any other job I've ever done, I frequently leave at the end of the day exhausted, frustrated, and stressed. And yet, I wonder if I spend the next forty years in TPL, if I'll ever find another job I love more.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

On Failure and Risk

So I'm thinking of trying to do something I haven't done in a long time: attempting something before I'm confident that I can do it. It's been a long time since I set myself up to potentially fail at anything significant. I've taken on a lot in my personal, academic, and work life over the past few years, but I've always been completely confident that I could handle it. When I applied to grad school, I was reasonably confident that I would be accepted. I kind of suspect that if I hadn't been as confident, I might not have applied. And I was completely confident that if I did get in, I could sail through the degree (so far I've been right on that one too).

I'm not sure if there's anything in particular that made me so risk-averse. Obviously, nobody likes to fail, but I think I've taken it a little beyond normal. I can't even remember the last time I tried for something and didn't succeed. I never tried out for any sports teams or clubs before I knew I'd make it. I've never asked a girl out without first knowing she'd say yes. I did fail a few classes in my first couple of years of undergrad, as I wrote about before, but I changed programs, found success, and moved on with my life.

I still don't want to fail, but I also don't want to let that fear paralyze me. I don't want to be afraid to take risks. I have to overcome that, or I'll risk missing out on a lot in life. So, with that in mind, I think I'm going to sign up to run the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October.

I've been considering it for a while now. I was thinking that I would try a marathon training routine, and if I could still manage the routine closer to the actual marathon, I would sign up. The problem with that, is that is exactly what I always do. I wait until I'm confident that I won't fail, and then I decide to try. Well, I am not at all confident that I can do this. And that's why I want to commit to it now. It's terrifying, but I think it might be a good terrifying.

It's funny, my ex-girlfriend used to try to convince me to pick up a hobby or a sport. She had this idea that I was always doing what other people wanted to do, and I needed to find something that was mine, and I did because I wanted to. It was while that relationship was crumbling down around me that I got back into running, something that I had been doing sporadically since high school. As things were going badly in my relationship, I used running as a way to balance myself, as an escape from my emotions and a chance to clear my head. I also needed as something in my life that was within my control.

It wasn't the first time that I've used running as an escape when I was experiencing a rough time in my life. However, this was the first time that it stuck. In the past, things had gotten better and I had eventually stopped running. This time, I stuck with it, because I found that even though I was feeling better, I still wanted it in my life. It has become that hobby that I had never wanted.

Now, I'm going to use it to try and improve myself again. I want to succeed at this marathon, and I'm going to train hard to do my best, but even if I fail, I'll still have accomplished one of my goals. I hope that doesn't defeat the purpose.

Monday, June 3, 2013


I've been trying to work more cross-training into my workout routine. Running is great, but I feel like I should mix some other things in, on top of the running, to keep myself balanced. I've been doing some core exercises and a little bit of weight training for months, but now that the weather is nicer I'm trying to work in regular swimming and cycling.

I'm off Sundays, so it has kind of become my heavy workout day. I do my long runs on Sundays, and since I have the time I try and cycle too. This past Sunday, it poured with rain during the morning and early afternoon, but it cleared up in the late afternoon, so I decided to head out on my bike.

I usually bike along the lakefront and through the Rouge Valley. I like the scenery, and it's mostly free of cars, which is always nice. On Sunday, I was feeling good, so I decided to go a little further than I usually do and head through the valley behind UTSC. On the way back, I took an alternate path to avoid using the road. Coming down a hill, I rounded a corner, and discovered that the path was covered in about six inches of mud. Unable to grip the road, my bike slid out one way, and I went another way, sliding about five feet through mud.

Aside from a couple of nasty scrapes on my elbows, I was fine. I was also absolutely coated, head to toe, in mud. My bike, also covered in mud, had its chain come off and my front brakes were broken. I found a deep puddle and did my best to wash some of the mud off, reattached my chain, and attempted the approximately 10 km back home without front brakes.

Unfortunately, my route back took me along the waterfront, which was full of people on the now pleasant Sunday afternoon. Bleeding and covered in mud, I attracted a few stares. In retrospect, it was pretty funny, but at the time it was rather embarrassing. I'm just glad nobody saw me actually crash.

The worst damage came this morning. I had thought that my phone had survived the adventure, but apparently not. After my run, I dropped it into it's dock, but it didn't start to charge. The dock uses the POGO pins on the side, but it can occasionally be flaky, so I pulled out a microUSB cable, and plugged it manually. It still didn't start to charge, and after a couple of seconds, I smelled burning. Panicking, I pulled the cable. It looked fine, so I tried again. This time, smoke started to come out.

I don't know whether mud got in there, or the fall knocked something out, but one way or another, it's good and dead. It's really inconvenient, since I was hoping to hold out until October when a new Nexus device is announced. Now, I need to find another device to hold me over until then. In the meantime, I have an old flip phone. I already feel lost without my smartphone.

It hasn't been a good couple of days.