In my last moments at school – the very
final hours on campus, I wander the halls still stuffed by anxious pre-exam
students booking all-nighers at Scott Library or shoving into lecture halls for
last-minute catch up. I walk over the commons and past the subway extension
construction I won’t see into completion and cross into Accolade East. Beyond
the dissimilar interior architecture and artsy pieces hung on walls, over the
intersection at Ian MacDonald Boulevard and adjacent to Seneca College is where
my final – and perhaps hardest – goodbye takes place: inside the Bennett Centre
at Counselling and Disability Services.
Stepping out of my office and through
the hushed halls I’ve occupied for the past two years, I remember the hundreds
of workshops I’ve conducted and drop-ins we organized. In a university with a less
than stellar reputation, Counselling and Disability Services shines as one of
the only programs of its nature in Canada. Students can – at any time – access personal
and academic counselling guided by qualified professionals for no cost. We help
hundreds of people each year manage a mental illness and become confident
students. The Learning Skills Workshop Program – to which I ran during my time
here – is only getting more popular in the community, and I feel like it’s
almost too early to leave because of its potential. I am, however, graduating
and stepping off campus (for now), and it’s time for something different. I
look back on my time at CDS with pride. It’s time to move on.
Avoiding the Corporate Christmas Blues
Ever notice how much Christmas is actually just a huge bummer? I mean, I get it…Being seduced by ‘The Christmas Spirit’ is great, and I’ll admit to feeling jolly after stuffing myself stupid with cranberry sauce, literally turning my stomach in a bow full of jelly. The fact of the matter is, though, for many us, a more accurate opening line for ‘Deck The Halls’ would read ‘Tis the season to be stressed and feel like dying’.
|When Christmas lights rape your head.|
We’ve overcomplicated things because of the significance that gets uncontrolably packed into a few important weeks of holiday. The ‘cheer’ part only seems to resurface in short waves when you’re not sardined into a lineup at Wal Mart or attending the infinitely long and useless company holiday pot latch. When all is said and done, it feels almost emancipating to free oneself of the festive season, no longer bound by solving mysterious gift ideas or navigating the pandemonium of shopping centres during Early Christmas, Black Weekend, Green Thursday, Mid-December, Pre-Christmas, Pre-Pre Christmas, Last Minute, Last Second, I-Literally-Forgot-to-Buy-My-Wife-Something-and-its-6am-on-December-25th, Boxing Day, Boxing Week, New Years and Just-For-Shits-and-Giggles sales. In lieu of the aforementioned, it’s no surprise that something called ‘holiday depression’ is now considered a serious disorder that has become commonplace during this time of year.
Three years ago, I did something that would change the course of Christmas forever: I abstained from gift giving/receiving. This simple yet oh so season-changing decision was met with chagrin from family members and passive scolding from friends, but was also the smartest thing I’d done in a long, long, panic-induced-from-buying-presents time. That December, I avoided all things with a price tag like the plague and didn’t step one foot into a mall, instead finding more time for myself and the people around me. The residual effects on my student-sized wallet and time management strategy were unbelievable, but what made the largest impact were the other changes it would catalyse.
|I immediately regret posting this.|
I’ve found the simple act of refusing gift exchanges has forced me to find a new approach to Christmas. Suddenly, other, less tangible things became more important, and consequently my experience of Christmas has changed shape over the past few years. My partner and I don’t buy things for each other; instead, we go on trips over the break. This year, I’m co-hosting Christmas Eve for the family for the first time. I read books, see old friends and make food. I’m spending more time preparing for holiday events at PARC instead of creating gift lists.
This isn’t a shameless self-plug or boastful post, nor is it an anti-corporate politically charged message. I am not suggesting widespread gift-less holidays (some people just can’t help it, as I’ve come to learn after having a few slipped to me every year in the wake of my ‘no gifting’ protests). I am suggesting a toning down of the things that are merely physical things, because those things don’t get us closer to each other.
Think about it: what’s the worst thing that could happen if you reduced gift giving? A few long faces on Christmas Day? Confused children? Now brainstorm the benefits. We have a hard time abstracting the true meaning of this time of year from the boxes wrapped in shiny paper, but I promise you that fewer things under the tree equal a Christmas where you don’t feel like sticking your head in an oven. And that’s just priceless.
|Have a safe and happy holiday season. Love, Me.|
Apparently you can put a price on childhood memories. Last weekend, an important part of my youth was sold for $80. Yes, this was probably more than four hardly-working guitars and half a beaten up drum set are worth, but it won’t stop some part of me from feeling a little.....Discounted.
Each item, a precious gem from my rock band phase that served as an outlet for my sometimes overabundance of teenage angst, disappeared at a family garage sale last weekend. I was overdue to part with them, but it didn’t mean some emotional pain wasn’t involved. In the meantime, we’re trying to sell the family house I grew up in, which has my parents in a constant purging mode. Coupled with the fact that half my family are closet hoarders, an abundance of crap has just accumulated like some sort of nostalgic monster pooped a pile of useless material in the basement. Strewn throughout this mess are things that I probably haven’t looked at in over a decade: crudely taken photographs of trips to camp during my childhood, a collection of ‘hot wheels’ toy cars with the names of family members still scrawled over the bottoms and old letters to lovers past.
At some point, every young adult is faced with memorabilia from their past and has choose what the hell to do with it. It can feel overwhelming and unfair, but that stuff isn’t just stuff – it’s a part of who you are and where you came from. It has a history captured within it and creeps to the depths of the chasm of your brain where old, dusty memories have been waiting reoccupy your consciousness. As I revisit my youth in flashes of remembering who gave me what and why my mom held onto stacks of my journals from grade school I can’t help but pause and think about childhood, innocence and where the hell I lost it.
It’s hardly enough to say that I’ve experienced a ‘blast from the past’ because something else happens when you go that far back; everything in between also finds its way into your thoughts, and you inevitably begin to measure yourself against your challenges, failures and successes. This lesson in self-reflection isn’t just about looking back on the path you’ve made. It’s also about starting off in a completely different direction, perhaps even bushwhacking through some completely unexplored place that’s ridden with new bugs and crawlies.
One thing is for sure: if 24 year old Aaron can sell 16 year old Aaron’s most prized possessions, something has changed in those eight years, and I have a feeling it’s not just the drums.
You’ve probably heard of ‘culture shock’; the phenomena that happens when you are inundated with new things, usually accompanied by travelling to a new place, resulting in a complete shutdown of your senses. Change is good, but when your body is being relentlessly bombarded by smells, sights, sounds and physical feelings that are completely foreign to it, your brain will consequently be all like ‘fuck this shit, I’m out’.
|Kind of like this.|
Anyone who has up and left home to experience a new place – perhaps a different country or town – will tell you that these big transitions take time, and exactly how hard it can be is directly related to the strength of your ability to adapt. Now think about doing the opposite: you’ve spent a considerable amount of time being submersed in a culture that is no longer new to you. After completely adopting the customs of this place you are eventually accepted into the community and have reached the point where what was once scary and new is now completely normal to you. Congratulations – you have officially integrated yourself, after all of that hard work and in a place that once terrified you to your core.
Now for something equally as shitty and twice as unexpected: going back home. Of course, you know this place like the back of your hand. Maybe you’ve grown up here; spent most of your life being a part of this place....It will be a breeze to get back into life back home, right?
Reverse culture shock begins here. Suddenly, things that were familiar to you after you left just aren’t the same. The people you were closest to now seem like strangers and everything you’ve learned while travelling doesn’t apply here. You’re stuck, and the fact that you actually have no idea what is going on again hits you smack in the face. Alas, the four not so easy stages of reverse culture shock have begun:
Your plane lands in your home city as you excitedly step off the platform after a long absence into a world once recognizable. Although you don’t feel panicked or isolated yet, you wear an invisible veil of happy-go-lucky peachy keen-ness. You are ready to accept your pedestal of awesomeness as you have become a world traveller and everyone will think that makes you instantly cool.
This is arguably the most annoying time for your friends. You will take any opportunity to tell a story about how the donkeys woke you up every morning, or how you visited a Buddhist Monk who helped you find inner peace, or whatever vacantly dull anecdote you absently think is relevant to the situation. Life is awesome for someone who has seen the world.
Just kidding, life sucks. Your honeymooning phase is over before it began, and you are quickly coming to the realization that what you considered to be your home has now turned into one of those borderline creepy clown houses at the fair where everyone is wearing badly-drawn face paint and the smell of Listerine and shame lingers in the air. You now understand that nobody wants to hear your travel stories, and instead of waiting around for your glorious return, everyone and everything has continued on without you.
What’s worse is that while you were away, you became so wrapped up in the culture of your host community that you completely forgot how to live back home. You desperately try to find a way to apply what you’ve learned over the past months, but the attempts prove futile and you long for the familiarity of that other seemingly faraway place. Many people in this stage tend to cocoon themselves in a fortress of anger or resentment; others struggle with issues of anxiety or depression. Storming is the hardest stage in reverse culture shock.
Although it may have been hard to grasp during the process, the storming phase does not last forever, although its longevity is different for everyone and relates to how well you can use (or not use) your resources. You begin norming when the intense feelings associated with storming begin to fade and you find ways to cope with the transition of being home.
|Above: reasons NOT to come home|
A big part of norming is discovering a space where you feel comfortable and accepted. Just like you needed to be part of a community while away, you now need to relocate yourself into somewhere that makes sense and offers you the right kind of support. Oftentimes, our social circles will completely change over the course of leaving home for a prolonged period of time and returning again, and this is probably because you have also changed significantly. What’s cool about this stage is that you can actually begin to somewhat measure the impact of travelling, often with very positive results.
Performing is the ultimate result of reverse culture shock, and thank god it’s awesome because the rest of it sucked ass. You may not reach this part until over a year after your return, so don’t expect to blow through the first three immediately upon arrivial. The good news: no matter what happened, you are better and stronger for it. Experiencing reverse culture shock is an intense learning curve, and one that you won’t ever forget. It will help you the next time you travel and mitigate its effects.
|....And some things will never change.|
While the prevalence of reverse culture shock never quite fades (no matter how many times you travel), the more you experience it, the more you develop coping strategies that will ease you through it. When you perform, you can look back and find the positives of each challenge, for you are now comfortable and content because you have made the necessity changes that keep you stable. You have found a reasonable outlet to discuss your experiences, having a conversation about it rather than a lecture. Things sure look different from how it was before you left, but in a way that tells you you’re always changing.
Reverse culture shock effects everyone differently and has different timelines because of it. Some people may experience the same step twice, skip a step or relapse back into a bad habit. The trick is finding the right tools to help you though, something I’ll exemplify in my next post.
Thanks for reading and, as always,
Last week, I posted an article on the pangs of a little thing called reverse culture shock. It was a powerfully relevant topic for me (and still is) as I attempt to find my place in the big city of Toronto (my hometown) after spending four months in east Jesus nowhere. Of course, it isn’t my first time transporting myself back and forth across the country like some transient vagabond, and although reverse culture shock is a thing that happens no matter how many times you do this, I’ve built a nice toolbox of what are referred to as coping mechanisms to make it plenty easier.
|This is me on a bus ride through hell.|
This week, I’d like to share what I’ve learned from said experiences and talk about what exactly I do when faced with such daunting transitions. Consider this the solutions part of the subject, and hopefully I can generalize it enough to keep it accessible to the masses. Here are my six best Tips and Tricks for Re-integration:
1) Be prepared
It’s the goddamn Scout’s motto, for Christ’s sake. Any adult who was forced to wear a handkerchief tied to the collar of a starched grey uniform complete with the world’s most fashion-forward sash can recite these two imminently powerful words without giving a moment’s thought, because if there’s one awesome thing we learned from Scouts (and there were many), it’d be that if you can’t prepare yourself for the challenges of tomorrow, you’ll end up losing harder than those three South-Asian badminton teams who each wanted to suck on purpose so badly they ended up being kicked out of the Olympics. Also, that sentence was so incredibly run-on I am doing nothing to fix it.
|Scouts: The new Vogue?|
The same theory used by Scouts applies here; start by realistically envisioning what coming home will be like. What challenges will you face? Who can you rely on for support? What resources will you have directly at hand? Start doing this well before departure. The earlier, the better; you’ll find that mentally preparing yourself for coming home will lead to even more constructive solutions (see below).
2) Find the Familiar
It’s easy to get lost in places that are confusing and different. This may be the case after returning to your home-city/town/place after travelling for a bit. What may be the difference between ‘keeping it together’ and ‘total insanity’ is your ability to latch onto things that remind you of your incredible experience while you were away. Finding these connections may be difficult, but they will provide you with happy thoughts if you do it correctly. Some suggestions: get involved in a community-based organization that is affiliated with where you went or host your own seminar/presentation on the most important aspects of your experience. If people around you can better understand what you are missing, they can in turn better support you while you try to get back into the swing of things at home.
3) Surround Yourself with Good People
|Pictured: Someone NOT to be friends with|
Further to what I just stated above, none of this will work unless you are friends with the right people. Douchebags aren’t included in this list. This might mean that some people who were your friends before you left have to be ‘cut from the team’, but in the long term you are actually just making it easier on yourself by staying connected to those who really know you, or who are at least interested in getting to know the you that has just spent hella-long times in a very faraway place.
Your support system is only as strong as you make it, and it’s time to enact some important executive decisions. Hold your ground, Little Foot, and you’ll grow into a strong dinosaur.
|Kids who were born after '98 totally won't get that reference.|
4) Use Your Humor
They say ‘a smile means the same in every language’, except Braille. Maybe I made that last part up, but if fully blind people can’t read this anyway, does that make it offensive?
If a tree falls in the woods.......?
|Also, don't be friends with those that do the 'duck face'.|
My humor could be described as often borderline distasteful, but without it I’d be in trouble. Humor is an amazing tool when it comes to staying mentally stable, especially in times of intense change. Learn how to make yourself laugh and you’ll know a great way to instantly flip your mood; find a way to laugh at yourself and it works even better. Self-deprecation helps you to understand that the things you may be getting upset over are actually quite arbitrary. From this you will realize that much of what is bothering you as you attempt to re-integrate is actually not worth ruminating over in the first place. See how it works? The collateral effects of using your humor (especially on yourself) are wonderful, so turn that frown upside down, or at least semi-circle duck-faced sausage-like, then go look in the mirror and complete the process.
5) Keep Busy!
In the wise words of my Grandma: “busy hands are happy hands”. It’s as if she’s Yoda.....As in ‘YO DA BEST, GRANDMA!’
Part of your ‘being prepared’ phase should include organizing activities for yourself to partake in when you get back. This will allow you to stay occupied and (hopefully) become actively connected to your community. Much of what causes reverse culture shock manifests itself when you are idle for a long period of time. Keeping a regular schedule and consistency in your plans can and will mitigate the more serious side effects.
6) Tell Your Story
|Ahhhhh sheeeit, it's story time bitches!|
Remember story time, that magical hour in grade school when your teacher would wisp you away to mystical lands and epic journeys complete with plot lines probably written by authors who were on a serious lifelong acid trip? Sure you do, because it was the most awesome part of school. We happen to be highly-evolved creatures with an immense capacity for imagination and narrative creativity. But telling a story is an art, which means you can suck at it pretty badly at it if you don’t know how to incorporate a bit of creativity.
Chances are that reciting your travel log verbatim to your friends and family won’t quite capture an audience of interested followers (trust me on this), and you’re going to have to find a way to tell your story without making the recipients want to dunk their heads into a bath of poison. The best part is that once you find that perfect balance of storytelling meets entertainment, you’ve got a reasonable outlet to share those experiences to people who actually want to hear them. Congratulations! You’ve achieved rockstar re-integrated status!
Have you ever started to read a book and, about three chapters in, realize that you are also playing the plot out in real life? Sometimes the right story will land in your hands and have important relevance to your life at that very moment. I have a habit of doing this.
Such was the case when, last April, I purchased Adventures in Solitude: What Not To Wear to a Nude Putluck and Other Stories from Desolation Sound by author and CBC Radio host Grant Lawrence. I figured it would be a good supplement to the trip I was about to take to the West, but wasn’t quite ready for how connected I would feel to Lawrence’s lifelong experiences in the remote Southern coastal destination of Desolation Sound. Now, I could probably write an entire post on how a dying breed of talk show hosts at CBC (Stuart McLean, George Stroumboulopoulos, Jian Ghomeshi) are carrying on the forgotten art of storytelling and proper interviews, but it’s safe to say that Grant Lawrence can be added to that list.
Lawrence’s award winning book stood out to me in one very poignant way: he framed his past at the Sound as both a physical and mental challenge, bringing to the forefront the idea that prolonged periods of isolation in sparsely populated areas can have serious physiological consequences. In fact, about half way through the book, Lawrence dives into the full details of what he refers to as ‘going bush’ (can you see the connections I’m drawing here?!?). According to the author, there are five stages of ‘going bush’: extreme loneliness; onset of depression; resentment; paranoia and eventually.....death. According to Lawrence, many individuals who lived in the Sound for years ended up committing suicide as a result of an inability to cope with ‘going bush’.
|Exhibit A: Just another day in the bush.|
As I obviously have a tough time empathising with the final stage of ‘going bush’, I can certainly think of times while I was travelling that I experienced the other four to some degree. My other blog that I co-manage, Becoming Bushed, is dedicated to taking a humorous approach to the mental effects of living far away from anywhere, much like Lawrence does as he recounts his time at his father’s rustic cabin in Desolation Sound. All of this begs the question: should ‘going bush’ actually be considered a serious mental disorder?
My natural curiosity has led me to the internet, the source of all knowledge. Not surprisingly, it was difficult to find any dependable sources that would fully relate the idea of ‘going bush’ with a mental disorder, but I did find evidence of extreme isolation and social segregation which led to pre-existing mental health problems such as severe anxiety, manic depression and schizophrenia. Two major works on this topic are the books The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty First Century (J.Olds, 2009) and From Antarctica to Outer Space: Life in Isolation and Confinement (A. Harrison, 1991). The former conducted scientific research to conclude that ‘Surprising new studies tell a grim truth about social isolation: being disconnected diminishes happiness, health, and longevity; increases aggression; and correlates with increasing rates of violent crime.’ (Olds, pg. 24). The data can be scary, but coping mechanisms exist.
In a world where the vast majority of people are moving to densely populated areas, the plight of the lonely traveller may be more pushed aside than ever. It is easy to detach yourself from friends and family back home while pursuing solitude, but it can be unhealthy at the same time. I’ve learned over my years of semi-nomadic living that it is important to always stay in tune with life outside of your immediate reality. One great way to achieve this is to start a blog, communicate with loved ones frequently, or read the news every morning. Always keep yourself and your head in check when you’re in the bush, or the bush controls you.....---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Queen West’s Most Important Facelift
It’s a little absurd that I’m writing this post right now. I've just finished something called an undergraduate thesis, which was the single most important project I’ve completed as a student to date. I felt like shearing my eyebrows with a potato peeler after I unglued by body from the desk in my living room; a full weekend spent on trying to make sense of all the fieldwork, researching and archiving I’ve done. The sweet sound of victory was the slapping of a 45 page report on the desk of my adviser as a great smile took over my face. I felt like I was walking up the bobsled run during the slow clap scene of Cool Runnings.
Despite all the pain inherent with the process, I’m about to write a freakin’ post on it, because it’s really important, and hey, eyebrows only express emotions. Admittedly, doing research on one of the biggest mental health organizations in Canada like the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) was a little more than intimidating. I wasn’t always treated like someone worth talking to, or even responding to after dozens of phone calls and email. I managed to leverage my previous experience in the field to access the right people, especially after I mentioned that I had fund raised over $9600 for their hospital last summer (tis a story for another time).
|The original Provincial Lunatic Asylum ca.1867|
If you know anything about the history of Queen Street West in Toronto, you’ll be familiar with the old insane asylum at 999. The institution is over 150 years old and has seen the worst side of mental illness, beginning with its inception as the Provincial Lunatic Asylum in 1850. Traditionally, if you had (or were suspected of having) a mental illness during this time, you would have been sent here and forcefully put behind a wall to carry out your life, usually on an indefinite basis. This negative treatment led to one of the worst stigmatization's to ever be placed on a marginalized population.
Although the original massive Victorian facility has been torn down, in its place a decrepit residential hospital continues treat clients. The old buildings that were a product of modernist thought in the 60’s do not match the quality and quantity of care that is required for psychiatric patients in the 21st century. In response to this issue, CAMH launched an ambitious project in 2004 to change both the reality of the programs and the (mostly inaccurate) ideas we attach to mental illness. Dubbed Changing Lives, its most courageous feat will be the complete redevelopment of the hospital, which changed addresses in the mid 1900’s to 1001 Queen Street West.
|The Queen West Mental Health Centre during its first redevelopment in the early 1960's|
Today, if you walk along the South side of Queen at Ossington, you will find yourself smack in the middle of construction. That’s because CAMH is loud and proud in every sense, including the fact that their new facilities will snuggle up to curbside, becoming not so easily ignorable anymore. But the site is still very much cut off from the rest of the city; the boundary wall still exists on three of its four edges, and the privatization of space for the incorporation of big box stores like the wonderful Shoppers Drug Mart might deter the avaunt-garde independent crowd that floods street level daily. Bland corporate logos and tampered photos of kids playing soccer splurged across storefront doesn’t really scream ‘window shopping’ to me.
|Looking North to the construction of CAMH's new front door: The Bell Gateway Research Centre|
The idea, though, is to create a ‘socially inclusive space’ where members of the community and patients at CAMH can mingle, providing face to face interaction and slowly removing the stereotype that works against those suffering from a mental illness and/or addition. The addition of a new client-run café and gym are all part of this, and the opening up of campus by extending Ossington to Adelaide is supposed to increase foot traffic and eliminate the physiological barrier which has created a vacuum for so many years.
|The future of Mental Health?|
But a stigma is exactly that – something that has been created over time and is deeply entrenched in our attitudes and behaviors. Merely changing the physical fabric of a space isn’t going to reverse this, nor is it going to collectively transition society into being more inclusive. If CAMH is to achieve this vision, it will have to make an effort beyond the redevelopment to create a more educated public perspective. An ‘urban village’ at 1001 Queen Street West actually makes sense if you couple it with the engagement and awareness that psychiatric patients have something to offer and should be accepted as functional members of society. The fact that they aren’t is a problem that CAMH will have to tackle from many different angles, or the history of the site will continue to predict what we see there and not what it could be.
*Photos taken from the Toronto Public Library Archives and the CAMH Website.
15 Bands to Listen to
With Tea, Blankets, Candles and Christmas Lights
...Or at least some kind of introspective atmosphere.
We all need time to ourselves every once and a while, and it’s just not ‘me’ night without the proper playlist. Now I’m not one to brag very much, but one thing I am explicitly proud of my musical library. I have spent many an hour endlessly searching and accumulating discographies and underground sounds; a worthwhile endeavour when at long last the musical goose bumps run down my back once again. It’s a hobby fueled by my obsession with that exact moment of euphoria. You know, when the perfect combination of instruments and a dash of musical genius can change your perspective and crawl under your skin to a place you’ve probably forgotten about. That connection is universal and has the power transcend language, politics, culture.....
We already know of the medicinal value of music and how including your favorite bands into what you do can help relieve stress and maintain emotional balance. Sometimes, though, all you need is to recoil into that personal space for some you time. And nothing works better than some mellow tunes and an evening barricaded in your room with excessive amounts of pillows, green tea, a good book, and whatever else your personal recipe for happiness is. For your referencing pleasures, here’s a list of my top 15 personal favourite artists (in no particular order) who will help you unwind while you tell your life to calm the hell down. Enjoy.
1) James Vincent McMorrow
JVM is an Irish singer-songwriter who wrote and produced his debut album early last year during a self-imposed seclusion in a beach house. If that doesn’t scream ‘perfect for solitude’, give his material a listen and you’ll begin to understand why Irish singer-songwriters are well known for being charged creatures of raw human emotion. Maybe it’s ‘something in the water’, but it sure works for them. And us. And probably most straight women in America.
2) The Album Leaf
Contemporary instrumental music arguably tends to work harder to evict any sort of response from its listeners, and it usually entails more imaginative work from its producer. Jimmy LaValle began his solo (mainly) instrumental project The Album Leaf in full knowledge of these challenges, and has been successfully creating music for over a decade in spite of them. After five full-length studio albums, eight singles and four compilation appearances, you might say LaValle is bringing a new, more personal style of instrumentalism into the 21st Century. You be the judge.
3) The Antlers
The three-piece Brooklyn-based alt-rock band The Antlers first gained notoriety after writing and releasing their first full length album Hospice in March 2009, a themed record dedicated to a story of a hospital worker who falls in love with a terminally ill patient. As you can clearly figure out from that last sentence, many of the songs originating from this set of work are downbeat and melodic with punches of electricity and the humming of background machines, not the mention the lyrics are downright haunting when given attention. That’s right...Hit the replay button.
4) The National
Another music-engine to burst out of Brooklyn is the indie rock band The National. I chose this band for a specific reason: lead singer Matt Berninger’s unconventional yet soothing low-toned voice. The success of this band’s work, spanning over a decade, proves that you don’t have to be flashy to be good. In this band’s case, you can also add amazing, original, majestic and sublime as appropriate adjectives.
5) Fionn Regan
Let’s go back to Ireland as homage to the soon approaching Saint Patrick’s Day. If you find yourself a little tipsy and pining for company on the 17th, allow Mr. Fionn Regan to accompany you into jubilation. He won’t judge - instead the new-age folk inspired pieces he bashfully strums may just leave dreaming of a grassy moor somewhere along the Cliffs of Moher.
6) Bon Iver
Once upon a bitter 2007 winter in northwestern Wisconsin, a gentleman by the name of Justin Vernon spent three months in a remote cabin recording a masterpiece now known as For Emma, Forever Ago (the theme of complete seclusion is evident here). Vernon has since accepted a growing fame in the indie music scene, a phenomenon that has all but changed the integrity of his music. His second self-titled album proved a significant maturation of his creative capabilities, all the while staying true to the emotional lumberjack we’ve come to know and love.
7) The Wooden Sky
As the first Toronto-based band to appear on the list, The Wooden Sky is a perfect excuse to be taken away by lead singer Gavin Gardiner’s incredible voice. This band is currently standing on two full length albums and a tour history with bands the like of Elliott Brood, The Rural Alberta Advantage and Yukon Blonde. And that, my friends, is about as Canadian as one can get.
My eighth installment is a little unconventional by comparison – Goldmund is another instrumental project by American composer Keith Kenniff. The ambient, almost transcendental quality of Goldmund captures the most intense and the most subtle of human conditions, all without speaking a single word. His music is left for interpretation, allowing to listener to engage with each piece on a very personal level – an incomparable experience.
9) Iron & Wine
It’s hard to create a list the likes of this and leave ourt Iron and Wine, the all-American symbol for southern country meeting popular folk. Samuel Beam writes music that is accessible, easily relatable, simple yet extremely poignant in its untamed form. Not to mention, the calm whisper of Beam’s voice keeps you listening and almost transfixed in a lullaby he has been creating over four separate albums since 2002. Congrats, Sam, on becoming a household name in the world of 21st century folk.
10) Noah Gundersen
Noah Gundersen of ‘Noah Gundersen and The Courage’ (now known as just ‘The Courage’) began playing music like many other popular artists – at the age of 10 and to the forceful decisions of his parents, who made him take piano lessons. Fast forward to 2010 and the band, headlined by Gundersen, releases their first EP with incredible reception. Gundersen writes and plays with his sister, Abby, who are together a powerhouse on and off stage. The clever lyrics and guitar riffs tell all, leaving the listener wanting more.
11) Sufjan Stevens
If ever a MacGyver of musicians existed, Sufjan Stevens would indisputably take the title. On an album to album basis (and there’s nine of ‘em), it’s hard to tell you’re still listening to the same person. That’s because (thanks to a multitude of instrumental talent) Stevens has consistently recreated his act, touching on themes of love, faith, sorrow, childhood wonder, and, oh yeah, a now dwindled desire to create an album for each of the 50 states of America. Hey, if anyone’s going to accomplish that ridiculous feat, it’s this guy.
12) Explosions in the Sky
Try and think of this selection as not specifically for Explosions in the Sky, but the entire post-rock movement, most of which would be fairly appropriate for the list. The guitar work and imagery created by this instrumental band evicts a certain epic climax of passion unrivaled by many. All six of their studio albums theme a sort of passing wave that can be found in each song, from the silent melodies of a single clean electric guitar to the screaming of an entire band in unity. My advice is to close your eyes, lay back and enjoy the show.
13) Nick Drake
As the only deceased member of this list, it’s important to note that Nick Drake has been credited by many as single-handedly starting the new-age folk singer-songwriter style of music we have come to know today. What is even more interesting is the fact that Drake was never widely known while he was alive, and only became popularized after his early death at 26 years of age, proving that he was actually way ahead of his time. Drake’s failure to reach fame was also attributed to his unwillingness to appear in public, do interviews or sign on to show bills – a product of intense depression and a theme he touches on in many songs.
14) Regina Spektor
Although Spektor achieved popularity from her upbeat tunes such as Fidelity and On The Radio, she appears on this list for the more sombre tunes. Spektor seems to find her homestead behind an electric piano, creatively using her vocal range to find tones of content and devastation – often in the same song. Although born in Moscow, Regina Spektor found her musical niche in a place many others have – New York City. Her work shows influences of rock, jazz and classical combined with a certain original playfulness in song writing and lyricism.
15) The Middle East
Last and definitely not least is The Middle East, a native Australian ‘musical collective’ that formed in 2005 and played their last show in July 2011. As unfortunate as the break-up was, the band left behind an assortment of whimsical works that have been hard to define. The wide array of musical instruments used ingeniously within each song is captivating, as is the content and substance of their writing. As a final selection on the list, I bid farewell to a band that was well beyond their time.
Understanding Student Mental Health: The Invisible Stigma at University
Last semester I remember sitting in the living room of the house I grew up in, located close to Toronto’s border on the East side of town. Surrounded by 8 – 10 of my closest family members, the familiar and comforting atmosphere of tasty white wines, home-made appetizers and cheesy holiday music filled the room with bright warmth while keeping me in a state of fine relaxation. Conversation funnelled into the usual topics: who read what book, which part of the house needed fixing, Toronto’s political blunders, and the latest gossip in the neighbourhood. I found myself lost again in the dialogue of everyone, tuning in and out of random chats and listening to the subtle nuances of every statement. Eventually, the topic changed to stress management in adulthood, and I recall making a comment regarding my experience with students and the abnormal amount of anxiety and stress issues prevalent in the university community. Perhaps not at all outside of the norm, someone from across the room was quick to chime in with a verse along the lines of ‘just wait until you have to pay a mortgage!’, much to the support of the entire room. My head started turning quietly again.
I like to think I am a curious person by nature, and part of me is really good at generating too many questions in some of the most common places. So, when my judgement on mental health in the student population was challenged, I began wondering where it was coming from and why. Is there even a correlation between mental illness and students in Canada? If so, why don’t we hear about it more often? What’s stopping students from accessing resources for help? Is there adequate support for these people? So, it was off to the virtual library for me again to find some answers. And the results, you might find, are surprising.
I am placed in the unique dual position of both student and support. I am also not above saying that being a student makes me stressed and a little anxious at times, but it can be hard to compare my experience to some of clients we see at York University’s Student Counselling Centre (CDS). A student suffering from a mental illness is at high risk of being caught in the delegitimizing of others, which can in turn stop said student from seeking preventative care. Not accessing your resources early only exacerbates a mental illness, often causing severe and debilitating symptoms like manic depression, severe anxiety and suicidal tendencies; all of which are, not surprisingly, quite prevalent in the university undergraduate population in Canada. To give you a real sense of the calibre of this problem, I’ll use an independent study released in the Journal of American College Health, which conducted research on 16 universities in Canada and 7800 student’s total, measuring all levels of mental illness prevalence. The findings are mind-boggling when you consider that ‘Thirty percent of the students in the sample reported elevated physiological distress, which varied significantly according to sex, region, year of study, and recreational academic orientation’ and that ‘Rates of elevated distress were significantly higher among the students than among the general population in Canada.’ (Pg. 67). Another study, published by Counselling Psychology Quarterly, focused specifically on the experience of students at Coventry University, UK, and found that overall ‘Within the last 12 months nearly three quarters of students had experienced anxious or depressed moods, or, personal, mental, nervous or emotional problems, with a third of students failing to seek help’. Furthermore, research proved that ‘Ethnic minority students were more likely to report problems and less likely to seek help when compared to white students. Male students were less likely to seek help compared to female students.’ (Pg. 247). Why are such a high number of students refusing to seek support while battling a mental illness? What is causing the disconnect between admittance and treatment? Clearly, we have a problem.
I think back to that day I started asking myself these questions and realise something interesting. Every person sitting in that room protesting the ‘life gets harder after university’ note had never actually attended university. So, it’s hard to say why one would fashion the opinion that university students have nothing to worry about, especially as the job market becomes more competitive and the expectations for accomplishments are higher than ever. Maybe it’s that ‘gap in generational knowledge’ that people talk about, but I think it runs deeper than that. Think of all the pressures and challenges a university student will experience in a short amount of time: new social norms, cultural variances, the questioning of personal values, endless deadlines, relentless synthesis of information, the list goes on. Taking a full course load is attributable to the commitment of a full-time job. Now add on other possible responsibilities like part-time work, dependants at home or extra-curricular activities. Examine these variables and you may begin to understand why this has become such a problem.
As a side note, I still love my family and am not attempting to put anyone down by writing this post. However, the issue of resource accessibility and the stigma we attach to student mental health needs to be improved drastically if we expect to have strong, capable young leaders in today’s society. It’s time to change the way we see mental illness in university.
A.P. Turner; C.L. Hammond; J.H. Barlow and M. Gilchrist. (2007). Coventry students’
experience of mental health problems. Counselling Psychology Quarterly. Vol.20,
A. Demers ; B. Newton-Taylor; L. Gliksman and M.A Edward. (2001). The prevalence of
elevated psychological distress among Canadian undergraduates: findings from the
1998 campus survey. Journal of American College Health. Vol.50, pp.67-72.
Learning Skills, at Your Service!
Earlier this academic year, I had the privilege of joining one of York University’s most dynamic and impactful teams as a Learning Skills Assistant within the larger umbrella unit known as Counselling and Disability Services at York. We are a team of four; two students (including myself) and two professional staff. Together, we organize and direct the Learning Skills Services Program on campus, providing students with an opportunity to advance their academic success by hosting workshops and facilitating personal academic counselling sessions – all at no cost for the campus community.
As the junior assistant on staff, my job is primarily to host workshops on everything from time management to reading and note-taking skills to exam prep. I have to know the material and communicate it effectively to my attendees, any of whom could be first-generation university-enrolled, exchange partners or mature students. This challenges me to find strategies of teaching that make sense to a broad range of backgrounds while adding my own personal spark all within a one hour period of knowledge sharing and transformation. Nothing is more rewarding than when a student approaches me after a workshop and tells me that I have helped them become successful in their studies. I love my job because I love supporting the community at York.
When I am not hosting a Learning Skills workshop, I am running around the CDS office at the Bennett Centre making photocopies (I am now intimately connected with the copier, I named it Bruce the Mighty), working on developing calendars and answering any questions that students might have about our programs. I plan on bringing my experience to this blog by profiling the things that I am exposed to at work which fascinate me. I hope they fascinate you too.