Happy Birthday Greg Allen

Fireplace in Emily's father's living room

I felt really strange for most of today, while sitting in the DPIR and working on one or the other paper. I felt significantly lighter than usual, as though I should sort-of bounce along like a moon astronaut. Also, I felt this impulse that seemed like a signal that should normally be attached to some need, as if to say VERY X, where X is an impulse like hunger or tiredness. When I checked, however, there was no X to feel VERY about, just some sense that I was missing something big. Such things can reduce one’s ability to concentrate.

Rather later, when walking back from dinner with Emily and her father, it occurred to me that the M.Phil in IR is rather like doing the front crawl. There are two phases: one in which your head is underwater and you are trying to move forward and the other in which you are trying to breathe, so as not to die. Like while swimming, the breathing part is always a matter of necessity and relief. It’s cyclical and it doesn’t last long. For me, it happens between Tuesday evening and Thursday, more or less.

Having dinner with Emily and her father, by contrast, was rather like getting out of the pool. sitting on the agreeable patio, and reading a good book. That has something to do with the relief of being ripped out of the narrow context of colleges, libraries, and shops where I have spent virtually all of the last month. Even though some of the time there was spent having a look at Emily’s paper and some more of it was spent discussing issues relevant to the course, it felt overall like a more thorough kind of non-school than anything else I have done so far. Even going for walks and reading books feels like the breath between two strokes, you see.

Meeting Emily’s father was engaging and worthwhile. It amused me to slip a birthday note (Ave Avi A vie) into the mail slot of Avi Shlaim, who lives next door and whose book I read in Emily’s company a few days ago. Likewise, sitting beside a fire and eating omelette were both pleasant reminders of the enormity of the non M.Phil, non IR world.

Speaking of that world, I feel compelled to respond to something Emily told me. Apparently, a good share of the M.Phil program seems to be reading this blog. (Something similar is true of the college.) My first response to hearing that is fear and the concern that I’ve said something stupid. My second response is the general feeling that people really ought to have better things to do with their time, though far be it for me to tell people what to do. In general, then, I suppose I should offer my greeting to the concealed masses. Your presence forces me to do a couple of things. Firstly, it forces me to at least try and be interesting. Even during days when I wake up and feel ghastly, try to read, do some laundry, and go to bed, I need to come up with something that won’t have people drooping with boredom and slamming shut their laptops in disgust. Now, I should be clear about one thing. I try to be entertaining for the people back in Vancouver as well. The big difference is that, since they are not here, I could probably entertain them most easily in ways somewhat different from those in which I might entertain those in Oxford. It’s the second group – the closer group – that compels me to be reasonably accurate, as well as interesting.

The second, and rather more difficult, thing that I am forced to do is be tactful. As much effort as it can require to be at least a bit interesting, it is much harder to maintain a blog as a relatively sane, civil, rant-free place. When one has the nestling comfort of obscurity all around, these things are not important. When one is standing at the centre of a group of unidentified figures, it comes rather to the forefront. All in all, it will probably be good practice. Please forgive me, in any event, the occasional lapse. Much as I try not to be, I am a fallible creature. Part of the reason for this blog is to help me process my thinking into a more refined form. It is quite possible to believe something for a long time that you instantly see the wrongness of as soon as you are challenged to write it down and explain it. Self-improvement is an aim of the blog, and life in general.

At the moment, however, there is no time for that. I have two papers due on Tuesday that exist, at present, in the state between when the individual components are welded together and laid out according to the design and the part where everything is strapped and attached and the thing is ready to fly on its own.

Many thanks to Emily for a very pleasant evening. Let us hope that the revitalization it has induced will help me to overcome the latest batch of hurdles the program has thrown my way.

PS. One last note to people reading: I would appreciate if you would participate, in some sense. I much prefer a discussion to an extended one-sided rant. I realize that it might be awkward to comment in a space that I basically have exclusive dominion over (though certainly not complete control). Therefore, I suggest that people with nothing in particular to do should consider posting on the IR forum. I really think we might be able to help each other out with things, if not actually get to know one another better.

PPS. To those asking her about it, Emily never promised to get me a job of any kind. She merely indicated that she might be able to set me looking in appropriate directions. It’s quite unfair to approach her with requests for similar treatment, just because I was careless enough to post the initial incident here.

Milan out.

First Bloggers’ Gathering

Bloggers gathered in The Turf

In short, the bloggers’ gathering was a success. It was interesting and enjoyable to meet a diverse group of engaging people, none of whom really have an appearance that screams blogger!, whatever sort of appearance that might be.

The Library Court party afterwards, to which I brought two of the people from the bloggers’ gathering, succeeded in blocking any attempts to work on all the academic things that need to be done. That said, I was not fighting and kicking to make progress on them. Why, there are hours left yet.

This afternoon included a quasi-valiant effort to move forward on the various projects that must be complete next week:

  1. Paper for Andrew Hurrell (Tuesday)
  2. Paper for Dr. Fawcett and Wright (Tuesday)
  3. Presentation on American isolationism during the interwar years (Tuesday)
  4. Statistics Assignment (Wednesday)
  5. Pay fees and battles (Friday)

Tomorrow, all these things will begin to orbit elegantly around the gravitational centre of whatever intellect I still possess: condensing and organizing themselves to the point where they are both internally and externally comprehensible.


Happy Birthday Sarah Stewart

Jonathan at Mosquito Creek

Last night, I followed the link that Marga Lyall sent me to the M.Phil in International Relations reading list. Looking at the week-by-week list for a single course, I am flabbergasted. It’s an astonishing amount of reading. It includes 25 books as ‘general reading’ and a similar number for every week. Even reading 14 hours a day, I don’t think anyone could actually read all of this. There must be something I am missing.

I am happy to note that Jonathan is now on board for the hike tomorrow. I met with him this afternoon for coffee and then a walk up Mosquito Creek with their dog, Buddy. I remember that perpetually energetic black beast accompanying us on my first two trips to Hornby Island: the one where I slept in a hammock in a grove of Arbutus trees; the one where I met Kate. Jonathan has been off canoeing for the past few days and it was certainly good to spend some time with him. I learned that he just got a job at the bakery in the Whole Foods within the new addition to Park Royal. From what I’ve heard, they are an unusually good employer and I am glad for him.

After having a cup of tea with Jonathan and his father, I headed home and spent the evening reading – not from the intimidating reading list above, though that may have been wise. Instead, I finished most of this week’s Economist and read to nearly the end of The Great Fire, which I still recommend heartily to most everyone. As I walked home, I saw Sarah Stewart outside of Starbucks, learned that today is her birthday, and invited her to my farewell party. Though I’ve been mildly smitten with her, to varying degrees, since high school, this will be the first time we do anything social and not related to school or her employment at Starbucks.

With five days left in Vancouver, the few hurried hours I will have on Wednesday morning not really counting, the time has come to turn to packing and other final preparation. In some sense, the hike falls into the latter category: a symbolic traverse of North Vancouver as a prelude to my dispatch. I find the flavour of my own apprehension difficult to assess. While there is definitely a manic, racing excitement that sometimes speeds my step when walking, there are elements of uncertainty – even dread – to counterpoint it. I worry about money, about the amount of reading that must be done, about the whole academic world. The last, in particular, is a concern. While I’ve certainly read and studied a lot, I’ve never really paid attention to specific authors. I know next to nothing about International Relations as an academic discipline. My exposure to IR theory is limited to the one Crawford class, which was mostly a savaging of Realism in all its forms.

While the whole scholarly approach to things is appealing to me, not least because I am reasonably good at it, I can’t legitimately suppress the knowledge that much of it is a waste of time: thoughts just spun around and going nowhere. I think that Kerrie’s decision to go off into the world and make a practical difference is the more courageous, the more respectable course. I applaud her for it and think anxiously of when I will pay off my massive debt to chance: to the million fortuitous accidents that put me here now with the skills, resources, and opportunities I have. In a world where there is to be any kind of fairness between people, that kind of spectacular fortune needs to be paid back to the world.

These daily entries feel solid: obligatory. Blog entries like ships-of-the-line, with cannons at the ready. In my mind, the blog is no longer a place for conspiratorial whisperings or the sharing of anything but the most blue-chip of thoughts. Such intimacy was probably never suited to the internet. Still, I can’t help regretting the loss of a place where entries could be the whispered asides of an unfolding life.

Working for Staples no longer

Fernando working on the NASCA report

Today, my tenure at Staples came to an end. It’s a thrilling turn of events because, with any luck, this will also be my departure from the whole world of entry level jobs. The next time when I have a space open for employment, I will have finished the first year of my degree at Oxford and (I think, I hope, I pray) will be able to get some kind of thinking job in the UK.

Immediately after work, I met with Fernando. First at Tim Horton’s, then at our favourite 24 hour produce shop (on Lonsdale), and finally at my parents’ kitchen table, we pushed the NASCA report forward to version 1-3 and created a new opening segment for it. Tonight and tomorrow, I will finalize the executive summary, while he will write a letter of introduction and produce a cover page. Then, we need only add some photos, tweak the formatting, combine the two sections without screwing up the separate pagination, submit the thing to Allen Sens so he can write an introductory letter, create distinct versions for print and for the web, print and post the thing, and relax. The great majority of the work – I estimate at least 100 hours of reading and writing on my part – is done.

All this was propelled forward tonight by one iced cappuccino of the size bigger than extra large and at least two litres of Earl Grey tea. The latter is strongly reminiscent of late nights in high school, when provincial exams were the most significant thing worrying me. I’ve only just realized how appropriate it was to spend the evening of September 11th writing a report about defence planning. I really appreciate all the hours that Fernando has put into helping me with this document – the only other member of the group who has made a large contribution to the writing or editing process.

I anticipate that Sens will take issue with sections of the report, but thankfully that can actually serve to help us. By saying: “I would never have thought this way, or said these things” he can underline the value, as least insofar as diversity of ideas goes, of having student expeditions like NASCA take place.

Tomorrow night, I am going to a restaurant on Main called Himalaya as part of Kerrie’s visit to Vancouver. I forgot to mention how yesterday, while walking through Fairview on our way to the law faculty, Meaghan and I ran into Kerrie and her husband Nolan beside The Beanery. Their presence definitely also contributed to the dispelling of my sense of Fairview primarily as a menacing place where my ex-roommates might be encountered.

I’ve been meaning for ages to write some appreciative and insightful comments about The Great Fire and I have been writing little notes to myself in my European poet style black lined notebook, but now is not the time for such things.

PS. Anyone who can give me a correct French translation of the following will have my thanks:

The North American Security Cooperation Assessment (NASCA) 2005 Student Tour was made possible through the generous support of the Security Defence Forum Special Projects Fund of the Canadian Department of National Defence. 

Apparently, a single French paragraph is enough to make the report bilingual enough to suit the government. It says something about the state of my intellectual decay that I am not confident about my own attempt to translate the above – confounded by uncertainties about the proper usage of the partitive article.

General musings

Rather than writing all blog entries at 1:00am, hunched over the iBook keyboard, I’ve purchased a very European looking black writing pad to carry around. I suppose it will help me look like the stereotypical poet or a sixteen year old pseudo-goth girl, but it will beat the ever-larger collection of biodegrading scraps in my pockets. Oh, and the heartbreak when they get accidentally laundered!

Luxuriously, my 10:00pm-concluding shift was followed by a ride home from my friend and co-worker Chris. The ride also delivered me to a mercifully empty house, where I can listen to the Great Lake Swimmers, eat bread, and drink tea while allowing the brain to be mowed, to have the weeds pulled, and to have the edges repaired.

A few times here, I’ve made reference to my present functional conception of love. In my view, the word is hopelesly equivocated: linked to so many disparate ideas and personal expectations as to have lost any clear meaning. This framework has therefore been developed to understand and explain how it impacts my life, for purposes of better planning. Within this framework, the focus is on romantic love (of the kind experienced between people who are generally interested in some sort of sexual contact with one another). The components are threefold:

  1. One partner’s assessment of the other. Now, the word ‘assessment’ is obviously open to broad interpretation. What makes this criteria viable is that the opinion cannot be based on any probability of future contact. It must be a determination of a person’s level of appropriate respect – roughly, how good a thing it is that they are in the world. A person’s values and aesthetics naturally do a lot to determine what kind of traits are respected. 

    To begin with, this assessment is often badly coloured by our desires at the time. For me, women who I think might be single and interesting instantly and consistently get more attention than others. Still, from the perspective of a long-term relationship, the level of respect you have for a person is a critical part of the foundation.

  2. The second component is the sensory experience of being with the person, contemplating the person, and such. It seems to me that this is what most people are referring to when they use the term love, though this narrow focus excludes any need for commitment.The sensory experience of love ebbs and flows. Often, the beginning stages of a relationship are a dramatic crescendo of such thoughts: fueled by ever quicker flowing hormones and neurotransmitters. Something similar definitely happens after long seperations. When scientists with functional MRI machines find love, this will probably be most of what they are seeing.
  3. Insofar as a relationship can exist as an entity unto itself, it exists as a cluser of norms, rules, decision making procedures, and expectations – what some IR theorists call a ‘regime.’ These are not restricted to the people involved: if I saw a good (attached) friend having illicit relations with a stranger, it would be a matter of concern for me.I’ve often likened relationships to two islands that are initially driven together by random currents, but which are held together through an ever-more-complex system of bridges, tunnels, power lines, roads, and communication systems. Terms of trade are established and goods flow from one to the other, for mutual benefit. Another crucial part of the relationship regime is multilateral relations between partners, friends, family, and others. Having the respect of my friends is often crucial for retaining my own. Having the less noble attentions of my friends can often count as a point in your favour, both because it provides a reassuring second opinion and the promise of gains within the social structure should such a relationship be concluded.

When relationships end, it often seems to have a lot to do with an undermining of section 2 above. One thing I find interesting is how easily some people seem to be able to transfer the bulk of their section 3 connections to another person once they have found someone who is willing, for whom they have respect under section 1, and with whom they have the kind of pleasantly blinding jubilation which section 2 rests upon. The burst of heat from two inactive second sections re-activating seems as though it can often be more than enough to compensate for the cold and discomfort that creeps in as one set of section three links cracks and are sliced open, then shifted along towards the positions where they will be affixed to a new partner.

Ultimately, I am looking for someone with whom I can travel, raise children, write and edit books with, and generally enrichen life in defiance of a human psyche that I am convinced cannot generally function properly on its own. For me to set out on such a course with a person requires a pretty sturdy assessment that these three areas are well-built and not vulnerable to ordinary schocks. It’s basically a necessity that there be a good collection of reasons why they should be put into an escape pod for 1% of humanity. Also essential is their ability to maintain good relations with my family. The border between my parents and I is long and undefended, crossing rocky terrain. Disasters can move across both ways, and anyone who I could be with for any length of time would need to have the skill to manage that. Of course, as I will be living in Oxford, contact with my parents will be infrequent at best. None of these criteria are things that will never change.

This rough, imperfect, and far from comprehensive framework does nothing to acknowledge the infinite complexities that make love so fascinating. For me, the question of women and how I relate to them as individuals is the most engaging and life-defining one that I can think of. The framework is just a crude tool – a couple of wobbly steps added to a ladder of understanding. For all the joy and revelations we shared, as well as for everything they helped me learn about the world and myself, I am infinitely thankful to Kate, Sarah, and Meghan. Also, for enduring hours of my hypothesizing about these and related ideas, Sarah Pemberton and Sasha Wiley have my thanks as well.

There are 15 days left until my departure party.
I fly to England in 19 days.