News on Multiple Fronts

Today started out as the most trying day ever at Staples. I had three blatantly rude and incredibly aggressive customers in a row. I tried to hide from them; they hounded me; they complained to managers; the managers sympathized with me. One note to those people out there who feel that shouting abuse at a minimum wage salesperson with no commission will get you faster/better service: you may want to re-examine your reasoning. Luckily, all the ugliness ended by about one. Today is the first day when many West Vancouver private schools are open, so it was a never ending parade of ties and pleated skirts this afternoon. It was a spectacle that I observed in a purely journalistic context, as your faithful blogging correspondent.

This morning, I also discovered that GMail had cruelly concealed an absolutely vital message at the bottom of a neglected ‘conversation.’ My increasingly desperate plea to know what kind of financial documentation Wadham College wanted was answered on Friday. Today, I duly sent them promises of C$87,600 and a healthy kidney – if required. Anyone who has spoken with me lately will know how much anxiety the outstanding issue of my application status had been causing. Not being able to compile and send the message until I got home at eight was very trying, even though I know they won’t be up and reading emails over there until at least midnight tonight.

The next two pieces of excitement relate to my walk home. Firstly, I walked while speaking with Viktoria – who I’ve been without the conversation of for far too long. Since last we spoke, she has left her old job as a provincial bureaucrat and taken up a new one organizing conferences and things for U of T. Amusingly, Tristan will almost certainly end up going to several of the events she coordinates. Since I spoke with her last, her mother also got married – during the Labour Day weekend. While I’ve never actually met anyone from her family, it was good to hear her happy and excited about the whole matter.

Also during that walk, I noticed that the Capilano Road Staples had a Canon A510 going for $229, due to an old sign still being up. Hearing Tristan praise the device yesterday as the best camera he has owned (and this is a Nikon user talking, mind you) definitely sealed the deal in my mind. Since I was resigned to buying one anyway, getting one for $50 less than I expected was an obvious choice. It is equipped with a 512MB card now, and I will purchase a case for the thing when I see an appropriate one. It’s nothing beside Nick Sayeg‘s uber-fancy new Digital Rebel, but it will allow me to photoblog from Oxford. I am planning to put up a photo or so per day for the first while I am there, to introduce whoever cares to see to the city, even as I am discovering it for myself. A very fine piece of equipment: my EOS Elan 7N will definitely also be coming along, for those film-photography type moments.

During my lunch break today, I made the move official: I shifted my subscription to The Economist to: care of Wadham College, Oxford. Sarah Pemberton tells me that such messages will find their way to a graduate student pigeon hole for me.

PS. No word in a long while for Kate or Linnea. I suppose they are very busy or sans internet right now.

The kind of peak that never comes again

Items added to ‘to do’ list today: 18 so far
Items removed: 3 so far

That said, I have been able to set up my old computer for my mother’s usage while I will be in Oxford – complete with Skype. If my mother is able to use Skype, everyone else should be able to as well. So, if you feel inclined to actually talk with me during the next two years, it’s worth the free download. My username is ‘sindark’ of course.

As presently scheduled, I have work tomorrow, on the seventh, and on the eleventh. Other than that, Staples has not deemed me worth booking. Tomorrow, we have been told again and again, is the busiest day of the year. After that, I suppose most of us will become redundant as sales plummet and the hours in those florescent aisles become empty again. After such a stretch at eight hours or more per day, it will be a nice break, though it won’t help with the task of paying for Oxford. I am looking forward very much to how the lack of work will let me see people like Kate, Meaghan, Sarah, and Sasha. It will also let me formulate my written defence to the Translink fine, sort out banking details, and pack. I am still waiting for my Oxford reading list, though it would be nice to finish The Great Fire and The Metaphysical Club before I get into it.

The NASCA report is jittering around uncomfortably on the screen in front of me: anxious to develop into a newer form but somehow lacking in the force of direction required to do so. I am hoping a massive tea infusion – since we are out of coffee – will help.

impecunious: having no money, penniless, in want of money

laconic: brief, concise, sententious, affecting a brief style of speech

Whirling Preparations

These last few days at Staples have been by far the busiest I have ever seen there: a circumstance that made Jessica’s brief visit to Vancouver all the more welcome. It’s always pleasant to have the chance to show somebody the more interesting bits of an unfamiliar city – a role I am certainly hoping to play for more than a few friends at Oxford.

Speaking of Oxford, there is much about it that is causing me distress. Given the clear superiority of numbered lists as a way of conveying information, I shall convey them thusly:

  1. The accommodations manager at Wadham College cannot tell me whether I am to live in the College residence in the centre of town, as it is my strong preference to do, or in the Merifield flats about a mile out.
  2. The admissions officer at Wadham can’t even confirm that I have a place in the college, because they now want proof that I can pay for both years.
  3. The admissions officer has not responded to my repeated and increasingly panicked requests to know just what kind of proof they want.
  4. Finances are looking as though they will be extremely tight, even for just the first year. This makes me want to bring as much as I can along with me, but I am restricted to the amount of physical matter I can carry. This includes a bicycle, since I will be ill-equipped to purchase even a used one there.
  5. I need to open a bank account to transfer money into to pay the first of three installments to the college and university, but cannot do so until I arrive.
  6. Nobody seems able to tell me what kind of internet access, if any, I will be able to get in whichever residence I end up in.

This general collection of nervous facts combines poorly with increasingly nerve-wracking days at Staples – with three sets of customers nipping at my heels as I try to serve the requests of a fourth. Also, with the original version of the NASCA report now distributed, all manner of people are simultaneously getting back to me with suggestions for changes, ideas for how the whole document can be reorganized, and generalized demands that I carry on working on the thing. I’d rather have a few friends over to drink scotch and watch Sin City, but such are the pressing demands of life.

Tonight, I mailed off email invitations to my departure party on September 17th. I hope I managed to send them to everyone in Vancouver who I profoundly hope will attend. Since I won’t have any kind of meaningful or well-attended birthday party this year, this party will serve as a surrogate. It will also be a departure party for anyone else who is leaving soon and able to attend: as I hope will be the case for Kerrie.

Returning to the matter alluded to earlier, of Jessica’s visit: it consisted of getting vegetarian Indian food at Yogi’s, where we got enormously faster service than I did the last time I went there, followed by drinks at Subeez (becoming cliche for me these days, but definitely my favourite place downtown) and generalized wandering in the English Bay area. Aside from the single brief time when I met Frank, this was the only time I’ve met someone in person who I had only known of previously online.

This morning, I remember standing at the end of a stone breakwater at Ambleside Beach in the rain, looking out at the morning city landscape. Like looking at Kits from English Bay last night, it was a sight that filled me with preemptive nostalgia: a sense that this is a known and familiar place that it is now appropriate to leave behind. That calm certainty forms an empowering counterpoint to the specific anxieties raised by the actual mechanisms of leaving.

Anyhow, I need to go over the messages I have received about the NASCA report and determine how long, working on the nights between Staples shifts, it will take to get the urgently desired second major draft into the hands of Allen Sens. Hopefully, most of their objections will be fairly quibbling and the linguistic edit which I am very thankful to Meghan for helping to provide, will go smoothly.

PS. At work, I briefly got extremely excited about the prospect of getting a SkypeIn account. The idea behind them is that you get a phone number in an area code of your choice (for me, Vancouver) and people there can call it and be directed to your Skype account. Then, your computer rings and you answer it like a phone call. Aside from a $30 a year fee, nobody pays anything. Unfortunately, the service isn’t available in Canada; apparently, that’s because you cannot use it to call local 911, or so I was told today by a Vonage representative touting their equivalent service for $40 a month. Hopefully, that will change in the near future.

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.

Banged out while at work

After going on for a span of days and – at least once – reaching some disastrous low in awareness, all the elements of life become hazy. Walking about, avoiding obstacles with a kind of reckless difficulty, you feel that you are half-way sick: with some node of sickness deep inside you not the mush you expect, but half frozen. Memory becomes faithless as dreams become indistinct from actions.

Conversations within dreams have always been unsettling reminders of how our minds can create our friends, or at least mimic them. It’s double unexected and unsettling to wake from a ten minute dream while at work, in which the other person who had been conversing has long since passed from your life.

While Mica’s party did not run overlate, it caused less ruin within the house than it did between he and I. I am unwilling to abrogate the role of the enforcer of the law.

My frustrations all collapse down to an anger at impunity and those who act on its basis.

Without authority

Mica has about 25 random friends over tonight. Also, I failed to take into account how Viktoria Prokhorova’s request for me to call her between 8:00pm and 11:00pm was based on the Toronto timezone.

Suffice it to say, things are more than a bit shambolic tonight. With my mother away again, I would expect no less.

NASCA v.1-0 submitted to the group: rejoice!

Based on my preliminary read, this week’s Economist, which I read at Blenz while awaiting Sarah P, is excellent. Two articles relate directly to the report that it was today’s purpose to complete the first semi-public draft of. Other articles are also very thought provoking. Those interested but without access to the premium content to The Economist should send me an email, so that we can work out some means of sharing the information.

Spending last night with Sarah, drinking beer and talking, was enjoyable, informative, and helpful. I am still often slightly stunned by the incredibly direct and matter-of-fact way she tends to declare her positions. It’s an approach that I find difficult to respond to and am often genuinely flabbergasted by. Still, her ideas about relationships and societal reproductive norms from what might be termed a political/economic game theory perspective have a lot to them. Before I left in the morning, she lent me a copy of the highly interesting history of four critical American thinkers in the years surrounding the civil war: Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club. Along with The Great Fire, it now makes up my fiction reading list for the period until my departure on the 21st. Once again, let me take the chance to remind people about my continental departure party on the evening of Saturday, September 17th.

Today’s task, partly completed at the Capilano Library, was the revision of the conclusion of NASCA v.0-95 and the relatively modest editing of the remainder. As pf this afternoon, a semi-definitive version 1.0 has finally be distributed to the rest of the team for input.

In one piece of excellent news, I learned this afternoon that my father’s medical insurance from work will continue to cover me at Oxford for as long as I am a full-time student. I was quite fearful that I would need to spend thousands of dollars on private insurance. Learning that your finances are in better shape than you feared is always welcome, especially when you are taking on more than $10,000 in debt.

[Entry modified, 23 December 2005]

The return of Vancouver rain

At work today, I spoke with a young woman who was the very embodiment of classical beauty. With her defined chin, well-proportioned forehead, and noble expression, she would definitely have been stolen by the British if she had been carved in marble. While the extent to which her appearance matched that form was incredible, it was impossible to tell if she was fourteen or twenty five. Her voice, tinged with a British accent, didn’t help. I saw her for less than two minutes, directing her towards the hanging file folders.

Tonight, I am trekking across a rainy Vancouver to Commercial Drive, in order to meet Sarah P. Alongside whatever else we discuss, I hope some of the more theoretical aspects of the NASCA report will come up. She is one of a handful of friends that I would really like to get a conceptual edit from, though asking for one from anyone is excessive, given the 9100 word length of the present document. While based on observation, analysis, and conjecture rather than extensive research, it is nonetheless almost 33% of the length of my eventual thesis at Oxford.

Speaking of Oxford, the Tutorial Office Administrator at Wadham College emailed me today. To quote: “I felt I should point out that Wadham needs documentary evidence that you will be able to cover both fees and living expenses for the full duration of your course – ie BOTH years of the MPhil. .. We are, I’m afraid, not able to confirm our offer of a place unless you are able to give us these guarantees.” Suddenly, “I really need money, please give me some” has to become: “It’s all cool, I have one hundred large just sitting in an account waiting to transfer over to you.” Hopefully my vague promises of loans and, hopefully, scholarships to come will be enough to keep them from pulling the red carpet out from under my feet.

Suddenly, our summer weather seems to have been replaced by the pervasive grayness of Vancouver in fall and winter. The change of seasons is marked by the move away from quad iced espressos, as documented on my financial spreadsheet, towards caffeine-laden drinks that are actually hot. More importantly, the shift has a psychological counterpart. In my case, it’s mostly a double reminder of how soon I will be departing and just how well-understood a place I am leaving. While Vancouver is beautiful, temperate, and well-stocked with friends it is not a mystery to me. Racing towards a place that is endowed with that most intractable of qualities is both thrilling and slightly intimidating.

While walking home up Capilano Canyon today, in the mist and rain, I thought about Karen. It doesn’t happen to me overly often, but I suppose it was just the kind of circumstance where I would formerly have given her a call. From the beginning, the whole tragic matter has been incomprehensible; it is not becoming less so with time, though the poignancy is diminishing and changing into a more wistful kind of sadness.


Underground five-pins and merriment

Tonight, rather than work on the NASCA report, I headed downtown after work to give Tristan a proper friend’s send-off before he leaves for Toronto. Around 9:30, I met Alison at the Starbucks at Georgia and Granville, where we were joined shortly thereafter by Tristan. From there, it was off to Granville Island beer at Cafe Crepe on Granville, where Meaghan Beattie joined our group. Perhaps the social context helped, but it definitely seemed to me that relations between her and I have softened a bit: slipping back towards some kind of friendly comfort. Also noteworthy was our group’s conversation with our server, Marcus, with whom an unexpected camaraderie developed. I’ve always found it rewarding to get to a level more fundamental and substantial that than at which a person’s job requires them to deal with you. It’s a refreshing demonstration of common humanity, and our ability to communicate.

After a couple of shared pitchers and crepes, my three companions decided that five-pin bowling underneath Granville Street was a good plan. Now, I have been visiting Granville Street ever since my parents began discouraging it in grade four, but I have never seen, much less bowled in, the set of subterranean lanes that exist beneath. While our bowling skills would have impressed nobody, it was a grand time (only mildly and indirectly reminiscent of one part of an Ondaatje novel).

At the alley, we were joined by Aoife. As far as I can recall, I hadn’t seen her since the Brother’s Creek hike of about a year before. For the rest of the night, especially after a fairly emotional parting of ways with Tristan, I definitely felt like an awkward appendage to her and Alison’s indistinct coupledom. I certainly don’t object to any aspect of their conduct; it was merely a reminder of the extent to which I am presently alone.

The prospect of not seeing Tristan for two years, or even one, is astonishing. I have no doubt that my relationship with him will prove to be the among the most comprehensive and long-lasting of those which evolved while I was at UBC. As has been the case with Alison, the confidence that such a statement is justified provides considerable comfort, in the context of coming separation. Things founded on something more enduring than a temporary confluence of interests can survive long separation – especially when there are crutches like our respective blogs to keep us hobbling forward.

With work tomorrow – and a real need to make up for my report dalliance tonight – the idea of going to sleep earlier than normal seems like a good one. Tomorrow night, I am meant to meet Sarah P.: a plan conceived on the basis that tonight would bring with it the completion of version 1.0 of the NASCA report, the version meant to be submitted to the group for scrutiny. As much as tonight may have tossed a small spanner into that plan, no synapse, axon, or dendrite in my brain thinks it was unjustified.