The Myth of Independence

I met a dear friend unexpectedly today, and we had the kind of conversation you can only have with old friends, where you pour out the contents of your heart and you know the other person will help you make sense of it all because they’ve known you for so long. And afterwards I had dinner with another beautiful soul, and it made me think about how strange (and inaccurate) it is to attribute anything you accomplish to yourself. My research project studying mosques was due this week, and handing it felt like the conclusion of months (if not longer) of thought about what I wanted to research. I was battling between different ideas even before I came to Toronto, and so handing it in felt like a significant milestone.

And yet, it is a milestone (like the entire graduate experience) that is not mine alone. When you move to a new place, you realize that no matter how strong and independent you think you are, you require other people to make that experience a positive one. You need kind people to help you move and carry heavy things, to help you find good company, to invite you to their home on holidays when you don’t know anyone, to send you food when you’re homesick, to check up on you when you’re sick, to hear your rants about school, to encourage you when you’re unsure about your decisions, to give you advice, and to send you a note sometimes and let you know that you’re in their prayers. It requires tremendous effort on the part of other people to make the small(in comparison) task of studying possible. And without kind souls to generously welcome you into their family and friend circle, life simply would not be as beautiful. When you’re an introverted person (as I am) it’s easy to stay on your own and forget to seek out company, but Toronto has taught me that community is necessary.  I’m thankful that Toronto has been a place full of kind hearted souls who have made me feel so comfortable here.

And so this is a resolution for the weeks, months and years to come. I’d like to strive to be as kind and gentle as the people I’ve met, to be the sort of person and social planner who people feel comfortable around, and to have a home where people who are new and finding their way feel welcome, and leave nourished and revitalized in more ways than one. I’m curious as Anne would say, what the ‘bend in the road’ will bring forth, but am making intentions that this next chapter is an enriching one.

What are your tips to become a more comfortable, less nervous public speaker?

If it is possible to both love something dearly and hate it passionately at the same time, that describes my relationship with public speaking. I love it, but I wish I was better at it, was less nervous beforehand, and was able to speak without “umms” and ”aaahs” and losing my train of thought during regular conversations. (After all, every conversation is a form of public speaking in a sense).  In Episode 10 of Seriously Planning, I’m asking about your public speaking experiences and your advice. You can listen to the episode here. Looking forward to hearing your words of wisdom!

Planes are the Place I Think Best

I’ve been back in Toronto for a couple of hours now, and unpacking my suitcase, I’ve already realized that I’ve forgotten my indoor sandals, the base of my Krups kettle, and my USB key (at which point I abandoned unpacking and gave myself a proper scolding about being a more careful person). Now that that scolding is out of the way, today’s podcast episode is about my reflections from the flight from Vancouver to Toronto. Specifically, I’m talking about the difficulties of detaching from things,the importance of recognizing the blessings you have (and using them properly) and what landing a plane indicates about goal-setting. You can hear it here.

p.s-I had to stop the recording at one point, and the sound changed afterwards. Please excuse the audio quality!

Flexing One’s Courage Muscles

With her pretty hair tucked into a little cap, arms bared to the elbow, and a checked apron which had a coquettish look in spite of the bib, the young housewife fell to work, feeling no doubts about her success, for hadn’t she seen Hannah do it hundreds of times? The array of pots rather amazed her at first, but John was so fond of jelly, and the nice little jars would look so well on the top shelf, that Meg resolved to fill them all, and spent a long day picking, boiling, straining, and fussing over her jelly. She did her best, she asked advice of Mrs. Cornelius, she racked her brain to remember what Hannah did that she left undone, she reboiled, resugared, and restrained, but that dreadful stuff wouldn’t ‘jell’.

She longed to run home, bib and all, and ask Mother to lend her a hand, but John and she had agreed that they would never annoy anyone with their private worries, experiments, or quarrels. (..) So Meg wrestled alone with the refractory sweetmeats all that hot summer day, and at five o’clock sat down in her topsy-turvey kitchen, wrung her bedaubed hands, lifted up her voice and wept. ~~ Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, Chapter 28.

I know how Meg feels. I seem to cook fine when there is someone to ask if anything goes wrong, but on my own I question the progression of each stage. After a while, I just want to sob dismally, wring my hands, and escape someplace comforting. But after a lovely holiday of real basmati rice and proper curries and love in every meal, it’s going to be hard to return to the residence cafeteria  (though as cafeterias go it’s probably a very good one, and I do appreciate its halal options). So though it makes me nervous, I’m determined post-break to practice flexing my courage muscles and try cooking more often, because it’s really home-food that I love best, and I’d like to be brave enough to cook for friends on a more regular basis.

I’m Posting Every Day In 2011!

I was looking through an old daytimer today searching for something, and seeing the different entries from my time in Toronto thus far led to an epiphany. (yay!) I realised that part of the reason I’ve found it tough to blog regularly is that a day in Toronto might include anything from interesting discussions about social finance, to learning about the Chichewa word kumvana at the Engineers Without Borders National Conference, to feeling homesick and missing mountains to everything in between, and speaking about all that becomes a bit overwhelming unless I make space to share on a regular basis. So I talk a lot about what is going on during teatime at home (morning and night!) but because tea drinking happens all the time sharing isn’t a monumental task, and both small and big moments make it to those daily sessions.

So friends, I’ve decided I want to blog more. WordPress has a challenge to blog once a day during 2011, and I think that’s the motivation I need to be more regular, and share this crazy wonderful adventure I’m on called grad school and Toronto, and what it is I want to be and who I want to become.

If you already read my blog, I hope you’ll comment and share. And if you’re new to the space, welcome! I’m looking forward to the challenge.

When You Put It That Way, It Sounds So Simple

After nearly 10 weeks (!) immersed in planning classes and agonizing over where I belong in the world outside the classroom, this week’s readings in my theory class provided some much needed reminding that the world is in desperate need of all kinds of planners, and regardless of what I decide to do in the future, I want to really develop and polish my writing thinking and speaking skills during my time at U of T. (There certainly are enough assignments to help with that goal, now to focus and deliver my best effort).


Planners who hope to pursue an equity agenda must speak and write and as well as think and calculate. They must develop an articulate voice, organizing attention to issues and maintaining credibility even when data are inadequate and tempers are short. They must face the challenge of being persuasive without being manipulative. They must face uncertainty without being paralysed by it. Faced with the real complexity of housing or transit or service delivery problems, they must select which issues to focus upon and which to put aside. They must be articulate organizers as well as clear-thinking analysts. Gauging what to say and what not to say, when and how to speak to be understood, whether to be challenging or not, encouraging or not – all these are practical problems of rhetoric, of speech and writing..”~ Krumholz and Forester, Making Equity Planning Work

If planners consistently place before their political superiors analyses, policies and recommendations which lead to greater equity, and if they are willing to publicly join in the fight of the adoption of these recommendations, some of them will be adopted when the time is ripe. It is this process conducted with verve, imagination, and above all with persistence, that offers the planner challenging and rewarding work and a better life for others.~ Norman Krumholz, A Retrospective View of Equity Planning Cleveland 1969-1979