Applications

After months of filling forms, your doctor’s appointment will begin to read like your latest college application.

Name: Mr. James Owen
Age: 18 years old
Sex: Male
Date of appointment: Freshman, undergraduate, 2019-20
Reason for visit: Ever since I was a young child, I have wanted to visit the doctor. This selfless man with the white coat and the stethoscope asking me to take a seat as a four-year old on Christmas morning with a Thomas the Tank Engine play-set stuck in my mouth, shoved in with Thomas and a few of his mates intact (or maybe not) in pure excitement of the sort only a four-year old high on Nesquick on Christmas morning could be, I was enraptured by this man and his love for his art, and the enigmatic pearls of wisdom he occasionally sprouted.
He spoke seldom, and when he did, it almost wasn’t ordinary human English.
“Aaaah”, he said, and while that should have made no sense at all, somehow, I understood the man. His command over his subjects was complete, his composure and dignified mannerisms subtle, yet screaming.
He nodded ever so slightly and passed me an ancient puzzle, a few scratches on a paper. Once again, while none of this made any sense to me, mum seemed to understand, he was universal; she nodded, although I felt her body relax for some reason, as in defeat.
I—

‘Oh shit, I think I’m close to the word limit, I gotta end this!’

*scratch, scratch*
“—That incident left a very deep impression on my younger self, and for the last fifteen years, I have only had one thought every night that I go to bed: I would like to study medicine at Harvard.”

‘There we are, now we just sit and await that call.’

Ten minutes later, a nurse walks out holding a clip pad and a wearing a concerned expression.

‘Mr. James Owen?’
‘Yup, that’ll be me. Tell me, did I make it?!’
‘Mr. Owen, it’s alright, I’d like you to come with me.’
‘Definitely!’

‘Nurse, where are we headed?’
‘We read your profile, James, and there may be a slight problem,’
‘Oh dear! Would you need an additional portfolio? Recommendations? My thesis from summer research?’
‘No Mr. James, you’re really sick, and just to make sure you’re not a hazard to yourself or anyone around you, we want a little check up.’
‘Nurse, you must have made a mistake, I’m perfectly fine! Take a look at my athletics! I played for Junior Varsity, I’m very fit indeed!’
‘Don’t worry kiddo. It’ll all be okay.’
‘No, no, what does that mean? I’m perfectly fine, I told you, I’m not crazy! Are you rejecting me?!’
Nurse smiles sweetly
‘We only wish the best to you now, and in all your future endeavours. Come with me.’
‘What?! Nooooooooo!!’

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Looking Back

Here we go, it’s finally over. I’ve reached the end of the game. Whether or not I’ve crossed the finish line, the game’s over. The suspense may have been killing me, but I’m too exhausted to feel the suspense at this point.

Year 1 is over. I’ve finished a whole academic year at university, my first big change since high school began. It’s had its ups and downs and sheer ecstasy moments; I’ve loved the freedom that’s with being on my own in university, I’ve enjoyed being able to prove myself wrong— in good ways! I’ve loved what I’ve learnt this year, not just in that typical ‘personal growth’ way, but also academically: it’s nice to fall in love with an area you may be in for a long time to come!

I’ve also come to fall in love with the area we live in: downtown Toronto, the heart of the city. I’ve always been a city kid, but my “city” ended in the suburbs—I never fancied living in the rush of the sprawling upward expanses with square glass fingers desperately stretching higher skywards in a place where you’d enjoy it if you live for the thrill of the fast lane 24/7.

Not my kind of thing. But I’ve come to love it. It’s not entirely an about turn, though. Our campus is 1865 powering its way into 2019 and adamantly staying that way, and it’s beautiful. It’s neo-gothic style architecture drives students crazy (and me; sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s a tourist and who’s a student because even as recently as this month,  eight months in, my phone camera is still out. This was on the way to an exam location, no less. I guess imminent death makes everything look prettier! (Naw, it’s pretty as it is)

Now that I’m sitting home, it’s kind of this bittersweet wait. A long, anticipated wait.

I’m awaiting grades and major decisions. It’s been a chaotic last few weeks, and my finals weren’t even half the reason. Finals don’t stress me out, as you’ve clearly seen. All my best work (a twenty-six and counting comics included) comes during my highest periods of pressure. And I’m not even talking academic work. My creative output skyrockets under pressure. When people bring up the whole debate about the tortured artist, I hide my face and run away. It’s not something I can pretend doesn’t happen!

But it’s been a tiring year.

I am, or at least, at this point, I think I am, a computer science student. I can’t pretend I knew much better when I signed up for this, but apparently it’s a well sought-after major. Which means resources are limited, but the demand is pretty high. Which means stuff gets competitive. My school is one of those that selects majors once you’re already in college, so you have a bunch of people scrambling around for places in a pretty limited program, because everyone can take their shots. At the end of the year, based on how you’ve fared compared to the rest of your class, you’re either in, or you’re not.

And guess what, it’s the end of the year.

So it boils down to this. Numbers will be concrete now. The hypothesisations are out. Over. I could be out and over. The possibilities are literally limitless and are veritably driving me nuts.

I’ve been doing more math than computer science this last month, and there are so many loose ends. I don’t normally think of myself as someone with loopholes. It’s a challenging field out there, and while I can’t say the actual coursework has been stressing me out—no sir, I’ve loved it—the consequences of messing something up are killing me. Getting an assignment back is no longer about look! So much of this is right, I’ve learned—maybe even mastered—so much!, it’s about oh no, I’m below the class average this time! How much better am I going to have to do on the next assignment to make this up? Back to the calculator it is!

At this point, I genuinely don’t even remember why I liked computer science in the first place. There’s this hazy mist above my head that’s saying “I remember I used to like it, so I must’ve liked it. Can’t recall why though.” I’ve forgotten what I wanted to do after college, what area of computer science I wanted to specialise in. Goals have shrunk down to micro-goals. What do you want to do in life? I want to get into second year. I don’t remember what came beyond that. Was it research of some sort I’d wanted to do? Go into graphics or interaction or something? Jump on the AI bandwagon? (Look, I’m open, but that probably wasn’t it. I feel an internal need to run away from the mainstream, even if it may end up being something interesting. I wish I could change that, but my internal magnet repels way too strongly.)

The point is, I don’t remember, I’m just so exhausted and worn out, that me saying anything about this will have me sounding like a broken record (ask my poor roommate). I used to be kinda interesting, you know. I used to talk computer science stuff like I was really interested, and I’d leave the conversation having you hooked onto something you’d never imagined you’d find interesting or remotely imagine spending the day with (I can vouch for myself here because I’ve had a twenty minute conversation with a self-proclaimed luddite on binary storage. Better times! Talk to me about it if you’d like, I’ll see if I still have it left in me).

Well, here’s the thing, me not knowing is worse, because it means I’m going to have to do the painful discovery process thing again. If I need to get my ass out of this place and at a new place that’s not quite as much of a gladiator showdown, I’ll need to write another bunch of long and thought out essays on why a college should have me as a computer science major. Last year, I’d swore I wouldn’t do that again.

So here we go, it begins again.

The hunt, the search, the outputting. If you missed the shitshow last year, here’s a repeat telecast.

Man, I just want to be sure, for once. Just know that there’s something out there that I can come back to, and bank on. Maybe you’d call it a backup.

I really don’t want to have to go. I love the place, I love the people, I love what I do. I have friends (I am personally surprised by the number of people I’ve discovered in the last month that would vouch for me) and I was really settling in quicker than I ever have before.

Starting uni, I really just hit the ground running. Things weren’t out of place, culture shock didn’t really hit me, I was weirdly not homesick either (hurray for WhatsApp!) and I really just clicked. It was a beautiful feeling, almost like Toronto had been waiting for me since forever. Even if it wasn’t me in question, Toronto can make anyone feel home and familiar, I’ve noticed, but hey, this here is my theatre production, so back to me.
You can’t seriously be telling me at this point that I’m going to have to pack up and move. Not after I’ve worked that hard. Not after things have worked. Not after everything had been blue skies (actually no. Grey skies with a 40% chance of snow; this is Toronto, guys!) and wind in the sails and a 90 on cruise control. The blow those finals dealt me has me kind of stunned, because me numbers don’t predict graceful nosediving worth a perfect 10 in synchronised swimming.

Basically, I’m confused. I didn’t see that coming and I am not prepared for it. Denial may kick in soon, but I need to plan my bust before that happens.

Look, there’s nothing pretty about this piece of writing anymore, it has descended into a pure mad rant. This is Lady Macbeth checking in, deliriously washing the blood of her murdered grades off her hands and whispering, what have I done? Or more precisely, when have I done this?
Can someone tell me what is going on here.  

You don’t have to read this if you don’t want to, it’s a one-person tragedy now. There’s no more script, just rants. Just someone who doesn’t want to write FIVE more personal statements and who wants a tiny little bit of security in life.
Ironically enough, here’s a computer science major insecure. I heard an english major whining about it the other day and sympathised. Well guess which one of us knows they’re gonna be at this uni in four years time and actually graduate.
The irony kills me.
The competition just killed me. It’s almost not fair.
If you’d have told fifth grade me about this, you’d have gotten a smirk.
Trivial. All you’ve got to do is get from first year to second year!

I’ve added a fancy picture here because reading all that must be an eyesore and you deserve a break. Commendable that you got this far. I wouldn’t have. But thanks anyway. 
Source: not my work

Yeah, it’s totally that simple when you’re not in my major. Really. I have nothing remotely optimistic or witty or quirky to say. I can’t say I’ve learnt how to deal with anything better than I would have without this kind of failure. I’m a little bratty about not getting my way and this isn’t a humbling learning experience. I’ll probably remain a brat. All those easier colleges we collectively shit on because ‘we’re so hard’, I shall probably not feel sorry or take back all that, shall we call it, letting off steam? It’s not a learning curve, we genuinely are harder. I’ve compared course syllabi with other schools, and I like ours better. Call it a learning curse. I shall be sorry to not have access to the incredible stuff my uni’s computer science department has to offer if I leave. I just wish I could still have made it.

I just wish for once I could go to bed thinking I’m a tiny bit of a satisfactory success.

Finals Approach

And I’m at my productive best, ain’t I?

27FE60CB-802D-48DD-84A0-877625B36008

I mean approaching, formally. Like the absolute value of the difference between my math final and I, is getting really small and fast. And thank goodness for that absolute value, because this distance would’ve been negative without a doubt otherwise.

Also, mathematicians must hate physicists. And computer science first years too, probably.

Off.

It’s that rare sort of day

When the sky’s 67% blue

More than a wisp of light in the sky

And winds raging at 32

We call it good weather these days, folks:

Don’t settle for less!

Lower your expectations,

And today’s been the best!

But I digress; the sun’s out, it’s so quiet

And calm and maybe even a hint warm

And of course, I also have a truckload 

Of studies taking me by storm

A quiet place, headphones, 

Math textbook, lots of light 

And a booster dose of motivation’s all I 

Need in my life

So of course I picked today

To be feeling extra sleep deprived

Of course today I feel obliged 

To run away from all my responsibilities in life

And so with my nose stuck in the air

With lots of work and none a care

I do hereby out loud declare:

Goodbye suckers, I’m off to bed. 

Perceptions

The “Turn Wi-Fi On” button can be dangerous space.

I’ve been sitting around for a while, working on the last—would you believe it, the last?!—big assignment I have for this term.

Of course, that meant my Wi-Fi has been firmly turned off, blissfully isolating me from the almost other world we call the Internet.

For all the physicists complaining about how we haven’t, and never will, have enough energy to open an interdimensional portal, and one wide enough for people to traverse through it, well, they’re not looking hard enough. Right here, for a dime off your phone bill, exists a portal to an alternate reality where even your best friend may not be who they seem.

But I digress!

The point is, often, you can’t really keep away from the Internet. If not to avoid distractions or hour-long breaks, then you’d have to check back in because half your work in online, and being a computer science student, that’s all the more so true.

So every now and then I need to hit that unstable metaphorically-red button and hope that nothing blows up. You know, like a lot of time.

But today, opening up the dropdown options to reconnect, I saw this.

Screenshot 2019-03-31 at 1.22.54 PM.png

Ordinarily, I’d have interpreted that as someone hitting a random letter on their keyboard and keeping it pressed. It turns out, people are absolutely terrible when it comes to naming stuff. Ask any computer science kid ever, in particular. That’s probably how we ended up with an application called Facebook in the first place. Shed your familiarity with the term for a minute and really look at it. Face-book? We’re in 2 AM territory!

Naming something we’ve been working days and months on really puts us on the spot.

Naming variables is a nightmare.

Naming 25 test case files is a nightmare.

I have a friend who gave up explaining what exactly he was testing on each file’s name midway and just calling all his remaining test files Testpacito_(1/2/3…). It was a glorious moment.

At this rate, it’s a wonder I have a name at all, isn’t it?

So one might imagine someone would’ve thought, Well, it’s a Wi-Fi connection, but just calling it ‘Wifi Konnekt’ probably means I’ll never find it again. Hmmmm…

What about my dog’s name? But no, every time I ask someone to connect for me, my dog’s going to get confused hearing her name!

What about that mean first grade teacher I had?

Oh, lord, she was awful! She made us write our times tables out every morning! I can’t even begin to…

(five hours later)

Oh well, what the hell, I’ll just hit a random letter on the keyboard!

Only now, with the context of approaching finals, I’ve been having different ideas for that ending.

(five hours later)

No, wait, what? It’s been five hours already?! But–but, it was literally five minutes ago…
Have I really been trying to think of a wifi name for the last FIVE HOURS? Oh dear, who’s going to round the errors on those physics readings I took? Who will mess up the French grammar in my place? Complete, debug and turn in my coding assignment??*

AAAAA, SO MUCH WOORKKKKK!!!!

(hits ‘aa’ on the keyboard at random out of frustration)

Some random wifi checker: *name is valid*

Wait… did — after five HOURS, did you just—

Oh well.

I guess its a miracle any of us are named. We struggle, we name, and then some. Whose idea was a band name?

*Yes, you code first, feel hella proud of yourself, and then run into 17 bugs per line. 

And now, seeing how I plugged right back in and have spent the last half hour most definitely not doing any of my work, I’m going to make a quiet exit.

Better get going before the imps of either the Internet or Time find me strolling in the digital park!

Random Free Verse Rant

Assignments can be a little woozy sometimes
Especially at 4 in the morning
I get that
I also get sleepy
And I care, you know?
I’ll see us through
For sure,
I need to see me through too
And I have a strong back
And a stronger stomach
I’ll carry you
Sure I will
But not if you press down on me
And pretend you’re a hundred and four fucking kilos
And if you’ve a lot on your mind
Mine has blanked from exhaustion
And if I say, sure, I’ll take the heavier load
It means you take a load too, good sir
We learned in class
Of divide and conquer
That doesn’t work if the only dividing is between us
It’s slower if I need to look behind us
And go back to pick up the pieces of a mess
And when I say you get shit done
You get shit done, okay?
Because it might be my assignment too
And incomplete outputs might fail a test case or two
But I wonder what it’s gonna be like
When assertEqual returns an error:
“Expected return: True
Got “This method ain’t implemented cuz my partner didn’t do shit”.

This isn’t me, and I’m super thankful, but one of my friends is seeing a slightly less specific variant of this. It amazes me, and while I’m no one to judge how you’ve planned out your semester, why on earth would someone do that? It’s horrible. It’s disgusting. I try to imagine how many hours of my life I could’ve saved had I not spent all my weekend in a study space working on a problem set. How many more nights I am just not going to be able to sleep because we have an assignment due next week, and it’s big. It just irks me. It irks me a bit that I’m working. There’s no getting around it for me, sure thing. I’m not planning to. I’d feel awful if I did, and if I’m being honest, as hard as they might be, there isn’t too much to resent them for but time and the stress. I learn a lot from them. But someone absolutely shirking off their share of the work and still getting a grade, then flying high and coming down crashing after the final and then bitterly shitting on our school, that just disgusts the fuck out of me, it’s horrible.

And rant almost over.

As for my own case, I sometimes feel like my own assignment partners are more moral support than actual working partners. Some days, it just feels like I’m doing a proof or writing an algorithm or something, and they’re nodding along going, “yes, that makes total sense!” Sure it does, buddy, but can you also write the next proof so we’re done quicker? I really, really, want nothing more than an unbroken, undisturbed 11 hours of sleep. Just one night that I can sleep without planning for and booking off the first thirteen hours of the next day. Once.

Okay.

Rant over.

Now for the better stuff! I’m going to see Muse this Thursday! I’ve been waiting for this day since November, and after five years of absolutely adoring the band, I’m finally going to be able to go see them live, and I almost can’t believe it!

No assignment, not even the finals could have kept me away, and nothing will!

I am so pumped!

Spent

The brain 

It does the best it can

But light as it is on its feet

It can’t always make it in a heartbeat 

So it calls up a friend

To take care of the backend

And clean up the mess

Before it begins

And finds a partner in crime

In the spine. 

And sometimes I wish

Good a partner as it may be,

The spine shared more of the brain’s workload

Because mine’s spent

Before I can afford it to

And I need a little more juice to push on

Come on, brain, come on

Me, I’m spent 

Somehow got to make it to the end

Might just stubbornly pull through

But man, I wish I could do that with you. 

Gurgling

Gurgle, gurgle; bubble, bubble.

It’s an odd way to be spending my last few uncertain moments before the proverbial gong is struck.

I’m sitting in a mental space that may well be leagues away from the physical space I’m in: a drab, grey old building that’s known as the place where hopes and dreams go to die.

Right, it may be a bit of an overstatement, but it is what it is. I didn’t give it that reputation.

I’m in our uni’s exam centre here for a math midterm. My last midterm of this year. No more midterms after this, nor any reasons to put off my problem set or studying for the finals.

Which just adds to the reasons why I don’t want this hour to end.

I’ve gotten here a whopping hour early, when I’ve been known to challenge uni-wide records of running to the exam centre in a record five minutes– from home.

It is a bit of a sight seeing me run past buildings with an eye on my watch, expertly dodging unsuspecting university goers who don’t happen to also have a midterm in the same hour.

So in a fashion almost dismissive of my lengthy past records, I’m here early, after having spent a while at the bookstore gazing at how far human civilisation has come:

Bendable scales. Never fear a scale snap in half again! Draw your sine graphs in a jiffy! What a phenomenon.
No, I didn’t say sine graphs, you’re dyslexic. I’m not that much of a nerd.

I gaped and gaped and settled on a regular scale. Bourgeois, welcome me home.

And now I’m probably gonna run back to the bookstore tomorrow and buy me that fancy ruler. I’m a sucker for stationery, as you know.

[An edit added a few hours later: I didn’t even use my ruler. What a shame, there must have been a sine graph on that test just waiting to be drawn. What a shame. I spent my entire test flying high on proofs.]

But as of right now, I’m here, and in a good space. Sample this.

I’m sitting next to something of a waterfall. The sound is pretty calming, and I’m feeling weirdly good about this test. That doesn’t normally happen, and that’s either a good sign or a scary one.

But it looks good, and I feel ready. Kind of. Maybe. Here goes!

Mmmmm. Green. Perfect environment for an epsilon-delta proof.

And so I head in. A good picture deserved a good post, and hopefully a good post deserves a good proof.

QED!

[Post midterm edit: It wasn’t bad! Hooray for bubbles and good proofs!]

Chewing On Nothing In Particular

Have you ever entered a library with the intention of staying and studying all day, determined to last as long as the summer sun (which lasts a while once the DST cycles kick in again, which is also a royal pain when you happen to be up and studying at 1:50 AM, comfortable, only to find that ten minutes later, it’s 3 AM), garner sole attention from the librarian when she comes around at 9 PM to specifically kick you out since they need to close, and then trudge home with the feeling that you’ve done something simply because you weren’t at the table beside your bed, in your nightdress all day?

Oh come on, come finals season, you will see someone in their nightdress down here. It’ll probably be me, for all you know. 

Well, if you do plan this like I do, you probably bring everything you can think of with you and try to find the sunniest, most comfortable spot. You’re gonna be here a while. 

And then you notice, there’s someone sitting next to you 

Or at least, there should have been. But they’ve probably gone to the restroom, and/or asked their neighbour to please watch their stuff for them. 

Do you sit there and wonder who’s sitting next to you?

Do you sit by, and ignore your proofs to play Sherlock on someone else’s major? Wonder what they’re learning, what they find hard, what assignments they’re working, grinding on today? 

I probably shouldn’t. 

I plan on being here a while, and I’ve a midterm tomorrow. I should be curious about my proofs. 

What goes into a Big Oh proof? Can I play Sherlock and sniff out the shape of a graph? What might I deduce from this squiggly line on a paper that my cat would produce as art?

(That’s the point. I don’t have a cat. No cat in their right mind would draw a graph that’s Theta of n squared. Not even accidentally.)

But I should. I should go do it. 

The library’s probably thankful that it’s midterm season and not yet finals. 

They’ve seen me till 12:30 before, and they sure would see me again once the library’s finals-only 24 hour runs begin. 


Where I sit in the library, albeit a strange angle, I admit.

Mud and Ashes

Splish, splash,
Slush, and slashes;
Mud, and ashes
Spiralling crashes

Look down
Stop, turn around
Moment to see
Do you look for me

Am I really
In such a hurry
Minute or three
Just a minute or three

How many
Pair of boots
Are stomping in the snow
I, and me, I alone

Splish, splash
Slush and slash;
Mud and ashes
Is that where the catch is

Carry on
Go on alone
Steal the show
And then take a bow

Just a minute I say,
Can’t you stay
Just a minute or three
Just a minute

How many
Pairs of boots
Splashing in the rain
I alone sustain, do I

Splish, splash
Slush and slashes
Mud, honey and ashes
Now I’m stuck to where the catch is

Stole the show
And went it alone
And you’ll never know
Minutes that I owe. 

To the kid at Bahen Centre who decided they couldn’t do this anymore, I’m sorry we didn’t reach out to you. I’m sorry we thought it would be awkward to ask you quickly if you’re doing alright, if you need help, someone to talk to, someone to rant with, whatever. We’re a part of the problem. 

I don’t know who you are, or if I may ever have seen you around or talked to you, but even if we never shared classes, I’m still sorry. This could have ended differently, and we were part of the problem. 

I’m sorry for thinking it was a battle won when I knew what was going on in class, when there may have been people around me struggling without my ever noticing. 

I’m sorry if there were three minutes I could have given you that I didn’t. 

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