On Teaching


Teaching is harder than it looks…. well, harder than it looks to me, at least. I’ve been tutoring the kids of a friend of the family (with math for grades 3, 5 and 9, mostly) for a couple of months now, and they’re going back to school next week. When I started, my assumption was that it was just a matter of showing them how to solve problems and talking them through the questions when they were having a hard time. But now that I’ve been doing it a while, I’m totally humbled and I have a newfound respect for teachers (good teachers).

For the most part, trying to decide how to show the kid how to do something is harder than it seems. Then, I have to figure out why the kid doesn’t understand, which is mad hard because you can’t count on them to communicate these things on their own. Even knowing when to shut up and let them figure out and when to help them is tricky. And you can forget about knowing how to motivate them, or how to get them to try when they just don’t think they can do it.

Oddly, I also tutored kids in grade 9 and 10 with the Pathways to Education program this past winter, but it wasn’t as difficult. I think it was because I was just there to help them with their homework when they needed it, and the teachers were doing the actual teaching during the day at school.

In any case, I really liked working with them (plus I enjoy doing math). It’s so rewarding when they understand something. (And not very rewarding when everything you’ve taught them seems to just fall out of their heads.) One of the little girls gave me one of the “good job!” stickers in her activity book and said I deserved it! I bet you don’t get stickers in your job.

Comic-Con: Day 1/2

Culture, Entertainment, Travel

This has already been one long-ass day, and I haven’t even made it to the convention centre to grab my con badge yet. But as I wait for the hostel phone to be free so I can call my dear mother, I figured I may as well recount my adventure thus far. (These will be a combinaton of Toronto and local times. Frankly, it’s all a blur and probably inaccurate.)

4:45am: Took a cab to airport. Had a frustrating conversation with driver about the purposes of flat rates.
5am: Told airport personnel that ‘Dallas was not my final destination.’ Immediately thought saying ‘final destination’ in an airport is like saying ‘Macbeth’ in a theatre. Have stopped saying it since then, just incase.
5:45am: Was man-handled by security for ‘random search.’
6am: Spent $9 on drinks and snacks.
6:45am: Left Toronto for Dallas.
9:45am: Arrived in Dallas. Immediately accosted by ‘Everything’s bigger in Texas’ and similar paraphenalia.
10:00am: Was offered a $300 voucher with American Airlines to take a later flight since they overbooked. Took the offer with pleasure.
10:15am: Toilet flushes four times while I’m on it.
11:30am: While waiting for new, later flight to San Diego, surveyed boarding area for other people going to Comic-Con. Guy with Joker tattoo? Check. Guy with poster tube and Watchmen t-shirt? Check. Guy with thickest glasses I’ve ever seen, looking somewhat unkempt and a little detached from reality? Double-check. Of course, there were probably others in ‘civilian’ clothes, like me.
12pm: While boarding plane, lady scans my boarding pass and looks confused. Asks me if I’ve already gone on the plane. I say ‘no.’ She says, ‘That’s weird. It says you’ve already boarded. Oh well, on you go.’
12:05pm: Confusion reigns as another woman and I realize we have the same seating assignment. I win when flight attendant discovers they accidentally printed my boarding pass a second time and gave it to another lady. Lady is offered a first-class seat on a later flight.
12:25pm-1:55pm: Stalled at gate while ‘engline problems’ are fixed on the plane (!), followed by seemingly aimless taxiing around until take-off, about 1.5 hours late.
2:30pm: Arrived in San Diego!
2:45pm: Claimed baggage, was flooded with relief it didn’t get stolen since it arrived on the earlier flight that I gave up my seat on.
3:00pm: Enjoy a tour of San Diego as I take the shuttle bus to my hostel. I get an eyeful of the convention centre as we drive by. Am excited. I also become smitten with San Diego, which is gorgeous and very well planned out.
3:30pm: Arrive at hostel after being delayed in crazy convention traffic. Check-in with lovely Australian lady and collapse on bottom bunk. Have not seen roommates yet.
4:30pm: Use free Internet to update you all on my journey thus far.

‘Til next time!



Are you aware of the difference between nerds and geeks? Nerds are members of chess clubs and have test tubes in their rooms. They are characterized by their general studiousness and intellectual (usually science and math) prowess. Geeks, on the other hand, play D&D and watch X-Files… and go to comic book conventions.

They are often mistaken for each other because they are both usually anti-social (outside their own cliques) and are prone to general social awkwardness. And, of course, someone can be both. I know this, because Tyler knows this. They also quote movies at random. To be fair, these are exaggerated stereotypes. These days, everyone has a little geek in them and even nerds can be cool.

To learn more, you can read an article on this exact subject that we ran in Excalibur a few years ago (please note that I made the graphic). I even wrote an article on the essence of fandom that ran beside it. 

Ah, fandom. It’s one of my favourite topics. When you get so obsessed with a T.V. show that you watch the entire first season in a single night. Or when you spend hours reading message boards (those old things?) and blogs to find out about that movie or book or next episode. It’s even when you’re at the movies and after watching the final post-credit clip of Iron Man, someone in the theatre yells “to the blogs!” That was Buffy for me. And Veronica Mars. And Harry Potter. And many, many others. 

It also means going to conventions sometimes. I’ve been to FanExpo in Toronto a few times, mostly in high school. It was a thrill to walk alongside other geeks and see so many people indulging in their fandoms. It’s like Halloween but mostly for adults and you can meet people you watch on T.V.! 

Sadly, it started to lose its thrill as time went on. I think it started when I met Mercedes McNab, who was late to her booth and less than enthused about signing an autograph. Honestly, meeting those people isn’t always particularly exciting. That, and the fact that some of my infatuations eventually wore off. I just really don’t need a limited edition Buffy statue at this point in my life. 

But before these geek pride parades completely lose their luster, I’m going to the Mecca of all fan conventions: Comic-Con. I’ve wanted to go for years, starting back when I really wanted to meet Joss Whedon and he would only ever attend Comic-Con. I almost went last year, but I ended up interning in Hawaii, which was okay I guess… So about two months after last year’s convention, I registered for Comic-Con 2009. I booked a hostel. I bought my plane tickets. And then… I waited. Now, it’s only a week and a half away! *high five*

I blog about it now because the schedule went live this weekend. I can’t begin to express how exciting it was. Kind of like finding money in pants you never wear while also discovering they’ve brought back your favourite flavour of ice cream… and it’s on sale! 

I was surprised to see how many panels were for T.V. shows; I was expecting a lot more on the movie side. What happened to Prince of Persia? And The Last Airbender? (See more here.) But, I must say, it’s a very exciting time for television. I’ve been trying to learn myself in some key shows before the convention. Dollhouse? Check. The Guild? Check. Dexter? Next on my list. I don’t want to miss a panel or, worse, go and not understand what’s going on because I’m not caught up.

I was also surprised by how many panels were for wannabe comic artists. I know it’s a comic book convention (or started out as just a comic book convention), but my past experiences have all been with FanExpo, which was much heavier on the “popular arts” side of things. I was also interested to see that they don’t really make any distinctions in genre the way FanExpo does (horror, sci-fi, anime etc.).  

Some highlights I’m looking forward to are the panel (and 3D clip) for James Cameron’s Avatar, seeing Tim Burton at the Disney 3D panel for Alice in Wonderland, the panel for Dollhouse with Joss Whedon, of course, (although it isn’t the best content he’s ever produced, it’s okay and I expect it to get better), the panel for True Blood, the one for Caprica and BSG, and some of the night-time programming, like the screening of the musical episode of Buffy, and, of course, the masquerade, which sounds very entertaining. 

Unfortunately, much of what I want to see is very mainstream and bound to involve very, very long lines. Well, I had no misconceptions about that. It will give me plenty of time to ‘people watch,’ which, if you’ve ever been to one of these things, is one of the best parts. It should be a very exciting experience overall. That being said, I will have to do my best to avoid the Twilighters who are bound to congregate. I’m also going to have to miss things because of conflicting scheduling. The worst of it is that I can’t go to the panel for the sequel to Boondock Saints. *sigh* Such is life, I suppose. Oh, and as much as I want to see Kristen Bell, it looks like she’s only going to be at the panel for Astro Boy and I’m not going to that.

Well, ups and downs aside, I’m psyched. In preparation, I’ve been reading as much as I can from bloggers, mainly, as well as Twitterers and some news sources. Right now, it’s mainly announcements on who’s attending and lots of guides and tips from regular attendees. One of the more interesting tips I came across was this: Don’t go Tijuana while you’re there (which is just a trolley ride away). Lots of people suggested I see a little of San Diego, visit the beach, go to the zoo during the con, but, unfortunately, people scare easy when it comes to Mexican border towns. One even commented, “Your desire to see Santo or Mistico (Mexican wrestlers) may be great, but it’s not worth getting killed or kidnapped.” While I understand the need for caution, I honestly don’t see the harm in taking a day trip. Let’s not ostracize Tijuana any more than it has, please.

Wow, I’ve written almost 1,000 words on Comic-Con already. But, wait, there’s more! Be prepared for blog posts during the convention, which is July 22-26, unless I’m too tired to post. Which I probably will be… from all the fun ‘n all.

Activism and You!

Culture, Politics and Current Events

I recently checked out the rally against George W. Bush (and a little against Bill Clinton), who were speaking at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Friday. What looked like a couple of hundred protestors (many of whom were onlookers, it seemed) gathered outside the centre to throw shoes at a giant Bush poster, sing protest songs and demand that Bush be tried as a war criminal. (They were also tough on Clinton for allowing US sanctions that caused the deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi children.) You can learn more through the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War


Zalina Alvi, 29.05.09

Zalina Alvi, 29.05.09

I went because of my growing interest in activism. I’m particularly interested in the fine line between being perceived as an idealistic hippie and a rational, yet concerned, human being. From my perspective, I think it’s unfortunate that people who genuinely care about the welfare of other people, even if they live in other countries, or about the longevity of the environment, for examples, are typecast. I know I’ve told my fair share of hippie jokes. It’s one thing to disagree with the politics of protesters, but I feel as though most people just don’t care or they see activists – people who ACT – as extremists. I think back to people who are revered today, like Mahatma Gandhi, and I wonder how different his ideals and tactics were from the people who organized this rally.  

Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist and two-time Pulitzer prize winner, is a great example of someone who actively campaigns for change in a successful and “non-hippie” way. He is definitely a member of the system, but he works really hard to campaign for rights and freedom for all people, particularly women and developing nations. This is the kind of activism I want to strive for, not because I’m afraid if I tie myself to a tree that I’ll be embarrassed, but because I think its counter-productive to campaign in a way that puts off the average person, and as a result, hurts your cause.

But at the same time, that brings up the Sri Lankan protests in Toronto this last little while. I think it’s unfortunate that a lot of people were more concerned with traffic woes and inconveniences, than with the issue at hand. But if you’re going to try to enact change through protest, there’s no such thing as a protest that doesn’t inconvenience people and that’s also effective. You can’t always work from inside the system.  These are our choices and I think the pros of that kind of action definitely outweigh the cons. But maybe that’s my youthful idealism. 

So I guess we need both, the protestors and the Nicholas Kristofs.

Kristof actually recently wrote on his Facebook fan page about youth activism today: “Just spoke to Lawrenceville School about the world and how to make a difference. I’m struck that while there has always been student activism, it was mostly protest in my day, while these days it often includes an element of starting an organization to do something positive as well. It’s the social entrepreneurship revolution, and I’m in awe of it.”

I think the reason why young people are more inclined to the social entrepreneurship side of activism, is because there’s this growing belief in our culture that in order to change the system, you have to be a part of it. Less than 10 years ago, the campus paper at York University, Excalibur, fought to keep the Toronto Star off campus, and, according to the woman who organizes a yearly Star workshop for student press, they wore ripped jeans and had an air of defiance when negotiating with the big city newspaper; today, newspaper staff put on suits and ties as they hobnob for business cards and contacts. But that doesn’t mean student press doesn’t care about the same ideals than those of yesteryear; it’s just a different approach.

Meanwhile, I recently saw a documentary called “Rachel” at Hot Docs, about a young American woman named Rachel Corrie who joined the International Solidarity Movement, and was subsequently killed while trying to stop an Israeli bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003.

My initial reaction was to be impressed with Rachel’s commitment to a cause she believed in, politics aside. I thought it took courage, and yes, some reckless idealism, to go there and stand on the front lines the way she did. Some others I spoke with, though, thought she was youngandnaive (yes, as one word). Is it a tough distinction? Perhaps. Maybe you need to be a little reckless to believe in change at all. If that’s the case, I don’t mind being a little like Rachel Corrie. I think, ideally, we would all be idealists.