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Guy writes article, what he did next will amaze you. . .

So how much did you hate that title just now? That, my friend, is what they call click-bait, pure and simple. As unwitting participants and harbingers of the modern world, we have created an endemic distraction environment that is both disappointing and infuriating. When scrolling through Facebook, even I disappoint myself by way of where my cursor wanders. The sad truth is that click-bait works, no matter how aware of it we become. How much do you honestly care about the “What happens next…” of 99.999% of articles out there? After clicking on one of those links to an ad-ridden article have you ever later reflected that the experience bettered you in any way? I doubt anyone has, or at least a very small (trending to zero) percentage of the time.

Why does click-bait work so well? I’ll leave out most of the talk about dopamine release, but what it really comes down to is that humans like to gamble. We get pleasure from rewards, like an interesting video or article, and when you only get that reward an unpredictable fraction of the time your brain goes bat-shit-crazy for more of that stimulus; standard addiction phenomenon. The next time you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through your newsfeed clicking at every “Oo shiny!” moment, just remember that the only thing separating you from that old lady playing 24-hour slots at the local bar is that you don’t stand to make any money.

Now let’s go on a bit of a tangent so that I may indulge my own theories.  What are the things we click on most? That’s easy, cute animals and lists! But why? Things like this are hard to measure so let us do what all megalomaniacs do; take personal speculation for truth. Humans love both babies and cute animals by natural evolutionary instinct. This was likely a driving force for our ancestors when domesticating animals. This trait was quickly selected for and made ubiquitous in the surviving populations due to the massive advantages of domestic animals in early human life. Liking cute animals is no fault of our own, it’s just genetics so don’t feel bad about clicking on cute hedgehog pictures. The other titan of internet drivel is lists! We are innately lazy creatures so the concept of a list is an excellent shortcut to avoid exerting too much mental effort. Much less reading is required and, more importantly, much less cognitive processing because we need not do any meaningful analysis of content. All the information presented to us is already placed in order of importance or relevance by some arbitrary source and grading scheme.

As a whole, distraction is hardly our fault. If you need a scapegoat then biology is always right there, waiting to take the fall. It’s constantly inappropriately distributing awards and predisposing us towards interests that mass media companies can take advantage of in order to bolster their ad revenues.

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Cultivating Mindfulness & Emotional Awareness

Mindfulness. (Credit: http://www.kazoobooks.com/mindfulness-drop-in-class/)

Mindfulness

There is always so much to worry about in graduate school: from academic performance, finances, staying healthy and in a nutshell, trying to achieve a balanced lifestyle. For the past year, I decided to go on a path for finding (and keeping) balance. This included getting to know exercise; attending yoga and meditation classes; committing to healthier eating choices; and above all, emotional healing. I ended up enrolling in a 4-week workshop offered by McGill’s Counseling Services (MCS) on cultivating emotional awareness (currently being offered as “Skills for Emotional Regulation” starting November 2nd.) Throughout the workshop, Philip Lemieux, a psychologist at the MCS, emphasized that the most important message to take home from this workshop is “the planting of the mindfulness practice seed”.

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Tightrope walking

1

I don’t know if other students feel like this at any point in their PhD journey. For me, this sensation has come during the “home stretch”. In other words – at the worst possible time.

It is not uncommon for graduate students to feel down or discouraged at some points of their degree. Everyone knows the PhD road is long and replete with intellectual challenges, time-stealing setbacks, daunting skills to learn in very little time, and experiences that propel us far outside of our comfort zone. It is not uncommon for PhD students to feel fatigued, overwhelmed or disheartened. Waves of negative emotions may come and go, amplified by the constant pressure of deadlines and high standards. It is the small victories in between that make the waves recede and that keep us going, suddenly reminding us of why we love what we do and why we wish to keep doing it.

But that common feeling is not exactly what I am alluding to. This is something a little more difficult to put into words – a feeling of fragility and transience, uncertainty and instability, not only towards one’s work but also one’s own self. Let me try to explain.

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Tropical Tribulations, Final Episode: Small Fieldwork, Grand Finale.

*** I just wrote a lengthy, thought-out post, then accidentally clicked on a link, and when I came back I had lost it all. I have no energy to write it again. Thanks, WordPress, for saying you have an auto-save function that doesn’t actually work. Aaaaaaarg. At least it’s not my thesis. Hm. Below is the part I didn’t loose. Co-Bloggers: please hit “save draft” more often than I did in the past two hours…***

24082014732When I arrived in Brazil, one big question lay over the country: would it be enough for the “Hexa”? The sixth title? Here, at home, with the world watching?

It was not to be. The World Cup – which some considered a flawed enterprise anyway – came and went, at lightning speed, as did the Summer. At the end, as I left the country, footballs still flew high in Brazil – as the picture shows – but new hopes had come to decorate the streets. On the school wall, the talk is of “luz”, “esperanca”, “respeito” and “abracos” (light, hope, respect, and hugs); and although the “Hexa” is still visible, somebody has since sprayed a new dream over the old one: “amor por favor” (love please).

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Super commuter: Grad student edition

I recently learned that there is a name for the thing I do nearly every week: super-commuting. Most Friday afternoons, I catch the bus in downtown Montréal and go home to Trois-Rivières for the weekend to see my cats, my home, and my boyfriend. Admittedly, the distance is only about 150km, so I don’t know if it counts officially as a super-commute, but it feels like one to me. It is certainly better than my previous super-commute, which was between Panama and Trois-Rivières, was closer to 7,600km, and only happened every 4-6 months.

 

Everyone’s favourite Friday afternoon.

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Tropical Tribulations, Episode 3: Time on Fieldwork Flies – but Brazil Flies Higher. [français]

Les choses pourraient être pires au Brésil...

Les choses pourraient être pires au Brésil…

Les dernières semaines n’ont, au niveau planétaire, pas exactement été joyeuses. Entre Gaza, la Syrie, l’Irak, le Soudan du Sud, et l’Ebola, on s’en retrouve à ne pas vouloir allumer les nouvelles. Mais, caché derrière les flash-infos sur avions perdus et terres débattues, il y aussi du bon! Des développements, souvent invisibles de par leur lenteur, mais qui redonnent un peu d’espoir dans un monde dont on entend si souvent qu’il se désintègre. Pour les déprimé(e)s des nouvelles, et autres curieux, donc: un regard vers le Brésil.

Le Brésil – qu’est-il donc? Le pays du football, de la joie, de la fête? De la samba, du manioc, et de l’Amazone? Ou des favelas, de la corruption, et de l’inégalité? Les journaux pendant la Coupe du Monde avaient du mal à se décider, célébrant un moment les stéréotypes festifs de ce pays “accueillant”, “vivant”, et “dynamique”, avant de rappeler au lecteur que “tout n’est pas rose au Brésil” (ah bon?) et qu’il y a “une face cachée”, et même de la violence, de la misère, voyons-même, de l’injustice!

Le Brésil est, sans doute, un peu de tout ça, et bien plus. Mais au-delà des apparences, soient-elles négatives ou positives, ma recherche ici m’a porté à assister à l’émergence d’un nouveau Brésil, dont le changement, aidé par le haut, s’opère par le bas. Vamos lá!

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To tweet or not to tweet: why use social media?

I’ve recently been bitten by the twitter bug.

 

A little birdie told me.

I’ve had an account for years (Twitter says since 2011), but I’ve only started using the social media platform in the last couple of months. A recent conference here in Montreal had a big social media push, and several of my friends and colleagues are tweeters, so I tried my hand at it. I have since been posting fairly regularly. Not only have I learned that live tweeting is a lot harder than it looks, but I’ve also learned that twitter is a pretty awesome tool. Here are some of the things I think are the most useful about it:

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Tropical Tribulations, Episode 2: Half-Time. Fieldwork, fast and slow.

one-does-not-bbraomAccording to rumours, something of importance came to end around a week ago in Brazil. Apparently. People still talk about it in the streets. It must have been a big deal. And indeed it was: after six weeks in Recife, the first half of my time in Brazil has come and gone! (Also: the World Cup). Six weeks full of encounters, experiences and events, which yielded a pitiful two interviews so far, and the half-time conclusion that fieldwork is fun! – and slow. And, also, that things rarely go according to plan, which, as it turns out, is usually all for the better. Tales, then, of winding paths – and of another kind of couchsurfing.

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Tropical Tribulations, Episode 1: “First Steps”. Qui a dit que le Brésil était chaud, cher, et carnivore?

Recife! (État du Pernambuco, Nord-Est du Brésil)

Recife!
(Pernambuco, Brésil)

Comment ne pas commencer un voyage: arriver à l’aéroport avec exactement 4 dollars canadiens dans les poches, pour se rendre compte que les cartes bancaires ne marchent pas au distributeur. Peut-on payer par carte de crédit au bureau de change? Non plus. De toute façon, celles-ci ne marcheraient peut-être même pas, faute d’avoir prévenu la banque du voyage… et je ne sais pas exactement où je dors ce soir. Excellent début.

Les premiers moments en nouveau territoire présentent toujours leur difficultés, qu’une bonne organisation ne peut pas toujours prévenir (sauf – voir ci-dessus). Comment fonctionnent les bus, les banques, la vie? Où vivre, avec qui, à quel prix? Quand jouer le touriste, en prenant son temps pour découvrir les lieux, quand jouer le troubadour, en prenant sa bière pour découvrir les gens, et quand se retirer pour travailler, afin de démarrer la recherche sur les chapeaux de roues? Tant de choix, d’opportunités, et de dilemmes dans ces premiers jours – jours au cours desquels, jonglant entre rêves et réalités, trêves et activités, et fèves [le feijão!] et festivités, j’ai découvert que le Brésil n’était ni si cher, ni si chaud, ni encore si carnivore qu’on ne le raconte. Récit d’un début de voyage.

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Tropical Tribulations, “Pilot Episode”: Airport Ponderings

indexBack in January, I wrote one of my first posts for this blog – titled “Un novo ano, um novo desafio” [a new year, a new challenge] – about how I wanted to start learning Portuguese. Why? Because I was then planning to conduct fieldwork in Brazil, in the Summer of 2014.

Things since then have come a long way. And so have I, since I appear to be sitting in departure Terminal D of Miami Airport, whose walls are plastered with the above banner. For it has come to be! After a Fall semester spent poking in the dark (topic-wise), and a Winter semester full of Portuguese audio-CDs, vocabulary lists (thanks, Anki!), proposal writing, ethics reviews, funding applications, and other shenanigans, I am indeed going to Recife, capital of the Northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco, for three months of fieldwork, on a topic I won’t bore readers with (just yet).

That my fieldwork coincides with the World Cup is, obviiiouslyyyy, sheer coincidence. Bit like a Black Swan. But still: for all those who were worried that this blog would not contain live-reports from “Copa” games, worry no more. I will try to regularly post updates “from the field(work)”, about travel, research, and futebol. But first, boarding calls. Next step, this:

images

ps: for those remaining in (beautiful) Montréal, PGSS will be screening many Copa games at Thompson House.

Go Habs… Go!!! An evening (and not just any) at the Bell Centre.

Tuesday. May 28th. 14:12 minutes into the 2nd period, 21,273 go silent. It is the fifth game in the NHL Eastern Conference Final, and the Montréal Canadiens are up against the New York Rangers. In this 14th minute of the second period of the fifth game, the Rangers have tied the game (again), back from trailing 4-1. The Bell Centre is less than amused. And for a moment, the fear – that fear – is back. The fear that the Habs will not, after all, make it tonight. If the Rangers win, the Habs go home – or rather stay home.

"So how do they etch the symbols into the ice?" ...

“So how do they etch the symbols into the ice?” …

 But they didn’t.

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Running Thoughts

A per-kilometer check-in on running the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon for the second time, on May 25, 2014.

Starting Line-      Apparently, there’s a man here running his 728th marathon. He is 88. Amazing.

Kilometer 1-      Yay, crowds of runners! (5min06 sec)

2-      I can’t believe these people woke up to cheer us on. It’s 7AM. Go back to bed. (9:52)

3-      The Rideau Canal is beautifully misty. (14:41)

4-      So I just gotta do this like 10 more times…

5-      Poster reads: “Pain is just a sign of de-feet.” Puns. (23:56)

6-      You know what? I’m not feeling too bad. Surprising given how much sitting I’ve been doing. (28:37)

7-      The sound of so many feet running is spectacular. And a bit frightening. (33:19)

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Writes of Passage

"Poetry Reading"  from www.analogartistdigitalworld.com

Café Mariposa is a tiny place located in Notre-Dame-De-Grace. It’s not very conspicuous and from the inside looks like a cozy room crowded with colorful objects. Paintings of a nude woman, with an overtly protruding bosom line the walls of the place. Inside, several tables are assembled together to increase the surface area of interaction for the guests of the Quebec Writer’s Federation Schmoozer. The focus of the event is to celebrate “Montreal Writes” – a writers’ group formed during a workshop by the QWF ten years ago.

I walk into a loud scene of people chatting animatedly, half-full glasses of drink and there is a foot-by-foot area by the door where a piano stands next to a microphone. A guitar is hung on the wall behind the mic, presumably for people who wish to do improv on open-mic nights (I had previously read that this place is notorious for open-mic nights for musicians). As I take a seat far removed from the crowds on a bench, I wait for someone to approach me and ask if I had come for the event but everyone seems so engaged in conversation. Where were the organizers? It suddenly dawns on me that, for the first time in my life, I am at a social event where I literally know nobody. I pull out my cell-phone and pretend to do something important. Occasionally, I glance up to see if anyone had noticed me.

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AÉCSUM, Politique Étudiante et Conseil Généraux – Mémoires d’un Représentant

La démocratie en mouvement... assise.

La démocratie en mouvement… assise.
(photo: McGill Daily)

Un autre mois qui passe à McGill, un autre conseil général de l’AÉCSUM. L’AÉCSUM (mieux connue sou son nom anglais, PGSS) est l’Association Étudiante des Cycles Supérieurs de l’Université McGill. Je reviens tout juste de son conseil général, qui regroupe les représentants de toutes les Associations des Étudiants Gradués (AEGs) des diverses discipline, et qui – en tant que plus haute instance de l’organisation – est chargé de toutes les décisions importantes (et de celles qui ne le sont pas, aussi…). Après deux années passées en tant que représentant de mon AEG (Sciences Politiques), ce soir aura été mon dernier conseil. Ci-joint, donc, quelques réflexions vis-à-vis de la politique étudiante à McGill, de l’AÉCSUM, et de mon temps passé en contact avec ces éléments.

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“Don’t let your degree get in the way of your education” …

The MOC House!

The MOC House!

Hidden McGill gems, part 2: after cooking with the Midnight Kitchen a few weeks ago and reporting about it on this blog, I want to bring up another great group on campus: the McGill Outdoors Club (MOC). As its name suggests, the Outdoors Club is an all-purpose sports/travel/adventure club which serves as a hub for outdoor activities of all kinds. What’s not to love?

And yet, having known of the MOC for two years, I had, until recently, never done anything with it. Not, mind you, for lack of opportunities: their mailing list, which I’ve been on since I’m at McGill, witnesses emails every day from people proposing trips and offering shared rides for anything from skiing at Mont Tremblant to trekking in up-state New York (or just building snowmen on McGill’s lower fields). I was even an MOC member last year, but no – no trip, no outdoors, no adventure; it was always for “next time”, when I would have fewer things on. But not this time! After one and a half years at McGill, it was time to stop “letting my degree getting into the way of my education” – the MOC’s motto, incidentally. And – *spoiler* – it was fantastic.

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Be kind to yourself

kind to yourself

In our fast-paced reality of to-do lists, meetings, places to be, people to see, deadlines to meet, friends and family to be there for, and hobbies to stay true to, our hectic lives involve figuring out that fragile balance between work and play, ourselves and others. The most delicate part of this game is managing to stay healthy while being so busy – managing to stand steadily on the ball while we juggle all the pins and the balls and the fiery hoops.

It’s a serious worry many of us have, especially in an endlessly long season of arctic temperatures, snow, ice, flus, viruses and whatever else may be going around. None of us can afford feeling ill, falling behind, feeling weak. We all have way too much to do. But, funnily enough, it is always the case that the exact point in time where we can least afford to fall ill is precisely when it happens. This is no coincidence, though. Your body knows when you are over-worked, over-stretched, over-stressed and over-tired. Bodies know when they are being abused. Bodies aren’t stupid.

Sometimes, whatever you catch absolutely floors you and you have no choice but to stay in and recover. Other times, the feeling of illness is much more gradual, more subtle, more complex, and easier to ignore. You notice you haven’t quite felt like yourself the past few days. Then those days stretch into a week, the week spills into the next week, and suddenly you don’t know where the month has gone, but you feel like you’ve lost your groove. Whatever the ailment – be it physical or psychological, or a bit of both – the drill is the same: we need to put ourselves first. It is funny, actually, how we put just about everyone and everything ahead of ourselves sometimes, until something happens to make us realize that this may in fact be the wrong strategy.

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A silent witness

[Disclaimer: Aspects of this post may cause emotional discomfort]

Monday began like an ordinary day. My alarm clock forced me to greet the morning at five-thirty. I responded to e-mails and penciled a to-do list over three cups of coffee. I squeezed myself onto the ridiculously crammed metro, caught the bus, and unlocked the door to my lab about thirty minutes later. It was an ordinary day of collecting and analyzing neuroscientific data, of meeting my supervisor, and of writing bits of my dissertation. I was busy, focused and pretty reserved all day long. The afternoon was also quite ordinary; I waited for rush-hour to subside a little and left work around six-thirty, in order to have a less stressful time with overcrowded transportation. I recognized the bus driver, got a seat towards the back like I usually do, and was at Sherbrooke metro in fifteen minutes – just like any ordinary day.

When I pushed the heavy door to enter the metro station, I noticed two police-offers were shooing a man toward the exit. “Outside!” one officer yelled in English (which, I remember, surprised me more than the fact that an itinerant was being asked not to loiter). The man began to retaliate, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying, as I was listening to my iPod. “Outside!” the officer yelled again, and added something that sounded like a threat to intervene if the man didn’t comply. I passed the busker who was singing joyously with her guitar, passed the turnstile as my STM pass emitted its routine “beep” to let me through, and walked slowly down the stairs to the platform. As I walked down, I could hear a man shouting something below. A different man than the one they had just ushered out of the station, obviously, but someone who sounded equally distraught. I removed my iPod and continued down the steps. He was loud and sounded upset, like he was venting about something. He did not sound like he was well. Before I even got to the bottom of the stairs, I could tell roughly where he was standing, due to the converging glances of passengers waiting on the track. Everyone was silent – listening, watching, pretending not to listen, pretending not to watch.

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Another day on the slopes! This time in the sun.

Out of all the animals on earth, I’d say humans have come up with the most elaborate and bizarre methods to accomplish the verb “play.” I’d also say skiing and snowboarding are such examples. Fancy equipment on your feet and mechanical chairs galore!

Emilio just shared his skiing adventures. So I also decided to write a report of my day at the slopes yesterday, my first sunny one all year! This post is much less informative, but if you’ve never gone skiing or snowboarding, it might help convince you to try! Minus the part where I talk about the things I lost…

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#SSMUSki

Snowy day atop Bromont

Snowy day atop Bromont

Winter is hard. Cold weather breeds antisocial behavior. The lack of daylight drives down energy levels. And the snow and ice further hamper any activity that requires even a minimal effort. This year, with its record-breaking lows, has been particularly difficult, even in a Winter-friendly city like Montreal.

In an attempt t to stave off the S.A.D.s (ie., seasonal affective disorder), this year I decided to join the SSMU Ski and Snowboard Club.

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