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Summer’s nearly here — let’s look for love!

Let’s talk about sex for the last time this school year

Summer’s nearly here — let’s look for love!

People talk about getting to the various ‘bases’ of sexual interaction as if just anyone could waltz onto the field and pick up a bat. Chuck the ball, go the whole nine yards or so. But not everyone’s a star pitcher or batter — they may not even have tickets to the game. No — some of us need directions to even find the stadium.

If you’re like me, someone whose experience in the field begins and ends on the screen, at best you’ve watched a game or two in your free time. Maybe even watched a few plays before bed — or, let’s be honest, more than a few if you’re feeling festive.

Either way, there’s a solid chance, even from an outsider’s perspective, that despite lacking experience, you do know how the game works, whether you believe it or not.

See, everyone exists as a node in a network that connects each of our intricate relationships with one another. But certain relationships, because of pesky human society, become something beyond just another connection — they become a symbol, an image.

Virginity, marriage, and even the idea of being exclusively committed to another human being exist simultaneously for ourselves and for others. And as if we were chefs looking for seasoning in the pantry, the keen of us might look at this and say, “Ay, there’s the rub.”

That’s the crux of the issue with not getting into relationships: thinking you can’t play the game. Putting up walls, relying only on yourself, overly depending on a partner — they are all symptoms of attachment to a prescribed image.

I would wager that a significant part of feeling apprehensive about relationships is not your fault in the slightest. Because in most cases, a truly good, and dare I say, healthy relationship, romantic or not, begins with believing that you’re worthy of one. Not in fitting some image of what a relationship ‘should’ be.

And I’ve found that the moment you realize this, you start giving yourself opportunities to get in base and give it the ol’ college try. You play the game at your own pace, in your own league.

In the end, who cares what the professionals do?

It only matters what you do.

This new year, resolve yourself to get into a game or two. And if you’re scared, just know, dear reader, that I’m in the same boat, striking out more than I’d like to admit.

So come take a few practice shots with me. Slap on the equipment even if it doesn’t fit perfectly. Probably lose a few here and there, but eh, who’s counting? Play your cards right, and kid, you might just hit it out of the park without ever having touched a damn base.

My secret life as a ghostwriter

Authorship for a bargain

My secret life as a ghostwriter

Every so often Instagram has a new hashtag, a trend that suddenly transforms into an international movement, or maybe it’s the other way around. Who knows?

From influencers, who receive tens of thousands of likes for a picture of breadcrumbs, to those whose followers barely number in the three digits, all post some visual content pertinent to the trend. One of the latest trends is the #10yearchallenge, and it really is quite self-explanatory: post two pictures of yourself in the same frame or post, one taken recently and the other from 10 years ago.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this challenge, but as I go through old albums and scroll through past photos with people who I am barely in touch with anymore, I am seized by a lasting feeling of disenchantment.

Ten years ago, I would have sworn on my mother’s life that I’d never sell my authorship cheap.

Ten years later, I’m a ghostwriter penning personal statements for suckers too rich and vain to get into college by themselves, and I have been selling my writing for a bargain.

It takes precisely 10 years for me to navigate from point A to point Z, and I don’t see a chance in the next 10 years for me to alleviate my predicament. I am as hopeless now as I was hopeful 10 years before, and I’m slowly but steadily coming to terms with my utter disappointment.

Coming to terms with my disappointment is really just me accepting that there has never been a day where I was near point A. So while I may not have climbed many rungs on the ladder to my American dream, a few steps back from X to Z is a lot less of a bummer than the skydive we take as we gear toward 30 and are still just as miserable.

Not many of us can afford the disappointment to begin with. And if we’re being real, I didn’t become a bestseller. True. But I’m still writing. I don’t get to sign my name under the title. Also true. But at least I get paid per word.

So, if you know anyone who still believes in the myth of the college degree, send them my way. I just lit my last joint and turned the grocery money I made off my last client into a puff of smoke.

The grand promise of a new El Mocambo, hopefully

Get in line for some Canadian music this summer at El Mocambo

The grand promise of a new El Mocambo, hopefully

Situated near the corner of Spadina Avenue and College Street lies the once illustrious music venue: the El Mocambo. While the venue has been closed since early 2014 and stuck in various states of endless construction ever since, the El Mo’ is finally slated for a grand reopening this May, just in time for the 2019 Canadian Music Week.

The return of the El Mocambo is especially welcome in a time where Toronto has lost so many key venues. D-Beatstro, The Central and even fellow Spadina Avenue landmark, The Silver Dollar Room, are just some of the spaces the city has lost in recent years to skyrocketing rent prices and condominium development. A new venue opening up downtown is a reason for celebration.

Founded in the late 1940s, the venue had been home to countless world-renowned acts over the decades — from Blondie and U2 to Jimi Hendrix and Vampire Weekend. Its previous owner, Sam Grosso — current owner of Toronto’s Cadillac Lounge — officially closed the El Mo’s doors back in 2014. Shortly thereafter, millionaire merchant banker and former CBC Dragons’ Den investor Michael Wekerle swept in and bought the property with hopes of completely remodeling its interior and bringing it up to snuff.

Having invested a reported $20 million into the venue so far, Wekerle has promised brand partnerships with Imax to provide live-streaming technology and recreational cannabis producer Tweed for an upstairs stage. But despite the multimillion-dollar investment into the building, nothing concrete about the new El Mocambo’s long-term role in the Toronto venue circuit has been disclosed. About two months until the grand reopening and the venue’s immediate future still seems hazy.

The venue’s official website has no new information either. Visit the site and you’re greeted only with a computer-generated render of the building and a slideshow of photos from Wekerle’s press conference where he celebrated the re-lighting of a neon palm-tree sign with Mayor John Tory.

However, having had limited experience in the music industry and no confirmed talent bookers lined up, many of Wekerle’s views on the venue, as well as Canadian music, sound out of touch. In 2014, on the topic of why he bought the struggling venue, Wekerle told CBC: “Because of my own kind of nostalgic feelings toward the El Mocambo and the Toronto scene…  Having tried to be an artist in the music world back in my teen years — obviously not very successfully — but there was no venue. It was very difficult for Canadian artists and musicians to really get a break.”

Most recently, in a November 2018 interview with CBC, Wekerle claimed that Kiss, Justin Bieber, Ronnie Hawkins, and potentially Drake might grace the building’s renovated stages. “When the time comes and I know the dates, I’ll walk over and ask [Drake to perform],” Wekerle told CBC. Wekerle currently lives in the same Bridle Path neighbourhood as Drake’s new Toronto mansion.

Promises of world-renowned artists and brand sponsorships, all to rekindle a 458-capacity venue in Toronto’s peaceful Chinatown neighbourhood, sound a little farfetched. Take Wekerle’s grandiose promises with a grain of salt.

Unhealthy fixations and sleep deprivation

Why do we procrastinate, why do we cram?

Unhealthy fixations and sleep deprivation

University can be a challenging feat. As one becomes bombarded with tests, quizzes, and exams, it is necessary to leave sufficient time to accomplish tasks and study in order to succeed. That, however, is almost always easier said than done. In such a busy and ever-moving society, distractions for university students seem more apparent than ever. Such distractions can lead to unhealthy fixations and sleep deprivation; a project that was assigned three weeks ago is now being desperately completed at 4:00 am due to Netflix’s highly-anticipated new episode of Black Mirror. A typical scenario for many university students. 

Such unhealthy fixations lead students to frantically work at the last minute and cram. Why do students put themselves through this torture? The answer lies in the multitude of distractions that students face. Social media, food, and parties are just a handful of distractions apparent across Canadian universities.

By far, social media are some of the most significant distractions that today’s students face and are responsible for many of the assignments completed at ungodly hours. The various applications and social media platforms available are hugely tempting opportunities to put down the pencil, pick up the phone, and browse through one’s timelines. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Reddit, Pinterest, and YouTube are behind many students’ unhealthy fixations. 

The amount of time spent on social media is astonishing: studies from Eye-In Media have found that Canadian millennials spend approximately 3.2 hours per day on their mobile devices — that’s equivalent to dedicating almost one day each week to scrolling through social media. The plague of social media use is likely detrimental to university students’ abilities to focus and probably responsible for much of the work that has been crammed at the last minute. 

Social media does not only take time away from schoolwork. The platforms are also deeply linked to disrupted sleeping patterns. In a study published in Acta Paediatrica, Canadian students aged 11–20 revealed that increased social media use correlated with a greater likelihood of insufficient sleep. 

Between the high stress of being a student and the exhaustion from churning through assignments even as the sun comes up, students often resort to eating while studying, which leads to unhealthy snacking, binge-eating, and eating at unhealthy hours. These tend to exacerbate the problem, the second bag of chips and caffeinated beverage distracting from work.

But it doesn’t stop there. On top of social media usage and unhealthy eating habits, another significant part of university life that contributes to poor sleep and wasted study time is partying. In her article, “The Effects of Drinking on University Grades: Does Academic Motivation Play a Role?,” Jennifer Gilbert from the University of Waterloo explains that “researchers have found an association between heavy episodic student drinking and decreased academic achievement,” noting negative consequences such as interrupted study and the inability to perform daily tasks. 

Where partying is one of the most dynamic aspects of university life, it is also a huge distraction for many students. Beyond partying in itself, a multitude of behaviours and consequences, including heavy and frequent drinking followed by agonizing, stomach-wrenching hangovers, significantly affect students’ abilities to prioritize time for studies, maintain adequate sleep, and sustain overall academic achievement. When immersed in an endless stream of papers, quizzes, and tests, it is not surprising that students struggle to complete all tasks consistently and in a timely manner — and the distractions everywhere don’t help. Social media usage can prevent students from focusing on assignments, in favour of homepages and timelines; unhealthy snacking and binge-eating might encourage students to choose food over the task at hand; and partying and drinking significantly disrupts sleeping patterns and reduces the time that could be spent studying. 

While these distractions are important to understand, we must also remember that balance and prioritization are key to ending those study sessions before the sun arrives.

Let’s say bonjour to a new year and a new language

Tips from UTSC Professor Rena Helms-Park on how to best learn a language — and stick with it

Let’s say bonjour to a new year and a new language

Duolingo, Babbel, Memrise. It seems that language learning is becoming more and more accessible, but why is it that whenever you try learning Beginner Korean, you end up giving up after just one week? The material is there, but the power to trudge through the actual learning process is suddenly missing in action.

Annyeonghaseyo, motivation? Oh, it flew away along with that $80 you impulsively spent on Korean textbooks.

But this is a new year, and you are once again being bombarded by advertisements from language apps and schools. Maybe you can give language learning another shot.

The Varsity reached out to UTSC Associate Professor of Linguistics Rena Helms-Park, whose research includes second-language acquisition, to discuss how students can tackle their goal of learning a new language in the new year.

Avoiding the language slump

When you see famous polyglots like Tim Doner, who speaks over 20 languages, you may wonder how they manage to do that, when you, on the other hand, cannot even grasp the numerical system in French.

Was it ‘huit-dix,’ or — what was ‘80’ in French again?

After a bit of head scratching, you remember that ‘80’ in French is ‘quatre-vingts’ which means four 20s, or four times 20. More importantly, you remember that you are also bad at multiplication.

And so you cry in a corner.

En français, of course.

With a stick of baguette and some “Comptine d’un autre été” to match the mood.

And then you tell yourself that you simply do not have the talent to learn a new language — Java and C++ may or may not apply here — and that you are too old to absorb a language like three-year-old Patricia Cruz can.

However, according to Helms-Park, adults have some advantages over children in that adults “are often better than children at analyzing linguistic structures and learning [grammar] rules.”

Nevertheless, many people give up learning a language for various reasons, including being too worried about pronunciation.

Here, Helms-Park mentioned that environment plays a role in language learning. For example, when one’s goal is to interact with native speakers naturally, strictly learning grammar in a school setting can hamper that goal.

Talk to any Canadian who stopped taking French in high school and they will give you the spiel.

Another hindrance, said Helms-Park, is when people are “too worried about not seeming intelligent… when speaking a non-primary language.”

You simply cannot expect to have a full-on French conversation about Voltaire after three weeks on Rosetta Stone. While Voltaire is talking about éclaircissement, you are there talking about how there is a pomme on the table.

Easy, grasshopper. Take it slowly.

Language learning tips

Helms-Park is convinced that success in language learning is tied to the target language’s relevance to a person’s life and career.

For example, if you suddenly find yourself living in Japan where most people do not speak English, you will eventually realize that unlike in anime, there are no subtitles there. And you cannot exactly get by with just ‘nani’ and ‘omae wa mou shindeiru.’

Thus, the necessity to communicate with locals and land a job will make you more likely to learn Japanese.

So think about why you want to learn this language and how relevant it is to you. Could it be that you have roots in a country that speaks that language? Or that you want help in boosting your salary?

For people who want to learn a language “from scratch,” Helms-Park recommends first learning the target language’s 2,000 most frequently used words.

There are many websites online that list these words, such as Wiktionary.

After learning these initial words, Helms-Park suggests learning the rest in social contexts.

“With vocabulary, growth is slow initially and then generally becomes… faster,” said Helms-Park.

An advantage to learning a language that is related to a previously-known language is that the two languages may have words that are similar to one another.

“It’s a good idea to look out for cognates such as… chaise in French and [chair in] English,” said Helms-Park.

To remember vocabulary, Helms-Park likes to rehearse words and phrases silently in her head.

Immersion can also be beneficial in language learning. “[Talk] to people at the bus stop… [watch] TV, engage in social media in the target language, [make] lots of friends who don’t speak your own language.”

Whatever path you choose, just remember that just like any other path, there will be hurdles — and that is normal. At the end of the day, if you end up sticking with your language, then you can finally — and honestly — say ‘sí’ when the hiring manager asks if you are bilingual.

Concert Review: MadeinTYO’s Sincerely, Tokyo tour

Small venue, big voice

Concert  Review: MadeinTYO’s <I>Sincerely, Tokyo</I> tour

After the release of the critically acclaimed album Sincerely, Tokyo, MadeinTYO hosted his tour of the same name and made a stop at Toronto’s very own Mod Club on February 25. 

The intimate venue in Little Italy proved to be an excellent choice, with the crowd in an utter trance for the entire show. The stage put the artist within arm’s reach of many fans as he jumped, screamed, and spoke in a mesmerizing melodic cadence. MadeinTYO matched the crowd’s high energy, perfectly fulfilling what a musician should set out to accomplish at a show.

MadeinTYO’s set began roughly 30 minutes late according to his set times, but this is a forgivable deed considering the numerous openers — Pilla B, Bankrol Hayden, and most impressively, Thutmose — who captivated the crowd’s attention. It was interesting to see the styles of the different openers in conjunction and the synergy within these acts. MadeinTYO made a good choice picking these artists to support his tour. 

The show carried a good mix of both smash hits for casual fans and fan favourites for his core following, adequately addressing the entire crowd at his show. For instance, MadeinTYO went from “I Want,” one of his biggest smash hits, to “Outstanding,” a distorted trap and bass-heavy record meant to cultivate mosh pits, to “Ned Flanders,” another smash hit with a notable feature from A$AP Ferg. 

After teasing a surprise Toronto guest for several days, fans were anxious to see who the young rapper would bring out. The chatter among fans camping in the line for several hours prior to the show — despite the recent wind storm — was largely centred around this topic. When the time finally came, and the lights dimmed halfway through MadeinTYO’s set, the crowd trembled in excitement. When OVO Sound’s Brampton-born R&B singer Roy Woods came out, it would be an understatement to say that fans were pleased. The crowd went wild, not giving security a chance to rest as numerous fans jumped on each others’ shoulders and rushed to the front of the stage to see the OVO crooner. 

Roy Woods, beginning his set with debut single “Get You Good” and following with his and MadeinTYO’s “Instinct,” exemplified the recurring theme of synergy that was present at this show. Something about the integration of Roy Woods into MadeinTYO’s set — the way their voices bounced off of each other in their joint ballad and the genuine friendship between them — made his appearance such an integral part of the show. MadeinTYO took the time to pause the show and speak about the bond that he and Roy Woods share. While Roy Woods did not steal the spotlight in any way, his presence brought something that definitely could not have been achieved otherwise. 

MadeinTYO’s fans don’t come to the self-proclaimed mumble rapper expecting dense and introspective lyricism — they come to have fun. MadeinTYO’s appearance at the Mod Club provided fans with this and more. This performance was intimate, had several great openers, appealed to both his casual and core fanbase, and brought out a special guest who completely changed the atmosphere of the night. Growing as a musician, it is inevitable that MadeinTYO’s next Toronto show will be at a larger venue. 

The intimate experience at this small venue was one to truly cherish. 

Book Club: Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem

The wisdom and ethics of doomsday

Book Club: Liu Cixin’s <I>The Three-Body Problem</I>

The science-fiction genre is predominantly filled with Western writers. Therefore, when Chinese writer Liu Cixin’s trilogy opener The Three-Body Problem won the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel, it was incredibly exciting for Chinese sci-fi fans. The books have since been translated into over 17 languages and become available worldwide. 

The story begins around 19661976, the era of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Ye Wenjie, a young astrophysicist, witnesses the tragic death of her father and his friends, causing her to lose faith in humanity. Several years later, Ye is forced to serve the Red Coast in a secret base, searching for lifeforms outside of Earth. Eventually, she receives a message from the Trisolarans, an alien species that has just escaped a natural disaster on its planet in the Three-Body system. 

Ye secretly invites the Trisolarans to invade Earth, but it is not until 50 years later that humans become aware of the immense peril coming to their planet. The trilogy’s main characters, Wang Miao, Luo Ji, and Cheng Xin, then play different roles in determining the future of humanity. 

One of the key elements of the novel is the Dark Forest theory, which suggests that the universe is just like a dark forest. A civilization that exposes itself is similar, for instance, to a person who lights a fire in a dark forest. Seeing a suspicious light, other civilizations will view its creator as a possible threat and therefore try to eliminate the exposed civilization. The best way for a civilization to protect itself is to not declare that it exists at all. Survival is always the priority. 

Suspicion and fear of the unknown is a part of human nature. The dark forest not only exists in the novel, but also in human history with different iterations of war, conflict, discrimination, and violence. Most of the emotions fuelling such actions originate from fear, and fear is usually generated by perceived differences. Liu has no qualms about showing this ugly side of humanity. Questions of the greater good, the necessity of individual sacrifice for achieving such a goal, and whether cannibalism can be justified in extreme circumstances are discussed throughout the books. Liu strives to present a neutral point of view, inspiring readers to think of and come to their own conclusions.

The book is also a hit for its merging of ancient Chinese culture with state-of-the-art technology. For instance, to explain the Trisolarans’ origin story, Liu creates a fictional virtual reality game that features historical figures from China, such as Emperor Wen of Zhou, Confucius, and Emperor Qin Shi Huang. Liu not only makes use of these famous names, but also their historical identities, giving readers a good peek into Chinese history and culture. The tension between Daoism and Confucianism, one of the biggest conflicts among Chinese philosophers, is also discussed throughout. 

Liu gives his readers all the freedom to think and allows them to follow their own will, because there is no good choice or bad choice. People try to justify a choice with its consequence, yet the consequences of other choices have never been lived; they are unknown, and therefore one can never judge a decision as good or bad, right or wrong.

Asexuality: “Identity over society’s fixation with sex”

Sexuality is a spectrum and it doesn’t matter where you fall

Asexuality: “Identity over society’s fixation with sex”

Today, we recognize that sexuality and gender fall on a spectrum. Sexual orientations such as homosexuality, bisexuality, and pansexuality are well-known, but I’d like to talk about a lesser known one: asexuality. Not everyone is — or wants to be — sexually active. 

I wrote to my friend, Tab*, who is asexual, asking her some questions to hopefully shed some light on the nuanced meanings of asexuality and how she navigates relationships. 

The Varsity: According to Wikipedia, asexuality is “the lack of sexual attraction to others, or low or absent interest in or desire for sexual activity.” Do you agree with this definition and can you elaborate on what asexuality means to you? 

T: I definitely agree with the first half, but I also make the distinction between sexual attraction and interest or desire. 

A friend of mine once used the analogy of looking at a beautiful painting in a museum: you think the painting is beautiful, but you don’t want to take it home and have sex with it. That is not to say that people are ‘just objects’ to asexuals, but rather that no matter how aesthetically pleasing they are to me, I just don’t want to have sex with them. They are about as sexually attractive as a painting. 

TV: I’m sure there is a stigma around being asexual, especially in a heterosexual and sex-driven society where every form of media is filled with innuendos and sexual references. How do you reconcile your own identity with society’s idea of what a person should be? 

T: I think that being asexual doesn’t necessarily mean being sex-repulsed or ‘prudish.’ Nor does it necessarily mean having a low sex drive… or not having any romantic feelings at all. Society, or at least North American society, definitely puts a lot of emphasis on sexual attractiveness as a measure of value, or as something to strive for. 

I think it took me a long time to kind of condition myself, or kind of learn to first accept that I won’t be like any of the hypersexual or super beautiful, stereotypical models, celebrities, and characters I often see in [media], but that was okay, and I still had value to other people. 

I think that finding out that there was a sort of label for the way I felt about others, sexually, helped me out a lot in accepting that I wasn’t just strange or destined to have no meaningful romantic relationships in my life, which is something that weighs on my mind. I have other things to offer other than just being a sexual partner. Is it actually that important to me to be attractive or valued by people who only consider my sexual value? I figured the answer was no, and that it was kind of BS that I’d be considered less of a person just because I didn’t find people sexually attractive. I never really reconciled my identity with society’s idea of a person more than I just prioritized my identity over society’s fixation with sex.

TV: There’s a lot of emphasis on hookup culture especially with dating apps like Tinder. What does a relationship mean to you? How do you navigate dating and meeting people, especially in university?

T: I’ve been pretty removed from the whole hookup culture. I mean, I have Tinder, but it’s definitely more of a time-waster. To be honest, I’m absolutely trash at navigating the dating scene. I have a lot of my own personal issues to deal with, not to mention I’m the kind of person who mostly keeps to myself. Hookup culture is still definitely something I keep in mind though, and it often intrudes with whenever I get a message or match on Tinder, or some person talks to me for longer than I deem strictly necessary in a social exchange. So, even taking sexual orientation out of the equation, the dating scene is already hard to navigate.

That being said, I have an all-together probably too romantic idea of a relationship. I don’t think I’m quite made for casual dating — if I find interest in someone deeply enough to pursue some sort of deeper relationship, I definitely am in it for the long term. 

I’d love for someone to be comfortable with, who inspires me to be a better person, who I change and grow with, who I trust. A person who is worth going the distance for, and who’s as committed to me as I am to them. That sounds awfully idealistic, but that’s probably my best idea of a relationship.

TV: There’s this idea that to be intimate means to have sex — what do you think about this idea of intimacy? And what does intimacy mean to you instead?

T: When I wrote cringy poetry as an edgelord high schooler, I actually wrote about this. My idea of intimacy hasn’t actually changed much since then, although it’s defined itself a bit more. There’s definitely intimacy to be had in sex… baring yourself to another person and trusting that they want you and will accept you as you are. So there’s nothing wrong with saying having sex is intimate. 

I think the mistake is when people say that sex is the ‘ultimate’ form of intimacy, or even the only form. I think that as a baseline, intimacy is being able to be vulnerable around another person, not just by being able to share problems and stuff with your partner, but to be able to really experience and share the simple intimacies in life, like waking up and going to sleep in the same bed as the person you love, being able to spend time doing nothing but enjoying each other’s presence, being secure and content. It’s almost hard to describe, but like, if you’ve ever seen a couple that are just so in love… that are just so happy to be with their partner, that it’s almost embarrassing to be witnessing it? That’s the kind of intimacy I’d love to have.

TV: Do you feel pressured to be sexually active?

T: Not enough to make me actually have sex with anyone just for the sake of relieving the pressure, but I definitely feel a bit pressured… Sometimes wondering if I should just have sex with someone just to say I’ve had the experience and can surely say it’s not something I like. Most of the time, I think that’s pretty ridiculous though, because I don’t think it’ll change my attraction. Part of me feels that I should have sex just to experience some sort of intimacy… or that I should at least say yes to sex if my partner asks for it. I think some part of me still considers my lack of sexual attraction abnormal in a sense, such that I should be the one accommodating others’ sexual desire instead of the other way around. Thankfully, I’ve been lucky to have understanding and accepting people around me. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

*Name changed at individual’s request.