It’s been a week, hasn’t it? I’ve been mainlining coffee and shitty food for four days straight trying to put the finishing touches on this term. Tomorrow’s the last day of class this term, meaning it’s my last day of class ever. I have to present my senior design project in the morning and finish designing an air pollution control system in the afternoon. And when that’s over, I will spend the night with my friends drinking and doing dumb stuff, and then I’ll start studying for exams.
Anyway, here are some things I’ve written recently over at Pitchfork:
- A review of the unexceptional new album by Australian indie pop group Architecture in Helsinki, NOW + 4EVA.
I hope your snow has long since melted. Talk soon.
Popping in quickly to plug two recent reviews for my friends over at Myspace: here’s one about Future Islands’ new record Singles (emotional, masculine, complex synth-pop), and another about Cloud Nothings’ new one Here and Nowhere Else (intense, pummelling, anguished punk).
I like writing for Myspace a lot, and they’ve published a ton of worthy journalism and feature writing over the past year. If they’ve somehow managed to stay out of the “culture” section of your bookmarks bar, give them a slot and check in often — you’ll usually find something you’ll like.
When I’ve had free listening time over the last few weeks, it’s almost exclusively gone to Mac DeMarco and Todd Terje, with some Tony Molina in the shower because the songs are extremely short and pack a lot of potency into small packages. He makes me want to shower faster, which is important because six people live here and there’s never enough hot water. (But that’ll be a problem of the past soon!)
Exams start next week, so I’ll either be writing more than usual to maintain my sanity or hiding out completely to focus on my studies. Hope you’re well — see you later.
Barring an unforeseen catastrophe, I have about a month left before finishing an engineering degree that I will almost surely never use, at least not in any traditional sense of the profession. While much of my class will work in the energy sector, pharmaceuticals, or manufacturing, I only needed a few months’ worth of experience to know I would never be satisfied carving out a career in those fields. When classmates and acquaintances from the engineering world find out about my side hustle as a writer (and vice-versa), it doesn’t take long for the question that has defined the last few years of my life to bubble to the forefront: “If you don’t like what you’re doing, and you’re demonstrably better at other things, what’s the point of your engineering degree?” I’m writing this as an answer to that question, if only for my own benefit.
In the months before graduating, Canadian engineering students receive an iron ring as part of an elaborate ritual whose details are kept private. The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer is nearly a century old. Its roots lie in a 1922 meeting of seven esteemed Canadian engineers who wanted to bind the members of the profession together and craft a set of obligations for said members. The engineers contacted Rudyard Kipling, who authored both the obligations and the ceremony surrounding them. The iron ring lies at the heart of the ceremony: it represents both the pride engineers should have in their profession and the lofty ethical standards that are integral to the profession’s maintenance of public trust and professional conduct. The ring even has its own legend, one derived from the 1907 collapse of the Quebec Bridge during construction: each ring isn’t truly fashioned from one of the broken bridge’s original beams, but the bridge’s failure was instrumental in the implementation of professional standards for Canadian engineers, and so the myth is fitting.
The iron ring ceremony (and its accompanying mega-bash, IRS) is a huge deal for engineering undergraduates, comparable to convocation itself. The countdown to the ceremony begins as soon as each new undergraduate class steps onto campus for the first time, and milestones along the way are marked with little parties and celebrations of their own. I ridiculed the countdown every chance I could get: to me, it seemed like a frivolous extension of the paternalistic boys’ club mentality that pervades engineering here, an ill-earned sense of exceptionalism that’s wielded against other faculties and anyone who doesn’t exactly conform to the beer-swilling, purple-stained, undeniably masculine ideal that’s been cultivated over the past few decades. (One of the weirdest nights of my life was spent going from dearly departed pool hall Dooly’s to a pit stain of an engineering kegger, where an HDTV hosted a Tumblr that existed to curate the finest possible sets of breasts and pictures of kittens. As much as I’d like to forget the wagging tongues and testosterone haze of that party, I can’t erase Titties ’n Kitties.)
I felt that way right up until I left the ceremony, during which something changed inside me. Chalk it up to the sobriety of the session or the physical impact of receiving a ring laden with significance, but it was one of those rare moments where I could feel myself growing and reaching a deeper understanding of myself. Instead of allowing my feelings about engineering to be coloured by my lack of enthusiasm for the work and disdain for many of its practitioners, I began to realize the many ways a commitment to integrity and a personal code of ethics could help me to become a better writer, worker, and person. I can use rigour when I’m researching for a review or completing a project, and I can remember respect and fairness when I’m writing emails and tweets and making decisions in the workplace. Even if I’m not working as an engineer in the way most of us recognize — building a bridge, designing a pipeline, controlling a reaction — I can employ the ethical principles that govern the profession, and I remember that every time I look down at my right pinky and see a ring sitting below my knuckle. That’s what my degree means to me now, and it’s a big reason why I don’t view the last five years as a waste of time and money.
Hey, hope everyone’s doing well out there — I haven’t had a lot of time to spend on Tumblr over the last few months. Between my senior design project, a standard load of classes, and a freelancing schedule that gets more and more packed (I haven’t yet learned to say “no”) it’s been a struggle just to find time to sleep, never mind to write new stuff for here. I feel bad about it, and not out of some sense of obligation to the people who are reading this, but simply because I think writing in this space helps me to get better and cool down in a way that writing for money can’t. I only have four weeks of class left and a handful of exams, and then I’ll be finished, at which point I should be simply swimming in free time. We’ll see. Anyway, here are some things I’ve written over the last few weeks.
- I reviewed Major Lazer’s mediocre new EP Apocalypse Soon for Pitchfork.
- I reviewed Danish producer Tomas Barfod’s decent new EP Pulsing for Pitchfork.
- I reviewed Pharrell’s fun new record G I R L for TIME. I have some really exciting news about this review coming in a few days — probably just after the weekend — so stay tuned for that, you’ll definitely understand my excitement when you see it.
- Moving outside of the world of music criticism for a second, I’ve accepted an offer to work here at the University of Waterloo for a year starting in May. (I know, I’m counting down the days until I wrap up a degree here and then I’m coming right back, it’s ridiculous.) I’ll be returning to the department I’ve been working at in both full-time and part-time capacities for the last 16 months in a slightly upgraded role, and I’m so glad that they had a slot for me to come back as a Real Adult, at least for a while. I’m not sure what’s in store after the contract runs its course, but I’d happily continue moving up in the institutional sector if the work’s there.
- I’m going to see a real apartment tomorrow, and meeting with a financial planner next week. Adulthood: a little bit terrifying, but mostly totally thrilling!
- We bought a heater a few weeks ago and it sits by our patio doors. We sleep in the basement in this place, it’s our only source of outside light. I keep looking towards the doors as I’m writing this: the sun is out and it’s bright, and if I look at the window with the right focus I can see the waves of heat rising from the heater, shimmering and slightly warping the image of the glass. There’s magic in being able to see heat; we take it for granted because it typically moves unseen. I wanted to get that image down on paper in case I forget about it.
- I’ve been listening to the Clientele a lot over the next 24 hours, so before saying goodbye for now, here’s "I Hope I Know You." How does this band make it look so easy? See you in a few days/weeks.
1) A programming announcement: I’ve been curious for a while about using Medium as a writing platform. Speaking personally, I think it has potential in the short-term as a complement for Tumblr: there are some things that will be better suited to the form, and some that should remain on the latter. I wrote something there about how the changing nature of my readership has gradually made me a better writer, and you can read that here. I’m going to split it like this for the foreseeable future: short posts about songs and albums and personal items (so maybe like ~80% of things) will remain on Tumblr, and broader thoughts on writing/media/trendy issues (the other ~20%) will find a new home on Medium. We’ll see how it goes.
2) Next week is our school’s Reading Week, which means a week off to catch up on all the assignments, projects, and readings I’ve been avoiding since the term started. (I will spend most of it worrying about my senior design project, a.k.a. the project that haunts my waking and dreaming hours, a.k.a. the item without which my life would be pretty much ***flawless.) My boyfriend and I are heading to Toronto tomorrow night to see Justin Timberlake, staying the night, and then leaving for Montreal Saturday afternoon. We’ll be there until next Wednesday morning.
This is going to be my first trip to a province other than Ontario, which is pretty strange and very exciting for me. Neither of us has ever been to Montreal, and I don’t have much idea about what to do there except search for bagels and smoked meat sandwiches. So if you live in Montreal or have been to the city and have any recommendations for stuff to do/eat, I would really, really appreciate them. (Leave a reply to this post, askbox it, email, whatever.) Here’s hoping my weeks of sporadic French practice using Duolingo will prove even 1% helpful.
3) I just updated this blog’s “other writing" section — a collection of major clips that serves as a decently comprehensive introduction to my freelancing over the last few years — so feel free to check that out.