31 December, 2007

"Dear Ms Legit...."

My acceptance letter came today. I am officially IN, and all I need now is my OSAP assessment and a trip into Toronto to get fingerprinted.

After all these months of waiting, things are finally beginning to move fast, very fast. If I get my biometrics done on the 2nd, and post the visa application on the 2nd, it could conceivably be back to me by the 11th, and I could be at York no more than one week into term. After all the frustration and waiting... I want things to slow down again.

29 December, 2007

Setting up the next domino chain

Time to start thinking visa. Here's my to-do list.

  • Go to the CAA and get a passport photo taken. Remember to not look like doofus, as in past two occasions.
  • Fill out VAF1 form.
  • Write cheque for fee.
  • Make copies of degrees. Make copies of funding proof.
  • Write "a letter stating [my] intentions on completion of [my] course".

I will do the paperwork tomorrow night at work, and get my photocopies and photo done shortly thereafter. Hurry, hurry, OSAP and York paperwork!

28 December, 2007

السلام عليكم

As-Salāmu `Alaykum, Alia.

Alia Qureshi died 19 December, 2007. Alia and I lived together at the l'Arche Daybreak "Green House" in 2003. I remember my time at the Green House with mixed feelings. On one hand, it was a joy to be at l'Arche and among people I loved. At the same time, it was hard being separated from people I loved, and un-l'Arche-like politics clouded the time.

Through the months I was there, I remember getting to know Alia. I remember arriving in the house and feeling quite intimidated by this tiny woman in her wheelchair. I wondered how we'd relate to each other, how we would communicate. Others seemed to enjoy a bond with her that transcended the words she couldn't speak. I was scared.

Then I got to know her a bit better. I enjoyed the time we spent together in the mornings and evenings, and bath time, which was really more like spa time. We would listen to music together; she had a tape deck and a number of Muslim music tapes. Sometimes we would listen to "A is for Allah," and I would learn about the Arabic alphabet. More often, we would listen to Dawud Wharnsby-Ali's tape, The Road to Madinah.*

Gradually, as we spent more and more time together, I remember feeling overwhelmed. At one point, I was the only person in the house doing routines with her on a regular basis, I had injured myself, and the general mood in the house was tense (for many other reasons). Meals could take upwards of three hours, and Alia would still be feeling sick through them. Looking back now, I wish I had been able to joy in the time better, but then I was exhausted. I wish I had known her better.

I remember her as a dancer, primarily. The sickness was a disguise. It shadowed her, and when she danced, her real self was allowed to shine. When she danced, her wheelchair was transformed from a necessary encumbrance to a vehicle for her art and her spirit. Many nights when she was well, would would dance in the dining room together, wheeling her in loops and circles in time to the music she loved so much. She would throw back her head and laugh: a deep, whole-body laugh that made you laugh as well for the sheer joy of it, of life and living.

I remember doing so much to try to coax her to laugh. Until this very minute, I was wondering if our relationship had ever been very deep, but remembering her laugh, and all the times I made noises for her to giggle at or danced with her, I realise how much her laugh meant to me. It was infectious, and a delight when it was heard.

Ali-Liu Qureshi. Daybreak core member, daughter, sister, friend. Loved by her family and the many people who lived with her, danced with her, or simply saw her dance.

I compare my time with Alia to my time at Oaklands. At Oaklands, bathing is often done as quickly as possible. There are too few staff for too many residents, and it's a good day when we have time for bubble baths. With Alia, it was simply the way things were. It was important to spend the time together, to relax. It was not a matter of business, it was facilitating a bath that was as much as possible the bath I would wish to be given. It's an interesting thing, and a good thing, for me to remember.

I don't know if other people have trouble thinking of acknowledgements or thank-yous, when it comes time to affix them to a dissertation. I know mine will be a simple matter. To Alia, and Keith, and Jane, Mike, Carol, Francis, Peter, Whitney... to all of you, living or departed. Thank you for opening my eyes and teaching me to love.

Carl MacMillan, the community leader, wrote a wonderful tribute to Alia on the Daybreak website, and I recommend reading it.

As-Salāmu `Alaykum, Alia.

26 December, 2007

And now, the packing.

Being the proud new owner of two 32" suitcases and one 24" suitcase, I'm beginning to turn my mind to packing.

So I ask you, what should I remember not to forget?

21 December, 2007

More Useful Links!

Okay, so just one for now.

Information for International Students who are looking for part-time work.

Student Living and Student Life

Sent the housing application off today via regular post. It has carbon copies and suchlike, so I couldn't fax it.

I've applied to two houses near King's Manor (the building which houses the Centre for Medieval Studies), one a bit further away, and a couple on campus, ranked largely according to their proximity to my building. Here's hoping, though I'm worried because I'm arriving in January and will probably get the dregs.

I've found some interesting links over at the York website, namely the Clubs and Societies website. The Medieval Reinactment society looks fun, as does the Astronomy Club, the Real Ale Society, and the Science Fiction and Fantasy group. I'm a little disappointed at not seeing a Catholic society listed, but I imagine I'll find one around when I get there. Ah! There it is!

Oh, and Worship services. I'll feel much more at home if I can find a church I'm comfortable at.

I'm also a little disappointed to see that the university gym doesn't have a pool. However, they do have a good number of martial arts groups, including aikido, capoeira, fencing, jujitsu, and karate. The list of sporting clubs also includes Ben Lairig, which seems to be an organised "ramble through the countryside" group. Further digging reveals a swimming and waterpolo group. Sweet! There's also caving and canoeing and "octopush."

I'll have to see how my class load is, but I think I'm going to try to get involved in at least one social activity and one sporting activity. Perhaps I'm finally going to be geographically stable enough to take up a martial art! I know I'm going to be lonely, so I'm going to take active steps to not be a hermit! Plus, I'd love to get back into swimming. Or take up a martial art.

I'm feeling the positive, for once, not the SCARY LONELY FEAR. It's a nice feeling.

The systems stink, but sometimes the admins are golden

Last night at work I realised that if my OSAP paperwork didn't arrive today, I would not be able to submit it to York before the office closed for Christmas, effectively losing two weeks of Red Tape Time. And even if by some miracle it did come, the time difference would mean the office would be closed. Drat.

So I called York, fully prepared to beg. I was eventually connected with a wonderful woman in the Graduate Studies Office who consulted with someone else (a superior of some sort, I guess). She said that if I faxed the funding documentation I have now (two bank statements, a credit card statement, and the line of credit document), they'll assume the student loans paperwork will arrive before I fly over. And she'd mail out the final offer of admittance right away, so it would get in the post today.

So even though I can't send it back to them until January, I can get going on my visa as soon as it gets here. I was beginning to despair of getting out of here before February. Moral of the story: sometimes people are really nice and understanding, if you just call and ask. Thank you, wonderful Ms. Libby, thank you. I hope your Christmas break is wonderful, relaxing, and joyful.

In semi-related news, my manager at work informed me last night that he will extend my contract if I am still around past 05 Jan, which is when it would otherwise expire. I'm glad, because I'll have something to do, and can pick up shifts at the PT rate.

I've decided to keep working until I submit my visa application. The visa turnaround is supposed to be quite quick, and I'll be flying out as soon as I can after I get it. I'll use that time to freak out and be clingy. And pack.

17 December, 2007

On the road again?

My transcript from UofT arrived today.

I will post it "next day" shipping this afternoon, along with all the other paperwork OSAP wants.

Hopefully we can get this show on the road again.

I suppose the silver gilt on the cloud is that all these delays have resulted in the deposit of another couple of paycheques into my account, making that number also kind of nice to show York.

Can't wait to be on the road again....

12 December, 2007

OSAP: Basil Fawlty Edition

Advice for those with one-year M.A. programs, cleverly disguised as angry ranting.

At least, if you live in Ontario (though I imagine other provinces are similar).

If you take a one year M.A. program, OSAP gets suspicious when you apply for another "first year" the next year. They understandably don't like it when students switch programs too often, since it shows a lack of focus and they probably aren't getting their money's worth.

But honestly, folks. Did you even glance at my application? At the part that makes me fill out my entire academic history and what programs I was in when? Go on, take a look. Yes, see the M.A. clearly listed as "Year 1 of a 1 Year Program." Mhm. That means that I am now done that degree! It's over!

And under the space for the current program? Where it says Ph.D.? Folks, this is not some directionless drunken general arts major farting around. It should be quite clear why I am applying for the first year of a program again.

And UofT! Yes, you! What's up with the transcript nonsense? Any time a student needs an official transcript, they need it in a sealed envelope, or else it's invalid. That means if I order two transcripts, and you send them both in the same envelope, one of them is completely rahling useless! This should not be news to you. This is true for every instance in which an official transcript is needed.

So, folks, here's the advice part of this post. If you have applied to the first year of a program two years in a row, OSAP is going to demand transcripts, a photocopy of your SIN card, and a letter from you explaining things. They will not tell you about this until very late in the process. So get them ready beforehand.

Or you will end up like me, feeling much like this:

07 December, 2007

Forgive a Girl Her Excitement

The Halcyon's December issue is out!

My article begins on page 7: "A Neapolitan Royal Book of Hours."

06 December, 2007

Publish or Perish: You Have to Start Somewhere

Today I attended the Centre for Medieval Studies (U of Toronto) party celebrating the achievements of the codicology seminar last spring. That is, the work of the seminar students was of such a calibre that the professor and the director of the library decided it should be showcased in the semi-annual library newsletter, The Halcyon.

I was a member of that seminar, and I was assigned a lavishly illuminated Franciscan book of hours. My partner and I jumped at the chance to add this publication credit to our curricula vitarum. Also, we really loved our funny little manuscript, with its grinning skeleton and complicated provenance.

The result was unveiled at the party today. It was so exciting to see! My first academic publication! Scary David was the professor for the seminar, and he gave a warm welcome speech to us all. He's become... a little less scary.

I did good work in that class, and I'd like to think that's the impression he keeps of me. I had the chance to thank him afterwards for all that I learned in his classes. I did learn a lot, and I really value it. Not just the facts and names, but the mindset, the approach to medieval text, and (in general), how to be a grad student. I've come to realise I owe him a lot and I'm glad I was his student. I'm also glad I got to tell him so. (After all, Excellent David scared the living daylights out of me at first, too. And I struggled manfully in his class. Perhaps a trend?)

The Halcyon is available online, but the current issue isn't up yet. Those of you viewing the .pdf version are lucky: it has the colour manuscript images, as opposed to the black-and-white of the printed version. I only wish we could have included more images: they are truly amazing, especially the abnormally cheery skeleton heralding the Officium fidelium defunctorum.

03 December, 2007


Two people have pointed out to me that SSHRC's investigation of my application means that at least they haven't dismissed it out of hand.

WHACK! Down, hopes, down!

02 December, 2007

Oratio contra consilium ad considerandum trivii quadriviique

Quo usque tandem abutere, C.a.C.T.Qq, patientia nostra? Quam diu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet? Quem ad finem sese effrenata iactabit audacia?*

There's a bug in the SSHRC website that allows one to enter a 2008 studies start date, but not the second field where you enter the information (it requires a 2007 date).

Ad mortem te, C.a.C.T.Qq, duci iussu consulis iam pridem oportebat, in te conferri pestem, quam tu in nos omnes iam diu machinaris.**

SSHRC has noticed this inconsistency and emailed my advisor at York, who emailed me. I explained the situation to her, so hopefully she will be able to clear it up with them.

Tum denique interficiere, cum iam nemo tam inprobus, tam perditus, tam tui similis inveniri poterit, qui id non iure factum esse fateatur.***

I'm going to be very upset if I lose out on a SSHRC just because their stupid website has inconsistent field value requirements.


* When, O SSHRC, do you mean to cease abusing our patience? How long is that madness of yours still to mock us? When is there to be an end of that unbridled audacity of yours, swaggering about as it does now? (Cicero, Oratio in Catilinam, I.1)
** You ought, O SSHRC, long ago to have been led to execution by command of the consul. That destruction which you have been long plotting against us ought to have already fallen on your own head. (I.2)
*** I will put you to death, then, when there shall be not one person possible to be found so wicked, so abandoned, so like yourself, as not to allow that it has been rightly done. (I.5)

A New Month, the Same Old Red Tape

It's December 1st.

I still have not heard back from OSAP. This is incredibly depressing, and I have the sinking feeling that this is going to stretch out into mid-January, wreaking havoc with both my classes and my living arrangements. Hopefully some of this can be arranged via fax, because otherwise there's no way I'm going to make it.

But if I can fax York the financial paperwork and if they can fax me back a copy of the acceptance letter, there's a tiny chance I can get this done.

Flight prices are going up and up, which makes me awfully nervous. Zoom currently has a seat sale for travel to the UK between 15th Jan and 30th April, if you book return. Since I kind of want to come home for Easter, my birthday, and Kalamazoo, this may work quite to my advantage, still. I need to check it with my advisors, but seeing as Kalamazoo is part of that, I hope I won't have much trouble.

On the up side, it seems I am getting out of this frozen wasteland before we head into the worst winter in over a decade. It's something of a comfort. I hate the cold.

Waiting. I hate waiting.

01 December, 2007

De divellendo et plorando animae meae

The anticipatory homesickness is once again rearing its ugly head. We all have demons in the deep wells of our souls, and one of mine is the Uprooter. If only he could be vanquished with the liberal application of a flamethrower. Alas.

Last night I had dinner with Excellent David and Joni. There was beer and laughter and Latin Scrabble. There was palaeography and whiskey and enviro-doom. It was a grand old time, and something I treasure. It's going to be hard to leave such joy behind.

Last weekend, I went to the movies with Ramona. We saw Om Shanti Om, and it was a blast. It was campy and romantic and hilarious. Almost smack dab in the middle of the film there is an outrageous song-and-dance scene. A veritable legion of Bollywood stars show up one by one to sing and dance. In the film, the party is thrown for Om, an actor (wheels within wheels, dear reader), but it's fairly evident that the stars of the film and the stars making cameos are just plain having the time of their lives.

Anyway, right in the middle of this, I realise how much fun I'm having and how much I love spending time like this. And how much I am going to miss it. I'm going to miss Ramona, and her family, and all the fun and amazing things I've been exposed to over the year because of them. Of course I can go see Bollywood films in England, but it's not nearly as much fun when there's no one to share it with.

I have so little time now, and I want to spend so much of it with so many people that I feel like I get not enough time with anyone.

Anyone have a metaphysical flamethrower they want to loan me?

27 November, 2007

One more step in the preparations

I might be playing a waiting game when it comes to paperwork, but goshdurnit, I can start getting ready in other ways.

Chief among them today were the acquisition of a set of Latin Scrabble tiles (hat tip to Brent, who picked them up for me), and purchasing a webcam. Now, I already have a webcam, myself, but it is not nearly so cool when there's no one to talk to. So before I go I am going to teach my mother and father how to use it. It's a lot cheaper than phones, to be sure.

The next thing on the list is a cellphone that is usable on British frequencies.

26 November, 2007


Yesterday morning at approximately 1030hr, Keith passed away.

Keith was one of the residents at the centre where I work. I knew him when he was in House 6, so I think I got to know him a little better in some ways than the folks in House 7 did, since his routine changed dramatically when he moved.

He was noisy and kind of gross. Some days, very gross. He wasn't very personable and didn't interact that much.

For some reason, I still liked him. I've no idea why I had the soft spot for him, but I did. I'm going to miss him.

Rest well, little guy.

24 November, 2007

Post-Lecture Debriefing!

Yesterday went well.

I was up till about 3am on Wednesday working on the paper before I said "nuts to this!" and went to sleep. I woke up at about 10:00 Thursday morning, and a very fast shower was followed by 2.5 hours of frantic paper-finishing. I was having some trouble with the Latin of a key passage, and since my argument depended heavily on the translation of both individual words and the semantic sense of the whole sentence, I needed to get it just right. Eventually I gave up on the worst of it in the interests of time, and went to get myself ready.

When you're pretty nervous, looking professional is a big deal - you feel more professional. So I did what I could, with the makeup I so rarely wear, and the hair I bother to straighten even more rarely than I wear makeup. I put on my "grad student" clothes, far different from my current work clothes. I looked like the lecturers I used to go see.

Anyway, when I got to campus, Excellent David helped me sort out the tricky Latin. Fie on you, idioms that look like plural accusatives! Fie! Fortunately, the sense was exactly what I was hoping it was, so I could scribble it into the talk more or less seamlessly.

The Lecture
The lecture itself went better than I had hoped. I had the whole thing on paper, but I wasn't afraid to deviate. 4-5pm was the time allotted, including questions, and I spoke for roughly 50 minutes. Perfect.

I made some truly last-minute substitutions of examples in my introduction, but the end result was far better, for more relevant, and far more personal. I hope I managed to do honour to someone who is very worthy of it.

Reports afterwards were that I was shaky at the beginning, but managed to find my stride fairly early on. I certainly felt the stage-fright at the beginning and my throat was seizing up. I had to dig out the bottle of Pepsi I'd brought with me, but I was too nervous to open it. In the end, I just kind of rested my hand on it/held it, and that seemed to steady me. Weird, but it worked. I'll have to make sure I have a bottle of something on hand next time.

Or maybe I'll just have a beer right before.

Anyway. It was nice to have my little cheering section there - thanks, guys, even if you were the most disruptive members of the audience! You just can't get good roadies these days. There were at least five "strangers" in the crowd: not bad, given the disgusting weather and the obscurity of the topic. Two of them took notes, as if I was some sort of authority worth paying attention to! (I better not let that get to my head...)

Question period was good, even if there was only two questions. It was very bizarre, being asked for further reading and having to answer "There is none. You've heard everything that exists today."

I found as I was writing the sections which drew on medieval texts the most interesting (naturally). But I am very excited that I have begun drawing conclusions based on primary sources. Beginning to theorise a construct of medieval mental impairment. I am so stoked to see Dr. Turner's book when it comes out. I can't wait to see if she's been thinking along the same lines as me. But I digress.

After the lecture came the gorging. It's departmental tradition to take guest lecturers out for dinner afterwards, so off we trooped to find much food and alcohol! I was quite hungry, having been too nervous to eat prior to the talk. We found both much food and much alcohol. And much laughter. I enjoyed spending the time with the people who have spent so much time and effort getting me to the point I am at now. Good friends.

Many Many Thank-Yous!
Thank you to Excellent David, who may never see this but was the mastermind behind the whole shebang, and who helped me with last-minute Latin.
Thank you to Margaret, for her comments on the introduction, which were very helpful.
Thank you, Brent, for driving on the way up so I could practice, and on the way back so I could drink at dinner.
Thank you Ramona, for being so encouraging and for being my sounding board. Having someone who understands where I'm coming from when I approach the topic means more than anyone but you could ever know.
Thank you Joni for the laughter and the encouragement, and for all the Latin together.

Now I just have to make all the edits that came in during the actual talk to the paper version, since I've already had two requests for a copy, and I also I hate leaving things half-finished.

22 November, 2007

Theirs not to reason why

Mine but to do, and die.

Well, hopefully not die. The lecture is pretty much ready to go, with just a few small additions and changes to be made in the morning, and some devilish Latin to straighten out.

4-5pm, "Ships of fools and the Myth of the Holy Innocent: Mental Disability in the Middle Ages"

21 November, 2007

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!

An interesting article came to my attention today. Oh, wikipedia, you fickle resource...

Wikipedia: time-saver for students, bane of professors everywhere.

Or is it?

If there’s one place where scholars should be able to question assumptions about the use of technology in the classroom (and outside of it), it’s the annual Educause conference, which wrapped up on Friday in Seattle. At a morning session featuring a professor and a specialist in learning technology from the University of Washington at Bothell, presenters showed how Wikipedia — often viewed warily by educators who worry that students too readily accept unverifiable information they find online — can be marshaled as a central component of a course’s syllabus rather than viewed as a resource to be banned or reluctantly tolerated.

That’s what Martha Groom, a professor at the university’s Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences program, tried to do for the first time last fall by requiring term papers to be submitted to the popular, user-edited online encyclopedia. The project comes at a time when instructors and administrators continue to debate the boundaries of certain technologies within the classroom and how to adapt to students’ existing online habits.

At first glance, a college term paper and a Wikipedia entry appear to have little in common. Term papers are intended for an “extremely limited audience, namely, me,” as Groom pointed out, they have little impact outside of the classroom and are constrained to a specific “time” and “place” in the world of ink-on-paper documents. “That is not a very good model of scholarship, to say that anything you produce [belongs] in this tiny space,” she said.

On the other hand, shared, public online documents have characteristics in common with parts of the academic review process. “The shift to thinking about placing the term paper as a Wikipedia encyclopedia entry allows for another level of peer review,” Groom said. Such entries have references and citations; allow for a process of repeated, continual editing; and encourage collaborations between authors.

Article continues at Inside Higher Ed

I like this idea quite a lot. It makes use of wikipedia in a constructive way, and might be especially useful in first-year classes where students are still stuck in the Five Paragraph Essay mindset. It more closely mimics the academic process, and it gives students the feeling that their work is actually worth something beyond a grade. Speaking as one who despises busy-work, I love the idea that students get the gratification of seeing their work "go somewhere." This could also work well in, for example, a Latin composition class. Vicipaedia needs more articles!

I will have to keep this in mind for when I finally get a classroom of my own.


I decided to make a run into the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies library today for some last-minute digging. To my delight, I found a number of interesting references on mitigation of penances and regulations for marriage and ordination. Raymond de Peñafort's Summa de penitentia and Summa de matrimonio yielded several passages (many thanks to Ms. Melissa!). El matriomonio en la summa Breves dies hominis also turned something nice up.

There are a lot more references to furiosi, which is moderately frustrating. At least I can draw some conclusions from that, because often they qualify furens. And Grosseteste's Templum Dei does use the word imbecillans, so it's not too rare.

The problem of insanity versus impairment is causing me no end of headaches, and even I will be interested to see how it gets sorted out. Fortunately, the references I found today should help.

My first public lecture is on Thursday. I'm kind of terrified. The most interesting thing, though, was that I sat in that little cubicle for two hours and felt like a few minutes had passed. I was not distracted or even tempted to be distracted. Flipping through Latin penitentials was fun!

19 November, 2007


Large swathes of my lecture have now been copied and pasted from my April essay. It needs refining and re-focusing, but much of the underlying information is the same, or is applicable. I'm now at about 4,000 words, and when I add in some of the more current results of research, it will be even longer. I've got penitentials at PIMS to plough through! I'm trying to keep focus - I've started branching out with words like aetiology and trans-historical conceptualisation. I've got a page of stuff about hospitals and a page of Isidore of Seville and his accursed Etymologia, and I've got to pare that down or make it more relevant.

I'm going to be very glad when this is done.

18 November, 2007

Lecture Notes

I sat down this evening and did a test-run of what I've written so far of my lecture. It clocked in at just under 20 minutes, which means I need a minimum of 2,000 more words, and preferably closer to 3,000. Still, that is feasible.

I need to work on enunciating and on speaking slowly. I also have to practice several more times, because I keep tripping over my own words. Also, there is my ambition not to be one of those lecturers who mumble unintelligibly, nor who talk too fast to hear, nor even who read very well but only read. I want to engage, I want to entertain. And I want to impress the socks off the professors and staff who I hope will one day be looking at my CV for a tenure-track job. I've got long-term plans, my friends, and this is where they start!

And now, for those who live far, far from south-western Ontario, here's the introduction of my talk. Criticism and requests for clarity are encouraged and appreciated!

Medieval Studies is, as any medievalist knows, a highly interdisciplinary field. The disability studies field is likewise interdisciplinary. It is quite surprising, then, that the two fields have not often intersected. In the past, medievalists have ignored the history of disability, leaving it to doctors and medical historians. Disability Studies is a relatively new field, and has focused almost exclusively on the modern period. It is only in this century that dialogue between the disciplines has begun to bear fruit.

My research has led me to stumble upon this strange intersection, which is what I am here today to talk about. The methodologies of both disciplines will be discussed in turn. It is impossible to explain the topic, or even the necessity of the scholarship, without doing so. Both disability scholars and medievalists have dismissed each other’s methodology, and this strange circumstance has concealed the very lack of scholarship. Nevertheless, the field of medieval disability studies is beginning to gain momentum and notice, and is developing a methodology unique to itself. It is in this setting that the questions I pose find themselves.

The field of disability studies is a relatively recent one, developing and gaining prominence only since the 1980s. Before then, impairment was considered a topic only suitable for medical discourse. Disability was considered almost irrelevant to historical study, as it was something that had always been a fact of life. In taking such a position, these medical scholars assumed that the implications of impairment – its social and cultural aspects – were universal and absolute. In the 1980s, following the dramatic paradigm shift that feminist studies had forced upon the historical and sociological fields, scholars and activists began to consider whether the place of disabled persons had not been similarly ignored.

Out of this grew the field of Disability Studies, and the core of all further scholarship concerning impairment. Disability, scholars say, is anything but absolute. A distinction is drawn between the physiological fact of, for example, a missing leg, and the dis-abling situation of wheelchair-inaccessible buildings. The word “impairment” is taken to mean the physiological fact, and “disability” has come to mean the social and cultural circumstances which separate an impaired person from normal activity, the “generic term used to denote the social disadvantage experienced by people with an accredited impairment.” The old medical model, which drew no such distinction, inevitably applied modern assumptions to times and cultures which may not have shared them. The clarification of this critical concept allows scholars to approach the history of disability in an entirely new way. As Irina Metzler explains, the old model “is not appropriate to an investigation of disability in historic terms, in that past societies ... have had impairment but may not have had ‘disability’. If the medical model is used, then it is at the risk of contaminating the evidence with modern cultural assumptions” (9).

17 November, 2007

Concilium dismissum est.

Convocation today! I am now a Master of Arts. Master Alison.

This ceremony was shorter than the last one, and in far nicer digs. Convocation Hall is tiny, but it's a lot posher than UW's dressed-up gymnasium. I got hooded and I got my degree, and had many pictures of both. I'm quite pleased.

Next time, I get colourful robes and a funny hat, and I get to keep them!

14 November, 2007

Seeking Out Funding, Part the First

Welladay, I've been blithering on about my SSHRC application for quite a few posts now, and I'm starting to feel some sort of obligation to make this blog useful to others because God knows, I would LOVE to be able to read a blog like this right now. There's so much about going overseas and grad school in general to keep up in the air, and I'm a cruddy juggler. Having someone else offer suggestions and tips would be awesome, and while Excellent David is (natch!) an excellent source of info, his is ten years out of date.

Grad school is expensive, and international grad school is even worse. Most of us, by the time we get to grad school, are already deeply in debt and old enough to start having thoughts of settling, having a family, and doing it all without declaring bankruptcy. As a result, we need all the free funding we can get.

So. First in a series of informative posts about finding funding.

The Social Sciences and the Humanities Research Council offers scholarships for both Master's and PhD students (as well as funding for more established scholars). Winning a "SSHRC" is a moderately big deal in a status way, and an even bigger deal in a funding way.

Master's SSHRCs are valued at $17,500 for 12 months, and I've been told they receive fewer Master's applications than PhD so your odds aren't bad. PhD SSHRCs are valued at $20,000/year for up to 48 months. Also administered under the auspices of SSHRC is the Canada Graduate Scholarship, affectionately and awedly known as the "Super-SSHRC." The CGS is valued at $35,000/year for up to 36 months, and all SSHRC applications are automatically considered for the CGS as well (no separate application necessary).

The numbers alone should tell you these awards are worth applying for.

The application process is as full of red tape as you would expect. In addition to the 9 page online application form, which must be filled out absolutely correctly, you are responsible for getting two reference letters and writing a plan of study. I discussed the plan of study in an earlier post, but there's always more to say.

  • SSHRC is applicable to students studying outside of Canada.
  • Start early. Start writing your proposal early. SSHRC winners have been known to write upwards of 20 drafts, tweaking here and tinkering there. Your brain may get bogged down midway, so make sure you have time to put it on a shelf and take a break.
  • Answer all the questions I listed in the earlier post, and don't be afraid to be blunt about them. You only have two pages - no room to be coy! SSHRC is not looking for flowery writing. Point of fact, I've been told they generally despise it. "Creative" and "artistic" are not good adjectives for a solid proposal (not to be confused with your actual idea, which may be creative and/or artistic). They want to know, in two pages, that you are a serious scholar with serious research potential, and that your ideas are viable. Presenting this creatively doesn't make you stand out: it makes you look frivolous. You have to take yourself seriously to get them to take you seriously. This goes for the title of your project, too: concise and descriptive are better than catchy.
  • If you are at a school which offers a grant-writing seminar, GO! I can't stress this enough. I did it last year, and in four weeks I learnt an entirely new "voice." Writing a grant application is very different than other academic writing you may have done thus far, and having the experts at writing successful applications show you how to do it is beyond value. The UofT course includes one-on-one time with Writing Centre staff, all of whom won a SSHRC or CGS in the past. Because this award is so high profile and a major source of graduate funding, you may be able to find a SSHRC-specific course. GO.
  • What SSHRC is looking for is research potential. They don't care what you've done in the past or how awesome you are, except inasmuch as it proves your potential. If you can't say exactly how a past experience makes you a good researcher, don't bother including it.
  • Avoid impersonal pronouns. Never say "this proves I am great" or "I will do it." Say "this [specific thing] proves I am great" and "I will do [specific thing]." You have to be absolutely clear.
  • Invest in a writing guide. I have Academic Writing for Graduate Students and it is top-notch. Provides help and information for a variety of writing situations grad students will encounter, including grant writing.

Be aware of your deadlines. If you are applying through your current school, your department will set the deadline. You have to fight your way out of your department, who have a limited quota of applications they can forward to the school. If you make it past that, you have to fight your way out of the school, who also have a quota. If you are not currently at a Canadian school, you apply independently, and the deadline is usually somewhere around 15 November. You don't have to fight your way to get to SSHRC, which is kind of nice. Plus you have extra time, but don't let that fool you - it runs out fast!

That is SSHRC in a nutshell. It generally has the earliest deadline, nearly a full year in advance. Grants can be awarded in May as well as September, but most people aim for September. It is also very good for students facing a thesis proposal, because the same sorts of thoughts (minus the begging) are needed.

Good luck!

13 November, 2007

A Pro

Today I learned that the UK postgraduate system does not involve quals. Nor comps. Nada.

They expect you to hit the ground running, and to have started writing your dissertation within the first year, but there are no major OMG I WANT TO DIE comps.

I count this as a "pro." We'll check back in July and see how that's going.

The Elephant

I got my SSHRC posted today. I have a few tips:

1. Make sure the computer you have to print from has the same word processor as the computer you write and format the proposal in.
2. Don't forget to include your supervisors' names. This saves having to re-print at the very last minute.
3. Read all the form questions very, very carefully. This is another tip to save reprinting at the last minute.
4. While Kinko's does have net and printer access, it's nicer to not need them.
5. When you start your application, give your self a deadline. Push it back two weeks, or better still, a month. This is a lot more fun than last-minute scrambling. And you will always be scrambling.
6. FedEx self-serve shipping sucks, unless you're a regular customer. Don't bother if you're not, and get a real live person to help you.

Thank God that's over. Now I can prepare for the next grant application.


A SSHRC plan of study is two pages long. Two tiny pages.

Yet here I am, just staring at them. I'm so sick of them I never want to see them again. I want to throw them away, delete them, burn them, and enter the world of low-paying mindless drudge work.

On second thought, I don't. I have heard so many people say "I got started at Oaklands to pay a few bills, figured I'd be here a few months or a year, tops. That was 17 (5, 22, 30!) years ago." I don't want to ever hear myself say that. I'm motivated!

I have seen the poop-eaters, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have to finish this app!

12 November, 2007

"To Dos" - Done!

  • call OSAP re: Canada Study Grant for Females Pursuing Doctoral Studies (807-343-7260)
  • email York about expense breakdown estimate form
  • post expense breakdown form
  • set up line of credit
  • pick up SSHRC references
  • brush up and finalise SSHRC plan of study, including bibliography

I called OSAP today about the grant, but the office was closed for Remembrance Day. Still, I called, and that in itself is motivating. I'll call back tomorrow morning.

I emailed York again about the OSAP expense form, just to remind them that it's coming, and to pleaseplease send it back quickly.

The line of credit is all set, complete with parental (guarantor) paperwork. Now I just need a letter saying I have it.

I am getting the last piece of SSHRC paperwork tomorrow from Excellent David, and I will post it express in the afternoon. He emailed me some suggestions for my plan of study, which I will integrate in tonight for my final draft. I met Scary David today to pick up my reference, and he made a point of telling me that he thought my plan of study was excellent. He said I sounded competent and my plan is specific and well-thought-out. Which for me is pretty frickin' amazing, given how intimidated I am by the man. So I'm happy, and even if I don't win (always likely), I know that at least I gave it a very good try.

Oh, and he also gave me the details for my first publication credit (submitted under his auspices), so I can include that for SSHRC. I'm also including the lecture next week. Yay!

10 November, 2007

Productivity! Question of the Day!

# of things on my list that got done? 0.

Working night shifts is kinda hell on my ability to function in the diurnal world. I did, however, write approximately 1.5k words of my lecture (okay, okay, I copied-and-pasted ~600 words, but they are highly relevant citations, I promise!) and I got my convocation tickets for next week.

So the day wasn't a total waste.

I can feel myself getting clingier and more pathetic, which is one part of my normal defence against this sort of anxiety. I start feeling the intense need to be around the people I am going to miss.

How do you react to anxiety of leaving people? More importantly, how do you deal with it?

09 November, 2007

Keeping Up With the To Do List

  • call OSAP re: Canada Study Grant for Females Pursuing Doctoral Studies (807-343-7260)
  • email York about expense breakdown estimate form
  • post expense breakdown form
  • set up line of credit
  • mail offer of admittance back to York
  • pick up SSHRC references
  • brush up and finalise SSHRC plan of study, including bibliography

This list (except the references) should be all crossed off by the end of the day. Then, it's waiting. When I get the paperwork back from OSAP, I will post all the financial info to York, and wait for the final offer of admittance, whereupon* I can apply for housing and a visa.

* Any piece of writing is improved by the inclusion of the word "whereupon."

08 November, 2007

Looking from "the other side"

Lectures. Lecturing is a rough business. Until recently, I never really though about the effort that goes into lecturing. I'm sure if I had, I would have admitted quite readily that it was a crapload of effort, but now I am starting to see it from personal experience.

I've been trying to write the lecture I'm giving, and it's not easy getting the thoughts in order. There is just so much to cover, and much to explain to the audience I know is composed of non-specialists. Medieval Disability scholarship draws on the tools of both disciplines, and I have to explain both because I can't assume everyone knows both. And while I'm at it, I need to remember I can't take anything for granted. There's knowledge I take for granted in myself, habits of thinking and accumulations of data, and I have to remember what things are not common knowledge. Is this what composing a lecture is always like, I wonder? I hope I can do well by my attendees.

In related news, today I was pointed to Rate Your Students, a website of retaliation against Rate My Professors. Over the years it seems to have evolved into generalised kvetching about collegial matters. It's something of a humbling read, and I really hope I wasn't (aren't!) like that. I believe there's someone here who might especially enjoy the Naive Nina posts. I wish we could all get along, but it seems that even advanced degrees don't mature into adults.

And in also-related news, my lecture has been pushed back one week. The other university in the city is hosting a lecture at the exact same time, and I was given the option of switching and hoping for more attendees. Since I could use the extra time anyway, I took it. C'est la vie.

In entirely un-related news, my line of credit approval got underway. Shouldn't be a problem, and I am very, very pleased at the GBP-CAD exchange these days.

05 November, 2007


Tonight I started writing the lecture I'm going to deliver on November 15. 5000-6000 words in 10 days? I suppose I can do it. I better be able to do it.

04 November, 2007

Collecting up some funding info

I'm starting a list of potential funding sources, hopefully allowing me to keep track of them all and apply to as many as I am eligible for.

So without further ado...

Overseas Student Scholarship - deadline May 1, "one-third or one-sixth of the appropriate tuition fee."

Partner Studentships - deadline Apr 30, "Tuition fee (at the home/EU rate) and a full stipend (£12,600 in 2007/8)."

Overseas Research Award - deadline Jan 31, "the award covers the difference between the home and overseas fee."

Commonwealth Scholarships - deadline Dec 31, and you get basically everything you could possibly need, and probably more.

I'm sure I am missing a few of them. But it's a start.

Other important funding information:
Tuition and finances at York
A general list of awards offered by York
Getting a job at York
Postgrad budget info
More potential funding sources
More budget stuff

And other important York information which I am glad to know about, finally:
Pre-arrival pack of info
Incoming students Arrival Pack

03 November, 2007

Cast of Characters

I should probably introduce some of the dramatis personae of this saga, since it is awfully hard to talk about life without mentioning the people in it.

Excellent David: A professor from the University of Waterloo, who I met during my 3A term. He terrified me with his Roman Philosophers class, but it was not really his fault. Later he created a Special Readings distant ed. class, which allowed me to graduate with my Latin minor. We met weekly, one-on-one, and it was an excellent time. He is an excellent professor, and a good friend. He's my main source of reference letters and when you get right down to it, he's my mentor. I owe him a great deal, as I am where I am due in very large part to him.

Scary David: Another professor named David, this one from my Master's. I had the misfortune of royally tanking a major presentation for his class in first term, and I am not convinced I ever redeemed myself from that. Nevertheless, I did much better in another of his classes in second term, and he has written me reference letters as well. I am still terrified of him.

Dr. Goldberg: One of my doctoral advisors. By his emails, a nice man. Hopefully not as scary as Scary David.

Dr. McDonald: My other doctoral advisor. By her emails, a nice woman. She and Dr Goldberg have enough confidence in me to let me attempt my ideas, which is more than the rest of the department has given me. I'm excited to meet them both.

More will come, I am sure. But that should get everyone on the same page.

Banking the fires of the furnace a bit

Tonight I put the school stress aside a little. I did make an appointment for Monday with the Credit Union, and I discussed my SSHRC proposal with the Excellent David yesterday, so I have not been wasting my time.

But tonight I watched a couple of the better episodes of due South,* and I knitted. Getting my fingers back in it, as I expect that after my lecture I will need something to entertain myself at work. I think it's good to not get overly wound up in this process. Little breaks like this will help keep the anxiety down, especially when they involve such comforting and homey activities.

I have been thinking about what I am going to be packing to take with me. I'm allowing myself perhaps three special books (in addition to the academic books I need), and a DVD binder. I really want to have my due South, Slings and Arrows, and some other shows and movies. Things that will help the homesickness. I think it's weight well spent.

* "North," "Call of the Wild," and "The Ladies Man" if anyone is interested. That show really had some of the best tv writing ever. I saw "The Ladies Man" for the first time tonight, and I was floored. It's going to haunt me.

01 November, 2007

To-Do List

  • email reference #1
  • email reference #2
  • order BA transcript
  • order MA transcript
  • print SSHRC forms
  • complete OSAP application
  • print OSAP forms
  • call OSAP re: Canada Study Grant for Females Pursuing Doctoral Studies
  • email York with expense breakdown estimate form
  • set up line of credit
  • mail offer of admittance back to York

Oh, and blog about the whole messy deal.

Summing up my entire life in two pages

Last year, when I composed my first SSHRC application, I felt entirely at sea. Sum up my entire past and academic future in just two pages? Then when I started writing, I thought I would never fill those two pages. How much can one say about research one has not yet done? I ended up using every single line of those two pages.

This year, I had the same experience. I am not quite done my draft yet, but it is coming along nicely, and I am almost at the two-page limit. And this, after weeks of being stalled at just over one page and despairing of ever filling more in.

It's hard to explain two very different fields to an army of non-specialists in either.

What needs to be included in a SSHRC draft:
Who I am.
What my topic is.
Why it is important and unique.
What has been done in the past that I can build on. (Also, am I serious enough about this to get my nose in it already.)
How I am going to go about studying it.
Why I am the best - nay, only - person to study this topic.
What I will do during the tenure of the award. (Is their money going to be well-used.)

And I have to sell myself. A hard sell, the I am great and spectacular, and my work is vitally important to all people kind of sell.

I tell you, if you ever find yourself in the position of writing your first grant application, see if your school offers a course through the writing centre or something. It is time very well spent. This is a very different sort of writing, and there are a lot of tips and tricks, a lot of Dos and Don'ts, that you need to know.

I hope I remember enough of last year's course to make this application a contender. It would ease the financial pressure so much.

31 October, 2007

The first post with information useful to others!

Today I began exploring visa options. Thankfully, it looks like it's not too complicated. Complicated, yes, but not obscene.

Studying in the UK - A helpful page. And I mean that with all the understatement my frail human body can contain.

Only the Ottawa consulate deals with visas. To get a visa, I need to have:

  • printed and signed e-application VAF1.
  • the appropriate fee, which is non-refundable (see Fees leaflet)
  • your original valid passport
  • one recent passport size photograph taken in Canada (less than 6 months old). The photo must: show the full face centred in the middle of the photo; be clear and of good quality; be taken against a light background; be printed on normal photographic paper; be 45mm x 35mm in size; and be black and white or colour. Note: Professional digital photographs are acceptable.
  • a letter of unconditional acceptance from the school/college in the UK confirming the duration of your course and course fees
  • evidence of sufficient funds to show you can meet the cost of the course and accommodation and maintain yourself (e.g. recent bank statements, line of credit/bank loan, scholarship/bursary documents)
  • a letter stating your intentions on completion of your course
  • copies of any relevant diplomas or educational certificates which you hold. Please note that if originals are required, we will contact you.

So this means I need to get to the credit union tout de suite and arrange a line of credit. And apply for OSAP (again). Then, with money arranged, contact York to prove I can pay, and get the unconditional offer. With that in hand, and copies of my finances, and my passport, and all the other paperwork, I will apply for a visa.

Visas take 5 days to process, normally, and then they mail everything back to you. I am very, very glad not to have to go to Ottawa to get it. And also very glad about the benefits of this visa:

  • A UK student visa provides validity for the full period of study plus unlimited entries.
  • A UK student visa provides a work entitlement: 20 hours per week and full time during the holidays.
  • A UK student visa provides the opportunity to switch into work permit or highly skilled migrant categories after graduation
  • In addition to all these benefits, the new International Graduates Scheme enables all graduates/postgraduates to remain in the UK for 12 months (2 years in Scotland).

So it's going to be a lot of running around. A lot of red tape. But it's clear and direct and doable.

O, Canada

The anxiety is kicking in big-time. Having the papers and getting the ball rolling makes it all so much more real.

Can I do this? Is my topic viable? What about money? Leaving friends behind? Family?

This blog/diary is helping, and it's very good to know that it's okay to be scared and freaking out. But I still am scared.

I can has cheeseburger?

Writing grant applications is difficult to do when you have a migraine. All of your attempts at coherency end up looking like something out of a lolcats macro. lolsshrcs? Whatever.

In happier news, my formal offer of study arrived in the post, finally. It is contingent upon me proving I have the funds to accept. Crapsticks. Good thing: GBP-CDN exchange rate. Bad thing: I still don't have $35k. OSAP will give me $10k, and I will have about $5-6k of my own (mom being sick this summer really was brutal). I can probably set up a line of credit at the Credit Union.

Funding: Ramen Noodle edition! Why do I want to go to England, again?

Right, I forgot about OSAP. OSAP won't release a funding estimate until they have a letter from York with an expense breakdown. So I have to call York, ask for that, send it to OSAP, wait for OSAP to reply, then I can reply to York that Yes, I have money. And THEN I can apply for housing. Somehow I'm beginning to doubt all this is possible before January. Lessons to Learn: start everything really, really, early.

I will be seeking out the cheapest possible accommodations, while I'm there. Prices range from £3,500-5,300. Guess which one I'll be going for?

It's very strange, looking over these UK residences. We can add "washbasin" to the list of words I'll have to switch over to. I usually think of a laundry sink when I hear "washbasin." That, or a porcelain bowl with a water jug sitting in it, a la Victorian period.

Anyway, the point is that things we take for granted over here, like phone jacks and internet... not so much, over there. My two first-choice residences have limited internet service and no phones in the rooms. My second choice has both. Fortunately, the first-pick residences are also the cheapest of the available housing. Unfortunately, they house a combined 53 students, and all of those spots are very likely already taken, since I'll be arriving in January. Regardless, all of the residences are within biking distance of my academic building, which is nice, and the York website says that the main campus is wireless. Whatever I get, I will deal with, but it has to be cheap, is all.

Ramen noodles.

26 October, 2007

The Impossibility Terror

Yesterday I got my hot little hands on Irina Metzler's excellent "Disability in Medieval Europe: Thinking about physical impairment during the high Middle Ages, c. 1100-1400."

I cracked it open this morning, and after ploughing through the first two chapters in mesmerised fascination, I sunk into the black pit of despair. This book is amazing. The methodology is sophisticated. The explanation of the difficulties posed by such an interdisciplinary field is eloquent and concise. I am so far from this bar I see set before me.

After a brief period, sanity returned, and I remembered that I'm not supposed to be at this level yet, and that is what the next 4, 6, 10 years are all about. So I am choosing to be inspired by it, and will probably snag a copy at next year's International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo.*

And in the meantime, I will meditate upon it in hopes of it helping me write my SSHRC application.

At last year's Medieval Academy of America meeting (or was it K'zoo?), I remember a discussion about us lowly students becoming fans of senior scholars. It's sadly, geekishly true. OMG!!1one! You wrote that book about medieval disability, and it was totally teh awesome! Can I have your autograph!?! Hmm. I wonder if that's what the open bars and wine hour are really about. They call it "socialising" and "networking," but really it's just an excuse to get the young'uns drunk enough to act like Japanese fangirls so they can enjoy the adulation.

That presents a disturbing enough mental image that I think it's time for me to quit writing.

* There are no less than three special sessions on disability proposed for the 43rd Congress. "(Ab)normal societies: Disability as a Socio-Cultural Concept in Medieval Society"; "Embodied Identities: Disability and Gender in the Middle Ages"; "Disability in the Middle Ages: a Roundtable Discussion". "The Representation of the Self in Medieval Discourse" also sounds interesting. This is a sub-field that's really starting to gain momentum!

23 October, 2007

I need some cookies, please

As when travelling to any place where there is a notable linguistic difference, moving to England will present some challenges.

I will indulge with biscuits, not cookies.
If I want a biscuit, I'll have to ask for a scone.
Pants are not meant to be publicly visible.
Britain has a bewildering array of crisps. I mean really, hedgehog flavoured?
They also have a large number of ways to refer to pop.

And I'm sure many more will make themselves known. Lifts, lorries, nappies.

Given my general tendency to pick up the accent of whoever is speaking, I have a feeling my trips back to Canada will be comical.

22 October, 2007

Another Work Week Begins

I received my "email acceptance notice" on 03 October. Today is 22 October, two and a half weeks later. I'm still waiting for the post to arrive with my paperwork and the formal offer. Until then, I am still very nervous.

I need to get certain things moving (visa, loans, etc.), and I can't do any of it until I have paperwork. So I'm on edge about having enough time for all that, and also on edge about just plain getting in. It's not certain till I have the hard copy.

In funding news, my SSHRC application in progressing. It is possible to start funding in May, which would be ideal. Still, I can't count on anything. I am very glad of my excellent credit rating and my excellent relationship with my credit union, because it's looking quite possible that I will need a loan from them as well as from the government. David tells me that it is very difficult for overseas students to get legitimate work in England, since (understandably, I suppose) the government wants the jobs to go to English students.

It's rather irritating, because the Canadian government doesn't want to send its money overseas, and the English government wants its money to stay home, too. And since I'm not "home" in either place, I get screwed.

21 October, 2007

Pros and Cons

I'm at work, and I'm stone bored. I'm probably going to end up posting a few posts to get this going.

Pros about the University of York:
* strong interdisciplinary focus
* very pretty campus
* they accepted me
* highest "duck density" of any school in the UK (ducks + chasing = excellent stress relief)
* very cyclist friendly city
* year-round above freezing temperatures
* manuscript libraries nearby

* won't be able to drive at all
* year-round rain
* don't know anyone
* will miss all my friends and family
* very expensive

The friends-and-family bit is going to be the hardest thing for me, but as you can see, there is a lot of good things about the UofYork. Thankfully, the dollar-to-pound exchange is very good right now.

The furnace of doubt

I'm restarting this long-dormant blogger account as a place to recount the terrors and joys of being a grad student.

I am a recently-admitted doctoral candidate at the University of York in England. I'm also a Canadian born and bred, so this blog is not just about grad school, it is about the long-term process of living abroad.

I leave in January, and I'm already getting homesick. I expect it to get worse, but also to get better as I adjust and as it becomes more real. The anticipatory homesickness is making things rough right now. I imagine I will get very distracted when the paperwork starts pouring in and the wheels start turning.

So here things are. You can look forward to humorous stories of linguistic variation, travel tips, government screw-ups, research zaniness, and much, much more!