Tag Archives: university

TED talks and TEDx: Ideas worth spreading

Ideas floating about, crisscrossing through the university atmosphere. I think a tag line for TED is “Ideas worth spreading” but I might have that from somewhere else. In any case, there is some rubbing and cross-pollination happening now at various college campuses, those hosting the TEDx local days. My son is one of the main organizers for the session at University of Waterloo, and I’m sending him good luck wishes all day. It’s a lot of work to put on this sort of conference, with live feeds and various sessions, food and parking and ticketing and registration and funding and all that. I’m always gobsmacked when people pull these things off well, and I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the Waterloo one is going swimmingly, but I’m over here kind of bursting with pride.

In my family, TED talks are the creme de la creme. We all tune into the podcasts and I recommend them to everyone – you can take 10 minutes and learn about a totally new idea taught by a leader in the field. The speakers on the live feed  from Waterloo today are younger than they often are in the main TED talks – TEDx uses local stars with unusual ideas, seeking to inspire the student attendees.

I like to see the enthusiasm in the crowd – the young faces still enthused (if somewhat nebulously) about changing the world, about saving us from greenhouse gases, about finding their passion and following it.

If they can create environments where this idea trading goes on, I’m sure they’ll find a good place for all this enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, so many workplaces try to squash innovation and thinking and even valuable activity. Students being interviewed talked about breaking down silos and connecting people – it’s tough, doing that. I hope they can. I’ve tried, with greater or lesser success. The barriers can be intense, the turf-clutching dramatic.

Sometimes it seems like everyone is fighting to get a slightly larger desk while the reason for their job goes unattended.

Even at Waterloo, programs are split into silos, breaking down engineering into tiny specialty areas to entice students  – and then creating an integrative studies program for those like my son who see things holistically so try to stick the parts back together. It seems foolishness to rip things apart and then stick them together again, but perhaps there will be new alignments, new creations that come about through this.

I sure hope so. We want these sparks of inspiration to gather together and create a true fire. Otherwise, it’s another pricey flash in the pan.

Oh, and PS – I’m going to look into that live streaming stuff for Bloody Words 2015 – might make it more accessible for people across the Atlantic Provinces…maybe my son can help?

A nurse is a nurse, of course, of course…

Long ago and far away, I went to nursing school. Not just any nursing school, but the atmospheric Queen’s University School of Nursing, where I was told I was too short to be a nurse, where I was almost fired as a student for questioning a prof, where I had to watch my nuclear-familied darker-skinned friend be questioned endlessly about her extended family while I, with my 21 uncles and aunts, was viewed as uninteresting in terms of family dynamics. There I participated in an urgent research study about how soon the mouth returns to normal temperature after drinking cold water. I did bed baths on bathing suited colleagues. I listened to the anatomy professor describe the female reproductive system while he stood on his bench with his arms extended as Fallopian tubes.

It was an interesting intellectual experience, one that I didn’t fully plumb at the time, focused as I was on a. passing b. partying and c. being in love. It is not too surprising that I turned out a rather horrid nurse, clumsy and prone to mistakes, unsympathetic at the wrong times, and awash with grief at the right ones. But something got in my blood. Once a nurse, always a nurse, people say, and I think it is true. I may hate the thought of rising to meet the needs of my fellow man/woman/animal, but I can’t seem to help myself from doing it. When people faint at church, there are three nurses (me included) who run to their side. I hate being in crowds of excited overweight men, as I live in fear of having to do CPR. I almost killed a man once during an intimate moment and all I could do was review my code practices and strategize how I would get him to the hospital.

Nursing was an odd career choice for me. I’m at least as self-centred as the next person, and probably more so. I don’t like smells, or poops, or babies. But wounds – well, they fascinate me. Maybe I shoulda been a microbiologist, where I wouldn’t have to deal with people, but could play with microbes all day long…

Some people, though, come naturally to the caring biz, even if they aren’t “nurses”. There’s a lass like that in my MS group of chums. She’s always extending herself for others, driving them to appointments, feeding them, cheering them on, arranging events, just being there. She’s not one of those offensive “busy ladies” either. She’s just there, comforting, sweet, caring, and present. She’s quiet, but speaks when she needs to. She has MS, too, and is exhausting herself as she tends to others, but is so necessary to those around her she dare not stop. She amazes me and I am humbled by her generosity of spirit.

Me, I’d rather have a glass of wine and forget about everyone.

Just don’t faint, or seem ill. Because then my inner nurse will take over, and wine or no, I’ll be there. It’s a reflex.

Just like the rest of we nurses, trained or volunteer. We can’t help ourselves.


Merrily wandering along memory lane

A few weeks ago I received a sinister invitation in my email box from my alma mater.  Apparently in a moment of utter foolishness, I’d volunteered to be the contact person for our next reunion, our 30th. According to the astonishingly youthful alumni advisor, this date is coming up.  I could cheerfully crumble into a pile of aged limestone (I went to Queen’s, dontcha know) at the thought of the 30 years difference from the person I still see in my mind’s eye BEFORE I look in the mirror and the one I see afterwards, but I got to thinking.  About Queen’s.  About my time there. About the people I knew there.

I was a transfer student from University of Washington, and as such got to skip the usual frosh frivolities and enter the much more serious-minded drinking of the transfer student group. I met a clump of people from CEGEPs in Quebec, and made some lifelong friends from there – at least I think I did as some of them stayed around even when sober. I met my first Queen’s boyfriend in that group and we had a perfectly lovely time, even when he tried to hit me in the face with a pie for my birthday (I grew up in Boston, so he went for an appropriate Boston Cream Pie, little realizing it was really a cake.  It bounced off me quite harmlessly, but the thought was there). We dated for almost a year, and then dated again later. Sweet man.

I met my  first roommate that year, too – a stunning blonde who eventually went on to study law.  Not before we had fisticuffs outside the Prince George Hotel, though.  We’d been drinking with some RMC Cadets and she wanted to go home and I had something urgent to attend to before we walked the long way in the cold, if you get my drift, and she refused to wait for me and we actually had a bouncing off the sidewalk fistfight to decide.  It was over shortly because both of us were weaving a teensy bit and kept missing each other. We must’ve looked hilarious. She’s still a fighter, but has taken it into jurisprudence (and the occasional Starbucks).

My nursing classmates – well, they were warm and funny and smart and occasionally odd and I’ve reconnected with a few of them via Facebook and other means. One of them has remained by best kindred spirit friend through all these years. They were always much more organized and motivated than I was, dressed better, came to school prepared. I’m curious about them.  So much has changed in my life since I last saw them – I wonder what’s been happening in theirs?

I remember endless nursing clinicals, the dreaded lab sessions where we had to give bed baths to each other – and one lengthy series of classes where we were supposed to be learning about research but spent it instead on a prof’s study about how long it took oral temperatures to return to normal after a glass of ice water. Totally exciting. Not. I remember our wild anatomy professor who stood on his lab table to illustrate the uterus and fallopian tubes. I remember making my labmate shriek when I pulled the shoulder tendons on a cadaver’s arm we were studying and made the fingers move. Lost a boyfriend over that. He didn’t have the same sense of humour as the first one, who would have probably just turned green and then done a Muppet joke. Wacka wacka wacka.

I remember dances, long days spent in the health library, long nights spent in the pub. I remember drinking awful coffee out of those vending machines that never failed to leave a pile of grounds in every cup. I remember walks by the lake, studying in my apartment, the peaceful sound of snow days in Kingston, the glorious Mays. It was good, even the Kraft Dinner and the month I lived in a basement with nothing but bread and strawberry jam to eat. My roommate and I couldn’t afford the laundromat so we’d hand wash our uniforms and nylons and then run in circles around the apartment to dry them.

I wasn’t a keen student, most of the time.  I wanted to learn what I needed to know, but my curiosity wasn’t piqued by most of my courses. It wasn’t until I got to third year that things began to fall into place and suddenly I was mature enough to understand what a treasure this time really was. When would I again have the luxury of studying only, of stretching my mind while not having anyone depending on me to do anything else but?

Well, for better or worse, the knowledge bug bit me and I’ve been unable to stop learning, taking courses, studying. It’s all been wonderful and I’m even signed up for a course this September again and can’t wait.

But oh how I miss my classmates and the times we shared.  So perhaps organizing this reunion is just the thing. I’m looking forward to wandering down the lane with them. But maybe I’ll skip the Kraft Dinner.