Yesterday, I returned from my month-long sojourn in Montreal; while it was certainly a wonderful thing to regain some measure of independence (no matter how temporarily), I am certainly happy to see the end of 24-hour work days*. I learned a great many things about myself and the world in Montreal, and, in no particular order, I shall relate some of them to you now.
- It’s impossible to be a freak in Montreal. This was one thing that I learned rapidly. Montreal is by far the largest city in which I have ever spent an appreciable amount of time, and it is also the only city in which I have lived where nobody gave me any funny looks for being a two hundred pound trans woman. There are too many different kinds of people living in too close proximity to one another for any one type of person to stand out as appreciably weirder than the rest, and this is glorious.
- I know French. Really, I do. I have all of the vocabulary, grammar, and syntax locked up in my brain somewhere; what I don’t have is the experiential alchemy necessary to transform my knowledge of the technical details into actual fluency. But I am confident that, given another month or two, I could learn it. When I first arrived, none of the conversations I overheard made any sense. But after the first two weeks or so, I started to be able to get the gist of many of them.
- Social interaction is not like riding a bicycle. I have never been particularly skillful at social interaction, but after a few years on my Master’s degree, I learned to navigate my way through most encounters with other Human Beings. But then I returned from Strasbourg, with nothing to do, and my social life went into the deep freeze. I’m afraid that it is somewhat worse for the wear, and I have returned, unfortunately, to my usual frigid self.
- I don’t actually like heavy drinking, loud clubs, or staying up until 4 AM in association with either of these things. Part of the problem that I encountered in point 3 was that all of the modes of social interaction allowed by the program involved one or both of these things, and, at the risk of wasting my twenties, I would rather not spend my time in this manner. Couldn’t we order pizza and watch movies, or perhaps play board games?
- Neither religion, nor the lack of it, can do anything for your personality if you are, at heart, a douchebag. As you may have guessed, the greatest part of my work in Montreal centred around editing a report on the subject of extra-solar planets. One part of the report, given the interdisciplinary nature of the program, was an attempt to trace the idea of other worlds existing elsewhere in the Universe throughout history and culture. This was primarily done through the prism of religion. But 20-something STEM graduates don’t tend to be the most theistic of people, and there is a vocal sub-class of atheists who are incapable of getting through a discussion of religion in any context without launching into a tirade about “how it has been the major force holding Humanity back throughout history” and how, implicitly, they are intellectually superior to believers. This is how you get things like an utterly-irrelevant two page discussion of a study that shows how average national IQ is inversely proportional to average religiosity** in a section that is supposed to be about Democritus. But before you start ragging on the atheists here, I should add that, not three hours after I had excised that particular discussion, I overheard two Catholics in a greasy spoon diner claiming that God had retroactively given Stephen Hawking Lou Gehrig’s disease in preemptive punishment for his statements of disbelief. Sometimes I just hate people so much.
- Toxic Masculinity is almost always a mask for a lack of basic competence. One “charming” new experience that I got to endure for the first time was sexual harassment in the workplace. I didn’t even notice it at first (because I prefer to assume everyone’s good faith, and because I tend to be pretty oblivious to matters of passive aggression), but it soon became clear that every single time I went into the computer lab, this one gentleman would manage to bring a male/female gender-bender (the electronic device) up in conversation. This same fellow later started making “make me a sandwich” jokes to all of the women working on the project. Needless to say, his jokes were not a tenth as funny as his hilariously bad writing.
- I’m secretly a very good manager. Those 24 hour work days to which I alluded earlier never happened to me last year, when I was actually on a project. This was because I planned everything out six weeks beforehand and got my team organized and working early so that none of us would ever have to pull an all-nighter. This year, however, I was working to the team editors’ schedule, and (if I do say so myself) it was not as well-planned as mine had been.
- Everyone who has ever attended the Osheaga Music Festival in Montreal is my mortal enemy. A number of attendees of this annual event in the cultural life of Montreal spent the final week of the program in the student residence where I stayed. To them, I can only ask: WHAT COULD EVER MAKE YOU THINK THAT PLAYING MUSIC AT FULL BLAST AT FOUR THIRTY IN THE FUCKING MORNING IN THE COURTYARD OF A STUDENT RESIDENCE IS AN OK THING TO DO? Right outside of my window, no less! You people should have your skeletons boiled down for glue!
- Taking courses in the Humanities and Social Sciences improves your report-writing skills. I remember that one introductory political science course that I took back in 2005; when assigning our first essay, the professor, in his wisdom, counselled us against writing a clichéd introductory paragraph, such as one which (to use his memorable parlance) “hearkened back to the mists of time***.” Ever since then, I have tried to avoid such paragraphs. But apparently the people writing this report had never had this professor or anyone like him, and so a report on gravitational wobbles began with several paragraphs on the subject of cave paintings.
- I need to get my life back. After a year on ice, I was allowed to feel–fleetingly–like a person again. I need to have that permanently. I’ve been waiting around too long already, and one way or the other, I need to take some risks.
*On average I worked 8 hours a day, but the workload was poorly distributed. There were many days when I had nothing to do at all, and many others, mostly towards the end, where there was virtually no time to sleep at all, and I was therefore forced to fuel myself with cans of Monster energy beverage until I was tremulous with exhaustion.
**Needless to say, this study put northern Europe and Canada at the top and the various African nations down somewhere near the bottom, and didn’t bother to consider how things like average national income or the last three hundred years of colonialism might work as hidden variables. Stephen Jay Gould spins in his grave.
***Apparently this professor had read one too many essays which began with something like: “Ever since that lost age of remotest antiquity when the first proto-hominid crawled out of the primordial ooze, looked to the heavens, and declared ‘I am man!,’ people have pondered one fundamental question: Is a triple-E senate a good fit for Canada?”