My Year In Review

30 12 2011

As the year is coming to a close, it would be great to be able to say that this blog post is meant to provide closure and a space for reflection for both myself and anyone who may be inspired from reading this post.

However, the truth is that I have a pretty poor episodic memory, for which I usually say that it’s just because I am focused on the future and not fixated on the past.  Having said that, I am super thankful for the invention of photographs and videos, because I would not remember much without their prompting.  And this is why, inspired by my dear friend, here is one personal highlight from each month in 2011, complete with photos and videos!  Creating this post is more for my benefit than anyone else’s, as I otherwise would not remember what happened this year =P.  I actually had to look at my Google Calendar to remember what I did each month (thank goodness for that invention as well!).

January

January was the first time I was back on the stage acting and singing in five years, and it was more than I could have asked for.  Amazing cast and crew, a phenomenal and thought-provoking production of Kiss of the Spider Woman, and I learned more about acting and the art of being part of an ensemble than I ever had the privilege of learning before.

A photo from rehearsal! =)

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February

February was a busy month with med-related gatherings of great friends, including parties (the biggest one of which was the annual Internos with all four med years attending), the first of many meetings planning the annual Med/Dent talent show, and the start of rehearsals with my amazing bandmates in our med school rock band: the Superior Retention Band.

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March

March was mostly Unit 5, which was the musculoskeletal system, so it was anatomy-intensive in a very short amount of time (along with more extra-unit assignments than usual), so I think I was actually studying and working on school for most of it…but I made it through, so I’m going to say it was worth it! =)

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April

In April, four of my Pennsylvania family members traveled quite a bit, leaving their lives behind momentarily just so we could all spend a weekend together.  Great news was shared and I think we had a pretty awesome time together, but that’s pretty standard fare =).

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May

The 2011 McGill Med/Dent Talent Show happened and I believe we raised $10,000 for Starlight.  It was so much fun organizing this event with incredibly talented and dedicated human beings who I have the added privilege of calling my friends, and the result was that we had fun making skits, singing songs, and creating a pretty spectacular event together while raising money for a good cause.

Below is our band performing for the talent show, as well as one of the skits in full!

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June

The first year of med school ended with June, and it was personally the most significant month of the year for me for a variety of reasons.  I think the beginning of summer, the end of school, and my birth month meant that great changes and personal growth were inevitable, not to mention I saw quite a few out-of-town friends! =)

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July

This was the month that two of my favourite people came to town and showed me the beauty of my own city, and I’m so thankful to have been included in their awesome adventure.

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August

In August, I started a new job promoting mental health awareness at McGill, and the staff and volunteers that I’ve had the honour of working with are passionate, intelligent, and people that I could spend hours talking to on any given day, because we are driven by similar interests and passions in health promotion and prevention.  Creating the Zenity Squad this year for mental health promotions with this team of stellar individuals was, to me, the first step in realizing the career that I hope to carve out for myself.

September

We had our white coat ceremony in September, so we can be official med students in the hospitals starting in January.  I didn’t think it was a big deal at first, but eventually I realized the symbolism of the coat: the fact that many patients may not know the difference between our white coats and those of residents and attendings, and more importantly, the coat is about accepting the responsibility of taking the health of others into our hands.  The trust that others place on us and thus, the power that we have and need to respect.  Turns out it is kind of a big deal.

October

My October was all about a little musical production called Into the Woods, and oh, the stories I could tell you about this show!  It was indeed a magical production, full of drama in the creative process itself, but coming to a fairytale conclusion.  I learned so much from this team, and I think the experience will shape my performances as an actor and singer forever.

I also have to mention how much I appreciate all of my colleagues and friends in and out of med school who came to see the show.  It means the world to me and I hope/think they enjoyed it!

Below is our cast photo, along with one of the promo videos we did for the show.  Nothing but fond memories =).

[vimeo 30137973]

November

TEDxMcGill happened in November, and organizing this event connected me with such inspirational and passionate human beings, and I’m proud of the event we created together.

Here’s one of my favourite talks, where he redefined success in the course of his own talk that afternoon, when he pulled himself out of what he thought was a bad start, and managed to bring the event home in the end.

December

My big December trip is now ending, and this month, I have been blessed with the company of beautiful friends and family (inside and out), as well as time for personal reflection in places that I got to explore.  I feel loved and ready for the next step in my medical education, and there is nothing more that I could ask for from a vacation.

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2012

I think reflecting on the past, at least for me, helps me realize that I have been actively living this year.  That as someone who focuses so much on the future, I need to stop and appreciate all of the amazing things I had the privilege of being part of and I had the power of making happen this year.

It’s not always about bigger and better things, moving onwards and upwards, but looking down every once in a while and admiring the fact that we’ve climbed up pretty high; we’ve come quite a ways up, and we’re exactly where we’re meant to be at this moment.

Here’s to 2012 – to looking back with fondness and without regret, to the excitement and anxiousness of the yet unseen, and to the present, oh, the present.





Cirque du Soleil is My Montreal

27 07 2011

After watching Totem at Cirque du Soleil in Montreal, I was speechless.

Yes, I was speechless because it was incredible, but I was also speechless because I didn’t know how I felt or what to think about the performance.

I was not really sure how I could categorize my experience there. I was, and still am, a wee bit confused about the whole shebang.

Cirque du Soleil, for those who may have not been, is a circus taken to unprecedented heights.  I did not know what to expect, so I had the same expectations going in as I would have had had I gone to a show at the theatre, and my expectations were simultaneously unmet and greatly surpassed.

In many ways, Cirque du Soleil taps into a visceral, primitive response that theatre rarely does.  When trapeze artists were lifted 40 feet into the sky, or when young ladies rode on unicycles four times their height while kicking bowls onto each other’s heads, or when acrobats performed tantalizing feats of amazement without using any safety harness, it was exhausting to watch.

It was exhausting because there were so many moments when I felt like I was in the performer’s shoes, so my adrenaline was pumping strong because my empathy made me feel like I was 40 feet in the air and about to fall, or that I was about to screw up in the act and disappoint myself and my colleagues.  At times, I could even feel fear for what might happen if the performer made a mistake and it cost them their job.

There was also an amazingly designed set – complete with a sliding main stage that could turn into a trampoline and a platform that could move like a scorpion tail; live musicians playing beautiful original music; and perhaps most impressively, an incredible use of technology and dazzling lights to help create illusion and wonder that constituted genuine treats for my senses.

The problem is I did not expect that.  I was used to seeing a different type of show, which thrilled me in a completely different way: by making me think about the story and characters in the play or musical or film, reflecting the themes and metaphors of the show onto my own life.

Not to say that one is better than the other, but I went in expecting one and got the other.

However, Totem was confusing not because it was completely the opposite of what I expected, but because it was a mix of both physical thrill and thought-provoking beauty.  There was a particular scene that stands out quite vividly in which a young man tries to seduce a young woman, who is resisting his advances, and their whole scene takes place high in the air on a trapeze, but they never lose their character’s intention during the beautiful choreography.  In a lot of ways, I think that is what I expected the entire show to be: a cohesive story being told through physical movement and athleticism, but only some of the acts were stories, and it did not all fit into the greater theme of creation and evolution, which Totem is supposed to be about.

Like Montreal, the Cirque du Soleil’s place of origin, the show is truly one-of-a-kind: full of rare, curious, and talented individuals who simultaneously fit together for a purpose, and yet at times clash and seem to be off in their own isolated worlds.

The transitions between acts were not always smooth, and the acts were at times chaotic, nonsensical, silly, and seemingly out-of-the-blue, but never was it boring.

And that’s exactly how Montreal feels to me: full of surprises, with so much going on (e.g., three festivals happening on a Thursday night), sometimes inherently contradictory, sometimes seeming to be without purpose (other than for a good time or simply because they can), but always full of passionate and delightfully strange individuals (myself included), who push boundaries of what is expected and acceptable, and truly celebrate uniqueness while looking down on conformity.

In fact, I was at the Just for Laughs festival and two young ladies were dressed as tongues – with complete make-up, taste-buds in front, and blood vessels on their back – and by golly they were the proudest, most confident tongues I have ever seen.  I would have been more than a little embarrassed had I been in their shoes, but they were running around actually making fun of other people in their flamboyantly rouge outfits.

I guess that’s why they call it Montreal.





Family in the Dark

2 06 2011

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A few weeks ago, my family came to visit.  No, not my biological family, but my Pennsylvania family.  The eclectic group of friends I met during my time there that embraced me for who I am and made me feel at home in a place far from home.

Well, a few of them came to visit Montreal for the first time, and they drove eight hours or took a long, expensive flight just to come for a weekend.  They all have work and children and partners and gigs and busy lives to lead back home, but they all took the time to visit me nonetheless, even though they only had three days.

That’s family.

Even though there was limited time, I feel like we did a lot together.  Mostly we chatted the day away and cramped our abdominal muscles from the constant laughter, but we also shared some new experiences.

O. Noir is a unique dining experience in complete darkness, where you order the meals beforehand (with the option of ordering surprise dishes for those adventurous types!) and then follow your blind wait staff (by putting your hand on the person in front of you and walking slowly) into the darkness.  You go from being able to see…to not.

When I lost my vision in this way, I started having trouble breathing.  I kept looking around the room as if there was some light that was hiding in a corner somewhere and if I just looked hard enough, I would find it.  It was difficult to get used to the idea that, contrary to my usual beliefs, working harder and trying harder was not going to help me out of this situation.  I experienced what felt like a panic attack, and I was ready to dash out of that room even though I knew that I would probably run into people and chairs and still not find my way out.

But then we sat down and during one of my shortness of breath episodes, I grabbed the hand of my friend next to me.  And suddenly, I could breathe a little easier.

She did not seem to care that we were no longer able to use our vision.  In fact, she found it pretty darn cool.  And her infectious and optimistic energy started warding off my fear.  My fear that losing my vision meant losing an integral part of who I am.  I started talking to my friends at the restaurant, and they were joking and laughing, just like we had been when we were outside at a bar.  Nothing changed other than this new dimension of experience.  In fact, it was fascinating to experience bread for the first time without vision: really appreciating the interplay of texture and taste.

My friends helped me realize that we were no different even if we did lose our ability to gauge facial expression and body language.  Even though we became unaware, at times, that we would be shouting to compensate for not being able to visually gauge whether someone had heard what we said.

I also realized that I felt better when I shut my eyelids.  It was about being in control.  When I closed my eyes, I could tell myself that I chose to not be able to see, rather than face the reality that I was unable to.  I could tell my brain that this is a condition that is normal – i.e., what I do during sleeping or blinking – so there was no need to panic.  My friends did not have this issue, but it certainly helped me to keep my eyes closed for most of the meal.

After tightly grasping my friend’s hand for quite some time and chatting nonsensically nonstop as a manifestation of my panic, I eventually calmed down and joined my friends in formulating a scenario where one of us would pretend to loudly propose to another in the restaurant, but the person being proposed to would say no, because he/she is in love with someone else, who just so happens to also be at O. Noir that night.  What a delightfully ridiculous farce that would turn out to be, right?

Ohkay, so I know that joke probably only makes us laugh, but that’s my whole point.  Being silly with my friends helped me stop worrying about my fear and start concerning myself with the uniqueness of that evening, really sampling the surprise food items that my friends chose (I could not choose surprise items myself…), which were all delicious, by the way.  I finally stopped trying to extrapolate the experience outside of the contained time and space that it was kept, and I just enjoyed an incredibly fun evening with my friends.

It’s good to have your family with you when you are scared to do something you’ve never done before.  You know a whole team of capable individuals is there to catch you if you fall…or in my case, try to run out screaming and fail miserably while breaking many things in the dark.





There’s Going to Be Good Times…(Nothing But Good Times!)

18 01 2011

Photo Credit: Eric Chad

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This is, in part, a letter of apology to my friends, who must be wondering whether I still exist. The truth is a solid “kind-of”. As in I kind-of live in the theatre until the end of January.

The reason?

Kiss of the Spider Woman: the musical journey that started when I auditioned in September, is now finally, actually opening.

The show was the 1993 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, and it’s being put on by the McGill Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society.  Kiss of the Spider Woman is set in a Latin American prison, where Valentin, a Marxist revolutionary, is put in the same cell as Molina, a homosexual imprisoned for allegedly corrupting a minor.  Molina escapes the real world of the jail cell by imagining movies starring his favourite actress, Aurora, who Molina loves in all roles except when she is the Spider Woman, whose kiss kills.  The show is about how Molina and Valentin change the course of each other’s lives, leading towards the inevitability of the Spider Woman’s kiss.

My life since the beginning of January has centred around this show, as we’ve had 4-hour to 8-hour rehearsals every day, and we rapidly evolved from just rehearsing in our sweat pants in a fitness room to working in the beautiful Moyse Theatre, figuring out lighting cues, trying not to lean on (i.e., break) our mic packs, learning to put on mascara (I really just needed an excuse to learn…=P), discovering how short a time we have to change costumes between scenes, and tonight we are doing our press preview before we open for the public on Thursday!

All of that happened in the span of about two weeks, and I’ve had the privilege of getting a taste what it’s like to do musical theatre full time.  And you know what?  It’s exhausting.  I get home every night and all I can mentally afford to do is sit and watch old Chinese tv dramas.  I’m too energized from the show to sleep and too drained from it to do anything productive.  And then I sleep later than normal so that I can wake up later so that by the time the show starts I can try to be in peak condition.  I force myself to eat better and more regularly so that I hopefully time it right to have the perfect amount of energy for the show without taking in so many carbs that I feel bloated or sleepy during the show.  Some of the cast is sick and we have to balance between putting our all into the rehearsals and holding back our voices to save it for the performances.  I’ve been prioritizing sleep and exercise above all else so as to hold sickness at bay (and also to try to look the best I can!).  On top of that, there are notes (i.e., feedback and changes about the show) every night, and every day there are new cues to remember and new scenes to tweak, and I constantly worry that I’ll forget something that we changed yesterday.

And let’s not forget the fact that the show is supposed to be extracurricular, as in in addition to school (and not instead of =P), of which I have a midterm for next Monday, in between the two sets of three shows that we do.  There are nights when I freak out because I don’t know how I’m going to find the time to actually study for this exam.

All of that, though, just to say that I’m having the freaking time of my life and I wouldn’t have changed the experience for the world.

The cast is such a joy to work with, and we really rely on each other as a team.  I’m inspired by them every day.  The production team is absolutely ridiculous, and I cannot wait to talk to my friends who come to the show about whether they noticed some of the nuances of the set, the costuming, the lighting, the choreography, the music, and the direction that are absolutely beautiful, in my very biased opinion.

As I sit back to think about it, I cannot believe how fortunate I am to be able to be part of such a big and serious production, on top of being able to follow my dream of becoming a doctor.  It gives me hope that I can balance both of my passions in the future as well.  The craziness that is school is completely different from the intensity of doing a show, and I think I need both in my life.

The show is finally opening, and I’m so excited for people to see it, and to find out what you think!  I’m so very proud of the work that we all did together, and I’m so very thankful for the personal emotional and mental journey that I took with the serious themes in this musical, as well as the fun and intellectual one that I took with my amazing colleagues.

So, as the beautiful Aurora sings in our show:

“There’s going to be good times…Nothing but good times…”

So don’t miss out!

P.S. Check out the clip below of a class presentation we did! We are prisoners who have been tortured for days, so Valentin tries to find his escape by thinking about his beloved Marta.