DON’T LET IT STOP YOU!

 

By Deborah Visconti originally published in the 2017 Summer Issue

 

I am shy.  I think a lot of people have some degree of shyness, but for some of us, it can be crippling. Now that I am older, I am much more relaxed and comfortable in the world, and I am not nearly as uptight as I used to be.  I am much more able to see myself and where I fit in, in a more objective, big-picture type of context.   

 

However, when I was younger, I struggled with extreme anxiety when faced with new situations, meeting new people, participating in activities involving people I didn’t know well, in fact many of the social situations we have to deal with every day.  Even struggling to fit into a crowded subway car was difficult.  

 

I like people, but it takes me time to relax around people I have never met before.  I need to get to know people before I can open up.  Social gatherings always found me sitting by myself in a corner somewhere at a complete loss of what to say to anyone.  I wanted to join the party, but I didn’t know how.  The few times I threw myself out there and tried to talk to someone, it was so awkward for all concerned, I usually ended up leaving, which just reinforced my anxiety for the next social gathering.

As a working adult with two small children, I decided to go to university part time and earn a degree in English literature.  I loved to read, and going to back to school and studying English was something I wanted for myself so badly.  It was more than loving to read - I love language.  I love words.  I love that writing, like music, painting and other artforms, describes the human condition.  I started with a first-year course called “Shakespeare Then and Now”.  I still remember that one of the plays we studied was King Lear along with Kurosawa’s film “Ran”.  In short, I knew I was where I needed to be.

 

Full-time students are socialized to the university experience through “frosh week” where new students, often new to the City, are grouped together for fun activities to help them bond and acclimatize themselves to the university community.  Those living in residence also have the opportunity to meet and get to know other students.  It is very different for a part-time student, especially someone who is shy.  I showed up at class straight from work, found a seat (usually chosen using my mental checklist - not too close to the front to be noticed, not too far back so I can’t hear, not right beside anyone, usually on an aisle in case I needed to leave - just like I had always done at social gatherings).  At school, once the seating pattern is established, most people sit in the same place every time, with their friends.  I didn’t have any friends in university, I was way older than everybody else, and considered myself to be an outsider.  

I was fine with being introverted in class.  I was fascinated by the lectures, loved the reading material, tackled the assignments with enthusiasm, and did very well in terms of grades.

 

It is ironic, with my love of words, that a word catapulted me into a situation of such high anxiety that my shyness almost got the best of me.  I have thought about this moment many times since then, and I decided to write this article about it in support of anyone else who may be struggling with the mortifying effects of shyness.

My professor was a nice person, and in hindsight, I think he may have been somewhat shy himself.  On this particular evening, he was trying to get a discussion going with the class, but he was having difficulty getting anyone to participate.   He asked a question.  No one responded.  He re-framed the question, and again no one said anything.  He was frustrated.  I felt awkward.  The room felt awkward, although it may have just been me.  After a pause that went on seemingly forever, the professor turned, and pointed at me and said  “What do you think - was he culpable?”.  I felt the eyes of every single student on me (and I am talking about a theatre full of students, not just a small group) - and all I could think of was that I did not know the meaning of the word culpable.  Not only was I going to be forced to speak in front of everyone, but clearly I was going to have to reveal myself as an idiot for not understanding the question.  I paused for what felt like a lifetime, and if felt like the world was holding its breath. Trapped and wondering what to do, finally, with profound shame, red as a beet, I said “I don’t know what culpable means”.  The professor softened.  I think he realized how mortified I was, perhaps everyone did, and explained that “culpable” meant “was he responsible”, “was he accountable”.  I mumbled an answer and he moved on.  I don’t know what happened in the rest of the class.  I was completely inside myself, full of shame, I wanted to cry.  I couldn’t wait to leave the class. I wanted to leave and never, ever, go back.

 

It may seem a bit ridiculous.  It may seem overly dramatic.  That incident happened 30 years ago and I have never forgotten it.  I realize now that I probably was not the only person who didn’t understand what the word “culpable” meant, and now would have no problem owning up to the fact that I didn’t know what it meant.  But at the time, I was struggling to even be there, and a part of the back of my mind didn’t think I deserved to be there taking up space.  The class ran once a week, so I had a full week to reflect, and decided I wanted that learning experience more than I feared the exposure to ridicule.  I don’t know how I gathered the courage to go back, but I am very glad I did. When I went back to class, no one stared at me for being a huge stupid idiot, I was completely anonymous once again, and everything was fine.  

I can’t go back and counsel my young self, although I wish I could.  As a matter of fact I still struggle with some degree of shyness today.  I wish could have realized that I am not really any different than anyone else.  We all struggle with something, we are all working to be the best selves we can be.  What would I say to my young self if I could go back?  I would say “Thank you for going back to class.  Relax, you are a part of things, and you are ok.”

 

We value your opinion. Please let us know what you think about this column. Send comments to learningcurves@hotmail.com.

 

Artwork - tapestry
The Physical Possibility of Life in the Eye of the Beholder/La vie est belle – 2016 mixed media on wood

WHY AN ART EXHIBIT CAN BE GOOD FOR YOU

Cris de Souza is an artist who also enjoys taking classes in the University in the Community programme. As we look from his perspective at the role art plays in enriching our lives, it serves as a reminder how wonderful it is to open oneself up to new ideas, to discovering a new way of looking at things. Art, like literature, poetry and music, makes us think, and elevates us above everyday life. It reconnects us with what it means to be human. Cris’s passion for art inspires passion in others. Take a look at his reasons for loving art and the importance of art exhibitions to recharge your own passion for the enjoyment of art.

By Cris de Souza

 

Art gives us an experience like nothing else can. Art exhibitions, whether in a formal gallery or part of an informal event, provide the opportunity for art to be explored. It is a chance to connect, disconnect and reconnect. Also it is a chance to understand and explore perceptions, feelings and innovative thoughts. It adds, subtracts, divides and multiplies.Here are some reasons why I strongly feel that art exhibitions could benefit any community:

 

NEW EXPERIENCE

There are many who have never visited an art exhibit. Those who have may have only done so a few times. Artists see things from a different perspective; thus art must be experienced face to face. Only from a personal experience can one truly get the true sense of its magnitude. 

 

THERAPY

People live in a stressful world. Looking and experiencing art can carry one away from this stressful world as one enters a different atmosphere. Art can be a therapeutic tool enabling us to live more fulfilled lives, thus helping us with our most intimate and ordinary dilemmas. Experiencing an exhibition of art may generate forms of meditation; suggest an education and career in the art field; generate new thoughts on the beauty of life. 

 

MEANS OF EDUCATING THE GENERAL PUBLIC

There is a lack of art education in schools. However, art exhibits broaden our knowledge about people, cultures and the world. They democratically teach art, geography and philosophy to the public.

 

The sense of beauty can be sharpened and progressively refined. Visiting art exhibits is one of the best exercises in order to educate this faculty, and to learn how to appreciate “a thing of beauty” whenever and wherever we happen to meet it.

Exhibits are a great place to sparkle an interest in art and lifelong learning begins at a young age.

 

COMMUNITY TIES

Due to the growth and proliferation of online networking, virtual galleries and exhibits are leaving the traditional galleries and exhibits in difficulty to remain relevant. In this we see that advanced technology is removing something precious from the art world: community!

 

Art Exhibits enable communities to come together, to interact with each other 

in discussion, to make friends, to foster an important art ecosystem with germination, symbiosis, osmosis, synergy and pollination.Also, there is nothing like being among art lovers; you may be surprised at what you see, who you meet and what you learn.

 

JUST PLAIN FUN

Trying to interpret art by yourself and with others can create much enjoyment. 

People thirst for fun, beauty, poetry and new experiences. Some enthusiasts may drive from all over the city just to see an art exhibit.

The artists’ intentions can be illuminated by writings of outstanding critics. Reading about art can widen our knowledge and, by illuminating certain aspects of it, add another dimension to our enjoyment.

 

BENEFITS TO CHILDREN

There is plenty of research indicating the benefits of the unique exposure to art exhibits and museums to children.

  • Children see, inquire and explore new things. Their eyes are opened to different ideas and perspectives.
  • Children get memorable immersive learning experiences.
  • Children have their imaginations provoked.
  • Children are introduced to an unknown environment and subject matter.
  • Children are offered unique and new environments for quality time with family and/or friends.
  • Children get the foundation for creativity, critical thinking and connection to the world around them.
  • Children and parents spend time together as a family, sharing conversations and free-flowing dialogue that often gets missed in the day-to-day life. Art is a way to communicate, explore and learn from each other.

 

TOLERANCE

At art exhibits, our minds fly far away and gain a better understanding of another’s ideas, beliefs, values, opinions, tastes, preferences and community ties. Exhibits invoke thoughts and conversations about standards of beauty and cultures.

“Tastes differ.” Works can demonstrate part of the remarkable diversity of styles and approaches characteristic of the modern and post-modern achievement in painting.

Art transcends culture and language barriers.

 

SEE NEW ART NOW.

If you have not discovered art… it is time you did.

You can get acquainted during the visit with innovative art work that may become famous one day or may never again come within the range of public vision, once they become private property.

 

Art work may lead to new discoveries and make a lasting impression. There may be imaginative exploration and free artistic invention from inner experience.

 

CREATIVITY.

Nothing boosts your own creativity more than visiting art exhibits. Maybe it feels like osmosis, but being around art and in the company of creative people makes YOU more creative. Art inspires us to pursue our own creative release.

 

An art exhibit may be a transitional point in some lives, and a positive force on our neighbourhood’s culture, inspiring creativity. It ignites your creativity, imagination and innovative thinking.

 

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE

Once you open yourself to art, you will allow this entire world of creativity to literally transform you as a human being, reconnecting you to yourself, the environment and greater values, thoughts and wisdom. art exhibits are a pathway back to wholeness and means of improving the minds of the general public.

 

Art has a unique capacity of connecting us to past, present and future. Art teaches us that we are something larger than ourselves – organic and inorganic, vegetable and mineral, animal and human, imaginary and real, geometric and biomorphic, natural and synthetic.

 

Indeed, art teaches us that we are something larger than ourselves – abstract and objective, concealed and revealed, possible and impossible, logical and illogical, realistic and fantastic, countable and uncountable, national and international, terrestrial and cosmic, local and universal.

 

ECONOMIC IMPACT

Whether you are aware of it or not, art has a significant impact on local and provincial economies and it shapes the very fabric of our society.

 

In North America, there is a surge in art appreciation and art exhibits’ attendance is growing exponentially. Within ten years, Toronto will really be recognized as an art capital like New York, Paris or London. Currently we are not there but Toronto is becoming a very important city from the perspective of international art.

Let’s hope that art exhibits will not disappear but may be with us a long time.

 

LIVING CULTURE

An art exhibit is a special place, particularly given the disappearance of regular reporting on visual arts in Canada’s national newspapers and broadcasters. Lively and intelligent conversation about culture in this country should be supported.

In an age where visual arts and cultural coverage is disappearing, an art exhibit matters now more than ever before. A conversation about art and culture should be kept alive in our city. Art is and has been one of the important human activities which has impacted positively to human happiness.

 

In short, art exhibits can have a huge impact. Art exhibits provide a space for reflection, meditation, inspiration, enlightenment, renewal, excitement, amazement, creativity, enjoyment, entertainment, interpretation and allow for learning experiences that may last a lifetime.

 

We value your opinion. Please let us know what you think about this column. Send comments to learningcurves@hotmail.com.

Our Journey in Canada:

Claudia Taborda and Emiliano Introcaso in conversation with Mina Wong

C = Claudia; E = Emiliano

How would you describe your lives before coming to Canada? 

 

C: In Colombia, I was a young woman with a close-knit family, good friends, and a thriving career in psychology because I aspired to help my community that was sadly criminalized by trafficking and violence. 

 

E: I was a hardworking individual in Argentina. Having worked in my dad's photo shop since age 10, I would save money for graphic design courses, travel, and other interests.

 

Why did you choose Canada? 

 

C: My mother had extended family in Toronto, and I wanted to learn English here after university. It was my priority because most research in my field was in English.

 

E: I always liked to travel and live in a different environment. At 15, I already wanted to immigrate to the USA but my family forbade it because of my age. But hoping to be a translator with the UN, I eventually convinced my mother to let me study English in Canada. With her support and some savings, I managed to finance this trip.

 

What were your first impressions of Canada?

 

C: I was surprised by Canada’s order, organization, and the respect of law-abiding citizens for each other in a multicultural environment. I admired Canadians for being polite, helpful, and kind. I felt if everyone could live in such peace here, it was where I would call home. 

 

E: My first important impression was everyone’s kindness. I kept thinking how organized and clean Canada was, and how this was where I would want to put down roots and raise a family. 

 

How did you shape your career paths after coming to Canada?

 

C: Initially planning to continue to be a psychologist, I needed to go back to school for this path. Meanwhile, after a government-funded course in Early Childhood Education, I began working with little kids. Knowing I enjoyed my work, my employer encouraged me to study at Humber College that qualified me to work in full-day kindergarten. Then through completing teacher training at Niagara University, I am now a certified teacher in Ontario.

 

E: After high school in Argentina with Canadian equivalencies, I earned official credentials as an interpreter. However, I also made sandwiches, served at drive-thrus, took driver’s license pictures, and renewed license plate stickers. Gradually, I worked in manufacturing where Spanish was needed, and where I ended up in international trade. With further studies at Seneca College and Brock University, I am now qualified to teach international trade. To further develop leadership skills, I am completing an MBA through the University of Fredericton. 

 

In turn, how has Canada shaped your lives since coming here?

 

C: Canada has definitely made me more determined to pursue my dreams. It has also shown me the importance of inclusion that values all members for who they are. I am proud to have adopted a new language and way of life. I have come to love Canada because it has given me a family, a home, friends, and a career. I will always love Colombia, but Canada has shaped a better version of myself through all my learning and experience here.

 

E: I have grown to be a much better person through experiences that I would otherwise not gain had I not moved here. I have learned the importance of recognizing immigrants’ traditions, but also for them to genuinely respect Canada’s cultures. Now that I have lived here more than half my life, I am blessed with the privilege of raising my Canadian-born children in this beautiful country.

What have you learned throughout this journey?

 

C and E: That Canada is a great country. That in life there is always another opportunity, and that with consistency and hard work, anything can be accomplished. 

This journey also shows us that even when we are far from our home of origin, Canada can become our true home. We also believe that no matter where people came from and how different they are, there is a place where we can all live in peace and that place is Canada.

 

We have also learned that when it seems hard to continue, it’s possible to overcome difficulties with the support of a caring community. 

Also, we think Canadian winters are long but beautiful, and that summers are truly exciting.

 

Most importantly, we are proud to raise our children in this country. We know we made the right choice by deciding to set roots in this beautiful place.

 

What was your Canadian dream? Have you achieved it?

 

C: I didn’t have one particular dream, but it was exciting to think about living in a country known for its beauty, peace, and quality of life. I have certainly achieved that sense of peacefulness and tranquility not only for myself but also for my family.

 

E:  My Canadian dream was to live peacefully in a country where people would have respect and love for each other. I think that I am lucky to achieve this dream every day.  

What else would you tell others about making Canada your home?

 

C: It has definitely been a long journey but a rewarding one. I am happy I chose Canada because I feel safe, welcome, and cared for. I have a strong sense of belonging in this country. This is definitely my children's country and I am glad they are growing up in such a multicultural environment where they learn about and celebrate everyone’s uniqueness.

 

E: I believe I have achieved all the opportunities that I searched for. If you work hard, your dreams can come true … can this happen anywhere else? Possibly, but I am pretty sure that there is a Canadian dream for everyone who seeks it.

LOVE OF LEARNING

by Deborah Noel


originally published in the 2015 Winter Issue

As the late American journalist, Christopher Morley, once said “There are three ingredients in the good life: learning, earning and yearning”. If you will note, he put “learning” first because without learning the other two seem, well, rather shallow. We all know of people who earn and do not appear to be learned (should I say… Super Models? Reality TV stars? Anyone who passes us in the queue of life. ) and we certainly know that yearning may precede the learning (Gambling addictions, credit lines and dare I say it…, broken hearts.). We often think of learning as a journey to a destination. When I graduate college I can be a (insert profession). When I finish this course I can make (insert dollar amount). However, learning can be both the journey and the destination. There are no rules saying that learning has to have a defined purpose. The advantages to learning go far beyond advancing one’s career.


Some of these include the following: Learning can help us develop our natural abilities. Sometimes we don’t realize our talents until we allow ourselves the opportunity to explore. I have a co-worker who started taking piano lessons at the age of 50 for no other reason than he had an interest in the piano teacher. He soon discovered that he wasn’t that interested in the teacher but he turned out to have a natural talent in music.


Learning opens our minds. Taking a class in philosophy may not increase your salary but it can sharpen your debating skills. Courses in the humanities allow for free exchange of ideas and viewpoints. Listening to or taking part in stimulating discussions allows us to see the other side of an issue.


The more you learn the more you want to learn. Learning creates a curious, hungry mind. The more you discover about history, current events, politics, or the culture of other countries, the more you will want to learn.


Learning helps us adapt to change. The world is in a state of constant flux. As we get older we may believe it is difficult to keep up with changes, especially if technology is involved. Trying something new takes away the “mystery” and opens us up to adapting.


Learning increases our social circle. I recently took a Malaysian Cooking class, not necessarily to become a better cook, but to meet more people in my community who shared my “adventurous” taste in cuisine. Whatever your reason for doing so, taking classes is a great way to meet people.


Learning is healthy. Whether it is mastering a new cuisine, learning to play the piano or just being able to use a computer, most learners report an increased sense of selfesteem. Whether your learning is self-directed or in a classroom setting, exercising your brain is as important as exercising your muscles! Studies are now showing that continuing to learn as you age can reduce incidents of depression and increase cognitive functioning.


There are many ways to add learning to your life. Most universities offer free (noncredit) classes online. Throughout Toronto and the GTA school boards such as the TDSB offer community classes in everything from computer basics to genealogy. Check them out!


www.universityinthecommunity.ca

www.coursera.org www.tdsb.on.ca

www.thelifeinstitute.ca


We value your opinion. Please let us know what you think about this column. Send comments to learningcurves@hotmail.com.

Toronto, Canada