Orion: 16 April 2004 - 11 March 2019
I have been quiet on my blog over the past few weeks, and I want to share what has been going on and the reasons for my lack of posts. Three weeks ago, my cat Orion began walking with a limp and we discovered a lump on his right hind leg. Testing proved it to be benign, but his walking became more and more uncomfortable. Starting last week, he would only walk a few meters and rest, with his right hind leg becoming more and more swollen. We took him to the vet for analysis and a mass the size of a golf ball was discovered near his stomach, and we were told that this tumour was the reason Orion was having such a hard time walking. The vet said he would have about a month left with us as he was too old to receive surgery to remove it.
Today, on 11 March 2019, after showing significant improvements including eating, drinking and using the litter box regularly, Orion woke up with extremely laboured breathing and was unable to walk at all. I had to carry him to his food, water, litter box and bed. A technician from the vet that has been helping him since the fall of 2017 by providing him with fluids after he suffered a bowel blockage notified us that he was losing colour and that his breathing was becoming more and more distressed.
Around 5:00 pm, I had to bring my beloved cat, my best friend, and the little guy who has been with me since my sister passed away, to the vet to be put to sleep. The mass around his stomach had ruptured and was bleeding internally, leading to extensive pain in his abdomen and there was nothing that could be done.
I held onto Orion from my house until he passed away alongside his favourite foam ball, a bag of catnip and his toy mouse. Just before the doctor came in, he started purring as my father, mother, our technician and I pet him, kissed his head and cried terribly. I can barely get through typing this so far. The worst part was signing the euthanasia form for consent, while classical piano music by Debussy, Satie and Schumann played over the speaker in what is essentially the death room. Many of those pieces were part of my repertoire and I have no intentions on ever playing them again.
He was so good, with his eyes bright and looking so content on the outside when the process began. My mother had to leave the room and I held onto my little buddy until the doctor informed me that his heart had stopped, and I still stayed there until the involuntary movements ceased. Because the ground is frozen, the vet is going to keep him so we can bury him in our garden alongside our dogs beneath a heart shaped rock when the thaw comes.
This cat came into my life at the perfect time, just a few weeks after my sister passed. Our old dog Jackson had gotten groomed, and they were giving away kittens with each grooming. Knowing that my family was going through, they asked if we wanted a kitten, and we agreed. He was the cutest little fuzzball who came running into the house with a little blue bow and bell around his neck and the most adorable white tip on his tail. After running around for a few minutes, he hid behind our couch and let out a huge meow, the only time in his life he ever did so.
We debated a few names, and I had jokingly thrown out Zoidberg in reference to Futurama, but I chose Orion because the little bell around his neck reminded me of the Galaxy in Men in Black. He would always come to me, sleeping on my bed, getting into my drawers and throwing my socks all over my room. When he first arrived, he came with what was then his favourite toy, a blue wand with a red string attached. We played for hours each day, and he would always sit on top of my desk when I was writing a paper for school, or would curl up beneath my piano as I practiced.
Orion was the nicest cat I ever knew or had. He never growled, hissed or scratched. His one vice was food, and he quickly gained a reputation as the fat cat, nicknamed Chubby, as the grams were laid on. At his peak, he was a whopping 12 kg. It was only in the last two months he finally lost enough weight due to a rigorous diet that he got down to a normal weigh and he didn’t look so much like a pumpkin with a peanut for a head.
Whenever I had a bad day, he would always curl up next to me or in my lap for hours at a time, purring away. He’d only move if he had to use the litter box or to eat. We had a connection that I have never had with any other animal. Orion always knew when I needed him, and vice versa. When my high school ex (the one that was later stalking me) and I broke up, he stayed with me for hours as I cried, or would get my attention off of her by carrying his little blue ball over to me for a game. He loved that ball, and would carry it all over the house like a dog. I now have it in a box of all my special items and pictures, always keeping him near my heart.
When Orion was about a year or two old, he decided that our laundry basket would be his new house. I always had to keep it on its side so he could curl up inside it on top of an old towel or blanket. The first time he was ever really sick, I knew right away since he didn’t want to use his laundry house, instead running up the computer desk and trying to isolate himself. Nobody believed me that he was sick, but I kept pestering to take him to the vet and sure enough, he had a fever from a minute virus that cleared up in no time.
If I were sick with a sinus infection, he would always come over and curl up next to me. Even just three weeks ago, he did this while I was suffering from sinusitis again, placing his head over my left leg and reaching over me while I cupped his ears.
Orion loved to watch television and video games. His favourite television show was Meerkat Manor. He would sit in front of that TV for an entire episode atop a footstool, watching the meerkats popping out of their holes and running about. If I played a game on my PlayStation 2, he would always come into the room to watch the screen. He loved watching Star Wars: Battlefront (the original, good one) the most, with all the soldiers running about in battle. It was captivating for him.
When I stayed in Boston with my cousins for a weekend in college, he was so upset that I wasn’t home that he slept outside my bedroom door, and then on my bed until I came home two days later. He followed me everywhere for weeks after that.
Orion was only ever given the best cat food, spring water and healthy snacks. This didn’t mean we didn’t spoil him from the table. He would come racing when he heard the electric carving knife because that almost always meant turkey. He loved turkey and would pace around the house each time we cooked one, waiting for a piece. I found him on the dining table on more than one occasion where he was successfully stealing a slab of white meat. Every now and then, he’d also get a little piece of bacon or some vanilla ice cream.
Some of the funniest moments I had with him was the time he got tangled in a shopping bag and raced around the house several times, peeing the whole time. I had to bathe him in the tub at midnight and scrub the whole house, but it was something to see. Another time, he climbed onto the kitchen counter, onto the refrigerator and fell behind it without injury. My dad and I had to look all over and then we heard little squeaks from behind the fridge, and sure enough he was there, waiting patiently to be found!
This cat was my best (non-human) friend. I was in a deep state of grief after losing my sister that I don’t know what would have happened to me if it were not for Orion. He filled a hole in me, in my soul, and gave me hope to keep going. He gave me companionship on sleepless nights and would hang out in my bedroom until sunrise on nights where I couldn’t sleep at all from night terrors.
I feel so alone right now after today and my chest hurts terribly from constant panic attacks. I feel like his declining health was my fault, and I feel awful that this had to happen. I was hoping to get at least one more night together on the couch with him or even carrying him onto my bed and snuggling up together. If he passed in the night at least it would be with me. Staying with him to the very end at a vet’s office was the best I could do for my little buddy and lovebug.
Of all things, I just didn’t want him to be alone.
I know that my sister Hannah is taking good care of you, Orion. I promise that I’ll see you again someday. I’ll love you forever.
During the past decade of running this website, and having only added the blog portion in late 2014, I feel as though too many of my posts can come off as impersonal or stuffy in the least (especially those regarding music and art education). I’d like to change that and offer my fans, followers and colleagues a more personal side to myself so that you can get to know the real, goofy, nerdy me without coming off as some sort of digital holier-than-though asshat. So, I’ve decided to share 50 facts about myself that only a few friends and relatives might know, or that might be a complete surprise to everyone! Let the soul bearing commence!
Well, I hope this makes me more relatable and I hope that I didn’t come off like a dork or anything. I should have added that almost everything makes me a nervous wreck nowadays…
This is a blog post that’s been a long time in the making and is something I have wanted to write for over a year. After I finished my undergraduate studies at university, I began to take some online courses with The Berklee College of Music for a graduate certificate. At the time, I was still finding my voice as a composer and was very timid about working as a musician fresh out of school, and I thought that some additional training in advanced orchestration and audio engineering would give me more usable skills and help me find myself in a career driven society.
While there, I very quickly discovered that commercial composition, which I had wanted to go into for years, was not my cup of coffee with its incredibly tight deadlines (four weeks or less, even for a feature length film score), the constant desire for your work to sound as close as possible to someone else’s without infringing copyright, and the fact that the music I was writing for these types of projects was nowhere near my best. I also had to trudge through eight or nine weeks’ worth of material that I already knew just to get one trinket of information that I could have found in a book, online, or in a YouTube tutorial.
Despite this I still received my Professional Certificate in 2012, though with less money in my pockets than when I started two years prior. I received my physical paper on my 25th birthday, and presented it to my mother with pride while she was recovering from a fall in the hospital (that’s another, more amusing story that I’ll share at another time). Even though I had gained only a little in new knowledge and ability while studying with Berklee, I justified the time and expense by thinking that this slip of paper from a world-renown music school would be a huge advantage in my career.
Then the horrors came to light.
All of my studies with Berklee were online, I never actually set foot on campus while working towards my certificate. It’s more likely that I would have heard the rumblings sooner than I did had I the opportunity or proximity to attend classes in Boston. But like most people, I first heard of the sexual assault crisis after it was published by The Boston Globe.
For over a decade, The Berklee College of Music secretly fired nearly a dozen professors and teachers who had been accused of or charged with sexual misconduct and assault against students. In addition to this, there was a report of an on-campus rape that was shared over social media where Berklee merely suspended the assailant for two semesters before allowing him back into the school alongside his victim and keeping the case quiet from the Boston Police.
I was shocked and appalled, and was stuck having to answer impossible questions about Berklee and this aforementioned practice by my own music students, many of whom quit in the aftermath simply by my association with the school because of my certificate. Needless to say, I quickly removed that piece of paper from my studio walls and stuffed it into the back of my filing cabinet where it stayed until last week.
After much internal debate, I decided that I wanted nothing more to do with Berklee because of this atrocious behaviour and treatment of sexual assault survivors. I wrote a letter to President Roger Brown, who oversaw all of the secret firings of faculty, and mailed back my certificate to the school. This is what my letter said:
“Attn. President Roger H. Brown:
I am writing this letter as I can no longer be a bystander amidst the atrocities occurring at and on the campus of the Berklee College of Music and its affiliated properties. I am referring to, of course, the plague of sexual assaults between faculty and students that was exposed by The Boston Globe on 17 November, 2017 where it was revealed that eleven faculty members had been secretly terminated over the span of thirteen years for inappropriate interactions between themselves and students.
I am also well aware of an incident on the Boston campus where a female student was viciously sexually assaulted by a male classmate, and that Berklee merely suspended the assailant for two semesters before allowing him to resume classes alongside his victim, and that this incident was kept away from the intervention of the Boston Police by the Berklee Administration.
As a member of RAINN, as a friend and relative of individuals who have survived acts of both physical and sexual violence, and as a sexual assault survivor myself, I can no longer support or stand to have any sort of affiliation with the Berklee College of Music as a result of the above incidents and other, undocumented cases that have yet to surface.
I am hereby returning my Certificate to the school and administration out of protest and as an act of solidarity with the victims.
I will no longer recognize any connections with the Berklee College of Music as a student or alumnus, and will not seek any form of collaboration, references or interaction with said school as a result of my protest. I spent a year debating whether or not I should write this letter and return my Certificate, and after much thought I have concluded that there is no scenario where I can keep that piece of paper or consider myself an alumnus and not feel nauseated considering what has transpired over the past decade at this institution.
I feel, Mr. Brown, that in light of The Boston Globe’s reporting, and that these secret terminations of sexual predators from your college all occurred under your supervision, that you should resign your position as soon as possible. You have clearly demonstrated that you can no longer be trusted with the protection of your student body.”
The letter was mailed to Berklee, alongside my certificate, last Wednesday on 6 February. I have not and do not expect to receive a reply, nor do I want one.
President Brown’s lackluster apology for his criminal actions is not enough. Berklee’s meaningless responses in the wake of The Boston Globe’s revelations do nothing to protect or help students. They are clearly only interested in saving face and making more money for the administration.
Whatever prestige The Berklee College of Music once had is long gone.
“William! Put your answers on the board now!”
My name is not and has never been “William.” But you would never know that if you had watched me in my freshman homeroom, or worse, sophomore mathematics classes with the infamous Sister “The Pulverizing Penguin” Clara.
This is one of those posts about St. Nard’s that any of my former classmates will know was bound to come if they happen to be reading. Leading up to this writing, I debated on whether or not to use Sr. Clara’s real name, but because she’s been dead for ten years and I have no fears of the alleged magic powers of nuns, I feel that it is perfectly fine to not keep secrets.
Sr. Clara was the sole nun at St. Nard’s by the time I began my freshman year. She stood at about 1.3 meters with the overall shape of a fire hydrant topped off with a few strands of stray white hairs. She was well into her 90s and showed a plethora of symptoms of senility at best or dementia at worst. She was openly racist and would ridicule the few non-white students in the school using slurs that were generally unheard of by my generation and were more likely to be found in some 1920s or ‘30s setting. Her classrooms were segregated with white boys in the front, white girls behind them, and all non-white teenagers in the back.
For my entire freshman year, I was called “William” in homeroom and grew to just accept it. I was in a mindset where I’d rather not correct a nun who was clearly kept on the roster out of sympathy and ageism. That, and she was quick to slap you with a yellow plastic meter stick if you didn’t comply with her commands. She may have been dwarfed by every single student in my class, but goddamn did we learn to fear her.
By the time I was a sophomore, I had to endure two full semesters of math with Sr. Clara. Nobody was safe from her. She was the only math teacher sophomores had, regardless of their placement level. Every class was divided into Level 1 and Level 2, with Honours becoming available for upperclassmen in English and electives. Level 2 was equal to the standard curriculum in a public school, Level 1 was advanced placement. I was in Level 1 for all of my courses, including sophomore geometry. Even if I decided to change my placement, I still would have been stuck with the penguin.
Let me tell you this: you don’t know true fear until you look at your predestined schedule on the first day of the term and see her name on it, and knowing that you’re stuck there no matter what.
This woman had no idea how to teach. Every class for 180 days involved having our (incorrect) names being called to the board, we’d write our homework on said board, and then she’d slowly walk down the length of the wall, inspecting each equation. She’d stare at your work for several minutes and either check it or strike an “X” over it. If you got the “X” you were required to report back to the board and correct it. I saw plenty of my classmates stand at that board for the entire class, trying to correct the same equation they started with. Sr. Clara would not show you where you made a mistake, and instead forced you to redo the work from scratch with all eyes on you. The only help she provided was to tell you if you were correct or not.
She never once helped a student who had made an error. Had she shown you where the mistake was made, you would, I don’t know, learn something. This would make solving future geometric equations much easier. Instead, you were on your own and you either sank or nearly drowned. I can say, without hyperbole, that everyone Sr. Clara taught had below average grades. The highest grade in my classroom was a C+ and the average amongst her Level 1 classes was a C-. The average for her Level 2 classes was a goddamn D.
I never struggled with math. I would find it boring at times and lose interest in studying and applying the work (until later in high school and college when I took Calculus), so I normally had a B to A- in my math courses after the 4th grade. However, I can say that I did struggle with Sr. Clara. She provided no instructions in class, and if you used the textbook to learn how to apply the theorems and formulas, you would lose points as the penguin wanted you to use her methods only. Methods that she never shared.
Her classes revolved entirely around presenting our homework as stated above. If we were done sharing, we were to start the next chapter’s assignment. She did not instruct in anything, but one of the methods we did glean from her was that we had to be able to recite every geometric theorem and postulate from memory, word for word. Spelling counted. If you used shorthand to write “Two parallel lines cut by a transversal create congruent alternate exterior angles,” the entire equation would not count even when you had the correct answer and proofs. If you ran into the margins, you were marked wrong for the entire equation. If you made a spelling error, you lost half the points on the equation.
This was fun when you only had six lines to work with, and to write all six steps within their respective lines and margins and you needed to write something like this: “When two secant segments are drawn to a circle from an external point, then product of one secant segment and its external segment is equal to the product of the other secant segment and its external segment.” And no, we weren’t allowed to draw our own lines to create more space.
Our exams were equally lacking in information. Most geometry classes or chapters I had taken prior to or since Sr. Clara’s involved three things: one, the given. Two, the geometric shape. Three, what I am required to prove. I then have a list of lines where I am to write my statements in the left column and reasons in the right, using the given as the starting point, or from finding the given myself using the geometric shape. It’s not hard and not much different from solving any other logic puzzle.
Sr. Clara’s exams were usually just a hand drawn shape and the lines for us to make our statements and reasons. She never provided a given, and never provided information on what to prove. That was our job. I can understand this but the hand drawn shapes offered little information by themselves, especially when a blind Tyrannosaurus could have sketched something better. We never had anything like “write a justification for each step” or “find the inverse of the following statement” with questions getting progressively harder throughout the year. From the first quiz to the final exam, it was just a sheet of paper with some poorly drawn shapes on it and no usable information.
Passing had more to do with sheer luck than with math, logic and geometry.
I have a friend who works as a chief mechanical engineer for the United States Navy who still keeps a geometry and trigonometry notecard with him at work to solve formulas and other necessary equations on the job because of, as he put it, her.
Making this more fun for myself, I was docked points on several homework assignment and exams in geometry where I used some trigonometry to solve equations. Had I done that in a public school, I'd like to think that my teacher would have recognized my work as an advanced approach to analyzing triangles rather than chewing me out because I didn’t use the more basic methodology.
By the time I was a junior, I was a straight A student again in Algebra II and math was something I came to enjoy. My teacher was awesome, and she actually showed us what to do and how to correct mistakes in our work. She was only a few years older than us as well so it was a huge and welcome change of pace.
Here, we also had to write our homework/classwork on the board and she swiftly noticed our apprehension. After asking why we were all so scared, we shared our stories of Sr. Clara who was still working with the sophomores. She brought this lack of education to the headmaster’s attention who eventually moved the penguin to the basement library to oversee the few books and computer lab in a move of pointless busy work. She dwelled there like a troll, living out her days until she died in her early-100s in the spring of 2009.
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