I graduated with an MA today. In Italian Studies. The day was stressful and emotional and lovely. I still have no idea how or why I did this degree but I have faith that I will be presented with an answer in due course.
I got great marks and encouragement from professors and colleagues alike to do my PhD. Not quite ready for that yet! And not in Italian Studies.
I still can’t believe I did this and I feel simultaneously like a fraud and like superwoman all at once. I just wish my study path were different, or that I were passionate about what I’m good at. A work in progress perhaps.
Anyway today we left the house in record time at silly o’clock to get downtown. I rushed through into University College to pick up my hired gown, then missed the beautiful experience that is walking down those old corridors sounded by amazing architecture as I basically catapulted myself down the hall into a room full of my fellow graduates, all in their academic regalia. I quickly signed in and awkwardly slipped my gown over my shoulders. It seemed so strange getting dressed in this big echoey old room full of strangers. I briefly saw a couple of the grads from my program, waving to one in the W queue and another amongst the Ms as I stood with the Ls. I didn’t really know what to expect but I’d had no time to read any of the background material so I just went with what I was told in the moment.
We slowly filed out, down the well worn steps, over the ring road and across the grass to Convocation Hall. I looked at the PhD students ahead of me and realised just how lucky I was to be there. Although there had been some stressful and challenging moments during the degree, the year had gone by so quickly and I hadn’t even used 100 per cent of my capacity to complete the requirements of the course. Full time study for a year, excelling without full effort, and voila, a Masters. Of course, it’s what one of my professors called a ‘glamour’ degree: it’s not going to get you a job, or rather, you’re not doing it to get a job. You’re doing it because you love it. What’s odd for me is that, frankly, I did this degree because it was easy and we got to live in Canada, not because I have any great passion or love for Italy or the Italian language. It’s great to have that second language and I enjoy speaking it, although it’s quite challenging at times because still, after all these years of study and having reached this level, I am not as fluent as I’d like. I watch the news and I often find it hard to follow. I just don’t love it that much.
But as I sat in that beautiful hall with its cosy acoustics, the dense energy of passion and learning flooding my senses, I felt proud. And, just for a moment, I was really content with what I’d achieved. Just for a moment.
Where will this lead me? I say that I’ll see my path laid out before me in time, and this may happen, but deep down I feel like I veered way off my truth path years ago. More to be written on that, I’m sure. For now, I can say that I’ve achieved something pretty great and I’m excited to find out where it will lead me.
Do you ever step out your front door and a soundtrack begins playing in your head, as though you’re in a film? I do it all the time. It happens sometimes when I slam the car door shut, the music starts, something’s beginning. Often I am actually hearing music through my earphones. I see a lot of my life as a film, like I’m an outside observer. It’s full of cliches; both my life perceived this way and the actual act of doing this. But whatever. Before I did that unit on scriptwriting I thought I’d be really good at it, but it was such a disaster. It was part of my Grad Dip in writing. I had this teacher whose experience seemed to revolve around having written Neighbours episodes and she was one of those people that I just clashed with. Not in an angry way, we just didn’t really get each other. I felt like everyone else in the course was cruising along and writing up all these great ideas and mine was just poo, awful story about nothing written like a kid, terrible. It was such a rude shock, that scriptwriting could be a total disaster. But that’s actually what writing was for me for a long time, a total disaster. I always had talent, and I’m good with languages and spelling and grammar, but I’ve always been very immature, a late developer.
Anyway, I digress. I actually wanted to write about the future, or the next steps. I am about to complete this MA and I really don’t know where it’s going to lead. Potentially nowhere, which is a bit freaky really. I think the reason that’s possible is because I’ve never done study with a view to getting work. I was explaining this to a Walmart lady the other day, when she badgered me about applying for a credit card and I explained that I’m not eligible for a credit card because not only am I not a permanent resident of Canada, I also don’t have an income. She asked what I was studying and I explained and she asked where that leads career-wise. When I told her I wasn’t sure and that I’d never done any of my study with a view to getting a job, she was shocked. It was like it had never occurred to her that people did this. When she realised it was about happiness, she calmed down a bit and seemed to understand where I was coming from. But when I walked away, I realised I truly didn’t know what the hell was going to come of this degree, and that was because it was never what I really wanted to do. And what I really wanted to do, writing, was not what I got into. Because I haven’t shown myself to be good enough at it to warrant doing an MA. Italian, yes, I’m good at it, and this degree has been incredibly enjoyable and rewarding from a personal perspective, but I don’t want to do further study in Italian. I never wanted to do any study in Italian! Gosh that’s a hard thing to admit openly. But it’s true.
Regrets are a waste of time and I refuse to entertain them for even a moment. All I can do is look to the future, to where I want to be, and work towards that. It’s not Italian, and it’s not writing. I’d like to continue my editorial career in a freelance capacity, which will take discipline, and I think my study this past year has helped with building that. So that’s something. But as for my long term career, I’m not sure. Will it be teaching? I’m told I am good at that. I did a presentation a few weeks ago on King Lear and my fellow students all commented on the way I read the Shakespeare, how I engaged my audience. And I really enjoyed it. But teaching, that means I’m more like my mum than I’d like. That freaks me out. And teaching requires energy, giving of oneself. I don’t know if I have what it takes.
For now, I have less than a month left of classes before I finish this MA. So I’ll keep walking to my soundtrack, writing my snippets of stories, my to-do lists, my goals. One thing is certain: I will write a book one day soon.
So, it’s official: we’re going home! Yes, that’s right, after… what is it, seven months? I don’t know, something like that… seven months in Canada, we have decided we actually belong in Melbourne. So we’re going home. It’s not been an easy decision, not at all, and although it’s completely thrilling to think we are going home, it’s also somewhat scary. And there’s that feeling of… I don’t know, disappointment? No, that’s not the right word. Not regret either. I don’t do regret, it’s a waste of time. But… there’s this feeling that we should have known. But you know, the longer I stumble along through life, the more I become aware that some lessons can only be learnt the “hard” way. That is, there was only one way we were going to come to the realisation that we belong where we were, and that was by going away.
It’s been a pretty amazing journey in a lot of ways. Well, I can really only speak for myself here, but I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to do this MA here at U of T. It’s taught me so much, and that’s not even including the stuff I’m actually meant to learn for the program itself! The more I do, the more I put myself out there, challenge myself, the more chances I take, the more I realise I have a right to do this too. Just because these people here are doing PhDs or studying at this amazing, prestigious university doesn’t make them any more special or talented than me. And no, it’s not a competition. But I think when you’re sitting at home in some backwater like Canberra you develop a little bit of an inferiority complex. Or rather, you think that all those people studying at Harvard or famous people in Hollywood or people who work for The Economist in London or some top PR guru at some swanky firm in Sydney have something you’ll never have. And that’s just not true. You can absolutely be up at the level of anyone else. There is no one “better” than you. Just because you’re studying photography at TAFE doesn’t mean you haven’t got the same potential as someone doing a PhD in English Lit at Oxford. It’s all perception and self-belief.
Anyway, It’s time to go home to Melbourne. I still have about six weeks of study left (what?! Is that it?!!) and then graduation in May plus the Dude will see out the school year up until the end of June. We’ve booked to fly out at the end of July and now I’m gathering quotes from moving companies. We will have some rest time at my mum’s before heading back down to lovely Melbourne and reconstructing a life there. Hopefully we can both get work fairly soon and a mortgage will be on the horizon. I balk slightly at the amount of work this is going to take, but my heart is warmed at the thought of finally setting up home somewhere. To think I was complaining about not being settled some eight years ago when Mr Chewbacca and I met!
Some people might say this is history repeating itself. My British grandparents came to Melbourne as Ten Pound Poms in 1959. The decision to leave London was, I think, partly motivated by my grandfather who had travelled a lot during his time in the army and knew there was more out there than doing what ten generations of his family had done before him working at the docks in London. My grandmother was very much attached to familiarity and found it hard to leave her home. She didn’t feel safe a lot in her life and London gave her a feeling of safety which she left when she agreed to go to Australia. So they went. And it was hard, I think. But granddad got work and things were going well enough. Then he had an accident at work where two fingers were severed. It was serious enough to land him in hospital for a time and the family without an income. I’m pretty sure my grandmother was either heavily pregnant or had just given birth to my uncle at the time. My dad, who was about 12 or 13 when his brother was born, was the eldest. The story goes that he ended up on some kind of game show that donates money to families in need and apparently this helped the family get by while granddad was recovering. In the end, the accident was the best thing that could have happened as granddad received an insurance payout and for the first time ever the family had the opportunity to put a deposit on a property. While waiting for the payout to be awarded, another spanner brought the whole thing to a grinding halt: they had word from London that my granddad’s mother was ill and may not last long. With the insurance money through, the family actually had the means to return home for her funeral. But that would preclude any home-buying in Melbourne. Granddad, typically, left the family’s next move in the hands of fate. He decreed that if the property purchase was approved by the following Monday, they’d stay. If not, they’d return. And as fate would have it, they ended up returning. It was a mistake, of course. Well, nothing is a mistake. But returning to the UK was like a step backward and wasn’t really good for anyone. There’s a lot more to the story, lots I don’t know and probably some bits I got wrong, but I wanted to share this to illustrate why what’s happening for me and my family now is something of a repetition. This time, however, this time we’ve done it right. We are making the right decision. I know, because I have no doubts whatsoever about it.
As I write this, the snow is falling outside – probably the last snowfall of the season before spring descends and humidity returns with a vengeance. It is probably as close to a perfect winter’s day as you can get, exactly what we came for. It’s been generally a disappointing winter for the most part, quite mild and so erratic, although I suspect the latter is normal. I will definitely miss the snow when it goes. But we will go to the snow back home and take the Dude and Thumper skating at the only rink in Melbourne.
So it’s all happening, the wheels are in motion. There’s a lot more to write about this, in the context of why we decided to come to Canada in the first place. There are a few unanswered questions. I’ll get back to you later on those. While there is a slight feeling of disappointment that our little experiment didn’t quite work out, there’s a much stronger feeling of happiness that this is exactly where we need to be, right now. We are going home and we are satisfied that it’s our home. No more searching and wondering and restlessness. We’re for Melbourne.
It’s been six months since we arrived in Canada and I’m pretty sure we’ve already decided to go back home to Australia. We will be here about another six months or so, depending on what happens with jobs and money and accommodation. I wanted to do a bit of a reflective post to be able to look at in years to come and remember exactly what this process was like.
Was it what we expected? I guess the answer to that is, “no”, but by the same token I don’t think any expectation could possibly have matched this experience because we really had nothing to base it on. I’d never even been to North America before and it had been over ten years since I’d last studied. Would we do it again knowing what we know now? Hmm, that’s a toughie. I think I probably would. There are two big things coming out of this experience for me:
My degree. Yes, of course I could have got an MA in Australia, and it would have been much cheaper and saved us a whole lot of money and headaches. But I would never have had this experience being part of one of the best language departments in the world and being taught by all these incredibly knowledgeable and highly respected Italian professors. I think having studied here in North America is a bonus too because it’s not something most Australians get the opportunity to do.
My Australian identity. After 37 years of rejecting my place of birth, grappling with where I belong, where I fit, I can now say that I am proud and content to be an Australian. Why has it taken me so long to come to terms with what many of my cousins, for example, don’t seem to have even thought about? I can’t answer that except to say that what I’ve inherited from my parents, my sensibilities, and what I was exposed to from birth, my cultural influences, created a multi-layered and disjointed identity with which I have had to work hard to be at peace. Sure, there are many things about Australia that I don’t identify with, many aspects that infuriate and frustrate me, but I know one thing for sure now: I am Australian and happy about it. And I am relieved to be at peace with it now as I know others, my grandmother for example, who struggled with this their whole lives and never came to a place of peace.
How did this all begin, going halfway across the world to try and find a new home? Did we really do this? I am still amazed at what we’ve managed to achieve. I pinch myself all the time, still, even after six months here. Aside from childbirth, I think this has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and I’m so proud of myself and my family for the way we’ve handled it.
This is my current view:
Why it’s rotated, I don’t know, just a quirk of WordPress, as it’s showing fine on my desktop. Ah well. I’m sitting, supposed to be studying, in the library. Across the road that creamy brown-coloured building is Carr Hall where the Department of Italian Studies lives. It looks quite nice from the outside but inside it’s not the greatest. It’s old and the rooms are either way too hot or way too cold. I spend most of my time either in class in that building, here in the Kelly library (which is the dedicated library for St Michael’s College so there are lots of interesting religious people around) or in the building next door to the library and across the road from Carr Hall, Alumni Hall. It sounds awfully grand and looks it from the outside but inside it’s old and tired and, like Carr, either hot and stuffy or freezing cold. Now that I’m not doing book history, I rarely go elsewhere on campus. Every couple of weeks I might go over to Robarts, which is the big library, about 10 minutes walk from here. It’s a cool concrete 70s monstrosity shaped to look like a peacock (although this is hard to see from most angles) and the collection of books is impressive, to say the least. There is also a Starbucks, Subway and some other food places in there, plus street vendors in vans out the front so it’s a good place to get food. I tend not to go there to study as it’s very busy, full of undergrads slacking off and just too big and distracting to really focus. I like the Kelly library for study as I can sit in the cafe area (yes, another Starbucks) in a comfy chair and it’s quiet but not deathly silent, plus there’s coffee if I want it. I can get free coffee from the Italian department any time I like actually, I must take advantage of that more.
This campus is really lovely, nice to walk around some of the older buildings, watch the squirrels jumping about, climbing the old trees and sculptures dotted around. I like being at uni, it’s very conducive to focus and study which is so enjoyable for me these days. Back in my undergrad days I almost never studied at uni – in fact I almost never studied at all – and I spent much of my time trying to avoid being anywhere conducive to focus and study. I never read the books or did any research, I just did the bare minimum to pass, wrote essays without citing any references and ate enough sausage rolls to sink a ship. I remember sitting in the computer labs checking my email, years before I ever had internet access at home. I had so much time, so many opportunities, and I blew most of it off, wasted it. I got by on sheer natural talent and arrogance, refusing to accept the very valid comments of lecturers and tutors who dared to ask me to cite a reference or read something. Someone must have been looking after me because I sure didn’t deserve to do as well as I did. I occasionally wonder what would have happened if I actually applied myself to finding a career, aspiring to something great, instead of just doing random things and ending up working for the government. I don’t know whether my parents could have done something differently and helped me to be more focused, but I will be doing what I can to ensure this doesn’t happen with my kids.
Anyway, I digress. What I’ve managed to achieve in the last six months is phenomenal. I’m pretty sure I’m in line for an A average grade thus far in my course and frankly I think I could do better but I’m very grateful for the marks I’ve been awarded and I will do my best to keep up this standard. Ultimately, this is a year out of our lives to do this Canada thing, just a year, and then we will be entering the next phase, gathering together more funds, building our life back up again, getting established and settling down for good. I want to do my PhD, perhaps to be able to teach, certainly to write and work in a field a little closer to my interests and the work I’ve been doing here in this course. I’ve come so far, managed to narrow down my research interests which is a huge achievement for me, an all-rounder and generalist from way back, and I’m super excited about the next six months here, finishing this degree. Financially, we need a miracle, but I know this has been the right thing and I therefore know we will manage this second part of the journey and find our way back home.
So I’m over halfway with this super speedy, non-thesis-based MA. It’s in Italian Studies, of all obscure things. Unfortunately because of a scheduling conflict I won’t get to complete the collaborative program in book history which is kind of annoying as, although some of it was boring and pointless, some has been awesome and it would look good on paper.
So what next? After I graduate in May (or June), what do I do? I can’t work immediately in Canada as my study visa is restricted but regardless of whether we stay or go home to Aus, I need to work out what my plan is. I kind of feel as though I’d like to be at home with the kids but I don’t think that’ll be possible if we want a mortgage. Thumper has happily adapted to daycare so I have no issue with her continuing. So I’d be able to work.
But what will I do? I have no teaching qualifications, not that I’d really want to teach but it’s often the pathway chosen after a language MA. So if not teaching, what? Something academic? I have no idea. This degree is not the kind of thing people do to get a job. My Italian really isn’t good enough to be a translator or work professionally with the language. I think I could do coaching and beginner tutoring but I can’t say those prospects thrill me. I will be keeping my eye on the prospect of doing a PhD but that will not happen immediately, not while the kids are little.
I had a tentative look around online for jobs today and I found myself gravitating back towards digital and editorial stuff! Seriously, I thought I’d left all that behind, the online sphere and content production. I can’t imagine why anyone would look at what I’ve been doing and give me a digital role or something writing or editing copy. It’s an odd thing actually, that what I have the discipline to focus on and study is not actually what I want to do in terms of my work, and I have zero motivation when it comes to doing any sort of writing or editing training. I know I won’t be able to afford to do anything, but I feel like I should complete some professional skills courses on the practical side of things so I can go for jobs involving those. Ideally I still want what I’ve wanted for years, something flexible that involves writing and editing that I can do from home sometimes. I know, dream job, as if that’s going to happen. But you’ve got to aim high, I believe, you have to aim for what you want or there’s no chance you’ll even get close to it.
I’ve decided my first step is to begin publishing as much as I can, and that will begin with an essay I wrote recently for one of my courses at uni, the one about the migrant diaspora. There’s a bit of work to be done to get it to publication standard, and my professor is keen to help out on that and is very picky when it comes to correct English (which is great!) so that will be a nice win on the board. This blog is fun for me, it’s just me keeping a record of what’s happening, but it’s not really worthy of publication. I don’t edit before I post, I just kind of vomit onto the screen and hit publish, so writing with a purpose and to a standard will be a good for me. I do believe I have something important to say, or at least I can make a worthy contribution, so I’m going to give it a go.
Since we arrived we’ve had people telling us not to get our hopes up for a white Christmas. I guess I didn’t really think about whether we’d have snow at Christmas, I just kind of assumed it would happen. It just so happens that this winter has taken a long time to set in and, so far, has been unusually mild. It feels kind of like a British winter I guess.
And yes, Christmas was green, as they say here. It was cool but not cold. We did have a bit of snow a few weeks earlier but after a few bizarre unseasonable days of around 15 degrees and some rain, there was no snow left. But it was coldish and everyone had their Christmas lights up plus other decorations so that really helped create some atmosphere.
Despite all this, and even though we played all the Christmas music we could find and watched every Christmas movie available as well as putting up copious amounts of lights and decorations, more than any other year, I struggled to feel Christmassy. I’m sure the fact that I had to write three essays in the week leading up, and had to go into uni as late as the 21st to hand in one of those essays, didn’t help. I had my final essay due in January too so it wasn’t like I had a true break mentally. But the lack of Christmas spirit wasn’t just about that.
I can’t really explain it, to be honest. A lot of stuff didn’t feel right, especially just being in Canada. It’s like we had to create Christmas from scratch. We went to the Santa parade in the city which is about as Christmassy as you can get but even that didn’t seem right somehow.
Anyway, we did have a good Christmas, despite being woken at 5:15am by two children who I am amazed were excited and aware enough to get up so early and perpetuate the stereotype of kids getting up at the crack of dawn to open presents. I mean, seriously, they are 4 and 1, surely they can’t be so aware as to wake early due to anticipation! Aren’t kids not meant to have a sense of time until like 8 or something?! Hmm, this doesn’t bode well for subsequent Christmas mornings!
Mr Chewbacca spent about 80 per cent of the day in the kitchen (I have no idea how to make a roast and if I attempted it, we’d be eating burnt, cold food at midnight). We drank plenty of alcohol, eggnog, Bailey’s, wine, cider, mulled wine, so that was good. I think eggnog will be a staple at Christmas henceforth.
So Christmas crept up and then ended pretty abruptly. I can’t say I’m a fan of the short holiday break here and the propensity of Canadians to work themselves to the bone right up until Christmas and then dive straight back in the day after. This year was good because of when the weekend fell but I imagine other years would be worse.
Anyway, the conclusion here is that, despite the season’s appropriateness, I had the least Christmassy Christmas of my life. I think I may even have missed the summer Christmas! (You can’t buy fresh prawns here!) I hate the extreme heat that often dominates an Aussie Christmas but this experience made me realize that I’d not only become accustomed to a summer Christmas, it actually had begun to define Christmas for me. Don’t get me wrong, there is not much that can top the feeling of drinking hot mulled wine with the cold stinging your cheeks while you listen to Fairytale of New York and watch your Christmas tree lights twinkling. Or that first walk down Regent Street in London after the lights are up. That’s Christmas. But… So is G&Ts on your verandah while the kids splash in the pool. Fresh seafood on the beach. A giant, boozy trifle full of berries. Sitting round the tree in your shorts and singlet as it’s already 28 degrees at 7am. Getting pool toys for Christmas. This is all just stuff you can do or experience on a hot day, but the more you do things, the more they become tradition. Whether they’re stereotypically Christmassy or not, they become the markers that help create that feeling you so desperately crave at a time like Christmas. They help you focus on what’s important, family, being with those important to you, just being. They help you temporarily relinquish all the messy, stressful, day-to-day clutter and find peace and love in simplicity. That’s what’s important to me about Christmas, I realise that now.
For the first time, I began to wonder whether “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” was a song about being in another, warmer climate during the holiday season. I think it might be. Or at least that’s how I’m going to take it from now on.
It’s been a while since I managed to update. I have been racing to the finish line getting all my uni work done for the end of term. I still can’t believe I managed it. I had to write three essays in a week, it was crazy. I hope I’ve done enough to get decent marks. So far I’ve only had two marks back for about a dozen pieces of assessment and they were A minus and A so fingers crossed…
I am glad I only have five courses this next term, as opposed to six, but I’m worried I’ll burn out and lose motivation and just pull through. I truly feel that, while I’m managing my study, I’m not doing the best work I can. Yet I’m getting decent marks so far and I feel like I have more of a chance of doing well in comparison to some of my fellow MA students. That sounds arrogant, I know, but I don’t mean to compare myself or put others down, it’s more just a case of confidence, maturity and experience being on my side.
Having said that, and I hope I’m not being presumptuous here, but I get the impression that, in order to be given a mark below an A, you really have to stuff up. Like hand in a half-written essay or skip all your classes or miss your presentation. It kind of feels as though if you make an effort, they’ll give you an A. An A+ is like you’ve really done awesomely well and you’re a genius, an A is like, hey, that’s a pretty decent essay, and an A- is like, um, frankly your essay is pretty shite but you’ve clearly made an effort and tried your best so we don’t want to give you the possibility of not having the grades to get into a Ph.D so here’s a lower but still acceptable grade. You see, from what I’ve ascertained thus far, to be accepted to a Ph.D program, you need an A average. I don’t know how it compares at other unis but at UofT this equates to a minimum of 80 per cent across the board, more or less. So it’s like if you put in all this work and love what you’re studying but you can’t write for shit, they’re still not going to give you a B or lower because that would mean you can’t continue on to doctoral studies. And that’s kinda unfair. Because even if you want to study something really odd or obscure or pointless or boring like underwater basket-weaving in third world countries (a memorable and hilarious example a former public service boss of mine used to use), who are they, the professors, to deprive you of that? Who are they to say that you don’t write well enough to pursue your random and unending academic interests? Show me the money, right? Somehow, and this is just me letting things stew around in my neurotic brain, I get the distinct impression that no matter your interests or capabilities, if you are dedicated and do your best, you can do as many postgraduate degrees as you like. Once you get to the masters level, there’s a limit to how much you can be questioned for what you’re doing.
Having said all that, I can accept I may be being too simplistic about all this. The fact is, regardless of all this speculating about secret university policies, I am alluding to the fact that I don’t believe I’m that great a writer. I don’t think I’m any good at this stuff. I’m a fraud. There, I said it. I am just winging it, pulling essays out of my arse, somehow doing just enough to get by. After all, this degree is costing a fortune, surely they can’t fail me just because of that. Yes, I’m still speculating. I need to stop. What I can say for sure is that I’m somehow getting these good grades and I don’t feel like my work is of that high a standard.
Anyway, here’s to halfway through my MA program. I keep getting prompted to enrol in a PhD but I don’t think I’ll do it just yet, if at all. I know what it would involve and I want to do some other stuff first. And I’d need to learn another language or two. There’s time. I just need to find the motivation to finish this thing and find home.