The next step

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.

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My research interests

I’m going to write a little bit about what I’m doing at uni, purely to document what’s happening. I am obsessed with documenting personal history, so this is part of that. So if you find academic stuff a bit boring, click away now!

One of the pages of the first edition Alice I had the chance to study
 
As I have mentioned, I’m doing an MA Italian Studies and a collaborative program in Book History and Print Culture. This means I’m doing six courses this term! I remember finding three or four a heavy workload, and that was during my undergraduate studies when I had no children or responsibilities. I didn’t even have a job!

Anyway, just as a bit of background, I mentioned previously what my journey to this masters program has been thus far. I went on to do a Graduate Diploma in creative/professional writing and got part way through another one in editing and publishing but it wasn’t really stimulating me so I didn’t re-enrol. I kind of wish I’d stuck that one out as maybe I’d have gotten some more editorial work. Anyway.

An illustration by Maggie Taylor from a 2008 edition of Alice
 
So upon planning to give Canada a go, and realising the easiest way to do that was for me to study, and given I’d wanted to do a masters for years, ten years actually, I set about deciding exactly what to study. Initially I planned for creative writing but I very quickly realised I didn’t have what it takes. Not only were my English marks shockingly poor during my BA, I didn’t do particularly well in my postgraduate writing studies either. I think the best word to describe my achievement level is “mediocre”. Marks in the 50s and 60s amounting to a Credit average. In addition to this, there was no way I could get the required two academic references from professors who probably didn’t know me during my study, let alone over a decade later… I found one program I could apply to using a portfolio, so I did that. I also applied to a comparative literature program, an English program, and an Italian program. I’d done well in Italian and my professors were only too happy to give me references, despite not having heard from me in about 13 years. I was a bit sneaky and asked them for references for the non-Italian programs too. I actually thought I might have a shot at the literary/writing programs and somehow they’d overlook my dodgy grades. Yeah right!

Alice talking to the Cheshire Cat, original printing of first 1865 edition
 
I ended up getting into only one of the four programs I applied for, the first one I’d applied for, the one I least expected because it was the most prestigious university of the lot. UofT apparently has the largest Italian department outside of Italy! Not to mention world-class teaching staff and amazing facilities. I must admit, though, as soon as I realised I was in, I developed a lump in my throat which I swallow at various intervals but which has remained since. I didn’t feel true drive and passion for Italian. But I was excited, and knowing how well I do with languages I knew this was the right choice as it would be easier for me than something literary. Little did I know that in fact it was a literary program I’d gotten into! Just Italian literature! Uh oh… my undergrad was pretty much straight language… and no, reading “Spotty va al circo” and a bit of Italo Calvino doesn’t count!

Anyway, I was excited. I had some time to think about my research interests and I had a vague idea that they resided in two areas: a kind of editorial/textual area, which involved loving words and books and language structure; and the other is about migration and cultural identity, how we come to know where we belong and find peace with our culture. So two totally different areas. My main goal through this program is to nail down exactly what my research interests are and specialise in one area. Not as easy as it sounds for an all-rounder lazy person like me.

When I finally worked out how to enrol in courses and that I’d be doing six of them (what?!?!), I found there wasn’t a big pool to choose from. I had to choose one particular introductory course for book history, then what was described as a “pedagogical” compulsory course for Italian. The other four courses were up to me, although there was only five to choose from. I opted out of studying Pirandello, given I’d never heard of him before and the prospect of having to read an entire book in Italian freaked me out. So I ended up enrolling in one about film and perceptions of China and Italy from both camps, one about something I’d never heard of before but that I got extremely excited about (philology), one with an extraordinarily long title that had something to do with new ways that Italian language and culture is being mixed into Canada and vice versa, and the last one was about a migratory diaspora from a particular part of Italy that I’d never heard of. Very exciting but very scary given how little I knew about what I’d be doing. I felt both thrilled and terrified.

Another stunning Maggie Taylor illustration from Alice
 
So this is supposed to explain my research interests. Well, I’m halfway through the first part of the program now, and I can safely say that my interests still lie in those two areas but I think I’m leaning more towards the migrant diaspora stuff. And not necessarily Italian. I’m finding the textual stuff interesting but there is also a lot of boring stuff that seems like much ado about nothing sometimes, whereas the cultural identity stuff feels like me, I want to know more, and my personal connection to and experience with these issues means it is somewhat cathartic for me to study this stuff. There is purpose there. I absolutely adore the philology, it’s amazing, but it feels, I don’t know, kind of abstract. Like it’s great but it doesn’t relate to me enough. Gee, that sounds so self-indulgent! Oh well.

I think I want to tell stories, those of people I know, myself, but also others. I want to create connections with culture and investigate the concept of home and belonging. It’s something I’ve been looking for in my life and I daresay there are many others in the same situation with less capacity for or interest in finding the answers. So that’s where I’m at. The density of information that I’m absorbing, the sheer volume of it, is surely going to mean I’ll be clear on exactly what I want to do after this, whether it’s a PhD or something else.

The oldest student

I’m not really that old. I just turned 37 the other week. But in my MA program, I’m the oldest. There are three others doing the same program as me and they’re all much younger. Like 10 to 15 years younger! At first I found it a little confronting. I’ve done a lot since I finished my undergraduate degree 14 years ago. I’ve worked and lived in other countries, I’ve even done another degree. But still, I’m the oldest, I have kids, I live 40km out of the city… It’s not easy.

But it wasn’t long, however, before I realised I was so much better equipped than these kids are to be doing a masters. That’s not to say I think anyone’s going to drop out, that they’re too young or whatever. I just want to acknowledge my gratitude to be the age I am. I have so much more knowledge, I’ve been places and done things and although I have a lot more going on with two little kids, I manage to do the required reading when others just haven’t the stamina. Not just that, I can apply myself and come up with intelligent remarks.

When I began my undergraduate degree in 1997, it was in a BA (Visual) specialising in textiles. I got in on a whim, having spoilt any chance of getting into any uni program based on grades, as I barely achieved a pass in my year 12 results. This was because I lacked focus, discipline and confidence, and I cut my nose off to spite my face in a way when I deliberately didn’t apply myself to my studies because I didn’t believe studying maths or science should be part of getting a suitable grade to get into arts at uni. I think I ended up with a 52. But I put together some half-assed portfolio of artwork I had done through high school and, by some miracle, was offered a place at art school. I had no idea at the time but this wasn’t just any art school; it was one of the foremost art schools in the country with an extremely high reputation at the time (I don’t think this is still the case). I still don’t really know how I got in, given I got one of seven places in a field of 135 applicants. Ultimately I never questioned it but who knows, perhaps I wasn’t a total fraud; perhaps I actually showed some talent!

After six months of, admittedly, mostly enjoyable foundation studies courses, I began to realise I didn’t want to be a “starving artist”. I didn’t have quite the passion of some (and genuine eccentricity of others!) I needed to do something a little more academic. Having said that, the most academic subject I studied at art school was Art Theory and it was the one I found most difficult. I didn’t do particularly well in that, having to write some essay on post-colonialism, if memory serves, in which I demonstrated practices I would employ throughout my undergraduate studies that guaranteed shit marks. Things like waffling on about something in a giant paragraph when I could have said it in one sentence and then not referencing because it was “just what I think”. Read: I did zero reading whatsoever and I’m winging it using flowery language and correct spelling.

Anyway, I received a distinction at the end of that first year of visual arts, which my mum still goes on about. But it wasn’t for me. Luckily, due to the prestige of the school, I suppose, it was actually part of the university, arguably the most well-respected university in Australia (it ranks about number 19 in the world now I think), and because I’d completed my first year I just transferred to do a straight BA, with some status credits tacked on from that Visual Arts year. I enrolled in the expected three courses: English, Italian and History. Introduction to the Study of Literature, Introductory Italian (I was placed in the intermediate class but quickly dropped back when I couldn’t understand anything in my first class), and Culture and Society in Britain and France: 1750-1850. Oh history! I think I’d heard of the French Revolution at the tender age of 19 after visiting Madame Tussauds in London and seeing the Madame Guillotine waxwork in the Chamber of Horrors. I’d never heard of the Industrial Revolution. Ha. I was so naive!

I barely passed that year-long unit of history (I think the tutor was very generous), and I quickly transferred out and into linguistics which suited me better. I still wrote essays containing no referencing that were basically just stories about what I thought on a certain topic but I somehow got through and got top marks in Italian so that ended up being what I went on to do in this program. To be honest, I’m not hugely passionate about Italian per se, I don’t really know much of the literature or history, although I’m learning a huge amount through this course, but one thing I’ve discovered is that I know what interests me and what I’d like to continue doing, so I have my Italian studies to thank for that. As an all-rounder, it’s not easy to find your passion.

And why did I enrol to do Italian back in 1998? Because I’d studied it in high school and I knew languages came easily to me. When I was choosing electives in my first year of high school it was a toss up between Spanish or Italian and I chose the latter simply because that’s what my best friend had chosen. “It’s a bludge,” she said. That’s all I needed to hear. Laziness was what I was all about, getting the best results for the least about of work. I look back and I can’t believe this was my attitude! That stubborn, lazy aspect of me did me no favours. I only hope I can instil something different in my own kids. Not that you must slog your guts out, but that it’s good to strive for something and feel passionate. It’s self-discipline that I learnt the hard way, and am still learning in fact. The difference is, learning is pure pleasure and it’s ironic that now, when I have the least amount of time available to devote to it, I’m finding so much enjoyment in it! And speaking of which, it’s time to stop this procrastinating and get back to it.

The mountain

The reality of the mountain of work I have ahead of me has really hit. How I will get through this, I have no idea. It is utterly overwhelming, no matter how much I attempt to break it down into manageable chunks or schedule it.

There are a few things that are adversely affecting things here, and I’m going to be brutally honest here. One, we are feeling a bit homesick. I don’t think I expected to feel this way. I have lived overseas before, learnt how to be adaptable and deal with change. But this is harder than I thought. Lots of the things we came here for are within reach – the lovely seasons, the traditions, feeling more at the centre of things. But I’m not sure if those things are enough. It’s not been long enough, only two months, so time will tell.

Two, I really want to be with my children. I feel like I’m depriving them of the best kind of childhood, where mummy is always there. I’m not and it’s not feeling good. The Dude has been going to school full time and yes, he can handle it, but he isn’t enjoying it as much as he should be. I don’t think much of the school either. In fact some aspects of Canadian parenting are pissing me off a bit at the moment, but that’s another blog post. Thumper is happy enough in daycare and I like her carer a lot, she is a kind and lovely person. But no substitute for mummy.

And three, I don’t really want to be studying Italian. I can struggle through it but it’s really not something I’m completely passionate about. I’m super glad I didn’t do French as I really don’t like it at all but to Italian I kind of feel a bit indifferent. I enjoy a chat in Italian but I don’t want to specialise in the language or its literature or culture. Surely there must be a way to focus my study more on what I like despite the context of Italian Studies. I think the Italians are pissing me off a bit too. I hate how formal and abrupt and arrogant they can be. They are not warm, they are strict. Not bad people, nice people, just not culturally my cup of tea. I’m not Italian and I don’t want to be.

So why are we here and what am I going to do? There’s really only a single answer to these questions: see it through. We’re here to see this thing through to the end and when I’m finished the requirements in April/May we’ll see where we are. Probably broke and uncertain, that’ll be where we are. But at least I’ll have some new career prospects. I need to focus on not feeling disillusioned and hopeless and just get this thing done!

Hard

I’ve never heard this music before but my dad has recommended it and the artist is Italian so it’s fitting. I plug my free Apple earphones into my broken Samsung and hit shuffle. Within moments of hearing the opening bars there are tears in my eyes and for once I’m grateful for my vision being obscured by my child-scratched sunglasses. It’s piano, reminds me a bit of Michael Nyman and I remember the story my friend K told me about him propositioning her one late night in London.

This MA study, it’s hard, in all respects. It may even be one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced to date. The work is hard, the commute is long and complicated, and I feel totally conflicted about leaving my kids, neither of whom like being without me.

This music is my soundtrack now. Ludovico Enaudi. If I have another child, I think I’ll call him Ludo. Or maybe that’ll be a good name for a family dog. I won’t forget what this music has done for me. Although damn it, stop with the tears already!

I wrote this on the third day of my first week at uni. I was sitting on the bus at 8:15am having just forced my protesting 13-month-old into the arms of a lovely stranger while I put myself through the torture of a complex class conducted all in Italian. I think in those early days I understood about a quarter of what was said, if that, and what made it worse was that the other three members of the class understood everything.
At this point I’d been to five of my six classes and I was feeling overwhelmed. And to top it off, other than Thumper’s separation anxiety, the Dude was having huge meltdowns about catching the school bus and Mr Chewbacca had just messaged me saying he was almost in tears too at having to take Dude to school against his will because he’d point blank refused to get on the bus.
Looking back, yes, it was hard. But we’ve moved on now. That first week, wow, I’ll never forget it. And I’m glad I wrote this as it reminds me just how easy I have it now in comparison.

Can I really do this?

So I’ve officially started at uni. My Master’s. I still don’t even know whether to use the possessive form Master’s or not. Because it’s a Master of Arts. Gah. Stupid language. Why am I doing this again?

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The view exiting Museum Subway station

Anyway, this week has been all about the orientation sessions. I went to one first about the School of Graduate Studies and it was great, so interesting and inspiring. I felt really excited and empowered when I left. I had another look around the library where I’d been once before to get my student card. I went over to the Italian department only to discover that I was referring to an old timetable and this week is just orientation sessions.

I had to leave Thumper at home with daddy which is hard. Normally I handle all sleeps as she is fed to sleep and expressing/bottles is way too much of a headache. She’s one now and I know she can go without a feed the whole day but it’s an easy way to get her down for a nap and I had no idea how Mr C would manage. Luckily he’s resourceful, and by the third day he was into a groove and could get her to sleep easily by standing in the dark and rocking her then putting her down in her cot. I’m pretty sure I’ve found her home daycare nearby, just need to work out how to pay for it! And the Dude begins school on the same day as me. School bus for the first time!

The Italian orientation was okay, a little odd and a little intimidating. Thinking of it now, it reminds me of my first Italian class… oh my god! I was just calculating in my head how many years ago it was now. Seventeen years ago!!! Man, that makes me feel ancient! Anyway, so in 1998 I began a BA that I’d transferred into after a year of a BA (Visual). I enrolled in Italian thinking it seemed like the easiest thing to do as I’d already learnt some in high school. Despite my bad grounding in the language and my inability to speak much, my comprehension was above that of a beginner. I met with the department head, a gorgeous, wonderful woman who spoke Italian to me and quickly established that I should begin at the intermediate level. I was excited until that first class. I remember sitting in the room with a bunch of other students and in walked the lovely department head. Following her was a tall, funky-looking dude wearing 3/4 length shorts, Doc Marten’s, and red, thick-rimmed glasses. He sat on one of the desks at the front and swung his legs while the head introduced herself and welcomed everyone and I assumed he was another student. Then he stood up and introduced himself as the teacher! Suddenly everyone around me was speaking Italian, not just the two professors but all the students! Words, jokes, phrases, casual remarks were flying through the air and it was just all too fast and overwhelming. I had no idea what was going on but I knew one thing: I wanted to start from the beginning.

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It's a nice campus

I don’t regret it, starting from scratch, even though I could have toughed it out at the intermediate level. I was 19 then, I had zero life experience and even less maturity. I would have struggled. Now, sitting in a similar classroom across the other side of the world feeling slightly overwhelmed by the speed at which some people were speaking, and being somewhat taken aback at being asked about my research interests up front, I had a different experience. I put that down to maturity mainly. It was intimidating but not to the point of not wanting to continue.

I think Italian departments must have parallels the world over. There’s always something old-fashioned about Italian. Like no one’s updated their decor since the 70s. And they refer to things as being “in internet” which has this kind of fuddy duddy ring to it, like they are still using dial-up modems. They always make you sign to say you’re present. They have some really specific expectations, pet peeves, odd sort of stubborn requirements. It’s like, “oh this series of talks isn’t compulsory but if you don’t attend it’ll be noticed”.

Suffice it to say, I’ve got six full time courses to get done this term, when a normal full time load is four. Oh and I have a clash between my book history program class and the fundamental pedagogical one for Italian. I don’t think that’s ever happened. Certainly I’m the only one from Italian doing the collaborative program. And I can understand why, six is a lot! So wish me luck. My first official week begins 10am Monday morning and I have no idea what that first class will even be about be a use my Italian isn’t good enough to read up further.