Halfway there

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… 

This is what happens whenyou leave the tree decorating up to a four year old. All baubles bunched together.
 

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. 

The right path

How do you know when you’re on the ‘right’ path? I feel like I used to know, before I got distracted by life. It’s like, in my teenage years and 20s I used to have huge amounts of time to ponder and think over things. Too much time really. An ex-boyfriend (who, when he was my boyfriend, wouldn’t commit enough to my liking and I desperately wanted him to buy me some jewellery to symbolise our commitment) once bought me a birthday present, I think when I was about 22. It was a silver ID bracelet and he’d had it engraved. On the front it had my name and on the back was “No Thinking Zone”. I think we’d been dating a year or so and he wasn’t really intellectually the right person for me but he easily saw my issue back then. I was thinking too much, going over every little thing, obsessing.

Oh if only I had the time to obsess now! Something happened, I think, around the time that first serious relationship started to break down, and life started to become full. I resisted, of course, and it was only because that boyfriend announced he was leaving for a stint in London that I pig-headedly pushed my way forward and ended up leaving for my own London adventure a few months before him. I resisted it all the way, was convinced I would be there for about six months, and I wasn’t going there to party it up like all the other antipodeans. Oh no, I was just going for, um, the experience, whatever that was… And I’d be back in six months anyway. I didn’t need to let my hair down and be stupid on the other side of the world to find out who I was. I was going to fix my relationship, get married, and settle down in Canberra. Or Melbourne. That was me eight years ago. I would sit and think things over, imagine myself in various scenarios, get a feeling, and know the right path. I don’t think that’s what I did with my decision to go to London, although I know for certain it was the right choice. I became a completely different person, a much better person, after living in London. And I met Mr Chewbacca, which is one of the best things that could have happened to me.

With my decision to step into a new life in London, I forfeited this process of assessing my future plans. I began to be spontaneous, and ended up doing a lot of things I would never have considered previously as a result. Some things I can’t say I’m particularly proud of, and I don’t know how positively they contributed to who I am now, but I’m here to tell the tale (not in a public forum though!) and I don’t regret anything. I do miss that clarity, however, those moments of contemplation which allowed me to see the right path. I haven’t got the time now, to sit and think and plan, and so much has happened, life and circumstances have descended upon me in layer upon layer of possible deviations from the right path so that there is now no going back. I can’t sort back through each layer, meticulously choosing my path at every turn. Too much has happened.

So now I am on the path I’m on. I’m here, in Canada, a country I never even envisaged visiting let alone living in, and I’m doing an MA at one of the top universities in North America. As a family, we’ve taken a huge risk coming here. A risk for what? Because we didn’t know for sure if Australia was the right place for us. We couldn’t handle any more 40 degree endless summers. We wanted snow and beautiful trees and piles of leaves and traditions at the ‘right’ time of year, to be in a place that feels like it’s a little more in touch with the world. The course I’m doing is certainly leading me in the right direction and it’s fantastic to be studying again, especially with a level of maturity that allows me to apply myself fully to the material and achieve good results. But it will be ending all too soon.

Many MA programs are two years but this one is unfortunately just one year. I love this university, I am so privileged to be taught by some exceptional academics. I seriously want to do a PhD. But there’s one problem: this university is in Toronto, in the city. I don’t want to live in the city. In fact although I live 40km out of the city, that’s still too close. I can’t wait to move. But if I wanted to do further study I’d have to stay close enough to commute.

I got some clarity around what we might do next yesterday and I know what our options are in terms of staying on in Canada once I’ve graduated next year in June. Unfortunately, none of those options is clearly the right one. We haven’t been here long enough to decide whether to go back home or stay on permanently, another year testing things out at least seems the right thing, but that’s not an easy thing to do. These decisions are depressing me! I wish it wasn’t so complicated, and so much about money!

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I listen to my Aussie music, stuff I never listened to when I was at home, and I actually miss home, I miss it for the first time since London. I don’t believe in regrets, they are a waste of time, everything happens exactly as it should. But there are so many things that, if I’d just thought at the time with some clarity, taken a few moments to sit and really make the decisions without rushing, I’d have gone a different way and things would be better. At least that’s what I tell myself. I’ll never know, there’s no such thing as Sliding Doors. Right now, we’ve got some serious thinking to do and big decisions loom yet again. Wasn’t it meant to be easier than this? Didn’t I plan to settle down and enjoy simple family life when I left London?

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!

First week as a student again

I pinch myself constantly. Are we really doing this? Living in Canada? Am I actually doing an MA? Is this real? It really is like a dream. Although trying to comprehend the Roman accent of my lecturer is like a nightmare! No, it’s not that bad, but it’s hard work, especially as I’ve not been speaking Italian for over a decade now. I felt it coming back as that first class wore on and I think I’ll manage it after a few weeks, but man, it’s hard going! Luckily it’s really the only class I have that’s totally in Italian. (Just a side note that won’t interest anyone but Italian students: I emailed my professor before the first class to apologise as I would be late and I actually titled the email “la prima classe oggi”. “CLASSE”!! What was I thinking?! That’s not the correct word for “class” in Italian. Urgh. Feeling stupid!)Displaying 20150917_105824.jpgDisplaying 20150917_105824.jpgDisplaying 20150917_105824.jpg

Lovely buildings around campus
Lovely buildings around campus

My other classes are either totally in English or a mixture, which works well. The Italian professor is luckily a super nice, kind guy who is very understanding about my family responsibilities. He even had no issue with my having come late to the very first class. Meanwhile there’s no hint at any assessment and the course outline is all in Italian and I can’t see anything in there about due dates! It looks like we will be expected to do a presentation and an essay at least… scary!!

My week generally looks like this: nightmare day Mondays with 10-12, then some weeks we’ll stay back and watch a film as part of the course. Then at 2pm I have my Book History class in the rare books library which is a good 10 to 15 minute walk from the Italian faculty. That class is meant to go til 5pm but, typically, I have a clash as the foundational pedagogical class for Italian is scheduled between 4pm and 6pm back over in the Italian department! Apparently these clashes shouldn’t happen as the Book History people asked any collaborating department to confirm in writing that they’d leave that time free and not schedule any of their classes during those three hours. In typical fashion, the Italians have ignored that and I’ve been screwed over. It’s too late for them to rearrange things and, frankly, why would they go to all that trouble just for one student? Yes, this confirms that I’m the only person doing the Italian Studies and Book History collaborative program. Quite cool! And to be honest, that third hour looks like it might be just dedicated to faffing about some weeks anyway. The professor spent a significant portion of time at the beginning of the class talking about the best places to get coffee and nice food around campus! Okay, sure, coffee is important, and I’m missing proper espresso like nothing else, but I don’t consider this a good use of the time. Surely there are other places and people we can ask for this sort of info.

As for the final class on Mondays that is apparently so incredibly important, it really reminded me of being back in high school or even first year uni. All this stuff about the dos and don’ts of essay-writing! Seriously?! We’re master’s students here! But I’m beginning to see that the standard of writing is pretty low generally and these professors obviously dedicate a significant portion of their time ironing out issues and wading through shit writing. So at least I’m in front there. Although I haven’t written an essay in over 10 years so it won’t be easy!

Oh, back to my schedule, so Monday is the day from hell as I don’t get home til 7:40! Past the kids’ bedtime. It already sucks with Mr Chewbacca being at home but once he gets a job it’s going to really suck. Dude gets off the bus at 4:10pm and someone has to be there to collect him, plus little Thumper finishes daycare at 5:30pm. And then there’s dinner to cook, entertaining both kids who will no doubt be tired, especially the little one who is still breastfeeding and will no doubt miss it during the day. Although she’s great with food and doesn’t ask to feed, maybe just for nap time if I’m there.

Anyway the rest of the week is early starts again Wed and Fri for my 10am class with Rome accent professor and Thursday is my favourite class, philology. On Tuesday it’s just the afternoon with 2-4pm diaspora class and then a 4-6pm film class, so another late one home to two tired kids at about 7:40pm. A 10am start may not seem early but because we’re so far out of Toronto I have to leave home by 8am to be at uni for 10. My routine so far is to put the little one in the stroller and walk her to daycare which is about 8 minutes’ walk, then the bus stop is just up the road. I catch an 8:15 bus to the train station and catch an 8:56 train to Union station, then the subway takes about 10 minutes. I get off at Museum and it’s five minutes walk to my class which I can be on time for providing I can stick to that schedule and don’t have to line up to get a coffee for too long. The difficult part is leaving the little one at daycare which she started this week. She didn’t want me to hand her over the first few times but on Thursday she reluctantly went and same on Friday, without tears. Phew! I think this means she will be okay.

The good thing is that this difficult class that’s on three mornings a week finishes after about a month as the professor is just visiting so in October I’ll have Wednesdays and Fridays off, which I’ll no doubt need. Because I’m doing this collaborative program plus this term we have to do this pedagogical course in addition to the standard full time course load of four, I am actually doing six courses! It seems unachievable at the moment but I’m determined to do it, somehow…