Graduation

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.

University College, U of T

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.

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 fear and necessity of specialisation

I’ve always been an all-rounder. Generally pretty good at everything. In fact, fairly early on in my life it became apparent that if something warranted a bit of effort, application or concentration from me, I wouldn’t bother. It wasn’t often that things fell into that category during primary school, but as I progressed through high school and on to university and then into the workforce, I came to a frightening conclusion: it’s not good enough to be okay at everything, even if you’re clever and capable enough to be okay at things without any effort. I discovered I had a distinct problem with self-motivation, drive, ambition, and ultimately in my 20s this lead to something akin to depression. I was terrified to discover that I wasn’t passionate about anything! Not really. Because being passionate meant really immersing myself in something. It meant choosing and being disciplined enough to stick to something. And risking failure.

Now at 35 years old I am experiencing some pretty harsh realities and finding it harder and harder not to specialise. As this very insightful article I just stumbled upon explains, if you don’t specialise you become unemployable. I would go further to say that if you don’t delve into your passions, you are living small. I’m not going to be so arrogant as to assume that everyone knows what he or she is passionate about, or that everyone has the means to explore passions to the greatest extent. But I think that most excuses for not really grasping your passion fully are cop outs; it might frustrate some, but the old cliché is true: where there’s a will, there’s a way.

This question of will comes up for me now. As I mentioned earlier, I was shocked to realise I wasn’t really passionate about anything, or at least passionate enough to really get up close and personal with any one topic. In the past, I’ve put this down to being ‘pretty good at everything’. But what I realised recently is that I’m not good at everything, I’m good at what I’m interested in. It seems pretty simple, but the moment I realised that, I also realised I was pretty arrogant to dismiss specialisation in any given field purely because I was just so fantastic at everything. That was the ultimate cop-out.

I’ve talked for years about doing my Masters. In fact I realised recently that it’s been ten years since I last studied! What?! That not only makes me feel old, it makes me feel like I’ve slacked off. So what has held me back? I could say that I was just having too much fun, doing too many other things, that it wasn’t really that important. But that’s not true. What’s held me back is the awareness that I’d finally have to specialise. That’s scary, as the article I linked above so eloquently explains. It’s scary because it means having faith in yourself, in all the sweeping statements you’ve made in the past about ‘being good’ at things. It’s also scary because it can feel like a limitation, like you are having to relinquish some pretty interesting ideas in order to make space for the big idea, the big passion, the speciality.

Anyway, I am finally looking into really doing my Masters, but doing it in a way that doesn’t allow me to slack off, cop-out, give up, make excuses or fail. And let’s face it, my chances of failing are pretty slim, given I never studied throughout my undergraduate degree and it never occurred to me I could fail until my very last semester at uni when I discovered friends had to take a unit again due to having failed the first time. I actually did come close to failing once or twice. I remember the struggle I had studying history in first year uni (Culture and Society in Britain and France 1750-1850 – I was 18 and had never really even heard of the Industrial Revolution and my knowledge of the French Revolution revolved around vague notions of people getting their heads cut off a lot). It was a year-long unit, which made it extra painful as I had no option but to see it through right to the end of the year. I had no study skills whatsoever, couldn’t absorb the texts as I didn’t understand any of the context, and there were all these crazy philosophy dudes in my tute group sitting round and pontificating about things I couldn’t comprehend. All I knew is, I didn’t get it, and I hated it. My tutor was a really lovely English woman who could see exactly what I was going through and kindly gave me a pass mark (52, I think it was) at the end of the year, probably because I managed to read most of Voltaire’s Candide and write a vaguely coherent, grammatically correct essay about it. But did I feel ashamed or upset that I’d let myself down by getting such a low mark?  Oh no, I just decided that the kind of history they were teaching at uni was garbage and not worth learning about. Yes, I was arrogant. I put my nose in the air and enrolled in linguistics where I proceeded to write entire essays the night before they were due with absolutely no referencing or citation, claiming I’d just come up with the ideas myself and that was enough of a reference. Hmm. I must have been a bugger to teach!

The one last thing to say about this latest educational venture is about the way I’m going to tackle it. It’s a bit of a secret at the moment so I won’t go into details until it’s clearly set in stone, but suffice it to say, I’m excited. It’s going to be an adventure, especially as my family – Mr C, the Dude and the little girl joining us sometime towards the end of August – will be along for the ride, directly affected by everything I do. Specialisation, here I come!