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.

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. 

Never love

It’s been about four months now since we landed in Toronto. I’m proud of how we’ve managed to pull ourselves together and make a life here. I hate that we have no money and are financially so much worse off here. I knew that would happen but somehow it’s a worse prospect now it’s actually happened. The weather is beginning to cool down, not enough really, and the amount of snow thus far has been pretty pathetic, but Torontonians assure me there is plenty of time for that and I should just be grateful for the continued lack of it for the moment.

I miss Australia desperately. I don’t remember ever missing it like this. It’s not so much because I don’t like Canada, there’s a lot to like, the weather and the nature being two of the best aspects. I like that my son has made friends and we know our neighbours. I love my uni course even though I don’t know how I will get through the amount of work I’ve got. I’m not really liking how conservative Canadians are and how they don’t seem to get saracasm and are a bit up tight, but they’re not all that way – you get different people everywhere, it’s silly to generalise. I absolutely hate the safety obsession though and I’m not overly impressed with my son’s school. The way they’re teaching, the behavioural policies, the way they relate to the children, everything is sub par. People are nice, but that doesn’t account for everything. The systems and processes and ‘the way things are done’ are all pretty lame here in Canada generally. Well, no, I can’t speak for the whole of Canada. Here in the GTA, there are a lot of crazy, convoluted, ridiculous, weird, confusing, illogical and just plain stupid ways of doing things. I come across something every day that make me pause and say, what the fuck?! So that drives me insane on a daily basis.

Autumn leaves I collected while waiting for Thumper to wake up – she fell asleep during a drive to Niagara on the Lake

My course is great, really. I kind of wish I wasn’t doing the Book History program, as, aside from it being yet more work, I’m not particularly inspired by it. I am enjoying aspects, like researching the assignments, but the reading is a little boring and the size of the class just isn’t conducive to good discussion. I find myself wondering whether it’s all much ado about nothing a lot of the time. Like seriously, who cares what database storage application you use to access your journal articles and whether it changes the way you approach your reading of those articles? Okay, well maybe some people do care about that. I don’t. On the other hand, I’ve been privileged to be able to handle some very rare books, read some interesting articles, hear about really fascinating topics, and study some wonderful primary source material. I’ve used a hand printing press and flipped through a first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I think my feelings about this course are telling me that I really don’t have a future in pure literature, like I’m not meant to do this sort of stuff.

The varsity stadium, I think they call it. The oval, sports ground, at the uni

So what is thrilling me? Well, my favourite course is philology, although there’s a lot about that which is just fun and interesting rather than something I’m actually going to pursue at the next level. I think the course that’s made me realise where my future lies is one on a particular diaspora. I am really inspired by the process of gathering the stories of exiles and emigrants, by this question of home and cultural belonging. It’s something that plagues me constantly, and probably always will, and I feel as if I have a lot to say about it and I just want to know more. So if and when I do a PhD, it will be something relating to that. I would like to do comparative literature but you need a third language for that so I’d need to learn one. Maybe German? Or would French or Spanish be easier? Because of my German blood, it would make more sense to learn that I think. But it’s a hard language. At least I don’t have a mental block about it like I do with French which drives me mad with its ridiculous pronunciation! Anyway, that’s the plan.

I got into a subway carriage that was only Star Wars ads, and lots of them!
 
But I digress. What this post is really about is what I’m feeling about staying here in Canada. Mr Chewbacca wants another year, and I do too, kind of. I can see why it would be an advantage. I feel terrible about uprooting my kids, the Dude really, as Thumper is still little. I guess no matter what he’s going to be uprooted and sent to a different school regardless. I feel like I’m working so hard and not getting enough time to enjoy life here, plus the constant worry about money and when we’ll ever settle is really getting to me. I want to go home, find a niche. But at the same time I know we still won’t have money. It’s all gone, all that we could have used to buy a house in Australia. I don’t know if I can come to terms with that just yet. I feel like we might have made a mistake. And yet, I know if we didn’t come here, we’d always have wondered.

On my side of the family, they did it, they took the plunge and moved across the world. Twice, in fact. Both sides of my family actually.  On Mr C’s side, they didn’t. There was talk of that possibility and it just never eventuated. Lots more stories to be told there. It certainly feels like history repeating itself for me, anyway.

One thing’s for sure, and I thought about this as I glanced out the window as my train approached the city: I will never love Toronto.

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!

A story about everyday life

I want to relate a little story. In a regional city in Ontario, Canada, there lives a family. The grandparents are in their late 40s to early 50s. They live in a small house, the same one they’ve lived in for the past 27 years. It’s across the road from the school where their children went. Those children, a boy and girl, are now 28 and 26. The younger daughter is a single mother of a two-year-old and lives with her parents in their basement. She works long hours for minimum wage in retail and her mother looks after her daughter. The older son got married a week ago. He lives with his new wife and their two children aged four and a half and two in a tiny house about ten houses up the street. He works doing shift work labouring and his wife works at Tim Horton’s for minimum wage. They don’t have much money. In fact they had to sell their car to pay medical bills and for their small wedding they held in the parents’ back yard.
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Every morning, six days a week, grandmother walks down to her son’s house at 5:30am and waits for her grandchildren to wake up. She then takes them down to her place for breakfast. Their mother leaves at 6am for work and their father got home around an hour and a half earlier after his 4pm to 4am shift in the factory. The grandmother feeds and dresses the boys and brings her other grandchild up for breakfast while her daughter gets ready for her shift at the store. Grandmother takes care of the three, brings the older one across to school. When her son wakes around 10:30am he takes over for a little while. Nobody ever earns enough to buy a bigger house, a newer car or to go on vacation. They don’t entertain their dreams. But they live and work and enjoy each other’s company on the rare days they’re together as a family.

This is a story of working class Canada.

We are not working class although we feel like we are! I am about to begin a postgraduate degree at a top university. We have no income. One child is starting school, five full days per week, right from the beginning, in a public school. The little one will be in daycare (if I manage to find something suitable). This is going to be an enormous achievement if we pull this off. I actually don’t know how we’ll do it. There is no support here, government or family, and things are expensive and foreign.
It seems that classes don’t matter so much. It’s not about social standing, who is doing some fancy degree and who is working for minimum wage with nothing to show for it. Ultimately it’s about finding what makes you happy. It’s a cliché but it’s true. We wanted cold and snow and seasons and we are willing to sacrifice a lot to get that. The only way we’ll know is to do it, that’s what we’ve said from the beginning.
This post is going nowhere but I was just struck by the comparison between this family and ours. The antithesis of each other in a lot of ways. But striving to be happy in common.

There are no mistakes, only necessary lessons

Years ago, during my early 20s public service phase, I worked as a deputy editor of a crappy government magazine. My editor moved on and I applied for the role but didn’t get it. Instead, a total freakazoid douche was employed, I think because he was friends with my big boss.
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I say freakazoid douche but I should qualify that. He was camp as a row of tents and very high maintenance. He would freak out about things but pretend he was all cool and authoritarian on the outside. He pretended to be nice but came across as quite fake and very insecure. In hindsight, I kind of feel sorry for him. One thing he was good at though, he knew his grammar, punctuation and proper English. He had a really good eye for detail and was as pedantic as they come. Which, as an editor, can be a really good quality.

I hated working with him, I really did. Yes, I was a bit pissed off about being knocked back for the role myself but in my heart of hearts I knew I really didn’t have the experience or discipline to succeed as editor at that point. I would have screwed up and been out of my depth. So I made a conscious effort to treat him with courtesy and respect but it wasn’t long before I really loathed having to work with him.

And of course he fairly quickly showed himself to be unworthy of the role too. He couldn’t communicate without pissing someone off as his manner was so abrupt and quite bitchy and huffy. He’d get offended at everything and look down his nose at everyone yet it was just due to insecurity on his part. It was the worst kind of inferiority complex. Eventually he was moved on. I can’t quite recall how it all came about but I think he may have made his excuses. It’s really hard to fire someone in the public service, so that didn’t happen, but I think he was a contractor and his contract wasn’t renewed.

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Borrowed from http://cdn.ilovetypography.com

Anyway, just reading a post on one of the editorial Facebook pages I follow reminded me of him. It was about em dashes and en dashes. I knew about these and had an idea of how to use them prior to meeting this guy, but it was he who told me their names and demonstrated their usage. It’s stuck with me ever since and I’m very grateful for this knowledge. So despite not enjoying working with this insecure and incompetent drama queen who was actually a good editor as well, I wouldn’t change that experience for anything. I adore the em dash too!

This whole thing got me thinking, and it’s very relevant in the context of our upcoming journey to Canada, that there really are no mistakes, just lessons that need to be learned through experience. So it may seem daunting now, but this adventure is going to teach us some important lessons. There may be hardship and it may feel like too big a mountain to climb (or that we’re climbing the wrong mountain!) but I know that these lessons can only be learnt via this experience. Bring it on, I say.

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!