Bring it.

I’m back at the blog- due in part to having a bit of space to write (Hello global pandemic! Hello quarantine!) but also because I was feeling the urge to start documenting, for myself, some big shifts coming down the pipe.

On February 26, 2020, I passed my Viva (Dr Holmes IN THE HOUSE!) — AND, on that very same day, I signed an offer for a Tenure Track Professor job. It is still unbelievable to me that those two things came together on THE SAME DAY. But they did. These two dreams, goals, thorns in my side…

I first got the inkling that I wanted to “be” in academia in 2009. Most of my life between 1992 and 2009 revolved around being a stay-home Mum. I did some professional gigs and maintained a private teaching studio throughout those 17 years but my main focus was the kids. But when the youngest was around 2-years old I starting thinking there was more I wanted to be doing. I remember the moment I saw the posting for the part-time position that would be my first job teaching at a university. I knew in that instant that that’s what I wanted to be doing. So, with only a BFA under my belt (and some professional experience to my credit) I stumbled into a part-time position at a small university.

My first class is etched in my memory. I had to teach private voice classes in a science lab. Certainly not what I would describe as a dream job, BUT— I just knew it was where I wanted to be- I loved the students, the energy, the curiosity, the digging into, the searching, the figuring things out… all of it.

Within two years of starting there, I began my MFA —a low residency programme that allowed me to complete my degree as I continued to teach. By the time I graduated, in true “go big or go home” style, I had already set my sights on a PhD.

It has been a looooooong, hard 7 years. There have been many MANY bumps along the road. These have included almost every roadblock that the “how to survive your PhD” self-help books have listed as things that may derail your studies. These include (but are not limited to) a death in the family, my husband’s battle with cancer, (all-clear for the last 2 years!) caring for my mother during her descent into Alzheimer’s disease, 5 other family member’s hospitalizations, a cross country move, juggling multiple part-time teaching jobs… oh, and did I mention I was living in Canada but travelling to the UK to attend university(?!) AND, is it no wonder that on top of all this I received a Revise and Resubmit result on my first thesis submission?

You know that; “Nevertheless she persisted””

Yup.

Perseverance in the face of all the obstacles I faced (I didn’t even mention the ageism and sexism I was faced with) was, without a doubt, my greatest (and sometimes only) asset through the whole thing.

And so here I am. At 53 years of age, I am stepping into a whole new chapter. I am thrilled. I’m excited. I am maybe a little scared- but not too much. Mostly I am revelling in the opportunity.

I am ready to get going. One gift that I have been able to squeeze out of 7 weeks of quarantine is the time and space to prepare for this new chapter. I sort of feel like I’m living a kind of prologue right now. I’ve been focusing on readying myself; physically, mentally and emotionally, to charge ahead, full steamahead.

Bring it.

Phd

Happy bird-day

It’s my birthday.
I’m 52.
And while I do have days (like I wrote about in my last post) where I feel a bit conflicted about getting older or especially in being a ‘mature’ student, for the most part, I am quite content about the whole thing and really try my very best to embrace it. I definitely subscribe to the whole “older and wiser” mentality. I know I am a better mother, partner, teacher, student, researcher NOW at 52 than I was even 1 year ago because of my life experience, or more specifically because I have had the time to grow, learn and become.

This past Saturday night I ripped through Deborah Levy’s The Cost of Living: A Working Autobiography. It was one of those truly serendipitous moments of picking up the right book at the right time. In it, Levy, as the title suggests, writes a small section of her autobiography focusing on one specific year of her life where she was undergoing some major changes; a divorce, the death of her mother, the challenges of being a woman in midlife all alongside her struggles in her career as a writer. What spoke so deeply to me was her ability to communicate how those of us who have defined ourselves for so long as mothers, or, as partners to others so often end up in this kind of liminal place– between what we were and what we might become. After spending so much of our time and energy building a life for our family and/or investing in relationships, romantic and otherwise… of being the nurturer…taking care of others… The notion of being free to do what we want and to create our own independent lives may seem exceedingly difficult and requires equal amounts of patience, humour and energy.

What also spoke to me about Levy’s book was the bird theme that runs through it.  Birds! I have been thinking so much about birds lately and this further added to my feelings that it was fate that brought this book to me mere days before my birthday.
The kids has asked me a couple of weeks ago what I wanted for my birthday and I told them, without hesitation, a squirrel-proof bird feeder. I have beautiful feeder that they gave me years ago when we still lived in Vancouver and I was incredibly disappointed  when we first moved to hang it up only to have it pillaged by the hoards of squirrels that roam my neighbourhood here in Montréal. At birthday dinner last night (we celebrated a day early so I had time to prepare an extra special meal -haha!) they presented me with my coveted  squirrel-proof bird feeder. I was ecstatic. I quickly filled it and hung it outside just above my little St Francis of Assisi , patron Saint of birds and animals tile.

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I began thinking about all the symbolism wrapped up in birds not just for me personally but also in life generally and I was reminded of this by Hildegard von Bingen;

“Birds symbolize the power that helps people to speak reflectively and leads them               to think out many things in advance before they take action. Just as birds are lifted             up into the air by their feathers and can remain wherever they wish, the soul in the           body is elevated by thought and spreads its wings everywhere.” ~ from Liber de                 Subtilitatum 

The power to speak reflectively.

Yes. Without a doubt something that I have been pondering very closely for while now.

But the bird feeder wasn’t my only gift!

Sons number 2 and 3 also arrived to dinner with a gift that they had bought all on their own.

It was a scale. A bathroom scale— like, to weigh yourself with. An interesting gift to buy for your mother to be sure… everyone had a good laugh. And, of course I had to get on the damn thing. (not so funny) But! As I was already into some serious metaphorical -thinking about my birthday and the bird feeder I couldn’t help but think about…weight. As in there is a lot of weight in my musings on birds; the power to speak reflectively… yes, but, I was also thinking about freedom.  I was meditating  on birds and their ability to fly, to soar — the freedom inherent in gliding over and looking down on all that is below. The weightlessness of it all.

After dinner when the boys had gone home, the others were heading to bed and the ol’ man had finished the dishes (he’s good like that) I went to put away my good serving plater he had left on the table for me to put back in the china cabinet. As I was shuffling things around in there I picked up a china egg that had belonged to my mother-in-law. When she died 5 years ago, we ended up with a box of assorted knickknacks that, in all honestly, I hadn’t paid too much attention to. They were put away in the china cabinet and have sat there since. For some reason, last night this giant china egg caught my eye, mostly because I didn’t really remember it.

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When I picked it up I discovered it opened into two pieces, and lo and behold, what was inside but two little glass  birds. I had no idea there were birds in there. I took it to show the ol’ man and he also had no idea.
I brought it to my desk and carefully made a place for it— I think this egg and the wee birds inside need to hang out here awhile.

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There have been no visitors (that I have seen) to my bird feeder yet this morning but as I walked my son to school this morning we heard a woodpecker, some crows, a whole mess of chickadees and saw (and heard!) a bit fat robin. It is cold-ish (-2C) and there is still snow on the ground so Spring has not yet sprung here. I will keep watch over my bird feeder, eagerly waiting for the first (non-squirrel!) visitor, while the little glass birdies will keep watch over me as I continue to “think out many things in advance before [I] take action…” speaking reflectively and with weight.

Happy bird-day to me.