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

Way too old for this sh*t…

I had an old and very dear friend stop by with her teenaged children for dinner and a visit last night. We live on opposite ends of the country, and haven’t seen each other for ages and it was really terrific to catch up. We went to high school together and her kids are pretty much the same age as my #4 and #5.
She is one of those friends with whom it is easy to just jump in and pick right up where we left off. Our conversations can be raucous, highly animated, wildly enthusiastic yet methodical as we go through the happenings of the last 5-6 years in each of our lives and share tidbits of gossip of our shared friends.
I hold my friend in high regard. In high school she was “the smart one”- and while she may have thought herself to be a nerd of sorts I have always seen her as one of the coolest and most interesting people I know.
We took fairly different routes after high school. We both went to university but she took, not surprisingly, a very direct path– fast tracking through an undergraduate degree, then on to law school followed directly by a successful career in which she has balanced motherhood (and very successfully from my point of view, as her kids are absolutely lovely). My path began with a degree studying music with an eye towards a career in performance, then, midway through that degree I changed majors to theatre— I didn’t quite finish my last year when a ‘surprise’ pregnancy led me to drooping out to begin my journey in motherhood. 3 babies later I returned to finish my undergrad degree … THEN I went on to have 3 more babies (while doing a smattering of performance and teaching gigs) and when my youngest was 2 jumped next into a Masters Degree… Following that, somehow, buoyed by a misguided feeling that academia was indeed… fun(?!) I started my PhD.
And 35+ (!) years later here I am.
Sitting listening to my friend talk about how she is really working to come to terms with this phase of her life; kids growing up and going off to university, empty nest and all that— I couldn’t help but feel a bit envious. Not because she will have her kids grown before me (my youngest will only start high school in the Fall) but more in terms of TIME. The time she will have for herself…to do whatever she wants. It just seemed to me that the really, really hard work of parenting and career building was behind her. She’s not yet ready to retire but she is very secure in her working life. The ‘having to prove her worth’ career bit was done.

I have had to think a lot about how doing this PhD is NOT all about getting a job, because there is a very good chance that my status as a part-time University Instructor is not going to change. Full-time professor jobs in my specialty are few and far between. Throw in my (and my family’s ) unwillingness at this point in my (our!) life to move to any-old place to take on a new job and the odds are definitely stacked against me of ever landing THE job. I HAVE to be okay with this, and in fact when I started this mature student PhD journey I cheerfully chirped about it being about much more than the pursuit of a tenure-track job. “Sure” I said, “a job would be great and all but it is really mostly about scholarship and achieving something. I want to show my kids that anything is possible! If I, a not-so-academic mother of six can do it, anyone, with a little gumption and a whole lot of elbow grease can!” (OK I never actually thought elbow grease had anything to do with it, but gumption most certainly does.)
However, 5 years later, as I drag my exhausted self to the finish line, I am not always so chipper about facing the reality that, unlike my friend I may never have the same kind of job security. Somehow I have to find peace with that. If this PhD journey leads to THE job well, maybe that will be considered a bonus of sorts. Everyone loves a bonus but it cannot be something you expect or feel remotely entitled to.
In the meantime, it ain’t over ’til it’s over. And if I can get this beast of a thesis submitted before I am too old to sit at my desk then maybe somedays, that is all I can wish for.

too old

It’s a sign

I am sharing academic writing specialist Jo VanEvery’s newsletter here; It struck a chord with me because in it she talks about Brené Brown’s book //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=mamalegato-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=1592408419&asins=1592408419&linkId=bc5ebb4a1529736950a0377df1dc6eb6&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff“>Daring Greatly;  Brown’s work centres around shame, vulnerability and failure all of which I having been pondering quite deeply lately. I’ve read some of Brown’s work previously, yet,I admit to … Continue reading “It’s a sign”

I am sharing academic writing specialist Jo VanEvery’s newsletter here.

It struck a chord with me because in it she talks about Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly

Brown’s work centres around shame, vulnerability and failure all of which I having been pondering quite deeply lately. I’ve read some of Brown’s work previously, yet,I admit to having similar feelings as VanEvery towards these kinds of these celebrity psychologists (but I often end of reading them or at least about them anyways). As VanEvery says;  “I’m glad I’ve decided to read her work though. What she says about shame, vulnerability, and innovation is directly relevant to academic life”-  I haven’t read Daring Greatly but I can say for certain this is what I am finding as I read another of Brown’s books,  Strong; The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution.

I have definitely been having my own reckoning over the last while — around my research, my PhD, my LIFE… and I will inevitably get around to sharing some of that soon. As it stands, it exists mostly in the frantic scribbles of my journal and the frenetic corners of my mind– But! as someone who pays attention to “signs”, sent from the universe, or otherwise, VanEvery’s newsletter showing up in my inbox today, for me, surely was a sign.

sign

Censors Working Overtime

“Censor the body, and you censor breath and speech at the same time. Write yourself. Your body must be heard”. (Cixous, 1975)
This quote from Hélène Cixous (The Laugh of the Medusa) has, without a doubt, been my guiding light throughout the last three years of my PhD journey, and if I really take a moment to think deeply about it, in my life-journey in general. As a voice practitioner, writer, academic, feminist, these words perfectly sum up what I try to achieve every day. To tell my truth. To live and work as my truest self. And I know that the surest way to get there is through the body. To quote my colleague Noah Drew  “If the body isn’t free, the breath can’t be free and if the breath can’t be free the voice can’t be free.” Voice, in this context, includes not just my physical voice but my voice as it appears on the page. Perhaps one of the most daunting aspects of being a Doctoral Researcher is truly owning “your body must be heard”, each day I have to sit down with the attitude; “I have something new, innovative and important to say!” I struggle with it constantly. It is of course why Impostor Syndrome is so prevalent in academia. Who am I to declare “My body must be heard?!” Who in their right mind cares about what my body has to say? To completely mangle perfectly good XTC lyrics; “Censors working overtime Trying to tell the difference ‘tween the goods and grime turds and treasure and there’s one, two, three, four, five…” That just about sums up my final slog towards submission…these final weeks, as I try to sort out my theories, my ideas… am I really contributing to the scholarship on this? Do I really know the difference between the “good and the grime” the “turds and the treasure”
I suppose I can only write myself. Turds and all. There is no one else.

Cixous.jpg

“I, too, overflow; … my body knows unheard-of songs.”~ Hélène Cixous