14 February 2017

On the topic of 'news'

Yesterday, the radio at work had been set on the news channel. For hour after hour they droned on and on (and on and on and on...) about the meeting between Trump and Trudeau, as they endlessly speculated about what might be happening and what might be the outcome of this meeting. Why didn't they just wait an hour or two, and then report what actually did happen? That was not news. It barely qualified as fantasy.

That, in a nutshell, is why I do not willingly watch or listen to or read the news: because all too often, it isn't.

7 February 2017

Sometimes, a free cookie isn't worth it.

I gave blood again last night.  Afterwards, at the cookie table, there was a tray of flax seed omega three cookie packs in front of me.

What is up with that? Do they not want us to come back?

3 February 2017

The memory trees

We have lost some of my co-workers to death in recent years.  Not work related, mind, just simple, natural death.

In days long past, we would have scripts to follow, rituals, ways to mourn, or not, and to remember our lost colleagues.  These scripts and rituals were the way we articulated our loss: we knew what was expected of us, and we carried it out.

But, we have been told, repeatedly, the old rituals are meaningless ceremonies, unfit for our new age.  We must create new rituals for our new era.  At work, we plant trees in memory of the dead. While not a bad thing, in and of itself, I confess I find it rather odd, especially the way it gets carried out at work.

One of the few workers for whom I felt some fondness died some time ago.  A little after that, we gathered to plant a tree and to remember our friend at a certain spot on the university campus.  We were met by the fellow in charge of such things.  Unlike us, he never knew our friend and co-worker, so he was only there to plant a tree.  It might not have mattered.  Planting trees was the only thing he cared about.

So this fellow took over- I believe the word 'hijacked' would not be inappropriate here- and started telling us all about this tree.  It species, its preferred climate, where it fits into the plan to plant trees around the campus, etc etc.  Then, after we had put it into the ground and placed dirt around the root ball, he asked us to join in a final ritual he likes to do at such times.  We were to extend our hands and were to chant or cheer on the tree, and encourage it to grow.  He lead the chant, and a few joined in like cheerleaders, but many of us were looking at each other, our eyebrows raised, and our facial expressions clearly saying: "Seriously?"  The chant done, our 'ceremony', such as it was, concluded and we returned to work.

I don't really argue with those who find the old rituals currently meaningless, but I am at a loss to explain how this was meaningful.  If what we were doing was supposed to help us express our loss and remember our friend, it was a failure. 

Some time later, a grounds crew placed a rock near the base of the tree.  On the rock they had epoxy glued a small plaque that read "This tree was planted in memory of..."  If I die and they decide to plant a tree for me, I want my plaque to read along the lines of the Roger Bucklesby memorial: "This tree was planted in memory of Bear, who hated this university and everyone in it."

1 February 2017

Ruminations, concluded.


So, in this abbreviated and somewhat anticlimactic way, I ended up working on my PhD.  I continued to enjoy a few off hours here and there at my favourite pub on campus, and it was there, about a year after I started work on my PhD, that I sat with a group of friends when a pretty young lady at the table told a story of how her mother was heading to feed her chickens on her farm back in Italy when a drunken Canadian soldier beat her to the chickens and began machine gunning the entire flock.

That's not it, of course.  Nothing ever is.  But that is about as much as I can say without telling stories I have no business telling.  As a footnote, I never did finish the PhD, (and I could weave many stories about that) (incidentally, I ended up studying Renaissance English, mainly because the other courses were full.  It turned out I liked it, and I was one of the few in the class who was prepared to read the Renaissance, but, again, that is another series of stories) in part because I married the young lady and we began to have children.  I thought I would be able to handle supporting my family and working on my degree.  After all, several of my colleagues were doing the same.  Some people could handle it. It turned out I wasn't one of them.

After several misadventures I ended up in a dead and job that allows me to support my family, but not much more.  The dream of writing flickers from time to time, and I still do write as you can see.  For those of us who are bitten with that bug there is no such thing as not writing and not telling stories.  But, except for my attempts at self publishing, the dream of being a published author has almost completely faded.  The only lesson I learned from that wasted Creative Writing course was this:  write for yourself.  True, it doesn't lead to monetary rewards, but it beats the heck out of losing your own voice.

So, despite everything, or because of everything- it depends on your point of view- I stand here in a present not of my intentions but of my own making.  Well, my own making, along with a ton of accidents, some good luck, some bad luck, some wicked coincidences and an old curse.  In some senses, I have done alright.  In others, I am a miserable failure.  But, taken all in all, there are worse things than that.

31 January 2017

Ruminations, continued


I went into the course, feeling, again, like a failure.  I would be taking the course with PhD students and those who were going on to work on their PhD's.  I would be left behind and cut loose. 
And then we handed in the first assignment.  We were to do a short presentation- only a hundred words or so- on a mythological figure and how this figure was represented in the English Renaissance.  I chose Aeneas- I think, sadly, I was the only one in the class who knew of Aeneas- and did a little quick research, noticed that any time he was mentioned he came with a message directed at the reader or audience,  wrote a few notes to that fact and handed the paper in. 

As it turned out, my work was a little different from the rest of the class.  First off,  I was about the only one who kept to within a hundred words or so.  The others were writing long papers, as if they couldn't contain themselves to the limits, or if they thought the professor was not serious when she told us to keep it within a hundred words or so. Second off, I was also the only one who didn't tie their mythological figure to a current socio-political-theoretical-gender framework.  I simply tried to see what the figure had to offer.  Everybody else had already decided what their figure had to offer before they even began their research.  Their papers were more about their preferred theory than the figure they were supposed to outline and analyze.  Mine wasn't. I was expecting to do poorly because of that. 

I arrived at class one day shortly after handing along my report.  I was the first one there.  The second person to arrive was the professor herself.  "My God, you write beautifully," she said bluntly. 

I didn't actually believe what she had just said. It had been so long since I had heard a compliment on my writing.  After the catastrophe of the creative writing program, I had simply assumed that people hated my writing, but were too polite to say so. 

She continued on.  "You're going to be great in the PhD.  Have you chosen your thesis yet?"  
"No," I replied.  "My application was turned down." 

"That was a mistake.  I'll get you in. You need to turn this into a thesis." 

I spent the rest of the class in a daze.  Was she serious?  Could she do that? 

A it turned out, yes she was, and yes she could.  I was to continue my studies.

30 January 2017

Ruminations, continued.


The year was intense.  It was a workload unlike anything I had ever experienced before.  And, to top it all off, I was no closer to having any idea what to do about the future than I had been when I had started.  If I had thought to gain some time to think about my decisions, I had been badly mistaken.  The workload left me with no opportunity to think about anything other than the workload itself. 

What little time I had to think about resolved itself into this:  I had one useless degree. I was about to have what was clearly a second useless degree.  Either I would have to admit I had wasted five years of my or I could try to go the distance and get the third degree, and maybe make some use out of it.  So I took a little time around the middle of that year and sent in an application to go into the PhD program. 

It was a long shot.  I was getting decent grades- low A's-  but this was the big leagues.  Decent would not cut it.  Just before summer I was informed that my application had been rejected.  Dejected, I decided to take my last course over the summer and finish the MA. I had no expectations about that course.  It was about Renaissance Epyllia, which I had never heard of before I took a course on it.  I hoped to get the minimum grade I needed for the degree and then I would go about doing... something about the future. 

I imagine by now you've worked out that that isn't quite what happened. 

28 January 2017

Ruminations, continued

I was now a post graduate student.  Yippee.  I opted to get the Masters Degree in one year.   
The year of the Masters Degree was my single hardest year in academia.  The dynamic was much different than undergraduate work for a number of reasons.  First, there was no differentiation between students taking their masters degree or those taking their doctoral degrees.  Sometimes we were taking course with people who had been our teachers a year or two previously. 
Intimidating isn't exactly the word for that situation.  The attitude towards students entering postgraduate work is akin to teaching kids how to swim by tossing them into the deep end of a pool filled with sharks. 
The second issue can be summed up with the phrase "The higher, the fewer."  We entered university as high school students who had shown some promise.  Some had more promise than others.  Here, at the post graduate level, it was all people who had shown the most promise.  I and several of my colleagues developed the Achilles Syndrome, also known as the Imposter Syndrome.  We become convinced that we are imposters, frauds, charlatans.  Despite the fact that we are achieving good marks, we are convinced that everyone knows we don't belong, but they're too polite to say anything about it.  That's how I felt at first. 
As was the case when I first entered university, I was among the last to choose my courses.  The courses I chose were a mishmash, and completely unfocused, but there were a few courses about Renaissance authors that were wide open.  I took them, to round out my schedule, then dove in and swam with the sharks.