When I was a teenager I had no interest in going to University or doing any kind of studying at all. I was interested in English and architectural design and did well at them, but that wasn’t what I considered to be proper studying – that was more like playing. I spent most of my days skipping classes and the Canadian equivalent of hanging round behind the bike shed, which involved sitting in people’s cars in the student parking lot smoking and drinking cheap alcohol – car ownership at 16 does have its perks, especially in Ontario winters – brrr!!.
Needless to say I barely graduated, but I did, scraping through my grade 12 with the minimum of marks. Back then you needed grade 13 to go to university, but since I didn’t want to go anyway that was no biggie – at the time. Six months of getting up at an ungodly early hour and slogging on public transport in the winter cold and dark to a poorly paid job soon started me thinking however, and I applied, at the very last minute, to attend the Theatre Arts Technical Production Programme at Ryerson Polytechnic.
Living a bohemian lifestyle in Toronto was just about my idea of heaven at the time – and still ranks pretty highly. Music, clubs, parties and multiculturalism were the order of the day, as well as the independence of my own place. While I loved being part of the theatre, I still wasn’t enamoured of the hard academic slog. I was fine working all hours building scenery, hanging lights, and learning about directing, but studying the physics of load bearing materials – no matter how relevant to staging – was something that I blanked and failed at!
Over the fullness of time, and here we’re talking about a couple of decades, my attitude changed. Being exposed to new ideas at Ryerson, particularly the politics of punk led me to appreciate poets, writers and revolutionaries. I learned that there were others with a thirst for knowledge and desire to change the world and who had developed ideas and had acted upon them. I began to read and question, and somewhere down the road began to appreciate that there was some benefit in structured learning, and that this would require the appropriate work habits – talk about a shock to the system!
Moving forward to the present day, I am getting to grips with being a PhD candidate. Although I veer between the fear of being found out as an imposter – someone who’s just playing at it – and thinking that I can actually do this thing – on balance it’s incredibly exciting. Even though it sounds trite, it’s a bit of an honour and privilege to be doing it, particularly since my research was designed around the interests I developed doing my M.A. and the University is covering my fees. I do feel the pressure to do well, in fact to excel, and that’s pretty scary, but since my life has been full of risk-taking and leaping blindly into the unknown, that’s ok.
I’m going to be writing quite a bit about this in the future as there are a huge number of issues that it’s raising – from personal insecurities to the class struggle and entitlement. I hope if you’re reading this you find it strikes a chord – and don’t hesitate to follow my blog, comment or drop me a line.