This all began quite some time ago, so without going into too much detail a little background is in order.
I popped out in 1965. I understand it was a noisy affair, with much crying, gnashing of teeth and general hullabaloo – and that was even before I was born! Since then I’ve been the recipient of numerous benefits (blessings, you might call them) and a not inordinate number of challenges. In the people I’ve known, the experiences I’ve had, and the joys I can relate I’ve been somewhat fortunate, and I am very grateful for that.
I am proud to say that I was the first in my family to get a degree. I still don’t know how I managed to graduate in 1990 – some kind of divine bullheadedness, I suppose, or just a steadfast refusal to face facts, but somehow I managed to sneak on to the Dean’s list in the final year of an English degree – something of which I am extremely proud.
That led me – don’t ask me how – to a 23 year career in the insurance industry. “But James,” I hear you cry, “why on earth wouldn’t you use your English degree to teach?” “That would have made sense, wouldn’t it?” I reply, “but in my youth I just wasn’t set up – emotionally – to teach, so the thought just never occurred to me. Or it occurred to me but was quickly dismissed.”
No, I fell into insurance while I was still working my way through university, and when I graduated they asked me to stay on and I said yes. You must remember, at the time, post-grads were happy to work in the fast-food field, so I considered a salaried job a lucky break.
Over the past, oh, ten years or so, I have suffered the odd guilty inclination to perhaps do something else – to go in a different direction. I mean, insurance is an honourable profession for the most part, but it absolutely kills creativity, and if there’s anything I wanted to be all my life it’s creative.
So occasionally over the years I have fantasized about what I might be able to do and be more creative in the doing. The fantasies never amounted to anything more than speculation until last summer when I was laid off from my job, and was suddenly forced to think about my future.
That was when the aforementioned notions of creativity started jumping up and down in my brain again. At first they were just calling out to me, little whispers like, “Hey, remember me?” Then the whispers re-doubled, escalated, grew and grew until I was overwhelmed by a tremendous cacophony of creative sound and fury. “This is the time,” they averred, “the circumstances are there, this is your chance. Carpe Diem!”
The circumstances didn’t add up right away – there were things in the way – emotional and physical things that had to be moved in defence of the greater hope. There was work to do, and as anyone who has been through such paradigmatic shifts knows, it doesn’t happen overnight. Not only did I have to deal with the lay-off and all its emotional effects, but I had to decide what shape my future should take. I had to face all my doubts and anxieties – I mean what if I was wrong – perhaps I should stay in insurance, perhaps I haven’t tried hard enough; the lay-off wasn’t my fault, but perhaps there was more I could have done to prevent it.
I got over this, and went searching for the old creativity – the one in me which I believed that the insurance industry had murdered. I went searching; I listened to a lot of classical music – really listening, hearing it like I hadn’t heard it in years. I wrote: I wrote blogs for the SPCSA (a little creative diversion which has kept me sane in dark moments), and for myself. I cooked, trying new recipes almost every day because after all I enjoy cooking, and it’s not like I didn’t have the time. I pulled out my old poems, and tried to reconnect with my younger self by recollection of what I was thinking when I first wrote them. That didn’t actually work, but the mere doing caused a considerable synaptic realignment, leading to an unrecognized tingling as neurons bumped and grinded, and old memories surfaced – some for the first time in decades. Finally the juices had started to flow once again.
That’s when I found the old creativity again. He was huddled up in a deep sleep, under a large rock near the bottom end of the right cerebral cortex. He looked bedraggled. He obviously hadn’t combed his hair in years – it was clear that he had given up on the idea of ever being needed again.
“Hello there,” I said, “I know you!”
“I don’t, I, uh, -…” he replied, sitting up slowly and rubbing the sleep from his eyes. I remembered him as being somewhat more eloquent.
“I’m James.” I said. “You used to call me Dipshit.”
“Yes, don’t you remember? ‘Wake up, Dipshit, get on with your work!'”
“I seem to recall – ”
“Hey Dipshit, you’ve got work to do.”
“Yes, it might be – ”
“That deadline’s tomorrow, Dipshit. You’d better get at it.”
It took several more of these old memories before he finally caught up with me. He yawned, stretched, looked me right in the eye and said:
“Yes, you know I DO remember you. Where the hell have you been?”
It was a long story for him, too, beginning with the calamitous day when I first popped out.
“You got me through University,” I said.
“Yes, I did, and you haven’t even said hello to me since!”
“Well, sorry, but I didn’t have the time. Hello, you are needed again, so you’d best make yourself look smart.”
“What’s going on?”
“We’re going back to University.”
“No, U of C.”
Sitting up taller now, he yawned again and said:
“What are we taking?”
“We’re doing a BA in Communications Studies.”
“And U of C have agreed to this?”
He looked me right in the eye.
“Because it is more in keeping with the central purpose in our life.”
“To be creative.” I smiled.
“About effing time you came to that conclusion!” he grunted.
“I know. Sorry about that, but at least you’re well rested.”
This blog will be to chronicle the University experience of a “mature” (and I used the word loosely) student. School is a young person’s world – always has been and always will be. University is a young person’s learning place. When an old fart like me braves that world there are bound to be incongruities and clashes of culture, belief, and expression. I look forward to experiencing these, and to chronicling them in a near-daily blog of thoughts, feelings, experiences and activities of the involved and controversial kind.
So stay tuned for the perspectives of an Old Fart on returning to school. Witness the doddering, the drooling, the heaving and panting. View the struggles of an old fart amongst youngsters, the machinations and ministrations of a senior among juniors. Observe the angst of loss and gain, the positive pain of intense inculcation, the search for knowledge and bran muffins.