Decision Time

On the subject of the pusrsuit of the Masters, it’s decision time. I have done my research, learned what I can about what’s involved, what it will take, and the kind of commitment I must be prepared to offer to get it done. The only question remaining, is whether I have that kind of strength. 

Let’s not forget: there were 22 years between my first and second degrees. ‘It took me that long to recover’, he said with a sly wink. Seriously though, it took a huge life change and a hope for acceptance in a new career to get me to take the second degree. But this time the life change is not there, and my explorations of the working world have shown me the real  potential for career change – and it’s not particularly encouraging. The motives for doing a degree cannot be the net results. If I do a Masters, it has to be for its own sake, which – to my way of thinking – requires that I have a passion for academia in its own right. If I do a Masters now, it has to have the benefit of all I can give it, and I’m just not sure that I’m there.

The deadline to apply is January 15th, but the process requires a decision much earlier than that. My references are assured, as long as I can get a thesis idea in place, but that’s not as easy as it sounds, either. I thought I had something to move on with, but I’ve learned that what I think is a possibility is just not clear enough, or focussed enough to get through the application process. So, the grades are there, the references are available, the intelligence exists (so I insist on reassuring myself), but I’m not sure that I have the strength to do it now

I’ve set November 5th (Guy Fawkes’ Day) as the day I choose to either knuckle down, or back away. It feels symbolic, somehow: fireworks or nothing. 

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

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Well, I’m relieved and content. The excitement is over, the presentation done, and yes it seemed to go very well. We regaled ’em for over an hour on our chosen topic, and everyone seemed very much engaged. Well, almost everyone – there are always those who prop open their eyelids or hide behind a book. 

I must say, since this whole adventure began I haven’t been that guy very often. I can think of a couple of time in the first semester of year one when I was sick and just didn’t have the strength to participate. But other than that, it’s been pretty hard to shut me up. 

I think that’s the better way. I’m old enough to know that being wrong isn’t always a bad thing, so I’m not afraid to stick up my hand. I set realistic expectations for myself that maybe the juniors do not. I also allow my poor old brain time to rest occasionally – a very necessary habit. 

So that’s three of thirteen assignments done, for approximately 23 percent. I have a paper done and ready for submission tomorrow, an exam in eight days, and another in thirteen. I’ve changed my routine a bit: starting today I go in on my off days to do research and start those bigger projects. In return, I give myself the weekends off with a very clear conscience. 

Would you believe there are only seven weeks to go until the Christmas break?

Halls of Learning

 

Pressure

Ok, so now I’m feeling a little pressure. Not a lot, but some – primarily because I (darn it all!) can’t see the future. 

I’m doing a favour for a very good friend, being second driver on a trip he’s making to buy a car – let’s face it, we can’t drive two cars at once. This trip is about 1800 miles there and back, and well, that takes time. We left yesterday, and we do the deed and head back home on Sunday – or Monday. 

Anyway, it’s an unhappy coincidence that I also have a paper due on Tuesday, and that at some point in these proceedings my mind will need to engage my fingers, which will need to engage my creative cortex, drag the thing from cerebral limbo and meld it into evidentiary isness. Nope, the prof cannot climb up into my little cerebral gaps and spaces to grade my thoughts – she must have something tangible in her hand – a transference of my thoughts into permanent record is required – a proof, if you will, that the thoughts actually occurred.

The question is, with all this driving and recovering and driving again (in the pouring rain, no less) when do I find the time to actually call the thoughts to attention? When does the transformation occur? When do I bring the monster to life?

So here I sit in a friendly road-side diner, thinking about my assignment. Not writing it, mind you, but thinking about it, and the pressure builds because even though I know it shall eventually come to be, I can’t say precisely when.

Breakfast anyone?

The kitchen on the go

 

Done

Today is that day. The last day of class. All the work is done. My fancy-schmancy spreadsheet shows 100% completed, the la-di-da grade sheet shows (mumble mumble) and the excitement at the end of term is almost palpable. I feel a little like a twelve year old, just gearing up for eight indolent weeks of summer vacation, of heavenly nothing – of busy-ness, the way nature intended.

Here is my final paper (my last final paper) beside me, hot off the presses, ready to be handed in today. As I look at it there – supine, languid, inert and surprisingly inoffensive considering all the gosh-darned work that went into it – I am reminded of the first day of class when I went up to the prof to have a chat.

I always do this at the beginning of term. I say, in a soft and confidential voice replete with paternal overtones something along the lines of “I may not always get the answer right, but you’ll always be able to read it.”

I take pride in this. I think – stop me if I’m wrong – that someone seeking a degree in communications should actually be able to communicate. Communications requires proficiency in at least two of the three R’s, and if you ain’t got that, then what do you got? If I’m going to try to set myself up in a career as a writer, communicator, or pundit then I think I should have the capabilities, not just the desire and the piece of paper.

So here I go. When I hand in this paper I’m officially closing the book on the 2013 winter semester – my fourth – at the University of Calgary. I’m saying farewell to noodles and Stromboli. I bidding adieu to smelly washrooms and a library that never seems to get cleaned. I’m waving bye-bye to broken chairs and desks that squeak and wobble, and an administration that wants to save money but never acknowledges any of the suggestions I send in. Until September, anyway. If they’ll let me back in after this.

Last day. Last assignment. Last call.

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Balance

I have come to a conscious conclusion that the best approach to living is found in balance. Balance of opinions, of activity, of thought, of belief – every secret of success in my estimation – in one way or another – resides in balance. Too much of anything is no good for anyone. Too little leads to emotional or spiritual atrophy, or both.

The importance of this to childhood is obvious.

Let’s extend the metaphor of our first exercise a little – the one of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulags. Let’s pretend that we are parents to a fictitious child who we are planning to send to a school. The school houses each of the four streams of religion, science, philosophy and art on its own island. In an ideal, balanced childhood, our child would spend equal amounts of time on each island and would thus be provided with a solid grounding in each stream. He would learn to use his equally-acquired knowledge as impetus toward his own passions.

Unfortunately, the reality is seldom so ideal. Exposures in early childhood usually reflect our ambitions – the parents’ – not the child’s and these are not always governed by common sense. We parents have our own motives for the things that we do. Often, for example, we will try to correct our own disappointments by weighting the exposures of our child to compensate for where we went wrong. The inevitable result of this is that our child – who should be encouraged to find his own passions – is often rather encumbered with ours. This mistake is compounded if we dictate everything that he does – if we take it upon ourselves to decide what makes him happy then he usually won’t be.

Perhaps in our zeal to make life better for him we place our child on Religion Island. We wish to give him God. We wish to instill in him the blessings which we believe come from an exposure to God and faith, and from being bound to Him. Our own life journey has led us to God and we want to pass our beliefs along, good-naturedly saving the child all the years of searching and pain we have endured. But we forget that despite our best efforts he will surely endure pain of his own. We forget that he needs to find God in his own way and in his own time – that being immersed in it at youth might lead to appreciation, but it also might not. Too much religion can be less than healthy – especially in the young – and a steady diet of piety and faith denies the other essential aspects of our child’s personality.

For many people, though, God is already Dead. Weisel talks in his tale of this name about the lack of God at key moments, reasoning that God must be dead or atrocities against children and other innocents simply would not happen. Many take this stand in the face of intolerable personal challenges – asking ‘how can God exist when there is so much horror in the world?’ This illogical assumption of a correlation between life’s randomness and behaviour or belief in a supreme being is the purview of both believers and non-believers alike – believers call it faith and it supports them. Non-believers call it proof of their assertion that God cannot possibly exist as described in the rhetoric.

Thus, if we leave our child to languish only on Religion Island he is more likely to suffer spiritual atrophy than to enjoy spiritual harmony.

Perhaps, then, we should place him on Philosophy Island – the one on which they talk only about knowledge and knowing. Philosophy Island fosters thought rather than contemplation – it focuses on existence rather than simple being. Its emphasis is on the nature of being and the state of man as he relates to his fellows and as he reports to himself. The child on Philosophy Island will certainly learn about his nature (“…no man could become a scoundrel in camp if he had not been one before”) but he will still lack the ability to synthesize his learning into a cohesive argument of his true self.

Too much of such a nebulous existence is no more healthy than a purely religious upbringing. Too much abstraction can pull a child away from the concrete and the assured, into the realms of the uncertain. Too much intellectual depth without breadth of foundation can cause spiritual and emotional inertia in even the strongest of individuals. Humans have a simple need for perspective that philosophy alone cannot provide. Philosophy is – as humans – finite in its understandings, and imperfect in its comprehension.

So what about Art Island? That seems like a very attractive place for us to ensconce our progeny. The children there learn about beauty and creativity and art and music and emotion and celebration of life – and these are surely wonderful things – except that their creative products will always be limited in scope and depth to the mechanisms of method and application. They cannot appeal to their spiritual selves because they are not being taught about them. They cannot draw from rational thought because that is not part of their curriculum. They cannot even access the scientific world because they do not understand it. Their art, music, poetry and writing exists, but it exists in a void which renders their work nothing more than daubs of paint on a canvas, splashes of dots on a manuscript, or formulaic associations on a page. The source of inspiration for their labours is limited to what they see around them. Without access to the religious, scientific, and philosophical all they can really do to secure inspiration is reference previously-produced works.

Or we could place our child on Science Island. That’s the one that teaches physics and chemistry, and biology, and methodology, and organization and determination. There’s a lot of knowledge on Science Island, but it is delivered only in a closed-minded, prove-it-or-lose-it, don’t-believe-what-you-can’t-see kind of way. Science Island is where left-brain agnostics gather to worship the God of provable consensus. To surround our child with this kind of ugly rationality is to steal from him the chance at a spiritual or symbiotic connection to the universe in which he lives. Science proposes much but ultimately delivers little. It can teach our child the empirical, but the true mysteries of the world – of life and death and love – do not have scientific answers.

Heisenberg speaks of two kinds of revelation of God: “The one was written in the Bible and the other was to be found in the book of nature. The Holy Scripture had been written by man and was … subject to error, while nature was the immediate expression of God’s intentions.” This implies a relationship between imperfect man and the perfect environment and underlines the lack of perspective suffered by any child for whom exposure is limited to the purely rational and the scientific.

If each of these islands had a library it would be very small indeed because it would contain only the volumes which pertain to its own narrow discourse. Each collection would have a limited focus because the true breadth of human experience and enjoyment comes only when these disciplines are combined. Balance is always the key. Knowledge of each stream is important, exclusion of none is essential. But a complete human being has awareness of the teachings of each of these islands. The perfect school for our child will shuffle his impressionable mind equally among these islands, and even on to other more distant lands, to make his breadth of knowledge that much greater.

While it is possible and even advantageous to focus on a single idea for a time, there is no long-term benefit to a narrow purview. The best approach for any concerned parent is balance of exposure to many forms of knowledge – this provides all the benefits of perspective, concern, understanding, rational thought, scientific evaluation and assessment, and faith in all the best proportions.

At my age it is difficult to effect a significant change in foundational attitude. My core beliefs are set by a combination of the scientific (genetic factors) and the environmental. I have passed through the acquiescent stages of childhood, in which knowledge is soaked up like a sponge. I have survived the turmoil of rebellious youth in which I questioned all my teachings. I have endured the difficult years spent establishing my place in the world, and my beliefs about it – aside from and in communion with those parental core beliefs which I decided to keep. In truth, though, as open-minded as I like to think I am, it is only in the past year that I have started to allow for elements of all of these streams to shape me. In the past year, some challenging personal experiences have led me to consider all the aspects of this incredible journey, and to apply this credo of balance more critically. Balance is now more important to me than it has ever been.

The gulag has given me a working metaphor by which to visualize this balance in my own life, and to reach for its achievement.

Inventory

Two assignments down, eight more to go.

As crunch times go I can’t complain too much. I have eight more assignments – three large, five small – and I have to admit they are fairly well-spaced compared to previous semesters. Also, I have no exams this time which is a shock and a joy. This means that on April 15th when I hand in that final missive I’m actually done.

Then, on April 16th I’m getting up early and taking my camera into the mountains again for sunrise. This time I’m thinking Lake Minnewanka. It’s beautiful in there and I’m going to be hungering for some real quiet time after getting all my assignments done.

I’m looking forward to that.

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Social Sciences Corridor

Eye on the prize

The other day, as I walking the ground floor corridors of the Mackimmie Tower, the strangest thought occurred to me. Strange because it snuck up on me; strange because it’s been 23 years since the last time I had this thought; strange because I’ve been so buried in books and assignments and reading and discourse and group-based machinations that I just wasn’t ready for it.

The end is actually in sight now. I mean, this time next year I’ll be finishing it up.

There’s one month left of this semester. My last assignment is due on April 15th and this time (thankfully) I have no exams.

So this morning I’m going to write a few blogs to get warmed up, then I’m going to hit the office and hit the books.

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