It’s a Done Deal

Alright then, the decision is made. After a great deal of contemplation, thought, kvetching, and many a night’s sleep lost to turning and tossing, and staring at the darkened ceiling in mute despair, I have made up my mind at last. 

The question, as you may recall, was whether or not to pursue a Masters degree, now that the Bachelor’s is done. 

The answer is ‘not’. At this time.

I’m at a place on my continuum where I just don’t have the strength to commit to the rigours of a Masters degree. Its demands are many and varied – strenuous and harsh. It requires a dedication to academia which I simply cannot muster just now. Let’s not forget that I’m the Old Fart here – I’m not yet in my final resting place, but I also don’t have all the youthful energy or the quick recovery of the whippersnappers of the world.

So what’s next? And what’s next for this blog, which was itself started as a record of my didactic exploits? Well, another graduation, to be sure, for even though I am not formally enrolled in an academic institution, I’m still learning something new every day. I’m dedicating myself to the University of life now. I’m re-energizing to head off in new internal directions, even as my family and I contemplate an external move to another part of this great nation.

Learning is the most important thing we can do to enrich our lives, and in my opinion, a day in which nothing is learned is a day wasted. So I dedicate this blog anew to those who love to learn, and who do so deliberately and with passion, with a determination that cannot be swayed. The learners of the world represent courage, humility, and determination, all at the same time.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Now What?

So yesterday was the big day. Talk about Antique Antics!

Convocation. Cap ‘n gown. The ceremony. The walk. It was a day of pride and satisfaction, and reflection, and even as I was seated in the auditorium enjoying the speeches and the parade of talent crossing the dais, I was thinking about the journey. 

And what a journey! From orientation to classes, from research, methodology and the finer points of my assignments I cannot overstate the personal importance of this journey. My trip through the minefields of communications and culture has brought me to a far greater understanding of the benefits and pitfalls of modern technology. We all know what we like about it, but do we really understand the price that we pay for our freedoms? Anyway, that’s a subject for another time.

The ceremony went off without a hitch – I managed to get across the dais without tripping and falling flat on my face. It was nice. I was never nervous. I felt good in my cap and gown. I have to say that a strange sort of calm settled over me during the ceremony which I identify as pride, at being there, and getting it right. I missed distinction by a hair’s-breadth in my GPA, but that doesn’t really bother me. I still got it done, and with room to spare.

As I climbed up on the dais my favourite prof was there, giving students instructions. She smiled wide when she saw me, said “hey, look who’s here!” and actually gave me a hug. Later she told me there were only two students she hugged – me and a PhD student she’s also rather fond of. She hunted me down after the ceremony too, and just about the first thing she told me – in the presence of my loving friends and family – was that she really thinks I should carry on with my Masters and a PhD.

Well, let me tell you: when I went out the door yesterday morning I was not thinking about further education. I was trying to figure out my work future – how to get a job with my eminent but quirky combination of degrees and experience. I was thinking about what I would need to do to either negotiate with the system and find employment, or blow right past it and create something for myself. 

But now the idea of a Masters is oddly intriguing to me. Hearing that I can do it from a distance (technology makes this possible) means my family’s plans to move don’t have to change. Understanding how willing my Prof is to supervise me makes me feel really, really appreciated – frankly, more so than I’ve felt in years. Believe me, it’s a recognition far beyond what I expected to enjoy yesterday, and it is causing me to revisit some of my other, less positive relationships.

We’re going to have coffee sometime soon to discuss it a little more. Meantime I’m researching the cost and the availability of grants, and even without them I’m trying to figure out how it would look for me, financially and logistically.

So maybe this blog isn’t winding down after all. Perhaps there’s a whole new process about to unfold. Having secured the Bachelor’s, maybe there’s something a little more in-depth coming. If I do it, it will be thesis-based and I’ll start sooner rather than later – I don’t want to forget everything I learned chasing down the Bachelor’s. But there’s information to gather and I need a lot of answers before I make that commitment. 

Here’s the Old Fart on Convocation Day. Not too bad for forty-nine. I’m twice as old as the students I graduated with, but my mind is still young. 

Thanks for joining me on this exhilarating journey. If we all hold our tongues just right, there might just be more.

 

Silence

 

Studying

Now this is what I call studying! 

My schedule this semester saves me ten hours per week of travel time relative to last semester, and allows me to greet the ceiling when it is light, not dark. As an old fart I’m very grateful for this. 

But, the first week of this fall semester is also giving me some wonderful weather to play with, so I’ve decided that I’m going to do my reading outside, not cooped up in my office in the basement, where I tend to spend most of the winter months. A little vitamin C and some memories of an all-too-short summer season to send me into the studying season. 

After this blog, of course. 

Studying hard


 

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.