It is now past midnight on November 12, which means I’m graduating today.
I never intended to do a Masters, but here I am. I get to add letters after my name. I’m graduating today, and neither my father nor my grandfather will be there to see it.
The man who helped to raise me and constantly told me he was proud, not matter how much I felt like a failure. And the man who never actually told me he was proud of me and probably thought I was a failure at several points in my life.
But you know who will be there?
A little girl who thinks I’m awesome. A little girl who is sure that I am the best mom ever and believes that I can do anything – and that she, by extension, can do anything.
And when we’re together, I kind of believe that too.
This has been quite a week. I marked the five year anniversary of my former boss’ death, the first anniversary of burying my Dad, Joe and I watched the Tragically Hip concert and heard Gord Downie’s lyrics explain to us how to mourn him.
This week I have found a job, arranged for childcare for my daughter and bought a car. On Saturday I’ll be doing a hike that is the first of three race-type events I’ve signed up for over the next three months because, really, enough of this.
(Also important – this week marked the premiere of Rupaul’s Drag Race All-Stars 2. So my understanding is that I’d better werk).
Just like that our life is changing all over again.
But this time next month we’ll be in the swing of things. The kid will go to Grade 1 and then spend some time with a babysitter before we get home. I will officially be done with my Masters and working on new and exciting projects.
Today I am mourning this time I have had. Since I finished classes and my internship and I’ve been home, taking care of myself in a way I haven’t been able to for a long time. I’ve been taking naps, I’ve been reading, I’ve been watching TV and wasting time, gotten back to knitting, blogging more.
I’m going to miss this time. This summer, but we’re rolling along.
It has been a long couple of years. I have finished two years of university work. I have worked an election. My father died. I have sought out work to earn money on top of being responsible for myself, my schoolwork, my daughter and the house we live in. It has been a very long couple of years, but I think, this past week, I have re-entered the world in a big way.
I think I have been burned out for a long, long time and now I’m coming out the other side.
Last week I finished every piece of my final project that I have to hand in before I do a presentation in September. I’m still under-employed at this point, but working enough to not stress about our budget. I’ve been taking naps, reading, going to movies – Go see Ghostbusters. Just do it. And last week I took myself for a facial and then did a much-needed yoga class. I also made sure to sign up for next week’s class, because I’ll need to stay limber to take part in the 3K hike and 5K run I’ve signed up for in the next couple of months.
All of these things and the summer reading I have been doing have but me in a better place.
In short I have been doing whatever I need to make myself feel better when I need to do it. I am going to listen to my body and my brain and move myself forward.
I have been given the gift of time and I’m going to make the most of it.
Last summer I had a goal of reading a while whack of books about politics and politicians to help me get ready for my Masters, but I planned, god laughed, etc. I ended up picking up new books for that pile from my father’s collection, some of which is still in my basement.
This summer I realized that I had – almost by accident – started reading stories of women and feminist memoirs, even some essays, so I decided to go with it if that’s what I feeling the need for right now.
For a little while I forgot how important reading is to me – how deeply it matters. And it’s been very interesting reading as an adult because I find myself more drawn to people’s true stories than I ever was as a child. I never used to read non-fiction. Ever.
So far this summer I’ve read two books of essays – Caitlin Moran’s Moranifesto and Me, My Hair and I. I’ve read four feminist memoirs – My Life on the Road, which I bought after seeing Gloria Steinem speak, Shrill by Lindy West, which spoke to me in so many loud and clear ways, The Year of Yes by the great Shonda Rhimes, and Sex Object by Jessica Valenti, which pushed me out of my comfort zone. Now I’m reading Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism, just as she has taken herself off social media because of threats made against her daughter.
I’m also currently reading Birdie, a Canadian novel about the life of a Cree woman. We can’t forget great novels in our tour – I’ve got Dumplin‘ up there, which is a novel about a fat girl, and The Girls, which combines two of my interests – a story of women and a Manson family type situation. And in that pile up there you can also see Alias, the graphic novel on which the Jessica Jones series on Netflix was based. The series has been hailed not only for the portrayal of Jones – a strong, take no crap, feminist superhero – but also for it’s portrayal of Jones’ PTSD.
I wanted to include great black women in my summer as well, so I am planning to finally read the iconic I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and also Melissa Harris-Perry’s Sister Citizen. If you haven’t heard of Melissa Harris-Perry, seek her out. I recommend her interviews on the Another Round podcast.
If you have any suggestions for great woman that I’m missing I’d love to hear them. I am very much enjoying my summer of girl power.
Three times in my adult life I have planned trips to New York City. The first time we were going to go with friends and explore for a couple of weeks, and then I found out I was pregnant and budget priorities changed drastically. The second time Joe was going to have a work meeting, allowing me to tag along and explore the city while he had a hotel room paid for by expenses, and then they opted to change the location.
A few months ago I bought tickets to see Hamilton. Three tickets for a matinee performance on November 12.
My convocation, where I will receive my Masters degree, is scheduled for November 12. I figured this out this morning.
I posted about this on Facebook and many people have said that it’s obvious – skip the grad and go to Hamilton. But for me it was pretty obvious. For Joe it was even more obvious. I am crossing that stage.
For two years I have worked very hard, spent time away from my daughter because I had class or I had to study. For two years I have worked on rekindling a passion I thought I had lost. When I was 16 I thought about dropping out of high school. For years I never thought I could or would get a university degree, let alone a Masters. I certainly did not think that I would get top marks. I didn’t think I would come out the other side feeling so good about myself, about my purpose and about what comes next.
I will walk across that stage. I will do it for my daughter, who has lost time with me and needs to understand that it was worth it for all of us. She needs to see me standing tall, being proud and achieving what I set out to achieve.
I will do it for my father, who first suggested I apply, who would be proud of me, who for a long time thought I was lost, because I was. For my husband and my mother who took over childcare and proofread assignments and gave me time to nap when I was desperate. I will do it for me, because I did this for me. I will do it so that I can see all my classmates and professors and we can celebrate together.
Hamilton will be on Broadway for more than one day, and soon we will have a bigger budget and can plan more than a quick weekend away.
My graduation is one day that is worth so much more.
I am reaching the end of a few things. The end of my daughter’s school year, the end of my internship, the end of the final project that will mark the end of my Masters degree. At these ends marks the launch of a whole new beginning of things, again.
A big blank slate stretched out in front of me.
I have created my own space. I have a proper office with no guest bed in it. I have a wall of photos and inspiration around me. I am ready for whatever opportunity knocks on my door next. Waiting with baited breath.
The only constant in my life right now is laundry.
It feels like a hangover. I have been so stressed for so long, working so hard and here I am at the finish line, exhausted and confused. Breathless.
I want to know what the next step is. I want to know what the right answer is – what path to take. What’s right for us, best for me, best for her.
At any moment I could laugh or cry.
For all the work I have done, the hours I have put in over the past two years, this is the hard part. Here is where there are no easy answers, there is no due date. This is where I start reaching out to the people I know who know me who might know where I would be an asset.
Here is where I rely on the good will and trust of others, as much as I’d like to be forging ahead by myself. I have always – ALWAYS – relied on myself. And as much as I love helping other people, I hate asking people to help me.
I never assume that someone likes me, or thinks I’m competent, or even more than competent. Hell, I never assume someone remembers who I am. I spent the better part of my adolescence feeling forgettable, even invisible, and that has never entirely gone away.
Let me do work for you, I will prove myself. I work hard and I love doing it. But please don’t make me explain why I love doing it. My work speaks much better than I do.
You see, I have spent a long time assuming that the things that come easily to me come easily to everyone. I have spent a long time assuming that I don’t know anything that everybody else doesn’t know. I now have to work to remind myself that’s not try.
I can write, a lot of people can’t. I know how Parliament works, a majority don’t. I think quickly, I type quickly. I care deeply about a lot of things that many would rather forget about, or just have solved already.
I love this country and I believe in it.
I went to visit my Dad today. Joe wanted to go for a drive and that led to a plan and we ended up in Pakenham meeting my mom and my Gramps for ice cream (at Scoops, the best ice cream place in the Ottawa Valley). Dad is buried in Almonte with his parents, my grandmother’s parents and my great-grandmother’s parents.
My Dad’s father died in 1956, 25 years before I was born, but I’ve been learning a lot about him through papers we found in my dad’s house. Grandpa Scanlon – Jack – fought in both World Wars and wrote a daily diary. The more I learn about him the more I know I would have liked him.
I mean, God knows how much I have benefitted from my relationship with my Gramps, and how much I love watching him love my daughter.
This is the second time I have gone to visit my Dad’s grave. The first time I just felt like I needed to, today it was Father’s Day. He didn’t actually care much about Father’s Day. The crafts I made at school usually ended up as gifts for Gramps or for my Mom, both of whom were a lot more present in my life growing up than my Dad was. But still, we were nearby and it seemed like an appropriate thing to do.
It’s funny, when I go I’m never sure what I’m going to do there, but generally I end up talking to him a bit. When I was by myself I just sat there next to the headstone, and I talked to him.
Today, while I talked to him – which is something I’ve been fairly desperate to do these days, what with classes ending and finishing my internship and trying to figure out what comes next – I realized something.
I always assumed that someday I would have all the answers. Someday the path would be clear.
The path has never become clear.
Just about everything I’ve done in my life has been something I’ve sort of fallen into. When I’ve thought about something and made a decision over a period of time it’s almost never worked out. When I hated my job I applied to university to get out of it, when I impulsively invited Joe over we kissed and ended up married.
We bought the house we live in over the course of a week. The kid was not entirely planned…
I will never know all the answers. Dad would not have known the right answers. There are no right answers. I go with my instinct and seem to end up in the right place.
I had two very different conversations today on two different mediums. One was with someone who is just starting his career and trying to figure out the right path, the other was with a former colleague who has moved onward and upward. Talking to one about the other, talking about our career paths and where I’ve been got me thinking.
I’ve worked really hard.
I don’t spend time thinking about it. I worry more about the future than thinking of the past, but talking to my friend about the whole ‘start from the bottom, work your way up’ thing I realized that I did.
I didn’t just start from the bottom, I restarted from the bottom three times. I thought I had the answers three times and ended up flailing. Seriously flailing – like moving home from Toronto two days after I left to start university there flailing.
And then I found a job and fought my depression and changed my plans. I spent two years doing great at college, convinced I actually had all the answers now, this time. Graduated, went out into the world and flailed again. Journalism is a tough career path that demands a lot of time and energy and doesn’t pay well. I loved it, but I was far away from home and being pushed hard and eventually I cracked.
And so I started again, and that was the time.
My friend asked me tonight, as I explained to him the many times I struggled to kickstart my career, if I would change anything along the way.
I was 23 and I decided to take the degree program with the most courses that sounding interesting, because planning my degree around whatever career would result wasn’t working. I ended up back at Carleton, where I still had three years left of free tuition thanks to my father’s professorial career. There was a job opening at the student paper which I was well qualified for, given my diploma in journalism. The man who interviewed me then is currently asleep beside me.
During my BA an opportunity came along to work some volunteer hours with an MP and I jumped.
The combination of that volunteer experience, my background in journalism and my understanding of politics made me the best candidate for a 8-week contract that turned into a four-year career and one of the best experiences of my life.
If I hadn’t balked at going to Toronto, if I hadn’t chosen journalism, if I hadn’t taken that job in Northwestern Ontario that pushed me to switch things up again, if I hadn’t chosen to use my three years of free tuition to just go and get my BA. I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t have a great resume, I wouldn’t have my husband and my daughter and my dog.
If I had changed any of those bumps in the road I wouldn’t be here.
And all the way through I worked hard. Even doing the shittiest parts of the shittiest jobs I worked hard. Even when I hated everything about my job at the Fort Frances Times the thing I hated most was that I knew I wasn’t doing a good job, so I kept working harder. Even when I got my first job out of university with the terrible boss who tore my confidence to shreds I worked hard trying to figure out what I could do better.
At every step, even when it wasn’t quite right, even when I wasn’t quite right, I have worked hard. Since my first job when I realized that I love to work – I really do, and I’m not afraid to work hard. In fact I, apparently, tend to forget how hard a job was when it’s over. Like that one time I worked an election campaign while doing my Masters and working two other contracts.
So when I actually sit back and think I can remember a little bit about how hard it all was. Emotionally hard, physically hard sometimes. But here I am. About to finish my Masters, in control of my own destiny, a great education, a great CV with great experience.
And the knowledge that bumps in the road can lead to the best things.
Today I went to Blog Out Loud Ottawa and read the post I wrote after I graduated with my B.A. (Hons) in June last year. The post was a letter to you, telling you about making it. At the time I had finished my exams, graduated and gotten accepted to the MPM program.
It’s hard to believe that you died almost a year ago. That life was thrown off course and steadied that long ago. Because here I am, having finished all the coursework for my Masters. I’m doing my internship now, a good one, one that will help kids, and then I will be able to officially have B.A., MPM on my CV.
I didn’t know if I could do it, and then I became pretty sure that I could. In fact, at times, it seemed almost easy. Because I’m smart and I work hard. I’m dedicated and I found something that I’m passionate about. I have that thing that you had your whole career.
I am passionate about the work I do and I’m still the mom that my kid needs.
Look at her Dad. I can’t fathom going on endless business trips and leaving her behind. I can’t imagine being away for weeks at a time. A few hours and I’m excited to see her again. I can’t imagine her not knowing what country I’m in, let alone when I’ll be home.
She cried for you tonight. She misses you, and I miss you for her. You were a better grandfather than you were a father to me, though some of that was undoubtedly my fault. But it almost feels like you’ve failed me again by dying before my daughter got to be your granddaughter. And by dying before I got to really be who I am now, instead of the me I was for so long.
I wish we hadn’t been so much alike, or at least both recognized it in each other. I wish we had been better people together.
In November I graduate. Probably the last time. And once again I will walk through the Field House and I will look for your face in the crowd like last time, and I’ll cry again when you’re not there to see me. We should have had more time, but I have things here that I need to make the most of.
I had a great conversation today and I volunteered myself for something that I think is going to be awesome, and it got me thinking.
I learned a lot of things doing my Masters degree. I re-learned some things too. I put together documents that I didn’t have experience with, I learned about things like the Lobbying Act, I put together an advocacy plan. The program taught me a lot of things, including what I already know and what I am capable of (including working a more-than-full time job in an election campaign while maintaining good grades in a Masters program).
I think the best thing that my Masters program gave me was the people. The people who were my classmates, the professors and all of those people that took the time to come in and talk to us about their lives and their careers.
Being connected to people who are passionate about that same things that you are passionate about is a great thing. Having lively debates, challenging yourself and your beliefs, it all makes you a stronger person. And if you listen it teaches you about yourself and what you really believe, what’s really important to you.
It has not been easy. In fact it has been quite difficult a lot of the time. But hey, I have three letters to add to my resume and a whole lot more self-awareness. Plus a network.