Friday, May 29, 2015

My Sporadic Seminar Attendance in University

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While digging through some boxes this morning, I came across a cache of papers from my university daze. Among the items was this slip of paper, which is probably from my last year or two of school. This suspicion is based on the comment about my attendance at whatever seminar sessions this was related to: by year four, I was more likely found puttering at the campus newspaper or radio station, which was far more enjoyable (and better for my long-term career prospects) than listening to my peers expound on their favourite literary theories in a seminar.

Confession: I wasn't an engaged university student. It's one reason I never pictured myself going back, unless it was a subject I was passionate about. Maybe it was my major: while there were exceptions, I often felt out of place within my English classes, a throwback to the past. My love of placing works in their context didn't always go down well, even if my marks were fine (a lot of low As/high Bs).

This accounts for the lack of participation commented on in this note: I either felt like I was going against the flow of the rest of the seminar group, or I felt like a dum-dum for not being able to spit out post-colonial/post-modernist/French intellectual theory off the top of my head. Maybe I was a small town yokel after all. When I don't feel intellectually comfortable, I shut down. Contemplating flipping my English major and history minor occurred often, but a nagging fear of reducing my chances for post-grad employment scuttled that move.

Subconsciously, it may have been around this time I realized that I'd be a storyteller, not the great academic everyone quotes. And that this was OK. Everyone has their own talents. I admire those who are comfortable with theory and shape their interpretations into great work. My talent was diving into things instead of thinking about them, which was why I increasingly played hooky in order to crank out stories for the Ontarion or prepare my next CFRU show.

Though living in Arts House loosened many inhibitions, allowing me to explore and experiment with new possibilities, I still wasn't confident enough in class or working on campus to let those inhibitions reassert themselves when faced with holier-than-thou types. Recurring dreams involves reliving certain classes and contexts, but armed with knowledge and crap-cutting attitudes which developed after university. But one shouldn't fixate on the past in such ways - it's better to take the lessons learned from that time, realize personal weaknesses, note the positive accomplishments, and carry on.

Just don't ask me to explain structuralist linguistics.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Letter from Whitfield Landing

May 21, 2015

Mid-afternoon. Out for a drive intended to skirt the city’s suburbs, but which has brought me to the back roads south of Peterborough Airport. Off the end of one of these roads is a narrow driveway leading me to a township park. I drive as far as I can go, which brings me to a parking lot where grass grows in between the loose stones.

Hopping out of the car, I notice a picnic table, a dock, and a sign: “Whitfield Landing.”

I walk down to the dock. It wobbles, but seems sturdy enough for me to sit down upon. The setting is what I always imagined being at the perfect cottage would be like (I’ve never been to a proper cottage, though that may be crossed off the bucket list later this summer). The Otonabee River flows gently in front of me, occasionally rocking the dock. Across the river, chairs line the backyards of waterfront homes, waiting for people to watch the sun go down. Apart from the occasional airplane, the only sounds are birds chirping. The postcard blue sky is dotted with puffy clouds.

The temptation is strong to slip off my socks and shoes to dip my toes in the river. Then I remember it’s still only May, and given the cool morning, frozen feet might spoil the mood. Instead, I open a notebook I brought to a meeting earlier this morning and jot down passing thoughts.

It is the perfect haven on a Thursday afternoon during a month where I’m starting to shape my future. A month ago I was a stress case, juggling winding down a job I needed to leave and a burst of freelance work. Today, these beautiful surroundings are lulling me into a state of serenity.

If somebody sailed by, they might glimpse a satisfied look spreading across my face.

OK, maybe the next great Coca-Cola ad campaign isn’t flowing through my brain. But thoughts are turning toward future plans.

Taking a moment to allow myself to fully relax and let my head fill with ideas is one of the elements I hope to achieve through my “regeneration” this spring. Clear it of the stresses, frustrations, worries, and fatigue-fueled anger coursing through my veins since last fall. Getting rid of things, physical and philosophical, which are cluttering my life. A rebuilding process to restore balance and discover new directions for my creative energy.

(Warning: you're going to hear a lot about "regeneration" in the next week. Get used to that word.)

For now, I’ll sit on the dock. Take in some good deep breaths. Admire the beauty of these surroundings. Embrace a satisfying life.