Magistra Artium, or: I’ve Mastered the Arts

3607So this past Thursday, I finally got to walk across the stage of my university in a hood and gown to have my hand shaken by my prof, and I now get to call myself an MA.

Actually, technically I’ve been able to call myself that ever since last September, when I got the parchment – that folder they handed me on stage was just a prop; it had a piece of paper inside that said, in effect, “Congratulations; this is a piece of paper which we would like you to give back to us afterwards.”

But for some reason, having done the hood and gown and pomp and ceremony makes a difference. Getting the parchment in the mail was nice, but there wasn’t much to it – I didn’t particularly feel any more graduated that day than the day before. But attending convocation, striding into the auditorium to the rousing heartbeat of the First Nations drum, sitting on the stage under the glare of the spotlights and watching graduate after graduate going across the stage, then taking my own turn and looking into the sea of darkness that was the audience, knowing my family was out there somewhere (and though I didn’t know it, some were even watching the livestream from more than a 1000 km away); receiving that black folder, shaking the hands of several official people in fancy chairs of whose identity I was rather clueless (I believe one was the university president), and then walking in the procession back out of the auditorium, through the double line of our professors in their gowns cheering and applauding our achievement – I really did feel different then. I still do.

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The prof and I big on the screen on the right, and small and blurry on the left on the stage

No, being a Master of Arts doesn’t mean I’m any different than I was last Wednesday, or last August, for that matter. But all the lovely ritual brought it home to me that I really did finish that degree, that it is a big deal to have put in all those years of work – seventeen, to be precise, for the equivalent of five years’ full-time study, during which I also birthed, raised, homeschooled and graduated several of my children.

I don’t mean to brag – although, actually, yes, I do mean to brag. I think we don’t brag nearly enough about the right kinds of things, sometimes. I know I’m very prone to getting down on myself, to not acknowledging to myself what I have, in fact, accomplished. And what that does is raise the bar for everyone else. If all we’re doing is looking at our failures, it’s very easy to get the impression that nothing we have done matters, that success is an elusive thing. But it’s not. It’s totally possible.

And that was the key phrase in the hugely inspiring speech my awesome friend Desi (whom I finally got to meet face-to-face after three years of online friendship) gave to all of us graduates: There is no “impossible”.

That’s why I dare to brag about this, to show off my hood and gown: to let you know that it can be done. I got my whole degree by distance education – last Thursday was the first time I ever set foot in my university and met some of my professors and classmates face-to-face. It was exhilarating. One of the students who was graduating that day was a frail white-haired woman who needed a supporting arm to lean on to make it across the stage. She had begun her studies in 1979 – that’s right, nineteen-hundred-seventy-nine – and last Thursday, she got her Bachelor of Arts degree. As she turned to be helped back to her seat, a man’s voice in the auditorium yelled out, “WAY TO GO, MOM!!”

Yes, I cried. In fact, I’m doing it again as I write this. There is no “impossible”.

Life, the Universe, and at long last, a Master of Arts. It can be done.

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They don’t call it a hood for nothing

PS: In case you’re wondering, my uni is Athabasca University, the Canadian Open University (which isn’t just for Canadians, either). I’m not sure what the equivalent US institution is (I’ve heard something about the University of Phoenix?), but I’m sure there is one; and in Germany, there is the FernUniversität Hagen. Where there’s a will there’s a university. Oh, and here you can click through to my final Master’s project (the link goes to quill and qwerty, the blog that I kept for documenting my research).

Enough!

Enough already. Enough with the Facebook posts, the rants, the forwards; enough with the anti-anti-vaxxer posts, anti-Fifty-Shades, anti-Muslim, anti-everything. Enough with the hating.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that I’m necessarily for any of the ideologies those posts are against. I’ve had my kids vaccinated; I haven’t read Fifty Shades; I’m not Muslim; and I don’t intend to change any of those practices.

But I’m so very, very tired to hear the harping, the incessant banging, clanging, beating of the drums, the tapping of the hammer that keeps driving home the message that YOU are right, and [insert opposing position on issue du jour] is wrong, evil, and to be resisted with every fibre of our beings.

Telling me of your opinion once is fine – please, I really do want to hear what my friends have to say. But not over, and over, and over. Because, you see: all that energy you’re using to be AGAINST, that is energy that is no longer available to be FOR. It’s negative energy, energy that takes away. And it’s sucking the life out of me.

Darkness, someone once said, isn’t an active force – it’s simply the absence of light. Contrary to what Star Wars would have you believe, The Dark isn’t a power in its own right – bring one single candle into a dark room, and you no longer have darkness. Light is the overpowering force. I don’t have to push back against the dark bits underneath my couch, build barriers to keep the darkness from flowing out into the room and overwhelming the light that is coming in the big picture window. I don’t have to relentlessly draw attention to the fact that there is darkness under the furniture, hold my book beneath the sofa to demonstrate just how dim and impossible to read it is under there. All I have to do is draw back the curtains.

Candle cropI let off a plea for the antidote yesterday, on Facebook. I asked my friends – rather with a tongue-in-cheek attitude at that moment, not expecting to be taken seriously – to post some cute pictures of their kids, or pets, or what-have-you, because I was just so very fed up with all the controversy. And within minutes, I had responses. Picture after picture of smiling children, furry critters, funny captions – it was wonderful. Because trivial as those images might seem, they testify to what really matters. They put the attention back on the light.

And that, people, is what it’s about. Don’t bewail the darkness, light a candle. Or throw the electric light switch, as it were; draw back the curtains; step outside into the sunshine.

If you’re concerned about unvaccinated children, show me how you are keeping yours strong and healthy. If you are worried about extremist Muslims, show me that your religion does not inspire you to similar self-righteous hating – and let me see the potency of your faith in engendering life-giving love. If you despise Fifty Shades, show me what powerful romantic love is really about – or even better yet, write a heart-gripping novel that lets me experience it for myself when I identify with your heroine, and leaves me feeling empowered and inspired, ready to take on the world – because that is what love can do.

Don’t show me everything that’s bad – let me see what is good. I’m tired of being asked to stare into black holes. Show me the light, instead.

Clean Air

Air purifier sales guy at the door, wanting me to listen to a sales pitch.

Me: “You know, I’m really not interested in your product.”

Him: “You’re not interested in air purification?”

Me: “No. I think I’m good with what I got here.”

Him: “You’ve already got an air purifier installed?”

Me: “Nope.”

Him: “Then you don’t have clean air!!”

Me: “We just open the windows.”

Him: boggles at that concept.

Me: hands him back his ‘free promotional gift’, and sends him away…

Well, there was a bit more to the conversation than that, but this was the gist of it. The guy really shouldn’t have said that about not having clean air unless we have his product installed, and shouldn’t have been so patently shocked at the concept of getting clean air from outside (you know, that big place where there is trees and lakes and mountains and stuff, right there in plain sight). If it hadn’t been for that, I might have felt far more guilty for not listening to him and might have let him and his trainee buddy come in the house and waste my time.

As is, I felt sufficiently stupid for having falling for their line in the first place and given them my address to come bother me at (a.k.a. deliver the ‘free gift’ which I ‘won’ in their ‘draw’). Stupid enough to be very rude to a fellow who phoned me just afterwards with the “I’m from Windows Customer Support” lie. I had an almost knee-jerk reaction, just spat out an irritated “Oh never mind!!” and hung up on him in mid-sentence. I mean, I don’t do that sort of thing normally – I always at least wait until I can get a word in edgewise. But today I was just too fed up.

I hate it when someone makes me be rude. Although really, that’s about the only possible reaction to the rudeness of being called up and lied to with the sole purpose of getting at my money (which is not much better than theft, when it comes down to it). Still, I hate it, and it makes me feel bad.

However, I think I need to just take a deep breath and get over that feeling. Excuse me for a moment while I step over to the balcony door, open it up and take in a big lungful of that impure stuff out there. If I don’t come back, you’ll know I expired from all the oxygen generated by those dirty trees in the vicinity of our house.

Life, the Universe, and Clean Air. Quite enough for today.

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Can’t you tell how dirty the air is outside my windows?

Smartphone

smartphoneI have arrived! In the Twenty-teens, that is. That’s right: I got a smartphone. Hey, come on, it’s just 2015; I’m only about five years behind the times.

Okay, okay, I was never an early adopter – the only reason we got a computer when we did (1996, refurbished machine with Windows 3.1. I know, right?) was that I happen to be married to a nerd who figured it would be useful for business purposes sometime down the line (it was). And then we got on the Internet in 1997 because we signed up to an online homeschooling program that loaned us a fully-loaded computer complete with dial-up net connection. I can still hear that crreeech-bip-bip-bop-beep-bip sound of the modem when it was dialling. The password was an eight-letter string of gobbledigook which we memorised because we had to type it in every time we went online, for anything.

Other than that, the earliest adoption of new technology was my Kobo ebook reader – I got that in the fall of 2010, when ebook readers were the new & hot thing. And the only reason I got it then was that I wanted something other than a computer screen to read pdf’s on for school (I was still in undergrad at that time). Turned out the Kobo is lousy for pdf’s, but great for reading actual books – so I got sucked into using new technology sort of by a side road.

That’s what happened with the smartphone, too. I’ve had a cell phone for a year or two longer than the ebook reader, but it’s always been just a little flip phone – you know, a cellular telephone. It made phone calls. Ever heard of those? You talk into this hand-held device. With words, in your voice. Audio. That’s about all that phone did; you couldn’t get Google Maps on it or anything. Oh, it did have an alarm clock. And you could do texting on it, for a given value of “texting” (t-de-wx-t-ghi-mn-g, like that). Actually, it’s the texting that made me want to get a new phone; I just wanted some method of doing that more easily, as there are some friends who are most readily reached that way.

So with some birthday-gift money I had, I got myself the next-to-cheapest not-flip-phone my provider was offering, and well, it’s a smartphone. With, you know, Android and stuff. I didn’t even really know what that meant, and had no idea that those not-flip-phones come with (ooh, aah!) wi-fi, so you can do all that smart stuff even if you aren’t paying through the nose for a data plan. That’s right – I can do smartphoney things, even though I have no phone data plan, just some pre-loaded minutes on the phone that allow me to call home to find out if we need milk, or if we already own a copy of Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows. I can use my cheap phone minutes for dumbphone activities while I’m out, and do all those browsery smartphone things at home or wherever there’s free wi-fi.

So there I was, all of yesterday, learning smartphoney skills. The first apps I downloaded, of course, were e-book reader software (Kindle and Overdrive). Maybe I’ll finally get around to reading A Tale of Two Cities, in waiting rooms and what-not, if I have it in my pocket on the phone – that book has been on my to-read list for several years now. I should see if I can download it to the phone – or is that upload, if it’s coming from my computer? See, I don’t even have the terminology straight…

Once again I’ve been pulled through the back door into adopting new technology. I got a device for one purpose, and found it could do cool other stuff I hadn’t really looked for. And once you get used to the cool new technology, you don’t want to be without it. Well, mostly. Fancy cable TV, we’ve adopted and then un-adopted several times so far; it was just not worth it. The smartphone, though, I have a sneaking  suspicion will be a keeper, even if it does mean I can no longer look down my long luddite nose and feel superior because I can make do with a flip phone. But you have to make sacrifices somewhere.

Life, the Universe, and My New Smartphone. Welcome to the Twenty-Teens.

Playing With Matches

It’s Remembrance Day in just a couple of days, and I’ve written before about how the perspective from the other side of the trenches is, in many ways, not so different from that of “our” side. War kills. War sucks in innocent people and destroys them.

Lee Strauss has a great book on sale this week (links at the bottom of this post) that tells that very story, the tale of World War II from an angle that most English-speaking people rarely hear. Playing With Matches is the story of Emil Radle, a young German boy in the 1930s, and his experience of the war. The book is fiction as far as the actual characters and exact events go, but it could be absolutely true. The boy in the cover picture, on the far right edge, the one with his blond lock of hair falling over his forehead, could be my uncle, the one who was just the age Emil Radle is in the book. Or, for that matter, my favourite high school teacher, who spent hours regaling us with stories of how he was drafted in the last years of the war, at the age of sixteen, to become cannon fodder; and who said the best moment of the whole thing was when he could drop his gun and raise his hands in surrender to the British armed forces.

That’s Emil’s story in Playing With Matches. It’s well worth the read.

Lest We Forget.

PLAYING WITH MATCHES

 

 

Heinz Schultz’s word could send a man to prison. Though only a youth of fifteen, he was strong, tall, and blond. The boys in his Deutsches Jungvolk unit esteemed him and feared him.

And they wanted to be just like him.

Emil Radle wanted to be just like him.

A dedicated member of Hitler Youth, Emil was loyal to the Führer before family, a champion for the cause and a fan of the famous Luftwaffe Air force.

Emil’s friends Moritz and Johann discover a shortwave radio and everything changes. Now they listen to the forbidden BBC broadcast of news reports that tell both sides. Now they know the truth.The boys, along with Johann’s sister Katharina, band together to write out the reports and covertly distribute flyers through their city. It’s an act of high treason that could have them arrested–or worse.

As the war progresses, so does Emil’s affection for Katharina. He’d do anything to have a normal life and to stay in Passau by her side. But when Germany’s losses become immense, even their greatest resistance can’t prevent the boys from being sent to the Eastern Front.

Post-Success Depression

You know the Euphoria of Completion? The incredible headrush you get from finishing a huge project, completing an exam you’ve studied for for so long, getting done the program you’ve been working so hard on for the last several years? I certainly do. However, there is also another side to that coin. Sometimes, when you’ve completed a REALLY major project, something that matters to you enormously – then sometimes, you fall off the cliff.

mural (2)It didn’t happen to me this time, thankfully – at least not yet. I finished my Master’s, and published my first book, and (thank God) my head’s still above water. But there’ve been times in the past when I went under just after I had a major triumph. One of them was ten years ago when I finished painting a big mural on my son’s bedroom wall. I’d been wanting to do that for a long time, paint a mural, I mean. I pushed myself to absolute exhaustion doing it, and I was extremely pleased with it when it was finished. And then the waters closed in over my head. I remember driving down the road one day a few weeks later, and thinking the whole world looked like it was behind smoked glass. It wasn’t – visually, it was perfectly clear – but it’s like all the colours were dimmed, sort of greyed out.

I don’t know what your opinion is on religious matters, but whether you do or don’t take them as literal truth, you can still get the benefit of the stories (says the embryonic folklorist). There is one story in the Bible which I really love in this context. It’s the tale of the Prophet Elijah, who spent most of his life fighting with the corrupt king and the worshippers of Baal.

One day, he had a massive victory over them; the biggest success of his career. You’d think he’d be out partying and slaying more monsters, wouldn’t you? But no. He goes into the desert, lies down under a bush, and says “God, I just want to die. Please take my soul.” And what does God do? Does He send an angel with a can of Red Bull and tell Elijah to buck up, pull up his boot straps and his jogging shorts, and quit being such a whiner? Does He dispatch a psychologist to give Elijah some cognitive-restructuring therapy so he can get out of his streak of negativity and start doing some positive thinking? Does He commission His heavenly nutrionists and personal trainers to tell Elijah to stop eating wheat and start a program of daily exercise to purge his body of all this toxicity and get the endorphins flowing? Nope. He does dispatch an angel, it’s true. And what does that angel do? He feeds Elijah. The poor prophet is so exhausted emotionally, his body has just knocked him over; he’s sleeping. The angel wakes him up with a gentle touch on his shoulder, and says, “Eat, man.” He’s got a fresh-baked cake, and a jug of water. Elijah, probably only half-awake (I made that up; it doesn’t say that in the text), eats, drinks, and keels over again. The angel lets him sleep, then he wakes him up again: “Eat, man.”

The story carries on from there with one of the most amazing revelations (it’s in 1 Kings 19, if you want to read it), but that’s not the point I’m after here. My point is that right after Elijah had the biggest victory of his life, he ended up suicidally depressed. And God just let him sleep, and gave him food. He let him sleep.

mural (3)I don’t think I need to spell it out for you. Somewhere I read that depression is our body’s way of saying “Enough already!”, of making us sit still so we stop doing these things that wear it down to a nub, just like fever is the body’s way of killing bacteria so it can heal. Post-success depression, in addition, is the rebound from all the adrenalin we’ve sent coursing through our body so it could keep doing what we wanted it to do to reach our great big goal. There is a point to all this. And we need to be as kind to ourselves as the angel was to Elijah. Sleep, a fresh cake baken over the coals, and a cruse of water.

Life, the Universe, and Post-Success Depression. Look after yourself, my dear.