paperwork

“You may not be ready for the administration,” Brown Owl said to me.

By this I took her to mean the endless forms, the labyrinthine traceries of pen strokes and signatures that are needed to fill them, the baffled questions queried through open windows to unapologetically dispassionate administrative guardians, the obtuse answers that follow, the redirections, the misdirections, and the dead ends that come along with navigating the process of getting anything done and formalized on a university campus. I had been telling her about getting my OSAP funding straightened out: there had been many trips to the registrar’s office. They were not all productive.

It’s a good thing that I’ve had the time on my hands to deal with it. In the end, after trying several permutations of the same plea for assistance, the right combination of words came out of my mouth and one of the guardians looked at me with recognition—the light in her eyes went on, she stepped forward to the counter—and there followed a flurry of activity. Voilà, your academic fees are deferred! Your enrolment is secure. Your money is en route.

Brown Owl may be right: maybe I’m not ready, but it’s not like I have a choice. I’ve not been forcibly involved with the paper machinery of a large organization for years; and the University of Toronto is large, you can give it that: massive; gargantuan. I’m still high enough on the fumes of acceptance that the urge to tear at the school’s inexorable parchment cogs hasn’t even entered into my lightened head; I’ve simply been keeping my eyes forward, my chin down, and doing whatever it is that seems to need to doing in order to navigate the gaps between the teeth of the wheels.

I’ve been waiting months now for a project. I’ve been waiting months for this project. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Climbing out of a depressive episode, spring in full bloom, my bicycle tuned up and ready for the road, it’s now or never.

I’ve been calling myself a failed academic for almost a decade. After dropping out of university the first time around—thinking myself incapable, thinking myself somehow wrong for the institution—I had resigned myself to keeping my scholarly ambitions in check. I went on to other things—active things like work, and socializing, and just living in general, all with very modest ambition. I still wanted to write, and I still wrote, but not formally. And I thought, I don’t need a degree to produce a novel. And that’s true enough. Many people write books without a recognized education. Many people are successful wordsmiths without a working knowledge of Chaucer, and Milton, and Shakespeare; but that’s not really the kind of writer I wanted to be, if I was honest; and there was never enough time, not with all that work, and living, and very modest ambition. Nor was there enough ability, as I constantly wondered what was wrong with me, where the disconnect between action and intent stemmed from, why my goals seemed so far out of reach no matter how determined I felt I was.

Some part of me knew that the answer was drugs. I just took the wrong ones to try and make my life work. I tuned out instead of tuning in.

“My attempt to be an autodidact polymath seems to have gone fairly awry,” I said to Cobra over coffee a few months ago.

“Well it’s worked alright for me,” she answered. But I looked around and there was no evidence of it: the trappings of our lives were those of intelligent dilettantes, with our piecemeal bookshelves, our undocumented theories and unaccredited intellectualism, and our days and days of wasted time with nothing to show for it but fuzzy logic and fuzzier memories. I wanted something more. I wanted to think for real, if that was possible. I wanted to imagine with intent and on record, and I wanted to write: intelligently, well, and with purpose. That wasn’t happening, even if I was getting well, even if I had switched my imbibed medication from a liquid lunch to sanctioned pharmaceuticals.

When I was first diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, the first thought that coruscated my frontal lobes was, I can go back to school. I was finishing up training in a new field at the time, starting a job that, admittedly, there was nothing wrong with; but all I could think of was getting myself back into academia; getting back in and staying there.

“Turtle has always seen you turning out to be a grumpy old professor, anyway,” her best friend told me at Turtle’s birthday party a few weeks ago, just after I had gotten the news of my acceptance.

“It’s probably where you belong,” Kongo concurred.

What a relief to hear my nearest and dearest say things like that. How uplifting for the vote of confidence, where confidence is the one thing I’ve been lacking these past few years, as I know people have started to see me as wasted potential, rather than promise waiting to actualize. I was crossing that line, getting old enough that it looked like I might be stuck, unable to make it out of mediocrity. There’s nothing worse than knowing that are capable, and—for lack of a better term—called to be something better, yet choosing to stay mired in the place that proves least difficult.

It hasn’t worked out alright for me, playing at being an intellectual flouted by the establishment, unable to conform to the strictures of society. There are reams of oddballs that find a niche in the world. There are ways to actualize ambition without becoming part of a system you abhor. There can be a place for the discreetly talented thinker who wants to sit and ruminate in the corner professionally.

So administrative convolutions of the institution aside, there are many things I have not been ready for in my lifetime, but this, this is not going to be one of them. Bring it on. I’ve waited long enough. I’ve got thoughts to conceive, words to put to paper, and graduate school to get to. The next year of my life has already begun.

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~ by A Mundi on April 30, 2010.

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