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Monday, August 19, 2013

Fully invested, I finally found me

As I walked through the grounds of my alma mater early this morning, breathing in the fresh morning air, I felt a sense of coming home. I was relaxed and loving the calm of the early morning which can only be experienced at that early hour during the holidays. The mania brought by the inundation of undergraduates had not yet begun again.
I enjoyed the peace of being able to stop and take in the new buildings, sans le scaffolding. I was not bowed down by the weight of a school bag or a laptop. I had time. I sat with friends and drank tea, ate lunch, talking and laughing, catching up and reminiscing. As I sat and talked the conversation naturally turned to 'what are you doing now?' - a question I have dreaded since running to the Fees Office last year, manically praying that I could pull out of the MLitt I had just begun. 

I had been prepped for the final two years of my three year degree, by my future supervisor, towards a PhD. I had taken extra - non-credited - modules in Latin for two years. In my final year I had struggled through Ancient Greek and spent many long days and sleepless nights working on a 7,000 word research paper. I had spent what little time I had left writing proposal after proposal applying not only for the PhD but also for all the scholarships and fellowships I could find. I got so sick of rewriting the same shite, over and over and over again, tweaking it so that it would best suit the current proposal.
I had begged him to free me from the torture of studying so much Latin after getting a 51 on a exam in the first semester of my third year. I wanted my 1:1 and it was easily within my grasp, all I needed to do was focus on essay based modules for the coming semester. I was firmly informed that my PhD application would be pulled if I did not fully complete what I was asked to do. And so I ploughed on. I suffered the two Latin modules, I suffered the Ancient Greek and I spent more time than was humanly acceptable on my research project and proposal forms. Ultimately, my 1:1 suffered and I missed it by such a short margin my heart stopped beating.
To add insult to injury, my supervisor waited until the July to tell me he didn't want me to do the PhD. Instead he wanted me to do the MA. I refused. I pointed out how I had not only studied half of the MA curriculum during my last two years - I had completed the Latin and the Ancient Greek to MA level - but I also taken on the research project in lieu of the MA thesis. Why, I asked, would I even want to do it? I had DONE it. I was so gutted that he had stolen my 1:1 from my open hands, but now it felt like he was beating me with my Lewis and Short Latin Dictionary. I was devastated.
Miserable, I accepted the MLitt merely because I could not comprehend a life without academia. I loved my alma mater, I loved my departments, I loved my lecturers dearly, I loved my friends, I loved my chair in the library. Academia defined everything about me. Literally.
I have never regretted walking away from the MLitt. Not once. Not even a little, tiny bit. It was not what I wanted. I knew that walking away was the best thing to do. But suddenly, I had once again, found myself without an anchor, floating directionless on a stormy, grey sea. I didn't know what I wanted to do anymore. I had no clear and definite focus for the future. I was so disillusioned that I didn't even want to look at a college prospectus, I didn't want to go back. I had been robbed of everything that defined who I was. 
I know I'm the cleverest person I know. It is hard to beat my IQ level. I have met people with higher IQ's, but I'm definitely cuter than them. The greatest insult to me is to undermine my intelligence. I won't tolerate it. I can't tolerate it. I don't flaunt it in people's faces, but I know it and if you undermine it, I will hit you with it so fast you will think I'm speaking another language! To be robbed of my 1:1 was a slap to my intelligence. I was never great at languages and getting that one C out of six language modules was a devastation to me. To have the PhD pulled at the last minute left me completely discombobulated. I was in a spin. I no longer knew who I was. If I didn't have my intelligence, what did I have? It defined me. I was the best student in the world. I was fricking brilliant at academia. I was born to be a student. Without it, what was I? I was nothing.

And now here I was again, sitting in my old haunt, talking to my old friends, reminiscing and catching up. The last thing I thought I wanted to discuss was my decision to walk away. I didn't want to tell them I had done 'nothing' since I'd left. I hadn't suddenly been accepted into a different PhD, I hadn't somehow miraculously furthered my academic career. I wasn't working in some high flying job. I had stayed at home and spent time with my son. They all talked about what they planned to do, PhD's, finishing up MA theses, deferring for a year. 
As I sat there repeating yet again why it was I had left and listening to them talk about their futures I realised something. I realised something huge, something so major that it made me smile inside.  
Last March I finally gave in. After months of ducking and dodging my son's scout leaders, I finally capitulated and became a scouter. I have always hated volunteering, I don't 'do' volunteering. For the most part I find volunteers to be self-serving, pompous asses who think they are the best thing since sliced bread. These boys however, were NOT taking no for an answer. They were so fricking cheeky too, I couldn't help but fall in love with them. And so I gritted my teeth and filled in the forms and prayed that I wouldn't quickly regret this. I was convinced I would. I figured I'd been sitting at home for nearly a year and I may as well pass some time.
Two weeks later I was standing in a jurte by a campfire, my left hand holding one flag while my right was held high in the scout salute and I found myself being invested into a very, very special group. My head was light - it might have been the plumes of smoke - but I felt I had just been initiated into a secret sect. Part of my brain reeled at the thought that I was fucked now! But deep in my heart something just changed. I don't know what it was. It was silent and it was calm. And it told my brain that yes, I was fucked! Royally! And that made me so happy. I couldn't explain it. 
Later as the children belted out 'Oh! Sir Jasper' I had tears of laughter streaming down my face - again that could have been the thick smoke - but as I listened to the loud groans of "OH! OH! OH!" I just knew that this could never, ever, ever have been a mistake. These people, from the youngest to Papa Bear, were all fucking nuts and I loved every one of them. They are the most organised mass of chaos I have ever had the pleasure of encountering.
As I sat in the canteen today and talked to my old friends, it finally dawned on me. With my scouts I don't have to have a ridiculously high IQ. I don't need yet another 75 on a paper. I don't need a PhD, a Masters or even an education. With my scouts I don't have to know it all, I don't even have to know anything. I don't have to be perfect. I don't have to fix everything, I don't have to fix anything. I don't have to be a mom, a dad, a house keeper, a daughter, a sister, a student, or a mediator. I don't have to prove anything and I don't have anything to prove.With my scouts I can simply be me.
I moved to Galway to go to university. I went to university to find me. I needed to do something for me. I needed to somehow put myself into a nice little box labelled 'Me'. This box would contain a nice instruction pamphlet which would show the world that I am the fricking genius I always knew I was, the pamphlet would show the world that I was more than nothing and I deserved to be loved and respected. I joined the scouts because [oh the double entendre here! #gigglefest] my box got blown apart. 
Among my scouts, hidden away in a dark corner, I found me. I found the real me. Not the me who conforms to those around me. I found that little girl who tucked her skirt into her knickers [and told the boys to fuck off, they're only made of cotton!] so that she could climb a tree. I found the child who dug tunnels in the old sand quarry, built dens in the woods, made her own crossbow and arrows, hit a mean ball in rounders, rescued a 'baby' mouse from a cat ("but MOM he's SO cute!", "I don't care, he is NOT coming into this house!"), caught wasps in a jam jar and basically showed the boys she had bigger balls than them. She was so happy to finally be free again. 
While the scouts showed me where to find her, it was my fellow scouters who invited her out to play. Just like the children, they accepted me for me, warts and all. They don't care how I look, how I talk, how much I know, what I can do. To be honest they would be quite happy if I just made tea all day, or took the piss out of them. I don't ever feel I have to conform or excel or be anything other than me. I haven't had that sort of freedom since I was twelve!
I was sitting on a doorstep with one of my fellow scouters while he smoked a fag a few weeks back, we were at a barbeque. We were chatting about our aquarium's I think - the conversation content matters not - but it was while I was sitting there that I realised why I was so comfortable with him. With him, I like me. I realised it had been a very, very long time since I liked me.
Sitting in my alma mater today I realised something huge, something so major it made me smile. It was the sudden realisation that my PhD no longer mattered. I realised I had come to Galway to find me, but I wasn't to be found in my most beloved of places, I was to be found in laughter of my scouts.

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