Sunday, April 14, 2013

Confessions of a trainee academic

Any day now I am sure I will be outed, exposed as some kind of pretender to the throne of academic thought. So I’ll get in first with a confession: I’m making it all up as I go along. Or at least it feels like it.

In conversation, I often struggle to remember the names of those authors whose writing speaks to me. My head sometimes feels like it’s so full of ideas that crucial information just doesn’t stick. Sometimes I feel like a total fraud, unsure of my own fledgling arguments and wandering lines of thought.

But it's okay, because I am not alone in this.

One of the best things I did at the start of 2010 was to attend a short course run by the Learning Skills centre at uni. It was called ‘Making a first class start to your Honours year’, and one of the first things the presenter said was that each and every one of us sitting there probably felt like a bit of a fraud. That we somehow weren’t worthy of the expectations associated with postgraduate study and couldn’t attain the levels of discipline and knowledge required, but that we were also quite wrong. I can still remember the audible sigh of relief that rippled around the room as we turned to the person next to us and gave them a nervous, understanding smile.

We’d been rumbled – but it was okay, it was normal, we weren’t alone in having these anxieties. Maybe we could do this after all.

And yet, the self-doubt remains.

Maybe it’s because I find myself rapidly approaching 40, with an adult daughter and a teenage son who’s a foot taller than me, and I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

Maybe it’s because I’m just waiting for everyone to realise that my research is mostly about going to gigs, listening to music, and hanging out at a television shoot.

Maybe it’s because I worry that when the stresses pile up, the cracks will start to show and you won’t have to scratch very hard at all on this middle-class, grown-up veneer to break through and reveal the nervous little eastern suburbs kid lurking beneath.

And the stresses have been piling up. Over the last 3 years I have dealt with accident, disaster, EQC, insurance, demolition, rental housing, moving (twice), employment and mortgage negotiations, house designing, house building, endless tradesmen, council bureaucracy, as well as 'the usual' things like tutoring (5 months p/yr), postgraduate study (2 yrs Honours, now Masters), conferences (5), and irregular event work (like scanning tickets at rugby games & concerts).

And then there were the interviews.

Recently I worked with UC to put out a press release about my research – a good news story for the institution and an opportunity to get the word out about what I was up to. The press release went out the same morning the tradies moved in, when our life was once again in storage and we were living in a tin can parked in the driveway. I was also suffering from the worst. cold. ever.

I responded to requests for photographs and links to other work. I sat in the carport and talked on the phone to a reporter from APNZ. I answered queries from creative industry websites, musicians, music fans, other UC postgrad students, senior professors, high school students. I made appointments and even arranged to meet one of my favourite music journalists, someone I want to interview for my research.

Except she was getting in first. And I was the target.

Okay, so despite the nervousness I felt beforehand, the interview itself was great. We talked for almost an hour – about my research, music, the definition of ‘local’, the funding system, music, recent research, music, The Eastern, music, live gigs… We probably could’ve continued had it not been for the fact that my daughter was graduating that afternoon and I needed to get to the venue on time.

That was over 2 weeks ago and ever since, I’ve been waiting for the story’s appearance. I’m not used to being on this side of the fence – I’m the one who’s usually crafting the story, stitching together audio or text fragments, shaping the narrative. It’s been driving me a little nuts and I have at least another few days to wait, maybe more.

The cracks have been starting to show.

I remember the words of a slightly reluctant interviewee from my first full-length radio documentary. A musician who wasn’t sure whether she wanted her comments included but I’m eternally grateful I managed to convince her, because her final words of advice (which I used to close the doco) struck a chord with so many listeners.

We were talking about music and creativity, and she said: 
“Don’t ever forget what turns you on. 
And don’t ever forget what you can do to turn other people on. 
And what you can do, do. ‘Cos other people can’t”.
Carmel Courtney (Harbour SouNZ, 2009)

I can’t play a musical instrument but I know people who can, and those people have provided me with hours of enjoyment, solace, and hope. They have turned me on and awakened a passion for live, local, and distinctive music.

When I finish this current research project next year, what will I be a Master of? The ability to write a good sentence? To take a disparate collection of musically-related topics and weave them together with a single theoretical thread? I hope so.  

Will I be an expert in popular music? Not really. All I can do is share my passion, and try to turn people on to the joys and benefits of live/local/popular music at any time, not only after a disaster.

By the end of this process I will know a lot more than I do now but I still won’t consider myself an expert.  But then again, education is supposed to be a journey, not just a destination… right? Maybe, just maybe, when I finish my Master’s, I’ll feel like I can finally take the academic L plates off.

But it’s okay because I am not alone in this.

Today I drove past the empty site that used to be the Linwood Community Hall. It’s where my husband and I first met, while rehearsing for a play back in 1990. Just down the road is an empty site that used to be the church where I was baptised.

One site provides a memory of a faith long lost, the other of a love still strong.

This post is dedicated to my rock – my partner in life and crime, through good times and bad. Thanks for all the fish love & support.

1 comment:

  1. It is no secret that education is hard work - that it is easier to sit on your bum. That is why it is extra kudos to you that you have decided to do it, and that it is important enough to do it despite the earthquakes and upheaval and the reality of life here.
    Lifelong education is how we all need to live - opening your mind to learning and investigating. Not all learning leads to a qualification, but people open to discovering and improving their knowledge will always be interesting!