I posted it on Facebook, in what I hope is my final look-at-me-I'm-graduating post on Facebook. (Well, except for this one.) I said that I still didn't know how I felt about attaining this degree, and that there was a lot of baggage, but there's pride and the desire to show off in there - the one reasonable, the other ignoble.
People kept asking me this spring if I was excited, or if I felt good. "I don't know," I told them. Are you SO ready to be done? they asked. "I guess I could use a break, but I really like school," I answered. Are you going to miss it, then? "Yes, but I'm planning to stay involved next year," I said.
None of these conversations went well. I didn't know the answers they were looking for. I didn't know what kind of conversation I was meant to have with these kind people: were they asking a chitchat question, or were they truly asking how I felt? I felt weird, and that was pretty much the only sensation I was sure of, but I didn't think that answer was how the conversation was supposed to go.
When I finished my bachelor's degree and people asked me what my major was, I told them film studies and philosophy - interdisciplinary, not a double-major - and they almost always said "Wow, what are you going to do with THAT?" I took to replying "Live in a box, I think," because I found it an impossible question. And I sensed disdain at my impracticality (understandable, but still rude) in the question, so I made a joke that let them know I'd noticed.
After honors convocation, I put my medal on the coffee table and stared at it for a while. Matt told me he was proud of me, and that I deserved a medal, if, for no other reason, as a physical indicator of how hard I'd worked.
"You deserve that medal just as much as I do," I said.
"No," he laughed, in an oh-as-if way. "No, I don't. It was you. That's your hard work on the table. I didn't do anything."
"You supported me," I said, feebly. "You stood by me, and listened while I raved about theory. You studied with me! I wouldn't've memorized phonemes if not for you."
He leaned forward in his chair. "You did that," he said, gesturing to the medal, gazing steadily at me. "You did that. That was your work."
It was a very Good Will Hunting moment. I almost started crying.
|Medal, distinction sash, honors rope, CSUN sash|
Pride is hard for me. Because of the environment of my high school, I find arrogance the worst personality trait of all; I fear it, and guard against it, in myself. Multiple voices from the past and present, based on real people and events as well as made-up insecurities, whisper reasons why my MA is not a big deal, why I have no reason to be proud, why I should in fact hide away from the achievement represented by getting this diploma in the mail. Since the hubbub around graduation started ramping up - really since I started this whole thing in the first place, in 2013 - I've struggled not to listen to them.
It's just a Cal State. It's just an MA, not an MFA or a PhD. You'll never make anything of it. Why'd you get it if you didn't want to teach? What proof do you have that the time and expense did you any good? If you'd worked harder you would've won that award. If you'd slept less you could've done it faster, spent less money. Your husband resents you for the time and money you lost him on this stupid goose-chase. You'll never catch up to people with PhDs. You're not as smart as them. It's just an MA. It's just an MA. You have nothing to show for it. Who cares?
Getting over that is hard. I could've written another twenty sentences of those mean whispers.
Though based in experience, and on real humans who have spoken to me, these statements are not based in fact. "Just a Cal State" gave me a more rigorous education than the fancy Seven Sisters college where I got my bachelor's degree. The proof I have is the acceptances I've gotten over the past year, the written work that's made it into the world. Matt has been proud and encouraging from day one. "Just an MA" has enriched my life beyond estimation since 2013.
It's still hard to believe fact over insecurity. I'm still haunted by what I didn't do. And there's deep, heavy family baggage related to this pursuit that I have carried with me all along.
It bubbled up in my mind some weeks ago that the reason I don't know what I feel about finishing the degree is the muddiness of the reasons why I decided to get the degree in the first place. My reasons were somewhat baggage-driven, but mostly entailed the vague notions of "writing better and knowing more." I do write better and I do know more, but the quantities remain unmeasurable. (Which is the whole deal with the humanities, really.) My classmates got the degree so they could teach, or so they could check off the box between BA and PhD, or so they could get more money at their jobs, or so they could return to the passions they held in their 20s and deferred through motherhood or career. Those are much more definite. My goals float and bob and skitter away when reached for.
But I am proud that I did this. I don't have a place to hang the degree, because Tom Servo hangs over my desk and the spot above the mantelpiece is taken, but for now I see it leaning against my desk every morning and every afternoon.
Like everything else I've done, or attained, it will find its place in my life. People will stop asking questions about it that I can't answer. I'll assimilate this time as "when I was in grad school", like the times of "when I was in paralegal school" and "when I worked as a copy editor" and "when I lived in London".
Eras come and go; experience is permanent. This was a good one.