It’s Sunday afternoon and I am procrastinating. I have homework and a 10 page paper due in ten days and I just want to eat some pizza. You see, three semesters ago I enrolled in a Masters program at Simmons College in Boston. My reasons for doing so were not well developed to say the least.
Looking back over the last year and a half I think I have whined as much as I have learned, maybe more.
I sound like this,”What am I doing in this program? I think I should drop out. I cannot possibly write another paper. I don’t understand a word they are saying.”
I have always been interested in women’s lives and this broad interest was what lead me to Simmons. But really, you should see what I have to read for my classes. I am studying Gender and Cultural Studies and for those who wonder what that is, I will tell you what it is not: Not the Women’s Studies of the 1980′s. Too bad because that is what I was hoping to get my degree in and am 25 years too late.
This wacky enterprise began one sunny May afternoon on the stairs of our deck. I sat there watching our dog sniff each blade of grass and chomp on a tennis ball. Seemingly out of nowhere, I announced that I wanted to go back to school.
“Really?” My husband asked
“You see,” I said slightly professorially,”I am inspired by the graduate students I just listened to at the last board meeting of the Pembroke Center and I want to be one of them. I am sick of fundraising(which was my role on the board) and I want to do something more and need a higher degree to legitimize that effort. Maybe I want to write a book, maybe get a job.”
“Yeah, I am interested in women’s lives and the struggles we face and I want to be able to write about that instead of waiting for inspiration for the novel I am apparently never going to write.”
“OK. Sounds great. Just do it” He threw the tennis ball to Teddy who chased but never retrieved it.
And I did ’just do it.’ I googled part-time Women’s Studies programs in the Boston area ignoring the fact that they were now called Gender Studies(big mistake!), attended a brief info session, found out I didn’t have to take the GRE’s , wrote an application essay , retrieved 25 year old transcripts and Voila…..I was admitted.
In August of 2010 I went to register and get my student ID. Happy that I looked kinda good in the picture I was giddy with the promise of September. The first day of class was nerve-wracking. What does an old, returning student who wants to look kinda cool wear? I will tell you what she doesn’t wear: Sparkly jewelry, designer handbags, expensive shoes, visible make-up or perfect hair. All that belonged to my suburban mom life and now I was becoming a Wednesday night intellectual.
Off I went, pencil sharpened, boots scuffed to Room 165 in the Main Academic Building. I pulled open the door to reveal my classmates. I knew I was going to be the oldest, I knew I might be the only mom but I did not know that I was going to be the only straight person. Gender Studies you say? Guess what, it is not the same as Women’s Studies. No Gertrude, A woman is not a woman is not a gender.
So there I was stumbling over my introduction as to why I was there and certain that I would be interesting because I was a brave elder who was challenging herself in new ways, staving off Alzheimer’s with something other than Suduko.(which I just cannot do.)
But no, I was really not all that interesting, especially after Milo introduced himself as a pre-operative transgender.
So, I asked myself, “Where the hell am I ? And Why?”
Week after week, I would tilt sideways in my chair, pen poised in my hand trying to enter the intensely theorectical discussion about the social construction of gender. I had the sneeking suspicion that I was a walking example of that construction and soon learned that I was certainly not disrupting hegemonic heteronormativity.
Yet, the fact that I can undertand that last sentence tells you I stuck that semester out. I fought the woman who urged all the others to throw out Tampons and use rags instead. “The Tampon companies are portraying menstruation as something dirty. Feminine Hygeine? ” she sneered and demanded to know who decided what was clean.
But there were times that my mind was truly opened and by the end of that semester I was no longer such an outsider, in fact they were among the least judgmental people I have ever met. My professor, a Halle Berry look alike, was very supportive and patient with me and my whining and when December break came I actually produced a very passable 25 page paper on gender norms in Sue Grafton’s mysteries. Let me know if you want to read it!
Lest you think this story goes smoothly after that class it does not because school is really hard. What, I ask myself, is the utility of this degree for a middle-aged woman who doesn’t want to be a professor, is not going to join the Narcolesbian march that took place this past weekend and procrastinates everytime a paper is due? After all my classmates are just beginning their careers, they have purpose and they are amazing.
I am still interested in women’s lives and if I stick with this I should have the M.A. after my name in 2013. I even have a vague inkling of a project that could be a thesis. Coincidently, June of 2013 is the same time my daughter graduates from college and my son from high school. The lure of that blow-out party may be the carrot I need dangling in front to get me through all the reading and writing.
But the truth is I know why I am doing what I am doing. First, to prove to myself that I can complete a Masters. Second, to avoid asking myself who I am now that my kids are grown. Third, to try something new. Fourth, to be forced to write even if it is about the feminization of the global work force which happens to be the topic of the paper I am avoiding writing.
Strangely enough, the unintended consequence of being a student again has been the creation of this blog. I am writing more of the things I like to now that I am forced to write things I don’t. Turns out that an object in motion does stay in motion and in my case the object is my mind.
So perhaps, as we get older we need to be thrown into the deep and learn to swim all over again. I suspect that as mothers, even though my classmates would admonish me and call
that a socially constructed category and a yield to the binary categories of men versus women, we are better able to endure such frightening waters since we are always facing uncertainty as our children grow up.
All I need now is a life raft to float by before December 15 when my paper is due.