In Conclusion

I'm not very good at endings.

I always leave writing conclusions for papers until the very last possible minute. I sometimes read the final pages of a book before I even get to the middle. I don't know how to cleanly and concisely cut off a conversation, a relationship, a specific moment in time.

I always expect endings to be dramatic. Of course she will get off the plane (Friends is always and forever relevant); of course the case will be solved in the nick of time and the patient will live; of course he will forgive his father right before he dies. And of course I'll be crying into my popcorn, swept up in the theatrics of it all.

I've all but finished my Master of Arts. Short of walking across the stage in a cute dress and a ridiculous hat, I'm officially finished my academic career. I'm excited and exhausted and proud and sad, but most of all, I think I'm underwhelmed. I expected the last moments of this degree to be big: lots of hugs, a torrential downfall of tears, and those special moments of telling people how grateful I am for their role in my life where everyone is simultaneously moved and unbearably awkward.

But nope. It's been completely anticlimactic.

In The Book Thief, one of my favourite books, author Markus Zusak commits the cardinal sin of storytelling: he spoils the ending of the story near the very beginning. The narrator says:
Of course, I’m being rude. I’m spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book, but of this particular piece of it. I have given you two events in advance, because I don’t have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It’s the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me.  
There are many things to think of.  
There is much story.
This small part of the book is almost insignificant in the overall story, but it has stayed with me more than anything else on those pages. It's a profound realization, really - that every story ends the same, but it's what happens to get there that is interesting and unique. It's the middle that compels us to keep going, and that makes the story worthwhile.

And he's right. I knew at the end of my two years at Carleton, I would have earned an MA. What I didn't know was what the process of getting there would look like, who I would meet, the things I would learn about myself and other people, the insurmountable challenges and the confidence that comes with meeting and exceeding them.

What I didn't know was that I'd experience teamwork like I never had before. That for twelve weeks, eight classmates who, four months previously, were complete strangers, would bust their butts to support each other every single week. That everyone would pull their weight so no one would have drag everyone along with them. I didn't know that I would be with a cohort who wanted everyone else to succeed as much as they wanted success for themselves.

I didn't know that I would have a breakdown in a Tim Hortons five months in, feeling like I wasn't smart enough to be in the program, and that I would never be able to finish. I didn't know that I'd have two friends drag me back from the brink with humour and sincere encouragement.

I didn't know that one cancelled class in early March could feel like being released on parole.

I didn't know I'd be able to hold my own in debates and discussions with professors. I didn't know I could make an argument and academics who had years of experience on me would say "you know, that's a really excellent point."

I didn't know I would experience encouragement unlike any I'd had before. I knew I was a good writer, but I didn't know I'd finish this degree feeling like a great one. I didn't know there would be so many people to offer such encouragement, from a casual, throwaway "you're smart!" to the praises (and criticisms) of professors, offered in the spirit of reaching my potential.

I didn't know I'd meet some of the best people - and friends - at Carleton. I didn't know that the Iranian boy who terrified me for a month an a half would be one of the greatest men I've ever known; I didn't know the girl whose mom worked at a children's book store and I would experience the highest highs and lowest lows together, and still want to see each other every day; I didn't know the tall blonde with the angry resting face would make me laugh so much I'd get an ab workout, or that she'd offer me some of the best advice when I needed it; I didn't know the big funny man who was only a part time student would be one of the most loyal friends I've ever had; I didn't know the quiet Chinese girl would be the wittiest person in the room, and that her generous heart would always offer you kindness with a side of biting sarcasm; I didn't know the snobby girl in the blazer would have an incredible story of determination, and that she'd inspire me to always work harder; I didn't know the mom of three with wild hair would challenge me to think about others in ways I hadn't before.

Having tried and failed once before to earn an MA, I didn't know that, this second time around, I could do it.

When I was deciding to go back to grad school, I was very apprehensive about confirming my acceptance. I was talking to my friend Jill about it, and asked, "how do I know if this is a bad decision?" And she said, quite profoundly, "In terms of bad decisions, getting more education is the best one you can make."

I didn't know then how right she was. Because I didn't know how doing this program would permeate everything in my life. I didn't know that these two years would challenge me to think in ways and about things I hadn't before. I didn't know that I'd have the opportunity to work with some of the most incredible minds working in the field. I didn't know I'd meet fascinating, warm, friendly people in the program with whom I'd have some of the most intense, fun, and inspiring conversations of my life. I didn't know how much I hated teaching until I became a TA. I didn't know how hard I would work, and I didn't know how much fun I would have.

And, true to form, I'm not entirely sure how to end this, except to say thank you - to my cohort, to my profs, to the staff, to Carleton for accepting my application. The ending may have been underwhelming, but the middle was a dramatic, beautiful mess.

I am so glad it's done, but I'm very sad it's over.

Current book: Signed, Sealed, Delivered - Nina Sankovitch
Current tv show: Band of Brothers (rewatch x5)
Current nail colour: Essie's "borrowed and blue"


Marion said…
I hate teaching too. And yet, I will also be a TA of some sort in the fall. Hopefully the marking kind, not the teaching kind.

Great post, as always. As I embark on my own MA, it's good to read about how awesome and terrible and life-changing it will be. :)

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