This past week I completed a project done out of gut instinct, or dumb luck, perhaps divine guidance. (Could they be the same thing?) I got my Masters Degree in its physical form, as a diploma. It was both a culmination, and a celebration, of ongoing change.
When my full-time job at Adventure Canada was eliminated in 2021 after seven years of amazing experiences (and one of layoff), due to the ongoing pandemic, I did something I had been considering in the back of my mind for some time. I entered a Masters program in English (Public Texts) at Trent University. After a year of hard work, deep thought, cost and compromise (from my whole family, not just me), I picked up my degree last week.
Technically, I’ve earned the designation “Master of Arts”. I now have the privilege of using the initials BFA, MA, & FRCGS, the latter reflecting my status as a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
Of course “master” is an outlandish idea. Nobody could master the arts. Actually I’m not sure there’s anything a person could master. My own experience tells me that the more I learn, in any discipline, the more I recognize how much more there is to learn. My eyes and mind and heart have been blown so wide open, in every realm I’ve encountered, that I could never imagine mastering anything. Least of all arts, a field which encompasses some of the most expressive, dynamic, and emotionally complex endeavours of the human spirit.
Still, there is a way in which ‘mastery’ makes some sense to me. That’s in the old idea of the guild system, when to become a an artisan or craftsperson, you would begin first as a helper, then an apprentice, then journeyman (a stage that took may years), before achieving “mastery”, which meant you now had the responsibility for your own work. You would only earn the designation “master” after having put in a lot of effort, a lot of time, a lot of thought. And probably, made a lot of mistakes along the way.
I certainly feel I’ve been a journeyman for a long time. I got my BFA in photography from Concordia in 1995 and I’ve done many, many different jobs in the creative arts and media since then. I have literally journeyed, as well, to many places near and far, gaining know-how, insight, and perspective in the process. Anything I’ve learned has been the merest glimpse of the vastness of all there is to learn and express and appreciate and give back to the world. And I really must have made just about every mistake available along the way.
So, after more than a quarter-century on the journeyman path, I figured the opportunity to go to Trent and do an MA would, at be an appropriate way to move my life focus forward, by representing at least a rite of passage that would symbolically cap my journeyman phase. And it certainly did. I’m not a master… but I have levelled up. That gives me a sense of confidence, and accomplishment, even as I look ahead to many more challenges.
The funny thing is that this photo and the attendant social media appreciation represent such a brief moment of so-called “mastery”. By the time this picture was taken, (by Meghan, who did so much to support me that her name should be on the document with mine), I was already six weeks into a PhD in Canadian Studies. If I had any notion of having “mastered” anything, I would certainly have gotten a quick comeuppance in entering onto this new, multi-year, deeply challenging program.
So I’m a brand new learner all over again, and I’m grateful for that. Do I consider myself a Master of Arts–or anything? Nope! But I admit, I like having the diploma, and the initials. For the second time in my life, I paid to have a hard-earned piece of official paper framed. (I did the same with my first songwriting royalty cheque!)
Sometimes, it’s just important to celebrate major milestones on the (continuing) journeys of a lifetime–especially when you are, like me, a jack of all trades—and still a master of none.