Why does anyone take the path in life that they do? If you ask someone why they took the particular path they did, you will probably hear something like, “I don’t know really, I suppose it was …” or “because I wanted to,” or “I’ve always wanted to,” or “it’s my dream,” or “because I could,” or “because there wasn’t another course open to me,” or “it seemed like a good idea at the time,” or “because I had to,” or “there was nothing better on offer,” or “it was a spur of the moment thing,” or “I just got stuck in this” rut, or maybe someone takes a certain course to fulfil parental expectations or because of family obligations, or because … There are as many different reasons why people follow the path they do in life as there are people on this planet. Some people might find it not too difficult to come up with a reason why they followed the course they did, but for most people it can be really difficult to determine exactly when it all first began.
Talking about myself, I became a writer because I wanted to find a way that would allow me to express myself, and I also wanted to create literary landscapes that others might (hopefully) enjoy and find informative. Yet I think I must have been born with the drive to write, to tell stories–true, as well as other sorts. The proof of this is that, as a kid, from the time I was very little, from as far back as I can remember, I told stories; but people did not understand me back then, and I was often accused of telling porkies. That I did eventually realise my dream to become a writer was due to a number of circumstances that led to me enrolling at the university in the Humanities, as a Research Higher Degree candidate in the MPhil course.
Some author, or songwriter, or both, once said that “life and education are journeys, not destinations.” Looking back, if I had to pinpoint a time when my beautiful journey in the Humanities began, I would say that I suppose it could have been when I was ill, in St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, and my husband, Bob, said to me, “You should write a book. I’ll get you some paper and pens.” During my illness, I was fortunate in that I had a marvellous team of very brilliant, world-class, specialists looking after me. Some months after Bob had said to me, “you should write a book,” one my specialists, the famous neurologist Professor Raymond Garrick, made a post-op visit to my bedside, and told me he had just returned from England from seeing his son graduate with a PhD, and then he said, “Jo, when this is over, and as soon as you are able, do back go back to university and finish your studies–do not stop, go as far as you can. Do not waste the studies you have undertaken to date. Education is a very valuable and precious thing.”
Some years after this, and towards the end of my convalescence, my very wise, very supportive GP, Dr John Goswell, said, “How’s it going Jo, tell me, how are you feeling now?” I said, “Bored silly most of the time. I’m reading the spots off one book after another, so many that I can’t even tell you now which ones I’ve read. I need a sense of purpose, I think.” He looked at me and nodded, and said, “Go back to university and further your studies. Go now and do it. You’ve put the hard yards in, and now you need to get on with life.” Then when I next saw my GP he said, “What have you got to tell me? Are you back at the university?” Not yet, I said, and he replied sternly, “Stop procrastinating, it’s a waste of time and life. I’m pushing you to help you to recover. When I next see you, you are to tell me that you’ve applied. That’s Doctor’s orders.”
I went home and applied, and while I waited I began to reread the notes and work from my previous studies. When I had left the university years before, I’d been well into a Master of Arts degree. The focus of my studies were on the works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I wanted to pick up where I’d left off. I was out of luck. The Master of Arts degree I had been doing was now no more, and had been replaced by a research degree, the Master of Philosophy; and, moreover, there was no longer an academic at the university whose subject was Coleridge, and so there was no academic at the university who could supervise me for my work on Coleridge.
One phenomenon of human psychology is a peculiar desire to achieve the impossible. This urge to possess the unattainable is psychologically complex, and too difficult to properly explain in scientific terms even though many have tried (sociologists and psychologists can’t seem to reach agreement on this topic). Nevertheless, it is the case with most people that as soon as they learn that something they desire is denied to them, they want that thing more than anything else. Regardless of any possible explanation, all I know is that as soon as I learnt that it was not possible for me to return to the university and pick up my studies where I had left off, I wanted more than anything to return to the university and continue with my studies in the field of Humanities. So I contacted a lecturer I knew from when I had been at the university previously. Professor Hugh Craig, Dr Hugh Craig back then, had been my tutor for Renaissance studies in my Honours year. He kindly gave me an almost immediate appointment, and the upshot of that meeting was that before long I was enrolled as a Research Higher Degree candidate, in the Master of Philosophy course in the Humanities, in English and Writing. Unknown to me back then, when I enrolled in this research degree course in the Humanities, I embarked on what has proved to be one of the most beautiful journeys of my life. This journey is one that I am still on. As that marvellous octogenarian, the philosopher Dame Elizabeth Murdoch once pointed out in a televised discussion with Andrew Denton, who is arguably Australia’s most exemplary interviewer, no matter how old we are or what age we get to be, for as long as we are compos mentis, we never ever stop learning and maturing.
When I first began my MPhil, I had said that to gain this degree would be enough for me. But as I went further into my MPhil course I found that I was enjoying my journey in the Humanities so much that I did not want to stop (as my GP, Dr John Goswell, and as my supervisor for both my MPhil and my PhD, and now my mentor, Professor Hugh Craig, have both said to me on numerous occasions, “It’s the journey, not the arrival, that matters”), so I carried straight on from the MPhil, and studied for my PhD. Then, once I had my PhD I accepted the invitation to become a Conjoint Fellow in the Faculty of Education and the Arts, in the School of Humanities and Social Science. Sometime after I had begun my PhD studies in the Humanities, Bob, who has always supported me in my efforts, also enrolled at the university, in the BA degree, in Humanities. I can honestly say that, for us, being at the university and studying in the field of the Humanities, has truly enriched our lives, both as individuals and as a couple, and the conversations at home are indeed very interesting… Of course, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea so to speak, but, personally speaking, going to university, and being involved in the field of Humanities, has made a huge difference to me and has enriched my life.
To be continued …