I had a dream last night. You were in it, and you, and even you. Memories have a funny way of crawling out of the darkest crypts of our minds in the night and becoming the most important force of your day. Last night, probably closer to the morning, I thought of my apartment(s) in Montreal and the friends I shared those spaces with while I studied for my Master of Arts degree at McGill University. I thought of the obsession with books. I remembered those moments I was taken to secret places across the city; Bohemian places where knowledge, sexuality and beauty were the currency of the people hidden within. I had no money. In fact, I moved to Montreal with only enough Canada Student Loan to pay for my rent until March. I slept on a girlfriend’s friend’s sister’s floor for a week until I found lodging at an apartment building run by Carlos Zamora. I believed I found the place only because other students would shy away from calling anyone named Carlos Zamora, and I was right. For my first year I live directly behind and overhead a French bakery, where bare-chested men could be seen baking the most exquisite loaves from 4am onwards.I was in Montreal, and at McGill, to become the most brilliant of all people: the academic.
McGill was a horrendous place for a poor, naive student from Prince Edward Island. I was the only student in the graduate program in my two years not to be given any type of financial assistance, and I was probably one of the few who actually needed money to survive. Regardless, I scraped by in a David Copperfield-esque manner, and despite taunting and ridicule by my peers I graduated in 1995 based on my thesis examining Self-defintion, identity construction and the metaphor of the vampire as seen through Anne Rice‘s Vampire Chronicles. I was even accepted at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia to begin my Ph.D. on First Nations, First Contact and the Ghost Story. Life took me on another path, and I have yet to visit Australia, despite travelling almost everywhere else.
Perhaps it was that M. and I began watching Cloud Atlas last night or that we watched The English Patient (Faizal Deen Forrester‘s favourite novel to expound upon while drinking cafe latte en bowl like the Cheshire Cat at a now defunct Second Cup) the previous weekend, but academic study has permeated my consciousness and I am left a little disoriented. Upon reflection there would be neither possible financial gain nor prestige to follow such a foolhardy endeavour. I hold a superb position at a prestigious independent school. I have a wonderful life wherein I explore whatever skills, ideas or places I desire. I can independently write whatever doctoral thesis I wish to without any guidance, and be assured that the same number of people would read it within my lifetime: zero. So why, oh why, do I still nostalgically consider completing my Ph.D. in the future? Am I simply wanting what I do not have? Is there a part of me that deeply desires to be addressed as Dr. Chandler to prove that I was a better man than I was judged to be at an early age?
Maybe my aspirations relate to what stopped my pursuit in the first place: money. In 1997, I owed $40,000 in student loans for the three degrees I had obtained. I did not own a computer. I had a rag tag collection of books. I had no skills for part-time employment. I was afraid of poverty and absolute failure. In 2015, I am perfectly situated to pursue whatever I might desire. I have paid off my student loans in full. I possess a compact, but complete, personal library. I own all manner of computers, laptops, cameras and audio tools. I have travelled the world in the last 18 years, and I believe that a dissertation on how Indigenous peoples and colonists mutually altered our perceptions of horror would be well-received in the current world climate. I am a far better writer and student than I was before; teaching for 16 years has a way of forcing one to learn how learning functions. The roadblocks are clear. I could do this…and now I cannot.
Ironically, coming into possession of the necessary evils to pursue academics also means that I I have forsaken my naive sense of abandonment in favour of securing the means to live a richly complete life; a life that I would need to abandon if I were to pursue the elusive and possibly meaningless Ph. D. Such is the way of things: one cannot hold all of the suitcases at once. I would need to surrender all other pursuits to immerse myself into the largely artificial reality of academia. I would need to give up my motorcycle, my jiu-jitsu classes, my current employment, time with my family, and my future financial security for a dream. I wonder what Freud would think about that?