There have been many instances since leaving the UK where I have thought about the worthiness of my degree. The same question that comes with graduating with any degree in any kind of arts area usually comes with judgment already bestowed upon the interviewee. Why get one?
More often than not, the self-assured Bachelor of Whatever interviewer seems to blink more deliberately while anticipating an answer they've already rehearsed in their heads. It's a formulaic conversation.
But what can you say? What can you say to someone who has already pre-formed your response so that they can come back at you with the following question, which is actually the question they want to ask because it's what makes them feel extra-logical and (in my opinion) usually confirms their decision to not pursue higher academics: Isn't it just a waste of money?
I usually respond to the first question by saying, "I really like school."
(Which is the honest truth, just not the entire truth.)
Most of the time, the people preparing to throw the money question at me get so caught up in the fact that someone actually enjoys attending classes beyond what was required of them, and they don't usually bother to question why I would 'waste my money.' It's a good stopping point for me to change the conversation.
However, sometimes... people ask me a question that does actually make me nervous.
"What are you doing with your master's degree now?"
Always, without fail, the answer in my head encourages me to say 'nothing.' Instead, I usually go into a drawn out description including my current job as an orchestra director, and add in one small experience during my time in the UK. I'm not sure why I default to this response, but I'm also not sure why people always just end up nodding and agreeing with my nonsense of trying to connect two separate experiences that really have nothing to do with each other. For example, watching films in a film sound theory class does not relate to my students performing at a competition, but to the interviewer, they somehow fake connections to give a convincing reaction.
I'm not sure if they just give up because they're bored with me, or if they're surprised I have a real job (I'm told my face doesn't match my age), or if they wonder what happened to their money question.. but I usually wrap up the end of it by stating how it doesn't hurt that my district gives a stipend for people with master's degrees. Which is the last thing I considered when it came to applying for programs, but making more money is a topic everyone can relate to and agree on.
Of course, not all conversations go this way. There have been more pleasant and worse conversations. Not everyone in my program found value in the degree, but for me, it was well worth every penny. I mean that sincerely.
I don't sincerely believe I am not doing anything with my degree in my current job. It's just proving to be useful in ways I didn't expect. For example, my students think it's neat that I lived in Scotland and made art. Most of them think I am a painter, but I've had several really awesome conversations with some students who have inquired further. Explaining sound design is always fun.
Many of them ask me the question I wish adults would ask: How did you get there?
For my students, it sort of ends up being an opportunity for me to share my experiences in parallel with how they need to be actively seeking and taking advantage of opportunities that will help them get to where they dream of going or who they dream of becoming. I tell them about how I never expected to get accepted at such a well-known school, even though they have no concept of what the Glasgow School of Art really is. The honest reason I applied to GSA was because there was no application fee and I thought, "Why not?" That was an opportunity of which I took advantage. But I also had a portfolio that demonstrated a lot of time and effort dedicated to the subject, and I had awesome relationships with my professors that wrote recommendation letters. That was my investment. And then I go on to emphasize how writing is the most important skill they can demonstrate to colleges, and the students all sigh with frustration as they're brought back down to their lowly middle school status. Hahaha. It's not an overwhelmingly warm 'chase your dreams' conversation, but it's the truth. They need to know it's not impossible to achieve, but it probably won't be easy to achieve either.
For adults, asking "How did you get there?" would be significantly better than asking "Why get a degree?" I could talk about how my experiences in high school with video production combined with my experiences in undergrad with contemporary music brought me to a new sense of self and how by the time I graduated, I couldn't just leave it at that. I had to pursue more. I loved school and I loved the things I was learning. How could anyone abandon such a newfound happiness knowing there was so much more to discover? Especially if that could take you to a country you've always dreamt of visiting? And to bring money into it since that's the most important thing (eye roll), it was incredibly cheaper to live in AND attend school in the UK than staying in the US.
I wish I could utilize my degree in a practical sense. That is the ultimate goal after all. After reflecting on my first teaching year, there are so many opportunities to work with the programs I know well that will make learning so much better for my students. It'll be great to finally teach the way I truly enjoy teaching. I worked so hard to learn all of the equipment, programs, and figuring out solutions to my problems, and I worked especially hard on my thesis. I don't mean to sound pompous, but I truly love and believe in my thesis. It's about integrating sound literacy into schools. I love music and music is sound. It's all noise. But why do we focus on such small facet (Western music) of an even smaller time period (ex: Stravinsky and older bleh!)? In the real world, music is everywhere, but our students need to be able to stop separating 'orchestra' music from 'their' music. Of course, they're learning skills which can be built on music of those time period, but there should be more synthesis going on. I sincerely believe my thesis can help with that.
I have goals to push myself to continue developing my thesis and adding more content to its very small website (link at the top). And. I refuse to give people a reason to think an art degree is a waste of time.
Today, I went to the bookstore.
I asked for help to find a book of seemingly autobiographical essays because I wasn't sure how it was categorized at the store. The chummy helper lead me to the literary criticism section and searched earnestly for my title and author. I, too, searched and found myself racing him to find the title first. We came to a draw because the book wasn't there. He mentioned they definitely had it in stock but someone must've misplaced it. As he politely offered to special order a copy for me, some other title caught my eye and I couldn't afford to lose any more time. I declined. The potential this book held was all that mattered.
The helper left me to my own vices. I continued to my habit of sitting on the floor in front of sections that catch my interest. Book bag, down. Jacket, off. Phone, silenced. I picked up the book: The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms.
It's a book full of literary terms with definitions and examples. While this might seem incredibly boring and insignificant to some, this book blew the dust off of a whole cabinet in my mind. A cabinet containing some of the most fulfilling experiences I've ever had.
I opened the book and quickly flipped through the pages. Allegory. Anaphora (good word, anaphora). Metonymy. Litotes! Soliloquy!! Syntax!!!
I quizzed myself and tried to remember what several of the terms meant. I immediately recognized some and embarrassingly, could only vaguely remember how to pronounce others. My British Literature/AP English teacher in high school did a fantastic job in making sure everyone knew these terms. While I knew the terms incredibly well several years ago, I was far from being a super student. Let's just say I became very skilled at skimming the first pages of each chapter, last bits of each chapter, randomly picking out bits in the middle, then pay attention in class very closely. Not a high point in my academic career, obviously. (It prepared me for college though!) Even though my performance in these classes ranged from mediocre to awful, I knew how to apply these terms to literature. However, I struggled very much with communicating these connections (both in writing and verbally) but, I knew I understood the concepts and their application thoroughly in my mind.
Reviewing these terms again gave me such an electrifying feeling of morale. After going to undergrad, I hadn't really taken the time to read anything that wasn't non-fiction or children's books. If you read through my older blog posts, much of my undergrad experience felt like a huge rush of completing assignments, rehearsing, and pretty much having every minute of every day planned out. And it wasn't just me, it was everyone. If you don't practice a skill, it becomes harder and harder to do and remember accurately.
In undergrad, I didn't spend any time thinking about literary devices. Although, I did aim to use a variation of 'juxtaposition' in as many essays as possible and occasionally throw 'doppleganger' into casual conversations. It's funny because when people find out I'm a musician, they often lament, "Oh I played an instrument growing up, but I don't play anymore. I wish I did!" I feel like this is the musician's lament. I wish I would've kept up my literary skills and kept reading literature. Luckily, my master's course is nothing compared to my undergrad. It doesn't even compare. It's not that it's not challenging or demanding, but it's completely different. This gives me more opportunities to read here and there more frequently.
After exploring more terms, I realized for the first time in a very long while, I felt content and very full as a person. I imagine this is what Harry felt like drinking Butterbeer for the first time. These terms uncovered a part of me I like very much and missed very much. After relearning the definitions of some of these terms, I spent a long time reading and completely immersing myself in a new chapter of the current fiction book I'm reading. I found more symbolism, deeper character development, and freshly appreciated the diction.
As many recent graduates and soon-to-be-recent graduates feel, the future seems uncertain and somewhat mysterious. I find this often leaves me feeling anticipation, anxiety, and suspense. I can usually escape this by immersing myself in reading material and taking notes for my master's project, but there is something about special about fiction I've missed these past 4 1/2 years.
Today, and perhaps only for today, I am content with myself and what I've learned so far in life. I have something I find highly valuable, enriching, and enjoyable. Something that makes me feel like I am experiencing life more thoroughly and completely, and essentially gives more meaning to me and my experiences. Literary terms.
For the record, after spending a little more time exploring surrounding titles, I found the book I was originally looking to purchase hidden behind another book. Lucky me!