Thursday, May 24, 2012

Curating my own Education

I went to one of Sydney's highest-performing selective schools, and so it came as a surprise to everyone when I dropped out of university. For a while, I was paralysed. I had quit because I wasn't willing to study the things that I was expected to study, even though they were the courses that most corresponded to my interests. I was constructing my own syllabi in my head, and they interested me much more than what was offered. I actually went around to many different faculties and read all of the course descriptions available. I became increasingly aware of the limitations of modern academia. I had enough confidence in myself to let the structure of university go.

I didn't think of what I was doing as brave. I thought it was inconvenient that university didn't cater to my interests, but I had to follow my heart all the same. I watched a lot of Buffy. I read a lot of Buffyology. At the time it was a goldmine of interdisciplinary study, and I learned a lot about academic culture in the US and UK.

It came down to this: One of the two courses on offer for first year English students was called The Cannon of English Literature. One of the first texts we had to study was Chaucer's Canterbury tales. I had read a synopsis of this text, and, quite frankly, I wasn't interested in studying. I am passionate about postmodern/contemporary literature, and while I recognised the value of studying historic texts, I was more interested in visualising a progressive future than I was in dissecting a narrow-minded past. I wanted to be animated by the cutting-edge, because there wasn't enough of it in my life. Indeed, this was just one of my reactions to the course. Almost all of the works were written by dead white heterosexual males. In other words, the course represented everything that was wrong with the study of English literature for me. The fact that I had little choice but to study it was the cherry on top. I ejected myself from my Bachelor of Arts space.

My parents were angry. They would often attack my decision not to be a sheep viciously, to the extent that I felt unable to focus on writing my book. I soon realised that I would have to move out of home if I wanted to heighten my independence. So I travelled to far-off places - Poland, Hong Kong, California... looking for a friendly, conducive environment, looking for love and acceptance. Two months into an attempt to live in Southeast Asia in 2005 I came back downhearted, admitting defeat. I was having a difficult time mental health - wise, and decided that the best decision, now, was the one that had seemed the most impossible: Live with the parents and enjoy life as much as possible from that perspective.

I travelled a lot. I discovered blogging, and fell in love with it. I divorced the man I married in the States for immigration purposes. I traveled some more. I got a poem published here, a photograph published there. I made e-friends from all over the world, and I can't stress the 'all over the world' part strongly enough. I devoured knowledge of different countries and cultures. Eventually I found myself so worldly that the people around me seemed hopelessly ignorant. Which created its own kind of angst - I had dedicated my life to learning, to transcultural flights of fancy and international forays into the unknown... and the very fruits that this had grown (the anti-nationalism, the understanding that people of all human shades were deeply relatable, the ease with which I fused different parts of the world together to study their interrelationships) isolated me even more.

To this day I remain content with my choice to eschew formal educational training. To this day, I mind routine, detest predictability, and avoid modernist narratives. My life would have been a lot less interesting if I had continued on the path everyone had laid out for me. I can't really imagine what my life would be like without the freedom I gave myself early on to dream unrestrainedly, pursue my unique visions, and generally construct my own education.

There are so many different stories I could tell you about my learning experiences. I found out recently that my former best friend had looked down on me because I opted out of what was, for me, the path of lesser wonder. So I just thought I'd share: Designing my own education was the best decision I ever made. I don't necessarily recommend anything to anyone on the question of whether to pursue university, but I do know that there is no right or wrong way to learn. Seek maximum wonder, inspiration, an intuitive sort of innovation, a playful kind of maturity, and you'll go far.

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