Figuring out where I want to go from here, what I want to do and even who I want to be is far more complicated that I ever imagined it to be. Especially now that I’m sixty-five years old.
I’ll admit to having experienced this state of fugue from time to time in my past. When I attended university at UBC in Vancouver starting in 1971, I enrolled in a Music Education program, thinking that I might like to become a high school music teacher. I had been singing in choirs and playing musical instruments since junior high school, and I fancied that I might actually be a good enough musician that I could make a living both as a musician and as a teacher of music.
Teaching and music both run in my family.
My mom and her father were both teachers, and they both had successful careers, she largely as an English teaching with the Vancouver School Board for many years and later a Lecturer in Sociology in the Faculty of Education at UBC, and he as an itinerant teacher and school administrator across much of Canada’s north country, ending up as the Principal of Thunder Bay College, and later staying on as the first President of Lakehead University, both in Thunder Bay.
My very earliest memories were of listening to my mom sing lullabies when tucking me in as a young child at night, and of sitting on the piano bench next to my grandfather singing a Swedish Stilla natt, heliga natt! (Silent Night, Holy Night) along with him on one of his magical Christmas visits to our home.
Stilla natt, heliga natt!
Allt är tyst. Klart och glatt
Skiner stjärnan på stallets strå
Och de korade helgon två,
Som kring Guds Son hålla vakt
Som kring Guds Son hålla vakt.
My childhood home was often filled with music, as all of my siblings and I learned to sing early, and often. Other wonderful memories of childhood include singing around the many campfires of family camping trips, to fantastic destinations like the Cariboo Trail, the Calgary Stampede, and the family homestead in Comstock, Saskatchewan where my grandfather and my mom both had their roots.
So becoming a music teacher seemed like a good idea at the time. At UBC, in the Faculty of Music, I joined the University Singers, while also singing with the BC Boy’s Choir, which toured Europe one summer. I also took several music education courses, and the standard required Humanities English 100 and a history course, French Canadian History, a survey course.
And, of course, I joined the UBYSSEY, the student newspaper, as a greenhorn reporter and photographer. During that year I wrote reviews of classical concerts and attended many operatic and symphonic events as a writer with Press Pass. I shot news photographs and learned to work the dark room, and it’s many secrets.
There were a couple of things that went wrong in that first year, that threw my plan to become a teacher into the garbage bin. Around Christmas I was involved in an electrical fire in my mother’s car, which destroyed the engine, and more importantly, led to serious smoke damage to my throat, vocal chords and quite possibly to my lungs, which may very well partially account for the fact that I now suffer from serious COPD, and forced me to withdraw from the University Singers, and stop singing with the Boys Choir.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease characterized by chronic obstruction of lung airflow that interferes with normal breathing and is not fully reversible. The more familiar terms ‘chronic bronchitis’ and ’emphysema’ are no longer used, but are now included within the COPD diagnosis. WHO | COPD: Definition http://www.who.int/respiratory/copd/definition/en/
The second, and much more important than the temporary loss of my voice was my failure to thrive in my education course work. One of my professors told me point blank that he would be willing to give me a passing grade, only if I agreed to drop out of the Faculty of Education, and never take another education course. For whatever reason, true or not, he had reached a conclusion about my unsuitability to becoming a teacher. His comments to me were couched as gently as he could, but he stated that he believed that I didn’t belong in a classroom as a teacher because I was emotionally wrong for the job. He felt that my unlimited energy and wild enthusiasm, as well as mercurial temper and periods of depression made me highly unsuitable as a trustee for young children, or even teenagers.
I was stuck down, destroyed in my ambition to be a teacher, and took to heart this professor’s judgment. The loss of my voice seemed trivial against the far greater loss of a potential career I’d always thought I’d follow. So at the end of my first year at university I completed my arts courses, English and French Canadian History which were all I could take with me into the Faculty of Arts in the fall of the next year.
As it turned out, I ended up with an English degree since it was the only second year course I could take, and I was invited to participate in the Honours program in English literature by the Faculty Adviser supervising my first year English course. In a way, the English Department chose me, rather than me choosing them. My choice in an academic degree was large a default decision, rather than a purposeful one. It didn’t seem too off base, after all I am the son of an English teacher, so it shouldn’t have been surprising that English was a pretty easy alternative to my preferred choice of music.
The choice of an academic career by default, is in many way, symptomatic of the choices I’ve made in the rest of my life. As someone with a supposedly high intelligence quotient, the ability to read copiously as a result of reading extremely fast, and with the ability to do well in any scholarly pursuit, if I put my mind and heart into it, made school seem like a natural path, even if I actually was pretty much indifferent to the content of my education. I love reading, but not literature per se. I’d have been just as happy to have done my degree in Economic or History, or for that matter, Astrophysics.
If I have any dominant characteristic, common to me as a child, an adolescent, an adult and now, as a senior, it is encyclopedic curiosity. I don’t claim to know much about anything in particular, but I’m interested in almost everything under the sun. I continue to be thrilled to discover new things, new inventions, new way of thinking and doing.
This characteristic has many good aspects to it, and a couple not so great. It means that I have had, and continue to have, some difficult in choosing what to do with my time. Everything looks interesting, and generally I’ve pretty much always been able to handle the challenges thrown up by any of my endeavors, except in one, simple, but fundamental way. It’s tough to choose, and even tougher to stay the course. My threshold of boredom is really low, and my curiosity and boredom with everyday duties have made me singularly less than as financially successful as I should have been, if only I could have stuck to one thing, and truly made it my own. With my raw abilities I should have mounted to the top of whatever career I choose, instead of ending up mediocre in all of them, having failed to really commit to any of them.