The art of avoiding being pigeon-holed.
I found out, by chance, yesterday afternoon that I have passed my final assignment in my previous Open University module. If I have done my sums right (and I’ve done them often enough!), this means I now have a degree.
‘What is your degree in?’ ‘What does it mean?’ ‘What does it do?’ I’ve heard recently. Oh, and, ‘Does this mean you can get a really well-paid job now?’ joked our 14-year-old son, who likes expensive gadgets.
What is it? Well it’s an ‘open’ degree. Because it includes technology, social sciences, psychology, health & social care, the arts, literature, and creative writing I got to choose whether to define it as a bachelor of science or a bachelor of arts. What is it a degree in? Well all of those things made up my degree, and I’m proud of that. Jack of all trades? Maybe! And what’s wrong with that?
What does it mean? To me it’s my degree in learning to learn, learning to think about lots and lots of different things. It means when I write, when I look at the world, when I talk to my children, when I make important decisions, when I read the news, when I make purchases, when I listen to the radio, etc, etc, etc… I have all this learning and thinking experience, all this knowledge, all these eye-opening lessons to draw on. I don’t believe the things that are passed to me though the TV screen or newspapers so easily anymore. I question things, I think, I see the point in finding out about things before jumping to a decision.
What does it do? It’s what it has done that counts. I didn’t start a degree with a chosen goal in mind, a particular job in mind. I didn’t even start with a degree in mind. I just wanted to know more about all sorts of things – and now I do. Things such as autism, the make-up of a family, lie-detectors, how to fiddle statistics, how to appreciate a poem… Even medical ethics!
Through the OU I have gained a Certificate in Social Sciences, a Certificate of Higher Education in Humanities, a Diploma in Literature & Creative Writing, and now, finally, I can call myself (hopefully, when my OU homepages updates) a graduate. That’s a lot of letters. And they all came as by-products – bonuses, if you like – of things I wanted to learn about anyway. I’m even glad I know how complicated a subject medical ethics is. I have thought how it relates to the losses of people close to me and my family.
‘Does this mean you can get a really well-paid job now?’ I doubt it! I want to write first and foremost – and that doesn’t pay well, if at all. But I do use much of the knowledge I have gained, and my multiple ways of looking at the world to write with insight into how complicated our heads are, how complicated accommodating differences can be, and I aim to write thoughtfully. I am inspired by what I have read and heard discussed. That’s good enough for me. I hope it’s good enough for other people… Because it’s a shame when you feel the need to explain yourself.
I’ve always had a problem with definitions. That’s why I like having a non-specific degree. I feel non-specific myself in many ways. Okay, so I’m clearly a woman and a mother and a wife… But having been born in a tiny flat in Hull in Yorkshire, spent 8 years living in the black country in The West Midlands, and 33 years living in Devon, I’m not clearly a Northerner or a Southerner; I’m just British. Having parents from different areas of the country and different backgrounds means I don’t feel of any particular class. There are teachers, miners, farmers, shop-keepers in my family – and my father was adopted. So there’s a feeling I wasn’t born into anything in particular. Being environmentally conscious and concerned more about our individual actions on each other I feel I don’t have a particularly definable political belief. I am just more left than right wing. I know what it is like to not know where your next meal is coming from and be so skinny I was accused of being anorexic. I know what it is like to have so much food that it gets wasted. I know what it is like to belong and be surrounded by people, I know what it is like to feel like a lonely outsider. I’ve seen the diversity, and sometimes nasty attitudes, within big towns and cities and the apathy and unimaginativeness of small communities.
I don’t like elitism, snobbery, inverted snobbery. Divisions, winners, losers. Labels, badges, badges of success. Status symbols. I don’t like the bitterness that can come from a feeling of difference or unfairness.
I am currently studying twentieth century literature, and if I pass that, I will have a BA Hons, sometime next year. I am pleased to mark my achievements but even more pleased about what I have gained from them. The workings of other writers’ minds and the way critics perceive them are very interesting and useful to me.
I’m just Rachel that writes and learns and lives in Devon and who likes to drink red wine, worries a lot, and loves music. I watch crap on TV, I watch interesting programmes on TV. I listen to Vivaldi, I listen to Stevie Wonder, I listen to Jeff Buckley, Dolly Parton, Oasis, Bach, The Detroit Spinners, Queen, Nina Simone, Mozart. I play the flute and the piano badly, I love singing and the feeling it gives me in my chest; if I could, I would play electric guitar. I’ve always quite fancied playing the drums. Too far? Yes, I think so.
I like to make up stories for people to enjoy and hopefully to make them think. And I now like to take photos too. I hope I never stop learning stuff. Growing is fun.
BA Yeah, whatever!