I am an amalgam. I have a great deal of graduate education, which almost becomes an embarrassment, something to be explained, or joked about – a “career student.” Yet each degree had its own reason; it’s not just a continuum.
My MA in Education from San Francisco State might make the most sense in the context of my life today. Psychology and Communication tie in well. But it’s just too much.
I was a slow starter for college. My parents weren’t interested in my pursuing it and I had to work my way through. I attended community colleges until the last two years when I graduated Magna Cum Laude from UCLA in Linguistics. By then I was ignited by it and wanted to go on to graduate school but my husband wanted us to go into business. Then kids came along. When we divorced, I quickly entered San Francisco State’s Ed Tech MA program. My aim was to design multimedia instructional materials and be solvent as a single mother with two young kids and a flaky ex-. The MA led to fulfilling work in Berkeley schools which ended after a few years when we exited the Clinton years, replaced by the Bush era of No Child Left Behind. No more grants were allocated to professional development with new technologies.
I thought a Ph.D. in Communication would take me in a solid direction toward teaching, research and writing. Or directing new grant projects such as the one I’d loved in Berkeley schools. During the Bush years of 2000-2008, I worked on a dissertation on CTE (Career Technical Education) in urban high schools. It was an incredible opportunity to land and I did massive interviews, learned a tremendous amount and had things to say to the world about it.
My doctoral program was in a Communication Studies department which had progressive beginnings. I will not dwell on why I never ended up defending my dissertation. Suffice it to say, I did not establish a committee that supported my approach. Those who were sufficiently progressive in their views (the social force and cultural studies branches of the department) didn’t feel comfortable mentoring education research. Those I ended up with sent me in circles trying to flay my project into submission, and strip it of its message for the world. I know now that I needed to align with one faculty member, get that degree, and wait until I had the Ph.D. to write the material closest to my heart. *Note to future doctoral candidates!*
Be that as it may, I grew in intense ways during those nearly eight years of research and writing, partly because of the terrors raised by trying to accomplish, with soul-anchored determination, what seemed to be the impossible. Caught between a sense of inadequacy and a real discordance with those in charge of my progress, I read extensively about the relationship between psychology and writing, a rich vein of literature, as it turns out. I found myself deeply engaged with depth studies. Jungian dream work and other forms of inner work offered me an important healing direction. Jung’s psychology is characterized as psycho-spiritual because he (and others he worked closely with, namely Tony Wulf, Marie-Louise von Franz and Emma Jung) approached study of the mind holistically, including spirit (maybe heart is the best way to convey that) and soul. It was not just the angst that pushed me; I had stretched my intellect and felt a need to return my psyche to balance.
In the last months before I left the Ph.D. program undefended, I wrote a fiction story that won an international writing contest based in Belgium. [See blog post, Why I Write.] Around that time, I had a beautiful dream I call “Renaissance Woods” (see collage/painting above) in which an Englishman, my close and loving companion, begs me to do what he wants and points to a table in the woods full of writing and art materials.
When I left the Ph.D. program, feeling defeated and incomplete, I took a job on Mendocino Coast that required only a BA, and started turning my story into the series of novels it has become. My failed attempt at a doctorate served as compost and fuel for my creative work. Basing the story in my town, I lived my days stepping between worlds, like Kay Halefin, in my novel Braided Dimensions. Like her, I had run from conflicts at a university rather than stay and fight to change the institution. Sometimes we need to retreat, or at least divert.
But the feeling of not carrying my hard-worked-for dissertation into the world still haunted and darkened my days. Several years later, I entered a Depth Psychology Master’s program (my third—on the way to the Ph.D., I’d earned a Masters in Communication). Sonoma State University’s Depth Psych Program (DPP) is a very rare breed, unique and special. It was not the degree I was after, though. Rather, I had a huge yearning for a large endeavor that would clarify aspects of my life. Through the beautiful experiences of the program and in the process of my culminating project, I learned that when we stretch—go through difficult times—and also work on the inner self, bringing shadow material to consciousness and removing it from the complexes that control us—we have amazing dreams. Inner work holds rich rewards, such as dreams of swimming with whales and magical sentient creatures capable of unimaginable love (really the coming together of conscious mind with Self, or coniunctio). (See my article in Depth Psychology, including dream collages.)
See also my blog post at left, Female Alchemist.
Current Work and Life
Life has its ways of circling around. I’m still working in education, finally getting my teaching credential, and teaching in a high school, in Special Education. It’s humbling—I look at my friends who stayed a steady course—credential, marriage, house, family—and wonder about my circuitous route. But there’s no one way to live a life.
I haven’t even included my early adult life: marriage, owning coffee-roasting cafes (when I longed to go straight to graduate school), raising children, and single motherhood. That may be a tale for another day.