Friday, February 19, 2010

One Degree Of Seperation, Where "Separation" Actually Means Professional Writing

I have mixed feelings about the course I did at uni. I had actually wanted to take some time off to figure out what I wanted to do with myself but everyone sort of convinced me that because I was good at writing, I should do a course that would teach me how to write for a career.

My major was in journalism, although I was discouraged pretty early. The attitude of most of my journalism professors was something along the lines of:

"Guys, don't become a journalist. Don't ever do it, not ever, not if you want to maintain a will to live. The hours are crap, the pay is crap and if you want to make a living you basically have to work for a company that will sell your journalistic integrity on Ebay and pocket the proceeds."*

There was also the fact that, in journalism, it doesn't mean shit if you have a degree or not. You can graduate with honours, but a newspaper will laugh you out onto the street if you can't show them a portfolio of published works. I knew this, but I continued with the degree because I was under the impression that they might actually teach us something useful.

This is how my degree was structured:

Professional Writing 101 -> Lengthy rehashings of subjects covered in Professional Writing 101 -> Irrelevant filler subjects -> Electives

Admittedly, this is probably because I went to a university whose focus was clearly more on bringing in the dollars than actually giving people a useful education. I am sure there are similar degrees at other institutions that are of a much higher quality. I, however, made the foolish choice of trusting a school who had recently been in the news for passing students who could barely write a coherant sentence, solely because they didn't want to lose a full-fee-paying student.

That being said, my degree wasn't a total bust. Some of the topics were quite good, media interviewing in particular was one I enjoyed, as was radio production (funnily enough, I had the same teacher for both these subjects, who was great. She was actually a woman I had known for most of my life, and even done amateur theatre with. She was an excellent teacher). The electives I chose were great, and I actually did learn a few things. Linguistics gave me an even larger basis for being a total language nerd, Film Studies introduced me to the wonderful works of Jim Jarmusch. If you haven't seen Dead Man, watch it now. I am not even kidding. This blog will be here when you get back.

However, the single easiest High Distinction I ever received in my university career was in a little subject called "Introduction to Guitar". This was in the second semester of my second year. I had realised that I still had one elective left to fill, and while browsing the various topics I stumbled across that one. 'Super,' I thought, 'I could do with honing my guitar skills and getting credit points for it'. I signed up to the class.

What I didn't realise was that this was a course aimed at education students, designed for people who had never looked at a guitar before. I was no prodigy on the instrument, my previous experience being based around fiddling with chords in my room as I attempted to teach myself. However, not meaning to talk myself up or anything, but with ten years of classical piano training under my belt, as well as six years of saxophone lessons and five of singing lessons, it was safe to say I knew what an octave was.

Of course, I could have dropped out at any point after realising how basic the course content was, but I didn't. It was just too much of a self-esteem boost. I was not at my most confident at that stage, and to be doing a course where I was top of the class while doing literally no work was pretty excellent. While everyone else struggled to pluck out the melody to Three Blind Mice, they would look over at me in awe as I played it through with no mistakes.

"I am going to rock these three blind mice so hard, their sight will be restored," I would say, as every one else swooned at my feet. 

Ok, so maybe that's an exaggeration, and maybe playing simple tunes is not so impressive for someone with my musical experience, but it really was "Self-Esteem 101" for me. Because the majority of the assessment was based on in-class performance, I literally had to do no work outside of class. There were a few worksheets on scales and chord structures, but I pretty much filled them out on the bus on my way to class, so that doesn't really count. It is a bit ironic that the best grade I received in uni was for the class where I did the least work, but you know me. I dig irony. I love that shit.

Unfortunately, I ended up dropping out of the degree in my final year, feeling that my time would be better spent spiraling into a deep-seated, existential depression and ultimately moving halfway across the country to be with a guy I had known for a month. It was fairly spontaneous, yes, but it was actually one of the best decisions I ever made.

-Smackie Onassis

*They didn't say those exact words, but that was the general gist of it. I am now wondering if I can actually put my journalistic integrity on ebay. I might try this, actually.

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