Although I have not been a part of a school closure or accommodation review until recently, I have been affected by program closures in the past.
It’s likely coming up on 10 years since I enrolled in my first writing program. It was a childhood dream come true for me. From that you can surely understand, that when they decided to close the certificate program only half way into my credits, that I was rather upset.
I knew very little then about being engaged or fighting for something such as this, but I did write a lengthy story and sent it to a few people including the program head. Nothing changed and the program closed but I think looking back now, that that moment was an early example for me that closures aren’t necessarily about low enrollment or lack of interest. It’s about leadership. Had teachers and students more say in how the program was run, I am sure some of us would even be teaching classes ourselves today.
As I, along with thousands of other parents, struggle emotionally with a direction for our children’s education that we do not completely believe in, I am reminded of the stories, positive or negative, that our educations tell.
It seemed a fitting time to bring back a few of those stories as well as some new ones, in a series dedicated to tales of education. I would love for you to share yours as well.
It’s important now more than ever in Hamilton and countless communities across the globe, to think about the stories our studies have told, and to ensure the future of education breaths an even more constant passion for how our education influences and inspires us.
Where my story is concerned, I received a heartfelt reply from the head of the Writing Certificate program at McMaster University which meant a great deal to me, but the one comment that always stuck and made this closure even harder to swallow, was the fact that he admitted to not being an avid reader or writer. I genuinely appreciated his honesty however.
Before I share my story with you, I will begin with the message that originally accompanied my story.
In a couple of hours, our final class will begin. A day of mixed emotions for many of my fellow writers.
As the news of the Writing Certificate program closing reached everyone in my writers group last summer, our computers were suddenly alive with emails of shock and disappointment, at the fact that the thing that brought us all together, would not exist after April 2008.
I was riding the train to work the morning after I received the letter, and it was then that the enclosed story first found a voice. Like many others, I assumed this program would be around for ever, and so I took courses at a leisurely pace around a busy work and family schedule. When I realized I only had two semesters to finish my certificate, I knew deep inside that I wouldn’t be able to complete the remaining credits I needed.
I was disappointed. We were all frustrated, and I wished there was something we could do to save writing at Mac.
I think programs such as this are important for a community like Hamilton. The Writing Certificate adds a certain multeity to the McMaster course calendar, as different races and religions bring diversity to the face of our community. I could go on explaining why I feel this program is important and why it should be saved, or ways we could save it, but I felt the most effective message I could send you, was a heart-felt account of what the program has meant to me.
Thank you for a very memorable three years. I will miss having a reason to visit downtown, and I’ll miss sitting around in a circle in those old court rooms, freeing our voices.
The Final Assignment
At the start of every class, we re-configure the tables and chairs so that they form a square around the room. It enables us to see each others face, instead of the back of one another’s heads. To feel their voices against our hearts, instead of lost in the high ceilings before their muttered translations make it to the back of the classroom.
The room disappears as one by one, my classmates share with the group, stories they have written about their childhoods. We laugh at a couple, a few trigger memories of our own past, and some even bring us to tears. They inspire me with their courage as they take our hands, and lead us into their minds; sharing with us their passions, their fears, and even their deepest, darkest secrets. The stories are kept brief, but coming down from their high is often like stepping out of a dream.
I was in grade seven when I wrote my first ‘novel‘. It’s un-edited, hand written, double sided on lined foolscap paper. Some of the words barely readable through watermarks and fading over the past 22 years, but there it is staring back to me. One of the earliest signs that a writer was alive inside of me.
Even though I didn’t write another story after that middle school novel, I still continued writing poetry when the right kind of love or infatuation inspired it. It would be another 15 years before I would spend any serious amount of time writing again. In fact, it was shortly after I ended a relationship that lasted most of my twenties. The guy who once thought he had love and his life figured out, now had no direction; no place to go. The future was as wide open as the spaces I longed to travel. A new chapter of my life had begun.
Shortly after that part of my life ended, I moved into an old radiated heat home on the 2nd floor of a Herkimer St four-plex in Hamilton’s west end. It was a perfect spot, complete with an inviting roof top deck off of my living room. The apartment needed some paint, but it wasn’t long before it felt like home.
Financially, I wasn’t really prepared to incur all the debt load bachelorhood would bring with it, but my cash situation, or lack there of, gave me another motive to write.
The neighbourhood was beautiful. Rich with skyward trees that had seen nearly as much life as my then 92 year old grandfather; if not more. Stately homes that were constantly being renovated to perfection by their visionary owners who seen beauty outside the tired condition some of those homes were in.
I could walk everywhere. Bars, bakeries, popular breakfast spots, art galleries, busy parks, and trails. The community was a very creative spot amongst these city boundaries.
Ironically enough, my new neighbour in apartment three was a writer. A real one who actually got paid to write for a living. It wasn’t long after I moved in, that he loaded my shelves with piles of books he had obviously spent a lot of time with, from Strunken White, to the Art of Interviewing.
Not only did my new mentor equip me with my own library of writing periodicals, but he lent me folders full of various samples of what he had accomplished over his career. Outside a passion for writing however, we also shared a love for music and it was actually what we talked about most during my three years in Apartment two.
Apartment three was always around. He was retired, hadn’t written in years, and he had the biggest collection of music I had ever seen with milk crates full of CD’s. He knew so much about music, and talked so passionately about the topic, that I often wondered why he hadn’t taken up writing for a music magazine.
Money was at a premium those first six months, so I knew I needed to find cheap entertainment, and a way to make extra cash. There were lots of things you could do by simply walking, and Hamilton wasn’t lacking things to write about that summer.
Our professional hockey team, The Bulldogs, were in the Calder Cup, our football Ti-Cats were ready to go for another season, and the World Cycling Championship was also in town.
The Bulldogs were making history in the Calder Cup playoffs. It was game 7 and my friend and I had upper bowl seats to a sold out winner takes all showdown at Copps Coliseum. It was a losing battle for the home team, but the energy and excitement in the arena that evening had me up writing all night.
Other than a local poetry contest many years prior, or Junior Press club submissions as a child, I had otherwise never sent my writing off for submission. Naïve to the rules of publication, I gave it a shot. The following week, my article was published both on the Bulldogs website in its entirety, and a condensed version in the Hamilton Spectator. My first two publications as a writer. Ironically enough, my childhood novel and my first story to find print, were both about a professional hockey championship in Hamilton.
Not since my minor hockey days, had I been as excited about anything as I was that morning. It was like carrying around the championship trophy on Super Saturday. A feeling I wondered if I would ever duplicate in my adult life. Seeing my name atop an article in a paper I once saw bundles of everyday piled up at the curb after school, was one of the greatest feelings of accomplishment I had experienced in a very long time.
Of course, I bought quite a few copies, and it was all I could do to avoid staring at the sports section lying open on the passenger seat on my way to work, or on my desk at the office; and from admiring the centre screen link on the homepage of the Bulldogs website to my story.
I was addicted to the feeling now, and I knew that this was something I had to make happen more often. So, I set out about town to find my next source of inspiration. Oddly enough, I found it once again in the form of Hamilton sports.
I had tickets to that days Ti-Cats pre-season opener, and by mid-day the following afternoon, my second story was now written. Exactly a week from the day I had my first story published, my second was now staring back at me and once again, a half dozen copies occupied my passenger seat.
I continued to submit a story each week for the next month, but my streak had ended at two. I wrote about the World Cycling Championship, and about a couple of other things that were going on around town, but whether it was because I didn’t know much about the topics I had tried to tackle, or that my luck had just run out, I was brought back to the reality of being a novice writer. It would be another year before my voice would find a place in print again.
I worked full-time for the local cable company and although I loved my job most days, there weren’t many moments I didn’t think about writing. There were so many ideas floating around in my head, but never enough time to write; at least for publication. There were still many things to inspire me around the city, including some memorable moments spent among the natives and tree sitters involved in the fight to save Red Hill Valley.
I did write. I had gotten in the habit of always carrying some sort of note pad or voice recording device with me to at least capture my thoughts, but I was never able to find the time to make something out of those scraps of paper.
Earlier into my second year in Apartment two, I started having some troubles at work. It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me as a writer, as those tough times brought me to ride the train every day for a few months. Those daily commutes were what inadvertently brought me to enroll at McMaster.
It was a few weeks before a new school year was about to begin, and suddenly I found myself wanting to enroll full-time in University. I had no idea what I would take, or how I would pay for classes seeing as though I was still paying for the time I spent at Sheridan Arts, but I had always dreamed of going to University. Suddenly I was thinking about a new beginning.
School quickly started back, the smell of September was in the air, and as I stared outside the bus window; back packs, and iPods, and lunch bags, I pictured myself walking those downtown streets waiting with bus pass in hand, for my ride west to the McMaster campus.
I wrote in my journal every day on the train to and from work and it wasn’t long before I found the meaning behind those tough times. I was writing again. Albeit random thoughts, but it had been a long time since I felt the kind of inner peace, that I did those fall months.
Not only was I writing again, but I was also keeping a journal for the first time since high school. Before long, I had filled two or three of them.
Another thing happened that fall as well. I had caught the University bug and although things at work were a lot better, taking classes was still on my mind.
I was back to driving into work again everyday, and I had returned to my hectic lifestyle. Come the new year however, I would finally be taking my first University course; Introduction to Writing and Publication, and so my journey through the Writing Certificate program began.
Although I was very nervous that first night, my teacher and classmates made this new adventure seem right. This was where I was supposed to be. I was finding my voice, although I would quickly come to realize that I had a lot of room to grow as a writer.
That same spring I enrolled in another course – Developing Sensual and Erotic Writing Styles. We had a lot of laughs during those classes, and we were all making each other sweat by the end of the term. The final night, our teacher brought up the idea of putting a chapbook together for an upcoming literary fair in Hamilton, so a handful of us put pen to paper and in the fall, we were selling our short stories and signing copies of our books. If seeing your name in print wasn’t addictive enough, having someone catch up to you on the street to sign your book was a fantasy come true. All those years of practicing my signature in science class, were finally paying off.
I had just started seeing a woman around the time we published our erotic chapbook, and a short story was born out of that early romance. It evolved into a fairy tale style story of our lives as they progressed along, and as we formed into a couple. The written account is yet to find its closing chapters, but the real life fairy tale came complete with a wedding, a beautiful baby girl, and one on the way.
That December, I had taken my new love up to a winter resort amongst her childhood home town. I brought the dog, and even the cat was aboard our tiny coupe; the whole family. On New Years Eve, in front of a warm fire with the world outside covered in snow, I pulled out my guitar, a couple of loose sheets of paper with the words to a song I had written for her, and through those words, I asked her to marry me.
The new year had just begun, and it was already proving to be a very hectic one. My fiancé had encouraged me to take a course I had been dreaming of enrolling in; Writing for Children. She knew I had been wanting to study under this teacher and that I feared he might be retiring soon.
I volunteered one evening a week with Big Brothers, school the next, and I had homework almost every night. My wife to be had already moved in, and one night I returned form volunteering to find a parenting magazine on our bed. We were going to have a baby. That news couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, and now I had a child to write about that winter semester.
Amongst all of that, we were also planning our wedding; right down to designing, printing, and cutting our own invitations. We were even making our own envelopes. Did I mention we were house hunting too?
With everything that was going on in our lives, that winter semester came and went before I knew it. As always, most of the class, including the teacher, walked over to the local watering hole for a couple of pints to close out the term. When I returned home that night, I climbed into bed and whispered into my wife’s ear. “Thank you, hun.”
“For what”, she replied half asleep?
In May that spring we were married, by the end of June we were moved in to our new home, and we were due to have our first baby mid September.
I enrolled in my second 3-day novel writing contest in as many years that Labor Day weekend, and my theme this time around of course, was my pending role as a father.
The three day writing weekend was going well, and the words were flowing easily. I had dreamed of becoming a father forever, and years of anticipation exploded onto my laptop screen as if those words had been dying to be expressed.
My wife had left me alone for the weekend to write. It was now Monday morning, and the better part of this day had to be spent finishing up last details. I had a tight schedule planned so that by late afternoon, I could start editing in time for the midnight deadline.
At about 8:30 am that morning, I received a call from my wife; her water had broke, and suddenly the excitement and anticipation began. After a long 24 hour labour, our first child was born.
While my wife and baby were sleeping later that day, I snuck down to the cafeteria for some lunch with my laptop in hand. Even though the 3-day novel contest was over, I added another chapter to my story. I was in the cafeteria an hour or so, exhausted from very little sleep, and still overwhelmed from everything that just took place; grasping the fact that I was now a father. I realized as I described the miracle that I had just witnessed, that my story needed this ending. It wouldn’t have been complete, without my little girl entering this world.
As I collect my final thoughts on the closing of this program, I reflect back at what truly started it all. You could say it all began when I found a home that awoke the writer in me; the place where I was published for the first, second, and third time. Where I found myself, and started my family. The truth is though, that McMaster is where I have truly found my voice.
I have fallen in love with this place, as well as the teachers and students I have met during my time spent here. The opportunities that have come out of this experience have been endless. I have met so many wonderful, passionate people over the course of the last three years. A handful of my classmates and I, even formed a writers group. We have been together over two years now. We are friends, we help each other network, email the group contest info and writing related events, and share our excitement with one another when we get published. We attend book signings, and awards nights. Email our work to the group to critique, or bring it to the meeting to work shop. We have dinners and drinks together, and we share our lives and our dreams. We have monthly postcard story challenges, complete with little dollar store prizes for first to third place.
All of this has become possible through courses at Mac and I wonder what the future of writers in the greater Hamilton area will hold, now that the writing certificate has run its course.
There are many things that are special about this program, and yes, maybe these same qualities will carry into classes I take at other institutions. Maybes it’s because this is the only place I have studied writing outside of high school, that I have become so attached to this Main St East building.
I thrive on being surrounded by passionate and open minded spirits, and each semester I am inspired just being in the presence of others who share the same dreams and desires. We connect on levels I wouldn’t’ have thought possible amongst a group of perfect strangers. You learn more about these people in ten weeks, than you will some friends in an entire lifetime. Even the shy, reserved, less confident students, are pouring their hearts out by the final class. It’s amazing how you can grow in ten short weeks. Not just as a writer, but as a person.
I write in my journal during the 15 to 20 minute trip on the number 2 to class every Thursday. I conjure up lives for the people that occupy the standing room only bus. I stop at the Skydragon Centre for a large coffee and an organic snack on my way to the downtown centre, and on the bus ride home, I usually just relax with a good book to unwind.
I know I will take more writing courses, but Mac and those I have shared time with over the past few years will always hold a special place in my heart. I love the Continuing Education building. Break time dashes to Tim Horton’s, exploring a downtown I have had no reason to otherwise visit, or getting up in front of my peers and freeing my voice.
It’s week 10. In a few hours, the last class will begin. When the final seconds call to close out this semester, all that will be left of this program amongst those old courtroom walls, are faded voices, and the stories they once told.