January 8th, 2010
Welcome back to my Postcards from the Edge. The 2010 launch of my blog spot was delayed because of a vicious bug that pretty well flattened me for the first week of January. Perhaps, it’s all because of too much New Year’s Eve revelry around the bay, as we say here. ‘Revelry around the bay’ is practically redundant, of course. There is something about leaving town and entering the wild beauty of rural Newfoundland, especially right by the coast, that brings out the reveler in all of us. It’s such a rush of emancipation, away from traffic and Blackberries, that one can’t help but feel released. With only the sound of the sea and the wind in one’s ears, revelry can extend for days.
I’m not blaming beautiful rural Newfoundland for my illness. I’m just saying I had a lot fun, that’s all. There’s real pleasure in letting go after a hard semester of rigorous scheduling. There is also real pleasure in becoming immersed in someone else’s community. That’s the leitmotif of this blog—community. It’s on my mind because, among other reasons, there are so many new graduate students facing the inevitability of immersion right now.
The other day we held our annual winter orientation for new students. Obviously, this is a smaller group than the one that registers in the fall, when the numbers really swell, but it’s sizable enough to be called its own community. I tried to stress this fact as I coughed through my welcoming remarks. I figured the assembled eager and open-faced youngish men and women before me wouldn’t be remembering very much of our scheduled presenters’ lists of services or web addresses, but they might keep in mind a message about the need to stick together, to identify themselves as part of a community. By the range of skin colours around the table one could tell they were coming here from all corners of the world, and probably grew up speaking different languages. Of course, with globalization, everyone dresses Western—that is, in logo-branded baseball caps, jackets, and runners. But that’s how one finds an instant, easy fit in the larger, global community. Appearances are everything.
Or, maybe not everything. It is much harder to develop a deep sense of identification with a group when you are basically on your own and thrust into the middle of a strange country, place, a big institution. So it was that I stressed the importance of seeing themselves as part of their own burgeoning community, all in the same boat together. Doing so will go such a long way to staving off depression, anxiety, paranoia, and all of the other lovely attributes that attend to the graduate student experience.
Some of us survived our graduate student experience despite the communities we were thrown into, but it seems to me that along the way we developed a sense of where and in whom to put our energies, and the value of not going at everything alone. At its best, the graduate student experience should teach us how to make those opportunities happen, for many offering the first really adult sense of community. It’s all about the human element—at once competing with and respecting each other. Easier said than done, I know.
I am on a bit of a high about community this week. It’s not only the rich experience of being embedded in the Bonavista Peninsula. It’s also about an event I attended this past week that was something like a textbook example of the value of community. After about 6 months of shooting and much longer of preparation, a new hour-long comic drama debuted on CBC television. Called “The Republic of Doyle,” it has had the highest budget for such a series in the history of Canadian television, and a lot, and I mean a lot, is on the line. Wisely sensing the need to celebrate the launch of this series in a communal way, the producers invited the large cast and crew, broadcasters, investors, and special guests, like the Premier and his cabinet, to a live telecast in a downtown theatre. About 300 of us crammed into the space to celebrate—from Premier Danny Williams to the lowest grip on the work chain. The series is conspicuously set in this stunningly colourful town, and the producers exploit its rich photogenic luster at every opportunity. Every time a shot of the city from yet another unique angle appeared on the massive screen all of us hooted and hollered and shook with unadulterated delight. That was our town up there, our place, our community, and there we all were together—celebrating the very fact of belonging to such a wonderful community, one in which a “Republic of Doyle” were possible. Moments like that don’t happen every day. It’s about as pure and pleasurable a tribal hug as one can get in this life.
I would never presume to suggest that graduate students can achieve that same sense of bondedness, the kind that elevates the human spirit to new heights of purposefulness, but living in a city and, indeed, in a province where such a feeling is possible sure goes a long way to reinforcing that quest.