Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Writing Challenge - Forever Changed

My friend Alicia, over at Forever Changed, posed a writing challenge for her readers. It was to write about something that forever changed us. You can read a full description of the challenge here.

This was my entry.

The year I turned 15 was the first year I spent alone with my parents. The youngest of four children, I’d always had siblings at home with me until that year. We lived on a relatively isolated farm – no other houses were visible from ours, though there was a neighbour within walking distance just over the hill.

My parents were educated people, numbered among the few in our small community. My mother was matron of the local hospital while my father had a degree in theology and was a part time minister – our small farming community didn’t have the resources to pay a full time minister.

We were raised with the expectation that when we left school we would leave home and attend university in either Sydney or Brisbane. There was an unstated awareness that we were different to most others in our community. We were the only family in our school community who had big city newspapers delivered, who borrowed books from the library of a bigger town an hour away, one of the few who travelled to that same town each Saturday for piano lessons and had our own set of Encylopedia Brittanica on our bookshelves.

My parents helped people within our community and valued them regardless of their life stories and circumstances. And yet....And yet there was a certain knowledge of superiority within our family. We were more intelligent and therefore different. We were able to help because of our superiority. We were not to look down on others because they did not share our intellectual ability and reasoning, but we were not to be like them either.

My parents’ life was not easy. The dreams of their youth were not being fulfilled. Money was always tighter than tight. Yes, we had music lessons and city newspapers, but we also had a huge debt on a farm that made a loss each and every year, so there were no new clothes or paid for haircuts. My mother has very low self-esteem (not that we realised that back then), and we suspect there is some underlying, undiagnosed, psychological condition. Whatever the label of this problem, she was hell to live with. Her moods were unpredictable and vicious. Her raving, ranting, and physical flailing was something I decided I could not endure for a further two years on my own. I had coped when I had a sibling at home to share the burden. Another sibling meant another target for her vitriol, someone else for me to talk to, or share a silent understanding with. Someone else who knew the violent reality of our home life, which was so different to that of the family at church on Sunday morning. The reality we kept hidden from even our closest friends.

At 16 (and two weeks) I left home without finishing my schooling, turning my back on the path to university education that had surely awaited me. Counselling from teachers and social workers did not dissuade me. In fact, when I revealed some of the reality of our home life, they encouraged me to leave, as did my siblings who understood as no-one else could.

The biggest hurdle I had to overcome in making this decision was how I thought I would be perceived by everyone I met from there on in. I knew I would not automatically be assumed ‘bright’. I would be considered one of those not capable of further education. I would not have the same value in others’ minds. Or in my own.

And that has held true. Many, many people have dismissed me as not being worthy of spending time with. People just like the person I would have become had I continued on the education path and achieved the education my grades indicated I was capable of. People who judge, as I would have, on what degree and at which university it was achieved. People who don’t have any other means of discriminating a thinker from a drone. People whose perceptions are closed by their own education, a narrow definition of intelligence and a false sense of what a rich life encompasses.

I have been blessed to have many people in my life who are not restricted in this way. Some of them drive earth moving equipment and trucks, some are builders, photographers, hospital clerks and retail workers. Others are teachers, university lecturers, doctors, psychologists and lawyers who have a less arrogant view than the one I was headed toward.

I am glad I left home before I achieved my education potential. For it changed me. It changed how I viewed myself; my role in the world, my importance in the world, my relationships with other people. It changed how I viewed other people; no longer do I equate education with intelligence. No longer do I assume those in lowly jobs don’t have a considered view on the world. No longer do I assume those with PhDs do have a considered view on the world. I would not have given the man I married a second look had I still been judging on education. He gained a university degree many years after we were married, but he had his intelligence and his ability to analyse and synthesise information long before we met. I’m glad I didn’t miss out on him because of educational snobbery.

I still plan on gaining a university degree because I think education is a marvellous thing. I know it won’t change my level of importance, or worth. I hope it will afford me greater job satisfaction and a higher rate of pay, but they are different matters all together.

Not finishing school forever changed me and the course of my life.


  1. This was a wonderful piece, Maisy. Thank you for writing it and submitting it. It really challenged me because I do have an advanced degree, and when I go through the dating sites, I won't consider someone who has only "some college."

    Is it different, do you think, at our advanced age than it was when we were younger? Before I met Nick, I had a long-term relationship with a man who'd never been to college, but was one of the most intellectually stimulating, well-educated men I'd ever known. His lack of formal education didn't bother me when I was in my 20s.

    But now, when I see a man in his 50s who has only "some" college -- even though I know there can be many good reasons for that -- I immediately get judgmental about his ability to fulfill obligations, his intellectual curiosity, everything.

    Of course, in another 20 years, it won't matter again. At that point, I'll just want someone to bring me a fresh cuppa tea and give my rocking chair a little nudge once in a while to wake me up.

  2. Thank you Alicia.

    On a dating website I think I would want a degree. Why? Well, there's more chance they are a thinker and a potential partner.

    I know that I'm an oddity. As was my Robert. We both liked quality over quantity in most things, we both loved literature and theatre and art galleries and museums and ideas and politics and discussions. Not a common thing. We're around, but I'd err on the side of the odds on a dating website!

    The men I know who are thinkers but not educated are all business owners, which is a demonstration of their ability to fulfil obligations.

    I think it will always matter that a life partner has intellectual curiosity! I can make my own cuppa but a one sided conversation won't sustain my soul.

    And bear in mind that I still have a hankering for the bit of paper from a university!