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It’s time the truth came out.

I have decided I’ve lived with this long enough and it’s time someone told the truth.

I got shafted.

Let’s start at the beginning. I spent 10 years of my life caring for my parents until the death of my father. At that time I tried to revive my writing career but was failing phenomenally. I’m not the most disciplined writer sometimes and no one’s interested in hiring a writer whose glories are all in the past. So, I screwed up my courage and went back to school. I had two choices; return to the University of Alberta and get a Master’s degree or even obtain a degree in business communications or go to Grant MacEwan’s Professional Writing course. I’d been hearing about the PROW program for years and believed it would do what it said, get me contacts within the writing industry.

As the knight in the Indiana Jones movie said, “she chose poorly.” (Well, he actually says “he”, but then I’m not a he so I’ve happily changed it.)

I have very fond memories of my time at U of A. I made friends there I’m still friends today. I use every single thing I learned there, both in and out of the classroom, in my writing. I was an English Literature major and a Religious Studies minor. I even recommend writers, new and established, read religious texts to help improve their writing. I could have gone here.

Instead I chose the PROW program. What I didn’t know at the time I enrolled was the program was in the process of being shut down. Many of the classes I wanted were phased out by the time I arrived. I didn’t find out about the program shutting down until a full semester into my program. By that time it was far too late to leave the program. Nice.

There are still the contacts, though, right? Wrong. Many of the instructors I had (with an exception or two) had severe ego problems. These were not people I wanted to keep as contacts, professional or otherwise. One instructor had a habit of telling us, in detail, about the problems in their life. This included details about their marriage, family and even hopes and dreams. This may sound cold, but I don’t care if you and your partner (husband, wife, pet toy) aren’t talking. Teach me. Another instructor constantly told the students they weren’t ready for “real” writing experience yet. In the writing world, this means publishing. When asked when we would be ready, the instructor said “we would know.” How’s that for a vague answer. So, this instructor kept a constant barrage of pushing us down so they could feel better about themselves. I received a warning from the school for doing an assessment for class on the magazine, “Playboy” because of the nudity. Oh, just to let you know, there were pictures of naked women all over the halls. That was art, I was told. “Playboy” was smut. Really? Depicting beautiful, naked women in exquisite poses is smut? In depth, forward-thinking articles about current events is smut? Right.

These were the contacts I was supposed to rely on in order to move my career forward.

These people could barely keep their own egos out of the way of their teaching. Instead of encouraging, I heard a lot of double-talk. “Yes, go ahead and send in your article/story/whatever but I don’t think they’ll take it. You’re not ready yet.” Then get me ready! Even when I graduated I was hearing this nonsense. However, that, while annoying, I can ignore. What happened in my second year sent me straight to counselling.

The first incident I’ll talk about is about person X. X had some psychological issues, but having come from that track already in my life I tried to be understanding. This person was very animated, which made me nervous, but I tried to be patient. We were grouped together for a project and things seemed to be going well enough.

I don’t know if X was having a bad day or if X just needed the attention. When we met for a weekly meeting to see the progression of our various parts, I asked to present my stuff first as I had to go and pick up my mother (who has Alzheimer’s) for her weekly night out. There are few things that come before my writing and my mother is one of them. I started to present my stuff and suddenly X was standing up, hitting the projection screen with her hand and screaming at me about Russian dolls. This was a website project on revenants (undead). I had no clue what was going on. Humiliated, I left my stuff on the table and quietly walked out. Once outside, I burst into tears and went into the office. I’d had enough. I was quitting the class. After the program head’s assistant calmed me down a bit, I went to get my mother and talked to my best friend about what happened. Then I truly calmed down.

The instructor of the class allowed me to do my project on my own instead of grouping me with someone else. That was acceptable. Here’s what wasn’t. Every single other person in that group saw what happened. When the instructor asked them about it, not one person stood up for me and said, “yes, it was over the top.” No one. See, X was such a manic personality, that she was doing all the organizing and would spend up to 16 hours a day doing the project. The others just had to sit back and watch the A-grade roll in. They hung me out to dry for a grade.

The next incident involved the same instructor who was teaching a different class. Again, I was grouped with some people and thought things would be fine. They really weren’t. In order to hand in a copy that was coherent and clean, I needed at least a week for editing purposes. My group members had no problem handing things in a half an hour before they were due. One half hour to edit a 100 page document. Not happening. I lost marks because of them. When I told the instructor what was going on, she simply said that I needed to work around it. No help given at all. I was ready to quit school over that one.

The last incident involved an instructor I once had great respect for. Other people complained, but I thought they were wonderful. Until I asked a question. Now, I’ve lectured at the University of Alberta for 10 years as a guest lecturer. People will ask all kinds of questions. There’s no malice, just curiosity. Let me give you some history on this instructor. This married instructor, the prior year, had intimate relations with a student who was in his class at the time. That’s not a problem. Goes on at the U of A all the time. However, this instructor and student then published a paper online justifying their affair.

You can hear the brakes screeching on this one, can’t you.

I won’t link the paper because I have no desire to name this instructor publically. I’m sure my fellow students from Grant MacEwan will know who I mean, but that doesn’t matter. It was a very public event. The paper was poorly written and was so self-serving as to work against the authors. It was a case of “methinks she doth protest too much”. In other words, they knew what they were doing was wrong but they did it anyways. They’re adults. They can take responsiblity for their own actions, thank you very much.

I had no idea about any of this. I had an assignment in which the instructions were poorly given (I was not the only person who suffered a low grade because they misunderstood the assignment). I protested my grade, as was my right, and said I hated the assignment. I did. I’m allowed to say that. Over the next 10 or so emails, I was berated and left to believe I was a horrible person and student. This instructor made it very clear in the first class that if they didn’t like you, you would fail. I wasn’t sure what I’d done to warrant this instructor’s wrath, but I wasn’t going to fail on account of their ego. Back to the office where their solution was to put me in the online course. Fantastic. I felt like I was punished for what my instructor did. It still makes me cry to think about it.

If it hadn’t been for the school counsellor I would have slipped some pills long before. I was that much on edge constantly. My fellow students noticed and avoided me. I don’t blame them. You can’t hang around with someone who’s liable to burst into tears at any moment. At this point in my writing I have to point out I’m crying so much it’s hard to see the screen. Yes, it still hurts that much.

My plan upon graduation was to find a position doing technical writing for a software firm (I really enjoy that stuff). Or maybe work doing tech writing for an oilfield or engineering firm. Instead, I was broken and battered from my time at Grant MacEwan and the firms saw it. I readjusted my vision for myself and am now working temporary in various positions while I sell my writing.

What has been the effect of all of this? Sadly, I want very little to do with my fellow writers. The only thing Grant MacEwan taught me is that writers are people whose own lack of belief in themselves makes them hurt those they should be helping. I know, logically, this is actually the exception, but it is a lesson I learned very well from Grant MacEwan.

I wish I’d gone to the University of Alberta.

Have you ever looked at your life and wondered, “what the hell am I doing here?” It’s like driving along and you’re sure the right lane is the way to go but you come to a point where you look up, have no idea where  you are and think, “I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque.” It’s a dismaying, overwhelming feeling. You want to laugh at your situation, but the truth is  you’re scared as hell and want your mommy. That’s where I’m at now. Question is, how did I get here?

Three years ago I came out of a depression haze that consumed my life resulting from my father’s death. Unable to think or do anything, I spent most of a year playing World of Warcraft, avidly avoiding life and living on social assistance. When the haze lifted, I realized this was not the life for me. I needed more and set out to do more. I tried to revive my writing career but I had spent the last ten years cocooned in the world of caregiving. HTML, Facebook, blogging and Twitter had all passed me by. I tried to apply for writing jobs, but when one said “must Tweet” I almost cried. I was way out of my depth.

Still, where there’s a will, there’s a way. So, I went to the Edmonton Metis Employment Association and begged them to send me back to school. I had two choices; return to University of Alberta where I could get a second degree in business over a two-year period and focus on communications or go to Grant MacEwan’s Applied Diploma in Communications in Professional Writing program. The PROW program. I chose the latter. The PROW program had a good reputation and gave me an opportunity to stretch my creative wings. I did not choose wisely.

At 44, I’m gracefully called a mature student. I’ve been out in the world, had a beginning writing career in journalism and ran a theatre company. I’ve cut my teeth a bit on the Edmonton writing scene. I came into a place full of people who’d just left high school and called themselves wizened. I found it annoying in the same way you find a mosquito bite annoying, but not enough to derail me. However, things quickly deteriorated.

In my first year, I found that the instructors, not the students, were the problem. Grant MacEwan has a policy of smaller class sizes and more intimate relationships with the instructors. Works well on paper. University of Alberta treats all the students the same. Teach the students, give them the work, they pass or fail on their own merits. The problem with Grant MacEwan’s system is the instructor wants to be your friend. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Think about the friends in your life for a moment. You love them, but they’re annoying. You have to deal with their insecurities and foibles just as they have to deal with yours. They can bring their drama to you because you’re safe. Now, translate that to an instructor. See the problem?

Writers as a whole usually have self-confidence issues. I don’t know why, but I think it has to do with ripping your soul out and putting it on paper. I think this is also why so many writers drink. So, imagine you have a friend who lacks self-confidence. They may cover it up by being arrogant or by telling you that you’re the one with the problem. However, at the root is their own inability to stand confidently. They wind up lashing out at those around them. Now make that person an instructor.

I don’t say that was true for all the instructors. Just an alarming majority. They were good enough at hiding it from a green 20 something, but a former freelance journalist can sniff that out like a bloodhound on a convict’s scent. I have my own confidence issues, but a lack of belief in my own writing skills isn’t among them. I’m weird that way.

As I said, I entered the first year a bit ahead of my peers. Much of the stuff discussed in class I’d done in the real world. I just didn’t know I was doing it. Okay, so I learned to refine my technique and get comfortable using a Mac (by the way, I am not an Apple fan. I think they’re useless toys. I’m an avid PC’er, myself). I also learned about HTML and social media. But it was the instructors who alarmed me.

There wasn’t a lot of overt hand-wringing. Most of it was so subtle I doubt the instructors knew they were doing it. One instructor  informed the class to not bother sending pieces to American magazines as we would never get published there. This instructor went on to say that it was her opinion that Canadian writers were shunned by American media and that we weren’t good enough to go there. I was stunned. American magazines often publish Canadian writers on a regular basis. When I said so, I was told that I would learn in the same way you’d tell a child they’d understand when they were older.

Other instructors covered up their feelings of inadequacy by being arrogant. I became far too familiar with the “I’m the instructor and I say so, that’s why” thinking. Ironic since Grant MacEwan makes the instructor your buddy. Yet others would tell inane stories over and over again, reminding me of my visits with my mother who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s. A few, possibly two or three, would demand my best and know when I was giving it. They would make me stretch my writing abilities and earned my respect through their abilities, not their willingness to be my buddy. Sadly, most had no idea when I was doing a crap job. For most of my instructors I would write something up a day before it was due and hand it in. Most times I hadn’t even edited beyond the spell check on Word.

Things came to a head recently with a particularly arrogant instructor. I liked this instructor. I trust those who are blunt and honest more than those who give sweet words. I knew where I stood with this instructor and I liked that. I liked him and trusted him enough to tell him, recently, that I hated an assignment I did for him.

Everything came to a screeching halt there. This instructor turned on me like a pit bull. I was told I was “rude and unprofessional”. He’d made it clear in class that he held grudges. He also separated people into groups and if he didn’t like you, you’d go into the “apathetic loser” group. I was being set up to fail and I knew it. I didn’t deserve it. Grant MacEwan wanted me to give the instructors my trust and when I did I got slapped for it. Now I was angry.

I went to the Student Services advisor and launched a complaint. She heard me out and told me to return and I’d find out what my options were. I was uplifted by this. I didn’t want to be the bad guy, but I wasn’t going to take that. Upon my return I got another slap in the face. I was given the option of finishing the course online which I opted to do. I let the rest of it go, not prepared to fight this big of a fight this close to graduation (which is in April of this year). Then came the bomb. She was glad I was letting it go. Some concerns had been raised about me.

Now wait a cotton picking minute. I have no doubt concerns are raised about me all the time. I’m constantly tilting at windmills and laughing all the way. Nothing has been said to me about any of this until I raise a complaint about an instructor? What?

The prior semester I had done an analysis on Playboy Magazine. I chose the magazine as it is an industry leader and the pictures of the women are tasteful and artful. Writers such as Alex Haley, Stephen King and Margaret Atwood have written for this magazine. Playboy is one of those that creates new trends. The instructor of the class had no problem with me doing the magazine, but someone else did. Really? Who?

I got angry. They were upset by naked pictures? Walk down the halls of the West Campus of Grant MacEwan. There are nudes and partial nudes all over the place. Some titty got someone’s panties in a bunch? Great timing, too. Nothing was said the prior semester when I might have been willing to change my choice or even defend my choice. No. It’s brought up when it looks like I might go forward with my complaint.

Now I took a new look at my program and suddenly I was very glad it was shutting down. Instructors who demand I validate them as human beings because I’m supposed to be their buddy is a waste of my time and energy. Instructors who feel it’s perfectly fine to have affairs on their wives with students IN THEIR CLASS is not someone who can teach me a damn thing. Let me say this clearly, if you can’t sort out what is or isn’t appropriate behaviour towards your students, and that includes whining to them or berating them or having affairs with them, then you have no business teaching me. Go get a dog or get therapy or something for your issues. Don’t bring them to class.

So now what? Here I am feeling like I’ve wasted 2 years of my life. I’ll get my career going after graduation, but I’m also bringing along a whole lot of baggage imposed on me by instructors who don’t understand what’s appropriate or not. I doubt this blog will win me any friends in the industry, but I’ll say this to them; hire me and you won’t get the drama or baggage that goes along with so many in this industry. Hire me and get the job done.

Enough is enough.

Do  you have one of those family members that does things that the rest of the family feels is bizarre or a waste of time or a dreamer’s quest? You know the type, they’re single-minded in chasing after rainbows and the rest of the family holds their breath as another venture doesn’t pan out. They’re forever picking up the pieces of shattered holy grails that they were sure that *this* time was the real deal. Their social life is quaintly described as “quirky” as they plunge into one adventure after another. Socially they’ll try most anything at least once just to say they did while the rest of the family waits for the hormones to calm down so they’ll settle down and have kids and a “real” career. Usually they have a few tattoos and piercings thrown in for good measure.

In my family, that’s me. Minus the tattoos and piercings, of course. Haven’t gotten around to that yet.

Okay, so a run-down of my life. I took care of my parents for 10 years, battled with medication-induced anxiety, am overweight (rubenesque), polyamourous, pansexual and a writer. Of all these things the fact that I’m a writer bothers my family the most. Writers are those weird people who live in dingy apartments, lead solitary lives, drink too much (or do too many drugs, right Mr. King?) and have odd sexual practices. In the eyes of my family, writing is some freakish cult I’ve joined and they’re looking for a way to detox my brain. Until they find one, they do a lot of smiling and nodding at me when I describe the career I’ve chosen. You know, the kind of smiling and nodding you do to someone you’re not sure is dangerous or not so you’re agreeing to keep them happy.

They think I don’t know.

Most of the time I ignore it. Really, I live a peaceful (if poor) life and am happy with where I’m at. I have friends who love and support me even if they don’t always understand me. I suppose writing is a bit like a cult sometimes. I wake up in the morning and wonder how I can appease the Goddess of Writing today. I sacrifice sleep sometimes and the occassional cat and when She’s happy, I do good work. When She’s not, it’s time to flog the old keyboard some more until She is. I’m currently in the Grant MacEwan Applied Communications in Professional Writing Program (which is switching to the Bachelor of Communication Studies). I work at temporary or menial jobs just to get enough money to write and that’s it. My goal is to write full-time either for a company or for myself. However, I’m not focused on working at what I see as a temporary solution to my real life. That’s the rainbow I chase.

My family sees it much differently. They see me bouncing from job to job (after all, writing isn’t a career, remember?) and want me to settle down. I’ve never had children by my choice (I’m 43) and never been married (by my choice) and they see that as a failure in my life. After all, when I meet Mr. Right, I’ll settle down and have kids (nope. Had my tubes tied). I’ll get myself a nice little job in retail somewhere (probably in a dollar store or such) and retire quietly when I can devote myself to my “hobby”.

They can have their delusions. I don’t care.

I’d like to say this to all the families who have to deal with the stranger in their midst; please butt out. You may not understand us, you may not like our decisions, you may worry about us. However, unless we ask your opinion (which is rare) or need you to bail us out (rarer still), please keep your tongue behind your teeth. We have rainbows to catch.

August 2017
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