Coming back to school for my final semester of undergrad, I chewed through yet *another* career-life crisis.
I claimed I was at a crossroads — that my decisions to be decided over the next 15 weeks would define the trajectory of my immediate post-grad plans. Talk about a lot of pressure on these barely-stable shins!
One night before the throws of the semester kicked into hyperdrive, I decided to write an objective list of the ‘tasks’ I could see myself doing in the future, no job description attached:
- educating others about “environmental” issues
- traveling the world, looking from different perspectives
- project development/creation
- sharing my thoughts/ideas
- writing and interviewing others
- always learning (conventionally and unconventionally)
- time to reflect on my ‘findings’
- understanding my place in our world
- collaboration with people (I learn, you learn)
I sat back and looked around my room: stacks of unread books amassed on my desk, my shelves, and my nightstand; piles of peer-reviewed literature preserved for archiving purposes were perched on a cushion nearby; a notebook (or three) stashed within an arm’s grasp at all times.
I smiled sheepishly, and took another peek at the list of ‘actions’ on my aspiration list. What part of me isn’t pining to be an academic researcher? I honestly wondered.
Swinging on a pendulum back-and-forth between conventional and unconventional acquisitions of knowledge, I’ve thought about joining the academy for years. Yet up until this semester, I’ve remain rooted in fear – fearful to claim one side of the learning curve as my own, fearful others might think of me as elitist.
I am no idealist; as a Bachelor of Specialized Studies student, I know first-hand how unsatisfying the ‘conventional’ route to a four-year degree can be — and the reality that we as learning, living beings do some of our best work in unconventional classrooms.
But I see now I’ve juxtaposed what I thought were two sides of the same coin, and ignored the reality that’s in front of me:
Why must we choose one route of knowledge-seeking over the other? Why can’t both avenues of learning be achieved, simultaneously?
This duality of thinking, this black-or-white methodology instilled in us as young scholars, is a falsehood, a smokescreen, a ruse – merely a categorical construction created by the same institutions that mandate we choose.
I am not just a student of ‘feminist political ecology,’ as my degree title will proclaim later this spring. I have my roots in environmental journalism, am influenced by cultural anthropology, environmental studies, and environmental history. I’ve gained valuable perspectives from ecological feminism and environmental philosophy, yet remain rooted in critical environmental geographies and feminist theory & praxis. I am passionate about environmental justice and women’s / maternal health issues. I yearn to amplify indigenous perspectives in research, and I am a proponent of rural sociological studies.
Our journeys of learning are continuations, incomplete sentences, unwritten chapters in a manuscript forthcoming. We are all “ands” — and then some. So why do we let the hardline ‘choices’ we make define us so?
My own thinking on environmental issues has evolved a hundred-fold in the 4 years since my high school graduation. Even up until last year, I bought into the (American) fantasy of ‘wilderness‘ recreation. The pinnacle way to ‘preserve’ our natural world, or so it seemed to me, was to carve out perfectly positioned parks and areas untouched by man. I still have posters of barren mountain-scapes tacked on my bedroom wall, pictures that look more like moonscapes devoid of life than the complex ‘down to Earth’ reality we live in right here, right now.
Crash-forward to the present: I’ve read books and articles, watched videos and listened to lectures, that have radically transformed my environmental worldview. I now embrace the permeability of the human experience with the ‘outside’ world, and I no longer seek to perpetuate the separation of civilization and ecological systems.
It took thousands of chapters, hours of words, months of meditation, and years of thinking to piece it all together: Everything connects.
Perhaps me teaching the messy meeting of environment and culture, man and nature, can fight the dominant ‘conservation’ narrative, resist the temptation to separate ourselves from other species, and heal a relationship between ‘us’ and ‘them.’
Perhaps my words can swim across oceans, while I bridge the divide among classmates and the course load we call life. I know my work alone won’t be enough to change the tides of environmental injustice, but I know now that I won’t have to do it all alone.
Finally the dust seems like it’s settling, and I have the confidence and the growing patience to see these fruitful transformations through. The road before me isn’t forked — we’ve merely been told to see that way.
I know now that every path will lead me to the same destination: where I’m meant to go.