The sublime pleasure of vinyl-record shopping occurs when you finger through the stacks, find a gem full of songs that have defined your life, and you whisper to yourself, “This can’t be only $2.99.” The heart quickens. Enter “Private Eyes” by Hall & Oates but with a misprint: one label says “Side One” and the other says “Side A.”
This anomaly reminds me of me. I’ll explain a little later.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the lyrics of the duo’s hit “Adult Education.”
The underclassmen are flashing hot and cool.
You want a little night school.
Maybe some of it’ll rub off on ya.
I play the song when scrolling through the admissions requirements on university websites, contemplating getting my first degree.
That’s right: I never graduated. I feel funny when appearing at universities to read from my work or talk about writing. Almost like I don’t belong. I suspect the students don’t know the story of how my academic life tanked faster than a mid-’90s Hall & Oates composition.
It would be easy to attribute my lack of education to Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was raised with the teaching that a good Christian prioritizes preaching work over school, scriptural studies over “worldly wisdom.” But my allegiance to Witness doctrine started to erode in my teens, so it was more likely my ambition to be a rock star that kept me out of school.
Who needs a degree when you can have a career instead?
I realized the irony in that line of thinking when I turned 21 and applied to the fine arts program at Montreal’s Concordia University. The admissions committee accepted me as a “mature” student for a double minor in photography and art history. I evidently impressed them with my grainy double exposures of TV screens and paintings done in shoe polish. “Poverty is my inspiration,” I told them.
Did I intentionally sabotage my first and final year? Difficult to say. I completed every paper, but I typed them crookedly on loose-leaf and submitted them late. I got a C- for an assignment on Picasso’s Blue Period. Not surprising, considering the typo in the opening sentence: “Speific.”
There were other transgressions. I started to skip class, including Interdisciplinary Arts. When I decided to show up, I’d bring in an entourage of friends past the professor’s disapproving glare. They would spread themselves out on tables, applaud my performances and cause a royal ruckus — at my urging, of course. My studio projects, in retrospect, were trash heaps of laziness.
“I would like you to leave my class,” the professor said one day.
“Can I come back?”
I complied and dropped out of school altogether without informing the administration. It turned out that once again, I needed adventure more than school.
I’m the only person I know with a 0.00 GPA.
Contact me if you’re likewise a zero, and we’ll put our numbers together.
Nowadays, I find it strange to perform for Concordia students. I’m embarrassed when completing an application that asks for my highest degree and I have to tick “high school diploma.” I’m hesitant to fill in the education section on my Facebook profile. I feel the stigma of the undereducated.
That’s why it felt amazing when, after a performance at Waterloo’s Wilfrid Laurier University, my hosts gave me a T-shirt emblazoned with the school crest. I wear it almost everywhere I go.
You’ll piss your pants laughing if you eavesdrop on me trying to convince someone to stay in school. The student will inevitably say, “But you didn’t need to.” I’ll then shift uncomfortably from foot to foot while giving weak excuses. In a way, they’re right. I’ve set my own disciplined reading curriculum and sought out teachers and role models. I’ve managed to work around not having a university degree.
I sometimes wonder, however, about the side effects. Perhaps I’m oblivious to certain intersections between art, science and politics. My grounding in theory and criticism is shaky. I’m slow on the lingo, too. I constantly have to remind myself that “teachers” are called “professors” and that “terms” are called “semesters.” I’ve definitely been ineligible for a few jobs.
So, I’ve been thinking about going back part-time. My learning curve is due for a kick in the parabola.
Would you have me in your class? I promise to run spell check on most of my assignments.
In the meantime, I have an opportunity to ease the stigma of the undereducated. When people ask me now where I studied, I’ll tell them where I dropped out. I’ll say I’m like that Hall & Oates misprint: missing a side most of my peers have, but with an equivalent, and still playable.
But you will have to cut my Wilfrid Laurier T-shirt to get it off my back.
I’m not going to give it up.
Fingerprinted appears in every issue of Xtra.