Shannon Whelan (2012)

[Albany Orientation (2009)]

University Life

2008 March: First Move

I am in the kitchen where beside me stands a lonely jug, a cold cup of half drunk murky black coffee, a carton of milk, and thankfully a jar of coffee (my saviour), my desktop computer and chair. I sit here with the echoes of the empty house around me, my computer my only companion. It feels weird to be in the house with nothing in it. I feel isolated and alone. I have been moving all week and I am tired, my bones ache. My eyes need matchsticks to hold them open. I have been here nearly all night. I am in the middle of moving house, well actually to be fair, I have moved house but am ‘in between’ houses right now. Not quite moved into one yet fully moved out of the other. In the corner sits my cleaning gear bucket, mop, Ajax, Janola and rags. I have employed my friend for $60 to come in and clean. I just can’t do it. Physically, mentally it is too much to think about on top of everything else I need to sort out. There is this assignment weighing heavy on my mind, it has to be done. Work nearly finished, only 20 hours this week. Crap hours means less pay, but the joy of not having to try and fit in extra hours a relief. I will worry about money another day. Focus, focus, focus... must get the assignment finished.

I sit and stare out the ranch slider to the right of me. I have a fantastic view, down the hill overlooking the top of other houses to the estuary. It is a view I have never tired of, have spent many times staring out at. I watch the water, the movement and the people. This is not a time for reflection, as much as I want to. I will miss this view, this house. This life I led here. I am sad, I am leaving this place where my dreams were shattered but also where I started my degree in a quest to start a new life and new direction. It’s a beginning as well as an end. Farewell house.

2009 April: An assignment

The night is dark and it’s raining. A steady constant beat to which my wipers flick, flack, flick, flack against. The kids won’t stop talking in the back seat, another great night for them at Brownies. I listen with half an ear, but I am only listening enough to be able to make the appropriate noises so they believe I am hearing them. My brain is engaged elsewhere working at breakneck speed running down the list of things I need to get done tonight.

Find something to eat, cook it, what can I cook? We need a proper meal. Can I do a proper meal? What’s in the cupboard? Need these kids fed and into bed. Washing to be put on. Can that wait until tomorrow? No. Do tonight, hang tomorrow. Assignment to be done. No putting that off. Have I got the right angle for this-have I done enough research? Tomorrow Uni-by 10am, assignment printed, hand it in. Class at 12. Have to get some shopping; can I do that before I pick up from school? Pak n Save would be cheaper, I’m in Albany. It’s going to be a long night. Arggh I don’t want to write tonight. I have to. A constant monologue, it does not stop.

Pulling up to the factory, I can see Ian is still hard at it. As much as I like the man, it means a chat before I can open the door into our place. Sometimes it’s painful having to walk past him working to get inside our door. The kids bustle out. “Grab the bags,” I call out to them before they hit the door. With a look of disdain, their shoulders drop and back they come to the car, moaning all the way.

“We’re tired, do we have to?”


Past the fish tank down the hall and into the lounge, Ian not ‘have a chat’ tonight, thank god. The carpet looks dark and I realise there is something wrong. There is water ankle deep in the kitchen slash laundry slash storage room. I throw my bags down on the couch, “FUCK IT,” and collapse on the chair in tears. I can’t do this, not tonight, please god not tonight. It’s already 8pm. I have two kids to feed, myself to feed and an assignment due at 10am tomorrow morning.

My big girl gives me a hug “It’s ok mum, it’s only water.”

The child in me hits out, “No, no it’s not Caitlin. I have to feed you guys, I have to clean this up, and I have an assignment due. I’m shattered.” Inside my heart tears at her look of hurt, she was just trying to console me.

Pull yourself together Shan, get it together, sitting here acting like an adolescent ain’t going to fix this.

“Sorry Caitlin, I’m tired, I shouldn’t yell, you girls need to have something to eat and lend a hand cleaning up.” The girls nod in agreement and we set to. It takes 3 hours to fix this mess. The girls get towels for me, and move stuff I hand them. I spend the evening moving furniture and boxes, mopping up the water that doesn’t seem to want to go. Finally I send them to bed and I finish up around 11pm. I flop onto the couch, I haven’t eaten. My laptop sits accusingly by my side and reluctantly I open it up and get to work. At 4am, I finish, shoulders knotted, I stand up and stretch my back which creaks and clicks back into place. My eyes nearly closed I head off to bed.

2009 October: Pregnancy

The pregnancy test reads positive. CRAP CRAP CRAP. What the hell am I going to do? This is not on my plan. How the hell, what the hell, how the hell....??? Hormones working wonderfully, I cry.

Its financial suicide for me, I’m already struggling, no longer working at all. I’m relying on allowances to survive. I have no parents or family nearby, no money, and it is not in my plan, it is not meant to be. I’m on my own, I don’t know if I can do this, I’m a jumble of emotion and scared. I’m on my own with this.

I think about how I’m going to cope next year. 2010. I had planned on doing 6 papers 2010, another 6 2011 to graduate April 2012. Not going to happen now. Dates confirm baby is due right on exam time in 2010. I have to plan for this, how am I going to get through? Late nights, feeding baby. By myself. Can I do this? I CAN. I’m strong, everyone says so. I will manage, I always do. My internal dialogue runs continuously day and night, keeping me up while I try and remain focused on passing my papers. I discuss it with friends, they all say, “Take a break.” But I know-I just know if I take a break from Uni I will not go back. I will not continue it will take too long. I will continue. I will just have to extend it out that little bit further. I will not take a break. I will work through on a slightly different schedule. Am I a sucker for punishment?

2010 March: Kids

“Mum, can you help out at the school on Friday?” Oh god. What now?

“What is it love?”

“It’s the parent fun day”

“What time Friday does it start?”

“9.30” Oh hell, I am in class at 9.30. Why does it always have to be Friday?

“Honey, I’m so sorry, I can’t. I’m at Uni on Friday’s” I hate having to say this to my daughter. Her face was full of sunshine, and with my words it has filled with sorrow. My heart breaks, just a little. But I can’t see how I can do it. “What time does it finish?” Is there a compromise I can make here?

“There’s a shared lunch, so about 1.30pm AND we get to go home straight after if our parents want to take us.” Double crap. “Every one’s mum is coming AND some Dad’s too”, she pauses for a breath; “You missed the last one.” Pleading now, using the guilt.

"Weeelllll. I will be finished by 12. How about I stop at the bakery, get us something yummy for lunch and do the lunch part with you?” A bakery lunch, we don’t do that often, will she take the compromise, or will I spend the day feeling guilty?

“Awesome! Can I have a chocolate donut?”

“Of course!” She’s taken the food, over me! Should I be pleased that she understands my dilemma? Should I be happy there aren’t tears and sulks that I can’t be there earlier or should I be sad that she will take food over mum?

2010 July: A 2 month old baby

I am on top of this, I am. Devyn is waking about three times a night, I think? I don’t even know anymore. I am a zombie my brain is not comprehend the time or day of the week. Another assignment is due. I sit up and write while Devyn sleeps, I don’t have to try wake up to get her at her 1am feed. Stay up till her 4am feed, go to sleep at 4.30am and get up at 7am. Easy right? Get this assignment done. Tomorrow I need to start on Creative Writing assignment two. I CAN DO THIS!

After settling Devyn back in bed I take a break. Its 2pm. I stand outside in the cold night air. My hands wrapped around my hot coffee I take a deep breath and enjoy the quiet, the peace. This is my time, a chance to think and focus.

Where will this take me, is this all worth it? Should I take a break? I’m nearly half way through, nearly at the hump, once there it’s all downhill. End soon in sight. It still seems so so so far away. Can I make it? Should I give up?

2010 December: Sick

I have made it through this first year of baby and stayed doing my degree! Yah. I have been feeling down for months. I have had ongoing sinus issues with headaches and pain. I have been collapsing in a heap every time I do anything remotely energetic and oh so bloody tired.

Mum came up to stay in August. I had stupidly complained about my issues. “You’re always tired. I don’t understand why you’re always so tired.” “It’s not like you do anything.”

COUGH. YOU WHAT? Umm what is a baby, a 12 year old, a 10 year old and doing a degree??? WITH.NO.SUPPORT. Nothing? Whatever! Thanks for the support mum. I mean, REALLY?

Exams over, I have been feeling sufficiently sick for long enough to scrape the money together to get to the doctor. She decides to take tests and rings back in two days. “You’re run down. You have no iron, it is no wonder that you have been getting ill and feeling so tired.” Ahh, vindication! I’m actually ill, mum . The doctor carries’ on, oblivious to my internal ‘nah nah nah to you’ dance I have going on in my head directed at my mum. “You need iron tablets, antibiotics for your sinus’s,” and advises rest, help and time out. Ha. Ha. Ha.

“Family?” she asks.

“Mum lives a 7 hour drive away, Dad lives in Australia, there’s only me.” It’s me or no one.

2011 March: Money

It has been getting progressively harder to survive. Now not working and with no boarders, allowances cut. I’m struggling. Some weeks I can’t afford the petrol to get to Uni, but I have to. We just don’t go anywhere else if I need to drive there. My life has become take kids to school, go to Uni, come home. Stay home. No treats, not even a coffee at Uni.

Another bill arrives. I do something I have never done before in my life. I don’t open it and put it in the folder. Why open it and stress about something I cannot pay? Dumbarse. I can’t deal with this. I don’t even want to know anymore. I am stressing about money constantly, even my spiritual self, can no longer stay ‘positive’. It is dire.

An invite arrives by email. ‘Mums day out. A day of pampering. Massage, pedicure, manicure and lunch. Numbers limited’ Awesome. I could do with some of that and it’s free. Where is it? Oh great. Grafton Road. I don’t have enough gas or money to get there. Won’t be going then. Where a minute ago I was feeling UP because I had something neat to do I am now feeling down. Free and I can’t even go. THIS SUCKS!

Pania rings up. “What you doing this weekend?”

“Nothing” As if I could be doing anything. No gas, no money, no life.

“I’ll come up after rugby and stay. Do you want me to bring something for dinner?” Hell yeah, there’s no food here.

“That would be awesome!”

Pania arrives with bags. Lots of bags. I am embarrassed and relieved. She has bought takeaways. Luxury, I miss takeaways. She also has real food. Staples like bread and milk. Coffee. Life saver! Treats: packets of chips for the girls lunches, icecream. I haven’t had ice-cream in my freezer for months. Meat, oh my god, meat. I am so upset that my friend has had to do this, yet at the same time, I am greatly humbled and grateful having a friend who has seen my need. She has saved us for another week, maybe two if I can make this last. I have real life angels helping me.

2011 October: Another Assignment

“Can I come in?” Ren stands at the door.

“Of course, you want a coffee?”

“Yes, please.” Ren takes up her seat at my table, the same seat she sits in every time, and gets her bag out. “Assignment due?” she asks me.

Laughing, “Yup, how do you know?”

“Your house is very clean.”

My friends have cottoned on to my procrastination tool. I thought I had it hidden. Ren is correct. I do have an assignment due which means I clean before I can get anything done. I sit to write, look around and see the dirt that has accumulated. It mocks me, making the ability to concentrate on what needs to be done impossible. I cannot sit doing research, read or write while the floor needs vacuuming. Once done, I see the floor needs washing. While mopping that, I can see that the cupboards have hand prints on them, they must be cleaned too. Covered in Janola and grime I need to wash my hands.

Oh no! The bathroom’s dirty too. So, out comes bucket and rags. That done, I may as well check the other bathroom while I have the products out, sure enough, it needs doing too. Eventually the house is in order enough for me to sit and start. I look at the clock and it’s time to pick the kids up. It will have to be another late night. The assignment gets put away again until dinners done and everyone is in bed for the night.

2012 January: I have learnt

Close now to finishing, I think about what I have learnt. It isn’t all what I expected to learn. I didn’t realise I would change. I have grown these years, far beyond gaining a degree and practical knowledge. I have learnt more about myself. I didn’t expect that to happen at my age and no one told me that it would. I learnt that I have strong ethics and values, I mean I knew I had them, I just didn’t realise exactly what they were or how to describe them. I’ve learnt that I subscribe to the more romantic side of life.

I have learnt I am a divergent thinker. At my creative process paper I learnt that my procrastination is really incubation. Even while searching the house for things to clean, I am also in my head, writing, devising, and thinking. Making decisions about how and what I want to write. The cleaning is the end to this incubation period, the final decree as such, before the real writing is done.

I have learnt that I can push myself beyond the point of no return, remain smiling and get through. I have learnt how to say YES and also how to say NO. That I am important, what I choose to do is important and how to make time for me. I have learnt how to be true to myself.

I walk away from my degree with a change of perception. I look at life, ideas and things differently. The way in which I voice my opinions has also changed. They are more refined, more thoughtful and I hope, more coherent.

2012 May & June: Despite it all

I sit here, my last paper. My last ever! Or is it? I have already started looking at a post graduate diploma. Am I mad? I can look back on the last four and a half years with a sense of accomplishment. Despite the ups and downs I’ve experienced along with dealing with the kids and a baby I have done it! I have managed to get through. Well nearly!

I want to shout from the roof tops ‘I’m finished’. I am proud I’m here. That despite the naysayers I am at the end. I remember telling my mother I was going to University.

“Why?” “What will you be able to do?” I have many variations of the same conversation held over these 4 ½ years.

“Oh, well, you will never finish that!” In your face, mum, in your face! I have completed it. I have done it despite your put downs and snipes about doing this. You, the woman who is supposed to support my endeavours, encourage me to go forth and be all I can be. You have made me feel like I have done something wrong. All I have tried to do is be better. This is something you cannot take from me.

2012 June: The End

I am at the end of my journey. It has been a hard journey. I have struggled constantly to get the work done, to meet the deadlines, to study for exams while running the house and keeping it together- but I have done it. I have only ever asked for one extension this whole way!

I’ve juggled my life; my growing girls, and my now busy toddler. My marks have been on the whole pretty good, so I have been told. I still don’t believe that. I fell over in 2010 with the health issues and Devyn as a newborn. I passed 3 papers, failed one. Ok, I failed one. It’s been a hard year. No need to get upset, get up, sign up and re-sit it. I can pass it! Only a slight hiccup in my journey. I re-sat and passed with a B+.

I have argued and loved, lost and won. I have spent more time awake than asleep. I counted up once that I had slept on average four hours a night for nearly 30 days. I gave up counting after that. No wonder I wear black rings under my eyes like left over mascara from the night before.

There are papers that have frustrated me to hell and back. Managing information systems (MIS). Papers that I have loved. Language and communication (thank you Mary Salisbury), Professional and academic writing (my 1st A!!) and ones that have stretched me beyond my comfort zone. Creative Processes, which had me get up on stage and perform in front of people (OMG). I have struggled with my humanities papers: Creative writing, travel writing, writing for children. They stripped me of the notion that I could write, something I thought I could do, they made me doubt myself and my abilities, still, I managed to get through them.

Finally I arrive here. My last semester. My last paper. My last assignment. Life writing. I have had the best last semester. A great paper to finish on. Easy, friendly, no hard analysis of business or change implementation process. A chance to have a voice of my own. No exam, no stress, and the chance to work with happy people. It feels like a cheat. It’s not, but that’s the way it feels.

Working so hard, without a break from February 2011, through summer school to now, I’m at the end of the rollercoaster. It has been a gentle ride out the other side of my degree. Easing me back into a life that won’t revolve around University, assignments, exams and the stresses those brought with them. I’m going to miss it. Better get a job soon, won’t know what to do with myself. It has been a stress free semester. Thank god!

I laugh to myself writing this, LIAR! I’m stressed right now - this last assignment, the bane of my final exit. So afraid that I will fail at the last hurdle, that I won’t complete it. I’m finally at the end of the road after what feels like forever. I have worked hard through everything that has gone on. Personal doubt that I could, doubts from others and through other issues. I am exhausted. Now this door closes and I am ready to start the next chapter of my life. I no longer can do it. I DID IT!


Thank you both Mary and Kelly for a fantastic semester and paper!

"What I heard was my whole self saying and singing what it knew: I can."

- Denise Levertov

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