I spent the next eleven years struggling with an enveloping despair that ultimately incapacitated me not just for a life of thought but for life itself. For me, there was no life without thought. I managed to complete successfully the fourteen half-courses that I had to take towards my degree, but I never completed a thesis. My candidacy lapsed in 1983 when I was half way through writing a thesis on the language of instruction in practical skills.
By the time I left the marriage in 1988, I had given up any thought of completing my degree. My pursuit of higher education seemed to have taken place in another lifetime. However, in the autumn of 1989, I changed my mind. Maybe, I thought, this life of mine can still encompass some serious scholarship. Because I had also begun to write a book, I delayed for over a year doing much about my decision to complete my thesis (1). Writing the book consumed me and transformed me. But by late 1990, I was ready to think thesis.
By late 1990, though, I was also having severe financial difficulties. In the summer of 1989, my ex-husband began defaulting on his support payments. I was determined not to lose the house that I had bought with my share of the assets from the marriage, and I hung on by borrowing and begging. A Canada Council grant that I received to aid in the writing of the book gave me a stay of execution ... for a while. At the very moment that I realized I had to cut my losses and sell the house, the housing market collapsed. My house was on the market for nine months. In December 1990, I sold it at a price that, when I had paid back all the money that I had borrowed and begged, left me with less than nothing.
On New Year's Eve 1990, my thirteen-year-old daughter and I moved to a rented apartment. In January 1991, I began to contemplate the topic of my new thesis. I also began worrying how I was going to pay the rent. Then in March, when a bed under a bridge seemed imminent, I got a contract position working for an engineering consulting company. Everything about that company--the projects they undertook and the way they undertook them--was antithetical to everything I believed in. As a way of dealing with my sense of dislocation, I cultivated a split self. By day I appeared to care about engineering projects and their socio-economic impacts. By night I studied hard to write a proposal for a thesis on women's experience and education.
Yet even in the preparation of my thesis there were problems. All studies that have human participants are subject to an ethical review. All participants in a study must give their consent before it may proceed, and may withdraw their consent at any time. I did not have the consent of someone whose participation was essential to my study. I therefore had to jettison several months' work and go back to the initial planning stages. I did so in the short evenings after a long day's work.
Just as I was putting the finishing touches on a proposal for a new topic, I made the mistake of publicly challenging the authority of the professor who was acting as my informal supervisor. I had been participating in a seminar series this professor was leading. He had told the students who were taking the seminars for credit that they could not say anything that was critical of a presentation. During my own presentation, I described this injunction as a kind of silencing, and asked my listeners to speak honestly about the flaws in my work. I said, playfully I thought, that I would not run to "Big Daddy" to complain. The professor was not amused. He removed himself as my supervisor on the morning of the very day on which I was to present and defend my thesis proposal to my committee.
Unlike the hiatus that had occurred during my marriage, this disruption of my academic career was only momentary. I got a new thesis supervisor in short order. She and the rest of my new thesis committee were pleased to accept my proposal, which they did in April 1992, a month to the day when the professor had rebuffed me for speaking my mind. Because I proposed to do a study that relied on bibliographic sources instead of a study that relied on empirical data from participants, an ethical review was not necessary.