Sun | Nov 17, 2019

My journey from literature to jewellery making

Published:Sunday | November 3, 2019 | 12:24 AMCourtney Morris - Contributor
Courtney Morris at her workshop.
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When I was younger, I always enjoyed making things, whether it was food, paintings to hang in my bedroom, or little bowls made from the dirt in my yard. I loved reading and stories.

My parents made sure our lives were filled with imagination and magic and countless stories, written and unwritten. I never had a consistent idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I used to say teacher, then I said chef, and then engineer or architect or environmentalist, finally landing on writer or curator.

Up to the end of high school, I was constantly confronted with the idea that you needed to figure out what you wanted to be, and on top of that, I realised that in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, the conventional school system was encouraging us to view the sciences as important and the arts as fun hobbies and supernumerary or extracurricular subjects and activities. It was clear to me that it was widely believed that to achieve the pinnacle of success, you needed to pursue the sciences, and if you pursued anything within the humanities, it was to land you with a job title such as ‘lawyer’.

SIXTH FORM

By the time I reached sixth form, I was confused. I had been doing primarily science-based subjects for five years (hating them, although producing good grades) while being involved in the arts in my free time – reading books, playing instruments, making things. As I approached the end of my high-school life, I realised I probably needed to wise up and make serious decisions about the direction of my future. That was when I decided to do CAPE literature. After spending two years of sixth form enjoying literature and rarely any of my other subjects, I thought, “You definitely need to study something in the Humanities at university.”

I went to the University of the West Indies, Mona, for a Bachelor of Arts in literatures in English because I knew I was interested in books and the art of writing, and I liked the creativity that a degree like that could foster.

I quickly realised that the degree I chose was not for the faint of heart, and it was nothing like the literature I’d experienced in high school. All around me, people were making comments here and there about choosing literature or choosing the humanities because they wanted something easy or couldn’t get into their programme of choice.

Those people were quickly awakened after the first week at school. This is not a throwaway path of study. It is real and important.

Literatures in English taught me a lot about myself. The readings, the films, the discussions opened up so many different worlds. My degree strengthened my imagination of the world, my exposure, and my perspective regarding my own life. I entered university not with a particular career path in mind but with a genuine interest in my degree of choice, and I gained much more than I expected. Sometimes an interest in your path of study makes all the difference to your performance and the value you can gain from it.

I graduated from The UWI in 2017 and now run my own jewellery business called Fortyfour Miles. Before I graduated, on countless occasions, people would ask me what career path I could possibly take with a degree in literature, apart from being a teacher. I would sometimes answer, “Anything I want to be.”

VALUE OF CREATION

Studying literatures in English reinforced for me the value of creation and its importance and place in society; this spilt over into my current career and business. It gave me permission to pursue jewellery making and entrepreneurship. What I learnt in the humanities impacts the way in which I make my pieces, as well as the way I talk about my brand and communicate with my customers.

The encouragement of independent thought and analysis within this field of study helped me to realise that I could venture into a more unconventional future – that I didn’t have to do what everyone around me was doing, or what people on the outside felt was the ‘smart’ or ‘safe’ thing to do. The process of studying and learning and enduring those three years helped me grow and set me up for my future, and for what I do now.

I am a strong, young, creative entrepreneur, and my degree in Literatures in English really helped me with that and has helped me to navigate the world and my emotional life in a much more seasoned way. Now I am contributing to the economy of my country, and I hope to be able to provide job opportunities for others in the future.

I would never try to detract from the value of science-based study, but I do believe that the versatility and holistic development to be gained from studying within the humanities is absolutely necessary. I think everyone needs even a little exposure to the humanities. In times like these, in which the world seems so divided and empathy seems scarce, pursuing studies through which we are able to understand more about the lives of people in the past, people who may come in the future, and people who seem to be living lives so completely separate from us could be what the world needs.

- Courtney Morris is a graduate of the Department of Literatures in English and owner of Fortyfour Miles jewellery. This article is one in a series that seeks to promote and highlight the impact of the arts and humanities on individuals’ personal development and career path. Please send feedback to fhe@uwimona.edu.jm.