Sunday, 17 October 2010

The Student Myth

When two years ago, I submitted my UCAS application, I felt as if I'd just taken an enormous step towards the sort of life I want for myself. It didn't matter that my family had no clout, no money and no university tradition, I was officially making something of my life. Grades pending, interviews looming, what the heck, I was in the system, headed up.
Unfortunately, in the meantime, I've discovered a lot of pretty demoralising truths that they don't list as side effects of attempting to graduate

1) You are now, officially, bottom of the heap. It makes no difference if you are responsible, intelligent or morally upright, the rest of the world will treat you like a common vandal. Some of the perks will include filthy looks from the elderly, the assumption that you are constantly drunk, promiscuous AND lazy and companies attempting to rip you off because you are a "high risk" human. I could go on but I'd only get shouty and you really don't need to read that.

2) You don't actually have any rights. From the get go the university, your landlord and the government have you the your proverbial balls. They will tell you they care, run for the students, by the students is the favourite tagline (obviously not from the government). But it remains that if any one of those organizations changes its rules, guidelines or even the law, you just have to deal with it. I mean the fact that when you started in 2009 you'd leave with a just about repayable 20k of debt, which for an English graduate is pretty daunting, by 2012, the university could be allowed to charge you whatever it wants. And you can either drop out, and just casually pay back the three years you've already undertaken outside of the governments repayment scheme, or you can take the hike, and leave uni with 20,000 (+undisclosed amount £££) of debt you have no certainty of ever being able to pay off.

3) No one actually cares what grades you get. Sorry, but the completely sterile set up of the lecture hall, is not tempered by the vaguely more human structure of seminars and tutorials. Lecturers may be smart, interesting and driven, but interested they are not. Perhaps once in a while some exceptional young thing comes along to be lauded, branded as a genius and noticed by all. But for the rest of us, sitting week after week in the same room, we will be lucky if the lecturer ever learns our name, let alone what we aspire to and where our strength lies. The homogenisation process is instantaneous and almost inescapable.

Having said all of this, my time as a student has been incredibly blessed, but by the people I have met, not, as I had naively believed by my entrance in to an institution of higher education and intellectual betterment. In eighteen months I will be entering the world of uncertainty, unemployment, tax and ladder climbing, with a 20 grand well in my pocket, a piece of paper saying that I'm mildly intelligent to fight hordes of similarly poverty ridden, former social outcasts for access to one of the tiny pool of graduate careers. If all this should fail, the light I carry with me, is that at least I'll have plenty of friendly floors to sleep on when I finally get out of debtors jail.


Friday, 8 October 2010

Ambition is a dangerous game.

Living in a house-share for the first time has had a fairly massive impact on my life. For the first time I'm truly exposed to the frolics and foibles of other people, without the option of just saying "jog on" and letting it go. While for the most part who does and doesn't leave pills on the table, and who never turns on the extractor fan is fairly mundane, there are some things which have led me to re-examine my own standing in life.
So we have P. She is a pretty, athletic, intelligent, 19 year old girl. Basically the average student, right?
She is also an obsessive CV booster. For P, to do the work to guarantee her an Honours degree is not enough, she joins enterprise schemes, sports teams, volunteers, dances, attends meetings, rallies, works a counselling hotline for rape victims.... you get the idea. Sleep and nourishment fit round the edges.

Now personally, I have always considered myself a pretty well rounded human, I have interests, I'm competitive, I'd even call myself ambitious. But when I look at myself next to P, I'm a regular layabout.

At what point does ambition become all consuming? Ambition, for ambition's sake seems so meaningless. I want to be successful in order that I can afford a good lifestyle, this in turn will make me happy. But if my quest for success costs me happiness along the way, and all I can do is moan about having two meetings at 8 o'clock, does the means justify the end? Seems to me this is how we end up with 28 year old burned out, divorced executives, who sold out their youth for their future, only to get to the top and realised that they've dropped what they needed on the way.

I need to figure out how ruthless/self-serving I can afford to be, and without hindsight, it's a pretty tough call.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Male Influence

Living in what is essentially a sorority, it is increasingly easy to gauge the effect which various male cast members have on my life.

Today, there were three players who influenced the passage of the day, and their after-effect is something I need to learn to apply to the next day, for self preservation.

Number One is someone who a month ago I would have disposed of, obnoxious, cocky and generally not my cup of tea, a mellowing process has rendered him someone I enjoy having around. Not impacting on my mood, but allowing the upward curve of the morning.

Number 2 is an enigma. No, that's too generous. Number two doesn't really care. By no means unpleasant, just disinterested. This is the one I waited to meet, only to feel disappointment at the man standing in front of me. And while I expect nothing, and feel animosity towards any future dealings with him, a little part of me keeps reaching out, and I need to use my head to beat it back.

Number 3 never changes. He is a constant, and where the others demand nothing, he demands everything. While I would give it all for his happiness, I need to serve my own for the time being. And the separateness which is hurting him, and hurting me, is allowing me to grow. This is the most bitter-sweet, and the most important of all.

Because I have realised, that no one can make you truly happy, if the absence of that same action would not break your heart.

"When you love someone, you open yourself up to suffering. That's the sad truth. Maybe they'll break your heart, maybe you'll break their heart and never be able to look at yourself in the same way. Those are the risks. The thought of losing so much control over personal happiness is unbearable. That's the burden. Like wings, they have weight, we feel that weight on our backs, but they are a burden that lifts us. Burdens which allow us to fly"

Friday, 1 October 2010

Radio 3

This morning my house-mates and I had a debate about Classical Music. To me, it is the only soundtrack to my early mornings. I can't stand the banal misogyny of Chris Moyles, and I would far rather wake up to a string concerto than a pounding bass line.

However, their insistence that it was depressing got me thinking. Why is it that I find it so satisfying, and I came to two conclusions. Firstly that I am my own grandmother. Classical music with breakfast, tea leaves brewed in a pot, baking skills and an affinity for pruning things at the wrong time of year. I love this. Don't get me wrong, I love my laptop and blackberry also, but nothing makes me feel as safe and as loved as realising how much I have in common with one of those I love most in this world.

And the second is that I derive a strange pleasure from melancholy. I have a whole ipod playlist entitled rhapsody which is bloated with pieces in a minor key, which I adore. I listen, and I get that thing there you feel kind of like your heart is actually expanding. Sometimes I cry, but you know what, it makes me happy. The expression of the spectrum of human emotions as told by music isn't all lust and love, and heartbreak as Radio One would have us believe, but encompasses the history of human hope, tragedy and remembrance. And for me, the sadness of any given piece gives me such great faith in the ability of humans to deal with life, that Barber's Adagio for Strings is a source of comfort to me, rather than the most tragic piece of music ever written.

I have dance and my grandparents to thank for forcing a know-it-all western kid to open her ears, and then her heart, to such a gift as this "depressing"/"boring" music
has given me.