In the novel “The crimes of Sylvestre Bonnard” of 1881, Anatole France wrote one of his most famous quotes: “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” I suppose that is true, or it is the typical French hyperbole about these things.
But… what was true two years ago when I launched onto this path that make me write this here, in this place, in this circumstance, is not true anymore – is it? Yet, I’ve acted and planned and thought as if they are, as if nothing has changed.
So, I’ve resisted change, even as so much has happened around me. I’ve been the stubborn mule that my mother so often accuse me of being. I have had the blinkers of my ambitions and goals on, and I haven’t seen that the points and facts that were valid when I formulated the Plan are not valid now.
Which is why I suppose that the France quote above resonates with me, because it is time to consider everything, and see what echoes in me now and what doesn’t. I have less time than I think because in a month or so I might be called to an interview for Oxbridge, and by that time I need to have formulated a new plan.
My year tutor and my student councillor called me in for a half-hour conference today, on this day that the application closes to Oxbridge, so that we could take a last look at everything before it’s entirely out of our hands.
My tutor said something that made me tumble down this introspective path: “Colin, as an educator I have to say that if your heart’s not in education, I don’t think you should do it. It’s not a job that’s suitable as a nine-to-five job. You’ve stated that you want it as an “extra job”, and I can personally tell you that there is nothing “extra” about it. It either is your life for fifteen hours a day, after which you’re exhausted, or it isn’t. If you don’t fancy that, you shouldn’t really consider education as a path.” The Student Councillor agreed with this, at least with the amount of head-nodding she did when the Tutor said that.
But I’m resisting the idea of giving it up, because it’s been such a part of my goals and objectives for so long, and so the Anatole France quote rings in my head. I wonder, do I resist reconsidering because it is hard, or is it because my tutor and the student councillor are wrong?
They did go on to explain that during the interview, the Tutors at Oxbridge is going to demand that I’m very concrete and in-depth about things. I have never been concrete or in-depth about anything. It’s always been a nebulous, not-quite-thought-out thing in the far distant future, but it seems now that to get that future, I have to be much more specific. Or I spoil my chances of getting in.
In a way, I’m envious of Mark because what he has to demonstrate is understanding and knowledge and creativity of maths. Maths doesn’t change with the professor. Calculus is still calculus, regardless of who is teaching. With maths, if you can do algebra, you can do algebra. It’s a binary position. There is nothing binary about English.
How do you do the same in something so subjective and disorganised as English? It is so often a guessing game to find out what other people want. To be or not to be, that is the question, whether it is nobler in mind to argue against a dusty old professor, or suffer the slings and arrows that conformity brings…. Aye, in that conformity, what thoughts may come? To badly paraphrase that old soliloquy.
I think it will be harder for me to get in than it will be for Mark. If he knows his stuff, and isn’t too prickly personally, then he has a chance. But me… I have to formulate something intelligent and knowing about this subjective field in order to do who knows what in the future.
I don’t know what to do, except that I want to study English. I’m useless for anything else.