All this autumn I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to do with my life. Some of you who read this blog regularly are rolling their eyes, thinking “here we go again”, but honestly, I’ve been trying to think about it in less than ‘Oh shit, what the fuck am I going to do?!” and more like “If I do this, then maybe I can do that, and perhaps this can open up”. Well, at least in between the ‘oh shit’-thoughts.
Let’s be honest here. I’m pretty much useless for anything which doesn’t involve me sitting down to plonk on my guitar, or write these blog posts, or sit dreaming about alternate realities which I turn into stories and books. I’ll never be an engineer who design the next fantastic gadget which the world will realise they can’t do without. I can’t go to Africa to save the world from starvation and hunger and Ebola. I am too cynical to be a politico who swoop in to save democracy. I am an arty geek, happy to trudge along in creative fields, and that’s all I’ll ever be.
People don’t really respect the creative geeks. The degree I’m pursuing makes people roll their eyes and think that it’s just the default, and that it would be better if students like me were taught something practical and useful. The default complaint, which I hear a lot, is that there’s now too many useless degrees for people who only want to get on the telly. And English literature is the top choice to complain about. “You should learn a trade, son”, they’re thinking. At least that was what someone recently told me when they didn’t know that I’m one of those terribly entitled students who don’t want to learn something practical. The whole pub diatribe came when we were talking about tuition fees, the political side of it, and why the Liberal Democrats were finished.
It doesn’t help that half my year, if not more, really should be in some other track. It doesn’t help that for them, English literature really is the default choice of last resort, the one they ticked when they tore their hair a couple of years ago and asked the same question I’ve been asking: “Oh shit, what the fuck am I going to do with my life?!” This has consequences. They don’t really take the course seriously, and worse, it creates an atmosphere where nobody else takes the course very seriously. Further, it makes them do everything else – NUS, partying, whatever – instead of focusing on the course.
I have started to think that if I had gotten into Cambridge, things would have been different. The atmosphere would have been different. The focus would have been different. The entry requirements for those schools are so strict that anybody who don’t actually want to be there would have been filtered out. Instead of trying to isolate myself from the negative people through research and that, I would have been in a more inclusive community that cared. But that’s crying over spilled milk. I didn’t get in. I have to deal with realities, not nurse old disappointments.
A few years ago I read a poem from a graduate from Oxford, Nicholas Heiney. That poem has stuck with me, and I quote it in my head sometimes because what he said speaks to me at a deep level. It’s me, it’s what I am, it’s the essence of me.
I sing, as I was told
I sing inside myself
the one wild song, song that whirls
my words around
until a world unfurls
my ship’s new sail
I catch the dew and set
a course amongst the ocean curls
The silence at the song’s end
before the next
Is the world
— Nicholas Heiney, “The silence at the song’s end”
I feel a bit trapped between obligation and a want to break out. I pay £9000 per year to go here, but don’t feel like I’m getting value for money. My parents will absolutely not accept me re-jigging my life and go another path.Particularly since I have no idea what that path would be like. Best to continue on, pay the extortionist fees, trudge on in the same path, but feeling more and more like I should be doing something else. That I would be more useful doing something else: for myself, for Mark, for… anyone really.
But that would lead to one hell of a fight with my parents if I try to change tracks now. I can hear all the arguments all ready. They’d all come here to “talk sense” to me. They would all expect disaster to strike. And this isn’t a disaster, what I’m doing, is it? I’ll still get some utility from finishing it. That’s the thing that keeps me, to finish. I don’t like quitting, and quitting would just mean loosing my anchors, and I’d drift. To what? Have no clue. So, doing that would be even more stupid than to continue.
I hope that next year when we’re put on work placement things will improve, but I said that last year too, didn’t I? This year would be different. I’m starting to think that no, this year won’t be different. So, the hope that next year will be different is dimming. And if it’s not, then what? Then I’ll have paid £24 thousand pounds for a degree I don’t care for because I’m too conflict averse to tackle my parents fury about me doing something else.
I’m useless for anything else. So I’m stuck here with the song in my head which want to get out and find an audience. I need to get a handle on things, and not let it slide. But if I do, I’ll upset the apple cart in a big way. Then I’ll live my life avoiding this big looming conflict, which isn’t how I thought things would be. Can you think of something more pathetic than that? I can’t. I hope next year will be better.