Practice essays

It burns.

Oh, it burns.

Hello mortals,

I’m of course referring to my hand, my hope, and my dreams of getting anything other than a 41% ‘you’re just barely intelligent enough to be here’ mark. Because today I did a practice paper – timed, no less – and I have unleashed a terrible curse upon myself.

The curse of knowing exactly, and in the precise ways, that I’m going to fail these exams. Ignorance may not have been bliss, but a few weeks ago I could shunt all my doubts and feelings of insecurities over the effectiveness of my revision as a problem for Future Casey. But now Future Casey is here, and ruing the day Past Casey shoved their problems down the pipeline.

I’m exaggerating, of course. The essays weren’t great, but they were very good in places, and knowing one’s weaknesses in detail is always preferable to stumbling about in the dark like a mole playing pin the tail on the donkey in a particularly ill-conceived addition to the games list of the Sylvanian Families cross-species birthday party.

I now have a more solid platform to work from than I did before, and I feel like I’ve done some good work today, which is very useful for me when I flip between shattering insecurity and chirpy optimism on an hourly basis.

I’ll just have to work on strengthening my wrist and fingers over the next few weeks.

I played with a Super Nintendo!

Evening folks,

I love games, but a major hole in my gaming experience is that I’ve played almost no older consoles. I remember spending five minutes with a Nintendo 64 back around 2002 at a kid’s house; I didn’t even like the kid and the joystick didn’t have a top so the shattered plastic pole dug a mark into my hand, and in all it wasn’t very pleasant.

But today I ticked off an item on the classic gaming bucket list; I played Super Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo.

There’s a bar near where we live that my friends and I visited (briefly in my case, as I had to shoot off early to see my beloved Tottenham splutter to a 1-1 draw against the mighty West Brom) to celebrate them submitting an essay of particular importance. And the place was cool, and the drinks supposedly cheap, but the main attraction for me was the Super Nintendo – a real-life Super Nintendo – with a copy of Super Mario Kart plugged in.

It’s interesting playing an older Mario Kart game – both chronologically and on a different system altogether – considering my experience with newer ones. I couldn’t, for instance, figure out how to drift until the third race.

But what wasn’t different, however, was the game’s ability to capture my imagination. I was sat in a corner playing a pixellated kart racer by myself on a muted CRT TV, and it was great. Peach screwed me over my zipping past me at the line, and Donkey Kong Jr. smashed me into a wall, killing my acceleration and the dim ray of hope I had to finish first. The controller was oddly-shaped and lacked thumbsticks and multiple shoulder buttons, but it was still a tool of great empowerment and interactivity. It was a game, and it was brilliant.

And those are the best experiences to cross off the bucket list.

Today was weird

Hello again,

Apologies for the radio silence. For nine days I’ve not written on here, nine whole days! 17-year-old me is freaking out and churning out crappy posts during free periods as a kind of bloggy penitence.

But I am no longer 17-year-old me, and so things are different. The main difference is that I respect and respond to the importance of my own mental health; because, surprise, surprise, the last week or so hasn’t been great from a mental health perspective.

By the end of last week I was stressed and exhausted, fresh off my first fortnight of exam revision that was tinged with the oh-so-comforting hue of ‘do I really want to do these exams?’, a rainbow-shattering tone that both stresses me out and makes it harder for me to get work done. At least we can give it credit for engineering such a catastrophic combination of two worst-case scenarios at once, like finding out the local Nisa is out of both blackcurrant and strawberry Ribena.

Then the weekend was stressful, partially because I took a day off and breaks have never sat well with me; missed blogging days used to stress me out, then skipping a day of revision scared me, and now not getting out six Game Shelf articles a week sends me into a maelstrom of logistical panic. Then I cleverly decided to embark upon three consecutive days of socialising, which may be completely normal for most people, but for myself, as someone with more social and physical insecurities than hairs on their body, this was an issue. It’s always weird, as I’ll see people who are important to me, then get exhausted and nervous around them, so when I get home and the day hasn’t gone absolutely perfectly, I toss and turn in bed, fearful that I’ve ruined my one chance to see that person, or present the best side of me. This is a hangover from my younger years, when I would literally ‘socialise’ with peers about twice a year, so there was an obscene amount of pressure to not be miserable or boring or quiet on those days; my social calendar is nowhere near as barren these days, of course, but it’s a hard feeling to shake.

So I woke up today – Wednesday, after my Herculean streak of seeing people I like – at about nine. Then, I felt sad. So I watched some LPs, shot the shit with a few friends, then went back to sleep. I woke up at noon and repeated. Then I woke up at four. Then I woke up at six, had a small moment of dysphoria (nothing says ‘I don’t feel feminine today’ as clearly as putting on a skirt and immediately wanting to impale yourself on a fish-hook) and crawled out of bed to get food.

I was okay from that point. I wasn’t productive or particularly alert – I played Madden and Spore, and watched more LPs – but I was awake. I was out of bed, and dressed, and I’d eaten.

It’d be easy for me to dismiss today as wholly unproductive and, should I get a terrible mark in a few months, I probably will. But it’s unproductive in a strictly academic sense, while being totally vital in a personal sense. I’ve spent years bottling up mental weaknesses to power through learning yet more French vocab or sourcing yet another obscure Yeats critic, and while it worked in the short term (suck on my grades, bitch!), I’d attribute the overwhelming majority of my recent mental troubles to that approach. I felt sad often, but wouldn’t take a day off; I’d question whether continuing to be alive would be the best option, but ignore that to question what Steinbeck really meant by that ending.

And here I am. I have a CV people would kill for but am an incoherent, terrified mess of a person behind it. I know more about the mind of the narrator in the Book of the Duchess than I do about my own head. My magazine is more carefully-organised than my daily routine.

Grades are important, but my health is of literal life-and-death importance.

So here I am, writing a blog post at 2am. I probably won’t get up until noon tomorrow, and almost certainly won’t open my copy of the Riverside Chaucer. The first step is to have a day where I wake up, and conclude that it would be worth it to wake up.

T-shirt weather

Hello,

‘T-shirt weather’ is a common phrase, used by people from all walks of life: people who like t-shirts, people who (wrongly) think they’re not formal attire, and even some who may not even be wearing t-shirts when they use it, displaying a baffling inability to wrap their head around the true meaning of ‘t-shirt weather’. But I have a more specialised use for this phrase, one that I use with validity as, even when wearing skirts and boots, I wear a nerdy t-shirt on top.

I approach clothing in a layered manner. The lowest layer is the t-shirt itself, a humble, thin garment used to show random people on the street just how bloody obscure and dumb my interests are. The next layer is a hoodie – not a jumper, a hoodie – that is the most flexible of layers, as sleeves can be rolled up or down, zips fastened or ignored, and is the first layer to bring proper warmth to the outfit. The final layer is my jacket – and yes, one specific North Face waterproof I took on DofE and has never let me down – and this is used to keep off wind and rain; its hood, however, is so pathetic that the hood of the hoodie is used for head coverage, explaining the necessity of wearing a hoodie over a jumper.

These three layers allow me to be at near-perfect temperatures year-round, as all of them can be pulled on or peeled off, stuffed into a rucksack on hot days, or dragged out of a bag in winter with no wrinkles or creases. They’re all thin, dark-coloured and lovely. So, when I say ‘it’s t-shirt weather’, I literally mean that a single t-shirt is the amount of clothing I require on my upper body to feel comfortable.

This has led to me coining ‘hoodie weather’ and ‘jacket weather’ as phrases that have confused and annoyed friends and family in the past, as they’ll ask me what they weather’s looking like outside and I’ll respond with my bizarrely individualised system that leaves them none the wiser as to the meteorological features of the outside world.

But this system has broken down recently, because of feminine clothing. Obviously, the t-shirt, hoodie, jacket combo is one worn by many women, but as I’ve spent nineteen years being decidedly not feminine, I feel like I have to make more of an effort on femme days; for me, femininity isn’t a women’s-cut shirt and jeans, but requires heels and a full face of makeup. This may pass in time, but at the moment it’s important to me.

As a result, I can’t apply the same totem pole of clothes for when I’m going out. Sure, I wear t-shirts with skirts, but hoodies with skirts look awful on me and I refuse to wear them; as a result, my feminine coat (the one piece of outerwear I own beyond my masculine jacket) is my thickest and warmest piece of clothing, as it must fill two of the three roles in the torso-warming operation. This also means it is very large and heavy, and so cannot be peeled off and carried over an arm with much ease, and it actually looks very cute, so I’m less comfortable cramming it into a bag like I do with my North Face coat, which is basically the waterproof equivalent of Shepard’s brutalised face at the end of Mass Effect 3 by this point.

I’m sure there are solutions to these issues that keep the tripartite structure to my wardrobe. Maybe cardigans would work, or I could invest in skirts that don’t aim to narrow the waist as much, as a narrow-waisted skirt tends to require a tucked-in jumper, which is far harder to remove than an unzippable hoodie.

But I won’t abandon those three layers of warmth; they’ve kept me safe and sane for about five years at this point, and I’m not giving them up.

Swimming

Howdy,

I did a thing today. A new thing. A thing I’ve not done in years.

I went for a swim.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with swimming. I’ve always enjoyed it, but my pursuit of aquatic greatness has always been hamstrung; I was in the designated ‘you such, you swim widths not lengths’ group in school, and family members have been relatively successful competitive swimmers in the past, so my attempts to drown across the width of a pool always looked like abject failures in comparison.

I’ve also not swum for about two years. I know because today was my first time swimming with my pump, which was stunningly not a catastrophic failure.

My adventure at Cally Pool and Gym (yes that’s honestly the name of the place) was an odd one; as a Saturday afternoon, it was startlingly empty, a far cry from the mesh of bodies, water wings and squealing children of the pool back home. I was the only one in the pool for a good fifteen minutes, which was awkward at first as I felt the judgemental gaze of the lifeguards on my flappy, flaily back, but I soon settled into a rhythm, doing that weird variant of breaststroke I do with two kicks per arm stroke.

Then a grand total of three people trickled into the pool, and I had a small revelation. I feared the guy to my left with the swimming cap, and the ginger bloke to my right with the goggles, as they clearly knew what they were doing, being all kitted up as they were. But upon closer inspection, one was painfully slow and the other could barely kick his legs. But this isn’t to dismiss them entirely, far from it. While they excelled at technique and form, I was pretty quick; while I struggled with keeping my head above the water, they were slow in drawing each stroke to a conclusion. Each of us had strengths and weaknesses, and I honestly learned a lot from staring and the bobbing heads of randomers in the pool.

It hurt more than I would have wanted – I only picked swimming because it will theoretically keep me in shape without damaging my legs any more – and I didn’t swim as far as I would have liked, but it was still a great thing to do. I missed swimming, and I’ve found a pretty cool gym.

A good Saturday, all things considered.

Casey

All the Chaucer!

Lordynges, herkneth, if yow leste

Don’t worry, this won’t all be in middle English. I’m not sure if that makes me a crap medievalist or a sensible person for not inflicting the sweet octosyllabic couplets of Chaucer onto unsuspecting bystanders.

But today is a day of Chaucer! The opening line of his famous Canterbury Tales sets the tale in ‘that Aprill with his shoures soote’, and so medievalists, Chaucerians, and people trying to impress that cute student who reads middle English have jumped on social media and are trumpeting these lines in a manner that is doing more for the publicity of Geoffrey than his bloody retraction at the end of The Canterbury Tales.

I’ve also spent most of the day in the library reading Chaucer’s dream visions, so today has been literally wall-to-wall with Chaucer; I’ll read The House of Fame, then take a break and accidentally read The Knight’s Tale on Facebook, then back to some Book of the Duchess crit, then over to Twitter where my friend wrote this hilarious Marxist response to The Canterbury Tales.

It’s interesting how teachers, professors and general adulty authority figures have long told me to take a holistic approach to learning, to not just read a book by itself in working hours, but think about its ideas when I’m relaxing. And while this is certainly true, and I would recommend it wholeheartedly, I’ve never been thumped in the face with holistic reading and penetrative knowledge in quite this way before; I once read some stuff about a knight, now I’m suddenly in on all the Twitter jokes flying around.

Obviously, the goal of art is not to be so well-versed that one can decipher a particularly niche hashtag (probably), but it’s a nice side-effect. I find it’s easy to get so wrapped up in the Classical references and lofty teachings of art that one forgets that art, nine times out of ten, is just good fun. It’s funny when Nicholas gets a poker up the arse in the Miller’s Tale, it’s daft when Fame gives out random legacies to people in The House of Fame, and Pandarus leading Troilus along like a kid sitting atop another’s shoulders, encouraging them to run by dangling a donut on a string in front of them, is cool. I certainly forget that, but today I didn’t; the dry incoherence of some 14th Century poetry suddenly became alive through hashtags and memes.

And it was great.

Now if only we could do something about the 21st century interpretations of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

And here I wol abyden the,
Casey

*suddenly becomes self-conscious*

Hey there,

I was in the communal bit of the library today – for those of you non-UCL people, or scientists who’ve never actually been to the main library – which is a small circular area with benches and chairs that people can chat and eat in, safe from the crushing obligation to do work of the library proper.

I was originally going to write a Local Celebrities post about a woman with a bizarre way of using her laptop, as she placed the computer on a chair then sat cross-legged in front of it on the floor, but have decided against such a thing.

Instead of highlighting the quirks of another, I’m going to write about my own quirks; I have gone from the online documenter, to the online documented.

Because I realised, oh too late, that for a good few people there I would be that guy; that person with a particular quirk or trait you see in public, and go home to tell your friends about in a vaguely smug and sneering manner. It doesn’t matter if you’ve cured cancer or fought crime, if you trip over a kerb and squeal reflexively you’ll be The Guy Who Tripped And Sounded Like A Pig to some idiot and their friends for the next hour.

And today, I fell into that category.

I ate some crisps in an otherwise silent room.

Now, I must stress that I wasn’t breaking any rules. Food is allowed in this space, and most of the people around me were eating, or chatting away happily. But then they stopped eating. And the conversations trickled away. Then the footfall of passers-by stopped, depriving me of the cover of even simple footsteps. It was suddenly silent.

*munch*

*munch*

*munch*

*munchmunchmunchmunchmunch*

Frak. I’d so become that guy. I could feel their looks, their quickly-averted gazes as I worked my way through my lunch with increasing hurriedness, that only served to make my chewing louder and more frantic, disruption born out of the ironic fear of being disruptive. One of them probably runs a blog with their middle name plastered all over the URL for no good reason, and they’re gonna write about me on their sardonic, black-backgrounded online canvas.

Perhaps not, but the idea still works; I’ve been more aware of what people think of me in the last few months, and now that self-awareness is seeping into my (albeit limited) interactions with strangers. I’m not cripplingly self-aware – it’s not like I abandoned the crisps as soon as I realised people might be looking at me – but it’s something that’s registering on my mind, whereas in the past I’d have imagined myself in a bubble where there are no other people and I can act as I please.

Because I can’t act as if I’m the most important person in the world; I’m simply not. It didn’t take a packet of crisps to tell me this, but it’s a nice metaphor.

Casey

On being Straight Edge

Evening folks,

I’m Straight Edge, and often I wonder why.

For those of you unfamiliar with 80s hardcore punk – shame on you – a quick explanation. Straight Edge is an idea that people don’t need things like meat, produce, drugs or even sex, and we would be better off living a more restrained, ‘clean’ lifestyle. It grew out of the 1970s, as rock become increasingly extravagant and ostentatious, and people wanted a more stripped-down alternative. In the early 80s, New York punk band Minor Threat rolled out the song ‘Straight Edge’, whose opening lines ‘I’m a person just like you, but I’ve got better things to do / Than sit around, fuck my head, hang out with the living dead’ quite succinctly sum up the idea. The song was catchy, the fans loved it, and soon frontman Ian MacKaye had accidentally invented a name for a movement.

It’s important to stress two things about being Straight Edge: it’s flexible, and it’s personal. When I was younger, I didn’t drink or take drugs, but still ate meat, and called myself Straight Edge; now I’m a vegan, still don’t drink, and am equally Straight Edge. There isn’t a list of Straight Edgy things to tick off that grants you access to some elitist club, it’s more of a mentality than a movement. Similarly, it’s super personal, as I’m Straight Edge for myself, and have zero interest in spreading it to other people; my friends drink, they eat meat, and they do the drugs, but they’re still the most important and wonderful people in my life.

Which often leads me to question why I’m Straight Edge, and why it’s so important to me, if it greatly differs from all of my other intellectual stances. I think video games are the most important form of art of the 21st century, and want to tell people this – I run a gaming magazine and my final-year dissertation will be a comparison of Old Norse mythology to Skyrim. Similarly, in my opinion Tom Brady is the greatest NFL quarterback of the century, and will happily tell you why Manning just isn’t quite as good for hours on end. I care less about football, and perhaps less about intellectualising games, as I do about being Straight Edge, so why the difference?

Perhaps being Straight Edge is so important to my idea of myself that it’s not up for debate in the way that other things are. My identity has been swinging all over the place for eighteen months now – I’m redefining my sexuality, gender, interests, friends and plans – but I’ve always loved Minor Threat and hated alcohol. It’s important, I now realise, to have a few anchor points of selfhood that let you wake up in the morning and complete the sentence ‘I am…’, and being Straight Edge has been a huge part of that. I don’t want to think about not drinking, it’s simply inconceivable that I would drink.

I’m also aware that it’s all a bit silly, in the end. Like my veganism, I know that other people aren’t gonna drop their burgers and WKDs because the great JP Casey wrote a blog post about it, so I’m not going to bother to try. I’m less interested in people’s opinions on things, and more interested in how they reach those conclusions; it doesn’t really matter if I’m vegan, or vegetarian, or pescatarian, or a conscious meat-eater, as long as I’m thinking about what I’m eating and why I’m doing it.

And while some of being Straight Edge could be considered preachy – ‘I don’t smoke / I don’t drink / I don’t fuck / At least I can fucking think’ – I don’t engage with any of that. I’m not Straight Edge to change the world, or shame you into eating lettuce. I’ll do my thing, you’l do yours, and that’s all there is to it.

But Minor Threat are still a great fucking band.

I wrote more about Straight Edge for Public Pressure, which you can check out here.

I still want to do all the things

Hello once again,

I have too much to do and not enough time to do it in, a somewhat ironic statement considering churning out a 400-word blog post apparently takes me upwards of a week these days.

For instance, this summer I want to, in no particular order, finally finish my novel, get a job, massively expand The Game Shelf, complete literally all of my third-year uni work before September, save money, buy about £400 worth of clothes, get bigger and stronger for football, get more toned and agile for karate, get thinner and curvier to fit into dresses, see my parents, not move home and beat the entirety of Skyrim for my dissertation. One of those things is worth a summer project, and it’s insane to expect myself to do all of those, especially considering some of them are mutually exclusive.

But here’s the thing: I refuse to appreciate the idiocy of such a to-do list, and refuse to prioritise the things on it. I won’t cut anything from the list because that would be accepting that some tasks, and by extension some people, are less important than others. Of course, some are more important than others, but I’m not mentally tough enough to dismiss, say, the getting stronger for football thing, because it’ll make life harder for my teammates.

I’ll just shoot for everything and complete nothing in the time-honoured style.

Which sounds like I’m barreling towards disaster – in the past this has led to tragedy after tragedy – but I’m fairly relaxed about getting all of these done. Just maybe not this summer.

I’ve been seeing the end of my degree as the end of my life for too long now, and that’s not really a helpful perspective; when I graduate I won’t be some shrivelled, physically and mentally exhausted shell, but a 21-year-old with a solid CV and a thousand and one interests. While university provides a framework for a lot of these interests to take shape – classes help me make friends, sports clubs help me keep fit, societies and magazines help me write – the removal of uni won’t remove those things altogether. There’s a pretty good dodgeball club in London I could play for when I graduate, for instance, and I can’t be the only person who like writing about games in this city.

So I won’t get a great body, loads of money and flexible groins all in one Summer. But I won’t have to.

Creative Slumps

Hello once again,

Yes, I’m still here. I’m trying not to flip between the two extremes of writing every day to writing on no days, so I’m writing a post about feeling unable to write while feeling unable to write.

Writer’s block, creative slumps, written fatigue, whatever the Hell we want to call it, it’s a phenomenon that’s affected everyone to put pen to paper and keystrokes to screens, so I doubt I have anything particularly new to add to this discussion.

But one relatively original aspect of this literary lethargy is how it’s affected so many aspects of my life. When I was younger, writing was my escape from the mundanity and relentless boredom of school, where subjects like maths and science, at the GCSE level, encouraged blind fact-learning, rather than creative thought. Writing was never boring, it was always the thing I did for fun.

A few years later, when I started blogging and writing some journalistic pieces for the ultra-serious world of student magazines, writing occupied this weird middle ground of being a big enough part of my life that I could be burned out, but not quite big enough that I could ever fully get into it. I still had to study, and go to work, and figure out how the hell to cook vegan meals.

Now, writing is edging towards being the one big thing in my life, encompassing The Game Shelf, a dozen university magazines, social media and my novel that I’m actually still working on; but the weights of university are still there. I can’t abandon studying entirely because I’m still a student.

This is where problems arise; as I encounter the creative slumps all writers do, this has a knock-on effect on both the platforms I write for, and my life outside of writing. First, if I’m struggling to get a match report out, it knocks my ability to write fiction, or blog posts, or Game Shelf pieces, and slowly all of these mechanisms grind to a halt. Then, my studies suffer as I settle into feeling stressed that I can’t write, and angry that I’ve not written, and afraid that I won’t be able to write in the future. Writing is a big deal for me, and now it’s starting to play with my emotions too.

Obviously, this can be dangerous, but I’m also having the most fun I’ve ever had with my work. I write for a magazine that is mine, and that I’m insanely proud of; every dumb tweet and dodgeball email brings me closer to my preferred, and even likely, career of juggling a few social media posts while working on novels in my spare time. There are structures in place – The Game Shelf, my social media roles on societies – that provide exactly the backbone and linear progression that I’ve personally lacked for years, and that many ‘creative’ people lack in general. Things are starting to fall into place, dragging my mood along with it; when I’m down it sucks for me, and the poor bastards I call friends who have to put up with me, but it’s totally worth it.

Hopefully I’ll snap out of this soon and start writing regularly again.

Until then,
Casey