Changing priorities

Good evening,

I’m not interested in academia any more.

Call my year six teacher, call my Sixth Form head of year, call the ambulance, the coast guard, even the careers adviser.

Because I don’t want to do academia any more.

Okay, knowingly-exaggerated introductions aside, there is a point here. It’s not that I’ve developed a sudden loathing for trawling through books and comparing Chaucerian metaphors, simply that other pursuits have emerged in my life that I am more interested in. I’ll still be that guy slaving away over Old English translations in the depths of February, musing that, indeed, oft him anhaga are gebideð, and I’ll honestly enjoy my final year of pottering about with books for the sake of achieving an almost completely arbitrary numerical judgement on the quality of said pottering. But there’s more to life than that.

And, most tragically for 14-year-old me, who sought never to deviate from the singular path of academic endeavour, some of these new things aren’t even that, whisper it, employable. My main passions are those related to administration: the running of university societies, the management of my magazine, that kind of thing. Other passions include sports, which have finally taken over a large part of my life after being relegated to the realm of hobby in the past, like a hungry tramp gazing through the windows of an affluent family, starving and alone, which was not coincidentally my response to asking people for a game of footy, only to be literally sidelined when it emerged I couldn’t kick a ball.

One particularly unacademic passion I’ve found of late is my friends. And, at the risk of sounding like a YuGiOh character, my relationships with the people around me are becoming key parts of my life, and things that I build whole events around, rather than a background thing that just kinda happens as I pursue more rigorous bookworming. I wonder what people will think of certain outfits, of how I can attend separate and simultaneous events so as not to upset anyone, and look forward with great anticipation to the next time I can meet someone for lunch or do core workouts with them in the park. This latter passion is also bound up in gender in a way that the others aren’t, and gender itself could be considered a new passion of mine, an active interest in the way I present myself to others and the regard in which I hold myself, instead of the older, more passive approach of identity only happening by accident, and in retrospect.

What this does mean, however, is that my future is even muddier than it was before. What Do You Do With An English Degree? is a question as old as the degree itself and one, ironically, warranting a whole book to be written on the subject that, yet more ironically, will inevitably not sell well enough to secure its writer consistent income. I can’t really turn ‘I care about my friends and like chatting to them about nail polish’ into a career, even with my not underwhelming spin-doctoring abilities.

But I kinda signed up for that. I intentionally stayed away from degrees that offered direct paths to employment – Law being the big one – because I expected my life to diversify and expand once I reached university, and wanted to keep my options open. I can’t say I expected everything from my name and pronouns to change, but they did, and I’m happier now than I’ve been before.

It’s just been hard to admit that academia is no longer my primary goal. My actions have long suggested this – pulling all-nighters to finish dodgeball posters is not the same as pulling all-nighters to finish an essay – but it’s the difference between being addicted to a substance and admitting you’re addicted. Now I’m admitting my addiction to … things I genuinely am passionate about?

At that point the metaphor breaks down.

And I can’t say I’m addicted too much; I’ve got a Straight Edge lifestyle to preserve.

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

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

I missed playing football

Afternoon folks,

I’ve not played football – American football, that is, which I’ll be hereafter referring to as ‘football’ because it annoys me endlessly that one word in that phrase ought to be capitalised, but the other oughtn’t – in a month, maybe longer. I’ve been injured and sad and busy and had a thousand other problems, so I’ve not had a chance to be strong-armed to the face repeatedly by large people; and I’ve missed it.

I think it’s easy to overthink things, and I do this a lot. Football became, in many ways, a chore: playing the damn game means you have to lug loads of kit around with you; you get cold and muddy and need to spend three hours showering afterwards; you worry that you’ll forget your assignments and let a receiver burn you for an 80-yard touchdown. And while these are all valid concerns – particularly when compared with sports like dodgeball which only require trainers and some reflexes – they don’t subtract from the fact that the game is just really good fun.

I often worry that I’m not doing things that are important enough, and I get stressed out when I’m not working on a project with a clear end goal; it’s not enough for me to like games, I need to write about them in a way that can be gloated about on a CV too. I see quite a few of my sports in this way, dodgeball as a way to actually stretch myself socially, karate as a chance to be the society president and have actual responsibility, and without such a lofty goal for football, it’s easy to forget why I’m playing in the first place.

It’s not like there aren’t goals for football – we have our big game against King’s next weekend – but a lot of these are communal, or would involve me in support roles. And, honestly, I struggle to not be at the centre of things. I grew up studying in an environment that made me think I was the best, and many of the projects I start myself put me in a position of absolute authority almost by default. I know this is narcissistic and cynical and hugely unfair on my friends, but these are the kinds of thoughts I’ve been relapsing into recently, which have stopped me from enjoying football; I’d reason that if I individually wasn’t winning, there’d be no point.

But this is, of course, nonsense, and it’s a pattern of thoughts I’ve been trying to cut out of my life, not just my fledging football career.

So I’m looking forward to next week’s game; not because I want to single-handedly win the damn thing (gods know I’m nowhere near good enough to do it anyway), but because I want my team to do well.

And it’s a frakking great game.

Casey