Caffeine’d

Howdy,

First, a digression.

I’m going to tell you the story of what happened last Thursday night, the 17th of November. Astute calendar-watchers will observe that today is a Saturday, the 26th of November, a full nine days after the event in question. Maybe I’m getting old and disinterested in blogging, and so I don’t see a problem with such a delay in written observation as I once did, or perhaps my life is increasingly resembling a gelatinous mess of times and dates and deadlines and banterous stories that a nine-day difference is nothing to me when life is one big, chaotic to-do list to plow through.

But regardless, I am going to tell you the story of being caffeinated up to the eyeballs, so here goes.

As some of you may be aware, I don’t drink caffeine. This is in part an aspect of the Straight Edge lifestyle I lead, where I dislike the idea of being reliant on drugs to the point where I abstain from them entirely, and in part based on my own personal catastrophic experiences with alcohol, that ended with me alternating between Red Bull-fueled lectures and naps in Regent’s Park in first year. It’s been pointed out that abstinence isn’t the most mature of responses to something like this – it betrays a fundamental lack of self-control if one doesn’t trust oneself to only take something in moderation – but for the sake of my health, I avoid caffeine completely.

Until Thursday.

*dramatic music*

Due to a series of unlucky timetabling issues and my own negligence, I ended up with nine hours of Old Icelandic prose to translate for a 10am seminar on Friday. I realised this at about 2pm on Thursday. In theory this would give me ample time to complete the work: start at 2, finish at 11, go home and get a solid night’s rest, right?

Right.

I’d already had about three hours of sleep the night before, and I wasn’t free until about 5pm on the Thursday to work on the translations; so best-case scenario, I’d be working until 2am, by which point I’d have been up for 18 hours after 3 hours the night before. Not impossible, but certainly strenuous considering I’m stressed all the time and haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since September.

So I did what 15-year-old me would consider unthinkable; I broke Edge and drank caffeine.

But I don’t do things in half-measures, so instead of grabbing a coffee or nursing a can of Monster through the night, I bought two litres of Blue Bolt, the Sainsbury’s own-brand version of Red Bull, chugged it, and opened my textbook.

Obviously, caffeine is not the most mind-shattering of drugs, and I don’t expect to be presented with a Hardcore Binge Champion sash any time soon, but it was certainly a shock to the system. I simply didn’t feel tired, nor did I get bored from the work, and I spent the evening chirpily tweeting my experienced to an engrossed audience of about two people, which is two more than I can usually hope for. The nine hours passed relatively quickly and painlessly, and even when I got on the bus home the worst I experienced was a weird lightheaded-ness and an inability to string a sentence together, which is really my default state of being.

I then spent Friday with a constantly high blood sugar and slept most of Saturday, so it wasn’t all peachy.

At the end of the day though, I used caffeine without wrecking my health, which is a huge step forward. It might be an uncharacteristically clinical approach to dismiss it as s purely mechanical force, something akin to an ankle brace strapped to a foot for a few hours for a game, then peeled away at the final whistle to let normal humanity return, but it’s a pretty solid metaphor in all honesty. I might break Edge again over summer for my exams, or even over Christmas to get my dissertation finished, because I’m at the stage in my life where idyllic lifestyles are less important than getting shit done: I have a degree to do, which will get me a job, which will pay for my rent and food, which will allow me to actually live.

But I won’t make a habit of it; I didn’t get to bed until about 4am that Friday morning.

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.