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

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

The Dread Spectre of Social Awkwardness

Hi again,

First up yes, I didn’t post for a few days. Yes, I’m still the same person who sustained a 150-odd daily post streak last year.

I realised, however, that forcing myself to write is never a good thing; the last few days I was feeling sad, and instead of putting on a happy or upbeat face to write a quirky blog post, I thought eating Oreos and playing Civ V would be a less painful exercise. And, sure enough, I’m now feeling good again, so am getting back to blogging. This isn’t to say that writing in general is destructive when I’m feeling down – the opposite is true, in fact – but writing in this manner, on a personal blog that aims to be amusing most of the time, requires me to be confident in myself, and feel good enough to want to make jokes. If one of these conditions isn’t met, the posts, and the overall blog, will suffer; a lot of the bitchier, more aggressive posts on my last blog came from me writing from a position of sadness and fear, and in those moments anger is a comforting substitute for a real solution.

So there may not be posts absolutely every day on here, but I’m feeling better as a result; if the choice is a blogging streak or my mental health, I’m sorry WordPress, but you’re not winning that one.

Now, let us talk about social awkwardness, a topic analysed, laughed at and cried over by literally everyone to have ever booted up a computer and stumbled waywardly onto the homepage of YouTube, Reddit, or even just Facebook. Some people are afraid of awkwardness, others wear it as a badge of quirky, indie honour, others despise it as the result of an increasingly oversensitive society; and there are a million more opinions held by a billion more people.

My interpretation of this much-analysed social phenomenon is that it’s more of an event than a state of being; people aren’t socially awkward in the way that they’re friendly or anxious, but suffer from socially awkward events in the way that they experience memorably events and painful events.

For instance, today I locked eyes for half a nanosecond with someone who I think is from my course but honestly I couldn’t tell; they smiled at me – so we must know each other from somewhere – and I think I recognised them from the glimpse I got, but I can’t really say.

Now, I would call this a socially awkward situation, but I’d not say that I’m socially awkward. The awkwardness comes from my inability to remember people’s faces, the fact that I struggle to talk to strangers or people I don’t know very well, and the speed of the entire exchange that meant the whole thing was over before I had a chance to respond to it. These traits prevented me from smiling back, or stopping this person to chat about it.

You may call the combination of these traits ‘social awkwardness’ as a trait itself, but socially awkward situations can arise from so many personal traits that I’d find that difficult to do. A situation can be awkward because you’re shy, or not feeling like talking, or distracted by something else, or afraid of that person, or you make a mistake in remembering who they are and what they do, or an infinite number of other very specific behaviours.

To simplify all of this into ‘social awkwardness’ is an oversimplification that I think can be very harmful; I’ve spent a lot of my life not talking to people, or being afraid of sending emails to teachers or calling doctors and dentists, and when I found the Internet and its social awkwardness-blaming culture, I found false comfort. I placed myself in the ‘Irreversibly Socially Awkward’ category, which was comforting for a time, but then I realised I was still unable to make new friends, or keep old ones, or engage in people professionally, so this newfound label didn’t really help. I may have gone too far the other way now – breaking down each of my behaviours and mannerisms to identify which of the rainbow of Sims 4 traits I best personify – but at least I know how I’m flawed in more detail. I know that I used to be very dismissive of other people’s opinions, which I’ve tried to correct in the last eighteen months; I used to treat people with disrespect when they talked about something they liked rather than humouring my by feigning an interest in something I liked, which I’ve also worked on. I’ve not corrected these negative traits entirely, and I have a myriad of others that I probably don’t even realise, but I think I’m a more tolerable and tolerant person than I was two years ago; than I was six months ago, even.

So while diagnosing yourself as socially awkward can be a relief, it’s not a solution as far as I can tell. It’s a cultural phenomenon too broad to ever be improved upon by itself, so I would encourage breaking it down into smaller traits that can be managed, or altered, or unlearned altogether.

The more harmful traits I remove, the less the Dread Spectre of Social Awkwardness hangs over me; unless I lock eyes with an acquaintance in the library, of course.

I have a laptop charger

Howdy,

I almost wrote ‘JP Casey’ in bold at the top of this post; thirty-odd articles identically-formatted over on The Game Shelf have started taking their toll on me. I wasn’t even thinking about it; my fingers just went for CMD-B and ‘J’.

While formatting might be tedious and laborious for most people, I rather enjoy fiddling with alignments and spellings and layouts; it’s one of several mundane things I quite like. Another one is having a charger for one’s laptop.

You see, recently, my laptop charger broke. I’m certain it was the charger – I could charge my laptop with other identical chargers, and other functional computers wouldn’t be charged by that charger – so once I had isolated the problem, lobbed it haphazardly into a waste paper basket and spent a million quid on a new one, I faced a problem. How was I to use my computer without a charger? How was I to play Civ V when the battery would drop from 100% to 40% within 35 minutes of playing?

The answer came in the form of my flatmate, who let me borrow their charger until mine arrived. But even this was an imperfect solution; while I shall forever be eternally grateful to this angelic individual for their altruism, this solution did require a bit of schedule-jigging to operate.

‘Oh, you can’t use it then because I’ll be out all day.’

‘Can I have it overnight then?’

‘How will I get it in the morning?’

‘Take it from my room before you head out.’

‘But that’s at six! What if I wake you?’

These were the exchanges that dogged my attempts to use electricity over the past few days.

The upshot of all this is that I realised how important small things are; the mundane are mundane not because they’re devoid of value, but because they are so valuable that we need use them all the time. Mundane things are really spectacular things so spectacular that we can’t live without them.

Without a grey cable with a current running through it – a device not considered ‘groudbreaking’  in at least three generations – I couldn’t write. I couldn’t submit any work, nor could I edit it. I couldn’t translate Boethius, or play games, or watch videos, or do much of anything related to the Internet. That cable is one of the most important things in my life, and it took losing it to make me realise this.

Now, I’m not going to go overboard and start punching the air whenever I successfully plug in a charger, with my newfound appreciation of how bloody cool that is, but I think it’s important to be grounded. My aspirations involve novel-writing and game-teaching and relationship-forging, when 99% of ‘living’ consists of wrestling with laundry and remembering to pay bills.

And some of that smaller stuff is cool, most of it sucks, but all of it is important.

Casey