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.

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.

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