Well well well, looks like I owe myself another kick-up-the-arse, on account of another long, unnanounced break, and one on the heels of an announcement, at that! Looking back, I actually wrote that previous update earlier than I thought I had, before a rather important event, in fact. One I should have mentioned and its place in my life circumstances.
I’m currently in my second year of university. Well, I say second. It’s actually my third attending. A fortnight ago, I started my repeat of the second year. If you want to go back to the root of the problem, I would say it started five years ago. I took a ‘transition year’ during secondary school, an optional year between junior and senior exam cycles usually focused not on learning for a curriculum, but basic forms of less common subjects (such as film studies) and life skills; mock job interviews, extra study skills, cooking, presentation skills, public speaking, project work, entrepreneurship, open days to universities. A side effect of this is much, much less study and homework. And that’s what caught me.
I’ve always performed pretty well in school; not by any means all-As all the time, but regular and consistent As and Bs. I used to have a great work ethic, but a year where it could take a backseat (and a limousine’s backseat at that) took its toll. Twelve months out of comission without keeping it oiled as I should have made it immensely slow to start up again. And I never really managed to kickstart it.
Even without that work ethic, I’ve been, hell, lucky. I’m able to go over something once, then once again shortly before I need it and it’ll be solid in my head. For the most part, whenever I produced something for an essay or assignment, it came out pretty good even without intense preparation or editing. And that’s what got me through the next four years. Minimalism and dumb luck. I’d do homework the night before it was due (quite literally, as in ‘doing it at midnight sitting up in bed’) consistently. When my final exams, the one that would determine my college place, came around, I had at first internally resigned myself to settling for my second choice, knowing that my lack of preparation had fucked me over. But as each exam went by, I felt a little more confident. I was trotting out answers running on clockwork, and maybe, just maybe, I felt like I had a shot at what I really wanted.
And I was right.
In August of 2011, I received my Leaving Certificate results, and I can still remember the shaking hands and disbelief, running the numbers in my head over and over, asking no less than three teachers to clarify, and denying that I’d gotten an A+ in an English paper I was hardly prepared for (no joke, I basically riffed out a Robert Frost essay just snatching quotes from memory. I hadn’t prepared an essay plan on him at all). In fact, the only thing I’d truly prepared for enthusiastically across that twelve-paper block of exams was a brief spiel about Wakfu for my French oral exam. I’d gotten my first choice: BA with Creative Writing in NUI Galway.
My luck slowly started to taper out from there.
I spent enormous chunks of that first year wandering around the campus in a daze, still reeling from the notion that I was actually there at all. Without the daily checks and balances of homework to keep me chugging along and no absences noted for lecture attendance, my work ethic suffered more, slipped into nothingness. In the end, I was in the bizarre situation of producing B-grade content whenever I turned up for an exam, but it was the self-discipline involved that snagged me. When the year ended, I had done five of the nine (!) independent assignments: one of them through an all-nighter and turned in two hours before it was due before going to bed at half seven in the morning, one of them planned the night before and written on the day it was due, and one of them turned in one hundred days late (although I had been immensely set back and demotivated by a hard drive crash almost to the end that wiped out my work, it was still my fault in the first place).
One of them was an independent essay for English on any literary subject of my choosing as long as it had a literary bent and involved at least one text from the course. I had settled on comparing views of mankind in their historical context between H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds and the Cthulhu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft. To this day, I feel great disappointment in myself for all the planning and research I put into that essay, remembering the thrill of poring over a volume of Wells’ personal correspondance, initially going in just to grab a few quotes on the subject of eugenics and ending up reading his letters to Mahatma Gandhi. I dog-eared pages in my three beloved Lovecraft books to find quotes and photocopied huge portions of his essay on Edgar Allan Poe. And yet, for all the fun I had in setting out to prove my thesis, researching the scientific and political climates of the times, and devouring resources to use, I never actually sat the fuck down, paragraph by paragraph planned and wrote the blasted thing. To be honest, I think that one day, just for my own peace of mind, I will.
And that applied all across my first year. I went in to exam halls and pumped out good content on theories of punishment, ethical eating, poetry from the civil rights moment, Greek tragedy, and Plato’s Republic all on scarce knowledge gathered mostly in the week before the exams, and turned in thorough assignments for my Creative Writing and Classics courses, as well as a pretty unique take on a Shakespeare extract, but I never forced myself to take a stand on consequentialism vs deontology, read to the end of The Butcher Boy, or even really challenged myself as I should have. I ignored parts of my workload, and survived because what I did do dragged me through to second year, a second year that I all but dropped out of.
The difference between my first and second years is that in my first, I actually did some things which pulled me through. In my second year, I stopped going to lectures early, and didn’t hand in anything. I would stay at home instead of go to lectures to attempt to catch up, but the seemingly insurmountable wall of starting anything big, rather than just taking gradual baby steps as I should, would make me procrastinate. Repeat ad infinitum from mid-October to May. I went to counselling to try and sort myself out, pinning so much of it on my anxiety (which actually was the case a fair portion of the time), but ended up (you’re gonna love this) lying to my counsellor so I wouldn’t let them down. I still have to clear that up with them. Yeah…counselling’s another thing I ‘stopped showing up for’. I kept trying to soldier on alone, but kept shying away from anxiety, shame, intimidation, and as there’s no avoiding saying it by this point, full-blown depression. Truth be told, the day that I stopped sincerely believing that I could ‘fix’ it was the day I didn’t turn up for exams.
Now we’re growing closer and closer to the current time. Towards the end of the second semester, I had told my parents I was positive I was going to repeat the year, and that that was what I wanted. But I did not tell them the full story of what I was doing, or more accurately, what I wasn’t doing. I just told them that I’d realised that failure wasn’t going to cause the sun to fall down atop me, that life goes on, and that I could still move on. It wasn’t until my results came out in early-mid-July that the truth came with them. It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but we all, in a way, came to terms with what happened. For a while, they suggested that I change course to somewhere close to home, but in the end I went ahead with my year-repeat plan. A few emails to clarify details, some research, and I was set to come back. It seems that what I needed to truly realise where I had to go and what I had to do was this abject failure and feeling of helplessness. No more coasting along. I needed my nose rubbed in the dirt of the grave I’d been digging myself before I could see that I had to self-right.
I wasn’t fully in the clear. I spent until August of that summer doing almost nothing beyond playing video games. My original plan was to play each Mass Effect game with a short ‘palate cleanser’ game from my backlog in between 1 and 2, and another between 2 and 3. I had assumed, with the length of each game, that I would finish Mass Effect 3 toward the end of August. Well, I underestimated the amount of time I’d spend playing daily, and as the last post can attest to, I finished a month and a half early. I dialed back on the gaming throughout August, spending a few hours six days a week doing independent study to fix my broken work drive, but in the end I finished a whopping twenty-two games over the summer (the Mass Effect Trilogy, all nine canon Metal Gear Games, and ten games of varying length, including finally finishing three PS1 titles I’ve had since around 1999). Meanwhile, friends I’d made in university were preparing to travel and write independently, or were working as student embassadors. People all around me were doing things with their lives, while I was trying to fix mine in between bouts of playing Lego Rock Raiders.
So there you go. I was fundamentally broken as a writer. For all my creativity, for all the subjects backlogged and thought processes whirring away, I lacked the one thing that put it all out there; drive, discipline, tenacity, call it what you will. That unique ability to sit your ass on that chair, start writing that damn post, and don’t stop until you’ve got something substantial, no day-long breaks, no facebook checks, no fact-checks that last hours. I’d hit my wall a couple sentences in, and give up to ‘focus’ on something else.
However, I owe it to myself to be less glum. Because from where I’m sitting, it mostly seems to be behind me. In another tab I’ve got the form for repeat students loaded, ready to print tomorrow, and yes, even though the €1800 fee will sting, at least I have direction. I’m a couple days into my third week back, I’m comfortably ahead on my homework, I’m engaged in my classes, writing poetry is a much easier and much more enjoyable task than last time, I haven’t missed a single thing (I’m even seeing content that I don’t recall; did I really miss a couple classes this early in the year last time?), and I’m drifting just shy of a 2,000 word blog written on my own time in one sitting rather than lying on my back playing Dangan Ronpa for three hours solid.
Needless to say, life isn’t rosy right now: the culture shock of coming back up here and getting reaccustomed to student life is stronger than I expected, I have some loose ends to tidy up, people to get back in touch with (I essentially disappeared from messengers for that year, the ‘appear offline’ button becoming my new best friend), things in my personal life that will take some time to move forward, and I must keep up the good habits I’ve maintained for these few weeks after losing them for years; but despite all that, I feel good.