(much like I need oxygen or the excitable voice of Superjeenius as he plays Phoenix Wright blind)
I know that medics, lawyers and anyone doing a degree slightly more employable than a BTec in remedial knitting will take reading week as just another seven-day span of revision, stress and underappreciation that mirrors about 98% of adult employment, but for a special creative snowflake such as myself, I need this bloody week.
It’s not that I’ll be noticeably freer over these seven days; I visit uni less frequently than one uses Kanji as a party member in Persona 4. And my writing and society responsibilities aren’t going to bugger off into the either just because some administrative bigwig at UCL arbitrarily circled this upcoming stretch of days as ‘days off’. It’s just the concept of ‘no classes’ that sings to me, like a siren dragging me towards evenings of Football Manager, Doritos and sandwiching my feet under my desk between two pillows like giant monolithic slippers.
Often, I feel that stress only has an impact on your life if you define yourself as ‘stressed’. I’ve worked through the hell of A-levels, which is objectively the busiest few months of my life, but never felt strained or stretched as I didn’t think that I was getting stressed, only that I was getting work done. Similarly, hammering out a dozen articles a day can feel rather easy if I don’t think about the scale of work I have to do, and instead focus on that work. Without context, stress ceases to exist, as one’s to-do list becomes nothing more than a series of individual tasks.
Yet recently, I’ve had to contextualise my actions. Whenever I’m reading a piece in Old English, I’m aware that my work counts towards my degree, and immediately start questioning if this degree is worth the tear-inducing debt I’ve racked up to pay for it. When I write for The Game Shelf, I’m not just thinking about the article in question, but how that article feeds into the broader identity and appeal of the magazine, it being the project I’m most serious about pushing to a profitable state (at least on a part-time basis). As my life becomes more real life, it becomes harder to focus on tasks and distance them from their scary, stressy contexts, and panic and fatigue quickly sets in.
The best part, however, is that there isn’t really a solution as far as I can see. I can’t be oblivious to the broader consequences of my actions, because they’re more real than ever before; if I don’t take paying my bills seriously, I won’t have a home; and if I don’t take my degree seriously, I won’t have a job. I’m aware that I’m defining a lot of my future in the negative, but that’s just how responsibility makes you think. Instead of doing task x for benefit y, you’re doing it to avoid consequence z. Equally, I’m not going to let off on any of my activities, because they’re all engaging and fun and I’d honestly struggle to justify dropping one instead of another based on arbitrary and subjective definitions of ‘usefulness’ (apart from my addiction to Persona 3; I’m pretty sure I’ll only get better grades if I cut down on that). So in the absence of an answer, I’ve stuck it out, to wait for a temporary reprieve from the madness and fear. This seems to be the default response for a lot of people my age, and until I graduate, and have time to consider my experience, qualifications, interests and dreams, that’ll have to do.
Of course, by then it’ll all be too late, and I’ll have to give up, become a secondary school English teacher and get a cat to keep me company.