S: So writing a essay wasn’t covered in today’s seminar? I need that! I haven’t written an essay since March!
Me: I haven’t written an academic essay since 1982.
Undergraduate WhatsApp Group October 2020
In the course of this year I left my job of 22 years and moved on to manage a Charity Shop for 10 months then, three weeks ago, I started an undergraduate degree after being away from the education system for 40 years.
In some ways the timing is perfect as studying in an academic institution is infinitely preferable to working with the public during a pandemic.
Anxiety is creating erratic and sometimes aggressive behaviour, and economic stress is causing many businesses to view staff as commodities that need to be utilised to the greatest, sometimes humanly impossible, level.
I have many friends at the moment who are employed in areas where there are major cuts in personnel and they are expected to take on the extra workload of one or two others, often on less wages and under more complex conditions, but they just knuckle down muttering the mantra ‘at least I still have a job’.
I must admit I am relieved to no longer be in an environment where I need to tread carefully around people’s reactions, break up fights when customers aggressively confront someone for not wearing a mask or for trying clothes on, and patiently explain to someone else as they dump a mountain of dead relatives possessions on the floor in front of the till as they want to take the bag home to recycle it, that we need donations to be sealed and when they ask why, answer that there is a global pandemic
However entering university studies has its own challenges not least because the institutions themselves are needing to restructure their classes and reformat the way they teach, so to an extent I am navigating my way around a system that is being rewritten as I explore it.
As I fumble though the course and try to retrain my mind, I must admit I get a lot of pleasure finding that it’s still possible to discover things about myself.
I’ve always been aware that I have an innate curiosity and enjoy learning but I had forgotten that this caused me to love school (well, perhaps not the social aspects) and that the world of academia brings out in me a passion and obsession that makes me want to crawl into it and create a lovely safe space, surrounded by information filled, book lined walls and an archaic, hermetically sealed door.
When I was very young my mother had calls from my teachers, worried that I was TOO absorbed in my studies and she was always trying to drag me away from my reading to go into the outside world, which I viewed as a decidedly unsafe place.
Of course my later use of drink and drugs was the ultimate propellant into a humanly populated reality and whilst I never lost my love of ideas, a structured way of assembling them gradually eroded and when I found my place in a more creative environment, freeform arrangement of information become part of the job description so to speak.
I have worried how the learning of this new language will affect my art (and whether I will have time to create anyway)but all my exhibitions and conferences are cancelled well into 2021 and already I have found myself drifting into my studio on occasion and playing with beads, bones and making so I suspect that my need to express creatively will not be disappearing.
Initially I thought that I was going to be embarking on something that will be humbling, damaging my self esteem and wounding my pride as I make messes and mistakes.
Interestingly enough, making mistakes hasn’t bothered me though. Perhaps this is an ‘age thing’? O I am a perfectionist there is no doubt about that, but as I have aged, making mistakes have led me to insight. There have been many occasions say, when I have messed up giving a talk or presentation and after analysing where I went wrong, eventually emerged exhilarated, with the feeling of having discovered a better approach or technique.
Of course this is still very early on in the course.
My age doesn’t really create problems for me, although I mull over appropriate contact with the other students whom I suppose I am old enough to be a grandmother of. I am friendly enough but have no desire to socialise outside the faculty with either them or the mature students (whom I am also older than) although socialising is not really an option at the moment.
I did have a strange moment during a discussion about eugenics when I found myself on the same wavelength as a skinny skateboard welding 19 year old with dirty hair, but that was more a revelation about the way my mind works (like a teenage boy) spurred on by memories of me at 16 hanging out with a group of friends in a Space Invader Gaming Parlour in New Zealand, listening to Joy Division, discussing Escher, Hesse and CIA mind control experiments and going to skateboard parks.
Now it is time to try and train my brain to concentrate and see if I can force it into new configurations.
It’s all change and whilst I cannot presently catch a plane to somewhere different or go to a concert or exhibition or film I can still take my brain on a walk through unknown realms.