My first week back at university is drawing to a close.
I have a complicated relationship with studying. A large part of me loves it: loves learning, loves thinking about interesting and intellectually challenging topics, loves reading and research, loves long hours in the library and required reading in the sunshine. I love the sense, when you’re on campus, that you are existing within a bubble. Not a sheltered, unrealistic, wait-until-you-graduate-and-see-what-the-“real”-world is like bubble, but a physical bubble: high walls, quiet spaces; the intended design of the buildings melding with the actual, inevitably disorganised way that people use them. The sense that you have passed through some filmy, soapy, invisible skin and into a different world where you don’t have to apologise for sounding smart.
Another, larger part of me hates it, even while I am loving it. And the reasons for hating it are far more nebulous and inexplicable than the reasons that I love it. Every morning, on the bus across town, I sit amongst a group of people five years younger than me and chastise myself for how much of a loser I am. Why didn’t I figure this out earlier? Why did it take me so long to reconcile my love of learning with my ability to show up and function? Have I actually reconciled this yet, or will this semester end like so many of them have: in tears, in failure, in forfeited grades and an enormous, nothing-to-show-for-it HECS debt.
I both love and hate the way that studying makes me feel. I feel dumber and smarter at once. My Philosophical Logic lecturer would probably be cringing, if he were to read this, but his class makes me feel this stronger than any of the others have so far. Coming out of his intensive two-hour first week seminar this afternoon, I felt that all-too-familiar mix of pride and dread. The weird sense of achievement at having solved a simple, introductory logic problem coupled with the crushing sense of foreboding I have about this class. I am probably going to fail it. I am not smart enough to pass Philosophical Logic.
I hate deadlines; they give me panic attacks. I hate group projects and public speaking; I hate paying large sums of money to have rambling lecturers condescend to me. I hate the long commute to campus. I hate awkward conversations with strangers and how desperate I am to have one of them talk to me, so that I don’t have to sit alone. I hate the feeling that the person behind me in the lecture theatre is reading my notes over my shoulder and quietly thinking I’m an idiot. I hate that I’ve somehow associated graduating with worthiness.
And yet I think all the time about what I am going to take on next. Whether it’s more study or pursuing a particular career path or finishing my novel, I am always taking on things that I have this weird, complicated, largely unhappy relationship with. These things that are essential to my sense of self that I, overall, hate; I hate myself in the moment of doing them. But I love them, too. Somehow.
[Note: Again, this is another post dug up from a bloody, dark past, a.k.a. the beginning of semester. A few things have changed since I wrote this: I dropped out of Logic, but I also made some friends on campus and felt a little less lonely and worthless by the end of it. I got through the semester without crashing, burning, or failing anything. Regardless, there’s still a lot in this essay that holds true about my relationship with higher education, and I thought it was still worth publishing. I hope you think so too. LS]