Tag Archives: university

Failure in A Minor (Some Other Girl)

Once there was a girl who wanted to be a music teacher. She started playing the piano when she was eleven and the clarinet when she was thirteen. She loved playing and wanted to spend her life helping others like her have that opportunity too.

Third person, you understand. She isn’t me. Some other girl.

some other girl

But actually that’s not the story. If you want to understand, it can’t start there. It has to start further back with a little girl who wanted to be a novelist. Or maybe an artist, she hadn’t quite decided.

some other little girl

The little girl loved reading books and drawing and making up her own stories, and she hated waking up early. She had heard that full-time writers and artists could wake up whenever they liked and never even had to change out of their pyjamas if they didn’t want to.

writing bliss

Sensible adults warned her that neither of these were easy careers. You couldn’t expect to make a living straight away, maybe ever, and you had to be really good.

She wanted to be really good.

She taught herself everything she could about writing from the internet, but most of what she learned was about bad writing. She read never-ending lists of mistakes and snide articles that dissected books she had loved to display their failing organs. She discovered plot holes and infodumps and two-dimensional characters and weak adverbs and purple prose and countless other things. There were so many ways to fail.

bad writing

Maybe in another story she would fight on, learn things, face her demons and emerge successful and glorious.

But we’re here for the other girl, the one who wants to be a music teacher. And we haven’t quite found her yet.

You still need to know that the little girl didn’t have many friends. This little girl, the one who wanted to be a novelist or writer (but wasn’t good enough), was a social failure. She didn’t fit in and was being bullied.

bullied

And she was lonely.

So she joined her school concert band and clarinet ensemble. She had some friends in these groups and made some more, and she found she could cleverly schedule her instrumental lessons over the parts of the school day that she most wanted to escape.

And there she is, the other girl. We’re back at the beginning. I’m sorry about the detour, but it was important, and we can begin properly now.

Once there was a girl who wanted to be a music teacher. She played the piano and clarinet. She loved escaping to play them and wanted to spend her life helping others like her have that opportunity too.

The girl went to university to get the qualifications she would need.

She thought it would be like music at school, only better because music would be all the lessons instead of just some of them.

music bliss

It wasn’t.

None of this happened to me of course. I didn’t have a bad experience studying music at university. I did not fall short again and again. I was not humiliated.

But maybe—third person—she was. That other girl.

failure

Maybe she was told that it was a character test, everything was a character test, and that she was failing.

She remembered how after-school cartoons had tried to teach her that failure wasn’t a bad thing, real failure was not trying and supreme failure was giving up.

But it felt bad. And she was trying really hard and it wasn’t helping.

She didn’t really understand. But she thought she did, and what she understood was that she couldn’t give up. Not ever, no matter how much she wanted to.

So she tried to remember that she was a girl who wanted to be a music teacher and kept going.

She endured a whole year of not giving up. And then she attended her last lesson before the summer holidays and walked out and went home. That other girl.

walking out

And as she walked out she said good bye and happy holidays and see you next year.

walking out with talking

Because she hadn’t quit. Everyone believed she would be back. She couldn’t even give up properly.

It didn’t start with a girl who wanted to be a music teacher, but where does it end and which girl does it end with?

Maybe it ended years ago, when the girl who wanted to be a music teacher got home at the end of the year wanting to be anything but a music teacher. She finally gave up, the most terrible and absolute way to fail. She changed degree (softly, safely via email), knowing that it was all character test, but not yet understanding that there is no grade.

quitting

 

It was not a decision she ever regretted, not even for a moment.

Maybe it ends now, with the little girl who wanted to be a novelist (or an artist) as a woman working as a writer and an illustrator. Perhaps, in the end, she did fight on, face her demons and emerge glorious.

writing and illustrating

But is it only okay that she failed then if she succeeds now? And success is a slippery term. She loves what she is doing and believes she is finally in the right place. But she isn’t making a living. And she has a chronic illness and cannot have another job to protect herself. And she is still frightened that she is not good enough, cannot be good enough.

(You have to be really good.)

do it anyway

Or maybe it ends someday yet to come, with a woman who sees her clarinet case and feels something close to curiosity. She will pull it out, wipe off the dust and put the instrument together. She will rediscover how the pieces fit, and then she will play again and enjoy it.

clarinet

But that’s not quite the right ending either. And maybe nothing will be. I think that this isn’t the kind of story that ends.

Because she’s still walking out. That girl, that other girl. Somewhere, always.

She was caught like a mosquito in amber as she pushed open the door, with all the failure crushing down on her and no resolution. So she is still smiling—a tired, fracturing smile—and still saying nice things to the people who made her feel worthless. And she is still telling them she’ll be back next year. And she is always promising she can do better.

(She didn’t mean to lie, but she did and it is caught too).

The moment is suspended, and then that other girl is dropped back into my life, sending ripples in all directions.

me

I am always heading away from her failure. I am always heading toward he failure. I am always her, failing.

But I understand the cartoons a little better now. Failure isn’t a bad thing.

(Even when it feels bad.)

The Importance of Basking in the Glory of Small Victories

Recently* a friend told me something surprising.

She said that I was impressive.

It took me some time to soak this peculiar idea up. I am far too used to thinking of myself as the opposite, and so the idea that I might be considered ‘impressive’ was altogether too strange to be believed. I mean, yes, the website header does include a cartoon picture of me riding a Tyrannosaurus Rex which cuts a pretty impressive figure, but spoiler alert, that never actually happened. That’s just artistic license.

victories1

The cold, hard reality is that I’m 25 years old and I’m useless at most useful things, such as social interaction, basic time management, showing initiative, caring even slightly about money and physically doing things. I don’t even have a job or any prospect of getting one until my CFS improves.

If you’re thinking that I’m being hard on myself and want to assure me that without CFS I would be a dinosaur-riding force to be reckoned with, then thank you, really, that’s very sweet. But you’re embarrassingly wrong. My maximum pre-CFS coping level just about covers going to the supermarket. That is to say, sometimes. Certainly if it isn’t peak shopping hour. Actually even then still maybe not, because when push comes to shove I can drink my tea without milk, and let’s be honest, the toilet paper situation is never really desperate until you’ve also run out of tissues.

Being impressive is a nice idea though, and it grew on me. Around this time I also realised I hadn’t made a blog post in a while, so I made a list my achievements of the past few months and have taken the time to publicly gloat over them. Opportunities to rub victories into defeated opponents’ faces are thin on the ground when your general moral policy is not to be a jerk (disclaimer: general moral policy does not apply when playing Mario Kart). As such, I think it’s important to make the most of defeating non-person things like brain-fog or the knit-1-below stitch.

victories2

That’s right. A whole jumper. A whole jumper that looks acceptable and doesn’t have unplanned holes. It’s my first knitted jumper. Before this jumper, I had only ever knitted scarves, blankets and headbands. I started it last winter and finished it in summer, but I didn’t think my victory could be properly relished without wearing it, at least for a day.

victories3

 

victories4

A popular way for movies and novels to illustrate a significant change in a person’s life is to show that person in two similar events before and after the change. It seems like a fun and effective trick, and I simply can’t resist giving it a try.

For me, the beginning of 2015 was something like…

victories5

… which may seem bad, but it’s actually really good because the beginning of 2014 was more like …

victories6

… as it occurred just over 24 hours after I had major surgery to remove a begin but ridiculously enormous ovarian cyst (seriously, it was 20cms across and weighed 1.5kg).

So I’m counting that as a general life improvement to feel good about.

victories7

For some reason I tend to not count university as an achievement. I’m not really sure why.

I say things like: “I’m useless. I haven’t done anything in the last few years.”

And my friends give me funny looks and say: “Didn’t you get two degrees? I’m sure I remember you whinging about assignments, pulling all-nighters and babbling about the Dewey decimal system while sobbing uncontrollably. If you need reminding I can produce photographic evidence of you tossing a mortarboard in the air with apparent glee.”

So this time I will count it.

In November I completed my final semester of my library and information management graduate diploma. After becoming unwell, I had to study part-time and externally. It was still hard. The effort I had to put into coursework gave me near-constant brain fog and made me crash all the time. I was accustomed to getting good grades, and it was soul-crushing to understand what was involved in an assignment but have my brain and health fail me so utterly that I still could not meet all the requirements. I drifted in a never-ending sea of confusion, vice-like headaches and exhaustion.

My grades dropped.

But I passed.

victories8

I posted last year that due to ridiculous levels of brain fog brought on by university I found myself incapable of reading Moby Dick. At the time I had to accept my limitations and stick with re-reading Harry Potter instead.

But know I have finished university and I have more freedom in what I read. I don’t have to throw every last ounce of energy at textbooks and essays. Now I can once again direct my energy toward dense, wordy books.

So I went straight back to Moby Dick and totally crushed it.

… in the mature, intelligent, literary sense of ‘totally crushed it.’

brain fog

If you have some victories to bask in the glory of, please do so in the comment section! It will make you feel warm and glowy, and who doesn’t like feeling warm and glowy?

* When I started writing this ‘recently’ was a valid word choice, but at the time of posting ‘a couple of months ago’ would be more accurate. I kept getting distracted and not finishing this post, primarily because it doesn’t have very many good jokes and I find jokes motivating.

 

Introductions

Meeting new people is hard. It’s bad enough when you have to get to know someone because they’re a friend of a friend, they’re suddenly your co-worker, or you’re at a party and have no one else to talk to. Under those circumstances there tends to be enough context to allow a conversation to grow. And if the conversation remains stunted despite all reasonable efforts then you can just escape by pretending you need to go to the bathroom.

introductions12

introductions3

But there is a type of introduction that is worse than all the others. I call this type of introduction institutionalised self-introductions, and I’m certain they were invented by the devil to increase earth’s levels of general awkwardness. Institutional self-introductions occur when a group of people meet in a formal setting. They are more common if one person is in a position of power and able to say, “Right, let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves, shall we?” without having things thrown at them. The process of an institutional self-introduction is to tell the group your name and some other ‘interesting’ facts about yourself. The category of these facts may be pre-determined by the person in power.

Institutional self-introductions tend to happen in university classes at the beginning of semester. They are usually dull, awkward or both.

In my undergraduate degree this was annoying, but it was bearable because we were not asked why we chose the degree or what our career plans were. No one poses tricky questions about LIFE PLANNING and CAREERS in a Bachelor of Arts. Everyone knows that a Bachelor of Arts is not about those things, and besides, no one wants to hear twenty versions of, “because I hate having money,” or, “it’s just to put off my inevitable career in fast food service.”

Instead we had to play mind games to get to know one another. In the most popular game you have to tell another person three things about yourself. Two of these things are true and one is a lie, and they have to guess which one is the lie.

I hate this game. It’s always awkward.

introductions4

introductions5

introductions6

introductions7

Unbelievable right? That alien hates chocolate.

But now that I’m doing a real degree I get asked real questions, and “what made you choose this career pathway?” is the favourite. The problem? I don’t have a good reason.

See, when it came to deciding upon a career I imagined myself doing the job and then assessed how I would feel about myself and life at the end of a year. The hypothetical year usually ended with me stapling things to my forehead.

introductions8

Teacher was an exception. I would not staple things to my forehead after a year of moulding young minds. I would staple things to the foreheads of my students.

I did not include a picture of this because I thought it might cross a line. Stapling things to your own forehead = valid comedy. Stapling things to children = ILLEGAL AND BAD. I would probably get put on lists and be banned from playgrounds for the rest of my life. And I like playgrounds.

But I did manage to come up with some jobs that I thought would make me happy.

introductions9

I couldn’t find any job listings for these professions, and I was eventually forced to concede that books, games and television had been lying to me for years about the levels of awesomeness I could expect from life.

There was, however, one last dream profession. And it had job listings.

introductions10

So with that reasoning under my belt, I began a postgraduate degree in library and information management and a new hell of institutionalised self-introductions began. And they always ask the dreaded question …

“What made you choose this degree?”

I do have answers: because I would like to learn how to navigate L-space, because I would like to be able to play the piano with my feet and because I think that all the other available professions will destroy my soul. But I felt intuitively that my reasons would not be acceptable. I would probably get funny looks, especially from people unaware of Discworld (not that these people really count). So I had to think of a clever lie as a cover.

This is what I went with and how it turned out:

introductions11

introductions12

introductions13

This happened twice before I gave up. For my next introduction I led with the little fact that I hate introductions. It got a bit of a laugh, but the lecturer’s laugh sounded forced and I had the nasty feeling that this had happened:

introductions14

Another failed introduction. One day I might be capable of a decent introduction that earns the respect of my fellow peers/students/collegues/whatever. Or even just one that makes people laugh. That day is a long way off. Perhaps a more realistic goal would be to introduce myself without predisposing the lecturer/boss/whatever to dislike me.

As it is, the most successful institutionalised self-introduction I have seen occurred when someone managed to tangent their introduction facts to this:

introductions15

introductions16

This was genius. I bet no one screwed around with her in group assignments. I bet she didn’t end up doing all the work. I bet people listened to her ideas. That’s what I call a success.

Also, it’s the only institutionalised self-introduction I remember. I have forgotten everyone else in the time it would take a goldfish to swim from one end of its bowl to the other. No offence to those people. I’m sure they’re all interesting and awesome. They would have all forgotten my introductions too.

It’s just that institutionalised self-introductions don’t work. Not really. Everyone says bland, boring things, and everyone forgets everyone else straight away. There are more important things to remember on your first day at university, such as where the closest pub is.

Besides, you don’t gain a real understanding of a person by believing what they say about themselves. Some people are too arrogant, some people are too modest and some people just value different character traits to you.

introductions17