The breakthrough moment in my first year of Uni has been my lecturers striking.
Every one of my tutors are on strike at the moment and they will be for quite a long time to come. Whilst everyone else has been raging about it, whatever their opinion on the industrial action itself, I have had something close to an epiphany! For the first time in this whole academic year I have been proactive in my own studying, I have taken the initiative and decided to do all of the suggested reading because finally I feel like this degree is my responsibility, it is up to me whether I am going to be bothered or not to make a go of this.
Previously when I have been at Uni, I have done the bare minimum of work, just enough to scrape past and have a vague understanding of the syllabus. And it has been miserable. I have hated being the half-arsed student in the corner of the seminar room who is pretending to be aloof and above the whole situation when really the depression inside me was eating me up from the inside out. Finally I have instigated an actual interest in the work I am doing. I purposely start each day with the intention of finding something positive in the work I am doing, making the best of things even when a certain week’s topic may not be to my liking.
This is all down to the strike. Being left on my own to teach myself everything has been a revelation. Without the stress of having to go to seminars and the anxiety about sitting in a lecture hall, I have been able to breathe freely again and engage with my education because I choose to, not because otherwise I might be asked a question in my seminar and be completely stumped for the answer.
There has been a lot of anger and frustration surrounding this strike. Many students, whilst supporting the industrial action, have been annoyed that they are missing out on an educational experience that they have paid dearly for. However, for me, this strike has been my saving grace and I only hope that I can keep-up the momentum…
When did life stop being about romance novels set in idyllic cottages in the English countryside? When did I stop curling up with a bookend reading for fun without the pressure to analyse every piece of grammar?
Reading books used to be about fun for me. I could escape into someone else’s story, dream about them and pretend to inhabit their world. My imagination would be set alight by the endless possibilities of different endings and ideas for sequels so that I could keep that world alive. I would feel at my most safe when I was huddled under blanket knowing that I didn’t even have to move from the sofa for the rest of the afternoon if I didn’t want to, I could just sit in peace and read.
I devoured books quickly because I was hungry for that spark of magic that they held. I couldn’t savour them for long as quickly passed onto the next one that was sure to pull my into its own world. In this way, I had one corner of my life that was reserved purely for happiness and adventure through books.
I think I have lost these feelings though somewhere. I think I left them behind when I became desperate to prove myself to be an academic and someone who had an insight into pieces of text because I relied on my academic ability to feel like I had any self-worth. I stopped looking at books as magic portal keys into a different world and instead saw them as an opponent I had to face and conquer; something that wasn’t to be enjoyed but to be pulled apart and critiqued through the voice and eyes of someone else. I wrote long essays on books using opinions that weren’t true to me but what I thought would impress my teachers. I lost any passion for literature because if I read a book that wasn’t a Classic or prestigious I had the voice of a snooty academic in the back of my head telling me that was reading an unoriginal piece of commercial writing.
I realise now what a mistake it was for me to give into this voice. Reading made me happy and by giving in to people who felt that they had the right to lecture me on what was good and bad was ridiculous. If I get a sense of enjoyment out of book then I can think that it is good. It doesn’t matter that I am 18 and I still hunger to pore through the shelves of YA fiction in Waterstones, why can’t I give into that impulse if it makes me happy? Books don’t have to be micro-analysed. They can be if that is what you are using it for but primarily surely they are there to engage with the reader in whatever way they can. Also, I’m pretty sure authors wouldn’t be happy with teachers telling pupils what they should and shouldn’t think and feel in relation to their book. Books are made to be enjoyed, not for a teacher to force it down someone’s throat.