As if the fact that I’m sat with my third cup of coffee in the four hours since I woke up this morning, frantically trying to meet a deadline for an essay that I could have written a month ago isn’t enough of a sign that I'm back at uni, I can’t feel my toes again because they’ve been soaked in slushy, grey snow for a week – a quintessential ‘refreshers’ welcome back to Durham.
I don’t like essays, that’s a fact. But there are definitely benefits to actually being able to construct an argument of my own, in my own time and wherever I want to, instead of being sat in another lecture, not listening in laptop-screen-half-light.
But the one that I’m procrastinating from writing right now (for every ten minutes of essay I’ve spent at least fifteen staring at the snow collecting on the terrace of the café or re-refreshing every social media platform my phone offers or watching every other student in here do the same) is proving challenging in ways I didn’t expect.
It counts for 50% of my one elective module that I’ve chosen to take in music: I have to observe a music event and then discuss it alongside the literature we’ve studied so far this year. Which doesn’t sound too bad at all, especially when you’ve had years of experience of music being used as a method for accessible prayer in a progressive Jewish environment – the perfectly personal (undeniably niche) topic for the essay.
I was really excited to be able to write about something that I actually really cared about and felt like I could offer an important and unique perspective on (something that I’m repeatedly told is not the point of an undergraduate degree, but I’m still invested in anyway). And in lots of ways it really did fulfil that for a while. But that really only lasted for the month where the essay was still in the I’ll-start-it-tomorrow phase.
As soon as I actually started to write it, I realised something I wish someone had told me before I came to Durham – don’t mix your soul with university work.
I'm sure that sounds extreme and, to be fair, probably is a bit. I can really see why investing all of yourself in a piece of work, especially as your degree progresses, is important. And most people are studying what they are because they care about it personally (you’d hope). But all this essay is reminding me of right now is how I loved playing the piano until my teacher told me I had to do grade examinations and I’ve hardly played since – sometimes being judged on something or having to turn it into a practised discipline really drains all the life out of it.
I’ve spent all my time so far having to introduce the context of this music event.
The reality is, trying to describe the context for this essay is like trying to write some of the most important parts of my life - parts of me - in academically acceptable, fully cited and precise words. Which I can tell you, is just not possible and actually really disheartening.
It doesn’t matter to my professors that I'm paraphrasing until the bare basics are there, but it matters to me. To the extent that I just really wish I could stop writing it altogether – stop writing what needs to be pages of stories and feelings into a few lines of soulless syntax.
I’m not saying never write academically about something personal, but I can tell you it is a gruelling process and, if you leave it as late as I have (an hour and another coffee later, now that I’ve written this), then there’s no opportunity to go back and change your mind.