Samantha Carr explores the pressure of an Arts student.

 

Honours life has set me in fluctuation between the two extremes of St Andrews. You will either find me at the lib (pronounced ‘libe’ – just in case we’re not on the same crazy cool levels) or loving the Liz. Unfortunately this article, as well as the majority of my time, revolves more around the lib.

It’s the library or Lizard because I’m an Arts student. My life is either taken over by an essay or I’m letting serious steam off with a celebratory Sliz. It’s pretty ridiculous, really. I feel awkward admitting to being an Arts student on public transport. I love making train pals; there is, after all, always a delay to moan about with a co-traveller. I just know I really shouldn’t complain about my life to them. It’s really just not that bad. But the occasional whinge does slip out in the carriage if I have an essay due, even when I do try to hold back.

So why is it that an Arts student, with little responsibility, and a whopping four hours of class a week, can feel like they have the right to complain about a measly essay? I’ve realised after this week it’s what happens in the essay writing process that makes a deadline so daunting for me. I’m just not myself. I have a sliver of personality hiding somewhere but nothing too substantial. I will try to engage with you but my mental hourglass can get so overbearing that it stops me functioning the way a human being should do after a while.

The essay process is an emotional rollercoaster. I hate myself for using that phrase, but it is. I don’t mind the optimistic early days of preliminary reading, photocopying (this should not, but definitely does count as essay work), and who knows – maybe even a cheeky mind-map. These days are colourful. You take and enjoy breaks, socialising, even allow yourself to wonder what you fancy cooking for dinner. It’s a good time, you feel productive but you’re still aware of the world around you.

It gets much, much darker though. It’s when you spend more hours at the library than you do in your own flat that things tend to take a turn for the worse. Writing your essay becomes an occupation, you can describe your week, mood, or future schedule simply by stating: “I have an essay due Monday.” Uttering that sentence is enough for a friend to get it. It’s pretty bleak when you recognise so many people from the library. Not because you know them, or have even spoken to them before, but because they’re the ones who have been beating you to the desks with power outlets on the top floor. They clearly also have a deadline, a tacit understanding exists between you and them that it’s going to be okay. Or maybe it won’t.

It’s when you lose hope the night before the deadline that things get really bad. When you know that no amount of caffeine will ever be enough to stay strong for the hours you face ahead. When you topple over the twelve hour mark in the library and still haven’t finished. It seems silly now, but the dark library hours really made me question myself this week.  Can I do this? Am I capable? Should I be here? Am I, really, ever going to be close to being an academic? The hour glass continues to flow. But the words won’t, and they don’t, for an eternity.

I’m a pressure-worker, as are many of my friends, and so we tend to reach a point in our essay writing process – usually always better late than never, but pretty late all the same – that we term to be our epiphany. It takes a severe lack of time and staring at your work for so many hours that the words are no longer words, just black squiggles on a white page, for me to have an epiphany. When I break the dark stage, it’s because I’ve realised what I have at this point is all I can give. I reached my epiphany far too close to my deadline to ever be comfortable this week, but gosh did I see the light. It’s such a rush to regain control again. You’re finally winning, writing. Finishing that essay is all that can ever really matter at this point. Food and hunger have gone out window and caffeine is banging the door down trying to get in and help you. It’s the last few silent hours that are the most focused. And then it’s done. And it’s in! Although I’m usually too tired to feel elation.

It’s still silly though, isn’t it, to be able to complain about having to do work? As I said, I try to hold it back during my train chat. It’s because we care so much though. Whether we think it or not, we all want to win. It could be for love of the subject, it certainly is (queue crazy cool levels again) for me. But I know it’s not just that. It’s the abyss we face if we lose. Failure is a terrifying option. It’s that fear, the fear that keeps me up all night working the night before a deadline.

It could be worse, this student lifestyle of ours, I’m aware of that. In a way a person knows that a swimming pool is cold when they’ve only dipped their toes into the water.  I can only vaguely claim to know the terrors of the abyss. I’ve never really had to face them properly, not enough for me to enter it fully. What can I say, the only real abyss in my life right now is the university Library, and to be honest it’s getting increasingly homey each day I spend there. Life can get quite cushy.

If you’re shuffling down North Street, however, after all of that chaos, I would recommend a straight Lib to Liz for well-being purposes… I can pretty much guarantee you that the music and drinking will drown out any hourglass you have left kicking around in there.

 

Samantha Carr

 

Photo credit Claire Nelson