I Went to University and All I Got Was This Lousy Caffeine Addiction

In light of my graduation earlier this week, this piece is meant to be a personal reflection of “doin’ time”- six years of post-secondary education.  Maybe others will find that they relate, or at the very least find it mildly interesting. I did a double major in English Literature and Fine Arts, so most of these points will be specific to my experience studying these specific subjects.

  • When I started school in 2009, I was not drinking coffee. Once in a while, I would pass by Fleming College’s small cafe on the 3rd floor and grab a half-hot chocolate half-coffee. During my fourth year at U of T, staying up for 3 days (with some naps here and there) trying to realise an art project idea meant that I was not only drinking coffee now, but that it was absolutely necessary for my mental endurance/creativity. I’m positive I’m not alone in this, though I do have friends that resisted the all-nighters (or should I say, They did not procrastinate).
  • Which brings me to my next point. Procrastination like I have never known I was capable of before came , and with it, stress that did interesting things to the way I accomplished everyday tasks, such as eating and bathing myself.
    • But I feel that without taking some time between each project, I would have burnt out a long time before finals otherwise…maybe? I’ll never know.
  • If you are studying contemporary art, all you need to know is: “Marcel Duchamp”. That’s it. It all starts with him. It always goes back to him. You’re welcome, soon-to-be art students.
  • I always had a hunch about this, but English Lit at the University level confirmed it: Poetry is awesome. Shakespeare’s deceiving sonnets, Dickenson’s melancholy, Chaucer’s cheek,  Ginsberg’s ecstatic revelations,  Frost’s imagery, Whitman’s Detail, Larkin’s truth, Plath’s defiance, I could go on for a while here.
  • My English friends were are intellectual stoners. The type who you can discuss the literate allusions in Tom Waits’ music. My Art friends are (surprisingly) tame, contrary to stereotypical portrayal of art students in the media.
  • Most Professors have something interesting to teach you (even if that thing isn’t in the syllabus). You just have to be open enough to be willing to learn/receive.
  • While studying Art, one has many, many critiques.Two very important things to keep in mind for this; one for yourself, and one for others
    • For yourself: Realize that your work can always be better. Don’t be sensitive, your prof and classmates are trying to help you make your work better. However, you may have classmates that just don’t get what your work is. Maybe they don’t get the reference, because you have a different cultural/pop-cultural/educational/life background. You can either disregard their critique (let’s be honest, some people speak out of their ass/without thinking) or use it, and reconsider how your work is coming across to those who are unfamiliar with the context (there’s nothing wrong with reaching a wider audience).
    • For others: If you’re thinking something, say it. Chances are, some others (including the prof) will be observing the same problem, but make the observation in a kind, constructive way, and make a suggestion, don’t just say, “I don’t like this”, or “this isn’t working, but I don’t know why”: always be constructive. I always felt that asking a question was the best way to do this: “Did you mean to reference ____?, because I see that your work relates to it”. Maybe they were intending it, maybe they had no knowledge of that piece, or maybe realizing their work is derivative will help them push it in a “fresh” (I hate that term) direction.
  • Get to know your profs. Or rather, make them get to know you. I often talked to my prof for a minute after class to say something I thought of during lecture but didn’t get the chance to say, or ask them about a possible essay/project idea. Or just to get their thoughts on something. All my profs knew me by name. They’re are an excellent resource, so USE THEM.

I’ve just realized this is now becoming less of a personal reflection, and more of a “How-To University”, but oh well. Let’s see if I can get back on track.

  • Talented friends are good. I went into post-secondary thinking, “I don’t care if I make friends, I like the friends I have”. I realized some important things:
    1.  I was in awe of (and still am) of the intellect/creativity/thoughtfulness/ambition of the classmates I got to know, and to be completely honest, I sort-of hoped some of that stuff would rub off on me, too. I’ve heard it said that you should pick your friends carefully because you will become like them. I think I would be so lucky.
    2. Making friends with my classmates made my time at school memorable. I remember the wacky times I spent with people in and out of class better than I remember most assignments, books or articles.
    3. you can never have too many friends (and the more people you know, the more connected you’ll be, and therefore the more opportunities you will hear about)
  • Which brings me here: Networking is good. Attend events. Talk to people. Join a team or club. stay at school for meals/studying. Most things in life happen to you because of who you know.
  • You CAN start and finish a 7 page paper the night before. I’m not promising it will be awesome, though.
  • You don’t have to read[finish] EVERY book on the syllabus. The prof doesn’t really expect you to.
  • In all seriousness, I don’t even know who that girl who graduated from a highschool in Lindsay was. There is so much she doesn’t know yet. So much injustice that she’s not even aware of. So much meaning in the artwork she once dismissed as “funny” or “easy to make”. So many ideas that have been around for hundreds of years, but yet is still relevant in the 21c. (This girl doesn’t even know which century was which and what made each one unique). This girl doesn’t even know that she is going to become a writer good enough to get comments like “written excellently” on her academic papers, talking about important issues in a field she is passionate about. This girl doesn’t know that her artwork will be displayed in public galleries, and be able to identify as an artist, and finally not feel like she is faking that particular identity. This girl doesn’t know that her Lit knowledge will also make her a much better songwriter.
  • Got pretty real there, didn’t expect that. I had such a lighthearted vibe when I started, and it just went to a place. With all of that said, As I feel I have demonstrated, my years at University were not a waste. My chosen programs were not a waste, because they are my passion, and my passion for the arts has only grown. Yes, it costs a lot of money, and yes, it’s not for everyone. But it was for me. And I’m glad that girl in a small-town high school had the ability to see it.
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