I wrapped up my second year at university in May. I handed in my final essay a couple weeks earlier than it was due, one-part because it was finished and I didn’t want to tempt tinkering, one-part because once it was given in I could let me hair down and get glad-ragged without worrying about this, that and the other. If I sat on it until the actual due date, all I would’ve done is stress that it wasn’t handed in yet, that of course I will magically lose all access to internet, my computer, my work, once it came around, stress that I needed to rewrite the whole entire thing because of course it is SO AWFUL, and stress that the moon would fall onto my Word app and ruin the whole bloody thing for me. So I just gave it in, had the usual chest-thumping, belly-skanking, pulse-racing reaction with my forehead sweaty and my throat swallowing sick, until I finally forgot all about it and moved on to enjoy the start of my summer. Every time that anxiety rattles its slimy little way back in it feels like the first. This time, for some miraculous reason, my brain actually intervened before I let it run away with itself. It reminded me that I felt like this after every submission I’ve ever made, and nuff time got marks I’m happy with (more on that later), so why take it so seriously now? Doris Day was spot on – whatever will be will be.
I gave my best with all my assignments. I was proud of the work when I was thinking it up, when I was doing it, and when I was hitting that final full stop. Why do I suddenly hate it come time to submit it? It’s a weird phenomena. I think the reality of it being graded by someone else’s standards, as well as the institution’s, and not your own, is what dawns the worry. I don’t know anyone who don’t suffer from this raise in heartbeat around deadlines. Thankfully for me I don’t do exams on my degree. Everything is coursework based. I prefer this as it allows space to revise and revisit pieces, and I think the most important approach to anything is to sleep on it. But the attitude I now have, that I want to discuss in this piece and which has helped me unbelievably, applies to both ways of submission.
I did exams all throughout my growing up for my keyboard playing. I did the preliminaries, grades 1 through to 8, plus medals and finally my associate diploma exam with The Victoria College of Music, which took a decade. I did still get nervous in these no matter how many had come before. It’s normal to get nervous! If we didn’t, we’d put ourselves in shite situations. But nerves should never take the reins. At the end of secondary school, I did three GCSE’s from homeschooling. I passed two, one of which I turned up to after getting so drunk the night before I ended up in hospital, only got two hours sleep and was still drunk at the start of the exam (which turned into a heavy hangover half way through). I got a B, though. Still a flex. I wasn’t really that nervous for these exams. I had quite a DD (Doris Day) attitude but, if I remember correctly, I had still gotten into college, so knew it wasn’t the be-all-and-end-all of me. Then in college, it was all coursework based. Except as I didn’t have a maths GCSE, I had to do extra lessons for this. In the first year they put me on functional skills, which is basically an easier version of maths. As you can imagine, I didn’t give even half a shit about this. I was way more interested in doing ecstasy. But on the day of the exam for functional skills – I remember it well – all us students took our seats at the desks with the computers set up in front of us. Everyone’s computer crashed except a few, myself being one of the lucky ones who got to finish – and pass – this waste of time, of all which meant I could do the maths GCSE in my second year. When that came around, I was on a year-long comedown after a year-long come up, and I think I gave even less of a shit about it this time round. But I walked into that exam room, after leaving most lessons to have a smoke, with a mind state that is the reason, I think, that I passed. I said to myself “all you know right now, is all you will ever know for this exam. You have no time to go and learn more, or work everything out. What you have is what you’ve got. And that’s okay.” I got a C in that exam, which blew my fucking mind. I couldn’t believe it. And I really put it down to me walking in there without getting hyperventilated with anxiety of everything I didn’t know. Instead I embraced what I did know.
Now I take on coursework my way. We usually workshop what we write at my university, getting feedback from peers and tutors, and essentially getting let know what will improve our marks. This is a huge aid and plenty of times I’ve had pieces saved through this method. We also usually get quite a bit of time before what we’ve written needs submitting. I always start things ASAP. If the idea comes to me, I want to act on it as quick as I can. Because typically I’ll bloody forget it if I don’t get something down. I have the luck of knowing what I want to do with my life (write poetry, make music, perform). And that was my goal and dream when I joined university anyway. And I really love the stuff I write. If I didn’t, why the fuck am I writing it? Arrogance can be vile. It’s uncomfortable. But pride in your work, pride in yourself? That’s something you should never let anyone take away from you. So when I’m writing coursework, if I am proud of the effort I put into it, and excited about the idea, even if I get those moments of wobble and embarrassment, I can rope myself back in by remembering the good days when I loved what I was working on. Bad days mean you find everything shit. Especially stuff about yourself. But good days are always around the corner, you just got a few more steps to reach them again.
If a deadline is coming up and you feel frantic that you won’t achieve what you want in the time left, firstly, see what you’ve got to work with. If you can edit and change quite a bit of your stuff, then go for it. But always keep a copy of the original draft. We often want to change what we have so bad that only after the shift do we realise the original was right on the money. If a deadline is coming up and you feel helpless that you don’t know what you need to by then, I do recommend using the technique I did in that maths GCSE. Simply by accepting and relaxing you can unlock parts of your brain you didn’t know were only sleeping. And finally, stop fucking beating yourself up for not getting 100/100. The only thing I give a shit about is passing. And when you alleviate the pressure of getting the highest marks possible, you start to get better grades than when you were hoping for the most! When you write something with authenticity and confidence, you usually take the cake. When you write something that is full of arse-licking desperation, it can be evident. And when all you hope for is to pass, any grade up from that feels like getting a kiss from God. You feel so proud of yourself, rather than angry that you didn’t get the high-high mark that you hoped for.
I suppose the ultimate message is to stop putting so much pressure on yourself. That doesn’t help anything, especially not with studies. Put some effort in, always. Don’t do fuck all year-round then mope and moan when you fail a module or exam. The journey counts as much as the destination does. But don’t beat yourself up either if things have gotten in the way of you putting your all in. Life is way more important than education is. Mental health, physical health, loved ones, etc. they can all interrupt the steady stream. This can’t be ignored. But if all you’re doing is smoking weed in your bedroom then having stress-induced breakdowns come exam season, maybe it’s time to look into a better way to approach things for next year. Maybe save the splif for after the work is done.
Good luck to everyone who’s going through this hectic time. I wish you all the highest of marks and the highest of summers (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). And remember… NOTHING is that bad, that heavy, that serious, that you have to kill yourself over trying to get it.
WIAEA (What I Am Excited About):
Song: I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor – I’m not even trying to be funny with this recommendation, given the newsletter topic! I just love this tune at the moment. I love lip-syncing to it like I’m on Rupaul’s main stage. It really gets me in that joyous, empowered mood. What a banger.
Book: I Don’t Take Requests by DJ Fat Tony – if you love club, dance, gay, drug culture, this book is for you. The stories this man has are fucking mental. So entertaining and insightful. Some heartbreaking and all of it just so real. I admire his honesty. Probably one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. I can’t recommend this enough.