Where I am Now

It has happened – I have finally got to the point where I can say that I have finished university and my time in education (unless I’ve failed my final exam and messed up all my coursework so will have to do retakes in August, but hopefully that won’t be the case). Finishing university has always been a huge milestone for me, and tied up with the fact that I have never not been in education, it’s a big one. When you’re in school, you dream of the day that you won’t have to be in school any longer. No more exams, no more essays, no more petty childish drama – and pretty much all three happen still in university. I say ‘you’, which realistically is a big assumption to make on behalf of everyone reading this, but what I’m trying to grasp at is that feeling of anticipating the next stage of your life. I, for one, had big expectations of what I would be like once I’d finished in education. I had hopes, dreams, and plenty of those pesky assumptions which I’m now having to reflect on.

The first big thing is independence, which in essence I have achieved in terms of living away from home during university months, doing my own washing, cooking etc etc. Yet when I was younger independence did not look like going down to tesco just before it shuts because you needed to put a wash on and have run out of tablets. It did not look like eating the same meal for three nights in a row because you want to save money. It did not like forgetting simple things every now and then because you’re tired, such as hot ceramic dishes do not mix with cold water. I know, I know, it’s all about living and learning and growing and bettering yourself, but that mantra does no good at 1am drying your bed sheets with a hairdryer because you forgot about the wash you put on.

One big thing I always thought about was what job I would have – and the dream job has changed many, many times. Becoming an author (and by that I mean a good author who has people who like their books so much that they can making a living out of it) has always been a dream job, but there are always others that pop in and out of my mind. First I wanted to be a professional horse rider, then a pop star, and then deciding I wasn’t a good enough singer so a songwriter. Recently, the dream is to be in publishing, and I certainly expected to have a job lined up and ready once university was finished. Yet, here I am, and all those hopeful publishing applications I sent out have been returned with a ‘thanks, but no’. You’re always told that you go to school, then to university, then you’ll get a job – but nobody really talks that much about the in-between. When applying for universities, no one told me about how, even if I do well and get a great degree, a job won’t be there waiting for me. They didn’t tell me that even if you work your arse off not only at your degree but at applying for jobs, it won’t necessarily mean you’ll get one either.

With the job dreams also come the social life dreams, and I always assumed that by the time university was over I would be in a committed, happy relationship with someone who could celebrate with me over all those job offers I had coming in. Again, Little Miss Assumption over here, but when I was younger that was what I thought was the most important. It was like a list of items to take the Life Goals Supermarket, and you would tick each one as you went along. Job? Tick. Relationship? Tick. What else was needed?

I knew I was going to forget a big one, and that is the dream I’ve had for a long long time, probably starting at about 10 years old – and perhaps the saddest one when I look back at it. What I wanted all through secondary school was beauty. And isn’t that just awful? Sure, sure, we can just argue and brush it off by saying that society makes us try to value what we’re born with (looks, parent’s wealth, lack of both) over what we earn for ourselves (perseverance, patience, kindness). And sure, we can all stand around and say that no society, we will not be partaking in that thank you very much. But at the end of the day, when I would go home at 12 years old and look in the mirror, all I would see was acne, a big nose, un-styled hair, and chubby patches all over. I’ve spoken a lot about acne and appearances in the past and how I now feel more confident, but I’m still filled with the memories of standing in front of a mirror and wishing that there were no mirrors in the world so I wouldn’t have to look at myself. Wishing that there was some way to exchange your face for a new one. Wishing that there was a way that meant I could live my life without anyone looking at me. And I wished for that day in the future, the day when I finished school for good, when puberty should have been and gone and left me unblemished, with clear smooth skin, great hair, and a body I was happy with. That was what was going to be my biggest marker of how far I had come.

But, as is the way of life, things didn’t exactly go to plan. Here I am, university finished, but just after the days of stress with my emotions all over the place and a few days of very hot weather, I’ve had another skin breakout. I have red spots dotted around my face like some flicked paint at me with a toothbrush. I’ve got black heads on my chin and nose, and something resembling Mount Etna on my neck. You stare in that pesky mirror and it’s pretty hard to think that you haven’t come that far at all.

Then I have to slap myself for being so melodramatic. Because I am not that twelve year old girl thinking that people won’t like me just because I have a spot on my chin. Like, jesus christ Eleanor, it’s not the end of the world. Yes, it sucks. Yes, it kinda hurts when you poke it, but it’s just a spot. There’s the magic of makeup if you’re feeling super downhearted but other than that, your face and your looks do not define you. Twelve-year-old me hardly knew how to write paragraphs, and here I am having just written a 10,000 word dissertation on a topic I love on top of my various other coursework and exam revision. On top of that I have worked every single weekend for almost two years now so that I can keep living in London and support myself. On top of that I have been going to different opportunities to make contacts and get work experience. And on top of that I’ve surrounded myself with friends who I love (and who assure me they love me back when I’m not being so ridiculously melodramatic).

And so, like most of these blog posts go, this has turned from reflection to being a self-affirmation that whilst all my hopes and dreams haven’t exactly come to pass, I’ve realised that they’re allowed to change a bit. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll be a bestselling author telling the story of how she almost let a pimple keep her from chasing her dream, and everyone will say, “Man, she was a melodramatic child”.

Revisiting the Classics – Narcissus

I’m in my final year of university now, and the thought that in just a few months that my experience of education will end is as much exciting as it is terrifying. One of the things I love, but often forget that I do is learning. Sure, I hate exams and essays as much as the next person, but sitting in a lecture or a seminar and listening to someone teach me something entirely new is a thrill. Sharing knowledge is a lot like telling stories, in the way that you’re opening up someone’s mind and imagination, helping someone grow with every word. And that’s something that I don’t want to lose. Of course, no matter what job I do, I will be learning something – whether that’s continued on in the bookshop for a while and learning about new books, or if it’s in a new job and learning how to sort out accounts, or even if it’s learning a new trade. But, at least for now, my formal learning of Classics and English is coming to an end. Which is why I want to start a new series on this blog, an infrequent one much like ‘On Being Happy’ and ‘Guide to University’.

So, here is the first post of ‘Revisiting the Classics’. 

I want this series to be about ‘Classics’, predominantly ancient classical myths and stories but also occasionally looking at the more recent use of the classic canon, from Milton to Bronte and beyond. The revisiting of ancient stories is a common trope, and there’s a reason for that – hell, it’s what I’m doing my whole dissertation on. Everything from phrases like ‘Achilles’ heel’ to references of Herculean strength and flying too close to the Sun all stem from these ancient myths. Throughout all my years of study, I haven’t even come close to covering all the various myths that we know about, so through this series I want to look at a few favourites, ones that I know and ones that I don’t.

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So here’s a short one for today: Narcissus. Most people have a vague knowledge of the myth, and it stems around a beautiful man who falls in love with his own reflection. There are other aspects that go with this myth, like that of the cursed Echo who can only repeat the words others say, who falls in love with Narcissus but is scorned and turned away. Because of this, Nemesis lured Narcissus to the pool in which he saw himself, and he died from longing and frustration of loving himself.

Today, Narcissus remains in our language – the word ‘narcissism’ means to be fascinated with yourself and associated with extreme vanity. The myth is used as a cautionary tale on pride and self-love, and it is evoked throughout literature. It’s within Milton’s Paradise Lost, where Eve sees her reflection and falls in love, and within countless sonnets. For the vast majority, Narcissus is used as a negative portrayal of self-love, but the more I think about it the more I wonder if maybe there can be something positive to be gained here.

Often people want to be the opposite of Narcissus, to not be vain or arrogant or proud – but surely there should be some sort of middle ground where we aspire to have certain aspects of Narcissus, but not fall in too deeply. It shouldn’t be that we don’t love ourselves to the point where we hate our reflection, but rather that we love ourselves, as we all should, just not to the point that we can’t see past our own reflection. To have the ability to love yourself, but still be able to see past that, to be able to act selflessly with others and have empathy for the sufferings of those around us. After all, Narcissus is originally punished for cruelly dismissing Echo, and his punishment is an extreme version of his inability to look beyond himself. It is not the fact that he’s beautiful that causes his downfall, but his own cruel disposition to those around him.

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Narcissus is a cautionary tale, but there is more to learn from it that some let on. But one thing myths like this demonstrate is how they are still relevant today, and that is why Classics is so important that it deserves to be revisited over and over again.

Or, at least, that’s what I think.