I have a little confession to make. It’s nothing too outlandish or perverse. It’s more of a simple fact that I’ve been neglecting to inform you of for a while now, and I’ve decided that it’s probably best that I come clean…
While I do study at University, up until two days ago I hadn’t actually stepped foot on campus for almost twelve months. Sadly I’m not one of those kids fresh out of high school that can live off of cask wine, water and two minute noodles; and therefore can forego entering the workforce in favour of their studies. I’m an average Joe with debts to pay who needs to work in order to survive, which unfortunately means that my studies often play second fiddle to my source of income.
Thanks to that crazy little thing called money I’m forced to complete my studies via correspondence. Or to be more specific: since my course isn’t actually offered as a correspondence degree, I am enrolled to attend lectures and tutorials. I’m just that name who is perpetually absent when the role is marked. It can be incredibly hard to maintain motivation this way. It’s often easy to simply forget about study when you aren’t actually attending lectures, and I’ve become quite skillful in the art of procrastination when it comes time to hit the books. But nevertheless I’m still plugging away at my degree with the hopes of actually completing it sometime in the next decade.
Thanks to my affliction of cynicism and urge to despise everything, I’ve always considered university to be a bit of a wank. And for a degree in creative writing it really is. How can an institution like a college, school, or university teach creativity? How can they realistically sit down and effectively measure the success of a course or degree based primarily around the inner thought processes of an individual? And if they are able to do so, how the fuck can they grade a story, poem, essay, or whatever on its creative merit? There’s simply too much room for subjectivity involved in the creative aspect of the course for it to ever be effectively managed by any one institution or individual. University in my eyes has always been a place for those of us who want to be teachers, or doctors, or engineers. And the only reason that I ever ventured into a course in creative writing was because I thought that it would help buff up my creative portfolio should my work ever reach the desk of a publisher.
But two days ago, two very strange things happened and suddenly I have changed my tune on the whole university ideal. It all started when around lunchtime at work when I checked my course program for one of my subjects and realised that I’d managed to mix up the due date of an essay, learning that it was actually due two days earlier than I had anticipated. Thankfully I’d completed the essay already and decided that I could simply drop off the assessment after work rather than post it in like I usually would. So, that evening at seven thirty, after a full day of work (and one of the most half-arsed workouts ever seen in a gym) I found myself trudging through the university campus for the first time in twelve months.
In my sweaty black t-shirt, basketball shorts, and runners I wasn’t exactly dressed for my triumphant return to campus. But nevertheless I raced across the sprawling lawns of the uni and cut through the maze of stone buildings, submitting my assessment in person. And there it was. Strange occurrence number one; I, Chris Nicholas, was actually at university. But that was just the beginning; my little endeavour onto campus still had one more surprise in store… With nothing else to do I began my walk back to the car park, once again weaving through the maze of stone before walking out across the sprawling well-manicured lawns that I’ve come to view as synonymous with my campus. And then, at that very moment, as cold grass crunched underfoot and the lights of the nearby sporting fields illuminated the dusk, the penny finally dropped and I understood why university’s offer creative writing degrees.
It’s not because they can teach creativity; in fact it’s often the exact opposite. A university lecturer or tutor’s mind is limited by their own creative impulses and anything outside of what their mind can perceive is considered to be foreign and frightening, or even wrong. No. Universities offer creative writing purely because they can provide a place of wondrous inspiration, filled with not only the great minds of the student and teacher alike, but also with an incredible beauty that truly has to be seen to be believed. They offer a place of limitless possibilities and inspiration that any writer worth their salt can draw upon to create brilliant literature.
The thought hit me like a freight train, causing me to take a few dazed steps before I finally stopped to take it all in. Here I was lost in my own thoughts for the thousandth time that day, thinking about a subject I’d pondered endlessly for three years, and suddenly a clear and concise thought had risen from the murky depths of my mind’s eye. I’d spent the last twelve months avoiding attending campus for the most ludicrous of reasons. I’d told myself that I hated the classrooms, the tutors, and the kids in my classes with purple hair, top hats and trench coats. When in reality the thing that I’d always hated about university was that I didn’t understand why I was there. I’d failed to understand the purpose behind my degree. I’d failed to see that there was more to what I was studying than just a course profile and a grade point average. My own inability to appreciate that something could offer more than what it appeared at face value had left me jaded and bitter.
Two nights ago I stopped and stood on the lawns of my university campus and breathed a heavy sigh of frustration, mixed with a twinge of hope as I stared out across the brilliance that learning institutions have to offer. I was frustrated at myself for leaving it so long between visits to an establishment that is costing me thousands of dollars to be a part of. But I was also hopeful that this new found affection for something I had detested for years might just see me actually turn up to my classes next semester. So with that I quickly jogged back to my car, climbed inside and drove off, staring back through my rear view mirror at an unlikely catalyst for a new found inspiration to write.