I first came to Birmingham in the summer of 2009, fresh from my undergraduate Philosophy (and Psychology) degree. I’d unexpectedly achieved a First, and was now headed to the glorious heights of postgraduate study. The University of Birmingham was a good university, with a good philosophy department, so I was very excited. I signed up to some student societies (an opportunity missing from Northampton when I attended, unless one happened to be a Christian or a member of a sports team), and even some out-of-uni groups. I went to evening seminars, I went to the pub with my classmates and tutors, all was well.
This did not last all year, sadly, as I rapidly came to think of myself as the weakest link, the pack omega. My philosophy tuition at Northampton had been primarily based in moral and political philosophy, and formal logic was not something we often encountered. Therefore I found myself floundering. People would make reference to terms and authors I did not know, and I felt very much as if I were not a small fish in a big pond, but algae accruing on the surface. This created some distance between me and my fellow philosophers, though it was no fault of theirs.
At the same time, I audited (that is, sat in on without being examined for) a module called Beginners’ Latin. A great opportunity for me, as I’d always had an inkling that I’d like to learn an ancient language. So I went along and rather enjoyed myself. I had a great teacher, I was part of a largely receptive class, and more importantly (and bafflingly), I was good at it. I picked up the grammar and basic syntax like a fish picks up swimming, and I flatter myself that I was one of the stronger students in the class.
When we returned from the winter vacation in January 2010, I received a pleasant surprise in the form of a high grade in my philosophy essay. A first, in fact. The only first in my group. I was dumbfounded, not least because I had lost all confidence in that area. Philosophy, however, was too late. I had the first of my three new loves: Latin.
My decision was already made. I’d stick with philosophy and get my MPhil. Hell, it was the reason I was in Birmingham and I’d paid for it. My next year, however, would be different. I would take a year out, work to save up some cash, and then return to the University of Birmingham to study ancient history. Thank my Latin teacher, and Tom Holland. I was all set.
Then I gained the second of my new loves: tabletop roleplay. I’d been a fan of a pair of computer games with the title Vampire: the Masquerade (Redemption first, then Bloodlines) since about 2004, and I later learned that they were based upon a pencil-and-paper game. Discovering that UoB had a roleplay society, I joined up. My first game was related to this interest, being Werewolf (same universe, different monster). I met some very good friends in that game; one whom I live with now, the other of whom I see at least weekly. In the third semester, I finally had the chance to play Vampire. It was during this game that I met the person who would become the third of my new loves, almost two years later.
Anyway. New beginnings.
That summer, I went to a Latin summer school, which I enjoyed very, vey much. I met some great people, only one of whom I am now in vague contact with. I finished my MPhil, passed (with corrections, but I passed), and went on to the world of work. The corrections for my MPhil terrified me; I had a less than pleasant viva experience, owing partially to an overly-hostile external examiner, and the corrections reminded me of that. I simply could not face them, even as the deadline loomed. Nevertheless, I had until September to make the corrections, and make them I did. But this was September 2011. The time of Ancient History!
What a year it promised to be. I was president of the tabletop gaming society, a member of Guild Council (it’s exactly as awesome as it sounds, and a hundred times more boring), and every time I left a lesson in Middle Egyptian (oh yes), I would immediately complete my homework, with full enthusiasm. My advanced Latin class was stimulating and at just the right level of challenge, and what’s more, my classmates were inclusive, friendly, and although they had more knowledge than I, I didn’t mind! I’d come from a different educational background; they’d all done classics degrees and so on, I hadn’t. I was ready for it. Ready, and determined to press on.
It began to unwind in November. A major relationship error had taken place, and I found myself suddenly single. The decision to end the relationship had been mine in the end, but that did not help one bit. I lost my focus, I found myself unable, on the worst mornings, to motivate myself to leave the house. I started missing lectures, skipping portions of my homework, even missing Guild Council meetings. That, combined with an inexplicable clash of personalities between me and the one other person in my advanced Latin class meant that no longer was anything motivating me.
I didn’t call out for the help of friends, I didn’t avail myself of counselling, or even admit to many people that anything was wrong. I wasted that entire year. I failed my exams, failed to attend resits, and failed to submit a dissertation. In the end, because I’d done well enough in the modules I had completed, the university awarded me with one of their lesser diplomas and sent me on my way.
The worst part of it all was that I could see it happening, almost from outside. Yet I didn’t feel motivated to change anything. I returned to the world of work, doing one dreary bills-paying job after the other.
I’m better now. It almost, almost, seems silly to me. It certainly seems stupid. I lost a year of my life to my own laziness, self pity and lack of initiative. On the other hand, I’m not angry. The time was spent, it was lost, and I gained little from it but a lesson.
It’s September 2013 now. It is the first day of the new term. Four years ago, I began a new, exciting adventure in Birmingham. The thing is, my adventure didn’t end how it should have. I can’t go back and change the ending, but I believe that I can write a sequel. In this sequel, he goes back to university, this time to complete his MA in ancient history. This time he makes sure he is the model scholar: studious, attentive, knowledgeable, and sociable. He did all of his university society stuff in the first few years, now he doesn’t need to! He has pleny of friends, and runs and plays in plenty of roleplaying games. Now he just needs to make friends among his fellow-scholars.
So that’s the plan. Re-invent myself, using the lessons I learned last time to avoid the same pitfalls this time.
The purpose of this journal is to record my progress. Readership or no readership, if I have to write it down then I am accountable to myself.
My goals are:
- To get in better shape physically: mens sana in corpore sano
- To brush up on my Latin so that I’m back in the game
- To catch up with my reading on ancient history and the classics
- To read more in general: “A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone…”
- To resume a long-abandonned meditation discipline which served me well in the past
With these goals in mind, I shall begin each future post with a rundown of the day’s activities. It’ll also be a general blog, but mostly I’m using it as an accountability device.
Wish me luck!