University is a cult

University is a cult.

It is a cult of narcissism, debauchery and, above all else, denial.

Plunge yourself into the depths of young carelessness, overloaded courses and dense, flavourless days.

Repeat the mantras of those who came before you,

“I’m so tired”

“So hungover right now”

“I’m failing everything!”

Don’t forget those all important chuckles or those sarcastic inflections.

Reduce your entire life and, in fact, your meaning to these fundamental concepts:

  1. The world outside university does not exist. It is all.
  2. Surround yourself with those whose conversations revolve around the mantras.
  3. Justify your alcohol abuse with excuses of youth.
  4. Innocent pastimes are discouraged. Cooking a meal or reading a book are lesser activities. Rather focus on destructive habits, such as ‘partying’ or the sacred ‘binge-watching’.

Maintaining a state of exhaustion and poor mental health is encouraged, but never address these issues. If you are aware enough to begin looking outside the bubble that is Us, cure yourself by drinking with people you don’t even like. If you have enough time to consider anything beyond the scope of what is expected of you, further destabilize your time management.

Despite what you may have heard, you don’t need to think here.

A Rant on high school life guidance

I am certain there is one in every country. In South Africa, it is called Life Orientation. It is a subject which is, in essence, supposed to teach you to become a healthy and balanced individual. It covers sex education, career guidance, social skills and physical education. Life Orientation, much like communism, looks far better on paper.

This compulsory class has the noble aspiration of teaching us all to be well rounded, functioning members of society. I have been force-fed this subject for over eight years and I think I can summarize everything I have learnt into these (obvious?) points:

  •  Don’t have sex
  • Don’t do drugs
  • Eat healthy and exercise
  • Get a job
  • Study

As you may notice, this really does not teach me much on how to live my life nobly and well. The same over-spoken words are droned back to us year after year, term after term and day after day. The teachers are uninspired and those jokes they try to sell as textbooks are poorly researched and hold no appeal to their target market.

Again: whatever you call and whatever part of your school career you had to endure this in, is this starting to sound familiar?

I detest the fact that I have to waste three lessons per week in this subject. I loathe that I am examined on it, and that those results will go on my high school diploma. I shudder at the thought that I am even graded on how fast I can run or how many balls I can throw in a minute.

If given the opportunity, I believe I could create an exponentially more inspiring and worthwhile Life Orientation course (one that would actually orientate you for life). You see, I am a teenager who (like many of my peers) has no clue how to function as an independent adult. While I am sure we will figure it out eventually, this wondering does deal as a large portion of unnecessary anxiety.

So, without further ado, here is my version of how life orientation should look:

  1. Sex Education revisited: We all know what condoms are. We all know what HIV/AIDS is. We all know how straight people go about their business. I want Life Orientation that teaches everyone the proper, polite definitions of homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality (among others). I want a sex education that teaches me about healthy gender identity and terms such as non-binary and transgender.
  2. How to pay for stuff and not die: I know this isn’t accounting, but someone needs to teach us the basics of personal finance. Possible lesson plans could include: how to budget our monthly salary, how to choose a bank account, how to do taxes (I am four months away from legally being an adult and I don’t really think I know what taxes actually are) and how to pay bills.
  3. Life after high school: What does it feel like to move away from home and be on your own for the first time? None of us really know that and maybe it would be helpful if someone taught us.
  4. Religion and spirituality: My life orientation textbook from last year was attempting to teach (through childish cartoons) that people who do not follow religion are evil alcoholics with bad friends. I know better, but maybe some people don’t. We need a Life Orientation which teaches us about all beliefs, INCLUDING atheism. Understanding each other stops us from hating each other. We need a teacher that explains that spirituality does not equal religion and that each individual may find spirituality in their own way.
  5. Health: If you are going to mark us on physical education, at least be reasonably intelligent about it. Do something practical which promotes health and happiness. Don’t count how many balls I can catch. Teach us how to look after our bodies in a sustainable, manageable way. Teach us to reach our goals and teach us long lasting technique.

Right now Life Orientation is being squandered in ignorance, old fashioned mentalities and ridiculous teachers. It has the potential to be a powerful, important part of any teenager’s education, but it is simply not.

Experiences as a School-Level Overachiever

I do well in school. I do really well in school. I’m not going to cover it up a little bit or try to be modest. It just is what it is and it is necessary for this post.

Since I started attending school, I have always been floating around the top of the class. In grade one, I got the shiny gold thing that told me I was the best at reading ‘the cat sat on the mat’ and reciting ‘one plus one equals two’. This meant that, from the time I was seven, I was labeled as being ‘smart’. I didn’t want that label and I didn’t think it applied to me. It was just that my parents had actually taught me to read before I started school. This label made me feel uncomfortable and trapped. I couldn’t be pretty (so that boys would take an interest) or popular (so that I had someone to sit with at break). I was just smart (which meant that whenever the teacher had a particularly hard question or we got a test back or there was maths to be done, I would be consulted). I didn’t know the answer to the question either. I didn’t think I was particularly smart. I didn’t know why my average remained firmly on eighty percent.

The funny thing was, I wasn’t the ‘top’ in anything. I finished in around seventh every year, yet I was still labelled the same way. I didn’t do my homework and I didn’t do my projects until the night before. The work bored me and so I dragged and dawdled my way through grades one to seven.

I got to high school and even though I knew very few people there, the label followed me. A year ago, at the beginning of grade eleven, I accepted that it was time to embrace the label. I needed ‘smart kid’ marks that year, so that I could get into university. So, I started working hard. I did my homework and I made carefully labelled summaries and I studied. A couple of months later, I got my first term report and for the first time I started to believe that if I kept working, I could start to deserve the label. Second place. That was more like it.

I realised something fascinating and potentially dangerous in those few months. Achievement is addictive, and larger doses are needed each and every time. The eighty six percent in the first term delighted me. In the second term it sent me spiraling into self-hatred. I started pushing myself even harder. I studied for longer. I beat myself up at each and every mediocre result. Term three: eighty eight percent. I told myself I was getting there. I told myself that ninety percent was coming my way. I received my fourth term report after a month of self torture (otherwise known as the final exam period).  I have seven school subjects, and staring at me from that page was a ninety seven, a ninety four and a ninety three. I got very little joy from those though, because all I could look at were the two menacing eighty ones next to English and Life Orientation. Those eighty ones that diminished the final average to eighty nine, instead of the ninety it should have been. Instead of celebrating my achievement, my mind kept whispering to me how stupid I had been. How stupid could I be to let my English mark (my home language!) be so shockingly low. The thing about receiving good marks is that the good ones give you little more than empty relief, and the mediocre ones leave you reeling for days.

Another thing about the label is that you can’t dare to ever complain about your marks to anyone. That makes you ungrateful, see? So you suck it up and say “thank you” at every congratulations, even though you feel like screaming that you don’t deserve it.

Now I’m in grade twelve. I’m a month into my first term and it is starting to feel a lot like hell. From day one, I’ve been working myself harder than I have ever worked before. Taking meticulous notes in class, then going home and practicing the concepts. I’ve been spending weeks on projects which will count a fraction of my overall mark. I’ve been doing every bit of homework assigned, then checking it and redoing it again until it is perfect.

Why am I doing this? I’m doing it because I need another hit. Eighty nine and ninety isn’t good enough any more. I’ve set a target, and I know if I get any less than ninety two percent at the end of this term, I won’t let myself hear the end of it.

Now, I don’t know how I ended up being this obsessed over something which is so ultimately trivial, but I have two hypotheses:

  1. The label got to me and I felt the need to fulfill it. I don’t have any other worthwhile labels to aspire to, and in our culture, labels are extremely important. Maybe I just needed a role.
  2. I am, at my core, a shallow and competitive being who thrives on achievement. Ouch.

I don’t know what the results hold for me at the end of this term but I can feel that the way I am working is not good for me. I can actually feel my body is struggling under the pressure. My back is aching endlessly and my brain is struggling to clear the fog. Worry not, random reader, I am not going to kill myself with studying. Since I almost had a breakdown this weekend, I have committed myself to at least an hour and a half of rest and relaxation every evening. I also realised that if I don’t rest a little bit, I won’t absorb anything anyway.

There is more to life than achievement. There is more to being a person than a pretty certificate. Sometimes, the competitive workaholic in us takes over and takes a lot of hard  (personal) work to draw our real, personal and spiritual lives back into the picture. Remember to speak to your friends and hug your mom. Remember that sometimes you should procrastinate just a little bit and give yourself the weekend off to enjoy life.

Keep safe and don’t do school, kids – it’s dangerous.

Waiting

I want someone to show me the light. I want someone to come into my confused, melancholic life and show me the way.  Someone to calm all my worries and answer all my questions.  Someone to come forth and tell me what purpose there is or why I should stop worrying about purpose.

I want to stop being confused and worried and scared.  I want a day where I don’t feel lost or tossed aside or overwhelmed. A day where I can just be.

I want a day where I can wake up and see only the beauty in the world.  I want a day that will (at least temporarily) squash my cynicism. A day that is awe inspiring and wonderful and filled with love and laughter and happiness.

I need someone to tell me that it’s okay to take a day. I need someone to remind me to appreciate. Someone to nudge me to the garden at sunrise or to the botanical gardens this Saturday.

I need to force myself out of stagnation and into something new. I don’t know how to do that.  I’ve tried and I’ve struggled but I don’t know how to “think outside the box”. I need someone to teach me how to “live in the now” and how to “carpé diem”.

I need someone, somewhere, somehow to say the magic words (what words, I don’t know) that will lift this cruel and unusual frame of mind.

Are you that person?

Greetings once more, bottomless void

This post is in response to the blogging 101 course.

I started blogging years ago (by which I mean I had a blog). I never posted and my only follower was my dad.

I started this blog a couple of years ago and it was a far more positive experience. I wrote rants and commentaries and personal ancedotes to my heart’s content (read: every two months). The important thing was: I had views. Not very many, but there were people who entered the bottomless void of the internet and came up with my blog. That thought gives me the warm and fuzzies.

When I first started blogging,  my intention was to relieve myself of some of my pent up tension and frustration by sharing it with fellow  dwellers. I am scared, angry, confused, uncomfortable in my own skin and I think that is something that many people my age (and many adults) experience. I want to talk about inequality, religion, mortality, life and love but there is no forum for me to accomplish this in my daily life.

This blog is the manifestation of my desire to share my opinions and my insecurities.

I write about anything that touches me and makes me feel out of the ordinary emotions.

If my blog was the best it could be, it would be a place where people could find comfort and entertainment. It would be a place where people would connect over those topics which are taboo and finally find the closure they need. It would be a place of ideas not confined by the limitations of the socially acceptable.

Mourning

The past week or so had left me feeling rather apathetic and discontent, but the experience I had today turned my perspective around. I felt that my life was stagnating and that I was kidding myself with dreams of adventure. I experienced disgust in my body and mind and terrified myself (as I often do) at this overwhelming life I have acquired.Today, some people I value highly helped me shed a new light on these somber thoughts.

Tanya Meyer, who by merely existing sheds light around us, shared one of her fantastic projects with us today. This specific project is ‘the one second project’. The project entails taking a one-second video o yourself every day for a year and then compiling a 365 second flashback of the year gone by.

Today at break time, Tanya allowed our circle a private viewing of her two thousand and fourteen. I watched in  awe as this person’s year reached out to us, practically breaking the confines of its screen. The video was enhanced by a handful of those ‘true’ songs which clamp around your heart and force you to feel something. Slowly, Tanya’s year unfurled. Her smiling face in dozens of locations: her kitchen, her bedroom, school and various places across the city (the country, the world)! Every now and again one of us would gasp as our own face appeared above a specific date.

We spent minutes living through her year: following her around the country and back into the comfort of her own home. It felt as if we were curling our fingers around the edges of her life, peeling it open and skimming over her most intimate moments.

October rolled into November and far too soon, December was upon us. The videos continued to tell a beautiful story but as the days of December ticked ominously by, a feeling of dread clutched me.

The video ended and everybody resumed their motion. I exhaled for the first time in a century.

“She’s going to…die.” Murmured my boyfriend from besides me. Someone loudly commented that that was the kind of thing you would play at a funeral. They carried on.

I did not carry on. I looked at my boyfriend and there was an understanding. We sat, blinking ferociously, as we tried to determine what had happened.

We both knew it was something deeply and strangely emotional. It was something about the passage of time. Us, desperately trying to remember forgotten memories. How we missed that sparkle in every day that Tanya had managed to capture.

That year, compressed into a moment, shook us into remembering our own mortality (an issue that we both try very hard to forget). The video was a funeral. It was two thousand and fourteen’s eulogy and we finally had to mourn the year’s passing.

That video showed us that each of those seemingly dull moments were precious and we want to remember them. We came to an agreement today: we are committed to taking those bits and pieces of life and stitching them together in a lovable, memorable pattern. We are going to take pictures. We are going to write down all the moments that make us happier or wiser or better and put them in a jar. We are going to take one second videos.

Then, on the 31st of December we are going to get spectacularly drunk. We are going to crack open that and jar and watch the Hell out of that video. We are going to laugh and cry (a lot) and we are going to give two thousand and fifteen a proper sending off.

Stale

My eyelids droop and the lashes cling together, zipping my eyes closed. My skin is clammy. I feel every minuscule particle of grime clinging to my feet. My breath does not fill my lungs: it slides halfway down my throat before being thrust out by my impatience. My hair is incurably greasy. My lips are cracking and crumbling. The itch on my shin sends disproportionate waves of discomfort through me. My left foot presses into the tile at an angle and my damaged ankle groans in protest. The blemishes crawl on my face like tiny pests. Skin on my thighs sticks together where my legs cross. Lingering taste of another boring meal, eating purely to stay alive, nauseates me. I feel queasy as the greasy supper travels through me.

My otherwise useless right hand props up my weighted head and the permanence of my fatigue nearly shocks me. But I am past the point of caring now. Hours of mindless activity followed by hours of mindless complacency have rendered me dull. An eternity of the melancholy, the everyday, has left me feeling so empty. I don’t look around myself and see wonder and excitement. I feel disgust at how I have squandered what my mind and body could do. I am too tired.

I glance at my chair and see how the fat of my leg has compressed into ugly dimples of cellulite. My body mimics the stale, disinterested state of my mind. I sit and dream of ‘next year’ and ‘tomorrow’ but today I am nothing.

Today. I am nothing.

I wonder at adventures I will embark on. I desire health and purpose and prosperity but today I am a shell. I say to myself: You are only seventeen. You can’t go yet, you can’t be that yet. You can’t have adventure, or love, or health, or purpose yet.You must just wait a bit longer (just wait).

What happens when I am twenty-seven and I am still clammy, clouded and stale?

What then?

Two Thousand and Fourteen – a review

Recently regaining consciousness after completing my grade 11 final exams, I find myself in a state of confusion, clarity, excitement and disappointment.

A week remains until I collect my exam results – the exam results that will determine my admission into university.

A month remains until two thousand and fifteen – the final year I will spend in high school.

On my wall I have one of those year planners : a block a day for three hundred and sixty five days. For the past year I have scrawled on it things to remember which, for a nerd like me, mostly includes test dates and project reminders. Only every so often do I see a block which brings up a memory. One weekend in April, the block letters “Cape Town” appear, reminding me of the trip I made to my prospective university’s open day. Perched between “Physics practical” and “English paper 3”  is the note “1 Year <3” . That’s the anniversary of the beginning of a  rather strange relationship with the Boyfriend. One week before “AP Maths Exam” sits “Seventeenth Birthday” and I remember presents and pizza.

December is barren, save for an entry on the tenth, ” Last day of Grade eleven – report collection”. That was one of the first entries that went up in January and its message has become heavier and heavier with each passing day. Occasionally throughout the year I would glance at it, either for study motivation or perhaps to count the days until school was out. Whatever the case, it was always in the far distant future. That is how The Future sneaks up on you.

The handful of personal entries are pockets of emotion, but what hits even harder are the numerous empty days in between. What happened on those days? How did I spend those twenty four hours of my life? As the days rushed through my system, they must have meant something. They could have bored me, excited me, challenged me or reduced me to tears. Now all I have of those days are empty blocks on a calender I will soon throw away.

I did not fulfill all of the promises I made to myself 11 months ago. I can not run five kilometers. I have not blogged once a week. I did not wash my face every day. This does not mean I am the same. This does not mean that my year has been a failure.

To be honest, I do not even remember my New Year’s resolutions. However, things did happen this year. Changes were made. I improved my school average by seven percent. I stopped biting my nails (except for the right thumb. It’s the cheat nail). I kept my room tidier than I usually do. I made to do lists and I did the things. I put on two kilograms. I cut off almost all of my butt-length hair.

I grew up a little bit more.  I no longer live in the body of a child. My opinions have been altered. My frame of mind has been shattered and rebuilt. I grew closer to some people while the bond I shared with others frayed. My priorities shifted. I set ridiculously high standards for myself and most of the time I met them. Each day, even the ones I can’t remember, changed me piece by piece.

Two thousand and fourteen will sadly not be remembered for each and every day. I do not remember what happened on January the twenty second or April the seventeenth or September the second. A month from now I will probably not remember what happened on December the first. Those days are gone forever. I will remember two thousand and fourteen as the year I lost a friend. The year my academic performance exceeded my expectations. The year I climbed a mountain (Still so proud). The year of the bob.

One year ago, on a day I can’t remember, I was a bored sixteen year old with short nails and long hair. Now, on a day I will not remember, I am a bored seventeen year old with long nails and short hair. Except now I have a year’s more experience on my mind, a year’s more wear and tear on my skin and a year’s more hopes and dreams in my soul.

Thank you, two thousand and fourteen. A year I won’t remember but an experience I will never forget.

Soul Fodder

<Fodder> : food, especially dried hay or straw, for cattle and other livestock.

<Soul> : the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal.

(Thanks Google)

What do you feed to your soul?

To me, soul fodder is anything that gives you a sense of deeper emotion or power. I think we need to drop our idea that food for the soul is something deep, serious ritual that is only to be undertaken when supervised by experienced monks. It doesn’t have to be a religious experience and it doesn’t have to follow any sort of prescribed method.

So why the word fodder? Why not sustenance or even ‘food’? Simply because that’s not how I see it. As I said, it doesn’t have to be some grand, miraculous ceremony. It can be anything. Even the most plain, everyday thing can be your soul fodder. It doesn’t seem to fit the role, but your soul fodder can be the one everyday thing that lifts you up to the level of universal awe and wonder.

I have never quite gotten into the practice of daily meditation rituals. I’m lazy and impatient. Yesterday, however, I had a truly extraordinary moment of, for lack of a better word, enlightenment. I was sitting in the car when the song “Road To Nowhere” by The Talking Heads came on the radio. I sang along, like I always do when encountered by really fantastic music. Singing along to those song I realized: my Soul Fodder is eighties music ( don’t laugh).

You know what, Bottomless Void? When I listen to this music, it makes me think about the world. It makes me think about the universe, my mortality and my existence. I suppose that I have a rather strange trigger, but that’s just the way it is.

“We’re on a road to nowhere
Come on inside
Takin’ that ride to nowhere
We’ll take that ride” – The Talking Heads : Road To Nowhere

How does my soul consume this morsel? Just like ice cream. Anticipation – the first taste. Then with a wholehearted, ecstatic glee. It’s the sweetest flavour in the world.

“It’s the terror of knowing
What this world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming, “Let me out!”
Tomorrow gets me higher
Pressure on people – people on streets”

“‘Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance” – Queen: Under Pressure

When you’re so stressed you can see the cracks beginning to form in that reality – this is what that song feels like. It is that crushing heartbreak, but also the steaming mug of hot chocolate. That’s what my soul tastes  when I listen to this – that perfectly flawed, bittersweet flavour. It drags you through your worst moments, only to lead you back to your greatest , happiest moments – back to those you love.

This is what I feed to my soul.

What do you feed to yours?


 PS : The ‘o’ key on my keyboard is broken so this is really hard to type

The Masks I wear

It can’t be helped. We all have our own ideas of what others are like, even if we’ve never spoken to them. Now, seeing that I don’t speak to any large amount of people, there are many who have inaccurate views on me.

I suppose that people’s ideas of me are somewhere between ‘nerd’ and ‘bitch’. Both are accurate, in a way.

There are very, very few people who know what go on in my head (and most of them have to go through psychiatric treatment after finding out). I think if I were to see myself, I would see an aloof, school-loving freak. That’s not what I am though.

I worry about being coming off as aloof, but the truth is that I am just too terrified of my peers to get closer. They’re prettier, smarter and more popular than I am. I feel as if they are constantly judging me, their eyes peering into my depths and finding me unworthy. My hair is wrong. I say the wrong things. I’m weird.  I don’t belong.

Every morning I look in the mirror and I tell myself  ‘once today is over, you’re one day closer to being finished’. High school is slowly but surely crushing my already fragile spirit. It is oppressive. It is suffocating. It is soulless and teenagers are quite possibly the most cruel of all people. Yes, this education is necessary, but it is also painful. I go to this hellhole every day of my life and every day it makes me want to break down and burst into tears.

When something goes wrong, I have to laugh at myself to make it okay for the others to laugh at me. At least if I start laughing first, it doesn’t hurt as much when the others start. Fall flat on my face? How hilarious! Do horrifically badly in a science test? Oh what a laugh.

Whoever said that high school is the best four years of your life is seriously deluded. For those lacking the correct social and stress handling capabilities, high school is a deadly, debilitating disease. The cure? Simple:

  1. Laugh at your failures to hold back the tears. Tears are for the weak.
  2. Sleep to escape your responsibilities. Going to bed at seven isn’t normal, but when suffering from high school it is.
  3. Ignore the fact that you can hear people laughing at you. Ignore the fact that no one wants to talk to you.

A question I must constantly ask myself: Do even those who are closest to me fall for the facade? Can they not see how my fake smile crumbles? How my laughter turns to tears when no one is watching? How this place is slowly killing me? Is my mask so flawless that they think it is real?  Perhaps they see it and choose to ignore it.

In English class, we are studying the movie The Truman Show. One of the characters remarks that “we accept the reality with which we are presented”. That’s a strong little dose of truth, but I’ve stopped accepting. Why should this awful life be the norm? Why should I lie in bed filled with fear and dread for the day that follows? My high school years should be enriching and fulfilling yet I want nothing more than for them to be over. Why should my youth be filled with such large doses of sadness and disgust?

1.5 Years and counting.