Last summer was wonderful. I finished my first year of university. I got a new, much better part-time job. I spent a week with my family in Spain. We had the holiday of a lifetime in the USA for two weeks, and I got engaged.
I had lofty ideas though that I would write and read and prepare for my next year. That I would submit work to literary journals and with a minimum of effort, I would be published. The first year of university doesn’t prepare you for the second year, so I spent my summer reading all the wrong books from the reading list. I barely wrote a thing. Anything I did publish was not great, and I understandably got rejected. I worked a lot and then I came home and didn’t do very much at all. I had no focus, no real drive, and it turns out I didn’t know as much as I thought I did when I returned to class in September.
Term one of my second year at university was incredible. I had a weekly writing class that taught me I didn’t know a thing about writing, and after that emotional pummelling, I felt the extent of my potential. In all my scribbling chaos I honed in on Gothic horror and developed a hunger for writers I hadn’t even heard of. Here I was thinking myself well-read, schooled once a week at the age of thirty-one. An English class on genre fiction opened up my mind to the possibilities of sci-fi, and a tradition that stemmed all the way back to Mary Shelley, a new fevered love. What a wonder for my brain.
Term two…chewed me up and spat me out. With some small brilliant exceptions, term two felt stilted and rough. The hour-long commute into work began to grate on me. Thursdays were hell, working from 6 am to 12 pm then heading in for a lecture until 5 pm. I spent most of my Fridays in bed. Working weekends felt painful, everyone else was out enjoying themselves and being social, I had to wake up at 5 am. One of my last essays involved a surprise new novel selection, to read and prepare for an essay in just a few weeks. Having learned to be strategic and savvy, I had an essay plan and extensive notes I had to scrap completely. I barely exercised, I barely socialised. I went to the library and researched in giant seven-hour gulps without moving. I broke a little bit.
Now it’s summer, albeit a British one, but the light feels good. I’ve rested when I’ve had a chance. I’ve pushed myself back into running, gently, a little bit at a time. I’ve stopped reaching for the comfort snacks. I’ve read a little bit for pleasure. I’m cooking dinner again. Simple things, they call it self-care. I’m averse to all the inspirational bullshit, but I like self-care.
Now, what do I do with my summer before it slips from my grasp? I’m working full-time until the end of September. I’m also moving stores, so I get to walk through Hyde Park at some point during the day. It may be further from the house, but I think it will take away from that work/home habit that sometimes makes me forget I live in London. I can at least sit under a tree for a little bit and breathe. We have a big USA holiday at the end of July, a small Spanish holiday in two weeks, and a couple more highlights, but that’s still a lot of space to fill.
Write, Write, Write. This blog remains a dream of stability. Weekly. It could happen, I’m not making any promises. With fiction, this week I’m going to make a big list of literary journals I can submit to, and I’m just going to throw some work out into the world. I was reading about Frank O’Hara and how he would write poetry on his lunch break when he worked at MOMA, which eventually turned into Lunch Poems. I realised on my twenty-minute breaks at work all I do is scroll Facebook. I’ve started taking a notebook into work and using my twenty minutes to get ideas down, make plans for next year’s dissertation, write from prompts, or anything else that comes into my head. I’m taking a poetry class next year, so I want to start warming up to that also. I’ve only done it for a couple of days, but it feels good. The nice part is I realise I don’t have to write a masterpiece every time. It can be fun; it can be silly, it can be complete crap. It’s just exercise. I’m looking at the possibility of a writing group too, but for the moment I want to get into the swing of writing alone.
Read, Read, Read. I think I was a little passive this year at university. I’ve come to realise essay writing is a political act, and some lecturers can be biased. Next year I need to come even more prepared. I’ve built a good foundation of knowledge, and I think summer is a great time to expand on literary theory, so I am currently at my borrowing limit for both my library memberships. This brain is hungry! There is also a large list of writers I need to read. All the early Gothic stuff from Walpole to Lewis. I need to immerse myself in Lovecraft. I just finished We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. Now I am attacking Flannery O’Connor’s short stories and my brain is weeping at the possibility of the form. In a nutshell, I don’t know shit, and I need some armour. I may even have the time and energy and bravery to tackle Stephen King’s The Stand and Frank Herbert’s Dune. I’m also going to hound those reading lists for next year. Watch out, academia.
Run, Run, Run. I need to get back into the discipline of exercise because I believe it influences every other aspect of my life. I also want to stop being a pussy and finally go to a yoga class. That’s about it for this; it should just be that simple.
Teach, Teach, Teach. I’m halfway through gaining a teaching qualification, and I want to work hard to achieve that. It’s only on Thursday evenings, so I want to make sure during the rest of the week I am focused on it, even if it’s just a little bit every day. Once I finish that, I want to start getting work with tutoring agencies. I also want to join The Ministry of Stories and start gaining relevant experience to be a teacher. This one’s about my future, on a more practical level. I’m also itching to get into what I want to do with my life (and out of working weekends).
Watch, Watch, Watch. This one isn’t essential because I go through moods of watching stuff then not watching much at all. I’d like to finish watching Twin Peaks and X-Files. I also want to watch a lot of horror and sci-fi movies I should have watched by now. The only John Carpenter film I’ve ever watched is Halloween. I haven’t watched Mad Max: Fury Road yet. I’m okay if none of this happens, although it helps with the writing.
Lastly, I also want to switch my brain off a couple of times a week and just have some fun. I hope it’s sunny and I can sit in the park and read trashy comics (although my brain is forever ruined and everything turns into an exercise on narrative) and spend time with my loved ones and explore this beautiful city and have fun. On a global scale, the world has me anxious and sad. Brexit, Trump, terrorism. Sometimes a little bit of coffee on a bench looking out at a river and celebrating how far you’ve come can do wonders for the soul. Thirteen years ago I quit university two months into my second year, which I have now completed. Six years ago, someone told me wanting to go back to university and start a career as a teacher was a pretty little dream, but it was never going to happen. Everything aside, at this moment, with all the love I have and how far I’ve come, I feel pretty proud.