This post is part of the Life in English Student Blog

Jaclyn Legge

Jaclyn Legge

For me, the winter semester always starts slow and hopeful. The holidays melt off in little bits and the glow of new year’s resolutions waft through the air. I can never keep track of exactly when the semester hits me with the contempt of a banana peel on a wet, yellow floor, but I tend to go from “motivated and doing just fine” to “I don’t even know what I don’t know” pretty quick. I’m not there yet, but I’m waiting for it to take me by surprise like it always does. This is to say, my semester’s going great so far, how about you?

Ever since I started university, I have taken lecture notes on my laptop. Class begins; I start typing, organizing themes and thoughts accordingly and copying the instructor’s colourful turns of phrase (excerpt from my religion class notes: “worms don’t get enlightened”); class ends, I stop. I never met anyone who took as thorough notes as me, and, yes, I used to be incredibly proud of this.

And yet this semester, without really deciding to, I switched to a notebook. Syllabus week passed, the lectures began in full force, and I wasn’t falling behind at all, like I worried would happen. I was absorbing information in a different way and writing notes efficiently. I used to think that power-typing every detail made me pay better attention, but it turns out that doodling in the margins while I pay attention for key thoughts helps me listen just as well.

My aversion to handwritten notetaking had nothing to do with memory recall or the allure of the internet. It’s just easier to make mistakes on a laptop, where you can backspace and rearrange text as you please. With handwritten notes, you risk messing something up, scratching it out, taking time to rewrite it properly, and losing the thread of the discussion.

If I had the power to reverse time by one second at the cost of one hour of my life, I would undo every erroneous pen stroke I’ve scratched out from my notes and die glamorously young under mysterious circumstances.

I don’t like being faced with my own mistakes. Pen blackouts, eraser marks, and white-out are all reminders that my cursive is still wonky, I’m terrible at spelling French names, and my first thoughts aren’t always good enough.

No one ever really, really taught me it was okay to be wrong. Or perhaps no one taught me how to be okay with being wrong. I did learn that it was wrong to feel bad about being wrong so maybe I should stop being a crybaby about it. Maybe harbor my feelings of failure deep inside myself and let them steep. This won’t come back to bite me at all.

My sob story, to the tune of the world’s tiniest violin: around late elementary school I was deemed a “gifted learner” which at the time I think meant that I received good grades and didn’t require any help to do it. I probably used to be praised for getting good grades, but good becomes normal, normal becomes expected; I stop telling my parents about my grades, they assume I’m fine, and I assume I’m fine, too. I assume I will always be fine.

But nobody is good at everything, right all the time, or fine all the time. I wish I could tell myself these things with forgiveness. But I am not the flower which blooms in adversity. Take away my sun and rain, and I will wilt and blame myself for being dry.

I’m hard on myself because I don’t want to believe anything is too hard for me. I want my first try to be my best, and for my best to always be enough. This is a terrible philosophy for a writer. It doesn’t help me as a student either.

How can we, the students, tell if school is getting harder or if we’re just falling behind? There are many factors to consider here:

  • We’re taking higher-level courses
  • The work is actually getting harder
  • We are growing in microscopic ways we may not notice for years
  • We have more ambitious personal goals, which take up time
  • The older we get, the more pressure we feel to make something of ourselves
  • Managing free time is hard when our study time is also our work/social/personal time
  • Time does nothing but move forward and every moment we spend idle could technically be spent doing something more productive
  • Twitter time moves at an alarming speed (Think it’s been 20 minutes? Nope, it’s tomorrow)
  • Self-care time is not only important but necessary
  • Some days we require more rest than others
  • Everybody else seems to be keeping up with the work
  • Everybody else is struggling in ways we can’t see
  • We’re only present for our own lowest moments
  • The moments we’re proudest of ourselves never last long enough
  • We tend to look at how far we have to go instead of how far we’ve come
  • The things we struggle to do feel heavier than the things we can
  • We’re never going to have an objective view of ourselves or all the things that we’ve accomplished

To the best of my knowledge right now, there is no definitive answer: we just do the work, complain about how hard it is and how little time we have, and we keep going. We hope we did enough. If all we can do is get through it, we should be allowed to think that our efforts were enough, because that’s probably what we’ll think later on.

What do I know, though? I don’t think I’ve ever believed a single person who told me I was working hard enough.

I am quieter in class than I used to be, even as I free up space to speak by not typing non-stop. You see, I now have a voice in my head that tells me someone else will say it better.

It’s hard to feel like you have the authority to share your thoughts in class when you’re sitting there with the entirety of your thoughts: you were up late last night, you did the reading past midnight, you skipped breakfast again, you almost missed the bus this morning and had to catch your breath for an embarrassing amount of time, you’re not sure if you filled in both your eyebrows, you hope nobody can see how tired you are, how did anyone let you in this class?

It’s not hard to overthink myself into silence. Do I risk exposing my loosely formed, uncertain thoughts to the class and hope that I make it to the end of the sentence without experiencing the all-powerful brain silence that wipes away my super-smart thought the second I get to it, Men-in-Black style?

Or do I take a long sip of water and stare meaningfully at my book while my Professor tries to meet someone’s eye?

Here’s how it used to work: 1. Prof asks a question. 2. I think of an answer that’s good enough. 3. I raise my hand, and I answer.

Here’s how it works now: 1. Prof asks a question. 2. My brain goes into a high but empty alert like a deer in headlights before I can start formulating an answer that makes enough sense to bring forward. 3. Someone says something really smart that I never would have thought of. 4. By the time I think I have something to say, I’m sweaty and nervous about not being smart enough. 5. The lecture moves on.

But here’s the thing. No one has ever raised their hand and said exactly what I was thinking in a better way because nobody thinks like me. Nobody thinks like you, either.

It’s not a perfect system, but this is how I try to be brave, fellow students: I come to class and tell myself that you’re all behind on the readings, all overwhelmed by the research essay, all wearing your shirt backwards and inside out, that you’ve all had instant noodles for dinner, been napping at the worst times, been having caffeine for breakfast. I tell myself that you’re all picking up your back leg and throwing it in front of you, over and over again. I tell myself you’re more like me than not, and you show up and put your hands up anyway.

Good luck this semester, everyone. Let us be brave together. In solidarity,

Jaclyn

About Jaclyn

Jaclyn Legge is a 3rd or 4th year student returning to full-time student life after completing Co-op. She spends her free time calling to the muses for inspiration in her writing, drawing, and shower dancing routines. Her poetry has been published in Bywords.ca. No, she doesn’t want to be a teacher; she considers herself a student in every aspect of life.

Thursday, February 6, 2020 in
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