Within Without (Withone)
The word version of this blog is saved as ‘First Day Blues’. That’s how long I’ve sat on it; trying to figure out a better way to encapsulate my feelings than “First days are so weird.”
But I keep coming back to it. First weeks are so weird.
The best way I can describe the curious madness of self-imposed exile and waiting is that it is akin to a game of musical chairs.
The music in this analogy is the pan-rhythmic tune that suspends the usual stratifications of the social edifice to facilitate spontaneous interactions. It is this continuous driving current that compels people to pair up, form groups, establish clubs & societies and expand their networks exponentially.
The people are the people.
But the chairs are people too. Not in the sexualised women-as-furniture-Allen-Jones way, but in the more representational sense. The chair you choose is the friends you pick. You can (as I always did when playing this intolerable farce of a game at birthday parties) sit as the Irish vote, early and often, staving off (by hovering your tush over many a chair) the terror that the music will end and you will be condemned to be chairless (friendless) forever.
Inevitably, though, you will have sat in haste and will have to re-join the lost hoard as they meander towards meaningful social interaction in a not-yet-crystallised hierarchy. In my experience the friends you make in that first week are friends you lose by semester’s end. It’s not anyone’s fault; it’s just the ramification of a hasty decision bourn out of fear of social exclusion.
In my law / communications degree, the first friend I made was a very nice and quite dim girl who enjoyed romantic comedies and church. Neither of which is bad. Neither of which is me. It was, I am fairly certain, a mutual reassessment of our compatibility, and subsequently, a gentle separation.
This time round I was determined to do it differently. The first person with whom I exchanged names in a tutorial would not require upgrading to my lunch friend within the first hour of our acquaintance. I would not fear the music stopping. I would not fear the social stigma of being alone.
Which is all well and good. But it did mean I spent most of last week on my tod. I visited James Turrell’s ‘Within Without’ installation at the National Gallery of Australia (not at all done justice to in the hasty iPhone photo above) which, as I lay alone with my silence for the first time within its concentric form, unlocked yet another level of awe at the suspended play of light and time within its walls.
Lying there alone with myself, I realised another thing that had been holding me back; stronger than any conscious desire not to make and re-make repeated sets of friends.
I worried that I was too old.
Too old for the fresh faced youths who overfilled & overflowed the lecture halls. Too old to share enthusiastically in their tales of mid-week revels and debauchery. Certainly too old for the hangovers that would involve.
I’d joked with friends about being one of those mature age students. The ones who remind the Professor that actually there were more assigned readings. The ones who jump in to answer before the question is fully formed.
They’re universally despised by undergraduates, but I now recognised their motivations, their drive for such perceived irritations. After all, they had given up other lives, other careers, for this change – didn’t they owe it to themselves to make the most of it?
Didn’t I owe it to myself (and to my ever increasing student debt) to do likewise?
No closer to an answer in the next morning’s lecture, I was letting the information cascade over me when suddenly the lecturer announced ‘Pop Quiz: what are the three things you can do to prepare for class?”
Before the sound of the ‘s’ had finished swirling in his mouth the first voice:
“Do the Readings!”
“…and think about the Readings!”
My head swivelled to survey the responders as my still-closed lips curled into a small smile of bemusement. I was keen, I had to be keen; owed it to myself to be keen… but I wasn’t that keen.