Friday, June 25, 2010

Student days, Schmudent Days

No Julia commentary from me - there's so much already out there that's expressed better than anything I could excrete out. No, I'm going to go all navel-gazing on you and talk about a time in my life that most people would consider their best time. For me, it was one of the worst times.


















University. I know I've mentioned that I hated university before, but most of my unhappiness was actually to do with where I lived. Dare I mention the residential college by name? Perhaps not; but it was located in North Adelaide in some beautiful old Victorian buildings and some shocking 1960s high-rise jobs, all done to accommodate country kids recently matriculated from high school but without the culinary or housekeeping skills to fend for themselves in the big smoke.

By the end of school, I was a fairly confident girl. Reasonably intelligent, nice boyfriend and destined for university. Any specific career goals were beyond me and studying for an 'Arts' degree was considered a safe choice, one that would give me time to think about what I'd like to be when I finished (I had to stop myself from saying 'grew up' even when struggling to make small talk with other uni students). The main point was to just go to uni, get out of the small country town I grew up in and make something of myself.

Lincoln College - there, I've said it now - was almost the unmaking of me. Even twenty four years after first staying there I feel no fondness for the place. Instead, the two years I spent there were ones of confusion, low self-esteem and barely-hidden disgust.

Yep, at nearly forty two, I feel like I can finally admit that I hated it there. It seems like I might be in the minority though, because I keep getting invited to 'Back to the Eighties' events - mostly by people who studiously ignored me when I was there. A Facebook friend request even turned up from someone I played one match of inter-college doubles with and she stalked off the court immediately following our loss and never acknowledged me again for the next two years: why the phark would I 'accept'?

However, I place 90% of the blame on my own weak shoulders. The atmosphere of the place terrified me. Within an hour I was in the President's room, drunk on sherry: my first ever taste of the drink after only daring to sip WestCoast coolers over the summer holidays as a just-turned seventeen year old. Everyone around me seemed better able to handle their drink, their studies, their nightlife, sex lives, dance skills, cultural references, social groups.....

The rest of the week continued in a haze of chicken-and-champagne, Fruity Lexia, Blackberry Nip and Southern Comfort-and-coke with just the vaguest attempts to attend any O-week introductory lectures. All of this was done with the security of Sean, my faithful sweet boyfriend who was never more than a metre from my side. If I wasn't known as 'Sean's Girlfriend,' I was known as 'Rob's Sister'.

Any fool knows the best way to make friends is to be on your own and not with a lover stapled to your hip, but my shyness meant that I relied on him for everything and avoided everyone else. I could not even walk into the college dining room on my own without Sean or my best girl friend Jo by my side.

Once there, it was back to the dreaded cliques of school again. The 'top' table, furthest from the door, was where the self-annointed Cool Group sat. The Katherine Read of 1986 meekly accepted this and did not dare approach or make eye contact with any of those illustrious beings. How I wish the Kath Lockett of 2010 could walk in, plonk herself down right in the middle of that table and chat away......

How I wish I could tell young and awkward Katherine Read that feeling trapped and bored in a relationship two years later at nineteen was not good; that at that age things should still be exciting and be worth looking forward to. I wish I could have told her that spending her hard-earned holiday pay on ridiculous labels, bad perms and uncomfortable shoes would all be for nought: she'd still feel 'out of it' amongst the large, unfriendly arts student crowds and still be snobbed off by fellow collegians she occasionally dared smile at whilst passing on the footbridge.

I'd tell her that these were not the halcyon days or the times when she was having the most fun. No, I'd tell her that it was okay to feel disgusted at how much drunkenness, sexism and disregard for the privacy of others was openly celebrated as accepted college culture and that she should try to make friends with some of the Malaysian students. Yes, they kept to themselves, but wouldn't you, in a new country with horrible food and even more horribly-behaved neanderthal students?















As she hid in the library, struggling often to even understand the meaning of the essay questions set by disinterested and dysfunctional lecturers, I'd give her a quick hug and assure her that a Pass mark would be fine; no-one outside of North Terrace and Victoria Drive would give a Fat Rat's Clacker about the Prehistoric World View or Roman Art and Archaeology as interpreted by an eighteen year old and that sex would be infinitely better than anything furtively done in a single bed in the KMB building with shouting and laughing students on the other side of the door....

Katherine Read would no doubt be a bit perturbed to see the wrinklier, daggier and less-repressed version of herself offering advice, but I'd also assure her that most of the Lincoln students that she thought didn't like her or weren't interested in her had their own issues of inferiority, nervousness and ineptitudes to worry about and would mostly mature into decent and generous people worth knowing.

I'd tell her that she too needed to take risks. To start smiling or talking first; put a silly comment out there and see if it catches. To go to a party on her own; travel overseas on her own; find her strengths on her own.

Katherine wouldn't be given a look into a crystal ball, but she might have got a hint that her happiest times would be sitting across from Love Chunks on their first date; seeing the tears in his eyes when their baby was born and feeling the warm of his back against hers on a winter's night. Glimpsing Sapphire at the school gate, hearing her chatter and kissing her forehead before going to bed. Laughing with the physio just this morning as one of the roof tiles was removed and a tradie's head popped into view: "Oh, sorry ladies. Good thing it wasn't a pap smear, eh?"

Still, a year after Miss Read finished uni and was finding her way in the corporate world, she accompanied a friend to The Waite Ball; a fairly raucous event frequented by rowdy B&S and agriculture students. Dressed in her finest, she heard - and then saw - one of the Lincoln Cool Group Guys. "HEY! Rob's sister!"

Quick as a whip she yelled back, "HEY! DICKHEAD!"

She was finally on her way.

29 comments:

Vanessawith3 said...

Thank you so much for sharing Kath. I have always wanted to write myself a letter, to the 18 year old me. I would have told myself so many of the same things. I HATED uni too. I didn't live in student accommodation but I was renting, holding down three jobs including the Army Reserve and studying nursing which involved 32 contact hours and two days per week working in a real hospital, all with no car. I hated walking onto campus because I felt like such an outcast amongst the heavy drinking, pot smoking, living at home set with little responsibility set.

Kath Lockett said...

Vanessa, the 'living at college' people were probably even worse than the 'living at home' set because they could drunkenly run up and down corridors screaming at the top of their lungs at 3am...

....or vomit on the stairwell on Friday night, knowing full well it was going to stay there, ripening, until the poor cleaner turned up on Monday.... God they must have hated us!

Pandora Behr said...

Ah, those wonderful memories of university college... My vague memories of Lincoln are similar to yours - alone, lonely, lost, afraid, desperate. I've blocked so much of it out. Everybody just had to cope the best they could - adapt or perish. I remember avoiding the cool kids too. The Malaysian students and my bunch of misfit friends were my saviour in many ways. It was a truly horrible time. I can say hand on heart, I wasn't much cut as a person then either.
The great thing is to look where we are now, knowing what we know and realising that we're not that person. Great peice.
(Oh, and we should do lunch soon)

vanessawith3 said...

Oops, my fullstop should have come after responsibility.
It sounds revolting Kath!

JahTeh said...

Jeebus Kath, I barely coped with High School and it was an all girl school, mixed school and I would have never gone in the gate. At least we didn't have vicious FaceBook to contend with.

franzy said...

Wow.
I must admit, I occasionally find myself wishing that I could have told my uni-self a thing or two. And my high school self.

But then, without them, where would you be now? Don't give them a hard time - they did great. Even if it didn't seem like then and doesn't now.

Kath Lockett said...

Thanks Pandora and YES.

No Facebook at Lincoln either and I could count on one hand the students who had either a car or a computer. I escaped back to my hometown as often as I could and remember describing the college to my Dad (a rather wise old high school teacher) that it was like being at a school camp but nobody ever came and told you to go to sleep, be quiet, stop drinking, sleep in your own bed or even go to lectures.... In hindsight, passing whilst living in such an environment was a pretty remarkable achievement!

You're right Franzy, we all did alright considering the pressures (real and imagined) we faced. But sometimes it's nice to admit that the so-called 'glory days' were anything but.

River said...

I've often heard it said that college or university is the place where you "grow up"; where you "find yourself"; discover "who you really are".
Clearly this isn't true. Especially for the shy ones.
But it does sound like you HAVE found "yourself" and your life is now happily going along its intended path.
I sometimes wonder how I would have turned out if I'd finished high school, maybe gone to uni. Then I remember how shy I was at school and I'm (sort of) glad I didn't.

drb said...

Interesting....
Can't imagine a guy from the Cool Group would remember Rob's name.

Helen said...

If only we could have our lives over again knowing what we know.

I've got a much worse 80s hair photo to show you when I can find the time to put it up.

w/v enshat = the state of the stairwell come Monday

Kath Lockett said...

River, I reckon you'd have kicked arse at uni (in a good way) and it's never too late to sit that year 12 equivalency test you know....

Harsh, drb, so harsh!

Helen, I need to see your eighties hair photo because - trust me - I selected one of my 'better' ones!

Baino said...

Aww that was awesome. I thought I was missing out by not living on campus then I had just had a boyfriend removed from my hip and it made me feel just as miserable. If only we knew then what we know now.

River said...

Year 12 equivalency? Ha Ha. I only got as far as year 9, pretty sure I wouldn't understand any year 12 level stuff.....

mele said...

If I wrote a letter to myself, my teenage self wouldn't even read it. She was an arrogant, outspoken, self-assured brat!
I wasn't in the 'cool' group but I was generally liked by some of these people, and also had good friendships with nerds. I lived by the motto 'never marry anyone' and career was everything.
Thank goodness I learnt some humility, had a baby with a wonderful man and ripped that chip off my shoulder. Every now and then that brat resurfaces-I recently flipped the bird at my best friend's fiance, who cheated on her with a barmaid. Well, it was that or KILL HIM.

Word verification: reticin!

Kath Lockett said...

Too true Baino, too true. Still I even look back a year ago and think, "Ah I've learned so much since then...."

River - you'd kick year 12 equivalency's arse. Intellectually speaking.

Mele, I'd flip him the bird as well. That's not being immature; it's being honest!

The Plastic Mancunian said...

G'Day Kath,

Nice post. I loved university, I have to say, because I entered it, a sad little weasel of a kid whose shyness was so bad that I rarely spoke - even when opening a bank account - and when I left I had overcome my shyness, found my feet, got myself a girlfriend (taht was the biggest shock of all) and was fine.

Still I would love to advice my younger self because, as you can imagine, I made some seriously stupid errors on the road through those three years - some of which still make me cringe ...

Great post.

:0)

Cheers

PM

R.H. said...

I never went to university.
That is why I am not an atheist, a feminist, and all the other namby pamby dimwit requirements for eating carrot cake. I am free of doctrine, free of worship, including the abo/homo/reffo trinity. Okay? Not having a license to eat carrot cake doesn't bother me, I've always done things without a licence and the latte set can get.........


-Robert. OAM.
My mind is not caged.

drb said...

Hi Kath,

Actually I don't know what is the Cool Group nor did I notice any Cool group in my school or Uni.

I was skinny (45 kg), had the trendiest clothes/hair and gadgets, elected as the class rep and society chairperson, had someone to carry my bags and copy my lecture notes, received anonymous pressies and death threats. Principals/Professors knew me by my name (even 20 years later).
Was I in the Cool Group?
I hope not as you made the Cool Group sounded like a bunch of unfriendly/stuckup people.

Sounds like bragging but I did a ball in school and uni and college.
I was unsettled when reading your blog about how unhappy others were.:-(

drb said...

*did have a ball*

Are the Cool group supposed to be well-liked or hated?

R.H. said...

Sometimes I go to Melbourne university and walk around looking like a professor. But really I'm giving marks to the girlies for cleavage and so on.

45 kg is not Cool it's frigid.

mele said...

R.H, there's nothing wrong with feminists, refugees, or aboriginal people.Actually, the problem is ignorance, and therefore lies with you.

I'd take a latte over nescafe dirt in a tin anyday. If you want to drink that rubbish, go ahead.

I am still a feminist and clearly need to be, if your comments are anything to go by. I still go to university too! The point I was making is that youth is not the best time of life, as Kath and many others have suggested.

Kath Lockett said...

Hey hey HEY - what's all this fighting. Geez, I take a day off to see the Tim Burton exhibition and mooch around the city with Sapphire and all hell breaks loose.

.....I'll just add that I *love* carrot cake. No matter who makes it.

Benjamin Solah said...

I think I have a few things to say to my 18-year-old self and I have some bad memories of those times. I'm glad to be passed a lot of my friends and found new ones because they didn't quite understand why I wrote stories, went to protests and didn't think it was right to sleep with a woman by getting them drunk.

Thanks for sharing Kath.

政琦 said...

死亡是悲哀的,但活得不快樂更悲哀。......................................................................

R.H. said...

an arrogant outspoken self-assured brat.

You forgot to say stupid, but never mind; you're consistent, haven't changed.

Congratulations.

mele said...

Sorry, Kath...franzy has educated me on the etiquette of blog commenting and not to engage with aggravators. Thus, duly noted.

R.H. said...

Then why aggravate poor RH in the first place by calling him ignorant?

-Robert.
Oxford.

Helen said...

I think you went to university at my highschool... University was the first place I DIDN'T feel all that sort of not-fitting-ness, which is why I loved it so much from day 1...

Kath Lockett said...

Helen, I think that you were one of the lucky one - at uni, not highschool.

RH and Mele: shake hands and return to your respective corners okay?