Notes from the Library

The stage is cleared

It’s been about a year since all the issues I’m having with my work ethic, surrounding a lack of ability to focus leading to a lack of interest in doing work that seems pointlessly unconstructive, and it’s difficult to assess where I am. Wonderfully, living back here in Balliol itself, Oxford, focuses me in the sense of making me face the real issues by clearing out things I might use to distract myself. There’s no Emacs, playing video games is a social activity more than anything else, there’s no fighting with family members. Recently, I’ve managed to get it into my head that wasting time web browsing isn’t okay, so instead I find myself just sitting here, facing the raw procrastination, desperately looking for something to distract myself with, but not finding one because I’ve cut them out. Eventually I head to the library.

I have got very good at appreciating things others don’t appreciate about many of the experiences that we encounter in Oxford. As time goes by, this is less and less about trying to make myself an identity out of liking philosophy or something. I am slowly convincing myself that the criticisms I level at people for intentionally forming a persona through clothing, language or creeds apply equally well to me and philosophy: I do not mean that having convictions is a bad thing (though my scepticism perhaps leans me more in that direction than most) but that talking them up a lot is abusing things that might otherwise have power. One thing I particularly take issue with is people talking up the word ‘geek’ and talking about being geeks and using geek jokes in a very cliquey kind of way. Do some maths, customise Emacs cos it’s cool, play an obscure board game cos it’s really entertaining, and talk about all these things a lot, of course, obviously, I do all these things too, but don’t wear a T-shirt with a joke that only five other people will get, don’t wear a long brown coat because the main character of Firefly does or call your friends browncoats, don’t speak in the vernacular of Dinosaur Comics all the time, unless it genuinely does come naturally. Why? Because, I’ve realised, it’s no better than a bunch of giggling teenage girls excluding other girls that aren’t as pretty as them (in a very conventional sense of pretty). Yes, I am accusing nerds of doing just what these girls do. Don’t form your identity like this. Don’t consciously worry about your identity at all, in this sense: what matters is maintaining your actual values, and then being happy that what you’re doing is worth doing (which may, depending on your values, just mean ‘because it’s fun’ (probably not a good enough reason for me)).

I think this has got something to do with a general desire to let go of things that don’t matter so that they’re things that don’t matter, rather than being falsely inflated into things that make me talk as if they matter rather a lot.

Got a little side-tracked there. Some things I appreciate around here. ‘The smell of wine and cheap perfume’ in the cold night air because there’s some social event where others are drinking and it doesn’t matter that I’m not, and it’s exciting to be on the approach. The harsh sound of drums when you’re outside somewhere where dance music is being played very loudly, it’s quite wonderful to hear it like that when you haven’t heard it that loud in a while. The atmosphere of a library, the relationships between the librarians of the philosophy library and everyone else who visits the building, and how an oddly organised department has its various interacting personalities. The atmosphere of other libraries where it’s not the case that everyone knows each other. The stress of this week’s housing crisis in Balliol, and the fact that I’m pretty good at dealing with this stress and taking constructive steps to deal with it, while still getting some laughs out of it. The girl you like being nice. How the JCR is only as good as it is because it strays close to the line with its humour, and how this inevitably leads to upset with people who think it’s gone too far. How a lecturer can pause his main thread to give an introduction to another topic his must introduce to go further with the main thread, and how his explanation, even though you already know this topic, is the best five minutes of the week. When you learn that someone who you thought identified herself by going out and drinking actually doesn’t take herself very seriously at all and also has a complete and total handle on her degree, and you vow once more to yourself to try and stop judging. Spending two hours being wowed by how little you know about your subject by your tutor, at around 1am, in the quad. Competing with friends as to who spent more hours doing this with this tutor. It’s-close-to-the-deadline camaraderie.

Then I actually have to do some work and it’s not a pretty sight. And once more I despair.

I feel as though I am constrained by this one thing. I have this openness to appreciating so many things in my life, but I feel blocked from it. Almost as if I have wasted my time here academically and on every other count because the former constrains the rest. As time goes by I sort out so many things, but never this, the most important thing.

While I do occasionally think, ‘is this what I actually want to do, maybe not given what I’m experiencing?’, I’m not convinced at all of it. Firstly just look at how much I get out of lectures like that which I noted above (I just don’t read up afterwards), and look how I never, ever question ‘is this cool, is this, at a more general level than this particular technical paragraph, interesting?’—the answer here is always yes. Great. But do I have the stamina to actually do it?

I recently said to myself that I would stop using writing about things on here as an excuse not to go out and do them (specifically, to go and do some work), but this post felt different. Just imagine though if I were to start writing about girls I liked here rather than doing anything about them, what carnage. (Though since this blog is not anonymous, that would be a bad idea for so many other reasons.)

I disagree with your point about "geekery"; I think you are conflating cliqueyness and subcultures. I dislike "closed" or inaccessible geek pursuits, but to identify many activities you do in a positive and unifying way under the umbrella of "geek activities" can be (IMO is) a valuable thing. It can foster a sense of community and belonging which might not otherwise exist.

I think you may be confusing "these things annoy me" and "these things are things people should not do". Or, as T-Rex would put it: "Listen uh guys we need to have a TALK about conflating these things. Because seriously: NOT COOL." :P

comment posted by James Robson at Thu Nov 24 19:25:14 2011

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