Ok, so we’re at the tail end of Easter term with the beautiful combination of snow, strikes and summatives to ensure that no-one goes home with any great sense of self-worth. What you will now presumably read is the result of learned procrastination and an immutable desire to avoid footnoting my summative.
Behold: the superfluously dramatic retelling of writing an essay.
STAGE 1: DENIAL
This first stage of writing an essay is obviously procrastination, in which the email containing summative questions will languish unopened and comprehensively neglected for 10 days. As this time elapses you will find yourself folding clothes in your wardrobe, subjecting yourself to the extortionate £3.50 circuit laundry rounds, flipping the mattress, getting the 3-hour train home to edit your sibling’s English essay and even writing an article for the Bubble to avoid working (wink). Eventually, however, you reach the point where you can’t ignore the essay any longer. In the knowledge of this, you continue to disregard the essay. Finally, though, the time will come to pick the best question to write on – now this is a loaded moment, because, without exception, rather like those the Brexit pundits, you will heinously misread the situation. However, due to extensive Olympic training in becoming a procrastinator, it’s far too late to change your mind and you are doomed.
In these moments of heightened stress you find yourself researching flights to the bottom of the Pacific ocean and musing that the void is rather nice this time of year. After this strenuous summative-selection it is imperative that you take a break as overexertion is not conducive to productivity. This is the lie that you tell yourself, anyway, because 3 hours and a Youtube rabbit hole later you will find yourself binge-watching all 8 episodes of Queer Eye, foregrounded by ‘Best of’ compilations of communist marching with a smattering of Call the Midwife and rollicking Glee covers. I am genuinely not joking this happened to me last week.
STAGE 2: ANGER/BARGAINING
You picked the wrong question. You chose a foolish module. Your course selection was folly, and your psychology friend literally submitted a summative which consisted of a question mark and an ellipses (because nothing is real and existence is meaningless, apparently). It’s March – you have already regurgitated 6 essays and bottom of the barrel doesn’t quite cover the rubble that this essay is subsisting on – picture the dust collecting on the post-it note that you wrote to remind yourself to visit your friends at uni. That dust is the basis of essay numero 7. At this point its either start researching or spontaneously combust. When combusting fails you will hike up to Billy B in pursuit of 5 essential books for the essay. You will walk home having found precisely none of them but you picked up one book that was in the approximation of what you wanted, and unbeknownst to you it is a 4-hour short-loan book – this is generally where I am reminded of my general foolishness. Primary reading is cursorily perused and secondary reading is roundly ignored. Yes I read that source, Margaret. No, Sharon, I didn’t open a 42 page Jstor article and take my quote from the abstract on page one. All these wild accusations, goodness me…
Next, you must abandon the context of your critical quote and wildly re-appropriate it in a manner that would make Oscar Wilde roll in his grave. At this point the fragile student will bear more than a passingly likeness to that scene in Friends where Ross is quaveringly spilling a mimosa and whispering ‘I’m… fiiiiiine’. In this situation we are the lowly mimosa: a fractious puddle of stress. Also, (so says the English student), literally where does the comma go and actually what is a semi-colon??? I generally just whip one in and squint at it suspiciously until I have another irrelevant point to write down. This is where everyone laments not taking Geography.
STAGE 3: DEPRESSION
Otherwise synonymous with footnoting and editing, this stage of essaying is conflicting because you will feel that you are in the home stretch, but this is, in fact, false. You are on page 13 and footnote number 51 of your summative – you haven’t been outside in three days, a gently squished orange decomposes on your window-ledge and bar bladder-compelled activities your rump has not departed your swivel-chair for a week. You ask of your essay sources the same question you ask of Donald Trump: ‘where did you come from?’.
Here, events can go one of two ways: you finish the footnotes immaculately, or you can perish in squalor. In this period sleep patterns become purely theoretical, and it is advised that you sleep in the time zone you’d rather be in – I personally chose New York with a healthy 4am to 12pm slot – it’s very rewarding. After a few eons pass, you will gallop – well, trudge – up to Halgarth house, slinking past Hatfield to wistfully glance up at the pub two doors down from the English office before tripping over a few cobblestones (which no one can be reasonably expected to hurdle), and stepping in from whatever precipitation is inundating the city. You see the pigeonhole. You spend 14 minutes finding the correct folder. You are free. You are done. You are absolutely-screwed-but-that-is-a-problem-for-later.
STAGE 4: ACCEPTANCE
Acceptance is not realistically achievable. This stage alludes to the feedback sessions. The 15 minutes objectively last 43 hours and of all the things that I would rather be doing on this green earth, feedback sessions rank somewhere above telling people interesting facts about myself, and somewhere below bodily decapitation. The accursed but well-meaning professor then passes you the pro forma and reads off of it. This could absolutely have been contained in an email. Laws of physics and opinions of entitled English students decree as such. You have discussed the weather. You are now nodding. Nodding profusely…. And still nodding. The professor is talking about a word that you used entirely independently from its intended usage. You cringe. The professor apologetically grimaces and moves on, page by page, footnote by footnote. Comma splicing, ladies and gents – don’t do it. If I were a playwright, applicable stage directions would include: (furrows brow in fevered agreement); (hmmms emphatically); and (scuttles from the room in panicked mania).
And that’s it – you are home free!
Oh wait what’s that exam-shaped beast in the distance, rampaging heedlessly towards us…
In this moment, the tasteful lettered light-box on your desk will sassily read: ‘Mate, this year doesn’t count’, but you ran out of letters, stepped on the hashtag tile and the batteries died.
You try not to take it as a metaphor.