English Literature: Lockdown Edition

A purrfect study partner (Image by: Millicent Stott)

When I applied for my English Literature degree at Durham, I had dreams of spending long nights studying in the library, being dramatic in my gown in the cathedral, maybe even forming a secret literary society Dead Poets style. Needless to say, moving back in with my mum one term in wasn’t quite the dark academia vibe I had been hoping to achieve. As I spend another day watching my lectures in bed with a cup of tea, just about resisting the temptation to put them on 1.5x speed, I can’t help wondering what I would have been doing at uni if Epiphany term had been as I hoped. My mind also turns to the poor house plant in my bedroom in Durham, which has definitely died by now…

There are many strange things I have adapted to during online learning. Managing without library access is perhaps the most difficult one as most of my secondary texts aren’t online, neither are the more obscure ones I was hoping to see in the Palace Green library (maybe next year?). This is worsening the educational class divide – most of us cannot afford the many books we need to show extra reading done for our essays and Google Scholar doesn’t quite cut it at times. My tutors have been beyond helpful, making allowances for our many technical difficulties and offering help, both educational and just general chats. But I miss the small things like going for coffee after tutorials, getting that reassurance that no, no one thought your point sounded ridiculous or heard when you stumbled over your words. Now, alone with your laptop screen, it’s all too easy to blow these thoughts and anxieties out of proportion. Online learning is awkward, and social interactions are strangely skewed – from the ‘oops, no sorry, you go!’ in tutorials to that awful moment you realise you weren’t on mute while talking to your cat. It’s hard to form proper relationships over a Zoom call,with your own face in a small square making it impossible not to scrutinise your appearance, and the internet lags making it hard to understand tone and body language.

I think I’m finally managing to adapt to learning from home but getting into something resembling a routine has been hard compared to the busy chaos of first term. It’s definitely easy to overwork yourself in lockdown with no set start or end time to the day and I’ve caught myself doing tutorial prep or reading at 3am more times than I can count.

Although it’s not the first-year experience I was looking for, there’s positives in taking time away from the busyness of life to think about what’s really important to you. I’ve been making my way through my to-be-read list, spending time with my family and cats, doing more creative writing and trying to rest. It’s so easy to feel guilt for taking time to rest, especially in my degree where there’s always something to be read or written! But accepting this time for the quiet, uncertain time it is for those who are privileged enough to be at home might just be the key to getting through it.

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