I knew when I chose my GCSEs I’d hanker after everything I didn’t choose, and envy anyone who chose differently to me. I knew I’d regret what I did choose, in the end. I found it incredibly difficult, but in the end I settled on Business Studies and History—boring, perhaps, but the most useful to a general academic not stretched in any particular direction. (Note that I was stretched, that year, in many, many directions. Writer, mathematician, marathon runner, professional musician, lawyer, bridge master, director of a large financial company, fluent speaker of ten different languages, iconic movie villain, film director and screenwriter…I fancied myself as all these things and many more. Stupidly arrogant, isn’t it?)
Now it’s worse. Well, it’s what I feared. A friend asks me for help with her Biology homework and I’ve never even heard of half the words she throws at me. But then she asks for help with her French and even though I don’t understand any of the vocabulary I’m using I can still construct a grammatically-correct sentence in a difficult tense without even thinking about it.
Yet we’ve only had five teaching days (yes, I began this post three months ago). Soon I won’t have a clue. And that’s partially good, because I will no longer be plied with questions by people who don’t even care about what they’re supposed to be learning. I can have ‘intelligent conversations’ about homework with similar-minded people. It’s a relief.
And also a torment. I no longer have the upper hand. My friends doing the Baccalaureate are taking six subjects: they are learning things I will never know, and in a broader range. I’m taking just four subjects (three, some might say). I wanted to take five, but the Powers That Be wouldn’t let me.
I’m just overly jealous and competitive, I suppose. Always wanting to stay one step ahead, but suddenly and irreversibly denied the means to do that. No; from now on I’ll be behind in so many areas I care about. I cannot keep up; I wonder if I should learn instead to be indifferent? Simply because it would alleviate the pain. And I could never bear sharing. No, I reply: I must learn moderation and restraint.
Some people must renounce their materialism; I must renounce my lust for knowledge and theory. Not one of us can have everything. Yet this, above even friendship (it must be said I hesitated to say this, since I’ve never known what it is to have no friends—only ones I possibly wouldn’t choose over my work, and that isn’t my definition of friendship; I shall think over it), is what I crave.
I want to do things by the whole. Know everything, or know nothing. It’s just not possible, though is it?
SO WHAT DID I CHOOSE?
English Literature. Although it’s not said to particularly increase a writer’s chances of whatever, and loads of writers never did study English Literature, I thought I might as well take it. It could teach me a few things, and is so well-respected it certainly won’t be a waste of time whatever I end up doing with my life. And my sanity requires a creative outlet. Couldn’t forget that. It must be said I preferred Lang at GCSE, but Lang involves speaking, and that doesn’t appeal! At the beginning of the year I had no friends in my English class; it’s good now, though. I prefer strangers, because I’m interested in how they prejudge me, and gratified when they do on the terms I try to impress.
Philosophy and Ethics. Now, I wanted both this and Psychology, because they both interest me, but Philosophy and Ethics won out in the end because as a religious and idealistic person, I want to learn about theories and concepts relating to the Big Questions of this universe. I want to learn how to form and argue a point of view, and I’m hoping to procure story inspiration from this subject.
How is it in practice? I’m not sure whether I made the correct decision. I already knew all about Plato the dualist, his Cave, his Republic, his everything. In the first month I learnt nothing. And the teacher seems slightly ‘clueless’. She didn’t know whether ‘A priori’ and ‘A posteriori’ were Latin or Greek—and it confuses me why anyone wouldn’t look at them and immediately desire to know! (Latin, by the way.) But I’ve already told that story.
On the first day I also found myself sandwiched between two hardcore atheists, which both excited and unsettled me. Both of them are old friends of mine, fortunately, and the one I used to delight in teasing for his atheism has moved seats since I reminded him of my religious views. Honestly, we can’t have a conversation without his thinking I’m trying to impose my awful Catholicism upon him. Recipe for disaster, it seems. The atheist on my other side has a hyperactive influence on me, so I can foresee Philosophy being a rowdy lesson.
Three months later… Philosophy is my comedic relief of the day. Crazy class. At first I thought it was really difficult to get the marks; now I ‘get’ the technique it’s going better. I still don’t know how useful it’ll prove to be, since most of the theories we’ve studied have already occurred to me in one form or another over the years. But yes. Crazy class. We have a book of the random things that have unwittingly (or otherwise!) been said between us.
Finally—and these the two subjects I knew I’d take even before I took my first GCSE exam in March 2011, aged thirteen and a half—I’ve chosen Maths and Further Maths. An interesting mixture, they all say.
But…maths…! My passions work together: mathematics and writing. Without one I lose the other, as happened in the summer when I couldn’t write for fear of it driving me insane. And without writing I lose my creative outlet and lose sight of my aspirations. I can’t solve equations if I can’t write. They’re totally the opposite pursuits, but that’s just why they work. There are two sides to me and for nothing would I give up either.
What we’re doing in Maths isn’t particularly riveting. Some of it I haven’t touched since Year 9; most of it half the class did last year, and the other half (who didn’t take the GCSE a year early) are learning for the first time. A bit of a discrepancy there, but at least I can relax.
Further Maths. It either surprises people or it doesn’t. Usually they make faces so hideous I know I can never justify my enthusiasm in their minds. This subject satisfies my ambition. Not wholly, but sufficiently. It tides me over. I couldn’t do without the challenge, the stress, the impression that I’m ‘one of those’.
On Tuesday someone asked me what my favourite subject was. I answered something senseless and unprepared, but in truth, I can’t take a broad view like that. They’re too different; they each fulfil a different need in me, and each as important as each other. I have no favourite; I like them for different reasons–and mayhap I can apply that to a whole spectrum of collectives.