The Year of Funky Trousers

Tomorrow I commence my final year of school.

I should be quaking like an ant under a too-heavy crumb, marvelling at my great age, or panicking when I can’t feel its purported greatness. I should be looking in the mirror every five minutes to check I’m still the same person and not going to reverse my own growth cycle or spontaneously combust or break out in hives before tomorrow.

In reality, I’m sitting in front of my computer screen trying to conjure up some fragment of feeling. When I started driving a month ago I knew I wasn’t as scared as I should be. Some people curse out loud; I don’t even curse in my head. It’s like everything is distanced from me, happening only to the effigy I made of myself and not a breathing being.

Tomorrow I start my fourteenth of fourteen years of school!!! In a year’s time I’ll be leaving home, packing up and going to live overseas, completely on my own!!!

No matter how many exclamation marks I use, the hammer doesn’t drop. I trust it will; and probably at the least convenient time.

So instead of looking forward, under the pressure of being practical and trying desperately to freak out as I ought to be doing (??!!), I’ll look back and analyse what last year, my first year of Sixth Form, has given me.

*

Firstly, it’s been the best year since I turned a teenager.

Not because it hit all the ‘defining moments’ of teenage existence (well, not the stereotypical ones). No; this year I’ve been discovering Who I Am. When your brain is rearranging itself, you’re so many things at once we lose sight of our own identities, or never had them, but recently things have been coming together in my head.

A long time ago…

I was a goody-two-shoes, an admittedly sheltered youngest child. Either people liked me or they mocked me—but I don’t suppose I was great to mock, since I was too naïve to catch the mockery. I thought I was an animal-person, a nature-person.

As with most people, it all went wrong somewhere—perhaps not somewhere specific, but ‘go wrong’ ‘it’ did. The last day of Year 11 I still date as one of the happiest days of my life. Not because I especially hated school, but because study leave was the right thing for me. I’d waited years to get this—trusted to study alone, at home, independently, without anyone on my back (except my mum). I confess I spent more of study leave watching film commentaries than working (it was fantastic), but hey. Freedom!

Sixth Form is an extension of that independence.

The day exams finished I built a sculpture of eight aluminium chairs in the link. Notice only one of them touches the ground. Juvenile, I know.

The day exams finished I built a sculpture of eight aluminium chairs in the link. Notice only one of them touches the ground. Juvenile, I know.

Thanks to the abomination that was the new timetables, my lunchtimes and free periods never clashed with any of the lovely people I affect to call ‘friends’. So I worked/wrote/NaNo-ed without interruption; I sat on my own in ‘the link’, a glass bridge/corridor linking the main school to the Sixth Form Centre, where it’s quiet and airy, and I watch people going past and eavesdrop on their conversations.

Some people know I sit there. “You’re always here on your own,” they say, “you look lonely.”

Once that might’ve bothered me. Now I feel proud. I can sit alone in the link and not feel rubbish about myself—that’s one massive thing this year has given me.

Not having a uniform is another of the great things.

A year ago this terrified me. I didn’t have any smart clothes—nothing but jeans! I was scared about people thinking me a slob if I didn’t change outfit every day. As for the pressure of looking good in a new way EVERY. SINGLE. MORNING…

My crimson accessory kit!

My crimson accessory kit! (Yes, my hairdryer is modelling the hat.)

In reality, most people wear the same outfits two or three times a week, and you begin to associate them with certain garments, which is cool in itself. I went shoe-shopping for the first time ever, and am now known for my red: these gorgeous red leather clown-shoes (my first heels), red jacket made of some material with a satin-y sheen, translucent red glasses, red ‘20s-style hat. Oh, and long wavy red hair (but that’s natural). It’s self-expression, and so invigorating!

I never cared for clothes till six months ago; now I love finding new ways to make a skirt ‘work’.

It’s a common misconception that uniform equalises everyone. Well, in my experience it doesn’t, because if you have crap skin like me you’re dismissed. Now if I wear a lacy cardigan and a long skirt, I stand out anyway—it actually gives me a chance to be complimented.

So I’m rabbiting on about being content with my life because I’m secure in Who I Am, and you’re wondering Who the Hell I Am.

I’m the only Sixth Former and the only girl who goes to the bridge club, I have a protégé four years younger whom I love like a brother. I wear a rosary. I break conversations to squee about my subconscious solving a maths question. I’m known for cynicism, but I’m no longer scared of anyone younger than me, asking teachers awkward questions, or starting religious arguments. Finally, I’ve developed hand gestures the way island folk know best.

And this summer, I’ve learnt that I’m the kind of person who wears ‘funky’ trousers. I never knew—and I’ve certainly never had any wildly-patterned lower half garments—but…it’s just me.

My 'funky' buys of the summer. Left: a French Connection jacket reduced to £13 from £87 with a really groovy pattern. Middle: checked Mango trousers bought in Innsbruck, Austria. Right: Dorothy Perkins polyester trousers.

My ‘funky’ buys of the summer. Left: a French Connection jacket reduced to £13 from £87 with a really groovy pattern. Middle: checked Mango trousers bought in Innsbruck, Austria. Right: Dorothy Perkins polyester trousers.

Advertisements

Narrowing Down

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. (Writer, mathematician, marathon runner, 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 at least that many things. 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-passable sentence. Sort of.

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. It’s a relief.

And also a torment, to relinquish so many disciplines in one fell swoop.

I’m overly jealous and competitive, I suppose. I want to do things by the whole. Know everything, or know nothing.

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.

Plato again, ALWAYS WATCHING *Ros voice* from a 'better place'

Plato again, ALWAYS WATCHING *Ros voice* from a ‘better place’

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

Allow Me to Explain Myself

Let me explain my absence—the absence of an entire month, I am not unaware. And in the process, let me have a good moan about everything that’s stressing me out at the moment.

Indifference kept me away from all thought of writing for an entire fortnight. Another fortnight I spent entertaining my cousins, who come over to stay with me every holiday. They’re no burden, but they do snatch me from the internet world for a time. A good break, sometimes, methinks. This week I began Sixth Form, and stress and painkillers have both overpowered and deadened my senses to the exclusion of all other concerns.

On Wednesday I accustomed myself to sharing a yeargroup with two hundred and fifty other students, at least half of whom were strangers to me.

On Thursday I embarked on our first teaching day. Embarrassment and disappointment clouds much of the day, but no more than the anticipation of hard work to come. I’ve never had to work hard, and the very idea of it terrifies me. I received scarcely any homework, and what I had was simple, but the helpless inactivity of every breaktime, knowing work would soon inundate me, but knowing simultaneously I could do nothing about it but wait in idleness, plagued my every thought. I’ve been more stressed this week than I was throughout my GCSE exams.

And since the Sixth Form Centre refectory was built to accommodate a mere hundred and fifty students, there’s no respite from the noise and bustle and strange disinterested faces.

Friday was better; in tutor groups we adopted a theme (ours was ‘army’), dressed up and participated in a day of team-building activities. Unfortunately my tutor is very quiet and not very interested in creating a team identity based upon mutual trust and combined value. There being only three boys in my group, they were forced to do all the manual work. The girls just squealed and said nothing.

And the very first event of the day prophesised well for the rest. We were instructed to cross a web of string interposed between two tree trunks without touching the string, more points awarded for the more remote holes in the web. Before nine o’clock I was bodily swung into the air by a seventeen-year-old boy, lifted a metre and a half into the air and bunged through the gap worth the most points. Being tall, skinny and light, roles such as these were mine throughout the day. So though I’m glad I wasn’t the guy doing the lifting, it disconcerted me to spend an entire day being manhandled by a boy I’ve hardly addressed in all the five years we’ve been at school together.

teambuildingday

(If anyone desires this to be removed, I am willing to comply.)

I’d looked forward to that first week. I’d hoped to make a better stab at deceiving people into thinking I was a nice person: make new friends (all the people I normally ‘hang out’ with are doing the International Baccalaureate instead of A-Levels, and thus have no free periods—I haven’t spoken to them above twice all week).

Instead I’ve renewed acquaintances in an awkward and abrupt manner—acquaintances that were broken painfully and ought to have been renewed with a shaking of hands. My tense hyperactivity on Wednesday earned me the post of loudest person in tutor on Wednesday (that’s saying a lot, for me), and estranged me from an old friend on Thursday. A girl who did better than me on her GCSEs has joined the Sixth Form from another school, and her appearance of good sense and efficiency as she moved away the doorstop and closed the door of the Maths classroom convinced me I’m probably going to hate her. Out of jealousy, of course. And that in itself is a nasty thought.

Personal and family worries have kept me awake half the week, and when I last slept I dreamed I killed thirty people.

Even yesterday (Saturday) was no relief. At nine I returned to school for my music groups (the awesome angst of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor has flooded my mind ever since); at eleven some of us left early and ran down to church to play at a wedding. Since we couldn’t see or hear anything from where we sat, and ten verses of Amazing Grace destroyed our interest in the music, that proved duller than expected.

The evening constituted the highlight of my week so far: some of my friends from my youth group came over on a whim and we put the hot-tub at my ‘new’ house to good use. One of them, and one of the most active, committed and valued by all of us, is going off to university in less than two weeks, and we mayn’t see him again before, so that was great.

Except the evening finished with their pressing me to tell them who I fancied, which wasn’t so great. Not that I don’t trust them—my Catholic friends are the kindest, most accepting people I know, whose judgement of me does not affect their behaviour towards me—but it’s a question I tend to shun at all possible costs. And now I feel bad for turning them away.

Today? I stayed in bed till midday, still shuddering at my dream. Then I watched the 2007 version of Persuasion, which upset my nerves for inexplicable reasons. (Seriously, my hormones are on a riot this week.) But the comparative quietness has improved my spirits to some extent, despite the looming threats of the week to come.

In the meantime, I have a decade of unfinished blog posts sitting in My Documents, have been nominated for two blog awards by two wonderful and inspiring bloggers, and have shockingly neglected just about everything I promised myself I’d complete before school recommenced.

But having got all this off my mind, and probably bored any kind and conscientious readers witless, I feel a lot better.

And by the way, my blisters still haven’t healed. My feet are scarred. I dread October half-term, when I do my qualifying expedition…