Gosh, where to begin...
Some of the comments I received (not all of which have been published) for the last post have given me a lot to think about. I daresay, they have told me more about myself, how I see things at any rate, than I could ever have personally imagined. Essentially, it's all about fitting in I think, or at least being able to facilitate my abilities in a context which, without a piece of paper telling the world I am qualified, I would otherwise be unable. ''Having a piece of paper...''; this is how I see having a Degree when my mind is riddled with thoughts of abject fatalism and hopelessness (being acutely aware of my present failure in academia - I shall return to this presently) - it brings about feelings of scorn for people who do have that piece of paper: thoughts like ''just because you conformed to a sausage factory mentality, churned out pieces of derivative drivel, and sat a few exams, doesn't make you more intelligent than me.'' Etc, etc. Naturally, when I read the works of Tolkien and Wilde (my hero), both men who left Oxford with Firsts in Classics and Literature, such bitter sentiments are waived, for I perceive then the inherent worth of University education. Genius pervades their works. But again, this starts the cycle off - why am I not educated? Why did I not go to Oxford? Why did I not learn Latin and Greek at school (these subjects were the nucleus of Tolkien's education at King Edward's) - never mind about P.E and other such useless pursuits. One thing I told my P.E teacher at school, when held to account for my constant absenteeism, was that P.E was the recourse of the markedly stupid. Education is found only in the study of Latin and Greek.
I digress. When I went to University in 2006, I was the happiest soul on earth. I had lots of money, I met a few like-minded people (not all of the students were to my taste), and I was studying Latin for the first time (I adored my teacher, I still do - she was the most educated person I had ever met). My difficulties soon started though. My first essay I wrote easily (on Origen's interpretation of Scripture), for which I was given a First. The next essay, however, (on Fundamental Theology), was different. The subject matter seemed rather boring, and sitting down trying to relate theologies of revelation proved too much, so I put it off until the next week. Instead, I went into the stacks to read periodicals and St Augustine. Then the next week came round, and I returned to the work flippantly, but it was still too boring, and the glamour of learning Latin and finding a well-stacked library were still new upon me, so I went down again into the stacks. Then the deadline finally arrived, and I spent all day (literally in fact; I missed all lectures - except Latin of course, you understand that I would never miss Latin) that day at my computer, surrounded by books of theology (even Tolkien), typing away until 5:00pm. I produced an essay several thousands of words beyond the word limit, but which I thought was good (considering the subject area was not my strong point, and I was not that interested). I submitted the essay at reception, filled in the relevant paper work, and then went off for Mass at Maiden Lane.
Naturally, I was marked down for several things; chief among them being relevance to the subject matter and failure to properly answer the question (also not adhering to the word limit had consequences). Incidentally, the essay was described as ''highly conservative and militant.'' I was given a 2:2, which to me is just a polite way of saying ''you're not good enough;'' and I went away from my tutorial feeling rather sour and depressed, and I reproached myself. I found no solace in Latin (which was still, of course, rudimentary) or even Tolkien, and so I went away. After Christmas, I never went back.
Between January 2007 and enrollment again in September 2007, I squandered most of my life savings on ''riotous living'' (let's say - I will not elaborate over much). I kept my Latin up by purchasing The Cambridge Latin Course. However, knowing the reaction my parents would have, I never told them anything. And so, I had to get up early every morning and spend the days trying to occupy my time. I went all over the place - up town, to Oxford, down to the coast, to the cinema, to Bluewater etc, wasting my money. I got bored of this eventually (as you would), and gave up. When my parents asked me why I had stopped going to University, I riddled them with falsehood about various things (tutors going away to Conferences, sabbaticals, Reading Weeks etc). I was also low on funds, and so there was little I could do.
I did enroll again, with the aid of my therapist, and this time I was prepared to do some real work. I started the Degree from scratch, for the sake of ease (I didn't want to have to catch up on most of the work you see), and I did markedly better than my last attempt. For that essay on Fundamental Theology I got a 2:1 this time - which I was prepared to accept, knowing my limited capacity to cope with a tedious subject, and 2:1 is at least next to First. But similar difficulties arose with my essay on the Council of Chalcedon. It was never an intellectual difficulty with the subject matter; this was never a problem. It was, rather, an inability to produce substandard work within a certain timeframe. I am terribly pedantic and a natural perfectionist (typical features of Asperger Syndrome), and so (and this is especially pertinent to an essay on Christological heresy!) trying to handle the philological significance of certain words proved tremendously difficult. I spent literally hours ruminating over the significance of words; how Substantia relates to Hypostasis, how Ousia can be distinguished from Essentia etc. I missed the deadline, but knowing my difficulties, my tutor was clement and allowed me extra time. When I did not produce the essay, I went to have a meeting with him, in which he said to me: ''Patrick, you're not being asked to compose a written masterpiece or a treatise on Chalcedonian Christology; moreover, this is an Undergraduate essay and I think you're taking it a bit too seriously.'' In the end, I sent him an attachment of what I had composed so far, and he gave me a First, since he said he knew where I was going with it, and that it was by far the best he'd seen that year. Was then all that trouble in vain? All those long hours I had spent, reading and re-reading The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, St Cyril's letters to Nestorius etc. I had similar trouble with other essays, although I was confessedly not as interested with them. The best essay I wrote was about the history of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in relation to liturgical devotion and the other Marian dogma and titles. I enjoyed writing that immensely, and I was again given a First. Alas, though, that I was not wise enough to save it to a USB - my computer crashed sometime two years ago, and with it went everything.
It was not, however, all Firsts. Certainly Latin and Church History were going smoothly, but my other subjects suffered terribly. Biblical Studies I found altogether boring, and so my essays in those subjects were substandard. I was given a 2:1 for my essay on Creation Myths (Gilgamesh, the Atrahasis etc), only because my tutor thought there was ''intelligence behind it.'' I hated getting marked below a First. I had as much of a problem with my essay on St Paul's Epistle to the Galatians as I had with Chalcedon, although this time, I never in fact submitted it for marking. I was given over, moreover, to endless distractions. When I should have been reading the exegetical works of Scripture, I was instead reading the Corpus Christianorum; when I should have been studying St Mark's Gospel, I was translating Virgil. Then came the exams, and I never sat them. I looked at past exam questions, and I feared that my knowledge of the subject matter was lacking. When I enrolled again in 2008, I opted to take the Degree part-time, which suited me better (I would have only one essay to concentrate on at a time, and more time to complete it), and this would have worked, but owing largely to domestic trouble with my sister, I was again frustrated by failure.
The year 2009 came around, and I was no closer to achieving my Degree than when I started three years before. And so, this is the situation: by enrollment in September 2009, I had failed to procure the outstanding work and sit the exams, and so, the decision of the Academic board was that a degree at this stage was not suitable for me. I was literally crushed by this. I suppose the only good thing was that I could devote myself entirely to Latin. But the bad things are: I have no money, no Degree, no prospects and my parents have made it quite clear that I am a burden to them.
What do I want, then, out of life? As a schoolboy, I always aspired to be a University Lecturer, and to work with Latin in some context. As it is, I feel misplaced. Failure in academia, to me, is tantamount to being thrust outside into exile, to wander hopelessly through foreign kingdoms. This is not a grandiloquent way of expressing an inability to cope with failure; this is as it is. I do not belong in retail, and whenever I clock in at work, and I listen to the people with whom I work - common Godless people talking about nonsense all the time. Only yesterday in fact, a woman came up to me with a big grin on her face and she had just come in from outside (it was snowing), and she said: ''ooh, innit cold out'' (I cannot conceive of how to type a strong cockney, or at least local, accent), to which I asked her what she meant by cold and why she had any grounds for not expecting cold weather on a Winters day. Her attempts at answering were, of course, feeble, and I told her, ergo, that she had said something entirely meaningless. I think instances like this demonstrate why most people I work with think I am conceited.
What, then, do I want? I want to go back to University in peace, to study a subject (Classics) I find interesting, and to be free from belli domestici (how I wish my sister was never conceived) and distractions. I want to to be accomplished and recognised. I want art and beauty. A lot of the difficulties I had at University were a direct consequence of my condition. Someone asked me once: would you, then, wish to be cured? Certainly not, no matter how much one might curse the inferiority of one's circumstances. Were I cured, what would be left of me? I am terrified of poverty (I am not, however, greedy for money) and disrepute; but unless things change for the better for me, this is all there is. Like St Francis of Assisi (one of my patrons), I would become perforce wedded to poverty; but I doubt it would suit me as humbly and pertinently as it suited as noble an Apostle of the Gospel as St Francis.
A friend gave me a lift home from Church a few weeks ago, and we were talking about my life, such as it is. And she said to her son: ''Patrick is very intelligent.'' To which the boy replied: ''if he's so intelligent, why is he still in retail?''
I said nothing then, but I thought to myself ''yes, why am I still there?''