So I woke today despite all reluctance, amidst a drizzle that kept my bedroom cooled at the perfect temperature to remain snug under wool covers*, and dragged myself to my desk a metre away for the Utmost Important Task of registering for classes next semester – only to find out that registration hasn’t opened for me since I’ve yet to (or maybe simply forgot to) declare my major.
Not to mention that a class I had intended to take was reserved for majors only, which meant I had to reschedule the timetable I’ve painstakingly planned for weeks. Then again, I ought to be less surprised at such follies of my own considering that I booked the wrong tickets for my family’s return flight from Hong Kong to Singapore, an admittedly expensive mistake.
*wool covers in 28 degree (Celcius) weather – yes I’m privy to hypochondriac tendencies
Should I be more melancholic a person, I might have characterised the past year as a mistake. For like all mistakes, antecedent events of the year can mostly be reminisced upon with regret and a tinge of bitterness, and they plead to be rewritten, if not removed permanently from one’s consciousness.
I am sorry to have to inform you about your rejection.
The year began with a letter from Oxford stoically pronouncing that they were “sorry” about having to reject my application. But really, were they sorry about having to turn down a sub-par candidate? I knew, upon exiting my interview, that only an error of judgement or a miracle would result in the alternative outcome of my admittance. Still, I spent the following month telling myself otherwise, though nothing could detract from the fact that my interview was an undeniable wreck – forgetting the origins of Gothic literature was one thing but discounting my personal sentiments about Ruskin’s essay for fear of offending my interviewers? Horrendous. I essentially self-censored my way to a rejection.
Perhaps the tutor who wrote my letter (or his secretary) wasn’t genuinely sorry about my rejection. Perhaps he meant, in literal terms, that he was sorry about having to go through the tedious process of writing to an applicant who hardly deserved the twenty seconds it took for him to fill in the appropriate details in a generic letter template.
I’m going to be a literature major, a writer, and an academic.
Knowing that it would be impossible for me to gain an external source of funding, with my ridiculous plans to do a course in “archaeology and anthropology”, my acceptances to UCL and Durham amounted to nothing and my idyllic plan to read both subjects in Britain was no longer viable.
The eight-month break between the end of the A Levels and my first semester at college, however, allowed me to return to my childhood love of reading. Freed from the obligations of school, I powered through extensive reading lists made whilst at junior college, of books I haven’t had the time to devote myself to until recently. I got through the classics – Joyce, Austen, Eliot, Woolf; the real classics – The Odyssey, Iliad; and collections of fantasy novels that have gathered dust on my bookshelf. But most importantly, I began to discover modern women essayists and memoirists whose careers (and lives) I swore to emulate:
I’m going to be a literature major at college, before becoming a writer and academic, just like Susan Sontag and Marilynne Robinson.
Or perhaps I won’t.
I began re-reading the works of Sontag and Robinson when winter break began. While the same words evoked the same awe and admiration as before, there was a new, inexplicable sense of intimidation. How could I even fathom myself writing with such intelligence and sensibility?
Sure I made straight As in my first semester of college with essays that my tutors were quick to compliment, yet as evidenced in one of my admissions essays, “should I choose to follow in the footsteps of…women whose illustrious careers…I have long admired, I shall require more than a first-class degree to be able to articulate with their characteristic precision and eloquence.”
I don’t know if I’m able to do that, and even if I can, what about the crippling Imposter Syndrome?
In Brideshead Revisited, Charles Ryder aspires to a life that he can never have – a sort of strange, curious life that intrigues and repulses him at the same time. With a similar ambition, I stare into the life that a year ago I was so convinced I’d have today, grasping at faded details of this vision in my attempt to experience it.