It’s Hilary Term week two; that time of year when you will no doubt be fearfully consulting collection results, multiple laundry piles and the seemingly autonomous size of your bottom. And yet, in spite of the ever-growing stack of dusty tomes and derriere, I cannot quite bring myself to declare the need to Sort My Shit Out.
Studying at Oxford invites, amongst other things, a crippling fear of wasting time. New content is generated faster than a Thursday night queue at Bridge and so, be it by virtue of a gathering flock of essays or the rapid addition by Netflix of new shows, the Oxford student must partake in the pursuit of the new and worthy; to conquer the inadequate boundaries previously set for work and exercise and requirement of sleep. “After all,” I hear a physicist murmur at four in the morning, “time is not linear.” “Does the present and our understanding of reality even exist at all then?” his philosophical companion accordingly muses. Any comprehending third party would surely conclude from this exchange that existing in a self-contained vacuum of eight week intensity (the experience of which is in itself definitive proof that time is not linear) should result in both charming academia-excused eccentricity, and most certainly the active de-prioritisation of shit sorting. For, the inherent despair of such a phrase and outlook in needing to ‘sort one’s shit out’, strikes me as not only unhelpful but positively destructive in an environment that fosters such exacting standards of personal and institutional achievement.
Take a certain college’s most recent BOP: ‘New Year, New Me’ was the snappy suggestion, and at Emporium amassed a plethora of ferociously Lycra-encased bodies, gym attire of every variety, clocks, suits, grad gowns, questionable cupper football shirts and a scattering of nuns who clearly had their own cock-cursing cross to bear. I suppose it is natural to embrace the comforting annual tradition of critically considered self-betterment, however the unquestioned acceptance of such a theme and easy endorsement by which people so revealingly identified themselves in terms of needing change and improvement and just generally more, was alarming.
In fact, the whole affair whispered of a broader pre-occupation implicit within our society today, of being, often on the most superficial level, really rather self-absorbed. It is the proud standard flourished by the Me-me-me generation; a revolutionary wave of acai berries and rye bread tirelessly promoted on Instagram; of being perhaps not medically, but at the very least soulfully, lactose, glucose, gluten, and apparently fun, intolerant. It is what drives the lovely missmirror101 to re-arrange her Fedora hat thirty times; the ceaseless bigboysRUs to snap their reflection’s flexing bicep. Of these curated, put-upon lifestyles it is easy to be scathing, and yet the truth is that many of us are neither far behind nor dissimilar; gleefully scrolling through each other’s profiles, unspiritually stretching in yoga cobra pose and contemplating if we too would be slimmer/happier/more favoured, living with all the disciplined restriction of an Anglo-Saxon monk.
It is this cultivation of public image, the dictation of how aspects of your life must surely reflect the essence of who you are, that leans self-consciously towards perfectionism and the guilty feeling of needing to sort your shit out. In an age of increasing scrutiny and social media, we’ve never had to look at ourselves (or one another) more. Instead of simply getting on, I’m frequently distracted by the desire to be my ‘best’ self, my level of competency relying upon how well I do; I must be successful at Oxford because to be otherwise would threaten my supposed cleverness. The entire unnecessary butt-cluster is made all the more vexing because we know it to be a waste of energy and anxiety.
But take heart, dear reader. I give you Beyoncé’s 2014 VMA performance in which, with a wildly sassy flick of her gloriously crafted mane, Beyoncé dismissively shrugged Perfection as being so ‘mm’. This, coming from one of the most uncompromising perfectionist’s of our time, whose appearance, vocals, choreography, even perspiration, were flawless throughout the fourteen songs she performed. Clearly a balance is to be struck or else we must all learn to be masters of manipulation; regardless, as long as Queen Bey continues to reign, we needn’t query it. Because isn’t that one of the prime delights of being a student – that your shit isn’t together?
The beautiful disaster that is Wahoo Friday followed by 5am rowing Saturday and an excess of McCoy chips Sunday? Time enjoyed is not time wasted. And the sooner we stop looking to self-criticize, indulge and obsess, the less shit we’ll have to sort.