Spring Semester 2022: Finding Fun Between the Deadlines

I had hoped to blog more than I have this year, but as predicted this site has been left untended and wilting in the wake of my book. When I returned from Christmas break for the second semester of my Master’s, I thought about all the things I had to do and felt this crushing, resigned sense of “I just don’t see how I’m going to get all this done”. My whole life I’ve struggled with multitasking and time management. But I realized that the only way to go was forward, into either complete success or total failure. For once, there was no middle option for me to take. No shortcut, no mitigated success, no compromise.

So I created a “Master List” of every deadline I had ahead of me, which included everything from my university assignments to the articles I write for my freelance copywriting job. I was also keenly aware that alongside this I had to write a book in preparation for my final project- which might sound like a funny thing to say but let me explain. The project wasn’t to write a book- it was to publish one. It didn’t matter what the text was or who wrote it. I just had to have a manuscript by the summer to begin the publishing process with. I was determined to publish my own book, as that’s something I would be trying to do anyway whether I was at university or not. If I’m not writing something I tend to get depressed, so this seemed like a logical means of ensuring that my Master’s Degree didn’t come at the expense of my mental health.

As you can imagine, this was a not insignificant set of tasks I had to keep on top of. My worry then turned to how, in the midst of all this, I was going to maintain my social life. I was halfway through my one-year degree and I’d found myself, inexplicably, with a bunch of new friends that I cared about. It would have been easy, prior to coming to Kingston, to tell myself “I’m paying all this money in tuition so I’m gonna focus entirely on my degree and nothing else”. But when you actually find people you genuinely love and who make you feel loved in turn, it’s difficult to put them on the back burner. The last thing I wanted was to make people feel like they weren’t important to me. I was still angry at myself for missing a Christmas dinner with my Clayhill friends the previous month. If I had managed my time better, I could have gotten my work done and celebrated with them, but I’d allowed myself to get overwhelmed and ended up missing something special. This semester, I decided, I would have to try and balance things by prioritizing special occasions like that.

Throughout my second semester, it didn’t feel at the time like I was doing much, but in retrospect it feels like I did a lot. I spent almost every day in the Town House on Penrhyn Road, writing and reading. Whenever I had breathing room between my assignments and my freelance articles, I chipped away at Fractured Threads. I just barely kept on top of things, and for the most part I felt like a hermit. But, when I look back, I see that I was able to have plenty of fun alongside my work.

Each Wednesday I still attended the pub quiz at The Victoria with my team, The Oven Enthusiasts. This is an example of a social occasion I chose to prioritize as best I could, as I enjoyed it so much. We were never able to notch a third victory, but we had plenty of fun trying. Ingrid would entertain us with stories of kayaking alongside orcas and navy submarines off the northern coast of Norway, or nursing wounded eagles in her bedroom as a child. Ned and Mason would discuss urban planning solutions or pose “What would you rather be…” scenarios to the table. Sometimes other patrons would talk to us, like the two middle-aged drunk women that I suspected were DTF, or the old guy that decided to sit at our table and tell us his life story. The quiz had grown a lot in popularity since 2021, and the host Carl was always surrounded by fawning admirers. During each round of questions, we became hyper-competitive, but in between we drank overpriced beer, munched on curly fries, and chatted about everything from Elden Ring to Chelsea results and geopolitics to campus gossip.

Yet, just as I returned to the previous semester’s traditions, I also enjoyed new experiences. Paddleboarding on the Thames became a semi-regular way of blowing off steam. My friend Ned, from Yorkshire, served as president of the Kingston University Watersports Society and encouraged us to come along. Just like rock-climbing the previous semester, I went because I enjoyed his company rather than because I had an interest in the activity itself. And just like rock-climbing, I ended up enjoying it in a way I didn’t expect. The best times were when it wasn’t too busy out on the water, as the stretch of the Thames beside Kingston is a popular spot for watersports- in particular sailing and rowing. Ned would always make it fun, instigating splashing-fights or getting us to race from one tip of the island to the other. My favorite memory is when he and Paul spontaneously boarded me and we tried to navigate with three of us on one paddleboard without sinking. Just lads being lads. Now and then, Ned had to leave us to our own devices as he rescued people that had gotten into trouble. Kayaks were capsized, people fell off their paddleboards, and there was always the odd person that neglected to mention that they couldn’t swim. The funniest moment was when the beat-up old rescue boat was sent out to fetch someone that couldn’t get back on their board but then its engine died, and the folks on the dock had to scramble to find a rescue boat to rescue the damn rescue boat. I paddled up to the drifting motorboat as its hull steadily filled with water and Ned remarked “This is distinctly less than ideal”.

My time with this group was often characterized by this kind of silliness and tomfoolery. Chaotic barbecues on the field where we climbed in and out of first-floor kitchen windows just for the hell of it. My can of cider exploding as Paul accidentally stepped on it during a keepy-uppy contest with Casimir at a park filled with cawing ravens. Quiet evenings of Dobble, Paranoia, and Betrayal at House on the Hill. Evenings that ended with confessions too explicit for me to publish on this site. Perhaps no occasion was more colorful (both figuratively and literally) than the time we celebrated Holi in Netravati’s room. An evening that began with gentle words over trays of crispy chicken and samosas descended into a veritable orgy of colored powder that we tipped, threw, and smeared over each other’s faces. A dozen of us wrestled, screamed, and lost our balance in Netravati’s tiny dorm room, half-blinded by powder, knocking over cups of lassi that curdled into the carpet, as the song “Desi Girl” boomed all around us. When the powder was exhausted, people started splashing each other with water. I spotted Casimir disappearing into the bathroom with a mischievous, conspiratorial smirk on his face but quickly lost sight of him as bodies tumbled in front of me. A few seconds later, the crowd parted just in time for me to see Casimir wielding a kettle full of cold water.

“NOT TOWARD THE BED!” Netravati screamed.

But it was too late. Before I could react, the contents of the kettle were thrown over me and I loosed a blood-curdling scream at the raw shock of the cold water’s impact. As everyone else roared with laughter at my expense, Netravati snatched up the kettle and thew it out the window of her room, which is situated on the top floor of the dorm building. The whole evening was pure carnage. A short while later, the front desk security team pounded on the door, and after blinking in utter disbelief at the scene before them, informed us that they had received multiple calls from people saying that it sounded like someone was being horribly murdered in Netravati’s room. I swallowed a lump in my throat and averted my gaze.

“I can understand the music and dancing, but what’s with the screaming?” one of the guards asked.

It was getting toward the time of evening where people were starting to go to bed, so we decided to disperse. For several days afterward, I was scraping dried powder out of my ears and scalp. Hopefully that gives you a vivid impression of my social life throughout my final semester. I tried my best to have fun whilst meeting my targets. At the time I wasn’t really happy with my success in either. I always felt like I could be doing better, whether that meant working faster or having more fun. But ultimately, I think I did a good enough job at finding the right balance.

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