Waking Up

Please note: The opinions expressed in each of the stories shared by individuals on this website are those of the individual author.

fixed-hayleyI know the best places to nap on campus. They are:

  • The lounge outside the philosophy department in Forgan Smith
  • The Great Court (although this can be prone to green ants)
  • Wherever my law lectures were held
  • Face down in a cubicle up against the wall of the SS&H library (level 4 for preference) and
  • Behind the grand piano in the Schonell theatre entrance.

None of these places except the Great Court are there anymore, but they remain in my memory—which is more than can be said for my law degree.

Law and I were uneasy bedfellows from the start. I actually missed the very first day of law school, foolishly assuming that—like high school—a new term doesn’t start on the Monday (always a student-free day) but on the Tuesday.

Missing the first Torts A lecture, I somehow extrapolated I had missed the most important advice we would receive for the entire duration of our undergraduate lives, a belief I held onto even past graduation. It was reinforced weekly, since I found it nigh on impossible to remain conscious for an entire law lecture, and then more forcefully at the end of semester, when I struggled through exams.

I could never get on top of law. No matter how sedulous my application, no matter how furious my industry, I never broke ahead of the pack. I was in the dead calm, dead centre of the bell-curve, the whole time. It was nothing short of depressing.

Perhaps I could have asked my fellow students for help, you ask? In a word, no. I was the only student from my year to get into a Bachelor of Laws at UQ, and one of only two students who went to our university at all. More than that, I came from a lowly public school on the Gold Coast. So for those who have no experience with other law undergrads, let me explain them to you. To me they appeared cliquey, carnivorous young things: the girls, leporine, rangy, with needle-sharp tongues and expensive handbags. The boys: not men, not nice to women, many adipose and squeezed into too-tight chinos with wallets and phones visibly protruding in blocky bulges. Many others besides were lean and narrow-hipped, with a peacock-ish aspect about their mien. At the time I felt I would sooner chew off my own hand than ask them for assistance.

Perhaps I’m exaggerating here, since there are many who graduated in my year who happen to be terrific people, and who are still friends with me on Facebook (if that can still be said to mean anything). But to the uninitiated and unrefined, it can be a lonely and damning experience.

Furnishing my missing-things neuroses with new material came a poorly-timed case of appendicitis that caused me to miss my first ever law exam. The night before, it emerged on the three-hour commute home (a bus, a train, then a 45-minute walk home in total darkness). Suffice to say I felt every bolt of track, every slight lean and twitch of that train car as it trundled to its depot. I then lay supine on the terracotta paving outside the station for an hour at least, unable to move, my mother not answering her phone—and finding her briefly annoyed, when she did answer it, on account of my having dialled her so many times. Then, to hospital, to surgery, to a sanitised senior-citizens dorm with pale green curtains and equipment the colour of un-brushed teeth. Then the next day, docile on methadone, sensing a vague undercurrent of panic.

The school administration was not nice to me about that one, hinting perhaps that I had faked it. When I finally sorted myself out, life became a carousel of alarm and inebriation, a dangerous lunging between insomnia and narcolepsy. It reached both its zenith and nadir in the yearly law revues and their sybaritic aftermaths—which it has to be said, were the only things I really enjoyed about my law degree, besides our side-project covers band, the TC Beirne-OUTS… oh and a stint I rather loved as a Publishing Officer for UQLS. These activities also fostered some of the most meaningful relationships of my university years. Perhaps it wasn’t all so bad as I remembered.

Even so, that by itself couldn’t have sustained me for the six interminable years of study. Indeed, it was my worthy, if apparently impractical arts degree that kept me from circling the drain.

Literature classes initially give the impression of a kind of hyper-book club, intellectually intense and hepped-up on speed. Their seductive quality wears off pretty quickly though, when one attempts to keep up with the weekly readings. The standard time given to finish an entire book is one week. If our lecturers handed us something heavier and denser than dark matter: two weeks. Two weeks to read Paradise lost. The Satanic Verses. Freedom.

I ended up finishing most of these books in my holidays anyway, not because I was diligent per se, but because I found some sort of rhythm and arc in them—they made sense of my chaos. It’s a pity I couldn’t find that peace during semester. The feverish tarantella of English coursework gifted me with many things, but ultimately and unwittingly it foisted on me an aptitude for paraphrasing, cliff-noting, and occasionally, flat-out bulls—-ing.

Law on the other hand gave me innumerable sweet catnaps beneath a clothy Brisbane sky, and other places besides. It gave me a little hit of prestige. It gave me after-parties that culminated in split pants, and sometimes, no pants at all.

English may have been taught in the dingy beige cubbyholes of the Michie Building, and we may[1] not have had enough time to read anything, but it was still a soaring spiritual experience for me (and my GPA). English gave me Ginsberg, Milton, Astley, Eco, Woolf, Whitman. It gave me imagination, perception, transcendence, and words like

My feet strike an apex of the apices of the stairs,
On every step bunches of ages, and larger bunches between the steps
All below duly travelled, and still I mount and mount.[2]

It may seem odd then, that I didn’t drop law and pursue the arts. In truth, it was an admixture of hubris and fear that kept me from it. I guess I had somehow absorbed the sad mantra that, ‘there are no careers in the arts’.

So I pursued a career in law, and managed for about four years, suffering extreme daytime sleepiness most of that time, and fretting about missing something (still). I had never felt more trapped. At length, it finally occurred to me that I wasn’t born to be another member of the legal cognoscenti, joking to each other in their elitist argot, diligently fulfilling their civic duties to acquire and consume and complain about their jobs. As in law school, life: I would always be falling asleep.

Thus, despite swearing on a tall hill of bibles that I would never return to university, here I am, finishing my Master of Arts. I’m giving it everything. I’m living on my savings. I’m volunteering wherever I can. I’m not falling asleep, and mostly that’s because I’m loving what I’m doing.

I will have my glorious career in the arts, since I’ve discovered that the mantra is only partly complete. The full mantra is ‘there are no careers in the arts for the half-arsed and half-hearted’, and I’m all in.

 

[1] Definitely did not.

[2] Walt Whitman, from “Infinity”.

 

Hayley Baxter graduated from a double degree in Law and Arts in 2012, and went on to work a respectable job in governance for four years hence. She sneakily returned as a part-time postgraduate student in 2015, and will graduate from a Master of Arts (Writing, editing and publishing) in December, after which she boards a plane bound for Canada, via China, Russia and Finland. Hayley is the book review editor for Social Alternatives (peer reviewed journal), and is an intern for the Alumni Friends of UQ.