I’ve seen a number of people do this as a meme on livejournal, but it seemed to me to be more about real life than my fannish life, so I’m putting it here instead.
2000: I took two out of three of my Year 9 SATS (the third one was the day of my grandfather’s funeral), and began 10 GCSEs. At October half term, my brother and I both had flu; he recovered fully, and I did not. After a raft of tests, I was diagnosed – quite speedily, as it goes for the condition – with Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome, also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and M.E.. I remember very little of the remainder of 2000.
2001: For most of the year, I was ill. I was never bed-bound – my parents were determined not to let me be – but at times I was house-bound to all intents and purposes. I had home tuition, with varying degrees of success, in some of the things I was meant to be studying for GCSE. We managed to carry on with English and Maths, but dropped German after a brief attempt, and delayed science. It must have been about this time that I first went to Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre.
2002: I took three GCSEs that summer – double English (A*A*) and Maths (A). We bought a desktop computer with an internet connection so that I could study with an online tutoring system from another two GCSEs. Essentially unlimited internet access also gave me a chance to enter community and what I later learnt to call fandom. I also tried to begin an A-level in English Literature. I was ill again that winter and didn’t complete it, but the seed was sown that I could attend school for just a few classes, supported by kind members of the local Quaker Meeting who were able to save me bus trips or taxi rides by offering lifts to and fro.
2003: I took two more GCSEs – double Science (AA). In the autumn (I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t have arranged this by academic years, since they give my life shape), I began two A-levels, English Language and Literature, and Religious Studies. I literally chose the latter because it was downstairs; I think I would have preferred history, since I still harboured an ambition to be an archaeologist, but they taught it in upstairs classrooms. Science and maths were right out because they were on the other side of the school site. I studied hard at school, made a very few friends in my new year (having effectively dropped back), and began a distance learning A-level in Classical Civilisations. Around this time, my local Meeting privately published a volume of poetry, in which they included some of my work.
2004: I took two AS levels, beginning to settle into the January and June assessment which rules student life these days. My results were acceptable but not what I had hoped – an A and a B. I resolved to work harder. I was told that I needed three A-levels to go to Oxford. I resolved to finish the full A-level in Classical Civilisations rather than taking it as an AS as originally planned. I investigated the financial effects of going to university, realising for example that I could take a gap year and still be under the old rules (i.e. cheaper) if I applied quickly. I missed the Oxbridge entry deadline due to a PVFS relapse, but applied to Durham, Bristol, Nottingham, Cardiff, Bangor, and Lampeter. Only Durham rejected me.
2005: I took three A-levels, only a year behind. The scores were good (AAB; the B is the distance learning one) and accepted Nottingham’s offer. (I’d have loved to go to Lampeter, but without a car, the place in a trifle inaccessible, and everyone was still concerned that I might not be strong enough to study full-time.) I tried to decide what to do with my gap year. In the first instance, I spent several months on JobSeeker’s Allowance, and then a month in the run-up to Christmas working on the tills in an M&S food store. I decided to live on my savings for a while. Oh, and I changed my name – by use rather than deed poll at this stage. Confusion abounded!
2006: I spent the first part of the year doing voluntary work – I spent a week at a Buddhist monastery near York, and seven weeks with an ecumenical Christian community in Scotland, for example. I visited all of England’s 42 Anglican cathedrals. (The Church of England technically has 43 – the extra one is Peel.) I attended a course on Quakerism and Buddhism with Jim Pym and Andrew Burns which has lent both vocabulary and form to my spiritual life ever since (for example: stilling frog, metta meditation). I gained a lot of independence and a lot of experience with public transport. I also got a warrant to work with Brownie Guides and a Senior Section Camp Permit. In the autumn (that’s when everything starts!), I began a degree in Philosophy and Theology at the University of Nottingham. I enjoyed studying; I wrote ecstatic poetry about being on campus and in the library; I hated almost everyone else in my hall with a passion. (Drunken 18-year-olds do not mix well with people who need 8 hours’ sleep a night.) I went to sci-fi soc and made all the friends I needed: short-lived crush, long-term hug-buddy, and three future house-mates. My first week, I decided to continue my gap year spirit of exploration, and went with the Christian Union to an evangelical church. I spent the sermon wondering whether they could be any more wrong, and the lunch trying to work out how to come out as a non-believer. The next week, I went to the local, tiny, Quaker Meeting. “Have fun!” said the CU leader when he heard I was trying a different church; against my expectations, I did.
(I gave ministry, and was gently rebuking afterwards for not adding a footnote about the various possible interpretations of the word ‘God’. My kind of people.)
2007: At the end of my first year, a senior member of the Theology and Religious Studies department asked me where I thought I’d do my postgraduate work. He is to be commended on his foresight, although I think my marks were a clue. In the summer, I spent two weeks volunteering for a Quaker cafe during the Festivals – I did serious plays and religious talks the first week, heard Rabbi Lionel Blue as a turning point, and the second week went to stand-up and other comedy shows with a couple of friends from Nottingham. Back at university, I studied hard, coped with long-term hug-buddy moving to Leeds, joined the Nottingham Quaker Quest organisation team, had a brief fling with someone I met on a dating website, and got tendonitis in my right arm from typing too much. Oh, and they made me Chair of the TRS Staff-Student Feedback Committee.
2008: I went to the physiotherapist and went on the Pill; much complex medical nonsense resulted. I still managed to do pretty well in my exams, though. I’m sure I did something this summer, but other than getting involved with City of Sanctuary, I can’t remember what. By the time term started again, I was beginning to be frustrated with the lack of attention paid to a theme which was becoming more and more important to me: gender. I went to a Women’s Network meeting and managed to made contact with a PhD student. We founded a Feminist Reading Group which ran for the rest of the year and nurtured me a lot. Nottinghamshire and Derby Area Meeting welcomed me into membership.
2009: I finished my first degree – two dissertations, 100% attendance at seminars and lectures, three years of service to the Staff-Student Committee, and a First. I was quite pleased, though not so happy when they made me take my hat off to actually walk across the stage and graduate. I paid for a silly hat! I wear a hat all the time! Why do I have to have a ‘religious reason’ to wear it? What counts as a religious reason anyway? Answers to these questions were not forthcoming. They did at least get my name right. I spent a week volunteering with Oxford MENCAP, and as usual quite a lot of time at Brownie Pack Holiday and Guide Camp. I also attended Yearly Meeting Gathering at York, quite an amazing experience in many ways. Once again, the new has begun in the autumn: I started an MA in Gender, Sexuality, and Queer Theory with the University of Leeds; I changed my name by deed poll; I got a provisional driving license and starting learning to drive; I began to try and decide in earnest what my PhD should be about. (Suggestions which involve Wilde as well as feminism and Quakerism and theology welcomed!)
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