See people walking
Arm in arm and down the street;
Really miss my sleep.
I’m so sleepy. I’m also going home this weekend as reading week finally begins. All I am holding onto today as I finally end this bludgeoning week is that I’m going home, burying my face in our pup’s fur and zonking out.
Where do these lines lead? What lies beyond the bright point? What’s that blue blob? A door? A portal?
I find it interesting how you’ll never know. I do know, because I took this picture, but to you, the very same picture is, and will remain, an utter mystery. A supposition, at best, an educated guess, a figment of your own imagination.
Can you imagine a character running towards the light, arms outstretched, trying desperately to reach that portal and escape to some imagined safety? Do you see a lost traveler wondering how on earth they got into this underground labyrinth, feeling the brick walls as much as to feel its texture and feel some warmth, some assurance, some hope that they’ll ever get out alive, as for some direction? Them, feeling their way along the long, low corridors, fervently wishing for some sign of life to appear… As they make their way down, they see a door. Then another door, hidden in an alcove. Which one might lead to escape? Oh dear, there isn’t time to go exploring, and there isn’t time to waste around guessing!
It’s now or never, they must take their best shot!
The hidden door, that must be it! Freedom can’t be that obvious, right? Here goes, swing, and in!
What’s that? Carpeted floors and low, concentrated light. Where is our hero now? They look in front of them: another door? What on earth? It’s too late to turn back. Swing this one open too!
Siren! They’re done for! What sort of trap have they triggered now? What lies ahead for our protagonist?
Our hero sees movement: there are living beings here! They slowly turn their head and look at our befuddled hero. They don’t look happy. In fact, they seem almost… gruntled?
Our hero takes a step back in panic and confusion. They grip the strap of their backpack. So down they must go. Well, they’ll go down fighting!
Sweat droplets begin to form on our hero’s forehead in spite of the cool night air around. Their fist clenches, their muscles tighten. They silently promise themselves that if they make it out of here alive, nothing is going to stop them from going home. They will go home.
Slowly, they take a tiny step forward. They suck in a breath. They open their mouth to say something, but they’re still shaky from the wailing siren around them.
And the figures in the light, they don’t seem to like the wail either.
As they’d figured two minutes ago, “now or never”, our hero whispers through their parched throat.
Just then, a larger figure appears! Her silhouette descends from a higher level and comes down to stand before our hero! As she does so, she blocks the blinding light before them, and our hero’s vision finally begins to come into focus.
With the alarms still blaring around them, our hero really sees the scene they’ve landed themselves in for the first time.
The figure… she seems human, just like our hero! Her brows are furrowing on her forehead, and she adjusts the glasses on her nose. Is she from around here? Will she be able to help me find my way home, and out of this fearsome place? Or is she one of them? What do I do?
At that moment, the woman—for woman she seems to be—begins to speak.
“Sir, I’m going to need you to enter through the other door.”
Our hero simply stares at her in confusion. A-what now?
“Sir, do you hear me? Are you alright?”
Our hero looks up and meets her eye. “What?” they ask.
The lady shakes her head and sighs. “You don’t look like you’re in any shape to pull an all-nighter. I suggest you go home and rest.”
It made no sense, but one word resonates with our hero. Home! That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do all this while: get home.
“I don’t understand,” they reply slowly, the confusion beginning to climb up their chest.
“Kid, you can’t enter the library after 9 PM through this door, don’t you know it’s an emergency exit? It says so on the wall. Now you’ve disturbed everyone around. I understand it’s finals season and tensions and emotions run high, but you need some rest, look at you! If you really have to study in here right now, I won’t stop you, but I highly recommend one thing: get home, and get to bed!”, the librarian gushes.
Our hero looks around as the other faces come into focus. Human indeed. Or maybe almost human. Finals season zaps the humanity out of every studying soul and turns them into zombies. They don’t look happy to have had their preparation for that big final worth 40% of their grade interrupted. Now one of them gives up and leaves to go to the washroom. Curses, now they can’t focus and need a break.
Our hero stands there with their mouth hanging open as they watch the kid leave, taking it all in at once. It’ll be a few more minutes before they can remember who they were and what’s really happened in the last half hour or so. Did they fall asleep in the corridor, or one of the classrooms it leads to? Were they really home? Are they just another student taking finals season badly?
For the truth, as you shall now discover, is that this is an underground passage connecting two of our residential buildings on campus. There is an underground entrance to the library, which comes in very handy during cold wintry days. And during finals season, almost all libraries are open twenty-four hours. It’s a blessed necessity.
Now of course I knew that. You only did a paragraph ago, unless you’re also at my school or just made a brilliant guess, which like I said, is only a brilliant guess.
So there you have it.
Also, if this reads a little weird, I’ll put it out there that I have never written a gender neutral character before. Never used these many “they”s in the same piece. Pick your own adventure, I guess.
Here we go, it’s finally over. I’ve reached the end of the game. Whether or not I’ve crossed the finish line, the game’s over. The suspense may have been killing me, but I’m too exhausted to feel the suspense at this point.
Year 1 is over. I’ve finished a whole academic year at university, my first big change since high school began. It’s had its ups and downs and sheer ecstasy moments; I’ve loved the freedom that’s with being on my own in university, I’ve enjoyed being able to prove myself wrong— in good ways! I’ve loved what I’ve learnt this year, not just in that typical ‘personal growth’ way, but also academically: it’s nice to fall in love with an area you may be in for a long time to come!
I’ve also come to fall in love with the area we live in: downtown Toronto, the heart of the city. I’ve always been a city kid, but my “city” ended in the suburbs—I never fancied living in the rush of the sprawling upward expanses with square glass fingers desperately stretching higher skywards in a place where you’d enjoy it if you live for the thrill of the fast lane 24/7.
Not my kind of thing. But I’ve come to love it. It’s not entirely an about turn, though. Our campus is 1865 powering its way into 2019 and adamantly staying that way, and it’s beautiful. It’s neo-gothic style architecture drives students crazy (and me; sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s a tourist and who’s a student because even as recently as this month, eight months in, my phone camera is still out. This was on the way to an exam location, no less. I guess imminent death makes everything look prettier! (Naw, it’s pretty as it is)
Now that I’m sitting home, it’s kind of this bittersweet wait. A long, anticipated wait.
I’m awaiting grades and major decisions. It’s been a chaotic last few weeks, and my finals weren’t even half the reason. Finals don’t stress me out, as you’ve clearly seen. All my best work (a twenty-six and counting comics included) comes during my highest periods of pressure. And I’m not even talking academic work. My creative output skyrockets under pressure. When people bring up the whole debate about the tortured artist, I hide my face and run away. It’s not something I can pretend doesn’t happen!
But it’s been a tiring year.
I am, or at least, at this point, I think I am, a computer science student. I can’t pretend I knew much better when I signed up for this, but apparently it’s a well sought-after major. Which means resources are limited, but the demand is pretty high. Which means stuff gets competitive. My school is one of those that selects majors once you’re already in college, so you have a bunch of people scrambling around for places in a pretty limited program, because everyone can take their shots. At the end of the year, based on how you’ve fared compared to the rest of your class, you’re either in, or you’re not.
And guess what, it’s the end of the year.
So it boils down to this. Numbers will be concrete now. The hypothesisations are out. Over. I could be out and over. The possibilities are literally limitless and are veritably driving me nuts.
I’ve been doing more math than computer science this last month, and there are so many loose ends. I don’t normally think of myself as someone with loopholes. It’s a challenging field out there, and while I can’t say the actual coursework has been stressing me out—no sir, I’ve loved it—the consequences of messing something up are killing me. Getting an assignment back is no longer about look! So much of this is right, I’ve learned—maybe even mastered—so much!, it’s about oh no, I’m below the class average this time! How much better am I going to have to do on the next assignment to make this up? Back to the calculator it is!
At this point, I genuinely don’t even remember why I liked computer science in the first place. There’s this hazy mist above my head that’s saying “I remember I used to like it, so I must’ve liked it. Can’t recall why though.” I’ve forgotten what I wanted to do after college, what area of computer science I wanted to specialise in. Goals have shrunk down to micro-goals. What do you want to do in life? I want to get into second year. I don’t remember what came beyond that. Was it research of some sort I’d wanted to do? Go into graphics or interaction or something? Jump on the AI bandwagon? (Look, I’m open, but that probably wasn’t it. I feel an internal need to run away from the mainstream, even if it may end up being something interesting. I wish I could change that, but my internal magnet repels way too strongly.)
The point is, I don’t remember, I’m just so exhausted and worn out, that me saying anything about this will have me sounding like a broken record (ask my poor roommate). I used to be kinda interesting, you know. I used to talk computer science stuff like I was really interested, and I’d leave the conversation having you hooked onto something you’d never imagined you’d find interesting or remotely imagine spending the day with (I can vouch for myself here because I’ve had a twenty minute conversation with a self-proclaimed luddite on binary storage. Better times! Talk to me about it if you’d like, I’ll see if I still have it left in me).
Well, here’s the thing, me not knowing is worse, because it means I’m going to have to do the painful discovery process thing again. If I need to get my ass out of this place and at a new place that’s not quite as much of a gladiator showdown, I’ll need to write another bunch of long and thought out essays on why a college should have me as a computer science major. Last year, I’d swore I wouldn’t do that again.
So here we go, it begins again.
The hunt, the search, the outputting. If you missed the shitshow last year, here’s a repeat telecast.
Man, I just want to be sure, for once. Just know that there’s something out there that I can come back to, and bank on. Maybe you’d call it a backup.
I really don’t want to have to go. I love the place, I love the people, I love what I do. I have friends (I am personally surprised by the number of people I’ve discovered in the last month that would vouch for me) and I was really settling in quicker than I ever have before.
Starting uni, I really just hit the ground running. Things weren’t out of place, culture shock didn’t really hit me, I was weirdly not homesick either (hurray for WhatsApp!) and I really just clicked. It was a beautiful feeling, almost like Toronto had been waiting for me since forever. Even if it wasn’t me in question, Toronto can make anyone feel home and familiar, I’ve noticed, but hey, this here is my theatre production, so back to me.
You can’t seriously be telling me at this point that I’m going to have to pack up and move. Not after I’ve worked that hard. Not after things have worked. Not after everything had been blue skies (actually no. Grey skies with a 40% chance of snow; this is Toronto, guys!) and wind in the sails and a 90 on cruise control. The blow those finals dealt me has me kind of stunned, because me numbers don’t predict graceful nosediving worth a perfect 10 in synchronised swimming.
Basically, I’m confused. I didn’t see that coming and I am not prepared for it. Denial may kick in soon, but I need to plan my bust before that happens.
Look, there’s nothing pretty about this piece of writing anymore, it has descended into a pure mad rant. This is Lady Macbeth checking in, deliriously washing the blood of her murdered grades off her hands and whispering, what have I done? Or more precisely, when have I done this? Can someone tell me what is going on here.
You don’t have to read this if you don’t want to, it’s a one-person tragedy now. There’s no more script, just rants. Just someone who doesn’t want to write FIVE more personal statements and who wants a tiny little bit of security in life.
Ironically enough, here’s a computer science major insecure. I heard an english major whining about it the other day and sympathised. Well guess which one of us knows they’re gonna be at this uni in four years time and actually graduate.
The irony kills me.
The competition just killed me. It’s almost not fair.
If you’d have told fifth grade me about this, you’d have gotten a smirk.
Trivial. All you’ve got to do is get from first year to second year!
Yeah, it’s totally that simple when you’re not in my major. Really. I have nothing remotely optimistic or witty or quirky to say. I can’t say I’ve learnt how to deal with anything better than I would have without this kind of failure. I’m a little bratty about not getting my way and this isn’t a humbling learning experience. I’ll probably remain a brat. All those easier colleges we collectively shit on because ‘we’re so hard’, I shall probably not feel sorry or take back all that, shall we call it, letting off steam? It’s not a learning curve, we genuinely are harder. I’ve compared course syllabi with other schools, and I like ours better. Call it a learning curse. I shall be sorry to not have access to the incredible stuff my uni’s computer science department has to offer if I leave. I just wish I could still have made it.
I just wish for once I could go to bed thinking I’m a tiny bit of a satisfactory success.
I mean approaching, formally. Like the absolute value of the difference between my math final and I, is getting really small and fast. And thank goodness for that absolute value, because this distance would’ve been negative without a doubt otherwise.
Also, mathematicians must hate physicists. And computer science first years too, probably.
Assignments can be a little woozy sometimes
Especially at 4 in the morning
I get that
I also get sleepy
And I care, you know?
I’ll see us through
I need to see me through too
And I have a strong back
And a stronger stomach
I’ll carry you
Sure I will
But not if you press down on me
And pretend you’re a hundred and four fucking kilos
And if you’ve a lot on your mind
Mine has blanked from exhaustion
And if I say, sure, I’ll take the heavier load
It means you take a load too, good sir
We learned in class
Of divide and conquer
That doesn’t work if the only dividing is between us
It’s slower if I need to look behind us
And go back to pick up the pieces of a mess
And when I say you get shit done
You get shit done, okay?
Because it might be my assignment too
And incomplete outputs might fail a test case or two
But I wonder what it’s gonna be like
When assertEqual returns an error:
“Expected return: True
Got “This method ain’t implemented cuz my partner didn’t do shit”.
This isn’t me, and I’m super thankful, but one of my friends is seeing a slightly less specific variant of this. It amazes me, and while I’m no one to judge how you’ve planned out your semester, why on earth would someone do that? It’s horrible. It’s disgusting. I try to imagine how many hours of my life I could’ve saved had I not spent all my weekend in a study space working on a problem set. How many more nights I am just not going to be able to sleep because we have an assignment due next week, and it’s big. It just irks me. It irks me a bit that I’m working. There’s no getting around it for me, sure thing. I’m not planning to. I’d feel awful if I did, and if I’m being honest, as hard as they might be, there isn’t too much to resent them for but time and the stress. I learn a lot from them. But someone absolutely shirking off their share of the work and still getting a grade, then flying high and coming down crashing after the final and then bitterly shitting on our school, that just disgusts the fuck out of me, it’s horrible.
And rant almost over.
As for my own case, I sometimes feel like my own assignment partners are more moral support than actual working partners. Some days, it just feels like I’m doing a proof or writing an algorithm or something, and they’re nodding along going, “yes, that makes total sense!” Sure it does, buddy, but can you also write the next proof so we’re done quicker? I really, really, want nothing more than an unbroken, undisturbed 11 hours of sleep. Just one night that I can sleep without planning for and booking off the first thirteen hours of the next day. Once.
Now for the better stuff! I’m going to see Muse this Thursday! I’ve been waiting for this day since November, and after five years of absolutely adoring the band, I’m finally going to be able to go see them live, and I almost can’t believe it!
No assignment, not even the finals could have kept me away, and nothing will!
[An edit added a few hours later: I didn’t even use my ruler. What a shame, there must have been a sine graph on that test just waiting to be drawn. What a shame. I spent my entire test flying high on proofs.]
But as of right now, I’m here, and in a good space. Sample this.
I’m sitting next to something of a waterfall. The sound is pretty calming, and I’m feeling weirdly good about this test. That doesn’t normally happen, and that’s either a good sign or a scary one.
But it looks good, and I feel ready. Kind of. Maybe. Here goes!
And so I head in. A good picture deserved a good post, and hopefully a good post deserves a good proof.
[Post midterm edit: It wasn’t bad! Hooray for bubbles and good proofs!]