In January work began in earnest on my German dissertation. I was comparing the 1950s poetry of two of East Germany’s leading literary figures: Bertolt Brecht and Heiner Müller. The latter had been charged with unoriginality in contemporary criticism of this early work; he was accused of being derivative in form and content and drawing heavily on the former in both cases. Müller, in his mature plays, is regarded as a disciple and worthy successor of Brecht. I was working on examining and challenging these assumptions.
The first of the year was also a month in which I was music editor for the now-defunct National Student and I reviewed several albums throughout 2019 until September – some received in advance via pre-release streams. Of these, one would follow me throughout the rest of the year: Toro y Moi’s Outer Peace. As an album, it’s frustrating because while the standout tracks are excellent, they are surrounded by mediocrity, hence the less-than-enthusiastic score. A personal favourite is ‘Laws of the Universe’, which became a bit of a flat anthem at Summerhall Square.
In February the German department organised a dissertation conference at which I was expected to present my ideas up to that point. This was a very useful exercise in articulating my thoughts and forcing myself to condense, hone and distil the results of my reading into an accessible format. It was also interesting to hear what everyone else was working on – an array of wildly different topics – particularly one master’s student’s German Studies/History of Art joint thesis on fin de siècle satire and Dadaism’s links to the carnival tradition.
March was a mad month in which migraines returned, co-presenters dropped out of radio shows and flights to Belgium were missed, as well as Brexit deadlines. It was then when I started to really develop my argument with regards to the two poets’ mutual interest and divergent interpretations of the Roman satirist, Horace. At the same time, I was looking at political violence in Shakespeare’s Richard II, Henry V and my favourite comedy, Twelfth Night.
April was not quite as stressful a month but was still tense with worry that my handed in coursework would disappoint. There were yet more deadlines to cross and an “oral exam” to survive (this always sounds like I just went to the dentist).
Beyond this, my exam “diet” was surprisingly light, with only two German exams in mid-May.
June was a bit of a limbo month for me. I was waiting out the expiration of my lease of Summerhall Square – a university-owned flat solely for students, waiting for exam results and my degree classification and waiting to hear back from various job applications made in haste against the backdrop of the increasing likelihood of my moving back to Orkney at my fulltime education status’s termination. Although I had one in-person interview for a student recruitment role, I was ultimately unsuccessful in my frantic search for dependable graduate employment and returned to my island home once more with the triumph of a first from the University of Edinburgh and the failure to find concrete next steps warring in my breast.
Likewise, July was defined by the in-between. It seemed that this year I had missed the boat. Somehow it is expected of students also to be on the job hunt while in the most intense phase of coursework deadlines, to devote intellectual energy to the tedium of CVs, personality profiling and assessment centres when to do well at university you’re required to meditate extensively and almost exclusively on your specialist subject. Yet there was a beacon of hope. Not quite resigned to a 2019/20 academic year (and yes I have not given up on thinking of years in terms of semesters yet) in Orkney, I thought it could do no harm to apply for a “summer job” at Skara Brae. To my delight, I was invited to interview – my first face-to-face one in over a month. By this time, I was truly psychologically ready to get working again after uni. It may not have been graduate employment per se and not directly relevant to my studies, but it was a salaried job in which I would get paid to extoll the virtues of my beloved island home to the thousands who visit the UK’s “cruise capital” every summer. Moreover, it was only until the end of September, so I had masses of time to secure my dream job in the city before then…or so I thought.
By the time I got my PVG checks done and my uniform sent away for and delivered, I only worked one and a half weeks in August. There was a lot to learn but it wasn’t long until I was no longer the newbie and the season began to draw slowly to a close through the next month. A job that was initially about retail sales and crowd management morphed gradually into a relaxed sort of micro-tour-guiding and holiday consultancy.
Also, at that time my first car came into my life – a 2004 Vauxhall Corsa, resplendent in burgundy. It was a necessity, given that the transport links to Sandwick are infrequent and unreliable. We’ve had some good times together, and although there’s no Bluetooth or aux cord, the CD player has only destroyed about half the tracks on Toro y Moi’s 2017 Boo Boo, which has been my constant companion for about five months now plus a newfound appreciation of Radio 1. It enabled me to pick up a waiting job in Kirkwall to supplement my Skara Brae hours. This resulted in an amusing crossover where I would meet those who I’d led around the Neolithic village during the day that evening in the restaurant.
In October I went to my pre-arranged post-season treat concert in Glasgow. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard was the best gig I went to last year – they were my top Spotify artist and Infest The Rats’ Nest one of my favourite albums. The rest of that month I was distinctly underemployed, but I started a night class in British Sign Language, which at least occupied one evening a week.
During the penultimate month of the year, I switched second jobs to one that guaranteed me more hours and after a brief trip to see my brother in Edinburgh things began to pick up in both jobs as Christmas party season took hold and a brief festive tourist mini-bloom occurred at the end of December.
I look forward to 2020 with uncertainty but potential. My only real desire is to progress, to advance and not plateau.
Die Physiologen sollten sich besinnen, den Selbsterhaltungstrieb als kardinalen Trieb eines organischen Wesens anzusetzen. Vor Allem will etwas Lebendiges seine Kraft auslassen — Leben selbst ist Wille zur Macht; die Selbsterhaltung ist nur eine der indirekten und häufigsten Folgen davon.
Nietzsche, Jenseits von Gut und Böse