Reflections from writing at my old university library café
Enrolling in a master’s degree after my first degree was one of the best things I did. It was a decision which was pivotal to my development as a writer and something which helped me in the years afterwards.
I enrolled in it for a couple of reasons: personally, things weren’t going very well in life and I had gotten off track as to who I really was.
I knew, in my gut, that doing a master’s degree was the answer. Professionally, I was curious to the doors which it would open, if any.
Would it be the same as my arts degree? Better? Would I meet more like-minded writerly friends? Hey, it was a good excuse to move back home, drink lots of coffee and live the life of a student for a couple more years.
Before I tell you about the course, and the fun things I learnt and all that which I know you’re hoping to hear, let me tell you about Mari. We did the course together, well some subjects anyway, and soon became fast friends. We both loved writing and wanted to change the world. We collaborated on a blog back then: Stories of Geelong.
Writer Friends Are The Best
Having Mari as a friend helped me realise, as a writer, how essential it is to have writerly friends. Essential for joy, but really it’s just a joy. She is from Norway and now lives in Norway, but I consider her a lifelong, good friend and we never run out of things to talk about.
We used read each others’ stories and sit by the Deakin Waurn Ponds lake with takeaway coffees in hand, brownie split in half, birds pecking around us. One such bird (and his likeness) I nicknamed “Harry” and then wrote a story about him for a Short Story assignment. “Harry, the Duck Hunter” was the name of it and it’s not what you think, but you’ll find that out if you ever read it.]
In that class, we undertook “workshopping” for the first time and, under the guidance of a wonderful professor, it was not as scary as I thought. A bunch of writers reading their work out to other writers for the sake of criticism (albeit constructive) can feel dismal but it doesn’t have to, if it’s done right.
I know this sounds all rosy and happy-tinted glasses, but the past could use with some memorialising: I’m okay with that.
Then & Now
Going to university, as a younger person or adult (I was 25 the second time round) is a hard slog: you need a part time job, you need to multi-task, you need to stay up very late and knock assignments out with soft drink and chips and chocolate.
(Note: on the last point… after completing university I realised that that the staying-up-late thing is called Procrastination. I was an ace at it.)
The opportunities of study, however, are so multifold. The course content, the qualification, the likeminded people you can meet and just the whole experience.
It’s also a great chance to meet a cross-section of people in society outside your usual social societies. International students. People from regional Australia. People from the city. And so on.
Today I sit in my old library, in the café, and overlook the old campus foyer. This is where my dad to uni, this is where my sister went to uni and this is where I went to uni. Each time, the buildings and landscape and people were changed but the essence remains the same.
Students wearing casual clothes holding coffee, bulging back packs with books – I remember it! (Has technology made that burden lighter?)
I remember the happiness when this café was first built around a decade ago. How avant-garde, how wonderful it felt to have a library with a café inside. It felt like a modern commercial bookshop: coffee brewing, books being opened, conversations being had. A different library experience to what I was used to: dead silence and (understandable) disapproving stares should that golden rule was broken.
The café barista is cherry and the cabinet counter has options it didn’t have ten years ago: Vegan salads, all these healthy counter salads actually, and non-dairy milks like coconut, soy and almond. You can even get soy mochas.
A subtle sign advertises the fact that those using a Keep Cup get a discount, something perhaps we weren’t as aware of back then. What hasn’t changed are the cheap food prices – student-friendly food prices. That is heartening.
Other things have also subtly changed. There is now a TV in the library which runs ABC News on mute. The Wi-Fi instantly connects me as a guest (I remember when you needed to sometimes call IT to get help with that.)
Walking into the library, there is almost a reflective effect from all the silver MacBooks at play. The world is much more Apple here than it was in my master’s. Then again, I remember taking out an interest-free student loan and “investing” in a shiny new white MacBook. It was all so expensive and especially with the extended AppleCare warranty for a nervous new Mac user.
(It lies, now, somewhere in my office along with other over-used lap tops. But gosh, it was worth it, though I am a bias Apple lover I admit.)
Other things that are still true: seeing academics in the café or talking nearby still impresses me. I don’t know why, they just do.
The Experience of University Something You Carry In Your Backpack Afterwards
A boy walked past with a Bob Marley backpack. There is coloured hair. Students looking worried. 12pm being a 9am start for some, heralded by coffee. And there is still a sense of momentum meets optimism as fear of the unknown and hope of the unknown is held up in conversations, both privately and publicly.
But other things haven’t changed: political journals displayed on the forefront. People eating chips while on the move. Students wearing hoodies: lots of hoodies. The old beautiful trees are still casting their leaves on the ground. People still walk fast, like they are late to a tute. And headphones are still worn on the ears or around the neck as a functional reward. Plus, some still walk slow too: they “cruise”.
I see skinny students, boys in crew jumpers and young faces walking along with books and I wonder if they will be Geelong-Melbourne commuters working in finance in five years time. I see exchange students and I wonder if they will carry university (and Australia) in their hearts after they leave Australia, like a moveable feast. That is not my own expression but the beautiful phrase Hemingway coined to describe his time in Paris as a young man.
I wonder if I will do a Ph.D here one day, and come back? Don’t you wish you sometimes had five life times to pursue different arms of your passions?!
And the lake still looks great. I was happy to see Harry (or some of Harry’s relatives before too) today and he was happy to see me, too!
Reunion with Harry (or distant relative) many years on!