Loitering outside of Staples at 8am waiting for the doors to open. Peering through the glass like Dickensian paupers outside of a bakery begging for morsels. Clutching our assorted energy drinks and reassuring each other that the worst part is over. It’s dissertation hand in day. And despite my frantic last minute late-night efforts, rather than a literary masterpiece brimming with originality and insight – the crowning glory of my entire academic career, I’m about to bind together 10, 000 words of clutching at straws, attempting to find meaning in the meaningless and a failure to fully articulate any semi-intelligent observations I might have had, due to severe sleep deprivation.
As the days until deadline grew fewer, and anxiety slowly seeped from my subconscious into the part of my head which no longer allowed me to completely override it, my superior, far more organised peers began to incessantly upload photographs via every social media outlet available. – Proudly displaying completed dissertations in a smug manner which filled me with derision. When my turn came, I handed over the hefty wad of paper and wanted nothing more than to wash my hands of it. My only wish – to forget the whole hideous experience. However now, two weeks later, far from the distant memory I hoped it would become, my dissertation is a demon that haunts me as I sleep, and taunts me during my waking hours. The ‘themes of liberty and nationalism’ I’d explored within Thomas Hardy’s later fiction are no longer confined to the pages of novels but are an ever present theme within my own tired and tormented psyche.
The day before the dreaded deadline, The Distractinator, (so called because of his remarkable ability to divert one’s attention from pressing essays, toward disturbing tales of drunken antics, with minimum effort and maximum effect) and I had been in the library all day. Frantically tapping at keyboards in the vain hope that semi-intelligent sentences would spontaneously form. Sadly they did not form fast enough, and so we begrudgingly positioned ourselves at a large table on the second floor, crumpled up papers and discarded books sprawled dramatically across it, and commenced the exercise in futility which was the mandatory pre-deadline day all-nighter. It was funny at first, we laughed (because otherwise we’d surely cry). We took a leisurely excursion to the coop to purchase supplies (4 cans of red bull, 8 cereal bars, 1 pack of pro-plus… just for me). We joked about the length of time we’d had to prepare for this and our failure to do so… The Distractinator and I both share the similarly unfortunate trait that is dual-personality. We each maintain, quite successfully, the semblance of being utterly carefree, fun loving characters – refusing to allow our impending deadlines to detain us during our last university days. Until of course, the day before, when we realise, to our despair, that we are not above university law, and must conform if we are to succeed in gaining our respective degrees. This periodical realisation sees us both undergo a rapid transformation from carefree to weary, wide eyed, wild, sleep deprived and severely stressed shadows of our former selves, for one evening, once a term.
Up until around the 2am mark I’d relied upon The Distractinator to be my light-hearted touchstone. However, during the early hours of that fateful morning, as the unnaturally bright and hideously unflattering library lighting bore down upon us, he became increasingly agitated and irate. His eyes, wide and menacing, fixated madly upon his screen as he frantically tapped the keys, stopping occasionally, only to chug upon the red bull which was his life line by this point, in a manner which suggested that clinical insanity was no longer a joke but a genuine possibility. The clock struck 5 and, on the verge of having to snort pro plus and/or inject red bull into my eye balls, I accepted defeat and drifted home, barely conscious and severely disoriented. The birds were singing, their merry little tune served only to emphasise my own misery. I collapsed into bed, body exhausted but mind whirring, dissertation still at severe level of incompletion, words circulating my head with no concurrent or conclusive solutions. Filled with self pity, tired to the brink of exhaustion yet unable to sleep.I closed my eyes for five minutes, scared any longer and I’d never wake up, then sat bolt upright and proceeded to desperately stare at the screen for what felt like an eternity. Eyes now tiny slits, encompassed by puffed up cheeks. Individual words began to blur into strange incomprehensible shapes. And as the first morning light began to peer through the cracks in the curtains I decided that I was done with dissertations for good. The now grey and disturbingly sombre Distractinator drove us, in utter silence, to the ceremonial binding, where we waited, utterly exhausted, emotionally numb, for fate to take its course.
I teetered dangerously close to the brink of madness that night. I can still taste the sickly sweet energy drink upon my tongue. I can still smell the dust from all of those books I’d randomly selected from the inner depths of the fourth floor, in a last minute bid to increase the size of my bibliography. When I compare myself to my more together counterparts I curse my inability to organize and lack of academic drive. Where others feel a great sense of pride and incitement, I am filled with dread about the day they hand me back that dreadful piece of literature.
Lesson learnt? Not quite. I’m in the library with The Distractinator as I write this piece of procrastination. Once more, we’re discussing strategies for our next nights out and ignoring the fact that our finals are imminent. Because, when all’s said and done, what’s one more night of madness between friends, when it’s in the name of fun?