Sketches of The University Interlude

In Gil Scott-Heron’s autobiography there are scattered poems, new and old. Unsurprising given who he was. But reading them was surprising. It was pleasing to see rhythm that grew from the page and didn’t fit into, or get trapped by, the guarded confines of poetic metering. The structures of the poems were precisely aligned with their meaning and tone. I thought then about his effortlessness in pitching the self as a photo negative of larger conditions. I hoped then, and still do, that I would find a coterminous instinct in my writing. I read the poems and I tried to bounce in loose synapses of a private silence a few improvised lines. A few prototype rhymes of mimicry. The first step is to master the masters and then create, or so an artist probably said according to a motivational meme. Those words that shot up like fireworks soon dissipated that way too. But one thing stuck, one name that just sounded right. Sounded like a poem, or a spoken song. It was ‘The University Interlude’. I never wrote it. It found its way to a purgatory of ideas. But unlike others, the term stuck. Maybe soon I’ll get to writing it.

The reason I say this is that the name alone is true. Four years ago I was 19 and drifting. A poor job in stasis. I turned down what could have been a comfortable but unorthodox life in favour of satiating an infectious nagging that I had to get an education. That part was easy. It was too early in the reign of the Tories latest monstrous incarnation for them to have butchered the welfare state completely, so university was reachable with a little luck and graft. It went quickly. Three years of grants, subsidies, loans moved by a lot quicker than the three years of benefits, poverty, and localised itinerancy. It felt like being pulled in from the cold to a party you had watched from the distance of a busy road. Hitchhiking to Spain, and Bestival, and Spain again were my experiences, not vague fantasies or the teasing anecdotes of contemporary strangers. There are any number of platitudes that could be said about my transformation at uni. Like many of us it changed me, but it always felt temporary. It was pitched as the right of passage, phase-like finishing school of an archetypal maturity. But, at some point, through the bubble of comfort I saw the thinning of the membrane.

The reason that title latched itself to a stronger memory than the other flittering names that burn up like dust, is that it formed on the cusp of the interludes finale. I am suspiciously close to where I was before it began. The three things I have more of now than I did then are; knowledge, books, and debt. The other securities dried up with the loan, the opportunities with the institution. Like a zealot pepped up on rum and romance I was forceful about the value of uni and education for education’s sake. I have slowly come to realise I was just a man protecting the first home he’s had in years. One that would leave as quickly as the others, but one which had given more than any of them. I suspect that’s an idea a few of you will understand. Equally, there are those for whom I know university is nothing but a Wonka bar with a tip to be the one, that holds the golden ticket.

It’s a shame about the show, when you dig the interlude.

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3 thoughts on “Sketches of The University Interlude

  1. An insightful validation of the unsaid, and reflective of an analysis of the superficiality of societal models conjugated with the lifespan and the illusions of institutionalized nurturing. It has been my experience that I could achieve more through individuation and critical thinking, and diligent planning, than by mimicking other talents and lifestyle choices. As ambivalent as the university experience is, its societal value as a formation to “transfer” intelligences formatted into marketable skills is not deniable, as sad as that reductionism might be.
    Stylistically, I appreciated the combination of flow, precision, and impactful imagery in your language. A student myself, it’s something I’m attempting to achieve.
    Guilt is a major theme in the decision to “get an education.” I’m glad your post was so honest about it, because it’s also a question that has been on my mind a lot. Is the university system the only way to acquire, perfect, and make good use of knowledge? Perhaps to become autodidact learners is another valuable tool in education ; )

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