When we were younger, we were comfortable pushing boundaries. It was like a rite of passage. We’d push our parents for later curfews, push our teachers patience while giggling in class with our friends (remember how when you weren’t allowed to laugh, it just made the whole thing funnier?). We’d push our siblings- to borrow this, use their that. We might push our alcohol tolerance once or twice, in a fit of youthful abandon. When studying, we might push back our studying time, seeing how long we can humanly procrastinate until the world fell down around us. Pushing was normal. Pushing was fine.
But as we get older, it’s no longer seen as cute or even justified to push boundaries. It’s seen as lazy, or rebellious, or indulgent, or a existential crisis. I don’t think we see enough people pushing boundaries, playing around with their life situations, seeing how to make their reality bigger and better. And I wonder: is this simply because we’re still waiting to be grounded, or sent out of class, or brought back into line? That if we deviate from the perceived norm of normal functioning working-class society, there’ll be a bounty on our head? To be clear here, I don’t mean breaking federal law. I just mean lightly bending the unsaid laws of societal norms, having a play with accepted structures, making it work for you. As Russel Brand said: “I think many of the boundaries that convention has placed upon us are arbitrary, so we can fiddle with them if we fancy. Gravity’s hard to dispute, and breathing, but a lot of things we instinctively obey are a lot of old tosh.”
I’ve been going to university for about three years now. And every semester i’ve started off wanting to fall cleanly inside the lines of acceptable uni behaviour. Each time, I’ll buy my fresh new stationery, the clean-lined notebooks and ergonomic pens. I’ll wipe down my desk and pile my new essential course books in the corner. I’ll buy a candle that smells nice, if i’m feeling fancy, and from there i’ll set my intentions; that i’ll practically live in that damn chair this semester and not leave until each assignment is nothing less than 100% per cent greatness. I’ll stay there and read until my eyes go red, until my fingertips are bruised from typing and emerge from this heroic battle between my self and discipline like Thor, my blood, sweat and tears my badge of honour.
The sad thing is that’s not even too left-of-field a notion. Ever been around a group of uni students around exam time? It’s like a competition of “who’s the most stressed out nutcase here”. Like, “Tom’s so sleep deprived he’s started talking to the dragons in the bathroom drain”, “Yeah? Well Kayla hasn’t left her room for days- the pile of bowls by her desk is giving the Burj Khalifa a run for it’s money.” “Wow, those kids will go far.”
So each semester I try my hardest to stress myself out as much as possible, to prove my legitimacy as a worthy contributor to society and the progressive world and the greater good etc. But with each passing day it becomes more apparent i’m not all that fond of pain for the sake of pain. Unsaid university/ college law says “you must bleed to achieve greatness!” and i’ve always been like “but why, lol?”. It’s the old part of myself that has always wondered; is there a different, better way to do the work I want to do? Can I at least try?
Because when I’m stressed-out and anxious I see the world as a to-do list and my work as a chore. Everything goes grey and each day passing is just another step towards a day that looks exactly the same as the one before it. And the payoff, for me, just isn’t worth it. And it completely contradicts the whole reason I went to university in the first place. the access to thousands of different brains that think a thousand different ways to me, connecting with tutors who know so much than me, the feeling of my brain cracking wide open to a plethora of thoughts and theories and concepts and opportunities I never even thought possible.
So what usually happens is I end up packing my bags, buying a ticket and going somewhere. Which totally looks like i’m running away mid-semester, right? But listen, modern technology has done this wonderful thing where my lectures can be downloaded to my phone, and assignments can be submitted in a dropbox over the computer. You know the beauty of a phone? I can use it over here. I can use it over there. I can use it, say, to listen to lectures in the backseat of a car on a road trip with my family from South Australia to Victoria. I can use it to run through the final edit of my uni magazine on a bathroom floor in Positano, Italy (the only place in the hotel room with good wifi). I can use it to write essay drafts in the notepad section of my phone while on a Junk boat in Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. I’ve done all these things. And do you know what has happened, when I was in and constantly in and amongst new sights and smells? When the ground beneath me was constantly shifting, when I was completely disoriented and had no real anchor and was half-shit-scared? I got this urge to channel this frenetic energy into my work. I felt alive and full of energy, keyed up and inspired, and because of that, I ended up doing better work than I ever would have sitting at home with my nice little candle and a pile full of crusty bowls.
In normal life, there are certain frameworks we tend to accept as “just is.” For the first decade-or-so of our lives we go to this establishment called “school” where we mostly sit for eight hours a day, for five days a week, and learn a variation of maths, english, science and history. That deviates, but those are the fundamentals. That is the accepted norm of early education. After that we might go to another place called “university” or “college” where the whole setup is still largely based on the same principles; sit in the lecture hall, sit in the classroom for the allotted amount of hours until you can adequately repeat the information back taught to you. But for whatever reason, that doesn’t work for me. Sitting nicely at a desk in a repetitive, predictable setting doesn’t work as well for me as having a laptop sitting unevenly on my lap as new sights fly past a bus window, or clouds float by on a plane.
So I’ve now come to accept that I work better when my world is in a state of flux. Because the smells and sounds around me are new and the ground beneath me is uncertain and that’s what sets my mind on fire. I know it’s not all sunshine and rainbows and this freehold way of working will come with its own plethora of difficulties. For one, there seems to be this inherent human duality in all of us where when we’re in routine we crave chaos and when in chaos crave routine. So I think we’ll never completely want one or the other, we just have to decide which one we want considerably more.
I have no doubt the world will provide me with more grown-up versions of grounding me and sending me out of class, but I think I owe it to myself to at least try.
So my next step is to work out how far I can push this. I want to work hard and produce work that stands for something and end the week satisfied with what I’ve put out there, feeling like i’ve contributed to the betterment of the world. But I also want my days laced with curiosity and collaboration and wonder. Not to just tick things off my to do list with disdain. I want to push this. I want to play.
So, get fiddling, Salty’s.