I’ve got an exam tomorrow. Three hours on English Literature and I’m nervous. I’m nervous about getting there on time. I’m nervous about my ability to sit still and concentrate for such a long period and dubious about my ability to do it without weeing. I’m nervous about whether my hand can write for three hours and whether the result will be legible.
These are not concerns that I had last time I sat exams. Then it was 1989, Simply Red were at the top of the charts and this was the last step on my eight year campaign to be a solicitor. The Law Society Finals consisted of two or three papers a day every day for eight days and my main worry was still being alive at the end of it. This, by comparison, is a walk in the park.
It’s funny how different the whole process is now I’m a) a grown up and b) doing it with absolutely nothing riding on it except my pride.
I have revised but not in that all consuming, no time to eat or sleep or even breathe kind of way that I did when I was young. I’ve worked in and amongst the demands of the rest of my life, snatching an hour as and when. I made a revision timetable but it was far more nebulous and flexible than those of days gone by and yet I’ve still got through the material.
But what really is different about revising in my 40s is that I know stuff already. I’m not starting from a stand start. I have learned lots of new things – if not then what would have been the point? – but the new facts have mingled with what I already knew to make something far bigger and more interesting than the muddled concepts and ideas that I tried to cram into my mind the first time round. And it’s not a chore. It’s fun to slot the pieces into the jigsaw and note the crossovers.
It’s such a shame I didn’t think like that first time round. University in the 80s was one long list of things I didn’t fully understand and that everyone else apparently did. Of course it wasn’t that bad and I passed and went on to work successfully in my dream job but it would be so much easier to study Law now when I can see the wood for the trees and identify the practical application of what I’m learning.
Before I began this course I thought the complete opposite would be the case. I had assumed that my head was so full of all the detritus of life that there would no point even trying to add to its burden with unnecessary titbits about Modernism or Realism. But actually and very surprisingly, my mind has stretched to accommodate it all. My head is full of quotes from James Joyce and John Webster whilst also dealing with who needs picking up from where, which birthdays are coming up and what we might have for tea.
I’m not saying that tomorrow will be easy – of course it absolutely won’t. It is degree level study after all and they do expect a standard of insight that won’t come from accumulated trivia. But not only is it not nearly as bad as I thought it would be but in reviewing what I have studied this year, I have learned far more than just the course material. I have discovered how incredibly versatile the human mind is and that mine in particular is up for challenges that I had thought were firmly encased in the past. And to me that lesson is as valuable as the degree that I hope I will eventually end up with.