I feel almost as if online Trinity didn’t happen. Eight weeks compressed into one blurry piece of recent history. I can’t get a grip on it; it feels like a distant abstraction, a fever-dream. I couldn’t tell one week from the next. The components of Trinity 2020 were approximately 15 zoom calls and a pervasive sense of disappointment. Not to be dramatic.
In a normal term, every day is charged with some feeling of significance. Fifth week has a different feel to fourth week. A Tuesday has a definitive texture, an entirely different consistency to a Friday. I can tell it’s a Thursday because for every day that I’m in Oxford, I’m in sync with the elaborate, intricate steps of the term-time routine – albeit a chaotic, manic tarantella of deadlines and events, library days and days most certainly not in the library, ecstatic happiness and existential crises. Trinity this year was just some sad solo dance where I forgot all the steps and ran off stage crying.
Normally so much happens in a week. Time is precious – something to be utilised, raced against, organised. It’s a balancing act, compressing work and then everything else into each week like a game of Tetris. Academia and social life can both (I tell myself) exist in abundance, mutually uncompromised. Knowing I have something exciting happening in a few hours entirely streamlines my focus to completing the task at hand. It’s hardly a revolutionary realisation – we fill the time we have. With seemingly endless time on offer during lockdown, the moments lost their glimmer, their appeal. In that way, time might be compared to the boys I liked in my first year: I’m not interested in it unless it’s uncertain, (emotionally) unavailable, and fleeting. Another way to understand this analogy would simply be to google ‘Parkinson’s Law’. An adrenaline filled day of essay writing feels miles more productive than a week of moping in locked-down Trinity. In a normal term I’m working with constant incentives (distractions, incentives – same thing): these had to be recalibrated during lockdown. Instead of celebrating a completed week of deadlines at Bridge, the reward was watching another episode of Downton Abbey with my parents (the melodrama simply relocated from the cheese-floor to the on-screen Edwardian dinner parties).
Something about the Oxford environment feeds an insatiable part of me that wants to have her cake and eat it. There is an intoxicating happening-ness about it. Busyness can be a perfect medium for productiveness. During lockdown, all I wanted was another nap and a series to binge watch. I have never felt so unproductive. I was baking a lot of banana bread, but in the metaphorical sense I wasn’t eating much cake.
I felt slow. Detached. Out of touch. I love my tutors – they’re supportive, understanding, positive – but ultimately their existence in Trinity felt like mere pixels on my dell’s glitchy screen. I used to find classes energising and exciting; even if I wasn’t happy with the points I’d made, even if it seemed our entire class had rolled out of bed 20 minutes before and still smelt of regret and nightclub. I was sat amongst my classmates, whom I greatly admired, whose points I bounced off and found inspiring. Virtual classes were different. It was easy to zone out (zoom out?) of a zoom call, to focus on the wall behind my laptop while the shaky audios of the call oscillated in and out of Wi-Fi strength. I wanted to stop this streaming subscription and tune back in when the experience was more in the corporeal, real-life mode. Most things in the country seemed to be on pause but precious, treasured time at university kept ticking past. And it felt so selfish to feel sad about this when others were experiencing greater loss to far more than their social calendar.
In many ways this online Trinity taught me a lot about gratitude; I realised how much I had to be thankful for. Firstly, for a family that tolerated my near constant bad mood and unremitting conversation centring on what I was missing in Oxford. I now realise that missing something is in its own way a privilege; it shows what you had was something you treasured. I was definitely erring on the side of over-romanticising the past, but I’ll forgive myself because it was in the midst of a pandemic and we all had our coping mechanisms. I became an obsessive consumer – not only of the news (I heard if you google ‘when will there be a coronavirus vaccine’ enough times they find one!!), but of my own memories. I felt like an old woman with her stories, recounting for the fifth time some unfunny anecdote to my by-then-worn-out and unsympathetic brother.
A term online made me realise all the tiny things I value about university. How two minute conversations outside the library brighten my day, how speaking to the porters always puts me in a better mood. I miss casual, friendly faces around college – people who I don’t keep in regular contact with, but whose presence always feels uplifting. With everyone at university together there is a strengthening, motivating solidarity; we are all there for the same thing. Other people’s focus intensifies yours – probably why libraries are a great idea (Corpus library, you may be dark and uncomfortable, but you have my heart!). Time off doesn’t feel unproductive and anti-climactic because rather than re-watching ‘The Vampire Diaries’ in the same pyjamas you’ve been in since lockdown began (just a general, non-personalised example), you’re spending it with friends.
Trinity term was based on the premise that ‘university’ is synonymous with ‘learning’. As long as our education remained untouched, we could still call Trinity term a ‘term’. But the education we receive at university is for so many of us so much more than what we learn in our classes and tutorials. Oxford isn’t just its outstanding teaching. Oxford is in other people. It’s in our friends, our community, the faces around the city. It’s in the lessons we learn outside of our books as well. ‘Doing Oxford’ (as my mum called it if she interrupted me working) from within the four walls of my childhood bedroom – unsurprisingly – didn’t feel the same.
I think Trinity was a lonely term. Oxford is fast-paced and hard work, but we’re all doing it together. It was hard to remember that, sat miles apart from friends, staring at a notification from zoom telling me it’s ‘connecting’, feeling more disconnected than ever.