On the first day of classes, the morning: The College of Arts and Letters New Building’s Atrium craves for silence. Students sit in lines outside the classroom, waiting until the ongoing classes end as they chat about the break which has just bid adieu. And there are guessing games: how do the professors whose names are like clichés look like in person, how these big names behave in class, what are the new challenges, and so on…
Mid-semester: Nights grow shorter, days are longer. Class requirements begin to come one after another. Papers are in and so are exams. Midterm crises are experienced by some. The check marks on the class records begin to decrease for the number of students who cut classes obviously increases. Crammers start to take cramming to the next level, non-crammers take things more seriously. People feel that there are really a lot of things to do yet they know there are more works to come.
Hell week: You feel the need to get a copy of the map of hell according to Dante’s Inferno not because you feel like going to hell after death but because you already feel that hell starts to burn and you need a map to show you the way, so you can survive. Eye bags swell, this time, they may already be larger than eyelids. Nights are the shortest compared to any time of the year. The dawn makes many hearts weep for it means another day—another day to see the walking pressures, the devils, and all the inhabitants of your beloved hell. Light embraces the skies after the darkness of a sleepless night and you ask why there are only 24 hours in one day, and then you realize that having additional hours in one day would mean additional workloads for the people around you would assume you have more time to do more things and so you stop questioning and just be contented with 24 hours.
A friend told me that the real UP experience begins when you start taking up major subjects. According to her, that’s when you learn the art of masochism: the more pain you get, the more you are satisfied. It is waking up with a smile after only two hours of sleep, feeling a sense of pleasure after your brain has bled because of a difficult reading material, wanting more mind-torturing pages of books you never thought you would ever read, humanizing comments of your teachers. Sometimes I wonder if these things are true or just some sort of consolation prizes that entitle people some bragging rights…
Papers: The writing process should always start with a pen and a piece of paper for the flow of ink from the tube to the sheet gives a more organized flow of ideas, unlike the anything-goes style which usually takes place directly in front of the computer. Papers should be printed at least a day before the due so proofreading could still be done. These are the rules. And what are rules? Sometimes, eggshells lying on a bed during your bedtime.
Best attempts: Studying regularly and being confident that you are already geared up anytime the professor schedules an exam, jumping out of joy when the professor announces that you will be having your exam next week until she tells you that she will be giving additional readings that you would all have to study, quite more than the number of readings you discussed in class. Receiving an announcement that your professor would not be around for an entire week, rejoicing with the whole class until you all receive an email saying you have to submit a number of requirements when the classes resume. Attempting to cut your classes for one day just to finish a paper due at four in the afternoon, accidentally bumping into your professor on your way to the library and hear her say, “See you later in class.”
Things to ruin your day: A traffic jam that causes you to be late for class. A jeepney whose driver is fond of stopping from time to time, hopeful to get some more passengers while you are already late for a class. Not being able to eat breakfast for the class is about to start in three minutes yet the progress of the line in the canteen is inversely proportional to the number of persons lining. A snob librarian who asks you to leave your shoulder bag, which is always allowed to be brought inside when someone else is guarding the entrance, to the baggage counter.
Once when my sight deceived me: Hungry after an epistaxis-causing class discussion, I lined among the so many others at the Katag to buy some food. At first, I was planning to buy spaghetti alla carbonara. When I was already near the finish line, I saw some spaghetti al pesto. It looked so nice that I couldn’t help but have a sudden change of heart. So I ended up with a serving of spaghetti al pesto. Excitement filled me up as I marched toward my table. When I started eating, all the excitement had suddenly gone out of the exhaust vent and meandered endlessly together with all the smoke and fumes.
Things to make you smile: An inspiring quote from a professor. A message of encouragement from a classmate who, though strange, also needs some encouragement. Meeting Zorro on your way to the Faculty Center and feeling him tap your shoulder as if telling you that you can survive another hellish day. A librarian who smiles at you while you carry a pile of hardbound books. Seeing the professor on whom you have a crush and hearing him ask you: “How are you?” The sweaty version of Piolo Pascual running on the Academic Oval. A “No class today” sign on the door of your classroom. A holiday that happens to coincide with the due date of a project, which means the deadline is extended. Your own version of the last two lines of Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind”: When hell week comes, can sembreak be far behind?
Once when I thought a professor would not come to class: Though feeling the persistent attempts of my eyelids to kiss each other, I decided to attend a class. Half conscious and a half not, I walked along the corridors of Palma Hall, aware of the walls whispering. PH126. I stopped, entered. Fifteen minutes late, I entered while my classmates stared at me as if something was wrong with the way I looked like. Eyebags? Who cares? So I just sat down. Eighteen minutes more, everyone was ready to escape out of that blue-paved jail. Two minutes before the quota. Ready, set, run. But before the inmates were able to totally escape, the warden without a gun had already arrived.
Things that are worth all the curses—and even tears: A power interruption when you are not able to charge your laptop on a day before a paper is due. Finishing all your papers due on a particular day and finding out at the computer shop where you would have them printed that your files are corrupted because of the virus which infected your flash drive. Arriving at a computer shop, confident that you would be able to print your paper until you find out that there is a power interruption in the whole area. Losing your flash drive containing all your files which, unfortunately, do not have backups in your computer. Having difficulty connecting to the DilNet when you badly need to send a very important email.
To save your day: A coffee with a friend who is always willing to listen as you curse your professors to death. Eating whatever brand of instant pansit canton while facing the sunken garden on a sunset. Accidentally seeing a friend around and ending up sitting on the green, green grass as you talk about happy things. A notice on Facebook saying your crush likes your profile photo. Eating siomai from Lutong Bahay together with your best bud who never despises you no matter how bitter you are sometimes. Mang Larry’s isaw. A serving of spaghetti alla carbonara from Long Island. A meal from Beach House Canteen: two cups of rice, a stick of barbecue, and a serving of chop suey or sautéed vegetable with tofu. Ice cream with friends while joyfully talking about Marx, Althusser, Orwell, and the girl who claims that she looks like Bella of Twilight.
Things that are discouraging: Receiving low recitation marks for a number of consecutive days. Having a feeling that your professor does not like you at all so she is being bitchy. Bad feedback during workshops. Hearing your professor say that you have to rethink your poems for they are not working, remembering you did not sleep for God-knows-how-many nights just to come up with them. Long lines at the CASAA food court when you are coming from an examination in a Comparative Literature subject.
Inspiring things: Watching the sunset while at the back of the Quezon Hall. Fireworks display near the Film Center. Lying down on the heart of the Sunken Garden and feeling its skin while listening to John Mayer’s St. Patrick’s Day and other songs. Watching Noel Cabangon perform live at the Carillon Plaza. The fact that Noel Cabangon’s show was for free. A pa-macho friend singing Nicole Hyala’s Mahal Kita Kasi. Hearing a friend saying that she is praying for you. Drinking beer with a friend in the heart of the sunken garden late at night while you are talking about life and doing some star gazing and yet you both remain alert because you might be caught by some security personnel. The song Blue jeans.
Things that would remind you that you are human: Not being able to say anything when your professor asks you. English 23 (Introduction to Shakespeare) class under Prof. Ramas. John Donne’s poetry and his metaphysical metaphors. Wanting not to sleep just to finish a paper yet still falling asleep because the body could no longer resist. Examinations. Workshops. A professor playing the role of a devil’s advocate.
Things that are laughable: The grammatical errors you find in the Facebook page of your former special someone’s present girlfriend and knowing that the girl is some sort of a jejemon. The unshaven armpit of a professor who loves wearing sleeveless tops. A bitchy classmate’s crappy reaction paper about a wonderful film.
Things that could be so ephemeral: A pop supernova sort of professor’s good mood. Money when there are a lot of readings. Hang-over. Lovelife, if that’s what you really call it. Inspiration. Drive to finish paper works days before the due. Bodily energy most especially during hell weeks.
Things you would love to forget: deadlines and exam dates.
Things you should never forget: deadlines and exam dates. Dropping date.
Things that make your heart beat faster: A professor’s question about a particular Shakespearean drama and a feeling that you would be called anytime. Your professor locking the door of the classroom so the latecomers could no longer get in. Rallies, though you know not what they are rallying for. Oblation run—where notes are seen, not heard, and are measured by size instead of loudness or softness. Experiencing a creative writing workshop for the first time. Waiting for your grades until they are all posted; you try to delude yourself that they are just numbers and not the real gauge of cleverness so they do not really matter yet, they still do. Being aware that hell week is not yet over.
Something that could give you relief: thinking that all the hardships concerning academics end when graduation finally comes—the omega of the hell alphabet’s alpha.
One thing that would make you think twice: realizing the fact that after graduation, a wider and more dangerous world awaits you. And you begin to hear the vultures flapping their wings.
Inspired by Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book; written for Comparative Literature 115 (Creative Nonfiction), 1st Semester AY 2010-2011, University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City
Banner photo from Canva