#summerstories: Between Cambridge and a hard place

By Abigail Smith

As the summer rolls on, I’ve started to think about my place in life. Maybe this is a symptom of being a recent graduate, and seeing how young all the freshers are (is it cool to be 21?)

More likely, it’s because I’m entering a strange limbo — to quote Blazin’ Squad, at the crossroads. I have just graduated, but will be returning in October as a post-grad student to the same college — a fresh start in an old setting.

gals

This summer has been something of a blur, filled with the warm haze of sunny days and doing nothing. Each summer activity I’ve done has passed by quickly, as if rushing me towards this next step on my life ladder, sending me headfirst into a course filled with theses and manuscripts.

The world around me, filled with the blue of Cambridge, is at once old and new. I feel at home in safety of Jesus college, but will I still feel so in September? As new faces fill the hall and old friends move on with their lives, I am stuck in the middle, overstaying my welcome. Many of my closest friends are moving out and upwards, travelling or starting jobs. I can’t help but worry that I am being left behind, in a rut of formals, libraries, and bad club nights.

I sometimes find myself worrying that I am getting the worst of both worlds: the anxiety and stress of a new course, without the thrill of a new environment. I have suffered with anxiety for many years, and starting university again brings back the feelings of unsettling trepidation, making me feel once more like an 18 year old, desperate to understand everything there is to know about Cambridge.

But this seems like an unnecessarily pessimistic way to look at it. Doing a masters means I can dedicate myself to a topic I love in a place which, despite my fears, will always be my home.

My MPhil topic is looking at the writing of an almost unknown woman, Katherine Austen. Her manuscript was written during “her most saddest years”, a compilation of prayers, household tasks, and poetry. She was widowed, and left vulnerable, yet expected to manage the estate and raise three children. Austen’s writing is characterised by an uncertainty, a sense that this estate deserves a better record than her words can give it:

“Tis an unhappy fate to paint that place
By my unpolisht Lines, with so bad grace
Amidst its beauty if a streame did rise
To clear my mudy braine and misty eyes.”

Writing about Cambridge always feels a little similar; trying to explain the “bubble”, trying to encompass the weird and wonderful world is almost impossible, and leaves me with a muddy brain and misty eyes. But maybe that is what so exciting about coming back for a second round; maybe now I can come to Cambridge with those misty eyes and not expect to understand everything.

So I stand at my crossroads, feeling like I’m about to do a U turn back to the beginning. There will be new people to meet, new books to read, and a new place in life for me to settle into. There is nothing left but to embrace the known unknown, and meet it when it comes.

Images are author’s own

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