Despite the fact that the freshers’ bop will be ongoing, freshers’ week finishes at midnight tonight and it’ll have been my third. I’m living back in college, two years worth of older friends have now left, and aside from a few fourth years I’m one of the eldest and supposedly wisest here. It’s been a really fun week. I was pretty involved in running stuff as a JCR committee member, but compared to last year it felt like there was less to do and the freshers seemed to take care of themselves. This could be seen on the first afternoon where they were all over the grass in the hot sun, and also how non-clubbing events got cancelled because there was no-one there. Now this means that either all the freshers go clubbing a lot, which is perhaps a little sad due to a lack of variety, or the non-clubbers were hiding away in their rooms, which would be really bad but not really our responsibility, or alternatively they were doing their own thing which would be cool. Regardless this felt hands-off in the same way.

I’ve been gripped with a particular worry this week, though, which has led to an interesting situation: I’ve been using social activities to distract myself from thinking because when alone and thinking I’m ending up sad, and it’s a relief to meet new people and chatter away to those I already know. This is not something I have ever done before, and there’s a lot of things to say about it in itself. Firstly it reflects how when in Oxford I always want to be doing: either doing social activities, working or reading or something but I never want to just be floating. This is the most amazing thing and I love it. Secondly I’ve observed a new relationship to people in my own year group: we’re just a tiny bit closer, all of us collectively, since we’re up here at the top. This is nice. We’re all back in college and maybe we’re all just desperate to get as much out of the final year as possible, so we’re being more friendly, or realising that actually our own year is cool now we’ve built up lots of little bits of knowledge about them. I mean I will never have the super-tight, moderately cliquey friendships most people have some of their own year. I’m not talking about that: the weaker friendships have strengthened between all of us I think.

The worry then has been what I can best describe as worrying about my popularity. Not something I have ever ever worried about before and something that I initially thought it doesn’t make sense to worry about because it’s not necessarily a good thing, and regardless it can’t be aimed for: if you set out to “be popular” you probably won’t achieve your goal and will probably realise you were going in the wrong direction anyway. But after talking to someone about this I’ve realised it’s basically to do with having two years’ worth of friends leave and being concerned about being lonely this year. And this is fine. When I actually did try to do some work earlier this week (a goal long since abandoned until term starts tomorrow), this worrying was really getting in my way. ‘Intrusive thoughts’, I think it’s called: one feels like this needs worrying about now because something needs to be done but of course there is nothing to be done.

This reminded me of a book that that counsellor I was seeing last year recommended to me on mindfulness, The Mindful Way Through Depression. It’s not really about depression, and the title is just a selling point as unfortunately it’s categorised as a self-help book rather than a psychology textbook and they want to make it sell. While some parts read like a self-help book, it’s massively more academic in its outlook and approach. I searched it up and the university finally has a copy so I took it out and I’ve started reading, and it’s feeling too good to be true in all honesty: the diagnosis is basically exactly what I go through (albeit my experience is much, much milder, as the book uses people who are depressed as its examples). Paragraph after paragraph I’m either agreeing, or hearing echoes of both the counsellor and my philosophy tutor on his bench, and agreeing with them now that what they’ve said has been made more concrete for me. And then I start linking other problems in my life into all this. The book is convincing me that its (secular) meditative techniques will sort out my life for me. So my well-worn scepticism kicks in, as it should, and I’m trying to remain critical. But it does fill me with a great deal of hope. When I understand more about what’s going on in the book I’ll try and put it down in my own terms on here. Tutor says “welcome to humanity Sean”, saying that the reason it fits to closely is that everyone does this stuff.

One example of this, though, is my changed attitude (already) to the above worry: if I’ve written that paragraph four days ago, it’d be very different. I’m accepting of the worry, rather than merely infuriated. This is important.

The other night when I’d finished reading a section and had these sorts of thoughts, I got some serenity, and everything was fine, indeed, everything was great (so I e-mailed the friend I always e-mail when I’m like that). Then I thought: is this my life now, bouncing between being okay (for example last few weeks at home doing philosophy, playing StarCraft and avoiding Maths), being massively existentially critical, and occasionally getting at the serenity that’s all I really want? This is probably good enough for now. But I’m not sure it’s something I want to spend the rest of my life doing. Maybe it’s just required as a philosophy-type.

One thing that made me think that my own year group and I were getting closer was one of them successfully attempting to drag me out to a club on Wednesday; they wouldn’t have tried and I wouldn’t have gone in the past, I suspect. This was in fact the first time I’ve been to a club in Oxford, having been once to one in Sheffield. I had a good time, and also observed something interesting about the people in my year for whom this is the part of their lives they enjoy the most. There were a number of people in my year I’ve never had a non-functional conversation with who came alive with friendliness and warmth out there, not because I was there for once but just because that is their place; when not there, when walking around college where I’m cheery and happy and whatever, they’re really not. Obviously this is an over-exaggeration of the difference. But I felt really sorry for them, and how limited in their enjoyments they seemed to be. Fun requires alcohol, apparently, or at least loud music. Those things can be fun but there are so many things in day to day life in an Oxford college that are a lot of fun too, and it’s a great shame they outwardly seem to be missing out on those.

Shortly time for the freshers’ bop which I am looking forward to because I’ll be seeing a few fourth year friends who haven’t really been around much this week. Unfortunately DJ Quorum (me) won’t be doing a set, despite several requests, but hopefully I’ll be able to do one later in term and enjoy Ali’s 80s dance music instead. The theme is ‘under the sea’ but while I like seeing everyone in fancy dress I hate making a costume so I’ve managed to come up with the minimal-effort ‘seaweed’, which will consist of strips of crepe paper stapled all over my clothes.