The Calling was grand, although FAR TOO HOT. The sweat was sliding down my legs and I was swigging icewater and pissing off the bar staff by asking for "just ice cubes" every ten minutes. I felt slightly guilty for flaking early but I've been drinking pretty much every night for the last two weeks, and tomorrow I need to post cheques and take ID into the renting agency and get stuck into painting if I want to stand a chance of getting this commission finished by the time I go to Sweden.
My heels were giving me blisters so I took my shoes off on Pembroke Street and walked home barefoot. And I realised I'll miss this. Miss being able to slip into college via the kitchen gate and B staircase, through the door I know is always open, stopping in the downstairs toilets there to splash water on my face. I hopped painfully across the gravel and onto the paddock. There were groups of people out, still, sitting on benches in the dark or in loose circles on the grass, the low murmur of their conversation and the occasional burst of laughter drifting through the darkness. The May Week marquee was still up and lit and empty, the grass was soft and cold under my sore feet, and I picked my way under the trees by feel. My skin and the damp, firm ground, feelings its pulse beat against mine: there's nothing supernatural or sublime about it, it's just this place, this life. I'd forgotten my keys but the french windows next door were open and our corridors link on the second floor. For all I never really bonded with many of the people here, however little time I've had for the hockey girls and rugby boys and drunk rowers and socialites, I'll miss knowing this college's secrets, its night-time stairwells and empty rooms, being able to cut across it barefoot on a summer night. It's pitch black outside and there isn't the slightest breeze.
Is the fact that at the moment I can't think about anything other than painting, and how to market my paintings, just another bit of procrastination - an indication that I'll do anything other than revise? Or am I right in suspecting that I shouldn't be aiming to be an academic, I should be aiming to be an artist? I've been trying to read about Pindar's Odes and I have to keep stopping every ten minutes to make a note of a new composition idea, or online portfolio layout, or the design of the flyers I'm planning to leave around Cambridge advertising my work. Is this recent flush of artistic inspiration and drive, which has been steadily building over the last twelve months, the culmination of somewhere I've always been moving towards - an emotional signpost, the fruition of everything so far? Or is it just that faced with revision, anything else seems attractive?
I remember saying all through my adolesence that I would never be an artist because although I acknowledged I had a fair amount of technical skill, I had no original ideas. All I did was copying - I was good at it, but it wasn't new. My sketchbooks weren't explorations, they weren't dynamic, full of scribbles and diary entries and observations, all crowded pages of ink and collage. They were neat examples of illustration. Most of the time what I was illustrating were the stories in my head, but still, I thought that made me a writer of stories, not an artist. This is why I dropped Art at AS Level in order to concentrate on my Greek. This is why it never even crossed my mind to apply to art college, although I was told that I'd have been offered scholarships like a shot. (The girl in the year above me that I had a crush on got a scholarship to Glasgow, and my teachers told me, privately, while I stared at my shoes and felt guilty for wanting to go to Cambridge, that I was better than her.)
That's not true any more, the thing about not having ideas. Of course I still have a very precise and deliberate style; none of that dynamic, creative mess that foundation courses love so much. I'm working on that, as I think a bit of scribbliness and scratchiness and expressionism would do me good. I'm planning to start a series of quick oil sketches from life, for example, assuming I can find sitters. One of the paintings I've had in my head since last summer is so surreal as to be almost abstract and it'll be an exciting deviation from my habitual style. Lots of bold colour and paint sculpting, mixing paint with glue to create big palette-knifed wads of texture, that sort of thing. But more usually, I know exactly what I want to produce, I always have. The image appears fully formed, and all I need to do to work out a detail of it is "zoom in" on the composition in my mind's eye. Preliminary sketches and studies have always seemed redundant. I played along at school and it did my graphite technique a lot of good, but it was never compositionally necessary. I always ended up with exactly the same image I'd started with in my mind - but the teachers wanted at lease a pretense of idea development.
At the moment, I want to be an artist. I don't know if I'm at the my-degree-seeming-pointless stage of academia, or the anything-else-god-PLEASE stage of finals, or whether it's just taken me this long and standing on the proverbial academic cliff-edge for me to realise something. We'll see after finals, I suppose. It's also possible that this is a subconscious defense against the very real fear that I won't get a first, and therefore funding, and therefore the chance to do post-grad, my lifelong ambition. If I convince myself my actual vocation is to something else, the disappointment at having my academic dreams crushed (and my expectations of myself disappointed) will be easier to bear.
At the moment, I feel like as soon as my last exam is over I'll gleefully throw myself into the projects my head is currently filled with. It would be ironic if I worked twice as hard at something else after finals (surely the energy should have gone into the degree) but also, I suppose, a real indication that this is what I should be doing. But the ideas are the biggest hint so far. I'm seeing one or two new paintings every day - all new and fresh and powerful, and it's as much as I can do to memorise the composition and negative space and colour palette, make a mnemonic note or brief sketch of it. I don't know when I'm going to find time to paint them all but that's not the point: the thing is I've never had this many ideas before, ever, and it's startling and unsettling and uncoils energy in me I barely knew was there. Is this what it's like to be found by a Muse? If so, my dear, then you have bloody awful timing.