Saturday, 24 September 2016

An actual fucking X

Overall, I like situated criticism - the idea that being a part of X group gives you a lived experience inaccessible to those outside X, and makes you more qualified to speak on X than someone who doesn't know anything about it. I think it's a good thing. I think historically lived experience has been discredited as subjective and thus not worthy of attention.

However, I don't like certain ways it's used. Namely, I really, really do not like the fact that it can make someone into a token.

For example, let's say that I'm the only woman in a room full of men (a really common situation for me, because of my area of study). Let's also say that I'm the only woman in a room full of men talking about feminism (this has happened). At some point, one of them will get nervous and ask "as a woman, what do you think?".

As a woman, here's what I think: Think for yourselves. You're grown adults. You can deal with criticism from another grown adult. I recognise that as a woman I'm probably going to know womanhood better than a cis man. (Men also know what it is to be a man better than I do, trivially, because I'm not one.) But I don't like being treated as the Authority on All Womanhood. It feels dehumanising; I'm not being treated as Osnat the individual, I'm being treated as the Token Woman we Have to Get Approval From. Doing this makes me feel interchangeable...with 3.5 billion other female humans. It's supposed to be a step towards undoing oppression. It feels like my individual personality has been scrubbed out and replaced with categories.

(Plus, I'm not here to coddle you if I disagree with you. I wouldn't say I'm an especially rude or harsh person. That said, I don't pull punches and I don't enjoy being put into the role of the person who forgives you, or absolves you of your feelings of guilt.)

There's another problem: what happens if two people, who are both actual members of X fucking group, disagree? And what happens if you can't resolve this by looking at who's more privileged than the other?

My partial solution to this is to treat both parties by their individual rules. It's fairest to them and their lived experiences, in my view. (And sometimes people are just clearly, unequivocally wrong.)

The problem is that I'm an actual fucking X for some actual fucking groups which are actually fucking disregarded. And that I don't always agree with other actual members of X fucking group, because we're human and have different experiences. It makes me feel like I'm not a "real" fucking X, which my rational side knows is bullshit but my emotional side still feels.

Part of it is my own insecurity. Part of it is me feeling that I have to list aaaaalllll my privileges and oppressions openly to be deemed a "real" member of group X, else I'm a member of [generic oppressor group here].

At this point, the socially conscious reader is probably done with my shit. (The socially contrarian reader was probably done with my shit a long time ago.) This is just white tears/male tears/cishet tears over having my privilege checked, right? Because I'm used to being coddled?

...Nice try, but not quite. There are good reasons for not publicly listing your privileges and oppressions; for example, it might involve telling people about deep-seated trauma, or the potential to give away identifying information that would get you assaulted or killed. Nobody owes strangers on the internet their health or their safety to avoid being labelled as something they're not. Nobody owes strangers on the internet any information about themselves, full stop.

We might all be members of the same group, but we have different experiences. We're not interchangeable, nor does one of us represent all of us. Hell, "us" as a group might be ludicrously ill-defined, or we might have absolutely zero sense of unity (which seems to be the rule rather than the exception).

We are humans. We are individuals. In individual conversation, treat us that way.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Happy Bi Visibility Day!

Happy Bi Visibility Day, everyone! It's the one day in the year when us bisexuals can finally be seen with the naked eye!

Okay, I'm done being corny - but I'm really glad we have a day to be visible, since we're often ignored or told we're somehow "wrong" by more people than I care to list. (I am angry that basically anyone under the LGBTQIAP+ umbrella who isn't cis L or G is ignored or marginalised.)

(I will be using LGBTQIAP+, even though it's not exhaustive, because other acronyms such as MOGAI [Marginalised Orientations, Genders and Intersex] and GSRM [Gender, Sexual and Romantic Minorities] are less well-known, and LGBTQQIP2SA is long. I personally do not have extremely strong feelings about any of the acronyms, as they're all a bit "eh". I feel like I have now covered most or all of the bases. Sorry if you are now knee-deep in discourse, but I feel like to a certain extent this is required or at the very least extremely common if you don't want to get shouted at.)

I feel like there are a couple of main barriers to visibility. I would like them to be torn down; it's not right that we should feel like we have to lie about our sexuality.

Assuming people are straight
I can understand why the assumption of heterosexuality exists: something like 95% of the population is straight. It's comparatively rare to meet people who aren't. More to the point, it's only fairly recently that not being straight or cis has started to gain acceptance - in many parts of the world it will get you hurt or killed. Not being straight or cis is still very much being Other and different. That permeates everyday life.

The problem is that when people aren't straight, they have to explain why the assumption is wrong. It leads to things like demanding you "prove" your lack of straightness, which happens everywhere from casual conversation all the way up to having to prove you're not straight or risk deportation to a country which persecutes you. It is not an exaggeration to say that the assumption of heterosexuality can kill.

There will probably be at least one person who asks "well, do I assume that somebody's gay then?". I feel that this is really disingenuous, because not assuming anything is a viable alternative. We have gender-neutral terms for romantic and sexual partners, and "they" has been used in a gender-neutral sense for centuries. It's used quite commonly.

Prove you're "really" bisexual!
This one really, really upsets me. It goes hand in hand with assuming that people are straight. If you think someone's straight and then they claim to be something else, of course you're going to ask for proof.

The problem is that it's not always easy to give proof. For me, bisexuality is in attraction. Trying to get data out of that requires measuring arousal. Even if people could get that data easily, this is like asking a complete stranger for their medical records.

...So most people base their evaluations on your sexual partners. This is biased as all hell, especially against people with few or no sexual partners at all, and it's ridiculously easy for someone who's already assuming you're faking it to conveniently discount some of your partners.

It's pretty invasive and upsetting to feel like you've got to disclose something fairly intimate about yourself just to be believed. Imagine if someone came up to you, disbelieved you about your sexual orientation, and then demanded proof. You'd be insulted too.

A variation on this is talking to someone about "fake bisexuals" - someone else has told you they're bi, but you don't believe it, and now you're telling someone else. I can't speak for other people, but for me this is the equivalent of writing "DON'T TRUST ME" on your forehead. The other thing is that bisexuals are not always attracted equally to different genders. Some of us are, but not always. Some people are more attracted to different genders at different times. The key point is "attraction to multiple genders", not "attraction to multiple genders equally".

So you disbelieve someone? I'm not going to lecture you on your morals, as I don't believe it would have any point, but someone's sexuality not manifesting itself as you expect is no skin off your nose.

Bisexuals are half-gay, or half-straight and don't belong in LGBTQIAP+ spaces
This is based on some weird assumption that bisexuals are what happens if you blend a straight person and a gay person together.

I view it slightly differently: bisexuality is fundamentally different. It's about being attracted to multiple genders, rather than exclusively your gender or exclusively a different gender. So it's not about being half-gay, or about bisexuality being "just a phase". (Some people have been in that phase all their lives and are quite happy there. Shocker, I know.) We're also not confused: we're quite certain of our identities, thanks very much.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of marginalisation and erasure in LGBTQIAP+ spaces, and it can be hard if you feel like you don't fit a certain image, or you don't feel "gay enough".

We belong. Never forget that bisexual people were and are instrumental in LGBTQIAP+ liberation.

The belief that bisexuals are greedy
Being told this winds me up no end. Like most biphobic tropes, it makes absolutely no sense and it's needlessly cruel.

The idea seems to be that because bisexual people are attracted to multiple genders, we can't be happy unless we're having sex with everyone all of the time.

I don't like comparing people to food, but consider this analogy: Imagine some people like cake and some people like ice cream. Imagine, too, that some people like cake and ice cream at the same time.

Are those people greedy? No - they just like different foods. Being attracted to multiple genders says nothing about how you act on that attraction.

Some bisexuals are in monogamous relationships. Some bisexuals aren't. Some bisexuals don't want long-term relationships at all. Some bisexuals only want long-term relationships. It's to do with someone's personality, not their sexuality.

And yes, some bisexuals do cheat, or screw over their partners, or act abusively. We're regular human beings, not angels or devils. That's on the individual. Not their sexuality.

So there you go. We're visible, we're complex, and we're here.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

On solving problems from the inside

When I was a little girl, one of my favourite novels was a slim volume called The Great Good Thing. It tells the story of a spirited princess, Sylvie, who lives in a storybook kingdom - a literal storybook kingdom, since she's a fairytale character. Not content with living inside the book's margins, her courage and resourcefulness allow her to save her story.

One section always stuck in my mind. Towards the end of the book, Sylvie is facing something she really, really doesn't want to do. She has no idea if her plan will work, and if it fails, everyone dies. A kindly maths teacher, who has advised her through most of the second half of the novel, tells her that "you can't solve a problem from the inside" - that is, you have to look outwards, even if it's uncomfortable.

Although I haven't touched the book since I was in single digits, and I find it really corny now, that line always stuck with me - and probably even influenced my attitude to problem-solving!

Okay, that's the exposition done. Now we cut to me as a not-quite-adult, a twenty-year-old with a love of science and a predisposition to having existential crises. Not-quite-adult me tries to think Deep Thoughts about the nature of science and reality, but isn't very good at it.

Up until recently, not-quite-adult me was pretty hard-headed, influenced heavily by Alan Sokal. I believed that only people with a scientific background should do work in philosophy of science. This is because scientific terms are ridiculously easy to misappropriate and misuse - it's where quantum woo comes from.

Nowadays it's a bit more complicated than that; after looking into things, I found that academia in general is pretty shoddy when it comes to accepting fancy-looking nonsense, Sokal and his collaborator Bricmont took quotes out of context, and many who contribute to the philosophy of science do have a scientific background. This is the only piece of information I'm remotely happy about. Even then, people with actual, accredited, non-shitty science degrees have been accused of not understanding science adequately, so...

...This links into what I want to talk about quite nicely. For example, if I want to practise science, theoretically I should know about the scientific method. Scientists, who work within the scientific method, are best placed to draw on their experiences and construct an ideal method. So far, so good.

As any first-year undergraduate can tell you, what the physics is supposed to do in theory and what the physics actually does in reality are quite different. So in theory, I do know about the scientific method. In practice, I find the scientific method excruciatingly hard to describe beyond incredibly basic concepts like "a fair test". I'm sure the ungenerous reader could put this down to me not being good at articulating myself, but I think a large part of it is that nobody practises the ideal scientific method we talk about. People get tired and cut corners, or make mistakes, or have personal prejudices, or don't repeat their experiments, or publish junk science, or any of a million other things which can go against the ideal. I can't describe what the scientific method is, but I sure as hell can describe what it isn't.

This is where the philosophers come in. I don't have the necessary critical distance from science, because my degree trains me for it and I work in the labs for a full day. For every attempt someone makes to demarcate science and pseudoscience, or to codify an ideal scientific method, I can point to an example and say "this is science, but under your definition it wouldn't be". In other words, I'm on the inside, and I can't solve these problems from the inside. Someone needs to come in and look at them from the outside - only then can we have critical distance and new ideas.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Why everyone should listen to a cappella music at least once

I have a problem with musical imagery. Music is always playing in my head - so I put on more music to drown it out. I also get bored reasonably easily and keep looking for new music to listen to.

I whacked on some early music - Renaissance and Baroque stuff - because I hadn't listened to it in a while and I genuinely like it. (Yes, I'm pretentious. Complexity is my thing and early music offers plenty of it.)

I haven't done any choral singing since July, so hearing a cappella music was something of a shock - like being slapped in the face with colour. I forgot how much I missed it.

Unless you're into certain types of music, you're unlikely to come across much a cappella music, or even care that much. I think people should care more.

Firstly, a cappella music emphasises the voice far more than usual. When you sing a cappella, you have no instruments to help keep you in time or on pitch, or to "mask" your voice. You just have you, and maybe an audible echo. The effects vary: purity for an ensemble, maybe, or rawness and vulnerability for a solo voice. But they're effects heightened by the lack of instrumentation.

Instrumentation is opaque. A cappella is more exposed, more transparent. It's valuable.

Secondly, a cappella music can be technically demanding. (I'm a technical snob. I go for this sort of thing.) As I already said, there's no instrumentation to follow; you have to look at and listen to others. There's nothing to double your vocal line - and what's worse is that many people tend to go flat over the course of a piece. If you're singing and don't have absolute pitch, you probably won't be able to hear this, but an audience will. Learning how to work with this takes time and effort, and I respect anyone who does this. At the same time, one voice alone can have a raw, unpolished effect which works really, really well.

Finally, a cappella music provides its own background. In particular, choral a cappella music for common practice was written to be performed in traditional churches and cathedrals, where the sound reverberates around the space and you can get harmonics quite easily. When you have many different vocal lines singing together, you get echoes and overtones. They're subtle, but they're there, and they enrich the piece greatly.

Music without accompaniment is music like no other - and it spans many genres. At least give it a try.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that

Recently I went on a rant about how slating the eeeeevil Big Pharma without acknowledging that some people need medication to function fucks over disabled people.

(For the people in the back, if the evil drugs from evil Big Pharma didn't exist, a hell of a lot more people would be dead. I hate a lot of drug companies' practices. I also acknowledge that illness is a real thing, and that medication can work even if development and marketing of drugs is done in a hugely troubling way, because I am not comfortable writing off millions of people's lives.)

What I find grating is that several of the people who complain about how mental illness isn't real have...absolutely zero experience with mental illness, either as living with one or as having any kind of medical training. This is unsurprising; the less experience people have with a subject, the worse they are at appraising their own competence.

They tend to assume that treatment for a mental illness is always medication or electroshock therapy (which is rightly controversial; use varies widely between different countries). They also forget how many families of medication exist; for example, a lot of people assume that SSRIs are the only medication available for depression. They're really not. Here is a quick list I grabbed from Wikipedia. Note that SSRIs are one of about ten different families, excluding combination treatments, adjuncts and agents under development.

Interestingly, they tend to forget that talking treatments exist - even though they're an incredibly important part of mental health care - and usually just brush them off as "oh, these are fine". I have no idea why this is. Maybe sitting in a room with a therapist has less of a fear factor than medication does?

They also tend to forget that treatments can be used together; for example, combining medications and talking treatments is common (and effective). Or that there's more than one way of treating the same condition and very much depends on individual circumstances (and how understanding your doctor is).

I don't mean to portray psychiatry or pharmaceutical companies as golden, because there's a lot wrong. I personally think that talking treatments should be more widely available, compared to basically being sent away with medication after a 5-minute appointment (the NHS is ridiculously overstretched). I think that information on what treatment is best for the individual should be more widely available as well.

Most of all, I'm fed up of sane people with no medical experience deciding that somebody died and made them Emperor of Mental Health Care. There's a lot wrong systematically which needs to be fixed, but blabbing without knowing the first thing about mental health care only makes matters worse.

Monday, 19 September 2016

How to complain (and be happy)

The US and the UK share a lot of things - language, food and so on. One thing we don't seem to share is culture - or rather, a certain aspect of culture.

I have never spent significant periods of time in the US, so my only exposure to American culture is through their media: publications, TV, movies and American people posting on social media. As such I acknowledge that I have a very limited and fragmented view of US culture.

One thing does strike me: American people are much more focused on positivity in the sense of being generally upbeat and smiley. In fact, Americans pioneered the new thought movement (a precursor to the belief that you can influence the world with your thoughts) and a lot of the self-help genre as we know it today.

In particular, the US is focused on being positive by avoiding anything or anyone deemed "negative". As in "no negative thoughts allowed", "complaining is bad for you", and so on. Thankfully, it seems to be getting better; I don't think a movie like Inside Out could have been made five years ago, for example.

Part of my disregard for this particular attitude to happiness is based on my own personal experiences; I have issues with bottling up negative emotions. Turns out that when your brain is insisting something is wrong, ignoring it is a bad idea. Instead, what's worked for me (and many other people) is being able to express those emotions in an environment which acknowledges their existence. Part of my disregard for this particular attitude is that I live in the UK and was brought up differently; here complaining isn't something to be pathologised, it's practically a national sport.

I actually think complaining, when done in moderation, can be good for you. Obviously part of this comes from me being brought up in a culture where complaining is pretty prevalent, but part of this also comes from me thinking there's something of a skill to complaining.

People who aren't used to complaining will probably be confused by this, but there is a skill.

Complaining is a social thing; you complain to someone else. Having someone else to complain to is why it's important and why you don't get the same effect from writing in your diary. As such, you try and make your complaint interesting to your listeners. You play on how weird or egregious or absurd this situation is - and sometimes, it makes you laugh because it's so weird. And you get to talk about the things upsetting you in a supportive environment to boot!

Complaining and happiness aren't mutually exclusive. Blowing off steam is good for you - and it fosters a sense of humour too.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

What would you tell yourself going into first year?


It's the day before freshers' week starts, which means that uni marketing has gotten slightly ridiculous (not sure why...we're all already signed up to be screwed out of money...maybe this is to make us feel better...). One question popping up over shiny social media is "what advice would you give to your first-year self?".

I screwed up a lot in first year. Hey, at least I've not screwed up too badly this year; true, that's mostly because I haven't actually started it yet, but I'm trying to feel more positive about myself. As such, I feel qualified to give first-year me a lot of (hopefully useful) advice. And if any first years come across this, I really hope this helps!

0: Keep an eye on your physical and mental health and seek help immediately if you feel unwell.
This is 0th on the list because it's the most important. You will have many, many chances to do well at basically everything. The thing with a body or a psyche is that you only have one. Please learn your reactions to things - which ones benefit you and which ones harm you. Don't just leave a symptom and hope that it will pass; if you put yourself under stress it might not. Please take it from somebody who overworked herself and didn't seek help until she was in a very bad state.

1: Go the hell to sleep.
Okay, we get it, you're at uni. Nobody's telling you to go to lectures, handing work in on time is up to you to do, first year might not even count for you, and nobody's telling you when you can or can't go out.

Unfortunately, your body still totally hates you if you don't sleep enough. What that means is up to your body - when you start feeling sleepy, how long you sleep for and so on...and sleep deprivation has a whole host of consequences, from mood and memory problems to weight loss or gain to adverse effects on the body healing itself to hallucinations (mine were harmless, but annoying and a bit boring).

Try and set a time to go to bed by and get yourself into a routine. If you can, keep your sleeping space and your work space separate (and avoid looking at your phone in bed...I sound like a grandma, I know, but the blue light messes with your brain and keeps you awake). I find that stopping myself from pulling all-nighters, except in dire circumstances, motivates me to work. Also, sleep is nice.

This doesn't mean that you can't go out and get home at 6am, just that doing that most of the time is a bad idea. It's really hard not to sound like a frumpy grandma saying this, so let me elaborate: I'm not opposed to the idea of having fun. It's just that when you haven't slept well in several weeks because you've been going out and pulling all-nighters, having fun is hard. Save yourself that experience and go the fuck to sleep.

(Me? I wrote this earlier and scheduled it. Although I stayed awake quite late, to be fair.)

2: Try not to skimp on food.
Student loans are shit. Buying perishables is expensive. Preparing and cooking meals is time-consuming. That said, your body will hate you if you don't put enough fruit and vegetables into it. (I am still working on this one, to be honest.) Your mood will drop, you might start coming down with random illnesses, and your body will be sending you not-so-subtle signals of "feed me this".

Making food you can then store works for some people, or using things like instant noodles as a base and then chucking in vegetables. Some people cook all of their meals from scratch; some don't for whatever reason. As long as you're eating a couple of meals a day and getting some measure of balance - that's important.

3: University is nothing like school.
Actually, this is probably something you've been told multiple times, about how the onus is all on you to do work. You have to experience it for yourself, though.

In general, tutors and lecturers won't chase after you for attendance or handing in work unless you haven't shown up for a long time (8-10 weeks). You might still receive penalties, but you will be expected to know what they are and the consequences of not doing the work without someone else poking you. There is also a great deal of help available - advice services, emailing tutors and lecturers, demonstrators and so on - but it is incumbent on you personally to seek it out. This is the main difference: nobody chases after you to help or chide you. To some students this might seem like apathy, and apathy's probably a part of that. At the same time, it's meant to encourage self-discipline (albeit in a really messed-up way).

University is nothing like school in another important way: exams are very different. You will not be prepped for exams by your lecturers or tutors; if they are nice, they will explain the exam format to you and give you some revision handouts, but that's it. If you want help on prepping for exams, you ask a lecturer or tutor about a specific question; they might also tell you when to start revising, but it's pretty vague. You should probably start about halfway through the semester to effectively revise all the material.

While past papers are available - up to 20 years of them - mark schemes are generally more difficult to get hold of. For quantitative subjects, you'll get bottom-line answers (just the solutions and no working). I'm not sure what it's like for qualitative exams. For older exams, bottom-line answers may not be available at all. Instead, your best bet is to look at exam feedback to see how to approach the exam. Technique is as important as ever.

Because of the lack of obvious solutions, it can be really helpful to discuss problems with people on your course. Which brings me to...

4: Don't be afraid to ask for help.
Help is not going to come to you if you sit there - you have to ask for it. And you should; university is hard, because a lot of material is thrown at you in a reasonably short time. If you don't ask for help, you will sit there and be confused. So swallow your pride and ask - there are hundreds of people who are, amongst many other things, paid to help you.

5: Just because it's first year doesn't mean you shouldn't work.
For a lot of people, first year either doesn't count or only counts for a tiny percentage. Honestly, you might be too busy adjusting to living away from home anyway to really focus on work. (That's why first year has so little weighting in your final degree classification; universities understand that students are adjusting.) And uni's supposed to be fun, right?

Yes, university is supposed to be fun. I'm certainly really enjoying it, even with all the stress, because I'm doing what I want to do.

The thing is that university can be much harder on you if you miss material, because you don't get a huge amount of time to hone your skills and notes or podcasts may not be available. And even if you don't do anything, what you do in the next years at uni will build on what you did in first year. If your course hates you, it's entirely possible you'll have to take exams which test all the material you've learned...including the things you skimped on in first year.

6: Organise!
If you're anything like I was, you're probably recoiling from that word in horror. People like us have systems.

Honestly, nobody's expecting you to have a super-ultra-pretty organised environment like studyblrs show. (People who run studyblrs: I love your aesthetic, I just have no idea how you have your workspace so organised. Entropy hates me.) But it's really easy for the world to get on top of you. It helps to be able to order the tasks you're doing in some sort of methodical way.

7: Results you're not happy with aren't the end of the world.
Some of you out there are probably used to getting 90-100 UMS points on everything. The first time you look at your exam results and see a 60 you might even cry; I know I did.

But first year is relatively unimportant in your final degree classification. It's okay to make mistakes - plenty of them, actually. The important thing is to not fail - and even then, there are resits (I've not had to take one yet, to be fair, but it's better than not having them as an option at all). And a 2:1 is usually good for most things. You can always request to look at your exam script or discuss your performance with your tutor to see what happened. You can keep improving and keep trying - that's what's important. It's not like A-levels, where at least a year of your life hinges on them. It's closer to a very long continuous assessment where the final decision comes down to whether anyone will actually hire you.

Some people will be horribly snide about your results. Those people are terrible and their opinions don't matter; learning to block them out is a skill.

8: It's okay not to have a placement.
Do you remember the careers service at your school or college? Did you miss them? I hope you did, because they're back again and as intense as ever.

Don't get me wrong, they can be helpful, but they can also cause a lot of employment anxiety. It's your first year. Nobody expects you to have a placement - in fact, many institutions won't offer placements for first-year undergraduates. It's great if you can get one, but nobody's going to dismiss you as forever unemployable if you don't.

(Seriously. Spend that summer having fun.)

9: Don't go ham on the societies.
I will be the first person to say I'm a fan of university societies. I think they're a great way to make friends, do something you enjoy and possibly make yourself look shiny and employable (volunteering and organisation in particular look great).

Really, though, pick 2 or 3 and stick to them for at least the next semester. While each society might only require a couple of hours in the week, that adds up very quickly and particularly for students who already have a lot of contact hours.

10: Please be nice to your flatmates.
You will almost certainly be living in shared accommodation. (If not, I would like to know your secret.) You probably have to share things like kitchens and bathrooms - things which are not as communal as people like to think they are.

Don't treat the people you live with like shit. Noise and parties are okay but if some people have early mornings (or it's exam season) you are basically impeding them from feeling comfortable in the space they have to live in for the next year. The communal space is communal, so making the people who also need to use it really uncomfortable using it is shitty. Having people over to stay is okay, but if you decide to bring in a new housemate or flatmate (or someone who pretty much permanently lives at yours) at least discuss it with your other flatmates first. Particularly when you have to pay for your own utilities, having someone living rent-free while using the flat everyone else is paying for can cause a lot of resentment. And passive aggression will also cause a lot of resentment...

...Lastly, don't vandalise other people's stuff with bigoted slurs or sexually harass your flatmates. I have no idea how you fuck up badly enough to think either of these things are okay to do to anyone, but people still do it.

11: Most people suck at living in shared accommodation, so don't assume it's your fault for not being "good enough" to live with other people.
In the last section, I probably came over as a little sanctimonious, didn't I? Or a bit of a killjoy telling you not to have parties in your own flat. Maybe if you were to live with me, you'd think I was a bit of a pig, or too antisocial. Maybe I wouldn't much like having you as a flatmate either for any number of reasons.

This is okay.

Living in shared accommodation is hard. Everyone needs some level of space and privacy, and when you live in the same space with other people you have nowhere to go but your own bedroom. You might not also have much in common with your flatmates, which can make things awkward. Or you might have radically different personalities or attitudes to housekeeping; some people will sweep up and do the vacuuming every one or two weeks, while other people might snap at you for not cleaning up when you're feeling very ill.

I actually felt very relieved when my friend told me this. Some people get on very well with their flatmates, and if you're one of them I'm glad for you. Most people...don't. It's not really anyone's fault or a sign of being a bad person; it's a consequence of needing space.

12: Fun is important too.
I've probably made uni sound quite daunting, what with all my talk about taking care of your health, working and being a decent flatmate. Man, I really do sound like a grandma...

...At the same time, uni is a very unique experience. You can be doing things you love, making new friends and feeling accepted. Nobody's telling you what to do; you have to figure it out for yourself. That is difficult. Some people enjoy it. Some don't.

(Also, you will never have summers that long again.)

There's a lot of guff going around about how uni is supposed to be the best time of your life and I feel like it puts an awful lot of pressure on people to enjoy themselves even when their environment is making them feel miserable - which it can easily do at uni.

The best thing to do is not to pressure yourself, but to listen to yourself. That's how you figure things out and carve out a happy little niche for yourself.

I know I've probably sounded like a boring adult who doesn't really know what the concept of fun is in this post. I know you're probably itching to get away and live your life without people nagging you.

Here's the thing: adulting is hard and boring. Yes, it also allows you to have a lot of fun, but the reason it allows you to have a lot of fun is bound up intimately with the reason it's hard and boring.

You have a lot more responsibility for doing things yourself - organising your own learning, your own space and your own health. Standing or falling your on your own might feel great, but it also means making a lot of mistakes and figuring out how to fix them, which requires yep, you guessed it...things like trying to get actual sleep, working and eating semi-properly. With that responsibility also comes accountability towards others; because you're more adult, people have less of a responsibility to protect you. If you don't do work, you're accountable for the consequences - there are hundreds of undergraduates on one course alone and while nobody will chase you up, they still have to grade you. If you treat your flatmates badly, you're accountable to them and they are under no obligation to pussyfoot around your behaviour.

(I mean, complain about them all you want. They will still hold you accountable for your actions.)

Nobody wakes up one day and decides to be a killjoy. We discover that our bodies physically can't handle our idea of what life should be like, and that the rest of the world isn't too keen on conforming to it either.

Despite that, this whole life business is rather short and silly, and we try our best to have fun and not take the whole thing too seriously.