There is no week in one's life quite like the first week of university, 'Freshers'. For most, a week so hotly anticipated that one can't wait for the futile summer to end so that a new chapter of life can begin. A chapter comprised mainly of unprotected sex, binge drinking and endless hours in mind-numbing nightclubs that cause temporary deafness. I clearly never understood the appeal.
Some have the strength and the will-power to take the road less travelled. To make their own way through university without being shepherded along with the rest of the herd. Unfortunately, I possessed no such will power. I struggled along at the back of the herd like a lame calf who couldn't keep up.
It's not that I was against drinking or had no experience of going out with friends. It was that I was against the culture of it all. The idea that friends are to be made via being locked in a music-filled sweat box never really appealed to me. But then what choice does one have? Society and modern youth culture has imposed its will on the teenagers of today. That is the way that things are done. That is the prescription for fun. But it was not my prescription. Endless bottles of vodka and a constant headache failed to put me in a suitably social mood to feign smiles and force words when asked the same monotonous questions over and over again. I longed for something entirely different.
It took me many weeks to find out what it was that I really longed for. I thought endlessly about how I could make the most of a seemingly terrible situation. I made myself drink and dance all night like the rest of them, but despite the odd good night I was never really satisfied with the university life that I was leading. I couldn't help but wonder why I had worked so hard for the last year to try and get in to university in the first place. Most of all, I couldn't help but wonder if it was me that was the problem. Was I the boring one who disliked 'having a good time' and preferred the easy nights in?
It took me a number of weeks to wrestle with the answer to that question. I eventually concluded that it was me that was the problem. But that didn't necessarily mean that I was wrong. Why is it that we have to conform to these social norms and precedents which seem to dictate how we must live our lives? Why must we be controlled and manipulated by society to think that what everyone else does is the norm?
That's when I decided it. I was leaving. Not for good, mind, just for 4 days. But I was leaving for a good reason. I was going to do what I wanted to do for the first time in months. No more would I shamefully sit in my room whilst down the corridor the banging and booming of the music played by those going for a night out could be heard. Well, at least for 4 days.
Having read numerous books on living in solitude, I wanted to see whether or not I was the problem or it was society. If I could live with myself and my own thoughts for four days without feeling bad for myself and without feeling angry about the situation I found myself in, then I could finally see that I was not the problem.
I had booked a flight to Edinburgh. After landing, I got the soonest train to Fort William. From there, I could see it. Glen Nevis. A natural landscape where one could experience solitude, escape, and hopefully, freedom.
My backpack on and my shoes tied, I walked a few miles into the hills, alone with my thoughts. At first, I questioned what I was doing. Why had I skipped four days of university, not a word said to anyone I knew, and flown to Scotland to live in isolation? But then, as I walked further and further, and the noise of towns and socities started to drift away behind me, I understood. I understood why I had made this strange leap of faith. For the first time, I really did feel free. Like a Henry David Thoreau I was finally alone and extracted from a society I no longer wished to be in. The flowing rivers and the rolling hills all around me reminded me constantly of just how alone I was. A trickle of light rain did nothing to deter me, and with no particular route or agenda I headed for the horizon.
"No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild."
- Alexander Supertramp.
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