From the Ashes (alternative title: Letting Go)

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For the past few weeks I have wanted to write a blog on the theme of “letting go”, yet I could never seem to find the words. Perhaps it is because one can’t write about letting go, until they have actually relinquished completely that which they wished to let go of. I just happen to be the type of person who CANNOT LET THINGS GO. I am one to hold grudges, one to remember tiny details of events from years ago. If you called me fat when I was eleven, you will not be forgotten, your name will be committed to print, because I, like elephants, never forget. But this is not a blog about the negative, but rather, the positive.

Over the past few months, I feel as though I have lost so many things, so many people, so many parts of myself, and that loss has changed me completely. One of my frequent habits is reading through my old diary entries (they only go back 13 months, because I burnt all my pre-Sixth-Form diaries), and over-analysing how much I have changed since they were written. Reading my Year 12 diaries is painful at the best of times, because I wasn’t happy at all last year. Yet lately, there has been a different kind of anguish upon reading: the anguish of forgetting. Somehow, the majority of last year has been wiped from my brain. I can remember events, snatches of conversation, close-up images of important scenes, of important people, but the rest is just a blur.

I’ve always had a good memory, yet now that there are things I want to remember, all I can do is forget. I say that Year Twelve was painful, and it was, but it was painful like the fire which burns the phoenix, the fire from whose ashes a new being can rise. In Year Twelve, and to some extent Year Eleven, I met some of the most wonderful, influential people I have ever known. They were my teachers, and they shaped who I am in so many ways. But all good things come to an end, and they left me, left me for retirement, for promotions, for all the things of the adult world that my teenage brain translates to “abandonment”.

I could write a long list of all the ways in which I have been “abandoned” (quotation marks to emphasise the melodrama), but I don’t want to write about all I have lost, I want to write about what I have gained. Lately, I have focused so much on the soul-destroying feeling of being left behind, and I have therefore forgotten the reason for that pain in the first place: that I have had the opportunity to know these people who have had such an influence on me, who believed in me, who were on my side even when I was wrong. The joy of knowing them must outweigh the pain; it has to.

I lost my teachers, and I found myself. I have always wanted to find myself, to discover the “real Eliza”, rather than the many manifestations of myself that I have endured over the years. Again, my naivety. I perhaps didn’t realise that I have always been myself, that these many manifestations are all aspects of the same person. Now I feel that I do know who I am: I am a good person, moral, conscientious, intelligent, passionate, kind. And I am also very dramatic.

I remember towards the end of Year Twelve, when I was at the height of exam stress, the thing my Media teacher kept saying to me was “Eliza, you’re being dramatic” “Eliza, don’t be dramatic”, “Eliza, Eliza, Eliza, stop being dramatic”. He was (is) one of my favourite people in the world, and he had many insights into my nature, but this was one of the few occasions when he was wrong. For I have never “been” dramatic. I AM dramatic. Drama is my very being. Hell, I’m a writer; I need drama to make my art. It is my dramatic nature which has let me down, but it is also my dramatic nature which kept me going.

I remember when I found out that my Media teacher and my English teacher were leaving, and my first thought was “what if I forget them?” At the time, I thought that this was a very stupid notion, because I could never forget people whom I worshipped to that extent. I was wrong.
I didn’t realise that I was forgetting them at first, it was merely that I focused on specific memories, ones that my over-analytical mind couldn’t possibly turn into anything negative (oh, how it tried). And suddenly those memories were all I had, specific exchanges of conversation, specific smiles that were shared, specific moments of friendly teasing that were so characteristic of our dynamic. And then those memories began to fade too.

After the memories of events, it was memories of appearance which began to go. There are several pictures of them around school, yet I can’t remember what they looked like. My ex-English-teacher was back the other day as a supply teacher, so my memories of her have been refreshed, but I haven’t seen my ex-Media-teacher since July, and I can hardly remember how he looked, in spite of seeing pictures of him. I remember spiky hair, kind eyes, and little details like that, but I can’t remember his smile, I can barely remember his voice. He, one of the most significant people in my life so far, is rapidly vanishing from my mind, and it feels like I’ve lost my best friend. Yet, in spite of all I have forgotten of him, what I remember is his nature. I can still remember things he said to me, like how I’m “one oddball in a long line of oddballs”, or that I’m going to “blossom into an amazing Media student”, and perhaps the reason I remember all that is because those are the aspects of him I still need, the aspects which continue to influence me, even though he is gone from my life.

I had this realisation the other night that I don’t need my ex-teachers anymore, that I have transcended beyond my co-dependant Year Twelve existence. I needed them last year, and because of that, I relied on them too much. But now that they’re gone, I don’t need them anymore, I can truly be independent. I have really good teachers this year, and my new Media teacher is wonderful (he’s even more dramatic than I am!), yet I don’t find myself relying on them the way I relied on my teachers last year. Perhaps this is a sign that I have matured since then, or at least learnt from my mistakes.

Even though I have learnt that independence is the ultimate state of being, I also believe fully in the importance of having teachers that I can rely on, teachers that I can talk to, teachers who support me. Last year, I had some completely phenomenal teachers, but I also had a some who didn’t support me at all, who said I had a “negative attitude” for wanting to be better than an average student (I got the highest grade in the class, so what was that about a negative attitude?). I would rather rely too much on teachers who’ll help me improve than not rely at all on teachers who are apathetic.

The theme of “letting go” also occurred in my school subjects. Throughout the final months of Year 12, all I wanted to do was drop History, but I wasn’t allowed until after results day. Come results day, I got an A in History, and a C in English, leaving me with the huge dilemma of: do I drop the subject which is causing me stress, yet which I have a high grade in, or do I drop the subject that I love, because the exam didn’t go well? Terrible decision maker that I am, I decided to continue all four of my subjects. It worked, for about two weeks. I barely had a single moment of spare time, yet I managed. And then, after perhaps my third week of Year 13, all my resolve vanished. I went from relatively happy, to completely miserable.

It wasn’t just History; it was a combination of factors. I was stressed about school, stressed about re-marks, and I really missed my teachers who’d left. All these issues combined into one great big ball of stress, and I felt like my world was imploding. I didn’t know what to do. All I did know was that I couldn’t continue four A Levels. It was late on the Sunday night when the thought occurred to me: what if I took a leap of faith? What if I dropped History, in spite of my A grade? It was a decision which went against my very nature. I’m the Good Girl, the girl whose main aim in life is to be a straight-A student, the girl who wants to please everybody. On the other hand, I’m also the girl who wants to rebel against the system, smash the Way of Doing Things with a sledgehammer and shake the world to its core.

In spite of my drama, in spite of my protesting voice, I rarely act in pure rebellion, not on anything that matters. But this time, I did. I gambled with my fate. I knew that if my English was re-marked up to a B, I would be fine, I would have the AS grades I would need to get the A Level grades I need next year. Did I wait for my re-mark to come back before I dropped History? Hell no.

(Good news, my English did go up to a B. Rebellion pays off. The revolution will never die.)

After I dropped History, I was a changed girl. I was happy, joyous, full of life. For a day. Then the niggling voice in the back of my mind kept whispering “what if you’ve made the wrong decision? What if you’ve thrown away all your chances of getting into Glasgow uni? What if you’ve just poured your whole future down the drain?” This feeling got worse, as the day after I dropped History happened to be the day when we were allowed to read our progress reports. My History report was so positive, it talked about how I could get an A* next year, what I wonderful student I was. It was the first time that I felt like my History teachers might have actually valued me. I felt awful. I also realised that I didn’t hate History. I hated History A Level, certainly, but I don’t hate history. History was my first great love; before novels, before writing, my heart belonged to history. There are the numbers 1642 in my email address to mark the year my first novel was set (a historical one) because I love history so much. Yet school had made me hate it.

It was later on that day that I knew I had made the right decision. I was sitting in the Sixth Form Study Area, writing my first Year 13 Philosophy essay, and I had this moment of pure, heart-warming love for Philosophy. I loved it in a way I could never love History. I love Philosophy because it lets me be myself, because I can use Aristotle’s theories to “prove” to my teacher that robots have souls, I can criticise the greatest minds of Western Philosophy, and still learn from their philosophies. I love Philosophy because both my teachers of that subject are supportive, and kind, and listen to all my melodrama and see that that is me, but that it is not the only me. Philosophy is the area where I thrive, because it’s not about facts, it’s not about what’s set in stone. Philosophy is about questioning, about learning, about realising how little we know. And Philosophy has changed me. I’ve gone from being an atheist to an agnostic; I’ve gone from being so set in my opinions, to questioning everything. Philosophy has been more than an A Level; it’s been a journey of self-discovery. And by letting go of History, I have the time to revel in my love of Philosophy, in my love of Media, in my love of English. Because I let go of History, I was able to grab onto the subjects that matter to me, the ones that are such an integral part of who I am. By letting go, I can rise from the ashes of my Year 12 self, I can learn from all I have lost, and hopefully, I can blossom. And if I can’t blossom, I know that I at least can burn.

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