I'm fast reaching the conclusion that I'm just not cut out for student life. Not from an academic point of view - I'm fine with that. It's the time away from lectures and seminars that I find tricky. It's odd, because in some ways I'm a stereotypical student - affinity for cheap stuff, listener to the Smiths, play the guitar, odd dietary habits, and so on. Yet in other ways, I'm massively different. I don't drink or do drugs, my dietary habits put me in the minority, my musical tastes are eclectic, and so on.
It all comes down to having a very hazy sense of identity. Most people's friends are people who have similar qualities to themselves - similar tastes, similar interests, similar views, and so on. Most of my friends aren't like that. Of course I don't want to be surrounded by clones of myself, but I would like to know more people whose idea of a good night out is not getting wrecked and making it home with all the limbs they set out with. Yes, there's nothing stopping me sitting in a pub and not drinking, but it becomes very boring very quickly.
Returning to the point of identity, it's all a case of relativity. Your sense of self is related to that of others. You can only be good if others are bad; you can only be generous if others are niggardly. When explaining why you like your friends, you'll probably list ways in which they're similar to you, or to the person you want to be. Let me be explicit: I think all of my friends are wonderful. That's why I'm friends with them. But I think they'd agree that they are very different from myself.
Some people make this similarity thing very easy for themselves by identifying with a subculture. Most of these offer obvious visual clues that someone is just like you, or you are just like them: Goths, Emos, Punks, and so on. All have a distinct visual style that results in an instant comaraderie. Other subcultures are less visual (geeks, artists, writers) but all offer a similar pool of people who you know are going to be pretty similar to yourself.
Here's the kicker: I don't class myself in any of these categories. I'm vaguely hippyish in general, but wait - there's the no drugs thing. I'm getting increasingly cynical, but I like life too much to be goth. I'm into IT but find a lot of the geeky thing irritating. So finding people who "get" me is hard, and that's what it all boils down to - lonliness and isolation.
Returning to the topic of student life, what is there to do for a student like myself? Pubbing and clubbing holds little attraction. London, with its wealth of galleries, exhibitions, live music, and bookstores is too far away to visit regularly on a student budget. Sitting on IRC, coding, or other computer-related stuff just isn't enjoyable when you're either learning about the damn things all year or working in front of a monitor for 8 hours daily. Books are good but antisocial. Canterbury doesn't even have any late-night coffee houses, which might offer a way out.
A lot of this sense of isolation and lonliness would be mitigated if I had some eventual goal, some purpose to strive towards. "It's OK, I'm here as a step towards achieving X." would be a great way to avoid these nagging feelings, but of course I have yet to find an eventual goal or a purpose to my life. I've shied away from the "The purpose in life is to be happy" school of thought because it's pathetically vague. Happiness is a byproduct of doing something; it's finding the something that's the tricky bit.
The point of this article isn't to bitch and moan, or to serve as a self-indulgent rant. I'm trying to get this stuff clear in my own head, as a way of finding a solution. I talk a lot about friends, and having a few more friends like me would probably help, but it's not a solution in itself. Really I need to find some direction, some goal. Recently I've been thinking about forgetting the whole computer gig, and focus on living a rock and roll lifestyle. Drink, drugs, guitar, sex, everything. I would live it up and be a bad example to others. The ultimate goal would be to die in a pool of my own vomit surrounded by unconcious groupies. Attractive as this gloriously hedonistic plan is, I don't think I can bring myself to travel down a road so self-destructive.
As I mentioned before, I don't have a solution to the problem of this fuzzy feeling of discontent. Finding the key to a satisfied mind is tricky, and I have no idea where to look. For now I'm going to keep trying to stay happy in my own company, and spending time with my friends, as a lot of this blends into the background when I'm with them. It would be nice, though, if it were not such a temporary fix.