Tag: Planning

I need reading week

(much like I need oxygen or the excitable voice of Superjeenius as he plays Phoenix Wright blind)

I know that medics, lawyers and anyone doing a degree slightly more employable than a BTec in remedial knitting will take reading week as just another seven-day span of revision, stress and underappreciation that mirrors about 98% of adult employment, but for a special creative snowflake such as myself, I need this bloody week.

It’s not that I’ll be noticeably freer over these seven days; I visit uni less frequently than one uses Kanji as a party member in Persona 4. And my writing and society responsibilities aren’t going to bugger off into the either just because some administrative bigwig at UCL arbitrarily circled this upcoming stretch of days as ‘days off’. It’s just the concept of ‘no classes’ that sings to me, like a siren dragging me towards evenings of Football Manager, Doritos and sandwiching my feet under my desk between two pillows like giant monolithic slippers.

Often, I feel that stress only has an impact on your life if you define yourself as ‘stressed’. I’ve worked through the hell of A-levels, which is objectively the busiest few months of my life, but never felt strained or stretched as I didn’t think that I was getting stressed, only that I was getting work done. Similarly, hammering out a dozen articles a day can feel rather easy if I don’t think about the scale of work I have to do, and instead focus on that work. Without context, stress ceases to exist, as one’s to-do list becomes nothing more than a series of individual tasks.

Yet recently, I’ve had to contextualise my actions. Whenever I’m reading a piece in Old English, I’m aware that my work counts towards my degree, and immediately start questioning if this degree is worth the tear-inducing debt I’ve racked up to pay for it. When I write for The Game Shelf, I’m not just thinking about the article in question, but how that article feeds into the broader identity and appeal of the magazine, it being the project I’m most serious about pushing to a profitable state (at least on a part-time basis). As my life becomes more real life, it becomes harder to focus on tasks and distance them from their scary, stressy contexts, and panic and fatigue quickly sets in.

The best part, however, is that there isn’t really a solution as far as I can see. I can’t be oblivious to the broader consequences of my actions, because they’re more real than ever before; if I don’t take paying my bills seriously, I won’t have a home; and if I don’t take my degree seriously, I won’t have a job. I’m aware that I’m defining a lot of my future in the negative, but that’s just how responsibility makes you think. Instead of doing task for benefit y, you’re doing it to avoid consequence z. Equally, I’m not going to let off on any of my activities, because they’re all engaging and fun and I’d honestly struggle to justify dropping one instead of another based on arbitrary and subjective definitions of ‘usefulness’ (apart from my addiction to Persona 3; I’m pretty sure I’ll only get better grades if I cut down on that). So in the absence of an answer, I’ve stuck it out, to wait for a temporary reprieve from the madness and fear. This seems to be the default response for a lot of people my age, and until I graduate, and have time to consider my experience, qualifications, interests and dreams, that’ll have to do.

Of course, by then it’ll all be too late, and I’ll have to give up, become a secondary school English teacher and get a cat to keep me company.

My bloody emulator crashed

(a poor end to a wonderful nerdy day)

With my friends playing through the first five hours of Persona 4, bouts of Mario Kart to break up the single-playering, and me booting up my emulated copy of Golden Sun, today promised to be a wonderful day. And, for the overwhelming majority of it, it was! Right up until my emulator crashed and I lost two hours of progress.

And this isn’t a ‘remember to save often, kids!’ narrative; I’d been saving every fifteen minutes or so, as I always do; the emulator itself broke down, losing all of my progress from the two-hour session I’d just trawled through. Because the gods of gaming are cruel masters.

But I’m not too pissed off. Obviously the loss of progress is annoying, but getting through Donpa’s Fortress wasn’t the main attraction of the day. I’ve been stressed out a lot lately, not because I’m doing a lot of things but because a lot of those responsibilities have had deadlines or big projects all happening at once, and while I’ve kept on top of things it has been at the sacrifice of free time, and relaxation. Effective time management isn’t about cramming lots of activities together like a jigsaw, but factoring in recovery periods, and setting aside days where you don’t plan anything and just let the day take you somewhere; I’ve missed out on these important times for a few weeks now, and it was awesome to get one of them back.

Because over-scheduling can be a killer; I’ve been going to a few social events recently that have been scheduled well in advance, and were structured ‘events’, rather than spontaneous hanging-out. And while I enjoy those kind of things more than, say, work, they’re not very relaxing (especially if they involve ‘going out’, which requires on my part a conscious effort to be sociable or friendly because God knows those things don’t come easily to me).

But today was relaxing. And fun. And spontaneous; it’s impossible to schedule spontaneity into one’s routine, the best we can do is hope for random awesomeness when we need it. Fortunately this time, I got to chill with my friends when I did need it.

Crawling towards the finish line

(fuelled by vegan crisps and soya milk)

I have an essay due on Monday morning and it’s 99% done. Yesterday it was 98% done. The day before, about 94%. The day before that, more like 31%.

This is a pattern I’ve noticed over the last few essays, that as my workload dwindles, so does my motivation to do it. Today, all I had to do was a conclusion, critics and edit, and managed to tick off one of those things, knowing that I could spend all day Sunday plodding through the other two.

And I’m certainly motivated by large workloads; my gaming magazine The Game Shelf (which I’m so amazingly proud of and the people behind it) is going through a slight rough patch as one of our writers has lost literally all the free time in the world, and so can’t contribute for a few weeks. I’m taking over their slots, meaning my written workload – on that site at least – has doubled; but in spite of being exhausted, perilously busy and still a bit sick, I don’t want to do anything other than work on those pieces.

Even for this essay, I charged into its planning stage, reading eight or so books in two days to adequately prepare my mind for the task ahead; the annoying inevitability is that while my understanding is sound, I’ll get a shit mark because I’m devoting less time to the end of this process, the actual polishing of the essay.

Back in the day, I used to run at school. Not at a very high level, but well enough that I could point to ‘running’ as my particular athletic speciality; but my style was always to run hard at the start of races, power ahead of my rivals then try to cling on until the finish line. And I’m doing that with my writing; like a child, I go through brief periods of great eagerness for projects, especially at their inception, but my motivation flags as these projects near completion. This is why I’ve been able to stick to open-ended, intentionally indefinite projects like this blog and The Game Shelf, while I’ve struggled completing more time-based activities, like NaNoWriMo.

 I guess I don’t like completing things; I like throwing myself into things that I’ll always be able to throw myself into, plugging away at projects for the satisfaction of doing, as opposed for the satisfaction of having done. This might end up hamstringing any attempts to write finished novels in my future, but for the time being I’m crawling towards the finish line, with an eye always on the endless horizon.

Challenge Accepted!

(I don’t always accept challenges … who am I kidding, I take them on all the bloody time)

I met my tutor for the upcoming year today, and was set an essay on a text I’ve not read, in a historical period I know nothing about. It’s due in eleven days.

The faults here – if we can call them faults – are entirely mine; I’ve neglected large parts of my reading lists in favour of blogging and social media projects that I won’t link to now because I want to prove to myself that I can mention my hobbies without ramming them down the throats of the innocent, and am now living with those consequences. I need to learn about a thing I should have learned about, in a much shorter period of time than I would ideally have to learn about it.

But I don’t think this is a bad thing. Deadlines are great motivators, and now I’ll have to be enthused about the subject matter because my studying of it will be squashed into the sort of time frame that will require round-the-clock devotion to metaphors. It’s also good, for me anyway, to have deadlines imposed from others, as I value those to a far greater extent than ones I set for myself: if I fail to hit a reading deadline, it’s my knowledge that suffers, and I don’t really matter so it’s fine; but if I miss an essay deadline, my tutor’s life and (presumably) tight schedule of receiving and reviewing pieces becomes skewed. As a keeper of many colour-coded planning grids, this is an awful fate.

It’s also been good to engage with my degree; Facebook page renamings and sporadic mechanical emails, mass-sent to the unwashed masses that constitute the UCL English Department student body, because we’re interchangeable parts, are nice but face-to-face communication is a much better thing. In the heady mixture of article-editing, child-tutoring and breadline-living that is the vast majority of my life, it’s easy to forget that I’m actually studying medieval literature, a thing that I rather enjoy.

So bring it on, essays. I’m ready. Mentally, if not logistically.

Is this blog a good thing anymore?

(an existential blogging crisis!)

I started this blog to write. To put words to paper every day, as an exercise in self-disciple and improving my writing skill through the medium of endless practice, backed up by review and interaction from readers; to these ends, this blog has been nothing but a success beyond my wildest naff metaphors.

But in many ways, it’s gone too far. This is no longer my chief writing project: in terms of academia, that honour goes to my degree; in terms of fictional prose, that’d be my novel; for poetry, my writing blog; for journalism, Public Pressure and Sportsemic; and for gaming, the greatest of my passions, I have The Game Shelf. However, it is the project that takes up the greatest amount of my time, and is one I feel obliged to contribute towards every day; at this point in my life, the input is greater than the output.

This isn’t to say that this blog, and especially the people who read it and engage with it, are somehow worth ‘less’ to me now than two years ago, but the rest of my life has changed around it. I feel obliged to hammer out a new post every day, regardless of its quality, while there is less motivation to write a new journalistic piece regularly, when I’m better at, would benefit more from, and perhaps enjoy to a greater extent, the latter.

I feel like this blog is a very seventeen-year-old James project, an ambitious attempt to hone a largely theoretical skill through discipline and personal commitment. This blog reflected that strange marriage of the creative and the relentless skills that go into working towards an A-level in English, but my life isn’t about such a singular goal any more. These days, I flit from wanting to be a novelist to a gaming critic, to a game designer, to a poet, and occasionally a punk bassist or rapper; this blog is an island of needless rigidity and obligation in a turbulent sea of ideas and experimentation.

But is there a solution? If I change the posting schedule – say, weekly, instead of daily – there’s still the imposition of an arbitrary schedule, and if I abandon a schedule altogether this blog becomes a totally different beast. Could I scrap the blog altogether, and go in all with the pretentious journalism?

Definitely worth a think.

In the short-term, obviously, nothing will change on the blogging front. It’s good to have some kind of creative obligation like this, especially on days where I can’t think of anything to write about NOFX or the World Karate Federation, because it makes (and has made) writing into my life, rather than a hobby within it. I may have to reconsider the importance of this blog – as it’s no longer my main creative project, I might ease up on the need to write every day – or at least the length and format of my posts to make writing every day easier, but for the time being there won’t be any changes in how I write.

There’ll be lots of changes, however, in the way I approach and think about my writing; and that may be the most important consideration to take away from these 23 months and 600 posts’ worth of words.

A Stressful Post About Stress

(stressception. Do people even say that any more?)

With 28 minutes to go until midnight ticks over and this post will technically be late, I think I’m in an appropriately stressed mindset to talk about stress.

Stress has always been a strange feeling for me because I attribute it to a lack or failure of planning; if you consider that you’re probably going to be awake for sixteen hours a day, every day suddenly you don’t run out of time for anything, you only run out of available time because there are enough hours in the day to do your stuff, you’ve just spent half of them playing Clash of Kings. This is why I tend to take on far more projects than seem reasonable, or even possible, because I know that your time can essentially be limitless if it’s managed properly. While I’d say writing is my greatest skill, I’d put time management and personal organisation pretty high up the list, just after my skill in picking adorable nerdy t-shirts from Teeturtle. This also means that I’ll often come across like a bit of a dick when talking about managing one’s time – and why I’ve not explicitly written about stress on this blog before – because my answer to someone not being able to juggle several responsibilities at once is always a dismissive ‘just manage your time better’.

But this week I’ve been very stressed, as my scheduling has broken down somewhat; a combination of screwed-up sleep patterns because of some inconvenient but actually very sensible doctors’ orders, the boundless enthusiasm of starting a new studying technique and resulting relentless desire to work, and the surprisingly difficult world of starting an ambitious new project from scratch has left me tired, and worried, and pissed off for large periods of the day. I don’t have time to walk every day, I can’t talk to my friends because I need to spend four straight hours with my nose in a book, and I may or may not have ignored my parents’ texts for the last two days. But I’ve not suddenly gotten worse at planning my time, I think I’ve just hit my limit in terms of the number of hours a day I can commit to working.

On Tuesday, for instance, I was up at nine, and didn’t stop working until eleven that evening; on Wednesday I was working from 7am to about 2am the next day (with breaks for playing footy and watching Bake-Off in between), and yesterday I was up for twelve hours, and worked for all but one of them. And I’m still falling behind on a few magazines, and my Old Icelandic work has been shelved indefinitely until I can cobble some free time together.

Hitting my limit has had one significant advantage though, and that is my newfound awareness of stress limits in general. In the past I’d be dismissive of other peoples’ stresses because I’d not experienced hitting a limit in that kind of way, and so found sympathy difficult; now that I know that limits exist, and roughly what mine is, I’m realising that other people have limits, that are very likely reached after different amounts of pressure. So when my mate complains about having worked for hours a day, Past James would have brushed this off because they’d been awake for 2x hours and so shouldn’t be complaining; but Present James knows that their limit may well be x-1 and they’re killing themselves as it is, and my bluntness isn’t helping.

Tomorrow is the last day of my stressful week (hopefully); I’ve made a conscious effort to get ahead of where I should be and – fingers crossed – everything should be sorted by Sunday afternoon, giving me Sunday evening, the whole of Monday, and a total of two nights off to screw around with Until Dawn and see my friends again. Of course now that I’ve said that, my house will be inexplicably engulfed in flames overnight, my notes and computer will burn to crisps and I’ll have to restart everything, but for the time being I’m optimistic.

Incoherent, stressed, and optimistic.

I Need To Stop Getting Up At Two In The Afternoon

(I can’t even complain of having a comfy bed. I have a mattress with my clothes piled on it because I can’t be bothered to sort them into a proper place)

For the last few days, by which I mean ‘week’, I’ve been getting up at ridiculously late times, such as the aforementioned 2pm. This isn’t so much a problem for me as an individual – gods know I’ve been far more nocturnal than this before – but it’s a bit of an issue when I try to interact with other human beings. For instance, in looking for a flat, there are literally three hours in a day where I can go to flats or talk to people about flats.

This has also screwed with a lot of my writing projects; this blog, for instance, often gets updated when my body thinks it’s about time for elevenses, and my target of 2,500 words a day feels incomplete if I don’t write that much by midnight each day, even though that only gives me ten, as opposed to twenty-four, to write.

The upshot of this is that I’ve been far more insular recently. I can’t talk to my friends because it 4am and they’re asleep; I can’t go out with people because I’m going to bed at seven in the morning. And while this isn’t an inherently bad thing – I’m currently learning Rise Against’s 1000 Good Intentions on bass, for instance, it’s only adding to the nagging sense of isolation and social worthlessness that is a normal response to living amongst your friends for a year, before you’re suddenly chucked back home and you feel like you’re thirteen again.

But would I really be more outgoing if I was keeping a more regular sleeping pattern? Considering most of my friends are out of London, and those that are around are working (as I might be in a few weeks, fingers crossed), would I really be able to organise social gatherings with the regularity and intensity I did during the academic year? Hell, we’ll probably live in Stevenage based on how unfathomably expensive London house prices are, so I might have already irreversibly lost the ability to live near and interact with friends on such a regular basis.

That’s the scary part. My life has been split into stages of relative similarity up to this point: I was a primary school kid from 5-11, and relatively the same guy; I was a secondary school kid from 11-18, and was still kinda the same person. But now I’m a third of the way through university, and already the behavioural patterns I set up in that year are being pulled apart and replaced with new ones. University life, as its weird social function as a kind of pseudo-adulthood for kids who can’t quite let go of eating peanut butter sandwiches in their underwear for six straight hours, is a far more malleable lifestyle than anything I’ve encountered thus far. Which is probably why my sleep schedule is shot to Hell.

And with that nice bit of circular writing, drawing my lofty conclusion back to my introduction in a single sentence, I’m going to eat peanut butter sandwiches in my underwear, because I’m an adult.