Tag: UCL

Being punched in the stomach is a good thing

(*coughs in pain*)

I didn’t have a great afternoon; remember that essay I mentioned yesterday? I frakked up, and didn’t get a better mark for the eight times the number of hours I put in. Tonight, however, I went to karate and was put in an infinitely better mood by being punched repeatedly in the stomach by a bloke much stronger than me.

It’s halfway between masochism and therapy, but honestly I don’t want to think about it too much; I felt shit, now feel better, and with things to do this evening and a full day tomorrow, let me be happy, and revel as a babe.

This part sucks

(*drums fingers impatiently*)

I sent off my essay today; it’s technically due tomorrow at 11am but I’m not going to get much out of slaving away for another twelve straight hours, just for the sake of using all the available time. The essay is done.

This opens up a myriad of problems. It being ‘done’, in terms of the work I shall put in, means I can’t improve upon it on my own; the opportunity for me to take the lessons learned from my previous mistakes, and my understanding of texts, and collate them into a single document affirming my grasp of these things, has passed. It’s over. Dead. Essays – or meritocratic projects in general – distill one’s interest for an expertise in a subject into a single tangible thing; there’s an obvious practical reason here, but this doesn’t get around the problem that learning is fluid, while essays are fixed.

Having an essay due every other week imposes an artificial fortnightly set of milestones on my learning, that I’m improving as a reader and a writer every 14 days; in reality, however, I’m progressing or regressing every day, every hour, and every minute if I’m writing something at the time. And that disconnect, between endless self-improvement stop-start academic improvement, is never more pronounced than now, the painful no-man’s land of having completed an essay but not yet got feedback on it.

That lack of feedback is the other reason this no-man’s land sucks; every sentence written is a sentence imperfectly written, and so an opportunity to improve. But now there’s a cooldown period, as my manic passion for the subject relents as time passes between now and my writing of the thing; it’s only a short period, but I was really into Alfred and his Preface to Gregory’s Pastoral Care a few hours ago, and won’t be come Tuesday morning. This might be a failing of my own enthusiasm for my degree, but I think that it’s just hard in general to maintain a passionate interest in any one thing for a period of time.

Ultimately, I need to ease off when it comes to my writing and its improvement; I’ve known this for ages, but still can’t feel comfortable without a new deadline rearing its head or a list of mistakes and errors to improve upon. I’m constantly afraid of plateauing, or coasting, to the point that I’ve been more stressed now that my essay is handed in yet unmarked than any point when I was writing the damn thing. I love to work, and love to improve; these 36 hours are the only time I can do neither.

I played in a dodgeball tournament!

(DODGEBALLDODGEBALLDODGEBALL)

As many of you will know, I love the UCL Dodgeball Society; the sport itself is great fun, the vibe both relaxed and gently competitive, and the people (eventually) made me feel socially relevant, being only one of two large groups of friends to really do that last year. But I’d never actually played competitive dodgeball due to a combination of poor organisation on my part, and just being a bit crap at the sport; but today a tournament was held, taking place after all of last year’s first team had graduated but before any athletic freshers could replace them, giving me a rare opportunity to strut my dodgeballing stuff in the pale blue livery of UCL. And I buggered it up for the most part, but had a fantastic day in the process.

The tournament was a single-day affair, a round-robin group stage followed by knockout rounds that we failed to reach because we were drawn in a group of a team a league higher than us, a yea, two leagues higher than us, and a conglomerate of international-standard players who only seem to meet and train in summer, like the dodgeballing equivalent of a musical supergroup that only tour in a three-week span in July for no apparent reason. Our results were better than we hoped – a draw, a whitewash and a gutting defeat that cost us a quarter-final place – but looking back I felt so much regret for what we did, and what we nearly accomplished; pushing our first opponents just a little harder to secure the win, rather than the draw, would have put us in a much stronger position, and actually seems rather plausible considering the relative quality of the two sides we lost to. I also made a single kill, and recorded a single catch that managed to lose us the game; I stepped out of bounds just before I secured the ball, so instead of being the last player heroically bringing a team-mate in to launch a valiant comeback, I was just the last man standing, who happened to walk off the court instead of actually be hit by an opponent.

But it was the vibe of the day that was the most awesome. It’s been years since I played a sport competitively like this, punctuating long periods of sideline speculation and stretching with frenzied moments of ball-tossing, apart from the increasingly toxic world of watching Tottenham play. This was a thing I was involved in, not as a spectator or a critic, but as someone who was making things happen, albeit in a small way.

When the Minotaurs and Eagles came close to fists at a few close line calls, or when my teammates made spectacular catch after spectacular catch to keep our flagging, doomed place in the competition alive for another few throws, there was a rush you simply don’t get from writing eloquent essays or reading even the finest poetry.

I also learned a Hell of a lot about competitive dodgeball – namely that I need to keep my sodding feet inside the lines – and saw high-level dodgeball being played for the first time in my life, which is this insane mixture of machine-like cannon-fire and acrobatic ball-sweeping, layered over a surprisingly sophisticated tactical framework. It was fast, and brutal, but it all made sense and fitted into broader assessments of team styles, or individual talents.

I hope that we’re able to scrape a second team together to play in leagues, or even non-league cups, this year; because I love training sessions, and needlessly-costumed Sports Nights with the team, but this was a qualitatively different experience that I’m not going to let fade into a single memory.

Also, if you want a more minute-by-minute report of the day, head on to @ucludodgeball, where I was Tweeting merrily about the whole thing.

Reading! Studying! Learning! Yes!

(I make that a ‘rule of three … plus one’ there)

I had a seminar today – my only one of the day – that was really rather inspiring. I know that statements like that are tossed around all the time by university admissions people to make idiot students sign up for their courses in Beyoncé studies, but this time it actually worked – I left the seminar wanting to go home and read and work on essays and generally be a productive student.

The seminar itself was relatively unspectacular, just the three of us students sitting in our professor’s room and listening to them talk for the majority of the hour. But I think that’s why I found it so useful; at university, and at least on my course, there’s always a performative element, as lecturers stand on plinths to tell us about Romantic literature as if they’re channeling Old Norse skaldic poets or speakers to the Roman senate. This isn’t an inherently bad thing, but there’s a disconnect between my real life of sourcing cheap vegan milk and figuring out how to pay utility bills and my academic life of ‘isn’t this a pretty metaphor?’ – I know that art reflects life, but art rarely is life. This seminar was the total opposite, however; I didn’t feel like we were working through a list of prepared ‘intelligent’ ideas to consider, but were four people interested in a thing rambling on about that thing. Seminars are, of course, pitched to us as all being like this, but rarely are.

And after four months of writing blog posts and playing Dragon Age, I feared I wouldn’t be able to get my teeth into academia again; guess I was wrong.

To Read With No Skill (Be Afraid)

(been a while since a lyric parody post, hasn’t it?)

Considering that tomorrow is my first day of classes after a long-bordering-on-ridiculous summer break of four months, I thought I’d write some lyrics about it, altered from Anti-Flag’s excellent The Ink And The Quill (Be Afraid).

The pages turned black,
The words just getting darker.

So be afraid, be afraid
Be very afraid,
Of the coming nightmare.

The new Romantics lecturers teach on a Monday afternoon
They welcome in medieval kids but intimidate too soon.

All that we know, all we know.

Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be very afraid,
Of the coming nightmare.

Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be very afraid,
Of the coming nightmare.

So filled with high expectation that feels like intoxication,
There’s nothing like a reading list to get your cash wasting,
Then you don’t read jack-shit, your past choices you’re then hating.

Cloud-Author to Hitchcock’s films with authority to sneer,
They are the blunt-force fist of all literature,
We’re forced to read, with no skill.

What have we learned? After years,
What have we learned? Besides fear?

Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be very afraid,
Of the coming nightmare.

Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be very afraid,
Of the coming nightmare.

The books’ touch like fly-trap teeth,
Feel them gripping, your ideas in vain.
Your page runs white, you can’t quite write,
Tomb closing, kiss your first goodbye.

Now you’re done, you’ve been taken on a ride.
We’re in debt, in debt a billion times.
A billion times!

Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be very afraid,
Of the coming nightmare.

Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be very afraid,
Of the coming nightmare.

Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be very afraid…

(solo remains unchanged. Obviously)

There’s a storm cloud gathering just ahead
Ominous May, raining tests,
When it drops deadlines down on your time,
You better pray like hell you’ve kept yourself in line.
Built on arts and scholars’ scams
Our dear Provost stealing wealth,
Profits so ill-gained sweet,
Malnourished students weep.

As the storm gains strength.
The ageing unions break.
The ancient hall does quake.
And your lungs fill with your spineless pre-paid fees.

ANYONE FOR KARATE

(it’s pronounced ‘kara-tay’)

Today I spent five hours stood outside the karate stall at the UCL Freshers’ Fair attempting to sell a centuries-old martial lifestyle to people completely disinterested in the practice, using nothing but a rapidly-dwindling supply of fliers and making jokes about people’s t-shirts (seriously, girl with the Bowling For Soup shirt, tell Jared I said ‘hi’).

Overall, I think the day was a success; there were plenty of people who came to the stall because they actually wanted to join the club, a few who signed up to the mailing list on a whim but seem up for a new thing, and loads of people with a tentative interest in martial arts, who came to life when I told them that the first few sessions would focus on self-defence, and would cater to participants of all abilities and experiences. Sure, I wasted a few fliers, literally throwing them at people in the hope that they would take them home and follow us on Twitter (@uclukarate for those interested), and my knees and voice are shot from peddling crap to people, and I never did pop over to American Football to help out there, but none of these things were the main part of my day; we set out to shout about fliers to people, and for the post part, we did it.

Obviously, it won’t count for much if we don’t get a strong group of new members for the coming year – not least because a society with fewer than 30 paying members has its union affiliation revoked and kinda stops existing – so in many ways the work starts here. Freshers’ Fair is important, but people who want to learn karate will come, regardless of how well or poorly you sell it to them, and a combination of peer pressure, how one feels on the day, and the existence of freebies all have big impacts on who joins what, all of which are beyond the control of most stall-holding footsoldiers. We need to engage with these new members, making them feel welcome in our club as friends and martial artists, and we’ll get awesome people, and well-qualified fighters, out of it at the end of the year.

Stage one of karate committeeing is complete, now just a million more to go.

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.