Tag: University

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.

Shut up Medics, I’m gonna moan about being busy

(that title also applies to Law students)

Okay, I get it. You’re in classes, or labs, or literally pulling mangled, half-breathing bodies out of the fiery wrecks of roadside accidents as part of your bafflingly unfair new Junior Doctors contract, for 22 and a half hours a day; meanwhile I get one lecture a week and will probably walk into a cushy marketing job when I graduate. I accept that objectively your life is busier and harder than mine.

But who needs perspective when it comes to pain and harm?

I signed up for a degree with lots of free time, and lots of opportunities to expand my creative portfolio that will be, if anything, more important than my actual qualification when I’m trying to get a job in a creative industry. It just so happens that said creative shenanigans have smashed into actual academic responsibilities, creating a wonderful few evenings in which I shall have to write a 4,000-word essay on a tenth century preface detailing the importance of education in a largely illiterate society, while researching the games nominated for the biggest gaming awards ceremony of the year before writing about said ceremony. It’s hard, and I’m stressed and anxious and fearful that I’ll let my grade slip or let my friends and collaborators down. And it’s shit.

And it’s wonderful and rewarding and self-improving and exciting.

Balancing lots of things is basically an exercise in chucking a load of adjectives at a situation and finding they’re all totally relevant. So I’m busy, and am feeling all the good and bad things to come with it.

So screw you Medics, I’m tired too.

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.

Back From The Brink Of Oblivion, Thanks To A Duck

(I think that title is half a reference to Darkest Dungeon – I’m honestly not able to keep track of my own references at this point)

I picked a bad time for a break. Like, a really bad one. Since I last moaned at you about not having anything to write about, I’ve gone through a flag football tournament, karate grading, session of trampoline dodgeball, trip to the Globe, the Hell that is trying to buy a complete suit from the M&S on Oxford Street when you’re a short-arse such as myself, and a healthy bit of crushing despair. But it’s this despair that I’m going to talk about today, before a more update-y post tomorrow.

This despair came from my first-year results: across my three exams, I got a 66, a 58 and a 56, totally one 2.1 and two 2.2s (for reference, all marks are out of 80, and British university grades are ranked from 1, to 2.1, to 2.2, to 3, to a fail). Obviously, this is a far cry from the first I once had genuine hopes of getting, and the endless streak of class-topping As and A*s I got at school, with the sort of relentless consistency that you’d only find otherwise on a record-breaking run of Through The Fire And The Flames, and I moped about it for rather a long time. All my ambitions – ambitions that apparently extend to getting a ‘first’ written on a certificate instead of a ‘second’ – were suddenly pointless, all my work in ruins, all my toils toiled in vain; and then I saw a duck.

And this duck saved me; in the depths of despair I journeyed to Regent’s Park to listen to early noughties punk rock to make me hate things other than myself, and I was listening to Bad Religion’s Hello Cruel World. This is a heavy, slow song with clear breaks between its thumping choruses, and the pauses between verses, breaks that are edgy, and definite. And at the end of the first chorus is one such break, a point of brooding and contempt hammered home by a bass drum followed by silence; yet as I wandered through the park, and reached this musical full stop, the duck arrived. And it quacked.

It quacked right in the gap between the end of the first chorus and second verse, filling the deeply mellow pause with a light-hearted squawking that honestly threw me right out of my stride, and made me sit on the nearest bench, laughing my arse off alone in a park with a bemused duck sitting opposite me. I laughed for ages, and by the time I was done, I had stopped worrying about my exams and plotting unnervingly-detailed plans for revenge involving reverse bear traps, the soundtrack of the 2013 epic The Last Of Us, and a tool that can only be described as the bastard offspring of a claw hammer and a rat-king.

Because failure is not an end, but a beginning; it’s not the result of crap preparations, it’s the start of more preparations for a greater challenge. I’ve looked into reasons why these results aren’t what I wanted (starting with being way too ambitious in the first bloody place) with my Dad and tutor, and I’ll do a full post-mortem over summer, so that I can smash this degree in the next two years, when my exams actually count for something.

So thank you, noble duck – who shall henceforth be known as Greg of Regent’s Park in honour of the singer whose song he wonderfully interrupted – for your work in stopping me from being a whiny bitch for any longer than a few hours; because if I’m gonna fail, I’ll at least get some fun blog posts out of it.

The End Of Exams, The End Of Insulin

(I’ve managed to go from feeling like a conquering hero to an infantile mess in like an hour)

Quick post today because I’m scrambling around St Pancras trying to find emergency insulin before going for a Nando’s that may not may not be cheeky with my friends. But exams are done, bringing with them that bitter sense of regret that you didn’t revise as hard as you should have and that you picked the hardest conceivable essay question while your friends all did an obviously easier one. I’ll write a full post-mortem in the coming days, but now I’m trying to stop myself from dying of hyperglycaemia. Hooray!

Know Your Limits

(sorry, another exam post. They’re kinda on my mind at the moment)

I spend my time revising these days; and as much as I’d like to plough through fourteen hours of work a day, every day for the sake of grades, I know that this is both impossible, and probably won’t help my results too much.

It’s impossible because we, like Alfa Romeos, are not machines. The best part of our brains is that they can adapt to new and different things, which has the annoying side-effect that we become distracted almost by nature, because when you have a mind capable of thinking of more than Old English vocab, it’s hard to put blinkers on it and make it think only of Old English vocab. And trying to stick to a stupidly ambitious schedule just results in failure, and a lingering sense of defeat and unpreparedness is the last thing you want in an exam.

This is the first reason why you should probably ease up a little the night before a test, for the sake of your mark. The other is that, because the very concept of an ‘exam’ is designed by Satan himself, exams spend a few hours to test your knowledge of years’ worth of work. As a result, you can’t hope to display all of that knowledge in those hours – so don’t kill yourself over learning it all – and it’s those three hours that are the most important individual period of time in determining your grade. I see your performance in those three hours of equal, and perhaps even greater, importance to your final grade, because exams test how well you can do exams with a few bits of contextual knowledge thrown in, and are a fundamentally poor way of measuring long-term memory and actual comprehension.

As a result, I’ve been focussing more on the exam itself than the prior knowledge in the last few years, spending more time staying relaxed, well-fed and with plenty of sleep, than dismissing two meals a day for the sake of some extra notes. In year 11, I got eight A*s and three As, but two of the As were in my two strongest subjects; by year 13, I got an A* and As, with the A* being in my beset subject English. Obviously this is a small sample size, and there are a million other variables involved, but a greater emphasis on calmness in an exam than a mind full of useless shite would appear to be more effective at maximising the things I’m good at. And considering there’s no part of this degree that I actively dislike (Tristram Shandy‘s annoying, but not without charm), I’m going to use this method of preparation, and see how it goes.

But I’m aware of the need for balance; I can’t just play Frozen Cortex, be totally relaxed the night before and be in a position to write lots, but have nothing to write about. I’ve revised quotes, because they’re the bases of arguments, but not whole essays because that’s too much brainpower for ideas I should be smart enough to construct on the spot; I’ve learned Old English vocab because there’s no way of doing an Old English translation without it, but I’ve not learned all 115 lines of The Wanderer because we’ll only be tested on 25.

I know my limits for studying, both in terms of what I can do – learn 200 words of Old English – and what I can’t – learn an entire poem and period of literary history. I’m not underprepared, nor am I swamped in quotes and ideas to the point that they’re tangling into a single incoherent argument, rather than the separate, more nuanced ideas I should really be operating with. The only problem with the great experiment that is the end-of-year exam is that we have to wait a bit for our results; I’m genuinely quite interested to see if this balance of preparation works.

And there’s the other bitch that comes with examsperiments; the results can technically be a “failure”, and you’ll have to repeat your methodology.