Tag: Working

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.

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.

Put your godforsaken phone on silent

(a worse crime than that of this prick)

I see you there. Actually, no, I hear you there. In the library. Making a noise. No, not even that, that’s not the issue; people make noises in libraries all the time, and it’s hilarious. But the problem runs deeper. Yours, Sir – for this was a ‘sir’ – is one of honesty. You are a disruptive piece of shit, but haven’t even the decency to accept it.

There is a difference between a phone being on vibrate, and a phone being on silent, a difference you have failed to utilise effectively. A phone on silent is a tamed beast, shackled and muzzled, so that not a peep, let alone a ping or whir, may emanate from it, alerting its owner to the crucial fact that their latest tweet was retweeted by an Iggy Azalea fan account. A phone on vibrate, however, is one restrained by the loosest of leather restraints, and held in the fragile hands of an aged, arthritic stenographer; it buzzes and rumbles like an mid-era Nintendo game, treading the fine line between actual silence, and announcing its presence to the world.

Therefore, the phone on vibrate is a dishonest phone, one that wants the freedom to disrupt the peace of the world around it, but one too weak to face up to the consequences of being an annoying prat. As the phone, in any example, is not sentient, these traits and the responsibility for them must fall to its owner; in this case you, Sir, the dick in the library with your phone on vibrate.

I’m sure that Facebook conversation was important; evidently, you were discussing a cure for cancer, leukemia, and poverty, all in a single impossibly brilliant drug, and it is selfish and foolish of me to besmear your good name in such a way. But selfish and foolish I am, so I will continue to call you a fiend, a scoundrel, and a bellend, because it makes me feel better that if I can’t influence even the insignificant factors around my life, I can at least moan about them to a semi-anonymous audience in a blog post.

So you may have had the power and the elation of disturbing my reading of Keynes’ Alfred the Great earlier, but now you are immortalised as one of the Local Celebrities that I mock so mercilessly on this blog. Who’s immature now, Sir?

I love criticism

(that is, ‘being criticised’. I’m less good at reading academic criticism)

I spend a fair bit of my time editing things – my own essays, articles for The Game Shelf, and a few other bits and pieces – and I really like it. I love trying to distill another’s argument into its skeleton, to allow them to patch a new, flashy skin together out of their creativity, or poke holes in that underlying argument so the writer considers their subject matter more carefully, and reaches stronger conclusions.

I’m also a fan of having my work criticised for those same reasons; the first draft of a thing is, by definition, a doomed attempt to render the ideas sparking from electrical impulses as tangible, almost artificial letters. Subsequent drafts, and revisions by me, help to push those letters closer to my original idea, keeping people’s interpretations of my thoughts in line with my thoughts, and codifying my ideas in ways that I can look back on and know are accurately recorded. Also, an appreciation of how things are written, not just that they’re written, allows one to play around with writing styles and structures for specific purposes, rather than letting style be this loose, intangible thing that is only picked up upon by nosey readers; this post, for instance, is intentionally flowery and multi-claused because I thought it’d be fun to write like that.

Today, I was rather given a taste of my own medicine when it comes to criticism, however; my new tutor edits and comments on work in the same helpfully blunt, often sarcastic way that I do. But instead of being hypocritically offended, I enjoyed it; I could see the thought process behind their editing work, just as they saw the thought process behind my writing work. I also appreciate the honesty of a ‘this is wrong’ comment over the ego-boosting padding of ‘I don’t agree with this but…’ annotation. Not that my tutor needs my approval to write comments like this, of course; this was just an observation that two people paying attention to the style of one’s writing can reach different conclusions via the same methods. It’s that grey area between mechanical process and creative conclusion that makes writing, and art more broadly, so enjoyable to probe and prod and discuss with other pretentious pricks over vegan smoothies in Camden cafés.

And I love editing, pretentiousness, and these lovely smoothies. *sips*

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.

Exportexportexportexportexportexportex

(portexportexportexport)

I am not a graphic designer. I deal with words, and can manipulate and manage them in a number of ways, from writing to reviewing to editing to creating, but I’m far less skilled at putting things together in photoshop. So today, when I woke up and realised I’d planned to produce 24 posters for a UCL society that day, I feared I’d be in for some kind of barbaric GCSE ICT-style nightmare fest.

Fortunately, it wasn’t, but it had all the hallmarks of a 100-page GCSE project: the fiddling and refiddling with layers that may or may not be locked, and may or may not be invisible; the horrifically life-crushing realisation that you’ve been dealing in sheets of A4 paper for your whole life, yet don’t know their measurements in millimetres; and the need to export all 24 of your documents to PDFs, then delete them and export them into JPGs so they can be shared, meaning you’ve produced a grand total of 72 pieces of work yet still feel like you’ve done little more than just resize text boxes for five hours.

The difference, however, is that I’m now doing a thing I want to do, rather than an arbitrary academic project foisted on me for the sake of getting a grade. I want this society to do well, and I want to be a part of it, so my relief at the end of this gargantuan afternoon of clicking ‘file’->’export’ isn’t that I can go back to dicking around with Bloodbowl, but that something has been done properly.

This Decade Is Dead

(that title sounds unnervingly like a My Chemical Romance song)

It’s over. A decade of mine, a ten-year stretch of life full of experiences, achievements and frak-ups, is dead. Not in a particularly broad sense, or even in a numerical sense – I’m currently nineteen, not twenty – but in one very specific sense: for the first time since I was nine, I am going to radically change my working habits. Starting tomorrow.

But I shall start with a little history on my, now former, studying practices. When I was nine, with two years to go until I finished primary school, I started working for the dreaded entrance exams, a series of examinations held independently at secondary schools across London to filter applicants. Not every school was ‘selective’ in this way, most weren’t, and my local one definitely wasn’t, but the ones with the most money and best teachers put on their own exams for students aged 10-11 who wanted to attend, and only the best would get in. Looking back, this created a kind of vaguely meritocratic elitism, that the smartest would be rewarded by being made smarter, while those that struggled would be forever cut off from that world, and forced to do A-level critical thinking. Of course, it’s hard to determine how academically successful a person will be at the age of ten, which is why a blogging buddy of mine went to our local shitty comprehensive and is now at a Russell Group uni, while half of the morons who scraped into my secondary school through the exams are now posting pictures of themselves high, shirtless and alone on the moonlit streets of Wood Green, so it’s an imperfect science. But I wanted to make that cut.

A big part of these exams were verbal and non-verbal reasoning papers, which you can see online if you want to know more about them; these tests were supposed to examine a child’s intelligence, without the kerfuffle and padding of English questions or the randomness of Maths questions that some bright kids were unprepared for simply because their primary school didn’t teach that kind of trigonometry. The reasoning papers determined your character’s base HP, if you will, while the subject-based papers determined their resistances to certain attacks, and how fast your PP would regenerate. Critically, reasoning wasn’t taught in primary school, because it would have been irrelevant to the majority of kids who weren’t going for the entrance exams; as a result, my practice (according to my parents) for these exams was me sitting down, aged nine, and relentlessly working through papers for literally hours on end, not satisfied until I could ace any reasoning paper within half the time limit.

In the end, I only passed one set of reasoning papers, but I didn’t care; to me, relentless work over long, uninterrupted stretches of time as the way to get results and, consciously nor not, I rather decided on that method of working for the next decade of my life. I got an A at GCSE maths by completing whole chapters of textbooks at a time, not stopping or checking my answers until hundreds of questions had fallen by the wayside; I got an A at AS French by taking whole pages of the dictionary and swallowing them, learning twenty, fifty, up to seventy words in a single sitting. And it worked, especially for things I didn’t find interesting.

But then, it started to fall apart. I applied the same model to Old English last year, and limped out of the exam with a 55, equivalent to a 2.2, two whole grades below where I know I should be hitting; my revision for my criticism paper revolved around learning books’ worth of quotes, relying on my brainpower to form them into arguments and ideas on-the-fly in exams, and I scraped through that exam with a 57, and another shitty 2.2.

I’ve already changed my work habits; Old English translations are now my most enjoyable piece of studying to do, because I know more about how the language works, and I can understand what I’m doing. But these new habits were still stretched over whole afternoons of study, hours spent picking through fifty lines of Ælfric at once, making notes of every case, of every tense, and identifying the subject and object in every sentence. It’s satisfying, but gruelling, and ultimately unhelpful, for today I hit the wall; I couldn’t get through a bit of Middle English, not in the sense that I was tired, but in the sense that for hours I hammered away at that book, unable to find anything to interest me, a foothold to let me explore the ideas of those pages that some professor somewhere obviously thinks are worth my reading. For hours I worked and, for the first time in a decade, after hours I’d gotten nowhere.

I might have had a brief personal crisis. And I may have vented about it to one too many friends who weren’t prepared nor willing to offer advice, which didn’t help my already self-loathing mental state, as now I was throwing my problems onto other people expecting them to solve them by magic.

But then someone did solve them, the only someone whose relationship with me predates nine-year-old James’ Spartan desire to work until he passed out. It’s the old ‘break tasks up into smaller sections’ idea, but now it makes sense; my degree isn’t a slog (OE translations aside) but an engagement with and appreciation of the ideas held by people from completely different worlds to me; literature isn’t about hammering through a thousand lines of Chaucer in one go, but breaking each section down, repeatedly finding an idea, stopping and then finding new ones to mix with the previous one. I’m stunned it’s taken me this long to realise this, but now that I have, I can align my impression of my degree with the way I’m studying it, and unite the image I have of myself as an English student with the realities of reading Old Icelandic in my bedroom, like a kind of literary vlogger circa 2007.

This may be obvious to you; you may be thirteen years old, and have this all figured out. But I’m determined to the point of blind stubbornness most of the time, and it’s taken me ten years to realise that my studying methods aren’t perfect. So that decade of work is dead, and starting tomorrow I’ll not approach a reading list in the same way. I’ve finally moved on from my nine-year-old self.

I’ve finally got the perceptiveness of a ten-year-old.