Discussion | Studying vs. Reading Books

Today, we begin with unpacking the very title of this discussion post: I realise that it’s never a simple dichotomy of ‘studying’ a book and ‘reading’ a book simply “for the sake of it”. However, I chose the title for this blog post because I wish to unpack some thoughts I’m having regarding enjoying a book for entertainment’s sake vs. enjoying a book for studying’s sake. There are plenty of books which I didn’t necessarily enjoy on its own merit, as a singular story, but came to enjoy after further study of secondary material or after a lively seminar discussion with people at university. I would probably count Frankenstein, The Moonstone, Dracula, Wuthering Heights, and A Tale of Two Cities among that number.

This topic has come to mind particularly today because I just DNFed Jane Eyre. I have never studied this book (somehow) in all my many years of studying English literature. I picked it up on a whim sometime when I was at secondary school and read it but didn’t love it as I thought I probably should have. I just didn’t get along with Charlotte Bronte’s writing style or pacing even though I enjoyed the concept and overall plot. I decided recently that perhaps I ought to give it a re-read because I am now older and (hopefully) wiser, and with #Victober happening this month, it felt like fate to re-read it now. Reader, I DNFed it.

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Friday Reads | 11th December

As you might have been able to tell from the utter lack of posts since last week, the weekend and start of the week was… interesting, to say the least. The weather was what they euphemistically call “inclement”. For me that meant a mildly sleepless Saturday and Sunday night whilst the wind howled outside, for elsewhere in the North, however, it meant flooding. Lancaster flooded a little, it turns out, the electricity substation was under water and so electricity was off. The University campus was evacuated, with students told to go home a week early with all lectures/coursework cancelled for the upcoming/final week of term. Being in Teesside, this didn’t directly affect me, but I did know people still studying/living in Lancaster so there was naturally a bit of concern going on.

Also my postgraduate graduation ceremony was allegedly taking place on Wednesday and, as it stood on the Sunday night, it was still scheduled to go ahead even though I couldn’t see how considering the students still left on campus were having to sleep on the floor in the LICA building. However, somehow, with a lot of people working relentlessly behind the scenes, it did go ahead successfully, with the only sign of any problems being the huge generators which buzzed away in the car park. I’m still astounded at how much Lancaster managed to rally, to be honest, since it seemed business as usual by the time Thursday rolled around. But anyhow this was my long-winded way of saying that blogging wasn’t my top priority this week, with the uncertainty of my plans involving Lancaster. Anyhow, I’m back, and all graduated, so I’m officially and ceremoniously now a Master of Arts, for what it’s worth (worth the opportunity to yet again don a slightly ridiculous robe and cap, for one)!

But, just like Lancaster, it is business as usual so now we return to the entire point of this post – a little Friday Reads for 11th December!

fr 11-12I’ve been taking full advantage of the library lately in order to try out some fantasy reads which I wasn’t sure about whether I would enjoy or not. It was a bit of a swing and miss with Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind last month but I’m getting along with Brandon Sanderon’s Mistborn trilogy quite nicely. As intended, I finished the first book, The Final Empire, at the start of this week and now I’ve had a chance to pop to the library I intend to delve into the second, The Well of Ascensionas soon as I’ve finished writing this post, in fact!

(One vague spoiler which sums up my thoughts about the previous book: I’m not over Kelsier, I’m not, don’t talk to me about Kelsier.)

Likewise, I’d been hearing a lot of things about Marie Lu’s dystopian trilogy, the first book being Legend. As yet another on a long list of YA dystopians I had to get around to reading there was nothing particularly pushing me to pick up this book over any others, until I heard it was a retelling of Les Misérables. I have to say, I’m about 60 pages in and I’m not at all convinced about the alleged retelling aspect; it seems to be inspired by the plot of Les Misérables rather than at all a retelling, but I suppose marketing it as such was the publisher’s decision so I shouldn’t hold it against the book itself.

Not pictured, I’m also reliving the joy that is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on audiobook via Stephen Fry’s wonderful narration. It’s a great way to re-read an old favourite; it brings a whole new perspective to a story you already know so well, as does the new illustrated edition which I might swap in at some points during this re-read – who knows! I’m also leisurely reading Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret because it’s a half-novel, half-graphic novel so I’m enjoying taking my time with it to properly and appropriately appreciate the art within it.


So that’s what my reading will hopefully look like this weekend and into next week. I will undoubtedly start to look back over my 2015 reading goals and various reading challenges, realise I’m about to fail them and only have a few short weeks to correct this, and start blogging like crazy about TBRs and reading intentions… so expect that at some point soon. In the meantime – what are you reading this weekend? Any seasonal or festive reads? Let’s chat in the comments below!

September Update: Guess who’s back? Back again…

What happened? Well, university happened. It turns out when you slightly maybe procrastinate your dissertation research and it gets to August you panic and spend most of the time you’re awake thinking about it, or feeling guilty for not doing more on it. But now, as of yesterday’s hand-in, I am done. Officially done. I no longer need to think about it. In fact, it would be great if my brain would get this memo and stop thinking about all the stuff I didn’t have time/free words to put into it.

But… what now? Well, your guess is as good as mine. I made a concious decision to avoid thinking about anything past the dissertation until I had completed it. Maybe that’s narrow-minded but I probably needed it. But this month sees me take a couple of holidays to Menorca and Edinburgh with my parents and my friends respectively and I am looking forward to these so unbelievably much. But after that? Well, I suppose I’ll be frantically trying to persuade someone anyone that they should hire me. If they happen to have some vague connection to the arts or publishing sectors, or the job involves Content Writing, all the better. If not… well, at least I’ll be earning money so that I can try to be able to afford to do unpaid internships – if I even manage to con any publishing companies into letting me do work experience. There’s a vague plan there but convincing my parents that this plan is thought out and researched is actually providing difficult. I don’t know what else they expected of someone doing an English Literature Masters who has a distinct distaste for “grad schemes” in most forms. I understand that they think that doing an extra year at university and (hopefully) graduating with an MA should open doors but, from what I can see, you have to push those doors open yourself because having a BA is definitely not a huge advantage over competition any more – in fact, it’s the base-line. Is an MA any different? Well, we’ll find out in the months to come I’m sure!

Aside from this I’ll primarily be working on keeping up with blogging – I find I do enjoy writing on here and it might be self-indulgent at times (like this post) but it actually really helps to clarify thinking. On this vein I’ve also taken up journalling, nothing fancy or complicated, it’s mostly pen-on-paper stuff, but Whitney over at WhittyNovels’ video made me see the benefits. But, back to this blog, I have a stack of books just waiting to be read now that I’m done with university, so I anticipate a lot more reading in my future and, hopefully, me improving my written reviews. I really want to be better at that and with engaging with the book blogging community and I think I’ll have more time to do that now without feeling guilty about all the university reading I’m neglecting!

Right now I’m reading Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater, the third book in the Raven Quartet (Cycle?) and I thoroughly enjoy this series, I can’t begin to explain just how much but here’s my reviews for book one and book two. They’re such… peculiar books, but that’s their brilliance. Because if I said it included a magical forest in West Virginia, the ancient Welsh king Owain Glyndŵr, ley lines, a house of psychic women, an orange Camaro, and a fancy boy’s school called Aglionby, it’d sound like an odd mix of elements. It is, but it’s so engaging. I’d highly recommend the series. Someone made this book trailer which is stunning and completely captures the tone of the series so if you like it, you’ll definitely like the books. Also the audiobook of the first book, The Raven Boys, may or  may not have been uploaded to YouTube, I’m just saying.

So, to sum up, I finished university (and I could say more on that but I worry I’ll become ridiculously emotional about leaving academia if I do), hopefully my dissertation will pass (fingers crossed everyone), I’m looking for a job (any job), holidays to look forward to, I’ll be making more regular posts here, I want to read all the books, you should go read The Raven Boys… I think that’s just about everything covered.

Anything else? Well, I feel out of the loop – talk to me, tell me what you’ve been doing this summer, what you’re looking forward to for the rest of the year, what you’re currently reading, anything!

Musings: Easter on Campus

The Easter vacation on campus is an odd time. Walking about there’s never very many people, which is isolating and yet somehow creates a sense of community between the people left. It’s such a change from the 10-to-the-hour, like-clockwork rush of people going north and south up the spine of campus. The main square still has some signs of life, with the Library keeping odd hours outside of term-time and the smattering of shops and banks with their doors sometimes open but not to be relied upon to be so. The odd studious person dotted here and there in the Learning Zone but working at a much less pressured pace. They might have important assignments due after the break, or several exams to study for, but everything and everyone here seems to move at a much slower pace once those 10 weeks of term are over and done with.

There’s a strange mist currently clogging up the view out of my window, making everything foggy, as though I’m looking at the world through sleepy and unfocused vision and I just need to blink to wipe it all clean. Everything is quiet. Everything is slow-moving at the very least and still at the most likely. Yet time still ticks on and the signs of daily living still flicker occasionally. A kitchen window is opened letting the smells and sounds of cooking escape, a light in the room opposite is flicked on as its inhabitant returns, a sudden burst of laughter or a phone ringtone pierces the air. It’s an oddly heavy kind of stasis and it lulls you into a false sense of security that maybe, just maybe, time has stopped after all.

March in Review ¦ The Semi-Serious Stuff

I thought today seeing as how it is the last day of March would be the optimum time to take a look back on some things that have happened this past month. Because I don’t document enough of my life, boring though it is, and whilst something incredibly mundane might be all that I have to talk about in this kind of wrap-up, who knows where all those little mundane things might someday lead. After all, it’s only in retrospect and with the benefit of hindsight that you realise just how significant or insignificant those happenings were.

THE PERSONAL

I’ve come to realise this month just how horrendously unhealthy my lifestyle is. As is the life of the student, especially the postgrad student. Whilst it is possible I am generalising to make myself feel better I do think that now would be a wonderful time to try to change some of those horrible horrible habits in the hope that in months/years to come I will be able to continue this stretch.

So tentatively this month I did some yoga, pilates and basic cardio exercises using a personal trainer app. And I enjoy this method of exercise, it really hammered home how unfit you are when five minutes of high knees makes you wheeze (give me heel flicks any day but good lord to not ask me for high knees). My balance is less terrible than I expected but my core strength is pretty much non-existent. These are the things that yoga has taught me. In all seriousness though I am at a stage where, for various financial and personal reasons, the thought of going to a gym or running outside is simply not possible. So doing a little of something each day with an app in my room where I can pant and sweat to my heart’s content (TMI?) is much more manageable, and something I might actually stick with.

Likewise, I realise my diet ought to consist of more than just cups of coffee, cups of tea, pasta, sandwiches, and the occasional jacket potato. So I’m hoping to sit down and think when I put in my online grocery order so that I consciously buy a more varied weekly shop because whilst pasta is incredibly easy and tasty to make, I am about one bowl away from turning into a piece of farfalle – I wish I were joking.


 

THE ACADEMIC

March was a month for claiming at various intervals that I was essay writing. Which is to say I was, and still am, in the midst of putting off working on my final module essays. The one for my Early Modern course focuses on the disruption of time via history-making and recording in Shakespeare’s Richard III, Heywood’s King Edward IV Parts 1 and 2, combined with taking a look at utopia as an attempt to move outside of chronology/time/historiography, considering The Tempest‘s Prospero as a revisionist historian, and Gonzalo as a utopic philosopher, with a little bit of More’s Utopia thrown in for good measure. All fun stuff that is quite possibly incredibly dull for anyone else reading it but I don’t know sometimes it helps to try to summarise your argument in a sentence (admittedly a rather long run-on one but shush).

The other essay is less focused at the moment, but basically it’s for a Victorian Literature and Other Media class which looks at everything from the practice of illustrating Victorian novels, to silent film adaptation, to fanfiction and fanart based on canonical Victorian texts. After researching a fun presentation on webseries adaptation, my essay has taken an entirely different focus which is completely based on my own personal mission in life to talk about Les Misérables until the cows come home. So as it stands my essay will take a look at the ways in which social issues in nineteenth-century novels are altered, ‘sanitised’, and appropriated into the musical genre. As my case studies I will look at issues of prostitution, domestic abuse, and crime as portrayed in Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Hugo’s Les Misérables, and how these two texts then work when transposed into the musical genre in Oliver! and Les Misérables. I think it will be a really fun and creative essay, so long as I can clarify and pin down an actual argument as, at this stage, it’s still very much in the ‘discussion’ realm instead of the ‘argument/hypothesis’ realm in which you really ought to situate academic work. So fingers crossed that those go well.

I also finalised my dissertation proposal, which was handed in and I should shortly be hearing who my assigned supervisor is. I might already know but shhhhhhh. I am also intimidated and terrified if who it is is actually who it is, this summer will be an interesting journey, to say the least. I also handed in a very rough draft of an abstract for… a conference paper. A thing that is what you do, apparently, if you’re a postgrad student and yet still seems intangible to me. I’m constantly sent Calls for Papers in my email inbox and obviously have never had the balls to even for a second consider putting something together. But each year my department holds a conference for all the MA English students where we all give 15-minute papers. Often they’re work-in-progress efforts at our dissertation topics – that’s what mine will be and hopefully by then it won’t be a jumbled mess of incoherent thoughts about how significant it is that Aufidius steps on Caius Martius’ dead body in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus but they changed this in the Donmar production to have him strung up by his ankles in a very dramatic fashion.

Speaking of the conference, during a weird moment of I COULD DO THIS I WANT TO DO THIS confidence (they happen every so often and usually pass without notice), I volunteered to be on the committee. So there’s me and 3 other girls organising this entire conference. We settled on the theme, wrote up the text that explaind the theme, and have a tentative plan for the day’s schedule. We need to get together with everyones’ abstracts and put them into panels and then design the conference booklet and then… host the conference I guess. I am actually really looking forward to it, it’s something completely new and I’m kind of surprised at myself that I didn’t second-guess myself at that moment of ‘I think I want to do this’ and not volunteer. I’m glad I did.


 

CAREERS (AKA ‘HAHAHAHA CRIES’)

As you might have guessed from the titling of this section, the word ‘careers’ is still one which is enough to force me to assume the foetal position and rock back and forth mumbling about how I just wish I could be Sandra Bullock in The Proposal or else the Charms Professor Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. See, I’m not narrow-minded, I have two distinct options in hand there…

No, but seriously, March has been a month in which I had an oddly informative careers talk. The Careers service at my university is brilliant I’m sure and they have a lot of support on campus for students, ranging from workshops, to industry recruitment tips, to mock interviews. Which is splendid, if you know what you want to do. Which, for the record, I do not. Or at least I can’t see how I can. I’ve said it before but I want to work in Publishing and yet I cannot understand how the hell you’re meant to successfully write speculative applications for internships, let alone how you’re meant to afford to do a plethora of unpaid internships (if you even get those supposedly rare opportunities) if you do not live in London. London is this unreachable entity for me and it sucks that even though a lot of media industry is relocating elsewhere to regional bases (some even, shock horror, relocating to the NORTH OF ALL THE HEINOUS PLACES), a lot of it is still heavily capital-biased. I know noone in the area, all my relatives live in the North East, most of the friends I have made live in the North East or the North West and it’s just a little disheartening when you realise that despite the regionalisation that has happened, the actual publishing industry still feels like this unreachable thing for me purely based on the practicalities of geography. Like, of all the silly things on this small island we call Britain,it feels like a ridiculous thing to hold me back but it feels like it is. Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know, I’ll probably go and whine to one of the careers advisers about this to try to find a work-around.

But, similarly, this careers talk actually helped me to realise that the idea of doing a PhD shouldn’t have been completely ditched as I basically had because I could see no viable way in which any university would ever want to take me on, let alone how I would fund it let, let alone what good it would actually do. So maybe I shouldn’t completely rule out the idea of an academic life sometime in the future, it just won’t be happening next year, but that’s more than okay by me. I just need to find something to do that will pay the bills and maybe let me squirrel away some money into savings for this dream of doctoral study.

Speaking of money, hahaha, an entirely not fun thing happened in March which was that one of my on-campus jobs came to an end. A rather abrupt end given the contractual one-week’s notice that was all employees are given and bye bye that handy £35 a week, it was nice knowing you. This sent me into a very illogical spiral of OMG I CAN BARELY PAY RENT I’M GOING TO BE UNABLE TO AFFORD FOOD I’M GOING TO NEED TO QUIT AND MOVE BACK HOME etc etc. It’s nonsense, of course, I have very little outgoings to the point that with next month’s paycheck I can probably settle my remaining rent invoice that takes me up to the end of the contract in September. But, practically, after that I have to be just a little careful about how I spend money because I think my other on-campus job will finish up in June. And after that I’ll have no income over the summer, which is fine because I should be okay, but it just makes me very wheezy for completely illogical reasons. I just need to learn to relax I suppose.

So that tied in with career panic and the growing realisation that I might have to get a move on with pinning down what I want to do made March an interesting month for everything job-related. March was also the month in which an online careers planner told me I should be an accountant, a happening I think needs to be recorded for posterity so we can all take a second to laugh hysterically about how wrong the computer was on that one.


 

And whilst I’m still chuckling about the accountant suggestion, I think that’s a good point at which to break off this March In Review post with a promise that very shortly I’ll be completing a second part which deals with the less boring stuff, i.e. the TV shows and books I devoured whilst eating biscuits and trying not to cry over the real life decisions that are the downfall of indecisive people like myself. Stay tuned for that.

 

Discussion: University & Competitive Learning Environments

Once again, Emma read something flippantly on her Facebook and then ended up spiralling off into a moment or two of self-absorbed musings and reminiscences. Feel free to ignore this, eventually I’ll write something light and cheerful about books again!

A couple of introductory remarks so as not to alarm anyone. Firstly, I have categorically not experienced depression or eating disorders of any kind and the article I’m about to mention simply popped up on my Facebook feed and hit home in a really weird way that I couldn’t fathom. Because this girl’s experience was not mine, I’ve had a relatively easy ride through university thus far, so why oh why did it strike a chord? I just couldn’t fathom it until I started thinking over my own experiences with Cambridge University applications and my own relationship with academic competition now I’m at university in Lancaster.  This is the article I refer to, it’s worth a read, I think.

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Discussion: “I felt like my voice wasn’t worth hearing”

“For myself, for a long time… maybe I felt inauthentic or something, I felt like my voice wasn’t worth hearing, and I think everyone’s voice is worth hearing. So if you’ve got something to say, say it from the rooftops.” (Tom Hiddleston)

We live in an age of instant communication. An age of relative freedom of speech (obviously there are many caveats to this but, in theory, yes). An age where if you feel like you have something to say, sign up to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, WordPress, YouTube, and many other social media and blogging sites and then use these resources for your own purposes. If you want to use them to reblog cat pictures, that’s fine, if you want to use them to try to raise awareness of social inequality in your hometown, that’s fine too, encouraged even. So, in the age of the Internet, of Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook, everyone can theoretically have a voice. (Presuming you’re literate and have an internet connection, that is.) Of course, this is open to abuse. I’ve never seen such vitriol until I innocently perused some hashtags on Twitter or the YouTube comment section. People can hide behind a screen and say things they wouldn’t even dream of saying to someone’s face.

And yet, when everyone can (theoretically) have access to a medium in which to voice their opinion, there are always limitations. And not all of those are necessarily circumstantial or cultural. No, I would argue a lot of these limitations are self-inflicted and self-regulated and it is in this light that I’d like to consider that wonderfully articulate quote a little further. The opinion I quoted above encapsulates so many of my anxieties so succinctly. The awful, practically constant sensation in the pit of my stomach that nothing I am saying is worthwhile. I’m not aiming for something revolutionary, I’m just aiming to not be regurgitating the same trite phrases and opinions that have come before me. And yet, and yet, I find myself agreeing with the opinions of others to the point that I sometimes wonder if, in actual fact, I’m too scared to hold a contrary opinion, to speak out, to say ‘no actually, in my opinion, I’m not sure what you’re saying is the most important thing about this text’.

I had an interesting chat with a professor of mine last week. After a lovely lovely trip to Lancaster Castle for a peek into the dungeons where it’s believed those tried of witchcraft there in 1612 were held (an oddly unsettling and humbling experience if I’m allowed a moment to be soppy), I mentioned to her about a common theme in the feedback I receive on my essays – to have a clearer argument and be more confident about it when presenting it, instead of leaning so heavily on existing secondary material. Now, I work from the text first and foremost. I do not work from critical theory and use that as a lens through which to view a text. To me that allows for too much potential for imposing a theory on a text that might not necessarily be the best fit. But that’s just me, that’s just how I work, I look at the language of the primary text and work out from there. In the process of this expanding from the text I, naturally, look at what other critics have said. And here comes the trouble-

-When you work on, and adore, that old bard himself, Mr William Shakespeare, there seems to be very little that hasn’t been said. That is to say, whenever I read a play and go ‘ooh! idea!’ and have a nice light-bulb moment, it only takes a quick Google Scholar search to realise that, in fact, this is not an original thought by a long way and in fact there is a whole area of scholarship on it already! That’s daunting and, when it happens on multiple occasions, it’s a little disheartening. You begin to feel like just one voice drowning in the sea of much more educated and much more intelligent individuals. Why on earth would anyone listen to me when they could listen to Stephen Greenblatt or Terry Eagleton or Gail Kern Paster? No wonder so many people suffer from the anxiety of thinking that their voice is worthless, they are inauthentic, their voice is not worthy enough to shout loud and proud from the rooftops.

And yet, if all of those people had limited and in fact silence their voice at the point at which that anxiety gripped them, none of their works would ever have been written – something I definitely need to remember when the self-doubt becomes paralysing.

The quote on which I began this post offers a solution that appears much too simplistic. Oh if only, if only it were that easy, and we had our opinions validated by someone yelling back from a neighbouring rooftop ‘tell me more!’. But I think I had a moment of this. The moment when I was stood chatting to my professor in the middle of Lancaster’s shopping centre about needing to work on some strategies for talking back to critics and building confidence to do so. I said to her that I’d received the same feedback ‘have a stronger and surer argument’ throughout my undergraduate career, and that I wasn’t surprised that I was still receiving the same feedback. And she said to me ‘no, I think you’ve changed since last year, I’ve noticed you’ve developed so much and you don’t even realise but you have’. I was taken aback. I don’t think she’ll ever really know how such a simple comment could reassure me so much.

So, alright, maybe I won’t be rushing up the steps of Bowland Tower to scream my voice from that particular rooftop any time soon but, maybe, just maybe, I’m starting to feel closer to being someone worthy of studying an MA, to having a voice, to being able to weigh in with my opinion on Richard III because it’s my opinion and because that’s worthwhile. So that quote above seems to be a simple solution but it’s not a switch you can suddenly flick down so that you feel an overwhelming rush of validation and authenticity. It’s a slow change, an ongoing process that you have to work at and be prepared to listen to, and consider, the voices of others – but you also shouldn’t be afraid to use your own if you have something to say.

 


 

(NB: A slightly self-indulgent post today, I hope no one minds. It’s something that eats away at me quite a bit if it wasn’t blindingly obvious from what I just wrote above, and so I have to vent about it a lot to try to talk myself round to believing it. I wrote a similar thing here a little while ago about worth, self-doubt, and how it affects writing, but I feel as though my thoughts have become clearer since then.

Oh and I apologise for the blatant Tom Hiddleston quote – actually one of the reasons I like him, and his work, is because he comes across as a thoughtful individual and is about 1000% more articulate and eloquent than I could ever be. Sometimes he just gets it right, and yes, in my opinion, his voice is worth hearing.)

Discussion: The Future

Scary blog title, huh? Scary topic to be honest though so it fits perfectly.

I don’t know what I want to do with my life.

That felt good to admit. I have zero clue what I want to do with my life. I know what in an ideal, ideal world what I would want to do with my life but as we all know that dream of becoming a renowned Shakespeare professor and then moving into a career in theatre in London and then meeting Tom Hiddleston, him falling instantly in love with me and then getting married in a beautiful wedding which my friends and their equally famous significant others enjoys is, well it’s, not even my dream, but Liz’s dream (yeah that still kind of creeps me out a little bit, I don’t need to delusionally dream these things she does it for me).

No, but seriously now, in an ideal world I would have a specific research interest locked down and I would have applied, and been awarded, AHRC funding to finance a pHD at my beloved Lancaster University. But this is the real world and in the real world it is a Monday night, I spent the weekend doing bog all, spent this morning binge-watching Community on Netflix until I went to work for 6 hours and felt like a vaguely useful member of a team (that last bit was nice), then I did laundry and made food and now here I am. If I were passionate about a future pHD would I not be living, breathing, hell also dreaming about, my research interests? I’m not sure, and this uncertainty is what makes me suspect that I actually don’t want to continue in education. Which is ridiculous. It sounds ridiculous to anyone who knows me but it’s beginning to slowly dawn on me that maybe I don’t have what it takes to get to the next step, so to speak. And with the scarcity of teaching positions available at my university (yes I know there are other places but there’s a really lovely Shakespeare programme here okay?), it not only makes it an unlikely next step, it makes it seem nigh on impossible unless you are at the very, very top of your game. And I don’t think I am.

So what does that leave? Well. Teaching. But “those that can’t do teach” hahahaha no, I’ve never believed that, and frankly anyone who does should go take a long hard look at themselves in the mirror. I respect teachers, I applaud teachers, I used to want to be one of them. But now I’m not so sure. You see the thing is, you don’t get to pick and choose your classes. You can’t say ‘oh yes I’ll teach English in secondary school, providing my students actually want to pass and give a damn about Macbeth‘, you can’t say that, in an ideal world, yes, in the real world, no. So teaching is out, for the most part.

How about publishing? Publishing is what I want to do, I can feel it. But where are all the publishing jobs? London. There are smaller pockets elsewhere but, primarily, it’s London-based. So that means you need to be able to commute in or afford to live there which um not to both. Internships appear to be pretty much the only way to try shove your foot in that rapidly closing door in the hope of squeezing in, but how do you even get an internship? Who do I have to sacrifice to get one? Seriously, tell me, let me know. And if you could also advise on how on earth I could ever justify, let alone afford to do, unpaid internships in one of the most expensive cities in the world, that would be great. I don’t have contacts. No one I know knows people. (This is the point where my grandma turns round and tells me she knows the head of editorial at Penguin? Ha, I wish.)

Let’s go a bit lower on the ladder of the publishing world – bookselling. I think I’d like to work in a bookshop, I honestly do. After all I love talking books to people, reading books, recommending books, touching books (not in a creepy way I swear), shelving books (I wish I were kidding), so I think I’d be good at it. I think I’m getting better at customer service because to be honest I feel like after having someone burst into tears in front of me and advising them calmly, I could deal with angry or irritated customers. Or, similarly, libraries… I could be a librarian, I would love that, I’m sure.

Yes, I’m floundering a bit now. And I’m whining, needlessly and self-indulgently, but this is how I’m feeling right now. I know most Arts and Social Sciences graduates go through this – especially English students, or so I’m lead to believe – but I’m feeling it particularly tonight and I thought I would take the time to vent via this blog because it helps, weirdly, and maybe venting is one way to then get over it/myself and move onto the part where I try to do something about it. I think the first logical step would be to do everything in my power to get the best grade and final dissertation possible, in which case I should probably (read: definitely) crack a book open. The future can come later, and hopefully it won’t be quite so ominous and suffocating as it feels right now.

University Woes: Essays, Procrastination, Worth

I have 2 x 5,000 word module essays to complete. At this very moment I have 3245 words of one, and precisely 0 of the other. I am enjoying a good bit of Taylor Swift at full volume – along with dramatic singing and interpretive dance moves obviously – and a nice cup of coffee. I have YouTube, Facebook, and Tumblr tabs open. I’m signed into AIM. All of these things are bad, very very bad, and yet I will never learn. I will never learn the skill of being able to complete shut myself off from everything and everyone distracting in order to get down to some proper hard graft. I just can’t do it.

So instead I come on WordPress to whine about it, yes.

I don’t know what it is about essay writing but past experience dictates I really will never learn better working habits. And as these module essays are 2 out of only 5 extended written pieces I will write for my MA (along with a portfolio of research  methodology activities but let’s not go there), there aren’t many opportunities left to actually learn from this and adjust my behaviour. Many a time I have tried to get to the bottom of this procrastinating.

Is it pure laziness? It’s something I’ve considered. If left to my own devices I can be horrifically lazy. Things will get done… eventually, if one day I had a sudden burst of DO ALL THE THINGS style energy in which I whacked out 1000 words in one sitting and then crashed again. But waiting around for this sudden burst of productivity is a dangerous trap I fall into. If I just am not ‘feeling it’ on a particular day, I will say, for the sake of my own sanity, take a step back and come back to it when you are in the right mind-set. This is good, probably, for the sake of mental health. But for the sake of actually completing a degree? Not so much.

So what is it? I honestly think it’s partly down to fear. It’s fear that as your fingers start flying over those computer keys, you realise that you don’t have a point to argue in your essay. You might have found a text extremely interesting and want to talk about it to people but, ultimately, your opinion is much the same as other people’s and therefore you don’t have anything worthwhile to contribute. Someone else has already said it. Your voice, ultimately, is worthless.

And falling into this mind set is horrible and debilitating and I honestly believe it contributes to my own attitude about essay writing. I’m not hedging here I truly believe it’s a factor in this procrastination – because the longer you put off actually getting down to writing your supposed-to-be-brilliant essay, the longer you put off the realisation that your entire opinion is just a bit ‘meh’.

It’s silly, I know, because I am firmly a member of the ‘everyone’s voice is worthwhile’ club. Everyone brings a slightly different life story to a text, a different set of experiences, a different set of favourite books and films and music, a different set of personal priorities, different political and ideological influences, everyone reads a text in their own way. Sure, you may agree with the mainstream on a lot of it, but your reading experience will (I promise) be, even if only ever-so-slightly , different to the next person’s. I know this, I believe this, I am a big proponent of the EVERYONE HAS A VOICE PLEASE USE IT mindset… and yet… and yet… why can’t I count myself in this number?

In the end, something’s gotta give and I usually do, come hell or high water, write something substantial. It may be caffeine-fuelled and arguably sloppy with an unhealthy dose of self-doubt latent in argument, but I will hand in something resembling an essay. It happens. And I’m hereby promising myself that it will happen this time around too. I’ve just got to somehow try to be kind to myself and say ‘Emma, your voice is worth something, don’t think it isn’t. Take your own advice, use your voice!’.

But, as ever, giving advice is a lot easier than truly taking it.

It’s beginning to look a lot like… the end of term?

In response to the question quite crudely created by the addition of a question mark at the end of some seasonally appropriate butchered song lyrics: well, no, not really. Let me explain.

I have had one deadline this term. One. Let that just sink in for a moment. Not only that, I have taken modules which only last one term, therefore the assessment for these modules would be at the end of this term, right? Wrong. Not quite anyway. You see, the funny thing about postgraduate study is that if it wasn’t for the research methodologies mini assignment that’s worth practically nothing (we’re talking maybe 1% here) I wouldn’t have any way of knowing how I was doing until I handed in my first essays… next year. Well, technically, 13th January to be precise.

Now, this has meant that the chaos that is Week 10 of Michaelmas term largely passed me by this year. It’s been like a rush of fond, distant memories of Michaelmases past, as I sat in my cosy chair in the Learning Zone and watched as people proceeded to leave presentation note printing and essay printing until 10 minutes before a departmental deadline. Such fun! Because that’s definitely how you want to spend your last Friday before going home for Christmas – in a state of emotional flux and panic that is dependent on whether you’ve remembered to top up your printer budget or if the Macs in the Learning Zone feel like working today or not. And yes, you can calculate the likelihood of technology working based on how close it is to your deadline –  there is a negative correlation.

And, as I watched this flurry of panic and the increase of people walking around campus dragging suitcases behind them, I realised one very key thing: I wasn’t excited for the end of term or for Christmas. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am very much looking forward to going home and seeing people I like. But it’s just that the sense of occasion has been taken away due to the fact that practically everything this year has been different from the last 3 years.

  1. I have not had a ‘flat Christmas Day’ with the people I am living with. Therefore I have not had to somehow organise how the hell to cook a chicken, roast carrots, roast potatoes, stuffing, pigs in blankets, and yorkshire puddings in one tiny oven. I have, likewise, not put up a Christmas tree with said flatmates (I did put one up at work though and I think it was the most vital thing I might have ever done for Student Based Services). I have not participated in a Secret Santa and therefore had to trawl through The Works hoping for a moment of brilliance. Likewise, this means my gift-buying for friends and family hasn’t happened yet – I am a terrible person, I will try to remedy this next week, I love you all.
  2. My room is not in any way Christmas-y because, like the idiot I am, I forgot to bring Christmas decorations to university with me. I made paper snowflakes to stick up but got bored after making 4 because it took me and my mum an hour sat on Skype to remember how to make them actually look snowflake shaped rather than just like a square with slightly wonky edges.
  3. I will not be going home until Christmas Eve. Yeah, so it turns out, this is what being an adult means. It means that you will be put on a rota to work up until 23rd December. And yes, that rota will start up again, as the university does, on the 5th January. No month-long Christmas holiday for you, Emma, no, those days are over!
  4. I have not had essays to frantically finish, seminars to contemplate skipping (I went to every single one, thankyouverymuch), presentations to give… none of that. I mean, I do have 2 x 5,000 essays to do. And they are expected to be very thought-out. And I am meant to have sent a vague essay proposal to both module tutors already probably maybe – they didn’t specify what they counted as ‘the end of term’ so… But despite all this, it all seems so far away. It’s not, I know this, I know I do need to write 10,000 words in the next month but it’s really hard to force myself to come to terms with this when I could be marathoning Gilmore Girls instead. You understand, I’m sure.

 

So yeah, I’m not sure… it doesn’t really feel like the term just ended, or indeed that I’ve been chugging along for the past 10 weeks. I say this, I’m sure once I actually both to venture outside of my building I will quickly realise that the end-of-term mass exodus has occurred. That’s always fun, I wonder if I might actually get a seat AND a nearby plug socket in the library if I go there tomorrow morning, living the life of luxury on a Sunday morning. I am so cool.