It is such a lovely summer here in Pennsylvania. Jelly Bean and I are enjoying some long, lovely summer days. Her favorite way to spend the day is lolling in the grass, playing in the lawn sprinklers. When evening comes, the fireflies mesmerize her. Because of her chronic medical condition, we dedicate a lot of our playtime to these pursuits as well as lounging in the shade and reading. There is nothing like relaxing in the garden with Jelly Bean and a good book. My summer reading list is quite interesting, perhaps even eclectic, and a bit surprising. Read the rest of this entry »
Grades were released for the BA English last week. As you can imagine, the event generated some excitement in our student chat areas. For yours truly, it is an enormous relief to have the marks and know where I stand, so to speak. For me, this was a challenging year with greater work and study responsibilities than ever before. Revising for exams was a worrying time, managing professional projects and trying to have some kind of personal balance. This year, like other years, the link to grades arrived in my inbox just at the time I settled my thoughts about each course and started thinking realistically about the exam. I like that process because self-assessment is an important part of our study skills in distance learning, and because it is an excellent validation of some complex thoughts and feelings.
One of the things that makes literature beautiful is its ability to bring out our multifaceted humanity. It functions like a prism that reflects the many colours of the rainbow when a beam of white light passes through it.
However, this ‘rainbow’ is not all about beauty; neither is it infallible. It has its vulnerabilities, the little pockmarks that blemish an otherwise beautiful face. And I think that it is not only at its most vulnerable, but also at its most interesting stage, when the intricacies of human relationships and of humanity surface.
It is the first week of a very hot summer here in Pennsylvania. Jelly Bean and I sit in the shade of our enormous maple tree for our favorite activities. She indulges me in one of my favorite activities, reading and we wait for a chance to indulge in her favorite activity, romping with her canine playmates as they come by on their walks. Now that I have no specific course to study for, I am suddenly aware of how much reading I have been doing over the last several years and how much I enjoy reading with a plan and a purpose. Even without preparing for a course of study, since May, my reading list surprised me: two novels by Hilary Mantel, one by Rushdie, Malory’s complete works, and Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain. Right now, I am back onto Victorian poetry. I wondered what I would choose to read without a syllabus or course goals for structure. How much our course of study has affected how I read is a constant, pleasant surprise. How did this happen, exactly? Other students seem to be curious about this too, according to conversations in our student chat areas. Many wonder which texts on the recommended lists are the best aids to degree level study. How I read now has been influenced by some helpful texts.
Some readers have asked what it is like to study English in our distance learning program. I have been thinking about how to describe the experience, and what my practical approach to degree study would be if I were starting the program today. For me, the program has been such a marvelous experience that starting over today would be a delight. The required courses are very interesting with the opportunity to focus on such a variety of texts that reading them again would be very interesting work. Although the advanced courses I selected were my first choices there are several others I would enjoy reading. The process of studying in this program is very rewarding and offers a treasured opportunity. Here are some notes about what to expect.
Waiting is a challenging thing to do, as I am sure it is for all of us, especially when it is waiting for information we really want. To while away the hours, as the examiners are working hard reading essays and writing reports, Jelly Bean and I have embarked on a furniture rearranging strategy that touches every room in the house, and even reaches to outdoor living areas. For me, it is absolutely wonderful. Jelly Bean is a little more cautious about the process and the outcomes, just like me in exams. She keeps a careful eye on her toy box and favourite blankets while the rearranging is in progress.
This is the first summer in a long time that I do not have a course to prepare for the next semester. Not having to read for a new course leaves a lot of free time. Having so much free time makes the wait for results seem even longer. I have several great things planned for this summer, but the real sense of anticipation comes from wanting to get on with my next academic step. It is hard to think about anything else.
Today, while shoving and tugging furniture from one room to another, I tried to think carefully and realistically about my results. I am anxious for the results not just because they show the effectiveness of my efforts, but because they will help me plan my next academic and professional steps. The need to delay making or executing a plan is quite frustrating to a Myers Briggs ETNJ like me. The furniture rearranging, along with several writing workshops, helps redirect my planning needs and tendencies, but I still cannot wait to apply to my next program.
This is my first entry in the blog; and I am supposed to say something about myself ― that should not be too difficult, right? Not quite!
Most people would generally think that students of English, by virtue of their studies, should be able to write about anything and everything. It, therefore, comes as no surprise when we get requests from friends, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbours, neighbours’ friends, colleagues, etc (and the list goes on), who want us to write a letter to the Town Council, or draft a business proposal, or even edit a wedding speech, dash off an irate email to their children’s school complaining about the dirty toilets, and there is no imaginable end to such bizarre requests.
When I was, however, given the chance to write for the student blog, I confess, I was diffident about whether I was equal to the task. For the past two days, I have been ruminating on how I should begin: I have been anxious about how I should sound; what tone I should adopt. It is after all, my very first entry; I have been concerned about the first impression. I had a sneaking suspicion that it was the perfectionist at work again. (To all the perfectionists out there, take note that oftentimes, the flawless perfectionist is also the vile procrastinator in all of us.)
During the time I have been studying for my degree I often wondered how my course work would affect my leisure reading and other work. Until last week, there has not been much time for leisure reading over the last year. My leisure reading time has been so limited that my treasured subscription to The Economist lapsed without my even realizing it. The stack of New York Times newspapers have been nothing but recycling material for some time now. Instead of a holiday, my post exam relaxation is hugging Jelly Bean, rearranging furniture, and leisure reading.
For the last week, I have been reading some texts that even I, with my liberal definition, might think twice about calling literature. Surprisingly, now that exams are over and I just might have completed my degree, my personal reading has, well, blossomed in ways I did not expect. It surprised me to find arguments and rhetoric jumping off the page in a completely new way. This changed the experience of reading a little. While I thought it might be a distraction, the opposite is really the truth of it. It is quite nice to trace the hand of the author in the work.
Phew! It has been a three-week whirlwind of exams and work and not much else. Despite having back-to-back exams for my last two papers, I somehow did two all night study sessions and lived to tell the tale. Although just a week has passed since my last exam, it feels like much, much longer. Now we begin the wait for our results. It has taken a few days to recover from the all night exam preps, a hectic work schedule, and the intensity of exam days. Now that Jelly Bean and I have had some good long naps, a few hikes in the park and have caught up on professional projects, we have started putting our ‘Exams and Results’ folder in order.
My ‘Exams and Results’ folder is a handy file where I keep things that are helpful when grades and Examiners’ Reports become available a few weeks from now. Things like my candidate number, the questions I attempted for each course, a summary of my answers and notes about how I wrote essays and structured arguments. I also make notes about how I revised for each paper. Writing these notes makes resources like the Examiners’ Reports much more useful. It is also helpful for planning next term’s study strategy.
Here we are in the middle of exams. For me, two down and two more to go this week. So far so good, but this is always the most trying time in the process for me. I enjoy managing four courses at one time, but this year it is a bit of a strain because of my work schedule. My first two papers were alright. By that I mean I think I maintained my academic performance of last term. For me, that is really not the goal but this year it might be the best I can do. I am learning a lot along the way, which feels very rewarding in its own way. Still, I can do better and that is my goal this week.
To manage work responsibilities and exams I wound up with two all-night study sessions before each paper last week. Not ideal, but some good came out of it. First, being very tired meant I had to really focus on each sentence. My essay plans were good, and I incorporated criticism and points from the texts. But I did not word the argument as well as I could have. I forgot my key phrases that point out incorporation of scholarship, and differentiate it from my opinion. Handy Phrases like, ‘some criticism considers…’ and ‘if we accept that…….’ are very helpful ways to link points and evidence in a paper.