What if I tell you that you actually enjoy studying more than you realise? What if I tell you that scoring distinctions aren’t exactly the contributory factors to the fun of the course? All the hours you have spent boning up a text; compare this to that few minutes of bliss when you realise you score a distinction for your paper. What if I tell you that you actually enjoy the former much more than the latter?
We are all quite familiar with the formula: write every day, as it is the only way to hone the craft. And, keeping a diary is the best method to do this. Quite convinced that regularity is truly the way, I too, have been keeping a diary for about six years, to persuade myself to write something every day. Recently, however, I had not written a word in it for nearly 20 days.
Eventually, I decided that it was time to finally extinguish that flame of December festivity, which I figured was where the heat of playfulness got a little out of control. I had allowed it to foil my plans for too long. But, when I decided to pick up my long neglected writing, as well as my studying, I was shackled by lethargy. I could not get into my stride. I could not read even for 15 minutes without feeling restless. I somehow managed to cook up an avalanche of excuses – I need to go to work, I need to cook, perhaps I should rest for awhile before I begin, etc. “Awhile” became “a day”. By bedtime, the panic mode would take over. I would try to redeem the hours lost in a day, all in that few hours before bedtime. It would never work out well: reading was done in a haphazard manner, without registering anything; writing was insipid, lacking in texture. I realised that I could not cheat myself any longer.
Who would actually be interested in knowing the mundane details of another person’s daily life? Well, I do. I do, especially if that person is remarkable, someone who has made astounding achievements in their lifetime. I do, especially if that person is a writer, a musician – someone whose creativity is celebrated, commemorated and revered for years, and many more years to come. I have always found it very fascinating to know how these people manage to find time to work on their creations. Just how did they do it?
It is for these reasons that I bought a copy of Daily Rituals by Mason Currey. It is a book that tells us everything about what great minds like Hemingway or Beethoven do daily. We have all heard about the geniuses of these people, and I have always wondered just how they achieved it.
He looked at me for a second, probably it was for three seconds. And just when I thought he was beginning to look at me a little longer than before, he turned his eyes away. He picked up his phone, his fingers did the swiping motion; right to left and top to down. It managed to hold his eyes with the intensity I had known so well. It was the kind of concentration I used to see years ago, whenever he had his eyes on me, listening to my every word with fascination.
Again, he looked up at me for a second; two seconds; his hand was still holding on to his Blackberry. Perhaps it was work, some important email that he had been waiting to receive, I thought. I tried to put my words across, but before long, I lost him again, “My true name is so well known in the records…” Beep. Beep. In an instant, he picked up his phone again. It seemed to possess a way of controlling his reflex. It dominated his every move. He sat up. OK, finally, it looked like he had decided to pay his attention to me. But all he did was to flip open his laptop and start surfing the net.
No, this is not the rumblings of a neglected lover. Neither is it of a child who is deprived of the parent’s attention. It is from one of the books that sit on your shelf; one that is lying on your coffee table, on your breakfast table; by your bedside; or (for those with the habit of reading while ‘expelling’), by the toilet. It is that book which you have always wanted to finish reading. You have had that book for almost two years, which is a long enough time to read all its 200 pages, the average length of any book.
I first discovered Roald Dahl in the library of my primary school. It was not a library with shelves and shelves of books, looking all impressive, and promising an adventure for a seven-year-old. I remembered it as a rather modest one: it did not amass a vast array of books though it had been around for very long. Yet, it was there where I acquired the love for reading.
Roald Dahl was one of those amongst the library’s collections. Quite like any child, I took to him almost instantly. I remembered that I wanted to be transformed into all of his characters all at once. Matilda’s intelligence was something I grew covetous of; and to live the rest of my life as a mouse like the boy in The Witches was one of my childhood daydreams. The most absurd idea that I had, was the wish that I were an orphan so that the BFG (the big friendly giant) could come and take me away to his land.
I managed to grow out of these strange fantasies, fortunately.
However, Roald Dahl did not leave me─he left an ineffaceable imprint on my life. His works retained their places as delectable reads which I revisit time and again. They are like comfort food─nostalgic and assuring with their familiarity.
It is the weekend again; and this means allotting time for studies. For the entire week, I haven’t been able to sit myself down for a good, solid session of studying. Looking at the approaching weekends with the relish of spending hours with books might sound strange to some people; to me, however, swotting up on literary terms, or assimilating a critic’s work is an ideal way of enjoying my free time.
Balancing work and studies could never be an easy task. Besides feeling dead beat at the end of a working day, the realisation that I haven’t read a word always weighs me down more. Although I have tried to squeeze some reading time in during the day, such as when I am traveling to and from work, or when I am having my lunch break, it is still insufficient to study productively.
Therefore, my weekends are really precious. Just like how a working mother would look forward to the end of the week as a time for her children, I always anticipate with pleasure the joy of spending my Saturdays and Sundays with my books. But no matter how many weekends I have, I don’t seem to have enough time to complete reading everything on my list. It is precisely at such acute moments of frustration that I pleasantly discovered how I could make full use of the UOL’s subject guides.
Despite the somewhat romantic notion I had about enjoying a leisurely time after finishing my degree, it has worked out to be a bit different. This summer I have had very little break time between interviewing for new opportunities, IT repairs, a 180-degree shift in a work project, finishing my home redecorating project, and preparing to enter a new academic program. You would think I could see all of that coming, but, unfortunately, no. What managing it all helped me realize is that reading and studying has been a kind of stress management tool for me, in addition to being something I really, really enjoy. Studying as a form of stress management might sound unusual to you. It certainly sounds unusual to me, but while managing all the rough and tumble of professional life this week, I realized that having my reading and intense engagement with English studies is an excellent stress management tool and helps me maintain a helpful perspective on other projects.
It is that time of the year again; the familiar, frenzied yet excited emotions that you felt a year ago. It is like travelling to a foreign country―a time of exploration and discovery; but accompanied by the anxiety of the unknown. You welcome it though. Despite all the tension it had given you for one full year, you did feel buoyed up by a sense of achievement by the end of it.
Now, the new list of texts (again) intimidates you. You slowly realise that the sheer number of them will tower over you. Some of them are heavy, more so on the mind than in the hand. Merriam Webster calls them ‘tomes’― “large or scholarly books”. Surely, you want to be ‘scholarly’, but your packed schedule stands between you and the books. You will, however, be relieved to know that it is not impossible to approach this seemingly herculean task. What I find immensely helpful, when I did my first year, as well as now when I am gearing up for the upcoming academic year, is to first gather the raw materials―things which construct the skeletal frame. It is the first step, which I think is essential before I approach the BA English programme. I have also imagined the tools for this first step as the sculpting knife and the stone; the very basic materials I need before I proceed to chisel a completed sculpture. As an Asian doing the English course, I feel, knowing the history of England― both the country’s as well as its literature, provides the bare necessities to develop better appreciation. Three books, in particular, I have found extremely helpful in providing me with adequate knowledge within the shortest time.
What a week we have had here in Pittsburgh! Jelly Bean, my collie dog, and I have accomplished a lot. We spent some time digging over and planting three new flowerbeds, began a creative project, and finished our ‘spring’ cleaning that got sadly, sadly behind when concentrating on exams and some professional projects. This week we also finally finished two big, lingering work projects. (Yes, we – she is a very good co-pilot for long stretches at my desk.) Having professional and personal projects like this is a great thing right now. While it is sinking, albeit slowly, into my brain that I actually completed the degree, I have not quite figured out what to do with the time devoted to study. There was a celebration and a few tears of relief and joy when grades were released but nothing like the sense of satisfaction that came with the invitation to our graduation ceremony in the spring.
It feels like transition time, and perfectly timed too with the lovely feeling of spring ripening into summer, not that it is always a process without drama. This week we had an incredible summer storm. In just a few hours, we had three inches of rain. A building on our street was struck by lightning, streets were closed from flash flooding, people were rescued from floating vehicles, and our garden room flooded impressively. Although Jelly Bean is normally quite brave during thunder and lightning storms, she felt better sitting in my lap as we watched this one from her favorite window seat. In an almost Shakespearean way, like our own personal ‘Tempest’, the storm arrived along with my decision to pursue new professional opportunities and set new academic goals.
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. Continue reading