Thursday, 6 June 2013
It's been a long time since my last post, as expected things got very hectic towards the end of last month. As a 'mature' student learning to combine the essay deadlines, family and friend commitments and generally just living - all take practise. Academia aside, I have learnt that I can walk past the pile of papers on the table without tidying them - and the world doesn't come to an end. I have also learnt that the family won't die of starvation because I'm not cooking and that the ironing pile mountain can actually get pretty damn high before toppling - so what! Don't get me wrong, I'm not the only one in the house capable of doing these things, but typically it comes down to me - and I have learnt to let it go. I feel quite liberated as well as educated and the truth is that the pressure only comes from me!
It is fair to say that I have embraced the learning experience and that it has awakened a hunger in me. My confidence has grown, my memory improved (if only slightly) and my social horizons have widened. I see links and connections in literature or history that I never knew existed before. This both excites me and scares me. How can I ever have time to read it all or remember it!
I have a few months now to recharge the batteries before beginning the next five years (which I believe run concurrently). I desperately want to get writing again and in fact took a special day trip last week in the name of 'research' - but that's a blog for next time.
If anyone is contemplating a late education, like me - I would categorically say 'stop thinking and just do it!'
Sunday, 17 March 2013
Boilers, Blogs and Beats...
I have well and truly neglected my blog over the last month. It seems everything has conspired against me. A nice short school term at work means not long until the next break. On the minus side it means cramming six weeks of work into four and a half weeks. So, getting home already a bit jaded from a days work, I have tried to get on with the studying.
My plan for 'brewing' essays went to pot when the assignment week proved to be a disaster at home. Amongst other distractions, the boiler broke down whilst the gas and heating engineer (also known as the Guitarman) was away for two days. Since changing careers seven years ago, the Guitarman has rarely gone away - why did the boiler choose this week to die! Lots of kettle boiling and filling of pans ensued. I missed my yoga class and crammed in studying - twenty minutes here and twenty minutes there, but managed to get the assignment in on time. Completely out of my comfort zone as organisation went out of the window on this one but I suppose it had to happen sometime.
In an effort to ensure that this doesn't happen again I crammed in the next two weeks chapters of the course in one and started preparation for the next assignment, about two weeks ahead of time. The Burial at Thebes by Seamus Heaney - Sophocles' Antigone. I have a definite fondness for classical studies going back to my time at secondary school. Poetry, however, is not my strong point. I have been reliably informed by the study material that the prologue is in three beat verse - I have listened to the audio production and read it out loud I don't know how many times but as yet I don't get it! My brain is not tuning in - I'm not hearing the three beats. Oh dear, not a good start...
Saturday, 2 February 2013
As I suspected the essay did not write itself and in many ways I would have gone through less pain had I pulled my own teeth out with a pair of pliers! This latest assignment has caused me grief, I think mainly because it is such a huge and complicated topic that I knew very little about. I have only a few days in which to let it brew and finalise before submitting. In the mean time I need to catch up on two chapters and read a new one before my tutorial on Tuesday. Oh yes and do the ironing, the shopping and go to work. As I said, discombobulated.
Monday, 28 January 2013
A Good Cup of Tea...
Well after all the brewing, I finally made a good cup of tea. For the first time I am actually pleased with my mark. Whilst there are still improvements to be made, I at least feel that I am on the right track.
Now to tackle the next one. In my opinion the fourth and current assignment is by far the hardest yet. (This is not helped by the somewhat strange and seemingly misjudged order of the chapters. I won't bore you with the details but I can't make up my mind if it's deliberate or an oversight on the part of the OU). That obstacle aside there is also the ESSAY PLAN to contend with. 'Ahh well', I thought, 'it's going to be better this time, I have double the word count' - and then I read the question, stared blankly at an empty piece of paper for a few hours which eventually turned into a few days. After another day of trying to gather my thoughts and ideas on Tradition and Dissent in English Christianity, I tried the suggested mind maps - the colour pens were called upon and a frenzy of cross referencing began. This technique definitely helped. It's been mind maps galore in my little hideaway and finally, after much procrastination, I have produced a plan! I am sure the theory is that I have done the bulk of the hard work and now the essay will flow out of my mind and onto the page with ease...... I wish!
Monday, 14 January 2013
I am willing to give it a try
The OU are running a competition this month for students to give their top studying tip and it got me thinking. As a relatively new student I'm not sure if I am yet qualified to give a top tip but I do know what works for me and what doesn't.
Aside from the need to be able to study away from family life I have noticed something recently. When discussing my essay topic (with anyone who will listen but typically The Guitarman), I usually come to some realisation or conclusion that I hadn't thought of before. It seems that giving a verbal account of the topic helps me in some way that writing alone doesn't do. I'm already an advocate for the tutorials (if you can manage to attend), which go some way towards this solution - but I hadn't quite expected this development. In all honesty I haven't even needed a response from the listener, it is more the fact that I am putting my thoughts in order so therefore, I suppose, I could be speaking to myself. I haven't yet put this to the test but I am willing to give it a try.
....So, my top tips:
- Shut yourself away
- Start talking to yourself
MADWOMAN LIVING IN HERTFORDSHIRE SHED....LAST SEEN CLUTCHING AA100 BOOK 2 WITTERING ABOUT TRADITION AND DISSENT IN ENGLISH CHRISTIANITY....APPROACH WITH CAUTION...
Wednesday, 2 January 2013
Leaving it to Brew
I am currently working on my third assignment which consists of two short (make that very short) essays and a deadline to submit at the end of next week. With two assignments under my belt I am trying an approach that makes sense but quite frankly scares me a bit. Part of the battle with these initial assignments is the small word counts and therefore what to leave out without leaving too much ...um out. My approach this time is to write the essay, leave it for a few days, make changes as usual and then leave it to brew for a few more days. The result so far has been a complete restructure of the essay - I am happier with it now but there is a little niggle in my head 'was it better before? I can't tell anymore I've read it so many times.' I am now working on the second essay which hopefully will give my brain a respite from the first and it will all become clear again on my final check before submission.
Thursday, 13 December 2012
Well it had to happen. So envious is The Guitarman of my little hideaway that he wants one for himself, only his is going to be bigger (but not better in my opinion, nothing can match my tranquil little haven).
The groundworks have been laid and the shed (second house) constructed. The structure is currently being lined and prepared for wiring and soundproofing.
Oh the joy, no more piles of paperwork cluttering up the house but more importantly no more STUFF! Guitars and widgets and gadgets all evicted from the house and consigned to the studio/office. The Lego like barricade of equipment will be taken down brick by brick and we will reclaim the room! OK, so I had better not get too excited, it'll be ages yet before it's all finished, dry, warm and secure but ...... whoohooo!
It is somewhat ironic that this blog did not post when scheduled and in the interim I had a dream. In the dream The Guitarman 'led me up the garden path' to view the 'shed' which was being worked on by an inordinate amount of helpers. Impressed by the scale of the construction I went inside and discovered a reasonable space with a good amount of floor room. To my surprise (and undetectable from outside) in true Tardis style, the room seemed bigger inside than out and even had a door leading to another room. 'Lovely', I exclaimed, 'you can have this room as your studio and that one will work perfectly as your office!' 'That's not all', said The Guitarman, 'follow me', as he grasped my hand and led me through yet another door. I distinctly remember a feeling of rising anger as we went from room to increasing room, by the time we reached a bathroom I was practically apoplectic and to cap it off I came across some stairs! Ultimately this 'shed' was a three storey wooden house with the finest state of the art bathroom fittings. - Err, now who is it that has shed envy?
Monday, 10 December 2012
No More Room!
If you have been following my blog you will have noticed that I haven't posted for a month. Well here I am trying to make amends. Things have become more than a little hectic. Does it get worse than this? I hope not, but probably.
It's nearly Christmas, every aspect of life is busier than usual - everything seemingly revolves around dates and deadlines, from work and study to social life; organising the work 'do', writing out Christmas cards, buying presents, submitting assignments, studying topics and attending tutorials.
Assignment two has been sent off, assignment three is brewing. The nerves for the second assignment were worse than the first but this time there will be no thumb twiddling waiting for the assignment to come back - it's two weeks before I find out the result and a little more than two weeks until Christmas. Method and organisation (my stabilising comforts) are slipping, memory is worsening and lists are growing. The book research has been abandoned as has Anna Karenina. The diary, the study planner and the 'to do before Christmas' lists are full. My brain is positively yelling at me, 'don't take anything else on, there's no more room in here!'
Note to self: Next year start Christmas arrangements in June.
Saturday, 10 November 2012
Ill? I Don't Have The Time!
Well it has certainly been an eventful week, amongst other things I:
- Submitted my first TMA (Tutor Marked Assignment)
- Saw the first phase of a work project come to fruition
- Discovered that the OU Student Newsletter listed this blog as blog of the month
- Didn't read a single page of Anna Karenina
- Did read the OU chapter on Stalin
- Did read a book about writing
- Did some research for my book
- Came down with some flu like thing that has knocked me sideways
Sadly Anna Karenina was the sacrifice - well, something had to give. Perhaps next week.
As for being ill, we are not a sickly sort of family - none of us are ill very often, who has the time to be ill anyway? Quite frankly - I just don't do illness. I get cross and impatient because there are always 'things to do' rather than sleep or sitting doing nothing. However, on this ocassion - between having a snooze on the bed late morning yesterday and sitting wrapped in the duvet watching a film a few hours later, I was able to watch a YouTube video on 'Stalin the Myth', recommended by a fellow student that very afternoon. I also had some time to contemplate the plot of my story and had an idea for a radical change from the original plan. If my head didn't hurt so much I'd be feeling quite pleased with myself.
Friday, 26 October 2012
Not Compulsory But Can You Manage Without Them?
For me personally - no.
OK so it's still early days and at this stage I have only attended two but both undoubtedly provided the impetus I needed to get the first TMA underway. I left the tutorials with a sense of purpose and clarity which I hadn't achieved from reading the study material alone. I have thrown myself into this wholeheartedly - amongst other things I have watched just over three hours of Cleopatra, I have listened to BBC4 history podcasts and I have visited the National Gallery and Courtauld Gallery to see the Cezanne paintings in the 'flesh'. The three plus hours of Cleopatra were worth it just to illuminate Plutarch's view on her visit to Tarsus. But what really got me going was sitting with my contemporaries discussing the various aspects of the topic. Everyone contributed something, it felt as though we were on the same level - it dispelled the feeling of inadequacy over the standard and content of the discussion forums. Equally with regards to Cezanne, I was completely dazed and out of my depth after reading the chapter through twice - but after the day class on Saturday, I came away feeling that I had at least some understanding of what Cezanne was trying to achieve.
Of course there is every chance that this could just be me. I have been out of education for over twenty six years, I am out of practice. Maybe a few topics or even modules down the line I won't feel quite the same.
Right now though, I would categorically say, if you can go - do.
Friday, 19 October 2012
Juggling The Balls
Weeks ago I sat down and planned out my days in half hour slots, plotting when I would be at work (grey blocks), getting home and cooking, sorting washing etc (white blocks) when I could study (red blocks) and when I would give myself some time off (yellow blocks). The first week was perfect.
Sadly this second week hasn't worked quite so well and all those colours seem more like blocks with an additional 'o' and 'l'! I am part of a family, unexpected 'things' crop up and the basic stuff still needs to be done. I thought I had allowed time for this but as I have discovered life isn't always that organised. I work hard and so does The Guitarman, sometimes he isn't able to take J to his guitar lesson or maybe he needs to pop home briefly to eat before going out to work again. Someone has to cook the dinner and provide the taxi service and whilst everyone is mucking in, that also has to include me. I made the mistake on Tuesday of allowing myself unscheduled leisure time because technically I am ahead of the game. However Wednesday, for various reasons outside anyones control, went completely to pot. By the time I was free to study it was gone 9pm and I was dead on my feet. At the end of the evening I was really anxious as I know that on Thursdays I have other commitments and cannot study at all. That's three days in a row without study - I might be able to get away with it at the moment but as the course progresses this won't be the case I am sure.
Busy with work, busy with family, and all the while trying unsuccessfully to stick to the plan. Anyone that knows me well, knows that this is my idea of hell. I like things to be organised, I like to know what I am doing and when and I don't particularly enjoy last minute deviations. This week I am studying Cleopatra, that week I am studying Cezanne, it's clear in my head, I am happy. Meanwhile in reality my email pings and a tutor on my tutorial forum poses a question to get us all thinking and discussing a related topic. What do other students do? They respond with thoughtful and considered observations. What do I do? Ignore it. The truth is, at the moment I simply can't cope with it.
So what have I learnt this week?
- Following the plan isn't always going to be possible
- I need to take my opportunities when I get them (don't sit in your dressing gown drinking wine and catching up on True Blood)
- I need to adjust to later nights during the working week
- I can't bury my head forever, sooner or later I am going to have to cope with work, home and social life, official study and the extra stuff thrown in
Tuesday, 2 October 2012
The Grumpy Old Bag?
Well the WiFi euphoria soon wore off when I realised that connection in the hide-away is only sporadic and the booster that I have since purchased doesn't appear to work at all! For some inexplicable reason I have connection as I type but for how long?......
Things have progressed since my last post. The module website is open, I have had a letter and an email from my tutor and I have a list of my local tutorials over the coming months. The tutor has suggested that I look at two specific areas of the first workbook before our meeting next week. I feel relatively calm and very ready to begin. In addition to this I have withdrawn from the unofficial module facebook group - at the risk of sounding like a grumpy old bag - I couldn't stand it anymore! Life's too short, too many books and not enough time..... From now on I will rely on the official forums and groups which will hopefully stick to the relevant stuff. If I make some friends along the way that's great but I don't need to take on other people's stresses and strains (particularly when most of the time they simply haven't read something properly). OK so I do sound like a grumpy old bag - all I would advise is that it would be wise to weigh up the benefits and be selective in choosing which groups you join.
Wednesday, 19 September 2012
Keeping a Clear Head
It's been a few weeks since my last post, the summerhouse was delivered (at the very end of the delivery schedule of course) and I am sitting here for the first time in my freshly painted and kitted out hut-shed-summerhouse-office-study thing. It's peaceful and warm, I have electricity and light and much to my surprise WiFi signal!
The course start date is fast approaching and like many keen students I have joined the OU Arts & Humanities forum linked to my first course. In addition I have also joined a course specific facebook group. Both of these facilities have proved useful in picking up information from people all over the country, eg we have shared links for performances of Dr Faustus both at the theatre and a special showing at Vue cinemas. We have also shared info on the Hollywood version of Cleopatra which was showing on Sky TV and on Saturday I am meeting up with 3 fellow students at the National Gallery to take a look at the original Cezanne painting 'The Bathers' - all positive stuff. There is however a draw back to this social network business - it can be very distracting....
Aside from trying to keep up with all the new joiners on either site which takes up your time (be warned - joining a closed facebook group seems to mean that you get an email each time someone posts), there is an element of filtering to be established - great, yes Person A, let's meet up and view the paintings together....But Person B do I really need to know that you 'didn't do any studying today and will catch up tomorrow LOL'. Not everyone on these sites is new to the OU, some have already started other courses, their posts fill some of the new students with sheer panic thinking that they are way behind everyone else. Others have started assignments even though we haven't yet been allocated or spoken to our Tutors. Couple the panic filled posts with the glut of information from the OU and you can easily become overwhelmed.
There is so much to explore on the OU website, with the Library services offering online tutorials covering a range of topics (including how to attend an online tutorial!) We have the books, CD's, DVD's and study guides to read/listen to and watch as well as the set texts. Dipping into these at this stage is all that is required. I have booked tickets to see Dr Faustus at the Islington Pleasance Theatre next month, I am half way through Cleopatra (it is almost 4hrs long) and I am off to the museum on Saturday. I am limiting myself to 1-2 visits to the forum per week and I am trying not to get too involved in the many posts from the facebook group whilst at the same time still taking part.
My workspace is ready, I have done some reading, some listening and some watching, I have prepared a study schedule now all I need to do is keep a clear head........
Thursday, 23 August 2012
Nerves & Nitty Gritty
Having spent the last three weeks preparing the garden, today I am sitting and waiting for the delivery of my study/summerhouse. On the one hand I am really excited, my organisation freak side can't wait to get it painted and kitted out with my files, books, new stationary and pictures for the wall - all in time for the beginning of the course. My nervous side is developing an increasing sense of fear - the books have all arrived from the OU, the Student Finance is all arranged, my workspace is almost ready...... and then it all comes down to me. The summer is almost over, I am due to go back to work - how am I going to work, study, keep reading and writing and look after my family?! Should they be in that order? That's how it came out, does this mean something? I don't know. What if I can't do it, supposing my assignments aren't up to scratch, or everyone in the group understands a concept apart from me?
My sensible side is telling me to keep calm - I have the support of my family, I (will) have a quiet working space, with the help from the OU guide I have worked out a study and free time schedule, I am already in contact with other students on the OU forum who virtually all feel just as nervous. My 'children' are now young men, they are not going to starve (Sainsbury's can testify to that!) It is going to be hard, it is going to be tiring but the will and intent are there.
Now I've slapped myself around the face, where's that blasted delivery?.....
Monday, 13 August 2012
Foundations and Summerhouses
This year the family summer holiday provided more than an escape from the routine of everyday living. Aside from the cultural education and relaxation aspects, I had a chance to formulate the plot for my novel, which up until recently was a 'mishmash' of thoughts and feelings and lacked coherence in my mind. Whilst I am sure things will change, it now has a spine from which the branches of the story can grow. I had the idea for a short story which I will pick up when the time is right and wrote the framework of another short story which now needs the 'meat on the bones'. I also learnt something very important - that whilst I can read through almost any noise associated with family life, I simply can't write with any distractions. As I am due to start my OU course in under two months I think this last realisation is fairly crucial. Unless I sit on my bed, I have nowhere to study or write without being in the throng of things (my chiropractor would have a field day!)
Coincidentally I bought a writers magazine to read on the journey which included an article on writers workspace. The cover shows a very romantic picture of an author sitting in a summerhouse with hens pecking the dappled sunlit ground. "Where are you going to study?" asked The Guitarman (husband) as we sat in the shade on the peaceful terrace one afternoon. "Err, I had thought at the dining room table but now I am beginning to wonder if that will work.... I have no idea!" I replied with more than a hint of panic. He picked up the magazine and said, "I think we should build you a summerhouse."
For the last three days all five members of the 'H' clan have been involved in preparing the ground for the summerhouse. The sun has shone, we've had laughs - fortunately no tears - but plenty of mud and stones, railway sleepers, blisters and aching muscles and we did it! I feel very proud and very lucky that along with The Guitarman my three teenage boys willingly and enthusiastically helped build the foundation. I am moved and overwhelmed by the poignancy of what is essentially an area of concrete and wood. I am truly grateful to my supportive family.