Tuesday, 23 May 2017

How To: Read Daringly

Too often we describe reading as something we wish we could make more time for, but further exciting or important things come along getting in the way of those plans. I disagree entirely with having no time for books or reading - it is singlehandedly the easiest way to keep your mind active. It needs training just as we do physically in order to stay healthy. Brain gymnastics is sometimes even more fun than going for a swim or a hike because you can escape to other worlds or enter into another completely new state of mind to explore ideas you never really thought about before.

So, to keep reading fun, read daringly! There are several steps which make it easier to do this and some of them will be more challenging than others. It is easy to read what everyone else is reading but, as Murakami pointed out, if you only read what everyone else is reading then you can only think what everyone else is thinking. That quote is far too over-used on my own behalf, but only because of how much it rings true. Stretching our minds to the furthest little space of what makes them a universe within themselves is never an easy task, but it is one which reading allows us to undertake. Through reading we can put ourselves into a myriad of situations and periods of time we might never know in person but it feels like we are truly there when we read the words. So we come away from those pages a better person - having learnt something. Being slightly changed in some way.

I challenge you to read daringly this summer because it works wonders and I want everyone to love reading as much as I do. Here are a few little tips to get you started:

Fill your mind with stories! - Copyright CLSS 2015

1. Random Library Search

Go into a library and look for a random book. Maybe something you have wanted to read for quite a while but haven't yet gotten around to or a recommendation from someone at work. A fun one can also be to find random inspiration, such as picking a letter from the alphabet and then choosing a book from the shelf with an author or title beginning with that letter. You never know what you might come across.

Random library searches are different depending upon the individual. Perhaps you think this might not work for you because you really aren't interested in reading something such as a crime thriller and if you come across one of those in your random search, then you might feel you have to read it. Do not worry - the random search can still be for you. Personalise it a little bit more by doing a search on the online system perhaps. Then you can search for key words to see what comes up. So if you want to read something new that you wouldn't usually pick up but still within a certain genre, you can put in keys words (e.g. poetry) to the search bar and get a list of options which contains a wide variety of different materials but still applies to one genre.

2. Ask For Recommendations 

As previously mentioned, book searches can be random but still be a little personalised. The aim is to get you reading more than anything and to find yourself enjoying a wide range of different materials as you consume your regular literary diet. Recommendations can be a good place to start if you don't want to be overly daring. At the end of this university year, I thought it would be a good idea to pass out some literary recommendations to my own teachers (it is the only time in the year it seems acceptable!). Sometimes you will come across books which fit your tastes exactly, particularly if you are asking within your own friendship circles. But aim to ask someone who has different reading tastes what they would have you read to get engaged with a new area of writing - whether it be manga or 15th century German texts. Keep a list of your findings and work your way through it, tracking your thoughts as you go to see if this new style of reading really is for you.

3. Blind Date With A Book

The last place I saw these was in the train station in Florence on my Easter trip to Italy. It is such a quaint, cute idea - the principle being that you buy a brown paper parcel containing a book with but a few key words or a summary on the front to give you a clue as to whether or not this book is for you. It incorporates all the literary theory in practice really (Barthes death of the author and the like). Plus it means the cover never really comes into the decision making at all. You go in knowing nothing and come out with a new experience. Win win!

4. Translate That Fiction

If, like me, you speak other languages or are a language learner then it can be extremely useful for many different skills you possess to get your brain into gear by reading a book in that language. Some interesting past projects for me have been reading texts in their original languages, such as The Little Prince in the original French or Walks In Berlin in German. There is always that little sparkle that just evades even the best of translators and consequently, ends up not making it into the new language edition. However, reading it in the original language can really restore that extra bit of life. Even if you don't want to read a classic in its original format, you could always read one of your favourite books in a new language to test yourself. Harry Potter is a really popular one - you'd be surprised how many people have told me that their language skills have improved just by reading a book in another language.

5. Re-Read

If all else fails, or if you just need a break from all of the different reading approaches that you have taken on, then make sure you have a stack of your favourites to re-read throughout your reading experimentation. Some of mine would have to be Fangirl or Anne of Green Gables. These books make me happy and remind me why it is that I love reading so much which can never be a bad thing. The important thing above all is to keep yourself happy and thinking about things in a new light, even if that ends up being a book that you have read many times that is in actuality quite old and not new to you at all. Reading daringly is important, but sometimes the most daring way to read is to... dare yourself to read in any format! And keep reading until you need cake. Then eat cake and keep reading.

Do you accept your dare? I dare you to read one book this next month - And ... GO!

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you! 

A Poetry Project

At the moment, I am working on a personal project which is rather important and exciting to me. I am in the process of writing and editing my very own first collection of poetry. Poetry has always been a big part of my life, with my initial interest in writing poems beginning when I was around 6 years old.

The collection so far features a range of different themes and pieces from across the past few years, with the main focus surrounding water. After studying Metamorphosis (Ovid) towards the beginning of my first year at York St. John, I've been really intrigued by how one thing can be viewed differently by so many different minds. Of the elements, this is perhaps most obvious with water - something which is always the same yet is ever moving, shifting and in the constant process of change. Isn't it strange how that can be? How something can constantly be in motion. Yet the human experience (every adventure, every memory) is made up by motion and the process of moving forward. This is really something I want to question and think about through my own writing.

So, with the image below to reveal what inspiration was that day, here is a short poem I wrote a while ago now when I was in Scarborough. It makes me think of sea salt and worn brown shoes crunching along the beach. And more than anything, how different and free I felt after those deadlines being done with!

Sea as far as the eye can see - Copyright CLSS 2017
And looking down it strikes me
That there are things within the sea,
Things I cannot know of be -
And are
And will
And shall
Move as waves do.

On this shore line, we are standing by
An always new demanding line,
Which stretches from your eye to another eye
And is
And will
And shall
Stay far away.

Sand, pebbles, crunching boots,
All the roots of creatures in the earth
Which are
And will
And shall
Remain unearthed.

Hear it?
The crash, the splash of sound
With a simplicity so profound,
That in I breathe
And out comes salt.

For here we shall,
And will,
And here?

Here we are.

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Student Apps

Keeping focused on maintaining those skills you have acquired during the academic semester over the long stretching summer can be a difficult task, especially if you find that things feel to be dragging or progress isn't monitored enough for you to be able to look back and see that a little bit of work each day does gradually add up to make the thing you are aiming towards. For this reason, it can be useful to fuse your academic interests with other external interests so that it doesn't feel as though things are losing their sense of fun and enjoyment.

One way of doing this that I personally have found really successful is by engaging further with technology. In particular with apps. This being because with an app, I can be on the go and keeping up with my work. Personal projects such as writing or language learning can be completed on the go if I have the resources available. Whilst some apps have been tried, tested and not right for me, by trying out something new I have managed to come across a few which do work really well for me.

Below you can find a few of my favourite apps for learning new skills and maintaining ones I already possess. Strive not only to improve and perfect but to learn new things. It is what makes learning so fun in the first place:

Some useful student apps - Copyright various publishers
1. Lumosity 

A daily series of brain training games, lumosity always pushes me to my limit first thing in the morning when I wake up preparing me for the challenges of a new day. Some days that might be through super quick mental maths, another through identifying the part of the pattern that doesn't quite fit. Whatever the tasks at hand, it makes thinking about how to figure out a variety of problems seem more like a game than a difficult challenge which makes it much easier to approach and try again should you not get the right answer first time round.

When I was preparing for A levels, this was really useful in helping me settle into revision practice first thing in the day because it made it apparent that, once you do get going, it isn't as bad as your mind (the master of procrastination) will tell you to get back into the habit of thinking about what are inherently sometimes difficult problem. It helps to highlight why practice works.

2. Duolingo + Transparent Language

Like Lumosity, Duolingo is free meaning that you have a range of vocab challenges available every day to test your knowledge whilst maintaining your progress. Both of these apps not only allow you to track your progress but to personalise it. So for instance, if you want to go over a particular set of vocab you can just go back, find it and take a few quick tests to see where your memory is up to. Also, there is the option of immersing yourself in full length articles of a variety of difficulty levels to see how your language skills are when put into an immediate practice/communication scenario.

Transparent learn is something I have only become aware of recently due to my project of learning Dutch to a higher level for when I move to Amsterdam for a semester in September. Similar to Duolingo, but with a lot more listening and speaking exercises, you are able to personalise and monitor your language progress. The best thing about it is the sheer number of languages available and most of the time you can get this app for free through your local library, so ask about it today! Language learning benefits everyone, especially in exam season time - even if you aren't doing a language for GCSE or A level you can still increase the efficiency of your memory by doing just half an hour to an hour of language practice per day.

3. Instagram + Pinterest

Whilst used a lot of the time for fun (finding idea for decorations at birthday parties or cool new recipes) these can be really useful for personal projects too. Both allow you the option to research and find out what other creative idea other people have been up to, which can be a great starting point if you want to start with a new craft. There are several pages I know dedicated to the art of origami and if you want to learn something new and have some time over summer to kill, this can be a good place to start. Additionally, to monitor your progress and keep you motivated why not keep your own account on pinterest or on instagram to see how your ideas shape and evolve to lead to the completion of a final project - whether it be creating your own book or keeping up your sketching by doing a quick illustration every day (for inspiration see the work of Chris Riddell)

4. Curiosity

Much like the better known mental floss, this is an app which will keep fact lovers thinking and building upon the encyclopaedia that is open in every mind. Curiosity will provide you every day with 5 new facts which you can read through using their small summary quotes before deciding on whether or not you want to know more. It is fun to have this pocket sized fact book always available in case you want to think about something completely new. For instance, a really challenging maths problem or just why it is a certain part of society is the way it is or even age old classics such as why is the sky blue? Curiosity, much as Davinci would encourage, brings out the inner child in me and makes me want to keep learning more about the world I live in.

5. Evernote

I know this probably seems an obvious one now, as with bullet journalling, because so many students are using it to keep on top of their work throughout the year. However I just have to jump onto the band wagon. Keep everything in one place, condensed so that you can find it easily - be the organised person you want to be. Evernote is the personal assistant I've never had before and it's maintaining my work levels quite well.

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you! 

Monday, 22 May 2017

Inspiration: Roald Dahl

So far, this small series of blogs has largely featured on my literary inspirations. Those who I have found to be inspirational figures throughout my reading and research, ultimately fuelling my own ideas and encouraging me to keep working hard in the process of developing my own voice as a writer/creative individual. It is easy to pick out examples of inspirational role models from throughout history in terms of books or artwork. Well actually, not necessarily easy - there are so many of them! Beginning with Woolf, this blog series has slowly begun to take shape in showing some of the people, writers and artists from the past and present who inspire me to do what I do every day.

A lot of the writers I have spoken about so far are ones who are revered for their widespread public image of being serious literary scholars. Those who have become part of the canon, such as Dodgson, Woolf and Atwood. However, there are many writers who I believe do not often enough get the credit they deserve. Though frequently they are well known throughout our contemporary society and remain hidden in plain sight. One such figure would have to be that of Roald Dahl.

Roald Dahl + Some of his most popular books - Copyright to various publishers 
My first encounter with Roald Dahl was in what was known in my primary school as class 5. After finishing the Beaver towers series (which I am still in need of a re-read now that I am out of my childhood years) our teacher began reading to us from James and the Giant Peach. Such was my enjoyment of this book that I simply couldn't wait to find out what happened next. I think this was also initially where my love of America and of New York began. For this whole adventure leads us to the empire state building at the end and for a small 7 year old me the thought of travelling in a giant peach across a grand ocean bigger than I could imagine to such a noisy, exciting city was beyond all compare. 

After our class had gotten through this book, Roald Dahl seemed to pop up everywhere. In the old reading logs I have kept in a dusty box at the back of the cupboard, one after another gradually appears. Beginning with those such as Fantastic Mr. Fox and the infamous Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Odd to think that just this time last year the BFG had been made into a film by the likes of Spielberg, with giant dream jars scattered across London. The thought of all of those dreams brought to life again for me this love of Dahl's fiction. I think if he were still writing today, it would be interesting to see a creative individual such as Tim Burton working alongside to provide illustrations. Whilst nothing can quite defeat the perfect partnership between Dahl and Quentin Blake, it is still something to try and imagine all the different possibilities there still is for the artwork inspired by these stories. 

Whilst Dahl is most well known for his fiction aimed towards children, there are often tones to it which surpass this audience. His voice is never condescending and is just as brilliant and vibrant to me now as it was to me when I first heard those chapters in class over ten years ago. For instance, I still find myself laughing aloud at the fresh humour that radiates from some of my favourite Revolting Rhymes and shivering a little when I know what is about to happen next in the terrifying The Witches. These are timeless stories, with characters such as Matilda who come to life in a new way every time we encounter them. Much as I love Minchin's music for Matilda the musical (highly recommended) the original Matilda is always the character who I cherish the most because she was as much a part of my need to continue to be a reader as my teachers were. It is characters such as these who re-enforced the positives of working hard towards gaining the place at university I currently have.

My next move with the work of Dahl will be to read some of his adult fiction. Recently there have been several collections published which are being praised in their reviews (not that I expected any less). I would also like to re-read my all time Dahl favourite and inspiration Boy. It reminds me a lot of not only my own childhood but also of my grand dad, as many of the stories recollected from Dahl's youth echo the character that was my grandfather. Reading it reminds me why I want to read and also why I want to write. Because if Dahl could bring to life these worlds which are simultaneously a thousand shades of hilarious, daring and despairing, then I want to make that my goal as a creative also. Dahl dares us to be daring - how can we reject such an inspiration?

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

You Can Achieve Anything

Walt Disney is well known for the quote If you can dream it, you can do it. Often we find ourselves thinking the opposite. Whilst it is easy to maintain motivation at certain points, it is also easy to lose sight of exactly why we are working hard and to blur the image in our minds of what it is we want to achieve. For this reason, it is incredibly important to keep reminding ourselves that anything is possible. If we put our mind to one thing, anything at all, then we can achieve it.

Over these recent weeks, exams and course work deadlines have been at the centre of everyones mind. The past year has been one of hard work - built up of late nights at times, early mornings, long hours of class and endless hours in the library. By this point, I think I speak for everyone when I say I am looking forward to a long rest over the next few weeks of summer. Now that my deadlines are over and done with, the intial rush of energy which was used to get through whole books in the same day seems to have come to a stand still. My hands reach for the notebook and paper to continue researching for the essays, only to realise a few seconds later that there is no more essay work yet to be done. Those good habits which have been controlled and practiced for so long are difficult ones to break out of now when there is no real deadline to be reached. It is afterall, as previously mentioned, summer - the time of rest and recovery!

For this reason perhaps, my brain is thinking up the worst-case scenarios with the time that has opened up so freely before me. Negative thoughts such as that my essays will not pass, that I haven't worked hard enough and in general, just going over the details of everything that has been and gone to make sure everything was done correctly down to the last detail. If you are in a similar position, this is simply the case of nerves. Yes, they do exist even after the exam has been taken! They will stick with you unfortunately until you get those results back, so it is never a bad thing to start practicing how to de-stress and lower those perfectionist ideals which get to the best of us at times. But if it is proving more difficult to dismiss then make sure you keep open about it. Talk to friends and family who will be able to reassure and comfort you that you have done everything you can to provide yourself with the best chance of success.

Whilst there are many things we can find ourselves getting caught up over, and whilst there are many things that matter to us, it is important to remember that the most important thing we can ever achieve is keeping ourselves well enough that we find ourselves at our happiest. Or at least with the potenial to be at our happiest. We do ourselves a great dis-service every time we put a grade on a piece of paper above our own well being. Whilst grades and our own personal goals are incredibly important, they should never be placed above the health and well being that will allow us to get there, or the passion for the subject that should lead us to want to work on those assignments not the grades we will get for them. Making ourselves ill with worry is not the way to go forward. This interesting little Ted talk is evidence enough of that. It's one of the reasons I love swimming and hiking so much because it really helps me to keep a lid on everything in what is a rather busy life style. I wouldn't change a single thread of anything I do, but in order to do it I need those daily hours of exercise.

And as I was saying, keeping yourself well and achieving anything is perfectly possible. Now that you have some time away from the exam room and the deadline, let yourself recover before getting straight back into things if you can. This means getting a bit more sleep and exercise than usual before you start to add back in the hours for your own personal projects. At the moment, I am working on producing my first anthology of poetry, learning Dutch and continuing to produce lots of blog work whilst planning out and heading away on travels. It is, as I said, a busy schedule which is difficult to maintain. But I enjoy every moment of it especially when it leads me on to new adventures which I might previously not have thought possible.

That is my point in writing this - you can achieve anything you set your mind to if it is what you really want. Bad situations and circumstances come to us all across the years and yes, there will be times when you think you simply don't have time to do everything you want to do. But if you manage things the way you want them to be done then you will always succeed. There is no substitute for hard work. But equally there is no substitute for believing in yourself. Keep focused on those goals and keep focused in general - if you give yourself a schedule and if you remind yourself every day of that one end product you are working towards then you will soon find that you can achieve everything you dream and more.

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

How To: Find Accommodation

Moving out is something which is always difficult. Previously I have spoken about my own experience with this, and the difference in experiences between moving into a new place and moving away from it. If you manage to find and choose the place which is right for you, then you'll soon find yourself settling in and feeling quite at home. It can be a really rewarding thing to find that a place suits you that well. However, it can unfortunately also sometimes be the case that the wrong place is chosen. Don't worry - there are ways to remedy those cases, and they are less common than urban myths will have you believe. But this result can be easily avoided by looking into all of your options thoroughly before hand.

When I was deciding upon my accommodation, I knew that I wanted somewhere with shared facilities which was near to campus and fairly cheap. York St. John was so helpful in helping me to find a place that was right for me and it ended up proving a true home in every sense of the word. It was quiet enough to work, get enough rest and to keep concentrated on my studies, but also a comfortable environment which meant I easily made friends with my flat mates and was able to get some violin practice done during the day as long as I wasn't too loud.

When finding the right place for you, whether it be first year or your very last year of your degree, there is never such a thing as looking in too much detail. Here are a few tips for finding accommodation which I have acquired through my own experience so far:

Where is best for you? - Copyright CLSS 2017
1. University Options + Halls

When you are looking into universities on open days, as well as when you are applying online, you will be made aware of the student options which are provided on behalf of the university. These are more commonly known as halls. There are many different types across a differing price range. So for instance, there might be on campus halls which come with catered accommodation (meaning food will be provided by on site services and usually as part of the rent cost) as well as the other accommodation which will be scattered around in the nearby area. The furthest away is usually no more than 20 minutes walk, which can sometimes be a good thing when you want to get to know a city better or if it is just a nice area in which to keep active with walking or cycling.

University options can be more expensive than the others you might look into. But they also tend to be the place that first years aim towards for that extra bit of security that comes with being on campus and near to all of those well being support systems in place to make you feel more at home. From my own experience, it has been really beneficial to begin at the centre of everything and be able to branch out from there in discovering other areas within York. It is definitely something worth looking into, particularly if you want to live away from home but are worried about being homesick.

2. External Real Estate 

This is an option which tends to come later in your degree. Largely because, whilst it is much cheaper to acquire, it is usually shared with a few friends or acquaintances who you will meet throughout your first and/or second year. It tends to be made up of smaller properties, such as houses, which are in the surrounding area to the university. Also because it is external, it means that the financial situation and the regulations of these spaces might differ slightly from one another and from the usual student accommodation principles that accord to halls or direct university properties.

Always be extremely careful when looking into external real estate and make sure that you go to some house viewings in person to make sure the space is right for you. Just because it seems cheap does not always mean it is. If the house itself is not a nice space and you do not feel safe there, make sure that you do not invest further time in it early on no matter how cheap it might be. Look elsewhere. Additionally, always check if the bills are included in the weekly rent. And if not, what the standard rates are for things such as gas or water might be as sometimes the price can change on an hourly basis. This meaning if you are not careful you could end up with a much heftier monthly bill for the place you are living in than you originally thought.

3. Cost + Facilities

As previously mentioned, you need to be extremely cautious when looking into accommodation. Largely because things tend to cost a great deal, especially externally, and you need to be aiming to keep within the price range of your student maintenance loan. If you don't yet know your student maintenance loan amount, it might be better to wait a while to make sure that you will indeed be able to afford the costs of everything.

Fortunately, looking into accommodation gradually and considering all of your options instead of leaping in straight away will mean that you have plenty of time to think about what will work best for you. Something I found useful to do was, if the company/university was responsible for multiple different properties in the same area, to look at and compare costs alongside the differences between each different site. In the end, on campus accommodation ended up being the right option for me financially as well as in every other regard. Despite being catered accommodation, the costs fit neatly into my rent making it the cheapest form of accommodation available to me with all of my meals and other bills included. It allowed me to save up enough money to make Erasmus in my second year a reality as well as transport back home throughout first year.

4. Flat Mates 

Try and find out about the type of people you will be living with, even if this is only finding out that they are first years. You are more than likely to get to know these people well during freshers week and throughout the year, however it can be useful to get in touch before hand because it will make moving out from your current home seem a little less daunting. Usually there will be social media pages (though always double check they are verified and never give away personal details online) offered by the university meaning that you can get in touch with the people you will be living with or who will be living in the same building. This meaning you can discuss interests, degrees, and what you are looking forward to about starting in your first year.

If you don't manage to get in touch with anyone before you move into your new accommodation, do not fret - it is not as scary as it seems to get to know these new people. You are all in the same boat and whilst it might be easier for some people to settle in than others, everyone is bound to be understanding and open to making new friends. It can be nice to keep your door open whilst you are settling in on that first day so that people walking by in the corridor can pop in and say hello. Also there will be plenty of freshers events which will allow you the chance to talk to new people both in and out of your accommodation.

5. Is It For You - Reviewing

Once you have looked into every possible option, make sure to make a big deal of going over the pros and cons of everything because there are bound to be differing reasons for all of your possible choices. Having reviewed things thoroughly, make sure to get external opinion from those such as your friends and family. Whilst their opinions are not the be all and end all of your decision, it can be reassuring to have that extra support behind your decision to confirm that what you are doing is right for you. And once you have made that final decision, whilst you will feel a million things make sure you focus on that happiness and relief. You should be excited for afterall, this move is the start of something new and exciting! Best of luck in all of your accommodation hunting freshers of 2017!

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Moving Again

Moving day was a tough day. Largely because of the packing things up, and checking every last little space to make sure that nothing got left behind or forgotten. It was the very definition of uncanny to wander around an empty room that had previously been familiar. It reminded me of walking into my flat for the very first time in early September last year. Being at the beginning of something that way is always exciting because it is a new space that is completely yours to re-imagine and create, but moving out is far more painful because it means leaving behind the place that became a new sanctuary and home even if only temporarily. Because it never feels temporary at the end.

A last York sunset this May - Copyright CLSS 2017
Eventually everything was boxed and stored, ready to go. Though there were a few last tasks to be completed. Such as checking post, returning the last few library books from my essays and (Most difficult of all) trying to use up the left over credit on my student card. You would be surprised at how difficult it can be to spend all of the money on your student food card when you manage to budget better than you could have thought possible... The result being I now have a lot of cake baking to be getting on with due to the number of chocolate bars I have in my suitcase!

When I first went to live in York, it was incredibly hard to watch my family leave and know that for the foreseeable future, I was going to be living on my own and learning how to deal with a myriad of different things that I had never had to handle completely alone before. On that first day, putting everything into what would become its place and going to sleep in an unfamiliar bed was a task in itself. But gradually things moulded themselves into a new normal. Things became comfortable. And I kind of like the life that I was able to shape for myself, which was created by being willing to try new things and see if they worked out. Which made leaving it behind impossible amounts of difficult. Though towards the end of that last week, all I could think about was of my house and my family and my dog - how much I just wanted the week to be over so I could get back to living there all the time as soon as possible. Odd isn't it, how you can want two things at once. 

The biggest challenge of being back home so far is that I seem to have accumlated a lot more books since I moved out and there isn't yet enough room for them. One solution has been building more storage which has meant my favourite books and to-be-reads are near at hand. Unfortunately the rest of my beloved collection have found themselves scattered around in storage for a while. I can't wait to re-unite them all at some point soon! But it has been nice to be re-decorating a space and making it my own again. Right now my current favourite thing in my room would have to be my swimming pool bed sheets (they match my pencil case) and my whale pillow. It feels like living in a reef and I love it. When not in the pool, it still feels like I'm almost there.

A comfy bed, to rest my head + The perfect place to read a book - Copyright CLSS 2017
Whilst I miss York a lot and am definitely still in the process of settling back in here, I'm also really happy at the moment. It feels a lot like a waiting room right now though due to my results still not being back in. I am incredibly nervous about them, which means that the focus at least is on something other than moving. Everyone always thinks they could have done better in the end. But these last three assignments I have worked so hard on, I just want them to be everything I hoped they would be and to achieve what I set out to achieve initially. Namely to argue some new ideas that I was passionate about in a manner that would be rewarded with some positive feedback. But right now, I am going to get back to reading and distracting myself. Todays choice: Ken Liu's absolutely amazing Paper Menagerie. Talk soon!

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Monday, 15 May 2017

Update: 400 Posts, Summer + Sketching

Classes have been over for around a week now, but the academic year has not yet quite reached the end. There is still much paperwork Erasmus wise, a few other things to do in terms of academia (returning library books and continuing with personal essay projects) and most exciting of all, the rehearsals for the end of year concert. Rehearsals are long and to some degree stressful, but more than anything they are enjoyable because we can just sing without needing to worry about how much space is left in the word count of our next submission. Our minds are completely occupied by the likes of Byrd and Whitacre now - what better way to spend the last few weeks of term before I head home?

A sunny walk through the Old Quad - Copyright CLSS 2017
The weather has been so beautiful. For the most part, every morning I have been greet with clear blue skies which promise me enough warmth to venture out for a walk without a coat in the knowledge that I won't get drenched. Hiking habits do stick though, so the coat often simply finds itself bundled up in my bag on the journey anyway. Walking in itself just for the sake of walking has been something that I have missed. With so much time to spare, I often find myself wandering the city for longer periods of time than usual. It feels comfortable - it feels like home. 

When you are outside more in the same place, you do get to see different sides to it. Every version of York is beautiful, but they each have their own qualities and energy. For me, dusk is the perfect time to wander the streets of York on a summer evening because everything is sleepy whilst still being alive with energy. I've been doing my best to sketch it but it doesn't alwasy stick on the page. The shading can be copied perfectly but that energy that is everywhere and in everything gets a little lost in the process of translation. But that is another good thing about all this sunny weather, the sketching. Another thing that deadlines takes over from and something I truly appreciate missing once I return to it. One of my aims for this summer is to fill my current 40 page sketch books with as many different styles and ideas as possible. So far we have everything from pen sketches to watercolours, cartoons and comics. 

Campus, Sketching, Sunset + a brand new Harry Potter shop on the Shambles! - Copyright CLSS 2017
Exploring York again has meant I've found some pleasant new surprises. One of my favourites definitely has to be the popular new shop which has popped up on the Shambles. The Shambles is the oldest street in York. Back in the hay day it used to be an even bigger market than it is now, with the word shambles having connotations which connect it with the work of butchers. But some better known trivia is probably the fact that the Shambles was the inspiratio J. K. Rowling needed to create Diagon Alley in the now infamous Harry Potter books. The store is, rather pun-nily, called The Shop That Must Not Be Named and walking inside it really does feel like going back in time or entering into that wizarding world. You find yourself surrounded with the almost heavenly prospect of chocolate frogs and Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans... I know that the Harry Potter series will be my next series re-read this summer for sure. 
Whales, Watercolours + Ice cream - Copyright CLSS 2017
Outside of sketching and spending some time with my friends, I've also had the sad task of boxing up my things ready to take home. There isn't all that much left of what my room looked like when it was fully Charlotte - ised, which is both good and a bad thing. It means my organisation skills have been put to the test and triumphed, but it also means it is nearly time to go. Being sentimental doesn't make it an easy task. Many of my friends have already headed home for the summer so my current task to distract myself from boredom is my many projects and also the prospect of figuring out where I am going to put all of my things when I move them home because somehow my personal library seems to have gone forth and multiplied by a million. Not that this is a bad thing ... Just shelving! I am however quite excited to have a whale theme for my room. I love whales, they're my favourite aquatic creature, and I just love them them. For now though I'd better be off for rehearsal.

Also on a final note thankyou for sticking with me until now and reading my blogs - this is officially my 400th blog post for UCAS! Talk soon

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Language + Literature

In this period of time in which I am at the end of the academic year but haven't yet heard back my results, I find myself in a train of thought which surrounds the relationship between language and literature. Frequently, especially in a school or sixth form environment, we see these two as separate subjects and fields. Yet one could not truly exist without the other, could it? In a lecture a few weeks ago, an interesting concept was explored about language as code. The words themselves mean nothing unless we attach something to them. So for instance, if I say cat you think of a cat. The analogy used in this particular class was one of Bat Man reading about chocolate ice cream and picturing chocolate ice cream in his head, but not necessarily the one that the author was thinking about when he wrote about chocolate ice cream.

A world of books - Copyright CLSS 2017
I know, I know, it can get rather confusing when you start to talk about it like that all at once. But simultaneously, it can be the easiest way to understand it for it opens up inevitably those bigger questions. Sometimes you access those bigger questions by asking smaller ones of your own. One that I quite enjoyed coming up with and testing was what if we could read car registration plates as a code or a language? That would mean as we were walking down a busy street, we might be able to read the registration plates on a car the same way that we can read the words on the pages of our school text books.

Language is so important to grasping literature. In order to fully appreciate texts of all kinds, you must also have a love of the language. Something which allows you to cherish and nurture hours of analysis in which you will be surrounded by nothing but words. It can be difficult at first. Especially if, like me, it took you a while to get a handle on grammar so that you eventually felt labels such as noun or adjective had their proper place in your mind. For me the key to that was by testing my first language skills with second language skills. Currently I speak bits of Latin and am pretty fluent in both French and German. My new challenge is Dutch. Whenever you enter into a new language you have to pick apart not only the grammar but elements of the words. You have to learn how to conjugate them so that they make sense in different situations.

Going back to the bare basics of language by learning a new one has been crucial to my development as a literature student. Not only has it allowed my own knowledge of languages to grow and gain further depth, but it has allowed me to see parts of a text I previously wouldn't have. For instance, if a text is written in German the translation might not always carry across unless you understand that Mr. Tod is an ironic name for someone such as Sweeney Todd because Tod means death in German. Being able to spot those details enables further insight into what the text in front of you is trying to convey and how it is acheiving it. Afterall, that is what analysis is all about!

To conclude this stream of thought, whilst there is much to learn on every subject I believe it can be hugely beneficial to study both language and literature simultaneously even if you are only specialising in one. Because they are not so different when you break them down and hold them side by side. They set out to do the same thing but in a different manner, hence when united you have a puzzle which is twice as complex. Language learning is not only important to the breaking down and analysis of the text but also to reading actively. When we are reading actively, it is able to fully absorb and comprehend what exactly is being told to us so that we might be able to discuss what we have learned in a manner which makes it as exciting to someone else as it is to us.

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Books In May

Whilst I am already missing my classes considerably (summer often drags without so many new things to be learning in this format) I am beyond excited to have so much free time in which to read again. Largely because there is a giant tower of books next to my bed which has been building up over the period of a semester or so. Now that assignments are submitted and class is out of the way there is going to be plenty of time for the books I have been waiting to read to take prime focus.

They cover quite a range of different things. Whilst there is a lot of fiction, there is quite surprisingly a relatively balanced amount of non-fiction also on my to read list. There is a famous Murakami quote which reads, If you only read what everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking. I agree with this whole heartedly. Too often we let our focus slip from the things which make us into us. Books are a good place to begin giving ourselves time to make the most of those things which stand out about our identity.

This list isn't definitive. I hope that May brings many more books my way that will be of interest. For instance, a recent surprise read has been about Leonardo Davinci. Already I am learning things about him that I never would have otherwise. I hope the same comes from these other books I am eagerly anticipating reading in May:

Books in May! 

1. The Martian (Weir)

This was a gift from my boyfriend after we watched the motion picture from 2015 and I confessed that much as I loved the film and its entire premise, I hadn't read the book before. It's rare that I won't usually read the book before watching the movie, but in this case the whole space theme had me too excited to wait to get to know this idea that everyone was talking about. So I am going into this book with a general idea of what is going to happen and the sorts of characters I will meet along the way.

With an interest in literature which explores space and other worlds, this book hits the nail on the head for me. The story is one which looks at the possibility of life on Mars, with some rather hilarious cynicism to deal with the prospect of the earth not growing food when there is no other substance to survive on. Whilst Mars seems something faraway as a prospect for the astronauts of today, in reality it is a goal which we are very much working towards. So reading further about how an author such as Weir has imagined this exploration of another planet going is definitely going to make for interesting reading. Might have to read Hidden Figures again alongside this!

2. Moranifesto (Moran)

Caitlan Moran is currently one of my biggest inspirations. Largely because she unabashedly says exactly what she is thinking or feeling, but in an educated manner which sets out to argue a point opposed to arguing it is the only way one difficult or complex problem might be solved. Hence it is fitting that what she has coined as her Moranifesto is simply her personal manifesto, opposed to a guide to life and the issues of the 21st century. She speaks as an individual with a clear voice, expressing her thoughts and feelings on a wide range of issues from politics to bacon salt.

From what I have read this so far I find myself only wanting to read even more and to expand this book to an infinite number of pages which I can dip and dive into. Particularly as it is a very relevant and recently published book, it is good to have fresh insight and perspective into such a diverse range of things. Plus, the narration is not only honest and clean cut but absolutely hilarious. Don't think I have ever laughed out loud at a book this much in my life and I'm not even half way through it yet!

3. Ruby Redfort (Child)

This series is one I have been waiting for since I was in primary school and first read the Clarice Bean series. Ruby Redfort is a spy and Clarice's hero within the original books so it is lovely to see this detail being developed into a further series. I came across one of the novels in the independent book store Chapter One in Manchester. It made for a pleasant surprise indeed. Whilst it has been a while since I read the original Clarice Bean books, I am looking forward to seeing if there are any overlaps and to learning more about this new character Child has decided to write on.

4. Anne Frank in the World (Rittner)

Another little book which made a pleasant surprise. Whilst doing some research on Amsterdam I came across this text in the university library. From what I can tell, it is a small collection of essays, poems and recollections on how Anne Frank, her life and her work remains relevant to the world today.

Anne Frank remains an inspiring voice to every generation who read her. Her thoughts and the way she expresses them so beautifully could not be more poignant, especially to younger readers who remain confused about similar things in relation to growing up. In an incredibly difficult time in human history Anne Frank was still able to capture those parts of her story and to show why they were important and how she felt about them. Her view on the world has gone on to inspire some considerably interesting work also and I am looking forward to reading more of them in this book.

5. The Handmaid's Tale (Atwood)

Out of all of my May reads so far, this one is the only one I have yet finished. And can I just say, I think it was absolutely astonishing! I had no idea it was published in 1985 as, as a dystopian/apocalyptic novel, it remains so relevant to the present. It is cleverly constructed, well paced and most importantly, it is realistic. Good fiction always has reality at it's core and that was present throughout this. I'd like to do a book review at a later date, but for now (especially with the launch of the new TV show) I highly recommend you go out and read this book (or any Atwood for that matter) as soon as you possibly can.

6. On Bowie (Critchely) 

Another little collection of essays which combine the influence of one of the most legendary musicians of the past 100 years with some personal memories and thoughts of the professor Critchely. It's one of the best possible ways, through a singular experience, to demonstrate how Bowie impacted the music world globally. Not on a small scale, but to the stars and back.

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 
If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Inspiration: Laika

So far, this small series of blogs has largely featured on my literary inspirations. Those who I have found to be inspirational figures throughout my reading and research, ultimately fuelling my own ideas and encouraging me to keep working hard in the process of developing my own voice as a writer/creative individual. It is easy to pick out examples of inspirational role models from throughout history in terms of books or artwork. Well actually, not necessarily easy - there are so many of them! Beginning with Woolf, this blog series has slowly begun to take shape in showing some of the people, writers and artists from the past and present who inspire me to do what I do every day.

When I was growing up, one of my biggest creative outlets beyond books and music was film. Growing up is a difficult and awkward beast, which you can often find yourself at the mercy of. Films allow an immediate escape into another world, because they fuse together the many different elements of media that make up the arts. You have clever script writing (in this incident, it could rival Sherlock which is saying something!), expressive musical scoring and animation that focuses in on every last minute detail. Out of all of the movies I have watched throughout my life, the old and the new, none have captured my imagination quite like Laika. And that goes for now too - I don't think stop motion animation becomes any less relevant to story telling once you are an adult. 

The first Laika movie I ever saw was Coraline. Based upon the Neil Gaiman story, but with that magical additional twist that only Laika could add through its astoundingly talented team. There are so many elements to this movie which I love and so do forgive me for rambling a little. Through this story of a girl who wants to escape the magical reality of another better world I think there is an extremely recognisable point of comparison found between Coraline and the audience. We have all at some point or other wanted to escape to this other place where perhaps things are easier or more like we dreamt them. But this isn't just about escaping, it is about adventure, courage, gratitude and creativity. It is so much more than going through that door and remaining in the dream world. It is all about making the most out of the world you have because it will always be the best one. 

After first watching this movie, I went to the bonus features setting and found one of those behind the scenes clips. Naturally this led on to me being interested in everything from the miniature clothes design to the manufacturing of the puppets themselves. So when Paranorman came out two years later (which I believe is the standard production speed per animation) my excitement could not be contained. It came out on Halloween too which made the spooky, slightly ominous aspect of the Laika voice work even better. Not only was this movie an advocate for the policy of 'weird wins' (by which every creative individual is celebrated for their unique and different aspects) but it was also the first stop motion animation to feature puppets which had been made using a 3D printer - the welcoming of innovation made the film even more exciting to watch. Especially as Paranorman was more of an original concept opposed to an adaptation of a story as famous as Coraline. 

The most recent release of Kubo and the Two Strings did not disappoint! It felt like a natural direction for Laika to head in. There is the usual measure of magic and adventure, with the addition of some spectacular origami created through music. By the far the most developed of the stories, it was incredibly moving to reach the end. It felt like a brand new telling of what some might know as an old fable by the likes of Aesop. Watching this before moving to York too was the perfect way to begin the academic year. 

Like I say, there are many reasons that I find Laika inspiring. From the things they hold in common with Pixar (such as the strength of creativity in story telling) to their more unique qualities (weird wins and embracing the different) there is nothing I dislike about them. They inspire me to look for the detail in my own life as well as in the books I read or the other forms of artistic media I consume. These films make me want to go out and live my own adventure. What can be more inspiring afterall than that?

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Monday, 8 May 2017

How To: De-Stress

Once you have gotten into the habit of revision and studying, it can be really difficult to just take a step back as soon as exams are over. As with much of the process of sustaining good grades, habits get difficult to break. When I had just completed my A level literature exam, I remember going to sit on the grass outside the humanities building and re-reading my dog eared copy of Macbeth. My brain kept telling me that it was important to go over the information so that I was ready for the exam... Though I had just taken the exam!

Don't worry if you've found yourself in a similar situation. Now that I've submitted all of my assignments for he year, waiting the next three weeks until I get my results back is going to be absolute torture. It's a natural response to want to keep going over information just in case. But at the same time, try to gradually cut yourself a break. You've put the hard work in now and you're out there side. It can be difficult not having any further control over those grades, but take comfort in the fact that you have done the hard work and there is no guilt in relaxing and taking a break for now.

Here is my guide on how De-Stress post exams and assignments:

1. Exercise + Rest

I think a big part of the guilt that you are procrastinating despite deadlines having passed by usually comes from needing a fairly long rest. This means disconnecting yourself from the every day for a while, catching up on your sleep (meaning don't set any alarms) and some gentle exercise. You might think that studying is simply the process of sitting still and working on paper. But whilst it isn't a physical labour it does have a physical impact on everything from your heart beat to how you sleep at  night.

After your last deadline make sure you let yourself catch up on sleep. For me that meant not setting an alarm. Whilst it meant I didn't do as much the following day that ended up being a good thing! It meant that by the following day I was feeling much more like myself and less hollowed out by all the referencing information. Once rested, the best way to get rid of excess energy and to help me feel more energetic in general was to start swimming practice again. During the stress of everything, exercise often ends up having to take a step back. So it can be a really r ewarding feeling getting back to it once you're rested.

You're schedule isn't going to be as Jampacked now as it was before, so make the most of it. Whilst it
can be frustrating at first to go from living a fast paced daily life of routine tasks, you'll appreciate the benefits of slowing down once you need to get back to that lifestyle again in the near future.

2. Reading

Maybe I am biased being a literature student and all, but if there's one thing that I love most about getting to the end of the academic year it is getting to read whatever I want. It really shows to when I look back over the quantity of my reading from the summer come September time. Reading for me means getting the Opportunity to spend time focus in specifically on the things the last year of learning has gotten me interested in. For instance, at the moment I'm currently reading a lot of apocalyptic + dystopian fiction because we have been discussing Atwood and steampunk these last few weeks.

Additionally it can allow you to maintain something of a schedule if this is what you struggle with when relinquishing your previous stress. Joining a book club can be a way of this. There are a lot of book clubs online at the moment as well as available directly within geographic communities, centred around themes ranging from dystopia to feminism. A good task might be starting with a book club and then beginning to develop your own reading challenges. For example, to have finished reading a trilogy by the end of the month. This way you will be reading a little each day and maintaining good scheduling habits whilst also having a break.

3. Family + Friends

Now is the time to plan meet ups with your friends and family. Just like exercise and sleep, family and friends can often end up taking a step back to work in the day to day routine building up to the ends of years. So be sure to let those you care about most see you in person opposed to hearing
from you in text message format. Even if it's just an hour out for lunch, it will be good for everyone
in the situation to have a catch up.

Particularly with being at university, make sure you figure out a balance of how to share your time. Whilst you want to be at home with your family, make sure you still make plans with your friends from university so that no one feels left out. Distance can be an issue sometimes as you won't all be living in the same place as during the academic year.  It can be useful in this case to visit one another or to visit one new place together. Something me and my friends have planned is a summer bucket list which I'm really excited for!

4. Summer Research 

As with the reading and catching up with your family, be sure to add other elements of your schedule. Summer research projects can fit neatly with reading if you design them yourself as they can mean getting to research in depth somethings you're really interested in but haven't yet had the opportunity to look further into. You can keep a log or even a blog of what you learn too so that by the end of summer you have a nice finished project to show for what you have learnt.

Additionally, once you are well rested and have figured out how to balance your interests with the amount of time you have free, it can be a good idea to start getting a heard start on the workforce the next year. Spreading it out into small blocks of study whilst you do have the time can be extremely beneficial in ensuring that you don't waste your summer recovery by stressing and burning out all within the first week of getting back to school or university. For me this meant getting a copy of the reading list earlier last summer and working my way through it so that come the first lecture, I was ready to begin and already had some background knowledge.

5. Adventures

And finally, use all of these things to set up some adventures! There's nothing better than travelling and going to somewhere new in the summer whilst you have the time. Make sure that you are having fun! These memories of summer time are what allow us to feel motivated and excited for the end hat waits for us at the end of each academic year. See what memories you can make and don't forget to record them in the format of photographs or a journal as you go.

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Thursday, 4 May 2017

University: Semester 2, Week 12

The end of last  week ended up being even better than I initially thought it would. Because, of course, weekends are when it is possible to have a bit more of a break before getting on with the deadline preparation. So it meant lots of sketching, walking and of course a lot of TV. Whilst I love reading, movies and series are the junk food in my book diet when it comes to deadlines. My current favourite series would have to be Lena Dunham's Girls which I just started after reading about it in Moranifesto. But my film favourite is currently a very big one from my childhood. The Goonies! It was such a treat to go to see it at the cinema. Brought back so many memories and reminded me why I still want to be an adventurer to this day.
Sketchin the Lamp of Procrastinisation + Goonies Tickets
Back to this week. I travelled back from Manchester on Monday, so that I could spend the bank holiday with my friends. We threw a super secret surprise party for our friend Izzie's birthday which was a lot of fun. It also meant more movie breaks between essay work/discussion (yes! Essay work at a birthday party). It seems we have the good fortune of having birthdays which fall near to the end of term giving us another reason to celebrate.

Colin the Caterpillar, The Birthday Feast + The Birthday Girl - Copyright CLSS 2017
Getting back to work this week has been perhaps the most difficult part of all of my work this entire year. Especially with the bank holiday at the beginning of the week because it felt like I had only just gotten back from Easter. Largely because these last three deadlines are all that is standing in the way of summer. Whilst I want them to be over, I also want to do well which means my mind is always buzzing around how I might alter or adjust different aspects of my work. All three of my essays for the different modules centre around the common shared principle of space. Of exploring how space influences different aspects of characters lives and ideas represented within texts, such as gender or nature. 

My gender and writing module is tomorrow and thankfully, that one is done and dusted now. Submitted early (always best to do that as a precautionary move) so the focus can now move to the other two essays which are due next week. Despite being stressed about it all and feeling like it will last forever, part of me is really sad that it won't. In fact sitting here right now knowing that tomorrow my parents are going to help me move out a lot of my things from my accommodation to make the journey back in a weeks time easier (rehearsals) makes me quite sad. Because this space has become my home and I don't like change very much. Next year, this will be someone elses space where they will learn to feel at home and start to grow in confidence as they begin their very own adventure. Still, I think it's going to be odd to be homesick at one home for another that won't be mine any more. Though no matter where I am, a part of York will always hold part of me now.

Classes have sped by. Most of them have been centred around improving essay work which has been really useful on top of my tutorials. With a clear thesis statement and structure, it has become easier to tackle the smaller details where marks might be lost. For instance, one of my biggest flaws is fracturing sentences so I am learning to keep a sharp eye for those. It's getting easier but it was really difficult at first. I keep reminding myself of something one of our teachers said: Sometimes, it is acknowledging our biggest weaknesses that is our greatest strength. 

Walking with the goslings by the river - Copyright CLSS 2017
It is my last ever class as a first year tomorrow, that being contemporary writing. Fittingly we have been discussing the theme of the apocalypse in that class, which is a word which is all about epiphany and ending in terms of its origin. My aim for this last day is to really make it count. Whilst every other day is important in terms of working and of developing my thoughts + ideas as a student, this last one is for me a real symbol of that. It is an opportunity to take the time to pause and reflect whilst applying everything I have learnt with that little extra motivation.

When you are working on an essay, there is no truly new learning which goes on. Whilst there is a lot to be learnt from the process itself and the feedback you are given, the writing process is more about you displaying what you have learnt. About taking your thoughts and your ideas, shaping them into a new part of this open conversation on your subject. It is about showing you have the ability to craft something out of words the way Michelangelo said he could carve out David from the block of marble. He said the statue was there all along and that he was just picking away the cover concealing him. It's a beautiful image and one I like to think of when writing. Albeit, after a few hours in the library is always good to get a break because words start blending into other words, sentences into other sentences - and the work you produce in those moments is never your finest. It only ever results in more editing overall.

So in those times I have done other things. Whether it be reading a quick chapter of a book or going for a walk. Today I went for a stroll down near the river, where all of the boats and the goslings were. It was peaceful walking around the city as the sun was setting and it made me very grateful to be where I am. Whilst I was imminently and intensely grateful to have my university place when I first got in, the hard work lessens your gratitude throughout the year. It doesn't mean you aren't thankful to be studying and learning, it just means you are too stressed to focus on it. But my eyes were uncovered looking out at the river painted orange by the sky, and it was a moment of happiness which I needed to get me through these last few days. It is moments like that which remind me why I write. Because I love making something out of nothing, the way an empty sky can suddenly fill itself with a thousand different shades.

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

First Year Lessons

Because it is the last week of term and my last deadlines are just around the corner next week, I thought it might be a nice way to close up the week by celebrating 12 things (1 for each week of the humble semester) that I have learnt throughout my time as a student of York St. John university so far.

Being a first year is such a great experience because, for the first time, you are offered this great amount of freedom that you must learn how to manage. It can be a bit gruelling at times when you miss home and the like, but at other points it can be remarkably liberating. To know that your essays will only get done if you decide to do them because no one else is going to do them for you. And more than anything else, the experiences that come with your learning. That goes for both in and out of class. You'll find yourself making friends, getting to know an entirely new place and all of the strange, wonderful things that make it up - for instance, did you know that York has a shop where you can deep fry Mars bars?

And on that note, here are the 12 things I have learnt from my first year as a literature undergraduate student:

Some of my many amazing memories which would never have occurred without York - Copyright CLSS 2016-17

1. The Comfort Zone

When you arrive at university, no matter where you are coming from (even if university is in your home town) it is going to be a scary experience. There will be nerves and a little bit of insanity that makes you worry about things you wouldn't usually be aware of. But don't worry - that's completely normal. You are a small fish in a big pond, which is the best place you can be in order to progress. The goal is to allow yourself the space to stretch your comfort zone from a cozy poncho to one of those giant parachutes made out of rainbow fabric. If you do that, then you'll find you have the best experiences.

Don't push your comfort zone straightaway. Take sensible baby steps to achieve the things you might want to do but haven't done before. So for instance, you might want to be part of the debate team but you aren't sure whether or not you are confident enough to argue a point on a stage. Why not go to the first meeting or two of the year to see how they go? The same goes for speaking in class and to other people - university is all about shaping your voice, so allow yourself to test the volume. Contribute as much as you can so that you can see how it impacts on your learning.

There are a million and one ways your comfort zone will alter throughout your first year. For me especially, my confidence has sky-rocketed. Through the roof. When I look back at how shy I was in September, the progress that has been made is massive. Being a part of the discussion is now my favourite thing - where previously I would have sat at the back of the lecture theatre to avoid being picked on, now I thrive in mid-ground answering questions to challenge myself. Knowing that is the result of giving myself a chance outside of the comfort zone makes me feel satisfied for many reasons. But mostly because I tried something new and it worked better than anything else I had tried before.

2. Living Alone

Living alone for the first time can be scary at times. You check under the bed and inside the wardrobe before you go to sleep some nights, as you might after a horror movie (or contrastingly, after Monsters Inc). There are a lot of things to get used to, from laundry to cooking. I'm lucky to be only a few hours train ride from home which has made Halle rehearsals possible this past year, but it also means that homesickness has been a bit difficult to adjust to.

When you do live alone, it is important that you make yourself some form of sanctuary. I am going to miss my little room on campus so much because it has become a place I consider home - but in a few short weeks, this will be another students room for their first semester which seems strange. Whilst you should keep organised and have space to work, don't be afraid to be creative with your space. I treat my flat as both an office and a home. There are books (too many to count now), my favourite post cards and silly photos, and of course my Disney tsum tsums because... Disney!

It adds to that whole element of your own independence, so make the most of using it. It is your opportunity to learn about how you deal with different situations, to try out new things (though there are certain recipes that will go wrong) and to make your own community that will make the space feel more at home. Get to know your flat mates and neighbours the best you can. Whilst some of my best friends here in York don't live in the same building as me, they do make this city seem much more like home because they aren't all that far away.

3. Time Management 

As I mentioned in the first thing I have learnt this past year (abotu essays and comfort zones) time management is something you will have to adjust to. It can be difficult at first because it is different to the previous levels of study, such as A level or GCSE's. For the first time, there is no real set syllabus. The mark scheme simply requests that you have a well constructed argument, written in a particular way with the right amount of research etc. It's all about you putting together your own idea in relation to a question that is often deliberately open ended. This can be useful in getting you to really think about what you want to say when you have the opportunity to do so. Afterall, each degree is in essence another contribution to an ongoing discussion about millions of different intricate topics. It is definitely something to make the most of.

And to ensure that you have constructed exactly what you want to say in the way you want to say it, you need to get used to managing your time. Classes won't fill every hour of every day but that doesn't mean you should just stay up really late and miss your early lectures. It means you should use class time to get questions asked that you need the answers to, whilst listening for engaging things that will help you further develop what you have to say. Additionally, my advice would be to alwasy start early. With my own experience, that is something which really helps.

At the moment, I am midway through the most difficult challenge university has thrown at me yet and that is three essays (adding up altogether to about 5,000 words - half a dissertation!) which is proving pretty stressful. Albeit in this incident I could not have started any earlier than I did (when the questions were released a month ago) it is still tricky to be managing this volume of work and at such a busy time as the end of the term. It might sound terrifying, but I promise you'll get there gradually. By the time you get to the end of your first year, you will see what I mean. You make progress without even realising you have.

4. Making Friends

There is no guide to making friends at university. Though I would say one of the best ways to meet people who share similar interests and thoughts to yourself would be by just speaking to your course and society mates in the first few weeks known as 'freshers'. Whether that be a full blown rant on Shakespeare (how I met my friend Izzie) or discussing how cute labradors are (how me and my friends Emma and Rebecca spend a lot of our time) you'll soon find that it is not too difficult to talk to other people and make friends.

Because I am living away from home and because my university isn't extremely large, I have two assets - my friends seem more like family to me now. Whilst I know a lot of people on my course and get along with them well, I simultaneously have a close knit group of friends with whom I spend a lot of my free time. We are all on the same course, so we are united by our love of books, but we also have lots of other interests we can share and talk about. Making friends has also been a really big part of my positive university experience. Because it's comforting to have that support when you most need it and also to just know that there is alwasy someone who will be willing to go on an adventure to a new place you haven't explored in the city yet. It helps you de-stress and remain level headed, for sure.

5. Being Interested

Big tip - be interested in everything and anything! If you are interested, then opportunities will reach for you every which way that you turn. Life is exciting when you want to learn about things because one thing (say an Unigwe text from class) will lead on to the next thing (more texts by Unigwe) which will lead to the next thing (branching out into more fiction of this kind) which allows you to begin discovering a range of things, all very different to one another, which provide you with the ability to think up and dream of anything. You can address the entire world in all of it's glory and consequence through literature, which is why the study of books and other texts is so important to me. Let yourself explore those interests, in their full range.

But I don't just think of myself as a literature student. I always thought that my degree would define me to an extent. And whilst it is a big part of my life, as is reading, there are so many other things I love and which make me who I am that I would never give up. My interest in history, my love of swimming, hiking, running, writing poetry, sketching, fashion, architecture, science etc - these things make me who I am. And to be the honest, you can only write what you experience. So the more you experience, the easier it is to bring something new to your point in class. For instance, at the moment I am doing something a bit daring perhaps by discussing the role of nature in a poem where the nature is never really directly mentioned. And it is so satisfying to do so - because it feels like I am making progress on putting a simple thought into a more complex and clear state.

6. Being an Explorer

Explore the city around you. Whether it be new or old, whether it be home or not-home, make the most of living where you live. Firstly in using it to inspire yourself and secondly in just getting to know where you are. In recognising that your feet are on the ground in this new exceptional place and you are the product of hundreds of years of history. And this is where you are, discovering what has been discovered already but in your own way.

Whenever I am bored or stressed, I am fortunate enough to be able to wander out into the streets of York. A city which is built on the foundation of history and of stories. You turn a corner to see the impressive figure of the Minster, then perhaps in its shade you will discover the Little Apple book shop and spend a happy while browsing through titles you have never heard of. Exploring the city around you will not only prove a source of inspiration but it will offer you freedom. Freedom to wander and feel rewarded, whilst equally making you feel more comfortable and at home in your surroundings.

7. Resources + Researching

Make the most of your resources and ability to research. Throughout the many thousands of words written this past few year, none of them would have been possible without the hours of research which happened first. York St. John is fortunately one of the universities which keeps its library open 24 hours. So if you can't sleep and have a book on your mind that would be perfect for your essay then you can run down and find it. Believe me, I have had many a midnight epiphany just as I am drifting off to sleep (Night owl).

In my first few weeks I was given some indirect advice which as stuck with me (much like my form teacher saying he knew people who had gone all the way through their time as a student without once getting detention). That would be Don't be one of those people who gets to third year and doesn't know how to use the university printer. It took me a few weeks to get the hang of, but it proved invaluable throughout presentations!

8. Goals + Targets

Setting yourself weekly, even daily if you want to be daring, goals and targets can be really useful in making sure you stay motivated and on top of your work. For me, bullet journalling has been a big part of this. Lots of people think that there is not enough time in the day to get work done and all of the things they would like to do outside of that, such as go to the movies or head out for a swim. But if you aren't getting everything done in the day that you would like to then you simply aren't managing your time correctly!

Keep things as closely to time/schedule as you can. Of course there will be times when you simply cannot keep things on schedule because something occurs. But those are fewer occasions than you might think. Knowing when to say no and yes to opportunities is important, so alwasy carry a diary with you. If you keep your goals clear and in sight at all time, it is difficult to become distracted by other things which usually might tempt you (such as cake in assignment season). Make them simple or difficult, whatever helps you the most. Either way, make sure you have some form of balance going on which will allow you to have a fun university experience overall.

9. Keep Home Close

Being homesick can be hard at times. But equally so, it can be sad to return home in the holidays and perhaps feel a little out of the loop. Keep home as close as you can. Stay in touch and show those who are back in your town or city that you care. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to be going home all of the time on visits, though that can be nice too, it simply means showing through small gestures that your family and friends are on your mind. That just because you are having a great time somewhere else doesn'y mean you aren't really missing them and wishing they were there to experience everything with you. Equally, make them feel welcome to come and see you - to share in your adventure. My mum loves York (largely because of the shopping) so she is always glad of the trip.

Also, despite what people might tell you, long distance relationships are manageable! I've been with my boyfriend for 6 years now and whilst being away from him at university is frequently quite difficult, it hasn't really impacted on our relationship at all. This is largely because we find the time to meet up as much as we can (when I am back for rehearsals at the weekend, we might go to see a movie before I catch the train home). And also because we facetime and write letters - something small and personal, that doesn't necessarily cost thousands of pounds but means more because we have sat down and taken the time out of our day to show that we care.

10. Photographs, Journals + Memories

You're going on an incredible journey in which you are about to discover things about your subject, yourself, and the world around you. These lessons are all valuable but more so, the experience is most important. Your adventures are something you will not want to miss out on capturing because there will be a lot of firsts - things which simply won't happen again. We all know how quickly time passes to.

I'm a big fan of photos and journals. Much of my life is captured between the pages of note books, just as most of my time is spent in the novel or the poetry collection. My memories won't be forever preserved exactly as they were, but fragments of them are bunched together in a place I can go back to them and remember when I feel sad or wonder what the point in the extra library hours before a deadline are for. My most cherished thoughts from these times will never be far from me because I wrote them down or took a silly photograph. It's important to keep those things close, because they decorate the walls of your mind. Sometimes though, we all need a bit of reminding.

11. Try and Try Again

The first few weeks of university were especially frustrating for me because, despite always being reasonably good with words, my words seemed to have dried up. My first assignments ended up meriting me a first and two upper seconds - not bad! Yet still, I felt I could have done so much better because all of the things I lost those few marks on which would have gained me firsts were so small. Things I could have fixed if I had worked harder, I told myself.

So I did work harder. I took to heart all of the feedback given, I booked tutorials to talk to my teachers and took heed of all of the advice they had to offer me. And as a result, on my next three assignments I got three straight firsts. The moral of this, and it is something I remind myself of when I am my most frustrated, is that you must try and try again in order to succeed. It is hell to go through at times, but anything worthwhile is going to be difficult at first. Just remind yourself that it will get there in the end and you will soon see your work begin to flourish. As Lewis Carroll or C.S. Lewis once said, isn't it funny how nothing changes, and then looking back suddenly everything has changed.

12. On Success

We all have different responses to our own experiences. Looking back now over my first year I am just struck by how much I have managed to achieve and experience. It makes me proud, sad, happy, nostalgic and hungry (there was a lot of good cake) all at once. My biggest success of all this past year hasn't just been staying motivated and managing to keep my grades up, it has been managing to stay true to what I have wanted to achieve and surpassing my expectations. It has been making good friends yet managing to keep well in touch with my roots. It has been beginning the process of specialisation in English literature whilst managing to nourish all of my other interests. I have become so much more of the person that I have always wanted to be and that makes me... over the moon. There is still a lot more to achieve. But if there is one thing I have learnt on the nature of success it is this:

We are more than the product of the grades that are printed on a piece of paper. Good or bad, for better or for worse, we are ourselves. And if we give ourselves a chance, then that will always be good enough.

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you!