Saturday, 6 April 2013

Confessions of an Overworked Gunslinger - Some Personal Study Coping Methods

It's Plath-tastic!

And suddenly we’re back at that time of year - much like waking up an hour before your alarm is set to scream itself into existence, we’re all beginning to see that next set of exams loom up in the distance.

Depending on your place of study and procrastination prowess, you may have already started studying, or else are set begin, about to slip into that red haze of past papers and lecture notes and criticism and pain that builds and builds until the alarms are telling us it’s Day of Reckoning O’Clock.

(Side theory - invigilators are actually monsters that literally feed on the fear of students; exams are essentially their gathering energy for hibernating through the lazy summer ahead. Go on, prove me wrong.)

In light of the exam stress, I think it’s time we were honest about the coping methods we use to keep our sanity levels in check - those little splices of mayhem we put into our day that allow to catch a few seconds of breath in between, or even during, study.

So here are mine.

Coping Mechanism A - Becoming founding father of the ‘Study Outfit’

First of all, you have to understand I’ve never aspired to fashion greatness. For me, clothes are successful if they don’t draw any attention to themselves. In fact, I count it as a victory if I look as good as a rejected George model.

When I’ve got to embark on several hours of intellectual purgatory though, I find it helps if I’m wearing something either admirable or else patently ridiculous. I’m kept motivated by the fact that even if literary theory is sometimes a bit banal, it’s made more amusing in light of the farce I’m sporting. 

Many of my ‘Study Outfits’ are inspired from other places - some examples:

The Gunslinger
Inspired by Stephen King Dark Tower fame, this one starts off relatively simple - T-shirt, jeans with a dressing gown thrown on over. What makes this ensemble more Deschain than Dent, however, is the inclusion of myriad toy guns (in my case, obtained in a toyshop fire sale) fitted into the loops of the gown. 

Ideal for those arduous evening sessions, The Gunslinger will make you feel cool, comfortable and, most importantly, able to shoot your way through several hours of work in a single sitting.

Just don’t look into any mirrors. 

The Bond
Feeling exhausted after a long day’s work? As appealing as a horse in a coughing fit? 

If you're at the end of your wits but not the end of your work, why not spend the rest of your evening suited up? In as long as it takes to clip on that fake bow-tie, you’ll stop scaring the living daylights out of everyone who knocks on your door, and instead feel as important as if you were aiding her majesty’s secret service itself. 

For maximal effect, flick that browser over to youtube and work to your favourite Bond soundtrack. 

What are you waiting for? Boost that self-esteem and start being the spy who loved me

The Night’s Watch (aka The Crow)

We all know winter is coming. 

Why not prepare for it with this all-black attire based on that series of books/episodes you know and love?

Ideal for those bleak frosty nights of semester one, this cosy set of clothing will let you slay those essay questions like your pen is valyrian steel.

Cloak recommended, direwolf optional.

Coping Mechanism B: Descending into Rampant Materialism
This is Leonard. 

Are you still there?

Leonard is a cuddly toy version of those hilarious sentry turrets from the superb Portal series, and is but a single example of my shameful inability to stop buying purposeless things during exam time. Walking to the university library, desperate for procrastination, I succumb to almost anything mildly well-advertised like a moth to a consumerist flame. 

Mercifully for my wallet, ninety-nine percent of these occasions I spend a minute looking and then resume my travels to the place where laughter goes to die. 

But then there’s that other percent...

It would be sightly okay if I were buying things that had some semblance of usefulness, but it almost never is. It’s more often an amusing mug than a textbook, more often DVDs than socks. By the time exams are over, my wallet is as thin as my tolerance, and I have to spend the next few months building the pennies back up (knowing exactly where I'll be likely funnelling those same coins a few months further down the line).

So, if you see me in town eyeing that remote-controlled helicopter, drag me at turret-point back to the library, please. 

Coping Mechanism C: When I Procrastinate, I Procrastinate Properly

It’s not just my hard-won cash I senselessly waste, either. When I study I’m generally able to sit down and plough through several hours of work undistracted. This usually entails, however, that when I fall off the study-wagon, I fall hard and bounce off a rock or two besides. I don’t just spend a few minutes scrolling aimlessly down the twitter feed - I let several hours slide as I’m driven to find out exactly what Astronauts do when they're not up in space. 

More recently I was inexplicably gripped to discover, in detail, the history of the Haiku. After an hour of researching Basho - one of my favourite names ever, by the way - I was inspired to write some Haiku of my own. At this idea, the procrastination sea-slug whispered into my ear: “You know, to write the Haiku you need to get in touch with nature. You can't just sit at a desk, you need to be by rivers and trees and leaves...” 

"You're right!" I cried, enthused, and soon I found myself in a forest, watching the sun setting and trying to fumble my inner zen into a few horrifically-placed syllables.

And with that, the day reserved for studiousness was gone. 

It would have been a day well, if oddly, spent had I the free time to spend. A fortnight before the invigilators were set to feed on my fear, not so much. 

Exploring Haiku/Apparently stuff like this/Doesn't really count

Mechanism D: Becoming Possessed by the Ghosts of Exams Past

This one is less of a coping Mechanism and more of an inevitability, really.
When not hiking through some backwater forest aspiring to be the reincarnation of a long-gone japanese poet, I study English literature, and have done to varying extents for some years now. Indeed, this set of exams marks my seventh time being forced to argue why a certain text means something that the author probably never even realised was an option. 

I love my course. I love reading the text, thinking through the text, reading other’s thoughts on the text. I love spending more time on an author’s works than they probably did themselves.

What I don’t like so much, if you'll excuse the particularly bad pun, is sitting and memorising thousands of Wordsworth of quotes. 

A large part of studying a book is learning the book, and so often my ‘studying’ counts as trying to lodge another sentence that might possibly be needed (but probably won't be) into my head. 

The weird part is a lot of the quotations I’ve learned don't fade away. As I embark on the same study/study-more/more-study/study-like-the-wind process each semester, I find that the most vivid quotes from authors I’ve previously been examined on come roaring back as if these new sentences  are just riding the crest of an older wave.

I’ve found myself walking through the streets of Glasgow murmuring Plath’s best hits (“If my mouth could marry a hurt like that!”) to passers by. Macbeth’s more violent speeches come to mind while whittling through the cupboard for those stray digestives. Eddie is still pining awkwardly over his niece; Browning is still pasting his disturbed speakers along the walls of my head.

What I’ve learned to do, though, is accept the authors in my head; try to let them mingle and say their lines. I know a few weeks later they'll sink back into the subconscious for another season. Worst case scenario, I become a little unhinged in the meantime, but, hey, that’s how the best study outfits are born.

Click here to see my thoughts on Assassin's Creed II,
Or else go here to see where my education began,
Or if you just want Plath to stop looking at you this'll do.

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