Being Poor: A rite of passage for a post graduate

Ironically, the last time that I wrote about money was a month ago yesterday (Midnight Woes: Money, Money, Money). I didn’t plan for that to happen but it seems quite conveniant. poorAnyway, if you have read that post then you’ll know about my history with income while I’ve been a student and how close I came to dropping out. I didn’t drop out, obviously. One of my friends told me to use that stress and use it as motivation- I did, and thankfully I’m scrapping through. By pure chance I found a lot of American dollars which I could change, my younger sister agreed to pay my phone bill, and the generosity of my friends (and my landlord!) have meant that I’m just about surviving.

But this week I’ve been faced with an interesting dilemma: I got paid yesterday from my casual job. Thankfully, I’ve been offered plenty of hours and managed to make it past the £100 mark for this month’s wage (woo, go me!) but I had some debts to settle. The main two of which was my rent and my education.

Now, let me explain. I graduate at the start of December, which is the postponed graduation for my undergraduate degree since I was in America for the summer graduations. However, for graduation you obviously have to wear academic dress, a graduation gown that you can buy or rent. Which costs £40 to rent- horrible, I know. But well, given that my parents and my sister have paid to come over for it, and I’ve already registered, I can’t actually go to the ceremony without the gown. So that’s one issue.

Next is my rent. Like I said, my landlord was very kind and allowed me an extension on part of the sum of rent that I owed: £100. He had offered me a bit more leeway but I knew that putting myself too far behind on paying it would cause me problems in the future. But now I’m almost a fortnight later than I orginally agreed to pay him, so obviously I can’t be pushing my luck! Avoiding his texts will only go so far before I’m kicked out on the streets.

So, my two options are to graduate and be homeless; or to have a home, not attend graduation and waste my parents money.

Time to, unfortunately, make a phone call to the Bank of Stepdad.

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Passion and Drive

credit: chomplife.wordpress.com

credit: chomplife.wordpress.com

There’s nothing quite as strange as not realising you’re passionate about something. Well, maybe that’s just me.  Now, I’m very much someone with a lot of passing fancies. I’ve been into Mixed Marital Arts, running, gym, fitness, reading, politics, creative writing, travelling… And many other things at various points in my life but one thing I really stuggle with is the commitment to one of those things. I get bored. I don’t want to do it anymore. I stumble and refuse to pull myself back up, though tell that to my face and I’ll argue my case until I’m blue in the face.  

To be honest, I pick up the majority of my ‘passions’ because someone close to me is into it. I have a copy cat personality, or maybe I simply feed off their energy about a subject. Hell, my housemates are extremely included within each of their places of work and I find myself discussing business with them!  

But today I had my first dissertation meeting for my MA. Now, I’ve had countless sleepless nights over this and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed researching it so I wasn’t that worried. However my original plan was to focus on gun crime in the US and the UK. And by that I mean that I wanted to focus on the United States, given their increasingly frequent firearm homocides targetting educational facilities. I had to include the UK on the basis that I’m doing my dissertation within a postgraduate courses which focuses on the welfare state in Great Britain. And despite all of those alnighters in the library, it wasn’t until yesterday that I realised that there was no dissertation within that area. Solely focusing on America, yeh someone could write an entire PhD on that but guncrime within the UK is essentially non existant. It makes up less than 0.2% of homocides each year and the number is falling, in comparison to it rising in the US. We, apparently, boast some of the toughest gun licensing laws in the world… There’s no dissertation in saying how amazing we are, really is there?  

So I went to my first meeting today feeling a little disheartened. I had a vague idea of sticking to the comparison idea and instead asking why the levels of crime were falling in the UK and yet rising in the US. What I came out with was a dissertation looking at how far the schools’ themselves and the education system could be blamed for classroom violence. Though still comparing the US and the UK.  Of course, the fact that my dissertation question completely changed wasn’t a surprise to me- the same thing happened when I was doing my undergraduate degree. I don’t think many people appreciate how wide a topic their question covers until they start getting questions shot at them: But who are you targeting? But who are you looking at? And where will you be looking at? And obviously, I’d accepted that my guncrime idea wasn’t quite sufficent for a 15,000 word dissertation. 

Instead, within a single hour, I had managed to cut through 100 odd different angles that she had thrown at me to one question. It’s a bonus that I can still include gun crime and I can still use the comparison of the two countries, but it also seems much more manageable when faced with 15,000 words.  But that wasn’t the most surprising part. That came when she had stopped throwing questions at me and I started talking- which generally starts happening when I feel an awkward silence building. I ramble on and on, usually going off on a huge tangent and not even answering or acknowledging the question- which I did this time too, since every time I stopped to breath she’d say “so really you want to look at…” And quickly summerise a completely different topic to what we had been discussing. At first I thought that it must be incrediably tiresome listening to me go on. Especially since I was clearly making no sense and usually finished my sentances laughing nervously. But somehow within my notes I managed to string a theme and a sort-of question together as well as a framework. I especially was shocked when she’d refer back to stuff that I had said in my nonsense and agree. I hadn’t meant to say anything clever, I just didn’t like the silence!  

Then she asked me a question that I’ve been asked many times: who was the most influential teacher in your life?  

I already know the answer to that question. My head of sixth form, Mr Kay. I enjoy calling him the ‘shouty’ teacher who demanded respected, and who also very nearly kicked me out of sixth form for trunency, though I can’t deny that I didn’t deserve it. But it was him who sat me down and forced me to apply to university, and it was him who dragged me out of regristration to shut me in his office while he demanded to know if I was willing to commit to A Levels or if I was going to leave right then. I hated sixth form, I was no where near as smart as my peers though I managed to scrape a couple of Ds and Es. But being confronted with the concept of being expelled woke up the primary school good girl in me, the one terrified of causing trouble and getting sent to the head teacher’s office, and the one who was certainly not going to tell her mother that she had dropped out of school and therefore would lose her claim to child benefit. He’s  the reason I’m at university.  

When I finished describing him I was almost in tears, I’m not sure why though… I’ve told the story many times but I don’t think I quite understood the reality of it until now. How different my life would be if I’d followed the same path that many other children, my friends, who were in the same socio-economical position as me had followed by having children during their teens and not going to university. They’re onto their second child, many of them engaged, and I’m here struggling with my Masters. At first she was shocked that the teacher I had began describing as ‘shouty’ and scary was my main influence. Then she acknowledged that clearly my personal experience was extremely influential in my choice of dissertation area. Finally, she told me that she loved my passion, my drive. And that one day, I would be able to take it a step further and influence policies for myself and make the change that I wanted to see in the world. 

Little old me, a world changer.  Now that was the real shock!

NaNoWriMo: 25k DONE

Credit: lisavoisin.wordpress.com

Credit: lisavoisin.wordpress.com

Sometimes you take on a crazy task and it begins to look bearable. Other times it’s absolute nonsense. In my case? It’s becoming a babbling mess which is only continuing because my characters seem to be taking it in a completely different direction- yes, a completely different direction. The first 25,000 words of my so-called novel now contains a 70 year old woman and her 21 year old self. A university, an ideallic little town. A kidnapping and an adoption. Alzheimer’s, a school ‘bombing’ of sorts, a one night stand, a betrayal, an unplanned pregnancy and Iraq. Throw in a couple of car crashes, a complete stanger, and a studentship and you’ve got the first half of my story.

Oh, and let’s not forget the woman who was murdered on the moors.

I’ve gotten to the point where all of the madness actually ties together my plot much nicer than I would have managed to plan it myself, though I now have to worry about throwing too much into the first half. Not worry, I mean, I’m not allowed to edit it until December… At the end of the day I just need to reach 50,000 words. Just finish. Even if that does mean that I might go into Christmas with no sanity left and have people worrying about my dark plot.

Actually, it might be safer if no-one ever see’s the organised chaoes of my mind that’s reflected in this book. Novel… I mean, it’s a novel, right?

“You’re going to be a doctor one day.”

library-3If you’re a university student, you might be lucky enough to have access to a 24 hour library. We have one right here on campus. If you ever risk travelling into one of these places, which most people prefer to ignore the existence of, then you might notice a few characters that are hanging around.

  1. The noisy people. Yes, the ones eating crisps or yapping away on their phones- generally talking about how dull the library is.
  2. Children: Now, take this as either actual children or university students who enjoy acting like children but they basically end up meaning the same thing. They’re loud and enjoy racing around on their spinney chairs. They’re the ones playing real life pack man and hide and seek.
  3. Three, two, one… The last minute lot. Yes, they have a 5,000 word assignment due in. Tomorrow. And it’s already 10pm and they’re all sat together complaining that they don’t know what they’re doing.
  4. Zzzz… It’s the nap timers. Now, I have only seen one of these in my library, but he was always asleep. Now, I know he must have woken up at certain points because his textbooks/computer screen changed every so often and I know the library has a policy on not letting people live there (despite it being 24 hours, vending machines and includes showers). But wow, he took his naps when and where he wanted!
  5. Finally, you have the regulars who simply never seem to leave. They have their own spot which they always sit in, and they like to have a pile of large text books beside them- to lay their heads on when they want to sleep of course, not to actually read. Though you don’t actually see them sleeping, in all fairness you probably never seem them move from their seat.

Now, here’s another confession of mine: I’m a library regular. And I don’t mean that lightly. It’s almost 8.30am and I’ve been in the library since 6pm last night, on a Saturday night. I was on my own, as I like it for a productive library session, and managed to read a dozen or so articles on gun crime for my dissertation, write 3,000 odd words for my novel (Woo, supressed 20k now!) and watched an episode of Atlantis- the new TV series on BBC.

But you know it’s becoming a bad habit when the security guards start asking if you’re ok, and if you ever sleep.

In fact, this security guard I’ve not seen after one of my alnighters before, though he’s worked at our library for years. He wandered past as I was reading a textbook on Crime and Human Nature, trying to analyse to what extent schools can be blamed for criminal behaviour, when he stopped and asked if I was ok. Now, he didn’t sound worried or anything, just a casual question. To which I smiled nervously and said I was ok.

Then he said something that really shocked me.

“You’re going to be a doctor one day.”

Now that really shocked me. Obviously, he had known that I’d been there most of the night since he must have come in about midnight or so (you know you’re in there too much when you have a vague idea of their shift patterns!). But it seemed a strange assumption. I laughed and just shook my head automatically.

I’ve played with the idea of doing a PhD ever since I started university, and recently I’ve been toying with the idea of doing one in America though that would almost definitely require several years of working to save up the money. But the more I do my masters dissertation, the more I feel that I’m laying the base of what I want to do at PhD level, which makes me think I may consider doing it over here. I’m relatively fortunate in the fact that my government partially funds any university degree we may take within strict guidelines, whereas UK students don’t have that privilege so it’s something I feel I should take advantage of while I have the passion to do it.

On the other hand, I’m not entirely confident in my academic ability to manage one. While I was confident at undergraduate level, it took me three years to build up to that- and going onto a masters I’ve been completely thrown! Which is why it struck me as ironic that the security guard assumed that I was smart enough to be a doctor purely on the basis that I had my head in a textbook at 6am this morning. When, in fact, to me having to do a 13 hour shift in the library indicates that I need to put in extensive effort to even reach average.

I’m not going to lie, being able to put Dr. before my name is always going to be the dream. But it’ll take a lot of consideration and thought to decide whether that security guard saw something in me that I’m doubting right now.

 

Labelling: A rant

author1-smallLet me just get one thing straight before this post goes any further- the one thing I despise is people labeling other people.

As many of you know, I am currently taking part in NaNoWriMo in an effort of completing a 50,000 word novel by midnight on November 31st. Like I’ve said though, when I say I am writing a novel I’m not expecting to be the next Stephen King by any means, but to write 50,000 words alone would be a massive achievement for me. To be able to look at those words, that story that have written and to be able to realise that actually, I can do it.

It might not be all grammatically correct and no doubt there’ll be spelling errors. There’ll be primary school level description at some points and I have no doubt a more experienced writer could find countless plot holes even in the 15,000 words that I’ve got to far (yes, did I mention I cracked the 15k mark this morning? Woo, go me!).

I’m under no illusion otherwise- and most of the people taking part in this challenge won’t be either.

So why is it that there are blogs popping up everywhere saying “No to NaNoWriMo”? I’ve seen all their justifications: these posts are written by experienced authors who are just looking out for us amateurs. The time is too short, even the word limit is too short to class as a novel (yes, anyone who’s actually read up on the challenge knows that 50,000 words actually classes as a novelette. In fact, in the FAQs they explain that the reason they’ve chosen that amount is because it is difficult but possible for people who can’t dedicate their lives to writing).

Now, don’t get me wrong, I can understand their whole big brother/sister routine. I have my own little sister who I no doubt put down in an attempt to be protective. But if you’re going to argue a point, make sure you know what you’re talking about.

  1. NaNoWriMo is to get people into writing. It makes no claims to get them published, and even the special prize of receiving a printed copy of your novel lasts until mid 2014 giving people time to edit. Many people won’t, some might not want a solid version of their book.
  2. The challenge is just that: a challenge. I’ve seen many posts which argue that using a word count as motivation is belittling the process of being an author- it’s not the quantity, it’s the quality. Yes, I know that all too well. But at the end of the day, the point of this whole ‘certain amount of words by the deadline’ is motivate people and at the end of the day, that 50k words might be utter garbage but I am sure that every single person who reaches it, and goes beyond it, will be damned proud of what they’ve achieved.
  3. It’s not enough time and people will burn out. NaNoWriMo is based on managing to write 1,667 words per day. That’s just 1,667 words of pure garbage if it needs to be but it’s certainly a manageable target. I’ve seen comments of people on Twitter and on the forums who feel guilty about missing a couple of days and yet the response is just a huge amount of support from the community. I’ve also seen people, like me, who are stockpiling their word counts for those rainy days when they do miss one or two days. But at the end of the day, even keeping it up for a few days is an achievement for many.

NaNoWriMo for me is about setting a goal and achieving it. It’s about forming a habit and realising that if you set your mind to something, you can actually do it. And yes, some people do need a bandwagon like this to jump on it- I don’t see people raising money for prostate cancer like they do during Movember, nor do I see some people running unless it’s for a charity.

It doesn’t make the achievement any less special than if they’d done it of their own accord.

And I certainly don’t see as many people, if any, posting about how ridiculous these mustaches are that I’m seeing already this month!

NaNoWriMo: 10K MARK PASSED!

Yes, it’s four days into NaNoWriMo and I’ve managed to supress my first major goal of writing 10,000 words. That’s the same length as my undergraduate dissertation, though in admittedly far less time than it took me to finish that!

Passing 10k has made me think that this isn’t such an impossible task. Thankfully, I was ahead on most of my assignments for university though now I’m beginning a new job the juggling might get a bit more stressful. Since I’m currently also beginning my dissertation for my masters (15,000 words is nothing!) it’s likely to become more about organisation and motivation than I’d like to admit.

Today, as I was writing my fifth chapter or so I suddenly had another plot twist conjure up. I think that’s the best thing about writing, the fact that the characters can just take the story on themselves- and even though I already have the final chapter planned out, I can easily imagine that will change dramatically within the next 40,000 words. Thankfully, I’m terrible at planning stories so it won’t be changing much.

So, what’s happened so far?

Well, my main character is a 70 year old woman. She’s called Elizabeth and she’s very particular about manners and moans a lot about the ‘youth of today’… yes, she’s one of those. She has no family, she lost her parents very young and lives in a small town where she is popularly known as ‘Ms Kay’. She’s lonely, yes, but she’s not a sad old woman though she may have her moments. She thrives on her independence. Well, unless that damn hip pain flares up again…

But then there’s Adam Sampson. Adam, the huge giant who spends most of his time in his local pub, The Parrot. They all love him there, but Elizabeth doesn’t. He’s going to walk in and completely turn her world upside down. He, quite mistakenly of course, believes that she is his older sister who was kidnapped a decade before he was born.

Well, it’s an easy mistake of course.

But how would you react if someone that you have never met, a complete stranger, walked up to you and told you that you had been kidnapped about 60 years previously?

That’s about as far as I’ve gotten so far, and the majority of the story will be based around the kidnapping and Elizabeth’s reaction to this Adam Sampson… Personally, seeing what kind of character she is turning out to be, I can tell Adam has one hell of a job on his hands. But it gets even more personal for Elizabeth on a completely different note.

Let’s just say, Elizabeth Kay is in for quite an emotional year!

So I’m just going to keep writing, hopefully sticking to the vague framework of a plot that I’ve written for myself. But I guess we’ll see what happens. On the other hand, you might never hear about this again and I’ll simply get on with my assignments and manage to pass my degree before heading back off to America.

Who knows?

NaNoWriMo

Thank you to everyone who has been commenting, liking and simply reading my posts lately! It’s always a great motivation to have some interaction on the blog.

But now, on to the main focus: writing.

Now, many people reading this will be avid writers. By an avid writer I don’t mean to imply a published author, but we are all blog writers however frequently we might take to writing down our tales. Therefore I do feel that we are writers, Of course there are those who argue otherwise, who say someone has to achieve a certain goal before labelling themselves under a specific title such as a writer, or a runner; but for me, it’s about personal feelings.

I like writing. I always have. Though I wouldn’t say I’m especially creative, how J, K. Rowling came up with the whole world of Hogwarts I will never understand, but I am quite a daydreamer. In fact, I like to think of myself as a realistic daydreamer (which probably stems from my tendency to worry.)

Throughout my childhood, I’ve probably started about a dozen different story ideas. As I grew up, this gave way to a more academic style of writing thanks to university. But I’ll always remember what one author told me:

My friend’s stepdad had paid for me and her to attend a five day creative writing course with a published author. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and by the end we were expected to have completed a short story and she also suggested that if we were currently writing something that she would read through it. So I decided to let her read a short piece that I had written about a police woman who had given up her child at birth.

I was 16, what I thought I knew about post natal depression I have no idea but the story worked.

In fact, she seemed rather impressed- though that might have just been because we were all too young to handle real criticism. But one thing she did say to me was that I’d managed to squeeze a nine chapter book into nine pages. In her words, I had the real basis for a novel (whether any good or not she didn’t say).

That was by far the most encouraging thing anyone could have said to me.

Which brings me on to NaNoWriMo (or National Novel Writing Month, if you think I’ve lost my mind). November is a month which a nationally dedicated to writing, and blog posts if you were choosing to look at NaNoBloMo. Either way the aim is to write every day. If you are taking part in the blogging version, the aim is to write a blog post every day.

However, NaNoWriMo goes a little bigger (in my opinion anyway). Those taking part in this are ultimately aiming to complete a 50,000 novel by the end of November.

Fantastic!

In fact, the charity provides support networks and writing groups in local areas to motivate you along. There’s an entire online community focused on helping you to your goal. They even break it down and point out that it is only 1,667 words a day to reach that target. That’s feasible right?

This isn’t a competition though, everyone who reaches the 50,000 word target is considered a “winner” but in fact just making it even a few days in is an accomplishment- it’s only day 2 and I’ve already hit 4,000 words (using my beginner’s momentum to get ahead of myself for the slump later on) but that’s far more than I’ve ever written in my life.

But don’t think you’ve lost out since you weren’t ready, you can sign up until November 5th so jump on the bandwagon!Image