Snatching Defeat from the jaws of Victory

As a child I had such a habit of messing things up that I didn’t realise the real phrase was, ‘Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat’ until I was well into secondary school; frankly it’s a miracle I made it as far as university.

But I digress.

This week I discovered I had made what may be politely termed; a monumental cock-up. To cut a long story short, my smugness in handing both my midterm essays in a couple of days early was completely unfounded as, after tweaking one of my essays and resubmitting, I accidentally loaded it into the wrong box on e-vision – In other words, I handed the same essay in twice and now I have to fill out an Extenuating Circumstances form to ask the lovely Examining Board to not dock my marks for the other essay.

Uuuuuuugh.

The good news is that my grades this year don’t count towards my final degree, but it’s still bloody annoying. It also worries me that the deadline for these essays was over three weeks ago and the problem was only flagged up at the end of this week.

Still not sure how I made such a mistake, but what’s done is done, and my Reading Texts (the module the missing essay was meant to be in for) tutor has been nothing but supportive. We can but hope the board shall show me mercy.

In other slightly better news, I have a meeting with the head of English Literature next week to discuss my transfer to the single honours degree, fingers crossed for that as well.

We’re on the downhill slide to Christmas now and energy levels are beginning to lag. I love uni but a break sounds divine. Just two more essays to go.

Fairylights have been put up around campus and are so lovely at night that for once UEA actually looks pretty (we’re a great uni, but if you come here you have to accept the brutalist architecture). A Christmas tree has been put up in the square and nearly all the residences have some sort of garish tinsel arrangement in the window. (Personally I try to keep all decorations down until the 1st December, but maybe I’ve just become a Scrooge in my old age.)

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I’ll be putting my thinking cap on to try and come up with a suitable end of term summary post soon, but in the meantime what I can say is this, I hope that if nothing else my blog has shown that you will get things wrong and you will get things right when you start uni, but you don’t have to panic, because the chances of you failing completely are almost zero. Almost nothing is beyond repair. I promise.

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Promoting the Party Line: Participation

What do you do on your days off? Maybe abuse Netflix a bit, make a start on the Christmas shopping?

Well I can almost guarantee that it’s not crawl around medieval churches looking for seven hundred year old graffiti – but such are the strange opportunities which present themselves to you at university.

During those first few weeks at uni you inevitably give innumerable people and societies your email address, some of which you will live to regret, but it does mean that all sorts of events and opportunities will unexpectedly appear in your inbox on top of those that you regularly receive from your department.

For example, this week I received a message from one of UEA’s resident medievalists about a little field trip to look at some of the local medieval churches, focusing on their art but also on the work of the Medieval Graffiti survey (medieval-graffiti.co.uk) which seeks to catalogue and interpret the odd marks left to us by our ancestors. It turns out that those strange scratches which I used to tut at, bemoaning the vandalism of such beautiful buildings, are in fact the remnants of a long forgotten language of symbolism. I was also lucky enough to see some of the finest examples of church painting, most of which was destroyed or covered up during the reformation, which is available to us today. It’s a reminder that the dreary, grey image that many of us have of the Middle Ages, is in fact a far more modern invention. Our plain, sometimes sterile, churches would have been a shock to a medieval peasant who, even if from the smallest parish, would have associated the church with bright, almost garish, colours and a kind of pageantry now rarely seen.

But I digress. This post is not about my willingness to lose a few toes to frostbite in the name of academia, but rather the importance of regularly checking your inbox. All sorts of things find their way there, from auditions to free screenings, job advertisements to those shady experiments the psychology students are always trying to get you to take part in… Thanks to these emails I am now involved with the LGBTQ Bookclub and hopefully soon to write a review for the uni’s student newspaper Concrete. Maybe not your cup of tea, but you get the point.

Adopting the ‘Yes Man’ attitude is a great way to meet people as well, especially those with the same hobbies or research interests as you, thanks to my little history jaunt I have now met quite a few of the lecturers whose courses I am looking to take in the next few years, as well as PhD students who can still just about remember how daunting starting uni can be.

Everyone will be telling you from the minute you set foot on campus, actually scratch that – from the moment you send off your UCAS application, to throw yourself into uni life, but it’s important enough of a point that I think it bears repeating.

And besides, you’re paying nine grand for the privilege, so why not make the most of it?

Until next time.

(Could be saints, could be humanities students before 11 am)
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Both photos were taken in All Saints Church, Weston Longville
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A Fork in the Road

“TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
…”

-Robert Frost

Despite what the title of this blog may lead you to believe, I am in fact not just a Literature student, but also a Drama undergrad. Drama is something I picked up at GCSE and sort of forgot to ever put down again.

Drama classes are the strangest classes you could ever hope to take part in; one week might have you pretending to be a tree, the next you might have a lengthy debate about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. No other subject is quite so diverse or exciting.

It is in drama that I have made some of my dearest friends, fallen a little bit in love (and out again), laughed until I’ve cried, wept in frustration, and on numerous occasions made a right prat of myself.

It was with this in mind that two years ago I applied to universities for places on their English and Drama BA’s, I just couldn’t choose between my two favourite subjects, and it was because of this that I came to UEA – in my opinion they have the best English and Drama joint honours course in the country (I may be a little bias). Had I been applying just for English, I don’t know if I would have looked at UEA, not that they don’t have a good reputation for Literature, but so many uni’s offer it that you would have to be a bit more ruthless when cutting down the list, and East Anglia wasn’t somewhere I would have immediately chosen to be (when I was younger I had often fancied going to university in London). But here I am.

In the interim between A-levels and starting uni, I took a year out and trained with a theatre company in London. We were all trainee actors but our directors and creative teams were all professionals, some of whom are renowned in their field. This was a wonderful opportunity to see what the life of an actor is really like, and the answer is that it is hard. You might have 9-5 rehearsals for ten days at a time, then have only a day off before you are called in again, you’re always short on money (I went for a month once living on £5 a week for groceries) what with the price of rent and travel, and at the end of all that you might not even like the play you’re working on – but that’s the life, and for some people it’s all worth it.

However, for me, it is not. I started uni no longer sure whether drama was what I should be doing, but I decided to stick it out for a while and see. I’ve made so many great friends on the course and I have really enjoyed some of the classes, but at the end of the day I just don’t think that this is what I should be doing. As I write this post, on my desk sits the form that I need to submit to request a move from English and Drama, to just English. Despite my conviction that this is the right step for me, I still find the form reproachful and feel that in some way I have failed already, after nearly four years of practical drama classes the notion of just stopping seems almost unthinkable. I feel in my heart that I shall always be a drama student even when I am no longer studying it, and will always hope to be considered in some way a part of that community, as strange as that might sound.

But there it is, and we shall see whether I live to regret it.

I hope that in writing this post I can show other students, or prospective ones, that you don’t have to fear making the wrong choice of subject at university, because there are always ways of changing your path, if you can find it in yourself to do so.

Until next week, adieu.

Plagiarism and Plays

What is originality?

Well according to William Ralph Inge, it is undetected plagiarism (but that quote isn’t plagiarism because I cited it, kind of).

Anyway, it is the “P” word that has been on my mind all week after a particularly terrifying lecture from our Plagiarism Officer on Monday. Now I know that she didn’t mean to scare the pants off us, but put the fear of God into us she did.

To recap, I have just handed two essays in, and I am 99.9% certain that I have not committed anything that might be termed as bad practice, but it’s like during A-Level exams when they ask if you have your phone on you, and you know you don’t, but you still have a ten minute panic wondering, “what if…”.

But the talk turned out to be immediately beneficial to me, as I went straight back to my room to reread my essay, and discovered that I had in fact put two of my references the wrong way around – a close save.

The rest of the lecture was far more enjoyable, including such wonderful lines as, “we’re literature students, it’s our job to be pretentious… so go forth and be pretentious”. It also turfed up the old history vs literature debate – what is the difference between them if we view history as a narrative (other than that historians claim to be more scientific), or as Alan Bennett puts it, “Just one fucking thing after another”?
But now that I’ve handed the essays in I have promised myself to not look again until I get the marks back, because I know I will just stress over what I could have improved, etc.

I’ve also been working on improving my studying habits, as I’ve settled into the term my fresher’s enthusiasm for going through all the further reading given us has waned, and I admit my reading of our actual texts may have become a little sloppy too. But, after a few days spent with the Significant Other in Oxford, I’m feeling a little more invigorated. When you’re surrounded by people who have to turn in two essays a week it puts your own studies in perspective, and creates an environment more beneficial to working than sitting alone in front of your laptop, where the siren call of funny cat vines is strongest. So, if my friends are up for it I think small study groups might be the way forward, but we’ll see. Everyone has to find what works for them.

(Pro-tip: Audiobooks mean you can get through the more meaty texts faster, and tidy your room at the same time!)

In other news, the Minotaur Theatre Shorts ended last night and it would be remiss of me not to congratulate all involved, and to not give a special shout out to the cast and team of “Maggie” who were, as always, wonderful. It’s exciting to see just how much talent exists in our relatively small community, and very flattering to know that the staff have deemed you worthy of being a part of it. (Our alumni include the, late, Doctor himself, Matt Smith, and others such as Radio One DJ Greg James)

So that’s it for another week. It’s scary to think that we’re more than half way through the first term already, and before we know it, it shall be Christmas…

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My desk mid essay frenzy

Starter for ten

This post comes to you from my sickbed, as I made the near fatal mistake of attempting to drink like a fresher when in fact I’m the kind of person who usually only has one drink a week. Needless to say that I won’t attempt such a level of partying again (famous last words).

But, I plead for understanding by reminding you that it was Halloween and I was celebrating having finished two essays in two days…excuses excuses.

Anyway, in other news, it was the University Challenge trials this week and whilst I haven’t heard back I was sufficiently pleased with my performance that I don’t believe I shamed myself. Yes, dear readers, my not so secret addiction is in fact University Challenge, it’s not particularly flash but it’s one of the few occasions where students like me who have filled their heads with useless info can for a second find some use for it. Perhaps I have chosen the wrong university as UEA is not known for their prowess on the show, although a few years ago they did reach the finals of the Alumni special, so maybe there’s hope.

But as I previously mentioned, I have completed my two essays which mark the half-way point of my first term (I did a quick bit of maths and worked out that I am in fact an eighteenth of the way through my degree, not that I’m in any hurry to be finished) and already I feel much more accomplished as a literature student – although I’m nowhere near finished. Having to critique a poem, especially a sonnet, on the spot may have alarmed me initially, but now I can dissect it with relative ease. And that’s one of the great things about uni, learning you can do things you weren’t sure were possible. In fact that was the message of one of my first drama classes, there will be things in the next three years that you won’t think you are able to do, but if you grit your teeth and keep working at it, you’ll get there. Well the good news is that this does seem to be the case (let’s see how I feel by Christmas).

This evening I begin the “Get in” for the short play I am production manager of and the festival’s performances start on Thursday, so if you are a UEA student then I would obviously encourage you to get yourself a ticket for what should be three wonderful nights of new theatre.

Take better care of yourselves than I did.

H

maggie