OU Diary #46 – Finito

I handed in my last essay towards my BA in English Language and Literature so I can officially say that I am finished. I don’t quite feel it yet but it’s true. I reread my essay before submission and it’s not exactly the crowning achievement of my time as an Arts student but it should be good enough to get above 55% which is all I need to get a 1st class degree. As much as I have enjoyed many parts of the degree I can’t say that I discovered any hidden passion. I did learn that I can write well but not very well. I know my limitations as a creative writer. I know that I am a reader and that it is not likely that I will ever become a writer in a substantial sense because I am too lazy and too uninspired. I have lots of ideas about things that I could shape into stories but I hesitate to expose the private world that inevitably uses real people and experiences as models for the fictional world. If you don’t want to take that step then writing is maybe not the best outlet.
I know myself better after this latest degree. I missed being able to submerge myself in other languages. I regretted that I had to leave my good work with Japanese behind and commit myself to my BA. I did do the Spanish Level 2 module through the OU so I was not totally cut off from that side of myself but there was a burden on my shoulders that I could only shake by putting my foot on the accelerator and getting the last two Level 3 modules out of the way as quickly as possible.
Now I am going back to being myself. I have already started learning Japanese again and I will talk my first class via iTalki tomorrow. I am going to try to learn some Croatian before going there on holiday in July (it’s really similar to Polish so that should be possible). I am also going to find some time to start reading again in Irish, German, French and Spanish. I want to join some language groups too to start to practice more if I can. Since this is the side of myself that says more about who I am and how I feel as a person in the world.

On Halfnoise and Sounds

There was a time when listening to my favourite bands on hungover Saturday mornings brought me back into emotional balance. The soundscapes would flood my senses and offer escape from the humiliation of yet another lost night.

I thought that I had lost the ability to shed a tear about anything once I stopped drinking. It’s not that emotions had disappeared inside but they just didn’t flow out any more.

That’s why the last few weeks have been all the more special.  As any reader of this blog will know I love Paramore with a passion. After the Farro brothers left I basically ignored what they were doing until I decided to check out Zac’s band Halfnoise last month. It was incredible. He is making sounds that must have always been there trapped in New Zealand’s volcanic rocks. He is letting the sounds pour out and so my tears. Halfnoise invade the neural systems like a euphoric drug.

It’s like Halfnoise has helped reawaken a part if my brain that was dead or at least dormant. The joy they bring makes other bands come alive again. Listening to Neon Trees live sessions and Banks and  Paramore and Parachute and Laura Welsh is giving a booster effect as if Halfnoise has induced a new state in me. I can cry again with joy because I can listen and really really hear.




OU Diary #45 – One More Time

In all probability it’s the last essay I will ever write as an Open University student but this EMA is not plain sailing by any means. I am putting so many things in my life on hold but procrastination means that I am making little if any progress. I have a trip to Japan coming up in May and I would really like to get back to getting my Japanese up to speed but no. I have been piling on the kilos and I know I need to get clean again and get back in shape but no. All tasks, all responsibilities, all roads lead back to this one essay that I just need to FINISH!!
I need to draft some criteria for awarding a literary prize and then make a selection from a shortlist. I need to do a close reading of two books and I have chosen “The Ghost Road” by Pat Barker and “Kiss of the Spider Woman” by Manuel Puig. I do like both of these books but I wouldn’t include either of them in any favourites list. However, for the purpose of the exercise they have features that make them very suitable and I am not in interested in making this any more difficult than it has to be. I could have chosen a book from outside of our reading list but that might have backfired. The last thing I need is to mess up the very last EMA.
After this essay I will read all of those books that are waiting on me, I will swim in all of the foreign languages I have neglected, I will get my body and my vigour back, I will spend more time with the family, I will try to be a better person, I will sleep the sleep of the blessed, I will kiss freedom.

Rhythmic Gymnastics – All The Way Back

After a rollercoaster ride with more downs than ups today was the day when Luna finally managed to get back to where she was in the semi-final in 2013. On that day she came fourth in the youngest category with three second years ahead of her. We were really happy that day but it was to be the high tide point up until now. In her first year she came sixth in the final and last year she was fourth again in the semi and fifth in the final. Although she had some good results internationally things were not on track any more despite our belief in her ability.

This season things have gone very well. She came fourth in the Nevis in Sweden and second in the District so we were feeling good about the season but today was the first national  qualifier for the A category gymnasts. Luna is a first year so we were really keen to see how she would do. She had the tough job of kicking off the competition with her Free routine. She did a really good job but we could see that the jury were discussing it for a long time. When her mark came we were very worried because it was her lowest of the season. On the second rotation she did Hoop and caught the important catches and ended up with a really good mark. She was looking good in fourth ahead of Ball. One of her teammates had to pull put sick which was a real shame as she was second after two routines. Luna did a good job on Ball considering her nerves. She had a drop but dealt with it cleanly. She had a few wobbles as well but she came out of it with an okay mark.

In the end she came third behind two very strong second years. Luna outscored all of the girls who beat her in the final in June. It took two years to get back to this position so today was a really sweet day for our family.

Rhythmic Gymnastics – Gold is a Different Colour

On Sunday our RG girls had the first group competition of the season for their District. Before this season Luna had never trained as part of a group but the club puts a big emphasis on group work as part of their overall training approach. She did a hoop exercise with her three teammates who are all top gymnasts. They performed well but there were a few mistakes that cost them points. There is room for improvement but they did well enough to win gold. In all of Luna’s years of competition it is the first time that she won a gold medal so it was a really nice first. 

Nadia is only six and is in her first season of competition but luckily for her the federation has a trial running where really cute mini groups do a free routine. It is really impressive what these little girls can do in synchrony. It was really nice to watch. Nadia did her routine with two different groups and they ended up winning gold and silver respectively. The other groups were very good too, the team that came fourth was really impressive and I guess that they lost marks for execution because their difficulty was very advance for such young girls.
All in all it was a successful day with a lot less stress than for individual competitions. It is nice for the girls to be a real team together – you can see why the club value the group exercises   so much.

Anti-Social Networks

I am certainly not alone in being ambivalent about social networks on the Internet. On the one hand you can keep in touch very easily with anybody who is willing to put the minimal effort in to be a virtual ‘friend’. On the other hand Facebook and its ilk don’t spare you from the harsh Darwinian reality of being surplus to requirements for people who may have been friends in ‘real’ life in the past. Life was a more comfortable place in the past when we could invent or blithely swallow reasons why we might have ‘lost touch’. Now the reality stares you in the face from a happy looking Facebook profile more often than not.
Luckily I am in my forties and not my thirties so I have already moved beyond the world that existed in my twenties. You get older and you can look yourself in the mirror a lot more honestly. You know what you were and what you did. You move on and build new lives and existences. I did give up Facebook for a time but I rejoined it to be involved in Open University networks and then it became the default vehicle for interacting with the gymnastics world. It’s also a place where I follow my favourite writers and bands. All these are good things. If I had have had something like Facebook in my teens I don’t think that I would have disappeared into a black hole like I did.
At the same time I see something happening more and more on Facebook and other sites like boards.ie that scares me as a human being. I am a member of various interest groups related to languages mainly. The goal of any interest group is to share thoughts and information on a common interest. In the past this would often have taken the form of one person asking a question and then another member answering and maybe then a discussion would be triggered. Now what I see in so many groups is that a question is answered directly with a link to a website. On Irish language forums I have seen links to the translation of the word dictionary sites like focloir.ie as an answer without any discussion. It’s as if the message is that any question with an objective answer can be answered by Google or an underlying website. From an objective perspective that is true but people do not ask questions just to get answers and not all answers are objective. People ask questions for relational reasons so that they can interact. They expect answers from people based on their knowledge and their experience. If social networks are totally rational and logical then they are anti-social. We are not androids after all, we are human beings.
The demands of the internet age are rather duplicitous. On the one hand we are fully wired. People know about everything right away but the media available to us need original content and that is forever in short supply. With so many consumers of videos and photos and words there is a ravenous demand but it has not stimulated a corresponding level of supply. For me the other anti-social of Facebook and other sites is the willingness to castigate and denigrate. Maybe I am come from a more gentle time but I love the creative possibilities of the wired world but I abhor the lack of respect for those that have put time and effort into innovating.
It might say something about my cultural background but boards.ie is the site I like best even though it is so old school. People talk on that site in such an Irish way. When people step outside of the boundaries they are quickly reprimanded. There are lots of cruel comments there too but also a lot of kindness. That’s what makes a social network social.

OU Diary #44 – Last Orders

I started my OU degree began back in the October of 2010 with the idea of maybe doing a BA in six years. It hasn’t worked out that way because I started to feel that the degree was a burden that I needed to relieve myself of. In a way the degree peaked when I was doing the Level 2 A230 Literature module because that was the time when I was part of a very dynamic group of people who interacted organically and productively. After that module I never had that feeling again and I started to study in a totally independent way. There is no doubt that I have developed intellectually and as a writer because of the disciplined and methodical way I have learned to work. When things are flowing I can now analyse a text and the major critical and contextual work related to it in a way that I could not have five years ago.
In a sense I have also gained a much deeper understanding of the life of a text and its writer. The writer has become human rather than an abstraction which makes the creation of something complex beautiful all the more real. I am so aware now of the blind spots, of the things I miss, the unreliability of the reader. For instance, I read ‘Paradise’ by Abdulrazak Gurnah a while back and I was really underwhelmed by the novel but then I entered the world of the other dimension and I engaged with the critical analysis of the book. I started to see all of the wonder and pain and relevance I had missed. This is a book about me too but I had failed to grasp the universality and personality of the text. Once you know that there is so much that you don’t know then the first reading of a book is just a pebble thrown in the water- the ripples are its afterlife.
I have just one more assignment to do. I will need a relatively low mark to get the grade I need to get a First Class Honours degree. I didn’t start the degree aiming for the top grade but I guess that my instincts are always to do my best. A degree in English makes an for an interesting combination with the other things I have studied. It says a lot that it took me more than forty years to become a graduate in something that actually interests me. The pragmatic streak that always put economic safety first has served me well in some respects but there might have been a lot more joy in my youth if I had have embraced this side twenty five years ago.