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Study Burnout?

I’ve decided to sit myself down at my desk.
(Well… at a kind of surface)
To have a meeting with myself about why I’m not doing my work.
I am the student and the adult and the person who has had to dish out all the money for all these studies over the years. I am both frustrated with myself and in need of guidance.

It’s weird.


I’m on my 12th OU module

I was 30 when I took my 1st course. I am now 42. (I stopped studying for 4 years when child No.3 was born.)

Although I have completed 11 modules successfully, I dropped out of 6 (4 of those were only short courses) before I knew in which direction I wanted to head.

I have stuck at and passed every single assignment and every single module in the last three years despite the grief of losing a parent and my son suffering from a head injury.

I now have a BA, and if I finish this current module, I will have a BA honours.

I’m already 3 assignments into a 6-assignment module.

The final 3 assignments are in Feb, March and April. Plus 1 end-of-course assignment (instead of an examination) in May.


I have stopped opening my books.

I am worryingly behind with my reading.

I like what I have been reading but I don’t want to do the work bit.

I keep thinking, ‘Maybe tomorrow’ … ‘Maybe later…’ … ‘Maybe I don’t want to do this at all…’

I should have started work on the next assignment but I’m in no position to and I have no inclination to.

Why have I stopped?

What if I drop out? It’s no big deal is it?

If I drop out of this course I will not complete my honours degree. I will have spent A. Lot.
of money on a course I didn’t finish. I will have sniffed at but not touched the finish line.

The regrets may build over the years. The me in the future will be cross with the me of now.

What am I doing?

I know I can do it.
So why am I not?

I don’t know.

The student’s not talking to me.
I can only assume she has some sort of burnout.

Tea and Cakes

They didn’t know why they were such good friends. They just were.
They’d met on Twitter, electronically laughed and teased one another about the North-South divide, shared early morning tweets over their respective cups of tea, and chatted about Classic FM and noisy neighbours. They hated the same television programmes and shared a passion for lemon drizzle cake, they discovered.

It had been many months before they knew the extent of their age difference, background differences and physical differences. But by the time Carla found out that Joanna was in fact a tall, bony, soon-to-be great-grandmother of sixty-nine, and Joanna had found out that Carla was in fact a short, plump, childless, 27-year-old with a history of drug abuse it was irrelevant to the strong bond they had already built.
They’d got to the core of each other, you see – the bits you often never even find in those you see every day.

They agreed to meet, on neutral ground, on the Norfolk broads and for half an hour they simply took in each other’s appearances and recovered from each other’s accents, making self-conscious small-talk. It was all so polite, none of the usual teasing, and – if they were honest – it felt a bit wrong. As if they’d met up with strangers.

After awkward tea and sickly cakes, surrounded by quiet old couples in a small café, they set off for a walk. Side-by-side they battled, heads down, against the Easterly wind and slowly began to wonder at the sheer horribleness of the whole experience. Tears of wind-beaten pain glistened in their eyes as they turned to each other and roared with laughter. They preferred honesty. They were the same.

‘Fuck this, Jo,’ Carla screeched. ‘I could have shown you a better time in Bexhill, love!’
No one else ever called Joanna ‘Jo’ and she’d always liked reading it in Carla’s tweets. People weren’t pally with Joanna but Carla was pally.
‘All right. How long will it take to get there?’ Joanna offered.
Carla grinned up at Joanna and took her arm as they turned back inland towards the carpark. ‘Bloody hours but we’ve even got pies. You’ll feel right at home there, Chuck.’
‘And mash?’
‘We’ll mash up your chips for ya. You’ll probably need everything mashing up, won’t you, old girl?’
‘Fuck off.’ Joanna laughed but she wanted to cry with happiness. She’d never got to say that to anyone before. It was great. ‘Did you like those cakes?’
‘No. Too sweet.’
‘Far too sweet.’

Yucky things I’d rather people didn’t say…

…but I put up with them…

…although I do secretly crumple with sadness and worry for humankind a little inside.

1. ‘I’m good’
When asked how they are if people respond with, ‘I’m good’? I think, ‘That’s great but didn’t ask how well behaved you are.’ What wrong with ‘I’m well thanks,’ or ‘I’m fine, how are you?’ or ‘Oh you know… getting by.’ Or how about surprising them with, ‘Still getting over that lottery win!’ Or ‘Just had to have my dog put down and I really need a hug.’

2. ‘My bad.’
Yucketty yuck balls. spit spit spit. Since when did people perform ‘a bad.’? How about the original and best: ‘My mistake,’ or ‘I’m sorry.’ It seems to be the new way of skating around accepting you’ve done something wrong. And it’s twee. I don’t like twee.

3. ‘I apologise.’
Go on then…
We don’t say to our children. ‘I cook your tea,’ and yet do nothing.
We don’t say to our betrothed, ‘I marry you.’ and then not turn up for the ceremony to say ‘I do.’
Worse still is if someone says, ‘If I offended anyone, I apologise.’
No you don’t. Because you haven’t accepted you’ve done wrong.

There are plenty more but I’m going for a walk now. I’m hoping the fresh air and exercise will make me less picky.

‘Catch you later!’
(When you fly through the air and almost land on me)

Boxes and Labels

Avoiding the assumptions

What are you? Who are you? What do you do?
What type of person are you?
Can you define yourself in a few words and guarantee that those few words will remain an accurate description of who you are for many years? Or, like me, will you need several words and the option to change your mind at any moment?
I’m sure there are plenty of life-changing moments within all of our existences where we redefine ourselves because of a change of direction or some sort of realisation. Or we discard a label because we find it too limiting and it groups us with other people that we feel we have nothing else in common with.

I recently read Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and came to the conclusion that we should go no further than ‘human’ or ‘person’ in terms of categorisation. Anything after that – and in the case of her story ‘male’ or ‘female’ – can be subject to argument.

This morning I listened to Hermione Lee talk about the writer, Edith Wharton. Edith wrote about feminist issues but strongly refuted any suggestion that she was in fact A Feminist. Hermione Lee said, ‘Many women write about feminism but don’t call themselves feminists.’
That’s because we don’t like labels and all the connections and assumptions that go with them, I thought. Once you admit to being an environmentalist, for instance you get placed into a box with a label ‘profit of doom’ or ‘hippie’ and the lid firmly closed on you. Isn’t it more sensible to avoid labels and leave everything open to conversation or we may end up inadvertently fitting someone else’s view of what our particular label means?

Are you clever or stupid? Do you see other people as clever or stupid? Do you judge people by whether they have a degree or not? Is it that simple?
I have strong socialist opinions but I am not a Labour Party supporter.
I am a writer but I don’t have a cat sitting on my lap. (I don’t particularly like cats. But that doesn’t make me an animal-hater either!)
I am a mother but that doesn’t mean I want to sit around with other mothers talking about my children.
I keep getting sent forms from the OU, asking me to fill in details about my current situation since finishing this, that and the other course. I can’t do it. I don’t fit the boxes.

Then within the same radio programme as the Hermione Lee interview, an American writer was interviewed talking about her book about optimism. (Look her up if you can be bothered. I’m not sure I can!) She stated that we all have optimism ‘hard-wired’ into us – that it is a human trait. Now any sort of blanket statement like that is like a red rag to a bull to me. How dare she make sweeping assertions like that?!
She then muddled her argument by saying that only 80% of people are in fact optimistic the other 20% are clinically depressed. Gosh. Which box do I fit in? Hmmm…
Oh no… but then she said that British people are pessimistic, because we are really optimistic but we are culturally pessimistic. We put on our pessimism.

Scratches head

Well I had a good long think about this. I am not naturally optimistic. I am not depressed either. I am British. But I am not putting it on. I am plagued by pessimistic thoughts and I fight them regularly. But I love life and never want it to end. So I think I must have fallen out of my box and got lots of different labels stuck to me on the way down. So maybe my parents lied and I am not British then. Or maybe I’m not human.

I did a light-hearted survey on Twitter this morning, by the way, and many – UK-based – people came forward to say they were in fact optimistic.

It must be time to make up a few more box labels because not everyone is fitting neatly into the ones we have so far.

Or shall we just say we are who we are and that’s that. (And even that is subject to the day of the week, hormones, the moon, what job we are doing, who we are hanging out with, what we are eating, and life experiences. Let’s face it – sometimes we just don’t feel ourselves)

Some descriptions are useful for helping us cope or stay away from those who might make us unhappy. I believe being diagnosed with Asperger’s is very useful, for instance, but it’s only one part of who a person is.
I’d probably stay away from someone who defined themselves as a child-hating, capitalist, diamond-obsessive because I’m a family-loving, socialist, sandal-wearer.
But that’s just me.

Or is it?

These ‘not necessarily what it says on the box’ thoughts that prompted me to take the above photo made me think about my Dad.
I have a box in the shed that he wrote on:

What’s in there is definitely not what’s on the label, as he wrote that for a joke. Mum won’t throw anything away (well, not much) because almost everything should be re-used or recycled. Her intentions are good but she never actually deals with all the boxes and piles. She would call herself green and an environmentalist, a recycler… but is she if she doesn’t actually get around to recycling…
I guess that makes her a hoarder.

Or does it?

I’m not wearing sandals today, by the way.
Today I am A Fluffy Boot Wearer.

Grabs labels and indelible pen

Fast Slopes

A short story/flash fiction

‘It’s what I know. It’s all I know. It’s my whole life,’ she had said.

It had seemed like a fine answer. She’d known she was going to say it. It was true and convincing. All at once it would epitomise commitment, experience, loyalty. She would put in the hours. She would dedicate herself to the role. She knew that was what they would be looking for.

But when she heard herself say it she sounded pitiful:
‘It’s all I know…’

It’s all I have ever done…

Charlie had thought her presumptuous to write an email of resignation so soon after the interview. But of course she wouldn’t click Send just yet, would she? She was getting ready, that was all – preparing for the future. Optimistic. He liked that in a person.
You keep at it, you go up and up, you get more money, you have more choices in life, you have fewer and fewer people telling you what to do, you finally get to the top and you gain control. That’s how the system worked. Why on earth would anyone want to be one of the minions, thought Charlie, doing everything for less money and less respect? Other people clearly didn’t have the drive, ambition or talent that he and Ellen had. Their loss.

Charlie poured them a glass of Pinot Noir while Ellen stared at the screen and chewed the skin around her thumbnail.
‘D’you think you’ve got it then?’ he asked. ‘You seem pretty certain you’re leaving.’
‘Hmmm?’ Ellen was lost in thought. Her eyes scanned left to right to left, quickly, as she read.
‘How long before you hear? Did they say?’
‘Oh yes. I’m sure I’m leaving.’
‘But when?’
‘Now.’ She pressed Enter with a pronounced gesture and closed her laptop.
She was shaking. Her eyes were still flitting and she looked half-crazed as if she would explode into hysterical laughter at any second.
‘Jeez, El’, what if you don’t…?’ Charlie paused and necked his wine.

He’d always admired her gutsiness. ‘My missus has got balls,’ he often joked proudly. But he suddenly felt the exhilarating terror he’d experienced when he’d tried the fast slopes at Aspen for the first time. It was great when it all turned out all right in the end but the loss of control had scared the crap out of him. He began to shake too and poured himself another drink.

‘What are we doing with our lives, Charlie?’ she asked, standing up and pouring her wine down the sink.

‘Hopefully we’re getting to the top – that’s if you haven’t just become unemployed.’ He rubbed his forehead as panic made it sweat.

‘But why? What do we want?’ She was holding her car key and turning it over in her hands – as if it made them dirty.

‘A nice house. A bigger house. No mortgage. Nice cars. No one telling us what to do. To be in control of our lives. You know… and stuff. Holidays. Things. Comfort.’

Ellen released a huge breath and pressed the key onto the kitchen surface. She lined it up neatly next to her phone and her laptop and stepped back pushing her hands into her jeans pockets.

‘I’m going on a self-sufficiency course in Powys. I’ll get the train. I’ll phone you from the landline when I get there.’

‘You what?!’ Charlie spat wine and jumped towards her, reaching out for her shoulders. ‘You’re tired and stressed after the worry of the interview. Just sit down and we’ll talk. I think you’re having a nervous breakdown, love.’

‘Well, if I am, I thoroughly recommend it,’ Ellen laughed lightly and released herself.

Charlie squinted at her. ‘Are you leaving me? Are you having an affair?’

‘No. No. You can come too. I just didn’t think you’d want to.’

‘How long have you been planning this?’

Ellen looked at her watch. ‘About 47 minutes.’ She walked to the front door and opened it, picking up a rucksack from the floor.

‘And what about the job?’

‘What job?’ She raised her eyebrows and kissed Charlie’s cheek.

‘You can’t not work.’

‘Oh, I’ll be working.’ Her phone rang from the kitchen as she stepped outside and slung the rucksack on her back.

‘No. Earning a living. Just imagine for a minute not having the security of knowing you can afford a mortgage, go out for dinner, drive a car, be part of the financial world…’

‘I know. It’s exhilarating.’ Ellen grinned, wide-eyed. ‘I can feel the wind in my hair already.’

Her phone rang again and she strode away down the drive, swinging her arms. Charlie had started to follow her but he ran back up into the house and looked at her phone. A text appeared on the screen.

Charlie stared at the screen and downed another glass of wine.

I Can’t Get No…

A 100-word flash fiction

He didn’t understand it.
There they were – sat under the electric light, leaning across the table to hold each other’s hands.
So that was that, he thought, as he lowered his binoculars…
She really was with who she said she would be with, and doing what she said she would.
Why wasn’t she lying, cheating, finding comfort elsewhere?
Women stole from him, went off with his sister’s husband, changed their phone number, laughed in his face.
He got satisfaction from being right when it all went wrong.

If she really was “working late” tomorrow, she’d have to go.

There’s a competition run by National Flash Fiction Day (UK) to write a micro-fiction of 100 words or less, here: National Flash Fiction Day Micro-Fiction Competition
UK writers only. Entry closes 31st January 2012.

Oh – and there’s this music-inspired, 100-word one too, for the One in Four charity which looks interesting: Caroline Smailes: A Challenge and the chance to see your story in print

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