Counting blessings

In Israel and the Occupied Territories class this week, the lecturer asked our class, "How did you find the (weekly) readings?" The prep reading for this particular week was one chapter about the origins of the PLO, and another half-ish chapter on the Gush Emunim.

I was hovering between answering "(They were) useful" and "Helpful". I didn't actually finish the chapter on the PLO because of my I'm-reading-something-else-now-and-I-can't-stop problem, but the materials were like most everything else we (History students) have to read before and after every class (and all our student lives, actually). Which means that every bit that I'd read before the class helped me understand the lesson better, which is the whole point of prep reading.

What I didn't expect was many people (who were mostly non-Arts/Humanities students) in the class telling the lecturer that the readings were "Difficult", "Like a high-pressure water fountain", "Intense", and "Contain lots of assumed-information (as in the author assumes you know certain things)". During our extra hour for postgrads tutorial before the class, another master's student (he's doing a chemical-something degree) said that he found the reading rather lengthy (the lecturer was like, "But that one's only 30 pages"; to which I went, "Yeah, that was like a chapter (only), right?", and the chemistry student explained that in his discipline, he's used to reading like, "One page of chemical [something -- maybe compounds?], and that's it."). To be honest, I agree with all of the above complaints. History books, however readable, are often intense, contains endless assumed-knowledge bits, and are sometimes plain difficult to take in.

Until that class, though, I didn't realise how conditioned I've become to working with difficult readings. *high five all around with history and literature students*. Difficult texts are what we do. Difficult reading is normal.

Because academic life (and life, period) is hard, I've learnt that it's best to just (1) accept that it's difficult, and (2) get over it. And one very powerful way of getting over it is to find (or create, or imagine) fun out of the doldrums. Even if you (like me) like solitary work, the printed word, and strange worlds and dead people, the day-to-day of studying can still sap your funergy like anything. One time I was in the Senate House Library's Special Collections room, flipping page after page of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Alien Immigration report, and writing down notes from it, and at some point I got so tired that I cried. Not emotional crying, but the your-eyes-suddenly-tear-up-non-stop-after-you-reached-your-yawning-threshold crying. It was hilarious, tears were just dripping onto the table. I had to push away the manuscript because I couldn't let the tears spoil the volume.

To survive difficulties (of all sorts) with as little damage as possible, I think it's important to find every excuse to be happy. For me, happiness makes itself available in the simplest things and steps, and they go a long way towards making everything else easier in general. For example:

1. Animals in the city

Walking in biting cold and rain (I'm an absolute chicken when it comes to cold weather) is horrible, but if I get to see one or two dogs around, my walk is made. The pugs are the funniest. And there's a pair of very clean Golden Retrievers I see walking with a man by the Royal Oak station some mornings. The guide-dogs, I have so much respect for them. So well-behaved and focused. Once, on the bus home from Camden, I saw an urban fox scurrying into the darkness. And let's not forget the Tube stations' resident pigeons -- the stations that are overground, like Bayswater -- that sometimes hop on the trains to feed off the sandwich crumbs on the floor. They almost make up for the lack of cats hereabouts (though I can always pay a visit to the two cats at Word on the Water, the floating second-hand bookshop on the Paddington Canal).

 This is how it feels. Cold, rainy, and grey. 
That's (part of) UCL on the right, and Waterstones on the left.
And no dog in sight (at the time this was taken).

2. Packed lunch/brunch

I'm not a fan of cold lunches, but when I'm at the uni, I don't have many (quick) hot lunch options besides Subway and KFC. So it's always lovely when I manage to plan beforehand and prepare some food, or even just some snacks, to bring to uni.

Cherries, tangerines, (canned pineapple "in own juice", they were not sweet enough so I squeezed some honey on them, though I'll find excuses to put honey on anything; and bananas).
It would've been prettier if we had some green grapes at home. 
They could've sat to the right of the bananas. Ah well next time.

Then again, half the time I forget to eat the lunches I bring along. So I don't bother to do it as much now. But fruits I certainly will remember to eat, not least because they're good when cold, unlike sandwiches or nasi goreng (although I can use the microwave at the Graduate Hub pantry if I want to heat up food).

3. Getting to pick your own essay topics

Usually MA students can pick from a range of questions or choose any other subject they want (with the tutor's approval), which is great because we get to work on something we're actually interested in, but this isn't as easy as it sounds. If the subject is generally unknown to you, you would need to do a fair bit of reading before you can even know which topics are do-able. But like bad weather and lunch decisions, there's also a fun element to deciding essay topics. If there are several questions (that the tutor has determined) that I have to choose from, my personal rule is to pick the subject that I know least about...like the Jordanian track of the peace process, or the 1982 Lebanon War. Sometimes one point or statement in a class discussion can trigger enough interest in me to find out more about the event, or phenomenon, and I'll then base my essay topic on that initial idea. 

It could be even more random. When I started out looking for a topic for my Jews in English-Speaking Lands paper, I was really stumped, so I drew on the little I know about 1880s (and thereabouts) London...which isn't much at all -- English history is not my strongest point. But I do know something about it...vaguely...from literary fiction (of which I only read the easiest). The least vague of these recollections happen to be of late Victorian London. Sherlock Holmes and the London street urchins, to be exact. The professor was telling us about the poor Jewish immigrants in Britain, and I wondered if any of those street boys that supplied information to Holmes (in exchange for a shilling or a guinea) were Jewish children...although Baker Street is in Northwest-Central London and the Jews mostly lived in the East End. And then I wanted to know what children's literature (of that period) said about Jewish children and Jewish life, and what Jewish children thought about what those books said about them. Next thing I know, I have an essay topic.

And this, you see, is how 4000 to 7000-word essays can develop out of hobbies and plain curiosity.
In my books, this is a very real cause for happiness.

4. Owning a book that you need

I cannot emphasise just how important it is to be able to hold on to a book freely and indefinitely, without having to worry about getting that book from the library before someone else does, or receiving a recall notice from the library because someone else wants to use it too. Having your own copy also means that you can underline and scribble in the margins whenever you feel like it.

So alhamdulillah for second-hand bookshops, brick-and-mortar or online. And thank you MARA for giving us decent monthly allowances. Thank you Allah, ever so much, for letting me afford to buy books at all.

(Rasa terpinggir) Cannot take it out of the library, even.

On the whole, this the-fun-is-in-the-hardship approach to my studies works rather well, I'd say, because I never feel like I'm doing an MA. I just feel like the rakyat is paying me to experience 12 months of Hebrew and Jewish history awesomeness. I feel very lucky and privileged, so alhamdulillah for these hardships of learning.

Bloomsbury Farmers' Market

On a completely unrelated note, and to make up for the lack of dog-in-the-street pictures, here are three photos I took of the farmers' market:

Probably not halal.
Bloomsbury farmers' market, in front of Byng Place every Thursday

Baked goods

Quite a range or porky (pork-based?) food here
I took several other pictures of carrots and leeks and more bread and pastries, but the composition of the photos are so disturbing, I can't put them up here. I need to spend time getting to know my camera. Anyhow, I'm sure you've seen soil-encrusted carrots before.

Sorry for the mashed up topics. I could've put the market photos in another post, but if I did, I'd feel obliged to write another story entirely about markets, food, and whatever the photos prompt me to talk about; and if I started doing that, there's no knowing when I'll actually publish these photos at all.

Until then!

2 comments :: Counting blessings

  1. Nabeelah.... I was once your teacher. Now I am learning from you, dear. Way to go, girl.

  2. :) You'll always be my teacher, Teacher.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Counting blessings

In Israel and the Occupied Territories class this week, the lecturer asked our class, "How did you find the (weekly) readings?" The prep reading for this particular week was one chapter about the origins of the PLO, and another half-ish chapter on the Gush Emunim.

I was hovering between answering "(They were) useful" and "Helpful". I didn't actually finish the chapter on the PLO because of my I'm-reading-something-else-now-and-I-can't-stop problem, but the materials were like most everything else we (History students) have to read before and after every class (and all our student lives, actually). Which means that every bit that I'd read before the class helped me understand the lesson better, which is the whole point of prep reading.

What I didn't expect was many people (who were mostly non-Arts/Humanities students) in the class telling the lecturer that the readings were "Difficult", "Like a high-pressure water fountain", "Intense", and "Contain lots of assumed-information (as in the author assumes you know certain things)". During our extra hour for postgrads tutorial before the class, another master's student (he's doing a chemical-something degree) said that he found the reading rather lengthy (the lecturer was like, "But that one's only 30 pages"; to which I went, "Yeah, that was like a chapter (only), right?", and the chemistry student explained that in his discipline, he's used to reading like, "One page of chemical [something -- maybe compounds?], and that's it."). To be honest, I agree with all of the above complaints. History books, however readable, are often intense, contains endless assumed-knowledge bits, and are sometimes plain difficult to take in.

Until that class, though, I didn't realise how conditioned I've become to working with difficult readings. *high five all around with history and literature students*. Difficult texts are what we do. Difficult reading is normal.

Because academic life (and life, period) is hard, I've learnt that it's best to just (1) accept that it's difficult, and (2) get over it. And one very powerful way of getting over it is to find (or create, or imagine) fun out of the doldrums. Even if you (like me) like solitary work, the printed word, and strange worlds and dead people, the day-to-day of studying can still sap your funergy like anything. One time I was in the Senate House Library's Special Collections room, flipping page after page of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Alien Immigration report, and writing down notes from it, and at some point I got so tired that I cried. Not emotional crying, but the your-eyes-suddenly-tear-up-non-stop-after-you-reached-your-yawning-threshold crying. It was hilarious, tears were just dripping onto the table. I had to push away the manuscript because I couldn't let the tears spoil the volume.

To survive difficulties (of all sorts) with as little damage as possible, I think it's important to find every excuse to be happy. For me, happiness makes itself available in the simplest things and steps, and they go a long way towards making everything else easier in general. For example:

1. Animals in the city

Walking in biting cold and rain (I'm an absolute chicken when it comes to cold weather) is horrible, but if I get to see one or two dogs around, my walk is made. The pugs are the funniest. And there's a pair of very clean Golden Retrievers I see walking with a man by the Royal Oak station some mornings. The guide-dogs, I have so much respect for them. So well-behaved and focused. Once, on the bus home from Camden, I saw an urban fox scurrying into the darkness. And let's not forget the Tube stations' resident pigeons -- the stations that are overground, like Bayswater -- that sometimes hop on the trains to feed off the sandwich crumbs on the floor. They almost make up for the lack of cats hereabouts (though I can always pay a visit to the two cats at Word on the Water, the floating second-hand bookshop on the Paddington Canal).

 This is how it feels. Cold, rainy, and grey. 
That's (part of) UCL on the right, and Waterstones on the left.
And no dog in sight (at the time this was taken).

2. Packed lunch/brunch

I'm not a fan of cold lunches, but when I'm at the uni, I don't have many (quick) hot lunch options besides Subway and KFC. So it's always lovely when I manage to plan beforehand and prepare some food, or even just some snacks, to bring to uni.

Cherries, tangerines, (canned pineapple "in own juice", they were not sweet enough so I squeezed some honey on them, though I'll find excuses to put honey on anything; and bananas).
It would've been prettier if we had some green grapes at home. 
They could've sat to the right of the bananas. Ah well next time.

Then again, half the time I forget to eat the lunches I bring along. So I don't bother to do it as much now. But fruits I certainly will remember to eat, not least because they're good when cold, unlike sandwiches or nasi goreng (although I can use the microwave at the Graduate Hub pantry if I want to heat up food).

3. Getting to pick your own essay topics

Usually MA students can pick from a range of questions or choose any other subject they want (with the tutor's approval), which is great because we get to work on something we're actually interested in, but this isn't as easy as it sounds. If the subject is generally unknown to you, you would need to do a fair bit of reading before you can even know which topics are do-able. But like bad weather and lunch decisions, there's also a fun element to deciding essay topics. If there are several questions (that the tutor has determined) that I have to choose from, my personal rule is to pick the subject that I know least about...like the Jordanian track of the peace process, or the 1982 Lebanon War. Sometimes one point or statement in a class discussion can trigger enough interest in me to find out more about the event, or phenomenon, and I'll then base my essay topic on that initial idea. 

It could be even more random. When I started out looking for a topic for my Jews in English-Speaking Lands paper, I was really stumped, so I drew on the little I know about 1880s (and thereabouts) London...which isn't much at all -- English history is not my strongest point. But I do know something about it...vaguely...from literary fiction (of which I only read the easiest). The least vague of these recollections happen to be of late Victorian London. Sherlock Holmes and the London street urchins, to be exact. The professor was telling us about the poor Jewish immigrants in Britain, and I wondered if any of those street boys that supplied information to Holmes (in exchange for a shilling or a guinea) were Jewish children...although Baker Street is in Northwest-Central London and the Jews mostly lived in the East End. And then I wanted to know what children's literature (of that period) said about Jewish children and Jewish life, and what Jewish children thought about what those books said about them. Next thing I know, I have an essay topic.

And this, you see, is how 4000 to 7000-word essays can develop out of hobbies and plain curiosity.
In my books, this is a very real cause for happiness.

4. Owning a book that you need

I cannot emphasise just how important it is to be able to hold on to a book freely and indefinitely, without having to worry about getting that book from the library before someone else does, or receiving a recall notice from the library because someone else wants to use it too. Having your own copy also means that you can underline and scribble in the margins whenever you feel like it.

So alhamdulillah for second-hand bookshops, brick-and-mortar or online. And thank you MARA for giving us decent monthly allowances. Thank you Allah, ever so much, for letting me afford to buy books at all.

(Rasa terpinggir) Cannot take it out of the library, even.

On the whole, this the-fun-is-in-the-hardship approach to my studies works rather well, I'd say, because I never feel like I'm doing an MA. I just feel like the rakyat is paying me to experience 12 months of Hebrew and Jewish history awesomeness. I feel very lucky and privileged, so alhamdulillah for these hardships of learning.

Bloomsbury Farmers' Market

On a completely unrelated note, and to make up for the lack of dog-in-the-street pictures, here are three photos I took of the farmers' market:

Probably not halal.
Bloomsbury farmers' market, in front of Byng Place every Thursday

Baked goods

Quite a range or porky (pork-based?) food here
I took several other pictures of carrots and leeks and more bread and pastries, but the composition of the photos are so disturbing, I can't put them up here. I need to spend time getting to know my camera. Anyhow, I'm sure you've seen soil-encrusted carrots before.

Sorry for the mashed up topics. I could've put the market photos in another post, but if I did, I'd feel obliged to write another story entirely about markets, food, and whatever the photos prompt me to talk about; and if I started doing that, there's no knowing when I'll actually publish these photos at all.

Until then!

2 comments:

Asfalaila said...

Nabeelah.... I was once your teacher. Now I am learning from you, dear. Way to go, girl.

Nabeelah said...

:) You'll always be my teacher, Teacher.