27 May 2010

Lessons, Puzzlements, and Praises

Lessons: So, after 9 months without a haircut, I decided it was time for a change. And when you go that long between trims, you have a lot of blank canvass to work with. Part of the reason for the delay, was financial--haircuts in Oxford are expensive. My parents graciously offered to pay for a haircut for my birthday and I set out to do something dramatic. Despite the significant ammount of canvass with which to work, the cut just didn't capture the dramatic change I was going for. Also, despite the fact that I had finally invested a pretty-penny in a decent haircut, I decided that the best way to rectify this situation was to cut my hair myself. Now, that's what I call drama.

So, I chopped a bit more "fringe" just to make myself committed to the idea and then called a friend to come over and salvage/straighten my commitment. It's been a while since I have had traditional "bangs", and there are a few things that I forgot. (I should clarify that these bangs are significantly different than the last time that I had them. There is probably 80% less of them and thus I cannot style them with a curling iron and stack them one on top of the other of tight curls (or use one big curling iron to create the uni-bang). I would say that this is a good thing.) But here were my oversights....

Lesson 1: With "fringe", you can't wash your hair at night and then do it in the morning. This is just asking for a bad hair day.

Lesson 2: If you are going to experiment with new fringe, I would not recommend cutting your hair in May. Summer is just around the corner and these suckers are hot. Thank goodness that headbands are acceptable, but let's be realistic. That kind of counters the point of getting a hair cut.

Puzzlements: Before the last break, our course had a series of assignments due that collectively make-up the methods portion of our final mark. You may remember that I was unclear as to why I had to turn in these multiple components at different geographic locations throughout Oxford. Well, the mysteries around this process continue. Now, we have received two (of the 7 components) back, will receive four more on Tuesday and then we will resubmit them on Friday. Why?

I know what you are thinking (well, maybe...you might just be thinking, "Lindsay, I don't really care how ridiculous this is..."), and no, we don't get to revise these assignments. And no, there aren't even any useful comments on these that would help us perform better on exams or even to just learn from our mistakes. There is just a number in the top right-hand corner. (I also think that I can see a slight penciled circle around one of the words. I have spent hours....ok, minutes, trying to figure out what that means.) I am pretty sure that these scores could have just been e-mailed to us and then we wouldn't have to do all of this paper shuffling. But maybe this is a test of our organizational abilities. Or maybe this is just intended to give me something other than exams to think about.

Praises: After all of the thinly-veiled complaining that I did yesterday, I thought that a good dose of thankfulness would be appropriate. The weather is beatiful and the days are long. I don't get up early enough to tell you when the sun comes up, but I know that it is light out until after 9 pm. It is amazing how much the daylight improves my mood. Being outside is a real treat these days (as opposed to the several months were I turned hermit-ish and never left my room). Yippee!

26 May 2010

Instead of complaining, let's call this....venting

Yesterday, there was a "revision session" in preparation for exams which are in 25 days (not like anyone is counting or worried about not being ready). The revisions session covered useful topics like, "How many words should I write on each essay?" (In order to understand the blatant absurdity of this question, you should know that the essays are hand-written. If you are going to spend even one minute of the 60 minutes per essay that you are allotted doing a word-count, you should probably reconsider your strategy.) Strangely enough, this question is apparently not unique to our program. A friend told me that a student asked the same thing in her revision session and that when the professor wouldn't give an answer, the student countered with, "Well, how many pages then?" The professor THEN proceeded to describe the approximate size of the pages, the different uses of the margins as well as variable hand-writing styles to provide an approximate page range. It sounds like a significant chunk of the rest of the review session was dedicated to poorly-disguised versions of "Will you tell me which questions are going to be on the exam?" Which were probably phrased as "What would be an example of something like (fill in the blank)?" These poorly-veiled inquiries were universally unsuccessful.

Other notable revelations from this meeting include the revelation that the examiners "do not care what we think"; my supervisor has graciously been impressing this upon me for the duration of the year, so I am ahead of the game here. (I think he thought this is something that I would really struggle with as an American--and he said as much. However, he is in luck, because I was, in fact, relieved to know that my absence of opinions--or thinking for that matter--would not be an obstacle to my success in the course. Whew.)

However, the most simultaneously encouraging and discouraging moment of the meeting had to be when the course director (and just to clarify, course director in England does mean the same thing as in the US--the person IN CHARGE OF the course/department) confessed that, "(He wasn't) sure that he could pass our exam." (Insert, headscratch/eye-bulge here).

Let's say that's true.

1. Why would you share that?! (Both from the perspective of you maintaining some level of authority/self-respect as well as that being completely exasperatingly frustrating to us.)

2. Don't you think that is a problem on some level? On the one hand, are you asking too much of master's students if you couldn't do this yourself? Or maybe, on the other hand, are you admitting that what we are learning is just not useful if you don't need it to do your job.

3. Furthermore, YOU TAUGHT 50% OF THE COURSE CONTENT!!!! (I don't even think I need to describe why this is problematic and disturbing).

In other news, maybe he is just not a good speller. I can see how that could be a problem since you have to cite all of the sources that you use from memory (just author and year--if you use the page number, the examiners will look it up, so you are discouraged from doing that). Let's just say that I am really regretting using Chile, India, and Sweden for some of my country examples. That decision has introduced the following authors into this weeks' spelling list: Hsieh, Urquiola, Tschannen-Moran (so you COULDN'T have just taken your husband's last name?!), and my personal favorites Srivasta, Mehrotra, and PANCHAMUKHI. Oh, blessings. I am going to have to watch Akeelah and the Bee as inspiration for this exam.

Ok, I think I am done. Thanks for listening.

15 May 2010

You know you are a nerd when...

I know this might come as a huge surprise to some of you. In fact, I am sure that there are some of you who are thinking, "How could someone who thought that studying Comparative Social Policy (whatever that means) for two years possibly be a little on the bookish side?" I know. Your world is being rocked right now. If so, you might as well sit down, because it is only going to get worse.

You see, I have pretty much always been a nerd. Maybe the only thing that has changed is my ability to pretend that I am not (or to just deceive myself). I mean, when I was in 3rd grade (and beyond--I think I continued this practice until the 5th or 6th grade. It might have been cute when a brace-faced--first in my class baby--third grader, but I am sure I had lost my cute factor by the age of 10 or 11.) I used to get so interested in the latest Boxcar Children book or whatever I was reading that I couldn't put it down. Literally.

I would walk from the classroom to the restroom, take care of my business, line back up, and walk back to class without losing my place. (No, I don't care to speculate as to how I managed all of this, and I have since blocked it out.) I should have known then that I would never fully outgrow these types of habits.

A few weeks ago, I ran a few books back to the library. Yes, I went for a jog and ran with the books under my arm. There are a few notable points here. First, this is relatively normal here. Well, it isn't as if it ever happens, but the running probably seemed more weird to people than the running with books part. Truly. Second, this is an indication of the way that I am forced to think in the pre-exams run up. It is all about efficiency. Since I am going to be running anyway, why not do two things at once? Why waste the extra 3 minutes that it would have taken to bike by the library on my way home? Because that is 3 minutes that I can use to do something more important. Like draft a blog-post.

Ok, so that didn't exactly happen. I can't account for those three minutes. My bad.

05 May 2010

Get it into gear...

Yes, this IS what I have been saying to myself for the last four days since I decided to stay up all night to ring in May Day, which is commemorated by a choir singing from the top of a tower at the ungodly hour of 6am (clearly, you have to stay up all night because who can get up in time to be someplace at the obscene hour of 6 am?) and a days worth of street-performances. The staying-up-all-night itself was well worth it, however, the reason for staying up all night was, well, underwhelming. And I can't really speak to the street performances, because I was only awake for about 9 hours of May Day itself and 6 of those came before the celebrations officially began (midnight-6 am for those of you who are struggling with the math).

24 hours after my all-nighter, my freshly-minted theory of the "balanced sleep accounts" was looking strong. I had recently decided that whenever I got less than my nightly allotment of sleep (which is at least 8 hours), my body kept track of the deficit until it was eventually made up. This was confirmed by my sleep performance--most of May Day and then after a few hours awake, a full nights sleep the next night. But since that time it is beginning to look like in addition to my body's commitment to getting a full-night's sleep, it has been confused into thinking that it deserves a full-day's sleep as well. Despite banking full-sleep payments the past few days I seem to be craving sleep at a level beyond normal.

Honestly, that is neither here nor there. Because while I have been telling myself to get it into gear, and this saying has been appropriate for my abysmal blogging performance over the last few weeks, it really has taken on a whole new meaning with ACE (my good old green bicycle). Therein lies the story. (Sorry for the rambling set-up. If you need to take a break and come back, I understand.)

So, on Tuesday in what must have been a moment of recklessness, mischief, or carelessness, my bike went from a sturdy 18-speed 1996 Gold Toyota Camry (maybe its door-handle is broken, maybe it requires some seat-covers, but it still runs and has been pretty reliable over the years)--not pretty but gets you where you need to go--to a 1989 Ford Tempo. And no, I don't mean a 1989 Ford Tempo when I was driving one in 2002, I mean whatever a 1989 Ford Tempo would run like if you could still find one on the road in 2010. You see, my formerly 18-speed ugly but effective bike is now a 1.5 speed death trap. Ok, it has two speeds....kind of.

I suppose it depends on how you define speeds. Two days ago, I approached my bike--right where I had left it locked to a pole--unlocked it, and tried to pedal away to dinner. However, I discovered that the chain was off. No big deal. That has happened before, and I knew that I could get my hands dirty, get it fixed, and still make it to dinner on time. But then I discovered that the gears had been bent ever-so-not-so-slightly so that the chain was lodged and unmovable. After trying to hammer out the bent gears with an umbrella handle (the hardest object I could find in reach), I realized that I was doomed to walk. I brooded all the way to dinner--which was far away--about how ridiculous I was going to look "iron-manning" it and throwing my bike over my shoulder to try to get it somewhere to get repaired. I mean, I get dirty looks for wearing workout clothes and exercising in public.

But my concerns ended up being exaggerated as one of our friendly porters at Rhodes House is apparently a bike expert and my bike will still roll, the pedals just won't turn. (Don't worry, I still made it a sight to be seen. In an effort towards efficiency I determined that it would be quicker to sit on the bike and scoot along than to walk beside it. When studying for exams, every little bit helps). Thanks to Colin, my bike is operational again. He worked miracles to save the bike, but it DID lose 22-23 gears in the process.

You see, now, I have two gears. One is the 2.6 gear (1-3 on the left, 1-8 on the left). When the bike is locked in here, things are pretty good. Sometimes, going up hills, things get tough, but the good news is that the bike is maintaining forward momentum. The other gear that I have is basically the lowest one on the bike. You know, the one that you feel like shouldn't count as a gear because you will never be able to use it. I mean, the only time when you would think about using it is if you were pedalling up a mountain, like directly up the side of a mountain. In that situation, this gear is the only one that you would be strong enough to keep using, but the only trick is that despite your pedalling, the bike would start rolling backwards. So you still wouldn't use it. That is my second gear.

To make matters worse, I don't actually get to pick which gear I use. The re-straightened gears still have a bit of a "wobble" in them, so from time to time, the chain just shifts between the two--often at very inopportune times. Like when riding down-hill. Or passing a bus. Or anytime that it isn't convenient for your feet to fly off your bike--which is pretty much all the time. So, now my bike has developed a mind of its own. I should probably call it Herby. Which I kind of like because it reminds me of my long-gone VW Beetle (I am sad when I think that it won't greet me when I get home...) which was treating me to "lights shows" in the interior due to some electrical short. My modes of transportation just have a lot of personality. And the good news is that I think I can make this thing work for another year and avoid buying another one. And that is what really matters.