For future ref
It’s the beginning of the school year and for me that usually means two things: I’m super excited about all the things I’m going to learn and I’ve completely forgotten how to study. Here are some tips I’ve learnt from previous years.
1. Ease into it. Our brains can’t usually concentrate on anything for more than 40-50 minutes at a time. If we do manage to work for longer than that, we need a looooonnng break afterwards to recover. Not productive. My goal is to work in 40-minute blocks with 10-minute activity breaks where I try to move my body as much as possible. However, at the beginning of the year even 40 minutes is too ambitious. So I ease into it. 15 (or even 10!) minutes of reading followed by 10 minutes of stretching or making tea or smiling at myself in the mirror (positive reinforcement!) will mean that I absorb all the information rather than let it slowly be replaced by thoughts of kittens tangled in balls of string. Each day, I increase my study blocks by 5 minutes till I hit my 40-minute target.
2. Pick your moments. 5 years of university have taught me that I don’t think well after 4pm. Weirdly, I can think really well the moment I wake up, even as early as 6am. So I structure my day around this knowledge. On a study day, I try to be at the library by 8am and finish by 3:30. Usually, I am most productive during these hours and I still have time at the end of the day to do something fun or relaxing. Other people might work better in the afternoons or the evening. Basically, figure out what works best and you do you.
3. Pick your spaces. I can’t work at home because my cats are too cute. This is a true fact. The library helps me to stick to my 40-minute blocks because leaving requires packing everything up and lugging it somewhere else. I also love the feeling of being alone together that the other students in the library can provide. Solidarity!
4. Pick your people. You need support. It took me awhile to accept this. I didn’t want to ask for help. I didn’t want to ask for extensions. I wanted to please my friends by never saying no to their requests for my time and attention. I’ve since discovered that one conversation about whatever you’re struggling with can save hours of depression and confusion. Due dates are there so that markers can get their work done in a timely fashion. If you don’t finish an assignment in time, it does not mean that you are stupid or a failure. It just means that life happened or that you needed a little longer to properly grasp this particular topic. Talk to your tutor, they usually understand because life happens to them too.
5. Procrastinate productively. Do you need to print out notes from a lecture? Do those notes need filing? Does your reference list need bulking up? Do you need to search for more articles for your essay? Do you need to email your teacher, your classmates or research participants about an assignment or project? Do all of these things in the moments when you feel as though your attention and energy are dwindling. Feel the weight lift itself off your shoulder. I find it useful to have a list of procrastination activities that need doing for just such moments!
6. Ignore everything you’ve been told. Until someone explained the thing about studying in 40-minute blocks, I felt like something was wrong with me because I couldn’t concentrate for very long. Television/movies/the world had taught me to associate university with cram sessions and all-nighters in the library. High school taught me I should be doing homework for hours each night. That there was no excuse for handing up an assignment late. That due-dates were more important than successful engagement with the topic at hand. That everyone learns in the same way. It’s all bullshit. And no one teaches you how to look after yourself while you study. If at the end of 5 years, you understand Foucault but not yourself, what good is that?
Dudes, Jess totally broke my heart. After five years of drunken make-out sessions, hand holding and fevered promises that one day we would get this relationship right, she was no longer in love. With me, anyway. She had met a girl with green hair, flared jeans and a boyfriend. I was devastated. I got drunk in her backyard and broke her dead grandmother’s favourite teacup. On purpose. I wrote countless letters explaining why we couldn’t hang out and then refused to leave her alone. I cried everyday for six months. I developed an unhealthy obsession with Depeche Mode. The lyrics to DiFranco’s Untouchable Face poured out of my mouth while I poured myself out of late night car windows. Taxi drivers hated me. I was a snotty, puffy, hyperventilating mess. I cried at work, at school, on busses, in bars, and all over anybody unfortunate enough to try and kiss me.
Obviously, I had to get out of the country. Everything in the city reminded me. Of Jess, of her new girlfriend and of how I would never be happy again. All of my most vivid memories from that time happen in the gutter outside of Adelaide’s most notoriously heartbroken bar, The Crown & Anchor. That should tell you something. About me and about the city’s strict “no smoking in bars” laws. The tiny ball of exotic beauty I was living with also had a heart that had recently been subject to awful things. We shared cigarettes and stories of our teacup smashing drunkenness. One night, she packed all her things into a white van and drove to Melbourne.
I decided to leave and never come back. Eventually, Jess would see photos of me on facebook in the arms of someone perfect (with hair that never stands out of place and eyebrows that don’t run at each other like teenagers in a bad romance movie)and she would never get over it. It was a brilliant plan; thank God for tequila and social networking. I had no money though, on account of being a broken hearted alcoholic. Amidst the haze of smoke and drink, I figured out that going on exchange through the university would be the easiest and cheapest way to get my ass out of Australia. Cheap, yes. Easy, not so much. Canada was the place to be because, well, it was the furthest away. Also, I really wanted to see a moose.
To make it happen, I needed a near perfect GPA. Not to mention money. I threw myself unabashedly into schoolwork. This was a new experience for me, having failed my way out of high school five years earlier. While Jess and the Green-haired monster* were making out all over campus, I was studying. I mean, most of the time I was sobbing into textbooks and wondering how much you could hurt someone by pushing them down the stairs, but I was also learning all about the patriarchy and how to write a suspenseful sentence.
All this reading had a strange effect. Somewhere over the next two years, I fell in love with school. It was all I could talk about. I became that annoying girl who starts every sentence with I read this one article… Hell, I still start every sentence that way. I stopped drinking and smoking, started listening to Alix Olson and falling asleep in a bed full of textbooks and kittens. Women’s Studies was my new bff. And she was fucking beautiful. English Lit was my bitch and Creative Writing was my sultry lover who was prone to violent and surprisingly erotic mood swings.
After three years, it was finally time to leave. I know - it took me long enough. In my last 24 hours I went to all my favourite places and didn’t even sit in any gutters. Like an old lesbian couple that had finally broken up after ten years of staying together for the cats, I smiled at my city and wished her all the best. I would miss the cats, of course, but I had to go. Not because I was being suffocated but because I knew I could finally survive outside. Outside of the comfort of Adelaide, outside of my own stupidly broken heart and most importantly, outside of Jess*. At the airport, my heart bashed excitedly (and nervously) against my chest and my brain sensibly told it to stop that nonsense and be quiet. And then I was alone on a plane. You know, aside from the 499 other passengers. And the crew. The whole alone thing is a more of a metaphor. Geez, why do you guys always have to take everything so literally.
*She’s not really a monster. She even stopped dying her hair green because she couldn’t justify the use of chemical products that were probably tested on animals.
*Sorry Jess! I love you! Also, I have nothing against your eyebrows.
you guys - i know it’s been a long time. here is the article i wrote for OnDit. it’s longer than usual but it might make you giggle so just go with it.
It’s raining the first time we meet. Actually, it isn’t. The weather is mild and annoying - cloudy, but still sunny enough that the white glare is giving me a headache. But that is no way to start a story. No one would read that shit. And while I’m being honest, it isn’t our first meeting. I’ve known him all my life and could sense him the moment I stepped off the plane. Mostly because he smells of plastic cheese slices. CultureShockä had killed my mother. Well, that’s not true. He did make her cry though, more than once. And no one makes my mother cry. You know, apart from my father. And mean people in supermarkets.
I’m fresh from the bit smoke with a head full of dreams and a suitcase full of woolly garments. Adelaide isn’t really big and it’s not that smoky, but it has two cathedrals so it qualifies. The vast Canadian wilderness stretches out before me. Bears and cougars battle it out gladiator style while the beaver queen looks on approvingly. I was going to make the beaver a king, but I’m a feminist and everyone knows all beavers are female. A lone moose stands atop a mountain, icicles dangling from his antlers.
At first, I’m determined to ignore Shockie (what can I say, I’m Australian). I do what any well developed superhero with a troubled past would do. I shun my responsibilities and throw myself into reckless abandon. For me, this means hiding out in my tiny Canadian apartment, sleeping till 10am, eating vegan hot dogs for breakfast and staying up late to practice my laughter repertoire with the beautiful girl in my bed. I’m getting quite good at hahaha but my hohoho could use a little more work.
Eventually, I get scurvy and I have to go outside to buy some oranges. I know the Shockster will be waiting for me and I’m filled with The Fearä. I’m not ready but I know it’s time. Spice up your Life plays while I montage into the costume that will become a symbol of hope for travellers everywhere. I break with tradition by avoiding skin-tight attire. I’m a rebel. Also, Canada is fucking cold this time of year. I’d like to see one of those spandex men battle it out in these snowy conditions. I opt out of the whole cape thing too because that shit is just impractical. I’m a fan of the subtle approach. In fact, by the song’s end I look very much like every other girl with a buzz cut in an oversized jumper, purple jeans and 12-hole docs. The only thing that gives me away is the glint in my once dead eyes.
I don’t see my nemesis at first because he looks a bit like everyone I’ve ever met, only the wrong age, wrong height and with the wrong nose. My boots crunch over the gravel and I’m almost convinced I will make it to the grocery store unharmed. The smell of cheese fills the air then, POW! My scarf hits me in the face. As I pull it away from my eyes, Shockaliscious himself jumps into my path, his clothes made entirely of foreign food packaging. Before I have a chance to react, he pulls an uber solar powered sonic ray gun from the depths of his billowing candy coat and shoots me. Foreign coins rain down on my adequately sized and nicely shaped head. The next shot stuns me with an array of ever-fluctuating exchange rates.
I stumble in his direction because I figure my clumsiness is bound to harm him somehow. I swing out an arm and KAPOW. I hit a wooden telephone pole (whose average lifespan is 40 years shorter than a stobie pole) and the momentum throws me into an elderly passer-by. The ShockJock chuckles and fires again. Time slows down as giant Canadian tampons fly through the air. The senior citizen shuffles out of the way but I’m not so lucky. Who knew Australia was such a world leader in the field of feminine hygiene products. Tourism Australia should get on that. The biggest tampon I’ve ever seen, accompanied by an ungainly apparatus called an ‘applicator’ hits me in the eye. I crumple.
“Welcome to Canada, eh.”
The Shockmeister aims his uber solar powered sonic ray gun at my ear. Just as he is about to finish me off with a tirade of strange dialects, two things happen. The sun slips behind a crisp white sheet of snow clouds. Snow hits my cheeks and I remember my secret weapon. I’m Australian, I can mock anything. My laughter hits him like a pigeon into a freshly wiped sliding door.
“In my culture, that’s what we call a shock to the system.”
Nobody else laughs because Canadians are afraid of puns. Perhaps we could learn something from them. Fighting back tears, Shockerino climbs into his electric car and races away at a moderate speed. I can’t hear anything over my hyena-like guffawing but I’m sure he yelled something generic about coming back to finish me off when the weather had improved somewhat.
Back in my tiny Canadian apartment, I sink into my giant Canadian armchair. It feels like home. For now, all is well. I have finally earned the name Captain GigglePants. What happens next, nobody knows. I might die from a rare case of scurvy because I forgot to buy the fucking oranges.
Dudes, I have finished another post but ALAS - it is getting published in OnDit (http://ondit.com.au/) so I can’t share it with you! It’s very good - about the adventures of captain gigglepants (that would be me). You’ll have to get a copy for yourself in March. In the meantime, I’ll try and write something to GO IN THIS SPACE!
What’s the worst that could happen? This sentence, spoken in a singsong voice by mothers and progressively annoying fathers alike, is used to torture and terrorise children the world over. My own mother could probably say it in French, English and Danish. They imagine we have wildly unfounded fears that will be easily placated with these six words. Well, my fears of awkward social situations are not that easily soothed.
Let me set the scene. A mildly attractive, yet quirky young woman (that would be me – modesty be damned!) steps into a café. She’s been in town for a few days and she may or may not have forgotten how to carry on a non-Skype related conversation (am I the only one who can’t stop staring at herself?). It’s 3pm and this particular day has been all about slinking around corners and into bookshops. She’s starving. So, into the den of a hipster café she steps. Through the maze of mismatched retro tables and up to the counter. She hovers, uncomfortably.
Is this the sort of place where one sits down and waits for service? Will this blue-haired woman who is a bit lacking in the clothing department (seriously, a couple of strings does not constitute a t-shirt) show me to a table? They should really put signs up with these sorts of important details. Ms. Blue-hair-no-shirt asks me if I need any help.
“I don’t know where to sit.”
These are actual words that come out of my mouth. She tells me that it’s a big place and I can sit wherever I like. Well, Captain Obvious, I think I’d like to sit by the window. She comes over with a menu and tells me she likes my skirt. It’s not a skirt; it’s a dress (I see those compliment acceptance classes really paid off). Cue awkward pulling up of jumper to reveal top half of outfit. Is it hot in here? I try to read the menu. Decide that words make no sense.
“I don’t know what to eat.”
She tells me everything is good and I want to cry. I see the word spinach on the menu and point. A salad will be safe and rewarding and she will be impressed by my healthy vigour. She says something about my tattoo. I smile and fiddle with my shoes.
A salad arrives and I’m so fucking hungry I could eat a horse. Except I’m a vegetarian so it would have to be a soy-horse. I don’t think that’s a thing. Spinach will have to do. Only, the spinach seems to be covered with something that looks suspiciously like bacon. I can’t be sure because it’s been such a long time since I’ve seen a dead animal up close. She asks me if my food is ok. I have two choices – I can tell her that I’ve momentarily forgotten how to read or I can eat the bacon. The thing is – you can’t run away from restaurants because you have to pay. I don’t want to leave the salad untouched for fear of hurting Blue-Hair’s feelings (somewhere in the world, her mother is asking her what’s the worst that could happen and she’s tearfully explaining that an attractive yet quirky girl might not eat ANY of the salad she serves and she’ll know that her tip is only out of PITY).I eat a few leaves, hand over some cash in exchange for my humiliation and stomp away. Except I don’t stomp because that’s loud and I don’t want to draw any more attention to myself.
Clearly, I can never go back there. And with my luck, this is the place where all my future cool Canadian friends hang out and now we’ll never get to meet or crochet together while sharing hilarious stories of uncomfortable encounters with near-naked blue haired women. I will leave Victoria a lonely, chubby pariah with a salad phobia. This is the worst that could happen and it is entirely plausible, thank you very much.
I feel I’ve been hit with a sledgehammer and woken up in Oz. Which is confusing because I’m from Australia. I’m not sure how funny that was – it’s hard to tell in this topsy-turvy land. I know this is my life (it smells right, my toes wriggle in the same way and I can’t get to sleep until I’ve turned myself over at least five times) but all other familiar markers are gone. There are no Heinz baked beans for goodness sake. Maybe I did die on that first flight and this is Purgatory where I’m to undertake a series of quests that will determine my moral standing. Interesting (depending on who you are, I guess) side note: I couldn’t remember the word ‘Purgatory’ so I googled ‘The place between heaven and hell’ and discovered the answer to this question is ‘Earth’ (according to users of Yahoo!).
Before I start prattling about Tofurky and baked beans, I should mention some stuff. I’m in Canada. I know what you’re thinking – she’s MAGIC! – but honestly, I just flew on some airplanes. It was nothing. In fact, all eight of the flights I mentioned in my intro have happened and I won’t touch the sky again for at least four months (not via an airport anyway). I am quite grateful for the holiday from vegan plane food and silent snoring (to be replaced, for awhile at least, with packet noodles and the sound of backpackers having sex in the hallway).
I had wanted to write about the Killing Fields before I left Cambodia. I visited one of the mass graves outside Phnom Penh and it seemed to me that not enough people (outside Cambodia, locals obvs are very up on their massacre knowledge) know what happened here. A huge portion of the population was murdered less than forty years ago. So I started this post about death (featuring Leonard Cohen) and I tried to keep it delicate but forceful. I saw children’s teeth littered like leaves at the base of a tree. I wrote a hundred words and then death came waltzing into my life (in a roundabout way) and knocked me off my high horse. I couldn’t write anything about blood and I could think of nothing else.
So here we are, weeks later, in Canada. Specifically – Victoria, capital of BC, on Vancouver Island. And I’m alone. The plan was to sweep this beautiful girl off her feet and take her to somewhere cold where I would have to keep my hands in her pockets. You know, to stay warm. Sadly, the death I mentioned earlier meant that she had to stay behind for a while and I have to put my hands in my own pockets. The empty seat next to me on the plane was both a blessing and bitter reminder of her absence.
I have no one to talk to except you, Internet. And I’m one of those people that likes to discuss and dissect everything (why do YOU think I can’t find any baked beans? Am I just not looking hard enough? What does that say about my character?). In the five days that I’ve been here, I’ve written down many a witty comment about the queerness (ha-ha!) of Canada. Over the coming months, I will share these thoughts and more with you, dearest Internet. Starting with: what the fuck is up with all the crows?
Being in Phnom Penh is like co-habiting with small children. Noisy, sticky and exhausting. Almost everyone wears brightly coloured pyjamas. It is baffling how little I’ve fallen down. I imagine this is how new parents feel. Running around in a frenzy and wishing they had a camera because ohmygod didthatjusthappen? As such, cameras need to be super-glued to hands in case of emergencies and sudden wonder. Otherwise you’ll end up crying like a working mother who misses her kitten’s first steps (the TV tells me this situation is most upsetting and to be avoided at all costs).
Let it be abundantly clear - in no way do I believe the people of Phnom Penh to be at all like infants. Except the children - they are quite a lot like infants (as are the monkeys). Nor do I doubt the maturity of the city as a whole. This is not some sort of colonial evolutionary development crap. I am just trying to apply a witty metaphor, which is something that writers sometimes do. I should also point out that while in Phnom Penh, I have been co-habiting with actual small children and this may have had some influence on my experience of the city. Yay for disclaimers!
There’s nothing like a public pool to remind you of the gravity of tiny children. They fucking well drop out of the sky onto your head. When I was younger and less refined, I used to enjoy this activity greatly. My mother would try to do laps and I would pretend to be a mermaid that was being locked in her room by the fascist mer-king who also happened to my father. This, apparently, involved lots of getting out and jumping back in while screaming. Public pools in Cambodia are no different. I tried to swim laps but karma slapped me in the face with a child wearing an inflatable ring.
Driving out to the country is like hiring a babysitter for the whole weekend. See how I picked up that parenting metaphor again? Fucking literary genius. You head off without the kids and you think, yep, I’m going to get so much done. All you do is sleep. I mean, you try and work on your novel or whatever, but it is impossible to remove your head from the lumpy pillow. Hours go by and you just lie there, staring at the ceiling and remembering the feeling of privacy. So this is what it’s like to have a door that locks.
I’m in Svey Reing, three hours and a ferry ride outside of Phnom Penh. Nestled in the rice fields, my dad has built a house, complete with pot plants and chickens. He comes here to work. This ‘getting away to work’ thing is a trait my parents share. Imagine a holiday in Disneyland. In between roller coasters, one parent is on the phone making a noise like a frustrated horse and the other is typing madly and muttering I just have to finish this report for the minister. These are the holidays we all dream of. Is it any wonder I have decided to spend a semester on the other side of the fucking world?
There were grand plans. I was going to take award-winning photographs. I was going to write the most hilarious blog any of you have ever read. I was going to soak in the culture and weather till I was fat with rice and sweat. Instead, I lay on some sheets decorated with puppies and chickens and watched season four of True Blood.
I’m not a party person. I’m not the sort of girl who wants to get on stage and dance with the band. This is something I admit with a vague sense of sadness and regret, as though I am admitting that I don’t like kittens (I do!). Perhaps even harder to admit – I’m in my twenties and I don’t really drink. This admission is often met with confused nods and silence. My drinking amounts to a shandy (that’s right) or two every few months. And let’s be honest – that’s plenty. I’m giggling and snorting like a toddler in a bag of sugar (something I also try to avoid). If I drink much more, I’m going to insist the bartender come home to watch me sob and vomit in her hair. Some people are into that sort of thing.
The problem is that guidebooks don’t seem to think you can travel without beer. Men who don’t button their shirts all the way to the top write hip stories about getting lost in a Mecca of booze. You know, if you really want to get a feel for the place, head to the nearest bar and get to know the locals. Thanks for that, James. James, by the way, was the most pretentious name I could think of. I was going to say Rupert, but then I remembered I know a lovely chap called Rupert who is not at all pretentious or arrogant and probably buttons his shirts all the way to the top like a sensible person. Perhaps he even owns a bow-tie.
Get smashed with strangers. The first few times I travelled without my family, I invoked this strategy whole-heartedly. In Barcelona, I let a boy (his name was probably James) stick his tongue down my throat and attempted to barter my breasts for a Discman before a friend intervened. A friend spent three months drinking her way around Europe. I do believe she let various persons stick their tongues down her throat as well. Funny James, you never mentioned anything about getting to know the locals that well. Is it just me, or is being hung-over just not as fun without a familiar toilet to hug?
The urge to get drunk at last night’s Cambodian screamo/rock’n’roll gig was pretty strong. On the other hand, I now have fully formed memories of teenage Khmer boys with alternative lifestyle haircuts screaming into microphones. They had three guitars. Four, if you count the one made out of air that the lead singer kept wailing on (I do). While I’m not a party person, I thoroughly enjoyed watching everyone else fling sweat and arms around under the guise of dancing/moshing (mancing? doshing?).
Have you ever tried to cross the road in Cambodia? I have, but only whilst desperately clinging to my father’s arm. I may or may not have closed my eyes and held my breath. Quite grown-up. He laughs every time, in a way that says oh dear; I think I have a mouse for a daughter. Ten years later and it has never gotten any easier. It is so terrifying that I am convinced that if you attempted to do it drunk, you would die. This might also be the case if you aren’t accompanied by a father. You can’t have mine though, so perhaps it’s best to stay sober.
So James, call me if you’re up for a vigorous game of scrabble. I’ll kick your drunk ass up and down the Mekong.
Soundtrack: Airport Death – An Horse
Singapore’s Changi Airport is bigger than my house. This was going to be funny because of course it’s bigger than my house; most things are bigger than my house. Then I thought about it and my house is actually quite large, especially if you count the swimming pool and maybe there are airports in the world that don’t quite cut it size-wise. I’ve been to them. They’re out there. I decided to say it anyway and add all this explanation afterwards. Meta makes everything betta.
Really, Changi is bigger than my whole sleepy South Australian town of Adelaide. Our two cathedrals make us a city but that’s a technicality. Singapore Airport is still bigger and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have any cathedrals. It does have: three hotels (three!), a butterfly house, a koi pond, a mini-mart (I don’t know why this impresses me, but it does), a cactus garden and free massage chairs (free!). I got off the plane and two things happened. I went to the bathroom and it smelled of flowers. I could have slept in there. Instead, I asked for directions to my transit hotel.
“This way. Just walk for half an hour and you will find it.” Fuck. I’m sorry; did you say half an hour? There was a small train that could have taken me but the kind lady at the information desk looked me up and down and said it would be better if I walked. Thanks. The journey was epic but the scenery was bright and fake. Every five minutes the shops repeated themselves. Gucci, Godiva, Marc Jacobs, Gucci, Godiva, Marc Jacobs. Subway, Starbucks, BurgerKing. I don’t know how they have room for it all on such a tiny island.
Fourteen hours to kill. Guess what I did? Ate and slept. Exactly what I do at home. Except without that girl with the hair. Should have brought a cardboard cut out. I used the free Internet but I didn’t see the butterflies. I ate at Subway (ewwww) and drank a chai latte that tasted like melted sugar with a little soymilk on top. By drank, I mean I took a sip, crinkled my nose and put it down. By morning it was gloopy. I purchased some whisky, sat in my hotel room and watched Zuccotti Park being raided. In the morning, I bought a banana from Starbucks, sat in a massage chair and got on the plane.
In-between these mind numbingly exciting activities I looked for queer girls. I’m sure they travel. I’ve seen blogs. They use stories of exotic lands to pick up other queer girls. At home, you can’t turn around without bumping into a lesbo who has slept with your best friend and hates your housemate and used to date someone you can’t hang out with anymore for reasons you don’t really remember. At Changi, there were no awkward lesbian group situations (great name for a porno, don’t you think?). Was it just not the night for it? Or do they go incognito - fly straight - just in case?
Despite all the bells and whistles, the thing I liked best about Singapore airport was the mad wallpaper in the hotel. I spent a good two minutes thinking of a way to steal it without getting in trouble. Nothing came to me, must have been the jetlag. Instead, I got naked. Because really, that is the only thing to be done when you are alone in a hotel room.