Friday, October 2, 2015

The Battle of the Books

I like books.

I always have a stack of books a mile high that I want to read. Whenever possible, I like to go on outings to the bookstore to check out some books about the subjects I’m interested in. On the weekends, I love to curl up with a book of my choosing, and read until I can’t read any more. But then there are textbooks, which fall into the category of books that I have to read. Depending on what classes I’m taking during the term, sometimes I don’t have very many textbooks, but more often than not, at the beginning of each term, a new stack of books starts piling up. And then I have two stacks of books; one with books I want to read, and one with books that I have to read (textbooks).

When I sit down to read on the weekends, I have a conflict over which stack of books to start reading. Because reading textbooks on the weekend qualifies as “working ahead,” this conflict is exaggerated, especially at the beginning of the term when I’m already working ahead in other areas of my classes. On weekdays at the beginning of the term, I accept that I don’t have much free time. However, the weekend is still a gray area. I can spend my weekends getting ahead by reading textbooks, or I can work on reading my stack of books that I want to read, and take a little bit of time to myself to prepare for the next week.

But what should I be reading on the weekends?  

I don’t think that there’s necessarily a right answer. I feel conflicted no matter what decision I make on the weekends in terms of which books I read. If I read my textbooks, I feel like I’m doing the right thing, but I still want to be reading something different. But when I read what I want to read on the weekends, and I haven’t finished my textbook reading, then I think that I really should be reading my textbooks.

Even if I decide to read my textbooks, though, and I feel that I’m doing the right thing, I still have a problem. Because I’m constantly thinking about what I want to be reading while I’m reading my textbooks, I’m unable to absorb the information on the pages. The whole point of college and reading textbooks for college is to learn. And in order to get a degree and take other classes that I know I’ll be really interested in, I sometimes have to take classes I don’t necessarily want to take and read textbooks that I don’t necessarily want to read. However, just because I don’t want to read certain textbooks doesn’t mean I can’t make the information interesting for myself.

Even if the point of college is to learn, there are still pre-requisite classes that I might not want to take, and core courses I thought I’d enjoy that aren’t up to par with my expectations. But classes that don’t live up to my expectations can be interesting too. In college, I’m meant to learn, and even if I don’t find a class interesting, I can still learn the material. It might become interesting to me later, or turn out to be closely related to something else that I find really interesting. I never know how the material that I’m learning will come in handy.

As much as I like recreational reading, there’s something to be said for textbooks, even though sometimes the idea that I have to read textbooks can get in the way of enjoying them. If for some reason I don’t want to read a certain textbook, and I want to read something else, I make an effort to find something interesting about the textbook’s subject. In college, I have a chance to explore different topics I wouldn’t have otherwise explored. And who knows, in the end I might discover that I really enjoy a subject that I never thought I would find interesting.

Lydian Shipp

Webzine Team Member 

Monday, September 28, 2015

What is "Good Enough?"

Every assignment has a deadline. With every deadline, a decision has to be made. The assignment is done the day it’s due, but up until that point, effort can be put into the project to make it better. But how much bettering is worthwhile? When can an assignment be deemed “good enough?”

Whenever I go to submit an assignment on Blackboard, even if I know that I followed the exact specifications of the assignment, I hover my mouse over the “Submit” button for a good 10 seconds. Am I sure I didn’t miss anything? Even if the answer is yes, I still wonder if the project is good enough. I have the same reluctance toward handing in assignments in-person, too. Up until the second before I hand in the assignment, I can still make changes to improve its quality. I’ll lie awake in bed worrying about whether or not a project is good enough to be turned in; I almost always wake up in the morning and put the “finishing touches” on it, partly so that I know that I did my best. But is that much nurturing for a school assignment really necessary?

Consciously, I know the answer is no. It’s an assignment for a college class, not a personal project where I can spend as much time as I want making sure each little detail is just right. No, I have to finish the assignment by a certain time, and follow certain guidelines. So, as long as I finish it before the deadline and follow the project guidelines, then technically speaking, the assignment is done, and good enough for what it’s for. But, on the other hand, if I want to actually get something out of the class, I’ve found that I have to go a little bit above and beyond what’s required. I make my own guidelines on top of the teacher’s guidelines, I suppose.

Although working hard on an assignment is fine and dandy, I have other assignments and projects of my own, too. At some point, I have to draw the line in the sand and recognize when to move on. If I have extra time to work on an assignment, and I want to work on it, then I can let myself go above and beyond for my own benefit. Otherwise, if I don’t have time to go above and beyond, I can do a “good enough” job on the assignment, and rest easy knowing my homework is finished, and ready to turn in. I won’t get docked for not having anything to show.

So what is “good enough?” To me, it’s when the assignment is done according to the proper specifications, and by the due date. Then, the assignment is good enough. But still, sometimes when I do an assignment up to the “good enough” point, I feel like I’m slacking. A part of me knows I’m not slacking, but other parts aren’t so sure. I say to myself, It’s not the end of the world…I just have a lot going on…Or, I don’t have the time to go above and beyond the bare minimum. The part that isn’t convinced wags it’s finger at me, but everybody has busy times when the work that has to be done is arranged in a careful balancing act; when the delicate balance could easily disrupted by something as mundane as a head cold.

Recognizing the point when an assignment is “good enough” is a way of regulating my perfectionism. Nothing is ever going to be perfect, and I can’t make it be, as much as I may like for it to be. In terms of college assignments, I don’t have to make things perfect, or even well above and beyond the criteria given. I can work extra hard on an assignment if I really want to, and if I have the time, but I don’t have to. Just as learning something new in a college class is important, so is learning when to call an assignment “good enough”. There will be times when I don’t have time to work all day on my homework, and at those times, the skill of knowing when something’s good enough comes in handy. I won’t be docked 10 points for work that’s only half-done or work that isn’t completed on time. Finding the balance between perfect and “finished-to-the-specifications” means I can continue getting a college education. And I don’t have to be perfect to do it.

Lydian Shipp

Webzine Team Member 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Art of Staying Sane

The Art of Staying Sane

Every Sunday night I sit anxiously in bed making plans for the upcoming week. I write down everything I have to do that week, and then assign it a day, and sometimes even an exact time. In a way, this ritual of over planning my week calms me down, and helps me sleep, but Monday morning I wake up with a plan that has absolutely no basis in reality, and I freak out. I think that there’s no possible way that I’ll be able to finish my assignments by the day they’re due. But, in the end, I can, and do, finish my homework. What truly determines my ability to complete projects comfortably is all a matter of how I organize my tasks.

There is probably an infinite number of ways to structure a to-do list. Some people might prefer one way over another, and some might even function better without a list at all. But I definitely do better when I have a list of some sort to keep things on track.

I used to make to-do lists that were organized by what I would do each day of the week. But, although it seemed logical to me at the time, it didn’t work. In fact, I’d say that it had the opposite effect of what I wanted it to have. When making these daily to-do lists, I’d overestimate what I was capable of doing in one day, and assign myself too many tasks. This actually stressed me out more, even though the entire point of the to-do list was to ease the stress.

After realizing this wasn’t working, I decided I needed a new approach. I had to go through a number of different ways of organizing tasks before I arrived at one that worked well for me. But, before I could get to this more ideal style of scheduling, I had to figure out what my number one problem was.

My primary issue was the fact that I never know how long a given project is going to take. An assignment that seems simple can end up taking a whole day. At the same time, a project that seems like it’s going to take a whole day can end up taking only 30 minutes. So, even if I think I’ve scheduled my projects in a logical manner, I might have seriously misjudged the time that each project will take. As a way to combat this unknown, and stay sane when organizing my schedule, I assume that all projects are going to take twice as long as I think they will. When I assume that all my projects are going to take longer than I think they will, I’m usually a lot less stressed.

Plus, if some assignments end up taking less time than I thought they would, then I have some extra time to use as I please.

With the thought in mind that all my projects with likely take longer than I think they will, and the knowledge that over-planning doesn’t work for me, now I always have a Word document open on my computer that I call my “Continuing To-Do List.” In this document, I have categories for each class that I’m taking, and a category that I title “Other.” Whenever I have assignment to do for a class, or something else to do that’s not college related, I put it under the appropriate category. Instead of making a new to-do list every week, or day, I can just delete things on my Word document, and add things when I have a new task. My Continuing To-Do List keeps my tasks well organized, and makes it easier for me to keep my priorities in check.

Scheduling is one of my least favorite parts of college. It’s stressful, time-consuming, and it gets in the way of actually doing college assignments. Even though scheduling is sometimes hard to deal with, I continue to structure my weeks, and keep a to-do list to stay sane and keep my life in order. I feel less stressed overall when I know what needs to be done, and when it needs to be done by. There isn’t really much of a revelation involved with scheduling; it’s quite simply something that just needs to be done. In order to be able to get other things done efficiently.


Make to-do list

Lydian Shipp

Webzine Team Member

Saturday, September 12, 2015

I Don't Wanna Do My Homework

I’m sitting in front of my computer. I’m waiting. Nothing happens. I’m bored. This sucks. A little voice in my head says, “I wanna be doing [insert fun activity here] right now.”

I like to get things done. It’s a satisfying feeling to have all of my week’s assignments completed in a timely manner. Working on a project right up to the due date just isn’t my style. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have resistance toward getting things done. I have resistance. I don’t wanna do my homework. But I like having it done and I like the time period after its completion.

Some days are harder than others in terms of convincing myself to complete assignments. I’ll sit at my desk with my computer open and talk myself through what it’ll be like to have the assignment done. I sit and stare at my computer for about five minutes, incredulous, amazed by my lack of inspiration. Then, I decide that I’m thirsty, and need water. I get up from my desk, and I go fill my water bottle. I sit back down at my computer, and suddenly develop a craving for some sort of treat. I get the treat, and go back to my desk, and realize the inevitable has happened. I’ve run out of excuses to not do the project, and now I have to complete it. I go through all this in an effort to get myself to just get my project done.

What I mean by “get it done” though isn’t where I do a crappy job on the project and then send it with the requirements just barely fulfilled, it’s where I get the rough idea of the project out on a piece of paper, and then go back and perfect it. But it all starts with overcoming this first layer of resistance. Once I get past it, I feel a huge sense of relief, like de-cluttering a room and how good it feels when things are neat and tidy.

But overcoming the resistance is tough.
One thing that I do when I encounter resistance toward a project is to just start on the project, no matter what it is. For example, if I’m writing an essay, I just start writing about anything I know about my topic. Literally anything. I try to have a reasonable level of organization in my thoughts while writing the first draft, but I know that I’ll have to edit it anyways, so it doesn’t have to be perfect. As long as I consider the assignment requirements while writing, as soon as I’m done with that first draft, I’m technically done. I could turn in the paper if I had to, but I also could make it better. I like to think of this first draft of a paper as less of a draft than a reference tool. I can look up facts for my paper on the Internet, but where do I go to look up my own thoughts? I go to my first draft. All my thoughts are there, waiting to be used. It’s far simpler to overcome my resistance toward completing a project when I can work with my thoughts on a tangible sheet of paper rather than trying to work in the cluttered chaos of my mind.

I don’t like having resistance towards doing homework. It’s unpleasant, and though it seems easy to overcome, the resistance poses more complication than it seems to on the surface. I prefer to feel excited about doing my assignments, or just at peace with the fact that I have assignments to complete. Even if I don’t enjoy the subject material of a class, that doesn’t necessarily mean I have to dislike my assignments too (even though sometimes I do). I can choose to enjoy the simple fact that I have assignments to complete at all, and that I’m one of the lucky people in the world that has the opportunity to explore things that I might not have otherwise explored without the insistent prodding of an upcoming assignment. I don’t have to enjoy the assignment itself. I can and will complain about the homework if it really gets on my nerves, but deep down I’m just grateful to not be in public school.

I can appreciate the simple fact that when I do my homework I get to sit down in my comfy chair with my computer, a bottle of water, and a bowl of fruit. In a public school classroom, water and food aren’t allowed and comfortable chairs are non-existent. I can appreciate that when I’m in a college class I can go to the bathroom without having to ask, like I would have to in public schools. Even if I have resistance toward doing a particular assignment, or if I’m having a bad day and simply don’t want to do homework, I can be grateful for my freedom. I choose to be in college and I’ve chosen to take college classes because I want to, not because I have to.  Resistance isn’t fun, and it does get in the way of getting things done, but instead of always thinking of it as bothersome, I can instead choose to experience resistance as a reminder of the fact that I’m doing something, and that I’ve been given an opportunity to learn.

And wouldn’t that be a much healthier way to think of it?      

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Obsessing Over Being Ahead

I like to be “ahead” in my online classes.

When I start an online class, my only goal and focus during the first week is to get as far ahead as I possibly can. During that first week of class (and after, depending on my course load), I dedicate my life to my schoolwork, working every day, all day in a valiant effort to finish as much homework as is humanly conceivable. I read textbooks into the early morning hours, I work on editing papers while watching TV, and I sacrifice sleep in favor of additional daytime work hours. However after all I do to get ahead on my homework, I do eventually crash on the couch, exhausted and overworked, wondering if there’s some other way I can get ahead without having to feel like a zombie.

Don’t get me wrong, though, getting ahead does have its advantages. For instance, I don’t have to worry quite as much about deadlines. I still have to worry about them until the class is over, but I have a much longer period of time to work with between the week that I’m actually on, and the one that I’ve completed my course-work up to. If I’ve gotten ahead in a class, and during the seventh week I get sick, I can go take a nap. I don’t have to worry about that 1500 word essay I have to write. It’s already done and submitted.

In the times that I’ve taken on a heavier load of online classes, I’ve often made plans to go week-by-week, assignment-by-assignment, instead of making desperate attempts to finish all of the coursework for all of my classes by the third week of the term. I do still really like to be ahead, however, and no matter what I talk myself into before my classes start, I turn into a homework maniac the first day of the semester.

Getting super-duper far ahead is a great idea, but I’ve found that it can end badly, either with a stress-induced cold, or the realization that I misread the instructions for an assignment, and got a lower grade because of it. Or just that I altogether forgot to submit an assignment that I had completed because I was so focused on my next task. Either way, there’s a good chance that at some point during the class I’ll wear out, and take things week-by-week anyways… 3 weeks ahead of where I should be.

Although I’d like to be chill enough to do online class assignments week-by-week, the truth is that I’m a bit high-strung. I do better, and I feel less stressed if I know that I have at least two weeks to write a paper instead of just one, or that I can take the time to bake cookies or go for a long jog. To obtain this extra smidgen of time without wearing myself out, I try to strike a balance between the two “extremes” of going week-by-week and getting halfway through the class in the first week.

There’s a part of me that would like to be ahead on all of my life’s endeavors like I am with my classes, but I know that I can’t, and in reality, it’s not even something that I would want. Sometimes, it’s nice to take things one step at a time, and not worry about what’s off in the distance. I notice things that I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed, like the ruins of an old house on a hill, or a book tossed carelessly on a coffee table that has the answer to a problem that’s haunted me for years. If I go with the flow, I may even run into a potentially important person in my life that I would have breezed right past in my hurry to get to the finish line.

Lydian Shipp

Webzine Team Member

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Stresses of Starting a New Term

The Stresses of Starting a New Term

Every semester, I worry about time. How much time I’ll need to spend on homework, whether or not I’ll have time to play my guitar, or if I’ll get the time to do my homework or read a book on a Sunday afternoon. The week before the term starts, I make plans to “set aside time” for non-school activities, saying that I’ll take things week by week, assignment by assignment, and this time I’ll be really, really good at managing my homework to free-time ratio. But as soon as the semester starts, I realize that all that thinking about “setting aside time” was just a way to calm myself down.

I make guesses about things, like whether or not a class will be easy or difficult, if the material will be fun or dull, or what the syllabus will be like. But the truth of the matter is that I never know if any of these guesses are anywhere near right, and I don’t know until the classes start. The not knowing is what really bothers me. I have expectations, and when they’re way off base, I get scared, and start to freak out.

There are the things that I have expectations about, and then there are things that I have no expectations for whatsoever, and I worry about these things, too. For instance, the instructor’s personality and teaching style. I take a lot of online classes through Mid-Plains, so navigating the stormy waters of communicating with a difficult teacher over the Internet can by stressful. In some cases, the teacher seems to not comprehend technology, and can’t open an attachment in an email or download a file. Or sometimes, the teacher isn’t a good communicator, and doesn’t explain assignments clearly. In those situations when the assignments are vague, I feel like there’s a 50/50 chance that I’ll get a good grade on a project.

But, on the other hand, there are also some exceptional instructors, and very easy to work with in an online environment, and in person.

Tomorrow I’ll be taking my first set of in-person classes on campus at Mid-Plains. I’m sitting in my living room tonight writing this article, and to be honest, I’m about ready to explode from nerves. My cat is sitting beside me, every once and a while nudging my arm with her head, as if to say that everything will be fine, and I’ll know what to do when the time comes. I give her a little pet-pet, and I rehearse the mantra in my head, “I’ll know what to do when the time comes. I’ll know what to do when the time comes.”

When the “time” is, I have no idea, but I’ll know what to do when it gets here.

Lydian Shipp

Webzine Team Member