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What I Did When I Was Supposed To Be Studying

It’s that time of year when things start to get serious. New Year’s Resolutions lose their shiny appeal, diets plateau and the job market fizzles. We’re forced to accustom ourselves to the awkward ambiguity of Spring–shorts or trousers? This crucial choice made bleary-eyed at 7 am in the morning will decide whether you seize the day or later rue it–and suddenly it’s everyone else’s birthday. The simple pleasures of Christmas are long-gone. Now we are faced with the hard fiscal responsibilities of the First Quarter, the mid-year realities of work and study and the slow realisation that summer is still two long months away.

For UK university students, it’s a particularly stressful time. We are on the cusp of exams, exams that will for some set the trajectory of their oncoming years. If you, like me, are a final year student, you’ll know that the exams we’ll be taking in a few weeks time are probably some of the most important exams we’ll take in our entire lives.

Uni staff are aware of this, and they try their best to prepare us for the two-hour torture sessions that await us in May with toothless, bland advice:

When revising, bring a snack!

Don’t revise in front of the TV!

Be creative with your revision tools! Make up a rap out of your notes! Have fun!

We all know this is silly nonsense. If you have fun while revising then you’re probably drinking at the same time, which may not help with knowledge retention in the long run.

I’ve been a uni student for three years now and I think I’ve got a good grasp on the realities of revision. I know all the ins and outs of the cruel library environment and I’m not one to gloss over the harsh truths of studytime with multi-coloured post-it notes and hands-on learning. You’re here to revise, not turn the periodic table of elements into a play.

I can still help. It’s never easy, but there are some things that you can do to increase your chances of turning that wasted weekend into a successful cramfest. It’s not going to be easy, but together we can do it. It’s all about getting the work done but not taking yourself too seriously. You’ll find it all below, in

Luke’s (Realistic) Guide to Getting Sh*t Done!

1. MAKE THE LIBRARY YOUR BITCH. This is the most important aspect of good revision or work techniques. The library is now a permanent fixture in your life. She is your mistress, she is your friend, she is your rival. She receives you at your strongest and most confident, and if you are not careful she will spit you out weak and soggy like a crumpled A4 page of scribbled revision notes. She shows you no mercy, no love, and there is no reason why you shouldn’t reciprocate the same sentiments. Make the library your bitch. The second you enter those glass doors, the fight has begun. She’ll throw everything she’s got at you: lazy friends who want to ask you about your weekend, Internet connections that creak under the strain of so many open browser tabs, tables packed with hundred of jarring student elbows. But you ain’t gonna take that crap. This is your house. Carve your way into your own study warren. Once you’ve found your cubicle or table space, decorate it with your own accoutrements: discarded outerwear, your pencil case, a fortress of textbooks and binders. Kick off your shoes. Make yourself at home. Get comfortable. Bring your lunch in a tupperware box and eat while you revise (cannot stress how satisfying it is to watch jealous peers covet my homemade mac and cheese, while they make do with old Mars Bars from the vending machine). When it finally comes to leave the library, do so with your head held high. Because while the beast behind you has conquered thousands, she’ll respect your arrogance and fortitude. And she knows you’ll be back again tomorrow.

2. BE REALISTIC. You know that feeling, when you’re teetering on the edge of sobriety and okay-sure-just-one-more-beer!, when your whole degree hangs in the balance, when your ability to answer question 13 on the exam next week depends entirely on whether or not you decide to spend the evening revising or queueing up outside a club? That decision is yours to make, but make sure you make it on truthfully. It’s easy to restore your own confidence by enthusiastically swearing that you’ll be in the library by 8 am tomorrow, but it does no one any good when it’s obvious you’ll still be drooling into your pillow by 10. Be realistic. If you have to, take long pointless breaks, but make sure you keep track of them. If it’s a quarter past and you feel like you deserve half-an-hour off, take it. If you’re going to be lazy, though, at least be regimented. Rather than have thirty guilty little breaks an hour, concentrate the guilt in one long timeframe and equate the guilt with numerical values: 2 hours of guilt on Monday, 45 minutes of guilt on Tuesday. You can bully yourself to efficiency.

3. HATERS GONNA HATE. LOOK FOR ALLIES. You’re settled in, you’re getting comfortable, you’re an hour in and the momentum is cascading you through your studies. Then suddenly someone sits down next to you and instantly they are transformed into the worst human being on Earth. It’s the way they obnoxiously thump their laptop onto the table, the way they flout the library rules that strictly ban food and liquids, the way they engage a friend in whispered conversation for a solid three minutes. You sneak a cheeky peak at their screen and smirk with satisfaction at the Facebook page they’re on, satisfied with the hard work and effort you’re putting in in comparison. Suddenly you realise, though, you’ve spent twenty minutes mentally bitching about the stranger sitting next to you, and the only person privy to your witty remarks is yourself. The moral here is, basically, concentrate on your own game. Sure, The Librarian never works alone, and a little sshhh-ing here and then, and maybe even a pointed cough or two ensures that the general student body are all working in a collectively quiet atmosphere. For the most part, however, you are your own boss. Focusing on how your desk neighbour is tapping his foot in the most frustatingly inconsistent rhythms helps no one. Instead, look for allies. You know that pretty blonde girl tapping away at the computer across from you? Remember when her phone rang and she stood up quickly and didn’t answer it till she was far enough not to disturb anyone? Remember when that friendly guy sitting next to you picked up your pen when it rolled onto the floor? These are your buddies, your comrades. On this long boring road to good grades, they’re all you got.

4. BRAG ABOUT YOUR SACRIFICES. One of the best things about revising efficiently is rubbing it in the faces of those who don’t. So what if your friends hit the bars and you hit the books? They’ll wake up in the morning with a hangover and an empty wallet, and you’ll wake up with bragging rights. Brag about your sacrifices. If you like, fine, go ahead and employ a little tact, especially among those who may be struggling with the workload. If possible, try to accidentally get caught on your way to the library as much as possible. Bring books with you everywhere. Yawn a lot. All these signals will cue your friends and family into seeing how hard you’re working and in the process help to remind you that maybe you actually are.

5. CURSE MARK ZUCKERBURG. Damn you, Facebook. Damn you! The site is probably the greatest invention so far of the 21st century. 500 million people have active accounts. It has triggered revolutions all over the Middle East. It’s worth more than US$50bn. The only problem is, it will eat your soul and dance on your academic grave. Curse Mark Zuckerburg. He has stolen created a platform that, if left unchecked, will transform the most studious of studiers into the most status-hungry of stalkers. That is why it is so important not to go on Facebook while revising. The same goes for Twitter, Youtube and STFU.com (I can see the data! I see you loitering!). It’s always the same. You think to yourself, hey, is that party on Friday or Saturday night? I’ll just check. Next think you know, three hours have passed and you’re flicking through the Christmas photos of the older sister of that girl you had a lecture with two years ago. Facebook is like a long series of increasingly more addictive drugs. You start off liking photos, then suddenly you’re smoking crack. Keep out.

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I hope all of the above helped somewhat. Even if you’re no longer at university, I’m sure you can find parallels in my guide to help you get sh*t done!

Getting so close to swearing like that has put me in a rebellious mood. I originally heard this song from my sister, who described it as ‘Paul Simon-ish’ and I initially agreed. Now, though, I’m thinking it’s more ‘folk-rappish’. Alexander is the solo effort of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes frontman Alex Ebert, and you’ll notice straight away that this style is a little different from his stuff with the band.

This song has attitude. It doesn’t take crap from nobody, and if you listen to it you’ll be protected by its ultra-cool vibes. Today, as I left the library after five hours on Facebook a killer six-hour session, I plugged in my headphones and whacked on this tune. It felt like I was walking in slow-motion.

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Progressive Folkism

Not all music genres were created equal.

When I walk into university everyday it’s impossible for me to ignore the flyers taped to post boxes and telephone poles advertising all sorts of artists I’ve never even heard of before. I can hardly open my email inbox without being inundated by an avalanche of Facebook invitations to events hosted by MC Shamtastic or the Croydon Dub Masters. Many an evening have I walked away from the DJ booth in shame after being told that no, sorry, they don’t take requests for Paul Simon at Lizard Lounge.

We live in a prejudiced world.

Long gone is that golden era when ‘folk’ and ‘club’ were two words that frequently appeared in the same sentence. How I wish I could experience those salad days, when I wouldn’t have to panic when asked, so what kind of music do you like?

But there is hope. The few hundred visitors I get on this site every week all stand testament to the stalwart remains of folk fandom. The emails I get from readers suggesting new tunes and bands I haven’t heard about fill me with unparalleled joy for the future of our encroached genre. We’re still here, I whisper to my tear-stained reflection, And, dammit, we’re going to stay.

And so to my humble comrades of the Good Music Resistance, to my fellow folk freedom fighters, I implore you to carry on resisting, to spread the good word of Folk. Slowly, we can persuade the non-believers, inch by dulcet inch we will retune their chart-deafened ears to the strumming of acoustic guitars and the chorus of three-part harmonies.

To aid you in your quest of conversion, I gift you with an excerpt from The Little Folk Book: Quotations from Folkmaster Luke. Spread yourselves throughout the countryside and speaketh my Word to those who will listen, for within folk lies the answer to many of life’s deepest quandries.


The Little Folk Book: Quotations from Folkmaster Luke
Chapter 7–Coming Out the Folk Closet
There comes a time in every person’s life when he or she must come to terms with what he or she truly is inside, a time when those feelings that have been bottled up for so long must finally be faced head on and properly understood. Usually people encounter signs that make them realise once and for all that they do truly like folk. You might have experienced these signs too. Perhaps you heard Mumford & Sons on the stereo at Old Navy and it made you feel…funny. Perhaps your friend put some Johnny Flynn on while you were hanging out and you felt an incredible loneliness when the track ended.

However you discovered that you like folk, the first thing you must understand is, there’s nothing wrong with you. Many people throughout the world feel exactly the same way as you and it’s perfectly normal.

Of course, life for the folk-initiated isn’t always easy. At some point you’re going to want to tell your friends and family, and if you don’t handle it perfectly there could be dire consequences.

Luckily, the Generous and Exulted Folkmaster Luke and the National Party for the Advancement of Wonderous Acoustica have compiled a list of advice for what you should do when you finally decide to come out of the folk closet.

#1 Don’t always tell people you like folk music, it might confuse them
A difficult question for any folk fan is, so what music are you into? Tread carefully, comrades. There are several ways to answer this question. Firstly, judge the questioner. Does she seem cool to you? What is her body language telling you? Is she genuinely interested in what you are going to say or is she only making awkward small talk while you both wait desperately for your mutual friend to come back into the conversation?

Act accordingly. If you don’t think she will respond well, shrug off the question. Here are some handy phrases for you to employ:
- Oh, you know, I like everything, mostly acoustic stuff really.
- Well, I’m not really that into music, I just like simple stuff.
- Hmmm, do you know that guy Jack Johnson? Yeah, he’s pretty good, I’m into him right now
.

Of course, there is the chance that your questioner would be receptive to a truthful answer. Don’t be afraid to humbly offer ‘folk music…?’ as a response. If she smiles, lifts up her sleeve and reveals a tattoo of a heart with the words JOSH RITTER etched inside, it could be the start of a beautiful relationship.

#2 No one likes pretentiousfolk
Some people like to spread the good word of folk and that’s fine. The problem is, there will inevitably be those who don’t want to hear about your enlightened sense of existence. I know, I know, what’s the point in knowing about the greatest genre of music in the world if you’re closest friends can’t? Believe it or not, though, some people do not wish to hear about your slightly unorthodox taste in music. Some people are not big enough fans of music in general to be impressed that you think Devendra Banhart is too mainstream for the freak-folk outfit or London neo-folk got left behind with Alas I Cannot Swim. Some people don’t like sitting next to the guy at parties who spends forty-five minutes individually explaining the pseudo-biblical references in each of The Trapeze Swinger’s eight separate verses.

There was a time when this guy at parties was me, but as I became less of the Guy At Parties and more of the Guy at Home By Himself On A Friday Night Wikipedia’ing The American Civil War, I realised that subtlety, modesty and calm were the best attributes to have when listening to friends talk about how Jason Mraz is the best acoustic artist of our generation. Just grit your teeth, smile and hum along with your friends to ‘I’m Yours’.

#3 Learn to play guitar
Do you know what is even cooler than writing folk music? Converting pop music into folk music. It’s like aural alchemy. Most pop songs are based on three or four chords. If you can figure out these three or four chords, learn how to do a nice little fingerpick with your right hand, and slow everything down, you can turn everything into a folk song! These are the tunes that people want to sing along to at parties. These are the tunes that will make people realise they love folk without even realising it. If you don’t believe me, ask William Fitzsimmons:

I hope I’ve been able to return to you lonely folkies out there some of the hope you bestow upon me every time you visit Shut The Folk Up. Honestly, folk is making a resurgence. These days you can hear good folk in places other than just phone adverts and Gossip Girl. Mumford & Sons are just as likely to be featured on a hip trendy website like this as they are on your mainstream radio station, and I think that is a sign of the times.

This week’s reward for your tireless persistency in folk promotion is, in the opinion of myself and Papa Burns, one of the most beautiful pieces of folk music ever written. Judee Sill was probably the most unassuming heroin addict you have ever seen, and her untimely death at 35 appears all the more catastrophic when you hear what a genius she was at her craft. In the copy of her song ‘The Kiss’ below, I’ve chosen to leave in the brief intro in which she tries to explain to a live audience the hidden meanings behind the track. She seems to get lost in her own thoughts as she speaks, though, as if the true story behind the lyrics has escaped even her, the person who conceived it. What kills me the most is when she quietly, but with undeniable authenticity, tells the audience that she hopes they’ll like her song, before launching into it. I feel this way every time I try to introduce folk to one of my friends, lining up something on iTunes that’s been haunting me for weeks, sitting them in my chair and throwing it all into a click of the mouse.

I let the folk do the rest.

06

11 2010

Three Things I Learned Yesterday

1) No matter how long you watch the Discovery Channel for, when you get back to your computer your dissertation will not have written itself

2) Sometimes the best music is the kind that’s recommended to you by your best friends*

3) If you’re too busy watching TV working and getting med school experience to write a full post, three bullet points will suffice

*For proof, listen to Augie March below (thanks, Kev).

04

11 2010