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Sunrise, Somerset

12 Dec

Hello everybody!

It’s about time for another update. With only five days until my departure, everything seems hurried and rushed but also slowed down, all at the same time. Time seems to be inching by and then very suddenly flying past! It is a very strange feeling and it’s almost as if I’ve been in a funk over the past few days. Not happy or sad, just somewhere in between.

Last week, I had the chance to visit Somerset House on the Strand. When I say it’s next door, I mean it quite literally — King’s and Somerset House actually share a wall. And yet this was the first time I ventured into the massive courtyard. The first thing you see is a large ice skating rink right in the center, set up for especially for the holidays and sponsored by Tiffany & Co. The whole courtyard has lots of Christmas decorations including a large tree, the Wrap-Up Shop and Designers at Somerset Shop selling all kinds of little gifts and even a miniature Tiffany’s luxury sweets, gifts and yes – jewelry. Since I went in the afternoon, it wasn’t very crowded, just a few kids squealing and laughing as they ventured out onto the slippery ice.

I visited two exhibits (both free) that were currently going on. The first was 20 Years of Dazed and Confused Magazine, which was essentially a visual journey through two decades of covers, articles and celebrity spotlights. I don’t know much about the magazine but from what I saw they must have a reputation for producing avant-garde portraits of celebrities (read: nude). Lots of Kate Moss. It was interesting, and some of the portraiture and fashion spreads were quite stunning, but it probably would have resonated more if I was familiar with the magazine.

The second exhibit I visited was called Amazon, a photography exhibition. The first portion centered around the work of Sabastiao Salgado from his project ‘Genesis’, and was largely aerial photos of Amazonian landscapes and portraits of indigenous, traditional peoples. The photos were all really beautiful and I especially enjoyed the various shots of the natives  – sometimes hunting, sometimes resting, sometimes just watching the world go by. The second portion of the exhibit featured the photography of Per Anders Pettersson from a recent visit to northwest Brazil. These photos were meant to illustrate the extreme devastation and destruction of the Amazonian landscapes due to deforestation and other non-sustainable practices that exploit both the land and the impoverished people who live on it. The exhibition works — seeing the photos of the people and the land, and then realizing what terrible things are being done there, made the crisis seem that much more real and relevant. It was incredibly sad, but I am glad they are raising awareness about such an important issue. The Amazon is a treasure and it should be protected instead of abused and discarded.

The last stop at Somerset, and the part I was most looking forward to, was the Courtauld Gallery. Since I was there on a Monday before 2:00PM, it was completely free! I got to see the exhibits and the gallery for absolutely nothing – awesome! But this small collection would have been worth paying to see. When you first step in, the gallery seems small (deceiving, as it spans several stories) – but the personal, cozy feeling was what I loved about it! After I visited, it felt like I knew a secret – all these incredible and famous pieces of art right there! Ten feet from the Strand! I promptly told everyone I talked to that they had to go! They have a modest collection of sculpture and decorative art spanning several periods and regions. They also had great drawings and sketches by lots of  artists – in particular, they had a special exhibit on Spanish drawings. Some were plans for later paintings while others were more just doodles and studies. My favorite, by far, was a 1906 sketch by Picasso of pigs. Just lots of little pigs. I fell in love with it.

But the crown jewel of the Gallery is definitely their collection of paintings. From medieval to Renaissance, Rubens to Impressionists, it was quite an impressive inventory. They have one of the famous self portraits of Van Gogh displaying his bandaged ear, and the first work from Picasso’s ‘Blue Period’ – a sweet but somber portrait of a small child holding a dove. I spotted Manet’s familiar A Bar at Folies-Bergere and Cranach’s Adam and Eve (you might know this piece from the intro theme for the TV show ‘Desperate Housewives’). The collection was rounded out by pieces from Monet, Cezanne, Renoir and Degas. It was extraordinary and a definite must-see for anyone visiting London!

Thursday evening I got to meet up with some friends from Queen Mary’s and we headed over to O’Neills Pub in Leicester Square to see a live band preform. The band was awesome – we sang at the top of our lungs and danced the night away. We had a blast!

I was a little sick this weekend, but I am feeling much better. Now I’m just trying to crank out these last papers and fit in all the last minute things I’ve been meaning to do while here. I can’t believe I have less than a week left in London!

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Cheers,
Claire

Life, Lately

22 Nov

Hey ya’ll!

(Ed Note: This post is best read while listening to ‘Mylo Xyloto’, since that’s how it was written.)

Lately, it’s been a bit rough with all my friends tweeting and posting about getting to travel home and be with their families for Thanksgiving Break. Jealous!! Especially since no one here has any clue what Thanksgiving even is, despite it being such a massive holiday in the States and somewhat related to their own national history. Several of my flatmates are really curious about it, though. So,  I’m planning a little Thanksgiving craft project for them this week, along with some trivia about the holiday so they can learn more about this American tradition and why it so important: Black Friday. Just kidding! But  I’ll be sure and film it because I have a feeling (based on what they’ve told me what they think the holiday is about so far) it’s going to be funny.

Fall is, without a doubt, my favorite time of year. Back home, it’s starting to cool off and everyone’s eyes seem brighter, their cheeks are red and you can break out the sweaters, scarves and boots. It starts to feel like the holidays. Plus, my mom puts flannel sheets on my bed at home which is, like, the best.

I love my Texas falls – brief though they may be. But I have to say, I am quite enjoying the season here in London. It is significantly colder and with a lot less sunshine (Let’s just say that at the moment, I’m jealous of Edward Cullen’s tan. It’s that bad.) It’s overcast  all day, every day and it always seems as if it’s just rained – though I’ve only felt little drops once or twice the entire time I’ve been here! I think it’s actually rained more back home! But the colors are still beautiful.. maybe even more beautiful against the gray, rainy London weather. Just when I think this Texas girl can’t go one more day without seeing a clear, blue sky, I get the shock of the colorful leaves piled up along the muted backdrop of sidewalk and street.

Cold weather also means warm drinks. The red Christmas cups are back, an almost universal – or at the very least, transatlantic – sign of the season  if there ever was one.  There is just something about sipping a hazelnut hot chocolate (which tastes like liquid nutella a.k.a.  sin in a cup –  I have to go to church after I drink one) or a toffee nut latte on the way to class that just lets you know that you’re gonna have a wonderful day! It always reminds me of great times and great conversations I’ve had at coffee shops with friends like Brooke Bowen and Erin Shay. Plus, the Starbucks on Fleet Street (just down the Strand from King’s) is my new favorite study spot with its giant downstairs seating area full of comfy chairs. I get more work done there than I do at the library!

It does get dark very early here.. by 4 the sun is going down and by 4:30, it’s pitch black outside – which has really been throwing off my internal clock because when I emerge from studying all afternoon it seems as if the entire day is gone! Now each evening when I have to walk back to my dorm from the bus stop in the dark, it seems a lot scarier than it actually is until I remember it’s only 5 or 6 and there are still people out walking around everywhere!

Speaking of marathon study sessions, I have thus far completed two out of the seven papers I have to complete this term. I’m no mathematician, but even I know that’s not a great percentage.  I am starting on the third paper today and hope to have it done by the end of this week. I am really having to buckle down these days to get these papers cranked out. They are longer than any papers I’ve had to write back home and a lot more numerous. The one I finished yesterday, while not the longest I’ll have to write, was still a good 16 pages. For a history/anthropology major, I know this isn’t a shocking amount at all — really, it’s not the length that gives me trouble so much as the preparation that goes into writing.

Back home, I might write a final paper drawing together common themes from the course  or analyzing a particular work or set of works. Here, the prompts are largely over incredibly specific topics that might have been mentioned in lectures or referenced in readings, but you haven’t necessarily learned about them. So, you have to research your topic outside of class before you can even begin to know how to organize your paper, much less what position you’re going to argue and defend.  Again, this doesn’t seem like a difficult concept until you’re asked to write a 20 page paper over something you know nothing about or even where to begin – while simultaneously staying on top of your readings and work for class. I really struggled in writing my first paper and had to abandon the prompt I had originally chosen. It interested me the most, but I had such a difficult time finding adequate sources to supplement what little knowledge I had on the topic that I wasted days digging in the library and hours browsing through JSTOR with nothing to show for it.

For the regular students, the papers have shorter length requirements and are supplementary – they are not for a grade and are not even required.. just highly recommended – wink, wink, nudge, nudge. So, there is less pressure to flex your academic muscle – they’re viewed more like tools that give you a slightly more detailed look into the broader areas you’re already studying. You get them back, with comments and critiques, and you move on! But for me, my only grades for this entire semester will be  the grades I receive on the papers I turn in at the end of the term. At SMU, if you complete a paper or essay early, professors will often look them over and give you some direction before you submit them. Asking professors to look at your work is highly frowned upon here, a lesson I learned from a friend instead of first hand,  luckily!  I haven’t had any feedback on any work so far and am completely unfamiliar with the King’s  grading system in which your paper is graded twice, once by your lecturer and a second time by an ‘external’ grader,  in order to avoid ‘bias’. Needless to say, all of this makes me a bit more than apprehensive about these papers, but my mother has reminded me several times that all I can do is my best. Not a bad mantra to have. That mom, so full of wisdom!

I included some blurry pictures I took today of the somewhat famous  (and by somewhat famous, I mean it gets a mention on Wikipedia) Weston Reading Room at Maughan Library, the Strand Campus central library.  It’s often called the Round Room, but I actually think it’s octagonal. (You can tell I’m fancy because I use words like octagonal.)  Anyway, it’s three stories of walls lined completely with books with the little ladders and everything. In the center are rings of study tables. The glass ceiling is especially pretty.

Awkward Claire Story of the Day: So,  it’s dead silent in the Weston Room.  I tried to sneakily take a photo on my phone, but completely forgot that my phone was set to ‘loud’ instead of ‘vibrate’, so everyone heard the little ‘shutter’ noise and knew I was sketchily taking pictures. The guy sitting directly across from me definitely thought I was trying to photograph him and gave me the most weirded out look. Embarrassing!

I will try to have my photos and post from my trip Dover this weekend edited and up by tomorrow, hopefully! A big thank you for those of you who voted on my last post or sent me feedback. It means a lot to me! I really enjoy taking pictures and getting to hear what other people think about them helps me take better photos.

Thanks for reading!

Cheers,
Claire

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Inside the Mind of a Procrastinator + Vote!

11 Oct

Hello everyone!

Time for another blog update! Sorry I have been seriously slacking in updating + pictures lately, now that school has started I find I have less free time to simply wander my neighborhood! While I’m on the subject of updates, please take a second to vote on what you would like to see in my next update:

I am in the second week of class and finally starting to feel like I have a better handle on things. I have made it to every class on time so far (a MIRACLE for me!) and am no longer scrambling around the halls like a rat in a maze, looking for a hidden classroom.

Now when I refer to the Strand Campus as being like a maze, I am not joking. Rather than a distinct set of different buildings like my home campus, all the buildings are jammed in next to each other with little to no congruity. Which means sometimes you look out a window and you are looking at just a small square space where the corners/sides of different buildings have met, but weren’t even, so they just left a  gap in between. (Beats me why they would put windows all around looking into these spaces, no more than a foot or so wide. But the pigeons do love them).  You can walk from building to building without ever going outside, but the floors don’t match up and the classroom numberings are confusing. There are about ten different buildings and SO. MANY. DOORS.  You would not believe.

Currently, I am in the library working on transferring quotations and notes from my readings onto my computer. My desk looks like a post-it note graveyard. I annotate with post-its while I’m reading, but since I have to return the books to the library each week, I have to transfer the notes and the quotations they refer to onto my computer, in case I decide I would like to use them later in a paper. It is a little frustrating, and very time consuming, but it is much easier to work in the library than in my tiny room, surprisingly filled with a large number of distractions.

Claire’s Internal Monologue While Reading in Her Room:
5:30 – “Okay, reading time. Let’s do this! ”
5:32 – “How many pages again? Okay, 52 pages. I can do this. Here we go.”
5:34 – “Okay, maybe first I should plan out my breaks? Every twenty-five pages? Okay, yes. Now let’s really get cracking.”
5:38 – “I’ve read a TON! It’s probably almost break time. Wait – only four pages?! What?! That can’t be right. I’ll just re-count the pages real quick.”
5:39 – “Okay so 21 pages until my break… My nail polish is cracked. Dangit! I should repaint them real quick. They can air dry while I read! Good idea, Claire. You are such a wonderful multi-tasker. I really admire that about you. Why, thank you, Claire! It is one of my many great qualities.”

[Yes, I talk to myself while I’m talking to myself. It’s like that Inception movie, but with better actors].

Basically, it continues on like that until I have color-coded the (ten) tops I have hanging in my closet and refolded all of my sweaters and emptied my trash can and washed my hands and highlighted some important stuff in my notes and… I’ll look up and it will be 10PM! Well, now it’s definitely too late to start my reading!! What a shame! Guess I should just watch some Dexter before I drift off to sleep..

How convenient for me.

And now you know why I’m in the library.

Cheers,
Claire