The words I spoke to Autumn

Autumn, without any great effort, is my favourite time of the year.

It has taken me twenty-three years on this earth to decide that, but more than any other season I look forward to these modest few months, watching as the heavy scream of summer fades and the blasted fury of winter takes hold. By comparison, autumn is relatively quiet-happy to talk to you of course, but only if you’d take a few moments to listen.

It’s impossible not to fall in love with the colour of autumn’s skin. Indeed, it is perhaps the only thing about the season that’s celebrated. Deep red, burning orange and matted yellow; it’s a palette nature strangely reserves for rotting and death. Even the boldest purples, whites and greens of re-birth in spring are jaded by the subtlety of autumn’s beauty. And they should be.

For all the love I have for summer, there is something unsettling about its perfection, as though silver light would perhaps be easier to live with if only it would allow itself grey from time to time. Summer is an ideal, not a reality, and while we’d be lying if we said it wasn’t pretty, there is in a way a grander beauty about something scarred. Maybe true beauty is revealed by adversity, showing stronger with the shadow of death yawning over it. And that is what autumn is after all; it’s one last breath before the great shroud of winter comes down, an empty word of defiance. Somehow, even that empty word holds more weight than all the idle ones spent in the summer, which is, in many ways, ignorant of how it lets itself slip by. Buoyed by the ferocity of life in spring, it’s all too happy to continue the dance as though the music will never stop playing. Who am I to blame it? Nobody ever thinks it’s the last song until it’s over.

For me, autumn is dancing even after the music has stopped. It knows full well that the swift hand of winter approaches, and yet it puts on its finest and shows up all the same. Autumn might be quiet, but there’s a hidden resolve there I’ve come to admire. It doesn’t go down without a fight; it perhaps just knows that it’s not a contest that it can win. How brave of it to keep swinging anyway, even as we look on with indifference.

I think it’s safe to say I’ve finally arrived in autumn. The last few posts here were, in many respects, the setting sun of summer. They still had that damn innocence of thinking youth was something immortal, that we’d only come to look at winter’s void for fun and not as a means to prepare. And though I might move with the breeze of summer, I have felt the fresh autumn chill, pricking the hairs of my skin with its warning.

“Youth is not wasted on the young,” it says. “It is the young who are wasted on youth.”

It is peculiar to find yourself trying to make a difference in the world when you feel like a lamb in the spring. This time in my life and in the lives of my friends is an awkward transition from contributing to only your growth to furthering the growth of the world as we find it. Most of us have spent the last twenty or so years focused on getting by at school, playing in the evening and more recently, organising the next night out. It’s the great party of summer. Now, on the threshold of autumn, we are asked what exactly we’re going to give to the world. The world wants to know our price, our ability, our plan. Most of us haven’t seen it coming; most of us look unprepared.

At least, that is if we believe we’re still the flowers of summer.

Nobody wants to call time on being young. We think of it like rust biting into us, making us ugly and corroded. But rust is not underneath metal; it’s a layer that has grown on top of it. It’s a sign of our time in the world-a testament to our braving the elements. Eventually, we’ll all crumble, but that doesn’t mean we’ve always been winter.

Autumn is a time of learning and a time of preparation, and that is the greatest thing we do not appreciate. We sense the quiet October air and think that nothing is happening, even as all around us life takes stock and begins to make moves to defend itself. Summer is arrogant about being idle; autumn says barely a word about keeping itself busy. But now us summer flowers have arrived in autumn, I think it’s time we join in the good fight.

There’s a world out there that is changing, changing like the growth in the fall. It’s a world we can contribute to, but that means realising that summer is over. It isn’t quite accepting the words of House Stark, who warn us that Winter is coming, but it does allow us to ready ourselves for when those winds first try knock us from the branches.

That is why autumn is my favourite time of the year. With very little said, it continues to work, to go on and to look beautiful. It prepares, it perseveres and it regards the winter with a shake of the head, embracing change with gentle laughter.

And all the while it continues its fight-a fight it thinks it can’t win.

It’s funny. I haven’t told it yet, but a part of me thinks that it can.

autumn

 

 

 

Late one evening in the city

What makes a raindrop hold to a line?

I stood this evening in my back garden, feeling the mist come down all around me. A million drops slipped right by the wires of my clothes line, content to go down to the darkness below. A small few didn’t, hanging on to the grey wire like light bulbs, making it sag in the chill autumn air. Bathed in yellow porch-light, they were a thousand captured stars-a great testament to the sad beauty of holding on, of refusing to let go like the rest did.

In life, we all fall from the sky, drifting from the clouds in a haze. Our destiny-our doom-is that at some stage we’ll all hit the floor. We can’t decide what we’ll meet along the way, but we can choose what we hold onto. A chimney, a branch, the clean wires of an empty clothes line. No two things in this world reach out to us the same. Small wonder that when we fall, we scatter, grabbing hold of what a thousand others pass by, cherishing the everyday as though it were perfect. In truth, it’s hard to find anything more perfect than the thing so blatantly not so.

I often wonder about choice and the implications it has. I once wrote that the concept of finality is scary, and months later I still feel the same. After all, in life we’d all like to believe we can circle back, returning to moments where we made the wrong decision with the surety of hindsight. But we can’t; it’s simply not the nature of falling. For the most part, you have a half-second to grab onto something before it disappears into the night, fading away into the distance behind you to become a haunting memory. That is, if you let it.

Bad decisions are as much a part of life and learning as good ones are. In fact, I’d wager they are even bigger, considering no raindrop ever wet anything without first getting shaken itself.

And so, you really have to ask yourself whether holding on is brave or stupid or just another way to stop yourself falling. In some ways it’s all of them, and in many ways that’s okay, but you should ask yourself the question all the same. Because while there is a safety in holding on, there is a fault in not moving forward. There will come a time-a time five seconds before you hit the cold stone with a pat, and when all you can do is look back on the journey behind you, you’ll want to see that the things you held onto were worth it. You’ll want to know that you clung onto the clothes lines that mattered.

Perhaps the hardest part of letting go is wondering whether something ahead is going to catch you. It’s a sort of top-of-rollercoaster-moment, where edging over the crest you pray to see the tracks line up underneath. You look me in the eye and tell me you’ve never once considered them not being there. But they always have been, and so maybe it’s time you trust yourself to open your grip.

And though while reading this you may picture a particular line that you hang to, the truth is that you hang to a thousand wires a day. And each time you fall, letting go only gets easier, until all you know is the uncertainty of empty sky-the great unknown you were convinced to be scared of.

Tonight, you too hang on a clothes line in a quiet garden in suburbia, weighing up the risk of letting go, calculating it as though it’ll make sense.

But it won’t.

And like everything imperfect, that’s what makes it so beautiful.

Sometimes we hold on. Sometimes we let go, and if the latter, we may remind ourselves of the peculiar thrill of falling.

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Reasons your study isn’t increasing your exam marks

I’m going to go and guess that if you’re reading this you already do some level of study for your classes. If you can’t study, or just downright refuse to do so, then this might not be much help. I might write a blog soon for people who struggle with study. This blog is assuming you want to improve though, and in fact have put in some effort to do so in the past. I realise college has just started, and nobody is studying, but the advice works on any scale. Whether it’s a two page assignment, or a 6,000 word project, study skills are equal in nature. If you find yourself struggling to study for smaller tests, it would serve you a lot better to get into good habits for them, so that the larger, more important exams end up being much easier. I’ll write a few of these study guides when I feel like it throughout the year. A lot of the time the disappointing marks you receive don’t boil down to lack of study. In a surprising number of cases, poor percentages stem from inefficient study.

  • You don’t go to class. Class is where you first hear the material. It is free study. It is the information put across to you by an expert in the field. Unless your lecturer is horrible, attend and maximise the hour or so you have there. Take notes and underline to keep up concentration. Listen and watch the display to deduce the important points. Class might also help for detecting exam questions.
  • You don’t think when you study. If you’re just reading the material, you’re gonna be lost. Think about each point and ask yourself do you really get it. Understand first, memorise second. To be honest the more of a subject you understand, the less you actually end up needing to just push into your head the week before the test. Strive to be able to break the material into a form where you could explain it to anybody. This mistake kills about 99.9% of all students. Most never even engage the material when they read over it. For the few who do, a lot still only ask ‘what will come up in the exam?’ Forget the exam (WARNING: do not actually forget exam). Focus on whether or not you actually know what’s in front of you. Look away from the notes and try tell yourself the story of the information there.
  • You aren’t taking breaks. A good time to take breaks is every forty minutes or every hour. Take a fifteen minute break. DO NOT USE IT TO GO ON FACEBOOK. I’m guilty of doing this too, but please try refrain. Get up and walk around. Go get something to eat. Fruits and juices are great sources of sugars that don’t give you the same crash you’ll get from chocolate or sweets.
  • You are picking the wrong time. Study at mid-morning or in the evening. Take a break after classes to allow yourself rest. Tackle study when you are fresh and awake. Late at night is about as useful as when you are sleeping. Yes, that means it is no use at all. A lot of people will vouch for all nighters. I can tel you both as a science enthusiast and someone with ample common sense that you are not functioning anywhere near capacity that late. A good sleep and early study is far far better. Save a late nighter for an emergency if you are unprepared for an exam. Even then, shut everything off and get to bed by midnight.
  • You never heard of extra reading or reading around your topic. Lecture notes are fine. But they’re born and live as concise samples of the material. Only the best get a full understanding out of shortened notes. Most need a slower delivery. That’s where books come in. A book gives it bit by bit. If you do understand the notes, read them anyway. Getting a second view is paramount for top marks and usually gives you a broader source of information to draw from.
  • You are giving in to easy. Will power is paramount with study. I’m not talking about the will to study; I’m referring to the will to give up on your memory. Try to relay lists back to yourself of things you need to know. If you get stuck, don’t look at the screen immediately for the answer. WRONG. Give yourself time, try to remember other things about the precise subject area and you’ll quickly re-jog your memory. If you give in without trying to remember, you’ll put yourself into that mentality for the exam. Remembering rote-learned material is not fun at all. If you’re gonna do it at least challenge yourself.
  • You spend WAY TOO MUCH TIME ORGANISING. This one even kills the smart people. It will slow you down really fast if you let organisation get to you. Should your notes be accessible and in an easy to learn format? YES. Should all the notes have accompanying flash cards, colour co-ordinates, book references and re-written notes? NO!!!!! I can’t emphasise this enough. Do you need flashcards to remember the three roles of x? Maybe. Do you need them to recall the three functions of y? Perhaps. People tend to jump on the bandwagon of flashcards, spider diagrams, pictures and anagrams to avoid what really matters. If you’re just gonna write out the notes again and not even bother thinking about them…GET OUT. I know some very organised people who get high marks because I know that behind it all they do the study. I also know far more people who are very organised who achieve marks that discredit them. Why? Because instead of engaging the material and actively learning, they spend time drawing diagrams for things they don’t understand. Waste of time if you never learn them. SERIOUSLY.
  • You organise too late. There’s no such thing as studying too early. By studying, I mean making all the diagrams and flash cards you want. This is fine. What will ruin your exam is spending the night before an exam re writing your notes. TOO LATE. Unless you have a very high rote-learning potential, you’ve just wasted precious study hours. Your preparation for an exam needs to happen months before you even hear it is scheduled. Whenever you have a chance, take a look at your notes, your book or your handouts and try put them in a form you can understand. Maybe that involves highlighting. Maybe it involves different coloured pens. Whatever it is, do it sooner rather than later and make sure that when you do it; you try your hand at understanding the notes at the same time.
  • You’re cutting things out. A technique that kills any grade is leaving things out of study. If you have a day, cut ,cut,cut!! But we’re talking good study. That involves addressing everything. If I told you to learn about football, you wouldn’t go and leave the goalkeeper out. True I may never ask about the goalkeeeper. But what about the relationship with the defenders? What about the interaction with opposing strikers? The second you start cutting things out; your overall understanding wanes and your grade starts to slide. Try to understand the hard parts. It makes learning the easy parts surprisingly simplistic.
  • You only study when you study. If there’s one thing that makes you get VERY high grades, it’s knowing that the study never really ends. I’m talking a twin method of action. Any time you have something laborious and boring to do; start studying. Have to clean your room? Ask yourself a couple question while you do. Standing around at work bored? Try to remember what you have to do for your organisation. This method is endless. It can extend from thinking about your study when you pass a book in a shop to putting things on your wall and having a quick look before you head out with your friends. It sounds crazy, and in truth it probably is, but I can guarantee the results. It’s basic logic. The longer you commit to a subject; the more you understand it, and the easier it is to study. The easier it is to study; the more you get in before exams and the better your grade is.

That’s enough to get somebody started. I’m gonna post more of these; to be honest all those ones just jumped to mind first. there are far more reasons your study doesn’t work and I’ll try write on it soon.