The Skeleton

I’m currently in the process of writing my last essay for this year, ahead of my return to Winchester on Saturday. I don’t have a detailed plan as such, only a few brief points for me to incorporate and consider – I procrastinate badly enough without something stopping me from getting stuck in. 1,500 words separate me from the first year’s finish line. The draft I’m working on is my third attempt at this essay, since I got halfway through the first two before becoming dissatisfied with them, but I’m doing so feeling much more comfortable.

I’ve chosen to tackle it using the “skeleton method”, if you like. I begin by writing all of my basic, fundamental points for the different areas of the essay, so that it has a vague structure. Then, once I reach the end, I go back to the start and fill everything out, providing references and quotes and developing my arguments. I don’t always use this, but when I do, I feel much less stress and pressure as I work. This occasion is no exception, and it comes just as I’ve received a mark of 68 for my poetry portfolio, and 65 for the rationale that went with it. That significantly surpassed my expectations, in a module that I thought would be by far my weakest, so I can hold my head high as I submit this last piece of work and look towards next year. At a glance now, I’m 793 words down, with just 707 – excluding quotes – to go…

Mason

Flarf Poetry

I’m now in the midst of my Easter break back at home – although, to all intents and purposes, my first year at university ended just over a week ago. I’m going back anyway, but for the next couple of weeks, I’ll focus on getting the last four assignments for the year done, while looking at what I’ve already accomplished with a great deal of pride. My marks this year have been very consistent (although nothing counts until Year 2) and I have learnt much and grown creatively. Approximately 7,000 words in total lie ahead of me during this break, and I hope can be as pleased with those as I am with what has gone before. Having such confidence in my work is very rare, since the self-doubt almost always kicks in once something is finished!

I’ve now submitted my poetry portfolio, and in time you may well see the whole thing here. For now, though, I just want to show you the poem that concludes it, as an example of flarf poetry. In class, we were told to think of two completely random words and enter them into Google so that we could write something using its search results. I chose “grassy brick”, which meant that I swiftly came across a set of instructions on how to grow grass in an old brick. I adapted these into stanzas – with some artistic licence – and I ended up with a simple and surreal final poem that didn’t take itself too seriously. I wouldn’t have ended the portfolio any other way. It’s called “Gardening For a New Generation”, and it goes like this:

“Gardening for a new generation.

Plant a seed in an urban jungle.

What will you need?

A brick, glazed, strictly non-porous;

Nothing else will do.

 

Blow away the dust and the cobwebs,

The ghost of a hardened hand.

Make it wet, soften the stone to sand,

Eat that pie on the windowsill;

You’ll need the tin tomorrow.

 

Half an inch of water will give new life.

Bless the brick with more,

As it sits in its bakelite bathtub.

Watch the cheap seeds sprout;

You’ll like grass, it’s hardy.”

 

Mason

What Can I Say About Christmas?

I have managed to publish a post here on each of the last two Christmas Eves, and I hope that they both managed to encapsulate the joy and excitement I feel each December in the eyes of those who read them. This is, after all, a truly magical time of year for which I am always hugely thankful. It has to be said, however, that such posts are getting harder to write – since I now risk sounding insincere – so when I came to think about what I was going to say this time, I was more than a little bit stuck. I eventually decided that it would probably be best for me to look at the festive period from a perspective that is even more personal than usual, as I can look back at the year leading up to it with a lot of pride.

Being one semester in to a three-year degree course, I have already seen, experienced and learned a lot – as I sit in the glow of the Christmas tree lights, I couldn’t be happier with how everything has gone. The work that I have done has given me good marks in return, I have bonded really well with Lara and a host of other friends, and I have lived independently without getting significantly poorer or fatter. In addition to those things, I have also been part of a winning quiz team – yes, it might have taken us eight weeks, but who couldn’t be proud of a result like that? Broadly speaking, I believe that all of the necessary tools are in place for the second semester to be just as successful – and that means the turkey can go down even better than it usually does this Christmas.

I can relax with the family knowing there is a lot to be pleased about, but I feel like none of it could have been truly achieved without the love, support and friendship that has been constantly shown to me. From the unwavering encouragement at home in Somerset to the broken lift heroics and general awesomeness of my friends in Winchester, there has been an abundance of warmth for which I am truly grateful. Long may it continue! I would like to thank everyone who has supported me so far, either in big ways or in smaller ones. Christmas allows us all to come together and take stock of who and what we have around us, while being immensely thankful for all of it. Rest assured that I couldn’t quite have gotten to this point without you. Now that I am here, I intend to enjoy every last moment of it, because it feels wonderful. I hope everyone has a Christmas that is as magical as mine!

Mason

The Pull, Part 15

You join me as I reflect on a small triumph. I woke up this morning in the knowledge that I am just a little bit richer, having claimed one-eighth of the £35 prize my team won last night for coming third in a university quiz. After what seems like the shortest eight months in human history, I am settled in as a student at Winchester, and in the last three days alone I have met more new people than I had in the preceding six months. Since we are all in the same boat, faced with an unfamiliar location full of unfamiliar people, everyone seems to have been very supportive of one another thus far, and this has soothed many a lingering nerve. Among the many new friends I have already made are Lucy and Elly, who threw me in at the deep end of university life after bringing out the shots on our first night there, and six of the members of the aforementioned quiz team. I did join this together with Lara, however, and I was delighted to meet her again after first encountering her at a taster session back in February. She brought along two of her flatmates, Nora and Ryan, in order to get to know them better, and when we reached the canteen to begin the quiz we found ourselves joined by four other team-mates – whose names I will admit to forgetting! We had not expected to be part of such a large team, but we were grateful for the extra brain power and the opportunity to get acquainted with some more friendly faces.

The quiz consisted of five rounds, with a short break after the first three had been completed and marked. The opening round focused on the news of the past week, and this was followed by a general knowledge round, two music rounds (requiring us to provide song titles, artist names and lyrics), a picture round and a finale inspired by the “General Ignorance” round on QI (look it up if you don’t know what I’m talking about). Each of these proved to be a real test for our grey matter, but as I suspected, those who previously doubted their ability to do well found they knew more than they thought once we had gotten started. We started off respectably, and everyone contributed whatever they could, but I believe that what clinched our eventual result was our new team-mates’ ability to flawlessly fill in Noughties pop lyrics where a gap appeared. We largely have them to thank for the £35. Having said that, though, I was particularly pleased with one of my own answers, which got us a bonus point during the picture round.

From a selection of photographs, we were asked to identify celebrities that included Serena Williams, Sir Elton John, Tom Hardy, Jonny Wilkinson, James Corden, James Blunt, Victoria Beckham and Oprah Winfrey. Once this had been done, we were challenged to find the link between them, and something of a blind panic resulted – we had no idea what the connection could be. Was it sport? Showbusiness? Were they the same age? Did they share a birthday? Was it something to do with Winchester? All were real guesses, and it looked increasingly unlikely that we would find the correct answer until I experienced a moment of clarity. I remembered seeing all of those celebrities together somewhere recently – but where? The moment of realisation then dawned – they had all been to Harry and Meghan’s wedding. I presented my answer to the rest of the group, and at the end of the evening we were ecstatic when it was confirmed as correct. I have taken part in many quizzes in my time, but no single answer has ever satisfied me as much as that one. I might be pleased with it for some time yet!

The proceedings ended, the scores on the doors were announced (with the superbly-named “Quiztina Aguilera” being crowned winners), and the money was distributed as we expressed our glee at what we had achieved. Seeing the teamwork and the camaraderie in abundance at the table was, for me, the biggest reward of all – the fact that I have met and bonded with so many people already is surely a huge indicator that university was the right step for me. On this positive note, I come to the end of “The Pull”, after fifteen instalments. The journey that the series set out to describe is no more – I have enjoyed the scenery, and now I must do all I can to thrive at my destination. If this week has been anything to go by, I have several reasons to feel incredibly confident. There’s no going back now…

Mason

The Pull, Part 7

Well, July is now officially upon us, and as I sit here writing this I am just over three weeks away from the start of my summer holidays – and beyond that, my great Winchester adventure. In the meantime, however, there is still work to be done, and not just in my day job. There is also the small matter of my poetry project. The titles for my poems are all present and correct – you saw them in “Accordion” – but what form the accompanying material will take is still yet to be seen. I do have some rough opening lines for the first poem, “Time Off For Good Behaviour”, but those were mainly written as an excuse for me to open a new notebook and are therefore likely to change.

Beginning a new notebook of any kind is always a treat for the senses. Everything about it is something to be cherished – the spotless and totally unspoiled cover, the pristine pages that lie within, and every magical indentation your pen makes upon them. The notebook I am using for this particular project came from the University of Winchester itself, and I told myself that it would never go to waste playing host to half-finished ideas. It was therefore set aside for poetry, and that in turn meant that I could not start writing in it properly until yesterday. I will admit that it has been increasingly difficult to resist, sitting patiently on my bedside table, always lingering in the corner of my eye. No matter how big the temptation got, though, I told myself that the end reward would be well worth the wait. I only allowed myself to sign and date the first page, so that everything written in it could form a time capsule I can look back on with fondness in the future.

I wrote the first paragraph of this post yesterday, when I had not yet attempted to change the opening lines I had already composed. I subsequently opened the notebook – and, deciding once and for all that they simply did not work, I crossed them out and started again. The new lines that resulted from this flowed much better and felt less forced. I am planning to show the completed poems to my coursemates before you get to see them here, but I will give you little snippets along the way. Make of these what you will!

For a few precious months, the shackles are off. Lie down in your bed, or feast in your trough.

This freedom’s a nectar you simply can’t waste. Feel every last drop flow through you with haste.

Mason

 

 

Can’t Wait To Collaborate

Just under a year ago, I included one of my friend Grace’s documentaries in a blog post (“What Gives You The Right?”) that discussed the plight of the homeless. As she had been too busy to contribute a post to Third Time Enabled, I thought that the video would both ensure she was well-represented and raise further awareness of a very important issue. In her latest project, and as part of her degree course, Grace is once again utilising the power of the documentary in exploring another one of life’s most pressing problems; loneliness. More specifically, she will be looking at loneliness from the perspective of someone who finds themselves immersed in city life, surrounded by people but still very much alone. This is the feeling I have been asked to capture in some spoken-word poetry, which Grace intends to include in her film.

When she asked me to write the piece, I was certain about two things – firstly that I couldn’t accept the offer quickly enough, and secondly that I could not underwhelm her with whatever I created. With this latter point in mind, out came my notebook, and I very tentatively began to craft some opening lines. Poetry is something I haven’t turned my hand to in quite some time, so as I did this I was well aware that it wasn’t going to be something that was complete in ten minutes. Even getting to two verses took at least a couple of days. Now, however, I have something that increasingly resembles a finished poem, and this morning I decided I was confident enough to show what I had to some of my future Winchester course-mates in our Facebook group chat. Just as I’d always expected, we’ve been getting on like a house on fire, and I feel blessed to have found such a supportive group of like-minded people to share my works in progress with. If any of the “Creative Winch Buddies” are reading this, I want you to know exactly how awesome you all are, and how lucky I consider myself to have met you. I can’t wait for us to be introduced in person come September!

True to their supportive nature, the group seemed to like what I’d presented to them, and their feedback was exactly what I needed to put many of my worries about the poem aside, at least for the time being. I have a first half down on paper – I can focus on any further alterations to that when I have a second. That’s likely to be a much bigger hurdle, but one I will relish not just for the creativity involved, but also for the opportunity to show the end product to the group and Grace herself – surely two of the most appreciative audiences a writer could wish for.

Mason

The Pull, Part 4

Any excuse to visit Winchester is fine by me – and on Saturday I had the best one possible when I set off with Mum and Dad to attend a second open day at the university where I will be studying from September. I knew from the outset that it would be just as immensely enjoyable and useful a visit as the initial one in October, and I was duly proved right. As we parked up and signed in after a three-hour car journey, my thoughts turned immediately to something I hadn’t initially had the chance to participate in at Winchester – a taster session in my chosen Creative Writing course.

In just one hour, the session would give me a condensed sample of what to expect in the three-hour classroom gatherings I will have as a student – and, predictably, I immediately liked what I saw. I have always felt comfortable as a writer, and any opportunity to demonstrate this is instantly seized, but even I was surprised by how naturally writing came to me in an academic setting. The session was well-attended, presumably by many of the students I will soon have the chance to collaborate with and befriend, and as I sat waiting for everyone to file in I found that was I seated next to a lovely girl called Lara. We hit it off immediately, and could hardly stop chatting – during the course of our conversation I discovered that she too had already accepted her Winchester offer, so I think we were both relieved that we’ll already know each other when we start! We worked really well as partners too, reading what we’d written to one another and feeding back accordingly.

What exactly were we writing, I hear you ask? Allow me to explain! After a brief introduction to the course, and a few minutes in which we examined short descriptive sentences and shared our first impressions, we were presented with a photograph to work from. It showed an open but secluded woodland spot, bathed in bright sunlight but surrounded by forest that was denser, darker and much more sinister. Just as before, our first task upon being shown this was to jot down what we thought of it. Rather than immediately noting what I actually saw in the image, I found myself thinking about its potential metaphorical significance, and seeing the part illuminated by the sun as a glimmer of hope – a hidden gem – in a sea of despondency. A light at the end of the tunnel for someone, if you will. When it came to placing a character in this setting, we were invited to choose anyone from a small child to an elderly pensioner, before taking a moment to think about why they were in the woods and how their behaviour might be influenced by their circumstances. I chose to make my character a teenage boy named Christopher – I’ve always given characters fairly random names, and he was bestowed with his for no other reason than St Christopher is the patron saint of travellers, apparently. Once I’d clarified these basic details, I started to think more about his background and what had brought him into the great outdoors. It emerged that he’d had an affluent upbringing with money in abundance, but that his life had been turned upside down following a kidnapping which resulted in him being a prisoner for some considerable time. On the day that he found himself amongst the greenery, he was running as fast as he could – terrified, dishevelled and devoid of the confidence he had been bursting with prior to his ordeal. He was running because this day represented his best possible chance of escape. I introduced him like this, joining him as he dashed through the gloominess and into warmth:

“Christopher sprinted through the darkness, trying to ignore the searing pain from the gash on his knee as each new bramble and thorn pricked at him. He knew he had to focus on escape, and that meant running and never looking back. He’d never have a better chance than this.”

I couldn’t quite write quickly enough to expand on that opening, so when we were told to stop after the sentence we were on, Lara had more than I did. Her story, if I recall correctly, concerned a woman who was out walking her dog in the countryside with her husband and child – both of whom had been driving her mad. She appeared worn down, tired, overworked and underappreciated, and neither they nor her mischievous dog, whom Lara named Scruff, were making things any easier. I thought it was a beginning with a lot of potential, and I was interested to see just how far the lady could be pushed, or if her luck might change dramatically. And what part would the scenery play in it?

My question was about to be answered. The next stage of story development saw us invited to pick an item from a table at the front of the room that our characters could find in the landscape – we could demonstrate how well we knew them by thinking about their reactions to these. Lara kindly went over on my behalf, and gave me a fading and slightly dirty blue denim cap, claiming she knew it was right for my story as soon as she saw it. Great minds think alike, don’t they? I agreed, and instantly began scribbling away just as it landed on the desk. Just as Christopher emerges into the sun’s embrace, the following occurs:

“Taking in the beauty and undoubted serenity of this hidden gem, Christopher spotted a faded blue denim cap lying unclaimed in the undergrowth. He thought little of the object itself – people lost things in the countryside all the time – but could it mean that he wasn’t the first to run out here? For a moment, Christopher kept his eyes fixed on the cap, briefly forgetting the desperation of his own situation. If its owner had escaped too, with or without their cap, had they found safety?”

As I finished this, I looked up to see Lara putting her own pen down. The object she had taken from the table was a jewel-encrusted brooch, which she also chose to cast to the ground in her story. By this stage, Scruff was off his lead and totally uncontrollable. He had rushed off, far away from his struggling owner, but stopped an instant when he saw the brooch gleaming before him. He alerted the woman to its presence, and she was immediately and understandably intrigued upon examining it. She may well have been distracted by its striking and colourful appearance, but was determined to get to the bottom of what it was, taking it to an antique shop. Lara never got the chance to reveal what had happened there, but it was definitely an interesting proposition in a well-structured story. Would the brooch make the woman and her family millionaires, or had she gotten her hopes up all for nothing? Alternatively, would it be something tainted in some way, or even cursed? Lara and I both saw that the possibilities were endless.

That was what made the session great. The amount of creativity in the task at hand made us both feel right at home and very comfortable indeed. Neither of us had any doubts about the university choice we’d made prior to the session and, if it was possible, we had even fewer when we emerged. Thanking the lecturer for such a fruitful and enjoyable hour, we left and said our goodbyes, even more excited for what is to begin in just over six months’ time. I was on cloud nine for the rest of the day, feeling certain that the session was the start of many things, including academic and creative satisfaction, endless social and personal benefits, and at least one wonderful new friendship with Lara. Life is good – very good indeed. You could say that just one year ago, I felt as though I was going nowhere. Twelve months on, with each passing day, I’m feeling as though anything is possible. What’s more, I’m going to make the most of every moment of it.

If you’re lucky, you might even discover Christopher’s ultimate fate one day…

Mason