Tag Archives: masters

Mastering The Enemy …

mastersYou know when you can’t string a sentence together with MS and your brain goes foggy?

Yup? What better time to start a Master’s degree (insert smiley face here).

That’s the way I was thinking two years ago (MS does funny things to your brain).

Back then, MS was The Enemy Incarnate, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, and had to be defeated at all costs. I had been writing random blog posts for a while (still do, lol) and wondered whether I could write anything else. So, I looked around, called a few universities and signed up for a Master’s.

It was then that sheer terror set in. On many levels:

  • MS – brain fog, memory issues, parking …
  • Age – how would it be to go back to Uni when I was the old enough to tell the students off?
  • Style – or lack thereof. How to pretend I fitted in. Scarf? Glasses? Something academic-y?

So, I got my mugshot taken for my ID card, shuffled along to the first meeting and wished I had shuffled right back out again. I was completely and utterly out of my depth, brand new notebook and pens notwithstanding. My fellow students used words like, ‘protagonist’ and ‘Stein-esque’.

My first attempt at a short story (about a decapitated mouse) was met with silence and a withering response. Too complicated, too long, too … strange.

The thing is. I wanted to give up. I went so far as to try to formally withdraw from the course. It wasn’t for me, obviously. I grew to hate my headless mouse and everything it stood for – a symptom of my failure.

But. I trucked along. I attended most of the tutorials, inspired by my fellow students. We critiqued each other in uniquely British-polite ways and nudged each other along the path to true creative writing.

And so I came to the dissertation.

Long story short, it evolved from a germ of an idea into a little pod. And with some nurturing from my friends, it grew into something I’m really proud of. It’s 10,000 words. Just had to get the critical essay done and that would be me – a Master’s.

One problem.

My essay is terrible.

I have six weeks to turn it around and send the whole thing in.

Sounds like a lot of time, but every time I try to sit down and write (re-write):

  • The cat is on my seat
  • The plants need watering
  • The fridge needs rearranging
  • The Teenager needs an emergency cash injection

I will get there. I will purge my dire sentences, such as, ‘I pull no punches with my story’ and change them to something like, ‘with my narrative, I will not hesitate to draw upon brutal imagery’.

Doing this is my way of getting back at MS. I want to push my boundaries, explore new areas and prove to myself that I can still ‘Do’.

The January deadline is looming and keeps me awake at night, along with the usual nerve pain.

As for now, I’m off to organise my books into alphabetical order and clean my fork prongs with a micro-cloth.


p.s. I cannot end this post without a very special mention to the supremely patient Dr. Kate North, my dissertation tutor. Thank You.

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The One When I Argue With a Mini-Digger …

miniI love my job (the boss may read this).

It’s quite sedentary, excellent for an MSer, working as a project manager on a building site.

I deal with architectural plans on room-sized paper print-outs, customer’s wishes and all the rest that this job entails, mostly keeping the neighbours happy. I sort out who should be where, when and why. And if they’re not, why not?

My boots may be muddy but I enjoy pontificating, pointing and generally positing from an elevated position.

And so it was this week. I directed our newest recruit to the sewage drain and explained the brick-y stuff to our very handsome builder – not for nothing he’s known as ‘Handsome Dave’.

The Boss was happy; we had a newly-delivered mini-digger and dumper. I won’t boast, but I’m pretty good on the mini-digger (I get to sit down all day, what’s not to love?). There’s even a space on the dashboard for a cup of coffee, if I’m careful.

So far, so good. I sat down, showed off a little, then a bit more. Swing. Swoop. Swing. Get me.

I was trucking along, then paused when I had to take the mini-dumper to the pile at the front. Easy.

Problem was, it had rained. I tried my hardest, got the pile of mud to the bigger pile of mud out the front, positioned it carefully, and just as I was about to tip the contents, the dumper went all wibbly and started to fall.

What would you do?

If you’re me, you try to catch it as it’s falling.

So, I did.

Massive burn on my arm. Extremely painful.

I have a handy tip – never try to catch a one-tonne piece of equipment. I ended up at my Doctor’s, muddy boots removed and carried through the surgery when I explained what had happened.

‘Um, yes, I tried to catch a falling mini-digger. Is it bad? Ah. Really? Ah. Infected Right. I see?’

Long story short, I was soldiering on – I waited four days until the burn was so bad even the apprentice asked my why I hadn’t had it checked out.

As I apply the latest plaster and take the antibiotic, I still think I’m lucky that I have a job I love, despite the … setback …

In other news, I have written an extra 1,ooo words of my Master’s …

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I’m So Last Century …

dinosaurSomeone asked me the other day how I get The Teenager up for school.

Easy, I said, just unplug the Wi-fi.

Sit down and wait for the piercing scream of abject agony.

It works – try it.

Anyway, as I’ve been jotting down my Master’s dissertation by hand these last few weeks, The Teenager has been streets ahead of me, organising his A Level files at the stroke of a button.

He laughs at my hand-drawn mind-maps. He chortles when he sees my scribbles, turning his ipad towards me, shining with beautiful study notes.

I take off my fingerless gloves and turn the heating on. I gently explain to him that Great Art involves Great Suffering. I am trying to channel words and images into a superb piece of writing. I could in fact be The Next Great Novelist, given half the chance.

Until I’m rudely interrupted:

‘Muuuuuuuuum. Mum. Mum. What was it like BI?’


‘D’uh. Like. Before. Internet?’ Where you deprived? Did you feel, like, sad?’

‘Ah. No. We went to a place called A Library and looked up an Encyclopedia. That’s a book.’


‘Not really.’

‘You mean, if you wanted to find something out, you had to, like, order a book? Really?’

‘Well. Yeah.’

‘Oh M’God. ‘

I am a dinosaur. The Teenager cannot comprehend a life without facts at his fingertips. I could be impressed, chuffed even. Until he sends me bizarre links of what is trending on Twitter.

Take yesterday. The Teenager should have been researching British Politics. Instead, I had a breathless text, ‘ya seen Twitter?’

‘Not yet, have you cleaned your bedroom?’

‘So funny, have you seen, OMG, hysterical.’



‘Oh really? A kid?’

‘S’fun, s’like real.’

I worry.

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Silent But Deadly

sometimes you just have to pick yourself up and carry onMy MS is fairly silent. (ish)

To everyone else, just not to me.

It screams and yells in my face but is deftly hidden within my body, keeping its deviant symptoms tucked safely away, all the while wreaking havoc.

To other people, I could be a malingerer, a fantasist. A bore.

The biggest problem is in the detail; the description – try explaining in plain English what it feels like when an MS lesion hits the speech part of your brain and you can’t string a simple sentence together?

Or when your hands decide to go on strike; it’s no fun pouring a kettle of hot water over your hands instead of the coffee cup.

Then there’s the biggies – fatigue, balance, foot drop, brain fog. All perhaps innocuous to others but they add up to a walking, talking disaster area for me. Put them all in the MS Blender at once and I am a joke.

It’s why I shy away from actual real-life shopping. Too  much choice for my brain, likelihood of dropping stuff, tripping over shiny floor tiles, looking drunk, fumbling with change at the check-out. Gah. I am the person my mother warned me about.

What about the nerve pain? The constant jangling, buzzing, painful sensations, as if I’m trapped in some ghastly game of Operation, unable to fish out the funny bone. Over and over again.

MS fatigue divides my day in half – great first thing in the morning, useless when the sun goes down. Foot drop follows me wherever I go and I’ve made friends with my local cobbler – as I hand over yet another pair of flat shoes/boots to be re-soled. And as for brain fog – it’s a plague. As I’m sure I mentioned earlier. And maybe before that?

It all adds up to a pretty depressing picture. And it is.

Or could be.

I’m adapting, however slowly. I’m getting used to the curved-swerve-followed-by-the ‘whoops‘. I write endless notes to myself, to jog my battered memory. I hold the bannister when I walk downstairs and I threw out the dodgy shoes long ago. When I trip, I now do it with grace.

As MS takes a new and unexpected turn, so will I, and force it to do things it’s never had to do before, such as our current Master’s module in ‘New and Experimental Writing’.

That’ll teach it.

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It’s A Hard Life, Being a Student…

studentIt truly is.

Especially the evening lectures, when The Teenager cranks up the guilt:

Can you bring me back some sweets?
Nope, there’s carrot sticks in the fridge.
Can you bring me back a drink?
Nope, there’s Council Pop in the tap.
I need help with my homework.
Welsh isn’t one of my languages.
I’m calling Childline.

And with that, he strops off upstairs and turns his music up. When I get back later, he’s slumped on the sofa chucking the carrot sticks at re-runs of Countdown.

Anyway, apart from that, it’s the essays that are my main challenge right now. I had imagined, when signing up for a Masters in Creative Writing, I would be stumbling around in artistically-put-together clothes (garments?), staring at the clouds then scribbling long words and my meaningful impressions of life in a shiny new notebook.

There were two problems with this. First, MS brain has reduced my observations to, ‘the clouds were pink. And white. And a little bit fluffy’. And, ‘the cat ran away. And then came back.’

Second, I hadn’t expected to write essays about writing essays. I had no idea there were so many theories and ‘-isms’ in writing. I am currently staring at a stack of books about ethnography as a research method. Out of the eight books, I have found five quotes, and two of them say pretty much the same thing.

The university library is a scary place, full of very young intelligent-looking people. And it’s very, very quiet. They can hear me scanning and dropping my piles of books a mile away. The machine hates me and the librarians at the desk tut.

I also have to write a portfolio of short stories by the end of December. This is going ok, but I seem to be writing very dark stuff. Ho hum. No idea why. But, as with everything over the last three years, I am nothing if not determined. My putty brain is being stretched to capacity. And I have decided to, gulp, publish the last two years of my blog as a book. At least I can then call myself a writer/author/deluded. I think.

I told The Teenager about my grand literary plans and he stared at me aghast. However, he quickly recovered and suggested ideas for new blog posts I could write about him. I interrupted him and told him the blog wasn’t fiction. He muttered something under his breath in Welsh, swiped the last scone and disappeared.

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