December 15, 2014

3 reasons why I write notes by hand

Current listening- The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten (appropriate)

Recently I've taken to handwriting notes on the literature I'm reading, as well as making them on MS Word. This decision initially came about because this was because I decided to study on campus for a few hours ahead of going to my evening job and left my laptop at home, figuring 'It'll be ok, somewhere is a free computer with my name on it, and I cannot be bothered lugging this thing around as my back hurts'. This devil-may-care attitude was my undoing, as no computers were available! Instead I grabbed some scrap paper, stole a pen from some unsuspecting soul and settled in for the afternoon. Despite horrible associations with undergraduate exams and my old job which involved writing pages and pages by hand, I have massively come around to this way of working, and let me tell you why.

1) It forces me to be more concise. When writing in Word, I often end up being lazy and just copying big chunks of text into my notes to reread properly at some imagined point in the future- this is even worse when working from a PDF, where the temptation is to copy and paste a whole paragraph without reading it properly! Writing by hand means conciseness is a necessity, in order to avoid hand cramp apart from anything, meaning there is less waffle and more actual substance when I come to review them. In particular, I have had to examine my assumption that the success of a day of reading corresponds with the volume of notes made, which I should already know from my Masters is not true.

2) Building revision into the process of note taking. There are two stages to my process of handwriting notes- writing the notes for the first time, and then transcribing them into type once the book/article/video is finished. The benefit of this is that I'm revising my notes soon after taking them, so they have a better chance of 'going in', and this gives me the opportunity to make additions and connections I might have missed. It also never takes as long as I think it will, due to the aforementioned conciseness.

3) Achieving focus and flow. Despite making use of the excellent Pomodoro Technique, I always, always seem to get distracted when at my laptop, and if my focus has been broken once it becomes much easier to break time and time again! My mind will wander to finding out when the new season of Parks and Rec is airing, or how old Jamie Oliver is, or double checking the ingredients list in that recipe I'm making at the weekend to see if any of it's in the cupboard... It goes on and on, and I often get really frustrated with myself. Handwriting notes gives me time away from the screen to get rid of all that noise and rest my eyes, and, most importantly, makes getting into a pleasantly exhausting state of flow way easier. The days where I've got my flow on are the days when I feel I've really achieved something, and doing this for even four hours is so much more productive than squinting at my laptop screen for eight with half my mind on work and the other half on Twitter.

There are more reasons that are specific to me and my research, for example as I'm often looking at media content it's way easier to be taking notes on a notepad in front of me than pausing a video and switching back and forth between windows, and the ability to scribble diagrams and addendums on paper in the middle of otherwise pure text suits my way of thinking. But this is just me- try it for yourself and see whether it works for you!


December 10, 2014

Update times

Current listening- Nat King Cole's Christmas album :)

Hello blog! It's been a while since I've updated but there has been a lot going on. Last week I taught my first undergraduate seminar, which was cut short due to the number of students wanting to go to the demo against police brutality on campus- sad to see an institution that I'm so deeply connected with making the news in a negative way. I must admit I felt cheered that they cared so much, for a few I'm sure that as it was one of the last classes of term they wanted to get out early! Either way, I felt that the time I had with them was productive, as they seemed genuinely interested not only in the content of the presentation I gave within the context of performing gender, but in the issues surrounding entertainment magic in general. One issue that was brought up was how to name what we see on television- it seems that some performers are rejecting the label of 'magic' despite using conventional conjuring, amongst other magic-based techniques, in their shows. Another, which I have been thinking about a lot myself, is how this type of content comes into being and how it is sustained, like perhaps one of the reasons that David Blaine has just done his first world tour after being in the public eye for so long is a withdrawal of funding or interest from the sponsors who it seems kept him going in the past.

One more exciting thing on the horizon is that in the New Year I'm going to start as a tutor with a charity called The Brilliant Club, which trains PhDs and postdocs to deliver university-style seminars about their research to high-performing pupils in secondary schools that don't have a long history of sending students into higher education. This is great for a couple of reasons- first, it will be so interesting to have to engage an audience I don't usually come across with my research, and second because (like with many academic disciplines) there's no real equivalent on the secondary school curriculum, if you don't count GCSE/A level Drama, which I don't! So it's pretty cool that I'll have the opportunity to communicate what Theatre & Performance Studies at university level is all about.

On Tim's advice I've been reading more about the uncanny as a theoretical framework in which I can place what I'm doing, and also about shamanism, with reference to Joseph Beuys as a kind of comparative figure for David Blaine. I'm feeling like now is the time to start getting some stuff actually written down, not least because there are 2 conferences I want to submit papers for at the end of January. I can't give myself too long a holiday over the festive season as I've been taking lots of great long weekends to celebrate birthdays and weddings since term began, so time is of the essence! As my notes are in various different analogue and digital locations, I'm taking my cue from the always excellent Dr Nadine Muller as she lays it out here: http://www.nadinemuller.org.uk/the-new-academic-guides/the-blank-page/


November 10, 2014

Notetaking your way out of darkness.

Simple solution for feeling overwhelmed and/or stuck!

Reread many notes, as attentively as possible.

Create mind map with the problem described at the centre. Get flow, freestyle with it. It's for my use, anyway, nobody else is going to read it.

Write things that are not fully explained, make connections that are tenuous, fraught or difficult to uphold. Put question marks next to all these items. Remember- this is for nobody's benefit but my own.

When piece of paper is full, look at the items with question marks next to them. Turn over the piece of paper, and formulate these into actual questions. "How can .... be developed?" "How true/false/widely believed/disparaged is ....?" "How does .... interact with ....?"

Proceed with research guided by these questions.

Pros: I am reminded of the knowledge and ideas I have already, thus feeling less overwhelmed. I have found the boundaries of my current knowledge and ideas and now have a direction in which to progress, thus feeling less stuck.

Cons: Paper is too small.


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