First week at Durham University


As to be expected, the first week at university in a foreign country is going to be interesting, to say the least. While I’m already into my second week, There are a few things I’ve learned so far.

  1. Scheduling is weird
    1. Lectures
      Unlike universities in the States, we take six classes at a time, each called a module. Each module has a lecture once a week for an hour. For me, personally, or at least for the students of Durham, there is a break in the middle of the week. No lecture is scheduled on Wednesday because it’s sports day. Also, the last module finishes by 6 p.m.
    2. Tutorials
      Each module has a tutorial. Each department organises their tutorials differently. For example, I’m in two different departments because I’m taking a combined honors of English and philosophy.
      The Philosophy department allows you a selection of tutorial groups with different times and locations, so you can essentially pick your own schedule. But, that being said, you have to be responsible for the location, and knowing how long it’s going to take you to get from building to building. What’s more, it’s first come, first serve. It’s best to know approximately what tutorial groups you want to sign up for before the day to sign up for them. Each tutorial for each of my philosophy modules meets every other week. This is nice because it’s somewhat regular.
      The English department, on the other hand, schedules it for you. It’s easier, but you’re at the mercy of the scheduler. What’s more, each module meets about once a month. Sometimes the dates fall so that there are two in a month, though I think that’s only happened once with two of my modules. There is definitely irregularity here.
  2. The campus is broken
    1. Aesthetics 
      This campus just ain’t pretty. I might very well be spoiled, given that I come from a town with a technical college, a community college, and a university–the community college and university designed with the surrounding woods and natural habitat in mind. It’s damn beautiful.
      Despite the beauty of Durham City itself and the surrounding county, the campus is just not nice. The library building is nice to look at, but that’s literally the only compliment I can give it.
    2. Location
      The buildings for the whole university are all over the city. This is nice because it gets you out to kind of see what’s around, but it’s also difficult when you’re planning your schedule, or trying to find parking. The college I’m supposed to be in is a mile up the hill from the main university campus, the majority of the classes I’m in are down the hill a mile from the main university campus, and the English department building and the philosophy department building, which is where my tutorials are, are about half a mile from the campus.
      I know, there’s always the risk of gaining weight during studies, and this is a great way of preventing that. I am pretty pleased with that. I”m also pleased that as of yet, the weather has been pretty mild, and at times, downright nice. But there will be days when the pavement is covered in ice, the rain is pummeling horizontally, and I’m walkin a mile to my lecture because I can afford parking by the university but not near the town center.
    3. Functionality
      I’ve recently discovered the student union. It’s right next to the lecture buildings I need to go to, and has really cheap Starbucks lattes and food. But I have a few problems with it.

      1. It’s ugly.
        No joke, really ugly. You walk in and it feels like you’re going to visit your relative in prison kind of ugly.
        In all fairness, once you get in the main kind of lunch room area, it’s not too bad. Lots of light, different styles of tables, televisions everywhere playing music videos, and a nice view of the river. But outside the commons, the ceilings are low, grey and very poorly lit. They remind me a little of the abandoned Holywell hosptal my partner and I explored a few months ago.


        Lluesty Hospital, Holywell, North Wales

      2. It’s broken.
        Seriously. I’ve come across so many lights that are flickering, and in the bathrooms there was a toilet that just wouldn’t flush, and I have yet to come across a soap dispenser or hand dryer that works in any of the bathrooms associated with Durham University.
  3. The Tutorials and Lectures
    They say that the Lectures aren’t mandatory, however, the tutorials are. The latter is where they see how well you’re understanding the material, and what questions you have. This is where you get your participation points. This is where you get into the theory of everything, which is what I personally enjoy. Your tutor is generally pretty down to earth, understands what it’s like being a freshman because it wasn’t long ago that they were there themselves.
    The Lectures are interesting. By this I mean that it depends on the lecturer as to what kind of hour you’re going to have. This might seem obviously, but there seems to be a different lecturer each week. I love my philosophy lectures, and all of my lectures during the first week. I was hungry for the year to come. However, this week, I’ve had a few different ones from the first week, two of which just read their lecture straight off the paper, which I found very difficult to focus on. The good news is that I’ll probably have someone different next week with a different approach.
  4. Reading
    Given that I’m taking two reading-intensive courses, I have been very prepared to buckle down and power through everything. BUt so far it hasn’t been that bad. When I took my literature classes at the community college before coming here, I was looking at reading 10-30 poems in two days, a quarter of a novel as well, and four-five chapters of whatever else text in a week. The worst I’ve experienced so far is having to read Everyman and The Second Shepherd’s Play in a week, which are both fairly short, though very difficult to read because my brain doesn’t translate 15th century literature very well.
    This might change, of course, but for now, it’s certainly manageable.
  5. Workshops
    Durham brags a very high employability rate straight out of university–and I believe it. My email is bombarded with offers for workshops every day. They’re all free, and very helpful. Everything from speed reading, to developing your business idea, to how to use programs, and how to cope with perfectionism and imposter syndrome. I’ve signed up for as many of these as I can in an effort to get as much as I can for my [mom’s] money.

This sounds like a fairly bleak entry and review of my first week. But honestly, I do love it. I cannot say how happy I am to be a student, and be in this atmosphere. Being so much older than everyone is taking some getting used to. But thankfully, they serve wine on campus, so that helps.


Review Friday – Tool 2014 Tour

Review Friday - Tool 2014 Tour

Editor’s Note: This is the edited version, the slightly more every-ne appropriate version. To read the “director’s cut”, if you will, you can find it on my other blog, NeuronTree, here.

Image from the Tool Show, compliments of Spin

On Tuesday, March 4th, I was fortunate enough to find myself at a Tool show, the first one to kick off their tour. They were playing in Spokane, Wa – which, for us that have been spoiled by the ways of Seattle, found ourselves dismayed. Especially this time of year, the mountains that separate eastern and western Washington can be rough traveling, and up until the day before, all the passes were closed.

I was in fact panicked the night before the show. Originally, I bought 4 tickets, back in January, before being laid off – one for my boyfriend and I each, and the other two with the intent of sharing the joy at cost with people I care about. We found a friend of our’s and also got my brother on board. Our biggest problem was figuring out who’s vehicle to take between our friend and my brother.

At the last minute, my brother’s car gave out, and he was unable to go at all, simply because he lives so far away and couldn’t afford to spare the money for the ticket. Decision made – our friend’s car it is. Except that the same day, our friend’s car gave out as well. We were not officially out of a lift.

After a lot of scrambling and finagling, one of our great friends wanted to go, and offered up his infamous Party Van. This thing is a beast. It comes equipped with party lights on the inside, a lock box filled with goodies, a GameCube and DVD player. Just to name a couple things. This was our optimal way of travel.

party van

We made it over the pass, and found our hotel room at the Day’s Inn. I’ve never stayed at the Day’s Inn before, but I’ve never had so easy of a check-in my whole life! $70 for a room, having already told them it was for 4 people. They didn’t ask for my ID, my credit card, to sign anything – nothing. They just handed me two keys and away I went.

The thing about Tool is that they are not just a metal band, and I hesitate to call them that even. Their music is an experience, I would even go so far as to compare them to a modern Pink Floyd. Their music is spiritual, and they are known for their very visual shows. A lot of their music is about raising consciousness, sacred geometry, interdimensional beings, and so on.

We walked the mile and a half to the venue, through a beautiful park that still had the remains of snow. I was actually really enjoying Spokane. When my boyfriend and I had visited during the summer while on tour, filming for a band, it was just..dusty. I had no idea it was so big, and that there was so much to it. I put it on a similar scale to Yakima, just being dirty, dusty and conservative (no offense to anyone from Yakima).

When we arrived, the line was two blocks long – and we had arrived late! The ticket said 8pm, which is when we arrived, though, as we found out later, the doors had been open long before that, and an opening band had even played! Oops.

We eventually got in, and found our way into the steep nose-bleed seats. I was nervous. I was worried about those of us who had already had a few drinks on the way there and at the hotel. The walkway in front of the seats of the row was narrow, and there was no buffer whatsoever – very easy to lose balance and hurt more than just the tumbling self.

Pre-show view from our seats

The lights went down, and the band made their way onto the stage. From the get-go, they had me captured. The screens on either side of the stage and behind the band of course started with the artwork from Alex Grey – the phenomenal artist they are closely tied to. Most of their album covers feature his art, and it always pops up during their shows. Much of his artwork goes hand-in-hand with the concepts that Tool’s messages portray – connection with the Universe, higher consciousness and so on.

Tool’s album, Lateralus, featuring Alex Grey’s artwork

I won’t lie, I was more captivated by the visuals that I was the music. I couldn’t hear singer Maynard very well, though what song was playing was always very clear. Along with many of the other people I spoke to, I found myself completely zoning out through the show, sucked into the intense visuals from the screens and lasers – yes, did I mention there were lasers? At one point the lasers portrayed a river as Tool played Intention off the 10,000 days album.

When I had seen them previously, during their last album release tour (2006, I think it was), I was surprised at how short their set seemed to be – especially since I had paid $66.66 for the ticket! However, this event was far more than their previous shows, so much so that there was even an intermission.

Upon returning, the drummer, Danny Carey, was highlighted with a drum solo, portraying various aspects of Sacred Geometry – something he is well known for. As he drummed, images of different Sac Geo were portrayed directly behind him.

Not one song was played off their album, Opiate, which is debated to be their best album. (I personally disagree, simply because the aspect of Tool I love is not their metal aspect, but their spiritual aspect. Opiate is their angry album.) On the drive over, my friend was telling me about how Tool said they didn’t like Spokane due to their Lateralus release tour. Many of the fans were upset with Tool because they were initially known as an angry metal band, and then they came out with a whole new direction – embracing experiences while you can, enhancing yourself and your consciousness.

With this tid-bit in mind, I thought it was interesting that not one song was played from their “angry” albums – with the exception of a couple songs from AEnima, though they were more about the next stage of evolution (46 and 2) and new beginnings (AEnima – “Time to bring it down again. Don’t just call me pessimist. Try and read between the lines.”)

The show wrapped up with a flashing copious distraction of laser beams and – glitter bombs, of all things! While there was no encour, I personally was satisfied. As the lights on stage came up enough for each of them to take a bow, and the band to throw their pics and drum sticks into the crowd, I just smiled, in complete gratification of the stress leading up to the show, of being present for this display.

Working with video production, I have seen a great many shows. The last couple years I have seen Thrill Kill Kult, Slipknot, KMFDM, Korn, Rob Zombie, Kimya Dawson, Arlo Guthrie, Beats Antique, The Presidents, EOTO, Bassnectar, Pendulum – and none have compared to the show I saw on Tuesday night.

Tool has been such a huge part of my adult life, has been the encouragement through my metaphysical studies, the singing mantras in the back of my mind as I struggle through meditation exercises. As I have already said before, they are such a hugely spiritual experience, and where as many people that are not into “metal” might not appreciate their music style, it is worth it to everyone to hear the messages they have in their music.

This body holding me reminds me of my own mortality
Embrace this moment. Remember. we are eternal.
all this pain is an illusion