The Fly on the Wall – Students of the World, Relax!

At AU we have all felt a lingering shadow of dread as a deadline approaches. Maybe we’ve squandered spare time we could have used to apply ourselves; perhaps life just got in the way. It’s as though we’ve revelled amidst plenty only to realize that our privilege can be crushed at any moment. Yet we must overcome the existential tension that deadlines have wrought. We may feel that the Sword of Damocles hangs over our head.

Damocles was a Roman who approached the emperor Cicero intending to educate him on the great fortune and wealth. In response, Cicero decide to give him a taste of the perils of power. He situated Damocles amidst a bountiful table of delights, where the latter cast his gaze about until he noticed a glistening sword dangling above his head. Historically the allegory of the Sword of Damocles came to symbolize an abiding sense of foreboding, an awful realization that at any moment the game could all be over. Like emperors of our educational dominion, we AU students have the privilege of making our own study schedules and proceeding at a pace of our choosing. Yet we also carry the burden of responsibility in that we have only ourselves to blame if we lack the willpower to stick to our plans.

Cicero was terrified of assassination, much as we distance students may fear failure. At AU we know that we have to work hard and not get behind if we are to succeed with the privilege of setting our own timelines. As the inviting spring sunshine implores us to cast aside our (e)textbooks we strive to find that stereotypical concept: balance. Sometimes we just have to take a breath and pause.

Sometimes a moment of thought is worth an hour of action. John Lubbock, a Victorian-era naturalist and banker summarized the value of a time out with his meme-worthy phrase: “Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time” (Lubbock, online). When coursework feels too much like work that may be a cue to take a load off and allow the mind and body to wander. Personally, I prefer nature walks or reading Philosophy Now magazine, but playing with nieces and nephews or conversing with friends works fine too. So does lying on a warm green lawn. A study break is about allowing ourselves to just be what we feel like being so that when we drop our noses back to ye ol grindstone we feel a renewed vigour.

Repose allows us to reflect on how we learn so that we may tailor methods to suit our desires. A series of academic success tips from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay include the telling question “do you only study when You’re in the mood?” (Pauk, online). As we know at AU, the mood may easily be put off when a deadline lurks. I find that sometimes draining the swamp of responsibilities might translate into suddenly feeling passionate about draining the sink of soaking dishes so as to assiduously wash them. Anything other than what academically remains to be done seems like a great idea.

It helps to remember that success as distance students is a marathon rather than a sprint. “All rising to a great place is by a winding stair” wrote Francis Bacon (Bacon qtd by Lubbock, online). In this sense even the small things, including breaks for snacks or TV, are part of the process of success. Even a private pep talk can help. After all, aren’t we at AU all destined for brilliance? Of course we are! When we graduate (or successfully complete even a single course on our journey of self-improvement) we don’t just forge our destiny. We also acquire something that no one can ever take away from us. As with the majestic skills of tradesmen, no life calamity can spirit away the knowledge our education has allowed us to glean in our future travels. Lubbock notes that a student who “leaves school knowing much but hating his lessons will soon have forgotten almost all he ever learned; while another who had acquired a thirst for knowledge, even if he had learned little, would soon teach himself more” (Lubbock).

AU is special because we are the pilots of our progress; we are here because we care. Our desire for learning propels us forward. With that impulse comes the huge responsibility to stay on course. This weight can be a virtue. It’s not just that we gain the time we’d have spent commuting to school, we happily miss out on the excessive egos of professors and the drudgery of outdated learning styles. Lubbock claimed that, for too many students, education is “placed before them in a form so irksome and fatiguing that all desire for information is choked, even crushed out…our schools, in fact, become places for the discouragement of learning, and thus produce the very opposite effect from that at which they aim” (Lubbock, online). Elsewhere he dryly noted that “in too many cases it is odious to the young” (Lubbock, online). Happily, we at AU are limited only by deadlines rather than being bedevilled by brick and mortar constraints like arriving in class on time or participating in extracurricular activities that our peers pressure us into. We may miss out on academic socialization, but that is what the internet and local public lectures are for. In the end, we are free to engage in what Lubbock claimed ought to be a prime goal of education: “We should therefore endeavour to educate our children so that every country walk may be a pleasure” (Lubbock, online). Society and nature become part of our classroom instead of external to it.

Once we’ve taken given ourselves a break the advantages of distance education ought to become clearer. Being in class without a classroom allows us to apply our studies to life all the time, to read ourselves into the world in new ways. Lubbock gives an example of this based on his abhorrence for learning grammar by rote: “though a linguist should pride himself to have all the tongues of Babel cleft the world into, yet, if he have not studied the solid things in them as well as the words and lexicons, he were nothing so much to be esteemed a learned man as any yeoman or tradesman competently wise in his mother dialect only” (Lubbock, online). Our education brings us the solid themes of meaning rather than the fleeting facts of phonics. We may feel that we’re in Damocles? sandals, yet, if we relax and take time out, we may bring added enjoyment to our educational repast.

Andrews, E. (2016). What was the sword of Damocles? Ask History. Retrieved from, J. (1894). The Pleasures of Life. London: Altemus Retrieved from, W. (1984). qtd by McWhorter K. T. (1988). Study and Thinking Skills in College.Glenview, Illinois: Scott Foresman/Little Brown College Division. Retrieved from

Jason Hazel-rah Sullivan is a Masters of Integrated Studies student who loves engaging in discourse while working in the sunny orchards and forests of the Okanagan.