With plodding precision, the dull monster of boredom creeps up behind you as you sit listlessly at your desk. Probing an icy tentacle toward your shoulder you become aware of its presence just prior to the fateful moment when you realize your existential predicament. You are bored. Disenchantment has grabbed you by the short and curlies and now schoolwork feels like the lamest thing you can imagine yourself doing.
Daily life draws us away from our studies by making the mundane seem magical compared to the hard labour of mental exertion. Dishes beckon, invitingly. Shovelling dog poop seems a noble duty. And hey, when’s not a fun time for a little retail therapy? Anything’s attractive other than throwing our whole being into our studies. Our list of chores suggestively wavers like a windsock in your minds eye; we need you, the tasks seem to say. And hobbies, well, they trumpet triumphant possibilities from rooftops all across the homeland of our spotty, procrastinating, mind.
Slothful tendencies lead us astray, for sure. As adult pupils there’s lots of other facts of life that need attention, it’s not all study or video games as it may have been in days of yore. Tasks that are useful and fulfilling and sacred in their own right—housework that leaves us beaming as adults who made good, domestic work no different than those of any other adult—don’t help us much in our studies. During such a torpor a flourish from Oscar Wilde may assist: “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation” (online). (Er, well, this time maybe a quote helps!) The key to embracing inspired academic creativity lies in rediscovering our unique capacity to produce something new. Everyone has to shovel their snow, but not everyone has to organize their thoughts into a university essay. The key is to sit and study long enough that we can translate our unique minds into something academically useful.
Motivational Wheels A-Turnin’
Athabasca is not, let it be said, for simps and whiners. Distance education is tougher than outsiders think. To carry our education to its climax we have to buckle down time and time again, registering scales of fortitude normally reserved for brave Navy seals, cartoon trained seals, and Red Seal chefs whose legions of hours of meritorious service have warranted them to at last take a final exam and get their papers. We deserve our papers at AU too, each and every one of us. But if just deserts by divine right were core to learning outcomes, we’d all just sign on the dotted line and have a diploma mailed our way. Like buying a square foot of Scottish terrain and calling ourselves noble or purchasing a section of moonscape to satisfy our frontier homesteader impulse.
Although distance education may well have initially presented itself first as an invitation to academic whimsy in the imagined comfort of our stuffed animal classroom of a bedroom, reality bites, sometimes, and without a clamouring cohort to drive us onward, our inspiration may evaporate faster than that witty aphorism we never remember when we need to.
All too often, comfy counterpane meets the pain in the tailbone of hours of Literal Effin Studying (LES, if you will). Let’s be honest, reality is never a picnic when intentions for the future meet actions in the present. AU at the enrolment stage is first easy and dreamy, like falling in love with a silky fabric on some velvet morning in your lover’s bedroom, and then trying and difficult when more mundane actualities of money and priorities enter the frame. Later, almost imperceptibly, hard facts accumulate in our film noir realm where we’re private dicks waiting for cases in our own office. It’s then that the black and white truths of what we signed up for become clear: we’re facing an enemy larger than we’d ever imagined, the enemy of our own inner motivation—or lack thereof. Unlike love and marriage, AU is a commitment where we can’t talk lovingly into a deeper sense of mutual aid and understanding.
For our study struggles the only way out is through; we’re at once protagonist and antagonist in a private individualized drama. Yet, we can be heroes too. And knowing how to literally induce a sense of spontaneity and whimsy is also a key learning outcome. With the right plan we can actually relish our studies and write some essays worth the due attention of our tutors and their tired eyes. See, if we think we had it tough as pupils we might recall that tutors also have to give marking their best college try and, professionals though they be, this surely isn’t so easy. If we thought it tough to write one essay imagine having to mark a dozen all with similar topics? If we metamorphically mail it in, effort-wise, our assignment will read as tired as a Locals Helping Locals Facebook group’s tirades and tail chasing. And nobody with high academic ideals wants that.
Like talking or writing, our internal realm of the mind may be amenable to some tinkering. Induced inspiration comes down to to priorities. What we need to succeed is some good old fashioned spontaneity. Scientists define the concept as follows: “Spontaneous processes are also called feasible or probable processes. It may be noted clearly that a spontaneous process need not be instantaneous, i.e., capable of taking place at once. Its actual speed may vary from very slow to extremely fast. Thus, spontaneity gives no idea about the time taken to bring about the change” (Pacithra, 2022). Aha, so time is less important to spontaneity than one might think!
Nevertheless, sometimes time is of the essence. When we need, in the worst possible way, to promptly and efficiently accomplish some notes or outlines of generalized academic knowledge, maybe we just have to start something else! Almost without fail, if I embark on a different reading or writing task than the one that needs doing, knowing I will sooner or later swing around to pining for the sedentary comfort of mind a-spinning around that course material, I do eventually get the spontaneous inspiration required. Distraction from the task at hand, while still getting the mind in reading and writing gear, can be just the ticket to focusing on my studies for real when the time comes.
Being our own task masters means that, when the moment is right, we can get our scholastic rear in gear, drop what we’re doing, and get the mill of our mind a working. Whereas Marx famously said that the hand mill, run by wind or out of natural fairy juice created by the gurgling motion of a babbling brook, gives us the Feudalist, the steam mill with its speed and bravado gives of the Capitalist. See, to capitalize on our better impulses we just have to get a train, any train, rolling onto the tracks. Productivity can be as simple as sharpening pencils or writing down a list of imagined vacation destinations when our ship comes in. Just be there at the desk and, as the phrase goes, look busy!
So next time you’re stuck and stymied, get off that treadmill and onto another until your mind decides it wants what it doesn’t have. But stay at your desk (oh, and off of social media while studying!), no matter how the octopus of distractions implores you. Spontaneity can safely be left to itself if we give it time to develop—and have our butts in situ.