Sunday, 7 June 2009

Am so...feeling the pressure

On Thursday I had my first shorthand exam. I had been doing the speed tests and was pretty confident. Since finishing my year of Team I have been so focussed. I arrived into the college early and went up to the room where we were to have the exam. There's no other way to put this but I freaked when I saw the tables and chairs lined out in exam fashion. I suddenly realised that it has been almost 20 years since I sat an exam and this awful feeling of impending dread and doom hit me like a rocket. All the optimism and hope that I woke up with that morning evaporated and was replaced by unmitigated terror which showed itself by sudden nausea and stomach cramps. One by one the others arrived for the exam and chose their desks.

At 9am the shorthand lecturer showed up with the NCTJ invigilator who would make sure that there was no cheating going on. We began with an hour of warm up practice at speeds of 100 words per minute. I knew from the number of words I was unable to remember never mind to write down that the result of this exam was going to be a forgone conclusion. However much drilling and practice I had done it was nowhere near enough to get this exam. Dammit, it wasn't too long ago that I finally got the main principle of shorthand how on earth was I going to go from this to being fluent enough in shorthand to glide across the page. Glide....mine was more like a series of stop/starts with more stops than starts. We had a break for coffee before the real exam began and sitting there my only thought was how am I going to get through this next couple of hours. The dictation speeds were from 100 down to 60. It was really important to me to get 60 words a minute because it was the only chance I had. The next two chances are for 80 words and above. My biggest worry is that I would have a shake in my hand which tends to happen when I get really nervous.

We started the first exam which was 100 words a minute and I started to take it down. It wasn't long before I was totally and utterly lost. But listening to the passage I realised how easy the words were. I could do all the words what I didn't have was the speed. It was the same with 90. Then came the 80 and I started off very well. Mid-way through I had the thought 'this isn't too bad'....aagh...with this I lost it so that was the end of the 80. I realised that in all my years I have never put myself into a pressurised environment like this. I don't perform well in such environments. I lose focus and concentration. After this I tried the 70 and finally the 60. After this I had pretty much lost the will to live. Then we had to tell the invigilator what speeds we were going to transcribe. I was green with envy when I heard a couple of my colleagues say there were doing the 100 words a minute. This is what I had declared that I wanted to achieve by the end of this course but it wasn't happening that day. When it came to me I declared 80 but deep down I knew that I hadn't a chance but I wanted to look good as most of the people there had said either 80 or 100. Completely inauthentic of me giving all of my training and the moment I declared it I was disgusted with myself.

This self denigration permeated throughout me trying to transcribe the passage at 80 words a minute. At one point I felt tears of frustration well up from behind my eyes at the utter futility of it all. I finally gave it up and when was asked to hand it in declined and asked to do the 60 words a minute piece. I got renewed confidence when I saw that I could actually read this piece much better than I thought and set to transcribing it with an energy and enthusiasm which was new for that morning. Then I had a thought that I would run out of time and rushed it. I printed it off and with a flourish handed it to the invigilator and left. Downstairs I compared my transcript with another who had also done 60 and to my utter dispair saw where I had left out a complete could this have happened. I knew at that moment that getting the 60 was now out of the question. I looked at the joy on the others faces who had done the 100 and 80 and were confident of having passed and I was gripped with the strongest jealousy. But I immediately recognised this as my identity that was showing me that even though I think I am so highly trained in terms of transforming the identity that it is always there.

Instead of being downhearted about this I welcome it because everytime I can be with these kinds of feelings, jealousy, envy at what another has without reacting then it gets weaker. If it doesn't show itself and is not recognised, how can it transform? I was grateful to this feeling because it showed me that I have still such a long way to go in spite of all the training I have done. The lesson and the learning in events like this is not in the event itself but in what it is saying about me and my reaction to things. It was nothing at all to do with the event, the event is just the springboard from which the lesson emerges. Nothing can get transformed if it remains hidden, operating at the level of the sub-conscious. Transformation and ultimately freedom comes when that which is hidden is revealed. As I write this I have just had the thought of the proverb 'know the truth and the truth will set you free'. What is the truth? For me it is nothing else than knowing the machinery which runs me and in that knowing I can be free of it. To know others is to be intelligent but to know myself is to be enlightened.

In the midst of studying for these exams (which by the way I have another shot at the 80 on Friday and so this weekend has been spent burried with my headphones and shorthand notebook. I will let you know the result next weekend) I have also been thinking about the depth of anger around MPs expenses. In the scheme of things when you look at how much money the banking sector has sqandered it's really peanuts. A couple of evenings ago I heard Stephen Fry say something which I am going to repeat and not plagiarise. He was speaking about the depth of anger and he said that when people were told that it was going to be taxpayers money that was going to bail out the banks there wasn't too much of a reaction because the sums involved were too huge. But take for example an expenses bill to do something with a moat (I don't know the exact detail and I haven't time to be a proper journalist and look it up), where people went to with that was 'I could have used that money to benefit my family'. It is the useability of the sums mentioned that is fuelling the anger. The sums mentioned are all sums which every tax payer could have used for his/her own purposes. The 74 million of tax-payers money by virtue of how big doesn't have the same effect.

We live, as the Chinese say in interesting times. First we had the meltdown of the financial sector and now the possible meltdown of consitutional democracy. It is so important to keep one's nerve in the face of this, and also in the face of the mounting number of swine flu cases. Old wine cannot be put into new bottles. The anger that is coming out in many people has to come out in order to make space for something new and in this is to be welcomed. What there is for people to do is to recognise the anger and take responsibility for it without acting on it. To act and join extremist parties would be to completely defeat the purpose of the process that is going on. The lesson here is to recognise the anger, accept that it is there, don't project it out to anyone or anything and see it as the next stage in the evolution of human consciousness.

I am much freer writing now and expressing my views because we had a speaker who came to speak to us about being sued and she said that 'men of straw' don't usually get sued, it is bigger fish. Because of my inability to grasp anything than what is unambiguous (augurs well for journalism that relies on journalists being able to read into a nod and a wink!) I looked completely baffled until she said 'people who have no money' and I immediately felt this wave of relief because I don't have a bean if I was to be sued, so for me at this moment in time being brassic is no bad thing!

Until the next thrilling installment next week I will sign off by stating again the importance of observing and staying calm and steady...

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