Posted on September 19, 2021
The time has come to sum up the final semester of my Masters. I am done. That’s sort of unbelievable. Given everything that’s happened since I started the course in September 2019, the end of the Masters always felt so far away and although I have lots of plans, I do feel a bit lost now that all of the work is done. Maybe it’s because I haven’t received my final grade or because I haven’t actually graduated yet; maybe once those things happen, the experience will feel a bit more… finished. It was always going to be weird – I’ve been going to this uni on and off for the last seven years – but knowing something and actually feeling it are so different.
So, here is my final semester review.
The final semester of my Masters course involves a largely independent project called the Major Repertoire Project and as long as you’re developing your songwriting skills and knowledge in some way, you can pretty much do whatever you want. People have done projects exploring identity, exploring their heritage, writing song cycles or musicals, digging deeper into their own songwriting and pursuing an artist project like an album, experimenting with newer applications of songwriting (such as in various therapies), and so on. It’s a fascinating module because everyone ends up doing something so different and so interesting. And after a spending a year or two focussing on their craft, the songwriting is so incredible; the final works that I’ve heard are amazing. It would probably take a month but I would happily listen through everyone’s projects.
For my project, I chose to explore my experiences as an autistic woman through songwriting, attempting to translate those experiences both through the lyrics and storytelling and the execution of the song, from the structure to the arrangement to the production and so on. I wanted to write songs that autistic individuals would hopefully relate to and that neurotypical individuals would hopefully gain some insight from. But while the overall goal was to create a body of work, a large part of the project involved researching our chosen area – Autism, in my case – responding to the research (sometimes that was through practice and sometimes it inspired specific songs), and reflecting on my songwriting process and how it was evolving during the project.
The module officially began in the second week of May but I’d already started working on it: I’ve been thinking about this project ever since I applied for the Masters so I was super excited to finally start doing it. But I’d barely begun when I started getting debilitating migraines that lasted for days at a time and resulted in several ambulance visits because the pain was so bad. We eventually traced the source back to one of my teeth: the emergency dentist thought the nerve was dying and diagnosed an abscess. I was top priority for an extraction and given antibiotics (which I had to have a second round of when it flared up again midway through the semester). Fortunately my university granted me an extension – giving me back the time that I’d lost – but it was a flexible extension in case I suddenly got pulled in to have the tooth taken out and needed some recovery time. Due to the long waiting list (and bear in mind that this was the waiting list for emergencies), I still haven’t had the tooth taken out and while the antibiotics and some good painkillers have prevented any more similar episodes, I’ve still been dealing with some tooth pain and migraines. So that hasn’t been ideal.
We only had four classes over the semester but since everyone was researching something different, they weren’t exactly classes. They were more group discussions where we’d talk about how our research and writing was going, whether we were struggling in a particular area, what we could do if we felt like we weren’t fulfilling one or more of the overall objectives, and so on. We had individual supervisors for the more specific guidance and problems whereas this was more general and we were able to share with each other what we’d found helpful, etc. These classes were online but we were finally able to come into the building. With most of the other courses finished for the summer, it was pretty empty and I felt safe there; you had to test negative just to get in the building and with no one around (pre-COVID, it could be a bit of a crush at times), my pandemic anxiety was a lot lower than it usually is when I’m out in the world. Being there after so much time and getting to see some of my friends again made me positively giddy! And there were some friends that I was actually meeting in person for the first time, which was just wonderful! I’m really going to miss it; I mean, I’ll pop in now and then for events and stuff but I’m really going to miss it being part of my day-to-day, week-to-week life.
Anyway. My supervisor was truly awesome. We had fortnightly and then weekly sessions and she was fantastic, not only with the academic stuff but with helping me to manage my anxiety, the things that tripped up my neurodivergent brain, and so on. And while we worked together well, we also had a lot of fun: we went on some epic tangents and there were multiple conversations that we had to mentally bookmark for later in order to actually get our work done. We got on really well and our sessions were always fun and thought-provoking, as well as helpful. I hope that this isn’t the last time we get to work together.
I obviously know a lot about Autism already so, after finding sources for that information, I started writing songs about my experiences and researching Autism further. Having the foundation of knowledge that I did, I think allowed me to research both more deeply and down different avenues since I didn’t have to spend so much time on the basic knowledge. And some of that research, from academic papers to anecdotal stories to art made by autistic individuals, sparked some really interesting song ideas (for example, I ended up writing a love song after watching Love on the Spectrum, which I found both upsetting and deeply depressing as an autistic person).
I don’t want to give too much away about the songs because I hope to release them but, over the semester, I wrote eighteen songs with a handful more that still need finishing. For the most part, I wrote alone – first because it was more convenient and then because I felt like my experiences were conveyed with more clarity that way – but I did work with a few different people, when I was struggling with a concept for example. I wrote with a couple of my friends – Richard and Luce (known as LUCE) – but I also wrote with new people that I’ve met during my time on the Masters – Luke (known as leadmetoland), Phill Vidler, and Katherine Moynihan – which was fun and exciting. It was nice to do both: I love cowriting and the back and forth of ideas but doing so much writing by myself really restored my confidence; I’ve spent so much time cowriting over the last two years and really not that much solo writing so I was nervous when I started to write alone again but after a while, it started to feel really good and that was really exciting.
But while I didn’t manage to write with Richard as much as I’d originally hoped to, we had many production sessions, mostly over Zoom. While I’d never considered the production unimportant, the project evolved to a place where the production was just as key to the representation of my autistic experiences and the emotions attached to them as the lyrics conveying the story or message. So the two of us spent a lot of time working on every little detail. While I’ve always been involved in the production choices of my songs, I’ve also always been aware that Richard knows a hell of alot more than me so I was happy to defer to his judgement. But with this project, for the first time really, I was taking the lead on production decisions – on occasion, I had the whole arrangement and production planned out before the session. But I felt more like a producer than I ever have: I was coming up with ideas that actually worked from idea to execution; I was able to pick out specific instrument, arrangement, and effect details in a way I haven’t been able to do up to now; and so on. Along with the songs themselves, that’s something I’d really proud of. I really feel like I grew as a musician and as a producer.
I absolutely loved working on my project. To be researching and writing songs about something I’m so passionate about was just so creatively invigorating. That’s not to say it wasn’t hard though. There were, of course, periods of doubt, insecurity, and anxiety over the academic elements and whether I’d be able to do as good a job as I desperately wanted to. Plus, some of the experiences I was digging into were pretty raw and writing those songs did get difficult, especially since I was suddenly doing the project without the support of my therapist, something I’d put in place to help me manage that. But apart from one bad bout of depression, my mental health was – somehow – reasonably stable (apart from my day-to-day, ongoing anxiety). As I said in my previous post, I think it was the constant creating (and creating things that I’m really proud of) that did it, that kept everything on a reasonably even keel.
Having said that, my chronic pain was almost constant, worse than it’s ever been. There were periods where my knee, for example, was so painful that I could barely walk and my back so painful that I could barely move. My Mum (once a massage therapist) said that it felt like I was storing rocks in my muscles. It certainly felt like they were made of concrete. Maybe it was my anxiety around the project, I don’t know, but the pain was keeping me up at night. I also struggled on and off with my hands and wrists, presumably from all of the typing, piano, and guitar playing I was doing. God, my various health issues are like freaking buses sometimes. I’m still waiting for physiotherapy and hydrotherapy, have been for months. I’ve just started with the Pain Clinic but one appointment was never going to change anything before the Masters ended. So all I had were various painkillers that were only sporadically helpful.
But my biggest ongoing obstacle was my difficulty concentrating, which I’m assuming is due to my (still untreated) ADHD. Staying focussed on my work was very difficult; I exhausted all of my energy trying. It felt like my concentration was so delicate that the smallest distraction would shatter it and then there was no way to know when it would come back; I felt like I was clinging onto it by my fingertips. So I couldn’t stop (really not healthy, I know). I couldn’t waste a second of it. That was super stressful and I often ended up sitting at my computer for hours and hours; there were multiple fourteen hour days, some successful, some not. People kept telling me to at least take a day off now and then but I just couldn’t. I was too scared of losing my concentration when my hold on it felt so tenuous.
During the semester, I also had a few other commitments; it was awkward timing but they were all great opportunities:
In the last month, my approach reached a new level of intensity. I was working constantly, quickly when my concentration was good and agonisingly slowly when it was bad. But I didn’t stop. I even worked while I ate. I know that’s not a healthy way of doing things but I was just so terrified of getting a grade I wasn’t happy with, that made me feel like I was letting everyone down, myself included. If I wasn’t working, I felt guilty so I just kept working.
Finally it came time to try and distill all my work down to the most important points for the final presentation. My god, that was hard. Months of research, almost twenty songs, and a lot of reflection on my creative process all into an hour… Or, as I said, the most important points. But figuring what those important points were was a real struggle. Throughout the whole Masters, I felt like the module objectives were designed to trip me up – not me specifically, of course, but anyone reading them. Reading them felt like trying to interpret another language that you barely understand so I felt like I was just waiting to discover that I had it all wrong. Maybe it was my autistic brain, I don’t know. My supervisor was great regarding this anxiety but two years of feeling that way made it a hard feeling to exorcise. So I just did what I know how to do and worked through it, hoping it would be enough. And on the 6th September, I had my final assessment. Two tutors watched my presentation and then, after a brief discussion, they asked me a couple of questions, both of which were pretty straightforward to answer. And that was it. The project and the semester was over.
According to the usual rules, the results will be released in twenty working days, although I don’t know if that will apply given that my assessment was so much later than everyone else’s and they all received their results the day after I presented. So I’m just waiting to hear. I’m trying not to stress about my grade but, as I said in my previous post, I’m finding it hard. I’ve been working relentlessly – with so many obstacles to navigate – and the idea that that still wasn’t enough to get the Distinction I want so badly does upset me. I mean, I’d get over it in time but, yeah, it would be distressing. I just really hate the idea of thinking, “I could’ve gotten a distinction if I wasn’t autistic or had ADHD, etc.” I know that that’s not a healthy way to think but the standards and expectations I have for myself are somewhat warped, something that I think is due to the late ASD diagnosis and the clash between twenty-ish years with neurotypical standards and then having to adjust those expectations in accordance with what I now know is a neurodivergent brain. It’s a mess basically. But I’m waiting for the results – they should be out on the 6th October – and hoping desperately that it went as well as I hope it did.
While the ‘project-for-assessment’ is over, I definitely want to keep working on the songs, write some more on various elements of my autistic experience that I just didn’t manage in the timeframe, and then, hopefully, release it in some form. That’s the dream. I’m so proud of so many of these songs and I really, really want people to hear them and hopefully find strength or comfort in them. We’ll have to see because these projects are just so expensive to put together, from the production work to making music videos to all of the marketing.
And while this is a topic for another post, it should be acknowledged that the semester ended on a very sad note. I found out the morning after my presentation that my Granny had died. Between that news and an intense semester’s worth of work and my brain is just at overload. I can’t tell if I’m not feeling anything or feeling everything. I don’t really want to get too deeply into all of this, partly because I’m not ready and partly because, if only on my blog, I want to keep this semester and this project separate. I really just wanted to mention it in the context of all the emotions I’m dealing (or maybe not dealing) with right now.
So that was the final semester. But there’s still a couple more chapters in this story, so to speak. Graduation will hopefully go ahead as planned – in person – in November and then who knows? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
My apologies if this post is a bit all over the place: everything’s really hitting me and I’m just exhausted but I wanted to get this out while it’s still fresh.
Category: adhd, anxiety, autism, covid-19 pandemic, death, emotions, family, heds, meltdowns, mental health, music, research, sleep, therapy, university, writing Tagged: adhd, adhd inattentive type, anxiety, anxiety disorder, asd, assessment, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, autism awareness, autism in women, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, autistic adult, autistic student, chronic pain, classes, collaboration, concentration, conference, coproducer, covid test, covid-19, cowriting, deadline, death, dentist, depression, ehlers danlos syndrome, emotions, exhaustion, extenuating circumstances, final assessment, final presentation, final project, focus, friend, friends, gad, generalised anxiety disorder, grades, graduate, graduation, grandmother, grandparent, granny, grief, heds, hydrotherapy, hydrotherapy referral, hypermobile ehlers danlos syndrome, inattentive type, loss, major repertoire project, masters, masters degree, masters degree in songwriting, masters degree year two, masters part time, mental health, mental illness, migraine, migraines, musicology, musicology conference, neurodivergent, neurodiversity, online classes, pain, pandemic, pandemic 2020, pandemic anxiety, part time masters student, physiotherapy, presentation, producer, production, research, research conference, research project, self worth, singersongwriter, songwriter, songwriting, songwriting competition, songwriting process, songwriting project, special needs dentist, specialist dentist, tooth extraction, tooth pain, trd, treatment resistant depression, university
Posted on May 8, 2021
And that’s another semester, another module done. The time is positively flying by and now there’s only one module left. But, before I move into that one, I wanted to reflect on this last module. The Writer’s Voice has been my favourite module so far (as I thought it would be) and I wrote more songs than I did in any of the others so far. I also think I wrote my best – and favourite – songs.
We were in lockdown when the module started so all classes were online. When lockdown started to lift, universities being one of the first things to open up, some of my uni’s courses started having in person classes but my course didn’t as we could continue to function online while other courses, like the performance or production courses, couldn’t. I have to admit I was relieved: I didn’t feel up to handling a big change, especially after having worked so hard to build a good rhythm with the online classes and writing sessions, and I really didn’t feel confident about commuting to London, meaning I probably would’ve stayed in online classes while many of my friends would’ve been onsite. I would’ve barely seen them. I really felt for everyone struggling with online learning (and that’s not to say I love it) but I was really grateful not to have to make a big adjustment in the middle of the semester. So we stayed online.
It was a really great semester and I’m really sad that it’s over – I’m not sure I can do it justice in a simple blog post – even if I’m really excited for what’s next.
We spent the twelve-week module looking at various different techniques related to lyric writing, from song maps and types of rhyme to sensory imagery and ekphrasis. Some of it was difficult, some of it was easy; all of it was an exciting challenge. The first half of the semester was focussed on the more technical, structural side of things, what my tutor (who is just awesome) called ‘thought architecture.’ And then the second half of the semester was focussed on the content of the lyrics and how that content is expressed. We had lectures on the techniques and then we’d get a week to write a song using that technique. I loved it: lyrics have always been my favourite part of songwriting and I’d been looking forward to it since I began the Master’s.
While the lecture group was big, my workshop group was small, made up of just the Part Time Second Years; there were about ten of us and they are all really, really lovely, thoughtful, creative people. I’ve had some great groups throughout this course but this one has felt extra special (although my first group was super special too). I feel like we were a really close-knit group: we shared a lot of stuff, both through our discussions and our songs, and we all cowrote extensively together in various combinations. I actually wrote with everyone in the group, an unintentional achievement that I’m quite proud of.
I think my favourite thing about this module was that the whole point of it was ‘learn things and then write as many songs as possible, learn more things and then write as many songs as possible, and so on, and so on.’ To a degree that’s what most of the other modules wanted you to do too but something felt different about this module; maybe it was because we were focussed on lyrics and that’s my favourite part, maybe it’s because of how much we’ve learned since starting the course and getting to this module, maybe it was because I was in a much better place mentally than I had been in a long time, despite everything going on outside of uni stuff… I don’t know. But something felt different. I was invigorated by the challenge of writing, of just writing all the time. It was awesome. It was so much fun. And I wrote so many songs that I’m so, so proud of:
And that doesn’t include the songs I wrote with others for their projects (I wouldn’t want to give anything away if they decide to release those songs). I love cowriting and I did so much of it this semester, sometimes four in a week, although I admit that that was stupid and completely draining. But it was just so fun and I loved every second of it, even when my brain was exhausted and moving slower than a snail. I loved learning their songwriting languages – each one different, of course – and I loved the challenge trying create the perfect song for them (and I still love both of these things, obviously). I made some really great creative relationships and some really great friends (or strengthened existing friendships) and that’s been the other wonderful thing about this module. These people are just so wonderful and I love writing with them and I sincerely hope that that continues for a long time.
The assessment for this module was a portfolio of four songs and an analysis of some of the techniques used. The song choice was pretty straightforward (at least it felt straightforward – I guess we’ll find out when the grades come out) but the analysis was harder. With the Masters in general, it’s felt harder to understand what they want from us, especially in the written work. I don’t know if that’s just part of Master’s level work or whether the difficulty is something to do with me and my Autism or ADHD. Either way, the constant uncertainty is exhausting. And even explained to me, I’ve still rarely felt confident about what I need to do to get a good grade. So assessment time is always a stressful time. But I worked hard and got through it with the support of my tutor and my friends and my Mum and now all that’s left is waiting for the results.
I also had some really exciting and fun opportunities come up during this module. They’re not over just because the module is but it would be remiss not to at least mention them when talking about the module. First of all I was chosen to be part of the judging panel for a songwriting competition, which has definitely been an experience and a half so far. I’ve learned a lot and, for the most part, it’s been really interesting and really fun.
The other exciting opportunity is a more academic one. There’s going to be a musicology conference in July focussed on starting to build a body of research on Taylor Swift as she’s such a phenomenon (in music, in pop culture, in business, etc) and there is very little research so far. We were invited to attend this (online) conference but also invited to submit research proposals, which, if accepted, meant speaking at the conference. As a major Taylor Swift fan, this seemed like a dream. So I got to work, wrote a proposal, and submitted it. And a few weeks later, I found out it was accepted so I will be speaking about Taylor Swift at an academic conference! I’m so excited, even if the idea of presenting alongside established and accomplished academics is more than a bit nerve-wracking.
Despite all of the changes going on in my life over the last three-ish months (managing my mental health, managing my chronic fatigue and pain, getting the ADHD and hEDS diagnoses, and just coping with all the stress of the pandemic), this is the most I’ve felt like myself in months – in over a year, I think. All the writing has been really good for my mental health and I feel like that and the classes were a very stable thing in my life, like a rock to cling onto in a really wild ocean. Somehow, everything about this module was exactly what I needed exactly when I needed it (apart from a few mishaps here and there). I learned so much and had so much fun; it was really good for my soul after a really hard year so I’m really grateful for these last three months.
Category: about me, adhd, anxiety, autism, covid-19 pandemic, diagnosis, heds, mental health, music, university Tagged: conference, coronavirus, covid-19, cowriting, friends, icmp, lockdown, lockdown 3.0, lyric writing, masters, masters degree, masters degree in songwriting, masters degree year two, masters part time, musicology conference, online classes, online learning, online university, pandemic, pandemic 2020, part time masters student, songwriter, songwriting, songwriting competition, songwriting techniques, taylor swift conference, the institute of contemporary music performance, university
Posted on April 24, 2021
So, on the 4th January, England went into another national lockdown and this list was once again revived. This one felt much more like the first lockdown than the second, where many schools, businesses, etc were still open. When schools and universities started to open, my course remained online (it was one of the courses that could function solely online and meant less people going back to the uni) so lockdown continued for me. My life has only just started to involve going out again – swimming, getting a haircut, (safely) seeing a few people – and that’s why I’ve kept this list going as long as I have…
As I said in the last part of this list, hopefully there won’t be reason to continue this post; hopefully there won’t be any more lockdowns. But I guess only time will tell. I’ve found it strangely comforting to keep this list; it’s kind of like a time capsule for these strange periods of time, if that makes sense.
I hope you’re all keeping safe and well and I’ll see you in the next post.
Category: adhd, autism, covid-19 pandemic, death, diagnosis, heds, medication, meltdowns, mental health, music, tips, trichotillomania, university, video, writing Tagged: a&e, about-face, absentia, acoustic ep, acoustic sessions, adhd, adhd diagnosis, adhd medication, ancestry, ancestrydna, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ava, betsy lane, birthday, blood & water, cat family, christmas present, chronic fatigue service, chyler leigh, collaboration, coronavirus, covid test, covid vaccination, covid vaccine, covid-19, cowriter, cowriting, cowriting session, creating the queen's gambit, criminal minds, dare me, dbt, dialectical behaviour therapy, ecg, escape from pretoria, evermore, family history, fawm, fawm 2021, fearless (taylor's version), february album writing month, film, films, folklore, friends, grammys 2021, grey's anatomy, grief, grief anniversary, haircut, halsey, heds, honest ep, honest ep (sunburst sessions), hospital, how it ends, how to train your dragon, hypermobile ehlers danlos syndrome, hypermobility, inattentive type, interview, kalie shorr, lexie grey, lockdown, lockdown 2021, lockdown 3.0, luce, masters, masters degree, masters degree in songwriting, masters degree year two, masters part time, medical trauma, medication, meltdown, migraine, movies, my cat, my cats, my dog, natalie hemby, new amsterdam, new music, new music release, new music uk, new single, nicola walker, occupational therapy, online concert, part time masters student, peppermint, politics, put it in a postcard, remote writing session, research conference, rheumatologist, rheumatology follow up, richard marc, social distancing, songwriter, songwriting, songwriting competition, sunburst sessions, taking lives, taylor swift, the bay, the dig, the one, the one netflix, the queen's gambit, the shires, the wilds, therapy, tim minchin, tiny pretty things, travis meadows, trich, trichotillomania, triggered, tv show, unforgotten, university, us politics, world autism awareness week, world autism awareness week 2021
Hi! I’m Lauren Alex Hooper. Welcome to my little blog! I write about living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD (Inattentive Type), and Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), as well as several mental health issues.
I’m a singer-songwriter (it’s my biggest special interest and I have both a BA and MA in songwriting) so I’ll probably write a bit about that too.
My first single, ‘Invisible,’ is on all platforms, with all proceeds going to Young Minds.
My debut EP, Honest, is available on all platforms, with a limited physical run at Resident Music in Brighton.
I’m currently working on an album about my experiences as an autistic woman.