Recommended Reading: Stephen King

Killer clowns, vicious vampires, deranged dogs, murderous monsters and psychotic stalkers. These are the characters we associate with Stephen King. And, fair enough. He is, after all, the King of horror.
To paint all of his work with this blood-covered brush is something only the uninitiated do. In doing so you miss coming-of-age stories, the underdogs-seeking-redemption tales, the hard-boiled-detective books, and the historical-fiction-cum-time-travel novel.
The recent release of IT means that King is in our collective thoughts again. If I’m being honest about the film, I thought it was underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the casting – each actor/character felt like they truly belonged in that world – and the
cinematography was excellent; I just wasn’t scared.
Fortunately, IT was never one of my favourite King tales so it didn’t ruin anything for me. Likewise, I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that he doesn’t often translate well to the big screen anyway. Note that I said ‘often’ – there are some major exceptions.
Anyway, for anyone who has a new-found interest in reading King’s books (whether that interest stems from watching IT or 2016’s 11.22.63 Hulu series, or from somewhere else) it can be quite daunting choosing where to start. A prolific writer, Stephen King has written 56 novels, 5 non-fiction books and nearly 200 short stories collected in 10 anthologies. And it’s all connected…
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I’m a huge fan of his work and his books dominate my bookshelf but I’m not going to pretend I’ve read all that King has produced. If that information taints this recommendation then so be it, but here’s my 13 favourite Stephen King books (not in order because that proved too difficult).
The Green Mile
I can actually remember when this came out. It was the year I turned 16 and the novel was released in six parts; one small book a month for six months. The Green Mile was also turned into a successful film and is one of those tales people can’t believe was written by Stephen King. It’s most memorable character is a giant black man on death row who shows incredible empathy and the ability to inexplicably heal people (and a mouse).
‘Salem’s Lot
A vampire older than Christ relocates to a rural American town and begins turning everyone into bloodsucking monsters. Stephen King has said in a couple of interviews that this is his favourite book. At one point he was planning a full-blown sequel but that never eventuated. Instead, he simply returned to that setting in two of the short stories collected in Night Shift.
The Shining
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Redrum. Redrum.
The story of an alcoholic writer who ‘house sits’ a haunted hotel with his wife and telepathic son. This is the first book that actually gave me the heebie-jeebies. The woman in room 237 was particularly freaky.
King actually wrote a sequel called Doctor Sleep which didn’t hit the same heights but was still very entertaining.
The Stand
This! 823 pages of good vs evil. Apparently the original manuscript was so big that the printing presses of the time literally couldn’t handle it so King had to cull it. He later released an ‘uncut’ version that came in at 1152 pages. It is an epic in every sense of the word.
Different Seasons
If you don’t like horror, this is the King book for you. Well, half of it is. This isn’t a novel but 4 novellas. Two of these have been converted into films regularly listed among people’s favourites – The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me. One of the remaining two is Apt Pupil which is a disturbingly realistic story of a teenage boy who finds a Nazi war criminal in his neighbourhood. The final story is bat-shit crazy and features a pregnant woman who is involved in a car crash while in labour.
Needful Things
If you ask me what my favourite Stephen King book is, this is your answer. Then I think about it and change my mind about a half a dozen times. More often than not, I still come back to Needful Things. The premise is quite simple; an elderly shop owner sells goods for misdeeds… and their souls. It’s the last novel set in Castle Rock.
The Dark Half
I don’t like birds and “the sparrows are flying again”. This novel features an author who is haunted by the pen-name he tried to kill off (but it doesn’t want to stay dead). I was freaked out by this book when I first read it. It probably didn’t help that I used to live in a house surrounded by a national forest and often found myself to be the only one at home – it’s actually really surprising that horror is a genre I love, I was constantly creeping myself out while growing up.
On Writing
Part autobiography, part how-to book. I love this candid look at King’s life and craft.
Misery
Yet another Stephen King novel where the protagonist is an author. It often feels like King puts himself into his books and this makes it seem like the nightmares are all his. Here an obsessive fan helps her favourite author recover after a car crash until her obsession takes a dark turn. Kathy Bates won an Oscar for her portrayal of the psychotic nurse.
The Talisman
This is one of many collaborations Stephen King has worked on, this one with Peter Straub. Set in America and an alternate dimension, this is the story of a young boy who wants to cure his mum’s cancer.
Everything’s Eventual
I struggled to pick a short story collection to fit in this list and Everything’s Eventual narrowly beat out the other anthologies. These are probably a great place to start as they allow a glimpse into King’s work in accessible bite-sized chunks. The titular story is excellent, so is “The Road Virus Heads North”. “1408” was turned into a decent film and “The Man in the Black Suit” was also a riveting tale (about a boy who meets the Devil).
Danse Macabre
This is the first non-fiction book of King’s that I ever read. It’s a history of horror, an appreciation of the genre, and a blend of academic insight and personal reflection. It’s a fantastic read.
Cycle of the Werewolf
This illustrated short novel tells of werewolf attacks in a small town. It is told in 12 chapters that are set in each month of a calendar year. Aside from the unique structure, I also enjoyed the fact that the protagonist is a wheelchair-bound adolescent.
king face book
Hmmm, all of this reminiscing has made me keen to read some King again. Fortunately, he’s just released one book (Sleeping Beauties, co-written by his son Owen King) and is releasing another before Christmas (Gwendy’s Button Box, co-written by Richard Chizmar).
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Recommended Reading: Terry Pratchett

Somewhere in space there is a giant turtle, on the back of which stands four elephants. Balanced on top of these creatures is a flat disc. On that disc lives witches, wizards, werewolves, vampires, trolls, humans and other assorted oddities. 

This is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. For the uninitiated, approaching this universe is a daunting task. There are 41 novels and a variety of support materials, spin offs and adaptations. 

I love Pratchett. He and Stephen King dominate my shelves. 

So, when a friend said she was interested in reading some of his books, I eagerly volunteered to make some recommendations. It was a silly thing to do. I’ve got my favourites, but are they the best ‘jumping on’ points?

While many of the books stand alone as independent works, a number of novels and stories can be grouped together because they feature common central characters and settings. Furthermore, some books refer to events that happened in other novels.  If my favourite novel from one of these ‘sets’ is one of the latter ones, is my appreciation of it enhanced by my knowledge of how things got to this point?

It meant that, in order to make my recommendations, I needed to be more pragmatic. That’s why it has ballooned out into this blog post instead of a quick text message. 

So, below you’ll find two lists. The first is short and sharp. It is my top 5 (not necessarily in order). It is what would possibly have been in that message had I been reactive instead of practical. The second is longer. It is organised under headings that represent the main character threads within the Discworld series. Under those headings is a brief introduction to that arc, and the titles of both the first book in that series and my favourite one.

Here we go:

discworld-novels

My top 5

  1. Carpe Jugulum
  2. Moving Pictures
  3. The Last Continent
  4. The Fifth Elephant 
  5. Hogfather 

 

terry-pratchett-discworld-covers-2

The longer list…

Rincewind and the Wizards

The first two Discworld novels had Rincewind as their protagonist. He is a bumbling, incompetent wizard who doesn’t look for trouble but trouble seems to find him anyway. Rincewind is also linked to the wizards of the Unseen University, an institution whose librarian was turned into an orangutan (and possibly one of the most loved characters in all of Pratchett’s works). 

First novel: The Colour of Magic – effectively a ‘straight’ parody of the fantasy genre. 

Favourite novel: The Last Continent – Pratchett’s love for Australia is evident is this piss take that takes place in a setting that is part-fantasy, part-outback. 

Is this a good jumping on point? Yes, I think so. I might be biased, however. I reckon all Aussies should give this a read. Think of the episode from The Simpsons, “Bart vs Australia”, add a cowardly wizard and his semi-sentient, multi-legged luggage and what you get is a laugh riot.

 

The Witches

While wizards on the disc like showing off, the witches deliberately choose not to use magic on most occasions. If we think about illusionists, Pratchett’s wizards more like stage magicians while his witches are akin to mentalists. They’re intelligent, resourceful and cunning. The most prominent witch in the series is Granny Weatherwax who became a witch by choice, not by fate, and is known by the varied species throughout Discworld as the most powerful witch in the world. 

First novel: Equal Rites

Favourite novel: Carpe Jugulum

Is this a good jumping on point? Maybe. There’s a bit of history between the witches from the previous books and ignorance of this might slow you down at the start. Once it gets going though… what you have is a wicked novel that answers two questions you never knew you had. 1. How do ‘young’ vampires rebel against the traditions of their people? -and- 2. What would happen in a fight between witches and vampires?

 

Death

Death is pretty much everyone’s favourite Pratchett character and is the one who appears in the most books (almost all of them). He is your typical anthropomorphic incarnation of death, in that he looks like the Grim Reaper. Death speaks IN SMALL CAPITALS and, in the books devoted to his story, he explores the essence of humanity. 

First novel: Eric

Favourite novel: Hogfather 

Is this a good jumping on point? Possibly not. The Hogfather is a similar figure to Santa and his role is taken over one Hogswatchnight by Death. It’s an enjoyable romp but Reaper Man is probably a better novel to start with – in which Death becomes mortal for a while. 

 

City Watch

The biggest city on the disc has its laws enforced by a group that began with two hopeless street-coppers being led by their alcoholic captain and has become a fully-fledged police force containing more diversity than you’ll find anywhere else (real or otherwise). Take your urban sprawl, your technology and your businesses and add elements of traditional fantasy and this is what you get. 

First novel: Guards! Guards!

Favourite novel: The Fifth Elephant 

Is this a good jumping on point? No. The picture book, Where’s My Cow?, is a great introduction to the characters in this series but, because there is more growth in this particular arc than any other, here you’re better of starting at the beginning. 

 

Tiffany Aching (the Witches but it’s YA)

In a similar way to how Harry Potter traces the growth of a young wizard as he learns to perform spells and ultimately conquers evil, the Tiffany Aching series tracks the development of a young witch learning her place in the world. Integral to her story are the hilarious Nac Mac Feegle – little, blue, Scottish picsties who love to drink, steal and fight. 

First novel: The Wee Free Men

Favourite novel: The Wee Free Men

Is this a good jumping on point? Obviously! In this book, Tiffany has to rescue her little brother from the The Queen of the Fairies. Personally, I think part of the reason I like it (and Pratchett’s witch novels in general) is because of its strong, female lead. 

 

Moist von Lipwig

On the surface, these novels look boring compared to Pratchett’s other works. The first is about the postal service, the second is concerned with the mint and the introduction of paper money, and the third revolves around the the first railway on the disc. Despite the ‘boring’ premises, Pratchett remains funny throughout. 

First novel: Going Postal

Favourite novel: Going Postal

Is this a good jumping on point? Obviously! Like the Tiffany Aching series, my favourite book is the first in this character’s arc. Moist is a con-man given the choice of being the new postmaster or dying and what we see is how his cunning can be used for good. 

 

Miscellaneous 

Some of the Discworld novels don’t feature these characters and stand alone as individual tales within this shared universe. These include Pyramids, Moving Pictures, Small Gods, The Truth, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents (YA), and Monstrous Regiment.

Favourite novel: Moving Pictures; in which making movies becomes detrimental to the structure of reality itself. 

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Anyway, I hope that helps people decide what Discworld novel they might like to pick up.

Happy reading!

Teaching Fish to Skate

I get told I’m good at my job.

I’ve heard this message from parents, students, colleagues and bosses… but I’m never sure I believe it. Self-doubt is something I have been crippled by throughout not just my career but my whole life.

Side note: this is probably why I write poetry.

 

Anyway, when I think about the teachers that I have crossed paths with (whether as a student, while on prac or as a teacher myself) I can’t help but think of the things that they do better than I do.

There are teachers who plan far more thoroughly than I do.

There are teachers who provide better feedback than I do.

There are teachers who know their students better than I know mine.

There are teachers who are more professional than I am.

There are teachers who manage behaviour better than I do.

There are teachers who know their content better than I do.

 

Simply put, there are teachers who are better than me.

But, I am good at my job and I can tell you why in 7 words – my heart is in the right place.

 

For me, teaching isn’t about content. Content can be Googled.

For me, teaching is about sparking an interest and hoping a fire lights.

For me, teaching is acknowledging that life is a race and I’m passing on a baton.

I teach English but I’m not trying to make authors of my students. I don’t care if they know what a dangling participle is. I’m not asking them to be avid readers.

What am I doing?

I’m trying to make them enjoy learning. I want them to want to come to school.

 

It’s strange. I take a lot of inspiration from weird places. One of these places is skateboarding legend Rodney Mullen. In a TEDx talk, Mullen talks about creativity and transcendence. He says that his love of skateboarding waned because he got caught up in the ‘job’ of it and he became reinvigorated when he realised the joy of experimentation and the potential of a creative community. The ideologies that created the school system as we know it have reached their expiry date. I get why students think school sucks but I want them to know that education is important and learning can be fun. I want them to play around with words and ideas. I want them to deconstruct and create. I want them to wow me.

mullen

 

I’m not the best teacher. I’m not even the best teacher I can be.

BUT… I refuse to put a cap on what I think my students can achieve and I am determined to make their learning experience an enjoyable one. As Albert Einstein supposedly never said: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” So, instead, I’m giving my students an opportunity to show that they are indeed geniuses.

If that makes me good at my job, it’s a badge I’m happy to wear.

 

 

 

 

 

Cards Against T.S. Eliot

Cards Against Humanity (CAH) is an incredibly popular card game self-marketed as a “party game for horrible people”. Essentially, you play with a deck consisting of two types of cards, black and white. Each round, one player asks a question from a black card, and everyone else answers with their funniest white card. It’s like bite sized MadLibs.

 

Anyway, CAH is so popular that people are marketing their own versions. As it is the original has a variety of add-ons and alternative packs but people have leapt onto that winning formula to make Cards Against Muggles/Potter and Cards Against Disney.

 

And, that’s what I’m doing. I’m not trying to make money or anything like that. Actually, I’m making it for my year 12s. I’ve blogged before that I invent and play games in the classroom and that I’ll do things that are designed to make learning memorable and this is no different. My students are studying Eliot’s poetry and I want them to be able to remember quotes from the poems as well as contextual information so it helps them with their exams. More importantly, I want them to have fun with his words and enjoy his poetry.

I’m hoping this helps.

 

Anyway, in the link below you’ll find the cards (apologies in advance if you’re fixated on the colour and shape of the original – I’ve taken some liberties). Feel free to download it, try it, and/or offer suggestions for additional cards.

 

Cards Against Eliot – link

 

 

The Magic of Teaching

Everyone acknowledges that teaching is not what it used to be. There’s a lot more pressure on educators today than there has ever been. We all know the comic strip:

parents-yelling-at-teachers

 

Back in the day, teachers were respected by students (at least to their face) or the student faced the consequences – corporal punishment kept kids in line. Nowadays, teachers are meant to be engaging and innovative. Punishments appear to have limited impact and the only way to prevent behavioural issues is by providing an environment where students are actively involved in whatever activities the teacher is running. 

 

So, how do you do this? Teaching is often likened to acting. To quote (out of context) T.S. Eliot, we “prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet”. However, it is probably more accurate to say teachers are like magicians. Not sold? Check out the following list of terminology associated with magic and how these terms apply to the classroom. 

 

  • Ditch – to secretly get rid of an object or gimmick.

Teachers have to be flexible. You can have the best lesson preparation in the world but if you are determined to follow that plan regardless of the students’ mindset then you are going to struggle. Things happen. Students might have issues going on at home, they may have just run a 3k time trial in Phys Ed, there might’ve been a fight at recess, they might be tired, they might be hyperactive, etc. 

If you can’t recognise the mood of your students and modify your plans to suit then you’re not going to have success. It doesn’t matter how finely tuned your lesson plan is, if the kids aren’t receptive to it (for whatever reason) you’ll be ice-skating up hill for the whole period. You need to be able to change things up on the fly in order to have the most success. 

 

  • Force – where a card or other object is made to be selected by the spectator, despite the appearance of a free choice.

Modern students like to be involved in the lesson design. It’s why PBL is so successful, because students get to make a choice about what they do in a system that is generally too rigid to allow that to happen. Sometimes in the classroom you get the ability to incorporate choices in to the lesson, other times you fake it. 

You might hold votes on when assignments are due or what text you analyse. You might get groups to choose their presentation topic. You might even get students to choose what happens in a period. However, often you will modify the conditions so the choice they make is what you intended from the get go BUT, because they were involved in the decision, they feel more invested in the outcome. 

 

  • Impromptu – a trick that can be performed at a moment’s notice, usually with everyday objects and little or no preparation.

Be flexible! Remember? Sometimes you’ll find yourself with 10 minutes of unplanned class time. You might finish an activity early or you might have to wait in your classroom until it’s time to go to an assembly. Whatever the case might be, sometimes you have time to kill. 

I like to have a few activities up my sleeve that I pull out in these instances. My go-to, and one I often use at the start of a lesson to keep students occupied while I take the roll, is the 9 letter word puzzle. I’ll choose a word connected to our current topic and have the students see how many words they can come up with using those letters. I’ll award some sort of prize for the kid/s who finish with the most words. 

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Having these sorts of things handy, that only need a whiteboard marker and/or pen and paper, can be the difference between calm and chaos. 

 

  • Misdirection – psychological techniques for controlling attention.

This! In any given classroom there are a thousand distractions. Being able to redirect students’ attention from potential distraction is an art form. 

 

  • Patter – The dialogue used in the performance of an effect. Patter styles may differ from magicians to magicians – some prefer a serious patter, while others opt for a light hearted humorous patter to relax the audience and try to catch them off guard.

Some teachers are super serious, others are lighthearted larrikins. Whatever persona people adopt in the classroom, they do so because it suits their character and they’ve determined it works for them. For some teachers, their demeanour depends on the class’ age and academic ability. 

 

  • Sleight – a secret move or technique.

Despite the fact that classrooms are public spaces, not everything that happens needs to be public knowledge. Confronting a student about their misbehaviour can often occur as a private conversation, preventing it from escalating into something much larger than it needs to be. Printing materials on coloured paper for the class can allow you to cater for a dyslexic student without drawing attention to their disability. And… education doesn’t have to be overt. Games and interactive activities can be used to teach concepts without bogging students down in book learning or ‘chalk and talk’. 

hogwarts staff

^ these aren’t the teachers I was meaning when I said that educators are magic but you see it now, right?

Professional Poet

They say ‘write what you know’. Well, what I know is teaching.

 

In a poetry workshop on Thursday I was talking about T.S. Eliot and how his life, and changes therein, are clearly evident in his verse. As part of that conversation I mentioned that when I look back on my poetry there is a clear motif: teaching.

 

Poems about teachers, students and classrooms are also among my most popular (if Facebook likes are anything to go by) so I thought I’d collate some of them here. Where possible, I also thought I’d share some bits and pieces about when/if these poems were published and what inspired them.

 

The Teacher

 

He sits and surveys his environment;

An empty classroom with messy desk and

messier floor. He takes some chalk in hand,

breathes in, and releases some of his pent

 

up anger on an unsuspecting door.

For every hour in which he looks

up teaching tools in scholar’s books

he spends another hour, maybe more,

 

questioning why some students seem as though

they don’t care about their education.

He was never short of motivation and drive,

whether teacher or parent stood as his foe.

But now, when asked of his vocation

he whispers, “They have eaten me alive.”

 

This poem is the first one I wrote about the profession. It was inspired by Gwen Harwood’s “In The Park” and is a reflection of the feelings that sometimes plague teachers of apathetic adolescents. Like the next three poems presented here, it was first published in my collection, If God is a Poet.

 

Chalkie

 

Oh, I’m sorry. Was it not clear enough? Did you not hear enough to know what to do? Where does the blame fall; is it on me or you?

 

Cause I’m standing up here at the front of the class, busting my arse to get you to pass but, then, you don’t do the work.

And, you might think I’m a jerk, because I shout once in a while and I refuse to smile on the day an assignment’s due. Well, that’s bloody hard to do when I’m disappointed in what I get back because you’re too slack to do it. You say, ‘screw it’.

 

But I’ve sat too many hours working at home; telling my wife and kid to leave me alone because I’m thinking of you and what you want to be.

Well, what about me? Can’t you see things from my point of view?

This is not what I wanted to do.

I wanted to sculpt minds like an artist does with clay.

I chose this career to make a difference every day,

Not to baby-sit some little shit who’d rather spit on me than listen to what I say.

 

Yet, I wake every morn just after dawn;

Shower and dress for school,

Because I’m desperate to find that jewel,

That’s inside each kid,

That pearl of wisdom that’s hid deep down inside –

Trying to hide from the taunts of peers.

Because, its all between our ears,

These fears that hurt out chest,

As we hide the best of us from the rest of us,

And as each day goes by,

All I can do is try,

Because I know,

That when these kids grow,

They’ll look back and say,

‘He made a difference that day’.

 

This is the first poem I ever performed at a poetry slam. It was written in two sittings with the first being at the end of a long and frustrating day and the second being the next morning when I had had an opportunity to calm down.

 

Ch!ld K!ller

 

Armed to the teeth I stand,

a sea of students before me.

Some chatter,

Some stand,

Others throw projectiles across the room.

 

I strike!

But no holy water

nor silver bullet

will work against these beasts.

 

Cornered, a light bulb springs from the top of my head…

 

I cage one like a canary.

In the mine that is society,

I hang Him.

His death, barely noticed,

is mourned by few

whose white masks muffle their warnings.

 

The End is broadcast on TV news,

missed by the comatose on the couch.

 

This poem is a bit Roger McGough in tone and has a title that, in hindsight, is probably not what a teacher wants associated with them.

 

A Lesson

 

“T’was brillig and the slithy toves…”

 

What’s a fucking brillig?

 

I said when we started that all you need to do

is listen;

and that sort of language has no place here.

 

Now…

 

“T’was brillig and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.”

 

They’re not real words.

You’re making this shit up.

 

Just listen, please.

I am reading it

Exactly as it is on the page.

 

“All mimsy were…”

 

This is gay.

 

I can only assume you mean ‘fun’

As inanimate objects cannot be homosexual.

Now, I apologise.

I chose this poem as it is one of my favourites

but perhaps I aimed too high.

Here’s one that might be more appropriate…

 

“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.”

 

 

Again, teenagers can be frustrating. But, it was an ex-student who exposed me to the poem alluded to in the last line.

 

These Kids

 

I know these girls who wouldn’t recognise themselves if they looked at their body through my eyes.

This isn’t limited to body image and the constant corrosion of natural beauty, this is an acknowledgment of the limitations of their self-worth.

I know these girls who are so caught up in their own imperfections they don’t know how perfect they are. These are the girls who apologise for having emotions; girls who apologise to inanimate objects; girls who apologise for needing help. These are the same girls who display extraordinary skill, girls whose compassion is like hot cocoa on rainy days, girls who light up a room just by being there.

I know these girls that are so down on themselves they can’t fathom how I hold them in high esteem. I know these girls I wish my daughter could grow to be like and yet they don’t like themselves.

I know these girls.

 

I know these boys who think the only way they’ll be accepted is if they’re tough. These boys who beat down on each other; boys who punch and push, cheat and steal; boys who find fault in others to mask their own flaws.

I know these boys who sandpaper their sensitivities. These boys who resort to attacking because they don’t want to be seen as lacking in any way, shape or form.

I see these boys who are confused. They are tethered to the horses of society that are dragging them this way and that, threatening to pull them apart. They are told to let it all out, to talk, to cry. They are told to hold it all in, keep quiet, bottle it all up. They are told to write, paint, sing. They are told to work, run, fight.

I know these boys I don’t want my son to become but it’s the world that needs to change, faster than it already is. When the world becomes tolerant and accepting, so too will our boys – my boy among them.

I know these boys who don’t yet know themselves.

I know these boys.

 

This poem was not, as you might expect, inspired by students. One of the “girls” referenced is actually a friend of mine at work who has been merged here into a bigger observation that encompasses a number of people I have had the pleasure of teaching and working with. Neither this one nor the next three have been sent off for possible publication.

 

Hello everyone,

Welcome to English.

I know you want to pass

and in order to get there you’ll want feedback but this is how it works in my class:

see three, then me.

This isn’t some sort of work avoidance policy on my part,

it is simply something put in place to help you recognise that education is a privilege not a right.

You can – and will – have my help,

but ‘work’ in my classroom is a two way street and you have to meet me in the middle.

I will not spoon-feed you.

I will not coddle you.

I will not strap you to a chair and forcibly move your hand until your pencil draws recognisable letters on your page – even though for some of you it feels like that’s what it would take.

No, if you choose to be academically inactive,

that’s a choice you make.

It’s a choice you have the ability to make and you do so, ignorant of the number of people worldwide for whom education is denied.

You; (predominantly) white, middle class male.

This world is yours yet you pollute it with bad decisions.

Poor choice after poor choice – I walked in your shoes for a while before finding a better path.

At least for me, as it is for you, there is a path.

Be thankful for that, there are many who would die for the opportunities afforded you.

So, before we move on,

are there any questions?

 

This as yet untitled poem continues that theme of teenage apathy but gives reference to two personal situations. The first is an acknowledgement of my own misdeeds as a student, the second is an allusion to my school’s (forcibly) cancelled attempt at supporting the “Do It In A Dress” charity to raise money for girls in Africa to get an education.

 

Lit 2016

I wrote a poem for last year’s class and so I’ve set myself the task of writing one for you, but I suck at goodbyes and I’ve already had three tries at writing this and nothing feels quite right. I guess what I want to say is you’ve got this but the trick is to maintain your grip because the last thing you want is to let slip the opportunity you’ve spent years working towards. You see, the future is yours but it doesn’t come for free – work smart, study hard. Not that exam results are an indicator for later success, just that there’s little point putting yourself through all this stress only to stumble and fall when it matters most. T.S. Eliot said “there will be time” but that time is better spent on revision rather than indecision – that can come later, you have your whole life ahead of you. Most importantly, before you leave, I just want to say that I believe in you. You are each far more capable than you give yourself credit for and one day, when you’re thinking about who you are and what you want to be, I hope you see in yourself what I see when I’m looking at you: endless possibility.

 

FAITH (Lit 2015)

Some of you haven’t always liked me. Some of you might not like me now. Some of you don’t “get” poetry and you might be asking how or why I would ever want to write a poem about us. But, then, that’s not what this poem will do because every time I mention me it’ll be more as a reflection of you. You make me, distort me, reshape me to be the person you need me to be. At times, for some of you, all you’ve needed is an ear – someone to hear the rumble of your world shaking or the crack of your heart breaking or something far less severe. Perhaps it is my calm demeanour that encourages you to open up to me but there have been plenty of times I’ve been meaner than I need to be because that’s what you’ve required. It’s not me, it’s you. And the reversal of that tired old cliché seems like the most honest thing I can say in a situation that feels a lot like we’re breaking up.* We’re heading in different directions and you’ve outgrown me. Some of you will probably disown me while others will insist “we can still be friends” on Facebook as long as I don’t make you face another book you’d rather burn than analyse. God, I suck at goodbyes. I guess all I really want to say is… in Chapter 10 of The Handmaid’s Tale Offred sat at the window seat and imagined throwing something at the Commander and we, as readers, understand this to be an act of passive rebellion brought about by a cushion in her room that has writing on it despite the fact it is illegal for her to read. Whether you’ve noticed it or not, in the time I have taught you, I have rebelled (passively and aggressively) for much the same reason as Offred. You see, FAITH is what the cushion read and both in my heart and in my head I have faith. Success will come, perhaps earlier for some, but I have faith in all of you. Timbuktu; kangaroo; yabbadabbadoo.

 

These two poems, not necessarily presented here as they were initially intended, were written for students. They were, in a way, a thank you gift for their hard work and dedication throughout their final year of high school. Both reference texts we studied during the year.

 

This is not a test

 

Where are all the standardised people?

Row by row they sit,

minute by minute the clock ticks

their life away.

 

Shade in the bubble –

A

C

B

A

Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start.

A round peg will fit

in a square hole

if you plane down the edges.

 

Where are all the standardised people?

The uniformity of boys

grown into men in suits,

pleated girls who’ve become

pencil-skirted women –

all clad in 2B or HB grey.

 

Where are all the standardised people?

You make love

with military precision,

timetabled

according to ovulation.

In, out, in, out –

a seed is sown,

a child begins to sprout

and in nine months

it makes its scheduled appearance.

Crying controlled,

toilet trained,

bred to fit the mould.

 

Where are all the standardised people?

Clock in

for your accepted activities,

normalised notions

of right and wrong.

You drive between the lines

you once strived to colour inside.

Clock out.

 

Where are all the standardised people?

 

Finally, this poem began as criticism of standardised testing but developed into a critique of society in general. It was published recently by Other Terrain Journal.

 

Anyway, that’s enough. I won’t burden you any further.

 

 

 

Drowning at work

The problem with people is that we are human. Humanity has one great design flaw that makes us as equally capable of destruction as we are of creation. That is, we are driven by our emotions.

Our thoughts and feelings drive our actions but we are, unfortunately, affected by a negativity bias.

When thinking of metaphors to explain this I first thought of an anchor but it’s not an accurate symbol for what negativity does. Negative thoughts and comments don’t just weigh down an individual, they have an impact on those around them. Negative people have their own gravitational pull, sucking others into their conversations and behaviours. It has a snowballing effect, where the negativity grows with each new comment and complaint.

 
I hate my office at the moment. I love the people but the vibe between those four walls is cancerous and black. When your job is teaching teenagers, the office is often an oasis – a paradise amidst the harsh desert of the classroom. When the ‘perfect’ lesson doesn’t go to plan, when the apathy is insurmountable, when ‘that’ kid is in a mood, you take solace in the company of your colleagues who are all in the same boat. But it’s hard to enjoy the ride when people are drilling holes in the hull.

 
I’m tired of trying to keep us all afloat. Each effort made to raise morale seems to be undercut – the negative undercurrent is too strong. So I’m going to don a life jacket and float away for a while.

Mandurah Makos miss the Mail

I play football – not very well but I give it a red hot go. I also write. Fortunately, considering my profession, my skills with a pen or a keyboard are far better than my skills with a boot and a ball.

Anyway, because of my writing nous, the club has asked me to put some articles together for the local newspaper. It’s an interesting prospect and a challenge I’m happy to undertake – a challenge because it’s a writing style I’m not practiced in. 

The Mandurah Mail has been good so far; they published this piece. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the space for this one:

Makos March to 2017 Season

 

On Sunday the 26th of March, the Mandurah Makos finished up their preseason preparations with an impressive showing against the Rockingham Rams.

The scratch-match, played across six ‘quarters’, allowed the players the opportunity to shake off some of the cobwebs that had appeared over the off-season. Despite being played in blustery conditions, the players worked their way into the game and showcased why, despite their age, Masters footballers are still an exhibition worth watching.

Integral to the Makos’ success on the day were the midfield contributions of Matt Dunn, Brendon King and Steve Thomson who provided ample supply to 5-goal forward, Michael Griffifths. Tod Holderhead was at his bullocking best while Kieran Eiffler recovered from a head knock to kick an important goal. The Pattinson brothers, Grant and Brett, were constructive at half forward and half back respectively but play of the day came from Ronnie Barton who kicked the impossible goal – a checkside banana from the boundary line. More importantly, the coaches were buoyed by an even performance described by club president, Tony Wilkey, as an “encouraging team effort throughout from all grades in preparation for the season opener”. 

The Makos didn’t have it all their own way; however, as Rockingham were well represented by Pieter Wilson, Shane Parry and Geoff Adams who were the best players in their age group.

If you are interested in playing Masters footy or joining the Mandurah Makos as a social member, you can contact Tony Wilkey on 0421 708 764.

So, I thought I’d give it the Titus O’Reily treatment. Here goes:

Mandurah Makos vs Rockingham Rams

 

This was Mandurah’s second competitive hit out of the preseason. Their first was against the Thunderbirds. The blokes always look forward to competing against the ladies. The women come out firing, hunting the ball with ferocity, while the men just go out there looking for a touch. The sexist banter in the change rooms afterwards is also pretty solid; cracks about hardball gets and so on. The game against Rockingham was against other men though, so the post-match banter was exactly the same. Boys will be boys after all. 

This annual fixture between friendly rivals is always an odd one. The game itself goes for six quarters, which goes to show why footballers aren’t exactly known for their intellect, and three age groups roll through as the teams see fit. That is, the blokes run out on the ground and see just how unfit they’ve become in the off season and are replaced one-by-one with players who have remembered that training has started for the year. 

The wind was really cranking that day which was a blessing for the players who blamed their poor skills on the blustery conditions and not their own preparation. Not that all of the fellas on the field struggled. Dunny showed everyone that his nickname is ironic by not being shit, Thommo played the game like someone who teaches other people how to play footy for a living, and G kicked a bag of goals. 

The Patto brothers did little to help people remember which one’s Grant and which one’s Brett but they did well on the field. Kieran took a big knock to the head and came out of the game making more sense than he normally does while Kingy undid his work with the ball as a player by trying to take a mark while he was wearing the umpire vest, and Toddy proved that a ginger ninja covered in sun cream is a hard beast to tackle.

Highlight of the day was a checkside banana by Neville Bartos if he does say so himself. And he does. Nev is one of my nicknames and probably the most used one behind Dickhead. It was an Eddie Betts like goal and, just like Eddie, I lack confidence with my set shots. Unlike Eddie, my shorts actually fit me and don’t look like a small circus tent. Another thing that separates me from the Crows’ superstar is that my goal was a fluke and probably won’t stop me from being relegated to my usual spot of back pocket. 

Anyway, the Makos won this game even though we don’t keep score. Even if we lost I’d probably say we won, it’s not like it matters. Most importantly, no one got injured. No, the most important thing was that the post match snags were hot and the beer was cold. If that had been the other way around, it would have been the worst possible outcome for all involved. 

Stay classy, Mandurah.

Banksy: the people’s protestor

My year 10 students are studying texts as vehicles of protest and I’m trying to expose them to a wide variety of visual, written and aural works but we’ve hit a wall. This isn’t a bad thing because Banksy has hit the same wall and we’re finding his art to be rich media for discussion. We’ve unpacked pictures of stuffed animals being transported to their eventual slaughter, lovers fixated with their mobile phones, kissing coppers, children interacting with or acting as soldiers, people (including Jesus) reluctant to let go of their shopping, heart-shaped balloons, bouquets of flowers, and a number of other powerful protests that critique aspects of our political, social, and economic zeitgeist.

 

Currently I’m asking them to write Short Answer Responses – a bizarre new text type that has been born out of a perceived need to have students analyse more without increasing the marking load of teachers and examiners. Each of the samples I’m providing below are individual pieces, so ignore the fact that I’ve rehashed the same topic sentence/thesis statement across all three. Next week I’m going to show them how, with a little bit of tweaking, we can turn these responses into a comprehensive 5 paragraph essay.

 

Why am I sharing this here? In studying/teaching Banksy’s art I have come to really appreciate the technique, aesthetic and depth of his work. Why wouldn’t I share this with that in mind? So, here you go. Below are three pieces and the sample responses I’ve written as exemplars for my students to follow.

Happy reading!

 

banksy-trouble

The provided image is of a stencilled piece of artwork by political activist and graffiti artist, Banksy. It can be read as a political protest that encourages anarchism through its symbolism, composition and epigram. The salient part of the image is the familial relationship depicted on the right hand side. Here we see a young man in stereotypical punk garb being doted on by his mother, a conventional housewife. The man’s costuming includes a Mohawk styled as liberty spikes. This particular hair style alludes to the Statue of Liberty which is a famous symbol of freedom and acceptance suggesting these are the ideals the man is fighting for. Furthermore, the pole for the anarchist flag he carries points at the lunch his mother has prepared for him (which consists of a flask, bag and green apple). It is a lunch one might take to work and it is this connotation, and the symbolism of the apple, that suggests rebellion is not only natural but is our responsibility. Reinforcing this is the epigram on the left hand side. The black and red colour scheme connects the young man to this message and is used to signify both power and danger. These words belong to the mother and express her maternal instincts with the instruction to “Eat Your Lunch” as well as the encouragement to “Make Some Trouble” in his fight for his rights and freedom. Most prominent in this text is the message to rebel as the bright red stands out against the dull colours and provides a connection with the man’s bandana. This, then, guides the viewers’ gaze back to the mother who straightens this mask the way she might fix a tie, thus reinforcing the theme of the image – that it is our responsibility to stand up against governmental oppression.

 

banksy_cctv

The provided image is of a stencilled piece of artwork by political activist and graffiti artist, Banksy. It can be read as a political protest that encourages passers-by to question the nature of surveillance through its composition, epigram and symbolism. People walking along the footpath might first notice the policeman and his canine companion who are at street level, they will then follow their gaze (and the angle of the dog’s body) which point to the large white writing and the child ‘painting’ it. This message written here states “ONE NATION UNDER CCTV” which is an allusion to the Pledge of Allegiance but with references to God replaced with CCTV. One reading of this is that people used to modify their own behaviours because they were trying to please an omnipotent deity but now they do so because they fear that they are being watched by a government that uses surveillance cameras to monitor their every move. This is reinforced with the stencilled policeman holding a camera and the strategic placement of this graffiti next to a surveillance camera. Furthermore, despite his apparent criminal activity, the child in the image maintains their innocence. This is, in part, because they are youthful (young age being synonymous with innocence and naivety) but also by interpreting their red hoodie as an intertextual nod to Red Riding Hood – a tale that includes a naïve child stalked by a murderous wolf. This, then, puts the government in the position of the antagonist. By combining these elements, audiences can determine that Banksy’s artwork is an homage to the themes in George Orwell’s 1984 and, as such, is critical of the government’s access to information about its citizens.

 

bansky-smiley-face-police-angels

The provided image is a photograph of a gallery piece by political activist and graffiti artist, Banksy. It can be read as a political protest that uses symbolism, juxtaposition and irony to warn viewers of governmental oppression. Foregrounded in this image is a figure in riot gear hanging from the rafters of a building with an indeterminable number of similar figures hanging around them. The costuming immediately identifies these characters as representative of law and order with the dull colours and assault rifle connoting blind uniformity and violence. This is juxtaposed against the bright colours of the angel wings and smiley faces that have been superimposed onto the stencilled figures. Both of these additions signify ‘goodness’ through the associations developed from their use in popular culture and social media. One reading of this piece, then, is that police and armed forces do God’s work for the benefit of society. However, as Banksy is known to criticize the government and law enforcement in his other works this depiction is most likely satirical. The more cartoony elements are then presumed to be used ironically, and therefore assume greater importance in producing meaning. This is reinforced through the vectors in the composition as the butt of the gun points to the wings and the curve of these wings, as well as the figures’ shoulders, point to the smiley faces. An alternate reading, then, regards these smiley faces in a similar vein to how it has been subverted in Punk music iconography and the comic, Watchmen, where it is worn by a corrupt and violent superhero. As such, it can be assumed that Banksy has used symbolism, juxtaposition and irony in this piece to suggest that police and other authority figures hide their corruption and oppression behind a facade of wholesomeness and protection.

 

Ru (//) Cercle -a magical night around a campfire

Sometimes life throws up these little idiosyncrasies, these serendipitous moments that suggest there is more to this world than what we can see, that we are all performers on God’s stage.

Tonight I went to a fringe show. The last time I saw tonight’s performer was roughly a fortnight ago when he and I were in the audience of a poet who was, in turn, in the audience tonight. I’m a big fan of both of these people but I never expected to see the other when I arrived at each venue – I only expected to see (or even know) the performer.

There’s more to this. Tonight’s performer was Zal, an ex-student of mine, operating under the pseudonym Ru (his musical moniker). When I arrived at the show I bumped into another ex-student who had also come to see him. This ex-student was Chloe, the girl (young lady) who designed the cover of my poetry anthology. It was at the launch of this book that the three of us were last in the same place at the same time – I read some verse, Chloe explained her design and process, and Zal performed during the intermission. It’s like we’ve come full circle (or Cercle in this case).

Zal went by his own name then. He was part of a close knit trio named Kids With Wolves and their music was phenomenal; each time I heard them play I would walk away uplifted and inspired to write. Creative differences saw the band split and two of them formed The Woods but they eventually dissolved too and Zal reinvented himself under the stage name Ru.

I think I’ve been to seven of his gigs now, tonight’s fringe show included. I wasn’t sure, initially, if I would be able to see him perform this time around but I’m so glad that I managed to go because tonight’s performance was vastly different to all I’ve seen him do before. I’m hoping, in my description of what I witnessed tonight, my lack of musical knowledge doesn’t take away from the quality of the event.

Prior to the final song, Zal imparted some of his world view on the audience. He reminded us that while we are chasing our dreams all those around us are also chasing theirs and we should not seek to better ourselves at their expense, rather we should bring them up with us. Whether he did it intentionally or not (and I’m thinking he did), his stage design reflected his ideals. Traditional band set ups involve the musicians standing at the front of the venue with the audience before them while on stage the band members form a visible hierarchy with those deemed more important (e.g. the lead singer) closest to the front of stage.  Tonight’s set-up was far more intimate and far more equitable. In the middle of the room was a fake fire and the four performers stood around this with the audience circling them. No one had a prominent position; it was Zal’s show but all of the musicians had equal footing in the eyes of those in attendance.

With regards to those musicians, Wayan “Billy” Biliondana played the double bass. Alongside Zal’s guitar, this was the main source of music for the evening (with shakers coming out late in the set). Billy also added his vocals to a couple of songs and, when he did so, it added another dimension to them that wasn’t present in the other pieces. This isn’t a slant on those songs (or the vocalists), merely an observation and a comment on his deep voice. Speaking of vocalists, Anikka Moses seemed to be loving life and was a joy to watch. Anikka looked genuinely excited not just to be there but to sing each line, even for the occasions where she had no lyrics, per se, and was just crooning. She would also channel the other musicians, often staring at them intently as she was harmonising with their voice or instrument. Laura Strobech, the other vocalist, was equally amazing. At times her singing reminded me of Kate Miller-Heidke, at other times she was so much like a Disney princess I wouldn’t have been surprised if cartoon birds landed on her shoulders, then there were other times when her voice was unlike anything I’d heard before.

Then there was Zal: guitar-playing, song-singing, story-telling, soul-sharing Zal. The songs we heard were his babies, brought to life by a variety of experiences that we are blessed to experience a fragment of. Musically he is part Newton Faulkner, part Paul Simon and all Zal.

Tonight’s gig was the end of a journey but Zal is a man of the earth and there are many more roads to walk – I look forward to seeing where his music takes him next.

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PS – there was a weird part during the performance tonight where the fire alarm started sounding for no reason and we had to wait for the State Theatre staff to confirm it was a false alarm before the show could go on. Anyway, while we were waiting Laura gave us this classic joke:

  1. How do you titillate and ocelot?
  2. Oscillate its titalot.