I don’t want schools to close – but they should

I’m a teacher. I’m in this job to help my students build confidence in who they are. Even before the spread of COVID-19 the world was a scary, uncertain place.

I don’t want to to abandon my post. Kids need stability, and they need their role models now more than ever.

But, school is meant to be a safe space and it’s simply not safe right now.

Other countries have closed their classrooms. We will probably close ours at some point, that doesn’t mean we will stop working.

A number of schools that have shut have stayed open for students whose parents work in the medical field or in childcare and other essential fields.

Talking with staff at my school, we actually think we’d be more able to cater for and extend our more academic kids if we were working primarily online. If we collaborate on lesson content and resources for those students who are unlikely to engage in whatever we post, then it frees up our time to read and provide feedback on whatever our students send through.

That said, I’d love to be inundated with questions and work samples from every kid in every class. It would take a lot of support from the people they have at home, and that would be a good thing too.

Teachers often get denigrated for being nothing more than glorified babysitters who are only in it for the holidays. We are constantly reminded of the saying that “those who can, do; and those who can’t, teach”.

These comments ensure that kids come in to school with negative opinions before they’ve even met their teacher – teachers who are currently putting their own health and the health of their families at risk so that everyone else can still go to work.

I understand the hesitation to make a decision on closing schools, the knock-on effect is huge.

What I’d like to see is school become optional for the foreseeable future. Parents can do what they think is best for their children, and schools can modify their approach to suit the needs of those who attend. Trust us, we can do it. We’re used to being flexible.

Hanging Out With Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood

It’s not every week you get a chance to chat with two megastar authors but that’s exactly what I did this week. Well, they chatted. I listened… from my place in the audience at their Perth shows.

Just 3 authors chilling out at a cafe 😅

The two events shared similarities, as you’d expect from two people in the same field of work talking about what they do, but there were notable differences too.

Gaiman, in his 4pm cozy, late afternoon slot was a sell-out. The line for signed copies of his books snaked around the foyer. The bar area was bustling. People shuffled up and down the stairs, and in and out of the building. When the time came, we made our way to our seats and filled them all. Each level of the Perth Concert Hall was filled with family, friends and strangers eagerly anticipating the start of the show.

There was a mosh pit of sorts. Between the stage and the first row of traditional seating was an area for the super-fans. There they had circular tables and angled seats so the people sat in them could imagine they were at some intimate, cafe reading – like what you might see of the beatnik poets in movies and on tv. Above them was a large chandelier and several individually hung lights that changed colours at various points to indicate a tone shift in Gaiman’s words.

Gaiman himself was treated to a rockstar welcome, a round of applause that seemed as though it may never stop – until he gestured for us to do so, and we obeyed.

My seat in the nosebleed section was labeled as ‘restricted viewing’ and I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to see what was happening. Fortunately, the part of the stage I couldn’t see was empty. I could see the podium at which Gaiman stood and I could see to his left where two ladies worked in shifts to translate his words into sign language.

He read to us, answered questions that people had written on cards in the foyer, and opened up to us about the illnesses and loss of life that have taken his friends and fellow writers. In particular, he spoke of Terry Pratchett who I adore. It was incredibly touching.

I wrote notes: things to look up, observations and inspirations for written pieces of my own, poignant statements.

And, when it was done, I rushed out of the door to join the queue for books before it grew too long. I bought one, American Gods, but I could have easily bought them all.

Oh, what a night…

One week later, and I found myself on the train to the city again. My initial observations were similar. The books on sale weren’t signed so the line was significantly smaller but the bar area was full and the line for drinks was long. The Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre has a larger waiting space and, on the surface, it looked like a similar sized crowd might have gathered.

I was wrong. The first indication that it was a smaller crowd was when I got to the door and was told by the usher that I was eligible for an upgraded seat. Suddenly, I went from Row X to Row A. When we were all seated those back rows remained empty. It was a disappointing sight. Here you have a woman whose list of awards and accolades is enormous, who has inspired protests, is active on social media, and is the brainchild behind a tv show that is immensely popular. I don’t know what kept people away – whether it was the ticket price or the assumption that she’d just be promoting/discussing her new book, I can’t say – but they missed out.

Atwood also walked on to a round of applause that appeared to gather momentum each time you might expect it to die off. Her whole ‘performance’ was an on-stage interview. I apologise, I didn’t catch the name of the woman who questioned her. At intermission, we were invited to pose questions via Twitter and Atwood answered some of these. A few of the audience generated prompts were a bit naff, and I’m not just saying that because mine wasn’t picked.

Again, I took notes: phrases I can use when teaching her novel, things that surprised me (like the fact she was published in Playboy), things that made me laugh out loud.

Atwood walked onto stage, an 80 year old woman with a handbag that she never went into during the show but that she carried, I assume, because she’s used to having it with her. Her curly, grey hair sat neatly on her head and there was a delicateness about her. I knew that demure look belied a fiery passion that lurked beneath it. However, I didn’t expect her to be so funny. She joked about cats and toilets, about politicians and cervixes, about having “too many fucks” in her book, and everything in between.

Ask and you will receive

One thing both Gaiman and Atwood said, in their different ways, was the importance of Literature from the perspective of both reader and writer. They said that books allow us to experience the lives of others and become more empathetic, that writers allow us a safe space to see the hardships that people go through and some of the directions in which the world can head. From a creative standpoint they also said that Art and Literature allow us to outlive our bodies, that a part of us exists within our work and future generations will have the opportunity to know us through our creations.

A Relentless Confession

I don’t know when I first came across Hamish Brewer. I think, at some point in the past, that I might have seen a video of him a while back. More recently I found videos of him online and his infectious enthusiasm had me hooked. I found him on Twitter and Facebook and, through there, saw that he had a book being released this year. I ordered it… but in the interests of saving a few dollars I ordered it from a website I don’t usually use and it took longer than anticipated to arrive. My holiday reading (aside from the 4 novels I read to ensure I knew what I was teaching) became a book I had to read during the term.

Relentless was a phenomenal read.

So much of what was on the pages resonated with me and my beliefs about education. And so much of it pained me to read because I am not the teacher I once was.

That might be a little harsh.

Let me try to weave my story around Hamish Brewer and his words.

One of the dominant themes of Relentless is the power of relationships. Take any of these passages as proof.

I echo those sentiments. Every single success I have ever had was built on relationships. Every positive moment in my day-to-day working life is the by-product of the relationships I have built.

I may feel like I’m not teaching at the height of my powers (more on that to come) but I’m still successful because of the relationships I foster. I hear from students, parents and colleagues that the kids like me. While I’m not in this business to be liked, it certainly makes behaviour management and other aspects of the classroom easier.

How do I build this rapport?

The short answer is that I’m open and honest with the students, that I don’t compromise who I am, that I am passionate about my subject area, that I want the best for them and that I don’t think I’m better than them.

There’s probably more to it. It certainly helps that I’m unconventional, more ‘chilled’ than most teachers. I like to have fun in my classroom and that means that I’m cracking jokes and being sarcastic alongside my content delivery.

But, and here’s where the confession comes in, I’m not as motivated as I have been in the past. I’m passionate and unconventional, as I just mentioned, but I’m no longer being as innovative as I once was.

Hamish Brewer talks about the importance of relevant, engaging and authentic learning experiences. I used to be that guy too. Team teaching alongside someone with just as much energy as the “tattooed skateboarding principal” while also pushing myself to extend students (and myself) at every opportunity, I was:

• having students learn about film by creating their own trailer,

• hosting a TEDx event (IN A PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL 😲😲),

• publishing students’ poetry and giving them a platform to perform their pieces,

• running flipped classes with an emphasis on problem based learning,

• tutoring students in person and online outside of school hours,

• writing for state-wide academic journals,

• presenting at conferences,

• and probably a whole lot more that I’m forgetting.

Over the years since I’ve stopped doing almost all of that. In part it was because I felt like the ‘system’ was constantly working against me. I felt chastised, rather than supported, by various people in management and gradually my enthusiasm dwindled. Admittedly, I was still very rough around the edges but what I needed was encouragement and guidance and what I got was censorship and condemnation.

Near the end of Relentless, Brewer admits that it’s easy to get lost in routines and lose our way. I hadn’t lost mine, not fully, but I was probably closer than many people would guess. But, in reading the book, I could feel my fire rekindling. I spent most of it wishing I could work for a principal like Hamish but if I never get the chance I’ll at least have a sense of his leadership from these pages. They will remind me that I make a difference and will continue to do so, and they will encourage me to push the envelope in the name of student success – academically, socially and emotionally.

Don’t Suffer in Silence

I haven’t written a blog post for a while; I find that Bartopia is the least natural of my writing endeavours at the moment and so it has been benched. However, it seems the perfect platform for what I need to express now and, as such, it gets to pull the jumper on and run back onto the field.

I’m grieving. It hurts… and I’m dealing with it the way I deal with most things of an emotional nature: I’m pretending everything is ok. It’s more than that though. I dismiss my own feelings, avoid talking through things and bottle things up. Even this, while I’ll talk about what I’m going through, will be superficial and will gloss over the significance of things and their impact on my well being.

Halfway through last month I lost someone who had always seemed superhuman to me. My Nan raised 9 children to adulthood, had 21 grandchildren, 11 great grandchildren and housed over 30 foster children – a truly remarkable person. I miss her dearly.

Thursday was my Poppa’s 90th birthday – we’d hoped Nan would hold out to see it but she never made it.

Saturday was the anniversary of my birth dad’s death.

A year ago a friend, “Sax”, took his own life. Later this week marks a year since two families from my footy club lost people important to them – a father for one, a daughter for the other.

Last year, while much of this was still fresh, my workplace was also rocked by grief. Tragically, a car carrying four students crashed killing two of the occupants. I hadn’t had a lot to do with these kids but I knew all of them in some way, shape or form. My pain at that stage was not from grieving for the boys who passed away, but from seeing the students I was still responsible for going through a world of hurt.

The anniversary of that crash is just around the corner.

Again, I am concerned for my students. Yep, I get that I’m projecting or whatever, that I’m seeking an escape from my own issues by focusing on the issues of others… it’s what I do best.

I’ve spoken to the school about the possibility of talking to the students at an assembly. It’s complicated, and their hands are tied by departmental red tape, but we’ll offer what we can. I’ll offer what I can too. That’s fairly limited, obviously – all I can really offer is a familiar face with an understanding ear, someone who knows a little something about what they’re going through.

Grief is an individual thing, we all process it in different ways. But grief is also a bitch. It sneaks up on you, hits you when you least expect it.

I’m not worried about how the students will cope while they’re at school. We will have extra staff on hand, trained in counselling. They will have friends and trusted adults they can lean on. My concern is next year when that safety net is taken away. My concern is late at night when they’re laying in bed feeling isolated and alone.

I’ve seen the dark side of grief. One year after my aunty suicided, my uncle took his own life.

I don’t want the people in my care thinking that’s their only option. It cannot be an option for me. I won’t let it be an option for anyone whenever I can prevent it.

There are agencies out there invested in supporting people with mental health issues, including the affects of grief. There are people out there willing and wanting to help.

Don’t suffer in silence.

A Poem a Day

Having already undertaken a poem-per-day challenge this year (with February’s Post-It Note Poetry) I was somewhat anxious about completing a second.

It’s not like inspiration is something you can schedule in. There’s always the possibility that you’ll have a day where no poem enters your mind, where you cannot craft something complete no matter how hard you work it.

But, recently joining Instagram has given me a taste for writing short form poetry. With that in mind, I undertook NaPoWriMo (or GloPoWriMo as it has become). I once described NaPoWriMo as…

It is the brainchild of Maureen Thorson who, inspired by NaNoWriMo – aka National Novel Writing Month, started writing a poem a day for the month of April back in 2003. She shared her poetry through her blog and, when other people started following suit, she shared links to their works.

Since then it’s taken off, hence the change from Na to Glo (for global).

My 2018 efforts are all visible on Instagram and I’m pretty happy with them – two of them got featured by other accounts. Many of them are serious so I’m ending the month tomorrow with something silly.

In the meantime, here’s a couple of my favourites:

Post-It Note Poetry 2018

Post-It Note Poetry apparently began as a dare back in 2103 that saw Jodi Cleghorn and Adam Byatt write brief poems for the entire month of February. I don’t know the full details but Sean Wright also appears heavily involved in this poetic movement and it is through his Twitter updates that I became aware of #pinp last year and invested in it this year.

Writing each day for a month was a challenge. Most of the poetry I write tells a story and does so over several lines, sometimes over the page. As such, forcing myself to be brief impacted on my ability to come up with new ideas. At various times, I swore my creative well was dry.

Nevertheless, I pushed through and managed to produce something each day. The quality varies but I’m happy with what I managed to achieve. Below is all of my #pinp18 work collated into the one place.

1/2

Under the weight

of other people’s opinions,

my back is bent

but it is not broken.

I will learn to stand again.

 

2/2

So often

am I cast as the villain,

now I can’t even

save myself.

 

3/2

When death comes,

I will board the mourning train

and ride the rails

to the other side.

 

4/2

If you looked

from the inside

OUT,

all of the muggles

would appear magical.

 

5/2

Although it long ago

lost its shine,

I still don my armour

for you.

 

6/2

What if all

is not as it seems

and I’m not the man

you see in your dreams?

 

7/2

She kept her heart

in a jar beside the bed

with a note that read,

“nothing good can come of this.”

 

8/2

I am the moon

and all its cycles –

sometimes seen in full,

other times barely

a slither of myself.

 

9/2

The radio plays

their favourite song

but his dance partner’s

long gone.

 

10/2

She made his life sweeter

but, in return,

he devoured her.

 

11/2

On some days it seems

I could be replaced with a

recorded message.

 

12/2

The gossip queen

lights rumours

that spread like wildfire

where only the innocent

get burned.

 

13/2

And so we rebuild this bridge

from the rubble of the last one,

the scorch marks still visible

from when I burned it down.

 

14/2

Days break like hearts,

silent and alone

but visible to many.

 

15/2

thoughts upon thoughts

revisions of decisions

we live our lives

inside our own heads

and there we drown

in uncertainty

and insecurity

 

16/2

Hard earned

liquid love

refreshes the soul.

 

At this point here I joined Instagram. Most of my poems before this were written on Post-It notes and shared via Facebook and Twitter. From the seventeenth onwards; however, my poems took on a more ‘fancy’ aesthetic.

 

17/2

Dear younger me,

They are not mistakes

but opportunities,

not roadblocks

but detours.

Stay true to yourself

and the world will open

its arms to you.

 

18/2

Winter rain

and summer storms

bring forth

water from the sky

but they are

no more alike

than you and I.

 

19/2

I scratch ink

into my skin

so there’s a part of me

I can love.

 

20/2

I make believe that poems are a conversation

between you and me

but ultimately

that cannot be the case.

There is no back and forth.

There is only me

then

there is only you.

 

On the 21st I wrote two poems. This is because I was a little concerned that the intentions behind my first poem might be misinterpreted or that I might inadvertently offend someone with it. What I was trying to do was use a pop-up book as a symbol of innocence to comment on sexual violence and the impact men have, sometimes without an awareness of having done anything wrong. I shared the poem privately with a couple of people but haven’t shared it publically until now. I’ve decided to share it as part of this blog because the forum allows me to explain myself somewhat and other content published here reinforces my respect for women.

 

pinp 18 1

 

21/2* (replacement poem, published instead of the one above)

I believed that I

had stepped softly

but I have found

others following

in my footprints.

 

22/2

The reach of my heart

is infinite

as those I inspire

go on to

influence others.

 

23/2

when it’s the fifth time that night

when it’s the sixth night that week

when it’s the third week that month

the baby

is not the only one who cries.

 

24/2

Did he,

tortured and troubled,

cut off his own ear

or

did his friend,

accosted and angered,

sever it from his face?

 

25/2

In that darkened space behind the curtain,

away from prying eyes,

I looked into your face for the final time.

I cried for what I had lost,

not in your physical presence

but in the relationship we never had

nor would get the chance to build.

 

26/2

We danced by the fire

unaware of how close we were

to getting burned

until someone pulled us back from the embers.

 

27/2

There is one more child

in my classroom

– a baby snake has slithered in.

In their fascinated excitement

the students endanger themselves

and the dugite;

I become the

most feared creature in the room.

 

The following poem is one I’ve just scribbled down. I’ll publish it on Instagram and on my other social media tomorrow. Consider this a sneak peak.

 

28/2

All things,

whether bad or good,

must come to an end

but it is up to us

how we remember them.

 

Thank you to those who have liked, loved, retweeted, shared or just read my verse along this journey. Much love to you all.

pinp18 2

 

Flash Fiction: Fridge Folly

Somehow, I’ve locked myself in the fridge. Again. I don’t know how or why this keeps happening to me. I know, it sounds stupid, but it’s not quite what you’re thinking. I’m not talking about a normal fridge. I’m not stuck in between the butter and a cucumber with milk dripping down my legs. It’s not that sort of fridge. Well, it was, but my dad retrofitted it. You see, he saw this documentary on The History Channel once and it said that you could survive a bomb blast inside an ordinary household refrigerator. So, the first thing the next day, my dad went down to the second-hand store and came back with three fridges on the back of his ute – one for him, one for mum and one for me.

He worked on them for weeks. He reckons there’s no point being uncomfortable while we’re waiting for the after effects of the bomb to dissipate so he started trying to make the insides more homely. The first thing he did was attach cushions to the inside walls. Then he put a tube in the side filled with snack foods and protein drinks. What stumped him was how to provide adequate facilities for us to go to the toilet. He didn’t want to drill a drainage hole through the wall because he thought it might weaken its defences, so he put some sort of container in the fruit and veg drawer at the bottom and rigged it up to a funnel that was at waist height. It’s kind of gross.

Anyway, today he wants to install an oxygen tank inside each one. I don’t know how long he expects us to stay in these fridges, but I do know it’s pointless to try to argue with him. Once his mind is set on something it’s not changing.

So, there we were in the basement. I’d climbed into my fridge so dad could measure where the tank would sit and work out what length of tube would be needed to get the oxygen down to my mouth. It turns out he didn’t have the right materials, or something like that, so he went to the hardware store. The problem is, he didn’t check to see if I was still inside the fridge when he shut and locked the door. I told him the locks were a stupid idea the first time he locked me in here but he wouldn’t listen; he just kept nattering on about protecting his ideas. I think he’s hoping to go on Shark Tank or something like that. Not that it helps me. Things aren’t going to be great for him soon either, though. If he’s not home in the next five minutes or so, these toilets might get their first test run.

Writing With Joanne Fedler

Recently I stumbled across a 7-day writing course run by Joanne. I’m on school holidays, it was free; it was meant to be.

The 7 days were titled:

1. Dream writing

2. Keep random lists

3. Change places

4. The fire of feeling

5. The power of AND

6. Reflection, connecting the dots, finding my voice

7. Everyone is a winner

Each day, Joanne would post a video introducing the concept and then there would be a downloadable prompt designed to get the creative machine in gear. Once completed, many people would share their pieces in a private Facebook group.

But people shared more than their scribblings. They shared their stories – stories of time spent ignoring their memories and feelings, stories of accomplishment and achievement, stories of struggles and of great joy.

For me, I started on Day 1 writing a nightmare scenario that was clearly influenced by the book I’d most recently read (The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor). Day 2, I wrote this:

On the third day I wrote a letter to my mouth and wrote a reply from its perspective.

On Day 4 I wrote about the guilt that I felt when I accidentally hurt my son – we were in a car park and a car was coming, I yanked him in to my arms and the buttons on my shirt scratched his face. It was an accident but I was angry and I cannot shake the shame. On Day 5 I wrote about how I read and respond to other people’s emotions better than I do my own. These two days then influenced Day 6 when I wrote this:

Day 7 is interesting because, depending on how you look at it, it either has the least amount of work to do or the most. Technically there is no prompt specific to this day so there is absolutely no required writing BUT the completion of a form provides a link to an extensive bank of prompts which will keep any writer going for a long time. Here’s one of them:

Anyway, in the Facebook group many people are writing their praise for Joanne, her support crew and the other writers who have engaged in the process. Me, I’m writing this. It’s a review of sorts or simply an explanation of what I’ve been doing this past week.

Jo actually messaged me during the course. She’d seen one of my posts included above and a little cyber stalking revealed that I’m an established poet. She asked, as is natural, what interest I had in her course which is geared more at people closer to the start of their creative journey. I replied that I’m interested in branching into other forms of writing but also that I’m just happy to be engaged in something that has me writing every day (I think what I really need is a personal trainer of sorts, one that is focussed on keeping my pen moving). Beyond that, I really like the two poems that I wrote and have included here. I honestly believe that I would never have written them if I hadn’t taken part in this writing challenge.

If you’re a writer, beginning or otherwise, I’d definitely encourage finding Jo on Facebook and keeping an eye out for when she runs something like this again.

Toxic Masculinity in Poetry

Working in education, you only have to open your eyes in order to see the gender imbalance that exists in this industry. As part of the superstructure it is also assumed that the same distribution of power exists in other industries, a fact that is mirrored in the pay gap that still exists in a number of vocations.

In schools, the teaching staff is dominated by women while men seem to seek and succeed in earning positions as heads of department, deputies and principals. This creates a “boy’s club” mentality at top level. Interestingly, something I read last year said that a woman trying to integrate herself into this environment will often adopt a persona that is hyper-sexual.

But, I digress.

It is the boy’s club mentality and the notion that men can get away with disgusting behaviour because it’s accepted that “boys will be boys” that I find myself coming back to repeatedly. Maybe it’s because I’m a father to a young boy I don’t want perpetuating those behaviours (and to a young girl I don’t want to be the victim of that mentality). Maybe it’s because, as a teacher, I’m in a nurturing role looking after hundreds of today’s youth. Maybe it’s because I used to be a dick and I’m trying to make up for the crap I got up to when I was younger.

Anyway, it is this theme of toxic masculinity that drew me in to Shane Cartledge’s chapbook/zine, The Man Place. As a disclaimer, Shane and I are part of a poetry group on Facebook and he put a call out asking if anyone would be happy to read his zine and write a few comments. As far as I know, Shane and I have never met so expect what I write below to be unbiased.

Firstly, I didn’t like every poem. But, are you meant to? I can’t think of a single collection of verse where I’ve enjoyed absolutely every poem.

What I did like is the variety. The zine opens and closes with a haiku, there’s a poem that looks like it’s a villanelle (and I’m too lazy to look up the form to confirm), and there’s a variety of free verse structures – including this one which is my personal favourite:

While this is my favourite full poem, the lines I keep coming back to are from another. “The Girl With the Ice Cream Eyes” has a neat little twist in the ‘zero fucks given’ ethos. It first appears as…

and comes back later as…

It reappears in that poem too but I don’t want to spoil it here. It’s a poem that gets pretty dark too. It’s unsettling, but that’s the whole point. The zine is described by its author as an unpacking of “the shortcomings and problems with masculinity” that includes “themes of sexual assault and sexual violence”.

That said, it’s not going to be your lighthearted holiday read that you digest while sipping cocktails by the pool. This is dark, bedroom poetry that you hide from under your doona, that you use like a razor blade to slice through your centuries old misconceptions.

It won’t be out until next month (I’ll post details in the comments when I get them) but, if you see this zine around, do yourself a favour and pick it up.

Oops, I did ink again

I solemnly swear that I thought I was done. In previous “Think Behind the Ink” posts I said as much but, as some people have pointed out, there’s something addictive about getting tattoos.

As is my wont, these new pieces have a particular meaning attached. They have a certain significance that may or may not be obvious when first viewed.

I’ll start with my ribs.

Very few people will see this piece because of its location (only those connected to reading/writing are visible in my work clothes). Some might assume that these birds represent freedom or achievement as is often the case with these animals as metaphors. It’s not the case with mine. These birds are an attempted murder and they represent the three Adelaide Crows premierships; the men’s team in 1997-1998 and the women’s in 2017.

I wanted something that wasn’t overt as I find some sporting tattoos to be quite naff. I also wanted something that could be added to over time. I’ll probably add colour at some point. I’d flirted with the idea of two shades of blue and a splodge of pink as a water colour background but I could also just incorporate the club’s colours. I figured that could be a decision for Later Ron. When the Crows win another grand final (or five 🤞) I can add more birds to the flock and think about colour then.

Now to the forearm.

I’d deliberated over the location of this one/these three and their potential impact on my employability. I decided that any school that doesn’t want their English teacher to have visible tattoos that stem from books is probably not a school I want to work at. On a simplistic level, the symbols come from authors I love – J.K. Rowling, Stephen King and Terry Pratchett – but each holds a significance beyond an appreciation of their origins.

Most people will recognise the Deathly Hallows (closest to the wrist) from the Harry Potter series. The symbol represents the invisibility cloak, the resurrection stone and the elder wand through the triangle, circle and vertical line respectively. The combination of these three objects makes one the master of death. Unfortunately, death and dying are frequent topics of conversation. A great number of people I care about appear to be attending funerals regularly, have lost their own lives or are battling age and ill-health. To have some control over life and death, then, is a fantasy I almost wish I could make reality.

The middle symbol is from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. It is ka, roughly synonymous with destiny or fate. Beyond that, ka “signifies life-force, consciousness, duty and destiny.” Now, I don’t necessarily believe in predestination but my personal philosophies align well with the notion that good and bad will happen to us at various points in our lives and that we will have little to no control over these events. However, we can control our reactions. Che sarà, sarà BUT it is up to us to determine if we will let those events define or control us.

The final symbol is the Summoning Dark from Terry Pratchett’s Thud. The Summoning Dark is a spirit of vengeance from dwarf mythology with a sign described as like “a floating eyeball with a curly tail”. For want of a better term, it ‘infects’ one of the characters and he realises that the more he relies on the Dark the more vulnerable he becomes to succumbing to his own ‘dark side’. For me, the tattoo is about internal struggles and self-reliance.

Maybe part of the appeal of tattoos is linked to insecurities and body image. Our bodies are a thing of great conjecture but, beyond that, they are ever changing. Perhaps tattoos are enticing because they give you an element of control, something you can be happy with despite whatever flaws you think you have.