The Think Behind The Ink: Part 2

This tattoo is probably my last; I want every piece to mean something and I have nothing more to signify or, at least, nothing I can think of right now. I joked with Emily, my tattooist, that if I win lotto I might celebrate with a full back piece in the shape of a dollar sign. I don’t really see this happening, however, as I only buy 2-3 lotto tickets per year.

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Back to my latest tat…

This ambigram of father can be read right way up or upside down. This means that I can read it when I look at it and people can read it when they look at me and we can do this simultaneously.

Symbolically, this tat reflects the fact that I am a father twice over and also acknowledges that I have two fathers of my own (my birth dad and my step-dad). I also added a halo to one of the letters to represent that my birth-dad has passed away.

The halo also doubles as a wedding ring. For me, when I define myself as a father I use the term as a synecdoche (where one thing represents the whole). As such, the word father connotes family and not just the male figurehead.

That ends this post but I might explore my wife’s body art in a future update.

Peace,

🙂

Everyone is Special: AKA No one is

So, I’d been earmarked to speak at this year’s graduation ceremony and, me being me, I wrote a little something at a very early stage. Roughly half way through last term senior management overruled the year coordinator and told him they want an external person to do the keynote presentation. I was a little bummed but I totally understood where the school was coming from. Anyway… I’ve spent a couple of days reflecting on what I do in the classroom and this process brought me back to this draft. I thought I’d share it, or at least an edited version of it. What I’ve removed is the more personal context, the stuff that explicitly linked into people or classes. Here you go:

“Thank you for the kind introduction…

[stuff removed]

So, before I get stuck into the part of the speech where I take the opportunity to steal the spotlight and make this all about me, can we celebrate the graduating class of 2015 with a small round of applause.

Ok, now… These speeches tend to follow one of two paths. One is to tell you all that you are special, that (in the wise words of Dr Seuss) “there is no one alive that is youer than you”. The second option is to tell you that you’re not special at all, that if you are 1 in a million there are over 7 thousand people on this earth that are exactly like you.

I will tell you both things are true. Within each of you is the capacity for the extraordinary as well as the ordinary. It is up to you to decide which path you take.

Indulge me for a little while I tell you a story about my life in the hope that you learn from my journey. (Omit – too wanky?)

I was never the ideal student. So when I told my career counselor I wanted to be an English teacher she laughed at me.

Let me tell you, at certain points in your life, the most motivational thing you can hear is these 4 words: “you can’t do that.” Look at me now.

It wasn’t easy but that’s the point of this story. If you want something in life, if you really want it, it’s yours – but good things rarely come easy.

In year 12 I was distracted by girls and social events. I drastically underperformed in my ATAR (or TEE as it was called then). The only university that would have me was the Murdoch campus in Rockingham and they only wanted me because they were new and lacked numbers.

I enrolled in a tourism course but I didn’t last a full semester. I worked a series of crap jobs until I heard the Midland annex of ECU were offering places and I started a degree in early childhood studies and creative writing before using my results there to transfer into teaching.

I didn’t have my parents’ support so in order to survive uni I slept in my car, couch hopped or walked the 16kms home uphill from Kelmscott train station.

I almost didn’t make it. One subject per semester would always suffer, scraping through with a grade just good enough to pass. I even failed one of my teaching placements. But I stand before you now as the Associate Dean of English and one of a small percentage of teachers with Level 3 Classroom Teacher status.

I’m pretty good at my job too. You know, if I do say so myself.

But I’m not special.

There is not a single thing that defines me that is not done better by someone else I know. I’ve met better teachers, fathers, husbands and writers.

I am not special… but some people will tell you different.

None of you are special either but each of you will touch other people’s lives in a way that only you can. Your family, your friends, your future colleagues – these people will see value in you that you might not recognize in yourself. I see value in many of you that you do not see in yourself.

Not everyone will be in your corner. As the song goes, “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate”. Someone will tell you, “you can’t do that.” And if they do, you just need to shake it off. You don’t want that negativity to stick to you but you should use it as motivation. Prove them wrong.

You guys can be anything you want to be. You will face challenges but the greatest obstacle you will face is your own attitude. Negativity begets negativity. Your attitude, however, is also your greatest asset. If you can remain positive in the face of adversity then you are more likely to have success.

You might not get into uni straight away. You might not get the first or second or third job you apply for. It’s a tough world out there, you are going to have to fight for what you want.

This – graduating – this is you entering the ring. Carpe diem is not enough. Carpe jugulum, seize the jugular. You got this! I have absolute faith in you; you can do anything.

So please, ladies and gentlemen, join me in ushering these young adults into the next phase of their lives. I give you the graduating class of 2015.”

Top of the (Funko) Pops

I have an addictive personality. Fortunately, my compulsions haven’t manifested in drug use and I’m very cautious with my alcohol consumption. Instead, I just tend to collect stuff.

This ‘stuff’ has included magazines, DVDs, books, and Lego. Most recently, however, I’ve started collecting Funko Pop vinyl figures.

I’d seen them on-line but hadn’t purchased any until I received one as a gift. My first Pop was Superman and I’d gotten it as a thank you from my colleagues. I assume I got Supes because I’m a comic book fan but I prefer to think it’s because I did a super job at being Head of Department while the boss was away.

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The second Pop I got was through one of those geeky gift box things, specifically Loot Crate. It’s a weird design; a Batman/Joker hybrid. It’s quirky but it doesn’t have a lot going for it beyond that.

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Nevertheless, having these two got me started down the road to buying my own. I picked up a couple of throwbacks to cartoons I used to enjoy in Super Saiyan Goku (from DBZ) and a Foot Soldier (from TMNT) but the majority of my collection is horror themed. Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees kicked these off, then I received Pinhead (as a Father’s Day present from a special chickadee at work) before picking up The Crow today.

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My favourite so far is Slimer. The design is awesome as it has slime ‘dripping’ from his body.

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There’s another Pop purchased but I have to wait until Christmas before I open it – speaking of which, the kids are getting two Pops each as X-Mas presents to compliment the ones they already own (Princess Celestia from My Little Pony, and Iron Man).

Anyway, I think what I like about them is the Chibi style design. I’ve always found super deformed characters endearing, ever since I found baby versions of Muppets (TV) and X-Men (comics) when I was younger. This especially works when you consider the juxtaposition of the horror characters and these super-cute versions of them.

Funko have recently released Pops for Orange is the New Black, Pitch Perfect and a bunch of other lines I would have thought weren’t ‘nerdy’ enough for this sort of collectible. I can’t wait to see what else they bring out.

Writing Workshop

This month’s exercise was inspired by real life events. Apparently, a company in the UK have been employing scare tactics by ringing people in the middle of the night to tell them they need to buy insurance against burglars. Our task, then, was simple: “The phone rings at 2am. Create a scene of up to 800 words.” Here’s my effort… I’m not as happy with this one as I was with my first-up effort – mostly because I wrote this on the due date and based it on an actual conversation because the prompt didn’t fit any of my current projects.

*   *   *   *   *

‘The phone is ringing. The phone is ringing? THE PHONE IS RINGING.’

The thoughts took a while to make sense in Brad’s head. In these days of instant messaging and social media the usual noises that came from his phone were alert tones and, at first, Brad didn’t even recognise his ringtone. Now that he was a bit more awake and a bit more aware he rolled towards his alarm clock expecting it to be not long after he had gone to bed. He was wrong. The square numbers screamed 2:00 and, within seconds, Brad was bolt upright with phone in hand.

“Hello?”

“G’day, mate. Bad time?”

There was no urgency in his best friend’s voice. Whatever was happening in Danny’s life that made a phone call at this time of night seem like a logical course of action, he clearly wasn’t in danger.

“Never.”

“It’s about Jess.”

“Ok,” Brad shuffled in to a more comfortable position. Danny and Jess had been together for around five years. They’d bought a house together. Brad had a fair idea what Danny was about to say.

“We broke up.”

“What?” This wasn’t the – we’re getting married – announcement Brad was expecting.

“Things weren’t working out. They hadn’t been working out for a while.”

Wherever the conversation went from there, Brad wouldn’t know.  Danny was more than his best friend. He was a role model; the brother he never had. Brad thought the relationship between Danny and Jess was one for the ages, like something out of a book or movie. The Notebook had nothing on them. So all the while Danny went through the details of his relationship breakdown, all Brad could think was, ‘if he couldn’t do it, what hope do the rest of us have?’ His mind drifted to all of the arguments he had with Angela recently, to all the times he’d gone for a walk to cool off before he said or did anything stupid. His relationship was already cracked, Danny’s had shattered completely and with no warning.

“I’m sorry, mate. I feel terrible for dumping this on you.”

“What are friends for?”

“Yeah, but…” Danny trailed off. Brad knew that his friend had said all he was going to. It was one thing to talk about his relationship with Jess, but Danny was never going to vocalise his feelings for Brad. Both men knew this.

“Anytime, mate. Anytime.”

“Cheers. Anyway, I should probably let you get some sleep.”

“No worries. Speak soon, yeah?”

“Yeah. See ya, mate.”

“Bye.”

Despite the assurance they’d speak soon, Brad knew they wouldn’t really talk. Sure, they’d chat. They’d chat about inconsequential things, like sport, but they wouldn’t talk. He put his phone back on the bedside cabinet and glanced at the clock as it blinked from 3:04 to 3:05. He blinked too. He slid back down under his covers and hoped that sleep would find him soon.

Workshopping my Writing

I’ve joined an on-line workshopping group where we engage in a monthly creative writing exercise and then comment on each other’s posts. The idea is that we’ll continue to push ourselves, and each other, to improve our writing abilities. The first exercise I took part in was to “write or modify a scene in which your character (or group of characters) is deeply affected by a smell”. Here’s my effort… I look forward to taking the feedback I received and refining it further.

*   *   *   *   *

And then it hits me, that familiar smell of guilt. Metallic. Coppery. A salty mineral-like smell blended with synthetic lavender and citrus.

Tears flow from my cheeks but are quickly washed away by the running water of the shower. The dried blood of last night’s hunt haunts me. It hides in my hair and refuses to release its hold on my skin. These soaps and shampoos soften its grip but the ghosts go deeper than the skin.

I only kill animals. I have only ever killed animals.

Diesel.

Willow.

Dexter.

Marley.

Stella.

Piper.

I keep their tags as a reminder. I keep his tag as a reminder.

Max.

The thought of his name triggers a near-seismic response in my body; my body shakes and I crumble to the floor. An invisible force reaches through my throat and wraps itself around my lungs. I fight back the darkness that gathers near my eye lids and force myself to breathe.

Max was the world to me. He was my best friend, my brother. We would spend hours at the park. I reimagined team sports so they were suited to one boy and his dog. Max was my fielder, my point guard, my winger.

I don’t even remember the night I killed him. The wolf inside me was a separate being then. The connection is stronger now, between wolf and man. Back then I was controlled by the hunger. I can only hope that I was so drunk on blood lust that I acted quickly, that he felt as little pain as possible. All I know for certain is that I woke up in a pool of his blood and I am still washing it off of me. Last month I killed some rats, last night it was a rabbit, but every time I shower after the hunt it is Max that I am brought back to. It’s not just the smell of the blood. Each animal smells different. It’s the combination of blood and cheap toiletries that triggers the memories.

I could change brands or scents but I don’t want to. The pain reminds me of my humanity.

The Games We Play

School can be boring. On any given day much of what students do is the same as what they did on the day before. Imagine, then, trying to remember concepts and content when you’re in an exam when everything blurs into the next.

Last year I tried to remedy this by playing party games with my year 12s as part of our revision process. The highlight was pass-the-parcel. Typical of most children’s parties nowadays, each layer of the parcel contained a chocolate. The twist was that each chocolate had a strip of paper wrapped around it. This bit of paper featured a question pertaining to our class content and students needed to get the question right in order to get the prize, otherwise it went into a bowl in the middle of the group.

My current year 12s knew about these games and have repeatedly asked to do the same so today we played beer pong and spin the bottle.

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The play we’ve been studying, Blackrock, is a criticism of the prevalence of alcohol in Australian society and the tragic events which can stem from alcohol abuse. It was because of this that I made our games typical of parties where alcohol is involved.

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Beer pong should probably have been renamed ‘quiz pong’ or something equally lame. In our version, students threw balls into the cups and then had to answer the question therein – I had spare questions to replace any they couldn’t answer. If they got the question right, the cup was removed and the winning team was the one who got rid of all the cups they were aiming for.

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Spin the bottle was just an exercise in demonstrating text knowledge by rattling off quotes from the text. The students would take their spin and then ask whoever the bottle pointed at to give them a piece of dialogue, some stage directions or a reference to a significant prop.

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I’m hoping that this made revision more memorable and that it breeds student success.