Archive for August, 2012

Suddenly faced with the rest of your life

The rest of your life. A daunting prospect.

As a child, it is an impossible daydream –

Too intangible to grasp, too distant to consider,

Especially with such fleeting consciousness.

Born aware more by idle mind than reality –

As events are planned and past, as hopes are raised and gone,

We become acutely attentive of the setting sun, the passing days.

The dawn of the rest of your life may appear more as a blinding midday sun,

Than sunlight creeping above the horizon.

Embrace it – for even a distant vision grows closer with each step.


The Creative Touch

I have always harboured great respect for creative people.

I’ve never understood their abilities and my lack of ability has probably rendered me powerless to properly appreciate their skills. I nevertheless try.

The boy who could effortless clear an enormous height. The girl who could draw, or paint, or sing. The adolescent who could strum a song by ear. The writers. The thinkers.

Sometimes, I would think that people may run out of creativity.

That “using” creativity was like taking a cup and slipping it across a bath of water and pouring it down the sink. Once it’s used, it’s gone.

However, I’ve come to feel that creativity is more akin to the flowerbed whereupon others pour their glasses of water onto. With each moment of inspiration and opportunity,people increase their creativity – both in thought and action – for (hopefully) all the world to see.

I’m inclined to believe that, for instance, the more you write, the greater array of inspiration will draw you to write further – the more you use your creativity, the more creative you will be.

Creativity may be more of a habit than a natural-born gift.


Negativity

There will always be reasons to think negatively.

Work may be unfulfilling. Friends may be frustrating. Your favourite tv show may be cancelled (or moved back half an hour). These are all parts of Western Life that seem hell-bent on gearing our thinking in a negative fashion.

Mondays are the worst. Tuesdays aren’t much better and God help me on a Wednesday. etc. The problem is that this type of thinking is generally formed by those around us and can tend to scrape off onto our psyche. As an extension of this, our possible negative thoughts may influence others whether we want it o or not.

Negative thinking can be a habit. At the end of a day, we may naturally reflect on the couple of negatives over the heap of positives. To harbour on the tiredness while ignoring the positive factors involved in creating said tiredness.

Negativity must be thought of as a muscle.

The more often it is used, the greater it will flex.

To strengthen our bodies and minds against this muscle, we sometimes need to remind ourselves to think positively. To put things into perspective. To tell yourself that no task in unachievable, that things are never as bad as they seem. For, however hard things may seem, there’s always something as cute as this dog somewhere.

Positive thinking does not mean happiness. Happiness is merely a fleeting emotion. Positivity is a life-changing, continuous mindset – albeit one that needs you to be alert and active in its maintenance.


A trip!

The Wife and I today booked a trip for the end of the year (unofficially Honeymoon No. 2)!

We had promised this trip after booking Thailand for Honeymoon No. 1, but it never quite feels real until you book.

There’s nothing quite like the excitement gathered from travelling, even the planning of it. The expected learning and growth to come out of it, the visiting of new places and meeting new people is addictive and draws us back time after time.

We have one month, flying into Berlin and out of Madrid. Some places we’re thinking of visiting along the way include Dresden, Prague, Vienna, Florence (Pisa, San Gimignano), Rome (with a day trip to Pompeii), Marseilles/Nice, Barcelona and Madrid.

Do you have any suggestions or tips on where we should visit?

(Now for the maniacal saving!)


The Vasari Corridor and the Mighty Medici

I had been fascinated by the Medici for several years before travelling to Florence toward the end of 2008.

A charismatic, rule-bending, powerful, cheeky, ruthless family – the Medici were the dominate family in Florence for over 2 centuries. An especially admirable feat when considering that the political landscape of Florence was designed to not be dominated by a single family/group. The family ruled this beautiful city in all but title.

A quick snapshot of the Medici CV will offer a brief insight into their power:

The family were a key figure in the period of the High Renaissance.

Among the artists that they commissioned lay the names Brunelleschi, Donatello, Michelangelo and da Vinci.

Their reign lead to Mad Savonarola’s “Bonfire of the Vanities” (briefly seeing the Medici exiled before returning to their former glory – and to execute Savonarola).

Some of the architectural feats of the city regarded as being heavily influenced by the Medici include the Boboli Gardens and Palazzo Medici. This is not to mention their involvement in the establishment of the Uffizi Gallery (the world’s oldest art gallery).

The Medici Bank was one of the most powerful during the 15th Century.

The family later produced 4 Popes and 2 regent Queens of France!

As you can see – they were pretty big…people knew them.

After the family had been allowed re-entry to Florence for the second time in the mid 1500s, the Medici solidified their standing. Allessandro de Medici was anointed Duke of Florence and the wife of Cosimo I de Medici purchased the Pitti Palace.

The Pitti Palace was located on the Oltrarno (the other side of the Arno) – long viewed as the poorer side of the city. The Medici family, nonetheless, relocated to this grand palace.

The only problem was that it was a much greater distance to walk to the Palazzo Signoria (where political decisions were to be made) and, even greater, the amount of commoners they would encounter along the way!

Not to be derailed, the Medici commissioned Giorgio Vasari to construct a secret corridor that would extend from the Palazzo Signoria, through the Uffizi gallery, across the Ponte Vecchio above the Arno, above the streets of the Oltrarno, through the back of a church and finally into the Pitti Palace (or the other way around, depending which end he started at). The Medici had discovered a way to literally walk above their neighbours.

I had to seek out this corridor. Unfortunately, I discovered that it was closed to the public for repairs.

Through the Piazza della Signoria we ventured – excitedly, to the side of the building we spotted this small walkway:

From in front of the entrance to the Uffizi, we could spot the extension of the corridor to the far end of the clearing. Excitement was building as we felt we were walking surreptitiously in the footsteps of the greats or, at least, near them!

Into the Uffizi we went. What we saw inside is probably best left for another post, but it was amazing nevertheless. In a little room in the Gallery (which can be seen in the middle of the above photo) I took this photo of the Ponte Vecchio – where the corridor extended:

Out of the Uffizi, we continued our search. Reaching the banks of the Arno, we found the corridor again sneaking its way around the corner to run parallel to the river before snaking its way across, above the famous bridge:

Here, the corridor can be seen in the top half of the bridge:

A close-up of the corridor:

A close-up of the corridor in the Ponte Vecchio. Apparently, the meat market used to be located on the Ponte Vecchio but was replaced because the Medici did not want the smell entering the corridor. The meat market was replace by goldsmith shops (which are still located on the bridge):

We walked to the Ponte Vecchio and wandered across to the Oltrarno. It didn’t take long before we spotted the corridor above the shops and homes:

Along the cobbled streets we preyed, each iron-clad window signalling our successful journey. Here, the corridor detours slightly to the Church of Santa Felecita. The Medici, indeed, had their own viewing station from the corridor:

As I wasn’t specifically allowed to take photos within the church, I could not get a clear view (I had to take one for the sake of the ninjaesque mission!):

Exiting the church and continuing along the street we finally reached the end of our journey. We had successfully followed the path laid out by that great family to the Palazzo Pitti (though we’d seen more commoners than the Medici would have endured!):

And there you have it! Our journey through the beautiful streets of Firenze, from the centre of government, to the beauty of the river, stumbling across a church and finally a grand palace. It was a slight shame that we couldn’t go in, but in a way that added to the majesty of the exploration.

In case you’re travelling to Florence, this may be a tour you would enjoy. I’m not sure if they are currently allowing visits and I believe they only accept limited numbers each day, so perhaps book ahead?


No…Oh…OK

“Kids these days…” – undoubtedly the quintessential catch-cry of the ex-juvenile.

The statement, usually uttered with distain, is sprouted by individuals from the moment in time the observer feels detached from “youth” culture.

I think each generation makes generic complaints about the incumbent youths and it’s probably something that has happened for some time. Half a century ago it may’ve related to kids and their rock’n’roll music. 30 years ago clothing styles and general disrespect. 20 years ago perhaps the accelerated arrogance of the young.

Nowadays (and possibly merely as a continuation of a previous theme) “kids these days” can reflect a displeasure across any number of fronts. Rude children, pushy children, lazy children, over-excited children, mannerless children, selfish children, troubled children, confident children.

Now, I can get pissed off at those younger that me as well as the next person – but I come at it from a different slant.

Being a primary teacher, I see a whole range of personalities. The positives, the areas for improvement, the concerns, in each child. What bothers me is attitudes of parents – most specifically, the inability of many to say “no.”

Children, from the youngest age, have very defined personalities. Yet they are also greatly defined by their environment. They are greatly influenced by those who are closest to them.

When children want something and get it immediately without strain, effort, patience or virtue; they are being sold short. Children are capable of the most wondrous things – yet are crippled by the assumption that they must be appeased at all moments.

Not all of life’s experiences should be positive. At least at a young age, parents can control the extent and arenas for how their young manage disappointment so that they can learn and grow. I’m obviously not saying that parenting is easy, but I believe that it is crucial that parents have a clear outline for the values that they want to enrich their children with.

Walking home the other night I witnessed two parents give in to a whining child over the most mediocre of requests. They initially started strong, with a bold “no,” yet within seconds of the child demonstrating near-tantrum activities, the parents succumbed to a “oh…OK.”

Parents these days…


Florence – Statues

 

 

 

 

 

 


When the concrete mind meets the abstract concept

Teaching Poetry to 7 year olds.

Akin to speaking a little-known foreign language to a deaf person.

The mind of a 7 year old resides primarily in the concrete. The child has worked hard throughout the entirety of their lives to make sense of the indiscernible. Within the space of a few short years, many unknown sites and sounds are compartmentalised in the mind and made sense of. Whereas a child of 6 months will be confused by most aspects of daily life, a 7 year old has steadily progressed along the path of understanding.

They get stuff. Stuff they don’t get, they either ignore, adapt past knowledge to fit or create a new knowledge bank. Children of this age thrive on the concrete. Gaining and sharing knowledge is a highlight. This is not to say that imagination has no place, far from it. Often, imagination is where the child can put forward their knowledge in an area completely controlled by their own mind. They learn something new, it makes little sense at the time. The child puts it into practice in a controlled setting and this helps to bring light to the subject matter.

Poetry doesn’t quite fit this process.

Poetry relies, to a degree at least, on wording the unwordable or describing the easily describable in a beautiful, abstract way.

Today, when writing Cinquain poetry, I challenged the children to describe an athlete at the Olympics in an event…poetically.

To put into words the grace of Sally Pearson cascading over hurdles on her way to gold, to capture the might of Usain Bolt’s presence.

“He ran fast,” “She jumped” seemed to be the extent of the offerings.

Trying my best, I attempted to draw out what I knew was inside of them. Each child. Reaching their potential and all that.

“But what did it look like? When Bolt streaked away from the field, leaving the competitor’s far behind?”

“Good.”

I needed more. I would push and push for their minds trapped in concrete definitions to exaggerate the events they had witnessed.

And they would look at me with their big, beautiful, sparking, eager-to-please eyes which barely guarded me from the utterly blinding light, signalling that, in fact, that hadn’t a clue what I was on about.

Essentially, I learnt a few things through the exercise.

1) I need to get better at teaching poetry

2) I need to change up the processes in the classroom. Too often, children complete the pattern of being set a task, completing the task, checking how they went. Such a structure emphasises being “right” – suitable for certain circumstances, but not for higher-order thinking. Not for poetry!

3) Occasionally, children need less modeling. Often, I find myself almost patently pointing out to the children step by step what needs to be done. Whilst this is occasionally necessary, when it comes to writing this, by and large, serves to censor the inherent creativity of a 7 year old. Leading them to fixate incessantly on formula, spelling, handwriting rather than sentence structure, rich description and flare.

At the end of the day, whenever I reflect on teaching, I’m drawn to the conclusion that for every argument I make toward one path of teaching, I can make an equally pertinent yet perpendicular argument.

That’s the joy of teaching. That’s the frustration of teaching. I guess, like poetry, teaching is not about right or wrong.


The Power of the Olympics

“I am very much looking forward to what will be an incredible Olympics.” A quote such as this, if stemming from an unknown source,  could easily be attributed to any of the 10, 490 athletes competing at the 2012 Olympic Games.

That it comes from the mouth of a man entering his first Olympics after four years of training, torment and torture as he strove to reach his dreams probably doesn’t narrow it down a whole lot – save for the gender.

These words originated from Oscar Pistorius, a 25 year-old South African 400 metre. Born without a fibula in either leg, Pistorius had both legs below the knee amputated before his first birthday.

Pistorius’ inclusion in able-bodied competition came with a barrage of controversy. Debate has circled around his presence for years, so much so that in 2008 the IAAF went so far as to change the rules of the sport to disable him from competing. The man who had fought his own disability for so long was being handicapped by the governing body of his own sport.

To think that having no legs could be an advantage…

Anyway, to cut a long, long story short – Pistorius was selected to the Olympic team and went on to compete in the semi final of the 400 metres.

For all the talk surrounding Pistorius, I think it’s best summed up by the reigning World Champion Kirani James (who won the Semi that Pistorius bowed out in).

“Oscar is a very special guy and I was honoured to be out here on the track with him…He’s an inspiration to all of us…It takes a lot of courage and confidence to do what he has done today,” James said. Not much more needs to be said – a fellow competitor could hardly speak highly enough of the South African.

Upon completing the race James, rather than undertaking the obligatory celebration, immediately sought out Pistorius to exchange bibs. An incredibly delicate and touching moment of these games, highlighting the power they have to unite race, gender, culture and abilities.

James did not conduct this exchange out of pity, remorse or charity. He simply acknowledged the incredible effort his competitor had undertaken simply to compete at the games and took the time to do something about it.

James went on to remark; “I just see him as another athlete, another competitor. What’s more important is I see him as another person. He’s someone I admire and respect.”

A wonderful thing to say about a fellow athlete and truly the best meaning of what it is to be an Olympian.

The other story from the Olympics that caught my imagination was that of Wojdan Shaherkani.

Her journey within the Olympics lasted all of 83 seconds. Her prelude to, and legacy from it, will last a whole lot longer.

The first Saudi woman to compete at the Olympics arrived amongst a barrage of disgusting conservative criticism from her own country. Indeed, her invitation to join the Olympics came not from qualification – but a direct invitation from the IOC. She could not qualify because her country does not conduct Judo competitions for women.

Some groups within Saudi Arabia took such offence to her participation in the Games that she was publicly labelled a “whore” simply for wanting to compete. It is surely one thing to be born with a disability, another to live in a society that imposes one upon you.

The British public, amid others, offered her a warm welcome to her place on the arena as an exceptional case – hopefully she can be welcomed in Rio as, like Pistorius, simply another athlete.

For all its corruption and drawbacks, it’s stories such as these that bring me enthusiastically every four years to the sanctity of the couch for two weeks – to devour footage of the world’s best athletes and be moved by the destruction of so many barriers.


Munich – Alpsee Lake and Neuschwanstein Castle