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The Need to Read

When I was a child, I desperately wanted to be a librarian. Libraries were a huge part of my childhood existence. My father and I would often go to public libraries around Halifax, and in each one I would be overwhelmed at the excitement of what books I could choose. I would leave with no less than 10 novels at a time. While other children (my sister included) were out building forts, running around, exploring the woods, I would be happily sitting under a tree with my nose in a book.

When I went to University, I assumed that I was going to tackle my adolescent dream of becoming Prime Minister by taking Political Science. As It turns out, my childhood ambitions took over, and while I didn’t become a librarian, I became an English teacher instead. During the whole time I was trying to establish myself as teacher, I worked in a bookstore, which, I would say easily has been one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I miss it dearly. My job aside from selling, was to help people find books to read.

Um, what?

My JOB was to help people to READ. Willingly.

“Can you help me find a book to read?”

“A book? How about a million books that will all change your life.”

While I really loved helping people find books to read, I was especially happy when I could finally get a reluctant reader to finally find a book they were somewhat interested in reading. Particularly children. Sometimes, I’d look over at the kids section, a family in tow, discussing how the child HAD to find a book to read, much to the child’s dismay.

“I hate reading”, the child would say.

This was my cue to saunter over causally, ‘tidying’ up books and asking if I could be of assistance.

Parents always looked at me with a huge HELP sign on their face, relieved they weren’t alone to find a book their child would refuse.

“What kind of things do you like?” would be my first question, directed at said child.

And we’d go from there. 9 times out of 10, I could get a kid to leave with a book that they and their parents would be somewhat happy with. The greatest feeling would be when that child would come back saying that they liked the book and if you could recommend anything else. Dream job.

Through this job, I met the most amazing teacher. He came in, I’m not exaggerating when I say, every second day. He’d come in, scour the new books, pick them up and buy them. It wasn’t until months later that I finally approached him about all the books he was buying. He had a classroom policy that if his kids wanted a certain book, he’d go and buy it, no questions asked. I heard this story and was amazed at the generosity of this teacher. To which he replied, “I try and read what they’re reading, our goal is to get every kid to read 40 books in a school year”. 40 books. And to top it all off, they actually did it.

Do you feel inspired? I certainly was.

When you work in a book store, you have access to almost any book you can imagine, and they want you to read books, so it was an oasis for bookworms like myself. I learned about books, I shared stories about books, I read my heart out.

Then, I became a full-time teacher in my very own classroom, where I get to talk to my students about books. It’s really easy for teachers to romanticize teaching moments. Especially me, I sometimes have a very airy fairy dream about how things will look, and I’m not going to lie to you, the reality can be crushing.

At my school there’s a reading program where students have to read a minimum of 15 books in one academic year. In comparison to Mr. 40 Books a Year, I thought it would be a walk in the park.

Turns out, I was real wrong.

Kids fought me tooth and nail. They would ‘pretend’ to read, ‘forget’ their books, not commit to a book, and complain to high heavens. These kids hated reading. Collectively, they were a huge non-reading posse who were dedicated to insisting to me they didn’t need to read, and there was nothing I could say to change their minds. To make matters worse, they were all picking out these 40 page little readers that were boring and that they hated. But it was an easy read, and if they “had” to read, they were going to pick the easiest, shortest way to get there.

So I did what I used to do, I sold books. Not literally of course, but during our library lesson once a week, I would take books I was familiar with and loved, and try and make a strong case as to why they should read it. Some just looked at the cover and said “Nope”. Some looked at the size of the book and asked me if I was crazy. Some took a chance on me and took the book out of my hand, either because they were interested or because they wanted me the hell out of their face. It didn’t matter, they had the book. Sometimes, I’d find these books left behind on the floor, sometimes on tables, sometimes put hastily back on the edge of a shelf, but SOMETIMES, I’d see that kid actually sign out that book. My heart would quietly soar.

It occurred to me one day when I watched kids trying to find books in the library that they didn’t know how to find a book.

“Guys”, I said to my class “you can’t just walk into a place full of books, pick out the first book you see and get out of there. It doesn’t work like that. If I picked out the first books I saw in a bookstore and tried to read it, I’d probably hate it.”

Then all the hands started shooting up.

“Do you finish every book you read? one student asked.

“Oh God, no”.

“Who’s your favourite author?” another asked

“Ooh that’s a tough one”

“What’s a Genre?” said a third student.

“How many people have never been to a library or bookstore outside of this school?” I asked my class.

90% of my class raised their hands. My eyes widened with absolute shock. Wowza.

“Okay, I’ll ask this question. If I was in a store or library, and I wanted to read a book, what could I do?”

We went from there. We talked about how you find books you want to read. How you talk to your friends and look for recommendations, how you look for things you’re interested in, how you stick with an authour or series because it’s tried and true. Things were buzzing in my classroom.

Slowly but surely my kids are reading real novels. That they finish, front to back. And to top it all off, they actually LIKE some of the books.

One afternoon, my class was absolutely silent during reading time. When it was over, I asked my class what the change was, what happened, why was it so quiet? To which one of my students replied,

“Well Miss, I like my book so much that I don’t really want to talk to anyone, I want to find out what happens”

“How many people actually like their book?”

All but two raised their hands, and then they begged me to let them keep reading, I almost died of pure happiness.

Another afternoon when we were in the school library, one of my students was picking out a tiny book based only on its’ size and nothing else, I said to him,

“Come on, let’s really find a book you want to read”.

“You don’t get it Miss, you read like 500 books a day.”

I don’t think I need to clarify here that I don’t read 500 books a day, because I don’t. However, his comment really hit me hard because…

I haven’t read ONE book since I arrived on this continent.

Not. One. Book.

The hypocrisy of this is overwhelmingly apparent. I, an English teacher, lover and chronic pusher of literature, haven’t read one book since I was on the airplane on my way over here. I had lots of valid excuses as to why I hadn’t been reading. It’s my first year full-time teaching, I work a minimum of 60 hours a week with over a hundred students, I’m so brain-dead when I finally get home that I can barely string together a sentence, let alone absorb a page from a novel.

But these excuses didn’t sit right with me. So, two weeks ago, I decided to come clean to my classes. I told them the truth. Some of them gave me a hard time about it, but surprisingly, they were all pretty forgiving. So I made a deal with them. I asked them to ask me if I was reading my book.

“Class, everyday I want you to ask me if I’ve been reading my book, can you make that deal with me?”

They all eagerly nodded their heads. You see, when a student looks at you and asks you a question, you want to be able to tell them the truth. I knew it would hold me accountable, I wasn’t going to lie to my students. I had to tell them that “Yes, I read my book”, or “No, I didn’t read my book”. I knew which answer I wanted to give them.

The first time a student asked me the daily question my answer was:

“Well…I had it open, but I fell asleep with it on my chest”

To which that darling child said

“Well, at least you tried Miss.”

My heart almost broke at how lovely that comment was. It’s been motivating to say the least. I’m still only reading a pittance, but at least I’m reading again. It’s helped me to remember how involved reading is, how much it grabs you, but also how present you have to make yourself. So now, when I’m pushing some of my straggling reluctant readers to get on the literacy train, I stop and think to myself, “monkey see, monkey do”.

And then I remind myself, “Did you read last night Lill?”

 

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A Show of Talent

“Curb Your Enthusiasm”, and “The Office” are among some of my favourite television shows of all time. From time to time I will engage in conversation with some people who can’t watch these shows. I use the word “can’t” very purposefully here, some people are unable to watch these shows because of the awkwardness of human interaction demonstrated. It makes certain viewers too uncomfortable to be able watch it. While I don’t agree with their rationale towards the shows, I do understand feeling this same uncomfortable feeling when watching the awkwardness associated with Talent Shows.

I hate Talent Shows.

There, I said it.

As a person that works with young people a lot, talent shows are a big part of social entertainment organised for them. I understand the premise, I really do. People are talented in ways that might surprise you, it’s good to discover these talents in an organised fashion where people really get to show their stuff. Here’s where the problem lies, some people don’t have stuff to show. I’m sure some of you are thinking about how bad of a person I am, but before you judge, can I describe a scenario for you? A shy, nervous, young person gets their folded, faded, piece of paper out, with a poem, they wrote, or worse, a song. Not only does this person share their lyrics, it’s goes even further. They sing. Even describing this scenario to you is making me feel sick to my stomach right now. That shy person, alone, standing up there in front of their peers, shakily holding that piece of paper, and singing their little heart out, and it sounds awful.

Is there beauty in this moment? Sure. Is there character building potential here? Absolutely. Is it cringe-worthy if it doesn’t go well? Without a doubt.

It’s that moment when the song is a little too intense, the singing a little too off-key, the person a little too vulnerable. As a person who basically just wants to scoop people up in my arms and prevent them from any kind of judgement, it’s all too much for me. I want to bury my face in my hands, and try not to throw up. The slightest whispering of people, I snap my head around, trying to suss out the potential meaness. To the human race’s credit, most people are unfailingly kind and supportive, which really is amazing. Sometimes though, because I have a tendency to make some amazingly good eye-contact, I’ll beam out a smile and clap so loudly that their eyes are on me, and then suddenly, they might think, “man, I’m incredible! I should think about doing this forever!”

This is the tricky line between general human support and being dishonest about someone’s actual talent. Again, it’s a notion that makes me feel endlessly conflicted.

Now you might think to yourself, what’s the harm? They’re only seven, or twelve, let ’em live.

Sure, but let me introduce you to the Talent Shows of Adulthood, i.e. Open Mike Night, and Karaoke.

Let’s get something straight. There are genuinely talented or personable people that grace the microphones at these events, I know a few of these people. They’re a joy to listen to, they’re really fun to watch and they can really get a crowd going. Once in a while though, you’ll get this one person that’s announced as a ‘newbie”. This person waiting off stage, giving themselves a mini pep-talk. They walk up slowly to the mike, and…

Yes, sometimes you get Susan Boyle. Sometimes (most-times) you get the person who’s been singing in the bathroom mirror for weeks on end and they finally decide to take the plunge. People are oh-so polite, but sometimes that’s even worse, because the air gets to be a little too quiet and they’re overly focused. Have you ever been in a room where you can’t make eye contact with anyone else at the risk of chortling out a laugh, because doing so means you’re acknowledging how bad, terrible or funny it really is? That makes for the longest four minutes of your life. Particularly if they’re wearing a cute, pre-planned outfit, they have dance moves, or they have another song lined up. Again, it makes me feel so uncomfortable, I just want to pull a scarf over my face.

On rare occasions, you’ll just get a person that’s not particularly good, but is pretty endearing. On others, you’ll get a person that doesn’t give a damn about their performance, but just wants to be up in front of people. This makes me think of a past camper, let’s call her Emily. On the Talent Show Board at camp where you sign up to put your talents she put “Cartwheels and Goose Calls” Emily was about eight years old. I was confused, was this code for something?

On the night of the talent show, when her name was called up, she walked up and took her stance. What do you think she did? She did a cartwheel, followed by a loud goose call. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life, and I was joined by every other person in that audience. To this day, I don’t know if she ever intended for anyone to actually laugh, it might have actually been a serious routine. I really think those were the two biggest talents she had to offer, so she put them together. Everyone laughed, she seemed unfazed, and she cartwheeled and goose called away.

I didn’t even have time to worry because of how entertained I was by her, how we all were.

So…I take some of it back. Maybe there is something to Talent Shows after all.

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I know this post should be about London, and trust me there are some posts about London coming up. However, this post was sparked by a friend’s question on Facebook, asking: “what is the nicest thing a stranger has ever done for you?” This took me back on a walk through memory lane. Close friends of mine will have heard this story, but I thought writing it down would give due credit to the kind lady who really helped me out one crazy night in NYC.

This story involves my old roommate K. I was staffing an international summer camp that required me to go for training in Washington D.C. My lovely roommate’s boyfriend (now husband) lived in Connecticut at the time, and so we decided that we would drive down together so that I could attend training, and that she could visit her boyfriend. To say that it was under-planned trip would probably be one of the biggest understatements of all time.

K is one of the most solid, well organized, and reliable people that I know. Somehow, she ended up all the way up in Fredericton, New Brunswick to attend University at the same place as me. To this day, I still don’t really understand how she ended up there, but I’m so glad for our friendship’s sake that she did.

Our Easter road trip took place in April 2007. Something else you should know about my past roommate K, is that she’s from the Bahamas. This factors into the story for two reasons. The first being that because I don’t drive, (read past post: “Dude Where’s My Car?”) meaning that K stepped up like a champ and agreed to drive. Being from the Bahamas means that K had never driven on a highway, or on the right hand side of the road. It also means that she’d never driven through snow, or a blizzard for that matter. That is until, April, 2007. I don’t know why we didn’t check the weather, or maybe we did, and threw stupidly young caution to the wind anyways, but K started our road trip almost immediately by driving through a horrendously bad snowstorm in Maine. Even a seasoned pro would have had an extremely difficult time, but this little Bahama Mama drove through like a pro. We then moved onto five lane highways, driving through construction and through Boston’s rush hour traffic. This was all within a few hours. Miraculously we made it to Connecticut where we would continue our journey to Washington in the morning.

Driving to Washington took a little longer than we thought, but with the beautiful weather, and with K’s boyfriend driving, the pace was a little more relaxed and leisurely. I was dropped off, and had a great weekend. At the end of the weekend K calls me Monday morning, and asks if I can take a bus to meet her in NYC which is halfway between our two points, I agreed to this logic and planned to meet her in the East end of NYC at midnight later on that day.

Upon arriving at one of the Greyhound bus stations in Washington, I was struck with two problems. The first being that with all the business of training, I forgot to charge my cell phone. The second was my luggage. Now, I would just like to take a bit to explain my luggage. People travel really differently by car than they do by bus. We had traveled down with our rental car, so I brought EVERYTHING. I brought a small suitcase, a sleeping bag, a comforter, two pillows, a backpack, a laptop bag, and my purse. This is what I loaded onto the bus, like an amateur prima donna, much to everyone’s dismay. As I sat on the bus, heading up North, I started to have a feeling of dread. My cell phone was slowly beeping its’ way to death. I watched as it blinked sadly, and I prayed that K would be in the location that we previously agreed on. We pulled into a dark parking lot in an area of the city I had never been. This was before smart phones existed, so I couldn’t have Googled where I was, and even if I had one, it would have been dead, as earlier indicated. The overhead announcement came on and notified us that we were in the West end of the city. My heart sank, and my stomach filled with a quiet panic. Unsure of what else to do, I put on my coat, my backpack, and started getting my stuff together. In the hustle and bustle, I got one of my mittens on a string, caught in my backpack. The bus driver looked at me like I was a 9 year old girl, helped me to untangle myself, and asked me if I was alright.

“Yep!” I said bravely, even though I’m sure he knew I was lying, and I headed inside the station.

Walking through that station was one of the only few times in my life where homeless people looked at me with a great deal of pity. Some of them even asked if they could help me. Imagine if you will, a 22 year old, with a jacket with mittens on a string, with a backpack and sleeping bag tied to it, a laptop bag, purse, on my back. While carrying two pillows and a comforter with one arm, and pulling along a suitcase on wheels behind me. It was a pathetic image indeed.

I stood in the station, having no idea where I was, no idea where I was going, and no idea of how I was going to get there. I looked around and saw the subway station signs pointing to my right, so I turned around and headed towards it. I got to the ticket booth, and peeked up over my comforter and blanket, asking the woman if she could give me a ticket Eastward. She sat there chewing her bubblegum loudly, with large hoop earrings, her long 90’s style hairsprayed heavily to her head, looking at me, unimpressed. She pressed the microphone to speak to me through the bullet-proof glass.

“Where you goin’ ?” She says in a heavy New York accent, looking at me bizarrely with all of my things.

I say casually, “Um, to the East side, to meet my ride.”

She looks me up and down, and looks at my stuff, shaking her head.

“Uh, no you ain’t. You call your ride and you tell ’em to meet chu here”

“I…I can’t. My phone is dead.”

“Honey” she says as she reached for her flip phone, and slides it under the glass to me, her long fake fingernails clicking on the counter,  “you call whomever you gots to call to get you outta here.”

I sigh heavily, and look at her, and say

“I’m Canadian, I can’t call because it would be long distance. Oh, and because the number I need to call is in my phone, which is dead.”

“Honey”, she says again in her flat tone,, “You call as many people as you gotta, you do what you need to do”.

Gratefully, I take the phone, and quickly dial my other roommate L (who’s at our house in Canada). It’s about 1 am there, and I hear a groggy voice pick up the phone,

“Hello?”

“Hello! L, it’s Lill, look I don’t have time to explain, but can you give me K’s number?”

“Aren’t you supposed to be with K?” she says confused and worried.

“Yes, it’s a long story, that I promise I’ll explain, but not now” (not wanting to rack up this phone bill any more than I have to)

L gives me the number I need and I quickly end the phone call.

I frantically dial K’s number, and she picks up

“K!? I’m on the West side! And I don’t know how to get you!”

“I’m on the West Side!”

“You are?! We’re both on the West side?!” I say with pure joy. The toll operator overhears this and presses the microphone, and says,

“Ask  her where she is”

K gives me directions that I don’t understand I write them down on my hand, reading out the directions to the woman, she’s nodding, saying,

“You’re real close”.

“I’m close!” I say back excitedly to K.

We quickly confirm the directions and I hang up. I thank the woman profusely, and she tells me to come back if I have any problems, and I’m on my way.

I’m on my way up on the streets of NY, with all my belongings in tow, like I’m ready to move there. I quietly slip behind these men who are loudly rapping lyrics in front of me. A whole line of them, impossible for me to slip past, so I hang back, trying to look casual, while also trying to see where I’m going. I walk in fear of not wanting to get mugged, listening to some of the most misogynistic lyrics I’ve ever heard, and somehow laughing to myself at how hilarious this whole situation was.

When I saw that white rental car, my heart leapt into my chest, and I’ve never felt such a mix of happiness and relief. I slip into the car, thanking K profusely, telling her about my escapades in getting to her. To finish off the craziness of our driving adventure, K drives through downtown NYC, and makes it out alive and all of us in one piece. Blizzard, Rush Hour, Five lane Highways, Construction, and NYC, she’s done it all in one weekend. She’s a North American Driving Professional.

As we drove back to Canada, I couldn’t help but think about that woman at the toll booth.If it wasn’t for her, I would have ended up God knows where. I cringe to think about how differently my night might have been. Sometimes, when people complain about how there aren’t any good people anymore, I think about that woman in NYC. My friend’s dad once said,

“You should never let fear stop you from from helping people”.

I see kindness between family, co-workers and friends, thankfully, so often. However, there’s in someways, a greater beauty when a stranger acts out of kindness,  and in a way, a truer sense of generosity. On that day, a stranger, in one of the biggest cities in the world, handed over one of her most important possessions to me, and paid who knows how much for my random long distance phone calls. For no other reason than wanting me to get home safely. For that I will always be amazed and endlessly grateful.

Thank you.

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I live in England now.

Today marks two months since I made the trek across the pond at the end of August, and I must say I’m settling in nicely. I’m always amazed at how adaptable humans are, I live in a new community, with new people (with some old familiar faces), and a new job. The time I lived in Saskatchewan and the time I’ve lived here seem to have rolled over seamlessly and comfortably, which sometimes leaves me feeling bewildered if I think about it for too long.

I stick out, not necessarily meaning to, but wherever I go, my accent is sure to follow. In London, most people seem very unconcerned with it, but living in a little town, I am often stopped to ask if I’m American, I correct them by telling them that I’m Canadian, to which there is usually a smile, or some kind of other exchange about how they have family there, they either want to or have visited there, or that they might have guessed my accent was Canadian because it sounds softer than the other American accents they’re more familiar with from T.V. For example. I was in Lush when one of the employees came up to me:

“Are you American?”

“No, I’m Canadian”

“Ah, I should have guessed, you don’t sound like the people I listen to on CSI, I love CSI, don’t you?”

“To be honest, I’ve never seen it”

She has a shocked look on her face, and then proceeds to tell me about CSI.

When I first arrived here, I grabbed a cab and the cab driver assumed right away that I was Canadian, and when I asked how he came to that conclusion he responded by saying:

“Well, I find if I assume people are American, people get offended, but if I assume everyone with a North American accent is a Canadian, Canadians feel welcomed, and Americans feel flattered”.

I found this to be an interesting statement, but because I was jet-lagged and in a new country, I thought pushing this discussion piece would be best done at another time (if it ever came).

Moving to another country tends to test your common sense skills. Simple things you take for granted doing everyday, are now time consuming tasks that often leave you feeling humbled. During my first week here, I was kindly invited to stay with some other Canadians that had already been established here, so that I wouldn’t have to stay at my flat while I was waiting for my other Canadian roommates to arrive. They were gone one morning, and I needed to make a British phone call. This seemed like a simple task, but I soon found out it wasn’t. I had not yet set up my cell phone, and so I had this portable phone in my hand and every time I dialed different variations of numbers, the end result was the same, I wasn’t able to call who I needed. I then did the only thing I could think of doing, I went to the streets. I flagged down this lovely older couple who were visiting their grand children.

“Excuse me, can you help me?” (holding a portable phone)

“Uh, sure?” (says the older man)

“How do I call people here?” (handing him over the phone with a little piece of paper)

“Aren’t from around here?” (says the older man)

“No” (I just moved here two days ago)

He stands there fiddling with the phone.

“We’re not from around here either, so I’m not sure if we can help you” (says his wife)

“No, but we’re from England dear, surely we know how to dial a phone!” (he says to his wife)

He tries several times to no avail, even the man from Britain can’t dial the phone. He apologizes profusely going back along his way, and while I am so grateful for this help, I literally have no way to call this number. I stand on the front stoop of the house, staring at this phone, using every brain cell that is available to me, trying to figure out a solution. I then see the older gentleman running back towards me, yelling,

“Dial 0 before the number!”

I frantically dial the 0 and then the rest of the number, holding the phone to my ear waiting anxiously, the man staring at me, his eyes wide with expectation, I stand there waiting for the sound of ringing…and then I heard it! I don’t think I’ve ever grinned so hard in my life.

“It worked! It’s ringing!” I yell out to the man high-fiving him, thanking him profusely. He grins in return running back to his wife, she’s giving me the thumbs up from a distance.

It’s all in the little things.

That’s just one example of the many little frustrations and triumphs I’ve had living in this country. When people ask about the differences, they’re so subtle, they’re often difficult to explain, Canada and England are so similar but yet so different. Getting a bank card feels like a small victory, grocery shopping for the first time feels like one of the most mind boggling things I’ve ever done, and things like getting a GP are an ongoing process.

I live in a place called Dartford which is a town about 30 minutes outside of London by train. For a while I had very little to compare Dartford to aside from London (and is anything really comparable to London?), and it seems clearer to me now that Dartford differs from other towns I’ve been to in terms of its’ socio-economic standing. From the locals that I’ve been lucky enough to interact with, it seems that Dartford has taken a bit of a fall over the last thirty years or so. I’m not sure why, or if  that’s purely nostalgia from people who remember things differently, or if Dartford was indeed another kind of place. But it does seem to have a bit of a melancholic vibe, I’m not sure if that`s because it’s cloudy 90% of the time here, or if it’s something else. It does not have the hustle and bustle of other towns I’ve visited, it’s got a quieter feel, which I must say can be quite comforting after getting off the train, walking along the little river up the hill back to my part of the world.

So, how do I sum up my first two months here? It hasn’t been perfect, but I’m meeting wonderful people, seeing/experiencing lovely things and working in a job that challenges me in ways I’ve needed for a long time. With all things considered, I think I’m doing pretty well.

Image

 

These are vacuum cleaners that they use here in the UK that are absolutely adorable. They use them at the school I work at, and when I was gushing about adorable they were, I was told they had a female counterpart, a pink vacuum named “Hetty”, I nearly died laughing because it was so ridiculous.

2013-10-12 13.34.53

 

There are snails everywhere,

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View from my backyard

Some Bansky found at Notting Hill

Some Bansky found at Notting Hill

 

George Orwell at Notting Hill.

George Orwell at Notting Hill.

Local Pub (although strangely, I haven't been in it yet.)

Local Pub (although strangely, I haven’t been in it yet.)

Really beautiful park by my house that has this great view of the town. However what makes it even more unique is that there are gravestones all along the perimeter of the park, but it's not considered to be a cemetery.

Really beautiful park by my house that has this great view of the town. However what makes it even more unique is that there are gravestones all along the perimeter of the park, but it’s not considered to be a cemetery.

 

Some of the headstones in the park.

Some of the headstones in the park.

 

Super cute, "Little Queen St."

Super cute, “Little Queen St.”

 

River shot by my house.

River shot by my house.

 

Dartford Saturday Farmers Market. I love going here because stall owners yell back and forth to each other and call out deals to customers, it's a great experience.

Dartford Saturday Farmers Market. I love going here because stall owners yell back and forth to each other and call out deals to customers, it’s a great experience.

 

My street.

My street.

 

One of the houses I pass by on my walk home.

One of the houses I pass by on my walk home.

 

Another house I pass by on my walk home.

Another house I pass by on my walk home.

 

My tap, I love how it tells me the date it was made on the top part of each faucet.

My tap, I love how it tells me the date it was made on the top part of each faucet.

 

Self explanatory.

Self explanatory.

 

Greenwich

Greenwich

 

View of London from the top of Greenwich.

View of London from the top of Greenwich.

 

Big Ben.

Big Ben.

 

2013-09-14 16.24.552013-09-14 16.25.322013-09-14 16.28.12   All different views of Westminster Abbey, the tourist attraction I probably want to see the most, but I didn’t make it there in time to go inside.

A very blurry look at London Bridge lighting up when it is about to open for ships coming through.

A very blurry look at London Bridge lighting up when it is about to open for ships coming through.

 

 

 

 

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9/11

Today is September 11th, just saying that date alone is enough to identify what day people think of and remember. Students in my class today were born in 2001, the year it happened, and had no idea what I was referring to. I know this happens in every generation about previous historical events that happened, but I must say it’s still strange when it happens. This also happened when I said “Columbine” to one of my previous classes and again, they had never heard of it. It’s so isolating isn’t, it when you have such a vivid memory of such a tide turning event, and people can’t share in that with you?

I wrote this post because I wanted to feature the writing of my colleague Luigi. Last night as I was lesson planning, he sent out an email with two things attached: a photo of where he worked in New York, and an account of what it was like for him to experience 9/11 in New York with a wife and two children. I started reading his account, and I couldn’t stop. I know there’s so much controversy around 9/11 and that many feel like it’s been talked to death (and both are fair points), but it really hit me hard that someone I knew was present for such an awful moment in time. I sometimes forget that real people were involved in that day, people just trying to get home to their families to let them know they were alright.

Here is Luigi’s account:

September 11, 2001 

I arrived in the office just before 9am.  Between the planes, as it turned out.

I rode the elevator with a colleague, a ‘co-worker’ as they are called here. ‘The World Trade Centre is on fire’ he told me. I feel guilty now but he is Russian and his English is patchy so I didn’t trust his report. I had come directly from the subway into our building without stepping on to the street. I had no idea of the commotion that was unravelling outside.

When we reached our floor the panic was more evident.

‘A plane has hit the World Trade Centre’ someone said.

I went with the Russian guy and another co-worker, an Indian, to an office at the south-west corner of our floor, 18 storeys above the street.

Through a gap in the buildings across Broadway between us and the World Trade Centre we could just see the south-facing side of the south tower. The first plane had hit the north tower but that was blocked from view. We were craning our necks to see the smoke when, after ten seconds, no more, the second plane flashed across the scrap of sky and disappeared into the building.  There was a flash but we were insulated from the noise. Nor did we see the up-town explosion until the evening news.

In a second – a micro-second – it was gone. 

I can’t remember what was said. A woman outside the corner office screamed and hugged someone, and I think we all ducked expecting the windows to implode. But it was surreal, like TV, really like TV, and I remember thinking that the plane looked small as it was swallowed by the giant building against the backdrop of the bluest sky.

As we evacuated the building some people shouted ‘You don’t need to leave,’ but they hadn’t seen what we’d seen. We stood in the plaza and had almost the same view but now from street-level. The south tower looked intact though violated. There was a hole and it was smoking, and there were some flames, but it looked controllable.

‘It was a small plane, I’m sure,’ I remember saying, unwittingly proving that perspective fools us.

All the talk was of terrorism. 

No one knew the tower could fall, but we knew it was stupid to spectate. Cell-phones were useless, the networks were wrecked or overloaded, and there were queues at all the payphones, so I went with an English friend and an American to a bar behind our building with telephones and televisions so we could watch CNN while we rang home. Perhaps we were foolish. Perhaps if we had seen more (more than a plane flying into a building?) we would not have gone to the bar but we were desperate to call our wives. There were queues at those phones, too, and the connections were unreliable, so we had a drink.  They had beer, I had Diet Coke (I was playing squash later) and we stood watching the giant screen while we waited.  People were calm.  At least, sort of calm. I am sure some people were drinking brandy. 

If I remember correctly the news of the Pentagon strike had just been announced when the first tower fell. The noise was incredible; I thought it was a bomb. The street outside the bar was dark in a second. Now people were screaming and running inside and out, and I saw faces pressed against the window. I am going to die, I thought. I really did. Fireballs and smoke inhalation, something like that, in a bar in New York City, drinking Diet Coke. That would be my epitaph. While New York burned he drank Diet Coke.

The pub filled with smoke and what I now know was ash. One of the barmen had the presence of mind to shut the doors and lay damp towels against the gaps. People grabbed napkins and handkerchiefs and covered their mouths. I went with another barman through the kitchen at the back of the pub. ‘Is there a door back there?’ I asked, knowing they must get deliveries from the smaller street behind. The kitchen was hot from cooking. There were corridors leading to the delivery door. As we got closer the smoke was more intense. ‘This is crazy,’ the barman said, and he was right. I was more convinced than ever that my moment had come. It was a rolling metal door and we pulled it up so that the gap was no more than a foot. The smoke poured in and there was ash like snow on the road. Really, like a light dusting of snow or a heavy frost. And we could hardly breathe. We pulled the door shut again and went back into the bar. People were panicking.  There was an emergency exit but it only opened into another building so they were waiting, screaming, unsure what to do. When the smoke cleared slightly we could see people on the street again. My friends and I agreed (two to one) that we should leave. We grabbed napkins and wore them like bandanas. I picked up my squash bag and we went back through the kitchen.

The street behind was deserted. We walked eastwards to the river and then north to Brooklyn Bridge. I live in Brooklyn beside the bridge so my friend came with me while our colleague went uptown.

We were only a short way across the bridge when the second tower fell. We looked back. It was incredible, the noise, the power, a city disappearing. The cloud of dust and smoke followed as we turned again towards Brooklyn.  The Blitz must have been like this.

My mind was full of nonsense . . . going home to the UK, real estate prices, arcane poetry. People were approaching the bridge from every angle, some running, some screaming, some bleeding. The circular slip-road from the FDR Drive was filled with humans instead of cars. ‘This is like hell,’ I said to my friend. ‘In Dante, people walking round. So many, I never knew death had undone so many.’ He humoured me. Unconnected nonsense. 

My wife tells me she has never felt emotion quite like when she heard my key turn in the lock. I still had not called her but she had watched it all on TV and from the car park of our apartment block, and she had left messages on my voicemail at work. I hugged her and our boys, our native New Yorkers (what will they ever know of this?) then I opened a can of Diet Pepsi to wash the dust from my throat. I was covered in ash.

Diet Pepsi. 

We passed the rest of the day watching TV. My friend left about five. My wife and I pushed the children in the stroller up to Brooklyn Heights promenade to see things with our own eyes. The smell and the smoke was too severe for young children so my wife turned back while I went to get Arabic takeaway food.

I didn’t play squash.

The next day I was called into another office of the company but they sent me home at lunchtime and told me to take the rest of the week off. I took my family away from the city to Long Island for six days. The Wall Street office has now reopened but I have been permanently relocated in midtown. Yesterday I went to pick up my things. My desktop calendar was open on 10 September. Time suspended. Almost two weeks. I stood again at the window on the south-west corner and looked out. The sky was so empty. Is so empty.  Where the World Trade Centre stood, now there is only light. Light, space and smoke. I walked to Broadway and stood as close as you can get to ‘Ground Zero’. The towers may be broken but the wreckage is massive. The  skeletal steelwork stands over a giant pile of rubble. It is shocking. Not just shocking, but truly sickening. And everywhere there are soldiers, police, firemen, security personnel and construction workers.  The only traffic on Broadway is trucks, fire engines and police cars.  And television crews. TV.  Everywhere TV. This drama has been lived on television all over the world, or so I am told, but I’m sick of it. Sick of watching, sick of not being able to turn it off, sick of the film of when the second plane hit.  And we all swap stories, over and over. The Russian went closer than me. His wife works nearby and he was almost flattened on the way to her office. The Indian went for a proper look and was knocked to his feet by the blast when the first tower fell. When he opened his eyes he was in darkness under the smoke and ash and a pile of fibreglass insulation. Next to him there was a gigantic slab of concrete that had exploded into the sky and dropped to the floor. He’d lost his spectacles but found his way from the scene by joining hands with other people. It took days for his throat to clear of dust.

Two weeks have passed now.  So many phone calls and emails. People worried or wanting first-hand accounts. We feel as if an enormous pair of arms has been put around us. People ask if I was scared. Well, I was, very.  And I still am. We live so close to the financial centre and to Brooklyn Bridge (a likely target?) that I feel we’re in the middle of it. I get on the subway and every time it slows I feel my pulse quicken. And I frequent too many busy places. But there’s nothing I can do. When I leave for work I say goodbye to my wife and children and shut the door when all I really want to do is stay inside and hug them. 

And to live somewhere safe.

The Twin Towers had cast a giant shadow when they were standing but there’s a bigger one now they’re gone. People on the street stop and look over their shoulder to the space, to the light as if it’s a trick, a dream, and the towers will reappear. Something permanent has gone.

The families of the lost are the same.

There is nothing else to say. 

Luigi Di Castri

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Unlike many other eastern Canadians, I had been to Saskatchewan twice before I actually moved there. Both times were unique and wonderful, and I fell in love with the province, actually said out loud to the people I was with “I’d absolutely move here”, not knowing how true that statement would eventually be. My two visits to Saskatchewan included Bruno (a tiny little town where I stayed in a Nun’s convent) and Saskatoon, the province’s most bustling city, (where I stayed at The University of Saskatchewan’s campus).

When I found out I was moving to Saskatchewan I had two week’s notice, and that I was moving to Regina. The only thing I knew about Regina at the time was that one of my closest childhood friends had taken her RCMP training there. So I decided to ask the only other dear friend I had in Saskatchewan what things he could tell me about Regina. Let’s just say, it wasn’t much. So I boarded a plane to Regina, not knowing anything about it except that it was flat, the RCMP headquarters was there and that the city had an IMAX.

Immediately upon landing you can feel how ‘western’ Regina is, I know that might sound like a weird thing to say, but it feels immensely different than the eastern part of Canada where I’m from, but I must say that I felt quite smitten with the place. Although the first apartment I stayed at was admittedly the worst place I have ever lived, I loved walking through the post-work day abandoned streets of downtown Regina, it was eerily quiet, with large buildings looming over you, and the sun peeking around these buildings like it would never set. At the time it seemed I heard every train passing through the city (which are many), with the whistle sound coincidentally sounding like “wheeeaaat, wheeeaaat!”,  a sound I later become so accustomed to, it felt like I never noticed it anymore.

I remember so clearly seeing the actual prairies for the first time while living there, I remember being unable to keep up my part of the conversation because of how much awe I felt for the beauty I was seeing. I think there are many reasons why I felt at home even while being in the middle of the country, but the one I finally figured out was that the endless distance of fields stretching on forever seemed to mirror the ocean I so dearly loved growing up near to. It felt peaceful and calm leaving the city and seeing nothing for as far as I could see. I’m going to be honest, the rest of Canada does tend to be kind of snobby about the prairies, that they’re flat, boring and that you just want to rush right through them to get to either Ontario or British Columbia, and before living there I would agreed with them, but now it seems to be a fundamental under-appreciation for a place that is so undisputedly beautiful. Driving through the prairies gives you a stark explanation of how how tough the settlers had to be that formed those towns and cities, people that didn’t see water or trees, but understood that they had to make it work and did. It gives you an idea of what the world looked like so long ago, when you’re driving along what used to be the ocean floor.  Sun sets, sun risings, thunderstorms, tornadoes, the Northern Lights and even beautiful sunny days were all capable of stopping me in my tracks. I later understood why some prairie folk tend to get claustrophobic when visiting the mountains, even though I personally never felt that way, they love the open skies, and being from Nova Scotia, I wholeheartedly understand that. Early on in my time in Saskatchewan,I remember listening to this CD where this man had written the whole thing about his love for Saskatchewan , and now that I’m gone, (while I do think a whole CD was excessive), I now understand how someone could feel that profoundly about a place and I include myself as one of them.

How can I summarize the almost two years I lived in Regina…it seems impossible. I had the fortunate experience of working several  jobs that ranged from working at places including two wonderful summer camps, working at the immaculate legislature building in provincial politics (a childhood dream) , a non-profit organization (that appealed to my bleeding heart) and teaching, all of which deeply lent themselves to where I am now. I met so many incredible people through those jobs and experiences that while I will always miss loved ones from other parts of my life and the world, I felt the distance was bearable because of the new home that people helped me form. I tend to be cheesy in even the best of times, but I truly feel that I left Saskatchewan a better person than when I entered it. The people there, strangers or friends were always so ready and willing to help, or explain, or just be a smiling face in one of Canada’s easily most unknown cities.

Honestly, I think that’s Saskatchewan’s appeal, you arrive with no expectations and leave more than pleasantly surprised at how such an unknown place can hold such an abundance of extraordinary people and experiences. Thank you Saskatchewan (or more specifically Regina), for embracing me with both arms, I’m a very lucky gal.

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Arcade on Fire

I was at an end of school year staff party looking at my phone to see what time is was, I was double booked for another event, and my ride who had brought me to the party was checking in with me about where to drop me off on her way home.

“Wonderland Arcade” I tried to say quietly to her (although most likely failed)

“You’re going to an arcade?” one of my other co-workers asked

And it seemed at this moment that the whole room stopped with their individual conversations and became quiet, totally engrossed at my new disclosure of my next location.

I stood there among my fellow employees most of them middle age or older, feeling suddenly like I was 13 years old.

“Uh…yeah, it’s this thing my friend organized” I said sheepishly, bracing myself for some unknown reaction.

“You’re SO lucky!” Another co-worker exclaimed

“You’re going to have so much fun!” another co-worker added

And all of a sudden I DID feel really lucky to be spending my night in an arcade.

Now to be fair, you could probably bring me anywhere and I could make it work. I can see the appeal in most things, and if I don’t, I’ll most likely try to see the appeal in the people that might be there. In this current situation, that wasn’t going to be an issue though. I’d never been to this location before, and as a Regina newbie (well kind of), I was excited to see a new location and my friend had rented out the whole establishment so that all of our other friends could go hang out there exclusively, as long as our little hearts desired. However, there was one important factor in me going to the arcade, I’ve never been a ‘gamer’. Honestly, I’m not a fan of electronic games, I wasn’t that kid that was addicted to video games, I find them stressful, I tend to press down on the buttons too hard, and have stressful dreams about levels I didn’t beat, and constantly agonizing over strategies to beat levels I have no business facing.  So what was I going to do at an arcade?

Have the time of my life, apparently.

I finally got dropped off by my kind co-worker and I stood in front of this sign.

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The doors were locked, and inside I could see a nicely sized crowd of ages ranging from mid twenties to mid thirties laughing and giddy with excitement. It was at that moment that I was reminded of the excitement you would get before going to a really cool birthday party. Since adult birthdays are generally restaurant, pot luck or cocktail related, you forget the anticipation of hanging out with your friends in a really cool place sometimes.

The doors were unlocked by the lovely lady hired to chaperone/run the arcade for us throughout the evening and she ushered me in like a VIP, locking the doors to the public behind me. No matter what the venue,  there is something pretty special about renting a whole space for your people and your people alone. People walking by on the street wondering if the amount of fun we looked like we were having reflected the amount of fun we were actually having, the answer is yes.

Immediately, the place filled me with a deep sense of nostalgia, bringing me back to a simpler and younger time. 2013-06-15 22.53.452013-06-15 22.53.33

I looked around to see bowls of party mix, and other familiar party treats, and looked down to see a huge cooler full of beers, putting the adult spin on this location.

My friends greeted me, quickly looking over and yelling to me, but desperately trying not to break their hard earned concentration and scores. I walked over to them, drinking in everything with my eyes, and so happy to be in such a place doing such wholesome things while having a Kokanee in hand.

We all had our vices, the game you just couldn`t walk away from, the one where you just had to try one more time. My friend V`s was the basketball net, she just couldn`t get enough. Mine was Skee ball.

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I felt like a Disney underdog playing that game. Having no idea what score was high or not high, not having one sweet clue what constituted a game well done, or a dud. It wasn`t until a friend of mine passed by, looked at my score and whistled, with a `wowzer, you’re incredible at this!’

Was I? Their reaction was to this score:

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I’ll have to take their word for it.

My stress case of the night was this game.

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It was a game in which I had a gun and basically had to machine gun kill tons of zombies flying at the screen. I’m not a Zombie lover, I can’t even watch “Walking Dead” because I’m so afraid of them. And there I was, gun in hand, shooter position, massacring every terrifying thing that lunged toward me. It felt like the game was never going to end, my shoulders were up to my neck, my hands gripping the gun tightly, and my occasional yelps. The game ended with what felt like an hour long battle with some zombie like Marie Antoinette flying around, to which I shot her to a bloody pulp.

I could see the concern in people’s faces as they witnessed my stress as they passed me.

I’m not built for these kinds of games, I probably wouldn’t make it in a Zombie Apocalypse, or maybe this game was some kind of test that I passed? Let’s hope it’s the latter.

These games:

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Car racing games, I could have played for the rest of my life.

And of course I played a lot of this:

Ms pac man

Does anyone else always think of ‘Wayne World’ when they hear of Ms. Pac Man?

And finally, I glanced up while watching my friends do ‘Dance, Dance Revolution”, I saw this familiar and yet disturbing image that certainly was a blast from the past:

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Is it supposed to be Elvira? Can someone help a sister out? And while that’s cleavage I’ll never be able to pull off (both because of biology and pure modesty), I do respect  her hair feathering, that’s a real commitment to beauty.

I played a solid three and a half hours at the arcade after I decided to gracefully bow out of my evening of gaming.

And on my way home I came across these lovely Reginian landmarks.

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All in all, it was a uniquely splendid evening that was too cool to repeat. Thanks N for organizing, I never would have thought of it, and it ended up being one of my favourite evenings maybe ever.

Game on Wayne.

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Glass Class

When I arrived back in Saskatchewan after Christmas holidays in January, I was itching for some kind of activity to get me through the winter. I wasn’t sure what to choose, but I wanted it to be something where I got to learn something I hadn’t ever done before and ideally, it would be creative.

One day after teaching I was walking through my old neighbourhood when I saw it. I was reminded of this adorable little store with large windows that featured stained glass, and more importantly people learning how to work with stain glass. When I lived in that neighbourhood, I would slowly walk by this beautiful store and tried to not too creepily (but probably failed ) look into the windows.  Not that it was hard for me to do, they were these enormous windows that looked onto these two very large tables, with soft lighting, and a trelis with ivy that hung over the table.  This place called out to me, and so eventually, I decided to answer. I walked in one afternoon and inquired about what exactly happened in this cute little place and wondered about how they could hook a sister up.

Inside I found an older gentleman whose accent I couldn’t quite place at the time (but later learned was Iranian) and I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction. He literally showed me how to cut glass right there and then just so I would understand how the classes worked, and then he convinced me to bring a friend with me because it would be more fun, he showed me pieces he had made around his store/studio, and I can’t emphasize enough how amazing of a space it was, so obviously, I signed up.

I have a creative mind, but have a real difficult time connecting what I want to do, with what I actually do. I have discovered through the sketching and painting classes that I’ve taken, that visual art tends to be a lot more mathematical than I previously assumed, which is probably why I have so much difficulty with it, but it doesn’t stop me from trying.

And try I did, with my trusty friend J, all through the winter months we toiled (and I’m not exaggerating) through our two projects. Monday nights we’d head on in to this beautiful warm space when it was -40 outside and got to work. The owner, Houssein has owned his store for 12 years and came quite late to stain glass, even though he was involved with visual arts for most of his life. Through talking to him, and watching him teach others, you understand why he does it, and it’s because he such an innate passion for it, and the more unique of a thing someone is passionate about, the more curious I am about that passion. What’s even more endearing  about Houssein and his studio is that he has this group of women that took classes with him when he opened his store, and they still come in and do their projects every Monday night, 12 years later. There’s probably about 8 of them that are such a lovely friendly group of women that seem completely at ease. In contrast, are the new, more transient students that sit at the other table looking worried and concerned at their ability of coming even remotely close to producing anything close to the beautiful things that surround them. It’s really easy to hate your own newbie work when these women are making jaw droppingly beautiful work beside you, and they say sweet things like “You’re doing so well!” or, “I wish I was that good when I started!”, and although you know they’re probably just saying it to be nice, you smile gratefully nonetheless.

I’m a sucker for creative spaces where people are brought together by a common love of something despite their very different backgrounds.  Make that into the feel good movie of the year, and I’ll be the first in line to see it in theatres with tissues in hand, I’m a sucker like that. Houssein would also make a pretty good character in a movie because he’s such a jovial character that always seems to say the right thing. I tend to be self deprecating when learning new things, I like to think it’s because I’m being realistic about the crappy work I’m producing and that I’m alleviating the instructor from having to break the hard news to me. So I’d say things like “I’m really sorry this sucks so much Houssein”, he would stop, put down his tools and say

“Lillian, if you know a lot about stain glass, then why are you in the beginner class?”

“Because I don’t know anything about stain glass”

“Oh right, so how about you let me judge your work, and you worry about learning”

“You’re right Houssein”

to which he’d usually immediately reply

“This…is not good”

to which I’d exclaim

“See!” while laughing.

And then he’d laugh.

This happened a lot.

He’d often also remind his students that “they must walk before they run”, like some kind of Yoda, because well, he just has that effect on people.

Houssein’s shop is like a candy shop for glass, every kind of colour, texture, size, opagueness (?) you could imagine, you could spend hours just pairing together a combination of different things you think would look magical together and then take a shot. I must admit, there’s a certain amount of satisfaction you receive when your instructor is just as or more excited about your project than you are, and I could always count on Houssein for that. I didn’t produce any amazing works of art, and to be honest, I probably won’t go any further with stain glass because there are other things I want to pursue, but Glass Class sure was an amazing time to spend the winter/spring of 2013, and I’ll always remember the warm glow of that studio.

Below are some pictures of the studio, classes, processes and final products! The redish/greenish mirror and Calla Lily are mine.

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Writer’s Block

During my Education degree one afternoon a few years ago, my class and I watched a video that I think about (and re-watch) frequently. It’s a TED Talk, and it’s probably one of the most popular if not the most popular talk on the TED website. You’ve probably seen it, and if you haven’t, I think you should pause reading this and take some time to watch this video:

http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

I have an academic crush on Sir Ken Robinson and I feel pretty certain that I’m not the only one. I own two of his books, and it’s easy to say that I consider this man somewhat of a role model as an educator. I have an Education degree that came from a program called “Artists in Community Education”, I’m reluctant about calling myself an artist, but exist among and associate with many talented artists. I’m an art advocate, so when I watched this TED Talk for the first time it’s not surprising that I sat there watching the video as goosebumps ran up my arms, completely enthralled by this man who was making me laugh with his witty humour, but also incredibly sad when I thought about the state of the arts in our schools.

But, at the time, I misunderstood the video and I didn’t realize this until a few weeks ago.

I  teach English to kids of different ages, and through this experience it dawned on me loud and clear that this video is not just about the arts. Granted, Ken (do you think he’d mind me calling him that?) might have specifically meant it to just be about the arts and typically, we associate creativity with the arts. But the understanding I now have of the idea that “schools kill creativity” is a much more encompassing term. As an educator,I think that ‘creativity’ means not being afraid to take risks, and not being afraid to think differently.  As Ken explained eloquently in his talk, this isn’t happening enough.

Kids are not pulling enough Susan Boyle moments:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSDoPY9B0wQ

 

or taking the risks and chances Celia Gimenez did on this now, infamous painting.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19349921

Now, granted, sometimes  risks work out for you and sometimes they don’t, hence the word “risk”, but they’re important none the less. The fact is kids aren’t taking enough of them within our school system, because they’re really afraid of “being wrong”, which can be one of the worst things you can be accused of when you’re a young student.

I guess this has been something of concern for me lately because of my challenges regarding students and writing. We’ve all heard the term “writing is a process” because, well it’s true, writing IS a process. I mean, I know that now because I’ve done a lot of writing, granted a lot of it wasn’t good, but I’ve learned that writing is something that takes time. I couldn’t tell you exactly when I learned that, but like most adults, you just know that you know it, and often can’t remember how. As an educator, that’s a real problem. My job is to try and take concepts that we as adults take for granted and try and make them accessible to people that have not yet learned them. Too many kids aren’t writing because they’re afraid to take risks, because they’re afraid that their writing won’t be perfect right off the bat, and they’re afraid their writing will be terrible, so many of them don’t try at all because then they can’t be wrong.

When it comes to writing I feel like you can break it down into a couple of categories:

-Writing you want to do

-Writing you have to do

and

-Writing that sounds stale and forced

-Writing that actually sounds like you

Obviously, the two categories are connected, and I would argue that if you’ve been through the schools system then you’ve definitely done the Writing that sounds stale and forced because you were (are) forcibly engaging in Writing that you have to do. As much as I always loved and enjoyed English throughout my years in the public education system, I couldn’t write an essay to save my life. There was something that always felt so unnatural about it that I couldn’t quite get my mind around, it never quite sounded like me. 

This may not sound like a big deal, but I’ll tell you why it is. It wasn’t until my first year of university that I discovered that I had a voice when it came to writing. That I could write something that sounded exactly the way I wanted it to, and that it felt very similar to something I would actually say. Again, that might sound really redundant, but most children right now are writing things that don’t sound anything like them and they’re uncomfortable with that, but they don’t know any other way, and in turn, many of them hate writing.

They hate writing because they don’t know how good it can be, how genuine it can feel, but I understand completely why many of them can’t stand to put a word down on the page. I believe it’s because we’re mixing two important aspects of writing:

-Content/Style/Ideas

-Grammar/Spelling/Formatting

Both are integral to good writing, because the Grammar/Spelling/Formatting portion allows people to understand the Content/Style/Ideas of a written piece.

The problem lies in our obsession with overly focusing on the Grammar/Spelling/Formatting section first because it actually instills a huge sense of fear and paralysis that keeps people from writing because they’re afraid they’re going to be wrong. Wrong, before they’ve put anything down on a piece of paper. To me, there are few things more heart breaking then watching the stress of a student sitting with a blank piece of paper in front of them, unable to write anything because they’re afraid I’m going to mark a big red x on it before they’ve even gotten a chance to get some kind of writer’s flow. The sad thing is that this trepidation affects students of all ages, and the fear is very real.

As I said earlier, I wasn’t aware a place existed where I could write as me, myself and I until University. I was so deeply fortunate to be apart of a life changing and unique academic experience where on the first day we were asked to write a paragraph. All 17 of us did,( including our three professors) and then an incredible thing happened, our professors asked us to exchange our writing with each other, okay…but here’s the really incredible part, they explicitly explained that they didn’t want us to correct each other’s work, but to actually comment on each other’s writing, i.e. tell them if you really liked the way they explained something, tell them if you agreed with what they said, or tell them why you might disagree with what they said. Essentially we were asked to have a conversation on paper with each other, and it is because of this experience among others that I feel I am more comfortable with writing. It’s wasn’t about the little red pen marks on my page, ticks where commas should have been, ? if they didn’t understand, or awk. if you couldn’t get your thoughts down in a more coherent way. I learned that when you know you have a reading audience of people you like and respect, people you actually want to write for (besides just one teacher), then you’ll take the time and care to want to be clear and coherent for them.

I struggle with how to recreate this kind of writing environment in my future classrooms. How can I take away the fear associated with writing and “being wrong” and replace it with taking risks and wanting to genuinely share thoughts with their peers? Furthermore, how can I explain this amazing process to people who don’t yet see the value in writing, not understanding why they have to write when they can just talk to each other vocally, in person?

I then remember this TED talk that has also deeply changed the way I think about writing:

http://www.ted.com/talks/roger_ebert_remaking_my_voice.html

I love this video because I remember the moment I found out that Roger Ebert had cancer and had undergone quite a dramatic visual transformation. I was reading through his blog when he made mention of his illness and someone on his blog made a comment about how different he had looked. At this point, I had no clue he had undergone anything and felt quite shocked when I saw a picture of him. I think the part that shocked me most was that if I hadn’t read that comment, I may never have known that Roger Ebert had lost his literal voice because his writing was so clear and beautiful. When watching this video, I am reminded of this moment I had because he talks about the relief he feels about being able to remain the same person he’s always been when he’s writing, and I don’t think we should take those words lightly.

Like Roger Ebert, if I were to lose my speaking voice right now, I feel self assured that I too would be able to feel like myself through the written word. I’m not belittling the experience, it would clearly be difficult, but when I think about all the kids that sit and look at that blank page on the verge of tears, I know that we’re doing something wrong, and based on the enlightening experiences I was fortunate to have, I know it can be different.

The question is how? How can I help my students express their “voice”, whether it be in person or in text? Let’s just say that like writing, it’s an ongoing process.

 

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Rhythm is a Dancer

I love dancing. LOVE it. But, I’m not a dancer, and honestly, that doesn’t matter to me. I was that child that had a Mickey Mouse leotard and wore it daily with whatever shoes I thought looked good with them (apparently I thought leather loafers with tassels were a good choice). I had in it my mind I was going to be a ballerina, much like many other little girls around my age. I would talk about it endlessly with my parents who would try very gently to let me know that the life of a ballerina is a hard one, that I would probably destroy my feet, and get arthritis and be decrepit when I was 30 years old. They weren’t wrong, these things would probably have been true, but a bigger reason, the actual reason I never became a ballerina was because I was a pretty chubby little girl who just threw her heart out to everyone she met and I think they thought the world was going to be pretty unkind to me. To their credit, they were probably right, but I just kept on dancing, and I guess to my credit, I still do, albeit badly, I just move to the beat every chance I get. 

I do think I have limitations on what kind of dancing I will do though, and I think a conversation I had yesterday with (you probably already guessed) my cabdriver. I was in a rush to get somewhere and was rifling through my bag and the car was silent. A few minutes into the car ride, my cab driver points to his dashboard where there is a business card sitting on it, and asks while pointing to the business card:

“Have you ever been there?”

I read the card and it says “TruClub”

Ignoring the interesting spelling choice, I’m still rifling pretty vigorously through my bag, but not wanting to be rude said

“Uh, no. Have you?”

“Yeah, it’s a good place, it’s brand new”

“Wow, that’s awesome” not really knowing what else to add to this conversation

He then adds: “Yeah it’s a dance club” 

My interest is somewhat peaked at this point, so I ask, “Oh, cool, do you dance there?”

He gets kind of serious and says “Oh no, no, I can’t dance, but you could dance there or anyone could dance there if they wanted”

“Oh well that’s good, I love dancing”

“They even have poles there”

“Poles? Like to do pole dancing?” at this point I’m wondering where this conversation is headed

“Yeah, you can dance on the poles, or anyone can dance on the poles. They also hire people to come and dance on the poles, it a mix. They have men and women dancing on poles”

“Oh, well, I mean that’s good that there are both men and women dancing on poles there, I don’t think I want to watch people dancing on poles though”

“Well, you can dance on the poles and not watch other people, or you can just dance on the normal dance floor”

“So what you’re saying is that I have dance options?” At this point I’m full on laughing out loud at this conversation I’m having with this guy. He seems amused and also laughs.

“Yes, many options. I don’t dance, I just watch. Some people can dance, some people can’t, and those who can’t watch.”

“Well, I guess so. How do you know about this place?”

“I own it” at this point, I’m opely laughing at how ridiculous this conversation is

“You own this dance club? How did you decide to open it?”

“I own the building the club is in, so it’s good”

“Yeah, I really hope it works out for you, and maybe you’ll decide that you want to dance there one day?”

This left him roaring laughing, which again I mirrored as I was getting out of the cab. 

I forgot about this conversation yesterday I had in the cab, until I went to my Zumba class at lunch today. Now before I start talking about Zumba, let’s just make sure we’re all on the same page here. It’s a ridiculous class. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE it, but it’s ridiculous. I take it because a.) I love dancing b.) I laugh during every class and c.) It attracts such a mish mash of people that I find fascinating and today was no exception. 

Before I get into Zumba, let me describe where Zumba is located in the gym I go to. Zumba occurs in the middle of a lot of action. It’s in the interior of the running track with people zooming around you, on one side there are huge weights and machines with many people doing serious pumping of iron, and on the other side is a group of serious fitness enthusiasts who are doing the craziest circuit training routine I’ve ever seen. Then there’s us, the Zumba folk in the middle, with me usually sneaking in to be at the back of the class so I can muddle through without too much attention. 

Zumba doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s a very confusing mixing of different ethnic dances with the word Zumba thrown into famous pop songs. As a person who took ballroom dancing, the massacre of the Samba, Cha Cha, and Merangue are particularly painful, so I just overide and do my own thing during those times because I just think of my past dance instructors and how they would openly weep if they saw what was being done to these beautiful dances.  

The instructors are usually pretty wonderful, and they work it. It takes a lot of energy to lead a fitness class, but Zumba takes it to a whole new level, not because it’s crazy difficult, but because you have to thrown on a persona to do it. What’s weird about Zumba is that it makes me feel like I’m auditioning for a bad dance troop. We get the choreography just as we start, we’re all in front of a mirror and we’re being watched by everyone exercising on the track. We’re all there staring at our instructor as she leads. I don’t know why I never noticed how hilarious Zumba was until today. There we all were, getting through each song doing the best we could, and I started looking around at everyone, and I think the reason it felt like an audition is because everyone was so committed to the music and the ridiculous dance moves, and it feels like everything is on the line. We get the choregraphy two seconds before and it’s show time. Perhaps my feelings towards Zumba are heavily influenced by my deep love of dance movies/shows ie. Center Stage, Step Up and SYTYCD, I mean can you really blame me? 

Another thing that makes Zumba really hilarious is all the “sexy” dance moves it incorporates. I love dancing, but you will never catch me grinding with anyone, or doing a Beyonce booty shake, it’s not in me, and you can go ahead and call me a dance prude, I won’t put up an argument. But in Zumba, there’s an excessive amount of “sexy” dancing. Like I’m talking full shimmies, bum shaking, hand sliding up the leg and body, it’s all a lot. And there I am uncomfortably sticking out my bum wanting to die, while hilalriously laughing, while trying not to trip the runners with my booty. It’s a lot to think about. 

I always leave a little bit of my pride on that Zumba floor, but I’m usually grinning as I leave thinking about how badly I looked. Today, I was in the dressing room when I ran into my Zumba instructor when she stopped me and asked:

“Are you a dancer?”

“Uh, no, but I used to do some ballroom dancing, but it was a long time ago”

“You move so beautifully, I was watching you behind me in the mirror doing the Cha Cha and all I could think was how I wished I could dance as well as you”

Huh. Well, look at that. Apparently I’m not as invisible as I thought I was in the back row and…apparently someone thinks I’m a dancer. My five year old self would be pretty pleased with this news. 

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