By Michelle Dennison
It happens every year when one works at a school. The time comes for the most senior grade to leave, and spread their wings to the next venue on their life journey.
In my school, it is the Grade Sevens, the thirteen year olds who are leaving.
It is always a bitter-sweet time for me. I’m going to miss a lot of them, but it is encouraging to see how they have grown into young men and women.
The group of Grade 5 girls who used to mischievously swap name badges so I couldn’t tell them apart, are now mature prefects.
It is probably the last time I will see most of them, and there are many that I have come to know over the last few years.
The girls arrive with their autograph books, and it would be easy to scribble the same thing in each one. “All the best for the future. Enjoy High School.”
But I want to do more than that. I want to give them some words that might inspire them, guide them and encourage them if ever they read that book again.
I have a paragraph from my Grade 5 teacher in my autograph book. She told me to carry on writing stories, and that she was looking forward to seeing my name in print. She didn’t live long enough to see that happen, but her words live on to keep me motivated.
And the boys don’t do the autograph thing, but say goodbye with handshakes or hugs. I have only a few seconds to say something meaningful to them.
There are the boys who spent hours talking about books with me. The mischief makers who gave me a lot of grey hairs and laughter. The boy who asked me to find him a love poem because there was this girl that he liked.
I would like to tell them something that will maybe stay with them as they become adults.
And as all of us leave 2013 and head towards 2014, we can reflect on the year that has passed, and decide how we are going to respond to the new year with its challenges and opportunities.
by Penny M
When your eyes go to bed without you, you know it’s just a matter of time. I read an interesting article about how sleep, too much or too little of it, can impact weight. From this, I deduced that a regular-as-clockwork sleep pattern, provided it is no longer than eight and a half hours, promotes weight loss. Let me see, that means that I need to be in bed by ten and up by six thirty – hmmm! Now if I just had the inclination to press the record button on the PVR and turn in at the same time as my eyes.
I suppose a lot might have to do with the amount of time I spend slouching on the couch as opposed to flat on my back. Now there’s a thought, I could get used to a TV screen on the ceiling. I could even do my exercises during the commercials. Think of the space it would save. Before my brain runs off into raptures of innovation, I drag it back to veto mode. I can just see the headlines, ‘Writer killed in her bed by falling TV.’
Speaking of veto mode (writing actually), I recently attended a Creative Workshop during which a successful entrepreneur warned budding aspirants about the dangers of the amygdalae (plural). These are nodes in the brain which cross-match stimuli with memories, e.g. this hurt me yesterday, so it will hurt me again today. They act faster than the ‘thinking brain’ (neocortex) and are therefore capable of hijacking rational thought. Fight, flight or freezing are all responses to these cerebral watchmen. I imagine one could measure their victories by counting the number of skid marks due to defeated ‘bright’ ideas, unpublished novels and those magnificent men in their flying machines. All creative people need to overcome these dream-breakers. I personally need to spring clean my memory bank and obliterate the words of every sceptic I know. I’m learning not to give a progress report to hijack victims, no matter how well meaning they might be.
I am convinced that almost all successful writers, creative people and innovators must have conquered their natural reactions to rejection. Whilst critiques, reviews and tests are a given, most dreamers, in subliminal anticipation of the amygdalae, repeatedly screen their creations before exposure to scrutiny and are not swayed by adversity.
Before the amygdalae hijack your emotions yet again, let go of your creation, kick back for TV therapy on the ceiling, exercise something other than the grey matter, and go to bed with your eyes. Who knows, you might even lose some weight!
It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I am always amazed when, shortly after being introduced, people ask, ‘What do you do?’
What does it matter?
I hate that question especially now a days because I don’t have a quick answer.
I went to a Christmas lunch yesterday and chatted to four people at my end of the table, three of whom I’d never met before. It was a surprisingly pleasant afternoon. We discussed Durban’s restaurants and the live music hotspots and books and holidays and at the end of the afternoon, on the cusp of the evening, and after several glasses of wine, one of the gentleman began to recite poetry. Nobody discussed their jobs.
Towards the end of Oriah’s poem there is a verse that goes:
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘YES!’
When I look at the people in my life I realise most of my friends and all of my family are full of hope. They’re glass half full people who pick themselves up and do what they can with what they have. It’s reassuring to know I will always have plenty of company whenever the desire strikes to stand and shout to the silver of the full moon.
The last line of the poem reads:
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.
After the lunch, I drove home in a terrible storm the rain was pounding down so hard that I could barely see out of my car windows. I discovered a leak above my clutch pedal so added a frozen, wet foot to my woes. Eventually I had to take off my jacket and use it to de-mist the windscreen. It was not a happy journey especially when we hit bumper-to-bumper traffic on the bridge over the river. The adjacent bridge, although I couldn’t see it, was under construction because it had caved in earlier in the year and the feeling of being stuck on this bridge with a hundred other cars was not comforting.
I’ve seen the movies, I’ve read the books but instead of panicking I took a few deep breaths and planned my escape route.
Then I prepared my media release as the damp survivor.
After that I pictured the headlines and by the time I got off the bridge I had an interesting start to a short story.
So, while I may not always truly like the company I keep in the empty moments, I certainly do know how to keep myself entertained.
Once upon a time magazines were my daily reading matter. Then, one day I decided to dispense with all this “light reading” and was left with only De Kat which, I must confess, strikes me as having a rather snobbish air about it. Nevertheless, I love it, especially the very unusual and stunning front covers, and a fair number of in depth articles about anything and everything under the sun. Call me a snob if you wish.
A while ago the latest Fairlady cover page caught my eye because of the following headline: “Famous men who hit women”. I promptly bought it to see who these “heroes” were. None other than Sean Connery, John Lennon, Sean Penn, Chris Brown and Charlie Sheen graced the pages. It is old news that the rich and famous turn to violence against their women, or any woman for that matter. In the article it is reported that Sean Penn stuck Madonna’s head in an oven and beat her with a baseball bat. Sean Connery believes a woman should be beaten if she “is a bitch, or hysterical, or is bloody-minded continually”. He is now no longer my favourite 007, and the others I am writing off summarily, they do not deserve to walk on this earth, let alone bathing in the limelight. And what’s more, although it breaks my heart, I shall never listen to John Lennon’s Imagine again.
In the same issue I came across an article about Laura Bates who started an Everyday Sexism Project, “an online platform for women to share experiences of harassment or discrimination”. The project has become a global phenomenon and can be found at www.everydaysexism.com.
An example of what you may read on the website is:
I can’t help but notice that when I insist people working for me do their job on time and properly I am an “uppity bitch”. My male colleague who does the same thing is a “natural leader who gets things done”. Go figure.
I work in a place largely inhabited by males as it is a boys school. Quite a significant number of teachers are female and expect common courtesy and good manners from the male contingent the boys as well as staff. Being the school librarian and with the library overlooking the swimming pool, an interesting scenario started to develop. The boys were given permission to change on a small, wall-less pavilion next to the pool, in full view of the female library staff and other women teachers walking by. Having complained a few times over the years about this practice, I did the same this year – which fell on deaf ears. The teacher in charge of Life Orientation was of the opinion that the view of boxer shorts were fine and acceptable. I disagreed profusely, as changing clothes was not restricted to boxer shorts, but included a variety of underpants and yes, bare bottoms. I am no prude, but this was a bit much. In any event, boxer underwear was not acceptable either.
I thought my chance of changing the status quo had arrived when the “no violence against women and children campaign” kicked off. I reminded the teachers during a staff meeting that the “Violence against Women …” campaign would also mean that the boys would dress properly at all times, including tucking in shirts in an acceptable manner during lessons. The practice had been to undo flies and so expose their underwear at the same time in front of the staff member in the classroom. To me, and other female teachers, this practice had been unacceptable and disrespectful (to say the least) for quite some time.
I also mentioned the bare bottoms …
At a special assembly held in honour of all women as part of the no violence campaign, the female staff were presented by the boys with a rose each. I thought it a lovely gesture, but did the males actually put their money where the action was? We could have roses, but were we, the female staff, going to see more bare bottoms?
At the next appropriate meeting I pointed out the disparity between bare bottoms on the one hand and roses on the other. Can one present roses and still have bare bottoms running around? A definite no. I must confess I haven’t seen bare bottoms since, and hope I won’t view them from the library ever again. During my very own campaign, because this is how I view it, no stone was left unturned to ensure Management was informed about the open flies and bare bottoms and as I said, I haven’t seen bare bottoms since…
A new campaign about “Violence against women …” has just been launched …