Earth Hour  

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Earth Hour came again last night, and due to sharing my living space with other people, I asked politely if everyone minded observing the time, which was met with respectful candles in the kitchen. I like to think of the earth as breathing a little sigh of relief when such things occur and hope that in this case observing the hour also raised awareness of how my housemates could contribute more. I used the time to disconnect from electricity and technology. As a teacher, it's rare that I am able to do this for extended periods of time at the moment. And during the hour I wrote, by hand, about a pebble.

I'd been to the beach early on Friday morning on my way into school and gathered a selection of pebbles and shells to use as my lesson for the afternoon. When I presented each child with a pebble and announced that I wanted them to write for 20 minutes, non-stop, about it, I was met with some brilliant Harry Enfield impressions. "Huh! Miss! As IF you could write about that for 20 minutes." "I could write a novel, just about a pebble..." was my reply, which was, predictably received with sniggers and lots of eyebrow activity.

Needless to say, 20 minutes later, half of the class had written over half a page and wanted to carry on, whilst the other half had had great fun throwing pebbles around, conducting 'research' into onomatopoeia.

A novel I have not yet had time to write, but during the blackout, this WIP is what I have so far on pebbles

Its porous surface contains black holes,
filled with secrets seen
over centuries.
On the crest of a ferocious wave
its journey
that of a monarch butterfly.
For some time the pebble rested,
like the corpse of Atlantis,
leagues beneath sight.
It silently
swarming schools weaving
their collective thoughts through
oceanic clefts until they
settled into the fissures;
rewrote topography.
The rhyme of tides echo
into chasms,
which blow out chorales,
spiralling to the shore.
Amid the hieroglyphics
the pebble waited
in turbulence
before committing to the sea
the way a thousand shipwrecks did before it.
The paths etched into its surface;
labyrinthine corridors
of broken dreams,
of messages of love
and stamps
of existence snatched
into the swelling stomach of tsunami.
The stench of seaweed baking in the sun
filters through its crevices
carrying olfactory hallucinations
of days
in times past.
Days when light fragments filter through
its counterparts
casting shadows like the mountains.
Dark days
of lying
in wait underground
like lava tunnels deep
beneath the surface,
fostering evolution.

The Guardian published pictures of the blackout around the world. It's lovely to feel a part of something so big.

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Buena’ dia', whistled the man through his gapped teeth and ratty moustache. He had a bottle of aguardiente ensconced in his dirty jacket tied on with bailer twine, and took advantage of the first available space to nestle his head into the bristly seat cover. I studied his face. A face you could climb up; its crags and boulders mimicking the Andes; rising in the surrounding pueblos. His left eye was a pastiche of the lake at Cotopaxi – minus the perpetual rainbow thrown into the sky.
Darkness seeped in from the edges turning the sky black and the cityscape into a grid of LEDs framing faster moving lights with the erratic motion of phosphorescence. The surrounding hills disappeared; surrendering the landscape to the imagination and changing the narrative of the city. Quito was a place of secrets. A means to an end. Eagerly, I awaited my chance to escape it.
I arrived on Isla San Cristòbal having flown through clouds piled on top of each other like mashed potato sculptures. If you've never sculpted mashed potato; give it a try. If you mash sweet potato or other root vegetables you can make a variety of colours with which to sculpt. The peaks of Cotopaxi and Chimborazo – Ecuador's two tallest volcanoes – interrupted the windless skyline. All the way from Quito to Guayaquil the clouds made shadow pictures across the hills, which rippled like oceanic clefts and hid Andean stories in the belching belly of the earth. The pacific rolled beneath; a slave of inertia; unfazed by the moon. It buried these volcanic archipelagos under a trampoline of white clouds through which I caught glimpses of randomly placed lumps of rock and thousands of outlines of sea creatures.
This was no tropical island. The cutthroat heat seared the coastline image to my retina; its surface as rugged and windswept as the shore I’d left in Falmouth. Its plant life as ragged and withered as an acrimonious break-up. In the highlands where the sugar cane provides sweet relief from the dusty sun by day; the dawn rolls in across the sky; a divine set change as morning breaks and night's onomatopoeic chorus fades to hoof and horn. I hear his voice on the Southern wind and his face is carved in the lava tunnels which expose time’s secrets and assure me the world will be okay.
I’d read Dillard and listened to Corgan. I’d seen Attenborough and studied Darwin. To me this was the origin of the species. Where it all began. Where things were going to come full circle. To make that circle complete I’d armed myself with a quest: to bring a twenty-first century electro opera to where its first seeds were cracked by those finches with parrot-like beaks. Children walk around mimicking this action, by pressing the tips of the thumb and forefinger together so the fingernails make a seed picker. The finches changed the way people viewed the world and I needed something to change the way I did.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

I've been walking
new lines
to rewrite psychogeography.
Like the memories carved
in a child's
the new ones are discombobulated
by déjà vu.

Let's not pace in fissures
gathering salt for our wounds.

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Boozin' n Bluesin'  

Friday, March 11, 2011

If I'm to believe everything I read on the internet, I haven't blogged yet this year. I'm hoping that can't mean that during this same 2 and a half month period I haven't written anything of interest at all... Although the majority of my words currently tend to focus on 'eliciting vocabulary', 'assessing knowledge' and 'engaging' young minds. Or engaging tutors and teachers alike in academic, middle class language that somehow justifies what I'm doing in the classroom. Yes, rather than spend my time conserving energy, reading and writing and practising what I preach, I am encouraged to document every interaction I have with every pupil, parent, teacher carer and pet snail in order to evidence that I am a good teacher. The fact that I haven't had time to blog, am getting good results and producing creative resources isn't enough, and it's only going to get tougher.

Still, for the purposes of writing to model good writing to my students, I'm still finding some time to be creative albeit turning a Heaney poem into a short story or redrafting old travel vignettes. This is a WIP - Duplicity.


There goes another one; faster than the one before. Monochrome faces pass me by; their expressions a blur. The coarse shriek of the warning bell forces them into high definition and I snap back into focus. “It’s English first, ain’t it?” asked Joe. “Yeah! I think we’re doing creative writing today ‘n all.” We walked to room 31, past the old library, bursting with books and infinite possible combinations of words. I’m always on the lookout for new words. Only yesterday I’d discovered duplicitous: two-faced, dishonest, double crossing. I hope to find a way to use it today...
It was probably near lunchtime when all the heads turned towards the door in un-choreographed synchronicity. Who was it that had granted us reprieve by interrupting our maths class? Mrs. Reeves, the school secretary, whispered quietly to Mr. Glen, as fifty-eight eyes tried to lip-read. Twenty-eight heads turned my way, as I recognised my own name and slowly gathered up my things. I tried to push the uneasiness away by twisting my hands inwards in claws of bitter nausea.
The air was stuffy and disinfectant choked at the back of my throat as I sat in the sick bay. I was waiting for our neighbours to collect me. Apparently. I nervously excavated the ledges around the window frame – graveyards to the tiny bodies of flies, buried and suffocated under dust. I watched the playground from the window. Outside, there was nothing remarkable about today. In here; I sat counting bells to try and measure time.
The car smelled of fags and mould as smoke snaked its tendrils up into the roofing. Mr. O’Leary chain-smoked, desperately, whilst his wife fiddled nervously with the radio controls. Nobody told me why this pair came to pick me up or what was going on, and the silence taunted me with its duplicitous emptiness filled with possibility. Mile upon mile passed by in a blur of images, like watching a film on fast forward, but with no sound.
Arriving back home brought temporary relief in its familiarity. But then I saw them. Ma catatonic on the sofa and Pa crying. I’d never seen Pa cry before. I’d barely seen him display any emotion at all, apart from when they brought Stephen home from the...
And then I understood.
Stephen. Something had happened to Stephen. My eyes scanned the room for answers. Pa strolled over and put his arm round my shoulder. It was one of the only times that man of iron had showed me tenderness, and I warmed to it like molten lead. “It was a car. He just wasn’t looking. It...”
I turned my head to look into eyes like a wild Irish Sea. Jim Evans patted my shoulder, trying to force a smile which added new topography to his face. A face you could climb up. He was so close; I could smell the faint stench of ale upon his breath and feel his threatening shoulders looming in on me as he whispered “It’s a hard blow, son... A hard blow.” I walked over to my Ma, her arm outstretched, but she couldn’t find the words to say. Our hands entwined as roots of an austere tree. Like the sounds of a seagull rummaging through the refuse on rubbish day, I heard mutters and whispers from the faces that stared sympathetically. ‘That’s her eldest boy. The poor lad, the poor wee lad.’ I didn’t know how to act, as another old man, with teeth like tombstones, shook my hand to pass on his condolences. I wanted somebody to hold me and tell me everything was going to be OK, but they wanted me to be grown up about it: be a man.
I looked out into the night; its nothingness mimicking the emptiness of the room, of my heart. Somewhere in the distance I heard the approach of sirens. One thing about boarding school is the way your whole life seems to be driven by a series of bells. I shuddered back to the room, hearing the intrusive gurgles of my youngest broth... My only brother, now; Frankie. He just wasn’t looking became a new mantra in my head. And I fought back the tears that begged “Why?”
The ambulance got louder as it approached our road. In came the corpse; bandaged and hidden. The vultures that stood to the side bowed their heads as they muttered more condolences and finally pushed out into the night. Ballyfermotters feast on a funeral, I mused, and imagined the takings in Fibber McGee’s exceeding most week nights as the procession drink to their good health next to the stinking cemetery of the Liffey.

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