Search This Blog

Thursday, January 5, 2012

97. Twenty Five (+ a further 25) Statements about Life

I wrote the original 26 statements (in 'normal' font) included in this piece early in 2009. As you will see, Statements 27 onwards [ in italic font] are discoveries I made during and after the start of 2009. I've included the photographs because each holds a special meaning for me:

1. THE POLAR BEAR: Darwin said life was a matter of the survival of the fittest. But I think we survive as best we can, and with luck, find something we can hold on to to see us through.

2. THE VIOLIN/LADY Things are always more than they seem.

3. PATH IN THE WOODS This reminds me of Robert Frost's poem - about being on a path and coming to a place where the path divides, where we have to make a choice. That moment comes with EVERY moment.

4. THE IMAGE IN THE WATER IN THE CUPPED HANDS The longer we look into the contents of ANY moment, the more we can find in it.

5. THE FREEWAY : symbol of the busyness of our world - both our outer world (our freeways, our work life, our cities, our To Do list) and out inner world. These days we have, not so much a stream of consciousness as a traffic snarl of information.

1. I think I’ve had too much alcohol to drink once in my life. I put it down to a burst of adolescent stupidity. I was 35.

27. I'm increasingly seeing this as a wise decision. The latest research seems to reinforce what I have always believed: Alcohol is a dangerous poison that is toxic to the individual mind and body, and to the social body.

2. I’ve never smoked – not ever. I once dreamed of being a smoker. In the dream I looked really cool. Dad – a heavy smoker who died of emphysema – used to wake me every morning coughing up phlegm into the gulley trap outside my bedroom window. It was not a pleasant sound.

28. On July 28, 2009, at 5.35 pm, I discovered that he wasn't my biological father. Linda and Herbie had adopted me - on October 11, 1943 - three months after I was bo

3. I lost my virginity in the long grass at the back of the church car park. I was 18 I think. It was a tough time for me – I was flooded with feelings of guilt and unclean –ness.

29. The narrow social mores of the time caused much pain to many, many young people.

4. I was a lay preacher in the Methodist church at the time. I was even toying with the idea of becoming a Methodist minister. It seemed like a good idea at the time. (I put THAT down to a burst of adolescent stupidity. I was 18.)

30. That was about the time that my birth-mother, Gwendoline Bertram, died of cervical cancer. She was a victim of the narrow sexual attitudes of the 1940s.

5. I’m now an atheist. That is to say, I don’t believe in a god in the sky who cares about each and every one of us, and who notices each sparrow as it falls.

31. Christopher Hitchens, that great atheistic iconclast, is dead. And one of my favorite writers, Catherine Deveny, believes - with Hitchins and Dawkins - that "God is bullshit!" In some parts of the world, simply SAYING that would result in your being killed.

6. When I was 11 I was a member of the Victorian Banjo Club. Plink plink plink. I didn’t like the banjo mandolin. I’d wanted to play a guitar, but they were too expensive.

31. These days I much prefer the 'plink, plink, plink' of the ukulele.

7. My mum washed my mouth out with soap and water when I was 11 or 12 because I called one of our boarders a ‘poofter’. I didn’t know what the word meant – I thought ‘poofter’ was a word you used to refer to people you didn’t like much. I learned TWO things from that experience: a. Velvet soap doesn’t taste very good. B. If you’re going to use ‘bad’ words, do them where your mum can’t hear.

32. I wonder, now, whether maybe I was right. Our two boarders shared a small bungalow; there was about 6o cm between their beds ... Makes you wonder . And, of course, why shouldn't they be. They had every right to be whatever they chose. The problem was with the attitude behind the prohibition of the word 'poofter', not with the choice people might make to be homosexual.

8. When I was 19 or so, and in the midst of my necessary rebellion – I needed to break the emotional hold my mother had over me – I started to use the word FUCK in here presence – to upset her. When she objected – which she did every time – I’d say ‘Well at least a fuck is natural. You use the word bugger all the time , and you know what THAT means! (As you can see, I was a little bugger at the time, and a bit homophobic too, I guess.

33. These days, five and six year olds use the word... God, I'm getting old.

9. My dad was illiterate. He left school at the age of 14, unable to read or write. He was still in grade 5 at the time, at a Catholic school. He claimed that it was the Catholic school that was responsible for his inability to read – they just did “prayers, prayers and more prayers … and when you’d finished with prayers, you had the catechism!”.

34. He was a loving man who worked hard to enable me to live an easier life than he had had.

10. I have been present at the births of all of my children - not uncommon in these enlightened times, but back in the early 70s, when my son Piers was born, it was almost unheard of.

35. Like my older brother, I am not certain about who my father was. He MAY have been the same man who fathered Arthur, who is three years older than me.

11. I have 5 children. Piers is 40, and an optometrist. He has a social conscience – he set up the first optometry service for homeless people in Melbourne. Erin is 38, runs his own Computer Graphics business, and has represented Australia in the Hawaiian Iron man competition twice- 2006 and 2008. Dane is a forester and works in Alexandra. He’s worked in Tassie, in Albany (in WA) and in Hamilton. All three play music. Piers composes a lot of songs and is a writer too.

36. All three attended State schools; all three completed University degrees. All three have had their fair share of struggle and pain, love and bliss, in their lives.

12. My daughters, Jordan and Tanner, are 13 and 8 respectively, and are both at primary school.

37. Raising girls is very diferent from raising boys.

13. I’m grateful that I grew up at a time when drugs were virtually unheard of.

38. Today's newspaper carried the story that Australia and New Zealand have the highest rate of marijuana use - around 15% of the population - and the highest rate of amphetamine use - around 5% - in the world. We won the cricket today too. Is there no limit to our competitive edge!

14. I’ve just entered my 48th year as a teacher.

39. I have no desire to retire. I would like to reach at least 50 - maybe even 55 years. I still enjoy my teaching. In fact, 2011 was one of the most satistying years of my teaching life.

15. I’m a prolific song writer, averaging maybe a song-a-week over the past decade.

40. During October, 2011, I wrote around 27 songs - for my Year 12 class: one song per student.

16. I spent 14 years teaching Prof Writing and Editing – at Chisholm TAFE (Berwick & Frankston), Sunraysia TAFE and – for the last 9 years – at NMIT Greensborough.

41. Teaching adults - especially in a Writing course - can be very satisfying. Working with people who want to work hard and who want your help - what more could a teacher ask for?

17. I finally took up guitar at the age of 32. I’m pretty much a self taught guitarist.

42. These days, I mainly play the ukulele. It is such a simple, unpretentious instrument, and is less painful on my arthritic hands tahan the guitar.

18. During my 68+ years on this planet, I have gone through an enormous variety of FADS. I collected stamps, bottle tops and fossils in my childhood and early adolescence. I’m still fascinated by fossils. In my early 30s I became obsessed with building coffee tables and chess board tables and making chess pieces from plaster of Paris. In the 1980s I went through a jam making binge, and made quince jelly and crab apple jam.

43. The ukulele is probably my LATEST fad.

19. I’m currently going through an obsessive phase with Suduko. I spend one hour each weekend trying to work them out.

44. I read somewhere that Sudoku is good for keeping your brain cells working.

20. Karin, who I’ve lived with since 1986, used to call me ‘Baggy Monster’. She is remarkable tolerant of my obsessions. Sometimes, we have a conversation that I never tire of; it goes like this:
HER Do you know what I really like about you?
ME What?
HER Absolutely fucking nothing!!!

45. What's not to like?

21. Three years ago embarked on a new career – or rather, revisited an old career – I’m teaching English at Warrandyte High School, and thus far, I’m really enjoying it.

46. Jack Thompson quipped, when he discovered that his forbears were convicts: " Yes - I am Australian royalty!" I am Australian royalty on TWO counts:

Firstly, my great great grandfather, Lewis Bertram - was a convict, sent to Australia for stealling (of all things) DUCKS! Secondly, my GRANDFATHER served at Gallipoli, and was three times wounded in the first World War. AND went AWOL in order to marry my grandmother.
His name was Nigal. After he married Lily GENTLE, he was ever after called Tiger.

22. I recently embarked on another new venture, too, in a partnership with two other creative people: Sarah Cowan – singer, writer, songwriter, editor, and most importantly, friend; and Jerry Speiser – drummer & muso, music producer, arranger, physicist, business consultant, manager – and most importantly: friend. We’ve formed a partnership called JS Baz Music; its mission is to develop creative music projects.
Our music performance group is JS Baz. And our first recordings, GUANTANAMO BAY and GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS can be viewed on YouTube. Just google “jsbazmusic” + “Guantanamo” . Our collection of children’s songs – The Music Cubby – was published in 2011.

47. Without a song and a dance, what are we?

23. I have been obsessed for several years now by the notion of the MOMENT. The idea that the past is a construction that we have made, and is ‘illusory’ in the sense that it is constantly changing. Put another way, our sense that our lives have continuity is an illusion. (A bit like movies. A movie is made up of a whole series of ‘Frames’ that pass through the projector at the rate of 16 per second – or something like that. It the film stops rolling, we simply see a STILL.) Our experience is like that: a series of STILLs – a series of MOMENTS. The past is gone; the future is indeterminate. We could – all of us – cease to be at any moment.
And each MOMENT is like a grain of sand, passing through the ‘narrow neck’ of an hour glass. That ‘narrow neck’ is the PRESENT MOMENT – it is our NOW, and it is all that we truly have.

48. And I let time go by so slow. And I let every moment last. And I thought about years - how they pass so slow, how they're gone so fast.

[From a song by Beth Neilson-Chapman]

24. Each MOMENT – each grain of sand – is like a multi faceted crystal – or like a disco ball composed of millions of tiny mirrors. And the more we look into any given moment, the more we find it contains. It’s like William Blake’s image … ‘to see the world in a grain of sand/ and eternity in an hour.’

49. How can anyone, ever, be bored, when each moment holds so much?

25. I have a detailed plan, a blueprint, for living the rest of my life. My plan is to try to be present in each passing moment – to the extent that that is possible. That means being as aware as I can be of each moment as it occurs, rather than daydreaming or scheming. In the end, being HERE, NOW is all we have.
That’s why to me alcohol and drugs are so destructive – they are escapes from the here and now; they drug our minds into a state of anaesthetic non-presence.

50. THIS moment - my moment of writing the new 25 ststements about life - has been a longish moment: around two hours of intense flow. Flow is probably the closest we get to happiness.

When I wear a suit and tie, Tanner says – each and every time: “Daddy - you look handsome!’

51. I did tell you: she IS only 8.

96. From the ARCHIVE: The Holistic Educationists' Song

The Holistic Educationists’ Song
To the tune of ‘The Philosopher’s Song’
With apologies to the Monty Python team
A work in progress

Immanuel Kant was a real pissant

Who was very rarely stable

Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar

Who could think you under the table

David Hume could out-consume Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

And Wittgenstein was a beery swine

Who was just as schloshed as Schlegel

There's nothing Nietzsche couldn't teach ya

'Bout the raising of the wrist

Socrates himself was permanently pissed

John Stuart Mill, of his own free will

With half a pint of shandy got particularly ill

Plato, they say, could stick it away

Half a crate of whiskey every day

Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle

Hobbes was fond of his dram

And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart"I drink therefore I am"

Yes, Socrates himself is particularly missed

A lovely little thinker but a bugger when he's pissed

Jean Jacques Rousseau, as we all know
Thought children naturally curious
And society’s a corruptive force
It’s values are quite spurious
He wrote ‘Emile’ which many feel
Is a trifle unrealistic
But I’d go so far to say JJR
Is the father of Holistic

Holistic Education is the way to go
Make a start with Tobin Hart & Jacques Rousseau

Now Tobin Hart is a silly old fart
Who begins with ‘information’
He claims relevance can resonate
And result in motivation
Learn deep, grow soul, explore the whole
It’s in div id ua listic
Intelligence and imagination grow
That why this Hart’s holistic

Yes wisdom’s cool in Tobin’s school
He believes in transformation
A ripple can become a wave
And give us liberation
With a nice clear mind and strength of will
And a goodly dose of passion
With flag unfurled we could change the world
And fill it with compassion

Integrated intuition cultivates the soul
Tobin Hart thinks understanding makes us whole

Bernie Neville, that clever old devil
Is an intellectual bikie
He wants to Gebser-ise the world
And educate our psyche
Each morning he tells Helen
That’s it’s time to put the porridge on
And what is worse, he quotes chapter and verse of
The Ever Present Origin

Some people think that Bernie Neville’s rather odd
With his mental house that’s occupied by warring gods

David Orr was a bit of a bore
About sustainability
The interconnectedness of things
And the environment’s fragility
The fluorocarbons in the air
Are our responsibility
Recycle this, recycle that
And grow mental agility

Our rainforests are disappearing every day
Environmental education is the way

Pestalozzi claims that Love’s
Develops children’s powers
As the seed contains the design of the tree
So natural intelligence flowers
Educate the head and the heart and hands
Keep punishment down at zero
In the field of Holistic Education
He’s our Anschauung Hero

Change of tune to Carolina in the Morning
Oh nothing could be finer than to teach with Rudolph Steiner – he’s holistic
Let’s put aside our dreary stance, kids learn from their experience – he’s magnifique
Put away the textbooks, let the children play
Send them off exploring - that’s the most healthy way
Don’t give them the irrits, we should educate their spirits, so says Rudy

Don’t be too logistical, it’s best to holistical, like Rudy
Let them express their feelings and they’ll stop incessant squealing – won’t be moody
And now we come to what’s the most important part
Give them paints and crayons, educate through Art
Let them compose a ballad as they munch their Waldorf salad
Thank you Rudy.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

95. First post for 2012: Faux Pas/ Bloo Per

I was reading a posting on Blogfarm. It concerned a lecture on the topic of PUBLIC RELATIONS. The speaker's very first Power Point slide contained a simple error - the sort of error any time-starved public speaker can make during a hasty preparation: the letter L had been left out of the word PUBLIC.

It reminded me of a most regrettable public faux pas perpetrated by an old colleague of mine. As they used to say on "Dragnet": Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

It happened in the mid 1980s at a Secondary Technical school in Victoria, Australia. [At the time, State Secondary education had "high schools" for the academically inclined, and "technical schools" for those headed for apprenticeships in woodwork, fitting & turning and the like.] It was a co-ed school, covering years 7 - 11.
The new Assistant Principal, Mr. Powers, was being introduced to the students - and to staff - for the first time.
"School - attention!" said Mr Harvey, the teacher running the open air assembly. There was a shuffling of feet as the boys and girls took their time to 'stand to attention'. The 800 or so students stood in lines facing the raised platform at the front of the assembly. In the front row were the year 7 girls, and behind them, the year 7 boys; behind them were the year 8 girls ... and so on. Everything in good order.

This careful organization – with a place for everyone, and everyone in their place – was quite common in the 1980s. Many Australian schools in that era continued to have assemblies that ran on military lines.

"Stand at ........ ease," came the order. The working class kids did as requested, albeit somewhat sluggishly.

The new Assistant Principal came to the microphone. Students and teachers stood, waiting to hear what the new second -in-charge would have to say.

He began confidently. He had a booming voice. He'd come from a country school where discipline was highly valued. He was in his element.

"Good morning, school. I'm very pleased to be here. However, I did notice that some students did not seem to fully understand the para-military instructions being given by Mr. Harvey. Now, when you are ordered to 'Stand to attention', you should move briskly and efficiently, bringing your heels together with an audible 'snap'!"
And he proceeded to demonstrate, his back straight, hic chin up, his heels snapping together.
"Similarly, with the order 'Stand at ease' ..."

And he went on to demonstrate how to move from 'standing to attention' to 'standing at ease'. At this point - and one can only guess at what motivated him - he turned his attention to the year 7 girls standing directly in front of him.

"Now girls," he said, "I know that you are new to the school, and perhaps you don't yet fully understand what is required of you. Let me explain it clearly: When I tell you to 'Stand at ease’, I want you to spread your legs!"

Mr Powers paused. And what happened in the briefest of moments that followed was to haunt the unfortunate man for the rest of his time in the school. The teachers responded first - mouths dropped in disbelief, eyes rolled, some staff moved uncomfortably; a couple turned away, trying desperately to stifle their laughter. But the most common response was disbelief.

Among the students, the sniggers began at the very back of the assembly, among the Year 11 boys, and moved forward, a wave of stifled sniggering. Even some of the more street-wise, knowing kids at year 7 realised that Mr Powers had erred.

For his part, Mr Powers seemed to be unaware of why there was unrest among the troops.

"Settle down, settle down. Now let me explain a little further. These para military commands are essential to the maintenance of good discipline in a school ..."
Thus, and much more, Mr Powers.

Decades later, those who were present - when they get together for a reunion, to celebrate the 'good old days' - recall, with glee, Mr Powers' first speech at the school assembly.