The end of an era

I have a new job at a different school. That’s right, I am leaving the place that shall not be named. I know what you’re thinking – yeah, yeah, we’ve heard this before. I know I’ve had four farewells and it has become a running joke at the school. People laugh and say, ‘You’ll never leave.’ I laugh and say, ‘One day I will.’ And we both laugh and carry on with our day. Well, tomorrow is my last day there. For now perhaps.

I thought this picture of my burger tonight showed a suitable metaphor of death. And you can’t get more final than death.20170801_193406_resized

Am I giving up my studies, I hear you ask. No. Does that mean I won’t finish my novel, you ask. No. I am a woman of many talents.  I am on the second draft and will have it done by the end of October. I will make sure to post photos of my graduation next year. And of the book cover. Even if no one wants to publish it and I make a cover on Publisher. Or hand draw it.

I just got tired of looking after other people’s classes, so I took on some of my own. So much for having a year’s break from teaching! I guess it’s in my blood 🙂

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Icing with extravagance

This afternoon I asked my neighbour’s 6-year-old to help me ice cupcakes. She filled the hollow in one with sprinkles – literally filled it – to the brim. She took a handful of baby marshmallows and commented that it was probably too much. Then she shrugged, said ‘oh well’ and proceeded to put them all on one cupcake. There were mini m&m’s flying everywhere (including in her mouth). No thought was given to pattern, structure or anything other than putting as much as possible onto each one. And they’re beautiful.20170724_164735

Too often we are guilty of restraint without cause. Sometimes it’s the ‘save it for another day’ mentality with food. A number of times I have been guilty of this. I have bought a watermelon in summer and, in order to make the deliciousness last, have eaten only some of it and ended up throwing part of it away because it went off before I could finish it. I think maybe watermelon is one of those things that should be scoffed.

It could be that we don’t want to appear too lavish, don’t want to overdo things. Most of us had parents or grandparents who would use the ‘kitchen’ plates for everyday dinner and keep the fancy plates for special occasions. Well, I say that being alive is a special occasion. Use the good china. And if it gets broken, does it really matter? Be extravagant with the people you love. They’re the ones who matter.

It’s like that with my novel. I think I’m afraid of giving too much description in case it comes across as me trying to show how beautifully I can describe something. Maybe I need to do that. In my second draft I am stepping back from the bare bones of the story line and fleshing out the ‘bits’. Icing the cake.

When my little neighbour left she said, ‘Any time you need help icing cakes, just call me.’ And you know what? I probably will!

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An assortment of people

I went to the mall today and I sat at a table in the middle of the mall and worked on my novel. Naturally, as I sat at that table I watched an assortment of people going past. When I was a child we used to get a selection of biscuits called ‘Choice Assorted.’ We used to fight over who would get the one foil-wrapped chocolate biscuit. This was a different kind of assortment.Různé_druhy_cukroví_(2)

Manukau Mall is a melting pot of cultures. And there is definitely more than one chocolate biscuit.

A girl of about 11 sauntered past with her hoodie up. Many of the people committing crimes in my neck of the woods wear hoodies so they can’t be identified. I was wondering whether this was her intention, when her father joined her. He was also wearing a hoodie. Either knocking over dairies is a family business, or they were simply keeping their heads warm. Who can tell.

Being the school holidays, I was bound to see some of my students. Some walked straight past. Maybe they didn’t see me. Others looked in my direction but I stared straight ahead. Maybe I didn’t see them. Who can tell.

Two young girls carrying balloons were weaving between shoppers going the other way. A little kid dropped his McDonald’s ‘minion’ toy and went scurrying after it, ignoring the legs trying to dodge his little body. Two boys on the bench next to me were having sword fights with packets of sugar. None of the kids carried the same stress as the adults. Or the same angst as me, the writer, trying to get the words just right. Could be that they have the right idea.

Who can tell.

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The good, the bad and the ugly

Let’s look back at my week. Compared to some other weeks, it has been quite eventful. What do you mean it’s only Tuesday?!

Take last night, for instance. The good moment was finding an awesome airbnb house to rent over Christmas on the Gold Coast. The bad moment was getting a txt this morning to say the house had been sold and was no longer available. The ugly moment was me crying into my corn flakes because I was so happy with that house and I need to wait until my refund comes through before I can book another one and I won’t find another one as perfect. Although… maybe booking it in the first place was a bit hasty. I am a student after all, with an erratic income. That’s ‘erratic’, not ‘erotic’. (Note to self: look into that as an option.)

Then there was Sunday. I played darts in a local competition. That’s the good part. The bad part was my aim. The ugly part was the very drunk, very loud women arguing over the rules at the end, having extended play because, strangely enough, the more you drink, the less accurately you throw.dart-board-1247083_960_720

Which brings me to the rest of this week. The good thing about this week is that it’s the last week of term. That means I only have a few more days to take responsibility for hoards of unruly teenagers with limited vocabularies. The bad thing is that I will be back to the uncertainty of relief teaching, hoping for phone calls to offer me a day’s work (to pay for said holiday accommodation). The ugly thing is that I told myself I’d start eating better when the term is over. That means less cake.

As for after the holidays… the good thing is my sister coming to visit. Another good thing is the structural edit I will do on my book. Yet another good thing is my son deciding to go to uni after all. And yet another good thing is my daughter still being at home for the rest of the year.

So, on balance, good triumphs. Again.


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Look for the good

1929847_17892552124_3028_nSome of my friends ask me why I check Facebook every day when there is so much crap on it. I’ll tell you. I woke up this morning to the Facebook news that one of my past pupils, the beautiful Nthabiseng, won the international Inspired Leadership Award for her work on affordable health care in South Africa. Even though I know I only played a small part in her education, I feel so proud of her. You see, when I teach young people, they become my ‘kids’. I want them to excel, to take the opportunities offered to them and to make something of their lives.

One of the films I taught in South Africa was Dead Poets’ Society. The message Robin Williams’ character gives to his students is ‘Carpe diem – seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary.’ This is a philosophy I have embraced. When teaching final year students, the seminar I get them to present to the class is to persuade their classmates to live a life less ordinary. I want them to see how much is out there and how important it is for them to make the most of this one life. That is not always possible.

You see, the school I am relieving at draws kids from the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. Not all of them, but a fair proportion. Many come from homes where education is not seen as very important; where respect and common decency are not taught; where threats of punishment or consequences are scoffed at. They bring these attitudes into the classroom and resist any attempts to inculcate in them a sense of self-pride. They will not be taught.

These young people will never become my ‘kids’, and I have no desire to be a social worker. I know that I am over-emotional and that I take everything to heart. So sue me. I can’t make myself not care. This is my dilemma. An incident happened in my most feral class (yes, there is more than one) that I need to sort out. A few of them conspired together to pass me a sexually explicit note and tell me it came from another student. Okay, so nobody died, nobody got stabbed, nobody got beaten with a jaffle iron. So why don’t I just brush it aside?

It all comes back to what I said about claiming ownership of the kids I teach. I don’t know how to teach from a distance. I don’t want to keep everyone at arm’s length. Every time I feel I have no control over a class, or cannot make any difference in their lives, I wilt a little more.

I need to hear about the good things my kids are doing. Just to keep the balance.

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Step away from that novel

You know, I have a one-track mind. The direction of that track my change constantly, but it doesn’t change the fact that I can only devote attention to one thing at a time. I imagine my brain as this old-fashioned slide projector which contains a hundred images, but can only project one at a time. And, like a slide projector, if I stay on one picture for too long, the heat starts to melt the plastic and the image is ruined.Sawyers_Rotomatic_projector

This is the reason why I took the year off to write my book. I know quite a few writers who teach full time and write in their ‘spare time’. The concept of ‘spare time’ is as illusory as ‘spare oom’ felt to Tumnus of Narnia. I needed to step away from the all-consuming job as a teacher. I have felt invigorated and inspired, and my first draft is almost done. However, even with the year at my disposal (in a manner of speaking) I have not developed a writing routine.

When people remark, ‘You must be so disciplined to write a book’ or other writers speak of getting up at 5 every morning and writing until 7, I just smile and wave. I have no such patterns of behaviour. I write when I feel like it. I don’t wake up with an inspired thought at 3.27 and have to grab a piece of paper and write it down. I don’t force myself to sit and write for an hour a day. This is why I don’t understand the concept of ‘stepping away’ from my novel once the draft is done.

My supervisor needs the first draft by 23 June; he’ll have it next week. This writing process has been such fun. I have been able to imagine anything and it appears on the page. The next stage, the structural edit, is the hard work. This is where my ramblings need to come together to become a novel. I am really excited about this challenge – being someone who loves jigsaw puzzles. And so I have been advised to step away from my work for a couple of weeks before diving into this taxing process. But I haven’t been head-down-bum-up continuously. I have dipped into my story and sometimes not written for a week.

What do you mean you haven’t written for a week? What kind of writer are you? Ah, here’s where my one-track mind comes in. For the past two weeks (and for the next four) I have been teaching full time to fill the coffers. We all know by now that I cannot just teach and walk away. I agonise over the students, wonder how I can do things better, and spend time thinking about how not to kill the little shits – I have 200 13-15-year-olds…

Never mind the discipline of writing, I know who needs discipline!

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I think my phone may be racist

I have a serious question. Is my phone racist?

On Tuesday I was on my weekly sojourn into the city for lectures. The train ride there was uneventful. However, on the way back something bizarre happened and no one has been able to explain it.Samsung_Galaxy_J5_Android_6.0.1_Front

On my trusty Samsung phone there is a location indicator, like the one in the picture. (Except that I am not in Bogota and my phone does not speak Bogotarian language.) Until now, my location has been pretty accurate. I can be anywhere in Australia or NZ and I can open the red, canvas, slightly grubby cover to discover where I am. I sometimes have conversations with my phone, thanking it for reminding me that I’m on holiday.
‘Oh? I’m on the Gold Coast? You bet I am!’

On Tuesday, when I got off the train and checked in vain for any messages I may have missed, the location indicator said ‘Vejalpur’. I stared at it for a while, never having heard of said place. I wondered if it was maybe a new suburb along the South Auckland rail network. Maybe near Papatoetoe. So I googled it. It’s a city in India. India?! I have never been to India. And I’m pretty sure we did not pass through India between Newmarket and Papakura. When I refreshed the location, it corrected itself.

Now, here’s the thing. On the train I had an Indian man sitting next to me, and two sitting in front of us. They were all on their phones the entire time. Did my phone think I was in India because I was surrounded by Indian men?

Next time I’m on a terrible date, I’m going to secretly open my phone to see if the location has changed to ‘Hell’.

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