Posted in Life

Revelations for a new year

This is a blog post.(#) It has words. They are carefully and deliberately put together from thoughts, ideas, nuances, shards of memory, sideways glances, fluff on the carpet, cliche.

It has a point. I don’t want to get to it too early and give the game away; but rest assured there is one. 

Unless there isn’t. 

My sister celebrated 35 years of marriage a week or so ago, as did her husband. I remember that over-half-a-life-time-ago day. Deb arriving in a horse-drawn cart, carrying a parasol, looking petit and feminine. Grant in his white suit. Mum falling, or did she faint? Maybe she was pushed. 

That memory sparks another. Grade 8: “You’re nothing like your sister, are you?” Mr Murphy, my geography teacher, providing an exemplary example of good teaching. Yes, in front of the whole class.

It wasn’t the first time I’d been asked that question, or a worse one: ‘Why can’t you be more like your sister?’. They’re not really questions I’ve ever felt capable of answering beyond a sullen ‘I dunno’. But they’re questions that never cast me in a good light. It’s like when my mother says, “you’re just like your father” in that tone she has. The one where I can tell she doesn’t mean the nice things about him. 

My sister is good. If I wasn’t like her, then I must be bad.

That’s how I grew up – as a living comparison to my good sister. 

Deb is fiercely competitive. She loves to be the first one to do things, and she likes to come first when there’s even a hint of a possibility that there might, perhaps, even slightly, be a chance of a second place. 

That was my place. Second. 

But this isn’t about Deb. This is about me. The above was just a bit of context; some background information to place what comes next. There’s a technical term for it, but my mind is drawing a blank at the moment (the blank my mind is drawing has a border around it – a pretty kind of green filigree – but the bit in the inside is still blank).

You see, something happened the other day: I had a thought. A revelation if you will. It surprised me.

I was walking to the train station not really thinking about anything, in that ‘I’m walking with a purpose and my mind isn’t really present’ kind of way I have, when a thought popped into my mind. Just like that.


‘Sharon’ the thought said in that spooky way thoughts speak to you (not that my thought spoke in a spooky voice. Rather it was spooky that my thought addressed me by name). ‘It doesn’t matter that you aren’t like your sister. And’ my thought paused for dramatic effect (now that I think about it, I probably added the pause in later) ‘being nothing like your sister doesn’t mean that you’re bad’.

“Well that’s a relief” I said. Out loud. In that way old ladies do when they’re having existential conversations with themselves on the way to the train station. I smiled at the young man walking past to show that I wasn’t really mad, but his look suggested that he thought I was on the verge. 

‘And.’  Oh, my thought hadn’t finished. I’d better pay attention. ‘Being just like your father doesn’t only mean bad things either’. 

“Humpf” I said in a surprised kind of way. Again I said it out loud. The young man looked around to see that I was still trotting at his heels. He sped up. 

It was a relief, to be honest, to know that I could think of myself differently: not in comparison to my sister (who hadn’t been married first (that was me) but whose marriage had lasted almost three times as long as mine … Deb: good/me: not so much), but that I could think of myself as my own self.

And don’t bother asking why I hadn’t come to that conclusion many years ago. That’s as much use as a teacher asking why you aren’t more like your sister. A mumbled ‘I dunno’ is about as good as you’re going to get and I don’t suppose that’s the answer you want. 

So there you have it.

I’m okay not being like my sister. 

She’s cool and all that, but I’m okay too.

(#) this is in response to my husband’s recent blog post which wasn’t, in fact, a blog post. 

Posted in Life, Writing

Trying for a thing of beauty

I string words together on the clothesline of this blog. Sometimes these strings of words mean something … other times, I’m not so sure. 

Number Six presented us with a tin of magnetic words as part of her Christmas present; magnetic words to make poems with.

I made some poems. Strings of words that don’t mean anything but that make interesting associations, or that I like the sound of when they’re together. I also like the freedom these magnetic words give me to play with language, to not have to make literal sense, or figurative sense either for that matter. I like the randomness of the words on the fridge door – the unexpected nature of what emerges from my imagination in response to the words at my disposal.

Let me back up just a moment though. When I say ‘I made some poems’ I don’t know that ‘poem’ is the right word. What is a poem? Well, people with more knowledge of the art-form of which poems are a part have argued over a definition for more years than I’ve been alive … so I’m not going to try to define it. But I do like this, written by Mark Yakich: When we come across a poem—any poem—our first assumption should not be to prejudice it as a thing of beauty, but simply as a thing. 

So, here is the first thing I made on my fridge with my new magnetic words:

Goddess chant,
Luscious whisper.
Languid through forest cool.
Achingly sweet crush,
Head over life.
We sing these dream music shadows.

The magnetic word feedback I received was:

Gorgeous language,
Enormous peach friend.

As you can see, the magnetic words on my fridge door allowed me to write a ‘thing’, but not necessarily a thing of beauty. 

Since then I’ve written more poems, some using the magnetic words on my fridge door, others using words from the fridge door of my imagination. 

I’m going to share one with you, but first, some context. 

As Tim and I emerged from the cinema last Saturday we noted, with some alarm, the blackness of the clouds speeding towards the city. Weatherzone was consulted and we discovered that a severe thunderstorm was heading our way. We decided not to dawdle. Number Six had asked about the film we’d been to see and I responded that we were rushing home before the storm hit. She texted back: Run Sharon.

Two words. Enough to make a poem with. Here it is. 

“Run Sharon!”
She shouts through her fingers.
The sky darkens, the air cools,
The clouds bunch up
In metaphoric glee.
We run, giggling like schoolgirls,
Rain nipping at our heels.
Light zigs up the sky,
Its roar stops our breath.
The air stills.
We wait.



The one poem started a string of others. Here’s one more, titled ‘Domesticated’.

A dead saucepan litters the sink.
Mugs of mostly drunk tea,
Spoons from Tim’s coffee.
A glass, a plate, a knife
That earlier today
Spilled the blood of the rhubarb.

Rhubarb juice pools on the stove,
The smell of burning stronger here.
The purple pulpy mass glowers
From the bottom of the saucepan.
Sardonic. Resentful.
I was expecting remorseful,
Or perhaps even apologetic.
I’m not entirely sure why.


Words strung together on the clothesline of this blog. Some make more sense than others…

… the ending is open to allow for possibilities.

Posted in Teaching

Words and ideas

I string words together on the clothesline of this blog. Some mean something to some readers; some mean something different. Words are slippery with meaning and imagery and contexts and memory and ideas and moments shared and rediscovered.

I’m forever exhorting my students to choose their words carefully. To use the words “I dug around in there until I found it” brings to mind a particular image when the context is of searching for a piece of clothing at the back of the cupboard. Those are not the words I’d use when the context is searching for a mole you half remembered was nestled amongst your pubic hair (overheard train conversation). For that particular context I would use different words – I would choose different words.

‘Choose’ implies a deliberateness that ‘use’ doesn’t. That’s one of the things with words. We can use them (choose them) to convey particular meanings/messages and the reader happily remains unaware of our choices. The writing seems natural, as if there’s no other way to say it, to write it … to think it. No other way to think. We can manipulate the reader, cause him or her to imagine things he or she hadn’t thought to imagine before, to connect two distinct ideas that they hadn’t connected before, to even come up with the notion that two plus two equals five if we use/choose just the right words.

Precision in language is not to be underestimated. It’s a hallmark of critical thinking – of knowing what you mean and writing/speaking what you mean so that your reader/listener/audience doesn’t have to guess at your meaning. There is no ambiguity in your meaning, unless you choose it to be so. Disturbingly, for people like me, precision is often underestimated. In fact, some people don’t think about it at all. They use words as though one is as good as another and we all know, when we stop to think about it, that one is not the same as another.

But strings of words can also cause us to think in particular ways. My attention was caught by a newspaper headline yesterday about student teachers getting an ‘F’. It turns out that in a study conducted by an Australian university, many (in some cases most) pre-service teachers – that is, university students studying to be teachers – are very poor spellers. My own experience teaching pre-service teachers means that this finding was not news to me.

It may be shocking to you, or you may be quite unsurprised by this news … that those preparing to be your children’s and grandchildren’s teachers have poor spelling skills. The report then did something interesting. It connected two unrelated ideas: 1. poor spelling and 2. becoming a teacher.

It suggested that stricter spelling tests are needed prior to admission to university to ensure that those who cannot spell cannot become teachers. In our society, spelling and intelligence are linked. If you can spell well, then you are obviously intelligent. If you can’t, then you obviously lack intelligence. This is a truth for many people. Clearly, if teachers cannot spell well, they are not intelligent and therefore should not be teaching our children.

The connection between the two unrelated ideas was made ‘naturally’, despite the lack of any evidence indicating a link between ability to spell and ability to teach. The article, and perhaps the press release the story came from, took an uncritical look at the issue; it failed to raise serious questions, and left little room for thinking differently about the issue. It did this through strings of words that presented taken-for-granted assumptions about the audience – that they would immediately agree with the outcome suggested (more testing) and then turn the page to read about what the Kardashians are up to now.

Well, why don’t we (yes, dear reader, that means you and I) ask some critical questions before we turn the page and get up-to-date on the latest Kardashian capers? Why don’t we engage in some critical thinking? What questions do you have?

Here are just some of mine … please feel free to add your own in the comments section.

Questions about the nature of intelligence and the link (if there is one) between intelligence and spelling ability.

Questions about what we value in teachers. I note that the article didn’t call for an empathy test, or a test of a person’s capacity to form positive and supportive relationships with students and parents. Nobody seems to be calling for a test of a teacher’s capacity to deal with the often unrelenting demands of parents (leading, in one case I heard of recently, to a principal’s suicide), or of violent children.

Is spelling the thin edge of the wedge? If a teacher can’t spell, then maybe they can’t teach either; maybe they can’t see a hurting child and speak a kind word; maybe they can’t motivate and engage children or foster a child’s creativity and resilience, or nurture a child’s spirit …

The taken-for-granted assumption that a capacity to spell is what determines a person’s capacity to teach effectively speaks to a lack of critical thought … and in my view, for what it’s worth, that speaks to lazy thinking, which in my book is worse than poor spelling.

Words and ideas matter. Being able to communicate those ideas clearly and effectively, with the best/most appropriate words, matters. Yes, spelling matters, particularly for teachers, but to not allow someone in to teaching on the basis of poor spelling means we may miss out on developing some wonderful teachers. Teachers with heart and soul and passion.

Those things matter too.

I’d really like to hear from you. Please feel free to post a polite and respectful comment below in response to the news story, or to my post in general. What qualities are important in the teachers of your children/grandchildren/great grandchildren? Should spelling ability be the sole determinant of admission into a teaching degree?

What matters to you?