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In between spaces pt.34

I like my husband’s photography and writing so much that I want to share it with you.

Timothy Moss

As photographers, time is all we have. It’s our canvas, the base upon which we apply light.

But we don’t control it. Sometimes it’s a lumbering thing, and the moments between seconds stretch out like a slowing heartbeat.

Sometimes it’s running, and the hours melt away beneath its feet like water.

We don’t own time. We borrow it, but we can’t stop it.



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A veteran teacher turned coach shadows 2 students for 2 days – a sobering lesson learned

For all my teacher friends … try doing this in the primary school you work in and see if you find the same thing. If you’re currently on professional experience placement, you might have more opportunity to do this. It might be very enlightening.

Granted, and...

The following account comes from a veteran HS teacher who just became a Coach in her building. Because her experience is so vivid and sobering I have kept her identity anonymous. But nothing she describes is any different than my own experience in sitting in HS classes for long periods of time. And this report of course accords fully with the results of our student surveys. 

I have made a terrible mistake.

I waited fourteen years to do something that I should have done my first year of teaching: shadow a student for a day. It was so eye-opening that I wish I could go back to every class of students I ever had right now and change a minimum of ten things – the layout, the lesson plan, the checks for understanding. Most of it!

This is the first year I am working in a school but not teaching…

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If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?

Do you recognise those words?

One of my latest followers will, I’m sure, and if she doesn’t it just means she’s getting slower with age!

I can say things like that, because she’s my aunt … a blunt-speaking fearsome woman I’m just a little bit scared of, so I’m only saying this at a distance, through this blog. It’ll be ages before I see her again, and she’ll have forgotten by then, so I think I’m safe!

I received a card from Aunty Jan a few weeks ago and it was interesting that the first thing that came unbidden into my mind was the soundtrack that I associate with her. The house in McMahons Rd, North Nowra; the record player belting out Dr Hook: Walk right in, Sylvia’s MotherA little bit more, Only sixteenWhen you’re in love with a beautiful woman … a little bit racy when I think about it now! I never really liked Dr Hook, but then again, I was only 14 and I wasn’t exactly the Dr Hook demographic. Older bearded, long-haired men weren’t exactly my cup of tea.

Other memories then piled on top of that one. Wiping up is not something that’s usually memorable, but then, you obviously don’t know Aunty Jan.

You know those little grooves around the lids of Tupperware containers? The ones that soap bubbles get caught in them after they’ve been washed in hot sudsy water? When wiping up for Aunty Jan, all those soap bubbles had to be wiped away. “Use the corner of the tea towel, Sharon, and make sure you get them all!”. A war on soap bubbles that we didn’t wage at our place, so I was unskilled in the art of bubble extinction.

Then I remembered the chips. Bowls of potato crisps while watching telly after the dishes had been done and the bubbles had been expunged. We didn’t have bowls of crisps at our place … but at Aunty Jan’s I did. 

Then I remembered the argument her and Dad had years before, where he refused to go home till the dishes had been done, but she wanted him gone immediately. I don’t know what the original argument was about, but as a newly minted teenager it felt naughty (and thus its appeal) to listen to two adults shouting at each other about something as mundane as the washing up.

Then there’s the story of Mum and Dad’s wedding. Aunty Jan, eight years younger than Mum, was a flowergirl (junior bridesmaid? I know I’ll get that wrong and someone will correct me) at Mum and Dad’s wedding. She cried (although that’s not the word Dad uses when he tells the story) all the way through the ceremony. A well-meaning person told her that she wasn’t losing a sister but gaining a brother and 12 year old Jan cried, “But I don’t like him”.

I have to admit that I still laugh at that. It speaks to so many things about my family: the two distinct halves, the blunt honesty, the contrariness on both sides (which, happily, I have inherited), the determination (it’s always seemed to me) on my father’s side to be as obnoxious as he possibly can be to Aunty Jan (please don’t put another perspective on that anyone – I enjoy thinking that’s what it is), the teasing nature of the youngest siblings (which, unhappily my (younger) brother inherited), the laughter and warmth despite it all.

And then there’s Uncle Eric. Caring and kind and such an integral part of the family. Hot sugary, cinnamon-y doughnuts and chocolate milkshakes every Saturday morning when I worked in his garden shop as a teenager. Trips to Sydney to check out nurseries or to buy plants or other supplies; my first taste (distaste) of McDonalds; driving very fast but with supreme confidence; long socks, shorts, brylcreemed hair, and dark sunglasses – a distinctive style that has, in his case, outlived the 70s; Latin names of just about every flower, tree, shrub known to man rolling off his tongue; physically damaged but soldiering on with great strength and resilience.

I recently challenged Aunty Jan to support my fundraising venture for Parkinson’s Disease. She told me, in her usual blunt way, that she already supports research into other medical conditions. I thought that was the end of it – and fair enough too; she’s an aged pensioner now and the dollar can only stretch so far. But then a card arrived, with a cheque in it, to aid my fundraising venture.

You’re a real sport Aunty Jan. 



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On Zumba

Zumba, in case you’re not in the know, is a form of dance exercise. Dancercise perhaps? Or maybe exerdance?

Anyway, it’s something mostly women do and it’s about moving to music in a choreographed way.

I went today. Yes, to a Zumba class.

I moved to music. I want to stress that I didn’t move in the choreographed way the others in the class moved, and when I say ‘moved’ I’m not using the word in the usual way the word is used.

After a time the instructor looked at me and mouthed (over the loud, thumping Latin rhythms) “Sharon, you’re supposed to be moving”. I took umbrage. I was moving!

Yes, she said, but you have to move on the outside as well.


I looked in the mirrors filling the wall in front of me and where the instructor’s arms were above her head, mine were flapping in the vicinity of my waist; where her hips were swivelling at a hundred miles an hour, mine were shifting somewhat erratically; where her feet were going right foot tap to the front, left foot tap to the front, right foot double tap to the front, mine were going right foot … what? Just … what?

And she wasn’t just doing these things in isolation … she was doing them all at the same time. In time. Quick time. And then she sped up.


I looked … well, not like I was dancing, that’s for sure.

But I was dancing on the inside. And that has to count for something.

Doesn’t it?

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Pieces of Sydney


It’s mostly warm.

Hot even, although this morning, Sunday, dollops of rain smack the windows and turn the air icy.

Friday night. The Rocks. Heat seeping from sandstone walls that contain people, noise, colour. And moments of stillness. And history.

Saturday morning before the clouds burn off: icons.

I try for a different view.


New history

2.Street lamps


3.Operatic heights



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Manners and public discourse

While I have had a Twitter account for just over a year now, I have not, until recently, given it much attention. Nor have I given much attention to my LinkedIn account. Over the past two weeks, for a reason I have yet to understand, I have taken to checking my Twitter and LinkedIn accounts on a very regular basis. I read through the tweets and articles that arrive during the night while eating rhubarb and ricotta for breakfast, and then I check again at lunch time and regularly throughout the evening. My daughters would call “nerd alert” if they could see who I follow (ABC News 24; The Guardian; BBC World News; Oxford University Press, etc) but that’s okay. Nerds are usually quite harmless and I don’t mind being counted amongst their number.

But that’s not the reason for this post. The point isn’t to tell you that I’ve become somewhat addicted to Twitter and LinkedIn, and to the information, ideas, perspectives, thinking, opinions, moments of humour and sometimes outrage to which I am now exposed.

The point is to try to make sense, for myself as much as anyone, of some of the things I’ve read in recent times.

One of the tweets that came through on Friday was news of a message to members of the Australian Army by Lt. General David Morrison, AO who was responding to reports of unacceptable behaviour.

I also read tweets about the questions put to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, by (former) Perth radio presenter, Howard Sattler.

The two things became linked in my mind, and also called to mind the list of things others have said about and to Prime Minister Gillard over the last two and a half years.

One of the things that Lt. General Morrison said in his message to members of the Australian Army (and let’s face it, to the rest of us given that it’s on YouTube for all to see) is that “every one of us is responsible for the culture and reputation of our Army”. What if we were to replace Army with “school” or “workplace, houses of Parliament, radio station or home”? Would what he said still apply? Are we responsible for the culture and reputation of where we work and live?

As an aside, he also said: “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept”. One thing I find interesting is that this hasn’t already been said loudly and clearly by an editor of a newspaper, a news director in a radio station, a senior executive of a TV station, a leader in the community … 

But I digress.

I stumbled across Angry is a Habit while reading articles on LinkedIn. It is a short blog post about habits. We have habits of behaviour, but Godin (the author of the post) suggests that our emotions can become habitual too.

I thought about this in relation to the words used by some in the media and wondered if the emotions behind their words are habitual ways of being. Why the need to pour hate and loathing and anger into the world? Is it just a habit? Do we, the consumers of these words, buy the emotion as well? Is it a package deal? When we read/hear/watch the angry, hate-filled words that we wouldn’t say to our boss, principal, Dean of the Faculty, chair of the Parents and Friends committee, head of the local arts organisation, do we buy the emotion too so that we get just as angry and hate-filled at whichever politician is being scorned, ridiculed, put down? Do the words cause us to feel particular things? Does hate and anger therefore spread through our communities in the same way that videos go viral on the internet?

From LinkedIn I also read Three words that will transform your career. In this article author Bruce Kasanoff claims that to improve our quality of life we just need to think “help this person” every time we encounter another person: “When you walk into Starbucks for coffee, think help this person about the barista who serves you. Instead of being frustrated that he isn’t moving fast enough, see if you can make him smile. Better yet, tell him to keep the change.” Kasanoff claims that this will “change your demeanour, your thought process, and the entire interaction.”

It is a similar sentiment to one put forward by David Foster Wallace in his now-famous speech to a group of university graduates in the US in 2005. While Bret Easton Ellis (author of American Psycho amongst other works) considers Foster Wallace “the most tedious, overrated, tortured, pretentious writer of my generation“, others have been taken with Wallace’s notion of choice … we can choose to behave in certain ways, we can choose to see the world in particular ways, we can choose to look beyond the surface and (although he didn’t use these words) we can choose empathy. We can choose to live beyond our “default setting” (of being annoyed and frustrated by, for instance, the slowness of airplane passengers when putting their bags in the overhead lockers; of being annoyed and frustrated that even when someone is eighth in the queue for the ATM they still don’t have their purse out of their handbag when they “suddenly” find themselves first in the queue, which has now grown to 23 tongue-clicking, foot-tapping withdrawers of money). We can choose to think/live/behave/feel differently.

So what have I learnt from all this reading? What sense am I making from these seemingly unrelated tweets, articles, speeches, thoughts? It has something to do with manners and respectful behaviour … but it also goes beyond that.

For me, one thing is clear: We can change our habitual ways of thinking and acting. To do this, we first need to become aware of how our thoughts impact our behaviour, speech, interactions, emotions. We need to consider our habits of thought and emotion and then to do something about them if we find ourselves thinking/feeling/acting negatively/rudely/in an ill-mannered way on a regular basis.

Through a change in thinking we can transform others’ lives and in the process transform our own as well.

We can stop walking past what we know (deep down) we don’t accept. We can speak up for respect, care, kindness, professionalism and manners. We don’t have to accept the hate and anger of radio shock-jocks and political commentators (of whatever persuasion). We don’t have to accept their hate-filled, angry, vitriolic rantings, and their disrespectful questioning, and their words which claim that we are all somehow implicated in their tawdry games (we continue to listen, to watch, to read, to buy, to comment and thus give them credibility or at the very least our time).

We can choose to think for ourselves, read critically, and ask questions of the texts produced and served to us on a regular basis. We can live by habit, or we can choose to live consciously, being explicitly aware of the world around us and how we are being shaped by the views/words/actions of others (yes, even of me in this blog post), and the ways our views/words/actions shape others.

If we are teachers, then we need to be even more aware of that influence.

None of this is new of course. Educator Wayne Sawyer, in an editorial he wrote in English in Australia in 2005, noted that “our current students face a relentless barrage of shockjocks, media barons, advertising and corporate greed masquerading as common sense” (p. 4). Sawyer called on teachers to ensure that critical literacy was an integral component of their teaching. But in order to do that, teachers too must be aware of how their views are being shaped by the same shock-jocks and media barons that shape our students’ thoughts. And more than that, we need to know how to deconstruct the messages they (and we) consume and know how to teach students to unpack them.

We can choose … that’s what I’ve learnt. We can choose.

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A challenge for both of us

I sit here with a blank screen in front of me. I have no ideas, no words, no thoughts. I want to see what emerges, where my mind takes me. Creativity can only happen in a bounded environment … ‘write a story’ say many teachers to their students. It’s paralysing. What about? asks the child. Oh, anything you like, comes the reply.

That’s too hard.

Write a story, says the teacher.

What about? I ask, and already my mind is blank, while I desperately try to lock onto an idea, an image, a thought, a character, an event. Nothing and everything swirl through my mind. My mind spins, but nothing I can write a story about emerges. I sit, languishing at the back of the classroom with my hand in the air “Miss, Miss … but what will I write a story about?”

Write a story about flowers.

Seriously? Is that the best you can do? I need more information because the decisions I have to make are overwhelming me and I don’t have time to decide in the ten minutes you’ve given me to write my story. Please, teacher, tell me more. Where is the flower? Is it day time or night time? What kind of flower? One by the side of the road, or one in a garden, or in a vase, or in a hospital ward, or on a gravestone? One that’s just beginning to bloom and is fresh and new and vibrant or one that’s decaying/fading/wilting? What colour is the flower? How big is it? Does anyone see it? Are there other flowers/cows/ducks near it? Is it part of a bunch/a gang/a tribe? Is it tattooed on a biker’s arm/old lady’s back? Is the flower on a postcard, birthday card, sympathy card, farewell card? I need more information. Please, teacher, give me some boundaries and then I can write a story.


Do you know what? Every day for a week I’m going to show you a flower and you can create your own story about it. I’ll give you some parameters and you can go from there. Is it possible to write a 50 word story? Are you willing to give it a try?

If you’re willing, it means we both have a challenge … me to come up with an image of a flower and some boundaries, you to create a 50 word story.

Here we go.

Day One [of seven].

Boundaries: 50 words. Decay. Late evening. Outside. 1983.

It’s starting


I’m eagerly anticipating your story.

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A rant for a sunny Saturday morning

Saul Eslake was speaking in Hobart the other night and I happened to go along. For a long time Saul was the Chief Economist for the ANZ Bank and is now the Chief Economist for Bank of America Merril Lynch. He was talking about productivity and why it matters for Tasmania (the state of Australia in which I’ve lived for 26 years).

It was a very interesting talk, but one thing in particular caught my attention.

Saul Eslake contends that one of the reasons productivity growth has declined in recent years is because there’s an obsession with security. He says that governments (of whatever persuasion) seem to want to remove all risk and so put in place policies that, without the ‘security’ tag, would be deemed ‘bad’ policies. He’s written that I’ve come to believe over the years that the easiest way to gain acceptance or endorsement for ‘bad’ policy ideas – that is, policies which impose unnecessary costs on consumers, unnecessarily restrict international trade, entrench monopoly privileges, or detract from productivity – [is] to wrap them in a ‘security blanket’.

He’s also said: Sometimes I feel like I’m one of a tiny handful of people who question this.

And here I was thinking that I was the only person who questions particular kinds of security measures!

Take airport security for example. When I check my bags in at an airport, I can feel my steps slowing as I head towards the security check area. My face hardens and I cannot, ever, stop myself sighing heavily and grumbling (possibly loudly) about the waste of time and money this is.

You see men of all ages taking off their belts, their trousers sagging dangerously; and removing their shoes … then walking through the device. The alarm sounds. They return through – holding the rest of us up – and go through their pockets. (Gosh men keep a lot of junk in their pockets!) They take another stroll through the device and again they beep. Oh yeah, that’s right, I need to put all my loose change on the tray as well, he says, smiling awkwardly at the rest of us tapping our feet in unison (and impatience).

Meanwhile, the queue has extended through the food court, down the escalator, through the door and into the taxi queue.

All this waiting around in airports, the extended periods of time we must now spend preparing for a one hour plane flight (we spend more time in the security line than we do on the plane) is not good for productivity growth. It’s slowing us down.

I flew out of Frankfurt Airport two weeks ago. I beeped as I went through the security device and a woman indicated that I needed to stand to the side – in a little booth. I waited while she went over another woman with expert hands. A few minutes later she came toward me and asked if I spoke German. I said no. It didn’t stop her getting very personal with me.  I’d been away from home for two weeks and let me tell you, she patted places that no other person, apart from perhaps my husband, should pat! It was a very (very) thorough job.

I wondered what her previous work experience had been – what had prepared her for this job? What sort of qualities does an airport security person have to have? They don’t have to have a sense of humour (in fact it’s best if they don’t), they don’t exhibit any sort of care or compassion, they don’t keep their hands to themselves, they have no problem crossing personal boundaries, they are not good at chit chat or engaging in small talk … what work experience prepares you for this? What do you need to learn in school to prepare you to be a patter-downer of the security kind?

It was the same story in Malaysia – except this time I didn’t beep, but other people did. Old ladies being pushed in wheelchairs are forced to stand up out of their chairs so they can be patted down. Old men strip down, almost to their underwear, before they are allowed through. Shoes are taken off with wild abandon; hats, glasses, belts, jackets … all placed on the security belt while the rest of us wait like cattle in a line stretching the length of the concourse.

What madness is this?

I went from France to Italy on a train. No security, no removal of clothing, no pat downs. I wasn’t even sure when I’d crossed from one country to another. I went from Italy to Austria on a train. Same story. And then from Austria to Germany. I arrived at the train stations about 20 minutes before the train left but could have turned up five minutes before if I’d been confident that I knew which platform the train left from. It was effortless and easy and there was no waiting in long lines for hundreds of people to take their laptops from their bags, and remember that they had a water bottle hidden about their person, and they possibly shouldn’t have put their brand new $70 bottle of Crabtree and Evelyn moisturiser (that they used for the first time that morning) in their hand luggage because they’ve just lost it and they stand in the path of everyone else because of the devastation they feel at losing something they wouldn’t have purchased if they hadn’t been travelling out of the country for the first time … and we all shuffle forward one inch at a time with as much joy as if we’re on our way to a torture chamber.

If I’d flown from France to Italy to Germany I would have spent hours waiting in lines, lost even more water bottles, removed my shoes more times than is strictly necessary in front of strangers, and been felt up by more women than I care to talk about in this sort of blog.

Will it ever stop or are we so compliant, so entrenched in thinking that this is the way it is, that we don’t/won’t question it and we’ll live with this invasive, unnecessary, expensive, unproductive practice that ultimately doesn’t make us any safer for ever and a day?

It seems I’m not alone.

What do you think?