How I Anticipate School

I’m returning to post-secondary in just over one week.  After being a stay at home dad/student for the past year I have to enrol in a “real” full-time program in order to reach my goal of becoming an elementary school teacher.

Even though I’m not “super old” – I can’t shake the feeling that I’m much more like Billy Madison than I am “Van Wilder”.  I keep saying that my years away have given me great experience, careers and a family… yet I continually slip into a semi-nostalgic haze about how I viewed “super seniors” who were at university when I first attended in the mid/late 90’s.  Sure, part of me was impressed by their courage to try something new at their age (after all…they were 30), but I mostly fell back on snide comments about grandma’s and grandpa’s who asked redundant questions and couldn’t double click.

I hope that I’ve maintained the right balance of lived wisdom and unrelenting hipness that I don’t end up crying to a homemade mix tape and scribbling in my trapper keeper binder about how nobody seemed to dig my flannel shirt and Doc Marten 18 hole boots.

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All invalid

20130217-200811.jpg

So this happened!

Absolutely not cool and super painful. I separated my tendon from my leg/ankle. No more basketball season, no more left handed layups, no more weight bearing for at least 6 weeks.

I’m still not used to the crutches yet but getting there. Hobbling around the house is starting to lose is charm and the family are not running my errands with the same pep as they started with. This is going to be a long road to recovery.

20130217-200854.jpgDeep sadness

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Morning Pages

ResolutionThis is nothing new – and I guess it technically counts as a resolution – but I think I’d like to resume doing “morning pages” on this blog.

The concept of morning pages comes from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way”.  The simple concept of starting each morning by writing a few morning pages as a way to stimulate your creative energy and imagination is a well used practice of many writings and creative artists.

I was recently reminded of this practice through a brief quote from Todd Babiak who commented that he wakes up “ridiculously early” to write before his family wakes up.  The Garneau BlockI’m currently reading Babiak’s “The Garneau Block” (which is quite good) so I was doing a  little author bio on the web and found this was his practice.  I’m hoping that this practice can be recovered in my life as part of my “Grand Project” (which I’ll write about more in the near future).  It shouldn’t be too difficult.  I used to wake up each morning at 5:00am to go to the gym but once my life exploded and I became “Mr. Mom” (more on that too I guess) this hasn’t been a regular practice.

So…here’s the resolution:

I will wake up each morning – ridiculously early – in order to write out some morning pages (probably on this blog) as part of a larger Grand Project for 2013.  

Whew… that sucked.

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Return to the Glenbow

Rather than try to explain a several month absence from blog writing I’ll just continue on as though I’ve been as frequent as ever.  There…

With the renewal of our Glenbow Museum membership we were able to enjoy the final days of the recent Glenbow exhibition entitled, “Fairy Tales, Monsters and the Genetic Imagination.”  Although there were many things to explore I was flying solo with the kids and didn’t get to spend as much time as I’d like to enjoy all the pieces.  A few however did stick in my mind.

Kiki Smith RaptureThe first powerful piece was Kiki Smith’s “Rapture” (2001), a 67 1/4 x 62 x 26 1/2 inch Bronze statue of Little Red Riding Hood emerge from the ruptured belly of the wolf.

This work was emphasized by my two daughters interest in the nude figure and the emergence from the wolf.  As they had never heard the original Grimm Brother’s fairy tale of Red Riding Hood – with is ferocious sexuality and misogynic message – they didn’t understand what was occurring in the Bronze.  It was rewarding to talk with them about the power of the woman to destroy the wolf herself without the axe of the woodsman.

Long awaited 1The second work to impact me was the surreal silicon sculpture, “The Long Awaited” by Patricia Piccinini.  This 92 x 152 x 80cm piece offers a hyper-realistic look at a young child comforting an aging genetic mutation of a humanoid manatee.  As I spend time with this work I couldn’t help but connect it to my aging grandmother whom I had just visited over the holiday break.  The key connecting feature was the thinning hair which revealed age spots on the manatee’s head.  My own 95 year old grandmother was my primary caregiver when I would’ve been the child’s age and now she too is unable to walk and travel (like the sculpture).  Long Awaited 3

Uncomfortable emotions occurred within me as I invested myself in this work, leaving me with a deep desire to comfort the manatee as the child was.  The climax of my viewing was when I crouched own near the foot of the manatee and looked up at its face, which revealed a slight smile, allowing me to understand the comfort that a small child can bring to a ‘grotesque’ aged figure.

This was an absolutely wonderful exhibition for the Glenbow – one that I continue to process.  I am so glad to have been able to view it before it closes this week.

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This is where we’ve been most weekends

Yep…we’ve become campers!  I never thought I’d see the day when I’d willingly give up the comforts of home in order to sleep where the bears and the mosquitos roam.

We’ve only been a tenting family until this summer.  We decided to use a bit of money to buy a used, 1976 Bonair 850 tent trailer – rather than do a short family vacation.  We’ve been out pretty much every week since the end of June.  This vintage gem is slightly held together by duct tape and bungee cords but it still sports a working propane stove, heater and all the original retro orange drapes and upholstery.

The kids are excited to talk about their “best summer ever” and we have a line up of people hoping to use our tent trailer when we’re at home.  We’ve camped in the mountains and in the prairies without any problems.  We have more than enough room for our family of 5 to sleep and do activities.  It is quite a sight to see our packed Jeep Cherokee with this aging trailer and our mountain bikes strapped to the tail gate.  I’m still trying to figure out if we can afford a canoe this summer as well!

Truthfully – the thought that went through our minds when we had our first camping weekend was… I can’t believe how many Sunday’s we’ve wasted in church when we could’ve been doing things like this with our kids.  Our priorities are becoming clearer and clearer every week!

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The MonkeySphere Reigns

I’ve never given my thoughts about the monkey sphere in any comprehensive fashion on this blog before.  I won’t do that today either.  However,  check out these articles (here and here) about the monkey sphere and to get a great overview of the concept…especially David Wong’s groundbreaking article in Cracked.

Okay…so for those who don’t read links here is a very quick summary: Monkeys have 50 people in their social group (roughly) because their brains says so.  People’s brains are 3 times larger (roughly) so we have 150 people in our social groups (roughly).  This is our monkey sphere.  We can only handle or keep track of about 150 people total.  This is why we don’t care about the garbage man or the janitor at the gym. It’s not because we’re assholes (usually) but because our monkey sphere is full of other people that we have chosen to remember and connect with (on very degrees of intimacy).

So – I’ve always been a staunch supporter of the monkey sphere as a social theory.  It makes perfect sense to me.  It’s allowed me to say “no” to potential friendships with weirdo’s because my monkey sphere was full.  It’s explained why I’ve had no interested in befriending some of my partner’s friend’s husbands.  I had a full monkey sphere in which I was in control…or so I thought.

I’ve neglected to blog something recently – part of my writing absence – but I was laid off from my job 2 1/2 months ago.  Long time readers may have known that I worked in a faith community that was fairly large.  I’ve worked in faith communities, social service non-profits and arts/culture non-profits my whole life and each of these areas of employment are all “people heavy”.  This has been a great justification for having a monkey sphere concept because there are simply too many people to really get to know.

Once I lost my job though…my monkey sphere was immediately destroyed.  I went from a full sphere to only about 50 people.   After the initial disorientation (about 1 month) I realized a few things:

  1. I had been trying to squish far more than 150 into my monkey sphere (which was part of the reason why I was so grumpy)
  2. I had way less control over my monkey sphere than I thought I did which caused resentment.
  3. I really only “lost” the people that I didn’t want in my monkey sphere to begin with
  4. I became so much MORE friendly and relaxed once I really had control of a 2/3 empty sphere.  I’ve enjoyed meeting new people again and not being such a standoffish jerk!! Even my partner has noticed how much more cheerful I’ve been.

The monkey sphere is absolutely real folks!  It’s saved my sanity when I felt over whelmed with people and has allowed me to create boundaries and cutting through bullshit “fake” friendship (I was able to completely write off having to care about people’s dead cat’s and whether they offended their great aunt Eunice with their Facebook comments).

I’ve experienced the power of the monkey sphere on both ends…it is 100% real and accurate.  I never want to have a full sphere again.  I love filling it up as I choose and having the extra emotional/psychic energy to actually engage those who have already found a home in my monkey sphere.

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Reading Levels & Comprehension

The above chart should be a familiar concept to anyone with a child or teenager.  This simple guide (accompanied by alphabet letters) helps determine where a child or youth’s reading level is currently at.  Teachers and parents use these types of resources to help find the most appropriate books for their children to read.  It can also be a great source of pride for parents when they find out their children are reading at a higher than average reading level for their grade.

During this Sunday’s Cross Country Checkup on CBC there was a great discussion about which books have left (or are leaving) an impression on you as a young reader?  Which novels or poems or non-fiction still linger with you into adulthood?

There was a specific discussion early in the program about the popularity of “cross over” novels from the young adult fiction category to the adult fiction category.  A librarian was on the line who commented that historically the young adult category has been blurred on each of the end of its age range.  Some children enter young adult reading early and some young adult readers find themselves with adult fiction early.  She added however that one thing that is a very recent development is the occurrence of adults reading “down” to a young adult level.  This is a startling.

Think of the popularity of Twilight, Hunger Games and Harry Potter to the adult reading crowd.  These novels are written for a young adult (preteen in the case of Harry Potter) audience but their are just as many adult readers of these novels as teenagers.

There are many reasons – other than reading levels – for an adult to take time on these novels but it does highlight something unique and generally disturbing.  If the most recent best-sellers of popular fiction continue to be young adult novels, where does that leave the state of literacy and literature in our culture?  There will always been fine literature…but it will become crowded out by young adult novels and amateurish “Shades of Grey” homespun erotica (Check out CityLight Books in San Francisco or online to get a some great adult erotica).

I have my personal reservations about the content of many of these books – but that is based on my reading preferences.  Where I take real umbrage is the diminished literacy of adults to settle for young adult fiction in their reading choices.  These books are perfectly appropriate for young adult readers – and can be enjoyed by adults occasionally – but when they become the primary literary outlet for adults while setting the current  standard of quality for adult literature I become disheartened.  I want to grab those soccer moms, give their heads a shake and hand them some Margaret Atwood, Marcel Proust or William S. Burroughs (if they are that into kink).

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