Sharing a Snippet

I seem to keep promising myself two things: that I will write more, and that I will share some of what I write. I am never very good at keeping either of these promises. During my wonderful stay at Gladstone’s Library I had intended to write some short stories and maybe a bit of poetry. What actually happened was that I wrote quite a lot of poetry and only two little segments of a short story. Turns out I am not very good at actually getting to any sort of narrative. (Note to self: work on that.)

Regardless, I’ve decided to share one of the little bits I wrote. I’m sharing it raw and unedited because if I get into all that I will never share it. This particular snippet was inspired by a writing prompt I found on Pinterest: “write about a new season and it’s impact on the world”. I had in my mind the effects of climate change, and how sometimes our seasons appear all out of whack, and I decided to set it in the far future, but beyond that initial thought I basically free wrote. What came out was a sort of message in a bottle…

No one knew what to call it. The first time it happened it was a ‘freak occurrence’; a ‘meteorological abnormality’; ‘nothing to worry about’. We were captivated by its beauty, and we believed them.

The light was entrancing: ethereal. Streaming from the sky in undulating ribbons, almost pearlescent and tinged with dawn colours. Like a day-lit aurora, it seemed as if each heavenly light fall should deposit a seraph in our midst. We soon discovered they were more of hell than heaven.

After years of this beautiful torture, the equatorial line is now a deep, permanent scorch, circling the Earth’s belly, growing wider with each passing orbit.

The Sun giveth, and the Sun taketh away.

We never know when the burning season will arrive. Unlike the old transitions, there is no gradual change; no slow curling and crisping of leaves as the hues shift to flame; no slow emerging of buds and shoots as greenery pushes its way to the surface once more. It comes in a sudden, terrible blaze. Without warning, the clouds part and the sun spears down, searing everything it touches from the face of the planet. It has proven impossible to predict when it will come and where it will fall. The Northern and Southern Hemispheres are now cut off from one another completely. No one dares cross the scorch band and the light falls have slowly created a no-mans land, not only on the surface but in the upper atmosphere as well. It was a shock when the first satellite fell.

Understandably, people fled from the Earth’s belt, humanity tearing like a seam around the middle. People surged North and South, seeking refuge; the upper and lower reaches of the planet have become unbearably crowded and we are running out of room. The scorch band expands inexorably towards us. All the old boundaries are gone and we are on the brink of war.

As if fighting the sun was not enough.

We did not heed the warnings and now nature takes its revenge for our ignorance and arrogance. The universe sends a mere sliver of its power, through a crack of our own making, and our downfall is sealed.

There is nowhere left for us to run. All our technology and bold proclamations are useless in the face of such relentless, uncompromising destruction.

This is our final hope. These words. Sent out in a direction we can’t control, into the vacuum of space, where we don’t know if anyone is listening. Where anyone who might be listening could be forgiven for ignoring our plea. Our trespasses, after all, are great and many.

But we plead with you anyway.

Because if you are reading this, you are our only hope.

If you are reading this, please send help.

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While The Wind Howls

Outside the window, rain pummels and thunder rumbles. But in here it is warm and dry and quiet. An autumn medley of our favourite tunes plays softly through the house, and the smell of baking pies envelopes us in mouth-watering warmth. The world seems to settle. Our cosy home is filled with memories and promises; the bricks and mortar we bought have slowly taken on something of ourselves.

With the leaves turning down the street, our door closed against the storm, the tastes and smells of autumn bubbling in the oven, and the music of our happiest times playing through every room, it finally begins to go quiet behind my eyes. The comfort I’ve been missing in my busy days settles over my shoulders and across my brow. In this moment of peace, I am overwhelmed by my blessings and I see the depth of joy in my life.

For some it is adventure in the great wide somewhere that calls and lifts them. To escape to the new and the beauty of the unknown. But for me the greatest adventure has always been in this: in coming home. I cannot help but wonder that in the vastness of the universe, on this beautiful jewel of a planet, floating amongst the stars, there is a place that is so inherently me that it brings silent solace to the chaos of my busy human mind. As if, while the wind howled outside my door, the universe leaned in, wrapped a bubble of quiet warmth around me and whispered ‘this is for you’.

In This Moment…

Outside my window… the sky is grey, muting the last of the summer sun, and there is the slightest chill on the air, promising autumn. The world teeters; ready to fall. The pause between the intake of breath and the exhale.

I am thinking… that it is a strange thing to long for autumn, to  long for a season which brings endings. But I do. I love to watch the world turn slowly to flame as the nights draw in. It is the season of coming home.

I am thankful… that no matter how dark the night or how unlikely it seems that the sun will rise again, it always does.

In the kitchen… ingredients wait to be peeled and chopped and sautéd and simmered into the first pie of the season – perfect final meal of the summer holidays.

I am wearing… a Hogwarts t-shirt and sweater, jeans, and cosy fox socks.

I am creating… an illustrated collection of poetry (and maybe some short stories too).

I am going… back to work tomorrow and, unlike most at the end of a holiday, I’m looking forward to it. There are exciting things afoot and even thought I’m a little daunted by the challenges ahead I hope it is going to be a good year.

I am wondering… why we are so afraid.

I am reading… The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie, The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Millar, The Less Than Perfect Legend of Donna Creosote by Dan Micklethwaite.

I am praying for… calm.

I am hoping… for a restful night’s sleep and a positive start to the academic year.

I am looking forward to… a cosy evening with my love.

I am learning… that in some things I still have a long way to go. I am also learning that that is ok and that I will get there in the end.

Around the house… there are some freshly painted rooms and the sort of busy, sawdusty chaos to be found wherever shelves are being built. Our little home is looking decidedly lovely.

I am pondering… everything and nothing.

A favourite quote for today…

“As you think, so shall you be.”

 

One of my favourite things… is curling up under a blanket with a good book or a good film and forgetting the world for a bit.

A few plans for the rest of the week: Have a productive couple of days setting up for the new school year; deliver my first presentation as Whole School Literacy Co-ordinator (preferably without incident!); visit the kitchen showroom to look at potential new kitchens; contact our local vet.

A peek into my day

 

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If In Doubt, Go To The Library

I am just coming to the end of four glorious days staying at Gladstone’s Libary in North Wales. It is housed in a beautiful red brick building and is one of the finest residential libraries going. Staying here has been an introverted bookworm’s dream, and was the ideal place to nurture the aspiring writer in me. I got to stay here with my reading-writing-partner-in-crime – my mum! To some a trip like this would seem the height of boredom but it’s has been truly wonderful for us. We have been able to read and write to our hearts content in the beautiful surroundings of the library, stopping only to sample the delicious coffee, cake and regular meals in the restaurant, and the occasional conversational interlude. It is quiet and peaceful here and the history of the place itself provides a comforting atmosphere – somehow it feels familiar and there is a sense of unspoken community with bibliophiles past and present.

Each day, we have proceeded to the library or the common room, armed with books, notebooks, pencils and iPads, and luxuriated in the opportunity to explore all the ideas and possibilities that live inside our brains, that every day life just never seems to leave room for. We played with concepts that have lurked on the edge of consciousness for time untold and discovered new writing inclinations we didn’t even know were there. It has been restful and productive, and although I am looking forward to getting home to my hubby and my own bed, I will miss it here and know I’ll be coming back.

One thing that this trip has really brought home for me is that I really DO want to write. If only for pleasure, I find there is a certain peace and clarity that comes from just putting something down on paper. I have long harboured a secret ambition to be a writer but it always feels like such an indulgence, and also such an effort, that I rarely allow myself the time. I fret that there’s no point in spending the time writing if it’s not going to go anywhere, and the likelihood is that it won’t. I worry that my writing isn’t really any good and I always want to produce something that appears polished and complete the first time around – editing scares me because I’m always convinced that when I come to edit my own writing I’ll just want to scratch the lot. But here’s the thing: I really do enjoy writing, even if it’s imperfect; even if it will never be seen by anyone; even if what comes out on the page is nothing like what I had in my head. So it’s time to find time. I have no doubt it will be hard at first to create writing time in my routine, that I will fail miserably on more than one occasion to put pen to paper instead of scrolling through instagram, or get up early rather than lying in bed. But my commitment to myself is to keep coming back, to keep trying, and to remember that I do want to write for writing’s sake, without agenda or expectation.

Not every aspiring writer has the luxury of taking time away to attend a retreat or stay somewhere quiet for a few days. It’s certainly not something I have done before and although Inhope to do it again I know it won’t be a regular occurrence. So I thought I would close by pulling together some of the elements of this week that I have found helpful that could feasibly be recreated on a smaller scale at home. 


How to create a DIY mini writing retreat:

  • Find a space that is conducive to your writing – this might be as simple as clearing a work surface at home or it might be a visit to a local coffee shop or library. Find a space with the right noise levels for you or put together an appropriate playlist if you like a bit of background noise.
  • Take a notebook and pencil. Even if you generally prefer to type, there is something very freeing about writing by hand with a pencil. 
  • Take something for inspiration – but not too much! I have endless books with writing exercises and an extensive Pinterest board filled with images and prompts. I love them but all together they are too much to be helpful. Before I started writing, I gave myself 15 minutes to scroll through my pin board and screenshot a handful of prompts that I was drawn to. Then I picked one that appealed to me as a warm up. It was nothing to do with anything I had planned to write but it ended up being a really fun piece of writing!
  • Take sustenance! Staring at a screen or a page for a long time always gives me a headache but having a bottle of water or juice to hand and a packets of mints or a couple of biscuits helps combat this and keeps me going a bit longer.
  • Take a book. Sometimes when you try to write the words just won’t come. And that’s ok. When this happens I like to turn to a book for a) distraction from the writer’s block and b) inspiration! Something I find often helps is to read until I come across a word or line that jumps out at me, and then to use that as a starting point for free writing or found poetry. Even if what you end up with is a load of nonsense, at least it got you writing!
  • Go easy on yourself. Whether you manage to find half an hour or a whole day, whether you write a couple of sentences or a whole manuscript, go easy on yourself. If you berate yourself for not writing enough or not writing welll you will taint the experience and be less and less likely to give yourself time and space to write in future. No one is expecting perfection, except you. And you’ll be a lot happier if you let that go.

So there you have it! My rambling, barely tried and tested advice. I’d love to know of any other tips and tricks that help you get writing so stop by in the comments and say hi.

Huge thanks to the staff at Gladstones Library for making our stay so wonderful, and , as always, to my mum for her company, friendship, support, and all the giggles.

Sacred Stories

Every now and again we come across a story that sticks with us. Words or characters that speak to our experiences or our hopes or our fears; a tale that brings us comfort or inspiration. For me, finding a story like that is akin to a spiritual experience: in the moment that story moves me or speaks to me, I feel a deep connection with something beyond myself. “It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone.”

When I’m asked what my favourite book is I can never answer, because there are just too many. I could list ten…or maybe twenty…favourite books and series but narrowing it down beyond that is simply impossible. There are, however, undoubtedly some books that really stand out. One of those, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the Harry Potter series.

I put off reading this series for a long time when it first came out, unconvinced that it would be for me. When I eventually gave in, the first three books had been published and I was quickly hooked. I devoured those first books and waited impatiently for the next…and the next and the next and the next. I loved them because here was a world I could completely immerse myself in and characters I could relate to. But it was not on first reading that I came to adore this series. Or even the second. In fact, it is probably only in the last few years, on my umpteenth re-read (I have no idea how many times I’ve actually read them now – I stopped counting after 10…) that they have some to mean so much to me. Because reading them now, as an adult, not only do I still love immersing myself in that magical world, not only do the characters seem so relatable, but the story itself speaks to me on a whole new level. There is so much wisdom and comfort in it and I keep finding new things to love.

The first time I read it The Deathly Hallows was one of my least favourite books of the series but on my last re-read it was one of my favourites. There’s always something more to find and I always seem to find what I need.

I’ve recently discovered (and been binge listening to) the Harry Potter and The Sacred Text podcast which has opened up yet another incredible layer of these amazing stories to me. I absolutely love it. Working from the question “What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred?“, the hosts , Vanessa and Casper, are reading through the Harry Potter series and looking at one chapter each episode through a given theme. They then use traditional practices from different religions to examine the text as if it were sacred.

I have always taken great joy in finding connection and meaning in the stories I love and that shape my life, and listening to this podcast has given me a new opportunity to do this with a series that has brought me so much comfort and inspiration already. It feels very communal, especially since Vanessa and Casper invite their listeners to contribute their own ideas, and actively listen and respond to those contributions. I often wish I were in the room with them whilst they discuss the chapter. I strongly recommend any HP fans to give the podcast a listen. It really is fabulous and brings the magic home.

Are there any books or series that are especially important to you? Have you ever read a non-religious/spiritual text as though it were sacred? I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts in the comments.

Palette of Spring


The world stretches awake

Inhales the first warm breath of the year

Exhales a languorous perfume

Which settles over gently unfurling buds

Nature’s confetti scattered on brightly verdant grass

Drifts in swirls and eddies

A lazy waltz 

To the tune of changing seasons

Endless sky opens up above

The fresh faced sun beaming

Over the brightly hued

Palette of spring

Rediscovering Why

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Earlier this week, I got up at the unholy hour of 5am and drove through bright morning sunshine, driving wind and rain, and even snow, to attend the HLTA North conference in Stockton-on-Tees. I am not a morning person so this was a big ask but it was completely worth it because the conference was fantastic.

Facilitated by Dr Tom Robson of TREdu, the day was aimed at teaching assistants and higher level teaching assistants from across the North of England, and was centred around reminding us of “the values that made us come into the world of education and to make sure they are firmly rooted so when the winds of politics blow we remain rooted in what we feel is important”. The focus of the day was very timely for me. I love my job. I care deeply about working with young people, making their educational experiences enjoyable, inspiring, relevant, and valuable. I am passionate about developing and supporting engaging, quality education. But, to be honest, over the last few months I have not enjoyed my job as I normally do. I’ve struggled to remain optimistic. I have become more and more tired. I’ve wrestled with an ever expanding work load. I’ve wondered what I’m doing; why I’m doing it; if it’s still where I want to be; and how I can develop professionally in a direction that is right for me.

This last one has been a particular sticking point: I do not want to become a teacher. I know that that role would not be right for me. Unfortunately, I seem to have found myself in a system which, from my experience so far, often undervalues support staff (albeit inadvertently) and seems to see progressing into a teaching role as the only option for professional development. This has left me feeling a little disheartened. I can think of any number of possible routes for professional development for support staff but they don’t seem to exist outside my head! This creates something of a roadblock on the professional path I had in mind for myself. But I’m working on a way around and that’s a topic for another time.

All of these stresses, strains, and worries had become a dark cloud that I had allowed to eclipse my core motivations for doing what I do, and the HLTA conference was just what was needed to blow that brewing storm away (or at least nudge it to one side) and help me regain some perspective.

Within a few short minutes, Tom Robson reminded me why I had come to into this role with a simple question: what have you done today to make that person feel like they can?

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That is why I do the job I do. I want to help those who are often told that they can’t feel like they can. I want to recognise the achievements of the students I work with, no matter how big or small; to make some effort to change a culture which has a narrow understanding of success, often confusing attainment and achievement.

The day was filled with so many pearls of wisdom, thought provoking questions, and insights into how we can support the learners we work with. I’m hoping to develop some of them into blog posts of their own and explore them further but I need a little more time to ruminate on them first. For now, I leave you with a few of the questions I left with, to think on in your own time:

To learn something new we must step up to the edge of the known. When was the last time I stepped up to the edge? How do I encourage my students to do this?

Who is the most important person in my classroom? (hint: it’s not me!)

“A teacher is one who makes her/himself progressively unnecessary.” – What am I doing to make myself unnecessary to my students?

Am I taking too much responsibility for solving my students’ problems?

Is the language I use with our students specific enough? (e.g. What do I mean when I ask for ‘more effort’? What does this look like? Do I make my meaning clear to my students?)

Do my students think they are good learners?

What does education mean for me?

What labels do I display to my students? What labels do I put on them?

 

Feel free to leave any thoughts/responses in the comments. 🙂

 

In Turmoil

This morning I woke up in a sudden and unexpected turmoil of doubt. I don’t know where it came from or what exactly I’m going to do to tackle it (6am is just no time to be faced with a sudden realisation of all the things you don’t know -at that time, no one is awake enough to deal with that kind of shit). It already feels like a difficult day but this popped up on my timeline: a beautiful bunch of tulips and a hand made card from the young leaders I trained 4 years ago.


 I still carry this card with me every day. It normally lives tucked in the back of my planner but this morning I got it out and I’m looking at it right now. I have, and have had, so many people in my life to lift me up when I am down and I’m trying to hold on to that right now. 

I might come back and share more about what plagues me at another point (although at the moment that feels more than a little self indulgent and potentially whiny) but for now I just had to acknowledge and thank those people who love, support, and encourage me every day. ❤

The Power of Positive


Last week was stressful. Very stressful. And upsetting. My working week did not end well and although I then had a lovely meal out with friends, a fun Saturday in town with my beloved and my siblings-in-law, and a lazy Sunday with lots of reading, this evening I found myself with that dreaded I-can’t-believe-it’s-Monday-tomorrow-I-don’t-want-to-go-to-work-you-can’t-make-me feeling. So I turned to one of my favourite pastimes and decided to journal the blues away. I love my journal. It’s my little portable creative workshop. I write in it; I doodle in it; I keep a reading log in it; I plan in it; I daydream in it; I escape in it. I put time and care and energy into making it a work of art, because that’s what I love to do. I like to make pretty things. It’s calming and satisfying and, well…me.

Imagine my frustration then when, in the middle of my calming-me-down, make-something-lovely journaling, I managed to somehow create a huge blue splodge, right where I absolutely did NOT want a huge blue splodge.

My initial reaction contained words that shall not be repeated here for fear of them damaging sensitive eyes and turning my happy little corner of the internet into something sour.

When you put time, care, and energy into something, even a tiny mistake can be upsetting, making you angry and forcing that morose little voice in your head to pipe up with: “Well that’s just friggin fabulous what is even the point?!” This was not a little mistake. This was a BIG, blue blob. Much like the Oreo that was offered to me last week by a friend to cheer me up, which, when I reached out to take it, broke in half and fell on the floor, my big blue blob felt a little like a metaphor for life right now.

I could have cried. Or slammed my journal shut and thrown it at something. (Indulge my melodrama for a moment, would you?)

But wait…was I to be defeated by this blue blob? Was a two dimensional splodge of ink to undo my initial determination to shake off the Sunday blues? Would I let this intruder into my happy place get the better of me?

No. No I would not. For I am WOMAN. I am FIERCE. I am ME. And I control my own happiness.

So I took that big blue splodge and I bent it to my will. I turned it into something beautiful. I turned it into a flower. The one you see at the top of this page. Imperfect? Sure. But since when does beauty have to be perfect? That depressing blue blob no longer exists. Instead, there is a perpetually blooming flower. This flower symbolises the coming spring and all good things ahead. This flower symbolises the power of positive. This flower symbolises that, even though I cannot always control the things that happen to or around me, I can control my reactions to those things. 

And that, dear friends, is the story of how my Sunday blues became even bluer, but how I overcame them anyway.

A small thing can have great power. I encourage you to embrace the power of positive.