When Poetry Saved The Day

I’m sure that many people are aware of how the UK government’s interference with the education system is failing children. You only have to read this powerful article about the school, work, world problemand this one by my friend Sophie – to see that something is very badly wrong with mainstream education. I have lots of thoughts swirling in my head about this at the moment, however, that will keep for the time being. The issue is vast and complex, and although I believe there are many solutions out of the mess not every one of them will be right (or doable) for every child and every family.

Anyway… this is the background to which my two children are doing their schooling. For a good while my husband and I were aware that our daughter was finding reading a challenge, and worst of all, a chore. Considering our academic background and the fact that books are literally everywhere in this house, our daughter’s dislike of reading was… startling. And of course we felt saddened by the fact that reading – something so vital and rich – was apparently not something for her.

So, we began to take steps. We’d always been supporting her reading at home, and reading to her – which she clearly enjoyed – but we sensed that there was more at play here. We asked for a dyslexia screening test to be carried out because her various teachers’ assurances of yes she’s not as confident a reader as she could be, but she’ll get there were not proving helpful.

The test came and went, and we waited for the results. In the meantime, the school decided to put on a talent contest as part of their Comic Relief fundraising activities. Our daughter wanted to take part because she enjoys performing. But then the worries came… The night before the class auditions she had misgivings about the first act she’d considered doing. So there we were, in the kitchen after dinner, with me filling the dishwasher and listening to her concerns. The other kids would make fun of her. She’d already heard them being negative about someone else’s act. She no longer liked her idea. So I ran through her options: 1) Don’t do the act. (I warned her though that she may regret not taking part.) 2) Make the act the best it could be and perform it with confidence, ignoring the opinions of others. 3) Choose an alternative act, one that really played to her skills, and do that with confidence.

She found number 3) appealing and so we went through things she really enjoyed doing. As she likes acting and performing the thought: a poetry performance! popped into my head. I remembered that a while ago she’d really enjoyed Angela Topping’s poetry book The New Generation. Cue the mad hunt for where the book actually was…

 

Minutes before bathtime I found it and we went through the poems, trying to find just the right one. Well, soon enough we found it and she practised it, and she was just perfect… And the best thing of all? The huge smile on her face as she did something she clearly enjoyed and was good at. Her audience (little brother, me and Dad) rapturously applauding her made her smile that bit wider.

The next day she aced the auditions, and was put through to the grand final. She didn’t quite get a place in the top four acts, but she performed the poem in front of the whole school and, again, spoke up and out with emotion and nuance. Quite a remarkable thing for a sensitive 9 year old to do – and especially one who is finding reading a challenge!

That poem, in many ways, was an emotional lifesaver. And in a time when fronted adverbials, predicates, long division and SATS are throttling children’s creativity, my daughter’s connection to this poem was utterly right and joyful.

So here it is, for you to enjoy. Huge thanks to Angela Topping for allowing me to reproduce it here.

 

Lonely

 

I’ve got no friends,

it’s sad for me.

At playtime they all

leave me behind,

alone in the classroom.

 

They laugh together,

go round for tea.

No one ever, ever

asks me.

 

They play skipping games

I can skip too

but they won’t let me

even turn up.

 

They go round singing

all join hands

if you want to play catch.

No one catches hold of mine.

 

I sadly wait till they

come back inside.

Perhaps now they’ll talk to me.

It’s hard being the teacher.

 

 

ANGELA TOPPING

 

Lastly, I would like to add that just today we had the test results back, and as we suspected, dyslexia is a part of my daughter’s life. So begins a new chapter as we begin to support her reading in the way that is best for her. I’m sure that poetry will play a part. 🙂

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New Year’s Resolutions? No thanks. I’ll do ‘Sustainable Positive Habits’ Instead.

 

The years go by... photo by Marija Smits

The years go by… photo by Marija Smits

 

Oh dear, my title has given away all the exciting stuff I was going to explain. Never mind. So yeah… I haven’t really ‘done’ New Year’s Resolutions for a few years now, and that’s mainly because those huge, rather amorphous resolutions like: I’m going to lose weight! Get richer! Become famous! (<– the last being something I’m not very interested in but still you get the drift) are simply that: unquantifiable, vague desires. So instead I’m dismissing the vagaries and set-up-to-fail resolutions and instead keeping going with my (probably not that exciting) but overall, positive habits. These are:

 

  1. Listening to my body more. Part of this involves continuing to go swimming once a week and doing two HIIT (high-intensity interval training) sessions a week because my body needs and appreciates it. Since September (when I posted my ‘Publisher’s Bum’ post) pretty much without fail I’ve kept up with this routine. So I’m pleased about that. Another part of this listening habit involves me dealing with the RSI in my wrist. To that end I’ve ordered myself an ergonomic mouse and I’ll see how it goes. The final part involves questioning myself more at dinner times, and whether I really really need to eat the kids’ leftovers and finally, continuing to listen to my body when it’s telling me to sleep and rest (and actually acting on that) which I mostly do already.

 

  1. Listening to my family more. My youngest still needs me and though my oldest child, my soon-to-be ten-year-old daughter, doesn’t ‘need’ me in the same way as she used to, they (and my husband) want to share and spend time with me and I want to do the same with them. So this habit mainly involves being fierce about protecting family time and reminding myself to listen to their cues.

 

  1. Listening to the voice of the ‘stern but fair headmistress’ in my head more often (just one of the many voices of the Wild Woman). Thankfully my inner critic isn’t too shouty anymore but I really do need to be more respectful of the headmistress. She’s the one who tells me to stop being such a magpie about shiny new creative ideas and FINISH THE CURRENT WORK. She also tells me to get off Facebook and knuckle down to the to-do list. The stroppy (and yet creative) part of me thinks she’s a party-pooper, but deep down I have great respect for her. Because it is only by finishing things that I can truly grow as a writer and artist.

 

  1. Listening to the hands of time more often. Okay, so this seems like a pretty gloomy habit. But there is only so much time to go around. It’s one of the most precious resources any human has. So learning how to make best use of it is worthwhile.

 

  1. Listening to quiet more often. This simply sometimes involves exiting cyberspace and leaving behind the noise of the internet with all its attention-grabbing headlines, tricksy ads, outraged voices, and shouty ‘me, me, me’s that make my head spin, and then tuning into my own voice. (The whispers of the Wild Woman perhaps…?) What is it trying to say? What am I thinking? How am I feeling? Better still, going for a walk in a wood where the trees grow so thickly that you can hear the sound of silence… or along the side of a lake so mirror-like it is as though the Lady of the Lake may well emerge from the waters… ah well, for me, those are some of the best experiences in the world.

 

Swan on lake, photo by Marija Smits

Swan on lake, photo by Marija Smits

 

So on that rather quiet note I will leave you to your own listening. I wish you all the best for 2017. Thank you, loyal readers (all 11 of you + my wonderful husband!) for continuing to drop by to read my reflections.

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Neoliberalism: the invisible monster

I had intended for this blog post to be about some books that I read recently and greatly appreciated, but instead, something rather big happened here in the UK which derailed me. (Apologies to writers Angela Topping, Kate Garrett, Sarah James and Jessica Starr – reviews of your books will be along later.)

 

I refer, of course, to the UK’s referendum on whether to stay in the EU or not, and the outcome in which a 52% majority decided to leave the EU. I was shocked and saddened by the news, and the subsequent car crash that is UK politics. I was (and still am) disturbed by people’s reactions to the news, as witnessed on the internet (particularly social media), as well as ‘meatspace’ i.e. the real world. It is enough to send anyone reeling, but as an HSP, I feel that it has quite genuinely wormed its way into my head and parked itself with a huge amount of anxiety, rumination and a feeling of powerlessness and pointlessness: that there is no way out. That there is no way for cooperation to win. That always, always, the powerless are trampled on. That quiet, reflective people have no ability to effect change. That we don’t have a voice. Liars win. Aggression wins. Everything I do is pointless, and without worth.

 

And yet, and yet, hope wishes to prevail. Optimism would like to resurface. But it is still too early. I am experiencing a form of grief. Because any kind of separation brings about grief.

 

I have been (and still am) reading dozens of news articles and trying to process the why of the matter. Some individuals are very ready with generalisations and absolutes. People voted leave because of X. This happened because of Y. It is human nature to try to simplify things in order to find a certain sense to those things. But this is an incredibly complex issue, with layers and layers of political manoeuvring and lies to uncover, economics to make sense of, and people’s very genuine disillusionment with the state of the UK (and UK politics) to pick apart. Throw in a good dollop of racism and xenophobia, nasty political campaigning and the media aiming to outrage (not forgetting the actual reason for the referendum – the advantages & disadvantages of the EU [which I still think was a distraction]) as well all the negative affects of austerity, the issue of class and wealth, and hey presto! A perfect recipe for disaster.

 

I feel as though I am living in a state of limbo right now. Everyday life goes on, of course, (although I am noticing my anxiety seeping into my interactions with my family far too much) but my mind keeps returning to the why. And what now?

 

This article, by John Harris, is probably the most useful and insightful one about the why of what happened last Thursday. In it, Harris writes:

 

If we fear not just what this decision means for our country but how much it says about Britain’s underlying social condition, we will have to fight. But first, we will have to think, probably more deeply than ever.

 

And thinking is what I am doing right now. The whys are going around my head and the possible answers to those whys. And yet I know that I am missing something. I feel as though there is a something just out of sight, or possibly there, but not visible to the human eye. So it was a happy coincidence that I began to read How Did We Get Into This Mess? by George Monbiot last Saturday, because straightaway in the introduction, Monbiot very quickly made visible the invisible.

 

Take, for example, the ideology that now governs out lives. Not only is it seldom challenged it is seldom even identified. As a result, no one seems to know what to call it. Neoliberalism? Market fundamentalism? Laissez-faire economics? Though it is a clear and consistent belief system, though it is the ideology to which most governments and major opposition parties subscribe, and though it determines everything from the distribution of wealth to the treatment of the living planet, it has no standard or widely recognized name.

 

What greater power can there be than to operate namelessly?

 

 

And, I would add, to operate invisibly.

 

We need to go back to the 60s, 70s and 80s and once again acquaint ourselves with what Thatcher did to the U.K. We need to immerse ourselves in history and learn about the rise of neoliberalism, the rise of individualism, and the dreaded curse of competitiveness, which has led us to this moment.

 

We are, as Monbiot suggests living in an Age of Loneliness. And so, in my eyes, the UK annexing itself from the EU – a supposed act of “taking back control” – was actually an act of enabling further loneliness.

 

So what now?

 

We need to name the nameless. To clothe the invisible monster that is neoliberalism and give it a form. For when we can see our foe, we can begin to fight it, rather than each other and ourselves.

 

We writers, artists, mothers, fathers, lovers, friends, sensitive folk, and above all, the wild men and women – for there is nothing that neoliberalism hates more than wildness, the wildness of the human spirit and the natural wild – we must, in our everyday lives name the nameless and fight in our own gentle ways.

 

Disconnection must be countered by connection. Competitiveness countered by cooperation. And at the most fundamental level, hate needs to be countered by love.

 

The good thing about wildness, and the natural wild, is that it has an intrinsic desire for life and growth. It wants to grow. It wants to live and thrive. And with very little – empathy, a few kind words and deeds – it can and will thrive. Let us be like gardeners and tend to the wildness within ourselves and each other. But let us also be mindful of the nameless thing that wants to trample on us. Let us name it and fight it.

 

Neoliberalism image

Neoliberalism, the invisible monster

 

If you would like to learn more about the invisible monster, this is a useful book: A Brief History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey.

Or check out Wikipedia’s definition (the first paragraph is a good summation, and the paragraph about neoliberalism and feminism is also enlightening).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoliberalism

 

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A Christmas argument… and cognitive dissonance

As some of you already know, as an HSP I’m slow to react to stuff. Which is why I’m not writing a new year’s resolutions post in January; I’m still thinking about stuff that happened in December.

Our Christmas was rather fraught and we’ll probably always remember it as the one where our youngest was ill (although, thankfully, it was only a bug that affected him mildly); it was also the Christmas where the veg was undercooked and the Christmas where my husband and I had an argument about wrapping paper on the 23rd December. Wrapping paper! I mean, for goodness sake!

Only it wasn’t really an argument about wrapping paper. It was an argument about parenting, our definitions of generosity and our own attitudes towards Christmas and our views on being environmentally-friendly. (And for clarity, I must elaborate: I am fed up of the amount of waste produced at Christmas – wrapping paper making up a large part of that – and so I wanted to use second-hand gift bags and pillows and old bits of ribbon etc. to wrap our presents with instead, to cut down on the waste and the time I spend peeling off bits of sellotape from the wrapping paper torn off the presents in an instant so that I can put it into the paper recycling rather than landfill. My husband found it difficult to see where I was coming from and we didn’t take the time to listen or try to understand each other’s position. There, I hope that clarifies things!)

It was a horrible argument – both of us were shouty (very unlike us!) and then very very quiet and withdrawn afterwards (both of us are HSPs so it took us a long time to merely process what was said in the heat of the argument). Anyway, thankfully, the next day, on Christmas Eve, we had the chance to talk it through and to apologise to each other. And thank goodness! Otherwise Christmas Day would have consisted of a poorly boy and undercooked veg as well as two very unhappy and sulky parents. 😦

Anyway… what this post is really about is the difficulty in admitting when one is wrong. When you have made a mistake and you know you have to own up to it. Because, boy is that challenging!

It is as though one’s own sense of self, one’s own sense of oneself as a “good” person will shatter and crumble under the admission of a mistake. And saying sorry is the thing that collapses oneself. It is a horrible, uncomfortable, shaky feeling to have. And it is something that can’t be experienced for long. Ego, that coward (who, I guess, is only trying to relieve us of that horrible, uncomfortable feeling) would prefer to rationalize away our mistakes and, through self-deceit, turn them into something far more palatable, like mere trifles caused by the stupidity of others.

But this feeling… it has a proper name. It is known as cognitive dissonance.

“Cognitive dissonance is a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions (ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions) that are psychologically inconsistent, such as “Smoking is a dumb thing to do because it could kill me” and “I smoke two packs a day.” Dissonance produces mental discomfort, ranging from minor pangs to deep anguish; people don’t rest easy until they find a way to reduce it. In this example, the most direct way for a smoker to reduce dissonance is by quitting. But if she has tried to quit and failed, now she must reduce dissonance by convincing herself that smoking isn’t really so harmful, or that smoking is worth the risk because it helps her relax or prevents her from gaining weight (and after all, obesity is a health risk too), and so on. Most smokers manage to reduce dissonance in many such ingenious, if self-deluding, ways.”

Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions and hurtful acts by Carol Tarvis and Elliot Aronson (Pinter & Martin 2013)

Mistakes were made, but not by me. By Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

Mistakes were made, but not by me. By Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

The difficulty both my husband and I felt in saying sorry after our argument reminded me of various instances in my life when I’d been in the wrong and found it difficult to say sorry. One particular instance was when I’d had a minor argument with my father (I can’t remember what the argument was about) and I knew that I was in the wrong. I was a teenager and probably hormonal, but I forced myself to go and say sorry.*

In this situation, my heightened conscience was a good thing. (It is not always – it usually causes me a lot of anguish because I can tie myself up in knots about what the “right” thing to do is, whether it be a small thing or big thing.)

Anyway, in this situation, it was a good thing. Because a few days later, my father died. I know that with my heightened sense of guilt, if I hadn’t said sorry, I would still be experiencing guilt today. (Although I do have to add that saying sorry solely to put off a future guilt isn’t probably the most healthy thing either – but more on that for another post, perhaps.)

This post isn’t really about saying sorry when it isn’t appropriate (I know that I can also fall into the trap of saying sorry when really I haven’t done anything wrong – and I’m not sure that’s very good for a healthy sense of self either), but I do want to highlight the uncomfortable feeling that cognitive dissonance can produce. It reminds me of this beautiful painting, by one of my favourite artists, Agnes-Cecile, which both discomforts and delights me:

 

I have a hypothesis that perhaps HSPs feel cognitive dissonance a little more keenly than others. I don’t know. And I’m not even sure that one is necessarily holding two very contradictory points of view; it’s just that there is one part of me that knows I acted meanly/without thinking/made a mistake and that doesn’t resonate with the image of myself that I have (as being generous, thoughtful, impervious to making mistakes etc.) and so that is why there is this horrible clash inside me. And it is this clash that thunders in my chest so noisily, so uncomfortably, that I wish for it to go away – by any means. My ego says: Wasn’t your fault. It was so and so’s fault. They’re an idiot. Don’t say sorry. (It wants to give me a quick-fix solution.) Thankfully, my heroic (but sometimes plain annoying) conscience comes along and says: Hey! I see that there’s a little noisy cognitive dissonance around here. Give it a while to quiet down and then go and do the right thing. It won’t break you. I promise. You’re still a good person. Just human. Just human.

So to acknowledge cognitive dissonance, and to name it for what it is, perhaps makes it that bit easier to act humbly if we are brave enough to do so. We then have the power to say sorry, knowing that it will not shatter us or make us any less worthwhile as humans, and it is then that we can move forwards with humility and grace and love.

 

*I think I probably mumbled something like: Sorry. Got a bit of PMT at the moment. I’m not entirely sure if I was experiencing PMT, but hey, I was fifteen and any apology was better than none. (See how that heightened sense of guilt would like me to keep worrying about this? Well I won’t let it! I’m only human for goodness sake!)

 

And… I did also want to say thank you to all the people who read and/or comment on my blog. I wish you a healthy and happy and creative 2016. 🙂

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Social media, high sensitivity and overwhelm

As an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) I often find the world overwhelming. Sometimes I think it would have been good to live long ago before television and the internet, and the crazy thing that is social media, were invented. But I’m equally aware that not having things like antibiotics and antibacterial soap and clean water and refrigerators and washing machines and indoor loos and central heating would have been overwhelming too.

Somewhat 'detached' bendy man, photo by Marija Smits

Somewhat ‘detached’ bendy man, photo by Marija Smits

Still… switching off and getting away from social media, which I find particularly challenging, is difficult (and yes, I am aware of the irony that I’ll probably be using social media to let people know about this post!). But what I find particularly difficult about social media is its speed, and the ferocity of people’s (almost instantaneous) reactions to certain topics.

This is because it takes me a long time to process things. If I see an image, or a discussion that upsets me, or angers me, I become overwhelmed with emotion. That’s when I need to take time out, away from the computer and to do something that helps me to feel more calm (cuddling my loved ones, taking a walk, reading a book, or doing something dull like the accounting, all help. Also, talking about it with my wonderful husband helps enormously too). But it can take me a while, maybe half an hour or an hour or two, to feel more neutral again. Meanwhile, though, as I’m trying to calm the storm of feelings swirling through my body, my brain is whirring away and trying to process what I’ve just absorbed. It can take me days, weeks, months even, to fully reflect on what I’ve just seen and to put into words my reflections on the matter. And for the up-to-the-minute social media world that’s just way too late.

I’m still navigating a path through this everyday challenge. I want to be involved and comment on friends’ statuses and to take part in meaningful dialogue when it comes to issues that I feel passionate about, but I’m also aware that taking part can also be like entering a black hole of doom. I have had to acknowledge that, for much of the time, it is better for my wellbeing that I simply use social media for short, set tasks (mostly to do with my small press or to do with this blog). Very occasionally, I share things about myself; although I do find that overwhelming too. (Friends have been absolutely supportive when I have shared personal things online but it’s also interesting to note that kindness has the potential to overwhelm me also – but please don’t think I’m saying ‘don’t be kind’! What I’m saying is that virtually anything has the potential to overwhelm me, and hey, that’s just how I am.)

If I’m still reflecting on an issue months down the line writing about it helps; though whether it goes public or not is another matter… Though, interestingly, topics that I’m passionate about have a habit of cropping up in my short stories and other pieces.

A lot of the time I feel left behind by social media; rather like when I was doing cross-country running at middle school. I was the slowest of all the runners out there on the muddy school field, in the cold and the rain in inadequate shoes and clothes; a dripping wet chubby loser being lapped by the fast, athletic kids.

But this is who I am. Just because I’m not witty or quick to engage in dialogue doesn’t mean that my thoughts on the topic aren’t worthwhile. They’re just different; perhaps even a little more well-rounded for the extra reflection I’ve put into them.*

But knowing that I have to have boundaries in place when it comes to social media (and that perhaps it’s not quite the right medium for me, as an HSP) is beneficial. Yes, social media is an amazing tool for a variety of things: marketing (& other business-related stuff, for instance), story sharing, fundraising, activism even, but it is also a horrible time sink. And in author David Mitchell’s wise words:

The world is very good at distracting us. Much of the ingenuity of our remarkable species goes towards finding new ways to distract ourselves from things that really matter. The internet — it’s lethal, isn’t it? Maintaining focus is critical, I think, in the presence of endless distraction. You’ve only got time to be a halfway decent parent, plus one other thing.

For me, that one other thing is: I’ve got to be writing.

This totally chimes with me because I want to put a lot of my energy and time into being ‘a halfway decent parent’ and so there’s only time and energy for one other thing. At the moment the one other thing is my small press and helping to make ends meet by taking on editorial and book production work. And so I save a few gorgeous slivers betwixt being a halfway decent parent and a halfway decent editor/publisher to write or create art. Is it worth me spending all those precious slivers of time on social media? For a lot of the time the answer is no. And sometimes, occasionally, the answer is yes. The trick is to understanding how social media affects you and working out some effective boundaries. This is something I’m still learning.

***

*And to continue with the cross-country running analogy… I might be the last one to the finishing line but still, I’ll get there at my own pace and in my own inimitable fashion (muddy briefs and all).

Thanks again to Maddy (who wrote brilliantly on a similar topic last week) and Chrissie for being such great #WhatI’mWriting hosts.

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Overwhelm, publishing and our favourite children’s books

Things have been super-hectic here, what with the usual summer activities – Sports Day, the school play and the village fair – but also my own work publishing other people’s books has kept me very, very busy. I recently published a middle-grade children’s/crossover book called Oy Yew, by Ana Salote. It is simply a superb book and I really do mean that – during the editing, copyediting, proofreading, typesetting and conversion to kindle process (I’m still in the middle of that last one) I must have read the book about 10 times, and I STILL love it. However, I have suffered with eye-strain and ‘writer’s bum’ from being slumped over a computer at every available moment so I’ve tried to take every opportunity to get out into the fresh air, to exercise and to take a break from the screen.

Oy Yew by Ana Salote

Oy Yew by Ana Salote

I have, at times, felt overwhelmed by everything (particularly as there is little time for my own artistic and literary endeavours – doodling and writing the odd paragraph or two is all I’ve managed recently) and so sometimes I’ve pictured myself as a little boat on a stormy sea.

Doodle of a little boat on a stormy sea by Marija Smits

Doodle of a little boat on a stormy sea by Marija Smits

BUT, my supportive family have been my one constant and every night I’ve been reminded of just why I’ve been doing all this ‘bookish’ work – because I simply love reading to my kids and sharing books with them. This is surely why all (well, at least, most) writers write – for that vague feeling/hope that someone, somewhere, right now is getting lost in the world created by the writer. I know that sitting with both my kids at bedtime and reading to them has been a wonderful escape for me from my everyday concerns, so I thought I’d share some of our favourite books here. As my children are 8 and 4 it can be difficult to find books that engage them both, but the below seem to have captured their imaginations. No doubt you’ve heard of many (if not all) of these wonderful books/writers but if you haven’t I’d encourage you to give them a try (and if you can’t get them at the library, why not support your local bookshop and buy from them?). And if you think I’ve missed some that our kids may like please do let me know.

  • The Findus books by Sven Nordqvist

Findus Plants Meatballs by Sven Nordqvist

 

  • And Sven’s Where is my Sister is absolutely stunning illustration-wise.

Where is my Sister by Sven Nordqvist

 

  • The I Spy books by Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick

I Spy Fantasy by Walter Wick and Jean Marzollo

 

  •  Long Tail Kitty by Lark Pien (my kids always howl with laughter when I do the different voices for the alien characters at the end of the book…)

Long Tail Kitty by Lark Pien

 

  • Frederick by Leo Lionni (particularly good for children – or adults – who wonder what the worth of poetry is…)

Frederick by Leo Lionni

 

  • Most of the Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler books are a hit (though Tabby McTat is our favourite, and not The Gruffalo!)

Tabby McTat by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

 

  • Virtually anything by Oliver Jeffers is a hit too, though Stuck and The Great Paper Caper are probably our favourites (and a grumble about The Day the Crayons Quit: it seems that most of the crayons are boys… hmm).

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

 

  • Christopher Nibble, by Charlotte Middleton

Christopher Nibble by Charlotte Middleton

  • Virtually any of the Mog books by Judith Kerr
Mog's Bad Thing

Mog’s Bad Thing by Judith Kerr

 

  • And any of Shirley Hughes’s books

Alfie's Feet by Shirley Hughes

 

  • Me by Emma Dodd is another favourite

Me by Emma Dodd

  • Any of the Percy the park keeper’s books (the below is perfect for wintertime)

One Snowy Night by Nick Butterworth

  •  We really like Mick Inkpen’s creation, Kipper, but we also particularly like the story of Threadbear.
Threadbear by Mick Inkpen

Threadbear by Mick Inkpen

 

  • Topsy and Tim my kids both love (although I’m not as big a fan as they are!)

Topsy and Tim

  • And I especially appreciate Cover to Cover: How a Book is Made by Rob Lewis as it explains beautifully what is involved in mummy’s publishing work… 🙂

Cover to Cover by Rob Lewis

Enjoy!

And many thanks to Maddy and Chrissie for being such hard-working and lovely hosts 🙂

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The Mentor’s Journey (Interlude)

Having just now come to an end of a period of mentorship I am taking a break. I am in an ‘interlude’.

For the past year I’ve been a mentor to a wonderful woman. The year before that I mentored another remarkable woman. Without going into too much detail, I wanted to write about what being a mentor meant to me, and to share my thoughts on what happens now.

For me, being a mentor was a sometimes intense and challenging experience in that it made me think a lot about communication, psychology, societal judgement and what it means to be a mother. Big stuff! It was also incredibly rewarding to see my mentees learning so much, and I learnt a good deal about myself. (It once again confirmed for me my high-sensitivity — I worried a lot about being the best mentor I could be. I worried about getting stuff wrong. I worried about the paperwork details… You get the picture.)

Now that I am no longer a mentor I feel a strange mix of feelings. In some ways I feel relieved (they did it! I did it! Hooray!) and also I feel sad that I won’t be seeing these wonderful women as often as I did before. With many experiences in life there is this same mix of ‘bittersweet’, but try as I might I couldn’t think of any useful examples from film or literature that would give me any insight into the mentor’s journey, and which I could relate to and learn from. What becomes of the mentor? What do they do now?

I could think of many examples of mentor-mentee partnerships (the coupling of Yoda and Luke Skywalker has got to be one of my own personal favourites!) but they tend to focus on the mentee’s journey.

Luke Skywalker and Yoda

Luke Skywalker and Yoda

 

I thought a little longer… and came up with lots more brilliant mentor-mentee relationships: Frodo and Gandalf, Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore, Daniel and Mr Miyagi, Jamal Wallace and William Forrester in the film Finding Forrester and Will Hunting and Dr Sean Maguire from Good Will Hunting. The scene where Sean (superbly played by Robin Williams) says to Will [about the abuse that he suffered when younger] that ‘it’s not your fault’ over and over again until Will breaks down sobbing has got to be one of my all-time favourite cinematic scenes.

Aside from Gandalf (whose own journey past death/into a higher state of consciousness – I haven’t quite figured that one out! – is witnessed) the focus is on the mentee. At the end of the mentee’s journey (which tends to be the length of the whole film or book) we often see that the mentor has had a life-changing experience – maybe this is the best way to explain what happens to Gandalf – although we don’t get to see what’s in store for them in their new life. We get a tantalizing glimpse that there is a new life ahead of them, although we don’t get to see much of what it looks like.

Then there are the mentee-mentor journeys which go either tragically (or simply horribly) wrong. I’m thinking of Dead Poets’ Society here, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Notes On A Scandal, even Emma by Jane Austen.

Then there are the Sith in Star Wars. How anyone embarking on a mentorship with a Sith (which is basically a mentoring of how to be evil) can think it won’t end up biting them on the bum is a fool. But of course we can’t help but be gripped by how it goes so badly wrong…

Again, these partnerships give fascinating insights into the power (and responsibility) held by the mentor, and how a mentee (and mentor) can be deeply affected by the relationship.

Something I learnt early on from my own mentoring experience is that the mentor and mentee have to be a good fit. I just can’t see how much use can come of a mentee-mentor relationship where both people aren’t attune with each other. (I wanted to use a quote here from Clarissa Pinkola Estes book Women Who Run With The Wolves but I can’t find it. If anyone knows the passage I’m talking about here, please do let me know!)

The word mentor comes from the name of a Greek mythological hero Μέντωρ, Méntōr, who mentored Telemachus. When I thought of the many mentor figures in literature, I could think of more examples of male mentors as oppose to female mentors, but of course being a mentor is not sex-specific. I love how it was actually the goddess Athena, disguised as Mentor, who inspired and counseled Telemachus to go in search of his father Odysseus.

Another interesting facet of being a mentor is that the mentor cannot be tied by blood to their mentee. Their relationship has to exist out of the sphere of the family… It has the potential to be broken (unlike blood ties that irrevocably bind us whether we want them to or not), which, I think, actually gives it its strength.

So… what do I do now? Of course I’m busy with family, work and my own creative pursuits, but a part of me still yearns to ‘give back’ by being a mentor.

I’ve noticed that mentoring schemes are also on the increase. I’ve heard great things from people involved with The WoMentoring Project (for women who write) and think the aims behind the following two organizations are fantastic: The Girls Network (“…a charity that matches girls from low socio-economic backgrounds with inspirational female mentors from all walks of life. [Their] mission is to raise aspirations and remove the barriers from our girls’ path to success.”) and The Wise Campaign (which aims to get more women into the sciences).

One day, time allowing (!), l may look into these so that I can continue to ‘give back’ by mentoring. Yet for the time being I am in an ‘interlude’. It feels disquieting and yet freeing too. I will await the next act.

 

p.s. All this referencing to Star Wars reminds me that I’m really looking forward to the next ‘act’ in the Star Wars saga!

p.p.s. Do let me know your own personal mentor-mentee relationships from books and films. I want to know. 🙂

 

Thanks again to Amanda at WriteAlm for the inspiring writing prompts.