Saturday, June 28, 2014

TRAVELLING IS HARD WORK


                                                                   



I've been feeling the urge to travel lately.    As a teacher, I've always been tied into school vacations but I won't complain about that because they are definitely generous.   So with summer rapidly approaching, my internal clock has been leading me to scan websites, talk travel with others and take mental trips down memory lane of previous excursions.

But I must be realistic:   travel takes energy and good health.   I've not just talking about trekking trips to Nepal or white water rafting in Costa Rica--those days are definitely gone.   No, I'm thinking about vacations to Europe; cultural trips to historic sites, museums and galleries complete with crowds and traffic and high European prices.   I have been to many, I confess, but somehow there are still so many left.   Their names taunt me:   Pompeii, Morocco, Dubrovnik, Turkey.   How have I missed all those places?   I berate myself at the places that I've made second or third visits to:  Paris, London, Copenhagen.  I promise myself:   No more do overs!





European vacations always seem to involve miles of walking.   I've read  that  if you spent one minute looking at each piece of art displayed in this iconic gallery, it would take you almost twenty-five full days to see all the collections.  Since the Louvre rotates its collection because it has some 380,000 art pieces, visitors will not need to spend 283 days there.   Just think of the admission fees, never mind the expenditure in shoe leather.   Just the time it takes to find Mona. It's a little like training for a marathon.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

DOORMAT HUMOUR

I love humour, from a small smile to 'laugh 'til you cry'.   I've read that it is what sets us apart from animals but there is a certain uniqueness to what each of us finds funny.   As someone who writes cozy mysteries and sweet romances, no one would be surprised that I don't care for crude humour.  As a pet owner I can relate to  dog and cat jokes so I often find them engaging.






I put the cat joke first so they wouldn't be offended.   But I'm probably more of a dog person:






This is probably as risque' as I would get:






I enjoy reading and writing about characters that have vulnerabilities and insecurities (don't we all!)








And because I've been on the receiving end of this type of message oh, too often, I could relate to this one and even smile:





Friday, June 20, 2014

Picket Duty Revelations


                                                                           



I've been walking a picket line lately which is a unique and humbling experience. I won't compare myself to the women in the photograph  above.   The sweatshops of the past, although they exist in the present in developing countries, were and are truly something to protest about.  It's true that there is both mould and asbestos in the school I work in but we've been reassured that the latter is completely innocuous as long as it is not disturbed.   And I do work with students whose head lice seems untreated on an ongoing basis as well as twelve year olds who haven't realized that deodorant was invented to meet a real need but these are small matters.

While doing my daily stint of picket duty I've discovered that what I thought was a pleasantly warm day is actually cool when you are standing around or walking outside.   I've enjoyed getting to know colleagues through personal conversations that the job usually does not allow time for.  Now that I am spending hours on side streets, I've noticed that children don't play outside like they did when I was a child or even when my children were younger.   Activities like skipping, tag, hide and go seek, California kick ball and Capture the Flag are nowhere to be seen.    I console myself that the neighbourhood children have gone on an early vacation as I can't bear to think they are inside playing video games all day.

I appreciate people bringing donuts to prevent starvation on the line although I'm sure my waistline doesn't.   I'm amused that we aren't supposed to play cards or monopoly, according to the rules I've been told, because it would look like we were having too good a time.   I find it difficult to comprehend how workers can continue to do this for many weeks as I am grateful that the school year will be over soon.  But then I feel ashamed to think that.   I've learned that it is best to be positive and avoid criticism of either the union leadership or other people's opinions.   Nerves are a bit frayed at times.   I've been sad to have my pay cheque disappear but I know others are living closer to the financial edge.   I realize that the news does not necessarily provide true information even when it is happening in the same city so now I find it difficult to watch news that takes place elsewhere in the world with any credibility.

I console myself that it is all fodder for the writer's mind.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

I'd rather have learned to change out a faucet . . .

These made me smile:













I actually liked algebra but like the lady above, I have not used the skill.



Saturday, June 14, 2014

ASSESSMENT

                                                               



No matter what we do it seems there is someone who would like to pass judgment on our accomplishments;  to make an assessment of our skills and abilities and determine our success or potential success.  But what about those intangibles like empathy, perseverance,  or  ability to pick up on social cues and get along with a wide range of people.   These are not so easy to measure but their absence has held back those with otherwise high marks.

What does the word assessment  mean exactly?   Is it that someone smarter and wiser than you will judge your performance in some arena of life?   But then the question must be, who is the assessor?   What is their qualification?    Ah, of course.   Someone assessed them, once upon a time, and did not find them wanting.   Their achievement now makes  that person qualified to pass judgement on you.

But it just isn't that easy to make these determinations well.    History, both ancient and recent, is replete with examples of individuals who succeeded despite the judgement of those deemed fit to assess achievement or its potential.  Mother bird in the photograph above has an uncanny ability to feed each of her offspring equally and give them each the same chance at life.   With some species, eagles, for example, the larger of the brood will make the decision that he deserves to survive and kick the weaker eaglet out of the nest.    Our entrance qualifications achieve the same result.   Candidates are eliminated.

The easiest things to evaluate are those that can quantified:  2 + 2 = 4.   Creativity, ingenuity, social skills and adaptability . . . the really useful stuff . . . not so much.    These attributes are not only difficulty evaluate, they can be difficult to teach.   

Many universities use marks only to determine admission to programs.   With the avalanche of applicants, marks serve as a screen, a sieve to reduce the numbers.   Even in the helping professions where you are dealing with people every day, qualities of patience, empathy and maturity are often not considered.   Are they too difficult to assess?   Few would respond well to a robot in the classroom or at the hospital bedside,   yet we want a certain level of skill and competence in the surgeon that wields the scalpel.   We just hope the person who assessed them was thinking of us.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Books we read as children



                                                                             




Sometimes, books we read or hear as children can linger in our memory for a long time.   We may forget about them until some event, conversation or memory triggers our recollection.   Such was the case with The Winged Watchman by Hilda Van Stockum.   Along with the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, it is one of the books I remember reading as a child.   Or in this case, it was a school librarian that read The Winged Watchman to our class when I was about nine or ten years old.

This is the age when children become aware of the larger world outside their own family and community.   Oh, they may know it exists before this time, but I believe it is when the world, its diverse peoples and its history start to make an impact of a child's psyche.   The Winged Watchman is set in Holland during World War II and describes the life of one family affected by the war.   It includes many details, but none graphically, and is told from the point of view of a young boy.   This book made me think about the larger world outside my school and neighbourhood.

   I was surprised, and pleased, to see it is still available in paperback or now on audio CD, though not as an e-book.  I'm going to read it again.      

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Reading . . . not


                                                                       




There's something about the concentration and focus engaged when a reader is 'lost' in the pages of a book that can't be easily duplicated.  Unless a fire alarm goes off, events nearby  can swirl about unnoticed.   I have a theory--not easily proved--that many skills and abilities are developed and nurtured in the process of reading.   The closest thing I can compare it to is practising and playing an instrument. I believe that mental pathways, neurological connections and basic life skills are positively affected and improved through these practises.

But attributing these qualities to reading makes it sound like something you do because it is good for you in the way that taking a spoonful of pungent cod liver oil used to be when administered to children.   This post repeats what has been stated previously:   Children and teens are reading less and with decreased proficiency.   The usual suspects--video games, texting and television--are cited as the causes in the article.   Some of the comments were especially interesting though and gave me pause:

"I have no problem with this. It means less competition for my kids. Down the road, when my kids are running successful businesses, the kids who did not read will be saying to them. "Do you want fries with that?" Actually, that probably won't happen because we do not go to McDonalds, but I think you get the picture."


"I taught college from 2007-2013. In most cases, students were not doing the reading (composition and literature classes). Often, I'd have to read the chapter or story to them in class. I had students confide to me that they hated to read. I would say, "Well, literature is not for everyone; there are other fields." They would interrupt: "No you don't understand. I don't like to read anything.  I bit my lip but wanted to say, "Whose tuition money are you wasting?"

"Reading requires effort and imagination. In today's "if it's not done in 3.5 seconds, it's stupid" world, the great majority of people, not just children, don't have the attention span to read a paragraph, let alone a book. When you're immersed in the 140-character world of Twitter and text messages, Dickens is largely incomprehensible. That's an extreme example, but you get the point."


What is the solution?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Fewer Surprises


                                 




I'm a great believer in engaging in some relevant research before embarking on a new project.   So before I wrote the first draft of my first mystery book, Operatory of Death,  I did some reading and thinking about what the elements are that constitute a good mystery story.   An interesting plot and well developed characters are important features, but this applies to any book.   In many mystery books, whether graphic or cozy, it is necessary that the perpetrator, the 'guilty party' remain unknown to the reader, at least until near the end of the book.   I know there are exceptions to this depending upon the storyline.

I have read reviews of mysteries wherein the chief complaint was that 'I knew who it was by the second page . . .' or 'it was quickly obvious to me who the murderer was . . .'    Most readers, including me, like to be kept on tenterhooks so there needs to exist several possibilities.    Too many, though, and it can become ridiculous although I must make an exception for Murder on the Orient Express.   I won't give the ending away in the unlikely event that someone reading this hasn't read Agatha Christie's classic.

Not only must there be several possible perpetrators, but often readers like to be surprised, at least somewhat initially , and then they want to immediately be able to trace back the clues that now, once the facts are known, make it all too obvious as to the identity of the guilty party.   For writers, this take some effort and planning in the writing process  and the time that involves but no added expense.   With some television shows I've seen, no doubt on tight budgets, there is only one guest actor and unless a regular is going to be written out of the series, it soon becomes obvious who 'did it.'