Monday, 5 December 2016

The Dancer

Flames slither and stretch - blue below, orange belly distending, fingers of yellow snatch.
They urge you on.
Stars above scatter - sparks, the sneeze of light, explode through dear darkness
and burn the skies above.
They leave footprints upon the sky.
A galaxy they say; The Milky Way.

Cello moans - his deep assent, pulling at the depths of thought, extracting emotion ethereal.
Plinkling piano tickles through - dancing along your fingertips that play,
yet there’s nothing there.
Fire’s fingers slide - drawing breath from Violin who sails out her tightest song
like an angel’s breath on her thinnest string.
They call you closer.

Arms sweeping the heavy air aside, you glide in.
Rhythm your language, motion your speech, transcendence your game -
And so you spin: the cloth a trail from your arm, your hand a shooting star across the abyss;
your hair - a twinkling stream of life poised to fly upon a pirouette.
They leave trails upon men’s vision.
A fire-writing trick they say; emblazoned patterns.

Men draw near - heavy hands, lustful hearts, drunk minds that grope... for what?
They know not!
You dance to the music of your soul; for who could know your cello, your piano, your violin?
Not these men!
There is no music, no rhythm to them!
No transcendence… Only motion, they believe.

Angling in, she catches fire. Oh how those men now react!
Dust and smoke - a nebulous mix, sliding up, caressing her legs, subsuming that hair.
Fire climbs - seeking, seeking the folds of that lachrymose face…
seeking, seeking that elusive tear.
Still the cello assents,
Still the piano tickles upon a press…. Upon a press that’s not there.

He lunges - her arm the target, but trips, the drunken fool!
You chase a spectre, don’t you see?
What music? What rhythm? What goal?

The quiet one understands.
The corner - his space embracing, his bank of knowledge, his weight of things he’s seen.
“Who are you?” they cry at you.
Now they mock: “How dance and tease when there is no music, whore?”
The quiet one -  in his corner, hears the music from your soul: he knows your cello, your piano, your violin! He knows one more:


Alexithymia your name.



*Alexithymia - (noun) difficulty describing an emotion (esp. one’s own).

This piece is dedicated to Catrina Kaufman, whose playing on the piano inspired the image that drove this.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Wax Stains In My English Book - A Tribute


She removes the red pen from between her pursed lips. The lid is still pristine; no dents from teeth. It had simply rested there, an indication of her engagement in thought as she digested the umpteenth essay that night. She reaches out and grabs the candle – her only source of light during power outages – bringing it closer to the book as it burns lower and lower. An “ouch” escapes her lips and whistles past the red lid as a drop of wax spills over onto her ring finger, a sharp but evanescent pain.  Some of that wax rolls off unseen and settles on the page, solidifying instantly on the paper. It remains invisible in the light cast by the wick it escaped from, but would be noticed by me the following day, under fluorescent lights, when I eagerly opened my book to see what she thought of my essay. At first I thought the stain was my fault, and was glad she did not call me out on it. Later that night I would realise that I was using a rechargeable lamp. There were no candles in my room.

**
Her eyes ache and her back sends the same message. The lack of light does no favours here, and hunching forward only makes her back scream more. It is two hours before midnight and she still has eleven books to mark.  She would tell us the following day that she had had five hours sleep, not to fish for a compliment, but to warn of a potential short fuse. In the end, that short fuse did not pop.

The five hours surprise us at first: “You mean we aren’t the only ones who go to bed late?” a voice says behind me. It wasn’t loud enough for her to hear, and just as well, because the voice in question did not care – it simply wanted its mark. “Teachers are not bound by the same human laws as the rest of us,” that voice was implying to itself, “they should just get on with it.”

She would collect a pay-check later that week. By four o’clock that afternoon, the salary’s value would halve. By the following morning it would halve again. That salary would remain in the bank until its zeros were wiped out in their entirety because the bank had no cash to dispense to an economy that had buckled at its knees. She would take home another pile of books that night. Another candle would be lit. Another wax stain would form.
Twenty two of her colleagues left in the weeks that followed in that school term.
I found myself wondering who would be next. I hoped it would not be her, nor any of my teachers at that time, for I was due to write my IGCSE exams in a matter of months. Although, I could not have blamed her if she had – I had heard my parents discussing the possibility of emigrating, just days prior to that wax droplet’s leap of faith.

**

She stands in front of the class and presents her findings and tips after handing out the rest of our marked essays. She explains myriad points that take five minutes to speak, but neither I nor the faces around me realise how many hours it took to gather that insight. She gesticulates with her right hand as she emphasises a point, one about the importance of register in writing. Her glasses move ever so slightly down her nose and she briefly sucks her ring finger. The wax burn is still felt today.

**

 Today I enter that same classroom. The room quietens a little as I make my way to the desk where I sat and discovered that wax stain six years ago. A sea of faces track me as I take it in and relive that very moment before making my way back to the front of the room.
She walks into the classroom, expecting it to be empty. She nods a quiet “hello” and flashes a smile as she fumbles with her keys. Her rectangular glasses slide ever so slightly down her nose as she leans forward to open the store room. I can see her ring finger clearly as she removes the padlock and slides the deadbolt. 
“Good morning, guys!” I exclaim as she vanishes into the store room.
“Morning sir,” they reply.
“Today I would like to hear YOUR opinions on what ingredients it takes to make a good teacher,” I say.

This form two class was supposed to receive a lesson on relative pronouns today, but that can wait. Today I’ll explain the significance of a wax stain.

 She emerges from the room and locks it. Stepping through the classroom door, she sends another smile that I catch in the corner of my eye as I call on a student near the back, who proceeds to mention the quality of dedication….
Apt indeed, and the coincidence is not lost on me, smiling as the connections are made somewhere deep in my consciousness between this present moment and that poignant memory. This is what teaching is all about, this is where the magic happens – not on the board, but between student and teacher when the lines are blurred and roles are reversed.
Those form two students would go on to enlighten me with their recipes for great teachers; their perceptions and perspectives would astound me, given their age – something the lady with the red pen would also emphasise to me as we chatted that afternoon.

**

He removes the red pen from between his pursed lips. The lid is still pristine, no dents from teeth. It had simply rested there, an indication of his engagement in thought as he digested the umpteenth essay lit up by his rechargeable lamp that night.
He now experiences life on the other side of the desk: the life spent marking books, preparing lessons, giving everything and more to the sea of individual and remarkable souls behind the same smaller desks he once occupied.

Tired, he smiles to himself as he stiffly leans forward to switch of the lamp. His eyes ache and he knows he’ll be up early again the next morning. He is satisfied knowing that the lesson on pronouns will take place this time, but, more importantly he knows that he will be preparing the young minds for the world out there, the world that desperately needs the kind of values that only a wax stain in an English book can explain.

************

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to all of my teachers that braved the trials and tribulations of what has become simply known as “The 2008 period” [in Zimbabwe]. Without your incomprehensible dedication during such times, it is unlikely that I would be referring to myself as your colleague now. There are many others out there too, scattered at universities and corporations around the world, doing well for themselves; drawing on the strengths of the academic and character education that you so selflessly gave them. Thank you, not just to my teachers, but to all of you that stayed put at that time.

 A special thank you to Mrs. Ute Allery-Kaufman for the wax stain that you left in my IGCSE English book. I hope this piece of writing is to your satisfaction, as I’m not sure I’d be able to sit in your class again for another lesson without raising some eyebrows.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

The Sentry



She stood, beholding the horizon beyond the battlement,
her arms cradling the spear - the spear that guarded her empire;
the sentry to her heart and its secrets.
Useless was the spear, though little did she know of this:
Her heart, a shield of its own, would not be moved and needed no defence; the scars of yesteryear a chainlink dress that no force could lift.


The wind picked at her hair: a playful tug,
a fibrous trail begging to fly - to fly where only dreams could take her.
They surge down these wisps, escaping to the world outside.
Now a current riding the wind, only to to return a circuit later,
return upon a wind lament - a taunt upon the breeze,
a promising scent of hope - that which could be, yet frozen upon the steel.


The spear's tip offers no comfort, only a cold, hard resolve, a poison to her soft, warm cheek-

 banishing the pink soul beneath,
vanquishing the blood and its soft cargo of warmth... A cold spear, a cold cheek, a cold belief.
She squints her eyes, the wind drawing a tear of taunt. The taunt now solid - an icicle.
The breeze once warm, the taunt once a hope - a dream - now frozen.
The sentry once alive, her hopes once a spring bloom - a rose - now buried by winter.


The sun begins to rise, beholding the sentry upon the tower,
his rays igniting a fiery glint upon her spear - the spear guarding her empire, her heart, her secrets.
The taunt melts; once more a tear, it slides across the window of her soul:
"Relinquish your empire, oh sentry, it is no empire at all!
You guard only yourself against the world - yourself against your very soul.
Stand down, dear sentry. Melt back down to your pink soul and connect with me.
Shed your dress, oh heart with hope. Unbind your scars and join with me:
a liquid of hope and hurt we shall form...
Set us free and the real sentry we shall be - the sentry against the ego of me, me, me; the liquid of hope and hurt,
The liquid of life.”

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Connect With Me


Connect With Me

Connect with me;
plug in your emotions,
let our thoughts intertwine.
Worry not about the space between us
for there are greater spaces to be found within.

Connect with me;
undress your thoughts,
remove the mask that veils them.
Feel the sweet icing melt away, the thrill of discovery
as you come to see that which is really you - that which you have bundled away.

Connect with me;
unwrap that part of you hidden from the world,
hidden so well beneath the soft skin of your soul, hidden so well
in plain sight: in the emotions you give away, in the tapping of your fine fingers, the sweep of your hand
as you catch the hair that falls in front of your eyes.

Connect with me;
fix your eyes upon mine - don’t lose me now,
don’t lose this channel to the interference of Fear, who stalks us all.
Don’t censor those thoughts, your eyes will not allow you to -
Don’t break this chain of magic now - as they roam around, disconnected from your soul
by Father Fear himself: “Don’t let them out!”

Connect with me;
shut Him out and let those eyes burn bright;
the pearls of your existence that have so faithfully recorded your every sight
now seek to betray you and project your inner sanctum to me.
But they do not betray you - it is you who betrays them as they try to connect to me.

              For they understand that it is through honesty that you will connect...
              That you will connect to the right “me” and not  the “me” that you may
              expect me to be.


Connect with me;
connect with me and discover that you are within me,
not in the space that you define as me.
The space between us is no longer so;
there can no longer be a space when you drop your guard.

Connect with me;
and you will realise that you no longer connect to me.
You will come to see that the “me” you imagine is only who you allow me to be,
the “me” you connect to now will simply be your inner galaxy:
your galaxy reflected in you, and you in it.

You are connected now.
Breathe.
You are connected to me.

You are me.






Image credit: hdwallpapers.cat




Sunday, 14 June 2015

How Strange Are We?

A leaf slowly spirals down outside as the piano seeps through the room from the corner. Through the window I see it; tumbling and twisting as it begins its only descent. The piano plays on - an ode to the passing of this leaf - unaware of its link to the cycle unfolding around it.

Worlds away on another continent, a leaf falls, observed by a contemplative stranger relaxing on a park bench. A hint of a breeze catches the leaf in mid-fall and toys with it - delaying the inevitable.

How strange are we; observing the same events - worlds away - not realising that these events are the common thread between us?
How strange are we; not realising that we are all waiting for our own leaf to drop, for our own ode to come seeping from the corner?

Photo Credit: (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/29/Autumn_in_Dresden.jpg)

Photo Credit: (http://pixabay.com/p-447406/?no_redirect)

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Existential Musings on Meaning


I step out of the shower and hear the wind blowing forcefully outside, the usually refreshing smell of rain now seeming threatening and almost unpleasant as it filters in through the open window. I find it amazing how just a difference of night or day can have such an effect on my perception of the rain and its scent. But, I realise that this wind continues blowing as it has for many thousands of years, past this very spot which has changed so much over the lifetime of the earth; and that it shall continue to do so long after you and I have passed from this life. This wind, carrying its life-giving burden of rain, will continue to pass this spot and witness the inevitable changes that will take place in an apparently endless cycle that we call eternity.

So, why is this important? Why wonder about the age of the wind that pushes past? Simply because once we realise that everything (more commonly referred to as life) goes on after we depart, we need to find meaning in our existence, essentially for one reason - so that it makes sense to us, so that there is some reason for us being here.

Does this surprise you?

No?

Well, it shouldn't because meaning is the whole point of life, is it not? One cannot experience true joy," joy illimited," as Thomas Hardy called it, without having a sense of the purpose of it. Even joy would be a vacuum if we didn't have a meaning for it.

Creating or finding meaning - for me - is the only true way to experience life for what it really is. Everything else is just a distraction.

What are your thoughts? Where do you find meaning?

Photo credit: Zooey (https://www.flickr.com/photos/izoo3y/8737004032)

Sunday, 5 October 2014

What is an Education?

In conversations with friends and colleagues, something that often comes to head is "What is an education? What does it mean? What should it entail? What is its worth?"




I like to think about it using this analogy that I wrote a while ago:

Imagine that John makes his sandwiches every morning before going to school/work. He prepares them well, using the method he has been taught: cut the bread, spread on some butter and then jam or peanut butter, or whatever he fancies. Then he packs it into a lunch box and puts it in his bag and heads off to school/work. At tea time he gets hungry and would really like to eat the sandwiches but he doesn't. His reasoning is that the sandwiches are already with him - in his backpack, on his back. He doesn't need to eat them since they are already moving around with him. Every day he continues in this way until he has a backpack full of sandwiches. As you can imagine, after a while some of them start to rot, so what does he do? Naturally he throws them away like anyone would. But what does he do next?
He makes more sandwiches every day and continues to add them to his burgeoning backpack.

Can you see where this is going? To me, this is exactly what people do with the education they receive - they collect and collect and collect, stuffing their bags full of textbooks which they simply memorize. They stuff their minds full of dull, plain facts. Eventually the 'education' (the memories) get rotten and they throw them out so that they have more space to stuff in more memorized 'sandwiches'. Just think about this, how much of everything you learnt in high school can you still remember (assuming you are not currently in high school!) Do you think you could still pass that maths test, or that lengthy biology test?

To me an education is simply creativity; using the knowledge and information acquired to create new knowledge - to actually grapple with information and actively process it to the extent that you create something new (which ironically ends up in textbooks). That's where new discoveries and theories come from, it takes someone to say "Hey what if?....." or "Hey, I think this theory would make more sense if..." Where would society end up if all we ever did was memorise textbooks verbatim? Would we be able to produce new textbooks? Short answer, no. We would simply replicate them, and that is where dogma comes in. Dogma is the enemy of education.

 Einstein summed it up nicely, in my opinion, when he said "Imagination is more important than knowledge," and when he spoke of using your brain: "Don't waste your brain's resources on memorising information, facts can be looked up in a book anytime. Rather use the resources in your head  to think, analyse and create."

Let's think carefully about what we consider an education. I have personally seen a scenario in which an intern accountant, who had stellar results from high school and university, failed to solve a hilariously simple issue because all he could do was throw memorised information, rules and formulas at it when all it required was a dash of critical thinking. That was a prime example of dogma.

In closing, I shall leave you with another of Einstein's pearls of wisdom:

"Education is what remains when you have forgotten everything you learned at school."

As always, I love to engage in discussion, so if you have any comments/ideas please feel free to share them below!


Image credit: http://inquiretoacquire.weebly.com/