Stargazing

By Vita Forest

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On a hot Wednesday night, I lay on the floor, my bare feet resting on the sofa.  Zadie (the cat) walked up to me and paddled her feet on my belly before lying on my chest and closing her eyes.  Max came and lay beside me and put his feet up too.

“Ah nice,” he said, looking up at the ceiling.  “Look you can see the stars!”  and you could too – those glowing stars that I had stuck on the ceiling from atop a ladder.  At night they bring a smile to my face when I turn out the light.

We lay there basking in the starlight.

Lucy came and sat beside us, talking to her dad on the phone.

“Lucy you are disturbing our serenity!  Please go and talk somewhere else!”  She grudgingly moved on, accompanied by Zadie.

“You can see the sunset too, ” noticed Max, and it was true, over the top of the sofa, you could see the warm glow on the lamp in the dining room.

“And the moon is square tonight,” we continued.

Ah serenity!

On Thursday, about midday, we were writing a procedure about How to make an origami cup, or How to make a paper cup, or even just, How to make a cup.  Between writing up Step 3 and Step 4, those faster kids who were not helping others came to sit on the floor to wait.  Paulo lay back exhausted from all the thinking and all the writing.  It reminded me of our indoor stargazing from the night before, so I told them the story.

Soon the floor was covered in small people lying on their backs, looking up at the sky.  There was a rectangular moon this time, and even the remains of a spider.

Ah serenity!

What have I learned from blogging? Reflections of a newbie blogger.

By Vita Forest

Having fun with Diptic - how do you make your illustrations?

Having fun with Diptic – how do you make your illustrations?

As a teacher, I spend quite a bit of time reflecting on how lessons went, how successful programs were, how effective certain strategies are with my students.  I thought I would apply the same logic to this blog.

I started this blog in July for a number of reasons:

  • to have a place to do some writing.
  • to make myself write regularly.
  • to explore and experiment.
  • to connect with other people.

This is what I have learned so far…

  • some discipline.  I committed to writing at least one post a week and have done that.  Instead of writing being something I did when everything else was finished, and if I had any energy left, I have prioritized my writing and built a kind of routine.
  • it doesn’t have to be perfect.  James Clear has written some very good articles about creativity and the fact that you need to do a body of work.  Sometimes it won’t be amazing, but producing something regularly is much more effective than waiting for inspiration to hit. I have become more fearless and open and hit that Publish button with relish.
  • sometimes it’s good to have constraints.  (Actually make that all the time).  Whether it’s word limits, time constraints, or a very particular designated topic in a blogging event, limitations of some kind seem to bring focus, and paradoxically, they free up the mind from the paralysis of the open-ended. (So far I have participated in two blogging events, producing An unfortunate meeting with a fairy and He loves me, he loves me not… )
  • unexpected topics have a way of cropping up.  I thought I had to have everything mapped out, but sometimes I start writing about one thing and it turns into something else.  And that is OK.
  • how to make visuals I get to create my own images (mainly photos doctored in Diptic).  This is another way to be creative that I hadn’t expected.
  • feedback and community are fantastic.  I have now completed two novels.  I send them out (occasionally) and wait indefinitely to get any response from agents or publishers.  Sometimes it has been positive, but more often its impersonal, months later and in the form of standard rejection letters.  Blogging is a way to instantly connect with people from all around the world, and I really appreciate people taking the time to read, Like and respond to my work.  It’s so helpful (and I have to say I get a buzz out of it!)  Maybe one day, someone will publish my novels, but until then, I’m loving the blogging.

Now I’m going to try and transfer some of my newfound discipline to the rather tedious and often soul-destroying task of sending out my second novel to agents and publishers.  Because nothing will happen if I don’t DO something.

So that is what this newbie blogger has learned so far.  How about you?  What have you learned from blogging?

 

Is reading a deal breaker?

By Vita Forest

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My friend Vastra is another who did not think “when I grow up, I want to be a single mother…” but somehow ended up as one too, despite her best intentions.  Unlike most members of the various “First Wives Clubs” that I belong to, she decided to try diving back into the dating pool again.  (Interestingly, our male counterparts are all “settled” in new relationships, some even engaged and married.  Us females appear to be enjoying our freedom too much.)

Vastra was careful.  She was on Narcissist Alert and avoided men in certain occupations entirely.  She was not going to waste her time.  The man who neglected to mention he already had a girlfriend was definitely not an option, but another seemed more promising.  They met a few times and everything seemed to be going well, but then she discovered the deal-breaker.

He did not like to read.

Not even non-fiction.  Not even magazine articles.  Not even magazine articles on topics he was interested in, carefully saved for him by his new friend.  Other quirks had been forgiven, but after this discovery, they parted ways.  Gently of course, she was “not ready”  she didn’t want to “rush in.”  Which really meant “I want a man who reads!”

She didn’t realize “must like reading” was one of her prerequisites for a relationship.  It had seemed too obvious.  Not worth mentioning.  A given.  We pondered this story at one of our dinners and agreed she had done the right thing.  We have all had time to ruminate over what is important and what we don’t want again (when and if we are ever ready for again.  Don’t believe the Rom-coms – the single life is a good one).

Being a reader is important, being the kind of person who understands that sometimes you just absolutely have to stay up late to find out what happens next.  The kind of person who lends you their books as a sign of trust and friendship.  The kind of person who has “walked in another’s shoes” as Atticus Finch would say, and maybe learned a new perspective in the process.  Someone who may even change their original prejudices after experiencing a new world between the pages of a book.  Someone who has expanded their mind through reading.  Being a reader makes you empathetic, makes you curious, makes you a thinker.

These are the kind of men we are after.

PS. When I asked Vastra is she minded if I shared this story, she said, no worries – there is no likelihood of her ex-date ever reading this as that would require him actually reading something.  And that is not likely to happen…

Is being a reader a deal-breaker for you?

Where did my literacy come from?

By Vita Forest

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I come from a family of readers.  My mother was a midwife and my father was a cabinet-maker.  Neither of them went to university.  Nevertheless, our home life was one in which books and reading were important.

My sisters and I grew up in a house full of reading materials – novels, children’s books, encyclopaedias, newspapers and letters.  When we were young, we were read picture books everyday.  My parents still have some of those treasured books – Madeline, The Big Orange Splot and Mr Rabbit and the Lovely Present.  As we grew older, we read chapter books to ourselves.  My father built bookshelves in our bedrooms to house our personal libraries and we were provided with our own bedside lamps.  In this way, books formed part of our private havens.  My late night habit of “just one more chapter and then I’ll turn off the light” began here.

In our family, reading was for pleasure.  My father often read literary fiction and favoured Australian writers such as Peter Carey and David Malouf.  My mother enjoyed humorous poetry and taught us many poems and rhymes.  There was a particular poem called The Friendly Cow, which we would all say in unison every time we passed a dairy farm.  Sharing stories and poems aloud and often knowing them by heart, was part of the discourse of our family.  Books also provided storylines and ideas for games.  We played at finding a “Secret Garden” and took turns being Mistress Mary, Martha and “the robin”.  This was especially effective in my grandmother’s long shady garden.

My mother also suggested novels to us that she had enjoyed as a child.  Accordingly, I read the Billabong series, Little Women and Anne of Green Gables.  These last two series, which focused on young girls who harboured ambitions of teaching and writing, perhaps affected me more than I realised at the time.  I also read the Swallows and Amazon series about the adventures of a group of children sailing boats in the Lakes District in England.  One day, as I borrowed one of these from the library, I was startled by a comment made by a classmate.  He did not believe I really read such “thick books.”  I had never been intimidated by the length of a book and was surprised to consider that others might be.  To me, reading was not just something you did at school and was definitely not done only because you had to.  It was the key into other worlds, other people’s heads and experiences I had never come across in my own life.

I attended the local catholic primary school which I do not remember with a lot of kindness.  Although I did well, school seemed tedious.  Moreover, I don’t remember learning to read or any story books I read while at school.  I do recall writing drills; copying the same letter endlessly on specially ruled paper.  We were also drilled on our spelling using a program called “Morphographic spelling.” This was full of long convoluted words which I never reused and whose meaning we didn’t learn.  The memory trick of remembering the order of the letters was more important than tying it to our own experience.  School was not like books, there was no magic.

The library was a central institution in my life.  From a young age, we attended Storytime and borrowed books.  My sisters and I keenly and successfully participated in Book week competitions at the library and at school.  Inspired by C.S. Lewis, I was “The Witch” (in white with a silver crown), my friend Katherine was “The Wardrobe” (inside a large cardboard box with handles) and her soft toy rode on top as “The Lion.”

After careful coaching from my mother, I was accepted into a selective public high school.  I was the only one from my primary school who took up a place there, which was very daunting initially.  I have a number of distinct memories from this period.  One of these is of a Year 8 English assignment, where we had to write our own poem inspired by Ted Hughes’ Wind.  We became very enthusiastic about the task and invested much thought and time into our efforts.  This is my first memory of really having the motivation and interest to revise and fine-tune a piece of writing.  Moreover, the results were spectacular!

I also remember having a terrific English teacher in Year 11 called Mr B.  Looking back, I realise we became so engaged because he got us thinking deeply by asking questions that took us beyond the texts themselves.  English was not where I gained a lasting knowledge of Grammar however; instead it came from studying other languages.  As a consequence of learning French, I was suddenly able to recognise the different parts of the English language.  I had a great French teacher called Mrs P.  She really taught me that language is about communication and making meaning.

After school, I completed a Bachelor of Arts at university.  This included two Creative writing courses where I tried my hand at poetry, playwriting and fiction.  Writing workshops were highly anticipated and exciting, often inspiring awe at classmates’ efforts.  These courses also cemented the idea of writing as a serious profession which we could all consider.

After completing my degree, I drifted into a career in I.T. as so many people did during the Dot com boom.  Work in this area was readily available and offered many travel opportunities.  This was attractive after struggling to find work during the recession of the 1990s.  I still wrote every day, however now the texts were informational – user guides, test cases, test plans.  The aim was to be very clear, accurate and concise.  I had to write to a deadline and for particular audiences.  Looking back, it was a good discipline to write within such constraints.

I am now the mother of two avid readers.  Some of the traditions from my own childhood continue in theirs – frequent trips to the library, bedtime stories and discussions about events and characters from favourite books.  One of the highlights of recent years was discovering Harry Potter alongside my children – all as first-time visitors to the world of Hogwarts.  We read the first three books aloud together, my children sitting wide-eyed beside me.  (I continued the journey into the later, darker books alone.)  My fascination with the way my son learnt to read at school was one reason I decided to retrain as a primary teacher.

When my children were born, a large box arrived on the doorstep filled with books, kernels of foam clinging to their sides.  They were a present from my family’s American friend Mardi.  She had also sent books to my sisters and me when we were young.  Looking back, this tradition of books as presents was significant.  It gave us a sense that books were special, that stories were gifts and giving books was a way of showing someone that you cared about them.  Mardi had been a primary school teacher and had also set up a program to raise literacy levels in children, a passionate concern of hers.  Echoes of her aims and philosophies come to me when I read with my children and also in my studies in Education.  For instance, reading as a way for children to bond with important adults in their lives.  Mardi was someone I really admired, and I now see that she too, influenced me in my decision to become a teacher.

Looking over the history of my own literacy, I can now conclude that my family life had a greater influence over my literacy than that of my schooling.  I can see that I was fortunate in having parents that supported and encouraged the habits of reading for enjoyment.  This was particularly important as my early schooling was not very inspiring.  I was luckier at high school and university, but the urge to read and create stories can really be traced back to my early family life.  As a teacher I hope to instil a love of literature in my students – not only are reading and writing necessary skills for participation in general life, they can be the departure point into the rich world of the imagination.

*This is an edited piece written a few years ago as part of my Education studies at university.  You might be interested to know that Lucy, now aged ten, is currently devouring Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by herself.