new short story collection. Out now!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Experience of 31 Lifetimes


I'm currently doing a teaching practicum in a public primary school, and learning some surprising things. I expect to have a bucket load of stuff to say about this, and subsequent periods of professional experience, but here's just a bite in case you're not very hungry.

From my observations  of 30 Year 3 students and their inspirational teacher, a good learning environment is one in which there is order. Teachers maintain control and set good behavioural examples and the students follow them. A good learning environment is one in which students know what is expected of them, and understand, and therefore avoid to the best of their abilities, the consequences of misbehavior. A good learning environment is one in which courtesy and respect are evident, and students respond positively to having boundaries in place by being obedient and diligent. 

A good learning environment is not, despite how it sounds, a utopia. The structures of reward and consequence, of respect, responsibility and safety, operate in the imperfect world of the classroom where there always exists some degree of unpredictability. The beast we know as human nature means that the best  behaved child can have a bad day, and the worst, a good one. The teacher tries to maintain a good learning environment despite the all too frequent attacks of its enemies: extra- curricular activities like the Mother’s Day Stall, the Music Bus, Dance 2 Be Fit and the overnight excursion, and interruptions to lessons from students and even other teachers.

Being a teacher seems to be more about management and paperwork than it does about actual teaching. Those who can do it with passion and diligence have my undying admiration.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Murder of Crows

After many successful years as a criminal defense attorney, Lawrence Russell finally succumbs to his conscience and verbally attacks his own client in court. As a result, the defendant is found guilty, and Lawrence is disbarred.

Happy to be free of the burden of defending people whom he knows are guilty and unrepentant, Lawrence sets about making a new life for himself. He decides to write a book but can't get started so he spends his days drinking and dreaming instead. One day he meets a man who gives him a manuscript about a man who murders five defense lawyers, and the man asks him to read it over and offer his opinion. When the man dies, Lawrence decides to put his own name to the novel and submit it for publication. Although A Murder of Crows is a huge success, it also turns out to be a true story. As the "author", Lawrence becomes the prime suspect in the subsequent criminal investigation.

Lawrence Russell did the right thing in obeying his conscience to quit as a defense attorney but when the rewards he hoped for, like success as a writer, did not materialize, he disobeyed his conscience by putting his name to a manuscript which he did not write. The consequences of this latter decision were life threatening.

The film, A Murder of Crows, demonstrates two things. Firstly, the rewards for doing right are not always immediate or obvious. And secondly making a decision to do good, or to do the right thing at one time in your life does not make it any less likely that you won't make a wrong decision, or a decision to do something bad, at another time.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Frequently Floundering

I'm in the middle of a maelstrom. A titanic struggle between me and myself: between the man I am and the man I want to be. I'm fighting hard. Losing weight. Losing sleep. And losing myself which epitomises the irony of my life. What am I fighting for? What's the prize? The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? I like rainbows because they declare hope, and because they look cool but I digress as my exhausted mind wanders, carried away like a dandelion in a strong breeze.

Is the battle imaginary or real? Without getting too philosophical, although I already have dived into that deep pool, I wonder if I should spend so much time inside my own head. I have a love hate relationship with myself. From within springs revelation and inspiration, beauty, nobility and gratitude but spewing from that same well are things which are unpleasant, and not at all what I want. Is it all me? Do I own myself? Is my mind my own?

The feeling of being somewhere and doing something accompanied by the nagging whisper that I should be somewhere else, or that I want to be somewhere else. I'm tossed around like a salad and turning as green as lettuce from nausea. I'm going to be eaten as a reward for my endurance. This whirlwind blows through my nerves and boils in my blood: I'm trapped, and although I feel alone, I know I am not. This is the storm cell of my life. Is choice an illusion? Is anybody listening? Does anyone care?


FREQUENTLY FLOUNDERING
By
D.A. Cairns

I’m frequently floundering, forever fearing failure,
far flung, flippant and fancy-free
forcefully finicky and inflexible
fitfully frantic and fantastically foolish.
fit for the fiery furnace.
I am human.
Friendly, fulsome and fervent.
finite and fragile but full of fearless faith
fighting feeble fiends with feisty fists of fury
fully furnished and fortified.
firmly fastened, I’m fully forgiven
I am saved.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Letter of the Law

A man was sitting on the train on his way home from work, drinking a beer. During the trip, a transit officer asked the man if he knew that it was an offence to consume alcohol on public transport. He further advised him that if he did not have a lid to seal the bottle, it would have to be confiscated. Finally this wicked man who so obviously posed a massive threat to public safety was issued with an on the spot fine for his heinous act.

In the same carriage, another man was sitting with his feet on the seat in front of him, underneath a sign which asked passengers to refrain from that very act. The enthusiastic transit officer also fined him before moving on to wake another unsuspecting passenger from his peaceful slumber in order to check whether he had a valid ticket. When unable to comply, Rip Van Winkle was fined, as was a fourth person; a woman who committed the same evil crime.

After the officer left to continue his carnage in the next carriage, bitter complaints and personal insults were thrown at his back but he was oblivious. After all, he was only doing his job: enforcing the law. Sure the officer in question could have shown a little mercy and given warnings instead, but you could bet your house on the fact that these people had all been guilty of these offences before, and probably had already received warnings. Their decision to ignore the warning left them vulnerable.

A parking officer once wrote me an infringement notice even though I moved my car two hundred metres down the road within the designated time limit. The officer stood in court and said that he did not notice the car was not in the same position when he returned after marking the tyre earlier, only that it was still in the same street. The magistrate conceded that I may have moved my car, but I was still guilty of breaking the spirit of the law.

I'm very glad that God does not operate in the same way as these earthly enforcers of rules and regulations. For those who choose to receive the gift of salvation, there is only forgiveness and grace. The penalty for sin has already been paid.