Finding Damo

The story of a man, his job, two cats and the meaning of success.

Archive for the category “belief”

Dream a Little Dream of Me. Or badgers. Or Superman.

dreams are strangeCorey Feldman had it good. His character in Dream a Little Dream ran all over his dreamscape, giving out good advice and saying “Heh” a lot. He didn’t have to worry about the streets changing from moment to moment, or giant rats staring at him until he woke up screaming.

Some people are already thinking “dammit. I blog about dreaming. I’m outa here.” And that’s fine. The blog is called Finding Damo, not “Keep everybody entertained all the time”. And one of the things that has consumed my life and fed my imagination since I was a young boy has been my dreams.

Luke, I am your father!

Luke, I am your father!

I have sleep apnoea. I can’t spell it but I have it. I’m not sure when it started, but by the time I was living in Rosebud, it was getting out of control. I was only getting one or two hours of sleep a night, as I would stop breathing when I fell deeply enough asleep which, luckily, woke me up again. It was terrible. I was always tired. I fell asleep in meetings, and when driving.

And I dreamed. A lot.

dream diary lock

If you can open it, you can read it.

Two of my favourite presents ever were given to me by girlfriends. The first was when I was in Japan. Kallie gave me a dream diary. She’d decorated  the inside front cover. The book had a lock and was just awe-inspiring. It wasn’t just a Spellbox book or anything. I’m not sure where she found it, but the book, and the lovely inscription on the inside blew me away. A couple of months later, in an argument, she ripped out the lovely front page and took the book back. Which is why I’m not dating her any more. That amongst other things. But at the time, WOW.

The second was a box to keep my (new) dream diary in. I’d replaced the original with a Spellbox dream diary. Not as impressive as the original, but still, with a nice locking mechanism and decent paper for writing. Melanie made the box for me from scratch. Varnished it, and burnt a design into the top. Now the diary had a home. It was an exceptional achievement and I still love it.

dream diary box

Long before the dream diary, I still wrote down my dreams. I had a yellow notepad that I wrote a lot of dreams into. I even wrote a program in Perl when I was working at Racing Victoria, to catalog the dreams by theme and add more in as I had them. And yes, I had them. Every night was a plethora of images, whizzing through my head. I started writing them down as my conviction that what I dreamed was coming true. So many times I would experience a conversation and say “Wow. I dreamed that!” So, to prove it to myself, I started writing them down, so that I could come back to them when I had that experience again.

I’ve never experienced a moment that I have written down in my dream diary. Bummer.

One that could come true, after my last post:

werewolf dreamBut I’m getting ahead of myself. And the rest of this post is pretty much just an explanation of the dreams I’ve had, how they fit into my life, and what meaning I feel that they had/have. So I’m serious. If you hate being told dreams by your friends, even if they have pictures attached, you probably don’t need to read any further. I’m not going to get overly philosophical. I just want some of this out of my head and out onto a blog. Call it selfish and indulgent, I can handle that. I promise I’ll be more interesting next week.

Here’s the first page (all images clickable for better views):

front page

As it says here, the greatest part of my dreamscape was a place I dubbed Alternate Kyabram. I grew up in Kyabram. I lived in Heathcote, Redesdale, even Canada during my formative years, but from 1983 until 1992 I was in Kyabram. I delivered papers, I explored the back streets with my friends. I imprinted the town onto my brain like a mental brand. And as much as I tried to get away from the place, when I slept, I was back there.

There were a few changes. And streets didn’t always go to the same places. I also dragged in my grandparents’ places from Castlemaine and Kyneton, although sometimes they were the same place. And as I spent more time in Melbourne, there were roads to the city from my little country town.

Here’s the map, and a legend:

dreamscapelegend to dreamscape

here be dinosAs my dreaming was so vivid, I did a lot of reading about it. I tried to convince myself that dreaming was something special. I dream in colour, which is supposedly a sign that you are creative. I have attempted lucid dreaming and astral projection, all after reading about them in books (with no luck, sorry to say). I’ve looked at the meanings of different symbols in dreams. For example, shops and shopping centres are supposed to be a reflection of your subconscious. Next time you dream about being in a shop, take a look at what’s on the shelves. On second thoughts, for some of us, it’s better not to look too closely.

My shop’s shelves are usually filled with books, magazines and toys. What does that say about me?

I really don’t want to go on and on about this. I just wanted to whack up a few fragments. The dreams in the diary start from 2001. There are some transcribed from long before then. The last one is in 2009. When I started using the CPAP machine, my sleep was completely dreamless. I slept solidly from the time my head hit the pillow until I was woken by the alarm clock. By the time my body started to even out and my subconscious started forcing dreams upon me again, I was out of the habit of writing them down. I dream a lot more now, and probably should write them down in the marvelous dream diary once more. But I think that phase of my life is passed now.

This is its eulogy:

click for more.

 

part onepart twopart three

random nightmare

IMG_1119

IMG_1123

It is self-indulgent. I’m not seeing anything that would be interesting to anyone else. I’m going to stop now. Dreaming is an incredible invention of the human race. The number of stories I’ve sucked out of a dream… and then thrown away because basically dreams make absolutely no sense! I have, however, had a couple of dreams that have turned into quite interesting stories. And of course, there is the old stand-by for story creation:

what if…?

And I get a goodly number of “what-if” stories out of my dreams.

Sweet dreams!

Child logic

Cute werewolf. Not scary.

Cute werewolf. Not scary.

NB: Thought I’d try drawing my own pictures instead of taking stuff from the Internet. Don’t know how long it will last, but here goes.

My 8yo step-daughter Ophelia is now completely terrified by werewolves. We were over at her friend’s place and they were watching Michael Jackson video clips (damn you Michael, stop messing with our children, even from beyond the grave). When Thriller came on, she was transfixed by Michael’s yellow eyes and ‘cat ears’. It was clear proof that werewolves existed.

That night (P is for parent. The irresponsible responses were probably me. The thoughtful ones were more likely my wife):
O: I’m not going upstairs alone. The werewolf will get me.
P: There’s no such thing. Go to bed.

(I am a caring step-parent)

O: I can’t. Walk me up.
P: No. Turn on the lights on the way up. You’ll be fine.
O: I can’t. If I reach into the room to turn on the lights, the werewolf will get me.

(Aargh)

P: Monsters are scared of you. Just yell “Shoo monsters!” as you climb the stairs. I’ll watch you.
O: Shoo monsters.
P: Louder!
O: Shoo Monsters!

If it were me, I’d be less than reassured that my mother could see me as I was devoured by monsters.

O: There’s something in the spare room.
P: Then don’t go in there.
O: Duh! I have to go past it to get to my room!

Michael's a dick.

Michael’s a dick.

Of course. With a lot of shoo monstering she was in bed. I say don’t give in to fears like this. But when we came up to tuck her in, shortly afterwards, we quizzed her on the werewolf thing.

P: You know werewolves are made up, don’t you? You’re not worried by zombies.

(By this stage, I’m feeling your judgement. Stop it)

O: Zombies are silly.

(Hooray for Plants vs Zombies)

P: And werewolves?

O: Michael Jackson had those yellow cat eyes. I hate Michael Jackson. Why would he do that?

We explained about contact lenses and makeup. We agreed that Michael Jackson was an idiot.

P: You weren’t scared by the ogres or the spiders in Harry Potter, why are they different?

(Again, stop judging)

O: They were, like, sooo not real.

Seriously? She’s 8. She really says this. No more Winx Club for her. Another point: kudos to Michael, whose 80s werewolf effect was more “real” than state-of-the-art CGI.

This conversation lasted all this week. Every now and then:
O: Are werewolves ambushers or scavengers?
P: Neither. They just run about killing people. Plus, they’re not real.

O: In stories, (clever change of tack) when do werewolves come out?
P: During the full moon. Depending on the story, usually the night before, the night of, the night after. But they’re not real.

O: Is it a full moon tonight?
P: Er, yes, but it doesn’t matter, because werewolves aren’t real.

Good parenting.

Good parenting.

O: How do you become a werewolf?
P: It depends. If you are bitten or scratched by one, you become a werewolf. Otherwise they just eat you.
O: So,  (ignoring the eating bit, thank the gods) how did the first werewolf get made?
P: A curse, usually. Someone annoyed a witch or a god.
O: Oh. Do they live in the city? Cos there’s lots of places here for them to hide.
P: Not really. They prefer forests and open spaces.
O: And they’re people, except for the full moon?
P: Yup. But they’re not real.

O: If I was a werewolf, I’d lock myself up during a full moon so I didn’t kill anyone.
P: That’s what Oz did in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (No, she hasn’t seen Buffy)

P: Ok. Seriously. They aren’t real. What evidence do you have to suggest that they are?
O: We-ell, if they were real, I suppose they’d be on the news.
P: Exactly. Have you seen them on the news?
O: No-o.
P: There you go then.

Of course, there is so much wrong with using that argument to make a point that I can’t even begin. But at this point, I’m not trying to have a discussion about belief or the reliability of the media. I just want her to sleep without all of the lights in the house on.

Werewolves don't do doors.

Werewolves don’t do doors.

O: So, werewolves won’t come into the house?
P: Nope. It’s too much of a hassle. There’s always someone wandering about in the bush or down a deserted road. By the way, could you take the dogs out into the backyard so they can go to the toilet?

My wife, working through the issue, got Ophelia to acknowledge that what she’s afraid of, with werewolves, is that she might die. So the issue is death, not a monthly curse and a diet high in raw meat. And that sounds about right for her age.

Not Me: There you do then. There are lots of other ways to die than by werewolf!

(I had to make sure I wasn’t blamed for that comment)

I’m pretty sure I was that age when I realised I might die and started freaking out at night time, much to the consternation of my parents, I would assume. I don’t remember ever abstracting my fear of death through ghosts or werewolves or anything. I went straight for the hardcore stuff. I mentioned that in an earlier blog.

No. Actually, there was an episode of Greatest American Hero. Our hero was lured into a cave or a dark room and then attacked by vampires. He wash!t invulnerable to them and the attacks in the dark freaked me out completely.

My brother-in-law, when we talked about it yesterday, suggested that “an ogre is always an ogre” but that a werewolf can be anybody. Taking that further, the werewolf has always been a metaphor for the beast in all of us. The ability (and even desire) to lash out and be destructive without being responsible for the actions. The werewolf did it, it wasn’t me.

I was going to use O as an intro to something bigger on fear in general, but this looks like a post in itself. Excellent. Fodder for the next one.

Night night. Don’t let the werewolves bite!

Teachers get paid too much!

“You teachers get paid too much already. Why are you striking for more?”

Someone actually said this. And this is probably the main reason why we go on strike. It happens every time we go into pay negotiations. The government go in with an offer at the bottom end. The unions ask for something completely over the top. Nobody budges. We go on strike. The general public tell us we’re already earning more than we should, as glorified babysitters, and the proverbial hits the fan.

Nobody likes being told that the career that they have decided to make their own is worthless. Everybody knows that the job that they do is vital to the running of the community. I imagine that I would be quite dismissive if the Paparazzi Union was calling for more money, but apart from that, most sectors of the workforce do a fantastic job for what is probably not enough money.

Apart from CEOs of massive corporations. And the politicians who are telling us we’re worthless.

But I’m a teacher. And so I’m going to focus on my problems and my gripes now. Listen if you will. Share this if you agree. Leave nasty comments if you don’t. I have some big burly year nine students I can send around to your house to argue the point.

“Teachers get into work at 9 and leave at 3.15!”

Uh huh. Ri-ight. I left home this morning before seven, as I always do (except for the mornings I do the student radio show and leave home at 5.45). In at work by 8. I plan on leaving at 5 tonight, and calling it an early one. I’ll be in on Saturday from 9am until after 5.

“Ah, but this is a special event – you’re doing a school production (Super! It’ll be great. Tell your friends)!”

Yes, but as a teacher, the special events keep coming. I’m involved in:

–           debating (at least 5 nights out over weeks, plus planning)

–          The Writing club

–          Public speaking

–          The production

–          Parent teacher evenings

–          Taking results for Sports meets at night

–          Information nights (many MANY information nights)

–          School camps

SCHOOL CAMPS!

Which other profession has you working 24 hours a day for a week in a supervisory role? At a co-ed school, we’d sleep in shifts, to make sure someone was up all night for checking rooms and the like!

“You get twelve weeks of school holidays!”

Who gets twelve weeks of holidays? I know I don’t! I get twelve non-teaching weeks, which is not the same thing. I spend at least one week of each holiday marking work and planning tasks for the next term, making sure that my students have the best education they can get. And then, when we do get to go on holidays, flights and accommodation cost double because – what do you know – it’s school holiday time!

But back to the original question:

“You teachers get paid too much already. Why are you striking for more?”

We’re not. At this point in time, we’re striking for some basic respect.

“The Premier’s promise could not have been clearer – he would make teachers “not the worst paid, the best paid”.

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/today-our-teachers-deserve-our-support-20120905-25ddm.html#ixzz25YTdbatA

We are being offered a 2.5% increase in pay, if and only if, we also accept the following concessions:

  1. An extra hour a week teaching.
  2. All professional development to be undertaken during holidays.
  3. An extra week in school for school support officers.
  4. There is no longer an automatic increase in pay.
  5. Teachers will be paid bonuses instead of wage increases.

Now that last one sounds ok, if you’re a good teacher. You do a good job, you get a bonus. What could be simpler. However:

–          The principal has to pick the top ten per cent of teachers for a 10% bonus.

–          The next 40% get a 6% bonus

–          The bottom 20% don’t get a bonus.

–          At least 5% of teachers are not allowed to go up in pay each year at each school.

This is incredibly divisive. It is a hard choice for the principal, especially at a small school. And if every teacher at a school is doing a great job, what happens then?

I know I can live on what I earn now. It is the rare teacher who does the job for the money. But I hate the thought that we are dismissed simply because we are willing to do the job at a wage that proves to the general public that we are not professionals.

Finally, a couple of people who have said it better:

A petition to make Ted keep his promise to teachers

Teachers should be paid as babysitters

 

Instant offspring

From the last blog:

The other night, I had a dream that my brother was only a child say about ten years old. He had a red parka on with the hood up and I couldnt see his face. He was autistic. He was playing in the playground and fell over. I ran over to help him up and to hug him better and he pushed me away because he didnt like being touched. It broke my heart. I woke up sobbing and it took me a good five minutes before I could wake up enough to realise it was a dream, calm down and go back to sleep. Im not sure what Shereen thought. She was very sympathetic. When we were talking about it the next morning, I said that if we found out she was pregnant any time soon Id be highly nervous following that dream.

And so the dice is thrown again, and another reality is realised in blog form. This is how the blog could have gone.

stork

I was sure that there was more to having a child than this…

I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to tell you that Finding Damo is, in part, about my finding out that I have a son. It is the first chapter of the book. The mental challenge has been: how would I react to having a son? How would he react to me being his dad? And what are you meant to do with a teenager when one is dropped on your doorstep?

The dream made me think through this in a lot more detail. How much luckier am I, who has perfectly happy son, who is a stranger to me, than the woman with the autistic child, who is an alien to her? She loves her son with all of her heart, but can’t get inside his head or in many cases understand his motivation.

But how would Damo react to the first fight? What would the major power struggles be? How has he been disciplined by his mother before Damo was on the scene?

I have to believe that being a teacher would give me a bit of an advantage over someone who has never dealt with students before. The “dealing” with teenagers is what I get paid to do. But apparently there’s more to it than that. All of a sudden you are not just responsible for his grades and schoolyard behaviour, but you have to take responsibility for his every action. Some of it I could blame on his mother – her genes and her rearing. But for the most part, all of a sudden, when a teacher complains about his behaviour in class, it’s my fault, at least in part. And I’ve felt it – even with students in my homeroom. I know what they’re made up of. They are so much better than how people see them. And I want to protect them. God knows, if that’s how I respond to students who aren’t genetically related to me, it’s going to be worse for my own son.

On the bright side, now I’d have someone to join in on the destruction of the evil forces of the Horde. Someone to train in the ways of Red Dwarf fandom. I’d have him do drills of Coupling quotes… That brings up another issue.

A student comes up to me and said “hey. I finished GTA IV last night. That last scene was an absolute killer. Blood everywhere!” And I responded: “Are you kidding me? You’re in Year 7!” I’m incredibly strict with anyone I have responsibility for. And totally lax with anybody else. My aim as a child-rearer is to create someone as self-aware and together as I am. Hey, don’t laugh. I wasn’t allowed to watch M-rated movies until I was 15 and it didn’t hurt me. I did, of course, go to my friends’ places for access to anything more adult – Predator and The Toxic Avenger come to mind, not to mention the videos I won’t mention (incredibly educational). More on this in a sec.

Sidebar for teachers: have you ever (and you know you have, don’t deny it) sat in Parent-teacher interviews and seen an attractive parent and thought “hmmm”? And then seen whose parent it is and put all those thoughts out of your mind. Luckily, I found the mother with the most gorgeous child imaginable. And not during parent/teacher interviews…

I try not to talk about my current family too much on Finding Damo. This blog is about a man that I used to be, that never was, but could have been. The person I am now shouldn’t enter into it. That’s spoilers! But in this situation, my current family is relevant.

My two stipulations for dating, two-and-a-half years ago, were:

  1. Must love cats.
  2. No children.

Now, I am married to my lovely wife, who doesn’t like cats and has a seven-year-old daughter. Which means I now have a seven-year-old step-daughter. Voila! Instant parent. And it’s all been very easy. Too easy, he says, eyeing the forest uneasily. I love my wife. I love my step-daughter. They both love me. Shereen’s favourite story is of the time Young Miss O said to her “I love you so much! I love you as much as Damian!”

O’s other major comment on me is “He’s strict. He’s teaching me manners!”

I’m really not. I’m teaching her my manners. The rules of conduct that I was raised with, and that served me well in polite society. I will admit here (and try and dissuade Shereen from reading it) that it might not be the only way of interacting with society. But it worked for me and, like a basic knowledge of Christianity (and Buddhism, and Islam, and SCIENCE!), at least knowing the rules is an invaluable part of getting on with the people she’ll be dealing with. Most of them, anyway.

How is this relevant? Young Miss O has been like research. How would I respond to this situation? Well, that was enlightening? What would she do if I did this? Oh. Well, there you go! Scribble it all down in the little note book and get back to the book.

As for the book, I’m going to start posting a word count at the start of each blog, from next blog onwards. It’s time I start progressing again and get this one finished. I have a clear understanding of everything I want to happen, I have an incredibly detailed plan. I have a multitude of interesting characters, with most of the names changed to protect the guilty, and all I have to do is get it all down on paper. So here we go.

WoooOOOOOOoooooo!

This little titbit is another one of those “I keep hearing this in completely unrelated forums, so I feel like I should make mention of it” news items. In this case, it is the Loch Ness Monster. It started with Dave showing me photos from his trip to Scotland, and his trip to Loch Ness. Unfortunately, he didn’t get a shot of the famous Nessie, but it put the creature in my head. Then my step-daughter was telling me how the Loch Ness monster is actually a dinosaur. My gentle assertion that the correct phrasing was more along the lines of “could be a plesiosaur if it actually existed” were met with the scorn it deserved. Finally, from two different sources, the final being Kevin Smith’s Smodcast, I hear that in America, the education department is funding a text book for schools that states that the Loch Ness Monster is real, is probably a plesiosaur (dammit, foiled by a 7 year old again), and its existence proves that evolution is false.

Socrates would have a field day with the logic involved in that one!

From here, I have a real Sliding Doors blog moment. Or a Trousers of Time scenario. Or a Community dice roll.

Depending on where I go from here could mean the difference between being picked up by a major newspaper or wallowing forever in obscurity. Or ending up evil, or with only one arm. Here are the options:

  •  Trouser leg one: from here, I go on to talk about education and the teacher stereotypes that are prevalent in the media, compared to those that are prevalent in my ten years of teaching.
  • Trouser leg two: from here, I go on to talk about all of the weird and wonderful things in this world, which ones I believe in and which ones are absolute rubbish.
  • Trouser leg three (I’m Jake the Peg, diddle-iddle-iddle um) – there is NO leg three. Although I’m going to do a blog soon on being a sudden parent, in order to stay within the realms of the Finding Damo universe.

Shooting myself in the foot – career-wise – I’m going to go with spooks and the unexplained.

We love Ghost Kitty

Girls With Slingshots – another great web comic

The other night, I had a dream that my brother was only a child – say about ten years old. He had a red parka on with the hood up and I couldn’t see his face. He was autistic. He was playing in the playground and fell over. I ran over to help him up and to hug him better and he pushed me away because he didn’t like being touched. It broke my heart. I woke up sobbing and it took me a good five minutes before I could wake up enough to realise it was just a dream, calm down and go back to sleep. I’m not sure what Shereen thought. She was very sympathetic. When we were talking about it the next morning, I said that if we found out she was pregnant any time soon I’d be highly nervous following that dream.

We are still largely ignorant of the universe we live in. There are thousands of strange and unsettling occurrences that – well, that occur – every day. Some people say that they can explain it, WITH SCIENCE! but they often just ignore the element that isn’t explained.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if Shereen had been pregnant and a doctor had told me that the baby would be born autistic. Because I’d dreamt it. I might have been surprised if they doctor had told me that the baby was made out of strawberry icecream, and I’ve dreamt that as well. But I’m quite happy to believe that I had a prescient dream.

I mean seriously, who wouldn’t be? It means that I’m a super hero! I can see the future! The day that I stop dreaming is the day I can tell the Prime Minister that the world is about to end! If I ever dreamed of tattslotto numbers I’d be set for life!
Of course, that’s rubbish. I seem to get déjà vu more than the average person. I remember dreaming it and then it comes true. Or I just live an incredibly boring life where I do the same thing over and over again, and have shocking short term memory. But I’m not dreaming true dreams, and don’t place a lot of credence in the words of other people who say that they do.

But I believe it’s possible. I just haven’t done it yet.

True dreaming. Out of body experiences. Aliens, ghosts and poltergeists, clairvoyants, past lives, the yeti and the panther living in the Rushworth forest. I’m quite happy to believe in all of these things. They aren’t outside the realm of possibility. They’re as plausible as God, heaven, guardian angels and the like, and some people get quite upset when you laugh at those beliefs.

OK, ghosts. That I can give a little more personal experience about. I have two personal ghost stories and one that I’m going to butcher because I can’t remember it properly. I think it comes from one of Shay’s friends, so Shay, if you remember the conversation, feel free to weigh in via the comments.

Ghost story no. 1:

I was living at the Terraces in Bendigo. Every Tuesday, I’d walk over the hill in the dark to where Mark lived to watch Star Trek: TNG. And then I’d walk back much later at night over the same hill. At the top of the hill one night I noticed a pure white cat sitting in front of a car wheel. As Death says: CATS. I LIKE CATS. So I watched it. It watched me. As I walked past the car, it should have passed beyond my line of sight behind the wheel – it was just sitting there looking at me. To my shock, I realised that I could still see the cat, through the wheel of the car. Now it was slightly transparent, but it was still there.

I kept walking. I never saw it again. It could have been a trick of the eyes, but that’s my story.

Ghost story no. 2:

I’d just broken up with Cath, back when she was still Cath. We were civil, outwardly friendly, but there was still a bit of stress there in the relationship. She was flatting with Dave in Middleborough Road, a brilliant house that we almost destroyed in the time we lived there. Those two stayed in the same place for another… year? after I left. I was back for a visit and stayed out in the lounge. During the night I woke up and stared into the face and torso of an old man staring back at me out of the roof. I felt the thrill of fear but he wasn’t threatening. He seemed more evaluative. He was trying to get a measure of me. When I sat up, he faded.

I told Cath about him the next day and she said “Mmm. I know him. He looks after me at night. He’s very protective.” To top that off, I emailed a clairvoyant who dealt with ghosts and spirits. She emailed back saying “Oh yes, that’s the man who used to own the place. He’s looking after Cath and he has always been a little bit curious about you. He never quite trusted you in your relationship with her. He isn’t threatening, just curious. He watches you on the loo, cos he liked to read there too.”

Quite apart from being freaked out by the fact that a ghost is watching me on the loo, I hadn’t told her most of that information, so it was an impressive feat of either ghost whispering or making stuff up.

Ghost story no. 3:

This one is absolutely freaky. But it was ages ago, and I’m not sure if I can tell it properly. It happened to a friend of a friend of mine… But the friend experienced a number of the ghostly symptoms, so I give it a lot more credence. OK, let’s see what I can get out.

This girl’s boyfriend lived in a flat. He experienced a number of elements of a haunting – The lights would turn on and off by themselves. The taps would turn on when he left the room. There was a cold patch in the lounge, directly under the fan. He loved it. A haunted flat. And then, somehow, he found out what had happened. The guy who’d been there beforehand had committed suicide after his girlfriend had died (I’m making up the reason, but he committed suicide). After he found out, the spirit started to get angry. Objects would move around the room. My friend’s friend (the girlfriend) was hit with a glass one day when she visited. And then the guy had a dream where he died, hanging from the fan like the man who’d died in the flat. It wasn’t fun any more.

He started to look for a new place. He started to get angry very quickly. He withdrew, argued with his girlfriend. One morning, his girlfriend came over and he didn’t answer the door or his phone. You know where this is going. He was hanging from the fan, attached by his belt around his neck.

I can’t explain that one. I have another friend whose ghostly companion follows her from house to house. There are hundreds of stories out there. You can’t explain them all. Oh, you could say they’re lying, deluded, psychotic or mad. There are atmospheric anomalies and magnetic disturbances and the like.

But for now, I’ll keep an open mind.

Remember Alfie Dog and my stories. Apparently they’re selling well. Thank you to everybody who as supported me.

Parenting plates.

PsSo far, I’ve written an entry for every week that I’ve been doing this blog. I may not always write every week, but I’m keeping up with the quota. I’m glad I’m not one of my students. I’d be going home with a “work not done” sticker. Which I would promptly ignore.

This is a rant. A relatively light-hearted rant, but a rant nonetheless. A goodly amount of people will completely disagree with some of what I say, and as always, I have done no actual research before writing this post, so they may well be right. But it’s what I believe. Erm, what I believe today.

I’ll start by tellling parents they need to be more involved with their kids and end up saying that you shouldn’t be allowed to have kids without a license. Stick with it, it’ll be a laugh riot!

Here goes.

Parental involvement

All the literature says that the biggest contributor to a child’s success in education is not the school they go to, or the expensive iPad they use, nor the wonderful teachers (shooting myself in the foot here) or the canteen food. Student success is directly linked to parents’ involvement in their education.

Stuff the research. I spend all day with students and could point at each student and say “he rarely sees his parents after school” or “his parents read the English novel as well so that they can talk about it.” On parent/teacher interview nights, I complain that the only parents I see are those of the kids who are doing well. But that’s an indication. If the parents cared enough about their kids to show up to parent/teacher interview nights, I might be saying better things about them.

Of course, there are always the harried parents, shuffling from teacher to teacher, knowing exactly what they’re going to hear and dreading it. They love their child, and hate hearing teachers bad-mouth them over and over. Or offering helpful, sympathetic advice. Or saying “he seems like a nice kid, BUT”. I’m not saying there aren’t exceptions. It may be that this child with caring, loving parents, will bloom after school: in their career, or as an adult. Or they might just be broken, and all of the love poured into them dribbles out through a hole in their damaged little soul.

Parents that are involved with their kids breed kids that are going to be interesting and involved adults. Not necessarily nice adults. But at least they’ll be involved in society. What’s more, nice, involved teenagers come from children who were cared for and had parental involvement from birth. Leading me to my next commandment:

Read to your kids.

This one I’ve seen from both sides of the equation – teacher and student. From when I first met Shereen, she would read to her daughter every night before bed. Picture story books, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, The Magic Faraway Tree and any number of others. We also had books on tape, that Ophelia could listen to as she was winding down in the evenings. Now she’s in Grade Two. I bought her How to Train Your Dragon for Christmas when she’d just turned six. At seven, she’s just finished Pratchett’s Bromeliad trilogy, The Amazing Maurice and is almost done with Wee Free Men. She’s read all of Roald Dahl’s books.

Esio Trot

She read Esio Trot in just over an hour. I smiled to myself and thought: “Ah yes, read.” And started to ask her questions about the plot. She could answer comprehension questions on every chapter. I was amazed.

Now I’m not saying that she is this good because Shereen read to her. I am saying that she wants to read all of these books because Shereen read to her. I am saying that reading to her gave her the curiosity and the drive to want to learn to read so that she could explore these worlds for herself.

And I see the students in my English classes. I can again tell the students who have been read to, and those that can recite whole episodes of the TV show Ben 10 but can’t tell you who Peter Pan is (“that’s a Disney movie isn’t it?”). The Three Little Pigs are slowly disappearing from our culture and Red Riding Hood has been relegated to a truly awful movie directed by the woman who destroyed the first Twilight movie. And seriously, making that book worse was an achievement!

All of my nieces and nephews have a love of the story. And they’ll all do well at school, one way or the other.

Read to your kids.

And stop feeding them garbage.

ADHD is a Myth

Man, that was a terrible sequeway. But I’m ranting. Expect shifts in topic.

I’d change the heading for this bit, but I want to be a bit controversial. Obviously, ADHD is a documented medical condition. I’m not a doctor. And as per normal, I’m not doing any hard research on this to try and disprove it.

ADHD is real. Most kids don’t have it.

Ow. Ow. Stop throwing things at me. Really. Doctors over-prescribe ADHD because parents don’t listen to the original diagnoses: your kids are eating too much rubbish. Your kids aren’t getting enough sleep. Your kids are watching too much TV and playing too many computer games and aren’t getting enough exercise.

You don’t care? OK. Here are some pills.

Food

mmm, brekky.

Diet is incredibly important to the growing child. Different foods and drinks have astounding effects on children. And probably adults as well, but we are better at masking it. I despair when I have to deal with a child who is diagnosed as ADHD and they come to school with a can of Red Bull in one hand and a donut in the other. Might this combination not have some effect on his behaviour?

No doctor should be allowed to prescribe Ritalin or any other ADHD drug before the parent can prove that they have put their child on a month-long balanced diet, free of processed foods and stimulants. Hell, make them put up with what I’ve had to: no dairy, gluten, sugar, red meat. Fresh vegetables, lots of fish, plenty of water and see me in a month. If they’re buying crap at school, don’t give them money to spend at school. Be a dictator. We’re not allowed to run the country properly, at least run the child properly. They’ll thank you for it in the long run.

Actually, no. They probably won’t thank you at all, but they’ll be healthier and lose less teeth from Ritalin poisoning.

Sleep

Teenagers need more sleep than adults do. Their bodies are war zones of hormones and emotions and even if they’re only saying “mawaiunno” to you when you ask them a question, their brains are whirring with a thousand seemingly vital problems.

If I make a random statement about Game of Thrones, which starts at 9.30 and a Year 7 pipes up with “Yeah, that bit was great! She had nice boobs, didn’t she?” then that Year 7 student is either stealing TV from the Internet or not getting enough sleep.

And they have nice taste in boobs.

However, that aside, it isn’t a bad thing to say “no computers in the bedroom”, “no TV in the bedroom” and most importantly “no phones in the bedroom”. My iPhone is almost more powerful than my computer. It is by far more useful for instant communication and retrieval of information. And it connects me to my friends and work twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

I do have my phone in my bedroom. I don’t sleep as well as I should. But when I do want to sleep, on goes Airplane mode and away goes the power of communication. There is no way that a student is going to do this. So, to be prepared for the following day (or whatever they will believe), phones are all on charge in the kitchen before bed.

And lock ‘em in. Stuff the fire safety codes.

I didn’t say those last two sentences. That would be incredibly rash.

Stimulation

She doesn’t deserve to die!

This one should be a no-brainer. Grand Theft Auto IV is rated MA15+ for people aged 15 and above. If a Year 7 student is telling me how he cut the throat of a hooker to get his cash back after the trick, someone has dropped the ball on following the ratings system.

But that’s not the point. The point is that playing computer games hyper-stimulates your brain. It tricks the body into thinking that it is participating in a fight-or-flight scenario and fills you with lots of lovely chemicals designed to help you avoid the tiger or pillage the neighbouring village.

Without the accompanying exercise – frantically climbing a tree or setting fire to a grass hut – all these chemicals do is give you a pleasant buzz and a desire to KILL SOMETHING NOW AARGH ARGH.

Television and computer games are specifically designed to provoke emotional responses. That’s what makes them popular. Letting them loose on your children without checking them out for yourself is … how much trouble do I get in for calling that irresponsible? It’s a rant, I’ll risk it.

It’s irresponsible. And then you send them to us, the teachers, and wonder why they aren’t doing any work at school, hopped up on Red Bull, jonesing on 4 hours of post-gaming sleep and spoiling for a fight.

For the most part, we love your kids. Why else would we do this job? We want to see them achieve their best and become useful, productive and interesting members of society. And for the most part, we do our best. And in most (?) cases, we succeed.

I just don’t want that success to be in spite of what the parents are doing. I would love it to be because of what the parents are doing.

And I’m probably not talking to you. The parent who is doing everything, or most things right. And I get that raising a kid is hard. As I say, I’m on both sides now. And have been before. And sometimes, no matter what you do he still goes out and sets fire to the tennis court, or smashes down a toilet door.

And I get that sometimes it’s just too hard to cut up the vegies, when Maccas is around the corner. I’ve been there too, and have the extra 20 kilos to prove it.

And really, probably, the people I want to read this don’t read. Or won’t read. Or can’t read.

Oh damn. I really nearly finished this off then. I have one more thing to say. Something Pippa and I have been advocating for years. Something most teachers would probably get on board with:

When you hit puberty, you have to give up your reproductive organs. I’m sure there’s a safe way to do it. Keep ‘em in a jar beside your bed to remind you of what you’re aiming for.

When you decide that you want to become a parent, then you undertake the parenting test. There is a theory component and a practical. It would be competency based. You prove that you are fit to usher a new life into the world and shape it into a productive member of society.

Then we give you your P plates – your Parenting license. And you can breed like rabbits and the world will be a better place.

My only sneaking suspicion is that parenting licenses might bring on the rather speedy extinction of the human race.

OK. Done. I think I managed to insult or offend almost everybody on the face of the planet. Sorry.

PS. I was looking for a P plate for the start of this post and found the following picture, which now has a completely different connotation:

Look, she has her Ps!

Look, she has her Ps!

Are you curious about yourself?

Are you curious about yourself?

Why, yes! I am!

On Saturday I found a Scientology stand in the Mall off Puckle St. They had a guy doing stress tests, a number of L. Ron Hubbard books, an explanatory DVD, and a lovely pink pamphlet that asks: Are you curious about yourself?

I found that I was curious about myself, so I picked up the pamphlet, which contained a Free Personality Test. It consisted of a number of questions that you answer as + (definitely yes), m (maybe or uncertain) or – (definitely no or mostly no).

I was still curious about myself, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Here are some of the questions:

3. Do you browse through railway timetables, directories or dictionaries just for pleasure?

A simple enough beginning. No. No, I don’t browse through timetables for pleasure. Easy. I feel good.

7. Would you prefer to be in a position where you did not have the responsibilities of making decisions?

Slightly more ominous. If I say yes, does that make me fodder for a cult where I am under your control? And I will like it, because of my answer here?

14. Would the idea of inflicting pain on game, small animals or fish prevent you from hunting or fishing?

Now I’m worried. What is it that we Scientologists will have to do in the new world? And if I want to get in, do they want pacifists? Or people who are willing to torture small animals for sport?

19. Are you normally considerate in your demands on your employees, relatives or pupils?

Ok, now I’m freaking out. How do they know that I’m a teacher? And how did they know I’d be on Puckle St at that time? I think my tin foil hat might be playing up. Or that I spend too much time on Foursquare.

26. Is your life a constant struggle for survival?

No. Should it be? Is it going to be soon? Will I be safe if I join Tom Cruise?

31. Could you agree to “strict discipline”?

Oh right. You have got to be kidding me. This is a question? Are they grooming me for the church or for a good spanking? But in all honesty, yes. I suppose I must answer yes.

45. Do you often feel that people are looking at you or talking about you behind your back?

WHAT HAVE YOU HEARD? Was it that bastard Dave? What did he say? Why did I make him best man? GET OUT OF MY HEAD!

Or, to be more honest, no. They might be suspicious and ramp up the surveillance if I said yes.

55. When hearing a lecturer, do you sometimes experience the idea that the speaker is referring entirely to you?

Isn’t it always about me? You just have to know how to read the codes. It was quite difficult getting Packed to the Rafters to be about me. It involved some seriously meta interpretation of camera angles.

61. Do you ever get a “dreamlike” feeling toward life when it all seems unreal?

No. Yes. Is that a walrus?

72. Are you perturbed at the idea of loss of dignity?

This is really a question. I am beginning to think that this might not be from the Church of Scientology at all, but rather a clever plot by the government to get us to answer questions they’re scared to ask outright in Herald-Sun polls.

76. Do you sometimes give away articles which strictly speaking do not belong to you?

Let’s forget about the fact that the Word grammar checker is having a spack attack over that sentence. This question was written on a very VERY old version of this survey and was intended to try and capture Robin Hood.

This, though, reminds me of a story that doesn’t necessarily put me in a good light. It may make it into the novel. I may have to change it a LOT.

I was living with a girl I’d met on RSVP. I keep wanting to call her Emma, but I’m pretty sure that’s not her name. I wasn’t dating her. We went out on a date, realised we had absolutely no chemistry, but she called me in a couple of days asking if I had a spare room. She moved in. But on the night she was going to move in, she called me and asked if I could be involved in a rescue mission for the new girl that had come down from Queensland.

I think I need some back story on the need for a rescue mission.

“Emma” (I don’t usually change names to save the innocent etc. but I really can’t remember her name) was moving in with me because the guy she was living was an absolute lunatic – scratch that, it’s judgemental. He tutored girls and told them that they had to do what he told them. He used spanking as a method of instruction. He made his tenants sign a document saying that he could spank them if they didn’t follow house rules.

And we’re back on track.

When this new girl moved in, on the first night, the man crawled into bed with her in the middle of the night. Hence the need for a rescue. Fair enough? I thought so.

So, we took my car and Emma’s and drove to his place on a night when we were pretty sure he wasn’t going to be there. We quickly packed everything we could into the car. Emma went through a room filled with books.

“Look at these books. There are so many first editions here! Want anything?” she asked, grabbing a signed Somebody Famous.

“God no. I’ve never even met this guy – is that the Egyptian book of the Dead?”

So, maybe I can’t give you a solid No on that one. But I didn’t give it away!

On with the questions.

88. If we were invading another country, would you feel sympathetic towards conscientious objectors in this country?

“…and if you say yes to this one, you will mysteriously disappear on the eve of our invasion, along with your objecting friends.”

More evidence that this is a government conspiracy.

92. Are you a slow eater?

This survey needs a fourth box: WHY?

98. Would you use corporal punishment on a child aged ten if it refused to obey you?

I laughed at this one. There are a number of questions that ask whether you hate kids, or are uncomfortable around kids. And now: will you give a child a good belting for the good of the group?

101. Does the youth of today have more opportunity than that of a generation ago?

Yes. Why did I put this question in? Oh yes, because this really deserves its own blog. Remind me.

110. Is your facial expression varied rather than set?

They really ask this. Are you already one of the pod people? Or should we send your free Quick-grow Audrey III by express post?

113. Would it take a definite effort on your part to consider the subject of suicide?

Well, it did. And then I read this question. Now I’m obsessing.

Pinocchio130. Are you aware of any habitual physical mannerisms such as pulling your hair, nose, ears or such like?

I’m always pulling my nose. Pulling my nose? Who pulls their nose? Are they asking me this so that the clones can imitate me without being caught? Who pulls their nose? I’m trying it now. It doesn’t seem like a nervous habit. It feels like a misguided attempt to pick it.

136. Do children irritate you?

They do. But I have a cream that clears it right up.

138. Do you usually carry out assignments promptly and systematically?

I mean, really. Yes sir! Mr Cruise, sir!

163. Would you take the necessary actions to kill an animal in order to put it out of pain?

This really should follow directly after 138.

170. Are you opposed to the “probations system” for criminals?

And this should follow directly after 163. “animal” yes indeedy.

181. Do you often ponder over your own inferiority?

I often ponder over other people’s inferiority. Does that count?

194. If you lose an article, do you get the idea that “someone must have stolen or mislaid it”?

Yeah. Blame the other guy.

195. If you thought that someone was suspicious of you and your actions, would you tackle them on the subject rather than leaving them to work it out?

If I thought that someone was suspicious of me and my actions, I think I’d have to make sure that they never told anybody else about it. . .

Battlefield Earth

yuk

OK… So I am no longer that curious about myself, but I’m hella curious about Scientology! How is it that a science fiction writer writes a book, calls it real and suddenly some idiot makes Battlefield Earth into a movie??? And don’t tell me you liked it. I’ve said that myself. You just like the memory of it, now that it’s no longer tearing away at the walls of your intellect.

Why is it that I’m allowed to write Scientologist on my census form, but not Jedi? Or wizard? Maybe I can write wizard. I haven’t checked. But I know they don’t count Jedi. At least I can write Pastafarian, and they told everyone they just made it up.

Damn. The paranoia is kicking in. I should change some of these answers. You won’t take me alive! I sleep with a can of plant killer under my bed! Ha. Just read question 199: Do you tend to hide your feelings?

I feel kind of bad about picking on Scientology. I read the website, which is probably all they wanted me to do in the first place. It sounds quite mellow. I’m pretty sure it isn’t, but it sounds quite mellow.

Made up by a science fiction author. But mellow.

Next week: I’ll be married. I could write about that. Or I could write about bees. Let’s see, shall we?

Lies to Children

Andy Riley's Great Lies to tell Small Kids

This went straight onto the toilet wall...

I was listening to someone talking to my (almost) step-daughter the other day, wondering at all of her missing teeth and asking about the Tooth Fairy. The TOOTH FAIRY! The supernatural creature who comes into your room at night, takes your teeth and leaves money in return. Now I have no problem with the concept of fairies (see the Money Fairy blog entry) but I can’t help but be disturbed by the concept of a creature that wants my child’s teeth. What does she/they do with them? Anybody who has read (or only seen – heathens) Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather has a pretty good idea. But maybe there’s a thriving economy in children’s teeth in fairy land. We all know what rhino horns are used for. We should maybe be glad that the fairies aren’t just coming and taking teeth by force! Or maybe we should be preparing against the inevitable Tooth Recession of 2012. Our kids do eat more sugar than is good for them, after all.

20120308-132757.jpg

Ho ho Damo.

But that’s not my point (it’s just what’s going to keep me up at night for the next couple of weeks). We create these incredibly complex belief systems for children. Of course, children are wonderfully gullible. They’ll believe anything, and it is an endless source of amusement to me.

NOT A SMURF!

Definitely not a Smurf.

They won’t, however, believe that vegetables taste good. But they believe in Santa. They believe in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Smurfs and Pokémon. And we encourage this belief.

I’ve gone from child to parent with Christmas these past couple of years co-habiting with my soon-to-be step-daughter. It changes everything! I ate three mince pies before I was satisfied with the “santa bite mark” I left on the pie left behind for him. Oh, the sacrifice! And my reindeer dental print in the carrot had to be seen to be believed. For Easter one year I created massive bunny footprints on the carpet.

A point. I have one. Ah yes, my point being that to maintain these beliefs for our credulous offspring (or step-offspring, or random children on the street) we lie to them. Unashamedly and with delighted malice (or is that just me?).

“You must go to bed early tonight. And straight to sleep. If you wake up, Father Christmas might not deliver the presents!” Translation: “Will you PLEASE go to sleep so we can get the pressies under the tree before midnight? We know you’re going to be up at 5am.”

“It’s time to write a Christmas letter to Santa. Write down everything you want. He’ll choose one or two things that he knows you want most!” Translation: “I have no idea what a 7 year old wants for Christmas. And I need a loophole in case the child asks for something that’s sold out or costing a bajillion dollars.”

Paul Kidby's version of Death as Hogfather with Albert

HO HO HO?

Why do we do it? Pratchett’s answer, again from Hogfather, is this:
“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.”

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

“So we can believe the big ones?”

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

“They’re not the same at all!”

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME… SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”

MY POINT EXACTLY.”
― Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

Calvin's dad explains science

Calvin’s dad would say, and I agree wholeheartedly, that it is just more fun to tell an imaginative lie than explain the boring truth. It’s a defence mechanism against the dreaded, all-powerful question “why?” Anybody who has ever dealt with a young child will know the question “why?” and the mind-melting implications of infinity it brings with it.

“It’s time to go, Chad,” I say.
“Why?”
“Because we have to get home.”
“Why?”
“Because your mother’s waiting for her dinner.”
“Why?”
“Because she’s hungry after a long day at work.”
“Why?”
“Because the human body burns food the same way cars burn petrol.”
“Why?”
“Because, um, look. Have you had the God talk yet?”

A far easier response goes as such:

20120308-133026.jpg

What if I wasn't lying?

“It’s time to go, Chad,” I say.
“Why?”
“Because a velociraptor has escaped from the dinosaur park and if we don’t get out of here soon, he’ll burst in through the door and eat you, one leg at a time!”
“Oh. OK.”

See? Much more fun. Only slightly more therapy needed as an adult.

My grandfather used to say the best way to find out whether a cat was a boy or a girl was to pick it up by the tail and swing it. If the eyes popped out, then it was a boy. He then offered to demonstrate on our cat Pepsi, who he well knew was a boy cat. It is one of the ways Perry men interact with children. Tease them until they completely lose it.

Lies-to-children is a term I first read in Terry Pratchett’s Science of Discworld (written with Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. It describes the simplification of reality to help children understand the reality beneath. Things like “The Domino Effect started the Vietnam War” and “the sky is blue because of light refraction” are lies-to-children. Lies to Children are more along the lines of “the dog has gone to live on a farm where it will be happier.” or “if you have any more ice-cream it will leak out of your eyeballs and freeze your brain.”

I know which I prefer.

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