Academic Circles

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Academic Circles

A response to my friend who responded to an academic committee’s negative response with a response of his own only to receive from the committee another negative response to which he wants my advice on responding aka “the reason of the unreason with which my reason is afflicted so weakens my reason that with reason I murmur at your unreason.”

  1. Academic committees are keepers of the gates of universal knowledge. Knowledge is defined as (a) that which the committee will allow to pass those gates and (b) that which passes from the prof’s notes to the student’s notes without going through anyone’s head.
  2. If nature abhors a vacuum, academia abhors creativity.
  3. Creativity in academia is that which creatively follows the rules of academia while adhering to them with the utmost strictness.
  4. Academia teaches young people to think outside the box by creating creatively bigger boxes inside which they can think.
  5. Academia has solved the ancient problem of squaring the circle by thinking in circles and creating bigger, better boxes.
  6. Academia places its adherents, known as professors, in square boxes that are often called offices. In a zoo, they would be called cages and we know what they are called in prisons.
  7. Academia promotes its most successful adherents moving them into bigger boxes. Bottom level adherents are herded together in one small box, usually windowless. Top adherents are sometimes allowed an individual box sometimes with a window out of which they can see the world passing them by, if they have time to look out.
  8. Academia resolves everything by means of committees.
  9. Academia believes strongly in Freedom of Speech, with responsibility. That’s why Academia draws up committees to which their adherents are deemed to be responsible.
  10. Academia believes strongly in Academic Freedom, with accountability. That’s why Academia draws up committees to which its adherents are accountable.
  11. Academia believes in Creativity. Creativity is defined as (a) the ability to obey the rulings of committees while sticking to the letter of the law promulgated by those committees and (b) as the ability to creatively build, according to committee design and regulations, bigger and better boxes.
  12.  Academia does not understand, permit, or encourage mirth, and humor is banned.

Welcome to the Ivory Office Block (once upon a time called the Ivory Tower). Above are the twelve most important Laws of Academia. Disobey them at your peril. For more guidance on The Perils of Academia follow this link Thinking Outside the Box.

Snowman

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“Settle down, children, and be quiet. I am going to read you a story about the snowman who didn’t believe in global warming. You, at the back, Elizabeth … yes, you. Sit down and shut up and stop biting your fingernails. And no, it’s not recycling when you chew them afterwards. Stephen, stop blowing raspberries. Now, children, shall we begin?”

“Yes, miss.”

“Once upon a time, a long time ago, after a big snow storm in November, Little Justin built a snowman in his garden. It was a lovely snowman. You can see how lovely it was if you look at the picture at the top of this page. There. Isn’t he lovely?”

“Yes, miss,”

“Justin was a very clever boy and he could do magic tricks. So, he made his snowman mobile and the snowman walked all over the garden. He was a very happy snowman and he threw snowballs at Justin who caught them and threw them back. Stephen, will you stop blowing raspberries.”

“Sorry, miss.”

“Justin’s snowman could speak and understand long words and sentences. He was very clever, but not as clever as Justin. David, will you stop picking your nose and don’t put that finger anywhere near your mouth.  And Stephen, one more raspberry and I’ll make you stand in the corner. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, miss.”

“One day, Justin told the snowman all about global warming and how the spring would come and the sun would shine and all the snow would melt. ‘Phooey,’ said the snowman. ‘I don’t believe you. And anyway, I don’t care.’ ‘You just wait until April or May,’ said Justin. ‘Then you’ll believe in global warming.’ ‘Right,’ said the snowman. ‘I won’t believe in global warming until April or May. Then I’ll believe in global warming. Maybe. We’ll see.’ Justin was very upset that the snowman didn’t believe him. Stephen: that’s enough. No more raspberries, I said. Now go stand in the corner. With your face to the wall. Any more noise from you and I’ll put you in detention. Do you understand?”

“Yes, miss.”

“Well Christmas came and the snowman danced on the snowbanks and thumbed his nose at Justin. ‘Global warming sucks,’ he sniggered. Justin shivered through the cold winds of January and February. Then March came in like a lion and the cross-country skiing was wonderful and Crabbe Mountain was full of young people all having fun. Meanwhile the snowman danced away and sang under the moonlight. Some nights Justin would wake up to find the snowman’s face, like a great full moon, leering in at his window. And … what was that noise? Stephen, was that you?”

“Please, miss. I couldn’t help it. It wasn’t a raspberry, miss.”

“I know it wasn’t a raspberry. And I know what it was. You’re coming with me to see the principal. Class, you can take out your pencils and notebooks and write your own ending to the snowman story. Stephen, what you did was disgusting. You’re coming with me to the principal’s office. Right now.”

“But, miss,” Elizabeth an David raised their her hand.s and spoke in chorus” “What happened to the snowman?”

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Buzz Words

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Beware of Buzz words. Beware too of the perils of what Bobby McDonagh, in the article linked below, calls the thought incinerator. A thought incinerator is a word or phrase that can be repeated again and again to destroy thought and argument. McDonagh’s article illustrates the use of thought incinerators in politics. Being more apolitical than political, I am interested not in politics, but in the linguistic argument that involves the erosion of language and meaning and the destruction, with chanted, thoughtless choruses, of logical discourse and analysis.

Lock her up, the people have spoken, build that wall, drain the swampfake news, all fall into the category of thought incinerators, precisely because they can be repeated endlessly with no need to present logical arguments to support their continued usage. While these mindless chants can be attributed to one side of the political divide in the USA, more similar phrases can be found in the article below touching on the current political situation in the [Dis-] United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. some examples follow: the elite, project fear, Brussels bureaucrats, Brussels bullying, Brussels blackmail, the EU wants to punish Britain, whatever did Europe do for us, not to mention the notorious red bus and its far-reaching message “350 million quid a week for the NHS. I encourage you to read the and hopefully to understand what such mindless repetitions do to incinerate thought within our so-called democratic society.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/nov/20/brexiteers-trump-language-fake-news

The problem goes beyond politics and enters the realm of language erosion. In our province, the local newspapers write at a grade nine language level and like it or not, we deal on a daily basis with functional illiteracy. Spelling, if and when people actually write, has become phonetic because less and less reading takes place, and the world is summed up in catchy sound bytes from radio and television and the shorter the better. Slowly, we are reduced to devouring slogans like those repeated above.

I look at the trees in the garden: birch, pine, spruce, fir, tamarack, hackmatac (from the Western Abenaki?), balsam poplar, larch, willow, mountain ash, black willow … they can all be reduced to trees. In my garden, at the feeder, I have birds, sparrows (so many varieties), nuthatches (white and red-breasted), woodpeckers (at east three kinds), finches (many species), grosbeaks, siskins, song-birds, warblers, passerines … but as the clear-cut loggers who cleaned the hillside behind my house pronounced “trees are just trees, we’re here to clear them out,” we might just as well say “birds, just birds, we’re here to fatten them and feed them to the cats”.

The erosion of language, the erosion of thought, the dumbing-down of society, the reduction of the world to advert, slogan, and chant, the loss of thoughtful democracy … this is what I fear most. And, as I age, I fear the loss of memory as song sparrow, white-throat, chipping, Lincoln, are slowly fading into generic ‘sparrows’. Soon, alas, they will probably all flap their wings and fly away, fading into the simplistic grey mist of a disappearing species … ‘birds’. I fear that day and I fear what memory loss and thought incineration and language erosion are doing to my precious world.

More thoughts on language erosion can be found here

https://rogermoorepoet.com/2018/11/17/thinking-outside-the-box/

Thinking Outside the Box

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Clichés, I love them.  Take one of our current Canadian educational clichés, for example: “We teach you to think outside the box.” I have met many teachers at various levels of education who tell this to me, and to their students.  Yet most of these teachers cannot themselves ‘think outside the box’. What they usually do, when teaching, is shut off the student’s original box by teach them to build a slightly larger one around it. They must now learn to think inside this new box in the way the teacher wants. Hence the cartoon above: We build bigger boxes and Building bigger boxes.

The central motif is, of course, the original ‘tiny’ box outside which the student must be ‘taught‘ to think. For ‘taught‘ substitute one of the following: persuaded, bullied, pressured, beaten, shamed, starved, embarrassed, … depending on the time and place, all of these words are sadly suitable and yes, in my learning career, I suffered at one time or another at the hands of teachers who used each of these methods, and others equally (or more) brutal, sometimes more than one at once.

What was inside that original box? Of course the contents vary with each individual, but creativity is in there, challenging authority is in there, self-belief is in there, a desire to ask endless questions, a childish wisdom to see the world as it is, not as the grown-ups say it is. I ask you, have they really ever grown up, have they ever escaped from their own hand-built boxes? Education: locking down the walls of that original box. Do away with creativity [not that way, this way!], free thinking [you mustn’t say things like that!], challenging  authority [cheeky, disobedient child!], asking questions [little children should be seen and not heard …. silence! … silence in class!] and finally, do away with self-belief and make the child dependent on the teacher [please, Sister Mary … please, Mother Theresa … please Father Maguire …] …

As the walls of the bigger boxes grow thicker and stronger, so it becomes more difficult to once again think as a child. Questions are answered by authority figures or on the internet with answers to FAQs and pre-packaged concepts. How do we regain our creativity? I assure you, we have never lost it. Where is it? Where is it hidden? In this world of folly and rush, of hustle, muscle, and busy bustle, so few of us have the time or can afford to take the time to sit and think, to undo those false walls that surround us, to find again the child-loving pleasure of thinking for ourselves, of discovering for ourselves, of being creative in the ways that we were so very, very long ago. Remember what Picasso said of his later paintings: ‘it took me a long time to relearn how to see the world as a child.’

Creativity: it is always with us. We must rediscover it. We must unwrap it from the tarpaulins that the system placed around it. We must dig it out from under the walls, the ruinous walls, with which the system surrounded us. It is still there, waiting for us to rediscover it. Believe. Roll up your sleeves. Dig deep inside yourself. And think for yourself. Then, when you have found that original box, open it, find exactly what is in it (the universal gifts to the new born), and become creative yet again. Only then will you have taught yourself (yourself, because others won’t teach you) to truly think outside the box, the multiple boxes, that the system and society designed to trap your creative spirit. Open the cage door: , release your creative spirit and let it soar to the skies.

Early Bird

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This is the first painting I ever did on canvas. Kingsbrae held their painting session for children in June 2017, and I joined in with the five and six year olds. It was such wonderful fun. They slapped the paint onto the canvas with unbounded joy. It was hard not to be joyful with them. Many of them expressed curiosity about my painting: “What is it?” then later “What are they saying to each other?” The conversation between bird and worm (or whatever it is) was of incredible importance to them. I thought of it as my “Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet” moment. Now that’s confidence for you.

My strange accent, slowly developing as mid-Atlantic Welsh, with a touch of West Country English and a dab of Upper Canadian and a touch of New Brunswick also fascinated them. “Where are you from?” “Fredericton.” “No. Where are you really from?” “Island View, New Brunswick.” “No. Where were you from before that?” The questions continued until they had ascertained that indeed, I was not a Canadian, a real Canadian, even though I was in Toronto in 1967 to see the Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup. 1967: that’s 51 years ago, and I still support the Maple Leafs and I still have my strange overseas accent. “You’re weird,” they told me. “I’ve been in Canada a lot longer than you,” I told them. “Where did you grow up?” They asked. I silenced them with my answer: “I don’t think I have yet.”

Happy paint-splashers, we dabbed on and on in alternating mirth and silence. Some left the table and walked away. Geoff collected our paintings and left them to dry. Later that day, we hung this painting on the wall in the KIRA dining room. It sat there for several days and nobody noticed it. Alas, a hawk-eyed young lady finally spotted it the first night she came over for dinner and “What is that?” she asked, pointing at my painting. Bold and italics combined cannot reproduce the scorn and disdain rolled up in the single word: that. I remember the butler in a country house in Somerset removing with a pair of tongs the Communist newspaper The Daily Worker from the weekend newspapers left on the doorstep. He, too, was very disdainful.

I also remember the tone of an Old Etonian, well he said he was an Old Etonian and had a rasping, high-pitched nasality that made him sound the part. This jolly goof fellow summed me up at a dinner party one night in Toronto when I first came to Canada: “Oh, you’re Welsh.” The grate of his voice was the scrape of a stick removing a dog turd from a shoe. “No,” I said. “Irish, actually.” I used my broadest Welsh accent. “My family is Irish Catholic not Capel Cymraig / Welsh Chapel. Moore is an Irish name. Llewellyn ad Jones are Welsh names. I am not called Llewellyn or Jones.”

And this reminds me of my father, standing in the elevator in a posh hotel in Bordeaux, when three Irishmen walked in. They scanned him for a moment, and then one said, in the broadest of Southern Irish brogues: “T’is the map of Ireland written all over your face.” “Yes,” says my father in his thick, Welsh accent, “I am Irish. But I was born in England.” And that brings me back to my painting. Is it the early bird that catches the worm or the late worm that gets caught by the bird? And which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Ah, the beauty of children. They accept, often without judgement and often without speculation and I love their readiness to befriend the growing child within the old man as he ages. They may not hold doctorates in philosophy, but by golly they are true philosophers in their finest moments. And then of course, they go to school to learn how to behave … and may the good Lord have mercy on them.

Surrealism

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Surrealism
KIRA Retreat Day 4

Only one of the Kingsbrae alpacas could understand and illustrate what we did today. This one showed us so many things. Luckily we smuggled him into the writing classes and the art classes and nobody was any the wiser. In fact he taught one class himself, and one participant served as translator, moving from Spanish to English with almost as much ease as he taught.

He began this morning with a reading that linked Symbolism to Surrealism to Magical Realism. It was a fascinating piece that nobody in the room, myself included, had ever heard before. So, we began with a concrete, literary example, then moved to a theoretical session. The alpaca began by explaining the difference between a lama, an alpaca, and a vicuña. This was extremely interesting, and something we hadn’t considered before. Luckily, these three creatures, two of them mythical (but which two?), do not have-isms attached to them and were therefore much easier to understand.

The lama began the theoretical session by offering some meditation exercises, very peace-giving.  Then he moved into the nitty-gritty of automatic writing. He followed this with some examples of how, rather than copying the automatic writing, we could select prime elements from it. This selection process allows the writer to mine the subconscious while avoiding some of the repetitious nature of the automated pen on the suppliant page.

In all cases, all participants read from their work and the sharing of subconscious inanities was a great way to break any ice that came with the overnight change in the weather.

After lunch, we had a second writing exercise that stretched into two exercises. These were courtesy of a second lama and entailed describing unknown and known objects. One of the participants was very uncooperative and instead of writing words drew pictures in his notebook. This drew comments of ‘Naughty, naughty,” from the lama and that student was given a time out on the golf cart driven round the lawn by the KIRA equivalent of Mad Max.

In our final session, the art lama appeared. He had carefully plucked all the flowers in Kingsbrae and then eaten them. However, in an incredible act of bravery, the ladies present stole some from his hoard and placed them in water cups. The participants then scattered random dots of paint upon a canvas and agreed that, seen from a distance and in the dark, they looked like flowers on a tarmac road under storm clouds on a thundery night when nothing could be seen.

By now, the lama who had been tied to the fishing weir, oh, I forgot to tell you about that, sorry, had been rescued when the Old Sow let the water out of the Passamaquoddy bath tub (aka low tide). Luckily no harm was done and a delicious, fossilized piece of Turkish Delight was shared by the participants all of whom agreed that nothing like this had ever happened to them before, and I believe them.

Mad Max took everyone for a ride on the Golf Cart and we all chased deer round the Kingsbrae Gardens while singing “I’ve been working on the chain gang” and “For it’s a jolly good yellow.”

Green

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Green
KIRA Day 3

Where has the time gone? Don’t answer that question. The Retreat has settled into a structure of its own and outside time no longer has any meaning. The internal time of the retreat runs smoothly as clockwork, a wooden, self-oiling clockwork, of the most delicate kind.

08:00 – 09:00 Breakfast. We gather in the kitchen and the conversations begin over breakfast. We talk about the previous night’s readings, the plans we have for the day, or whether we want to workshop of just retire to our studios and write.

09:00 – 10:30 Workshop time. Each morning we have a topic and we illustrate it and discuss it fully. Each workshop also comes with ideas and prompts for writing. At the end of  each workshop, we plan the rest of the day. We hold regular Blue Pencil Cafés in which facilitators and participants discuss submitted work. We suggested about 20 minutes for the BPCs, but my first one last over an hour and we managed to get through half a poem. Jeremy’s first one lasted an hour and a half (prose) and he covered more ground than me. My second one was marvelous: we spent an hour or more on one paragraph, three lines.

What happens in the BPCs is unbelievable. It’s not just the revision of the poem or the piece of prose, but a wide-ranging discussion on theories, ideas, prompts, the nature of writing, directions a piece may take, the nature of creativity, where inspiration comes from, how it may be channeled, how writing occurs, where it can lead … incredibly exhausting at times, yet energy fills us and we are always ready to write, re-write, revise, and talk again.

14:00 – 16:00 Art School. On Tuesday, Geoff Slater sat us down with paper and paint and we experimented with color, the creation of color, the basics of primary colors, how to make secondary colors, how to create the color wheel. Geoff enthralled us: never will the color wheel ever look the same again. Never will I use a color again without thinking in depth about it’s composition and meaning. Green no longer means Green: it means so much more. I read Lorca’s Romance Sonámbulo, this morning, and it took on all sorts of different and very new meanings. Verde, que te quiero verde. Green, for I love you green … green wind … green branches … green flesh … green hair … 

I sat opposite Geoff this morning. Behind him, green bushes, green trees, green leaves, green grass, green foliage … Yesterday, I paid little attention to all that green-ness. Today it fascinated me and I was able to distinguish between the amount of yellow, the amount of blue, the lightening factor, the darkening factor, the tinges of red and brown and oh to be able to capture it all, all that green-ness, all that certainty, blurred into a sea of green.

16:00 -17:30 BPC time. We pair up facilitator / participant and share our work. Each day a different piece, a different conversation, an advancement of yesterday’s talks, another step or two forward. Sometimes we take tiny steps. Other times we make gigantic leaps. Time and space lose meaning. We have been gifted with something different and we are truly blessed.

18:00 – 19:30 Dinner. This is a sumptuous meal provided by the Garden Café, our very own award-winning Kingsbrae Garden Café. The group is open. The man who provides us with desserts, he makes them in our kitchen, specially for us, joins us as we sit at the table and we add culinary art to the poetry, prose, and painting that we are always discussing.

19:30 – 21:30 Readings. We read what we have written during the day and facilitators and participants share together. I try to choose work of mine that reflects the day’s themes. Linking theory (morning) to practice (evenings) is also a fascinating procedure. We finish the evening by planning the next day’s work. The key to the retreat is flexibility. We respond to each others’ needs. Colors are important? We concentrate on colors and read about them in our evening sessions. Today we talked symbols. Tonight I will offer a reading in which symbols play an enormous role.

Alas: my free time is over. Now I must descend and return to the joys of BPCs, discussion, dinner, and the evening’s read. Farewell for now: I will be back as soon as I can.