Obsolescence

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Obsolescence

The programs that no longer work.
The files you can no longer access.
Photos that vanish
leaving a blank space in the album.

Memory that goes on the blink.
Forgotten phone numbers,
the birthdays of family members,
that carton of eggs left in the store,
your cousin’s face, her name,
the parking spot where you left your car.

“What day is it today,” you ask,
for the second or third time.
“What time is it?”
“Who’s that coming for tea?
Are you sure I know them, dear?”
“Where did you say we were going?”

“Just round the corner, to visit a friend.”
Or should that be … round the bend?

Comment: Apparently I placed this poem on Facebook a year ago, but I have found no trace of it here, on the blog. This time last year, I lost both of my computers to what was diagnosed as obsolescence. Luckily I had most things backed up. The group who swore they could transfer 99% of my hard-drive material to the new machine, migrated just 1% (my desk top) and the other 99% went on walkabout. I was able to piece much of it back together, but obsolescent programs and out of date apps no longer functioned. So much material was deemed irretrievable. This experience made me realize, yet again, how fragile is our hold on our possessions, our memories, our sanity, and yes, our very lives. For me, it is a very sobering thought that, with a flick of a switch, I, like my computer, could be turned off, and 99.9% of the wonders of my beautiful existence would totally disappear from the memory-banks of this earth. Some say, and I believe them, that, like my computer, I will be re-cycled, recirculated. I will become a part of the wider oceanic world-consciousness. Alas, we can have faith in whatever we wish to believe, but sometimes, we really don’t know.

Knowledge

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Knowledge
Thursday Thoughts
9 August 2018

In response to yesterday’s post, The Curse of Cursive, I received this comment.

“I have always blamed my own illegible (except – well sometimes – to me) scribble on the hours sitting in college lectures attempting to make a record of what was being said. Consequently, I could only ever record about every 3rd sentence. Something which I claim accounts for all those gaps in my learning.”

This comment merits a Thursday Thought.

First thought: the whole process of note-taking. One of my professors in Bristol University, where I did my undergraduate degree, was in the habit of sipping Harvey’s Bristol Cream while munching his sandwiches, consequently his post-lunch thoughts were always most enlightening. Here is his post-lunch declaration on knowledge: “Knowledge is that which passes from my notes to your notes without passing through anyone’s head.” This statement was followed by a closing of the drowsy eyes and an enormous hiccup.

For me, the art of note-taking goes way beyond the copying down of another’s ideas. As  note-takers, we must sift the incoming information, break it into salient and important features, and get the main drift of the argument down on the page. And not just the argument, but our own questions and challenges as well. Much of what I was taught at the various schools I attended was, frankly, nonsense. However, I learned a great deal about teaching from those who taught me that nonsense. A dictated note from an early geography class, preserved for ever in the young student’s mind: “The earth is geoidal, ie, earth-shaped.” Good one, teacher. “Please sir, if the earth is earth-shaped, what shape is the moon?” “Don’t be cheeky, boy, I’ll see you afterwards.”

When I received my first important teaching award I realized that it came to me on account of what I had avoided (all those inadequate lectures and lessons) and that what I was doing was engaging students and challenging them to challenge me by developing their own questions and ideas, by doing their own background checks, and by establishing their own thought processes, rather than trying to imitate somebody else’s dictated and regurgitated notes with their partial pictures of (in)complete and often antiquated knowledge, and all this often dredged up and recycled in the form of ancient, dusty scrawlings from pre-historic graduate courses.

I realize that this is unfair to several lecturers I encountered over the years who were able to deliver riveting and thought-provoking adresses. However, these were few, very scarce, and much appreciated. Their names and ideas are engraved on my mind. They and their methods are not forgotten, even now, but, as I say, there weren’t many of them.

As for knowledge, it is so personal and becomes an integral part of who we are and what we do. I know people who received everything they knew about life with their first degrees. They thought they possessed everything, the complete tree of knowledge in one rolled up certificate. Alas, many of them spent their lives never progressing, standing still and contemplating their known world, neither learning nor needing to learn anything else.

Our knowledge is incomplete. If we are at all ‘thinking people’, we know this. We also know we can never get enough knowledge. A PhD is great: knowledge Piled higher and Deeper. But often it is Reinforced Ignorance, the false knowledge that this knowledge is the only knowledge, well, the only knowledge that matters to the individual who, at a substantial living wage, ekes it out with great care and tests other people on their ability to reproduce it in its exactitude. “And I never-ever thought for myself at all” (I am the Monarch of the Sea, the Ruler of the Queen’s Navy, HMS Pinafore).

And here we enter the world of clichés: life-long learning, an everlasting thirst for enlightenment, for more light, more knowledge. The only real knowledge that we simply must transfer to our students, our followers, is how they can gain knowledge and even more knowledge for themselves. A love of and a desire for life-long-learning is the teacher’s greatest gift. If the teacher can pass that on, then the world of ideas will not fail, knowledge will not become carved in stone, set in concrete, entrenched in notes ‘that pass from my notes to your notes without going through anyone’s head’.

Here ends my Thursday Thought. A rant, really, and a very satisfying one. Thank you, Roland of Roland’s Ragbag, for turning on the tap and allowing these refreshing waters to once again flow.

Comment: Opening photo, knowledge set in stone. One of the Bulls of Guisando (Province of Avila, Spain), with graffiti carved by a Roman legion.

Curse of Cursive

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The Curse of Cursive
Wednesday Workshop
8 August 2018

It appears we will no longer teach cursive writing in our schools. Instead, we will teach our children to print. I will not pass judgement on this decision. Quite simply, my handwriting has always been bad. Very bad. I have never worked out why, but I suspect that it is because I think very quickly and my hand tries to keep up with my brain, and the result is the scrawl that I call my handwriting.

I type with two fingers, too, and stare at the keyboard as I am doing so. I tried to follow a typing course one year. I worked at it for two months. At the end of that time, I tried my touch typing examination and managed a rate of 78 words a minute with an accuracy of  82%. I did the same test with my trusted two fingers: 114 words a minute accuracy rate 98%. Oh dear. I still type with two fingers and I still write badly and no, my thoughts have not slowed down.

Just glance through the above photograph, taken from the journal I keep everyday. “Almas de Violeta,” it reads, “an early poetry book by Juan Ramón Jiménez, the Nobel winning poet, was first published in violet ink. I have a copy of his complete works, Obras completas, in which these early poems still appear in purple, or violet rather, to match the color of the title. He published in green ink too, but personally I prefer the purple. Bruised clouds on an evening sky, dark depths of a rainbow glow, Northern Lights singing at the deep end of their scale … or just a desire to be different … slightly different, as if that one thing, the color of my ink, might tip the scales and turn me from mediocre to celebrity with a wave of a violet wand or the click of a pair of ink-stained fingers.”

Now, wasn’t that easy! And there’s so much personality in tone and color, ebb and flow, the link of a poet to the words on his page.

Once, in a faraway library in a distant, magical land, I was studying an autograph manuscript, written by Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645). The hand-writing began very steadily. Then I noticed a red dot or two on the page. Then a larger stain. Our poet was a notorious drinker. The letters grew large and loopy. The paragraphs sprawled. Punctuation marks and accents, slashed and splashed, and missed their targets. By the end of his evening, with his bottle surely empty and gone, I could just about make out what the good man had written.

When I turned the manuscript folio, from recto to verso, it was a new day and the original handwriting was back, small and neat. I have noticed the same phenomenon when I write late at night. Unreadable words, occasional wine splutters, spelling and grammar mistakes, disjointed readability … but the thoughts and the ideas are still there, still clear. Sure, I need a bit of hard work to interpret some things, but that’s the curse of the cursive, I guess.

Procrastination

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Procrastination
for my friend, Mr. Cake

It’s old age, I think:
I can manage
one thing a day,
depends on the weather,
then I forget,
then I remember,
but the weather isn’t right,
so I put it off again,
start a story,
write a poem,
the phone rings,
someone texts me,
there’s a knock on the door,
the crows in the garden
make me procrastinate,
(crass  Latin joke*),
then I remember
and feel sad,
and hair leaks from my head
like straw from a scarecrow,
and my teddy bear brain
turns to sawdust
when I scratch,
and what was I saying?
I guess I’ve forgotten,
I’ll sleep on it tonight,
and write again
tomorrow.

Note:
Crass Latin joke*
Cras is the Latin for tomorrow. Cras is also the sound, in Latin, that the crows make. Hence Pro-cras-tinate: to leave things for tomorrow, or to abandon them for tomorrow’s crows. The joke probably doesn’t belong in the poem, but darn, it’s my poem and I’m leaving it in there.

Comment:
This collection of thoughts started in a casual online exchange with my good friend, Mr. Cake. Sometimes words flow and it’s impossible to stop them. Sometimes, they hover like crows or croak at us from the tree tops where they sit ungraspable. My spellcheck tells me that’s not a word, but if it isn’t, it ought to be. Whatever: the world and its words are sometimes surreal and if you are interested in the surreal, then Mr. Cake’s blog is the place to be. Here’s the link. The site comes highly recommended. Click on it now and don’t procrastinate. Mr. Cake’s Blog.

Last Rites: FFF

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Last Rites
Flash Fiction Friday
11 August 2017  

The employee gazed around his empty office. Tomorrow he would leave the work environment in which he spent his entire adult life. He turned out the lights, closed the door behind him, and walked down the stairway to the exit for the last time.

He took the long, solitary walk to the spot where he had parked his car. In the car park, he fondly kissed his wife’s photo and said a quiet farewell to his beloved daughter. Then, he climbed into his car, started it, and began the short drive home.

Later, at the inquest, the driver of the gravel truck swore he had no chance to avoid the head on collision.

“One moment the road was clear, the next this car was heading straight at me,” he paused and blew his nose. “There was nothing I could do.”

“Yes, sir,” the police officer stared back at the coroner. “I was the first investigating officer on the scene,” he glanced down at his note-book. “And yes, I can assure you that the car driver was not wearing his seat-belt.”

“He loved his work,” his wife testified, fingers twisting the white handkerchief that stood stark against her black dress. “There must have been something wrong with the car. He would never have left me alone like this.”

“A wonderful dad,” his daughter said. “He loved me, and the grand-children. He had so much to live for. It was a terrible accident.”

“Unhappy with his retirement?” queried the employee’s Department Head. “I don’t know what you are trying to imply. Nobody forced him into retirement: he made that decision himself. He seemed very happy with it. We all knew he was out of touch and not up to date with his research anymore. That’s why he chose to retire. He told me all that when he came to see me to tell me he was retiring. His decision to retire had nothing to do with me.”

The employee’s DH raised his eyes heavenwards and gazed at the ceiling.

Out of sight, in the safety of the witness box, he rubbed his hands together, again and again, as if he were washing them.

Comment:

It’s been so long since I last wrote and posted an FFF (Flash Fiction Friday). It feels good to be back writing prose. And yes, the last two FFFs were on May 5, 2017, Moonshine, and April 28, 2017, Crocodile Tears.

So much water under the bridge and so glad to start getting back to my creative blogging schedule.

 

Battle Axe

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Battle Axe

A battle axe, the children call her,
grim-faced, ageing, wrinkles
bone-deep scarring her skin,
a grimaced frown, much practiced,
worn like a fencing mask to keep
the world’s sharp teeth at a distance.

Over her shoulder, the mail-pouch
slung like a Viking’s shield,
swung to keep stray dogs at bay.
At her hip, mace and pepper,
twin guns in separate holsters, ready
for Rotty,  cross-breed, and Pit Bull.

Wrapped in her coat of mail,
her eyes aflame, trigger finger twitching,
ever on the lookout for that one wild dog
to run the gauntlet of her gaze
and launch its all-out, mad dog attack.

Comment: I was disappointed with my earlier version(s) of this poem, entitled Mail Lady, and wanted a stronger, more forceful set of images that hinted at the perils of dog attacks on mail (and fe-mail [sic]) workers. This is the result.

Mail Lady

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Mail Lady

She walks past me, eyes cast down,
her warrior eyes unwilling to run
the gauntlet of my challenging gaze.

A battle axe, the children call her,
grim-faced, ageing, wrinkles
bone-deep sculpting her skin,
a grimaced frown, much practiced,
worn like a fencing mask to keep
the world’s sharp blades at a distance.

Over her shoulder, the mail-pouch
slung like a berserker’s shield,
brimful of letters,
bills in all probability,
yet exact contents unknown
until thumb or paper-knife
slits the envelope to reveal
the sanctity of its secrets.

Secrets: what secrets
does she carry inside her skin:
hope and joy or sorrow and tears?

She walks past me,
wrapped her in her coat of mail,
staring at the ground beneath her feet..
When she looks up,
a feral ferocity burns in her eyes.
I cannot match the fierceness of her gaze.