Notes From the Wasteland No. 24 ‘My Top Four Lessons Learned from Teaching Classes via Zoom’

As everyone knows, Zoom calls are (very) hard at the best of times, what with patchy wifi, variable frame rates and the various other glitches and hitches that colour the nowness of our communication. Teaching over Zoom is even harder, especially with patchy wifi, variable frame rates and the various other glitches and hitches that colour the nowness of our communication. I have been teaching remotely, like many of us, since last year, and have had a lot of time to reflect on my experience. Here are the top four lessons I have learned teaching classes via Zoom:

  1. FILL THE VOID WITH YOUR ENERGY. However much energy I expended in a class room, when I was face to face with people, now needs to be quadrupled. Zoom can be a dead zone for thoughts and feelings and responses and the only to overcome this is by powering through the gears and refusing to succumb to the darkness.
  2. DON’T LOOK BACK. Don’t mourn the physical classroom. That room is empty now and will never the be the same again, even if I ever get back into one. With the best will in the world, Zoom now represents the death of the classroom. This is both a fact to be acknowledged and an opportunity to rethink everything I have ever done teaching-wise. And I like opportunities like this. This is what I thrive on.
  3. DON’T CHEAT YOUR STUDENTS. Zoom has given me a chance to rethink and redo my approach to teaching and all that it entails. The length of a remote class can be challenging but this is a good thing and not to be squandered. I know of people being paid to teach full time and all they do is play films over Zoom for their students to watch over Zoom. If that was me I would be asking for my money back straightaway.
  4. BE GOOD VALUE FOR MONEY. Don’t overlook the experience of those you are teaching. They are paying for the privilege to sit in their bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, shared flat, communal area etc so give them all you got. I have never liked PowerPoint, even when it became an industry standard, so I use it sparingly and I make very effort to make any slide I create to look like any other piece of content my students consume. Not that there was before, but there is now simply NO excuse for shoddy presentations with low resolution images, default fonts and bullet points.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 23 ‘Who wants to see my raindrop?’

I write every day. Every. Single. Day. This is a simple statement of fact. Most of us. We face the day with a blank page and watch the cursor as it blinks, waiting for the words to work once more. It is hard to write every day, especially when our days are filled with the endlessness fo other things, important things, trivial things, meaningful and meaningless, both and all with little distinction. Even still, I write every day. In part this is from fear. I worry that if. don’t write then ambitions will suffer and I won’t achieve the things I want to achieve; the thing, I should say, which is to let my words support me. I receive a thousand emails a day telling me about courses and workshops and tips and tricks and income streams and other opportunities that only require me to sign up to see that my writing can be a career. Most mean well and are clearly from people who have achieved my aim, and when I read the emails and updates I really feel that success from my words is possible, even if I’m not sure which email to keep whilst deleting all the others. I have self-published six novels, some of which have spent a considerable time at the top of various online charts and ranks. They are well received and well-liked by those who read them, which is, of course, in the grand scheme fo things, not as many people as I would like. I’m very close to finishing a television proposal for one of my book series, including a pilot episode script I have completed using Final Draft. I have a second television series proposal close to completion, complete with another pilot episode and based on a new novel that I am currently working on. But I guess the question that stalks my writing, haunting it like a face at the window, is who can get to find my words and read them? Who can I show them to? Who wants to see them? I don’t ask these questions because I feel desperate or disappointed. I am writing anyway, for myself, because that is all I know. I am asking these questions out of genuine interest. The world is drowning in written words, drenched like an endless deluge, so I suppose I am wondering how it is that I can find someone to show my particular raindrop to.

Notes from the Wasteland No. 22 ‘Why is it so hard to sleep?’

Why is it so hard to sleep? I have a busy day tomorrow. I have to be at my absolute best as I reach out across the pandemic void to try and connect and be enthusiastic and keep conversations going and not allow myself or anyone else I am (virtually) with to flag but remain focussed and interested as we consider weighty debates and important aspects of learning that will likely have a direct impact on the people in my classroom and their futures. A day full of total and absolute responsibility you would say and this is the moment at which my body refuses to slow down and let me take a break. That’s why I’m writing this post now, in the early morning, downstairs in a silent house, hoping that each time I press down on the keys on the laptop that I don’t wake anyone else. The house is quiet, resting before we all fill it again with sound and heat and feet on its stairs. I imagine that this is the time that the house looks forward to the most, when everyone has gone to bed and it can return to its still repose. As I type I can picture the house feeling itself settling for the night, longing for the few hours it gets before everything starts again and its role as the house is no more defined by its desire but by ours. I feel like I should apologise to the house for getting in the way of its rest, and reassure it that this isn’t something I have chosen to do to spite it. Far from it. I would much rather be drifting somewhere outside of my day thoughts and feelings, somewhere slower and darker and much much safer but I can’t. I am here. I am writing. I love writing. It is all I love. But I wish I wasn’t writing now. I wish I was asleep. I need to be asleep. Instead, my mind was churned and racing and things I have only just started thinking about combined with things I have always thought about and the merging of the two, along with all the other fractured thoughts that come to me when I don’t want them to and make me think just far too hard and far too long. I fret about my teeth. It feels like they are falling out and will crowd my mouth with their broken bits, choking me awake some day, one day. I think of people I used to love, really love. I mull the circumstances that have led to me no longer loving them. I replay my many times with them, the times when I thought I would simply just die of love and lust and plain and simple passion, and those other times when grief and loss puckered my mouth as my snot fell free, issuing forth and down onto my already drenched sleeve. I think about all the hurt I have ever felt in my life, some deserved, some most definitely not. I think about all the hurt I have ever caused, some, I hope, wrongly, rightly, deserved, most, for the largest part, most definitely not. I think about bright says and dark times, all the slights and fights and times when the words I wanted to shout couldn’t form and I walked away instead, not only not happy about the circumstances of the upset but also because the words I hoped would help protect me simply weren’t forthcoming. But I can think of them now and if only it were possible to travel back to each and every situation where I had needed them, I would now deliver them with all the wit and power and gusto that my (foolish) words so desperately deserved and then, with all those wrongs now right, I could put them out of my head once and for all. But I can’t so I can’t and instead of resolution these same situations now return to haunt my open eyes and simply billow back and forth in my already bulging head.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 21 ‘Is Tomorrow the same as Today?’

I’m beginning to think that I’m not the only one privy to the cosmic truth that tomorrow is going to look an awful to like today. Or yesterday. Next week. Or even some time soon. That’s an awful amount of heavy lifting for one truth but it is a weighty one, after all – most cosmic truths are, I suppose. Not for them the common or garden stuff, the basic, the mundane, the everydayness – not at all, cosmic truths like this one demand asteroids and night time pyrotechnics, bright lights and the fear of cataclysm or alien invasion, whichever comes first. Or perhaps they might arrive together, two parting gifts to a sceptical world who learn the ultimate truth just at the final moments of their existence. Either way, or, indeed, in all ways, depending upon which way you look at it, the cosmic nature of tomorrow’s being similar and/or identical to today, as thoughts go, is really a planet to gaze lovingly upon. Most of my day is spent thinking smaller thoughts like what should I wear and where should I wear it. Admittedly, this thought, in itself, has more than a whiff of the repetitious about it, but we’ll overlook the scale of this question for the magnitude of the other, even though both stem from the same source of discontent.

But surely if I know something today about how tomorrow will be then somehow I am privy to a further cosmic truth and might be able to somehow foretell, forecast, and predict the future and such an act of divination has to be appealing. Hasn’t this been the dream since forever ago? The one thing that humans have always craved and coveted, the availability of knowledge ahead of its determined revelation? And if this is so, and there’s no reason why its shouldn’t be, then why can I not get excited about my new-found divination? I suppose the answer is because as much as I am thrilled to be able to predict the future, the predicting of this same future simply indicates that my knowledge of what is about to happen is pretty much the same as my knowledge of what is happening now.

And what kind of knowledge is that?

Notes From the Wasteland No. 20 ‘Is this really all I know?’

Really? After all these years? All this time doing the same things and I’ve learned nothing? Nothing? You’re kidding? You’re not. So all those things I thought and felt and hoped and dreamed, all those things are fragments now? Scatterings of matterings? Only they don’t matter now. Nothing seems to. But how does that work? If nothing matters now why do I still care? Care deeply? So deeply that caring is everything? How can all this be? I just don’t understand. I do completely feel that all those things I hoped would happen have not. But then many of the things I never knew would have take place, occurring unexpectedly; not figuring in my reckoning. Most importantly, I never thought that I would be a father. I couldn’t foresee a time when I would be a parent. It always seemed so far away, distant, reserved for other people. Many of my friends had children when they were younger and so I figured that as I got older I would be a great uncle, perhaps, a nice neighbour, but I never imagined I would ever be lucky enough to feel the keen joyous burn of parenthood. Never. I just couldn’t see it. But she is here anyway. And though we may sometimes fight and snarl and circle each other as her desire to be herself and be with herself collides with my daily difficulty with this desire of hers, I always know deep down inside that I can catch her eye and smiled as she nods and when she does the swirl of the universe raises me up and reminds me that our bond is simply beyond comprehension. Far beyond and then further still. Utterly immeasurable. It as if everything I ever knew before I knew her has now been altered slightly so though things may appear to be the same as before they are not, and never will be again. And this kind of knowing that I don’t know is one that I cherish in a way that causes me to struggle to find the true words to express myself. But it is worth the effort to try and at least remind myself, and her, just how powerful this whole thing is, like swallowing the brightest star in the sky and feeling it glow beside my heart, spreading light and warmth and hope and more love with every beat.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 19 ‘Teaching people is such a sacred thing’

It begins again. The working week begins. Although the space between the week and weekend is not always clear as I have to work at weekends too; I always do. This is just what I have to do. I have to make sure that my classes are prepared well in advance because even though my favourite part of teaching is the chance to talk around and between my notes I still always worry that I don’t have enough material. I have been teaching for twenty one years and this is the fear that always grips me. The truth of the matter is that I always have more than enough material, far far more than I normally need but even then this doesn’t satisfy me. I suppose this is because I can’t bear simply using the same material year after year and so it means that each class I have prepared I then have to rewrite and then rewrite and then rewrite. This is intensely satisfying and very necessary but also extremely exhausting. But I cannot have it any other way. Teaching is such a particular joy, one I have been so lucky to have stumbled into. But it is only a joy for me, and for my classes, I hope, if I come to each class and each topic afresh and with genuine vigour. The thought of coming to class having not prepared and ready to look like I really don’t care is only the kind fo thought that haunts me not sustains me. I will not be that so-what kind of teacher, that I used-to-care-but-don’t-anymore outlook that some people adopt. This is because it is such a rare pleasure to put a thought in someone’s head, see them acknowledge the workings of their own brain having had a gentle prompt from something I suggested, to see that spark ignite behind their eyes, it is such an honour that needs to be treated as sacred. And so, to me, anyone who abuses that honour by not caring, and daring to show that they don’t care, that they can’t be bothered, don’t, in my eyes, deserve to stand in front of anyone, let alone ruin that sacred relationship by refusing to acknowledge its sacredness. And though I sometimes grumble and complain, fearing that I am giving all my time and energy away, I realise, inevitably, that I am so honoured to be trusted to say things to groups of people, people who look to me for suggestions and conversations, for stories and different ways of telling them, for explanations and sometimes wonderful complications, that I will always do what it takes to make sure that no person leaves any of my classes feeling that whilst I may not have all or any of the answers, I will always at least commit to giving my all and everything every time.

And then again. Again. Again.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 18 ‘Sometimes I really hate my life’

On those dark, dank days when every dream I ever had feels long gone and lost, down the drain, stretched over the time of my life and now rendered useless, like a spring oversprung. When every wish I ever made feels mocking now, as if when I breathed the words into the candle’s flame the gentle rocking of the flame was not my breathing but actually the candle mocking me. ‘Oh really? You want this? That? Them? Really?’ Had I known this earlier in my life my birthdays would have far simpler. There would have been no hope and no excitement. Just a day like any other. Because that’s what happens when we dream, we set up certain days as important, we flag them, marking them in our head as the moment when something starts. This day will be, I say to myself, the first day in that new direction my wish has revealed to me, the new path I will take, following each day dutifully while I wait for my wish to come true. And so I trudge accordingly, not sure where I’m going but hoping that my wish will be there waiting for me when I finally arrive, no matter how long it takes. But it always takes too long. Far too long, as long as it would take to measure the circumference of the earth with the scoop of a teaspoon. Impossible. Immeasurable. Imagine trying such a Sisyphean task; it would be the stuff of legends.

There’s a lot of energy in these words. They are highly animated. They fizz and form a chain of punctuated momentum and so the question is, what do I do with this energy? As I write today I don’t know. When I write tomorrow I won’t know. But its alright not to always know these things. They are, after all, the molecules which fuse to form our future.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 16 ‘Can punctuation really save our lives?’

When questions circle and hide their intent through subterfuge and complication, as they often do, like people, lives, events, lifetimes, and consequences, how can we really tell when one question ends and another begins? Punctuation helps, it always does. It tells us when to breathe and such instructions are crucial to our survival. So punctuation is survival, then? It has to be, otherwise these sentences would run together off the bottom fo the screen and keep flowing forth and as they do they’ll draw the very life from us because the simple matter will be that we won’t know when to take a breath and normally when we don’t know about something as mechanical as drawing breath is likely to be just before we draw our last.

Breathe. In. Out. One more. And again.

And as before, we type anew and more words form and paragraphs multiply like raindrops in the puddle that is my laptop screen and sometimes when they do we know that they need taming and shaping, putting into place, and we hope that punctuation can help achieve this aim but when a raindrop hits a puddle it doesn’t sit separate and wait for permission, it simply merges, becoming part of the whole. And we all hope when we write that are words fall like raindrops and fill puddles and overflow their edges and then spread further like a tiny rivulet that swells in turns and starts to race just that little bit faster until more water forms and the tiny becomes the larger and then the larger still and the words that are our raindrops reach enough people to soak them with their wisdom and nourishment. But some raindrops don’t reach puddles to form streams and gurgle like torrents, some raindrops die trapped on greedy leaves. And that is not where you want your words to fall, drying in the sun and evaporating without trace.

I want my words to make an ocean.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 17 ‘How I manage when people let me down’

They always will. They always do. People always let you down. And when they do you won’t be surprised because you’ve been let down before and you will be let down again. And again. And again. Sometimes, it will be an enormous letdown, when someone you love doesn’t love you any more. Or never did. When they reveal that everything you thought was right was actually, totally, spectacularly wrong. So wrong that the word loses all meaning in its enormity, like a planet blocking out the light. And when that happens, and it will, or already has, or will happen again, there is no shelter or shade from the blast of this searing heat, all stripped down bone-bare and beyond.

It might also be the smallest of letdowns, something minor, minuscule even, inconsequential to most, unimportant, in their eyes anymore, but the importance, minor or otherwise, becomes magnified in our minds due to the fact of our disappointment and whilst it might be something as mundane as someone running late, or not calling back when they said they would, or a million other small actualities that result in the facts of our lives being constantly more complicated than we first imagined, it becomes less mundane and much more magnified in our worried minds.

But then the letdowns accumulate. Like trains running late, each letdown has a knock-on effect, altering the timetable of our life and impacting on every rail and at every junction. Not to mention that feeling of not getting to where you want to be, to be delayed, held back, to be caught in someone else’s time, not your own. Someone else’s. Always someone else’s. And the feeling of being on someone else’s time is not a good feeling, always waiting because with waiting comes hoping and with hoping comes disappointment.

Disappointment. The crush of knowing that the thing you thought would happen is also the thing you knew would never happen, but you thought it might anyway; just once, just one time. Disappointment is a weighty reason not to look to other people, a reason that endlessly justifies the decision you made the last time someone let you down – this, this is the time that I will not let someone, anyone, let me down again. Not ever. Not now. Not again. But again is a hard word to avoid and so the next time we make such a declaration, for the same reason, with the same words, their meaning loses some sheen through being said over and over. But not again. These five letters loom large, a monument to the automatic repetition that is my default position.

Again.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 15 ‘How to Want Something’

Am I allowed to want something? Someone? Am I allowed to want so hard that every other thought that fills my head is warped by this want? Not warped in the sense of malice or evil but warped in the sense of bowed somewhat, moved slightly out of alignment. And how does this wanting work? How do I accommodate this wanting? Do I fight the urge, suppressing the feeling by starving it of thought and effort, like a house plant badly tended? Or do I allow the want to be part of my everydayness? Do I greet it in the morning? Let it accompany me as I go about my (currently limited) business? Set a place for it at the table as I settle down for lunch? My want is a constant companion, after all. It whispers in my ear over breakfast and screams in my head after midnight. My want would prefer it if I didn’t sleep. Why would my want want this? Then I would be able to dull its tone, even if only for a while. My want wants to be my pillow, my comforter, the only reason to close my tired eyes and then the same reason to open them up again having tortured for the whole time in between. That is my want. How could I forget? It reminds me all the time. As I type it is as if this want is beside me, guiding my hands, pressing the keys. Perhaps that’s a good excuse? It wasn’t me, it was my want. Wasn’t it? It always been up until now. Hasn’t it? Otherwise, how else can I fuel my fire? How else can I drag myself out of bed each morning and carry on trudging through the day’s relentless mire. More words to write. Another email here. Plans and preparations. The full-time-ness of my career. The part-time-ness of the ways I hope to change course. The pressure I feel from elsewhere. The pressure I feel from inside. The want is boiling now. It is glowing red-hot in the embers of my weary mind. Another tiring night beckons, as faces and dreams and wishes and desires all combine to cause my want to beckon me to where I want to be but can’t. Not tonight. Not other nights. maybe never ever one night. I do have hope but I do feel that hope is just the beginning, just enough to stop you giving up completely. And there have been times, dark times, tough times, painful times, recent times, past times, times to come, when giving up has felt so luxurious, so delightful, so pleasingly wonderful that the temptation is more than that just a plain admittance of defeat; much more, always more, more, just more – something more structured and elegant and planned and prepared but not executed.

Not ever.