24 February 2013

In it for the (very) long haul - a literary digression

I've just been reading an article in the latest Listener about Bill Manhire who's recently relinquished the helm of the creative writing school he founded in Wellington. He had a couple of things to say, relating to his retirement, that I really relate to:

"I've always believed in having a completely empty head so stuff can drift into it. So I'm slowly emptying my head out and waiting to see what comes in from the side.."
It makes me aware of how much more creative I am when I have the brain space to be receptive to 'stuff that drifts into it'. Guy Claxton also mentions this as a valuable mental disposition. I fervently hope that when I get caught up in the usual administrative maelstrom of a full-time teaching position, that precious brain-space won't be overwhelmed to the point where the creativity slows down or suffers a blockage. On verra........
The other thing Bill Manhire wants to do is:
"simply get lost in the world of a writer. I know it all sounds a bit fatuous or banal to talk about the world of Dickens or the world of so and so, but I quite like that. I quite like the idea of getting lost in the world of very fat novels."  So do I!!!

And so to my literary digression.....
As you probably know I'm a confirmed 'very fat novel' junkie both in French and in English. A couple of years ago (on Bloomsday [16 June] 2010 to be precise) an Irish broadcaster and writer, Frank Delaney, in response to pressure from his publisher to make himself more visible, began a weekly podcast called Re-Joyce, taking the listener in homeopathic doses through the entire text of James Joyce's 'Ulysses'.
It happens that this is one of my favourite 'very fat novels' (one might also add 'very dense'), so naturally I was curious. I listened to the first few as they were posted weekly and, although I enjoyed them and found them enormously helpful for making sense of obscurity, I got sidetracked by other activities and 'Ulysses' faded into the background, except as regular bedtime listening on my ipod. Over the summer, I've come back to Frank Delaney to see how the podcasts are coming along. He's reached number 141 and is nearing the end of Chapter 3 (of 18). He's now 70 years old. At his current rate he expects the task to take him 25 - 30 years, by which time he'll be getting on for 100! One of my pleasures over the past couple of months has been to catch up on the backlog of Re-Joyce podcasts which are each about 10 minutes long. It's been a fantastic wallow. The book is so rich in cultural references of all types that it takes an amateur detective of Delaney's dedication and breadth of knowledge to tease them all out. It's fascinating! I never know what I'm going to learn next. It all contributes to the richness of June 16 1904, a day on which nothing momentous happens in Dublin except the unfolding of the entire novel. Now that I'm into it again I look forward to my regular appointment with Frank Delaney once a week. I may fall by the wayside again when I'm down in Dunedin and if I do it'll be a treat to catch up with him in large chunks at a later date, as I've just done.

In fact the large chunk approach corresponds better to my learning preferences. I like to go really deeply into something for a while whenever it feels the right time to do so, then I let it lie fallow for a time while I delve into something else. I come back to it later with renewed energy and enthusiasm.  This is what daunts me about carving up the day into 50 minute slots during which you're expected to do something worthwhile. I fear you've hardly had time to get your mental books out before it's time to put them away and move onto something else. Not very conducive to pondering, exploring, experimenting, reflecting, imagining. It's all too busy. Visions of Ken Robinson's industrial conveyor belt come to mind. I know this is what I'm going to have the most difficulty with. Still, I can always enlist the help of my students in the time-management process. I'd love to teach in an environment where the curriculum areas were merged and where cross-curricular learning was the norm. You could have over-arching themes which could be approached from a variety of perspectives and to which everything could be related. It would be wonderfully open-ended and free of narrow time constraints. Blue sky vision.........

1 comment:

  1. Loving the literary interlude!
    I have grown to love big chunks of something and letting it rest until it resurfaces also. This is a factor of this ultimate luxury commodity called time.
    At the moment I am a revisiting a cool tool Evernote. I looked into it a while ago, tried, explored but it was out of curiosity. Now the purpose to use it has arisen and it is obvious it is going to do the job I want it to do.
    Have a conversation with Kheya sometime about the overarching themes she is working with at her school. I spent Friday with her there, we had a really rich exchange. The one thing I think she would not say is that it is free of time constraints. Talk with her.


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