shared experience

Packing it in

I’ve been thinking about who comes and goes in our lives. What ‘sticking around’ looks and feels like. I suppose I’m exploring my own understanding of what draws me toward or away from things in life. I’m also interested in what generates movements and momentum in groups or how ideas gather support, take shape and gather energy and become dominant forces – not necessarily for any particular purpose but nevertheless have social and cultural effects. I was pondering this while riding to work and realised cycling was the perfect analogy (no surprises wheelie). So here’s a wee story/narrative, let’s go for a little spin.

I’ve never really been one for staying with the pack. Going it alone is fine and I generally prefer to ride on my own. It can at times feel a little vulnerable and lonely but I’ve found ways to feel the presence of others or to become part of the wider world while travelling or training. Riding in packs gives a sense of power and presence on the road. People in cars tend to notice a big group – even if they don’t like it – it’s hard to ignore. Being in the pack affords you space so long as you play by the rules. But you can also conserve energy and stay hidden, it’s easy and being swept along without a thought of where and why we are. But it can become a trap of comfortable unconsciousness. The question is then do I want to be here and how do I get out? Getting out of a pack depends a bit on where you are located and who is around you. Sometimes it’s as small gap, a change of pace, and a signalling to others around you. Going too quickly or with sudden moves isn’t always the best even if you desperately need out. Moving to the edges or finding a break through point becomes easier if others come with you. Once free it can be a bit of a shock as the wind hits and your awareness of how closed in it had been becomes obvious. But you can also see more, and have the ability to swerve and deviate from the line and not risk pissing someone off or taking others down.

Making a break on your own is tough, but sometimes necessary and others might chase and join. Then you could be caught but a big bunch. Riding with people that want to ride at a different pace or cover different territory could see you take different routes but meet up at a later point having arrived but having very contrasting experiences. Sometimes people drop off the back, you want them to stay with you and to keep up but they just aren’t able to. There could be a chance for them to catch up on the downhill but keeping up your own momentum is also important. Packs are not inherently bad in fact, it’s fun to join the back of one from time to time but I like to know that I am still travelling somewhere I want to go. But beware of large packs and mass movements. Just because they are moving fast doesn’t mean they are going in your preferred direction. They create lots of pull, and seem to move with purpose but they don’t necessarily care about sharing space with others. In fact some packs can blow right through other smaller ones fragmenting and disorienting those riders without stopping to look over their shoulder.

I like riding out of my comfort zone, with people willing to get a bit lost, but know how to read a map and navigate. Get off the beaten track and explore some back roads from time to time. Just so long as there is coffee somewhere along the way, otherwise I will pack a sad.

It’s life gym…

“but not as we know it” if you couldn’t help saying it then you will likely “live long and prosper”. I can’t imagine living inside a giant tin-can in space, although I spent an hour inside a smaller tin-can this week watching kids doing gymnastics. Parking my bike outside after a bit of a squally ride – wind rain cold, a perfect Auckland day I wandered upstairs as parents were barred from the floor to a curious picture of contrasts. Downstairs, a hive of bodies moving and exploring apparatus. Waiting their turn, sharing space, encouraging and supporting each other. All ages mingling and united in their enthusiasm and determination to master skills. Upstairs other children sitting around using apps, isolated from each other, age segregating them as younger children tried to explore the space but were met with annoyed looks and dismissive gestures. A clear sense of territory and personal space emerged. I picked my way through gingerly trying not to break the concentration of those staring into screens to look into the den of activity and caught myself thinking ‘I want to be down there’. Under one roof a simple line had been drawn around play and while the wind howled and the heavens opened, inside all were happy doing their thing.

Riding home in the driving rain passed by tin-cans on wheels I felt the pounding of my heart, the drenching of skin all my senses working together to adapt to the elements. Laughing at the ridiculousness and enjoying the sensation of complete and utter saturation that those in tin-cans will never know. It was life gym and I am glad to know it.

Funny bone of contention

I love a good laugh but few women are taken seriously when it comes to comedy and I’m ‘bovvered’ by it. If anything shows up how stuck we are with gendered assumptions, then the near extinction of female representation on the comedy front should be noted. There are a few older birds left but looking through the line-up for the NZ Comedy festival, they were as rare as hens teeth, it was a sea of…male chickens.

They are an endangered species female comedians, and short of a captive breeding programme I think we should be asking what is happening to the native habitat and how to protect it. What kinds of pest eradication need to take place.

Funnily enough NZ media is in a bit of a conundrum about taking women seriously. OK sure, but maybe the place to start is actually at the other end of the spectrum by challenging the prevailing idea that guys are ‘jokers’ and women are well – just not that funny. Getting more women visibly performing comedy could be a way to lighten the way.

Humour is transformative especially the kind that provokes thinking. For me it is the reflective irony that captures my imagination and pushes back the veil of norms and dislodges or jolts me from the mundane revealing a new perspective and helping to open space for questioning things.

All this happens in a few seconds underneath raucous laughter, usually accompanied by snorts and possibly slight loss of bladder control. Laughter is the best medicine unless you are incontinent.

Out Of Time

What is time to a fish? How do the seconds pass? If a fish was riding a bike would it notice the relative speed of the vehicles? Was I that fish on a bike today when caught in the headlights of a car at a roundabout that hadn’t been there a moment ago. The honking of a horn indicating the arrival of another stream of time and momentum. The jolt of awareness that signalled a dislocation in the fabric of collectively agreed rights of passage that I seemed to have disrupted or ruptured.

Speed, space, time, distance, colluding to segregate and define who can participate in the flow of life. If you become relocated in this and live somewhere in between there is unease and distrust – a disruption to the flow. The ability to be ‘present’ and ‘here’ ‘now’ communicating in ways that identify and signify we know where we are located defines intimacy. When people are tuned to a different frequency the ability to connect on an intimately personal level shifts and the signals we usually pick up become lost in the static hum of confusion.

Common functioning suggests we all must locate our consciousness and awareness and sense of who we are within a narrowly defined criteria. Those experiencing neurological diversity (ASD – Autistic Spectrum Disorders – or – Alternative Sensory Downloads) and other forms of time/space re-location (alzheimer’s, amnesia, altered states of consciousness) highlight the pervasive normalisation of human functioning and fear associated with intentionally attempting to create those conditions – messing with mysterious interactions and perception we can have of reality.

Losing someone in time is hard. They can be physically present but elsewhere, they are not ‘around’ and the grief associated can be experienced in the same way as death. Let’s acknowledge this more instead of brushing over the obvious that they are carrying on regular metabolic functioning – AKA alive, and require people to be grateful for this experience. However my heart tells me love transcends the limits of 3rd dimensional space, we might never truly know how someone experiences the warmth of our caring but to quote Carl Sagan, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

If you do see a fish on a bike, you just might want to check what is in your ‘special’ coffee. And just be a bit patient – no need to get into a flap about it and watch out for those red herrings aye.

Prideathlon

In the half light, music blaring, a sea of flags, rubber and lycra, nervous energy and cameras flashing. Crowds lean against barriers but there are no police and no parade here, just thousands of 7-15 year olds participating in the Weetbix Tryathlon. There was another sort of pride parade happening last night in Ponsonby but this experience of pride was equally worth celebrating. The way these children and young people coped with such a huge occasion, feeling the fear and mixed emotions but managing to get to the start line shouldn’t be underestimated. Not to mention the navigating of three different physical activities and managing to put up with their sleep deprived, stressed and anxious parents who might also be suffering caffeine withdrawal, then they are all legends before even starting the event.

I’d like to suggest that everyone who took part have the curriculum ticked off for the key competencies demonstrated. This was nothing less than experiential learning, schools could do more to recognise and integrate these kinds of activities. There were some unofficial events worthy of note, for example the tree climbing and patience required to cue up for a bounce on a trampoline and also the bravery of those needing to use the port-a-loos. Then there is the ability to negotiate with tetchy adults and create a reasonable argument for the earning of a slushy. I was moved by an amazing display of leadership and natural mentoring from the young volunteers. I watched them channel the energy of tiny bodies into confidence and enthusiasm. This again is something missing from schools due to their segregation by age of such opportunities. They are artificially created from time to time but I wonder about what relationships and power dynamics might shift if this was a more common phenomenon.

One of the things I have enjoyed about multisport and triathlon is the across age level participation, bringing people together with a shared interest and enjoying the diversity this brings. There is nothing like the feeling of crossing the finish line – the distance is irrelevant as the sense of achievement is exactly that – a sense, lived through the body and in ways that transcend overworn success rhetoric that sports apparel companies flog.

Seeing so many bikes lined up in one area was a delight however I have a sense we are still moving in the wrong direction when it comes to physical activity being something integrated as a way of life, such as transport. If the bike goes back in the shed until next year what is the point? Nevertheless it cannot take away from the joy and pleasure I saw on so many faces today.

So many Kodak moments – good grief, now I am really showing my age.

Grater Expectations

Cooking at Christmas comes with its own set of challenges. If you are away from home dealing with a foreign kitchen and finding where things are kept inevitably leads to traffic jams and scenes to rival Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen kind of ironic at this time of year. But there are a couple of unique and possibly peculiarly kiwi conundrums (possibly not…just guessing). Christmas dinner comes in all forms from the casual bar-b-que to the full on traditional roast with all the trimmings perhaps minus the knitted jerseys – depending on how far south you are I suppose. The kitchen is a hive of activity and secret frustrations that I would now like to expose.

It’s common for people to have a couple of drinks with proceedings and in my family this can start reasonably early. Not to minimise the carnage caused by drink driving, there are some hazards to be noted when under the influence and attempting to steer your way through preparing food. There are the obvious ‘don’t drink and fry’ – using sharp implements also probably a bit risky, as is blenders and food processors. I’d hazard a guess that burns might top the A & E around this time of year. There are some little known injuries that will never make the ACC stats, or even warrant a mention in the paper but I think they can be more irritating than a recipe written before the metric system…c’mon what century are we in?

At the top of my list is the grater graze. Typically the knuckles or tips of fingers are sheered off in a valiant effort to ensure the entire carrot is used. This injury is definitely exacerbated by the fact that it will get you no sympathy and you will be expected to keep calm and carrot on. Second on my list is peeling kumara, not the golden ones, the ‘real ones’ purple skins. Yes those skins…do not respond to blunt peelers! What is worse is there are usually heaps to peel and only one peeler, so if someone wants to help they need to use a knife, which actually works better. Kumara are also really knobbly, so completing this task with an implement that wouldn’t cut through butter is nothing short of exasperating. Go for the knife people, anyone who has prepared for a hangi will know this to be true. Third on the list is whipped cream, I don’t know why, but in my family it is the hand beater from about 1950something that is still in the drawer – not upgraded like every other appliance. The handle swivels so every time you crank the thing it twists, so you lose the spinning motion. Also on top of a few drinks, the effort required and co-ordination not to slop stuff everywhere is insanely difficult. Fourth is the lemon juice in the eye – possibly added to the grater cut as well. Say no more. Fifth is a combination – the can-opener caper. Beetroot tins need to be upgraded to tab-pulls like the reduced cream, because quite honestly opening a can of beetroot without spilling it, is a nightmare. But if your opener is like the munted peeler, there is likely to be mutiny. The number of times I have struggled for 10 minutes to get half-way around then given up and tried to pry the lid open, only to either slice my hand or send the contents spilling their glorious crimson juices everywhere does not need stipulating. Other honourable mentions are kebab skewer splinters, onion chopping eyes and garlic crushing wrist sprains, all of which I have suffered at some point.

When it all comes together though and everyone is tucking into their kai – it’s good to know that along with love, it is laced with the odd bit of blood, sweat and tears.

Tipping The Balance

I am surrounded by amazing creative educators and interesting people talking about ‘modern learning environments’ and what this looks like. I suppose that is where I want to push and provoke some conversations, because we seem to be stuck with ‘look like’ a lot. The focus and emphasis keeps being drawn into changing the shapes of furniture, open learning and staff spaces and increasing use of technology. We rarely get to ‘sound like’ and ‘feel like’ possibly ‘smell like’ which happen to be important relational aspects of learning. One special interest area for me is the realm of discipline. So as usual I have taken to the metaphorical to share some observations, and yes bikes are involved.

If anyone has learned to ride a bike, or swim you might recall the sensations and emotions that come with vulnerability. There is a delicate relationship between being control and feeling the pang of fear. It’s excitement wrapped in caution. As adults we occasionally are asked to learn new things that push us beyond our comfort zone but it is usually by choice and rarely does it mean learning something that puts our professional identities on the line.

But watching the process of restorative practices enter schools has all hallmarks of skinned knees, struggling for breath and feeling ‘out of our depth’ as a profession. Teaching and schools have been moving along just nicely with traditional practices of discipline and punishment for over a century. It’s a machine that everyone recognises and we generally get the mechanics of how it all works.

Learning to Ride a bike is familiar to many people – bit wobbly at the start, usually held by someone to get going, but the freedom gained was well worth it. Once you’ve ridden one you can pretty much jump on any sort of bike, same principles, laws of physics, maybe the shift in gears could be unfamiliar and mountain and road bikes do operate differently. It can feel awkward but you can adjust pretty quickly. I liken this to schools and discipline policies in general, you can move between institutions which claim a ‘unique’ culture but once you are ‘on and pedaling – it rolls pretty much the same. If rules are broken punishment is dished out – we’ve been riding this punitive machine for a while.

Then along comes the restorative contraption. It is more like a unicycle. We don’t generally see unicycles around, they are for clowns and performers, no serious-rational-real person would consider them just as adequate as bikes. They might even say ‘we need unicycles like a fish needs a bike’. Nevertheless teachers are asked to give up their comfortable seat of power, drive chain of consequences and handle bars of truth for what? A one wheeled contraption with no training wheels? And here is the real spanner in the spokes, no amount of experience on a bike will help ride this thing. It is a starting again, a stripping back to a raw relationship with gravity and balance, shame and vulnerability matched with accountability. No amount of watching, reading, analysing will help you ride one. Just getting on requires patience and perseverance, falling off is required, it is the only way to make progress – yet it feels unnatural and letting go of the stability of the wall requires courage and an understanding that without losing balance you cannot move forward. Then finally you let go and try one pedal and it feels like a mile. You start to get a feel for how the unicycle moves with you and go with it, zig zagging all over. Every subtle turn and shift changes the direction, you can even pedal backwards. So it is about giving in to uncertainty with adrenaline surging and mixing this with cautious anticipation for the next attempt.

To those on the outside, it appears unsafe, reckless, even dangerous. They might wonder where is the control? The direction? How do they steer? It looks awkward and clunky and many will turn away and say ‘I’ll stick to the bike thanks – at least I know how that works.’ A small group will persevere and take the risk of leaving the safety and comfort of the wall of familiarity. A few pedal strokes is exhilarating enough to feel like you are getting it. But the next time in might be face in the floor time, it doesn’t mean going backwards, learning is non-linear and with every painful fall there is a sense of progress, the body senses more and more how to move with this strange new (e)motion. Encouragement, support, laughter and shared experience allow those who continue to maintain their momentum. The wobbles will lesson and the flow will come, falling gets easier and less painful, in fact, direction comes through careful adjustments, a growing awareness of what works for you.

There is no skipping a stage, there is no way to short cut…just get back on… hundreds and hundreds of times. Eventually getting going will be less of a struggle and momentum will come naturally. The effortlessness is illusory, it masks the commitment and dedication, change in physiology with a new and unique proprioceptive relationship to rolling friction. But those who have tried to ride will recognise and appreciate the visual confirmation that ‘it can be done’.

Because the usual mechanics of power and privilege that comes with Authoritarian discipline have been stripped back, the time to get going restoratively does mean many will need gentle introductions whilst others will be ready to throw themselves into it. Both are fine, but recognising the kinds of support people need is something schools need to pay particular attention to when introducing restorative processes. Developing effective restorative practices takes time to develop and they only get easier by doing them. If there ever was a place for repetition in learning it would be here and particularly the skill of asking questions. However it is helpful to find creative ways to ask the same thing otherwise you run the risk of wearing your ‘mental tire’ out on starting in the same place all the time. You can get around this by rotating the tire every few weeks on a unicycle, or to get some alternative starting points to conversations.

One of the things I remember from learning to unicycle was how tired I felt, how exposed and vulnerable I felt. Bruised in places I never thought I could be (or should be) including my ego, frustrated, exasperated at times but also quietly satisfied with each tentative meter gained. Even scrapes and bumps are celebrated and cherished.
I am by no means an expert on a unicycle but having watched and taught over one hundred people to ride one I understand it is a process that has as many demands mentally and emotionally as it does physically. Fear is one of the main reasons people ‘get off’ and return to what is safe. This will always be the case. The irony is – the very ‘gravity’ of the situation is what enables these kinds of conversations to take place.

Finally, surround yourself with others wanting to share the same experience, laugh a lot, console, apply ice packs, laugh more. Expect to fall off then just get back on…again and again and again…