Sunday, 10 May 2020

Living on the edge… of reason

Energy cannot be destroyed but transformed from one state to another.

Emotions cannot be destroyed but transformed from one state to another.

After several weeks of confinement, I sense that people are quite fraught on Twitter. People are snapping at each other. People are taking umbrage at everything and anything visible. People are reacting uncharacteristically to things said or written.

It feels like, collectively, we are on the last leg on a car journey that has seemed to go on for days. Your dad’s taste in music (James Last) is driving you mad. Your mum’s squeaky nose is annoying you beyond all reason. You brother is just annoying because he simply just exists in the world. Finally, your dog is annoying you because he insists on plonking its fat arse on you while it licks the window for some unknown reason.

We are at that stage of the journey where it could all explode quickly and messily.

Over the last few months, I have noticed the journey in emotions the whole world is experiencing. And it is interesting how those emotions are dealt with.

At the start of the whole process, we had weeks of nervous students worried about the impact of the virus. Students joke and laugh about things, but seriously they are worried. I remember spending a whole fortnight of lessons starting with a discussion of what’s happening with the virus and how it is being dealt with. The problem the students had was that nobody was talking to them about things. They were picking bits of things from the news and various media outlets, which is just a playground of gossip. Each lesson would begin: ‘What do you want to ask me about it?’ They were appreciative of having the opportunity to just talk. It seemed that the British Stiff Upper Lip was well and truly in place. So stiff it couldn’t give explanations and talk to young people what was happening. Their nervous jokes hid their anxiety and worries.

Then, we had the lockdown and we noticed the impact on our own children. Sleepovers were cancelled. The regular contact with their friends evaporated overnight. Friendship can disappear too and without the contact that is a possibility for children. Their anger was as result of their fear of losing something.

As the weeks developed, I saw the frustration parents had when dealing online learning. Overnight parents have become teaching assistants and teachers whilst balancing their own jobs and commitments. Their anger aimed at the schools was their frustration at the situation.

I, then, had to get used to online learning and that turned my working day upside down. I was chained to the computer. Unlike those that have seen time to watch online CPD courses and read endless CPD books, I was responding to constant emails and messages about work. My anger was a result of my inability to control my workload.

There’s a lot of anger out there. Even more thanks to some newspapers. Yet, this anger is borne out of an inability to control our circumstances. Our helplessness. I have had some unpleasant conversations on Twitter recently and I put them down to the fact that fear, anxiety and sense of hopelessness don’t simply disappear. Instead those emotions are converted into anger. That anger then hides that fear, anxiety and helpless about a situation. Possibly, anger is easier to deal with as an emotion. It is quickly absorbed by something. It is easy to target it on something. It is easier to control. It is easier to justify to ourselves.  

Anger is a very loud emotion that drowns out all the other emotions.

The problem is that Twitter and other mediums are a conduit for people to offload their feelings. A conduit for them to get things off their chests. And, maybe there is a genuine need for this type of conduit, and Twitter and Facebook are fulfilling that need. I suggest we have a new social media platform called Rant. But, like the good Yoda said: ‘Anger leads to suffering. Suffering leads to pain.’

We are experiencing something unlike anything modern history and we have no framework or point of reference for dealing with what we are dealing with at the moment. Therefore, I am going to suggest that we walk away from arguments. That we ignore barbed and insulting comments. That we ignore the anger and hatred. There is so much more me to be angry about and with the amount of spurious, speculative guff some people are spewing it is all too easy to get caught up in someone else’s offloading of their emotional baggage. Ultimately that’s what the angry voices are, a cry for help.

I think the next few weeks are going to get worse and we are going to see more and more of the anger online. The past fortnight has shown me this with several different examples. I think we are at peak emotional instability. Emotions cannot be destroyed but transformed from one emotion to another.

I am worried because my mother is a district nurse and she visits lots of elderly patients, but I will not turn that worry into anger.

I am worried because my eighty old gran lost her husband after Christmas and now lives alone, but I will not turn that worry into anger.

I am worried because my daughter has brittle asthma and CP so will be confined to hospital if infected, but I will not turn that worry into anger.

The tinniest of things can cause anger but that anger has to go somewhere. It doesn’t just disappear and it is converted into something else. It could be that we don’t see what it is converted into because all we can see is our own anger, because our anger is loud and it hides all other emotions.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, 3 May 2020

Standing centre stage

Watching the national updates of our current crisis, I cannot help but think of what is being foregrounded and what is being placed in the background. Nothing hit me harder than the way that the number of deaths in care homes had been hidden and placed in the national background.

The relationship between the foreground and the background is an important thing. Putting something at the front makes you forget what’s at the back. It is a statement of importance. Just think of where you are sat in a wedding party. Sorry to say this but the level of proximity to the bride and groom marks you level of value to them.

I love looking at Shakespeare from the view of choices. I like exploring why Shakespeare made one choice over another. Now, one choice I think is more challenging and conceptually perceptive is the choice between putting something in the foreground or in the background. What’s pushed to the back is interesting too? Poor Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Or, is it Guildenstern and Rosencrantz?

In the world of storytelling and sometimes things are pushed to the sides so another part of the story can be told. In some cases, the men are in the background and the women are in the foreground. In others, the young are in the foreground and the old are in the background.

I think looking at Shakespeare’s work in terms in what is and isn’t in the foreground is really interesting. I find ‘Macbeth’ interesting because it shoves King Duncan to the background largely in the plot. He even suffers the indignity of dying off stage. How unimportant must you be to die off stage? Yes, King Duncan features in scenes and talks, but if I got the part of King Duncan I’d be asking for more lines.  Go on – let me be the Porter too.

So why is King Duncan relegated to the background? Well, it could be because Shakespeare wanted to foreground the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. It could be because Shakespeare wanted to protect the divine nature of the true king and not treat him in human terms. It could also be because Shakespeare was placed on a table as far as way as possible from the actor and his bride at their wedding.

Looking at the relationship between the foreground and the background is an untapped seem of ideas and thinking we neglect. Foregrounding occurs all the time in stories and we can mine them more in lessons. Foregrounding is happening with characters, events, relationships, feelings, language. We know that foregrounding is just emphasising, but talking about ‘emphasis’ is a hard thing to articulate for students because in some students’ eyes everything is emphasis. Looking at foregrounding allows students to see the bigger picture. They are comparing one element to another.

I study ‘Romeo and Juliet’ with Year 10 so here are some possible choices. I am aware of the clunky sentence – but I wanted to show the foreground and background element. Of course, you only need to use one in writing, but students to know both.

Shakespeare places the Capulets in the foreground and places the Montagues in the background.

Interestingly, the Capulets are at the foreground of the story which could largely indicate the role parents have in a daughter’s life. They control her and dominate her life. It could also show males aren’t really controlled by their parents and are largely independent and have freewill.

Shakespeare places the developing relationship in the foreground and places the wedding in the background.

I love a good wedding, unless I am position furthest away from the bride and groom, but the wedding is absent from the play. We know it happens, but we don’t see it. Could this be a way to undermine the purpose of marriage? It is not important enough to see. Instead, what we see is the relationship and all its ups and downs. In fact, we could even suggest that this foregrounding negates marriage completely. The greatest love story of all and yet there’s no weddings on stage.

Shakespeare places the physical appearance of Juliet in the foreground when Romeo speaks about the dead Juliet and takes the poison.

I don’t know about you, but if I saw my loved one supposedly dead before me I wouldn’t be obsessing over her appearance. I’d probably thinking of things I never say or do with my loved one. Yet, her the emphasis is on her physical appearance. It could suggest how na├»ve the relationship is. It could suggest the love is physical, which contradict much of the imagery of the story. It could also show how young their relationship is that they cannot see beyond the physical.

When looking at whether something is in the foreground or in the background is some complex engagement with a text. It then leads to other discussions. If it isn’t in the background, then where is it? Where is it in the writer’s ideas and view of the world?

Thanks for reading,