The day the front fell off

I can’t bear the idea that John Clarke is gone. Goodness knows there is plenty in the world to be disturbed by, and I have been closing my eyes and breathing deeply and, I admit it, turning my face away from the news. But this – this death of a 68 year old I never met – this is what broke me.

John Clarke and Bryan Dawe had a way of taking our lives, our politics, our society, and lampooning them – with straight faces and the driest of wit – so that even the most rabid fan of a policy or faction could see its absurdity, its unfairness, or its incompetence.

I will never forget the hundred metre track from The Games. When we don’t want to answer a question around here, we always say “Not that I recall,” “not to my knowledge,”, or “can I have a glass of water?” They’ve made me laugh until I couldn’t breathe more times than I can possibly recount.

When world events were more horrendous than I could bear, Clarke and Dawe always gave me hope, because not only did they get it,  they could communicate it so clearly, so eloquently, and so incredibly wittily, that it seemed that it had to be obvious now, even to politicians.

Death and I are old foes. He has come too close too often. I have railed against him through long and desolate nights. I have been shattered by him unexpectedly, and I have seen him coming and been unable to dodge him. He has taken people close to my heart, and who knew me inside out. John Clarke didn’t even know I existed, but his death comes surprisingly close, because he meant more to me than I even realised until this moment.

Isn’t that the cruel irony of death? That sometimes in losing someone you suddenly know how much they meant – too late to let them know. I wish I had emailed, or tweeted, or written to him somehow. I suspect I’m not alone in knowing now, in this moment, sharply and painfully, how priceless he was, and how grievous a loss this is to our public life, and our understanding of the world.

John Clarke made the world a happier, more bearable, more intelligible place. He helped us understand it. He made us laugh. He made us think. He made us better.

Who could ask anyone for more?

 

 

 

Wil to live

I went to a talk tonight. It covered Donald Trump becoming president, Climate Change and Climate Change deniers. It covered the post truth world, anti-vaxxers, and healthcare. It covered white male privilege, racism, and education.

And I laughed. I laughed until I almost forgot how to breathe (again. you’d be surprised how many times I’ve forgotten how to breathe over the years).

It took so many of the things that are wrong with the world, highlighted, examined, and derisively dismissed them.

It was a masterclass in story telling. In science, humanity, and compassion. In how to keep going. How to reach each other. How to listen. How to make sense of the nonsensical. And how to talk to the insensible.

It was incisive, but never cruel (although anti-vaxxers might disagree, but anything anti-vaxxers disagree with is worth paying attention to).

It was, incidentally, a lesson in not being late to a comedy show – I think Phill might agree with that, if he can ever bear to show his face in public again.

I love comedy, but I can’t bear the cruel sort. A friend had a bit of a facebook rant today about April Fools’ Day, and I have to agree. We don’t need more tricks. More lies. More fake news. More traps for the unwary. More “hah! I fooled you, aren’t I funny? and aren’t you gullible!”

We need more laughter, but Wil Anderson made it very clear tonight that comedy doesn’t have to be cruel. It doesn’t have to be mean spirited or vicious. Comedy is at its best when it’s clever, and well read, and thoughtful. When art holds a mirror up to life and laughs at it – when we see life as it is and know its absurdity – that’s real magic. And Wil Anderson is one hell of a magician.

 

Maintaining the Rage

Things they don’t tell you about dementia, number 542: Rage.

Not Mum’s rage. That does come and go – but it always did. It’s hard to tell where Mum ends and dementia begins. I’ve been a target of Mum’s rage as long as I can remember. That’s not new. But it used to go on for months. Now she forgets within minutes. There are upsides.

No, the rage that’s a problem is mine. I want to kick, punch, and scream until my throat is raw. I want to throw things at the world. I want to tear something down. Blow something up. Beat myself senseless.

Do not, at this point, tell me that everything happens for a reason. There is no reason for this. Dementia has no logic, no reason, no plan. Dementia is a senseless, random trauma that crushes the breath out of me even as it eats away the life of my mother.

I want to scream into the face of the world that it’s not fair, but the world couldn’t care less. I go home, go to work, care for my children. I do the shopping, take my daughter to swimming and answer my email, when all I want to do is fling myself at the floor and kick and scream “THIS IS SO UNFAIR!” But life has no time for tantrums.

Break all the records, burn the cassettes

I’d be lying if I told you that I had no regrets

there were so many mistakes, and what a difference it makes

but still it shouldn’t surprise you at all

You know

I said it shouldn’t surprise you at all, You know

Don’t look now but you have changed

Your best friends wouldn’t tell you

Now it’s apparent, now it’s a fact

So marshall your forces for another attack

It was always within you, it will always continue

And it shouldn’t surprise you at all

You know

Billy Joel, Surprises

I am so angry. I hate this. I want it to stop. I want it to end. I want relief. I want to know what’s coming and how we will handle it. I want to pretend it’s not happening. I want someone to bloody well fix it, and now. I want to be held and told it’s ok. I want to push the world away. I want to make it stop. I want to run away. I want to stay home and hide. I want to drown my sorrows in chocolate and icecream. I never want to eat again.

I can’t do this anymore, and I can’t stop. It hurts. Don’t tell me how to help her – she won’t let me. Don’t tell me to remember the good times, there weren’t many. Don’t tell me you’re sorry. Just stand well back while I implode. She would hate this, but she left years ago. There’s no connection. No parent. There’s nothing left but rage and fear. But I can’t walk away. I shouted at her today. God knows she provoked me, but she crumpled like a child.

I need to be angry. It masks the fear, the guilt, and the sadness. All I can do is maintain the rage.

On love, loss, and the warmth of words

2016 was a year of love, of loss, and of fear. For me there was the sheer joy of discovering kindred spirits, and the devastation of seeing the brightest of lights snuffed out – both very public, and deeply private. It ended with elation, but also despair.

The summer holidays tend to be an emotionally complex time for me. I need time to recharge, but I miss the intense people contact that my work brings me. I would happily trade a long summer break for a longer but less frenetic school year, but that’s a whole different story. I hate Christmas – a hangover from too many Christmas traumas growing up. And I don’t thrive without a lot of people around me. I am the extreme end of the extrovert scale. The quiet end of the summer holidays can be a struggle, unless I manage it carefully, and I am often too tired to do so.

So I wound up a little feral. A touch self-destructive. And very difficult to live with. I was reading the news a little obsessively – not a life enhancing move at the best of times, and these are far from the best of times. I was not seeing enough people or getting enough exercise, having injured myself with a few over-enthusiastic attempts to ramp up my exercise routine.

At times like this I have to consciously seek out ways to lift myself up, or I become quite impossible. So I stopped reading so much news, and started focusing on the positives in my life. I stopped thinking so much about the fraught relationships in my life and started focusing on the people who know me through and through, and who love and support me even at my most foul. I even made a montage of the faces that mean the most to me, and set it as the home screen on my phone, so that every time I pick up my phone I see the people who make me who I am, and who pick me up when I stumble.

I love to read but had run out of the kind of uplifting, easy books I need at a time like this, so I trawled a bookshop looking for things to feed my soul. When I saw a new William McInnes book, “Full Bore,” I dived on it, then hesitated briefly because the blurb described it as “ramblings on sport, pop culture and life”, and my relationship with Aussie sport can best be described as distant, verging on cold. But his writing has reliably lifted me from the depths before, so I took a punt (hah! A sporting metaphor! Perhaps I’m not a total loss as an Aussie.) and took it home with me.

And, you know what? Sport did make an appearance, but this is not a book about sport. It’s not about pop culture. It’s about people, and love, and connections. It meanders through life having random conversations with shop assistants, passersby, neighbours, and friends, and weaving them all into a soft and loving tapestry of kindness and warmth that wraps around you and reconnects you with the world. Above all it’s about love. It’s the book equivalent of a big hug. I’ve never met William McInnes, more’s the pity, but he writes directly to my heart.

It’s about taking the time to look people in the eyes and hear their stories. It’s about reaching out to strangers in the night, and neighbours in distress. It’s about treading lightly, even with big feet, but not being afraid to walk in. Everybody has a story, and everybody has a heart. Sometimes we forget to really see the people around us.

 

 

The I in TEAM

I had the incredible opportunity last week to work with some of the most amazing people I have ever met. I was able to gather them together in a room and we had the most fabulous time solving some really significant problems. Eventually I’ll post more about that on my Computing Education blog. But that meeting was able to come about because while I was away over the winter break I had a startling realization. A lot of the problems I have been trying to solve have been driving me insane, and I couldn’t see how to fix things.

And then it dawned on me. I was trying to fix them alone.

Fixing things alone is not my superpower. Bringing people together? That I can do. So that’s what I’ve spent the last 6 months doing, and now things are changing for me, and for the problems I am trying to solve, in fairly spectacular ways.

One of the great side effects of that meetings was that we talked fiction over lunch, and I got to collect a list of recommended reads from people I really admire. So I started reading one of them – “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss – this week. It’s well written and a gripping read. An excellent way to start my summer holidays. But there’s an aspect of it that is really getting up my nose. It’s the same reason I struggle to read the Harry Potter books. A lot of the plot hinges on the fact that the protagonist refuses to ask for help.

Now look. I get this. I do. Asking for help is not my thing. Not until I am too close to breaking – possibly a little past. Ok, maybe a lot past. It’s perfectly plausible. But the older I get the more I realise my strength resides in the intensity, and number, of my relationships. In the people who come when I call, and even more in the people who come before I call, knowing that the calling itself is hard for me.

In the people who leap at ideas I have for teamwork. In the people who say “hell yes, I’m far too busy for this, but let’s do it anyway!” In the people who can lift me when I’m down, keep me grounded when I’m up, and wield the frying pan of enlightenment, gently, but firmly, where it’s needed.

This isn’t just my greatest strength. This is where humanity shines, when it’s not tearing itself down. This very needing each other, this ability to create astonishing synergy, and build a remarkable whole out of disparate parts. This is humanity’s crowning achievement. This is how we build great walls, Snowy River Hydro systems, and supportive societies.

I see it in my daughter’s primary school, which has the most extraordinary community, sparked by a quite remarkable Principal. I see it in my own workplace, where people push themselves beyond reasonable limits, but always have something extra to give when a student, or colleague, needs it.

I even see it on Facebook, where a post about a problem brings any number of supportive responses, and even tangible help. Where people offer solutions, hugs, and understanding.

Sometimes we focus on our differences, and on all that’s wrong with the world. Goodness knows there’s plenty of fodder for that. And we wonder what we can do about it.

Alone? Not much, really.

But together? Together we can move mountains.

This is why I get a little frustrated by books where the protagonist has a great support network but refuses to call on it. We have this unthinking adulation of independence that is seriously counterproductive. We admire the hero who goes it alone, when we’d be far better off idolizing the hero who builds a team that saves the world together.

It’s teamwork, ultimately, that can save us. Not the Bruce Willis style hero who grumpily saves the world without help. Not the Rambo rampaging alone through the forest. It will be the teams of scientists who share the credit to solve big problems. The politicians who cross the floor to vote for something they believe in. The people who can rally others to their cause.

It will be our ability to come together and outshine the sun, not our ability to burn out alone, that determines our future. Maybe it’s time we celebrated that.

 

Failing to succeed

It’s nearly that time of year again, when year 12 results come out (or have already come out, or came out and went back in again, if you got caught up in the glitch!). As usual there’s a lot of talk of of defining moments. Of deciding your fate. Of doors opening or slamming in your face, depending on the outcome.

Earlier this year in a school assembly, I was inspired to out myself. Here I am, passionate (verging on obsessive) Computer Science teacher, researcher, and writer. Absolutely where I want to be, doing what I love, and feeling as though I can make a difference. There is nowhere I would rather be.

But my first preference was medicine.

So was my second.

I didn’t get in.

I failed.

Oh, I didn’t fail my VCE, but I failed to get the score I needed to do medicine.

A better thing could not have happened to me. I drifted into a science degree intending, in a vague and fairly uninspired way, to study Genetics. I took Computer Science as a fill in subject because I had always liked machines that go “Bing!”

By third year I was studying nothing but Computer Science. I was never going to do honours. Certainly never going to do a PhD, and no way would I ever become a lecturer. All of these things inevitably came to pass. Quite quickly, really.

I suck at predicting my future.

I’ve always been faintly astounded by people who have 5 year plans and the like. My planning mostly consists of noticing an open door and flinging myself through it.

Occasionally I have to dynamite the door to make sure it’s open.

The point is that I thought I knew what I wanted, but not getting it turned out to be the best thing that could possibly have happened. It took a while, but now I am right where I want to be, doing something I love with a slightly obsessive passion (I may be lying about the slightly part). I’ve taken a strange and winding path to get here, but every step of that road helped to give me skills and attributes I would not have had any other way. I doubt I would be this happy, or this useful if I hadn’t failed to get into medicine.

Tonight my year 12s graduate at our school’s presentation night. (I know, I don’t teach year 12, but they are still MY YEAR 12s. Hush.) It will be a minor miracle if I don’t cry, because every single one of them has performed amazing feats just to get where they are.

So if you’re waiting on your final school results, remember this: there is nothing defining about these numbers. You are so much more than a number could ever express. Whatever happens, your future is in your hands, and you have extraordinary potential. Go get ’em, Tiger.