Creation, or Virtual Multiple Personality Disorder
I play videogames. A lot. Maybe not lots of different ones, but I do play them a lot. More than I should: they are my favorite form of procrastination. Until about a year ago, I kept my distance from MMOs – massively multiplayer online games. I knew from friends, from YouTube, and from common sense after having been browsing the Internet for years that the MMO atmosphere could at times be quite tense. By that, I mean you could run into a chat channel with either intense or offensive subject matter, or your party (of which most MMOs make it almost a requirement to be a part in order to advance through some quests) could get more or less worked up about your messing up, slow reaction times, misclicks, or anything else that might happen. Worked up – read: explosive.
I’m not a great player. If we’re into honesty and all that, I’m barely a good player. Attention span – that’s an issue. Planning ahead – sometimes an issue. Reaction time – definitely an issue. Seeing everything around me – don’t even get me started on how huge of an issue that is. Prioritizing the best skills (or even remembering them at some point) – definitely an issue. Misclicks due to either one of pets, sudden spasms, annoying wires, lag, lack of attention, so on and so forth – that happens to everybody…. Right? Anyway, you’re getting the point by now. I mess up. A lot.
And I also like to avoid being told that even more. Especially when it comes from rage-filled gamers whether in all-caps in the party chat or screaming through whatever voice chat client is being used. Especially when it comes from people I don’t know – who sometimes become a part of your party whether you want it or not. Have you started wondering by now how is any of this related to the title? I’m getting to that now. Soon.
Until about a year ago, I mostly stuck to single-player games – spacing out is one of the main reasons why I play games sometimes and they definitely allow for it, if you’re playing the right game, such as a turn-based strategy game. My favorite, since childhood, has been the Heroes of Might and Magic franchise, of which there are now many games and they have both the option of single and multi-player. It’s probably also the one game I’m actually good at. Actually good at – read: better than my friends whom I’ve dragged into liking it, but still suck at compared to the masters out there. And no, I’m pretty sure I’m not selling myself short here.
I’ve also, of course, experimented with Co-op games. For the most part, those I’ve played make it easy to play just with your friends – big groups aren’t a requirement and some games have NPCs – non-playable characters, in one word, bots – whose roles you don’t need to fill in order to play. They’re not the sharpest tools in the shed, but they get the job done relatively decently.
About a year ago, I watched an anime. Sword Art Online. Long story short: virtual MMO where a headgear allows you to be in the game world much like in a dream, but everyone is stuck there with the only way to get out being to defeat the final boss – no easy feat, by the way (it actually takes them two years and, compared to me, they are gods at this). Unreasonably, that made me want to try MMOs. Best idea ever, right?
Here we get to how all this relates to the title. Around the same time, a friend asked me to proofread her essay. A psychology class, I believe. It was a study about the real and virtual identities of MMO players in which she interviewed a player (not me, which did sting a little – but then again, as you will find out if you keep reading, my answers would probably have wrecked her thesis gloriously) about his experiences with other players, his characters and their creation process, and how the characters he played directly shaped the interactions with the other players. Something along those lines, but I don’t really remember what it really tried to demonstrate.
Either way, it got me to thinking about my own real and virtual identities and how they shape my in-game experience. I’m not much of a chatter in MMOs, but I have been known to interact with people. Still, I couldn’t reach any concrete conclusion about how my characters affect how I act around other people. Did changing from one character to another cause a shift? Maybe if I played a healer as opposed to a tank, I’d say something more – being at the back of the battle allows more time to type in a few quick words and there’s less of a chance I’ll royally mess up and stress.
It is probably assumed if you play for a female your interaction will be different than when playing for a male. Maybe that is different for guys more than for me. Then again, I hardly ever play for a male. Females are so much more fun to create. My usual partier, a guy, also plays almost exclusively for females and rarely interacts differently with people. For the most part, probably because he doesn’t care enough to change his attitude from one character to another in a chat channel. But he does tell me, “Tell them you’re a girl, they’ll give you stuff.” I’ve never done it and I doubt that it happens, but it is a running joke they’ll flock to you if you tell them you’re a girl. You might even be treated with a less explosive attitude if they know you’re a “girl”, though whether that speaks to sexism or not, I’m not going to get into (neither do I want to treat this subject here, nor do I really care about it if it were true).
I can’t speak for everyone else and I won’t speak for those interactions conducted while role-playing – assuming the role of your character and shaping your conversation around who your character is as opposed to what you would usually say yourself. But for me and my usual partner, who is really the only other experience I have witnessed, conversations are usually dependent on ourselves with others. Sure, there might be the mean making fun of someone’s character or actions harmlessly (and it is obviously so), which is easily facilitated by the anonymity a chat and virtual identity (your character) provide, but there isn’t really much of anything else.
As I said, I don’t remember enough of my friend’s essay to make any generalizing claims with certainty now or even to draw conclusions on my own gameplay style in relation to others. And this won’t be the focus of this piece either. What I have noticed, though, when it comes to playing games, which might very well be a restrained experience not common to all players, at least not at the level at which me and my friend take it, is that the greatest part that is influenced when playing is the character itself, players be damned. Identity still plays a huge role but outside the realm of player-player interaction.
I haven’t played many RPGs, mainly because I always get distracted from the main quest and want to do my own thing or because the character creation process wasn’t satisfying enough. You’ll see what I mean about that soon enough. But I have played plenty games where the character is given – you do not create your own and you do not have any opportunity to create its own story. That didn’t stop me from getting attached to characters where there is an actual story. I might scream my frustrations and disappointment or excitedly exclaim my satisfaction or even, yes, I admit it, cry when something happens to the character I am playing for or someone else in the story line. I might get unreasonably attached to an NPC and hesitate in killing it, spend time mourning it, or do my best to advance my quest in such a manner that I force a happy result for them, which in turn makes me happy. For some Co-ops, and here I will give the example of Left 4 Dead 2, the character pool is so small (here not counting mods that change a character’s appearance to whatever you might like and you might be the only one to know it, unless others use it, too) and there are so many people playing these characters that it becomes difficult to establish a rapport with any character. Most gamers will fight to get the few characters that are really liked (for which there is quite a consensus among the community), while the late comers will bemoan being stuck with the one no one wants. Interactions are conducted completely outside the character itself, who has become a mere avatar with little meaning, which is why my friend’s study and those of researchers out there focused on MMOs.
MMOs really allow you to create your own character. Your own persona. I take you back to the first time I created such a character. It was last year, end of March, beginning of April. I’d watched videos, preparing myself, choosing which race and class I would play. I enter the character selection screen. I already know the race and class. I don’t know what I will create. Obviously, a female. I cycle through the faces – as usual, the choice is quite limited, but they are good enough. I choose the one that I liked best. Surprisingly, she looks quite punky, which I didn’t expect. I’m not one to appreciate the punk style. But she is slowly taking shape. A creature I never envisioned, a creature I never prepared for. I choose her make-up, add one cross earring on her left ear. Painstakingly, I choose a hairstyle, which sadly is bundled with the horns – I cannot choose them independently. But it’s good enough. I’m disappointed these devilish people haven’t been given a tail – a long, thicker one for the males and a thinner, shorter one for the females. To me, they have one, it’s just not shown.
Seeing her better, a story slowly starts forming in my mind. She is young, she is a warrior, she is still naïve, but not innocent. She has joined the army for glory, having grown up listening to stories about heroes, but knows little about what it means and what it will mean for her. She has no idea what is in store for her and I don’t either. The surprise hasn’t unfolded entirely. I tweak her features, make her really my own, then I go to the name creation tab. I’m stuck. What do I do? I think and think and think. I always liked the name Rae. I always liked Sailor Moon and in the English dub (which I never watched as it is, sorry, voice actors, awful), Sailor Mars’ name is Rae, to be similar to the Japanese Rei. I always liked Sailor Mars – my favorite. But Rae doesn’t quite fit this beauty I have here. I keep on thinking. She is ferocious and brave. Reckless, really – being so young and inexperienced, she doesn’t know the weight of loss, of sacrifice. The story continues to form as I think on her name. She’s a redhead – a vivid, lava-like gorgeous redhead, as it fits her race. Fire. Fire… Rae… And ferocious, right? She strikes fear into the hearts of enemies. Like a wraith. Fire, Rae, Wraith. I have the name. Fyraethe. I am satisfied it is unique and that it fits her.
Over days and weeks of playing her with my friend’s character, Binala – a quiet, lonely elf who knows the value of life and the meaning of loss, providing the perfect balance for Fyraethe – both their stories develop. It takes my friend by surprise. “I can’t believe we’re actually making them stories!” he exclaims one day exasperated with how far we have gone. Today, he loves it. Fyraethe becomes Fyra, her name shortened for convenience, giving proof of their close friendship. Fyra becomes what her parents, removed on a different continent also call her. Her life takes shape behind the scenes, in conversations and musings whenever she comes to mind. She falls in love with an NPC. I do not, but she does. Her emotions take a life of their own, outside my own control – they just happen and it seems unreasonable for me to try to change them.
I’d been writing stories and fanfictions with another friend for a long time. I knew what it meant to put yourself in a character’s shoes and simulate their emotions. I was also used to their emotions running out of my own control. I was no longer the author, I was just a narrator, witnessing their tribulations and feeling everything they did, against my own wishes. Feeling their pain and crying, feeling their joy and smiling like an idiot while no one around me understood why. Crazy, right? I’d say I am. You don’t know half the story yet.
I have perhaps a dozen characters split across two MMOs. They all have their own story. They all have a name. They all have their own emotions, their own likes and dislikes. Just the other day, I created my newest character. A beastly one, of a race that is really an animal evolved with intelligence and society, like humans. I perfected him. Fur, fur pattern, hair, horns, facial features, everything. His story slowly takes shape. I need a name. I cannot think of a proper name. All the names that I choose – with the half-exception of one, who shares a clan name with a favorite character from a series – are truly unique. They are their own people in their own right. To me, to my friend, they bleed, they feel, they cry, they get their hearts broken. Now I need to make this one. I sat in front of the screen, thinking for more than an hour. You read that right. More than an hour. Insane, right? I’ve passed insane long ago and took a left turn down Maniac Boulevard. Finally, I decide on the silliest name such a brute could ever have. He is massive, a giant really, towering over humans by twice their size, with huge fangs and a mean, surreal look in his eyes. (He is also my only male character.) His name is Snowflake Ironforge.
The creation of a character is not what I first expected it to be a year ago. I never assumed I would put so much effort and heart into them. If someone makes a negative comment, even a good-humoured one, I get worked up over it. They have insulted my creation, what I have spent so much time perfecting and developing. They cannot be forgiven and the foul mood (if the comment struck a particularly sensitive nerve) doesn’t pass easily. I jump to the defense, whether vocally or not. Everything churns within – I go over everything that the character is, everything that proves the opposite of what was said. I have no children, but it does feel like someone has just insulted my baby.
As I log onto one character, I go into a particular mode. Loading Fyra? I am ready to take every in-game, in-quest action that fits her to the letter. Loading Mei Mae Minn? Initiating crazy, clumsy genius mode. Dahria? Dark, brooding, tough mode – I am the boss, I am vengeful and am not easily impressed.
You get the point, I don’t need to go on. Actions are taken, even if I myself would prefer it to be the other way. I feel everything that they feel, even if I wish they felt differently. Even if I wish this character didn’t hate her childhood neighbour, because I do like that childhood neighbour. My creations are close to my heart and come to life.
Their life is, to some extent, led outside of me. I have no control over whom they love or hate, what they desire, what they hate or like – while I am the story-teller and answer the question when asked, after serious deliberation, it is always chosen based on who they are. They have clear, distinct identities and, were I to overlook the game’s default story, they would all go their different paths. These paths would at some point intersect, for some, not for all.
I would assume some tenet of psychology would say they all share something of me. That their identities are, at the heart of things, stemming from the one thing they have in common – the creator. I cannot find that. Can an author similarly say the characters woven into the story are truly only made possible because a part of them provided the root? Where the root might only really be their imagination and ability to empathize with others to the extent of creating the semblance of life?
I can admit the root found within me, the one thing in common is that I perhaps cannot envision some things that would create different characters. Perhaps some mentalities are impossible for me to recreate. But more than that, I am the root because although they all have their own lives, their own ambitions and desires, these identities are constantly swirling around in my head. My head is a boiling pot, assaulted at the most random of times by these multiple virtual personalities that I have created and lost control of. The one thing that I can say is truly dependent on me is the likelihood of one character to figure in my mind more than another. I can only say it is truly mine this favoritism that makes me feel closer to one character than another, but even then I cannot be sure if it really is my choice. Some grow on me with time, some are cherished so deeply from the very beginning.
I don’t know what sense can be made of this virtual identity mania of mine, but I could probably safely say that I have a multiple personality disorder. And it does not include only personalities created for the sake of MMOs. I have been writing stories for the better part of five years – true stories, with fully-fleshed characters, not the short, discarded stories written in high school for class. Over the course of these five years, I have created more characters than I can remember. But those that I do remember are so close and true to my heart. I feel their joy and their disappointment and I bend over backwards to find loopholes or new means of getting them what they want, giving them the chance to become what they have the potential to be.
I have previously said my friend also created such personalities for his characters. But unlike my own, he is in full control of their feelings, their ambitions, and their desires. If he wants it one way, that’s the way they’ll have it. Something like, “When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.” He cannot comprehend how I am unable to change these personalities and all that makes them what they are. He says, “You are their creator, you should be in control.” Maybe I no longer am their creator. Maybe I am now something else.
Creation is important. It is an inherent part of us and what we have created, we will defend tooth and nail. Much like an artist who defends his painting against the howling, humiliating mockery of others, it becomes an intrinsic part of us and it is difficult to let go.
Maybe I am really just a maniac, treasuring these personalities that exist only deep within my mind and heart. Maybe I no longer am a creator, maybe I am just a sufferer of a strange sort of multiple personality disorder. But even if I am, these characters of mine are that amazing that, say what you want, I am damn proud of them.
J.C. is a hopeful and currently unpublished Canadian author. Something happened and words appeared. More to follow.
I operated on a computer last Wednesday. It wasn’t the first time; I’ve now done about ten over the past five years. When I was all done, I felt as though I had accomplished something. I had done something important and of value with my day! In retrospect however, it’s not much of an achievement.
For those not familiar with the process, it is a strange one, mixing moments of finesse, brute force, ‘oh-shit’s and, in my case, blood. I wish I was kidding about that last one.
The process always begins with the case. Mine is a prototypical black box that is far too large to sit under or on my desk. It has all manner of cut outs, perforations and plastic cladding one would expect on most cases. It is well built and well machined. In spite of that it has more sharp edges and rough corners than you would reasonably expect. More importantly, it extracts a price every time I dare to even dream of inspecting its innards through anything but the faded plastic masquerading as a window. The case is also utterly ruthless, without pity or remorse about collecting, and it always expects to be paid up front.
Having pulled out the beast and wrestling it onto its side, I won the initial skirmish at the expense of a cut below my shinbone and one on my finger. Fuck. Hope springs eternal but at least this time they’re not deep enough that I’ll need bandages.
With payment out of the way, I delved into the heart of the machine establishing my plan of action. My purpose this time was straightforward and seemingly simple, but complex in execution. I was here to replace the central fan, install some RAM and two hard drives. That doesn’t sound so bad, right? Let me explain why everything about that last sentence is hugely disingenuous.
First, I will need to remove the original fan from its preferred parking spot atop the computer chip. Barely adequate to the task of drawing away the heat, the new one is a clear upgrade but the work is delicate. The chip is a square roughly the size of a saltine. Costing hundreds of dollars and made of silicon with a metal plate on top, the underside is literally comprised of hundreds of little pins, all of whom have a bespoke socket on the motherboard. Bending one of these pins can, and often does, require the complete replacement of our little silicon wafer. Installing these chips is absolutely nerve-wracking and it makes the most awful grinding sound as it is latched in to the motherboard. Thankfully, I was not here to undertake that task and the original fan was easily dispatched.
Next, I need to remove the motherboard. The motherboard is the spine of the whole machine. Long and flat, with protruding metal and plastic placed with seemingly little rhyme or reason, it’s an awkward piece with unequal weight distribution. It’s also fastened with 9 of the smallest screws you can imagine.
Dear reader, I am not a small man. I do not have delicate hands.
Cursing my decision to do this at all, I manage to somehow disentangle the motherboard and remove it with minimal mysterious clinking. I only dropped 3 screws, a new record! Corralling all the screws into an easy to find location (some of them reluctant to come as they snag onto the board) I can only hope I haven’t broken anything.
I move the board onto a piece of shipping cardboard pretending to be a workbench and consider my next move. The new fan, unlike the old one, has a back plate that needs installing before I can mount the fan. I cannot avoid installing the back plate now but the fan I could install once the board is back in the case. I decide against it as it would be unsecured on its own without the fan installed and I will have my hands full navigating the mess of wiring that remains in the case. In theory, this should be the easy part. Riiight, in theory….
Imagine if you will a multi-level parking garage of 50 stories. Now imagine the engineers had devised a method to split it perfectly in the middle so it becomes two equal towers. They’ve also managed to remove the outer support pillars so that all the support is provided by a pillar in the middle of the cut, one for each side. Finally, imagine the whole thing a foot tall by 4 inches wide and instead of parking spots, delicate metallic leaves made of the thinnest of metal sheeting sprouting from the central columns. It is properly known as a heatsink and draws the immense heat created by the chip up and into the leaves allowing the fans that hang off of it to cool them in the process. It is exceptionally pretty craftsmanship, beautifully built but very delicate and thus vulnerable to just about any sudden pressure or hit. Oh, and it sits on the brain of the computer, the chip. You know that hyper-sensitive-don’t-ruin-it-at-your-own-peril-you’ve-been-warned-thing I mentioned earlier? Now, I get to attach this delicate monstrosity to the top and pray I don’t ruin both in the process!
To make matters worse, there’s a thin coating of thermal paste that needs to be removed and replaced before the new heatsink can go on. This, I’ve never done. Fuck. Normally the custom heatsink is put on when the chip is first installed but for a variety of reasons, it wasn’t in the cards then. I wish it wasn’t in the cards now.
The solvent came squirting out in higher volume than I anticipated and quickly but unevenly spread across the surface of the chip. Thankfully, by some magic, it didn’t spill over the edge down into the socket. I would be a much poorer man today if it had. My first attempted wipe lifts most of the paste. I try again with better results. As I was hesitant to put much pressure or to wipe with any kind of lateral force though, smudges remained. This was a problem as I still had to put on a second solvent and the new paste. I stop here for a moment to contemplate my options and was reminded of a quip one of my good and long-lost friends was so fond of:
‘In for a Penny, in for a Pound’
So, resolving to deal with the consequences, I try a third time with a bit more vigor. The grinding of my teeth was matched only by that the chip. They still hurt. There’s no way to check for damage at this stage, so on I went.
The heatsink fit beautifully onto the back plate’s protruding pins and I lower it onto the chip, the new thermal paste not squelching as anticipated. It really is an astounding piece of engineering. Threading the special screw-driver down between the towers, I begin to tighten the screws onto their fittings. Any give at all will cause problems. It slips. The screwdriver falls. Not once, but twice as I try to secure the screws as tight as they will go. Remember, I do not have delicate hands. Thankfully, I don’t damage the leaves. Hopefully, I didn’t damage anything else.
Feeling the motherboard flex under the added weight, I swiftly but carefully load it back into the case. Back on its mounts, I begin the process of screwing it back into the case. I only dropped 2 screws this time but had a small moment of panic when I realized I had to tip the case to recover one of them.
For those keeping track, that’s five ‘oh-shit’s’ so far.
Navigating the case to connect all the cabling around the monstrosity now permanently perched above my chip was an interesting experience but thankfully without incident. The installation of the two sizeable fans that accompanied the heatsink is also without trouble. I’m learning all about due care and attention as I go. The drives were similarly installed without much in the way of excitement. Sure I miscalculated and had to rewire the whole section but that’s barely worth mentioning. Why do I keep doing this to myself?
The ram on the other hand, was not without incident. In general, it’s a simple install. One I’ve done dozens of times over the past twenty years. It’s potentially the easiest thing to do. The general process is to line up the stick with the appropriate slot and push and push and push until the plastic fittings click into place. To be clear, it’s no small effort. The whole board flexes underneath. It’s a bit surreal at first but you quickly become accustomed to it. Well, as it turned out this time, I hadn’t lined it up; I was pushing it directly into the space between the fittings.
Here I was pushing and pushing, waiting for the click to confirm it was seated and nothing was coming. Furthermore, in my haste I had put pressure on the module next to the one I was trying to put in causing it to lean far more than I was comfortable. Oh-shit. After all that work earlier, was I going to ruin it all on the home stretch? Pulling out the stick, I inspect it, the one next to it and the board. No sign of stress, thankfully. I line up again and it goes in without incident, confirming it is now seated with a satisfying click.
There’s no need to waste time reviewing my work. It’s either done and it works or it’s not and it fails. Computers won’t wait around to tell you. You’ll know right away. I plug in the bare necessities and make my way to the power button. I pause a moment. There’s always a small hesitation.
What if it catches fire or worse yet, is unresponsive?
Penny and Pound and all that, I take a breath and push the button.
I have it cycle a few times, self-diagnose and stress test it. It’s working. That it does so without errors or failures is the cherry on top.
Quickly, panels on, wrestle it back into place before it changes its mind!
You might be thinking, ‘so what? That’s it?’ As I wrote earlier, it’s not much of an accomplishment. The computer has no productivity software of any kind and is used mainly as a glorified internet, Netflix, videogames machine and an expensive one at that. I didn’t even write this piece on it! For my two hours of work, it’ll run flawlessly (I hope) for about five years and I’ll go through the whole thing again. Writing this took much longer and will prove to be equally unimportant in the long run. I’m perfectly content with that knowledge however as the purpose of the exercise, the story and this piece, was to highlight the accomplishment we can find in those little things we love doing even if they serve no greater purpose. There’s value in that on a deeply personal level.
Lillian Lee – wannabee writer, single mother and handicapped budget maker
There are some hard times out there. Hard times call for adjustments and budgeting especially when you’re a single mom with a very limited income. When you’re also young or at least believe yourself in that category still, you have to be creative to keep up with fashion and with the people around.
The problem comes when you’ve never really learnt how to budget what you have and how to do everything you could to make ends meet.
I thought hard and came up with a solution: I will start making my own clothes. In a way or another, I will manage to save money and to keep up with the changes in the world around me.
First try: a beautiful yellow dress with huge leaves splattered all over the place. I saw the fabric in a store nearby and I had an interesting model in my mind: it was simple and sassy. No big deal, I thought and I made the calculations and saw that I would actually save quite a lot of money by buying the fabric and sew the dress myself.
I measured myself and then I measured the fabric, not once but at least three times to be sure. I cut through the fabric with the model in mind and then I started sewing the pieces together. It was hard work, requiring a lot of patience and that is something that I don’t have in high supply in stock. However, I persevered.
After days of painstakingly sewing with care so no one could see the dress was handmade, I finished it and I was in terrible awe. It looked as great as I thought it would. Then, the disappointment hit: it didn’t fit me.
I tried to put it on but it was a lost battle. It seemed that the measurements were somehow skewed.
For a moment there, I thought to cut it and make a skirt out of it. I could have used parts of the fabric from the top to insert panels in the skirt.
I couldn’t do it. The dress was too fluid and too elegant to be messed with. With a sigh of regret, I offered it to my sister who is about thirty pounds lighter than I. The dress looked perfect on her, and not only the color or the pattern but also the model.
So, that was strike one. My budget was more burdened and I was in the red.
Then I thought I’d try something else. Knitting seemed harmless and I had control over the size. The only setback was the fact that I had never learnt how to knit. When it came to that, it looked like I had two left hands.
That didn’t stop me. I borrowed a book from the library. It spelled everything out and also offered ideas. I chose something not very difficult but not very simple either. I was looking for class as well, not only for economy.
It took me a few days to learn how to start. If I were to be honest, I should say that it took me about two weeks. Then I started knitting following the model in the book.
I was thinking of knitting a blouse that would work in spring and in autumn as well, but that could be worn also in summer if I had a chance to go to the mountains. Fat chance that but I always thought it was better to dream and hope than to let yourself drown in melancholy.
I worked hard for a few more weeks. The progress was steady even though quite minimal. Finally I got to the sleeves part. That sank me.
I tried everything in my power, I counted and I checked the book again. By now, I had already had to borrow it twice. Nothing worked. I knitted and then, I started all over again a few times. In the end, I decided to ask for help so I went to an aunt and asked her how to do the sleeves.
She lectured for about an hour and half. My eyes grew glassy and my mind went numb. I couldn’t follow the lecture that was embellished with all sorts of advice on housework matters. I hoped at least that she’d start working on the sleeves and then, with my analytical mind – who am I kidding? I don’t really have an analytical mind - I could replicate what she did. However, she didn’t. She only lectured.
I left her house with a terrible headache and with an unsolved problem.
Nevertheless, I decided not to throw the towel yet. I went home and took out my little black book and started going through all the people I knew. I was sure I could find at least one who would be able to help me.
After another hour, I had to give up. There was no one there. None of my friends would have had the time or inclination to knit.
The next step was to take the phone and call one of my close friends to complain about the impossibility of finding a way to be well dressed and preserve my miser budget as well. I told her about my try to knit the blouse and my inability to pass over the sleeves. And then she stunned me. She told me her husband was a genius when it came to knitting and that he would be happy to help me.
I don’t really know how happy he was, but I ran immediately to their house, not to lose my chance of finishing at least that blouse.
Indeed, he was a genius at knitting. However, he was far away from a genius when it came to explaining. In the end, exhausted and exasperated, he gave up showing me and he knitted the sleeves himself. He had speed and accuracy. I couldn’t even see the moves. Everything was blurry.
I was very grateful. The only thing to do now was to sew the entire thing up and I would have had a blouse. He asked me though not to come back with any knitting projects and that brought an end to my knitting adventure.
So, I went back to analyzing the budget to see what I could do to save and still feel like I had everything I wanted.
After a few more days of creating columns and trying to reason with the figures that didn’t want to cooperate with me at all, I realized that there was only one way if I wanted to be in the budget: to say good bye to some of the things. No more new clothes at the beginning of the season, not that I had ever bought more than one or two, but anyway; no more going out every Saturday evening, because I had to choose between that and my son’s hockey practice, and no more second coffees during my work program. I had to live with one.
I had to hand the victory to the gloomy budget and to skulk away defeated. Nevertheless, I will come up with something that would help me enjoy life in a way or another.
RICK HARTWELL - WRITING AT THE MUSEUM: CREATING A CLASS OF HUMANISTS IN AN ENVIRONMENT OF EXTENDED WRITING
Rick Hartwell is a retired middle school teacher (remember the hormonally-challenged?) living in Southern California. He believes in the succinct, that the small becomes large; and, like the Transcendentalists and William Blake, that the instant contains eternity. Given his “druthers,” if he’s not writing, Rick would rather still be tailing plywood in a mill in Oregon. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Writing at the Museum: Creating a Class of Humanists In an Environment of Extended Writing by Rick Hartwell
Is art necessary in the twenty-first century? At first this assignment may seem to be merely another persuasive essay provided in partial compliance with California’s English language arts content standards and disconnected from the students’ real lives. It is, rather, the terminal activity in a series of lectures, a field trip, discussions, two essays, an oral presentation, and two more essays, all of which comprise a cohesive unit that extends over approximately eight weeks. This is the culminating writing prompt provided to fifty-eight seventh grade students and their three peer tutors in the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) sections at a Middle School in Moreno Valley, California. As with other valuable educational units, it is a work in progress, evolved over time (in this case, four years) from ideas provided by others, merged with one particular instructor’s interests, and manipulated each time to accommodate the group personality of each class.
I am primarily a language arts teacher; however, for these students my role is that of an AVID elective teacher and program coordinator. For these students my goal is to provide additional support in the academic areas in which they may be deficient, most often reading and writing, and to create opportunities for them to acquire and practice organizational skills, time management, and group cohesion, and to do it all while fostering an interest in higher education. Toward these ends, the AVID program and I focus on writing, inquiry, collaboration, and reading (the WICR elements of AVID). The writing at the museum unit includes all of these strategies and is very successful in motivating students to strive for better writing, to use higher level analytical thinking, to practice greater confidence in their own abilities, and to take an interest in unique areas of culture they might not otherwise encounter.
As to whether or not the students enjoy the unit, I can only note that the eighth graders who had participated the previous year as seventh graders, still looked forward to the field trip even knowing of the writing and presentation demands. Three students had even attended the museum on their own with their parents or guardians during the ensuing year. Several other students who had kept their essays from the prior year asked if they could use various parts of those essays for the current year’s prompts. (What a college concept; to hold onto previous academic work in order to apply it later!) But these are my biases; perhaps I should let the students’ words speak for them:
On the visit to the Palm Springs Desert Museum I really liked the artwork that was in there. It was very creative and it made me feel very cool and inspired. I really enjoyed looking at it –
Yasmin, 7th grade.
This was my first visit to an art museum. Prior to this visit I had never before had the opportunity to view and to judge art pieces in this manner. I learned that there are many forms of art, ranging from ancient artifacts to modern day art displays. As I walked through the museum I came across all sorts of wonderful and creative art pieces –
Barbara, 7th grade.
As I come to an end I say, “Breathing Glass” has inspired me. It makes me want to be adventurous. I think “Breathing Glass” expresses everyday life and says no matter what you must try [and] never give up, work you[r] way. Life will never be easy deal with it –
Aaron, 8th grade.
This art museum was the most beautiful place of art I have ever been to. It was filled with many pieces of art from famous artists. Some kinds of art that was [sic] there were sculptures, blown glasses, and many paintings –
Randy, 8th grade.
Last year I wrote about this couple. I enjoy writing and love writing about things I like. That’s why I wrote about “The Old Couple on the Bench.” When I write, I usually write about things that I like and this art was it. It was so realistic! I hope I see more like it soon –
Vanessa, 8th grade.
With the expansion of the AVID program at our school this year we were only able to accommodate the seventh grade sections; resulting in great disappointment among those eighth-graders who had participated last year, another reflection of the success of this approach.
As I tell my students, approbation deserves attribution. This unit evolved as an extension of a “Writing at the Museum” Writing Retreat opportunity provided through the Inland Area Writing Project (IAWP), a University of California, Riverside, affiliate of the National Writing Project (NWP). Tremendous thanks also must be provided to the Palm Springs Desert Museum and its Education Coordinator.
The museum provides writing tours as part of its educational outreach. Students are provided with clipboards and pencils and are conducted through the museum holdings for about an hour and a half by very knowledgeable docents. Stopping before pre-selected artworks for five to ten minutes, the docents present ten to twelve diverse pieces of art to each group of about fifteen students, providing background and context for a deeper understanding of both artists and art. My AVID students are required to take Cornell Notes for use later and are instructed to capture not only factual data, but their emotional reactions to the objects as well. Requests for a specific artistic focus can often be honored by the museum and, with prior arrangement and subject to availability, a facility for debriefing may also be provided. The Palm Springs Desert Museum charges absolutely nothing for this experience! The only cost for the school has been for bus transportation and this has been enthusiastically borne by my Principal. We are extraordinarily fortunate to have the PSDM within an hour’s drive, but I believe that the structure, techniques, and content of this educational opportunity could be provided through almost any museum: cultural, technical, industrial, interactive, or virtual, and there are many virtual museum tours available on the internet.
In order to prepare the students for the field trip and to provide them with the academic background and vocabulary necessary to discuss art, I ask a close friend of mine to conduct a class about one week before the trip. This retired middle school teacher uses a series of both black and white and color overheads to encourage student discussion of and response to art. The selections she provides change from year to year to maintain freshness for those students who have seen the presentation before, but for the eighth grade class she often makes reference to the previous year’s art and builds on those students prior knowledge. This is not always a smooth process, often acutely so for those students with limited or no background in art or art appreciation. This difficulty serves to underscore the need for more student exposure to the breadth of humanities, particularly in the earlier grades, and is one of the most compelling reasons for implementing a unit such as this in order to merge the humanities with the content standards. In brief, the following points are made:
I. Formal Elements of Art:
A. Medium - the types and use of specific materials.
B. Color - the distinction and use of warm or cool.
C. Shape - the basics of geometry and the use of
soft or hard objects.
D. Line - the quality of line and the use of
curved or jagged types.
E. Texture - the presentation of depth and
the use of smooth or rough surfaces.
A. Subject matter.
B. Significance of subject.
C. Use of symbols.
D. Creation of mood.
E. Purpose of the artwork.
III. Personal Response - What Is Your Reaction:
A. Likes or dislikes? Specifically what?
B. Powerful or boring? Can you analyze the why?
C. What does it make you think of? Be specific?
D. Would you like it in your home? Why or why not?
E. Could you live with it always? Why or why not?
To these could be added many other elements depending on the age and sophistication of the students: lighting and light source, both internal to the art and external; visual perspective and depiction of perspective; the artist’s reliance on common symbolism or allegory; cultural similarities and differences. As I noted earlier, this unit is itself a work in progress and I keep adding new ideas.
The students take Cornell Notes during Ms. Brown’s presentation that provide the background for analyses of specific works of art encountered at the museum. Adjustments to these requirements could be made for alternative types of museums. The students need to be encouraged to refer back to these notes periodically in order to avoid the adolescent pitfalls of the “I like it because I like it” or “I don’t like it because it is boring” type of response. I am very indebted to Cora Lee and I extend my thanks publicly. I also have the students thank her, not just with applause, but by writing short thank-you notes which I send to her. These notes usually take the form an eight-page mini-book created from a sheet of blank printer paper and then embellished with drawings and text. Elementary teachers will immediately know what I mean; others may have to ask their colleagues for instructions. This may seem like a “throwaway” element of the process, but I feel very strongly that this simple note is very much a part of real writing - not to mention a social skill that is fast eroding in our society - even though it does not appear in the content standards for the grades I teach. Later in the unit I have the students write thank-you notes to the docent who conducted their particular group, which I mail to the museum for delivery, and I have them write a more formal thank-you card, which I usually buy out of my own pocket, to their group chaperone. As the chaperones are usually parents or guardians, I have their student deliver these cards personally.
So what are the specific formal writing requirements I demand of the students? Over the several weeks following the field trip the students respond to the following prompts:
I. Create a poem, a narrative story, or an extended figure of speech in prose, expressive of your emotional response to one of the pieces of art you encountered at the museum -
Descriptive or Narrative or Poetry.
II. In essay form, using the elements of art and art vocabulary which you have recently learned, support your position that ________________ is the most (or least) artistic work you encountered at the museum -
III. Compare and contrast two dissimilar works of art which you encountered at the museum, one you liked greatly and one you did not, using the elements of art and art vocabulary which you have recently learned -
Comparison and Contrast.
IV. Respond in essay form to the question, “Is Art Necessary in the Twenty-First Century?” defending your position with specific details and thoughtful analysis -
These include descriptive, narrative, possible poetic, expository, comparison/contrast, and persuasive formats. Using writing structures provided in both the Step-Up-To-Writing (Sopris West Educational Services) and the 6+1 Trait Writing (Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory) programs, I model each approach with the students by writing with them and then allow them a great deal of collaboration with one another. Writing need not be, perhaps should not be, a solitary practice; community works best. I write with them, in front of them, and I post my completed poetry or essay on the board. This is not for bragging rights, but for them to see that I value writing enough to be involved myself and that completed writing should be published.
Are the students able to articulate their feelings towards art and announce them to the world? Absolutely! Note some of their comments:
There are many sculptures and paintings added to the museum that I enjoyed seeing. What did you like the most? My favorite sculpture was the sculpture that is called the “Breathing Glass.” A woman named Sandy Skoglund constructed this. This is a magnificent piece or art and I will tell you why –
Julie, Grade 8.
But there was only one I really enjoyed viewing which (sic) was, “The Welcoming Storm,” by David Shepard. I believe that piece of artwork was the most artistic to me. . . . One thing I was intrigued by was how it made me feel. When I looked at “The Welcoming Storm” I felt like I was in my own little world of freedom and desire, although the painting looked rather fierce -
Victoria, 8th grade.
He [Max Biel, the artist] could have been saying that the gaps, or negative space was in our world because our countries aren’t all getting along. The purpose could have been anything. The “Positive/Negative” sculpture could have been something to express what he was feeling inside. I think that the purpose of the artwork was something that he was feeling in his life. The negative space (or gaps) could have meant that he had made mistakes in his life and has to fill in the gaps, and the positive space could have meant that he had fixed parts of his life –
Sandra, 8th grade.
I think that I would very much love to have such a beautiful piece of art in my house. Just having a famous painting of the wild in my home would be an honor. “The Pride” isn’t one of those other paintings in my home where I would get so bored with seeing everyday. To me, I would love to wake up every morning and see that painting hung up on a wall in my home –
Melissa, 8th grade.
But these students are not just academically oriented. They also can be creative and have fun. The following were submitted in response to the first writing assignment:
“The End of Day”
“The End of Day” goes on and on from bottom to top
It would never stop
With every color of glass blown up
They look like ballons [sic] all twisted up
They look like a rainbow with sharp points
. . .
“The End of Day” goes on and on from bottom to top
It has diffrent [sic] colors and shapes
It is so beautiful you wish it were day
Life is full of so many colors
Just like “The End of Day” –
Bernice, 8th grade.
“The Cabinet on the Stand”
“The Cabinet on the Stand” looks so vivid, so alive
I can still picture it, it’s fresh in my mind
Some people might think it’s dull and boring
But I think it has something special
Something that won’t leave you snoring
Could it be the bright, firm, or golden engravings?
Or the soft, adorned people slaving?
Could it be the mysterious, ancient key lock?
Or the soft, gentle, whispering of the painted people talk?
Or could it be the still, steady, golden homes?
Or the soft, gentle rocking of the golden river stones?
The cabinet is special and unique in its own way
It has something special that I cannot say –
Natasha, 7th grade.
“The Pump House”
The sound of men working around,
All of them making a harsh sound,
“The Pump House”
The rushing of the water running,
Just to look at the art is stunning,
“The Pump House”
The sounds of “The Pump House,”
Sounds just like the sqeual [sic] of a hungry mouse,
“The Pump House”
The water running in and out,
Makes the children write about,
“The Pump House”
The sight of the pump going up and down
Making a sqeuaky [sic] sound,
“The Pump House”
It feels like a sandy shore,
Also like a wooden door,
“The Pump House”
It smells like the ocean,
A fresher smell after every motion
“The Pump House” –
Julie, 8th grade.
“Old Couple on the Bench”
Sitting here and waiting
Sitting here with you
Sitting here and waiting
Wondering what to do
So quickly my life has passed me by
Soon will be my time to die
And leave this world that I love so much
And all the hearts that I hoped to touch
Sitting here and waiting
Sitting here with you
Sitting here and waiting
Wondering what to do
The past has gone, gone away
The future is here, here to stay
So enjoy the world while you can
Just don’t forget to plan, plan, plan –
Vanessa, 8th grade.
You just have to love it when a plan comes together, or when a student seems to get the point!
Last year I added the fourth prompt, Is art necessary in the twenty-first century? and then realized that I needed to break up the demands of such continuous writing. In one of those inspirational moments of reflection, I decided that I should have the students make an oral presentation between the second and third essays. During a class discussion about “The Pump House,” a construction art piece created by Michael McMillen, I had commented that I was particularly taken by the artist’s rhythmical use of flushing water and that that sound could be considered an element of art too. I was very quickly confronted by, “Isn’t music a form of art Mr. Hartwell?” Well, ah, yes! Out of the mouths of . . . In any event, it was a simple process to add the following as a Musical Interpretation of Art, again in partial compliance with California’s English language arts content standards in the area of oral communication skills:
The Learner Will (TLW) select a piece of music representing a specific piece of art encountered at the Palm Springs Desert Museum. The music selection will be played in class, cassette or CD, and will not exceed one minute in duration. TLW then orally “defend” their musical selection in a three-minute “speech.” Note cards may be used. This is an oral presentation skill required by the California English Language Arts Standards at both 7th and 8th grade. Remember, your objective is to establish and defend a specific musical selection as representative of a specific work of art. You will receive a rubric grade based on oral presentation skills - poise, posture, eye contact, voice volume, voice control, timing, audience reaction - as well as on your critical analysis of the music and the art selected.
These oral presentations were then assessed on a four-point rubric system, much as is each essay, and the several days of presentations provided a much appreciated break in the heavy routine of writing. The diversity of musical selections was amazing and there were only two duplicate selections, The Flight of the Bumblebee and some Britney Spears’ thing I’m much too old to know. We even had a musical interpretation provided by one of our school counselors who was a chaperone on the field trip and she received a “four” and my thanks again for modeling for the students, and one presented by the mother of one of the seventh grade students. Mom received resounding applause, but I did not presume to critique her! This year I will be much more proactive and I will videotape these student presentations for later class analysis and critique, adding that element to the unit as well.
It was about at this point last year, that I realized I was smothering under a rising mound of rubric scoring and badly needed to breathe more easily. My simple expedient, again adopted from others and adapted to my own needs, was to have those very students who had received rubric scores of four on both of the first two writing prompts to act as responders and reviewers for the essays from the third prompt. I then added the most successful students from the third essay and this augmented group, now about one-third in each of the two sections, responded to and reviewed the fourth essay.
Was everything smooth? Of course not! Were all students engaged fully? Oh, that I could find that magic fount in which to baptize them all as willing participants; no, not all, never all! However, the vast majority did improve. They improved in writing, in class participation, in collaboration with their peers, in practicing social skills, and, I believe, in their aesthetic appreciation of art. As a teacher, what did I get out of it? The students practiced note-taking and listening skills. They, or the majority of them anyway, wrote four essays and three thank you notes. They created and delivered an oral presentation. They disagreed and agreed and argued and defended and discussed at great length their preferred selections of art. I believe this to be valuable practice in oral presentation skills. I think they appreciate better the concept of museums. I think they had fun; what a concept! I also haven’t heard the word boring in quite some time and, while eradicating that word from student vocabularies is not my only goal as an educator, it is certainly a good point at which to start. However, I think the students should have the last word:
To end this I would love to say that this sculpture really inspired me because it for some reason told me that I can do whatever I believe in and to do that I have to work hard and enjoy being a kid at the same time - Ashawnte, 8th grade.
This art piece was a true inspiration for me to accomplish my goals. In the future I would like to be an inspiration to other people. I am going to work hard so that I may be a hero to someone in the future. I am looking forward to visiting many more museums in my lifetime - Barbara, 7th grade.
I used to think an art museum was boring, but this is pretty cool - Anton, 7th grade
Rick Hartwell is a retired middle school teacher (remember the hormonally-challenged?) living in Southern California. He believes in the succinct, that the small becomes large; and, like the Transcendentalists and William Blake, that the instant contains eternity. Given his “druthers,” if he’s not writing, Rick would rather still be tailing plywood in a mill in Oregon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Public Instruction of Values Education and Character Training
by Rick Hartwell
Throughout history the instruction of the younger generations has encompassed the transmission of societal values and the development of acceptable character traits. Such instruction was often, but not exclusively, met within the confines of the family structure and reinforced through the habitudes and prohibitions of the supported, or perhaps merely tolerated, prevalent religious orthodoxy. While societal groupings were small or isolated, the transmission of values and character was processed merely through the multiple iterations of what was socially viable. Aberrations from the norm, beyond the limits of idiosyncrasy, were not acceptable and were dealt with rapidly and thoroughly. Methods of correction - punishment, ostracism, and death - were readily available.
As societal groupings expanded and encountered others with differing values and identifiable character traits, conflicts inevitably arose. Some ended in the annihilation of one group by another. Some ended in absorption of one group within another. And some ended in accommodation, each group either tolerant of or compromising with the other. This latter resolution would have created an environment in which the allowance for and recognition of the values and character of the first group had to be accounted for by the second group, while it yet retained and transmitted to its next generation the societal values and character traits of its own. Both groups were caught in this dilemma and both groups would have institutionalized the transmission of their cherished values and character. This interaction would have been compounded by and speeded up as subsequent social groups were encountered.
As with the institutionalization of the rites of birth, coming-of-age, marriage, and death, the institutionalization of educating the young was assumed first by the family. Then it fell to the social group of greatest allegiance, often supported by local religious affiliation and orthodoxy, and finally to the society as a whole. This more generalized, institutionalized form of education worked well for the transmission of basic skills useful to the individual within society: husbandry, agriculture, crafts, fine arts, and, eventually, the skills of the literate. There were, however, the seeds of dissent planted within this concept when it came to instructing, or even modeling, social values and character traits.
Those individuals providing the instruction, no longer family members or even necessarily members of the same religious persuasion or cultural group, were participants in and practitioners of their own values systems and character development. The audiences before them were the impressionable young from diverse social and cultural groups. As teachers, as models, the individuals providing instruction inevitable opened the doors of alternative beliefs and values. Youth, and rebelliousness, were served. Constraints were imposed and as more formalized procedures were established for investing in individuals the right to teach, the obligations of what to teach and not to teach began to be standardized.
There have always been educational dissenters. Socrates was certainly one. He openly defied the social norm of early Athenian society; however highly he may be esteemed today, he paid the ultimate price for trespassing the boundaries of values education within his own time and place. A similar case could be made for many other figures of historical note: Galileo, Martin Luther, Abraham Lincoln. Their arenas of conflict may have been science, religion, and politics, respectively, but their weapons were actually the transmission of values education and character. The reader is free to nominate others to this pantheon of values educators. Nisbett notes that, “There has been surprisingly little research on those beliefs and theories shared by the mass of people in our culture” (1980, 30). A thorough analysis of these historical watershed events in light of shared versus divergent cultural values, would be most illuminating.
In a recent issue of NEA Today: The magazine of the National Education Association (NEA), the organization’s President, Bob Chase (2001), remarks, “I am always taken aback when I hear folks say that our schools should return to teaching values. We never stopped teaching values. We teach them explicitly, and more important, we model values. Everything we do and say in front of our students is a values statement” (5). The teaching of values always has been, and remains, an integral part of the formal classroom experience.
The foregoing may appear to have been a lengthy digression, and in looking back it is certainly longer than originally intended. However, it was necessary to establish the historical basis of the conflict in teaching values in the public arena. The problem remains, of course, as to whose values shall be taught and of what shall they consist? These are the issues most recently discussed in the professional literature, being argued in the public forum and from the pulpit, and being dealt with daily by the classroom practitioner.
In his 1991 work, Educating for character: How our schools can teach respect and responsibility, Thomas Lickona notes:
Schools wishing to do values education . . . need to be confident that: (1) there are objectively worthwhile, universally agreed-upon values that schools can and should teach in a pluralistic society; and (2) schools should not only expose students to these values but also help them to understand, internalize, and act upon such values (38).
As to exactly what constitutes these values, Lickona cites the “two great moral values: Respect and Responsibility . . . the core of the public morality . . . the fourth and fifth R’s” (43), and in Appendix A to the book allows that there are a multitude of others, among which are honesty, fairness, tolerance, prudence, self-discipline, helpfulness, compassion, cooperation, courage, justice, integrity, courtesy, hard work, self-worth, and “a host of democratic values” (421-422) from which the teacher “must still work up their own list - starting with respect and responsibility” (47). While not the only cataloger of values, Lickona’s list holds up well as a focal point for future reference.
In his chapter, “Making character work,” in An integrated approach to character education, edited by Rusnak in 1998, Switala lists: honesty, trustworthiness, punctuality, cooperation, respect, and responsibility (11). In the same edition, Barbour’s chapter, More than a good lesson plan, lists: honesty, trust, cooperation, respect, responsibility, hope, determination, and loyalty (70). In Emotional Intelligence, 1995, Goleman lists the “components of interpersonal intelligence” pursued by Hatch and Gardner in 1990: “Organizing groups - essential skill of the leader”; “Negotiating solutions - talent of the mediator”; “Personal connection - empathy and connecting”; and, “Social analysis - to detect and have insights about people’s feelings, motives, and concerns” (118). Although phrased much differently than those on Lickona’s list, these, too, constitute vales education.
Beane lists the values reviewed by the 1983 Task force on values education and ethical behavior and, although lengthy, there is reason to cite them fully: compassion, courtesy, critical inquiry, due process, equality of opportunity, freedom of thought and action, honesty, human worth and dignity, integrity, justice, knowledge, loyalty, objectivity, order, patriotism, rational consent, reasoned argument, respect for others’ rights, responsibility, responsible citizenship, rule of law, self-respect, tolerance, and truth (1990, 174-175). Note that these are listed alphabetically, not by any assignment of priority. In Values in education: Notes toward a values philosophy, Lerner suggests clusters of human needs, viewed as dualities and not hierarchically as with Maslow. Lerner juxtaposes the need for growth with the need for security, the need for selfhood or identity with the need for belonging, the need for meaning with the need for feeling and interaction, and, finally, the need for believing [in the future] (1976, 30-35, emphases added).
There are several previous studies that laid a foundation for compiling such lists. Hutchins’ 1917 research of “The Children’s Morality Code,” cited by Leming, emphasizes: self-control, good health, kindness, sportsmanship, self-reliance, duty, reliability, truth, good workmanship, and teamwork (1993, 1). Ryan’s 1993 evaluation of the 1947 works of C. S. Lewis leads him to believe that Lewis’ works for children contain the common values of kindness, honesty, loyalty to parents and family, and an obligation to help the poor, the sick, and the less fortunate (1). There are others of historical interest, but they do not address values significantly different from those already listed.
More recently, Carter finds the following values of significance in schools: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, justice, fairness, integrity, and caring (1999, 2). The California State Department of Education has created a “Character Education” website that lists “character traits and virtues such as honesty, courage, perseverance, loyalty, caring, civic virtue, justice, respect and responsibility, and trustworthiness” (retrieved October 20, 2001). Berreth, Deputy Executive Director, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), notes that “Schools should make basic moral values - such as justice, altruism, and respect for human dignity - a strong unifying theme” (2000, 1). Singh lists respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, fairness, caring, and citizenship, taken from the Character Counts! Coalition (2001, 47). Kagan, borrowing much from Lickona, creates a “Structures for Character” matrix which contains the following “Virtues Fostered”: leadership, helpfulness, kindness, good judgment, cooperation, courtesy, understanding, impulse control, self-motivation, and responsibility (2001, 54, duplications removed). Again, there are several more recent studies, inquiries and programs, but they, too, begin to duplicate one another.
In comparing the values and character traits among all these citations, what becomes evident is the great similarity in listings. True, the word selection may vary, the descriptive adjectives may change, but there is an undeniable uniformity nonetheless. Almost without exception, the values of respect and responsibility are listed. Beyond those, it often becomes unwieldy and it is convenient to create a more manageable list. Lickona himself suggests dealing with no more than five (1991, 422) in addition to “the two foundational moral values” of respect and responsibility (45). In reviewing Lickona’s list there are, indeed, five values that appear with the greatest regularity on the other lists. Thus, the generally agreed-upon list of values and character traits to be taught are: respect, responsibility, justice, integrity, courtesy, hard work, and self-worth. It should be noted that the quality of tolerance, cited earlier in this paper by the president of the NEA, and highly esteemed in education throughout the past decade, does not appear separately but is, presumably, subsumed within the quality of justice. A formidable list, even assuming that all parties to the educational process agree with it, but it does satisfactorily address the question: if there is one list, what is the general consensus as to the specific values to be taught?
Loveless holds that “the schools of the 20th century reflect more of the nurturing, custodial functions of the family” (1998, 5). The foundation for this was presented earlier. Henry poses essentially the same issue, “From where comes the belief that teachers should be parents?” and provides confirmation of the premise contained herein: “The answer is from the circumstances that our children do not have enough parents, because parents are unable to do all that has to be done by parents nowadays” (1963, 312, emphases in the original). So, the responsibility for instructing what were once merely familial values has been transferred to the teacher. But what about the role religion used to play in values education and character training? Loveless continues,
Although religious instruction is forbidden in the schools, programs have appeared promoting ethical training (e.g., character education, moral development, values clarification) and many of their lessons appear to be little more than secular translations of religious tenets (1998, 5).
Loveless is not the first nor, likely, the last to note the appeal of religion in transmitting values and character, even within the public domain. Just as a brief sidebar, Lickona’s Educating for character: How our schools can teach respect and responsibility was itself dedicated “for God” (1991, dedication page)! One could easily be tempted to digress and tie this in with the current public and legal discussion regarding the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Schools are merely, or perhaps mostly, reflections of the society as a whole. Religion, regardless of orthodoxy, exists within the social structure and it is untenable to expect its purgation from education. “The American school originated as an extension of fundamental social units: families, churches, and communities” (Loveless, 1998, 1). “American classrooms, like educational institutions anywhere, express the values, preoccupations, and fears found in the culture as a whole” (Henry, 1965, 287). For Henry, “School is an institution for drilling children in cultural orientations” (283). One might wish he had avoided the term drilling, with what has become a pejorative connotation, but the fact remains that Henry’s observation is valid: schools provide cultural indoctrination - another connotatively-loaded word. This is reiterated by Bidwell when he insists, “It is assumed that school systems are client-serving organizations, that is, that they are social units specifically vested with a service function, in this case the moral and technical socialization of the young” (1965, 973, emphasis added) and they “also are agents of public welfare” (977). Although schools currently assess only the attainment of the “technical socialization of the young,” they are, indeed, still charged with transmitting moral socialization as well.
As noted previously, in California there is even a governmentally sanctioned and supported internet website produced by the State Department of Education, (http://www.cde.ca.gov/character/about.pg.html, retrieved October 20, 2001), which provides: an historic background to the teaching of values education; current trends in the field; a detailed, annotated bibliography; and, the recommendation to include values education as part of the assessment process in social science content. Also in California, the English-Language Arts Framework, also produced by the State Department of Education, contains a number of references to the direct and indirect instruction of both values education and positive character traits (1987, v, viii, 1, 7, 17, 42). The frameworks documents for the other core content areas contain similar references, particularly in the area of social sciences. As commented on by Mitchell and Boyd, “Societal-level influence flows into the schools through special interest groups, political parties, sectarian religious groups, family values and cultures, education professionals, architects, and textbook publishers, along with a host of other groups and organizations” (1998, 134). Although not investigated herein, it seems most likely that similar support for values education exists from professional and political organizations in states other than California.
However, although required of them, is it reasonable to expect that teachers be both the selectors and deliverers of values training? Bidwell notes that “relations between teacher and student would appear to be necessary to the massive form of socialization which is required in bringing students from childhood to adulthood” (1965, 975). This necessity has not diminished in the ensuing three and a half decades. The wider globalization of information and cultural exposure students now encounter, demand an even greater sensitivity to values and character education. In the view of Rowan and Miskel, “an important source of work rules is the (often implicit) ideologies held by teachers, students, parents, and administrators in school systems” (1998, 375). The order in which these are listed is not accidental. Even more than parents, classroom teachers are the modelers of societally-expected work rules.
The classroom, then, “is the level of public moral philosophy, where human and social values are developed and defined” (Mitchell & Boyd, 1998, 135, emphasis added). Mitchell and Boyd include in the fifth level of their educational organization paradigm those elements “left largely in the hands of educational philosophers and curriculum theorists” (138). One could be certain that they meant to indicate only those who formulate educational direction from within the university; however, teachers are, by definition, curriculum theorists and educational philosophers; their day to day, even moment to moment, decisions form the basis of the “human and social” values received by their students.
Nisbett notes that “Social judgments and expectations often are mediated by a class of schemas . . . cognitive structures representing the personal characteristics and typical behaviors of particular ‘stock characters’” (1980, 35). Among these “stock characters,” of course, are the teachers encountered throughout the formal educational experience. The number of these “stock characters” who influence any given student may well exceed four dozen by completion of twelfth grade. Absolutely “no one, including the most marginal or socially isolated of humans, ever escapes the deep imprint of macro- and micro-cultural systems in which he or she is reared” (Wolcott, 1983, 383). This is so, regardless of the continuity or discontinuity of the values taught and modeled by teachers and those instilled at home. “School systems not only are client-serving, but also are agents of public welfare” (Bidwell, 1965, 977). The family can no longer provide to the child both the technical and moral imprints required by society.
So teachers are, quite naturally and over an extended period of time, the instructors of values and character. This professional demand, shouldered readily by most teachers, carries a great load of responsibility. The teacher must be vigilant to every behavioral nuance displayed. Tierno address this admonition well:
A teacher exhibiting a behavior, or engaging in an act, in the view of one or more students is, in effect, providing a model for students to emulate. The mere fact that the teacher engages in the action suggests to students that they may choose that behavior for themselves. Since most social learning results from observation and imitation, teachers need to consider carefully every aspect of their conduct -- no matter how seemingly minor -- that students can observe” (1998, 59).
Barbour notes that the entire school now bears this responsibility: “For years, teachers have been teaching values in their classrooms, but today educators are finding it imperative to build values into the environment of the school” (1998, 77). Teachers may not so much be selecting values and character to teach, as they are modeling and displaying those values and character traits that are required by the society within which they were themselves educated and from which they are drawn!
Is there nothing to prevent the teacher from exhibiting, or even instructing, ill-conceived or discontinuous values? Think of the inappropriateness of those teachers who model smoking behaviors, unprofessional appearance or language, or public disparagement of peers. It is an abrogation of responsibility to say merely that those are adult behaviors; students learn what is modeled, not only what is taught! What, if anything, is to prevent the classroom teacher from delivering an unacceptable version of values which are in conflict with those embraced by the other educational process actors? As Lerner notes, “The real problem is how to bring the discussion of values into education without moralizing, without indoctrination and propaganda” (1976, 76). How indeed?
In a narrowly defined society, an emerging society, aberrations and unacceptable behavior become apparent readily and are readily dispatched. In a pluralistic society, one given to pronouncements of its veneration for multiculturalism, aberrations from the acceptable main are not as easily distinguished, for the main is much broader and the borders not as clearly defined. In addition, as classroom teachers will attest, once the classroom door is closed, much goes on which will never be known. As before, there will always be those who advocate positions outside of the norm. However, whereas earlier societies summarily dealt with these fringe types, modern society is ranged with a vast spectrum of types, including teachers. Teachers are representative of the society within which they themselves develop and learn, including that society’s extremes.
Perhaps it is in the very nature of education to push the limits of accepted normalcy. To do otherwise would be to stagnate. “Attacks on the public school system, whatever their validity in fact, are built into the nature of the system and society. They are part of the decision-making process in a dynamic democracy which has become a pressure-group democracy” (Lerner, 8). Although addressing a different element of instruction, Spindler and Spindler note this as well. “The classroom is more flexible and less permanent than the printed page. One can be wrong, find out, and correct oneself” (1982, 27), what could be termed recursive, revisional learning within a community -- the classroom.
Institutional intervention to preclude the teaching of values and character will never be successful. In quoting Waller’s 1932 work, The sociology of teaching, Bidwell states that “teaching demands affective bonds between teacher and student which are foreign to the enactment of a bureaucratic office” (Bidwell, 1965, 979). This did not change from 1932 to 1965, nor from 1965 to the present. What changed, of course, was a greater exposure to the world that students encountered through diverse technology and virtually instantaneous media reporting. The students have encountered a greater breadth of acceptable values and will continue to do so along a constantly escalating curve.
Students experience the world first through their family and then through their teachers. Such experience is relatively exclusive at first, only becoming more expansive and diffuse as a greater breadth of world exposure is encountered. The values and character traits of those teachers that can be assimilated within what the student has already received, or which do not so greatly conflict with those traits previously received, will be found acceptable. The values and character traits of those teachers which are “not acceptable” to the student’s prior information, too much on the fringe, will be ignored or contested. As students mature, the sifting of values and character takes place in the classroom and on the playground, and no longer in the home or the family’s place of worship.
Since the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001, there has been a resurgence of interest in the overt teaching of values and character in the United States. While it is too soon to cite more than anecdotal evidence, such evidence is decidedly weighted. Organizations with packaged programs to teach values in schools are doing a booming business. Posters, flags and placards abound in schools. Incidents that at one time would have given rise to court actions are now considered mainstream: public prayer in school on behalf of those affected by the attacks; a national moment of remembrance, with prayer, broadcast into classrooms; a nationwide morning set aside to recite the Pledge of Allegiance; money solicited from students without prior parental notice, and often without fiscal accountability. These were all instances of values education, uniformly focused because of outside actions, which reflected the general consensus of society at a specific time and place. Values are not created in nor can they continue to exist in a vacuum. They are derived from the social norm and, as broad as that norm may have become, they will conform to the limits of the attention focused on them. Within the context of institutional theory, the environment has changed considerable since September 2001. It is very likely that the structure of educational organizations will also change to reflect the new environmental influences.
As educators we have the responsibility to acknowledge the value traits and character education that is ongoing in our classrooms. We have the responsibility to recognize that we are among the most consistently observed models of societal expectations, as seen and accepted by our students. We have the responsibility to actively engage our students in discussions of moral and ethical dilemmas. We have the responsibility to be teachers!
Barbour, K. 1998). More than a good lesson plan. In T. Rusnak (Ed.), An integrated approach to character education. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Beane, J. A. (1990). Affect in the curriculum: Toward Democracy, dignity, and diversity. NY: Teachers College Press, Teachers College, Columbia University.
Berreth, D., & Scherer, M. (1993). On transmitting values: A conversation with Amitai Etziono. Educational Leadership, 51, 3. Retrieved October 25, 2001 from http://www.ascd.org/readingroom/edlead/9311/berreth.html
Bidwell, C. E. (1965). The school as formal organization. In J. G. March (Ed.), Handbook of organizations (pp. 972-1022). Chicago: Rand McNally.
California Department of Education. (2000). Character Education. Retrieved October 20, 2001 from http://www.cde.ca.gov/character/about.pg.html
California Department of Education. (2000). Character Education Annotated Bibliography. Retrieved October 20, 2001 from http://www.cde.ca.gov/character/biblio1.html
California Department of Education. (2000). Character Education evaluation criteria. Retrieved October 20, 2001 from http://www.cde.ca.gov/character/criteria.html
California Department of Education. (1987). English-Language arts framework for California schools kindergarten through grade twelve. Sacramento, CA: California Department of Education.
Carter, G. R. (1999, October 21). Refocusing out attention on character education in the new millennium. Retrieved October 25, 2001 from http://www.ascd.org/educationnews/speech/character_education.html
Chase, R. (2001, November). One nation, unbowed: We teach the values that make America strong. NEA Today, 5.
Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional Intelligence. NY: Bantam Books.
Henry, J. (1963). Golden rule days: American schoolrooms. In Culture against man (pp. 283- 321). NY: Vintage.
Kagen, S. (2001). Teaching for character and community. Educational Leadership, October 2001, 50-55.
Leming, J. S. (1993). In search of effective character education. Educational Leadership, 51,3. Retrieved October 25, 2001 from http://www.ascd.org/readingroom/edlead/9311/leming.html
Lerner, M. (1976). Values in education: Notes toward a values philosophy. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.
Lickona, T. (1991). Educating for character: How our schools can teach respect and responsibility. NY: Bantam Books.
Loveless, T. (1998). Uneasy allies: The evolving relationship of school and state. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 20, 1-8.
Mitchell, D. E., & Boyd, W. L. (1998). Knowledge utilization in educational policy and
politics: Conceptualizing and mapping the domain. Educational Administration
Quarterly, 34, 126-140.
Nisbett, R., & Ross, L. (1980). Judgmental heuristics and knowledge structures. In Human inference: Strategies and shortcomings of social judgment (17-42). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Rowan, B., & Miskel, C. G. (1998). Institutional theory and the study of educational organizations. In J. Murphy & K. Seashore Louis (Eds.), Handbook of research of
educational administration, 2nd Ed. (pp. 359-384). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Ryan, K. (1993). Mining the values of curriculum. Educational Leadership, 51, 3. Retrieved October 25, 2001 from http://www.ascd.org/readingroom/edlead/9312/ryan.html
Singh, G. R. (2001). How character education helps students grow. Educational Leadership, October 2001, 46-49.
Spindler, G., & Spindler, L. (1982). Roger Harker and Schonhausen: From the familiar to the strange and back again. In Doing the ethnography of schooling: Educational anthropology in action (pp. 20-47). NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Switala, W. J. (1998). Making character work. In T. Rusnak (Ed.), An integrated approach to character education. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Tierno, M. J. (1998). Building a positive classroom environment. In T. Rusnak (Ed.), An integrated approach to character education. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Wolcott, H. F. (1983). Adequate schools and inadequate education: The life history of a sneaky kid. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 4, 3-32.
Born 1964, (Liverpool, England) difficult birth, didn't find my voice until my youth. Years of thinking I was nobody and treated as such. However, hit the paper papering over the scars. Found understanding and belief through words. I have been published and performed widely from the BBC, The Tate, galleries and pubs and everything in between.
My poems are autobiographical, others topical and several my take on life. Hope you enjoy reading as much as I have enjoyed writing. Please feel free to share your thoughts on the links below.
Contact: David R Mellor email@example.com
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Getting Cameron by David R Mellor
A Short Political Satire
(Any resemblance to Mr. Cameron of 12 Matt Drive Gillingham, David Cameron of 10 upshitscreek Wolverhampton purely coincidental or the guy in the photo whoever he is.)
Meet the cast (so far):
Colin fuck knows what he does lovely plants in his loft gets by Rob on zero hrs contract at Picknose meat factory foods (Hartlepool) does about 5hrs a week
Allan worked for local authority until typed escort agency in search engine.
Civil Servant, “Dear PM, we have to celebrate what Zero hrs contracts have done to boost economy in the north of England sending out business mails is that ok?”
Mr. Cameron, “But they fuckin hate us.”
Civil Servant, “Exactly.”
Last but most of all “least” Brian and Tony
Brian had benefits appointment at 9 am, didn't make it. “I can’t use cheap bus ticket then to expensive peak hrs.” Outcome - 3 week benefits sanction.
Tony - The star of the team unsung, quite wants to change the world, occupation revolutionary in his toilet.
They are all laid before you.
The Cloths of Heaven
Had I the heaven's embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light;
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
W. B. Yeats
All five are still in bed, nothing to get for, except Mr Cameron
Mr Reg ula Arseliqueur (senior) Civil Servant
“Prime minister, sorry to disturb you.”
“We’ve landed a plum; I have found the perfect Zero Hours business in the North, Picknose Meat factory foods Hartlepool.”
“Somewhere up north the usual poor place.”
“Ok, fire away.”
“Well…” Civil servant tapping his foot, jumping around.
“They only employ zero hour workers, hundreds of them, ranging from one hr to 70 hrs a week, would you believe it they queue outside in the morning and the boss picks the fittest and their shares are doing well.”
PM “Are the workers happy?”
“Look.” PM thrusts picture in civil servant’s face.
“During the election campaign the workers looked miserable seeing me, some even walking away.”
“That won’t happen here, I can assure.”
PM, “Any bad press for this company?”
“Not really, some allegation by a disgruntled worker quickly withdrawn after quiet word with manager of a sheep’s head floating around in the vat, cigarette papers in the pies, oh and a budgie discovered in breadcrumbs, ridiculous.”
“Are you sure this is fine?”
“Ok, phone them and set a date Arseliqueur for my visit, oh and btw please bring plenty of antibacterial gel in case any Northerners touch me.”
Time’s ticking… Time to put some flesh on it.
“Yes Arseliqueur.” (senior civil servant)
“Your visit to Picknose Meat factory foods Hartlepool will take place next week.”
“Excellent, oh did you tell the manager the workers must smile behind me?”
“It's all sorted, the worker who looks most pleased to see you, will be given an extra five hrs work for the following week, those who don’t will have their contracts ripped up.”
PM with a grin, “They can’t have them ripped up as they don’t have any.” Collective laughter. “I do love working for you Mr Prime Minister.”
Mr. Cameron starts pacing the room...
“Right, when you think of “The North” what do you think? I’ll tell you what you think. Poverty, pasties, foodbanks, people who can’t talk properly, fat people, lads in jogging trousers, dangerous dogs, Poundland, no shops, unemployment .”
Cameron captures an image of himself in the mirror, hands outstretched at ease, he smiles at the mirror. “Crime, flat caps, rain, dirt, public transport.” He is sure pumped up.
“Now what do you think of when you think of the South of England? I'll tell you.” Looks with steely face at the mirror. “You think of me, John Osborne, Kate Winslett, Prince Harry, Buckingham Palace, fields, healthy faces, period dramas with Keira Knightley.” Looks up at the ceiling with bleary-eyed wonder.
“I tell you…” Stares with honest eyes into the mirror. “It is grim up north, that’s why we are rebranding the North ‘The South of England.’”
“What? So there’s Scotland ... then, urm… South of England.”
“Yes, positive, dynamic, forward thinking, it’s only at the planning stage yet but I will hint at the changes when I visit the factory... I think I should put may face on the new £20 note.” His eyes go watery. “I love the South of England.”
“I will outline the details tomorrow."
Leaked memo Hartlepool to become a landfill site.
“Prime Minister, I’ve just been handed this document, it states, Mr Cameron...?” Mr Cameron is pacing around his deck. “This is it!” He has a glass of wine in his hand, empty bottles on the floor, cigarette ash all over his desk. ”LOOK, now they will get me.” His suit is dishevelled, his blue shirt buttons down. On the desk is a white sheet with the UK mapped out, lines drawn all over it. “It states that a Facebook status update purportedly by yourself, ridiculous, saying you plan to turn Hartlepool into landfill site.” Wry smile.
“Look Arseliqueur, urm, yes, I might have sent that out or was it a Tweet, can’t remember.” “And you had boxes of wine brought to Downing Street, that’s in the papers.” “Yes, mm, it’s lovely.” His eyes are bloodshot, sweat dripping of his face. As he leans over the map, he sees his face in the mirror, smiles. “I look like a general and this is the war map.” A little chuckle which almost appears sinister.
“Ok, the battle ground.” Smug grin. “The North of England is not full so we push them down. Gestures with his hands. “We will squeeze them further south, cram them in, possibly as far down as Nottingham, and then,” his body is shaking, “we turn the whole of the North East into a European landfill site, more money for the NEW South of England and tax cuts.” That smile again. “And the Yorkshire Dales we will use for all Asylum Seekers and Refugees, there’s plenty of water and well, looks a little bit like Syria, but colder.” Little chuckle to the mirror. “Merseyside,” his face is beaming, “will become a global nuclear waste dumping ground, I might even divert all the UK's sewerage into the Mersey. Margaret (Thatcher) would be so proud of me.” Touches her portrait.
“You look tired Prime Minister.” He leans back in his chair, he’s starting to fall asleep. “Trees.... South... England… Eton… Polo... fox hunting... oooooh.”
David Cameron is twitching in his sleep the red wine all over his shirt. “I have a vision, build, stronger, powerful, control me... I’m gay... No I’m not, church pray, pray, pray.”
In Hartlepool is someone planning to kill him?
Hartlepool Mail, anonymous death threat to Cameron received.
“Are you feeling any better Prime Minister?” Cameron does appear a little more at ease, the usual suit, blue shirt, slick hair, undertaker look. “I’m glad you’re drinking water Prime Minister, very good for you.” “It’s gin, actually.” Cameron stands in front of the full length mirror, one hand in his pocket. Arseliqueur notices that more mirrors have been put up. “How quickly can you mobilise all civil servants, doing one task, and bring the majority of our armed forces back?” “If needs be, a matter of days I presume.” “What about any possible commons rebellions, have we got any Tory MPs in the north?” “No Mr Cameron.” “And Scotland?” “No again.”
Cameron gazes at the portrait of Thatcher, Arseliqueur notices that there is lipstick on her mouth as if someone has been kissing it. “These are dark times but we as a national, mobilised, determined, forward thinking…” (Arseliqueur has switched off.) “Later today I will announce the plans in the House of Commons, make sure it is broadcasted simultaneously on all TV and radio stations…”
Colin wakes up with a feeling of dread, he’s done something awful, he checks Facebook, no inappropriate updates, checks mobile, no naked pics of himself sent to his mother by mistake. He gazes at the phone, oh no, the 4am phone call to the Hartlepool Mail, threatening to kill Cameron is clear as day in contrast to the dark Hartlepool skies seen from his flat window. Shit, shit. I’ll say it wasn’t me, I was burgled, my brother, I was forced to. He sits down like a condemned man, rolls a cigarette and waits for the boys to come round.
1pm, Flat in Hartlepool…
“Fuck them,” “Hi.” “Colin, it’s starting, last night.” Tony enters, thin, gaunt and hair like wire. “I posted on Facebook and Twitter fuck you Tories and posted a poem on my page called…” “Let me guess, Fuck you Tories.” Thrusts poem into Colin's hand. “It just says fuck you Tories and Cameron remark and commas.” “You see the commas add to the thrust.” “Besides yourself, how many followers have you on your page?” “Trust you to be negative, they can’t like as it would be dangerous.” He’s not got bi-polar, just three sheets to the wind, but his heart is in the right place. “Get us black coffee and a rollie.” Takes his position in far left seat, Colin always in the middle of the Star Trek Fleet.
“Can u lend us 60 quid till tonight?” “Brian, you’ve had your benefits stopped.” “I know but I’ve invested my last £1.48 (the accuracy is frightening) on a racing accumulator that brings in.” (Refers to betting slip like it’s the word of the lord.) “It states here £75.20.” “Brian have you opened any of your letters or listened your phone messages?” “No, why, it’ll be bad news.” “Face up to...” He takes his seat next to Tony.
“I’m fucked.” “Hi Allan.” “One fuckin mistake, well, 10.” He’s back from his umpteenth interview. “They asked again your last employer states you googled Escort agency, is that true?” “Yes, I was after a car…” “And also bum, tit, twat.” “They were spelling mistakes.” They look. “I love women, no, not it a pervy way…” (The hole is getting deeper.) “Look, I’m married.” “Are you?” Their faces beam. “YES, but divorced 4 times, let me explain…”
Rob is smiling like a Cheshire cat. “Are you happy Rob?” “Do I look it?” “Urm, yes.” Rob never smiles. Managers (Picknose Meat factory foods Hartlepool) said those who look most happy when Cameron visits will get a money bonus; he is smiling like a Buddhist.
Colin sits in the middle of the starship (no) enterprise and flicks the TV on.
We now go over live to the House of Commons for an emergency statement...
10 am, Downing Street
“This is an important day Arseliqueur.” The PM is immaculately dressed with a champagne glass in his hand.
“I know Prime Minister.”
“I so do have the common touch Arseliqueur.” He lightly touches his cheek. “Yes, Prime Minister.” Feeling slightly overwhelmed. Arseliqueur notices that there is something sticky over the portrait of Thatcher and lipstick on the lips of portraits of the Queen and Winston Churchill.
He appears bold and confident today.
“Ok, let’s pop into the Big Brother house, then off for the commons statement. Let’s shake it up a bit, be bold, and think out of the box.” (Arseliqueur can see that look again, as if angels are calling him.) “Reach out to my people who I love so much all together in the South of England.” He’s looking at the mirrors again, capturing every gesture. “If you insist Prime Minister.” “Ok, make the arrangement and let’s go.”
At the Big Brother house, Valerie Slapper is holding centre stage. For the last 5 days the contestants have been talking constantly about sex. “So what has been the most outrages thing you’ve done?” “Well.” Nick Nobody, gay, bi-curious transsexual. “I was talking to my mother whilst my boyfriend was, you know, under the table. “ The house mates love this, almost foaming at the mouth. Then Barbra Blubber bursts into tears. “I thought he wanted me, but last night I saw Chris Coont shagging Valerie Slapper.” Queue all house mates standing up like peacocks, parading to the camera. “What the fuck,” “OMG,” Each day someone is doing something to somebody or even toilet holders or melons, resulting in this being the most viewed series of all time. The one glitch being when Brian was sanctioned for mentioning books.
Would all contestants please go into the lounge? Queue panic to get makeup on, push up bras. “Can you see my tits in this?” “Oh, can you see my bulge?”
David Cameron stands at the top of the stairs, waves to, well, nobody and enters the house.
“OMG it’s Colin Firth.” “No, it’s the singer from Spandau Ballet.” Cameron takes his seat with his people. “Wait, wait, I know.” Nick Nobody is camping up. “It's the president.” “Yes, I Am.” “Of god, urm USA.” The Prime Minister has gone ashen grey. “No, I’m actually your prime minster you thick bastards… Who here is from the north?” Half the people put hands up. “Well, I’ll tell you what’s going to happen to you Northern Scum....” “Would David Cameron please come to the diary room?”
“Mr. Cameron, Big Brother will not tolerate foul language and you didn’t talk about sex either, I’m afraid you will have to leave.” “Where are you from? “ “Newcastle.” Cameron gives a little chuckle as he leaves the house.
3pm, House of Commons
“The Prime Minister.” The speaker of the House of Commons introduces the PM. He goes to the dispatch box as if he is Nelson admiring his fleet.
“Britain is great... I, urm, we, have built this great country, land that we walk upon.” He turns to his MPs, he’s emboldened. “But we've had difficult days ahead.” The hall appears dark as if by magic. “We, I, have pulled us out.” A sun beam appears through the window as if god is anointing him. “We have to go further.” The ships are sailing in the distance. “We need a rebrand, up there…” He can hardly bring himself to say it. “In the NORTH.” He feels a bit sick saying it.
“What do you think of when you say the North? Poverty, unemployment, food banks, dirt, public transport, flat caps and strange English. Now what do you feel when you say SOUTH?” There is almost a tear in his eyes. “Wealth, clean, dynamic, royalty.” “And you, you posh twat!” Labour interrupts. “Yes, me.” He’s missed the last bit.
“As of midnight tonight, the whole of England will now be called the South of England. Every person, up there, will be provided with a house in the New South of England. As a thank you for their understanding, each adult will be provided with a booze voucher, we know how much they like to drink. In poor areas it will be extra strength cider, more traditional areas beer, and those that have a bit more cheap wine.” The Labour benches are stunned, drowned out by wild Tory cheers.
“Now in these empty areas we are going to build a power house. As I’m speaking now, there are masses of boats from Libya carrying immigrants to our shore.” This is not true but who cares. “They are foreign, dirty and certainly not Christian, they will be put in the Yorkshire Dales, fenced in and all asylum seekers and those people who are undesirable will join them. This will cost the British tax payer nothing and they will eventually be able to grow their own food and the fresh air will do them good… Secondly...”
The noise from the Tory back benches is deafening. One turns to a colleague and whispers, “Maybe I can have my own Northern slave or as a pet dog feeding it pies.” Wild laughter.
“Secondly you may have heard that Hartlepool is to become a landfill site, this is preposterous.” Groans from back benches. “Why not the entire northeast?” Wild cheers. Cameron beams like a Cheshire cat and looks about 20.
“We need dynamism, investment; we will become a super power again.” There is a strange glint in his eyes when he says this, which doesn’t go unnoticed. “The North East will become a European landfill site bringing millions to our country.”
“And thirdly…” The Tories are getting so excited that a few have clearly wet themselves. “Merseyside.” He grits his teeth, he’s almost jumping up and down like a school boy. “Will now become a nuclear waste dumping ground. As we speak, the USA is shipping waste to the Mersey; the contract is worth millions again.” He’s twitching, has he wet himself, checks, no he hasn’t. “This is just the start, and finally two points, as no one will now be living in the north, no need for MPs, as of 12 midnight all Northern MPs will be asked to leave the house.”
“This is madness!” cries one Labour MPs. Cameron just stares at him.
“And finally the most import issue.” A wry smile. “Football. As you know I support Aston Rovers... Urm, West Ham City. We are going to build great teams with squads of 76. Europe is ours, for example Liverpool and Manchester United will join with Chelsea to be now called a new name, FC Chelsea.” Wild cheers.
He is sweating, laughing, almost dancing. “We all need to pull together thousands of troops which will assist in helping people to move down to the new dynamic South of England.” He sits down and starts to hear angels through the wild applause of his MPs.
MEDIA REACTION... (The days that follow)
“LET THEM EAT GRASS” Headline in The Sun
Under it is a picture of an asylum seeker family entering the Yorkshire Dales (completely fenced in). They are provided with a tent handed some seeds to grow food and that’s it.
“FROM GLOOM TO BOOM” The Daily Star
A joyous Northern family (well, former) are pictured entering their new house in the now named “South of England.” In the small print it does say that it may take a while to house all (former) Northerns, and apologies that many are still in makeshift tents around north of the Midlands.
The Daily Mail leads with a hilarious story of a crowd of “Northern” people in Manchester who refused to leave. A plane was used to drop Bargain Booze vouchers over them; in no time at all they cashed them in, got completely wasted, and were then herded onto coaches to the border of the new South of England.
Mr Cameron is clearly purring over such stories as he sits in his office like a little fat Cheshire cat staring also at new portrait of himself, strangely also covered in kisses. “Ah the Financial Times,” he mutters to himself.
“South of England to Become the Richest Nation in Less than a Year.” This is a projection on financial deals done over the last few days. He gazes at his portrait. “I do look a little bit like Napoleon?”
He has agreed to appear on the Andrew Neil politics show at the weekend. He has offered to let him stay at his luxurious villa in France; Andrew Neil has gladly accepted, mailing, “It will be plain sailing for you in the interview, your humble servant Andrew.” Cameron kisses the mirror. “God you’re brilliant.” He is slightly troubled tho. He has a 95% approval rate in the country. ”But can I risk unleashing the second stage? I think I will hint of plans... Mmm...”
By the way there has been no edition of the left leaning Daily Mirror, no explanation has been given and the offices are boarded up.
But who cares? No one! Everything is rosy.
The Andrew Neil Show
“Today’s show is dedicated to one man, The Man of the moment, David Cameron.”
David Cameron sits there like a little school boy. When he thinks about himself he gets an erection.
“I’ve got the Financial Times in front me; have you seen the headlines Prime Minister?”
“Yes, I have.” He twitches and notices he may have ejaculated a bit.
“In ONE year, if business keeps at its current levels the South of England will be the largest economy on this planet.”
Mr Cameron looks like he just been voted school boy of the year. “It’s all down to me... urm, us, even you Andrew.” The audience laugh out loud, they so love him.
“Listen, we all moved swiftly and dynamically, the people up there came to the New South of England. They could smell the coffee and they lapped it up.”
There had been rumours circulated to The Guardian newspaper that the army had opened fire on some disgruntled northerners, killing and maiming many. The editor was invited to be on the Andrew Neil show but has not turned up. No paper was printed today, and the Guardians headquarters are also boarded up.
“Even today I have signed 5 contracts allowing American fracking companies to start exploring straight away up there, now that’s Fracking good.” Wild applause and laughter.
“Today Andrew, I'll give you and every member of the audience money.” The audience look stunned, he is Jesus performing miracles.
Back to his stern look. “If you earn over 35.000 a year you will, from today, pay no tax on your income.” The audience gasps, Andrew takes his glasses of swirls them in his hand and smiles at The South of England’s new god.
“This means we can now do away with the NHS. You have money now to get and pay for you treatment when and where you want.” The audience start clapping, but feel a bit odd cheering the dismantling of The NHS, but what the hell he knows best and everything he is touching is turning to gold.
“Listen,” Andrew Neil interrupts. “For the first time I’m extending the show, so if you’re waiting to see ‘Northern scum’ a history of that now failed area it will follow this, see you after the break.”
The Andrew Neil Show (Part 2)
Cameron appears distracted; he’s weighing things up, thinking on his feet. He looks at the audience pensively.
“May I put this to you prime minister, this feels like the dawning of a golden age, almost like Queen Victoria’s times.”
Cameron is tapping his feet like a little child at an ice cream van. “Yes, yes, I see what you mean.” Cameron appears giddy, then composes himself.
“But there are dark forces out there.” His eyes appear bloodshot. You could hear a pin drop in the audience.
“The French Prime minister has recently called the South of England people scum.”
“Fuck them, French Frog bastards, get them Cameron!” The audience are shouting out with venom, standing and pointing.
“And furthermore a young English boy was stabbed on the Paris metro, for speaking English.”
None of these events are true, but since the growth of UKIP language, what was until recently seen as racist and derogatory is the norm. If an Asian person is spat at in the street the police reaction is usually “Go back to where you came from.”
“Wait…” Like Moses parting the waves there is a sudden quiet. “Many nations don’t like what we are doing, they are jealous.” The audience’s heads bob up down like the waves. “I will of course be raising the issues with the French Prime Minister. But I have reports of something even more disturbing. We are being infiltrated by French agitators who are mingling with northerners on the border. I’m sorry to announce that their planned move to their lovely South of England will need to be delayed whilst we flush them out.”
“Just shoot the bastards!” shouts out a member of the audience. The audience laugh; there is little care for the Northerners. Cameron gives a soft smile and thinks, I’m already doing that.
“Well, that’s all we’ve got time for, give a big hand to our Prime Minister.” He receives a standing ovation which almost raises the roof of the building.
“The South of England’s got the X Factor, the Future, YOU DECIDE.”
Now that the Northern MPs have gone and the SNP has moved back to Scotland, the House of Commons has become a desert, only used to get the cheap booze and play mock speeches. “Come on Boris (Johnson), it’s your turn to be opposition leader.” It’s just like they were back at public school.
Tory supporter Simon Cowell has agreed to run a show, in which a number of new policies are judged and voted on, naturally the music is provided by tax avoider and fellow Tory, Gary Barlow, hosted by those cheeky chappies Ant and Dec also, you guessed it, Tory supporters.
The show starts... enter Ant and Dec.
“We used to be Northerners, not anymore.” Howls of laughter. “What a show we have for you tonight. You can decide on two polices and we’ve got a brand new policy statement as well.” Wild stamping of feet and the sound of crisps and wine bottles opening at home.
“Right this is how it goes, the Prime minister, our very own David Cameron will pose a question then whilst the music’s on you decide our fate.” Note there are now differing views to be aired.
“And here he is the man of the moment, Mr David Cameron.” Cue fireworks, flashing lights, and multiple image of him projected on to screens.
“Ok countrymen, let’s have the referendum now, no boring ballot boxes, just here and now!” bellows Cameron.
A viewer back home says, “What great TV,” to his family, smiles and nods from even the smallest family members.
“As you can see from the French reaction, we are hated by Europe.” “Fuckem!” a member of the audience shouts out. “Well, yes exactly, look at us.” Spotlight pans the pure white audience. “Look at us. Strong, Rich, Powerful. We can do it alone, let’s get out of the European Union now.”
Cues Gary Barlow and the rest of Take That singing “Rule the World.”
Ant and Dec appear after. “Ok the results are in, and we can now announce that you the people of the South of England have decided… Back after the break.” Collective groans.
Back to the show YOU’VE DECIDED
“OK, the votes are in, and we can now announce that the New South of England has…“ Cue endless ticking off the clock. “… decided to.... Leave the European Union.” Cue red white and blue bunting covering the stage, Ant and Dec and Gary Barlow rush to hug David Cameron, cue yet again “Rule the World,” audience on its feet.
“What a night, what a country,” beams the PM, “what’s next? “ Beam the little midgets. One gets the impression the cannibalisation of foreigners would get a vote tonight. “What are your values?” “English!” screams the audience. “Who can tell you what to do?” “No one!” “Can foreigners tell you what to do?” “NO!” scream back the audience, lapping it up. “Who can?” “We can!” They’re in the palm of his hand. “We know our values,” cue Rule Britannia, “William Blake, the Queen, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher.” There is almost an erection of national pride. “Let’s scrape the European convention on Human Rights.” “Fuckem!” screams a member of audience again. “So, David Cameron asks you to vote to scrape the treaty, you decide.” Cue images of Shakespeare, Churchill, Dunkirk landing, Margaret Thatcher waving.
Ant and Dec, “OK so the vote is ticking from a land line, vote out costs 20p, stay in costs 20 pounds, you decide.” Cue choir “And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England’s mountain green.”
“Ok the votes are in.”... endless ticking… “You have decided… To leave The European convention on Human Rights!” Wild cheers and fist pumping. “Yes yes yes.”
“What a night, anything more prime minister?” Ant and Dec are frothing at the mouth.” “Are you rich?” “Yes!” screams the audience. “Do you hate scroungers?” “Yes scum, get a job!” Oh they are loving this. “OK, OK.” Deafening noise. “From midnight tonight, all benefits are to be scrapped.” Cue Rule Britannia again, ending with the newly reformed WHAM singing a new song dedicated to David Cameron.
“Club David Cameron, Drinks are free.”
The Landscape… (Part 1)
An unmanned drone is flying over what was “The United” kingdom, operated by yours truly David Cameron. He’s a bit drunk so the plane hovers sometimes to close the ground, other times on the edge of space. “Wooooow!” he chuckles.
Over Scotland all is as it was, they gave them independence. All the talk by Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) of “We care how the government’s austerity is hurting all of us,” was just rubbish. Hadrian’s Wall was built on and that was that.
Flying over the North always gets him excited, his pants are already very sticky. It is like looking at Dante’s Hell, mirroring Cameron's now bloodshot eyes. The North East is covered in what appears are hills, in fact they are rubbish mounds. “I’ve always thought they were rubbish.” Cameron laughs out loud.
Veering off to the Yorkshire dales he can see the Asylum seekers starting to gather in crops. “I was too generous to them.” He tuts. There are also people in suits, notebooks in hand, he notices the owners of The Guardian and Daily Mirror amongst them.
In between these areas he sees flames shooting up into the sky. Fracking is well under way. Merseyside glows like a Christmas tree with all the nuclear waste. He’s laughing so hard he’s almost crying. “Margaret would have been so proud of me.” And starts to fondle her portrait.
As he swings to the border of New South of England there is what appears to be a thick black line. Moving in closer he sees tents full of Northerners, the French infiltrators have been removed. He’s grinning like a Cheshire cat. Those with foreign sounding names were “taken out” leaving the rest fearful and downtrodden. He realises, however, he has to offer them something to keep them in line, and is pondering his next move.
The plane almost hits a northerner’s head. “Shit shit, whew, oh what the hell, there’s nothing much inside their brains anyway.”
The Landscape... (Part 2)
Before he hovers over the beautiful South of England, he glances over at Wales. He gave them independence as well, even though they didn’t want it. “What the hell would I want a country of sheep and hills for?” He chuckles and then he slows the drone down over the South of England. Looks up, and he’s sure he can hear angels... Beautiful new houses have been built, parks, gardens, theatres. “Ahh the land of milk and honey.”
He didn’t really have any planners for Northerners to move here and spoil it. His task was made easier following the one northern family that was relocated. House prices in the area fell, and shop signs saying no Northerners allowed sprung up all over the area. But with the working week now down to 30 hrs the dirty jobs still need to be done. So with no human rights acts or benefits, Northerners were bussed in, paid a few quid on the day, then returned to their settlement. “They’re a bit like Palestinians.” He chuckles.
In London they faced the most prejudice. Nigel Farage (UKIP) was handed the role as Lord Mayor. Shop signs now read “No Blacks, Asians, or Northerners.” Speaking foreign on a bus resulted in immediate arrest and moved to Yorkshire Dales detention centre. Any people who refused to work, or the lazy disabled were housed in a building called “Beedlam” with the insane, and provided much loved entertainment at weekends for the good people of South of England who would visit this human zoo.
David Cameron sat back in his chair, drank more whisky. “Ahh job done.” But something was niggling, why can’t the entire world be like us! And he knew the natives were getting restless. Constant abuse towards the South of England (all lies of course) had resulted in people almost frothing at the mouth to take action against these foreigners.
“But how can I attack The French (his pet hate) without the rest, especially European Union countries coming to their aid? I will have to sleep on that.” And so he drifts off talking in his sleep. “Oh Margaret spank me again, I’m a naughty boy... Napoleon, Nelson, Churchill, mmmmm.”
Prime Minister’s office...
“Arseliqueur, what did Northerners used to like?” He poses the question to the head civil servant, and then answers himself. He has little knowledge of them, and talks as if they are extinct creatures. “Smoking, drinking and playing the lottery. Well, let’s kill two birds with one stone.” Those eyes again. Arseliqueur looks puzzled. “Let’s give them what they want.” He’s chuckling like a hyena, sleeves rolled up looking like action man. “Each Northerner will get a free lottery ticket and win a luxury trip on a cruise ship to live in Australia. 700 lucky winners.” “That’s very generous of you Prime Minister.” He had no idea David Cameron had a heart. “Then the French will kill them.” He’s looking up with bloodshot eyes, sweat pouring from him, vodka glass in hand. “One slight problem Prime Minister.” “Yes, yes, what!” He looks like a tiny demon. “Why would the French do this?” “They don’t, we do.” He stands up and strokes Margaret’s hand. Arseliquer gazes at Satan’s child. “We murder 700 people Prime Minister?” “Look at the bigger picture Arseliquer, we will get the sympathy of the whole world, then we march into Paris.” He strokes Churchill’s face. “But won’t they realise we did it?” “No.” Are his ears looking like horns? “I will be remotely controlling a submarine and then boom. Ok, let’s get packing and announce the good news to those heathens.”
Within an hour they are on the way to the border, Cameron’s Pope like mobile ready with bullet proof glass.
He greets the Northern masses. “Listen, I have great news.” “You twat!” screams one in the crowd, bricks and bottles rain down on the mobile. “Wait, wait. You have paid the ultimate sacrifice and we feel your pain.” More screams of abuse. “You like smoking, drinking but there’s something else you miss. In the past you would queue for hours for this. The Lottery.” A strange hush descends on the crowd. “Yes, I do miss that,” mutters one in the crowd. “Well, it’s back with 700 winners.” There’s a muted applause. “Each and every one of you will be given a free lottery ticket today.” Like lunatics who have had a frontal lobotomy they nod their heads. “And 700 of you will win a trip on a luxury liner going to your new house in Australia.” There are gasps in the crowd followed by wild cheers.
Arseliquer looks and stares at the crowd, who of these people’s faces will be bobbing up and down in the sea.
Arseliquer (senior civil servant) has joined the Prime Minister on the White Cliffs of Dover. “Look at this, weeeeeeeee, up periscope, peek-a-boo, down periscope.” Cameron is playing with his remote controlled submarine armed to the hilt. He’s bent over double, at times laughing, other times sitting like the little public school boy that he is, then one is sure his ears are growing thorns, his neck appears red and his eyes are bloodshot . “The Northerners, Arseliquer, are they on the boat?” “Yes Prime Minister. It set off on time and it’s on its way, the children in particular appeared very happy.” He says this in numb almost sad tone. “Ah, jolly good, pip pip and all that.”
Arseliquer steps back, adjusts his collar. “You are dangerous.” “Really?” Cameron is beaming all those days of wanking over Thatcher; it was he who he loved. “Really am I marvellous.” This fiendish creature only hears what he wants to hear. “My friend, I couldn’t have done it without you.” There is a deep sigh. “I know.”
“I can see it.” He jumps up and down like a little child, he puts the submarine into position, grits his teeth and waits.
“Arseliquer is that weapons I can see in their hands?” “No Prime Minister, they are waving at you, you did say you would wave them off.” “Yes, that’s true.” And he raises his royal hand.
Then out of the blue, his submarine takes a direct hit from the ship and sinks. “What’s happening?” The missile is aimed at them, hitting just below where they are standing on the rocks and they fall to their death. The last sound is “Why!” from the demon.
Arseliquer was going to push him over the cliff, but it was he that had carried out his orders, the deaths, the misery, so he had to go as well.
“What a show we have tonight!” beam Ant and Dec. “The North (new name for all of England) have let you decide live from Gateshead.”
“Who gets hanged you decide. If you want it to be Nigel Farage phone 0941 200 and add 1. If you want it to be Boris Johnson, dial 0941 22 and add 2. Calls cost nothing.”
Susan P. Blevins was born in England, lived 26 years in Italy, and has now resided in the USA for the past 23 years, first in Taos, NM, and currently in Houston, TX. While living in Rome she had a weekly column in an international, English-language newspaper, writing about food and restaurant reviews primarily, though not exclusively. Since living in the USA she has written pieces on gardens and gardening for N. American and European publications, and she is now writing stories of her life and travels, and gaining traction in various literary publications. She loves reading, writing, playing the piano, classical music, cats and stimulating conversation.
PARALLELS by Susan P. Blevins
Painting and writing have much in common. Sitting in front of a blank white canvas is no different from staring at a blank white page (or screen). I had a painting mentor years ago who told me that the important thing to remember when beginning a new painting is to dirty the canvas as quickly as possible. Take a neutral paint and sketch out a general plan of what the painting is going to be. It can be grotesque and a total mess, but the canvas once dirtied no longer intimidates, and, liberated from inhibitions, we feel free to launch ourselves into the adventures of the creative process. I go one step further when starting a new painting. I raise my hand and bless the canvas, and ask that I may continue God’s eternal act of creation in my new work.
When sitting down at the computer, or with my notebook, to start writing a new piece, an essay, a story, or perhaps a poem, it is essential for me to pull the metaphoric cork from the bottle and let the contents, which have been bubbling around in my head, come spilling out onto the page. I think it’s important to have a general idea of the schema that the writing should follow, but the main thing is to go with the flow and not to stop for every little uncertainty or the pursuit of the perfect word. That can be taken care of later on during the editing process. Dirty the page! The principal pursuit of the artist, for me at least, has to be authentic expression from the heart. Too many poets today, it seems, get wound up in the mechanics of the poem, and allow their intellectual strivings to come between their initial creative impulse and its subsequent expression. If the artist expresses authentic emotions, they will connect with the viewer or reader, who will in turn identify with the art, and feel it in their own heart, and in this way the audience becomes a participant in the creative process.
People often ask artists what we want to write about or paint, and we can reply quite simply, “life.” The fuller and richer our own lives, and the richer our experiences, the more we will have to write about. The more we hone our powers of observation, the more we shall be able to express in brief but vivid terms our experiences and feelings, and describe in living detail the characters populating our work.
I like to think that when we are caught up in the red-hot, seething energy of creativity, we are continuing where God left off. It seems unlikely that there was one big bang of creation and that was it. Creation must surely be an incremental, continuous process, taking place whenever anyone has a genuine urge in the heart to express an emotion, or to make an observation of our times. Artists of any genre have the task and responsibility to express the zeitgeist of the age in which they live, for it is not just the spirit of the age they are expressing, but their own spirit also. We are all inevitably children of our time and place.
Whether it be music, the written word, or visual art, all very much reflect the energy of our societies, and artists alone are able to express what many are feeling but are unable to articulate. I also believe that the role of the artist is rather to raise more questions than to give comfortable answers .
Listening to the music of Webern, Shostakovich, and Schoenberg, we clearly hear the horrors of World War II and the dissolution of an ordered society. In the same way, the art of Egon Schiele, Edvard Munch, Kandinsky and Gustav Klimt reflect the breakdown of society in western Europe prior to World War I, presenting the perfect canvas on which Hitler, a frustrated artist himself, was later able to paint in broad and heavy strokes, a deadly and demented picture of world domination, illustrating his own imbalance and that of Germany at that time. He stepped into the historical moment as a physical manifestation of the German zeitgeist between the two world wars, even though he came from Austria.
I further believe that not only do artists have the responsibility to express the inexpressible, they assume the role of midwives, tasked with bringing beauty and joy into the world. The world needs healing from the violence and corruption which have always swept through our societies like a wild brush fire, and through beauty and joy artists can inspire humanity to evolve to new heights of brotherly love, and to build a more unselfish, compassionate society. They can show us the brutal truth of life, and thus force us to acknowledge it, to finally face our denial, and they can help to heal it through pouring joy, beauty and love into our societies. Music is surely the universal language of the heart, balm for the soul, capable of healing our pain, relieving our sadness, increasing our joy, and providing communication between people who do not share a common spoken language. The important thing is to encourage people to participate in the exalted but humble act of creation, be it painting, composing, writing, or building a beautiful garden. The creative arts could be called a sublimation of the physical act of procreation
Life is all about where we choose to place our focus, and by focusing their energies on love, beauty and truth, artists contribute to their manifestation in the world for the benefit of all. Utopia is a worthy goal, and idealists are too few and far between.