Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sensory Writing

I've just tried out an application for writers which is different from any other software I've used before. Delightful is the word I would use to describe Ommwriter. You get a snow white screen or snow scene with a barely defined field for writing and a column of small black control buttons to the right, both useful and easy to tune out. There are no toolbars or words on the page to distract you. The background sounds, if you choose to have one, are magical - tiny bell-like wind chimes, waves lapping on the shore, gongs echoing, birds singing, crickets chirping, a brook running, mostly sounds from nature. The keyboard produces little noises as you type, like a ping pong, water dripping, faint clicking noises, enough to make you aware of progress. If you select the italic script, it flows like ink onto the page. The novelty at first is a little distracting, but I could very easily get lost in this world and tune out the rest. I'd highly recommend using headphones for stereo effect. You'll need Mac OS 10.5.0 or higher. Oh, and it's free. No PC version is available yet.

Saturday, January 09, 2010


I made some resolutions this year. Usually I don't bother, but I've been talking to my 7th graders about the importance of planning and working towards a goal, so it seemed only right that I practice what I preach. My primary objective this year is to write on a regular basis, but I'd actually like to finish a piece of work.

My blog's had a facelift to inspire me with a new look. I've pulled a couple of guides from my bookshelves to provide me with exercises when I'm stuck for anything to write about: The Creative Writing Coursebook from the University of East Anglia and Janet Borroway's Writing Fiction, A Guide to Narrative Craft. I know that the morning pages (Julia Cameron's idea) help to prime the pump, but I keep going over old territory. I need a little more structure.

Here's an exercise from Julia Bell at UEA: "Write down five sounds that you can hear. Then list the things you associate with those sounds. A car engine may remind you of being picked up after school, clanking crockery of that summer you worked at Pizza Pie, an aeroplane of your holiday to Ibiza." See where that leads. So excuse me while I go off to play...

Interesting exercise. The sounds often trigger a whole series of memories, a recurring pattern that could be used as a metaphor. They take you straight back to a place and time where you can see and hear and smell all of the details.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

New Beginnings

There's a niggling buzz that's started. Something familiar. One I've experienced every year since I first started school - too many years ago to mention. It's that feeling you get when the new school year approaches. Anticipation. Opportunities to begin again, to start over, do things better, try something new, reinvent yourself. What a rush....

Teachers start back on August 15th. I'm looking forward to a completely new job, teaching Design Technology through computers. Back when I was in middle and high school it would have been a shop class, but times have changed. For one thing, our school hasn't invested in a metal/woodworking shop. Perhaps they will in the future, but for now, we're approaching the course through computers.

The underlying concept is the same. Follow a design cycle. Brainstorm. Investigate. Sketch and plan several possibilities. Choose the most feasible or interesting one. Create the product. Reflect on the process and document as you go along. Test or get feedback on the final product and evaluate the outcome. We'll still address all of the components of the course: Information, Materials and Systems. The difference is that we won't be using food, wood, electric circuits, robotics, metal, textiles. At least not in the first year.

The other challenge is to create projects which can incorporate one or more of the Areas of Interaction: Approaches to Learning, Community and Service, Health and Social Education, Environment, and Human Ingenuity. By choosing their own theme, they'll own the project. It's also about giving something back, being aware of how we affect others and the mark we leave behind.

The process is the most important thing for them to experience, but the projects should be engaging. I'm thinking clay animation films with iStop Motion, comic book messages designed in Comic Life, podcasting with a slide show, designing complete CD covers, inserts and labels with a drawing program or their own photographs, iMovies with still photos and music created in Garage Band, postcards of bizarre images created in PhotoShop. No pre-designed images allowed. No hi-jacked pictures from Google. They'll have to create everything from scratch.

For me, the new year has never begun on January first. It begins at the end of summer when we all go back to school. I'm going to have to scramble to keep up... I can hardly wait!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Creative Outlet? Who Needs It?

One of the things that I enjoy about my work is that I’m surrounded by creative, diverse colleagues who challenge the students and, inadvertantly, me, to consider new ideas, take risks and look inside. As a support teacher, I'm forced to attempt the tasks myself in order to help my students understand and complete the work. Recently, they were assigned an essay with a choice of themes to explore: Love, Evil or Human Nature. Since then, I’ve been mulling over the idea of human nature and creativity.

Apparently, from the lack of postings on this blog, I’ve experienced a slump in creativity for nearly a year, despite attending a week-long writing course in the Highlands of Scotland last summer. The awesome talent of my peers on the course was daunting. The break in my wrist last spring turned into a metaphor for my creative outlet. The expressive channel was broken.

Having said that, I’ve been like a boiling kettle with a dancing lid - the steam’s been coming out in other directions, but not in the one I wanted. Instead, I’ve been trying out new bread recipes, taking up knitting again after many years, re-arranging furniture (that’s a favourite), learning to make sushi and choosing paint for the front hallway. Just recently, I started a new project at work, designing a web page of resources. Finally, I’d found an outlet, something to focus on! The really strange thing is that it got me writing again.

I have a theory that we all need to have some outlet for our creativity. For some, it’s a mind trip while walking the dog that ends up as a short story. It might be choosing coordinating drapes and pillows for the living room or planting vegetables in the garden, putting a mixture of flowers together in a vase, painting racing stripes on the car or organizing an informal party. There’s a basic human need to be purposeful, imaginative, to test the waters (or the thin ice) and DO something. Something unique to you. It often requires learning something. A new skill. Discovering a new talent. Re-discovering a childhood passion.

This need to learn new things reminded me of my father, a quiet, private man who enjoyed his own company. As a young man, he had trained to be a watchmaker, and in his retirement, he returned to that hobby until his failing vision made it impossible to continue. He was also a passionate photographer who preferred taking pictures to hunting. He enjoyed cooking meals or treats for the family and took satisfaction from mowing the lawn. He didn’t seek anyone’s approval, but took joy in just doing things his own way. He was curious about computers and the World Wide Web, but felt it was too late for him to master it. Things were just changing too fast. When he lost interest in learning or creating anything new, he lost interest in life itself. Or perhaps it was the other way around.

I think we all need a creative outlet. Without it, the love of life slips away. Or people become destructive, another outlet for “doing”. If this is true, it raises many more questions... How can we nurture creativity in our schools and society? How can we provide the elderly with opportunities to be expressive? How can we solve our world problems through innovation rather than destruction? I think it’s by encouraging and providing opportunities to use imagination and creative problem solving throughout our society - at home, in schools and in the workplace.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Breaking News

Thank heaven for technology and the NHS! We're on Easter break now for two weeks, time to relax and catch up on chores. On Tuesday, I installed ViaVoice on my PowerBook. It took most of the afternoon to model my voice by reading several texts into a microphone so that the software could recognize my speech. It also allows me to dictate into other writing programs, including this post.

I discovered that I could use this software best to transcribe text, which I have already written out by hand. It's difficult to compose aloud fluently, so I prefer to handwrite to keep up with the flow. The software picks up to the ambient noise in the room so I get odd combinations of phrases and words, very distracting. I find I need to make a lot of corrections. Little did I know how useful it would be.

Early Wednesday evening, I foolishly stood on a chair to reach a book on a high shelf. The chair tilted and I fell heavily on my left wrist. We spent from 8:00PM to 1:00AM in the emergency room of the local hospital. There were no questions about insurance although I do have private medical insurance if I need it. The consultation and the X-rays were free. When we went back to the fracture clinic again this morning, I learned that I would spend the next six weeks in a cast. Most people do this in their childhood, but this is the first time I've broken any bones in all my 57 years. Now how did I know I would need ViaVoice in this week? Scary, isn’t it? Life is still full of surprises!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Pleasure of Giving

Finding the perfect gift for your friends and family members who don’t really need anything makes us frantic, especially at Christmas. As the Big Day advances and we haven’t found the Perfect Gift, we are tempted by expensive and unnecessary junk which may end up being returned, recycled or even thrown out. We buy goofy gifts or something inappropriate. The shopping frenzy turns an otherwise spiritual season into a depressing one which leaves us with the sense that we’ve missed something.

This year, we made a conscious effort to spend less money, both on ourselves and our friends. Instead, we bought a few things for the house, some carefully chosen little gifts like books, calendars and toiletries. We cooked, enjoyed some mulled wine and the reruns on television. We even sent electronic Christmas cards.

We also gave donations to charitable organisations. Last Christmas, a couple of our friends started this by donating a goat to a family in Africa, a gift which would make a huge difference in the lives of those who received it. We were touched that they thought to do this in our names. This year, together, we donated emergency cooking utensils, blankets, mosquito nets and a desk, chair and stationary. It felt good that our abundance could help someone in need.

Think of the riches which we take for granted. How many changes of clothes do you have? Televisions? I-Pods? Computers? Telephones? Cameras? Cars? Foods? Medicines? Books? Cooking utensils? Do you take for granted your clean drinking water? An effective sewage system? Do we really need more STUFF?

The disasters which we have witnessed in the last year have made us all more aware of suffering around the world: the Boxing Day tsunami in South Asia, the earthquake in northwest India and Pakistan, the hurricanes along the Gulf Coast of the United States. Why not consider a gift which will help a child, a family or a community in the developing world?

It’s the kind of giving which snowballs. If you start it, your friends may pass it on and reciprocate, better than those annoying chain emails which you have to forward within a few minutes in order for your wish to be granted. Do something tangible and make someone else’s wish come true. You can give as little as £5 or as much as you can afford. There may be other sites for reputable charities. These are just a few. And you’ll be surprised at how satisfying it is. It doesn't have to be Christmas either.

The World Vision: (
Oxfam: (
Send a Cow: (
Present Aid: (

Sunday, October 30, 2005

One of Life’s Little Stresses

We’ve recently moved from an English village in the countryside to one of London’s outer boroughs. I have mixed feelings about it. On the plus side, our commute to work has gone from an hour and a half each way in heavy motorway traffic to seven minutes or ten if we have to wait at a traffic light. The house is bigger in every respect with higher ceilings, larger rooms and more light. The garden is low maintenance. There isn’t a hundred years worth of paint on the walls and woodwork. On the minus side, this is definitely city living with lots more traffic, and the pace has "ratched" up several notches. Moving to a new house with a partner, especially when you do it yourself, has to be one of the most stressful things which couples go through.

I thought I’d do a little research about stress. I was surprised to discover that moving wasn’t in the top ten. Several sites listed the top ten stress-causing events, but I found one where you can actually take a test to tally your current stress level. Which of these have you experienced in the past 12 months?

1. Death of a spouse (100)
2. Divorce (73)
3. Marital separation (65)
4. Jail term (63)
5. Death of close family member (63)
6. Personal injury or illness (53)
7. Marriage (50)
8. Losing ones job (47)
9. Marital reconciliation (45)
10. Retirement (45)
11. Change in family member's health 44
12. Pregnancy 40
13. Sex difficulties 39
14. Addition to family 39
15. Business readjustment 39
16. Change in financial status 38
17. Death of close friend 37
18. Change to a different line of work 36
19. Change in number of marital arguments 35
20. Mortgage or loan over $10,000 31
21. Foreclosure of mortgage or loan 30
22. Change in work responsibilities 29
23. Trouble with in-laws 29
24. Outstanding personal achievement 28
25. Spouse begins or stops work 26
26. Starting or finishing school 26
27. Change in living conditions 25
28. Revision of personal habits 24
29. Trouble with boss 23
30. Change in work hours, conditions 20
31. Change in residence 20
32. Change in schools 20
33. Change in recreational habits 19
34. Change in church activities 19
35. Change in social activities 18
36. Mortgage or loan under $10,000 17
37. Change in sleeping habits 16
38. Change in number of family gatherings 15
39. Change in eating habits 15
40. Vacation 13
41. Christmas season 12
42. Minor violations of the law 11

On a scale of 1 -100, change of residence only carried a stress level of 20. Another site listed buying and selling a house with a stress score of 60. Go to ( I’m assuming that the difference in stress is related to the buying and selling factor.

These results were posted on the New Hope website. If your score is 0-149, you have low susceptibility to stress-related illness. If it’s 150-299, there is medium susceptibility. If you score 300 and over, you have a high susceptibility to stress-related illness. Your likelihood of becoming ill depends on your stress coping skills.

The new house is great and we have hours more each day to enjoy as we please. Now we just have to sell the other home... Does having more leisure time cancel out some of the pressure? My stress score was 137 which puts me on the low end of the stress scale. What’s yours?