Tuesday, 31 January 2012


Partnership writing:  a Bravewriter idea. The family on-line course is refocusing me, reminding me that it’s about being alongside my children; about figuring out what they need and how I can support them in their writing. It’s about letting them dictate or doing conversational freewrites where we take turns to write back and forth or by taking time to read what they have written and engage in their work or seeing what they are doing well and building on it  andseeing their areas of weakness and looking for activities to strengthen them. Alongside – my children’s cheerleader, partner, guide.
My eldest gets in quite a state about maths. He can motivate himself to write 20,000 words in a month , finding the time each day, holding the entire story arc in his head, making himself sit down and type day after day but maths is another story. It is clearly painful and his description of it as pointless and dull does not seem to me sufficient to explain the depths of anguish he genuinely seems to feel. Maths has always been something of a problem especially at this time of year. I have noticed that all maths books seem to be arranged in the same way: number comes first which is simply adding up and the like and then comes algebra. This totally throws him. He can’t see the point and finds it hard. This is the time of tears and of wanting to give up. Once we’re through this we hit shape and space, which seems to make so much more sense to him: home strait, all the way to summer.
So yesterday had us having one of those, “You just have to try harder...  if you were in school...you don’t know you’re born,” type conversations. Not really a conversation:  me telling him and him gradually shutting down and feeling more and more a failure. Finally the voice of sanity managed make itself heard above the panic that my son will never get a maths qualification, will fail in life and it will be all my fault. Sanity reminds me that he is my little boy; and I love him; and he needs my help. He needs me to partner him: to sit next to him, to model solutions, to talk it through and to explain: Partnership Maths!  He needs me alongside, not the adversary but the friend, the supporter, the cheerleader. 15 minutes a day I have promised him throughout February. Alongside.

Monday, 30 January 2012


 Words have weight. They are not light and insubstantial but can be heavy and indigestible. Words are sharp. Some stay stuck in places that hurt, barbed arrows lodged in the heart. Words echo in the empty moments or scream in the stressed places. At times of uncertainty and panic - hanging on the end of a rope at the rock wall, the voices of failure take hold of those words and fling them about, the chaos and fear of a riot. An ill-placed word can topple the precarious structure of self-esteem and set-off, like a firework display, an explosion of past words:  words from childhood, words from adulthood, words spoken by people who have forgotten they knew me and words spoken by loved ones.
Words can be whispered because they are so hard to say. Words can be shouted in anger and hurt. Words can be promises made and vows sworn and yet can prove impossible to keep.
Words can be a comfort, a safety, a thread to follow back to safety. Words that are spoken softly in the darkness of tears can remind and reassure of love, of hope, of life. Words can explain, used gently and intentionally, treading with great care around the pot-holes of misunderstanding that upset life’s journey. These are words that set things right.
 And I speak words over the lives and hearts and minds of my children. My own arrows sent flying to lodge and hurt, my own comforts, safety or reassurance.
And I write words in a blog post, tentative and exploring. Not holding all the answers, not even to myself, but discovering and seeing what my thoughts sound like caught in time, dressed in words and held up to view.

Friday, 27 January 2012


A sense of audience: this is an idea that I have been considering this week. The children are doing a family class, Dynamic Revision, with Bravewriter and have each done a short series of freewrites followed by a brief discussion of set questions. One of question was whether they had a sense of audience: a feeling of who they were writing to and if they imagined someone reading their work. The responses were interesting, my youngest hoping that her published book would be read, but lacking confidence that her freewrites are good enough; my middle son imagining "rather old people" reading his work and my eldest appartently not thinking of it at all. I could certainly see how, especially with the younger two, the idea of an audience would help them see the reason to revise their raw writing and hopefully inspire them as they do so.
All this left me thinking about my own sense of audience. As I write this blog, I can picture a few of the people who I know are reading it. Others, who tell me that they read (and even comment occasionally) I can see less clearly. For me, it is always the potential criticsism that I hear and it can be debilitating. It is the same when I paint: I freeze if I think someone is coming close and I only show my family those pictures I am pleased with, finding it hard to share the experiments and the ones that didn't work.
How do I find the line between confidence in my actions, in my writing, in my art, in my life, and arrogance and unwillingness to listen to wise advice?
In discussing freewriting with my eldest, he said "Better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self."  (Cyril Connolly)  I love blogging but I have lost my sense of what it is for, and who it is for. I don't blog for my audience, though I'm pleased to have one, I blog for myself. I am glad that people read it, although I can count on my fingers the number of people that I am certain do so regularly, but I sense that I have begun to write for this, very limited, public audience. I want to explore my own thinking, to record my chidlren's education and childhood, to reflect on the things that catch my interest and I think it would be good for me to try and get back to writing for my self. I hope you continue to read but, if you don't, that's ok with me. I've spent a lot of time and effort beginning to find myself and I intend to hold on to all I've found.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Name of Names

Just this morning I finished reading "Inheritance", the last in Christopher Paolini's "Inheritance Cycle" which started, for me, in the summer of 2008 with "Eragon". A beautiful and powerful story it has filled my mind with incredible images and powerful ideas. Inherent to the plot is the concept of one's true name, the name that sums up one's entire being, flaws and brilliance, accomplishments and weakness. If another person knows your true name, they can assume complete power over you, subjugating you to a mere slave, unable to exercise free will and bound to follow their command. To volunteer your name to someone else is the highest sign of trust, of regard, even of love.
The hero of the tale, Eragon, can only achieve his aim if he understands his name: it is the key to the power, wisdom and guidance which he needs to fulfill the destiny, towards which he has been travelling throughout the saga. And in the moment of climax, it is one true name that brings victory and another that brings freedom. For one's true name is not static, not fixed, not dead. If you change and grow, if you increase in experience and knowledge and, as in the case of the tragic anti-hero, you experience love, your name changes too. Once enslaved by who he was, he becomes other and is freed from his bonds.
I have changed. I have lost and I have gained, I have experienced and I have grown. Who I am has changed over the years and over the months. I am wondering if my name has changed too?

Friday, 13 January 2012

Wonder wheel

 My kids are amazing! Almost every mother believes that about her own children - and rightly so - and mine have been particularly amazing this week.
I like to be "educational" with the children, not all the time of course (although that is an educational philosophy debate in itself ...), and so I planned to watch the first episode of the new BBC documentary "Earthflight" with them after their swimming lesson. However, while they were out, the local delivery network brought a birthday present for my middle son, 11 just a week ago, of K'nex. As soon as he received it the box was open, the tray for pieces on the table and he was away, puzzling over the instructions, fitting tiny plastic parts together and constructing a ferris wheel. I got on with a few admin jobs and wondered when to switch the tv on. I went to find my eldest and he was busy on the computer creating another animation with increasingly complex special effects. My daughter was out in the street cycling with the two girls she is friends with who live in our road. All of them engaged in exactly the kind of industry any mother, any teacher, would want to see children taking part in. And I am convinced that what they choose to do meets needs in them that they know, or maybe only sense, that they have that I could have no clue about. I am not so arrogant or sure of my "educational ideas"  that I believe them to be better, more important or of more value that these self-selected activities. I went back to my admin and left them to it!

Sunday, 8 January 2012


It is often said that it is during the difficult periods, a person finds out who their friends are. This has been true in my life but not in the way that I expected. It is often simply the way someone asks about what's going on for me or the greeting in a Christmas card which express the warmth and acceptance from those who truly love me. There are friendships which I have held on to by the tips of my fingers, which leave me feeling insecure and drained, like a climb too hard for me with tiny hand-holds on the rock wall. There are friendships which energise me, delight me and leave me feeling good about myself, my choices and life. It's hard in a busy life to find or make the time to spend with people; it's a tough balancing act between fitting it all in and allowing space to relax. It's hard too to be honest with myself about relationships which feel an effort and it's not that these people are in any way less - just that we don't fit together. I e-mailed a couple of friends today who I haven't seen in a while, who I enjoy spending time with, who are frequently on my mind and who I would like to sit down with over a cup of tea in the near future. I would like to spend more time in these relationships this year and, maybe, have the courage to let go of others.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

New Year

Swaledale is an amazing place to be: barren, beautiful, windswept and boggy. I have run on this moor almost everyday for the last two weeks. The first day I was slipping on ice but since then the bridle paths have become stream-beds and the ground a series of marshes and puddles. I have seen stunning sunrises and bowed my head into the howling wind and rain. I walked across the moor on Christmas Day, arriving half-an-hour late to church, wet and cold with mud spattered trousers into a congregation of locals in their festive best. I have walked up Calver Hill with my three children in cutting wind and stinging hail, to come home to hot baths and hot chocolate. I saw a barn owl yesterday, swooping over the heather, day-light hunting, its wings broad and sweeping. I have laughed and cried, played games, watched films and read my book. I am tired and rested, relaxed and still-humming. This year has been tumultous and up-ending, my foundational relationships have shifted, my life will never be the same again and my view of myself has been challenged, undone and is being rebuilt. I have hopes and dreams for 2012: I am scared, insecure and excited and in many ways I feel that I have a lot of growing up to do but it looks like being a good year.