Saturday, 12 January 2013

My formidable foe and food cravings.

It has taken me a lifetime to realise fear is furtive and has many disguises and because of this, it's no wonder it is such a formidable foe.

Fear about your own ability can prevent you from doing your best work and fear about how your work is received can prevent you from doing your own work. 

What I'm also taking time to realise is that uncertainty is essential for creative work to emerge.

On to more lighthearted reflections. 

After eating 'fresh fruit' from local supermarkets this wintery morning in Scotland, I crave the oranges I ate every morning for 2 weeks in San Francisco; I crave the peaches I devoured in the Okanagan Valley in Canada; I crave the small Tenerife bananas. Ach well, the porridge was good and some Scottish smoked salmon is lined up for 'brunch'. 

Food cravings anyone? 

Sunday, 6 January 2013

'Blooming, buzzing confusion', switchtasking and 'sometimes reinforcements'.

Tomorrow I go back to work after a two week break and, as usual, I dread the thought of it and kind of look forward to it at the same time.

Like most people I love being on holiday. We live in a stunning location in rural Aberdeenshire. In 2012 we improved and modernised existing rooms in the steading (barn) attached to our cottage and this festive period has been even better with the luxury of the new living areas. I could quite happily work from this home!

As some of you know, I'm the Principal Teacher of History at a secondary school (12 - 18 year olds) and I get great satisfaction from teaching. I love my subject and the pupils make the job. They are often an inspiration to me. Yes, all of us in education face the continuous interference from politicians and so called 'experts' who force on us ever more 'new thinking' and 'new approaches' which can seem totally at odds with what your particular school and pupils actually need. But at the end of the day, it is a far preferable job to the one I did for 14 years in the oil industry.

So, returning to work brings things to look forward to and things that I could do without in my life.

But here's what gets me the most about the end of holidays - all the books and magazines not read; all the movies not watched; all the blogs and websites not read; all the walks not taken; all the photographs not taken; all the friends and relatives not visited; all the stuff still on my 'to do' list! Clearly I was unrealistic about what I could do during what is a busy holiday anyway. Worst still, there are so many distractions nowadays.

I'm currently reading The Pleasures of Reading in an Ages of Distraction by Alan Jacobs.  A few years ago I was trying to speed up my reading but Jacobs explains why you shouldn't if you really want to get more from what you're reading apart from just uploading information to our brains without giving time to consolidate and consider the information. Reading will always seem slow if all you want to do is pass your eyes over page after page and tick the book off as 'read'.

However, reading slower will mean I will get through less pages before I'm distracted by Facebook, twitter, Flickr, emails, cats, the scenery, the need to get outside! Technology has brought 'intermittent reinforcements' as B.F Skinner calls it, into my life and to rid myself of most of them, I'll have to alter my habits. It's this 'sometimes reinforcements' that causes the 'addiction' to keep checking social media. 

'The philosopher William James famously wrote of the "blooming, buzzing confusion" that constitutes sensuous experience for babies, who have not yet developed the filters necessary to organise that experience into discrete and meaningful units, but our daily technologies threaten to return us all to virtual babyhood"(my italics). [Jacobs, p.79]

Lately, I've been feeling this 'blooming and buzzing' has had an impact on my reading - not only the quantity but also the quality. My mind drifts much easier than it used to. This blog post is admitting my awareness of the 'condition' and how I want to do something to address the imbalance.

Essentially, I need to make it difficult if not impossible to go online for part of my day/week so I can get back to quality reading, studying, thinking and doing. Many years ago, I managed to stop smoking and drinking so surely I can do this? Jacobs talks about e-readers like Kindle which place emphasis on the text and 'hiding' the 'connect' command. ( I don't have a Kindle so can't comment on this.) So technology can be part of the solution, but I fear I may be too distracted still. I can't multitask, not because I'm a male; no, it's because none of us can, according to new research. Dave Crenshaw points out that genuine multitasking is impossible and a more accurate term is 'switchtasking'. We are really in a state of 'continuous partial attention'. Boy, does that describe perfectly how I felt much of the time in 2012!

At the moment, I'm still working on how to use social media and the internet to keep me informed, educate me, entertain me, promote me but not distract me so much. I will be 'experimenting' with possible solutions this year which may see me on Facebook and twitter a lot less but then again, ...

To be continued (and hopefully resolved).

Well done if you managed to read all this without getting distracted!

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

New music, new books and old but useful advice.

Some new music I bought in 2012:

Funny how so much of 'new' music sounds like old music to me. Must be a part of getting older. Interestingly, the older the musician the more contemporary the music, e.g. Karine Polwart, Richard Hawley and Lau.

Some books that held my attention in 2012:

I read others and went back to old favourites.

I've mentioned Art and Fear in a previous post. It describes some very familiar traits! It does provide some good advice and points to consider:

'What you need to know about the next (image) is contained in the last (image).'

'...ideas are diluted to what you imagine your audience can imagine, leading to work that is condescending, arrogant or both. Worse yet, you discard your own highest vision in the process.'

'...the world offers vastly more support to work it already understands - namely, art that's already been around for a generation...'

'..the real question about acceptance is not whether your work will be viewed as art, but whether your work will be viewed as your art.'

'....the audience is is seldom in a position to grant (or withhold) approval on the issue that really counts - namely, whether or not you're making progress in your work.'

'Outliers' by Malcolm Gladwell is worth a read. There are some gaping holes in some of the conclusions and analysis but it is thought provoking and helped to explain a few 'twists and turns' in my own life. I still need to work on my 'practical intelligence' I reckon! The chapter on why Asians are generally better at maths is very interesting. Also, the learning that goes on outside of school by students of more wealthy parents has more impact on attainment than I ever thought.

This morning, I was all ready to do a blog post about feelings just now and soon realised I can't better this and should move on.