A Dark And Stormy Night

Image Credit: Mylene2401 on Pixabay

I generally love a good thunderstorm. Tonight, I appreciate it even more than usual.

Growing up, I loved seeing Snoopy start his stories with “It was a dark and stormy night”. I used to giggle at that clichè long before I understood the deeper allusion to the fact that authors sometimes use the weather to reflect or foreshadow what characters in their stories feel or experience.

This is a literary device known as pathetic fallacy. It is used to set mood and tone in a piece of writing or art, emphasising emotions and heightening reactions. Rain can be used to reflect sorrow or misery, dark clouds can suggest anger or resentment, and a storm can suggest conflict, inner turmoil or violence.

If you’ve ever read ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte, you will have experienced pathetic fallacy being used so expertly that you may not have even noticed. Blended seamlessly with gothic imagery, turbulent relationships and the isolation of the Yorkshire moors, Bronte’s use of snow, rain, storms, cold and dark makes for incredibly powerful writing. Who can forget Cathy at the window during that storm, begging Heathcliff to let her in? It’s legendary because it is powerful, emotive writing that embeds its imagery in the consciousness of the reader.

My other favourite example of pathetic fallacy is Shakespeare’s King Lear shouting at the snowstorm, “Blow, wind, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!” Lear has literally been left out in the cold by his daughters Goneril and Regan, who have exploited his love and trust before throwing him out, homeless and broke. It’s such a potent scene — the depths of human coldness are amplified by the vision of a broken-hearted old man outside in a blizzard. It is chilling in more ways than one, and possibly one of Shakespeare’s finest scenes.

At other times, pathetic fallacy seems predictable and cliched. Sometimes it is almost painfully obvious and clunky. It often appears to be overused by authors who don’t have the finesse required to make it work — possibly because when authors do have that skill and it is done well, it it works as it is intended to without irritating the reader.

Tonight, nature is doing the author’s work for me. Outside, it is indeed a dark and stormy night. It has been raining steadily for hours now, thunder rolls and reverberates every now and then, and a draught of wind occasionally howls at the door. I am sitting in my father’s hospital room, having been called in late at night because he has been distressed and agitated. I have shed tears while talking with family members or sending messages. My emotions are all over the place. I’m both incredibly tired and wide awake.

A rainy night with the occasional rumble of thunder is most fitting.

Life’s But A Walking Shadow

Over the past few days I have been struck by the paradox in which life seems to go by so fast, driven at breakneck speed by the demands of work and family and often leaving us little time to relax, but it can at the same time grind to a halt at key moments and leave us little to do but contemplate life itself.

As I sit by my father’s bedside and look out the window of his hospital room, watching the long morning shadows fade and transform in bright sunshine and reappear later in the day, this passage from Macbeth V.v has been running through my mind.

Macbeth V.v

I’ve had plenty of time to think about what it means. Thoughts about the transience of life, the fleeting shadows, the fact that tomorrow is neither promised nor guaranteed, and how easily one’s candle can be snuffed out have been foremost in my mind.

The irony and contrast of interacting with my students on Monday and watching a performance of Macbeth from the Globe Theatre and then spending so much time in this quiet hospital room since Tuesday, thinking about the roles I play and the importance of how I play them, has not escaped me.

While “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (As You Like It, II.vii) I’d like to think at this point I am not a poor one. Whether at work or at home, and especially this week taking care of my dad, I have chosen to prioritise integrity and kindness. I will not deliver rehearsed lines, seeking instead to project and embody meaningful words with total commitment to my character and roles as daughter, career, sister, advocate, communicator and encourager.

Life’s But A Walking Shadow ‪#Reflection #LifeisStrange #ThoughtForTheDay #FridayThoughts #Shakespeare‬

Shakespeare Nerd

Macbeth, V.v

This short speech by Macbeth is his response to the news that Lady Macbeth is dead. It is not as emotional as Macduff’s response to the death of his wife and children, but instead is quite poignant and philosophical. A soliloquy might have been more expansive on his thoughts and feelings.

It is a reflection on the brevity and meaninglessness of life. Every day we live is someone else’s last, and our stories are full of noise and bother, but ultimately pointless.

Perhaps he anticipated her death, given her descent into guilty madness. His observation that “She should have died hereafter;There would have been time for such a word” suggeststhat he thought he had bigger problems at that point, and he simply didn’t have time to grieve properly. Implying that her timing was inconvenient is the kind of self-interest that those who love to hate Macbeth might find…

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On Tenterhooks.

Image Credit: Daniel_Nebreda

This morning I used the term “on tenterhooks” and then wondered where it came from.

It’s a term that means painful anticipation or being kept in suspense, commonly used by English speakers to describe any situation of tension or anxiety while waiting.

I imagined something being suspended or hung up, waiting for something to happen— which is exactly how I felt when I said it. I imagined the hooks to be larger and more cruel than they actually were, perhaps as some form of medieval torture or punishment, like hanging someone on a wall or in mid air using hooks to hold the body. That is an indication of several truths about me: my own feelings at the time, my love of medieval history, and my horror author’s tendency toward macabre imagination.

As it turns out, I was overthinking that part.

A little research at etymonline.org and worldwidewords.org informed me that it’s a very old word from the early 14th century that relates to the preparation of cloth, particularly woven woollen fabric, by hanging it up on a frame known as a tenter to stretch, straighten the weave, and dry. Tenter hooks were bent nails that held the fabric in place on the frame.

By the early 1500s, people spoke of being on the tenters to express being in suspense or waiting anxiously. The phrase “on tenterhooks” appeared in print for the first time in Tobias Smollett’s Roderick Random in 1748.

It is related to the word tent in that the word was used to describe the way in which hides, skins or coarse cloth were hung over a framework of poles to create a temporary dwelling, which then came to be called a tent.

Both tent and tenterhooks come to English from the Latin, tendere, meaning to stretch, via the old French word tente. They are related to the words tense, tension, intense and the phrase highly strung.

Although the ideas have come to be closely associated, tenterhooks and suspense are not related words.

Ambiguous Loss and Anticipatory Grief

I wish I had known about ambiguous loss and anticipatory grief much earlier in my life.

In yesterday’s post, I alluded to my Dad’s transition into residential aged care. 

Today, I want to share some knowledge I have gained over the past few months, because I have found it enormously helpful and therapeutic in dealing with my own experiences and feelings.  I am sure I wasn’t the only person who didn’t know these things, and my hope is that others will benefit from these insights. 

My father has become increasingly frail, and even though I knew the time was coming, making the decision to move him into residential aged care was incredibly painful. For him, it was a loss of independence, his home, his cat and my dog. His sadness was profound, and completely understandable. Still, he was very thankful — as were my siblings and I — that he could move into an excellent place where the care is consistently empathetic and kind, where the food is good, and where he can have his own things around him. 

My emotions, too, were complex. I felt guilty, even though I knew it was the right time and the right thing to do. No loving child wants to see their dad leave behind the life he has known and the things he has accumulated, and no loving child wants to see their Dad so sad. 

I experienced a very real sense of grief and loss while packing up his things, setting up his room, and helping him transition to a new phase of life, There was more to it, though, and often I didn’t know how to express what I was feeling. 

Through my research and reading, and through wonderful constructive advice from friends who have been through similar situations, I have come to understand that many of the things I am experiencing are encompassed by two terms: ambiguous grief and anticipatory grief

I had never heard of either one until recently, and I think they should both be much more commonly known.

Ambiguous Loss is a kind of grief experienced where there is no distinct end or no closure. Generally speaking, it arises from an emotionally painful or turbulent situation that one is going through, and which doesn’t have an “end date”. The reasons for grief or a profound sense of loss might be indistict, or complex, or unidentifiable at the time. Sometimes the grief masquerades as anger, frustration or overwhelm. To experience ambiguous grief is vague, exhausting and indefinite in more ways than just the timeline. 

It’s that mixed feeling of sadness at having to make big decisions that we didn’t feel ready to make, and thankfulness that things worked out perfectly when we needed them to.

It’s the sadness we felt at making decisions about what to do with his things, and asking my best friend to adopt his cat, even though he is still with us.

It’s the sadness I feel at saying goodbye and leaving Dad behind every evening, knowing he is safe and well cared for in his new home, but also that he is no longer ‘at home’. He is exactly where he needs to be, and I love it and hate it at the same time. 

Anticipatory Grief occurs when one realises or acknowledges that death is approaching, or even just a likely outcome. 

This is what I have experienced on a number of occasions when Dad had a health crisis and ended up in hospital. Most vivid in my memories was March 1st this year when I had followed the ambulance to the ER in the wee hours of the morning. When I got there, instead of being taken through to see Dad right away as I had always been before, the doctor on duty actually took me into a little room and  had “the talk” with me to made sure I understood how precarious Dad’s condition was, and that he might not make it this time. To his relief, I was fully aware of that. I suppose many people are surprised by it, or in denial, and I totally get that, too. It’s the natural reaction but, having been there more than once, it is no longer my default. There was no dozing while I sat by my father’s bed that night: instead, I spent hours composing the message I would send to my siblings, and another that I would send to other family and friends, at a decent hour of the morning. 

This is what we felt when packing up Dad’s things for his room at the home, and when sorting and cleaning out the accumulation of papers, trinkets, and household items in his house. Those are the sorts of things usually done after someone dies, not before. Still, it had to be done. 

Similarly, putting his wallet and the jewellery box containing my grandfather’s wedding ring and Dad’s much-loved pocket watches in a special spot in my own house for safekeeping felt strangely poignant and painful and incredibly sad. 

This is what I go through every time Dad has a episode of poor health, or gets an infection, or can’t express why he doesn’t feel good. It happens when he has times of vagueness or confusion, and when he can’t find his words All of those things are happening more often than they used to, so the sense of grief increases as time goes on. 

What I have learned thus far is that ambiguous grief is a very real and important part of the emotional process, and that my feelings don’t always have to be understood to make sense and be accepted as valid

In hindsight, I wish I had understood both of these realities when my mother was diagnosed with dementia, when she went into care, and when she didn’t know who I was anymore. My father, siblings and I were grieving the loss of the person she had been long before she actually passed away. When she died, it felt like it was my mother and someone entirely different at the same time. I felt so guilty about feeling that her passing was a liberation for her and a relief for us, even though my grief was as desperate and profound as ever. I was angry at myself for not knowing how to feel. 

At least this time, with experience and some knew understandings, I can accept the vagueness and complexity of my feelings, which can change from one moment or one day to the next, and just let it be whatever it is. I can cherish every moment with Dad and grieve at the same Time. I am free to laugh and cry, to tell my siblings the stories that are simultaneously sad and funny, and to live each day as it comes without having to explain to myself or anyone else why I’m a mess. 

As awkward and painful and weird as that may be, but I think it’s a healthy way to be. Still, I know I need to manage all those pesky feelings so I stay healthy, too. 

So, I try to make sure I talk honestly with my husband, siblings and closest friends about my thoughts and feelings. My sisters and brother are feeling the same things, and they all live interstate, so keeping them in the loop and encouraging them to express their feelings are hugely important, too. 
I allow myself to cry. ‘Being strong’ is rubbish. 
I refuse to beat up on myself when things are tough, or if I don’t achieve everything on my ‘to-do’  list. 
I remind myself to take each day as it comes.
I remind myself that we are doing the best thing for our dad, and that he is being expertly and compassionately cared for.

And every single day, I hold Dad’s hand and I tell him I love him. Because, throughout this whole process, Dad being sure of that is the most important thing of all.  

Different Kinds of Grief‪
#EmotionalIntelligence #emotions #grief #feelings #MentalHealthMatters  #MentalHealthAwareness‬ #personal #blogpost 

Helpful Reading: 

What Is Ambiguous Loss? 

Ambiguous Grief: Grieving Simone Who Is Still Alive 

How To Deal With Ambiguous Loss

Grief Before Death: Understanding Anticipatory Grief

Grieving Before A Death: Understanding Anticipatory Grief

Having Dropped — And Temporarily Lost — The Ball

I’ve been absent.

It seems that I haven’t just dropped the proverbial ball when it comes to blogging regularly, I’ve gone and lost the jolly thing.
I last saw it a couple of weeks ago, when it bounced a couple of times before rolling away through some very prickly bushes and falling into a seemingly bottomless hole.

The thing is, life since that drafted virus unleashed itself on the world has been tumultuous.

I could tell you I haven’t written anything, but that’s not true. I have written some really great lessons and three entire new units because what I had planned (and written) previously wasn’t going to work in an online learning environment.

I could tell you I didn’t have a quarantine project, but that isn’t true either. I’ve had two, both of which happened by necessity rather than design.

Project One: reinventing my career
Initial Observations: Teaching from home is a whole lot more work than it sounds. All that extra time online is very tiring.
Final Observations: Challenging and exhausting, but enormously satisfying. Most students engaged really well. More positives than negatives.
Verdict: Aced it.

Project Two: supporting my father as he spent a couple of weeks in hospital before transitioning into residential aged care.
Initial observations: Lots of phone calls. Mountains of paperwork. Huge emotional adjustments.
Further Observations: Decisions are hard, even when you actually have no choice. Emotions are hard. Being on one mental and emotional roller coaster while your dad is on a completely different one can only be dealt with by hanging on for dear life and completely faking any appearance of knowing what you are doing.
Verdict: Aced it. Especially the part where I looked like I knew what I was doing.

It should also be mentioned that these two significant challenges occurred simultaneously. I didn’t have time to scratch myself, much less spend any more personal time online than I did.

So really, I’ve achieved far more since mid-March than is apparent from my nonexistent output of either blog posts or fiction.

I admit that I have seriously contemplated walking away from writing and/or blogging. Even while considering that, I knew that was the stuff of emotional and mental exhaustion, because I still have ideas and plans bubbling away in the back of my mind. I am not ready to quit, and I would be letting myself down if I did.

I will get my mojo back, even if I’m not sure when that might happen.

Stay tuned, folks. I’m not dead yet.

Observations From Teaching From Home — In Front Of a Camera

Teaching in front of a camera has given me— and, I’m sure, every other teacher out there — a unique insight into what our students see when we talk and interact with them. 

I have made some honest observations about myself during this time.

I really do have RBF. Sorry, kids. I’m not annoyed or angry, that’s just how my face looks. 

When my eyes are tired, I tend to open them really wide after blinking. It tends to makes me look somewhat perpetually surprised. Prior to lockdown learning, I had no idea I did this.

At first, I touched my face a lot without thinking about it. Now? Not so much. 

My coffee cups look even more enormous on camera than they actually are. 

The little smiles I give to try to connect with my students, and to encourage and motivate them, can sometimes look a bit deranged. 

My eyebrows are perhaps my most expressive feature. 

My hair does, in fact, look really cool most of the time. 

Despite all those things, my students keep on showing up to class, working hard, getting things done and putting a smile on my face. They regularly brighten every day I spend with them. They’re a pretty awesome bunch.

There are a few other things I have observed.

Bad hair days and/or desperate need for a cut and colour are easily fixed with a nice beanie/touque/knitted hat.
The best way to find beanies/touques/knitted hats nice enough to wear for work is to have friends who knit or crochet. 
Also, a faux fur pom pom on a hat is far more satisfying than I ever realised. 

Working from home has its benefits, but it is definitely not less work. 

Looking at a screen for sustained periods of time is mentally and visually exhausting. I’ve started asking my students what sorts of trees are in their gardens, what they can see from their windows, and what’s happening outside their houses, just to make them look away from the screens every now and then. 
I’m also spending a lot less time on screen outside of class. There is nothing like losing yourself in a book, but when your eyes are tired, listening to great audiobooks and podcasts while staring into the distance is an enormously underrated and enjoyable sanity saver. 

Overall, things have worked fairly well for me.

On the Sunday evening before my final week of 100% remote teaching from home, I can honestly say that I can look forward to my classes this week with confidence.

I am also looking forward to seeing some of my classes and colleagues when we begging to return to school on June 1st. It will be great to get into a physical classroom again… although I wonder if that might feel a little weird now, too?

Observations from #TeachingFromHome In Front Of A Camera #TeacherLife #TeacherConfessions #TeachingOnline #blogpost

More.

How people respond to adversity speaks volumes about their character.


Yesterday a friend posted on Facebook that living in quarantine conditions “turns people into a**holes”. 

My response was that this was true, but only for those already so inclined. 

Thinking more about it since then, I have come to the conclusion that this extended quarantine/lockdown is proving to be an intensifier. It brings out the true colours that underlie each person’s character and makes them more evident.

Those who are inclined to be selfish have been increasingly inconsiderate of others.  Those who sulk at not getting their own way have done exactly that, usually all over social media. Those who tend to be angry have been. Those who tend to resist being told what to do have defied the rules and done as they pleased. 

On the other hand, we have also seen plenty of evidence that recent adversity has brought out the best of humanity, too. 

Those who tend to be generous have definitely been so. Those who advocate for the underprivileged have done so relentlessly. Those who are kind and thoughtful have shown more kindness and thoughtfulness, often to the very great surprise and gratitude of others. The levels of commitment, giving, service and going the extra mile have been inspiring.

What we are seeing is more of each person’s true colours. 

It’s also becoming evident that we will see even more of the same while social restrictions and slowed economies continue. 

It is important to understand this because we should not be making excuses for anyone’s bad behaviour. We should not be dismissing things we would not normally accept or shrug off. And we certainly shouldn’t respond to appalling behaviour by explaining it away with lines like “they are under pressure”. 

All that does is enable people to continue being nasty, with little fear of consequences for their words and actions. 

We are all under pressure. Many of us are struggling one way or another. We are all missing people, places and things we love.
We’re just not all being horrible about it. 

Quarantine: Bringing Out the Best And Worst In People
‪#QuarantineLife #LOCKDOWN2020 #COVIDー19 #Personality #behavior #blogpost‬

Five More Great History Podcasts

I have posted about excellent history podcasts on a number of previous occasions. 

During the recent weeks of spending a lot more time at home, I’ve discovered a couple more that are interesting and enjoyable. 

‘That Was Genius’ 

Each week, Sam and Tom share an interesting story from history that fits into a chosen theme for the week. Not safe for listening at work or in the presence of children, it’s irreverent, sweary, and hilariously funny, I started at the introductory episode and subscribed before I got to the end of the second one. It has proven to be brilliant entertainment during the coronavirus lockdown. Having already listened to 37 episodes in the past two weeks, it’s fair to say I’m a fan. 

‘Cool Canadian History’.

I love history, and I love Canada. This podcast is the perfect opportunity for me to pursue both at the same time. The topics are varied and always interesting, and the host David Morris is enjoyable to listen to. 

’Dark Histories’ 

This is a British podcast which focuses on the macabre, spooky, and eerie events of history. The first episode is on Jack The Ripper, but the topics that follow are quite varied and are not limited to people or events of the UK. The material is well written and the podcast is easy to listen to. 

‘Aaron Mahnke’s Cabinet of Curiosities’

Another podcast, this one American in origin, that explores the inexplicable, the unsettling and the curious stories of history. Aaron Mahnke delivers two shows a week, exploring the history of people, events and objects with unusual and sometimes bizarre stories to tell. Some of the tales are coincidental, while others are more sinister. 

‘You’re Dead To Me’  

Hosted by Greg Jenner of Horrible Histories fame, this podcast offers a weekly discussion on a topic of history with the aim to make it interesting and relevant to the everyday person, including those who haven’t taken much of an interest before.  The guests are interesting, drawn from all walks of life, and deliberately not all academics.  I started at the introductory episode and have listened to half a dozen or so now. The topics have been varied and the quality has been consistently.  ‘You’re Dead To Me’ looks like a keeper. 

Five More Great #History #Podcast #Recommendations
#historical #ListenTo

What Rolling Back The Social Restrictions Means

Better days are coming, but let’s not throw caution to the wind.

The Australian federal and state governments are, like those all over the world, currently considering how to phase the country out of strict social isolation and start getting back to business. All we know for sure at this point is that it will happen in stages, with the strictest rules being relaxed first. Each state will decide when to implement each stage.

As states roll back some of the social restrictions we’ve been living under, there are a few key things we must all remember. 

Easing restrictions doesn’t mean the virus is gone. It means that the levels of infection in the community are low enough that the hospitals will have capacity for anyone sick enough to need a bed and a ventilator. 

We will still have to socially distance for the foreseeable future. That’s probably not an entirely bad thing. 

Hygiene will still matter. In fact, hygiene has always mattered. I have often marvelled that is 2020, despite how sophisticated and advanced we may think we are, it has been necessary to tell people to wash their hands and not to cough or spit on people. 

People matter more than convenience or entertainment. Some of us might be itching to get out to the football, the pub, or the cinema. Others just want to not get sick. Restrictions are being lifted in stages to balance so that the interests and priorities of both groups, so it’s important to still follow any rules that remain in place. 

Some people have thrived while working or learning from home. The opposite is also true All those extroverts who are dead keen to get back to “normal” need to realise that any anxiety they have felt while having to stay home was actually a very real case of the shoe being on the other foot. Introverts and people who suffer from social or workplace anxiety had had something of a reprieve over the past few months and might be dreading work or school going back to the way it used to be. 

Patience and consideration of others are crucial life skills for everyone. Even when the need for isolation has completely passed, we all need to be understanding of how others feel. 

What Rolling Back #isolation #restrictions Means. #StayHomeStaySafe #BeKind #SocialDistancing

Image by Wortflow from Pixabay

Victory in Europe Day

Tuesday, May 8, 1945 was the day on which the Allies accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. The war in Europe was over. 
That day became known as Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day.

Today is the 75th anniversary of VE Day, and as such it is a day for remembrance and thankfulness for all who fought for our freedom. 

It is important to remember the past so that we do not allow its atrocities to occur again. 

It is important to remember that the freedoms we enjoy came at a price — and for some, that was the ultimate price of their lives. 

It is not as formal or sombre a day of remembrance as Anzac Day or Armistice Day, but I always take a few moments to stop and reflect. I think ithat’s a good and respectful thing to do. 

I also like to observe the date by sharing my favourite WWII-related image. After all the “May the 4th be with you” and “Revenge of the Sixth” Star Wars memes on social media all week, it seems only fair to return the favour with a history-nerdy meme.

I don’t know who created this, but whoever did was a genius. 

You’re welcome.

VE Day.
#reflection #WWII #VEDay #VictoryinEuropeDay #Churchill