Saturday, January 26, 2008

Am I a "creative"? Is that how people see me? An eccentric with the occasional wild, wacky idea that could potentially turn the world on its head, but fizzles out when I actually try to implement it? Is that why people handle me with kid gloves like as if I was a leaky crate of nitro that could explode at the slightest jolt?

Maybe it's the image I have been projecting for myself, so I'm not really doing myself any favours there. If I was a crate of nitro, I'd still much rather make a detonation that will help people build a railway or something useful rather than leak away neglected and forgotten in some secure bunker kept safe for some future contingency that will never happen.

If people want the best out of what I have to offer, they have to engage me, and not just assume that I know what I'm doing. Kellaway's FT article on managing creatives makes a lot of practical sense, assuming I am some kind of "creative". Sure, I get weird ideas sometimes. I may get idealistic, and do things my own way. I shake things up, buck trends... but only within my own limited sphere of influence, which realistically amounts to nothing at all.

While I'm grateful that people generally leave me to my own devices, I get precious little feedback and even less guidance as I trailblaze my path to parts unknown. So although my bumper sticker may read "Don't follow me, I don't know where I'm going!", it'd be great to have a co-pilot or even a backseat driver to help me evaluate what I did before, and discuss what it is I'm about to do next.

I don't need multiple leather sofas backstage like Streisand, though a little praise would be nice. But I also need a boot up the butt from time to time as motivation to improve or work harder on turning concepts into reality. And being able to see things from beyond my own warped perspective will be a major plus.

No one creates in vacuum.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Killerzyph interviewed me for an article in the next NYconnex, something about featuring various staff members to show we have lives beyond hectoring students all day. Trade secret: Actually, we just return to our closets in a hidden underground facility in the campus basement where we get deactivated, then brought out again to walk among the living when the sun rises the next morning. Heh, if only.

We talked about mime and busking, which I don't do anymore, and about my goals for drama now that I've moved back to the only place where I really know what I'm doing. Except this year I've been so out of touch, I am freaking out at the edges wondering how to bring a Eunuch Admiral back to life again by Drama Night.

I owe a lot to my training in mime, and not just for my appreciation in the aesthetics of the theatre. Being primarily a kinesthetic learner, I discovered through mime a movement-based language that I could use to understand abstract concepts better. The movement doesn't have to be physical, it can take place in my imagination, though occasionally my hands or fingers may twitch, echoing the thought I'm processing at the time.

It's hard to explain how a "movement-based language" works. However, I assure you that there there is no white-face painted street performer that's producing the movement in my imagination. The movement sort of exists on its own. There. Now I sound like a raving lunatic.

The point I was hoping to get at in killerzyph's interview was that all of us need to train in some form of discipline and get real good at it. I'm talking about non-academic disciplines that involve making things (like an art, craft or music) or doing things (like a sport or dance or theatre). The discipline has to be non-academic in nature because it is physical, tangible and direct, and therefore easier and clearer to obtain good results in. We get praise, applause and appreciation for our masterpiece, encouragement if the product is so-so, or by audience critique or defeat we know we sucked and therefore need to work harder at it.

Training in a non-academic discipline gives us the confidence to take on academic disciplines which, being more abstract, operate at a higher level. Academics are text-language based, so there is a step of having to learn the language first, even before apprehending the concepts themselves. People deficient in the language of instruction are screwed. Unlike non-academic disciplines, there is nothing in an academic discipline for monkey to see, and therefore monkey cannot do if the student and the instructor do not speak the same language. Gibberish text input results in gibberish text output. Garbage in, garbage out. And that's just the first level of difficulty.

If and when we do master the language of an academic discipline, we realize that the results of academic study are often judged arbitrarily, often subjectively. As academic concepts are text-based in construction, a lot depends on the interpretation of the text, and there are often too many variables to pin down. Academics themselves seldom agree with each other, in fact, they thrive in their fields by proving one another wrong. Success in the academic world is either a paper qualification (how satisfying), or a paper published challenging others to attack the ideas presented therein. That takes a pretty hardy, highly confident individual to live like that.

Success in the academic field is easier to strive for if we know we are already doing well in our non-academic pursuits. Well, at least this approach has worked for me so far. I am a degree-holding pedant by profession, but by trade, I am a mime. Most people find this combination to be the most irritating by far.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

To be honest, it's getting harder to sustain a daily, even a regular flow of entries to quidestveritas. The nonsense I've been spewing these last few weeks only shows that I've lost a sense of purpose for this exercise. I'm losing touch with my audience, what with all these random posts about whatever I can force myself to commit to text. It makes for quite painful re-reading, actually.

Perhaps all I've been aiming for recently is to just reassure myself that life is more exciting than it really is? Or by commenting on policy that I'm smarter than I really am? Or to persuade myself that I have an audience because I'm writing, and not that I'm writing because I have an audience?

Quidestveritas needs a fresh purpose, perhaps even a new identity. One of its original purposes was to be an exercise for me to practice what I teach: writing. For the moment then, I'm going back to my roots. No more writing for any particular audience in mind, it's just going to be a jotter book of grammar and vocabulary practice, perhaps some composition or loosely structured argumentation, or whatever else strikes my fancy. In other words, I'm still going to be spewing nonsense, only that I want to stop feeling guilty about it. I reserve the right to slack off anytime I want, and not let my addiction for "addressing the world" get the better of me if I don't feel like it. So there.

When my new batch of GP kids arrive in a few weeks' time, maybe I can go back to writing for them again. But in the meantime, if anyone wants to stick with me through my dry spell, they're most welcome.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

We're reaching the end of a major JC tradition. This year is the last time 'O' level kids will get to sample JC life for one term before they commit themselves to (or opt out of) the remaining year-and-a-half of hard labour. No longer will there be in subsequent years this opportunity to try before they buy; to focus primarily on making new friends and work on the side and with less dire consequences to bear for taking it easy.

From next year, as soon as they step through the front gate, they're our to keep, for better or for worse. In a way, that helps planning our programme easier. A single intake of students is less disruptive, so whatever systems we put in place the first time won't have to be redone three months later when our 'real' students report for duty a whole term later.

We will need to plan for only one Orientation week, undergo only one time-tabling allocation exercise, and start our co-curricula activities (CCA) immediately without an additional recruitment drive to replace members lost in the second posting period. That cuts down a lot of annual pain by half at least.

So how have we been treating our final batch of transients? In a move contrary to my personal preference, we're running "seminars" instead of the [relatively] small tutorials that we're used to. Seminars, as far as dNYel interprets it, means that we get a huge group of students per venue supervised by two or three tutors at once. We manage the numbers by setting them a group-based project which they collaborate on while us tutors provide the scaffolding as necessary.

Seminars are such an impersonal way to interact with the students. So many kids, how are we going to remember all their names before they graduate? How can we tell from the sea of faces who needs help with what? As tutors, we can only flit from group to group, bearing in mind that there are lots of other groups that could use a little of our attention as well.

Guess what? I'm enjoying this teaching format a lot -- more than I ever expected to. With less tutor time per student, we can't afford to hold anybody's hand (figuratively speaking, of course) for long. The kids have got to depend on their groupmates and on the general seminar discussions a lot more than before, and as they grab the microphone to share their solutions to the assigned problems, their difficulties and reflections on the tasks, they seem more like adults at a learning conference than just a bunch of difficult kids being spoon-fed stuff they don't like to eat. To me, that's progress.

Well, hope our JC1s will be happy with their 'O' level results when they collect them tomorrow. Hope they come back...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Mimi went to see Doc Kasey today. She has developed an allergy to some unknown substance and is scratching herself silly. The Wongs will have to slowly track down the allergen, but in the meantime, her medicated shampoo, a course of antibiotics and antihistamines will have to suffice.

Here (pix left) Mimi is getting a blow-dry after a nice shower with her new shampoo. And Q-tip got her annual booster too, while we were at the vet's.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Wongs marked their annual ancestral commemorative lunch today. They loaded the dining table with a variety of deep-fried finger foods, and the specialty of the occasion: Shanghainese meat balls with cabbage in gravy. There is a bowl of rice and a glass of beer in front of each place around the table. The places are not for us, but for the departed Wong ancestors. The Wongs individually offer joss at the head of the table, kowtow thrice and pray for continued blessing and protection over the family.

June and I don't participate in the ritual, since our religion doesn't count so much on ancestral support. We're there because it's an event of family significance, so even if we don't pray to the same deity, our togetherness keeps the family bond as strong as ever.

What's good about ceremonies like this is the sense of history and continuity in the family line. It's nice, I guess, knowing that people will still remember us, call us by name and recall how we impacted the lives of those closest to us long after we've gone.

Not so many of us are in that position these days, though. So those of us who don't have much hope in having adoring descendants are going to have to make the most of life while we're still here. Rock on!