Saturday, April 12, 2008

To discover not by seeking new landscapes but by seeing with new eyes. This idea is the basis of a new training programme I began this morning. From an exploration of our personal and professional motivations, inclinations and competencies, we will be learning to focus on our current goals in life and set new ones if necessary. The final stage will, of course, train us how to achieve those targets.

The overall premise is that if I'm going to take on any kind of leadership role, I have to learn to manage my Self better. Here, the concept of leadership is reduced to its most essential definition: to understand needs, set goals, construct a strategy, motivate the group (or Self) to follow and do their part, celebrate the achievement, evaluate the strategy and the goal achieved, reflect on the experience... and then the cycle begins again with a new awareness of new needs and new goals.

So I'm at the starting point where my first task is to look inward to understand my immediate context. Basically the 'who am I', 'what do I want', 'what am I doing here' type questions. This shouldn't be too difficult. I'm already so inward looking, the only way I can see out is through a chink in my navel.

No, wait. There is a small difficulty there after all. When I look inside myself I know I'm looking at an image that's as warped and distorted as a reflection in a circus funhouse mirror. A lot of what I perceive of the world and of my relationships with others is coloured with the hues of my personal neuroses and psychoses. I'm pretty sure reality is only half as dramatic and twice more mundane than I make it out to be.

In order to get started on this journey then, I have to start getting honest with myself. I need new eyes to see things and people as they really are. Clean out the palette, get a new, clean sheet of canvas.

From tabula rasa, let me begin again. Let me recognize that I have already arrived at my destination from my previous journey. I already am where I want to be. But I have new discoveries to make still. Right now, what they are is not clear, but it is time to start planning a new journey, even if all that really means is acquiring new eyes.

Most important 'takeaway' from today's session for me is the formula BE+DO=HAVE. It's trite, but there's some sense to it. We struggle to reach our goals by DOing so much and repeated DOing seems to get us nowhere except frustrated. Then maybe we give it up as a bad idea, when it may not have been at all. But DOing is only half of the equation. To BE is to put ourselves in a position or a condition to receive what we want. No point futilely DOing with a clenched fist if the hand isn't open enough to take when the opportunity comes. Also, DOing without BEing could potentially scare opportunity away.

Fine. I don't like motivational speakers or their programmes but I'll take a chance on these guys.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Synergy 08
An entertaining evening, with a slew of different music and dance performances, all vying for top spot in the debut of "Campus Got Talent". I must admit, we do have quite some talent among us -- rough, raw diamonds in the process of being cut and polished, and yet already able to raise such raucous and partisan support for themselves already. Impressive.

Among the musical items, beatboxing was a common theme. Made sense, since percussion is such a crucial accompaniment, yet such a rare skill, beatboxing makes a convenient substitute for a full drum set and a drummer.

The one anomaly in the programme was the magic show. His act was competent, but I'm even more impressed with the miracle he pulled off in not losing his cool with the multiple glitches the sound system was suffering through. His improvisational patter never let up and that show-face of his never lost its sparkle. In itself, his routine would have been interesting, but his choice of audience "volunteer", the P himself, turned the item into a laugh riot. The two were just going at it on stage trying to upstage each other, yet kept playing to the rules of the game. That made for some great comedic moments out of a potentially disastrous performance.

All in all, a night not too badly spent.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

No, dammit! Where do such people get off running down the industry like this? The letter writer may have been well-meaning, pointing out the flaws in our system, but his whiny tone grates on my nerves as he casually devalues everything we do as teachers, especially when he suggests that we spend most of our time and energy "padding our portfolios" instead of teaching. And if he is one of our own, I recommend he check his attitude at the door.

He's right about the marking. Barely into the second term and the leading edge of a tsunami of assignments has just struck the beachhead. I foresee the red-ink blood of innocent ball-points being spilled over the panicked chicken scratched foolscap sheets turning the ocean crimson, but that's exactly how we devise our "individualized instruction". Every assignment gets our full attention; every sarcastic comment we scrawl in the margin a personalized chastisement for merely whiffling at rather than actually hitting perfection.

But that's just the marking. My colleagues are out there in the corridors after hours consulting individual and small groups of students. How dare you insinuate that they aren't genuine in their concern for their students' efforts to learn as much as they can before the impending exams? We could be making a little extra on the side giving private tuition, but we're expending our time to teach our kids for free. If our kids get great results, our kids stand a better chance at aiming for better opportunities in life, so at the end of it, who is the happier for the time spent? A happy kid is worth way more than a fat portfolio... and the beauty of it is, they're not necessarily mutually exclusive.

The appraisal routine may be a structural flaw in the system, but it does not get in the way of the job. Neither does it invalidate the work we do. Who asked anybody to attend courses that are irrelevant to them either professionally or personally? Who asked anybody to initiate ideas they don't believe in or put forward just for show? If we don't have an interest to learn new tricks or try new ideas then what the heck are we teaching our kids? That knowledge is finite and conformity is the way to go? If that's the case, when we shudder every time we encounter instances of "padding" while vetting their graduation certs, we can't blame them at all. They were just following our example.

And such efforts ring so hollow, anyway. Who's going to believe a portfolio so full of such glaring holes? No wonder there are such disgruntled people as the letter writer. If I directed most of my efforts building this empty vacuum of nothingness, I'd be grabbing the nearest assault rifle and going postal too.

No doubt the job is tough. Every other job is too. And I know I'm not the hardest worker on campus (I have an award to prove it -- thanks, Taily and Que!). So many of my colleagues are slogging at it every day, and I will not tolerate without a response anyone disrespecting their committment with such impunity.

If the job's too tough, make yourselves happy and go. If you're simply concerned about stuffing your own portfolio, you're a bad example to our kids, so go. Please.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Boyz are back. The new Boyz, that is, bowling their guts out in our industry's annual bowling tournament. Due to personnel adjustments, the Boyz were missing in action for two years. I'm surprised we're still on the organizers' mailing lists.

The new Boyz comprise Ton_y, Victor and "Andy", who took to the lanes in our first game of the tourney. It's going to be a grueling year with games every fortnight from now till November. Fortunately, it's a trios league so one of us can rest while the other three bowl. I took the first break to accommodate Drama rehearsals.

Competition is tougher than ever this year. Our opposing teams are fielding serious bowlers with horrendously high averages. From the first game, we're already 16/16 in the standings, though I confess I haven't the faintest idea how the points scoring system works.

BTW, the old Boyz are welcome to swell the ranks of our current team if they can spare the time. More of us means longer rest breaks in between games, otherwise we'll be flat out by the end. But, regardless, our policy of bowling our guts out and laughing our heads off is still our raison d'etre.

Monday, April 07, 2008

I have nothing but the Admiral on my mind now. Curtain is little more than two weeks away, and rehearsals occupy most of my free hours. Two more weeks to hold out... and hopefully emerge from the experience with my sanity intact anyway.

Fact is, my cast has been truly amazing. They've been a joy to work with, considering that the majority of them, save one, claim they've never performed on stage before. From being too embarrassed to even twitch weeks earlier, they've since learned to improvise their own characters with the little bit of mime technique I been teaching them along the way.

I'm so proud of my JC1 cast members as well. Out of nowhere, they volunteered to do some choreography for me and today I have a snippet of a salsa dance number to throw into the mix as an added visual treat. That's kinda' representative of how we've taken the Admiral script with it's deeply emotional, occasionally self-absorbed monologues and given it our brand of bizarre weirdness. We like that. Yes.

The kids are having fun with the play, and that's awesome to see. Can we hold it all together when play becomes intense, backbreaking work over the coming fortnight? I really hope so. Admiral deserves to be the play everyone talks about when they remember Drama Night in the years to come. And I hope they'll remember it for the right reasons.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

When the 'papers report that unlike our less well-off neighbours who respect their elderly folk, our aged clean toilets to fend for themselves; and that our young people are rich and can afford "lifestyle aspirations" according to their whims and fancies, what are we to conclude about our country?

While it's easy and tempting to assume that only the young have privilege at the expense of the elderly in S'pore, and that no one cares about people after their recommended shelf-life date expires, we should realise that the reports are about two extremes in our society.

We sympathise with the old folks struggling as best they can to make ends meet, but the focus of the Amex survey targetted only a handful of seriously wealthy professional tykes and their spending habits. Doubt Amex was interested in asking about their spending on philanthropical causes (if any) so we'll never know.

The rest of us are just normal, everyday schlubs, who do too worry about our rising costs. From food to the latest ERP charges, we're working our butts off just to get by. Like everyone else.

Ok, so maybe not like EVERYone else. We feel the pinch, we complain a lot, but we have enough going for us (for now, anyway) to opt for cheaper alternatives if we have to. What can the world's poor do when even staple food prices spike beyond reach?

A cheerful roundup of the weekend news... Goodnight, and sleep well!