Belmore Park, Sydney
While my coachee slaved away on a Trial HSC English Advanced paper this morning I undertook to answer the creative writing question from our previous session: “Select one of the following quotations. Use this quotation as a catalyst for your own piece of writing on belonging.” I think I rather overdid the thematic side, but I was hoping to demonstrate how this rather artificial task may be done. It isn’t fiction, but that’s in the parameters given.
c) “My fondest childhood memories”
When you think about it there is a lot of truth in the old Catholic saying “Give me a child to the age of seven and I will show you the man.” By that age our sense of identity, which is so much shaped by our sense of belonging to family, home, town and country, are basically set – if not in stone, at least firmly enough that escape if needed is quite difficult.
In my case my grandfather rather than my father was the key influence. My father, you see, was rarely home, being overseas with the RAAF, so my family were living with my grandparents, and the one who had time for me most was my grandfather.
My grandfather was a retired teacher. I don’t know how he did it, can’t remember, but before I went to school I could already read and tell the time. This led to early alienation in Kindergarten. Invited in week one to “write” on the blackboard I wrote “Sydney Morning Herald” and the date. I gather the teacher was not amused and rang my mother to complain – strange as that may seem.
He was a mine of information, my grandfather, and I was a hyper-inquisitive child. Once he was gardening and I asked him: “What are snails for?” He stood up and took me round the garden, showing me snails, describing their life-cycle, their means of locomotion and their feeding habits and why, if we wanted our lettuces, he had to get rid of them. “Yes,” I replied with precocious analytical skills, “but what are they FOR?” Since the metaphysics of the snail was not something that had occurred to him he became uncharacteristically short with me and called out to my mother, “Get this bloody kid out of here!”
I never have found out what snails are for, but I guess they fit into the web of life. Even snails belong, don’t they?
Another thing about my grandfather was that he talked to just about everybody. He was genuinely interested in their lives and what they did. I would accompany him on his walks and get impatient as he stopped at this fence or that gate to chat to someone for what seemed like hours to me. I was not displeased though when he would climb over the railway fence to chat to the driver of the milk train when it was waiting at the siding for the express train to go through. There were steam engines in those days and I was enthralled standing on the tracks with my grandfather as the fireman and driver leaned down from the cab to share finer points of their trade.
On the other hand, so I am told, when my father at last returned from overseas my first words to him were “Get that man out of here!” (Perhaps I learned the expression from my grandfather.) To me my father was the picture on the dressing table, not this large imposter who had suddenly disrupted my life, just when I had my mother pretty much in control. What this may have done to our relationship, indeed to my father’s recovery of his belonging, I can now only guess – but it did rather colour our later lives.
You can see what a network one close relative can set up for you in those formative years. With my grandfather I explored so many aspects of my environment and he was, you could say, my map-maker. Through him were developing all those templates of background, culture and place which shape so much where “I” fits in – belongs, indeed.
There are many other stories I could tell of my grandfather. Did I mention he only had one eye? No? But that is another story.
I was 21 when my grandfather died. He had mentored me in so many ways, easing the pain of high school maths, answering my incessant questions about other countries as we browsed the atlas together, showing by example tolerance of people from other cultures, leading me (without pressure) to emulate him in my choice of career. If he were removed from my life story I wonder if I would today have the network of belongings that I now possess, modified as they may have been by other experiences and circumstances. Nonetheless, if I look for the rock on which it all has been built I need look no further than those childhood experiences with Roy C. – my grandfather.
“Scientists now belive mental abilitites decline from age 27” (sic) says the Daily Telegraph this morning; clearly someone over the age of 27 must have composed that headline! And to think how rabid the Murdoch press is sometimes on the matter of declining standards in literacy!
The new research, reports The Mail on Sunday newspaper in the UK, shows that our mental abilities begin to decline from the age of 27 after reaching a peak at 22.
The researchers studied 2,000 men and women aged 18 to 60 over seven years. The people involved, mostly in good health and well-educated, had to solve visual puzzles, recall words and story details and spot patterns in letters and symbols.
Similar tests are often used to diagnose mental disabilities and diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
The research at the University of Virginia, reported in the academic journal Neurobiology Of Aging, found that in nine out of 12 tests the average age at which the top performance was achieved was 22.
The first age at which performance was significantly lower than the peak scores was 27 – for three tests of reasoning, speed of thought and spatial visualisation. Memory was shown to decline from the average age of 37. In the other tests, poorer results were shown by the age of 42.
Professor Timothy Salthouse said the results suggested that therapies designed to prevent or reverse age-related conditions may need to start earlier, long before people become pensioners.
Good news for Thomas, among others, I suppose.
You have to subscribe to Neurobiology of Aging to read the original, but there is an abstract.
Cross-sectional comparisons have consistently revealed that increased age is associated with lower levels of cognitive performance, even in the range from 18 to 60 years of age. However, the validity of cross-sectional comparisons of cognitive functioning in young and middle-aged adults has been questioned because of the discrepant age trends found in longitudinal and cross-sectional analyses. The results of the current project suggest that a major factor contributing to the discrepancy is the masking of age-related declines in longitudinal comparisons by large positive effects associated with prior test experience. Results from three methods of estimating retest effects in this project, together with results from studies comparing non-human animals raised in constant environments and from studies examining neurobiological variables not susceptible to retest effects, converge on a conclusion that some aspects of age-related cognitive decline begin in healthy educated adults when they are in their 20s and 30s.
Now I do have a large hat size, so I am encouraged by another bit of research I found here.
Confirming earlier studies, a British study of 215 men and women aged between 66 and 75, has found that the larger a person’s head, the less likely their cognitive abilities are to decline in later years. Those with the smallest heads had a fivefold increased risk of suffering cognitive decline compared with those with the largest heads. Encouragingly, however, this doesn’t mean you’re doomed at birth — the researchers found that it wasn’t head circumference at birth that was important, but head size in adulthood. During the first year of life, babies’ brains double in size, and by the time they are six, their brain weight has tripled. These, it appears, are the crucial years for laying down brain cells and neural connections — pointing to the importance of providing both proper nourishment and intellectual stimulation in these early years. The study appeared in the October  issue of Brain.
Nonetheless, I can report signs of cognitive decline in some areas at least, especially in an increase in those pesky “senior moments” when a word or a name just eludes me. Common enough.
I would say in my teaching I had two peaks – one around the late 20s to early 30s, the other in my fifties.
I took up blogging in my late fifties: has it arrested decline to some degree, or is it a sign of it? 😉
It is quite amazing, to me at least, to reflect that it is just ten years since I first dared touch a real computer, as distinct from a glorified typewriter/word processor, and just eight years since I first went on the Internet. For almost twenty years before that I was a total computerphobe.
So do forgive a tone of wonder that infects my entries on such things. 🙂
I have been giving the current Beta of IE8 a run, and I have to say it is a great improvement on IE7 – which is not hard. Given that my laptop is far from even basic spec these days, being a two year old Toshiba with a Celeron M processor (1.39 GHz with 448 M of available RAM), I am very sensitive to a browser’s CPU usage, and here IE8 performs very well. However, there are some things still to be ironed out; scripts on some sites – New Facebook is a notorious example – don’t always do what they should in IE8, even though there is a “compatability” option available to deal with such issues – not always effectively.
Google Chrome is great to look at and fast, but really weird things happen in Chrome. It will start using maximum CPU after being up for a while, for no apparent reason – possibly deciding to update itself, or some such. But I have learned never to try to use Windows Live Writer and Chrome at the same time.
Maxthon 2 remains one of the fastest and leanest browsers, but does have some problems working in the WordPress interface. Never try to cut and paste a text widget, for example. It won’t let you. M2 is great looking, depending on the skin you choose – and there are lots of choices. I do use it quite often though.
So which is best? Well, in most respects it is Firefox 3. CPU usage is generally OK, and it downloads those nasty big pics I have here from time to time, and regularly on Ninglun’s Specials, more efficiently than anything else, even Chrome. Or so I find. And it works with WordPress and Live Writer beavering away full tilt. So that’s the one I use most now.
Flock I have given up on, especially now I don’t allow any browser to remember anything like passwords. Flock is good, but it is after all just Firefox with extras, and most of those extras are now available in some form in Firefox itself. Also, Flock is very light on plug-ins I do want.
I notice in the last 100 visit stats on Sitemeter that 43% of you are using IE7, 27% using some version of Firefox, 5% using Safari (I wonder if Chrome is in there too?) and 2% – I am not counted by the way – using IE8.
But is it art?
You may have seen the experiments on Ninglun’s Specials. Not being able to afford Photoshop etc, I use Paint.NET mainly for the fancy bits and, for basic tasks, PhotoFiltre. One can do all kinds of weird and arty things using Paint.NET, though my experiments have been rather conservative. The new Beta of Windows Live Writer has added to the fun with a better range of frame options.
Yesterday I published the straight version of a pic of painters working on a building in Reservoir Street Surry Hills: Surry Hills 68: just a day at the office. I am really happy with the lead photo there, which is as you see it only minimally cropped — pretty much just as I saw it in my Casio. I do still try to compose in the camera rather than in the “lab” – a hangover from my somewhat purist photography teacher I guess.
Here is a minimal “experiment” with that photo:
While colour is an important part of the original, I like the way this version highlights other aspects of what I think is a better than average composition – for me, that is. 😉
I ask “Is it art?” because, while I have made aesthetic choices, the computer did it. What do you think?
Yes, this belongs on The Other Blog, but I am giving you a taste of what’s coming up to encourage you to go there. 🙂 It was taken this afternoon on my way to tutoring.
There’s a little plaza on Chalmers Street at Central Station that is dedicated to South America. The busts are various national heroes, such as Simon Bolivar.
I do not take photos as a tourist, but as a part of the streets where I live. I see such things day to day, and want to share the moments with you, not necessarily to say anything. This gives me pleasure. I hope you catch some of that…
See also Photography and I.
— Original photo by Neil 20 October 2008
Got this from Richard Allen.
Richard James Allen, Co-Artistic Director of The Physical TV Company, has choreographed the backup singers/dancers for the live performance of “This Heart Attack”, nominated for Best Single of the year, from the album Be the Twilight, nominated for Best Rock Album of the year, from Faker, nominated for Best Group of the year! The backup singers/dancers are: Cecilie Farrar, Kathleen Hoyos, Katerina Rajch, Grace Stewart, Elanor Jane Webber and David Whatson.
Richard also choreographed Luke Eve’s music video for Faker’s latest single, “Sleepwalking”. Click here to view on YouTube.
Richard many years ago worked with me on the young writers’ magazine Neos.
I will be watching The First Australians on SBS from 8.30…