Nothing to say #28daysofwriting

Well, having missed a couple of days, I think I’ll have to carry on into March to make up for the lost posts.  Hope that’s not too far outside the rules.

It’s been a very hard week – pitching for work, helping out with PGCE interviews, teaching lessons, and the concomitant sleepless nights thinking about all the things like these and others that we have to get done before half term.

So, now that the work is over and half term is here, I have nothing to say.   I find that this feeling of blankness, suspended in the Friday night after the end of a term, is like anaesthetic.  On the floor of my car there’s a bag of marking, which I really intend to take back to school in a marked state, but which I haven’t yet been able to bring inside the house.  On my kitchen table valentine cards that my kids drew for my wife jostle with car keys, scissors, oven gloves, pencil cases,  a few textbooks and an almost read ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ (Absolutely brilliant, if you’re interested!).

By tomorrow afternoon, all of this will be cleared away, and half term will be in full swing as we get ready to host a party and plan day trips with the cousins, but tonight everything is suspended, paused.

Why I love: Reading Books again #28daysofwriting

In brief – very VERY busy, and I’m beyond my book time.  I’m trying to read more non-fiction, mainly because I really enjoy it, and because it gives me fantastic dreams.  I have a problem though. I’m a plot junkie – I have to know what happens. This often leads me to rush a book, just to get to the end. I usually start off at a measured pace, and feel like I am enjoying my read.  However, like the opposite of a good meal, as I read I speed up.   By the end of a novel I’m turning pages very quickly, as I anxiously flit between looking at the ticking alarm clock to printed page.  ‘One more page, one more chapter’, I think, until the book is done and it is way past time I was asleep.

Now, if I really enjoy a book, I put it back on the to be read shelf and then, in a book or two’s time, I read it again. If it is really good I read it again straight away.  I’ve just re-finished Regeneration, and it’s even better the second time round, where you can really catch the intertextual references to T.S. Eliot, and pick up on the subtlety of the types of ‘regeneration’ and (you probably spotted it the first time round) the different ‘generational’ conflicts and relationships.

I’ve just got to the end of “The Shiralee” published by @FoxFinchTepper, and wept (‘like a boy in a butcher’s shop’, you’re entitled to mock). I’m putting it to one side to pick up ‘Goodbye to Berlin’, but I’m going to return to The Shiralee when I’ve done with that.  I’m a converted re-reader.

The Dreaded Sweat: the Other Medieval Epidemic | History Today

Mrs Podesta and I found ourselves greatly moved by Wolf Hall and the portrayal of the English sweating disease. Interestingly, we don’t really know what it was.

Willingham – Smartphones don’t make us dumb

Daniel T. Willingham, (@DTWillingham) author of books that I have not yet read (yet), has an interesting opinion piece in the NYT (here).  He writes in answer to those fears that we all have that ubiquitous internet, social media and videos about cats falling off televisions are somehow making us less intelligent.  I have certainly felt this myself (as recent blog posts attest).  Willingham suggests that the phones are not making us dumb, but that the ability to call up entertainment instantly and perpetually might be restricting the amount of time that we our thoughts are directed inwardly.  Whilst this might have some benefits, especially if we are prone to over-rumination, we might be losing out on valuable reflection, on boredom and on the creativity that these states bring.

I have certainly noticed a tendency in myself to be always listening. If I’m cooking, ironing, cleaning, whatever, I’m listening to a podcast, or to a radio drama. Willingham claims that our use of internet technologies has not cut down on our reading of fiction, but it certainly has with me.   Anyway, more fuel for the argument that we should be self-regulating the amount of time we spend online. Also, must read some Daniel T. Willingham.  (Via

Have you over-stimulated your limbic system?

brain2There’s a really interesting article in today’s Guardian about the way that checking email, Facebook and twitter sets up a cycle of distraction and reward in your brain that makes concentration very difficult.   I’ve been wondering about this a great deal recently, once of my resolutions for the coming year is to cut down drastically on my use of social media. I’ve taken Facebook off my phone, and would do the same to twitter if I thought I needed to.

Actually the reason I’m not so worried about twitter is that I don’t tend to use it very much any more.  Though the guardian article concentrates on the damage done to our thinking through constant shifts in attention, and the reward we get for clicking links and reading new emails, I wonder if there’s a second set of damage that occurs from too much social media use.  Ever since reading The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone by Wilkinson and Pickett I have been interested in the social mechanisms that they argue negatively affect a whole range of outcomes in more un-equal societies.

social relationships, insecurities about social status and how others see us have powerful effects on stress, cognitive performance and the emotions. (source)

Whether we are reading all about the great holidays, lovely meals, super family times, new jobs, new cars, idyllic boat trips etc that people post on Facebook and the ‘read my new book’, ‘this is what happens in my fantastic classroom’ type things I tend to see on twitter, I suspect that these are triggering the kinds of worries that make us unwell, and unhappy.

So, too much clicking between social media and email might not only damage our concentration, but make us anxious about our status.  Best go read a book…