Category Archives: Personal

Some Rules for Students and Teachers

These rules were compiled by artist, educator and social justice advocate Sister Corita Kent, although they were popularized by composer and music theorist John Cage and Rule No. 10 is directly attributable to him.  They also appear in Sister Corita’s Learning By Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit and were the official rules of the art department at the now closed Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, where Sister Corita taught.   Their relevance transcends the classroom.

 

  1. Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.
  2. General duties of a student — pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.
  3. General duties of a teacher — pull everything out of your students.
  4. Consider everything an experiment.
  5. Be self-disciplined — this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
  6. Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.
  7. The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.
  8. Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
  9. Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.
  10. We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” (John Cage)

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything — it might come in handy later.

 

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On Being an Introvert

In 2012, American author Susan Cain published Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  Reviewing the book in The Guardian, Jon Ronson wrote ‘I read much of Susan Cain’s book shaking my head in wonder and thinking: “So that’s why I’m like that!”’ My own reaction was the same.

What’s it like being an introvert?  Many people confuse introversion with shyness.  They are two very different things.  I am not shy.  But because I’m introverted people often confuse it for shyness or, worse still, indifference.  Who likes someone being indifferent towards them? I know I don’t.

Introverts have a preference for lower-stimulation environments.  That is certainly true in my case.  If I have to spend too long in a high-stimulation environment, especially one I’m uncomfortable in, I become edgy.  For me, a high-stimulation environment can be something as straightforward as a crowded restaurant where the tables are too close together.  I start to become distracted and if I’m in company, it starts to look as if I don’t want to be there.  I may very well want to be with the person who I’m spending time with, but the environment is too uncomfortable for me.

A perfect example of a high-stimulation environment is a school.  I was a good student, polite and hard working, but I disliked school, a lot.  It wasn’t that I was disinterested in school or was a moody teenager (although we all had those moments).  No, I actively disliked school – I actively thought, a lot, about how much I disliked school.  At 4 o’clock, I was out the door of that place as fast as I could.  Secondary school was more preferable to primary school because at least there were five to ten minute breaks between classes, where I could gather my thoughts and “regroup” for the next round – a breathing space.  I’m still like that.  At formal occasions, weddings for instance, I will leave the table I’m sat at more often than anybody else, even if it’s for just two minutes at a time.  I am very careful not to appear impolite and I can sit for as long as I need to but I actively plan the little “breathers” that I know I will need throughout the day.  If someone isn’t aware of their own personal dynamic it can become a huge source of frustration to them and I wondered in school why I wasn’t like everyone else (others would wonder too).  Now?  I don’t think I’ve asked myself that question in years.

An interesting aspect of Cain’s book is her section on what is known as Free Trait Theory.  Devised by former Harvard psychology professor Brian Little, Free Trait Theory explains that although we are born with certain personality traits, traits that subsequently get culturally reinforced, we can and do act out of character when we feel the need to do so.   Referring specifically to introverts, the theory states that introverts have the capability to act like extroverts for the sake of work, or people, they consider as being important.  So, I was able, at age 16, to stand in front of a group of people and speak, off the cuff, for 15 minutes because I was asked to do so by someone I respected and because I felt the occasion demanded it.  Was I nervous? Not particularly.   Had I spoken like that in public before? Yes.  Have I spoken like that in public since? Yes.

Cain also references work carried out by research psychologist Richard Lippa into so-called self-monitors: introverts who are especially good at acting as extroverts.  A self-monitor is able to modify their behavior to the social demands of a situation and do so by looking for cues to tell them how they should act – a “when in Rome…” sort of thing.   I would consider myself a high self-monitor.  The unfortunate thing is that high-self monitors have been found to be better at lying then low self-monitors.  For the record, I do not consider myself to be a very good liar.  Brian Little regards self-monitoring as an act of modesty and the person accommodating themselves to the norms of a particular situation because why grind everyone down to take account of your needs and concerns?  I suppose you could call it a fake-it-to-make it strategy.  I would compare it to going into an interview where you will be asked the standard questions, such as ‘what are your weaknesses.’ Can you imagine being asked that question in the course of a normal, everyday conversation?  Because the situation demands it, you adjust yourself to it and you answer the question.

So, self-monitoring can be useful, but only if used judiciously.  You have to accept who you are and if you’re an introvert, there’s no point in accommodating yourself to the extent that you start to deny entire aspects of your personality.

The next time you are at a function or work meeting, or any other social occasion, and the person next to you falls quiet, it isn’t necessarily a lack of will or interest on their part.  They just might be an introvert.

Introversion checklist:

  • You prefer to spend your social energy on those who matter to you the most, preferring a glass of wine with a good friend than going to a party full of people you don’t know
  • You think before speaking and can feel uncomfortable with small talk
  • You thrive on solitude, without necessarily being a loner
  • You experience flow when concentrating deeply on a subject or activity that is of great interest to you
  • You’re a good listener and a highly-skilled observer
  • You are highly empathetic and likely sensitive to lapses in your own behaviour and their consequences (although, many people, extroverts and introverts alike, have empathy)
  • You were probably labeled as being shy as a child and can feel nervous when you think you’re being evaluated – a work review or interview, for example
  • You prefer environments that are not overstimulating and are not great at handling information overload “in the moment,” needing time instead to reflect
  • You can drive alone for hours, even without the radio.

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Sister Wendy Beckett

”If you don’t know about God, art is the only thing that can set you free” – Sister Wendy Beckett, contemplative nun/writer/art historian.

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Heart/Head

Do I think with my head and lead with my heart, or do I think with my heart and lead with my head?

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He was a Friend of Mine

One of my closest friends died last week.  We had known each other for almost 18 years, having met as students at Queen’s when I was in 1st year and he was in 2nd.  For my last year of four in Belfast, we were flatmates but long before that we had become close.  Queen’s by the demographics of its student population falls quiet at weekends but Paddy Gallagher and I were one of the small number who hung around the campus on those days, filling the time with trips into town, exploring a nightscape that was often half-empty as the city recovered from the Troubles.

I found University to be too stop-start for any proper engagement with studies.  But in terms of the friendships I forged, those years were some of the best and my friendship with Paddy was one of best friendships I had or have had since.   He was one of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.  He was supremely intelligent and we had some terrific conversations.  A law graduate, he also had a keen interest in astronomy and had recently applied to do a masters in astro physics through the Open University.

Male friendship never falls or rises on the basis of proper, two-way conversation.  It’s the unsaid words that cement male friendships – you don’t say anything because whatever needs to be said has already been implied.

On one of the last occasions I saw Paddy, I was at a low point, for a number of reasons.  It was the weekend before Christmas last and a group of us had arranged to call to his flat.  After the others had left, I hung on for an hour and talked to him about what was on my mind.  He didn’t offer any real advice but he listened intently and that was enough.  I will never have the opportunity to thank him for hearing me out that day; he will never know how much he helped.  The last time I saw him was about a month later; a backwards glance and a quick goodbye out of a car window. It happens like that, seeing someone for the last time – it assumes an importance only in retrospect.

Paddy had suffered from ill-health his entire life but his death was an accident; that makes it harder to bear.  He had the sunniest of dispositions.  His last words to his family, written down because he couldn’t speak, were “happy days” – a phrase I heard him say over and over.

Because I didn’t make it to his bedside before he died, I’m left with this nagging feeling that I owe Paddy a debt that can never now be paid, but that is too selfish a feeling.  Sometimes what we rage against the most are those things that we cannot control.  And so it is with the unexpected death of a close friend.

The best I can do is to take to heart what Henry David Thoreau wrote:

“On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfil the promise of our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world.”

I will miss his laugh – it could reach into the corners of the largest of rooms.  I will miss his raging intellect and his sense of justice.  I will miss the way he would be the first to cut through the spin that characterises modern politics and media to see what was really meant.  I will miss those days in and nights out we can never have.  I will miss him.  He was a friend of mine.

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