art, philosophy, Scallan, writing

Learning not to fly

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It is the swift overhead passing of a seagull which suggests to me that my fascination with flight is not that I yearn to fly but that I wish to escape completely my inner demons. My fallen angels of idealism. My automated days of work, of incessant calculations of the infinite responses to the interminable thread of responsibilities that seem to govern my existence.
I realise that the moments of peace I chase after are forever just moments. I will never stretch them out to anything more than a moment. The most I can hope for is a more expansive heart so that these moments fill up more of the empty space inside me.

The desire to fly is the breath of weariness. It is the tired exhalation that leaves my body as I understand that I am living the life I have, not the one I imagined I would live. In that life I am wiser,  writing text widely read, creating art with words and paint and clay. And people buy my work which allows me to do it again and again.
However with this understanding there is also,for the first time perhaps, the knowing that the life I have could not be better for it contains the people I love. And love is more important than words or paint or clay. The real art of my life has been surviving my mistakes.

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Besides, relieved of the ghastly responsibility of having to create art,  I can write without hindrance,  with honesty. I can experience days of trudge knowing that most people feel the same way. I can drag myself to work and once there realise I actually enjoy it. I can, like everyone else, hanker after freedom from  responsibility. And yet, it is that same responsibility that allows me to look up at a seagull and see its beauty.

I imagine there must be at least one seagull out there who looks down and imagines how fine it would be to walk every day on the earth.

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creative non fiction, On aging, photographic essay

A mind in iron

Here is the great mystery of life: it ends.

So there I was …  am? I have no memory of my origin, only of being and it seems that I have always been. I feel that I have been here forever. Certainly, I am not as I was before, or will be. The ‘I’ who speaks now feels infinitely connected with everything that was here, is here or will be here. Something galvanises me to pronounce that this has always been the case. Still, there is a morbid tendency under current circumstances to contemplate ‘not’ being. This is unsettling. It is contrary to the nature of existence. It is traumatic and I fear this only hastens corrosion. I cannot fathom that in the course of my existence change has been so brutal, so sudden and yet always anticipated. I am all contradiction now. Resigned and angry, holding on and letting go. Time confounds the mind. A degree of material degeneration is expected, annihilation is altogether another matter. Consciousness feels ageless, an elegant sensitivity held hostage by imperfect design; a rotten receptacle. In every sense it is a degrading process. Before this moment, yesterday or last year or thirty years ago I was different. I am not sure when ‘before’ is or was? What has changed?

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There has been some … rearrangement, shall we say. When does one begin to speak of oneself in the past tense? Memory is a wicked joke. Once I was not as decayed as I appear to you now. My clean lines sliced land and sky with cold precision. Sharp angles framed vast sections of smooth steel that were caressed in places to a polish where men stood, clung as they worked, held as they smoked. Rust began slowly. It settled at first as a warm patina of benign dust that at first light cast a hazy aura of smoked auburn on my form. Beautiful but deathly, subtle as smoke. Then this. Jagged edges, broken frame, an eroding core. It crept out from the inside, was it always there? I was solid. I felt solid. I passed through decades, almost a century. I never considered time a real player in my narrative. Was I arrogant?

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Here is the surprise. I never noticed the decay until it seemed, without warning, to be everywhere. I was forever new and then I was in a heap. There were people everywhere then. Busy, busy. I was the centre of that activity.

Science softens the blow. It calls this the conservation of energy. I am undergoing my final conversion, becoming increasingly transformed. This conversion has the sense of displacement. It is a difficult conversation. So, the atoms which constitute my awareness, my consciousness … where do they go? Does it  all go back into the earth? Is this why on quiet days as the wind blows over me, I can almost feel it speak to me? In the earth around me are the voices of the previously converted; the displaced, the more thoroughly eroded ones. We should, if it is our mode, walk more gently on the ground. We are treading on those gone before us. I should have anticipated this. I did. What does one do with the knowledge that you will end? Anticipation is futile. The end comes anyway.

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Against the nihilistic current of our existence we can only do what we have always done, stand fast. Stand until we fall. Then we hope for a soft landing, perhaps an acknowledgement of our having been here at all. Even that is a vanity; new things will be built, or not. Expecting Remembrance is a vanity. Memory evades the young but takes hold for a time on the near falling ones. When I finally crumble, I hope I remember to laugh at the absurdity of the rising and falling that is existence.

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poetry

Sisyphus writes back

Sisyphus writes back

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Four centuries pass too slowly for rock heaving rogues,
for God’s sentries failed to tell Him a man caste out has will,
so deaf to me He held in flux what deftly moves us still,
the motion of the seas, the sun, the cycle of moths

Tormented toil has taught me this-
grants these words a force;
a gravitas, a mind that sees and now shall call it thus-
I move boulders, God moves stars;
my pebbles roll, his planets swing; mine in hell and his up there …
Amen.

My grave waits; His lies cold.

I blister heaven with my prayers; grow callouses on my heart,
Pushing a rock on a rock, the eternal sickly cycle,
sickle minded we tread our rut,
we carry on, we’re carrion
Samsara has us beaten,

I, Sisyphus am done.

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By Michael Scallan

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philosophy, short n sharp

Questions with no answers

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“Indeed, the only truly serious questions are ones that even a child can formulate. Only the most naive of questions are truly serious. They are the questions with no answers. A question with no answer is a barrier that cannot be breached. In other words, it is questions with no answers that set the limit of human possibilities, describe the boundaries of human existence.” – Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

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So there I am with my unruly pack,  in the library,  to read. Yeah right!

A handful of serious readers are face-planted in their novels. The rest,  the other 22, form clutches sprawled around our awesome student friendly reading room. Here three boys each have a copy of Guinness World records and they share bizarre facts,  a competition to see who can find the grossest recorded fact. They’re engaged,  all good.

Over there two students are doing some strange yoga or getting comfortable, too early to tell. There five students are draped over the comfy floor cushions,  giant multi-coloured squashed marshmallows. They’re reading magazines and graphic novels. One student is going the extra mile and reading his book upside down, a copy of “Where’s Wally?”.

Two girls are cocooned in the reference section, almost asleep. Lucky them!  Then there are the boomerang gang. They keep coming back with new ways of testing my ingenuity and patience.
Fancy a game of poker with us?  Tom winks while dealing to Steve.
I’ll show you a trick sir,  then we’ll read,  ok?
I say okay like it’s my decision. The trick is good,  really good but I don’t say wow! Not yet.
One more? Tom says.
One more, and tell you what,  I’ll read to you. Deal? I ask.
Deal! They echo in unison.

True to their word they do the trick, make the queen of hearts reappear, drop the cards into the plastic box and lok at me expectantly.

Tom, you’re the musician, beat-box for me I say. I happen to have my poetry anthology open at an Emily Dickinson poem, should be interesting to say the least.

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Tom begins a rhythmic tapping of the table, sounds his tchook, tsk, pututt …

                                               Because I could not stop for Death –
                                               He kindly stopped for me –
                                               The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
                                               And Immortality

I’m more shocked at how well Dickinson lends herself to rap than the sudden attentiveness of students. We do another stanza and another and now i’ve created more noise than all of the students i’ve been shushing since we arrived. Somehow it seems ok. I page through my anthology screening lines for rhyme. Lord Byron …

                                                             And thou art dead, as young and fair
                             As aught of mortal birth;
                                                               And form so soft, and charms so rare,
                             Too soon return’d to Earth!
                                                              Though Earth receiv’d them in her bed,
                              And o’er the spot the crowd may tread
                                                                                      In carelessness or mirth,
                              There is an eye which could not brook
                                                                           A moment on that grave to look.

It’s a revelation, I think I get rap! It’s awesome! I feel like a kid discovering sherbet for the first time. I have a selfish thought, if they’ve learnt nothing, stuff it – that was amazing.

Soon it’s time to pack away and on their way out two girls are jiving to a line of Byron while Tom slaps Colin’s head in lieu of a table.
Thanks for the lesson sir, they shout after me…

Thank you all I reply.
On the way home I’m rapping the witches scene from Macbeth
fair is foul
and foul is fair
Hover through the fog
and the filthy air…

staccato beats on the steering wheel, foot tapping, in minutes my heart rate is up and and I’m smiling wide, this has got to be good for me. Does this mean I’m a bro in the hood? Too far?

poetry, rap, Teaching

The day Dickinson got rapped

Emily Dickinson lends herself very successfully to rap, it’s a revelation to me.

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Teaching

Stacking chairs: last lesson of the day via Hemingway and a bullfight

It’s 34 degrees Celsius, 27 students have just arrived from double maths, it’s the last period of the day. They are like prison inmates smelling freedom for the first time. Grown men have taken flight from less terrifying prospects than trying to teach English under these circumstances.

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… , then Devon starts throwing the pieces of an eraser he has been meticulously slicing into cubes at Jonathan on the opposite side of the classroom. Jonathan has been drawing a dragon, that’s really quite cool, and looks with bewilderment up at the ceiling which gets the trebuchet crew to begin buckling over in restrained laughter. Meanwhile Alice is deeply engaged in coversation with Molly who, having caught my stare, is feigning interest while under the desk her hand is trying to shush her friend or at least draw her attention to me. Jill, Skye and Candice, bless them, are disassociating from the class by focusing on me with such intent it’s quite unnerving. Jack and Ben are duelling light sabers that look just like pencils, their sound effects are fantastic!
I sense a disturbance in the force paduans, put aside your weapons, someone may get hurt. As I walk away I can hear the light sabers deactivating.

With faultering enthusiasm I explain how Hemingway’s writing is like an iceberg. Most of what’s important is not written, not seen, we have to fill in the gaps…
Like the gaps between Tony’s teeth? Josh shouts.
Tony, your teeth are fine, unlike the gap between Joshua’s ears. Josh leads the laughter, I smile, high five him. Ok, we’re on.
Hemingway loved bullfighting. One of his mates was gored, got a horn where you don’t want one. They’re sufficiently intrigued. A little blood goes a long way, and I am in blood stepped so far I must go on.

Sometimes, the bull wins. The bullfight is a metaphor for life,
Picasso was intrigued by the bullfight as well. The matador has ten minutes to make a clean kill. As the frothing, bleeding ton of muscle charges you, you must stand your ground and drive the sword behind the neck down into the heart.
I demonstrate the swirl and downward thrust with the board ruler, quite elegantly I believe.


Sir, if there was a bull here, I reckon you’d be dead.


Thanks Davo for that vote of confidence.
Undeterred I continue. You know, sometimes school or reading a novel for English can feel like being chased by a bull. What do you do?

You grab a white-board ruler and stab it sir? Josh says, he’s on a roll.

You do whatever you need to do, but you stand your ground and do it, I say.

Just “do it” Chris jabs Donovan in the ribs, raucous laughter ripples through the class.

Yep, that’s how you fight your bulls.

Then one day you wake up and realise that all this stuff you’ve been doing, is actually for yourself. That’s a great moment, one I hope you all have. It’s about looking at things differently. Changing your perspective …


The end of the day arrives and I ask the students to stack their chairs. A daily ritual to acknowledge the people coming in later to clean, a nod of thanks and a closure. They stack their chairs. Some of them show me they’ve listened to what I’ve said. They’re looking at things differently, and I’m the richer for it. Thanks guys, you make me smile from the inside out.
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