We Do Not Need Magic

I’ve just finished watching JK Rowling’s address to this year’s graduates from Harvard, and I strongly recommend that you watch it too. It was funny, powerful, moving and inspirational – everything you could want and more from a commencement address.

One of the key phrases for me was

We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.

Isn’t that just incredibly empowering? The woman who, for the last decade, has brought the wonder of magic to the lives of children and adults alike, strips away the fiction to reveal that we all hold the potential to make a difference to both our own lives and to the lives of others.

Whether you are graduating this month, whether you graduated years ago, whether you intend to graduate in years hence, or whether you chose a different route entirely from that of academia, watch this (20min) clip and take her advice to heart. The key themes are of failure and imagination, and your life may well be richer for having taken the time to listen to what she has to say about both.


Vodpod videos no longer available.

If you had been in JK’s shoes, what would your message have been? What advice would you like to give to those just starting out? What advice was given to you that you’ve since found valuable?


June 9, 2008. Inspiration. 13 comments.

The One Place You Must See Before You Die

Rustic Idyll

Forget 1001 historic sites/gardens/natural wonders/architectural feats you must see before you die.  I’ll tell you the one thing that you really must see before you leave this world  for the next – the here and now.

I’m not talking here of a cursory glance around, so you can check it off that mental list of things seen and done.  To my mind, unless you give yourself completely over to experiencing the moment, this exact one happening right now, it won’t matter if you’re seated outside the Taj Mahal, touring the pyramids by camel, standing at the viewpoint overlooking the steep cliffs of the Grand Canyon or climbing the many steps ascending the Eiffel Tower.  To fully experience life, it must be lived, not measured, evaluated and checked.

Here’s a quick exercise for you to try:

  1. Walk for no more than 5 mins from where you are sitting now – this may take you to your living room, your garden, a local park etc. – and bring with you a notebook, a pen and your camera.
  2. Find a good (safe!) place to sit, and close your eyes for a few minutes and just breathe.  Allow your body to relax and your mind to unwind.  Push to one side all those concerns about what you still have to do today,  the money worries, the work woes.  They’ll all still be there when we’re finished, so they can be ignored for the time being.
  3. Still with your eyes closed, give over to your senses.  Feel the grass tickle your fingers.  Smell the honey-scented blooms.  Hear the sweet chirp of the birds.  Of course, depending on where you chose your spot to sit, your senses may convey something entirely different from that which I’ve described here.  The important thing is to give yourself over to it and to experience it for what it is.
  4. Now, open your eyes, and look around you.  Take in the whole of the sight, allowing your eyes to drink in the unique beauty of what surrounds you.  You may be viewing tall oaks, rolling grassy hillocks, colourful flowerbeds, or, if you stayed inside, maybe you’re viewing overfilled bookcases, softly draping curtains, and finely grained floorboards.  Whatever the sight, accept and appreciate it, without longing that you were somewhere else entirely.
  5. After absorbing the bigger picture, it’s now time to zero in on the details.  Pick up your camera and, turning on your macro setting, get up close to your subjects and start capturing the intimate curves of the petals, the gradation of colour in the leaves, the textured grain of the wood.  Try new angles, new perspectives, new takes on the familiar.  Make the known, new, fresh and strange.
  6. Time to uncap the pen and open the notebook.  Find a fresh page and begin to write about what you’ve experienced since you first sat in that spot 5 mins walk away.  Remember to try and capture the sensual experience of what you felt, heard, and smelled as well as the sights you saw and photographed, and really try to use as descriptive language as you can.  Write as truthfully and as mindfully as you can – try and express the truth of the moment to the best of your ability. Wax lyrical!
  7. Optional: What I do following this exercise is, I upload my photographs, cropping and editing them to make them more clearly represent my perspective, and then create a post combining my words and images.  A record of that time and place to be shared and experienced by all who come across it.

I think you’ll find that if you follow these steps, you’ll have see the one place you ‘must see’ before you die – the present moment.  But do you know what the great thing is?  Life is just full of these moments!

I’m reminded of this wonderful quote which my mum used to keep on her fridge:

Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had my life to live over, I’d have more of them in fact I’d have nothing else, just moments, one after another instead of living so many years ahead each day.

Nadine Stair age 85 in Spilling Open: The Art of Becoming Yourself by Sabrina Ward Harrison

I couldn’t have said it better myself 🙂

If you do decide to give the exercise a go, why not report back here with how you got on?  I’ll be posting about mine tomorrow!  If you decided to take the option of blogging about it, leave the link so we can all go and share in your experience of a moment.  Also, you could contribute one of your photos from the exercise to the Photography Less Ordinary time capsule. If you’re planning to do so though, you’ll need to do it today, as the deadline for entries is midnight (your time) tonight!

June 4, 2008. Creativity, Environment, Inspiration. 18 comments.

Budding Promise

Poppy Bud

The bud contains all, locked up tight. Its thick green coverings hiding from view what lies within. It is not until the bud begins to open that the colour of the bloom begins to reveal itself, and the falling away of verdant shroud quickly follows. What remains is petal after petal of soft satin loveliness, peach-pink and smooth to the touch. The promise of the bud has been fulfilled.

Pink Poppy 4

Pink Poppy 3

Pink Poppy 2

It makes me think about the promise that each of us holds, locked up tight within our wildest dreams, our most audacious imaginings, our most closely held ambitions,  just waiting for the right conditions to flourish into radiant glory.

What promise have you seen fulfilled recently?  Have you personally found an opportunity to grow and shake loose your luminous petals?  Or perhaps you’ve had the opportunity to watch a friend, child, colleague, partner blossom within a nurturing environment?  How do you help others to flourish?

May 28, 2008. Environment, Inspiration, Photography. 18 comments.

Reflecting on Past Times

On Saturday, Joanna Young and I took a wander along the Union Canal in Edinburgh. It’s a beautiful walk and one very close to my heart, as I used to walk along the canal every day to school. Here are a few photos I took along the way…

Swan Reflection in Canal

Messing About On Boats

Canal Society With Reflection

Joanna pointed out that, because it’s a canal, the reflections appear crystal clear, just like gazing into a mirror…  The water was still, the light was bright and the reflections created by this effect were perfect in their symmetry.

As we walked along the gravel towpath, I was reminded of all the funny, childish antics that I participated in along the banks of this waterway.  There was the time that I fell in the canal, just in front of that boathouse, in fact.  I can even remember which top I was wearing at the time of the submersion!  There were dens built in the undergrowth that accompanies the canal, where elaborate worlds were created, and the only limits were our imaginations.  There were epic games of tag played across the park, playing fields and towpath that left us all breathless, clutching our stitch-afflicted sides.  There were whole mornings spent scouring the grassy verges in search of ever-elusive four-leaf clovers.

Watching the reflections on the water and reflecting on my own past…

What environments cause you to reflect on your past, on your present, on your future?  Are there specific locations that induce the state of mind conducive for reflection, or is it more generalised, such as the beach, the lake, the mountains?  What did you reflect upon when you were there last?

May 12, 2008. Environment, Inspiration. 16 comments.

Climatic Celebrations

I don’t know about the rest of the world, but Scotland has been getting the most fabulous weather recently! Today I celebrated the warmth, the sunshine, the acres and acres of blue sky, by taking my kids and my niece to Braidburn Park in Edinburgh. It’s one of those places that I often notice as we go passed it on the bus, but I haven’t actually set foot in the place since I was 12 years old. On my last visit, it was covered in a thick blanket of snow, and my friends and I made the most of its steep inclines, as we sped faster and faster on our sledges till we reached the bottom, cold but exhilerated.

Today, it wasn’t snow that dominated the landscape, but blossom.

Escape to the Blossoms

Blossom Avenue

Sea of Blossoms

Pink Blossom Blue Sky

There was something quite magical about walking beneath those archways of blossoming branches. Really quite enchanting…

So how are you celebrating the weather in your corner of the world? Are you barbecuing in shorts and shades or are you snuggled up indoors with a steaming mug of hot chocolate? Are you jumping in the puddles or are you imagining shapes in the clouds above?

May 8, 2008. Environment, Inspiration, Photography. 11 comments.

If You Go Down To The Woods Today…

…you’re sure of a big surprise.

OK, well maybe you won’t be that surprised by what you find there, but you will most certainly be taken aback by the simple beauty that you find there.


Bluebell Wood

On May 9th 1871, Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote the following in his journal, regarding his experience of a bluebell wood:

It was a lovely sight. – The bluebells in your hand baffle you with their inscape, made to every sense. If you draw your fingers through them they are lodged and struggle with a shock of wet heads; the long stalks rub and click and flatten to a fan on one another like your fingers themselves would when you passed the palms hard across one another, making a brittle rub and jostle like the noise of a hurdle strained by leaning against; then there is the faint honey smell and in the mouth the sweet gum when you bite them.

What I love about this description is that it is so mindful of the sensory experience. The feel of the flowers between the fingers, their ‘faint honey smell’, their ‘sweet gum’ taste, their ‘brittle rub and jostle’ sound – just bliss.

Two of my favourite bloggers are writing about two different themes over at their blogs at the moment. Joanna Young from Confident Writing is writing about Powerful Writing and Rosa Say from Managing With Aloha Coaching is writing about Humility. I thought about both of these themes and how they connect as I looked at the photos that I took today of the bluebell wood and read Hopkins’ journal entry. It seems to me that by remaining humble, by retaining our focus on the seemingly small and modest, we can tap into a powerful source of truth which does not simply resonate with the individual writing-self, but also with all those who read their words. When I read the word Hopkins wrote over 130 years ago, I feel the dew he felt, I smell the honey scents he smelled, I hear the rub and jostle he heard, I taste the sweetness he tasted. His words describing a simple trip into the woods ring with truth. They transcend time. They are powerful and yet they are simultaneously humble. As is all truly great writing.

When was the last time you took a trip into the woods, or indeed any natural setting, such as the beach, the lake, the waterfall, the desert? What did you find there? Could you describe and share with us the sensory experience of being there?

May 6, 2008. Environment, Inspiration. 13 comments.

The New Notebook

There are few things in life that get the creative juices flowing more than a new notebook full of fresh blank pages, as clean and as pure as a bank of freshly fallen snow.

The Blank Page

So Many Pages, So Many Possibilities

As you sit there with pen in hand looking down at the first page, it almost seems sacrilegious to make a mark. And what to write? What to write?

A toododlist perhaps?

A mindmap of a new idea?

A blog post?

Or maybe a little creative writing…

The wet black boughs, their bark slick with rainwater, shimmer in the errant shaft of light which slices through the pregnant clouds. Scattered haphazardly, randomly, the magnolia flowers, thick creamy petals unfurling, gleam illuminated against the gloom. Lush and exuberant, they perch, unfettered by foliage, upon the tree like a flock of small exotic white birds that were merely passing through on their way to warmer climes. A place more verdant where the droplets of moisture hang in the air and form a fine film over flushed begrimed skin. A place where the body moves slowly, stiffly: the limbs, heavy and insect-bitten. Hair clings to the scalp while small rivulets of sweat make their way down the nape, between shoulder blades, tracing the spine, only finding obstacle when they approach the ancient grey elastic of a bra strap which has pressed so tight against the skin that, beneath the threadbare fabric, angry red cries out in a cacophony of itches. A place where the mind can masticate the regurgitated morsels of regret.

What would you write on the first page of your new notebook?

April 28, 2008. Creativity, Inspiration. 24 comments.

Meme: Passion Quilt – Kaleidoscopic

Holding the Kaleidoscope

I was tagged recently by one of my Twitter friends, Drew Buddie, to share with you what I’m passionate about teaching my students. I haven’t responded to the tag right away, as I’ve been mulling it over, trying to decide the best way to articulate what exactly my passion in my teaching is. I think I’ve finally managed it:

I’m passionate about illuminating new perspectives.

I think the best way to explain is to show you some photos:

Through the Kaleidoscope 1Through the Kaleidoscope 2Through the Kaleidoscope 3

The images above are all taken through the viewfinder of my children’s kaleidoscope. Every time I slightly adjust the kaleidoscope, the patterns change. The components remain the same, but the view alters radically.

When I teach my students at university, or my children at home, I want to show them how the kaleidoscope works. I want to show them that by altering their perspective, by looking deeper, longer, or from a different angle entirely, a whole other world can be observed. Now, I don’t want to continue holding and adjusting the viewfinder for them. The whole point is to show them how it works, and then what they choose to do with it is up to them. I’m just happy if they share with me and the rest of the class what they see. My ‘formal’ teaching at university attempts to convey this understanding as it pertains to the reading of texts. I know I’ve done my job well, when I have students say to me at the end of a semester that they’ll never read books the same way again. My more ‘informal’ teaching of my own children has always been about empowering them to grasp hold of the kaleidoscope, and to embrace and explore the many different perspectives they find contained within.

And I suppose, to a certain extent, it’s also what I teach here at Lives Less Ordinary. I am still in a state of becoming. I am still learning from the kaleidoscope, and what I share here are my findings. I’m providing a peek through the viewfinder, and sharing the way I view the patterns, the colours, the way the light falls. I ask all my questions at the end of each post, because I want to hear what you see when you look through the viewfinder.

Thank you so much for sharing with me what you see.

Here are the rules for the meme:

The Rules

  1. Think about what you are passionate about teaching your students.
  2. Post a picture from a source like FlickrCC or Flickr Creative Commons or make/take your own that captures what YOU are most passionate about for kids to learn about…and give your picture a short title.
  3. Title your blog post “Meme: Passion Quilt” and link back to this blog entry.
  4. Include links to 5 folks in your professional learning network or whom you follow on Twitter/Pownce etc

However, I won’t tag anyone. Why don’t you share your answer here, or, if you do decide to have a go at it on your own blog, drop me a line and I’ll link to you in an update.

April 24, 2008. Inspiration, meme. 11 comments.

Mystery Photographs

When my Grandma was sorting through my Great-Grandad’s effects following his death, she found an envelope with old photographs in it. It’s thought that they belonged to my Great-Grandma, but we are at a complete loss as to the identity of the people in the photos. Have a peek through this small opening in time:

Family Portrait

All Dressed Up

A Day Out

Lean On Me

Precious Flower

As much as I would love to know who these people are and what happened to them, I’m almost as enamoured with the intrigue as I am by their curiously rigid poses, their strangely styled apparel and their gravely silent gaze.  Did they lead happy lives?  What was their first childhood memory?  Was it standing on a chair, dressed in their Sunday best while a man stood shrouded behind some weird piece of technology?  What was their greatest achievement?  What moment would they relive if they could?  Who or what was the love of their life?  If they could tell me just one thing, what would it be?

So many questions, and all without answers…

What question would you like to ask these mystery people?  Or, indeed, what question would you ask of your own far distant ancestors?

April 23, 2008. Inspiration, Photography. 12 comments.

Dandelion Wishes

Now, maybe it’s because of Daz Cox‘s comment on this post about celebrating dandelion season, but I have been seeing dandelions everywhere recently. I took these 4 photos as a series on the stages of the dandelion, ending with the wish-making stage.



Dandelion Clock

Make A Wish

Even though I am technically a grown-up, I still find it almost impossible to walk by a dandelion clock without plucking it from the plant, holding it to my mouth and scattering the seeds with my breath, whilst half-whispering some whimsical wish. Sometimes I wish for a rainbow; other times I wish for a flower to bloom on one of my cherished plants, or the serendipitous find of a white feather. I used to have a friend at school who always wished for an orange… The wishes should always be for those things which now seem simplistic to our adult sensibilities. A feather or an orange may seem trivial, but these kind of wishes are about enjoying life’s small pleasures, don’t you think?

What do you wish for as the fluffy dandelion seeds float away on your exhaled breath? Or do you prefer to wish on an eyelash, a lorry-load of hay, or perhaps the first star of the evening, twinkling in the twilight hues of pink, turquoise, lilac, blue?

April 20, 2008. Inspiration, Photography. 12 comments.

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