Web, Strings, Paths and Maps – The Writing Process

You think you’re reading one thing then find you’ve delved into something completely different.  Like ordering chips in America and getting a bag of crisps, this is probably going to be the same.

I write.  That’s it.  I put pen to paper and just write.  I know how free-writing is supposed tot unclog your creative pipes, and I also understand a lot of writers practise free-writing before getting right down to the hard slog of creating their masterpieces.  I’m not one of those.

There are those who plan every single phase and every character with backstory; they know exactly what will happen from one page to the next, one chapter to the next.  I am the exact opposite.  I sit down in a comfy position, blank lined pad of paper to hand, favourite Stabilo Boss pen to hand… and begin writing.  There are no beginnings, no ends, just a constant flow and my brain creates and develops the story.  As I go along, I may make side notes on things I need to research and develop, characters I need to revisit and round out (in my own head if nowhere else), places and times and situations that need more thought.  But it doesn’t slow me down or stop me.  I write and write and write, until I reach the end of the story. Sometimes it will be quite a short story, other times it will go on for hundreds of pages, but I feel I have little to no control over the process.  I am merely the conduit. Only once did I dream the story from start to finish and write it out in its entirety, but, like those confusing maths problems that you miraculously solved in a dream, yet ultimately found to be a load of b@ll@cks, there are glaring holes in the story I dreamt and I fear it will take me longer to unravel the tangles and fill in the missing pieces, than if I started from scratch, so the book lingers in my uncompleted folder (a very large folder) awaiting time (and my patience).

Recently, I began typing out a story, not writing, but typing.  On a computer. So many authors have told me I was wasting my time writing than retyping and, if I’d just give it a go, after a few weeks I’d find it as easy a slipping into warm water (like giving up sugar).  After all, I type out the articles for my blog, so why can’t do it for my stories?  I have to stay, typing stories feels like manoeuvring around an obstacle course and I stumble from one paragraph to the next, revising and editing and losing my flow, going back (like reversing over roadkill) again and again.  It is beyond frustrating, but I am slowly beginning to eradicate the bad habits that make me stumble; it is not an elegant process and I have had to walk away many times (or my computer would have taken the brunt of my exasperation).  However, I am determined to control and conquer this block that prevents the flow from brain to fingers.

I also get distracted by the very fact that I am on the computer.  Where before I would make a note to research something, I now automatically go online and do the research, breaking my flow.  Then, once I’ve activated my wifi (for my research), notifications begin to beg for attention like recalcitrant 2 year olds, and my flow is suspended once more.

So, if you’re one of those authors who uses one of the tried and tested writing styles (webs, strings, paths, maps, etc.), I envy you the ability and your dedication to the process.  

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A, B, Cs

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I’ve gone back to school!

That is to say, I’m studying and it’s a marvellous course: The History of Children’s Literature.

My husband and friends may rib me about it (‘I have a couple of Janet and Johns you can borrow’; ‘my daughter’s just finished teething with her board books’… hilarious), but so far the course has exceeded all my expectations.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s bloody hard work – my brain feels fractured most of the time – and my reading list is through the roof, but I’m learning and discovering some truly astonishing things, including my complete inability to focus for more than 10 minutes at a time.  Give me a job I know how to do and I’m straight in there, boom! Done!  Even if it takes me several hours.  But this is something else.  Research, note-taking, citations, unravelling meanings and deciphering huge swathes of text and cross-referencing and, and… I’m just glad I chose a subject I know a little bit about, so I don’t come across as completely ignorant.

If you’re a bookworm and are interested in children’s books, whether it be reading or writing them, I highly recommend it.  Oxford Brookes actually do an online version of the course (in fact there are two international students following the course from the UAE and Korea, how cool is that?).

Another reason for signing on for the course was to keep my grey cells sparking in an effort to fight off dementia because I can see signs of it creeping in.  Or maybe I’m just paranoid (I don’t deny Still Alice did a number on me).  Whenever I stand still in a room and wonder why the hell I went in there, I scare myself silly.

My son who recently moved out of his room has just been told to haul all his crap out of there so can turn it into a study, I’ve nabbed a wobbly desk from the bins at work and I’ve just ordered an old-style desktop pencil sharpener (and some pencils).  Now I just have to find a way to stop procrastinating.  There’s probably a course for that, too.

 

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Cocky Delusions of Creative Grandeur

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Beautiful bird, is it not?  The Cockerel? The diminutive, Cock and Cocky have been used for year – YEARS – as nicknames, slang, euphemisms… a versatile and well-used word.  We’ve all heard it, read it and/or used it.  It is not restricted to any one peer, class, race, gender or age group. It crosses nations and languages, breaks the ice at parties (after a few drinks) and puts people in their places.  I calms situations with humour or gets people fighting.  It is a fun and flirty word, it is a rude and angry word.  It is not one thing, it is many.  And like all those other dirty, flirty words, it belongs to everyone.

Around the world, people fight daily to ensure communication is not stifled and censored.  Freedom of speech is vital to create open and honest discourse and debate, to enrich minds and lives, to allow expression and understanding.  Stifling the creative process by constricting the use of language is detrimental to the advancement of society.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban banned books and education for women, marginalised the female population and dis-empowered them, ripped away their voice and their freedom.  They lost the freedom of not only speech, but expression.  They lost – sorry, not lost, but were denied access to the written word.  Yet, they did not give up.  They did not bow down.  In their own way, perhaps even if it was only in their heads, or in their dreams, they continued to create.

Education is vital for the young and the old.  Do you know how many children around the world do not have access to schooling?  How many do not have free and ready access to books?  How many are illiterate?  How many female authors in the history of time were denied publication unless they used a male pseudonym?

We fight and fight and fight and we finally, in the West, have a powerful presence in the literary world that is recognised and lauded.  With the help of wonderful publishers, like Virago, championing women’s literature we have made the female voice stand up and be counted.

‘What on earth is she ranting on about?’  I hear you thinking?

Well, it is something that blew up Twitter a couple of months ago – or at least it did in the literary world – because an author trademarked a word.  A single word.  Monsanto trademarked a genome sequence and almost decimated rice production in India.  This author has arrogantly assumed she can do the same, even though she did not ‘discover’ the word, did not create it and most certainly is not the exclusive user of it.

Faleena Hopkins, aka Sabrina Lacey, has trademarked the word ‘cocky’ in the United States and not only asked several authors to change their book titles (which they have reluctantly done as they cannot afford to fight her legally), but has also had Amazon remove titles that have the word ‘cocky’ in the title.  She has ‘generously’ agreed they can “keep their books, rankings, reviews and their money by retitling which takes one day”.  Ms Hopkins has been writing the ‘Cocker Brothers’ books since 2016.  I think the first book in the series was published in September of 2017, less than a year ago.  Apparently, she has a ‘huge’ following and her readers keep selecting the ‘wrong books’.  [choke]

RWA are in talks with Intellectual Property Lawyers to recover this egregious situation.

As privileged, free-thinking, caring individuals of the western world, it is our right and our duty to ensure the lines of communication between people and countries remain open in every way, including language, to ensure free-thinking and freedom of expression are not constrained.

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Ms Hopkins, if you are reading this (which I highly doubt, as I’m way too small an author), please read All Rights Reserved.  Then, read 1984 and pay particular attention to Newspeak and ask yourself who it helps to trademark this word and how it will affect the future.  From one tiny seed, from one tiny idea, from a single drop of blood, revolutions are born that can decimate nations.  Please, please, put aside your pride, sense of entitlement and your self-righteousness and think seriously about not only who benefits from this and who doesn’t, but the harm it has and will cause.  Otherwise, the deprivation will drive a wedge into our creative souls and this is what we’ll be in for:  Will this be your legacy?

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If you’ve a mind, you might also like to read Fahrenheit 451.  For the destruction of books does not necessarily require a flame.  Then, watch the sacking of the library at Alexandria in Agora.  I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

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Readers, if you are as outraged as I and wish to to do something, please speak/open discussions on the subject.  Alternatively, if you wish to be a silent demonstrator, please click here, if you wish to sign the petition.

Click here if you wish to purchase a copy of Cock Tales (they couldn’t use the word Cocky – see above); it is a book full of stories by various authors, the proceeds of which will go to support the RWA’s fight.

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OMG I discovered a new author!

That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest – Henry David Thoreau

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I live in the UK.  A beautiful, green, open and varied country with people of many nationalities, ideas and opinions.  Nothing here is mundane – not the weather, not the land, not the food and certainly not the people.

To top it all, we have wonderful access to parks and forests, beaches and lakes, libraries and museums – all free for us to indulge in and right on our doorsteps.  We can cycle from the mountain to the sea, to the library and museum, to the open air markets and fairs, learning and experiencing and revelling in the wonders of life.

But I want to speak about one special and wonderful pleasure that makes my heart glow – discovering new authors or musicians or artists or dancers… (there’s no room to cover all these marvels).  The creative people who distil the beauty around us and make us see it in a different way, experience it in a different way.  And our museums and libraries and creative fairs allow us to experience talents from all over the world.

I truly cannot think of a greater gift than introducing someone to a new creative talent – timeless, elegant and personal.

Which is how I came to discover the author Penny Reid.   I was stunned I hadn’t come across her before and am still unable to explain how such a thing could have happened.  It’s like walking into my garden one day and suddenly discovering a wall covered in purple wisteria.  This wondrous chocolatey gem of an author, with sprinkles on top, has been writing for a while now, but her books had never crossed my path, until I read The Hooker and the Hermit, a collaboration with L.H. Cosway.  (This is why librarians are important, people!).

Ms Reid has wit and charm and a thoroughly wonderful expansive format of writing style, full of knowledge and angst and characters that make you want to pet them.  In her books, there is nothing boring or twee, she makes no concessions and makes no apologies for the situational comedy she creates (Nico and jelly baths being a case in point).

If you like romance with strong, intelligent characters, wisdom and passion, knowledge and introspection, then check her out.  You won’t be disappointed.

Top save you typing, here’s a link: Penny Reid

You’re welcome.

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‘Patience is bitter…

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…but its fruit is sweet,’ said Aristotle.  He was probably thinking of loftier challenges than giving up sugar, but that is where I am and my sweet tooth clings hopefully to that little snippet of advice.

It’s been 5 weeks since I divorced myself from sugar and I still grimace when I take that first sip of unsweetened coffee.  Worse than that, I’ve had to give up normal tea – tea, people!  Because there are some things that just won’t work in my sugarless world. Instead, I grudgingly drink tea with a slice of lemon, mouth pouting although one might mistake it for a sour pucker.  Still not the same, but better than no tea at all and that is something I refuse to contemplate.

Why was it was such a wrench to give up sugary tea?  I think it’s because tea was our childhood panacea when times were hard, fraught or we were ill.  It was our comfort, along with hugging arms and I feel as though someone has whipped away my inner blankie.

I started on this ‘bitter’ path with my cousin.  I’m rubbish at motivating myself and will procrastinate, find excuses to cheat and convince myself to leave it for ‘just one more week’.  But with her conscience (and strong kicks up the arse) I have managed to remain true to our pact.  Neither of us can let the other one down and we confess our slip-ups immediately (trying a bit of the banana bread to check it is cooked; automatically grabbing a crisp off the table; taking a sip from the wrong mug [I may not have admitted that one yet, so I hope she’s not reading this]…).

The first two weeks were all about the sugary drinks.  Out went the sugar bowl completely – well, actually, figuratively, because it still sits there for the hubby and kids to indulge, but I am only allowed to look upon it wistfully.  I used to be a ‘three spoons, please’ person and have now gone cold turkey with all its attending ailments (I’ll come to those).  No sugar in tea or coffee (bleuch!), no squash or colas and no camomile with honey.

After a couple of days the headaches set in – I’m unsure if it was the lack of sugar or lack of caffeine (hating the taste of sugarless tea/coffee I drank hot water or green tea).  I had more paracetamol in that first week than I would have had sugar.

Then, the early morning wake-ups struck like unasked for extra me-time.  I’m not kidding.  2 or 3 am, I’d be wide awake and restless until around 5 am, but too tired to do anything but think of how much I wanted to sleep.  Added to which, I had restless leg syndrome (paracetamol worked great for that, too; my chemist began to worry) and I tossed and turned enough to warrant remaking the bed from scratch every morning.

After two weeks, my cousin (I might disown her) and I gave up crisps, biscuits, cakes, ice-creams and pudding.  That wasn’t as tough for me as the drinks, because I don’t normally indulge, but my cousin found it hard-going (she’d been having way too many biccies with her sugarless cuppa) and we’d both naughtily squeezed in an ice-cream pretty much every day.  Instead of crisps I have a small handful of nuts and seeds.

While I never have pudding on weekdays, I used to indulge and help myself to a slice of the cake in the staff kitchen (courtesy of someone’s birthday).  Now, all I am allowed to do is sniff that wonderful chocolate, creamy, baked-goodness aroma.  I supplement my weekend pudding with fruit platters – bananas, apples, berries, mango, papaya, pomegranate, nectarines, melon… No fruit juices, as concentrated, squished versions have way too much fructose, which the body has no resistance to.

I’m finally sleeping a little better (I wake up around 4 for an hour), but I still cringe at the taste of sugarless coffee and I want a proper cup of tea!!!   Do I feel better – not really.  Am I more alert? I don’t think so.  Do I have more energy? Nope.  Are my skin, hair and nails healthier?  No, no and no.  Have I lost weight?  I wished.

I’ll check back in another month and let you know if anything’s changed, except I have a feeling we’ll be cutting out alcohol next and I may be incarcerated for cousinicide.

We’ve told ourselves we’ll treat ourselves, sometime, somewhere.  If we’ve been good.

I’ve decided I need concrete goals; ‘somewhere, sometime’ is not a reward, it’s just teasing.

BTW – I did my research and everyone says I won’t notice the lack of sugar after a few weeks.  5 weeks on, I’m telling you THEY LIE!

……………………..

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So, it’s been more than a month since I created the original post, in fact, it’s been a year!  I have to admit, I held out for more than 6 months, but then reverted back to taking sugar, but panic not for I have drastically reduced my consumption.  I only have a spoonful of sugar in my beverages and only 2 cups a day rather than the 4 or 5, so overall, I have gone from 15 spoons a day to 2.

It was tough.  There’s no easy way to say it and there are no shortcuts, but it is worthwhile because the most important point is that sugar is addictive.  I can tell you for a fact that when I have something sweet, I crave more sweetness.

So, what have I learned?  Basically I need to change what I eat, remove the need for the cravings.  Substitutions don’t work.  All they do is perpetuate the bad habits and sugar is a very bad habit.  So, instead of substituting your high sugar drinks and treats with low sugar versions, eat and drink something completely different.  Those biscuits you have with your tea?  Ditch the tea and the biscuits and encourage your body to drink more water.  Puddings after every meal?  Eat fruit instead – and I do mean, eat fruit, not drink a glass of juice or smoothie, but sit down and peel and orange.  Think about it: if you want your child to stop doing something, such as using their phone all day, you distract them, you don’t give them a tablet or the TV.

I’m trying to recall when these terrible habits began and I have to come to the conclusion it was when I left home – keen, exited and so confident that I knew everything!  Sound familiar?  I was brought up vegetarian – no meat, fish, eggs or cheese – with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.  The only time we had ‘rubbish’ was at weekends or when we went to parties or had picnics (ot if the ice-cream van came round and my dad could get away with my mum not knowing).  But, when I left home, and I was buying my own food with no restrictions (other than cost), my diet went downhill very quickly.  Being younger, I managed to disguise the effects of this bad diet, from a health perspective, by exercising lots.  It was a harsh balancing act, poisoning myself then purging myself.  But the real danger was not the short term, but in the long term because I’ve ended up with these very bad, hard to break, habits, which I’ve have passed on to my children.

I am a rubbish cook and I do not cook the foods I ate growing up, but the foods I learnt cook with my unregulated grocery buying.  My mealtimes increased – I went from breakfast, lunch and dinner to breakfast, elevenses, lunch, tea, dinner, supper… the full Hobbit overindulgence.  I had the double whammy of bad eating habits.  Now, I have to pull myself and my family back to a healthier eating regime and it’s tough, especially when bombarded  with whinges and whines and moans and groans.  When you’re struggling not to fall back into bad habits and have to also contend with them pushing you it becomes four times the battle.

So, the conclusion?  Change your daily meal plan; create a weekly menu full of healthy options, not substitutions; stop buying crap (if it’s in the house, you’ll eat it) – and shop after you’ve eaten a meal, not when you’re hungry; if you eat/drink rubbish when you do a particular activity then stop doing that activity or do it differently; talk to your family so everyone is on board.  And, most importantly, remember a treat is only a treat if it isn’t the norm!

 

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365 likes ❤ 

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Someone, somewhere actually spent time, money and thought in investigating the psychological responses behind sending and receiving like statuses on social media. Probably an investor in Facebook. There’s even a scale to measure Facebook addiction: the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale or BFAS for short.

We started with straightforward acknowledgements  on emails – remember those? How excited was I to get a notification that the email had been opened, although not necessarily read. In the early days of Facebook we had the same thing and we could acknowledge having read someone’s post. Then the ‘thumbs up’  arrived. Now, we have different faces so we can show just how the post made us feel and soon we’ll be able to do a full Nero and ‘thumbs down’ a post, although I’m not sure I’d know what that actually stands for – that you also agree it’s a bad thing or that you dislike the post?

Stepping back to the present and those emotional responses, I wonder how many clicked on ‘angry’ when all they really did was tut. How many clicked on ‘tearful’ when all they did was shake their head? ‘Laughing out loud’ face for a smile? We have begun to over-exaggerate our emotions online as we do with texting – rofl has been typed way more times than it actually happened in that real life situation. This is how ridiculous it is: the whole family was sat at the dining table and someone said something slightly humorous; my daughter immediately said, “lol.” She might have been laughing silently, but definitely not out loud.

So why do we do it? Because it’s the only option? From the point above, when my daughter could have remained silent, it appears to be more than that. Or does it? Is it a chicken/egg situation? People became used to exaggerated contractions in text speak and looked for the equivalent in social media to the point where it has now become perfectly valid to send a crying face to someone who tells you they’ve just wrecked their new manicure. Or do people feel inside what they portray with the emoji? Will we become so stoic in our natural responses, unable to express our true emotions unless we can display them on a screen?

You have to admire the marketing concept, the way users are desperate to see the ‘likes’ and, to try and maximise the number of likes they receive, they push them out in the hopes that people will reciprocate. You might think me cynical, but I direct you to the study I mentioned earlier. In fact, I think there are guides somewhere that tell you to do exactly that, something along the lines of ‘how to improve your online presence’.  Improve?  From what?  On what scale?  How will you know when you have ‘improved’?  What is the goal?

I am unsure which has the bigger emotional pull, the number of likes one receives on posts or the (ever-fluctuating) number of friends.

Working in a school, I can tell you that social media rules teenager’s lives completely. More than music or sport. Even teen fashion relies on the medium.  However, we have a strict ‘no devices’ policy for years 7 to 9 and I cannot begin to tell you how nice it is to see the kids talk to each other, play tag and socialise during their breaks.  Even better, most of them keep up the face to face interactions in upper years.

(I daren’t even touch upon online bullying or sexting which would involve another whole blog post.)

I wonder where this need to exaggerate will lead us?  People already post false, photo-shopped images of themselves on dating sites, develop creative language loopholes to evade answering questions unfavourably (fake news, anyone?) and we are slowly developing and encouraging a culture where I am never sure what anyone means anymore.  Language has always had the ability to be the most violent and passive of tools, able to diplomatically convey acres of feeling emotionlessly and the written word remains one of the greatest communication bridges.  What’s that rule – don’t drink and drive/don’t drink and type?  This is when written communication fails us.  Spectacularly.  It can turn into a smack in the face.  Just think of how you feel when someone sends you a message in block capitals.  And when we live in an atmosphere of exaggeration, that smack can become a full blown K.O., with tweets and circling stars.

Deconstructed, scrunched language, abbreviations (so many!) and emoticons (culturally diverse ones, too) – the written word has gone back to caveman drawings.  What will our future selves think when they come across the simplistic constructs of our chosen language of communication?

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There is one, undeniably, positive element the two have in common: it doesn’t what language you speak, you’ll still be able to understand what the other person is trying to convey – although it’s probably exaggerated. Lol    (I’m not, though)

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Winners and Triers

There is an intriguing study into positive, encouraging language and the results are, unsurprisingly, logical.  Isn’t that always the way?  The person who first saw the wheel in use probably thought, ‘well, why didn’t we think of that before?’

I once went on a management course that focused on language, specifically on how we speak to other people, and it all made sense; the ideas were all things we know and understand, but don’t necessarily practise on a day-to-day basis because we are inured in bad habits (and laziness).

Anyway, this study split a group into two and one group was highly praised whenever they had good results in tests.  The other was praised for small, discernible achievements, without focusing on test results.  They then assessed the progress made by all these students (regardless of whether they were high or low achievers in testing).  Not, as you would expect, by giving them a written test, but by placing in front of them various tasks.  The students were encouraged to choose their own tasks and this is what the researchers discovered:

The children who were highly praised with general comments (such as: ‘you’re marvellous’, what a great piece of work’, ‘100%, that’s what I like to see’, ‘another A*, you’re so clever’, ‘you’re a genius’, etc.) tended to select less challenging tasks, ones that would not threaten their ‘excellent’ status.

The children who were praised more specifically (‘I like the way you’ve used alliteration’, ‘I’m impressed that you simplified the figures first’, ‘the use of such bright colours works well for the background’, ‘the little dance in the middle makes the whole piece stand out more’, etc.) were less threatened by the range of tasks and willing to try the more complex tasks, actively going outside of their comfort zone.

Why?  Why wouldn’t the A*, ‘brilliant’ students choose the tougher tasks and showcase their skills?

Teaching isn’t about creating children who perform well in known tasks, it is about creating and developing minds that can take a problem and break it down, creating minds focused on problem-solving rather than their own performance and retaining a high pass rate.  The assessment criteria is in the process, rather than the end result and so we have students who are more confident in their abilities, more willing to explore and who are also more accepting of other people’s differences, because they perceive value not in percentages and quantity, but in ideas and quality.  In their world, no-one is a failure.

Okay, let me clarify that last statement, because I detest the ‘everyone gets a badge’ mindset.  It isn’t that no-one fails, more that the achievement criteria is different.  While they are all trying to get to the same goal, the prize is not in reaching the goal, but in making the attempt to get there, in using their wits and brains and bodies to find a solution.  I haven’t quite got my mind round to solving how this works as regards physical intelligence and winning the 100 metre sprint, but in other areas, it has to be about taking risks and exploring different paths, expanding our minds to encompass the unknown and impossible.

Everyday we fight against the mesmerising effects of a hundred YouTube feeds and social networking pings, texts and online drama that direct our attention away from what is important.  The here, the now, the beauty of nature and creativity and pitting our minds and bodies against new challenges.  Isn’t this what we want for our children?  To excel in the face of insurmountable odds, to brave every new challenge and overcome every fear because they have the tools and wherewithal to just try.  And in trying, succeed.

Then, there are the parents who stifle their children’s endeavours, enabling their fears instead of teaching them the skills to overcome their anxieties.  Worse, they stifle our (teachers, librarians, TAs…) efforts to tease them out of their cocoons, belittle the rewards we offer and raise angry voices at the punishments; parents who instil a sense of entitlement and justification rather than building confidence and creating a ‘can-do’ child.

I came across this amazing video by Jason Momoa which made me want to go back in time and refashion my children’s childhoods, spend lazy hours outdoors climbing trees and painting shells rather than ensuring shoes were lined up neatly at the door.

All children are born able and capable, they’re little sponges waiting for the sweet nectar of possibilities to transform them into adventurous souls.  Set their minds free and teach them the only real failure is in not doing.

The best time to plant was 20 years ago.  The second best time is now.   Chinese Proverb

 

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