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It’s all been a little too much-y this week with sign-ups, for most: returning to Yelli and your dusty rooms, missed sign-ups, COVID tests, and like let’s be honest, everything in general.
So get yo self some water, maybe a snack, and enjoy this wee break.
Think a little, scroll a lot; oh and please move us out of Promotions if we are still landing there in any inboxes.
Reading Time: 4 Minutes
I have been struggling to find intimacy in online teaching. My 6-year-old daughter Leela dislikes her online classes so much that as she threw her hands up in the air one day and said, “there is not even snack time!” I wondered why snack time was so important to her that she brings it up as an important item that she misses.
Zoom classes are exactly as they sound. They are innocuous, vapid, and without place or provenance. As you prepare to jettison into your wards’ living rooms, they shut their doors. I have never felt more like an intruder ever before, unwelcome, my sharp notes cutting through the silences that shroud these sessions. I get no visual or auditory feedback. As a facilitator, I was craving for reactions, and I wouldn’t have minded if the students had crammed the chats with emojis. Yet, I was determined not to reveal any frustrations, respect everyone’s privacy, and limit mutual video interactions to either one on one sessions or salutations. I learned from trial and error that along with good content in the classes, I had to find the ones with the best screen appeal. I even made meek attempts to light up my face, venturing gingerly into the terrain of a TikTok star. But it wasn’t enough.
Video calling services are designed for corporate meetings, a friend recently tweeted, hinting at the lack of user-centric design with teaching or learning in mind, let alone the facilitation of a studio that has several interactive elements. Webex was made for offices, while every other video calling app has learned from Cisco and Skype.
Here was a clear instance, perhaps a design problem where we have quickly borrowed a tool, tried to work with it under dire circumstances, and failed to deliver good classes. It is as though there is no road but to failure because the tool itself was built to mirror the detachment that large scale offices need for their employees. Therefore, regardless of your best efforts to make your classes interactive, they turn out to have the same effect as watching a home video shot on a web camera.
Yet something happened that I leapt in joy in the middle of one of my classes. One day, Leela rushed to the room where my class was going on with a kitten she rescued ( borrowed from the neighbor to be more accurate). Before I could mute the mic, she blurted out the details of her rescue and pleaded that we keep the kitten. From the other end of my otherwise quiet class, a student said, “Pooja, it looks like you are getting a kitten”. And a few others joined in. The banter about cats continued for a brief moment, just enough to make me feel human again.
It turns out that bringing cats to class is a pedagogic tool that many teachers have discovered this year. I recently came across this priceless thread on Twitter:
As someone who teaches creative writing, making yourself visible through your quaint observations about the world, both ephemeral and profound is often required, especially to compete against the flattening tendencies of the media. Bringing up your admiration for how two things with contrasting textures combine into one holy union, such a bacon and onions, or your secret obsession for words beginning with T which you slip into all your sentences, might segue into a conversation about creative fiction. Cats help you take these conversations further to build an the environment for learning where ideas can be shared. It brings the teacher to the plain ground where issues fundamental to life can be discussed at length. For a moment, the cats made us human.
I remember a teacher from my high school. She taught high school biology and wrapped her long hair in a 70s style bun. She was a formidable presence in the classroom. We dare not utter a word out of turn. Then one day, she spoke about how people spitting on the road makes her extremely uncomfortable. The spit catches the ends of her saree. The image of this teacher hopping over puddles of spit in her saree that she raised up till her ankle somehow got etched into my mind since that day. It is a ridiculous memory to rake around, yet it is one that made me extremely fond of her classes and I finally began to understand her classes. I guess it erased my fear of her. That helped me learn.
The lesson that the cats taught me is this. To be aware of power inherent in this position of a faculty, and how one must look critically at how it comes through the media that one uses. To be aware that the students hesitate to communicate with you because they worry about the right tone and struggle with the language that they can speak with. To look for moments that break this. And finally, to urge everyone to bring their cats to class.
Portrait of Sir Isaac Newton by Godfrey Kneller, 1702.
1. If you like collages, existentialism, evocative words, and/or art that leaves you with something to chew on; This project might be right up your street.
2. Who doesn’t feel the need to take pictures of the sky when it does that blue-purple-pink-orange-red-mauve-black thing every day when it disappears for like 10-ish hours? Yeah, we don’t know anyone like that either.
This collaboration– an empowering one on multiple levels- might just be one of the best celebrations of that weird thing we all share.
3. Speaking of things we all share, here’s something you absolutely should watch– for its craftsmanship and… literally everything else. GO WATCH.
4. As idealistic as it is, this tale of solitude turning into “the greatest leap in science” might just be the bed-time story you need. Goodnight.
I am Varij and am from Delhi. I love learning about Indian textiles almost as much as I love socks and how one can communicate with such a simple piece of fabric. To this end, I run an Instagram-based sock store called Jabbies where I sell socks that I tie-dye myself.
I also really enjoy experimenting with different kinds of paints and textures. I used to work only with watercolours, but almost a year ago, I found myself shifting to acrylics, which have since become my go-to.
During the lockdown, I ran out of white paper to work on, which led me to use magazine sheets as a base for my paintings. Eventually, I found that these pages brought more depth to my work. Interestingly, I used to actively avoid the sheets that featured people; but only when I decided to let that go and explore beyond my comfort zone, was I able to create the pieces that are now part of ‘Inside Outside’, a series that includes some of my best work.
Through my explorations, I sought to add dimension to the already existent person and to leave the sense-making to the viewer, without hinting at a line of thought or direction.
You can find this series and the rest of my work here.
Reading Time: 3 Minutes
For the past few weeks, I’ve been having the most distressful problem that students in artistic pursuits could possibly relate to: a creative block.
It isn’t conveniently timed either, smack dab in the middle of exams, and extremely inexcusable too, after 3 long weeks of vacation. In fact, it seemed so unpardonable, that it felt like mere laziness. Which is why I sat at my desk and tried. But no matter the might I mustered; it was to no avail. (Between you and I, this is my 5th or so attempt at this article.).
I’ll spare you the details, but the problem wasn’t that I couldn’t make anything, it was just that no matter what I started with, I’d get restless within minutes, realize that my idea didn’t even interest me enough, and do away with the document as it invariably descended into a folder titled…
The word haunted me. It was about the worst description for a piece of art, or anything, really. It was the ‘Well…’ of the universe. Not to be too existential for a bit of light Sunday reading, but, for a species as proud of our consciousness as we are, we certainly dismiss things as ‘inconsequential,’ knowing fully that we ourselves are merely inconsequential cosmic dust. But what makes us dismiss things as inconsequential? And what exactly really counts as such?
If you were to ask Neanderthals or Aliens, our currency is probably inconsequential. Hell, if you asked a boomer, therapy is probably inconsequential, and up until a decade ago, content creation on youtube was considered inconsequential. If you were to ask Don Norman while he wrote the famous ‘The Design of Everyday Things,” art and its aesthetics1. would be inconsequential, but most of us believe Arthur Shaughnessy’s version of the truth, if only because we study it.
Really, anything creative that cannot be tied to a capitalist dream could stand in this word’s army. But even if things are inconsequential, is that really such a bad thing? Does everything really have to be connected in such a way that it proves a point, or says something? According to a Tibetan2 translator, the nearest translation to the word ‘creative,’ is a word that amounts to ‘Natural.’ And sometimes, nature doesn’t have a plan. If it did, humans probably wouldn’t be ticklish, because laughing in response to being uncomfortable is as inconsequential a reaction as any. But since we are ticklish, we do end up exploiting this weakness to create a bit of entertainment and joy, which I assume is, in a way, an acceptable consequent. What I’m trying to say, but may have gotten lost, in the true spirit of inconsequentiality, is that as much as we love things with measurable value, things that weigh heavy on our hearts, and move our intellect to new perspectives, perhaps things that make us giggle because of their sheer ludicrousness aren’t merely as inconsequential as they seem. Or even if they are, it probably shouldn’t matter. Because as Muriel Rukeyser says, “The Universe is made of stories, not atoms.”
Here are a few inconsequentially enlightening articles that this article may or may not have been a consequence of.
p 15, ‘Creative Confidence’ by Tom and David Kelly, 15th October 2013, Crown Business, New York.
Tales From the road begrudgingly traveled :
a comic in ten parts.