Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Magpies, Medicine, and Magic

The bird dangled in danger. Eight or perhaps even seven of its company clamoured advice in a cacophony of cawing care. But I was not there. Nor could anyone else see sufficiently into my backyard to espy the dilemma. And for that bird, caught up in the moment, there certainly was no possible escape.
It was the summer of 2004. I happened to have arrived into a new world. Like being reincarnated after the nine-plus hours of my spinal surgery, there was also the rebirth toward a coherence of clarity during the last nine days of nauseating delirium. Now, home again, I found myself alert as a newborn to the sounds and sights around me.

But alas for that bird, I was down in my basement studio, oblivious to the world above. Abdullha Ibrahim alternated with Hugh Masekela on the CD carousel. But given time for my medicine I turned off the music, came upstairs, stair by stair, hobbled the corridor to the bedroom, and became aware of the unusually incessant clamour outside.

I glanced through the window.

Ah, magpies. I thought I recognized their squawks. Like small but colourful crows, their very long black tails, stark white underbellies, and darkly shimmering plumage is always attractive. But right then I did not want to watch. There was the matter of pills at the bedside bureau, and the recording of the time, and next of heading for…

Then I heard it! The frantic clawing at the picket fence had the desperate sound of a burglar trying to surmount it.

Alarmed, I peered out.

Finally, off to the left and almost obscured by dense foliage, I saw the desperate thing, caught up in the wooden staves of the picket fence. Others of its clan ganged up in the nearby trees, and busily cawed with all sorts of advice.

Wedged by its skull, the weight of its body having slid it down the finger-width gap between the picket staves for some eight or nine inches before it became hung up on the crossbar, the magpie had no purchase by which to climb up again. And it still pulled and pulled to get free. But even as I watched, it gave up, shuddering with exhaustion.

With the clip-off hood of my winter-parka I approached the bird silently. Its back to me, it could not watch. Its compatriots fell eerily silent, but did not fly off.

The bird still breathed.

I advanced, gently enveloped it in the hood, easily slid it upwards along the slats, then one-handedly unwrapped the cloth and lifted the light-weight toward the sun.

Almost immediately it fluttered up and then off to a perch not five feet from me, and looked back at the scene.

“You’re welcome,” I said, and turned to walk away. And the rest of the magpies resumed their chatter of chattering over the matter. After all, that any one of us should be there at that precise moment, given the thousands of gardens in which the event for that errant bird may have occurred, was pure magic. And the past brings us to the present, this exact present, in which resides the very moment that gives rise to the next. Seems as though we all need to be careful where we land, lest we too be caught up and dangled into immobility, they chattered.

And I recall being grateful for the magic. Ha! So too, I bet, was the magpie!

(This image was taken by friend Justin Neway's webcam in Colorado, 
shared with me ten years after the events in this story!)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Esemplastic Apperceptions of Metacognition amongst the Multiple-Gifted

Or: How Jack and Jill All-Trades thinks!

That long string of unfamiliar words, interesting, or off-putting?
Jack and Jill All-Trades generally would be enlivened by the challenge. And if Jack is predominantly right-brained, and Jill is predominantly left-brained, then each may reflect their interest in the notion of ‘esemplastic apperceptions of metacognition amongst the multiple-gifted’ in an interestingly dissimilar manner.

Jill would most likely take to her dictionary and soon have ‘esemplastic apperceptions of metacognition amongst the multiple-gifted’ translated into some such precise phraseology as, ‘accommodating variables and reflecting on one’s own thoughts as a person with many gifts.’ Then, asked to explore the possibilities inherent in the statement, and given that she herself is defined as ‘All-Trades’, Jill might undertake an itemization and database study of herself (and others) on a multiple of levels that correlates and substantiates her initial suppositions. As such, Jill’s study may well be as comprehensive and teleological as is comprehensible, yet she will probably experience dissatisfaction with her inability (of course) to have included every possible variable.

Jack (even after an excursion into the dictionary) would most likely arrive at a self-satisfactory understanding of ‘esemplastic apperceptions of metacognition amongst the multiple-gifted’ and, asked to explore the possibilities inherent in the statement, may randomly play with the concept at will. Jack may adopt the title for his band, calling it The Apperceptions. Or he may devise a game-board called Metacognition. Or he may... but that’s Jack, for you. Although quite capable, he’s not innately given to line by line delineation. And, after as discursive an exploration as probable, he’ll most likely arrive at a universal yet esoteric perception of the significance of his undertakings. Yet he too will feel that he could have done better were he not so interested ‘in just about everything.’

At issue are the inherent difficulties that the multiple-gifted experience with the specifics of task-oriented as well as day to day expectations of life. The multi-capabilities inherent in their natures creates a perpetual series of cognitive dissonances that, although perhaps not entirely debilitating, are impeding to their potentialities. Multiple-potentiality, that is, is of itself a hindrance to sustained excellence in any one endeavor. To be (a famous) artist, writer, singer, actor, athlete, academic, or not? Which? And, over time, as the multiple-gifted child grows into adult, the choice (and inherent frustration) of exercising the generality of one’s multiple-gifts, as opposed to concentrating on the specificity of any one gift, might better be understood by the individual who is more practiced at apperceptions of metacognition. That is, more practiced at an understanding of his or her thinking.

The implications for educators (and for all those wishing to understand themselves a little better) is that the multiple-gifted (indeed, as well as for all of us) are both innately and endemically habituated. More clearly understood, such behavioral patterns might better be addressed, deployed, and facilitated toward furthering the contribution of the self toward the self, and toward others, thereby augmenting our contribution in general toward the health of the whole.

Dictionary Definitions:

Esemplastic: Molding, shaping, or fashioning into one; accommodating many variables

Apperception: Mind’s perception of itself. ~ is the essential mental act in the great stages of mental generalization, perception, conception, and judgement. - Baldwin, James (1861-1934)

Metacognition: Awareness of thinking about what one is thinking.

Teleological:  View that developments are due to the purpose or design that is served by them.

So may we smile at obfuscations, ha!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

iAfrika! (As Pitched Again)

Immersed in the life-blood of Northern Rhodesia and South Africa, iAfrika! is Adam Broadford’s intended atonement for an unfulfilled childhood promise to his old Matabele mentor. As the Bietjanie Zimba, the White Cub of an ancient prophecy, Adam recreates the searing significance of extraordinary lives.

After his unusual childhood on his guardian parents’ game-farm Adam attempts freedom when visiting with his real father in England, but is made to return just before the blistering birth of Zambia. Forced to go to South Africa, the youth engages in an illegal and life-threatening inter-racial love. Inordinate abuse in the name of redemption and several drastic choices further forge his future. Rescued by an insightful headmaster and sent to a Kimberly boarding school, Adam ineffectually attempts to sever the overwhelming ties to his past. After graduation, conscripted as a sniper in the South African Army, Adam works on reprieves as a steam-locomotive stoker in Zululand. He meets Felicity, the love of his life, but up on the border in the bush war, after a poetic retribution with an old enemy, Adam determines to escape Africa’s apartheid for good. Will his rejection of Felicity, of Africa, haunt him forever? On the Ides of March, 1975, hidden aboard a Union Castle steamer, and at last prepared to write, Adam faces his promise: iAfrika!

Friday, March 5, 2010

~ My Really True Big Fish Story ~

While my father rents a skiff, I run over to men loading gear into their speedboat. “We’re fishin’ for Baskin’ sharks, laddie,” the eldest of them answers with a brogue, as the other two stretch into rubbery black diving suits. “The biggest, the meanest, the most ornery sharks yer’ll ever see! In fact, ‘Sea-to-Your-Highness Maximus,’ they’re called. So mind yee keep oot of our way, yee ken! Or do yee think I’m fibbin’ now?” and he gives a big wink.
“Sure! They destroy the nets, see. So we go down and noose `em while they sleep. Drag `em backwards. Drown `em.”
“But fish can’t drown?”
“Och aye! But if yer drag `em backwards the water gits in their gills an’ they cannee breath, yee ken. Drown them, we does!”
“How do yee... do you noose them?”
The man holds up a thick pleated rope. “When they’re asleep, lad. We drop down behind `em, throw this over their tail, and bingo! We drag `em with the boat.”
“But why do you have to...?”
“Oi! Adam!” my father yells from the rental kiosk. “Hurry! Let’s go!”
The skiff’s twin pontoons have a seat wide enough for two. The sea stretches smoothly asleep whilst we paddle past the sun-lit overhang of the cliffs to our left of Babbacombe Bay, England. We go around a big pancake-shaped boulder, draped like an old lady’s doily in white barnacles. I want to clamber atop it, but Dad counters, “We’d better keep going if we’re gonna make the cave before the tide’s in!” The swish, ka-ploosh! of our paddles echoes, as does the clunk-unk! of oars against the gunwales. And eventually we get to the open mouth of the sunlit cave, and begin to slide inside.
In the distance I spy the divers’ boat, now stilled just beyond the colorful buoys that are strung out between several brightly painted dories. Whilst one man stays at the motor the others long-leggedly clamber over the boat’s side, like two thin black frogs, and slip into the deep, dragging the rope down behind them.
I can imagine their underwater bravery. One hand drags down the ominous loop of the large noose while the other, cupped and swimming and aided by expert thrusts of their flippered feet propels them ever downwards, quiet as lead-sinkers. They motion each other as they approach the sleeping bulk of a shark, big as a submarine. Seventeen or more feet long, deeply asleep in the warmth of the midday sun baking at the ocean surface, the great Baskin does not even feel the noose of the rope slip around its tail. Then gently, yet with malevolent intent, the twinned divers tug up at the free end of the tether. Suddenly they slap and punch and goad it into darting away. Awakened by strangely attacking sea creatures with their multi-sized bubbles warbling upwards from behind huge glassy eyes, the pounds and pounds of rubberized bulk twists in surprise, and then effortlessly glides away. But the rope tugs. The shark stops. Then, with a powerful thrust, it torpedoes away so tightly against the length of its snare that the man in the speedboat above is lurched off his feet.
“Whoops!” he yells with surprise.
“Hear that, Dad? They must’ve got one.”
“Over on the horizon! I can hear them hollering. A poor old shark is going to be someone else’s supper tonight, by the sounds of it.”
“You hearing things again? Concentrate! We don’t want to be in the drink just because we washed up against those damn rocks! That’s it. Pull over to that rock-shelf over there! Let’s have a look see.”
The darker recesses of the cave’s throat swallows up blackness, but as we enter and get accustomed to the light I see that the water disappears down a narrowing tunnel, already half submerged and gurgling. The short inner tongue at the back of the cave forms a natural wading pool in which lie some wondrously glowing seashells, surrounded by rocks like wet black teeth.
“Here. Let’s pull the skiff up and have a look-see. Put the paddles across the seat, keep them safe. Good. Nice! Look. Plenty! Who else would ever come here to pick over these, hey?”
As we kneel and gingerly reach into the cold water I peer about. Pirates? Aside, our skiff wobbles lightly on a sudden slight swell. I glance back at the cave-mouth. With the sun streaming in it’s like looking down into a giant’s fish tank.
Then I notice it!
Directly below our retreat, the menacing bulk of a great long shark lurks ominously. It hovers, dark as a tanker-sized torpedo on the sun-dappled depth of the ocean bed. As yellow and green fronds of tattered kelp, like adulating minions to either side of it wave and bow, the beast lazily moves a thick fin. Sunlight shafts down in golden mists off the steel-colored hide.
But I have no time to say anything, before the whole ocean moves.
Perhaps it is the swelling wake from the heavily tugging speed boat that is now laboring past us toward the beach, or perhaps it is the sudden movement of the great fish, almost directly below me, that causes the sea so suddenly to swell, but no sooner do I notice the shark than the water lifts wet and cold over my feet, nudges hesitantly at the vacant skiff, then casually plucks it away. And smoothly, as though tugged by an invisible cord the craft quickly courses over the waiting monster and past the bare rocks that grin darkly, like silhouetted teeth against the cave’s wide-open shout at the sunlit sky.
“Go for it, Adam!” my father yells, one-handedly patting his top pocket with its cigarette package, pens, and note pad, then at his dress-short pockets. In his other hand, like some hopeful wand in the direction of the departing skiff, he waves his hat and sunglasses.
“But look, Dad! A shark!”
“What? Where? Oh Christ! No. Look. We’ve got to get out of here! This cave’ll fill in an hour. The boat’s leaving too quickly! Go for it son, or we’ll never make it!” He starts emptying his pockets.
Unsure, I plunge into the icy water in a racing dive, long and shallow. I churn arm-over-arm in seven or eight strokes that flash past my eyes, my whole being filled with mounting fear for the sharp-toothed menace from below as I strive to reach the errant skiff that now floats out into the mirrored surface of the bay.
Is it going to grab me?
My right hand, coming down hard and swift as a karate chop, suddenly strikes something solid, and at the same time yielding. I gulp in salty water, and nearly gag. I hear my father screaming, “The paddle!” Treading the dread water, I swirl about, see it, and stab out for the bobbing wood, but it bucks and sweeps further away.
“The boat! Get the boat first!” yells Dad, as if from the megaphone of the cave.
I churn around, then, despite my every fear that at any moment I am about to be yanked from beneath and dragged down to a sure death, swim desperately toward the lonely craft.
At last I make it to the skiff, and like a wet frog attempting to surmount a tipsy leaf, with glistening limbs spread and clutching here and there, haul myself aboard. With the single oar that I free from its wedge I paddle, at first in circles, but then toward the other oar floating at a distance. And it takes real courage at last to grab at it, for I am sure that the shark is waiting for me, as though luring me to the bait, ready to pluck me by the outstretched hand right off the flimsy craft. But now, zigzagging from side to side as I row back to the cave, I yell, “Can you still see him?”
“Not a thing!” Dad shouts, his voice echoing. “You probably scared him off with all your splashing. Good job, old chap. That’s it. Steady. Hold her nice and steady. That’s it. Wow! Brave little chip off the old block, aren’t you?”
But we are subdued as we row back across the bay.
While Dad negotiates for the deposit I go over to stand with others who are having a look at the divers’ catch.
Only about thirteen or so feet long, a grey shark lies inert, drying, and sandy on the warm beach. Its mouth is frozen in a gasp, propped open with a stick.
I think of how they kill crocodiles in Africa. Asleep, yet mouth agape for the little birds that clean its teeth, the crocodile finds its jaws suddenly invaded by a stake. As the surprised creature clamps down the sharp ends pierce ever deeper. Unable to reach its mouth, the enraged beast rolls and twists and then makes for the safety of the river, where, unable to close its throat, it eventually drowns. If land bound, the croc soon starves.
I look around. Some people appear to smirk at the harmless thing, as though they were the brave ones to capture it.
I bend down to peer into the grimness of the throat. “Hau! It has no teeth!” I exclaim.
“`Course not, me boyo,” declares a friendly Welsh accent behind me. The elderly man, his white beard, blue dungarees, and black gumboots stained with time, goes on, “That there’ll be one of your Baskin’ sharks, me lad. See those long gills that’ll almost be wrapping roun’ his chin? See his short snout, a bit like a squashed gray ice cream cone, no? There’s nought but gristle in them jaw bones o’ his. Harmless to man he is. Be eating only plankton, this kind. Mind yee, ha, this one’ll nought be eating nothin’ agin’! True? Hee hee!”
“Then why catch him if he doesn’t eat your fish?” I ask, my voice a little thin with indignation, despite my growing awareness that I’d been in no real danger back in the cave.
“The great blunderin’ rascals break up the nets, me boyo! But this here one’s just a wee baby. I’ve seen `em as long as thirty or more feet yet. Some say they can grow to fifty feet o’ blisterin’ nuisance. Ruinin’ our nets. Better to be rid of them, so as a man can earn a decent wage, wouldn’t you be saying?”
I shake my head. “No! No, I would not be saying,” I respond, feeling self-consciously rude, but persist, “In fact, I think you should be leaving all the fish in the sea where they belong. We don’t have to eat them! This shark, and others like him, didn’t deserve to die!”
“Blessed Saints! You’ll be persuading us all with your fancy ideas next, boyo! How old are you anyrood? Fifteen? Sixteen?”
I draw myself up to my full height, fix my eyes on the fisherman, and say, testily, “Next year, I shall be in my thirteenth year.”
“Gracious now! Let’s see, why, yer clever kid; that makes you only eleven! Well, me cocky young pup, you’ll be better to wait until you’re a man before you go insulting people’s livelihoods with your ill founded ideas, ye hear? At least then ye’ll be old enough for a man to be knockin’ some sense into yer!”
Well, here I am, a man now, and the killing of sharks still doesn’t make sense to me. That Great Baskin shark, Cetorhinus maximus, is still out there somewhere, still helpless, indeed!