[Two] nights in Bangkok- Day One

Apologies for the heinously cliche blog title but I love me a good piece of politcially allegorical musical theatre and I love me a bit of Bangkok too.

But I think, only a bit.

I spent my first 2 days in the original Sin City of Thailand and it was everything I was expecting and more- overwhelming, busy, chaotic and delicious.

I knew I wanted to make the most out of my time in BKK but not be so wrecked by the time I arrived in CM for my volunteer experience so I definitely scheduled in both exciting activities and active relaxtion time.

Let’s begin!

I arrived at 8:30 on Sunday morning- not the best time to get to a new city, I’ll be honest. It’s tempting to let jet lag and the weariness of travel overwhelm you and just nap and so, knowing this, I chose (to the utter disbelief of everyone I met) to go on a cycle tour of the city in the afternoon followed by a food tour by tuk tuk which finished up around 11:30. Perfect!

And it was. I was picked up by a driver (a perk of my Stray Arrival Pack), got to my lovely hotel, the Dewan, in good time- mesmerised by the changing vistas outside the airconditioned comfort of the car as we sped along the highway and bustled through the traffic which is synonymous with many cities but especially Bangkok.

I checked in super easily, immediately found myself a coconut to sip on (unfortunately, it wasn’t very good- but fortunately, the only bad one I’ve had!) and wandered through a VERY quiet Khao San road area to the Stray Shop. It was dead- everyone was sleeping off big Saturday nights and the vibe was decidedly one of hazey regrets. I didn’t mind KS area, but to be honest, next time I’m in BKK I’d rather stay somewhere a bit less tourist focused, the bars and nightclub scene is just not really my jam and I found the constant presence of pasta, pizza and burgers intrusive. There were little street food vendors around but their prices were significantly higher than many of the places I’ve been since.

That said- the Dewan was awesome and I’d stay there again in a heart beat.

After popping into the Stray Shop to confirm all the details of my tours on Monday, I walked to the pier and caught the tourist boat down the river to where my bike tour was starting. It was so lovely and the cool breeze was stunning in  the heat. I was hoping to just catch the local boat but I wasn’t sure what boat was what and in my worry that I wouldn’t make in time for the tour, I caved. The tourist boat was probably much more expensive but ultimately? It’s hardly an issue. It was still only just over $1. It was a beautiful way of getting around the city and I would highly recommend the river over the road.

Once I located Co van Kessel bike tours, (right next to a Coffee Club- dubbed as being home of Australia’s favourite brunch… um, sure CC.) I grabbed lunch from a local hole in the wall and then, it was time for the tour! We had a few Dutchies (the man who originally started this now Thai run company was Dutch), a few Brits, a couple of Australians and a lady from the Philippines. I was the only one wearing a helmet so Mother, you should be proud I didn’t bow to peer pressure etc. The bikes were great quality and very comfortable.

The tour was so interesting! We rode through the back streets of China Town, around some very extravagant houses and past some places where it was clear the people were only just scraping by. We rode, precariously, through tiny alleys and even through busy market places. I will admit, I felt a bit intrusive at times and did wonder how good this voyuerism was for the community, but they didn’t really pay attention to this bevy of white folk trundling past on our cycles. We also boarded a shuttle ferry and went to the quieter side of the city and visited a temple which was just beautiful. I’m constantly struck by the respect and devotion that the Thai’s have toward their faith and while I’m glad that, as a Christian, I’m not bound to any physical expressions of my faith, but rather spiritual ones, it certainly causes me to pause and think if I’m really giving my faith the respect God’s glorious grace deserves.

We also visited the flower market- absolutely one of my favourite places in BKK. Filled with spices, tea, flowers and fruit, this place is a feast for the senses and the intricacies of the flower designs blow me and my fat fingers away. I almost bought my weights worth of spices and teas but showed a modicum of self control knowing I’m not allowed to bring anything into the country- least of all, tea (though that rule is probably more heavily monitored by my father than customs).

We finished up the tour, along with some fruit and random Thai snacks, at about 4:30, giving me time to walk to the meeting point for my next tour- the street food extravaganza!

This was run by Bangkok Food Tours and was faultless. We hopped into the waiting tuk tuks and were ferried around all night until we were full to bursting. We sampled some traditional Northern food (tom yum, duck larb, sticky rice, grilled tilapia, cucumber salad), had a version of pad see ew which you could get with either a runny egg or cooked, omeletteish egg. I got the runny egg and it was delicious. Because the egg was cracked in with the food, hot from the wok, it cooked slowly and became the most delicious sauce. We also had mango sticky rice, a few little desserts, longan, and pad thai from the most famous pad thai in BKK. It’s featured in a bunch of TV shows, the Guardian rated it as the best “fast food” in the world in 2014 and it is consistently busy. I had the modern version (which is the one I’d seen on Luke Nguyen’s show) and while it was delicious and looked amazing, it was a little sweet. I preferred my friend’s traditional version which was less attractive but less sweet. I’m yet to try any other Pad Thai over here though so it remains to be seen if it is the best.

We finished the night atop a rooftop bar overlooking the river where I had a mocktail and enjoyed the rain and the city lights. We were then each dropped around the city to our various hotels, concluding the night in comfort and style.

I slowly climbed the stairs to my room and collapsed into bed… looking forward to my floating market tour and massage which I had in store for tomorrow….

Though not before brushing my teeth with local water…a decision that thankfully, didn’t hamper too much of my much needed sleep.

Day Two, coming soon.

Amy xx

South East Amy So Far…

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It’s been 5 days that I’ve been in this country and it already feels like I belong here. Yes, I can’t read any signs and I definitely miss the grid system of Lovely Melbourne and I can’t speak the language and I’ve probably been over charged and I’ve probably unwittingly offended people but this place is just beyond what I thought it would be. The spirit of the people is as intense as the damp heat and the sense of possibility is as sweet as the fruit I’ve been eating off street stalls. I know it will be a challenge at times (I’ve just realised my wifi in my apartment only allows one device to be connected at a time which is fine, I just have to get used to it) but it’s hard to get used to for someone who’s used to being connected to everything, all of the time. Other challenges I forsee:

  • Cycling on these roads.

When I went on my cycling tour of Bangkok (post to come) I was struck by how quiet the back streets were… but how narrow and scary they also were. Chiang Mai- as far as I can see doesn’t have the latter issue. The back streets seem nice and wide and easy to get around, but the main streets are just as busy and mildly terrifying, I’m not going to lie. Although, I have mastered (that term has never been used more loosely) merging across a 3 lane road to turn right or do a u-turn. People are actually super tolerant of cyclists so I think I’ll end up ok… it’ll just take some getting used to, I suppose! I’ll come back fearless!

 

  • Managing my thermostat.

I don’t like sleeping with the air conditioner on. At all. But, if I leave my doors open, the carnival/night market across the road is really loud AND I’m paranoid about insects coming in. Not because I’m scared of insects… I’m just scared of the blood borne diseases they carry.

So, I tend to turn the aircon on, wake up freezing, turn it off, wake up boiling, turn it on… and it continues ad nauseum.

 

  • Cold showers.

My ex-personal trainer will be thrilled to know that I’ll be adopting his fat burning recommendation of cold showers while I’m in CM as it seems my shower has two settings- cold and slightly less cold. Which, to be honest, I don’t mind. It’s actually really refreshing and I don’t really want a hot shower at this point in time. But… it’s still a shock to the system, no matter how hot and sweaty you are post in-room workout.

 

  • Making decisions.

For anyone who has ever dined with me, you know decisions are hardly my strong point. It is why I love chef’s menus which don’t give you any choice, combination plates which let you try a little of everything and fro yo bars which let you put as many flavours and toppings into your cup as your heart so desires. It’s why I love HIIT hybrid workouts so I can practice my lifting while also getting my cardio in. It’s why I’m a “plan in advance” person so I can know precisely what I’m going to do and when I’m going to do it. This is a bit harder when I purposely did not plan much for this portion of my trip… which means I need to decide what I’m going to do each day. This has been interesting thus far but I’ve sort of settled into a routine-

 

  • Wake up around 6:30
  • Do an in room HIIT workout- either self run or using Fitness Blender
  • Have breakfast (this either involves having some fruit and yoghurt [I found a tiny little fresh yoghurt place that sells tubs of homemade, pro biotic, natural yoghurt w. NO SUGAR! Win!], and vegemite on these cracker things I found which are sort of like saladas OR strolling down to the wet market and getting a traditional Thai breakfast of egg, rice and some sort of stirfried dish.) and do my quiet time.
  • Linger over the beautiful Nancy Chandler map of Chiang Mai and decide what incredible thing I’m going to do this morning.
  • Ride bike/walk in general direction of that thing hoping for the best.
  • Find thing (it’s closed)
  • Ride/walk around aimlessly, taking note of cool looking places to visit. Meander like the locals
  • Head to TFH by 10am if I’m not teaching that night…
  • And to be honest, I’m not sure what I do there. Today is my first day so it’s still v early stages- I’m basically learning where things go.
  • Have a delicious lunch. I’m going to work my way through their menu, it all looks so divine.
  • Back to work…
  • Ride home around 5- if I’m not teaching that night…
  • Chill for a bit while I decide what to do that night… I’m not really a massive party animal so I need to be sure that I get my sleep. I also don’t want to spend loads on red trucks and tuk tuks, so I want to be able to walk/ride to most places myself… but I’m still not very confident on the roads. So… we shall see. I would like to go to documentary screening tonight about the Burmese Civil War which is still affecting many of our students, but I think I’ll take a red truck there as I’m not 100% confident in riding to the location… or rather, riding back in the dark. Most nights I’m envisaging heading over to the night market or one of the many vendors/restaurants in the area, grabbing some food and enjoying it while people watching or reading my book.
  • Have an earlyish night and fight with the air conditioning as to ensure a good nights sleep, ready for another day tomorrow.

 

The freedom is divine and actually really challenging for me, so it’s been a good learning experience ALREADY, and it’s only week 1! I think it’ll get easier, or just be different, when there’s another volunteer who I might be able to do things with. Someone is starting tomorrow (Friday!)

 

  • Coming home.
    It’s already dawning on me how quickly this year will go and all the things I’ll miss when I’m at home, or even while I’m travelling. I don’t want to dwell on this though as I know this year will be life changing and life at home will be so rewarding when I return and all the more richer for this experience.

 

  • Visas….
    Still scared. Don’t want to think about the border runs I need to do.

I’m certain this list will grow and expand but at the moment, this is it. Which is pretty good, so far I think!

I’ve been so struck while I’ve been here how blessed I am to be able to do what I’m doing. I’ve always known that I’m privileged to do what I’m doing but I really think this trip is such a gift and I thank God every day that I’m able to explore my world so freely, so safely and hopefully, have an impact while I’m doing it.

Thanks for following along and supporting me in your prayers and thoughts. I’ll post more about what I did in BKK soon!

Sawadee Ka!

The Gap Between My Legs is Closing – A Poem.

the Gap between my legs is closing

                                                                      and with it- the gap between my eyes and my size. I know-

most-

…some

of the time

that I Look:

                STRONG

                HEALTHY

                WELL

                HAPPY

I Am:

                STRONG

                HEALTHY

                WELL

                HAPPY

 

but

sometimes

my eyes still glaze and the haze of “flashback fog” takes me back to no rack-
ed plates on barbells
and jutting collar-
ed shirts that don’t swell
and space between thighs
and try as I might

the head doesn’t always win over the ghosts of ill fitting sizes of obsession

 

BUT

it’s worth it when it does because my cheeks are flush
and my hair is –annoying!— but lush
and I can sit without pain and I can
lift without shame
and I can run without needing to
and I can rest without feeling…                                                                                                                                                                                                                               too
lazy.

And I can take my own advice
to “look after yourself”
instead of shelving it on the “not for me” shelf”

… most… some… Sundays.

And I move ‘cause it feels good
and I eat not just because I should
and I eat well not just because I said I would
I want to, I want to, I want to and it’s just
the best.
And I don’t fear anything…

most… some… meal times.

                                                                                       and the gap between my legs is closing
and with it, the gap between what I say and what I write and what I think when I look in the mirror

is,

slowly, most times, sometimes…

closing too.

//

This is a hard one to press publish on. For all sorts of reasons. It speaks of my no.1 biggest sin- my need to control my life instead of giving everything over to God. It speaks of my no.2 biggest sin- finding my identity in things other. But it also speaks of a struggle for so many women and girls and boys and men. It speaks of this need to be thinner or leaner or whatever and that anything that gets you there is worth it and that lean = the best when actually, lean doesn’t necessarily equal healthy or even that fit. It also speaks a little to comparison and the way we distort ourselves when we look through a warped mirror like that of social media, or even the people around us. This isn’t an issue for everyone but I know that I can very easily fall into the comparison trap and it plays into my natural competitiveness. But I need to reject that and focus on what’s important in my life:

My God
My health
My purpose

And all of these things point to the same ultimate conclusion: stop looking at yourself. I was going to say “stop looking at yourself through a distorted lens” but I think it’s more poignant (for me) to simply stop being so concerned with the perception of ME and instead be focusing on what God’s doing through me, what I’m doing to help others, what my gifts and talents are and instead of focusing on something so fleeting as my physical appearance, instead be focusing on things of a more lasting and even eternal nature. I am still always going to care about my health and my fitness which will be reflected in my body, but it shouldn’t be my number one priority. My priorities should be my relationship with God, my relationship with others and my relationship with the world around me. And in each of these priorities my love of fitness and love of healthy food plays a part.

Let me explain, if I truly value my relationship with God, I truly value every gift he has given me- including my body- and I believe He wants me to be physically fit and strong to do what he has designed me to do. I know I couldn’t have lost the weight I did, the way I did, with the ease I did, without Him. I not only lost weight but other things in my life which had a hold on me were shed too. I also think He took me down in order to demonstrate the hold control had over my life, even when I didn’t realise it. He continues to work on me in this area and I know fitness is somewhere in this plan. 

Secondly, my relationships with others have developed and grown and my fitness has played a part in that. I’ve been told countless times that I inspire people and that I spur people on. I like to think I’m encouraging and a good friend. I hope I am and that my love of fitness can help others come to a similar place. I also think my “journey” has enabled me to better understand people who are coming from a similar place at both ends of the scale. While I was never a full blown victim of an ED, my thinking around food, exercise and my body was not healthy and I think I can relate to people better for it.

Thirdly, my relationship with the world around me. There is so much to be done. So much to get passionate about and to change. Today is National Sorry Day. We continue to reject refugees and asylum seekers. Racism and sexism is rife. People live in fear. I want to be a part of this change and community engagement is part of that. Food is part of that. Fitness can be a part of that. I believe my purpose is to use my passions- writing, food, fitness, education, social justice, faith… to affect some of this social change- even if on a small scale. I want to make my students think about their words. I want them to think about their vote. I want them to think about their voice. I want my students to make ethical choices. I don’t want them to buy into the economy of fear. I don’t want my students to hate themselves. I don’t want them to make others hate themselves. I don’t want my students to compare themselves to others. I don’t want my students to live unhealthy lives. If I can be a role model- I can change lives… I hope. 

So… even though posting this was scary, I hope it did something for someone. 

If I were you… tackling the social, historical and cultural context. [VCE English]

Ah, the old “understanding of the social, historical and cultural context” criterion. Everyone’s favourite. I think I’ve received more questions about this point and how to include it in essays than questions about anything else in my teaching career.

And that’s because it is tricky. It’s a fine line to walk between showing you know the social, historical and cultural context of a text and accidentally changing your wonderful English essay into a historical or sociological exposition. Despite being a history teacher, I also never really enjoyed teaching this bit because I often found that I wasn’t able to go into enough depth and students would rarely do their own extra research to come to a thorough understanding of the time of place that the text was both set and produced in.

Thankfully, VCAA seems to agree and have since REMOVED this pesky requirement from the VCE English and EAL curriculum.

*cue celebration*

HOWEVER…!

Even though it’s no longer explicit part of the criteria it’s still 100% necessary to think about the time and place the text is set and produced in because of a new part of the KEY KNOWLEDGE and SKILLS for the Reading and Creating AOS and the Reading and Comparing AOS.

In these two AOS’s you are required to show an understanding of the audience, purpose and context of different texts and how these three things influence an author.

To address these aspects of the criteria and show an understanding of how they are affected by each other, and how they affect other components of the text, you still need to know those historical, social and cultural components of the text itself and when it was released.

Why?

For the following reasons:

  • To address how the audience comprehends and understands the purpose of a text, you must first know the context of that audience.
  • If a film was written/released during the Cold War, it will have very different influences to a remake of the same film filmed today. This results in different themes coming through to the audience and also, the different author/director will have a different purpose, in part, because their audience is different.

It may have similar ideas or themes, it may have similar character, quotes, shots etc but it WILL be responding to a different audience and have a different purpose. Consider the horrific remake Guess Who with Ashton Kutcher in comparison with the original Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Same basic story, vastly different purposes, vastly different audiences, vastly different worlds.

BUT, the fact remains that you need to know how to include this stuff in your essays and the KEY word in this whole messy equation is

PURPOSE.

As I’ve said many times before, you need to be aware of the authorial intent and this needs to shape your piece of work. Authorial intent should be an element of your contention and THIS is where your understanding of the audience, purpose and context can come into play.

So, if we’re wanting to be able to develop contentions with true authorial intent in mind, we need to know the context they’re writing in and for and why they’ve chosen the context they’ve set their work in to achieve their purpose.

It’s also important to know this so we can develop alternate perspectives. To a 1950s housewife, All About Eve is probably extremely feminist and counter cultural. To our eyes now, while it has feminist points and some extremely strong female leads, the final outcome for Margo suggests that the intent of Mankiewicz is not as “girl power” as we may originally think.

BUT AMY, HOW DO I ACTUALLY INCLUDE THIS STUFF IN MY ESSAYS?

Well, lovely student, you will pleased to know that if you go with the idea of the context informing the authorial intent which you are already including in your content, you’re already doing it.

Every time you infer that Perkins is presenting Mabo as a flawed by powerful leader who needs the support of those around him, in order not to glorify the man but instead, the movement you are acknowledging that in her context of 2012, Rachel Perkins is encouraging her audience to step up and be a part of said movement. You’re recognising that this film could be as much about her own father as it is about Eddie Mabo. You’re acknowledging that while Mabo is an Indigenous hero, this film is for a mainly white, middle class, reasonably well educated audience who has the power to change.

And you could include this contextual information explicitly in your introduction as the starting point (instead of starting with something that makes me want to die like “In Rachel Perkins’ 2012 biopic Mabo…”) or as a way to enter into that deeper interpretation. You should also be able to incorporate into your conclusion as you finalise your answer and broaden it out to wider significance.

Throughout your body paragraphs consider using language which leads to contextual inclusion. “Despite audience expectations of women…” “Although the film is set in the 18th century, the authorial context of Cold War paranoia…” “The original audience of the film…” “The contrast between the ancient setting and the modern audience…” “The text, while unfamiliar to a modern audience, explores universal themes- a fact made more obvious through the directors use of modern music and shooting techniques.” This technique will also help you tick the metalanguage box. Two in one! Yessss.

Remember that your essay is ultimately an answer to a question and to truly answer that question, you need to know what has shaped your evidence and answer. If you don’t, it would be like using a scientific study to prove your point about hair removal creams being ineffective without knowing that this scientific study was performed using gorillas as test subjects.

Remember, those who forget their history are doomed to repeat VCE!

Or something like that.

Happy writing!

Amy xx

Lessons from Mum- a poem

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Hold my hand when crossing the road

Hold on to the swing

Hold the door open for everyone.

Unless they’re too far away— it gets awkward

Don’t spend longer than 10 minutes on hold

Don’t hold onto your pee too long. It’s bad for you

Maximum hold hairspray is only for special occasions

Hold your breath when using maximum hold hairspray

Hold on, I’m a coming

Hold your head up high

Don’t hold onto people who aren’t trying to hold onto you

Hold faith

Hold yourself in high regard

Hold the people in your life to high standards

Hold yourself to higher ones

Hold your bag across your body

Hold the line

Hold dinner parties

Hold up those who can’t hold up themselves

But make sure someone is holding you*

*I will always be holding you

Hold on tight

Especially when you think you can’t hold on anymore

Hold fast

Hold out for the right man

Don’t hold back

If someone promises you something, hold them to it

Don’t hold back your tears, emotions or thoughts. They all have value.

Hold that plank a little longer

Hold everything in perspective

Hold my hand when crossing the road… and the path… and the raging river and the slow stream and when you’ve gone ahead across the ocean and when we’re only a metre apart and when you don’t want to and when you don’t need to and when you do and when you try and when you’re not sure and especially when you just don’t know.

Hold my hand and don’t ever let go.

~

Thank you for holding me in your womb, your arms, your respect, your esteem and in high regard. I hold you dearer than you will ever know.

Love, Amy

If I were you… What to do when watching or reading a text for the first time.

 

So, we come into a new term and with that, a new area of study. This one should be relatively familiar to everyone as it is the essay which has been retained from the old study design. It is the one which you’ve been preparing for throughout your education. It is what was once known as Text Response and is now a part of Reading and Creating.

The task is relatively simple:

“Students prepare sustained analytical interpretations of selected texts, discussing how features of the texts create meaning and using textual evidence to support their responses. They use planning and drafting to test and clarify their ideas, and editing to produce clear and coherent expression. They craft their writing for convincing and effective presentation.”

It’s about careful and considered interpretation, clear analysis and insightful comments on a piece of literature or film which has been specifically crafted to affect its audience in various ways. Your interpretation needs to be based around the authorial intent regarding the themes and ideas the author deals with in the text. It must be confident. It must be supported by textual evidence (quotes, structural features, film/poetic/language techniques etc). It DOES NOT have to be the same conclusion that your teacher comes to but it has to be VALID- and you should be aware that other interpretations exist and are as equally valid as yours. Showing this depth of thought in your essay is a great way to enhance your writing and therefore, your score.

Now, I said it’s relatively simple, I know… and then I laid down a whole lot of components and thinking and writing and pretty complex levels of thought. Sorry. Let’s start at the very beginning. (Which if I’m being honest, you should have done over your summer holidays- now, it’s almost too late. But hey, do it anyway.)

To do everything I mentioned above, you need to know the text like the back of your hand. You know how you know everything about your favourite book, movie, series, reality tv star, k-drama… whatever, well- double that level of intensity. You need to be so on top of this text that NO question could stump you.

My best friend has a copy of Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit which has the most obscure questions about the 3rd Best Boy and how he broke his toe on WHAT day precisely of filming The Two Towers.

She knows the answer.

Image result for lord of the rings nerd

She knew this too. As anyone SHOULD.

THAT is the level of knowledge you should have.

Because VCE is a competition and there will be someone else who does. Why not be that guy?

So. How do we get there?

Step One

  • Read/watch the text.
  • Repeat

Ok, it’s not that simple, but this step (including the repetition) is the MOST IMPORTANT THING you can do to gain a thorough knowledge of the text. And I’m not talking about skim reading or skim watching, though these have their place later on in the process, I’m talking about the sort of watching and reading you do where you are 100% dedicated to the plot and everything which propels it. The sort of watching where you will pause it if your family are talking too loudly. The sort of reading where people need to call your name twice before you respond. You need to invest in the text— even and ESPECIALLY if you don’t like it.

For your first viewing/reading, I would recommend just reading. Don’t take notes or highlight, just absorb it. That said, if you notice a trend or something which you think “I see what he/she’s doing there” then OF COURSE, write it down. But generally, speaking, just enjoy the read, get to know the characters, keep tabs on the plot, be impacted by the power of language, images, sound, music, ART… etc.

After you’ve read it, jot down a list of themes/ideas the text covered. DON’T READ A TEXT GUIDE yet- just use your BRAIN. What stood out to you as being a main focus of the author? Don’t try and get fancy either- the biggest inhibitor to success, in my opinion, is having the expectation that your first go will be perfect. It doesn’t need to be DEEP (at this stage), it doesn’t have to be specific (at this stage), it can be obvious (at this stage). In All About Eve– SURPRISE, one of the themes is WOMEN. Clearly, this shouldn’t be your end point by any stretch of the imagination but it can be the starting point. Aim for a list of approx. 10 themes which you think the text covers. After you’ve created this list, I recommend developing an interpretation about each of these broad themes. Ask yourself, “What is Mankiewicz saying about WOMEN in his film?” This is likely to help you narrow your theme to the ideas and insights contained within the text. If you are able, refine your list by adding these sub themes and broad interpretative statements to it. Remember, these are based on first impressions so they’re likely to be relatively basic- but also based on gut reaction which is not a bad thing. Just don’t stop there.

Image result for all about eve women

Another thing you can do after your initial read through is start building a character bank. List all the characters you can remember which had some influence on the plot, major or minor. Next to each, write their key characteristics, what their role in the text is, their relationships, their motivations- as much as you can glean from your first read/watch. These first impressions are important because authors know that most of their audience aren’t going to be studying their text intently. They want their message to get out to Average Reader- so as long as you’re at least vaguely switched on, you should pick up their message.

After each read, discussion, class you should be able to add to this. Start including what themes they are used to explore. Start developing interpretations about their purpose in the text. Start listing quotes which embody them or which explain and deepen their character.

This theme list and character list will help you gather your thoughts and ideas as you finish your initial reading of the text, but like I said, it should in no way be where you end your study. As you read and repeat and learn and discuss and debate and repeat, you will add to this initial information and refine it, eventually developing that insightful analytical writing you need to produce in your SAC and exam.

Hope this is helpful!

Happy reading!

Amy xx

If I were you… | Where to begin?

Looking back at both my years of teaching and my years as a student, the question I either got asked the most, asked the most myself or heard the most from my peers was the question of “how do you start?”.

It’s tricky, because everyone writes in a different style, everyone has a different approach and what works brilliantly for one person could be a dismal failure for another.

That said, there are some tips which should help everyone as they come to start any essay, oral, reflective piece, short story… whatever it is that you’re writing.

The first tip is the one most people ignore and the one which makes the biggest difference between the people who do ignore it and those who don’t. You all know what it is:

PLANNING

When you go on a holiday, you don’t just jump in your car and drive aimlessly until you run out of petrol- and if you do, you’re an idiot and will one day wind up on Highway Patrol or worse still, the news when some John Jarrett lookalike finds and kills your dehydrated, petrol-less, plan-less self.

Even the most relaxed/disorganised travellers know their destination- even if it’s vague. They may not know exactly where they will sleep but they know that they want to end up in Byron Bay by the end of the week. And so, they know what roads they’ll travel down, they know what exits they will take, they know how far they should travel in day. They know they’ll get there and they know how they’ll get there. And so they will- because they have a plan.

Just like Mr Relaxed, you also need to have a plan. It doesn’t have to be immensely detailed (although this may be helpful the first few times you do it and is especially useful and I would argue essential for any creative piece) but it should include the following:

  • Starting point
  • Destination
  • Pathways
    • Important landmarks

Let’s unpack this extended metaphor, shall we?

Starting Point

Your starting point is the task at hand- the question which you’re answering or the idea you’re addressing. It might be the essay question or it might be the stimulus for the story you’re writing. If the starting point is not clear in your mind then you can’t be sure you’re actually addressing and developing it as you go about getting to your destination.

I would recommend deconstructing your starting point before doing anything else. Read the question through at least 3 times, taking note of the

  • instructive words (analyse, discuss, compare, outline, create, etc)
  • key terms (words which will form the basis of your response. Contentious descriptors which could be up for debate or discussion. Words which suggest the author’s intent about plot, character, theme, etc)
  • Characters, titles, quotes, key themes (if you don’t discuss these textual aspects in your response, you’re likely to be missing the fundamental point of the question)

and annotating said components, what they mean and what they mean for your upcoming writing.

Destination

Your destination will differ according to your form. If you’re writing a creative piece, it should be your ending and how you want your audience to feel by then. If you’re writing a persuasive piece, it should be what response you want your audience to have when they’ve finished reading your piece and what you want to persuade them of.

If it’s an analytical piece (which is the focus of this post), your destination should be your answer to the question (with a potential “and why?” added onto it)- that is, your contention.

It’s especially important that you know your contention before you start planning your points because if you don’t know your contention- your overall argument, your ultimate interpretation of the author’s purpose in writing this piece- then it may happen that your just write a list of relevant but unrelated topic sentences which all answer the question in slightly different ways- which makes your conclusion a massive pain to write.

The fact that you know your contention will mean that you will be able to ensure that each of your points will point to said contention, which will then be well backed up by evidence and explanation and will mean that everything you write will be relevant to the question at hand, not just retelling the story, and not completely off track.

Pathways and Landmarks

When you know where you’re headed, you can decide how you’re going to get there- that is, how to prove that your contention is correct. This is where you consider your points.

After you have decided upon your contention, consider all the different ways your chosen text can support that contention- how did you come to it? After all, if you think it’s correct, then you think that for a reason- what influenced that reason?

These are your pathways. For each point you come up with, write a topic sentence which links that point to your contention- how does this point demonstrate that you are correct?

Next, comes your landmarks- these are the things on your journey that prove you’re on the right track. It’s like when you think you’ve missed your turn and are totally lost but then you see the Giant Watermelon that Mick-at-the-pub said you should go right at and suddenly all is well. Your landmarks are your pieces of evidence. Quotes, film techniques, language and structural techniques; all of these things can be a landmark to demonstrate that you know where you’re headed and your backed up by good quality textual proof- you’re not just making stuff up.

This is the same for persuasive pieces- consider your contention and how you want your audience to respond- both emotionally and actively- and then consider the points which made you come to that same response. You will need to think beyond yourself, however- think about who your audience is and what needs you must therefore cater to so that they reach the same point you do. Your landmarks- proof- are even more important here, so be very aware of how you use them and where this proof is coming from.

For creative pieces, it’s a little different, but you still need to develop pathways which lead to your final destination, considering the aspects you include which will elicit the desired response from your audience while also ensuring you’re ticking all the boxes you identified in the “Starting Point” section.

~

If you create a plan, you know where it is that your heading. It may seem time consuming and annoying to do but if you don’t plan then it may be that you end up just rambling on about irrelevant and secondary information without linking it back to any overarching point. Then when you read it back, you realise you’ve totally missed the point of the task and have gone on a random tangent. You cross it all out and start over… again, without a destination in sight.

Now, that’s a waste of time.

Basically, what I’m saying is:

PLAN.

Use the roadmaps method if you want to. I find it helpful because I would NEVER go on a trip without planning and so the metaphor works for me.

Even if you don’t use it though, planning is super helpful because it forces you to consider your ideas and flesh them out prior to writing and the more practice you get planning the quicker and easier it will come to you. Likewise, the quicker and easier the ideas and contentions will come to you, because you’ve already used similar ones in other plans.

If you’re in year 12, I would aim to plan out at least one essay a week through the year- whatever type you’re focusing on in class, unless it’s the creative SAC- just use the text your focusing on and write analytically. Every two-three weeks, write an essay based on one of these plans.

When it comes to SAC time, try doing a plan a night, minimising the amount of time spent on the plan each night.

Exam season (as soon as coursework is complete): A plan a night, 3 essays a week (one of each type). Try doing one timed, two untimed/two timed, one untimed/all timed. Try doing a full practice exam at least twice before your exam, in addition to whatever school provides for you.

I hope this was helpful!!

Happy planning!

Amy xx