Saturday, 16 July 2016

Day 5 - reflections

It is the last day of the summer writing institute.  We gradually fall in from 9.30 onwards for a 10.00 a.m. kick off.  We begin with daily log and then we journal.  Journaling always seems a little more reflective on the last day.  It is good to have the time to pause before we launch into what is ahead; we have two demos and author’s chair.  Author’s chair is a celebration of the writing we have been doing all week.  In a week of highs, author’s chair must be near ‘peak experience’ terrain.

Peter presents the first demo of the day.  He tells us it is about accounting. The group may be wondering how he’s going to pull this one off but any concerns we have are entirely misplaced.  From the beginning, we are reassured that his interests in terms of writing and supporting his students as writers echo the messages and methods we have been hearing all week.  We are laughing as he describes how in accountancy, you really can’t tell a book by its cover; his opening slide is one of jellybeans, colourful and tempting.  He declares his distain of images such as these which so frequently appear on accountancy textbooks.  One is beguiled by the attractiveness of the cover only to find, well, accountancy inside and no further attempts to enthral the reader; inside the covers the trivialities imagination are neglected for the purely functional.

Peter, however, talks to us of digital storytelling and the narrative that underpins economic transactions.  He recounts the history of accountancy, before it was even called that, and traces its evolution as business and industry became more involved and complicated.  We follow ‘Jenny’ as her business goes from a cottage industry to an early corporation.  In this manner, we learn about accountancy through stories; we are then encouraged to write our own accountancy narrative in response to the prompts that Peter gives us.

In our four groups we are each told what our business is and given one adjective to describe it.  I want to be in the café group who are running their business as a ‘hobby’ but I end up with fictional accountants who are setting up an uber cool new firm.  We are to record 20 transactions.  Despite my complete lack of corporate nous, I fall in with the discussion and we start to build the story around money in and money out: our first lodgement is of hundreds of thousands which we have procured from the sale of one of our parents’ art works; we recruit a receptionist on minimum wage; we employ a trendy design house for logo and website development; we lease a fleet of cool cars, including a Land Rover Defender.  I’m getting kind of taken with it now! 

After about ten or fifteen minutes each of our groups presents to the others.  We have all enjoying writing these stories which are engaging but revolve around considered financial transactions i.e. accounting.  Peter has done it – nice one!

There is coffee which is followed by the last demo of the week.  Pauline has been waiting it out and over coffee she produces a range of props which appeal to the senses.  She starts her demo by telling us about her background, how she has come to writing and teaching. It is an inspirational story and one which in many ways captures the transformative spirit of the week.  Access to education and our experiences in education shape our work as teachers and listening to Pauline prompts us all to think about our journey as educators. 

Pauline’s demo reminds us of ritual associated with writing, writing spaces and important statements/quotations about writing.  She encourages us to use our senses to write.  She shares several experiences and ideas around writing.  She admits that she was nervous about contextualising her work in the literature; the intimidation of theoretical frameworks is declared.  I apologize to her for causing unnecessary worry.

Pauline’s demo brings us to lunch. Today’s midday meal is a celebration of our work and our writing over the week.  It precedes author’s chair.  We sit and chat over food; there is a buzz of expectation around hearing some of our group sharing their writing with us.  I have brought a cap and red gown for those who choose to don robes to read.

There are four readers, Fiona, Mick, James and Pauline.  The way author’s chair works is that we only comment on that which we like about the work.  It is not a moment of critique; it isn’t even a time for questions about the text or wondering.  It is rather a chance for the writers to hear what we have enjoyed in piece, or what struck us a powerful or moving.  In author’s chair we continue the celebration of the group as writers.

I enjoy it so much and it is the most fitting way for us to finish our week.  I am struck by the generosity of the writers and the diversity of the pieces.  It is interesting to see how many of the pieces began on day one and have been fermenting over the week.  I absorb the words and share in the newfound or reignited confidence of the writers.  For some, this is a first public reading of personal writing; for others, a first dip into performance.  For all, there is a palpable sense of achievement; for the author’s chair writers the moment is profound and unforgettable.


I will need some time, and to go away, before I can reflect fully on what has happened over SWIFT 2016. Now, at the end of the week there is the practical closing – a quick evaluation which we will follow up later.  And the gradual leave taking. I am indulged in unnecessary thanks and acknowledge, I hope graciously, the pleasure and privilege it has been working with everyone all week.  There are hugs and promises of follow-ups which I am confident will come good.  As the room clears, I gather up the kit that we have been using over the week; I pack a box.  I will drop Jeni and Mari to the airport.  Deirdre will make the long drive back to Donegal. 

We all leave, satisfied for now and planning where to next …


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