By Jennifer Miles Davis
Last month I promised a review of the Ruby Wax books on the brain and mindfulness, but I haven’t had time to read them. I have GCSEs, you see. I’m doing art coursework and making revision plans and TRYING NOT TO BE STRESSED! Okay, so it’s not my revision, and they’re not my exams, but I am a little on edge, while my firstborn sways from doing genuine hard work to procrastinating, and from being a little too chilled to being ridiculously overwhelmed.
The trouble is, I flunked them the first time around, thirty-three years ago, when they were still called O-levels. Because no matter how much you try to make up for it later – which I did with all sorts of random qualifications – it sort of haunts you. You can have a double PhD in astrophysics (I don’t, in case you were wondering), but you can’t help thinking you’re a bit of a fraud because you only got one O-level. So, NO PRESSURE BUT IF YOU FAIL IT WILL RUIN YOUR LIFE!
Fellow parents of teenagers, for goodness sake don’t look to this column for advice. It all seems a bit arbitrary – a delicate balance of encouragement without nagging, supporting without overbearing, letting them take responsibility without letting them screw it up. They will come to you for help and then hate you for helping. They will tell you to leave them alone when they crave support. They will have it all under control until around 10pm on a Sunday evening when suddenly there is a meltdown and all is lost and they may as well abandon all career aspirations because it is all going horribly wrong.
I am trying to keep things on track while allowing said teen enough thinking/downtime and trying not to say WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!?! in a sharpish voice when she plays the piano (so now she has time for piano practise!) or Minecraft with her brothers between revision sessions (if only there were a GCSE in building Minecraft worlds …). Because according to Andreas von der Heydt (no idea who he is – I found it on LinkedIn), you have to schedule a ‘thinking hour’ into your day. This doesn’t have to be sitting cross-legged looking up to the sky with your finger on your chin. It could be ‘hiking in the mountains or playing the piano’, he says. There aren’t a huge number of mountains around here, but you get the picture. Apparently, the likes of Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates apparently go off for ‘think weeks’, ‘which consist of walking, meditation, reading, and healthy eating’. Well, good for them, but some of us, OMG IS THAT THE DATE? We have exams to revise for.
We’re focusing on art this week because, well, it’s due in on Friday. I have found it, let’s say, ‘rather amusing’ trying to motivate a creative spirit who loathes art. Art GCSE is like any subject in that it is essentially about sticking to the curriculum and doing what the examiners deem acceptable – pretty much the polar opposite of actually being creative. Colouring, but within the lines. I think they should say, ok once a week for three years we’ll show you a cool technique, and for the rest of the time just go and create stuff. Paint using bananas. Sculpt with tippex bottles. Tattoo your Granny. Photograph a bunny inside a teapot. Whatever you fancy.
Over Easter, we had it in the bag. In a rare moment of inspiration, enthused by The Danish Girl, our creative genius did some research on the artist Gerda Wegener and some sketches emulating her long-limbed, art deco style. She incorporated the transgender element by painting her little brother as a girl, which was hilarious. She created a pretty decent portfolio of work. We did a high fives. Art project – check.
Not so, it seems. A few days later she was on the floor next to a muddle of art paraphernalia, head in hands. Feedback was that in order to achieve a good grade she has to come up with some more sketches and pretend she’d done those first but that she’d discarded them in favour of her chosen theme. No, it doesn’t really make sense to me, either. But OK, deep breath. We are playing by the rules, remember. I’ll make a cup of tea, I said. I think there’s some cake left. Let’s see if can’t come up with some uninspirational ideas.
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