The week that started 19th August

sheep sheltering in the shade of many hawthorn trees on a very sunny day

Here are some words about: Scientists. Learning. Writing. And some photos. Enjoy!

I’m on a writing residency and it’s time for sleep before another packed day.

Baa.

Meeting scientists & discovering my own love of science

Last week I randomly, and wonderfully, met a senior researcher at the Natural History Museum, who’s a marine biologist. This week I attended an excellent black history tour by her, saw behind the scenes of the museum and was introduced to the senior researcher responsible for CROCODILIANS (and other reptiles)!

And it’s all because I’m writing a novel about a black woman scientist who loves & studies reptiles that this happened.

And then I met a cell biologist and another marine biologist at my writing residency over the weekend too.

Recently, I realised many of my interests are within the field of science. Trees, wellbeing, mental health, web development, plant based nutrition, crocodilians… Mind blown.

Learning!

Did you know?

  • Experts practice for 70 hours for a 20 min TED talk?!
    I think I’ve not been practising enough…

Also, I learned a bunch of stuff about neuromodulators in Learning How to Learn, in the module on What motivates you?. Let’s see if I can remember it…

  • Acetylcholine deals with long-term memories, it affects the plasticity of the brain, which I interpret as it enables the brain to change in order to store long-term memories. I only got a surface level understanding though, so I’m going to check brainfacts.org for more info!
  • Dopamine deals with motivation and rewards. When you use the pomodoro technique, that 5 minute break is the reward that you’re anticipating, and dopamine is what helps you to do the things because of that anticipation. Once you build up a habit of rewarding yourself for doing things, it’ll be easier to do the things. Thanks dopamine, I’m working on welcoming you into my life more and more each day. 😄
  • Serotonin deals with social life. I didn’t get exactly what/where/how that comes in, except that giving/getting hugs will increase it, I guess? But, actually, I think I’m mixing it up with oxytocin… Low serotonin correlates with people taking more risks. The example they gave is that many/most/all (?) violent offenders have low serotonin. I’m interpreting this as more hugs = less violence. In terms of procrastination, I’m guessing that more serotonin means less risk taking and therefore more working at the right time and less leaving it all to the last minute?! I know Prozac increases serotonin levels, and that it’s prescribed for depression, so seems like there’s some motivation correlation there too?

Maybe you’ll see a bunch of corrections from me this time next week… 😅

My main takeaway is Barbara Oakley saying,

Lady luck favours those who try.

Reminding myself of this has been helping me to put time and energy into the process, so I’ve been making progress. Which is amazing because at the start of the week I was feeling like there’s no way I’ll meet all my deadlines this week.

The dangers of overlearning

Other things I learned from Barbara Oakley:

Overlearning leads to automaticity, which is helpful for sports, public speaking & things like that, but:

  • Can lead to illusions of competence (thinking you’ve mastered all the material, not jst the easy stuff). Instead, use deliberate practice – continued focus on elements you find more difficult – to gain real competence.
  • Einstellung = ingrained thinking, where what you’ve overlearned prevents you from seeing better solutions. Instead, unlearn old/previous ideas when you learn new things. And don’t *just* follow intuition.

Also…

  • Don’t start testing yourself before learning the material. Instead, use interleaving – jumping back & forwards between challenges that require different techniques or strategies. It’s hard and it helps you to learn more deeply. So, mix up your learning when you can.
  • Practice & repetition are important for remembering, interleaving is important for creativity and independent thought. And learning across fields leads to bringing ideas from one field to another.
  • There are trade offs between deep knowledge in one field (with entrenched thinking) and broader knowledge & creativity (less expertise in a subject / more shallow knowledge)

Anyway, I got all my assignments done before heading off to Flatford Mill for a writing resisdency.

My first writing residency (and some poems)

If you recognise this picture, you have a good idea of where I’ve been. (Just learned that the original is in the National Gallery, in London, so must check that out.)

Famous landscape painting of a hay cart by John Constable
The Hay Wain (1821) by John Constable

It’s been a pretty intense weekend, and I’m only 2.5 days into the 3.5 days. Won’t go into it, I’ll just say that it was A Great Decision, and I’m thoroughly glad I came here. Not just for my writing, but for my soul.

Here are the beginnings of some things I wrote:

I hear the memory of aspens from here

“We have always been here”, I hear,
As the wind rustles through leaves.
Bark scratches my skin,
But I embrace it.
Wet mud sucks at my shoes,
But I do not stick.
Roots trip me – traps lying in wait;
I stumble,
But I do not fall.

This place can draw you in,
But it protects me, shelters.
When it rains, the trees shield me
From the fat wet drops.
Only a few trickle through to
Slide icily inside my collar,
Against my hot skin.

As I walk, I call the names of each one.
Oak and hazel,
Ash and yew,
Birch, horse chestnut…

I will learn how to build you a home.

Weir

Geysers exist only in a few places on Earth.
And Flatford Mill is not one of them.
But this outflow is no less magical for that.

Churning gentle waters into fizzing froth,
Bottle green glass pours.
Now translucent, now opaque.
Head-y rush.
Evergreen turns to white.

Gravity folds the fabric,
So smooth, so crumpled.
Rustling down, down, down,
Racing, speeding, tumult.
Coursing along the same path, but never the same.
Knobbly, uneven, unique.

Leaping up,
Streaks of silver, like birch bark,
Flying, lifting, darting.
Dirt.
Damp.
Dark.

Obscured.

Scudding the surface.
Casting the waterbed into shadow.

And here,
Framed by steel,
Engulfed by flames of ivy,
Licking up the brickwork,
A verdant canopy.

I found my spot.

gorgeous, rich, countryside. a pond covered in green, and a white house int he background
I forgot to take a photo of what I was looking at…
So, instead, here’s the first photo I took when I arrived at Flatford Mill.

Obituary

Where I used to sit beneath your cool dappled shade,
Delighting in woodcraft, or
Snacking, with squirrels,
Sustained —
Now I get no peace from the sun’s rays, slicing the air,
Heating, not healing,
Neither can I find water to get some relief.

We can no more divine spirits, neither,
And magic seems to seep from the world day by day,
Draining away into the hot earth.

Where once you were prolific, prodigious,
Your distinctive branches renowned for resilience,
Coppiced with regularity,

Now, evil spirits abound
In the absence of hazel.

beautiful book called the lost words, by robert macfarlane and jackie morris. birds in flights and a dandelion seed head on the cover.

By the river

A stringy mass of green,
Leaves stretched out seductively,
Calling me on, drawing me in.

But you’re not after me,
You’re after the water

You emerge from the ground
Tall and proud, pulling away from the earth,
Then giving in to gravity,
As you stretch towards the water
Reaching for it too with thirsty roots curling far beneath me

Just a little further and you could almost taste it.
You long to slake your thirst –
As do I.

A nice long drink of cool water.
Desperate for a drop in this parching heat.

You stare enviously at a carpet of green,
Solidly drinking its fill, direct, and yet still protected from hungry ducks

‘You’ve got yourself a nice bit of shade there’
Someone chuckles,
Walking past us.

I sense something otherworldly in the long fingertips of your limbs,
And then I see your cosy hideaway,
Not far from your long-limbed trunk.

It is cool in the tangle beneath your many branches,
And I long to slip into the shelter.
Hidden and disguised from passers-by.
Undisturbed and quiet.
Chatter fading to a whisper,
Closer to cows than to people.
Calmness floods me.

When there’s nothing but a flutter in your leaves,
I know it is sweltering out there.
Because at the slightest breath of wind,
You gracefully and gleefully fling your arms about.
Moving gently now, tapping to the beat of the breeze,
You go wild when the wind picks up.

I hear birds in your branches,
Heavy flapperings, and then
The persistent coo of a pigeon

Your ovate leaves silhouette across the sky,
Leaning down, as you yearn for the river.

Fine amber dusting coats the undersides of your leaves,
Tiny colonies of lichen on every single one.

You long for the shelter that you give to others.

I remember in my school grounds, with your cousin,
The feeling of tucking myself away from scrutiny.
Protected as she wept.

Beech

Moth bitten, but still maturing.
Growing into myself
To spread across the fields and woods,
Who knows where I’ll go.

The crinkle and crunch of my spring casing rustles –
Harbinger of autumn –
Containing multitudes.
Seed of future generations.
Bud of next year’s canopy.
Leaves for the present.

Musings about writing & post-sabbatical life

I’m excited about starting my new role in September and I’m wondering how I’ll continue with my writing in a way that’s more significant than pre-sabbatical, and yet also not demanding too much from me.

I’m wondering what life would even look like with writing, workshopping and agile all key players in my life, each receiving a balanced distribution of time, attention and energy from me.

What would I be like in that life?

I keep wondering about how, but I think if I focus on the what, how will become apparent through a series of small experiments.

The question I’m asking myself is:

What are my 15% solutions for feeding my writing, becoming more playful and practising creativity?

Learning how to learn has been really helpful for establishing process, not product, as what’s important. Which is, deciding I’ll do a pomodoro’s worth of work on something, not that I’ll work until I finish an assignment or complete a module. It’s been helping me so much this week.

Process over Product: Turn up to the page, regularly, frequently, diligently. Don’t worry about goals. Just work steadily.

Something about practising, about discipline, about routine.

So, I’m wondering what 15% solutions could be inline with that… I slept on it, so I know my brain is working away on the problem behind the scenes. I’ll come back to it later.

Money

I think everyone should be paid for the work they do.

I don’t think this is revolutionary or radical, but it seems to be a rare belief.

Did you know…?

  • Lichens are symbionts (like Dax in Star Trek!) of fungi and algae / bacteria.
Jadzia Dax
Jadzia Dax by Grahm Lees

Seen online

Grateful to April for the word amygdalapalooza. Synchronicity with brain talk on my course.

And, to welcome my return to London, when I wend my way back:

English translation:
Tender and beautiful branches of my beloved plane tree, let fate smile upon you.
May thunder, lightning, and storms never disturb your dear peace,
nor may you be profaned by blowing winds.
Never was a shade of any plant dearer, more lovely, or more sweet.
silhouette of trees and water at night