Creepy baby Jesuses in medieval art: a review (featuring Madonna)

And so we return to our perennially popular medieval art series.

Previously, we poked fun at our under-privileged forebears by mocking their paintings of elephants, and totally disregarded the artistic and aesthetic conventions of their times by laughing at their ridiculous skeleton drawings. Their bizarre choices were strange to us, but understandable. Dissecting human bodies was considered heretical prior to the Renaissance in Europe, and many European artists had only heard or read about elephants via a Chinese-Whispers-esque series of second-hand accounts.

This time, they have no such excuses. Sure, they may never have seen a Jesus, but they must have seen at least one human baby and/or woman at some point.

All the usual disclaimers apply: this is purely a matter of personal taste and certainly isn’t intended to make fun of anyone’s beliefs. Strangeness is relative. I couldn’t paint this well if I tried. The past is a different country and the standards of beauty held by people in that setting are vastly different from mine.

That said, these are some weird-lookin’ babies.

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Ah, pregnancy. The miracle of life!

This Madonna puts the ‘mum’ in ‘mummy’ with her fetching Egypt-inspired wrappings. She may look a little tired with those triple eye-bags and extra unibrow – but who wouldn’t, in her place? Carrying a tiny, fully-dressed John C Reilly inside a galaxy inside a perfectly round globe in one’s chest would be hard for anyone. Especially if the little bugger kept flipping you the forks and stealing your tampons.

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Mushroom hunter

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Look at these. I picked these. Aren’t they beautiful? Yes, they are a bit of a wild colour but they are perfectly safe to eat. These are pine mushrooms, a.k.a. saffron milk-caps, a.k.a. Lactarius deliciosus. 

Every year, for about two months, these come into season. And every year, I reap the rewards of nature’s Easter egg hunt. They’re a nice easy beginner’s mushroom because they’re distinctive: they have no poisonous or inedible look-alikes that share their habitat, sap colour, markings or gill structure. People have been eating them for at least 3000 years; they were a delicacy in the Ancient Roman empire. They’re really yummy in a risotto, or with butter on toast. You can buy them at produce markets around this time of year, but they retail for AUD$40-$60 so I like to collect them myself, fresh and unbruised.

I’ve been taught by a mycologist to recognise them, so if you’re thinking of going mushroom-hunting, I suggest you do the same. The wrong mushroom can liquefy your liver within 48 hours, and there’s no easy way to tell if a species is poisonous just by looking at it or smelling it.

Here’s today’s poem!

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A tale of two teachers

I’m studying a Masters of Teaching this year. At the moment, I’m on placement, so I’ve been reflecting a lot on what I’ve been reading, teachers I’ve had in the past, and what kind of person I want to be when I’m qualified for this day job. (Don’t worry; I’m still writing.)

I was opining to someone the other day that there are basically four teachers you can be, and every one of them is a Hogwarts professor.

You can be the Snape – the classroom tyrant, who makes kids feel sick just thinking about your class. The Snape is never impressed. His classes may even be traumatic. He doesn’t have favourite students, only favourite targets. He seems to have chosen teaching solely because of the opportunities it offers him to bully children. Discipline is harsh and constant.

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If wizard education reform wasn’t a hundred years behind the rest of the world, Molly and Arthur would be seeing this greasy bastard in court.

You can be the Sprout (or the Lupin) – the maternal or avuncular enthusiast, who teaches because the subject is their life’s passion. The Sprout and the Lupin make lessons fun, so they never have problems with classroom management. Discipline from the Sprout or Lupin is only meted out in the most extreme (read: life-threatening) cases, but comes in the form of a soft, solemn talk that will leave a kid truly repentant and reeling all week. (The Hagrid is essentially the Sprout without a lesson plan.)

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You’ll never love her subject quite as much as she does, but she’s damn well going to try.

You can be the Trelawney – the utter pushover, whose class is a complete bludge. The Trelawney’s class is, at best, a chance to socialise and have fun; on average, a basic waste of time; and at worst, un-teaches you things that are actually valuable. Discipline is non-existent. Every Trelawney thinks she is a Sprout.

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A typical Trelawney’s classroom.

Finally, there’s the McGonagall – the stern but fair leader. The McGonagall seems utterly terrifying the first time students meet her, but over time reveals a wise and kind interior. The McGonagall helps every student achieve their full potential, but she does not muck around. Her classes are for learning, not for fun. Discipline is even-handed, swift and always deserved.

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You know she would have taught you four times more than any other teacher.

I would like to be the Sprout. I hope I am the Sprout. Maybe one day I can be the McGonagall, but right now I’m a bit too young and bouncy (not to say inexperienced) to carry it off. A kid called me the ‘living embodiment of enthusiasm’ last week, which ought to give you some idea of what I’m like.

Today’s poems are about my childhood experiences with a Snape and a McGonagall. The forms of poetry chosen are intended to reflect how it felt to be in their classrooms, with one adhering closely to a strict rhyme scheme and rhythm, and the other in free verse. As a kid, I was lucky enough to have the sense and the skills to stay on most teachers’ good sides, but now I wonder about what elevating me – sometimes publicly – did to those above whom I was being elevated. Obviously, pseudonyms have been used for everyone except me.

 

2001

Thursday morning with Miss Castle.

Silence when Miss Castle speaks.

Traffic light cards on the window

showing we’ve been good this week.

 

Now it’s time to write our stories

with beginnings, middles, ends.

Grade Twos can’t leave for the toilet.

Grade Twos can’t sit near their friends.

 

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Eggcorns (or, Writing This Made My Inner Grammar Police Choke on Their Doughnuts and Quit the Force Indefinitely).

Nobody’s perfect. Sometimes we say common expressions incorrectly, in any number of ways. Just this morning, I believe I blurted out something like, ‘It’s a case of the old “blind leading the blind, so the one-eyed woman is queen.”‘ This is a malaphor – or a conflated metaphor, or a ‘metaphorgotten’. The real expressions are ‘the blind leading the blind’, and ‘in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.’

Eggcorns are a bit different. An eggcorn, or ‘oronym’, is when a person mishears a common phrase, named for a child who thought ‘acorns’ were ‘eggcorns’ because they are shaped like eggs. Often, eggcorns are the result of what linguists call ‘back-formation’, which is when the original practice or word that the phrase is based on falls out of common parlance, and people say what they think makes sense instead. The new version can very easily replace the original word or expression.

For instance, there’s actually no such thing as ‘humble pie’. It used to be ‘umble’ pie. European aristocrats would hunt deer, and the delicious venison would grace their stately table, while the servants would be given the umbles – the entrails. To ‘eat umble pie’ was to be lowly, like a servant. But then we stopped eating umbles on the regular, and the expression ‘umble pie’ sounded like a Cockney pronounciation of ‘humble’. Over time, we began to conceptualise ‘humble pie’ as a metaphor: a pie made of humility, or a pie that makes you become more humble. Now it means something more like, ‘to eat your words; to be apologetic’, rather than literally being a grubby servant chowing down on deer guts.

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Similarly, what we would call an apron was once known as a ‘napron’, but pronouncing it as ‘anapron’ caused the N to shift to the article ‘an’. This is also why ‘nuncle’ pops up in Shakespeare so often: it used to be ‘a nuncle’ or ‘my nuncle’, but in Early Modern English it came to be heard and therefore written as ‘an uncle’ and ‘mine uncle’. Just as with ‘an’, ‘mine’ used to be the correct pronoun to use with a noun phrase that began with a vowel: mine axe, my fowl, mine only sister, my sister.

All that said, the phrases used throughout the following short story still sound silly to those of us who know what they are supposed to be. Try not to think about the fact that your great-grandchildren will probably speak like this.

 

Albert, if you think you can get off scotch free after what you did, you’ve got a whole nother thing coming.

From here on end, you will not step foot in my adobe. After that revolting display at my mother’s house last Sunday, I have decided to nip this whole relationship in the butt. For all intensive purposes, we are over and dumb with.

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Ode to a lost beetle

 

Poetry doesn’t have to be serious. Sometimes I notice things and just want to wax poetic about them. I have been fascinated by beetles since at least the age of seven. Today I saw a particularly cute one and decided to write an ode to it, using the traditional English ode form. Enjoy.

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Not my beetle; just a beetle.

O tiny six-legg’d thing of golden sheen!

Whither do you go? At whose behest?

You belong amongst the shady green,

Wherefore do you clamber up my dress?

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Talking to myself: a poem

The Celestial Kris is shaping up beautifully, thanks to my brilliant ASA mentor and my always-enthusiastic beta readers. Once again, it’s time for me to do my old proof-read the whole novel aloud to myself routine.

A few things have changed since I last wrote that piece about proofing. I still record the chapters on my phone, and I still love hearing them read back to me. It’s the first time I’ve really been able to step back from the work and read it for enjoyment. But I’ve become a bit more relaxed about it now. I don’t have a studio anymore, so I do just read it in my bedroom – always with a warning to others in the house that the crazy voices upstairs are all me. I don’t worry too much about having a cup of tea or glass of wine on hand, although water is best. And this time, I’m recording at my standing desk, which is quite a lot better than doing it from a chair.

 

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This is from my workshop with the Grade Fives in Adelaide on my Fellowship last month. I get pretty animated when I’m talking, whether it’s to forty kids or just to myself. ‘I shrink the moon…’

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‘I GRAB the moon…’

The main purpose of the read-aloud sessions is to find small errors that otherwise go under the radar. And when I find those errors, there’s a noticeable break in the story because I correct them as I go, which can make things pretty funny later because I forget I’ve commented on them. So I’ll be wrapped up in the story and then in the middle of a serious scene, I hear myself going, ‘Now hang on, I’ve written hero twice… doot-dee-doot-dee-doo…’ (Computery tapping sounds.) ‘Having proven himself. There.’

These interjections are the source of today’s poem.

 

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The passing grade: a sonnet

Don’t you hate it when you’re writing a Masters of Teaching assignment with a creative aspect, spend the evening composing poetry for it, then have to cut fourteen lines of meticulously-crafted iambic pentameter because you’re only going to have space for not three but merely two analyses of a practicum pedagogical experience?

I do. I hate that.

Anyway, if it isn’t already abundantly clear, I am a big nerd, and basically always have been. I am also, sometimes, EXTREEEEMELY DRAMAAAATIIIC!!!! When I wrote this for my assignment, it was intended to poke fun at how seriously I took myself as a thirteen-year-old. I had to cut it because of word limits – and besides, compared to the other two episodes, it didn’t offer as much.

As usual, there’s a little poetic license here; this teacher is fictional, and the events of this poem are kind of cobbled together from real events. And as for why it’s a Shakespearean sonnet, what else could capture the hand-to-forehead, cry-to-the-heavens drama of receiving (gasp) a merely satisfactory grade?!

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