Lessons From My Students

There’s a lot to be said for the wise Sensei motif, but any teacher worth their classroom will tell you that the exchange of knowledge goes both ways. I have heard wisdom from the mouths of toddlers, and utter tedium from boring-ass grown-ups. This list is open to future edits as my teaching career continues.

Still knowing what’s cool (without even trying)

How do I even know what a dab is? After all, Vine is dead, I deleted instagram off my phone and Snapchat is just a charming waste of time. (Also, I get it – people are really into filters, but not even anime girls look cute with dog ears.)

People who pay taxes and recycle tend not to be up to date on the memes and fads that have all the use and lifespan of a mayfly. All I know, usually, is that once a meme makes it onto a t-shirt you can buy at Mr Price, it has completed its life cycle. Man-child t-shirts are the graveyard of funny ideas.

But when you’re trying to demonstrate a move and one of the kids shrieks “Oh my god, that’s like a dab!” and then proceeds to ruin a kata with it, it becomes unforgettable.

Homework can wait – there’s a world out there to explore

As a child, I was the polar opposite of Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes fame. I was Suzie – dutiful, patient and mostly indoors and clean. And despite the fact that the schools are trying to crush the kids with hours and hours of homework, they are still rebellious. Sure, homework has its place, but why do third graders have several hours of homework now? Of course they should be angry that they’re being kept indoors on a beautiful day to do unnecessary work that should have been covered in class. (Sorry, school teachers – I know it’s not your fault, the system is broken and we are all suffering for it.)

I may have been one of those kids that always did my homework, and always got my work in on time, but you know, I wish I had maybe had more adventures along the way, especially in high school and university.

This is why we don’t assign homework in the dojo. The kids get plenty of that at school, and when they’re older, they’ll want to do that little bit extra. But until then, we’ll train outside and take group pictures under the dojo’s cherry blossoms.

How to make and keep friends

I feel like adults are really, really shitty about friendships in a way that kids just aren’t. Kids don’t bail on each other at the last minute with the tired old phrase “Hey, something’s come up, can I take a rain check?” Or that most bullshit of excuses “I’m tired.”

being-an-adult-is-pretty-easy-you-just-feel-tired-27541558.png

 

I get it – I’m tired, you’re tired, we’re all tired, but as adults, it’s the equivalent of saying “the dog ate my homework.” 

Kids will nag their parents for sleepovers. They’ll want to spend all their time with their new friends. They will do the randomest shit together, and be happy to muck around doing nothing. But trying to get some grown-ups to sit around a table for coffee? It’s like herding cats on meth. Kids are so, so excited to see their friends. and to spend time with them. When did we lose that? As adults, we have our own transport, and money, and maybe time. And we are the first to complain that “we never see each other” but no one makes the damned effort. “It’s been so long!” we cry, when we finally, finally grab lunch with someone, but kids? Seeing each other at school every day isn’t enough. They need weekends and holidays too.

When did we stop being happy to see our friends? Is it because we’re jealous when their lives hit a great trajectory? Is it because it’s so easy not to make the effort? Is it because real friendship requires vulnerability and investment? And then when the midden hits the windmill, we realise that we haven’t got the same connections we used to have.

Kids live for friendship, and once upon a time, we did too. If that’s one thing I take from them and implement into my life, then I consider it a beautiful lesson.

Review of Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Never mind the beer ad guy – Lauren Beukes may be the most interesting author alive right now.

Broken Monsters follows in the tradition of Moxyland, Zoo City and The Shining Girls in using cities as characters, backdrops and plot points. In Broken Monsters, Detroit is both ruined and beautiful, the corpse of a model to which artists and hipsters flock as others tut over her corpse and say its just such a shame, and for the grace of god etc. In this Detroit, bait of urban explorers and home of tough cops, a murderer is stitching corpses and art together, a man tormented and the bearer of something beyond his power to control. But this is no Red Dragon – this is something more sinister and beautiful than that.

UK jacket for Broken Monsters

UK jacket for Broken Monsters

Detective Versado, her daughter Layla, Jonno Haim, Clayton Broom and TK make up the constellation of characters that are all interlinked to the Detroit Monster. This story is further complicated by what it means to be living in this naked age of social media, of constantly shifting identities and the repercussions the online world has on day to day life. As we see the CSI Effect damaging the American justice system, the novel explores how the rapid nature of the internet might get in the way of careful, thoughtful justice. The references to websites that millennials live on are rapid-fire and likely to be missed by many readers, but that is of no harm: it is Beukes showing her love of the internet, an exploration of our love-hate relationship with the world’s repository of cat pictures and memes. I was filled with the fuzzies at seeing a mention of Nyancat, possibly the most joyous meme (other than Pope Happycat, maybe) to come out of the noughtteens. (Shut up, that’s a real word, I’m using it now.)

Beukes’ research is remarkable, and the ability to incorporate her bottomless research without bogging the plot down is a rare skill – it informs rather than lectures, and she fleshes out Detroit as she has Chicago, Johannesburg and Cape Town before. Her characters are each exquisitely well-formed, especially Layla and her mother Gabriella Versado. Detective Versado takes no prisoners and no shit, and unlike many other female detectives in crime novels, never needs to be saved from her womanly self. She swears, she drinks whiskey, she tries to give a dead child his dignity while raising a daughter post divorce with no time to do it in. While another character calls her broken, I don’t think people who are genuinely broken are so capable, strong and empathetic, and maybe the definition of broken depends on who’s using it.

gp80pja4cflfhmv3tufe

US Jacket for Broken Monsters

As always, Beukes covers a myriad of topics in each work; in Broken Monsters she covers bullying, the rapid dissemination of videos that ruin lives, urban exploration, grief, loss, divorce, police procedure, sex, the vastness of the internet’s invasive reach, hipsters, the art scene, homelessness, revenge, the proliferation of cyber-paedophilia, alcoholism, Detroit as the corpse of America’s hopes, clickbaiting, pottery, fucking Buzzfeed and Upworthy, and Santeria. While the novel does teeter near the line of claustrophobia with so many ideas battling for even a scrap of the spotlight, it contains and expresses its ideas in small details, settings and turns of phrase. Also: hooray for thorough editing. Not a single spelling or grammar mistake in the entire work, which is indeed a rare joy these days. One day when I am big, I hope to put my work before Helen Moffett, Beukes’ editor.

I hesitate to use the word paranormal because that word has been completely ruined by ridiculous ghost-hunting shows and drippy teen novels, but this story does push at the boundaries of what’s real, what lies on the other side of the dimensional fabric and what gives the monsters power. It manages to infuse the story with a sense of genuine horror without getting Lovecraftian (Lovecraft was a racist asshole, which is worth knowing)  and instead doing something more avant-garde with horror. (The birds! The glass! The flowers! The tattoos!) There is also a gorgeous reference to Our Patron Saint of the Internet Neil Gaiman‘s stupendous American Gods, another delicious treat for pretentious people like me who like to catch references like other people catch pokemon.

10352275_637546756336934_2894595274120220687_n

The best jacket: the SA jacket by Joey Hi-Fi

Beukes is a novelist of unflinchingly keen eye and ambitious ideas, her body of work constantly building on some themes while incorporating others. Her love of the cityscape is palpable in her work, and her social commentary biting. Brett Easton Ellis should take notes. If she is capable of writing novels of this kind of depth once a year, I feel that we are in for a treat as readers.

 

Broken Monsters will be available in South Africa from July from Random House Struik

Watch the terrifying and eerily perfect trailer below: