Narratives of Love – Preliminary Extension English

My day began with with an early morning train to be at the Powerhouse Museum with time to spare for a coffee and browse through the gift shop. Our regular Writing Teachers meeting was due to start at 10.30 am, and though a number of people had cancelled, I always look forward to a few hours of writing without the pressure of class prep and marking.

Inevitably, my thoughts do consider how a text could be incorporated into my lessons, and ultimately our writing sessions inspire class activities on writing. Even when bone weary at the end of a long term, the establishment and maintenance of Writing Teachers has given me countless opportunities to explore my own creativity in more ways than simply writing.

I read Letters of Love as the diesel-driven carriages lurched towards the city. It contains ‘words from the heart penned by prominent Australians’ and is newly published by the Alannah &Madeline Foundation. The forward, by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, reminds us that Walter Mikac lost his family in 1997 in the senseless Port Arthur massacre. This text seemed to be a perfect fit for my Preliminary Narratives of Love in Extension English. The range of letters, in terms of subject and style, offer models for students in expressing their own ideas about love. In the final year of high school, students write letters to their future self that are opened on the last day of school.

Letters of Love contains a smattering of famous, interesting and intriguing writers that goes beyond the typical celebrities of prominence. Each entry begins with a simple black and white image of the writer and a brief bio. In Narratives of Love we explore the different forms that love may take. This is echoed in the diverse content:

  • Lesley Podesta and her love letter to books
  • Bob Brown’s poem titled ‘My Godfriend’
  • Les Twentyman’s ‘Dear St Peter’
  • Ashton Kline’s heartbreaking ‘Dear Mum’
  • John Bells’ letter of advice to ‘M’
  • Grace Halpen’s break-up letter to her ‘beloved social media’
  • Radha Mitchell’s ‘Silver Light’

Structured as a text that invites random readings, something to dip into then close and contemplate, my reading led to personal reflections that include loss and memories of sorrow. Rather than avoiding these natural emotions in lessons, I find students are more than willing to engage with ideas and develop empathy. On a recent school assembly, we were reminded of the realities of life: personal achievement doesn’t mean we will always be happy the pursuit of success means that we experience a wide range of emotions which supports our life choices.

At the Powerhouse, I learned that the exhibition Love is … containing wedding dresses and memorabilia was on the top floor – such synchronicity. But our writing focus was to find an item within the collections, gather words and ideas, before drafting a piece to be workshopped in September during the second session with poet Sam Wagan Watson. In our first workshop with Sam, we had wandered the halls and I was taken wiht the beauty of the building itself: re-purposed as a museum of Applied Arts and Science. How could my writing be displayed on the ceiling, or metal beams, carpet and tiles? As appealing as the ‘love’ display was, I reminded myself that I should look for part of a semi-permanent display as the object of my writing.

It didn’t work. After our welcome discussion, we separated and I found myself drawn to the top floor. Beguiling quotes led me into the exhibition …

and I found vintage and contemporary dresses, letters, ancient love tokens, veils and hats. Stories of resilience unfolded in diary pages and photographs. One contained the face of a smiling woman who bore a striking resemblance to my paternal grandmother, a woman I had only know through my father’s brief stories and a handfuls of images. She stood with a sailor in uniform, their wedding celebrated during the Second World War. Eerily, my father was also a sailor.

Shotgun Wedding Dress, 2015, eX de Medici

The last spaces of Love is … invited us to make our own contribution to shared installations: we could choose to design our own wedding apparel, complete the sentence ‘Love is …’

or emboss a pink circle and create a keepsake to be displayed under the statement

My thoughts followed a well worn path, walking with memories of Den. For my declaration at our Commitment Ceremony I shared

Love is, for me, the manifestation of an eternal energy, or god, in our lives – the energy we call upon everyday to guide decisions and support our fellow humans. Love can be overpowering or quietly waiting, patiently, to blossom in the right conditions.

This day just happened to be the fifth anniversary of our Commitment Ceremony. While drafting this post, and considering just how to capture the emotions of this day tempered by practical classroom strategies, I thought of the Eurythmics song ‘Love is a Stranger’. This is a staple of my teaching texts for both genre and language features. The multiple metaphors, pulsing beat and glorious voice of Annie Lennox always produce interesting and varied responses from students in junior classes.

It strikes me as very suitable for a re-visit and re-configuration of the Narrative of Love. Hopefully, I’ll write a post on the music video soon(ish), but while you’ree waiting, read more on the music video at Music Video Closet which

offers a queer perspective on 1980s music videos to better understand cultural attitudes about sexuality and gender during the Reagan era and early AIDS crisis.

Oh, and just to tidy up loose ends, I chose a series of portraits near the female toilet on the top floor as my item: each displaying a millinery delight.

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