01/27/2005: "Interview with Heather Blakey: Star Wars in the classroom and tapping into 'the force'!"
Pop Fiction salutes Heather Blakey with a grandstand-sized Mexican wave. We reckon Heather rocks - she’s imaginative and innovative with how she gets her students excited about books, reading and writing! Heather’s regular teaching gig is at Latrobe Secondary College and students have called her “a force”. When Heather’s not teaching, she hangs out in cyberspace adding cool stuff to her website www.dailywriting.net (definitely worth checking out!).
In 2005 (Term 1), Heather and her students are participating in the Pop Fiction Youth e-Literature Event. Come see what all the excitement’s about. Drop into Experimedia (State Library of Victoria) March 14th-24th
Wanna find out who Heather had a crush on when she went to school! Click on 'more' to read her interview....
SB:Yo, Heather! Your students call you “a force” which makes me immediately think of Star Wars. After checking out dailywriting.net’s ‘Student Lounge’, that showcases creative writing and artwork made by your students, I reckon the ‘force’ is:
1) Your ‘creative force’ flying around the classroom and getting students excited about books, reading and writing, and
2) Your students transforming into ‘Literature Luke Skywalkers’ and tapping into ‘their creative force’.
It’d be totally corny to ask if you guys carry lightsabers in your pencilcases. However, I am serious when I ask, what do you reckon the ‘dark force’ of literature is?
HB: Well believe it or not Sarah I did issue magic pens to primary school students last year. I had the Deputy Principal buy me a stash so that I could give them to people whose writing either had a touch of magic or simply needed that little something. They were lovely because they lit up and sparkled as you wrote. Children love magic and they loved the pens. And, I doubt very much if you will be surprised to hear that I have been known to make references to lightsabers. Using stories about Excalibar, as a fuse lighter, I encourage students to create weapons with seven special powers that will ensure a flow of words. I also encourage younger students to keep little mannequin figurines (like Jung did) in their pencil cases so that if they are in any doubt they can have the figure furtively whisper some ideas.
But I digress.
Some people think of the dark force of literature as subversive propaganda, jingoist material designed to manipulate people. History reveals that governments who wished to suppress their citizens made sure that they never learned how to read or write. This is true darkness! All my students know that if someone wanted to torture me all they have to do is take away my pen and paper and that I get testy about anyone trying to read what I have been writing.
Years ago the Deputy Principal said that I spent too much time writing in class. He was concerned about me sitting writing with students and thought I should be standing in front of the blackboard all the time. The following week I told the kids that we had been doing too much writing and so we spent the week watching videos. I showed a Year 10 class the Blues Brothers and Luke and I saw the Soul Food Café at the same moment, looked at one another and the rest is history. I went on to build the writing site you see today. Perhaps Soul Food is really a dark force because it makes people dance with the possible.
Personally I think of Ying and Yang when I am asked a question like this. Everything has a dark and a light side Sarah. While J.K. Rowling is heralded as a heroine for encouraging young people to read there are those who would perceive Harry Potter to be a dangerous force because he has undue influence upon the minds of young people. They think that his young fans may be inspired to use wizardry and witchcraft. I vividly remember when I was growing up that D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers’ was banned because of explicit sexual references and I also remember acquiring a copy to see what all ‘the fuss’ was about. I kept it carefully hidden under my bed, never believing that my mother actually cleaned there. She tells me she did! She found and read ‘Son’s and Lover’s’.
My bottom line is that darkest side of literature is mediocrity. I forbid it in my classes and since my students are essentially captives and I am a dictator I can demand that they amuse and entertain me.
SB: Tell us about your ‘mannequin project’ and can you also tell us which galaxy you get your wild and imaginative ideas from?
HB: See that air vent over there Sarah! If you crawl through there you will find the parallel universe where I buy my fuse lighters. It’s so cool! It is a bit like a big pyro technicians fire works warehouse.
As if I am going to tell you any more about where I get my wild and imaginative ideas. Once the secret was out I would be forced to kill you and blow up bumble.com.au
Now I CAN talk about the mannequin project because it is wild. We started it about three years ago after I had made mannequins with some adults in a bereavement class I was running and it has taken off since then.
Originally the idea was to make creative armoury so that the individual would be protected from the Darth Vader’s of the world but then it changed and became a self-portraiture exercise where students could express aspects of themselves using metaphors. The wild thing is that kids within the school can identify who a mannequin belongs to and the Year 12 students who leave their mannequins behind never really leave the school. A part of them is always here, hanging on the walls of the library.
The project has gained a life of its own and I now find that students cannot wait to participate. At the end of last year one of my Year 7’s doubted that he would make it to Year 12 so I sold him a male torso to decorate and give as a present to his father. Just quietly I think Cameron will make it well through Year 12.
My year twelve class do like the fact that I make one as well but it is becoming a challenge to come up with the WOW factor. One year I wanted to make a mannequin that expressed where my ideas came from. My class actually helped me come up with the concept of a well that I dipped into. So I got Mr. Johnstone, our metals teacher, to help me. He made the well and welded my mannequin above it. He made an old fashioned wheel that you turn to draw up the ideas. Students helped me steal paint from the art room and then I draped her with ivy and moss and she stands in the library. I called her Brigit because she is a likeness of Brigit the Irish Goddess who presided over inspiration. The kids all shake their heads and look worried when I begin telling them about Brigit and the Muses, roll their eyes and say "she’s off again".
Last year Ryan Camilleri helped me make my Raven mannequin. I created a Raven to demonstrate that ideas come to me on the wings of a Raven. But just between you and me I think [the Raven looks a bit like Darth Vader].
SB: When Star Wars was first screened in cinemas, Han Solo was ‘THE spunk’. When you were a student, who’d you reckon was a total spunk?!
HB: I was so boring that I thought Little Joe in Bonanza was a total spunk but since no one on this planet is likely to remember his cute butt I will have to confess that I was a serious Elvis fan. I loved going to the cinema in Sale on a Saturday night and my idea of heaven was when they showed an Elvis Presley movie. As Elvis’s hips gyrated I swooned and all but dribbled into my packet of Twisties.
Then the Beatles arrived and we were all sent into an absolute spin. I thought Paul was just too delicious for words. I vividly remember when Paul, John, George and Ringo came to Melbourne. I particularly remember that visit because my best friend stole money from her mother and caught a train to the city to see the Beatles when they arrived at the Southern Cross Hotel. Bourke Street was packed with screaming fans. My friend’s mother thought she had run away and had the police look for her. The ultimate twist was that after they found her the police actually introduced her to the Beatles. I am not kidding! Needless to say we lunched on that story for a very long time.
These days it is Johnny Depp who makes me go weak in the knees. I have watched Chocolat, Pirates of the Carribean, Edward Scissorhand and Neverland repeatedly and sigh a lot. Depp wasn’t bad in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape either. But don’t tell anyone Sarah or my classes will figure out why I show this movie every year.
SB: Darth Vader is a total bad arse, so I reckon if he was in your class he’d get heaps of detentions. Tell us about 2 naughty things you did when you were a student i.e. one ‘naughty’ is where you got away with it and the other ‘naughty’ is where you got sprung bad!
HB: Me naughty! Now really Sarah! My name was Heather Goodwin and I was Goodwin by name and Goody Two Shoes by nature. The teacher could always rely on me to put my hand up and answer the questions and I never put a foot out of line. Well, I never put a foot out of line very often, but now you mention it I did get led astray a couple of times.
Adrianne Twit was my history teacher. Can you believe that we had a teacher called Mr Twit? We hardly had to make up funny names for this guy. Anyway, one day he was setting up the projector to show us a film and it wasn’t working properly so he had his fingers in the inside fiddling. He was concentrating so hard that he never did notice me blow up the brown paper bag I had left over from lunch. When it went bang and exploded poor Mr Twit leapt about six feet off the ground. The Principal barely stifled his laughter as I stood explaining what I had done. When I ended up teaching at the same school as Adrianne many years later I was not forthcoming about identifying myself until I was moving on. Then I produced the report card that he had written all those years ago. He was almost as surprised as that day when I was in Year 10.
When I was in Grade 6 it was a crime to misspell words. Mr Geogan was a right nasty and he lined us up and gave us the ‘cuts’ if we made spelling mistakes. I can remember standing in the line waiting and burst into tears before he got to me. The man was not a complete animal and so I was spared. Even so, I still don’t spell confidently and I am prone to panic attacks and get anxious about whether people will like what I write.
SB: I can do a pretty good impersonation of Darth Vader breathing heavily (especially when I have a nasty cold). When we were in class and our teacher was late or had to pop out for a minute, we used to have heaps of fun impersonating them. For example, Mr Bennett wore his polyester pants pulled up really high and jumped about enthusiastically (so we’d wedgie our pants to our chest and do a ballet dance around the whiteboard). Mrs Halden was always writing heaps of notes on the blackboard - she’d underline important words three times and add 3 full stops at the end of important sentences (so we’d add twenty underlines and twenty full stops and then quickly sit back at our desks so when she came in we’d pretend we hadn’t done anything). Imagine you have a big boogie up your nose - it’s really crusty and itchy – and you really badly want to run out of the classroom to have a big pick. So you lie and say, “I’m going to the office to collect some photocopying”. Your students think you’ll be gone for at least a couple of minutes, but your pick in the corridor is quick and efficient. Thus you return to the classroom 30 seconds later and (sprung bad!) you catch the class in the act of impersonating you! Describe their impersonation.
HB: My classes would not be game to impersonate me darling because I have taught them all about Karma and how it comes back ten fold. This possibly explains why I have never actually caught them in the act.
However there have been rumors that I am really a witch or a tarot card reader and so I imagine that I would walk in to find someone hovering over a cauldron casting a spell and cackling like the witches in Macbeth.
One year when the Year 12’s dressed up I dressed up as Gypsy Rose Blakey, veils and all and bought in my Tarot pack and pretended to do readings. They were utterly freaked because they thought I had confirmed all their suspicions. Then there was the Year Eight class that told me I had been taking ugly pills. By the end of the year they were not making any more nasty little comments like that because they had learned I gave back more than I got and my one-liners could seriously bring them undone. “You got rolled” someone would snigger as the culprit shrunk off to lick his or her wounds.
Last year Nathan Battenally and his wicked prompters kept the class amused by telling me how much in love with me he was and how sexy I looked in black. Now I could hardly treat this guy seriously could I? Nathan did pass his VCE but I am sure he won’t need it because he is destined to pick up a Gig as a comedian somewhere soon.
Not one to miss out on some fun I kept the class amused by retaliating and telling him that flattery would get him his VCE English (see, I was telling the truth) but that he really should not mock a fifty four year old woman or build up her hopes. I also recall making remarks about us ending up on the front page of the Herald Sun. You will be pleased to hear that I got well and truly even on the night of the formal when I rocked up in my sexy black frock to have that cheek-to-cheek dance. Nathan actually blushed and could not be lured onto the dance floor despite my efforts to literally drag him there.
SB: Remember the scene where Luke and Darth Vader have a full-on lightsaber battle! It’s a really tense scene and Luke is just about to die, which means the dark force will….. Okay, I promise I won’t give the ending away or mention how Luke lost an arm, and that Darth Vader is really his dad, and that Princess Leia is actually his sister (which makes their whole kissing thing kind of gross). The thing is, Luke was in a situation where he was running out of time and he had to get his act together quick sticks or else it’d be too late to save the universe from eternal darkness and evil! Which got me thinking. Coz you’re the teacher, it’s hard for students to know if you’re running late for something - like handing back marked assignments later than you planned (coz you couldn't pull yourself away from the Simpsons Marathon on TV over the weekend). So I was wondering:
1) When you’re late to class, don’t you think it’s only fair that students check to see that you’ve got a late pass?
2) When you’re late to class, you should have a good excuse ready to blurt out. Like, “Sorry, big goss session in the staffroom and I had stay back to hear the juicy ending”. What are the 3 best excuses you've used for being late. Go for it!
HB: My classes know that I try to lose them and you know what! If I don’t show up on time they bring themselves over to the library to find me finishing off my coffee and cake. I simply cannot lose them that easily. They tell me that I really know I ‘love them’ and I roll my eyes and go "Yeah Right! As if!"
The Year 12’s are not in such a rush to find me and have been known to make comments about where my late pass is. I usually respond with one of the following:
1. It is not on my timetable that I have you guys now. Have I got you now? Really! When did Mrs. Brunning change the timetable children?
2. There was a staff brawl out on the oval and I had to break it up. You should have seen what was happening out there. Mr Delia and Mr Zimmerman were really going hammer and tong and Gaffer had to break them up. Wicked! If you are quick you will catch the last of the action. (By the time they reappear I have figured out what to teach this lesson.)
3. You are so right suckers! I should have a late note, but I am the teacher so there! Whatcha gonna do about it? Tell the principal?
SB: Hey Heather, whatsup! Can you tell us a sneak preview of what’s happening when Pop Fiction comes to Latrobe SC!
HB: Visualize a circus, a highflying trapeze acts, a magician and a juggler. I will be the magician as I convince the boys that if they please you and read all about some dopey fourteen year old girl they will get to do really exciting multimedia stuff and make hip hop rap records. Then I will be the juggler as we juggle all the responses. It is going to be crazy with mad stuff happening at every level in the school. There will be people making mannequins that will end up animated, people hip hopping and recording albums, reporters rushing around the place, people make 3D stuff and artwork that we can hang around the place. The computer room will be abuzz as people blog and make digital responses and kids will be raiding the art room for supplies. Ms Minkin over in the art room will be after my blood but Pop Fiction is going to bring color and movement to Latrobe SC and I will replenish her art supplies. That is all I am going to tell you! Everyone will just have to wait and see what emerges from the creative cauldron.
SB: Just like Han Solo
wants to fly low with Princess Leia.
I look forward to hanging out with students
from Latrobe Secondary College
and making Pop Fiction together!
Do you like my rhymin’! I’m kinda thinking that it’s totally hurlariffic hip hop. Okay, here goes, I’ll try and do better…
Hey you all, check this out
this is to the bad-arse-lightsaber totin' crew
from Latrobe Secondary College
i’ve heard about your mannequin madness
how your creative writing can be put to the test
we show the other schools a thing or two
we make some ‘Pop Fiction’ kung fu
issues, symbols and themes
like make a hip hop album that goes straight to the top
still don't believe me
then you be in for a treat
coz Elf Tranzporter’s supplying the beat
Other schools can check out your words,
album covers and art @ Experimedia
State Library Swanston Street
Still not enough
I got heaps more in store for you
like showcasing your Pop Fiction booty
Yo, Heather, can you pretty please write a hip hop rhyme too!!!
HB: You need to do more than say pretty please to get an old has been like me writing hip hop rhyme sugar plum.
Sooooooooooooo! I have been and gone and had a lookie lookie and in a blink of an eye the Beastie Boys plied me
50 cups of coffee and you know it's on
I move and shake till the break of dawn
Can't rock the house unless you all party
Cause when we're gettin down we are all equal
There's no better or worse between you and me
But I rock the mic so viciously
Like pins and needles and words that sting
At the blink of an eye I will do my thing
Like a needle in the cartridge when the record spins
Like diggin down deep in the record bins
Everybody gettin down make no mistake
Nothing sounds quite like an 8 0 8
May the rockin begin and my beastly boys show that Veronica Bee a thing or two.
Wicked! Thanks heaps Heather!