Inside a mystery box

Image sourced from Lacy Lane

Image sourced from Lacy Lane

Even though you’re growing up, you should never stop having fun.  – Nina Dobrev

You can be childlike without being childish. A child always wants to have fun. Ask yourself, ‘Am I having fun?’ – Christopher Meloni

Life is more fun if you play games.  – Roald Dahl

As a child I was fascinated by mystery boxes.  Being presented with a number of unobtrusive boxes and being tasked with choosing one to reveal either a welcome bounty or a dud souvenir was excruciatingly enticing . I delighted in the weighing up of possibilities and the anticipation –  would there be ultimate enjoyment or a momentary disappointment from having made the wrong decision?  Recently the tables were turned slightly. I was not choosing a box for a reward but rather I was put inside a mystery box and the ultimate reward came from escape.

My analogy is weak, I agree, so let me tell you a little about one of the most exhilarating  fun experience I have had in a very long time.

It all began with a shake down.  Phones and other electronic devices were confiscated and locked away.  A hood was placed over my head. I don’t go in much for blindfolds and I certainly don’t like hessian bags over my head but in the spirit of adventure and fun I played along.  We were led to our chamber and once our captor departed and locked us within we removed our bags to find we were in the dark bowels of the Butcher’s Burrow.  We had 50 minutes to escape our fate and I had no idea how to begin. There were limited tools at our disposal and those that seemed to exist were sealed away with combination locks. Time was of the essence and the two of us had to work together to escape.  Our first objective was to find light.

I would love to describe in detail the steps we took to escape and the challenges we faced but that would spoil the fun should you attempt this yourself. The Exitus escape rooms are an exciting addition to the adult fun arena.  The room we visited is part of the entertainment at Strike Bowling in the city of Brisbane but they are popping up almost everywhere.  Each room has a theme where minimal clues are given and teams must use their wits and combined brain power to solve the puzzles confronting them. The goal is to escape before the nominated time is up.  You can ask for clues – using the iPad that is supplied or the mobile phone that links directly to the administrator.  Beware – there are time penalties for clues.

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Before entering, I was a little apprehensive.  The thought of being locked in an unfamiliar room for close to an hour, sent my heart a flutter.  What if I felt claustrophobic and too confined, what if I  needed to get out?  Those thoughts soon passed and then a sheen of sweat broke out as I wondered if I would know what to do. Would I be able to solve the puzzles?  What if I needed maths? I need not have worried.  Precautions are in place in case of panic – the mobile phone allows for an instant exit should you need it and the puzzles, well, while they initially  seemed unsolvable, once an instinctual need to ‘escape’ kicked in the fuzziness of my mind was miraculously unlocked and I forged ahead.  Good news too – no maths needed.

My adult son and I worked exceptionally well as a team.  He had been in an escape room before and had some sense of what was required so with a little guidance we set about our task with the pressure and weight of a ticking clock as a constant motivator. We each had our moments of clarity and success and often times it was our combined collaboration that saw the different clues uncovered and puzzles solved.  Teams of up to six can enter the rooms.  I would have found that a little difficult; coping with too many personalities and noise may have rendered me incapable of clear throughout but it may also add to the fun for many.

We escaped, triumphant.  In our last three minutes, holding our final clue we were stumped.  We tossed around ideas, tried various options but relented and asked for a clue.  We weighed the alternative – time penalty or eviction without resolution.  We chose to finish the puzzle.  Surprisingly we were on the right path and probably would have gotten to the end point unaided but that ticking clock forced our hand.

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If you want to experience the difference between fun and enjoyment but don’t want to jump out of planes, travel too far from home or spend a fortune; try escape rooms – they are loads of fun and worth every cent. The warm after glow will provide you with plenty of lasting enjoyment once the thrill of the moment has passed.

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Interviewing David

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“I’m a little bit naked, but that’s okay.”
― Lady Gaga

If you could interview a work of art, what would it be and what would you ask?  This sounds like a pretty random idea, I know, but it came from listening to a radio interview by Richard Fidler, on Conversations. He was talking with a gentleman who had a very unique, full body tattoo and at one point Richard commented that he’d never interviewed a work of art before.  It got me thinking, what a neat idea.

The hardest part of this scenario, once you’ve taken the leap into the quirky world of oddity and imagination, is selecting just one artwork to interview.  How do you choose one piece that you’d love an audience with to get to know better from a world full of magnificent works? I’ve visited some of the most magnificent galleries in the world and enjoyed the talent of local artists as well as great masters. I appreciate and am enthralled by a variety of mediums, subjects and artistic styles. Yes, choosing just one is tricky. So I simply shut my eyes and decided on the first image that came to mind. It was a close tie between Michelangelo’s David and the Venus de Milo.

In the end, I thought David might be fun. Now, I’m never going to be an award-winning journalist and I’m sure, once I post this piece I will think of a trillion other questions but here were my initial thoughts, interests, curiosities.

David, I imagine it gets pretty tiring having droves of people comment on how large and out of proportion your hands are each day. What other unique challenges do you face?

Do you suffer from body image issues?

What do you feel is your most endearing feature?

If you could swathe yourself in a single outfit, what fabric would you choose?

You have one day to do anything you like. Where would you go and what would you do?

How do you feel about Michelangelo after all this time? If you were to meet now, what would you share with him?

Your surroundings are pretty stark. What’s your favourite colour?

Can you account for your continued celebrity?

Tell me about your earliest memory.

Where would you like to be five years from now?

What did I miss? What would you have asked in addition? Like I said, no Pulitzer Prizes for award-winning journalism for me but this exercise, as well as being a bit of quirky fun, challenged me to think in different and creative ways and that’s a good thing to do occasionally. I also found I was anticipating the responses and I now have a different viewpoint from which to think. Pretty neat.

How could you challenge yourself to think outside the realms of  the everyday?

Lessons from India: Is your reality based on myth?

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The problem with assumptions is that they always come with blindspots.                                                        Oliver Blanchard

I had the pleasure of hearing a poignant address by Dr. Rukmini Banerji, CEO of Pratham Education Association, to an audience of 700 delegates at an Australian Research conference this week. Dr Banerji shared the outcomes of a project in Jehandabad, a district in India, and how they improved attendance rates by focusing on what they were teaching and ensuring the teaching was of value to students.  Through this project she challenged education officials to explore educational assumptions and realities. While her address was moving and inspiring on educational and humanitarian fronts her message, I realised, has implications for our lives as well.

To give a brief summary; the education system in India, like in many other countries, utilises an industrial model where students are grouped by age, promoted to the next grade each year and are taught a curriculum for that grade level.  This systemic structure in India, Dr Banerji argues, is built on a number of assumptions.  I’ll share four with you.

That high enrolment means children are in school. The reality is that attendance varies a lot across the country. Various studies have shown that attendance, on an average day, can range from 60 – 90% depending on the district.

Children are in school from age six onwards. Indian law “guarantees” education from the age of six to the age of fourteen. The assumption that children enter school at the age of six is far from the reality. According to a 2011 study it was discovered that in rural India, around 60% of all five year olds are enrolled in school with many younger children also attending.  Why? Schools offer incentives to encourage attendance, such as a free lunch, which sees a good many 3, 4, and 5 year olds attending school.  This has implications for the next assumption.

Children in a given grade are of a similar age/ ability.  Again the reality is very different.  Indian classrooms, as many around the world, are very diverse. Data from the 2011 ASER review from Bihar tells the story:   Based on the assumption that children enter school at age six, the ‘right age’ for Grade 4 should be about nine or ten.  In Bihar 51% of children in Grade 4 are the ‘right age’ but the rest of the children, half the class, are younger or older. If we reflect, the current model of education implies that a child in Grade 4 is homogeneously grouped with other students who are in Grade 4, are taught by a ‘Grade 4 teacher’, and can demonstrate learning  at a year 4 standard, it is clear the reality is very different and misguided.

Interestingly, studies of grade 5 students showed, on a simple year 2 test, that 48% of children could read the text fluently.  Of the other half, not yet reading at a year 2 level, 15% of children could recognise letters, another 13% could read simple words but not effectively read simple sentences, while 24% of children could read simple sentences but not fluently read at Grade 2 level.

The fourth assumption in the system is that textbooks are at appropriate age/grade level. For the reasons given above you can see that the textbook level for a specific grade is too difficult for most children.

So, what’s the takeaway? How can assumptions by Indian education officials guide us in our own lives?  I’m not sure I have the answers yet but I do have a lot of questions.

How attached are we to our own reality?  Are we seeing our ‘reality’ clearly or is it based on a set of assumptions?  Do we recognise the assumptions?  If so, why do we persist with them or alternatively, how do we change them? What is the impact of unexamined assumptions on our lives?

I’m no expert but I sense that if we don’t look hard at our own ‘reality’ we have more than likely set parameters for ourselves, boxes from within which we function and relate and ultimately stagnate. If we don’t look hard at our own ‘reality’ and the underlying assumptions can we set ourselves reasonable goals? Can we thrive and grow through the blurr assumptions create?

If we don’t look at our own reality do we realise that every interaction, reaction and thought is based on a set of values, assumptions and beliefs that may not be obvious to us.  These values, assumptions and beliefs shape who we are, they are based on where we have come from and they can cause us to be selective by ignoring information and perspectives that conflict with them, thus limiting our view of the world.

Our assumptions, values and beliefs are often so ingrained in us we are unconscious of their existence but they can, with identification and work, be changed if they are not serving us well; just as assumptions were revealed and addressed in rural classrooms in India after hundreds of years without change.

Thanks to the witty, intelligent, inspirational Dr Banerji I now turn inward to identify the myths I have created.  Can you identify yours?

 

Are your stories holding back a wave of change?

There are watchers in this world and there are doers. And the watchers sit around watching the doers, do.
Barefoot in the Park

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My son recently took part in the 40 hour famine, a weekend fast to raise money for families in third world countries. I was intrigued by the reaction he received from friends and acquaintances. Most were really supportive, none took up his challenge to join him but what surprised me the most were those who commented that they’d die if they gave up food for forty hours. Some claimed they couldn’t give up food for several hours and then there was the poor soul who unashamedly remarked that  they couldn’t possibly give up their chips and gravy on a Friday night.

On the final day of the challenge my community minded son volunteered to cook breakfast at a local fun run. Again, the comments and reactions of others intrigued me. Many, of course, were supportive yet questioned his sanity in cooking bacon and eggs for others while fasting himself. But the number of detractors surprised me. Yes, yes, I’m sure it was all in jest but a mother does always want to protect her young. One cocky fellow posted on social media that he’d seen my son tucking into a bacon and egg burger and labelled his efforts as a ‘massive fail’. Oh, I was irate (protective mother hen coming out). I fumed and fumed, wondering if I could address this flippant fellow in a firm but gentle way. I was saved the trouble when he was publicly corrected by another.

I digress.

My interest was piqued by the thinking behind the conversations that arose from this event. I began to ponder the stories we tell ourselves and the implications they have on our society.

I have concluded that some of us tell ourselves we couldn’t possibly do without things, or give up a tradition or change a habit because, perhaps, it’s easier not to. Some of us cut others down who do things we aren’t brave enough to do. Then there are those who gladly and wholeheartedly support others in their quests. These people fall into two categories: those happy to cheer others on while remaining in their comfort zones and those who cheer while pursuing their own challenges alongside them.

I see this played out in the community and the world. We pass things by, overlook issues and justify our inaction safe in the knowledge that others will take up the torch and do the work for us. We are relieved from our duty by the heroes in the world.

Alone, our heroes make a difference in the world, they get things done but their efforts are akin to a splash in the ocean, whereas, if we all pitched in and got involved we could create a wave of change in the world.

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With this in mind I asked myself these questions:

What are my stories and how are they holding me back from making a change I’d like to see in my life and the world?

What will it take to step outside my comfort zone, to put myself on the line, to contribute to a wave of change?

What are your thoughts?
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Airy April in review

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”  Haruki Murakami

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It’s been an interesting process taking a photo a day for a year. I enjoy looking back over the album for each month and reflecting on its joys and challenges.

Last month, April, was a particularly turbulent month emotionally and physically. My physical health lurched so far off par that I lost my balance emotionally and spiritually as well. While I tried to maintain a positive outlook and focus on the good and I actively sought to create joy in my life; it feels like it was a thick and weighty, pea soup of a month that I waded through.

My photos tell a different story. There are lots of plants and outdoor snaps along with quirky treasures found along the way. It’s nice to have this visual reminder that while there were trials in April, all was not lost. There were wonderful times spent in nature, my refuge, a place where mind, body, spirit feel connected. Nature for me is a place where mind body and spirit rise up out of the abyss and I can breathe.


I am continually fascinated by my journey; the detours, the hidden paths unravelled, the rocky tracks and steep hills to be negotiated. It all makes for a wonderful experience.

Keep your chin up. Focus on where you want to be and take small steps each day.

Much love to you all,
Shannyn