Monday, 25 March 2013

Generative versus expendable energy

It's often said that kids have energy to burn and how often have we said to ourselves "I wish I had that much energy"?

I read an article a while back about how kids use their energy and I've just reconnected with it after a conversation with a colleague about the lack of authentic presence in the online space these days (lots of arguments and theories around this ...that's for another time...), and I wondered in my reflections after our chat what it is about the energetic nature with which kids engage, one we can perhaps reacquaint ourselves with.

I recently took Clancy to see a show as part of the Perth Festival called The House of Dreaming. Kids from five to 12 yrs go on a journey through a house (an actual house was built in the ABC studios for the production) and engage with the story where the house is the main character. They hear the story within the walls of the house, through the artifacts in it and the travelling they do through it (from front door and back out again, including a passageway that came out through a suitcase!).

With each encounter (via a new room) kids learn more about the story and come ever closer to the magic flowers in the story (see more here). There's a slow unfolding of the story, building the picture, and a sense of awe and mystery about what's behind the next door - a bit like Alice in Wonderland, minus the nonsensical characters.

The story builds and begins to take on shape as you wander from one room to the next (in a structured way, following the story and the clues) and begin to "see" the layout of the house and its history and character (and the family that once lived within it).

A second production we went to was a physical theatre piece called Tangle in which kids are invited to add to the performance space using balls of elastic string. Kids along with the performers tie the end of the string to a gold pole (of which there are 5 sets of 5) and wind their way around the space. Clancy and Alfie, along with our friends, were a bit stand-offish at first, but warmed into it once they felt the space was 'safe' for them to explore. The performers (the weavers) interacted with the kids in comical and physical ways, wrapping the string around them or connecting each other with string, and so on. Over four days the tangled woven mess of strings became dense and colourful - a product of all those who ventured inside and participated. In addition (and I only realised this much later), the musician in the space improvised his music in response to the action in the space and the interactions (both between him and the performers, performers and kids, kids and him as musician). There was relationship-building going on, ownership of the space, rule setting (and stretching at times), developing of norms and shared meaning making, fun, laughter, engagement and physical movement that (literally) stretched between dance and performance/acting.

Alfie gets Tangled

We didn't talk much after the show, the kids, our friends and I, except to comment on how much fun it was and how silly the red man was. The unsaid was powerful though - we were all bright-eyed, buoyant, full of energy, sweaty and openly smiling and happy.

This is generative energy. A procreative force.

Kids depend and thrive on this kind of energy - in fact, we all do.

It takes a lot - we invest a lot. Body, mind, soul, spirit, heart. Wholeheartedly.

These performances show me that the generative space is hugely important. It should be inviting. It should house within it the necessary norms or rules by which participants come to engage in that space so they are aware of what is expected or encouraged. These rules and norms are best often acted out rather than written down - "set the good example" rings true here, even better if they are constructed together. The space should be 'unfinished', unpolished, so that participants have something to work with but aren't afraid to touch something in case it might break.

The outcome is not known, unfixed, as it depends on the participation of everyone who enters the space, not just the performers there - the participants add the X factor ("je ne sais quoi", the unknown, uncertain elements) that make it truly authentic and real, dependent on the moment - essential liminality. And almost always exquisite.

How do we champion this in our learning and professional spaces? How often do you go home at the end of the working day and feel drained, depleted? Why do we not feel energised and replenished at - and from - our work? I know there are those of us who do, but a great many of us simply don't.

We seem to be perpetually caught in a vicious cycle of doing to, rather than doing with; talking about, rather than talking with; and looking at, rather than working beside.

Stephanie Pace Marshall says it clearly (as do so many others since 1997), that a new learning (and living) agenda must:
build individual capacity by stimulating natural learning, and it must be established and built upon a foundation of connection, coherence, mutually created meaning and purpose, dynamic relationships, and the evolutionary nature of the human experience itself.
and further on:
We have excelled in the language of schooling. We must now become fluent in the language of learning and life.
We have so much to learn from our local communities around us, not to mention the myriad others globally who bravely tell their struggle for change.

When will we reach a critical mass, take a slow, deep, generative breath and leap wholeheartedly into the liminal?