Keeping it real

Keeping it real - graffiti on the Seven Eye Bridge, Orgiva, Spain

Graffiti on the Seven Eye Bridge, Orgiva, Spain

About three quarters of the way through this BBC Four programme, musician Robert Wyatt explains how he composes. He says ‘it’s like animals nosing about in the leaves. Hedgehogs, dogs and so on. They’re not working to a career plan – they’re following their nose. I think if something is organic and going in the right direction, it will have a form that you’ll feel by instinct.’

One could think of a dog darting its head busily as it sniffs and (almost miraculously for us) identifying the smell it wants and tracking it forward. Wyatt compares this with the creative process – staying on the scent of what is real, keeping it real, despite many distractions and alternative paths.

But how do we know what is real?

Is keeping it real something we have to sit back and think about, or something more instinctive, perhaps appealing to our senses like a scent?

This is a big question (as is the question of whether the real exists, of course). But strangely enough I wouldn’t say that I have difficulty recognising what is real for me. And keeping it real does involve a quickening or intensification of the senses. Reading or writing certain things, exploring particular places.

For me the difficulty is not recognising it, but protecting it – from other important demands on time, or from the myriad distractions of the online world. In his poem ‘Human Condition’, Thom Gunn talks about the difficulty involved in protecting who he is:

I am my one touchstone.

This is a test more hard

Than any ever known.

And thus I keep my guard

On that which makes me man.

So can you be keeping it real when you are teaching? I would say not totally.

As a teacher you are playing a professional role. Plus, you usually know more about the lesson content than the students (and on the occasions you don’t, you pretend you do). You are not usually, as it were, at the edge of your knowledge. But I think it is different for students, and a lesson is a protected time where they should be encouraged to follow the scent of… what?

Enquiry, knowledge, even self-realisation. Teachers can be the touchstones.


More blog posts by Rebecca Reynolds.

May 14, 2015