Wednesday, 13 April 2016

“The best laid schemes o’ mice ‘nd men / Gang aft agley” (Robert Burns) – My Journal Writing Experience So Far And Reflection On Reflection

Today, I have been looking back at some of my journal entries and trying to write a blog about my discoveries. This, for some reason, I have found hard to do. One entry brought back some quite vivid memories about a day when I was not working. It was a day I had set aside to do some module and blog reading and catching up. Recently I have been rather busy and I seem to have had little time.

This particular day, I had great plans to achieve. I had a commitment early in the morning but after that I was free for the rest of the day and the evening. By 10:00 I had a skype call arranged with my sister which would be easily fitted in with my other plans in the early afternoon. However, this was when my day began to turn upside down. Two sets of drop-in visitors showed up before 12:00! I love drop-in visitors but this particular day wasn’t exactly convenient. Anyway, by 15:30, the drop-ins had gone, I had spoken to my sister and I was free to get on with my plans, albeit 5 hours late! Then, a third set of drop-in visitors arrived and the result was that the rest of my free time vanished. So, I managed to put about 10% of my plans into action.
My father tells me a saying often and this particular day was a prime example of that, “Plans rarely survive contact with the enemy.” – (Field Marshall Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke, Chief Of The Great General Staff from 1871-1888 [paraphrased]).  

I have kept my journal for quite a while now. At present I prefer writing in the formats of a narrative/description, initial reflection and evaluation. I am most comfortable with this because I used to write the “Dear Diary” format when I was a teenager which is more like writing a letter to an old friend and the formats I use most at the moment are easily adapted from my old “Dear Diary” technique. I keep my entries as brief as possible but expand on the details I think have been most important during the day. Still there is not much reflection of my emotions felt during the day. It is more about what has happened and what I have thought about it. Writing in this kind of a format, I have noticed a change in myself from the 15 year old girl I was and the 27 year old woman I have become.
At 15, my journal was a tool to release all my negative emotions that I could never express. My 15 year old journal was, as Moon says, “To provide an alternative ‘voice’ for those not good at expressing themselves”.  Having read it back at 24, I didn’t know the girl in the pages. I don’t remember being that person because I remember being happy in general but my journal hadn’t been used to express my happiness because that was never a problem for me to express. Needless to say, I burned the diary. It was not a true reflection of the teenager I had been and I didn’t want anyone ever to see this girl that was, but wasn’t, me.
At 27, the same things that frustrated me as a teenager are the things that give me great joy now. Funny how things change. Now, I am still not good at expressing negative emotions but I don’t need a journal to help me deal with them. Looking back at difficult days in my journal now, they read more that I am amused by the events of the day rather than annoyed or angry etc.. My process of dealing with things has changed and I no longer have to burn pages of my journal. My journal is a much truer reflection of myself compared with when I was 15 because I have grown and learned from my previous journal that using it only as an outlet for negative emotions does not give a true refection and is not a very pleasant read. This gives me understanding that my lack of emotion displayed in my journal now is to prevent my journal becoming like my previous one. Something I can learn from my current journal is that displaying some emotion would be better than displaying none at all. I am still trying to find the middle ground.

Does the thought of someone else’s reading my journal affect what and how I write? Clearly it does. My burning of my journal as a teenager is proof of that. Can we ever be truly inhibited about what we write when there is the threat that someone else might read our innermost thoughts and experiences?

Writing in graphs I noticed that I still felt that I had to write a bit of description because a graph was showing only my emotional experience throughout the day. It was successful in getting me to write down more of my emotions, which is something I do not really do when I’m writing descriptively and am trying to do more. I gave scores out of 10, with 10 being high, on several topics. My topics were happy, sad, angry, tired, bored, interested, work/uni, play, stress, love, family and friends. The graph was a way to show my level of these feelings but there was no reason why I had these feeling during the course of the day or what activities had caused them. I found that I had to do a mini-list as to why I had given some things 10 and why I had given other things 0. So those days are a combination of quite a few journal-writing techniques - description, initial reflection, evaluation, graph and list.

Writing in just a list was quite useful and easy but I have not yet moved onto expanding and furthering the lists. I find it too easy to avoid listing my emotions and thoughts so I cannot expand on them. It is a bare essentials technique for me at the moment so I am going to go look at to get some inspiration on how better to develop my list days.

I have yet to try writing my day from the perspective of an object. I’m quite looking forward to that perspective but choosing an object may be more difficult. What object goes everywhere with me? I cannot choose my phone because it would see too much of the inside of my handbag and then it would see my face. Its perspective is limited by when and how much I need it and for what. A chair will see me only when I am in the same room. What kind of object sees a great amount of my day and what I am getting up to? To choose an object that will have a good view of my day will also depend on where I am going and what I am doing that day. For example, it is no use choosing a garden spade if I am not going to be in the garden.

I have yet to write a “what if?” day. Being a very in-the-moment kind of person, I do not ask "what if" in relation to the past very often because, by then, things are impossible to change. “What if this had happened at an audition?” the fact of that matter is that it didn’t so I don’t worry about it because I can’t change it. Asking “what if?” before an event allows us to be prepared but we are not always aware of exactly what we need to be prepared for, as per the von Moltke quotation above. In my own experience, I have seldom been given chance to prepare for situations that have arisen in my working day as a Production Manager because the people I am working for, and with, are not, generally, prepared themselves. That is where reflection on my past experiences can come in very useful but, again, I usually have to come to a decision very swiftly. Writing about situations helps to stick them in one’s mind so they are easily recalled when something similar arises. As a Dance Captain, I am more readily prepared for any eventuality. I know all the choreography and have hopefully taught all my understudies, I have an up-to-date blocking book, I know where all the costumes are, I have media evidence of choreography if I need to check something that is not written down and I have rehearsed my cast and done a tech-run (hopefully if it is not an emergency).

Reflection is a way to learn from one’s past actions.
“Oh yes, the past can hurt, but the way I see it, you can either run from it or, learn from it” – Disney’s Rafiki.

Writing a journal again and reading about journal writing has been interesting for me because it has made me look at my own self-learning. In the reader, chapter 1: Using Journal writing to enhance Reflective Practice, from the book titled Promoting Journal Writing in Adult Education by David Boud, he goes on to explain the different ways of reflection developed by Donald Schon. This was something I had never actively thought about before.

All dancers have experience of reflection in anticipation of an event because we do it for classes, exams, shows etc., in the form of rehearsals and practicing.
We are all experts at reflection in action because we do this all the time when dancing, meaning that we are noticing things and intervening simultaneously as we are performing. We are always altering our bodies to find our balance, improve our technique, deal with a slippery piece of floor or a moving surface, fix unexpected re-blocking, broken costumes or props, missing costumes etc..
When it comes to reflection after events, I see evidence that we are all doing this too. When a show is over we always talk through it, what went wrong, what went really well, how the audience reacted to our performance, if the sea co-operated with us etc.. Tech-runs are another example of reflection after the event. The show is performed on stage, minus costumes, hair and make-up but with all lights and props and set, the Dance Captain watches, then there are notes given on the performance and notes can be given by any cast member that has noticed something whilst performing on stage. We also record the shows and watch them, giving ourselves and each other notes on what we have seen of the performance. This is sometimes better than the tech-runs for reflection because adrenaline is flowing and the audience gets us going and we are in full costume, hair and make-up. It is a truer example of what we are doing and allows us to criticise ourselves and allows us to get someone other than the Dance Captain’s view and corrections.

There have been many times when I have had to use these reflective techniques. Several occasions were with a large train set onstage that, when the sea was rough, would move about the stage. It was my job to keep my eye on it as best as I could whilst performing and, if it began to move, I was always prepared to stop dancing and push it off the stage whist the others filled in the gap I left and then I would come back onstage at the earliest convenience. This was something the whole cast was prepared for and if I was not in my usual place because of re-blocking, another dancer would take over that responsibility. For this scenario we were prepared before the event even happened. I was altering my performance if I needed to get rid of the train, and looking back at how I removed the train I was always prepared to remove it in a better way so it looked like it was part of the choreography, rather than an unavoidable mistake due to the ship’s listing. So, in relation to this one event, I was reflecting in anticipation of the action, reflecting in the midst of the action, and reflecting after the event.

Another example of this is when someone is injured and we must re-block without rehearsals. We all know where each other’s costumes are placed and we all know our understudy parts so we are able to jump into someone else’s part at the slightest notice. This is reflection in anticipation of an event and I cannot tell you how many times my knowledge of other cast member’s choreography has come in handy, even boy’s choreography!

All in all, these three reflective techniques have been a huge part of my training and professional practice since first going to a dance class, I have just never actively thought about or realised that until reading about them. 

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