This blog is aimed to challenge our thinking about creative curriculum design. Alternative learning experiences at university.

The Weddell seal.

The Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) is a relatively large and abundant true seal (family: Phocidae) with a circumpolar distribution surrounding Antarctica. Weddell seals have the most southerly distribution of any mammal, with a habitat that extends as far south as McMurdo Sound (at 77°S).

I have been fixated for weeks on the Weddell seal. I get stuck on associations and images. This time the Weddell seal is taking on a new form. As a metaphor for the creative mind in the HEI environment. Essentially what’s amazing about this mammal is the fact that it chooses to live in the most exposed parts of the world. And the choice it makes means that it has a shorted life expectancy to other chubby friends of the seal variety. The ice sheets that it feeds under are so think it must keep breathing holes in the ice open by scraping the sides with his teeth.

What does this have to do with learning and teaching in university? Well I liken the life of the seal to the life of the creative, alternative thinkers in any environment. Those with alternative views, behaviours, compulsions and souls. I just recognise that taking a breath with a friend or colleague, being allowed to confess or discuss the alternatives that bubble up from the subconscious is not just cathartic it is essential.

I hope you are starting to picture the life of this submerged mammal. It’s not overly inhospitable but at all times there is a need to take a breath. The constant attempts to maintain the breathing holes in the ice is another strong image for me as at all times we are being asked to comply, conform and behave to the social norms around us. It is a good image to picture the seal scraping the sides of the hole as this mirrors the pain that the individual must go to simply to satisfy the need for oxygen.

The seals not only run the risk of losing the breathing holes but at times a predator will sit waiting at the hole ready to attempt to drag the seal out on to the ice. So the seals often in later life carry large facial scars. Making clear again the challenge of life in opposition to the Normal path suggested for us all.

Arts and music degrees and pathways are becoming less and less present in university prospectuses. We are less and less inclined to follow a folk tradition of allowing knowledge to be less timed and built that it is organic and emergent. Eugenics are suggesting that humanity is better with less social variance. It feels like in today’s society we would even limit the pallet colour available to the master painters. ‘Just black and grey today’ Picasso sorry!!

This is pertinent in my mind as recently I came up for breath and have sadly returned with a new scar. The issue with this is that the creative mind then becomes more supressed for fear of perception or imagined ridicule. Fortunately a few days later I was then welcomed in to a new environment with a group of seals that have offered to support and surface with me.

So how does this link with the #poeticnursingheart and images associated with non curricular study and experience? I don’t look to answer that question but I would ask you to.
Essentially I am looking to make the options available more inline with lots of alternative breathing holes cut into the university environment. The challenge is keeping them open, as like the Weddell seal, life expectancy is limited.

So I sing a song of love to my heart and soul…and to those struggling for air, submerged aching for a chance to breathe.

I speak not, I trace not, I breathe not thy name;
There is grief in the sound, there is guilt in the fame;
But the tear that now burns on my cheek may impart
The deep thoughts that dwell in that silence of heart.
Too brief for our passion, too long for our peace,
Were those hours – can their joy or their bitterness cease?
We repent, we abjure, we will break from our chain, –
We will part, we will fly to – unite it again!
Oh! thine be the gladness, and mine be the guilt!
Forgive me, adored one! – forsake if thou wilt;
But the heart which is thine shall expire undebased,
And man shall not break it – whatever thou may’st.
And stern to the haughty, but humble to thee,
This soul in its bitterest blackness shall be;
And our days seem as swift, and our moments more sweet,
With thee at my side, than with worlds at our feet.
One sigh of thy sorrow, one look of thy love,
Shall turn me or fix, shall reward or reprove.
And the heartless may wonder at all I resign –
Thy lips shall reply, not to them, but to mine.

May, 1814.
I Speak Not, I Trace Not, I Breathe Not Thy Name
George Gordon Byron