How I won’t be working with children yet (because I’m Whale 52)

In 2016 I’ve blogged more than usual about children: kids’ books, libraries, parenting and literacy.

For me, this month marks 10 years of volunteering in school – a decade of enjoying reading, group discussions, swimming, sports days, trips, gardening, and helping with the library. I saw a child who was scared of books start to enjoy reading, saw non-swimmers swim, and walked into a room to see twenty-four faces turn and smile: school is a house of miracles and a place where I’d love to be at home.

But it’s not my home. And even though I love it, the volunteer role — neither fully employed (with the authority and ability to really perform) nor fully free — is too much of a compromise for me. I can’t look back on life and think, “What a nice, safe compromise I lived.” I have twenty working years ahead of me and more energy than I know what to do with — I need to hurl myself into a career and give it my all.

I have more energy than I know what to do with. I can’t look back on life and think, “What a nice, safe compromise I lived.”

Last week as I assessed a new writing opportunity, I also spotted an advert for a short-term, part-time TA role and it made me think, could I turn my volunteer role into a career 

I’d love to, but when I went to ask, I was told that qualified teachers were applying for the TA role. This is great news for the school (although what it says about the industry might be more complex) but raises an obvious question for me:

If ten years of consistent, self-motivated volunteering doesn’t qualify someone even for a 20-minute discussion about a part-time, short-term job, what does that say about the value of the volunteer roleI was invited back as volunteer, so on reflection it tells me that parents are welcome to help if they enjoy it, but beyond enjoyment, it’s of little or no value.

I do enjoy it, but I need more from life than unpaid pleasure. I’m a freelancer: flexible, task-oriented, and objective-driven. Come, do the job, go. I only arrive if you ask for me, only stay as long as I’m needed and, like Nanny McPhee, the moment my input is no longer of value, I leave. 

So I galloped home to find my writing clients offering paid work, new training, season’s greetings, and delicious gift hampers. (Hampers with cakes and cream in!) I love my clients, I really do; I’m grateful to them and for them, and my work, while familiar, remains fascinating and worthwhile.

I’ve accepted an exciting new writing project for the new year, and I’m starting to buzz. That will last a couple of months, after which I’ll be looking to break new ground. In a few weeks I also have a college event lined up, a little light window shopping for further education — woo hoo! An avalanche of possibilities.

Twenty years ago I created a new career path, one that had never existed before, and I’m ready to do that again. I’m restless. I want something innovative, unbounded…

Probably involving children and writing. Probably not involving a compromise.

I feel like Whale 52, in a good way.

Did you hear about Whale 52? M’kay, this is a true story:  

I first read about this in 2015. From 1989 to 2004, scientists tracked pods of happy little whales all communing and breeding, but they also found this one lone whale howling weirdly, and particularly loudly, on his or her own. Turns out, he (or she) transmits at 52Hz (hence the name), rather than the 10-40Hz of other whales. Whales are social animals who call to one another regularly, and so it’s been deduced that Whale 52 is probably a very lonely animal who is desperate for company.

That said, scientists have seen whales change their transmission frequencies over time, both as species and individuals. They speculate that the other whales can hear 52, and in any case 52’s own tone has changed over the years and is now more like 47Hz. Also whales synchronise their calls and it’s possible that other whales are starting to use the 52Hz frequency; the two groups may be coming together and Whale 52 may no longer be alone.

Scientists are now trying to find Whale 52 again, with a view to making a film. I really, really want to see that film.

Until then, we don’t know who Whale 52 is. Maybe an anomaly, or maybe the key to an evolution in which whales of different frequencies learn to come together?

Either way, I’ve not given up hope for Whale 52. One day, bud, one day.


Whale 52 program

Whale 52 analysis


Image attribution (top) / (middle)  (bottom) 

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