A poem for the miserably married

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The first course I’m preparing for Udemy (short, online, largely video) is Write Over Divorce. It’s been great fun so far, planning the curriculum and making slideshows and videos.

One video is about how I have used writing to reduce the trauma of divorce — and it includes an alarming piece of doggerel, written when my marriage was beyond repair.

To me, the poem is a reminder that terrible situations can be changed, and people can flourish after divorce. Case in point: my ex and I have each been as happy as Larry for the last three decades, and we are friends.

The original poem is long lost, so this one is a half-accurate reconstruction from memory. I think it was published in Broadsheet, a splendid feminist magazine of the 1970s, but I never included it in any book. However, at the time it was widely circulated by women (and some men) in similar situations and became a popular fridge poem, stuck to many a refrigerator door with a magnet.

Feel free to share it with somebody who needs it now!

I’m tired

I’m tired of acting dutiful and tame
I’m tired of always taking all the blame
I’m tired of using someone else’s name
I’m tired of blowing on this dying flame
I only said I’d marry you
I never said I’d carry you
And I’m tired.

I’m tired of being nothing but a nurse
Your silence is as bitter as a curse
And every day it gets a little worse
There’s nothing left but money in the purse
I only said I’d marry you
I never said I’d carry you
And I’m tired.

I’m tired of sifting truth from all the lies
of trying to be helpful and be wise
and seeing in the glass my empty eyes
and every day a little loving dies
I only said I’d marry you
I never said I’d carry you
and I’m tired.

 

– – – – –

Rachel McAlpine, 1977?

PS You can read other poems by me on Poems in the wild 

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Dancing with aphantasia

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Right, in half an hour I’m off to the Crows Feet Dance Collective dress rehearsal for our new show, Hakari. And because I finally grasp the fact that I have Aphantasia, I will be dancing with some new insights into how I learn the necessary choreography compared with how others learn.

At last I understand why I’m the one who needs the following aids to learning.

  • I take videos of each dance for learning purposes
  • I keep a notebook
  • I make little diagrams of our placement on the floor at the start of each movement
  • I create little stories to remember the order of things (don’t ask — they are crazy)
  • I give labels to movements or poses (tai chi, swish, tiptoes, Peter Pan, tootsies, windmill, Krishna and so forth)
  • I silently recite little mantras like 1, 2, skippity hop.

When I rehearse a dance in my head, I feel it in my body.

And all this is not because at 76 I’m the oldest dancer on the floor. It’s because I cannot picture the dance in my mind’s eye.  I can feel with my mind’s body. And I can hear the accompanying music in my mind’s ear. But I cannot see it with my non-existent mind’s eye.

Clever little brain, ay? Who else do you know with this fun condition?

Crows Feet Dance Collective on Facebook

 

 

A writer with aphantasia—weird or what?

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Lately a flurry of articles have drawn attention to the phenomenon of aphantasia. This is a recently named brain condition (not a disability) of those who cannot summon up mental pictures in their mind’s eye.  (Some have “total aphantasia”, which affects all the senses, but that’s not me.)

Realisation slow and fast: that’s me too

A long article by Blake Ross woke me up to what a big deal this is.

  • I knew I was face-blind.
  • I knew I had peculiar difficulty in remembering things, and always have had. Big blanks where others had instant recall.
  • I knew I was pretty smart at conceptual thinking, had a busy brain forever generating new deductions and ideas.
  • I often used words like visualize and picture this, never dreaming that others could do this literally. To me they were just metaphors.
  • I had no idea that others could summon up faces and other mental pictures at will.

Boom! Suddenly I get it, and the revelation is a whopper.

Further reading and experiments confirmed that the way that I (and at least 2% of the population) process information is not the norm. The killer question was: “Imagine a red triangle.” How hard is that? So what really happens when I ask myself to do this? I see black, black, black. I laboriously pick a point and sort of join the dots. But I still see nothing. I’m just shuffling data, drawing conclusions, and attempting to construct something from scratch. Same if I try to visualise a scene, or my childhood home: I kind of draw it, flat. The process is cognitive and deliberate. Nothing spontaneous about it!

In dreams and in that dream-like state before and after sleep, I do sometimes see things in my mind, vividly. So I know what it’s like, sort of. But I cannot, do not do it when awake.

But a writer — a poet! — with aphantasia? How can that be?

Easy. Information is flooding in, with further research and active forums for people with aphantasia. And it seems that many of us develop strong conceptual skills, mathematical skills or yes, verbal skills. This, I dare say, is how our brains automatically compensate for a lack that we never knew we had.

Instead of mental pictures, we use other information. Click click click, we work away slotting facts into place.

I have trouble describing people and if I do, I’ll just pick a detail or two and let the reader do the imagining. Sometimes I draw people from TV (Antiques Roadshow being a favourite) and use those drawings as models for characters.

It’s hilarious. Since childhood I have been admired and condemned for my too-vivid imagination. The word imagination deconstructed means constructing images, doesn’t it? I do that with words. Moreover, in the real world I have a powerful aesthetic sense, fascinated by photographs and design.

Often our life work emerges from our own inadequacies. So I failed the secret visualization test? Inevitably my dear little brain steers me into a bypass route, boosting my scores on real-world visuals, turning me into a cracker writer, gifting me the ability to explain things to others, teach them a different way …

Two minutes of self-pity over aphantasia

Last night a friend told me that if she thought about anyone, a picture of them would instantly appear in her mind. Sometimes pictures arrive without being summoned, without an apparent trigger. Wow! Really? Literally? All the time? Who knew? Answer: about 98% of people. Apparently using the mind’s eye features large in how other people think.

This morning early, last night’s revelation hit me with a bang. So … you mean … if I had a neurotypical mind’s eye, I could do this too? I would be able to see pictures of my sisters, my daughters, my sons, my granddaughters, my grandsons, my friends, like a slideshow or even a movie?

How bloody wonderful that would be! How comforting! How blissful! How healing that would be if I were sick, or when I become old in body and afraid.

I allowed myself to weep at this terrible loss of something that (as far as I know) I have never had. I let rip with delicious self-pity for two minutes. That’s more than enough.

Enough: aphantasia is neutral or positive

It just is. I can see how it has affected my life in a hundred ways, most of them not bad ways but harmless or interesting or useful or funny. Over the years I have mastered many a workaround — that’s neuroplasticity at work. Sometimes my solutions to problems seem ingenious to the receiver. Often my solutions seem ludicrous because, to other people, they are totally unnecessary. Now, finally, I begin to understand why that is, and why aphantasia is, on balance, neutral or positive.


Image from “Surgery, its principles and practice” 1906 Internet Archive Book Images 

Further information: 

Yay for a new passion and challenge: Write into life

Write into life! A new series of Udemy videos on personal writing and Expressive writing
Write into life! A new series of Udemy videos on personal writing and Expressive writing

Well, that didn’t take long. Two weeks after ending my 10-year involvement with Contented.com I had a pretty clear idea of my next project.

To announce it here is ridiculously premature, but too bad: I have begun to create video courses for Udemy.com under the umbrella name of Write Into Life. This idea has been lurking in the back of my mind for many years as a potential retirement adventure. Now I’m hurling myself into it: short, simple courses that help people to deal with various troubles and traumas — just by writing about them.

Actually there’s no “just” about it. The courses are based on more than 200 research studies over 30 years, and are meticulously structured to maximise benefits. So that’s meant plenty of catch-up reading.

The first course, of which I have completed about 1/7th, is called Write Over Divorce!

Insight of the day: I’m waking up early and itching to get into the next video. There’s nothing I love better than a big, difficult, totally new and totally original project all my own. So happy!

It’s not how everyone wants in their (misleading label) “retirement” but it was bound to happen to me. What can I do? I’ve got a busy brain. This is who I am. Lucky me!

When youth challenges age in the playground, competition is fierce

Thank goodness for Ruby (not her real name), my almost-teenage granddaughter.  When she visits on Mondays after school, she often takes me to the local playground and sets challenges. This spurs me on, and  I might even secretly practise on Saturday mornings when I take 3-year-old grandson Finn (not his real name) to the very same playground. I’m not saying I do. I’m not saying I don’t.

We are both fiercely competitive on these occasions, but we are also kind.

Yesterday challenge #1 was a race over a very steep, rough track up and down a hill.  I always win this one, because I am fearless.

Rachel standing on a high fence.
I climbed the fence!

Challenge #2 was climbing an unclimbable barrier around a tree, using a conveniently placed stick. For the first time, I actually achieved this. Feeling proud! But Ruby did it faster.

The pigeon-toed approach to walking a log.
The pigeon-toed approach to walking a log.

Challenge #3 was to walk along a log barrier without falling off. I achieved about 20 metres by dint of a new pigeon-toed technique.

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The Peter Pan way of falling off a log.

Falling off a log is easy, I grant you that. But this too became a joyful event when I applied the Peter Pan technique. I lost the challenge but improved my personal best.

Challenge #4 was swinging from the monkey bars. Ruby always beats me but I did make it to the fifth bar. Not bad, huh?

Who can swing the highest?
Who can swing the highest?

The fifth challenge was impossible for us to judge: who could swing highest? I reckon we were quits.

Final score: Ruby: 3, Granny: 1, R&G equal: 1.

Do you have grandchildren who push you beyond your personal best? If so, you know how lucky you are.


Thanks to Ruby for the photos. Masterly!

 

 

Jo-joy of dancing: how to dance better

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This week, I discovered something wonderful: the simple act of smiling can make a difficult learning task easy and fun.

The Crows Feet Dance Collective is at that scary moment, ten days before the first performance of a new show. Our sub-group is a wee bit fraught as we struggle to clean up technique on two new dances, both of which are difficult in their way. Secretly we fear that the show cannot possibly be ready for opening night. OK, that’s normal and it happens every year.

Anyway, at Sunday rehearsal I looked around and saw many anxious faces. That seemed reasonable: most of us are not able to smile on stage until we have mastered the choreography. It is surely false to smile when you feel as if you are bumbling around, that you’ll let the side down, that you’ll never get it right.

Or is it?

A Jo epiphany: if you love dancing, show it!

Then I thought about Jo, a star of our group and a dear friend, our lovely Jo who had just left town to live in another city. Jo is charismatic on stage: you can’t take your eyes off her. This is partly because of her beauty and grace, but also because a transcendent joy of dancing shines out of her face.

Then I thought, Rachel, you love dancing too. That’s why you’re here! Why not show your delight instead of exuding strain and effort? You have plenty to smile about. If messing up on stage is your worst worry, you are living the dream.

So I decided to smile. I began to smile on purpose. And immediately, two marvellous things happened.

Marvellous thing #1: joy squashes worry

I felt the muscles of my face come alive. (Perhaps they were dancing.) I felt the joy of dancing rush back into me. I truly truly enjoyed every minute of the next rehearsal. Faith, hope and charity returned. Charity? I felt my smile was a gesture of loving kindness towards myself. I forgive myself for bumbles and failings — let them go! If I’m dancing and doing my best, that’s enough.

I did expect this when I turned on the smile: that kind of effect is pretty well documented. But I did not anticipate the next marvellous thing.

Marvellous thing #2: joy improves technique

Who knew? At last night’s rehearsal I made fewer mistakes. I recovered faster than usual when I did make a mistake. I absorbed corrections faster too: I made nice progress with some tricky bits.

Of course I don’t know the reason but I can guess. I didn’t waste energy straining or beating myself up. I remembered why I was dancing: not because I want to be a prima ballerina but because I love it. And so I had a happy evening with my friends.

I’m learning two lessons again. Smiling heals, if you can do it. Dancing heals, if you let it.

When we perform, I’ll be the one spaced out on the joy of the dance. If I get out of step or do an involuntary solo, I’ll forgive myself and I hope you will too.

————-

Photo of rehearsal by Crows Feet Dance Collective
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