After a gross Amazon review, set your novel free!

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So, I wrote an “inspiring, comical, feminist” (to summarise a radio review) chook-lit sort of novel about happiness in the earthquake epoch. That’s Fixing Mrs Philpott. Yes, it contains a few sex scenes, but most novels do, don’t they? Then I got distracted and failed to solicit those first few crucial reviews, leaving the book to languish unnoticed on Amazon/Kindle.

Uh oh, not entirely unnoticed. Along comes this email from a guy I’ll call Ron. Wallowing in apologies because he has written a “smart-alecky and flippant” review that “must have hurt your feelings.” Here it is.

Shocking! (3 stars) By Amazon Customer on July 16, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition
This novel, which would be better titled ‘Filling Mrs.Fusspot’ is based on the preposterous idea that women actually enjoy sex! Well, I never. And this from a Vicar’s daughter. What ever happened to the sage advice from the private journal of Lady Hillingdon: “When I hear his steps outside my door I lie down on my bed, open my legs and think of England.” But seriously folks, what most of these accounts convey is just how repressed most of these women are. Clearly, the Sexual Revolution still has a long way to go. Still, an interesting read.

Well, he didn’t hurt my feelings, because I’ve been communicating with readers for the last 40 years. This is generally a great source of delight, but not everyone likes my books, and I have encountered the occasional slobbering idiot with a hidden agenda. However, he did astonish me: how stupid can you get? In the end I’m laughing … and I pity him.

  • He fancies himself as an author — and this is the quality of writing he is willing to share with the world? By the way, he stands by his opinion.
  • His “review” was anonymous, but he emailed me to claim responsibility — yes really, like ISIS!
  • He is trying to write fiction but he doesn’t understand that fiction may legitimately feature any conceivable character including a quaint old lady stuck in a time warp.
  • He thought my feelings would be hurt; no, but as a writer I’m annoyed because Amazon reviews are hard-won and influential.

My tragic reviews data for Fixing Mrs Philpott

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Only a tiny minority of readers write a review. Half of my reviews for Fixing Mrs Philpott consists of a single thoughtful, genuine review. The other 50% has been squandered on — let’s call a spade a spade — sexual harassment.

What do you do with an inappropriate review?

I don’t know what’s best — what would you do? Nothing, if it’s one of 20 reviews. But because it’s one of only two (tragic, I know) here’s what I’ve done:

  • smiled an evil smile
  • clicked “Not helpful” and “Report abuse”
  • made Fixing Mrs Philpott (Kindle edition) FREE on Amazon for the next 5 days: Monday 21 August – Friday 25 August; I’ll repeat this as often as I’m allowed
  • BEGGED you to download the Kindle edition as a gift from me to you, and if you possibly can, to write even the tiniest little honest review
  • crossed my fingers (not legs).

Thank you in advance, dear reader-writer

I know you’re probably a writer as well as a reader. And that therefore you understand this situation. I was going to say, you have much more understanding than Rob — I mean Bob — sorry, Ron— but that goes without saying.

Forgive me for venting. This is not my problem alone. If I had 20 reviews, it would not be a problem at all.

Meantime I do hope you enjoy reading this novel. I love giving it away free and I’ll do it whenever Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) allows. F

Your free copy here 21 –25 August 2017

 

 

 

Mindful moments: stand, drink water

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(First published in 2015) In which a poem and song about the Christchurch earthquakes help me to take a mindful moment when I drink a glass of water.

One of my boot camp tasks is to increase the number of genuinely mindful moments—when I’m fully aware of what I am doing and feeling and thinking and sensing at at the time. Sitting and meditating is easy by comparison. Both are a pleasure—but it’s difficult to snatch that quick flash of mindfulness in a busy day.

Paradoxically, mindfulness comes easier when it’s a habit. My son Geoff, for example, aims to be mindful in two situations: every time he walks through a door and every time he takes someone’s blood pressure. One is a moment of transition, the other a moment of stillness.

At Capital Choir we are singing a powerful new song — music by Felicia Edgecombe, words by Jeffrey Paparoa Holman. Here’s the poem.

After the tremor

after the tremor the neighbour
after the terror the stranger
after the stranger the doctor
after the doctor the soldier

after the soldier the looter
after the looter the vulture
after the horror the ruins
after the ruins the kindness

after the kindness the sirens
after the sirens the silence
after the silence the weeping
after the weeping the comfort

after the toppling the creaking
after the shaking the shaking
after the shaking the questions
after the rage and courage

after profound desolation
after the nurse and the undertaker

we stand and we drink from a glass of water

— (c) Jeffrey Paparoa Holman

See that last line? The people of Christchurch know what a privilege this is. The poem forces us through a relentless sequence of events and feelings experienced by Christchurch people during the last few years. The horror began with a massive earthquake that shattered the city, but that was only the start of hell time.

We stand and we drink from a glass of water.

Stability. Water. We take them for granted, most of the time. For older people, stability and water are even more precious. Sometimes when I stand and drink from a glass of water, I try to think of nothing else. I look at the water—what an amazing modern blessing, clean clear water running out of a tap! And the glass—perfect, it works! I’m standing firm and straight and steady. The ground is firm. God I’m lucky!

These are mindful moments, refreshing, stabilising. A flash of awareness incites gratitude. And how much time do they take? None, because we have to drink water anyway—especially when we are older.

After the tremor: the song

Image from The Art of the Dresden Gallery (1907) by Julia de Wolf Gibbs

Photos of Christchurch before and after the February 2011 earthquake

 

Travel blogs and travel talk

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Marrakech Gare: going places!

Travel blogs: hugely popular for good reason

Travel blogging is a brilliant way to keep a travel diary, manage your trip photos, and keep family and friends up to date with your adventures. Also, you only have to write about each memory once — one post and it’s done — but you can edit at your leisure. There’s room for every kind of travel blog: visual, verbal, mundane, philosophical, private, public, chatty, literary, jokey, romantic — it’s all good. A travel blog can quadruple the pleasure of a trip.

Travel conversations are not so easy

These after-the-trip conversations are inevitable. When you return from an exotic place, you are obliged to talk about it. Friends ask about Your Trip (especially in New Zealand, where every country except Australia is a fairly long way away). Or you have an urge to talk about it anyway, bursting to share all your strange and marvellous experiences.

But how? Travel talk can be such a pleasure, but it can also go seriously wrong. Half your audience has already been to the same destination, and the other half has been there in spirit thanks to TripAdvisor and Facebook.

Is there a taxonomy of travel talk? I have been watching how others do it, and I hope to learn from their triumphs and mistakes.

A. Travel talk that I enjoy

  1. Personal experiences combined with insights into broader topics.
  2. A story steeped in joy or excitement or delight or drama or fear: strong frank personal feelings.
  3. People who travel with a specific purpose: how did things pan out?
  4. A story about people.
  5. An amazing fact that I have never heard before.
  6. Stories that grow and grow in response to the listener’s questions.

B. Travel talkers who drive me nuts 

Hello B-team. I’m glad you had an adventure and I wish you all the best, but let’s set a 5 minute limit.

  1. The bore who tells you 1,000 (dubious, random, context-less) “facts” about a place.
  2. The know-it-all who believes that spending 5 minutes in a place gives their every opinion the ring of authority.
  3. The full-time cruise traveller who compares tours, not places.
  4. The super-generaliser.
  5. The person who forgets you used to live there.
  6. Mr and Mrs Cost-a-Lot, Mr and Mrs They-Can’t-Make-Chips, and their friends.

After my next holiday in Kuala Lumpur I’d better prepare an executive summary so that I don’t lapse into category B.

**
This blog post is reprinted from Old Lady Laughing, which nobody ever read. My own photo, cc by 2.0

The toxic tentacles of OSANP (one strange and nasty person)

A dancing octopus
A glorious dancing octopus. Tentacles are its only common attribute with OSANP. Photo by DaugaardDK CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

My problems are never original. They are always in some sense generic, typical, almost universal. So when I write about them, it’s not because I expect you to be surprised or impressed. No, I expect you’ll recognise them.

Joy of the day — dancing!

Today is exciting and joyful because it’s the first of our 3-day dance season in Wellington. I’ll walk to the theatre at 4.45 (in 2 minutes) buying two bananas on route, ready for warm-up and tech rehearsal at 5.30. Hang out with friends while we organise our costumes and props and do panicky little rehearsals of tricky bits. And then dance dance dance our socks off, disoriented by lights and thrilled with our usual appreciative (ahem, discerning) audience. This year we — four groups of Crows Feet from four centres — do Climate Change, which is inspiring and entertaining too. Youngest dancer is 40, oldest is me at 77.

climate-image 2

For this weekend, I must banish an infuriating (and common) problem to the back of my neck.

The curious case of the non-voluntary volunteers

I’m chair of a small body corporate (i.e. group of 5 owners who share an old 6-apartment block). I’ve been on the body corp for 31 years without ever hitting an insoluble problem. In that time we have gotten rid of two white-collar criminal members, legitimately and without fuss. I’ve had the occasional hissy fit but our finances, admin, and property have been managed successfully for 3 decades by the owners, mandatory volunteers, amateurs obliged to cooperate in a professional job of work. We have almost always managed to comply with the letter and the spirit of the law. I’m proud of what we have accomplished.

Until now. Two years ago, by sheer chance, all the apartments except mine were sold to new owners. Three of the owners are great people, cooperative, generous with their ideas and time. The other one (who bought two apartments, aaarrgh!) is one of those OSANPs.

Curse of the year — the body corporate OSANP

OSANPS are not quite the same as other people. Alien in a suit. CC0 from Max Pixel
OSANPS (one strange and nasty persons) are not quite the same as other people. CC0 from Max Pixel

It’s a law of nature: every body corporate gets one of these people doled out to them at some point. All my body corp- friends have had their own versions, and I wondered why we were spared. Then the gods noticed their error and threw us a right humdinger.

It’s taken time to realise that this person lies by default, often with seemingly pointless lies that are spotted instantly. Makes promises, forgets and denies promises. Desperately wants to rule. Abuses and bullies anyone who opposes him. Has a contempt for the law and two abiding values: money and power. (Sound familiar?)

Yes, he’s a case study but what good does a fancy label do?

No more Mrs Nice Guy

Now I get it. He’s non-comprehensible. He’s almost like another species. He’ll never change no matter what we do so I’m getting tough.

He has recourse (through the very Act he despises) — he can take us to the Tenancy Tribunal, mediation, or the High Court. Meantime I want us to appoint a professional manager, just for starters.

And then… There will be ructions but A. we will have professional support and B. there would be ructions no matter how nice I am.

And then… I will get my life back. I will have room for the creative activities that are my lifeblood. I will revert to my baseline of steadiness and joy. That’s the plan.

Wish me luck. And tell me, have you been there, done that too?

And now… on with the dance!

Game plan for the coming decades

accept the unfathomable
and face the inevitable

Rachel McAlpine


Image from “Prodigiorvm ac ostentorvm chronicon […]” (1557)  Lykosthenes, Konrad; Kandel, David, and Manuel, Hans Rudolf

How dancing has improved the function of an aging brain

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Antique dancers’ brains benefit from dancing antique Greek dances

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(Written in 2015.) In which I perform a scientific analysis of the effect of dancing on an aging brain: three out of four cognitive skills have shown a marked improvement.

 

I belong to the Crows Feet Dance Collective. We rehearse once a week for 90 minutes and every year we perform a brand new contemporary dance show. “New”: that means every rehearsal is a learning session.

Any sort of dancing must surely be good for you physically, improving balance, flexibility, strength, and the cardio-vascular system. And let’s take it for granted that dancing is usually a social activity, which is also important for older people.

But how about the brain? Does dancing really make you smarter, as some research seems to suggest?*

I began dancing 9 years ago, aged 66, and I’ve been reflecting on certain cognitive changes that I can attribute largely to dancing. So consider me a walking, talking, fully subjective before-and-after case study.

Three cognitive skills have become much sharper: orientation, proprioception and kinaesthetic learning. I know: I was there. For my first four or five years I blundered around the floor in utter confusion. But eventually the truth emerged: yes, even at an advanced age, even with an incompetent driver, my brain was capable of benefiting.

Alas, I still give myself a Fail for focus, on which everything else depends. I understand that concentration does tend to get more difficult with age. But the other three areas of my dancing brain have improved so much that I will not give up.

Orientation: much improved

In the everyday world, I’m pretty good at knowing north/south/east and west. Provided you remain in the same hemisphere, sensing the compass points is not too difficult (hint: look for the sun).

But in a dance studio, orientation is not so simple. You’re whizzing around rapidly, occupying different areas, changing directions, spinning, turning left, right and upside down, told to face upstage or downstage or left or right or this corner or that corner, and you’re surrounded by other rapidly moving dancers. For the first few years, yes, years, I was constantly confused about orientation.

My sense of helpless confusion has passed. If at times I do get confused about orientation, I get it sorted pretty quickly.

Proprioception: a new era of awareness

It’s hard enough to pronounce this word, let alone actually do it. Proprioception is the sense of where each part of your own body is in space. Precisely where are your feet, your legs, your hands, your arms, your back, your head at this moment? At what angle is each leg, each arm?

Maybe I needed this skill more than most. I used to live in my head. I functioned OK, but in fact I had hardly any awareness of my body at all. I was aware of my busy little brain going 90 miles an hour, but as for my body, it was a kind of blur that came along for the ride. It was attached to me, but what it was doing—who knew?

Without good proprioception, you would never learn any choreography—your body would always be doing its own thing. You have to know how a certain position feels in your body: you can’t keep checking up, glancing at your limbs while you dance.

Happily, my propriocentric awareness has rocketed.

Kinaesthetic learning: damn fine

I learn so much faster now than before. Only a few years ago I would spend the whole rehearsal blundering from one move to another, copying the other dancers, thinking step by step in a dislocated juddering sequence of events.  Bend this bit, now flick that bit, right foot first, triplet, stop, run, stretch right… And I would use every memory aid I could concoct. Drawings. Diagrams. Videos. Narratives. Lists.

In those early years, learning choreography was horribly slow and horribly painful. Even when I could remember the moves, I was never really dancing. Still, by the time we performed I could stumble through my stuff more or less in the right place most of the time.

To be fair, learning new dances is pretty demanding on the brain. You’re watching and listening, and integrating oral instructions with your body, the music, other dancers and the geography of the dance floor. It’s not easy, which is why I like it.

Let me be blunt. I will never learn at a fraction of a young person’s pace. We all notice that. But when I compare my 75-year-old self with my 66-year-old self, the difference startles me. My muscle memory is stronger, and sometimes I even get that magical sense of flow.

Focus: must try harder

The one cognitive skill that I’m not happy with is my ability to focus.

It’s embarrassing to realise that I often look as if I don’t know the dance—but I do know the dance! I’ve just lost my focus temporarily.

In rehearsal, loss of focus is a nuisance and slows learning down. On stage, loss of focus can be a disaster.

Admittedly, it’s more difficult dancing in performance. The space is completely different, the lights are bright, you have to dodge obstacles, the auditorium is pitch black, and tension is high.

One night during our last season, I performed a brief involuntary solo. Inside, I was mortified, but I bluffed my way back to the gang. The stage was very busy at that point with at least 20 dancers in action, so I pretend that nobody noticed.

Next step: mindful dancing

Thus I give myself a 75% pass, which leaves room for cognitive improvement in the last 25% of my life. That’s great, because my motto is: Don’t peak too soon.

This is my boot camp goal: to focus on the dance consistently. In other words, to be mindful while dancing. To notice when my mind wanders and bring it back to the task at hand… and not to be too hard on myself.

The joy of dancing is immense. I want to carry on learning and growing and stretching myself body and mind and soul until I drop. And I don’t want to disappoint myself or my fellow dancers, who are all dear to me. For all these reasons, I will do my uttermost to focus on focus.


 


Use it or lose it: dancing makes you smarter, longer

Robert Powers of Stanford Dance summarises relevant research and its implications for us.

Image from The antique Greek dance, after sculptured and painted figures (1916) Emmanuel, Maurice. In the public domain.

Just when do you want to die?

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Exactly when would you prefer to die? Soon, before you are too old? Most of us don’t have a choice. I wrote this poem for Sally Bond, who died at 95 in a rest home on Christmas Day, 2014. But perhaps it will fit someone else you know. Or you and me, one day.

When?

Most of us are afraid
of a slow fade,
a late grave.

Most of us equate old age
with panic and despair
and things we could not bear.

We say, Not us! No way!
We want to be hit by a bus.
… But when?

Most of us blaze through middle age.
Much later, we mellow.
Less yellow. More grey.

And later still, we fade.
Then death is subtle
and dying is wise.

I asked my sister, When
will I be ready to die?
She answered, When you die.


poem & photo by Rachel McAlpine cc-by-4.0

This poem is in Senior Poems, a Kindle ebook to echo and soothe your thoughts and hopes and fears and joys as you face the bonus years.