Fishing the grid

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a small boat floating
on a sea of memories
words I readily
use swim
near the surface

some words dwell
in the darkest deeps
every year
more nouns and
names

but I
will fight the good
fight
on the tip of my
tongue

buyer’s remorse I think
slower
I’m slowing
her
down

I want to churn
the cross
words
at my chosen
speed


This poem was FOUND in a blog post by James Wallace Harris
poem & photo by rachel mcalpine CC BY 2.0

What’s a found poem doing in a prose blog?

It’s all my stuff,whether it happens to be on this blog or on my blog across the way (Poems in the Wild). But this particular poem is a found poem, and as such, of interest to the original writer and his own followers. Who write and read prose. What a tangled web we weave.

In brief, I loved James’s original post about crosswords and memory and aging, and couldn’t resist reassembling some of his phrases into a poem that added a hesitant rhythm to the sound and meaning, to suggest that too-familiar experience of fishing around for that elusive word.

Thank you James!

Why older people talk about their ailments

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The six Taylor sisters being schooled at home during a polio epidemic

Aunt Beulah posed (indirectly) a fascinating question in her latest blog post:

Why, as we grow older, do we feel the urge to discuss our health problems at length, when as children we never did?

So many hypotheses rushed into my head that I was forced to share them immediately. Oh dear. So that means I’m a case in point…

These hypotheses are warped by my early life as a cheerful healthy kid with five healthy sisters in the 1940s. My thoughts are bound to be misguided or outright wrong. Tell me, I can take it!

  1. (Worst first.) Our world has shrunk. We are less interested in the outside world and  more interested in ourselves. So we assume the big world is equally interested in our ailments. Ouch. Please let that not be true!
  2. We were strong healthy children. So most health problems were due to “childhood ailments” which we would, by definition, grow out of. By contrast, after middle age any ailment might be, probably is, a sign that we are getting older, and there’s only one way this can end. So we talk about our ailments to stave off decrepitude and death.
  3. Colds, flu, scarlet fever, chicken pox and measles were infectious and non-selective.  With every epidemic our family got a job-lot, six for the price of one. There was nothing individual about being sick, nothing interesting. If I was sick, so were Jill, Deirdre, Prue, Lesley and Penny. Now we feel alone with each new ailment, and we talk about them for company and reassurance.
  4. We’ve lived beyond Doctor-Knows-Best to the Do-It-Yourself era of health maintenance. For every whiff of an ailment we can instantly get 100 solutions on the internet. There is a heck of a lot more information that can be shared, so we share it.
  5. We have a scientific interest in the state of our body and wish to optimize its efficiency for the years ahead. We love being alive and want to make the most of it. So we talk about how to manage our ailments.
  6. We sympathize with friends who have ailments and want to offer support. So we enable their health-talk.

A friend of mine, Elisabeth, lamented the deterioration of a precious relationship. She and her friend (let’s call her Valerie) used to have exciting spirited passionate wide-ranging intellectual conversations every time they met. Now … each entire outing would be filled by Valerie’s health-talk. Not a single other topic was discussed.

Now that’s bad. Endlessly ruminating over health problems must be one of the worst things you can do for your health. It’s boring, and it throws the relationship out of whack — unfair division of time and topic!

I’m pretty interested in the workings of mind and brain, and I am my only available case study, so I’m at risk of becoming a Valerie. But I do have a private rule: no more than 5 minutes per meeting per person may be spent discussing health problems, whether they be bunions or cancer.

This rough and ready private and flexible rule does not preclude sympathy or empathy. But sometimes a change of topic is as good as a dose of aspirin.

Do read Aunt Beulah’s article which stimulated me to think about this! It’s talk about health talk, very funny and wise.

Writing heals: the story of Mrs D

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Mrs D is Going Without. Lotta Dann. A memoir

Writing can heal. Some people discover this through therapy (or perhaps an online writing course like Write Over Divorce), and some people make it happen all by themselves.

Lotta Dann was a wife-and-mother with a perfect life and a drinking problem. One day she decided privately, suddenly, independently, urgently, to stop drinking alcohol. She didn’t seek help or join AA or go to rehab or tell a friend or consult a doctor. This enormous decision was her little secret.

Lotta did just one thing besides decide: she started a daily blog to document her first year of not-drinking, and called it Mrs D is going without. And that one spontaneous act became an extraordinary source of strength.

How blogging about sobriety helped Mrs D

Right from the start:

  • by recording her decision, she made it visible and impossible to deny
  • writing helped her to confront one day at a time without getting overwhelmed
  • she could encourage herself and remind herself of why she had stopped
  • blogging daily imposed a daily discipline
  • writing enabled her to explore and express a torrent of ideas and feelings.

Then something happened that surprised Mrs D: other people found her blog. An online community sprang up around her. Other people seemed to be experiencing her struggle vicariously, began to support her — and in a way, to depend on her. She had started alone, but now she was far from alone in her battle for sobriety.

How Mrs D now helps other recovering alcoholics

I’ve read the book of the blog and it’s a brave, vulnerable and honest story.

I salute Lotta Dann for her courage. I am amazed at the way she has used writing as therapy, meditation, cognitive training and human support.

She now uses her wisdom to help others online and elsewhere.

Another view of 70- and 80-somethings

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My last post was about the difficulty of getting used to dramatic changes in our appearance in our seventies and eighties. Thank you for your comments, my friends: so it’s not just me who is struggling with identity problems at 76?

I can’t resist posting this photograph of my friend and role model Sunny Amey on the left and the heroine of my novel, Fixing Mrs Philpott, on the right. Sunny is probably about 86 (ages are so forgettable).  She is wise, brilliant, naughty, witty, and always and forever her inimitable self. By contrast, that Mrs Philpott really is stuck in the past. She inhabits a fantasy world where there is no need ever for rudeness, which she abhors.

That’s Sunny splitting her sides with laughter, and Mrs Philpott expressing her prim disapproval of the speech that Sunny made in praise of the author, Rachel McAlpine. She also insists that the novel, which is fiction, and therefore not true, is not rude as in 50 Shades of Grey, but more like 31 Shades of Salmon Pink—much nicer.

If that’s not an identity problem, I don’t know what is. And that’s not the half of it.

Waiting: it’s a hobby

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The seminar would be late starting, because of a technological hitch.  The famous choreographer said, “I’m good at waiting. It’s my hobby.”

This startling statement has stayed with me longer than any of his brilliant insights into dance. I decided to adopt this hobby myself. Since then every slow queue, every delayed airline, every lonesome minute in a cafe or a dentist’s lobby is an event in itself for me. I’ve got to wait anyway: why fret about something I cannot change? Waiting is not a void: it’s an event.

A friend said, “What I don’t like about waiting is the fact that nothing is happening.” But something is happening: you are waiting.

A glimpse of angry waiting

I went to Warehouse Stationery for a small urgent printing job. One machine was out of action and a staff member away sick, so there was going to be a delay. OK, can’t change that. In bustled an upset person with angry hair.

P. from K. “I’m a proofreader and I’ve just come in from Karori” (a 15 minute bus ride) “and my job will only take two minutes so can you do it straight away?”
Staff. “I’m sorry / delay / 15 minutes / machine / away / queue.”
P. from K. Repeats her speech.
Staff “Many people are waiting, that lady” (me) has been waiting a long time.” (Actually only 5 minutes so far.)
P. from K. (To me) “I’m a proofreader from Karori, etc, will you let them do my job first?”
Me. “No, that will throw everybody out.”

P. from K. then rushed off town to find another printer willing to do her job instantly. Which would have certainly taken longer than 15 minutes.

Waiting under a tree

I understood her position. I felt sorry for her. And life had handed me the gift of ten minutes to ponder on the mysteries of waiting. I sat on a bench and watched clouds racing each other across the sky. Was I witnessing celestial road rage?

  • Does angry waiting sprout from that deadly seed, a sense of entitlement? This is always puzzling to an outsider: why should a proofreader from Karori take precedence over a writer from Mt Victoria? A Hummer over a VW Golf? Storm cloud over fluffy white cloud?
  • Does angry waiting hurry things up or slow them down?

Some waits are harder than others. Waiting for test results. Waiting for news of a life-and-death nature. Waiting for news that will determine your future. You feel frightened, powerless and frustrated.

But when these life-or-death waits occur I try to at least remember that waiting can be a positive thing. To perceive waiting not as a vacuum but a state that I experience for better or for worse. To wait mindfully. Perhaps to fill my mental waiting room with small good things and thoughts and helps and hopes. I can’t change the outcome, but at least I can avoid contaminating others with the toxin of my angry waiting.

Let me remember the tree and let the clouds do what they will.

Joy of dancing

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Imperfect but full of joy—that’s us, the Crows Feet Dance Collective. Forty women, average age 55, range 39–76, skilled and unskilled.

Last weekend we performed at the Tempo Dance Fest at Q Theatre in Auckland. If you are a New Zealander, you’ll understand that performing in our biggest city was rather an intimidating prospect for a community collective —and thrilling. But the organisation was excellent, the theatre a friendly space, and the audiences warm and enthusiastic. We had a marvellous time.

Read the review if you’d like to know more about our show.
Read Dr Hanna on the fascinating effects of dancing on the brain — an excerpt follows.

And go find a chance to dance if you can. Trust me, it’s never too late; for example, I joined the Crows at 66, ten years ago, and while I’m no star and I often stumble, I manage very well indeed. Enough to get the joy of dancing, and that magic performance buzz, and a cluster of truly remarkable friends.

Dancing is a language, another way of writing into life

A language is a method of conveying complex ideas and emotions. It has representations of information, and rules for how the representations can be combined. As a means of conveying ideas and emotions, with or without recourse to sound, dance language draws upon similar places and thought processes in the brain as verbal language. Dance, like verbal language, has vocabulary (locomotion and gestures in dance), grammar or syntax (rules for putting the vocabulary together and justifying how one movement can fol­low another), and semantics (meaning). Verbal language strings together sequences of words, and dance strings together sequences of movement to make phrases and sentences. Meaning may be story-telling or abstract, playing with form or chance.

Judith Lynne Hanna, PhD, is the author of “Learning to Dance: The Brain’s Cognition, Emotion, and Movement” Judith Lynne Hanna, PhD.

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Dancing friends: a few of the Crows Feet Dance Collective 2016