Author Archive: Delilah

Throwing a Therapy Wobbly

I’m fizzing.

It’s not anger, exactly, and I’m not annoyed with anyone in particular, but I feel as though my fur has been stroked backward.

I completed Session One of the online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) course.

Initial obstacles

First I had to sort out incompatibilities.

(1) Adobe Flash Player — had to use Adobe’s uninstaller before I could install the most recent version of Flash Player, which turned out to have been put in by old software. I hesitated because I couldn’t see why it was necessary, and was suspicious.

(2) Safari (probably because of Flash). Needed a different browser.

I tried to install Chrome, but it kept saying ‘thanks for downloading’ though nothing was happening. So I got Firefox, and found myself registering for an account so I could synchronize bookmarks (why?), then downloading Firefox to the iPad so the process could be completed.

I suspect it wasn’t mandatory to have a Firefox account, but by that time I was past trying to figure these things out — I just wanted to do what I was told so I could get on with life. I even made Firefox my default browser (I was that far gone!) but reverted to Safari a few days later.

The two browsers were playing tug of war. Safari used to be a happy ‘only browser’ on my Mac, but now there was another in the roost.

“Do you want to make me your default browser?”

“Yes.”

You fire up the first one out of habit, as it was your default browser till very recently.

“Do you want to make me your default browser?”

“Er…. oh, go on then!”

You switch back to the other one, as that’s where the online CBT account is lurking.

“Do you want to…?”

“No!”

By the time all issues were fixed, it was almost bedtime, so I left ‘Session One’ for another day.

‘Another day’ arrived…

I could think of fun things I would rather be doing this sunny afternoon, such as uploading photographs from my camera and looking to see if they were any good, but I might as well get this CBT thing over with.

Some time ago I put cheap paper in the printer especially for the CBT course, but Mum used it all on a manual for our new dishwasher, so I put in more… and now we were ready to rumble!

Rumbling

Subtitles were turned on so I didn’t need to listen to the course, and automatically put on some soothing music. The subtitles said something about music playing at the start, and I thought to myself, “Well, thanks, but I’ve got my own.”

I don’t know what they were playing, but mine happened to be Just the Way You Are by the Piano Guys.

Session One

Right now, I lack words to describe what I thought about Session One.

I mentioned in my last post (Shrouded in Scottish Gloom) that I’ve done CBT before and didn’t take to it. On the other hand, I thought once I got into this online course, I might enjoy it. I have a tidy mind… I like creating databases, organizing files and photos, and answering questionnaires and quizzes. Why wouldn’t I enjoy this too?

Nevertheless, I began the session feeling irritated, and it only got worse. I didn’t want to answer the questions.

“Did anything happen during the past week to upset or disturb you?”

“Yes!”

“Oh dear. What was it?”

I couldn’t believe I had to answer this.

“Well, we had to vote in a general election and then there was all the political fallout with everybody blaming everybody else…”

OK, I didn’t type that, but, honestly! I ended up backtracking and saying, “No. Nothing happened.” and the squiggly figure gave me a squinty-eyed look and said, “Hmmmmm…”

I don’t think it believed me.

It shocked and surprised me how reluctant I was to give any information at all. I just wanted to see what it had to say and have done, but if I had to interact to this degree, I had no wish to complete the course.

I realize this isn’t the point… it’s supposed to be a tool that I use to tighten up screws in my head that might happen to be a bit loose, so if it doesn’t know what screws those are, there isn’t a lot it can do. This reflection didn’t comfort me, and my irritation grew so bad I kept stopping and staring unblinkingly at the screen for long moments.

How many times a week do I get anxious? Once a week? Five times a week?

No, it doesn’t work like that!

Hissy fit

I quit the session altogether, absolutely smouldering, then gave myself a good talking-to. I didn’t want to have to explain to people why I didn’t want to do it… it seemed easier to shut my eyes and get it over with. That way you make fewer waves and it defuses the situation. After all, it’s not a big deal… it’s just an amped-up questionnaire.

I went back in and found I had to sit through the entire thing again, homilies and all, answering questions I’d already answered… but changed a few of my responses this time, taking a more measured attitude to it, so it was all to the good.

At the end, I was asked if any of it helped, and I answered honestly… no it didn’t. If I could have given it a minus score, I would have.

The forum did, though! There were people on it who had almost identical thoughts and emotions about the first session, including “I reallyreallyreally don’t want to do this!!” but in the end rationalizing that it’s not a big deal and just to get on with it.

What gets me is that it’s been a few hours now since I did the session, and I still feel like an electrocuted jellyfish.

One thing worth noting… people on the forum said the first session is notoriously awful, but it gets better, and I might gain some benefit in later sessions. So just hang in there…

…just stay clear of my stingers for a while. 😛

Shrouded in Scottish Gloom

The garden looks really good just now. My sister takes care of it every weekend, and I’m amazed at how neat and pretty it is. When I peek out the back door and smell lilac, I understand why gardeners love what they do. There’s something sane, calm and peaceful about the outdoor landscape… it’s an escape for practical, hard-working people.

It makes me yearn to be that kind of person too.

I’m more the kind of person who strolls around with a camera and feels happy at the beauty other people have created. Unfortunately, Scotland doesn’t like us to have heatwaves for very long, and there’s a lot of dreich weather at the moment. Yesterday it couldn’t make up its mind between strong sun, drenching rain, and the occasional bolt of lightning. Today it decided to go ‘all rain’… dark grey clouds parading overhead with shimmering sheets of crystals dangling from their misty earlobes.

When the day was at its darkest, I came across a monster snail clinging to the upstairs window. It reminded me of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea… water all around and this muscular, glistening creature seeking a way in. Visualizing its fellows squirming all over the house, roof and all, I could understand my mother’s utter abomination of them. She gets the same look on her face that Ripley gets in Alien.

If you were on a spaceship with those things on it, you’d do better with her as a shipmate than me.

I don’t mind the odd snail or group of snails, but we have too many. They slither all over — slugs too — and roll on their backs, drinking in the downpours.

The other night I was trying to move a wheelie bin without stepping on a single invertebrate, and it was impossible. I swear there was either a slug or a snail trekking across each square foot of ground, and because it was dark, I couldn’t even see them all. Despite the best I could do, the bin and I left a trail of devastation in our wake.

Have I complained about this before? I’ve a feeling I have.

Anyhow, with the lowering weather, some sadness, and a general feeling of being under siege, it seemed a good day to activate my online CBT account.

“What’s that?” you say, suddenly looking nervous. “CBT??”

Our GP thinks it might help combat my chronic anxiety, but I ignored the activation request for two weeks. I could always think of something better to do! I don’t have raging agoraphobia any more, but I’ve had a traumatic few years… it’s like a sleeping Leviathan stirring. If it comes up again, it could be bad.

I don’t like cognitive behavioural therapy. I’ve tried it before and it left me bemused. I felt more stressed attending the sessions than at any other time, so I cut them short.

I have to confess, when I read that I would need to have a working printer in order to do the current course, I was irritated. We have ours loaded with 100gsm stuff. I was determined not to start the course till I’d dived out and bought the cheapest paper I could find — 75gsm. I put that in on top.

OK, well, I activated the CBT course today, answered a raft of multiple choice questions, then it suddenly stopped, and I was confused. It just told me I would need an up-to-date Flash Player (which I’ve got) in order to be able to view my sessions, but I couldn’t see any other links, or a home page, or even a bit of text saying “thank you — see you next week!” or something of the kind.

Is this typical NHS behaviour?

I’ve had similar emails when asking for appointments… no ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ or individual names… just come straight to the point then drop out of sight. You can imagine the staff rushing around like busy ants, so you don’t really resent it, but it’s still a little… leaves you feeling like one of those cartoon characters who was walking on rock and is now pedalling in mid-air.

Thinking about it, it was just the ‘activation’ I was engaged in… if I went back, the first session would be there waiting.

Brr.

Perhaps it’s all one big cryptic puzzle designed to keep me engaged trying to figure it out so that I don’t have time to stress about anything. There was a multiple choice question I didn’t understand at all, and the only way I could dodge it was to pick the most non-committal response. I felt like turning to someone and saying, “Sorry, what do you mean?” Instead, I said it to the empty room.

I should raise that question with them in case it turns out to be something important… or is that typical catastrophic thinking? What significance could a single, vaguely-worded question have? I gave them a vaguely-worded response… fair dos.

Meanwhile, none of this helped the cats with their own issues. They sat miserably at the back door, looking out at the slurping snails. As far as they’re concerned, this type of day shouldn’t be allowed.

Swing Swing

Emotions, they stir
The sun is gone
The nights are long
And I am left while the tears fall

It sounds like Chinese poetry! But Swing Swing is by The All-American Rejects. There’s a picture of a go-kart on the front of the CD, though I originally thought it was a petrol mower.

I hadn’t heard of it, but it cost next to nothing as the charity shop was trying to get rid of scruffy CDs no one wanted. (The case was scraped at the corners, but both CD and case were in remarkable condition). I had a few minutes to myself, with nobody breathing disapprovingly down my neck, so I could buy whatever I fancied. I wanted new music to try, and here was this CD looking for a new owner.

At first I didn’t like it as it has quite a heavy ‘head-banging’ sound. My musical taste is mostly mellow… UB40, Gabrielle, Johnny Nash and so on, though I like rock as well.

Being unwilling to concede defeat, I played it several times, and there are bits I now enjoy… in particular the track mentioned above.

Swing, swing from the tangles of
My heart is crushed by a former love
Can you help me find a way
To carry on again?

When something like that gets in my head, I’m more likely to write a blog post than if all is quiet, peaceful and normal. My soul hums with sadness, hope and inspiration.

From what I’ve heard, inebriated people become ’emotional’, embarrassing their friends with heart-felt sentiments. I wish to point out that I’m such an occasional drinker I’m almost teetotal, and don’t need to have been drinking anything to do that! All that’s required is that I be under the influence of a song.

All of you out there in the blogging world… I love that you are there. (Hangs adoringly round people’s necks). I don’t post as much as I used to, but there’s that feeling of random connectedness with others. We are not necessarily like-minded, except that we’re prone to sitting down and writing out our thoughts. Some of you, like Rabbit or Christopher Robin, dash off something practical and to the point. Others, like Winnie the Pooh or Tigger, know how to entertain and make people laugh. Then there are the anxious, slightly annoying ones like Piglet. Still others (like me) wait self-pityingly in the rain and ponder gloomy Eeyoreish thoughts.

Well… today we were having an informal family get-together. It seemed bright enough at the beginning, but the day wore on and things weren’t going as well as I hoped. People were subdued, and there were tired silences. I made a self-deprecating joke about the robohoover attacking my TV soundbar, and was told somewhat waspishly that if I wanted to watch the Eurovision, I’d have to do it upstairs anyway… I’m on my own with that.

With ‘Swing Swing’ in my head and my emotions slowly boiling up, our day was already a failure. I received a kindly, disturbing letter which I read somewhere around tea-time. There might be a smidgeon of misjudgement in the missive, but not by much.

Today was someone else’s day and I had to stay pleasant and positive, but the effect the letter had on me was shocking. I shut down quite slowly, peeling off from the others around me, my eyesight gradually blurring. When it came to supper time, I couldn’t face food. My mother had poached egg and toast while I fell asleep.

Perhaps this kind of reaction is a way of escaping for a while. Dozing off helps you ‘find a way to carry on again’. You wake up feeling half-dazed, but your appetite is stealing back.

“It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.”
~ John Steinbeck

Sometimes falling asleep on the sofa for an hour or two is all it takes. You eat a pan of noodles and check the soundbar is working upstairs. After a period of rest and thought, there will be friends to talk to and things to look up online. Ideas; plans; humour. Rethinking and reorganization.

Something good will come of this. Yes, I’m determined.

– – – – –

The above post was written a few days ago. Eurovision 2017 is over now; political spats, witty one-liners, streakers et al!

Soley Soley

I wrote this post at the end of March 2017 and never published it. I came across it again just recently, and now that that time is a little way behind, I thought “why not? I’ll just clear it off the deck and move on.”

—–

When a song gets into your head and spins around relentlessly, there’s usually a reason why it got there in the first place. Sometimes it’s just a passing word that attracts it, or a phrase, or possibly an experience. A lot of the time you never figure out what that was.

What’s disconcerting is when a song gets in your head and you are not even sure of the words, but when you look them up online, they perfectly suit your mood or circumstances. It’s even stranger when it’s a song you’ve not thought about in a long time.

In my head now is Soley Soley by Middle of the Road, and it’s been there three days and three nights.

I suspect the ‘inspiration’ is that the Hairy Bikers were cooking on TV and mentioned sole in passing! All it takes is one word, and suddenly you have a hoary old song camping in your head.

Earlier, I was saying it usually suits your mood, but at times it could be that your mood adjusts to suit the song… you can feel a little dip sometimes as the song kicks in.

In my journal I often make a note of whatever song is bothering me — when I reread an entry years later, I get bothered by it all over again, ha ha. Just a little joke I play on myself.

Lately, I don’t know what the point of the journal is… it’s like information overload. It used to matter, but now I don’t feel like writing in it any more. My old hobbies don’t interest me. Nothing really matters.

I’m in a sleepy mood, though. Perhaps when the weather gets better, so will I.

Coffee in April

If we were having coffee, I would apologize for not being around so much recently. Being polite, you would ask what I’ve been up to, and I would say well, nothing much. However, on a flip-through of my journal for the month of April, the following is revealed:

LET’S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED

I was sorting books (yet again) and found:

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened‘ (Jenny Lawson)

“…she learns that life’s most absurd and humiliating moments, the ones we wish we could pretend had never happened, are the very same moments that make us who we are.”

Jenny Lawson is a blogger.

I often get cold feet about my own blog. I do value it, so could try again with a simple coffee post.

KEEPING WHAT’S MOST PRECIOUS

I want to keep the large padded footstool if possible, and had the sudden impulse to stick a blue Post-It note on it. That reminded me of Frasier telling his father and brother to put labels on the things they most wanted to inherit. The father thought it was a bad idea, and refused, but Niles had great fun sticking labels everywhere.

BLADE RUNNER

Looking around the internet, I find a lot of people fall asleep during Blade Runner. I was no exception. When I woke I was very confused… I thought it was morning, and wondered if Mum had got up yet. I couldn’t remember seeing her today at all, or anything else that might have happened. Slowly it came back to me that she had indeed got up, and had done things like set the robohoover to work.

OUT OF THE LOOP

I’m disoriented these days. It’s intensified because small plans are mooted, then suddenly change and I’m not informed, and I find myself working towards something that’s not going to happen, or isn’t going to happen the way I think, which changes everything…. It’s funny how people leave you out of the loop, then look at you as though you’re the bat with crazy ideas.

A SIMPLE MISUNDERSTANDING INVOLVING COFFEE

Mum’s just got up from her nap and is drinking caffeine-free instant coffee. She hasn’t drunk instant for years, so that took me by surprise. I didn’t even realize it was caffeine-free… I just thought it was good thinking on her part to buy a replacement when I was about to run out. I ran out today… so (feeling somewhat cheated) I said “we need more.”

I now have a silver tin, while Mum has the gold. Why does ‘caff free’ get to be gold??

*SPOILER* — ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (A.I.)

Part-way through watching the Artificial Intelligence AI DVD on Mum’s TV while she was napping, which I’m not encouraged to do, I got tired minutes before she reappeared. I turned it off and left the TV on, so all she saw was snooker, which she’s still watching.

Hehehe.

I love the teddy in AI… that’s why I bought it. The part of the story that’s painful is how the robo-boy has been imprinted on one human (his ‘mother’) and that’s an irreversible process, even though he’s likely to live a lot longer. If returned to Cybertronics after imprinting, they would have to destroy him. Rather than do that, they abandoned him in a wood with Teddy, and told him for his own safety not to go to Cybertronics or any large group of people.

But was that kind?

At the end of the film, it was easier for the boy to lose her forever while knowing he was loved, than to lose her heart and her mind… even knowing she was still alive somewhere. I didn’t understand that when I saw it before, but think now that I do.

EXPECTATIONS

Part of the problem with people now is that they expect perfection. All you need to do is check out one of those B&B TV reality shows… they knock marks off if there’s no TV or they have to share a bathroom, and they complain about dustbin men at 6 a.m.

Then there’s the perennial “there was a small spider in the corner.”

It makes you wonder.

EXPRESSING MYSELF… OR NOT!

I need to be consistent in myself, and that means doing what comes naturally to me. Saying what seems right to me. I’m confused enough without there being added confusion… an alien dynamic.

I run into fears I might overdo emails. After all, people are busy. Or they do all their communicating on diddly little iPod Shuffles. So I delay my responses, cut down a lot, and do so much self-editing that the authentic me isn’t coming though.

BRIEF FLASH OF ENLIGHTENMENT

From my horoscope for April 25:

“Nearly everyone seems on edge today…. Unfortunately, you could inadvertently kick a hornet’s nest if you are careless with your words. Author Pearl Cleage wrote, “Discomfort is always a necessary part of the process of enlightenment.””

Overnight I had a Eureka moment that I’ve since forgotten. I don’t know if it was real or dreamed…

TIDYING

I hoovered downstairs (and the stairs themselves) and polished the tables, and felt tired the whole time, as though doing it was little short of a nightmare! I hope that book about the art of Japanese tidying is right when it says that when you finally get your possessions down to a more manageable level and tidy them away into their designated spaces, keeping the whole house clean will be easier and more fun.

“Those items that bring you the most joy, such as your divorce certificate, should be kept in your power spot. Every house will have its own power spot. To find yours, close your eyes and joyously chant: “Where’s my power spot?” If the answer does not come to you then you aren’t chanting joyously enough.”

A little while ago my iMac failed… or rather, one small component in it failed, which means the whole 27″ 30.5 lb weight of it (and some of the software on it) is scrap. I used to paint in that corner; create and maintain databases, organize my photo collection, back up my iPad, listen to music…

I haven’t been there since the iMac failed, and have felt confused and disgruntled ever since. I got a new computer but haven’t turned it on. I don’t know if it will run the software I’m used to running, and the thought of installing it all over again makes me not want to go through the process at all. However, without that resource, I don’t feel ‘me’ any more.

It’s time I addressed that, and brought my ‘power spot’ back into play. Today.

HELPING THE GRASS GROW

The hill out the back gets manure put on it annually. You go out into the garden and it’s suddenly reeking. I have thought a few times the cats were overdoing it…

BOOKS AND HAPPINESS

A while ago when I suggested buying Sharpe books on Kindle for her birthday, Mum said no, she can’t concentrate enough on reading.

More recently, I took a pile of books downstairs to go to charity, and some time later thought “that’s funny, the pile looks smaller!” I peeked in Mum’s room, and she’d taken a book (The Vital Spark) and put it in her book rack.

That made me happy. 🙂

She’s also finished a slim library book by Ann Cleeves and bought herself a Kindle book.

It all makes me happy and I feel calmer. Also, today it was sunny. Rather cold, but the sun was gold on the trees and blossoms… just lovely.

I’ll miss it here.

Across the Universes

imageMy Christmas tree has turned itself off. Since this is the modern age and the consumer has to do what she is told, the transformer uses a timer setting you can’t change or override, which usually means it turns itself off during Christmas Dinner.

I tried to be elegant by restricting the decoration to a scheme of deep blue, silver and white baubles, but the baubles don’t even match… different sizes, different shades… it looked uneven, like a water-stained ballgown. So I threw the rest of the box of baubles at it… all colours, all styles. Didn’t matter. I don’t think there’s a single bare twig now, but it looks livelier, sparklier and less like I tried to do something and failed. The red baubles in particular seem to bring focus, unless it’s just that they’re distracting you from the rest of the chaos.

What I take from that is that things you throw together can succeed better than something intricately planned. There’s far more energy and joie de vivre when everything’s included, not just the specially chosen. Chaos and order…. you’re merely a part of it, repeating the experiences of generations upon generations of others in your own unique way. You retell the human story.

In your own life you get to ‘do over’ a lot, though occasionally you have to accept the loss of something that plummets from the tree… such as a friendship fragmenting into a thousand glass shards. You may wish it had turned out differently, but that particular bauble has now gone.

Now and then, however, the bauble disappears into shadow and you search around cautiously, trying to find it without cutting yourself. A little while goes by before it finally comes to light, amazingly still intact.

Some baubles break, others go missing for a while but survive. At times you aren’t sure which, and have to step carefully.

Friends are precious, even irreplaceable, but they are also fragile.

I expect you are sitting at the other side of the screen, frowning at my chaotic ramblings. You likely have a mug or glass at your side. I don’t know what you’re drinking… coffee or tea, or maybe hot chocolate, or beer or water. Or Bovril. Chicken Bovril is nice… I like that.

Probably you’re wondering why you’re reading this… you could be doing something nicer, such as weather-stripping the house, leaf-blowing the snow or cleaning the drains. It’d be more useful, but doubtless you’re the efficient sort who has done all that already. So you’re stuck.

I wonder where you live? Maybe New York in an apartment high up, and the lights sparkling all over the city? Or a cottage on thunderous dramatic moors, with a sluggish internet connection? Or across the road from me, even? Can you see me waving out the window? No, well, that’s all right. I wasn’t waving… my curtains are closely drawn.

So many things to do. I get confused and find myself standing still, looking over my shoulder…

…oh yes, I meant to change my wall calendar to December before it’s too late and the whole month blows over. What IS that, exactly? A warrior hobbit? I wish I could flip back to October, to that nice angry dragon. I could, really, but that would be cheating, and I won’t have got full use of the calendar. I don’t know why I got it — I never write anything in it.

Kind of like my blog.

I’m getting the déjà vu sensation an awful lot lately. I keep thinking I’ve read things before. I even feel I have written things before. Have I already written this blog post, word for word, and posted it maybe nine years ago? Bits of it, then? Or perhaps I’m catching glimpses into a closely parallel universe where I’ve done all this stuff alrea… but that is such a depressing thought I shied away from it. It’s bad enough to have done all this once, but twice…?

Do you remember reading any of this before; does any of it ring any bells? No, not this bit, but I have a funny feeling about my drawn curtains. Perhaps they’re the portal. Close them, shutting out the real world, and in swims the fantasy world… sorry, the parallel universe. That’s just the real world twice over, so it’s no wonder I hate the idea!

In this chaotic universe, anything can happen.

If that’s true, then perhaps it’s not a parallel universe, but a repeating one. We are doomed to retrace our steps over and over till we get them right. Don’t you get the feeling that most of the time absolutely nothing changes, and we just make the same mistakes over and over and over? Every so often someone thinks a little deeper or sees something a smidgeon of a different way and improves everything just a fraction. Even if it’s an incremental change by one person, it could have a remarkable effect on everyone else, like lights going on all over… and suddenly the latest round of existence is a whole lot better than the one before. And so it goes.

This has been difficult to write. For the past little while I’ve wanted to… no, it doesn’t feel like a ‘want’, it feels more like a ‘very much not want’, like I don’t even want to be here. I’d rather go back into space and be a simple star again, spinning a little, perhaps, whistling a happy tune, burning up any asteroids that wander too near. Who decided I should sit on this earth with an increasingly labouring heart, to blog, question why and… and edit?

Sometimes there’s good stuff, like… cats when they’re sleepy and purry and not killing things. Bears when they’re sleepy and furry and don’t have a headache. Family when you discover how to get along and aren’t torturing each other.

It’s a chaotic world, though, at least to our limited senses. You get both the nice and the nasty together, like the soothing sun on one level and icy deeps on the other. The velvety blue with hornets or jellyfish hanging in it. The yin and the yang and the sweet and the sour… you never know which it will be; can change so suddenly.

Or simply end.

And, after a long pause, like a bonus song, start up again when you weren’t listening any more, and go on for what seems like forever.

A Gold Toothless and Other Ramblings

There’s a touch of blogger’s block going on here.

A couple of days ago a friend happened to mention it’s a good trick to write for yourself only, not for any particular audience, and to avoid editing as you write.

Today I’ll just write and see what happens.

Yesterday my sister replaced the broken old cat flap. When I checked it out, My boy cat (blog name Samson) sat bolt upright, ears straight up, staring brightly at me, one eye slowly closing in a quizzical wink. It looked like he was saying, “Well? What do you think?”

You would think he had bought and fitted it himself. And I was reminded of someone. Every so often I’ll look at him and be bothered by the feeling he’s like a character on TV, but I can never remember who. Eventually it hits me… it’s Toothless. Never anybody else. Just Toothless.

I don’t have Toothless in mind already and say “Toothless is like Samson”… I don’t do that. I can never remember who I’m being reminded of, but the resemblance… something in the expression and posture… is strong.

Although mostly silent, Samson seems to be communicating with every fibre of his being. He’ll sit and stare intently at you, and the minute you turn and catch his eye, he leans forward and his face is absolutely radiant.

Nothing cheers you up quicker. 🙂

My mother is unwell; eating very little these days. For supper last night she had three breaded scampi and an onion ring. Today she managed a poached egg on toast. When I brought a plate of food the other night, she courageously drew herself up to meet it. I said she looked like a contestant on I’m a Celebrity, about to eat something with sixteen legs.

Christmas will be a puzzle this year, as I’ve not been getting out to shop. I feel there’s not much time left online either. Still… As the citizens of Whoville found out in The Grinch, Christmas is Christmas all on its own. We still have our trappings… a six-foot silver tree, lights and decorations. The cats with their 3D superstar impressions. Sisterly visits. There will be turkey, roast potatoes and bread sauce on the day.

I’ve been avoiding Facebook for most of the year, but decided there would be no harm in checking in with people over Christmas. Was surprised to find some really lovely comments about one of my cats… two pages of them! Perhaps my friend is right when she said you can make Facebook work for you. Check your privacy settings. Choose who you want to interact with, and write about those things that are tongue-in-cheek and fun. Don’t get all serious, angry or political. If you’re not enjoying somebody’s statuses, quietly unfollow them.

Well, perhaps. It still feels to me like we’re shark-bait.

It’s nice to get away from the internet from time to time. Talking of which, I have a lot of DVDs and am in the mood to watch some. I don’t often get the chance to, but when I can, there are old favourites I have in mind.

How to Train Your Dragon
Horton Hears a Who
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
The Young Montalbano
Master and Commander
Cadfael
The Croods

Those will be a good start.

*This was just an attempt to kick-start my failing blogging habit. Normal service will be resumed shortly.*

Talk of Happy Beats

I love listening to my CD collection while working, but some gloomy ballad always comes along and grips me by the throat for days. Lately I was set upon by Sweet Marie (Hothouse Flowers).

Oh, I hope you find your good fortune
I hope you find peace in everything you do
I hope the colours of the rainbow, they colour your clothing
And I hope you’ll find love, true love, I do…

As an antidote, I’ll recount this conversation I had with Mum the other day. We were sitting in our favourite coffee bar writing everything down in a notepad. I don’t hear well, so there would be a lot of repetition and rising frustration without it. The advantage of writing everything down is that I can recall our conversations word for word!

I began with, “Most cheerful song you know?”

“Different songs stick in my head for a while. Right now it’s Malaika — not cheerful.”

“More cheerful than some. It’d be our summer holiday stick-your-head-out-of-the-car-window song.”

“Or Wimoweh!”

But now I was frowning. “For some reason I was confusing it just now with Sugar Sugar.”

“Cheerful,” nodded Mum.

“One I thought of yesterday is Mouldy Old Dough. It would scorn to be thought of as sad!”

“Oh yes! absolutely. What was that one about Bangor?”

“Didn’t we have a luvverly time?”

“Oh yes, that was it.”

“I haven’t heard it for a while… it’s not one anyone still plays.”

“Mr Tambourine Man.”

“Can’t quite remember lyrics. Isn’t it a bit sad?”

“No, I never thought of it as sad.”

Melanie sang it — always sounded sad.”

“Who is Melanie?”

“‘I rode my bicycle past your window last night‘ and ‘What have they done to my song, ma…'”

“Beryl always liked the one from Thingy and the Sundance Kid.”

“Last night I dreamed I had a hammock chair at the end of my house. I’d sit in it with a book and two cats, and crank it up, and it’d go up as high as the second storey. Then one cat started wriggling and I had to crank it down again, and said to him, ‘What did I tell you about not making me have to grab for the controls?'”

All right, that last bit had nothing to do with songs, happy or otherwise, but that’s what was under the conversation.

Not all those songs we mentioned are full of joy, but I thought of a few others to add here:

Saturday Night — Whigfield
Always loved this!

Living It Up — Bert Kaempfert and His Orchestra
Sumptuously fresh and breezy.

12 Bar — UB40
Old favourite — used to study along to this.

Kingston Town — UB40
My favourite UB40 song.

Sunshine — Gabrielle
A happy song that sounds sad. It comes up a lot when I play music, so has a comforting familiarity!

Cheerleader — OMI
620,833,553 views on YouTube! And they weren’t all by me, fancy that.

Mum is often unwell — she’s fine just now, but before our visit to the coffee bar she was under the weather. Seemed amused, though, when I came in from the garden and said, “There’a a red admiral out there, but it’s fluttering around so much I can’t tell if it’s one or many.”

Butterfly (Danyel Gerard)

Butterfly, my butterfly, now I know you must be free
Butterfly, don’t flutter by, stay a little while with me

Mouldy Old Mood Chart

I wrote the following last night, then slept on it. No mind-mapping on this occasion (perhaps it shows). Today the sun is out, news is good and the mood chart heading for lighter values.

I took it into my head to keep a mood chart, for no particular reason, and just now my mood is going up and down like a yo yo. You have no idea the number of different plates we are spinning — each one of us has issues and hopes, ranging from the minuscule (what to do with home-grown chillis) to the mind-blowingly gargantuan (the miraculous Brexit). It’s an interesting time to start the project, but poorly chosen! Writing a blog post when you’re in the depths of despair is never a good idea either.

Half the time I suspect my sole aim in life is keeping myself from thinking too much. Letting your brain get fogged up with useless data or keeping it busy with insignificant projects like mood charts, mind-mapping digital art, databasing your CD collection and writing letters to the world (blog posts)… they’re all just ways of anaesthetizing yourself for a while.

Music makes you happy at times; it’s like your own private cocoon of good beats. Then you go away and get ready for bed, and and it turns on you… wails in your head like a Greek chorus of restless ghosts, and your mood gets very blue. Some songs I’ve learned to avoid because they are black holes of melodious depression.

One I conjured up just now is the opposite of that. Somehow it refuses to be turned into anything quite as miserable, though it’s old, therefore dripping with nostalgia… I relate it to places we don’t live in any more, and to family members long since gone. And yet…

Mouldy Old Dough

I will keep it in my head for the rest of the night; it’s a tonic! You can have it when I’m done, but not till then.

Sleep is another good way of passing the time — you forget your cares for a while, even if your dreams introduce you to a distorted group of new ones. The best part is just after you turn off the light, when you curl up in the warm with your arm over Little Witness, feeling nobody can get at you till dawn pries at your blinds.

In the period before you fall asleep, you line up your most pleasant thoughts and count them. “These things I shall do tomorrow… beginning with deleting that mood chart or changing it to something different. Then I’ll re-read my latest blog post and see if it’s improved at all during the night.” Sometimes they do. Other times they turn into twisted heaps of rage and and angst, and the best thing you can do with them is put them out of their misery before anybody else spots them.

One thing that’s pretty bad, though, is if you’re reading old posts in your blog and you discover such a sea-change happened when you weren’t looking, and most of your posts have turned into grotesque, windblown skeletons you would rather not know about. As a result, I either avoid reading anything I’ve written that’s older than six months, or I delete these horrors when I trip over any.

Even while we distract ourselves from looking at life too closely, we distract ourselves from our own past distractions. It’s easy to live only in the moment… just sing Mouldy Old Dough to yourself and fall asleep.

Mission Mind Map

In the iPad App Store on Monday, I downloaded this week’s free app — MindNode, a tool that helps set out the groundwork for projects. I love new apps, and it doesn’t hurt when they’re free, but I absolutely adore making plans… probably more than carrying them out. When it comes to organizing in general, my computer groans with deeply-nested files; defolderifying is required when my system proves more of a hindrance than a help. I should probably delete redundant files altogether — those awful old merged fractals from 2007, for instance… I can do a lot better nowadays.

An image bright, cluttered and rough.

Why did I think this was good?

It can be hard to let go, sadly. My middle name should be Squirrel.

As any squirrel knows, sorting resources into careful heaps and folders is calming. It’s an acceptable way of gloating over your hoard while allowing you to feel more in control… so I had hopes this mind-mapping thing would be a useful weapon against the encroaching world. In my experience, plans morph into action surprisingly quickly, leading to greater self-confidence and a lot less of the energy-sapping procrastination I’m prone to.

“Incredible — I sorted that out myself! No dithering for days on end wondering what to do!”

It astonishes you to discover you’re a rational adult and can take on many comers, regardless of their role in life. Usually that phenomenon is attributable to pencil, paper and copious notes, and it’s also why MindNode now lurks on my iPad.

So far, so good.

You can’t, however, be a rational adult without questioning yourself and others, so there are reasons for me to be sceptical as well as hopeful.

First of all, mind-mapping looks and sounds terribly technical and arcane, and you wonder if you’re doing it right, particularly when not learning anything from it. You suspect it’s an attention-seeking gimmick that does the job no better than merely writing lists. Mind maps don’t present with a neat appearance, so how could they be better? They start in the middle of the page and sprawl in different directions… what if you ran out of room and started writing on the table by accident? A mouse could make a nest in someone’s mind map and feel completely at home.

Secondly, I know myself too well! A helpful and instructive tool becomes a blunt instrument in my hands. I bludgeon myself with it remorselessly, then give up, disillusioned and bruised.

It’s one thing ‘actioning’ a highly-targeted plan when there’s a time limit and a specific outcome in mind. It’s another to ‘improve’ myself or my daily life with something like a Chart of Chores or a To Do List, because these tend to be grandiose, pernickety, perfectionist schemes, quickly tired of and forgotten.

Who wants all of their time earmarked in advance, even for pleasant pastimes like watching Blackadder’s schemes on TV? Years ago I created such a time chart in an effort to combat a bad spell of procrastination, but I never tried it out. It’s still in my nested folders somewhere. I could draw up a new one specifying “read blogs at 10 every Sunday morning”, but it’s unlikely to happen. This is real life: I read blogs at different times during the week and could be there for anything from two minutes to two hours. I’m not a robot, and there’s no point trying to programme myself as though I am one.

iNotRobot. Depressing but true.

There’s a To Do List app in my arsenal, but it wasn’t at all long before I deleted it. For the right kind of people it’s excellent, and they doubtless use it the right way. I, on the other hand, use it completely the wrong way, so for me it wasn’t working. There’s something about being told what to do that makes me dart like a spooked squirrel the other way — even if the person telling me to do it is me.

Before discovering the app, my usual organizational methods included (and still include):

  1. Lists — I love lists
  2. Databases
  3. Spreadsheets and charts
  4. Journaling
  5. Calendar

I don’t use the iPad’s Reminder app as it’s never worked for me… too limited, or so I thought when I tried it. I can’t remember much about it now, but a lingering impression is that there were only so many items I could add to a page. I would tell it to alert me to something, and either the alert wouldn’t arrive, or I’d be uninterested and ignore it when it did.

By ‘journaling’ I don’t mean bullet journals, which I haven’t yet tried — I mean ordinary ‘dear diary’ journaling. This has surprising strengths which I should probably go into another time. The gist is that you start with a problem and enter into a conversational spiral, one thought leading to another… ending up fairly consistently with an idea of what will work and what won’t. Sometimes when you re-read, you pick up on things you forgot, which is all to the good. It’s like an old-fashioned ‘text’ version of problem-solving mind-mapping, no neater than a pictorial mind-map, and though I’ve filled out most of my thoughts fairly satisfactorily, you are left with a mass of text you might never read again. Unless you type your diary on computer and remember the keywords you used, you’d find it difficult to search for a particular event or idea.

That said, I love journaling, and wouldn’t stop for all the tea in China (or anywhere else in this globalized world). Mind-mapping should be just my cuppa, shouldn’t it, even if I don’t have carte blanche to waffle on?

To get to grips with my use of the MindNode app…

This isn’t intended as a review or how-to page, and I’m not going to focus on the technicalities of how to use it, but I’ll just comment that it’s easy for beginners — you don’t need an instruction manual, other than a couple of starting tips. Fiddly to use at times, but it’s good to be able to move things around or delete them altogether — an aspect which must blow pen and paper mind-mapping out of the water.

My first experiment

When trying it out for the first time, I mind-mapped an established creative process in digital art. My aims were to (1) provide a reference to keep me working quickly without getting bogged down; (2) potentially to inspire. I hoped mind-mapping might live up to its reputation and work some mindspace voodoo. Who knew what it might do? I lived in hope.

In the process of creating my nebulous map of creativity, I ran up against a few problems.

  1. I got confused about what should come under certain tags. For instance, radiating away from the word ‘artwork’, a key word in the map is ‘organize’. I read somewhere that you should use one-word terms rather than pin yourself down with something more specific. OK, keep it loose. Should I then go on to list organizational methods like folders and databases — or platforms like the iMac — or the type of resources to be organized, such as Bryce master files, Photoshop brushes, tutorials and so on? These are long lists — how do I put everything in one place without making the mind map explode?
  2. This led to the possibility of repeating the terms like ‘organize’ elsewhere in the mind-map, but I feared that might be against the rules. Also, how do you tie in ‘platforms’ with ‘software’, specific creative processes and different types of resources in a neat and orderly fashion, seeing as the software all worked together in some cases but not others — while working from different platforms in different ways — so I couldn’t list everything neatly in one place, moving in a sedate direction therefrom?

Gah.

The results of this, my first experiment in mind-mapping:

  1. No benefit. I had no room for all the items I wanted, and it was as though I hadn’t got to grips with the problem — if there was one.
  2. The process I tried to clarify showed itself in its true colours. It’s a creative process that pulls in resources and inspiration from everywhere, and you can’t list these, slot them in one logical place or plan them robotically. This is something I should already have realized, and I didn’t need a mind-mapping session to tell me that.
  3. I found no inspiration or new ideas.
  4. If used as a reference to keep me on track, it would add an extra, unnecessary step. It wouldn’t improve matters, being more likely to throw me off.

Even so, I realized I’d used the process wrongly with a subject too big (or not properly broken down to something more rational), while having no clear and specific aim. It would be unfair to condemn it on such grounds. I’ve never before mind-mapped, and needed time to consider how best to use it. Some of my first attempts are bound to be duds.

Ploughing grimly on

If I was not to discard the baby with the bath water, it was clear I should do more research. It wasn’t looking at all good for my experiment, which I now viewed with a degree of irritation. I was hot all over, my heart raced, my brows beetled and I was starting to pout.

I recognize that soul-destroying feeling from other projects I’ve not been good at.

Baking is definitely one, when I start off with fond ambitions of delicate, beautifully decorated little cakes and wafting cinnamon smells, and end up feeling it’s all more hassle than it’s worth. After which I start chucking flour around in lumps and slamming badly-shaped objects in the oven. Another recent project was mindfulness — I was determined to give it a go because I might learn useful life skills, but every time it asked me to do something such as imagining a peaceful scene while repeating a senseless question over and over, dull rage surged up and I had to put the book down. So I’ve not yet read it.

That doesn’t mean I won’t read it… the real reason I’m irritated is it’s something I want to do but it turned out not to be that easy or pleasant. Also there’s still the worry it’s overhyped and I won’t get what I wanted: a better life and a better me. I’m not the perfect person I was fondly imagining.

Oooh. We have now reached the point in this narrative where I was getting these dangerous rumbles over mind-mapping. It was distinctly worrying but I grimly soldiered on. The only way to turn this around was to find out what other people use it for.

One site provided me with some real ‘ah ha!’ moments, and I gleaned the following:

  1. Mind-mapping is used for problem-solving. (I’d been thinking in terms of organizing and streamlining; not quite the same thing).
  2. Think of the keywords in terms of headers rather than processes. If I was planning a party, I would have lists for food, guests, games, music and ‘things to do’ before the big day. The chances are low that I would head one of my lists ‘Organize’!
  3. Leading on from this, I can see my worry about repeating keywords doesn’t matter… it’s flow and direction that matter. You are trying to get somewhere, and it’s not a crime if there are half a dozen information offices in your map, provided they are all well-located and useful.
  4. The biggest break-through for me was when it was pointed out you could use mind-mapping to plan blog posts.

A better attempt

All my pouts vanished, and in no time at all I was embarking on my second experiment: Mission Mind Map. If that term seems a little familiar, it’s because it is!

Shortly after starting, I knew I was onto a winner.

  1. I was now thinking in terms of headings and lists, and didn’t get stuck.
  2. Item order mattered. Things don’t just spring up in the middle of nowhere, and the map finally had a direction.

You see, I was finally getting the hang of it, but my pernickety nature ensured I aimed for at least two items per heading. You can’t have a list of one, can you? In a mind map it’s really about flow, like in my diary… one thought leading to another — but while thinking of thoughts as lists, I wanted two leading on from one, and would fish for another point just to make up numbers.

That’s the feng shui approach to mind-mapping, I guess — or plain OCD.

I enjoyed it; it was a lot of fun. I was able to go into detail without forgetting minor points or losing the shape of what I was writing about.

The next worry, however, was how to get the mind map into my document. The idea of swiping back and forth between it and my blog post didn’t appeal.

Of course, MIndNode wouldn’t have been a proper app if it didn’t have a solution! I was able to convert it into a column of text in my favourite writing app. First of all it arrived in a mad jumble, starting with my last point and ending with the introduction. So I went back and moved everything round the other way, reimported, and this time items appeared in the right order.

When I remembered things I’d forgotten, I made direct changes to the text column rather than edit the mind map itself. I was tempted to think of the map as a finished product, like a picture, but it’s only a stage. It had already done the main work and was not part of the equation any longer.

Some of my changes and additions in the text column arrived as long lines and paragraphs, which is how I’ve always written. I put ‘brief’ ideas in the right places, and these immediately start growing, forming the nucleus of the post itself. In contrast, placed in a mind map, they would remain short snippets of text to be fleshed out later rather than ‘now.’ The process of allowing your notes to expand immediately can take you in new directions, and these are sometimes worthwhile. On the other hand, it’s confusing if these weren’t directions you meant to go in, leaving your original point jostling for place.

Perhaps the mind map is not a hindrance to the evolution of your post — more a temporary postponement of narrative in favour of deeper structure. It still reminds me of my use of journals to ‘problem-solve’… one thought leading to another and ending in a plan. It’s certainly keeping me busy and I’ve not yet abandoned this mass of text! I’m polishing sections of this before I’ve even written the rest of it — it’s partly procrastination; partly because in some sense it’s been written already, and I can relax and not worry that I’ll forget things.

A few days ago, I was listening to a song that has stayed in my head all the time I’ve been writing this. Long Time Coming (David Sneddon).

And in a deeper part of me
A stronger soul is breaking free
And I want you to know
Can’t hold me down for any more
Pull myself from off the floor
And I want you to know

Final thoughts

Based on my short experience of it, pros and cons for mind-mapping as part of a writing process?

Pros:

  1. Cuts down the usual muddle, though not completely.
  2. Possibly you would axe redundant topics before spending much time writing them.
  3. Otherwise short and lazy posts would become longer and more detailed, though I don’t entirely know if that’s good!
  4. It becomes less intimidating to deal with your blog topic overall; you don’t need to put it off to a later time when your thoughts are less scattered.

Cons:

  1. Tendency to waste time tidying the map — trying to balance it out and make it beautiful.
  2. Mine was inside-out and back-to-front, but there’s a setting to adjust that.
  3. This way of laying out your thoughts seems difficult to read. I showed it to a friend who commented: “I couldn’t get my head round it! It’s too much like the kind of thing the office used to produce as one of their many flavour of the month initiatives!” I can sympathize because I dreamed about mice (the ones nesting in it) and have no love for the corporate environment myself.
  4. The map is transformed into a column of indented headers. Why not write them that way in the first place? This is one I find hard to explain away.
  5. There’s a risk it disrupts one’s usual thought process. My style is conversational, but what if the mind map keeps me so much on the straight and narrow that I fail to follow some enticing side-path? On the other hand, the map probably makes sure I see the side paths, shoehorning all of them in. Both aspects could be bad.
  6. I already write long posts which could now become three times as long. Maybe you waste time overwriting it initially and need to trim it down later. The length of the text column generated from the mind map was putting me off, so progress was quite slow. I would ‘flesh out’ a section then scroll hopefully down, thinking, “There, I wrote quite a lot, I must be near the end?” Unfortunately, the tail of the mind map trails forever into the distance…
  7. My initial structure is too rigid. When I know what I want to say and look for somewhere to add it, I see what’s already there and there’s no logical place. Reading all the previous stuff, I promptly lose track of my new idea. Normally I write down phrases in my head before they are gone, fitting them together later. Perhaps it’s not the mind-mapping itself that’s at fault, more my use of the technique — I need to start with a looser structure and not break things down too much in the first place. It would leave me more room to move. Though that begs the question — why change from your existing method?

In any case, here it is… my mind-mapped blog post.

I am glad I persevered and didn’t give in to my attack of the blue devils. In the future I can see myself using MindNode for jotting down blog ideas, perhaps in combination with a page of ‘fully-sprung’ paragraphs, ‘use or lose’.

I still don’t see mind-mapping as a problem-solver — my problems may never have been that complicated. For me it’s: ‘Do research, write email or make purchase. Done!’

In decision-making I write lists of pros and cons; I can’t imagine using a mind map for that normally, but it was more complicated when choosing a new camera recently. I set up a chart composed of what I wanted from the new camera, showing how different models fulfilled these points compared to each other. Using this, I wrote lists of cameras in each context from best to worst. Different cameras came out on top in different contexts, but some listed high more frequently than others. There was a clear winner and it wasn’t the most obvious, being an older model I’d initially dismissed. I only added it belatedly for the sake of comparison, but it did so well (and blew off the roof in a number of reviews) that it seemed the only real option.

The newer camera model I nearly bought, praised in several reviews, would have been a pleasing choice as it was nice in its way… but it was not as good a camera, or as appropriate for me.

The above was in part a visual decision-making process but was not mind-mapping!

The idea of a mind map as study aid is interesting. In history, for instance — you could put main events in order and break them down. It would certainly help you write essays.

I’m still not sure why a mind map would work better than a series of lists. It was a great relief to me when I saw mine laid out as an ordered column of text. The ‘visual’ aspect doesn’t work when it comes to writing, as my usual need is to establish direction, not relationship.

I lost the plot towards the end of writing this, but it’s probably my fault for including too much detail and moving away from the visual map to an unbroken text column!

Will I continue to use it? Yes, I want to, and can make it work for me. Time will tell in the end, though my horoscope yesterday offered the following:

Someone’s ‘good idea’ could have you captivated – even if it means shifting things round yet again. The prospect of advance both at work and in financial matters could bring a smile too. With encouragement from someone who’s good at focus and who knows exactly how to present things on paper, you could enjoy a day of ‘personal development planning’.

Lovely.

The mind map looks like a many-legged spider !

Mission MInd Map