Archive | August, 2012

Link to Documenta article in Roll Magazine

26 Aug


Rhea green dot documenta

Photo by Erin Reilly

Link to Documenta article in Roll Magazine


22 Aug


by Rhea H. Boyden

‘Come on, pick up the bucket, would ya, and stop moaning’ my brother jeers at me. I haven’t even filled the bucket up yet, and already I am in tears. I have just slipped over and covered myself in wet mud. Of all the household chores we have to perform, going to get water from the well is my least favourite. Our house has no running water or electricity, so collecting water is a daily task. My brother and I live alone with our dad in Ireland and our mom is back in the United States. I am only 8 years old and I would much rather be playing with my puppies than collecting water. ‘Maybe we will get to see the frog in the well today’ my brother says to me. We continue our walk through the woods and eventually we reach the well. My brother quietly and cautiously lifts the lid off the well so as not to scare the frog away, if indeed he is there. ‘Froggy!’ I yelp with delight. Sure enough, the frog is there and he jumps up out of the well and leaps away from us. He is a very young, small frog and he lives in the well. He really doesn’t like it when we come and disturb him. He isn’t always home, and we always lift the lid off in anticipation to see if he is there or not. My brother and I always laugh, and we are overjoyed when we see him. Seeing him cheers us up and makes this task of carrying water a lot easier. We lower our buckets carefully, one by one, into the well, as our father has taught us, so as not to stir up the leaves and dirt in the bottom. We can only manage to carry half a bucket each, and even that is a challenge for us. We start the walk back to the house with the buckets. We usually take our time and play along the way. My brother walks faster than me and I try to keep up. Failing this, I decide to take a break and sit down for a bit. I attempt to wipe the mud off my clothes with some oak leaves. I finally get up and continue carrying the bucket. It has a thin metal handle and digs horribly into my hands. I drag the bucket behind me and do the best I can. ‘Boo!’ my brother shouts, as he jumps out from behind a big spruce tree. I get such a fright, that I knock my bucket over, spilling its entire contents. ‘You idiot!’ I shout at him. ‘Now look, what has happened’ I wail. ‘Gosh, sorry’, my brother replies. ‘You don’t have to cry about it. It’s not my fault you knocked it over.’ he says to me, showing little sympathy. ‘Now I will have to go back and get more.’ I groan. ‘Well, I am not waiting for you’, my brother says. ‘It’s starting to rain again and I want to get back to the house. See you later.’ I am angry and discouraged, but I am glad my brother is gone and I am alone. I slowly walk back to the well with the empty bucket. At least maybe I can see Froggy again. I lift the lid off the well and look around. No Froggy. There is no sign of him anywhere.’Oh well.’ I sigh, and lower my bucket into the well again. I pull it out carefully, and set it down on the wet, slate slab next to the well. I look up, and there is Froggy sitting on the wall watching me. I stare at him in awe and I stand very still. He seems not to be afraid of me, and keeps on staring at me. I stare back, spellbound. ‘You don’t seem very happy’ Froggy finally says to me. ‘Why have you been crying?’ he asks in a comforting tone. ‘Oh Froggy’, I cry. ‘I really hate carrying water buckets, and I miss my mom so much. I haven’t seen her in so long. I would so love to see her again soon.’ I confide in him. ‘Well, maybe I can help you’ he says to me. ‘How can YOU help me, Froggy?’ I respond sadly. ‘First of all, you are way too small to carry a big bucket of water, and secondly, my mom lives far, far away across the ocean, and I am not going to see her for months.’ I say. I lower my head down into the well to cup my hands together to take a nice sip of the delicious, clean well water. I am thirsty from my exertions. I drink deeply. When I lift my head up again, I see that Froggy is growing in front of me. His slimy skin stretches, his ears expand, and his big green and red eyes bulge. I stand there staring at him with a combination of fascination and fear. His feet spread out and his back bends beautifully. Finally he has reached the size of a large dog and he has lovely long legs. ‘Do not be afraid’ he says to me. ‘Climb on my back and hold on tight’, he encourages. I ascend his slimy back with great difficulty and hold on as best I can. He takes one big leap and we are out of the woods and have landed in the middle of a wet cow field. He grabs some of the cows’ straw and quickly braids it into a pair of reins. I swiftly saddle him up, and jump on his back again. I grasp the reins tightly. He takes one more giant jump and we are airborne. We fly west in the blinding rain. Froggy flies higher and higher and eventually we burst through the clouds and the sun is dazzling and brilliant. I am laughing aloud and I grasp and hug Froggy tightly as we continue soaring through the air. I look down and see the wide, wide ocean below. I see cruise ships and container ships. I also see planes above us. We fly around a thunderstorm and through amazing cumulus clouds. ‘Look Froggy!’ I shout. ‘Look at the dolphins down there!’ We eventually reach the coast of Massachusetts, which is easily recognisable to me from the air by the shape of Cape Cod. It’s flexed and bent arm shape has always fascinated and amused me. We fly over the mountains of Western Massachusetts and suddenly we land in my grandparents’ pumpkin patch. I jump off Froggy’s back and fall into the grass, exhausted. ‘Now is not the time for sleeping’ Froggy says. ‘You have exactly twelve hours to see your mom, and you must be back here on time.’ he instructs. ‘She is here with your grandparents and they are expecting you. See you at exactly six o’clock in the morning!’ He says. I run down the hill past the tomato patch and yank open the screen door of the house and run into the kitchen. ‘Where have you been?’, my grandmother says. ‘We have been waiting for you, dinner is ready.’ I sit down and have a delicious dinner with my mom and my grandparents. After dinner, my mom takes me upstairs and runs me a hot bath. She washes my hair and scrubs me and then I crawl into bed and we turn on the beautiful big reading lamps. Electric lamps are a wonder to me. They are something we don’t have at our house in Ireland. ‘Let’s read some nice stories, shall we?’ my mom suggests. ‘Oh yes!’ I exclaim. I snuggle up to my mom and she reads aloud to me from my favourite children’s books. Eventually we both fall asleep snuggled up together. ‘Click, click…click.’ I wake up suddenly. ‘What is that noise?’ I think. I hear it again, and then I realise it is the electric heaters clicking on to heat the house before everyone arises for the day. ‘Oh, no, what time is it?’ I think in horror. ‘I look around me in panic, and then I see a big electric clock. I see that it’s five-fifty in the morning. I kiss my sleeping mom on her cheek and slip out of bed. I sneak quietly down the stairs and out the door. I run back up the hill as fast as my short legs will carry me. I frantically search through the pumpkin patch. ‘Froggy, are you there?’ I plead. ‘Over here’ says Froggy. With a sigh of relief, I run over to him and give him a big hug. ’ Quick, hop up’ he says. ‘We must go, we don’t have much time’. I hold on tight once again to the straw reins and off we fly. I am so tired that I sleep on Froggy’s back. I awaken in a daze when we break through the thick cloud layer. I look down and see the beautiful coast of Ireland, with its green fields all dotted with yellow gorse bushes. I love Ireland and I am so happy to be home. I miss my dad and my brother. I am overcome with emotion looking at the beauty of the land I love. Froggy keeps flying. ‘Hold on tight and close your eyes’ he says. ‘We are going to land in the woods.’ I embrace him tightly and keep my eyes closed tightly for the landing. We crash through the trees, but we are fine. We land right next to the well and my big white bucket is still standing exactly where I left it. ‘Quick, grab the bucket and fill it up’ Froggy instructs. I lower the bucket into the well and pull it out with little effort. It is full to the brim with delicious, fresh drinking water. I scramble back onto Froggy’s back and I hold the bucket in one hand and the straw reins in the other. We fly out of the woods and Froggy flies me to the front steps of our house. He sits down on his rear legs and I slide off of his slimy back holding the bucket upright. ‘Thank you, Froggy. I love you so much.’ I give Froggy a big hug and kiss goodbye. ‘I will see you very soon’. Froggy winks at me and takes a giant leap and he is gone. I carry the brimming bucket up the steps to the front door. I open the door and bring the bucket into the kitchen. ‘What took you so long?’ my brother says. He looks at the bucket and his eyes bulge even bigger than Froggy’s in amazement. ‘It took me a bit longer to carry this full bucket back, as you can see’ I tell him with a triumphant smile. ‘Wow! I can see that’, my brother says. ‘Shall we go and play with the puppies now’, I suggest. ‘Great idea!’ my brother says with a big smile.

Image is ‘The Frog Prince’ by Marianne Stokes

Disconcerted by Dyscalculia

19 Aug

by Rhea H.Boyden

‘Rhea, can you please tell me what time it is, we don’t want you to miss your school bus.’ my mother calls down the stairs to me. I always dreaded this question from her because at age 10, I had still not learned how to decipher the anolog clock that would stare at me menacingly from the wall. ‘Um’, I answered back with uncertainty. ‘The little hand is just past the seven and the big hand is just past the five. ‘Oh, for heaven’s sake, Rhea, when are you going to learn to tell the time?’ my mother responds, trying to be patient with me. I remember some mornings going to my bus in tears and the clock was the least of my problems. I didn’t want to go to school because, again, I had failed to do my math homework. My poor mother had been up with me half the night trying to help me understand my multiplication tables. ‘You just have to try and memorize it. Six times six is thirty-six, can you remember that?’ My mother says gently. ‘No, I cannot’, I retort defiantly, on the verge of tears, yet again. ‘Well you must get some sleep now, we can try and deal with this in the morning.’ my mother says as she kisses me and tucks me into bed. I am unconsoled, however and I devise a crazy plan to try and get at least a part of my homework done so as to avoid another scolding at school. I have a flashlight and reams of paper in my bed with me and I set about drawing groups of little lines in rows, as a prisoner does to mark off the days he has spent in prison. ‘If I can draw eight rows of twelve lines and then count them all dilligently and exactly, I will know what twelve times eight is. I am a genius!’ I smile to myself. At midnight my mother comes in to check on me and she sees in amazement what it is I am attempting to do. It then dawns on her that I definitely need extra help with learning my multiplication tables and she sees the torture I am going through. The half hour of extra help a week at school achieved little that year. That was one of the joys of 4th grade in Massschusetts. My woes of learning math may have been lessened had I been able to learn it using one system in one country and in one school, but the following year was even worse when I was back in Ireland with my father, trying to learn long division. Now it is his turn to sit up with me late at night and try and help me understand the exhiliariating idea of how many times one-hundred and twenty eight can be divided by six. ‘But we learned it in a different way in Massachusetts.’ I wailed at him in desperation. ‘This is totally different here in Ireland. I hate math!’ I moaned. The next day I failed the math test miserably in my Irish primary school. You hear about dyslexia all the time at schools, but interestingly enough you don’t hear much about dyscalculia which is essentially the math equivalent of dyslexia. Many school children these days are actually diagnosed with dyslexia and given extra help, special training, and special therapy sessions to help them deal with their disability. I was never diagnosed with dyscalculia but I am sure I had it. It is defined as ‘a specific learning disability involving innate difficulty in learning or comprehending arithmetic. It includes difficulty in understanding numbers, learning how to manipulate numbers, learning maths facts, and a number of other related symptoms (although there is no exact form of the disability).Maths disabilities can also occur as the result of some types of brain injury, in which case the proper term is acalculia, to distinguish it from dyscalculia which is of innate, genetic or developmental origin.’ I am, thankfully, pretty sure that I am not brain damaged, and I have since learned how to tell the time and learn most of my basic multiplication tables and I have a wonderful life (although I still avoid long division if I can). I have a fantastic calculator on my desk which I use often, more often than I care to admit. The word dyscalculia has a fantastic etymology that makes me chuckle: ‘dys’ is Greek and Latin for ‘badly’ and ‘calc’ meaning to count, comes from ‘calx’ which means stones or pebbles, which are, I discover with delight, the stones on an ancient abacus. I wish now, that I had had one of those stone abacuses in my bed those late nights when I was counting lines furiously. This ‘disabilty’ has, thankfully, not had a very negative impact on my life, as I have either avoided all mathematical and mental arithmetic as much as humanly possible, or if I do need help I just ask people who are more talented in such fields than I am. I happily discovered in my early teens where my talents lay and that was in languages and I have always followed that instead. I excelled at French at school and was actually given the option of dropping out of my accounting class at age 15 to concentrate on my French. My teacher saw that I was a hopeless case, and that there was no way in hell that I would ever comprehend the uses of a general ledger. ‘Go to the study and learn your French vocabulary instead’ she said through gritted teeth. Looking back, I see that I was essentially expelled from the accounting class. I moved to Germany for one main reason: I wanted to learn the language fluently. Life in Berlin is fantastic and many people move here to do all sorts of things, and you can get by without the language as it is a very international city. I, however, was determined to master German and I learned the language at great speed, great joy, and with little difficulty. In my first few years here I did not befriend many other English native speakers as I wanted to immerse myself in the language as much as possible. I was welcomed into a clique of East Germans in their 20’s like me, who spoke very little English and they took me under their wing and taught me their language. Research has shown that two age groups of people learn language the fastest: babies and small children through pure imitation, and people in their mid 20’s. It is only in more recent years that I have a much more expanded and international group of friends with whom I rarely speak German. Now that I have mastered the language, I can branch out and not focus on German as intensely, as speaking the language is now second nature to me. Other symptoms of dyscalculia include an inability to tell the difference between left and right, difficulty grasping mathematical formulae, rules or sequences, difficulty perceiving measurements and distances, and an inability to comprehend financial planning and budgeting. Some sufferers can’t even balance a check book. I can balance a check book, but I do it with great hesitation and doubt. Had I been allowed to attend my accounting class longer, I may be equipped with a higher level of self-confidence when performing this task. Fortunately, in Germany I do not have a check book as I did when I lived in the U.S., so it is a delightful task I don’t have to deal with anymore. I have a bank account with bank statements and that is enough for me. About the same time I finally learnt to tell the time on an analog clock at age 11, I was also taught a clever trick for telling the difference between left and right. A classmate of mine in Massachusetts said ‘Look, when you put up your left hand and spread your thumb out horizontally it forms an ‘L’ shape. And ‘L’ is for left so that is your left hand!’ What a clever girl she was! I have never forgotten this very valuable lesson. I used it for a couple years until the difference between left and right also became second nature to me. Statistics also show that people with dyscalculia are very likely to do exceptionally well in a writing related field- many talented journalists, poets and writers are hopeless at doing long division, so they happily avoid it as best they can. Who needs long division anyway? I have never found any practical use for it since I left school, and its only use then was to torture and challenge my brain which is little use at all. Naturally, I cannot completely avoid logical tasks and challenging technical activities that one comes face to face with on a day to day basis. And I have my lovely struggles with daily mundane duties that require me to use my brain in a rational way that I don’t enjoy. I would much rather be steeped in fantasy and dream world and lost in a writing project, but then I have to do something like put together my new vacuum cleaner. If there is one thing that I fear more than long division, it is the user’s manual of any new technical gadget I purchase. Why would anyone even need to consult a user’s manual for a vacuum cleaner? Just put the appropriate nozzle on the end- either the one for the carpet or for a wooden floor- plug it in and start sucking dust. Simple! No, unfortunately, not so simple. I spent a good ten minutes trying to figure out how to connect the first part of the hose to the vacuum cleaner. In frustration, I then consulted the manual. The manual then basically pointed out to me that I was indeed, a retard. It said: ‘This appliance may be used by children over the age of 8 and by persons of reduced physical, sensory or or mental capacity or by persons with a lack of experience or knowledge if they are supervised and have been instructed on the safe use of the appliance and have understood the potential dangers of using the appliance.’ Well’, I thought. ‘There is no one here to instruct me, so I will have to deal with this alone.’ My frustration was soothed slightly by seeing the comedy in the unflattering euphemism ‘persons with reduced mental capacity’, which is a retard no matter how you put it. Oh, how happy I am that I shine in other fields, because I am indeed a retard when it comes to assembling appliances. The manual also usefully went on to instruct me that I may not use this vacuum cleaner for cleaning animals. ‘Well, it’s a good thing I have no pets, otherwise I may end up doing something really dumb.’ I giggled to myself. I managed after quite some time to get my shiny new vacuum cleaner working without assistance and I happily hoovered my whole flat. Some of my closer friends have not only noticed my inability to perform basic calculations without a calculator, but also that I seem to have a special ‘Rhea-effect’ on electronic gadgets. I was walking through a flea-market in Berlin with a friend recently and I spotted an old style radio that was merrily playing German classical music. ‘Oh, look at the lovely old radio’ I said happily. I reached out and touched it and the music turned to static. I let go and the static continued. My friend laughed at me and he teased me by warning me not to touch electronic devises unnecessarily otherwise they go crazy. When other friends are visiting me, I sometimes ask them why a certain thing isn’t working, or why it won’t do what I want it to do. ‘Did you plug it in or turn it on or do this or that?’ they helpfully advise. As soon as they hit the magical button or switch, the gadget works. I always swear that I had done the same as that before and it didn’t work for me. It’s the ‘Rhea-effect’ on electronic devices, they tease. Now I am not so dumb that I would use my disk holder in my computer as a large coffee cup holder, but I also am very afraid of ever having to call up any technical support hotline for help if a phone line or internet connection is down, or if something fails to do what it is supposed to do. The following conversation between a tech support hotline and a really dumb caller is apparently not a hoax and is really true. And no, it was not me calling for help. I may not know the many uses of a pair of pliers, but I love to cook, and I do know the proper uses of a turkey baster: Customer: “I got this problem. You people sent me this install disk, and now my A drive won’t work.” Tech Support: “Your A drive won’t work?” Customer: “That’s what I said. You sent me a bad disk, it got stuck in my drive, now it won’t work at all.” Tech Support: “Did it not install properly? What kind of error messages did you get?” Customer: “I didn’t get any error message. The disk got stuck in the drive and wouldn’t come out. So I got these pliers and tried to get it out and that didn’t work either.” Tech Support: “You did what sir?” Customer: “I got these pliers, and tried to get the disk out, but it wouldn’t budge. I just ended up cracking the plastic stuff a bit.” Tech Support: “I don’t understand sir, did you push the eject button?” Customer: “No, so then I got a stick of butter and melted it and used a turkey baster and put the butter in the drive, around the disk, and that got it loose. Then I used the pliers and it came out fine. I can’t believe you would send me a disk that was broke and defective.” Tech Support: “Let me get this clear. You put melted butter in your A drive and used pliers to pull the disk out?” (At this point, the tech guy put the call on the speaker phone and motioned at the other techs to listen in.) Tech Support: “Just so I am absolutely clear on this, can you repeat what you just said?” Customer: “I said I put butter in my A drive to get your crappy disk out, then I had to use pliers to pull it out.” Tech Support: “Did you push that little button that was sticking out when the disk was in the drive, you know, the thing called the disk eject button?” ( Silence. ) Tech Support: “Sir?” Customer: “Yes.” Tech Support: “Sir, did you push the eject button?” Customer: “No, but you people are going to fix my computer, or I am going to sue you for breaking my computer!” Tech Support: “Let me get this straight. You are going to sue our company because you put the disk in the A drive, didn’t follow the instructions we sent you, didn’t actually seek professional advice, didn’t consult your user’s manual on how to use your computer properly, but instead proceeded to pour butter into the drive and physically rip the disk out?” Customer: “Ummmm.” Tech Support: “Do you really think you stand a chance, since we do record every call and have it on tape?” Customer: (now rather humbled) “But you’re supposed to help!” Tech Support: “I am sorry sir, but there is nothing we can do for you. Have a nice day!” Quite apart from showing an unbelievable incompetence in technical matters, sufferers of dyscalculia have also been shown in many cases to have a very active imagination, which is of course, very useful for writers. An over-active imagination has been shown to possibly be a cognitive compensation for mathematical-numeric deficits. Now this, I can most definitely relate to. I do tend to live in a bit of fantasy world at times, especially when writing, but also when it comes to my dealings with romantic relationhips. I have had very functional relationships with men in the past, but more recently I have experienced the following: A certain man fullfills some fantasy need of mine that I blow into a big fairy tale that will never be fullfilled for several reasons. First of all, we do not live in the same country, and all I saw were his pictures on the internet and the messages he left me. And second of all, we are absolutely and completely different and have different lifestyles. I do tend to focus on wanting what is not available and not near me. Is this a symptom of dyscalculia? I also find myself attracted to men who are very competent at technical, mathematical and computer issues. Women, in general are attracted to competent men, but it doesn’t take a lot to see that I am looking for a man who can do well what I can’t and to complete and complement my wide reperatoire of non-technical and non-mathematical skills. The last few guys I have fallen for have been computer geeks who I am in fact, incompatible with, but my over-active imagination helps me build a nice romantic fantasy that leaves me dissapointed when it amounts to nothing in the end. Am I attracted to the computer geek, the same way a person suffering from hypochondria may be attracted to doctors in the hope that they can solve their problems? Maybe so. I only end up disappointed when the computer geek I am attracted to fails to appreciate my poetry and writing, this being more proof that we are incompatible. I recently wrote a poem for the computer guy I liked and he said: ‘I read your poem and it’s good, but I am nicely ignorant to poetry in general.’ I am surprised that the computer geeks don’t need our writing and poetry as a balance in their lives, as much as we seem to need their tech support. ‘Forget about him, Rhea.’ a good friend of mine who also knew him advised. ‘If he can’t appreciate your poetic genius then he is not worth your time.’ I would not call myself a poetic genius, and I appreciate that my friend was trying to make me feel better, but the fantasy world I live in is only bubbly and nice until I get rejected by the man I desire or I am faced with some mind boggling technical or mathematical puzzle I am unable to solve alone. Then I get rather gloomy for a spell. I get over it fast enough though and return to my world of fantasy and writing which is probably, I concede, over compensation for my other deficits. I keep on writing and keep on dreaming that I will find a man who will appreciate my love poetry and fix my computer without the aid of a turkey baster. I can use that well enough to prepare a nice meal for us. And I know that is a dream of perfect cliched and stereotyped gender role task division, but I am a girl who dreams that blissful domestic moments like this await me still and are indeed possible.

Image: Algebra Formula Math Quiz Clock

Adventures at the Dentist

19 Aug

by Rhea H. Boyden

I am sitting in the dentist chair at my dentist in Berlin trying not to
clench my fists. I really am trying to relax, breathe and also banish
the following thought from my head: It was a dentist who invented the
electric chair. I try very hard to forget this fact, but it always
hits me again when I am sitting in the dentist’s chair. The dental
assistant is prepping her needle and I am blinded by the lamp as they
adjust it in preparation. My muscles clench ever tighter. The
assistant hands the needle to the dentist and rests a reassuring hand
on my shoulder to attempt to calm me down. ‘The needle is the most
harmless part of this procedure’ she says. I fail to see what is
reassuring about this statement. I think the needle is the worst
part, in fact, and she has basically just told me it’s going to get
worse. I open my mouth wide and in goes the needle. I squirm and
writhe in nervous agony as the needle goes in. ‘Goodness, you really
don’t like this, do you?’ the dentist says in irritation. ‘Let’s try
the other side, shall we?’ she continues. In goes the needle on the
other side and again every muscle in my body turns to stone. The
needle is discarded as I lie there, eyes shut, waiting. I try to open
my mouth for the next instrument to be inserted and my mouth refuses
to open. ‘Can you open a little wider?’ the dentist requests. I shake
my head. I see the irony of the predicament I am now in. I am
sitting in the dentist’s chair and I am unable to open my mouth. ‘I
think we will leave you alone for a few minutes to relax, ok, and
then we will come back and see how you are doing.’ the dentist
suggests. Fine with me. They exit the room and I lie back and try and
relax my jaw.

A few minutes later the beautiful young assistant comes back into thesurgery and and I open my eyes. ‘Would you like a cup of coffee?’

she offers pleasantly. ‘Sorry, coffee?’ I respond confused. ‘Yes, she
says, it will help relax your jaw. ‘Well, ok, but how am I supposed
to drink it with a numb face without slobbering it all over myself? I
ask stupidly. ‘Just try’ she says as she hands me the coffee. I sit
back in the chair and relax, trying to drink my coffee in as
dignified a manner as possible. ‘Is this a normal practice of modern
dentistry?’ I ponder to myself. ‘offering coffee to make your patient
relax?’. Who am I to argue with it? The dentist and her assistant
come back in a few minutes later to continue the procedure. ‘We are
going to have to give you another injection’ they announce.
‘Wonderful’ I think. In goes the next needle. Presently my entire
face is so numb, that all I can feel are my eyes. They feel like they
are just floating there, detached, but somehow still observing the
world. I finally relax my jaw and they get to work on my teeth.
Somehow my mood is improving I and am starting to see some humour
in the whole spectacle.

When I was 19 I lived in California for a year. One night I was out with
some friends at a concert and when it was over we went down to a
small creek that was mostly a lot of boulders and rocks with a very
little amount of water flowing between them. I scrambled, in the
dark, across some of the boulders to sit on a big one in the middle
of the creek. One of the guys who was in our group then picked up a
large rock and hurled it with all his might in my direction. It
bounced off another rock and then hit me flat in the mouth taking out
5 of my front teeth. He was, he claimed later, trying to splash me.
In a creek with no water? Great idea. An hour later I was sitting in
the emergency room of a large hospital waiting for a doctor to come
see me. Saturday night is a popular night for people to come to
hospital after having had stupid accidents whilst partying. I had to
wait quite some time, I recall. A few smashed out teeth are low

At the time I was studying at the local community college and I had just
signed up to do a voice training class in the drama department. I did
not fail to see the irony as I went in for my first class the
following Monday morning. You really need a full set of teeth to
breath and do voice projection properly. I sheepishly introduced
myself and explained that even though I currently had no front teeth,
I was planning on getting some soon, and I would like to do the
class. My teacher and my class mates were very supportive in this.
One guy even stood up and pulled out his dentures as a show of
solidarity. The class was wonderful.

So, back in Berlin in the dental surgery, they managed to work around my
clenched jaw and succesfully complete the surgery. I then walked out
of there laughing my head off at the silliness of it all, without
having inhaled any laughing gas whatsoever. Maybe I can keep up this
attitude and try and have a sense of humour about all this teeth
nonsense the next time I return to the dentist?

Queen Louise of Prussia

18 Aug

by Rhea H. Boyden


What can one do to console the great King Frederick’s grief as his beautiful, young and devoted wife perishes in his arms of a summer’s day? His tears are hotter and more bitter than hers were when her own first Princess was dead before she ever breathed her first breath. He can allow his loyal subjects to cast her likeness in bronze and cover them in wild spring flowers to honour her. They will do it willingly. She gained their respect. She came to court merrily from the land. Being Queen allowed her to hold people’s babies and kiss them tenderly. Allowed her to spread her copper coins happily among the ragged townsfolk. Frederick heeded her well when she spoke, whether in her Prussian tongue or the tongue of Napoleon that she mastered before he attacked their fair land. Schiller and Goethe captured her young heart and Frederick would make her his guide and love. Her lovely crown of turquoise that she wore so well, did not oppress or hurt her beautiful head full of blonde locks. Her big, round inquisitive eyes still stare out from a far more telling likeness. One of oil and not of bronze. Do the modern Prussian girls know of her savvy and loyal way? Do they also use their inquisitive eyes and minds to use her as a guide? The browning flowers on the fair bronze head must not be forgotten. They must be replaced with the fresh lushness of colour and life of our newly blossomed petals. The same lushness that once bestowed her rosy and lovely cheeks.

Portrait by Josef Grassi

We Need to Talk

12 Aug

Talking_lips wikiroxor

By Rhea H. Boyden

‘What size toothbrush do you use?’ My dentist enquired of me as I sat in the dentist chair. ‘I suspect you are using one that is too big with too many bristles, you need a smaller brush’ he counselled. ‘Oh, really?’ I asked. ‘Yes’, he said, you have a very small mouth, you need to use this brush here’ he continued, as he handed me a shiny new toothbrush. ‘I have a small mouth?’ I asked incredulously. ‘Noone has ever said that to me before, I have always been told that I have a big mouth, and I never seem to be able to keep it shut. Whenever I fly back home to Ireland for the holidays from Berlin, I am always bubbling with energy and excitement about seeing my friends and family and telling them all my stories. My jaw is wagging constantly. My dear brother is often the first victim of my motor mouth, as he is often the one who picks me up from the airport. As soon as we set off on the bumpy country road home I am yakking away at a hundred miles an hour which only has the effect of making him drive faster on the dangerous Irish roads, presumably because he wants to get home quicker and have some peace away from me. ‘Rhea, you are full on, you never stop blathering, you are wrecking my head’ he says, or ‘Rhea, you have so many interesting things to say, why don’t you say them once and then move on to the next thing’. My brother and I care for each other dearly and we get on well, but more often than not, we have had a slight argument before we reach home, and usually it is due to the fact that I am blabbering too much, and not only am I blabbering, but I am repeating myself too, making my presence a double torture to him. He is very good for picking me up from the airport, and for that I am grateful. I always bring him a bottle of rum or something else nice to drink as a reward for putting up with me. Usually within a day or two of being home, I have a similar run in with my father. All I want to do is talk and talk to my family when I see them. ‘Why do you always want to read the paper when I want to talk to you? I grumble at my dad when we are sitting at the kitchen table. ‘Rhea’ he says, looking up from his paper, irritated. ‘Why do you always want to talk to me when I want to read the paper?’ Good point. I leave him alone and go and sulk and read my book, alone, and wait until someone else wants to talk to me. I love talking to my dad, but I have to learn that he doesn’t always want to talk. When he is in a talkative mood, he is great. I don’t have to be in Ireland visiting him to bug him with my chatter though. I make plenty of use of my phone to call him up and natter on and on about my latest writing project. I recently phoned him up to tell him about my idea for this very essay that I wanted to write about talking. I told him all about it in great detail. When we were ending the phone conversation he then teasingly said goodbye to me with the following sentence: ‘Great Rhea, now you can stop talking about writing and start writing about talking.’ My grandfather was once visiting Berlin and he made the effort to walk up the stairs to my fouth floor apartment to visit me and see where I lived. I would have suggested he stay with me, but a ground floor apartment much better suited him at his age. He was huffing and puffing from the effort and I proudly led him into my kitchen and offered him a glass of water to provide him some relief. I then proceeded to jabber on and on about my apartment and my life in Berlin. After quite some time he finally got a word in and said: ‘That’s the problem with you single people who live alone. As soon as you have company you need to talk endlessly.’ That shut me up for a few minutes. Presumably this was his way of saying he did not understand why so many of us were choosing to live alone in single households and shun marriage. Of course, what he doesn’t realise is that I don’t only talk when I have visitors, I also talk to myself on a regular basis, and no, I am not mad, at least not any madder than the next person. In movies and popular culture, people are portrayed as mad and eccentric for talking to themselves, but many studies have shown that most people talk to themselves and it is, in fact, perfectly natural and not a sign of insanity at all. Talking to yourself helps relief stress and solve problems with yourself when you have no one else to talk to. And, indeed even if you do have tonnes of friends and plenty of confidants, you don’t even want to share everything with people. Simply talking to yourself is a good way to process things on your own. Numerous studies have also shown that consciously articulating something out loud to yourself actually does help you find a solution to your question. The problem arises when you start answering your own questions out loud or responding to ‘voices in your head’ which could be a sign of a mental health issue or even schizophrenia, but for most of us young and healthy people, a normal dose of talking to ourselves is no reason for concern at all. While watching the Olympic Games too, you can see lots of athletes muttering to themselves in deep concentration right before they begin a race or a match or a run. In psychology, this type of self-talk is called ‘verbal persuasion’ and it is a very useful tool for gaining self-confidence. Recently, a good friend of mine was visiting me from Ireland and I read him one of my short stories aloud. When I had finished he said: ‘You have to lop off the first half of this story and start in the middle, that’s when it gets interesting. You must turn your writing into a pearl’, he advised. ‘It must be condensed beauty of the only thing that is necessary.’ As I was absorbing this lovely metaphor of the pearl, he then interrupted my reverie by adding: ‘It comes as no surprise that you are now writing all the time and churning out stories and articles like crazy, Rhea, you talk so darn much it is good for you to get it down on paper. I took this as a compliment. It also made me think of Mark Twain’s wonderful quotes on being concise in writing such as: ‘If I had had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter.’ Yes, everything is in editing, that fine act of reducing what you have written to what is essential. I have a wonderful book entitled ‘Writing Down the Bones’ by a poet and teacher of creative writing named Natalie Goldberg. Her book is filled with lots of fantastic creative writing exercises and she claims in one chapter that chattering and gossiping are the true friends of good writers. We have to talk lots and tell stories and be sociable as much as possible to get our fuel for writing. Only then when we are alone are we able to use all this useful chatter to help us write glittering dialogues and compelling stories. There are wonderfully talented writers who talk little and who are hermits, but there are also authors who are taciturn and talk little, who write scientific journals and other such dry manuscripts that are more effective than sleeping tablets, and not the bubbling, chattering and humourous writings of people who have more active social lives. A friend of mine once gave me a book of short stories entitled ‘Why don’t you stop talking?’ by a woman named Jackie Kay. Was she trying to drop a hint or simply giving me a great book? Regardless, the book is fantastic and Jackie Kay has become one of my bigger influences in my writing. In her short story that bears the same name as the collection of stories, her character, a young woman talks all about how much her tongue gets her into trouble constantly. She says that she gets nervous when she finds herself with a silent person who merely nods and utters one well-chosen word every so often when she is chattering on and on. She also said that she lives alone since she drove her boyfriend mad with her constant talk, making him pack his bags and leave. This I can relate to completely. For some reason, I find myself attracted to really quiet, shy, guys and I have also done a great job of scaring them off. Why do I want to be with these reticent guys in the first place? I really do not want to be the one doing all the talking, as I also get nervous with long, silent pauses in the conversation and so I fill them with my chatter. I once dated a fairly quiet guy here in Berlin and I would send him novel-length e-mails telling him all about my feelings and my philosophy of life. Generally he would respond with one or two sentences to my one or two hundred sentences, which of course had the effect of making me feel as if he didn’t care. The shorter his messages got, the longer mine got, until I finally realised that I had, in fact, written him a good five emails filled with yakking and chatter and news and he hadn’t responded to any of them. I was left with a hanging void of no words, a virtual shaft of nothingness to stare into. He had disappeared without a trace. My talk and words had sent him running to another planet. I finally left him alone, but it left me unhappy and with the feeling that something was left unresolved. It was long assumed that women talked way more than men, but a 2007 study published in Science Magazine put an end to this legend. Researchers placed microphones on 396 college students to record the amount they talked. The result showed that women speak a little more than 16,000 words a day and men a little less than 16,000 words a day which is no significant difference. The three most talkative subjects in the study were indeed men. Women have gotten the reputation for talking more simply because they like and feel the need to talk about relationshipsmore than men. This can all be explained by hormones. Men do not generally like to hear these four words from their wives or girlfriends: ‘We need to talk.’ When a woman says this it is because talking a problem through with her partner produces the hormone oxytocin which helps her relieve stress. Women often want to talk first about a problem and then have intimate contact afterwards with their partners when resolving an issue. Men, on the other hand, are wired completely differently. When there is a problem, testosterone is what relieves stress for them, so having sex is their way of reconciling a problem. Therein lies the problem. The talking/ having sex ratio is often way out of balance and sadly, many relationships end because couples are victims of their hormones. Knowing this fact may indeed help couples save their relationships. Many marriage counsellors have encouraged the more silent men to really make an effort to talk more to their partners, before thinking about having sex. The pay off is then better sex, so a little more talking is worth it. Talking really has been proven effective stress relief for women. How often do you see a group of girls out on a girls night out on the town for drinks? They have fun, laugh, enjoy each others’ company and yes, they talk about their problems with their boyfriends/husbands. They rarely find any concrete solution to their problems, but just sharing their stories is immensely useful and helpful when processing relationship issues. Knowing that they all share the same problems and trials in relationships forms strong bonds and gives them strength and hope. Unfortunately, women have gotten the reputation of being loud-mouthed gossips because of this fact. But, most women are not evil gossips and it is not their intention to spread evilness. Men should not be too threatened by this at all. If anything, these girly nights out make relationships stronger in most cases. Men talk just as much, but they talk about different things and in different situations. Men talk more at the workplace, and they talk more about sports, gadgets, data and numbers. They don’t generally talk to their male friends about their relationships unless they really are having a crisis and need advice and support, a fact women find hard to understand, but what can you do? Men should be happy when their girlfriends are talking to them as it is a sign that the woman cares about the relationship. Men should worry when their previously talkative girlfriend stops talking and becomes withdrawn. This is often an alarm bell that the woman has given up and is thinking of terminating the relationship or considering cheating on her man. All a man can do in this situation is to talk to her. Talk is her stress relief. To go back to Jackie Kay’s short story again, her character talks about how she regrets having such a big mouth, because as she looks around her she perceives that it is the silent people who have the power in the world. They choose their words carefully and when they speak, people listen because they are not yakking constantly. Some of us who talk a lot watch these people with a mixture of admiration, envy and contempt. I realised at the end of my relationship with my quiet guy that I really didn’t know a whole lot about him at all, and it made me pretty angry. And it was not only because I was talking all the time, it was simply that he did not want me to know more about his life. I can only wonder what it was he was hiding from me. His silence was, I now surmise, a way of retaining power. It ended badly with us and I never got the level of communication from him that I desired. He is probably like this in other relationships too, so it’s not all my fault for talking all the time. I admired him greatly too though, for his calm, quiet and organised work ethic. He was an introvert and he got a lot of intense work done on his own. I recently read a short article in ‘The Atlantic Monthly’ by Susan Cain that proposed that introverts should be hired and left alone to work. She quotes research by Wharton management professor Adam Grant who claims that ‘Introverts are persistant-give them a puzzle and they will stick at it longer. They are careful risk-takers, and are less likely to get into car accidents, participate in extreme sports, or place out-sized financial bets than extroverts. Introverts are also comfortable with solitude-a crucial spur to creativity.’ I remember saying to my shy and quiet guy how I envied him being so comfortable with solitude. He certainly didn’t seem to get as lonely as I did, that much I could see. I need constant interaction and chatter with people. And as much as I enjoy my solitude at times, long stretches of it do not suit my extroverted, sociable and talkative nature. Recently another longer term online friendship with a shy and quiet I quite liked ended. Here again, when I review our chats I was the one using way more words than him. It was a nice correspondence while it lasted, but it ended when I told him my feelings for him-I am a girl driven by oxytocin, remember- and how I would have liked to meet him again in the real world. He was unable to reciprocate this and he said very little at the end which has left me disappointed, of course. Again, I am left staring into a void of nothingness and silence with no more response from him. I talked a lot to him, and I miss his presence now intensely. I know from my chats about relationships with my girlfriends- that’s what we talk about- that I am not the only girl who gets bitterly disappointed and frustrated by mens’ silence on emotional and relationship issues. Men do seem to communicate in some kind of unspoken language that we don’t often pick up on when we are nagging or talking to them. But can we always be expected to just understand what it is they are trying to say to us without words? Of course not! We can try, but it’s not easy to decipher silence. Silence can be more irritating than talk at times. There has to be some compromise between the sexes. I do want to learn to curb my tongue more, but I also hope the next guy I date will open up a bit more. I have experienced special moments with guys I have dated where I have kept my mouth shut and the whole moment was fused with goodness and understanding, and not the awkwardness of trying to fill a void with meaningless chatter. The same pearl that my friend proposed my writing must be condensed to, could also be used to good effect perhaps, when I am next sitting with a man I admire or hope to date. Maybe, just maybe, I could cherish that moment of silent communication and unspoken chemistry between us, as he had suggested when he spoke to me about the pearl. Talking, like writing ‘must be condensed beauty of the only thing that is neccessary.’

Talking Lips Image by Wiki Roxor