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Consider the Cold Spot

8 Dec

By Rhea H. Boyden  

A city can be a wonderfully inspiring place to live-most of the time. As a writer you can observe all kinds of incredible things every day that can become the marrow of your next story. The way an old man sits sadly on a bench with his lip curled up can make you wonder about his day, and you can turn him into a character in your next story. Snippets of conversation overheard on the train between colourfully dressed hipsters can provide you with the first lines of a glittering dialogue that could go anywhere. Observe a strange building closely and then describe it in as much detail as possible, and you have the setting for your next scene. There is indeed so much exhilarating sensory overload the entire time, that you need to go somewhere peaceful to digest and decompose these images through your subconscious mind before you can sit down to write about them. So where does one go to get into this peaceful and meditative state?   Well, in Berlin there are a lot of lush parks which are fabulous in summer, but in winter I head to my heated swimming pool, followed by an even more heated sauna, and then I relax in the so-called “Himalaya Room”. This is a room with comfortable reclining chairs which face an entire illuminated wall of a Himalayan mountain landscape with an icy river meandering in the foreground. It is the perfect place to relax, doze and meditate about writing. Last week, however, I was rudely interrupted from my post-sauna reverie by not one, but two different tones of beeping noises. I sat up, irritated and groggy, and saw that the man to the left of me was fiddling with his iphone and the woman to the right of me was deeply engrossed in reading something on her ipad-with the sound turned on. Do they take them into the sauna with them too? I wondered. I got up and left the room, but the experience had already given me an idea for a new article. “Yes”, I thought. “I want to write about the importance of mobile, Facebook, twitter, chat and beep free zones as essential in certain public spaces in order to give people the space to meditate and give their overloaded brains a chance to recuperate. This is important for everybody, not only for writers and other creative people, but my focus here is particularly how important this is for people who have to work creatively. They need space from the incessant need to be turned on, plugged in and available.   In her recent article in The Sunday Times, Laura Atkinson talks about the importance of turning off your phone to recharge your creative energy. And she says that just switching your phone off for 3 hours over a long and leisurely dinner doesn’t count. You need to really switch off to unwind. She talks about the increasing blending of business and leisure -bleisure- as being stifling to creativity. These days, you can jump on a plane and fly to an exotic destination and the first thing you can enquire about at hotel reception is where the hotspot is, where you can get online, and where you can plug your laptop in to upload your beach photos of your adorable kids up onto Facebook within a few hours of deplaning. Atkinson says that in the future it will more likely be cold spots –places where there is no internet access- that will experience a sharper rise in demand as people become and more aware of the damaging and draining effects of always being switched on.   It seems there is already a demand for this. After polling 1,000 travellers about how they deal with the stresses and demands of always being digitally connected, Marriot Hotels are now offering tech-free zones to travelers in 9 resorts in Mexico and the Carribbean. These zones will offer tech-weary travelers a “braincation”- a chance to really unwind without their mobile gadgets. In these areas, guests can enjoy other leisure activities that don’t include any tech gadgets, and -what a revelation- will be encouraged to simply interact with the other real world individuals they encounter in these areas. This takes considerable willpower for some people who are addicted to their gadgets, but after a little practice they may find it quite lovely to spend the afternoon reading a real book instead of staring at an iphone for hours on end.   I have frequently felt irritated when my mobile gadgets fail to function while visiting my family in rural Ireland. I have often found myself wandering around our front lawn waving my phone around desperately seeking a signal to send a text message. Or I have had my phone upstairs in our house for days and have felt lonely and despondent when I don’t get a response to the many text messages I have been sending, only to find that 10 messages come in at once when I walk downstairs and out into the orchard with my phone. Clearly my bedroom was a nice cold spot.   “I don’t know how you function here with no broadband!” I used to moan to my dad. He just smiles at me and says “Welcome back to the cybersticks, it’s great isn’t it, you can really unwind here.” I used to find this unamusing and would continue to will my poor phone to work, but more recently I see the great value of going somewhere where my phone refuses to cooperate. I also remember being a young child snuggled in my bed, and hearing my dad in the next room typing away for hours into the night on his old typewriter. He was clearly happily lost in his work with no internet or phone to distract him.   When I left the pool the other evening, I resolved to come home, turn on my laptop, and only open my word document to write and not go online at all. I wanted to create a cold spot right in my living room, with no internet to distract me. I was thinking of my dad and his typewriter and serene and quiet space. Upon opening the door to my flat, however, I got more than I bargained for. I stared at my desk and saw that my laptop was gone. Burglars had created a very cold spot for me. Now, 24 hours later, after dealing with the mayhem of a break-in, I am now sitting at my desk calmly typing this article on an old laptop borrowed from a friend and I have no internet connection. Naturally, I am livid that my space has been invaded and my personal belongings stolen, but I could think of only one way of curing the pain I feel of being the victim of a burglary and that was to replace the lock to my front door, bolt it tight, make a fresh pot of coffee, and get lost in writing.     Of course, having your laptop stolen is an extreme method of being forced offline. If your laptop happens not to be stolen, then you must take other drastic measures yourself to make your workspace conducive to creativity. The successful music producer Illiam Gates shares his methods for success in his workshop “The Ill Methodology”. He says that if you plan on producing a track that day then you must pull the modem jack out of your wall and take the battery out of your phone and store it at the other end of your house. No exceptions. He states that our brains get crippled by over thinking and we must clear our minds of other noise if we want to get into the creative zone and get on fire creatively. We have to train our creative minds to stay in the right brain-which is the side of the brain from where most creative impulses stem- and become removed from the analytical noise of the left brain. The left brain functions are marvelous indeed for many a pursuit, but not when you want your actions to be clear of doubt and ego. When in the heat of composition you need to simply follow through and not analyse what you are doing or question it. You must follow your instincts and roll on the wave you have caught with no doubt to stop you. Illiam Gates talks about how society rewards and  encourages us to live in the left brain constantly analyzing, thinking, doubting, proscrastinating, doubting and thinking again. We are not encouraged to think outside the box in mainstream pursuits. Internet addiction and useless hours of staring at an iphone seem in some ways to be a combination of doubt and brain turning to mush at the same time, and ultimately not really achieving anything of any value in either the left or the right brain halves, but rather confusing and draining both.   Naturally some of us are more talented at right brain activities and others at left brain activities, but Illiam Gates surely has a point when he talks about left brain careers and activities being more rewarded in our society. Look at all the accountants, mathematicians and computer scientists in our society who are rewarded handsomely for their analytical skills.   In his novel ‘The Pale King’ David Foster Wallace ridicules his character Sylvanshine, who is a trainee accountant, for his petty way of over-analysing every situation and every outcome of every action he takes in the same manner a tax accountant can analyse cost and profit analysis in every situation. Foster Wallace himself was a tortured right brain genius who very much spent most of his time in the creative state of writing, feeling very much alienated from the rewards of the left brain analytical world. He had his incredible left brain talents too, being a superb tennis player, but he suffered severe depression and eventually committed suicide at age 46, but not before leaving us with a great dose of his opinions on modern society. It seems he could never shut his brain off.   Foster Wallace was extremely critical of many aspects of American society and he spoke the crystal truth of how he saw things. His views could not be denied even by many a left-brain conforming analyst. He was sent on the strangest journalistic assignments that seemed clearly, from the outset, not what the magazine had intended. His critical essay of the treatment of lobsters at the Maine Lobster Festival which was then published in Gourmet Magazine- does not contain a lovely recipe for how to prepare a lobster, but rather how he is loathsome of mass tourism and of the fact that lobsters are thrown live into a pot of boiling water to be cooked. One has to respect Gourmet magazine for thinking outside the box and publishing his whole article ‘Consider the Lobster’. Its publication was a marvelous surprise for the world of animal rights movements too-whose work, like many people who live in right brain endeavors are also not richly financially rewarded.   And what area of the brain are burglars using when they operate, and how analytical or creative are they when they are at work? It is an area I find too painful to even explore in depth at  this present time, but I would imagine that they use both halves marvelously when  at work, and I would also guess that they don’t care to have much down time or living in cold spots to meditate on the wonderful jobs they are doing. I can only guess that constant online access makes their jobs easier to coordinate. So while I sit here genuinely enjoying and making the most of my forced internet offline cold spot, I shudder to think what those burglars are now doing with my laptop and my data. I certainly do not want to torture myself too much and get overly analytical and doubtful and obsessive over it though, because it will only disturb the surprisingly easy-going and happy creative state I have somehow managed to work myself into within only 24 hours of a burglary, and I would rather wait until tomorrow to deal with it again when I will then be forced to unhappily deal with tedious, painful and analytical bureaucracy that is filing police reports and insurance claims. For now I am going to stay in my happy offline right brain activities making the most of it, away from the noise, images and beeps of the city and its gadgets.

Link

Link to Prenzlauer Berg-A Personal Memoir in Slow Travel Berlin

5 Dec

  

 

Ellen pic window

Link to Prenzlauer Berg-A Personal Memoir in Slow Travel Berlin

Wrestling with Writing

12 Oct
William_Butler_Yeats_1 Maud Gonne
by Rhea H.Boyden
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

William Butler Yeats- The Second Coming

When my dear mentor sent me back an article I had written covered in correction symbols it felt like a punch in the face. I had genuinely been of the opinion that it had been very good, and nearly ready for publication. How wrong I was. ‘So, I will have to wrestle with this article all night and follow her instructions and disssect and interpret every red mark, green symbol, blue sign and purple arrow’, I sighed in exasperation. She had helpfully included a key to aid me in deciphering the symbols, and told me exactly what I needed to change and how to proceed. I had to do the work though, she wasn’t going to do it for me. I had never been published, and this was my first big chance to get my art show review into a New York magazine, so I was going to heed her rules. I took a deep breath. This was work, much unlike the creative heat of the inspiration of writing a first draft, which is fun and intoxicating. The symbols she had provided reminded me of formulae from my high school maths class which I had hated. Even very experienced writers with a couple novels under their belts, a knowledge of the process of getting a manuscript completed, and a tonne of confidence in their own ability, dread the proofs of their manuscripts being returned to them besmeared with red ink. The accomplished author Zadie Smith (who is my age) talks about her fear of receiving her novel back from editors. ‘Proofs are so cruel!’ she writes in her essay on writing. ‘Breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain. Proofs are the wasteland where your novel dies and the cold reality asserts itself.’ she says. I read this and I wonder if I will ever get my book finished. How is it I came to be writing a book anyway? It wasn’t really my plan. I already have a full time job and a very busy social life. And now I have to spend hours editing in my limited free time? I can only say that somehow writing chose me and not the other way around. Some of the essays I have written just somehow wrote themselves and were stream of consciousness, flowing out of me and onto paper in a river of ink flowing through a burst dam, uncontrolled by me. I am simply a conduit. My article ‘Musings on Modern Gender Relations’ wrote itself as I was under the influence of vodka cocktails on a cold December night. That article ended up as cover story in Gloss Magazine with the Irish Times and the response to the longer unedited version has reverberated throughout this entire year. And everyone had read the unedited version! I have been scrambling to edit it and make it better, but it seems people even loved the unproofed version. ‘It kind of flows and rambles in a very entertaining way, and I mean this as an absolute compliment.’ one friend of mine posted. Why I posted it online the minute I finished writing it, without even editing it or spell checking it is a mystery to me, and one of these crazy ideas of a beginning writer. I am not of the opinion that second drafts and editing are for sissies, and I am, of course, willing to put in the work, but I was just dying to get that essay out there. It couldn’t wait for editing, and the overwhelming feedback on it seemed to confirm this. Scores of people said: ‘What a timely essay, I couldn’t stop reading it.’ Even Gloss Magazine ignored the fact that it was clearly unedited and offered to publish a shorter version of it. This must have been beginner’s luck. I wouldn’t dare send an unedited article to a magazine again. What was I thinking? Even now, when I edit a draft two or three times, glaring errors still become apparent on a fourth read through. I do still post my articles on my blog and on Facebook all the time after two reads through, fully aware that there are still errors, but I think most of my readers are forgiving of this. I do not have the time to stay up til midnight every night, editing stories to magazine quality before I share them. If I ever get any of these articles published in a magazine again, I will go back and rework them. For now, they are good essays for my friends to read and that is fine. Writing is just a hobby that chose me and I was not even intending to get published yet. I started slowly writing an autobiograhy in recipes a year and a half ago for fun with the idea that maybe some day, if I am lucky, I will get it published, and it will be something that will be enjoyed by my circle of extended friends and family. I have no real formal education in style and syntax, neither am I journalist, or in possession of real solid skills that are needed to edit an article to top quality on my own. People keep saying: ‘Rhea, keep writing, you are so talented. Know it, own it, claim it!’ Hearing this kind of feedback is indeed very flattering and motivating, but I know only too well where my weaknesses lie. I need to spend more time studying style and syntax, punctuation and prose style, and all of this takes time. My book, of which I have written 50 pages, has been ignored these past 6 months in the excitement of getting my first two articles published, and then writing lots of other articles and prose poems on the heels of my publishing success. I need to forget all these other projects and get back to my book. Somehow I have developed a fear of revisiting that project though, partly because despite my lack of confidence, I do realise that my writing style and voice has improved a lot since I started that project , due to the sheer number of hours I have been writing. Going back to my book will be going back to a time when I was a worse writer than now, and I will likely groan and cringe at what I have written and realise how much work there is to be done to bring that project up to scratch, and indeed finish it. I completely relate to what Zadie Smith writes about revisiting things she has written and how daunting a task that is. She sums it up nicely in her essay by saying: ‘To look back at all past work induces nausea, but the first twenty pages in particular bring on heart palpitations. It’s like taking a tour of a cell in which you were once incarcerated.’ Indeed. Who wants to go back to jail? I need to have a more positive attitude and go back to that project that is dear to me and attack it with all my love. The very act of writing this essay here is yet another writing project I am throwing myself into in an attempt to ignore my book project. I have hope that I will attack it with a happy heart soon, especially as I am reminded by many teachers of writing that it is a good idea to leave things you have written for a spell before going back to them, as you can then approach editing with fresh and new energy that is somewhat removed from yourself and your ego. As Natalie Goldberg, teacher of creative writing and poetry, says in her essay on rereading and rewriting: ‘Time (away from what you have written) allows for distance and objectivity from your work. You can sit down and read something as if it weren’t yours. Become curious. Read it page by page. Even if it seemed dull when you wrote it, now you will recognise its texture and rhythm’. Yes, I must fight the nausea at my own earlier writings that I am bound to experience while rereading them, as Smith so clearly points out, but I can still have the benefit of re reading them from a detached and objective space. Quite apart from needing to squeeze time for writing and editing into an already busy work schedule, I must also find time for reading. Serious reading takes time, concentration and mental alertness. An alertness that is, depressingly, not always present after a long day of teaching. But read I must if I have any hope of being a good writer. My current reading materials are style guides, poetry, essays written by other writers, magazine articles on relationships, psychology, economics and history. I also read memoirs and the occasional novel of contemporary fiction. I have read many of the classics, but sadly my reading still has large gaps in it that I intend to fill when I find time for it. I have not read ‘War and Peace’ or ‘Crime and Punishment’ and neither of these books are high on my list of priority reading, even though I am aware that these are both books that one is ‘supposed to have read’. Both Smith and Goldberg talk about reading in their essays on writing. They both discuss how so many writers fear that their own voice will be lost if they read too much of another author’s work. Goldberg says in her essay that a student of hers complained to her that she was reading so much Hemingway that she was afraid her voice was not hers anymore, but that she was copying him. ‘That’s not so bad’, Goldberg writes. ‘It’s better to sound like Ernest Hemingway than old Aunt Bethune, who thinks Hallmark greeting cards contain the best poetry in America.’ Goldberg states that writing is a communal act, and that no one can lay claim to any voice. Obviously, if all you read is Hemingway over and over again, then you do not develop your own voice. You must read lots of different styles and different authors to broaden vocabulary and ideas constantly. While reading you will never know what will influence your style or not. In my experience, I notice with great joy while I am writing, how the different things I have read influence my writing, and I never have the feeling that it effects my own voice. If anything, all the diverse things I have read strengthen my writing. Surely it is arrogant to say that reading will ruin your voice? I would assume that most good writers have read a fair amount of books in their lives to date, and that all this reading influences their writing. How else have these good writers even developed a sophisticated enough vocabulary to write something worth reading if not by reading a lot themselves? Zadie Smith is also a proponent of reading a lot while writing, and says her writing desk is always covered in open novels while she is in the midst of writing a novel. As she says beautifully in her essay: ‘I think of reading like a balanced diet, if your sentences are too baggy, too baroque, then cut back on fatty Foster Wallace, say, and pick up Kafka as roughage. If your aesthetic has become so refined it is stopping you from placing a single mark on white paper, stop worrying so much what Nabokov would say, pick up Dostoyevsky, patron saint of style over substance.’ she advises. Who would worry about your reader thinking you have adopted someone else’s voice? I stand in awe, instead of Zadie Smith, who finds the time and energy to read all these other novels and write her own too. I have another very entertaining and ironic book that I love to read while commuting entitled ‘How Not To Write a Novel.’ by Sarah Newman and Howard Mittelmark. The book lays out, misstep by misstep, how you can sobotage your own novel in laugh -out-loud anecdotes that are easy to digest and somewhat silly, but at the same time very useful. They have one section where they talk all about how they understand how the beginning novelist wants to impress us by proving what an extensive vocabulary they have by wrestling with as many important and big words as possible that even they seem not to know the definition of in their writing. Newman and Mittelmark then offer a simple test that you can apply to any word to see if you know the definition. The test goes as follows: Ask yourself: ‘Do I know this word?’ If the answer is no, then you do not know the word.’ Natalie Goldberg also talks about how beginning writers are intimidated by the success and achievement of published and talented writers. She says simply that you need to subtract rules for writing, not add them muddying your prose with needless clutter. Writing needs to be kept clear, simple and honest if it is to make sense and keep the attention of your reader. ‘Good writing’ she says,’ is more of a process of uneducation than education.’ and her essays and simple tips seem to confirm this. Newman and Mittelmark humourously go on to talk about how confident and published writers have no problem using the speech tag ‘said’ when someone in a dialogue says something. Unpublished and inexperienced authors, on the other hand are uncomfortable with the boring repetition of the word ‘said’ when someone says something and try out every other word under the sun that indicates exactly in what manner someone has uttered something. The following section from their book is entitled: When the author thinks he is too good for the word ‘said’: ‘It was a dark and stormy night’, he divulged. ‘And, far from the coast we had no fear of any sea creature. How wrong we would be proved!’ he appended. She queried, ‘It was a sea creature? How is that possible?’ she further wished to determine. ‘It was a sea creature,’ he affirmed, ‘but one which had subtly mutated to be far more dangerous, far more deadly, than its marine counterpart. For on dry land,’ he uttered, ‘it had become both larger and more muscular. It’s funny’, he smirked, ‘now that I look back from safety.’ ‘Funny?’ she interrogated. ‘Hilarious!’ he expostulated. ‘Surely not?’ she doubted. ‘But how little you know!’ he exclaimed. ‘Says you!’ she objected. ‘That’s the last I am willing to say,’ he concluded. ‘Some listener you turned out to be!’ he snorted. This book wisely says that if we use too many words to say how something is said, we distract from what is being said, and we kill any chance of holding the attention of our readers, let alone landing a book deal. I am a beginning writer and I also get intimidated by all I have not read, all I do not know, and the sheer amount I have to read and learn, but I just try and be patient with myself. I do not have to write if I do not want to. I do it because it brings pleasure and gives me something to get lost in after a long day of work. When I am tired and in a bad mood, or lonely, I sometimes do not write. I sit on the couch, eat cookies, day dream and listen to music. That is ok too. And sometimes I do write when I am lonely and depressed and I find it lifts my mood. Goldberg has a whole chapter on loneliness and how you can write to reconnect with the universe. Smith too talks about how you can fall in line with a feeling, write, and go where it takes you instead of fighting it and going against the grain. Both of their essays on these topics have proven very useful therapy for me when I am feeling blue. In short, writing is therapy on so many levels and it can lift you up and help you process any low feeling you may have, whether it may be inadequacy, depression or loneliness. I live and breathe writing and I feel it is now an integral part of my life and essential for my sanity on many levels. When I was a young student at university in the United States, I did not do a whole lot of extracurricular reading and some would say that I was academically lazy. If I had not had to work the whole way through college, I may have had more leisure time for reading books for pleasure, but it was not the case. I did the coursework, made good grades, and that was that. I read about six novels in my free time for fun throughout my whole university career. I was more interested in going out and having a good time and doing a lot of sports when I was not at work or in class. It was not until a year after I graduated from university that I started reading again for pleasure. The book that set off my post university reading career was an autobiography by a woman named Mary Karr called ‘The Liar’s Club.’ It was so funny and so honest that I devoured it in one sitting and I immediately ordered her other novels and poetry and I have never looked back. Karr awakened in me a mature love of poetry, something which I, like a lot of people, found to be a chore at school. In Ireland we were forced to read a lot of W.B. Yeats and I never appreciated it. Presumably educators realise that the average teenager will not appreciate poetry at school, but will hopefully appreciate it at a later point and their wish is to lay the groundwork for this future appreciation. Mary Karr quotes Yeats’ ‘The Second Coming’ which is a serious poem about Christ’s Second Coming in the middle of talking about her crazy, hilarious Texan childhood. This was the first time I saw that poetry can come to life and have meaning in the middle of not such high brow literature. It was a revelation to me. Since that time, I have found poetry to be of great solace and find that it is speaking to me in a special language that only I can deciper at that time. This of course, is the very essence and beauty of poetry: it is very personal and it is there to be interpreted in many ways. I have cried and laughed at poetry and recently even written some of my own prose poetry, a process which was an incredible experience. Here again, like some of my crazier inspired essays, the poem wrote itself and just flowed out of me with me as the conduit. These are the times when I am not wrestling with words, rather they flow easily through my soul, muscles, blood and sub conscious mind easily, and with great pleasure. As an adult who has suffered unrequited love, I can feel compassion for Yeats when I write my own prose poetry. He was desperately in love with the Irish revolutionary and feminist Maud Gonne, who rejected his three marriage proposals. It seems the best muses for poetry and writing are the ones who are unable to give us the love we so seek from them. I wrote a poem (that I am very proud of) this past summer for a man, and I sent it to him and told him I had written it for him. He read it and politely rejected my advances. He has remained my muse however, as I have not yet been able to lodge him from my head. He has served a good purpose, however, as muse and character in nearly every poem and article I have written since then. If he had said he loved me too, and we had indeed started the love affair that I had built up in my silly head, I doubt I would have gotten a whole lot of writing done these past months. This is my solace. I am productive with my writing while not in love. Rejection breeds fertile ground for writing, and I am thankful to say that the writings inspired by him are merely mournful and hopeful for future reconciliation, and not bitter and resentful. Much of Yeats’ poetry requires dedication and a knowledge of Greek myths and a qualified teacher as a guide if you are to become a dedicated scholar and really get what he is talking about. I have read a lot of his poetry and I get a lot out of it, but a lot is lost on me because I do not have a professor at my side to guide me through it. But that is fine, we do not all have to be academic scholars of a poet to allow their writings to touch our busy lives and feed our souls. Poetry can lift you up regardless. Both Zadie Smith and Natalie Goldberg rave about John Keats and what an accessible poet he is. Smith talks about how she much she can relate to him and how he opened her mind to the beauty of poetry. ‘Keats offers his readers the possibility of entering through the side door,’ writes Smith, ‘the one marked ‘Apprentices Welcome Here’. For Keats went about his work as an apprentice. He took a sort of MFA of the mind, albeit alone, and for free in his little house in Hampstead. A suburban lower middle-class boy, he made his own scene out of the books of his library.’ To this I can most definitely relate. I am a homebody too, surrounded by my books, my ambition to write, and no advanced degree beyond a BA and no more professors to guide me. I do enjoy surrounding myself with my intellectual superiors and I lap up what they have to offer, and do not fear it. Keats’ poetry is so wonderful precisely because it is intellectually demanding, while at the same time unpretentious. He admits the limits of his knowledge and education in his poetry. His sonnet ‘To Homer’ opens with the folllowing two lines: ‘Standing aloof in giant ignorance, of these I hear and of the Cylades’. He pays homage to Homer in this sonnet, but admits his ignorance of the Greek language. It does not appear, however that his lack of knowledge of Greek impedes his own talent for writing poetry. His sonnets openly explore his weaknesses, his fear of not being loved, his fear of being alone and his mortality. These are universal fears whether we can read Homer and understand it, or have dropped out of high school and are struggling for recognition in society. We are all searching for love and are wrestling with whatever comes our way in life and we want attention and to be understood. Goldberg warns in one of her essays not to write because you want to be loved. ‘Writers get confused’ she says. ‘We think writing gives us an excuse for being alive. We forget that being alive is unconditional and that life and writing are two separate entities. Often we see writing as a way to receive love and attention. See what I wrote. I must be a good person.’ I must admit that I am guilty of using writing as a way of getting love and attention. I can hardly deny it after what I divulged above. That I have a muse and I wanted him to love me and my poetry. I wanted him to be a fan of my mind and my body. That is the fantasy that lives inside me. Quite apart from my romantic fantasies, however, I simply hope that people will like and appreciate my writing. I am ecstatic when I get messages from happy readers saying how much they love what I write. How could I not be happy? I have my critics too, of course, and I try and take their advice and learn from it. And I apologise for my terrible syntax and my somewhat perverse refusal to use ever use spellcheck. My writing, I know, swims in a sea of misplaced commas, which could, along with my poor syntax, be a result of my having learned the German tongue fluently, which is a language awash with commas and neverending sentences. I need to bear in mind Natalie Goldberg’s teaching that good writing is a process of uneducation. In my case unlearning German syntax while writing English sentences. It is something I wrestle with every day. But this relentless wrestling with language, writing, syntax and style need not be a tough match that ends in bruises if I remind myself that it is all a learning process that I can do in my own time. I, like Keats can set the pace and do my own MFA of the mind, in my own cozy living room, surrounded by the books and people I love.

 

Featured images: William Butler Yeats 1920 (Bain News Service) Maud Gonne (Max Elbo Graphics)

Froggy

22 Aug

Marianne_Stokes_(1855-1927)_-_-The_Frog_Prince-

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
priority.

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?