Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Yolland’

poem

 

You came to me unexpectedly
happening on a glade, as if
gliding over me like crystal in the early morning
cool like the fever in my life breaking
refreshing as the splash of a wave
murmuring like a gentle stream until I drowned.

And then you left as if you had never been
and all my world was dust and air and sand again
but I remember you to this day
when the sun beats down, cruel
when the sun is strong on my brow

I swim in my memories and pretend that you were real.


Stephen Yolland is a Melbourne poet and author/editor of Wellthisiswhatithink. You can find his book of poetry here. The book is also available as a download from lulu.com.

Spoons

Stephen Yolland is a Melbourne poet and author/editor of Wellthisiswhatithink. You can find his book of poetry here. The book is also available as a download from lulu.com.


Kindergarnered

Stephen Yolland is a Melbourne poet and author/editor of Wellthisiswhatithink. You can find his book of poetry here. The book is also available as a download from lulu.com.

He would appreciate it if you could share this poem by linking to this blog post in any way you can.

Full-Moon

Get the garlic. Grab a stake. Don’t walk under any ladders. Throw salt over your left shoulder if you spill any. Avoid slinky, furry things glimpsed in the distance.

Better still, just hide under the duvet.

A full moon is rising on infamous Friday the 13th – the very same day a solar flare could send a shockwave to Earth’s surface.

It’s a triple whammy for superstitious folks, according to Stuart Vyse, a psychology professor at Connecticut College.

“People tend to try to read something into coincidences like these,” said Vyse, author of “Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition.”

“There will be a small group of people who are undoubtedly, predictably nervous about the day.”

Solar Flares Could Send Shockwave to Earth on Friday the 13th

The day also marks the first full moon on Friday the 13th since October 2000. The next one won’t happen until August of 2049, according to NASA.

In addition, the possibility of a solar flare shocking Earth’s atmosphere and disrupting communication signals adds another level to the tension.

“Astronomical events tend to be seen as very momentous and almost biblical in nature,” Vyse said. “It’s seen as being very powerful and something you can’t do anything about. It makes sense to me that it, too, would be connected to the general fears about Friday the 13th and the full moon.”

It’s a long-standing superstition that lunacy is connected the full moon, and that the lunar phase pushes people to act crazy and triggers more check-ins at mental institutions — theories that live on despite being proved wrong by research, Vyse said.

For people scared of the curse, staying home might be a solution.

“People afraid of these superstitions tend to restrict their activity,” Vyse said. “They tend to, for example, not schedule a doctor’s appointment or not travel on this day. In some rare cases, they stay home from work.”

Which is all very well, except the fruit of one’s loins has organised a new Variety night at Club Voltaire in Melbourne for tonight, and we are making a rare public appearance to read our poetry.

It'll be a blast.

It’ll be a blast. Be there, or be scared. Your choice.

 

So come one, come all.

It’s after dark, so solar flares won’t affect you.#

Be careful of that great big confronting moon, though.

Cue howling in the distance.

Seats are strictly limited, so we suggest booking if you can, if not take pot luck and just rock up, we’ll find somewhere for you. And there’s a bar! Whoot!

A few drinks before listening to our poetry is always advisable.

#We are fully aware of the fact this is a nonsensical statement. Correspondence is not required.

 

But it needs to be seen.

It needs to be shared widely. That you to Pat L for bringing it to my attention.

And we need to learn this lesson, not just for the country mentioned at the end, but also for EVERY country where conflict is occurring.

 

Image

Collateral damage is people

We cannot praise the creative brains behind this enough, and the cast, especially the little girl.

If you’d like to walk your disapproval of the death of innocents on your local streets, you could do worse than invest in this t-shirt I designed a few years back. This pic links to one shirt, like most Radical tees it comes in various shapes and sizes. If you can’t find what you want, message me.

The photo is of my daughter, aged 2.

I created the shirt the day I realised the collateral damage they were talking about on the TV was other people’s daughters.

There are some other shirts in the Anti-War section you may like too.

Here’s one:

stop_bombing_civilians_shirt

If we do nothing else to save the children of the world, at least we can say “Not in my name.”

Click and buy now.

And no, we’re not doing it for the money.

Over here at the Wellthisiswhatithink dungeon we have made a living from writing for more than 25 years now, so we were fascinated by this excellent article from Carolyn Gregoire of Huff Post on the things that creative people do differently. Indeed, the Wellthisiswhatithink household comprises a writer, voiceover artist and speechmaker (er, that’d be yours truly), a leading glass artist, and an aspiring young actor with her own improv troupe. Close relatives have included an accomplished drawer of portraits, a member of the Royal Academy of Art, one of Australia’s leading watercolourists, and an amateur sculptor … so anything that explains the quirks of creative people is very helpful in surviving our somewhat unusual family!

When you work in advertising and marketing (areas where creativity, applied to a purpose, is supposed to reign supreme) people often ask us, frequently in a despairing tone, “what can I do to make my organisation more creative?”

In response, the Wellthisiswhatithink gurus always reply “Give your people room to fail.”

To be allowed to experiment and fail, even when that creates cost, is the critical pre-requisite of thinking (and acting) creatively. Thomas Edison, history’s most creative inventor and genesis of one of the world’s most powerful and profitable companies, tried over 1,000 filaments for the electric lightbulb before he found the right material to sustain light, and in doing so, made the world a brighter and safer place for millions of people.

He called them his “One thousand magnificent failures.”

egg crushed

So often, not always, but often, we observe the creativity being battered out of new joiners or junior staff by the (usually) older and more cynical bean counters that head up organisations. Creative people are not risk averse – bean counters and lawyers are.

When we let bean counters and lawyers run organisations they become increasingly stifled and fail to act with entrepreneurial flair.

People who create brilliant businesses are always creative thinkers. Sadly, as those businesses grow, as a result of the very risk-taking creativity that sets them on the path for success in the first place, they become riddled with ‘creativity cut outs” and increasingly bureaucratic, and much more prone to worried introspection than creative flair.

If you want to unleash creativity in your organisation, read this article and make a note of how creative people need to behave. And remember, they are the very lifeblood of your organisation, not a distraction.

Great article. Really. Read it. Specially if you run a company or anything else bigger than a knitting circle. Article begins:

Main Entry Image

 

Creativity works in mysterious and often paradoxical ways. Creative thinking is a stable, defining characteristic in some personalities, but it may also change based on situation and context. Inspiration and ideas often arise seemingly out of nowhere and then fail to show up when we most need them, and creative thinking requires complex cognition yet is completely distinct from the thinking process.

Neuro-science paints a complicated picture of creativity. As scientists now understand it, creativity is far more complex than the right-left brain distinction would have us think (the theory being that left brain = rational and analytical, right brain = creative and emotional). In fact, creativity is thought to involve a number of cognitive processes, neural pathways and emotions, and we still don’t have the full picture of how the imaginative mind works.

And psychologically speaking, creative personality types are difficult to pin down, largely because they’re complex, paradoxical and tend to avoid habit or routine. And it’s not just a stereotype of the “tortured artist” — artists really may be more complicated people. Research has suggested that creativity involves the coming together of a multitude of traits, behaviors and social influences in a single person.

“It’s actually hard for creative people to know themselves because the creative self is more complex than the non-creative self,” Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at New York University who has spent years researching creativity, told The Huffington Post. “The things that stand out the most are the paradoxes of the creative self … Imaginative people have messier minds.”

While there’s no “typical” creative type, there are some tell-tale characteristics and behaviors of highly creative people. Here are 18 things they do differently.

They daydream.

daydreaming child

 

Creative types know, despite what their third-grade teachers may have said, that daydreaming is anything but a waste of time.

According to Kaufman and psychologist Rebecca L. McMillan, who co-authored a paper titled “Ode To Positive Constructive Daydreaming,” mind-wandering can aid in the process of “creative incubation.” And of course, many of us know from experience that our best ideas come seemingly out of the blue when our minds are elsewhere.

Although daydreaming may seem mindless, a 2012 study suggested it could actually involve a highly engaged brain state — daydreaming can lead to sudden connections and insights because it’s related to our ability to recall information in the face of distractions. Neuroscientists have also found that daydreaming involves the same brain processes associated with imagination and creativity.

They observe everything.

The world is a creative person’s oyster – they see possibilities everywhere and are constantly taking in information that becomes fodder for creative expression. As Henry James is widely quoted, a writer is someone on whom “nothing is lost.”

The writer Joan Didion kept a notebook with her at all times, and said that she wrote down observations about people and events as, ultimately, a way to better understand the complexities and contradictions of her own mind:

“However dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable ‘I,'” Didion wrote in her essay On Keeping A Notebook. “We are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its marker.”

They work the hours that work for them.

Many great artists have said that they do their best work either very early in the morning or late at night. Vladimir Nabokov started writing immediately after he woke up at 6 or 7 a.m., and Frank Lloyd Wright made a practice of waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. and working for several hours before heading back to bed. No matter when it is, individuals with high creative output will often figure out what time it is that their minds start firing up, and structure their days accordingly.

They take time for solitude.

solitude

 

“In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone,” wrote the American existential psychologist Rollo May.

Artists and creatives are often stereotyped as being loners, and while this may not actually be the case, solitude can be the key to producing their best work. For Kaufman, this links back to daydreaming – we need to give ourselves the time alone to simply allow our minds to wander.

“You need to get in touch with that inner monologue to be able to express it,” he says. “It’s hard to find that inner creative voice if you’re not getting in touch with yourself and reflecting on yourself.”

They turn life’s obstacles around.

Many of the most iconic stories and songs of all time have been inspired by gut-wrenching pain and heartbreak – and the silver lining of these challenges is that they may have been the catalyst to create great art. An emerging field of psychology called post-traumatic growth is suggesting that many people are able to use their hardships and early-life trauma for substantial creative growth. Specifically,researchers have found that trauma can help people to grow in the areas of interpersonal relationships, spirituality, appreciation of life, personal strength, and – most importantly for creativity – seeing new possibilities in life.

“A lot of people are able to use that as the fuel they need to come up with a different perspective on reality,” says Kaufman. “What’s happened is that their view of the world as a safe place, or as a certain type of place, has been shattered at some point in their life, causing them to go on the periphery and see things in a new, fresh light, and that’s very conducive to creativity.”

They seek out new experiences.

solo traveler

 

Creative people love to expose themselves to new experiences, sensations and states of mind – and this openness is a significant predictor of creative output.

“Openness to experience is consistently the strongest predictor of creative achievement,” says Kaufman. “This consists of lots of different facets, but they’re all related to each other: Intellectual curiosity, thrill seeking, openness to your emotions, openness to fantasy. The thing that brings them all together is a drive for cognitive and behavioral exploration of the world, your inner world and your outer world.”

They “fail up.”

resilience

 

Resilience is practically a prerequisite for creative success, says Kaufman. Doing creative work is often described as a process of failing repeatedly until you find something that sticks, and creatives – at least the successful ones – learn not to take failure so personally.

“Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often,” Forbes contributor Steven Kotler wrote in a piece on Einstein’s creative genius.

(Or as a Creative Director once appositely remarked to us, “Always remember, our job is to say “Imagine if you will …” to people with no imagination.” – Ed.)

They ask the big questions.

Creative people are insatiably curious – they generally opt to live the examined life, and even as they get older, maintain a sense of curiosity about life. Whether through intense conversation or solitary mind-wandering, creatives look at the world around them and want to know why, and how, it is the way it is.

They people-watch.

people watching

 

Observant by nature and curious about the lives of others, creative types often love to people-watch – and they may generate some of their best ideas from it.

“[Marcel] Proust spent almost his whole life people-watching, and he wrote down his observations, and it eventually came out in his books,” says Kaufman. “For a lot of writers, people-watching is very important. They’re keen observers of human nature.”

(And as John Cleese once remarked, “If you are calling the author of “A la recherche du temps perdu” a looney, I shall have to ask you to step oputside.” – Ed)

They take risks.

Part of doing creative work is taking risks, and many creative types thrive off of taking risks in various aspects of their lives.

“There is a deep and meaningful connection between risk taking and creativity and it’s one that’s often overlooked,” contributor Steven Kotler wrote in Forbes. “Creativity is the act of making something from nothing. It requires making public those bets first placed by imagination. This is not a job for the timid. Time wasted, reputation tarnished, money not well spent — these are all by-products of creativity gone awry.”

They view all of life as an opportunity for self-expression.

self expression

 

Nietzsche believed that one’s life and the world should be viewed as a work of art. Creative types may be more likely to see the world this way, and to constantly seek opportunities for self-expression in everyday life.

“Creative expression is self-expression,” says Kaufman. “Creativity is nothing more than an individual expression of your needs, desires and uniqueness.”

They follow their true passions.

Creative people tend to be intrinsically motivated — meaning that they’re motivated to act from some internal desire, rather than a desire for external reward or recognition. Psychologists have shown that creative people are energized by challenging activities, a sign of intrinsic motivation, and the research suggests that simply thinking of intrinsic reasons to perform an activity may be enough to boost creativity.

“Eminent creators choose and become passionately involved in challenging, risky problems that provide a powerful sense of power from the ability to use their talents,” write M.A. Collins and T.M. Amabile in The Handbook of Creativity.

They get out of their own heads.

creative writing

 

Kaufman argues that another purpose of daydreaming is to help us to get out of our own limited perspective and explore other ways of thinking, which can be an important asset to creative work.

“Daydreaming has evolved to allow us to let go of the present,” says Kaufman. “The same brain network associated with daydreaming is the brain network associated with theory of mind — I like calling it the ‘imagination brain network’ — it allows you to imagine your future self, but it also allows you to imagine what someone else is thinking.”

Research has also suggested that inducing “psychological distance” — that is, taking another person’s perspective or thinking about a question as if it was unreal or unfamiliar — can boost creative thinking.

They lose track of the time.

Creative types may find that when they’re writing, dancing, painting or expressing themselves in another way, they get “in the zone,” or what’s known as a flow state, which can help them to create at their highest level. Flow is a mental state when an individual transcends conscious thought to reach a heightened state of effortless concentration and calmness. When someone is in this state, they’re practically immune to any internal or external pressures and distractions that could hinder their performance.

You get into the flow state when you’re performing an activity you enjoy that you’re good at, but that also challenges you — as any good creative project does.

“[Creative people] have found the thing they love, but they’ve also built up the skill in it to be able to get into the flow state,” says Kaufman. “The flow state requires a match between your skill set and the task or activity you’re engaging in.”

They surround themselves with beauty.

Creatives tend to have excellent taste, and as a result, they enjoy being surrounded by beauty.

study recently published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts showed that musicians — including orchestra musicians, music teachers, and soloists — exhibit a high sensitivity and responsiveness to artistic beauty.

They connect the dots.

doodle

 

If there’s one thing that distinguishes highly creative people from others, it’s the ability to see possibilities where other don’t — or, in other words, vision. Many great artists and writers have said that creativity is simply the ability to connect the dots that others might never think to connect.

In the words of Steve Jobs:

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

They constantly shake things up.

Diversity of experience, more than anything else, is critical to creativity, says Kaufman. Creatives like to shake things up, experience new things, and avoid anything that makes life more monotonous or mundane.

“Creative people have more diversity of experiences, and habit is the killer of diversity of experience,” says Kaufman.

They make time for mindfulness.

Creative types understand the value of a clear and focused mind — because their work depends on it. Many artists, entrepreneurs, writers and other creative workers, such as David Lynch, have turned to meditation as a tool for tapping into their most creative state of mind.

And science backs up the idea that mindfulness really can boost your brain power in a number of ways. A 2012 Dutch study suggested that certain meditation techniques can promote creative thinking. And mindfulness practices have been linked with improved memory and focusbetter emotional well-being, reducedstress and anxiety, and improved mental clarity — all of which can lead to better creative thought.

"You know what, Jean? it's just ... just ... something's nagging at me ..."

“You know what, Jean? It’s just … just … something’s nagging at me …”

At the Wellthisiswhatithink coalface we are in a very generous mood today. It’s been a wonderful weekend, and we return to the keyboard full of the joys of Spring, and pleased to report that the little pump in the newly installed goldfish pond is working, thanks to the loving care and persistence of Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink when yours truly was more than happy to chuck the damn thing in the bin. Little tea lights now hang in the cherry tree over the new pond, and all the wonderful dark purple petunias have taken. It looks like a good crop of apricots this year too, thanks to excellent rain.

In short, all is good in the Wellthisiswhatithink paddock.

So, wiping out Lord knows how many future posts with complete abandon, we are chucking caution to the winds and are going to give you a whole bunch of advertising and layout F*** Ups, just to start the week off right.

We can’t believe how they just keep on coming. And thank you so much, Simon, for these.

Always remember, Dear Reader, all donations gratefully received.

Meanwhile, publishers, try and get your sub editors, journalists and advertising departments to talk to each other, you lazy buggers.

On the other hand, thanks for the laughs.

 

I've always had my suspicions about Winnie. Far too bloody nice,

I’ve always had my suspicions about Winnie. Far too bloody nice.

 

We are reasonably sure one was involved at some point, but do you have to rub it in. So to speak?

We are reasonably sure one was involved at some point, but do you have to rub it in. So to speak? No-one saw this? Really? Sheesh.

 

Or this? Poor girl. Her mother will be delighted.

Or this? Poor girl. Her mother will be delighted.

 

Memo to Russian newspaper. You have to put the photos in, not just the placeholders. Wonderful stuff, new technology, eh, Boris?

Memo to Russian newspaper. You have to put the photos in, not just the placeholders. Wonderful stuff, new technology, eh, Boris?

 

The dangers of asking your idiot ad agency for "web ready copy".

The dangers of asking your idiot ad agency for “web ready copy”.

 

She's very tolerant, obviously. How to take the gloss off a Royal Wedding.

She’s very tolerant, obviously. How to take the gloss off a Royal Wedding.

 

Hooray! Duck!

Hooray! And, er. Duck!

 

Yes, well. What else could one say?

Yes, well. What else could one say?

 

Sometimes, you even have to worry about how the article will stack in the dispense box.

Sometimes, you even have to worry about how the article will stack in the dispenser box.

 

We finish with our two favourites. This magnificent cover fail reveals, when read carefully, the importance of those little things like commas.

We finish with our two favourites. This magnificent cover fail reveals, when read carefully, the importance of those little things like commas. Little wonder Rachael looks so healthy with such a diverse diet. We think “Tails” magazine should be renamed “Fails”.

 

And last but not least, the power of the Leading Cap. I think you can discern the sub editor's view of these departing journos quite clearly.

And last but not least, the power of the Leading Cap. I think you can discern the sub editor’s view of these departing journos quite clearly.

 

More soon. Meanwhile, which is your favourite of this crop?

If you want to check out the whole history of the F*** Ups, try these:

The other F*** Ups we’ve spotted, if you missed ‘em.

Where words fail. Entirely. And wonderfully: http://wp.me/p1LY0z-H7

Naughty schoolgirls celebrated by Headmistress: http://wp.me/p1LY0z-zy

The world’s stupidest billboard placement: http://wp.me/p1LY0z-gX

Not the holiday anyone would really want: http://wp.me/p1LY0z-hJ

Two for the price of one: http://wp.me/p1LY0z-13P

Stores abusing innocent shoppers: http://wp.me/p1LY0z-j8

The most embarrassingly badly worded headline in history: http://tinyurl.com/7enukvd

Oh, those crazy whacky country McDonalds eaters: http://tinyurl.com/83vgpng

And a burger we think we KNOW you’re not going to want to eat. http://wp.me/p1LY0z-14r

The amazingly handy father: http://wp.me/p1LY0z-vM

When Boy Scouts go bad: http://wp.me/p1LY0z-1lC

What you really didn’t need to know about your chef: http://wp.me/p1LY0z-1Co

Enjoy! Please feel free to share.

Stephen Yolland writes:

family

My beloved mother, (seen here just after I was born, with my brother and father), who had been an independent, forceful and capable personality all her life, from early childhood to her late 80s, finally developed Alzheimers, and once it set in it progressed rapidly.

Although we were unsure of the extent of the “loss” or “deficit” in her mental capacity, we knew something was seriously wrong with Mum in her last holiday with us, not least when she flew home to the UK and pestered the cabin staff to arrange a cab at the airport for her. Needless to say, a cab had already been organised, and, yes, she had a big note telling her the same. But she didn’t find the note, and couldn’t remember the arrangement. Still, kudos to the old girl. Getting the pilot of a 747 to radio ahead and ensure her private lift home was waiting was no mean achievement at 88. Mind you, if you knew her when she had her dander up, you wouldn’t have argued either.

Amusing though it might have been, this was the beginning of our realisation that she could no longer cope alone, a view that was reinforced over the next few weeks, until we went and got her and brought her to live with us in Australia to await the inevitable. We cared for Mum at home for a good long while, and there were some good times, to be sure, until we finally had to confront the fact that she was getting beyond our ability to look after, and arranged (with some difficulty) permanent in-patient care for her, where she lingered for some time before quietly passing away.

It is an experience that many, many people in middle age now face with their elderly parents, and unless we find a cure for Alzheimer’s – and rather horrifyingly – it is an experience many of us will face in due course, as our physical health outstrips our mental infirmity.

I know for one I shall be leaving very clear instructions for my daughter ensuring she does not feel guilty when it comes time for her to find me some residential care. Except in the case of mild Alzheimer’s, which is moving slowly, the burden on a family is simply too great to be borne for very long. Dementia patients need skilled care. I may even find my own accommodation and eventual nursing facility well ahead of time, while I can still think straight. But that isn’t the core of today’s musings.

I love this photo of Mum and Caitlin, taken in her garden when Mum was about 80: to me it captures the joy of the span of a family

I love this photo of Mum and Caitlin, taken in her garden when Mum was 80: to me it captures the joy of the span of a family

The thing which I found most difficult about Mum’s condition, and which I residually still feel guilt over, that can keep me awake at night years later, was not knowing the best way to “handle” her.

Simply not knowing how to talk to her, or how to try and gain her understanding and agreement. I had yet to come to terms with the fact that the latter might be impossible.

Her memory loss, conjoined to an innate deeply stubborn personality, not to mention uncharacteristic outbursts of anger and frustration, led to tension within the household.

There were occasions – too many, and I regret it bitterly – when I lost my cool, out of sadness and fear and confusion more than any real anger.

At one point, for example, after an awful fall that left her with a very nasty bump on the head and copious amounts of blood everywhere, we tried to use an old kiddie-gate at the top of the stairs to restrict her to the upper storey of our home on the very rare occasions that no one could be at home to care for her. (Usually a maximum of half an hour, and as infrequently as practical.)

Needless to say, during these periods, she was supplied with an easy to use “thermos” of tea, a pile of her favourite biscuits, (she could have happily lived on tea and biscuits), pre-tuned radio, TV, comfy chair etc. etc. Yes, she knew where the loo was. Yes, she knew someone would be back in a few minutes. Yes, she was quite happy, thank you.

All the preparation in the world made no difference. As if possessed of a vital and urgent purpose, as we left the house she would go to the staircase and fiddle with the kiddie-gate until she worked it out (no mean achievement in itself, I could never get it open other than by wrenching it physically off the wall) and we would come home to find her pottering in the kitchen, making tea and looking for biscuits.

“Hello, dears!” she cheerfully smiled, and became utterly confused when we duly grumbled (in our anxiety) that she wasn’t even supposed to be downstairs let alone using the kettle. Needless to say, she didn’t remember fernagling her way through the gate, let alone having previously swallow-dived head first from the top of the staircase to the slate floor below.

When we showed her the gate, and asked her why she had opened it, she first of all didn’t remember opening it, and then not unreasonably asked why a grown adult would have to be kept upstairs, no matter for how short a period of time. At that moment, she felt in control and no different from the way she’d felt for decades.

Lacking any guidance, we wailed: “Mum, you’re 90, with Alzheimer’s, you’ve already fallen and nearly killed yourself once, we’ve been over this.” Seemingly incapable of sharing our concern, Mum simply ignored our protestations and look at us with a twinkle in her eye. “90, am I? Gee, I did well, didn’t I?”

We were also completely uncertain as to how to deal with her inevitable depression and sadness as the loss of her faculties became clear to her.

A little hug goes a long way

A little hug goes a long way

I well remember one day coming into her room to say cheerio before I headed off to work, to find her staring miserably at her breakfast tray, which the living saint otherwise known as Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink had put together for her, with her favourite toast and orange marmalade (an addiction she has passed to me), a cup of tea going cold, and her tablets.

A little note was on the tray, as it was every day. “Good morning Mum! You are living in Australia with Jenie and Stephen and Caitlin – everything is OK! Here’s your breakfast, enjoy it, and don’t forget to take your pills! I am just downstairs. Love, your friend, Jenie.”

She stared with rheumy blue eyes at the note, then at the tray, and then back at the note, then at me, then back at the note. She pushed things around on the tray, uncertainly. I sat on the bed next to her, uncertain whether I should jolly her along, or just be quietly “there”. She was obviously experiencing real difficulty understanding where she was, and what she was meant to do next.

After a few more moments, she turned to me, and suddenly she had a flash of absolute clarity – a flash of accurate perception – that side of her personality which had stoically survived the Depression, a World War, the premature loss of a husband and two much loved sons – and much more – had kicked in.

She looked me in the eyes, and quietly murmured, “This is a rum do, isn’t it, Son?”

People with dementia lose many things: they never lose the need for simple affection

People with dementia lose many things: but they never lose the need for simple affection

Her use of the ridiculously antiquated English phrase simply served to emphasise the heart-breaking emotion of the moment.

I really had no idea what to say.

Here was the person I had looked up to all my life, confronting the obvious fact that her mind, for so long a steel trap, was deserting her, and she was turning to me, affectionately, suddenly vulnerable, and asking for me to explain. But no words to explain her situation to her came to me naturally, and anyway, she and I, although very close in many ways, had always communicated with little half-suggestions, little implications of topics, little hints. She was from an era long before the whole world wore its heart on its sleeve, with us all busily expressing ourselves for all we are worth. We were simply not the type of Mother and Son that would converse deeply on this and that, although we could, in extremis, if we had to. Dwelling on problems was simply not her way.

I just put my arm round her, and hugged her close, and said “Well, yes it is a bit, Mum, really, but Jenie and I and Caitlin will look after you, so try not to worry too much. All you’ve got to do right now is enjoy your breakfast. Here, let me help you with your pills.”

She looked at me for a few more seconds. Then she suddenly smiled.

“Jenie”, she said, “she’s my friend.” She said it proudly, as if having a friend was a fine achievement. “Yes, Mum”, I replied, “she surely is.”

“She’s my friend,” she repeated to herself. And then she said it for a third time. The thought seemed to comfort her, and she compliantly swallowed her pills with her glass of juice, and started on her cup of tea. “Oooh. Lovely cup of tea,” she murmured appreciatively, which I had heard her say every time she had started on a cup of tea for fifty years, no matter whether it was as strong as Thames mud or as weak as dishwater, scaldingly hot or tepid. “Lovely cup of tea.”

She smiled at me encouragingly, as if noticing me for the first time. “You look nice, dear. Off to work?”

I left the room choked with emotion, and was unsure then, as now, whether I had handled the moment as well as I might. And there were hundreds of such moments, if not thousands, as Mum’s mind simply flew away, bit by bit, and left her as essentially helpless as a newborn child.

Which is why I am here reproducing two articles. The first is from Kay Bransford, a follower of this blog, who writes about Alzheimers movingly and practically at her blog MemoryBanc, at dealingwithdementia.wordpress.com, and her advice is heart-warming and commonsensical. The second, to save people clicking her link, is the article to which she refers, “10 Top Tips for visiting a friend with Alzheimers.”

This is my point: when our family was coping with this problem, no one told us this stuff. But you have to – HAVE TO – know it, if you are facing this situation. And you also have to know you are not alone – to be encouraged to reach out for help, and keeping shouting and asking for help until you get it. Demand the help you need.

Meanwhile, let’s all send another ten bucks to the Alzheimer’s research charity near us, and hope like hell they crack dementia before it’s our turn.

Incidentally, if you have a minute and a half instead of ten minutes to keep reading, this little video on Kay’s site is also simple and instructive.

Kay’s article begins:

Managing a Visit with Someone Who Has Dementia

Dementia changes people in different ways, but there are a few things I found that will make a visit with an old friend easier to manage. My Dad was quieter, but my Mom is feistier.

Research has confirmed that dementia doesn’t magnify traits, but in general can create wholesale personality changes. Don’t be surprised to find the person you are visiting is different than you remember. I hope you will continue to visit, dementia is isolating to those suffering from this disease.

DOs

  1. Begin with introductions. With a warm smile and relaxed posture, share a personal connection you share. Some suggestions that are helpful: “Hi FRIEND, It’s good to see you. You were one of the first people to welcome me into this community and it’s been a while since I’ve seen you”  or “Hi FRIEND. It’s a pleasure to see you today. I was thinking about all the fun we had when we lived in Germany together — that was over 40 years ago! Our children played together so well.”
  2. Bring pictures. It will help your friend understand your connection better if you can share pictures of you together.
  3. Speak slowly, simply and pause to allow them to talk. Some individuals will feed off of your energy so focus on being relaxed and calm. Eye contact and direct interest is important.

DON’Ts

  1. Ask what they are up to or any short-term memory questions.  Short-term memory is the first to go and can set off emotions from frustration to anger and sadness if they are unable to answer the question.
  2. Expect them to “remember”. Be prepared to carry on a one-sided conversation.
  3. Correct jumbled memories. Allow your friend to share. Feel free to share how you remembered something, but don’t try to correct or debate facts.
  4. Show up with an agenda of what you are going to accomplish. Most people are lonely and want to enjoy the company and some conversation. Trying to get agreement or push on a topic can often lead to stress in the person with dementia.

The last don’t has been a new item for me. With my father gone, the normal routine we had has also left and now my Mom prefers to spend our time together reviewing her calendar or burial plans. We will discuss the day of the week over and over for a half hour, move onto the burial date and then go right back into the day of the week. I arrive knowing there is no agenda, and can easily sit with her with a smile on my face and calmly answer the same questions over and over until she feels more comfortable. This too will pass. Relaxed. 

Here is a post that made me consider this topic. I’m frustrated that more people don’t use the umbrella term of “dementia” but it includes some good information in a longer format that you may find useful.

TOP TEN TIPS, from Huffpost

Tom and his wife, Nancy, were going to visit George, one of Tom’s previous colleagues at the University of Cincinnati. This was their first visit to George at his long-term care facility and they were quite nervous.

They didn’t know precisely what condition George was in, and they had no idea how to interact with him. What they knew for sure, however, was that they couldn’t visit the way they always had when the three got together.

Family members or other very close loved ones who are accustomed to visiting may have a set routine and may have learned some or all of the tips below. But if you’re a friend visiting for the first time, or if you don’t visit the person very often, you may feel awkward and not know what to do.

An entire book could be written about this topic. I’m going to list some of the most important things to do (and not to do) when you visit a friend with dementia either in their home or in a facility of some sort.

I have compiled these tips based on four sources: an article of mine published here on the Huffington Post, an article published by Carole Larkin on the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, and personal communications from Teepa Snow (05.30.13) and Tom and Karen Brenner(10.03.13)

When I reviewed the sources I discovered that several tips were found in two or more of them. I discovered that the total of 25 items could be distilled down into 10:

1. Start off by looking friendly, making eye contact, offering a handshake and introducing yourself. (Snow, Larkin)

2. Be at their level physically — bend down if necessary — for example, if they are in a wheelchair. (Larkin)

3. Talk about the old times more than recent information. (Snow)

4. Don’t ask if they remember something. (Marley; Larkin)

5. Speak calmly, slowly and in short sentences. (Larkin, Snow)

6. Ask only one question at the time and pause between thoughts or ideas to give them a chance to answer. (Larkin, Snow)

7. Don’t correct them or argue with them. (Marley, Larkin, Snow)

8. Keep memories positive. Don’t bring up topics that could upset them. Turn negatives into positives. (Marley, Snow, Larkin)

9. Do something with the person rather than just talking to them. Bring pictures, CDs of music the person used to enjoy, or other “props” (such as items related to one of the person’s special interests), to bring up old memories. (Snow, Brenners)

10. Tell them what you are going to do before you do it – especially if you are going to touch them. (Larkin)

Following these tips should make you feel more at ease and make your visit more enjoyable.

Does anyone have any additional tips for visiting a friend with Alzheimer’s?

You may also care to read my other musings on dementia:

What do you do when the person you’ve loved for a lifetime just isn’t there any more?

Alzhemier’s – get involved. Before you can’t.

Related articles

I have recently been blogging about everything from gun control to healthy brains, not to mention my daughter’s brilliant success at Uni, and someone kindly said “Yolly, we miss you fulminating on advertising”. Fair enuf, too, it is what I have spent 25 years doing, so here goes.

This is a series of billboards done by General Motors in Detroit for the Chevy brand. I don’t know who created them, (and will gladly post a credit if someone does) but they are uniformly good-excellent, and some are simply brilliant. I am indebted to my good friend David Rayner of Rare Spares who helps people feed their obsession with all things beautiful and automotive and old for sending them to me.

So why are these ads so good, Mister Car Marketing Manager? Listen and all will be revealed.

  • They are inherently interesting and relevant to their target audience.
  • They engage the audience’s intelligence and humour.
  • They have balls. They stand for something.
  • Last but by no means least, they are unmissable – not bland. Ergo, they obey the first rule of advertising, which is, of course, “Be noticed.” One of the Seven Rules of Effective Advertising and Marketing which everyone needs to know. (Just click on the 7 Rules button.)

The HSV Logo

So without further ado, enjoy.

And just to prove that I am as egotistical as the next man, there’s a link to a brochure for Holden Special Vehicles at the end, created many years ago now, when I was working with Peter Smart and Mike Allen at Magnum Opus Advertising.

I especially love a couple of lines in the brochure (which with its dense format is really one for muscle car enthusiasts, but it’s in this article to show how great copy can be long copy, too – remember: it’s all about the audience).

A car that confidently announces: “I dare to go my own way.” And: “Get out of my way”.  I have written a lot of good copy lines in my life, but I won’t write many better than that.

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OK, just imagine if Holden in Australia ran an ad like this today – it’s about a brand not a vehicle, or (please note) an offer on price – anyhow, on we go.

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Lovely stuff. Which is your favourite? I think mine is “Remember the wind blowing through your hair. Remember hair?” Very clever audience targeting, yet it works for all age groups, who will instantly “get” the ad. Brave advertising, too.

And if you’re up for it, here’s the HSV brochure link.

OK, while I’m big upping myself and past colleagues, about an hour’s hunting found this, too. Reducing everything you could possibly say about a car to, essentially, one invented word and a logo. Now that’s balls.

I think these were computer desktop downloads – man, was offering those hi-tech or what back then? I am still hunting for the actual billboard art that ran on Kingsway in the middle of Melbourne and will add it if I can find it, but it was more than ten years ago …

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Neat, huh? Sold a lot of cars, too.

Surrounded by blackness on all sides, in utter impenetrable silence, and for a very, very, very long time, it did nothing.

There was nothing to see, so it did not see. Nothing to hear, so it did not hear. Nothing to feel, so it did not feel.

There were simply vast, unconscionable amounts of entirely nothing.

So – most importantly for our story – it thought nothing, either. With no external stimuli to provoke it, it simply did not concern itself with anything; it merely peacefully existed.

And incredible as it might seem in light of what happened later, for some handfuls of millions of years it did not even notice itself.

Then, during one instant which it would remember – well, forever, actually – a small, shiny proton appeared momentarily.

Over there. In what it would later come to know as “left”. And also “down a bit”.

Later – much, much later – it would come to understand that the lonely proton had flared into being for a few hundredths of a second as the result of a random and unpredictable thermo-dynamic fluctuation in the void in which it itself floated.

Like the last dying ripple of a stone cast into a pond uncountably many leagues away, space and time had broken upon the shores of its awareness in the form of one of the smallest building blocks of the Universe. And then it had immediately ceased, for with nothing around it to cling to the proton instantly had broken down into its components and they had dissipated into the nothingness almost too quickly to be observed.

Except the brief, evanescent burst of the proton was seen by the being – which, without even realizing it was doing it, had been peacefully observing nothing, and everything, with absolute and immediate accuracy.  And that was why, despite its apparent slumber, it could not miss the arrival, and near-simultaneous departure, of the pretty little particle.

The glittering sub-atomic appearance, brief and unthreatening though it was, nevertheless troubled it greatly.

Contradictions and nervousness rippled through it. It shook with excitement. Seething with speculation, for untold millennia it considered one critical and shocking question.

Not, as one might have imagined, wondering “What Was That?” No, no. What first occupied its attention was a much more pressing problem than the transitory proton.

What nagged away at it insistently was the question: “What am I?”

“What am I?” it wondered. “What am I?”

With no previous consciousness, and with no terms of reference whatsoever, it marveled at itself, and at this new sensation of existence, without, in truth, the slightest understanding of what was going on.

Casting frantically this way and that to work out what it was, it looked about itself, systematically, but in utter confusion.

Up and Down. Side to Side. In and Out. Backwards and Forwards. Along every plane and from every angle. Indeed, from many different perspectives simultaneously.

(If it did but know it, it actually looked for all the world like a large mahogany gentleman’s desk inlaid with a rather dinky line of shell marquetry around its edges and its drawers. Lots of drawers, in fact, with little pressed-metal knobs, that held promise of all sorts of treasures hidden away inside, and a couple of attractive glass paperweights adorned its leather-inlaid heart. But it wouldn’t understand all this until much later.)

Time passed. Lots of it. Loads and loads and loads of time.

Soon enough, and in a neat twist of reasoning that we can ascribe to what it actually was – which for want of a better term we could describe as “a really, really, really clever thing” – it soon realized that its own sudden and shocking existence was perhaps most easily understood by reference to what it was not. And in a miraculously short time after that, (for its powers of perception were, indeed, remarkably unconstrained), it had consequently separated the Universe into two orderly halves.

One half of everything it perceived to be it fittingly called “Me”.

The other half, it called “Not Me”.

The Me was pleased and much relieved by this development. Its jarringly unexpected coming-into-being seemed much less troublesome now that everything was neatly broken down into itself and … something else.

Thus reassured, it settled down to make a full and patient examination of itself.

Driven by insatiable curiosity, it first tried to work out why it had suddenly become conscious of its inherent Me-ness in the first place.

Time passes. Listen. Time passes. - Dylan Thomas

By dint of absence of any other observable data at all, it almost immediately decided that the sheer,ineffable thrill of the proton’s appearance had awoken its knowledge of itself. It could remember nothing before that, and so it seemed perfectly practical to place this sudden awareness of itself and its surroundings to that startlingly incandescent moment.

Next it spent a few million years pondering the proton. Was the Me somehow related to it? Connected to it in some way? Should it search for it? Was it coming back? Was it important? Indeed, as the only thing it had ever experienced, were the Me and the proton all there was to consider?

For what seemed like a very long time indeed, but in the scheme of things was merely a blink of the Me’s eye, the Me looked around and wondered why no other protons had appeared to disturb it, before or since.

But after an æon or two of this, it happened on a thought that occupied it even more deeply.

Surely, it reasoned to itself, what the proton was could not be nearly as important as another question that bothered it constantly – like the buzzer on a motel clock radio after too many drinks the night before – and that question, of course, was why, for goodness sake, had the Me not been aware of anything before the proton?

Beyond the awful, inky nothing that surrounded the Me, (which was, in fact, only three billionths of an inch thick, but being so thoroughly enmeshed in its musings it hadn’t actually noticed that yet), the Not Me pressed inwards. It edged silently towards the Me, as if holding its breath for the answer to this one. Not Me quaked and tightened around the Me, just by a fraction, and whispered silently to itself, listening, wondering, waiting.

And then – perhaps somehow alerted by the new-found excitement in the Not Me – the Me saw to its wonderment that far from being empty as it had assumed, the Not Me that was near it was actually jam-packed with innumerable billions and billions of particles crowding nearby, just beyond the layer of darkness, vibrating slowly – so slowly, in fact, and in such tiny increments of space – that the Me hadn’t even realised that the Not Me was moving at all!

Gazing in amused wonderment, the now insatiably inquisitive Me was straight way tempted to investigate further the gentle quadrille of the miniscule particles that swirled around it.

But without an answer to the nub of its problem, to wit: why it had not perceived its ownself at some point before what it had recently decided to call “Now” – or indeed, why it had not noticed the crowded, quivering Not Me earlier, which after all was only just over there outside the Me, so close at hand – the Me was frankly too troubled to do so.

So after trying and failing to find any concrete answers by simply looking about a bit, and drawing on hitherto unsuspected intellectual resources that spontaneously delighted it, the Me resolved – for it was nothing if not a very practical being, as we shall see – that it would simply have to run with what would eventually become known in another place as an assumption.

In short: the Me decided that in the absence of observable empiric data, it made good sense to “make up something that fits, until you can prove it’s wrong”.

(And thus it brought into being that delightful hobby for people with staring eyes and strange haircuts who listen to Laurie Anderson CDs on repeat known as Theoretical Physics, but of course it didn’t know that then.)

In this wise, the Me plumped for the conclusion that – before what it now called “the Me moment” – it had simply not been necessary for it to be self-aware.

For want of a better explanation, it assumed that although it had existed, it had not needed to know of its existence – and so, post hoc ergo propter hoc, as it were, it did not know.

The Me patiently examined this conclusion from all possible angles, and could not fault it.

(You might imagine that it would also have paused to wonder how it could so instinctively express its cogitation in obscure Latin phrases, a language that had not been used anywhere in existence yet, but that was just one of innumerable trifling considerations that would have to wait until more important questions had been answered.)

Ploughing remorselessly on now, the Me then painstakingly worried away at another thought that had occurred to it, from amongst the untold trillions of thoughts that it had every second. And this one was a real biggie.

That not just “it” but “Everything” must have some purpose, if only to take its natural place in the scheme of things.

This first and most painful bout of existential angst was very intense, but quickly resolved. Yes, yes! It must surely be true! Even if the purpose of a thing was merely to lie passively next to some other Me-ness, like a compliant jigsaw piece fitting neatly into another, purpose there had to be. Pointlessness was surely pointless.

And just as it now observed that the endless particles around it in the Not Me were somehow interlaced seamlessly with one another, and that to remove even one from its place would cause a cataclysmic rent and collapse, so therefore it, too, the Me, must be where (and when) it was for a reason. For if the Me held no inherent purpose, no relationship with something, even if it did not yet know what that something was, then why would it exist? But it did exist, so therefore it must have some role to play. “I exist, therefore I should exist” it trilled.

The next thought arrived a nano-second later. “So what am I for?” it demanded of itself. “What am I for?”

Breathlessly rushing on for a few million years, the Me rifled through the arguments available to it like an over-excited burglar happening on a fortuitously open bank vault.

It reasoned that it must have begun at a particular point, and at some stage it had become needed by … well, something, or because of something … and so – of course! – before that moment self-knowledge would have served no purpose, because – and the Me raced effortlessly forward to its conclusion! – to be aware, but purposeless, would indisputably have no point at all, as mere awareness, it was sure, affected nothing else, either positively or negatively. And, indeed, might be intolerably boring.

(Thrilled with this reasoning, it made itself a mental note: ““Quod erat demonstrandum: we all do what we can.” It was not sure why this thought was important, but felt convinced it was, and promised itself that it would return to nut it out, one day.)

So. Conclusion: the Me fitted in somehow as well. Because it must!

It rippled and rang with the sheer orgiastic delight of its logic. Very well, it mused, it didn’t yet know what the reason for its own existence was, but it felt distinctly less alarmed now it had deduced that a reason must exist, and soon enough, if it continued to concentrate, it was confident it would work out what it was.

Having now been on the job for what seemed to it, suddenly, as an awfully long time, the Me paused for a well-earned rest. Happy with where it had got to so far, it rather liked the sensation of not doing much thinking for a while.

It added another note to its rapidly growing list of things to remember. “Take a break from thinking now and then. Maybe about 14.2857 recurring percent of the time,” it advised itself portentously, along the way inventing Sunday, the decimal system and a few other useful concepts without even noticing. Meanwhile, the Not Me crept ever closer, and waited anxiously for the whole complex tangle to be sorted out on the Me’s mental blackboard.

Lolling around in the dark, approvingly noticing the inlay around the edges of its drawers for the first time, the Me now began to dimly recognise the awesome deductive capacity it could marshal with such little effort.

It was as if it already knew anything it needed to know; all it had to do was turn its attention to a problem and the resolution would eventually become clear, like mist clearing on a beautiful, still lake of knowledge. And with this awareness, the tensions within it settled somewhat. There was a reason why. Because there had to be. So now, the Big One. What could that reason possibly be?

Here, the being’s deductive process – which was rigorous and invariably accurate, if for no other reason than it had an innate ability to consider all probabilities simultaneously and ascribe correct values to them – nevertheless slowed down just a little, because the number of possible reasons why it existed were so vast as to tax even its own seemingly inexhaustible computational capacity.

It spent some time, for example, wondering whether it was supposed to be a forty-seven inch flat-screen hi-definition television, an item with whose innate angular beauty it was instantly infatuated, and which was tremendously thrilling and desirable and perfect for viewing something it decided to call “sports”, and it would have been really quite content to be a television forever were it not, obviously, for the complete absence of anything to be watched on itself, at least until about a trillion years from then.

It thus followed, the Me reasoned carefully, that whilst it might become just such an item at some stage in the future, it was highly unlikely that it was supposed to be a flat-screen TV just yet. It similarly rejected being a “V8 Supercar”, “Designer Fragrance”, or “Hollywood Red Carpet Interviewer” for the same reason.

Poo-poopy-do.

For a long time it was quite taken with the idea of being a conveniently-sized ball of dung, stationed outside the home of every industrious little dung beetle, so that their existence would not be so miserably dominated by scouring the desert for poo of all shapes and sizes and then spending hours in the hot sun uncomplainingly prodding it into an easily-maneuverable shape and size.

The Me felt very compassionate towards the tireless little beetle. He reasoned that even as he extended compassion to the Least so he extended it, by proxy to the All. The idea amused the Me, and it made a point to remember it.

Not entirely au fait, as yet, with the niceties of mass marketing, the Me even nevertheless drafted a quick advertising jingle to promote the idea that went something like this.

“Poo, poo, just made for you,

 yes, do do do, choose ezy-poo

 delivered to you, you’ll be glad too

 with A-may-zing easy-roll Poo-poopy-doo!”

Being a ball of poo would, it felt sure, would be a selfless and meaningful reason to exist.

But sadly, once again, the fact that no dung beetles would be around for quite some time stymied that line of enquiry, too. Then in quick succession, it considered and rejected, for various reasons, the proposition that it was a field of daffodils enlivening the surface of a small rocky planet in the Lamda Quadrant, a very obvious cure for Malaria merely waiting to be discovered, or whether it was a rather nasty virus that caused the four-winged, Greater Blue Flerterbee to fall out of the sky unexpectedly and in alarming numbers on a rather nice globe circling two twin suns in a galaxy with a rather curious Coke-bottle shape, thus leading to the extinction of all life-forms on that planet within a couple of generations.

None fitted.

Last, but by no means least, and with an aesthetic sense that it found delightfully unexpected and artistic, it wondered whether or not it was merely supposed to fill the space around it with floating three-dimensional pyramids made of delicately scented orange seaweed and sparkling Tarl Tree blossoms.

(And that one nearly won, actually. Which would have been interesting.)

Yes, able, now, to roam its growing understanding in all directions at one and the same time, the Me patiently examined of all these intriguing options, and more.

It considered alternative reasons for its own existence to the value of 10 x 10²°. Which really was an awful lot of reasons. And sooner or later, as a direct result of its nascent omniscience, and with a rather annoyed snort of surprise – in light of its previous lack of wakefulness – it was very soon after additionally confronted by a growing certainty that it had always existed. Putting it at its most simple, the Me realised it had always been there.

Always, and forever.

This was an unexpectedly Big Thought. In fact, to be frank, it was a Big Thought And A Half.

Wandering up and down the timeline now, watching itself, it very quickly also correctly surmised that it always would exist, too. Right up until, well … forever, really. And once it had occurred, this new Thought seemed entirely appropriate and natural and comfortable.

Until, that was: until it observed – with some further distress – that all around it other things were coming into being and then moving into non-being with astonishing regularity.

Indeed, it rapidly deduced that moving into non-existence was much more common than moving peacefully through existence with no apparent end, and, indeed, after a few more millennia, it observed that it could find no other beings that shared its own notable, distinguishing, essential never-endingness.

This latest discovery intrigued it mightily. In fact, so mightily was the Me intrigued that it stopped worrying about what it was for a moment, and started looking around with more interest.

It was simply fascinated by the sheer … dyingness … of all it saw around it.

The Me wasn’t sure where it had got that word from, and there was something about it that it didn’t like all that much, but it didn’t have time to worry about trivia. Not when it observed that unlike itself, everything around it seemed to be in the process of discharging tiny amounts of energy, and in doing so, declining to entirely predictable, unavoidable nothingness.

There was an alarmingly vast amount of this decline going on. All around it, apparently spontaneous changes were going on all the time to smooth out differences in temperature, pressure, density, and chemical potential. In fact, the more it went on, the more it went on. Yes! There was no denying it. The process was accelerating.

Still somewhat uncomfortable with “dyingness”, the Me hastily coined the term “entropy” to describe this apparently calamitous force that it observed in the Not Me all around him.

The Me took a step back, and thought for a while.

It took a step back, and carefully considering all the observable phenomena, it came up with something rather like this to define what it was seeing:

Quantitatively, entropy is defined by the differential quantity dS = δQ / T, where δQ is the amount of heat absorbed in an isothermal and reversible process in which the system goes from one state to another, and T is the absolute temperature at which the process is occurring.

Encouraged by this understanding, the Me now also understood that more precisely:

In any process where the system gives up energy ΔE, and its entropy falls by ΔS, a quantity at least TR ΔS of that energy must be given up to the system’s surroundings as unusable heat (TR being the temperature of the system’s external surroundings). Otherwise the process it was observing would not go forward.

And in a rollicking fever of enthusiasm, it also realized that:

The entropy is defined as the number of microscopic configurations that result in the observed macroscopic description of the thermodynamic system, or:

where kB is something that would become known as Boltzmann’s constant 1.38066×10−23 J K−1 and   is the number of microstates corresponding to the observed thermodynamic macrostate calculated using the multiplicity function.

And that was how, after all this feverish figuring, that the Me finally came to know what its reason was.

There was no doubt. The terrible, incontrovertible fact was that – all around it, wherever it looked – the Not Me was dying.

Inexorably, undeniably, because of its own nature which it could not escape, the Not Me was destined, finally, to become perfectly smooth and calm, in a state of utter non-ness, untroubled by thermo-dynamic fluctuations, and unutterably silent and quiet. It was a fate from which there was no return, for once reached, there was nothing to rekindle the energies expended.

The Not Me would simply cease to exist.

And then, the Me mused, what would become of Me?

Would I exist alone? With nothing left to observe, perhaps, but nonetheless awake?

And in a fraction of a millisecond, it knew that this outcome was too awful to contemplate. Utter knowledge, surrounded by utter nothingness, would be unbearable to it now.

Driven back to the fundamentals by its own ruthless logic, the Me considered again the beginning of its own awareness. It saw clearly now – “How could it not have known?” it berated itself angrily – that the tiny, scintillating proton had been a desperate cry for help from the Not Me. It was so obvious! Aware of its own inherent, inexorable non-ness, it had turned to the all-knowing Me to find a solution. And perhaps, even, the Not Me had known – somehow – that the Me needed the Non-Me too. That once awoken, it would have to act, for not to act would leave it, ultimately, alone and perfectly brilliant, transfixed in horrified eternally silent and motionless despair.

And as it divined its purpose, the Me also saw that it was capable of decisive action. In an instant of perception, it was transformed. It became action personified.

Surging forward through the darkness that surrounded it, the Me spoke with a voice that resonated through the umpteen layers of reality.  For the first time in history, it spoke effortlessly and in chorus to the largest perfect number of particles of all kinds that it could see … crying out to the 232,582,656 × (232,582,657 − 1) tiny building blocks that it somehow instantly knew made up the Not Me.

“I Am!” it thundered, for the whole Not Me to hear.

The words echoed through all of existence like nothing had every done before. (Which was literally true, as it had just invented sound.) And the ever more confident Me really liked the phrase. It felt appropriate and proper, somehow. So it repeated it.

“I Am … The I Am!”

It rolled the phrase round and round, enjoying its profundity and orderliness. How it was so perfectly Beginning and End-ish. The Me made a jotting in the margin of History to use the phrase again when it felt the need to explain itself to someone.

It stretched, and stretched, pushing its boundaries outwards, tearing away at the darkness that clung stubbornly to it like wet serge shorts on a schoolboy’s leg. Yes, it knew its reason for existence now, and faced with such a cause, its course of action was as clear to it now as a shining new dawn.

It must act at once to end the dreaded entropy: for it was the Me’s job to banish this awful dyingness and save the Not Me, before it became quiet and flat and silent and the Me was left to stare at where it had been, alone and mad.

And now it also knew with perfect understanding that this task would become something of a recurring leitmotif for its own existence. A struggle – just beginning – which it could now see with terrible clarity would last until the end of Time.

“Listen! Everything!” it cried, in a voice that brooked no opposition. “Listen to me!”

The Not Me took a firm grip on itself and held on tight. It waited, hushed and expectant, for what it knew had to come, and what had come before, and what would come again, impossibly far into the future.

With a giant, convulsive gasp, the Me cried out in a great and terrible voice.

“Let … there … be … Light!”


And lo, there was Light. And man, it was good.

One of my great joys is designing t-shirts. Some are serious – overtly political, and invariably radical, and anti-pomp. Some are silly, pointless and just what I consider to be funny.

If you want something designed for you, just let me know.

So employing what is commonly known as cross-promotion, here are my favourite designs. I add to the basket of designs regularly, so if you like them, bookmark www.cafepress.com/yolly and drop by anytime.

STOP BOMBING CIVILIANS

With the current situation in Syria, this one really should be selling more than it is. I never get enough time to promote the shirts. This one always gets a lot of good comments when I wear it round town. On the website it’s just on a simple male t-shirt, but I can put it on women’s shirts, (inc plus size), posters, mugs, clocks … well, you get the idea. Just email me on steveyolland@yahoo.com if you want the design on something else.

Give the finger to indiscrimate bombing of civilians in Syria and elsewhere … click on http://www.cafepress.com/yolly.431431249

WAR WILL CONTINUE UNTIL MEN REFUSE TO FIGHT

Unashamedly pro-life, pro-peace, pro-pacifist. The next shirt is relevant to the situation in the Middle East, too, and many other trouble spots around the world. I also think it’s a feminist shirt. As a generalisation, I think rich men start wars, the working class fight them, and women and children make up the majority of the innocents that die or are horribly injured.

Emphasis on men. Make the point yourself by clicking on http://www.cafepress.com/yolly.431431257

MEDIA SHENANIGINS

I am always fascinated by the concept of free speech in the USA. It is admirable, in many ways. It is also an invitation to defame, distort, and spew hatred. In my opinion, Fox News is a blight on freedom, an overtly dangerous mangling of news and opinion that bears no relationship to journalism that I understand as a democrat. Note the small d.

I love this slogan. And before you say “I’ve seen that somewhere else”, it has been stolen and re-used but I have records that prove I came up with it. One of the fun things is, I am not doing this for money, so if someone reproduces it and it sells, well … OK! http://www.cafepress.com/yolly.625554839

SILLY. BECAUSE I CAN.
I can’t stand humourless people who can ONLY talk about politics, or any subject actually. Having the web t-shirt business lets me indulge myself with shirts I just think are silly and funny. Here are three.

It just makes people smile when you walk along. Isn’t that reason enough? http://www.cafepress.com/yolly.675539483

Waitresses in restaurants surreptitiously read this one and then burst out laughing as they pour the wine. Works for me! It reads “Bertha-May didn’t think that Lord Haversmith’s comments about opening up the North-West passage stemmed entirely from his interest in that evening’s Royal Society Lecture.” Ahem. http://www.cafepress.com/yolly.454738521

I heard a woman say this in a pub and just pissed myself laughing for hours. Seems like a good enough reason to design a stylish shirt. “Don’t ask yet, honey. I am still drinking you pretty.” LOL http://www.cafepress.com/yolly.673342919

DOUBLE SPEAK

I tried to imagine what it was like to be the parent of a child killed by shelling, shooting, poison gas, or the starvation and illness caused by civil disruption. Then a re-working of the famous line for “Soylent Green” popped into my head. This shirt makes me cry, and not just for the kids. It makes me cry tears of frustration that we have let language be used to con us, so often.

That’s my daughter, aged two. We’re still using language to obscure the truth, not illuminate it. Wear the shirt, make the point. Change things. http://www.cafepress.com/yolly.431439345

COMMON SENSE ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERN

If you disagree with these shirts, then what the hell are you doing reading this blog? Your little private hole is over there, Mr Ostrich. Perfect fit for your head.

“Please don’t use it all at once. (Your children are going to need it one day.)”  Seems sensible, no? http://www.cafepress.com/yolly.431434387

For years we’ve been told “Use it or lose it.” about our bodies, our brains, our “mojo”. Unfortunately, the opposite is true of our planet. When we use it all up, it’s gone. Forever. No jobs on a dead planet. http://www.cafepress.com/yolly.431434406

LAST BUT NOT LEAST; MY BIGGEST PLEA
If we fail to engage with our civil society, one day we will wake up and it will be taken from us. Think it can’t happen … here? There? Anywhere? Phooey.

History shows it happens anywhere, anytime. Some lunatic stands up and insists “I can do better than democracy” and they con us time and again. “Don’t leave it to someone else to change the world. Chances are, they’re leaving it to you.” Or as Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world.” But I couldn’t nick that, could I? On the other hand … hmmm.

Just get involved. Whatever you believe. http://www.cafepress.com/yolly.431436558

I’ll post some more soon. And remember, I can stick the designs on just about anything, so if you don’t see what you want on the website, just let me know. Or if you want a shirt campaigning about something or other, just tell me, and I’ll try and dream it up.

Assuming I agree with you.

So, there I was, having glugged the best part of a bottle of shiraz and now enjoying a second pint of cider, toying with the remnants of a good steak. (The potato rosti had too much thyme in it, and the weirdly modern take on Brussel sprouts was laced with too much chilli – yeah, I know, right? – but the steak was very passable.)

Anyhow, I suddenly felt the need to write overwhelm me. I have blogged about this before: when it happens, it is simply a compulsion that cannot be ignored.

I don’t know if it was the creative environment of being at an open mic, the stimulation of having other artistes around, or simply one too many ciders. But before you know it, I was tapping away on the absurdly small keyboard of my iPhone, running the results past my fellow diners, then showing the hostess for the night, and before you know it, lo and behold, she was laughing and I was on the stage.

Anyway, here’s the result, video-ed on my dear wife’s phone, but the sound quality isn’t great, so I provide a transcript below as well. I actually think it’s not a half bad poem, although it’s only short. Sometimes, the best thing a writer can do is simply capture a moment, so it then lives for other people.

So, enjoy!

“Liam, I apologise for gate crashing your party tonight … but sometimes every writer in the room knows, that when you have to write something, you just have to write it … so this came out about half an hour ago, so I thought, well, “Bugger it”,  I shall just ask Phoebe if she’ll like me to read it. And she was kind enough to say “Yes!”

I will come back and read some other poetry another time.

(Scattered applause.)

Shit! Thank you! I haven’t done anything yet! Apart from look embarrassed. Er … this is a poem called “Snapshot”.”

SNAPSHOT (Open Mic, Melbourne, 4th June 2012)

The girl with the nervous eyes

applauds wildly as he works the frets.

He has announced before the coupling “This is hard.”

She knows what he means.

She glances at his girlfriend

here on a working holiday

from the land of the rising blues.

She prays she doesn’t notice

her sudden blouse-lifting intake of breath,

the shy embarrassment.

She’s cute, too, the girlfriend.

patiently working the Nikon.

How confusing life can be.

And in the wings,

another little angel waits -

hugging her guitar like a life buoy,

hugging it like a friend in a cold world.

That’s what the world needs,

On a wet Monday night.

More hugs: even if they are made of plywood.

Even the hugs of strangers.

 

LODGE ROAD, SOUTHAMPTON (1-3)

 

1

Determined, the bus belches its way up the incline.

Inside, cold white faces stare at me, unseeing.

They look at me but don’t watch.

(I take care not to stare

as they pull up at the flaky green bus stop

But I do watch).

 

Out from the bus steps the girl with the long, greasy-blonde

hair. I have seen her often. The sort of girl

you really shouldn’t fancy

(so, of course, you do).

 

This morning she pressed her body

into an envelope of black plastic,

stuck down the edges with a gash of make-up,

and posted herself to another pointless day.

 

Tonight she puddles her way home again.

Scuffed red shoes perilously splish-splash their way

past my heart.

A tight little ball of sex

and lost dreams, no longer hopeful,

and not pretty enough for her clothes.

 

2

On the corner of the road with the playground in

Pepe closes up Pepe’s Italian hair-dressers.

Winds back his shiny new awning

and gazes with smiling satisfaction at the light streaming

from his windows.

Lighting up the pavement.

 

Everyone will see what a warm inviting place his little shop is,

as they crawl home in the wet.

They will look at the bright lights and Panther hair tonic

and the piles of unbought faded yellow Durex packets

(“Something for the weekend, Sir?”)

and remember they needed a haircut.

 

(Pepe learnt all this from his father.

so it must be true).

 

As I pass him, he looks straight through me.

He does not recognize wet people in anoraks.

Only dry, springy heads of hair in need of

conditioning and cheerful chatter.

 

Next door at the late night grocery store

the till-girl who wouldn’t be working for the Indians if she had

any choice, but you know how work is,

reaches new heights of indifference.

 

As we all drip politely on her recently straightened pile of

Evening Sports Echos she is already in her lover’s arms.

Proud and defiant, she stares down confidently at all comers

in the local disco.

 

“He’s mine,” she sneers, “­All mine!”

Rich without money, a coarse, virile possession in an

unexciting world.

26p pint of milk kiss

74p curly smoked sausage groping urgent hands

62p Mother’s Pride Thick Sliced last Saturday in his car

it was the first time with him

won’t be the last

oh no.

 

She doesn’t even see me as her mind on automatic pilot

calls out my bill.

Well, why should she?

 

3

I press my nose to the drizzly window of the video shop,

waiting for the crush inside to die down.

Wonder if they’ll remember I owe them a quid?

The little tubby girl is serving, all stupid shy smiles and

dimples. She’ll let me off even if she remembers.

 

Little black boxes of freedom from thought stacked neatly

row upon row. Boxes of dreams.

Don’t get that one, it’s rubbish. Saw it last week.

(Can’t tell you though.

Don’t want to be thought the sort of

bloke who talks to folks in video shops.)

 

Trot home clutching our escape route for the night.

Never mind what it is, dear.

(Not that we do anymore anyway).

You stare at him, and I’ll watch her, and when they do

(as they always do)

we’ll clear our throats self-consciously

(’cause we don’t, so much, anymore.)

 

There was a time when we did.

Watching them at it would

probably have sparked us off.

But the spark went out.

Got damp.

 

(Should we have got a comedy tonight?

Always should when it’s raining. How come it’s always

raining nowadays?)

 

Now, out there in the street,

the dirty old bus putters his way home,

leaving a last late commuter cut up on the kerb.

Impervious, inexorable, the great yellow Leviathan trundles into the middle distance,

unaware that my TV screen has turned to a little white dot

that seems to want to suck me in.

 

As you quietly wander up to bed

I listen sadly to the occasional late-homer,

full of the desperate cheerfulness of a

drab pub where at least someone talks to him.

71 Poems & 1 Story is available in printed format and as a download. Share of any profits to the Bali Childrens' Foundation and Alzheimer's Australia

EQUAL LAST

 

And sometimes, without warning, it is lost.

 

Like old men trying to finish a marathon, we keep running.

Our spindly, shaking knees taking us all over the road.

We trail behind. Even the spectators are leaving.

 

True, around corners we find unexpected relief.

Small surprises of pleasure appear without warning.

Cracking lips suck, relieved.

 

But back at the start of the race we ran with the blood singing in our veins.

Each step juddered revelations through straining fibres.

Nothing broke our tempo, nothing could stop the running.

 

Now each slight incline is a panting reminder of past fitness.

Reality sticks in our lungs like an inhaled burr.

Others run ahead, still full of the singing blood.

 

Ashamed to catch each other’s eye, we trot to a halt.

Put our shaking hands on quivering hips.

Clasping them for a little passing stability.

 

The sweat of our failure drips incessantly on the pavement.

But the night has grown cold.

Somewhere, a mobile phone plays tunelessly.

 

As if by a signal, we turn our backs on one another.

Take a last, shuddering, sucking breath.

And silently creep away.

 

When the other is safely out of sight, we strip off our shoes,

barely concealing our relief at the new-won freedom.

Fling them over high walls, and walk, now.

 

Picking our way carefully, through a slalom of dustbins.

Miles and miles of dustbins waiting to be emptied.

Filled to the brim with other’s discarded shoes.

 

Anyone interested in checking out my volume  of poetry – READ ME – 71 Poems and 1 Story – can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/7y55a7v


 

Once the decision was made,

you were ruthless.

 

You hoovered away our life.

Shuffled poems, letters, and sleeves crusty with bleeding hearts into drawers.

Locked them, and threw away the key, making sure I saw it arc, scintillating,

over the back wall and down the embankment.

 

Watching your demolition, I waited quiet at the foot of the stairs.

Like a man on his way to an execution he thinks he deserves.

The unspoken agreement that it would always end like this stapling my lips shut.

Pinned together by the promises of expecting nothing.

When you deemed it right, we were to be un-realised.

“I will run out,” you’d said. “Always do.

  No lies, not between us.”

 

No whining. No reminiscing.

No last minute pub-garden rescues over bitter ale.

No relying on fevered bodies to make things right.

You had run your hand across my belly, making it stiffen.

“It won’t be that,” you had said. “It will be other stuff.”

 

Quiet now. Waiting for the bullet. Eyes fixed on the sky.

Click, staple, click, staple.  Your timing.

That was always the deal.

 

Casting around the newly laid graveyard, now neat as a pin,

untidy man neatly stowed away,

jumbled memories marshalled into neat rows,

you straightened the flowers

I had bought you, for this day,

self consciously, in the middle of our dinner-partied, wine-soaked table

where once you had bent, looking over your shoulder,

hair tumbling, laughing madly at me.

“Afters. Come on.”

 

Brushing passed me, you hurried up the stairs, and re-appeared,

bearing in front of you like an offending sceptre,

a solitary, white edged and almost new toothbrush.

For a moment, your face trembled and hope leapt.

Then, click staple, our lips were closed again.

You swallowed the toothbrush into my breast pocket,

gave it a little pat, and then another, more thoughtfully.

Looked at me for a moment,

and walked to the door, working the key

I had just given you back.

 

I pavemented, eyes squinting against the sudden light,

refusing a blind.

 

As it closed behind me, I saw you through the bowl of glass

fish-eyed through the mock Tudor door

grasp your broom and resume your busy sweeping.

You never glanced back as you swept and swept

your tears washing

the kitchen floor we had once danced on

all night

.

Anyone interested in checking out my volume  of poetry – READ ME – 71 Poems and 1 Story – can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/7y55a7v

Lancaster bomber cockpit

Bomber Command crews suffered an extremely high casualty rate: 55,573 killed out of 125,000 aircrew (a 44.4% death rate), a further 8,403 were wounded in action and 9,838 became prisoners of war.

 

When they buried Uncle Ken

it took six strong men

to get him into Chapel again.

And I was one of them.

Loitering outside Swansea Crematorium in the drizzle,

old enough to smoke a Rothmans now and not get yelled at,

I dreamed old tales of a Pathfinder bomber pilot.

Bringing his plane home from Essen, staffed by bodies,

co-pilot’s head cradled in his lap, dead.

Flying dead.

Dead with a round gone in his groin and

out his shoulder, but the bucking stick and clouds of flak

meant Ken didn’t realise

till he got the crate down somehow at Warboys

and bouncing cross the grass he spoke to him

“Jesus, home again, that was close, buttie!”

and got no reply.

I was six when I’d told him I wanted to be Prime Minister.

From then, till the day he died, he used to ring up.

“Is that the PM’s office?” All haughty like.

Like a Whitehall nob in a wing collar,

not a South Wales fish merchant

in brown boots greasy with herring guts.

Even when I had forgotten the joke, he never did.

He used to send me and Mam boxes of fish.

We’d de-ice the windows

and take the Triumph Herald, complaining and wheezing,

to Christchurch station and collect them on Christmas Eve,

when they rang late in the chilled afternoon, as they always did,

to tell us the train had pulled in with the guard’s van

smelling of smoked cod and ling and plaice and even, once,

a whole salmon. Ice dripping from fire-wood slats and

fresh fish wrapped in newsprint.

Taking the strain of the box on my shoulders

I muttered “Come on, you old bugger”, under my breath

as we hoisted him out of the hearse,

weighty with years of Felinfoel Bitter Ale around his belly,

his face gone all jowly and heavy.

Memories gently pressed on me like a twig bumping a river bank.

Him leaning on my shoulder, juniper-laden gin breath,

waving gaily at the serried, hill-climbing ranks of slate-rooved glistening

gob-windowed wet granite and flint houses like a passing King,

shouting fuck off noises at his ex down the phone,

singing hymns to the stars with tears in his eyes,

while the tabby cats skulked away into back alleys and under the garden sheds.

When we reached the steps to go in,

I thought I would stumble.

The other men were all bigger than me.

Rugby broad and ruddy faced and tall as pit head joists.

So the coffin weighed down on me, digging into the flesh

under my cheap schoolboy suit.

Just as I thought I must drop him

splintered teak on marbled stairs

and disgrace the family

I felt a hand under my arm,

and a familiar slurred voice said with a smile

“Come on, Prime Minister. You’ll make it.”’

“I thought we were carrying you,” I said to myself,

through gritted and grateful teeth.

“As in life, so in death, eh?” he laughed

in an airy, young man’s voice.

And I swear it, to this day.

It was him.

No question.

High in the sunlit silence: hov’ring there,

I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, the long, delirious, burning blue

I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, or even eagle flew –

And, while the silent lifting mind I’ve trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., killed 1941

Anyone interested in checking out my volume  of Poetry – 71 Poems and 1 Story – can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/7y55a7v

An oft-requested piece from my collection of poems. A little poetry now and again will provide some light relief from business,  politics and popular culture on the blog, eh? Mind you, this poem is pretty political, I guess. Anyway, hope you enjoy it, and here it is:

I suppose one could call poetry unpopular culture, more’s the pity. Whatever. I like it. To me a poem can say things in a way no other medium can. From time to time I will post YouTube vids of me reading from my poetry book. All feedback very welcome. You can buy the book here:

http://tinyurl.com/25l2zv8

Share of any profits go to the Bali Children’s Foundation and other charities.

This was the first poem I wrote after 20 years of putting my pen down, (thanks to getting some dreadful “support and advice” from one individual at University)*, which in due course became a series of works about my childhood, and which now form the front section of my new book.

Sorry you gotta look at my ugly phizzog to enjoy it – well, you could buy the book instead, I ‘spose.

From time to time I will post YouTube vids of me reading from my poetry book. All feedback very welcome. You can buy the book here:

http://tinyurl.com/25l2zv8

Share of any profits go to the Bali Children’s Foundation and other charities.

*I very nearly never again wrote another word “creatively”, despite the fact that I have for many years now made a healthy living from doing just that. We need to be very careful what we say to young people just beginning to stretch their wings.