A tub of yoghurt followed by two horse pills is my breakfast
these days.All washed down with one or
two cups of tea.
Don’t be fooled by the size.These ‘horse’ pills are bigger than you think.
By the time one of them hits the back of my throat it turns
sideways, even as I put it into my mouth pointy end forward.
To swallow one is to gag and then gulp down mouthfuls of
water before they finally settle somewhere in my stomach.
I feared I was on the control dose, by the absence of
taste.They taste like nothing, just the faint tang of plastic, but the woman who asks me questions and runs me through
tests told me the pills are made in a factory to certain specifications and all
the pills, whether the real thing or the control, are made to taste the
I had hoped I’d be on the real thing, not the placebo.
I had hoped I might observe remarkable changes in my
cognition, in my memory, in my ability to perform these Lumosity type tasks
that the researchers set every time I visit the Swinburne University where the
tests take place.
The pills are meant to contain a mint extract, and the
hypothesis follows that this extract will improve cognitive functioning in
people over fifty.
I haven’t noticed any deterioration, but as for improvement,
there’s none there either.
I agreed to participate in this study, not only for the
altruism of giving back to the community via scientific research, but also
because they offered an MRI as part of the procedure.
A free MRI.I can
establish once and for all that my brain is okay.
In the waiting room at the department for psychopharmacology,
the drawing board near reception is filled to the brim with notices of rooms for rent and requests to participate in other research projects.
There are many that deal with so-called 'mental health'.
‘Do you know of or live with someone who suffers from
bi-polar disorder?We’d like to talk to
you as part of our research into the condition.’
I cringe.I have an
aversion to the use of psychiatric jargon.
People use these expressions often these days.So and so has bi-polar, as if it's a concrete
and physical disability, like being born blind or suffering from cancer.
So and so has depression.I much prefer people turn these nouns into verbs.I reckon it’s more helpful and meaningful to
say, ‘So and so is depressed’.
It has something to do with the reductive nature of these
psychiatric categories.When used as
nouns they speak about a person as a category.
When we say someone has lung cancer, in our mind’s eye we hone
in on the horrors of the cancer, the difficulties of breathing.
We might ask the standard stereotypical question where lung
cancer is involved: ‘Did she smoke’, but we do not assume more about the
person. The person still has an identity
that goes beyond their diagnosis.
But when we say someone has schizophrenia, for instance, it’s
as if their identity is subsumed under the label, and they cease to be a person
beyond their diagnosis.
We like to label people and things. It helps us to get a grip on them, but it’s
dangerous as well.
The fantasy seems to be if you get the diagnosis right,
correct treatment automatically follows.
I’ve been running through reruns of that TV series House,
about a grumpy doctor and diagnostician who works in a busy New Jersey
The stories tend to be formulaic and dramatic.They start with someone unexpectedly falling
ill, or having an accident.The person
is rushed into hospital and for some strange reason, generally to do with
difficulties in diagnosis as to the cause of the problem, Dr House and his team
are called in to give a diagnosis.
They start off with hunches based on symptoms, then treat
according to those hunches, one of which invariably leads the person to have a
heart attack, a stroke or some other major episode in which we are led to
believe this person will die.
The person rarely dies, only survives and amazingly, the
next day they discover the real cause, which might be a tumour, or some
internal bleed, or some unspoken decision on the part of the patient to confess to having done something he or she hadn’t owned up to earlier, like taking cocaine,
or LSD or some other illegal substance that’s made them sick.
House’s philosophy is that patients always lie.
The body, on the other hand, obeys certain procedures and from
time to time the camera peeks inside, via fantastical imagery of what goes on
within a blood vessel, a pumping heart, or wasted lungs.
Is it that people lie?Or do they omit information or construct a story around events so that
they don’t disappoint their loved ones, or don't get into trouble with the law?
People, myself inclusive, reinvent themselves in order to
present their best selves, or their worst selves, if that’s their inclination. In any case, it’s an attempt to reconstruct some sense of themselves that
meets the needs of the moment.
I’m reconstructing my identity with a move of blog sites, and
I’m fearful you won’t recognise me elsewhere.
Please try, otherwise we might be saying goodbye.
I’d hate that.I’m not
ready to see the last of you yet.
you’re happy to continue visiting me, even though it might involve a few extra
clicks of your mouse to get you there.
My periodontist has recommended I endure another gum graft on
one of my lower teeth to prevent further recession of the gum.
I have already endured two of these
procedures.I would prefer my teeth were
able to stay in my mouth, those that remain, and given I have a full lower jaw
of teeth it would be good to keep it so, but the thought of another graft
leaves me cold.
Two factors: for one the cost, but that’s not the overriding
The overriding concern is the cut and stitches and having to
hold my mouth still for several hours after the procedure; having to avoid hard
food for weeks; and on that first day and the next, eating only soft foods, luke
warm, to give the graft a chance to take.
It’s almost a miracle to me that a doctor can peel a small
portion of skin from the roof of my mouth and then attach it to the section of
my gum that is receding just above the root and over time and with care
the skin will attach itself to my gum to form new healthy tissue that will then attach to my tooth and stop it from falling out.
I managed to put off the procedure to early next year, during
the summer when the weather makes the thought of such assaults on my body less
It’s hereditary, my sister tells me, a legacy from our
father.His teeth fell out with gum
I would have thought they fell
out through neglect.
These were the days when
people had their teeth extracted and full dentures inserted as a wedding
present.The days before fluoride.The days when teeth rotted in people’s mouths
and no one looked askance.
My father never complained of toothache, at least not within
my earshot, and so I’m left wondering about the story of his teeth.
I never went near enough to my father to remember this time
when his teeth were still his own, if only they dangled precariously from
receding roots.Perhaps they fell out
before my time.But my father was only thirty-six
when I was born, he must still have had his teeth then, or did he leave them
behind in Holland?
I grew up hiding my teeth; terrified that someone might
notice they needed attention and drag me off to the nearest dentist.The dentist might then look into my
mouth.And the look on his face…
I dreamed of going into hospital, of sleeping the sleep of
the anesthetised and of waking up with a full set of dentures, and the fantasy of
never having to worry about my teeth again.
My dreams did not come true, instead I kept most of my teeth and my worries, and I now have a periodontist to keep them all - teeth and worries - in place.
My husband has gone back to sharpening knives. Not for their murderous properties, but for
the sheer beauty he finds in the smooth knife-edge, the blade that can cut a
swathe through the hairs on his arm.
I find it almost unbearable to watch, the blade so sharp it
could splice a single hair.
My husband pulled out several of his sharpening stones the
other day for the purpose of washing them down in readiness for use.They form part of his collection.Several dull coloured blocks of fine pressed
stone against which he rubs each knife blade.
My husband also has a sharpening wheel in the workshop
outside, his go-to sharpening stone when friends or relatives come round with
their small collection of kitchen knives, blunted from too much use.
My husband likes to relax at the wheel and move the blade up
and down the surface of the round stone, as it turns slowly with a steady flow
of water dripping over its surface.
I do not understand my husband’s passion for knives other
than the passion of one who likes to collect things.Who likes to have in his possession an
example of every variety of knife available: cooks knives, paring knives, fish
knives, bread knives, Japanese and German knives, pocket knives and
Many of these knives we use, others lie tucked away, hidden
at the bottom of drawers and wrapped in tea towels or swathes of calico
Recently, my husband came across a man who makes knives for a
living, a blacksmith of sorts, who forges his blades to your
The knives come back in rustic form, without handles,
unless you pay extra.But they are good
knives, heavy to hold and excellent for all manner of food preparation.
When we go away for a holiday, it is not unusual for my
husband to take along a couple of knives from our kitchen.Even when we stay with friends, he does not trust the quality of their knives for
cooking and so he brings his own.
Besides his love of knives, my husband has multiple interests
– woodturning, book binding, jewellery making, photography, genealogy, gardening,
coin collecting, cooking and preserving – which I pitch against my one
It puts me in mind of my father, his passion for activities
beyond home, not that he was passionate about home.My father collected books, and photography
equipment.He had dreams of building a
yacht in our back yard and bought books on the subject.
He wanted to make something of himself.
Who does not want to make something of themselves?And who does not suffer disappointment in the
I thought of these words in the shower this
morning as I pondered the fate of my would-be book: Marlon Brando’s words from On the Waterfront,
‘I could’a been a contender’.
Yesterday, I met a young woman who will help me to transfer
this blog into a Wordpress blog.
I don’t know whether I dare say this out loud in case the
people who currently host my blog, the people at blogspot will object.Not that there are people behind these
ventures, real flesh and blood people who can read these words and object to my
There are matrix like operations behind the scenes that
control these processes, I suspect, owned by someone, but I do not understand the workings
of these things and therefore have enlisted the help of the technologically
I started this blog in 2006.My young assistant remarked on this, as if it were a long time to be
blogging.As if it were a strange thing to
continue on such a path instead of moving onto something new.
I think again of my husband’s interests.When one starts to lose its allure he can
move onto another, and back again.
There’s diversity there.
But my passion is relentless.It does not shift, except perhaps in its content.
There’s always something different to write about, and yet I
am fearful these days of almost every word I write, in case it offends
The thought police are loud in my head.‘How can you say that?’How dare you utter such things out loud?
Do all children learn this?This business of keeping things to yourself, this business of holding
thoughts inside for fear of offending someone.
Lately, I find myself trying to be more circumspect.At meetings with colleagues, I try to ‘hold
Another of those expressions from when I was a child and
learned to hold my tongue, but it takes such an effort.
Virginia Woolf writes about ‘a finger held to the lips’, a
sense that we must not speak the unspeakable.
Our visitor from Germany completed the 500-piece jigsaw
puzzle last night and I resented her for it.
She’s a wizard with jigsaws.The
rest of us are slow.
I’ve tried to make her welcome.She is welcome but the difficulties of having
another person stay for several months trickles down into unspoken and trivial
resentments, such as who gets to finish the jigsaw.
It’s a tough jigsaw, a lion’s head – the Lion King – floating
in the sky above a thin line of African wilderness with one tree on the horizon
and some lion cubs and mother lion on a hill, against a golden sinking sun and topped
off by a purple star filled night sky at the top.
There are too many pieces that lack intricate detail.Therefore to complete this jigsaw you rely on
People approach jigsaws in different ways.Some go for the internal details and build up
a patchwork within, while others create the frame.
I’m a frame person, which surprises me because it suggests I aim
to get structure into place before I tackle the internal detail, when I have
long considered myself a small detail person who can’t be too fussed about the
Ever since my mother died I’ve felt the cold.As if I've taken her place.She who taught me empathy in her
identifications with me when as a small girl I ran around in a t-shirt and shorts
in the middle of winter and she pleaded with me to dress more warmly.
‘It makes me cold to look at you’.
And now I feel cold, even as I battle with our guest over the
temperature of this house. Even as I prefer to maintain a temperature level that’s
neither too hot, nor too cold, I have this urge to tell her, when she complains
yet again about the cold,
‘Put on a jumper.’
Heating in Australian houses is not as effective as heating
in European houses, she tells us.
Our houses even with proper central heating do not adjust
well to the vagaries of the weather.
I prefer the thermostat to sit around 18 degrees Celsius.That’s the most energy efficient temperature,
the gasman who maintains our central heating unit told me.
And yet, some unknown person turns it up as high as 23
degrees and I begin to swelter.
I turn it down, and because it’s not my husband who turned it
up and my daughter upstairs essentially leaves the thermostat alone, I can only
I suspect I do not say anything about this, in part because I
am reluctant to be seen as mean.
That mean old coot, I hear you say.She’s tight on the temperature.She doesn’t want to waste fuel.
It’s true, and although others who are concerned about excess
energy consumption might back me, I still feel mean.
I reckon part of the problem has to do with control.As long as I’m the one who dictates the temperature,
it feels okay for me, even if it’s low.
I can always put it up higher if I decide it’s too cold.
To be the other person, the one who is a guest and has no say
in the temperature other than to remark on its being cold and to hope for the
best, there’s a helplessness about it, and maybe a sense that things feel
colder than they are.
Many years ago, one winter when my husband worked for the commonwealth
government as a public servant, there was a disruption to the heating and cooling
Staff protested, but there was little they could do, other
than to wear warm jumpers and singlets under their suits.
To make a point, my husband wore his dressing gown over his suit.It was one of those Japanese/smoking jacket
styled dressing gowns in green silk with a black trim.My husband looked like an emperor.
It’s an idea.Keep
your coat on or your dressing gown.
Nothing irks me more than folks who like to heat their houses
to tropical temperatures in winter so they can run around in their t-shirts as
if it’s summer.
But that’s what they do in Europe, I’m told.They wear layers and build them up to go
outside and then peel them off for the great indoors.
It all depends on the location of the thermostat.
Ours is located centrally in the warmest
corner of the house.It cuts off when it
gets to temperature and leaves the living area that’s south facing and filled
with windows, freezing.
It’s too big a space to try to heat unless you kick the
thermostat up to 25 degrees, which I refuse to do and so our house is much like
the houses of my childhood, where the lounge room in the centre of the house
with its oil heater burning brightly was warm, while the rest of the house was
Maybe we need an upgrade of our heating system, to one that’s
more energy efficient, or else we might puddle along as we do now, running from
room to room, depending on the temperature we want for comfort.
At worst, we can crawl under
the blankets in our bedrooms while our house takes shape as a temperature jigsaw puzzle.