My father gave me the gift of sleep

June 29, 2013 at 10:54 pm | Posted in arthritis, nutrition | 4 Comments
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‘At our most moving moments are we not all without words?’
Marcel Marceau, the famous French mime artist said that. Or wrote it, I suppose. It’s enigmatic and powerful, I reckon, because it says so much. Doris Lessing had a phrase about the thinning of language against the density of our experience. But you wouldn’t be reading this unless you were interested in language and words, and people like us will try to find the words, no matter what.
A friend of mine died. He had a rare cancer. He was 52 but he still looked like a schoolboy. That was what was holding my words back. And part of why I didn’t write a blog for the past fortnight.
Homer wrote, ‘There is a time for many words, and there is a time for sleep.’ It seems so apt for Paul Mees whose words flew so fast and furiously and funnily about public transport and politics and people and everything under the sun. And he is out of his pain now, having his time for sleep.
Psychoanalysts believe that insomnia can sometimes be a fear of death – that long sleep. I would never suffer from that, even if I were afraid of death. I’m a champion sleeper. Is this hereditary? Some of my siblings seem to have inherited our mother’s chronic insomnia. Not me, and not my brother who died recently. We inherited our sleeping patterns from our father, who died young too of the same heart-related thing. We neither of us got along with him. But he gave us the gift of sleep. Priceless. No matter how bad things get, I almost always can sleep – and when things get bad one really needs that sleep! So I’m lucky that way.
If on a rare night I can’t sleep I get up and have a chamomile tea and scribble in a notebook to tease out what is bothering me, and resolve it, and then go back to bed and sleep like a dead person. Chamomile tea is a soporific substance; have two teabags in a mug – double strength – and fall asleep at the kitchen table! I don’t take drugs or medicines so herbs affect me a lot, I guess. They seem really strong to my system.
I’ve inherited something else: osteoarthritis. It was getting so I’d wake up in the morning feeling as if I was suffering the early stages of rigor mortis. Whoahh! You’re really not supposed to be that way in your fifties.
This stopped it: acupuncture took the pain away (that’s a scientifically verified effect of acupuncture, the only thing the scientists could verify about it with their western methods) plus a horrible rigmarole involving cod liver oil, more on this later, plus tai chi.
The cod liver oil thing, got from a very old and tattered book found in my mother’s house when we were cleaning it out after she died: for six months, every day you first of all, drink a big glass of hot water. (That’s the worst part.) You can’t have eaten or drunk for three hours before. So that makes first thing in the morning a suitable time, but of course you’re going to miss that tea or coffee first thing, it really mucks up your morning. You can time it for between meals, just before dinner, say. Second thing is you wait ten minutes after the water. Thenm, third, you drink a tablespoon of cod liver oil or flax seed oil mixed with two tablespoons of strained fresh orange juice or of milk. Not nearly as bad as it sounds. Then after, (fourth thing) don’t eat or drink for at least 30 minutes. Every day for six months (during which your skin will look amazing – a nice side effect), then just a few times a week. For the rest of your life. (Ugh.)
The tai chi? It’s pretty easy to learn the basics but like the English language not easy to get really good at it. My teacher, Fontane, is like a little tiny peach blossom, so petite and graceful and pretty. She’s good on the philosophy of it too, a very good teacher.
It has been a time consuming journey over the past year which I’ll write about at another time but those three things have made me much, much better. And the more I practise tai chi the better I will get, the more flexible, the stronger. I will never be a little peach blossom like my teacher; I’m a giant in comparison, two inches taller than the average western woman and with my father’s big swimmer’s shoulders – but in my own way, I will become more graceful and refined. (Ha! Refined – me?!) Plus tai chi is a sort of meditation. It is calming and you focus just on it so, practised regularly, it helps you come to terms with people you love dying young, for example.

Playing with language and playing with food

June 9, 2013 at 2:18 am | Posted in Books, food, linguistics, nutrition | Leave a comment
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This blog is about language and literature and health and life so today I’m going to share the websites and blogs of three people who improve our mental and physical lives by their brilliant ideas – the first one is Jules Clancy, the second Sarah Wilson and the third a Canadian guy called James Harbeck.

The first two are wonderful young Australian women who have great ideas on things like nutrition and cooking, chocolate and health, and how to save time and have more energy. All three are really good writers. I notice that about Nigella Lawson too – she was a journalist before she was a food presenter and cook book writer, and it really shows. At our house she is popular for a number of reasons, but one of my reasons is that I can curl up on the sofa with one of her cook books for the sheer pleasure of reading her prose.

Reading the prose of the following three people is a joy too.

Jules Clanchy looks like this (photo didn’t paste but you can see it on her website) and has the following to say about herself:

: Ready to discover the secret to quick & easy cooking?
Stonesoup is all about helping YOU become the best cook you can be.
The thing is, you can make delicious, healthy meals without spending hours in the kitchen.
This is her website:

Jules Clancy is a country girl and her recipes are fabulous – easy, quick, nutritious and she makes a feature of vegetables. She makes them really exciting.

Sarah Wilson’s website and blog can be found at
This is a quote from her site:
I’m a journalist + TV presenter. I write about how to make life better. If I had a resume it would list the following: editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, host of MasterChef Australia, Sunday Life columnist, host + producer of the Lifestyle YOU channel (under “hobbies” it would say: eating + riding a bike).
I’m on a mission to find ways to make life bigger, more meaningful, nicer, smarter, heartier.

James Harbeck can be found by googling his name or his blog, Sesquiotica. Many of his monologues are on You Tube. The linguistic analysis of seven rude sounds teenagers make is a favourite of mine:

These three make life richer and funnier and better in so many other ways. Bon appetite!

Measuring our lives

June 2, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Posted in Books, digital technology | Leave a comment
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In Seneca’s time, ‘Elite, literate Romans were discovering the great paradox of information: the more of it that’s available, the harder it is to be truly knowledgeable. It was impossible to process it all in a thoughtful way. So there was a tendency to graze, skim the surface, look for shortcuts.’ (William Powers, Hamlet’s Blackberry, p. 112)
This is just like today – except surely our situation is worse in this respect. Seneca tells his friend Lucilius, ‘Measure your life: it does not have room for so much.’ (Powers, p. 113) Just like today. There is too much to do, too much work, too much ‘stuff’, too many responsibilities, too many deadlines, too many new digital toys – and the learning curve never ends.
Someone said, ‘The theft of our time is the theft of life itself.’ She was talking about work hours but it could apply to many other aspects of our society, such as the time it necessarily takes to learn the ever-changing technologies for communicating – or for doing almost anything these days.
If I have to fiddle with a computer or device for ages – and it always takes ages – it feels like dead time. It’s not stimulating or relaxing or entertaining or challenging (there’s that awful word again) – it’s just unbelievably tedious. Whereas when I paint I feel happy and calm and free. When I write I feel stimulated and infused with a calm awareness as my mind makes connections and remembers relevant facts and sparks ideas. I’m drawing on a lifetime’s education and experience, I’m using every level of myself. I feel alive and happy.
But we can’t live without computers and digital technology now. And there are plenty of good things about them, specially concerning communication. Powers in Hamlet’s Blackberry presents advice about how to deal with new technologies from philosophers and inventers etc throughout history in his intriguing book. He points out that instead of celebrity philosophers we have celebrity chefs. But they never tell us how delicious life itself could be if we followed a different recipe.
Marshall McLuhan said that our reality is shaped, even created, by our tools. Human freedom and happiness should come before technology. Our digital devices have a big influence on our lives of course, but we should control them, not the other way around. Powers quotes Thoreau and states, ‘Walden shows that, even in the midst of a frenetic world, one can create a zone where simplicity and inwardness reign – a sanctuary from the crowd. The need is far more pressing now.’ (p. 190)
Powers writes that the only way of cultivating a happy inner life is to spend time there, [in the depths of your mind] and that’s impossible when you’re constantly attending to the latest distraction.’ (p. 201)
So Powers and his family have a rule: no digital anything over the weekend. Every weekend. As a result they communicate better, are more creative, have more time for outdoor life, conversation, books and friends. They are healthier, physically and emotionally. That’s a tall order today – to not open up a computer or Facebook or text friends. But the author reckons both parts of life are invigorated by it – that they approach work and school refreshed and look forward to the digital world on Mondays, and in turn appreciate the refreshing peace from the digital world on their weekends.
Could I do it? Phew – let me think this over. I might compromise. Maybe I could just do this blog on Sunday nights.

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