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Sunday, October 30, 2011


When leaving primary school all the children used to get a bible. I've still got mine. But there's a text in it that I still don't understand.

I'll translate (it starts below the ISBN) :

No part of this publication may be reproduced and / or made public by means of printing, photocopying, microfilm or in any way whatsoever without prior written consent of the publisher.

 I don't think any preacher, vicar or pastor is going to ask the publisher's consent for each sermon.Or do they mean The Publisher? He does not give his consent, He gave us the assignment to make it public

Friday, October 28, 2011

Another Hubrecht Anecdote

   I always think of myself as a terribly boring person. Not one to date if you like to laugh. But maybe I'm wrong?
    Writing my previous post about the Hubrecht Laboratory, I remembered a little prank I pulled. A two stepped prank.  It was a behavioristic experiment. Fitting a biologist who opposes behaviorism.

  The histology lab was a cosy, busy lab where hard work and laughter were mixed gracefully.
Histology is about preparing and dyeing tissues, to make them visible under the microscope. [Me a stickler for details??]
   One day I brought along two print outs of a shield, used in 1866 in the Amstel Hotel at Amsterdam.

This room is equipped with Edison's Electrical Light.
Please, do not try to switch it on with a match.
Just turn the black switch next to the door.

The use of Edison's Electrical Light
is not detrimental to your health,
does not cause diseases and
doesn't have an adverse effect your night's rest.

The Board of Direction.

    I put up these papers on both entrances to the histology lab. Two windowless doors. No one knew who did it. I secretly enjoyed all the comments and the consequent apologies of the lab manager  "I have no idea who put these on my doors."  But I guess he liked it, he didn't remove them. 

    It happened just as I expected it:  people used the signs for orientation. It was a long corridor and to enter the histology lab you practically had to count doors. With these signs, it was easier to locate the histology and  juxtaposed labs.
   After a few weeks I moved the sign on the left door to the door on the lab at the right of the histo lab. The signs were still on two consecutive doors...
   Yet now one of the signs was on the door to Pim's lab. A researcher whit his own private lab which no one hardly ever entered. While the histo lab was a real beehive.  Poor Pim, so many people entered his lab that day, They must have looked surprised. I heard so many apologies made to him....

   That's how easily people slip into habitual behavior.

More about SPD, Autistic Spectrum and Impro

I Knew What I Was Getting Into
on Misty Edwards' "Joy (Live)" album
From Beanscot's YouTube Channel
This is not applicable to all forms of SPD, but SPD makes me a real 'slow mow'. Not just because I don't like fast movements.  I focus too much on details, that slows me down as well. Looking at matters from a helicopter view takes me very deliberate, conscious acting.  'Slow' has become one of my main characteristics. One that I'm not proud of.

   Already at primary school I decided that competitions were not for me.  Because like everybody else I hate to lose all the time. The only fair challenge was competing with myself.  That's not so bad. What about the following quotes?
  • "He who conquers others is strong; He who conquers himself is mighty"  by Lao Tzu
  • "I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self" by Aristotle
  • "He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior." by Confucius
   Many people with SPD have learned to use personal goals  for a challenge, rather then compete with others. Nor do they try to excel in what is fashionable. 
   This attitude has its drawbacks. For instance it can cause loneliness.  Although... not necessarily. If you go out into the world often enough you will find kindred spirits. I have made many friends. They are however of the migratory kind. Many are scattered over Europe, some even live in Asia. 
   But hang on, there's a good side to it too. It sets you free. Free from the judgement of others, free from the pressure of deadlines and free from that fear of not being on top of the latest info, the latest gadget, the latest fashion. 

     I don't keep up with the latest news flashes, I don't tweet or live my life through Facebook. I even disregard notifications at my work if they are published as newsletters or some such nuisance. And that's why, when I was a student at the Hubrecht Laboratory, I didn't know that the regular monday-one-o'clock-lecture was cancelled. At 13:02 I grabbed my pen and paper and went to the library. The lights were turned off already, the speaker wanted to show a short film of her work. All seats at the back and at the corners of each row were taken, as if there was a conference of the Claustrophobia Society. I had no choice but to sit down in the middle of the front row. The lecture, in english, was clear, well told and very understandable. It was about a project involving fertilisation and development of frog's eggs in space. Not my favorite topic, but interesting.
At the end of the lecture, the speaker,dr. Ubbels of the Hubrecht Laboratory -my next lab neighbour so to speak- came up to me and thanked me for showing my interest by showing up. Well, I never throw away a compliment. I 'pocketed' it and returned to the histology lab. “Where have you been all the time?” the other analists of the lab chimed in chorus.
“At the lecture. Why weren't you?” The others where puzzled, explaining me that the lecture had been cancelled.
“But what about the lecture of Geert?” Now my colleagues started to laugh. Except for one, another student, My collegemate to be exact. He was a special case. 'Space crazy', knew a lot about planets, stars, space research and science fiction. “You went to that lecture?” He looked at me with awe. I nodded and shrugged. What was so special about it?
“She held that lecture for astronauts and NASA en Estec personell. People from the lab were not invited.” I couldn't smother a mischievous grin. The collegemate went on, “I can't believe you just went there. I wish I had had the guts. I'd love to be among all those astronauts.”
“Actually,” I said, rubbing it in,  “Geert thanked me for coming. She wanted people from the lab there.”

     The consequences of this mistake were two summer jobs and a request to participate in a science project involving a rocket launch. Keith Johnstone -father of Impro- is right: making mistakes is fun.
     Talking about Impro. The prejudistic thought is going about that people with autism or Asperger, -maybe even SPD?- could not enjoy Impro. Too unpredictable, too little routine. But people in the Autistic Spectrum want clarity, not routine. Routine is just a  lacklustre answer to a request for clarity.
    The German Impro players Christine and Deniz Dohler discovered the similarity between Impro and SonRise, a succesful playtherapy for children with special needs. Check out their site if you want to know more: AuJa! [german]

Dutch Impro teacher Marcoen Hopstaken has asked me to organise another Impro workshop for people who play -therapeutically- with special children. And I'm about to challenge Marcoen: I'll ask him if I can also look for adults with autism or Asperger for a workshop of Applied Impro (which is Impro used for team building, social skills, therapy, etc.).
It'll certainly be a new challenge for me. And I like to challenge myself. I said that before, didn't I?

Are you challenged?   Maybe you can check this out, a conference about Applied Impro:

Shining Your Brightest

AIN World Conference 
San Francisco 2012
20-23 September

Damn Tasty

What a week... this week I had to do a course in hospital administration for my work. Which meant coming home late and working five days instead of four. In that same week I stayed up late several nights, partly to communicate with some people in L.A. (9 hour time difference). And because I had only the later part of the evening to do all the chores I usually do when I get home from the office. Just when I had decided to pull my weigth and get rid of a lot of the trash   [which I did: no more old paper piles,  five happy degus in clean cages,  a cleared dinner table. And no dirty dishes.  No more Olympics in my living room / studio]

Today's friday, a regular day at the office, thank God. So this morning my son and I picked up our habit again. We always take the same train at our home town. At the next station we get off together.  My son is at walking distance from his school and the connecting train to my work stops here. Before we separate, we go to a tiny caf√© called 'Teestie' [pronounced as 'tasty']   for a chocolate milk and a coffee. The latter in a carton cup, because I have only time for half of it. The rest I take with me to platform 1.

Funny. Yesterday I went to bed two hours earlier than all other days this week and I got up feeling worse than ever. My mind too chaotic to make coffee for breakfast. So I hopped on the train in a low-caffeine state, thinking how unfair it is to have a hangover without having had a party (not that I'm fond of parties...) The idea of having a double espresso-black-no_sugar is what I clung to.
At the next station Teestie was open, no customers, no standing in line! My son walked over to 'our' table and I went to the counter, with visions of my double espresso-b-ns. The coffee machine made a familiar sound already, a reason to get suspcious...
The girl behind the counter gave me her best welcome back smile  -I had been absent a few days due to the training-  and informed me she had already made my coffee. She was preparing a tray putting milk and sugar on it, which I never use. I added a bottle of chocolate milk and the girl completed the still with my -undesired-  coffee. In a stone mug!!
She made almost every mistake possible. Except for one thing. She tried to show me how well she knows me and that she likes me, by serving so promptly with the extra effort of preparing that tray. And any coffee served with so much care is Damn Tasty. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Journey with Unknown Destination [1 of ..]

Like  'Haesito'  the theme for this story is firmly locked in my head.
But I have no idea where the plot is going to.
I hope to an answer to the unsolved issue behind the theme.

Mom! Mom!” Oh, I was sleeping so snug, having the best dream ever... I slowly open my eyes and turn them towards the staircase that ends up in my attic. It's almost twelve o'clock in the morning, or should I say afternoon? I've been sleeping the day away. Lucky for me, I hate having a whole day in front of me, having to fill it up with senseless, repetitive, chores that lead nowhere. But I pity my child, who is on the brink of his adult life, having only a few more years of childhood left. No, I forbid myself to enter that line of thought. I know where it ends up. At the bottom of a cesspit.
“What is it now?” I ask, a lot less friendly then I should. This time my boy is not taken aback by the tone. His eyes are shining, his face is happy. “Mom, there's a puppy lying on our doorstep.” And now for the inevitable 'Can we keep him?' ... “May I take him in and feed him?”
Surprised at this modest step, I say yes. This does mean however that I have to get out of bed. Well, that's better for me anyway. If my life really is that boring, it needs change. And change doesn't come to me when I lie in bed all day.

The puppy is a young, happy and extremely vivid German shepherd. Now how did this animal end up on my doorstep, I wonder. I hope the owner will be found soon, for I already have 10 pets. OK, my son's 2 goldfish hardly require any work, but they are living creatures, right?
“I wonder how he got here?” my son echoes my thought. He has given the dog some salami and cat food and is now feeding him some of the cats favourite cookies. The cat itself sits in the window sill, hissing and growling at the guest. The former street tiger not just detests dogs, he hates their guts out, wishes to tear them open, see them suffer, hear them blow out their last breath, he … You might state he is not fond of Canis lupus familiaris.
The dog is not a stray. He looks healthy and he wears a brand new collar. Wait a minute... I see a metal tube dangling on it. This must contain the name of the owner. I point it out and my son's face loses several degrees of happiness.
“Oh come on, Guts” My son's name is Augustus. Most people call him Gus, but I call him Guts. Because he has them, if necessary. “You wouldn't like it if other people kept your cat, if he ran away, would you?”
No, he wouldn't. A little tense he lets me open the tube and take out the slip of paper. Someone has magic fingers. It's a long strand, rolled up tightly. It hardly fitted into the hole.

Dear JoAnne, I'm on a journey with unknown destination. Hope you can take care of my Jud while I'm away. He's Loba's son. Heard you lost track a bit. Maybe Jud will be a good guide dog for you.
Love and good luck, Justus.

My heart skips a beat. Or two. No, more. I thought I'd never hear from him again. I have been back to the forest to look for his cabin, but coudn't find it. Finally I resigned myself to the idea that our meeting was a beautiful dream, no more. Sure, there was my carved plank to prove I had really met the woodcarver, but the idea of ever meeting him again was no more than a dream.
But now one of Justus' dogs was looking me in the eyes. He had brought him here, would he pick him up again, so I could see Justus once more? I wrap my arms around the dogs neck and welcome him in.

To be continued !!!!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Putting out the Trash

Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, 
no one who does what is right and never sins.
Ecclesiastes 7:20

I don't know how it is with you, whoever reads this, but in my life symbolism is not limited to dreams.
Or maybe it is not symbolism, but some 'twin aspect' between mental processes and physical life. I'm am talking about dyeing my hair and putting out the trash.

Indecisive is my middle name. I let matters pile up, until there is an overload. At that point setting things straight becomes a matter of rolling up my sleeves, gritting my teeth and doing an arduous job.
Let's compare it to burning logs and trash: you can either have a cosy fire in your fireplace every night, or a bonfire once in a while. There is no good or bad here, it's just two different styles. I am a bonfire person. But why... why do I yearn to have a small fire burning in my fireplace every night? Or do I feel I should live like that? Am I mixing up real yearnings (true commitment) with my upbringing (false commitment; commiting to the yearnings of my parents) ?
I always tell my son that the education parents give, is just a survival kit, to reach the 21st birthday. By then a person should have figured out his own value system and should redo his own 'upbringing'.

If you are not sure whether you agree with the way your parents raised you: raise a child yourself! If you are educating it right, I mean: conscientiously and NOT on cruise control, you'll be reraising yourself in the mean time. Wow, I'm finally calling myself a good parent!

About imperfect parentsFor english subtitles, click the up-arrow above
and then 'CC'
No this is just a side track. I was talking about indecisiveness. Whenever I am munching on a problem, either not deciding or not acting according to my decision, I fail to put out trash! Litteraly.
Please do not visit me this week:
- my dinner table is inaccessible since I do not clear away the tools and materials I need for sculpting. - there's a lot of saw dust on the floor, thrown out by my degus, who demand a clean cage. (They are now carrying around banners. Lucky for me that I cannot read degu scribbling)
- there's a mountain of old paper that I did not put out last week, when it was to be 'collected'
- dirty dishes have piled up so high, the Olympic committee asked if the pole vault competition of 2012 could be held at my place.
All this is a symbol of my clogged psyche. Are you shivering, feeling nausea, thinking this is a nasty side effect I could do well without?
Wrong. I'm glad it happens. If I close my soul eye trying to ignore my internal problem, my physical eye cannot ignore the external situation. So the physical translation forces me to clean up ... my mind.
And what is even better: Hard work1, like carrying heavy piles of old paper to a recycling container, give me the right proprioceptive input to feel better and stronger. -Yep SPD again- . And that helps me to finally make up my mind and perform that unpleasant task that was clogging my psyche.
So hurray for the physical twin of my psyche. It is a second entrance into solving my problems.

I know that I am right on the brink of unblocking my mind and perform a really dreaded task very soon: I have dyed my hair with henna. It's fiery red. Which looks quite natural on me, because I was born with that haircolour. Could it be hint, in regard to my bonfire character? Alas it fell out when I was five days old, and I got 'milkman's dog hair' in return.
Dyeing my hair is another physical twin of mental perturbation. When I feel I do not like my life anymore and a change is urgently needed, I dye my hair. Not that the different color will change my life. But the moment I get into action to get rid of my boring hair color, I take mental action as well.
What I have to do, and hate to do, is find a home for my mother. I hate doing it, because she used to say she'd rather die. But a household that combines puberty, dementia and midlife crisis is a bomb. And I have to defuse it before it explodes. I quote Ecclesiastes 7:20 to myself to get the job done.

People too often poke fun of the placebo effect. The following situation is sometimes called placebo effect as well. When a man2 feels his headache clearing away just seconds after taking a pill, people naively conclude that the headache must have been imaginary, faked. Because it takes at least 20 minutes for a painkiller to do it's job.
What I think has happened is that physical and mental twin actions took place. Someone just decides that enough is enough. And then he acts physically: walks to the medicine cabinet and takes a pill. In his mind, unseen, there is a twin change: suddenly our body releases us from our headache by producing the right hormone or neurotransmitter. A switch was turned at the enough-is-enough moment. So yes, a real not-imagined headache can disappear before the pill is -chemically- taking effect.

Did you, dear reader, realize that there is a perfect word that sums up mental and physical twinning?
Defintion 1:   perceive (an idea or situation) mentally; "Now I see!"
Definition 2:  make real or concrete; give reality or substance to;
Yes, it's the verb  "to realize". Beautiful word! It sort of proves my theory.

AFTERTHOUGHT (10/22/2011) 
Actually, the quote of Ecclesiastes is NOT a good motivator.  Why would I call admitting that caring for a person with Alzheimer is beyond my limits and finding a  -hopefully- good home for this person,  a sin?  It is not. It's currently the wisest thing to do.

1-For those who are curious: YES, I DO NOT OWN A DISHWASHER . I WASH DISHES BY HAND !!!!! -
2 I'm not going to say woman, women are too often accused of badly timed headaches

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Haesito in Medio [5 of 5]

<-- part 4

5 Getting Unstuck

This time I applied some dovetails before twisting a bandage around his hand. I managed a decent 'X pattern', considering my efforts to touch Justus as little as possible. 
As soon asI was done, Justus went back to his work and checked his mask meticulously. Satisfied his mask was alright, he turned to me. A teasing laugh came into his eyes. “You're worse than I thought. How can you stick to your place when someone needs help? Don't you care?” 
“My heart went out to you. But my body wouldn't. I turn into stone in situations like this. And I
cannot always undo the spell.” I had reached the workbench too. Nervously I let my fingers run over the edge I had been carving into the plank. My fingertips alone could tell the irregularities of my cuts, I didn't need my eyes for that. These were aimed inward, were I was fighting a battle. My shame against the wish to be honest about this problem I had with being helpful to other people. “You know,” I placed the plank straight in front of me, “That's why I planned to burn a drawing I made recently, into the center of this plank. A ewer, a basin and a towel. Reminds me of that passage in the bible where Jesus washes the feet of the apostles.” 

Justus face had relaxed ever since I took the initiative for this 'self exploration'. Now he sat down again on his work stool, putting the mask at a distance.
“It's not that I don't want to be nice to people. I remember giving things to my friends, or helping them accomplishing tasks. I got scolded terribly for it at home. My education did not deal with being kind to others … But I don't think that that's the cause of my problem. Already at kindergarten,” we smiled simultaneously. It obviously was kindergarten day today, “my teacher asked me to comfort a crying classmate. I asked her how I should do that. When she suggested I'd put my arm around the girl, I walked off. I was not going to touch anyone.”
“How about your home? You said you took care of your mother when you were a small girl. How did you do that?”
I laughed for a second. “I was only keeping her company. She was phobic and didn't want to be alone.”
“How ...”
I raised my hand signaling Justus to be patient. I knew what he was about to ask. “I felt horribly lonely and afraid.” I tried to recall the feeling. “Like there was some indefinite bad fate looming over me. I was not allowed to have playmates around, so I used to carry a toy with me, to help me feel brave. Usually a dog.” I winked at Loba, on the once-white rug.
Justus nodded. “I remember you said that being nice meant disappearing, becoming invisible. Could that be related to the loneliness you felt while comforting your mother?”
Maybe. I thought about it, my eyes locked into the sky again. It seemed logical, but somehow it missed a decisive 'click'.
I managed to look Justus straight into his eyes as I continued. “That's not what I meant when I started talking about the towel and the basin. I have sensory processing disorder,” -Oh dear, did that sound formal- “which means in my case, that I'm sensitive to light touch and to movement. My most used expressions were 'don't touch me' and 'put me down'.” I could see the corners of Justus' mouth curl up. He could well imagine me saying those things.
“Whenever I heard the story of Jesus washing his disciples feet... well, I knew what the story was supposed to say. But I couldn't help thinking, that I wouldn't pick up the basin either. For a different reason. Sometimes I even wondered whether Jesus would understand why.” I could relax when Justus smiled at me. I no longer felt teased or put down. “I only thought 'who would want me to touch him? Let alone wash him?' ” Auch, that thought hurt.
Justus grabbed my hand with his one good hand, preventing me from pulling away. “Does that hurt?”
I blushed heavily. “Not physically. But it does upset me.” He didn't let go. Wanted to know what I felt exactly. I had to concentrate to identify my mixed up feelings. “Part of me likes it. Some other part would even like to return the favor. But most of me wants to dash out and hide behind a tree. Where I would probably try to rub off the feeling.”
Now he laughed. “So you're not used to it. Better practice more, lady.” I pulled my hand free. But Justus immediately extended his hand to me, beckoning me to take it. “You said you wouldn't avoid pain or embarrassment. Now I'm making you stick to it.” Sheepishly I took his hand, eying his face from he corner of my eyes.
“It might be easier if you looked straight at me.” Justus really was making me go through feeling hurt and embarrassed. But I've said I wouldn't run. So I gritted my teeth and looked in his eyes. Was he teasing me or not? I couldn't make it out.
“This doesn't feel bad to me. Why would you think people don't like your touch?” After a playful wink he continued, “Not bad at all. If I had all day, I wouldn't let go.” He did let go however. In a reflex I rubbed my hand 'clean' on my jeans. “Thank you very much,” Justus mumbled.
“It's not just touching. It's more than that. When people are together, at a party or working on a project, whatever, doing things for eachother, I just cannot get myself to do my share.”
“You turn to stone. But why? What do you imagine might happen if you do spontaneously serve someone. ”
I sighed, what if … “It is crazy. By not serving others, I imagine their anger or contempt. Which is actually a realistic idea. But the thought of me asking others what they want and giving it to them... I imagine people will be bothered, annoyed by my presence.”
“So you really think people don't like you. And your habit to petrify, which others won't understand, makes it a self fulfilling prophecy.”
I sighed, wondering how I could break through such a circle.
Justus picked up the conversation again. “You have a very belittling image of yourself. And that is probably why you let Randy get as far as he did. If you had more self esteem and confidence, you could have stopped him when he started. ”
I remember how Randy slunk out of the cabin. His personality was not as formidable as his build. Justus was right, I probably would have managed to put him off. I shouldn't have let him think he could have his way, for so long. My fault, again.
“Don't blame yourself,” Justus voice broke my train of thoughts. “There are enough conditions in your background, that brought you into this plight. Nonetheless ... you are now responsible for getting out of it. Not that you have to do it on your own.” he hastily added, “People will help you along, but you have to be the driving force. That takes commitment.” The word was a cue for me to look at the woodcarver's eyes. Or rather, look into them. This time I did not see them as funny blue marbles, almost popping out. They had depth, honesty and helpfulness. “I know that you can commit yourself if the commitment is your choice. And I know that you have the stamina to go through failures. You didn't run from all the challenging situations you faced here. Neither have you in past your life. You just tightened your stomach and walked past scolding schoolmates. Or clung onto your toy dog to stay with your mother. Now grid your teeth again and help JoAnne.” Justus got off his high chair, leaning on my shoulder. That was at least not light touch, I did not feel the reflex to retract. But he left his hand there... “I hope I have given you today at least the necessary belief in yourself. That you are worthwhile. Because... you are.
Those stupid tears welled up again, blurring my vision. I wiped them away with the back of my hand.
“Now which other tools are you going to use to carve out the real JoAnne? The one who is not tough and cynical and who does not stay petrified.”
“Awareness and practice. Awareness of the gap between what I do and what I want to do. And practise, to collect positive experiences to replace my silly fears. They should make good tools to carve out the real me.”
“Great. I mean it.” Then Justus' sly smile, complete with the tiny wrinkles beside his eyes, returned. “Because it is way past lunch time. And I would love to work some more on 'Jack Daw' instead of having to cook for us.”
“OK,” I accepted the chance of doing something for him. But a basic fear must have shimmered in my eyes. For he said 'comfortingly' that he would be working with his back turned to the kitchen anyway.
“That part of the floor is yours now.” A good thing it was. One of the first things I did was pull out the drawer with cutlery too far out of the kitchen counter. The crash was tremendous and the floor filled up with spoons, knives ad forks. If I ever felt like a nuisance... “Sorry,” Justus jelled over the noise of the clatter, “I forgot to warn you that the stop of that drawer is broken.”
“Is that what it was? I thought the drawer was too short.”
Justus sniggered and continued his work, while I cleared up the mess. At least it was a good icebraker. After that I dared make as much noice as I needed to, 'and then some'.
There was not a wide range of food stored up, but when it comes to cooking, I'm a great hand at improvising. As the smell of soup, with white wine in it, filled the cabin, Justus could no longer keep his back turned to the kitchen. “Is it ready yet?” he asked.
“Then hurry up, woman, I'm hungry.” Justus walked over to the kitchen sink to wash his hands. To do so, he took off the bandage and the dovetails. I checked if he needed any help with that, but obviously didn't. So I continued cutting bread and laid out several kinds of cheese on a plate and invited him to the table.
As soon as he was seated, he held out his bowl for soup. I noticed that his hand had healed perfectly. The old strict Justus returned for a moment, as he raised his eyebrows to stop me from asking the wrong question. We ate our meal with a lively discussion, moving to and fro between verbal battles and whole hearted agreements. But the meal came to an end and so did my stay at the cabin. Justus finished the edge around my plank for me, while I washed the dishes and cleared his kitchen. He wrapped up the plank when he was done and put it in my backpack.
“Before you go, let me draw you a map to show you the best route to a bus stop.” He used a folded up piece of paper for it. “You walked through a nudist area this morning. Lucky for you, the guests arrive late on Sundays.”
I couldn't help laughing. “I guess I would have been a bit overdressed for the occasion.” In spite of the heat I wore jeans, a shirt and gilet.
“Just a bit, yes.”
I imprinted the map in my head and put the paper in my pocket. Then we walked to the door together. Justus assured me I would be taking the right road from here on. My heart always had been speaking up in time, but from now on, I would be able to recognize its call sooner and respect its value. With this reassurance, he hugged me. Just for practice, he said. I'm glad he didn't kiss me goodbye. After a kiss I would not have been able to leave. Because I sensed I would never see my woodcarving teacher again. And was not allowed to ask if I was right.
I turned to look back a last time when I reached the road. By then he had already disappeared from the doorway. Half sad, half satisfied at this special day, I started my walk back into my own life. From my pocket, I retrieved the map Justus had drawn for me. It was the paper on which he had written the invitation to help myself to some coffee. I decided to keep it, to reassure myself all this had really happened. I unfolded the paper completely. On the inside, was printed:

JALF is urgently looking for an 
 who will transform the wishes of the Soul into Reality
 and build a bridge connecting the deep Self with the World. 

Experience is not required. 
The candidate must have 
  appreciation of Modesty, 
  aversion of anything related to Pomposity or Convenience, 
  inexhaustible Patience,
  a Rock-solid Conviction during Stormy Weather and 
  a Sharp Eye for the distinction between Acting out of Fear or out of Love. 
The Animus is not easily intimidated. 

Required language skills:  
  fluency in telling the Truth, and 
 a good working knowledge of 
   Symbolical and 
   Metaphorical speech. 
Or willingness to learn this. 

 For more information please contact JoAnne Lakefield.

© september 2011

JoAnne Lakefield

Haesito in Medio [4 of 5]

 <-- part 3                                                                                                                                part 5 -->


4 Challenged

The craftsman picked a piece of wood out of a basket full of it, and and let it roll round in hands, evaluating it. I know the feeling, I do it with a chunk of clay when I start on a new sculpting project.
“Pick one,” Justus pointed at the basket with wood. Behind it lay pieces of clay. I suggested I'd limit myself to that. Clay was a more familiar playground for me. I knew I was able to produce something worth while and above all, I could finish it in one afternoon.
Wrong move, I saw it by the way the corners of Justus' mouth twitched disapprovingly. His eyes narrowed in concert, creating little crow's-feet. Or should I say jackdaw's-feet?
“Don't you want to learn more about carving wood?”
“What's not to like, right?”
“What do you love most, wood or clay?”
“No! Don't answer my question with a question.” Justus got angry. “What do you love most?”
Love? I hated being there and I hated him. For being right. “What gives you the right ?” I started, but he cut me off again. “Just answer my question.”
“Great.” He placed the chunk he had picked, in my hands. “Then why did you pick clay?” Where had he learned to ask questions that way? At the KGB?
“Instead of asking questions about me, you should be answering questions about yourself.” He turned away from me and started to clear an area at the workbench and then placed woodcarving tools on it. Obviously he had made the choice in my place.
“Do you have an answer yet?”
I started to feel like a five year old, mixing up shame, belligerence and a feeling of being outranked. Should I throw in a tantrum as well?
“Joanne, listen.” Justus turned to look at me. His voice had lost its sharpness and its wit. He sounded concerned. When was the last time someone sounded like that, when talking with me? It hurt, it just hurt.
“Just a yes or a no. Do you want to spend the rest of your life like you are now? Aloof, defensive, making choices out of efficiency, doing what the world expects from you? Making it look interesting by serving it up with an icing of cynical humor and tough talk? You can fill up a whole lifetime with that. But is that what you want?”
“What's the other side of the medal?” Oops, another question. But Justus didn't loose his patience.
“Having the guts to be more caring. Having the guts to let others care for you. It means daring to be vulnerable and probably being hurt. Badly at times. But at least you'll be living from your heart. Doing things with your heart. Acting out of love.” The piece of wood throbbed underneath my fingers. I used to work with wood to chase out bad moods, to commune with my soul and regain balance. Clay was great too, but never helped me reach as deep as wood did. I hadn't done any wood work for a long time.
“I'm offering you a chance to take a good look at yourself. If you want that, stay. Else leave.”
He still looked straight at me, while I had been avoiding his eyes constantly. Their frankness hurt, just as the concern in his tone. But he was right. I was shutting out pain. And as a consequence, shutting out joy too. I had to tighten the muscles around my stomach, just to be able to look back at him. But I did. “Yes, I want to stay. For I want the other side of the medal.”
“Good. There are two rules. First: no questions about who I am. And second: stop avoiding pain. Just answer all the questions that come up, even if the answers mortify you .”
I had escaped being undressed physically by Randy. And now I was offering to undress myself mentally? So what, didn't the woodcarver see through me, anyway? Maybe I should leave?
Justus grabbed my arm and drew me to the extra workspace at his bench. “Look out,” he teased. “You're close to breaching both rules now.”

He handed me the tools he had laid out for me. I was to sharpen and polish them, with a disc sander and felt wheel at the other side of the studio. This put me to the test right away: I didn't know how to sharpen gouges and chisels and I dreaded working with machines. I can't register quick movements very well, no matter whether it's me moving about, or a moving object. Justus saw my hesitation and made fun of me. “Afraid to ask me to help you?”
“I don't know how to sharpen these.” I was to be straight, right?
“I'll help you, but next time ask me, don't let me take the lead all the time.” He turned on the sander and explained how to hold the chisel and let the turning disc do its work. When I had finished the other tools, I actually dared to ask how to polish the chisels and gouges. From a distance he explained how the felt wheel worked and I went ahead. I wasn't even bad at it!
When I came back to the workbench, Justus was working on the bird mask, working away surplus wood to make the birds beak and eye come out better. The beast looked more and more like the young jackdaw I had met this morning.
Without looking up from his work, Justus asked me again whether I was afraid of asking for help.
No escape from mortification, I had promised that. “Yes, I am.”
“I don't know. I just am.” My host considered that folly. One had to know why in order to cure it.
“What do you feel, or see, when you have to ask for help?” he continued on the subject.
I picked up a gouge to replay the situation in my mind. “I'm afraid of being a nuisance.” I said, eying the tool.
“If I were to ask you for help, would you consider me a nuisance?”
I shook my head. I often like it, when people ask me for help.
“Than what's the difference?” he had picked up his sharp tone again. I put away the gouge and looked out of the window behind the workbench, through the trees to the sky. Staring like that made it easier to concentrate.
“I see the sky's your home,” Justus joked.
“Maybe that's my problem. I often feel I shouldn't be here. I feel unwanted and like I'm in everybody's way. ” I pictured myself at the supermarket. Always hurriedly stashing things away, making room for others.
Justus voice broke my thoughts. “You must have had that feeling even during your childhood.” The mask balanced idly on his thumb, index and middle finger. “You said you were often scolded by your classmates at kindergarten. What were the other schools like?”
“They rarely called me names then. I guess they didn't dare. I would pitch a fight if they would. But,” the memory ached more than I thought, “I was completely ignored. Like I didn't exist. Even my friend didn't play with me at school time. Only after school.” I had to stop, since I couldn't fight my tears this time. Until a funny thought helped me out. “Except when I studied biology at the University. I became so popular, that at times I wished I was alone again. I used to hide in the library then.” We both laughed over this. Then Justus went back to work. I looked at the wood block in front of me. It was an uninspiring, cumbersome giant. It reminded me of Randy. I pitched it back into the basket and chose a flat board. I could cut an ornamental edge here, ad at home I would burn a picture in the middle.
Justus eyed the plank with curiosity. I grinned and said nothing. He didn't need guidance to ask any questions, now?
“I may see right through you often. But I'm not a mind reader,” he started. “What are you going to do with that? ”
“Just cut out an edge. And burn a picture in the middle.”
“I have some examples of simple decorative designs. To give you an idea. Would you like to see them?”
“Yes please.” I expected to have to defend my choice, but instead I found myself accepting his offer with ease.
Justus produced some loose strips of wood, in which plain, but tasteful patterns were cut. One look at it and I knew how to mimic these on my plank. I felt the woodcarver look from the corner of his eye, as I chose a gouge. No need for comment, I picked the right one and started to scrape away chips of wood.
Justus set back to work on the mask again. We worked in silence for some time. I felt good, my heart song had returned to me, after a long long time. I didn't even care if my work would turn out alright or not. Just working at it was fun.
“Why did you say you wanted work with clay?” The question came out of the blue.
“Because I know I get an agreeable result from that.”
“So it's the result that counts? Not the process, the journey?”
He had me there. In theory, no, the result doesn't count. But in actual practice, yes. That was my viewpoint and I told him so. Of course he demanded me to explore that thought. It brought me back to my adolescence. Until then I had mostly done things that I liked, or done things the way I liked to do them. But after I had finished my masters at the University I found out that people made decisions for me. Whether to give me a job or not. Whether to let rooms to me or not. The answer was always 'no'. No matter how hard I tried. Another period of being unwanted.
That experience had changed me. And modern day psychology - brought by team builders at the office, and by career advisers during my outplacement trajectory - just reinforced that feeling. You were either supposed to choose what you were good at, or had to be trained to get better at what expected from you. Being average was intolerable. One just had to deliver.
Justus eyed his mask critically. Meanwhile asking whether I knew the expression <<True masters are those who make a life, instead of a living>>.
“Yes, I've seen Conversations With God,” I replied. “But it's easier to say when you don't have an empty stomach.”
Silence. I broke it: “I guess that answer proved I'm not a true master, right?”
My host eyed me blankly for a moment. Then shrugged and shifted his attention back to his work. He took his mask more serious than me, it seemed.
“I think you've got certain talents. But you lack the stamina that a True Master is supposed to have.”
“Stamina, eh? ” The nickname I gave myself, came up. “Like I'm the Queen of Unfinished Projects?”
Justus laughed. “There you go again. Back to delivering. The result that counts.”
“Don't say that. We're just having a discussion. What's so bad about not finishing a project?”
“It shows you have either no strength, no interest, no capability. Or no 'commitment'.” I hated that word, therefore pronounced it with irony.
He shook his head jokingly, acting as if he was shivering from disgust. “Only narrow minded people come up with that. Just to get down on you.” His eyes were friendly, just when I expected them to be critical.
“The reason you don't see unfinished things here, is because I light my fireplace with them. An unfinished piece has served its purpose before it ever got finished. It taught me, it kept me in shape or it inspired me to start an even better project. Don't let people talk you into the obligation of finishing everything you start. Commitment is not restricted to a result. It can be to a process, an endeavor. If being a woodcarver is your commitment, you don't have to finish every mask that you start. Just as long as you keep on carving wood. From the heart.”
He put the bird mask in my hands. I felt the curves, the smooth edges.. Even with my eyes closed, I could feel this bird was smart and straight. And kind.
“Did people ever tell you , that you do not know how to commit yourself ?”
“Often.” I gave him back the mask.
“Do you know what your problem is?” I was about to say 'no but you are sure going to tell me'. Held back just in time. I didn't want to sound cynical, our conversation was too valuable for that.
So I just shook my head.
“You let people talk you into commitments. Then you do things halfheartedly. Or you just have too many false 'commitments' laid on your shoulders. Like people forcing you to finish what need not be finished. You waste energy. Pick your own commitments.” He was right, I always did things against my better judgment. Just because I felt intimidated. Or did I feel dependent? I asked Justus.
He thought for a moment. Then answered with a question: “How were your folks?”
“My folks?”
“Yes. Your father for instance. How did you two get along?”
That was a call for negativity. I thought of what to say, how to say it. Suddenly I remembered something I had felt shortly after my father had died. “He left me nothing, except for one very beautiful thing. Total freedom.”
“Now you are saying a lot, a tremendous lot, with only a few words.”
“I do?”
“Yes. First your father and you obviously weren't friends. And second... someone else must have been taking your freedom.” Justus didn't fall for my positive twist, he saw what was behind it. Wow.
He pulled up two high work stools from somewhere near the workbench, seated himself on one. I took the other one.
“First tell me about your father.”
I sighed. “Do I have to complain about my parents? I think all parents make mistakes. Does it help me, change my past, to blame them?”
“Then don't call it blaming. Besides, you don't have to change your past. However you may change how you are now. And only you can do that. It helps if you know where your 'challenges' arose from. So...” He made a welcoming gesture with his hands and bent a little forward, ready to hear my story. Having such a good listener made it easier to talk about my parents.
About my father, who was always quick to criticize but never gave a compliment. Whose punishments did not depend on what you did, but on his mood.
About the change in my relationship with my mother. As a child I adored her, but recently I began to see how she let me take care of her ever since I was a preschooler. She had phobias and was depressed at times. I had to keep her company to distract her.
“Wow. Talking about having commitments laid upon you, huh?”
“Yes, I see that now. I try to remind myself that my mother never consciously made use of me. I'm a mother, I know I am making mistakes too.”
I picked up my gouge and turned to my project. Justus didn't.
“Didn't you ever consider your father's role in this?”
My father's role? What did he mean? My father had hardly played any role in my life, that's how I thought of it.
Justus explained. “By being negative to you, you had no choice but to hang on tightly to your mother. And not just that. He probably ignored your mother's needs, so she had to rely on you for help. Your father palmed off his duty to you.”
Justus' viewpoint caused me to feel relieved. It took care of my grudge against my mother, without actually worsening my thoughts about my father. This was something to ponder on while doing more woodcarving.

While shaping my own piece of wood, I followed Justus movements. His own crow-like blackness, leaning over the white wooden mask of a blackbird, was a contrast I appreciated. He worked out the other eye of the bird with considerable force. His hand slipped and started bleeding anew. I stared at a red drop on the mask while Justus held his bleeding hand in the other one. He walked off to the kitchen, where I had left his first aid kit. My eyes went back to the stain on the mask. If I didn't do something quickly, the blood might seep deeper into the material and removing it would become impossible. I wanted to do something, but felt petrified.
“Could you please remove the stain?” Justus spoke up loudly from the kitchen, where he was trying to apply a bandage to himself with one hand. I mobbed up the drop with a tissue and assessed the damage. The stain was only on an unfinished part of the mask. It took some light scraping with a gouge and I had the blood removed.
Is it OK now?” Justus was still muddling along in the kitchen.
Then why in the h...” He stopped short, “Just come over and help me.”

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Conscientious Objection

 Not even six weeks at my new job, and I ran into a subject that might cause me a problem.
I currently work as a programmer for a company that produces software for hospitals.
While working on a small enhancement I came across a list that is programmed to pop up when children are brought in, at an Emergency Room. The pop-up is a checklist to determine whether the child might have been mistreated.
This checklist is going to be enhanced soon. And if I get the assignment ... I will refuse it. I will not have anything to do with a link between emergency rooms and child protection campaigns of the government.

Time to cut the crap: I live in the Netherlands. And there is a wild fire burning, called the Savanna Effect ...
Savanna was a little girl of whom it was known that she was terribly mistreated. Because of a misfunctioning guardian, the toddler was killed by her mother, a psychiatric patient.
Did the government respond by making sure that our 'Child Protection Professionals' would be better educated, that cases would be supervised and tracked in greater detail ?
 No, the governement decided that not the failing Child Protection Organisation needed attention. but all parents from then on had to be treated as possible killers of their children.

Here's how Child Protection works nowadays:

  • The smallest error can be called in as mistreatment, anonymously if you like. False notifications (sometimes intentional!) can be made without the reporter ever being held responsible.
  • CP employees do not know (or care about) the difference between 'information' (which can be  erroneous or even plain gossip) and fact.
  • CP does not indulge in fact checking and investigating.
  • The burden of proof lies with the accused. Parents have to prove they are not mistreating their child.     Do you know how hard it is to falsify some of the fantastic stories of CP employees?
  • (Family)Guardians are not knowledgable when it comes to the latest insights on diseases, syndroms, disorders etc.  Neither do they have up to date knowledge about alternative therapies. Not to mention cultural differences. They apply standard methods on every client, thereby too often violating article 26.3 of the human rights. (Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.)
  • Family Guardians consciously misrepresent themselves as having full custody over children (in other words as Guardians) while in most cases the parents still have -restricted-  authority and the family guardian has none. [The FG can only warn parents and threaten with a law suit. This is the difference between a 'Family Guardian' and a Guradian. The latter has full custody.]
  • Filing a complaint hardly has any effect**. Because of this, caretakers are so well protected that they can continue their malfunctioning. There's no negative feedback on them.

What does this mean inevery day life?

   The parent as potential killer is the viewpoint of CP. So in cases of doubt, parents are tracked and kept under pressure. Fear is purposely being used as a tool to control those parents. The stress that results from being dominated by such an unfair but enormous institution is traumatising. I personally call it "Caretaker Induced Trauma"

   If CP did keep track of science they would know the devastating effects of prolonged fear: the hormonal balance changes and bonding is reduced. Bonding between parent and child. Children need a loving, cheerful environment to flourish and develop into a healthy adult.  Not a fearful environment and stressed out parents.

    After Savanna the number of children placed in fosterhomes or institutions has risen with 30%. 
The number of parents with restricted authority has risen even more. A nice example from a typical city in the western part of the Netherlands: (no, not Amsterdam) :  It takes  7 months for a family guardian to become available^^. Until then the family is under supervision of a 'provisionary team'.
As a consequence the case load of (family) guardians has risen enormously too.They don't have time to deal with all their cases, let alone be educated. Good quality care is definitely not guaranteed under this system.
The Savanna Effect can be condensed as follows:
  • The children that really need help, are still not getting it. They may receive even less care.
  • Many families that don't need help, are stressed out and being made unhealthy.

 Back to the Emergency Room and the checklist that pops up.
Some believe that this is meant to trace obvious mistreatments. I don't think so. I know the government has started a new Savanna Strategy: every family that brings a child to Emergency is to be 'investigated'.

In my circle of friends it has already happened several times, to different families: Day 1: emergency room. Day 2: CP representatives are standing on your doorstep for an investigation.
The pop-up list fits this strategy perfectly.

This from ER-to-CP strategy increases the Savanna effect, since, even if it would not lead to more convictions, it does take up more time from CP.
  • Even more children that really need help, are still not getting it. They may receive even less care.
  • More families that don't need help, are stressed out and being made unhealthy.
 And now there's a third effect:
  • some parents will now hesitate to bring their child to an Emergency Room. [I would] and they will postpone it as much as possible. So more children will not get the care they need.
When I say that I object to working on this checklist, it is because I DO CARE for mistreated children and I want them to get all the help they need. And a doctor in his right mind, does not need this checklist. I hope.

** = I have filed a complaint once, going through the entire mill of talking with the employee, talking with her supervisor, with the management and finally getting a formal hearing. The committee said I was right, yet CP wrote me in her concluding letter that they felt the committee had made a mistake and I was still wrong in their eyes. The committee begged me to file a new complaint about this response - of course I send them a copy- , because they felt insulted themselves! 

^^ = Since the FG cannot do her work in those remaining 5 months, a second year of restricted authority is required.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Fountain of Youth

My mother just left in a taxi cab, waving and smiling.
She's going to stay  at a 'daycare center for people with memory problems'. She goes there four days a week.
My mother hated having to leave the house, tied down to someone else's schedule. She craved privacy. Mocking peolpe who tried to keep her entertained. Now she loves it and longs for it.

My mother has more and more trouble understanding what the world, our society, wants from her. When she's alone she's plagued by fearsome thoughts, false memories and  a sense of belonging to no one, nowhere.  Therefore she craves the company of uncomplicated people who just sit and drink coffee with her and make small talk. My mother has Alzheimer.

I've had a discussion, or rather a lecture, about the effect of Alzheimer on the patient's posture from my son's  manual therapist. He has seen many patients pass by.  What actually happens is that the postural reflexes that we acquire when developing from baby to toddler to child to adult are gradually lost. Like regressing to childhood.
I can see that in my mother: she's getting more stooped and getting thinner. Not that she is eating less. Her muscles mass is disappearing, because the postural muscles are less and less innervated.
Eventually an Alzheimer patient will not come out of his bed anymore and he or she will die in the fetal position. Often with a cuddly toy in hand. 

Something comparable happens to the thinking of the person with Alzheimer. I don't mean the fact that patients lose their most recent memories before they lose their childhood memories.   
No, the person with Alzheimer also loses sense for categorising. On one hand, detailed differences become invisible, on the other hand, categorising by function becomes difficult too. My mother is still fond of embroidering, but counting stitches is too hard. So now I buy her preprinted patterns. She can handle that 
if... she's kept the yarn with the rest of the embroidery set. When she is not actually embroidering, she doesn't understand that these things belong together. 
And it is hard to find back the yarn or whatever else she put away. Since she does not understand categories, she puts things together in a completely un-understandable fashion.  For me anyway, since I'm the one who's still hampered by logic.
There's good news: my mother has lost her fobia's. That too is learned behaviour, no matter how deep and 'unreasonable' that fear may be.  Not only has she lost her fear of darkness, she also has lost her fear of frogs. If she sees one now, she will walk up to it, to admire it.  I hope she won't put them in her pocket and bring them home... 
Some people complain that Alzheimer patients go through a change of character. But that's in the eye of the beholder. Of course there is a period of aggression. Someone with Alzheimer at first knows something is wrong. It is scary. And people around you loose patience with you, they start to criticise and correct you in an unfriendly way...  so naturally you beome defensive. 
After this √≠nitial' period, something else happens. I've heard it from people who took care of Alzheimer patients profesionally. Whether it was 25 years ago or recently, they all say the same thing:  the patient's natural disposition comes out. Of course it does: because all 'learned' behaviour is lost. The decorum that our parents and teachers taught us to hold up, is forgotten. The rules that our culture, our society, dictated are forgotten. So there is nothing, no rule book, that tells a patient how to behave. There is just one thing left: the inner impulse.
While the brain shrivels, the personality gets a better chance to exhibit itself ?

How different is that from the statement of prof. Dick Swaab, who concludes that "we are our brain".   Obviously there is a kernel that is not our brain. It's up to you if you call it your Soul, your Self, ...
Isn't our brain partially formed by those arround us? Or more precisely, by the friction between who we  are (our kernel) and what people around us expect from us. Be it family, close environment or ... our culture and society.
Look at people who have been mistreated or neglected in their childhood: the corpus callosum,  a very 'central' part of the brain, remains smaller than in people who have not been mistreated. 

I believe however that the mistreated brain is not the personality of that person. I believe that our true Self is still undamaged underneath the layers of experience and adaptations. And if he -or she-  digs hard enough, deep enough, he can find the remains of his personality and revive it. OK, it might take a lifetime, or it might be too much for the less gifted, but the Self is there and will be there when you die.  Or get Alzheimer.

Should we really beg for a cure for Alzheimer?
  -I'm playing the devil's advocate, just to set your mind at work-
Because all in all, when you have Alzheimer, you become like a child again. If we were taken care of by others, who guard over us like loving parents, would it be that bad? 
Except for the weird thoughts. Then again, children have weird thoughts too, don't they?  Like one might disappear through the drain of the bathroom?   
Don't we all wish at times that we were children again?

Maybe we should all beg for an Alzheimer Friendly Society? Where drinking from the Fountain of Youth is fun, or at least honorable?
Well, I guess a cure for Alzheimer is the most likely of the two to happen.

Alzheimer is definitely  a challenge for philosophers!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Look how well she dances

Here I am, working at the new company for a month now. I have arranged suitable care for my mother. My son is going to school regularly. And I am terribly creative in my spare time, just note the number of posts.
So “the world” will probably call me a good example and say I’m doing fine. “Look how well she dances.”

Yes, I am dancing.  It felt fine at first, but now I know I’m dancing too swift, too frenetic. I’m not dancing in a field of clover. I’m performing a macabre ritual on a narrow ledge. My steps are mocking the edge and loose rocks. How long until I misplace a foot and fall into the abyss?
The Wild Woman is warning me, I hear her call. But I cannot seem to get enough time to catch my Breath and regain my Self. And there’s no Wood Carver around to tell me to stop and show me what to cut out of my list of things to do.

I'm not writing this to beg for pity. I know that there are many persons in the same state. Or even worse. Because at least I am aware of what I'm doing and what can be the consequence. That will help me to slow down my dance.
But some of you are not aware of the madness of your 'great life'. It's for you that I wrote this tiny blogpost. So you may get out in time.