Friday, 19 March 2010

Communication, again

First, I must expand on my "ironing" post. I would simply have edited it but I see that a goodly number of you have already read it. I made an analogy beween ironing and therapy and had a moment of take-aback when I wondered if the analogy were a good one, that the ironed-out creases of wrinkled lives would come back as quickly as those in a pressed linen skirt. That was my concern, but, of course, the analogy doesn't really work because all one can really do in the therapeutic process is to help people understand both that they do have an in-built self- iron and also that some creases are not only inevitable but liveable with, too. After all, life is short; one doesn't have to live it exclusively in the laundry.

That's quite enough over-stretching of a straightforward metaphor and I know you will all have leapt on the failure of communication it implies. What drew my attention back to communication, from which it rarely strays, of course, was an email telling me of the death of the Mother of a friend who is dear to me. I have gone on a bit, as you will recall, about electronic communication and the contemporary pitfalls of what I see as its gross over use. It was, in fact, quite a shock to open the computer and see "Ocado: this week's special offer" , "Virgin Media Newsletter" and then this death notice. However, I was seriously grateful to have been told and so much more quickly than via what has become a rather unreliable postal service. The lady concerned had lived a very long time, had a huge family and untold numbers of friends and friends of her family. I can see that it would have been a logistic nightmare to make known her death by any other means of communication. There was an announcement in the paper but how much more human and personal was the "Dear Liz" email in among the rubbish. (I can't believe I have said that. There you are, the Guru's attempts to drag me in to the 21st Century may be working in spite of myself). Nor would I have wanted my friend, her daughter, to have put herself through unimagineable numbers of telephone calls re-iterating the immense news that an era was over.

There are limits for me, though. I didn't feel I could email back. I wrote an old-fashioned letter of condolence. I was very conscious of my own Mother breathing down my neck. She died before the electronic age really took off. I found a cache of hundreds of letters she had kept after various deaths in the family, and births, for that matter. It will be much harder to keep emails. Confession: if I get one I may want to hold on to, I print it off and file it. ( That's not true. I put it on the desk in order to file it. Yes, yes, I know you know I never do and the clutter just grows). Nor is it environmentally friendly to print things. Oh dear: maybe the Guru is not doing such a good job after all. He sent me a text message, the other day, about his safe arrival after a complex journey. I was pleased; I had heard before I was anywhere near the worry time. I remembered my Mother, in the country during the war when I was small, trying to get through to my Father in a town that had suffered horrific bombardment because it was a significant seaport. The local Operator had to be called by clicking hard and continuously on the bar of the telephone receiver. When it was finally our turn, we had to wait until she could raise a colleague in that town only to be told that the lines were down. Nearly an hour this all took and no nearer knowing if he were safe or not at the end of it. He was, but many were not and the town burned for three nights and three days. My Goodness, that makes me 75 going on 6. C U l8r.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010


Have you noticed, there is a very thin line between making life run smoothly and interfering? The other day, I was ironing. Actually, I iron every day. This gives rise to the assumption that I enjoy it. Just because one does something every day is not incontravertible evidence that one enjoys it: cleaning teeth, cleaning shoes, changing the cat litter and so on and so on qualify more as 'take it or leave it' jobs, as I see it. As it happens, I do rather enjoy it; what I'm not sure of, is how comfortable I am with the assuming bit. Anyway, the significance of this ironing day was that I suddenly understood that what I really like about it is that you can make smooth the wrinkled and see the result immediately. I then realised that a very important facet of my way of being in the world was the drive to make the wrinkled smooth. If I see a dilemma, a predicament, a mess, I am driven to find a way to put it right. Clearly, there are pros and cons to this characteristic.

I have been staying with a dear friend in another European city. She appreciates my problem-solving 'gift' and sometimes invites me to solve her problems in a practical way. You know the situation: small cupboard, big accumulation of impedimenta. What to throw out, what to give to charity and what to keep. (She would put them in the opposite order of priority, I suspect.) We spent a couple of days with this task and, all to her credit, in the end there was less keep and more dispose of than one would have expected. Now, this was a pro in smoothing out. However, it did emerge that some of my earlier making smooth had had a less happy outcome and she had ended up cross and resentful that she had 'done as I said', as she saw it, 'taken my advice' in my own view. I did appreciate her coming clean about this and, again, it highlighted the inherent dangers in making the lives of others, as well as ones own, run smoothly. Among my loyal followers there may be some who remember me telling you about the thorough tidy-up I gave the home of an absent, loved relative. Her sole comment on her return was that it would take her ages to get it back the way it was: con. Sometimes, as a retired therapist, I do wonder about the balance of pro and con in the work I did. Helping people find ways to iron out the wrinkles in their lives holds a mammoth responsibility. When I think how quickly an ironed garment is creased again I do worry about this therapeutic analogy. Are there scores of people out there whose crumpled lives ran smoothly only temporarily? Doesnt bear thinking about.

There are bizarre manifestations of this phenomenon. At the top of my road is a yellow board announcing there are to be road works. As you know, this really means that the road is not going to be working. That aside, I am constantly irritated because this board is headed "Advanced Warning". Personally, I would be quite content with a standard warning. My difficulty is in stopping myself from taking a paint brush to the 'd' and making the warning read as it should. Behind this is also some fantasy of doing something about an education system that would allow someone in touch with the public so to expose him/herself as being out of touch with his/her participles and adjectives. The notice does not run smoothly, damn it. But, you may say, everyone knows what it means so where's the crisis? Where indeed? Attempts to make the lives of my young run smoothly were another minefield. They were not all that old when 'making things work for them' became 'an intrusion'. Perhaps we have all to learn that it is in our better interest to do our own ironing, but I tell you this: I shall never be one of those people who think that linen clothes look better crumpled . See you soon, Wizard of Cyberspace permitting.