October 23, 2014


‘Do you like the race so far?’

I looked at her, trying to find sarcasm, but she was serious; she really wanted to know. And I thought of how to answer her.

I had gotten lost, been run over by a moose, watched a dog get killed, seen a man cry, dragged over a third of the teams off on the wrong trail, and been absolutely hammered by beauty while all this was happening. (It was, I would find later, essentially a normal Iditarod day — perhaps a bit calmer than most.) I opened my mouth.

‘I …’

Nothing came. She patted my arm and nodded. ‘I understand. It’s so early in the race. There’ll be more later to talk about …’

And she left me before I could tell her that I thought my whole life had changed, that my basic understanding of values had changed, that I wasn’t sure if I would ever recover, that I had seen god and he was a dog-man and that nothing, ever, would be the same for me again, and it was only the first true checkpoint of the race.

I had come just one hundred miles.

Gary Paulsen is an award-winning writer of adventure stories for children and young adults and Winterdance is a wonderful account of his experiences on the world’s greatest dog-sledding race, the Iditarod.

I absolutely loved this book and it made me want to run the Iditarod for myself. I appreciate that there is controversy about how some of the dogs are treated (over 140 dogs have died since the race’s start in 1973) but if Paulsen’s account is anything approaching a typical experience then the majority of the dogs are treated extremely well. Part of this is pure survival – your life literally depends on these dogs.

Two of the things I loved about this book was the bond between man and dog as well as Paulsen’s prose style. Paulsen describes in wonderful detail the change that he undergoes as he lives with the dogs all the time and really gets to know them (including the aptly-named crazy Canadian Eskimo dog Devil) in preparation for the race. The second part describes the race itself – from the ‘phony start’ in downtown Anchorage to the treacherous descents of Rainy Pass, the bone-chilling cold of the Yukon and the starkly beautiful Norton Sound.

This is an adrenalin-filled, funny, life-affirming account of a 43-year old Minnesota man’s journey with 15 dogs on the ultimate dog-sledding race. Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year.


I would also recommend watching a clip of the type of sledding that the mushers experience on the Iditarod. Having read Paulsen’s book, I was expecting  a hair-raising crash-filled dash with larger-than-life dog-wolves. The reality is a lot more sedate – until they get to the downhill part. And bear in mind that this clip is taken by one of the experts, a four-time Iditarod winner.

Empathy Tuesday

September 23, 2014

A shout-out for Empathy today. Great short clip by RSA shorts and Brené Brown.

I’m also interested in looking at the roots of empathy in childhood. Two clips which I sometimes show my students are the “Still Face Experiment” and the “Emotional Baby”. In the “Still Face Experiment”, a mother initially reacts to her baby’s distress with a non-responsive face. She then comes alive again in the interaction and it’s a moving example of disruption and repair. The “Emotional Baby” video shows a baby crying in response to the emotion of the mother’s voice singing a moving song.

Our own ‘baby experiment’ is ongoing. Tessie is almost five months old now and is doing well. Both L and I are doing less well and are suffering from sleep-deprivation. Those night-time feeds are a killer (for L – I get to change a nappy and go back to bed). Tonight will be the first time I get to feed Tessie in the middle of the night (if she wakes up, which has become her norm now). I’m really not looking forward to that, but if it means that L gets some sleep then it will be worth it.

I suppose it does help that Tessie is a cute baby (aren’t all babies?) When she gives me one of those smiles then I can get over my need for sleep (at least for a while).


Which brings me round to this. If you don’t see me around the blog – commenting, reading, posting – then this is why. We’re hanging on.


Words and Music

August 25, 2014

Three good discoveries for me on the music front – two recommendations from authors I’m currently reading and the third from a therapy client.

 John Green, author of The Fault in our Stars (see my Goodreads review), recommends Mountain Goats. Here they sing “This Year”. This is the sort of song that grows on me – and it recreates the life of a 17-year old really well.

 Haruki Marukami, author of the running memoir What I talk about when I talk about running, recommends The Lovin Spoonful. Here they sing “You didn’t have to be so nice”. Marukami often listens to them on his long-distance runs.


And then the last band, something of a welcome surprise from a client struggling with depression, is My Chemical Romance. He actually listed one of their songs “The End” as the song he would choose for his funeral! I prefer “The Black Parade”.


Any band recommendations from authors that you enjoy?




Dear neighbour

August 15, 2014

neighbours2Thank you for the anonymous cardboard note in big black letters that you left in our postbox on Tuesday. We understand that you were extremely annoyed by our alarm going off for over 90 minutes and we’re very sorry for the nuisance that this caused.

However, contrary to what you believe, we are well aware of the problem and are trying our best to sort it out. Our alarm guy has been back at least three times to adjust it and we’re really hoping that he’s now fixed the problem.

On Tuesday, Pete was unfortunately stuck at work without a car and so, when the security company called, he was unable to rush back and reset the alarm. L was on a very rare trip to the shops since most days she is stuck at home with a baby and a demanding 3-year old.

We can also honestly say that our alarm certainly doesn’t go off “most days”. Our domestic worker is here three days a week and L is on maternity leave and so hardly leaves the house. Unfortunately we have had to be very security-conscious since we had two break-ins during the renovations.

It would have been nice if you had left your name so we could address your concerns in person. But no matter – the electricity guy kindly pointed out your house to us a few doors away. Might I just add that I can’t help noticing that your house is maybe not as nice as ours. Perhaps you’re a bit envious that we seem to be able to afford extensive renovations? Please be assured that we can’t actually afford them and will be paying off the work over the next 20 years!

Kind regards

Ten posts I could have written

June 13, 2014

1. Renovations? You must be mad and rich

2. Leaks, snags, lots of dirt (and NOISE)

3. Debt, debt and more debt

4. On not sleeping and trying to watch the World Cup

5. The impossibility of sex

6. Losing my Kindle (again)

7. Parenting can be really boring

8. Perspective and how to get it back

9. Goodbye friends, see you whenever

10. On gratitude

Then there are the positives. Kitchen before and after. And two daughters who drive me crazy sometimes but also make be profoundly grateful. (Pictures are below).




Baby in the rubble

May 3, 2014

Dear blogging friends

A quick blog post to share with you a picture of our new bundle of joy. Tessa May, born this past Sunday (27th April, Freedom Day).


Both mom and baby are doing fine, although baby was born five weeks premature and so is still being kept in NICU. That’s where L is today. We just had a delicious hot chocolate at the little restaurant across the road from the hospital and I’ve come home to feed Leah and watch yet another viewing of Frozen. (Had a smile at Courtney’s post “The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway” since her daughter loves this movie too). Leah tries to sing along and it’s only this week that Frozen has knocked Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music out of the top spots. As I write this, Leah is trying to imitate Ilse in “Let it Go” although mostly that involves trying to spin her dress around and sing whatever words she can remember. Too sweet. :-)

As for Tessie Two, here’s a quick summary. Things have been a bit overwhelming in the last couple of weeks with all the details of the renovations, a couple of break-ins at the renovations and the normal exhaustion of an advanced pregnancy. L was due to give a talk at a conference on Sunday 27th at 12h00 and I think the combination of all the different stressors finally took its toll and Tessie wanted to come out. Of course it could have been the baby shower a few days before. At one point, Leah held up a pair of cute baby shoes towards L’s tummy and said, “Look Tessie!” L’s gynae said that perhaps she couldn’t resist a good pair of shoes!

On the Saturday night, L was in considerable discomfort, which turned out to be labour. So early on Sunday it was off to the hospital and at 12h02, baby Tess made her appearance. A good thing L handed over her conference talk to a colleague on the Saturday since she was scheduled to give her presentation at 12h00. That would have been a dramatic delivery.

We’re very grateful that mom and baby are both fine. And a little overwhelmed at the prospect of nursing a prem baby to full babyhood. One day at a time, right?

Lastly, here’s a pic of the renovations from a few weeks ago with our builder on the left, a pregnant L and a curious Leah. Our new kitchen and family room are to the right with the remains of the back lawn in picture. My office / study / man cave is at the back.


The Chymical Wedding

March 31, 2014

chymical weddingAlex Darken is a poet, father of two, lecturer at the Poly, and he’s in crisis. His marriage has fallen apart and he’s retreated to a cottage in Norfolk to lick his wounds and gain perspective. There he falls under the influence of an alcoholic, elderly poet (Edward) and a beautiful, troubled psychic, Laura. Together they “pursue the alchemical and personal secrets of the spirited Louisa Agnew”, a woman who is the centre of a parallel story from 140 years before. In this second narrative, Louisa follows her father’s obsession by devoting herself to the Hermetic arts, which in turn forces her to “confront her own dark side and her feelings for a tormented minister”.

I really enjoyed this novel. The modern-day story of Alex, Edward and Laura on the one hand and the intricate Victorian-era tale of Louisa, her father and the tormented reverend Edwin on the other. What made it particularly interesting from a psychology point of view was the way Lindsay Clarke draws on Carl Jung’s work on psychology and alchemy, which made me want to explore this area again.

I’ve always admired Jung’s emphasis on integration and his instruction that in order to be psychologically whole, we need to come to terms with our shadows or darker sides. In Psychology and Alchemy, Jung makes an analogy between the great task of the alchemists and the process of reintegration and individuation of the psyche in the modern psychotherapy patient.

On one level, alchemy is about turning base metals into noble ones (silver and gold) while at a psychological level it describes a more symbolic process of transformation. When we engage in psychotherapy, Jung says, we are engaged in a process of transforming ourselves. The difficult experiences of our daily lives are changed through the act of working on them and more significantly, like the alchemists, we ourselves are transformed.

If you’re interested in reading more about Jung’s Psychology and Alchemy, a good place to start would be the Wikipedia entry. In the novel there is also a lovely description of the process of firing up a kiln, which draws on the language of alchemy to describe the transformation through fire of moulded clay into a beautifully glazed work of art.

But to return to the novel, at one level it is a coming-of-age story and both Alex Darken and Louisa Agnew need to grow up and take responsibility for the different aspects of who they are. But while Alex emerges from the novel seemingly refreshed and ready to take up the challenges once again, Louisa is much more restricted by her circumstances. There’s an interesting aside here in that Clarke based his story on the real-life story of Mary-Ann Atwood. Like Louisa Agnew, Atwood published an alchemical book which she then withdrew at the request of her father. But unlike Louisa, Mary-Ann Atwood was able to marry and live a more fulfilled life.

A couple of gripes here. Firstly, some of the descriptions of alchemy and the hermetic arts were too wordy and detailed for my liking. Secondly, it struck me how much the novel both draws on psychology while also ignoring it. There’s the issue of psychotherapy for a start – none of the characters even contemplate it in the face of pretty serious ‘life events’. And while therapy would (hopefully) offer a calm, containing environment to sort through any number of disturbing thoughts and feelings, that doesn’t of course make for a thrilling novel. Much more exciting to have wild unconscious forces at work than to talk them through on the couch.

There is one passage though, which I thought beautifully captured for me what therapy can be about. Edwin Frere, the troubled Victorian priest, seeks out Louisa Agnew’s advice late at night:

And someone was there who listened. She listened without judgement, with concern and a tender regard for every difficulty in which he struggled. There were moments when he dared to look up into the searching blue of her eyes and he might have believed it possible to say anything — anything and everything of his shame and rage, his fears and his fathomless dread. Never had he felt himself in the presence of so receptive a spirit. She was more truly priest than he was himself. She would silence nothing, forbid nothing. She would exhort nothing but such measure of honesty as he felt able to share.

I’d love to hear your opinions if you’ve read this novel. I was thinking that it qualifies as a psychological thriller (although not in the conventional sense) and it may well turn out to be one of the more interesting novels I read this year.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 40 other followers