Monday 16 April 2018

Why I'm not apologizing for making people cry.

Several people have told me that reading my stories made them cry. If I can write and relay emotion in my stories, then I'm happy. Sometimes I talk to people and make them cry too, and I'm just as pleased. Not for my sake, but theirs. But I'm not a monster; please read on.

I've mentioned World Voice Day before here on my blog and am doing so again because April 16th is the day we celebrate our voices. Many people think of voice problems as being caused by laryngitis but there are a number of other causes too, including psychogenic voice problems, which are not uncommon. As a speech and language therapist I've come across many cases.

The young man opposite me was telling me how his voice gave out after talking for just a few minutes. His job in IT didn't involve much talking and he never had any problems at work but it was affecting his social life, especially in the area of dating. At 31, he'd had a few brief relationships but really wanted to find and settle down with The One. His voice, he felt, was stopping him from meeting someone because after talking for a bit his voice would become hoarse and he was embarrassed. What girl would be impressed by that? These days if he ventured out for a first date he never made it a second because he would start to worry about his voice.

I knew from the ENT report there nothing amiss with his larynx. I could also see that whenever he spoke about the more personal aspects of his problem, his voice became very strained. He was of the belief that he suffered frequent throat infections but I knew his hoarseness was the result of excessive muscle tension.

Voice care advice and vocal tract relaxation exercises would take him only so far. We had to dig deeper and get the real root of the problem. The first bridge we needed to cross was helping him to understand that his problem wasn't so much physical as psychological. Some people find that a difficult concept but although he found it strange, he realized that his voice was worse when he was tense. And, yes, he felt especially tense on dates, so it made sense.

His relationships had foundered because, in his words, he couldn't talk about emotional stuff. After a few sessions with me he appreciated that he, in spite of being a very physical 'macho' guy, was also a very emotional being who had grown up literally believing 'boys don't cry.' He'd been told off for being needy or emotional as a child when his father left home, slapped or humiliated if he cried, and so he'd built a barrier around his emotions. Throughout adolescence and into adulthood, any time discussions got personal he changed the subject or walked away. Working out in the gym was his release and his muscles proved he'd spent lots of time there. He'd fashioned himself into Mr Strong and Silent.

He couldn't voice his emotional needs let alone tell anyone that the loss of his father and way he was subsequently treated as a child by the rest of his family had deeply hurt him. But now his body was telling him something - his voice difficulty was telling him he needed to work on a problem he wasn't consciously aware of because he'd buried his feelings. He needed to get in touch with his emotions and literally voice them. More importantly, he had to feel okay about having his feelings and believe that he didn't always have to be strong and definitely not silent. Which is why I keep boxes of tissues handy, because boys do cry.

For  more information please check out the  British Voice Association website.

Thursday 5 April 2018

Greeting spring.

Picture credit: Alison Everett
About a year before she died my mother handed me her notebooks in which she had jotted pieces about our life on the farm in the West Country where my sisters, brother and I grew up.  I chose to share this extract as spring is here at last. The picture was taken by my sister* last week when she put primroses from her garden into our mother's little blue vase shaped in a ring, just as we had arranged them at Easter when we were children.

In the long summer days the children kept themselves amused from morning to night.  There were woods to roam in, flowers to pick and press. Their teacher at the local infant school had always encouraged the children to identify wild flowers and in some of our fields they grew in profusion. The favourite field was a meadow known as the Butterfly Field. 
   In March yellow lesser celandines appeared on banks and dainty wood anemones covered the floor of the copses. These were not suitable for picking as they wilted so quickly. The pale yellow primroses followed and later cowslips appeared in some fields, especially on a patch of unmown steep ground known as the tumpy field because of the huge grass-covered anthills. In May the woods were misted with bluebells. Nearer the house we would spot germander speedwell, valerian, campion, selfheal, bugle, woundwort, willow herb, hawkweed, and cranesbill. In the Butterfly Field we found ladies bedstraw, agrimony, knapweed, goats’ beard, various vetches and some orchids. May saw hawthorn covering the hedges and in June they were jewelled with wild roses. Fields turned yellow and white with buttercups and ox-eyed daisies. Reed mace – often called bulrushes – grew in the reans.** 

The swallows and house-martins arrived in early April and nested in the cowshed and barns, swooping down to the yard to pick up mud with which to build their nests. Members of the tit and finch families visited the garden, a wren nested in one of the sheds and sparrows and starlings nested noisily under the roof tiles of house and barns. Blackbirds and thrushes sang, green and spotted woodpeckers tapped at tree trunks and tree creepers ran up apple trees searching for grubs. A robin appeared with a brood of young with speckled breasts but we didn’t find their nest. In the woods was an even greater variety of birds and we would often hear the cuckoo. The elm trees behind the Dutch barn hosted a small rookery. 
   We’d often hear owls hooting and one year they nested in a hollow branch of one of the old walnut trees. At about eleven o clock each evening there would be a tremendous noise as the young were being fed. Most years a spotted flycatcher built on the side of one of the barns among the Virginia Creeper, patching up the old nest year after year. 

Our garden had a young ash tree, a holly and two yew trees. In the field behind grew two ancient walnut trees with two younger ones planted on Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. In the woods at the top of the hill were elms, ash, sycamore and beech. A large oak grew at the top of the field next to the cart track leading further up the hill. There were several fox dens and at dusk we would often see a vixen with her cubs and we’d hear the vixen’s cries in the night.  Badgers also had setts in the woods and they would come down to our garden at night and we’d hear them snuffling around. 

The most common butterflies were red admirals, tortoiseshells, orange tip and peacocks, but in the Butterfly Field other varieties could also be spotted. In the garden we had a large goldfish pond with about twenty fish of various sizes. Beautiful water-lilies grew in it and we often saw green and blue dragonflies. Frogs laid their eggs in the pond and the kids would collect some of the spawn and keep it in a tank so they could watch it hatch and see the tadpoles evolve in to tiny frogs.

**South-west dialect for drainage ditches.

Sunday 1 April 2018

The First Quarter

Three months have flown by. I find myself thinking that time definitely speeds up the older you get. The reality is that our perception of time is affected by how we spend that time. Studies have shown that if our routine is much the same day in and day out, when we look back that time seems to have gone very quickly, but when we embrace new experiences and do different things the perception of time expands.

The months of January and February were, for me, a time of expansion. I did more writing too, although time seems to speed up when I'm writing! Since my return to cold, grey England, I feel as if I haven't achieved much, yet the time has shot by.

My writing seems to have stalled a bit too. I'm blaming the cold weather. I arrived at Heathrow in a snow blizzard at the beginning of March. I was prepared for it because people kept posting snow pictures all over social media. The snow in London melted quickly only for another - albeit light - falling of snow a couple of weeks later.  It's still cold and my brain wants to go into hibernation when the sky is dull and overcast.

I managed more submissions than ever before in the first quarter of this year but so far little has come of them. I won a flash fiction competition on a small website that has disappeared into the ether. I also have an article on The Writing District website. Two pieces have received rejections, although both were encouraging. The rest were simply a case of not being listed or are still waiting an outcome. A couple will be waiting until August! I'm also waiting for the flowering cherry that I can see from my window to look like the picture above, taken last year. That should be a bit sooner!

I read somewhere - I can't remember where so I'm sorry I can't give an attribution - that the only way to cope with the waiting for results of writing is to have loads of pieces out there. I think that's good advice so I'm trying to do just that.

Happy Easter and good writing.