Purposeful Hand Use Increases Satisfaction. For Plants And Beyond.

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Purposeful hand use enhances well-being in a technologically saturated culture.

Research has shown that creating or tending things by hand enhances our mental health and makes us happy.  Dr. Kelly Lambert (bertlab.com) explored the relationship between hand use, current cultural habits, and mood.  She found that hands-on work satisfies our primal need to make things and could also be an antidote for our cultural malaise. Too much time on technological devices and the fact that we buy almost all of what we need rather than having to make it has deprived us of processes that provide pleasure, meaning and pride.  Making things promotes psychological well-being. Process is important for happiness because when we make, repair or create things we feel vital and effective. It’s about losing ourselves to the moment, allowing the rest of the world to continue without us having to notice and just making things.

When I was a young man, my father often pointed out that I did not study for my subjects at school nor did I make things (I wasn’t good with my hands). Ergo, I was set for a life of non-achievement, dreaming and possible drug use. I hate to admit that his jibes would come at least 75% true. He never, ever watched me play sport so had not a clue about how good at that I possibly was. In truth, I was and always have been, up until the night of the burnout, a dreamer. Now, I only dream about tooth extraction. I also dream that I will one day be good with my hands.

Research has shown that hand activity from knitting to woodworking to growing vegetables or chopping them are useful for decreasing stress, relieving anxiety, and modifying depression. There is value in the routine action, the mind rest, and the purposeful creative, domestic or practical endeavor.  Functioning hands also foster a flow in the mind that leads to spontaneous joyful, creative thought. Peak moments occur as one putters, ponders and daydreams. One can be tickled, moved or transformed by a thought or idea along the way as well as by the endpoint.

Psychology Today 

 

My Little Big-Man phase of being a landscape gardener exposed me to the joys of building or creating things of feverish beauty or of beautiful functionality. Perhaps, I tended towards the functional with my love of creating lawns from the madness of an overgrown garden or simply creating fences whose geometry was simply gorgeous. My landscaping years were my forty-night escape into the ethereal wilderness of the immediate present (I was living for the moment). Indeed, that present sometimes presented me with a feeling of absolute euphoria!

 

 

Creating something with your hands fosters pride and satisfaction, but also provides psychological benefits. Because it can uncover and channel inner stirrings, wounds smart less and growth ensues. When you make something you feel productive, but the engagement and exploration involved in the doing can move your mind and elevate your mood. As you sift, shape, move and address your project your inner being moves too. As one of my clients said, “It isn’t so much what you can do, but what you do do.” The process itself provides value.

Creativity is a powerful tool for altering the inner life because making things or transforming inner states into outer productions fosters solace and satisfaction, even if the stimulus arose from an injury. Wordsworth described poetry as the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling.”   Take it out of your mind, through your hand and into the world. Fragmentation and tumult turn into focused drive. Order arises out of disorder. And because it is your own order–organic and not imposed–it provides a special peace or feeling of resolution.  As another client said to me after she finished typing a novella that stemmed from a troubling event, “I got rid of the story.” This is a form of sublimation or turning the raw into the refined. You may or may not be conscious of what perturbs you, but creative action with your hands, mind and body can turn undermining forces into usable energies.

Psychology Today

My own writing provides me with the opportunity to create and to grow something. This book/blog started off as a way of capturing the time immediately after my moment. It ran on and on with me eventually seeing it begin to turn into something of value. The book/blog has helped me through a very dark time and I turn to it for solace and solutions. Unfortunately, solutions never write themselves, only the individual can do that. But it still doesn’t get me away from the need to build. That’s why I found myself heading across England and into North Wales. For me, the chance to work with my hands was a chance to free myself of the creeping self-doubt that was beginning to cloud my days. It also provided the possibility of me learning ‘valuable skills’ that could be employed to make money without having to turn to an ordinary employer.
My friend had told me that he had a job laying a floor. I thought to myself, as I often do as my skills of thinking to anyone else (telekinesis) are rather shockingly bad, that this would be easy and enjoyable.
Blessed are the tremendously naive for they will be rewarded with a great bloody shock.
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Imagine this as a work place in which workers mix concrete, carry bags of sand and cement and spend hours on end bent double. Oh, and let’s not forget that I would endure the constant banging of my head on the ridiculously low ceiling and beams.
Dust, damp and dangerous levels of damaging material floating in the dead air, were just a few delicacies of my dreamy return to the land of the men who are good with their hands.
But it felt strangely liberating. 

Many thanks to:

Carrie Barron, M.D.

The Problem With Believing In Oneself

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I was out cycling with a good friend last night. It acts as a catch-up as well as a talking therapy session. The exercise is our form of meditation.

The ride has several stages. The first is the preliminary greetings. This is followed by a few funny anecdotes from our daily lives. Then it becomes a laughter session. Both of us like humour and both of us can be quite humorous. Both of us are in recovery from the slings and arrows of that outrageous fortune that others call normal life, so the stuff that we find funniest is the stuff about ourselves and what fuck-ups we have become.

We can’t talk to many other people about our thoughts and lives because they wouldn’t get it. The rest of the world seems to be doing a reasonable job of getting on with it. We get on with it, but IT then becomes a pet lion that decides to show its love of you by chewing your legs off. Life is devouring us, little by little, but we can still laugh.

Our rides normally end in a warm feeling of having shared some moments with a fellow-traveller. Our roads have been similar for a number of years and each time we come to the end of one of them, we do a tentative fist-pump.

Last night’s ride was slightly different. For a start, we both arrived racked with guilt over another episode of, ‘Wow, Haven’t You Fucked Up Your Lives!’ I had been thinking of what I had become after having hoped for so much. My friend was chewing himself up over his inability to be there for his children when he thought they needed him. In truth, although divorced, he does lots for his kids. We shared our thoughts, shrugged in mock bravery, cycled, laughed, and swore at the fact that the world was really going to shit in a hand-cart whilst we were cycling.

One lovely lady told me recently that I needed self-belief. She was suggesting that I was a good writer whilst I suggested that she was being too nice. The truth is that I have little self-belief and believe only that too much self-belief is one of the root causes of my present situation. Always an aspiring writer and never an aspired one.

So here goes with a self-esteem quiz:  

1. On the whole I am satisfied with myself.

2. At times I think that I am no good at all.

3. I feel that I have a number of good qualities.

4. I am able to do things as well as most other people.

5. I feel I do not have much to be proud of.

6. I certainly feel useless at times.

7. I feel that I am a person of worth, at least the equal of others.

8. I wish I could have more respect for myself.

9. All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure.

10. I take a positive attitude toward myself.

Devised by the sociologist Morris Rosenberg, this questionnaire is one of the most widely used self-esteem assessment scales in the United States. If your answers demonstrate solid self-regard, the wisdom of the social sciences predicts that you are well adjusted, clean and sober, basically lucid, without criminal record and with some kind of college cum laude under your high-end belt. If your answers, on the other hand, reveal some inner shame, then it is obvious: you were, or are, a teenage mother; you are prone to social deviance; and if you don’t drink, it is because the illicit drugs are bountiful and robust.

How did you do?

Still Gleaming…

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I was four years old when this happened. I had no idea that it had happened until later. Then I spent the rest of my life thinking and being reminded of it.

It is with a deep sense of irony that I still watch England. Yesterday was a case in point.

A friend called me and asked if I’d like to watch the game with him, at a pub. Immediately my inner alarms started to sound. Pub meant people. Pub meant fake nationalism. Pub meant piss-heads pretending to be fans. Well, that was the first pub.

We lasted over an hour there before moving on. The game was still in the first half and I had queued thirty-minutes for two beers. Instead of being about football, this was about a day out in the sun. A day to flash as much flesh as one could possibly do without being arrested. Or procreating.

Even thought the pub had hundreds of TV screens, it was almost impossible to watch any football. The atmosphere was wrong. An England football match needs to have a quiet sense of anxiety about it. There needs to be the opportunity of hiding behind the sofa. Or just running out of the room. You can’t do that in a pub packed with positive piss-heads.

So, we found another pub. Small monitor. Not many people. Places to hide.

By the time it had taken us to walk the short distance to this sanctuary, England had scored. By the time we left its restorative embrace, England had scored again, without reply.

 

Go Forth and Multiply

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King James Bible
And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein.

We didn’t sleep well last night. I was awake and struggling to return to the earlier shallows of dreams. Sophie was awake. She knew that I was awake. I knew that she was awake, but we did not communicate. We were deep in thought.

A few hours earlier, she had asked me to drop this ‘mental illness thing’. I knew she meant business. This had followed on the back of some news I had imparted to her about the events of my day. ‘Events’ make me seem busy, occupied, in demand. However, it’s just a word.

My Events:

Agencies? Begged me to do this new supply gig, begged. I said no. They phoned again and begged some more. I eventually said yes. I was originally booked into a Catholic school who had requested me. So that was given to somebody else. I told the other agency that I would be elsewhere next week so they cancelled my two remaining days. I went along to a second interview at a college on Tuesday. Spent half an hour there and lost a full day’s pay. They haven’t bothered getting back to me. The new school agency phoned me at 4pm, on Friday afternoon, to say that it had been cancelled for next week. I asked them if the other school was still on and they said they had given it to somebody else, but not to worry…because? Fuck, fucking nose 👃

From a text to a friend.

It doesn’t take much imagination or empathy to understand my then state of mind. After telling my wife, she, too, fell into despair.

“We are going to lose the house!”

I thought about telling her that it was too big to lose, but thought otherwise.

“How much of your savings have you left?”

I had been watching my savings since June. I had been watching them diminish. I had been telling myself that there would be a cut-off point, a moment when decisions would have to be made. Up until now, I hadn’t done anything.

Voices were raised for the first time in almost a year. She told me that she was taking the girls to the cinema for the night. She needed to get out of the house. I accused her of abandoning me and she agreed. To add fuel to the fire, she told me that we would have to sell the house and that it, “would break her heart.” She was right and I was wrong; I know that now.

I am fifty-five years old. I have no recognisable source of income. I still have children to raise and a mortgage to pay. I need to decide what to do about it.

My best plan was to procrastinate. Yet I was there, at that moment when something had to be done. My dreams had been just that, empty thoughts drifting over a harsh landscape, hoping to find somewhere to lay down roots. I am writing now, still tired from the night’s non-sleep. My wife is hanging out washing and not communicating. Well, she is, but not in spoken terms.

Our usual routine for Saturday morning is to wake up, make two mugs of tea, sit in bed, talk a little and peruse the day’s news headlines. We used to read newspapers that were made of paper. In the distant past, before ‘the will of the people’ determined that we would be leaving Europe, we would share French or Spanish property porn. The act of looking for dream houses in foreign countries lifted us. Now that is gone and the only thing my wife could say to me was, “You need a plan.”

MICHAEL CAINE

The moment in The Italian Job when a plan is needed.

We never found out what happened to that bus and its hapless passengers. My hope was that somehow they would be able to pull the bullion back, rebalance the vehicle, and then escape through the from door with their hard-fought, but ill-gotten gains, intact. The law of gravity and probability would have told me otherwise.

The plan I have is to get out of teaching and into something that wants me and that I want. Writing is there, but that is part of the dream. It’s not yet real. Nobody pays to read it. I can learn to work with my hands which will involve an apprenticeship of sorts in North Wales. I need those skills and I need to be out of the false structures and regimes that have govern my recent life. I have a pension of sorts (and a pauper’s plot) so, I could take that now. I…

Brokencomets

There’s that bloody rock again.

 

I could go forth and multiply my chances of doing something worthwhile; and keep my marriage. 

It was Hamlet who struggled with indecision, forever wondering if he should act or not act. He even had a dead Dad who spoke to him every now and again. Perhaps what is happening to me is that I am slowly turning into a Shakespearean tragic character. That could be a question, an answer, or another prevarication. Who knows? It is said that those people who do not mobilise themselves in times of war tend to be the ones most likely to lose their lives. When outrageous fortune is flung against you, it is a wise decision to get out of its trajectory.

My hands have for many years been those of a wanna-be writer and poet, but they will now learn to work for their living. They will saw wood, mix concrete, and build fences. They will cut and callous and grow hard against the coming winter. They will grasp onto the very fibres of a life that needs to be pulled back into being. I have spent too long knocking at the door of education and will now move on.

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When we first moved into our then dilapidated home, we were met with radiators that were as useful as this. Like the rest of the house, they were old and obsolete, in need of replacement. We found out that it wasn’t the fault of the radiators but the fact the central-heating system predated the Ark and hadn’t worked since the great flood.

My friend told me recently that we are all destined to become radiators.

When we are young and dynamic, people notice us. When we get older (he thinks fifty is the critical age) we are not even noticed in a room.

We are ‘radiators’.  

But can they multiply?

The Piper 23

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Podrall sat in the thick air of the flat trying not to breath in too deeply.

Flowers had called him and asked for his presence. Joel Podrall, who never was one to jump to anyone’s will, immediately made his way to the flat.

As usual, the door was ajar when he arrived. As usual, he knocked respectfully three times and waited. As was the way with these things, a voice from within beckoned him to enter. Podrall was not always sure that this was the same voice. At first he suspected that it was Flowers playing practical jokes with him, yet later, when things started to turn really weird, he was sure that there was at least one other person in there with him.

This morning he had entered and placed himself on the sofa and waited. He could hear Flowers in the bedroom moving things around. The two didn’t exchange conversation. Podrall waited and waited. After half an hour, Flowers shouted from the bedroom.

“I hope you’re on the edge of your seat!”

Podrall checked his position and was going to adjust it when he realised that Flowers wasn’t being that literal.

“With baited breath,” he returned feeling again how much he had learnt through his union with the other.

“Good, and if it’s not too childish, may I ask the members of the audience to cover their eyes for a moment. No peeking.”

Podrall wasn’t about to peek. He knew, knew as if his life depended upon it, that Flowers was aware of every tiny thing that his young accomplice did.

“Cue drum roll,” Flowers said in a practised circus master’s voice and from somewhere there came a sound that could only be described as a drum roll.

Not for the first time, Podrall felt that he was in the presence of a genius. He could hear big clunking movements, the scraping of feet moving along the floor before bumping into something that could have been the table.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls; I present to you the first, but not last public appearance of James Harrison, also known as the Leatherman.”

There were a few moments of silence. Podrall waited for the all-clear.

“It’s okay now, you can open your eyes.”

Podrall opened his eyes slowly and was confronted by the sight of a very old man with a very dark and obviously fake tan. He didn’t know what to say.

“So, what do you think?”

“Yes, very good.”

Podrall wasn’t sure what he was supposed to be admiring. His gaze moved around the room in an uncomfortable manner.

“Not the out-of-date interior decoration you fool, look at the corpse.”

The corpse, Flowers had said as if he were talking about a bunch of flowers or a rabbit. Podrall looked and saw for the first time that there was something very unworldly about the bloke who stood before him. For a start, he didn’t have any eyes. The spaces were there for the eyes to go, but there was nothing in them. And there was something about the skin that didn’t look real, even with the overdone tan.

It was the smell that should have given it away. The thing was, he had become so accustomed to the way that the flat had smelt that he had stopped noticing it. It was the smell. The bloke in front of him gave off a very distinct aroma that reminded Podrall of smoky bacon. He smelled of smoky bacon that had been left in the fridge for too long.

“He’s dead,” Flowers said. “He’s been dead for about sixteen years and I think he looks good on it, don’t you?”

In actual fact, if there was such a thing these days, Podrall agreed that he did look very well on it. For someone who had been dead for so long, he certainly could pass for one of the living, at least in this neighbourhood.

“Now I shouldn’t really do this bit, but it’s hard to resist.”

Flowers produced a medium-sized kitchen knife from the sink drawer.

“Watch this.”

He moved around to the front of the Leatherman and thrust the knife into its chest cavity where its heart should have been. He looked at the creature.

“Now, look me in the eye and tell me that that didn’t hurt.”

There was no response.

Podrall sat entranced on the sofa. He had always known that the other boy was special, but this went way beyond that. This guy was in charge of a dead body and God (he smiled to himself at the irony) only knew what they could do with that.

“Are there any more like him?” he asked like a student being drawn into a particular subject.

“I am made to believe that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands like him around the world. I’m told that there are at least another four in this city alone and all we have to do is find them.”

“If you don’t mind me saying, that’s a big task. It’s a decent sized place.”

“Ah my boy, that’s when my next little surprise will come in handy.”

Again, he moved towards the bedroom door and opened it with a flourish. Out poured close to fifty large black rats. They raced into the room pushed on by the cohort behind them and ran towards where Podrall was sitting on the sofa. He pushed himself back and immediately raised his feet off the floor. Terror pricked every sensor in his body. He could see into their black beads of eyes and saw himself reflected.

“Halt!” Flowers shouted and they stopped almost instantly. They turned as one towards Flowers and lowered their front legs so that they gave the appearance of bowing.

“These, Joel, are going to be your little helpers. They are ever so good at finding things that have been lost or are hiding. Nothing escapes their attention. The problem is that they do have ravenous appetites and will eat just about anything. Christ, they had Turkish last night, something I’ve always found too greasy. If you wear this, they will do as you bid them to.”

Flowers moved towards Podrall and pulled something that looked like a ribbon from his pocket. He pinned the ribbon onto Podrall’s chest. Looking down, Podrall could see that it was a medal, its dull weight hung reassuringly from his shirt.

“Remember that when you are in their presence, you must wear that or risk becoming lunch,” Flowers tittered.

“Oh, and one more thing. Have you ever seen that mother of those brothers? The Andrews woman.”

Podrall had seen her on several occasions dropping the boys off at school. In his opinion, she was quite tasty for an older bird.

“Put quite simply, we want her to have a nervous breakdown. There’s a doctor who is currently giving her medication and it shouldn’t be long before she cracks. If you see her around, give a little helping hand would you?”

“Definitely. Anything else?”

“Just stick to that and all should be well.”

A silence filtered up between them and the lesser boy knew this to be his cue to leave.

Podrall left, feeling, once more, that he had been increased. Now he was the master of flesh-eating rats. His chest puffed out and his stride became emboldened, he did not see the curtains of the flat being pulled back slightly.

Can you trust him?

“We can trust him for now. He might get out of his depth later. For the moment, however, he can be trusted.”

 

 

The Piper 19

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At less than five years of age, Pete could tell the time. He also knew an awful lot about time. Although, he had kept this to himself along with the other things he could do.

It was now almost twenty-five minutes to six which meant that his mother was at least twenty-five minutes late. At such a tenderly young age, Pete should have had little concept of minutes and hours. Others of his age, and older, only responded to their body clocks which rang when they were hungry or needed to use the toilet. Pete had a much more detailed understanding of how time worked and knew that his mother being late was not a good thing.

Another thing that was not good was the way the big nursery nurse looked at him when she thought nobody could see. This was the big lady’s third day at the nursery and, at first, she had seemed to be just like everyone else. She smiled and made the children laugh. She had a good way with Katy, the younger lady, and Pete had thought nothing about her beyond what he thought about most normal adults, until he spotted the looks.

It was wrong to go looking at people that way and she knew it. She had dark thoughts that she didn’t want anybody else to see. There were lots of people like that. Sometimes he had read what they were thinking in a way that one would overhear a particularly loud conversation. It wasn’t that he was prying into their minds, no certainly not because that would have been wrong. It was just that he could not avoid hearing what they had to say.

Some, like the man buying whisky at the supermarket, were literally screaming out their thoughts. Such thoughts as well. Pete overheard a whole lot of things which he did not, definitely would not have wished to have heard. That man had been consumed by a hatred of everything that constituted his existence. His wife, his children, his job and himself, had all been fermented in the vile concoction of the man’s inner torment.

Pete found himself looking at the calm expression that hid the scary eyes from the world. For the briefest time possible, their gazes were locked in a form of telepathic symbiosis. Time here meant nothing. Whilst a second passed, Pete lived a lifetime’s disappointments and injustices before travelling forward to the final ignominy of a death that would be self-inflicted.

The man had reached out and had held on to the boy. He had laid his soul bare before him and had moved on. Pete could not watch as the man paid his bill and left, but he understood time and anguish a little more.

SAMANTHA, that was her name, or the name she liked to give people, reminded Pete of the man who would now be dead. It was as if she had practised each letter in capitals, just to remind herself. It also reminded him of Nick, the man in the supermarket car park, the man who had brought Brian back to life. Pete couldn’t explain it, couldn’t make sense of it, but he knew that Nick was like the reflection you could see if you looked at yourself in a puddle or a pond. Nick was hidden somewhere away from the light.

This lady made Pete think of Nick as she also appeared to have a veil over her real thoughts. He thought of it as an extra pair of eyelids. Pete did not want to look, could not even say her name and found it difficult to make himself meet her gaze. On top of this, he knew that she too knew things about him that others did not. He wondered if she knew that he could read the hands of the clock and he wished, not for the first time, that he couldn’t do that or any of the other things.

“Pete do you love me?” It was Amy.

Pete looked at Amy, a preposterously beautiful girl with the biggest, brownest eyes imaginable. She had been the first one to have talked to him at the nursery and had been his first kiss. In another world, they may have gone on to be childhood sweethearts.

“Pete, I love you. Do you love me?”

“A little bit, yes. Shall we play with Thomas the Tank Engine?”

This was their favourite game in which they shared a complex understanding of the motivations and characterisation that fuelled their stories. When Pete played Thomas the Tank Engine, he was lost to the thoughts of others and had no need of time. His mother would be there to pick him up sooner or later, but for the moment Thomas was having a little trouble with his track that seemed to have been taken by somebody else.

“Pete,”

It was his mum and she was upset. She had been crying.

She rushed towards her son and picked him up from the floor, squeezing him against her so tightly that he thought she would take the breath away from him. Over her shoulder, he saw an incisive glance from SAMANTHA that was cut off when she noticed that he was watching her.

Her eyes fell again almost immediately away from him, but not before he saw that unmistakable knife edge of resentment.

Behind her eyes, he did not wish to wander.