Anchors and chocolate sprinkles

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Billy Collins, the American poet, said that “the trouble with poetry is that it encourages the writing of more poetry.” It is never ending, he says, until “we have compared everything in the world to everything else in the world.”¹

He then proceeds, with delightful irony, to illustrate the use of comparison:
“Poetry fills me with joy
and I rise like a feather in the wind.
Poetry fills me with sorrow
and I sink like a chain flung from a bridge.”

Comparisons bring the words to life. They add imagery to the emotion. Rising like a feather in the wind conjures up feelings of floating, of lightness of being and of bliss, whereas sinking like a chain flung from a bridge paints a dreary picture of desperation and hopelessness.

Poetry is filled with two key types of comparisons: similes and metaphors. I am not always 100% sure of the difference. Instead of having to Google it every time, I tried to find an easier way of remembering, and found it in my music playlists.

Simile: “My life is like an open highway” – Bon Jovi
Metaphor: “Life is a highway” – Tom Cochrane

In other words: Metaphors are the anchors of poetry that hold everything together, they are the life-blood of the poet running through the page. They are not like anything, they just are. Adding similes to a poem, however, is like adding chocolate sprinkles to a warm, milky drink.

Some of the most famous poems ever written are filled with anchors and chocolate sprinkles. Scottish poet Robert Burns declares that his love is “like a red, red rose that’s newly sprung in June.” Shakespeare, poet of poets, in Sonnet 97 laments: “How like a winter hath my absence been from thee.” Emily Dickinson beautifully describes hope as “the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words.” And what about this from Kahlil Gibran, Master of the Profound: “Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky, We fell them down and turn them into paper, That we may record our emptiness.” Wow, and Ouch.

In music, anchors and chocolate sprinkles are also abundant. I found one of my favourite pieces of imagery by accident, in Al Stewart’s The Year of the Cat: “She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running/ Like a watercolour in the rain.” Vivid, beautiful and creates a masterpiece in your head. 42 years after that song was released, Vance Joy’s Take Your Time echoes the sentiment in a subtle, less chocolate sprinkle-y way: “I’ll admit I never saw you coming/ Now I see your colours running.”

And back to Billy Collins. His poem Divorce, is the type of writing I admire – saying so much in so few words, crafting a whole story through the tightly woven lines of a poem, calling upon the reader’s imagination to bring it (even more) to life:

“Once, two spoons in bed,
now tined forks
across a granite table
and the knives they have hired.”

This is poetry with depth, humour and style. Reading it is like climbing into a warm, scented bath, cold glass of champagne in hand. It is sometimes like swimming in the sea, making surprising discoveries, occasionally coming up for air and dreaming about the magic you want to create with your own chocolate sprinkles.

©2018 Seetha Dodd

¹The Trouble With Poetry, Billy Collins

Enough.

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I love the beauty of language. I love the weaving of words into sentences and paragraphs that form a literary tapestry to make you laugh out loud, shed a tear or maybe even inhale sharply, look up from your book and say, ‘Wow!’

However……there is surely something to be said for the simple phrases in life – the ones that bring a smile to your lips (or to your heart) without metaphor, comparison or any mention of tapestries of any sort.

The American writer and grammarian (now there’s a great word!) James J. Kilpatrick, who wrote a lot about writing, advised, “Use familiar words. When we feel an impulse to use a marvellously exotic word, let us lie down until the impulse goes away.”

I’m all for the exotic (and now aim to use the word marvellous wherever possible) but for writing to be understood, it needs to be simple, clear and sincere. Otherwise, all the multi-coloured jewels you use to adorn your thoughts will smother them into oblivion. In other words (that I am borrowing from an expert because I’ve just smothered my thoughts), “eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” (Hans Hofmann, abstract expressionist painter, on the ability to simplify.)

So, going back to basics – in the style of Winnie the Pooh who likes short, easy words like “What about lunch?” – here are some of my favourite phrases:

‘I’ll bring dessert’

‘How can I help?’

‘Let’s start by lying on our backs’ (I feel the need to qualify this with the context of a yoga class.)

‘Washed and ready to use’ (Again, to qualify,  I’m talking pre-washed salads. Yes, incredibly lazy. But also marvellous.)

‘I love you.’ No adornment needed. Enough.

©2018 Seetha Dodd

 

Clueless?

Colonel Mustard. In the Conservatory. With a candlestick.

Cluedo, the Classic Detective Game, provided my sisters and I with hours of fun in the days of old-fashioned, unplugged entertainment.

We must have played this game hundreds of times. I loved the thrill of solving the mystery. Who, where & what. It reminded me of all those legal battles Jimmy Smits, Jill Eikenberry and Harry Hamlin so cleverly fought in L.A. Law. It made me want to become a criminal lawyer. It made me want to stand up in a courtroom, slam my fist on the table and shout “OBJECTION!! Badgering the witness!”

In all those years of murder, suspicion and accusations around a 20”x20” board, I never once questioned why the male characters were professionals whereas only one of the three female characters had a job, and she was a housekeeper. Nothing wrong with being a housekeeper, of course, but a little bit of research revealed that Mrs White was originally supposed to be Nurse White. This was altered before the game was produced. Hmm…

Are you familiar with the Cluedo crew?

The men: Reverend Green (a reverend), Colonel Mustard (a colonel), Professor Plum (a professor).

The women: Mrs Peacock (a socialite), Miss Scarlett (a ‘femme fatale’), Mrs White (a housekeeper).

I suppose one could argue that the titles – Professor, Colonel, Reverend – are non – gender specific, and then the joke’s on you for your politically incorrect assumptions, except that there are actual illustrations of these three professionals and they are most certainly male:

cluedo figures.png

Obviously I am not the first person to realise this. Much has been written about Cluedo and feminism, especially in 2016 when Hasbro released a revised edition of the game in which they decided Mrs White was no longer required at the Mansion. She was replaced with Dr Orchid: a female, Asian biologist with a PhD in plant toxicology.

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A victory for feminism? Not in the 21st century.

Girls (and boys!) all over the world will see that women have cool jobs too. I’m all for that. More girls interested in Science, brilliant. But poor Mrs White. After years of service as a housekeeper and fellow suspect, she is kicked out by a good-looking, young scientist.

Objections!

Not everyone is happy about this ‘modernisation’. Most of the concerns seem to fall into 3 categories:
1. Why young?
Why didn’t they just turn Mrs White into a scientist? Is a 50 year old female scientist such an improbability that they had to make her young?
2. Why hot?
Are we all so superficial that we need a new character to be attractive before we can like and accept her?
3. Why Mrs White?
Why was it Mrs White that had to be replaced? She was the only female character bringing home the bacon (and cooking it). Why couldn’t they have eliminated the femme fatale or the socialite?

Oh, Mrs White. You’ve been replaced by a younger model. But you’re not the only one. Look at what they did to the rest of them:

cluedo new

It is a murder mystery board game. Not an Instagram fashion parade. Have the makeovers really made them more relatable? The 2008 version also added new rooms to the game, including a theatre and a spa, as well as new ‘modern’ weapons.

Dr Orchid. In the spa. With a dumbbell. Just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

And then I hear Harry Styles in my head: “Just stop your crying/ It’s a sign of the times.”

©2018 Seetha Dodd

Dance like everyone’s watching

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I hadn’t been to a dance class in a while. So I was really excited to walk into the dance studio again for JFH (Jazz, Funk & Hip-hop).

The class starts off with the usual 30 minute warm-up of dynamic stretches, dance moves and a (hard-) core workout that lasts an entire song. Hello, abs! We also do some walking. Yes, walking. But not the regular, right-foot in front of left-foot kind. No, my friends. This is a dance class. So we Strut. We Swagger. We channel our inner Chanel model and prance like we mean it.

The instructor (who is, by the way, amazingly talented and very JFH) tells us to imagine we have just spotted ‘a hottie’ in a club and are striding towards him. Hmm. I quickly come up with a more suitable analogy in my head. Imagine…….[insert your own fantasy].

Then it is time to learn the routine.

“This one is old-school,” the instructor says. Ooh, yay, I think, I wonder what it’s going to be. Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggity’, maybe? That’s old-school. Perhaps too old-school. Nelly’s ‘Hot in Here’? That would be a good one to dance to. 

She plays the song. It’s Timbaland’s ‘The Way I Are’. From 2007. “It’s really old-school,” she says again. “Don’t worry if you don’t recognise it.” I look around at my fellow dancers. How old are they to not know a song from 2007, which doesn’t feel like that long ago? A quick mental calculation reveals if they were 10 in 2007 and not yet privy to the delights of hip hop music, that would make them 21. Fair enough. And yikes.

I can just about keep up with the choreography. It is not easy to:
1. shake it like a polaroid picture
2. whilst simultaneously wondering if anyone is truly ready for this jelly, and
3. keep a hip hop face on.

I love the routine and almost feel like a back-up dancer in a Beyoncé video, or better yet, like Beyoncé. I have a slight issue with the lyrics, specifically the ungrammatical title and chorus but I do believe in artistic licence so tell myself that this is no time for the Grammar Police and can you stop analysing the bloody lyrics and just try to be a little more hip hop please?

The class runs over by a few minutes so there isn’t time for an official ‘cool-down’. As the instructor presses Pause on Timbaland, she says, “We’ll finish here, but please stay if you need to stretch.” And looks straight at me whilst all the 21-year-old dancers pick up their tote bags and stroll out of the studio. (It’s 9.30pm so I suppose the night is still young for them, whereas I am thinking about a nice hot shower and a mug of green tea.)

I could take offence. I could begin a downward spiral into a pit of  paranoia and despair. But instead, I call on my inner swagger and tell myself I need to stretch because I killed those moves.

So I plonk my 40-year-old leg up on the ballet barre and stretch it like I mean it. My hamstrings will thank me in the morning.

#40isthenew21

©2018 Seetha Dodd

Perfectly Cape-able

I spent a few minutes on my Facebook feed last week scrolling through the many posts written in honour of International Women’s Day. Perhaps it was more than a few minutes, but you know how it is: one minute you are being inspired by a Maya Angelou quote and suddenly, half an hour later you’ve taken a quiz on what your spirit animal is, opened and dismissed a 21 Day Total Goddess Workout and watched a TED Talk on breaking bad habits. Without a shred of irony.

Amongst all the references to the #metoo and #timesup movements, and the many, many stories about strong women breaking through barriers, challenging the status quo and smashing glass ceilings, I found this campaign by a software company with a focus on collaboration, people and consciousness:

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Axosoft’s #ItWasNeverADress campaign. Encouraging people all over the world to share their stories, continue to push boundaries and defy stereotypes. What a simple yet clever way of shifting perceptions and shattering misconceptions through one beautiful, empowering image. I’ve seen a few variations – the ‘dress’ is a lab coat, a graduation robe or, of course, a cape.

So yes, there is a Superhero in all of us. But no pressure. It doesn’t have to be a cape. If you want it to be a comfy dressing gown to spend the day on the sofa in, that’s what it is. If you want it to be a lawyer’s robe because that has been your dream ever since you first watched L.A. Law, or Ally McBeal, or Suits, that’s what it is. There are endless possibilities, and you don’t have to choose just one. Many roles, many costumes.

The point is, and I borrow the words of Paulo Coelho, that “people are capable, at any time in their lives,  of doing what they dream of.” If that dream is to change the world, wonderful. If that dream is to get through the day with a happy heart and a peaceful soul, then you’re my kind of Superhero.

We are all perfectly cape-able.

©2018 Seetha Dodd

Puppy Love

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According to the Chinese zodiac (and all those Facebook photos of dog-inspired Bento boxes and dog-face Yee Sang), 2018 is the Year of the Dog. However, in our house, we are way ahead of the times. The Year of the Dog happened in 2017 because we somehow, after years of resisting, acquired a puppy. It was not an easy year. There were sleepless nights. There was the return to toilet-training without the back-up of nappies. There was the guilt of leaving her alone for any period of time. There was a chewed up laptop cable, gnawed shoelaces and a destroyed (and subsequently declared favourite) Beanie Boo toy.

Before we named her, someone told me we should wait to see if she was a ‘Grace’ or a ‘Muddles’. I’m not sure how many 3 month old puppies embody grace but this one certainly didn’t. She was a little explorer, burrowing her way into any nook or cranny, bounding up the stairs on her little legs and then getting stuck at the top because she was too scared to come down. She was energetic, affectionate and fun. We named her Dora.

I must admit, I was not entirely delighted at the whole ‘Let’s get a puppy’ idea. I thought we just didn’t need anymore Crazy in our lives. We were already at full capacity and bursting at the seams. But over the course of the year I learned a lesson. Some things are finite and cannot expand easily – a house, your time, your energy, resources. But other things, that cannot be measured, are limitless – like the capacity to love. And who doesn’t enjoy getting a hero’s welcome (and fervent licks) every time you walk through the door?

Aspiring to be as wonderful as your dog thinks you are can only be a good thing. And that’s how Dora slowly made her way into my expanding heart with her unconditional love, no-holds-barred emotion and infectious energy.

I’ve always preferred dogs over cats. As much as I admire a cat’s ability to loll about in a self-absorbed state of aloofness, a superiority complex just doesn’t inspire love. Give me generosity of spirit, enthusiasm and a wagging tail any day. So if I have to be one or the other, then I am definitely a dog person. I wonder why nobody asks you if you are a rabbit person. Or a hamster person. Or even a goldfish person. Or, come to think of it, a non-pet person. People have always been, it seems, either canine or feline. Dogs and cats signify two opposing sides, usually at war. Mutually exclusive. Dog people and cat people are considered incompatible.

But could we be both? Apparently we now can. There is even a word in the Urban Dictionary for a person who likes both dogs and cats. Are you ready?

Bi-petual.

©2018 Seetha Dodd

It’s Swings and Roundabouts

swing   Photo: Esra Güzel

The sun is shining. There are choices to be made. There is a lot of fun to be had. You can join in or sit on the bench. The swings will keep swinging. The teacup will keep spinning.

Sometimes you’re flying up in the air – ecstatic, loving the feeling, wanting to go higher, shrieking with glee. Sometimes you’re on the ground – giving someone else a push, lifting them up, holding their hand, or watching. If the ride is spinning too fast, speak up. Ask the Spinner to slow it down so you can get on or get off.

For some things you need a friend, or two, or three. For other things you go it alone. Look out for one another. Look out for yourself.

As you navigate the obstacles, you will probably fall. You may get hurt. It’s OK to have a little cry, but then get up and carry on. You may be given a helping hand and a kind word or you may have to become your own hero. A grazed knee, like a grazed heart, will heal.

There will be kids who are better than you at cycling, scootering, climbing, making friends. But there is enough fun to go round. So cycle, scooter, climb, make friends. It’s your adventure. Having fun is optional, but it is there to be had.

There will also be kids who look lost, or sad, or broken. Share your toys, share your fun. One day you may be that kid. One day that may be your kid. Kindness is contagious and worth spreading.

The park, your life, is waiting. Bring your scooter and a smile.

©2018 Seetha Dodd