Vanishing Tricks

The ballet barre was a Christmas present.  It was matt black, had a slightly bevelled appearance and was made of the kind of material that would never warm up and this was its greatest advantage; as a hot sweaty pre-teen then teen, I would spend hours pressing different parts of my face and cheeks against its implacable surface as balm to my feverish hormonal outbreaks.

Thinking back, it was probably actually a dress-rail on its lowest setting.  It was stand-alone with little feet on wheels.  Yes, it was a dress-rail, something that became more obvious once we started plonking discarded shell suits and training bras on top of it.  My mother still uses it as her ‘holiday rail’ because of its ability to hold an inordinate number of white linen trousers without crumbling.


The point is, it was purchased as a gift for me, as a ballet barre.  At the time, I consumed dancing, aiming always to be on the cover of The Dancing Times, a magazine which consistently featured a dancer mid – feat on its front cover. I wanted to be photographed en pointe, in attitude, my leg an impossible curve reaching up between my shoulder blades.  And I would go to dancing lessons three or four times a week to help me achieve this.  and because I was young and there was bit less flesh between my waist and thigh (and I don’t just mean buttock here, I mean that spread of flesh which creeps up round the sides towards the middle), I could fling my legs back and strike a pose that could pass for a Dancing Times Cover.  But I didn’t practice at home.  The ballet barre, like the stereotype of every ballet teacher that you have ever come across in film or fiction, remained in the corner, aloof and imperious but unused except as a cool resting place for my cheeks or temporary (read permanent) clothes hanger.

Aged 16, I got thick.  That aforementioned bit near my middle , though by no means as prodigious as it is now, suddenly toughened up and refused to budge for arabesques or attitudes and jumps, any jumps, took a nano-moment of effort and consideration before execution.  In response, I did what some girls would do in this situation; I cried, ate more, felt bad, tried a detoxifying seaweed wrap, ate cottage cheese, ate more then ate nothing.  And still my body failed to live up to expectations.  And now the ballet barre offered little cool comfort to my fired cheeks, displaying all the summer dresses, flimsy playsuits and bandeau tops that represented my attitude-flinging, floaty-jumpy past self.


Yes, I’m equating body size and success – not because it’s right, but because it;s how it was.


If only I’d listened to the ballet barre, i think I would have made some different decisions.  After all, I was talented, but not resilient.  I should perhaps have taken it up on its silent challenge and practised.  Working on my technique and strength may have kept me in attitude for a bit longer, but I felt at the time a bit silly on my own and besides Golden Girls was on.

But that’s working on the assumption that I wanted to strike a pose badly enough.  the humiliation of not being ‘good’ anymore was great, but not so great that I would switch off Rue McClanahan.  I didn’t do anything to change the situation, except starve myself, which felt like control and looked to me at least, like success.  Maybe the ballet barre was begging to be a full time clothes rail, that I should give up, if giving up was what I wanted to do.

The choice I made, my vanishing trick, was a semblance of choice.  I punished myself by not eating and I’m still negotiating this terrain today.  i could have built up my resilience, kept practising, gone for it and felt that transcendent joy that comes from working hard at something.  Or I could have made a damn decision, sacked it off, filled my life with other, better things (like food).  But my vanishing trick was successful at the time; I was thin and I had no energy so I could fall between the gaps.  And it felt lovely for a bit.  But now when I see young women (mostly) making that false equation between success and silence, both physical and mental,  I hope that they have a ballet barre or a clothes rail or just somewhere to lay their hot heads in the summer and think again –  and reflect – and that they decide to make a choice and not pull a vanishing trick.

An elegant ‘now’ monkey

Noises Off Experiment:  Completed!

This week has been pushing back the cuticle of noise and distraction to reveal some lovely healthy brand spanking new thoughts and sources of creativity underneath.  Like pushing back a cuticle, it has involved some commitment; not because I have particularly missed noise and distraction, but because, if you have read the rest of my blog posts, you will know that I have been preoccupied with my thoughts to the detriment of thinking about my body and ‘the moment’.

And this has been mighty frustrating at times …

Overall, I think I’ve made some headway. I’m proud to say that I don’t crave an episode of Mad Men or even John Humphreys in the morning and although  I’m a long way from ‘cured’ (which is completely the wrong phrase to use) I feel  more fulfilled and  excited by the prospect of living a quieter life.

So what have I found out from this week?

I can be more productive if I take the time to switch off external noise as far as possible and engage a little.  And my choice of words is deliberate – there is a big difference between swtiching off and blocking out, which would have required some effort on my part and would have meant that I was still having to account and repair for outside distraction.  Nope, best to cut it off at the source, which means no telly, radio or music.  Rip off the plaster!

My mind, as it turns out is not a lonely wanderer, but an amateur rockclimber.  It has all the kit, but by golly is it nervy! It clings to precipices of dark thoughts, refusing to budge for hours, dangling on the same phrase, riffing on the idea of ‘you can’t do this you can’t do this you can’t do this’, rather than loosely swinging from moment to moment like an elegant ‘now’ monkey.  How I long to be an elegant ‘now’ monkey!

But who knows? Awareness is half the battle and being forced to listen to my thoughts incessantly has made me take them less seriously than before. I feel that if I keep turning off that which I am not consciously listening to, I may be able to live more easily in the present.  A week is a starting point, and I will maintain an audio fast as a practice, maybe two days of the seven to begin with…. and take it from there.

But if you are interested in living mindfully I strongly recommend taking a break from outside noise  to foster your creativity and mental balance. One day we all might And move from the cliff-face of distraction to the treetops of fulfillment!


Enjoy the Silence

Noises Off Experiment:  Day 5

Hello!  If you’ve just found me, you may need to read the last couple of posts to work out what I’m doing.  If you like intrigue and are short of time, let’s just say I’m audio-fasting (thanks Rhi x)

Living in the Northern Quarter of Manchester, I have been blessed with an incredible view of the surrounding hills. The sky high rent affords me a sky high view of the brink of the shoulder of the Pennines, as it mooches off towards Scotland.  The weather at the moment is hormonal, swinging from sunny spells to fierce rain and the sky is a real Rorschach most of the time.  I like to think that the clouds are not the source of the problem, but its victim, pinioned to the sky, forced to obey whatever the weather throws at them (charming naivety or idiocy: you decide).  Whatever, I’m a cloud champion and today they have been majestic.  Great merchant ships of grey, looming into my window vision like the Deathstar, unencumbered by the literal sturm und drang which surrounds them.  They were immense and well ….cloud, in myriad forms right the way  to the horizon.  I tried some mental word association to see what would happen.  It went like this:



Ruby Slippers

New Shoes


I evidently need some mind opening alongside my audio fasting!  Still, taking in the clouds made me think about the term luxury and how misleading my perception of it is.  I think of luxury as a sky high apartment and a flatscreen, for example.  But at least the apartment gives me the opportunity to take in this spectacular view.  Granted, I could take in the clouds from somewhere less indulgent, but can I walk before I run?  The view is the thing, not the rest of what living here affords.

In fact, I have re-evaluated what I consider pleasurable and luxurious this week and have realised pretty quickly that a night in front of the box hasn’t made the shortlist. Television hasn’t  entered the mind-debate much for me this week, as it hasn’t been something that I have consciously missed and this is surprising.  Once through the door, the TV would habitually be on, for company, for edification (no, that isn’t true), for entertainment, for whatever reason, but rarely was it genuinely watched.  It was soundscape; all other reasons are pure subterfuge.  If I do sit down to watch something, I’m shuffling within minutes, checking my phone or my laptop or a magazine.  So my angst about losing the background sound was pre-emptive; there is no sense of deprivation, no withdrawal, just a happy change.  I realise now that silence is not an absence, a challenge, a trial; its a bona fide luxury, a true one, along with a few others, such as a chair, a window and clouds …

Creativity, good wishes and epiphanies

Noises Off: Experiment Day 4

Hello!  If you’ve just found me, you may need to read the last couple of posts to work out what I’m doing.  If you like intrigue and are short of time, let’s just say I’m audio-fasting (thanks Rhi x)

The power of the written word!  Something about contextualising my frustrations in print yesterday must have done me good, for I spent the rest of the evening with the attitude of a meditative android, calmly going about the business of making aubergine parmigiana and doing the  washing in an audio-free bubble, judiciously and easily avoiding eye contact with my mind (if that’s possible) for the duration.  No explanation as to why it was so easy to switch off after writing, but stranger things have happened.

However, day 4 arrives and i’m frustrated at not having attained a plateau of peace.  This morning, my internal radio accompanied me with a Doors medley and ‘Sometimes it Snows in April’ by Prince, both of which swelled in my brain and burst through my mouth in intermittent melody blurts, forcing me to randomly sing half lines here and there, unconnected to anything else that was going on.  How odd!  On the way to the train I pre-empted several conversations that I may or may not have today (update:  I didn’t have any of them) and mentally tried out a few lines from each one.  This may of course make me insane, but this morning I preferred to see my current state as akin to the island infested by rats that Agent Silva reminisces about in Skyfall.  Mentally, I’m letting my thoughts over-run me (and sometimes it does feel like a swarm of movement and unstoppable tessellations).  I’m observing this, waiting for the poison to be ministered and the hubbub to subdue.  All weaker thoughts will die out till we’re down to just two giant mega thoughts who must fight to the death.

But this is a pretty nasty metaphor and inaccurate.  I don’t wish to kill my brain-chatter, just find a way of disengaging.  Thoughts bring creativity, good wishes, epiphanies.  Frankly, thoughts are what I’m writing to you right now.  And, more practically, it’s impossible to kill them off.  Like creativity, good wishes and epiphanies, they are endless and spontaneous.  Just not always relevant or helpful.  So I’ll turn my attention to the present again.  These critters have had free rein for long enough.

Outside the sky is a block of grey white, and the trees all shades of green and in between.  It’s about to rain …

3 days to go.