Weekend Australian Columns
Hi all my readers, I’m away for four weeks, and even though my columns are appearing in the paper, I’m not going to be posting them till I get back mid December.
Meanwhile you can find them on line at The Australian
WHILE the body is going to decline with age and our joints become worse for wear, the brain is not geared towards ageing, according to American Michael Gelb, world leader in accelerated learning, speaking at the annual Mind and Its Potential conference in Sydney last month.
Gelb, who has had his knee and hip replaced, says: ‘‘As a sportsman I know only too well the wear and tear on joints and ligaments as time progresses.’’ But the brain, according to Gelb and other leading neuroscientists at the conference, is primed to keep growing and improving. The brain cells we lose as part of natural attrition are minor in comparison to the brain synapsis and neuro pathways we already have, and can develop when we use this vital organ properly. It’s not ‘‘Use it or lose it’’ but ‘‘Use it or it will stay dormant’’. But it’s all in there, and we can get it back, says Gelb.
The speaker before him was the pre-eminent professor Michael Merzenich, a pioneer in brain plasticity research, as quoted in Norman Doidge’s brilliant book The Brain That Changes Itself.
To paraphrase in layman’s terms the very complex studies and research he presented, older rats were tested against young rats in terms of performance, libido and memory. The results were as expected. The older rats were then given training and challenges to solve. In a short time, their memories and youthful vigour returned to the level of the younger unstimulated rats; and they lived much longer than predicted.
Gelb’s book, Brain Power, gives a few tips on how to keep the brain growing. When we trigger one area of the brain by learning, other parts can develop or switch on. Gelb suggests learning something new for 15 minutes a day. Juggling and right/left brain co-ordination are helpful to development. Oxygenating the brain is crucial to mental health thus physical exercise is in- valuable, and music can help develop neuropathways in our plastic brains. Good things to learn are languages, music, and problem-solving.
Nutrition is more important than thought in order to lubricate brain cells, and help stave off dementia; as is meditation. Cholesterol and smoking increases the chances of Alzheimer’s disease and should be avoided. Emotional connections are significant to brain growth. We are social creatures. Love, friendship and lots of play are vital to keeping us young, as is having a passion for something or someone. As we get older, we need a purpose outside of ourselves that gives life meaning.
We may be declining in many ways as time ticks on, but a healthy brain is the key to staying vital and having a fulfilling quality of life. As they say: it’s all in the mind.
AN acquaintance recently discovered her long-time partner had gone back to smoking and she left him. For many people, that would seem extreme, given seven good years together. But for her it was part of an unspoken system in relationships that I have dubbed EDB: emotional deal breakers.
As with business contracts, it’s the non-negotiable clause. We all nurse a secret rule or set of rules that if broken are not forgivable, and breaking them is considered a breach of verbal or non-verbal contract.
She says it wasn’t the smoking — which she deplores. That would have distressed her because she is a reformed smoker and a health nut. She would also have been peeved about his lack of strength of character. But neither would have been deal breakers. She said it was trust.
He’d created such an elaborate facade around his behaviour that she was horrified. ‘‘If he could lie so effortlessly about such a stupid thing, then what else could or would he lie about?’’ she wondered. He’d rush to the shower after work, and soak his own shirts in the laundry at night. Which prompts the question, was he also unfaithful? She said she contemplated that, too. But she didn’t want to know. ‘‘Deceiving me over a two- year period is enough, regardless of the cause.’’
While her strength is admirable, it’s surprising. I know many women and men who’ve forgiven their partners for far worse: heavy drinking, infidelity, gambling and lies. I know one woman whose husband is so self-destructive and overweight, he has given himself a heart attack and now emphysema. He still won’t take responsibility and she won’t leave.
Why are poor behaviours deal breakers for one per- son and not another? Psychologists say it’s to do with childhood patterns. For instance, studies have shown that women who grew up with violent fathers are more likely to attract and tolerate an abusive partner. Similarly, an unstable, narcissistic mother might prompt a man to be drawn to such women, often with the desire to resolve something unresolvable, or play rescuer.
Such underlying motivations can be classed as repetition compulsion disorder, behaviour akin to pouring water into sand.
There will always be huge discrepancies between people’s deal breakers. But I do issue a sharp warning to the complacent. EDBs change with life experience. One day your partner’s values may suddenly shift. The kids might leave home, or a partner may enter therapy, and something snaps. Finally, it’s enough.
Being clueless about what matters to your partner is dangerous. As he was leaving, the smoker said to his deceived girlfriend: ‘‘I don’t know what all the fuss is about. It was only five to six ciggies a day.’’ I rest my case.
AMONG my peers there was much sadness over the recent death of Sylvia Kristel, star of the 1974 erotic film Emmanuelle — a film we grew up with, and which became so popular that it made soft-core erotic cinema fashionable. The film received widespread prominence in the US when Columbia Pictures agreed to distribute it after noting that its audiences in French cinemas consisted mostly of women, which meant the movie could not be regarded as ‘‘mere pornography’’. (more…)
Many of my friends are journalists who have taken payouts and left not only their job but their identity at a stage in life when energy is declining and optimism is not the nonstop flow it used to be.
Meanwhile, the ABC in the US reported: ‘‘Just as millions of American manufacturing jobs were lost in the 1980s and 90s, today white-collar American jobs are disappearing.’’ It laments that many jobs are being contracted out overseas — for example, American computer programmers can earn about $60,000 a year, while their Indian counterparts only make $6000. (more…)
TWO separate incidents within three hours of each other got me thinking about the nature of attraction and repulsion. I was in a cafe, perusing the menu. A particularly nice, young waiter came over and was talking me through my options. But somehow between ‘‘banana bread or omelette’’, an extraordinary conversation sparked up.
We were suddenly traversing landscapes of the soul, not just what he and I were doing with our lives but how we felt about what we were doing; our families; Australia; the nature of people. Despite being of vastly different ages and ethnic backgrounds, there was a familiarity that made me feel I had known him forever.
Conversely, a few hours later I noted a similarly strong reaction, but this one being repulsion. A salesgirl was okay with me, but had a bad reaction when my mother came over. The young woman winced visibly as my mother gave her opinion on a few of the products I was trying, and walked off to serve someone else mid-sale. (more…)
ABOUT two weeks ago, a woman walking towards me gave me a big grin. I felt immediately self-conscious because I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Were my pants on inside out, was my hair standing up in a strange way? I wondered if maybe I knew her.
As I walked closer she nodded. I stopped and asked: ‘‘I’m sorry, do I know you?’’ She shook her head. ‘‘No, I just thought the colour of your hair looked beautiful in this light.’’
I was taken aback by her friendliness and the nice compliment. And it occurred to me afterwards that having a stranger smile at us in this country is so unusual that we feel thrown. Which contrasts profoundly to life in America. (more…)
When it comes to going out at night in particular, I’ve noticed myself and others around me growing increasingly lazy.
For my part, I’m hoping it was just winter. I’m hugely unhappy with the lack of energy I have once the sun goes down. There was a time — oh, there was a time — when pubs, nightclubs and theatre beckoned, when I couldn’t wait to put on heels and red lipstick and escape into the world.
Nowadays, at the end of a day I can’t think of anything better than putting on slippers and curling up on the couch with a good book or movie. My significant other feels the same. (more…)
I HAVE taken umbrage at a recent article by writer Vicki Larson, blogging in OMG Chronicles and Huffington Post about stay at home dads. Apparently the new warning bell issued by women for women is that SAHDs are more likely to cheat. Where, oh where, has female common sense gone on this one?
For those who haven’t caught on yet, SAHDs is being identified as a new social phenomenon. There are an estimated 1.4 million fathers at home and taking care of children full-time in the US, according to a study by Appalachian State University, although this figure is debated. The new Australian TV show House Husbands is a ratings success. (more…)
IT’s a strange phenomenon to observe: people who decided to have children late trapped in a world where three things are happening simultaneously. They are having to take kids through the teenage years and the end of high school;, at the same time as women going into perimenopause and men into andropause; at the same time as having to deal with ageing or sick parents.
The years of supposed freedom of many of us are thus being hamstrung from both ends: by kids who never leave home and ageing parents who are living lomger. (more…)