Prose · Stories

On quiet rebellions

I rebelled only quietly in my teens. To this day I don’t believe I did anything truly stupid but I hurt some people (mostly my parents) and took some chances and most of this happened outside of school.

I never considered myself rebellious, nor really think I appeared that way to others. Yet I was always part of a little renegade duo – at times a band of three or four – who stood outside of all the social tribes but had friendly relations with pretty much all of them. That’s arguably still true for me today.

I would use my intellect to spar a little with teachers who I knew respected me, and who knew that I respected them. I got detention once for eating a Kitkat in English after being told not to twice. I refused point blank to draw graphs in Maths after year 10, striking a deal with my teacher that absolved her of responsibility for my GCSE results (I got an A).

I came to one class 10 minutes late every time as a principled stand against the offense of ‘wasting our learning time moving the furniture’ with a teacher who I now massively appreciate for her innovation of turning the desks to face each other in a circle for our class discussions.

I didn’t start smoking until I was 18 (I do actually consider that quite stupid and potentially an act of rebellion amongst my peers, many of whom kicked off with cigarettes much earlier) and although I drank heartily I always seemed to manage to have a good time and get home without any major scrapes or fall-out.

No drugs til I had a good go with marijuana for a few years in my 20s. The upside of this phase was that I made great friends that I still have today, achieved some cultural mind expansion amid the haze and it pretty much stopped me drinking.

What does all this mean? I was just about to go to bed – at the rebellious hour of 10:30pm on a Saturday night-  and this all came out of me in a tumble.

I guess I feel similar as an adult. Fairly quietly I’ve taken some pretty different choices to many other people I know. I left the rat race in London fairly swiftly after only four years (with a 9 month gap to travel the world and consider becoming a professional hippy) and set up a retreat centre with tree houses in Norfolk.

After a few years and some major life events even this alternative career path felt a little rigid for me and I tossed off the lot to go travelling and say yes to serendipity. I also tossed off a seven year relationship, a three bedroom cottage and a cat. I’m making light with my language but that was major.

I travelled with a very tangled ball of wool that I was slowly unpicking and unravelling. It was made of so many threads I had collected and hastily bundled together without due care. The threads were beautiful and over time I began to imagine they might one day be woven into something.

After five years as flotsam, flowing hither and thither like the white horses of the tides, I washed up for the third time on a remote olive farm in Greece and went in deep for four months of solitude. Again, not a choice that has been taken by many I know.

I nearly lost my mind but I didn’t and I found some nuggets of gold and burned up some lumps of coal. They gave me energy and the threads began to weave slowly slowly before my eyes.

I suddenly knew that I was ready to belong again, to something beyond myself. I wanted to belong to a place, and -scarier still- to people. I wanted to belong to groups. To have a regular coffee place (well – decaf tea really) and a regular friend to meet there. I wanted to touch peoples faces for real and not sat stroking the screen on a skype call.

So I came back to the UK and started making different choices. Slowly, slowly I feel I’m softening the edge of my rebellion for better or worse. I registered with a doctor again for the first time in 7 years and now they send me letters about my body. The people at the coffee place know my dog’s name (they don’t know mine – it works for me somehow).

I have a dog! A dog that hangs out of car windows and likes camping. A dog that keeps me grounded most of the time and takes me out in the woods every day. A dog that I am committed to for maybe 20 years.

I’m still living in a tiny wooden cabin on stilts at the end of somebody’s garden and I still work for myself. I’ve never claimed benefits even though I didn’t have a job for 3 years and went long stretches without a penny to my name. I still choose not to read the papers or listen to the news. Somehow I still get most of it from the ether. I still have 3 or 4 girlfriends who are also free queens of their own realms. I still don’t do graphs.

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Prose

Noughties Pop and Neuroscience

Today has been deeply healing in a most unexpected way.

Struggling for a soundtrack to my day, I hit a little cynically on a “00’s pop” (say noughties, it feels good) playlist and let it roll.

My God.

I wept, I danced, I travelled through time to the most tender and terrible places of my teens and twenties. Songs I didn’t even like at the time hit me straight in the heartsy-chords and vibrated through my being. Justing Timberlake? Really? Celine Dion??? Mortifying.

I was pretty taken aback but the waves were strong and I was soon taken under again – free diving through forgotten emotional backwaters. After each big release my heart felt warm and alive – pumping love and feeling so much more connected to – me.

It felt as if there were corners of my heart with dusted over debris waiting to be cleared, and this slightly cringey pop playlist was blasting through them like a jet wash.

I reckon most of you reading have been there, or somewhere quite like it. Maybe for you it was 80s glam rock or early 90s skate punk (reckon I’ve got some work to do there to) that hit the spot.

The reason I am sharing this is not that it is a unique or totally remarkable experience but as an excuse to tell you something I’ve learned about neuroscience.

You weren’t expecting that at all from the title right… Just bear with.

So those bubbles of random emotion, thoughts, images that surface when you hear a song – these are what is known as implicit memories. They are sensory and perceptual experiences in the moment that appear as if out of nowhere. These feel like live, here and now sensations – with no sense of coming from a specific past event.

As we stay with the feeling, following the crumb trail of thoughts, images and associations that unfolds as we do, we will come eventually to an explicit memory.

This is a tangible past event recollection which we can pinpoint to a time and place. An encounter, a holiday, an argument, a bereavement, a surprise.

As this explicit memory comes into focus, we are able to make conscious links with the implicit memories – the emotions, felt sensations, thought and images that were arising at random -and neurologically staple them together.

This is referred to in psychology and neuroscience as ‘integration’.

Integration means, in short, that next time you hear Eminem playing and your palms get sweaty etc you will be able to access that explicit memory of falling over at the high school disco while pulling your best moves. You will know that the rising shame and anxiety you are feeling in the moment, belongs to some moment in the past. Realising this you are able to pause, reflect, calm yourself in whatever way you need to and not be swept along in this unattributable emotion and ruin your day.

This is an actual physical process in your brain where new neuronal connections are being formed and coated in Myelin which is like super lube for brain activity and makes everything slicker and quicker. Your brain is building new bits that help you to be more balanced and chill.

So if you feel like doing some neurological fitness activities to get yo’ mind right – bouncing round your room to cheesy tunes and bawler ballads from your youth (or death metal or happy hardcore or whatever it was) comes recommended from me.

You’re welcome.