Toastiness or Timeliness? In pursuit of conceptual clarity and certainty.

I wonder what the internet has done to my mind. In those days when we used to read, make phone calls, write letters and talk to each other, I wonder what were the stimuli for those cerebral wanderings which nowdays a Tweet or Facebook post prompts? Did I even have those wanderings? I am sure I did, I just wish I could remember their nature. Perhaps thanks to the internet, this particular train of thought has been prompted and allowed to take life. How much of our thinking is shaped and changed by the way we receive information in this day and age?

Yesterday, over breakfast I scrolled through the previous evening’s updates and Tweets and was taken by a Facebook conversation about toasters. Yep, toasters. Those handy little machines which churn out yummy toast at just the right level of toastiness according to our toastbuds.  Most of the time.

“So apparently the numbers on the toaster are minutes? I’ve thought for years that it was the degree of toastyness”

And there followed an outpouring of incredulity and shock at the exposure of one of those unshakeable and fundamental “truths”. There was indeed consensus that the numbers on toasters were widely believed to be settings of toastiness and obviously the higher the setting the toastier the toast would be. For the numbers to attribute to minutes was indeed a strange and disturbing thought.

So there followed, on my part, a deal of butterfly-type rumination of this new “truth” accompanied by a small amount of research thanks to Professor Google and sifting of my own memories. I have so many recollections of toast, whether it be too pale or burnt along with the acrid smell of burning.  I have more memories of bread under the grill, smoking, tiny flames flickering upwards as I had forgotten to keep my eye on it yet again.  And hazy memories of warm evenings in my childhood with a toasting fork in my hand, holding the carefully pierced bread over the low flames of the log fire, and producing perfectly brown toast.  After many attempts.

toastEventually, I realised that the question of toastiness and toasters was in fact a fairly shallow matter. The settings most likely relate to time rather than specific minutes. Obviously the longer the time, the more toasty the toast will be. Toast makers have presented this as a toastiness range though, and we have absorbed this as our reference. So the issue is not as earth-shattering as it might have been. But nonetheless, for a short time, and even for such a mundane and shallow matter, my truth and certainties were blown to the wind. And over a fact which I had not even registered as a fact in my mind previously.

And that is the essence of this discussion. There are so many tiny and not so tiny things which we assume to be true yet many are purely assumption and not based on any fact. Even the rocking of a small point of certainty disorients and disturbs. Many of our significant beliefs or assumptions, we do not even know we hold. I thought my parents would live for ever. I thought I would live for ever too. I believed that our family did not get cancer. Being diagnosed with cancer could not have been further from my radar. I had taken as assumption and turned it into a certainty, which was destroyed.

In the case of the toastiness question, I had in fact been deceived into believing for a short time that a fundamental truth had been compromised, where it turned out to be trivial and inconsequential. Sadly the same is not so for so many other truths and certainties which we hold.


From a Writing Prompt to a spat out Ugly Truth

Sometimes we can be trundling along, just getting on with what we get on with when something stops us abruptly in our tracks.

Two weeks ago, I was preparing for the fortnightly writing group, planning to go along even though I had no writing to share.  I had even confessed to the other writing group folks that I would be a passenger that evening, soaking in their creativity and critiquing in one direction.  Not only had I nothing prepared, I had not had the slightest idea or spark of inspiration. On top of that, I had just returned from Bangkok and the latest round of exhausting tests.  Nope, I was under no illusions that I would be taking anything with me that evening, in the shape of words on a page.

Then I received an email from one of our cosy number, Becky in Burma, in which she mentioned the e-course she was part of and saying that she would probably bring something she had written as one of the exercises.  With her email was an appeal to print a paper copy as that is always easier to share.  Attached to the email was her writing, along with the exercise details.

Of course I had a look at her poem, a heartfelt and powerful piece of writing.  Then I looked at the prompt, and realised that a strange thing was happening.  My mind was whirling and before I knew it, everything around me was strangely disconnected .  Oblivious to my surroundings, I was scribbling away furiously, words pouring out, emotions running amok, struggling to keep back tears.  Within less than fifteen minutes, I put my pen down, dazed, stunned and spent and I looked at what was on the page

Out of absolutely nowhere, and with less than hour to go until our meeting time I suddenly had something to share.  Not a piece of eloquent writing, nor a passage of creative or experimental prose but a page of raw, ugly emotion and truth which had been lurking not so far from the surface, only to be spat out violently.

I have deliberately not edited this in any major way.  I have made a couple of very minor adjustments, but have left it very much as the words formed.  And that is intentional.  The prompt was “What if I were to tell you”?

And clearly I had a lot that I wanted to tell.  Even if I hadn’t realised it.

I posted the words which had crowded in unbidden, as my own very first Poetry Friday. Judging from the many comments and reactions, it seemed to strike a chord. It appears to be not quite a universal truth, but seemingly a widely held one.

As a lay person, I can only speak of how this appears to me. I feel strongly that diagnosis brings what I see as a psychological isolation. The world we enter on hearing the “you have cancer” words frequently forces an unwanted gulf created between those diagnosed and all close and touched by that diagnosis.   And often we want to protect those close to us from the insidious reality.



And it is as difficult to articulate these ugly truths as it is to hear them.