Monday, 10 September 2012

Tears in the morning

You'll think I've gone a bit mad if I tell you that entering my garden office (The Crabbit Hutch) this morning made me cry. It was caused by two things. Well, three but let me tell you the first two first. Astrantia Masterwort and Stimulus Generalisation.

Let me explain.

Back in May, you may remember that I was lucky enough to acquire my amazing garden office. From day one, it revolutionised my working life. (I'll talk about that in more detail one day soon.)

In June, I went to visit a friend called Jane, at her home in Edinburgh. Jane was very unwell, but she and her husband and my husband had a lovely afternoon discussing lots of things, some of which were about her illness and some of which weren't. We stayed much longer than we'd planned, because a) we were all having a nice time and b) Jane and Ian were adamant that we were not outstaying our welcome.

Astrantia Masterwort from the garden
I took with me some flowers from our garden, which included some which we didn't know the name for. They grow outside my Crabbit Hutch, and I can see them as I sit at my desk. We discussed why it is that Jane and I were usually able to remember the names of plants when we'd heard them once, and our husbands usually couldn't. Jane was a highly experienced clinical psychologist and I'm interested in the brain, so there was lots to discuss here.

Another thing we discussed was how my new office had instantly changed my whole working life. Jane said, "Ah, that's Stimulus Generalisation," and she explained some more and suddenly everything made sense, in deep and clever ways that I've come to understand more and more. In very short, it describes how our brains link the cues around us to our behaviour and if we want to change our behaviour we need to change the cues around us. There's much more to it than that, but that's the essence.

The day after that lovely afternoon, Jane emailed. She'd identified the flowers. Astrantia Masterwort. Neither of us would forget the name.

So, why the tears when I entered my Crabbit Hutch today? And why the tears as I type this?

Jane died at the weekend. We knew she was going to and we knew it would be soon. I hadn't seen her since that afternoon, though we had emailed quite a lot, until she wasn't able to. She had been quite incredibly brave. I got the news while I was at the York Festival of Writing for the whole weekend and, because I had to do a load of really exhausting events and one-to-one sessions, I couldn't process this information. I guess I blocked it. That makes me feel bad.

When I walked into my office for the first time this morning, a new manifestation of Stimulus Generalisation kicked in because a part of how I understand how my Crabbit Hutch works for me is linked to Jane. So I cried. As I look out of the window, the Astrantia Masterwort are still flowering. And I'm just really, really sad.

(I've disabled comments, because I don't want everyone to feel they have to say something. I hope you understand.)