2 Jan

There is a price to be paid for wisdom as Odin the chief the Aesir – the Norse Gods of myth discovered, when he went in search of Mimir’s well beneath the world tree Ysgadril. Upon drinking deeply from the well of knowledge Odin plucked out his right eye and gave it to Mimir, the well’s keeper, for the gift of insight.

The Vikings

I was born in 1958, the year in which “The Vikings” starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtiss was released. When I was little, my dad used to drive my mum nuts by shouting “ODIN!!!” at the top of his lungs whilst in the bath holding a scrubbing bush aloft in lieu of a sword. I’m guessing he identified with Einar the character played by Kirk Douglas, son of Ragnar (Ernest Borgnine) and not Erik (Einar’s half brother sired by Ragnar) played by Tony Curtiss – who, whilst very good looking was not as butch as Einar.

I still think of my dad as a Viking – he certainly had the strength in his day and was, with 5 children to his name our ‘All Father’.


Our sister Abi had passed when this photo was taken: From left me, Dad, Nathan, Simon and Tim.

Si and Dad, Yosemite

Here he was pictured in Yosemite with Simon, the youngest of the son’s of Ragnar/Littlewood. He, like Dad before us and I is a carpenter and he plies his considerable skill in San Francisco.

Wisdom flows from insight. In my case, insight is the knowledge that I have a disorder which renders me ‘blind’ to people’s motives (see Two Towers). I am emotionally more labile than most and I am given to an empathic response to the emotional state of others –  especially when they are in need.

There is a word for this: Eideteker – from the word ‘eidetic’ (used in conjunction with memory to describe an ability to recall something in great detail) – it can refer to a person who can ‘see through the eyes of another’. It was famously used by Hannibal Lecter to describe the skills of the homicide investigator Will Graham in the 2002 film ‘Red Dragon’.

It is a curse.

Given that most people follow their own agenda, I will empathise by default and often offer (unbidden) assistance. Favours, money, well meant advice, a well tuned ear, intuition …. This behaviour can be taken as interference, or more commonly, generosity of spirit. People I know think it is a good thing that I am this way – they see it as a ‘generous nature’.

I find it bloody exhausting – because it is like having no skin.

As a secondary school teacher I was considered gifted, partly because I had been a professional scientist before teaching the subject (I had real experience of making new science). In the main I think it was because I had no ‘off switch’ to the needs of students. I was promoted to Head of Year within twelve months of qualifying, becoming responsible for the pastoral welfare of over 200 hormonal teenagers. I counselled many youngsters, some I helped, all made deep impressions on me, through their emotional and educational need.

I was advised by my Psychiatrist to give up teaching after I came out of hospital back in 2002, and by a very helpful careers adviser. So I don’t teach now, apart from the occasional carving or cabinet making tutorial in my studio to help pay the rent.

Making furniture for a living is a solitary exercise, and this is therapeutic for me. I like it when my fellow artists sometimes wander down my dusty corridor for a chat, giving me the chance to procrastinate. But sooner or later I crave the peace and quiet of the workshop. Chisels, planes, set squares and marking gauges make no emotional demands, wood sings a quiet song best heard in isolation.

The price I paid for my insight was to give up teaching. Having given up academia I felt the loss intensely.

The loss of an eye is a terrible thing, the loss of a career, twice, could be seen as carelessness (Lady Bracknell).

But I am lighter now in spirit and closer to the old gods and so I shout in my studio, axe aloft to my All Father, the God of wisdom, poetry, war, death, divination and magic.



12 Responses to “Odin”

  1. Simon Littlewood November 15, 2016 at 7:02 pm #

    Tools don’t don’t “require” emotion, but when USED with emotion the end results are magic.
    Nice piece bro.

    • woodenhenk November 15, 2016 at 7:33 pm #

      Thanks bro’

      • Barry Bell May 8, 2018 at 8:28 am #

        Hey Woodenhenk – I have this. Im 44yo and I’ve always called it extreme empathy, but your description is almost humorously exactly how I am. I can tell 100s of stories. I’m infamous and famous for it.
        Do you have any other information? There’s really not much on the internet that I’ve found. Is it common, or relatively so? Thanks very much! Barry Bell

      • woodenhenk May 8, 2018 at 8:37 am #

        Hey Barry, there is a vast amount of rubbish on BP on the net. It is better described by its old non PC name of Manic Depression in my view. I have gained most insight from reading the writings of other sufferers – Spike Milligan, Stephen Fry for example. Ruby Wax has a different condition but is absolutely hilarious in describing a nervous breakdown. But I have to say there is no substitute for learning to listen and in so doing paying back what you understand. The only other thing I can say is discipline is the key – as soon as you think you’re ok, you’re screwed. I’m pretty sure that manual skilled labour is key to keeping sane in my case. Nice to hear from you.

      • woodenhenk May 8, 2018 at 8:38 am #

        Extreme Empathy is a cool description Barry

  2. Barry Bell May 8, 2018 at 9:14 am #

    Thank you, Woodenhenk. I appreciate the quick response! I was actually speaking about being an Eideteker though and it’s my fault for the confusion. I’ve been diagnosed with BP as well though, and that’s accurate, but it’s more than that.

    You quite literally described my exact condition and I’ve never heard the term for it before tonight. I describe myself as the worst judge of character in history. Sometimes it’s funny, but a lot of the time it’s kind of tragic. I could write you a book of examples, and because of the history similarities, I could probably tell you some other similar traits we have.

    Were the books you recommended for BP or Eideteker? I’ve been digging on that term and can’t find anything except your post and the reference in the movie Red Dragon.

    I really value your time! If your thinking that I’m confusing Eideteker with BP or GAD or a host of other things, you’d be mistaken. I appreciate the compliment about Extreme Empathy (which is exactly something I would have done), but it’s not really accurate. I’ve tried to describe it, even to a psychiatrist, but it’s been really difficult for me to find the correct description.

    Ironically, every therapist or counselor I’ve ever had tells me that I’m very insightful about my own issues. I think you’ve likely encountered that as well. More often than not, the therapist and I end up talking about them (the therapist) after a few minutes into the session. I’ve always thought that they must be aware of how the conversation turned, but they have seemed oblivious to it. Same with job interviews, meetings, etc.

    I apologize for the long post, but I’m trying hard to be convincing.

    If you have any more information or contacts, I would very much appreciate it.

    Thanks again – Barry

    • woodenhenk May 8, 2018 at 9:30 am #

      Ha! Yes I did confuse the issue – not uncommon for me. Going off half cocked as my wife would say. Your description of how people respond to you is very astute: tuning into them emotionally is powerful. That is why I’m safest on my own in my woodwork studio. No positive feedback, just good old negative feedback. Cheers H

      • Barry Bell May 8, 2018 at 9:39 am #

        Haha, well, I think we’re still on slightly different pages, but that’s ok. I’ve at least learned the proper term. I’m very happy that you’re doing well now. Thanks again, I really do appreciate it! Barry

  3. WillT May 8, 2018 at 5:18 pm #

    Can you describe “blind” to other peoples’ motives a little more?

    • woodenhenk May 8, 2018 at 5:23 pm #

      Unable to read motive, lacking suspicion. My wife is diametrically opposite in suspecting everyone of ulterior or selfish motives. She is ‘hard headed’ and unromantic – this is very refreshing when one’s mind tends to go off at stupid tangents all the time. Hope that helps Will.

  4. adriancronin August 9, 2021 at 3:02 pm #

    Thank you for posting this Woodenhenk. There’s poetry in your prose as well as insight. I hope this finds you and your family well. Adrian


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