blog, writing process

Visual Thesaurus – mapping words beautifully

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Do you love words? Do you sometimes struggle to find the exact word to convey your meaning, whether for poetry or prose? Here’s help, and it’s beautiful.

The Visual Thesaurus is one of my favourite tools. It functions like a mind map for words, linking words, meanings, synonyms and sometimes antonyms. The interface is elegant and clean, and it blossoms on the screen like a flower.

Like fire, but not

For example, take ‘fire’. Typing this into the search bar brings up the animated map above. It shows different synonyms for fire, colour coded by verb, adjective and noun. When you hover over each node, a definition appears with example sentences containing that word. If you click on any word, a second map appears, and you can navigate back and forth until you find the precise word you need.

At the centre above you can see the word ‘hire’ which is the opposite of one sense of fire. This is useful when you can’t quite remember the word you need. The brain works in strange ways, and Visual Thesaurus allows us to approach the needed word in reverse.

Another word for burn?

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Clicking on ‘burn’ brings up this map, which is also fully interactive. You could follow any word, generating maps which vary in the number of nodes, but always give new ideas.

You can choose to hear the central word spoken in US or UK English. It is possible to print your result for offline use. The site has many other links and word games, enough to keep logophiles happily scrolling for hours.

The cost is very reasonable too: $2.95 monthly or $19.95 annually. You can try it free for fourteen days.

I love the infuriating, sprawling, mongrel language that is English. I love its willingness to assimilate words from other languages, giving so many shades of meaning that it is usually possible to find that elusive nuance that I’m seeking. That breadth can outsmart a tired brain which knows that fire is sorta, kinda right but not quite.

But what about other languages?

Fear not, VT has you covered. Dutch, French, German, Italian and Spanish are also included. You can choose to search one or more languages. Here is the map for ‘fire’ showing UK English plus French. Every word is fully searchable.

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How cool is that?

This tool allows much greater variety in description. It’s satisfying to write about fire without using the word. This tool gives you the alternatives you need, in a comprehensive, informative, visually appealing format. You’re sure to expand your vocabulary if you spend some time with this thesaurus, whether native English speaker or not.

And it’s fun to use! We all need more fun in our lives.

Give Visual Thesaurus a try now, and tell me what you think.


blog, Pat Aitcheson writes

Conversations with an artist

lightstargod via pixabay

Listen here: 

I envy you.

Ill-concealed jealousy, or perhaps a fleeting moment of self- knowledge, a slip of the tongue, a confession unprompted. Still, I understand. You think you know the price.

You make it look so easy.

I assure you it is not. After years and centuries of practice, practice, try again, I have earned grudging acquaintance with the standards I keep. Improvement is my goal.

I don’t understand it.

I hear the scathing tone of your dismissal. Should art be understandable? Only for those to whom it speaks; and to the rest, it is noise. Listen harder.

How do you do it?

I just do it. I persist. I hear the self-doubt and corrosive whispers of fear that burn my heart, and I do it anyway, because the art demands to be heard. The pain of silence, I have learned, is worse than carrying my art stillborn in my chest.

Anyone could do that.

No, anyone could not. Every one’s a critic, but very few a creator. Anyone could do it. Hardly anyone does. I invite you to try.

I’ve always wanted to do that.

Creation does not wait for permission. But if you need permission, go ahead. It’s never too late to begin. The world is waiting to hear your story. It’s as simple, and as terrifying, as that.

You’re hardly the next JK Rowling/Beyoncé/Picasso/whoever.

You’re right, nobody is. But what I am, what I will be, if I can keep going, is the first, glorious me. I don’t seek comparison. You are no-one special, either. But I allow you the possibility that you could be.

It’s just your life story.

It’s just my heart and soul, bled out on the page, the canvas, the stage. What else is there? Where else will I find the raw and honest stuff to build my creation? I fuse drops of my history and things not yet imagined and echoes of other people’s random musings. Something new emerges. It is enough.

I envy you.

You see the glittering jewel. I see exhausting hours mining, selecting, cutting and polishing, rejecting and starting over. I see blood and tears. I remember pain carved in my bones, doubt piercing my heart, fear and loathing waiting to trap me. It looks so easy. But it’s not.

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, poetry

Love shackles

(a villanelle)

chain-red link_PIRO4D
PIRO4D via pixabay

Listen to this poem: 

We’re joined by an invisible chain
we try and fail to pull apart;
each link is forged of joy and pain.

Emotions overcame my brain.
Hopelessly smitten at the start,
we’re joined by an invisible chain

that weighs so little. Yet in vain
I try to free my restless heart.
Each link is forged of joy and pain.

What is the use if I complain
about this fate I can’t outsmart?
We’re joined by an invisible chain.

Let’s tally up the loss and gain
of taking Cupid’s poisoned dart.
Each link is forged of joy and pain

so here we are, and must remain.
We wait until death do us part.
We’re joined by an invisible chain,
each link is forged of joy and pain.

blog, garden, Pat Aitcheson writes

Do one thing for a better future

Snowdrops in my garden, Feb 2018

Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.
Warren Buffett

We often make resolutions and set goals at the turn of the year.

Thinking about the future and planning for it is crucial to success. As a gardener and a writer, I know this is true. I can’t harvest what I did not sow, nor can I sow where I have not prepared the ground.

As January’s list of goals is forgotten and our resolve crumbles, there is one thing we all can do every day to get ahead. It is not cold showers, waking at five o’clock to meditate, or wearing the same outfit, which no doubt work for some but fill me with horror. Especially the cold shower.

Do one thing your future self will thank you for.

It could be a big thing or a tiny thing. It could be for the long-term or for tomorrow. But sometime between waking and sleeping again, despite being consumed by the busyness of the day-to-day, cast your mind forwards. Here are a few ideas.

  • Lay out your clothes for the next day
  • Write down that story idea or line of dialogue
  • Check your insurance is up to date
  • Make that call you’ve been avoiding
  • Exercise for ten minutes
  • Read a chapter
  • Drink a glass of water
  • Make your bed
  • Cook double quantities of meals and freeze half
  • Take the stairs
  • Put the laundry on before you leave
  • Tell them you love them

The gardeners reading this will nod sagely, already thinking ahead to a new season in the natural calendar. Years ago I braved a bitter day to plant a few bulbs that didn’t look like much. The pay-off was not immediate. But now, with little to no extra effort, the snowdrops above cheer up dreary winter days. And every year there are more.

We underestimate the power of compounding

The billionaire Warren Buffett is a financial legend. He buys carefully and holds for the long-term, much like a gardener planting trees. The value comes in compound interest and re-investing dividends. In the same way, daily actions add up over time to a significant return. Whether we invest in ourselves or in external achievements, starting early and persisting is the key to finishing our novel or building up a pension plan.

Often we think that it is the big gestures, the grand flourish that gets the winner to the podium. But more often, building one small deed on another over time brings the biggest rewards. No deed is too small, provided we keep doing it.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.

So, what will you do today, and tomorrow, and on into the future?
Whether it’s saving £5 a week, or kissing your SO every day, you’ll be delighted with the return on your investment. Start now.


blog, Pat Aitcheson writes

A thousand tiny worlds

water droplets leaf_EvgeniT
EvgeniT via pixabay

I’m sitting in a place that is nondescript. A place where many come, but none stay. Nobody claims this place as their own. The chairs are thin on padding. They do not encourage you to linger, though you might be here a while. No art adorns the walls. No music plays. I cannot wait to leave this place, and yet I must wait here, for now.

But if we could peel back the blank expressions of this silent throng, what would we see? The pallid grey and institutional green vanishes behind a burst of colour.

A young man with precisely styled beard and hair jams to the red, emerald and black of reggae music. The mother with puffy, pale face is lit by a burst of sunshine yellow when her baby smiles. In the corner, another woman nurtures a green shoot of hope. By the door, an elderly couple sit together in a haze of calm turquoise. Two seats away, a veil of dreamy pink settles around a stern suited and booted man.

Of course, there are other colours too. A middle-aged woman’s flushed cheeks echo the rage that pulses red at her temple. Navy blue clouds of sorrow surround her companion. And in the furthest corner, hunched and small, someone is engulfed by a black void from which no light escapes.

And there’s me. I breathe slowly, trying to replace flashing scarlet and orange anxiety with serene lilac and purple. People check their phones, look at the floor, perhaps glance in my direction. They don’t see me. Their internal worlds consume them, shouting for attention and greedy for validation.

We share this liminal space as temporary fellow travellers.

We are all here, together. We are all somewhere else, alone.


blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, poetry

All love in a day

Soorelis via pixabay

At dawn we played at love, sly smiles and heated glances, butterfly touches on my arm, a thousand possibilities.

In the morning we laid in love, wrapped in hot kisses and whispered words, a thousand silent candles our only witness as we rode the waves.

As the sun reached its zenith we declared our love, and our future lay before us with fair wind and full sail.

In the early afternoon we multiplied our love, but it scattered to the winds. The storm almost broke us.

In the later afternoon, we gathered up our love, patched and made new, then set sail again, wiser.

In the twilight we made our love a safe harbour, when our strength was almost gone.

And in the evening we prepared our love to go where we must follow, when sunset comes.

Now only I remain in lonely night.
But still our love has always been my light.


blog, Pat Aitcheson writes

What getting Kinky* can teach us

(*Boots, that is)

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Film and music and theatre and books. All are entertainment, escapism often, a way to leave the humdrum real world behind and just have some fun. There’s no need to look for a deeper meaning.

But the stories that stay with us often have layers, some essential truth that we can take away and think about. It might not be the same lesson for everyone. In fact the very best of them have more than one idea buried in the glitz and action. They stand up to close or repeated inspection.

To a confirmed sci-fi fan like me, the more outlandish the concept, the more amazing the special effects, the better. Theatre is the opposite. The story unfolds in front of you with actual people in real time. Theatre is concrete and immediate.

Still, it’s good to broaden your horizons. So when I had the chance to see Kinky Boots (KB) at the Adelphi Theatre London recently, I went. I knew almost nothing about the story and hadn’t seen the film. Musicals aren’t really my thing.

I did not expect to have so much fun.

The cast sparkled with energy, aided by high kicking drag queens, amazing costumes, and more glitter than you could shake a six-inch stiletto at. Simon-Anthony Rhoden dominated the stage as Lola, and there was plenty of humour as well as spectacular dance numbers.

KB had many lessons that apply to commerce and creatives alike.

Find your niche.
Discover what your customer wants, and supply it.
Innovate when necessary.
Ignore haters and critics.
Play to your strengths.
It’s okay to have fun with your work.

Be yourself

Western culture prizes individualism above all. We’re told to be true to ourselves. Then we discover that we can only be accepted if we are true to a prescribed version of ourselves. This edited self discards or ignores large parts of who we are; sometimes, the biggest and/or best parts.

This editing usually begins at home, and continues in wider society.

KB explores disappointing our parents, whether by actively escaping their chosen path, like Lola and his father, or passively following someone else’s path, like Charlie and Nicola. Neither is a route to happiness or authenticity.

If you don’t build your own dream, someone will hire you to build theirs.

In KB the road to acceptance is fraught with detours and wrong turnings, but it’s a journey worth making. What do we long for, if not to be seen as we truly are and loved in spite of our scars? That’s the place we call home. Lola finds a home in the drag scene, but Charlie is caught between two versions of himself, and feels like a misfit in both.

We must make peace with our past in the present, before we can truly claim our future. That means accepting the ugly and painful truths as well as the pretty ones.

It means accepting your own self first as a whole person made of both light and shade.

The truth is out there

It’s easy to play safe, to stay in the middle of the herd and pretend we don’t carry a burning desire buried in our heart. What if people saw? They’d mock and laugh and we’d never live it down. Fear of failure and ridicule stops us from pursuing our dreams in case it doesn’t work out. Charlie must brave the fashion critics of Milan with something new. Lola must risk stepping outside the persona that has sheltered her for so long.

But what if it did?

There is certainly risk in pushing the limits of your comfort zone. Too many unknown monsters and well-meaning naysayers can have you scurrying back to what is familiar, even if it is slowly strangling the real you.

There is a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.
Morpheus in The Matrix

It takes courage to admit you were wrong about yourself, change direction, and strike out from the herd. Charlie and Lola both face their own dark moments before they reach the triumphant final number.

The big prizes – authenticity, self-actualisation, happiness even – are all out there, waiting for you to claim your share. So dust off that dream and refuse to play small in life. Let your heart set the goal, and use your head to plan the route. You were meant for more.

Find out just how fabulous you can be.
Sequins and feathers optional – but in the spirit of Kinky Boots, you may as well look good while you’re killing it.

Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world. Risk being seen in all your glory.
Jim Carrey