Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Bitch's Back

So my inner voice and I are chatting away like we do all-day, every day.
(Inner Voice: Why are you having another coffee? You’ve already had three… ME: Because I LIKE coffee – it’s great. And it’s supposed to be good for you – it was all over the news recently: health benefits, antioxidants, improved work performance and a bunch of other neat stuff. IV: Where did you get that information? positivelycoffee.com or some other such nonsense? ME: Well, actually, yes…IV: How can you just believe this stuff? It’s probably still more bad for you than good – you’ll be getting nervous and edgy soon and you know how THAT affects you…and it’s up to me to talk you through it… ME: Oh geez – great, that’s all I need…could you please just leave me alone? IV: Ha!) and so on.
I did an exercise recently – one that’s supposed to get you through a writer’s block (I have just a teensy one right now – nothing to be worried about …IV: Oh really???) where all you do is sit down and write for ten minutes on anything, everything – whatever comes to mind – free associating, even writing, for instance: “I have NOTHING to say... I have NOTHING to say...” a thousand times or so.
It all starts out as rubbish (of course, as is true: "I have NOTHING to say…”) but surprisingly I rather quickly segue into what’s going through my head as I just let go.
(Money worries, relationship worries, work worries, house worries, global warming worries, friend worries, dog worries, nagging can’t-quite-name-them worries…why do I keep kicking my own ankle until I have a permanent scab on it, that keeps getting kicked off – what am I? six? … and a million other thoughts that seem to flow through my dancing fingers and across the keyboard in a way structured writing never does. And all of them, every last one, is anxious and depressing and negative.)
And that’s when I see it – this whole letting-go is simply revealing my constant undercover inner voice and allowing absolute free rein/reign over the process... and all I can think is: what a BITCH!
Now I know this is nothing new – I know that everyone knows free-association is simply a way of getting to your subconscious or your ego or id or whatever (IV: I can’t believe what crap you talk! Have you no shame? If you just did a little homework, you’d KNOW if it was the ego or the id or the subconscious or whatever – but you don’t! You just grab hold of a thread dangling off the edge of a notion and swing from it, acting like it’s as thick and strong as the anchor chain on the Queen Mary!) so you can dredge up all sorts of revealing shmutz that may well offer up a few gems bobbing around in its sticky ooze.
And darned if it doesn’t actually work.
I start writing about my inner voice and wondering why it’s such a crabby, sarcastic, hyper-critical control freak. Why couldn’t it be a warm and fuzzy mum-type voice, all reassuring and self-esteem building and unconditional acceptance-ing? (IV: Because what you want is immaterial - what you need is someone to knock you into shape – you have no idea how easily you can be seduced into thinking everything is going to be okay, when without my constant attention everything falls apart! In seconds!)
See what I mean?
But I wonder, as I listen to this shrill nag inside my head, if she’s so very the opposite of me, or how much she’s closer to my actual conscious me-self – the one I keep to myself so everyone I know and love doesn’t think I’m just some negative Cassandra, finding fault and figuring the odds (IV: Forget the odds;the odds are NEVER in your favour. That’s why gambling is a mug’s game. You’re talking about luck – and don’t you DARE imagine luck is ever going to get you anywhere…) and basically pronouncing sentence on everyone and everything like a bitter Olympic ice-dancing judge – to whom the number 9 simply does not exist, preferring 5, or on a real red-letter day, maybe a feeble 6.2.
I reject that.
I’m sunny, good-natured, positive, helpful and loving! (IV: You’re pessimistic, neurotic and occasionally, dark.) I believe everything will work out for the best. (IV: You’re terrified it won’t, and half believe that even hoping things will somehow balance out is leading you down a very slippery slope indeed.)
If you think I’m joking about my inner-bitch, I assure you I am most certainly not. (IV: Call me anything you like – you need me and you will never not need me.)
Some days, as you can imagine, it’s just exhausting.
And it’s not that I don’t think everyone has an inner voice, just that I wonder how many have one as constantly critical, or as constantly unpleasant, or just as… as constant. (IV: Are you doing math? You know you can’t do math. Stick to blah-de-blahing… THAT'S what you do best…)
I mean, you’ve got to figure not everyone has the inner equivalent of a dedicated parole-officer trailing them around, else how could so many people take things that don’t belong to them, deliberately say terribly hurtful things, cheat on their taxes, not tip their server, or go through red lights – and here’s the real kicker – without feeling regret or guilt.
And there’s tons of those – and not all of them are psycho- or sociopaths. There are few living right here in my condo apartment building, doing nothing illegal per se, just being sort of 24/7 crummy and mean. (You simply would not believe my board of directors! IV: They’re doing the best they can – you quit when things got a little uncomfortable. ME: I quit when two of them almost went at it with fists, a third accused a fourth of lying, and the fifth lost all sense of decorum and began being outrageously clear about his most unpleasant and personal opinions. IV: Well, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs – get a spine for heaven’s sake! ME: You see what I have to put up with? Criticism, clich├ęs AND this board of directors?!)
Then there are the people who just naturally remain pacific and open-minded. People whose inner voice tries to imagine the best possible outcome in any situation (IV: the word you’re searching for is “denial”) while accepting that nothing’s guaranteed. (IV: Hmph...) These are the people who don’t look like they’ve spent four hours getting ready just to go to Loblaws for some hamburger meat, buns and a six-pack of diet coke, and even though they may not be America’s Next Top Model or Brad Pitt, look perfectly nice all the same. (IV: It’s called “giving up.”) They also seem to rather naturally do the right thing (IV: Now you’re getting somewhere…) and it looks nearly effortless. (IV: You can stop right there! Doing the right thing is always a horrible, dirty, hand-wringing, brow-sweat inducing, exhausting, difficult, depressing battle. Otherwise, you’re not doing it right. Fact.)
And I wonder how my inner-voice would do up against other people’s inner-voices in a knock-down, drag-out, spare-no-prisoners fight to the death? (IV: You’re kidding right? I don’t need to challenge other inner-voices to know I’m right! I’m right because I am – and because you tell me so every single time you fall into line like a good girl. I won’t even talk about it. Shut up!)
My inner-voice does not like being challenged, though to be honest, it stopped listening to me a long time ago. (IV: There are only so many hours in a day…and I choose to spend them productively…) I’m not sure what it listens to, unless there’s some kind of cosmic negative-reaction radio station, quietly playing the hits all day long. (IV: Mind your own business... better yet: just move over and I'll take the wheel…)
I’m not sure if I dare post this on my blog for fear everyone will think I’m falling into some sort of schizophrenic fugue (IV: You have my permission to trust that instinct!) but I also feel exposing this internal truth/tug of war may go some distance to lowering the volume and injecting some much needed balance. (IV: There you go with all that “balance” again. I suggest you investigate Chaos Theory when you have a moment… in between singing Kumbaya and “Trusting the Universe to provide”…)
I want to send some sort of depth-charge in there – some kind of criticism-seeking missile – to shut the voice down, or at least disable it in a way that would allow just a hint of faith and optimism to shine through. (IV: I’m warning you Missy! Step away from that computer NOW.) But I don’t know the code, and as well, I’M already disabled by this stupid voice which has told me for as long as I can remember that self-scourging, cynicism and mistrust is the only way to stay on the straight and narrow. (IV: I don’t care for the characterization – or the attitude – but the theory is fairly accurate.)
I’ll say it again: BITCH!
But I know there is another voice in there – the one that HATES the bitch voice – a voice that shyly, hopefully - maybe a little tentatively - disagrees with everything the bitch says, and believes (maybe naively, IV: MAYBE????) that kindness and support and trust and love are just as effective as a source for inspiration followed by action.
(IV: I won’t listen to another MINUTE of this! Until you smarten up, straighten up and inject a little painful reality into your thinking, I wash my hands of you – and don’t come crying to ME when everything falls apart… as it inevitably will... good bye and GOOD LUCK!)
ME: Heh heh… now you’re talking!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Love survives

Life’s an adventure.
Subway, bus – it doesn’t matter – whenever I’m on public transportation I’m thinking about the same thing: who amongst my fellow passengers would I band together with if our train/bus was bombed, hijacked, or otherwise thrust into movie-esque danger by brute villains, unbridled nature or a traffic jam.
I want to be prepared; I don’t want to get stuck with the spineless, briefcase-toting whiner who’d sell us all out for a nickel or a break for freedom (you know that guy’s a goner anyway) or one of those stock Hollywood women who do nothing but shriek and whimper and refuse to bridge the gaping chasm, or swing from a snapped cable, or climb up the inside of an industrial smokestack before it blows. Those people brown me off.
I want to be part of the wise-cracking survivors – that hardy pod of people willing to do-what-it-takes and get off a good line before facing almost certain disaster.
I’m sure you do this too. If Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s taught us that no matter the circumstances, in any random group, planeful of passengers or disordered mob exist all the various personality types necessary to thwart danger, right wrongs, or, in my case, assuage boredom. The fact that it doesn’t hold true in real life is hardly the point; in real life most people just want to get where they’re going, and in our stepping-over-the-homeless to get to Starbuck’s society, heroism seems in mighty short supply these days.
So what if I’m just on my way to the vet (a bus and two subway changes) to pick up a fresh supply of (one of) the dog’s medications (how I ended up with the $4 coffee and a pink bracelet I’ll never know…) Both coming and going – at off-peak hours – there’s still oodles of fun to be had on an otherwise tedious side-trip with just the merest flick of a sideways glance every now and then. Wearing sunglasses helps too; staring on public transit is a no-no (everybody knows) so if you want the widest possible pool of compadres, it’s best to do your eye-balling surreptitiously.
You’ll need: 1 (one) incredibly good-looking guy complete with piercing eyes and tortured back story; 2 or 3 (two or three - one bald) sarcastic buddies with hearts of gold. Remember: at least one of them will have to be sacrificed before it’s all over, so look for some real charactery characters. You’ll need a nurse, a young mother (and baby) some game older folk, a handful of disposable extras who’ll do as they’re told and at least two craven cowards. (See above.)
Et voila – your cast is complete, change at Bloor.
For the last few months, all my adventures seem to be of the minor-league Sisyphean or Aegean Stables sort: the pushing boulders pointlessly up steep slopes, or mucking out filthy stables kind. Sorta hard, kinda boring, sleeves rolled up to eternity and no end in sight. So if I manufacture adventure on the Avenue Road bus, what’s the dif?
Until you come across a real adventurer or two and you remember that for some people being poised on the brink of life and death, facing enormous heart-breaking choices and bearing agony with dignity is a daily reality.
I met two such people recently.
Just about the greatest thing I get to do on a regular basis is volunteer at Sick Kids; wearing the volunteer vest with pride and being allowed to spend time with people who might just be in extremis (or quite possibly worse: watching someone they love in extremis) is to take part in life at a time when it really matters. All life matters of course – but some parts take place at the thinnest possible edge of a very thin wedge, when if you’re lucky, you may be able to help someone when they need it. My sort of helping – a volunteer’s sort of helping – is obviously not of the actual life-saving kind; it’s more of the moment-saving kind. Bringing people back to moments of normalcy and just remembering what it is to be not just a patient or a parent, but a human. A kid or an adult – playing a game, going for a walk, sharing a laugh, fixing someone’s hair, talking about boys, movie stars or sports. It isn’t earth-shattering, but sometimes it’s deliciously, run-of-the-mill, just-another-day grounding.
So I met this mother/daughter duo recently, and something about them touched my heart to the point of breaking. Meeting heroines doesn’t happen every day, but it happened on this particular day – a day when the mother and I also discovered we have a shared past (having lived in the Bahamas at the same time as children, our fathers in the same line of work, many of our friends the same). It was a point of recognition and connection and maybe why we snapped into bonding-mode quick as a reflex action. But maybe not. Maybe it was just because she was wonderful, and honestly? She shone. She shines.
And so does her daughter. Though shining from a place deep, deep within, as this fourteen year old has been virtually completely incapacitated by a shockingly cruel disease, unable to speak or move, trapped inside a tiny, emaciated body, but bursting with life and joy all the same.
This little girl has a disease called MLD – Metachromatic Leukodystrophy – a degeneration of the white matter of the brain and the central nervous system. It’s a rare disease, one of a small grouping of diseases (most famously one of the leukodystrophies – ALD – was portrayed in the film Lorenzo’s Oil) that are characterized by the destruction of the myelin sheath, the loss of which rapidly robs the sufferer of movement, speech, sight, cognition and ends a few too-short years later, in death.
Perfectly healthy until the age of nine or ten, the disease first reveals itself in the child in a variety of behavioural changes, prompting many parents and doctors to treat it as a behavioural or psychiatric problem before the hard-to-diagnose/impossible to treat condition is finally identified. There is no cure and no treatment other than to alleviate as best they can the effects of some of the symptoms; families are left to cope with the reality of the unutterably altered life of a beloved whose last years and days are all too easily imagined. The child’s mother described it to me as manifesting as a combination of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimers – any one of which would be devastating, but as a group nothing less than mind-bogglingly horrifying.
And yet, and yet…
They laugh. They smile. They hope. They love. They face reality. They pray. They accept support and offer love in return. As a family they are united and strengthened. They attract the love of others as easily and naturally as a bee collects pollen, and share it as organically as that same pollinating bee, with much the same beautiful, flowering results.
I love being with them. I love to be in the presence of that miraculous mother/child love that knows no limits, not even of death.
As I observe a small, small snippet of their lives I know I’m seeing heroes – not a briefcase-clutching whiner, or chasm-avoiding shrieker in sight. There are no brave, sarcastic quips tossed over the shoulder, only meaningful, warm connections that resonate with affection and faith.
It’s THE great adventure. And I would follow this pair anywhere.