The coroner’s verdict is in: Peaches Geldof died of a heroin overdose. This tragedy has left two young sons without a mother and an entire extended family without the woman described by her father as “the wildest, funniest, cleverest, wittiest, and the most bonkers of all of us.”
And yet, at this very moment, there are morbidly obese workaholic smokers smirking at this latest bit of internet ‘gossip’, smug in their own judgement of a woman they never met, never even heard of until her death. “How could she chose heroin over her own children?” they troll, oblivious to the irony.
The only difference between smoking a cigarette and shooting up is how long it takes to devastate your system as a whole. All for what? A temporary neurotransmitter buzz? Ah, but that’s the trick of addiction. It feels like so much more.
Disease or choice? When there are reasonable rhetorical arguments on both sides of any debate, logic dictates that there is space for an alternative conceptual model. Let’s go back to Aristotle and identify an addict by what they repeatedly do. Time and time again, an addict will chose their insatiable over everything and everyone they have previously professed to love. And that’s OK, actually perfectly reasonable. From their cognitive paradigm, it’s inevitable. Admitting this plain, if painful, fact begins to relax the cognitive dissidence that so often traps an addict within their fantasy. Addiction, a complex sequence of neurobiological interactions through time, is actually refreshingly simple to explain.
While certain brains – impulsive, sensitive, creative, intelligent – are structurally more susceptible to addiction because of their innate flexibility (Bob Geldof’s quote about his daughter is quite telling), anyone can get hooked on a substance or behaviour, especially after physical/sexual/psychological trauma. Introduce a chemical or act that causes neurotransmitter bliss (or release from discomfort) and, provided the negative consequences don’t immediately trump the reward, your thinking begins to accommodate and adapt to this new working solution.
If you ever try (or do) something that triggers this specific thought: “This is the best feeling ever – I need to do whatever possible to keep this going for as long as possible.” Be VERY careful. This is why, for so many of us, foreplay is never enough. This is why one drink is too many for an alcoholic. Your logic skews to internalize this ‘truth’ and restructures your perception of reality to support these new priority permissions. Past traumas become more painful – the memories will actually alter. Physical pain becomes more pronounced. Even daily strife seems more apocalyptic. Eventually, the addiction gets tied into survival itself, deep in your limbic brain. Then you’re really screwed, because to dislodge it you’ve got to break that bond by pushing your insatiable to its be-all-end-all limit. Rock bottom isn’t a catch phrase; it’s a biological event.
Asking an addict to give up his/her insatiable of choice is asking them to live a life of less-than, of deliberate ‘missing out’, in a universe of mocking abundance. It’s counterintuitive and downright abusive. Because, as addiction alters the chemical landscape of the brain, what used to be enough… just isn’t. Not doing drugs, or even not wanting to do drugs isn’t the answer. An addict must be coached how to rehabilitate their brain until they actually, on all levels of cognition and emotion, want to want not to do drugs. How? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but stay tuned to upcoming posts for some innovative Blank Canvas Living ideas, techniques, and exercises.
I believe Peaches Geldof, an admitted perfectionist with a creative brain prone to obsessiveness (documented eating disorders and – well intentioned – attachment parenting), was looking for her Secret Garden. And in this society, aren’t we all? For Peaches, a lifetime of unhealthy observed and inherited brain patterns, exaggerated by addiction, kept leading her back to heroin – the universal good mother. It wasn’t supposed to kill her, just give her a break, a rest, an ugly-edged bliss in a viable world that must have left her feeling constantly on-edge, never good enough. I don’t blame her. Not because she had a disease, but because she never knew she could create a choice.
Tragedy, like blame and Brunelleschi, is so often a matter of perspective. Ever wonder why it’s so hard to be rational about stuck lids, traffic jams, and computer crashes? These paradigm dependent annoyances are essentially arbitrary; it’s the timeless universals triggered deep in our limbic brains that cause all the huffing and puffing. So how can we tame our reptilian responses and learn to follow Miranda Kerr’s (who better than a supermodel to guide us plebs) most recent life advice and stop sweating the small stuff?
Let’s take a classic example – wish it was hypothetical. Two days ago I turned on my office computer and discovered that an entire chapter of my work-in-progress novel had vanished into thin… into… if I knew where, even metaphorically, I’d be ahead of the game. Instantly, I felt my whole body reacting: sweaty palms, nausea, teeth gnashing rage… the works. My prefrontal cortex couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I knew my only hope of regaining perspective on this paradigm pitfall was to engage with my system as a whole.
Exercise in Engagement: How to stop sweating the small stuff… once you’ve already started
1) (Optional) Begin to loosen paradigm associations/restrictions by performing a quick sense scroll mindfulness meditation – preferably, but not necessarily, in paradigm neutral territory (aka nature).
2) Identify the universal human theme that has been triggered. Since I was already blasting my way through the 5 stages, it was easy to identify ‘loss’ as my emotional theme.
3) Since our brains already process our lives through story, it’s only logical to make use of storytelling as a practical psychological tool. Determine the historical/geographical/situational paradigm that best fits your body/brain’s current system state reaction. My reptilian brain tends to be a bit of drama queen, so my go-to paradigm for almost any piss-off is medieval London during the plague years – not exactly the swingin’ sixties. Story a situation that truly reflects your emotional state, thereby acknowledging your initial reaction with respect and permission. What are the sights, sounds, smells? Characters? Dialogues? Really push it.
4) Take your universal theme into an entirely different paradigm and a story that would warrant an emotional reaction on the opposite end of the spectrum. Play around. Journey your piss-off through time and space to find multiple comparables. Someone stepping on a clay pot I just made in a Roman pottery kiln. Losing my latest obsidian spear point… and finding it again. Change the ending. This is your story. The purpose is to flood your brain with conflicting sets of information to clear the stage for conscious re-framing of your initial circumstance.
5) Return to your own paradigm and decide how big of a deal this really is. I do mean decide. By respecting your initial reaction, and giving it the neural space to temper through alternative storytelling, your thinking will be directed towards a more neutral, rational objectiveness. Any novel necessitates rewrites, so this is just an inevitable part of the process – plus, I’ve still got the handwritten draft. Also, because you’ve loosened your associations, certain paradigm privileges will start to peek through. My office’s air conditioning for one!
This entire process can be performed in under 5 minutes and can save, not just your composure, but your whole day, not to mention more than a few marriages. By some sweet miracle of storytelling come to life, the next morning I found a hidden typed hard copy of my lost chapter in a place I swear I’d already double-checked. But something tells me I’ll be storying new troubles back to the ol’ Thames before the week is out. Must be a human or something… sigh.
Desperate for the weekend? Stuck in an office? Just like the sod houses of early prairie settlers, your best chance for survival is to get creative with what you have on hand. All you need for this DIY cottage project is a well stocked office storage room and a boss who’s open to a bit of out-of-the-box(es) problem solving – at least on Fridays. Because sometimes the only way to escape an impossible situation is to story your way out…
“Well, dear,” says my realtor, “you told me you wanted a cottage property that’s easily accessible from work, and with your budget, I really think this is the best option you’re going to find.”
I’ve always tried to see the best in a situation – although a few exes might disagree – but, although charmingly designed, this sad little shack isn’t exactly screaming sunshine and sailboats.
“But it’s only twenty feet away from my office door,” I complain. “What kind of vacation is that?”
My realtor, a middle-aged firebrand with a forehead as immovable as her shellacked bob, isn’t one to give up easily, on youth, 80s style eyeliner, or a sales pitch.
“But look at all the features!” She points out relevant bits of recycling as she enumerates. “Bubble wrap window for light and built-in entertainment, foam paving stones – so soothing to the sole after a long workweek. You’ve got an end-of-roll doorknob, decoratively staggered tube fencing, garden area with overhang and canopy, and just look at that darling slanted roof.”
“What happens when the wolf comes and ‘blows it all down?” I can’t resist asking.
She ignores my sarcasm and plunges on, “And talk about environmentally green construction, this cottage and its landscaping are made exclusively of unaltered found materials.” (author’s note: because I had to put everything back exactly as I’d found it… sigh)
“Not quite, but the public washroom is just around the corner, opposite the office utility closet.”
“Seriously, Cymbria, for right now, for today, this is as good as it’s going to get.”
I know she’s right. That’s the worst of it. So I do what so many of us have gotten in the habit of doing when offered only a scrap instead of the whole – I take it.
Sweating under the old Ra-born Egyptian sun, workers beat together layers of cross-layed papyrus… A medieval lamb is slaughtered and stretched into vellum for an illuminated manuscript (so often immortalizing another Lamb)… In Gutenberg’s press, each letter, carrying its own weight, brands its ink deep into the page…
With 48 words, I have just given you 26 minutes of my life. My words are not cheap. Some writers thrill in the process, but I’m not one of those 2AM keystroke masturbators. Sure, I’ve let out the occasion (brutally embarrassing!) orgasmic coffee shop exaltation when a chapter comes together. But for a sensory creature like myself, translating an entire viable world of colours, tastes, and textures into incremental contrasts of black and white is an exhausting exercise in intellectual masochism. So why bother?
I write because I have to. Without this medium, I am alone in my ideas; I become mute, a helpless slave to a poorly fitting paradigm that leaves me badly blistered by the end of every workday. I’m writing to escape this cold little office and the passive, slow death it represents. OK, admittedly I’m having a bit of a shitty day here at work – let’s get back on topic.
I work because I have to, because I love a man who is everything except a sugar daddy. And I write because I love myself enough to know that this is not enough. I want. I want!! When I climb down after taking my fill of pleasure from that man, I can’t help but revel in naughty glee that my love has left its marks. I was here. I took. I gave. I loved! Throughout our history, words have been born of passion and violence in both form and function. And now what? We take our fill and then turn off the screen? Blank. Nothing. No evidence of our pleasure. No reciprocation of value by the offering of space on a shelf. A denial of value and a denial of time… a denial of ourselves. When you take away the value of words, you take away their power to change.
I want my books to remember me. I want to leave them sweaty, ‘red’, and desperate for air – the way they leave me. I want the responsibility for their care and ownership. I want to hold their futures in my hands. And I want them to feel time the way I do, because my own words cost me so much. I want my books wrinkled and scarred, with wayward bugs entombed and immortalized between their pages.
But what if you go on vacation? Isn’t an eReader so much more convenient? Since when have words been about convenience?! The last time I opened an Agatha Christie, a small dribble of cottage sand spilled out onto my pillow. I rubbed it between my fingers as I flipped the pages and drank in my paperback’s delicious, comfortable mustiness. Suddenly I was back on the beach, savouring an old friend page by page, memory by memory. Yes, with an eReader or tablet, a Kobo or Kindle, you can bring an entire library with you on vacation, but it only takes one real book to bring the beach back home. I rest my case.
Humanity, at its most raw, is heroic. We celebrate those among us who live the glamour of our extremes and brave the consequences. When sensations and emotions are freed from social conventions to engage with the paradoxical poles of existence in an honest dialogue… well, you get On The Road.
Jack Kerouac typed his seminal Beat scroll in three mad benzedrine fuelled weeks in 1951 after seven years riding alongside its hero, Dean Moriarty – his friend Neal Cassady. Through chronicling Cassady’s untamed (let’s be honest – adolescent) humanity, Kerouac became our hero. For more than 50 years we’ve been wanking off to Kerouac’s rhythmic angst and Cassady’s inspirational intensities. But what happens to our heroes?
Jack Kerouac drank himself to death hiding away with his mother. Neal Cassady stumbled into oblivion… literally! Words have caught them at their most luminous, in that one brief brilliance when an exceptional adult intellect can sing true to its child’s soul, before the brain is forced to mature or push its truths into death. Awful, really.
Sensitive? Overwhelmed? Are you a Neal Cassady or a Jack Kerouac? Do you live your extremes or document them? Do you give of yourself, or your production? The pain is the same, and the joy, but the difference is what is offered up to time and to the broader human system. But here’s the thing. Our heroes don’t give a shit – not about legacy, humanity, or even (through legacy and humanity) immortality. Their brains care about feeling good and whatever story supports that truth – just like ours. But fame and fortune don’t matter to our heroes, social awards and ‘doing the right thing’ don’t feed or sustain – that’s why they’re our heroes!
Maybe we don’t have to choose. Maybe there’s another way. What if we make the exploration of our humanity the article of production? What if the act of life without limits becomes a chronicle in real-time that can only exist with continued participation of that life? What if we take Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle into our own systems? What if “look what I did” becomes “look what I am”? What if we let the act of writing, the mood of the day, even the choice of outfit, build our stories?
What if we dare to become our heroes?
For those of us whose minds and mouths seem so much more adept at forming questions than answers… For those of us who swing wide on the flexibilities of our viable worlds… For those of us who can never stop exploring… Is it possible to overdose on philosophy? If there is one solid answer in this world, it is to this question. And three days ago it smacked me upside the head… YES!
It was the last dream before the morning. In the boundless, though tremulous reality of my dream’s gestalted storyline, I am teaching a small toddling self to play catch under a purple sky.
“OK, here we go,” I said. “I’ll throw you the ball, then you catch it and throw it back to me.”
My mini mirror caught my light toss with expert ease. But then she hesitated, looked up at me and asked, with blue eyes wide and questioning…