We mold our womanhood from a thousand bits of clay, not the cool wet river mud of our deepest stories, but countless social scripts that shape our permissions. We learn to bypass our biology and ignore the quiet moments with our mothers in favour of the symbols and rituals of an artificial construct. But bring time into the equation and that construct begins to fade away. Continue reading
Celebrity gossip is to women what sports are to men. We live the hunt vicariously, for love, for the revenge body, for the perfect shoe/bag combo… and just for the record I was on “Team Jen.” There’s no shame here; I delight in relational dramz as much as the next gal. It’s just how our brains are wired. Those silly boys tease us while they’re out there literally losing sleep over whether some other dude gets a ball in a hole – way to go buddy, way to go. Continue reading
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.
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?
Are two heads better than one? How about three? Or five hundred? Almost everything we touch, taste, see, hear, and even smell, is a product of multiple minds meeting in the middle. We live in a globalized culture of collaboration… a world of compromise. At all stages, from concept to marketplace, any new idea must survive countless negotiations and push backs. Logic and personality are our best weapons when battling for an innovation, but both are subjective and eat up substantial time and energy – along with team building, group brainstorming, meetings… meetings… AAAAAAAARG!
We can’t escape collaboration. Heck, conception is the ultimate collaboration and none of us would be here without that! But we’ve got to take a break from the office orgies! We’ve lost touch with the private, primitive urge to create independently – just for the hell of it. Social media and globalization have linked value to multiplicity – whether in ‘Likes’ received, dollars earned, or people converted. But stop. Just stop. Stop letting other people design your world.
With such an overwhelming breadth of new products and creative productions coming at us 24/7, we’re becoming desensitized to individual acts of self-expression, especially our own! But how do we resist the seductive fact that collaboration naturally produces idealized forms – Plato would be so pleased! We now need trainers, masseuses, uniform designers… to score a single hockey goal. A piece of clothing is nothing until it’s dressed up by models, makeup artists, photographers, and airbrushers. This progression to idealization is, of course, perfectly natural and predictable from a neurological standpoint. But why be a slave to your brain when it guts the value of your uniquely imperfect humanity?
We’re a competitive species, for resources, mates, and ego actualization. But how do we compete, head to head, with 7 billion people! Go back 30 000 years… one man… a dozen shells… one necklace. His personal tribal contribution was sacred and precious. Every moment he spent on the task reinforced his own value to himself and to his tribe. Does working a shit job to afford a Louis Vuitton purse really provide the same validation? Why do you think one is never enough? Look how fast our purchases become our insatiables. This is what happens when we lose connection with our individual ability to express our humanity as tangible sensory creations. But there’s hope. Let’s collaborate across time, not in time. Take the gift of the tools (farming, technology, etc.) designed by minds who have come before us, and start small…
Exercise in Engagement: Bring the system boundary back down to the surface of your skin, breathe, then stretch it out to the volume of your kitchen – nothing and no one else exists. You must be your own validation in this moment. Forage for ingredients and dare to build the most personal sandwich possible with what you find. Doesn’t have to be perfect, healthy, or follow any Food Network rules. Screw Plato! Explore the experience of this sandwich with each one of your senses, one at a time, then all together in a moment of total engagement. This sandwich is you because you made it without compromise or negotiation and because (not to be too graphic here) it will literally become you in a matter of hours. Now go forth and conquer!
I love you. Can you see it in my eyes? Can you feel it in my handshake? I am completely yours. We are each other’s fascination. But only for this moment… There are so many articles and books written about “how to learn to be charismatic.” You know the drill: eye contact, total attention, body language angles, clear purpose, get your target talking about themselves, etc. Since the brain is coded to assign meaning to situational symbols, using the symbols of love and devotion can be particularly effective, and dangerous.
But the charismatic’s instant intimacy is too easy. Russell Brand’s flirtations seduce, then abandon. Politicians (in this case Canada’s own Pierre Elliot Trudeau) take advantage of their one night stand handshakes. But, like Norma Jean riding the subway incognito then stepping onto the platform and, with only a hair toss and a wiggle, becoming Marilyn Monroe, it’s just too darn easy.
Sure, I’ve played the game. I went from a shy teenager fretting about where to look in high school hallways to a twenty-something who loved going out dancing by herself – in baggy jeans and sneakers! – and would own the floor. Of course the long blonde hair helped (and still does), but there were always hotter chicks with bigger boobs teetering around the club. Total confidence was the key, knowing that even when I made a complete ass of myself (which sometimes people let me get away with, and sometimes decidedly not) I would always forgive myself and plow fearlessly, joyously, even if oftentimes a little sheepishly, into the next song.
Classically, charisma is a genetic trait, but unique in that it can also be a learned skill. Both sources can lead to its being purposed for good or evil. How do we differentiate between the Mother Teresas and the Charles Mansons? But the more pertinent question is how do we prevent ourselves from being seduced by the charismatics who may be sincerely curious and caring, but whose one night stand involvement in our lives can spin our worlds into chaos.
True intimacy is earned intimacy, and that takes time. What also takes time to foster, grow, and mature is the adult version of total confidence: unrelenting compassion, directed both inwards and outwards. It can only come when you’ve found your place in the universe and are brave enough to accept it fully, and with gratitude. Charisma then comes from a deeper, timeless source and the original definition of the word takes hold – whatever your faith or system of beliefs. People will be drawn to you because you’ll have found a center, one that pulls in other worlds with a gravity all its own.