Transition Girl

Why transition girl?... Best answered by a quote from the Iliad....."The soul was not made to dwell in a thing; and when forced to it, there is no part of that soul but suffers violence."

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

places of comfort

We all have somewhere where we feel safe. Places where we can retreat when we are in dire need of a space to help us to withdraw, reflect, re-energise – enable us to face another day with optimism.

For me, there are two generic places that provide my comfort.

The first is inside a darkened cinema, preferably late morning matinee with only a handful of people also seeking solitude – my giant cave cocoon.

The second place is twenty three metres underwater floating through the ocean, surrounded by blue lighted coral, wispy seaweed waving with the current.

I also have a specific place, the place I grew up, a breathtaking bay on the south coast of Australia, which provides me with comfort but I am such a long way away from that place physically that my mind's eye is the only practical way I can visit.

I go to the movies more often when I am in countdown mode to any expected battery of medical tests. I have some overdue on my radar now and I am feeling apprehensive though optimistic about outcome prospects.

Watching films about redemption, like the Watchmen, help boost my energy. Somehow, watching conflicted men making stark choices lifts my spirits as I sit in a place where only the images on the screen and the sounds from the Dolby surround sound can touch me.

Sometimes it even helps to temporarily dissipate that indelible feeling of ennui that sometimes settles into my bones.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

the craft of flirting?

This week's contribution is a little early this week as my mind is distracted by an upcoming Easter long weekend and the social commitments I will be squeezing onto my dance card before then. I will be have a serious unmet writing need to fill by the time that long weekend rolls around.

A friend of mine said to me the other day that there seems to be a hell of a lot of confusion that arises between bonding and romance. The comment came up in the context of a discussion on flirting (and her trying to understand why I avoid attending most work related social functions).

In particular, we discussed whether it was appropriate to use flirting in a work context. In a work context, I find the use of flirting as a communication tool or as strategy (for example, for career advancement) completely unacceptable. I will tolerate watching others engage in such behaviour (after all, it is their choice to do so) and few people really notice that I rarely make small talk with any person that I feel may misconstrue my statements for anything other than small talk.

Both my friend and I have low opinions of some "flirters" - the ones that engage in a sledgehammer approach; wearing revealing clothing, hands firmly touching or stroking an arm, hard core fluttering of eyelids, hand flicking of coutured hair far too often, laughing excessively at another person's bad humour, and – fundamentally – using flirting as a way of feeling better about themselves. Women (and men) with low self-esteem, in need of the attention of another person to somehow give meaning to their lives.

Beyond that mutual disrespect for some of our former work colleagues, my friend and I parted ways on our views of the flirting concept.

Outside of a work context, if I sleep with a person after an evening of flirting, I will say unequivocally that the flirting has been an unmitigated disaster. I never entertain at a party with such purpose and, if sex is the outcome, I am disappointed in myself for not mastering my craft.

I grew up in an environment where flirting was common practice and much more about making the other person feel involved and comfortable. As a communication tool, softer subtle flirting was an icebreaker – designed to help people relax, slip out their shells, and build their confidence.

If I am attracted to someone and actually want to sleep with them, my approach is more overt, direct – there should never be any question or ambiguity about desire and motive. Most folk would argue that even the softer subtle approach is designed with the same end-game in mind. It isn't for me.

I think my view of flirting may be unconventional.

So, as a communication tool (or a strategy) in a work context, this spectrum and the sophisticated subtleties that come with it, is so poorly understood and, for that reason alone, flirting should never be intentionally used.

My view of flirting goes a long way to explain why, in a work context, I do not generally flirt, especially with much younger men. They are far less skilled in understanding the difference between bonding and romance. (I believe the same is also true of younger women and more senior male colleagues.) And, without being too cruel, I never cease to be amazed by an almost hardwired and extremely ill conceived male view that "if a woman talks to you she wants to sleep with you". In a work context, it's rubbish.

Hey - I grew up with two brothers; I studied in a male dominated discipline; I have spent my entire career surrounded by predominantly men; I have a lot of male friends. I am infinitely more comfortable around men talking football and politics than I am in amongst women talking gabble about shoes and makeup. Not only do I NOT want to sleep with every man who hears me speak at work, I never will want to either.

A conversation is just a conversation.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Synthetic happiness

I was fascinated by this old article in the papers:

And my favourite bit of the article, which suggests folk with no choice were happier than folk with lots of choices - "This is the difference between dating and marriage," says Gilbert, "You go out on a date with a guy who picks his nose, you don't go out on a date with him again. You're married to the guy and he picks his nose, you say 'Yeah, he's got a heart of gold. Don't touch the fruitcake.' Right? You find a way to be happy with what's happened." He's kidding right?

A girlfriend responded to my question by saying - whether happiness is a pursuit, a choice or something that just happens, the analysis in the article ignores the value of work and effort and a sense of achievement which (for some) may contribute to happiness.

And it seemed to me that the basic premise of the article implied self-delusion = happiness.

[Aside: Drug induced happiness (a more obvious response to the phrase synthetic) may be another form of self-delusion but can be irresistible for some and, quite frankly, whether it's real or not - elation felt in the moment can be described as happiness.]

Some questions: why is it that you seem happier when someone else is doing the driving? Isn't being on auto-pilot a form of self-delusion too?

I don't agree that being in control will necessarily allow us to experience a higher level of happiness. Although I accept that being out of control can make us feel unhappy. (As my girlfriend said in response to the article - people are more prone to melancholy and depression when they lack control, and face stressful events).

I personally feel more content nowadays when I am surprised and when those surprises are things totally outside my control - when I do not have to make any decisions at all or someone else makes the decisions for me. Maybe some measure of going with the flow - irrespective of the degree of control / choice - makes me feel content because it is easy?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Recurring Dream

I’ve had wee bit of writer’s block the last few weeks so there’s a little bit of recycling occurring at the moment while I wait for my mind to have its grand re-opening sale.

So, in the interim...

I'm having a recurring dream at the moment.

My subconscious tortures me with a handful of recurring dreams. One which is always the same, that of a 12 year old speechless girl witnessing a really violent crime - the stuff of nightmares – it has stayed with me for decades. But that's not the one I want to talk about today.

Today's curio is a recurring dream that's been a “story” developing in itself. And who says the subconscious is random. In this dream, I've been implanted with some kind of timer. Each time I have the dream, an alarm goes off reminding me to do some maintenance on its mechanics. I wake up and think I'm too tired to bother with the maintenance - so I don't...

Last night, the timer's alarm beeped louder than usual and yelled at me – time's up. Then it felt like my entire body was shutting down. I woke up - heart pounding - my legs paralysed - I felt completely out of breath. I thought I was dying.

It took several minutes for my heart to slow down. This recurring dream has been permeating my sleep for well over a year now.

Those who are into dream interpretation would say – it's obvious - old age is beckoning. I am finally recognizing my own mortality. I guess that's one possible interpretation. Normally, I would agree but having faced the fragile nature of my own mortality several times already in my life, the thought that I might not wake up one day at all just doesn’t frightens me.

I just do not believe it is about mortality. We always feel the fear of death in a dream but always wake up before we die. Kids' robotic toys all have a reset button so if the toy is neglected and dies you press the reset and it comes back to life. The alarm may be significant, especially if it's getting louder. The maintenance, to me, seems like something is being neglected and I may be operating on automatic.

I also think it could be interpreted as my being a robot and not a person which, without maintenance, cannot function effectively. It reminds me of those Japanese electronic toy dogs – don't feed them (albeit in computer speak) and they "die" (clearly, it's not real but it does seem so to the kiddies who are given the toys for gifts). It also reminds me of a scene from the John Cusack film, Gross Point Blank, where Mr Cusack plays a contract killer whose psychiatrist tells him that his dreams of being a windup toy are very depressing because they imply he has no heart!

The dream could also represent the urge to be - expressing a desire for conformity and regularity. The alarm could represents that as well - it's regular, predictable. Perhaps my body is telling me to slow down? Maybe? I could think that my body/mind wants to be on automatic...

For those who believe the theory that dreams are just your brain dumping information it doesn't want to store (all in cipher given it's the subconscious doing the jettisoning), who knows exactly what my brain is purging and why. The million dollar question really.

Thoughts, suggestions, anyone?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Therapeutic Forgetting

I was amazed not so long ago that a memory suppression pill, which in concept featured in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, has been a part of modern science for well over 50 years. Life imitating art. The article I read mentioned that “the memory suppression pill only works if it is taken within 24 hours of a severely traumatic event.” You don’t really have the memories erased, just the emotional impact of those memories.

There is no reason to believe the pill could not be used for circumstances that were “unpleasant” but not really traumatic – how many bad days have we all had where a pill might have helped us to forget the embarrassment?

Taken to an extreme, there could be a lot of seriously drugged up people wandering around. Very Brave New World. Self-inflicted dementia for the young and the young at heart.

In reality, there’s a huge difference between having a shitty day and being threatened by a lunatic with a shotgun. While the former can suck the life out of you slowly (death by a thousand cuts), the latter involves seeing your life flash before your eyes with time morphing into meaningless.

Medical experts believe that there is a case for therapeutic forgetting in the latter case and, on some days, I am inclined to agree with them, especially if it means it could prevent a lifetime of destructive behaviour arising from an inability to cope with the damaged emotions generated from the traumatic event.

Why give the multi-national drug companies a free kick along when there are far more “socially” acceptable ways of memory suppression - like binge drinking? Sadly, those forms of suppression only provide temporary relief.

Seriously though, are we not the sum of our experiences? To erase part of those experiences would be like making life become an unfinishable puzzle (with several pieces permanently missing). It just seems wrong to me.

Who would want to sleepwalk through their existence? (Actually, there are probably a large number of folk who would say, “I would”, to that question. And, let’s be honest, a serious part of my own particular history lesson is strewn with examples of me doing just that.) What would be the point in living if not to experience the full emotional experience? It is effectively signing up to a life without learning for surely we learn from the challenges we face?

I suppose people can deal with reality how they choose to deal with it but I think a therapist administering a therapeutic pill distorts that reality. It is hard to argue what comes first though - does an event create a bias within us that distorts our view of reality in the first place that it needs to be "fixed" or does the event create a new reality. I am in the latter camp.

I have seen that therapeutic forgetting concept in a wide range of artistic interpretation including an amazing play I saw a few years ago called “the Pillowman”. This particular play offered a more extreme choice of memory erasing - existence erasing. If you have experienced a traumatic event, would you take a pill to forget? If you knew ahead of time that you were going to face a series of traumatic events, would you willingly choose to cease to exist to avoid those events? Disconsolate darkness.

We rarely have the benefit of foresight, only the benefit of hindsight. Does the very process of being capable of reason make life unnecessarily complicated?

Anyway, here are the email links to an (old) Washington Post article on the issue: