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."

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Procrastination moment number 42 (aka therapeutic forgetting)

I think I might be procrastinating again. I have been contemplating (aside: perhaps bogged down in a quagmire might be a more apt explanation) over the last few weeks what can only be described as a series of philosophical questions about what makes me human and fallible. I've been asking these questions because I have decided to take on the ultimate procrastination activity - a course in philosophy!

Clearly the main project I set myself this year - to write a play - has hit a road block. The treatment (the thing that describes scene by scene the play in present tense to assist any director in translating to a stage) is written. I have also drafted the details of the main characters and the opening scene. That was what I managed to do over a month ago. Ever since, I have been distracted. Writing only dialogue - well, it's hard. So I've been working on poetry instead, and building up my collection of philosophical books to read as if I am anticipating a year long procrastination effort. I remind myself that I did set a decision point - come Easter I would set aside the play for a while if other things caught my interest more. And here I am, a few days away from Easter.

I am rather excited at the idea of studying - it's been ages. Week by week online lecture, culminating in an Ethics in Leadership seminar in August.

One of my earlier books was a deeply philosophical piece. Actually, come to think of it, I explore a number of philosophical themes in all of my work. Ethics, morality, what it means to be human, the nature of self and what part big "events" and our memories of those them play in defining who we are - the questions are endless.

I think the philosophy course will help me improve my story-telling, though I cannot imagine if I'll ever be able to produce a play as good as the Pillowman by Martin McDonagh. This play, of all the plays I've seen over many years, remains a stand out in thought provoking ideas on the nature of humanity.

A key concept used in the play is therapeutic forgetting - in the play itself, the 'monster' Pillowman comes and takes bad memories away.

It is based on modern science - a particular pill - used for well over 50 years, administered sparingly in medicine to treat selected cases. The memory suppression pill only works if it is taken within 24 hours of a severely traumatic event. [By the way, 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. 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 (say) violently assaulted. 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 emotions generated from the event.

But why should we give the multi-national drug companies a free kick along when there are far more “socially” acceptable ways of memory suppression - like binge drinking? No prizes for guessing those (non-prescription) 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? [Aside: 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 so many people's history lessons would likely be strewn with examples of doing just that.]

We all have bad days, days when we cannot pretend to be happy. When folk telling us to "deal with it", and pile on the pressure to be "carry on". These are the days when a little "me time" is far better at shaking the blues away. Better than any pill, really.

What if there was 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 you were going to face a series of traumatic events in your future, would you willingly choose to cease to exist to avoid those events? Disconsolate darkness. McDonagh is brave-enough to ask and answer that question.

We rarely have the benefit of foresight, only the benefit of hindsight. Is it wrong to wonder what it would be like (and may be wish a little) to be a suburban slag that only lived for today – for the moment – who did not obsess about the past and who did not fret about the future. Existing purely on basic instinct – would life be a whole lot simpler?

Maybe I am in a world a world surrounded by people who only live in the moment and who do not want to face the prospect of anything that suggests there is something other than the moment. And they say ignorance is bliss.

Does the very process of being capable of reason make life unnecessarily complicated?

Yes - I really need to channel my procrastination into a productive pursuit like studying philosophy!