Bland Like Me

photo montageThe marvelous Diana of A Holistic Journey has been writing posts asking about the influences of race, culture, national origin, education, and so forth and the ways that they shape who we are and how we perceive ourselves. This series of hers is proving an outstanding eye-opening and thought-provoking exercise for me, too. I have spent most of my life living amid and being part of The Majority—middle-class, white, English speaking, native-born, educated, boringly predictable, etc, etc. There were a few touches of diversity around me here and there, of course, this country of the so-called United States being what it is, but those were relatively small and isolated, so mostly I grew up sheltered and unchallenged in nearly all ways.

Yet as an individual I came to know myself as being different in one way or another from most of what I thought of as the ‘norms’ of my own environs, and even learned over time that what I thought was my Majority milieu was mostly just my very narrow path through it in life. While a lot of my classmates, immediate neighbors and friends when I was a kid, for example, were also little pasty white critters like me, the friends I remember best as seeming most interesting to me were ones like Eha, the Estonian girl, or Karen, one of my few black classmates, or the Japanese friends who shared exotic treats from their lunches and who performed classical Japanese dance in a miniature celebration of the Cherry Blossom Festival at school. I have hardly any memories so suffused with longing as that of watching the girls flutter their fans, while dressed in exquisite kimonos and dancing their stately, courtly dance to the strains of the tune ‘Sakura’, which melody in turn still fills me with delicately melancholy love.

My ideals of human physical beauty, as my husband and I have often noted musingly, are nearly all attached to non-whites or mixed-race people, not something I think of as a conscious or intentional choice but a persistent reality for me ever since I can remember. My superficial list of Most Beautiful People would probably have a paucity of caucasian members among its top fifty. While I have never been either very adventurous or flexible in my choices and tastes and experiences, I suppose I have always been fascinated by what seemed different or even exotic to me. I am a fantasist and a romantic in the cheap, popular versions of those ideas, I guess.

I have even wondered, in a broader sense, if part of my very nature is simply to feel like an outsider for no very specific reason. I was always shy, and learned as an adult that this expressed not only a naturally introverted character on my part but also demonstrated lifelong social anxiety and probably the incipient state of my developing depression that didn’t come to full fruition until later. Those, along with undiagnosed dyslexia, tremors, the dysphonia that came into play in my forties, and who knows what other quirks of my unique persona and biological makeup, could perhaps explain why I never felt I fit in with any particular group or was especially central to its character. But I still can’t say I felt consciously sad or was overtly unhappy or removed or, certainly, ostracized for any of this.

What was odder was that as I reached adulthood and gradually began to find a more comfortable sense of self and direction, I have a feeling I may have chosen to put myself into groups where it was plain that I didn’t quite match the norm, specifically because, if I knew there was no possibility of my being an exemplar in its midst of the highest standard, I might unconsciously feel safe from being expected to be so by anyone else. This might be complete nonsense, but it gives me pause. In any event, I spend a great deal of my ‘quality time’ nowadays in the company of people who are immersed in and even expert at music, pedagogy, administration, and a number of other topics in which I have no training whatsoever and only a very little observational knowledge, and I am very happy in this environment.

Conversely, I tend to keep my company of good visual artists and writers and others with training or knowledge more likely to be similar to mine at the seemingly safer arm’s-length of cyberspace, and that probably doesn’t reflect well on my personal fortitude. I never did, at least, make any claims of being any better than a big ol’ chicken. Being a scaredy-pants is probably not race-specific. Or attached with any particularity to culture, social stratum, nationality, educational accomplishment, religion, language, income level, or anything else in question. Being a scaredy-pants is just part of being myself, and the unique combination of qualities and characteristics that make up the wonderfulness of Me.

On the other hand, being attracted to, frightened by or otherwise connected to or dissociated from people who are Not Like Me is a central consideration of understanding how the human species works. Or doesn’t. And there’s no doubt that all of those things influenced by proximity (physical or metaphorical), the aforementioned race, culture, social strata, and so forth, are very potent indicators and influencers of how we will experience the concept of Self and Other at any level.

So what does that ‘solve’ about me, about how I feel about those who are or seem in any way different from me? I’m still not at all sure. Perhaps the best I can say is that my feeling of being, in a value-neutral way, unlike those around me makes me unwilling to assume much about them, in turn. I would generally rather let personalities and individuality be revealed to me and my understanding of my surroundings at the moment unfold in their own sweet time than that I jump in and make any precipitous assumptions. I’m perfectly capable of finding lots of other ways of being wrong and making a fool of myself without constantly worrying over whether I’m being judged, rightly or wrongly, as a stereotype of either the majority or the minority on hand.

Most of my blogging friends and acquaintances are significantly different from me in nearly all of the aforementioned identifying categories, and yet I feel remarkably at home among you. So I’ll let you decide if sameness or difference affects how you see me. I feel at home, and that’s good enough for my part of the bargain.photo montage

Meditation Medication

digital illustrationHealth is a wildly, weirdly, wonderfully complicated state. Both physical and mental health are astoundingly omnidirectional networks of intersecting matrices and random points; genetics, environmental influences, accidents, allergies and so much more come together and continue to change over the life of any one person. Furthermore, these meet in an intersection of the two networks (mental and physical) in every single person, that it’s nothing short of miraculous that any of us human conglomerations actually survive and have relatively good health.

It’s completely unsurprising, then, when something or other does break down or fail to be really perfect when it comes to health matters. Thank goodness there are more and more answers and helps for us when it comes to such moments of concern. But for every solution, there are shortcomings and side effects, and we still have to make choices and experiment, test and try and hope.

I’m one of those relatively rare creatures blessed with generally outstanding and reliable good health. I’ve never had a broken bone; I’ve had all of three stitches in my whole life, and I’ve never worn a cast or a brace unless you count the kinds I could buy in a neighborhood pharmacy for an achy hyper-extended knee or a fiddly fingertip whose little cut made a mockery of my hale-and-heartiness when I was whimpering over the pain every time I’d bump it. My various moles, cysts, and bumps have all thus far been benign and manageable. Even those more significant elements that might affect my function and longevity are so far pretty reasonable to deal with and don’t require enormous amounts of care just yet.

The essential tremor, noticeable since I was about ten or twelve, has never gotten so obtrusive that I have had to do anything for or about it. The mitral valve prolapse (heart murmur) is so mild that it went unnoticed until I had a regular physical exam from a person who, as pure chance had it, was conducting a study of that specific condition and so was attuned to its unlikely presence. Very minor hypothyroidism like mine is easily kept at bay with very little medicine (mostly pretty common ones at that) or monitoring. I am especially grateful that thus far there is no indication that the Parkinson’s Disease that poses as the only true black sheep of my family has not to date taken up residence in my body.

This is not to say that I have no inkling of any of the irksome and unpleasant effects of imperfect health. I’ve come to recognize the recurrent, and in some cases, chronic, annoyances and inconveniences that come with allergies. While mine have remained moderate and turn out to be treatable if not controllable, I figured out after getting some help that they had had a far greater control over my daily life and well-being before that time than I had realized. And as I’ve said here before, I have had my adventures with Spasmodic Dysphonia, clinical depression, and anxiety; these had larger influences on me and, therefore, those around me, by a magnitude of difference.

What arises every time I contemplate these things, all of which are in my own life more survivable and treatable than I know that they can be for others, is the notion that as a typically complicated human health exemplar, I still have to work continuously to discern what combination of the tangible and medical kinds of interventions and treatments with those more intangible approaches of meditation, activity, and trust—call it faith, hope, prayer, optimism, or attitude adjustment, it’s all fodder for feeling, and possibly, getting, better—will suffice to keep any of my anomalous conditions in check.

Thus far, the answer for me has been a shifting combination of the tangible and the intangible; I think that’s how it works for most people. My personal recipe for success is neither absolute nor permanent, any more than my personal state of being is fixed or unchangeable. Health, both physical and mental, changes rather constantly over a life span, and the longer one lives the more cycles and spikes of change are likely to occur during the stretch. What, then, can I do?

Keep trying. What combination of body-chemistry-altering substances serves my needs at the moment? They might well be outright commercially made and sold and officially, doctor- or nurse-administered drugs, but they can also easily be homeopathic or folk cures, foods or herbs or numerous other things that I’ve discovered through trial and error suit my physical and mental well-being. The same can be true of physical therapy: it might be specific exercises recommended to me by my doctor or other trusted medical and health experts, or as is often the case, it can be a set, series or group of activities that simply make me feel closer to my optimal conditioning. Nowadays, as always, I find myself using quite the mixture of these helpers to suit my specific needs and wishes for better health and happiness. For me, that means a full combination of what could be loosely classified as medication and meditation.

I can’t begin to tell you how that works or is explained scientifically. Some of it I’d bet good money can’t be clarified in scientific terms. But experientially, that I can tell you: I feel pretty good. I get the occasional sneezes or headaches, and there are times when it irritates me, yes, that my vocal cords are recalcitrant and unreliable. I’d definitely prefer if the shadow of Parkinson’s hied itself off my family’s shoulders, most especially Mom’s, and would never try to sneak up on me later despite any efforts on my part to ward it off if possible. But let’s be honest. Right now I feel pretty good, and that makes me happy. Whatever I’m doing or not doing, taking or not taking, it seems to be working.digital illustration

Sound Advice for the Voiceless

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Singing our little hearts out . . .

I have spoken about having Spasmodic Dysphonia. That in itself, when in the aural forum and not (as in yesterday’s blog post) just the printed format of the internet, is a fine thing in my estimation. It means that having SD hasn’t rendered me either mute or unwilling to let my sometimes goofy sounding voice be heard. It could conceivably be argued that it would be good if I would actually shut up occasionally, or at least not be quite so outlandishly talkative as I can get. I consider that other people’s problem. Egotistical, I know, and I’m not really exaggerating when I say that. What you hear is what you get.

Being fortunate enough to retain the power of speech, I prefer not to stop using it. SD has meant getting over any vanity I may have had about the sound or quality of my voice. Having been flattered by many in my younger years as a strong and clear and pleasant speaker and encouraged to take singing lessons, to consider radio work, to be a lector and to speak at public events, I now have a different sense of my voice and what I do and don’t trust it to do than I did then.

So I find it less comfortable both physically and psychologically to sing, and certainly have no desire to show off my resulting lack of confidence and practice publicly. I was always a nervous Nellie when it came to singing in any group smaller than a chamber choir (Yikes! Someone might hear me!), but even singing along with a crowd is not the same fun it once was. It has in no way diminished my delight in hearing others sing, however; quite the contrary, it transformed my understanding of what it means to be able to sing, and to do so with skill and fluidity and grace. Working on proper vocal technique will help me continue being able to speak, but my own sense of music has been shifted rather firmly into listening to and appreciating and being moved by others’ mastery of their instruments. My own musical endeavor now sits much more comfortably in the realm of written and spoken language and of trying to capture the marvels of rhythm and pattern and color and sound in the confined refinements of print and speech. The potential is perhaps equally profound and potent, but simply takes an entirely different route through the senses in some significant ways.

Just to be crystal clear on this, I say this without any sense of loss or privation. I’m not suffering! Indeed, I consider myself incredibly fortunate. I’m neither summarized by nor limited to a description of my anomalies any more than I am defined by the ways in which I conform to any norms. SD is something I have or experience, not who I am or what I’m capable of doing. I could go through the list of potentially problematic quirks that help to shape my daily experience and my present self and sound like either a professional victim or a hypochondriac, or I can find–as I most decidedly do–that while each of those oddities has enough effect on my health and capabilities to be worthy of treatment or accommodation of some sort, each brings awareness of deeper gifts and the drive to overcome not only the irksome ills themselves but anything else I might be letting hold me back.

Yes, I am a lily-livered scaredy-pants of the first order as well as a lollygagging and procrastinating and self-sabotaging ignoramus, able to match pretty much any other arguably normal person around in those foolish and unhealthy arts. But at the same time I am so gifted as to understand that my true limitations are all self-imposed and even self-created, and that not only do people with far greater difficulties and far fewer resources live far more impressive and productive lives than I, I can grow up and into a better version of myself by taking notes on how they do it. Being a somewhat lazy and under-motivated student, I have to actively counter the urge to hide behind the couch until all inspirations and moments of willing effort pass, but on certain miraculous occasions I find that, well, I actually get up and do something.

When I do manage to pull myself up by my nearly invisible bootstraps, I find that despite having familial tremor (mainly in my hands) since who-knows-when, I can draw a straight line or a pretty fine freehand circle when I’m focused enough to make art. When I’m not, I have learned to hold my drinking glass with both hands if need be, or to keep kettle and bowl nearly overlapping when ladling soup. When all else fails, spill cloths and laundry detergent are mighty handy things. I may chill easily, thanks to my slightly off-kilter thyroid, but I’ve got layered-clothing styles down to a -40 Edmontonian nine-layer art form that I can still pack in my carry-on baggage. Wanna learn how to do nearly any basic survival task without an inner compass? I have virtually every dyslexic and perceptually dysfunctional talent I’ve ever heard tell of, from the ever popular reading-related visual chaos to spatial, directional, numerical and probably even temporal displacement. So without even knowing or trying to do it, I learned most of the affected skills upside down, backwards and sideways, doing everything with my own inevitably inimitable flair. Once I started treatment for them, my clinical depression and anxiety stopped holding me back and instead informed more of my interaction with other people as well as with my art. My lack of physical stamina and athleticism may have prevented my becoming a famous basketball player or dancer or a three-meter platform diving star, but I figured out early that leverage and a little logical logistical ingenuity could make up for a largish quantity of strength and skill in things physically challenging. Blazing alternative trails isn’t glamorous work but it’s done useful things in my life, and gives me an appreciative slant on those whose achievements outshine mine.

And when it comes right down to it, my ‘substitute’ versions of reality have served me quite nicely. I don’t sing in the way of the magnificent-voiced soloists and choral artists whose offerings have so richly embellished my existence, but there’s nothing stopping me from using the alternate voice I have in words and images to sing in my own way, and mainly for sheer happiness.

spring green flora + text

There are so many ways — and so many reasons — to sing . . .