Sunday, June 30, 2019

This post won't make me any friends...

I'm finding it harder and harder to think of a good retort for people when they ask me why I don't drink anymore. Telling them that I've left Plato's cave of debauchery doesn't do me any favors. Recently I've started simply saying that it's for of the same reason I gave up the smokes; I just don't need it anymore. I can have just as much fun on a night out without booze. The only difference is that I understand when the crescendo has been reached. It's usually about 11:30 to 12pm or four or five drinks in when the substance of discussion starts to fade rapidly and those with the responsibility of relieving a baby sitter, or, with work in the morning will leave, but those who associate fun and alcohol will stay."Keep her lit", they'll say, desperately clinging on but never realizing that it only goes down from there.

The fact that I don't drink was never an issue in America, but, as the old stereotypes will tell you, it has been one in Ireland. My true feelings are that alcohol is a social tool for the average Irish person. We're known across the world for being uber-friendly but I think it's a surface reality only. Growing up, if I had a problem that I needed to discuss with somebody, it would be done over pints. We can't really open up and feel comfortable until we've a few on board, and this is dangerous because we ultimately associate the two. I think the high level of alcoholism in Ireland is because we can't really feel like ourselves unless we've pacified that reproachful monster in our brains.

If I'm organizing a social gathering with some new friends and I ask them out for pints, somewhere along the way I'll tell them that I don't drink. That's when the awkwardness sets in. They wonder what I'm going to do for two or three hours sitting in front of a sparkling water as if the alcohol was the company and not them. And I think that it runs deeper than that. I think that really, they are worried that they'll be letting their guard down and I'll have mine up and I they may be exposed. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system making people feel more at ease with themselves but when you take alcohol out of the equation you learn to get over that wall all by yourself. I remember feeling not quite relaxed at certain social gatherings until I'd had two or three drinks now that feeling lasts only seconds.

Hangovers are something I'll never miss. Not just the physical effects but the psychological ones two. The fear and anxiety caused by a dip in neurochemicals the next day might be outweighed by the benefit of a super fun night, but, when you find yourself shouting at your phone three or four days later that's when you see the real downside of alcohol. We tend to think the effects are confined to the proceeding day but the reality is they run far into the next week. This short tempered impatience and general mind fog are detrimental to a persons happiness especially if they're not too fond of their job and would find it difficult to get through a week with pure equanimity. And unfortunately this turns into a cycle of self destruction because, as we all know, the only way to get over a hard week is to spend the weekend drinking!

My family, I suppose, are like any big family; full of deep seated resentments and conflicts with each other and when we get together and sail through the pleasantry's and first few drinks that's when the true feelings start to surface. These Ill feelings which should've been addressed directly long before over coffee have a habit of popping up with great surprise and seemingly out of the blue. This then causes the accused the become defensive immediately and a row almost always ensues. It's not like it's directly responsible for my family's wounds but rubbing alcohol into them certainly doesn't help.

Another reason I might be terrified at the thought of jumping off the wagon is that I may then loose interest in meditating. The shift in my state of mind when meditating is far less than that of a few drinks but the long term benefits between the two practices are not even comparable. And really who's going to sit down for ten minutes with the intention of listening to their body when they're doing their best to ignore their complaining liver?

I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't become one of those 'holier than thou' assheads who preach about how life is better without alcohol,but, when I consistently see my closest friends promise themselves, whilst hungover, that they'll never touch the drink again and then the quick glimpse of shame when I see them a day or two later, drink in hand, I know that I've made the right decision. The thing about the cave analogy is that when the remainers hear what the leaver has supposedly learned, they think he's nuts, so I guess I'll just have to grin and bear the bewildered faces each time I'm asked "What''ll ya have?"

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

My Psoriasis Crisis

Ever heard the expression; "He was thick-skinned"? It makes me think of someone who's body has developed a defense mechanism of producing so many skin cells that he has a suit of scaly armor to protect him. Wouldn't that be a nice way to explain psoriasis?

Sometimes I can look at a patch somewhere on my body, and almost by sheer will, I can make it worse. It's as if my skin is trying to communicate with me. Psoriasis is a physical manifestation of a psychological problem. It took me a long time to realize that and I got no help from the medical system.

Upon my last and final visit to the dermatologist, having tried dietary restrictions, topical steroid creams, and, UV light therapy, all of which were unsuccessful, I asked my doctor what was next, and he told me about a new medication from the USA that would slow down my skin cell reproductive system, but, it would put my at high risk of getting lymphatic cancer. I asked why the hell I'd sign up for something like that and he replied; "It depends on how long you want to live". So basically, do i live a short life, comfortably free to take my shirt off ? Or, do I live a long life looking like I just got into a naked motorcycle accident? There's no cure for psoriasis. I left that clinic wondering how it's possible that we can replace a persons heart but we can't cure a miserable skin rash.

When I was in the third year of my electrical apprenticeship, I was working in a pharmaceutical factory. This was a point in my life where my psoriasis was at it's worst, and coincidentally it would seem, when I was pretty fuckin' miserable with my own existence. For you see, I wanted to be an actor, but a 'Plan B' seemed like a good idea at the time. My skin got so bad that I had to become an in-patient at a hospital for two weeks of treatment. It cleared up in this time but returned shortly after I went back to work. I managed to get myself fired from that job and my skin's never been as bad since.

It always lowered my confidence. Throughout my late teens and early twenties I was terrified at the thought of getting naked with a girl. As I got older, and began to realize that most women aren't so superficial and are more impressed by a guy's vitality, it then became more about awkward conversation starters, and how no matter what predetermined response I spewed out, they'd still look embarrassed for bringing it up. After a while I then began to view it as exactly that; their embarrassment, not mine. I was starting to accept this part of me. I would be the guy with the patchy skin. So I started trying to get people to notice it, by flaunting it, but then a funny thing happened, it began to get better. This was the moment when I decided that the first step is acceptance. This is a hard concept to swallow. It's like somebody saying; "Don't worry about it", but, that's not what I'm saying. My body tells me when I'm unhappy about something. That's what I'm accepting. We have an abundance of shit going on in our lives, and, our conscious minds struggle to scrutinize it all. I believe that our bodies will try to tell us when some of that shit is toxic.

I started meditating in my mid thirties. This is when I saw the most improvement in my skin. Meditation slows down cognitive noise for me, stuff I'm carrying round in my head all day, and sometimes reveals deep seated thoughts. The kind of thoughts that are so subtle that you might've been using your neck muscles rather than your brain to house them. It certainly put me further in touch with my body, and I believe this let my body know it doesn't need to shout for my attention anymore.

Even though we are in the midst of a scientific revolution, we still can't shake off preconceived 'age of enlightenment era notions' like mind body dualism and our medical practitioners like to see empirical evidence before they'll get behind an idea that a skin disorder begins with one's mind. But, if you're dealing with it, maybe go see a psychologist, or try some meditation, or get more sleep or just stop and ask yourself; "What am I not dealing with?" Either that or get those drugs and maybe lymphatic cancer!


Friday, March 8, 2019

The Goldilocks complex

Having just reached a little over a year since my return to Ireland I’m starting to feel like the string that’s tied between a balloon and a rock weighing it down. In LA, where I’d been living, it seemed that the sky is the limit, and, in Ireland, it's best to stay grounded and don't be gettin' yourself notions! I’ve often wondered if a people's aspirations is directly proportional to the size of the land mass they’re living on.


The false optimism in LA was annoying, that fake it until you make it shit, but the attitude of compliance over here, the stoic assent that life is shit and you have to just live for the weekend, is depressing. Nobody seems to want to talk about their problems when you ask, it's all just; "ah sure, it's grand." as they gulp down their glass of wine. That's a stark contrast to the dynamic of becoming the regular customers' psychotherapist when serving them coffee in Hollywood. A good symbol for the contrast between our cultures is those German brothers' concept of how we like to shop. In their European store, Aldi, it's all florescent lighting, dressed down decor and copies of popular brands right down to the logo. Whereas in the American Trader Joe's, they've gone for a quaint little neighborhood grocery store, where the labels look like they were drawn by the staff that morning, just before they stocked the shelves.


I was once told that when you move away from home and live abroad, if you return, you'll never have a home again, and that's becoming more true with each day that passes. I want to live in a country where if you need something trivial, say batteries or a light bulb, at night, they're available. I want to live in a country where if you decide to buy wine in the morning as a gift for somebody you're not prevented by a mollycoddling government that thinks you're an alcoholic! I want to live in a country where the averts on TV don't condescendingly pit you against your neighbor to compete for the best car or lawn. I want to live in a country where I've done more drugs than the chicken I'm eating has! I'll stop before I turn into a blueberry.



Maybe I'll never feel at home again. Maybe I'll just have to knuckle down and get myself some denim leggings. Maybe this is all an illusion resulting from my fear of giving up my dreams, and conforming to the babies/mortgage status quo. Maybe I'll have to keep tonguing the far recesses of my mouth in search for that illustrious taste of freedom I thought I once had. Maybe the porridge will never be just right. 

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Why I like to joke about shit...


Why do some people find farts hilarious and others are revolted by them? I’m certainly the former. So is my wife. Not sure if that's a good thing or not yet, but, as a once revered comedian said on the subject; “I’ve never heard a fart that I didn’t laugh at”. Unfortunately for him, his career disappeared like a fart so he’s probably not the best person to help sell my case. Somebody who may though, is the psychoanalyst, Julia Kristeva, and her theory of abjection.

We seem to be the only mammals that experience disgust. Why is that? Some suggest that it must be closely related to self consciousness, an attribute that separates us from animals. And what constitutes the self? The old subject/object debacle. According to Kristeva, and her psychoanalyst forefathers, we start to develop self consciousness as a baby when we realize we are no longer an extension of our mother. This is evident when we start to spit out breast milk. We are beginning to display independence. Rejecting the mother as object and beginning to recognize our own subjectivity. And If you think about feces it falls into a category somewhere between subject and object. It was once you but now no longer is. It came from your body just as once you came from the maternal body. Part of you has been discarded. You reject this part of you with disgust and revulsion. But ultimately, your identity is formed in blood, urine, and fecal matter at birth. You come out screaming your little head off. It must be a horrifying experience which, to my mind, it’s imperative that it must be repressed to avoid psychological scaring.

Now we all know that there are different ways of masking discomfort. Some people use humor to cover over their darkest anxieties. We need only look at the many famous comedians who had mental breakdowns or ultimately killed themselves to see that their comedy was just a front. A way of dealing with the complexities of life. I certainly see myself as the type of person who tries desperately to extract the humor in a situation lest I have to take it seriously. Maybe that behavior is an attempt to reconcile with the absolute horror of being born a bloody shitty horrible mess. 

Could it be that this disgust some show whenever they hear about shit, piss, puke, farts and jizz, is ultimately because those things are just dead matter, and, in the end, we will also just be dead matter. I think this dilemma lies in the unconscious mind and resurfaces through art or fetishes. Most don't think about it too deeply. Most don't think about it at all. They reject it with abject horror. Some of us just make jokes about it, trying to allude to the elephant sized shit in the room! 


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Being present...

When people used to say to me that a certain actor has great presence, I never really knew what it meant. I guess I just looked at it objectively; that they just had a certain magnetism that made them fascinating to watch. It's only recently though, and through meditation, that I've begun to understand what it means subjectively - an actor who has presence is not thinking about anything except what's going on in that very moment in the scene. This is what makes them fascinating to watch.


When I find myself in a situation where I'm nervous, and it's affecting whatever I'm supposed to be doing, I try to use my meditation experience to bring myself back and be present. I've come to understand that when this happens, I'm caught in the evaluation part of my brain; thinking about how and what everything happening right now means to me, and, if I take a second to focus my awareness on the body it will shift my state of mind into a place where I feel more alive and in touch with everything and everybody around me. I become present, and the job becomes easier.


Have you ever been at a social gathering and introduced yourself to somebody and three or four minutes later you've no idea what their name is? You weren't present. This happens to me all the time. I meet them, ask them their name, and I see their lips moving, but all I'm thinking is; "Have I met this person before?", "Am I coming across too friendly or not friendly enough?", "Am I standing like a little tea pot, short and stout?" and so on. The conversation usually doesn't last that long because I never made a true connection. The person I was talking to probably thinks I didn't care enough to listen to them not knowing that I was really just caught in an anxious autobiographical ruminating loop. 

Or have you ever been reading a book, that you're sure you like, but in that moment you realize you stopped paying attention three pages ago? And you've been sitting there reading like a zombie? Again, I am constantly doing this. I try to be present to the text but there's some word, some trigger, and I'm off to the races, trying to come first in my own narrative. So I have to go back three pages and read again. Time wasted on irrelevant rumination. 

So then it comes to acting myself, and this shit is multiplied by a thousand, especially in an audition setting. Now all I can think about is whether I am right for the role, or if they can see that I am a good actor, or whether I slated my name properly or whether this casting director looks like she's interested in my performance or.... uh oh... Why's she looking at me like that? Damn, I've done it again. I wasn't present. I've probably ruined my chances. All this nonsense swirling around in my brain when all I should've be thinking about was whether Cop #2 is going to make it home safely to his wife or not!  

So to conclude; there is no conclusion. I was so present while writing this that I didn't anticipate an ending for it. I guess presence doesn't work in every situation then.

Bye!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Ulysses' Parallax - the effect whereby the position or direction of an object appears to differ when viewed from different positions

I recently read Ulysses and was utterly blown away by what a novel can actually do for a reader. I found that since reading it I've gained a new found confidence in myself and have since started on an exploration of consciousness, mindfulness, and how our brains function. 

Somebody had once told me that Ulysses was ultimately about the nature of being. This phrase sounded to me as boring as one could get, but now, it's how I try to live my life. Joyce's narrative style of jumping directly into his character's stream of consciousness makes the reader aware of how we can get lost in our thoughts and how antagonizing this can be. This is especially true for Stephen (Joyce's young alter ego), who knows an awful lot about an awful lot, but still seems to have so many questions. This makes the book quite difficult to read, especially in the third chapter, where Stephen walks along the beach and grapples with philosophical ideas such as; Aristotle's ineluctable modality of the visible - a theory that our eyes limit our knowledge of a thing (A theme that will play over and over throughout the book). By taking you inside the head of a genius, Joyce hints at our limited knowledge of our own existence.  Stephen pines over the past and his dead mother and wonders about the future and what his masterpiece will be.

Bloom (Joyce's older alter ego) however, is a much more rational thinker. His thoughts are very much centered around the task at hand. He does ponder about profound ideas like Stephen, but never dwells on them for too long. This juxtaposition between characters states of being seems to me to be the very characteristic of mindfulness. Bloom is in love and has centered his life around it, whereas, Stephen is beginning to realize the worthlessness of the intellect in the absence of love. 

Another idea, set up early, is that of the atonement of father and son, a prominent theme in the story preached by the Roman Catholic church, and also what appears to be the basis of Joseph Campbell's career in mythology. Joyce takes the idea of father, that of earthly wisdom and learned experience, and son, abstract philosophical query and unbound consciousness, to be atoned through the holy spirit, or, balanced by their shared wisdom. This could be seen as a left/right brain atonement also, since our evolution thus far has given priority to the left hemisphere and yielded the right mostly unused.  

It seems to me that Joyce is trying to show us that the point of our lives is to achieve love, but one thing which makes it so difficult is mans dissatisfaction with his ability to create life. He feels he must prove himself intellectually and pass on his minds worth through literature and thus searching for a lasting manifestation of himself. Although Bloom has a child, Milly, she is very much her mothers daughter. He loves her dearly, and because they lost their only son Rudy, he longs for a son. I imagine the passing on of wisdom from a father to his son is probably the most valuable experience that a man can have. Maybe it could be compared psychologically with the experience of childbirth from a woman's perspective. Stephen will become a surrogate for Bloom, and since Stephen has a poor relationship with his own father, Bloom will do likewise for Stephen.

It's well known that Nora Barnacle, Joyce's wife, was the inspiration for Molly Bloom, and that she, had often teased him in front of friends by remarking that he knows nothing about a woman. Throughout the novel Joyce plays with the idea of form versus substance, by constantly changing his style, or form, of writing, he shows the reader that whatever the subject matter, it will always be effected by form. This constant changing of prose is another reason that the book is so difficult to read, but it is vital to the conclusion. 

Using a bias of narration told almost completely through the male's perspective, Joyce makes the male reader aware of all his insecurities and weaknesses of virtue. By parodying the Odyssey, he exposes the heroic version of himself that man has created in his history of literature. Rather than slaying his enemies at the end, Bloom forgives them. He thinks rationally about the situation and decides that it's natural for a woman to be adulterous when compared with the many other horrible things people do to each other, and, that he has been less than a perfect husband himself. He thinks they must provide a secure parental model for Milly and that he truly loves Molly and will move on. He goes to sleep and the odyssey ends.  

It's in the last chapter where Joyce really shows generosity with his artistic expression. He writes exclusively from the perspective of Molly, a woman, and fails miserably! After writing with such validity, the different perspectives of many different male characters, he seemingly butchers the perspective of the female, by having her think only about flowers, food and sex. He does it earlier in the novel, with Gertie, by making the prose seem overly romantic and wishy washy. With Molly, he even goes so far as to write the whole chapter without any grammar at all, making it seven long sentences, probably an inside joke of how he poked fun at his wife's poor use of grammar. Earlier, Bloom also thinks of ways to help his wife improve her knowledge of the English language. This is a powerful and personal conclusion to the theme of the parallax, set up earlier in the novel. 

I feel like there are certain convictions about Joyce's writings, that he was overly intellectual and convoluted, but these notions may be coming from people who gave up reading for this very reason.  The way Joyce uses language in Ulysses is always important to the overall theme he is divulging, and, that at it's heart, Ulysses is a simple story about love. It is by far, the greatest story I've ever experienced, although I haven't read Finnegan's wake yet, so I may have spoke too soon!

This post won't make me any friends...

I'm finding it harder and harder to think of a good retort for people when they ask me why I don't drink anymore. Telling them that ...