664. That’s the number of words I could read of NewPhilosopher before my mind ran out of steam. Coincidentally as I typed that sentence I was listening to the first few lines of an old song by Peter Gabriel. Guess what it’s called? Steam. I get this a lot where words or themes I’ve been thinking get repeated in strange ways through conversation or other external input at just the right time. For instance one of my recent blog posts included a reference to the song “Killing me softly” which was actually taken from a note I wrote online a few years ago but I’d dredged up to illustrate a point (the Anam Cara blog post if you’re wondering) so I posted it, then that night mum wanted to watch something mindless on TV so we watched old recorded episodes of The Voice. I often have trouble concentrating completely on the television since falling ill, I have to be doing something at the same time, I don’t know why. I have trouble concentrating on one thing for too long. So as mum watched I was rereading my blog post and at the exact moment I got to the part about “Killing me softly” one of the singing competitors started singing it. That sort of thing. It’s the timing that’s most peculiar and intriguing.
Anyway I’m playing this album because mum’s working from home and it’s an old album of hers and I knew she’d enjoy it. But it also reminds me of a really happy time when we lived in a share house with two other women, one of whom was quite extrovert and fun (the other had lived in Switzerland and introduced me to the french language which I went on to study at a tertiary level and still love). She used to wear tight leopard skin dresses and her hair was a shaggy bleach blonde halo. She and I (me aged about 7yrs) would dance and sing along to this song in particular. I remember the first time I saw TLC’s music video clip for ‘Waterfalls’ – I used to watch Rage every morning (for those that aren’t Australian, Rage is a sort of countdown of top charting music that would start early in the morning and count down to the top ranking video of the time – this was early 90s when I was at my most devoted) and she popped her head around the doorway into the sunroom of the big Queenslander house we occupied and said “who’s that? They’re great! Turn it up!” Now that clip is so well known and would be considered a retro 90s classic.
I digress again. So the point of this post is a bit of a hall of mirrors. The feeling is one of irony, curiosity, grief, hope – mix those up and bake them into a human form and that’s me right now. For context, you need to know that I’m a nerd. I use that term fondly. I did well at school, I love learning, I particularly love philosophy and personal histories – if I’m interested in a person I want to know everything about them: celebrities and friends alike. People are fascinating.
One of the hardest aspects of being sick has been losing my cognitive stamina. Most of my mental energy in recent years has been poured into understanding my health – which has been a steep learning curve but I now know what most of the shorthand on my monthly blood requests means. I consider that an achievement. Proud as I am of my increased health knowledge, it’s come at a cost. All my mental energy has been focussed on myself and my situation – because I see this as the only way to get out of it. In the meantime I’ve not been engaging with others like I used to, I’ve not been coming up (at an intellectual level) against random thoughts and opinions on all kinds of topics through interacting with others. I’ve discovered this was a massive part of my personality and what ‘turned me on’ about life. I can have it in little doses now as my energy allows, either through socialising or through reading. But it’s rationed now, whereas before I could freely and voraciously communicate with friends and read to my heart’s desire – and my heart very much desires knowledge.
664 words before my eyes are too tired to focus. Before my mind turns to cotton wool and I can’t process the next sentence. I’ve tried reading it 4 times. I feel a knot in my stomach. I feel caged, inside myself. Here’s the hall of mirrors part though, one segment of those 664 words was this:
“No individual can be in full control of his fate – our strengths come significantly from our history, our experiences largely from the vagaries of chance. But by seizing the opportunity to leverage and frame these experiences we gain agency over them. And this heightened agency, in turn, places us in a stronger position to deal with future experiences, even as it may alter our own sense of strengths and possibilities.” – Howard Gardner
Can you see the peculiar relevance of this. The way it bends in on itself like the action of me reading this, then not being able to keep reading speaks to what I’m reading all too perfectly? I’m intensely frustrated that I can’t keep reading but maybe all I needed to read today was that quote. Maybe it’s a reminder that even though I feel cheated by life, that my dulled cognitive ability feels uniquely like a punishment because it is something I most cherish about myself, perhaps this hardship is an opportunity for me to see differently. The ‘vagaries of chance’ are something I generally approach as a caged tiger, snarling at a ringmaster’s whip. I’d prefer to be the master of my own fate. But wouldn’t we all?
So for now I concede to my limitations. I’ll pick up this magazine, filled with content that feeds my heart, at another time. I will try to accept myself today in this altered capacity that I did not ask for, but have been given.
(An image from the magazine, which I love. Stillness and movement, chaos and creativity. Perfectly imperfect.)