functionality

Cramping my style

There is nothing quite like the vice like grip and pain of muscle cramp. The gradual and relentless contracting of fibres and a desperate knowing there is not much you can do once full tetanus has set in. I’ve had some fairly intense take overs by cramp, usually during endurance events and there is just no way to ignore it. You know it is inevitable and the warning twitches are setting in. I once had cramp from me feet up to my chest. At the 41.2 km mark in the marathon in my first Ironman I literally stood frozen to the spot hoping it wouldn’t or couldn’t creep any higher. People were cheering me on but it was like a bad dream where I had lost more than my pants but the bottom half of me. A guy shuffled past like he had no knees or ankles literally running from his armpits. He could see I was in the same state and encouraged me to just ‘do what he was doing’. No thanks, I didn’t come this far to cross the line looking like that. So I waited and eventually my body caught up and I was able to shuffle gingerly down the carpet and across the line, twitching all the way.

I like to ‘play’ with cramp, curl my toes until the familiar clench grabs then carefully wait and see if I can stop it just in time. I like the feeling and the sensation if I can control it. That moment when the tension hurts but if you gently move in opposite direction there is relaxation and a return. Although cramp is a generally associated with muscles, I wonder if the idea or concept of paralysis creeping in to draw attention to something, could it apply to other aspects of experience? When we encounter fatigue or a sense of strain of other kinds. Could spiritual cramp for example be possible or described in similar ways – a slow or sudden loss or gain of movement. Or emotionally, when something unfamiliar moves us from comfortably uncomfortable to painfully uncomfortable which can sometimes induce somatic pain. Functioning as usual isn’t possible. So it could be a chance to pause, go slow, get support, adjust an approach. Using energy differently or creating space to massage the tension before it seizes. I suppose writing like this implies there is a separation or distinction between the physical and non-physical aspects of ourselves. The similarities and ways subtle energies work and flow in our bodies, awareness, consciousness, stirring and stimulating impulses that might necessitate a pause or create an opportunity to notice fibres that have remained detached, still free. When we are ‘locked in’ a particular way of thinking, being, the urge could be to push against it and to keep going. This might work if there is enough flexibility but it can also pull things in tighter. Stopping us dead in our tracks or sending us searching for instant relief.

So maybe feeling a bit ‘twitchy’ signals there is something worth paying attention to? Is there some other form of intensity or overly repetitive movement in life creating a form of fatigue? Can experiencing ‘cramp’ enable careful noticing and observation or gaining the ability to move differently through the world. If readying for a major ‘life event’ it might help to develop an ability to recognise the social/psychological/spiritual (for want of some new language) ache. Then simply be kind, gentle and patient. It will pass.

Spectuality

Sex…sexuality, one only has to say the word out loud in a room at a party to know how loaded it is, feel the eyes turn in your direction with a mix of curiosity, intrigue, fear, interest, disgust or suspicion. Perhaps it depends on the kind of party you’re at. Anyway, we like to think our words simply describe our reality they do so much more. Sexuality it is not free human experience it is a captured beast – fenced in linguistically and through various systems such as biology, religion and perhaps one of the more unfortunate containment fields – psychoanalysis.

I’m reading a lot of work by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari at the moment (obvious if you read my last post). They have a lot to say and a unique way of saying it, about the limits of psychoanalysis, especially the work of Freud. Without beating about the bush too much it’s a theory developed in the late 19th and early 20th Century about the role of the unconscious and in particular the development of sexuality giving western society most of its taken for granted (paranoia) notions of sexual behaviour. I mean really – why are we stuck with concepts developed by a guy who really was obsessed with the role a certain organ while studying people in asylums? In Psychoanalysis everything about human development and human sexuality is defined on whether you have the phallus or ‘lack one’ (female), this more or less fits with the misogynistic ideas around women at the time but we could move on. In the 21st Century, there might be additional words to add to the collection of definitions but as yet the basic assumptions about human sexuality referenced and coded by reproduction (heterosexuality by default), the couple as the central healthy representation of adult sexuality, and bodies must be distinct units with all parts functioning ‘normally’. Desire is also framed as a lack – this needs to go. It simply perpetuates a state of searching for wholeness.

Breaking free requires a radical recoding to break through these well constructed containers. Most people believe in them so strongly that they will fight to maintain them in order to ensure their own security. But I’d like to see them rupture and I have an idea it could come via technology – but not as we know it. What I think needs to happen is a redefinition, a move to ‘spec-tuality’. If bodies were seen more as a set of specifications ‘specs’ like you would with any other machine such as a bike (yeah, sorry had to get that in there) or a computer or other system then the question could become ‘what specs are you running?’ – see it’s way cooler already. We seem really comfortable talking about hardware and software, plug ins, apps, add ons and upgrades with technology. People expect change and try things in combinations without too much angst – ok so there might be some apple vrs the rest of the world kind of thing going on, but there is no electronic bible saying an ipod for and ipod perhaps I am a bit of a pan(asonic)theist.

Human Spec-tuality would enable any combination of intimacy to form without the need to then hold that as the only combination they may experience for the rest of their lives for fear of damaging the brand. There would be no closet – it would have nothing to contain or hide. Specs can change but that does not mean something is missing necessarily or will reduce the functionality of the assemblage of intensity of desire and how that can be experienced.

So whoever is hooking up whether they are bringing the hardware, software or both all that should really matter is the quality of the connection. If it’s any good you should be in the cloud.

Out Of Time

What is time to a fish? How do the seconds pass? If a fish was riding a bike would it notice the relative speed of the vehicles? Was I that fish on a bike today when caught in the headlights of a car at a roundabout that hadn’t been there a moment ago. The honking of a horn indicating the arrival of another stream of time and momentum. The jolt of awareness that signalled a dislocation in the fabric of collectively agreed rights of passage that I seemed to have disrupted or ruptured.

Speed, space, time, distance, colluding to segregate and define who can participate in the flow of life. If you become relocated in this and live somewhere in between there is unease and distrust – a disruption to the flow. The ability to be ‘present’ and ‘here’ ‘now’ communicating in ways that identify and signify we know where we are located defines intimacy. When people are tuned to a different frequency the ability to connect on an intimately personal level shifts and the signals we usually pick up become lost in the static hum of confusion.

Common functioning suggests we all must locate our consciousness and awareness and sense of who we are within a narrowly defined criteria. Those experiencing neurological diversity (ASD – Autistic Spectrum Disorders – or – Alternative Sensory Downloads) and other forms of time/space re-location (alzheimer’s, amnesia, altered states of consciousness) highlight the pervasive normalisation of human functioning and fear associated with intentionally attempting to create those conditions – messing with mysterious interactions and perception we can have of reality.

Losing someone in time is hard. They can be physically present but elsewhere, they are not ‘around’ and the grief associated can be experienced in the same way as death. Let’s acknowledge this more instead of brushing over the obvious that they are carrying on regular metabolic functioning – AKA alive, and require people to be grateful for this experience. However my heart tells me love transcends the limits of 3rd dimensional space, we might never truly know how someone experiences the warmth of our caring but to quote Carl Sagan, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

If you do see a fish on a bike, you just might want to check what is in your ‘special’ coffee. And just be a bit patient – no need to get into a flap about it and watch out for those red herrings aye.

Dressing Down

Well what about THAT DRESS if you missed it then clearly you are not on social media or have a healthy filter on what you see. The blue/black or white/gold debate revealed the curious way ‘how we see’ is a function or a combination of interpretation by the brain and physiological aspects such as photo receptors. The next thing circulating online to challenge perception was a bunch of skeletons on a giant screen hugging and kissing then revealing themselves as….humans! shock horror. The idea was to explore how genuine love is unconditional. The conditionality is mapped on by socially constructed expectations of ‘who is behind the screen’. But I’m not convinced it was all that clever or challenging, although it did manage to make my eyes leak.

Quite simply, we don’t walk around as skeletons – ok some people look skeletal – but our framework is universally human. The homo sapiens sapiens kitset pretty much all looks the same. But I think it would’ve been more interesting to have people with different limb combinations or implants, pacemakers replaced joints – like terminator only the lovinator…don’t know if that’ll catch on.

So while I respect the intent it kind of missed the mark – and perhaps missed the level of perception that is about filters other than visual. People seem quite comfortable accepting that our inability to perceive certain colours might be to do with structures in eyes and light and various other biological features, there is no ‘discrimination’ or injustice – it just is. But the layers of meaning that come with the coverings attached to our bones is not quite so simple. Because while our skeletons might be semi genderless and ethno-neutral each layer after that creates these which are then located in culturally constructed meanings of ‘difference’ blinding us from the simple truth that human beings have created these meanings – therefore we can uncreate them at any moment we wish to. Do we want to or care to? Well that very much depends on how the meaning of your human vessel you are currently renting has in the location in time, space, history, country, planet you live on. Certain containers located at these various locations have forms of privilege and power and are able to experience their identity as less ‘problematic’ or contentious.

Putting bodies behind screens for a warm fuzzy moment does plenty to push social media buttons but we need to be having conversations and thinking in ways that reveal these social constructions on a daily basis.

Quite frankly stick me in any coloured dress and I will just hope I am invisible. No bones about it.

Grater Expectations

Cooking at Christmas comes with its own set of challenges. If you are away from home dealing with a foreign kitchen and finding where things are kept inevitably leads to traffic jams and scenes to rival Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen kind of ironic at this time of year. But there are a couple of unique and possibly peculiarly kiwi conundrums (possibly not…just guessing). Christmas dinner comes in all forms from the casual bar-b-que to the full on traditional roast with all the trimmings perhaps minus the knitted jerseys – depending on how far south you are I suppose. The kitchen is a hive of activity and secret frustrations that I would now like to expose.

It’s common for people to have a couple of drinks with proceedings and in my family this can start reasonably early. Not to minimise the carnage caused by drink driving, there are some hazards to be noted when under the influence and attempting to steer your way through preparing food. There are the obvious ‘don’t drink and fry’ – using sharp implements also probably a bit risky, as is blenders and food processors. I’d hazard a guess that burns might top the A & E around this time of year. There are some little known injuries that will never make the ACC stats, or even warrant a mention in the paper but I think they can be more irritating than a recipe written before the metric system…c’mon what century are we in?

At the top of my list is the grater graze. Typically the knuckles or tips of fingers are sheered off in a valiant effort to ensure the entire carrot is used. This injury is definitely exacerbated by the fact that it will get you no sympathy and you will be expected to keep calm and carrot on. Second on my list is peeling kumara, not the golden ones, the ‘real ones’ purple skins. Yes those skins…do not respond to blunt peelers! What is worse is there are usually heaps to peel and only one peeler, so if someone wants to help they need to use a knife, which actually works better. Kumara are also really knobbly, so completing this task with an implement that wouldn’t cut through butter is nothing short of exasperating. Go for the knife people, anyone who has prepared for a hangi will know this to be true. Third on the list is whipped cream, I don’t know why, but in my family it is the hand beater from about 1950something that is still in the drawer – not upgraded like every other appliance. The handle swivels so every time you crank the thing it twists, so you lose the spinning motion. Also on top of a few drinks, the effort required and co-ordination not to slop stuff everywhere is insanely difficult. Fourth is the lemon juice in the eye – possibly added to the grater cut as well. Say no more. Fifth is a combination – the can-opener caper. Beetroot tins need to be upgraded to tab-pulls like the reduced cream, because quite honestly opening a can of beetroot without spilling it, is a nightmare. But if your opener is like the munted peeler, there is likely to be mutiny. The number of times I have struggled for 10 minutes to get half-way around then given up and tried to pry the lid open, only to either slice my hand or send the contents spilling their glorious crimson juices everywhere does not need stipulating. Other honourable mentions are kebab skewer splinters, onion chopping eyes and garlic crushing wrist sprains, all of which I have suffered at some point.

When it all comes together though and everyone is tucking into their kai – it’s good to know that along with love, it is laced with the odd bit of blood, sweat and tears.

Going To Great Depths

Dark, silent, alone, de-pressed, it might sound like the start of a story about depression but William Trubridge is man who took himself intentionally into a deep dark hole, on a single breath of air. Not just any hole, a yawning orifice in the Bahamas over 200m deep. Looking down through the crystal clear blue waters I had the impression of him entering the pupil of a giant eye. Watching him pack air into his lungs, like some poor fish gasping for air before he attempted the world record immediately sent shivers down my spine, this was a huge physical and mental challenge. We are mammals and our physiology is definitely not adequately designed to cope with the immense hydrostatic pressure water packs on the body, whilst starving your brain of oxygen.

He was attempting a world record, most of us in NZ will have seen the Steinlager Pure advertisements over the last month or so, giving us a sense of what he would be putting himself through. Somehow, I don’t think he would be reaching for a Steiny after holding his breath for nearly four minutes, more like ‘pass me that regulator’ and sucking on some sweet air. He was oh so close to making it. I watched live this morning and seemed to hold my breath…well…at least for 5 seconds at a time just mesmerised by the slow, graceful descent into darkness. I admired his beautiful technique and for a moment it seemed like maybe he was an aquatic mammal. At 102m he had made it, but like those who climb mountains (only in reverse) the ascent was yet to be completed. With 20m to go, he made the call to his support crew – a simple shake of the head, the grabbed him and assisted him to the surface, the record missed.

It was the perfect miss. I was quietly celebrating this courageous surrender. Here was a man who did not ‘macho’ it through to unconsciousness. When thinking about the relationship between masculinity, and sport this could be seen as refreshing alternative, a new relationship with physicality, risk and a strength that comes from respecting limits, and leaving ego at the surface to get to the deeper qualities of being that invite patient, gentle wisdom, and confidence to let go.

As for Steinlager being the sponsor for William, I don’t think the need to worry about their product image being diminished, if anything they got a pure result – and it isn’t always perfect. I hope William doesn’t suck on any of their product unless it’s the pure version, not unless he wants some dry land practice at having his head crushed in a vice. Anyone else experienced the ‘Steingrenade’ effect? Hangover doesn’t even begin to describe the pain and suffering…

You might want to climb into a dark hole after a night on those.

A Probing Question

So a washing machine sized probe lands on a rock after travelling for 10 years only to hide in the shadows with it’s legs serving little purpose yet still functioning and performing its job. Well there you go…in space what is the point of legs? In fact I suggest all astronauts of the future actually get used to the idea of not walking. For that matter, why would your functioning bi-pedally in earth gravity be relevant to working in space? Surely having unnecessary limbs like legs could be a hindrance? They certainly look like awkward appendages flopping around in zero G.

But back to our wee probe Philae. We like our wee robots and probes so long as they stay under human control. Send it commands, it does its thing and it takes pretty pictures, drills holes, takes samples, wanders around (if it’s on Mars), but ultimately it is responding to human commands. Artificial intelligence has yet to feature in our space exploration and here is why I think it never should or could.
Imagine if Rosetta and Philae were like Hal from 2001 – but perhaps a little less paranoid. They get shot off into space for 10 years away from their other AI mates on earth, just the two of them. You’d better hope they like each other’s company. And what if they decide ‘naaaa why are we chasing a comet? Lets bail and catch up with that numpty Cassini see if it wants to take some selfies in front of Titan’. So I say keep with the low tech – it’s safer for other planets and space users in general.

And back to the issue of gravity. Really that is the only force regulating our need to walk upright – or semi upright. Functionality and the definition of mobility absolutely depends on gravity and friction. But overcome gravity and you have no need to worry about friction. Therefore AI would best be put aside for creating simple and effective anti-gravity devices to levitate the playing field of mobility here on earth.

The next big thing to get off the earth is the James Webb telescope in 2018. It will take 30 days to get into an L2 orbit…over a million miles from earth. It will be 7 and a half times bigger than hubble and look over 4.3 billion years into the ‘Universe’….that is some serious naval gazing. If it was going to have a voice I’d hope it would be slightly hippy sounding ‘like faarrr out man…I just saw the most amazing quasar dude…check it out’ … much nicer than the creepy neurotic ‘I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that’ but it will just send back pretty pictures without any commentary which perhaps is kind of sad after all.
Maybe they could program it with some David Attenborough voice overs as images come in ‘and here we see the wild gases of the nebula condensing and finally igniting to give birth…to a star.’

…actually it’s a good thing in space no-one can hear you scream.

No Giant Leaps – small steps will do

When we are born our bodies are immediately assessed. We get the gender test roughly translated as ‘is it a boy or a girl’ and the ‘fingers and toes’ test – physically ‘normal’. The normalising gaze hits our poor helpless bodies immediately. Bits and pieces aside we are all born unable to walk or talk – it’s part of being a baby so it is culturally accepted. But we are then expected to progress to walking. Developmentally seen as important, a milestone celebrated often with over exaggerated parental enthusiasm. Bi-pedal functioning is given high status for humans which is kind of ironic given ‘we’ in the developed world spend most of our modern lives seated these days.
We generally expect our bodies functioning to change gradually over time. We make jokes about it – prepare for it, even advertise products to help you cope with the inevitable loss of bladder functioning. But not all change is slow, in fact it can happen in the blink of an eye.

The shock and disbelief of seeing someone you know or love or have a connection with lying in a hospital bed, in a coma with the possibility that they may not wake up or use their body as they did before reaches into all dimensions of our being. Sadness, and overwhelming emotions are part of that which says something about the significance of our embodied lives that we usually take for granted.

When a young person suddenly loses limb functioning– particularly the abilty to walk – the need for a return to common functioning reflects the strong cultural production of the body. The shock wave of this sudden change packs more punch if that young person expresses themselves physically by mastering complex and skilled movement. More often than not young men engaged in sport or other high risk activities. Masculinity and physical mastery of movement are almost inseparable.

We build our identity around many things including our capabilities, so a sudden and significant alteration means adjusting to new found vulnerability, like going back to that infantile stage of life. When common functioning is lost there tends to be a lessening of value of that person in general because, in our world our bodies afford us access to a ‘meaning-full’ life. This meaning is of course culturally constructed but is centred around relationships – which involve, communication, intimacy and sexuality in particular, having children, a job and being economically productive.

I’m not a rehabiliation specialist of the physical sort but I do work with people who are confronted by emotional spiritual and psychological identity fragmentation when change happens. The urge to ‘get back to normal’ tends to dominate conversations. Those who ‘push through the pain’ are seen as courageous with determination. Positive mental attitudes or refusing to accept limitation is preferred over quiet reconciliation with could be a more permanent state of being. Celebration is reserved for those who recover fully or at least keep fighting. Brad Smeele is one of our most recent example of a young man in the pinnacle of a career that involves high level risk who eventually crashed becoming a quadriplegic. The media intend following his rehab progress and I suspect this horror voyeurism is about satisfying our own fears of loss of function – to be back to normal – physically capable once more.

To allow for vulnerability and dependence in a world that fiercely values independence and self sufficiency, is not about giving up hope but holding reasonable hope that acts to contain sometimes wild and exaggerated expectations for recovery. Michael Schumacher famous formula 1 driver suffered a ski accident and is ‘recovering’. However the reports of what ‘recovery’ and progress means are clearly different, again reflecting the tension between reasonable (informed) hope and sensational exaggeration in the name of optimisim causing some confusion and angst for fans and family.

Grief occurs when there is an experience of loss. It is a natural and healthy reaction to change. Sudden change disorients us and we reach for things to locate who and what we are – that everything will be OK. My sense is we need more conversations and explorations around the kinds of change events in life that can disrupt our sense of who we are so that WHEN – it happens our ability to read and recognise the terrain of distress will enable us to gently pick our way through the kinds of anchors of our identity that are present but require re-sighting with possibly a new unique outlook.

As Lillian Smith put it ‘our fear of the losses can keep us from changing…what is it…exactly we are afraid to lose’? and possibly, in the blink of an eye.

(don’t) Build It And They (won’t) Come

In Field Of Dreams, Kevin Costner is haunted by the ghosts of Baseball players who urge him, via a rather persistent whispering of ‘if you build it, he will come’ to create a baseball diamond in his corn field. Far from being locked up for having schizophrenia or some other mental illness, Costner’s character trusts the voices and builds the diamond and is rewarded with the sound of white ash on cork and leather. I’m not sure about the afterlife but it appears ball players just want to keep playing and why not! It’s a great example of creating accessibility through simple modifications to space.

Accessibility is generally associated with disability but I think we’ve constructed a bit of an apparition of sorts by assuming the individual who is not functioning in a bipedal manner defines the ‘problem’. I mean steps ruined the plans of the Daleks from Dr Who originally when they were restricted to the mechanics of wheels. For a time travelling, disembodied, biomechanical species they didn’t need sympathy or charity or empathy they needed better technology. And unfortunately for the human race they got it. Science fiction aside, technology has the potential to level the playing field and redraw the boundaries of understanding around functional diversity, which I feel is long overdue.

This was highlighted to me recently when I was part of a conversation that included a somewhat nervous observation from a colleague about the number of ramps being built. If it’s possible to sprain the occipito-frontalis muscles that raise your eyebrows then mine were definitely in that category. I have no doubt there was no intention to be functionphobic but as I searched for a response it dawned on me the complex meanings and ideas we hold about disabilities and response-ability particularly in education. My question was simple ‘what do you mean by that’? And then there was a very awkward pause. So I asked with genuine curiosity ‘are you concerned that ramps could mean more needs and resources?’ I wanted to shift the reference away from a personal lack or deficit so I nonchalantly threw in ‘I think of it as simply accommodating a different form of transport and this doesn’t necessarily mean they will require extra support in class’. I also had to state that students had a right to attend their local school which might seem logical but the hidden reality for many years in New Zealand has been a form a legitimate exclusion based on the inability to access buildings (even though it is illegal to do so), or as I call it – ‘the Dalek effect’.

But why the panic around more wheel chairs at school? Unseriously then, yes more young people in chairs could create all sorts of wild crazy ideas amongst commonly functioning youth. They might all want to come to school in chairs, we would need a rule about that then, or skaters and other students will want to ride around school, we would need a rule about that, or outbreaks of chair racing might endanger other students, we would need a speed limit on that, and what about not standing when the principal walks onto the stage! Well I’m not sure about you but I can see the conundrum so it probably makes sense to not build ramps so they won’t come.

We have come a long way and some travel that path on wheels and might suggest that even though their road is less travelled the destination is equally important. It really is time we ramped things up around notions of accessibility and got over our collective general anxiety around functional diversity. Kiwis ought to remember part of our national identity is sporting success and how often do we do well in wheel based sports or ones where we sit down.

Yes for me it is not Field Of Dreams but dreams of wheels.

Less visibility means you might see more

Fog doesn’t conjure up warm images or seem to offer much to those seeking motivating imagery. I’d go as far to suggest the ‘fog’ metaphor is probably more frequently applied negatively to imply a block or barrier to seeing clearly, or being able to operate at full capacity (whatever that is) such as the term ‘mental fog’. It’s also wet and cold – like rain – only much more stealthy and an umbrella won’t help.

It occurred to me that fog is a wonderful phenomenon that provides a useful opportunity to slow down both literally and metaphorically, take a different sensory lens to the world and ‘see’ what we might not have observed before. Fog reduces visibility or more accurately optical (visual) acuity, you lose the ability to pick up fine detail or the ‘sh*^t I can’t see anything’ factor. Driving is probably the activity most people would associate with impairment due to fog. What is immediately in front of you becomes lost in the murky soup of condensation and should mean an adjustment in awareness or at least some modification of speed and following distance. More often than not I suspect it is met with gritted teeth, reluctant braking and the dilemma of whether to have your lights dipped or on full. People rarely embrace the opportunity to focus in a new way or even notice how things appear in this new ‘muted’ light. They just want to get through it and out the other side.

I’ve noticed when running just how often I expect to get to the top of Mt Eden and look out over the city. My expectation is based on a preference for the view being panoramic but I have come to appreciate the beauty and contrast foggy mornings bring. Trees become silhouettes and lights become orbs and it always feels like I hear more. Breaking through at the summit, the city makes noise beneath the fleece of white cloud and other landmarks form a temporary new perspective of ‘ground level’.

So whether your are driving or just going about life generally if ‘fog’ appears either metaphorically or literally – take a moment to adjust and see what appears to emerge that might have come forward for noticing now that the usual background detail has blurred.

But if you are on a bike in the fog – just get over the ego and go high viz – become a Dutch football fan if you need an excuse, or go all the way and get a vest – embody Emmet from The Lego Movie…either way there are times when it pays to stand out and not blend into the background.