Monday, 20 October 2014

Things in the firmament is Things like non-Things

Right. So, I didn't take a photo as perhaps I should have. But then, the photo might have been even more cheeezy than the moment itself.

It was just a rainbow, a little more special than usual because I haven't seen a fully arched one for a long time, usually no more than fragments shooting off to whatever horizon. This one was akin to something from a storybook, except the sky was dark grey rather than blue, and there were no fluffy clouds on either side. Sitting here at my desk, typing up words of encouragement to a newly-diagnosed woman at my brain tumour support group, but feeling a bit glum and hopeless myself, and very angry that it was dark, rainy, cold, damp, yuck in the middle of the afternoon, when suddenly: it appeared. I got really excited. I lifted my fingers off the word "hope" and stared. Seeing in things in the sky that are not police helicopters tend to fill me with a peaceful hippie glee, and I have to call out to whoever is nearby to point it out, to share my excitement.
Many years ago in Calgary, for example, I was getting home from the bar at about 4am. Not particularly intoxicated - that is, not so much that what I saw was not real. It was winter, and the sky lit up with aurora borealis as I approached the house. I had seen the auroras in Calgary on a number of occasions before that, but because the city is not far north at all, sightings are a rare occurrence and are nowhere near as spectacular as those in the arctic. But that night whisps of white and blue and green, maybe the tiniest bit purple, materialised, and I ran to the front door as fast as possible lest they were to flicker away before I could wake my parents. I made no effort to enter quietly. I got my mother out of bed and brought her outside where I pointed upwards with joy and awe...and she squinted up at the lights, nonplussed, then looked me up and down. "Frances, you stink,"  she said and went back into the house. I remained delighted and stared and stared until they de-materialised.

Today's rainbow lasted no more than five minutes, and the force of it really set off sparks for me, especially considering what I was typing at the moment. It actually added force and greater sincerity to what I was writing, and reminded me that the words of comfort I offer to fellow brain-rottees apply to me as well. My cynicism and anger and hatred and despair run from my skull down to my heels and back up again, but there's still some padding there (especially around my belly) that contains hope and other such nonsense. If I didn't still have hope I wouldn't have the capacity to continue being such a snarly bitch.

Would YOU eat dark matter after your workout?
So there it is. Events in the sky that are no more than reflections and refractions of light in the earth's atmosphere still rouse absolute awe in me because, well, 1) they look pretty cool, and 2) they terrify me. In the nicest possible way they remind me of the unfathomable size of the universe, mostly dark matter, that is more or less constantly attacking us. I'm going to be a bit sloppy here and let this post drift off into, um, the firmament, because discussing it is an intensely serious business that I don't wish to undertake at the moment. My purpose was only to express, briefly, the auspicious timing of a rainbow that made my eyes glaze over for a moment, and that I truly hope made my wishes more sincere to the woman (and group) I was writing to at that moment. A good omen. I hope.

I leave you with this brainy quote from pop-science journal, Discover:

"There is something marvelous in the fact that we barely understand what most of the cells in our brains are doing. Beginning in the 1930s, astronomers realized that all the things they could see through their telescopes—the stars, the galaxies, the nebulas—make up just a small fraction of the total mass of the universe. The rest, known as dark matter, still defies their best attempts at explanation. Between our ears, it turns out, each of us carries a personal supply of dark matter as well."

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Actually, it's all about Sandra Bullock

O the tedium of remembering all the grey ribbon months.
Another Brain Tumour Awareness Month is upon us. 
There's the UK one, which is observed in March. And in the US, it happens in May.

But in Canada, it's OCTOBER, the best of the months, the most glorious, because it is a month that culminates in All Soul's Night, which then slides into November for All Souls' Day, the latter represented in Mexico by edible bread and sweets in lovely skull shapes. October is clearly the most suitable month to commemorate brain rot because it's all about glowing skeletons and dancing bones and fluorescent colours and cobwebs in heads: stuff that I like because it makes me think of living. That's what it's about: a celebration of life by making Death into something merry and less scary. 

In my post below I begrudge these ideas, the casual, abstract acceptance of the memento mori, the invented symbols of the loss of life and breath, when the horror of what that actually means is actually not acceptable at all. It's indescribable, it's sick, it's painful. And the reminder of the reminders of dying got well under my skin that day. There are times when the joys of day-glo pink just won't pierce through all the infinitely dense dark matter you're facing, or that you see others facing. And it's not possible to do anything about that except ride it through, regain a certain amount of control over your life and destiny either by ending it all yourself, or taking comfort in your (version of) God and the afterlife to come, or by weeping until your guts feel like rocks, and then getting on with things again because the rocks are, frankly, too heavy, and you might as well throw them out until it's time to fill up again (and there will always be time to fill up with more. Opportunities to cry are more than plentiful). As for the humour approach? Sure, that's good too. But it's not always funny: as we know, clowns tend to be driven by sadness.

However, on many days I do embrace the abstractions, the moss-covered stone skulls in graveyards, the chapels built from human bones, the skull-shaped candy and bread, Halloween, all those reminders that these symbols and rituals are not so much symbols of the end to come, but of the life that still occurs in the meantime. What is that cluster of remembrance days for those we've lost all about? It's comfort for the living. The dead are gone and that's it. So what. Everyone who lights a candle or dances around in their bones is actually celebrating life - music, ice cream, all that.

The final week of the month (26 October - 1 November) happens to be the week chosen by the IBTA as International Brain Tumour Awareness Week, so at least that bit of internationalism ostensibly ties together all the discrepancies between awareness months. (Ultimately it must be a good thing if there are so many opportunities to, um, celebrate brain problems? Or is it just confusing?). There is something rather auspicious about the IBTA having chosen that particular week for a world-wide brain rot awareness week...

For those of us who actually have growths in our heads, we're always pretty aware. The purpose of these awareness months (and all other months dedicated to the numerous unjust and incurable diseases to which the human body can succumb), is to try to make healthy people care. I've noticed wearing ribbons does piss-all because no one ever asks what they're for anymore (I believe I've pointed this out before, earlier in this blog's history). And going around with a ribbon around your whole head, as I demonstrate in the photo above, is hardly going to get a response - at least in London - where the most you would get out of people is a crinkled nose, aversion of gaze, and turning away of head, as if nothing untoward had strayed into their busy, respectable, middle class stupid existence. Big fat shrug. But it is worth wearing them anyway, because you'll always know that someone in your life still has/had problems, and the ribbon itself joins the ranks of the other symbols of imminent death, reminding you that every minute of your life matters. Is this an utterly cliché statment to employ? So fucking what. All our lives are caricatures of all our lives. So you can take it or leave it. Because today I'm feeling the absolutely hilarious absurdity of Bullock's situation in Gravity. On another day I might be sad and slammed with the profundity of that film's (or my) situation, but not today. Because it is the second day of my favourite month, and I'm happy enough to write this rather ludicrous post.