Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The elegance of ideas

Every few months I sit down with the Medical Director of the Cancer Society of New Zealand who happens to be one of my oncologists and we chew the fat on what might or might not prevent my cancer from returning. It's a very special time for me as I test my latest theories and internet rumours against a backdrop of sound medical double blind studies. Dr C patiently listens and we explore the contradictions in the research and find a way to agree on the best way forward for me. We agree on the role of exercise in prevention, agree to disagree about sugar, and are both hopeful about experimental theories that might yet prove valid like testing individual tumours for their responses to varying forms of chemo before the treatment regime begins. "Nothing to date shows this has an impact of survival rates", he notes (improved survival rates are the gold standard for any new intervention) "but it's a very elegant idea."

His softly spoken calm expression of this simple phrase has stayed with me for weeks now. The elegance of an idea.The idea that an idea has a physical presence; might dance, or float or command attention as it enters the room.

I've always been seduced by ideas. The notion that the world doesn't have to be how it is now, that change is possible, that girls can do anything, and that we should make love not war. Sometimes the most simple ideas are the most powerful. And also the most dangerous.

Not eating seems to be a great solution for weight loss. But it's not an elegant idea is it? The most compelling ideas are those that are easy enough to understand but have a profound depth that challenges us to think differently, or act with more purpose.

I remember the first time I read Steven Covey explaining that between stimulus and response there is a gap and that each of us can choose how we respond to any given situation. We can choose to find the good in a person or hold on to the bitterness caused by hurt and rejection. The idea changed me and changed my life.

The idea that two people could hold equally valid, rational and totally opposing views on a topic was revolutionary for me. To reach an understanding that my opinion is not always right has been a long and painful journey. Particularly for anyone not so blessed to work with me.

Parents appreciate the idea that having more children multiplies your love rather than divides it, and that your children can be the very best and the most challenging people you'll ever meet.

Clifford the Big Red Dog has big ideas. Share. Be kind. Play fair.

My big idea for today is 'it doesn't matter'. Whatever is troubling you the most right now probably won't matter in the long run. Not much does. Eat well. Exercise. Shower the people you love with love. Do your best with what you've got. Nothing much else matters. The deadlines, the clock, your child's low test score, the weeds, the mess, the unsent thank you cards.

Find the elegance in your own big idea for today. Allow it to dance into the empty chambers of your mind and sweep you up in its potential power.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Legislating morality


My sleepy little village has been in the news lately (google Sumner and donkey) and while I've been doing my best to lay low, a number of people have called and asked me to comment on the recent events. It seems that my forthright views on the right for parliament to legislate morality have been remembered from the dark and distant past. I have declined the opportunity to share those views in the wider media (who wants to be known as the animal sex lady?) but for those who care about the rights of every oppressed individual or group of people here are the risks as I see them of continuing to have a law that prohibits sexual acts between animals and people.

To set the scene, imagine this. It is the Civil Liberties class of 1997 and we are grappling with the issue of balancing the rights of the individual against the rights of the state and of community interest. Young, sharp minds, excited to be away from home, take up arms against the perceived interference of the state and almost without exception everyone agrees that the state should have very little to say about how people spend their spare time in the privacy of their own homes. Provided there is no physical harm to others, this room full of tomorrow's leaders would loosen restrictions on pornography, allow unfettered access to recreational drugs and remove the hate speech restrictions on freedom of expression. The prevailing view was that parliament shouldn't legislate morality. Healthcare and roading = good. Dictating what you could and couldn't do on a Friday night = bad.

And so I presented a compelling case for the decriminalisation of having sex with animals. There are no valid reasons for these acts to be illegal. Lack of consent? Often the animals do consent and we certainly don't ask their permission before we kill them and eat them. They might prefer to be sex slaves than tomorrow night's dinner. Cruelty? The existing laws are sufficient to deal with anyone who hurts an animal. Indecency laws cover those who like to be seen out and about. What about the fact that it's really gross? That's the best point my classmates could come up with. 'We think it's sick and should therefore be illegal'. The class were adamant that bestiality should remain a criminal offence because it was such perverted behaviour. I felt very clever. I had tricked them into exposing the fallacy of their liberal views. My classmates could not see that many freedoms we now take for granted had in their time been thought perverse. Women vote? Maori play rugby in South Africa? Gay kindy teachers? The class were certain that parliament shouldn't legislate morality - but only when it suited their moral compass. I had won the argument hands-down. I firmly believed back in 1997 that parliament should legislate morality. Banning sex with animals was a great idea. If parliament also banned sex for the first three months after childbirth that would be okay with me too. In fact, after 10pm, anytime my mother is visiting, whenever I'm reading a good book.....politicians ought to be servants of the prevailing wisdom of the times.

But now I realise I was wrong. After years of listening to Winston Peters and George W. Bush you realise the awful truth about democracy. The system is inherently flawed because everyone gets a vote. Even morons. I'm not the first to notice this. But knowing that bigoted, red-neck, women-hating, homophobes can provide a mandate to a government to turn back the clock on the hard fought concessions that have essentially disseminated power away from white, middle-class men - well, that's a much scarier thought than the idea that someone, somewhere is expressing their animal instincts differently to the way you and I might choose to express ours. In New Zealand we have no written constitution that guarantees equality under the law, our Bill of Rights can be legislated into oblivion by the government of the day, and so if there is a trend to leave matters of morality up to an individual, I'm all for it.

In the Netherlands, that bizarre mix of totally conservative regions with the capital for the 'free world' smack in the middle, sex with animals that causes no harm has been legal for years. In February this year this freedom has been overturned. While that sits fine with my personal views on the matter I'm nervous about other inroads they may seek to make. Islamic rule shows only too clearly how the insidious creep of state intervention in private affairs can destroy societies.

I know there are no easy answers, and most of us wouldn't want our children to become zoophiles but consider the much greater harm caused by legal activities - smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol (there's no law against getting absolutely smashed), gambling, overeating, free credit card offers, and ask yourself whether we might not be criminalising the wrong things.

What does this have to do with cancer? Nothing, but the fact that I've got the energy to explore this topic once more, and the presence of pimples on my face, means that mentally and physically, I'm on my way back. Look out.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Unfinished business

Right next to the purveyor of the finest raw energy salad in all of Sumner is a hospice shop. A hospice shop with two convenient carparks, strictly for the use of bargain hunters only, right outside. The last three times I have needed a raw energy salad I have parked in one of the handy spots and begun a ridiculous charade. First, I pretend to browse in the hospice shop for that little something that might just be perfect for that little somewhere I might sometime get invited. I feel bad the whole time. And transparent. As if everyone in the shop knows I'm incorrectly parked and just pretending to be interested in the second hand clothes. So to prove my interest I select a garment and try it on before regretfully handing it to the tireless volunteers ('it's not quite what I'm after') and slinking out the front door. I have even pretended to walk towards my car and almost as if in the grip of an afterthought, have turned on my heels back to the cafe of my original intention. What's that all about?

I'm sure I'm not the only one who likes to be seen to do the right thing. Here's the paradox for the first time cancer patient working hard on preventing the return of the cells which won't die: worry too much about the details of life, the petty rules of social engagement and arbritrary measures of success and you'll get stressed - this is bad. Care not enough about the same things and life loses all meaning - this is bad.

I am a brilliant starter. If you want to get a project off the ground, energize the troops, share the vision, move mountains - I'm your girl. But if you're after someone who will grind out the details and drive hard towards completion...well......we can't be brilliant at everything can we?

I have a long list of unfinished business and I'm in two minds about how to approach it. Bin it and get on with life without the burden of living up to expectations I put on myself. Or, show some mettle and finish, which might just lift the burden and release cancer killing endorphins better than any drugs.

Consider the top 5 on my list and tell me what you think:

1. Thank you notes for our wedding gifts. Most are written, some are addressed, all are heartfelt. We have been married two years. Is it too late?
2. My masters degree. I read that universities are sheltered workshops for the abled. Nearly everything I have studied is useless in applicability to life. The research too narrow and guarded to have any general value and too laden in academic bullshit to be of any specific value. But I do rather like the cut and thrust of socratic debate. I'm about half way through.
3. Grade 8 piano. My fabulous piano teacher graciously allows me to attend each week in the Arts Centre - it's like Dead Poet's Society - without practising. No doubt it's therapy for me of the most beneficial kind but the need for an exam pass? In the interests of honest blogging you should know I currently play at about Grade 2 level.
4. Tidying my room. This is a carry over from when I was 13. Not likely to nail anytime soon.
5. My next bestseller. My first solo stage show. My broadway debut. My radio chat show. My run at the Mayoralty. Mrs New Zealand. The last one is a sure thing.

I am brave enough to attempt another letter to the editor and I'm going back to adult ballet classes now that the Arts Centre has been reinforced for earthquakes and other structure-stressing events like my spring-points and pas-de-chats.

Do you have unfinished business that needs pruning from the list or shall we go together to buy harden up pills? I hope they have parking right outside the door.