Last week I got to present some words to some people in an audience. The event, or the show, or performance, took place in a loft space in Los Angeles. The loft ha…actually, it doesn’t matter what the loft was like because the audience was blindfolded prior to entering and remained so until the show ended. Audience members were assisted and helped to their seats by blindfold put-er-on-ers and seat-finding-helper people. Then, a variety of auditory based performances took place. The event was called “Inward Spaces.” It consisted of many poets, musicians, storytellers,…and me.
I’m not that accustomed to presenting things, especially when relying solely on my voice. Usually during conversations I can at least lean on facial and hand gestures to aid in the translation. But not here. The blindfolds assured it. So I only had inflection and intonation at my disposal. That meant I had to do my best to surmount the monotone cadence and delivery I often lapse into. That also meant harnessing many of the lessons I learned back in Speech Therapy. And that meant focusing on the seemingly mindless, but supremely important, breath. And, that also meant accepting that the words I would say would come out slower than the same words would from someone else. I had to accept that because that was the reality. Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden used to preach, "be quick but don’t hurry,” to his players. Hurrying on my part would lead to indecipherable mumbling that would confuse my audience.
Above the multitude of good reasons, I think it was especially important for me to participate because Inward Spaces represented one way to help approximate my own experiences for others. A way to shift perspective. I couldn’t pass that opportunity by. So, while many of the other performers presented their work to the seated listeners, hopefully I could provide them with a different way of experiencing that work. Here’s what I said:
I don’t generally talk to crowds. They say to picture the audience naked. It’s much easier to talk when so much of the audience actually is! WOW. Hmm. (Ok, no one was actually naked. I WAS KIDDING. But they couldn’t tell what the rest of the crowd looked like because they were wearing blindfolds. That’s why it’s funny. And a special thank you to Javi for inspiring my initial audience unsettling.)
Well, being blindfolded is a good way to temporarily disrupt a sense. Hopefully by “disrupting” one sense, other senses will erupt and then you can better rely on those.
I’m not blindfolded but I can empathize with disrupted senses. That’s because 3 brain surgeries and 2 lengthy hospital stays spread over 6 years removed malignant tumors in my head. As a result I sound this way - a bit off - and many of my senses were disrupted.
Just like every person is different, every type of cancer is different. And so every person’s cancer is also different. There may be some similarities in each type, but, overall, they’re each an imposing, scary, and unique snowflake. Or spider’s web, or something scary.
My cancer specifically grew, both times, near my cerebellum. The cerebellum is in the brain. Toward the back bottom middle. It controls coordination in the body. And pretty much everything anyone does involves coordination. Walking, talking, eating, seeing, etc… so pretty much everything that I did got injected with an added layer of challenge. The second surgery, during my first hospital stint, especially disrupted my coordination. The surgeons worked aggressively to remove the cancerous growth. The aggressiveness of those actions resulted in no cancer for 6 years, but it also resulted in a greatly diminished ability to coordinate.
For example, I used to be good at sports. OK, fine, I used to PLAY SOME sports. Wait, you don’t know me… I used to be SO GREAT at sports. (Another special thank you to Julie for encouraging me to be more emphatic in the difference here, therefore I think funnier.) And I used to read through things very, very quickly. Like super fast! Now, not so much. Not so much with the good at sports and the reading quickly and with unlocking doors and talking and eating… BUT, but, I am so much, SO MUCH, better at those things than I was just after surgeries. The just-after-surgery me set the bar VERY low. The way-pre-surgery me set the bar very high. Do you then kind of see, ummm, can you imagine, where this might be going?
Realistically, I may never be the equivalent of my way-pre-surgery self. But I can conjure the image and the feeling of what it’s like to catch, dribble, and shoot a basketball, throw a baseball or football, ride around on a bike, sprint along a track. To quickly skim a magazine article or slog through a dense legal text. I can picture doing these things well because I have a constant reminder of my previous abilities inside my memory. So I constantly have something to aim for. Since many things were physically easier, so often subjectively better, before surgery, I grasp at some of those same abilities now.
Luckily, for just a low low price of - free, you can have lots of the brain surgery “fun” yourself without all the associated pains and difficulties. No chemotherapy, no radiation, no weeks long hospital stays and regular MRIs and regular blood draws, and bills, and insurance, and…ok…you probably got it, although it probably also wasn't really that necessary to drive home, but Cancer sucks. Anyway, one positive, one silver lining, because what else would you do in a similar situation but settle on a potential silver lining so that your entire day every day isn’t pills or chemotherapy or radiation or blood draws or insurance or…ok. The silver lining, is knowing for a fact, is being absolutely, 100% certain, that things could suddenly, get, catastrophically worse than they are. Ehhhh. I know, that doesn’t sound so great. I bet now you probably want to pass on the whole brain surgery thing huh? Well luckily you actually can because you have a BLINDFOLD! Y - A - Y.
By having a blindfold on, you are afforded the opportunity to disrupt an entire sense on which you heavily rely. It’s probably a sense you orient most of your life around. And then, when you’re done with your thought experiment you can just remove the blindfold. Poof…you’re back to your normal, everyday existence. Except you re-enter that existence carrying with you the mystical power and strength of the BLINDFOLD. You now have this subtle memory of your world disrupted. And by having an idea of a disrupted existence it’s much easier to see the silver lining in your life, when facing your own multitude of trials and tough breaks and hardships. Your life may appear just a little bit brighter, maybe a tiny bit easier, because you know a way that it is UN-disrupted. Undisrupted in a way you might not have thought of otherwise. Your disrupting experience may even enhance your appreciation and awareness, and demonstrate how a few of the difficulties you confront in everyday life maybe aren’t quite as bad because at least they aren’t as disruptive as that blindfold!
Of course the ultimate goal is to eventually be conscious enough that you are aware the blindfold exists while also being confident enough that you can strive for and excel well beyond the way-pre-surgery-me you. But, for now, as a first step, just recognize that you do have that blindfold, always.