Monday, June 15, 2015

Go Gentle

I was probably four years old when my mother and I went to visit some relatives who used to live on the edges of Istanbul. It was a ranch of sorts with chickens, a large vegetable garden and a goat (more about the goat in another post).

We were sitting on the veranda when some neighbours ran through the yard in a panic telling us to hide from terrorist gunmen. We all ran into a small shed and shut the door. There were about eight of us cramped inside. I was in the front left of the shed with my mother trying to cover me into the corner and telling me to be as quiet as possible. One of the neighbours was quite shaken. She was praying and saying something about dying. Someone else told her to be completely silent if she didn't want to die. 

I remember feeling a sudden burst of fear and drawing in a quick breath to try and hold it. It became clear very soon that it wasn't going to be practical to hold my breath. My mother was stroking my hair and whispering something. We heard some people run by frantically and everyone seized up. 

I remember deciding that I had to do what I had to do to remain calm and suddenly seemed to have a mastery over my breath and nerves. I closed my eyes and entered what I now might consider to be a psychedelic state. I was peaceful and confident and felt like I was floating. The sounds around me started to present themselves in my mind as colours and moving shapes. This is my earliest memory of a synesthesia that I experience when concentrating on music. It often presents itself in a more pronounced way when I'm under the influence of a psychedelic. 

I was able to transform and manipulate the sounds around me into a swirling kaleidoscope. It gave me access to an infinite calm. I was, in retrospect, in a trance or perhaps a dissociative state. I had perhaps triggered a defensive survival mechanism in the face of what I perceived to be mortal danger. Some say that at the instant of death the human brain releases DMT, a very strong psychedelic. Maybe it's a last ditch effort of the body to save itself or at least go peacefully off this mortal coil and gentle into that good night. 

I wonder how this might also be related to my inclination to sleep when faced with a heightened emotional state. Is it an expression of the same instinct or is it something I learned to do that day? Maybe the trauma of that experience forever flavored the way I respond to and deal with my emotions which I've always thought of as things to be controlled lest they get you in trouble or maybe even killed. How much of my personal development (functional or dysfunctional) can be traced back to a single stressful event and how I was able to deal with it?

The shed door was finally opened and we saw soldiers with machine guns in front of us. There was a sense of relief as they told us that the situation had been resolved and I returned to this reality. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Perchance To Dream

When confronted with an upcoming difficult or important task I tend to experience a sudden need to sleep. It occurs to me instinctively that a quick nap will better prepare me for the challenge ahead. I wonder if this is how my ancestors reacted when they were about to head out for a long hunt or battle. Perhaps they fell asleep wherever they happened to be, knowing that they would need to remain alert and not knowing when they would be able to sleep again.

This proclivity seems to assert itself whenever challenges lay ahead. I don't have to hunt to feed my tribe or battle to protect them but I have been confronted by exams, public speaking engagements, or first dates before which I have a sudden need to sleep even when I've had plenty of rest and the taking of time for such repose would be highly inconvenient or damming. I'm much more likely to be late for an important rendezvous than a minor one so I have a long history of disappointing and seemingly disrespecting people who know me.

In grade eight I wrote several comedy sketches for the holiday school assembly before the break. The skits weren't particularly original as they were likely heavily influenced by SNL, Second City or the British comedy shows that I watched religiously on TV. The final day was to be just half a day of music and comedy. We stayed after school the day before to rehearse. Everyone was excited and sure that the morning performance was going to be a hit.

The next morning I found myself waking up not before eight as I usually did but at eleven. I had never been that late for school, unintentionally. My mother, not knowing about the day's performance, said she had great difficulty waking me and thought I must be ill so left me to sleep in.

I finally got to school just as the show was wrapping up. I was made to wait outside the gym and my teacher came out to see me. I was unable to explain what happened other than to say that I slept in and was very sorry. She scolded me by saying how I had disappointed her and my classmates. She naturally interpreted it as a sign of disrespect and uncaring. I was crushed. A classmate had taken my place in the skits and one consolation was that they were apparently a big success and a source for much laughter. 

It felt like I had missed my big break. Of course I imagined there would have been standing ovations and calls for "author, author" but even if it was received with slightly less enthusiasm I'm quite certain it would have encouraged me to continue with such things and perhaps I would not have lived with the longstanding regret of not pursuing a creative life. 

More recently this proclivity to sleep in the face of challenges has presented itself in different ways. In times of emotional distress, such as one might feel in the course of long difficult discussions during what turns out to be a breakup, my eyes begin to droop and I feel a need to shut down. It is naturally interpreted as a sign of disrespect and a lack of caring for the import of the situation. Ironically, it is likely just the opposite. Because I realize the importance of the situation I instinctively need rest so that I can continue more effectively in the challenge.

These are perhaps just the convenient rationalizations of a sociopath but some people are known to experience a narcoleptic response to heightened emotional states. It might be a dysfunction of my psyche warranting censure but it certainly feels more like an irresistible physical response bred in the bone of my ancestors.