Show and tell

When you’re diagnosed with a condition such as Parkinson’s, it changes things. It’s not the disease, because your physical condition doesn’t change as soon as those words are uttered – though with medical intervention symptomatic a certain amount of relief may come almost immediately – it’s that there is a label which can be attached to all manner of things.

In some ways, this is a great, great thing, because no longer do you blame yourself for certain idiocies that happen (my current difficulties with swallowing, or that ‘damn, everyone thinks I’m drunk because my left foot isn’t co-operating today’, for example), but can attach a label to it. Taking the reason out of the self does help.

Conversely, there is a tendency to begin to think of yourself in terms of disease. Certainly, the system sees you as a set of symptoms to be treated, or ignored, depending on circumstances. The modern world just loves putting you into a box, even though you’re never really going to fit into one. We’re far more complex than that, naturally, and resemble quite silly Venn diagrams more than boxes. Here, for example, is a (crap) Venn diagram of my physical self:

Pete exists in the tiny overlap in the middle, between cricketer, martial artist, PD sufferer, lover, shoulder, and gym goer …

this is obviously rather truncated, and will change as soon as my shoulder is operated on. The ratios will change, and, for example, cricketer, martial artist and gym goer will move from physical to potential or intellectual. Hopefully fucked shoulder will go too. I’ll probably add invalid to the mix. That leaves me as PD sufferer and lover. Oh. Er, moving swiftly on …

We don’t fit into the boxes that modern society wants. This is fine until we get a big box to be put in. No-one worries about the boxes until one thing turns up that effectively defines you to most everyone. PD becomes one of these things.

This may seem obvious, or perhaps irrelevant, but when it happens, you know about it. This is because we want to put ourselves in boxes too. It helps. But also it hinders, and any way that we can break out becomes very, very tempting.

During my last net at Hove, I was batting left-handed. Naturally. I was batting quite well, considering. I decided to play a switch-hit, that is, changing from left to right-handed as the bowler runs up. I did so. I bashed the ball mightily. I went back to left-handed. The coach taking the session next to my net remarked to the coach feeding the bowling machine that I batted pretty well right-handed for a lefty. He was quite surprised when told I was right-handed.

Now. Someone who didn’t know me naturally placed me in a box. Incorrectly, yes, but actually quite flattering. Were I to explain, I may or may not have to say, ‘I’ve got PD’ – it just depends on whether I was being falsely boxed.

Do I feel it’s better that someone puts me in the PD box, or the box they’ve chosen. If the former, I tell.

And telling somebody changes things.

Release the inner slut

I know, I know. And apologies straight away to those who thought that this post was going to be about girls doing unmentionable things to root vegetables – we only deal in fruits here.

In my last post, I discussed a disagreement regarding the use of the word ‘slut’ in my blog on ‘Love and Other Drugs’. I defended it, primarily because it is, I believe, a word which needs recuperation – either that or universally equitable application.

My dictionary defines it this: a slovenly or promiscuous woman (unknown origin).

I suspect that it has a fair relationship to the word slattern. A word which really needs to be brought back into use, if only because it’s so poetic.

Actually, I’m currently torn with regards what I’m about to write, but until an equivalent noun exists to attach to a slovenly or promiscuous man, I shall press on.

Slut is a word applied pejoratively, to a woman, who ‘sleeps around’. The slovenly bit no longer obtains. The equivalent for the male is ‘stud’. This is rubbish, as it fails to take into account several factors.

The first is that sexual mores have changed, and, in western society at least (and outside those for whom religion provides a moral compass – and if you think that the Bible is on the money here, just read Genesis.38), women are increasingly taking command of their own sexuality and sexual appetites. This is as it should be.

The vilification of an individual who behaves in a way which suits them while failing to harm other people is insane. cf. Tony Blair, whose Biblical obsession, and obsession with his own righteousness, most certainly harmed others. A Frank Zappa once sang, ‘Hey, this is the twentieth century, whatever you can do to have a good time let’s get on with it so long as it doesn’t cause a murder’.

Stud is a word invariably applied with pride or envy – it conjures up images of proud stallions servicing mares to produce legions of thoroughbred racehorses – it’s not exactly pejorative. It is something to which all men must aspire. Darwin says so. (Look, I know that isn’t what Darwinianism is all about, but I’m making a point, ok?)

Now, I’m not going to get caught up in this, nor am I going to consider the manner in which Hollywood cannot bear a woman to have control over her own sexuality … others will do that better. What I am going to do is comment on a comment. My last blog was on this subject. It concerned the film ‘A Little Bit of Heaven’, in which the lead female is a character who enjoys sex for its own sake, gets ill, and as a result lives happily ever after with her doctor. Phew! Lucky her, contracting a terrible illness which showed her how shallow her life had been …

This post received one comment from ‘Ali’, which read as follows:

LOVE your blog and your writing style! Perhaps if all ‘sluts’ could suffer through a disease, the world would find that peace we’re looking for.

Two friends, both female, commented on this comment. They both remarked that it was scary that someone would write that sluts ought to be wiped out so that the world could be a better place. I responded that this was a strange way to read the comment.

Then I realised that it was perfectly logical, if you ignore the initial remark, as anyone who likes what I write may have noticed that I don’t hold with this sort of attitude. But the thing was, I knew something that they didn’t.

They had both read the name ‘Ali’, assumed that the poster was a muslim man, read the post, placed the post in the venn diagram, and the overlap read ‘sluts must die’. Look! Here it is!

Now, I happen to know that Ali is neither a muslim (actually, that’s supposition, but the evidence suggests that it’s reasonable), nor is she a he. Replace the ‘Muslim man’ with ’empowered woman’, and the overlap reads, ‘you say slut like it’s a bad thing’. See!

Ok. Before you bleat, I am not, repeat not, saying that all muslim men want any woman who enjoys sex to die. To read that into this post is wilfully to misrepresent both me and my writing. And is VERY, VERY, BAD. So don’t do it.

I am also not saying that the two commentators think this, either. What they did was take the information they had and come up with a conclusion. This conclusion may be debatable, it may be wrong, it may have been justifiable. I comment not upon that.

What this whole episode flags up is the manner in which contextual information is a) crucial and b) often retrospectively applied. That is, in trying to make sense of the post, more information was needed. The commentators (both highly intelligent, articulate women) read a veiled threat in the post, where I read a knowing smile.

Writing is an astonishingly powerful tool for the communication of information, but it can be a double-edged sword, especially when we write as we talk. As either Martin Clifford or George Villers wrote in the 1670s:

1 Writing is a dead kind of Representation, and therefore not proper to Express us while we are liuing. 2 Writing sticks in the paper and produces no effects outward, speech goes forth and makes impression.

It’s not just the contextualisation of ‘Ali’ that needed to be made, but the contextualisation of the comment itself, which, read independently of the spirit of the writer, the tone of voice, the look in the eye and the tilt of the head, can mean one thing or the other.

The irony, of course, is that you cannot possibly see the arch of my right eyebrow as I type this.