Thursday, December 13, 2007

Eating the Elephant

So there was this guy who did the Process and on the first day he got out of his wheelchair and walked from from Crouch End to Marble Arch. I don’t know what he did on the second day, but on the third and last day he went home and cut down a tree. A woman who had been bedridden for years got up on day two and answered the door herself. Another threw away her crutches. And Signs? She went to Borders Bookshop in Brighton, had a coffee and bought a book by Ann Lamott called 'Bird by Bird'. It’s a book about writing and so far I’m enjoying it. Reading about the writing process is the displacement activity of choice when I am not writing, and writing about not writing is a close second. The title of the book gets its name because of a story she tells about her brother:

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write [it] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

Well that was day one. On the second day I came home and went to sleep. Then Mr. Signs and I did a reasonably thorough uncluttering job of a room in our house and that felt very good. On the morning of day three I noticed that I woke up and felt normal – meaning there was nothing weird going on in my head, limbs, stomach, or anywhere else in my body. And then I went on feeling normal for the rest of that day. I had a sleep again after coming home in the afternoon and when I woke up I still felt normal. You might think I had forgotten what normal feels like, but I haven’t. Normal doesn’t feel like anything at all, but when you are used to having shackles, normal feels like you are a piece of polystyrene floating on the water. Buoyant. The only reason for polystyrene not to float is if something is attached to it, holding it down. When it becomes detached from what has been holding it down, it surfaces again and floats – no matter how long a time has passed.

Well, but today I overdid it, and I haven’t had much sleep. And on this, the first day of the rest of my life, I went supermarket shopping. Cupboards were bare and son has just returned from the Arctic with a head cold and an overdraft. Life goes on and I am not looking for hallelujah moments. I am happy to take it “bird by bird” and notice that climbing the stairs is easier and for several days I have not particularly thought of needing to take prescription painkillers. I did think about it on day two but then I did the Process and the pain went. Today I have taken one because that is what I feel I needed to do and there is no benefit to be gained from pretending otherwise.

There were three of us in the group, plus Mr. Signs who accompanied me. The trainer was a woman who had had M.E. for eighteen years and now doesn’t. The process is used to treat all kinds of things, not just M.E., and it is recognised that this is a physical illness – not “all in the mind”, even though mind is used to bring about a change in the body’s response. Some illnesses appear to respond well to it, others not, nor would it be the right thing for everyone. The process itself is learned in three stages and is simple – but needs to be done regularly and consistently and my inclination is to look at the results after someone has practiced it for a while. Even so, it has taken me by surprise to witness how mind and body (mine) are willing to engage. Therefore I am hopeful. And mindful of the answer to the question: how do you eat an elephant? Answer: bite by bite.


Rising Rainbow said...

Bird by bird,very clever of that day.

It sounds like you have gained something helpful from that course. Good for you.

Nicola said...

I love this book, Signs. It is one I keep handy for those days when I need a little reassurance that, yes, I can do this writing thing.
Very encouraging news after your three days. I wonder if it would help me? I don't have ME, but something as debilitating.
It never ceases to amaze me how help comes in its different forms - a page turned up here, a hand held out there - as long as we are listening.
My younger son has just returned from a little further south of the north - lives in parallel again!
All the best for the coming days.

cusp said...

Sounds good to me Signs. I think you're right to keep practising the process whilst listening to yoru common sense. Even though we hear tales of crutches being thrown away I think the most realistic reports are the ones where people feel much better, go on processing and progress steadily.

Here's hoping x

Reading the Signs said...

Thank you, Rising Rainbow - good of you to come and comment.

Nicola, I've been meaning to get the book for a while. Haven't read much of it yet but I'm rather enjoying the tone of it.

If you are wondering about the LP and whether it's suitable for you, you could always find the nearest trainer to you and give them a ring. I had a few telephone conversations before deciding.

We do seem to be leading parallel lives!

Hello Cusp, yes, even though one is presented with all the speedy miracle stories, my trainer was actually one of those who took it gradually - and she felt that this would be best for me too. There is no 'one size fits all'.

NMJ said...

Hey Signs, I am out of answers for this illness and I am very happy for you that some progress has been made, long may it continue, but please don't over do it!

I can't honestly remember what feeling 'normal' feels like. I can remember my first day of illness in Sept 1982, but not my last day of wellness.

Ann Lamott is fab, I saw her read in San Fran years ago. And Bolinas makes a wee slight appearance in my book, so there is synchronicity here, you do have a way with synchronising yourself, dear Signs x

Reading the Signs said...

Sweet NMJ - you have been on my mind during these last few days - you and Cusp and others. Because I think we all have to (and we all try) to live as best we can with this, and each of us does what we can in our own unique way. And there are no ready answers.

Actually, I had great difficulty in accessing "normal", and found that I had to simply imagine it first, and then I did kind of remember - oh yes, that. And for some years at the beginning of this, I did have the occasional "good" patch.

I am so enjoying Ann Lamott - and it is an honour and a pleasure to be synchronising!

Kahless said...

Excellent, bite by bite sounds like it is more tasty too!

Glad you got something out of it. Keep us updated with progress, yes?

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

This sounds very positive and encouraging, Signs. I think I need to find out more about the Process. I remember normal well and want it back - permanently!

seahorse said...

With or without the Process it is really encouraging to read about someone doing a bite by bite approach to the bastard illness with success. Long way off for me, and I veer between acceptance of poor health and wanting better health, but a sense of togetherness and understanding pervades these and other sites. It's very comforting.

Reading the Signs said...

Kahless, have you ever eaten elephant? Thought not. But anyway, I'm trying to bite off the amount that I feel able to chew. And one day I'll look out of the window and the elephant will be gone. I prefer cats anyway.

So do I, Vanilla, and believe me I hadn't felt it for a very long time. There is quite a bit about the LP on the web - don't know if it's done outside of the UK, but if not now then I imagine it will be.

Thanks for your comment, Seahorse - bite by bite is how I'm doing the Process with this, the way I feel able to. I wish you well on your path.

wordstar said...

Can you tell me a little bit more about Process and the workshop you went on? Very intrigued. And as you can see my displacement activity to writing is writing to you..... tee hee, avoiding a damn difficult scene and have been all week. Now maybe I can clean out the freezer (amazing way to get a lot of cleaning done. Try and write a difficult chapter!!)

Gael said...

I haven't the foggiest what this 'process' is, but if you feel even a bit better then it has to be a good thing. And for what it's worth I'd hold more store by gentle progress than any 'miracle.'
Anywho, I read about someone called Anne Stevenson in the paper today, and when I looked up her work I found this, and thought of you;

Making Poetry

‘You have to inhabit poetry
if you want to make it.’

And what’s ‘to inhabit?’

To be in the habit of, to wear
words, sitting in the plainest light,
in the silk of morning, in the shoe of night;
a feeling bare and frondish in surprising air;
familiar. . . rare.

And what’s ‘to make?’

To be and to become words’ passing
weather; to serve a girl on terrible terms,
embark on voyages over voices,
evade the ego-hill, the misery-well,
the siren hiss of publish, success, publish,
success, success, success.

And why inhabit, make, inherit poetry?

Oh, it’s the shared comedy of the worst
blessed; the sound leading the hand;
a wordlife running from mind to mind
through the washed rooms of the simple senses;
one of those haunted, undefendable, unpoetic
crosses we have to find.

Reading the Signs said...

Hi Wordstar,

The name of it is the Lightning Process and you can find stuff on the web about it. The actual Process is quite simple to learn but only begins to make sense in the context of the training programme (which is three half days).

Thank you Gael, I love this. In fact I'm going to print it off. Love her work - must drop hints and try and get some as Christmas pressie .

Anna MR said...

Hei Signs - this sounds like it has been a good thing. I'm glad. Very glad, in fact. Hugs to you and hope the SOS gets over his Arctic head cold. Mwah xx

Reading the Signs said...

Well Mwah right back atcha, Anna babe, and SOS is recovering from his cold but I have finished all the salmiakki liquorice things in the paper bag and this is not good. There is someone in the village who goes to Finland regularly on business - we only really meet by accident now and then but now I think I will have to make him an offer he can't refuse so he brings me back some of those things.

Thank you for being glad. I hope to be, one way or the other.

fluttertongue said...

Oh Signs, how much better you put this than I. Where I fear to displease you are able to blend words in a way that puts my thoughts into coherence.

My flock is denser than I had originally thought. But at least I know they are all surmountable. It's funny that the day I read this I received a book from an unknown source listing birds (with plates) that can be found in Eastern North America. I spent a good morning watching a Nightjar (an aberrant Goatsucker, according to the book) flitting between a fence and a bush.

I too was told of the man who walked to Marble Arch. Frankly, I'd rather walk somewhere a bit more green and less polluted. But we each have our own ways of finding the light.

It is hopefully obvious that I am over the moon that you have had a good experience too with this therapy. Let us buoy one another up as we continue along the path.

Reading the Signs said...

Hello Fluttertongue, I've been wondering how things are going for you. I keep coming back to thinking that it's simple but hard - at least, I find it so and it helps to know that there are people who take time with it, small steps. The birds I see as positive manifestations, being winged airborne things. But that elephant is big and stubborn. The work really begins when the course is over. One way or another, there will be good things coming from the practice of it - as all musicians know :)

Anonymous said...

Oh Signs, I am so happy to read this, to hear of some progress on the landscape. Little changes can be big nad I am hopeful that it continues forever more.

I adore "Bird By Bird" and Anne Lamott. Her stories are amazing, her prespective and tone, utterly charming.

Please continue to take it bird by bird, one step at a time. Breathe in and back out again.

Collin said...

Glad you are feeling better. I'm sending continued good thoughts.

Bird by Bird is brilliant. I had the great fortune to hear Ann Lamott read from this book and I treasure my autographed copy.

Reading the Signs said...

Hi David, I still haven't got much beyond the beginning yet - so many birds keep flying in. Hope you are well and also taking time for the outbreath.

Reading the Signs said...

Hi Collin,

My goodness - to think that I had never heard of her until quite recently. It's clearly high time. Thanks for your good thoughts.

Nicola said...

We are a something of a flock here, gathered, led by signs, perhaps x

Nicola said...

an escaped 'a' there, or maybe an 'ahh'

Reading the Signs said...

Nicola my dear,

I'll be the partridge in a pear tree.

But on second thoughts, no. Any of them a-flying? I wish to be that. Or one of the Lords a-leaping.