Bits and Bites of Everyday Life

 

Thank you, Maman, for leading us into temptation

By Geneviève Hone
True North Perspective

Geneviève Hone is a grandmother, family therapist and social worker.  With her husband, Julien Mercure (also a family therapist), she has co-authored three books on couples and family life. Her home on the web is www.hone-mercure.com/index_hone_en.php.

 
  Painting by Julien Mercure.

You’ve no doubt heard about writer’s block, perhaps even suffered from this condition. Many people have. I remember enduring a terrible episode of writer’s block as a seven year old child, sitting at my desk, trying to pen a thank you note to a great aunt who had sent me a book for Christmas.

I hadn’t enjoyed the book, an illustrated story of Creation, with badly drawn pictures of animals and trees that hid the most interesting body parts of Adam and Eve. And I didn’t even recall ever meeting this great aunt.

I had used delaying techniques for months, hoping that my mother would forget about the whole thing. But my mother had excellent long term memory and late in June, she still could remember the preceding Christmas. That day, she had been quite firm about my duty to be polite and say thank you “even if you don’t like the book, Geneviève”, firm to the point of saying: “Stay in your room until you’ve done it.” I immediately came down with a severe case of writer’s block. Zero inspiration, zero motivation, zero everything. Condemned by society to let a beautiful Saturday afternoon go to waste, angry and resentful, I was most definitely in a major funk!

It was the psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler who first described the condition known as “writer’s block”, Wikipedia informs me. I didn’t know he had, but if Wikipedia says so, it must be true (!). The concept has evolved over the years of course; I hear that there are now at least ten forms of writer’s block and what was first described as a “condition” may well have evolved into an “affliction” and even perhaps into a full blown mental disorder over the years. My DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition) is gathering dust on a top bookshelf and I have absolutely no inclination to bring it down to check if writer’s block has made it into the DSM Hall of Fame. I much prefer to sit here and grumble about the fact so many manifestations of thoughts and emotions are now being defined as pathological, whereas they used to simply fit under the general label “human condition”.

You may be wondering how I was cured of this episode of writer’s block. In my day, many mothers reached for the bottle of cod liver oil, a cure-all for many ailments. My mother reached for bacon. Yes, you’ve read me correctly: bacon. Bacon was a rare treat in our house, but occasionally, when we were sent to our room for educational purposes, my mother would cook some. We couldn’t resist the smell that wafted up the stairs and we sure were tempted to behave! So yes I did write the “Dear great aunt…” letter, and see what happened, I now can write without first having been sent to my room!

I don’t suffer from writer’s block at this very moment. I do suffer however from what I would call writer’s “blockade” which is a condition where three possible themes for this article have gathered in a corner of my brain and, in their push for each to be the first to land in my word processing program, have formed an obstruction. Nothing is going through. I don’t lack ideas, I just have too many at the same time! The themes battling for my attention are: the lessons given to us by the Dalai Lama on the occasion of his visit to Ottawa, Mother’s day and Mental Health Awareness Week. All three themes interest me greatly but I really can’t develop them all in such a short space. I give the brain fighters a few minutes to organize themselves into some kind of order, but nothing doing: they all want to be the first to land on the blank page. “Oh, get a life”, I say to my brain. “I’m going for a walk. And when I come back, I expect you to have produced one idea that I can work with. At least give me a headline. Understood?” Shades of my mother’s approach, here…

Maybe it’s the moment of meditation by the river, maybe it’s the beauty of the trees drenched in late afternoon sun, maybe it’s the effects of a brisk walk, whatever it is, when I do get home, my themes have united under a common “headline”, so to speak, and are quietly waiting to be put on paper. The headline? TEMPTATION AS A WAY OUT OF LIFE’S FUNKS. Er…? Sorry?

One could say that humanity has put itself into a proper funk, a huge state of anger, fear and sadness. We have made so many mistakes, committed so many sins and we don’t seem to be learning the lessons we should be. And yet, according to Alberte in her latest TNP article, his Holiness the Dalai Lama continues to display “eternal good humour and contagious laughter”. This is certainly not a form of denial or a lack of awareness: he very well knows what’s going on in the world. His words do not blame, attack or invite retaliation which would only spread more fear and anger. On the contrary: he invites us to continue developing compassion, patience, love, mindfulness, what he calls the necessities of life. Reading his words, I feel led into temptation, the temptation of helping to create a better world a little bit at a time.

Mental Health Awareness Week was proclaimed a few days ago. I have worked in the field of mental health all my life, and yet I never have been able to properly define mental health nor mental illness, despite all my efforts including reading each new version of the DSM as it was produced. But now that I am mostly retired and don’t need to demonstrate that I master the art of diagnosis, I allow myself to define mental illness as the state of being stuck in some inner room deep inside oneself while needing to learn or do something new or different to better one’s life and just not knowing how to go about it. Most of us are or have been close to someone suffering from such pain. Many of us have also experienced being stuck in an inner room of our own, wanting to get out, yet unable to find an exit. How can we humans transmit to each other the courage to take at least a few steps out of that painful space with dignity? My mother used bacon, not a method most physicians would recommend as such. But she felt that I needed to be reminded that there was life beyond the funk I was in, that something good awaited me once I had learned what I needed to. We all have what it takes to tempt each other towards life at its fullest. Let’s each find our own methods of inducing such temptation for others and for ourselves!

Mother’s Day will have come and gone by the time you read this. I will have joined hearts with everybody who has said “Thank you” to their mother. I will have said: “Thank you Mothers, all of you. Thank you for inviting your children into Life. Thank you for always doing your best to tempt your children out of their funks. Thank you for offering the temptation of Life. You may share the stage with the Dalai Lama, as you too daily demonstrate compassion, patience and generosity.”

And, on a personal note, thank you, Maman, for tempting me with bacon and great kindness.

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