Monday, March 22, 2004

"Stopping the World," the First Definition

I recently spoke with someone who just started reading Jake. One of her questions was, "What is the 'stopping the world' bit all about?" I suppose maybe it is time to unpack that phrase. I'm going to have to do it in parts, as the definition involves a few different glimpses of my internal world.

The first definition is drawn from childhood. As you can see, the name of this site was stolen from a delightful children's story, by Georgia Bying. In case you are not familiar with it, here's Amazon's synopsis;
The follow-up novel to Georgia Byng's bestselling debut MOLLY MOON'S INCREDIBLE BOOK OF HYPNOTISM. Molly Moon, the funny-looking orphan who once took Broadway by storm, has vowed never to use her amazing hypnotic powers again. But when she learns that a megalomaniac master hypnotist called Primo Cell is rumoured to be controlling the minds of famous movie stars, she has to intervene. Arriving in Hollywood, Molly, Rocky and Petula the pug get to work. While Petula is being pampered at a beauty parlour for glamorous pooches, Molly and Rocky plan how to blag their way into Primo's famous Oscar-night party. Here they find that their enemy is far more dangerous and powerful than they suspected. Primo thinks it will be a breeze to control the minds of two kids, but he doesn't know that Molly has discovered an extraordinary new ability. Her hypnotic eyes can actually stop time itself...
Such creative stories as this introduces children to the understanding that the act of reading itself can be a way of stopping the world. The better the story, the more the world around them begins to fade, and eventually stop altogether. Video stories and games can have the same effect, but they do not offer the silence of reading, or the stretching of their own creativity required to use words alone to paint scenes within their mind.

Books became my only friends when I was in grade school. I'll attempt to paint the scene that led to this with an economy of words, but I'm making no promises!

My father remarried when I was 5. Prior to this, I had lived with my grandparents, and had experienced a fairly "normal" life. With those years as a frame of reference, it did not take me long, even at that young age, to realize that my new mother was not "normal."

She had some rather extreme fears, which today I recognize as probably various phobias. One of these fears involved germs. When I was in the first grade, I developed a bad cough. I was sent to my room, and to bed, for the next six months. The diagnosis was a "bronchial/respiratory condition."

After the cough was gone, and I was given a clean bill of health by the doctor, I still did not leave my room. I remained in that room for the next four years, except to walk back and forth to school. When I left my room for the short walk to the door to leave for school, I was required to wear a doctor's mask.
I awoke each morning to find a bowl of cereal and a glass of milk on my desk, with various pills lined up alongside the spoon. Some were vitamins. One was a Dristan tablet. I have no idea what the others were. When it was time for dinner, I was called from my room. My plate was placed on the counter across the room from the dining table, where the rest of the family was gathered. The routine was that I dropped my mask, ate as quickly as possible, and then replaced my mask and returned to my room. This routine limited the numbers of germs that might escape from my diseased person, I guess.

As the years went by, a few other bizarre daily routines were added. I was assigned my own bathroom, which was to be scoured with Comet each morning before I left for school. I lost my name, which was replaced with "that dumb kid," and other less pleasant descriptive phrases which I have conveniently misplaced. The daily lectures started becoming more full of anger. Eventually physical attacks were added to the verbal lashings.

So, that's the scene. It ended when I was eleven, when they sent me off to live with various relatives. One of the first things my relatives did was to take me to a doctor. He declared me fit, although he was concerned about my low white blood cell count. He attributed it to a daily dose of Dristan for four years. So, at eleven, I was allowed to go outside and play for the first time since the first grade.

Ok, on with the "stopping the world" lessons learned during this time. As I mentioned, I realized early on that there was something wrong with this woman. This was a critical awareness. She was not evil; she was sick. Trust me, if I had not realized this, I would most likely be in prison for premeditated murder right now.

It was as if this person was living life according to a script to which she owned the only copy. For some reason, possibly because I was a constant reminder of my father's first marriage, I was cast in the role of the villain. Once I realized that she was not living in reality, the absurd happenings were not as traumatic. This led to the next important realization; I could choose to accept or reject her reality. It may be true, or it may be some fantasy in her head. But, I was not powerless. I had a choice. This is such an important lesson in "stopping the world." So often, accepting the role of victim is a choice, often a choice in response to allowing ourselves to get sucked into playing a role in someone else's personal drama. If we don't like the script, we can stop the drama, and change the script. Of course, this entire script was demented, so it took me until eleven to figure out a way to dump the whole thing, and start fresh.

Figuring out how to change the script emerged from those years in that room. For the first few years, I was allowed to read. I learned to escape into imaginary worlds where she could not go. The shrinks get quite enthusiastic when this part of the story comes out. Here's something they understand...escape into fantasy. Whatever. I'm not convinced that this is such a terrible coping mechanism. If the external world is the living out of someone else's fantasies, it doesn't take long to realize that fantasy is the ticket to creating your own world.

Eventually, the books were taken away. Some walnut shells were found in my room. I had taken to sneaking into the kitchen in the middle of he night to help myself to a little snack. Since I could no longer be trusted, I was required to sit in a chair in the doorway of my room, masked and bookless. This meant that in order to escape the bad movie going on around me, I had to depend even more heavily on my own imagination. Tales of heartless pirates, cool cowboys, chivalrous knights and heroic soldiers played across my own private screen.

Letting these internal dramas continue to run even while having someone scream in your face or strike you repeatedly with a belt was quite the trick. It required awareness of another tool in stopping the world; recognizing the presence of the "objective observer." There was some remote part of me that would stand back, and without emotion, quietly comment on what was going on. Sometimes this part would make the most unusual observations and suggestions. The problem was, the observer was not only lacking in emotion, but also in any semblance of morality. For instance, one of his suggestions, "Kill the bitch," was simply not an option. Not because she didn't deserve to die, or that I was incapable of doing the deed, but because it would deeply hurt my father, who, for reasons I will never understand, deeply loves this woman, even today. And I continue to love him.

I don't recall if that option was ever seriously considered. As I have said, I realized that she was sick, not evil. But, even entertaining the notion reveals a critical piece to stopping the world. We are never trapped. We can always change the script. But this requires creative thinking; thinking outside the box. And sometimes, to do this, we have to step outside the world of emotions and morality, just to make sure there aren't some options we have overlooked. One way of stopping this script was to remove the director. But, the cost was too high. Eventually, I discovered a better way; remove myself from the stage.

In summation; we are not helpless players in this drama of sad and happy dreams. We can "stop the world", stop the play; drop the curtain; rewrite the next act, and then raise the curtain, cue the lights and let the show go on. Then, if we write ourselves into the role of victim, we only have ourselves to blame.


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