When the Self is the Problem.

Another late post because we were away where I had no Internet access. (At least, not enough peace and harmony to compose something and take it to a local library to post it through their online access.)

I’m making a transition to a new topic, an exploration of the contrarian viewpoint. I don’t have a posting to mind as I start writing this, but I do have some thoughts from the past five days that may serve as a transition piece.

This summer my brother-in-law spent almost six weeks in hospital with heart failure. Actually a partial failure in the by-pass arteries he’d had installed about eight years previous. He wasn’t expected to come out of the hospital on his own feet, but eventually the low point of being strapped into a bed with six IVs and tubes everywhere transformed to the first faltering steps of being able to get out of bed – and later to an expedition out of the ward to buy fresh fruit from a stand in the foyer and to eat them on a bench outside the hospital entrance. This without approval or assistance. (His nurse eventually decided he’d played truant long enough and sent security to fetch him home in a wheelchair.)

After many troubled days, during which he was dumped on us, he was at last admitted to the lodge that wouldn’t originally accept him until some residual conditions were dealt with. In the past five weeks he has recovered some strength as well as a great deal of desire to regain his old stubbornly independent and hermit ways. It seems to me that he has entered a time of life where the underlying changes have rendered his previous modes untenable, but he is desperately attempting to claw them back. (Rather like the US administration attempting to claw back the old bubble debt economy instead of accepting that the world’s biggest debtor needs to put its house in order and pay its bills.)

Watching him desperately attempting to reverse the effects of age and sickness – even if only in his own mind – has been a salutary lesson to me. In some ways a quite heroic picture, but in others equally pathetic. One cannot dismiss heart failure by an effort of will. The past five days he has been in his own home again – a visit because the medical authorities have pronounced him unable to care for himself – where we tried to help him gather up some more essential belongings to take back to the limited space he has in the lodge. He, however, was fixated on collecting and boxing his extensive collection of movie DVDs and music CDs. I carried a total of more than 150 pounds of boxes out to stack in the back seat of his car to take back with us. He has yet to persuade the lodge to provide the extra storage space for these boxes, but that’s not the biggest problem. He didn’t take the DVD player and has no space in his small room for his huge flat screen TV. It doesn’t look as if he is ever going to be able to get them back out of storage to use in the future. He might offer his fellow lodge members a couple of years of movie nights on a lodge DVD/TV setup, but that is a suggestion he scoffs at.

He has always owned cameras, usually expensive professional ones, but I won’t even dwell on the new top of the line digital camera and the stand-alone print copier he has never used because he’s never been able to figure them out. They too, of course, must be taken to the lodge. As the neighbour commented – he never takes pictures anyway. (He very briefly attempted to get into the computer age about 20 years back but gave up in disgust because the devices wouldn’t obey his orders.)

Most of his life he wholeheartedly accepted the role of consumer, whose only input into society has been to buy stuff. He used to be a prisoner of Malls and Sales, and now is a prisoner of the ‘stuff’ he accumulated. It struck me that all those possessions are a necessary part of the self-image he has of himself. In some ways he’s not safe – not complete without them. I have no idea how to get him to attempt to free himself. I cannot guess how many more days or years of active life medical science has granted him, but I neither can I see him taking advantage of them. He has the opportunity to throw himself open to new possibilities outside of the self-imposed hermitage he’s lived in for the past ten or more years – despite his new limitations. If only he would leave his private room at the lodge once in awhile and learn to love his fellows in humanity …

So I’m looking at his predicament as a way to avoid making my own mistakes – because although I may sound smug and superior I know I’m not really that much different. But I’ve always been a contrarian, so I see switching paradigms as inherently possible. If you see how stupid it is to smoke cigarettes you quit, as I did over 40 years ago. If the lifestyle you developed over the past umpteen years is no longer practicable you look for a new one. While that is the logical procedure I doubt it’s as easy for me to accomplish as I imagine. It may not be easy for you, either. That’s what I want to explore with my new direction and I hope you readers will follow me into the insights possible through contrarianism and offer your own comments.


3 Responses to “When the Self is the Problem.”

  1. joylene Says:

    Such a great post, Chris. And so timely. We’re moving my pack-rat MIL in with us. I have no idea where to put all her “stuff”. Poor dear. They’re the remnants of her 93 years.

    I understood this preoccupation a few years ago, and have since been cleaning house. I also asked everyone if they could abide by a new rule: something comes in, something must go out.

    I’m the only one who’s sticking to this new philosophy, and I have to say, I’m enjoying the new me very much. What a liberating feeling.

  2. kester2 Says:

    I remember reading about someone a few years ago who was reducing his possessions to a total of … it was either 20 or 40 — don’t remember which.

    Having no or very few possessions is said to be very liberating, but I think I’m in the wrong family to attempt it. Being a packrat doesn’t help. You’d be amazed at the odd collection of things I have in the garage that could be useful material for a project one day.


  3. joylene Says:

    I remember back in the 90’s when Barbara Streisand sold everything, her ranch included and all her priceless art pieces and moved to NYC. I only remember becuz I couldn’t wrap my mind around all the stuff she had.

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