Many of these blogs are born from a filtering of information from a range of sources. Some arrive whilst in conversation with friends and family. The below is a hybrid of both. A large thank you to my sister Edwina and Ms. Amarpreet Ajji who both steered me through a number of tough realisations.
Adverse Hooch is well known as a legal and illegal alcoholic drink. In America – pruno is the colloquial equivalent. Moonshine is another name of illegally produced malted alcoholic beverages. Why am I writing about illegal liquor one might be inclined to ask? “Adversity is the mother of all invention”. My mum was fond of saying. This is my offering.
Locked In Having worked at over 10 prisons in the UK, and witnessed the ingenuity persons in prison extend themselves to – brewing alcohol illegally, there is a truth to my mum’s saying above, that I wanted to explore here. The common experience of hardship creating solution. If there wasn’t difficulty, poverty or war, would development of the advances that exist in the world currently be with us?
Community Links Living in Canada I am unable to be employed. My migrant status is under review. My ‘In Country’ application has been in process for over a year. In that time I have had chance to volunteer my support as a psychotherapist for True Roots as a panelist, and also as a co facilitator of their men’s monthly check in and chats series, ACCA as a volunteer co-ordinator for the organisation’s Individual and Family support programme, and most recently as a member of the St. Leonard’s Society of Hamilton that support individuals with rehabilitation after a custodial sentence. There is also a piece of work at McMaster University in Autumn I am looking forward to be involved with. I haven’t stopped engaging in purposeful activities it looks different at the moment.
Combustion The sloth of my application currently being processed by Canada’s immigration service is at the centre of my reasoning for Hooch. My ability to work and contribute, as in the UK, is hampered by slow processing. A low-grade frustration builds like a storm cloud. Similar to the lazy afternoon pull and erasure of dry wipe marks from a board that once held the allure of valuable information. The teacher oblivious, uncaring or both. Queue the classroom explosion.
Brew Hooch is a bi-product of ingenuity meeting boredom, opportunity and time. The blogs are my attempt to produce something potent and as therapeutic in a collection of words as hooch are for those behind ‘the wall’. Offering a taste of freedom. By writing I ease the storm cloud’s weight. If each letter were a droplet of rain, perhaps by the end of this year the rain cloud could become like cirrus – light as wisps of steam caught in rarefied air.
Expense Existing as a non-entity has perils: unaffordable health care, costly health and car insurance, inability to join the labour force, nonexistent credit rating, poor social mobility or cultural capital. Confidence repeatedly dashed against the rocks of doubt ‘Will this ever…?’ I am not alone in sensing the vacuum. A hoovering up of all that was known about a temporaneous life before the move is common for an immigrant.
Slow Down Whole communities have travelled from one country into another, and sometimes into yet more. Some – held in an infernal holding pattern such as Tom Hanks in the film Terminal, knowing the turmoil of life in absentia. And more living with the daily concerns: imminent threat of permanent removal re. ICE, deportation holding centres, dashed plans to reunite with family, job prospects and hopes of starting to live once more, following the global lockdown – held just beyond reach. An added sting of not knowing reasons for the omnipresent delay.
Process As a former sourdough bread baker and investigator of the subtle art of Kimchi (Sauerkraut restores gut health too) I wonder about the end of my waiting experience. I recognise that there is a fermentation taking place. A general awareness of developments I am not involved with. The experience – maddening and wildly frustrating. Space is taken to think a little, and share some of my thoughts with you. For me the sharing is the main point of writing these truncated missives – fermentation’s produce – Hooch.
Resources The ACCA links to the Afro Caribbean Canadian Association’s website, where you can find out a little bit more about the organisation is achieving in Hamilton. St Leonard’s takes readers to the SLSH website, one can take a look at all that this inspiring organisation does. Sourdough takes you to the almost fool proof method of creating and crafting a sourdough bread by Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall. I am yet to make Kimchi. When I do I will follow Sue’s recipe. There are a range of studies that introduce the concept of our guts being our 2nd brain. Sean Brock is another find on Netflix who has an interesting take on flavour, pickling and fermentation. The article by Sandor Katz looks at fermentation’s power to transform cooking/baking. I enjoyed reading their interpretation of brewing cultures to transform ingredients for a diners culinary pleasure. A House Divided by Code Switch introduces a family that reside in the US under different policies of immigration. A number of complexities arise from their differing legal status. My Lying Eyes by This American Life explores the complex experiences of migrants to the US. Some appear to be allowed quick safe passage whilst others are left with a complex and dangerous route. Bassem Youssef introduces a number of important reflections about civil unrest, seeking justice and being an immigrant. The Stoop’s excellent coverage of Black life introduced a micro tear in the fabric of being othered outside of North America. Code Switch A House Divided This American Life My Lying Eyes Pod Save The World – Bassem Youssef The Stoop – I’m Black and I’m Jameela
‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is the power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’ Viktor Frankl
A few years ago an interesting idea blossomed. The thought, to interrupt the want and wish to complete an idea or action. A few experiences helped to solidify these concepts. I will detail below. Explaining thoughts like these, are useful to those interested in psychological models. Also those interested in relieving unhelpful ruminative thoughts.
IOM The Case of Ms. Snow. For a few years I worked as a forensic mental health practitioner for Together for mental wellbeing. My role at the charity changed a number of times. I began working with one probation service in Greenwich (Jan 2015). In May/June 2015 I supported 6 probation services. The Probation service NPS/CRC (National Probation Service/Community Rehabilitation Company) were adapting to a new model of resource management. As a result the NPS contract with Together changed. ‘Doing more – with less’ was the theme of the new contract. After a year of supporting Probation services in Bexley, Bromley, Croydon, Greenwich, Merton and Sutton, I transitioned to working within the Southwark probation service. The new role was to support in partnership with Probation, Police, Housing, Substances and Rehabilitation and employment. I provided the mental health arm of support to individuals involved with the IOM (Integrated Offender Management) programme.
Messy Ms. Snow a probation officer was a ‘conversational’ courts assessor. We held a fast friendship. Discussing the challenges the service users faced and how IOM and probation were aligning to provide improved health outcomes. Ms. Snow was particular about her work-station organisation! Post it notes, coloured pens, pads and computer set up just so. With impish glee, I took great pleasure in re-arranging a few items at her desk. I had an idea of how much the rearranging offset her equilibrium. Ms. Snow also shared in making a mess of my workspace in a similar way too. I wasn’t as organised or as particular about my workstation. Her efforts often caused me to smile. It’s the thought that…
Re-Arrange I would disturb Ms. Snow’s station and then leave to meet a client and on returning note what was disturbed in my area too. Without fail Ms. Snow’s arrangement of her work area would return to pens and note pads and post it notes – to as they were before my involvement. We joked about her compulsion to restore ‘order’. We laughed about my need to increase entropy. An uneasy alliance formed about the balance between order and chaos. Her need to reassemble and my want for disorder. 2 adults acting like children in a serious setting, professionally shepherding adults facing significant difficulties. The idea for the Completion Compulsion was borne in that space. Chaos curiously can invite/inspire order.
Non-Compos The irrationality of tidiness, or the discomfort caused by presumptions of messy work stations/offices/cars/bed/kitchen/living rooms is linked to an idea of messy space = messy mind. ‘An indicator of instability or a ‘marker’ of mental illness, some assume. Ms. Snow and I joked, laughed and made fun of her near incessant need to bring order to what appeared as chaos. A representation of the organisations and people we were working amongst at probation and Together, perhaps. An experience at a staff lunch emphasised the want for both order and completion. A common phrase was said by me which began something like ‘No smoke without…’ or ‘Sticks and Stones may break my bones but…’ As you read these words I wonder have you chosen to complete these well worn phrases? Was there an involuntary sigh as you recognised that leaving the phrases incomplete draws attention to something agape in you, unsatisfactorily incomplete? If so, you are now aware of a compulsion to complete. Because not closing the loop is often discomforting.
Unusual Another example of a completion compulsion arrived whilst working 2 years later as a counsellor at a women’s prison in Kent. The client recently convicted. Troubled by the nature of the crime they were accused and sent to prison for. They found accepting the circumstances of being in prison impossible to bear. The crime they were sentenced for, far outside of their ‘regular’ life experience. This will not be a blog proclaiming their innocence or guilt about the crime accused and sentenced for. The blog is a piece of writing explaining how we (both *Stacey and me) were on course to interrupt her thought patterns.
Unsupported At our first and following meetings, an exploration of Stacey’s past was uncovered. The complicated details of her education, schooling experiences and friendship networks were shared. Ideas of her being a wall flower, bullied, disliked and unsupported by peers. We unpacked what her relationships with friends and teaching staff were like. Departures were another group of people observed. Either she had left them or they had moved away from her. Her current experience of being bullied at the prison by other detainees – a reminder of her past and an uncomfortable undeniable truth about her present. Intrusive thoughts, depression, low self esteem and a waning sense of resilience were discussed and carefully explored.
Projection We talked about patterns of behaviour and associated ideas Stacey held about herself and the past. The intrusive thoughts were linked to her disbelief about being sentenced and about the accusation that brought her to prison. Her dislike of prison. Being away from her family. Confronting difficulty daily. Her life at East Sutton Park, these aspects of her new world she was dissociated from as she had been understandably in her past. A dislocation of how her life was supposed to have turned out Stacey was barely willing to face. It was here that the interruption was to be placed. Starting with a simple game of recognising a patterned hand clap was the launch point of creating something safe and new.
Play Why a game? Most games are fun to play! There is a sense of learning and enjoyment in game play. The 1,2, 1,2,3, 1,2,3,4, 3,4 hand clap is immediately recognisable. Stacey smiled as she recognised and then was able to complete. The next part of the completion compulsion game is to start the pattern of the 1,2, 1,2,3, 1,2,3,4, and not clap the 3,4 part of the pattern. The reason for this is to support tolerance of non-completion. Recognising that surviving the compulsion, is part of building an awareness to interrupting a way of being. The magic of the completion compulsion took root. What was introduced for Stacey was a new cognitive pathway and a resilience to trying something new. The game part makes the completion compulsion accessible and immediately recognisable. She smiled with concentration as she aimed not to complete the pattern. Her feet tapped out the last part of the pattern after 15 seconds.
Sigh We laughed at how this challenge was offered and at how silly the idea of not completing left her feeling. After a few more attempts we were able to breath through the conflicting need of not completing the pattern. When Stacey identified that she could choose to either ignore or complete the compulsion she was able to live inside a paradigm shift. A woman free of the obligation to only see herself as a prisoner, as a person cast out from society for perpetrating a crime. But also to appreciate that she was a creative, able to interpret written material and support others with reading and writing at the prison.
Bi-ped I was later taught in 2019 EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing). Engaging a client with bi-lateral stimulation (clapping, tapping, walking, lateral eye movements or saccades) changes neuro-pathways in the brain. Establishing a validity of cognition helps to embed an alternative way for a client like Stacey to perceive themselves anew. Interrupting the compulsion to complete a familiar upsetting pattern, is key to establish and access ideas of choice, space and alternative possibilities.
Applause There are unseen rewards for completing a pattern. We are rewarded by a hormone feed of dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins when a recognised pattern is successfully achieved. For example: the door was shut after using it, the sentence complete, the thought pattern arriving at it’s pre-imagined end.
Abrupt Some degree of discomfort is caused when the pattern is disrupted. When the pre-destined arrival at the ‘end’ is unmet. If you can, think about calling a tele-service for banking, telecommunications, TV, Insurance or other customer experience. Passing amongst the laborious numbered steps to finally, eventually speak with someone. The service alerting you of how long the call may take until you speak with a representative. As a loyal customer, you are mentally prepared for the 5 – 30 minute wait. You’ve made time for this. The annoying music has clicked through convincing you of progress being made. Just before the call is about to be patched through to a real live person, the line goes quiet and next all that is heard is dial tone.
Livid If like me you’re already stretched patience breaks and you begin hurling abuse at the company, and the rubbish telephone service offered, an awareness of the completion compulsion is present. Mainly because of the call not going the way you had planned. The eventual end of the conversation has been hi-jacked. The choices that someone in this position is left with are to leave the call to another time, call again immediately, rage fueled or to vow never to engage with this service again!
Battle The reward arrives once completion of the action is met. After the tenseness of the situation is passed, a relief then fills the space that was formerly occupied. The feeling can be heightened with either food, drink, a good conversation, laughter or movement. But the reward arrives after survival of the event. Such a strong word to use to describe tolerating a moment of low stress. However it is like a micro battle of wills and wants. To have the thing sought one has to travel through the mire to the other side. We could put up walls, convincing ourselves that we don’t need the service. But the uncomfortable truth is that we recognise the importance of whatever the service is and yes, do still need. So once more back into the fray.
Relief The completion compulsion idea is to learn tolerance of discomfort and disconnected completion. We have a pre-conceived patterned ending in mind. Reward hormones are queued up waiting to bathe the brain with feel good rewards. A peak moment of stress. Followed by an intentional interruption. The usual ending averted. Instead – a period of non-activity, of waiting, or long held moments for curiosity to brew. Asserting another possible wanted completion. Preferable to the interruption. An alternative could be as readily accepted as a proposed pre-planned expected outcome. A positive cognition is what we want the mind to begin accepting. Then allow the ‘happy’ bath of the brain to commence.
Metamorphosis For me, returning to the women’s prison a fortnight later, Stacey shared that there had been a change to her intrusive ideas. Speaking with family outside of the prison a shift in perception had started. Stacey and her family were lodging an appeal about her conviction. A spark of prevailing had begun to be established. Stacey had started a difficult transition to appreciating herself as a person in prison. By interrupting a pattern of thinking a newer cognitive model could be inserted and made use of. She had been able to challenge those who were making things difficult for her in prison. A visible change was noted as we completed our work after 6 appointments. Stacey appeared satisfied with how she was viewing her past, present and future.
Arrivé A simple game of moving things around on a desk turned into a game of interrupting thought completions in Stacey’s mind, resulting in a new way to appreciate herself and her life. The Completion Compulsion initially is to bring to awareness the need to close a loop. Don’t! Wait. See what else arrives…
@calm There is a gap between every heart beat, breath, event and response. Not only does choice exist in the space between but also a powerful awareness awaits #meditation M.O.
Resources I have cast my resource net wide to offer a useful collection of ideas in relation to interrupting our usual pattern of success arrival. Code Switch podcast features an in-depth episode from The Nod featuring unknown celebrities who should be household names. In light of the recent events in Buffalo, I wanted to offer another story of Black life, filled with glamour joy, some tragedy and restitution. From Criminal an unknown story of a man’s choice to create state wide change. Interruption of a status quo is how Dr. Dudley E. Flood engaged with segregation and changed the experience of schooling in North Carolina. The Happiness Lab features Dr. Laurie Santos considering how intrusive thoughts can be redirected in this episode of The Happiness Lab. I end with Dr. Brené Brown’s interview with Adam Grant and the benefits of remaining with an idea past it’s natural conclusion point and reconsidering an initial viewpoint. The highlight for me was when Brené spoke about the Priest and the Prosecutor. There being a fear about the Politician and what they can do with words. Code Switch ft The Nod podcast They Don’t Say Our Names Enough Criminal podcast The Boycott The Happiness Lab podcast Don’t think of the white bear Brené Brown and Adam Grant Think Again
Intrigue The concept of games we are all either consciously, or are unwittingly playing, has stuck with me since I was introduced to Logo Therapy. This was the mid to late 90’s by a friend who worked with me at Seattle Coffee Company. After the Interior design degree at De Montfort University. Before I became a youth worker, Basketball Coach and then learning mentor and counsellor. Logo therapy was developed by Viktor Frankl who wrote the book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’. Dr Viktor Frankl was sent from Vienna to concentration camps in Nazi occupied Germany. Dr Frankl, Jewish, developed his idea in relation to surviving the trauma of his enforced internment in a hopeless and indeterminate set of circumstances. Dr Frankl sought freedom of mind and not destruction of his discovered sense of self determined will. ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ as a book, collects his ideas about what he saw and felt whilst in a concentration camp. I gave my copy away to an incarcerated person in 2012. The individual’s set of circumstances appeared to mirror Dr Frankl’s. Imprisoned against their will, for crimes they were later acquitted from. They appeared to have draining levels of hope with justice being served, in relation to the crime they were accused of committing…
More Games Other psychological concepts and games we are infernally playing was also informed by The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey, The Road Less Travelled by Scott Peck, Games People Play by Eric Berne, The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo, and Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It remains a marvel to me that the ideas from the authors listed above are not common knowledge and made commonly available for the global many.
Balance The knowledge that there are games we play came as a surprise as I began my counselling training in 2006. Understanding that game play is less about manipulation of others and more about having our human needs met. Arriving on the planet small, defenseless and knowing little about the world we have been born into, we are to learn from those who care for us. We are also to learn from the environment we live amongst. Both care givers and the environment lived in, teaches the infant how to make sense of what is experienced. Game Theory could be explained as a seemingly complex web of transactions and attachments we have to achieve a number of seemingly understandable goals. Game Theory is much more complex than my explanation. The theory is born of both economics and philosophy. Two schools of discipline that are of themselves a challenge to truly know as a lay philosopher.
Non-Comprend Pas The understanding that I am making in using the vehicle of Zero-sum to White Supremacy, is that if White wins all of the games all of the time, then there is nothing left for any other cultural and racial group. The winner through ill begotten means has won all of the games that have ever been played or potentially ever will be played. Or so White Supremacy believes. What ‘White’ is to yet to understand in the multi layered, multi dimensional, time spanning game of chess being played is that ‘White’ has also lost. There is a desperation in holding on to the belief of the pearly White mountain tops of racial hierarchy.
I lose – You lose The losses are uncountable. There is something blossoming for me here about the old ideas around The Enlightenment. Whose Enlightenment begot whose? Returning to the Zero-sum game of winner keeps all, what is not in the annals of discovery are the missed opportunities, the conversations, arguments and differences that were never had! These losses cannot be counted because they did not occur. Discoveries of equitable commerce, economical travel, growing bountiful regenerative crop that has little to no impact on eco systems, disease reduction or illness prevention, educating of the young and those who are in the work place, successful re-habilitation of forensic populations to the communities they have been shut away from, community policing for the betterment of all could not take place, amongst a trillion other ideas of people advancement and liberation. The persons these ideas may have sprung from were/are held in detention centres, concentration camps, internment camps, fleeing war, shot, poisoned, starved, grew impatient, turned to insurgency, conspiracy and interruption of localised and global systems of control and ultimately died. The fulfillment of their mission on earth and dreams that may have enhanced, supported and brought enrichment were not/have not been realised. No, White on the chess board of life has won a thin victory of almost limitless riches. But richness is not wealth. What White has lost is the wealth of remaining on the board with ghosts of fallen cultures and non-remembered peoples. Oppression and extermination of indigenous populations summarily robbed and erased wisdom globally. However, listening to pieces still on and off the board and their ideas about how to return the game to how it should be played – Infinitely. Could be the next human goal.
Game Theory Game Theory Appears to be an Economical and Philosophical term applied to any number of different agents that behave in ‘normal’ or irregular ways to factors that determine predictive or unplanned outcomes. A fuller description of Game Theory is found here – Stanford Encylcopedia of Philosophy. My attempt above is to provide a summary of the information the link provides.
Infinity and Beyond The infinite game as Simon Sinek discusses as found below, sounds like a game we all know and yet don’t recognise or fully understand – life as an infinite game. Simon offers a description of the infinite game as not winning or losing, but remaining and still playing even whilst other players drop out. The differences between Zero-sum and infinite, in game theory, Simon Sinek explains is the Zero sum game has a finite set of parameters. An outcome, a limited set of players and time in which the game is played. The infinite game is limitless inside which the parameters for the game are not set. With Infinite games there is an unknown set of players, playing a game with the main objective to continue playing the game. There are no known winners or losers.
Application Within the Infinite game the objective is to continue playing. The aim is to enhance the game and propel players to improve continually. By introducing a winner takes all to a set of Infinite goals the game breaks-down and stops the flywheel nature of advancement as seen in Kiss The Ground – Netflix. In conflict it has been Afghanistan v the Soviet Union. Vietnam v America. Afghanistan v America. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Paganism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Buddhism v spirituality, atheism, agnosticism. A finite system cannot out flank, outmanoeuvre, outpace an infinite one. A thought experiment would be if we were to build a structure as a monument to human ingenuity, power and understanding from a strong material like bronze or a hard wearing stone – like marble. How long would the edifice stand before the elements change it’s appearance or it’s position? A century? A millennia? With a game of winners and losers the winners earn a partial victory. The win is temporary. At an unknown moment a previous loser has the potential to become victorious. A perpetual cycle for balance and rebalance is instituted.
Cut Down White supremacy has not won. White supremacy simply believes it has. The challenge is to move the statue of the fallen aside. In order that true progress can be had by all communities willing to move ahead beyond the lie that White supremacy has continually told. Discovering and figuring out what living life all means moves from the *stuckedness of judgement to curiosity, wonderment and awe. By playing an infinite game we enhance the self, the community and the planet. White supremacy has only scored the earth with a seemingly impermeable mark – Capitalism. There is a Native American saying that brings to mind the uselessness of the product of Zero-sum and capitalism ‘When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.’ I mis-remembered the quote as Only when we have poisoned the rivers lakes and seas, will we see we cannot eat money. The full quote is attached in the link. The person who brought wisdom to light spoke truth to power and highlights the short sightedness of Zero-sum.
Human Need Money is a Zero-sum. Capitalism is an oppressive divisive system and is a Zero-sum game too. Having more of the substance does little to appease the disquiet of illness and dis-ease inherent in the human being. We simply move ourselves away from enjoyment and fulfillment beside others. A birthright. A human given. For most, a natural experience and a human need. There are also contra-indications for living amongst. Some prefer to live alone or in small communities or with 1 other. Nomadland the film is a useful extrapolation of a similar idea. Alongside and in communion with others, we find not only ourselves but also family and a sense of peace. White supremacy appears to not allow an idea or belief in systems as complex, as rich as unity to survive. The strength of people coming together, waking up from the nightmare of White supremacy is a fear that perpetuates the misdirection of self-interest, distraction and procrastination serving only a Zero-sum outcome.
Fight To begin: Accept nothing as a given. Question all, continuously this means even the thoughts you may carry. Invite critical thinking as a tool to discover unpack and make sense of self and the planet we inhabit. Be curious often and play infinitely.
Resources Game Theory explanation provided by Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Games and Rationality was instrumental in helping me summarise my understanding of game theory. I thank Kimberly Cato for introducing the Akala video where he speaks about Injustice the film. As a result of being a team member of the summer series program of conversations for True Roots I made the link of Zero-sum and White supremacy. Ibram X Kendi interviews Heather McGhee about her understanding of the Zero-sum game. The conversation emboldened the thinking I had about how ineffective White supremacy is and what has happened with anti Black racism and the pandemic of racism overall. Simon Sinek discusses with Brené Brown some of his ideas from a few of his books that include: Start with Why, Leaders Eat Last and the Infinite Game. Simon Sinek shares his idea of the multiple losses that happen when playing a Zero-sum game. My interest in watching this T.E.D. talk came after the thought about a totalitarian system being a Zero-sum game – that of White supremacy. I enjoyed Mr Sinek’s thought shower. Nomadland is a film that invites reflection on living with both freedom and the uncertainty this brings. I have shared ‘Injustice’ the film as the ultimate Zero-sum literal experience. Criminal injustice and prison is a pure example of Zero-sum. Even within the prison system a repetitive pattern of winners and losers populate all strata of people incarcerated. Ibram X Kendi with Dr Heather McGhee Be Anti-Racist Simon Sinek with Brené Brown’s Dare to lead podcast Simon Sinek T.E.D. talk Zero-sum game Injustice A Biritsh film looking at the criminal Injustice Service in England and Wales.
Revisiting my brief overview of ‘A Little Life’ the 2015’s Man Booker Prize nominee a year later was a passing idea. What could be gained from this experience was noting if my opinion had changed about the book a year later.
I was introduced to this book by my sister CF. She stated in a resigned fashion that this book was a depiction of a persons struggle. No matter what good experiences were presented to them, they could not heal from the pain of their past.
As a practicing counsellor with over 7 years of experience I was intrigued and appalled by the idea of a wound so great that no recovery could be experienced. Naively I approached the book like an investigator seeking to uncover what experiences a fictional character could not heal from.
Within 80 pages Ms Yanagihara (author) had me so involved within a complex story of loss, betrayal and pain that to stop reading was the furthest thought from my mind. As I turned the pages and further engrossed myself with this Little Life, I began to recognise why my sister had stated in as clear a way as possible why she proclaimed that there are scars that some individuals never recover.
The central character is called Jude. Jude has a number of difficulties that he is able to successfully negotiate his life with including low self esteem, self harm and a mysterious physical disability. There is a scene that springs to mind as a metaphor for the book. After a significant self-disclosure to a close friend, Jude is thrown from a roof to a window ledge in a scheme to rescue his friends. The rescue involves him undoing a lock that he alone knows how to remove.
If a reader makes it to the impromptu rescue part of the book, unfortunately they have been pulled over the edge into the event horizon. There is little chance of escape until the book ends and even then a reader will be further embroiled with ‘But if’ scenarios and disappointed views about the characters lives in the book for months after completing A Little Life.
Support Group for a Book?
I have spoken with others and read tweets about how readers have experienced the story #aLilLife with calls for support groups and warm blankets to help the reader survive the tumult of impassioned story telling.
All talk about the effect the book has on the reader are accurate. The twists and turns of the story, the feelings the book and writing evoke and how, as a reader, they wish they could have friends and family that Jude has.
I read the book morning noon and night. At one point stating on twitter ‘It is the first thing I reach for when I awake and the last thing I touch before I fall asleep.’ At times I stay up for an hour or 2 past the witching hour to complete a paragraph or a chapter. A Little Life is a tour de force.
Willingness to let go
The aspect of the book that stays with me, is the roof incident and the reminder his social worker offers him; ‘You have to let others in and talk about this thing, or it will get the better of you.’ I am mindful that this coupled with the scene of him rescuing his friends
and undoing a lock that only he knows how to unpick are 2 moments of evidence. Jude has the tools for his own rescue if he were willing and able to open the locks. Anna provided Jude with a choice, as all good therapists are able to offer their clients.
The experience of ‘Life’ can be taken for granted. A character like Jude’s helps to explore a reckoning with humanity and all that the human experience can present: Mystery, Adversity, Humour, Friendship, Challenge.
As a therapist, Jude’s story provided me with a reminder of what professional boundaries are – To walk beside a person being supported and remaining both caring and mindful of the individual’s journey towards self-discovery – hoping that they get there.
Jude’s story is tragic, many of the people I work with have disastrous life experiences too. I hold on to the idea that a character like Jude’s in ‘A Little Life’ and service users I support can take steps to change their life path if they can find value in being…
For Jude the chance to take a leap of faith appeared too great, however in my experience it is often as thin as a sheet of paper.