Tuesday, March 16, 2010

“How all occasions do inform against me.”

“How all occasions do inform against me.” The above quote from Hamlet shows how relevant Shakespeare can be but I am sure he wasn’t imagining how slight the occasion might need to be.

A week or so ago one of my computer friendly young carers posted a journal/blog about my doctor's use of metaphors to describe my condition. By focusing on the metaphors I now think I was trying to distract people from what the words actually meant. But I had not allowed for one of my ex carers/friends who has now moved to Melbourne and who, as a fine arts student, had inevitably retained a strong visual, kinesthetic image of me. She ignored the metaphors and posted a comment in response to what the doctor really meant. My first reaction was such a comment was private and needed to be removed from the blog. But then the other reactions set in and I discovered that I need to consider 1. My way of presenting my self and my illness and
2. My attitude toward the internet. These considerations will meander “with a mazy motion” but will make sense in the very end.

When I was a small child, we lived for five years next door to my aunt in a flat that was part of my grandparents’ house. My mother was frail: probably a saucer hip socket undetected in 1903 had brought on osteoarthritis, lack of exercise had lead to drastic varicose vein problems which necessitated two operations and as well she had an irritable bowel. My brother was born in 1934 and Mother was told that if she was careful she could risk another child 5 years later, which was me. Caesarian births in those days didn’t bother about bikini lines, but were a wholesale cutting open and I think that probably for my mother, the second birth was touch and go.

Taking responsibility

As I grew up I internalised a constant adult injunction from my father, aunt and grandparents, “look after your mother”. Later difficulties and the having a child meant that taking responsibility for other people was firmly entrenched in me and manifests itself now in how I present my illness. I feel the need to protect people against the harshness of reality, submerge myself in black humour and other forms of verbal irony rather than speak out about how it really is. I act this part so well, I even convince myself. So, on those days when self-pity gets hold of me and I feel grumpy that my friends don’t seem to understand, I am forgetting to remind myself that I don’t seem to understand either.

My objections to the comment about my living on the knife edge reveal to me that 1. I had not sufficiently protected Monique (as she put me to bed two or three times a week for nearly two years, it shows how stupid I am for trying to protect her as she was only too aware of my fragility and muscle weight loss) and 2. That I am actually a lot worse than I think I am. My doctor is a very good listener which has the effect of my hearing what I have just said, so after one of his visits I briefly have to take my condition more seriously.

Internet and privacy

My attitude towards the internet is somewhat more complicated as like other people of my generation, I feel it invades my privacy and yet here I am using it. So I’ve done all sorts of thinking and this is where I go meandering: if I had lived in a nineteenth century village everyone would have known my grandparents and my grandchildren, when I had my breakfast and probably what I actually had for breakfast. There would have been no privacy.

In 1940’s, Christchurch, New Zealand, living in the family situation I described above and with another aunt and uncle a 5 minute walk away and the second grandfather 10 minutes walk away there was still very strongly a sense of place. I was located within a family and there would have been little privacy.

When we went to London, we lived in a long street with four to five storey terraced houses, each floor one separate flat. Very few people had cars and so we encountered one another on the street all the time. Three years after living there I had to take to my bed for six weeks with my first M.S assault and my splendid milkman would bring the milk in every day and put it in the refrigerator. London had a village feel about it, and I didn’t mind the loss of local privacy even while I loved the anonymity of London as a whole.

Now back in New Zealand the single storey, one family houses are set back from the road with fences, trees or shrubs and nearly every one has a car. There are very few street encounters. As well, the population has greatly increased and there is upward mobility. For the forty years my brother lived after he was married, we were in the same city only for nine months.

Add to that the changes in transport: no longer sailing ships which took three months or the five week sea journey we undertook to get to London, but an approximately 36 hour air trip. Mail, instead of, at the best, a 6 month round trip now, with email, is virtually instantaneous. We rang New Zealand from London once in over nine years: it was expensive and we had to speak so loudly it was as if we were shouting the distance. Now there is Skype and text messages. Instead of place, what is important is time. A friends’ daughter in Sydney looking at a rainbow receiving a text from a Melbourne friend who was also looking at a rainbow. Instead of a village or extended family, we have a global family and in my case there won’t be that many people surfing the internet to discover a website with the key words, multiple sclerosis and death. Monique’s comment on my website showed the generation difference. She is a third of my age and had no trouble at all writing what she did on the net. My removing of her comment was high handed, but at least revealed to me in Shakespearian ways, why I initially objected to it. I was moved and felt this should be a private emotion, but in a village it would have been public property.

The inner significance of each one of us is increasingly threatened by changes in life style, the population explosion and new knowledge of the age and extent of the universe. There are enough galaxies out there for each of the billions of us to have five apiece and then there would be some over. We are no more important in the scheme of things than a leaf from last season’s walnut tree. For those of us lucky to have computers, our access to the internet is able to fill some of the empty spaces created by this insignificance.

All this, from one comment on a website.


  1. Hi Diana

    Just thought I would share with you a lovely sound bite from a woman trekking solo to the North Pole at the moment; I hope you enjoy ~ your adventures are linked and connected across at least 15 galaxies lol. Hamish


  2. I do think the internet is a challenge to the way we communicate, but it's also a challenge to the way we live our lives. Some time, preferably in the August issue of Eremos this year, I would like to run some articles on this topic. A section of this journal entry would make a good start. Thank you Diana, I'll be in touch. Anyone reading this comment and wishing to contribute to Eremos can email me at magazine@eremos.org.au Web address is www.eremos.org.au