So, years ago I went to see Ozzy Osborne at the Corel Centre in Kanata. Kanata, since you probably don’t know, is the most oppressively boring part of Canada and the Corel Centre was a soulless monolith designed for hockey and the draining of vital essences from its visitors. I wouldn’t have even considered going but not only was this an Ozzy Osborne concert, it was Ozzfest which meant there were a slew of killer bands lined up to slay the ears of rock n’ rollers like myself. I paid extra money for tickets in general admission where the real dancing happens in the form of bashing, slamming, pushing, punching, kicking, shoving – good clean fun.
There was a seat assigned to the ticket but I didn’t pay much attention to it. When I got there, however, foldout chairs that had been laid out in razor sharp, oppressively boring rows, drew blood from my eyeballs. Everyone ignored the chairs and rushed to the stage. The oppressively boring security gang, however, got involved and forced us to respect the oppressively boring seat assignment system. Horrified and shocked we were all eventually herded. The concert started. Defiant rock n’ rollers jumped to their feet and began to dance merrily before being tackled to the ground and were either returned to their oppressively boring seats or escorted off the oppressively boring premises (a privilege reserved for only the most belligerent). Finally, Ozzy arrived and was just as horrified and shocked as the rest of us. He invited us to “go Nucking Futs” (if I remember correctly) and we all obliged as his band stepped on the gas. What ensued were five minutes of the most depraved rock n’ roll I’ve ever experienced. The oppressively boring chairs were in the air, people were in the air, blood, guts, gore - all sent into orbit around us. It was divine intervention until the music stopped. They cut the power to the music and turned on all the tyrannically cruel hockey lights. An announcement was made that everyone must sit down and behave if the concert was to continue. That is when I left. A more stoic friend who stayed behind later told me that the show eventually continued but had a fun factor of “sweet nuck all.”
Now imagine this were a situation of professional care or education… nothing out of the ordinary. This might seem far-fetched but it is more typical than you might think. I’ve witnessed it in a care home that a resident beginning to “act up” (usually out of boredom and loneliness) rather than being given stimulation is persuaded to be calm and quiet – the same goes for children in schools, no? Rather than receive stimulation, a child will be given a diagnosis of a learning disorder and a regime of medication. I am hereby calling the phenomenon that implements such measures: the grand middle aged and, what’s more, there is only an astronomically small chance that you are not among this group. In fact, if you are reading this there is an equally small chance that you are mentally fit to do things you do, that is to say - you are mentally unfit to contribute to a workforce that guides the pace and intensity of the modern world. Why? Well, to start with, your fixations are on things that don’t exist – such as money, the value of which is based on its own debt and which maintains an imaginary economy that depends on perpetual growth, that’s pretty crazy. What’s more, the anxiety you experience over not being in control of the imaginary makes you do all sorts of nutty things that contribute to the world being worse off (I recommend further reading on money and the economy if you don’t believe me).
This is no more your fault, however, than it would be your fault for thrashing around wildly after being tossed into a raging flood river. You’re all doing it and together, ironically, you are also the river. This river is the grand middle age and if you are still reading this, you are and are in it. That is not to say you are between the ages of 45 and 65, though you very well might be…but rather - you are part of that group chained to the yoke of responsibility and ambition. You are no longer a child and you are not yet the infirm…instead you are just crazy.
Trust me, I’m an expert on the matter and, just like all other experts, I’m self-proclaimed…and I’m totally guessing...it’s a grand middle aged thing, you’ll understand.
Now, if you’re still with me I commend your patience though your continuing to read is a further indication of your unquestionable lunacy. I will, however, explain the reasons behind my bombastic claims to which you’ve now been subjected. I will also begin to include myself as I am very much thrashing about in the river along with you. Like most of us amidst the grand middle-aged, I have a job. I am an actor in Vamos Theatre’s Finding Joy – a show that makes people laugh and cry in equal measures because they see their own story but, more importantly, they see the ineptitude of how the grand middle aged deals with those living with dementia. I’ve been a part of Sharing Joy – a project which performs in care homes and makes everyone laugh and dance…and realise the ineptitude of how the grand middle aged deals with those living with dementia. I have given classes called Listening with Your Eyes where we introduce care professionals to strategies of non-verbal communication and empathy…and help see the ineptidoop dee doop dee doo.
We, the grand middle aged, are given every opportunity to listen and to live; when children ask to just throw stones in a puddle or when an elderly person simply holds our hands and looks into our eyes smiling. Do we listen? Rarely. People living with dementia often need stimulation and generally they don’t get it. On the whole they get treated like children, put in a box. What’s just as repugnant is that we treat children like children – and put them into boxes; incarcerating their hearts, minds and souls, packing them up and sending to schools, to sit and be quiet and learn. Learn what? How to become the grand middle aged, I guess. How insulting then to subject the aged to the same conditions. Kids and old people! If they ran the world, things would be very different around here.
This work with Vamos Theatre generates a lot of discussion. I had a conversation with a member of the team about this. She told me about how she remembers her father being a very stressed person when she was growing up (while he amidst the grand middle aged) but then, as her father grew older, began to exude a very relaxed and open demeanour. At the time we simply mused about how the world being dominated by those in the grand middle aged was the root of so much trouble but since having put it under the microscope, I’ve come to see it as irrefutable truth. The wrong people are in charge.
The point of Finding Joy is to illustrate that life does not end with the onset of dementia. The show does this very well, but from the conversations, deeply entrenched within the hearts of the grand middle age, is this fear of ceasing to be in control and, herein, lies the crux. Here are few responses that have been said to me in the dark corners when no one else is listening (if you recognise your words here, I’ve kept your identity a secret).
“All you can hope for is your heart to go. But there are strong hearts in my family. It’s quite scary….”
“Why can’t we just go…poof…like that?”
“If there’s a God he’ll have a lot to answer for inventing it (dementia). Give me cancer any day…”
Something that left a deep impression was said to me from a doctor friend of mine who cares for the infirm (a group that includes dementia). It’s a metaphor bantered around her peer group about dying that goes like this: “Death by cancer is as the Scottish Real, quick and steady; death by heart disease is as the tango, capricious and dramatic; and death by frailty is as the waltz, slow and unpredictable.”
For me there are two things that come out as being obvious here. Just in case, I will risk overstating them: the first is our eventual demise. Duh. The second is that the rhythm of our ultimatum is one over which we do not have control. I believe this is at the centre of our being the grand-middle-aged-anxiety-ridden-stress-bags (to use a technical term). If so much of our activity has to do with shaping the environment around us, using the metaphor of a dance actually suggests that we are not paying attention to something. So what are we doing? Probably standing against the wall with our face lit zombie-blue by a smartphone. This death dance, however, is something that forces us onto the dance floor, back into the world of the living, strangely, when it is almost too late. How stupid of us that we have to be close to death to live. Children live well because they adapt to the rhythms of life. They also, as I have witnessed and shudder to remember, die well for the same reason. I hope none of you will experience being close to a child in one of these dances but it is an awful and also inspiring thing to witness simply because they do not resist and do not try to control as we grand-middle-aged nincompoops do everything around us.
The point here is that to die well is to live well but first one needs accept the rhythms around us, not try to impose one’s own. This is not a new concept. The mythical elements of all religions touch on this issue (some best sellers include Ars Moriendi or The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying). Perhaps running the world with all its vanities, senseless toil and unconquerable challenges is the penalty for our incapacity to live. When we relinquish and learn to relax and do without - then we can be welcomed into the world, or equivalently – be invited to dance.
Aron De Casmaker