Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lyn Temby Revisited

‘Change is constant: improvement is optional’

As I head towards my next destination and continuing interviews with Lyn Temby I am reminded of the changes we experience in our lives and the effect those changes have on who we are,what we do, our self-perception and how others perceive us. I often wonder if I could identify a point in time and an event that led me to the place I am right now, feeling pretty damn good about life in general and heading for an exhibition of Lyn’s work in the Supreme Court Foyer in Darwin. Can I identify a single decision that took me on a collision course with destiny, as it were? Is life that structured? Do we have ‘9/11’ events in our lives that alters the very essence of who we are and what we do? Up to now I thought not. It’s not that simple. Like grass growing, life is subtle. It moves upon us and with us as slowly as the warming of a winter’s day. We change with the coming and going of the day like the sand beneath a shifting tide. We expect it but we don’t heed to it. We open one door and step through, knowing that what waits for us on the other side is as we expect. And if it’s not, we move on, knowing the next door will take us to where we are heading; wherever that is.

But, what if, one day you opened the door and there was nothing there. What if the world as you knew it or wanted it to be, was gone. What if the event you have just experienced created so much change that what followed was totally unrecognisable, not only in the physical sense but in the understanding and belief of your own self. The very essence of what you are has dissipated into the wind like smoke from a campfire. Before you lies something that is totally unrecognisable, beyond your control and your life as you want it to be is no longer within your grasp.

For most of us, such a change might seem unlikely. We are believers in our own invulnerability. We deem that we are in control and such an event is beyond us. That’s something that happens to someone else; front line news, script material for a drama, a plot for a novel, a story one might tell about some else.

Yet every minute of every day such things happen. We turn a corner with purpose and life greets us with indifference. In most cases there are small things that annoy us enough to notice but we carry on blissfully unaware. You forget an appointment or someone forgets one with you. Your credit card doesn’t read in the EFPOS machine at the checkout. You miss the bus. Not life changing? Maybe; maybe not.

Occasionally there are big events that shake us to the very core. For a moment we get lost in our way through life. You lose your job or someone in the family dies. Life changing? Most of us would say yes. Yet these things happen to people and they still have a ‘life’ after wards. Maybe the life is not quite what you expected but most of us would, standing on the outside, recognise it as such, none-the-less.

Is that new life different to what it might have been? Only if we knew what the ‘old’ life was going to be like. And we don’t. It’s only what we want it to have been. We want to stay in the job we like. We want to continue living with our loved ones. We want continued good health. We certainly don’t want some yobbo running up our rear end at speed and shaking our brain to bits. We take faith in believing that nothing will change; the Sun will rise tomorrow, I will be the same person I was yesterday and so will you. Our circumstances may alter but we are still the same person. Everything changes but nothing changes.

But, as they say, shit happens. As a result of Lyn’s ‘shit’ happening, her life changed considerably and along with that, so did she. Then we might say: ‘What now?’

Some of us might question our own input into such events. Blame and guilt seem to come hand in hand with catastrophic events. Peculiarly, if the event is beneficial, or seen in a favourable light, we often take credit for it or bless the Gods for its arrival. A small win on the horses is always seen as a good thing although it is arguably life changing. Re-uniting with a long lost sister, in my case, was certainly an event I cherish. I’m still waiting for the Lotto win. But just as I would need to buy a ticket before that can happen, events in our lives do require some input from each of us. My sister found my phone number on a web site but it was my actions (unintentional to that outcome) of putting my phone number there which enabled the event to occur. And it was my actions that created the web site in the first place.

On the other hand, if the event produces unpleasant results, we seek to find a perpetrator ouside our own persona in the hope we can place blame. Even in the simplest of actions we can hear someone say: ’I bought the winning ticket’ but ‘they sold me a dud ticket’. How peculiar is that?

So, how far back do we go before we identify the ‘beginning’; the first action that brings us to this point? And is there any value in doing that?

When Lyn talks of her accident, she often refers to her action of deciding to stop as the light turned amber. If the light had been green, would her life be different now, and how different? And what other actions preceded this point in time that might have changed things – or prevented the change that was about to occur. Or was that out of her control? And above all, what would Lyn’s life be like if she had decided to keep moving back then on the 19th of December 2000?

As I get closer to my destination, a voice on the radio comes to my consciousness. There is a strong Scottish accent telling me about some new ideas in Brain Theory; appropriate under the circumstances. There is evidence, he says, that the reason we have a brain in the first place is to enable us to move. How ironic, I think. It might seem that all our brain functions; thinking, feeling, cognition, is all part of a plan to keep us moving. That movement, or kinethetics, is the reason why we are and why we do what we do.

Now, I don’t know if this is the case but there might well be something in it. Watching Lyn’s development and transformation over the past months and listening to her tell her story many times may well put some credence to the idea that ‘we are because we move’, as the Scotsman says. She has certainly done that. The very idea that her therapy, the movement of mosaic creation, has brought her to this point, may be proof enough for any theory. It's certainly strong anecdotal evidence in my book. It seems that her brain needed a reason for its very existence. Battered and bruised as it was, it had lost its ability to recognise its own purpose for existing. As a result of this oblivion, Lyn fell into deep depression. And when this happens, the body doesn’t want to move. There is little or no motivation to do anything. Often sleep is the solution. The brain turns off and the body accompanies it. Kinethetics comes to a halt.

Lyn often expresses some of those thought that dominated her thinking while she rehabilitated. Getting out of bed had been a struggle. Movement was often clumsy and uncoordinated. She speaks of staring at the labels in the Supermarket as if her brain couldn't quite find a reason to move on. But in the process of her mosaics, came a reason for moving: she found it in cutting and grouting. Now that may seem a bit bizarre for most of us to get our head around. But for Lyn and her brain, there was value in this repetitive, painstaking, ritualistic, almost obsessive action. It was as though Lyn had found a pathway among those damaged neurones and synapses to find a reason to move. With that movement came a new learning. And along with the new learning, came an expression of what her new life could be and would be. She could communicate her very existence through her movement and the results of that movement; her mosaics. In addition to that, there was a reward. People communicated back. She could, once more, share her very existence with the world around her. Before her brain injury, people knew Lyn. She was a normal, predictable, human being. It's what we like in people. After the injury, she became unpredictable; not only for herself but for others. To some extent, Lyn became someone else and the battle between old and new began.

But as the therapy set in and she learnt to deal with new pathways and new skills, a ‘new’ Lyn emerged. Sure, it looks the same and still has some of the old characteristics, but there is some new stuff. People started to notice. They liked what they saw. Lyn started to like what she saw. Her unpredictable life was once again taking on a normalsy that she possessed once before and so much desired again. It’s what we all strive for: love for our self and love from others. There are also times when her brain hasn’t quite figured out the right pathway. She forgets a word or says something that doesn’t quite fit. There might also be moments when she falls back into that darker time when the brain loses its motivation to move her. I haven’t witnessed any of that but she reassures me it’s there. So does Johnno.

And speaking of John, her partner. He fell in love with the new Lyn, not the old one. He’s got a rather interesting package, where fragments of the old Lyn persist and a flood of new Lyn is continuously washing over him. Lucky bugger! He may well be part of the therapy and part of the outcome. Lyn mentions from time to time that her beloved Johnno didn’t know the ‘old’ Lyn. That doesn’t seem to be important to John. He’s OK with the current one.

There is no doubt that Lyn’s life was changed by that moment ten years ago as she watched the lights turn amber and she decided to stop. It was such a simple action; something that we all do every day. But in addition to that, someone else’s decision not to stop resulted in a conflict of actions. In our efforts to prevent such a conflict of actions we take precautions; traffic lights, laws, education, even the odd prayer if you are so inclined. In spite of our attempts to alleviate the foreseeable, such things do happen. We step in puddles, forget our wallet, miss the bus, get sick, lose our jobs, relatives and friends, get old and die. Just as one breathe follows another, we are not always ‘in control’ and if believe we are, the outcome isn’t always the one we desire or expect.

Stepping into Lyn’s limelight is easy. There is a soft glow that follows her. Sometimes it’s the bright incandescence of a TV spotlight, other times it’s the warm hue of the reflections from her mosaics. Tonight its brightened just a bit by some severe bling Lyn has chosen to wear at her exhibition opening. John is looking well scrubbed also. Her work looks different to the cramped spaces it occupied in her own home and the orderliness of the presentation provides a different perspective to the outdoor arrangement held at the recent Open Garden display.

As I watch her move from person to person I wonder who she might have been in the past. She greets old friends and new with her champagne presence and killer smile. Hendo is fully impressed. She reflects in her own work and each reflection is different. Her reflection blends with other reflections. It is as though the story is being completed and the final touches are being put in place.

Maybe the new Lyn is the old Lyn but with a few modifications. The change that has been bought about may not have been so subtle and it may have been a tough one (it hurt all the way, Lyn says) but maybe this was always going to be. If life’s prescription was already written for Lyn and she knew what the future would bring, she may have been in a hurry to get here. What we see before us and the person I have got to know over the past months is worth knowing. And I think Lyn would agree, right now.

Once again, Thanks Lyn

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