Well, it’s finally started happening. I’ve started sleeping 10–14 hours a day. That’s not “I’m lying in bed 10–14 hours a day” (although technically, I am), that’s “crawl into bed at 10 pm, blink, and it’s 12 pm the next day.” It’s disconcerting, to say the least, but I’ve been expecting it since Day 1, back in November 2017. The good news is, I’m still on disability and still living with my parents (I know, it’s humiliating and horrifying; you lose any sense of shame about having a horrific, debilitating disease when it takes two nurses just to help you make it to the toilet)(that was also in November 2017 — that wasn’t a good month for me), so sleep is the order of the day. The bad news is that, if you’re only awake for 10 hours a day (or less), you’re not going to be weighted with the sort of time required to write the Great American Novel. For those reading this to keep track of what to expect from brain cancer treatment, you’ll get neurosurgery, which will leave you exhausted, followed by a month off (you won’t sleep during this period, you’ll be utterly terrified), followed by six weeks of chemo and radiation (you’ll also be exhausted after that one), followed by a year of hyper-intensive chemo (that’s what I elected, anyway, given the dismal survival rates for non-experimental treatments)(and when I say “hyper-intensive,” I mean, once-a-week infusions, which is more aggressive than even the lymphoma patients get). After that year is done, you’ll get a week or two when time seems to weigh heavily on your hands, and then you’ll drop into a deep coma interrupted by bouts of wakefulness.

Fortunately, where Mother Dearest lives, in Southern Utah (don’t ask, it’s a long story), the population comes in two different flavors: standard, WASP-y LDS businessmen, and seriously outdoorsy hippies who consider a van to be a residence. Guess which group provides better material? It’s also been extraordinarily cold in the Southwest — well below freezing; which mean all the hippies are now trapped indoors. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen people who are used to pitching a pup tent before dinner forced to stay inside for days on end, but the results are, to put it mildly, entertaining. This is where whittling and whisky distilling comes from, I have no doubt. However, since distillation is heavily regulated in this state, and whittling is now an elective at the local college, your more enterprising hippie has to go somewhere else for current counterculture. They go to personality workshops.

Since having a personality is generally agreed upon as a required first step in neurological recovery, I found myself in an enneagram workshop at an ungodly hour yesterday (it was 11 am)(again, see that thing about sleeping 14 hours a day, and you’ll get an idea as to why I’m a little slower and sleepier than usual). The idea — and I’ve studied this a lot informally — is an old one in psychology, that there are a finite number of basic personality types, and they can be quantified and classified with a multiple-choice personality test. I’ve had to answer many, many of these for my ongoing neurocognitive testing/study/whatever, and you can quickly figure out the flaw in this belief (that a human psyche can be readily quantified and analyzed using a multiple choice exam) with one question — “Have you accepted your diagnosis?” I always have to stop the proceedings and explain that, since I have a terminal illness, “acceptance” is not really a phase of grieving you want to rush to. Especially not if you think you can thrash about and add a few years to your life expectancy. However, since that’s a complex, nuanced answer to a “yes/no” question, it frequently gets left on the floor. Same goes with basic introvert vs extrovert questions; everyone probably wants some time to themselves every day (shaving is not a group activity, especially not with an old-school safety razor)(which isn’t that safe, as it turns out), and no one wants to be home, alone on a Friday night, but that’s hard to spell out. So you check “introvert” on the paper, and move on.

Fortunately, this workshop was less about testing, and more of an amateur acting studio. Stick with me on this one. Again, I don’t know if it’s just my experience, but when outdoor folks get trapped indoors due to inclement weather, they do tend to go a bit stir-crazy. Like, that’s where rock climbing gyms come from. In the area I’m currently located, most people looking for indoor recreation usually just drive 40-odd minutes to Nevada, which, give credit where it’s due, have the market on indoor activities. Unfortunately, for those less-inclined to traditional vices, the options are limited to “spiritual improvement,” which, in the 1960s, meant taking hallucinogens and terrifying the Bay Area. For those of us who’ve had enough hallucinations to last a lifetime (Marizomib is rough stuff) or dislike the thought of Ayahuasca, the options are reduced to the sort of thing that people feel comfortable bringing a guitar to (or, if you’re in a really bad part of the world, a banjo). Which brings me to the workshop, in which everyone was introduced to the concept of the Enneagram. This time, there was no Group W bench-style playing with paperwork to figure out who you are, the prompt was, “What were you most like in your 20s?” Fuck. I spent all of my 20s suffering from detectable brain damage or the effects of treatment. To give you an idea of how subtle that can be, after surgery #2, I consistently skipped the number “4” whenever counting things. Not 14. Just 4. It took me a few months to catch on to that and figure it out, but it does cast a lot of doubt on where an organic brain disease ends and actual personality starts. One thing I know for certain about myself; I hate cold weather. I don’t know if that’s just because I briefly escaped ice and snow for a few years in the Caribbean, or just because, post-chemo, I get really cold really quickly, but it does help illustrate the weird intersection of physical complaints, mental issues/attitudes, and personal history that unevenly shape me.

So, sorting humans, even with the aid of Hogwarts’ favorite hat, is somewhat problematic for me, especially when we were told that whatever type you are is, more or less, what you will be forever. It’s a fine theory, until we discussed Enneagram Type 8. The workshop was, largely, a role-playing exercise in which everyone took turns enacting an exaggerated form of each “Type” in a series of delightful vignettes. Again, this seems a little less scientific than Freud probably dreamed of, but I’m going out of my comfort zone. I bring this up because the prompt for the Type 8 was telling your boss that rescheduling a presentation was out of the question, as you had worked so hard on it. The ringleaders of this mentioned that this is the sort of cornerstone of that personality — completely unafraid of confrontation.

Those of you who know me well would probably guess that I’m not big on confrontation, and they’re right. It is one of my many flaws. However, it’s worth noting that there was a time in my very recent past -as recently as six-ish months ago — that I would’ve absolutely been willing to get into a screaming match with an insurance agent or pharmacy tech (as horrible as chemo is, you pretty quickly adopt the “only way out is through” approach when you start passing milestones, like six months without recurrence or metastasis). It would’ve just been Thursday. Admittedly, I’ve been only too happy to throttle back on that sort of “by any means” behavior, but it does awaken you to the fact that you have all sorts of weird potential that just needs the right set of circumstances to bring out. That’s not a view endorsed by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, though.

Which leads me to my lasting legacy to science. I have developed my own personality test; the Wild Bear Cage Match. Like everything else in my life, it’s designed to test human life in an extreme scenario. So, you will be locked in an enclosure with an American Black Bear. The keys to the enclosure will be in a meatball, placed equidistant from you and the bear. How you escape the enclosure is entirely up to you (I chose a black bear because they’re usually fairly timid creatures, although I don’t know how they’d react toward someone trying to remove a side of beef from their reach). Pick the lock, if you can. Scare (or fight) the bear off. Or just wait long enough and retrieve the keys after the bear is through. It’s an entirely open-ended personality quiz in which all cultural and societal expectations are completely removed. And, best of all, how you react to this scenario this time will, of course, be identical to all future bear-related tests (the possibilities of “tweaking” this exam is endless — I’d imagine how you’d react to a koala would be different from a giant, hairy dude from a gay bar, but all are educational and just as valid as any other psych test I’ve heard of). Anyway, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to hibernate.

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Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

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