How to Win with the “Cards You’ve Been Dealt”.

One of the things that I find myself (surprisingly) pleased to hear from people during this time of recovery is “Unfortunately, these are the cards that you’ve been dealt…” (It’s a common phrase that a lot of us hear when we’re going through hardship). At first it sounded a little defeatist to me, but as I’ve deconstructed it, I’ve come to realize the real meaning behind the common metaphorical phrase. One of the biggest things you feel right when you’re diagnosed with Cancer is “Crap, what did I do wrong? What did I do to cause this?” All those that have gone bravely before me have all sternly said to me, “Knock that thought immediately out of your mind as far as it will go and make sure that it never comes back!” The metaphor of “the cards your dealt” has been a helpful way to set me free of the burden of guilt that I have felt (but shouldn’t have felt in the first place). It has allowed me to create a new strategy for life, one that makes life meaningful and worth living. It also has allowed me to actually “deal” with the cards that I’ve been “dealt”, instead of trying to “bluff” my way through life. I’ve only been to Vegas a couple times, but the only time I’ve ever walked away from there with more money in my pocket than when I got there, is when I chose to only play “Texas Hold’em” poker while I was there. Let me first say that I’m a terrible bluffer, especially when I’m playing with people that know me. With Texas Hold’em, I’ve found that you start each hand with a rational approach, you weigh the odds of your hand being a winning hand, and then bet, based on the confidence that you have in that hand (again, still basing everything on what is “measurable” at that point). Once you see all the cards and combinations on the table, and you’ve placed your bets, you are then playing with pure instincts (and your confidence in them), and that one time in Vegas, my instincts worked in my favor.

I once took a sociology class at a community college, while I was still in high school actually (I did a “running start” program…I’m not looking for a pat on the back…just stating a fact), and it is still one of my most favorite classes that I’ve ever taken. The teacher was a nutcase (in a good way), he was an older, pudgier gentleman who wore “Big Dog” t-shirts everyday (I have lots of cool stories about him that I’ll leave for the book…when I get around to writing it someday). He reminded me a lot of the actor Brian Cox (Bourne Movies, X-Men 2, Adaptation), specifically in his voice. On the first day of class he entered the room, and before even introducing himself he said (in a very Brian Cox-y voice), “The question that I want this class to be able to answer by the end of this quarter is, Do humans have instincts? If so, what are they? Your final grade depends on your ability to answer that question.” Periodically throughout the quarter, he would throw the question at us again. Each time, my classmates would attempt to answer it. One that I remember specifically was, “Uh…going for the nipple when we’re babies?” Professor Big Dog’s response to that one was his response to most people’s answers,” WRONG! That’s a reflex…not an instinct!”, he would then step behind his podium and say in an even more booming voice,”Instincts are any behavior that is hardwired into us. Reflexes are not behaviors. They are physical reactions. There is a CORRECT answer to this and remember, your final grade depends on it!” I remember talking to one of my classmates after class and him saying to me,”What the hell is this Big Dog t-shirt wearing fool talking about? This is community college, not Dead Poets Society.” It’s funny, because I know as I write this, in your head, you’re trying to figure the answer to this question out, as well (I mean you would think it would be an easy thing to answer, right?).

As the quarter progressed, I remembered that it was actually a sociology class (the scientific study of society and human interaction), so I kept asking myself why was this guy so adamant about asking this question? It would seem more reasonable for it to be asked in a biology or anthropology class. After mid-terms, Professor Big Dog transitioned into teaching a section on “folklore” and was lecturing on the history of “oral tradition” amongst man’s earliest societies, and as he continued his lecture that day, my wheels started spinning and I suddenly found myself ( in the middle of his lecture) shouting, “FOLKLORE!”. The whole class looked at me as Professor Big Dog, who hated being interrupted, glared and Brian Coxed, “Do you have something to say, son?!” My skin turned from pale white to blushing red. I cleared my throat, “Uh, I believe that folklore is a human instinct, sir…or uh, at least telling stories, maybe?” I then shrugged my shoulders and noticed all my fellow older single mom classmates rolling their eyes at me (sorry…tasteless community college joke.) For the first time all quarter, a smile came across Professor Big Dog’s face as he pointed at me and said, “This pale, blushing, 12 year old is on to something, class.” (I didn’t quite know if I should be thrilled because of his acknowledgement of my “discovery” or be insulted by his description of me) Professor Big Dog continued,”He’s finally thinking in the right framework for what I’m looking for from all of you. This is a sociology class after all, people. This is not Biology or Anthropology 101.” I then “side smirked” so as not to seem too cocky (I always try to follow Han Solo’s sage advice, “Don’t get Cocky!”). When the answer came to me, I was thinking about our ancient ancestors standing around a campfire and sharing stories, and started to wonder “Where did the idea of doing that come from?” I thought about being a dad someday, and tucking my child into bed and reading them a story and thought, “Why would I feel compelled to even do that?” It was then that I realized that everyone loves stories and it’s the one tangible thing that connects us all. I also thought, “We all love the same types of stories so it has to be hardwired in us somehow” then my compulsions took over and I let the answer to this conundrum spill out of me. Keep in mind that this was all before I had discovered the likes of Joseph Campbell, Kierkegaard, or Jung…so this was a game changing moment for me.

Mr. Big Dog

I hate the phrase, “Game Change”, by the way, but since we’re on that topic…Professor Big Dog transitioned from my outburst to introducing us to the concept of metaphors (and essentially their power on society and in our own interpretation of the world around us). He said that using metaphors as a way to interpret the world is hardwired into all of us (so yes, an instinct…and neuroscience is now backing this theory up…especially in terms of how our conscious mind interacts with our unconscious mind). He gave an example of the most powerful metaphor he had seen in his lifetime. Before sharing it with us, he mentioned that it was one that often gets distorted and can be very harmful if misused, he then chicken-scratched it on the white board…It took me a second to read it, but as my eyes adjusted I saw that it said, “It’s God’s Will.” You could see the anger rise up in him as he turned to face the class, he said, “I’ve seen these three words ruin more lives than anything else in this world.” he continued, “Humans may be the highest on the food chain, but we’re still fragile beings, especially when we’re young. The intention of saying these words to someone is always meant to be an elixir, but most of the time it’s received as a sword through the heart. It can not only distort our view of God but it also can distort the way we view ourselves.” (especially when you look at the “cards you’ve been dealt”) When he said these words, tears instantly came to my eyes, because I had been told “It’s God’s Will” by many people that surrounded my family and I when my dad died suddenly of a heart attack a year or so before that moment in the classroom. Professor Big Dog had just provided and elixir to me that I had no idea that I even needed (it also took some therapy and wise mentors coming into my life later to deal with the damage of the abuse of that metaphor in my life). As I’ve gotten older, it is so obvious now what Professor Big Dog wanted us to understand and that he really cared that we walked away with an accurate view of how we interact with our world and each other (and mostly the power of story and language…and oh, by the way, in case you’re wondering, I got a 4.0 in that class).

To me it’s no wonder why Blogging has taken off like it has these last few years because we’re all storytellers, it’s our instinct as human beings. You also just need to pay attention to politics for a couple days to see how powerful metaphors and story are in our lives (I usually don’t like to talk about politics because it’s such a divisive issue). The common phrase in all politics (especially during campaign season) is “reshaping/controlling the narrative”. You see the efforts of both sides always attempting to do this. It’s no secret that billions of dollars are spent by “think tanks” to accomplish this goal by manipulating language. A famous example of using a metaphor to help “reshape/control the narrative” is when George W. Bush was making his case to go to Iraq during his State of the Union Address right before we went. He said, “America does not need a permission slip to defend ourselves.” No matter what side of the coin you are on, that line would resonate with anybody. The permission slip metaphor implies that we are a student and we need to ask a person in authority permission to do something. None of us, especially as adults, (on a visceral level at least) want to think of ourselves as being lower than anyone. We want to think of ourselves as independent. I have to say though that no matter how you feel about it, whomever the speech writer was for that speech definitely understood the power of metaphors. Metaphors are just a part of the greater narrative (or “story”) that we see our life playing out day in and day out. As I watch this chapter of my life unfold, I feel like I’m James Bond in the middle of “Casino Royale”, playing with the “cards that I’ve been dealt” (and after I defibrillated myself in a “kick ass” Aston Martin), and now when I think of that metaphor, I’m choosing to take an active role in my story by freeing myself of the burden of guilt (woulda, shoulda, coulda) and (as a result) that allows me to rely solely on my instincts (that I have full confidence in).

Joseph Campbell wrote a great book on our collective and unconscious connection with myth (or “story”), called, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. The basic premise of the book is that as humans there are certain stories that we are all drawn to and an actual structure to these stories described in what Mr. Campbell called, “The Hero’s Journey”. Every storyteller, especially those of us who are filmmakers know all about this theory. There are many different types of stories…things like “Man vs Nature”, “Man vs Man”, “Man vs Creature” etc. All of the great myths follow a similar plot structure though. They all follow a protagonist who is taken out of his “ordinary world” and embarks on a quest where they are faced with many challenges and is always up against an extremely menacing foe (or antagonist). The protagonist experiences a transformation that shows them what he/she is capable of and the powers and abilities that he/she never knew they possessed. For me the most important quality of these stories is that the protagonist always wins in the end by conquering their foe (evil).

The Hero with A Thousand Faces

In the story of “Alex Moore Vs Brain Cancer” I’m the protagonist so that means that I win in the end (You hear that Cancer?) and when I kicked butt in Vegas that one time, I was choosing to actually participate in my story which was me “relying on my instincts”. So what I’m saying is, in order to win with “the cards you’ve been dealt” you must rely on your instincts by remembering that you are the HERO of your story and that your story is worth telling (unfortunately a lot of us think that we’re just a side character in our story and that nobody cares to hear it…without realizing that we’re even doing that). As I go along this “Hero’s Journey”, I’m finding myself capable of things I never thought possible, with powers and abilities I always wanted to believe that I had, but never put a lot of stock in. Now the only question for the future will be, what type of protagonist am I? Am I a Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, or John McClane where I slay evil and walk away with just a few bumps and bruises (missing a hand or finger and having glass shards in my feet are badass bumps and bruises and worth the pain, if you ask me)? Or am I a William Wallace or Maximus where I slay evil with my spirit and legacy? To me I know I’m the former because I’ve already proven to myself and others that I have “Jedi” powers. Ultimately both are awesome and powerful in their own ways to me. I do know that nothing makes me cry more than watching William Wallace yell, “FREEEEEEEEDOMMMMMMM!” at the end of Braveheart (ironically, Brian Cox is in that movie as well). I’ve already made it clear to Cancer that it may take my Brain (life) but it won’t take my mind (freedom) and that’s why I already know that I’ve won this hand, because as I’ve mentioned before, I’m terrible at bluffing, and “Guess what Cancer?”(pushing all my chips to center of the table) “I’m all in, B—-!!!”

Much Love,

Alex

P.S.

MRI coming up on April 18th.

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