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Pierre-Paul Prud'hon:
Cupid Testing His Arrow
(Late 18th, early 19th century)

" … counting my cards, plotting my escape …"

I split these days between resting—forced idleness—and Testing—challenging my barriers. I'm supposed to cool my heels, but my heels already seem plenty chilled, and there's stuff in which I really should be engaging. The apricots won't pick themselves. The yard can't water itself, either, and supper, if it's ever going to come, requires some goading, some human intervention, or else I'll have to accept that I'll go without it again. I have my writing ritual to maintain, too, so I feel compelled to continue doing, albeit on a significantly reduced scale, or not doing will very likely become what truly ails me.

I was born to poke sticks into darkness, continually probing edges.
I never could leave well-enough alone or even recognize when anything achieved that mythical well-enough state. I believe a little fiddling can at least theoretically improve anything. Not too much, but just a little bit properly focused. Of course, I do not know what might constitute proper or focused. Let's say that I don't know much, which seems ample reason to fiddle with stuff. I can learn much by riling up something, by merely poking into its space. There's nothing like an invasion to encourage fuller disclosure of what something always was.

So I test for my own wellness. When nobody's watching, I move my arm in precisely the way that might cause harm. Sometimes, nothing painful happens. Other times, my world explodes in a starburst of agony, but only for a few short seconds, nothing seemingly permanent. I can roll over then, feeling justified for laying out this one, which seems far better than laying there guiltily wondering if I'm unnecessarily slacking. My self-esteem demands at least this much of me: I must refuse to agree to anything that seems to degrade me. If the day comes when the doctor says I'm done for, I pray that I will retain the grace to laugh in his face before proceeding to start something, anything, anew, signifying that I'm through, then, with being through.

I claim that I tend to test poorly, but only because I do test poorly on those exams testing for recall and so-called knowledge. I cannot reliably remember my name under normal Testing conditions, which seem primarily designed to render me forgetful. So I avoid like the plague those kinds of tests and similar surveys. I might take the class only to refuse to sit for the final qualifying exam because I rarely feel the need for humiliation to achieve matriculation. I figure I can certify myself. I respect one form of testing, though, and that's what I consider to be the venerable Dedication Test. Dedication Testing gets no grading, so it avoids generating otherwise degrading judgments. It's administered between a person and their world, and only the student ever knows or experiences its contents, its judgments. It's graded almost the opposite of the old Pass/Fail, for it’s always Pass/Pass. Everyone who's ever taken a Dedication Test passed it. To take this exam is to pass the exam, and one passes the exam by learning something, and learning something’s guaranteed if you agree to take it.

How dedicated am I to my own recovery? If I never tested my boundaries, I'd have to question my dedication to my rehabilitation, for I'd just be passively following another’s directions. I understand that nobody knows how or when I might recover. My case needs a full-time investigator watching over it, and I'm the only one properly situated to fulfill that role. I might convince myself for a while just to sit tight and see what happens, but that passive stance soon enough wears thin. I just have to do something, something to remind myself that I'm still in this game, even if I've been temporarily relegated to some sideline. I must perform a Dedication Test, or else I'll never know. I learn something, whether I hurt myself or not. I dare not decide that I'm just unable to engage, for that would wound my self-esteem. I'd better be counting my cards, plotting my escape, even if—especially if—this stupid shoulder condition proves permanent.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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