Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The History of Pain

What pain?
It's hard to remember the worst of the thoracic outlet syndrome, because now with a little attention to my posture as I write, frequent breaks and flossing my ulnar nerve, I feel pretty good. I'm back to occasional numbness in the right hand and stiffness on the right side of my neck. Slowly it will recede until I can't remember that either, won't be able to recall which side it was on.
Flossing my ulnar nerve looks like I'm slapping paint on the wall next to me, right hand out to the side, bending at the elbow. It feels good, though. Not the tingling associated with your foot waking up after it's been asleep. More a cool clear trickle of water down a dry gully--ahh!
Rotating my head for the physical therapy exercises I can hear a grating sound--my neck vertebrae grinding on sand. Circles with my left shoulder (not the bad one) make a horrid crunching sound. Melba toast under teeth. The paint-slapping more features a tough fibrous-sounding snap past the bones in my elbow which is pretty alarming, but is followed by such relief I put up with it.
Turns out I have little capacity to withstand pain. I thought I was stoic, but what I am is pain-averse. I will change my habits in a hot minute if they give me any negative feedback. No wonder I can't smoke or drink!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Human Variation

I saw a woman  walking down the street ahead of me the other day and it must have been glare off a car window or something, but bright light shone through between her legs. Yes, between her thighs right up at the crotch. She was skinny, yes, and wide-slung, and she could have carried a tennis ball there if she wanted to.
Human bodies are so various, so infinite in their permutations. That area on me would never allow the light of day to penetrate, not even when I was a little girl. My legs have always rubbed together--noisily in corduroys or patterned tights, stickily in warm weather, swimsuit or skirt, chafingly on the hottest days. My jeans wear out there on the inseam long before the knees give out.
And now as the middle-aged sag begins its slow downward pull, my collarbone becomes more prominent, my ribs above my breasts stick out and my thighs take on the excess. Like candle wax it all seems to melt and flow downward. The outer thighs, too, sproing out on each side with thick wodges of extra flesh. From where? I'm the same weight as before. Yes, wodges troweled on from some unknown fat source. I know, wodge is not a word. But that's only because Shakespeare didn't have this problem. If he had, we'd have a word for it already, and it wouldn't be up to me to make one up.
By the way, not envious of skinny women. They have their own challenges. But they'll have to write their own blog about those.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Little Willows One-Man Mobile Self-Propelled Dirigible Gasbag

Wha . . . ? I heard something. Was the furnace pump grinding its gears again? Whoa. No. There it was again. No wonder it woke me up. And again. Gaseous exhalations from under the down comforter next to me. He sits up. It woke him too. Off he goes to the bathroom.
I call him the "Little Willows One-Man Mobile Self-Propelled Dirigible Gasbag" after an early blimp from 1907. There have been times when I thought I'd find him sailing about the upper corners of the airspace above the bed. How have the seats of his pants withstood the numerous onslaughts? It's a mystery that should remain unsolved.
Positives to this situation? Can there be any? Yes, there can.
My own pooting pattern is as the song of the nightingale versus the foghorn of his. And then there's the daily potential for comedy. He sits at the computer amending his class plans and I ask him if he minds going out to my mom and dad's for dinner on Sunday. He lifts up one buttock and--brraapp!--lets one rip.
"I'll take that as a no," I say, and his laugh rings out, louder, if that can be imagined, than the hot breath out the other end. His laughter loosens the sphincter again and, whoa, both at once.
We are helpless in the clutches of this hysteria, and we do not want to be delivered from it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

It Takes a Village . . .

and my village wants me out.
Some years ago now, I went to church, because not going to church while my grandparents still lived would make a bigger statement, cause a rift I didn't want to have to leap, but then I couldn't restrain myself from pointing out the arbitrary nature of the hand gestures. I made up my own sign of the cross that involved touching the nose and then the finger tips together for the benefit of my fidgety little cousin in the pew in front of me. He was, of course, highly diverted by this and didn't remain bored and undiverted as one should in church, as a child. I was distracting him from God. Somehow the fact that he was rapt could be felt through the airwaves and all the mothers in the vicinity snapped their heads around to see what he was doing--whatever it was, he shouldn't be doing it!--and saw him looking at me. Obviously, he, evil little elf or not, could not be blamed for not paying attention in church if I was distracting him. Invisible daggers flowed from five pairs of eyes into my head.
What? I thought, I've distracted him from this equation: God is Love, Love is Boredom, Boredom is a Twitchy Inability to do anything that might please yourself, Twitchy Inability is Good Behavior, Good Behavior is the Death of the Self, Death of the Self is Knowledge of God . . . stop me when you disagree.
But the biggest problem the village sees in my behavior is my inability to understand human weakness. Can't I see that most people need God as a crutch, as an opiate to withstand this vale (veil) of tears called Life on Earth? Why can't I leave them this crutch? Why do I insist upon kicking it out from under their arm and shouting, "Walk! Walk! You know you can walk!" Just because I don't find that hypothesis necessary, why do I laugh at those who do?
I don't believe I laugh. I believe I am only asking them, asking seriously, what if you subtracted this assumption from your list? What then? Would you view the world differently? Would you be happier? If illusions are making you unhappy, miserable in fact, why are you holding on to them? Need we all follow this ancient template of right living? How's it working out for you?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

4th Floor Walk-up

My mom came over one afternoon, ensconced herself on my recliner and picked up the article I had been reading before she arrived. It was an interview with Deborah Eisenberg. As far as I know, my mom doesn't know who Deborah Eisenberg is, has never read any of her short stories, doesn't like short stories compared to novels, and has cut back sharply on her reading. Nevertheless, she got sucked into the interview by the marvelous seductive voice, until she got to the part where Deborah explained that she and Wallace Shawn were moving out of their apartment into a fourth-floor walk-up nearby. Deborah is in her 60s and the picture of her with her dramatic white hair still streaked with black on the cover of the article, a woman with a ladylike presence and self-possession that my mom identifies with, perhaps led her to express her dismay at this move. "A fourth-floor walk-up? At their age? That's terrible!"
"Why?" I said. "They're not inviting you over. You don't have to climb all those stairs."
Her eyes bugged out at me. She closed her mouth to a thin line.

It's been a while since my mom and I saw eye to eye on many things. We tend, like the nice Midwesterners we are, to just keep away from those many topics we disagree on. But if we were to examine it, break it down, it might go like this. Probably my mom doesn't approve of about 75% of my life. We don't have a house, we don't care about decorating, our rented apartment seems cramped and uncomfortable to her and makes few concessions for the comfort of guests. We didn't get married until after the baby was born, just to get the health insurance we needed. It took us forever to settle down and do what everyone else does right away after college. I have no career; we have little socked away for retirement. Almost everything I have done in my adult life has been a bad idea according to her. For a long time, I thought she didn't mind that I was going my own way, that she trusted me to find my own way forward. But maybe she has thought all along I shouldn't have wasted all those years in graduate school, or traveling. I should have been working, saving for a down payment on a house, getting a proper job.
Was I doing everything wrong, because it wasn't what she did, it wasn't what she would do if she were in my place? I guess that's why she didn't approve of Deborah and Wallace moving to a fourth-floor walk-up. She couldn't imagine herself at the age of 75, now, moving into a less convenient, more physically challenging space. If she could not imagine it for herself, she put an emotional fatwa on anybody doing it. Likewise, driving at night.
I blame celebrity culture. TV shows everyone the horrid ways that Paris Hilton and Britney Spears are misusing their time and money. Most of us can do little to enter the conversation other than expressing our disapproval. "They" are not doing it "right." This assertion itself implies that the TV watcher does know how to do it "right." This smug self-satisfaction permeates all they do, all they buy, all their other opinions and aesthetic choices. We are all truly multi-cultural now. We are not to sneer at others' ways of doing things, but we are invited to, encouraged to. We love to, because we're not supposed to.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Second Adolescence

The process of becoming a writer seems to make anyone, no matter their age, hypersensitive. No one understands just how hard it is to sit there and sift through your own past for wounds and stick your finger straight in and find out just how much and where it hurts. Or, if not your hurts, those you are feeling for someone else so you can tell their story. Then to add insult to injury, no one thinks it looks like hard work. They all think they could do it, too--and better and faster than you do--if only they had the time.
Then you offer the results to your writing teachers, your fellow students, your treasured readers, and it's just like junior high all over again. You want unconditional love, but no one in junior high can offer you that.
Next, how do I incorporate the various reactions to my pages? Those who like it I dismiss as know-nothings, those who do not as missing my subtle point. Should I change it to please this one or that one? Should it have more plot and less rumination, like R. says? Or get more inside the characters' heads with all the incremental steps put in, as A. says? Am I way too harsh, as many fellow students say? Should I read it into a tape recorder? Will that magically solve all my problems? I am working so hard and it feels like I'm getting nowhere. Spinning my wheels, obsessing on crap, just making everyone else's life miserable as I fail to put two words together with any success. Strangely, people still respond to my personality mostly positively. A few odd looks.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Weight of Backstory

I've never been thin. At age 12, I looked basically as I do now, but with a  young face--heavy thighs, womanly hips, big butt, much smaller on top. For about three months in college, I went below 140 pounds, for one week of that below 130, due to infatuation. Pushing away food, living on air, on the chance of seeing him between classes. One week. Then it was over. Never happened again. Due to my sincere love of food, I averaged 155 for much of my 20s and 30s. But I was up to 165 when I got pregnant at 37. Then I gained only 20 pounds in the nine-month period, lost more after the birth due to breastfeeding, but started to gain again in the lengthy sleep deprivation that followed. About four years of broken, inadequate sleep and I hit my personal high of 207 pounds. So tired I needed a double breakfast to get going in the morning, so tired at 4 pm I had a piece of cake or a cookie. I ate dinner full, but knowing I'd be up two or three times. I couldn't sleep, so I ate. Being too full probably added to the poor quality of my sleep. Finally, I could barely bend in the middle. I couldn't get down on the floor to play with my son.
I said to myself, That's enough.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Writing Rules!

Sit down, apply pencil to loose leaf. Wait.
That's all I usually have to do these days and it comes. I don't know what will come--aphorisms, titles, journal entries, story ideas, dialogue for stories in progress, philosophical musings--but something. See? Even this, watching myself watch myself writing. This week, not so much, though. Maybe because I'm over-impressed by my four-year anniversary, maybe that I'm cycling through another knowledge acquisition phase, wherein I read voluminously and watch movies obsessively. These times are fun, too, not quite as good as writing a lot, but useful.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Teflon Bubble

I go on and on about how I look good for my age, and I know that many people may take it as bragging about the genetic luck I was born with. But ten years ago, I was sixty pounds heavier and hoping every day to see someone on the street who was heavier even than I was, so I could say to myself, " At least I haven't let myself get that bad!" Cold comfort. I discovered in that period that I was grumpy and defensive before anyone said a word to me. That I traveled in a teflon bubble assuming people were judging me and finding me wanting. Others had no right to do that to me, though; that was my job. How did it come to that? And why is it no longer true?
Stay tuned: Body Blog by Barb can answer all your questions.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Odalisque 2010

Swimming has been surprisingly body-positive for me. I hadn't thought it would be. Yoga in a mirrored studio became increasingly dismaying two years ago. But I discover now that I think I look better in the buff than clothed. Strangely I'm beginning to understand why a nice modest woman might let her boyfriend or husband talk her into having her picture taken nude. Especially if she believes she is not pretty and he begs to differ. She might secretly want proof that she is or was beautiful in one way at one time. She may not think at the time about her children getting a hold of it in years to come.
I don't have any such photos myself, but even a bra and panties dig just slightly into me and start the illusion of rolls of flesh. Jeans=muffin-top for someone with my shape. If only I could get Ingres to paint me as Odalisque!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Fourth Anniversary

Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of my daily writing habit. What do I have to show for it? Hundreds of pages of drecky journal, thirty short story attempts, ten semi-serious poems, dozens of kooky titles with no story attached (A.I. for Dummies, Living with LCD, Titles Are My Weakness, etc.), improved typing skills, fifteen new friends, a new or renewed purpose, a heightened sense of the ridiculous, and a gratitude for mortality. I won't have to do this forever, just until I die.
Either writing is driving me crazy or keeping me sane. But which? I also have twenty rejections--it should be more, I know, but I hate the business end. I'm doing a DIY MFA, to spare myself the ritualized hazing of writing workshops. Now that I'm "in touch with my creativity," it's time to ask if the sensation is an enjoyable one.
Yes! It is! I find that my longstanding skills of cafe lounging are really starting to pay off. Ditto procrastination in house cleaning. One of these days, an example of my deathless prose will sprout off the tender tendril of a state university literary review and get an even chance of curling and drying on the vine. One of these days.
Until then, I'll rant from here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Dark Night of the Soul

Couldn't sleep Sunday night. Thoracic blah-blah-blah acting up, couldn't find a comfortable position where my hand wouldn't go numb. I lay awake about two hours. If I'd had any wine for dinner, I probably would have attributed my sleeplessness to that. Or if I'd overeaten. But sometimes I think it's just the brain demanding thinking time.
Too many inputs. TV, movies, internet, radio, conversations, work details, life logistics. And so many of us are bored if we don't distract ourselves constantly while we're awake. We don't give ourselves enough time to process all these inputs--then we wonder why we can't sleep. Distraction is perhaps a species of denial. So thinking in the middle of the night is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you don't indulge in self-recrimination about how tired you'll be the next day. This may not be something you have to fix about yourself. Just stare into the dark and breathe.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Not so many yet. I do have tiny etched lines near the eyes, deepening creases on my neck, and two saggy little points about a third of the way from my chin to the corner of my jaw bone. This latter detail is an inheritance from my mother that she cannot see on herself or its repetition among her sisters. The first time I mentioned it, "Look, I'm getting the matrilineal chin points!" she said in some shock, "I don't have those, do I?" Um, yup, you do, Mom.
Recently she gave me copies of some pictures taken at Christmas, she and Dad with each of their children and our families, four in all, in front of her Christmas tree. Her face in each of the pictures is so nearly identical to the rest that it almost looks as if her face has frozen into a special "for photographs only" grimace. I wonder if this is on purpose. Does she know it's happening? Can she see it in the photos herself? I don't mean these comments as some sort of criticism of her, surface vs. interior or whatever. But it is curious and I wish I could ask her. But I'm afraid to; she seems so touchy on the subject of her looks, now in her 75th year. All she said about the photos was that the beautiful new jacket she bought for the holiday parties made her look fat in the photos, and that it was too bad, because she didn't think it made her look fat in person.
What is expected of me is the usual: "No, it didn't make you look fat in person. Oh, too bad, the high sheen of the fabric creates a glare that reads in the photos as a rounded belly." So I said that. But what's sad to me is that the photo will become more important than the event, has such impact on her view of herself.
My worst wrinkles, by the way, are on my earlobes. Go figure.