Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Change: 30

Pollyanna, But True
(This is an ongoing story. If you want to start at the beginning, click here.)

I try not to think about how much time and money I’ve spent on seeing AE, but sometimes I can’t help it. I’m a bean counter that way –– time and money must be spent productively.

I know it must seem like I have an endless supply of both, but, sadly, I don’t.

I justify both the time and money by keeping an inventory of all the things I’ve been doing without. I barely play tennis anymore, and indoor tennis is a fortune. I don’t see my chiropractor or physical therapist anymore, neither of whom took my insurance.  I don’t see a shrink anymore (money that, years ago, I decided was better spent on tennis). 

I know all those things sound like big, bourgeois extravagances anyway, and to some people they might be. But for me, those were the things that kept me stable. And even though that sounds like a really self-involved, privileged point of view, it’s also a generous one.

We’re all suffering in some way or another. We lose people we love. We have friends or family who are ill or dying. We’re scared or lonely or feel unworthy. And we spend a lot of our lives making ourselves feel better – with cookies, or martinis, or Birkin bags. (Birkin bags are $15,000 purses, in case, like me, you were unfamiliar with such things.)

Sometimes we’re suffering because someone is acting like a dick. Maybe it’s our kid. Or the guy who owes us money. Or the woman behind us driving the black BMW SUV.

If someone is acting like a dick, chances are it’s because they’re suffering, too.  Maybe not today, while they’re reaching deep into their Birkin bag to find the special cell phone they use to call their illicit lover.  But, you know, a long time ago – when it really counted.

I remember a particular day, at just this time of year. I was in my twenties and was in the throes of some post-adolescent funk.  Maybe it was because of a boyfriend or maybe there was just some disharmony with life events. I was in Morristown, NJ, walking down the sidewalk, and I came upon this little theatre that showed art films.  The sun was out and there were flowers in a big cement planter out front. The owner came out of the theater, picked a few flowers and handed them to me. 

“What are these for?” I asked.

“You look like you needed them,” he said.

We talked for a minute and he asked me if I would do him a favor. I followed him into the theatre and he gave me a piece of paper with a list of movie titles and times. “Can you read this onto our answering machine?”

I sat on a red leather stool and, in my very best diction, recorded the movie times for that week’s showings. How ridiculous is it that his small gestures completely turned my day around? I went home positively giddy.

Now, decades later, I don’t even remember the events that were causing me such suffering that day. Only the remedy.

My friends tease me because I need so many handlers. I just want to live in a world where we can all go out and be like that theater owner.  Where we can be each other’s remedies. And I guess I believe that whatever time and money I spend on AE is going to ultimately help me do that.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Change: 29

Arrows. Orangutan. Patience.
(This is an ongoing story. If you want to start at the beginning, click here.)

Yesterday morning, when I stood in front of AE for my assessment, she grabbed a red marker off her shelf and started drawing arrows on my right foot and leg.  The arrow tails curved around my extremities; it looked like the work of a weatherman indicating wind patterns.

“Why are you drawing on me?”

She explained that there are things she can understand about my foot patterns when I’m standing up that aren’t as evident when I’m lying on the table.  “They're going to remind me what to do,” she said.

She worked slowly and methodically on my foot and I watched her expression as she did. Sometimes she closes her eyes and looks like she's a musician playing a long, slow ballad. Other times she looks like a hunting dog, sniffing around for just the right spot.

There are many sessions where she doesn’t even touch my foot, but yesterday, she had her way with it and for a while it was pretty awful.

Sometimes AE tells me stories to take my mind off of what she’s doing to my body.

Yesterday, she told me a story about a woman who came to see her that looked like an orangutan.  “Her arms hung down to here,” said AE, “and she had virtually no waist.”

Then she went on to tell me that in three sessions – THREE – the woman’s arms fell to a regular place above her knees and she had a normal-looking torso. 

I know she chooses stories that she believes will give me hope, but often they just depress me.  Why, why, why, why, why?  Why is there an orangutan who got better in three sessions and it’s taking me forever?

On the way home, I listened to an audio book from my favorite Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, and guess what she was talking about? 


If this experience is nothing else, it is an instruction in patience. Which is probably the part of me that needs the biggest fix of all.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013


(This is part of an ongoing story. If you want to start at the beginning, click here.)

The weeks leading up to the flash mob could have been filled with anticipation – a constant wonder whether my foot would be all better by then, which was the plan (at least in my mind). But instead, it was filled with rehearsals. 

I thought we would have a total of two rehearsals and then the event. That’s what the original announcement said. But it obviously didn’t take into account that most of the flash mobbers were women of a certain age – that is to say, women with only an infinitesimal capacity to learn four minutes of choreography by heart.

My house became the ad hoc rehearsal space, usually out in my garage and on the driveway, though sometimes, in bad weather, we would dance in my crowded basement. We practiced two or three times a week for five weeks and at the end of it all, we were as ready as we'd ever be.

My foot hurt during most of the practices, and if it didn’t hurt while I was dancing, it hurt for the rest of the night. I didn’t care. Once I started dancing, I didn’t give a second thought to the fact that I would be limping into the next day.

On Flash Mob Day, many things conspired against me. I’d had a bad cold all week and that day was the worst of it.  We rehearsed in a windowless, airless gym at the high school a few hours before the event and it was so hot in there we were all dripping after a single run-through. (We called it our Hot Flash Mob.)

Then the rain started, and soon after that, the thunder.  Then more rain – rain so heavy I couldn’t see the house across the street.  I sat on my living room sofa, sneezing, head pounding, watching the torrents of rain outside and finally texted one of the organizers: “I think I need an understudy.”

Then, an hour before we were set to perform, the sun came out.  My head cleared up. I put on my sneakers and made my way to our meeting place.

It wasn’t a true flash mob in the sense that it had ceased being a surprise at least a week earlier. Someone accidentally divulged the location and the day before the event it was leaked in the local press.  This was troubling to me (I had already been in one lame flash mob) but the truth is, our dance followed such a big storm, if it hadn’t been publicized, there may have been no one there to see us.

No one to see our four minutes of glory.  Which is here:

(This is an ongoing story. If you want to start at the beginning, click here.)


Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Change: 28

 True Confession
 (This is an ongoing story. If you want to start at the beginning, click here.)

So, not that I really expected a flash mob to magically solve all my problems, but, if I’m being really honest, in some ways I did.  I thought that maybe having a “deadline” with AE – an event for which my foot needed to be all better – would somehow make it so.

The sad fact is, I don’t need my foot to be any better than it is right now to perform a 4-minute dance on Saturday afternoon.

In fact, I’ve been rehearsing this dance 2-3 times a week for an hour at a time, and while that hour rehearsal leaves me near crippled for the rest of the night, by the next day I’m back to merely hobbling.

When we rehearse in the dance studio or at the school gym, my foot doesn’t hurt at all. I can dance for an hour and it’s just about the happiest hour of my week.  But on my driveway, doing pivots and turns on the asphalt kills me.  Still, I’m committed and will gladly suffer for my art.

(That last sentence was written facetiously, and while I’m above putting a little winky-eyed icon next to it, I’m not above stating flat out that it’s meant as a joke. Although if dancing were my art, I’m sure I’d suffer for it.)

Anyway, by the time this is posted, it will be less than 48 hours until the flash mob event and I don’t have high hopes of showing up “good as new.” How great would it be to be able to not only dance with abandon, but to then walk back to my car with a spring in my step, rather than like a lame dog?

I’m pretty sure I’ll never know.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Change: 27

A Random Parable 

 (This is an ongoing story. If you want to start at the beginning, click here.)

When my oldest son was 18 months old, my brother had his first baby. He and his wife lived in Seattle and I got the news in a tear-choked phone call. “There’s something wrong with the baby,” was all my brother could say.

Over the next few days, information trickled from the doctors. My nephew was born with foreshortened arms and tests revealed he had water on the brain. By the time he was four days old, this was his prognosis: “The child will probably not survive beyond two years and if he does, he will be completely uneducable.”

I fell apart. My only brother. His only child. I couldn’t fathom the suffering. I remember sinking into the corner of my dining room, curled up on the floor, crying for hours, unable to take care of my own son. My mother had to come over and practically slap me back into the world of the living. “Doctors don’t know everything,” she said.

This was just about the time that my new-mom friends, their babies hovering around two years old, were starting to talk about getting pregnant for a second time.  I retreated from the discussions.

Mothering did not come easy to me. I don’t have a natural affinity for babies and I was bored and exhausted every waking minute. And that was with a baby who was healthy. I didn’t think I would be able to handle a child with special needs and I didn’t want to take the risk.

It took me years to get to a place in my heart and mind where I felt like I could joyfully accept whatever type of baby I got.  I didn’t work to arrive at that place…it just emerged, quiet and profound. Soon after, I got pregnant.

This week, a similar thing happened. I stopped deluding myself that I might again play tennis on Fridays or resume my 3-mile walks with Nancy on Saturday mornings.  I recently discovered a video for a workout on a recumbent bike that’s both strenuous and fun and I’ve added some stuff to my yoga practice that makes my body feel great.  I’ve resigned myself to a life of wearing my ugly, beat-up Merrill clogs (the only shoes I can comfortably walk in). So one day, there was a fleeting moment where a voice in my head said, “If you end up staying this way for the rest of your life, it probably wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.”

A soft and solitary ray of acceptance.

My nephew just turned 17 in March. He’s a high school junior, president of his class (or maybe his school – I can’t remember which) and was recently chosen to act as a Page for Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles in Olympia, WA. His arms are still underdeveloped – he has very little use of one hand and limited use of the other. Beyond that, he’s one of the sweetest and funniest people I’ve ever met.

I’m not sure how to sum this all up except to say that you never really know how something is going to turn out; sometimes the body seems to have a mind of its own.


Friday, May 3, 2013

The Change: 26

What It's Like To Be Me
 (This is an ongoing story. If you want to start at the beginning, click here.)

Last night, as I was getting ready for flash mob practice, I must have grabbed a doorknob in a funny way, because I suddenly got an intense pain on the underside of one of my knuckles and it immediately became swollen and black and blue.  I wasn’t overly concerned at the time as this has happened to me before – a fluke bang against the steering wheel or grabbing at the fridge handle wrong has resulted in the same weird injury.  I grabbed an ice pack and went about my business, gathering my sneakers, my iPod speakers (for the music), a jug of water (for my thirsty flash mob guests), and headed outside.

We rehearse at my house one or two nights a week on the driveway. I couldn’t dance with the ice pack on my finger so I put it away, hoping the swelling would go down during the hour we practiced.  It didn’t.

Afterwards, I called my best friend. “I banged my finger and it’s all black and blue. Do you think it’s going to turn into a blood clot and travel through my body and kill me in my sleep tonight?”

“Probably,” she said.

“No, really?”

“Well, if you say this has happened to you before and you’ve never died from a blood clot, I’d say there’s a really good chance that this time you will,” she said. “You know, thousands of people die this way every year.”

I know she’s mocking me, even though her deadpan delivery is flawless, and the fact that she’s treating me like a crazy person with ludicrous ideas should make me see that I’m being ridiculous. And mostly it does.  But not entirely.

In bed, I try to read, not knowing whether to keep my bruised finger up over my head (to reduce swelling) or down below my heart (so that gravity cannot assist the blood clot’s travel).

“Do you think I’m going to die in my sleep tonight from a blood clot?” I ask my husband before we turn out the lights.

“Better to die in your sleep than while driving,” he said.

Really?  No one cares about my travelling blood clot?  Really?

I have a history of hyper-vigilance about my health and AE contends that much of my “worry” comes from my feet not being properly grounded.  Both metaphorically, as in, “you don’t have a solid foundation, so you feel like your ailments will knock you over,” as well as physiologically, as in, “your nerves have been so stressed for so long that they exist in a constant state of high alert.”  In either case (or maybe in both), I feel like even though my foot is not fully “fixed,” I now move through my health anxieties more quickly.

I refrained from calling my friend the former ER nurse or spending the night reading my medical journal and surfing WebMD.  However, I did prop up my hand on a stack of pillows and was hugely relieved to find myself still alive when I woke at 1:30 to pee.

I’m often not sure what to say when people ask why I’m going through all this body work, especially for what was an insignificant pain in my knee.  I don’t know how to explain that almost from the beginning, it stopped being “about my knee,” and about something bigger and more fundamental. I want to believe that this work holds the promise of turning me from a person whose nerves are operating at full tilt all the time into someone who can go to sleep at night with a bruised finger the way anyone else would. Knowing that this, too, shall pass.