Saturday, November 2, 2013

Looking For A Sign

I have a piece up on Huffington Post!!!

To see it, click here:
Looking For A Sign

(Sorry about the two-step process to get to it. I hope you don't mind taking the trouble to go there.)


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Looking Out For Number One

We went to Parent’s Weekend and, of course, all I wanted to talk about were the co-ed bathrooms.

We were about to leave his room for a walk around campus and I asked for the key so I could quickly pee first.

“You don’t need a key anymore,” he said, explaining that they affixed Band-aids to the faceplate so the door just pushes open.

I made my way to the bathroom but never went in.

“The sign doesn’t say ‘Men/Women" anymore. It just says ‘Men’,” I announced back in his room.

“Yeah, don’t worry about that. It’s still for everybody,” he assured me.

“But why does it say only ‘Men’?”

Why indeed!  Because it seems that Residential Life Services originally ordered the wrong signs for these newly renovated dorm bathrooms. Some were supposed be “Men” and some were supposed to be “Women,” and of course some were supposed to be "Men/Women." But the only "Men/Women" ended up being ordered.

Finally, things made sense to me. Because it seemed odd to me that, even in the most liberal of circumstances, some men and some women wouldn’t want a bit more privacy. That some 18-year-old co-ed might want to sanctify her God-given right to poop in solitude. Or at least not with a dude in the next stall.

But, as usual, I am wrong.

My son explained that no one was willing to start using a further away bathroom just because the sign had changed. In fact, the kids made their own handwritten signs that declared, “All Genders Indiscriminately Welcome” and taped them on the door of every bathroom.

I attempted a second shot at peeing, but a girl wrapped only in a towel walked into the “Men’s” bathroom ahead of me. I felt like she should have her privacy, so I walked around the halls until I found the lone “Single” bathroom. I was elated to discover it still had a lock on it.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Almhult Smaland

Soon after my son left for college, after I picked up all the clothes he left on the floor, cleaned all the gum wrappers out of the car and put away the football and tennis racquet he decided not to take with him after all, I felt myself running out of things to do. I liked the feeling of restoring order, so I even went on to put my things away. After all that was done, I had two things left over.

One was an 8-pack of wooden hangers from IKEA. The other was a shrink-wrapped set of plastic ware – 17 individual containers with green lids to store leftovers, also from IKEA. Neither took up much space because they were all wrapped up but you could see how they might quickly overtake a kitchen or closet.

My son bought both these items for school but took neither with him. I told him he would need smaller, thinner hangers and that his refrigerator would probably only be able to accommodate two storage containers, not 17.

I vacillated about returning the items to IKEA. I think I’m the only person on earth who doesn’t worship that store. I find it big and confusing, and even though it’s only 15 minutes away, it always feels like it’s a whole-day trip. Plus, my son didn’t keep the receipt.

I could have easily given both items to a friend or neighbor but something in me kicked in after my son left; I needed everything back where it belonged.

I put the hangers and the plastic ware in the car along with five other things I had to return (including my son’s rented snowboard). I had a three-hour window – plenty of time to make all my stops – and off I set with my list and my optimism still intact.

I know it sounds like I’m making this trip for the sole purpose of returning the IKEA merchandise, but in fact, the snowboard was late and I was about to be charged for it.  IKEA was sort of a happy afterthought. A side trip that would put everything right in my world. I looked up the address of a Ski Barn near the IKEA store and was almost giddy about how efficient I was about to be.

I spent my first hour trying to find the Ski Barn on a treacherous, unfamiliar highway and finally gave up. I also couldn’t find the “nearby” Bed, Bath and Beyond even though I had their street address, a GPS system and my iPhone. Ultimately, I decided to just head straight to IKEA. 

Although I’d never returned anything at IKEA before, there were two things I should have recognized as harbingers of doom: First, the Returns Area has a seating area that can accommodate 100 people and second, they have one of those machine where you “take a number” just like at the deli counter. My number was 28. They were on number 2.

For 30 minutes, I watched the woman on the next bench (Number 25) crawl out of her skin while I daydreamed about what it would be like when my son came home for Thanksgiving.  Would he be heavier? Hairer? Taller? Smarter? Would he still feel like this was home?

When it was finally my turn, the clerk said she couldn’t give me a refund, only store credit. I begged, but she wouldn’t relent. She handed me a gift card for $9.60 and took my merchandise.

Tired and dejected, I could have just returned home. I had already been there an hour. Instead, I forced myself to enter the Swedish labyrinth that is IKEA and spend the gift card. If I didn’t use it now, I never would.

I snuck in by the check out registers and made my way back, through the shelves of boxed furniture parts, to the “showrooms.” I thought I would get myself a new teacup or some candles, but nothing struck my fancy. I wandered aimlessly for 45 minutes, picking up cheap little knick-knacks with umlaut-laden names and placed them back on their melamine shelves.  At one point, the urge to leave became so intense that I actually considered re-buying the plastic ware set and the hangers, thinking they were not that useless after all.

Eventually I settled on a pair of pot holders in a color I didn’t really like, displaying two Swedish words I didn’t really know, simply because they were $4.99 each and I could use up my whole gift card.

I looked up the words when I got home: Almhult Smaland.  It’s the town where IKEA was founded.

Disappointed that I bought potholders that commemorate a store I have no affection for, I decided to make up a new meaning for Almhult Smaland: A nuanced phrase conveying that almost everything is back where it belongs.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Cold Turkey

I went for a walk with an old friend – a woman who also just sent her oldest (a son) off to college. After 45 seconds of small talk, we began to commiserate about the lack of incoming information.

Her son doesn’t call her much either, but unlike me, instead of complaining about it in a blog, she’s spent the last several weeks in due diligence, interviewing elders to determine where realistic expectations should lie.

I told her I was jealous of the moms of girls – women who got calls or texts daily, sometimes every few hours.

She called that phenomenon The Dump and Run. Kids, mostly girls (but not always) calling moms and unloading for 45 minutes, spewing their unresolved problems or just venting about the day, leaving the hapless mother to a sleepless night pacing the house and putting her face in a bag of OREOs because she knows there's nothing she can do to help.

The mom then calls the kid the next day to check in.

"How are you doing today?" the mom will ask.

 And the kid says, “I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You don’t want that,” my friend counseled.

No, I don’t want that. But I want something. Is there nothing in the middle? Because it seems to me that between a kid who calls every few hours and a kid who doesn’t pick up the phone at all there is a lot of real estate.

Another friend reminds me time and again that this is what boys need to do. They need to SEPARATE. As in, become their own person. Why, I’m not sure.  This friend has no children but his advice comes with sobering cautionary tales. He has several friends who did not separate successfully, and those men are still living in their parents’ homes – the men themselves all over 50 years old.

I don't want that either.

So I’m trying to go cold turkey. Not picking up the phone. Waiting until he calls me.

Here I am. White knuckled and waiting.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Nice Shoes!

Early on, when I still cared about whether my son’s dorm fridge remained in the middle of his dorm room, I would ask him about it when we talked.  Again, early on. When we still talked.

I asked him for three straight days if the fridge was still in the middle of the room and each day the answer was yes. So I stopped asking.

I'd try to get some business done with him through text messages but it wasn't nearly as efficient as when I used to have him captive in my kitchen during breakfast.

Is the meal plan working out? 
Did you get the birthday card from Grandma? 
I had a dream about you last night: you had a big rubbery nose.

Sometimes I'd get an LOL; most of the time, nothing.

I didn’t hear from him for a long while and then I got a text: I’m at the mall and I’m about to buy some jeans and shoes. Can I put it on the credit card?

I said of course. After all, he’d texted me. Unprompted.

Later I sent a message asking if I could see a picture of the shoes. This went unanswered, so I sent it again the next day.  Eventually he texted me a picture of his new shoes. They were sitting on top of his desk next to a bottle of Advil. You could see the wastebasket next to the desk – its contents piled almost six inches beyond capacity.

Get those shoes off the table. Someone is going to die!
Jesus, empty the garbage.
Why is the Advil out? Are you not feeling well?

Of course I didn’t write any of those things. But it took all my willpower. All of it.

Nice shoes! I wrote.

No response.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

My Continuing Education

Last Thursday, I got a text message from a friend: “1010 WINS just mentioned Nude Week at your son’s college.”

1010 WINS is our local all-news radio station. “What about it?” I wrote back, trying to appear cool.

“I didn’t really hear the details. Just that it was happening," she wrote.

Initially I thought they must be reporting on the tradition, during finals, where naked people pass out donuts to those who are studying. This seemed a ludicrous tradition to me when I first heard about it, but it’s part of the college’s lore and I’d been indoctrinated to the event (at least anecdotally) so I just shrugged off the news piece.

But then the super sleuth in me realized that finals are a long way off.  It’s not even midterms yet. And no matter how slow a news day it is, 1010 WINS would not be reporting about a silly college tradition months in advance.

So I googled “Nude Week” and got a snootful.

Apparently, beginning Monday the university will host a week-long celebration of nudity which includes nude cabaret, nude open mic nights, nude yoga classes and bodypainting. I’m sure it comes as no surprise to anyone that this news left me shaking my head in wonderment.

Why Nude Week?  Nude donut passing isn’t enough? I’ve finally managed to shut up about the co-ed bathrooms and now this?

“If you were in college, and you saw a bunch of people prancing around naked, wouldn’t you just think it was funny?” asked another friend who had to listen to me go on about Nude Week for close to half an hour. “Really? Does this really offend your sensibilities?”

I mean, I’m not “anti-nude” – especially when it’s other people’s nudity. But I feel like there’s a time and place for it, and it seems like an entire week of it is way too much.

There’s so much attention that needs to be paid during the college search and application process, it’s just now dawning on me that I hadn’t given a moment’s thought to what it might actually be like once my kid is at a college.  I didn’t think it would be like a nudist camp.

I thought they would all be sitting around on lawns wearing heavy rimmed glasses and Doc Martens, talking about Kierkegaard.  I really did.

Monday, September 23, 2013

I Want An Abberant Boy

It’s been three weeks since I dropped my son off at college. His school didn’t have a week-long wilderness bonding trip or multiple days of jam-packed orientation the way many schools seemed to for their incoming freshmen. He arrived a few days before class started and there seemed to be two or three things for the freshmen to do – only one of them mandatory. 

“I’d like to talk every day for the first week,” I said to him on Sunday as we were about to leave. “I just want to feel like you’re settled.  Then we can scale back to maybe once a week.”

“Ok,” he said. “But we don’t have to talk again today, right?”

Given that statement, I should have realized that our Daily Phone Calls would come to an end by Wednesday.

Many of my friends have girls in college and I’ve asked them, almost in jest, whether they speak to their daughters every day. “At least,” they say. Meaning, you talk more than once a day??? “Oh sure, sometimes.”

Moms of boys paint a different picture.  “Once a week. If you’re lucky. Sometimes once every two weeks.” That seems to be the general consensus. 

Oh, yes, there’s the aberrant boy who calls every few days just to chitchat.  Not with a problem or out of loneliness, but because he enjoys the connection with his mother.

I know it’s unreasonable, but that’s what I want. An aberrant boy. 

I want my son to pick up the phone delightedly every third day and call me to share the minutia of his life. I want to know if they serve pickles with the turkey sandwiches in the Blue Room, and if they do, I want to know how they’re sliced.

I want to know which Eminem song he’s playing over and over again while he does math problems and I want to know which shampoo he prefers – the Mango or the Coconut.

Of course, what I really want are the psychological profiles of his roommate and his new-found friends. That may happen once cows start to fly.

To be fair, he did give me a run-down the other day of which cafeteria he eats which meals at, but I wasn’t really paying very close attention. In fact, I wasn’t listening at all, but instead trying to calculate how many more questions and answers I could jam into our conversation before he said, “Ok, I have work to do, I have to go now.”

Intellectually, I know that the number of times a boy calls (or, in my case, doesn’t call) doesn’t necessarily have to do with how close they feel to their mothers, but instead perhaps how determined they are to develop independence. Still, I can’t resist the urge to shoot him a text every once in a while.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

“You’re alive, right?”

“Do you still love me?”

Monday, September 16, 2013

How I Waste Time

When my son was looking at schools, most tours included a peek into the dorms. Not his school though. You’d have to wonder why a school would not show prospective dorms – at least I did. I decided that it must be because they were too heinous to view.

At someone’s suggestion, I googled “dorm interiors” for his school and found some pictures that somewhat supported my theory. Not heinous exactly, but the rooms looked only a small step up from prison life – with cinder block walls and thin, tired mattresses. 

“He’s not going to care what his dorm room looks like,” my husband predicted. “If it’s out of this house, he’ll be ecstatic.”

That was pretty much true. We arrived at his dorm building, found his Spartan, concrete hovel and he instantly treated it as if it were the Taj Mahal.

On my third trip out to the car to haul in yet more stuff, I noticed a sign on the bathroom door across the hall. It was the universal icon for Man. And right beside it, the universal icon for Woman. 

Co-ed restrooms? Men and Women showering and pooping in the same room together? There must be some mistake! How could any good come of that?

I got the bathroom key from my son and scurried inside.  Three stalls, three showers, two sinks, one urinal. 


Suddenly it became very clear to me why there are no dorm tours. This was the university's dark, little secret.

My youngest child went to a highly progressive preschool that had no toys at all in the classroom, only wooden blocks.  At first blush, I considered this outlandish, but the teacher – who hailed from the renowned Little Red School House – explained in painful detail the philosophy behind this decision.  Every teacher in this preschool had a Master’s degree in Education that included a practicum in Wooden Blocks, and they could tell you why, educationally and developmentally, a block-only classroom was a superior educational model.

I really want to call my son’s university and have someone – anyone – provide me with a similar rationale for co-ed bathrooms. But not only do I lack the nerve, I highly suspect there isn't one.

Besides writing about this and complaining to anyone who will listen, I spend an unseemly amount of my day googling phrases like “why do dorms have co-ed bathrooms?” And then I lose myself, sometimes for hours, reading the commentary from students.

All of which say precisely the same thing: “It’s weird for a week, and then it’s no big deal.”

Saturday, September 14, 2013

My New Mantra

“This is not my problem.”

That’s been my new mantra for the 13 days since I dropped my oldest son at college. I left him with his mini-fridge in the middle of his dorm room, no apparent wall space to accommodate it. His smoke detector was chirping every 7 minutes, probably needing a battery. And the all-important full-length mirror had yet to be hung.

A lot has changed since our parents dropped us at school. Opening the trunk of the car...handing us a duffel of clothes and a milk crate of record albums. I don’t think I’ve shopped this much in preparation for anything other than having a baby. Which is ironic in a way, no?

As they checked in, each student received a packet that included a website address where you could fill out a room report, logging in anything in disrepair so you wouldn't be charged for it at year's end. My son’s closet door wouldn’t slide closed and there was also a hole in it. His top desk drawer was nearly impossible to pry open. The kids have 72 hours to fill out a report. I was reasonably certain this wasn’t ever going to happen.

“That linoleum floor will get cold by October, should we get you a rug?” I asked.

He said he and his roommate would take care of it, but I don’t have high hopes for that either.

These are not my problems. These are not my problems. These are not my problems.

“Ok, well, I guess you’ll figure it all out,” I said, those particular words strangers on my lips.

And I left, feeling not sad or lost like I thought I would, but rather unexpectedly unburdened, a feeling that I find foreign and needing to be remedied, like a splintered piece of fingernail that I can’t keep the rest of my fingers off of.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Change: 34 - The End

The End
(This is a long story.  If you want to start at the beginning, click here.)

I live next to a stream, the bank of which has eroded a bit, making all my neighbor’s trees very vulnerable in a storm. Many have fallen across the stream, destroying parts of our fence and, once, a section of our roof. After a few of these tree-falling fiascos, my insurance company said they would drop us unless my neighbor took down all the worrisome trees. So they did.

The change was really jarring at first. If you were approaching my house from the south, suddenly you could see the whole side of my house – most of which used to be obscured by those many trees. I didn’t like it. I felt really exposed. And sad, too, because I figured it would take 20 years for new trees to grow tall enough to give us back our privacy.

But today, as I was walking toward my house, I noticed for the first time that it was again cloaked in a leafy screen. It’s only been a few years since those trees came down, but the healthy ones grew bigger and fuller in the light – they filled in the open spaces.

Things change in their time. And sometimes so slowly you don’t even notice it’s happening.


I have to say, this is not how I thought this story would end. I thought one day I would wake up and just be “healed,” like a miracle. (I really did.) But the actual experience has been more like the trees on the side of my house.

A few weeks ago I put on a pair of sneakers – footwear that had been making my feet feel the worst – and suddenly they made my feet feel the best. I took three long walks this week!

But still there are  other shoes I can barely even stand in. 

I was looking in my notebook today – the one I started when I began this story – to make sure I’d gotten all the little errant pieces of information in, the things I didn’t want to forget. Like the time AE and I were talking about how we make our favorite smoothies and, after she gave me a sip of hers, told me it was made with raw egg and raw milk. I went to sleep that night afraid I was going to die of botulism.

Or how, at the end of our sessions, before I get off the table, she slides one hand under my tailbone and cups the back of my head with the other, cradling me like a baby, and how it’s one of the most amazing sensations I’ve ever had.

I wanted to remember my husband’s analogy, early on, that seeing AE was a little like calling a handyman because you have a leaky faucet and him telling you he’s going to build you a whole new house. Even though to the uninitiated that analogy makes it sound like seeing AE is a bad thing.

There’s still so much to say about perception. How some days I come to my session in glass-is-half-full mode and other days I show up negative and cynical, and how my attitude on the table really contributes to what the session is like. A friend recently said to me, “I work really hard every single day to be positive and I need to protect myself from people who bring me down.” I feel the same way, but often the main person I need protection from is me.

And there’s plenty more to say about body image. How we romanticize the body we had 20 years ago. And 20 years from now, I’ll romanticize this body. The one I just complained about for 33 blog posts. I’ll pine for this body – if I’m even around to pine at all.

If nothing else, this process has taught me to try and shift how I see things. That just because something feels unfamiliar doesn’t mean it’s bad.

I remember walking in the park with my friend Susanne early in this AE process and, after about 45 minutes, I started to complain about my foot hurting. “Do you want to stop?” Susanne asked.

“No, if I just slow down for a while it will start to feel better,” I said.

“Well, let’s just walk slow from now on,” she said.

“I hate walking slow,” I said. “It actually makes me agitated and unhappy.”

“Hmm,” she said. “That’s something to look at.”

Or another time when I was complaining to AE about my weight gain, but explaining how I needed chocolate after our sessions, and a lot of it.

“The chocolate soothes me,” I said.

“What about being held?” she suggested.

“I don't want to be held.  I want cookies,” I said.

“What about placing a cookie on your heart and seeing whether just having it there is soothing enough?” she said.

That still seems like the most ludicrous idea in the world. But now, I’d probably try it. Just to see.

There was a point, recently, where I realized that nothing is quite as painful as that first step out of bed in the morning. It only gets better after that. Which is a really great lesson, both about my foot and as an instruction for life.

This has been an incredible and scary experience writing this way as well. Putting up pieces of a story whose ending I was never sure of. Usually when I write, the real meaning of a piece reveals itself after a revision or two and I can shape the narrative to support some bigger idea. But that work is typically done in private – not in front of an audience.

Here I am at the end, and I have no idea yet what this story is really about.

If you’ve stuck with me through this – thank you. I can’t say why, but I now know that my foot is just going to get better and better. I think I’ve said all I need to about this journey, and, although I’m calling this The End, for the first time in a long time, it feels like it’s the exact opposite.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Change: 33

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

Years ago, I was sent to a therapist (I’ll call him “Dr. Bob”) by Dr. John Sarno (the back pain guy) to help me deal with repressed emotions that were presumably causing my recurrent back pain. (This idea still sometimes amuses me, as I don’t think I could repress an emotion if I tried.)

Dr. Bob’s area of expertise was somatization, which is when all your psychological doo-doo manifests as physical symptoms. I’m not pooh-poohing this phenomenon – far from it. I have witnessed tennis elbow, back pain, even hemorrhoids “dissolve away” after a good therapy session.

Bob had a book he would often pull off the shelf called You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay, an author of many books about loving the broken parts of ourselves and healing ourselves by changing the way we talk to ourselves (a concept that seems to work wonders for many people but has never done anything for me).

I would be sitting cross-legged in the oversized leather chair and Bob would sit across from me on his swivel chair, his tired feet crossed at the ankle, clad in the type of super-cushy shoes that you’d think wouldn’t be needed by someone who just sits and listens to people kvetching all day.  At some point during our session, he would ask me if I’d ever seen the Louise Hay book, a question that would infuriate me, because he asked it practically every session. Seriously: every two weeks he would hand me this book he’d shown me countless times and ask if I’d ever seen it before.

If I were a stronger, more confident person, I would have said, “Of course I’ve seen this book. You give it to me every fucking time I’m sitting across the room from you.” But I never did say that. Instead, I'd smile, take the book, and look up what might be wrong with my body, all the time wondering what was so unremarkable about me that my $200-an-hour psychotherapist couldn’t remember from one session to the next that he’d handed me the same stupid book at least a dozen times.

That said, the Louise Hay book usually had some interesting insights.

I stopped seeing Dr. Bob, but I did buy myself my own copy of the book. When I look up “Foot Problems,” it says, “Our feet have to do with our understanding of ourselves and of life – past, present and future.” And, “Foot problems often signify fear of the future and not stepping forward in life.”

A skeptic might say that all of Louise Hay’s body part assessments are relatable to everyone. But when I look up something like “Bulimia” and read, “Hopeless terror. A frantic stuffing and purging of self-hatred,” I can say with confidence, “Nope. Not me.”

This week, my son and I went dorm shopping for the first time.  I suspected, years ago that, given my physical history, I would have some severe malady overtake me as I prepared to let go of my oldest child. That like my mother, who was incapacitated by back pain for the months leading up to her retirement, my physical pain would disappear as soon as the feared emotional event occurred and there was no longer a need for a distraction. 

I’ve wondered throughout this year whether these foot problems were that distraction. Whether AE was just an accidental catalyst for some monumental physical malady that could have been anything, but ended up being my foot, and if it weren’t my foot, would have been something other all-consuming thing.

I wonder still whether my foot will be back to normal come September once my “real” trauma has passed. Whether “fear of the future” and “not stepping forward” have everything to do with trying to hold on to my boy just a little bit longer. And whether the fact that my foot is feeling better lately, in small but regular increments, is actually a harbinger of that back-to-normalcy.

It’s hard to know. I’m sure AE wouldn’t rule it out.  And Dr. Bob, after having me read the foot passage aloud, perhaps for the 800th time, would most certainly say, “What do you think?”


Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Change: 32

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

AE and I talk about a lot of things over and over, but the thing that seems to come up most often is my weight.

I’ve gained weight since I started seeing her and it’s no surprise. I used to walk all the time and now I never do. I spent a few ugly months feeling sorry for myself and mollifying that self-pity with nachos and chocolate chip cookies.  I don’t play tennis. I sit at a desk working more. No wonder my ass is fat.

But here’s the thing: in the beginning of my treatment, AE hooked me up with several clients so I could get real life testimonials. Women who called me on a Sunday afternoon and whom I spoke to from the wicker chair on my front porch. Women named Mary and Amy and Kathleen, who all told me that they had gotten THINNER during these treatments. Lost pants sizes. Were in the best shape they’d been in for years.

So, you know, I thought that might happen for moi. 

And these last few months, when I stand in front of the mirror in AE’s treatment room, she kvells about how my body has changed.  How I’m so much longer and leaner and how my legs have become so slim.  She’s very convincing, because I think she probably believes it’s true.

But it’s not.

I just took out a stack of shorts from last year and many can’t even be buttoned.  Others, shorts that used to hang loose on me, now fit me like sausage casings. It’s been many weeks since I’ve gotten a handle on my eating and found an exercise regimen to take the place of walking, but I still feel like a cow.

The hardest part of it all is to feel at odds with AE. To explain to her that every indicator – scale, perception, tautness of pants, reflection – demonstrates that I’ve become bigger, and for her to say that, in her eyes I look smaller.

I’m not smaller. And I’m not even the same. I’m bigger, and in all the worst places.

Nearly every chronic pain that I’ve suffered from over the past 15 years is completely gone, and a huge amount of my daily anxiety has disappeared. But I’m heavy. And it’s depressing. 



Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Change: 31

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

Here’s how I feel about my body:  I hate my legs and my arms and I have for as long as I can remember.

I hate them because they’re fleshy and thick, and no matter what I do – no matter what I’ve done – they don’t change. I’ve tried to run (which gives me shin splints) and have embarked on every imaginable weight-training regimen.  Parts of my body respond, but not my thick extremities.

When I was in my early 20s, I remember sitting on the living room floor in my mother’s condo and pulling at the skin on my inner thigh, explaining to her that if only there were a way to cleave this fat and stitch my leg back together, I might finally have a shot at true happiness.

I don’t think liposuction had been invented by then, so my mother, who has always had slim, feminine legs, simply said, “I wish there was something I could do for you.”  That may have been the most understanding thing she’d ever said to me.

The young woman sitting on that floor pulling at her thigh was 5’6” and 135 lbs, (perhaps the slimmest I’ve ever been in my life). Still, she hated her legs.

I didn’t start hating my arms until later, in my 30s, when I was pregnant and the whole rest of me was so misshapen and rotund that only a pair of sleek, muscled arms would signal me as  expecting, rather than obese.  But I didn’t have those arms. Mine were soft and flabby, making the whole of me look all the more dumpy. I interviewed birthing doulas and rejected a woman simply on the basis of her musculature, afraid that I might resent her arms and end up hating her.

Even now, with at least half my life behind me, somewhere in my heart I still believe that if my arms were toned and cut, my life would have turned out better. 

My feet, on the other hand, have never failed me.

I don’t want to sound conceited, but I have good feet. Aside from a lack of obvious deformities – no bunions or hammertoes – they’re a pleasing shape and texture. My feet are not drop dead gorgeous, but there’s not a thing wrong with them and, with a little polish, they’re really very pretty.

Aside from their physical prowess, my feet are an abiding source of pleasure. I don’t like getting a massage, but I love having my feet rubbed. It’s like a Xanax for me – all my troubles melt away.

Given this ardor and appreciation, I feel like what’s happened with my foot over the past six months is more than just a physical setback.  I feel betrayed.

“I love you so much, how could you do this to me?” I haven’t said those words out loud to my foot, but I’ve certainly thought them.  After all we’ve been through, I feel like my foot has turned on me. And I’m not just angry – I’m hurt.

The betrayal feels very specific. My foot does not feel like a spouse who’s taken another lover. It feels like a teenager who has decided to challenge the status quo. To go off and pursue some dream that doesn’t seem prudent or well thought out, a dream that may or may not be attainable, a dream that leaves a mother worried for his future and exasperated by his caprice. It’s a betrayal that goes with the words, after all I’ve done for you.  Even though what you’ve done for him most is just enjoy what he’d been.

I want to sit my foot down and say, “What’s happened to you? Why are you treating me this way? You’ve turned out to be no better than my arms and legs.”

And I imagine it saying, “This isn’t about you.” And maybe some nonsense about having to change in order to grow.

At which point, stung and confused, I will resist the urge to shout, “Fuck growth” and try to figure out how to love it anyway.


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.


Friday, April 26, 2013

The Change: 25

 Sneakers Don't Lie
 (This is an ongoing story. If you want to start at the beginning, click here.)

There are few things as flawless as the body of an 18-year-old boy (except maybe for an 18-year-old girl). Still, I watched AE trace her finger over my son’s musculature, pointing out twists and torques I had never noticed before.  Even if I had noticed them, I wouldn’t have mentioned them to him; he would think I was criticizing him.

I first considered bringing him to AE a while ago. I’d picked up his running shoes to move them from their unsightly pit stop at the front door to their proper home in the mud room.  For some reason, I flipped them over and looked at the soles.  They were worn around the outer edge, the bright blue rubber having given way completely to the white rubber undersole.  From looking at his shoe bottoms, it would appear that only the outsides of his feet ever struck the ground.

If I'd said something about the shoes to him, he would have accused me of dissing the way he runs.  So, of course, I said nothing.

Weeks later, he began complaining of knee pain.  For the past few years, my son has run 6-10 miles a day most days and he worries that his knees are going to degenerate before their time. I took him to the chiropractor who gave him some stretches to do – and that helped a bit – but I worried that his sneakers were telling a story that shouldn’t be ignored.

“I want to take you to AE,” I said to him one day.

“I don’t want to end up like you,” he said.

Yeah, I don’t want him to end up like me either. I've struggled for months about whether to introduce him to this process.  AE assures me that most people get this work done without incident, and as impossible as that seems from my own experience, I do believe her.

The other day I heard a man in the supermarket telling the cashier that his daughter was going in for a knee operation. The guy wasn’t much older than me. His daughter was a runner. I don’t want my son to end up like her, either.

Aside from seeming a little more comfortable than he should having two women appraise his underwear-clad physique, my son’s session was relatively uneventful. He said that mostly it was relaxing and he fell asleep.  No tears. No karma shifts. Just some regular old bodywork that made him feel “more grounded and steady” on his feet when he got off the table, much like I expected my own process to go.

I don’t usually live vicariously through my children, but on this day, I was really wishing his experience were mine.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Change: 24


In an act of supreme faith or colossal stupidity, I brought my son to his first session with AE today.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Change: 23

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

A week or so ago, I spent some time complaining about my foot to Jillian the Yoga Teacher.  Her advice was to treat the pain more like an injury – stay off it, ice it, massage it. She thought that treating it with healing compassion might offer better results than just plowing through life like I’m doing now.

I tried to hear what she was saying, but a loud voice in my head drowned her out, and that loud voice said, “Flash Mob! Flash Mob! Flash Mob!”

By then I’d only been to one flash mob rehearsal, and it left me nearly crippled by the end of the day. Surely, people with serious injuries should not partake in flash mobs, a thought I did not care to entertain.

Jillian spoke again to me about the profound effect of “finding your feet.” She said, “When you can completely connect to the ground and then feel it up here, it’s one of the most amazing feelings you’ll ever have in your life.”

When she said, “Up here,” she patted her upper chest with her hands. She said, “I don’t mean just feel your feet up here,” she said, “I mean feel everything. Because when you ground yourself like that, a lot of emotion can come up.”

It was not her clavicle or ribs she was talking about when she patted herself.  It was her heart.

She talked about facing fears and experiencing grief and all of those things that yogis talk about – feeling our power in the world, feeling a sense of belonging,  connectedness, worthiness, peace.

As she spoke, I felt myself shutting down. I did NOT want to pass up this flash mob and I did NOT want to start feeling a whole slew of pesky emotions. My throat tightened while I listened to her, making me think there might be some merit to what she was saying. (At least about the pent up feelings part.) So I tried to stay as open as I could to hearing her but I tuned a lot of it out.  Then I went home and cried.

Since then, I have been taking extra good care of my feet. Ice. Gentle massage. No undue stressors. I’ve modified my morning yoga routine to include a lot of Tadasana (Mountain Pose), which is basically just standing tall with your hands in prayer at your heart, feeling the earth and finding your feet.

For the first few days, just moving into that pose made me sob. Not in physical pain, but in emotional pain. I worked really hard at staying with the feelings…following them and seeing what was behind them, but I can’t say I gleaned any clarity. Except when I become really conscious of “finding my feet,” my throat tightens. And I keep hearing a voice in my head say over and over: “Please. Don’t go.”


Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Change: 22

Upping The Ante

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

I’m not sure which Flash Mob was the first I ever saw. At first I thought it was the one at a shopping mall where people started standing on the food court tables and spontaneously singing Amazing Grace. It gave me chills and made me cry. But I think the one that started my frenzied flash mob pursuit took place in Israel. It was a dancing flash mob and from the moment I saw it, I really, really, really, really wanted to be a part of a flash mob. Really.

Because I don't sing, I set my sights on a dancing flash mob, and a few years ago, on a cold December morning in Times Square, my prayers were almost answered. My friend, Claudine, and I signed up for a flash mob and “performed” in the middle of Broadway…but it was lame. I’m not going to go into how and why it was lame. I wrote about it and if you’re interested you can read about it HERE and HERE. The point is, it did not satisfy my Flash Mob longing and I still consider myself a Flash Mob Virgin.

Now, I have another opportunity to be in a dancing Flash Mob. It’s coming up soon. But there’s one teeny, tiny problem. I don’t think I can dance. And this is breaking my heart.

I told AE about the Flash Mob and she said she’s going to try her darndest to get me back on my feet again by then. The first rehearsal is this coming weekend. I’m going to go, but I can’t imagine it will go well.  I tried to play tennis this week and it was grim.

All week I’ve been teetering between being wildly optimistic and a Debbie Downer. On my positive days, I’ve taken to talking to my foot – giving it little pep talks and words of encouragement throughout the day. If you see me walking around town muttering toward the ground, that’s probably what I’m doing.

Being able to dance in a Flash Mob right now would require some sort of miracle. Like, a bigger miracle than getting to a train on time. But, sometimes crazy shit can happen.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Change: 21

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

Here’s the thing about me: when I’m going through something challenging, all I really want is to be able to talk about it with someone who has gone through the exact same thing.  That’s been the single hardest thing about my work with AE. No two people go through this the same way.

Late last summer, when I was freaking out about how much my foot was starting to hurt, AE offered to let me talk to some people who had done extensive work with her.  And by extensive, I mean complicated.  She calls me “a complicated unwind.” Between my sheared foot and my C-Section scar mucking up the works, she has many layers of gunk to get through.  She used to describe my calves as my “cement boots” because the tissue there was so rubberized, like the consistency of a wetsuit, thick and impenetrable to stabilize the mess my foot had created.

She had six different women call me – all fellow “complicated unwinds” – and share their experiences with me so I could better understand the process.  But none of them had pronating feet like mine. In fact, only one had a foot problem at all. The rest had problems – lots of problems – and lots of surgeries that exacerbated their problems, but no one had problems exactly like mine.

Two women shared with me that they’d dropped inches off their waistlines since their AE work. Both these women also told me that in their 10 months of sessions, they regularly had painful days, where their bodies were “processing” the changes and sometimes they just feel like crap.  I remember thinking, I don’t want to feel like crap, but if I end up thinner I could probably stand it.

Well, I haven’t ended up thinner and in fact I’ve gained weight from all the chocolate I eat to soothe my crappy-feeling self. But the real loss is that I don’t have that thing that I crave, which is to be able to tell someone what happened to me in my session today and for them to totally get it. For them to say, “You know when you’re near the end of your session and you say to AE, ‘I hope I can still walk when I get off this table?’ and she says, ‘Yeah, I hope so, too!’ Doesn’t that just crack you up?” And for me to say, “I know! It’s hilarious!”

No one but me gets how hilarious that is.

Not even Scott. Because, although he’s been to her many times over the past year, his experience is completely different than mine. He doesn’t feel wrung out. He doesn’t have any blowback. We both see AE but it’s like he went to the ballet and I went to the circus.

I have friends who have seen her, and they, too, have completely different experiences. We could talk about trying to fit a purse into the little cubbies in the closet or the scary BEEP the space heater makes if it gets jostled, but that’s about it.

Today AE told me that there’s a man she works on who has feet similar to mine. Almost as bad, she said. But I’m pretty sure he never had a C-Section, and even if he did, he STILL would not unwind in exactly the same way.

After I cried today, AE recounted again the time when, after many sessions, her neck finally released and her body cried for two solid hours.  “It wasn’t from pain,” she said. “It was my body releasing grief. I couldn’t have stopped those tears if someone put a gun to my head.”

And I nodded hungrily. I know. I know. I know. I know.

But I don’t have anyone to talk that way with. I don’t have anyone who will tell me, “I know exactly what you mean.” So I have to just keep telling this story to you, from every angle, hoping I can get you to understand.

Do you understand?


Monday, April 1, 2013

The Change: 20

Chanting Propaganda

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

“Mom, you’re spewing your chanting propaganda again.”  This is what my son said to me when I told him the only reason we made the train was because I chanted.  “This whole experience was bad luck, not good luck,” he said.

I can’t tell the story about AE without talking about chanting, because somehow they go together, even though I can’t say how for sure.

My son and I took a train trip up to Providence on President’s Day. He’ll be going to school there in the fall and they had a program for incoming freshmen. It was bitterly cold up there that day, so I was wearing a full down coat and long johns under my clothing. We’d stayed in a hotel the night before, so I was carrying a backpack full to the brim with necessities like clothes and pajamas, a yoga mat, a book I didn’t once crack open, notebooks, headphones, almonds.  I don’t know what all else was in there but it was heavy and cumbersome. When it was on my back, I felt like a cranky turtle.

The school is maybe a mile from the train station, easily walkable, even with a backpack on, and even with an abundance of clothing, but my foot ached from my work with AE and I couldn’t make the walk.

You can’t hail a cab in Providence (well, I guess you could if there were any around, but there weren't), so I picked up a list of cabs from the student center and started calling them a little before 4:00, leaving us ample time to make our 4:44 train.

The first three companies said they had no one available.  I wasn’t expecting that response and started reassessing my ability to walk the mile to the station. The fourth call I made yielded better results.

“I don’t have anyone in the area right now but I can get someone there in about 15 minutes,” the dispatcher said.

“I have a 4:44 train,” I told him.

“Not to worry. It’s a two-minute drive. You’ll be there in plenty of time.”

Eighteen minutes later I called him back. “Where’s my cab?” I asked. “It’s coming,” he said. “I’m nervous,” I said. “Don’t be,” he said, “it’ll be there in 10 minutes.”

Eleven minutes later I called him again. “Um, I’m kind of freaking out,” I said. “Ma’am, I know you’re anxious, but I can’t stay on the phone with you,” he said. “It’s almost 4:30,” I said. “The cab will be there within six minutes,” he said.

“Dude,” I said, “I called you at 4:00 and you said 15 minutes.”

Apparently some people find the term “Dude” a less-than-affectionate moniker and this gentleman was one of those people. “Do you want me to cancel the call?” he asked. I said no, but the truth is, I didn’t think the cab was ever coming anyway. It was starting to get dark and even if I could walk, I didn’t know my way to the train station. I felt like we were doomed.

On a whim, I called another cab company.  They picked up, put me on hold and never came back on the line.

I called Scott back home and asked him what I should do. “If you miss the train, get on the next train. What else can you do?” he said.

It was 4:33 and there was nothing else to do.  I considered walking up to random cars stopped at the light and asking them if they’d take us to the train for $20. But instead, I chanted. Quietly. Under my breath. And only for about 15 seconds. When I chant with a purpose, it’s a little like a prayer, and this prayer was simply to get us out of this mess.

That’s when the black SUV pulled up to the light.  It had a big green Pegasus airbrushed on the back panel, which made it look a little like a head shop on wheels.  What it did not have was a TAXI sign on the roof, so I just assumed it was a delivery vehicle for some groovy eatery. I watched as two people got into Pegasus. The driver clicked and swiped the screen of her pink-covered iPad for a minute and then she pulled away, making a right turn up the hill.

Just then my cell phone buzzed. “Your car is there, Ma’am.”

“Where?” I said. “I don’t see any cab!”

“She should be right there,” the dispatcher said.

“The Pegasus car? Do you mean Pegasus is my cab???”

Yes, it was. And in very quick succession, the dispatcher called the cab driver, told her she picked up the wrong fare, she kicked them out of the cab, we ran (I hobbled briskly) up the hill, jumped in the cab, sped to the train station, ran (hobbled briskly) in, asked a policeman which track for Penn Station, ran (and hobbled) down the escalator and stepped through the train doors just as they were about to close.

“Do you know why we’re on this train?” I said to my son after we settled into our seats. And that’s when he derided my chanting.

I can’t explain to him how the thing about chanting is that it’s not all goodness all the time, but it brings a lot of unexpected goodness to sometimes-dire situations. And it is because of this unexpected goodness that I’ve been able to do this work with AE.

The fact that I started chanting a few weeks before my first visit to her was no accident. These two things were meant to occur simultaneously. I couldn't have done this work any other time in my life. I’m not sure exactly why, but I’m absolutely certain that it’s true.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Change: 19

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

Most of my friends have been in therapy and they seem to have all “graduated.” “You’re done,” their therapist will say to them after a few years, or sometimes months, or, in my mother’s case, after six sessions (which, in my humble opinion, seemed impossibly wrong).  (Sorry, Mom.) Yet, from the outside, they don’t seem different to me at all.

I’ve been with 5 different therapists in my adult life (six if you count the woman who only wore purple, which I don’t) and not one of them ever set me loose voluntarily. 

I started going to Therapist Number 2 (I’ll call her Dr. K) when I was in my twenties because I wanted to stop smoking and quit my job. It was with Dr. K that I became indoctrinated to the idea that our grown up problems nearly always originate from our pasts. I’m not sure how I got through a previous therapist and two and a half decades of life before this dawned on me, but once it did, I started looking at everyone and everything through that lens.

Similarly, AE acts like a private investigator, asking questions about my past, about relationships, about accidents, about illnesses, trying to piece together a story that might explain my collapsed foot.  I’m not sure why it took me six months to remember that, as a child (seven or eight years old) I fell down a flight of stairs and landed with my right foot crunched under me. Three toes were broken and I was in a cast up to my knee for weeks.

AE says that maybe the bones weren’t set correctly, or they just didn’t heal right, but that the break could definitely explain the sorry state my foot slowly ended up in.  Just to be sure, she asked if I had a picture of myself from my childhood where she could see my bare feet. She wanted to see if she could somehow detect whether my problem was from that break, or genetic. 

So, one day I sat on the floor surrounded by boxes of photographs, dumping out all the envelopes marked “Old Stuff” and sifting through them. I have very few pictures of myself from that time in my life and even fewer that include my feet. Yet, eventually, I found the exact right picture of myself. It was actually a picture of my childhood dog  – an Irish Setter – and I was standing next to her, barefoot, in my pajamas. You can’t even see the top of me – it’s a picture of me from the knees down. And it has a date on the border; I was 11 years old.

As it turned out, AE couldn’t make a definitive judgment call from the picture, but that did not disappoint me. I was so delighted just to have found the type of picture she was looking for, I didn’t even care that my feet were too small to assess. This, too, reminded me of therapy – the way we can turn ourselves inside out trying to find long ago explanations for current upheaval, and in the end, it doesn’t really matter what the cause is, it’s just needs to be fixed.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Change: 18

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

AE’s table seems like a regular massage table, but it has a foot pedal that electronically raises and lowers it.  I’m not sure if it’s leather or vinyl because directly on top sits a plush tapestry rug for extra comfiness.  On top of that, she lays a regular bedsheet. She has one for each client, their name written on a little strip of masking tape at the corner.

My sheet is beige with blue and pink flowers.

She has one of those hanging plastic cubbies in the closet – the kind where you can store shoes or sweaters – and that’s where you stash your clothes. The only windows in the room face south so on sunny days there’s a lot of shine streaming in, even in the winter. Lying on the table when the sun is soaking through the window makes you feel like you’re on the beach, the ceiling fan loping in slow circles above your head, creating a sweet breeze. The energy work makes you feel drunk like the midday beach sun can – woozy and happy and unable to keep your eyes open.

On those sunny days, there are two little contraptions stuck to the window that whir and click. I don’t know what they are, exactly, but the sunlight makes them throw off little rainbows that dance around the walls opposite the windows. The clicking sounds like a tiny typewriter and AE and I have this joke that the Keebler Elves are writing their novels when the sun comes out.  On dark, cloudy days, there’s no clicking – the elves have writers’ block.

The walls are yellow, the ceiling is blue, the thick carpeting is green. There’s a full length mirror, a couple of houseplants, a tall, delicate corner shelf and a low table with a lamp, a digital clock and a jolly Buddha. It’s a small space, so even with its sparse furnishings, the room feels both empty and full.

There are a few small paintings that lean against the wall near the corner shelf. They look like they’re some kind of studies in light refraction.

“Did you paint those?” I asked her a few weeks ago.

Not only did she paint the small canvases sitting against the wall, I also learned that many of the paintings that hang throughout her house are hers. “I always thought I was going to be a famous New York City artist. But what I’ve learned is that what I’m really supposed to be doing is this,” she said, gesturing to my body with her chin while her fingers dug into my flesh.

AE said those words to me on Wednesday, February 13, and I instantly understood that, despite having written fewer than two dozen posts in the past year, I needed to come home and start this story. There was an urgency and a surety about it that I can’t explain. Just the thought of it started making me feel better.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Change: 17

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

AE has this way of talking about bodies that makes me feel like I’m living with a superhero.  She talks about the body’s intelligence and how it naturally tries to reorganize itself.  She’ll say things like, “your body is trying to find its way,” and just hearing that sentence makes me want to cry.

She says the body has 2000 pounds of tensile strength. I don’t know if that’s 100 percent accurate, but the point is, it can withstand a lot of multidirectional force and torque without breaking down. It’s built to hold us. Together. No matter what.

When shifts take place deep within us, and our bodies compensate, slowly and quietly, over decades, it’s like the ultimate act of benevolence. Our pain is often the inadvertent result of our bodies doing everything they possibly can so that we can continue to function.

Like a dysfunctional marriage, we often don’t even see the contortions we must assume to keep ourselves stable.  Until, one day, when it all starts to break down.

When AE talks about the body, you can feel the Herculean efforts it makes. It’s a dedication that I too often take for granted.

So I lie on her table, feeling a warmth and appreciation toward my body that I don’t ever feel at any other time in my life. Certainly not when I’m hobbling around, feeling like my foot has betrayed me.

I stand in front of AE’s full length mirror in my pink Jockey underwear and dingy sports bra, focusing only on how fleshy I’ve become since my high school eating disorder days.  And even when, during a New York City dinner, I can feel a little click in my ankle and discover that I can rise from the table and walk, pain-free, for the first time in a month, I don’t spend a minute saying, “Holy shit, Body! You are doing amazing things to make us well again. Is there anything I can get for you? A bath? A hot oil treatment? Maybe just fluff up a few pillows to rest those tired dogs on?”

I don’t ever think those things. But when I’m on AE’s table, I’m reminded that I should be thinking them all the time. And if I could just remember that, it might be the most valuable benefit of all.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Change: 16

Helen Keller Day

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

Could today be the day?

My foot barely hurt at all yesterday and today it feels pretty good as well.

AE says that her heart surgeries created such a twist in her torso that it took years for her Carpal Tunnel to resolve. Her hand remained numb for a long time and then, after a long while, it became “slightly less numb,” and just stayed that way. Eventually, she resigned herself to having a numb hand for the rest of her life. Then, one day she was folding laundry and she noticed she could feel the clothing with her numb hand. She could feel it. 

She started running around the room touching everything, like Helen Keller when she learned to sign. Poof. The numbness disappeared and never returned. AE’s yo-yo had spun out.

My husband lost his most of his vision when he was in his twenties (a genetic condition that emerged suddenly and unexpectedly) and, as you can imagine, had a hard time dealing with the loss.  In addition to the many eye doctors, neurologists and spiritual healers he visited at the time, he started seeing a psychologist to help him sort out his complex emotions.

After a time, when it became clear that his condition was permanent, the therapist counseled him to begin the grieving process for the old, sighted him.  She said that a loss like that was like a death, and it was necessary to mourn the loss of the Old Him so he could move on and see what the New Him was like.  As sad as that sounds, it was enormously liberating for him and it’s an idea that I’ve used in my own life – for example, mourning the loss of the me that had dad, which is different than mourning the loss of my dad himself. 

When AE talks about resigning herself to a life of numbness, I think of it as her mourning the AE That Could Feel. It’s not about giving up.  It’s a way to move on.  And sometimes maybe we need to move on in order to get to what’s next.

I have not yet mourned the me who can take a daily 3-mile walk, or the me who can run around on a tennis court, or the me who can pedal through an hour-long spin class, or can take a tour of her son’s new college, or can rip it up at the N’Orlean’s Dance Party Fundraiser this Friday night.

I still wake up and wonder, is this my Helen Keller Day? And maybe that’s holding me back.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Change: 15

Un-Do The Twist

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

“In order to get your foot to move, I have to free up the twists throughout your body.” This, like everything else AE tells me, makes perfect sense, even though I don’t understand what on earth she means.

During every session, she makes a point of explaining or demonstrating how pain in one part of the body is directly related to some other part of the body being off-kilter. It reminds me of that song that goes, The leg bone’s connected to the hip bone and the hip bone’s connected to the waist bone.  I used to sing that song to my kids at night because I could go on and on with the connections until they finally fell asleep.

I’ve never been a skeptic about this phenomenon, always buying into the idea that body pain can originate from places unexpected. But even as a believer, I did not expect to experience such crazy shit.

AE would press a point in my abdomen and I would get a sudden and splitting headache.  She would be releasing fascia around my knee and my teeth would ache.  Last week, she was working on my right foot (the bad foot) and I had zinging, stinging pains in my left eye the entire time.

“Where do you feel that?” she asked.

“In my eye!” I said.

“Wow! That’s so great!”

AE becomes especially giddy when there’s a direct connection between the top and bottom of me. She says it’s because things have cleared out enough for me to really experience how the body is not just disparate parts all held together in a skin suit, but a highly organized, completely interdependent system.

“Once we start this process, the body is in a state of unwinding. You don’t have to do anything, it just happens,” says AE.  “Bodies can unwind for years.”

I imagine a yo-yo hanging from a tightly twirled string, spinning and spinning while the string straightens itself.

No one knows how long it will take for their twisted up body to unwind. Or how many obstacles it will encounter along the way. AE says that some people just need a few key areas released and the yo-yo spins out on its own. Other people, like me, take a little longer.

AE has mentioned that ignoring the good stuff and focusing on the bad stuff is probably not the best use of my energy. But moving my attention is as hard for me as moving my foot is for her. Actually, probably harder.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Change: 14

It’s The Arms, Stupid

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

Of course fixing my feet was not going to be as easy as AE made it sound. I thought she was just going to pop that talus bone right back onto the calcanus and all my troubles would be behind me. But that’s not how things work around here.  “First we have to deal with those arms of yours,” she said.

“What’s wrong with my arms?”

AE had me stand in front of the mirror and study a pair of arms that I’ve looked at every day for my entire life. They looked fine to me, but apparently they’re not. She pointed out how my shoulders roll back and the insides of my elbows point forward, how my hands hang toward by back rather than toward my front. She looked at me from every direction, like a property surveyor who’s making sure the edges of your lot line up precisely with the plans he’s been given.

“Your fourth hour line is a mess,” she said, invoking a rolfing term. In my ignorance, I’m unaware that this means she’s not only going to fix my pronating feet, she’s also going reposition my arms on my body. Of course, I’m completely unaware of what that might entail.

My arm “problem” confounded me for a while. After our sessions I would go home and study them in the mirror and there wasn’t a thing about them that seemed amiss. It occurred to me that maybe my twisted arms were responsible for my never being able to execute a push-up. Or why I would invariably injure myself within a few sessions of weight training, even if I was lifting the smallest possible amount of weight.

My arms hang much different now than they did back in those first sessions.  I actually came across a picture of myself, taken with my son before his junior prom, probably a month before I started to see AE.  My body looks completely deformed to me now in that picture – my shoulders drawn so far back it looks almost painful. That used to be my normal.

There’s this completely irrational thing that happens to me whenever I can’t execute some physical objective with my arms. I fall apart. I can’t exactly name the feeling but it sits somewhere between brokenness and shame. It rises up in my throat and my face gets hot. I can’t speak because, if I do, I’ll just sob. This has happened in exercise classes, yoga classes, dance classes, and tennis lessons. It’s even happened when I’m trying to move furniture. It doesn’t matter what the activity is, only that it requires some upper body strength and there’s someone present to witness my failing.

But when AE tells me my arms are twisted and it’s causing havoc in my body, I don’t feel either shame or broken. I feel like suddenly, for the first time, someone understands what’s wrong with me. And when she says she can fix that, too, I say, “Bring it.”


Monday, March 11, 2013

The Change: 13

 What's Wrong With Me?

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

This morning, I did 45 minutes of demanding vinyasa yoga. Last night I had to use a cane to get from the bedroom to the bathroom. That’s how changeable my foot is. 

Actually, it’s even more changeable than that. The other night I went out to dinner in the city, limping the three blocks from the parking garage to the restaurant and, two hours later, was able to walk back to the car pain-free.

Not that it really matters, but I’m going to explain what’s wrong with me now because I have a feeling that future posts will be easier to understand if I do.

My feet pronate, which means I walk very flat-footed, with my weight on the insides of my soles.  My right foot is so severely pronated that, when I first came to AE, I was practically walking on the inner SIDE of my foot.  AE uses lots of technical, bone terms to describe it but in laymen’s terms, my foot bone didn’t sit directly under my leg bone.  It’s like my whole foot had shifted out of position.

The first day I saw her, AE said my knee problems were related to this “collapsed” foot.  (I remembered what Jillian had said about my knee pain being foot related, so I kept an open mind.) I thought AE was going to tell me to get orthotics, as many chiropractors and podiatrists have suggested in my past. In fact, I have orthotics, but I haven’t worn them in years.

“You’re not going to be able to fix anything in your body until you get that foot fixed,” she said.

I was waiting. Surgery? Orthotics? She wasn’t offering up any suggestions and I was confused.

“What am I supposed to do?” I asked.

“Well, we have to get that talus bone back on the calcaneus,” she said. I nodded like I knew what she was talking about.

“Is that something you can do?” I asked, half expecting her to laugh at me.

“Oh, sure,” she said. I’m not sure why I was so surprised by this answer. Reconnecting my talus bone and my calcaneus certainly technically fell into her reported purview (“she can fix anything except broken bones and death,” they’d said). But it seemed too easy – especially for the way my life goes.  “Here’s what’s wrong with you and I can fix it.”  Few people have ever said that to me, and if they have, for the most part, they’ve been wrong.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Change: 12

Tangled Necklaces.

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

My favorite of AE's analogies is that of a tangle of necklaces.  You have to tease one out and gently work it away from the bunch.  Sometimes you can only loosen it, and then you have to move to a whole different necklace for a while. If you’ve ever done this – untangle necklaces – you know that it’s a slow, deliberate, often frustrating process, especially early on, when you can’t tell where one necklace ends and another begins. Then, after a while, the necklace ball loosens up and they come apart more easily. At the end, you have only a few left to untangle and it’s a breeze. 
That’s a little what it’s like being with AE.  You’re the necklaces; she’s the untangler. She gets as far as she can and then we have to stop until the next session.

I’m sometimes left agitated or emotional for a bit while my body figures out how to incorporate the new changes she’s created within it. Often, I spend the days after my session eating chocolate in an attempt to console myself, although it really doesn’t work.

AE says that for some people, the ball of necklaces is not very complicated. You tug on a few strands and the whole thing comes apart with ease. Not surprisingly, that’s not how things work with me. I’m a ball of necklaces for which you have to turn on some soothing music and make a nice cup of tea.  You’re going to be there a while.

I don’t think it needs to be spelled out (but I will, just in case) that I feel very, very sorry for myself that I’m such a complicated necklace ball.  It took me a long time to understand that this was the case and even longer to accept it.

AE has told me from the beginning, “Try and love the journey.”

That’s the type of thing I can imagine myself saying to someone else going through something like this and I wouldn’t blame them for wanting to punch me in the face for doing so.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Writer of a Certain Age

Huffington Post published an essay.  I'm so psyched.  It's here if you want to read it:
A Writer Of A Certain Age

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Change: 11

 Not Exactly The Summer Of Love

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

Several things started to happen last summer and, over time, I came to believe that they were all related.

For one, my foot started to hurt. A lot. It hurt too much to play tennis and some days it hurt too much to walk. By this point, I had had about four sessions with AE and had seen nothing but positive results, but the pain in my foot seemed related to the work she was doing on me and it scared me.

When I say, “it hurt too much to walk,” I mean two things. Some days I couldn’t put weight on it – as in, “Honey, can you pull the crutches out of the closet for me?” Other days, I could get around the house and function in my daily life, but I couldn’t take my Daily Walk, which is the 3-mile, head-clearing constitutional that I take every day that I don’t play tennis. My Daily Walk serves many functions: it’s my main means of socializing – I make walking dates, not lunch dates; it’s my main means of exercise – it helps me keep the pounds from creeping on; and it’s my Prozac (I don’t think that needs any explanation).

The other thing that happened is I started chanting more.  The Friday chanting group began to go to in the spring invited me to their Wednesday night meetings.  I also started making time to chant at home on my own – for 2 minutes or 5 minutes in the morning – and I began to hear the rhythm of the chanting it in my head throughout the day.  It seeped into me and calmed me down in a quiet, natural way. Something about chanting made me miss walking less.  It helped me endure not playing tennis.

Another thing that happened was I stopped writing.  I continued writing for work but I stopped blogging and stopped writing creatively (which, translated, means: I stopped writing about me). This didn’t feel like Writer’s Block. I just completely lost interest in it.

Like tennis and walking, writing grounds me. I know it may seem like I do it for an audience, but, really, I do it for me. I become different person when I write: more compassionate, less judgmental.  It makes living in the world an all around easier experience for me. Through writing, I come to understand things – about tennis, about mothering, about relationships – it’s literally how I process the events in my life.  Stepping away from it left a big hole – or, at least I expected it to.

In fact, I felt no hole from moving away from tennis or writing – two activities that seemed unthinkable for me to be without. I missed walking – a lot – but I tried to socialize with my friends over coffee or lunch instead.

By the end of the summer, I was able to more work because I spent no time playing tennis. I was able to learn how to chant better because I stopped rushing out of chanting sessions to meet someone for a walk. And, oddly (for me) I didn’t feel the least bit bad about myself for letting go of my writing.

These were all very big changes for me, but as changes go, not inherently bad.

But, after a while it caught up with me. Foot pain. No endorphins. Lonely days. Too-tight jeans. No creative output.

I became a little depressed.