Sunday, January 26, 2014

That Which Shall Not Be Named

Quicksand, according to a recent public radio program, was a concept that used to be one of the most frightening to kids in previous generations. It appeared in books and movies, unexpectedly swallowing the occasional lost traveler or a villain on a getaway horse and its latent threat was reflected in the artwork of schoolchildren as the cosmic punishment for those who didn't mind their parents about staying in their own yard. 

 The guy on this program was talking about how present day kids don't know anything about quicksand and thus, have no fear of it. It has almost disappeared from the national consciousness. As a little girl I remember feeling vaguely bothered by that something in nature which could bury me slowly. However, the most terrifying combination of words for me was not then organic, but a thing crafted by humans. The iron lung.

 Originally, I visualized an iron lung in a literal way in that I assumed doctors replaced the old organs in your chest with heavy metal ones. Like an internal iron maiden, minus the spikes. Imagine my learning that an iron lung wasn't something they put inside you, but a terrifying machine in which you were placed. This news was difficult for me--a dedicated claustrophobe--since I screamed every time my mother helped me pull a sweater up over my head in an attempt to remove it. Indeed, the idea of being trapped and sealed inside a metal box which purported to breath for you was--despite its helpful purpose--nightmarish to me. Photographs of smiling, disembodied heads on pillows did nothing to dispel my fear of being contained in such a way that I could not see my own hands and feet or in any way extricate myself from its strong metal confines. In short...a complete loss of control over my own life.

This past week my otherwise healthy 78-year old mother was diagnosed with cancer. 

The woman who lived through the deaths of twin daughters before giving birth to three healthy ones and who remained strong throughout my own dad's recent health trauma is now the focus of our worst fears. The mom who read Uncle Wiggly to me, taught us to make bread by hand and value the feel of sleeping with a cool and crisply ironed pillow case beneath my head went to the doctor and came back holding the "C" report card that in no way guarantees a pass. In fact it frequently does not. And even though the word is ridiculously commonplace these days, the weight of its mantle is still mercilessly heavy. 

 The superstitious whisper it because of the fear it imparts. It is--like the fictional Voldemort--that thing which shall not be named. It is the sound of the other shoe dropping. The dark train pulling into the station with its accompanying ominous screech of oily brakes. It is--for me--the iron lung of all diagnoses. I am not ready.

I am so. Not. Ready.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Notes From Foot Prison

Six weeks in and I'm still living life as "Frankenfoot". Still sitting with my booted appendage elevated when I'm not moving or hobbling around on two crutches until two angry callouses the size of small potholders have bloomed on either side of my torso. Still wearing only the pants that will fit over my boot as well as shirts or sweaters long enough to cover my expanding ass, given I can't exercise....let alone hurry to get anywhere.

I miss running, yoga and long walks on the river. I miss taking the stairs instead of the elevator and having my shoes match. I miss not having to consider every bite of food I put in my mouth for fear that I will continue to outgrow the one pair of pants that still fit me, after which I throw in the towel, take a second helping and pour myself a glass of wine. I feel like I'm standing still. Like a manatee in a Medic-Alert bracelet for falling risks, even though I've never fallen before.

I realize that all of this is temporary and that at some point I will no longer look like the relapse photo of a middle aged burnout after a hard weekend at Medieval Times. I will get rid of this food baby and get pedicures and wear skirts and feel all the feelings and not just the negative ones. I need some way to burn off the whatever that builds up after 9-10 hours of work every day.

In the meantime I drive to work and see runners on their morning route as they crest a hill all flush with endorphines. I check out Instagram where every yogi in my studio seems to be in competition for having the most obscenely comical number of handstand selfies that make me think in terms of #lookatme , #lookatmesomemore  #seemyawesome and I am resentful.  Like the custodians at my school who have opted not to sweep the classroom floors anymore but--instead--use giant leaf blowers to make a half-assed pass at the accumulated debris, I am not doing everything with my whole heart.

How do the contemplative nuns do it? The robed monks in their remote Tibetan silence? I've been still too long. I feel a cuss coming on and it's directed at me because the moment my foot touched ice on that parking lot crosswalk I had just finished mentally mocking a woman who was attempting to scale some frozen steps in a tight little skirt and high heeled boots. The words were still hanging inside their thought bubble over my head when I hit the ground like a wet sack of applesauce.

And the rest is history and x-rays.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Low Hanging Fruit

Recently a notebook containing folksinger Woody Guthrie's New Year's resolutions was published and--despite the length of each list--his goals for the future appear charmingly simple: To brush what teeth he might have left and listen to the radio more. To help win the war, change his socks and "dream good".  It got me to thinking that maybe the resolutions I've made in the past did nothing more than set me up for certain failure. Like a kid jumping into the deep end of the pool with no floaties on.

Perhaps there's a way to simply get closer to the things I want without actually guaranteeing to achieve them. Proximity has got to be better than nothing and in recent years? Nothing is exactly what I've achieved.

So...instead of promising to lose 15 pounds, I should simply say that I will just try to successfully zip  any of the pants I have on.

Rather than vowing to be kind to everyone I meet I'll just aim for reducing the number of times I go "Full Metal Jacket" on people who irritate me. In short, almost everyone.

Plan for one day out of every weekend where I am not parked on the sofa wearing institutional soft pants while thinking up new Pinterest categories related to food.

Take care to check for nearby witnesses when I audibly refer to school district administrators as dream killers.

Stop looking like the Crypt Keeper will now give way to Buy some moisturizer. And then actually use it.

What I've realized is that not only is the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, but that you will run barefoot down that same rocky avenue wearing kerosene pants. That means it's difficult to repeatedly make elaborate plans for your own self-improvement and then follow through.  Wouldn't limiting the scope of one's expectations--at the very least--shorten the journey? For me, Woody's intention to shave more shines like a weak but steady beacon in the night.

And the idea of starting a journal solely for recording resolutions like the one Guthrie created sounds like an admirable goal and, because I'm a teacher, the image of a fresh notebook of clean, blank pages is especially appealing. But I don't want to get ahead of myself.

And isn't that, after all,  a goal in and of itself? Judge's ruling, please!