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This season The Rainbow Chorus will include choreography in one number. At rehearsal last night we learned more moves. I hate doing choreography. Itís hard enough memorizing music without having to figure out what to do with the rest of my body. The body is an instrument; that I can handle. But as soon as I have to move limbs I run into trouble. I have a hard time staying in touch with my body. I can see what other people are doing and try to follow their actions, but my arms and legs donít necessarily follow commands.
Yesterday morning I found myself alone in the shop with a large, complicated task at hand and a minimum of instructions from my boss. I was beginning to lay out the structure for the organ case in order to mark the placement of dowels and bolts to hold the finished piece together. Any mistakes at this point could be hard to correct and the consequences would be serious. I kept running into obstacles where I could not proceed without more information.
I started to have a panic attack. I sat down quietly for a few minutes and practiced deep breathing.
Work wasn't to blame. My distress came from the past few weeks of trying to solve financial problems. Underlying anxiety makes the mind susceptible to panic attacks. Itís a shot of adrenalin stimulated by the brain stem, an instinctive response to stress. I call it reptile brain. It is irrational, really not even emotional. Itís neurotransmitters and hormones.
Yesterday Danny and I came to Lake Fletcher. Used to be, when I hit the road to the cottage I could literally feel anxiety crumbling away. Itís incredibly peaceful here, especially in April with none of the neighbours around.
It has been unseasonably mild, 24C during the day, about the same as we get here on fine summer days. Iíve visited the cottage other Aprils when the lake was still locked in ice the middle of the month, but the last remnant has vanished from our bay this morning.
Saturday morning Danny and I went for a walk. A warm wind came rushing through the bare trees. We spread our arms and let it wash around our bodies. Later we sat knitting on the dock, wrapped in an envelope of soft sun and gentle movement on the water.
What does my body need? Good food, enough sleep, regular attention from a doctor, exercise, time to be still, time to move, contact with other human beings, to be touched gently, to be embraced heartily, to make love and be made love to, to receive enough light. I've needed to give my body certain chemicals to make up for deficits. One of these is mirtazapine, an antidepressant drug which has regulated my sleep cycle and enabled me to overcome a lot of anxiety symptoms. I should also take glucosamine regularly to promote joint health, and vitamin D during the winter.
My new lover came to visit last Thursday. He arrives from work before I do, so he has keys to let himself in.
I had been on my feet all week at work, carrying and cutting lumber around the shop. I had financial problems on my mind. I was verging on exhuastion, wanting only to be held and cuddled, not ravished and penetrated.
But once we were together my defences crumbled. We hugged and talked while I took a shower and changed out of my work clothes. Then my body invited him in. Where did the sexual energy come from?
I enjoy the sensation of my partner being physically in control. If a man grabs or binds my wrists, I instantly get an erection.
When my lover fucks me I lie on my belly and he penetrates from behind. This is my favourite position (to give or receive), and his, too. I especially like when he rests all his weight on my back, reaches up and takes hold of my wrists. I am under his power. My cock is trapped beneath. He thrusts with growing excitement and the pressure against my prostate is almost enough to bring me to orgasm.
I was taught to do battle with my body. In phys ed class we were compelled to push our physical limits. During long-distance running I would always get a stitch in my side. What was that? I never knew. I was afraid to mention it. The boy who admitted pain was a sissy. So I learned to ignore discomfort.
There was a group of boys who wore tight jeans and kept their hair long. You could usually see them smoking by the big rock behind the school. Once Jeff McDonald threw a snowball and hit me in the nuts.
It was such a shock that my eyes smarted, but I did not scream or cry or double over in pain. I just gave him a look of derision, turned and stalked away.
I caught a glimpse of an expression on his face. It was as if he was all prepared to laugh at my agony, but I had taken away his opportunity. I saw uncertainty, maybe respect.
Then a rumour went around that I got an erection while taking a shower with some other boys. I wasn't even aware it had happened, and had to pretend it had not.
In chemistry class, everyone was saying, "Boing."
I had no idea what was going on. I said it, too. Later my best friend told me what it meant.
"I didn't get an erection," I insisted.
But I could not remember for sure. The story was probably true.
It carried on for days: all the other kids calling me Boing. Kids from other grades started to say it when I passed them in the hall. In a school of 510 students, word didn't have to spread far for everyone to know.
All I could do was ignore them.
I felt my body had betrayed me.
I felt the same years later when I met a man in the locker room. He lured me away. To where? To my own car. I drove to a secluded place on the road and we had furtive sex. I was nineteen.
Other times while driving alone along the highway I would get the idea of stopping at a convenience store to buy pornographic magazines. Then a rush of chemicals would come over me. I'd be tingling from head to foot with fear and excitement. It wouldn't stop until I made the purchase.
Later I realized it was the other way around: I was betraying my body by denying it the most natural and animal of expressions. It clamoured for release from my tight control. I wonder how society can hold together when it places such tight restrictions on sexual behaviour, and love itself.
Love can only be this, not that.
Who has the authority?
I am learning to pay closer attention to my body and what it says it needs. Quite often it needs to be touched, held and made love to. In my case it usually needs this from another man.
My body craves other things, too. Lately I've been trying to pay more attention. My joints begin to ache, so I sit. Some messages are simple and obvious; others more subtle. My brain seeks vigour and clarity, so I drink less wine. Sometimes I don't understand the message, so I need to observe for a while. It took years for me to realize I was getting anxious and depressed more in fall and winter. In October I purchased a light box and begin taking in light along with my breakfast. My brain soaked it up and responded with more energy.
Lately many of the signals my body sends me have to do with aging. My arms and legs hurt more and ask me to take it easy. Alcohol takes away my energy, so I use it in moderation. I've begun to lose some of my near vision, so it was time to get reading glasses. I can't manage with as little sleep as I used to. My libido has declined, so I occupy more of my time with other activities, less with sex. As before, the best way of responding to these messages is to embrace them, not fight them.
More anxiety last night, verging on panic. We've been working out of town this week and came back to attend choir rehearsal. The last few meetings have been tense. On the way to the church I felt tension rising.
There were other things on my mind: financial issues, and the difficulty of balancing priorities with a new relationship in my life. I was tired.
The burning sensation started in my shoulders.
I began deep breathing, until my mind took off like a shot in another direction. It's hard to listen to my own body when many other things demand attention.
We're working in Niagara-on-the-Lake, a gorgeous small town where many of the houses date prior to 1850. Last night after dinner my boss and I went for a long walk around town. Something I had eaten upset my bowels, and when we were many blocks from the house where we're staying, I started to get the feeling I wasn't going to make it back in time. I told Les I had to cut back to the house. He said, "We can walk faster if you want," but that would not have helped. I made it back though.
I had left my car at home while we were away this week. When Les dropped me off yesterday, I came upstairs, did dishes and packed for a weekend in Toronto. I wanted to slow down but I had too much to do. It was go, go, go.
I carried the luggage downstairs. My car was gone! I was frantic. Who would want to steal a 2002 Pontiac Sunfire?
After running around the block twice just to make sure, I came back upstairs to call the police. I stopped in front of the mirror. Sweat was running down my face.
I called the police and said, ďI think my car has been stolen.Ē It turned out it had been towed away for street cleaning. The towing company said notices had been posted ďseveral days aheadĒ, but there were no signs on Thursday morning. I was too relieved to be infuriated.
Thinking back, itís amazing the energy boost I received from the shot of adrenalin. I ran around the block twice with a heavy bag of luggage on my back, and carried my luggage back up two flights of stairs without much thought to the discomfort. My mind was elsewhere.
As I write about my body I'm aware it seems to be under constant assault from my own negligence and the vicissitudes of life. I would rather live in harmony with my physical self. I used to believe my body was a temple, the place where I lived out my worship to God. That is rubbish, of course, but I appreciate the metaphor of a dwelling place for the more esoteric and invisible parts of me. A place where I can go to concentrate on higher purposes. When I meditate, I concentrate on deep breathing. I make an inward journey.
During the weekend I spent a few hours tending a friend's garden. Something mysterious happens when I dip my fingers in soil or a stream. It makes me happy. This opportunity has been largely lost to me since I became an apartment dweller. I used to look after my own soil. Now it's mostly borrowed.
I shouldn't think this way. The Earth belongs to none of us. We are its tenants.
When I dig into soil, energy flows into me. No wonder I want to own and control it. I am connected to the Earth, but it is not mine.
Memories are stored in the body. Somehow the brain records every significant event of our lives, and many insignificant ones. It must go through a process of purging unnecessary information, the same way I sometimes have to clear images and other files off my hard drive.
But memories are not only stored in our brains.
A few months after Mom died I treated myself to a massage. When the therapist began touching my hand I had a flashbook to a childhood incident, walking somewhere with Mom holding my hand, and an incredible sense of loss emerged. I began to sob.
Chest pains this morning. It's just anxiety. I know, because it comes in response to stress, not physical exertion.
I feel too many demands at once. I need time to look after my finances. I need to plan my upcoming vacation (how sick is that, getting anxious about my vacation?). The apartment needs looking after. My new lover wants to know when we can get together, and I've already told him the next few weeks will be problematic.
I've been putting on CBC Classical during my morning routine. Sometimes music dispels anxiety instantly. Sibelius' violin concerto did it this morning.
How do I feel about my body? Some people feel ugly. I do not. I am grateful for whatever influences taught me to feel good about how I look. There are exceptions of course: certain flaws that continually draw my attention, like the scarred skin left by acne around my temples, and the preponderance there of liver spots and discolouration from the sun. I am sad about the long surgery scar down my once aesthetic hairy belly. I'm sorry my hair, once blond, has turned a nondescript light brown. I still see blond highlights, but these aren't evident to everyone.
Memory is stored in the body. So is poetry. Poetry arises from moments when I was thoroughly engaged with my senses. Why do certain incidents stand out?
At age three, on my family's trip to Florida, I fell in a pool. Mom recalled how my father and brothers stood frozen so she (the poorest swimmer) had to dive in and retrieve me. I can't remember the incident.
On the same trip, at Alexander Springs, I was feeding peanuts to a squirrel at the foot of a tree when it accidentally bit me. I remember.
Why one and not the other?
I've come down with a cold. Not a particularly bad one, just enough for inconvenience and discomfort. My immune system is hardier than average. I seldom catch a cold or flu. When I do it's invariably an indicator I haven't been getting enough sleep.
On the other hand I have chronic rhinitis and cough, almost always a background congestion due to minor allergies, most of which are household related. Fresh air usually helps. About the only time my congestion clears up completely is when I'm camping.
A doctor's usual solution is to prescribe a puffer, which I'd rather do without.
My goal for May and June is to commit myself to daily exercise. One of the main reasons is to get my cholesterol down. I've had high cholesterol for years. In the past this was not much concern because my good cholesterol was high, but now the ratio is slipping and the bad cholesterol has become higher.
A few days ago I was reading about Nietsche. He had a theory that morality was based on the division of society into masters and slaves. Slave morality was based on good versus evil whereas master morality was based on good versus bad.
There's a subtle difference between evil and bad. Badness involves weakness and poverty, whereas evil involves things like wordliness and cruelty. In master-morality, wealth and strength are good, but in slave-morality, wealth and aggression are evil. My cholesterol is not evil, but it is bad, because it's not life-affirming. I don't really know what all this means, except I need to get rid of it. To improve my physical health is to empower myself.
I began this discussion with tongue in cheek. Some of the conclusions are true, but I don't think morality is a suitable motivator.
Exercise will make me feel better, and that is suitable motivation. It is also a kind of morality in itself. I relate better to the master morality, making choices that are life-affirming, rather than slave morality, which holds other-worldly values. I realize when you do not have any power over your own body, your only choice in to draw motivation from the hope of a better life somewhere else, in an imaginary time and place. The great crime of masters is they deprive others of the right to achieve personal fulfilment now, forcing them to dream or despair.
Lately I've felt the assault of age. Different body parts hurt as never before. None are big hurts, but they add to daily nagging discomfort. Is it arthritis in my knees and hips? At times the pain goes away for weeks, so I don't know.
I've needed reading glasses for more of the things I do. It started with small print in dark rooms. Now I can barely read millimetres on a ruler in good light.
I had a recurrent pain in my shoulder, but sleeping last night with a large pillow between my arms seems to have dispelled it.
What causes the body to weaken and die? People have been trying to solve this problem forever, and maybe we'll never stop. However, it is obvious that DNA cannot continue to reproduce and evolve if we overpopulate the planet with old DNA. You can't fight nature. Planned obsolescence is part of the design.
Even as my body grows older it also evolves. New cells will still be born in certain parts of my body. Scientists used to believe damaged nerves could not heal, but now we know they can. The body continues to change for as long as it lives.
The Tip Jar