REPORT A PROBLEM
During meditation the red carpet shimmers in the middle distance. In its movement are glints of yellow, black, white, green. My rational mind knows that the floor is solid (though physics supports my questioning), that the fibers of the carpet are only red and black. But after all these years how can the building, the walls, the beams, and, yes, even the carpet fibers, not have absorbed the energy of those who have passed through? It is now the spirit, the sweat, the heart, the tears, the blood, the celebration of the students: white belts, yellow, green, red, to black.
Subject lines if I were to send spam:
She lived as a tree fairy
Exposing peace in the kitchen garden
Fascinated by unfortunate kindness
It continued in my body
Flying, he thought about the ears of the dog
On the face of it
It could be a peculiar tone
Dreaming in verse
And in my soul
On the unfortunate occurrence of a recurrence
The moment at the top when the swing stops and the gut flips
The elegance of waking
I am spirit in body form
A long, cold, heartbreaking winter
My world closed down
Swimming in the cloud pillow
I saw her walking this morning. It wasn't just the yellow scarft covering her head. It was more the weakness in her welk, the set of her shoulders. She was not at home in this demeanor. She sought comfort in loose, soft cotton clothes and a big overshirt. But this clearly was not her, the her she'd known all her life.
It was her bearded husband walking with her, keeping his steps short to keep back with her, his body angled just five degrees toward her. Walking with their heads dropped toward each other, just a hair, a lost hair.
This was an important walk. All walks for her are important. It is important to walk. Walking is a commitment to life. Walking is as if she believes that the future will come. Walking is as if this isn't the end, that she will stand tall again, wear the right clothes, feel like herself. It's like going along with a story that someone is telling her - some mythology that she feels she ought to believe in, even though it doesn't seem possible.
I know this walk. I've walked this walk of determination, this walk of will, this walk of belief.
Sixteen bodies, dressed in white, prone on the red carpet doing push-ups and sit-ups for five minutes. The ďfive minute drillĒ. Fifteen bodies and minds focused, almost meditative, on strength and power. Fifteen bodies pushing their limits. At least two picturing a giant string pulling up at the center of their backs to help the rise of the push-up. One body, stout, strong, walking around, unfocused, uninvolved, disrespectful. One body changing the air in the room, changing the energy, setting a bad example. One body waiting to do something more exciting. To spar, do a butterfly kick over and over.
I mash my lips together when I pull a shirt over my head. I rarely wear lipstick and, if I do, tend to put it on last thing, after I'm dressed. It's as if it's been passed on genetically. Like sticking an arm out over the passenger seat when you slam on the brakes even if there's no one there, even if you never had kids (and even though kids always sit in back now: the chauffeured generation). My mother did these things. Probably for years I watched, not knowing why she mashed her lips. It's just what to do.
The two women lean close to speak. They've each been admiring her, watching her with wonder. Sighing, one says, "Isn't she beautiful? Don't you wish you could be more like her? I'm not sure I was even at her age."
The young woman is round with thick curling long dark hair. "Especially because she's not a skinny-mini."
She exudes sexy self-confidence. "I know her life isn't perfect but it would be so nice to be able to put myself out there with so much aplomb."
"Even now, at our age. Shouldn't we be able to do it even better now?"
Sitting all day at an outdoor arts festival in Lenox.
Bob drawing Kelly.
Kelly drawing Bob.
Me reading my book.
Pairs of wives followed by pairs of husbands.
The game: who belongs to whom?
Keens, Crocs, $200 flip-flops.
English, French, British, something that sounds Eastern European.
Purses, cameras, water bottles, sunglasses, bags hanging from people's hands.
No one's buying much.
Hot sun, bored artists.
Not many children. Several small dogs.
Smokers. Who knew? Maybe because it's outdoors.
Two brothers with square faces in their 60's.
And later, two sisters with round red faces in their 60's.
Some stop to talk.
He saw in his mind the picture of a man seated in a large leather chair in the company of other men in a manís room paneled in dark Amazonian woods. He was tall, thin, and dressed in a dark suit with a book open on his lap, his expression serious but kind behind wire glasses. His thick hair, somewhat unruly, was the inconsistency to his studied appearance. Mitchell knew this hair. It would never look neat enough for class photos, orchestra performances, job interviews. It was his hair, passed down from the grandfather in the photo in his mind.
I bought waterproof navy blue eyeliner on a trip to California in January. At 49 I never wore makeup; thought maybe a little would be ok. I was wearing it on the day in February that the surgeon called with the biopsy results.
When I had cancer I learned the importance of a little waterproof navy blue eyeliner. Without hair, skinny, with pale skin, there is a need for some color. Without eyelashes or brows there is a need for some mark that looks like the evolutionary remnants of the feelers that help us find our way in the world.
Two observations that have in common only food.
One reason why America is fat: A woman in the grocery store by pushed her car that was parked as close to the door as she could have gotten (just that side of the handicapped spots). In her cart was one plastic bag. In that bag was a 2 gallon container of ice cream.
They looked like a group of teenaged girls having pizza at the mall. Huddled together they were eating quickly. What confidences were they sharing with their ears flapping back and forth? Seven young spotted cows on the grass.
Now when I'm in a crowd of women I look around. I count: one in eight. Who are the women here with the scars across their chests? Is the woman with the short curly hair just growing it back or is she making a fashion statement? Did the woman who carries herself tall and proud learn that stance by her death defying acts? Which women are part of the one (or none) breasted sisterhood? Which women will die from this disease? Which women have it now but do not yet know? Which woman are looking around just like I am?
Iíve never written a story. I never feel like I can make one up. Twice Iíve started with a scene or a character. Never went far. So when I woke up one morning with another image of another character I went with it. Again, didnít get far. But I had a momentís recognition of the excitement of letting the characters have a life: discovering his age, he had one close friend, was the baby of the family. Oh! My hand would move across the page: Iíd read that he plays the violin! Interesting guy. I wonder what happens to him.
We found ourselves on a bus and nothing looked familiar. We rode through parts of the city with bars and homes and shops and people walking. At the end of the line we bought oranges and waited on a bench for the drivers to finish their break. We decided there was no wrong bus.
Sixteen years ago we chose to give up our hearts to each other. The love overcame the flaws that seemed manageable. In recent years they became chasms. We each dug in to our stubborn selves. Now we hold our hearts out to the other and wait.
Each dose was like a death.
With each treatment
meant only to kill rogue cells
my spirit was taken from me and I lay with no feeling
but the absence of feeling.
The absence of food and drink
and I woke up one morning and looked down
at my skin and bones, naked without hair.
Somewhere behind my eyes I still existed
enough to not recognize the body I inhabited
And after five days I would weep
and the tears watered my soul
and I returned and ate food
and my husband would say, ďYouíre back.Ē
Iím still coming back.
Get up or snooze
Tea bag or loose
Lemon ginger, earl grey, green kombuchu, or ginger
Almond butter or cashew butter
What type of underwear
Pants or skirt, purple or green, black or something else, long or short sleeves, sweater or wrap, Danskos or Merrells
Boca burger, hummus, salmon, or packaged Indian food
What to carry along
Turn right or left
News or podcast
Check work or personal e-mail first
Taekwondo, gym, or ride
Brazil or Bonaire
School or work
Stay or go
Sell or rehab
Call back or ignore
Confront or wonder
Video or read
Sex or sleep
Choose a decision to follow into its alternate universe.
Are you an architect? Do you live in Spain? Did you marry your college sweetheart and do you live, now, in some Midwestern suburb, drive a van full of kids and a loopy Golden Retriever?
And what from there? Did you choose to have an affair with the lusty man from the gym? Did the drive home from martinis with the girls end differently?
Or, come to now and think about the Schrodingerís Box of your future. What chance meeting with a stranger? One morning overslept?
Which reality will be real?
I had a terrible nightmare. A science fiction horror. Something happened. Maybe I did it. I had to get away and couldnít trust anyone. I was in California and tried to call my sister but someone was with me and wouldnít tell me where I was. Then you were there. We were sleeping and I couldnít wake up from the dream. I said, ďWhy arenít you helping me?Ē You said, ďWell, Iíve been thinking andÖĒ And I realized you were part of the nightmare. You opened your mouth and your tongue became a giant penis and I screamed, ďWake up!Ē
The little house stands on the waterís edge. Typical clapboards washed grey with ocean and sun and time. I sit. Salt ocean smell, warm sun, black sweater. Quiet water rippling, moored small boats, all the same shape. Leaves the colors of plums, the color of spring, the color of rust, the color of marigolds. The low buzz of electricity, the occasional bird.
Iíve come to shed what Iíve left behind. Just a week. To be alone with my jumbled life and nothing else that is in it. There is no escaping the events of the past two years. Only integration.
I stood before the mirror this morning at the gym after working out and I saw you and your daughter. Has that tiny dot above the right side of my upper lip always been there? And what of the shape of my mouth and the curl of my hair? Who but you could that reflect? You, who is the closest to me that could be? You, the only other human being who shares the same genetic material. How did it get passed; from our mother, our father, to a little dot on my lip and the lip of your daughter?
For those who know.
Dealing with diabetes is dealing with the mush of life. It is dealing with food and freedom and choices. It is dealing with independence and decision making and being accountable. It is dealing when you donít want to deal, when youíre sick of it, when you want it to go away. It is knowing that itís always there, even when youíre sleeping, when youíre trying to do the right thing by exercising, when youíre on a date, when youíre at work. It is knowing it could turn bad, knowing it can do worse than kill you.
My body is a physical manifestation of all that has happened in the past 23 months. It all happened to my body. The scars will be obvious. Anyone who sees them will know the part about surgery and chemo, the part about mortality. To me, they also tell of the breaking of the heart below the breast. The story of betrayal, in different ways, by the two people closest to me.
I canít always be the strong one. I canít always be the one thatís there for you. Iím sorry for my part in it but I needed a break.
Hot flashes during the night: 15 of every 120 minutes. By the clock: midnight, 2, 4, and then starting with a vengeance at 5:30.
The chances that 25 mg of trazedone will stop them or allow them to be slept through: three out of three.
The chances that that same dose will leave the imbiber incapacitated with vertigo, lightheadedness, fatigue, and headache the next day: 30%.
Chances that said incapacitated temperature neutral woman will see if it might go back to the majority 60%: nil, no way, no how.
Sometimes the sure thing is best, even if itís not ideal.
Fifteen years ago I was a beginner when I went back to school to start a new profession. Eight years ago I was a beginner when I started Tae Kwon Do. I try to hold on to the feeling of ďbeginnerís mindĒ. I take every opportunity I can. Every day I get to be a beginner when escort a patient into my office. Even if itís someone Iíve seen before we start over. Each person with diabetes, with osteoporosis, thyroid disease, has a different disease that I donít know about. They need me to be an expert and a beginner.
In Itaitu we were roused by the chickens. Our first laugh of the day was the deranged chicken with the odd, odd call. We got up and squeezed oranges picked from the tree out back. We added the little loaves of bread made down the street that were put into and taken out of the stone oven on a long board, placed end to end, eight in a row. It was an art. The patrimony of the town. And then set off to the rainforest to find waterfalls, hike to them, swim in them, climb up them to the next.
Ultimately it turned out to be ridiculously trite, like a post card: Autumn in New England. Drive eighteen miles from work in town. Up winding roads through autumn foliage. Finally turn into the quadrant of land where my house sits. Come up the hill and through the evergreens and the few deciduous trees see a huge round of white light. Come further up the hill and turn left and visualize the moon. Drive up and it sits, glowing in the blueing sky at 6 pm. Above the fields, above the trees melding in the distance rolling into a watercolor hill.
A vision of power and beauty. What do you see? A white gray black thundercloud rolling, morphing through the eerie pink green sky. The moment that limbs open and the flexed muscles release as a diver leaves the board. The rustle, crash and boom of a falling tree and the primal fear in your soulís body as you watch. Beethovenís 9th symphony from the back row of the last balcony in Clevelandís Symphony Hall. The leap and stride of a horse and rider jumping in a stadium or a field. The beat of our hearts, the flow of our breath.
The tabla player used the tips of his left fingers. From my view I saw the two end sections of four fingers beating intricate quick rhythmic tones on the
. The movement looked to me like a giant spider, a tarantula, running. Why that thought, lost in the entrancement of the engulfing raga?
The sitarist looked over and smiled during the
. The tabla player occasionally leaned a fraction toward him in response. But when the
began and he was playing, the tabla playerís soft round face came alive. Smiles and bends wove between them.
There are days at work that I feel like Iím pushing against the tide. Itís so hard for people to change the basics of their lives: what they eat, how much activity they get. These are things that people accommodate themselves to given their own. But there are days that I feel like Iím doing some good. Today was one of them. When I can teach something that makes the light bulb go on; when I can change someoneís medications and they came back in a few days later and say how much better they feel, then I feel great.
A baby boomer turns sixty. An old hippie who, among his very few regrets in life, counts the flu on August 15, 1969, laying in a fevered half sleep, tickets to Woodstock on the kitchen table.
More than thirty, more than fifty, sixty is a time to step back and examine the canvas of this artistís life. He looks to see what is already laid down and tries to choose and to allow what is next: what colors, what shapes, what composition. Change it completely? Let it be?
Thereís seeming less control, or is it more, with life than art.
100 words. 3000 words. 100 more words. So many words we can say. So many words we cannot say. So many words that donít make sense in written form but make sense in spoken words. Words that arenít words: grunted or whispered syllables that cannot be spelled and mean more than a dozen words can mean. Words that mean the same thing. The same word that means different things. Words that fit into sentences, into contexts, and are still ambiguous. Words in foreign languages that donít have translations. Words that evoke love, that evoke fear, that evoke indecision.
The Tip Jar