Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Things We Remember, for Tamar Kitzmiller (1954-2017)

Do you remember the time, Tamar, that we hiked that wild mountain in Vermont, so intent on our gossiping that we missed the trail junction and continued for a full mile down the wrong trail? We recognized our mistake far too late into the game, and quickly became panicked at the realization that we had to pick up your tween daughter at a local ice-skating rink. She would be disappointed and annoyed. Rather than fess up to our own idiocy, we concocted a fake story about encountering a mother bear and her cubs on the trail. They had menaced and delayed us! And the cubs were dreadfully cute. There were three of them. One had a stubby tail. One had a lisp, etc.

Your daughter ate up that story, She quizzed us about the adorable cubs. We lied like bandits to her, and to the kindly dad who had given her a ride home from the rink. The truth came out quickly, of course. Do you remember how I snortled, "We sure fooled that old Griff fellow!" without realizing that we had failed to properly hang up the phone and he could still hear us? (His name was something like Mr. Griffin.) Did we ever get the business from J and H, who were both disgusted and amused! ("You rotten, rotten liars.")

I could be altering some details of the story because memory doesn't always serve, but I suppose it doesn't matter. You're not here to correct me anymore, Tamar, so it's my story now. But it's still ours. It was a long time ago. Forgive me.

You surely remember our trip to the "Bloody Brook," in dead of night. It was in your hometown of Norwich, VT. We thought it would be a grand old idea to venture out en masse and skinny dip, drinks in hand. When we arrived at the Blood Brook, we found that the relative lack of rain had limited the brook to a shallow trickle. We went in anyway, dipping our nethers in a few sad inches of water. We laughed and laughed, and we scrabbled over the wet stones to find our shoes. We looked up to the full moon. We padded home in the dark, shoes in hand, drunk with love of our lives.

On another occasion, J and S polyglued eggs to an old railroad tie and we shot them clean away with BB guns. And we lit a bonfire by soaking a roll of TP in fluid and firing it down a zipline from an upstairs bathroom into a big garbage can of combustible materials. Does this sound impossibly dangerous? Oh, yes. But you have to understand: We were all guaranteed to live forever.

On so many Halloweens before I had children of my own, we painted our faces and carved pumpkins and roasted the seeds in olive oil and salt and ate them until our stomachs were sick. I spilled a mason jar of seeds into your front lawn and picked them out of the grass blades and ate them anyway. I was dressed as Ballet Pumpkin, or the Octo-Moose, or a Flying Purple People Eater—my costumes have always been a bit unique, and you lent your support with your clever sewing and additions. You always styled yourself as a one-of-a-kind witch—with such enormous creativity! I recall the Halloween when you had a smoking urn of dry ice on the lawn, and you sat in grand splendor with makeup so thick and green that no one could recognize you.

(Years earlier, I also recall arriving at your home for a visit and going to use the toilet, after a very long drive. I opened the lid to a smoking cauldron of doom. I thought the toilet was about to explode! Dry ice. Thanks for the panic attack, guys.)

You had a red door on that house, and a yellow lantern. You had cross-country skis on the wall of your garage. I once dug a flowerbed for new tulips in your backyard. When we had boys (all three of them), we sat in your backyard and made "Pine Noodle Soup" and played catch with a rubber chicken. I always felt at home there. We sat under a tree that oozed with sap and looked out on the half-pipe that J built for your son W and we talked until the sky grew light. We never ran out of things to talk about. Nor would we now, if I had the chance.

Just give me one clear night. One afternoon, in hazy sunshine. Give me your cats Blossom and Addie, who once crawled into my guest room and kneaded my chest for comfort in the night, or your small black cat, Misty, who darted in terror from our amateur movie-making, in which we made her an unwitting victim of a fiend that rose from the leach field. But most of all, give me you, Tammy. I miss your sweet, chuckling, authentic laugh. I wish everyone reading this who didn't know Tammy could hear  your  laughter. It was the best laugh ever possible. Real as anything you can touch with your hands. Yours was a laugh that suggested there was a deep river of goodwill flowing beneath us all, and you were privy to the source. You loved your life.

My god, but every moment matters. Because you're gone now, Tamar, and you were my sister in heart, and I never ever thought you would be gone. I sort of thought we would have another moment, another time, to recollect each and every one of these stories. I know you were a bit older than me, and all, but I never thought of you as such. You were young in every way. I could come to you and say: "Let's make fancy hats and costumes and parade down the road and toss water balloons at everyone just to delight their souls and knock them off their rockers," and you would never ask "Why?" You would only ask, "When? And do you have the water balloons handy?" Or better yet, "Let me fill them! Where's the nearest water tap?"

I remember my very first trip to Norwich, VT. Our dear friend S introduced us. I met you and J, and we sat by the fire, and he tossed popcorn at your knees, for no reason I could discern. There was a bright painting of hummingbirds above the mantel. The next day I slept in, and you all teased me relentlessly, saying I was "due the sleep to which I was accustomed and would sleep until the time to which I was accustomed." We went to a local apple festival and bought and ate crisp apples, and you gave me a lunchbag stuffed with goodies and trail mix that I took home and ate, bit by bit, until it was depleted. You called me "Princess Pomme" and later "Princess Pumpkin." I took your teasing for love. I pretty much knew that I loved your family then and there. I loved you. I love you. You one day said I was the little sister you never had. I couldn't be more grateful for that role.

Over time, over years, as your children grew, their artwork came to fill the walls of your home. The green-snouted thing with the purple eyes. A massive sunflower. Lopsided little clay cups on the windowsill. And as your children grew further, we played games. Your daughter drew a rabid raccoon during a game of Pictionary, and it stayed magnetized to the refrigerator for years, its eyes two magnificent little spirals. A quote appeared one year, attached to a cartoon, perhaps: "God does not play dice with the universe." J put that there. He's wonderfully clever, often challenging us to logic puzzles and math games. He loved you for more than 40 years. And we love him. He is as much a part of us as you are. And so are your children. We aren't related by blood, but we are all family, forever.

Do you remember, Tamar? I know you do. Every story, every inside joke, every prank, every night by the fireside singing our hearts out with the boys strumming the guitars, every conversation, every walk in the woods. We lost you sometimes in the "Triangle" and then we found you, and then we lost you again. You and I roamed about at night in our pajamas, and we lay down on the clean earth to look up at the stars. Who will remember your laughter? Who is going to remember "Mahlon Bither" and "Team Goat" and "Braised child under 10" and all of it, all of it, except you and those of us who remain?

Tamar, everything you ever did and said is part of that deep river flowing fast toward we know not where, and we're all standing in it together, and we are stronger and better and braver for having known you. We will all work hard to make this place better than we found it, for certain.

I love you, Tamar.

For Tamar Kitzmiller, 1954-2017.  







Wednesday, February 8, 2017

6 Horrifying Attacks on America! Unreported by Dishonest Fake News Mainstream Media!

Now revealed! Horrifying attacks on U.S. soil, unreported and disregarded by the dishonest and failing fake news mainstream media! We now honor these terrible tragedies and mourn the victims. May they remain forever in our hearts and minds.

Grizzly Vengeance (Every Classroom in America, 2003)

After their last remaining habitat was completely destroyed due to the construction of Trump Glacier National Park Casino and Trump Continental Divide Plaza, undocumented Grizzly bears poured into classrooms everywhere and snacked on lots of little children. Sad! #wearegrizzlyvengeance

If only the little mites had been armed, this senseless slaughter could have been averted.

Vulv-A-Lago (Palm Beach, Florida, 1980-2017)

Many innocent vaginas were indecently grabbed during this ongoing series of heinous attacks, conducted anywhere from airplanes to furniture stores. The perpetrator is still at large. Sales of skirts have fallen sharply since the attacks began. The ominous rattle of Tic-Tacs is usually the only sign that the attacker is approaching. #bevulvalagovigilant

Victims of the Vulv-A-Lago Attacks describe "stubby" and "grabby" hands that were nevertheless "surprisingly quick," "octopus-like," and "seemed to be coated in Cheeto dust."

The Haunting of the National Mall (January 20, 2017)

Hundreds of thousands of dead people, most of whom voted illegally, descended on the National Mall for the Inauguration of the 45th President. The spectres made many spooky noises such as "boo!" and "woooo!" in an attempt to scare the living daylights out of the sparse crowd of flesh-and-blood humans. The living, however, took little notice of them, given that they were fixated on the completely insane scary-ass bat-ass crazy carnage spewing from the new President's mouth. The massive crowd of dead folks—which amounted to the biggest audience to ever witness an inauguration in all of human history, period, end of story, shut your pie hole—went completely unreported by the dishonest and failing news media, who claimed they "couldn't see them."

I see dead people. SO MANY dead people. More dead people than YOU will ever summon, loser.

The "Holla 'Bout the Cost" (Walmart Store, Birmingham, AL, July 7, 2010)

Walmart shopper Wanda Chunks severely annoyed other patrons of the store when she decided to make a big ruckus over the price of an irreverent T-shirt, saying, "I'm not gonna pay eight dollars and fifty-eight cents for this piece of China-made crap!" Ms. Chunks continued to rant and holler about the cost of the T-shirt throughout the transaction, until she grumpily exited the store. Scarred patrons had to be consoled for hours. Despite the fact that the failing and dishonest media omitted the traumatic incident from their news coverage, an official Holla 'Bout the Cost Remembrance Day is now in the works. In a spirit of inclusiveness, Holla 'Bout the Cost Remembrance Day will honor basically anyone who has ever been annoyed while shopping, or irritated by anything at all.

Thanks to new trade tariffs, the price of this T-shirt is now $43.99.

The Fact-Butcher (Multiple Locations, 2016 and ongoing)

This bloodthirsty villain strikes quickly and decisively, mangling and butchering facts with a savagery only equalled by a too-hot flatiron and a dearth of hair conditioner. Distracting its victims with a plea to "look into its heart," the Fact-Butcher then dispatches them with a patently ridiculous statement. Do not engage with the Fact-Butcher. Do not look into its eyes. It will tear your entrails out and feed them to its army of wild pigs. You have been warned. 

I have the appearance of being sorta dead, at least on the inside, and I voted. So, you see, millions of other creepy half-dead and actually dead people must have voted as well. That's why we need an immediate investigation into massive voter fraud. Which must have taken place because my Dear Leader told me so. What do you mean there's "no evidence"? What about the evidence that's in my heart? 

The Man-Turtle Terror (Washington, D.C., February 7, 2017)

A terrifying half-man, half-turtle hybrid ponderously crawled from the sludge at the basin of Washington's newly-drained swamp and, without provocation, attacked a women who was trying to do her job. The creature then fled into the sewers. Any sightings should be reported to the Department of Homeland Security and the Environmental Protection Agency. The dishonest so-called "media" continues to claim that the Man-Turtle Terror is merely a Senator from Kentucky who happens to look remarkably like a turtle. So nasty! Terrible! #StopTheManTurtleTerror



Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Fibromyalgia Autobiography: We Are the Brave

I don’t know what to do or even how to write. The pain is so bad that it permeates every second of every day; I get no respite. If I thoroughly distract myself with something consuming, such as drawing every fibre and curve of the poinsettia plant on the table, I can sometimes, most fleetingly, eliminate the pain from my top-of-mind consciousness. Even then, I know it’s there. I know it’s glowering at me, demanding that attention must be paid. How dare I presume to ignore it. It should know that I’m most decidedly its prisoner, and ignoring it is impossible. I’ve merely placed it in the second shelf of things I cannot forget.

Imagine internally repeating a word or a string of digits, something you know intimately well, over and over and over. Your name. The numbers 4 8 15 16 23 42. It would seem like madness. So does the word I repeat, but it is more of a tome than a word, a dull and singular autobiography that tells but one incessant story. I repeat it while making coffee, while reading Prince Caspian to my eight-year-old son, while hugging my 11-year-old son goodnight, while I’m making a joke to my 13-year-old son about the “sentient basketball” his kindly and generous godfather gifted him for Christmas. 


(STOP. Okay, the sentient basketball is this basketball that links with an app on your smartphone and it tracks all the shots you take and calculates the trajectory of the ball and it’s seriously smarter than all of you. I have suggested that it may devolve and start shouting things at my son such as “Missed the hoop AGAIN. Sad! Loser!” by which point it will have detained our entire family in a special “camp” while it bounces recklessly across a keyboard linked to its Twitter feed. But I digress.)

The story in my head has the word “pain” is embedded in the title of every chapter, in every monotonous sentence, and in the cliffhanger at chapter’s end. Synonyms for “pain” could of course be employed here: ache, agony, spasm, torment, misery, distress. I’m afraid that, while in pain, I’m not even clever enough to call upon any of these vocabulary words. It’s all simply pain. It makes for extremely dull reading: “This book sucks. One star, but I’d give it a zero if I could! Sad! Loser!”

(But if I were to be imaged and mapped as an electrical grid, I would be very exciting indeed. I would tell a strange story. Spasms, and flares along the knots and hubs, and bright loci, all firing, firing, firing, until the world’s end.)

Even as a prisoner of the very boring and pedestrian pain, I sometimes still think: I wonder if I made this all up. Because if I did, I can fix it. I know I can. Many doctors said it was all in my head before I was diagnosed. They could be right! I will fight like a wounded dog in a ditch to fix this. Because I have beautiful people in my life who love me, and they are counting on me to be brave and beautiful and to ignore the pain. (Sometimes, when I pass a mirror, I think the expression I wear resembles that of a hurt animal that cannot speak and dumbly wishes to be put out of its misery. My friend, the veterinary surgeon, sees this look all the time, before she expires the animal. And then I tend to think that I’m really quite good-looking. And someone this ridiculously good-looking cannot possibly be sick, right? I also have great legs and really decent biceps and fine, upstanding boobs. But I digress.)

If this is all in my head, then all I need to do is relax. Breathe more. Take some Aleve. Do yoga. Stop worrying. Swim when I can. Hot water. Pay attention to my posture. Take supplements. Use the Miracle Balls. Ahem, this is really a thing—“miracle balls” do help.) This was honestly supposed to be part of a different post, the post that listed “All the Things That Help Me With My Fibromyalgia.” I don’t want to suggest that these things don’t help! In fact, they certainly have. The problem is that they are temporary. Maybe I just need to use these remedies more. 

But just when I’m exulting in the moment of finally selecting a new “inner dialogue” volume from my shelves—perhaps its “Just Keep Moving! You Are Fantastic!” or “Bonus Energy Surprise! You Won the Fucking Lottery Today!”—I reach out and pluck out that sad, dog-eared volume on pain whose author looks like she got whacked with a cudgel studded with stabby Christmas ornaments. Whacked hard in the knees, ribs, shoulders, back, elbows, ankles, fingers, collarbones. Still smiling, wanly. Her author photo tells the whole story. She’s an absolute expert on her subject. Not many people can see her pain, because she’s smiling well enough. But I do.

It’s so very hard to choose another book.

But I will. I must.

How do we go on? People who have Fibromyalgia are in constant, sometimes unimaginable pain. Some are in worse pain than I am, which I cannot imagine. How do we even face the day? How do we read a book, or hug our children, or cook dinner, or fold the laundry? How do we commit to jobs that require us to smile at people? How do we shop for groceries and actually return our carts to the cart corrals (please tell me you do; Fibromyalgia is no excuse here.) How do we continue to stand out in the cold wind and gas up the car? How do we limp down the driveway to collect the mail? How do we sit in a chair, as I do, and type out blog posts that will garner us no favors or fame or money?



Because we are the brave. No matter how bleak it seems, we will never just read one simple story. We can acknowledge that we have read, and will read again, that dreadful autobiography: The one that I call Pain. It will always and always sit on our shelves. But it isn’t who we are. We are a great  library of poetry and truth and submarines and whelks and tangerines and fireworks and ocelots and 17th-century history and rockets to the moon. We are here for a reason, and we will be called upon when it counts. Because we already know what heartbreak feels like and we have been brave and strong for so very long. We will never give up, never stand down, never falter.  

If there is to be a resistance, I will be at the forefront. I am not scared. Why would I be? I am well-versed in pain. Maybe I could finally place that awful, boring volume called Pain way down to the fifth or sixth shelf, well below the volumes of Dignity and Honor.

Postscript: Please. Return your carts to the cart corral. Or even to the very door of the store. We aren't the kind of people who leave our carts parked upon the curb, even when we are bone-tired. The carts do tend to get away and cause mayhem.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Fox and the Rabbit: What Does Fibromyalgia Feel Like?

What does having Fibromyalgia feel like? I've read numerous descriptions and, although there are definite themes shared among us, every person's experience is unique. I tried to find a blog post that captured all of my particular symptoms with perfect eloquence. I couldn't. What I found is that, even though I think I'm suffering like a Christian martyr trudging up a slope strewn with shards of ice, rusty screw guns, and carnivorous sticky buns, there is always someone whose pain is worse. Sometimes much worse. That doesn't offer me much solace. It just makes me sad.

Haven't a clue what I'm talking about? Learn more about Fibromyalgia here or here.

But I do want to explain how Fibromyalgia makes me feel. It might help when a friend or loved one doesn't understand why I keep grimacing during, say, a board game. Maybe after reading this post they will say: "Ah! You feel as if someone has turned your sinews and muscles into sharp metal strands, and is now braiding them quite viciously," or "Well, NO one cares for nails made of hot gravel being pounded into their joints! I'd grimace, too. Carry on, it's your turn." Or even "Malevolent sticky bun latched on to your brainstem again, what? No wonder you're so sluggish and foggy-headed!"

Here's a simple experiment. It may seem unseemly and unpleasant. First clench one hand tight into a fist. Now choose a part of that fist and bite it, for as long as you can tolerate. Your curled fingers will do. Give it a fair amount of pressure. Give it five minutes, if you possibly can. Notice what happens.

The immediate "victim" of the bite, your clenched fist, will begin to protest. It's already remorselessly tight, and now something is biting it? Seriously?! Not good. But, there's more! Soon, your jaw may become tense and tight, even sore. The exertion of holding the fist, along with the bite, will begin to seem intolerable. All you have to do to release the pain is to open your mouth, open your hand. Why are you doing something so ridiculous as biting your fist, just because I suggested it? Please do not do this in public.

If you have Fibromyalgia, you probably know where I'm going with this analogy. If you know a loved one who has Fibromyalgia, you might have your whole fist stuffed in your cakehole at the moment, and are feeling surly, and I appreciate that.

Fibromyalgia feels as if your body is gnawing on itself, every minute of every day. (Even on the "good days," when it's just gnawing with less fervor. On the best days, it still nibbles, like an itch that can never be scratched or eliminated.) As I've suggested, your body itself is already intolerably "tight." It has become a fist that never opens. Then, you visit it with numerous indignities, and they are certainly not confined to the hand—you sink pain into the neck, into the knees, into the edge of the jaw itself. Note that I do not use the passive voice in the sentence above, because you sense that your own body is conducting this cruelty.

I am hideously aware of the pain in my own jaws and also of my victim's pain.
It's not cool.

You become intolerably aware of the pain. You are the jaws of the predator, and there is no pleasure in being the predator. You will never kill your victim. You are a fox worrying the rabbit to death, over and over and over. Unlike an actual fox, you feel the rabbit's pain. You aren't even hungry. You feel remorse for the rabbit. The rabbit and the fox, the jaws and the flesh and the pain and the grief, are bound together forever in a singular dance.

If you are still biting your fist, stop, you fool. You probably look like an idiot, with tears springing to your eyes on the Metro North. You probably look like a woman who wants to scream because she is so heartbreakingly frustrated and is biting her fist to prevent herself from doing so.

Thank you for trying, if you did, but no one should suffer for very long. Where does that leave me? Some mornings, when I wake up to another day of stiffness and aching and mind-numbing pain, the phrase "What did I do to deserve this?" sometimes springs into my head.  I really thought that today might be different. I limp my way down the stairs, leaning heavily on the banister. My entire frame feels off-balance and wobbly. Trembling hot shards of pain fire through my shoulders, knees, elbows. My upper back and neck burn as if I've been beaten heavily with a cudgel, scalded, racked, and seized. I think that maybe the nasty local gang, the "Sharpened Hot Sporks Laced-With-Acid Boys," took me down last night, unawares.

I had a haircut last Friday. My first in many weeks. A woman was washing my hair and massaging my head and I relaxed a little bit and had this random thought: "Hey, I wonder where I would get heroin in this town, if I truly wanted heroin? Because I heard it's a real suburban problem, but I'll bet it would take my pain away. For sure it would. But, goddamnit, it's heroin. I probably should never try heroin, right? I think barfing is involved. OK, forget it. How does one get one's hands on medicinal marijuana? Would I qualify? I don't want the kind of stuff that makes me mistake a can of Mandarin Oranges for a can of Marinara Sauce and serve a very wrong and disgusting meal. I just want the pain to go away."

Not very tasty atop pasta. Oops?

Then there is the horrible malaise and fatigue. Making even the simplest breakfast for my sons feels exhausting. Bending down to pick up a bowl from the cupboard, walking it to the breakfast table, removing a carton of milk from the fridge, returning to retrieve a spoon from the cutlery drawer, extracting a box of cereal from the cupboard, setting it on the table—a series of small steps that is, somehow, torture. Every move hurts, in varying degrees, and depending on the day.

My sons are perfectly capable of all these tasks, of course. But if I were to languidly dictate orders from my fainting chair, I fear I would become the cover girl for Bad Parenting magazine. As I write this, I realize that delegating every single task in the house would be the best thing for my sons. It wouldn't hurt them one single tiny bit, and they have energy to spare. It's just my guilt that keeps me on my feet, thinking "I should be a better parent. I should have more energy. I shouldn't hurt."

I have never been a person to collapse on the couch, except when I've come to the very end of my rope. I have to keep going all the time. I can't sit still. My mother, in her late 80s, is the very same way. She will insist on painfully ascending the stairs to the second floor just to ensure the pillows on the guest bed are fluffed, no matter how many protestations we utter. She will wander around endlessly, buffing the counters, long after she should be in bed. I've despaired of her perseverance, yet I am proud of it in a way I can't explain. Well, yes, I can. I explain it this way: We are not lazy people.

So I don't stop, ever. A day without exercise is wrong. My overactive mind will punish me for it. My body will feel restless and unfulfilled if I didn't swim or bike or walk or run, even if it is simultaneously crying out in agony. I can be utterly exhausted, defeated, and in agonizing pain—in a place where I have no business anywhere but in bed or on the couch—and I still insist on exercising, hauling firewood, dragging around set pieces for the middle-school musical, playing piano, toting groceries.

Being Strong and Tireless is part of who I am. A me that isn't "strong and tireless" isn't someone whom I would recognize or even care to know. I'm the person who can pick up the 80-lb canoe solo, if asked. I'm the mom who can swim a mile and then spend another hour playing "pull-up" with the kids (a vicious form of Sharks and Minnows in which you literally have to dive down deep to capture your minnow and drag him/her to the surface). Why, just two days ago I was hauling a huge and recalcitrant fake Christmas tree, part of the decor for the middle-school musical, out of the school foyer. The damned tree was collapsing on my head, barfing out ornaments and tinsel. I was sweating and grunting. A man paused and asked if I needed help. "Oh, no thank you, I got it," was all I said. Then I went and got another tree, and dragged that one out, too.

I felt good dragging those trees. I felt like the warrior I know myself to be. I didn't hurt a bit while I was dragging those trees. I would have dragged a thousand trees. I don't know if this is true of anyone else with Fibromyalgia, but sometimes the harder things are the easier things. They make you completely forget that you are all torn up inside, because, after all, every day and every moment you are all torn up inside. Lifting rocks and bricks and boards makes the "torn up inside" feeling make sense. Of course it should hurt to drag that heavy load. It would make any healthy person hurt. Therefore, I am healthy. Or just very stupid, because I probably pay for my exertions later. Plus, I won't take a moment to rest.

It's the little things that hurt, the small and ordinary offices of life. Putting away laundry is just dreadful, and that's probably true for people who don't have Fibromyalgia, too. When I hear "I need help turning on the water for my tub!" from up the stairs, my mind bends and wavers. It's a weary climb up one short flight, a cranking of handles. Why does something this small have to be so painful? When I pass the pile of papers and school photos that should be trimmed and filed and put away, I always think: "I'll do that tomorrow. I'm far too tired today."

It all feels rather hopeless, sometimes, because even watching television is painful. How could watching a television be painful? As I sit there, trying to focus on the plot and to lose myself in the story, I am bitterly aware of my muscles spasming, of my utter failure to relax, of the tight hold the invisible, gnawing thing has on my neck and shoulders. Sometimes I stretch, and my tight joints protest. At other times I try a little self-Reiki, palms to jean-clad thighs, and I wish the pain away.

I have been successful on a few occasions. Sometimes it recedes, and I am able to forget (for 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes?) who I am. This happened two days ago while I was drawing this grasshopper. I used the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and I drew this grasshopper upside down, in an attempt to shut down my anxious time-clock left brain and activate my right brain.

My sketch of a grasshopper. It will probably be devoured by a hungry predator within minutes, its short and fleeting life meaning nothing. 

Guess what, little grasshopper? My pain went away, while I was drawing you. Now that I'm writing this, it's back in full force. It eats away at the base of my skull, and at my shoulder blades, and inside the architecture of my knees, and it burns along my back, and here I am staring at this grasshopper and I know that while I drew it the pain was still there, somewhere waiting on the sidelines. But it didn't matter. Because I wasn't trapped in my body. I was calculating the precise distance between wing and leg, and dreaming of hauling big loads.

I don't have any real wisdom to give. The only things I have ever figured out are to stay busy, to not be lazy, and to keep on, and on. Never give up. Keep doing. I'm still in pain. Sometimes it's bad. Some days, really bad. 

The fox is still dancing with the rabbit. The rabbit gives itself wholly, unwillingly—taut as a wire. The fox digs in with claws and teeth, but it has no love of the conquest. I watch their exertions with my clenched fist held between my teeth, praying for absolution. Praying that I can hold on long enough to be a proper poet for the fox, the rabbit, and the breaking day. Give me enough time. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Party Pony Officially Endorses Hillary Clinton for President of the United States

As has been made abundantly clear via my social media messages, I do not care for Mr. Donald Trump aka DRUMPF. But rather than continuing to belabor the fact that Trump is a misogynistic, racist, predatory, bombastic bottom-feeding swine with the temperament and vocabulary of a Lumpen fifth-grade fish-eyed playground bully, possessing zero experience, credibility, or substantive qualities, I'm going to talk about Hillary Clinton.

I am a Lumpen swine. Right? Yes? Fact! Sad! Y'alll are losers.


I was never a particular fan of Hillary. In fact, eight years ago, I wrote a couple of blog posts comparing Hillary unfavorably to Obama. Obama's gift for oratory, his grand plans, and his passion made Hillary seem cold and strident by comparison. I wrote that Hillary's gaze could turn "people's blood to an icy slurry and harden the poo in their bowels." 

There was something about Hillary I just didn't like. Every time I heard her speak, I cringed. Her voice stung my ears. There was something shady about her. Everyone knew the Clintons were a dirty lot! Maybe she'd lied in the past? What about that healthcare reform attempt, when she wasn't even an elected official? Her outfits irked me. Her facial expressions were annoying. Her plans and policies were sound, of course, but that didn't matter. I didn't like her. 

I never occurred to me then, as it has so clearly now, what kind of immense bravery and dedication a woman must have to subject herself to the thousand arrows of the angry mob, to the hideous sniffs of a demagogue who says whatever the fuck he wants and gets away with it, but you make one little misstep like refusing to acknowledge that you have fucking PNEUMONIA, and it will stick to you like shit sprayed out of a trumpet. (Pun intended.)

I have been besmirched with a thousand hurtful sniffs, and yet here I stand!


Who, really, would want this job? Let's take the campaign, hideous in itself. Hillary stood there time and again and calmly defended herself against a man who was behaving like an Internet troll under the bridge, a man lacking any reason or decency. He rudely interrupted her, called her a "nasty woman," told outrageous fictions that any elementary-school child could Google fact-check and debunk within minutes. He made us collectively gasp when he said he'd "keep us in suspense" as to whether he will accept the results of tomorrow's election.

Look, people, I would have lost my shit. I would have flung my shoe at the orangeman's thick skull, declared the entire nation incompetent, and sallied forth into the mist to spew obscenities and throw offal at random people. Hillary did not! She just persevered, talking about her long record of standing up for children, for the poor, for the elderly. She has a long record of public service. I was impressed by this piece today from Fox News, by Lanny Davis, in which he tells a story of Hillary arriving at Yale and asking where she could volunteer for the nearest legal services clinic, because "the reason I came to law school is to help me do public service."

Who among you could stand up to this craziness? Who among you would even want the job known to turn your blonde hair to stark grey in a matter of months? Who would want the nuclear codes, or have the savvy to talk to hostile nations, or would have the wits to work through tax laws and health care and nominating the next Supreme Court justice and everything else that goes into being President of the United States? Who among you would worry every day if the pantsuit you wore on television would inspire rude commentary, if people who wear T-shirts calling you a "bitch" might poo on your lawn, or if second-amendment nutbags might be thinking "Hrhm, I think Trump told us to take her out, but I'm not dead sure 'cause I'm not quite clear on the English language, but I sure gotta stockpile of GUNS!"

Do YOU want that job?

People, I don't. I would be scared. I'm a strong and smart woman, and an opinionated woman, and a clever woman, but I am not afraid to admit that I would probably run and hide and have some tea parties and bake cookies. It's not for me. I am a writer and a comedian and a musician. I'm not as tough as Hillary Clinton. Trump and his goons are genuinely SCARY. Hillary has not run, and she has not hidden. She keeps fighting. She wants this job because she cares, and because she can do this job.

Hillary is amazing!

This is America's biggest job interview. One candidate has prepared herself. The other candidate has randomly grabbed random pussies and bragged about it. Whom would you hire?

Hillary is THE ONLY highly-qualified, experienced candidate—in fact, it is said that she is the most highly-qualified candidate we have ever had. She is smart. She is tireless. I've read many endorsements of Hillary and I have come to not only support Hillary, but...I dare say...I actually like Hillary.

Yes, I like her. I like her, and I respect her. It took me a while. Over the course of this ugly, tumultuous election season, my attitude toward Hillary Clinton has undergone a sharp reversal. Yes, next to Trump, Jiggles the Clown or Bobo the Rat-Faced Boy would likely look "Presidential." But I'd like to expunge the "Presidential Look" terminology from the whole campaign. Why are we so petty as to focus on a pantsuit, a haircut, a stance, facial hair (what candidate in past years has dared to boast a beard?), a tone of voice, a manner of blinking, a host of hideous sniffs? (The latter WAS rather suspect.)

Hillary Clinton has shown the most amazing stamina I have seen in a human being on the public stage. She cannot be destroyed by a demonic clown. In fact, she has engaged in a dialogue with the most ludicrous ass-hat ever seen in this history of our country! A man whose entire career is built on nastiness, real-estate discrimination, tax-evasion, and rump-slapping. Who else would you want to stand in the Presidential office but a tough woman who can stand up to that shit?

C'mon, have any of you been that woman sitting around the conference table, while Mr. Beefy McRedFace shouts YOU down at every opportunity even though you are the smartest person in the room but, because you happen to be a rather introverted woman (not me, I'm more of an extrovert, but I know them well and some of them are super smart and probably smarter than me) you don't raise your voice loudly enough? If you were to speak up, would you need to yell to get over the bloviating sound of Mr. Beefy McRedFace? Wouldn't that make you seem awfully... strident? Shouldn't you be more polite? Because women like Hillary...well, you know...they might actually be MEN in disguise. That's creepy. You're probably up to no good, too, like her.

Let's face it, girls. It's because you have a pussy (ick) that Mr. Beefy McRedFace thought it was okay to shout over your wise words that would have saved the organization from a 5 million deficit! Fact! Sad!

Trump would have grabbed that, and lost millions due to tax loopholes, but you are simply not hot enough. How does that make you feel?

Hillary has made mistakes. We all know about them. And she has apologized, unlike her rival (who apologizes for nothing except maybe once, robotically, via teleprompter). These mistakes do not include inciting violence, damning an entire religion, mocking the disabled, pawing lecherously at unfortunate members of the opposite sex, and telling Mexico they are going to pay for a wall to keep their rapists, drug dealers, and a handful of randomly-chosen "good people" out of this country.

Who the fuck cares what that douchemuppet Trump said? Hillary is the only wise and sensible choice in this horrifying election. She's been steady and sure and has stated her views eloquently. She has real, solid plans with a wealth of experience to inform them; her opponent has nothing but blather and hatred (and won't outline any plan at all). If you simply cannot stand Hillary and are considering a third-party candidate, ask yourself: Exactly why do you despise her? Is it her voice? The perceived taint of Clinton "dirtiness"? The pantsuit? The hairdo? Could it because she's a woman? And women are not supposed to "act this way"? Eh, maybe you really despise her policies and you believe she's damned crook, but I ask you:

Examine your opinions. Examine them closely.

Final note: I asked my three boys tonight (ages 12, 11, and 8) at dinner if they thought that having a woman for President of the United States would be "unusual" or "normal." They all three said, one after the other, "Normal. Normal. Normal."

They also know it's historic. But they are young enough to realize that this isn't really "normal," and innocent enough to believe that it is.

I will be proud if they grow up in a world where a female President of the United States is not just historic, but "normal."

I will be proud if the little daughters of anyone's supporters will say, on Wednesday the 9th, that they could, one day, strive to be President too.

Because anyone can. But only the bravest will. It wouldn't be me, I'll tell you. But Hillary has it.

#I'mwithher











 



Thursday, April 14, 2016

Deep Dive: Underwater Therapy for Fibromyalgia

If you have Fibromyalgia, you've probably been told that swimming is one of the best forms of physical therapy to relieve the pain. It's absolutely true. Per my doctor's recommendation, I try to swim laps for 40 minutes first thing in the morning, whenever possible.


She also told me I should do yoga, but I loathe yoga. All those hideous bare feet and tooting noises! All those smug skinny people with their sticky mats and expensive unitards and other sorts of leggings and tards and snoods and things.

Listen, I know that yoga would be good for me if I just had the patience, but my mind operates much like an army of frantic little gerbils galloping away on spinning wheels, all wearing spectacles cut to the wrong prescription and listening to competing radio stations that fluctuate on a spectrum between "BBC Unsettling and Depressing World News" and Top 40 songs with inane lyrics like "Now that I'm without your kisses/I'll be needing stitches." (The logic of such a statement causes me significant pain, wholly unrelated to Fibromyalgia.)

This is exactly why yoga would be good for a person like me.

But when one has only a bare 40 minutes, perhaps, to get in essential exercise that will save one's body and soul, I would choose many other activities, such as:
  • Kicking the hoo-ha out of something inanimate
  • Digging a ditch
  • Climbing a hill
  • Moving slabs of concrete from one location to another, for no real purpose
  • Swimming!
It is the latter that brings me the most peace. It's a form of moving meditation. I've always been a strong swimmer, so I don't flounder or flail. I just move forward; I'm unstoppable. I never get tired. I prefer lakes and large bodies of water where I can just head to the horizon and go on until I meet the far shore. But I can put up with chlorinated pools when that's all that is available.

(For the record, I have spotted some weird and unpalatable people in pools as well as in yoga studios, displaying their awful naked feet and such.)

It was in such a pool that I recently—and accidentally—discovered an amazing thing about Fibromyalgia and water that dramatically reduced my pain. Here's how it happened.

In preparation for volunteering some of my vacation time at my children's camp, I signed up for Lifeguarding Certification at my local Y. The course takes five full weekend days. I expected that this would involve a great deal of swimming, but it actually involves a fair amount of "sitting in a room and watching videos."

Also there are some exciting scenarios during which one has to revive gravely-injured and non-responsive victims, who happened to be made of a rubbery substance that made me sneeze explosively for five minutes.

Do NOT swim here. For any reason.
The other participants in the course are two 15-year-old girls and two 18-year-old boys. They are amusing to watch during the boring "sit and watch videos" part of the course because they get all itchy-fingered for their cell phones. One of them fell asleep for a few seconds the other day. And one became so bored that he started aimlessly drawing with a pen on his own palm and gazing obsessively at his artwork.

Plus, they have some pimples. Other than that I am jealous of them, except for the fact that lifeguards—who guard your fucking lives, people, and the lives of your children—can expect to make about $10-12/hour max. After five full days of reviving rubbery half-people and listening to lessons that include "Fecal Incident Response Recommendations!" They ought to make more money.



[Aside: I was faster than all of them in the swim test except for one of the 15-year-olds who happens to be on the swim team.]

So, to even qualify for Lifeguarding you have to do three things:

1. Swim 12 laps (6 breaststroke, 6 freestyle)
2. Jump into the water, swim out and dive straight down to 13 feet to retrieve a 10 lb brick, swim up with it and get it back to the wall and yourself out of water within a time limit.
3. Tread water for 2 minutes with your hands out of the water.

I was feeling pretty warmed up and happy after task 1. But, as I stood shivering on the pool deck and watching the nervous teenagers in line ahead of me complete task 2, I got a mite anxious. What if I failed the test and sank like a stone? What if I couldn't find the brick while peering through the shitty, smeary-assed goggles I'd grabbed from the Lost & Found since I'd misplaced my own?

When it was my turn I struck out, sighted the brick, and made the dive. All the way down to 13 feet. I grabbed it, and kicked myself to the surface. It wasn't that hard, but it wasn't particularly fun. I swam to safety with my precious brick and that was that. I got out.

As we did the third task, I noticed something strange. I felt lighter. Better. The persistent ache that I'd felt even after swimming the 12 laps (admittedly not a long distance) was entirely, completely gone.

The synchronized swim team was practicing at the same time, to a bouncy little jazz number. Boy, were they amazing! In perfect unison, they rose out of the water like dolphins and flexed their arms and kicked and then vanished beneath the surface. The timer started, and I pulled my hands out of the water and did a little jazz hands number to accompany my water-treading, just because I felt like it.



The whole rest of the day I felt better than I had in weeks. Now I make a point to swim underwater and I feel a big difference when I do. I go as deep as I can. Something happens down there, under the pressure of pure water.

I think there is some science behind this, according to my sister-in-law, who is a natural healer. Water somehow helps equalize the pressure in the body and helps lymph nodes drain properly and some other stuff I haven't fully explored yet. Google hasn't been very verbose on the subject. Maybe this will work for some, and maybe not for others. I'd be curious to hear your comments, and any research you come across.

All I know is that when I dove deep, it righted something in me; it equalized my hurting self with the world. I was finally a real thing in the world. I didn't need to fight the hurt anymore. At least for that day, and that was enough.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Fibromyalgia: This Is Who I Am

I hurt. I hurt like a bird brought down from flight, a tree limb weighted by ice, a shuddering bolt of metal in a groove. There were times I ran in the sun. I have swum across lakes. I have carried heavy loads. I will still do those things. I will. But I hurt, all over. Something with talons has me about the neck and digs in, and I strive every moment to escape. Signals fire down my limbs. Elbow, wrist, fingers, knees, ankles.


I’ve recently been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, and I have the most profound relief. Honestly, I wish it had been something worse. Something that would make people really sit up and take notice! Because “Fibromyalgia” sounds sort of like “Oh, you have the Yuppie Flu” or “You have some chronically lazy and fake pain caused by your hatred of being a servile wench at the beck and call of the helpless multitudes” or “You wish to get out of folding the laundry again.”

Well, it’s real, and you can listen to people speak about it in the NY Times here.

And read about it here.

And here.

Fibromyalgia has the following symptoms, at least for me:



  • Lots of fucking pain all over your body, most of the time except on those rare "gift" days.
  • Crushing fatigue, on and off.
  • Fuzzy-headed "fibro-fog:" A condition that makes you feel drunk, but not in a good way.
  • A hyper-attuned startle reflex, such that a ringing phone or a sneaky kid with a water-bomb makes me have a small panic attack.
  • An unsettling feeling of nerves "firing" in my body when they should not be. Like a series of small bombs going off: Plink! Plink! Plink! Every time they fire, I grow tense and exhausted.


Still, I wish I could have told people I had Lupus, or something like Granuloid MyoOptic Diffusion Carconosmia (doesn’t that sound scary?). My 16-year-old cousin died of Lupus! She really for real did. And that would mean I might die of it too, and people would feel really sorry for me and bring me pies and never once question the veracity of my pain.

I don’t have Lupus, so thinks the doctor. (Still waiting on the blood tests. I might have it, or worse.) And I don’t get any pie. I don't even care for pie! I hate pie. Don't bring me no stinking pies.

For months, years, I have asked doctors to tell me what’s wrong with me. They have all said I’m healthy as a horse.

“Your bloodwork is completely normal and there is nothing at all amiss. You should consult a psychiatrist, because you are clearly a nutter who is looking for attention and is making up a whole lot of fantasy badness in your head.”

“Your MRI shows nothing that would explain this pain. Everything is normal. Normal! I will send you to physical therapy, where they will charge you up the wing-wang to pull at some elastic bands and hoist wimpy 3-pound weights and do stretches. But your physical therapist will be exceedingly white-toothed and attractive, at least.”

“I’ll write you a prescription for Myclobenzaniadreapene. That will relieve some of the pain. Except you’ll be so sleepy you won’t be able to function. In any way. You will be comatose. And during your comatose-ness, you will actually still feel pain! Because the pill is actually just a placebo made of horseradish and marmot sweat, with a touch of sleeping powder as a glaze.”

Before I knew what this thing was, I complained to anyone in range, when I hoped to have a kind ear. My fingers turned cold and numb and white, when the temperature was a mild 62 degrees. I slapped at them and felt nothing at all. I cried, my cheek against the cold bathroom tile. My comb was filled with loose hair and I was as stiff as an 80-year-old, clenching tight upon the banister to get downstairs. Every morning is like that. I’m old before I’m young again.

I get really cold when no-one else in the room is cold. My teeth start chattering. I don't understand.

One friend said: “You're cold? Come on. Women are being enslaved in Syria. Hello, #FirstWorldProblems.”

I stopped complaining, for the most part. 

Well, no I didn't. But I tried hard. I tried to direct my complaints toward kind ears, such as those of my veterinarian friend, who, upon hearing some of my symptoms, suggested I see a rheumatologist. 

"My vet sent me," I told the woman who finally diagnosed me. My vet says she sees dogs gaze at her with the same kind of sad puppy-dog pain-filled eyes that I have. (She's one of the few whom I have allowed to see the full spectrum of unattractive misery.) 

I don't wish to complain, because it is utterly boring. But I want to explain away the grinding exhaustion that casts a dark shadow over my face during a game of Uno. I feel I should account for the fact that I keep grimacing, that I suddenly have to lie down. The raptor of pain has me in its grip. I’m not your mother anymore. I am a thing. I am a thing of want and hope. 

“What’s wrong, Mommy?”

“I’m in a little bit of pain, honey.”

“Are you sick?”

“No, I’m fine. I’m not sick. I would like a healing hug.”

And so they give them, believing in their small powers to cure. And every now and then I feel a frisson of energy awaken me, and my back sings, and my heart thrums, and my very hair starts to vibrate, and I think: “My son is a natural healer!” 

When the hurt settles again, I decide: “That was some powerful mojo. But it didn’t last. But it was for real while it did.”

(I really do believe in things like Reiki. In my next life, I will be a Reiki practitioner. I will help people, and heal them. And I do believe that my sons’ healing energy has given me something. Maybe I am a total whacknut, but littlest son’s last “Ultimate Special Hug With Kiss Attached And Some Chi” packed a big whammy. I'm not joking.)

My doctor gave me a pill. I am waiting for it to work. I don't write anymore. I don't do much of anything anymore, except wait for that pill to work.

It hurts while I am watching a movie. I try to pay attention to the plot, but really I am wondering: “When does the pain end? Will this go on forever and ever?” It hurts while I am watching my eldest son’s basketball game, during which he moves so gracefully, so swiftly, that, for a brief moment, it makes my heart swell and ache beyond comprehension. How could he be more beautiful? He's suddenly so tall, so heart-rendingly tall. And my second son spins through the living room and lands at the piano bench and bangs out a perfect rendition of the Star Wars theme from memory and then spins away, pain free, light as a breeze. And youngest son flails himself without fear from ottoman to couch in gap-toothed ninja derring-do, and I watch it all and feel love and joy and all along the way I can’t help but think I’m in pain I’m in pain I’m in pain.

I wish I could stop thinking about it for just one hour. Five minutes. And I feel incredibly guilty, because here they all pass before my eyes and what am I thinking about? Me. My own pain. Circus caravans and dancing yetis and talking penguins in bras could pass before my door and I would still be crouched in some small corner of my brain, cognizant of only one thing. Pain. Boring selfish whiny stupid ever-present pain eating my days alive.

What a bore. I have become a fucking selfish bore.

I wish I could stop feeling it.

But sometimes I make myself forget, actually. I am learning to play “Linus and Lucy” on the piano. When I sit down at the piano I become not myself, for some pure minutes, and although I feel pain tracing its insidious way down my right hand as I hit the chords, I don’t care.

Last winter, I decided I would learn how to skate, because it was the scariest thing I could imagine. I could twist an ankle! I might fall and crush my coccyx! Or I might fall and a skater would skate right over my hand and slice off all my digits! (OK, you have now probably realized that I suffer from anxiety, too.) I hurt all the time while I was skating, but I didn’t care. I was learning how to fly. One day, while I was clinging hopelessly to the side wall and scratching along, I heard a girl say to her friend, “You’ll never learn to skate if you always hold onto the wall.”

On that day I resolved to let go of the wall, and I was freed.

This winter I went sledding. I learned how to serve in paddle tennis, such that the ball goes in 95% of the time as opposed to 5% of the time. I practiced in my driveway once, against the garage door. I hurt the whole time I was doing it, but I didn’t care. I played one-on-one basketball with my son in the same driveway, and I was terrible­—an embarrassment! He took me down. He was “baller,” in tween lingo. I was a rickety, rusted thing. But I tried, and played, and that is what I care to count. I gave him a run for his money, because I never go halfway.

Every moment hurts. But every moment matters, even when I hurt. Right now, as I type, my neck and back and arms and fingers and knees are a blurred presence of pain. I want so much to walk to the piano and just play, free and clear. I composed songs; I want to finish them. I want to sing. I want to finish that beautiful novel, but after being at a computer all day, hunched and intent, my body betrays me: No more no more no more.

Even writing this hurts. Typing even hurts. But it was worth it, because maybe someone like me will one day read it and think: I am not alone.

We are not accidents.