My Body is a Jerk

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Sometimes you can cast about for a New Year’s resolution. And sometimes, one walks up and slaps you upside the head.

For the past few months, I have been battling annoying but not fatal illnesses. Food poisoning. Kidney infection. Strep throat. Back spasm. My body has been kind of a jerk to me.

And I am so grateful.

I lived most of last year inside my head.

Lots going on there! Freelance writing assignments, this blog, figuring out how to create a podcast as I was launching it, getting accepted to a writers’ retreat and then realizing that (ulp!) I have to actually finish my novel’s first draft so I have more than the paltry beginning pages that got me accepted.

Not to mention the endless worrying about a year that seems to have more than its share of disasters, both natural and man-made. I watched the news like a woman obsessed; I was slowly creating my own personal disaster.

It happened gradually. A few yoga classes sacrificed because I wanted to finish something. Refusals when my husband invited me to walk the dogs – it was too hot, too cold, it got in the way of a deadline. Add in a heavy travel schedule with its indignities, canned airplane air, and timezone juggling.

Soon, all that fevered mental activity started reaching tentacles into my body. A couple of restless nights. A headache in the morning. Weight gain. Little taps from my body on the shoulder of my heedless mind. Hey, remember me?

Ignored.

And so, an ill-advised hot dog at O’Hare led to violent illness. Sure, I lost some of that weight – the hard way – but I also lost out on a trip to visit my daughter and see the house that would become her very first. Because there was no way I could sit for an entire flight without being sick.

Still, my husband and daughter Face-timed me as they walked the house and it was almost as good as being there. And I did have more deadlines, so I just put my head down and kept going. Mind over matter or, in this case, over body.

And then, a cramping in my lower back that the trainer couldn’t roll out.

“Usually you have problems on the left side. Weird that it’s on the right this time,” he said.

Yeah, weird, because it wound up being my kidneys and no amount of stretching was going to fix that. Still, Thanksgiving was coming up and a trip to Los Angeles to see my in-laws. And if I couldn’t drink as much because of the antibiotics, and if family photos show me looking unattractive and puffy…well, no time to worry about that, and that’s what Photoshop is for.

And then, Christmas loomed. I couldn’t find the holiday spirit anywhere. We bought a tree, but only because my husband – usually a champion Grinch – suggested it. He put up lights. I threw some ornaments onto the tree, not even bothering to get down all the boxes from the attic.

I couldn’t put my finger on the problem.

Christmas day was going to be quiet for us, with the real celebration a few days later when we joined my daughter at my ex’s house in D.C. But a quiet Christmas was hardly the problem since we’ve switched off hosting every other year since my daughter was 2.

Other years have certainly been harder. Four years ago was my first Christmas without my mom. Last year, the first without my dad.

So, where was my spirit this year? I tried submerging myself in the Hallmark Channel’s sappy Christmas movies. No joy.

I wasn’t sad, I was just…not happy.

Feeling resigned to a “meh” Christmas rather than a “merry” one, I was reading the paper when I felt that dry, cotton feeling in my throat. Uh-oh. I know this one.

Sure enough, by morning, my throat was on fire, my voice a painful squeak, and I was shivering from fevered chills. Strep throat. Flat on my back or curled tightly fetal to stay warm. Too exhausted to read or watch television, I slept for 24 hours.

There was no more living in my head. My jerk of a body demanded attention. Hey, you remember me NOW?!

And when the days of isolation and pain passed, I woke up with the kind of pre-alarm energy I used to. My body felt so much lighter – as well it should, after fasting for a few days. But it also felt good. Not just an absence of pain, but really good.

And that, finally, was what my body had been trying to tell me all along. You can’t just ignore one whole part of you. I know this. I even preach this. But I forgot that shoveling food into your body – even artisan, farm-to-table food – without savoring it, and sitting at your computer all day – even writing some of your best work – without remembering your body’s needs, is ignoring one whole side of the foundation. It’s going to topple.

Apparently my body wasn’t quite done – a nasty rash in reaction to the antibiotics and a killer back spasm in reaction to long drives and freezing weather accompanied the turn-of-year champagne.

So, that resolution? BALANCE. Give my jerk body equal time with the frenetic squirrel in my head. Because, if I don’t? My body is enough of a jerk to hold me hostage until I get myself back in balance.

Balance

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Catching Creativity

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(Editor’s Note: This appeared initially as a blog for SKIRT Magazine)

I was never much good at catching fireflies.

In my youth, fireflies would twinkle in the soft light, creating magic on the back lawn.

My cousins would burst out into the twilight, armed with glass baby food jars, their legs streaked with the blood of the last swatted mosquito like some kind of warpaint. The evening would be filled with the fwop-fwop sound of their palms slapping to seal the fireflies inside the jars. They compared who would have the brightest firefly nightlight at their bedside.

I would wander much more slowly through the dew-slick grass, an ambler where my cousins were marching warriors. The fairy lights attracted me but once I captured a firefly, it looked puny in its glass prison, its magic diminished with captivity.

Eventually, I let the fireflies be.

As an adult and a writer, I found that the bright sparkle of creativity too would diminish the harder I tried to tame it. Grabbing onto a muse was like trying to pick up a raw egg yolk with your fingers – it slipped and slid just out of your grasp.

Creativity is supposed to be a spark, implying that you can just strike two blunt things together repeatedly until it happens.

It doesn’t work that way for me. I can’t force creativity directly. I can’t even sneak up on it. If I stare at it directly, it wisps away. I can only catch it out of the corner of my eye and let it sneak up on me.

Creativity sparks when I shamelessly eavesdrop on other people’s dramas, the tears of an overwrought stranger watering my creativity. It sparks when two disparate things suddenly seem related, like butterflies and physics. And it sparks when it is most inconvenient – nudging me awake at 3 am to get up and capture a scene or a dream.

But, the times I sit alone before dawn at my keyboard, hammering out the words that seem to come at the speed of light?

Creativity hovers like a bright cloud of fireflies.

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