Friday, April 08, 2011

"Doctor, Doctor, It Hurts When I Do This."

"So don't do that."

It's an old joke, but also, it turns out to be rockin' good advice.

My back has been causing me no small bit of difficulty lately.  I've always had neck and upper back problems, mostly due to a minor congenital weakness in the cervical spine, and an old injury I sustained during my days of unrestrained exercise bulemia.  Regular trips to a masseuse or a chiropractor and a killer massager that I literally lie on top off as it digs deep into my supra-scapular musculature has always kept the pain to a minimum.

But this pain is different. This pain is mid- and lower-back pain.  And sometimes it hurts so badly, I think it might be something internal, like the liver or the kidneys.  Last night, I went to bed at 10:30, but couldn't fall asleep until nearly two a.m. for the pain.  Definitely not like me. I have had my troubles in the past with awakening in the middle of the night, but falling asleep has never been a problem for me.

It occurs to me that, with all that's happening in my life, this pain is here to teach me something (besides "lift with your knees, not with your back", I mean).  I spent the better part of a weekend at the end of March convincing a friend that long-buried issues in her heart that she was afraid to give voice to were having a a profound effect on the growth in her throat that's interfering with her voice (she's a gifted singer). A mutual friend and I worked hard to make her see that because she had a flawless work ethic and a deeply engrained sense of duty and responsibility, she felt compelled to take on projects she did not wish to do, and, in her personal life, to tolerate treatment she did not deserve, without feeling the freedom to reject these assaults on her boundaries.

How can I preach to her with such passion, if I myself am not willing to admit that somewhere in the midst of these inflamed nerves and muscles in my sacral spine have as much to do with how I've been living my life as how I've been lifting my burdens, literal and figurative.

Louise Hay says that lower back pain relates specifically to money concerns and stresses.  Uh, yeah.  I can vouch for that.  But this is bigger than that. This is also about limits for me.  Boundaries. My boundaries are so soft and pliable.  I say "yes" when I mean "no". Or I say "no" and then let myself be swayed by guilt or pity into doing it anyway.  I don't blame people for trying to negotiate my "no" to a "yes."  I have given in before.  I have let my boundaries topple at the first sign of outside resistance. Why shouldn't they use my "no" as a jumping-off point for negotiations.  "I know you said 'no', but maybe you didn't understand how much I needed you to say 'yes.'"  And I would sigh deeply and say, "Oh, you're right. My 'no' is just a selfish attempt to attend to my life, while your needs go unmet."

Maybe it's the flattery of feeling "needed". But more often than not, it truly is an idea that all the reasons I had for saying 'no' -- good reasons, like needing to look after my life, my finances, my health, my living arrangements -- suddenly pale in comparison to someone else's need for me to be of service to them. I
have some tough decisions ahead, tough days of house hunting, packing, moving, unpacking, trying to scrape together sufficient resources to make a prospective landlord happy to have me as his/her tenant.  That, my work and my family take all I have to give, and I have no more.  Perhaps I should have a bit more for the world, but I must realize and honor my limitations, and accept them without self-judgement. 

But in the past couple of months, when confronted with the prospect of saying "yes" when I mean "no", there comes a stabbing pain in my back.  Just as my singer friend's throat had finally made it impossible for her to go on doing things she didn't want to do and taking things from people she didn't want to take, my back prevents me from saying "yes" to taking on responsibilities I cannot fulfill. There just comes a time, when the atmosphere suddenly, violently decompresses, and the air roars past you and out the nearest opening, when you have to put your own oxygen mask on first, before you can help someone else with theirs.

My "nos" will have to stand pat. When boundaries get pushed, I will have to push back, sweetly but firmly. My mask will come first.

And then, I will breathe.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Neil Gaiman's The Writer's Prayer

Because I need to read this every day before I write, I've decided to post it here.  Author Neil Gaiman felt he needed a Writer's Prayer to keep him in right with his muse.  I post it here, so I'll always be able to find it.  I have included a link to a blog that has posted the MP3 of Gaiman reading the poem (way sexier than reading it here), if you want:

A Writer’s Prayer*

Oh Lord, let me not be one of those who writes too much;
who spreads himself too thinly with his words,
diluting all the things he has to say,
like butter spread too thinly over toast,
or watered milk in some worn-out hotel;
but let me write the things I have to say,
and then be silent, ’til I need to speak.

Oh Lord, let me not be one of those who writes too little;
a decade-man between each tale, or more,
where every word accrues significance
and dread replaces joy upon the page.
Perfectionists like chasing the horizon;
You kept perfection, gave the rest to us,
so let me earn the wisdom to move on.

But over and above those two mad spectres of parsimony and profligacy,
Lord, let me be brave, and let me, while I craft my tales, be wise:
let me say true things in a voice that is true,
and, with the truth in mind, let me write lies.


*Published on Gaiman'sTelling Tales, from Harper's Audio.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Who's That Girl?

I was about four when this photo was taken.  I'm not sure where the robot come from, but I think I appropriated it from a neighbor boy.  I love this picture of me.  I wish I had a larger print, but my dad (who took the photo) only printed a small test shot.

Somehow, though, when I look at this girl, I can see the entire world in her face.  She's never been hurt, never been made to feel small, never been judged or made to feel "less than".  She is a star.

I was a star and I knew it.  I went to Melrose Nursery School about this time, and for some reason, I got a lot of positive attention there.  The teachers loved me.  I have a general sense I ran the play yard. It probably wasn't true, since I was very small for my age. But that is how it felt at the time -- I was queen of all I surveyed. When Art Linkletter's people came to our school to recruit for "Kids Say The Darndest Things", I was the one they chose for the show, mostly on teacher recommendation.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I looked a lot like this when they taped the show.

I was confident, articulate, and unrestrained back then. Anything I thought, anything I wanted to do or be, it was all possible. I thought my mother was the most beautiful woman who had ever lived.  I loved her more than I thought I could ever love anyone. My father was a dark and mysterious figure that came and went sporadically, but seemed magical and interested when he was there. He was Merlin, appearing and disappearing on his own schedule, but bringing adventure and fun when he came. In my four-year-old mind, they were perfect, the pair of them. I had landed the perfect parents. And, for at least as long as it took to snap this photo, I also had the neighbor boy's robot.

I was unstoppable.

I love this photo because somewhere inside me, this little girl, with her DIY bob and her Mona Lisa smile, is still alive and well. I want to hug her and thank her for reminding me every time I look at her that there was a time when I knew no fear and the world was mine. If I know no fear now, I'm pretty sure the world can be mine again.

I love this little girl. She's my past and my future all rolled into one. I'm so glad my father decided to take up photography.  It is a gift that continues to give to this day, for which I will be eternally grateful.

Now... where do we suppose I can find a robot?

Boomers Gone Bust Come Back

Kent State University, May 4, 1970
Reading "The Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Midlife" (Hay House, 2009), Marianne Williamson's discourse on how our generation is handling mid-life, I was struck by what she had to say about why baby-boomers hadn't effected the kind of political change they'd so clamored for in the 60s and 70s.  I'm particularly struck by the fact that I happened to read it on the day when Barack Obama's team has submitted his intention to run in 2012. They wrote me (and about 20 million of my closest friends) to ask us if we're "in" for this campaign. I replied that I was, though with far less enthusiasm than in 2008.

In the interests of full disclosure, I'm part of the Boomer crowd known as the "Late Boomers" or "Barely Boomers". In fact, when I was in junior high school, anyone born after 1955 wasn't even considered an official "Baby Boomer".  In truth, I was only 12 when the sixties ended, and a naive and undercooked 17 when the last helicopter took off from that rooftop in Saigon.  I missed the tuning in, the turning on, the dropping out.  I don't listen nostalgically to Jefferson Airplane or The Doors. The music of my youth is The Eagles, Steely Dan and Linda Ronstadt on the one end, and Cindy Lauper and Pat Benatar on the other.

Here is what Williamson has to say on why the generation that gave us the messages of love and peace in the 60s did not follow through when they came of age and took the joint over:

With the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11, anyone who needed to grow up and basically hadn’t done it yet, did.  The prolonged post-adolescence of at least one generation ended at last. On that day, the music died…. It might have taken us 40 years, but we’ve finally matured to the point where we’re ready to manifest the dreams we embraced a long time ago.

What took us so long? Why 40 years? What stopped us?

More than anything, I think, murder stopped us.  The voices of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., along with the four students at Kent State University, were silenced violently and abruptly right in front of our eyes. Those bullets weren’t just for them; psychically, they were for all of us, and we knew it. The unspoken message of those assassinations could not have been louder. There would be no further protest. We were to go home now. We could do whatever we wanted to do in the private sector, but were to leave the public sector to whoever wanted it so much that they were willing to kill in order to control it.

And leave it alone we did. A generation with as much talent and privilege as any that has ever walked the earth poured the majority of our gifts into private concerns – mostly thing of ultimate irrelevance – while mostly leaving the political sphere to others. And for a few decades, that seemed to work. America can be likened to a house, in which many of us ran to the second floor (art, spirituality, careers, fun) and left the downstairs (traditional politics) to less inspired thinkers. We kidded ourselves that it was an okay arrangement, until those of us on the balcony began to smell the unmistakable odor of the house burning down.

Shouldn’t someone about now be yelling, “Fire”?

Collectively, our script has returned to us for a rewrite. We get another chance to determine the end. The first time around, we allowed ourselves to be silenced. It remains to be seen if we will be silenced now.

So, I'm in with this campaign, because not being in means leaving this country to what Williamson describes as "less inspired thinkers." (One of the things I love about Marianne Williamson is her gift for kind euphemism.)  She comes as close as anyone to describing what I see happening to this country.  We are being called by whatever higher power you care to name to contain our appetites, but unleash our loving compassion. We are being asked by the planet and the Universe to leave a smaller footprint, but extend the reach of our hearts. We're called to be enthusiastic, even if we don't fully feel it.

So, yes, I'm in.  I'm in.  I have no idea what being "in" looks like as yet.  But as E. L. Doctorow once said about writing a novel, "[it's] like driving at night. You can only see as far ahead of you as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."