Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ouch! Damn that hurt!

The human hand has much to say.

For most of yesterday I felt slightly ‘off’; wobbly, both physically and mentally.  As I prepared to leave for a doctor’s appointment I managed to smash the index and middle fingertips of my left hand. I did a good job. “A” for effort…meaning the effort I exerted on the door. Lucky for me a friend was nearby and took me to get some ice. As the universe would have it, a nurse happened to walk by. She took a look and told me to ice it and elevate it right away, for at least the next hour. “You want to limit the bleeding under the fingernail, and then hopefully you won’t lose that nail,” she explained. 

These two gifts from God or the Universe, as you see fit, found me a chair to sit in. They said the squished fingers can cause dizziness.  In hindsight perhaps they wanted me to stop pacing back and forth, clutching my fingers with a wide-eyed stare and saying “Damn!” repeatedly. My friend rigged up a to-go cup and bag of ice (I know she is a good mama because she worked fast and made a plastic bag…I want to be with her if there’s a zombie apocalypse!) My kind nurse explained about the throbbing pain I was likely to experience later and gave a firm reminder to elevate, and a gentle, reassuring pat on my knee.

I gingerly settled into the driver’s seat for the 40 mile drive. “How fortunate that I am already on my way to see a doctor!” I thought.  Most of the drive was highway and I steered with my right hand while I alternated between ice and elevation for the left hand. It was really starting to hurt and I worried about my fingernail. All I could think of was that creepy feeling when you cut a fingernail too short.  The previously protected flesh feels so tender, sensitive, and raw. Ugh. I hate that feeling.

The doctor declared that my fingertips would survive. I believe she was impressed by the cold, waxy appearance of my fingers. At least that is how I choose to interpret, “You really did ice them didn’t you?” By the time I left it was dark and rainy, which means this middle-aged driver will do exactly the speed limit and stay in the right hand lane. Let those youngsters with better eyes and reflexes pass me by!  

My middle finger was starting to throb so I propped my elbow on the door handle. I was out of ice but I could at least try to elevate.  My hand happened to lean against the window and Aaaaaaah! The cold glass felt so good against my fingernail. Almost like ice. I found a comfortable angle to prop my arm and pressed my middle fingernail gently against the glass. The other fingers just sort of relaxed and dropped down toward my palm. Are you visualizing it?  It looked like this...

 Yep. That was the view for every driver that passed on my left. And there were plenty. I happened to glance over after ten minutes. “Good grief Judy! Really?” I chastised myself as I quickly jerked my hand back.  After a few minutes my finger missed the cold glass.  I reached up to just sort of touch the glass with my fingertips, as though saying goodbye. Aaaaaaaah!  This also felt good! I found a comfortable position and eased on down the road. A song or two played on the radio and once again I happened to glance at my hand. Oh. 
What a different message it conveyed.  It looked like this...

A plea for help, a sorrowful goodbye, or simply reaching out in love? I spend a lot of time trying to understand the human condition and myself. 
These truths I hold to be self-evident, that all of humanity is given the gift of emotions, but not all of humanity is comfortable with all possible emotions. Often problematic are anger, sorrow and love.  I have written before in Delicate. Like a Flower. that I absorb much. Feel much. It can be overwhelming.  My recourse is to retreat back into my castle and pull up the drawbridge. I may be firing arrows as I go. I do not want to leave any weak spots vulnerable; I do not want to feel exposed or raw, the emotional equivalent of a wounded fingertip.  

I am not alone in my discomfort with vulnerability; with the pain of fear, sorrow or grief. Some of us, when our heart is crushed rather than our fingertips, respond with anger instead of sitting with the pain.  But what does the angry response or gesture result in? How is the rest of humanity supposed to react to this? Does it ease your pain?

What if we risk feeling vulnerable? What if we reach out…to ask for help or to say goodbye lovingly? To acknowledge that fear and sorrow are human, and humans are not meant to live alone behind their castle walls. What if we reach out with love and kindness for others and ourselves? Recognize that the antidote to emotional pain is love, not anger.  How might the rest of humanity react to this gesture? 

Today, as I type with eight fingers, I am thankful for the less than gentle way that the universe sent me this message. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a time and a place for both gestures. Anger is a legitimate emotion; just make sure it isn’t masking something else. As I work to maintain a gesture of reaching out with love, I will try to step outside my castle walls. Eventually I hope to maintain this gesture in the face of fear and sorrow, even across the drawbridge.

Special thanks to my teenager for standing in the rain to take photos as I tried to re-create the view that other drivers had.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The dance

There are times I do not post because I am tired, busy...or perhaps have nothing to say.  But often times I am just not ready to share...yet. My stories and thoughts fill journals and fuel daydreams. When I don't take the time to be still and 'watch' them then I cannot see how they may fit together, compliment or conflict with each other...I have spent a lot of time this year watching my thoughts dance. At times it is a bit like sensory overload at the Nutcracker and I have to wander out to the lobby for a glass of wine or step outside for some fresh air; sometimes I have to let them be. 
They are always waiting when I return.

The dance

I have a story in my mind
Beautiful, raw, enigmatic
It does not hold still; 
will not be captured in a box of pen and paper
Not yet.

It is busy dancing
Twirling and twisting
Great leaps of faith, fact and fiction.
I struggle to see details of joy, pain 
and most importantly, grace.

The real beauty is in the dance
With frightened fascination and excitement of a child, 
I watch.
I want the spinning to stop
for a moment.

Still itself long enough for me to know 
the texture of its flesh,
hear its panting breath; smell the sweat of creation.
Sometimes it becomes unbearable to watch
and I turn away.

I will be sad when the dance is over…
Carefully, reluctantly place it in a pretty box and
carry my precious gift with me.
How can I give it to someone who never saw
the dance?

It has been said that art is a tryst, for in the joy of it maker and beholder meet. --Kojiro Tomita (in Art & The Happiness Entrepreneur)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

When You Cannot Take a Leap of Faith...

Chillin' in the jeep...ready to go!

My friends and I made a lot of trips to Canada during our college years. Summer, winter, 20mph on I-5 through an ice storm...I frequently gave my mother cause to have a heart attack. I have always been up for an adventure; they have just grown a bit tamer with age. What started with the lure of a younger legal drinking age quickly became visits to people and places, befriended and claimed. It felt like a home away from home and these new friends welcomed us like family. 

Posin' for a picture!
One weekend they took us to Lynn Canyon Park for some waterfall 'jumping'. On the way to the falls we crossed a 160 ft. high suspension bridge that I almost did not make it over for fear of heights. As one of the young men gleefully swung the bridge, two others recognized my paralysis and helped me across. We passed a marker warning of the dangers of jumping the falls; it listed the names of those who had died. But of course there were dozens of people all over the rocks and jumping off the cliff of the falls.

The guys drank a couple of beers and were ready to jump. My girlfriend and I declined. We sat in the sun, sipped Koakanee, and watched more crazy Canadians jump off the 60-90 ft jump…depending on your point of departure. Perhaps it was false courage fueled by a couple cheap beers? Maybe I had to go pee? Or my inner tomboy adventurer became bored (the guys were gone a long time...we thought they ditched us)...we decided we would do it. I don't even remember who went first. What I do remember is there was no way in hell that I could see that drop and willingly leap off the edge! Friendly locals demonstrated that if you sat down in the very cold, seriously flowing river, and braced yourself between 2 large boulders...all you had to do was let go. I only had to be brave enough to let go. This I could do. 

Crazy Canadians!

The sound was intense as I fell. I held my breath from the moment I let go of the rocks. Because when you go that are really more 'in' the waterfall. Which is sort of insane when I think about it. But I was pretty good at not over-thinking back in the day. It felt as though I was under water a long time. I clawed my way to the surface, in full survival mode. I started to swim and could not stop. I could not breathe and my ears rang. In hindsight I was probably hyperventilating. Finally some Canadian dudes said " can stand up ya know?"  Unbeknownst to me, by this time, I was swimming for my life in 3 feet of water.

My friend and I made it to the shore and sat to catch our breath. It was then that we learned it is a 'series' of falls and there would be three more jumps to go.  All considerably smaller than the first; the next was only 30 ft.  However, there was no option to just sit and let go. A running leap was required. I could not do it. So they showed us to some cables that we could use to climb up the side of the canyon. Barefoot, because we had failed to notice the protocol was to leave shoes on. 

One brave act of letting go was followed by at least 30 painful minutes scrambling up the steep walls of the canyon to get back to safer ground. We were muddy, scratched and incredibly proud of ourselves for the rest of the weekend. The guys were quite amused that we actually climbed back out of the canyon, apparently much harder than if one just continue down the falls.

Was it the smartest thing I’ve ever done? The stupidest? Neither. Do I want my children to do something like this? Good heavens no! (In fact I almost did not post this…lest they throw it back at me some day).

In the end I could not resist sharing such a simple lesson. Or two.
Sometimes, when you need to make a change and do not have the courage to take a leap of faith, perhaps you can just let go. When you think about it, that is the braver choice. Just let go. Don’t try to outrun or outjump whatever you fear. Sit in it. Let go and let yourself be one with your fear for a bit. You may not be able to breathe, it may hurt, and it may feel like a struggle to survive.
When you come up for air, find a friend. A reliable one who will stick with you as you move forward, even if it is on the more difficult path. At the end of the day you will feel stronger, alive, changed. It is okay if you cannot make the next jump yet.

Be proud of yourself. It is brave and courageous to just let go.

Feeling triumphant!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Desperately Seeking a Sunrise

Sunrise pictures are courtesy of a fellow seeker...this one is from Nightmare Range...great name!
Sunrise Part  

It was the late 80’s and four teenage girls were cramming for their exam in Humanities.  Or maybe Chemistry. At 2am, fueled by soda and Reeses peanut butter cups, someone got the bright idea to drive to the coast and watch the sunrise. They would be back in time to take their test! 
No point in trying to sleep as they were already up so late. No one seemed concerned that Ocean Shores was a two-hour drive each way or that it was dark and no one had slept. These are the sort of adventures that happen when high school seniors live in their own apartment, far away from parental common sense.

I imagine they listened to Duran Duran, Echo and The Bunnymen or maybe some Psychedelic Furs as they chattered their way west in a bright yellow Volkswagen bug that smelled slightly of gasoline. The beauty, and environmental horror, of Ocean Shores was (and still is) that a car could drive right out onto the beach.  The girls parked a safe distance from the surf, in the dark, and fell asleep. One of the twins woke first and roused the rest from their slumber, “Wake up; it’s starting to get light!”

Four sets of bleary eyes…likely just four single eyes with their counterparts concealed by big 80’s bangs full of AquaNet…stared straight ahead at the white-capped, murky, cold Pacific surf. Waiting. Watching. For their sunrise. As it slowly brightened around them, someone had a realization. The sun was in fact rising. Behind them.  You see, the girls lived on the West Coast, which makes for lovely sunsets, but no brilliant light would rise up out of the water on this morning for these girls. They drove back home, trying their best to keep the driver alert. They laughed it off later. And still do. The silliness of youth…unable to find a sunrise, but hell bent on trying!
Of course Just Only Judy was one of the fearless foursome. It seems I still struggle with sunrises.
This one is so lovely it almost makes me want to try again...

Sunrise Part II

For much of this year I drove my teenager to school each morning, upholding my end of the agreement for his good grades.  It’s only a mile and a half from the house, but there are limited sidewalks and some mornings are dark or rainy. I worry about sleepy teenage drivers. And bears. 

My alarm goes off at 6:30 am and I lie in bed, listen to the shower, and wonder, “Whose child is this?”  The one that gets up at 6:00am and likes to be driven to school so that he can be there 30 minutes before class actually starts.  The child who hates his mother’s tendency to run late. Or at my best- right on time!  Somewhere in my wondering I fall back asleep and am awakened by the sound of 170 pounds of boy, as he walks about the house to gather his homework from the night before.  I stagger to the kitchen and make his lunch. This last bit is a relic of days gone by…when he was a small boy and needed me to pack his lunch, or maybe even make him a pancake in the shape of an H, for Hunter. 

Every day I have driven directly back home and fought the urge to return to bed. I generally succeed with the help of coffee or Irish Breakfast tea- brewed strong- and a little time with my Happy Lite. I am not a morning person and never have been! I have been known to bang on my window to discourage songbirds that have taken up residence in my rhododendron. One particularly sleep-deprived morning I went so far as to go out front in my pink pajama pants and throw a basketball at the bush.

But I’m getting older and it seems to me that old-er people like to get up early. At this seemingly halfway point between old and young, at the age of 44, I try to test my boundaries; to continue to learn, experiment, discover. It was with that spirit that I decided to chase a sunrise one morning this past March. After days of gray sky and rain, Hunter pointed out the orange sherbet sky during our morning commute.  “Yes, I just noticed that!” I said. 
“Why don’t you drive to the ocean?”  He quipped, in reference to the story from my younger days.  I laughed, inhaled deeply and smiled. Three things that I don’t generally do in the morning.

After I dropped off the witty boy, I headed downhill to the harbor, where I knew there was a drive-up coffee stand.  I don’t like to do drive-thru’s and pollute the air unnecessarily, but there was the issue of the pink pajama pants.  While I waited for my mocha, the teenage-looking barista chatted with her co-worker about her upcoming 10th wedding anniversary. I had at first thought it odd she wasn’t in school and then thought it very odd that she had gotten married at the age of 6, but it seemed best not to ask. 
My plan had been to park along the harbor, sip my mocha and watch the sunrise. I felt certain that an epiphany, a spark of crone wisdom, would strike. But as I pulled away from the coffee stand I saw only a gray, slightly lilac sky. Hmmm….I turned left, looking for orange sherbet. Alas, the same gray. 

“Perhaps if I head back up the hill…” I thought.  I made another left and began my ascent away from the water. There were too many tall trees. Just as I had given up hope, I crested the hill and there was the orange and now vibrant pink sunrise! In my rearview mirror. Crap. It was now slightly behind me and to the left.  This confused me because another left would pretty much equal a circle. My mocha was in danger of getting cold and the driver behind me seemed in a terrible hurry. I gave my side mirror one last glance and a sigh, changed the radio station from Soundgarden to classical piano, and headed home. I had to go pee. But I was comforted by the fact that I must not be old after all, if I still could not catch a sunrise.

Surely an epiphany lies over that mountain? Thanks for the pics T.O.

Sunrise Part III

For the past three months the “Sunrise” post has sat in a file on my computer. I could not finish it. The clocks changed three days after I wrote it and I would have no more 7am sunrises for this school year.  I sensed a ‘lesson’ in the sunrise, but the spark of crone wisdom; the epiphany that I was looking for remained as elusive as the sunrise itself.  Until tonight.

Eight years ago I took a wonderful discussion course on Voluntary Simplicity. You can read more about it, and similar courses, at The Northwest Earth Institute website. I recently participated again, with the hopes of getting a re-boot on how to simplify my life, particularly my time. The course books are comprised of excerpts from books, magazines, etc. While many articles had been updated over the years, there were some that remained. One is called “Washing the Dishes” by Thich Nhat Hanh. The piece is taken from the book “Present Moment, Wonderful Moment”. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Monk and one of the best known Buddhist teachers in the West. The article did not appeal to me 8 years ago with lines like, “The dishes themselves and the fact that I am here washing them are miracles!” This is probably why I am not a Buddhist monk. I dislike washing dishes nearly as much as I dislike mornings. I would rather scrub a toilet than chisel dried chili from the bottom of a pot.

The lesson is one of mindfulness. And one of finding the sacred in the profane.  He reminds us that, “the time of dishwashing is as important as the time of meditation. That is why everyday mind is called the Buddha’s mind.” While I appreciate mindfulness and at least understood the lesson this time around, I could not fathom of dishwashing as a time that I would want to practice mindfulness, or meditation, or anything remotely positive.

But somehow I found myself thinking about this eloquently simple teacher tonight and decided to give it a try. I carefully washed the “Geeks who Drink” glasses and the BPA-free water bottles. As I scraped the bottom of the rice cooker I thought about my medical appointment earlier today. And my appointment last week. And the four that I need to schedule. As my MS takes a slow turn I am mostly just along for the ride.  For many months I have been fearful, frustrated and in pain a good bit of the time.  My fatigue is high, my mood is low. I continue to try to accommodate this chameleon of a disease and to do things that bring me moments of joy. But always there is a shadow hovering behind me. Others cannot necessarily see it, but I know it is there. The shadow reminds me of what I can no longer do as easily, or at all. This blog is one example. Sometimes I cannot write for lack of motivation, but more often it is for lack of ability. At the end of a work day typing is no longer an option.

As I rinsed the rice pot and started on the silverware I had a thought. There is no flash of brilliance waiting in the sunrise and no epiphany in the rice cooker. Just the moments. But the force behind each moment, this is me…I am in control of this ride. There is something in the fact that I choose to chase a sunrise now and then; something in the fact that I continue to test my boundaries even as MS re-draws the lines. I am willing to look; for answers, for solutions, for accommodations to my dis-abilities. I may not find them, but I am hell bent on trying.

I am blessed to still count my three fellow sunrise chasers as friends. 
We have all faced adversity in our lives and each has found a way to face these disappointments with the same adventurous spirit that we had so many years ago. It is simply in the moments of seeking…not in the answers…that I gain strength and courage.With this thought I find my comfort and for the first time in almost a year I feel the shadow retreat. I know that I will be okay. 

I feel like Grover in “There’s a Monster at the end of this Book!”  Aw…there’s no monster...nor spark of crone wisdom…there is just only me. Loveable, Just Only Judy!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Anniversary 2014

It's that time of year.  That MS Anniversary time of year.  I have been quiet for many reasons these last few months. I post when something strikes me, but I'm not forcing it.  For tonight, as it's late and there will be no sleep until my muscle spasms subside, I thought I would just do a little re-posting. It's not all doom and gloom. But if you want Pollyanna you are looking in the wrong place as well. In two days I will have had MS for 11 years and I feel rather tired of it.

In February 2013 I shared my general feelings about anniversary occasions and some gratitude for my mother which you can read by clicking on this link to Anniversaries. I also think I made a fine argument on behalf of my fellow realists with pessimistic tendencies.  

In early March 2013 I shared some of the following insights;

"JustOnlyJudy is feeling thankful. And melancholy. Touched by breezes of cancer...friends of friends. Family of co-workers. Clients and strangers. So why thankful? Because I choose it over fearful. And I could go either way when these winds start to blow. 
I choose to listen to the whispers from the tops of the Douglas firs as the wind blows through them. Mostly quiet, secretive whispers. I choose to listen to the splat of the raindrops and the silence of a tear drop. I choose to be thankful for what I have today. For being alive at the age of 43.  I might read my 50 by 50 list with an increased sense of urgency. I might wonder what I would choose if my list could not be so long.
I might apologize faster, try to be more patient, try not to sweat the small stuff. 

Melancholy. Oh it dances in quietly...

There's the anniversary. Next week. Ten years since my diagnosis. Thankful for what I have done, for where I am, for my support. My sons who have learned to help when I struggle, to stay calm when I 'lose my &*$#'! To quietly retreat until their real mother returns from her foray into rambling distress..fueled by my perception of chaos. But the chaos is mostly internal, despite my lengthy description of the state of our electronics and the kitchen. They have learned to know that. And I wish they had never had to learn to know that."

Now it's March 2014. Breezes of cancer seem consistent. Add the terrible mudslide this week so close to home, an entire missing aircraft...and my porous psyche. It takes a conscious effort to focus on my gratitude. I am thankful for the opportunity that I had last year, to escape to the sunshine of Arizona for my MS anniversary. While it is not in the budget this year, I at least have this photo to remind me of the sheer joy and happiness I felt in letting go, soaking up the sun and quiet, the family and friends. I can go to my new 'mental' Happy Place :)

Monday, February 24, 2014

To plank or to rest...that is the test

This evening, while making ground turkey tacos for dinner, I received a text from my mother.
“Does one do the plank with hands on the floor, or elbows?” she asked. Out of context texts are even more fun that out of context overheard quotes.

For those of you not in the know, planking is the latest and greatest ‘get fit and build your core muscle’ activity.  I have seen the “30 day planking challenge” land on my Facebook page more than once. Co-workers stand around the water cooler and candy dish to compare planking stories. And most recently, on an otherwise lovely day spent eating, kvetching and gambling at the 25 cent slot machines with my mother and sister, my sister saw fit to demonstrate this new fitness fad.

Understand that the 30 day challenge goes something like this: Day 1- plank for one minute, Day 2- plank for two minutes, Day 3- plank for 3 minutes…and so on. Until at the end of the month you ought to be able to plank for a couple of hours while a toddler rides a tricycle across your back. Or is that Circus tryouts?  Anyway, back at my sister’s house, otherwise known as Casa Verde, she proceeded to show us proper planking technique.  As I moved into starting position, my sister rounded the corner with a broom. A full on broom!

During her instruction she had pointed out that it was important to stay level and not lift one’s butt up into the air. “What in god’s name is that for?” I demanded.  I was not about to let my older sister whack me on the behind with her kitchen broom.
“It is just to hold across your back to make sure you are staying straight,” she replied. She seemed sincere.
I glanced at mother with a look that I hoped she could interpret as, “If she tries to hit me with that broom you had best tackle her!”

You can visit Mark's Daily Apple site to learn about good planking technique and a detailed explanation of the photo below. My sister is a big fan of Mark's Daily Apple, and probably all of his fruits and veggies. I have chosen his primal-y self to explain the plank in honor of her.

Well I managed to plank with very good form according to my sister! I lasted for 15 seconds which is excellent according to my sister. And she is the expert because she had already been planking for nearly a week. I had to stop when I could no longer inhale or exhale and realized I was using my shoulders instead of my core. Or lack of core, as the case may be. I won’t get into the state of my abdominal muscles, which make the rest of my muscles look Olympian by comparison. That’s an entirely different post.

My point in sharing all of this is to say that some things do not need saying. I always use too many words, as I want to be thorough in my explanations. My doctor recently asked me not to use the email option so much and instead come in for appointments. It seems my emails contain too much information and perhaps I digress into side topics, so he says. I don’t believe him. But I digress…

 My reply to mother’s text query regarding plank form, went something like this…“Heehee…both. Forearm on floor with palms flat. As soon as you cannot breathe, or if you lift your butt, you should stop. Remember 10 seconds is good for a first time!” 

As I stood stirring the taco meat, it occurred to me that I could have left out the bit about not breathing. I suspect my mother would have the sense to stop an activity if she could not breathe. Of course if she didn’t…well, she would have just passed out and dropped a few inches to the floor, where she may have woken up a minute or two later and felt quite rested. Yes, some things do not need saying.

Speaking of not breathing…That reminds me of the year I had pneumonia, followed by a month or two of laryngospasms…yet another story for another day. Right now I should go see if I can beat that 15 second record. After all, I did two sets of five reverse push-ups earlier today. Not the back-bend kind, rather I just lift myself up and down on a chair using my triceps. I’m pretty much nearly ready for the Danskin triathlon again. If you hear a thud from the other end of the house don’t be alarmed, it’s just me having a little rest.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Watching Myself

Each week I sit down to write a bit for my blog. Each week I walk away and do not post.  I have been journaling again, pen and paper.  I’ll share a bit and try to tempt my spirit out of hibernation.  Life has been hard, sad, painful, funny, cosmic…and many other things these past few months. I think that is why I struggle. The dichotomy. The unexplainable.  So I will not try to understand or to explain. Perhaps these past few months are meant to roll around in my heart and mind for quite awhile longer. Churning the painful, poignant moments until the sharp edges and rough exterior are ground away to reveal a gem. Of wisdom. Or love.  Churning until some of them are but sand to be blown away by the strong winds of the Pacific Ocean, washed away by the Northwest rain.
It is in these days that Just Only Judy spends a lot of time people-watching, those around her but also herself. And apparently writing about herself in the third person. This moody Judy is often distracted as she slows her thoughts. She is an excellent people watcher, becoming so still and quiet (laryngitis helps with the quiet part) while she notices the tiny details in a person’s clothes, the interactions of a family…and eventually the stories start in Judy’s head and she can tell sad, heartwarming or humorous stories.

Just Only Judy recently took a trip to Denver. Her voice nearly silenced by laryngitis, her mind slowed by distraction…and medication, she ventured off on her own to see what Colorado had to offer.  In this case, it turned out the offering was Cherry Creek shopping mall and business park. Snow, single digit temperatures and long work hours prevented Judy from venturing into downtown Denver proper. Her world shrunk to the size of two square blocks and 8 stories high. But if you recall, she rather likes it when her world gets small.
Between shuttles and the airline, Judy’s old black suitcase was bent and battered. She could not unzip her luggage. She put a shoe string through the hole in the zipper pull, braced her back against a wall and pulled with what little strength she had. After a sweaty ten minutes she swallowed her pride and called the front desk. The young maintenance man arrived with tool bag in hand. Judy was worried that he would easily unzip her bag and she would appear to be a liar, or hideously weak. She would have preferred that he open the suitcase with a hacksaw than to face the humiliation of being weak. Fortunately it was neither extreme. It took the assistance of some pliers and another tool to pry the bag open and save Judy’s pride. She was so delighted that she said to the handsome young man, “I want to tip you, but I don’t have any cash!” He mumbled something about ‘that’s all right…’ and hastily left the room.

The hotel room was clean and spacious. Judy could do her yoga on the giant King size bed. She did not mind that the squishy down comforter did not provide a firm surface. She works in environmental health and knows that hotel floors are not to be trusted!  Her only complaint in Denver was the dryness. In the days that would follow, she drank gallons of water a day, stole and begged bottled water off her co-workers and refilled them from the disturbingly warm 8th floor bathroom tap. She harassed waiters to "leave the pitcher on the table!" Housekeeping staff thought her request of 4 daily bottles of lotion a bit odd, but then they were not there when she received a static shock from the water while washing her hands. They could not know that she was coating her hair, skin and then her tights and camisoles with another layer of lotion. She was afraid of spontaneous combustion from sparks. Or just really bad pant-cling.

One other small complaint had to do with the hotel hair dryer. The cord measured approximately 10 inches.  Had Judy been any taller than her humble 5’2” she would have found it necessary to bring a chair into the bathroom to use the hairdryer, as squatting would make her legs cramp. The outlet was placed low, at sink height, which required her to press her body against the bathroom wall and contort herself into a multitude of positions to let the air reach her entire head. Thank goodness for that yoga! While she was blowing and twisting and pressing, she had time to ponder why on earth a hair dryer cord would be so short. Aha! "Of course", she thought, "they have shortened it because they do not want the terrible publicity that would come if some depressed soul used the hair dryer to hang himself on that shower rod." It did not occur to her that the shower rod would likely be too low for anyone taller than 5'2" and too flimsy to hold more than twenty pounds. 
Later, when she bravely attempted to iron her work clothes, she saw that the cord on the iron was much longer than 10 inches.  She made a note to point that out to the management, in case they wanted to shorten it for safety. 30 minutes into the ironing, the pants and blouse looked mildly less wrinkled and her arm was cramping. Although she has been an abject failure at ironing her entire life, she blamed it on the dry air.

Her first night in Denver, after checking a third time for bedbugs and failing one last time to figure out how to close the curtains, she crawled into the giant bed. She curled up on the far edge, where she would sleep all three nights because the middle of the bed made her feel trapped. She stared out the window at the falling snow, lit up by the lights of the business park.  Just as she was feeling cozy, in the big bed and the big room of this little two block world, she smelled hamburgers grilling. As the fatigue of a long day of travel crept over her she hoped that it was not the sleepiness of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a faulty ventilation system.  As she pondered stack effect, humidity and ventilation, she drifted off to sleep, making a mental note to ask the front desk if hamburger smells were normal for the 8th floor.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Delicate. Like a Flower.

It has been nearly a month since my last post- the longest stretch since I started this blog.  What have I been doing? Let's just say December had a lot of stormy weather and I was worn out. You see I am delicate. Fragile.  Like a flower.  I do not always come out the other side of storms in good shape. I am not a fir tree, though I admire them tremendously. But I did not forget... in the midst of the stormy weather, when my 'what ifs' swirled ask another question. What would?  What would Steve do? What would my dad do? What would a fir tree do? 

Steve would tether the faux Christmas tree to the wall and put only the unbreakables on it, so that the kitten could enjoy it. He would laugh at her often and consider leaving it up a bit longer...Valentine's decorations? Shamrocks?  And so it remains. I have learned to play peek-a-boo and tag with the ninja cat.

Dad would carry on at work, even through stormy times.  Be a good parent. Help a friend when their family receives a cancer diagnosis. And so I have and so I will continue to do.

A fir tree would sway in the wind, occasionally a large and weakened branch would snap off. Frightening at times, but also comforting as the wind sings through the needles, sometimes so loudly that it sounds as though the trees say an endless, "Hushhhhhhhhhhhh" Be still. And so I have snapped a few times, but also spent many moments being still, listening to the trees.

One hair. That is all it takes to make me momentarily, yet utterly, mad! One hair, from my own head no less. Escaped from a follicle and on the lamb; hiding out in my sweater trying to pass itself off as part of my bra strap. For those who do not know me, I believe that from the outside…on most days…assuming it is not a full moon and I do not have low blood sugar…I look positively normal.  Common. Perhaps a bit too bold, with a propensity to curse like a longshoreman. Ah, but tis careful deception.

The truth of it is, I am special…I gotta have some of your attention! No, wait, I’ve gone off-track. I am a different sort of special. “Delicate”, I like to say. “Like a flower,” I may add, with a smirk and a chuckle, knowing full well that a flower is the least likely metaphor friend or foe would use to describe this character and body of mine.
And yet just one hair…that’s all it takes…like the “Princess and the Pea”, I am thrown into discomfort and unrest. As a rogue stray makes its way down my shirtfront, or worse yet- down the back, my hands begin to clutch and claw.  It starts with a bit of fidgeting and tugging at my shirt. A quick glance about to see if anyone’s looking. I take a peek inside, quickly scanning the bosom area for the evil scratching at my fragile skin. Sometimes I get lucky and pluck it out.  Most often I do not. More than once I have been caught in the act, staring intently with one hand down my shirt front as a co-worker or my boss rounds the corner to ask me a question. “I’ve got a hair,” I say. Yes, I’m sure that explains it all. 

Two choices exist at that point- escape to a restroom stall to dismantle my clothing and search and destroy the lone hair that cuts like a dagger, causing welts where I scratch.
The second option is less correct in our society, yet desperate times call for desperate measures. Now I have the decency not to ask others to search my bosom, but if a hair has gotten down the back of my shirt, that’s a different thing entirely. Family, friends, co-workers; if I have known them more than a fortnight they are fair game! With panicked eyes and a pleading voice, “I have this hair…can you just look for me…”, I immodestly turn my back side to the poor soul.  If you are a man, and not related to me, you will probably be spared the sight of my bare back as I roll my shirt up to the bra strap. “Do you see it?!” I ask, as I squirm in distress.  “NO? Look here!” and I pull up my hair with one hand, draw out the neck on the back of my shirt and do my best, aged attempt at a back bend in order to provide my poor victim/rescuer with a good view.  If you are a close female friend or relative and you dare to say, “No…I don’t see anything”…as you pat, pat, pat on my back, I may usher you into better light to help you out.

Try though I might to act tough and strong, bold and brave…I am fragile. Delicate. Like a flower. My skin is thin and I feel much. A therapist once told me I was extremely “porous”. Soaking up the emotions of others. This link to a paper from Trinity University provides a description from Ernest Hartmann’s Boundaries in the Mind. “There are those with thin or porous boundaries, for whom the realities of dreams and wakefulness are blurry, whose feelings and thoughts run together, who have high empathy with others, and who sometimes are unsure who they are.” Another article about this, in the Psychology Today blog, also paraphrases Hartmann’s book and goes on to explain further. “People with thin boundaries appear to be somewhat unorganized and to operate spontaneously rather than according to a planned schedule.”  This is completely Just Only Judy. Creative people, artists and psychotics (that’s lovely) tend to fall into the porous category. However, they go on to say that less permeable people tend to be thick-skinned both emotionally and physically.  As though wearing a suit of armor.  But this is also Just Only Judy. 

Perhaps, having become saturated over the years, I developed the defensive technique of building not so much a suit of armor, but more of a castle and moat. Aha- the Princess is kept safely in the tower…sleeping on peas and spinning the golden hair that itches her back…oh sorry, that’s just me confusing dreams and reality again.

I dislike public displays of affection and handholding, which is apparently common among those with less porous, thicker boundaries.  I have forced myself to hug friends and family more often, having realized that the physical distance created emotional distance. I have been called 'hard' and 'distant'. But if I do not know you, or I am feeling tense, itchy or hot, please be so kind as to keep a couple of feet between us…keep your toes out of my moat damnit! Try though I might to protect my porosity in this manner…the real me comes sneaking out of the castle when the guards aren’t looking. It is visible when I cry for the hardships of people I have never met, rally the forces for friends in need and fight to protect our natural environment. Visible in the manifest metaphor of just one hair. The real me. Delicate. Like a flower, damnit.