29 April 2012

Not Runner's World

Some things I'd like to see in Runner's World...

A cover model in any shade other than white.  (Yeah, I know: they featured one a few months ago.  One.)

A cover model with adipose tissue.  My calculated BMI is 21.5 -- well within the range of 18.5 to 25 that the people who study this stuff say is healthy -- and I've got love handles and stuff.  The RW claim is that they put real runners on the cover -- but somehow they only manage to choose real skinny runners. (You can check your BMI here, if you're curious.)

Along those lines, less attention to weight loss and more focus simply on eating healthily.  Bonus: more vegetarian and vegan suggestions.

Some discussion of running with chronic illness, and maintaining an exercise program when there are constant interruptions of varying length.  Physiological information about returning to exercise after breaks of various lengths due to illness or infirmity.  Strategies for finding motivation to keep attempting the same fitness goals, over and over again.

24 April 2012

Infertility Awareness Week

I was 29, The Mate a couple of years younger when we decided it was time for offspring.  We tossed the birth control, but months went by with no results.

Months turned into years, I finished my PhD and got a job in New Jersey, where state law mandated infertility treatment, and we decided to get some tests run to see if they yielded any useful information (e.g. a simple problem, easily addressed).   Nothing much.

The Mate and I both have chronic illnesses, and we both agreed that pursuing medical treatment for infertility amounted to inviting another chronic illness into our lives, and neither of us had the will to go that route.

Also, we weren't so sure this was the best use of medical resources, when there are people whose access to medical care is limited.

Yes, we tried adoption.  Oh, yes.  Guess what?  It's not so easy.  A story for another time.

But mysteriously, miraculously, after ten years I found myself pregnant, and after several months of radical disbelief, I found myself with a real live baby of my own.  

Eight years later, he remains a miracle. But the scars of those ten years remain, too.  Those ten years of longing, sorrow and -- yes -- shame will always remain part of my life.

The years don't evaporate because I now have a child; neither does the painful part of those years, and the fact that I'm ten years older, the grandparents are ten years older....

22 April 2012

Making Time for Stillness

Had lunch yesterday with a great good friend, and at one point we started talking about taking down time, settling into stillness for a while.

My mind raced across all the different plates I have spinning in the air, between parenting a high-needs kid and keeping the marriage alive and coping with chronic illness and a shoulder injury ... and the paying job, which is basically just nuts at this time of year.

And the summer is already planned to the hilt.  Vacation with extended family, vacation with our little nuclear family, an article to write, other articles and a book to revise and send off again, lectures and conference presentations to whip into article shape. And if I finish all that, I want to write a book proposal and write a short piece for Notes and Queries.  In other words, there's no way it's all going to get done.

On top of all that, I have a class scheduled, though it's now looking like it probably won't make enrollment, which is good given all the writing I want to do, but not so good for the bottom line.

So when she asked me if I could/would take some down time...  first I laughed, then I choked back a sob, the kind where you wonder if you start crying, if it would ever stop.  And then we went to Tompkins Square Park and sat for a few minutes, and as we simply sat on a bench under a tree, the idea started to seem less ludicrous.

Need to work on that.  Stillness.  Today, not tomorrow.

17 April 2012

Rhythm and Stitching

When I finished grading a set of papers last night, I wasn't done: I needed to turn a pair of The Offspring's pants into shorts.

I miscalculated.  In previous years, he's never outgrown shorts -- they just keep getting shorter.  This year, though, he noticed that all the other boys' shorts are knee-length, and he wants to fit in.

There are alternatives: I could have planned a trip to the Children's Place store in the neighborhood, or the Old Navy a little farther afield, and bought him some shorts for this season.   There's a budget, though, and that would mean trade-offs.  

I could have let him choose between short shorts and long pants.  But as an immigrant kid, I frequently wore weird outfits to school.  I didn't want to force that choice.

And there were three pairs of pants lying around, two with holes in the knees, the other way too short, and I took one of those, cut off the bottoms, and started hemming.

I was a little grumpy about the process.  My mother is a far better seamstress, and would have worked more quickly and more neatly; I wished I'd had more practice.   But they were corduroys, and that stuff is forgiving when it comes to seeing stitches.

After a few minutes, the rhythm of stitching took over, even though it was a frequently interrupted rhythm.  Everyone else was asleep, and the apartment was peaceful.  And given a break from a blinking-flashing-always awake screen, my eyeballs started to rest.

I finished faster than expected, and I was far less wound up than when I started.  It turned out to be a nice way to end the day: and as a bonus, fits in well with my financial and environmental commitments.

16 April 2012

The Not-Shopping Thing

Last month (on Pi Day, specifically), I made a decision to quit buying stuff, and I have to admit I haven't done a very good job with the project. 

I broke an earring while away from home for Passover, and talked The Mate into buying me a pair to wear.  I could have tried to fix the broken earring, could have gone earringless for a couple of days... but no.

I also bought a set of hiking maps, and a new road map, for the Catskills.  The Mate and I went there for an overnight last weekend, and as we were planning the trip discovered our hiking maps were printed in 1989. It's true, the mountain hasn't changed much since then, but trails do get moved, and sometimes even junctions shift (as we discovered on a hike in Harriman Park once, years ago, while using an old map set that left us a little confused, a little lost).

I've been tempted by some other purchases.  Running clothes, a copy of Jurassic Park for The Offspring, some glasses for the kitchen to replace the ones we keep breaking.  Plus for quite a while I've been wanting a clock for my office, and I still want one even though I'm "not shopping."

On the plus side, I haven't been spending time on retail web sites, browsing sale items, putting stuff in and out of my virtual cart.  I haven't been tempted to go into stores with sale signs to see if there's anything I might "need."  And when I went with The Mate to buy an end-of-season winter jacket (replacing one that's probably 15 years old), I didn't seriously consider any sale purchases of my own. 

It's a lot of energy, along with the cash, that I'm not spending.  And even though I haven't been completely consistent, the habit is shifted.  And it feels pretty good.

14 April 2012

Stars and Miscalculations

In March of 2002, The Mate and I climbed Springer Mountain in Georgia, the start of a week of packpacking. We were carrying minimal gear because we were also carrying video camera, batteries, tape, and sound equipment, and interviewing people setting off to hike the Appalachian Trail. Plus, March in Georgia; it would be significantly warmer than March in New York.

Overnight, the temperature dropped; we lay shivering in our tent and awoke to snow. Worse, we'd left muddy boots outside the tent, and there was nothing for it but to shove our feet in them and just keep moving forward while they thawed out. It was an uncomfortable morning.

The eventual result was a documentary, 2000 Miles to Maine.

I thought of that night last night while I lay shivering in a tent yet again. This time, it was a forecast for unseasonably warm weather, plus a bum shoulder; the mate was carrying most of the gear to a camp site not too far off a road, so we left a lot behind.

After hiking in short sleeves, we sat down to a cold dinner and some paper grading via iPad. The temperature was dropping rapidly, so we soon retreated into the tent, where we continued to get colder and colder. Eventually, the iPad (unimagined in '02) told us that the overnight low for the town we were camping in was expected to be 29 degrees.


When the dog started shivering, I brought him inside my sleeping bag with me, but even then I couldn't warm up. I slept fitfully, spending the wakeful hours listening for birdsong, which would tell me dawn was near.

Eventually, I got up to take a leak, and I looked up at the night sky, and was transfixed.

The Manhattan sky at night looks flat, a glassy surface with a couple of visible planets and a few dim pinpricks of starlight.

Last night, I looked up at the sky that our ancestors saw before the invention of electricity. It's a deep sky, scattered across with innumerable stars of varying brightness at different distances. I was looking at light a million years old and more.

Then, an owl, close by and startling, letting us know we were trespassing in its territory.

And instantly I knew that by morning the cold wouldn't matter. What would: stars across unfathomable distance and an owl in the darkness.

10 April 2012

Passing ... Or Not

Embodying an invisible disability means I'm constantly in a state of passing, whether I want to be or not, unless I make a deliberate point of naming the disability. 

But that act of naming flies in the face of what Robert McRuer calls, in his book Crip Theory, "compulsory able-bodiedness" -- a cultural norm that insists upon ability, or non-disability, as normal.

Naming myself "ill" or "disabled" is transgressive within this paradigm.  Failing to fake able-bodied status is to court shame in a cultural milieu in which the idea that "health is the only thing" is regularly trumpeted.  The "crippled" are objects for pity, because a full and fulfilling life , according to this mind-set, is possible only for the healthy and the able-bodied.

In other areas, I don't strive to be normal, whatever that might be.  I embrace my own idiosyncracies and oddities, and I seek out others who are odd and idiosyncratic because they tend to be interesting.

But when it comes to expectations about hiding illness or infirmity, I have a much harder time making transgression my own.

Part  of the  problem  has to do with the fact that living with infirmity is in fact a hassle.  It's just plain difficult to function when a major life activity like breathing is not going well.  But compulsory able-bodiedness has a corollary: we're supposed to buck up without complaint and bear our ills patiently.

But part of the story involves my own investment in that cultural mode of compulsion, such that claiming/testifying/confessing infirmity feels like a failure.  I'm trying to get beyond that, but I'm wrestling.

08 April 2012

Living on Boundaries

Growing up as a German immigrant in a small New England town meant not really fitting in anywhere. 

No marshmallow fluff, cocoa crispies or Wonder Bread for us. We ate dark, heavy crusty stuff, with stinky fish from mysterious cans and jars, and delicious -- and untranslatable -- home made food.

But I came to the US when I was less than a year old. I wasn't fluent in German and I didn't really know the culture. So when my family sent me to visit the German cousins, I didn't fit there, either.

It occurs to me that having a chronic illness is a little like being an immigrant: one doesn't fully belong on either side of the cultural divide.

I don't carry a cane or use a wheelchair, or possess any other marker that identifies me to bystanders as disabled. Yet I spend significant portions of each year gripped by illness. I no longer teach three-hour classes, because when I'm sick, I don't have the energy or the breath to go for that long.

I pass into and out of these periods of infirmity. There are also times when I can run, bike, swim, tussle with The Offspring. But those times of apparent health are marked by the awareness that the illness will return, unpredictable in its timing and in its severity.

Even when I'm healthy, I don't live in the country of the well. Yet occupying the territory of disability seems, for part of each year, a kind of untruth. Like Grendel and his mother, I am a mearcstapa, walking the boundaries between.