I Sing The Body Eclectic

I need to stop watching medical reality shows.

I should know better. Really, I should. I spent years stress-watching E.R., and that was fiction, for Pete’s sake. But half-hours, filled with bones sticking out of legs and torn off ears and people with silly string coming out of their elbows, make me squeal like a stuck pig. I’ve now gotten to the point where I just have to turn the channel, because the most serious medical thing I want to contemplate these days is a Band-Aid commercial.

I’m already aware that the human body is weird. Especially mine. I mean, I don’t have three arms or six ears, but I’m perpetually surprised by my person, by the things that it is able to do and by the things it…isn’t.

This is never more fully evident than when we’re sick. We revert back to childhood, no matter our age. We want soup, we want our blankie, we want to whine and moan and watch soap operas. Basically, we want our mommies, and in the absence of her, we want the flu fairy to bonk us on the head so we can sleep until it’s over. Our bodies ache, we can’t breathe, and we cough up weird things, just so our bodies can make room for more gunk. I’ve always been flummoxed by that phenomenon where one of your nostrils is plugged up and then…it’s not. The other one is. Then the mucus gets bored and goes back to the first one, until you’ve got a game of snot seesaw going on in your sinuses.

Worse than the illness, I think, are the various remedies people throw at you in an attempt to be helpful. (Of course, they’re usually thrown from a distance, as no one wants to actually be near you when the snot settles in.) “Drink lots of fluids!” is a big one. True, one wants to stay hydrated but it’s tough to get rest when you’re running to pee every five minutes. “Steam your face!” is also quite popular. For me, it doesn’t work. Then I just have a stuffy nose and frizzy hair. And that joy of joys, the Neti pot. I finally broke down and bought one. Mixed results. First of all, do not use it if you’re congested, which seems to be counterintuitive because it’s supposed to keep the nasal passages clear. But if you’re blocked up, the water can’t circulate and it winds up dripping down the back of your throat. Phlegm cocktail, anyone? And even when it works, it’s an odd sensation. I spent most of my swim time trying to prevent that from happening, so it’s strange to be doing it voluntarily. I am generally not a fan of things going up my nose. This is also one of those things that you should never, ever do in front of another person. Swooshing water through your nose is not sexy. Nor should it be.

“Hello, darling. Do you like my bedroom eyes? My seductive stance? My ‘come hither’ attitude? Wait right there, my love, one moment….SNERT!”

I would say that maintaining at least a modicum of mystery in a relationship is vital.

Sometimes our bodies surprise us in wondrous ways. It seems that a select few are the beneficiaries of the “superhuman” genes. They can accomplish far more with their bodies than the rest of us. They’re almost works of art. Then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum – me. No matter the circumstance, I’m not the most coordinated gazelle in the herd. In gym class, I was always playing “far right field.” (It’s not a real position. I looked it up.) In basketball, no one passed me the ball, so I was actually just jogging back and forth while watching the game. Oddly, I was often required to play goalie in soccer. Yeah, that makes sense. Take the girl most likely to flinch and cover her head whenever the ball comes near, and make her play goalie. (David Beckham can kick soccer balls backwards over his head. I’m just saying.) I’ve attempted dance classes twice in my life. I only lasted a short time in ballet as a small girl; I didn’t want to go because the other girls made fun of me. In college, my friends were supportive, but on the first day of dance class I was met with the teacher’s raised eyebrows and an insincere, “I’m so glad to see you in this class.” My brain seems unable to transmit the movement message to my body. Why is this? Did I miss a lecture? Is it an inner ear thing? What? Advertisers would like us to believe that it’s merely a lack of fancy shoes or sports drinks, but I’m not buying it, literally or figuratively. I am grateful for the fact that I can move, see, and hear, but just one time it would have been really nice to be able to dunk a basketball or attempt a graceful plié without my classmates giggling.

It happens to me in all areas of life, not just sports. I tend to be rather unaware of where my limbs are in space, which results in a lot of bumping and tripping over nothing. (When I’m walking, there are times that I swear I have to remind myself, “Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right foot…”) Whenever my theater friends and I were working on building a set, if there was a crash, invariably the first thing you’d hear is, “Where’s Jenny?” I always responded with, “I’m ooooo…..kaaaaaay!” Once, I was working on drilling some screws into a set piece we were building. It was particleboard, and I just couldn’t start the hole. Suddenly, the drill slipped and scraped the hand that was holding the screw. (Note to all of you knowledgeable handypeople: I know.) I looked down and realized that I had taken a small chunk of flesh from the base of my thumb. I looked around, and saw my friend Alan.

“Look!” I said, showing him my wound.

Now, Alan wasn’t easily moved by my plight. His first question was not, “Are you all right?” or even, “Does it hurt?” Nope. Alan had a slightly more pragmatic approach.

“Who put you in charge of a power tool?”

I would have been offended, except that it was actually kind of true.

 

Beyond physical feats of greatness, there are other common occurrences I don’t understand. Charlie Horses, for one. Actually, I understand what they are; I just don’t get the name. Sounds like the name of a children’s toy. Or a Disney character. It’s too cute. They need to make the name a little more intimidating, like “Adolph Viper,” or “Voledemort Rhinoceros,” or really, just name it after what it feels like:

“OwowowowowowcrapcrapcrapcrapNoNoNoNoStopstopstopstop…”

That’s just one of the lovely things that happen when you exert yourself. (Or in my case, do absolutely nothing.) No wonder doctors can’t get their patients to exercise. It’s not that people don’t want to be fit; they’re just afraid of cramps, shin splints, tennis elbow, or jog pooping. (I’m not making that up. It’s a thing.) When I work out, my face gets red. Beet red. Like, “Oh my God, she’s having a stroke” red. And my fingers swell up. There’s pain in my shins. I’d love to concentrate on sculpting a better ass but that’s hard to do when your thighs are rubbing together with such intensity that you’re afraid your crotch is going to catch on fire. (Not that this has actually happened.) It’s enough to make you say, “Screw it” and eat a plate of curly fries. It’s crazy. I saw a man on TV who was an archery champion despite the fact that he had no arms, and I can’t get past the first level of “Dance Dance Revolution.”

And please tell me, why the hell do we have to deal with adolescence? Talk about not understanding the body. Just when we, as kids, start to think we’re figuring things out, we’re hit with Hormones From Hell. Frizzy hair. Oily hair. Dry skin. Acne. Braces. Glasses. Weird growth spurts. Voice changing overnight. Happysadhappysadhappy. (And this could all be from one kid. In one day.) Nature, in her infinite wisdom, decided to dole out this misery on us when we’re probably the least prepared to deal with it. Sure, some sail right through it, damn them, but the rest of us struggle for a while, ending…well, any day now, fingers crossed. Junior high, I believe, could be considered part of the ninth circle of hell. You’re supposed to negotiate evolving gender relationships, figure out who you are and where you fit into this life, all without tripping over your own feet. You can be best friends with someone one day, fierce enemies the next. It’s a whole swirling vortex of the worst parts of life. It would be great if we could get through it in, say, a week, and then move on. Instead, we’re tossed about like a ship on the proverbial “three hour tour,” and after a couple of years of this nonsense, we’re washed ashore and left to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and say, “Well, there’s that, then,” and move on to a whole new set of issues. And there are always new ones to deal with. Always. Every day. I foolishly once thought that if I could just get through the teen years, then everything would be all right and I’d never feel awkward again. Of course, I’d laugh at that thought, but I’m stunned by the fact that I still look remarkably like my seventh grade class picture. And not in a good way. More like an, “It’s thirty years later and I still haven’t figured out my bangs” kind of way.

The truth is, our bodies are continually changing. Sometimes for the better, sometimes…not. Things grow, things fall off, things shift, things hang lower than they used to, things don’t glow quite as much, things take a lot longer to establish normalcy. I once got completely freaked out because I found a lump on my shoulder. Naturally, after years of watching medical shows, I assumed the worst. “Oh my God,” I thought. “It’s shoulder cancer! It’s an absorbed Siamese twin! It’s…wait, there’s one on the other side. What the…?”

It was my collarbone.

Also, sometimes our intestines just decide to screw around with us. No kidding, I think I farted out of my ear last week. My stomach was “gurgling,” and the pressure started to build. I was in a meeting, so there was no escape. I just kept repeating positive thoughts and regretting the turkey chili. Then, in my right ear, I heard an “eeeeeeeee”sound, and suddenly my stomach was fine. I felt like a human kazoo. No other internal body parts do this. My spleen never sounds like a banjo. My appendix doesn’t make a sproingy sound. But our digestive systems? I wouldn’t be surprised if one day mine sounded exactly like the B-side of “Abbey Road.”

Let’s not forget the most important thing that makes us adorably human – our brains. Brains that can invent the microchip, formulate string theory, or paint a masterpiece. Or, for most of us, brains that tell us to eat the cheesecake, to bet on the Chicago Bears, or that can’t remember where we parked our car. But of all the body oddities, dreams are the most far out. Much thought and research has been spent on why our brains do what they do at night. One theory is that dreams are when the brain formulates ideas, or “random thought mutations.” Another camp thinks that it’s the brain “cleaning house.” And our old buddy Herr Freud thought that dreams were expressions of unconscious desires. Personally, I think it’s the only time that we let our minds run free and wild, without being burdened with everyday decisions, worries, and random bits of “Don’t You Want Me” by The Human League. I used to dream about flying a lot – not soaring over hills and dales like a bird, but more like being able to get about five feet off the ground and maybe making it across the room. I would also dream about losing my glasses, and not being able to see anything but blurs all around me. Of course, there were the ubiquitous chase dreams, in which I’d be trying to escape my pursuers in a building by going into room after room, or even in the walls between rooms, higher and higher, always worried I’d be found. Quite regularly, I’d have dreams that I was getting married, but I would have no idea what the lucky chap’s name was, which does make sending the invitations a bit tricky. Not surprisingly, people look for meaning in dreams – losing teeth means this, or being naked in public means that, or that any number of things represent Freudian penis envy (trust me, gents – we don’t). I think we’re over-thinking the whole thing. I believe dreams are just a kaleidoscope of ideas, images, fears, desires, worries, hopes…and yes, fantasies. Weird, nonsensical, badass fantasies. Water skiing with Nelson Mandela? Great. Making a three-story strawberry mousse while your third grade teacher makes you recite the multiplication tables? Fabulous. Standing under the Eiffel Tower, naked, while singing “Copacabana” into a hockey stick? I want to meet you. I think the best goal we can set for our dreams is to just let go, enjoy the ride, and wake up thinking, “What the hell was that?”

Overall, I’m doing all right. So I’ll never be a ballerina. I can’t run fast. My stomach makes weird noises at inappropriate times. The important thing is that when I fall down, I can pick myself up, brush myself off, and hope like hell nobody saw me. And if I’m very, very lucky, tonight my brain will be nice to me and I’ll have that dream where I’m taking a bubble bath with Nathan Fillion and Jon Hamm.

 

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Out Of The Mouths Of…

As the school year is winding down, I find myself dreaming about the hot weather of the coming summer, which is weird, because before I became a teacher I hated the summer – the humidity, the sweating, the flip flops. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be teaching, as I’m in the middle of a career crisis (after three years), but every so often I’m surprised by the things that come out of the mouths of my current students. I’m not talking about the cursing, or the grammatical snafus, but of the odd, out-of-left-field stuff that plops itself on my desk every so often.

Take yesterday. I had just assigned my sixth graders an autobiographical poem — ten lines, and I pretty much tell them what to write on each line. Line four was to be “Three things I don’t like.” Francisco came up to my table and asked if he could write that he didn’t like the Romans.

“What do you have against the Romans?”

“Well,” he replied, “They stole all the Greek’s gods because they couldn’t come up with any of their own.”

Fair enough. But wait for it…wait for it…

“And they tortured Jesus.”

There it is.

I have another student who apparently was “almost arrested” the other day. I asked him why.

“I don’t know, miss. I wasn’t doing anything.”

“Well, you must have been doing something.”

“No, I was just sitting there.”

“Where?”

“In front of the One Stop.”

“DeShaun, that’s a liquor store. What were you doing there?”

“I was with some people..the cop thought they were…”

“You need to stop hanging out with these people.”

“No, miss. Can’t. One of them has the new Xbox.”

Glad to see priorities are in order.

I’ve also been asked if I thought Obama was the antichrist, and if I was worried about North Korea. (P.S. No, and yes but there’s really nothing I can do about it now.)

At the other end of the spectrum, I had two boys in my class last quarter who thought that, “Guess what? Chicken butt!” was the height of hilarity. So it’s all kind of a mixed bag.

On the plus side, some of my students were impressed when I told them that I wrote a book, despite the fact that there aren’t any zombies in it.