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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Phobophobia

We all have things that we’re afraid of, large and small. Sometimes it’s a real phobia, like a fear of heights, and sometimes the scale is a bit smaller, like being afraid of having something stuck in your teeth. For many of us, dealing with fears is necessary to get through the day. As long as it’s not paralyzing, a bit of fear might be a good thing – it can push us to keep going, to do what we need to do. And, like driving past a graveyard, we can enjoy that sense of “Whew!” when it’s over.

A lot of people are afraid of insects. I’ve seen grown men scream and dance like little girls when they get within two feet of a moth. In general, I’m not worried about bugs. I spent too many years at summer camp to be terribly put off by them. Even spiders don’t freak me out, as long as they’re not tarantulas. But I’m not an arachnid warrior, exactly. I have no problem killing one, but as I’m running with said spider mashed up in a paper towel on the way to the bathroom to flush it down the toilet, I do have a tendency to make an “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” sound. I’m not proud of it. Sometimes I pretend it’s a battle cry, which doesn’t make me feel more empowered, but it’s really a case of “him or me,” and sometimes a little “whoop” of self-support is in order.

It’s easy to freak out though, even if you think you’re cool with the bugs. Once I got stuck in traffic behind a 1972 Ford Ugly that needed a new muffler. I entertained myself by watching the cicadas dance around in the air as if they had collectively decided to ignore the cicada choreographer’s instructions, switching back and forth from Swan Lake to the can-can number in Moulin Rouge at random intervals. This was all well and fine until one of them dive-bombed my car. I actually ducked. OK, I didn’t duck, I just flinched a little bit, which is still kind of stupid because it bounced off the windshield and didn’t even get close to my breathing space. But still, I flinched. On some level, for just a split second, I must have thought, “It could have a drill or a saw or an etching tool of some sort and it will get through the windshield and hijack my car! Oh wait! Never mind! It’s a cicada!”

Like I said, not exactly badass behavior.

I think so many people are afraid of bugs because they really don’t know anything about them. Did you know that a female ladybug, for example, will lay over 1,000 eggs in her lifetime? (They never write, they never call.) During hibernation, they feed on their body fat. (This is important because it’s so hard to lose all that egg-weight.) The Jungle Nymph Stick is one of the heaviest insects. In Malaysia they are often kept by people who feed them guava leaves and use the droppings to make tea. (I prefer Lemon Zinger, but whatever.) And a cockroach can change directions up to twenty five times in a second. (Probably because he wouldn’t stop and ask the guy at the gas station how to get there.) So insects are actually kind of interesting, but in all honesty, I’d like to keep this knowledge theoretical. I really don’t want some entomologic Wild Kingdom in my living room.

Insects aside, there are a lot of other things to be nervous about. Like clowns. I never understood the appeal. Ever. Even as a kid I wouldn’t get near one, and a few years ago at a street carnival I actually made my friends cross the street because I saw one coming at us. Although for me, it’s not a fear, exactly, so much as an aversion. I don’t like people dressed in animal costumes, either. But fear of clowns has it’s own designation – Coulrophobia. I can understand why someone would fear them. They paint their faces into some sort of primary color-based death mask, have oversized feet, and are full-force committed to making you laugh with horns, squirty flowers, seltzer, and buckets of confetti. That’s a lot of pressure. And despite all this, they used to be a staple of children’s birthday parties. But I’ve never met an adult who loves clowns. Never. I’m starting to form a theory that their appearance at parties was either A) A large-scale psychological experiment meant to freak out people for years to come, B) The clown union had way too much power, or C) Parents were deliberately trying to give their kids nightmares for the rest of their lives. (“Go to sleep, Johnny, or Chunkles will come and EAT YOUR FACE!”) OK, so maybe I do have Coulrophobia. Just a little.

I don’t have a problem with other performers with painted faces; just clowns. (Although to be very honest, people dressed in full-on animal/mascot costumes freak me out too.) But I’d like to state for the record that I have no issues with mimes. Now, some people get oddly aggressive when you mention mimes, and it’s generally people who have never actually been in the presence of one. And they always go right to the “I’m stuck in a box” bit, which I now think has become the international symbol for “mime.”  “If he’s miming being in the box,” a friend once exclaimed, “Why can’t he just mime having a box cutter and get the hell out of the damn box?” I figure that if a mime is stuck in a box he’s a bad mime and deserves to be there. I once went to a performance by the famous mime, Marcel Marceau, and he held an audience spellbound for two hours without saying a word. Or being stuck in a box. That’s some good mime right there. The only weird part was attending a master class he gave the next day, and hearing him speak. It was much like, I imagine, watching Henry Kissinger dance the Merengue. You know that it’s possible, but it just seemed like the oddest possible thing he could be doing.

Also, heights. Not a fan. Clear-sided elevators give me the fits, and I can’t get past about the third or fourth rung of a ladder. But considering my propensity for being particularly high strung, that’s pretty much it for the phobias. I do have many fears that seem to come and go in passing, though, depending on my mood and what I’ve watched on television recently. I used to watch ER, with its disease/disaster of the week, and think, “Oh, good. Something new to be afraid of.” (See also: hanger stuck up a nose; and helicopters, having one’s arm chopped off.) I’m afraid of flying, but only during take-off and landing, and the rest of the time I only fear airport food. I’m afraid of bears, but I live in the suburbs, so really, what are the odds? I do fear being hit by a driver who is texting or gabbing on the phone, and that plays into my fear of dumbasses in general.

But the rest of the time I think I’m just dealing with concerns, really. When cooking for others, I always worry that there won’t be enough food, so I prepare too much and then grumble when there’s leftovers. (Hovering over the food table and tensely pointing at the Lemon Bundt Cake always puts people in an eating mode, correct?) I need to check the stove every time I leave the house. Doesn’t matter if I haven’t used the stove in three days; there could be water simmering that will evaporate and burn down the house the moment I put the keys in the ignition. I’ve also been known to check my car several times after parking to make sure the doors are locked. True, the only things that someone breaking into the car would find is a travel coffee mug, an old grocery list, and a copy of Bossypants that I can’t seem to remember to remove from the back seat, but some thieves are highly specialized so you just never know.  (Maybe one could be a hard-core Tina Fey fan.) I also used to scan the obituaries, not to be morbid, but to reassure myself – because as long as the people were much older than me, I figured I was doing all right.

Note: Some people feel that obituaries would be more interesting if they told you how the people died, but I think that would only be true if it read something like, “Details are sketchy, but the death appears to have involved a watermelon, a pair of lederhosen and a spatula…” That would be interesting.

Of course, there are the Really Big Concerns, like violence, illness and death by any number of ways. But I have found that I can’t live in fear of those things on a daily basis – it’s too overwhelming. Some days just backing out of the driveway can be a supremely brave act, so we just need to put those other fears to the side to get through the day.

I’ve even gone so far as to come up with names for my all-new phobias. They may apply only to me, but sometimes it’s all right to put a label on things.  For example, there’s “Heineyophobia,” which is “The fear that yes, your ass does look big in those jeans.” And let’s not forget “Snobbygoopphobia,” which is “The fear that somehow, somewhere, Gwyneth Paltrow is judging you.” And my favorite, “Oopsadorkaphobia,” which I think is “The fear that, after asking someone how they are, and they respond and ask you how you are, you say ‘fine’ and then ask them how they are again.”

Even more prevalent than my fears, though, are the Things I Don’t Understand. I’m not talking about calculus or nuclear fusion; I’m talking about mild, run-of-the-mill things that just make me go, “Enh?” I continue to be frustrated when Size-2 actresses like Salma Hayek and Halle Berry are described euphemistically as “curvy.” I don’t understand some people’s refusal to learn and/or use basic grammar and spelling. The rampant misuse of the apostrophe is staggering, and I’m thinking of getting a letter-writing campaign going to teach everyone, collectively, the difference between “your” and “you’re.” There are even problems with food. The menu board for the café I pass on the way to the gym once featured “Belgium Waffles” as their breakfast special. I resisted the urge to march in there and correct them, because they probably don’t care, and they would most likely miss the humor in me ordering the “France Toast” instead. Or the “Sweden Pancakes.” Or even a piece of “Germany Chocolate Cake.” And while it’s probably not the end of the world, and I know it’s VERY old news, this last thing may very well be one of the harbingers of the imminent decline of American civilization. Forget the economy, folks, we have something scarier to worry about:

I found out that “musicians” Pete Wentz and Ashley Simpson named their child Bronx Mowgli.

Can we all just admit these two are a couple of nim-nuts, and pass some sort of unofficial law outlawing celebrities from naming their offspring in such a fashion? Like at some point, they should just be forced to use names like “Child of Idiot #1” or “My Parents Think They’re Creative?”

And I’m sorry, but “Bronx” sounds like some guy’s prison nickname. Things are not boding well for this child. But at least the Simpson-Wentz’s didn’t try to get cutesy with it, like spelling it “Bronxxx” or with a silent “Q” or something.

It’s fascinating, though. The study of our social inadequacies never gets old. Even limited to the celebrity pool, there’s a never-ending source of material. Most of the time it’s amusing; sometimes it’s just mind-boggling. We all say stupid things from time to time, but most of us are not being quoted by US Weekly. And we haven’t volunteered to have reality-show cameras follow us around 24/7, catching our every word and misstep. And thank goodness. I really believe that the phenomenon of reality television has elevated stupidity to an art form. There are girls weeping loudly over losing the “man of their dreams” who they just met twelve hours before in front of an entire camera crew. Young people living on the shore of New Jersey glamorize drunken debauchery, tanning, and hair products, maneuvering them into actual career choices. Education doesn’t even enter into it.

So, yes, I fear the stupid people. I fear that being called “intellectual” has become an insult. I fear that rationality is giving way to ignorance. I fear that Kim Kardashian’s tush is threatening to take over the world, or at very least the television. I’m afraid to eat fettuccini in public. I am terribly afraid that our nation’s youth thinks that “IDK” and “LOL” are actual words. I fear that if yet another version of Real Housewives hits the airwaves we are all doomed. And I’m really, truly afraid that if I put one more book on my IKEA bookshelf it will come crashing down because while putting it together I couldn’t figure out where the last flurfinghugen was supposed to go.

It can get tiring, but let’s face it all head on. Let’s start on a small scale, and work our way up. Wear skinny jeans and horizontal stripes. Drink milk three days past its Sell-By date. Embrace the fact that you’re turning into your mother. Personally, I figure that as long as I don’t run into a clown on an escalator, I’ll get through just fine.

And just for the record, I didn’t realize cicadas could fly. I thought they just lounged around and ate wood or leaves or Cheetos or whatever. They don’t seem to fly with much purpose or sense of destination, but if you stare at them long enough, it’s almost like a little bug ballet. They apparently urinate, too, so wear a hat if you’re suddenly afraid of cicada pee.

As we all should be, really. That’s just good sense.