Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Obeying Pain

To goodness and wisdom we only make promises; pain we obey. - Marcel Proust

In my life until now, physical pain was something philosophical, something that happened to other people, the old, the infirm, the people in TV documentaries about disasters who cried on camera. Poor them, the poor dears, I would say, holding a tissue to my eyes while I watched, sympathetic to them, but removed from them by my radiant health. I flagrantly used action verbs: run, jump, gambol, dance, walk, skip. I used the word embodied to mean the joy I had in myself.

Now that sit is an action verb, and every movement has a consequence, "embodied" has a different meaning to me. Inside these misfiring nerve fibers I am trapped, I am embodied.

In his play No Exit Sartre famously wrote hell is other people, but I disagree, hell is yourself in your body in pain, the kind of pain that has no topography, it's a pure straight white line endlessly moving forward like an arrow. Without choice, you obey.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


The selfless calm voice of modern parenting, the one that pretends to be a video recording device, "When I came into the room I saw a begonia on the floor and two children biting each other on the forearm in what appears to be a very angry way" really irritates me.

I caught myself recently, playing to the audience of other "good moms" when my son took someone else's son's train. This is what I said: "Now honey," I said, "that other little boy was playing with it first. I know you really want that train and right now that train has captured your attention so completely that no other toy seems desirable, and it is hard to part with a toy of such awesomeness and quality, but you don't like it when someone grabs a train from you. How we play with our friends is that we share trains. Remember when we talked about sharing and compromise during Family Share Time yesterday?"

I was playing ImpostaMom! Why didn't I simply say: Give the toy back, son, and be done with it?

ImpostaMom is walking, talking fakery. Well meaning fakery of course, designed to make ourselves feel superior about our care of our children compared to those "bad moms" (that we are not like) that yell and demand fealty "just because we said so," but it is still fake, fake, fake as store-bought cupcakes.

The most honest I've been with my kids was after the episode described above of the forearm biting and the begonia. I said I needed to take a time out in a hot bath because I was feeling extremely irritated. They asked what's "irritated." And we all learned something.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Collection

I'm not a collector, I lack the gene. If there is a group of anything in my house, it is an accident, and the group is usually of spatulas and boring.

I have an uncle who collects masks, another who collects books, my mother is a careful curator of amethyst jewelry, my father would like another piano or three, and my husband collects vintage Star Trek ornaments that is, he did, until I shamed him out of it. (I'm so sorry, honey, I didn't understand.)

Why four or five of the same thing, when the one suffices? Then I found a bowl at a flea market that spoke to me. It called out to me. It was 1930s yellow-ware with a thick lip and deep concavity, enough to raise three loaves of bread dough in. It transfixed me with its old fashioned femininity. All those bread-baking and biscuit-making women! My people!

I like what bowls mean. Plates don't embrace, but bowls do. They're open, giving, and yet also receptive. They make it look easy, but an excellent life's work would be trying to be like a bowl.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ha Ha

According to various online dictionaries, a haha (n.) approximates sound of laughter. The definition I prefer these days is that a haha is an unseen ditch.

In a peerless country landscape you are walking as I have been walking, with not a care in the world save the usual suburban maternal American cares, and then. That damn unseen ditch.

It is different for everyone. The landscape that at one point felt like it could go on to the horizon at least, and maybe forever, does not. For one thing, there's this ditch. And who is as witty as Oscar Wilde who said, "We're all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." Nice thought old buddy, old pal, but the dimensions of this ditch are broad and the walls steep, Oscar.

Pain that goes on for more than three months is called chronic. I am now living a definition as are hundreds of thousands of other people. Make that all of us gutter-dwellers, such as we are. We're trying our damndest, whatever way we can, to focus on points of light that flicker far away. Hold my hand. Haha.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sick Funny

Goody Bastos has been a passion project of unserious frippery. But recently, life circumstances have taken an uncertain turn, and now, if I had gills I would let humor flow over them, thereby oxygenating. I've found no solace in my MRI reports of degenerated disks, insurance forms, and pamphlets on chronic pain clinics. My doctors are as serious as the carpets in their waiting rooms.

We sick don't need serious. We're overdosed on overhead lighting and chrome. We need humor. Sick humor. I know this because in the last few weeks I have been drawn as if by true love to Mr. Noodle. He is the clown on Sesame Street who has trouble putting his pants on. He puts them on his head and can't see. The kids on the show laugh and say, "Mr. Noodle, don't you know how to put pants on?"

Being ill is like having pants on your head. How the world was, it isn't anymore, and you travel in it differently, darkly, with films, reports, nerve conduction studies, and bottles of pills. What I want to do is laugh until it hurts less.