Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Test

When the technician on my mammogram said not to be surprised if I'm asked to do this again, if they call because the pictures aren't clear, something like that, she didn't say they'd call and get specific, saying the tissue looks "different" in the left breast and that there's a "nodule" to be further examined.

I wasn't going to write about this.

It's common to be retested. Any melodrama made now could be made null in a week, after mammogram number two.

But then again, this could go either way.

You know how when you're traveling, and you step into a hotel room, or someone's guest room, you take it all in as new? You might lie down on the bed as you would your own, yet you're aware of the feel of it, the spongy spring to the mattress and the laundered scent of the blanket.

That's what's happening to me.

The test, then, is not only what comes next week, but whether I can keep a hold on this way of being.

Monday, July 25, 2011

To Sleep No More

I leave the elevator alone and walk into the black. Suddenly there are trees; a sparse forest of pine trees in eerie twilight, and still, I am alone. The music pulses, it builds, and I want to be afraid, but instead relax into the sound and emptiness. And I keep walking.

I had traveled to Manhattan in part to experience Punchdrunk's production of Sleep No More, a dreamlike telling of Macbeth spread over five dark floors of the former McKittrick Hotel. Audience members are handed masks as they enter and told to stay silent for the duration, which, depending on the time you arrive and your endurance, could span up to seven hours. You walk through the hotel rooms, ruffle through their contents, and chase actors and music that cues you into knowing something will soon happen. I followed Macbeth through a graveyard, stood next to him on a balcony as he watched Lady Macbeth below. I pulled back the bloodied sheets of a hospital bed. A clue?

The curious will be rewarded, we had been told.

My own sense of curiosity guided this trip--not only towards Sleep No More but also into Brooklyn, and up the stairs to the storied Gleason's boxing gym. My training session with Lennox Blackmore took place on a 104 degree day and it, too, was like a dream; within minutes of meeting me, Len secured my eyeglasses into his locker, which is papered with photos such as one with him, Hillary Swank and her Oscar for Million Dollar Baby, partially won for her work here.

I couldn't see my way around the country's oldest boxing gym, so I kept close to Len. So close that, for the first time in my life, I was accused of behaving like Joe Frazier. What, you're Joe Frazier? he'd say, and push me away from him. I'd come in again and he'd use both hands to push me back. This went on until I realized what he was trying to teach me: I've got a good reach and I should use it. I can punch from all the way back here.

The rest is a dream sequence. I remember certain combos, the 100 crunches, Len teaching me how to drink the water he poured into my mouth while my hands were laced up. Passing belt holders in the shower. Piling up my sweat-drenched clothes and heading back out into the heat.

A blur. But one that opened up into a world of color, one that Manhattan streets can't help but maintain. "Sharing-And-Caring," a resident of park in the East Village: thank you for your poems. Alexander McQueen's Savage Beauty at the Met. Zarkana, by Cirque de Soleil. My world is brighter and richer now, for you.

The curious will be rewarded.

I left the forest to find myself wandering into a hotel lobby from the 1930s. The sign-in register had been scribbled on, but no point in adding my name. Instead, I took the small bell and jingled it. An actor approached and reached for my hand. He led me to a chair in front of a piano, and other masked audience members gathered. After playing a few keys, he lip-synched Is that All There Is? for me. Tears streamed down his face. He left the stage, took my hand, and led me back to the desk. He held out a cloth, and I knew I was to wipe his tears. One cheek--he's not moving--then the other. His forehead. I handed it back to him. He buried his face in the cloth, put it down, and kissed my hand. I knew that was my cue to walk away, and move on.

On A Journey

seeing the city

from different angles

with old friends

and new

finding yourself

reflected back

Saturday, July 16, 2011

How Does It Happen

That it's a beautiful day, you have a list of things to do, you're tired from work, the sheets are ready to be transferred to the dryer, and yet you find yourself typing in a Google search for "cats on catnip videos"?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sitting With The Secret Service

Seeing former first lady Rosalynn Carter at Betty Ford's funeral in the news this week reminded me that I've been near the woman myself. Here's the story.

Where we lived in the late 90s was a morning's drive from Plains, Georgia, the setting for a small, unassuming rural church with avocado green carpeting, where Jimmy Carter taught Sunday School.

I summoned a friend to accompany me there one Sunday morning with the sole task of this: securing an autograph on a photo of Carter riding through my Pennsylvania hometown. My father, who collects presidential memorabilia, took the photo and had proudly displayed it in the decades since. He was the person who had alerted me to my proximity to Jimmy's church; he was sure the genial former president would sit down with me and swap stories.

The church was not hard to find; the tour buses occupied more space than the building itself. Janet and I were ushered into what turned out to be an overflow room. He'd walk through here on his way to the sanctuary, but that, we gathered, was the best we could hope for. We'd have to take in the lesson on Blind Bartimaeus via the large screen television, whose volume was just loud enough to hear, if you leaned. I thought I made out something about no autographs after the lesson, but figured it was a way of telling people not to make a fuss during the church service. It was difficult, after all, to remember that this was a church and not a tourist site.

After the walkthrough and the lesson, we were surprised to hear that a busload had left, and room was now available in the church pews for the morning service, which Jimmy attends but does not lead. Janet and I quickly nudged into the line of elderly southern folk, eventually finding our way into a front pew next to a young woman sitting alone.

Christy was one of the few longtime church members, as would be demonstrated shortly when anyone who was not a first-time visitor was asked to rise. Only a handful, including the president and his men, would stand...right next to me. For after Janet and I met Christy, we were joined in the pew by the Carters and their Secret Service. This was their pew, it turned out; we hadn't seen the Reserved sign posted at the other end. Rosalynn slid in next to Christy, then Jimmy, then one of the Secret Service at the end. The other agent bookended the row, sitting next to Janet. When we'd reach for our large purses on the floor, he'd move with us.

Church went on, and we tried to play cool the fact that we singing hymns mere feet from a former president. When the service concluded, we were led outside and into a line, where we were told that no autographs would be given; pictures with the president only. Disappointed, I decided if I couldn't have an autograph, I'd settle for a picture of the picture--with Jimmy.

I fished the frame out of my bag and left it to the side of the line as we waited. "Ma'am," a Secret Service agent said, "Please pick that up." I did.

On our turn, we handed our cameras to a church member. I showed the Carters the picture and said, "Beaver Falls, 1980!" We flanked the couple and smiled. The camera was returned and we were immediately ushered away, at which point I heard a wife nag her husband.

"Jimmy," Rosaylnn said. "You can sign that one, can't you?"

I didn't dare look back. But moments later, I heard the Secret Service calling me again: "Ma'am?"

I turned. He asked if I was in a hurry. Not at all. He told me to play nonchalant near the rear fender of the president's limo, pen in hand. "We'll get you that autograph."

I dug in the large bag once again. Jimmy finished smiling for the rest of the line and walked with his entourage to the limo, where I stood, nervous. I handed him the pen and picture and said, "To Dave." He never looked at me or said anything. He leaned the frame on the back of the vehicle, signed it and handed everything back to me. The Secret Service opened a door and whisked him inside.

The limo windows were dark, but I like to think that had I been able to see inside, I would have caught a wink, one woman to another.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Everything Makes Everything Else Easier, Except for Eve

I'm a keen observer of perspective shifts. How a thing can be seen differently even while it essentially remains the same.

Getting better at something, rendering it less difficult than it was: My kids and I do this running-in-place one-mile race together at home (via DVD; the mileage, then, is not completely accurate). We noticed today how it's getting easier, though we still sweat and huff and puff quite a bit. We could, theoretically, get to the point where this activity that used to kill us--we'd skip parts, stall-- is no longer a significant challenge to our cardiovascular systems.

Experiencing something more difficult than the thing that was thought the worst: One consequence of sparring for the first time Thursday night was the feeling that I could rule the world. Another was that the other aspects of training that used to get my jitters up--5 rounds of shadowboxing under critical eyes, performing on the bags--now seem like nothing. After what I did, I can do anything. Bring it.

Living with bad makes less bad feel better. A guy in the former prisoners group I work with mentioned yesterday that he no longer has to carry around the box that tells the state where he is. He still has a big thing around his ankle, but golly he was happy to give up that box. The chunky ankle bracelet is now easy to bear.

Knowing what could be, rendering what was satisfactory less so. When Eve ate the apple, she was sampling from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, we're told. I'm thinking this means she got a taste of the possible, and what she had--what looked real good when she knew nothing else--no longer appealed. Her eyes were opened, and this would not bode well for her nor her husband and the life they had.

Any examples of perspective shifts in your life? Good or bad?

Friday, July 8, 2011

What's Happening In My Head While Someone's Hitting It

Thoughts While Sparring For the First Time

--Hey. HEY!
--Oh yeah? Oh yeah?
--I can take that. No problem. Come at me again.
--She's street fighting. This isn't pretty.
--I WANT to LAND a solid RIGHT. Get your FREAKIN gloves out the WAY. Lemme try again.
--Her head snapped back. THAT'S what I'm talking about. Wait: should I feel bad about that? Her mother is watching. I'm hitting this woman's daughter.
--Actually, I don't feel bad at all.
--She's tired. She's MINE.

Thoughts Later In the Night After Sparring For the First Time

--My jaw hurts.
--Holy Sh*t I was boxing.
--Why isn't this tylenol kicking in?
--Why does my head still hurt?
--What is this bruise on my chest?
--Holy Sh*t I'm 40 and I was BOXING.
--What did any of that training have to do with someone standing there trying to hit me?
--Must learn more defense before I do that again.
--Will you do this again?
--Yeah, sure; a little more defense first, though.
--But my head. It hurts. Ow.
--What did you expect?
--Yeah, I guess I should expect to hurt a little after all that.
--Those girls were half your age.
--I rock.
--Do you?
--Sure. Hell, I wouldn't have been able to do this even three months ago.
--Yeah, you didn't even sit down between rounds.
--See? I rock.
--Stop it. I want to feel good about this so that the pain in my head doesn't take over.
--You really want to do a sport that causes pain in your head?
--Why don't you just recover today and see what you think?
--I'll do that.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Theatre of Boxing, and Life

"Truth is, I played at other people's styles so much I never found my own."

We'd just finished padwork, and the trainer was suggesting I watch video clips of certain female boxers. But they've got to be good, I told him, because I take on what I see. He nodded. He'd done too much of that, he said, and he never thought to turn what worked for others into something he could call his own.

When I first started boxing, I played pretend. The coiling in, the chin tucked, the elbows tight--I had to play at what I'd seen boxers do. It wasn't natural. It wasn't me. I was drawn to the sport, but the posture was not yet mine.

But with time, the fighter's stance became automatic. I stopped pretending to be a boxer; I just box. I get into position. It's what's done. My feet get a little wide at times, but I'm working on that. In general, I look like I should.

Stance,'s the dissertation I'll someday write. In Where Do You Stand, I addressed how we take on roles but how certain postures are default in us, make us who we are. But I'm still wondering if trying on something new can be incorporated into our sense of self. For the good, though it could go the other way.

The trainer: he never found his way. Maybe the style he tried on fit him like an oversize jacket. A jacket that was in style, but that nonetheless didn't look right on this guy. On others, yes, but not him. He was the pimply boy in evening attire, the old lady in the trendy teenage dress.

But maybe the color was good, and the next jacket he shopped for could have been this color, but in a different size. There must be a reason why the jacket was popular, same way there's a reason Joe Frazier's lumbering won him fights.

Greg and I were hashing out some marital discord the other night, when it came to blows--or could have, had we not been reasonable people trying to solve the thing amicably. As for my end of the resolution, I realized that the thing I promised to do better at would take a little pretending, at first. Not something totally out of character, but a good way of being that had lost its way over the years.

I'm not acting. I'm not trying to be someone else. Instead, I'm urging out a little of the me I'd like to see more of.

Taking on the stance that's required. There's your default posture on the one hand; there's the guy who never found his, on the other. And then there's the figuring out how something else can become part of you again.