Shoulder

“we need the tonic of our wilderness…”  Henry David Thoreau

Often, I think of the cabin in the woods, where nothing will impinge on my solitude, except possibly the wind, and the sound of water from the Little Colorado.  It’s a little stream, six or so feet across, sometimes less, sometimes more, most of the time surrounded by willows or wildflowers.   The porch on the cabin holds the scent of pines, and whisper & light meanders through.  I don’t know if this is the future or the past.

I injured my shoulder last summer, flying down an alpine slide with some grown-up men boys. These somewhat-men have all the maturity of baby squirrels, or possibly bubble-gum, in their 50’s, still egging each other on to new feats of stupidity, until they hobble away scraped and bloody having gone too far.    I fell off the slide halfway down, immediately bruised in the rocks and sage.  Now I hear the crackle of arthritis when I reach too high.  It’s beginning to have me in it’s hold.  I see swollen distortions in my fingers, strange bumps in perfectly good pinkies.  A memory I probably would be better without…the juvenile me, the bad love affair….or no.  Better the scars and memories….faulty as they are.  “Yesterday’s just a memory; tomorrow’s never what it’s supposed to be.”  –Bob Dylan

A bad choice to go down the slide,  a good choice to go to Breckenridge. A good choice to travel through Colorado, to loving the trees and flowers and walk over fallen logs on mossy streams.   I admit to loving Thoreau; to wanting solitude to the extent of avoiding people; to resenting others for encroaching on my thoughts with small talk and  chit-chat.   My daughter complains that Thoreau’s cabin was too close to town.  She says it tarnishes his writing.  He wasn’t even in the wilderness.  Writing is usually a solitary act.  Even sitting in a café, writing is still the soul bleeding on paper.   A friend sent a text about Fitzgerald–that Fitzgerald had spent two years at a hotel in Asheville, North Carolina, and “… would I like to go?”  A few days later, someone else invited me to Cancun.   And like any great writer,  except possibly Fitzgerald himself, the banker Stevens,  and a few MacArthur recipients, I find my finances too limited to live in that style.  I’m afflicted with Dostoevsky’s diseases now — poverty and desire.

“Only the heart knows how to find what is precious.”  Dostoevsky 

Fitzgerald’s rooms 431 and 433 at the Grove Park Hotel would be beautiful, but how many pilgrimages can I go on?  —But imagine, drinking gin & tonics on the patio where Fitzgerald drank gin & tonics….after he sent beautiful Zelda off to the hospital. Three years later he was dead, and she would die in that mental hospital in Asheville.  I would like to go, but too expensive….on the bright side, I’ve walked the streets in Ludlow where Mother Jones was arrested, and seen the house where D.H. Lawrence lived and Georgia O’Keefe painted.

“She was overstrained with grief and loneliness; almost any shoulder would have done as well.”  –Fitzgerald      Perhaps he knew me in that life.

I’ve been on too many pilgrimages,  St. Petersburg, Russia to see the streets of Akhmatova & Dostoevsky, Gogol & Nabokov.   I’ve been to Mark Twain’s boyhood home, searched for John Berryman’s grave in Resurrection Cemetery, I’ve seen Donald Justice, W.S. Merwin and Maya Angelou in the flesh….and all the spirit I could wrestle from them is just a shadow on paper.   I might as well be a fan hoping to sing by watching Sinatra.  And even writing this, I think:  but there are singers who try to learn from Sinatra.    Am I a fan or a student?  An artist or a hack?  A writer who doesn’t write?  Can I elicit a response?

The world is filled with shoulders, to be leaned on, chipped, stood on, and slept on “wrong.”….though usually it’s my neck, which is another story altogether.  Dylan says   “behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain.”    What beautiful shoulders we have!   So much pain.  I’ll be damned if reading that, if it isn’t pleasing that the Nobel committee gave Dylan the Nobel Prize.  He’s brilliant and lyrical and full of soul…. the way any poet is.  I’m not sure his lyrics stand as “poems.”  In fact, they definitely aren’t poems.  But they stand as something else.  Not just politics, but beauty.

The poet John Berryman was about as innovative as a poet gets….and jumped off a bridge I think, due to recurring failures at sobriety.  But, of course, it was what was behind the drinking that caused him to die…..

 “I see his point, a trying to put things over.
It was the thought that they thought
they could do it made Henry wicked & away.”  – Berryman

I sound like my old first love….a huge Berryman fan, who thought of these writers as people, as peers, and of course, why not?  Dylan is no guru, no idol, no celebrity to be worshipped, he’s just a guy….he’s made it his life’s work to say so….the recluse, he just wanted to play his songs……and the world, it hands him the Nobel Prize.  The irony — there are no words.

I can’t keep company with these minds, except through paper, which is now electric. They molder mostly in the grave, even my first love…. so as Dylan would say:  “Sometimes you just have to bite your upper lip and put your sunglasses on.”  My first love: as talented as any of these poets as anyone I’ve known…..the melody of Whitman fighting the addiction of dylan thomas……  and yet, the world never gave him that kind of fame.  As Mother Jones would say, “pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.”  So, it’s up to me, the living.

Tomorrow  I have to give up another day of my life to live in a society I can’t afford to live in.   I’ll hang a badge around my neck, drive miles and miles in my 1993 Buick, and try to make it make sense.  Shouldering my burden, keeping the mortgage paid as long as I am able.   I’m standing on the shoulders of all these writers, and still I can’t see our the window. What the hell is out there, anyway.

“the best way to keep a prisoner from escaping is to make sure he never knows he’s in prison”  Dostoevsky 

I think, sooner or later, I will have to live here:

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Impingement

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A few weeks ago, I woke with a sharp pain in my shoulder. I couldn’t raise my arm perpendicular to the floor without pulling my hand back to my chest and grasping the top of my biceps and squeezing to get the nerves to stop firing. The pain came in waves, just to make a long, extended point that there was a problem here.

I had no idea how this had happened. I was sleeping. What the hell?

I have since been told by my chiropractor that I have an impingement. “How did you do it?” he asked.

“I was sleeping.”

“No, really. What happened?”

I made up a story about lifting up a heavy gate. It seemed to satisfy him.

My recent research into the problem of shoulder impingement has led to the following sophisticated discoveries:

  1. Impingement happens when the tendons swell and the space for the nerves is constricted.
  2. The swollen tendons push on the nerves.
  3. The nerves fire and you scream and grab your arm.

I thought a lot about the word “shoulder” and things such as “shouldering a burden” and “too much on your shoulders” and “the weight of the world is on your shoulders”  and “soldier” which sounds a lot like “shoulder”, and I bet those words are somehow the same, but I haven’t looked it up. I thought about Atlas and that big old heavy globe sitting on his shoulders, probably causing double impingement, God help him. Puts a whole new light on Mr. Atlas, I just thought the globe he was hoisting was super heavy.

But “impingement” interests me more.

I find these days I need space.  I don’t know if it’s a reaction to the many years of responding to demands in rapid succession, impinging on my time and my thoughts and my money and my possessions. I want my body to myself, I want to think my own thoughts, I don’t want to be invaded. I picture Atlas lifting a world that is fragmented by radio waves, advertisements, cell phones, constant interruptions, the latest global crisis, all impinging on extended thought, on fantasy, on the meditative state that allows new ideas.  It’s even harder to hold that world up when it’s in tiny pieces.

Keep it to yourself, I want to scream. Keep it to yourself so I have time to think. Keep it to yourself so that I know where I stand, my shoulders square, lifting only my own burdens.

Keep it to yourself so I can raise both my arms to the fullest extend, if and when I choose to do so.

Don’t impinge on me.

Sleep…. well…?

“We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”  – The Tempest

Talk of sleep sends me spinning.  Too many nights laying eyes wide-open, trying to make sense of a day that will not let me rest.

Work is continually horrific.  Today, for example, when I arrived at work, my coworker decided to go into detail about his surgery.    Why would I want to know about the state of his colon?  I do not. Ever.  The office, called a “pod,” was discussing rabbits, the rabbits that were apparently found scattered about poisoned on the sidewalk of our building.  Someone said, “…these things happen.”  and “Too many fences, too few predators. …so some maintenance team poisons the rabbits”.  Though someone behind a cube wall added “maybe they should get perches for hawks and owls rather than using poison.”  (I highly suspect my itchy feet are from this poison!)   After the rabbit-talk, there  ensued a barrage of one-sided talk from my coworker about the upcoming surgery.  Now as I lay me down to sleep.  Dead rabbits, crazy coworker, the stuff of nightmares.

The natural world’s all out of whack. Nothing natural, nothing chemical seems to help me fall asleep. I’ve tried melatonin, and Tylenol PM, and ambien,  Benadryl, and they all leave me waking up feeling like a rodent crawling out of a fog of poison.  I can’t think straight, and I’m still tired.   Every once in a blue moon, the stars line up correctly and I’m asleep before my head hits the pillow, probably so exhausted that my body wins the argument over my brain.

“I change during the course of a day. I wake and I’m one person, and when I go to sleep I know for certain I’m somebody else.”

Bob Dylan

“The lion and the calf shall lie down together but the calf won’t get much sleep.”  Woody Allen

My eyelids are heavy, but my thoughts are heavier.  I fall asleep on the couch and lay awake in bed.

To sleep well..to leap, to see, to weep, to sweep, to sleep…perchance to dream.

Robert Frost understood….I so long to stay up, to write, to clean my house, to live the life I cannot possibly live while I’m at work….though I dream it.   Writing becomes my lovely and dark wood.  But I have to persevere through the most boring work days before I can have the time I need. Sleep?  Just another obstacle from things that could make life bearable. The little pony keeps going down the road, away from the woods I love.

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“You cannot wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.”  Navajo proverb

“To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.”

or better:

“Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expir’d:
For then my thoughts—from far where I abide—
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself no quiet find.”  – Sonnet 27 

Goodnight, Pam.