As the hot (and humid) summer approaches, two things have been in ascendence with me. One is that I have been going to the gym and working out a lot more for that, shall we say, swimsuit-ready look. And the second (inevitable) thing has been an upswing in my usage of the air-conditioning in my apartment. And I am pretty sure the combo of cold apartment and intense leg workout was what led to me waking up screaming at 3am with not one, but TWO intensely painful charley horses, one in each calf. As I literally screamed in pain, bending over to try to smooth out the muscle, my abs also cramped, and I flipped back in even more pain. I must have been screaming and moaning in pain for a good 3-5 minutes, and during this time I wondered how my friend Gonzalo, who is staying in my apartment, could have slept through the whole thing. Why didn’t he come in to see what was wrong or at least knock on the door? Could he have really not noticed something so loud?
This morning I got up and told him what had happened and asked him if he heard anything and all he had to say was, “Oh, I thought maybe you were having sex.”
And I am not just talking about the weather, although the last few days have been a mix of fog and rain and periods of glorious sunshine. I went to see the sports medicine specialist a few days ago about my back and he prescribed a round of prednisone which has really impeded my ability to concentrate the last few days. This drug is pretty toxic, they actually use the same on transplant patients to lower their immune system response to prevent rejection. It has made me weak and confused, and I am glad to be almost done with it. And although I think it has made my back pain a little better, mostly it has just changed the character of it somewhat from “pinchy” to “achey” if I had to describe the difference. And yesterday, I went to have an MRI for my lumbar area, and the doctor called later in the afternoon with the preliminary results. He told me there does seem to be a “disc issue” in the lower back between the 4th and 5th vertebrae. So I will go back to him next week for follow up. I like this guy, he is very upfront and it was nice that he called me to discuss the results in advance, but even he told me last week that if you took an MRI of any 10 people and looked at them, you would probably see problem areas or abnormalities, whether or not they were complaining of any pain. So it could be that my 4th and 5th vertebrae always looked like that, who knows. This naturally leads me to a question I always have vis a vis pain. Namely, if pain is a signal from your body to you that something is wrong, should you not fix it? Or does it really matter if you can simply get rid of the pain? Let’s say my vertebrae are screwed up or out of alignment from some perfect or “normal” state. So what if I am not experiencing any pain or discomfort because of it? One can also think of tons of examples where people are in pain, but there is no underlying problem to “fix”. The scientist/engineer/programmer in me can’t help but want to fix bugs and problems, but if there is no outward manifestation of these problems, and the body/machine/program is working, why bother chasing an underlying perfection? There are often times in my own work where (especially examining code that I wrote years ago) I see how something could have been built in a much more efficient or better way. I may cringe at design decisions I made at the time that I would never make today. But if the site or project continues to work just fine for the client, so what? Seeking perfection for its own sake is foolish, as it does not exist.
My right elbow has been bothering me for a few months, and I have been collecting various opinions about it. It isn’t anything debilitating, it just has some pain that seems exacerbated by certain movements and does not seem to be healing. I switched to using exclusively my left hand for all my computer mousing activity a couple of months ago, but it didn’t seem to make much difference. I stopped working out for a few weeks and likewise noticed no difference (so I started back up again). My doctor sent me for an MRI last Friday, and we will see what he says about that when the results come back. (Correction, really: my doctor wanted me to go for an MRI, but the fucking insurance company would not approve it until an X-ray had been done first, so that it what I had done Friday. I am sure I don’t need to note once again to my readership how evil I think insurance companies are, now do I?) Then today I was seeing my friend/massage therapist Jose, who I have an ongoing trade with (not that kind of trade, you dirty minded fools. I teach him French and he gives me massages.) He is quite knowledgable, and took a look at my arm and gave me some instructions for how to take care of it for a few weeks to try to get it to heal. It involves a couple of immobilizing devices (one of those carpel tunnel wrist things made of hard plastic and a thick elastic elbow cuff thing). He also told me to ice and heat treat it three times a day, and to do this for several weeks. And to make the arm as immobile as possible, going so far as to suggest a sling if I can bear it. Put all of this together and it looks super awkward and I am really hating it, but kind of feeling like I should give it a try, he seems to know what he is talking about. He says it is very important to really give it time to heal, which I clearly have not been doing as I should. He could be right, but when I look down at my arm, especially that wrist immobilizer, it just makes me think of some sad, overweight, middle aged woman working in some dusty clerk’s office who has to deal with carpel tunnel after years of bad posture, uncomfortable furniture, and squinting look ups of county land records or birth certificate notices on microfilm. I may just rather deal with the slight pain and wait to hear from my doctor, the emotional humiliation of this get up is too much.
I have been having a number of conversations in recent weeks with my peers (in age), and we are all a bit surprised by the increase in physical problems, sometimes chronic, that accompany us these days. I was fully prepared for these kinds of things to happen at some point, but I imagined it to be much later in life (say 20 or 30 years from now). I don’t remember my parents generation having so many physical ailments in their early 40s, but maybe I just wasn’t paying attention as a child. Have we been a more active generation and worn ourselves out sooner? Is there something in the environment that is making us go weak in the knees, back, head, stomach, shoulder and (some unmentionable) places? Are we just a bunch of whiners? I have spent a great deal of time over the past few years getting comfortable with the Buddhist idea of impermanence and decay and death. I have plumbed the depths of fear of annihilation and come out much calmer about it, at least in the abstract, than I have ever been in my life. I stare more plainly and matter-of-factly in the face of death, and have a greater appreciation for life and the manner in which it connects us all. It has become a mantra of mine to say that any of us may be hit by a bus at any moment, and to focus on the here and now, for tomorrow may never be.
And yet, I find myself flummoxed by the aches and pains, especially when they are severe. I find I have a new (metaphoric) mountain to climb to deal with the fact of my body wearing out. It is somewhat more emotional and frustrating than I thought it would be, noting that at some point we can’t run as fast, lift as much, last as long as we once did. And something in the back of my brain questions whether this isn’t some passing thing, since the problems seemed so marked from just a year ago. Perhaps it is because I have tried and failed to treat a deteriorating shoulder that grows more painful by the day that I now look for and notice any pop or crack that seems oddly out of place in any part of me. Whoever said getting older isn’t for sissies was spot on. And probably cranky a lot of the time.
My friend Paul had an extra ticket to a performance art piece at The High Line park last night, and graciously invited me along. The piece, entitled “City Symphonies Out of Doors” was part of the Performa 09 series, performed by “Acclaimed avant-garde ensemble Text of Light“. Basically, the ensemble played music to accompany a silent film from 1927 that had many scenes of life in Berlin. Their premise is to “improvise”, not “illustrate” in the presence of film. The film itself is seen as part of the Futurist movement, with its representations of dynamism in modern life. I studied the Futurists in college and was quite a fan of them, especially their work in sculpture (Boccioni, for example) and architecture (Sant’Elia). The antics of Marinetti and other founders of the movement were sometimes inspirational (trying as they were to shake off the chains of history) and sometimes merely petulant. It didn’t help that many of them aligned themselves with Mussolini and Italian Fascism later on. Be that as it may, the movement was one which tried to fuse art with the chaos and industrialization of modern life, to find a meaning and direction that was truly modern (and appropriate to the age). One hundred years later, it is still interesting (and sometimes comical) to look back on these preoccupations for what they tell us about the great upheavals and dislocations brought about by technology.
The film itself was mostly interesting for its historical content. There were some excellent compositions, but the only “avant-garde” thing about the film was its tenuous relation to “story”. I did find the scenes of early 20th century life to be fascinating in and of themselves. And although to modern eyes there wasn’t much particularly shocking, I can imagine a hundred years ago the sense of newness and chaos in the imagery and editing would have been more palpable and disorienting. The ensemble played “music” to accompany the film, and I struggled to find any structure, pattern or meaning in their noise. I played a game of trying to imagine their motivations for the screeching and at times physically painful sounds they were inflicting on the audience. Here are the possibilities:
1. They were trying to induce in the crowd the panic and disorientation of modern life, as close to the horror and dislocation as might have been felt by a farmer in the city 100 years ago. If they had played for merely 10 minutes, I would have gotten the point and enough already. But they continued on with this noisy one liner for over an hour.
2. They were trying to induce bleeding from the ears in the crowd. The level was so loud that at many points many of us had to put our fingers in our ears. I am not exaggerating to tell you that my teeth actually hurt.
3. They had a bet among them to see how many people they could make leave before the end of the hourlong performance. (They achieved about 20 percent attrition by my estimate)
My friend Paul professed to having loved the performance. Although I tried to elicit from him a clear explanation of what it was he found so wonderful in the “music”, I came away unconvinced. I can only imagine that a birthday gift of root canal would be most pleasing to him, if performed by an “artist” in drag with rusty implements. Ultimately, I was glad to be a part of this and get a look into another of the many worlds that layer over each other in this diverse and amazing city. That said, I think it will be close to the first of never before I would subject myself to anything associated with Text of Light again.
For your amusement (if not enjoyment) I am embedding a small clip from the event. To get the full effect, please turn the volume on your computer to maximum.