Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On the Incredible Difficulty of Being Kind to Oneself

It's a beautiful Wednesday morning here. The heat wave has broken a bit, so up until 11 or so, it's still in the 70s. I can hear the sound of the wind in the trees, the sussurations of the sleeping cats. And I'm itchy.

Yesterday, I had a beautiful moment, where I thought: "whoa. I think I'm done with the frantic itching. Yes, I was a bit scratchy when I woke up, but now that I've downed both my steroid pills and a Claritin, I feel good. Is this what concentration feels like? The utter lack of distraction from itching?"

What's changed, you ask? Because I felt good yesterday, and because I'm signed up to participate in a team athletic event in five weeks, I went for a run. Without sunblock (because it would irritate my skin---irony!). In the 80 degree, humid weather. What would inspire me to do such a thing, you ask? Well, I wouldn't want to waste the extra energy of these steroids!! Might as well get something out of it!


After a Benadryl last night at 10, and then another at 11:30 when I couldn't sleep, and then waking up every few hours because I was all itchy (something that hasn't happened at all over the past 2 weeks of affliction), I blearily googled "poison ivy exercise" this morning, to discover that, yes, sweating can indeed intensify the rash and make you more itchy. %$^&**!!

The real biter is this: despite the fact that I know that I'm suffering because I couldn't take some time off from working out, it's everything I can do not to go again. Or at least go to the pool. Part of that is because the steroids have the tendency to make me jumpy (ooh! look over there! shiny! what were you saying? what are we doing? I think there's something in the other room that I need to do, but I can't remember what it is. Hey, is the bathtub dirty?). Exercise of any sort tends to cure that right up. But the larger motivation, I think, is the difficulty of not doing what you think you should be. At any time.

As I was finishing up my run yesterday (which, I must say, when fueled by drugs, is a sure way to shave some minutes off your time), I was thinking about all of the academics I know, and the ways that we push ourselves too hard, even when we know we shouldn't. This tendency, I think, is even worse with academics who are also sporty---all of my runner friends (who deign to hang out with me, poky and shambling as I am) want better times, push themselves, etc. And despite all of this push push push, to a one, there's also a berate, berate, berate. "I should be doing more." "I should have done that better." "I suck at this." Accomplishment, here, is just a set-up for giving yourself a grudging pat on the back before moving on to evaluate all of the ways that you should have done it better.

Or, to go back to the cause of all of my itchiness. What's driving the self-flagellation right now? Sure, I ran yesterday, but I can't possibly take today off, or I'll have wasted everything I did yesterday. Sure, it will aggravate my affliction, but surely I have to get to training?!! If I were training harder when this started, I wouldn't be in this position! And while I'm at it, shouldn't I have gotten more work done by now? It's July already!

It's a hard thing to learn: stop being so hard on yourself. Stop pushing and give yourself room to work on something. When I listen to my friends berate themselves for all that they should have done or should be doing, over and above all that they've accomplished, I've taken to giving them a bit of crap about it. "Right, and the most important thing is that you be as hard on yourself as possible, and refuse to acknowledge anything good that you've done." It's easy for me to recognize this in others, who I consider smart and accomplished and laudable. It's less easy to recognize this in myself (as in: "well, yeah, but I'm not like them."). I need more practice. [And why haven't I been practicing this before?!!----you see the problem here...]


Saturday, July 17, 2010


Okay, so it's been more than a week since I've posted. So sue me. I've got a really good excuse. Seriously!! Wanna hear it? Here it goes! Let's start with a visual:

That's my arm, and my new favorite patch of leprosy on it. In all of the "I can't do x because I'm afraid to go out in public like this" correspondence that I've sent out this week, I'm oscillating between two different jokes about it.
1) The first rule of Fight Club is that you don't talk about Fight Club.
2) If I have to play a Jared Leto role, I would have preferred Jordan Catelano to Harry Goldfarb of Requiem for a Dream (see below):

Sometimes, just for kicks, I throw in a joke about Job, and how I wonder where in Urbania I can find some broken pottery to scrape my sores. Because, folks, that's just the one that's easiest to take pictures of! Oh yes! They're everywhere!! My left leg is the worst, but the right one is quickly catching up, and I've got a few ambitious ones on the right wrist as well.

Did I mention the itching? Because nothing really caps off unsightly, weeping skin craters like intense burning and itching. Yay! Little helps. As per info on the intrawebz, I've been using rubbing alcohol and tea tree oil to help dry these suckers up, but to no avail.

Yesterday, I finally gave in and went to the urgent care, because the bread knife is starting to look better and better. (If I had a belt sander, I'd consider using it at this point.) The nurse who took my vitals proceeded to wipe down all of her instruments with alcohol at the end of my visit. And the doctor? His first sentence to me went like this: "Ms. Fluff? I'm Dr. X. (glances at arms/legs). You'll forgive me if I don't shake hands." Wuss. You think a little pus is going to hurt you?

The diagnosis (aside from "most people can treat poison ivy at home, but you've managed to spread it everywhere"), included "gee, you've really burnt the hell out of your skin," and "tea tree oil is good for some scabies. But that's about it," and "don't scratch."

Two weeks on steroids, witch hazel and caladryl. I am DONE with yard work, folks. Forevah. As god as my witness, I will never pull weeds again!!


Thursday, July 08, 2010

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

So, before I can even get to something vaguely substantive, can I just say that it's mothercussing HOT up in here?! It's not even 8 a.m., and it's 84 degrees and humid. In the house. Yagh. And this is totally not helping the small but virulent case of poison ivy blisters that I managed to acquire sometime last weekend. Balls. The only thing stopping me from pouring concrete over the entire yard so as never to have to maintain it would be the fact that it would really increase the heat factor. And thus, we've come full circle.

But while I've self-pityingly, with morbid fascination, watching beads of sweat form and roll down my leg while I'm indoors, sitting perfectly still, exerting as little energy as possible, I've also been trying to revise and resubmit this co-authored article that I should have finished last summer. While I was selling our house. And buying a new one. And pissing and moaning about that.

There are several things that are not helping with the r&r (and may I just say, for the record, that there is a brutal irony in the fact that this kind of "r&r" is so antithetical to the other kind of "r&r" which is what I should be doing in the height of the summer?!! ).
• we waited, like assholes, to go back to this article, and thus have to account for all relevant research that's been published since the first time we sent it out, up to and including a major revision of a primary piece that we're critiquing. Crapballs.
• in the course of examining said new research, I've pulled a couple of pieces from the journal that we're revising for. And while the articles are interesting (I guess), they're not world-rocking. There's nothing that I've read thus far that makes me sit up and say: "gee, I never thought of that!! This is totally going to change the way I think about x!"
• the above lack-of-revelation makes me wonder why we're working so damn hard on this revision.
• and then I realize that it's because my writing partner is an evil demon-sprite of revision integrity, in which she believes that anything worth rewriting is worth rewriting right, and thus we've torn this sucker down to it's pegs and started over with the detritus.
• I know that this should make me feel all high and mighty, but instead I keep wondering if we couldn't just make exactly the changes suggested by the editors and be done with the whole thing. A month ago. When we go back in our DeLorean time machine.
• I'm mighty suspicious of journal articles and scholarly publishing in general right now, and that attitude is not making me want to toe the line about academic discourse and formatting, all of which is tedious and necessary for this revision.

Whew. The real biter, however, and the inspiration for the title of this post, is that it's only in these situations when I really realize what it is that I'm asking students to do when they write and revise. Last week, I sat down with a book and two articles that I knew needed to be integrated into the draft of the article. But where did they go? Did I need specific quotes, or did I need to gloss the argument of the pieces and use that to frame my points? In the article that is most closely related to my argument, do I need to dismantle the author's conclusions point by point, or is it enough to explain in a few lines the ways that our studies diverge?

This week, I ran through all of the dreck rough material we pounded out trying to integrate this stuff, and found myself thinking: "good Christ, is there any consistent idea that holds this paragraph together? What is it's relationship to the rest of the section? Why don't we analyze this quote here? This idea is good, but really tangential to the point we're trying to make..."

Sound familiar? So was the feeling of frustration/rage that built up. Only this time, it was aimed at me and my writing partner, not at a 20 year old budding novelist. Hi! My name is kettle---did you have something you wanted to call me?

God willin' and the crick don't rise, we'll send this sucker out by the end of the week, and then hopefully I'll never have to think about it again. But I hope that I'll have some sympathy for my students when I blithely collect the drafts of their papers in the fall.

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Friday, July 02, 2010

The One Body Problem

Poor Kate, on whose post I left a chirpy little comment today. Her thoughts about what inspires exercise really dovetail with a number of things that I've been thinking about over the past week.

After The Epic Ride from Hades (see below), I did indeed lay off the bike for awhile. Actually, I had no choice---given that the brakes were non-existent, I had to take it in for a tune-up. But round about that same time, I started to have one of those weird "I think the universe is talking to me" moments. Early on in the spring, my super-athlete friend J had started training to do a local triathlon and had asked if I wanted to. I toyed with the idea for a minute in that "that sounds interesting! And so does hiking Kilimanjaro! And being an astronaut!" way, only to stop thinking about it when I found out that the date coincided with The Fluffs' trip abroad. But last week, it occurred to me: if the cursed paper had brought down the trip, then maybe I was supposed to do the tri? Could it be done?

So in the blazing heat and humidity, I went for my first run in months. It was painful, and more sweaty than anyone outside 300 has a right to be. But I got it done. So if that part were possible, then maybe? To really know, I'd have to try a couple of the activities back to back. So the next day, I went to the gym and swam the tri distance, got out of the pool, changed my clothes, went upstairs and ran. [For the record, I find running after swimming no more difficult than running without swimming. You just smell worse.] Chlorine-chafing aside, it was doable. Holy crap, maybe I could actually do this thing?!

I fully planned to rest the next day, since I could barely walk. But when J said that she and her awesome Amazonian partner were going to a training camp that night, I packed up my gear and picked up my bike and took out my wetsuit. And promptly had my ass handed to me. It's been awhile (high school, maybe?) since I've worked out hard enough to approach vomiting. By the end of the bike ride (which wasn't even the regulation distance), I was starting to hallucinate. I had always been climbing this hill, I would always be climbing this hill, dudes in tight shorts would always have their asses in my face as I climbed this hill... But I survived. I could barely walk the next day, but I didn't drown, and I didn't have to walk my bike. And I didn't cry. Not in front of anyone, anyway. Just internally.

By the time I had gotten up the gumption to register for the race, it was sold out. Disappointed. Relieved? It would have been a great thing to obsess over (you have no idea how complicated clothing can really be until you see people try to figure out how to do three different sports in it. This should be a Project Runway challenge. Come on, Michael Kors, get all South Beach sport with a frisson of Chanel on us!). And in the run-up (so to speak) to the idea that I'd have to train for that sucker, I started planning out what I'd have to do each day, what I should be eating (see Kate's post on this too!!), recovery days, etc.

Thinking about competition, or challenge, when it comes to exercise is such a different motivator than "my ass looks fat in this skirt." Because seriously, when it's hot, and I'm running (and I hate running), what's the motivation to keep going? Burning off another 100 calories? Bitch, please. I'll down that the instant I get back from the run! [And woe betide my running if the ipod falls on Aretha. Because then all I can think is "dude, Aretha is awesome, and she is a big woman. What the crap am I running for? I should be at home belting it out! And eating a donut!]

But doing something hard to show yourself that you can? Or because you're going to have to do it in front of hundreds of other athletes and spectators who will point and laugh if you choke? That's motivation. [They won't actually laugh. They'd probably just pity you. Or judge. But I bet the pointing would happen.] And better yet, it's a way to think about your body in terms of what it can do, not what it looks like. Any change in the latter is the side effect, not the goal. I'm never going to be tiny---that's not in the cards. But I can haul ass up that hill on my bike, yessirree bob. And that's the ass that is so happy with what it can do that it doesn't even mind being padded out in public.