Monday, December 25, 2017

Blood, Sweat, and Tears

I wake up reluctantly, and still bleeding. Bleeding from the relentless, indifferent march of womanhood. Bleeding, too, from the cracked, dry corners of my eyelids. One of a few stubborn places where my immune system defies science and insists on asserting its inflammatory response.

If I were Christian (or at least not Jewish) I'd blame Christmas for needing an extra 10 mg of Prozac this morning. I would wonder about suicide hotlines and homicide hotlines and everyone being alone and sad. 

But there's nothing special about today, other than the fact that it's special to everyone else and nothing is open. 

Christmas each year is just a spectacle to me. I'm a spectator literally glancing through other people's living room windows from a stop sign. All the cookie-making and the tree-trimming and the electric trains and the family dynamics are all just a bemusing piece of theater. A Kabuki play unfolding on a stage of social media and delayed flights and text messages, none of which apply to me.

And yet I feel something, and it's not good. 

Maybe it's the day stretching out before me--my kids needing to be entertained--with the hours a daunting muddy slog instead of a joyful future memory festooned with tinsel and cloying song. Maybe it's my family; their inevitable disappointment at my tuning them out for a Dear Diary moment with my laptop. 

But I know it's more than that. That it's another form of bleeding. Of skidding.

After so many winters in Alaska, I've become pretty good at driving on ice and snow. I know to slow down and make small moves so I don't roll into a ditch, or at least maybe not hurt myself if I do. I know not to slam on the brakes or try to steer out of a skid. I know to take my hands and feet off the gas and the steering wheel, and just more or less let the car right itself.

Sometimes, though, when I'm in a skid, when I'm suspended in that moment, I'm not sure where I'll end up. Vacillating between the ditch and the road, between self-preservation and indulgent masochism and half-hearted self-harm.

I decide that the treadmill, of all things, is what I need right now. So I rifle through an archeological dig site of three overflowing laundry baskets to find my workout clothes in level three of the fossil record.

This is not the anorexic, athletic ambition-fueled OCD running of my 20s, but the Parkinson's-avoidant, cardiovascular health running of my 40s. I do this frog in boiling water thing. This thing where I keep making the speed one tenth of a mile faster. I remember my old hockey coach telling me to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth. To breathe like that, and unclench my hands when I run to conserve energy and achieve maximum oxygenation of the bloodstream.

As I cue up songs, I start to hear sadness emerge from all the lyrics.

And I start to feel sad about all the mistakes I have made and the reactions I've been baited into. The things I didn't say when I should have. The things I shouldn't have said but did. The hurtful people and selfish situations I've exposed myself to for no reason and to no end. The friends I've disappointed. The inadequacies of motherhood. My professional shortcomings and my petty envies. This beleaguered, disorienting slum of a time we are living through. The tiny, insidious biases and mundane daily hypocrisies we all live with.

I think about my 20s, my 30s, and my 40s.

I think about the lost feeling I had in my low-self esteem 20s. How I made decisions then without knowing what I was doing, and how I spent my 30s living out the consequences of those decisions, for better, worse, or just plain dumb luck. (So far I've had more of the latter than I deserve, and I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop).

I think about how my 40s will have to be a place of reckoning with the last 20 years. How life isn't a Choose Your Own Adventure book where you get to just back up and ramble on down some unchosen path to see how it would have turned out.

5.6, 5.7., 6.2., 6.5, 6.7. I keep dialing the speed up on the treadmill and the volume on my headphones and my whole face is just a mess of salty wetness now. A bald eagle soars past the window in front of a snow-capped mountain and it looks like a postcard outside. There's sweat and tears all mixed together, and as I run faster I just feel sorry for myself and grateful for the people who make good sports bras and music.

I bring music into the bathroom with me so I can keep crying in the shower. Bellbottom Blues is playing. I go through these phases when I'm really into Eric Clapton. I know he's just another rich, arrogant, womanizing asshole rockstar who went to rehab, and I read his biography so you don't have to. On the other hand, dude could write a song. 

My hair drips water onto my iPhone as I scroll through Spotify for another song by another band; one of many, that always re-centers me when I'm in this type of headspace.

So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?

Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?

How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have we found?
The same old fears.
Wish you were here.

And suddenly, there's nothing left to do but write it all down.


  1. It's winter in Juneau. The light returns, but so slowly.

  2. You might benefit from an overnight sensation:

  3. Or maybe some re-spiced Nirvana will bugger up your synapses sufficiently to steer you out of the skid. Hope so.

    1. Hah! Forgot the link on that last message:


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