Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Not like riding a bicycle

When my legs hurt, I say: "Shut up legs! Do what I tell you to do!” 
--Jens Voigt, German cyclist and former professional racer

After writing last week about being in pieces, my body and mind at loggerheads in the aftermath of knee surgery, today I sit on a bicycle for the first time in several weeks. The bicycle is stationary; I am in physical therapy.

In my new worldview, this connotes progress. (This is the same worldview where fetching the mail feels like 40 days wandering the desert. Needless to say, I now take new pleasure in pushing small envelopes.) Progress here means completing one full pedal stroke after several false starts and even more backwards rotations, which (the physical therapist assures me) are actually easier. The crux move is at the top of the pedal stroke; get past that, and the indoor world becomes one's cycling oyster. My slow rotation slows even further as my repaired knee approaches the pedaling apex for at least the fifth time. I feel pinching, either my reconstructed ligament bumping against its own envelope or swelling and scar tissue impinging on the action. For a split second, I wince and wonder if I should keep going; then my knee is over the top and on its way.

I go 30 more seconds, which leaves me in a clammy sweat. Never has so little felt so good. Turns out riding a bicycle is not necessarily as easy as riding a bicycle, not when my left leg has the fortitude of a droopy noodle.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

I fall to pieces

I've always thought of my consciousness as a pea, my body as a pod -- which, I suppose, makes me pea-brained. Those metaphors, I find increasingly wonky because they fail to express the seamless connection between mental and physical me. I think; my body does; my body feels; I feel. Turns out, though, the linkage is more tenuous than I presumed.

My first sign of this came last Wednesday. I had my inaugural experience with general anesthesia's power to shut off mental me. Here today, gone tomorrow. Except, instead of days, the switch flipped in just a minute or two. ("Light" anesthetic they called it, which struck me as ironic since I spent almost our entire encounter in the dark.) One moment, a voice behind me said, "We're giving you a mild sedative;" the next moment I registered was nearly three hours later, having missed a litany of cutting, drilling, poking, and stitching. My body did -- or was done to -- plenty; I felt nothing. A new experience of not experiencing.

Then, yesterday, I debuted in physical therapy. The therapist pointed to my right leg, the working one of the two stretched before me. "I want you to fire your quad," she said. I did, the muscle clenching and tugging my kneecap slightly up. "That's it," she said. "Now try that with the left one." I did, try that is, but nothing happened. I looked at the left knee, sent what had historically been appropriate brain impulses, and neither muscle nor bone quivered. Another new experience: my usual calls were not going through. The therapist assured me this was normal. She connected several patches from an electric stimulation apparatus to my quad and proceeded essentially to jump-start me.

Chemicals severing my consciousness from my body? I'd be disingenuous to say that had never happened before, but not to this degree. Electricity finishing the bodily job my consciousness wasn't fully up for? Humbling. "O brave new world that has such a piecemeal person in it," I think to myself, tempest-tossed.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Change, sliced twice

Late last week, a prize from Chronicle Books arrived to mark my luck of the draw in Two Writing Teachers' Slice of Life March Story Challenge. I received a copy of Bigfoot is Missing along with the writing journal on the right. Since I'm due for orthopedic surgery 17 hours from now, I figure either the universe is smiling at me or Chronicle may be running NSA-level surveillance on my blog.

In other news, the school where I teach has been under construction this past year. Part of the just-minted classroom space opened today for our use. It felt magical to see students' faces light up when they noticed the pressboard barrier was gone from the end of the corridor. Their pace quickened, their smiles broadened, and soon they were pinballing around the new hall.

Change can invigorate or daunt or both. As Chronicle's hedgehog cover model might counsel, "Roll with it."

Monday, May 9, 2016

Meddling with that Oates quote

Scrounging around for something to write about, I scrambled to the Two Writing Teachers blog with the sense that the weekly quote might offer inspiration I needed. Now, I'm primed to sow more Joyce Carol Oates. After all, don't her words work nicely as a Mad Lib? "First requirement of the _____ is the ability to concentrate for long periods of time. Second... the wish to do so." That blank just needs a noun ending in -er. To become awesome at anything demands both sustained focus and desire.

I saw numerous examples of that this past weekend, when my first season volunteering to coach a high-school Ultimate Frisbee team culminated at the state tournament. Sure, focus for these teen teammates wavered on occasion. All of them, though, spent big chunks of two days playing the most Frisbee in their young lives to date. ("We have another game?" they kept asking incredulously.) I marveled meanwhile at how the simple task of playing again and again led to incremental improvements. Stilted offense started sometimes to flow. Zone defense that stymied us on Saturday turned slightly crack-able on Sunday, even versus stiffening winds. Players whose hands proved unreliable gradually found confidence to latch onto what my one-time college teammate lovingly dubbed the Frisbee: a flying handle. "It wants to be caught," he would tell anyone who would listen -- an invitation I find myself repeating lately.

No matter the goal you're after nor what you aim to master... Concentrate and wish; wish and concentrate. Putting in the time matters, but Oates's double-barreled mindset matters more.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Looking backward & forward

On March 6, I wrote a baker's dozen of things I was avoiding; among them: "Making an orthopedic appointment to learn the truth about my sore knee." That appointment happened on March 23. (One of the fringe benefits of blogging is my meandering memory now has this handy record of sliced life.) Turns out the next item due to be sliced will be that aforementioned knee.

With apologies to a certain clumsy egg and the understanding that poetry isn't just for National Poetry month, here are four lines I drafted today:

Brian Rozinsky skied down a hill.
Brian Rozinsky took a big spill.
Now all the town's orthopedic expertise
Will soon try reconstructing Brian’s left knee.