Saturday, October 27, 2012

Secret vanities

Does everyone have these—fabulous fashion statements that cannot be aired in public? I have a closetful of them: extravagantly tiered and flared bellbottoms that 40 years after I stopped being a hippie and started being hippy I secretly think look pretty great, halter tops that reveal shoulders and arms that I pride myself are still youthful but my daughter assures me are not (“Just no!”), circle skirts that went out of style when I was 10 but remain a personal vice (I think of them as “swirl skirts”), satin palazzo pants that remain the height of glamour (to me alone), the maryjanes that make other women look like dancers but that Other says make me look like a clown, and (don’t laugh) hunter’s-camouflage shirts—you know, the ones with trees and leaf litter.

There are more. Many are unworn, or worn only in the most indulgent company (my own), but the whims that made me buy them just keep resurfacing. Many of the daffiest arrived straight from Daffy’s, the aptly named well-loved “Bargains for Millionaires” store, which closed its doors a few weeks ago, so I suppose my collecting days may be over.

The thing is, the styles that now look best on me—sportswear and business clothes—don’t appeal to me. I don’t identify with the image they project: severe, competent, crisp, sure. And I don’t seek out that kind of woman for friendship. How did this dysmorphia happen? And will it ever end?

Monday, October 22, 2012

The 1% fallacy

There are many things to criticize my parents for. They are quarrelsome, stubborn and self-absorbed. But they share a remarkable quality that, alas, I did not inherit: optimism. 

If they see me worrying, my mom will say, “Oh, you’ll be fine” or “Don’t be silly. I’ll be fine.” My dad will wave away my concerns like dust in a mote. 

My mom refuses to use her walker with the same degree of conviction as that of the doctor who insisted she must never budge without it. My dad won’t take a cab if there’s a bus that will get him there, although he often can’t find a seat and he has a little problem with vertigo. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to die of stress watching them blindly lurch around, evading catastrophe after catastrophe by no more than a hair. They’re like Mr. and Mrs. Magoo.

And the thing is, 99% of the time they’re right. Most things do turn out just fine. And even if they don’t, it often doesn’t matter. 

My parents focus on that 99%. I focus on the 1%. It’s illogical, but I reason that if I worry about something, it won’t happen or I’ll be more prepared if it does. So I do a lot of prophylactic worrying. The problem is, prophylactic worrying doesn’t work. Bad shit happens even if you foresee it and worry it to death.

So I don’t want to raise my children the way my parents raised me or treat my friends the way they treated theirs. But in this one respect—relentless, irrational optimism—I’d like to be just like my parents.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Divinity in the details

In the early years of my yoga practice—really, for the first 30 years—I did little more than assume the shapes of the poses. I looked at what the teacher did and folded myself into the same configuration of arms and legs. I ignored verbal instructions—too boring!

But in the past five years, I’ve started to listen to the details and enter poses from the inside out. It’s a completely different experience. “Widen your thighs, drop your tailbone, firm your lower abdominals, lift your ribs, press your shoulder blades into your back …” The simplest pose is the culmination of scores of invisible actions. And though they’re hard to do, the details are not boring at all. They’re exciting, it turns out!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Shopping for the cure

I was telling a writer-friend last night that my attention span seems to be shrinking with age. From the moment I undertake a task, I focus not on problem-solving it or doing it well but on how quickly I can get it done, no matter how haphazardly, or how I can get out of doing it entirely. A task that requires concentration sends my mind spinning in the opposite direction. The prospect of mental effort makes me feel tired before I begin.

“Yes,” she said. “But it’s weird how even though I can’t settle into writing, I can immediately focus on, say, shopping online and be completely absorbed for hours.”

So I guess the cure for my ADD is shopping! 

Digitally remastered

I have a disorder called Dupuytren’s contracture, which causes my right hand to develop hard cords and lumps that pull my little finger into my palm. It’s not a life-threatening illness, but it limits my yoga practice—no downward-facing dogs or handstands—though I suppose it could expand my practice if I would only view it as an exercise in non-attachment to such earthly achievements.

The treatments can be radical: amputation of the affected digit; surgery to open the palm to remove the cords, which requires skin grafts and months of physical therapy; painful injections with cord-dissolving chemicals derived from gangrene bacteria; doing nothing and just living with the limitations.

This is what it looks like:

There is another treatment, not much practiced in the U.S., called needle aponeurotomy. In this less-is-more technique, the surgeon injects lidocaine into your palm and finger and uses the sharp edge of the needle to perforate the cord—over and over—then stretches the finger to break the cord into unattached segments. It requires no systemic anesthesia and no PT other than wearing a spring-loaded splint at night, and you can use your hand almost immediately.

I did this four days ago. I can’t do weight-bearing exercises for another week or so, but here’s what it looked like 24 hours after the procedure: