Archive for August, 2009
Monday, August 31st, 2009
Yesterday, I was playing tennis with my handsome husband, when suddenly I felt the urge to stop, bend over, and catch my breath. My heart was beating out of control and not in an aerobic sort of way, but in a panicked sort of way.
And then just as suddenly as I needed to stop moving, I started to cry. Slow at first and then more rhythmically, the way you do when you realize what’s happening. That you’re about to have a meltdown on the tennis court, in front of all the other Sunday people, that you weren’t prepared for.
The feeling overwhelmed me. It was as if I were in a full-body emotional cramp. I could no longer lift the racquet to serve the ball. I could barely look up. I’m sure my husband thought I had somehow injured myself.
“Honey,” he yelled from the other side of the net. “Are you okay?”
But I couldn’t answer. I could only look down, which is not unusual after a long volley, along with the need to catch some air. But that wasn’t the problem. And it didn’t take him long to know it – to see that my lips were contorting in that downward way they do when all the world feels heavy and the tears are about to tumble out..
Never mind that it was perfect outside—75 degrees and sunny, with a lukewarm breeze and the sound of laughter from the kids playing basketball on the courts beside us. It was the kind of day that calls for celebration and appreciation for being alive.
Which just made me feel all the more stupid—to be crying about the same old thing: My body. And the fact that I’ve been on but another diet for the past month and, again, can’t seem to shed an ounce. There is a sense of despair that takes over when you realize, in the scheme of being helpless against so many outside forces, you cannot even control your own anatomy.
For some reason, I felt that so acutely yesterday, playing tennis, when the weight of my calves, my arms—my heart—just dragged me down to the ground.
When you are young, you say it will never happen to you. You will never be one of those people who can’t lose weight, who’s skin is suddenly dry, who can’t sleep because it’s too warm (even though the thermostat says it’s 65), and who would rather have a soothing nap than, say, a hot romp.
You say it will never happen to you. This aging thing. The lessening of some hormones and the revving up of others. And then it does.
Then, you say, at least if it does, you will not be like the others and suffer the same symptoms and woes. Because you are special.
You, unlike everybody else, will grow older gracefully. Without the stereotypical haywiring of middle age. You’ll be trim and sedate and moist.
And yet, here I am. Dry flaky skin looming on my forehead. Hot and then cold. And on a diet for three years without losing a pound. To wit my mother said, so profoundly, “Well, at least you’re not getting fatter.”
There’s that bright side again. For a minute there, I thought I had lost it.
And then, even brighter still: This morning, my husband woke me at 5 a.m., with a cup of hot coffee and a kiss on the forehead. “Meet me in the basement in 20 minutes. I’ve got a special workout planned.”
And he did. With all the tender loving care of a surgeon removing a tumor from a newborn, he put me through a one-hour workout with gentle notes and free weights that has my muscles still shaking after eight hours.
“I love you as you are,” he said. “You are beautiful. And I’m here.”
Bad Sunday be damned.
On Monday, I am so blessed.
Tuesday, August 25th, 2009
This is gonna sound weird, but sometimes, I think a lot about the pilgrims.
I imagine the lives they must have lived, so different from ours, especially when I’m doing something ridiculous (which is often, sadly)—or when I’m wrapped up in an activity I suspect might have had them scratching their heads in bewilderment.
Like, for example, dancing. (MASHPIT, HELLO?) I wonder, did the pilgrims dance? Because let’s face it, for the most part, dancing serves no real lifesaving purpose. (And the pilgrims in my head were all about sustenance.) It’s just a silly exercise that has grown humans flailing their arms and legs to the beat of some noise for no good reason.
The pilgrims had reasons.
Or skipping. Did the pilgrims skip? Perhaps, but it just seems out of character. Although maybe their youngins did. I have no idea why I just used the word “youngins”. (And just as a sidenote: I love to skip. It’s impossible to feel anything but joyful when you’re skipping.)
Here’s another example of something I think the pilgrims would find puzzling: Kettle bells. Last week, my trainer Ellen had me work out with them—weights shaped like kettles, replete with heavy little handles. Theirs is a high-concept approach to exercise. One that, according to Ellen, has you forget everything you’ve ever learned about doing, say, a bicep curl with free weights or the Nautilus leg press. No bending slightly at the joints. No taking it slow or easy or gently. No feeling the burn.
Instead, the kettle bells have you lock out, thrust, and shove at a frantic pace. It’s like going into a full-body convulse on purpose. At least that’s how I understand it, especially given the one move my trainer had me do with them.
I had to first grip the bell’s handle with both hands, as if I were trying to wrestle my purse away from an angry robber. And then—like a five-year-old crouched and readying to push a bowling ball down a long alley—bend and drop the kettle bell between my legs and up towards my donkster. Once there, I had to hold (two, three, four) and then drag it back down through my legs and hoist it up into the air (without knocking myself out, of course) like it was riding some imaginary roller coaster. All the while thrusting my pelvis hard, as if I were auditioning for a recurring part on the Spice Channel.
And then, there was the simultaneous breathing—VERY IMPORTANT, says Ellen—the kind that involves a maniacal sort of hissing as the result of my blowing air through my clenched teeth. Think the “he he he” you’d overhear in a Lamaze class, with a long sssssssssssssssssssssss at the end. (Not that I would know firsthand, since the only things I’ve given birth to include this blog, a few giant neuroses, and some outstanding credit card balances.)
Now, try to picture it: Short, chubby, middle-aged me and my big hair-on-fire red head, swinging a weighted pocketbook through my legs, chanting like a contracting pregnant woman, undulating my pelvis, and letting out an occasional nose whistle in an errant attempt to tooth hiss, all while struggling to stay upright.
You got it?
It’s in that moment—in that “why am I doing this?” moment and others like it—my mind moseys over to the pilgrims. And what they would think.
Would they congratulate me for being such a good and fearless trooper, so dedicated to preserving my own anatomy that I’m willing to do anything? Would they admire my fancy moves? My ability to embrace humiliation? The “interesting” way I’m able to maneuver my mid-section? Or would they laugh at the way modern-day abundance and extreme convenience has turned me into a kettle-bell flinging idiot?
After all, I suspect their approach for staying in shape was quite practical—tilling the fields in an attempt to generate food and shelter, and create a better life for their families.
All I’m trying to do is tighten up a muffin top and diminish the appearance of cellulite.
Oh how they judge me.
The irony is, I don’t even know that much about the pilgrims. I mean, I can see them in the Amish-like outfits I picture them wearing in my head. But really, I have no idea if that image is accurate. (I could check Wikipedia or try to retrieve some memory from grade school [which might require hypnosis], but then again, maybe later.)
And yet, going forward with the little information I do have, I continue to wonder how they’d view our obsession with work, our need to be connected always, the whacky rituals we’re willing to embrace to stay in shape and the oh-so-shallow reasons we have for doing them.
What would they have to say about the zoom zoom zoom of our 21st-century culture, so different than I imagine theirs. It’s a pace not only reserved for fitness, but that poisons almost every aspect of every day –sometimes swallowing us up whole, leaving little else for tilling a lone pot of daisies, let alone an entire field.
Sometimes I wish for more pilgrims in our midst because I think they’d bring us the perspective that I so often think we’ve lost. And that we (okay, me) crave.
And that’s why I think about pilgrims, on some days, too much. Not that you asked, but there it is.
Until next time…
Tuesday, August 18th, 2009
How many of you out there work in an office building that has an elevator with mirrored doors? Raise your hands. C’mon.
Higher, I can’t see you.
That’s what I thought.
Now, how many of you like being assaulted with your reflection five days a week from the moment you set foot into your office building until the moment you step out, and all the steps you take in between to, say, go to lunch, get coffee, or just retrieve something you may have forgotten in your car (providing, that is, you remember where your car is parked and have extra time during the workday to figure it out or manage any ensuing panic)?
Go ahead, raise your hands again.
Just what I thought. So I am not alone.
That fact always makes me feel better.
Let me speak for all of us, then, in saying that mirrors in the elevator are awkward for a number of reasons (hello building designers and architects, are you listening?). I mean, I get their purpose: To make the space feel bigger. But they are also prohibitive in terms of being able to a) stare at other people’s reflections without appearing slightly crazy (hello, can anybody say “kill joy”?) and b) hide from ourselves.
I don’t know about you, but when I look at myself in the elevator doors at work, I wonder if I really look like the squat woman who resembles a young Mickey Rooney with big red hair reflected back. How is it that, in this not-so-fun funhouse mirror, the skirt and top that looked perfectly lovely just hours earlier has suddenly morphed into something you’d find on the cover of a Frumps-R-Us catalogue? (Let’s not even talk about the exaggerated circumference of my exposed calves.)
Now, I’m not trying to put myself down. That’s not the point. I’m just wondering: Is it just me? Or does anybody ever like the way they look in an elevator mirror? And what do I look like? Really?
Sometimes, when I’m riding up to the 12th floor, I try to focus in on another rider’s body parts as they’re reflected in person and then the mirror to see if the images match. It’s my own scientific method for seeing if the mirror is playing tricks on me and to gauge what’s real in terms of my own anatomy. Usually, however, it’s difficult to be inconspicuous in getting this kind of information—a good view of some stranger’s butt, say, or stomach. As a result, it rarely bears fruit, leaving me more confused and frustrated about what’s true in the end.
What makes matters worse is that I pass through some eight mirrors in the course of a regular morning and look different in each and every one.
1. The bathroom mirror.
2. The barely full-length mirror I bought for $12.99 at “Bed, Bath, and Beyond” some 12 years ago and moved across four states, which is now nailed to the back of my walk-in closet.
3. The long wall mirror in the foyer I must pass on my way to the blessed kitchen.
4. The extremely clean, ergo reflective, glass French door I must pass on my way to the garage.
5. The small mirror on my visor in the Honda Element.
6. The dreaded elevator mirrors.
7. The too many super clean glass doors in the office.
8. The two bathroom mirrors at work.
Which of the bevy of reflections I see in each of these am I to rely on? Which tells the real story of who Jill Sherer Murray is from the outside?
And then, when I get too obsessed with not having the answer, I think lovingly back to the days when it didn’t matter—when I could ride up to my office in relative peace, calmed by the delusion that I looked fantastic.
Back then, I worked for a dental association in Chicago. Their elevator walls were designed to look and feel like hardened tooth enamel. And they were glorious—a fine shelter from not only the other people in the mechanical yo yo, but my own self-inflicted bad thoughts. Why, not even the laser-beam eyes of a wild cat could penetrate their purposely porous surface.
Oh how I miss those days. (Of course, I complained about them mercilessly at the time, you know.)
So tell me: How do you feel about the mirrors in your world? I’m curious.
Until next time!
Tuesday, August 11th, 2009
On Saturday, we took Steppy into New York to see Wicked. A great show. I won’t give it away other than to say that the scene just before the intermission is spectacular. The actress who plays the wicked witch character belts out a beautiful song called “Defying Gravity” as she is lifted up off the stage, away from the other actors, and into the air. While they (we) watch her, awestruck, she flies and sings alone:
“So if you care to find me
Look to the western sky!
As someone told me lately:
“Ev’ryone deserves the chance to fly!”
And if I’m flying solo
At least I’m flying free
To those who’d ground me
Take a message back from me
Tell them how I am
I’m flying high
And soon I’ll match them in renown
And nobody in all of Oz
No Wizard that there is or was
Is ever gonna bring me down!”
This, my friends, is a powerful moment. Brought the girl in the seat next to me to tears (okay me too)—and got the audience up on its feet, cheering. We were rightly moved. Who wouldn’t be? By the sight of a woman taking back her power, suspended above it all, proclaiming her strength and resolve.
In the play, the wicked stepmother, I mean WITCH is a resilient figure, imperfect and dignified, and fighting to heal a flawed Oz. She is sometimes flying, in her pointy black hat and long robes, waving a long broom and shouting out to a room full of mesmerized tourists. And she is always facing heinous injustice—bad Wizard. Bad. (But then again, that’s what makes the play so interesting, is watching to see how to she overcomes it all.)
And I can’t stop thinking about her—shake the picture of her floating in my head for anything–not even a merciless set of work deadlines, too many household chores, an uncooperative craving for cupcakes, or 36 hours with Steppy and its after-effects.
After all, who wouldn’t like to feel the exhilaration that must come from rising slowly towards a gilded sky, fueled by the sound of horns and drums and applause, propelled by sheer will and talent and rightness?
How I wish the wicked witch would’ve plucked me out of my seat and taken me with her. We have so much in common (truly).
That would’ve been something. You know?
Seeing Wicked—living vicariously in the witch’s moment—reminds me of a similar experience I had in Chicago many years ago.
I was at a Peter Gabriel concert with a gal pal and my then longtime boyfriend when, at one point in the show, Gabriel climbed into a clear human-sized bubble to sing something I just can’t remember (darn you middle-aged memory and where did I park in the lot today?). What I do remember, however, is that I was riveted. The way he maneuvered that bubble around a narrow stage was downright artful.
How did he do that, I still wonder? Keep the bubble steady while hitting all the right notes and navigating the props and musicians and even his own muscles and nerves? And yet, there he stood—as upright as upright gets. In perfect form, crooning from inside a thick plastic sheath, pushing it forward without incident, turning it over and over again like a wheel without missing anything…
I marvel at the things people can do. Wish I could too. (Wait…)
…If anybody knows where I can get a bubble on the cheap or how I can string myself up to a cloud, by all means, write. You know where to find me. (Look to the eastern sky…)
Until next time.
Monday, August 3rd, 2009
Since I’m having focus issues lately, this post may be a little, well, unfocused (too much heat, not enough pizza). Which is why instead of trying to rein myself in (good luck), I’m just going to go with the flow and call this baby “10 Weird (or maybe random, I don’t know, could go either way) Things”. Here goes:
#1: This morning, I had a conversation with my adrenal glands. Seriously. Sat down on the bed, stared up (have no idea why up, please don’t ask), and had an entire conversation with them. It went something like this:
Me: Please, I beg of you. Cooperate. I’m giving this weight loss this one last grand stand. (DiettoGo.com. I know, I know. Hush.) Put the tiger back in the woods. And stop pumping me full of toxic adrenaline.
Glands: We’ll discuss with your thyroid and get back to you.
#2: Last night, Dan and I were watching a movie when one lone hair sprout from his eyebrow (like the rainbow flag that waves off our neighbor’s back deck, but without all the colors) and started screaming. PLEASE PLUCK ME. PULL ME OUT LIKE A GIRAFFE, DESPERATE AND DROWNING IN A LONG SEA. So to my husband’s dismay, I did. (He’s fine. Really, he is.)
#3: Last week, I had dinner with eight girls (grown up ladies now) I went to college with. Hadn’t seen some of them in, oh, more than 25 years. And I was going to write an entire post about the experience. But then, I decided against it. Yes. I stick with my original decision to say nothing. Not a peep outta me.
#4: Speaking of peeps, no word from Phoebe. Freakin’ bird.
#5: Yesterday, we were having brunch at the Continental with our best friends in Center City when it started to thunder and lightning and pour as if some Martian was watering the earth with a turbo-powered garden hose turned to “hard pellet”. It was cool.
#6: We’re pretty sure our neighbors are undercover agents (think Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies). They’re a really cute barely middle-aged couple–you know the type, thin and perky. Savers who have a lot of cash in the bank, run in the park (sweaty, really sweaty), and seem like they’re always closing their garage door. Hmmm.
#7: I saw my boss at the gas station on Saturday while gassing up the Prius before heading into town for the Elton John and Billy Joel concert. It was a little like seeing your kindergarten teacher in the bathroom at Pavios when you were five years old. (Hello Miss Charmeglow.) Truly weird.
#8: The Billy Joel and Elton John concert was NOT awesome. Why? Because they didn’t play enough of the old music their fans (like me) want to hear. Of course, I did enjoy the cheese-steak sandwich and fries at the park. (Mom, close your ears.) And two days later, I’m still enjoying them. (Note to adrenals: Could ya put in a good word for me with my esophagus?)
#9: Being at the concert reminded me of Marcia Mankowski (yep, a pseudonym, nobody could possibly be named Marcia Mankowski in real life and my apologies to Marcia Mankowski if she finds this offensive)—this girl I met when I was 14 years old who I think was more fanatical about Billy Joel than I was (no small feat). Back then, she had long, blonde, wild, rebel hair that I envied. I saw her recently at the Gap, where she was restocking the shelves and tending to the cash register, her long wild locks now a garden-variety mommy bob. I gave her a big HELLO. She didn’t remember me. (Suffice to say, I did not get her discount.)
#10: I’ll bet you didn’t know that I like to read sites like Popeater, Wallet Pop, and TMZ. Yep, I’m a real sucker for those stupid teasers that come up on AOL. DAMN YOU AOL. Sorry to crush the fantasy folks, but if you didn’t know by now, I’m human.
#10: I’m still standing? Seriously, Elton? Are you kidding? Do you think anybody wants to hear that song? Besides, you didn’t stand once during the whole show. (Well, maybe once.) You didn’t play Someone Saved My Life Tonight for I’m Still Standing? I’ll tell you what: That kind of behavior wouldn’t have gotten you very far if you were just getting started. So count your blessings, Mister Mister. If I were you, I’d count ‘em every night.
BONUS WEIRD THING #11: You know what’s really weird, possibly the weirdest. That I’m almost 47. Oh, and this post.
Until next time, where I promise something less weird…
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