New Year’s Eve, let’s try venturing out, sure! In the spirit of cliff diving and taking chances, and sometimes you soar and sometimes you crash land, the test of my resilience arrived via a proverbial slap upside the head, out of nowhere. We’re at a Santa Barbara resort party, chatting up a table of friendly Northern Cal folks, on a break from the 4 months of construction dust at home. I’m wearing those shiny black ‘f*ck me’ stilettos from a decade ago. The warning sign was there: on the way into the party I hang heavy off David’s arm, those suckers were slippery. No amount of scuffing those bottoms on the sidewalk makes them any stickier.
In the lifetime before this one, Dave and I took Latin dance classes. We were so dedicated we sought out a weekly venue to practice our moves. (And let the negotiations begin! Why, I ask, does the man always lead?! I’m uneasy with capitulation.) I have a selection of “sticky” bottomed shoes at our Florida place that still haven’t made their way to CA.
You know where this is going, right?
Ah, yes. Combine our rusty middle-aged minds and muscles with an overflow crowd and a DJ that adds a ‘salsa’ beat to every single song and the resurrected ‘who’s the leader here’ minor league arm wrestle and suddenly I’m spinning from an insistent turn of his arm but so is he, in the opposite direction.
When I reach for him, whoops, he’s gone.
Suddenly, I am splayed on the dance floor. Shoulder in excrutiating pain. No recollection of the journey from upright. Those goddam shoes!
Doctors and MRI and Xray and finally, 3 weeks ago, I end up with surgical repair of the torn tendons, no choice in the matter. Recovery, however, is my payback, my slap upside the head, my wake up. 6 weeks immobilized, 3 months of PT, 6-12 months to recover range of motion and be pain free. No, I’m not frigging kidding. (And yes, you hear that right, house under construction for another 6 months, no kitchen, 600 sq ft of living space…)
There will be setbacks on every road, uh, huh.
Most disappointing, I’ve had to postpone an 8-week novel workshop with Joshua Mohr. (Yes, my Stanford mentor and 1st novel editor, but also all-around-macho guy who advised my Stanford thesis, like, I don’t know, weeks after his stroke and heart surgery. Google Josh Mohr, read his memoir Sirens. Explain a few little tendon tears to guy like that?!)
I was once macho! 2006 I had my cancerous left kidney and adrenal gland removed less than a month after my total right hip replacement! Sure, a few extra liters of blood required, but I paid our biweekly company payroll on time. In 2014, when I was hospitalized with a mysterious infectious disease and dangerous blood levels, I did payroll from my hospital bed via my cellphone hotspot. (It was anaplasma, a tic-borne illness. Antibiotics to the rescue.)
Anyone who’s had this damned shoulder thing will tell you the post-surg is worse than the injury. My sister urges me to give myself a break. The night-time “discomfort” brings me to tears of frustration. I refuse oxy, it just ain’t worth it. And each bleary-eyed exhausting day seems to crawl further from full recovery. I hate, hate lack of productivity.
This is my test.
I have had the illusion of satisfaction, jobs well done, perfection (nearly) reached, and then…exchanged my life, world, home and vocation for another 3,000 miles and eons away. Keep moving, keep striving, reaching for the brass. No, nope. Stop.
It was different somehow, when my work was for others; that 25 years was an uber personal obligation but I wasn’t on my own. Now, the everyday is a fight for the motivation, an exhortation to myself and to no one else, to summon it, summon up the courage and the inspiration and the words, form the sentences and the thoughts and build a world on the page. No one waits for it. Except me.
To fight past all of that and THEN have to grit my teeth and stretch my arm and tethered tendons and pop another 800 of Advil and 1000 of Tylenol and wonder if the hurting is the good kind or the bad, doing too much kind, and the niggling “what are you doing? Who says you can write” mice start peeping.
If I give myself a break, will I ever go back?
And after quitting my job, uprooting my life, and at last, at last finding the thing I love-and-was-always-meant-to-do, my heart breaks and I cannot bear the thought. I don’t have any choice.
So I get up off the dance floor, paste a smile on my humiliated face, yank my hemline south, and utter no regrets. Those shiny black “f*ck me” shoes? F*ck them.