Thursday, April 25, 2019

Tai Chi Class

"Brush your knee," the svelte Tai Chi teacher says.

I glance to see how she's brushing her knee. She stands on one foot and seems to touch her knee with her other knee. Egads!

I try to lift my foot. It weighs like cement and refuses to leave the floor.

Now she's tapping — tap, tap. Around me I hear a dozen other feet — tap tap. Jeez! They're all tapping!  

I give it a go but stagger.

"If you can't stand on one foot, Marilyn, hang on to your chair."

I grip my chair. "Tap tap." But it's a solo. I felt ten inches high.

Never mind. I know I'm falling down the strange rabbit hole of Tai Chi. Down down down. I take my stopwatch out of my pocket as I pass a red rooster flapping its wings. Pass a deer waggling its antlers. Pass a tiger on the trail of the deer. Pass two elephants bending elbows.

I reach the bottom and stare at a stiff monkey grabbing peaches, looking right, then left, then gobbling.

We seize a boat and push it, but no one gets in. We're all too busy gazing at the sun and the moon. Then we stop to lift a stone from the bottom of the sea. We dust off against the wind, watch clouds roll round and round. A Great Spirit Bird arises. We raise our arms above our heads, again, again, again.

No one speaks English here. Sometimes I catch a word or two as we concentrate on our Dantians or our Laogongs or our Mingmans. By the time we leave, we're all fluent in Chinese.

"Practice standing on one foot at home," Jan Dixon, our teacher, tells me.  

I do. I'm determined to learn. I grab the kitchen counter, stand on one foot and lift the other. I march with slow high steps held long. I extend one leg behind me, repeat, repeat, repeat.

At last one day in class, I brush my knee. Soon I even tap-tap.  

But that's not the end of it. Now I must learn to perform the crane, that straight-necked whooping bird who sticks one long leg way up in the air—and holds it!

Thursday, April 18, 2019


Of the sixteen-hundred things that frighten me about my Parkinson's disease diagnosis, the worst is this: I might lose my ability to speak.

Imagine that I'm standing in front of a crowd of listeners, ready to read again my national award-winning poem, "Pricksong," but when I open my mouth, nothing comes out.

"Count out loud when you exercise," says my physical therapist. "Don't shout, just speak up. That will help." So I do. One-and, two-and, all the way to thirty sometimes.

At home I practice talking. Every time I see Ruby, my cat, I speak loudly to her. She seems to like it. So I talk to my plants, the blue jays, then to the refrigerator and the coat closet and my recliner. Now I plan to talk to my computer instead of using my keyboard if I can figure out how to do it.

Today I talked in my car. I spoke (not shouted) to the driver who roared out of line behind me to cut across the gas station and leap in line in front of me. I said to him (it must of been a "him"): "Why you stupid son of a butterfly, that was the dumbest-dimwit thing I've ever seen. No wonder your left fender is completely bashed in."

Now I speak all the time. I read every long column of my New Yorker out loud, struggling to pronounce proper nouns. Everything I think I say out loud, once, twice, sometimes up to thirty.

Hey, you, maybe you'd like to hear me talk, loudly, nonstop, for a couple of hours. 

What? No? 

Just remember, it could be worse. I could open my mouth and nothing would come out. 

Not even my crying.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Who Needs a Car?

When I moved to New York City from Nebraska in 1961, I didn't need a car. I could hoof it, bus it or subway it anywhere in town, although standing  in the subway did stimulate some male strangers to pat my butt.

However, subway rush hour proved impossible. When I tried it, we passengers lined up three deep waiting for a train to stop. The moment a door opened, subway workers pushed us inside. I swirled in with the pack, grabbed a strap, and balanced on one foot with no place to put my other one. I dangled to my stop. At home I discovered the twist had broken my brassiere. 

That ended my rush hour travel. Instead, I adopted the New York City routine, out of work at 5 and into a nearby bar to drink until the subways settled down.

In 1963, I moved to Boston. There I found public transportation so inferior to New York's that I had to buy a car. I bought the only one I could afford: a used turquoise Volkswagen Beetle.

I found a boyfriend, too, Jon Powell. Together we drove from my home in Quincy, Mass., to Wyoming and back on our first date. We all three held up well.

Later Jon and I drove into Boston for a theatre matinee. Afterwards we piled into my Beetle to head home, Jon driving. He took I-93 south to Quincy. As we crested a hill, we saw in the distance—to our dismay—all three lanes of highway ahead of us full of barely moving vehicles.  

John braked. We slowed but kept moving. He braked harder and harder until we crashed slowly into a stopped car.

The windshield crushed my nose. I sprained my right foot, in a foolish attempt to brake the car myself. Jon fared better, but he'd totaled my little Beetle.

Buying another Volkswagen didn't feel safe, so I chose a used Volvo station wagon, a German Duett, two-toned green. I liked it. It seemed sturdy but looked almost classy. 
As Jon and I drove the Volvo, I discovered its weakness: an electrical system that broke down so often I stopped hiring electricians to fix it. By then, I'd watched so closely that I could fix it myself.

When, in 1966, we moved to New York I took my green Volvo with us. 

Big mistake. New York parking regulations required a mathematician to follow them: on this street one day but not the next. My fines piled up until, in desperation, I sold my Volvo.

Solvent again, I hoofed it, rode the bus or took the subway. Or waited in a bar until subways mellowed down. 

Who needed a car, anyway?

Thursday, April 4, 2019

An Unexpected Gift

The morning I stepped out of bed and onto a carpet drenched with water, I couldn't imagine any good could come of it.

I cursed, walked around in my bare feet, and determined that  only the west half of the room contained wet carpet. The dry eastern half held my new big bed.

I'd dashed to Nebraska Furniture Mart and bought that bed when one of my Facebook lovers convinced me that he'd come visit me and we could rub-a-dub-dub. On my tiny twin bed? Hardly. Since a King size wouldn't fit into my bedroom, I'd settled for a Queen.  

When my lover demanded a sizable piece of cash for that rub-a-dub, we broke up, leaving me with that huge bed.

 "Oh, Paco," I cried to my housemate, "I'm going to have to send it back to the Mart."

"Nonsense," he said. "It's a good bed. Just sleep on it."

So I did.

Soon I loved it, as I stretched out my arms and legs as wide as they would go and still had plenty of room in the bed. 

I got in and out of bed the same way I had on my twin bed, curling into its West side. But that no longer worked as well. 

To scoot into the middle of my big bed, I had to lie, briefly on my right ear. My dizzy ear. My BPPV or "benign paroxysmal positional vertigo" ear. Its shifting crystals could make the room spin. So I squirmed uncomfortably around to avoid this.

Meanwhile, Paco and I vacuumed the bedroom with a wet/dry vac, sopped up water with bath towels, and to avoid mold, ran a fat commercial fan and opened windows.

"You going to sleep in here?" he asked.

"Yes." I couldn't imagine sleeping anywhere else. It had become "my" bed.

The only problem: I'd never climbed into bed on its East side before. I wasn't sure I'd like it. 

But that night, scooting into bed proved to be a revelation. I could get into bed and lie down without threatening my dizzy ear at all. 

What joy!

Who says that good can't come out of wet carpet?