Monday, June 4, 2012

Chariots of Ire

I have two very strong mechanisms at play in my consciousness at all times. One is guilt. The other, guilt. I don't know where all this culpability comes from, why I feel responsible for every bad thing that could potentially happen in my orbit even before it takes place. Though, I venture it's a control issue. Because I control nothing, I want to control everything, to guide all encounters, relationships and events toward peaceful shores, and when so often I find I can do little to effect anything, I attempt to swallow the shipwreck whole.

But, like all forms of adorable mental illness, I don't leave it there. I can twist even this already constricting malady a bit tighter, make it a little more uncomfortable, like a corset made of steel wool and spiders, cinching it up with laces of regret; I feel guilty about feeling guilty.

One thing I feel guilty about is my own anatomy. I don't get enough exercise. I am strong, like bull, but neither flexible, nor lithe. My joints crack easily. My muscles are short and taut and occasionally they twang like banjo strings.

The first rising steps from my bed each morning are painful ones. It takes four or five limping staggers before my Achilles tendons are warm or supple enough to bear the weight of my journey to coffee. Granted, I was never one of those little girls who could wrap their own knees around their neck like a scarf, or do the splits as a form of greeting. I've always been more oak than willow. But life, with it's mounting pile of years, does funny things to person's perambulation.

Also, I spend half my life craned over pieces of furniture, wrenching things loose, squinting at, hefting, tugging, hoisting, hammering or in other ways, contending with, objects larger than me. I am like the rodeo cowboy of fine furnishings, and my gait reflects the many bulls, with hides of chintz, that I have ridden over the years.

...and the guilt. That too has a calcifying effect on the armature.

But hope is ever supple.

So, I decided I'd start running.  Mind you, they have not yet built the bra, nor for that matter, the blacktop that can withstand this impetuous impulse. But I know that I must begin the fight for my continued mobility, in directions other than down and wide. So, running. I like the idea of being able to get at the exercise without undue fanfare or cost. If I have to drive somewhere to make it happen, the battle is lost. If it involves relying on others, same.

I set myself an age-appropriate and physically realistic, if unglamorous, goal. Interval running and walking. Two minutes on, two minutes off, twenty minutes total. I hushed my mean-spirited inner critic, whose voice is that of a brutal middle-school girl, who hisses terrible things at me about what a pathetic, laughable human being I really am.  Instead I patted myself gently and whispered kindnesses to myself. I thought of myself as a person who needed me, who was asking for my help, and I tried to respond with the humble gratitude of someone chosen to be needed. I attempted to be someone I could trust.

And damn if I didn't make it that first day. Though it kinda hurt. And I was a little embarrassed by how hard it was. By the end I felt  pretty good, except that my feet hurt from my really blown out shoes. High arches, delicate ankles, I wont bore you.

But I bored the shit out of my nice husband.

So he took me to the store and he bought me a first-class pair of running shoes. Special, extra expensive insoles too. Light, fluffy sports cars for the feet. And the next chance I got, I went again. Saturday.

It was sort of cloudy, and maybe even a little rainy, but not right then, so I set out with my favorite podcast playing in my ear, my free interval App chiming in encouragingly.

Four minutes in, I see a car coming toward me. My road has no shoulder. On the sides it is ditch and high weeds. The pavement, literally, crumbles off in mid-air on either side. It's not ideal, but it's what I've got. So the car sees me, and indicates as much by going wide. I plod along a couple more steps and then, without reason, the car swerves towards me! I have one instant of registering that the driver is old, and holding a phone, before I leap into the void. I land with my left foot in a hole. My ankle goes sproing! and I go down to the ground. I'm sobbing before I hit the ground.

Hurts like a motherfucker. But that's not the worst of it. I'm so fucking angry and humiliated and short-changed and embarrassed and not to be outdone, guilty. Why am I guilty? Because of those unblemished shoes. Because, my middle-schooler, sneers, I am no runner.  It's a rookie move,  spending money on the equipment, before proofing the yeast of dreams --she smirks, she taunts. She told me so. Her ridicule makes me cry. What's more, I don't think I can walk home. Those, maybe, one hundred yards to my house? I might have been able to crawl them, but I certainly couldn't walk them. I call Vildy. He comes to get me in the car. It's the shortest run on record. I am defeated and so so so very sorry for myself.

I cry and cry. More than I should cry. I feel guilty about crying so much. My family, who are tender, friendly people, apply ice to the swollen areas outside and love, sweet love, to the puffy, purple areas inside. They nurture me, encourage me, tell me it's going to be OK. I don't have to take the shoes back to the store they tell me, the shoes will wait. They bring me drinks, and episodes of Breaking Bad to distract me. They prop me up on pillows, they prop me up with their gentle worry.

Lou brings me my computer. He sets it on my lap. I give him a questioning look. "Come on, mom, you know you want to write about it."

That shuts my nasty middle-schooler right up. Because maybe she can run, but she cannot fucking hide.


  1. You don't have to try and impress me, Jess. You really don't.

  2. once again I find tears in my eyes. ones of compassion and love--for you and your excellent writing.

  3. and the driver didn't stop to help you? Don't give up on the running, once you are healed. Keep writing...your middle-school self can't hold a candle to your writing.

  4. So much great writing spent on so much self loathing. I hope you chase that middle-schooler down, push her over, and kick her repeatedly in the stomach. Although she's trying to protect you from pain and heartbreak, that little 8th grader in your amygdala keeps you imprisoned on the playground forever. Do you ever get tired of letting her run the show? She must be totally exhausting to live with. One way to beat her is to outrun her. Put the shoes back on. Once the swelling subsides, go for another run. Bonus: endorphins. Benefit: self esteem. (She HATES that.) Then run again the next day. (Persistence? Omigod, she'll try to claw your eyes out.) Pretty soon you're stronger. More experienced. When you realize that the jogging didn't kill you, you learn that neither could she. Rinse. Repeat. Soon, the bully starts to look pasty, cowering, and pathetic. She never goes away, but now you own her. That's a GREAT feeling. Good luck! (If running is too hard on the body - believe me, I'm right there with you - try walking, stationary bike, and the elliptical. They're fantastic for cardio and gentle on the joints.)

    1. Todd,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment(s).
      I like to think if it as self-loathing...but in a fun way. Weeeee! I know I'm going to lose some people with my whiny, tiresome, schtick about what a sad sack I am. I know it. But I guess, in the end, it's a part of me too, and by writing about it, in my outside voice, I'm shouting down to some lost miners. It shines a bright light into the dark, wet cave of my psyche; sometimes I pull out diamonds, other times I pull out tuberculous and lung cancer. It' the Jess Schickel grab bag of dollar store hoo-ha. It's not all quality, but man, there's a lot of it.

      Thank you for reading,
      Your friend,

    2. Jess,

      Writing as cathartic therapy: totally understood.

      I'm not a frequent visitor to this internal amusement park, but the emotional roller coaster plunges would be a lot easier to stomach if you reported a few triumphs now and then. I know you have them. We all do.

      They don't inspire sexy/angsty stories, but they sure take the edge off that tortured psyche persona. They lead me to believe that there's more in that dark, wet cave than dead canaries.

      I'm telling you all this, because I've experienced the usual midlife crisis-inspired profound changes these past couple of years. And I've decided that cynicism, fear, and despair are not very comforting friends. They're popular with the hipsters, but they suck at improving your life. I've had to let them go.

      They still ring the doorbell at the worst times, but we don't hang out together anymore. I urge you to find it within you to send them packing as well.

      Oh, one more thing: your writing is tremendous. It's your superpower. Don't waste it trying to mitigate the effects of green kryptonite. Instead, work on getting rid of the damned green kryptonite.

      Facebook me with your next story of victory. I wanna hear about a win. Not an ironic win. Just a little fist bump of a story is fine.

      ----Todd (Dave's brother; the relative that Ken Folsom tolerates; mostly)

  5. I know it's wrong but I hate running. I don't like rushing or being rushed. And I don't like the outfits. However, I'd strap on those Nikes, hide in the bushes, and go after that bugger who ran you into a ditch. Have you tried running mad? It might vanquish both drivers - the one within and without. Seems to me you run from dawn to dusk as it is - so next time you run you get to count 8 hours plus optional run-time logged.