The Friends of Pain

Stand straight. Both feet on the floor 6 onches apart, weight 50-50 on each. Knees bent and springy. Left foot  facing forward, right foot angled at 45 degrees. Left arm stretched straight forward hand clenched in a fist. Right fist drawn  back as if ready to release an arrow. 


Right cross punch, left jab. It’s only air. 

My elbows shriek with pain. I have been doing this incorrectly and too often. 

For the last several weeks I have been ignoring the pain. I thought it would go away. Pain does do that a lot of the time. I’ve decided i need to take a different strategy.

This pain was bringing friends. A few years ago, when I had a virus I learned about pain’s best friend: weakness. It didn’t seem fair. I could gut through the pain, it didn’t hurt that much. Shake it off. Stubbed toe, fingers caught in a drawer—i could give a good yell and keep going. Id be back to my stride in short order. It’s so great when the pain goes away.  I hang on to that hope. Give it more time, I’m gonna be fine…any minute now.

It turned out my ouchie elbows were asking for more attention. I’m finally willing to admit it.  

Body pain is not the only kind that comes with friends. The heart comes with recurring pangs. Fear, sadness, loneliness need attention too. These could grow into one big pain that affects the whole system.

Body and soul take tending. Where does it hurt? How about now? Does that make it feel better? What if I shifted this a little bit? Can I stretch that?

I can change things to make it better when I notice—and admit that something is wrong. I was hoping that time would be enough to make it better. But time needs something else. What dressings are right for this hurt? There are a huge range of possibilities. Maybe I need to change how i do this thing. Maybe i nee to change where and with whom.

If pain has its friend weakness, I know my body and soul are paired up too.

I don’t want to stop doing the things i love. But that pain needs my attention. I am not willing to stop and wallow in the discomfort. I do want to provide what is needed to get better. I matter, and with the right tending things can improve.

Is that really me?

A pencil sketch stared up at me, no smile, but the fluffy hair I knew so well.

It had been tucked in some old books I was discarding.. The memory took a moment to emerge from the cloudy distant past.

In a world ago, my new best friend and I were walking the streets of Yakutia Russia. I was only twenty and she was even younger, a local girl. A young man with a sketch board asked if we would buy a sketch. I had never run into a sketch artist before.


He had me stand still and did his thing. He instructed me not to smile as was the habit under the soviets. The somber face stared back at me in the presetn. I remember the moment when he gave me the sketch, I politely thanked him. As soon as we were out of hearing distance I said to my friend, “This doesnt’ look anything like me!” She shrugged and said it kinda did.

I spun out. I did not recognize my face.who was this? Was he just a terrible artist? Did I look like that? There was nothing wrong with the girl in the picture, but she wasn’t me. Was she?

Do I know my face better now, decades later? Technology has given us back our faces at every turn. Pose for the picture! SMILE!

With that pencil sketching my hand I was angry at the artist. Did I look like that? should I like it? should I hate it?

Advertisements and filtered selfies tell us how we are supposed to be.Tilt your head, cock your hips. I’ve learned that advertisers who want to reach 50 year olds will present 30 year olds as the people consuming. We the consumers want to believe we are the sparkly smooth energetic person NOW.

If only I knew then what I know now I would have worn sunscreen and eaten healthy and exercised. Of course I would have. So now I can be what I was like then, only healthy, better rested and better looking.

Just like they show in the advertisements.

I look at that sketch now and decide it was a decent likeness. The shape of the face is similar to what my face is now, so I can imagine it must have been like that then. I had no idea what people saw when they looked at me then. It was terrifying to try to balance my view of myself against how I imagined other people saw me.

I kept demanding my friend to tell me if she thought I looked like that picture. Yes or no?!?

but she could only say sorta. yes and no.

Looking at that sketch now I don’t have the answer. I don’t know how to merge my self-perception with my perception of how other people perceive me.

As time has gone by it just seems less important. I wonder what has happened to that sketch artist…

Closed for Business

Last year I worked a job  for a couple months where they made me sit in a cube four days out of five. With other PEOPLE. Good Lord, what was I supposed to say?

I started by trying to talk about work, which was the ostensible reason we were there. But that was thin soup. I had to find something else. And when I am nervous, I talk too much. When I’m excited, I don’t shut up. This could be why I work best at home.

Suffice it to say, I talked a lot.

But I started to collect a small audience. I was interesting, it turned out. I really wanted to have a conversation about the books I was reading. But my talk partner didn’t always bite on that.

When that happened I talked about what I was doing. I figured this would start a sharing conversation. In this movie obsesses world, I understand not everyone is reading a book. But everyone has time to spend. What are they doing?

“You have a lot of hobbies.”


I guess some people hoard their time like gift cards they forgot about. Piled up in pockets and in drawers until they are forgotten or the shop closes for business. Cannot redeem that value.

Missed opportunities. Water spilled on sand.

Every Morning

I wish I could sleep in longer. On a good day, I wake up before my alarm–an hour before it goes off. On a bad day I wake up  3 or 4 hours before my alarm and then spent serious time trying to get back to sleep.

But these days I am always up before the sun rises. I have a habit now of taking a photo of the sunrise. No one but the cat is awake to share it with me so I snap a photo and share it with my internet friends.

But when is the right time to snap the shot? I often look at the horizon across the street and see no sign of the sun. Dark.  Lately I’m seeing a bright star—Sirius the Dog Star.  

I have to wait for the light to reach the horizon–the light before the sun.The color of blue will shift with the light leaching up into the sky.

What’s the right time?
When the light is barely changing the sky?

Or now?
When the light has spread up to change the rim to orange and the dark blue is fully on the run?

Or do I wait until the rim of the sun is visible, peeking its fiery head over the horizon?

A shaft of light might angle off in a beam captured by my overwhelmed camera.

And that doesn’t even take into account what happens when there are clouds. Time is everything in how the light will bounce off the clouds. Catch the right second and the water of the clouds will explode in saturated color.

It’s been a very rewarding experience, taking my unwilling awareness into a study of sunrises. When it is time to take the shot, I’ve often walked up and snapped. Take the shot already. No, not yet. Wait and do it again.

That’s the thing. If I don’t like how the world looks right now, wait a moment. Things will change. And if I like how it is now, wait a month. Things will change.

My camera does not capture how I see it with my eyes either. There is a lot to think about with the morning. I can’t take it too seriously. I can’t hang on too tightly. Another one is coming.

heroic courage

Sometimes people like to ask “What celebrity would you love to meet?” They seem to expect a name of a movie star or a rock star. I enjoy movies and music but I am not interested in meeting those people. 

I want to meet people because of their ideas. I have a very short list of amazing thinkers and writers I would love to meet. I’ve spent time with their thoughts and learned things that changed my life. I”m a new and better person because of what these people have brought into the world. Those are the ones I would love to meet: academic celebrity crushes. 

I actually did meet one of these crushes. He lived right in my town and was a professor at one of the universities here. When my friend defended her dissertation and Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was leading the committee for my friend’s defense. 

I came to hear her dissertation, and I sat in the same room with my hero. 

I felt flamingly guilty the whole time.I wanted to support her, and I tooik time off from work to go. This was a fairly new job, and while I had slipped out for a long lunch and had it blocked off on my calendar. I loved hearing my friend’s fascinating study, and I was thrilled to be breathing the same air as the man who did the work to write Flow. I even raised my hand and asked a question during the audience participation portion. 

After dissertations, there is usually a party with champagne and snacks.I celebrate my new doctor friend with a hug, and Dr. Csikzentmihalyi invited me to stay for a drink and conversation. 

I couldn’t do it. I was afraid, and I was shy. I told myself I would get it trouble if anyone noticed that I was gone at work.It was a new and important job, I told myself. 

But that wasn’t it. I was afraid of meeting my hero, and being seen by him. I ran away. 

This reaction is strange and predictable. I have been that acolyte, irresistibly drawn to the object of my adoration yet a coward at the last moment. Wasting my own time thirsting but not letting it touch my lips. 

There are always reasons not to. There is always a risk. 

Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi passed away last year. I had my small moment, and it will not come again. 

That job was terrible and didn’t last anyway. It was foolish to deny myself that conversation. What other tantalizing fruits have I forbidden myself from enjoying? 

I don’t always dare, but I want to 

Dare to eat that peach.