Stabbed in the back by my back

Even Achilles had a problem heel. My dilemma is my lower back. My back is a cruel and whimsical component of my anatomy. It makes a mockery of my plans.

This week’s plan was to go swimming in a pool.

Instead, find me beached on my bed, lying down because sitting isn’t working out right now. My back pain literally makes me sweat. When I’m in one of my “episodes” my bent over stance and shuffling gait are so tortured that people on the street (including young and old ladies) will stop and ask me if I’m okay. Grandmas stride past me looking spry by comparison while I stop and hyperventilate from the pain every few feet. I try to avoid outings in this condition because I just can’t digest the pity and puzzlement aimed in my direction. Some outings, however, are necessary. On the way to the acupuncturist yesterday I ended up sitting on the sidewalk while waiting for the trolley because I couldn’t stand standing.  Last night, I gave up on standing altogether and crawled on my hands and knees from my living-room to my bed (about 7 feet).

Pain does not bring out the best in me: my patience and tolerance for any additional discomfort vanish. I find small wrongs, like rudeness, unbearable. Also, pain makes me try new things–I’m clutching at any and all solutions looking for vain hope. My applied and planned remedies include: stretches, alternating heating pads and ice packs, western medicine, medication, acupuncture, a visit to the chiropractor, complaining via social media, and physical therapy. I get points for being thorough.

The medication makes me feel a bit surreal–not exactly out-of-body, but not exactly in-body either.  It also makes my thoughts a bit disjointed. My best coping mechanism is the same it has always been: copious napping.

Time for my next icing. Let’s hope my next post will be about my miraculous recovery.

India!

I originally wanted to call this blog post, India will have us by the throat (I’ll explain later).

My first day here I thought that everyone was incredibly nice. That as much as I’ve been kindly treated and welcomed in Rio and Hong Kong, by far, people in India have been kinder and more welcoming.

What I noticed in my second and following days was that the people I ran into in India were incredibly ambitious. There is a hunger for advancement and hard work in this country which I have rarely seen in the western world. Delhi puts Manhattan work standards to shame. Everyone I’ve run into here is putting forth their dearest personal best, seeking a touch of recognition. A billion smart, kind welcoming people, eager for their share of the middle class, and willing to work six days a week, 12 hours a day to get it, versus Westerners and their comfy standards of living. Oh my. There’s an education gap to bridge, but it won’t last forever.

I always supposed the 21st century would be fascinating. And the hype on India is off the mark, but not wrong. There is a wonderful pool of cosmopolitan, tolerant, flexible, sophisticated people here.

Everyone talks about the poverty in this country. That was brought home for me when I saw a very poor person on the side of the street very lovingly shake the dirt out from a stretch of burlap sackcloth, which was obviously his most treasured property, and then fold it with great care.

There’s always more to say, but I’ll leave it here for now.

Delhi-riffic

I was thinking before I started my two plane travels to New Delhi of all the different rumors and murmurs you hear about India: That people respond so strongly, that it provokes and makes visitors think. I’m still in a fog of jetlag and Ambien, having gone to bed at 4am last night, but I have some general impressions.

I burst the tourist bubble:
The hotel insists on making me take BMWs everywhere (my hotel bill will blow socks off). On the advice of a local colleague, I burst through the BMW bubble–while I was not allowed a taxi, and had to be white glove driven to Khan Market, I did pull off a low-rent return to base on my own terms. I took a three-wheeled auto rickshaw back to the hotel. Daring, dangerous, no seatbelts, vehicle of Chinese (i think) construction! Driver whose hands were covered in? Unknown. Driver with desperate eyes, but friendly conversation. The insistence I take his number in case I want a tour of the people’s Delhi. He disapproved of the places I had done some shopping, too expensive, locals would not go there.

Many staff, one Sylvie: There are many staff. They are all quite specialists. It is unclear to me the difference between each specialist staff member’s role, but some only provide fruit, other appear to give pistachio sweets at night, others dust (even my stuff on the counter), and others straighten the bed. I will go bankrupt trying to tip the lot, so I have given up.
There are greeters, those who xray your stuff, those who body scan you, those who open doors, those who join hands to say Namaste, and then all the others, function unknown, but readily available. Two charming ladies, or was it three total, were involved in my getting a cup of tea outside. It’s a bit overwhelming, this level of care of details.

Temptation abounds:
Many beautiful things to buy.

Sensory overload.
When I came into my hotel room last night, there were two men, the tv was on, a welcome beverage was handed to me, someone had just put a welcoming bindhi on my forehead, I had a jasmine necklace around my neck, I was asked to sign here and here, and then got a 30 minute lecture on how to operate my room’s many controls. It’s sights, scents, sounds unending.

Random animals.
There are unsupervised life forms of all stripes lying about. Dogs sleeping in market corridors, no sign of owners. Life abounds.

Acrid odors. It smells like burning plastic, similar to burning a milk carton.

Poverty. Apparently I was directed to a fairly fancy market (mostly tourists). The fancy market did not look fancy to me–except for the immaculate L’Occitane storefront. Also, crumbling pink concrete buildings were pointed out to me as government housing, apparently this was high end housing, and being a government employee is a high status occupation. I think back to Philly municipal employees. It’s all very interesting.

Relaxed movement.
Much like Rio, people kind of jaunt or saunter when they walk about. There doesn’t seem to be a rushed setting, the way I found in Hong Kong.

Friendly Kindness. As I went about shopping, I really didn’t know if I was being treated kindly or being robbed blind. I tried to engage the local women for their opinion and they were quite sweet, friendly and helpful. The shopkeepers also are nice and very respectful and have an elegant dignity about them. But I can’t help but feel that I have gold and platinum dollar signs blazing above my head when they look at me.

Ironies.
When I had tea, the tea was a California brand, Forte. It’s good tea, but I sometimes drink it in Philadelphia, and I certainly didn’t come to Delhi for California brand tea.

Does Pandora Mock Me?

I’m sitting brutally alone in a business class lounge, preparing for two long flights, and I’m by far the most awkward not-quite-first class duckling to walk these moderately well decked halls. In proof, who else would find herself strangling a full water bottle so that it splashes the fridge below and soaks the linens above. I tried to be discreet after bathing the credenza.

In my shame, I’m seeking refuge in my friendly electronic medium, and I’m wired up like a Superman villain (3 I think), with my laptop charging, my iPhone charging and my earphones in so I don’t scream at the gentle lounge music.

I turn on Pandora for a touch of distraction and voila, Nina Simone sings “every time we say goodbye” which is the saddest parting song I know of–compound this with the patented mournful Nina effects: Voila (again): A pity party in the corner by the door until they denounce me to the classy authorities.

Prayers Answered

Life is very exciting in these parts. I just tackled my second memoir chapter rewrite, and it felt downright successful. That’s two pleasurable chapter rewrites in a row. Inconceivable. (“Are you sure that word means what you think it means?”). Miraculous.

The experience is good because I can read feedback on particular chapters that tell me I’m currently failing and take the critique in stride, and when I re-read the chapters, my X-ray editor/writer vision is in full force. I can see when this empress has no clothes. And I have the gumption to make my own cloak and fix the problem. This is a very empowering process. I can be pointed to a problem, and I can tackle it. Oh sweet rewrite siren, how sweetly you sing.

Tonight, I also rewrote my intro to my book using language that I first plunked here. It’s been tweaked, but it’s still good and evocative (thanks Blog!). I also started re-organizing the order of the memoir chapters. The memoir order is not exactly chronological, but it’s now more thematic. Kind of.

I have to do homework, so i have to leave well enough alone for now, but I may have found a new technique: I get an hour (on nights when I have five hour homework stretches in front of me) to work on my memoir (timer and everything) and then I have to attend to homework. This creates a positive kind of force. I am compelled to face my fears, write, and be efficient, because my precious minutes are tick-tocking away. Oh the precious!

And with that. Good night.

The best surrender

I (triumphantly) snuck in some writing tonight because I realized that strictly speaking I didn’t have to do my assigned reading because class was a general assembly lecture. It felt naughty. It felt good. Writing soothes a part of my soul that nothing else can get to. Also, it felt really good to give up on something mandated and grab something else more important (and alluring) to me.

I watched the Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement speech last night, as a memorial, and he discussed his philosophy of looking in the mirror each morning and trying to assess the day in the lens of “what if this were my last day?” If this were my last day, I would definitely want to spend part of it writing. I’m going to have to get more creative about finding time.

Also, it felt great to try to tackle some pointed feedback I had gotten about going with more emotion in my writing, and trying to cover less ground. I was scared, but I opened up my document, printed it, edited, and I started expanding my favorite sections. My rewrite process felt good. I felt focused and lucid, I could clearly see and cut the fat. And I’m proud of the final product. My piece about Frenchness is finally starting to work. Huzzah.

Buzzing Mind

I’ve been waking up and realizing that I’m mulling over the findings in my readings and how they are altering my world view–for example, the best predictors of decreasing poverty rates for African-Americans? Lifting out of poverty correlates to having more AA’s being employed by the government and their having greater political representation.(That’s tonight’s homework–email me if you want the reference.)

Or I wake up feeling deep guilt about not having written anything other than this blog, and ruminate over all the chapters I need to revisit and improve when I start the memoir revision process in a couple of weeks. Here’s My Big Problem: I don’t have a quick snappy way of explaining how/why I ended up writing my memoir, or what the memoir is about. I guess that’s Two Big Problems.

And with my new schedule I’m constantly negotiating my priorities. Right now, for example. I really wanted to nap between work and my evening lecture. But I decided I couldn’t nap until I finished the class reading, and then I decided that if I finished the reading I was allowed to blog (still no nap in sight.)

I realize these are trivial problems–it’s like complaining about being covered in whipped cream–so messy, so sticky, and so delicious. That’s really what’s happening. My life is overfull with wonderful developments, but I’m not used to all this stimulation and activity. It’s great, but it’s definitely an adjustment.

Fighting the lure of revision

I’m quite fortunate in that two friends have already given me comments on my memoir collection. (I only distributed my memoir a week ago.) Interestingly, the piece I consider my weakest was rated among the favorites and the least favorites, respectively. The world remains a place of diverse sensibilities.

I’m already faced with a pile of prospective edits, clarifications, corrections, amplifications, amendments, and changes. I’m really tempted to go in and just work on the typos. Even as I consider doing so, it’s clear that it would start innocently enough with typos, and next thing I know I’d be writing and rewriting whole paragraphs.

So I must resist the ultimate editing gateway drug–fixing typos.

Why? Well, I’m trying to let the language cool down. I want to regain a measure of perspective on what I did, both good and bad, and the only way to do that is to leave the text alone for a while. Steven King recommends six months. I’m not possessed of six months of patience. Thus, I’m aiming for a more modest period. A 30 day cooling month.

I have to pray that this time away from my language will allow me to renew my stamina for new edits and rewrites and give me the clarity of vision necessary to move the narrative further along the absurdist humor curve.

Meanwhile I have to live with myself. I’m full of vague regrets and recriminations at all my suspected failures. I had so many (semi articulated) writing goals. It’s going to be a good month for humility.