Author of Breasts Don't Lie

Archive for the ‘word choice’ Category

Stage Fright, Steroids, & Yodeling

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Reading my work scares me. Yes, I know I do things most people would rightly balk at – climb mountain ridges, hurl shoes, go to a NYC sex club alone. But the world doesn’t make a deodorant that can stop my sweat when reading for my peers.

I have resorted to beta-blockers. They take the edge off but I have to time for their peak dose to hit before I start and stay upright for the next three hours or my blood pressure bottoms out and I faint. Don’t worry. I have a prescription. But it is a funny image of a writer scurrying about in the dark of night going, “Beta-blocker, anyone got some beta-blockers? Got a reading tomorrow.”

Then something, a couple of things, happened. In the quest for a warm winter, I had my entire heating system replaced. Everything in my attic had to be moved out. Though a rickety ladder in the ceiling, I hauled boxes bigger than me down to the second floor.
The next step was wrenching the bits of carpet out of the attic, down the rickety steps in the attic to the dumpster outside. Holding the heavy scraps overhead as they disintegrated in my hands.

In the process, my forearm rebelled. Within 24 hours the muscles were ‘frantically searching for a painkiller’ sore. After loudly complaining about this for two months, three of my ten fingers started to go numb. I chose words without the letters Y, U, I, J, and M – could not hit those keys. This was problematic. Time to go to Urgent Care. The fairly unconcerned medical provider shot my elbow full of steroids one day after receiving a shot of steroids in my foot (unrelated injury).

Pain relief was promised but I felt decidedly funky. Not wanting to impose my funkiness on the world, I decided to stay home. Watching DVDs and eating seven chocolate bars. I sang. Cried. Even outright boohooed. Giggled like a maniac. Had insomnia and night sweats. In a lucid moment, I decided to let phone calls go to voice mail. Couldn’t feel my foot or my arm. After a couple of days, I thought maybe I should get out. It could be cabin fever, right?

At my coffee group, I sat, unable to follow conversations. Drinking caffeine, probably not what I needed.
“Are you okay?” Asked a sweet guy.
“You don’t look so good,” said an ex-lover.
I started to cry. “I can’t feel my hand. Or my foot.”
“Look she’s crying. She never does that.”
“Oh that’s not good.”
“Do you want to go for a walk?”
“Okay,” I said immediately beaming at them like one of those silly head bobbing dashboard doodads.
“She shouldn’t drive. We’ll drive you,” and with that they picked me up, buckled me into a car, and took me to the Museum of Art. We walked around. I was in awe of the textures of steel, grass, concrete, my own shoe, my friend’s hair. I was hypo-manic from the two steroid shots.

We passed a pond.
“Are those duckies?”
“Yes. They’re some form of animal floating on the water,” said my friend smiling. My ex-lover laughed and went off to call a … friend, maybe get some medical advice. He turned around just in time to grab me by the back of my jeans, aborting my move to take a closer look at the “ducky.”

“Thank you. I feel like singing,” I said and attempted yodeling ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ from ‘The Sound of Music.’ I was insulted by their laughter.

“We should feed her,” my friend said.
“Promise you won’t sing at the restaurant?”
“Maybe I need practice,” I said starting to yodel again.
“Yes you do but yodeling is inappropriate at a restaurant, especially in North Carolina,” said my ex.
“Okay dokey,” I said. We had an uneventful lunch, at least by my standards. I slept the rest of the day.

A week later, my hand still hurt. Typing hurt. My fingers were numb. Back to the orthopedist who injected more steroids into my body. Oh no! I was going to a reading group on the next night. My friend said to prepare a piece to read.

On the night of the reading, I struggled into a dress and boots, both pull-on. Turned up at the social before the event. Babbled. A friend told me to go free form.

“You’re entertaining. You don’t need a script.”

Sweet, but I thought that might create disaster. I slept with my head against a friend’s shoulder through most of the event. When my name was called, I lurched out of the chair, stumbling to the podium without my usual gazelle-like grace.

I read my piece cold, making eye contact with the audience, slowly enunciating each word, adlibbing when I lost my place, being my usual goofy self cubed. The audience laughed and applauded. Or at least that’s what I remembered.

That night’s positive feedback confirmed my dilemma. Plotched on steroids, not giving a damn, I can give a good reading. Stone cold sober or even on beta-blockers, I suck. What to do? My only answer is please, please, if I start yodeling, get me off the podium!

Word Choice and Tramping Avalanche Peak


I keep thinking about Freedom of Speech – how the world needs words, images, dialogue, differences of opinion to save it. Yes, I know it is a difficult concept and painful reality but I had an experience where words saved me.

A few years ago, I flew half way around the world to meet my college boyfriend in New Zealand. We had talked over college wounds deciding, “We had loved each other the best we could at that age.” Admittedly I had not thought of him much in the past decades but I was excited to further heal the breach with a seminal figure from my past.

It was a long flight to end up living for three weeks on a damp, cold boat with a man of minimal words. Within the first week, he told me I talk too much. Okay. I remembered that talking was not our strong suit. We had explored other things. Hormonal activities that … uh hum, kept my mouth occupied. On the boat, being censured for talking left me feeling lonely and confused. So we got active, tramping the various treks of the South Island.

One tramp was along Avalanche Peak. 2000 meters up. The steep, rocky trek along the peak is named for its many avalanches in winter. We were going in New Zealand’s fall. Websites describe it as ‘tragic’ and ‘dangerous’ and ‘with sheer drops.’ Bill did not tell me any of this. The night before our trek, we had checked into a hotel, ate a hot carb-laden meal, checked our boots and clothes for the morning, and climbed into bed.

As drifted off to sleep, Bill looked at me and said, “You need to gain 10 pounds. You were so pretty in college.”
“Why in God’s name would you say that?”
“Well it’s true.”
“That’s not the point,” I said.
I didn’t get much sleep that night as I stewed on his hurtful words. Hearing the rain beat down and the wind howl. Somehow, I managed to curb my urge to smother him with a pillow as he slept peacefully beside me.

The next day, bleary-eyed, I dressed in fleece tights, double layer waterproof and thermal hiking pants, sock liners and hiking socks, two tops, one silk and one wool, a climbing jacket, scarf, gloves and hat. No way in hell was I talking to him so that left climbing the peak.
We got to the visitor center and the ranger suggested we put off our tramp. It was still raining and they were expecting strong winds further up the peak. I was ready to find a warm fire and have a hot toddy, maybe nap on a sofa away from Mr. Hurtful Words.

“Let’s go check it out,” he said. I didn’t say anything.

The trailhead was a vertical climb, pulling oneself up a streambed. Using the tree roots as handholds.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said mouth open, staring up a small river cascading over a sludge of mud, stones, and hard looking scrub.
Hurtful Words said, “We can always stop. Once at the top, it’s a great view and an easier trek over the other side.”
“Fuck,” I said.
“You know I don’t like swearing,” he said. “I’ll go first.” So he started. All 200 plus pounds of him moving all the footholds and loosening the tree roots so I had to forge another path up the bloody mountain.
“Shit,” I said as my foot slipped and I dropped ten feet.
“Fuck,” I said as a tree root came away in my hand slicing it open through my gloves.
“Damn,” I said as a cascade of pebbles from steps of Hurtful Words thundering on above me pummeled my face.

I used the mantra of “Shit, fuck, damn” to make it up the streambed. Then we emerged into a torrential rain. Blindly I followed him. There were some vague screeches floating in the air – I thought they were from me. When the rain stopped, we reassessed. I was standing on a rim twelve inches wide with a sheer drop on one side and a roll and drop on the other. Great view of death. I sat down tears rolling down my face. Snow started.

“Let’s go back,” I said. The snowflakes grew fatter, colder, harder like pretty hail.
“You can but I want to go on,” he said. I knew he had the car keys so pushing him off the mountain was going to be counterproductive.

We kept putting one foot in front of the other. Abruptly, the snow stopped. Next came the gale force winds that almost pushed me off the mountain. Dropping my center of gravity, I scurried hunched over along the foot-wide ridge. Hearing some swooping and keening sounds again, I moved my eyes without moving my head. Swirling in the air were enormous birds with curved beaks, like out of Jurassic Park.

“They’re called sheep killers,” he said. “They eat the fat on the back of the sheep driving them crazy so the sheep throw themselves off the mountain.”
“Oh shit, shit, shit.” I sat down on the mountain to cry. Hail crashed my face.
“Don’t face into the wind, your tears will freeze on your face and you’ll get frostbite.”
“Fuck you asshole,” I said. All out of niceness. “I don’t think frostbite matters if I die on this godforsaken mountain.”
“You need to eat.” He gave me a gummy worm. I threw it at an approaching bird. Periodically, he gave me gummy worms and I threw them at the birds. They followed but kept their distance. Then came the horizontal sleet.
“I need to get off this fucking mountain,” I yelled into the icy bath.

“It’s approaching whiteout. I can’t see the trail. We should go back,” he said. I couldn’t see a thing. I sat down on the ridge.
“I’m not strong enough. I’m going to die up here. Shit, fuck, damn,” I cried.
“I hate it when you swear,” he said.
“That’s the least of our problems.”
“It isn’t helping.”
“The extreme probability of dying on a fucking mountain makes me want to swear,” I yelled at him.
“We have to start back now,” he said.

I followed him back through the sleet, birds, gale-force winds, snow, and torrential rain, to the streambed. He went down first, backwards. I followed slipping, sliding and swearing. Landing on my ass. Tearing my clothes. Somehow we made it back to the visitor center where, from relief, I promptly threw up gummy worms.

“This was a good day,” he said. “The only thing that spoiled it was your swearing.”
“My words kept me going. Your words last night weren’t so helpful,” I said.

I would not have survived Avalanche Peak without using my words, swear words, to generate the anger and energy for the trek. I will never be sure of the intent behind his words. Words have consequences bringing us together and pushing us apart.

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