I typically go kicking and screaming into this fascistic style of thanks. Frankly I’d rather drink a few beers and gripe about things which irritate me (read: everything). But no, I have to be thankful about all the blessings and the good things and the blah to the blah blah.
So I will give thanks.
Fortunately, I have found a loophole.
Here’s my list of things which I am thankful for…each in a couple of ways.
First and foremost, I am thankful for my family. We have our squabbles and issues, but there is not another group of people I’d rather share DNA with. Also, like me, they’re pervious to guilt, so if I ever need a kidney, they’ll be easy picking.
As thankful as I am for them, I am at times equally as thankful for the 4,298 miles that separate us and caller ID on my mobile phone. Absence makes the heart, well, you know…
It’s Saturday afternoon. I have just finished teaching and have treated myself to a dangerous amount of sausage and an omelet the size of a Frisbee. I put on some music and lie on the couch with a book. And then I pause in a moment of clarity.
Is it possible?
Yes, it is.
I am happy and content.
I review everything in my mind: great friends, good social life, sex life which involves no monetary transfer, a good book, developing professionally, pants loose, Dr. Who downloading for Sunday marathon.
All is, actually, well.
It’s times like this that one can sit back, take in a deep breath and just be. Yes, simply be in this beautiful – all too rare – moment of happiness and content that life offers.
So, naturally distrustful of this happiness, I go out of my way to blow it out of the water like the Lusitania.
I have had no sleep. Well, virtually none. I slept perhaps an hour or so in scattered minutes which attacked like rebel bands of insomnia snipers. I lay in bed all night, occasionally staring at those mocking red numbers on my alarm clock. The rest of the time I just let out a series of sighs, muttered curses, and groans.
It seems that my brain works against me most effectively the second my head hits the pillow. It works against me in many ways. Here are all the problems in your life. Let’s overthink tomorrow’s lesson. Are you healthy?
There are dozens more. I’m not telling you anything you haven’t experienced and I’m sure your brain has its own version of these torturous games.
Ironically, this often happens when I have to wake up early. And why not? My brain would have no fun if I could sleep late. What’s the use of brain-induced insomnia then?
Worse still, I have four lessons today and teach from 8:15-17:15. As I stumble through the early morning gray, a day that has not even started yet seems endless.
I am in the stairwell at the university and have begun my long climb up to my office on the 7th floor. Two of my students held the lift for me, and frowned in confusion as I stepped into the stairwell rather than the comfortable little coffin that used to bring me up to stuff.
About a month ago I stopped using lifts. All part of my obsessive dedication to the Fitbit. I realized that I was missing a golden step-accumulating opportunity in the pursuit of attaining my 10,000 required steps a day.
From then on, I have cut out lifts (elevators) completely – up or down. And I have largely cut down on escalators, which are slightly more difficult to eliminate because sometimes they are the only way out of a metro. My rule is that if I have to take an escalator, I have to walk up it.
I will not lie; at first it was not pretty. In the first place, steps never end. They seem to exist in a vortex in which they are multiplied and multiplied until they reach into the heavens like a frickin’ Led Zeppelin song. At one point I expected all of the voices in my head to speak a different language.
Hatred became my fuel. But I had 10,000 steps a day to get, so I kept walking.
My inner hatred was surely matched, if not exceeded, by my outward misery. I never had the guts to look into a mirror, but it can’t have been good. The sweating, swearing, and wheezing I did in recovery in my office must have been a spectacle.
What was worse was that upon arrival at a lift, I was missing that warm, comfortable feeling that only comes when zero effort and immediate gratification partner up with short-distance transportation. Gone was that feeling of finality and development. Thousands of years of evolution worked to get me to the point that I could just chill out and wait until someone brought me to my office.
No. I had devolved.
The Girl and I are at Olšanské hřbitovy (pron: Ol-shan-ske herzzzzhh-bit-o-vee). It’s Halloween evening, approaching dusk, and we are walking down main street. Like most of the dozens of other people there, we are carrying candles looking for a loved one’s tomb.
Dušičky, the Czech Day of the Dead, is November 2nd, but some put candles on graves on the last day of October as well. And so are we.
And while it might sound ghoulish, it’s pretty romantic. An October dusk, leave-covered paths, dark trees, candles. Plus, cemeteries are filled to the brim with people who would stand up and tell you to live life to the fullest if they could.
And as the romance froths and cooks and comes to a boil, a lingering spur of Ethiopian dysentery hits me with a desperate urgency. As you can imagine, romance is put on hold as other concerns, which you can imply, come stampeding to the forefront.
I assess the situation, which is not good. We are in the middle of a cemetery, and as dead people are not known for their toilet use, there is no bathroom nearby. We have to go back to Flora, which is about a fifteen minute walk, thirty minutes employing the crabwalk.
The Girl asks me if I’m Ok.
I breathe. If this goes as epically badly as it can, this will be solid grounds for a dumping (ha!). Unfortunately, that’s not where the worry ends.
I have been dumped by women for a variety of reasons, some good, some bad, some dumb. But the most amazing reason was that I was a blogger. I thought she was joking. Blogger? I’m outta here…
But she was not joking.
I developed a three-pillared argument.
I’m reading the science news today. I don’t read the science news because I want to gain knowledge or so that you think I am sophisticated and deeply intellectual. I read the science news to make me feel better about my dwindling anxiety-ridden existence.
It’s been a long week. As any teacher will tell you, the first few weeks of school are sort of like being thrown out of an airplane with a parachute tied to your ankle. You have to scramble around in a panic to get control as you plummet towards the earth with bugs in your teeth. On top of teaching there is also research to do, papers to write for professors, presentations to create, blogs to write, and books to edit.
I know that my life is no busier than yours, so you know what I mean. We all have pressures and deadlines, whether it’s a meeting, a class, an article, or whatever should be involved in your tailor-made brand of commitment and worry. It gets tiring and overwhelming. Classes can draw on a teacher’s energy like nothing else. By Thursday afternoon I am a vegetable. I sit in my office and do paperwork.
When the moments of life start overwhelming us, we react in different ways. We pray, we drink, we eat, we hide. Or, if it’s a particularly bad week, we do all of the above and usually regret it the next day.
I do all of those things. Nothing like a good comfort hotdog to get me through a tough afternoon. And I think enough of these blog posts take place in pubs for you all to get how much I love a good beer and a Becherovka. And though I do not pray to any concrete God, I do pray throughout the day in muttered vulgarity-strewn oaths.
But when it all comes down on me too hard, I go to the science news.
One night a week, Lee and I get our Europe on. We go to a local swimming pool, and have a swim, steam, sauna, and cold dip. Then we go drink wine like we’re bringing Caligula on his bachelor party and think in metric terms.
If you’ve never done this steam and sauna deal, it goes like this: You sit in a room that as steamy as the Congo in August, then you sit in a room (on purpose) that someone set to 96 degrees (Fahrenheit), then, after showering briefly, you step into the coldest pool of water you have ever been in. Again, on purpose. Oh, and you’re naked.
How did this warrant the term ‘getting my Europe on’ you ask? You might sneer. You might go on to mention that you have done a sauna and steam room dozens of times on the Upper West Side or on your holiday in Santa Barbara. Well, that might be true, but since I never once even understood the concept of these things while living in the U.S., I completely attribute them to Europe. Also, while the history of the sauna is not relegated simply to Scandinavia and the Baltic area, it is a deeply rooted tradition in Europe.
But more importantly, calling things “European” is a dual purpose term. First, it’s a way to explain things so that people leave me alone. I have used the “Europe card” to explain my man purse, an inappropriately small bathing suit, three beers at lunch, and the age discrepancy between myself and a girlfriend. It’s also how I can trick my mind into being comfortable with things that are outside of my comfort zone. This includes eating pig brains in scrambled eggs and peeing in public.
Today I am using the “Europe” card to deal with several things I don’t love. Sitting on wood in the heat, sweating profusely in front of others, and being naked with other men.
I know. I know.
All of the evidence points to the fact that I am a Cat Guy. I carry around cat treats in my pockets, talk to my cat as though she were a small human, and read an interactive blog on cat care.
Moreover, I send pictures of cats, post pictures of my cat, and have watched enough cat gifs to fill a Plutonian year. When considering the things that are wrong with adults on the internet, I am so that guy.
People think that Cat People are naturals, raised to be Cat People. They imagine us as toddlers, our tiny legs wrapped in a patterned quilt, rocking back and forth on a rocking chair and feeding a platoon of felines tuna treats from our cardigan pockets.
This isn’t true, so while I might be a Cat Guy now, I wasn’t always.
Don’t get me wrong, I always liked cats. It’s just that they were always a little wary of me. And they weren’t wrong to be, either. Oh, I wasn’t one of those bad kids who hurt or tortured cats and then went on to eat humans or seek the GOP nomination. I always respected their agility and speed, their lack of morality in the face of fear and their peculiar brand of horrified self confidence. It’s just that they never seemed to trust me as a reasonable owner figure.
In fact, at a very early age it became clear that the animal world and I were not simpatico. Animals around me were forever dying or attacking. Frogs committed suicide by jumping out of my hand into nearby campfires; a hive of bees once set upon me in an unwarranted attack, forcing me to run home amid my own high-pitched wails. The clash of man and beast is not a new story.
Even the animal world that tried to stay out of my way had a rough time. I once tried to nurse a bird back to health, only to accidentally step on it. I once ran over a duck with my bicycle and, though it survived, he glared at me anytime I passed that particular pond. In what was clearly an act of aggression meant to result in physical harm, he once chased me into traffic. I called him Limpy.
The first glitch in our plan becomes evident when we walk out of the train station: we don’t know where to go. There are no signs, but now I don’t know what I was really expecting. Did I expect a sign with vampires on it and an arrow?
We walk a bit aimlessly through the quaint city center. There’s a park, a fountain, a statue of soldiers, and a lot of old official buildings. No vampires. The city center quickly becomes a residential back road. We are soon scanning the buildings around us, realizing that we have no map. Six minutes after stepping off of the train in a tiny town, we are lost.
We blame Gerald.
“Hi,” I say. I want to apologize for being in my underwear; I never know how to greet strangers while I’m in underwear. Today it’s a polka-dotted boxer affair which I am only now rethinking on the mat in this Thai massage house. Before I can move my lips again, the woman barks a quiet order at me:
I do. Slowly. I grunt involuntarily, but it has the dual purpose of letting her know how badly my back hurts and conveying the idea that, boy oh boy, she’d better give me a damned good massage. Because I need it. She fixes the sheet, orders me back on the mat, and washes my feet. And with that, at minute 2, ends the calm and soothing portion of the 60-minute massage.
For the last two days my neck and back have been in severe pain. The origin of this pain is surely a night of swimming three days ago. Evidently, during the drunken karate kid flailing that I call ‘the breaststroke’ I created a knot in my upper back so large that it could be used to cross the River Kwai.
The pain is impressive. The kind of impressive when you begin to realize how much you’ve been taking things for granted, like walking, sitting, and the ability to turn your head. I never appreciate parts of my body more than when they are under attack by spasm, ulcer, or rupture. When I have a mouth ulcer, I can’t imagine life without it. A bad headache sends me into nostalgic reminiscence for a time when brain trolls weren’t poking the backs of my eyes with hot pokers.
It’s been a day and a half of muscle relaxers and ibuprofen. It’s been Youtubing Yoga poses for the upper back in a desperate attempt to return to a realm of life without excruciating pain. Turning my entire upper body to look both ways for traffic, I resemble that too-built no-necked linebacker from every high school. (All that’s missing is the muscles!)