Thursday, October 27, 2011

captain phillips rides again

When Dave was a kindergartener in Australia, he fell in love with a little blonde girl in his class. Her name was Cathy Phillips, but that's immaterial, because she was that girl. She didn't need a name. Dave never spoke to her, but he told anyone who'd listen that he was going to marry her. Those long, blonde, swaying pigtails....there's nothing else to say.

In a jaunty -- if slightly wack -- romantic tribute, he rechristened her Captain Phillips, after the first governor of New South Wales. (After some googling, it looks like he should have actually called her Admiral Phillip, but let's not nitpick.) I hope she caught wind of it and made it legal. "Captain Phillips" is clearly a thousand times cooler than "Cathy Phillips", and it would have cemented her femme fatale status forever, like a female James Bond.

In any case, she's still alive and she's still five, only she's changed form, switched hemispheres and enrolled at Finn's school. She has a beautiful name, every bit as cool as Captain Phillips, but I'm not going to use it here. I'm going to protect her privacy. We'll just call her the Admiral, since the title's free. It's high time she was promoted, anyway.

The Admiral caught Finn's eye on the first day of school, when she showed up wearing a pretty white cotton dress. Remember, Finn's a sucker for a good sartorial move. And the Admiral is a star sailor to her bones. (A star sailor isn't just someone in a good outfit. A star sailor has to drip with innate style and coolness. And then top it off with a good outfit.) One day after school, Finn and the Admiral hung around the playground together and became fast friends. They're both half-day kindergarteners, two of the only three in the whole school, and so they bonded over being sprung at 12:30.

For a time, they were inseparable. (I should say they were voluntarily inseparable, but I'll get to that.) Finn's always been adamant about remaining half-day, but when the Admiral mentioned to Finn that she might be going full-day in November, suddenly the wind changed direction. He mentioned it idly, played it cool. "Mom, I think I might go full-day in November." No reason, Mom. Just feel like it. Oh, and maybe the Admiral is doing that.

Whenever I asked him who he'd sat with at lunch, it was the Admiral. Whenever I asked him who he liked best at school, it was the Admiral. He used the same fervent tone for her name that he'd used early on when he was talking about R.J. (for whom the flame has faded, although they were playing together today on their first field trip - ! - to a pumpkin patch).

Oh, but the course of true love never did run smooth. I picked Finn up one day and his mood was stormy. He didn't want to talk about it at first, but then he burst out, "Sometimes she says she doesn't want to sit next to me, but I know she really does want to sit next to me, so I sit next to her even if she doesn't want me to!" I hesitated a little and then said that there is this thing called personal space. "What's personal space?" he asked. I didn't have the heart to tell him that his bold moves were backfiring, so I told him to ask his dad. (Passing the buck is one of the best things about being married.)

Some days it's terrific with the Admiral. But the Admiral is capricious. She invited Finn to be a part of her club, but then revoked his membership the next day. He said that she was being mean. I advised him to locate some friendly people and play with them, then. After all, did he still want to play with her anyway if she was mean? He responded wearily, as though I were the biggest moron ever to walk the earth. "YES." And I suppose that was a dumb question, considering everything I've ever learned about being alive.

Finn and the Admiral are still close, though the Admiral still holds most of the cards. I say most of them, because Finn has plenty of mojo with the young ladies. The class played "The Farmer in the Dell" one day, and Finn told me he'd taken the Admiral for his wife. Apparently there were some other girls who'd wanted the job. There's a group who rush to hug Finn goodbye every day, and you can practically see the cartoon hearts take over their pupils. One little lass grabbed his hand once and gave it a kiss as he barreled past her. The thought bubble is clearly visible over his head. What the hell is happening? Meanwhile, rows of girls go down like dominoes. Dave and I have both witnessed it. It's frankly remarkable.

He had a tough one with the Admiral yesterday. There was something he didn't know about how something worked at school, and the Admiral said he was ridiculous. And then another girl said "YOU'RE sitting with your GIRLFRIEND", referring, of course, to the Admiral. But Finn held his own. He said that he didn't like that bit about a girlfriend, and he told the Admiral that he wasn't ridiculous. He hasn't been to school before, is all, and he's just getting started.

Sunday, October 09, 2011


I had the alarming realization lately that I’m going to be spending nine months of every year driving to and from Finn’s (and, someday, Fred’s) elementary school until I'm 51 years old.

Holy fuck.

First of all, that means I’m going to be 51 someday. It’s nine years off, but it’s more true than it ever was that this is going to happen. It's more true because I can visualize half an hour of each of these ensuing days perfectly. I’m tethered to the brick facade and royal blue railings of Sacajawea, and they’re pulling me closer and closer to my death.

I’m having a difficult time remembering that I’m not actually 51 now. GOOD CHRIST, I’M 51! Oh, wait, no.

Note to the 51-and-over crowd who may be reading this: It’s not you, it’s mortality.

That’s the thing. If our lives are a horizontal timeline that reads in classic Western style from left to right, I feel tucked over to the right a little more than before. I remember feeling myself on the left-hand side of that timeline. I had forever to figure out what I was going to do or be. I could blossom in my own sweet time. I didn’t have to nail it down. The right hand side of the timeline felt positively wide-open and breezy. Horizonless, almost. The map just faded off.

But now I can feel a wall over to my right. I’m not about to bump into it or anything, but I’m aware of its presence, kinesthetically. My body knows its there.

And that brings me to my topic. The body. My body. The ol’ vessel. I’m going to sail in this thing to the grave, and I’m realizing that I’m at some sort of turning point. Here’s a Philip Barry mash-up, from that old beauty, The Philadelphia Story:

My, she was yar...It means easy to handle, quick to the helm, fast, right. Everything a boat should be, until she develops dry rot.

I’m dedicated to the whole notion of yar, inside and out. It’s something to shoot for, that fineness and agility in all the domains that matter to you. But for most of my life, I’ve been focusing on my mental or emotional or spiritual yar. The inner yars.

A few years ago, after I had Finn, I made my first serious run at physical yar. I’d joined a nearby gym to drop the last bits of baby weight. When you joined this gym, you got two free sessions with a personal trainer to get you going. I remember looping away on an elliptical, waiting for my trainer to nab me for my first session. And then somebody tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned around and there was Niles.

(Niles, wherever you are, I salute you. Move back to Seattle so you can train me some more.)

Niles was -- as it can never hurt a trainer to be -- ridiculously handsome. His chiseled features were the stuff of Roman coins, truly. And as we embarked on what would turn out to be a year of thrice-weekly workouts, it became clear that Niles was also a deeply good, decent, searching person. We talked about all sorts of things as he made me stronger, enjoyed a shared philosophical bent. He was just a good dude.

And also, he was really, really good-looking. I got 2.5 times stronger than I would have with another trainer, because when your trainer is that attractive, you put out at least 2.5 times the effort. I should really say that I got 9 or 10 times stronger than I would have in other circumstances. It's instinctual. It's why birds have bright feathers.

It was frankly hilarious, how much I was fronting during our workouts. You see, when I was growing up, my family was engaged in a constant competition to see who could be the biggest wilting lily. Whoever was the sickest or faintest or most exhausted won the day’s sympathy prize. But we were lavish with sympathy for anybody’s pitiful old complaint. One of us would collapse in the front door after, I don’t know, going out to buy a stapler, and give the traditional extravagant Kunz family announcement/groan, “I’m HOME,” and then proceed to lay out the tiny physical indignities of the last hour and a half that had done us in. We expected -- nay, felt entitled to -- and received! -- three sets of rapt and understanding ears for our litanies.

We were lame.

But you’d never know it from my sessions with Niles. I gave the mythical 110% every step of the way. Niles would have me down in a plank, and he’d have his little timer out, and I’d hold that goddamn plank until my muscles were all screaming “WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?!” (Shh, muscles. Zip it. We’re somebody else right now.) And Niles would exclaim with real joy, “That’s great! That’s thirty seconds longer than you could do it before!” And I’d be giving off the vibe, pshaw, well, hey. That’s just me. I’m all heart. I never say die. I just don’t know how to do it another way.

Dave, of course, if he’s reading this, is snorting into his soup. I can’t escape my childhood completely. Every day, all day, I’m like “Oh, my finger” and “Ouch, my hip” and “I feel dizzy” and “The back of my neck is killing me” and “I have a little sore throat”. And the Rowleys are a different proposition altogether. Dave’s mom, Larraine, is the quintessential Rowley tough nut. She lives out her days in bona-fide screaming back agony from a botched surgery she underwent thirty-plus years ago. But she powers through it and does whatever she sets her mind to, and will never, never let on that she’s in pain unless she really can’t move any more. When you see some slightly pursed lips and she admits out loud that there’s a little pain, you can bet that anybody else alive would be screaming for an ambulance. So it’s safe to say that Dave is not impressed with my frequent bids for physical sympathy. Let’s say that he’s visibly unimpressed.

Me: “My finger!”
Dave: Blank look.
Me: Pregnant stare.
Dave: Eventual grudging nod. Not of acknowledgement. I-have-to-do-this-or-she-won’t-go-away. That nod.
Me (a vibe): That’s it?
Dave (a vibe): Oh, that’s it, all right.

Okay. Okay, but if I die of possible minor floating arthritis in the next few minutes, you’re going to feel like a real heel. Play “Little Wing” at my funeral, by the way.

Anyway. Working with Niles for that year -- up until I got pregnant and then miscarried and then got pregnant again with Fred -- transformed my body, for certain. I was as slender as I’d ever been, but this time I had muscles, and all kinds of physical verve and confidence. And I became one of his favorite clients, one of his real success stories. But, most happily, for the first time in my life I felt that my exterior matched the best of my interior.

When I was growing up and going through my young adult life, I always had this feeling that my forties were going to be a really excellent time for me. 40 was my target age. Things were going to start to get good. The right side of the timeline may have been amorphous and foggy, but I felt something glowing waiting for me right around that age range. I pictured myself like some sort of warrior elf queen, strong and bright and agile. Maybe carrying a spear of some kind. Wearing some kind of killer boots, invariably.

After I had Fred, all my work with Niles was lost. My fraught pregnancy had me tethered to bedrest, and I kissed all of those core muscles -- as you do -- goodbye. And then last year I had surgery, and it’s been a long road to recovery from there. Eight weeks stuck in bed watching Netflix and eating vanilla wafer and Scharffen Berger sandwiches is not a recipe for vitality. It’s a recipe for a super fat ass, is what it’s a recipe for.

But forces are at work now, finally, pulling me back towards yar. One, there’s that wall over to my right that keeps whispering to me, “Now or never.” This is when I’m forging the body that’s going to contain me for the rest of the ride. I can extend the ride, I can make it more fun, I can give myself more energy, I can give myself a prettier vessel. I can make an elf queen suit.

And two, two is mysterious. Let me give a foundation for this. Eight years ago, I met Dave on a yoga retreat on Maui, and within five days we were practically engaged. One night at dinner, there under the stars with Dave and all our fellow students, I couldn’t eat a thing. I couldn’t even speak. I felt like my body was being filled with light, like my being at the deepest level was being refined by some force I felt but couldn’t comprehend. I felt something humming in me, transforming me, right there in front of my untouched plate. Like something wanted a better life for me, and was cooking me right there in order for me to receive it.

In a much quieter and less dramatic way, I feel like the same thing is happening right now. My diet has spontaneously changed. My sweet tooth, a powerful thing, has all but dissolved. My attraction to crappy food of every stripe has vamoosed. The leftover Fred/vanilla wafer weight is coming off. I’ve begun making these smoothies for myself, gulping down mountains of greens. I can’t recommend this enough, my friends. I’m even going to give you the recipe for this insanely good thing. It feels like the most magical elixir. A cup and a half of greens, packed tight. A banana. A kiwi. Some mango. 2 tablespoons of protein powder. (The hemp sort is really good, not chalky at all.) 2 tablespoons of coconut butter. 2 cups of water. Blend away. Drink it on an empty stomach, otherwise it won’t feel good. (Do believe me about that.) On the one hand, it's a smoothie. It's just a smoothie. But on the other hand, it's a message to my body, a message to my life. I don't even want to articulate it and cheapen it. It's precious, whatever it is.

I really do think there’s some kind of quickening going on. I feel it personally, and I’m seeing it everywhere. Something’s turning up the heat under us all, I think, cooking us a little faster. And I’m feeling those two forces so keenly. The increasing nearness of death and some insistent life force in reply. There’s a call, and I can’t resist trying to answer it, and now I’m trying to answer it with everything I have, even this old shell.