October 1st, 2008: In the past, it's been difficult for me to initiate a consitent weight-training program because of a persistent weakness in my shoulders complicated by a lower back condition that flares up anytime I put any kind of strain on it. Actually my shoulders have always been a bit weak no matter how I've tried to strengthen them. It's frustrating, because the best way to burn fat, bar none, is to build up lean muscle mass. Recently, the problem became much worse. I couldn't curl an eight-pound dumbell and began to panic. I began to wonder if I had a stroke or something. In September, my doctor took x-rays and said nothing physical seemed to be wrong with them so he sent me to an orthopedist. Ortho guy checked me out and said my muscles needed "reconditioning."
Off to Physical Therapy, which I've been in for a few weeks now, and here is where the tale gets interesting.
PT girl notices my balance is very off. My "center line", ie; where I think center is, is off to the right by several inches due to postural anomalies. My spine and shoulders curve to the right and other stuff due to bad postural habits.
So we work on posture and to strengthen certain back and shoulder muscles that apparently I've never used in my life. I also find myself balancing on foam logs running up my spine touching my toes and other strange adventures in conditioning. However, it works, because both strength and poise improve.
Next thing: I mention that my balance has always been so bad that I've never been able to ride a bike. This is something most people find hard to believe, in fact throughout my miserable existence scoffers have offered to "teach" me only to learn for themselves that after a few wobbly feet I invariably fall off to the right. Hmm, she says. To the right? Yes.
I bring my bow in and they study my form, analyzing that problem in my back that seems to prevent my back muscles from kicking in. I mention that only lately I realized I was shooting with the wrong eye; that when I began shooting with my left eye my shooting improved. Usually a right-handed shooter has right-dominant eye, though sometimes there are cross-dominate eyed people it's not common. Hmm, says a second guy, who knows a little about archery.
My PT gave me suggestions to improve my form but my back muscles wouldn't cooperate; nothing would work in synch. Very frustrating. You may see where this is going. Second guy says, "Try something-- try shooting LEFT HANDED."
Sumbitch. Everything was perfect. I drew and my back and shoulders worked perfectly. It was a technically perfect draw.
Consultation between PT and other guy. More exercises. They ask, "Have you considered the possibility you might be left handed?"
After the sensation of being gobsmacked with a 2x4 passed, I realized it's quite possible. When I was in school in the early sixties in the South, if you were left handed, believe it or not, they would tape your left hand shut and force you to write with your right hand. Happened to a friend of mine named Larry. Thanks to my mom, I entered school already reading and writing, but I have vague memories of having my pencil taken from me in Kindergarten and being told to "hold it this way." I always wanted to fit in and be like everyone else, so I would naturally imitate the way other people did things. If everyone else was right handed, then so was I. I've always said my left hand was my smart hand and my right hand was my strong hand.
PT folks said it might be possible if I were naturally left handed and spent my entire life doing things right handed it could mess up my biomechanics and sense of balance. It would explain a lot, for example when people tell me to turn right I often turn left, which some people find funny and others find infuriating.
I asked if this was the case. They said they had never seen or heard of anything like it before so couldn't say, but it didn't affect the course of treatment one way or the other. But it was something I should consider.
So now I'm released from PT, a born-again lefty, wondering where this leaves me. If I've spent half a century doing everything the wrong way, what do I do now?
For one thing, I'll have to buy a new bow.
November 17th, 2008: Since being released from physical therapy with a clean bill of health, I have been working out like a fiend. I lift weights for an hour, four days a week. I lift to both build mass and to burn fat, which means that I add weight to my barbells regularly, to make them heavier (a practice known as "progressive resistance" training) and I also do a lot of different exercises in the one-hour period in order to keep my heart rate accelerated. This way I also reap some aerobic benefits.
On the days when I don't lift, I hit the treadmill for forty-five minutes. I'm also doing abdominal work, three hundred crunches with the assistance of an exercise ball. I don't do this every day but try at least four days a week. A third of the crunches are straight, a third to the left, a third to the right. That last set starts to ache. After my workouts I usually swim for half an hour.
I've been building this regimen for two months now. My left arm is beginning to catch up with my right arm's strength.
I'm smaller. My clothes fit better and my waist is definitley thinner. But I'm eight pounds heavier. This concerned me until a friend of mine at the gym, a muscular Adonis, told me I looked fifteen pounds LIGHTER. He said I was obviously building muscle mass. Muscle mass is much heavier than fat. I hope he's right. I know my strength is increasing rapidly. If I keep getting smaller and heavier, I'm afraid I'll implode and become a singularity.
With the physical impediments out of my way I'm hitting it with everything my forty-eight year old body has. Thank the pagan gods for Ibuprofen.
I still have a little way to go before I catch up to where I left off before, but promise I will post pictures soon.
January 1st, 2009: Occasionally my life passes through periods of explosive drama. Ordinary activities precipitate a chain of events that lead to extraordinary stress, suffering, and usually expense. December was such a month. God help me, it started early and continued throughout the entire "holiday" season.
First, while carrying my cases into a resteraunt to do a show in Indianapolis, an obese, inebriated celebrant staggered down a narrow hallway, lost his balance, and apparently mistaking a man emburdened by over a hundred pounds of equipment for a concrete pillar, grabbed my left shoulder in an attempt to stay his plummet to the floor. All he succeeded in doing was straining my lower back. This strain was to flower from a sharp ache into paralyzing agony by the next morning. For the next three weeks, in fact.
To add zest and texture to the cruel jest that was to become my holidays, on December 10th I took my cat Oreo, of whom I'm tremendously fond, to the local vet to get her teeth cleaned. She had some gingivitis which made it difficult for her to eat her crunchy food. A dental prophylaxis is a routine procedure done under anesthesia. I'll spare you the grisly details, but essentially, the vet botched the job by tearing a one-inch gash in my poor cat's trachea by improper intubation during the anesthesia. Instead of telling me my cat needed emergency surgery, she sent my cat home to die. Why? you ask. Because a veterinarian can't be sued for malpractice because legally, animals are considered PROPERTY. You can only sue for property damage. So if my cat died, the vet is out the cost of one domestic longhair; ie; $50. If, on the other hand, she fessed up to what she did and I took my cat to surgery, she would be responsible for the cost of the surgery, which would be a great deal more--and more on this later.
Fortunately for my cat--and most unfortunately for this irresponsible veterinarian, I was neither stupid enough or uncaring enough not to notice my cat was experiencing a great deal of distress. So wife and I took her to the emergency vet hospital here in Bloomington, where they told us she was close to dying and we'd better get her to the emergency hospital in Indianapolis.
Which we did. The surgeon there did various tests, and said he had never seen tracheal damage so severe. He had to assemble a team of experts to repair it. The surgery cost close to $4,000, but my cat pulled through. She was released on the 18th, after being in the hospital for several days. Wife and I drove back and forth from Bloomington to Indianapolis to stay with her. Oreo isn't just a cat to us; she is our family. You either understand this or you don't, it isn't something that's explainable.
Once Oreo came home she needed constant care and watching, because she had over twenty staples at the surgical site, as well as sutures basically holding her breathing apparatus together, consequently she couldn't jump up and down on things, which, as any cat owner will tell you, is a feline's great delight. So we cleared out the dining nook, put Oreo's bed there, made a palette on the floor for me, and I begana two--week self-imposed isolation, tending my cat 24 hours a day. I didn't want to put her in one of those cone collars, so I had to watch her to make sure she didn't worry at the staples, but for the most part she left them alone. When she did notice them I told her to leave them alone, she'd look at me and agreed. She also required meds twice a day, which was an ordeal because this stubborn and proud cat DID NOT agree she needed them. I couldn't leave the house because my wife works nights and sleep days, and Oreo needed constant supervision until her healing stabilized.
One thing was certain--she was going to get well if I had anything to say about it. She's four years old and has many more years ahead of her. She wasn't going to die over someone's meanness and stupidity.
This went on until December 30th, when her staples came out. In the meantime, Christmas came and went. I gave up my Christmas so I could have my cat back. It was a fair exchange, I think, but I miss seeing my family. Oreo still has the vestiges of a slight cough, an artifact of having almost the entire length of her windpipe sewn back together. The surgeon says this should diminish and eventually disapear over time.
Today I feel tired and worn down. I went to the weightroom to work out and basically had to start over. After all, I lost almost an entire month. I was weak and tired. I know I'll catch up quickly, but it was discouraging.
Oreo sits in my lap and holds my hand. I think she knows how much I love her. She's my girl.
January 6th, 2009: I'm the first to admit that, emotionally speaking, I'm a drama king. Perhaps it come from being bipolar, or maybe it's not a psychiatric thing at all. Maybe I just possess a naturally passionate nature.
I laugh loud and cry easily and have mood swings, and don't necessarily see this as a bad thing. I fought hard to save my cat, and it was a battle driven by love for her. I know there are people who would have euthanized her in a heartbeat upon seeing the estimate for the surgery, but that's not that way I operate. I don't think it makes me less of a man because I love my cat.
But emotionally, I paid the price. For about a week, I experienced something akin to post-traumatic stress. I've had panic attacks, dejection, depression, lack of motivation. Fear.
Ah, but the magic of vigourous exercise does wonders. I'm on my third workout after my enforced hiatus, and this time (since I felt warmed up and wasn't afraid my aging joints would explode into splinters) I really pushed myself and awoke the endorphins. Strenuous exercise, I've found, is the only thing that effectively undermines deep depression. I've done meds. therapy, all kinds of psychiatric stuff--which takes the edge off, certainly--but the only thing which has every really hit the fundamentally deep depressive stuff has been regular and routine strenuous exercise. To be specific, busting heavy weights. I love iron.
I tell people this, but they don't want to hear it. They'd rather sit on the internet and bitch about how lousy their lives are and wish for some miracle to drop in their laps. If they'd get away from the television and computer, and take a thirty-minute walk every day, or lift a barbell three times a week, they may find that their lives aren't quite as bad as they think.
The miracle exists, but it isn't free. The body posesses amazing self-healing powers, but these must be summoned. Mind, body and spirit comprise a psychosomatic whole which functions interdependently and if any one part is neglected the entire unit falls apart.
January 26th, 2009: I can honestly say my finest hour occurred on January 20th when I performed for the Salute to Heroes Inaugural Ball honoring the Chiefs of Staff and the Living Recipients of the Medal of Honor. My friend Alain Nu called me and asked if I wanted to be part of this historic event and I immediately agreed. There wasn't a second’s hesitation or consideration of scheduling--this was a great honor and I was on board. Alain also suggested I do a lecture the night before, so I had exactly nine days to prepare for the lecture, my first ever outside the PEA, and decide what to do for this prestigious audience. To prepare for respectively the lecture and the show, I (a) wrote a set of lecture notes, and (b) bought a new shirt. The lecture went okay considering I had no time to plan and very little time to prepare, and it was my first "all-purpose" lecture. I think people enjoyed it, and they bought stuff.
Several of us watched the inauguration on television at Alain’s house, all in formal attire, lending an air of solemn occasion to what would otherwise be a bunch of friends hanging out in a small room. Through a strange synchronicity of fashion sense, we all wore similar black wool overcoats, causing a hilarious series of faux pas as we kept putting our belongings in the wrong coats. The night was punctuated with mutterings, “Whose cell phone is this?” “Is this your hotel key?” “What the hell is THIS doing in my pocket?” Before we left I felt moved to say something portentous. "No matter what happens to us after today, no matter where we go or what other performances we ever do, we'll always remember what happens tonight. And the people we perform for will remember us for the rest of their lives because tonight we become part of history." We shook hands, thumped backs, and left for the Washington DC Renaissance Hotel. The bitter cold wind of downtown DC couldn't touch the warmth in our hearts. We were going to write ourselves a place in history. The picture to the left shows us assembled at the Washington DC Renaissance Hotel minutes before showtime.
My selected performance material for the Inaugural Ball was, some would say, a bit risky. They asked for magicians and what they got was a group of mostly magicians, some spoonbenders, and one Psychic. I didn't take anything with me except a promotional giveaway, which consists of a specially-printed deck of Tarot Cards with my contact information on the back. I planned to perform that which I do best for this event: palm readings. The risk I incurred was whether or not this sophisticated audience would show interest in my specialty or give me the cold shoulder. I figured the worst case scenario would be a glassy stare and a polite brush-off, and I've survived far worse than that.
My approach was a variation of the pitch I typically use as an ice-breaker. I introduced myself to each group as one of the Nation's leading experts on the Art of reading hands (which as the author of three best-selling books on the subject, published in five languages, I can truthfully claim). My previous concerns were ill-founded. For the entire ninety-minutes, people surrounded me and I never had a chance to take a break until about fifteen minutes before the event ended, when I broke away to find a drink of water. I encountered one of my fellow performers near the bar, gasping for air. We quickly refreshed ourselves and dove back into the madding fray. Afterward I counted my Tarot Cards and estimated I had given out close to a hundred, which would be approximately the number of quick readings I did.
The atmosphere at this event was, with no exaggeration, euphoric. People celebrated what they felt was a magical occasion and a new beginning. I think we were all caught up in it. We shone that night, all of us. During the evening I'd catch sight of Alain and his beaming face told me he was proud of us, his gang of wonder-workers, assembled from all across the nation for this one fine hour to show people that yes--magick was REAL.