Category Archives: if this is you


Last night when you were steering a canoe through some heavy swells you caught the edge of your thumbnail on the gunnel of the boat and the angle was just so that it pulled off half of the nail. And you swore and then realized that was going to hurt a lot and then you kept paddling because you needed to. If it was just that one thing perhaps you wouldn’t have wondered so much. But if that followed an incident over the weekend when you grabbed your razor wrong when you pulled it out of your suitcase and sliced through the pad of your fourth finger (and thank you concierge for the band aid and the sympathy) and last Tuesday when you grabbed a pan from the oven the wrong way and got second degree burns on three other fingers and just a few weeks ago you accidentally sliced off the tip of your middle finger…

If this is you, you might wonder why such things just keep happening to your fingers. And whether you ought to just preemptively bandage them all because you’re worried about what will happen next…

if this is you…

If you just happened to reach into your shoulder bag to grab your cellphone this weekend while traveling in a foreign country, and found it missing…then your heart started racing more than a little bit as you retraced your afternoon and realized that it was probably still in that coffeeshop where you’d stopped for awhile to warm up from walking the cold streets.  Especially when you realized that you had no idea what the name of the shop was or where it was located.

Then you turned to your partner in more than a bit of a panic.  And watched in awe as he coolly called your missing phone with his, spoke with the barista (in French, of course), and made arrangements to retrieve the lost phone.  Then the two of you hailed a cab and arrived at the coffeeshop just as it closed.

So if this is you, you were hardly surprised that the lost phone drama brought you right back to that street where you’d spotted that charming winebar earlier in the day.  And that that winebar turned out to be the perfect place to while away the rest of your last night in Montreal–perhaps better than any of the other options that you were considering for the evening.  There you tried your first-ever beef carpaccio (with chimichurri sauce, yum!), lingered long over small plates and shared so many sweet memories–including the one of the meandering getting-lost-a-little-bit walk through a drizzly cold city afterwards.

Previous “If this is you…” posts

if this is you…

This morning when you went to the prosthetist’s office you were feeling a bit fussy and discouraged. Because for the past six months things just haven’t been right. Either your leg has been too long, or too short, or the knee hasn’t been taking a charge or the socket has been leaving pressure sores. And you feel like every little adjustment just spawns more problems ‘to be taken care of.’  And you are oh-so tired of walking with a “loaner knee” while yours is in the shop.  Ugh.

If this is you, then you unloaded it all when you got to the prosthetist’s.  Venting your various frustrations and concerns about possible changes.  And then you surrendered your leg to be worked on again, to get the loaner knee out & the pylon changed out for a shorter one.  You also suggested some alignment changes–to point your toe out and to bring down the heel a bit.

And then, as you were putting the leg back on, your prosthetist mentioned that your ankle rotator was back.  You’d forgotten that it was even missing.  But when you put your leg back on and stepped down on it, you remembered.  That little bit of give in the ankle feeling so natural and smooth.  And then you walked back and forth and back and forth in the office, to see what felt right and what didn’t.  And then you realized that sometimes when something is missing (a little twist in the ankle, perhaps), you don’t even realize that it’s gone, but you know that something just doesn’t feel right.  And when it’s back, you can’t imagine how you lived for weeks without it.

Fortunately, I’m nearly all put back together now.  Just one more change in store next week and then (fingers crossed), I’ll be back to my normal bionic self again…

On meat and rats and fear…

I’ve talked about my rodent-phobia a few times before on this blog, but for those new here, I’ll just summarize:  it’s ugly.  Rodents give me panic-attacks.  The first time my ex heard me encounter a possum on a dark night, he thought I was being raped because of my screams for help.

I know, I know.  It’s a stupid, cliche fear.  I’m way bigger than them and they don’t want to see me any more than I want to see them (except for that one possum–the one who decided that even a bruising with a broom wouldn’t budge him)…

But really the rodent-phobia is not about rodents.  It’s about the unknown.  It’s about something that can live close by and be there even when I don’t know it.  It’s about the ability for something to cross my path when I’m not expecting it.

It’s about my vulnerability.

I wasn’t always afraid of rats, and near as I can tell, the fear emerged about mid-way through high school.  Right at the same time that I had some fear-producing encounters with men of not-so-good intentions.  I knew I couldn’t run away from them.  I knew I wasn’t strong enough to fight them.  I knew there was no one who could be there all the time to ensure my safety.  In short, my fear of small beasties became symbolic of my own inability to protect myself from danger–usually danger in dark or unknown places.  About that same time I stopped watching suspense and horror movies, too.  I couldn’t tolerate that feeling that something was about to jump out at me from around the corner, from under my bed, from the darkness not lit be streetlamps.

Why I became afraid of rats specifically, I’m not sure.  But perhaps it was a kind of mental shorthand for my inability to say that I was afraid of knowing that I couldn’t run or scream or defend myself.  Somehow rodent-phobia became mapped to that part of my brain…
tasty tasty meat
On a somewhat related note: on my iPad right now is a book called The Butcher and the Vegetarian (delightful book–I highly recommend it!).  The author draws a strong connection between her desire to eat meat and her desire to acquire a kind of masculine power:

Eating meat might be the most normal thing in the world to other people, but to me it feels indulgent, forbidden, deviant…Not only that, meat is total guy food.  I’d be lying if I told you that isn’t part of the appeal.  Meat comes with a boys’ club atmosphere of testosterone and machismo.

Undoubtedly my turn to eating meat (after more than a decade of vegetarianism) this past year is tied to my desire to become more ‘manly’–the original motivation came from a bodybuilding regimen.  I was ready to build some not-so-ladylike muscle.  But also comes from a desire to be more strong and courageous through the divorce proceedings.  During that time I craved meat, especially beef, constantly–not only did it make me feel satisfied and full far longer than a salad, it made me feel assertive and powerful.

Once, while I was in the midst of living in Pasadena (where I’d moved temporarily while my ex was cleaning his stuff out of our shared apartment) I encountered a mouse one late evening.  It’s a long story, and wasn’t pretty.  The kids were with me and had to nurse me through a long night of tears and my heart racing so hard I couldn’t breathe well.  Although I was terrified of the mouse, it was also probably also the only time that I truly let myself physically express the terror of what was happening to my life.  I was so afraid (of rodents and men and love and the future).  I felt vulnerable in ways that I never had before.  I was panicking about more than a mouse.  I was panicking about my life.

So, now, I’m having to face that down again.  The day before I was slated to move into my new home, an inspection turned up some rat feces.  Perhaps old ones, but it was inconclusive.  My insecurities welled up all over the place.  Mostly, because I’ve never moved to a new place on my own and I’m carrying a boxload of concerns related to this change.  So in some ways, I’m not at all surprised by the rats–it seems like a kind of cosmic justice meted out to force me to face my own vulnerability.  Because it’s quite possible that I will encounter one of these creatures when I’m home alone on a night very soon.  And it will be just me and just that rodent–there will be no spouse or child or friend to put their arms around me and tell me that I’m going to be okay.  And I’m steeling myself for that possibility, for what it’s like to hear those scratches and bumps and creaks in the night and I wonder if they mean a rodent is nearby.

That, and I’m having steak for dinner again tonight, methinks….




Almost six months ago, I posted about my desire to “fall in love” with new experiences this year.  I just re-read my post and realized that I’ve already accomplished everything on my list for 2011, some of these even more than once!  So here’s that post again, as a refresher (and a reminder of just how good it feels to live in the moment and not with fear of the future):

I hadn’t set any New Year’s resolutions until today. I randomly came across this poem (printed on a fabric flower) and I found my goal for the year (which actually does tie in nicely with Neil Gaiman’s wish for the year that I posted a few weeks ago)…

“I Love, and the World is Mine” by Florence Earle Coates:

For me the jasmine buds unfold
And silver daisies star the lea,
The crocus hoards the sunset gold,
And the wild rose breathes for me.
I feel the sap through the bough returning,
I share the skylark’s transport fine,
I know the fountain’s wayward yearning,
I love, and the world is mine!

I love, and thoughts that sometime grieved,
Still well remembered, grieve not me;
From all that darkened and deceived
Upsoars my spirit free.
For soft the hours repeat one story,
Sings the sea one strain divine;
My clouds arise all flushed with glory,—
I love, and the world is mine!

So in 2011, my goal is to fall in love each and every day.

I’ll fall in love with flowers
fresh bread
and cheese and muscat grapes
the sounds of slow trains on tracks
and the scent of your sun-warmed skin
wizened tree trunks
painting with bold color
and writing final drafts
the sensation of clinging to high cliff walls
and skiing down powdery slopes
my plane landing on unfamiliar runways
and sand between my toes
bright morning light reflecting off the water
and late-night skies full of stars.

This year I’ll be wholly and completely in love with the present moment, and at the same time in love with every step of the journey that I’m taking to accomplish my long term goals.

This is it, my friends. I’m so excited for what lies ahead….

The image above is taken from a vantage point overlooking one of the Gettysburg battlefields that I saw this past weekend…


After my conference in Washington DC this past week, I had an open afternoon for sightseeing.  A last-minute plan evolved to see a Civil War battlefield–which sounded better than just about any other option available in the area.  And we decided to not just see any old battlefield, but the mother-of-all-battlefields: Gettysburg.

But on the way–just 20 miles shy of G’burg–I spied a sign off the side of the roadway for the National Civil War Medical Museum and I pretty much knew we had to detour.  Anyone who’s brought up Civil War medical practices at a party (and endured my blathering about said topic) knows that simply had to be done.  So we pulled off the road re-charted some GPS coordinates and soon found ourselves in the lobby of the museum, greeted by a man in a hodegpodge of CW regalia who began explaining the basics of medical practice in the era.  I didn’t say a word–just stood there with a silly grin on my face.  And then proceeded to oooo and ahhh over exhibits that featured some of the very same practitioners who frame chapters in my dissertation.  It was this geek-girl’s-dream-come-true (and was even better than the moment when I got to sit on Abe’s lap later that afternoon).

I’ve written before some of the reasons for my attraction to Civil War medicine, the largest being that I feel a kinship with so many of the soldiers because of missing a limb.  Reading their narratives in the museum was not at all unlike reading my own medical histories.  It’s a morbid curiosity, perhaps,…but the sight of the surgeon’s amputation saw and the manuals describing the procedure in detail are so familiar, and I’m terrifically attracted to all of the small details.  As an example: one of the images in the museum showed a kind of traction device that was used to hold down the stump-limbs to keep the tendons from pulling them upwards to the body (a tendency that is all-too-common among leg amputees).  My daily yoga practice accomplishes some of this same thing–including time spent on my stomach to stretch out my hip flexors.  Yesterday I was actually aching quite a bit from having deviated from my typical exercise routine–small muscle spasms radiating from my residual limb a strong sign that my legs and hips were unused to the hours spent sitting on planes and in a conference and needed some attention.  It’s such a small part of my experience as an amputee–these hip issues–that I rarely ever even mention it to anyone–but yet seeing that small mention of it in the exhibit reminded me one more time of why I’m so fascinated by the stories of these soldiers.

But after that I got plenty of exercise as we did the driving tour of the Gettysburg battlefields, eyeing nearly every single one of those 1300(!) markers in the fields telling that important story, and ending with my reading of the Gettysburg Address on the cemetery-spot where Lincoln first shared those words.

All-in-all, a rich afternoon–full of history and memory and story.  And so perfect for this pilgrim-historian-amputee girl.



If this is you…(taking the long way home edition)

If, today you had a long day working in the State Archive, all the while wondering why (oh why) archives always have the world’s most uncomfortable and unergonomic chairs, you realized that you had no plan whatsoever for after 4pm when all good state offices close. So you looked up the Pyramid Alehouse that your teammate recommended and realized it was on your way “home” for the evening, so you decided to go and discovered while you were sitting on the patio watching the trains go by that the apricot ale really is as good as they said it was. Then you had a tasty meal and still had hours to go before it was dark so you decided to take the long way home to see what adventures might be in store.

So it’s really no surprise that a young boy holding a sign saying “Urban Farm Stand” caught your eye. And when you walked that way you discovered two tables with some fresh-picked organic produce and a charming community garden. So you bought some fresh berries for breakfast tomorrow and then noticed a woman with a massage chair set up nearby.

So if this is you, your entire body started wanting a massage right at that very moment, and when you walked over you were swept off you feet when she told you that the massages were complimentary because she was trying to find new clients. Oh my. The best 15 minutes of the day as all that stress melted right off your shoulders.

And as you walked the remaining blocks home and then sat on the large verandah of this historic home where you’re staying (in the 3rd-story attic room–so romantic and with a staircase to rival that of the Pilgrim Inn at Canterbury), you realize that life just goes better when you open yourself up to taking the long way home. And also…you’ve fallen in love with yet one more city (a city with light rail that I will plan to take somewhere tomorrow–another adventure to be had!)

if this is you…

swirly, originally uploaded by pilgrimgirl.

If, when you saw a posting on Freecycle for 12(!) rosebushes, you realized that they were just calling your name…“Jana,” they said…and you thought to yourself just how much those rosebushes would cost and just how much you would enjoy them, you probably didn’t think twice before you told that person that you could pick them up on Saturday and then told yourself that despite the rain you could surely dig 12 deep holes in your garden for those bushes this weekend.

And you may have even thought twice about this ridiculous project when you realized that the rosebushes were ancient, with ginormous (20-40lb) rootballs and you knew that you would be doing much of the toting yourself…to the car…to the garden….to finding exactly the right spot within the garden. And not to mention those holes that would need digging.

And if this is you, you really meant it when you told your son how glad you were that he was now a teenager, because he could lift the bushes even better than you. And you are singing the praises of leather gloves after blood running down your arms from those thorns(!). But you have just finished hole #8 and have just three more to go tomorrow (#12 rosebush went to a friend) and you…you have no regrets at all.

if this is you…

If you just opened an email from your doctor and he wrote that the MRI you had last week–the one of the surgical site on your leg–that it is perfectly normal and showed no signs of residual infection, you will shed a few tears as you forward that message to your husband, ignoring the fact that you are sitting in a fantsy-pantsy (and completely quiet) archival library.

Well, because if this is you, you don’t care what the people around you are thinking as you get the best news that you’ve heard in a very long time.