Flu Shot

flu1I got a flu shot last month. This was, like, a BIG THING. And yes, goddamnit, I am going to connect it to spirituality.

I have heretofore not had a flu shot as an adult. I assume I was required to get them as a kid, by my public school if no one else, but that makes well over two decades of no immunization and no illness. I cling to that fact with a pride that suggests I have some control over it.

Why fix what ain’t broken, I have said when asked why I don’t take advantage of the now free flu shots offered by my health insurance. As though that should apply to the complex nature of disease and infection. For all I know, I could already be broken, sloppily duck-taped together just beneath the surface, days from the snapping of the last frayed, sticky thread.

Folksy logic, combined with the mild aversion to immunizations embedded by my father, who was passively opposed to most Western medicine, has informed my choices for many years. Despite knowing the science. I know there is virtually no evidence that getting a flu shot can give me the flu or lower my immunity. I know that my erstwhile resilience probably has nothing to do with my avoidance of the needle and everything to do with luck and a naturally strong immune system (developed by the bacteria-embracing habits of same father?). I know there’s no evidence that beloved immune system will be weakened by a flu shot. When I try to figure out what in my informed brain pushes me to resist this lifesaving miracle, what emerges is some weird stew of colloquial belief and independence, with a dash of government mistrust. In other words, I am apparently an American Christian Fundamentalist.

And then there’s this: we adorable, pathetic humans favor narrative over facts. Even one story can tip the scales over thousands of facts. We are far more likely to believe our cousin who says that immunizations caused John Jr’s autism than we are the mountains of research that show there is no scientific connection between the two. I have read studies that demonstrate this irrational tendency. I am aware, even on alert for this tendency in my own adorable, pathetic brain. But you know what got me to get a flu shot this year? A story.

A friend around my age, who, like me, had never made the choice to get a flu shot and never had the flu … GOT THE FLU last year. She described it to me in graphic detail. She thought she was going to die. She has made her tale of woe into a pro-immunization mission. And it totally worked. Since my immunity to illness has not built my immunity to the state of being ill, I don’t handle illness well. I don’t know how to have a fever. I’ve never even had food poisoning. Worse than the physical discomfort, I become both self-critical and self-pitying when I’m even a little sick. Chances of me dying from influenza are slim, but I don’t know if I could emotionally survive a full-on case of the flu. I vowed to seek out and accept the plunge.

Disappointing, I know. But narratives can defend any line of thinking. This one supported scientific evidence, and encouraged my efforts to decrease personal hypocrisy, loosen my attachment to identity, and let go of long-held fears. For me, it required considerably more effort than the energy it took to bike to Walgreens, but it got done. A weird, tiny victory.

 

Advertisements

Loving Autumn is a Buddhist Act

mono-no-aware“I’m loving autumn this year.”

“I thought you didn’t like autumn.”

“Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. I’M GETTING BETTER.”

Global warming helps. We haven’t had a really bad winter since 2013-14, in which a handful of terrifying commutes left me in tears more than once. Cold-induced death doesn’t feel as imminent now as it was then, but it was never logical anyway. The odds of me dying in an icy car crash in the winter are no greater than the odds of me dying of heatstroke in the summer. (I’m not going to reference that; just go with me.)

Driving was only one road of terror. I think there were some times as a kid when I was not allowed to dress as warmly as I wanted to, and I know there were times when I was outside and cold against my will, so there’s some lingering emotional memory there. And then there was the winter of 2009-10 when I worked as a door-to-door canvasser. I had regular afternoon panic attacks as I tried to will myself out the door to face another night of begging in the freezing cold. It wasn’t just the temperature (walking around in winter at night isn’t so bad if you’re dressed right – and we fuckin knew how to dress right), but being repeatedly rebuked by strangers as I interrupted their evenings to resiliently pitch environmental causes and ask for money iced over my core, and the windchill dropped with the added pressure of having to hit a financial quota every week or lose my job, leaving me so bone-cold that I couldn’t get warm enough to sleep at night, no matter how thick the down comforter.

I’ve never loved fall because I fear winter. And I fear winter, clearly, not for the cold. What I really fear is being out of control in the cold, as if I weren’t out of control year-round. And when you carry that fear, fall is just an opening act for winter. Literally the calm before the storm. But fucking A, autumn is gorgeous. Such beauty in the transition of death and dormancy. I learned the concept of Mono No Aware while doing a play about Japanese art. That’s what those characters in the headline image above stand for. (Supposedly. I don’t read Japanese. The internet could trick me into promoting elephant tusks as an anti-depressant for all I know.) You can look it up yourself for an accurate definition, but to my understanding it is the ambivalent appreciation of the inevitability of transience, the wistful recognition of the passing of everything, the idea that all things are more valuable because they do not last, which is artistically expressed in the trope that things are most beautiful as they are dying. Nothing exemplifies that more perfectly than autumn.

I’ll throw in Jason Isbell here, too. I don’t know what it is about that guy, but I have fallen in love with no less with three of his songs on first listen, which almost never happens to me. I don’t know if I’ll love those songs forever, but that kind of brings me back to the point. In his most recent single (on The Current anyway), which had me tearing up on the way to work, he sings that “it’s not” (referent poetically absent) all the amazing things about “you,” but the inevitable end of their time together that makes it special:

If we were vampires and death was a joke
We’d go out on the sidewalk and smoke
Laugh at all the lovers and their plans
I wouldn’t feel the need to hold your hand

When I’ve locked in on the coming cold and dark, I’ve missed the inconceivable colors, the smells, the softening air on my ever decreasing spans of exposed skin, holding hands without gloves or discomfort. I’ll dig out my thigh-high socks, add another cowl to the collection, and gather new soup recipes for the long months ahead, but I’m lucky enough to be here now this season. I can’t promise another day of black ice won’t pull me back, but it’s really, really nice to love fall.

Derailed by a House

homeSeven houses, more precisely. Seven houses I didn’t get. And to extend that precision, I am not literally a train, nor have I even figuratively been thrown off the primary track of my life, having never chosen one. However, since I started actively looking for a house I have slept less, drunk more, eaten worse, shortened my meditations, and written almost nothing. House hunting in an inflated seller’s market, in a good economy, is fucking with my Qi. How embarrassing. Continue reading “Derailed by a House”

Buddhish Moments in Pop Culture, #1

perksI found The Perks of Being a Wallflower crammed into my friend’s bookshelf as I was waiting for the group to gather for hardcore boardgame play. I loved the movie, and it turns out I went to school with the writer (and director), and he’s apparently a good guy, so I borrowed the book and gobbled it down in less than 24 hours.

I don’t let myself indulge in fiction often anymore. And while I know that’s ridiculous, it still helps me to get off my own back if I can make a mini-blog out of it.

Or one moment of it, anyway.

Charlie is our limited narrator – a quiet, observant high school freshman who carries a semi-dormant, unspecified mental illness and few meaningful friendships until he meets Patrick and Emma – lively step-siblings in their final year of high school who take him under their wing. That’s all the background you need for the moment. You don’t really even need that, but why would you want to read about a moment in the life of an anonymous character?

… we all got quiet
Sam tapped her hand on the steering wheel. Patrick held his hand outside the car and made air waves. And I just sat between them. After the song finished, I said something.
“I feel infinite.”
And Sam and Patrick just looked at me like I said the greatest thing they ever heard. Because the song was so great and because we all really paid attention to it. Five minutes of a lifetime were truly spent, and we felt young in a good way.

I should just let that stand as is, but as J.D. Salinger once wrote, “Zoe’s voice conspires to desecrate everything on earth.” (shout out to my JD homies, whutwhut!)

I read a Paul Tillich book in a Christian Doctrine class in grad school, and it’s my earliest memory of thinking of the idea of “God” as synonymous with the infinite, as an existence distinct from the mortality of everything we can experience with our senses. This brought that back again, but couched in a simple, everyday example of how a moment “truly spent” is divine in every sense of the word. Because if the only reality that actually exists is the present moment – if the future and the past are illusory – then fully living that moment makes us immortal in that moment, which is literally everything.

Lovely, isn’t it?

Baby Got Back Pain

I suffered from back pain on and off for about 18 years. My severe sciatic pain was periodic for more than a decade. It made it hard to walk at times and caused a sensation that conjured the image of being stabbed in the ass with an ice pick. I saw chiropractors throughout that time period; I tried acupuncture, exercise, massage, yoga, private Pilates lessons.  Just about everything helped temporarily, but the pain always came back with undiminished and even increasing intensity.

But that’s only half the story. Continue reading “Baby Got Back Pain”

Oh for F&@k’s Sake: Swear Words and the Blinding Fog of Self-Righteousness

When I was in my 20s, I used to criticize people who would get, what I deemed, unreasonably offended at hearing a swear word. I resented the fact that movies and TV were censored for dirty language, that a person could get fired for accidentally cussing in front of another full grown adult. This resentment came out of the ignorant belief that, as far as I could tell, there was no logical reason to be offended by swear words. It’s true that the very idea of swear words is an abstract concept that we, as a society, just kind of made up. We pretend there’s some inherent evil within these words even though they cause no apparent physical or mental harm, not even to children. And that’s how I justified my smug indignation: If there was no scientific or logical basis to take offense at swear words, then, clearly, taking offense at swear words was unscientific and illogical, and a society can’t function properly when we treat unscientific and illogical opinions with the same level of importance as opinions based in objective reality, and therefore we should not humor people who believe in stupid things. Continue reading “Oh for F&@k’s Sake: Swear Words and the Blinding Fog of Self-Righteousness”