I try really hard not to come down on gender lines in this space, probably because I don’t want readers thinking, “that’s a lesbian for you, she hates men.” I don’t. I may not feel any romantic or sexual attraction to them—but partially for that very reason, they make the very best of friends. But some of them…
A couple of weeks ago, I graduated from one-on-one physio to “Knee Class.” Seriously, that’s what they call it. It’s pretty much the same exercises, same measuring and same machinery (but with heavier weights and higher expectations) as the individual stuff, but there are three to six new knee recipients working out at once. At first I was a little skittish about sharing with strangers all the groaning and pushing and sweating and breathing and quiet cursing the convalescent experience demands.
But no. Knee class is great. This is the opportunity for comradeship. For voicing complaints or fears you know your friends and family are sick of hearing. For venting frustration at not being able to do something as well as you hoped or sharing the glee of making the bike pedals go all the way around (not that that’s happened for me yet.)
There are three other members in my class. One is a sweet older woman who had her knee replaced last summer, but stopped the exercises and now has to have a refresher. I let that be a warning to me. Then there is another funny, smart woman whom I call the veteran, because she’s recuperating from knee #2. Her surgery was a week before mine, so I use her progress as a guide—and her wisdom and perspective to not beat up on myself when I’m not at the point in the process where I think I should be.
We are the purest definition of community. People who have had the same experience and are learning from each other on how to deal with it. And I’ve honestly come to look forward to the time I spend with these women.
And then there is ManKnee. I call him that because 1) the only time he joins in our conversation is to rattle off a barrage of questions in a rather annoying interrogation style (i.e., so how many times have you seen the doctor? How many times did he come to your room when you were in the hospital? ) Just so happens, we had the same surgeon. And 2) despite the fact that we all had the same surgery, he’s definitely in more need and needy than the rest of us.
ManKnee: (p) MAN-nee. See “ManFlu” but for the knee.
In Ontario, you can obtain limited (and I mean, the basic, no frills stuff) free physiotherapy if you’ve been hospitalized due to surgery. Personally, I think they should put some income criteria in there, because…well, wait for it. I choose the hospital program because it was easier to get to and I figured they had more experience with post surgery situations—and as an unexpected bonus—it’s a couple of dollars cheaper than private programs. But since I can afford it—and have insurance—I would have let my leg fall off before I’d ask for the freebie stuff.
Three times now that I’ve been waiting in the crowded waiting room for the class to begin, I’ve had to listen to ManKnee browbeat the receptionist into giving him the forms for the free stuff, despite the fact that he’s also taking the paid sessions. I know he’s got insurance—and if so that, a job—because he also got nasty because they don’t direct bill.
My thinking is that the gratis goodies should be reserved for those who need them; really need them, those who can’t access anything else—not for the medically greedy. But appears he wore them down got his way—funny how that tends to happen.
ManKnee goes in early and uses the machinery before the class assistants are there, despite being told to stop. He hogs certain pieces of equipment—I had worked my way through 60 sets of leg weights, 30 sets of weighted pushes (impressed?) and most of my step exercises while he was still on the leg weights. Probably takes him so long because he’s told us all how traumatized his was to wake up during the surgery and hear the hammer like instrument that attaches the prosthetic knee in place. I’m sure they shot him another dose of “cocktail” immediately. The last thing the surgery team wants is you aware. None of us seemed overly sympathetic (everyone gets warned it’s possible) so now he has to re-tell his story every time there’s a new woman in the rehab room. He proves true the rumour that men are bad at multitasking, because clearly he can’t talk to these new victims and move his knee at the same time.
I notice he never talks to the men.
He’s come close to calling me a liar on a few occasions. He can’t believe I don’t remember a thing about the surgery. He can’t believe I was able to wiggle my toes when the doctor asked me to in recovery. He can’t believe my surgeon’s residents’ team was so attentive.
And yet I have absolutely no trouble believing that they might have avoided him.
I am not the only one who is aware of ManKnee’s tiresomeness. He openly defied one of the physiotherapist’s requests that he not get back on equipment he’d been holding up for too long. There was a snide remark from one of the staff about the class only being an hour long. I’ve seen rolling eyes and headshaking. In fact, after getting me my post session ice, one of the staff was still glaring and shaking her head. I wasn’t supposed to have noticed that exchange, but I couldn’t help myself.
“Don’t mind him,” I said. “He’s got ManKnee.”
I could still hear her giggling 10 minutes later on my way out the door.
One of my deepest personality flaws—or charming idiosyncrasies, depending on your point of view—is that my reach always exceeds my grasp. I want everything to be perfect. I want my house to look like Martha Stewart’s more contemporary country retreat (I don’t share her love of pastels and earthy woods); I want my wardrobe to look like I stepped out of the pages of W or the Vogue or at least a J. Jill catalog. I want every meal I cook to resemble the cover story of Saveur. On the professional side, I yearn for the day when my little but growing content company is a success story featured in Inc. or even Fast Company (there’s a trend here, perhaps I should just stay away from newsstands!). I want a perfect relationship and fantastic, supportive friends, great hair, a well-behaved dog and skin that glows like a Benefit model (and oh how the copywriter in me loves their product names).
The thing is, while the details might change, I know I’m not alone in this quest for perfection—I’m just willing to admit it.
My rational side tells me that operate at this level in every sphere of my life is exhausting, frustrating and darn near impossible. Note that I had to qualify the impossibility. Besides, I work all week, first at my job, then at my business, I’m helping to found a new magazine in my spare time (hah!) and I spend my weekends playing catch up on errands, chores and pending deadlines. But nowhere does my dream of perfection and my frustration in not achieving it show itself most clearly as in my garden.
The garden in my head is a lush and bountiful landscape of colour and fragrance. A light breeze makes the perennial beds nod gently in the shade. My rose garden is heartbreakingly beautiful, with slender buds and full blooms of pale peach and silvery mauve perfumed floribundas, the rare chemise/flesh-tone Marilyn Monroe hybrid tea nestled next to the pure white of the J.F. Kennedy, just for fun. Plenty of ground cover, lemony evening primroses scenting the stark white curtains of the pergola at dusk, peppery nasturtiums, devil-may-care impatiens and velvety deep purple pansies. There are vibrant red and golden yellow heirloom tomatoes in the back garden, growing next to jewel-tone peppers and heady sage and basil. Mounds of morning glories in an ocean and sky palette gently embracing the fences and trellises. Somewhere, there’s a fruit tree bursting first with blossoms, then glossy bug-free apples or juicy cherries. Sigh. That’s the dream.
That dream begins anew every February when the seed carousels start appearing in stores. I love seeds. I love seed packages and catalogs…I even named my company after them. I love the promise they suggest, the potential they hold within. This year, my love bought me a tiny greenhouse and set it up in our summer room and I’m armed and ready (with seeds, seed starter, starter soil, little peat cups and a full supply of determination) to make the dream come true. And no, I know, once again this summer, the garden in my yard won’t match the garden in my head, but there will be flowers everywhere and a good crop of tomatoes and peppers on the way. And that’s good enough. For now. It’s the reaching towards the Plato-inspired image of garden perfection in my mind that’s important. Staying on course. And blocking out those who think I should settle. Never.
Because frankly I don’t plan on tempering my goals or reducing expectations—not when I’m perfectly content in my aim for perfection.
Ever notice how the people who criticize what you do and how you do it tend to be those who have accomplished very little in their lives. You know the type; we’ve all got one or two in our past. Those whose lives have been an absolute waste; whose only success has been in making those around them miserable.
I’ve also noticed that the people in my life who are the most supportive—sometimes to the point of gushing (it’s ok, sometimes you need that) are those who are the most productive and accomplished.
It’s a confidence thing.
People who have done well with their abilities and their circumstances are simply secure enough to enjoy and celebrate the accomplishments of others. Those who haven’t been able to summon the effort or the determination or the talent to take their lives somewhere lack that confidence…and the only way they can feel any sense of superiority is to cut others down to their size.
How can someone respect or appreciate effort and hard work, commitment and determination, sacrifice and ambition if they’ve never experienced those things.
Both of these kinds of people are going to be in everyone’s life. Hopefully we get blessed by more of the confident supporters than those mean spirited ne’er-do-wells. Sometimes that just comes down to luck.
But we all have the ability to determine how much the attitudes and commentary from both groups are going to affect us. To achieve anything, you have to fill your life with those who support you. Their confidence in infectious. Granted, no one accomplishes anything by blocking out all criticism. You need to go when you’ve gone off track so you can figure out how to get back on. But learn the difference between constructive advice and someone who is faulting you for trying to achieve something they can’t. They’re limiting, fearful and lack direction—and no one who wants to succeed at something can afford to keep this kind of person close. They simply aren’t worth your time.
Be choosy. Choose those who will lift you up to reach your goals, not those who plot to pull you down.
I took a day off work to go shoe shopping a few weeks ago. I had ample time coming to me, warm weather was then just around the corner and I needed a few pairs to go with the summer clothes I’ve been itching to wear the last few weeks of unseasonably cold wet weather. I needed to be prepared for that first hot barelegged day.
Normally, shoe shopping would not simply be a process of procuring necessary footwear; it would be a treasure hunt. Entertainment at its finest. I had a clean Amex card and a mall with an obscene number of shoe stores. What could be better?
After the third store and at least two hours spent trying on cute flats that cut violently into my skin or made my calves look heavy or were far more interesting on the shelf than they were at the end of my legs, I got the sense that I just wasn’t into the experience at the usual level. My efforts quickly burnt through the morning crepes I’ve enjoyed alone with the paper in a chic café—and I found I needed a cappuccino kick-me-up much earlier than expected. In one tiny and cramped but oh so hip store, I rose too quickly and banged my head on a shelf. I learned that my feet are widening with age. While that makes sense, I have been on them for 51 years, give or take (I was so slow in learning to walk, I think my mother feared I’d be taking my walker with the busy board off to college); the news pained me more than the knock on the noggin.
Finally, frustrated, I wound up at what I would have even recently referred to as “an old lady shoe shop.” Still, there were a few things that would work. A nice pair of not too high wedges, very big this season. Very hip gold canvas flats. And these wonderful blue Mary-Janes that felt like a running shoe inside. No more blisters. No more cracking knees. Get this—they measured my feet. I don’t remember a shoe store doing that since grade school, when the end of August meant new Buster Browns.
So I got the shoes. And a bottle of the perfume I always wear, the one of three scents that doesn’t choke my love. I spilled Orange Julius on my shirt. My tights were getting elephantine near the ankles from a succession of footwear changes. And then some seemingly 400-pound teen who must have been carrying a piano in his knapsack stepped on my foot in the bus. I yelped aloud.
Wounded, nearly blooded, it dawned on me. Shopping isn’t fun anymore.
But it’s true. I’ve found lately there are a lot of things I used to enjoy that I really couldn’t care less about these days. When we lived in the city, we ate out two or three times a week. Now I much prefer to eat at home. It tastes better, I can have exactly what I want and I know what the kitchen looks like. I’m more comfortable and unlike one’s fellow restaurant companions, my love and Zoey aren’t that demanding about adhering to a dress code at the table. Or in front of the TV for that matter.
I used to like spending weekends touring museums or quaint “on the edge” neighborhoods. Now I’d have to restrain the desire to trip rude tourists (or give them bogus directions). And I find that most of what these chic enclaves are on the edge of is pretension. My love and I used to be spend weekends wandering through one model home after another. Now just the thought of taking off and putting on my shoes that many times makes me feel the need for a nap.
Maybe age makes us lazy. Or disinterested. Or more likely, it’s just that our wants and our priorities change. Trying to have fun isn’t fun anymore. But I spent hours at the garden centre this afternoon, carrying out armloads of brilliant oranges and yellows and reds, new silvery mauve roses and summer-smelling tomato seedlings, which I’m looking forward to planting. I’m happy planning the coconut and banana crème tarts, and brownie ice cream sundaes I’m making for a BBQ on our new deck this weekend. And when this blog is done, I’ll crawl into bed with that new Kathy Reichs mystery. Her mutilated, decomposing body finds and close calls tend to ease me into sleep.
The thing is I’m content. More content than I ever remember being. And I know I’ve earned the feeling. So I’ve got wide feet and a bump on my head and swollen toes. Tomorrow I’ll have dirty nails from planting the cucumbers and scratches from wrestling down the roses. Those tarts are going to pack on a few pounds. Big deal. And I’ve finally earned the right to read trashy books and stay home as much as I want without excuses.
When we were kids, we were told it’s the little things that matter. I found the sentiment rather limiting. I wanted the big things. That was important to me. But it’s amazing how gradually and subtly but surely the superficial stuff falls away. Leaving you with a far better view of what actually matters.
I would have loved to share to gory details of the colonoscopy I wrote about preparing for last week, but the truth is, the last thing I remember is the nurse telling me that she was putting something to help me relax in my IV. Relax? I was out for the count. I’m just hoping I didn’t snore or talk in my sleep. The prep was a bit trying, but certainly not the horror show I was warned it would be. Here’s the thing—other than this procedure, there’s no other way to screen for colon cancer—and while it’s a widespread cancer, it’s one with good survival rates if caught early enough. So do it. Get your GP to refer you to a gastroenterologist who practices patient sedation, grit your teeth and do the prep day, then lie down, have a nap and get screened. If everyone could have the experience of the procedure I did, I’m sure a lot more people would get tested—and a lot of lives could be saved.
Ok, that probably came off as rude. If the sentiment doesn’t apply to you (and chances are good that it doesn’t), my apologies. But I had an incident this week that made me start pondering all the unwarranted, unnecessary and unrequested advice that seems to be flowing out there in the ether.
I received an unsolicited comment (and yes, unapproved and unposted, as will be any that follow from that source) on last week’s blog from someone from my past, who should be well aware by now that she is not welcome in my life. The gist of it was that I had gotten sick because I was running too hard for my age, trying to act like someone much younger. It was yet another event in what has become a 20-odd year-long criticism of…well, me.
I’m not ashamed of my age, I’ll be 52 this summer—and as I’ve mentioned in the past, I don’t know what 52 is supposed to feel like. Admittedly, I have the occasional ache or pain I didn’t have 20 years ago and sometimes I get tired—but it’s an earned tired. All in all, I really don’t feel much differently from how I felt in my 20s. I’m grateful that my life is so full. Happy I have well-paying work that taxes my intellect and my creativity, that I have friends that crowd my schedule, that I have domestic responsibilities that I quite willingly perform to ensure what I consider to be my lovely home stays that way. To have it all—and I think I’ve got a lot of “it” all—you have to give your all.
I got sick because I came in contact with a virus. Not because I’m actually living my life.
Given time to mull the comment, I realize that the only effective response to someone’s unwarranted opinion lies in this week’s headline. I don’t have to explain, defend or justify my life to anyone. And I certainly refuse to apologize for working hard, running fast and getting somewhere. Especially considering the source. So there.
Besides, no matter what one does, no matter how well you succeed, there is always going to be someone who tries to take you down a notch or two. Bring you down to their level. That’s just the way it is. Success, achievement, real skill at something tends to intimidate. And small, mediocre people will always try to reduce those who excel because it’s the only thing that makes them feel good about themselves. For far too many, it’s easier to tear down than build up; it requires less effort to belittle the lives and priorities of those beyond one’s reach than actually go out and try to succeed at something or work to make one’s own life better.
By the way, I feel much better. I was well on the mend the day after I posted the blog. Just like I said I would.
Don’t blame me for the tone of this rant—blame the person who thinks that at the tender young age of 51 and nearly ¾, I’m too old to be contributing, to be striving, to be living a full, vital and complete life. But that’s just an opinion and thankfully not one held by those who matter to me.
Back off. And butt out. Say it out loud. It’s incredibly empowering. And a self-affirming way to reinforce, if to no one else but yourself, that your choices are right for you and that you don’t need anyone’s permission to make them.