Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Ceiling or the Floor

As a child, I had a terrible fear of being in an accident that would leave me paralyzed. I blame this fear in part on one of my favorite childhood books, Joni, by a woman who had been paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident. If you grew up in the seventies, you probably recall seeing her on one of the several morning news shows, drawing pictures of horses and other nature scenes with a pencil she held in her mouth. I loved the book for its searing honesty -- at nine years old, I saw it as a contemporary version of Job, which keeps getting rewritten these days in much weaker forms like Why Bad Things Happen to Good People (I've always wanted to do a version called -- Why Do Assholes Have All the Luck?). Joni explored the depths of human misery, the railing against God, the loneliness of affliction. I read it again and again in those days and took deep comfort from her musings on the Stryker frame, a device that sandwiches a patient so that the patient can't move -- you can either look at the ceiling or the floor when you're on it and nurses flip you every few hours to avoid bedsores.

I bought another copy a few years ago, interested in whether it would still hold sway over me. It did. Redemption and acceptance, the calling cards of change, came slowly for Joni, not that magical moment of big turnaround that people are always looking for, myself included. My favorite writing rejection of all time said, You are a good writer, but there is no redemption here. I've often thought I would love that for my epitaph. But I don't believe it. I think redemption happens all the time, in the least likely places. We're all on Stryker frames of some sort at times, feeling trapped and at the mercy of forces beyond our control. One of my favorite childhood games when I was alone was to pretend that I'd gotten on a swing and was paralyzed. I couldn't stop myself from going back and forth. But after a while, a doctor would arrive and say, There's been a miracle! You can walk again. I'd stop myself, hitting the ground with varying degrees of roughness, only to get on the swing and start everything over again.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"When the axe came to the forest the trees said the handle is one of us. " Alice Walker

Short Story Collection Suggestion: Trash by Dorothy Allison

Drink recipes will resume in time for the weekend!

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Staplegun


I don’t even like boobs, my friend’s boyfriend said to anyone
who would listen. “What a waste.” She wandered by
in her black push-up gown, not speaking as he poured
more Rum and Coke, more Rum than Coke. I thought
back to my mother’s friend who drank the same thing.
She’d sit in our kitchen for hours and once, looking at me
in my leotard before gymnastics practice, said, “You
have great legs. Too bad your top part doesn’t match.”
She let me sip some of her drink that night, but it
was so sweet that I couldn’t drink enough to enjoy it.
Nothing much changed over the years, but I know enough
to nod and smile when the boyfriend says, “You have
great legs. It’s like something you’d see in a magazine.”
I pretend like I’m drinking what he is, but he’s too drunk
to realize I’ve switched to something with bite, something
that tastes like it could really hurt you if you let it.


Anonymous said...

The Jen Anniston character in "The Good Girl" says that she had to make some pit stops on the way to redemption. Personally, I have trouble squaring that statement with John Milton's dictum that the way to heaven is through "long obedience tried." That John Milton is such a tough cookie.

Anonymous said...

Always good the see froggy, Michelle. Recurring characters are refreshing. Even Newman on Seinfeld.

Wichita-Lineman said...

I like the poem. I remember fondly strange friends of my parents who spent hours with them drinking in the kitchen and the joys of being able to take a sip.

I like the picture, the two crucifixes, the bright red, yet something seems strange. It's the direction of the wood floor. The planks, or the bed; they seem to be on odd angles. Normally, the two would be in line with each other or would form a cross (+). But in this picture the floor and bed make making an X. You’re a marked Woman – Beware!!! Just kidding. It is strange though, almost as if one was drunk. It must be a weird shaped room.



paul said...

Cajun Queen redeemed Foxy Lady make him understand takea long holiday let the children play
roman wilderness of pain waiting for the summer rain but summers almost over almost gone and its allover 4 the unknown soldier the unkonwn solider R2 C2! Come to ye Old Miami roadhouse blues 4 pizza 4 the vets make him undertsand save our City

Sheila said...

Being paralyzed seems like it would be just terrible. It's amazing how much we take for granted and don't realize it until it's taken away. Love the post today michelle and thanks for the birthday wish!

Stella said...

Very interesting read, keep the brain thinking and the soul reaching

Anomaly said...

I honestly couldn't agree more.

And I can tell I'm going to have to look up Joni soon.

Be well,


Anonymous said...

Anomaly is so cute and smart. My mother brought me back some socks with kangaroos on them from Australia.

Pawlie Kokonuts said...

Been reading the serialized former hostage Jill Carroll story in the papers here. Your Stryker frame allusion reminded me of something she did while captured: stared at objects, for example a radiator or a doorknob, hours at a time, relishing the ordinary, savoring each mentally framed bit, so that something would seem new the next day. Almost seemed crazed. But (and I have a Robert Louis Stevenson quote on this back in the office) the divine is in what's at hand, the next breath, this tapping on pristine white keys, the trickling sound of the nearby fish tank.

JR's Thumbprints said...

There are times in life, where the mobile person fakes paralysis, like a possum, hoping to survive whatever affliction is headed their way. Love the Stryker symbolism.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the fishtank always does it for me too.

Anonymous said...

It just amazes me that you could view anything as a contemporary version of Job at nine-years-old. You must've been a genius at an even earlier age than I thought possible.