The Pain Game

As far as when it started, all I know for certain is that it was Sunday. This drives my doctor crazy.
“This week? Last week?”
“…yes. I think.”
Over the years pain has become something I’m well able to ignore to a certain point, and just go about my day, doing what I need to do as if nothing was different, like the way I’ve gotten so accustomed to the occasional siren or that sticky spot on my kitchen floor that never seems to be un-sticky for any given length of time. I think I’ve even become more tolerable of pain than dog hair – at least the pain usually reduces to a completely ignore-able level without me having to do anything about it.

Usually.

Though it occasionally pops up in other peripheral parts of my body, such as a deep bruise on my arm that leaves me wondering how it got there (usually blamed on playing with Ruby), it usually prefers to center in my legs and abdomen, and while the legs are nearly always just surface pain, over time I’ve become quite impressed with the seemingly endless areas & levels of pain that the abdomen has in its arsenal.
From the umbilical hernia, a steady sharp pain on the surface that occasionally has momentary flashes which reflexively cause me to drop what I’m doing to put pressure on it so I don’t come flying out of myself like one of those streamer-poppers, to the deeper, milder liver pain that has become as natural of a feeling as wearing socks. They’ve basically become old friends, and I can’t even imagine, after all this time, what it would be like *not* to have them. It’s like my body is a beautiful old beat-up car – a classic eyesore, dented, scratched & long-faded paint with an engine that takes some finesse to get going, but has it’s own personality & charm – even if it’s only in my eyes.

I think it was early evening Sunday when I began noticing that this pain was something different. It wasn’t really any single place in my abdomen – it was the entire damn thing, and it wouldn’t go away or be appeased, regardless of any attempts to do so. It was determined.

I tried to sit down, take my attention away from it by making maille, but all I could focus on was the pain – which seemed to realize that I was trying to ignore it, so like a spoiled only child, just started screaming louder. Going down the mental checklist of similar times I’ve felt this in the past, I decided it was gastrointestinal – something was just being stubborn inside of me, and only laying down – and time – could help it. By this time it was nearing around 11pm, so I decided to call it a day, crawl into bed & read myself to sleep, feeling certain that it would be gone in the morning. I remembered this happening on other rare occasions, and felt confident a good stretch of unconsciousness would make things right as rain, & I could continue with all the things I needed to do the next day.

Apparently, it wanted to stay up and play a game that seemed to be called “Sleep through THIS!” – which I’m guessing it probably got the idea from one of those strange & brutal Japanese game shows. It *definitely* wasn’t “Jeopardy!”, which I would have much preferred.

The morning brought the same pain, not increasing enough to cause alarm but not decreasing either, and though the pain was tolerable, the energy it took to not focus on it so I could do what I needed to do wasn’t. I fought through each hour, doing what I could but not being able to do what I most *needed* to do. Hanging on my wall, sitting on my desk, draped over displays are about 40 necklaces, bracelets, cuffs, pendants & earrings, sitting there, mocking my inability to gather the energy & enthusiasm to remind people about them, to sell them, to be able to afford the herbs that could prevent this pain from coming back.

The less energy I had the more morose I became, the less I was able to do the more downhearted. I had to do something to try to change this, to reverse the pessimistic energy that I felt growing thicker around me, the increasing feeling that this whole jewelry business was just another something that I failed in making work. Thought of all I *had* accomplished didn’t help; now was the only thing that mattered. The only thing that ever matters – and I felt like shit in that “now”.

It was early afternoon when I finally moved my laptop & book, holding my stomach as I got out of bed. Holding my arm around it didn’t help the pain, but it seemed like something that I was supposed to do, pretending that it comforted the alien that was *obviously* digging around in there, eating its way up to my chest.

Filling five plastic shopping bags about half way with dog food & putting them in a Trader Joe’s bag, Ruby & I slowly walked down to Civic Center, where I usually see the people with their homeless dogs. I tried to enjoy the walk – sunshine warming my face, a light cool breeze, Ruby bouncing back & forth like a Chinese ping-pong ball on the sidewalk trying her best not to leave any exotic stench unsniffed.
It *was* a truly beautiful day, and even through the pain I had moments I was able to enjoy it, but mostly I just wanted to help feed some hungry dogs & then crawl back into bed. I went straight down to where I usually see the homeless people with their dogs, and found… no one. A couple homeless people, no dogs. I kept walking.

We went through the Civic Center park, around the side I sometimes see others with their dogs sitting in the shade, then back down Larkin again, getting further & further from home & bed. A left on Market, looking, getting frustrated I contemplated just leaving the food somewhere they would hopefully find it – but at this point I realized that wouldn’t do. I needed to see their faces, to hopefully inspire a smile & maybe even a ‘thanks!’. I needed it for me as much as I wanted to do it for them.

About 5 extra blocks & 10 minutes later, I turned a corner & finally saw one girl who looked homeless enough, and she had a dog! She was walking away from me, about 30 yards ahead, but I wasn’t losing her. No fucking way. I hooked up Ruby to her leash so she would keep up, and as much as I could, gave “chase”. Walking as smoothly as I can to prevent any unnecessary jostling of my abdomen, I think the only thing that let me catch up to her were my longer legs and her lack of any apparent need to walk at anything more than a leisurely gate. And Ruby, who helped pull me along when she saw the girl’s dog.

“Hey!” She turns around. I’m trying to look like I just happened to notice her and realized I have a bunch of bags of dog food in my hand.
“yeah?”
“I have a bunch of dog food. You want it? It’s apparently good – she likes it!” I say as I glance down at Ruby, now engaged in trying to inhale the other dog through her nose.
“Really? Yeah, I *totally* need some dog food.”
“Yeah? Okay – it’s yours. Hope it helps.”
“It totally does, I really needed do food. Thanks!”
“No problem, happy to. Entirely my pleasure!”

She looks in the bag, looks up at me, and then it happens. A smile.
“Thanks man, thanks a lot!”
“No worries. I like being able to help when I can, especially dogs!”

With that we part ways, her standing there turning to talk to someone else & me, a small smile on my face but a HUGE one in my heart, start heading home.
I don’t know if it’s my imagination or real or if there is any difference in the two, but I think the pain may have diminished, just a tiny bit. Maybe there wasn’t enough room for it all with the happiness I felt.

“See Ruby, see how she smiled? Now she’s a little happier, her pup will be able to eat for a few days, and I am *really* happy. See how amazing that is? Ruby ignores me for a really interesting smelling mailbox, and we keep walking – back home, and back to bed.

Last night I noticed that the worst of the abdominal pain had finally left, but not without leaving me a souvenir. I’m only slowly recovering from the amount of energy it sucked from me, the weariness & fatigue still preventing the enthusiasm & hope needed to promote my jewelry, letting people know it’s still here, still for sale, and I would still love to sell it.

At least I had enough energy to start a couple pieces last night, as well as begin learning an incredibly beautiful & intricate new weave – called “Dragonscale”.

As much as I love making maille & will probably never entirely stop, it’s frustratingly difficult to maintain the enthusiasm to keep pushing & trying to encourage people to buy when nothing is selling. Only a part of it has to do with the money. Perhaps nearly equally important is the satisfaction I feel, the excitement clients show, the happiness these bring them.

It’s even almost tempting just to give it all away –
just so I could see the smiles.

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A perfect amount of less time

I certainly didn’t expect for this to happen. It wasn’t planned, calculated or intentional in any way. I’m entirely a victim of circumstance, and it was so organic and clever in the way it took over my life that I didn’t even notice it happening. It took the days hours, divided them up loosely so that I still felt I had control over the profound inertia of my life & wouldn’t notice until it was too late, and without even bothering to check with me, all of the sudden there is something of a schedule that dictates my days. Goddamn, it was sneaky.

The odd thing is that in the past I tried, tried desperately to have some kind of structure in my days, but the more strict I tried to be with myself & my time, the more a different part of me rebelled. My subconscious mind teamed up with my instinctive and astonishing ability to procrastinate and all my meticulous planning and promises to myself that this time, dammit, I will DO it – was inevitably shot to hell within a few days.

But then the schedule happened to me. I’ll get to how in a minute.
I’m still able to wake up & fall asleep at any odd hour I want, but once awake the gears are set in motion, and I have little choice but to just go along for the ride.

All I needed to do was write. That’s all. For a few hours each day, I would write, and the rest of the time I was free to fill with all the apathy & indifference for life that I could fit in.
The problem was that since I had so much freedom with time, I figured that I could write whenever I wished – when waking up & still in bed, or at one of the cafés that I would write on my “to-do” pad the previous evening (which held such gems as “Walk Ruby”, “take shower”, “call or write… anyone”) or if I had food, I could write after a dinner of tater-tots or rice & beans. I could write anytime – so I never did. I didn’t write, I didn’t go anywhere, didn’t do anything, with the exception of reading.  I even tried to make it exciting by actually going all the way over to my little couch (calling it a “love seat” would be depressingly misleading) – but I couldn’t ever seem to make it the six feet it would take to get all the way over there.

Then one day, while shopping on Amazon for the medicinal herbs I would be able to buy in a few weeks when I got my disability check as well as other things like knives, books, a new belt for my umbilical hernia, books, and anything else I could think of to fantasize about, I looked on the side of the screen and saw that Amazon figured that I might like a bag of around 4000 shiny aluminum jump rings. Because that made perfect sense.

Curious as to why in this empty grey existence of mine their bots would think that, and though I had countless other much more important things to search for like wing tipped tuxedo shirts, extension cords and creepy doll heads, I clicked on the picture.

Hmm. Chain mail? Make chain mail? You’ve got to be kidding me. There is absolutely no way I would have the patience to sit there for hours, weaving ring by ring into something that looked like anything good, unless some poor idiot somewhere could be convinced that what I created with the three rings I had the patience to sit down, open, connect, and close again some sort of brilliant minimalist art. As blindly optimistic as I usually am, sometimes even I need to open my eyes and see the reality of something so unlikely. I mean, it takes all the willpower I have just to write for 15 minutes straight – who am I do have the nerve to think that I could sit for hours and hours to make just ONE piece of jewelry?

But then I saw the book that people apparently bought when they bought the rings. And the pretty pictures, right there on the cover. The pictures of things that the book would show me how to make and that I would make and people would like because of my innate and incomparable sense of style, and I would sell them and be flown around the world with my dog in private jets to create amazing things for only the coolest famous people – or at least the ones that aren’t dead yet, I figured. It’s fun to think about, and while I could definitely see the cool stuff, I couldn’t see me doing anything that involved sitting at a desk for so long. Perhaps the biggest fear was the knowledge of how many things I have begun & never followed through on. Those things continue to haunt me, and I was terrified of this being another one…

I got a little sick when I ordered the rings & the book with pretty pictures instead of a couple bottles of the herbs I need to keep me alive & healthy-ish, but looking back all these weeks to the beginning of when all this began in January, that was a small price to pay – and besides, the infection seems to nearly be gone.

So now I have a schedule – or more accurately, I was mugged by a schedule which sneaked up on me from behind, knocked me unconscious, and when I woke up, it had already made itself at home in my life.

I find it interesting that when I have absolutely nothing to do, I can’t even find the time to sweep up the dog hair in my apartment. It’s like there is too much time to do anything. I’ve never been able to figure that one out. Is it just me? Do I have some weird mental disorder concerning time? Is it like a buffet where there is so much amazing food that I can’t choose anything, or an enormous bookstore filled with so much that I wander the endless aisles for hours and walking out with nothing?

Now my entire world has changed. It’s as if after years I finally thought of the last line to the best poem I had written. It’s the torn-out chapter that brings the entire plot together, found in another inmate’s cell a week before I’m released. It’s the rug that really, like, ties the room together, man.

I get up, read for a bit, write nearly without fail for a few hours, while drinking coffee in bed. When I feel either like I’m at a stopping point or mid-afternoon is creeping up far too quickly, I get dressed, take The Beast out while I do errands, and have even been taking her to the park more frequently. I get home, putz around briefly and nearly every-other day run my Swiffer over the floor to gather the nearly unbelievable amounts of dog hair that it acquires. I stretch a bit, sit down at my work desk (which unfortunately never lived up to its name of a “writing” desk. It feels far too strict and demanding when I actually try to use it for the purpose I bought it, like it’s secretly judging me) – and get to work on chainmaille. After a few hours I have an insatiable urge to take a nap for an hour or so – but the nap is the slippery part. When I started, the nap would fall at a vaguely decent hour, usually 3-4 pm, and I’d wake after an hour or so refreshed and ready to get back to work – but as the days progressed with the fun & challenge of making more creative pieces, I ended up feeling better and as a result worked later into the night, I sometimes not being able to put the pliers down until 4 or 5am. There was a glitch brewing.

I still follow the agenda, it’s just that the actual time of day has no place in it, and as the rest of this silly world has the audacity to run on their time instead of mine – that makes the time I have for writing sometimes unbearably short, and now that I’m regularly doing it again, I need my fix. Seriously. It’s like a drug. If I don’t have time to write when I wake up (which after a late night could be 1pm), I find myself being irritable, miserable and easily pissed off the rest of the day. I imagine that the people driving in traffic who can’t help but lean on their damned car horns when there is absolutely nowhere the person in front of them can go must feel this way – I just don’t have anything to honk.

I haven’t tried it yet, but if it ever does happen where I find myself around someone I’m just being a plain bastard to for no reason, maybe the solution is pulling out my notebook & pen while I ask them to wait for a moment? Of course, what I write may be something like “I think this person is an ignorant, idiotic, pathetic little subhuman whose cartoid artery I would like to puncture repeatedly with this pen.” – but the irony is that after I wrote that (then quickly closed my notebook I shoved it back into my pocket before anyone could see it), the urge would likely be gone and I could stand there silently, looking them directly in the eyes with a diabolical smirk on my face until they felt uncomfortable enough to go away.
Or I guess I could write something like “Chill the fuck out, Flux. They’re probably really nice, and it’s you being the asshole because you didn’t get your writing fix, poor baby.” That just wouldn’t be as much fun though. Did I happen to mention that there’s a somewhat wicked streak in me?

In order to make this “schedule” work inside the time frame set by those “other” people, I have created a reset button – which is why this morning’s therapy is edging up to nearly 1,500 words. All I need to do is take a break from the post-nap chainmaille creation for an evening, and get to bed at an absurdly early hour – such as 7 or 8pm – then wake up at 3 or 4 am, microwave the coffee I make much more than enough of every few days so I don’t have to wait for it to brew, light some incense, crawl back into bed, and start the day – with plenty of day left to enjoy this new life where, for the first time in far, far too long, I feel like I’m beginning to live a life of doing things I love again. I’m writing, I’m creating, I’m making things that people really seem to like and are eager to buy, and instead of days full of emptiness and ennui, instead of feeling valueless and insignificant, I feel good. Hell, I’m even getting some real work done on my book – something that is solid and workable, instead of the 5 years of constructive procrastination that I’ve been using to pretend that I was doing something on it.

I really should offer classes on professional procrastination. I don’t think that anyone can compare to my level of self-deception when it comes to that.

So yeah. Because of some shiny rings and the remembered courage not to let my fear stop me again, to at least try, and if that didn’t work, fucking try harder, things are looking up in my life.
I might even be able to honestly say I’m happy – at least with this part of it… and considering how I’ve felt for the past few years, that feels really good to be able to say, and mean.

Here are just a few of the things I’ve made, because I know you’re unbearably excited to see some of it. Mind you, I’ve only been doing this for about seven weeks…