Tag Archives | aging

in which I share a cup with Gwyneth Paltrow

I have a Very Big Birthday coming up in  two months.  REALLY BIG.

As if to celebrate that fact, my body has started to disintegrate. I have this twingey thing in my knee, and then there’s that little hitch in my hip, and my neck sounds like there are cornflakes in it. Plus I have a shoulder thing.  I don’t know if years of waitressing, back in the twentieth century, have finally exacted their toll, or if I hurt myself doing something stupid, like exercising, but my shoulder has been out of whack for almost a year.

I went to an orthopedist and we did the whole healing-by-technology thing: MRI, Xray, electro-stim.  The shoulder got better . . . but it didn’t get fixed.  But now, with that big birthday looming in front of me, I decided that dammit, I don’t want to take a crunchy stiff shoulder into my next half century, so I went to an acupuncturist.

I’ve never been to an acupuncturist before, not out of any sense of doubt but because I am a freaking coward and so why would I deliberately choose to have someone stick needles into my flesh?

I walked into the office and saw these on the little table:


Well, I thought to myself, I’m here for the needles. Not the glass cup flambé.

Wrong. Before I could say “gwyneth paltrow,” the doctor had a wad of flaming cotton waving way too close to my hair, thank you very much. Like a magician, she waved the flame, then did a press, twist, and pop with about ten little glass jars, all along my shoulder and collarbone.  “Thousands of years old, this cupping practice,” she said. “Dries out humidity in the muscle. But don’t worry,” – press, twist, pop – “I’m not doing it for long enough to leave marks.”

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Humidity in the muscles? Sounds dangerously close to the Elizabethean idea of each body being composed of four humors (sanguine, choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic), but I didn’t want to argue with someone holding fire so close to my head.

Then the needles came out. I expected needles in my right shoulder because that’s the shoulder with the problem.

Wrong again.

The needles were carefully stuck along my eyebrows, on both sides.

And as for those people who told me “don’t worry, the needles don’t hurt” … wrong again.

Ouch. And ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch.  One ouch per needle stuck along my eye socket. I could see the needles in my peripheral vision, waving slightly, like whiskers or oddly placed tentacles. It’s not a look I recommend.

Those needles went out and another set went in on my left knee and left calf, which are still really marked up from the horrible fall I took this summer.  The doctor tsk-tsked at my injuries. “You are very active,” she said. I think perhaps she meant that I should cease and desist from all forms of exercise, advice that I’d be glad to take except then my incipient insomnia would come roaring back, I’d stop sleeping, become even grumpier with my children than I already am, take up drinking in order to help myself sleep, give myself a headache, and the entire grumpy cycle would start again.  So I will have to keep exercising in order to prevent verbal child-abuse and alcoholism.

Here’s the thing: when a needle goes into my left calf? It sends stabbing pains up and down my leg.  “Yes, that’s an old injury you have,” said the doctor, noticing my white-knuckled clutch on the edge of the table. “It’s going to take a while for the pain to go away.”

Oh goody.

I wish I could say that after my session with needles and cups, which  sounds more like I went to a tarot reading than a doctor,  I went off to play three sets of tennis with no problem.

Not exactly.  The shoulder feels better but still makes a whole variety of odd noises as I move; clearly it’s going to be a while before I’m ready to challenge Nadal on the court (like, um, never).

In the meantime, though, I’m feeling quite goop-y in my use of alternative medicine and have a strange desire to re-name my children after pieces of fruit and old testament prophets.  I think maybe the needles along my eye socket went into my frontal lobe.


Continue Reading · on November 8, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, aging, exercise, health, NaBloPoMo, pop culture

The Gift of the Snail

We’ve spent the last six weeks or so in the U.S. visiting friends and family, including a trip to Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts.  My kids go to a British school, so this trip was my attempt to offer them a dollop of U.S. history, which for some reason their school doesn’t offer.  Sore losers, if you ask me.

We stayed at a great cheap hotel right on the water and at low tide, the beach curved along the bay for what seemed like miles. You could see why the Pilgrims must have breathed a sigh of relief after their hell-trip across the Atlantic: the waters of the bay are calm, the beach is broad, the trees are green.  Pretty much the antithesis of the open ocean.

I walked on the pilgrim’s beach the morning we were there and saw that the sand was crisscrossed with small trails, separate from the wavy rivulets created by the tide.


Snails. Tiny snails, not much bigger than my thumb, going from the rocks at the beach’s edge to…well, I’m not sure where they were going. The open ocean? Some imagined rock in the distance? Or were they just out for their morning constitutional, like I was?

Maybe these snails were the pilgrims of the tide-pools, millimetering their way forward against immense hardship? Probably not in pursuit of creating a religious colony with a large profit margin, but then again, who knows what governs the soul of snails?

I looked at the snails for a bit and kept walking, and then a few hundred meters on I found a snail shell, empty, unbroken, and whisper-smooth.

The next morning, walking on a different beach, I found another snail shell.  And the next day another.

We were at a variety of beaches during our time in the States, and I found an unbroken snail shell almost every other day.

It’s as if Someone is trying to tell me Something.

I’ve been frustrated this summer—one writing project abandoned, another stalled in its earliest stages, another percolating in my brain but refusing to coalesce; I’ve spent way to many hours flipping through half-finished manuscripts without finding much worthy of development.  And while our trip to the States, was wonderful in almost every way (except for my spectacular wipe-out on an NYC sidewalk), it was not particularly conducive to getting any work done.

So. Snails.

Snails are all about patience and perseverance, right? Not to mention that they carry their houses on their backs and thus are comfortable wherever they find themselves—not a bad lesson for someone embarking on her third year as an expat.

Plus, you know, I’m ticking down the months to the big five-oh, so I could do worse than to adopt a snail as my totemic animal: their shells get better, smoother and shinier, as they get older.  True, I’d always fancied myself more of a cheetah gal, but let’s face it: I am never gonna be built for speed.

Okay, true, snails often become seagull escargot, and I suppose snails never know the pleasures of good champagne, but I’m going for the Big Metaphor here, so please don’t disabuse me if you know other, less than positive snail facts.

That’s the gift of the snail: I’m going take metaphors where I can find them; I’m going to see the beauty in the slow-and-steady; I’m going keep moving, avoiding crabs and gulls, until I find open water and a niche of my own.



*We’re going to be traveling next week – a last hurrah of the summer before we all put our school shoes back on – so in the week that I’m away, I’m going to be dazzling you all with some posts-from-the-past. Enjoy – and enjoy your last weeks of August, too. Probably, you know, to keep you company in these last days of summer, you should have a good book to read. What’s that you say? You don’t have a good book? Why LET ME SUGGEST THE BOOK I’M IN! Click on over right here and buy yourself a copy or ten.

Continue Reading · on August 16, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, Books, expat, Kids, NYC, Travel, writing

Teaching Keeps You Young. Except When It Makes You Feel Old.

Here’s the thing about being a professor: your students stay roughly the same from year to year. Eighteen is eighteen is eighteen, more or less. And the same with the twenty-year olds, and with the about-to-graduates.  Yes, the particularities of dreams and ambitions, talents and strengths, vary from student to student, but in a general way, youth is youth.

Yes. Youth is youth, and every term, you sail further and further from those shores.  This term I realized – with something akin to horror – that I am in many instances probably older than my students’ parents.

Teaching: the only profession where you literally watch your past recede in front of your very eyes.  And, at the same time, it’s one of the only jobs (perhaps besides writer for The Daily Show) where what you do all day can keep you young. Or young-ish, anyway.  Watching students get excited about ideas can be contagious; their enthusiasm and interest and curiosity are better company than thinking omigod I’m almost fifty or how will we pay for college or will I ever write that damn novel or…well, you get the picture.  And because these students aren’t my actual kids, I don’t have to fret (much) about whether they’re eating right, or sleeping enough (or around), or what they’ll do for the summer now that their old bedroom has been turned into a home yoga studio.

No matter how the semester has gone—whether it’s been one of those magic semesters where everything clicks, or a semester where getting through the syllabus has felt like the Bataan death march—I am always sad to see the students leave on that last day. They have been mine, in a manner of speaking, for three months, and while sometimes they take another course with me or stop by to say hello, more often they do not.  It’s as if I got to see only a part of the movie, read only part of the story: I get one semester’s worth of their lives and then they go off and finish the story elsewhere.

When I was a younger teacher, I don’t think I felt such a sense of nostalgia at the end of the term, or maybe I did but I’ve forgotten that I did because see above on aging.

Wait–what were we talking about?

Oh, right. Teaching as a way of staying young. Or being reminded of being old that you’re no longer as young as you were.

Here’s a reminder from a student’s essay this term – the student was talking about a reference in Alif the Unseen to a line from a “Star Wars’ movie (the first movie–the only one that counts, in my book–from 1977):  “This line is from the first “Star Wars” movie, in 1977. Although Kenobi’s Jedi trick has been part of pop culture for decades, it seems too much to expect us to know a line from a 70s movie.” *

Right. The 1970s. I guess that was ancient history, wasn’t it.

Like, totally thirty-six years ago.

Just gonna get my walker out of the closet and shuffle over here to the Betamax video projector and watch a little telly. Got some reruns of “Laverne & Shirley” I’ve been meaning to catch up on.

 these are not the droids you are looking for…

*The student, by the way, wrote a wonderful paper (even if it did make me feel old as the hills, or Betamax) and got an A.


Continue Reading · on June 3, 2013 in Education, Kids, NYUAD, teaching

does this mud make me look younger?

So I’ve done something to my shoulder.

I don’t know what I did but it’s been sore for months. Maybe I over-eagled my arms in eagle pose, or perhaps my efforts to be Miss Plank Body in chaturanga have backfired, or maybe it’s just a warning shot across the bow about what’s going to happen once I finally bid farewell to my late-mid-forties.

You know the signs. You’ve got A Back, maybe; or perhaps it’s The Knee.  Getting out of bed is no longer a bound-and-greet-the-day, instead it’s a calculated swivel of feet, leg, hips, and oof.

And there’s the face. I had the misfortune, while we were in Jordan, to stay in not one but two hotel rooms that had magnifying mirrors right near the sink. I kept catching my reflection in the well-lit surfaces and my friends, in the morning, my facial skin resembles nothing so much as the fabric of a waffle-weave t-shirt. Or, to go more high-end, some kind of fabric that Issey Miyake might use in a couture creation. Pleated, is what I’m saying.

My aching shoulder and pleated forehead–plus the rest of me–were thrilled about the prospect of “taking the waters” at the Dead Sea. For millenia people have pilgrimmaged to these salty waters, lured by the curative powers of salt, heat (the water is quite warm), and the famous Dead Sea mud, which is packed with minerals.

 It’s impossible not to laugh when you get into the water: you are, literally, weightless. Your feet float up to the surface of their own accord; you could, if you wanted to, float in the water and read a magazine without once getting the pages wet.  Diving below the surface is almost impossible; my kids tried to sink themselves by clutching big rocks in their hands, but even then, they barely got their chins wet.

We could have stayed floating on our backs forever, except that Caleb kept flipping over: he’s so light that each passing ripple spun him around like a pinwheel.

Searching for the cure to all my ills, I smeared myself with mud, rinsed myself in the salty waters, and then besmeared myself again. I repeated this process four or five times during our overnight stay at the resort.

Am I cured? Well, my shoulder still hurts. I finally went to an orthopedist who, after I had six x-rays, came up with a brilliant diagnosis: I have a sore shoulder. He prescribed an anti-inflammatory which, as near as I can tell, contains no Dead Sea salts.

And as for my skin?  While the mud dried on my face, Liam looked at me. “Wow,” he said. “I can see every single line and wrinkle. Your face looks like some of those buildings in Petra.”

Great. My face is a crumbling monument.

True, my post-mud skin felt smooth and soft – soft enough that I bought a packet of mud to give myself facials at home.  But I’ve discovered the double-whammy cure for pleated skin: First off, don’t wear your glasses when you look in the mirror. What you can’t see doesn’t exist. (Hey, it works for Mitt Romney and poor people.)

Second cure?

No magnifying mirrors.

Continue Reading · on October 29, 2012 in expat, Travel, yoga

in which we learn to redefine “bad weather”

It was going to be glorious. A full moon kayak expedition into the mangrove forests that grow on one side of Abu Dhabi island (what’s that you say? you didn’t know Abu Dhabi is an island? It’s an island sort of like Manhattan is an island: easy to forget when you’re deep in the scrum of traffic and tall buildings but then you get up into one of the skyscrapers or out to the shore road and WOW look at all that water!)

The kayak trip was part of the consolation celebration of Husband hitting what some friends characterized as the 20th anniversary of his 30th birthday—yes, one of those birthdays commonly acknowledged as “milestones” (although “millstones” might be more appropriate).

To acknowledge Husband’s (mostly) graceful aging we had a wee cocktail party (what’s that you say? Cocktails? In a Muslim country? Isn’t liquor punishable with forty lashes or something? Well…technically you’re supposed to have an officially issued “liquor license” to buy booze. Or you just have to look so emphatically non-Muslim that no one bats an eyelash).

A few days after the party we had planned this kayaking trip through Noukhada (they run eco-friendly tours here in town), and then at the end of the week an elegant dinner with friends.  And finally (because turning 50 39 apparently warrants a year-long celebration) we’re thinking about a trip to the Maldives, before they sink into the ocean, but that’s a post and a plan for another day.

Full moon kayaking.  Two nights ago at moon-rise, the light was so bright I could see my shadow (cue Cat Stevens here). I imagined us in kayaks gliding through quiet waters with moonlight gleaming in the trees, the hum of the city far behind us.  I had figured out how to wrap my little camera in a Ziploc baggie and was hoping for a great moonrise photo that I could post for the Wordless Wednesdays meme.

Talking about our trip in an email to a friend, I wrote (smugly, I must confess), a nice thing about living here is that you know outdoor plans won’t be scuttled because of the weather.

Off we went, my newly elderly Husband and I, in a friend’s borrowed car, threading our way through the Formula I racetracks that masquerade as city streets. We had an iPhone GPS, we had printed map directions from the kayak company, and…we got lost. The streets don’t connect; they dead-end in walls of shops and apartment buildings, or circle back on themselves into little cul-de-sacs.  We could see the road we wanted to be on, but like they say in Maine, we couldn’t get theah from heah.

Just as I was fumbling for my phone to call the kayak company to say we were going to be late and please don’t take off without us, my phone rang.  It was the kayak expedition leader, who said that the trip was being cancelled due to…


Husband and I looked at each other, looked out the window. Not raining. No plagues of frogs or locusts (we’re living in an ancient land, here, people, the original angry-gods-smiting-whatever-pisses-them-off country; it could happen); no thunder storms.  It was a little foggy out, a little hazy, but the mist comes with the heat.

I opened the car window, looking for weather.  It wasn’t misty at all.  It was sandy.

Sand finer than talcum whirled in the streets; I saw pedestrians squinting against the wind, palm tree fronds shaking back and forth, and women wrestling to keep their hijabs from being pulled off their heads.  I couldn’t see the moon, though, which means that out on the mangroves, it would’ve been pitch black.

Sandstorm. That’s the bad weather that cancelled our trip.

Sandstorm conjures up Dune (not the movie, the book!), sand-worms, Lawrence of Arabia on a camel squinting his impossibly blue eyes into the impending storm, but alas, Peter O’Toole is not thundering towards me on a camel.  There’s just a lot of grit whistling through the hot night air.

Husband and I admit defeat, make our way back home.  Maybe next month, inshallah, we’ll get our moonrise kayak paddle.

If the weather cooperates.

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Continue Reading · on October 13, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, environment, expat, sports, UAE, wordless wednesday

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