No one knows what the body can do. -Spinoza

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Morgellon's Fibers, Handwashing, Dancing, and Daniel

Years ago when I first moved to Montreal I went late in the evening to a bar in Miles End to get some dinner. It turned out there was a cover band playing that night so after eating a smoked meat sandwich for the first time in my life (I nearly died. I couldn't believe a simple meat sandwich could be SO good. Turns out Montreal is known for its smoked meat.) I decided to hang around and listen to the music. Something more than just the music had convinced me to stay. There was a man in the bar that walked around with his backpack kept close to him, and every time the band would play a Neil Young song he'd jump up and dance, mostly doing a classic guitar hero stance with the arm swinging slowly in a circle for a big chord strum. He'd stand there strumming that imaginary guitar again and again for a full six minute cover, and then if the next song was Young, he'd sit down again. For whatever reason, I found this fascinating.

When the band stopped playing the man with the backpack got up to leave. As he walked by me (I was sitting near the entrance) I said to him, "You can't leave, man." I enjoyed the spectacle of him a little too much. He turned at me sharply and yelled, "Why are you yelling at me?!" then walked out. It was a surprising moment that I certainly hadn't expected, most particularly because from what I could tell I hadn't been yelling at all. About ten minutes later the man returned through the front door and asked me if I knew where I was. "In Montreal, in Miles End," was as much response as I could figure. He answered me, again yelling, "I don't know where I live! I don't know where I'm going!" then rushed out the door again and was gone.

A few months later I saw him again during day light, again keeping close to his backpack. Eventually I would discover this man I'd spoken with during one of my first nights in Montreal was actually a kind of local institution. He had a whole back story it turned out. Someone told me he'd actually been a well known cartoonist but at some point a decade or two prior had a drug overdose of some sort (acid, I believe) and had basically gone crazy. Now he lived the life I'd caught glimpses of, and someone had even, I guess, made a documentary about him. Right now, I honestly can't remember the man's name.

After he left the club I'd mentioned to one of the bar managers that it seemed the man needed help. They told me at the time that they knew that, but that they also knew he'd be fine, and to go ahead and sit down. A little unsure of what that all meant, I did sit down again. Within minutes most of the bar patrons cleared out since the band was finished. New to the city I figured just relaxing a while longer in this place I'd found was a reasonable thing to do. I wound up one of the few patrons left and when most everyone else had cleared out, out of no where rolls of black velvet emerged, all the windows were covered with it, and the lights were turned down low. Suddenly a whole new group of patrons started coming in the front door, but this time they all had to be let in via list. If their name wasn't on it, they were sent away. For whatever reason, the bar managers had decided I could stay, and as a result I became witness and participant to what they called "Caribbean nights," a private and regularly scheduled salsa event. The music was all pre-recorded, but the dancers were passionate about what they were doing. Within two songs the man that seemed to have organized Caribbean nights spoke to me in French, then when he realized I didn't understand, said to me in English that I must dance, that that was how it worked. I let him know I couldn't salsa, and he took my hand and led me to the floor anyway.

That was my brief introduction to salsa dancing. It was followed a couple years later by my dear friend Daniel counting in my ear "1, 2, 3, 4. 1, 2, 3, 4." as we salsa'd to whatever music happened to have a close enough rhythm. He was a wonderful lead, and forgiving with my missteps too. We first danced at a late night house party with cover that a woman in Toronto hosted regularly. Half the cover, apparently, would go to the band, the other half would go to her living expenses. The party, afterall, was held right in her living room. Thinking back now, with all the work I've been busy doing, and living a life of a single parent with no childcare, I honestly haven't danced since the last time Daniel and I visited in Toronto at least three years ago. We'd gone to the weekly show of some friends of ours. They got together every Monday to play live music. In the midst of this, he convinced me to get up and salsa to jazz standards. I know the combination sounds ridiculous, but like I said, he's a wonderful lead, and somehow it worked.

Over the weekend I caught myself reading about this horrific medical condition online where people feel like they have bugs crawling under their skin, eventually develop sores, and claim to have these weird blue, red, and white fibers growing from the sores as well. The medical establishment is divided on their views of the ailment with some thinking it is entirely psychological, and others believing there really is some crazy bug-sore-fiber disease that, though rare, is triggered by some pathogen caught by some people. There hasn't been enough research on the condition yet to determine which view is right.

At the start of this week I was working on a chapter of my dissertation and in the midst of thinking hard on how to clarify a point I caught myself getting up to go wash my hands. I realized what I was doing--washing my hands as a stress reaction, rather than out of dirty hand washing need--before I'd reached the bathroom. I recognized too that I'd just been reading, the night before, about odd medical ailments. The combination, you may recall, arose out of a stress reaction during the coursework stage of graduate school. First I started unnecessarily washing my hands, and then I started reading about obscure medical conditions until I started to fret that I had them. Clearly this wouldn't do. I wasn't going to willingly fall into a bad cycle of hand washing and tape worm frenzy if I could help it.

I decided that it was time to focus on something new, something positive, and something from a list of skills I wanted to develop that I wrote for myself something like three years ago--it was a list of things I wanted to do when my life eased up a bit and I had both the time and the money for it. So, yesterday I started taking dance lessons. I just moved to a new place, and I've been feeling really inward because of it, so I decided it was not only acceptable but a good supportive thing to do for myself to take the lessons privately. So, at this point I've signed up for five lessons to occur once a week. We started with dance basics, and then quickly moved into salsa basics, and by the end of the hour long lesson my teacher was leading me around the floor to music complete with spins, and spontaneous new steps thrown in. I want to say I sucked at it, but instead I'll say I actually picked things up kind of quickly for a person that has been living in her graduate school intellectual self devoid of body for several years now, and hasn't danced at all for several years either. What I care about though is that dancing is something fun. If a man can air guitar for six minutes and enjoy it, surely I can let myself relax while I salsa.

About half way through the lesson I realized my teacher was counting in my ear, "1, 2, 3, 4. 1, 2, 3, 4." just like Daniel used to do, and I had to laugh. It's funny how the timing of these things works out. I'd actually gotten a letter in the mail from Daniel just the day before. It had been two years since we'd really talked, and it was wonderful to hear from him. Cheers to friendship! Cheers to trying something semi-new!

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