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Thinking Makes It So: Not even Steinbeck can save me

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By Kelly LeVan

I’ve had an odd week. Not odd as if I suddenly liked marmalade, but a disconcerting, unfamiliar odd – as if the innate spectacularness of the universe swooned into some black hole, leaving only a glaring, poorly constructed meta-fiction for me to inhabit.I shouldn’t blame the universe. It’s my body. A physiological, hopefully fleeing catastrophe has obliterated my ability to dance, play tennis, go for a trail run or even work. Sitting at my desk has become too strenuous. Driving home. Making tea. I may as well weigh a million pounds, for all my muscles’ complaining this week.Monday, I couldn’t read because it taxed me so to pay attention to the book, to follow from one sentence to the next. On and on, the sentences followed each other on some kind of mental Red Dot Trail. My mind was out of breath. And it was “East of Eden” – a beautiful, exhilarating book to whose characters I’m quite attached, despite the annoying fact that John Steinbeck wrote it.I have professed deep distaste for Steinbeck for years, mostly due to a prejudice I harbor against “The Pearl.” However, Steinbeck is infinitely smarter, wiser and more ambitious than I’ll ever manage, and I admire him completely. It almost hurts to admit it. Well, it does hurt, but I think that’s just my stomach self-destructing, unrelated to my grudging, belated respect.Tuesday, I tried to watch a movie but I had to break it up into shifts, with sensory sabbaticals in between. Harry and Sally talked too loudly, underwent too much stress. I love them, but I wanted them to shut up already about love and Christmas trees, two subjects I ordinarily adore.Wednesday, when my boss refused to let me wail quietly at my workstation, I finally went to the doctor, a kind man who gave me signed slips of paper I later exchanged for bottles of pills and immense faith.Reassured, I decided to feel better. That is, I didn’t spend the day in bed, fostering a healthy immune system. Rather, I finished two art projects, a portrait I had been wood-burning and a collage, completely swathing in old photographs a painting I unfortunately painted. I studied. I went to my hip-hop class and stayed up until 11 writing a letter to my grandma. I tried to escape from being sick.Thursday, predictably, I relapsed hard. My boss, more patient with me than ever, sent me home again.Anyhow, my biggest struggle this week has been trying to maintain my personality – to respond affably to the jokes and affection of people I care about, for example, when my Wernicke’s area has switched from processing speech to helping my motor cortex come up with reasons why it needn’t do anything.I’ve heard so many brutally well people say, “I could handle it if my body goes, but not my brain,” or some variation thereof. Who are they kidding? If I felt like this, or worse, every day with no reasonable hope for doing ballet again soon, my brain would be just as ghastly as the rest of me.The brain despises the body sometimes, more often if there’s a mirror in the room but also if the body proves itself outrageously unreliable. Take my brain, for instance, which upon realizing a few days ago that I needed a cup of water, was forced to accept that the 20 or so steps to the kitchen would kill me. It flipped out. It despaired. It became a toddler’s brain again.“But I want it!” it cried, not willing to accept the impossible reality of what a “sick day” really is: worse than any healthy day you could possibly have at the office.Please do not resent your coworkers for the days you imagine they spend luxuriating in bed this flu season, while their work piles up on your desk.They wish more than anything they could be there, overwhelmed by the same bland obligations and setbacks they whined to their spouses about last month.They envy you your jaunty walk to the water cooler, your easy small talk and the fact that no matter how much pressure your job lays on you during the day, you can drive away from it.