Acupuncture

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In the past six months, I’ve tried probably just as many strategies to relieve the pain in my head and neck. One of them is acupuncture, recommended by many people who haven’t actually tried it themselves. I have a sort of love-hate relationship with it: I do feel like it helps uncoil some of my muscles, but I’m extremely uncomfortable having needles poking into the base of my skull and back of my neck. Whoever says it’s painless or relaxing must be pretty free of tension to begin with, because my muscles are tight, and I definitely feel it. I wrote this poem after one of my sessions to try to capture my feelings about it.

SESSION THREE
The lights are dim. The filmy white curtains
blow in the breeze from the open window.
I wouldn’t mind some soft music,
but there’s only
the honk of cars on the street below and
the whine of construction tools—the sound
calls to mind an ancient torture device, all
sharp spikes and grinding metal plates.
I’m laying still on my stomach,
arms splayed, a pillow under my shins,
holding myself
r
i
g
i
d
like a domino waiting to topple.
His hands go first to my neck, kneading the skin,
finding all the tender spaces where I stash
both my hope and my fear—at the base
of my skull, in the bony ridge of my shoulder blade.
I trust him, but it’s hard
to let myself go limp in his arms.
At the point of entry, my body
v i b r a t e s.
My muscles tense and spasm beneath my skin. I cry out
involuntarily.
But then it’s over, and he leaves.
I focus on breathing
through my belly to bring my nervous system back
into some semblance of operating order.
I lose track
of time. I slip
into not-thinking,
where pain is just a construct
and the universe gleams in color
and good intentions can save us.
After minutes (hours? eons?) he finally returns.
I pull myself back to myself.
He extracts the needles,
one by one; for a moment
I still feel a phantom pressure, a whisper
of a thought half-formed then lost
as I stand, stretch out, put on my clothes, and
walk outside to skyscrapers and traffic
and real life.

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Our Favorite Race: The Chocolate 5k Run

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When Todd and I first started running, I wanted to find a race that was timed and competitive but also fun, with good prizes. As fate would have it, my Google search led me to the Chocolate 5k Run. It offers a challenging course (with an off-road element), a spirit of community, and both a race shirt and breakfast (eggs, sausage, pancakes, chocolate fountains!) included in the price. This year, as the race marked its fifth anniversary, Todd and I received honorary jars of chocolate for being two of only fifteen people who have participated in the run every year since its inception!

Clockwise from top right: at the starting line;
standing among the five-year participants;
getting coffee in nearby Cornwall, NY.

The race organizers, members of the Bethlehem Presbyterian Church in New Windsor, have no idea how important that jar of chocolate was to me this year: For the past six months, I’ve been dealing with a scary head pain that started a couple of weeks before Todd and I ran the New York City Marathon in November. Tests have, thankfully, come back negative for anything sinister, but I’ve still been really anxious for it to go away. Plus it’s completely affected my exercise regimen and my training, so I knew that I wasn’t going to run the 26-minute Chocolate 5k I did last year, placing in the top three runners of my age group to earn a jar of chocolate.

I’m proud to say that, on race day, I did the best I could, given the circumstances. I made sure to stretch and do the neck exercises my physical therapist has assigned to me, and despite the rain, I started the race in good spirits. I kept a slow pace for two miles, running first beside Mom, then Dad, who encouraged me with his antics (racing past me while singing, zooming ahead only to wait for me and wave me on at the top of a huge hill). I took the time to look around and be grateful, for the pretty trees and blooming leaves, the handmade signs of encouragement around the course, and the community members who stood outside in the rain to cheer us on. And I even finished the race with a spurt of speed, thanks to one very competitive runner who tried to beat me to the finish line in the final stretch.

I might not have placed this year, but my honorary jar of chocolate is an award enough, because it means I didn’t let pain or fear stop me from running my favorite race or living my life to the fullest.