I HATE CLAMSHELLS

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I feel entirely comfortable announcing my hatred of clamshells to the cyber world because Judy Kugel has declared in her own usually upbeat twice-a-week blog that she hates snow angels. Judy is a slim, trim 77-year-old academic, recently retired from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, who is a self-proclaimed lover of exercise;  the way I love to eat, she loves vigorous cycling and hiking. They’re her idea of a super good time. (I believe she and her husband also have bulky gym-type equipment in the home, which they use regularly and properly, not — as I once did with a stationary bicycle — to hang clothes on.) So if she can hate her angel wings in public, who am I to prevaricate about my feelings for clamshells?

“Clamshells” in this instance are not what you find when you go clamming at the shore. Nor are “snow angels” what small children make in the snow.  They are part of an armatorium of whimsically named exercises imposed on those of us who are aging by licensed, and perhaps also by unlicensed, physical therapists in alleged restoration of the swift and pain- free movements of our youth. (Ha!)  There’s also “table top,” “soup bowl,” “chair” and “bridges.” If truth be told, I hate them all, but “clamshells” get first prize, with “chair” and “table top” tied for second. (“Bridges” is not so bad, unless you have to do it with only one foot on the ground.)  There’s also another extremely unpleasant one, done on your stomach with knees bent, but it seems to be nameless.

I don’t know the nature of the problem Judy and her trainer are attacking with snow angels against the wall:  fifteen at a time, hands and arms never leaving the wall.  All she says in her blog post is that she can only do five and they hurt. The reason I am supposed to be confronting three sets of fifteen clamshells on each side every day is that, according to this new therapist I’m seeing, I have weak hips and glutes — but especially on the right side — as a result of improper guidance by and work with another therapist five years ago after a right hip replacement.  (Why is it that one thing corrected always leads to another going wrong?) This weakness — which I admit without demur, although I wouldn’t blame it on my nice former physical therapist — has resulted in the top line of my pants tilting slightly to the left, an idiosyncrasy I could live with, and my left knee and leg periodically sending signals of something between discomfort and pain whenever I do much more than sleep or loll around.

I might add we live in a condo with two flights of stairs and no master bedroom on the ground floor, having been beyond optimistic in our late seventies when we bought it that we would remain gazelles forever.  However, I do not consider my left leg’s deficiencies and complaints over the past four years a reason to put the condo on the market.  (There are perhaps several other reasons, but these can wait for some other blog post some other time.  Maybe, if we’re lucky, some other year. Life is uncertain: surely I’ve already established that in this blog.)

The new therapist’s theory is that my left knee and leg are complaining because they’re doing not only their share of the work involved in moving me around but also the right leg’s share.   My sunny-tempered physiatrist (I call him Dr. Feelgood), he who wrote the prescription for this year’s bout with physical therapy — I use the word “bout” advisedly — does not necessarily agree with the new therapist’s diagnosis but does believe exercise is always a good thing.  (He even wrote several books about it in his spare time.)  Accordingly, every time I make an appointment for the knee, which is about once a year, he administers a series of four weekly shots  — the first a steroid, and then three of Synvisc, which provides lubication to the cartilage.  Bill and I used to be holier-than-thou about steroids, but not any more; Dr. Feelgood’s ministrations pretty much get rid of the “discomfort” for a while and provide what he calls a window of opportunity for all those healthful exercises. He writes the script, I go away promising to be good and try. (Yes, I really do try. At least for a while.)

Helpful acquaintances — usually at least twenty years younger — have suggested I spare myself this annual ritual of retribution for unknown past sins and have a left knee replacement.  They just don’t know. It’s not as if I’m a crack tennis player who must get back in the game.  I’m not (yet) in screaming agony.  The only reason I finally broke down and had the right hip replaced was that I absolutely positively could not step on the brake anymore and had to halt my car in my own driveway with the hand brake. Having recovered from a hip replacement in a rehabilitation facility where I shared a room with a woman who had just had both her knees replaced at once, I mentally divided in two what she was going through to rehabilitate herself, and decided no thank you, I would do whatever it took to forestall even one of what she was having.

This year whatever it takes in my current, discomfort-free window of opportunity includes “clamshells,” one of six tedious, boring, perspiration-making activities I’m supposed to perform every morning, or at least most mornings, before getting on with the day.  The other five, which chew up about forty minutes if done slowly and properly, I could perhaps learn to live with — although the cloud of gloom they cast over the prospect of getting out of bed tends to keep me from setting feet to the floor until the hands of the clock are well advanced towards noon and guilt overcomes indolence.  But “clamshells” are something else.

I know, I know: you still don’t know what “clamshells” are. (Unless you’re a physical therapist, or the victim of one.)  They’re like this:  You get down on the floor, if you think you can get up again, or on a very thin hard mattress if you’re not sure about the floor. We have one of those man-type mattresses left over from Bill’s divorced days; it’s now adorning his old bed in the finished part of the basement.  There you lie on your side, draw your knees up to a 90 degree angle, keep your back absolutely straight and unmoving (no rolling towards the mattress) and hold your feet together throughout the exercise.  Now you’re a closed clamshell.  Try to open the shell by raising the top knee and then close it again, with a controlled motion if possible. Fifteen times.  That’s a set. Rest. Do two more sets — that is, forty-five times all together.  Then you do the forty-five open-and-shuts on the other side.

This is supposed to be so good for my rear end muscles — which I never knew existed, and maybe they don’t — that I shouldn’t mind that my clamshell won’t open. It doesn’t open at all when I lie on my left, and barely enough to insert a pinky finger between the thighs when I lie on my right. But I do mind.  I hate failing at anything, especially failing at something I hate in the first place.  So my clamshells aren’t really like Judy Kugel’s snow angels.  I know she will persevere until she conquers the wall she’s standing against to do them.  Me?  All I know is why I wrote this post.  It’s to shame myself in public into getting down to the basement even though it’s already 3:30 in the afternoon.  If I go now, I can be back upstairs before 4:30.

If, if.  Now if only there were such a thing as a human clam opener.  No, scratch that. It doesn’t sound quite right.  Weak rear end muscles or no, I do try to run a clean blog.

THINGS I WANT OR NEED TO DO INSTEAD OF BLOGGING

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You may have noticed.  I’ve been slowing down. Skipping days, even on my self-imposed every-other-day schedule.  Or else quoting a lot, so that I need to write less of the piece I post.  And now that spring has sprung, any thoughts I may be having about TGOB are definitely guilty ones. Poor blog. It’s fighting for my time and interest with so many competitors:

1.   What I really want to do right now is try on all my summer clothes from last year, decide most of them are out of date or no longer fit properly — and go shopping for new ones! For several weeks, since the sun first showed itself, I’ve been wasting at least an hour a day poring over the spring/summer collections on view in the emails Eileen Fisher (upscale clothing line) has been sending me almost daily — not to mention paying considerable attention to the weekly invasions of my email box by Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s newsletter about, among other things, the carefully “curated” items she is wearing this spring. Of course, almost all of this viewing matter is priced in the stratosphere but gives clever old ladies (like me) plenty of ideas as to what to look for elsewhere.

2.  I want (and now need) to install the AT&T microcell I purchased three weeks ago for over $200 to enhance cell phone (mobile) reception at our house. (Princeton has not permitted AT&T to put up a sufficient number of towers within its domain, so that indoors we get no more than two bars out of five on any cell phone, and a concomitant inability to hear anyone properly, if at all, even in the more receptive parts of the house.)

Moreover, if my installation achieves its goal, one of us can save fifty or sixty dollars a month by also transferring his (or her) landline from Verizon (our phone company) to AT&T, which will provide landline service through the microcell for twenty dollars a month. (The AT&T acronym stands for American Telephone and Telegraph, an out-of-date moniker, but long ago incorporated and now too well known in the US to change.) Strong as is my desire to keep at least one of our two monthly $70 to $80 payments to Verizon in the bank and pay AT&T only $20 a month for that landline, this reputedly easy installation has been awaiting my undivided attention since purchase.  Anything involving technology, registering long strings of numbers, and crawling under desks to plug colored wires into the correct apertures produces so much nervous apprehension  that I’m always telling myself I’ll do it tomorrow. (And no, Bill can’t do it because he says he doesn’t understand any of that.  He got through medical school and a five-year residency at Harvard, so go figure. But based on extensive prior experience with teaching him how to use his iPad, from which he is now inseparable, I believe him.)

3.  It is the first of the month and my desk (from which blog posts also issue, when they do) is covered with bills to pay, both electronically (mine) and with checks, envelopes and stamps (his).  This is something I need to attend to, sooner rather than later, but can also put it into the “I want to” category because if I don’t, the fact that my desk is a mess of financial obligations will keep me from doing anything else on said desk.

4. We have had a really bad stay-at-home-because-of-various-quite-serious-ailments-I-didn’t-blog-about-winter and I have been going stir-crazy. (This was the “dealing with the rest of it” in the blog’s subtitle.) Now that the ailments (which were not mine, at least not the major ones) have subsided and/or gone away for the present, I have expressed a desire to go somewhere for a while next winter and Bill has eagerly responded with a desire for the south of France!  Aix-en-Provence, to be specific. (Near the world’s largest plasma physics lab: Be still, my beating heart.  But also near Marseilles and bouillabaisse, and Avignon, past summer home of popes, and the general Frenchness that is everywhere in France — food, language, ambiance!)

Unfortunately, for travel to Aix (if we can even afford it) we will first need to train. Neither of us is the walker I used to be (and he never was), so we both now have prescriptions for physical therapy — mine for a bad knee, his for balance and general weakness through disuse — and are committed for the next twelve weeks or so to going here and there in Princeton to various physical therapists three times a week…and recovering afterwards.

5.  Should France remain the preferred destination (if otherwise feasible), I will need to do a major brush-up on my French, which at its best sixty years ago was a bookish sort of French (un francais scolaire). What especially needs work is my ability to understand the French when they speak without making special kind allowances for me. (“Tu comprends, Nina? Tu comprends?)  Without subtitles, for example, I am lost in French movies, except sometimes for the love scenes.  And I don’t expect to be involved in any love scenes with a Frenchman this time round. More probably, when I speak or ask questions (which I can manage, albeit like a foreigner), I will need to comprehend the answers.  (“Plus lentement, madame, s’il vous plait.”)  

6.  Also, my passport needs renewal.  It expired at the end of 2009.

7.  Now that I am facilitating a small meditation group that arrives in my driveway every Tuesday at 3, I feel obligated to set a good example: twenty minutes every day even when the group isn’t there.  Well, nearly every day.

8.  There is also my international student. (Every Wednesday afternoon at 3, for an hour — but on campus because he has no car, which means it’s at least an hour and a half for me. (Parking downtown is a bitch.)  He is a young, very sweet Chinese Visiting Scholar with whom I volunteered to converse (and correct his conversation) until he goes home in September.  Unfortunately, we cannot converse, because I cannot understand him.  (Nor can anyone else, which is why his teachers sent him for conversation tutoring.) So every Tuesday after meditation, I am doing conversation homework: seeking out things we can try to talk about (his work in advanced physics is impossible) and online aids to pronunciation — this week “r”, “l,” “th” and “s.”

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There’s lots more, but you probably get the idea.  Since I’ve never been able to multi-task or compartmentalize — you will perhaps now kindly forgive some blogging sloth until I find time to think of something interesting to post.  You can certainly speed things up by providing ideas. All suggestions welcome!  Don’t be shy. What would you like me to write about next?