Sunday, March 20, 2016

Becky gets root canal, has spiritual epiphany

Last week, I learned that I needed a root canal, which is really the only appropriate outcome for a person who hasn't been to the dentist in three years. I had a cavity in that tooth four years ago, and you want to know the damnest thing? That filling didn't feel right from day one.

I found the entry in which I mentioned that cavity earlier this weekend when I was going back through this blog to clean up the post labels. The reason why I started that process, with the labels, is related to the Breakaway pub run last Thursday for St. Patrick's Day, and what I found as I read back through this blog is related to why I'm telling you about my root canal.

But before we get back to me and the dentist, let's take a trip down memory lane...

...all the way back...

...to 2008.

That was the year I started off January by creating a Word document to list my goals for the next twelve months. Those goals were (*ahem*):
  1. Meet Heath Ledger at Dark Knight premiere.  
  2. Go on European vacation. 
  3. Write a rough draft of book. 
  4. Quit job. 
  5. Live off savings while finalizing book. 
  6. Start. New. Blog.
Yes.

So.

Even if you didn't know a single thing about me - never even heard of me before - you could deduce I didn't accomplish everything on this list. You may not know that I didn't make it to The Dark Knight premiere, but you do know that Heath didn't make it to the end of January.

My success rate doesn't improve much as we move down the list. In fact, the only thing on there that I did do in 2008 was number three, and that rough draft was almost completely scrapped the following year, so an argument can be made against even that. The rest of the items vary from still not having happened (Europe) to happening years later (living off savings) to happening years later but not in the way I wanted (I didn't so much quit the job as the job quit me).

And with that, the theme of today's blog entry will be "expectations."

*****

When I got the cavity that ended in this week's root canal, I had lived through one St. Patrick's Day with Breakaway. It was a fun, rowdy pub run, so long ago now that the Slider Inn wasn't even there yet. We talked about that year, and all the subsequent years, quite a bit on Thursday as I celebrated my sixth St. Patrick's Day with Breakaway. We talked about 2012, when the group was so out of control we had the pub run privilege taken away from us for this one holiday; and 2013, when the "I got lucky at Breakaway" slogan made its return to the commemorative T-shirts; and 2014, when, for the first time, we had to run back to Overton Square instead of Union Avenue from the Slider Inn at the end of the night; and 2015, when, on a personal note, I realized that maybe I just didn't enjoy drinking the way I once had.

The group of us whose memories stretch back that far is getting smaller even as the crowd itself is getting larger. It was thinking about ways to preserve that history that directed me to the labels list for this blog, which was bloated with outdated and unuseful tags. I got rid of some of the labels, added a few more, and will add even more before all is said and done. Not every entry needs a label, and certainly not every entry has one, but there are certain themes that I wanted the convenience of being able to get to quickly.

"Pub runs" was one of those themes. But it turned out I hadn't written publicly about as many of them as I thought.

*****

I noticed some things as I scanned through this blog, beginning to end, during my label quest. When I started, I was writing about things outside of me, like pop culture and my (then) job. Even in the more personal entries, there was always a storytelling aspect. Very much still in the mode of creating an online image for myself, my stories had the agenda of propagating my "brand."

Then the fabled Year of Self-Discovery happened (2012), and while I still relied heavily on pop culture for content, I started to use that as a way to explore more personal themes. As time went on, more and more of the outside stuff fell away, and I was left primarily writing about myself, first self-consciously and then eventually less so. Somehow I wrote both more honestly for leaving the emotions intact and less honestly for leaving the details out.

But undeniably, a genuine transition happened along the way, and that's important to me. It's especially important right now, when, for the past few months, I've been complaining about feelings of stagnation and lack of progress in my life.

*****

I contemplated taking this year as another Year of Self-Discovery for all of the nebulous reasons that I've been referring to. Except I didn't really want to because I thought that I didn't have time. Not in the day-to-day sense, what with me working twice as many hours a day as I did back then, and not in the grand-scheme-of-things sense, because time is slipping, slipping, slipping, and am I not falling ever farther behind already as it is?

"Self-Discovery" in this sense is a euphemism for staring into the abyss. By the end of February, I was rationalizing that the time was going to pass anyway, whether I used it to do what I needed to do or used it to fill up my time pretending to be busy to avoid dealing. So I compromised. I wouldn't take the whole year, but I would give myself the month of March.

These were the tasks I gave myself:

  1. Whatever uncomfortable emotions I was having, I had to sit with. Be with. No running from them. 
  2. I had to sit quietly and do nothing - absolutely nothing, just staring at the wall in front of me - for a minute or two each day.
  3. In addition to doing nothing, I had to work on meditation, which I've been dabbling with for years, but never really integrated into my routine. 

That was my list of things for the month of March. That's how differently I view accomplishment in 2016 than I did in 2008.

Success, to me, has become staring at the wall.

*****

That brings me to the dentist, who gave me the bad news on Wednesday while I was reclining on my back, vulnerable in the way that you are when in the presence of a medical professional. He broke the news gently. But I was okay with it, actually expecting it, truth be told, because I knew there was something wrong with the tooth and in the back of my mind, I thought a root canal might be the answer. So I had this weird reaction of not being scared at all but instead contemplating that this could be an interesting experience. I'd never had a root canal before. This was something completely new. Not only that, it was going to rid me of a deep infection that's probably been slowly spreading ever since the original filling.

Above all else, it was a relief to just fucking deal with that tooth.

*****

If the most prominent theme of this blog thus far has been transition, a close second is repetition. Everything cycles. I say the same things and reach the same conclusions only to forget them and have to be reminded of them, inching forward so slowly I don't think I've moved until I look back and am stunned at how far away the past is. Every once in a while on Thursday, I would feel a little sad, because these pub runs "aren't like they used to be." But I don't know that they'll always feel that way. Nor do I know that it's bad (or good) that things are different.

Right now, today, I feel pretty good about how I'm working to change the things that I want to change. But the only thing that I can absolutely, unequivocally be sure of is that I don't know what will happen next.

I don't know.

I don't know.

I don't know.

The abyss has no answers.

But for the rest of this month, I'll be staring into it anyway, remembering all over again that there can be comfort in the unknown, as long as we stop long enough to acknowledge it.

5 comments:

  1. Hmm... interesting. I had a temporary filling in a tooth that became infected over a weekend. I think I had to wait 3 days to get in to the dentist. By the time I was sitting in the dentist's chair I was crying, I was so relieved to be dealing with the thing! And you know, the infection was so bad, they had to make an incision to release the pressure and I was fine with that! I was giddy the pain was over.

    One time I fainted and was brought to the hospital in an ambulance. I tried to remember that experience even as I was fading in and out of consciousness because I thought I've never done this before!

    You may be ready to read 'The Black Swan' about how we can't know things. It's interesting but I may not have the persistence to finish it. I'd rather get lost in fiction.

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    1. Paying super-close attention because it was new is an extremely apt way to put it. The tooth didn't even hurt, but it just didn't feel "right." And then it was confirmed that it wasn't in my head, it wasn't me making too big a deal out of something, and it wasn't something that I was just going to have to live with...it was something that could be fixed. There was a way to make that sensation go away. Things can (and sometimes do) change for better, it's just getting there without burdening yourself with too much suffering in the meantime.

      I'm definitely intrigued by The Black Swan. You mentioned that in your blog entry, didn't you? I know I'd added it to my list of things to read...I'll let you know if I read it!

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  2. The thing I like best about your blog posts is you really take us on a fun journey. We start off looking at your checklist, we find out you did none of them, and then we wind up finding you back in the dentist chair and dealing with that tooth. The story really takes a creative look at your adventures with your root canal.

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    1. If there is any enjoyment to be found in my writing about a root canal, then I consider that a success. :) Thank you!

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  3. I am sorry you have been having problems with that tooth and the filling, but at least you were able to get to the dentist for answers. I cannot imagine how much pain you were in due to the infection, but it probably feels good get rid of it. I hope the tooth has not given you any other problems.

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