My Rebellious Flesh: When Warren Zevon Speaks To My Soul

Posted on June 23, 2011


Know before I begin this post that pity is not welcome here. I’m just trying to write honestly, not troll for responses. Keep that in mind before responding.

During the board meeting a two nights past, I made a reference to the way the mind works in the learning process using an anecdote from my days playing the violin. I was never a great violinist—music never ruled my life—but I enjoyed it well enough. Still, I prefaced the story by saying when I used to play the violin.

The chairwomen paused after my little speech, looked at everyone, and said: “First of all, I’d like to note that of all the sad things Mark has brought up, the saddest was when he said he used to play the violin.” She proceeded to use this as a point of reference and humor for the rest of the evening. I laughed along, but it made me a little sad all the same.

Today a song came on while I was working—“My Shit’s Fucked Up,” by Warren Zevon. A good song, if you’ve never heard it: sad, funny, contemplative, and relatively short. Everything you’d usually expect from Zevon. The song brought me back to the chairwoman’s comment again and now I feel I must write about it.

I quit the violin not out of disinterest, but out of pain and frustration. Many of you will recall my ongoing neural disorder. A lovely cocktail of anti-epileptics and beta-blockers help to prevent me from twitching and tweaking throughout the day, but so far as we know, the affliction is incurable (and may lead to much more damaging problems in the future—but we’re not sure when or how). I first went on the pills several years ago, when the affliction, first noticed when I was nine and the tremor in my hands made my handwriting illegible, grew so great that it was affecting my social life. But as my tremors increased, so I increased my pill intake to the borders of what doctors would recommend as healthy. I still twitch, my hands still shake, and now and then I lose control of the motor functions in my hands.

Some results: One my arm jerked randomly while I was driving a car and I swerved into oncoming traffic. Fortunately my other arm was still my own, so I clutched the wheel hard in my right hand and pulled against the force of my own muscles, dragging myself back onto the right side of the highway as a semi-truck blared its horn. Then there was the knife, which went into a dead drop from my suddenly useless hand, straight into my foot. And all the infinite cups I have reduced to ruins, the tea spilled on myself and others. Every time I pick up a hot dish and feel a twinge or numbness in my fingers, it’s all I can do to mask the horror on my face.

Another result: The fine motor functions and muscle memory required to play an instrument became to difficult, and the effort of forcing my hands into the proper place, holding against the shakes, became too painful for me to continue. Even now as I type my hands ache slightly.

The pills as well came with a caveat as wall. When the doctor told me my options, he summarized them as such: you can either run a marathon or write a book, your choice. The pills have given me a strange heart condition that makes sustained cardio activity difficult (i.e. I pass out easily—I once tested the limits and wound up cracking my head on the ground). I chose the essay and have never regretted it.

But that does not mean I’m at peace with my body.

When your limbs move independently of your mind, or when you suddenly lose control, you have trouble feeling ownership over your flesh. That and the strong astigmatism in my eyes—without my glasses I see double constantly, and quite varied planes—give me the constant sense of dispossession from my physical self, of a distance and disconnection from my body.

That distance has manifested in a lack of adequate care in the past. Past a certain point I gave up exercise. I became much more willing to put myself in physical danger, and started wearing almost nothing in the cold, telling myself that the sensation that made me shiver was no more a reflection on me as a person than the random tremor in my hands, the twitch of my lips. And, yes, I will admit it manifested in a spate of anorexia, a point at which you could run a finger down my ribs as if down the notches in rough woodwork, could cup a hand underneath my rib cage. That little act of self-hatred reduced my already artificially lowered blood pressure such that, climbing a flight of stairs, I passed out yet again and woke in a pool of my own blood, convinced that perhaps I should care for this body a bit more than I do.

And I have started caring for myself a bit more. I’ve even taken to exercising daily again this summer. I’m trying to eat better as well. But some habits are hard to shake.

I try to last on very little sleep. And at times, indifferent to the pain, I have performed minor surgeries on myself—some of you know I’m missing a little chunk of flesh around the nail of one of the toes on my right foot. Not much, but enough that you can notice it.

And then there’s the part where I’m irrationally (I know it’s irrational, don’t try to tell me what I already know) ashamed of my tremors. I’m a little hesitant to touch people at first because I don’t want them to comment on the way I twitch and shake when I hold them.

Oddly enough I think it was the revelation of my receding hairline that prompted me into my current resurgent search for a better lifestyle. And in service of that goal, and of the goal to exorcise myself of my worst habits, I’ll try to curb my other bad habits as well. I’ll try to live right and make peace with my rebellious flesh.

But there’s still a ways to go before I’m totally at piece. After all, my shit is still, and will always be, fucked up.

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