Well, that’s it, then. I’ve managed to survive six weeks of this thing.
By this time tomorrow, it should be off, I should have had some x-rays (which are going to show that all is well, at least with the talus bone itself), and I will presumably have had explained to me whatever physiotherapeutic regime I need to endure before I can get back to the autonomous mobility to which I am accustomed.
I am assuming—or more precisely hoping—that I will be able to walk pretty much straight off the bat, however slowly and awkwardly at first. That said, a simple eyeball assessment shows that my calf muscle has withered somewhat with six weeks of enforced inaction, and I suspect all the complex little bits and pieces in the foot itself are even more discombobulated (given they went through some pretty serious trauma before they got locked up in there).
One thing’s for sure: when it comes to motivation for getting myself shipshape once more, I have a surplus rather than a surfeit, which I’ll likely have to be mindful of. I’ve (kinda) accepted that I’m not going to be back on the climbing wall for a few weeks yet, but at the same time, getting back to that activity, so vital for my mental well-being, is a priority, and if I have to endure a few weeks of climbing low grades using only one leg, so be it. (At a guess, the biggest risk is dropping from height, given that’s what caused the fracture in the first place—so asking how soon the bone can be trusted to take a similar level of force to normal is going to be a priority for me.)
At the risk of being performatively worthy, after the manner of 1980s cartoon serials bluntly explaining their supposed moral content before the credits roll, this has been a genuinely eye-opening experience in at least two senses. First of all, the fragility of personal autonomy as a person who lives alone: if not for the unstinting support (both moral and logistical) of a good friend who’s been willing not just to do shopping runs on my behalf but spend time with me, I would be both physically and emotionally battered by this point. I think I could have coped without that support, but it would have been a pretty desperate struggle that left little time or energy for anything else; as it is, I’ve managed to keep working, albeit at less than full capacity… though that is still a greater capacity than I managed through most of January, so, y’know, onward and upward. (The gradual arrival of spring during my convalescence, and the psychic lift thus provided, should not be discounted in any assessment of this trend.)
The other thing is to do with suddenly being put in a position where empathy with the differently-able—which I like to think I’ve made an effort to develop over the last twenty years—moves beyond the merely intellectual. I hope I will never forget the way in which the landscape between, say, me and my nearest supermarket, transformed overnight from being less ten minutes of barely-noticed urban backdrop to stroll through while thinking about something else, to being closer to forty minutes of countless minor hazards and inconveniences against which to thump and stagger my awkward way.
There are many things one could use as an exemplar, but I think the one that occurred to me most often is the absence of public seating—and even that provided me with an opportunity to double-check my privilege. I mentioned this absence to a friend, and expressed my wonder at how older folk with walking frames and such cope with long distances; her response, somewhat paraphrased, was “yeah, you wanna try it when you’re pregnant, man”.
So yeah: some lessons learned, which I will do my best to not forget once I’m back on my feet, both literally and figuratively. The upside of those lessons should be a newfound appreciation of my normative mobility; I plan to make a lot more time for walking just for its own sake, because now I know what it’s like to not even have the option.
A year ago this evening, I rolled off an Øresund train at Malmö Triangeln station with a patient but frazzled Katie-Jane, and walked out into a light rain to get a lift from a friend to my new digs in Sweden.
I’ve always been prone to noting the strange dual fluidity of time’s passage, particularly as I’ve gotten older. This year it feels like everyone’s got far more of a taste of atemporality than they ever wanted, if indeed they ever wanted it at all, and so I don’t intend to dwell on it too much. Frankly I’ve been pretty lucky with my experience of the Plague Year, a luck which was somehow sealed some time before it started, the last piece of the puzzle being my having unknowingly booked my relocation on what was effectively the last week that it would have been possible to do it without hideous amounts of extra obstacles and challenges. That the timing was right; that the relocation itself—planned and re-planned in a fog of obsessive anxiety—went without a hitch across multiple borders and infrastructural systems; that I stumbled into a housing situation more stable than most newcomers to Sweden without even really trying; all these things are gifts which seem all the more unlikely and surprising in hindsight.
It hasn’t been a year-long picnic, mind you; while the Swedish pandemic restrictions have for the most part been lighter and looser than elsewhere, I’ve basically spent a year working in glorious isolation from my colleagues—all the more ironic given that part of the appeal of moving here was to finally have a working environment in which I would be surrounded by peers who knew and understood and appreciated my work, and vice versa. It’s not that I haven’t seen them at all, to be clear—but the refactoring of academic life around remote teaching has kept them busy, even during periods of light restrictions. So much of my work life has been mediated through those softwares and platforms with which so may of us have become more familiar than we’d ever wanted to… but again, it’s a gift to have a job that can be done in such a way, and that hasn’t been at risk from economic or sociopolitical crisis.
I’ve been lucky, too, to have a few local friends who’ve been there for me in person, as well as friends fro the old country who’ve kept me as a part of their own extended digital networks—you know who you are, but thank you, nonetheless. The year had its emotional tragedies, too, which I shall avoid raking over in public; suffice to say that while I’ve changed a lot over the last few years, there are fractures and faults in the geology of me which will presumably never be fixed, and which—as always—can only ever be worked around, lived with, factored in. It’s taken many many years to realise that accepting my shortcomings doesn’t mean having to like them, let alone revel in them as defining characteristics. But denying them is equally foolish, in a different way. Coming to terms with oneself is the only way to make yourself something better, I think. Or perhaps I just hope that to be the case… but hope is important, on a personal level as well as the societal one. One can’t unmake one’s mistakes or turn back time—but one can face the future informed by a better understanding of one’s past, and thus work at being better, and doing less harm to others.
Selah. I’m not much of one for anniversaries or birthdays or anything like that, but this—my anniversary of arrival, if you like—seems like something worth marking, as a point in the annual cycle, but also as the start of a life’s second act. Quite how that act might arc ahead remains to be seen… but the mere possibility of its arcing at all is, like so much else, a gift: not unearned, to be sure, but not deserved or fated either.
As Ursula Le Guin used to say, “how you play is what you win”—but I’m not sure the causality is strictly one-way in that statement. (As a Taoist, I doubt Le Guin thought so either.) It feels to me like I won better than I’d been playing; so now comes the work of playing in a way to retrospectively merit it.
Perhaps one step in that direction would be to write fewer of these navel-gazey self-analytical blog posts, eh? We’ll see how that goes, I guess…
The current view from my armchair. By way of an update for those wondering why things went a bit quiet here: I hit a motivational slump in late January, and then finished the month off by fumbling the last move on a 6b+ slab problem at Klättercentret, falling a couple of meters, and fracturing the talus in my left foot. Eleven days in a cast so far, thirty one left to go.
As such, I’m seeing even less of the world outside my apartment than before. But as the pic above shows, the light is slowly clawing its way back into the world. This morning I heard the seagulls squabbling outside. By the time my cast comes off, spring will be at the door, waiting to show me around.
Until then, I have four weeks to get my intellectual motivation back in shape, and to work on keeping what paltry physical strength I’d managed to build up in my fingers, arms and shoulders. The world spins on, and we spiral and loop in its wake as best we can…