Thursday, February 23, 2017


I've fallen behind on blogging, especially here. I started a momentum of writing about my weekly writing classes after they were done, and lost that momentum. That happens. I am working with my Return community on that a lot - coming back, returning to our intentions, even when we drift off.

I am returning. I return today with a cough.

It's not an awful cough, not by my standards. As someone who has had pleurisy, bronchitis, pretty much everything but pneumonia when it comes to viral and bacterial lung crap over the course of her young life, this is really not much. The tail end of a head cold, a bit of an itch in the back of my throat. Mostly dry, not wet, not super loud.

But any kind of cough makes people notice you.

I've noticed this, the tiny errands I have had energy to run in the last two days, slowly coming back to life. I cough, mouth mostly closed, wrist over whatever is open, and the person next to me in the grocery line shuffles not-so-imperceptibly forward. Friends and colleagues say we can meet until they find out I have a cough and then they start joking about contagion and cancel meetings. It's not across the board, I have to say - people are generally supportive when I am out sick, and understanding about cancellations.

In fact, when I canceled class this week (which most people understood and were thankful for) I asked them to write about sickness in lieu of class. "What is your body's experience of sickness?" I asked, noting when Natalie Goldberg was here years ago teaching, she was sick. She became acutely aware, through reading a Chinese novel at the time which spent a lot of time with bodily functions, how most of modern literature doesn't include sickness - but it is such an essential part of life! In fact, a friend prompted me to write about coughing in this blog post today. Oh right. Coughing can be a topic, too.

Here's what I have keenly noticed this week: there's a sensitivity in our culture. Coughing is a bad sign. How often I hear friends with asthma or allergies asserting "Oh, I'm not sick! It's just asthma/allergies!" immediately after they are done coughing. The sound is surprising, invasive, even, and startling. Whatever our knee-jerk responses are immediately afterwards are likely to be deeply habitual, instinctive, ingrained. Others assume it means illness, danger, get away. No matter how much I try to convince them I am no longer contagious and contain the risk, the deep body response has already happened.

Because of this, and because my energy is still low, I bow out - of meetings, of obligations, of dance class and of goodbye teary-eyed conversations with friends. I can't talk or really move about too much more than ten minutes before I start coughing. What is maddening is that when I am still, at home, not talking or moving, my cough pretty much disappears.

What does this mean? It means I still need rest. It means if I don't stay slowed down, at least a bit, it will get a lot worse. It means my cold is not done yet, and I am not yet fit for human consumption. I hear the cough, too, and heed its call. It means I work with the frustration of having some energy but my body not yet being up to engaging with the outside world. It means the end-of-sickness-depression I struggle with nearly every time, pulling myself out of the restful slog and trying to catch up with all that got left behind during the down time.

Don't rush - that only makes me cough more. Message received, reluctantly.


  1. I have a cough right now. I'm sitting at the kitchen table coughing. I just got over the flu and was completely well last week, but, alas, I'm sick again.

    And I absolutely cannot stand when anyone coughs around me. I cower. Mostly it's that people don't know how to cough (my daughter insists we must cough into our elbows so that our germy hands don't touch something that someone else will touch), but I would be happy if people simply covered their mouths with SOMETHING.

    Be well.

  2. Tis the season, right? The getting-over-it-then-getting-sick-again part is why I am super cautious to go full tilt post-sickness, though even when we rest to the end it can still kick up again.

    Fair enough - most folks don't know how to cough. And FWIW it's doc's orders to cough into elbow armpits, so Serena has something going there.

    Get better soon!