Forces of Nature


I got a text the other day from the City of St. Paul warning me about a snow emergency. I got homesick. I looked out my New York window and saw grass. I ached for a storm. A real storm. I wanted a snow day. You know, the one where you have to stay inside and eat soup and watch old movies. Where when you do finally venture out, it feels like an adventure, and making it home safely feels like a victory against the elements. It’s hard work for me to get used to calm weather patterns. I lack the sense of something bigger than us, beyond our reach, that looming storm that pushes people to buy canned peaches and locate the beeswax candles. Finally a problem too big for me to solve. Finally a blizzard so powerful, so beyond my control that all I could do is nothing.

On our way to a Battle of the Burroughs concert at the WNYC Greenspace, I overheard two young people talking about Minnesota. “Minnesota,” they kept repeating with an increasingly exaggerated accent. “They are so nice there.” “Yeah, so anti-confrontational. And big.” “Yeah, they are Nordic in Minnesota. Big bones.” The concert reminded me of home, neighborhood pride. It matters here if you are from Jamaica, Queens or the Lower East Side, Manhattan. It matters in Minnesota if you are from St. Paul or Minneapolis, Highland or Frogtown or Uptown or Bryn Mawr. People actually care where you come from.

I asked Dan, “So when do you think spring starts in New York? Do you think we will even know it when it gets here? Could this be spring?” I miss that first day above freezing where wearing a winter jacket but no heavy scarf feels like freedom, followed by the first day the sun comes up in months, and you turn your face to it instinctively like a sunflower, followed by the day we all walk around the lake in shorts because it is slightly over 60 degrees. My classmates tell me that they don’t notice I am from Minnesota until I am asked to read a story aloud in class. When I read, I go back to where I come from, and my thick accent comes out in full force. They like it, and I like it, too.

My migraines have gotten better since moving away from Minnesota. I like that part. Since I was about twelve I would get a few full blown knock out migraines a year. Lights would get bright, my stomach started to churn. I would name them like pets. The most standard migraine was good Ol’ Left Eye. It would creep from behind my left shoulder blade up to my brain stem, dig a heel in before wrapping around my skull and landing an ice pick into the top right corner of my left eye socket repeatedly. With the comforter pulled over my head to keep the light out, I would dream of pulling my face skin back from my hair line and smoothing out the bumps in my forehead. I would dream of a marshmallow pillow to place in between my teeth for relief. I would dream of someone taking a drill to my uppermost vertebrae or a wrench to my jaw to release some of the pressure. I would dream of someone picking up my shoulder blade to removed the rocks underneath. I got some new migraines last year that really started to scare me. While I was teaching one day, everything in my right field of vision started to stretch and get sparkly, I would imagine, as half of my brain was on LSD. I kept looking for a unicorn to appear.

Anyway, my migraines have gotten better in New York. I am not as stressed out. I sleep more, eat better, do yoga everyday, and I think it has something to do with the lack of cold. I don’t scrunch my shoulders into my ears and chatter. I don’t tense my muscles and shudder. I don’t have to wear heavy scarves that pull on my traps. I used to tell Dan that I was allergic to the cold, and he would just laugh at me. Maybe allergic was the wrong word, but I was subconsciously naming a correlation that my pounding head knew to be true.

It has to do with the lack of cold, yes, but I also took control of my migraines for the first time in New York. I started seeing chiropractors for my headaches twenty years ago. They put me through ultra sound, acupuncture, cranial sacral therapy, probiotics, the works. But this is the first one who told me to keep a headache journal. As soon as I started, I saw patterns about what triggers which type of headache. And cold is a trigger, maybe my biggest one. My second biggest trigger? Typing on a computer that is the wrong height for my forearms and eyes. This is bad news for a cold blooded person with bad circulation and low blood pressure who is in a writing program full time. I am always cold and typing. But I was ready to take control. Seeing the patterns so clearly on paper, I realized that my headaches weren’t just happening to me. I started doing tangible things to make sure I was warm and my computer was a good height. I drank more water and got reading glasses. And my migraines got better. Not all the way, but significantly. It is not rocket science, and I am a little embarrassed that it took me so long to claim the power I had over my headaches. I think, somehow, it was comforting to me to think that my pain was caused by something external, something outside my control. I wanted to think this was happening to me, and that it was a pain that I could do nothing to fix.

Like a good Minnesota snowstorm.