I promised Nagle that I'd keep a log of how my work with my back (really, more like "work with my physical awareness") was going over the 12 days I was in Chicago, and then I sort of crashed and went to sleep after Day 1 (yesterday). So here's the update for May 1 and 2.
So far, it's been "proper tools make a difference" time - after drastically expanding my physical awareness over the last few weeks in Boston (massage, bodywork, exercising, reading books on anatomy and actually caring about them, looking at how I played the piano, etc) I came to the conclusion that my progress would be much accelerated with the proper tools. Okay, so I'm an engineer. It's also easy to see that improving your typing habits is greatly facilitated by not using a laptop keyboard that kinks your wrists in all sorts of interesting, non-ergonomic, and (eventually) painful angles.
Even if my pain threshold is as high as it ever was (in the past, I have walked around for several days with acute stomach pain before finding out it was appendicitis, went up a mountain while suffering from what we later discovered was acute bronchitis, and so on) my pain awareness threshold is dramatically lowering. Basically, I see problems earlier, so I can stop them before they really start. This gets annoying, because keyboards and train seats and all sorts of things now trigger in me the "...wait, this is terrible!" reaction within 5-15 minutes.
Anyway, tools. I am now the owner of a curved keyboard, thanks to the recommendations of Ryan and Spang and a loaner of an older version of this thing from Greg. It is not a perfect keyboard (what did they do to the function keys? they're little nubs!) but the feel is terrific, and for the first time I think I'm actually not living up to my summer title of "Keyboard Thunder." The keys are soft. And not just to me. And my wrists have not yet sent out "this will hurt later" signals. So that's fantastic, albeit Ridiculously Expensive. I may also get a keyboard tray when I return to Boston. Chalk this up to tuition money for the month.
I'm also trying out the G1 phone with Android to see if it transforms the things I can do dramatically enough for me to keep it despite its (extremely hefty) price tag. So far, indicators look good. It's subtly enhancing my ability to answer random questions on the fly without making me addicted (a-la-Crackberry) to it; I need to take better notes and ask more specific questions on what I want from a phone platform, but that's in a few days as I'm still in the "mess around" stage of things. The killer app is really IRC - it'll let me be online and interacting with the communities I work with in real-time without having to be glued to my (very non-ergonomic) laptop. (Weirdly enough, I am happier, healthier, and more productive when not slouching at a desk all day. Who knew?) I haven't gotten that to work yet. So.
That's the gadgetry. What about the back?
Well, yesterday I learned that plane seats are awful and I don't yet have strong enough core and back muscles to keep myself upright in proper posture for a BOS-ORD flight by dint of sheer will. Today I learned that they're also not quite strong enough to do it on a 90 minute car ride either. I'm working on conditioning those muscles now. I've also learned that oven mitts make pretty decent supplementary padding to make car seats more ergonomic (we were delivering kitchen equipment to one of the houses my parents are working on).
My shoulders have reached a new plateau of being able to roll back; that is, they're finally comfortable with this level of stretch, but after some range-of-motion exploration today it seems that the tension in my pectorals and various neck muscles around the collarbone (I haven't learned the names of all the muscles there yet; that's for later this week) will keep them from going back further as of right now. As my shoulders learn to un-slump, my neck regains the ability of doing things other than cantilevering forward.
This leads to the awkward problem of "how do I read?" and "how do I write on paper on a desk?" because I am used to doing both of these by craning my neck down. Still haven't figured these out. Angling forward from the hips feels weird and straining on my back; angling the chin stretches my neck, looking down doesn't scale terribly well. And I can't really carry a drafting table with me at all times. More to play with.
My feet have atrophied from 2 years in shoes. I'm used to walking barefoot around my room, my school, my dorm, anywhere I can get away with it. The number of hours per day I have spent in such places dramatically decreased after graduation. They're still pretty decent; all 3 of my foot arches (6 total for 2 feet) have at least a semblance of muscle tone and feel darn happy walking on grass and through woods and creeks and don't get tired doing that at all, and I can pick up things with my toes and everything.
Still, I have been noticing over the past year (though I didn't recognize its significance until reading a couple books and talking with Nagle) that after extended periods in shoes with no arch support or carrying heavy loads, my feet felt flatter, and that felt bad. And that my feet get tired after walking on asphalt or concrete for more than a few minutes, something that used not to bother me at all. So I think they may have gone from "pretty freakin' healthy" to "minimally maintained, but still respectably decent compared to most of the industrialized world." I want my old feet back again. Working on it. (Grimacing because I may have to purchase inserts for my hiking shoes. I do not like owning More Things, in general. Ah well.)
Today I played a lot with the tiny muscles in my hands - or running through my hands, anyway, since they actually route through the forearm. There are some extremely tender spots on my palm, most notably in the fleshy ball underneath my thumb. I've noticed a few times that when I found a sore spot on my palm and pressed it, it was hard and knotty; if I kept pressing (and it hurt) after a while the knot would soften and I would feel something in my fingers relax. It didn't work for every spot I tried. And there are some that are (what seem to me to be) soft but are just screaming tender masses. So I am not sure exactly what is going on. Will investigate anatomy of hand.
- calculate net worth. Remember, I'm at home to work on the "I'm going to manage my own finances, mom and dad" thing - and we're moving slowly here.
- practice piano, focusing on the key of Eb. Bonus: memorize Groovin' High chord progression.
- work on my neck and the muscles surrounding it (probably a lot of shoulders stuff) - both in terms of playing with moving it around and in terms of learning the anatomy surrounding it.
If I've got time, I could probably...
- install/configure the Hear@Boston wiki
- go through a jazz listening exercise with Larry Kernfeld's book (should transfer CD tracks to iPod for the duration of checking out this book, really)
- try Dragon Naturally Speaking with my Zoom H2 as the microphone instead of the sort of enh one shipped with the software. I'm getting bad recognition results, but the software is also complaining about sound quality, and comments I've read online indicate the mic might be the problem.
- get IRC to work on my new phone
- ...or other random things I decide I want to do.
A final note: by far the most telling sign of progress with my hands and body is that I just typed this entire post at full speed (using a qwerty layout, since I'm on my parents' desktop) and my hands are just now starting to go "hm... you may want to rest soon." No pain. Just gentle awareness. After typing 1350 words. Yessss.
I think my life just changed a little.
It always does; every moment alters your existence. And sometimes there are these... tiny pivots,
these quiet catalyzing moments,
that make you you step back afterwards and exhale, kinda cock your head up in the direction of Someone Upstairs, and grin.
Thanks, Mr. B.