A Shot in the Arm for the MFA Student

There’s nothing like getting a shot in the arm to give you tunnel vision. Especially if the nurse winds up like a first baseman, aiming a softball field long. I don’t know why she assumed the meat of my arm would be so tough she needed to give the needle a good three feet to accelerate. The prospect of being slammed with that much force threw me back to my primal instincts: I grabbed her arm.

She said, “Now honey, you can’t do that,” and placed my hand on my knee, which made me feel so helpless I became desperate for agency, for control. I told her, “I have to look away. I cannot see any part of what you’re going to do,” and twisted my head as far as I could to the right where I spotted a plant with deep green leaves as wide as my palms. And in the seconds before the needle actually pierced my skin, I went into those leaves like a diver. The pores disclosed themselves, and I could see cells photosynthesizing. The vessels and tubes inside each leaf sprawled and quietly tugged energy through. I felt the return of oxygen leaking from the plant, without sound.

I did not see the nurse wind up for the second time. I don’t know if she did. I did not feel a slam of any sort. The only knowledge of the actual event at hand that reached me was through the nurse’s voice saying, “It’s all done. See! No big deal!”

As I left the health center, guided by a nurse’s index finger toward the duck pond on campus, I felt a rush. A clear-mindedness. I wonder if we need these little moments of intense focus to help us learn how to focus at all, to help us disengage stress that binds our muscles and minds.

As a first year MFA student with eighteen credits and a to-do list that now out-runs my grocery list, I often feel the weight of every task at once. Though I try to focus on one thing, every other homework assignment comes pestering about my earlobes and eye sockets. So when I went in for my dose of Tetanus, I expected to experience heightened stress. To not only have a needle stuck hastily into the tissue of my upper arm, but to also have every assignment, every grade, every to-do list item, pounding at my consciousness for attention. But that isn’t what happened. I gained focus by purposefully avoiding something else.

I left the office able to write, able to take one thing at a time, at least for the next couple of hours. Though I don’t advocate going to the health center to vaccinate yourself against something else every week, I do advocate finding something to distract you for just a few minutes of your day. I think anything that engages you physically, such as yoga, or going for a jog, can help clear your mind. Yoga is especially helpful because you have to focus on keeping your body in perfect alignment in every position you assume. And you have to hold it there. Painting, and some visual arts, will draw so much attention, it’s as if you’ve been sleeping while you work. I know some of this enters into the whole left-brain/right-brain

With the end of the semester jam packed with assignments, final exams, teaching, and other stressors, make sure you allow your brain to rest on one thing at a time, and if you need some training in maintaining focus, sign up for a yoga class, take up the paintbrush or drawing pencil, or go update your immunization record.


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