Eliza turned out the room lights and switched on the spotlights. I immediately dropped to the carpet and started doing push-ups. By the fourth push-up someone knocked lightly on the door. Without missing a beat I called out “Come in.”
The door opened but I did not look up. I kept on with my slow and steady push-ups as Ari said “Old guy, doing push-ups.”
I repeated “Old guy, doing push-ups.”
For the next ten minutes Ari, and then Eliza, continued to comment on me and my push-ups. I grew exhausted and by the end I was able to do only 2 or 3 repetitions in the final minute.
A week later, I spent the entire night in the emergency room.
Back in August it struck me hard that I used to be a person who would do adventurous things—things that scared the crap out of me and made my life exciting. I gave myself a skydive for my eighteenth birthday during my freshman year of college.
I went to Yemen with the Peace Corps at 21.
I took a nine thousand-mile road trip around the U.S. when I got back from the Peace Corps.
I packed up my old Plymouth Valiant and moved to Maine and then to Montana on my own without knowing anyone in either place.
I got engaged after knowing Erica for just a few months.
And then we moved to Ithaca and had a child while Erica was in grad school. We counted on the income from my job as a teacher to pay our bills. Slowly, I became far less adventurous. It was not something I chose to do consciously. Over time, I self-censored my own wilder impulses.
So, back in August I decided that it had been far too long since I had scared the shit out of myself. I thought about what I could do, (short of going full mid-life-crisis and joining an ashram in India), to tap back into that part of me that likes to put myself out beyond where I feel safe and comfortable and boring. I quickly came to the idea of acting class.
Just the thought of being in front of people, exposed and alone on a stage, made me shake a little. I quickly found the Actor’s Workshop of Ithaca (AWI) and gave them a call. Before I could change my mind, I committed to the Monday-Wednesday class for the entire fall semester. And I have not regretted the decision for a single moment. I am learning a lot about acting, about auditions, and about myself. I have even gotten a leading role playing a small-town priest in a student film being shot by an Ithaca College student. I already know that I will continue with the class next semester.
And that is how I found myself on the floor, doing push-ups and engaged in an activity called Repetition. Repetition is one of the fundamental activities in the Sanford Meisner acting technique that is the basis of classes at AWI. (I will not describe it here—you can read all about the Meisner Technique here if you wish to.) Suffice it to say that I was fully committed to doing as many push-ups as my body could in those ten minutes.
I have no idea how many I actually completed, since I was forced to interact with Ari and Eliza and therefore could not count. My arms were sore for days. And then my right arm ballooned up to a disgusting size. I was worried because that is the same arm that developed a blood clot 32 years ago and I knew the clot was still in place and my axillary vein has had a much-diminished diameter ever since.
A week after the push-ups I was getting ready for bed at 11:00 when Erica saw with alarm how big my arm had gotten. She convinced me to go to the emergency room to get it checked out. I ended up staying there until 8:30 the following morning. They drew blood twice, looked at the veins of my upper arm and shoulder with an ultrasound wand, injected me with an iodine dye, and did a CT scan of my chest, neck, and shoulders.
Long story short: my acting class activity led me to develop rhabdomylosis. The muscle fibers in my right arm were dying and releasing their contents into my bloodstream at a rate faster than my kidneys could deal with. The arm was swelling because my body was pumping the arm full of fluid to wash out the bits of dead muscle cells, but the fluid was backing up since my vein could not drain it all away.
The definitive test for rhabdomylosis is the creatin kinase test. My blood test that night showed a creatin kinase level of 3500 U/L---anything above 1000 U/L is considered a positive test for rhabdomylosis. Normal levels are anywhere from 50 to 150 U/L. The doctor was a bit alarmed and hooked me up to an IV drip of saline solution right away and asked me to stay the night.
Four times that night I had to tell the story of how acting class gave me rhabdomylosis. The triage nurse, the night nurse, the CT scan technician, and the ER doctor all shook their heads—in judgment, disbelief, or both. My arm is better now and the rhabdomylosis has gone away. I have four weeks of classes left this semester and I am still scared every time I walk into the studio, but I know already that I will be back for more. Like they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.