Samuel J. Tanner 5 minute read


My insides were messy last week.

That's a strange sentence. Some context? Of course.

So I noticed a lump on my back a few weeks ago.

"What the hell is this?" I asked Katie.

She shrugged. "A knot in your muscle?"

I shrugged.

Two weeks later, the lump was still there. Maybe it was smaller. Maybe it wasn't.

I don't think I'm a hypochondriac. Do I worry about things? Sometimes. My father was a worrier. My bubbe too. Maybe my propensity to worry comes from them. Or maybe it comes from the fucking lump on my back.

Maybe that worrying is increased due to my circumstances. Two toddlers at home. We live 1,000 miles away from our friends and family. I'm teaching, writing, and staying too busy (because I'm always staying too busy). So maybe I'm a mess, or maybe I'm just reacting to my circumstances. It's hard to say. Anyway. That lump.

I saw the doctor last week.

"Hi doc," I told the bald man that came into the room. "There's a lump on my back."

The doctor shook my hand. The doctor massaged my lump. The doctor smiled.

"It's nothing," he told me. "It's a fat deposit."

He used a word that was more official sounding than a fat deposit. I don't remember the term.

"We can remove it," he told me. "But if it isn't bothering you, we can just leave it alone."

"Why is there a fat lump on my back?" I asked him.

"Because you're unlucky," he said with laughter. "But don't worry. It's not cancer."

"Great," I laughed.

"Any other problems I can help you with?" he asked.

I laughed. "How much time do you have?"

I thought for a moment. I had been feeling light-headed for a few weeks. I chalked it up to a head cold or anxiety about my busy fall. Still, I mentioned the wooziness to him.

"We'll run some tests," he told me.

"Thank you."

I went upstairs, got my arm pricked, and went home. The test results were emailed to me later that day. My cholestoral was off the charts. The bad kind was high, the good kind was low, and I didn't know what that meant.

Happy Valley Improv had a show that night. We led workshops about improv and teaching with professors this fall. Some of those faculty were performing too. One of those participants was a professor of nutrition. I showed her the results on my phone before the show.

"How bad is this?" I asked her.

"How long do you want to live?" she responded seriously.


My mind raced. How was my cholestoral this high? I exercise, eat relatively well, and haven't had health problems in the pass.

I was a mess during our improv show. It wasn't my worst performance, but it wasn't my best. Anxious? Maybe. Processing my unhealthy body? For sure.

I called my father the next morning. We talked about nothing for a few minutes. Suddenly, I began to cry. It was good to hear my dad's voice, and I just needed to cry. Dad reminded me of Mom, Mom reminded me of childhood, and childhood reminded me of home. And it was safe to cry at home, and so I did. Am I crazy, anxiety-ridden mess? I don't think so. Not anymore than anybody else. I'm a human being who thinks and feels things and, in that moment, I was overwhelmed by my circumstances. And crying is a natural way to respond to being overwhelmed, and so I cried. I went upstairs. Katie saw that I was crying.

"Why are you crying?" she asked.

"I don't know." And I cried some more. And she held me. And I felt better.

There you go.

Are my insides still messy? Sure. I need a vacation. Being a human being is messy. And I'm a human being. And I'm processing lumps, mortality, distance from home, family, parenthood, and a new career as a professor. A little crying goes a long way to feeling the sadness in these things. And there is great sadness in being a human being, even if we pretend there isn't. There's great joy too, but I think it's wrong to repress the sadness, the anxiety, and the chaos of our precarious lives. Messy, baby.

So I'm eating oatmeal now. And cereal. And seven-grain bread. Take that, high cholestoral. We'll see how it works. I'll go back to the doctor in a couple of months, and see where I'm at. Oh, and I gave up coffee too. I love coffee, but have been drinking extreme mounts of caffiene to keep pace with this racing fall.

There was a physics professor in our improv workshop. He overheard me whining about my cholestoral before our show. Who didn't overhear me? I'm transparent. Anyway, this professor is in his fifties.

"Mueslix and a grapefruit," he said. "It's time."

"Does that work?" I laughed.

"Like a charm."

Pizza, fare thee well. Candy, ice cream, and saturated fats? Get away from me, Satan. I guess I'm on a diet now. That's fine.