December 06, 2012
("How to Get the Shpilkes Out")
Walking is a perfect form of meditation for those of us who are not sitters. I beat myself up about not being a sitter with thoughts like: I should sit. I should sit. I should sit.
The Dalai Lama sits. Stillness would be a good quality to cultivate in the world…are thoughts I think until the baggage of my thoughts about sitting gets so big I cannot fit it in the overhead compartment. I must pay extra to have it checked to my final destination, if you know what I mean.
So I walk. To get the shpilkes out. For those of you who did not grow up in Pittsburgh in the 1970s in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, shpilkes is Yiddish for nervous energy. A sensation of your skin crawling, maggots on a carcass, that sound, and every single thought in your mind like a spider spinning webs out until the entire fabric of the universe is sticky substance. Episcopalians would call it Cocktail Hour. That is one solution.
More than once as a kid I was outside being anxious at my lemonade stand on the sidewalk—had we charged too much for the KitKat bars? Was our juice plonk? And I'd hear my neighbor Edna yell to her husband, "Get in the car! Get your shpilkes out!" And he would lumber toward the Cadillac mumbling, shaking his fist at the second-story window of the apartment where they lived. And she'd see this, and she'd yell, "Get milk. Milk! Not skim! Don't forget!"
This couple, this language, is my brain. I walk to get away from them, to explore other neighborhoods between my ears, as Truman Capote would say, other voices, other rooms.
Elizabeth Bastos is a stay-at-home mother of two in the Baltimore suburbs. Her work has appeared at The Smithsonian, McSweeney's, The New Yorker's Page-Turner Blog, and she is a contributor at Book Riot. She went to Smith for English and Marine Biology so she knows a thing or two about spinelessness and buoyancy. Her personal blog is Goody Bastos.