How to Tense Your Shoulders

When you are stressed out, swallow it.

Speaking up brings no relief. You’re used to being reminded of having said something unsatisfactory years after you said it. Ignore disagreements and keep moving until you really can’t stand to be quiet any longer. 

Look down. Is your mother still talking? Try to keep reading. Think your thoughts. Don’t move. Pencil notes in your paperback. The stress goes straight from your ears to your brain to your neck. Buy headphones to plug into the hifi. You would have loved smartphones, all that information in your hand and the way they shield us from interaction. Your thoughts are a physical burden on your body. You can’t help it. If it wasn’t 1982 you could google the chords to your favorite songs. 

 The author’s father, Tom, at a party.

The author’s father, Tom, at a party.

At work, keep mopping. On break, smoke a cigarette, hunch over a joint. At home, after dark, wrap your upper body around a guitar with the TV on in the background, a ball game, maybe M*A*S*H*. Drink a beer, the house is quiet. You can relax, you can have a good time. Still, keep your tension in your shoulders. Feel a pinch when you twist to get a fuller view of the road than you get from the little side view mirrors of your Volkswagen Beetle. Stretch before playing tennis. Play like a jerk sometimes, slam a ball into a far corner when it’s already clearly your point.

Sometimes you erupt and curse over small things: another speeding ticket, or when a child opens the bathroom door on you. Everyone quiets down when this happens and your anger hangs in the air, vibrating. It’s not on purpose. You’re sick and stressed.

When it become clear that you’ll die soon, at thirty-four, there will be a change in the mood of the house, like the loosening of muscle.


- Meredith Counts is 35 this year. When she hunched at the kitchen table, her grandpa would pinch hard in the knotted muscle where the shoulder meets the neck. He’d tell her, “loosen up, your dad kept his tension there, too.”