Thursday, March 17, 2016

on mud and growing things

The yard has melted.

The dogs bring in mud.

It gets under their nails and wedges between the pads of their feet. I wipe their paws every time they come in. There is a pile of muddy rags by the door: old cloth diapers, receiving blankets, t-shirts.

The mud comes off in streaks and in clumps. It dries on the entryway rug and sticks to everyone's socks. It clings to the dogs' paws despite the wiping.

Mud spreads all about the house
and I know it is spring.

I know it is spring and I walk through the house in bare feet. The floor boards shift and creak under my skin: a sensation that was muted by socks and slippers all winter. It feels good to let my toes air out. Cooped up all winter has left them red and irritated. The air is an invisible balm. Dirt sticks to the arches of my feet but I do not mind. Terribly.

I sweep and sweep the kitchen, the living room, the hallway, collecting great piles of dirt and dog hair multiple times a day. My youngest daughter interrupts this task and says, "I'll do it for you, Mama." I let her. She hums The Imperial March to herself and I take on a different chore. Dishes. I watch out the window while I rinse and stack. The dogs are playing chase out there. Suds, rinse, stack, now they're barking at a neighbor. Suds, rinse, stack, the puppy is digging a hole in my would-be garden. I shout out the window at him -- Hey!

and he looks up at me -- What?

before going back to work.

Last year that part of the yard was an eyesore. Overgrown with anything and everything that cast down roots. One day I took action and my husband's grub ax and hacked it all away, exposing roots and black earth. I piled the weeds in the wheel barrow and raked the space clean. This took a long time. John could have done it in half the time but it was my project, my idea, my garden. He let me be.

I filled the empty space with a random assortment of transplanted greenery from friends willing to divide plants from their established gardens. I didn't really care what I was putting in; I just wanted to fill the space. I put up a cheap wire fence and then let it go.

I let it go.

Weeks passed. I watered the new plants a few times and inspected their progress, but I didn't do much else. Then we went on vacation and more weeks passed. By the end of the summer, it was an overgrown mess: weeds in all the empty spaces so it wasn't clear what I had planted intentionally and what had just sprung up.

I was disappointed in myself for not keeping up with it, not weeding, not properly identifying the intentional plants in the first place, not planning anything at all. I'm not sure what I really expected to happen. That mere intention could manifest something real from the folds of my imagination? I wanted a picture-book butterfly garden but put in only enough effort to yield the look of an abandoned lot. Not what I had in mind.

But winter came and put everything to bed. It's a blank slate now.

A blank slate pocked with holes that I can't stop the new puppy from digging.

I'm glad he's digging there, though. If it was in the middle of the lawn he would be causing a real problem. But he's just digging in the garden. The "garden." A space I'd like to prettify but can't commit to caring for.

Maybe the puppy will bury something good in one of his holes. Maybe something completely fantastic will come up.

Like a unicorn.

Or a novel I wrote.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

muscle memory

"What is your pace?" The guy at the running shoe store asked. I was to get on a treadmill and run so he could film my feet, analyze my gait, and suggest the best shoe for my running style. He wanted to know at what speed he should set the treadmill. I gave him a number. He pressed one button and then another.

"You can start whenever you're ready."

It had been awhile since I touched a treadmill. Treadmill running is different than solid-ground running, I remembered immediately. I felt unsteady. I didn't think it was likely that my feet were doing what they usually do. My earrings were bouncing. My jeans felt tight around my knees. I wasn't planning to do this.

After a minute I got off the treadmill. It was not a graceful exit but I managed not to embarrass myself. I went over to the computer screen with the sales guy and he played the clip. I saw my calves and my ankles, the backs of my heels, my sock just above the rim of the demo shoe I was wearing.

He slowed the speed of the video to point out that I strike with my mid foot. I don't display notable pronation. My gait is typical. He left the screen on, my feet frozen in mid air, and he stepped into the back room to retrieve a few pairs of shoes for me to try.

It was odd to see my feet from behind like that. To watch myself moving from an angle we see other people all the time but never ourselves. It was like looking at a stranger except I recognized the way my knees turned in. The foot-plant was familiar. I watched my ankles absorb impact and rebound in response, and it was like seeing a muscle memory. A physical perspective on something that's only ever been internal.


It's 60 degrees on a Saturday in February. The sidewalks are choked with people and puddles. I'm driving in my car and see a girl jogging. She's wearing short sleeves and headphones and her ponytail swings in rhythm with her step.

I see her and something pulls in me. It's an old feeling and I'd almost forgotten about it.

I can't wait to go running.

In high school, running was my "thing." It identified me. Distance runner. Cross country runner. Miler. Two-miler. I had a letter jacket covered in metals that clanked when I walked. I was mighty proud to wear it.

I liked being part of the team. I liked performing well. And I did like running itself but my favorite part was stopping. Not just because I was done (though that was a part of it, too), but more because of the intense feeling of total body relief:

     Like swimming against the current
         and suddenly deciding to float belly up
              and let it take you.
       Like feeling the adrenaline rush
            of a house-shaking crack of thunder,
                    then settling back into your pillow
                         with the vibrations still
                                  breaking through the air.

I loved that.

But then there were all the years of pregnancies and young children and sleep deprivation, and I lost running. In order to hang onto it, I would have had to choose it over anything else that filled me. It was too fast. Too desperate. Too hard. It hurt too much. Any time I tried to take it back, claim it again as mine, the excuses would derail me. It was chaos in my body, and it was not the right thing to balance the chaos in my head. I couldn't love it.

But with my youngest daughter about to turn four, it's true that the demands on me have shifted. I sleep all night (usually). My oldest kid can babysit for run-length periods of time. My lap is often empty. No one needs me in an all-consuming way anymore.  There's more space in my head and all around me.

And I've been doing strength workouts for a number of months now, and I'm definitely stronger. Way stronger. And I think that's the extra edge I needed to start running again.


Coming up the hill at the end of my run today, my lungs were burning. I pushed off my toes and felt the muscles deep in my low belly firing. It was hard. Part of me wanted to stop. And I could have -- I don' t have to do this. I'm not even training for a race. But I am strong enough now that my muscles remember how to square shoulders over hips, support my chest up high, and run straight through the excuses.

And when I did stop at the top of the hill, I had that old ache in the back of my throat from pushing hard and my rib cage hurt from expanding wide enough to give my lungs the space they needed and I could see my heartbeat in my eyes and I smiled at the sky because -- this. I missed this. I missed this and then forgot that I missed it until liking it at all was buried under an entire decade.

I'm starting to remember, and like is blooming around the edges of running for me again.

Sunday, March 6, 2016


I want to draw a circle around the morning, around the frosty pink that shades the space between the tree branches pressed against the sky. I'll draw the circle in pen and it will be a snapshot that time cannot touch. I'll swallow it whole and digest it. It will run through my veins and feed layers of new skin.

When I dissolve, this image will release back into the air and someone else can claim it. No one will know it once belonged to me but the folds of my mind will be imprinted on the sky right there, in the color of morning when it's awake but still has the sheets pulled up over its shoulder as it stretches the sleep from each finger, toe, elbow, knee, soaking for just a minute more in the delicious threads of slumber before they evaporate in the full light of day.

A child's feet pad down the hallway. I click the cap on my pen and the shutter closes, capturing the image.