Monday, May 25, 2020

rebuilding

Today I will run (and walk) and it will be
                                                               movement.

I was going to say it will be
                                              fun
but that is not always true.
Sometimes it's
                         frustrating
and it can be hard to find the fun in that.
But I'm looking at my body as a
                                                       work-in-progress
And run/walking is my
                                       paintbrush
                                                         or my chisel
and I'm creating a healthier runner.
a more durable runner.

The body doesn't know pace. It knows effort.

I want to be that grey-haired woman I sometimes exchange hellos with.
She runs with her chin-length hair loose. It sways as she moves.
Not fast but why would that matter
when the smile on her face is bright enough to shine
on the remainder of my run?


Monday, May 18, 2020

saturation

Deep breaths; green breaths; deer-peeking-through-trees breaths.
Sane breaths; rain breaths; nothing-to-explain breaths.
Slow steps; flow steps; out-here-alone steps.
Breathing, moving, still.


Friday, May 15, 2020

layering

every time i run, i layer miles onto my body.

i am building up a tolerance for what i can handle.

every step is a pebble -- no, a grain of sand: seemingly insignificant. 

but building blocks
                                 form
                                          stack
                                                    create.

every time i write, i layer words like bricks.

sometimes they are little three-rock piles, left along the trail to mark where i've been.

sometimes they add strata to the story i'm trying to tell (am telling).

lately, its been mostly the little piles.

but that's okay.

they're important too. 

my feet are becoming callouses of capability. 
my lungs are getting deeper and wider, an expanding universe. 

i watch and my mind is growing too.
there are pockets i haven't even explored.

keep picking up the pen.
keep lacing up the shoes. 

one foot [word] in front of the other. 
not good, but persistent. 

a brief writing from the single-word prompt: layering. 
try it: get a pen. set a 5 minute timer. just write. see what you find.


Thursday, May 7, 2020

Soundtrack of Silence

It's early morning. I'm sitting cross legged on the couch with my pen in hand, notebook open on my lap.

I haven't started writing.

Mostly, I'm just listening to the kitchen clock tick.

It's strange, I think, that this sound doesn't bother me. Never bothers me.

Because I am kind of sensitive about sounds.

I hate the sound of other people drinking, for example (shudder). I have trouble concentrating in a quiet room if someone, somewhere, is breathing too loud (ugh, shhhhh). Repetitive noises quickly grate on my nerves (sorry, but your foot tapping is a jackhammer on my soul. could you stop?). I can't sleep if there are any unusual noises at all (hello white noise, my love).

But this clock? For some reason, it's okay.

Even on nights when I simply cannot sleep and the only thing that helps is moving onto the couch in the living room for a new scene to try again to get some shut-eye -- even then, the clock's ticking is either something I don't notice at all or a sound I end up finding soothing.

Perhaps this is because during the day, with so much activity and movement and sound in the house (because of all the people (6) and dogs (2) who live in this small space), the ticking is completely covered under the cacophony of daily life.

But in the early mornings, when it has for years been my habit to sit with my notebook on my lap and a cup of coffee in my hand (sometimes writing, sometimes just staring sleepily into my cup), the clock sings the soundtrack of my silence.

When my girls were much younger, this was one of the only times I truly had to myself, so it was sacred. Now that no one needs me quite so much anymore, I'm not so desperate for or possessive about my alone time.

But there's still something special about that slip of time just after waking, before I'm pulled into the flow of my day.

It's the time when I'm most still. Most settled. Most at the surface of myself, before my mind has gotten buried under the duties of the day.

And maybe, on nights when sleeplessness grips my mind, moving to the couch solves my problems when nothing else seems to help simply because the sound of the clock is a signal to my psyche that I'm in a sacred space.



(Posting more frequently brought to you by inspiration from a blogging friend. I've always loved her writing voice. )

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Pep Talk

...for myself (for anyone)
...for These Unprecedented Times (for any time)

It's okay to be bored even when you're doing something you love.

It's okay to resist what you normally embrace.

It's fine if you love something but sometimes you just don't.

It's fine if it feels like it doesn't love you back.

It's okay to keep doing it, keep trying, keep moving, even if it doesn't feel like you're going anywhere.

It's okay to rest sometimes, too.

It's good to avoid pushing too hard.

...but it's not always easy to tell when rest is best or if it's better to keep moving.

That's why it's good to have friends and mentors who see things from the outside.

...though ultimately, we have to know the language of our own minds, of our own bodies.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Dusting off


Last week, I dusted off this blog and wrote a post about all the running I’ve been doing recently. It seemed like a necessary way to cap off a project that ended up meaning so much to my internal world.

After posting, in one of the endless ways I’ve been distracting myself from other things I should be doing lately, I went down the rabbit hole of my own writing and read a bunch of posts from all those years ago, back when writing on this blog was one of the ways I saved my own life.

Looking back, I felt a flush of pride about who I was and how I saw things (still am, still see). I also felt nostalgic for all the grasping and searching I used to do (still do). And grateful that I wrote it down because reading back on it is like flipping through a photobook of my mind.

Back then, I would often feel anxious putting my thoughts out there in the world for other people to read. What would they think? What if it was stupid? What if no one even read it?

In the end (and this is something I suspected but didn’t really care about at the time) the most important reader I could have is ME – now. And me – years and years from now. It feels important to acknowledge that (to myself).

I’m currently working on a novel. Did I ever tell you that? I suppose that’s what made me stop blogging, back then. This project has taken up most of my writing energy, in a good way.

I’ve been trickle-writing it for four years now (four!!!), and it’s nowhere near being done.

But I’m still doing it.

Why?

Not for any delusions about publication. Not for some imaginary future readers.

No – It’s for ME.

There have been frequent times when I’ve fought with myself over this project, one side saying why bother, honestly. And the other side stubbornly repeating because I’ve always wanted to.

Thankfully, I have a supportive writing teacher and feedback group that help bolster that stubborn voice, and I’m optimistic that someday, eventually, I’ll finish it.

It will be really something to hold the completed thing in my hands.

But maybe more than anything, I’m curious about -- and motivated by -- the experience of looking back on the process of writing this novel. Of seeing how I’ve grown as a writer and a seer. Of noticing how I’ve evolved as an observer of my mind and in my commitment to putting this story on paper. Even from the middle of it, I can start to see some of the ways I’ve grown.

I suppose in a lot of ways, writing, for me, is akin to running. It’s more about the process than the product (though it’s certainly rewarding to see the product unfold). It’s more about the journey than the destination (though I’d like to get where I’m going as well).

Or maybe what I mean is – it’s okay for the product to change over time or for the destination to end up being somewhere other than what I first expected.  

All this to say – maybe I’m not totally done with this blog. Maybe there are more tracks I might want to lay down. We’ll see. But I know this for sure: I'm happy to be able to look back. And grateful for all the ways I can move forward.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Every Single Street - Middleton


I’ve lived in Middleton for 11 years. I’ve been an active runner for 4 of those years. During that time, I’ve traced ruts into the ground of my preferred routes. I’ve run hundreds and hundreds of miles in the Pheasant Branch Conservancy.

More of the same often becomes stale.  

A few months ago, I happened upon a film called Every Single Street, about ultrarunner and photojournalist Rickey Gates who came up with an idea to run all the streets of San Francisco.  I was instantly intrigued. His project covered over 1,300 miles and he pushed through it in 47 days, logging double digit miles daily. 

The scale of what he did is incredible and not practical for my location or situation. But still, the idea fascinated me and seemed relevant even in a small city like mine, even for a regular runner like me.

I had, however, already signed up for my first 50K trail race, so it made more sense to focus my efforts on trail running as I trained for this event. It wasn’t long before I put the idea out of my mind.

But then the race got postponed because of the pandemic, and all at once it seemed like the right time to take on this project in my small city.

I did some research and discovered that a lot of runners who are taking on their cities use a website called City Strides that can pull in running data from apps like Strava to show you which streets in a city you have left to complete. The site uses “nodes” on individual streets as data points, which show up as red boxes on incomplete streets.



I was surprised to see how my running ruts looked all overlaid together on the map of Middleton. Each activity shows up as a purple line tracing the route run, and there was a thick band of purple over my usual routes.

There are 315 streets in Middleton, and it turns out I had traversed less than 15% of them during the thousands of miles I’ve logged as an active runner while living in this city.
It was time to change that.

I laced up my road shoes and got to work.



The first time I set out to tackle a new neighborhood, I glanced at the map on my phone and headed out. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that maps held in my head don’t stick, and my navigation skills are lacking. Once I had gone up one block and down another, then this way on a cross-street and that way on another road that curved away from the neighborhood, I discovered that it was hard to remember which streets I had already done and which streets I had only thought about doing.
I started mapping my route ahead of time, jotting street names on a small slip of paper I carried in my hand. The paper was usually crumpled and sweaty by the end of the run but was so useful in helping me complete streets in a more organized manner.



Long runs posed a problem because normally I need to take at least one pit stop over the course of hours of running. On the trails, I can just hide behind a tree, and on road routes I have a good sense of where the public bathrooms are located. Even when local parks close their bathrooms for the season, I can always use a gas station, and the Madison zoo actually has a really nice facility. There’s a pit toilet open year-round off the Picnic Point trails on campus.

I have no problem with planning routes based on bathroom location.

But now is not the time to use public bathrooms if not absolutely necessary, so I used my home as an aid station, designing routes that paused at my front door at least once over the course of the distance I needed to run. While this limited how many streets I could complete in a single run and made me weary of the two-mile radius around my house, stopping at home had its perks. Aside from the much-needed bathroom break, I could change socks if needed, drop off unnecessary layers, and refuel with foods that would be difficult to carry with me for a longer distance. It worked out pretty well.



When I had nearly completed all the streets, my years-old GPS watch started to go wonky on me, tracing routes that didn’t line up with the streets I had traversed or crashing entirely, erasing the physical evidence of the progress I had made. The lost or inaccurate data is something that might have really upset me a few months ago, but here I took it in stride. Honestly, what do I have but time? My own lightness surprised me.

There is a neighborhood at one corner of the city that I ended up running three times before it finally recorded as complete. I wondered if any of its residents noticed me as I ran, oddly, around their courts and down their dead-ends yet again.

I will admit to having prepared a mini-speech I might give should someone stop me with questions. I never needed to use it, of course.

The completed map (minus the 0.63% of nodes that fall on heavy-traffic streets that I deemed unsafe for shoulder-running) doesn’t look all that impressive – it is a small city, after all, and it only took a few weeks of effort to complete.



But the project has meant something significant to me.

Planning routes, eating up nodes like Pacman in running shoes, seeing streets and houses I never would have noticed otherwise – it all felt light and fun. A project. A game. An antidote to all this heaviness and uncertainty. It has kept me motivated during a time when motivation can be hard to find.  

Whether we like to admit it or not, motivation often has something to do with comparison.

Comparison with other people. Comparison with our past selves, even.

But running every single street in my city was a project that had nothing to do with comparison, for once. Not to anyone else. Not even with myself.



It was not about pace. It was not about finishing time. It was not about how I placed in a pack.

Instead, it was about laying down tracks over every inch of the place I live, leaving nothing concrete behind but learning that adventures don’t have to be limited to interesting locations. Adventures can be had right out my front door, within the limits of my own city.



This project turned out to be more of a process goal rather than an end-point goal. Sure, I set out to complete something. But it was more like putting together a puzzle than summiting a peak. Yes, it felt good to put that last piece in, but it was actually equally satisfying to watch the picture emerge.



Working on this project has really helped my mental space over the past few weeks. Everyone copes in different ways, and I am by no means a champion of productivity as the best solution. But for me, finding a way to apply running to a different kind of purpose has really helped.



Now, excuse me while I go chip away at the streets of Madison.

With nearly 3,000 streets, I guess I’ll be busy for a long, long time.

I wonder what I’ll see.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Hannah

I first saw Hannah at the 14-mile mark, I think. I already had my eyes on the 4-hour pace group. I knew I’d be able to catch up with them within the next mile or so, as I had started out conservatively and had been steadily turning up the pace.

I saw a girl in a turquoise jacket dart out of the port-a-potty at Mile 14, and I noticed right away how strong she looked: she wasn’t melting back into the crowd. She was going for it. I could tell she had her eye on the 4-hour group, too – probably to catch back up with them after her bathroom break. My mind singled her out as someone it might be nice to try to catch.

But when I did catch up to the 4-hour group and eventually the girl in turquoise, I discovered that she was a talker.

She was chatting it up with another runner, and I spent a mile wondering if they knew each other.

Also I was judging her.

She was too chatty, too energetic, too casual, too familiar for this introvert. I wouldn’t want to run with her after all.

Other runners got between us, and I forgot about her for awhile. But after another mile or so, she was near me again, talking with a different runner. But that gal veered off to use the bathroom, too, and soon I found myself running next to the girl in turquoise.

I think she had noticed me, too, that I wasn’t dogging it at this point, fading like a lot of others around us were doing. I was, in fact, picking up my pace -- and she was, too.

So we started running together.

I don’t remember the first words we exchanged, but it wasn’t long before she knew my name and I knew hers. She told me her first marathon was two years ago and she had walked a bit of it with a struggling friend. She was hoping to break four hours today. I told her my first marathon was six weeks ago, and while four hours was my goal, my main indicator that this race went well would be whether I’d have the wherewithal at the end to get the food bag. Last time, I told her, I was so sick and out of it that I staggered past the food bags, and my sister told me later that the orange in her food bag was the best orange she had ever eaten. So I wanted my food bag this time, I told Hannah.

“Six weeks ago? Gosh, Sarah. I’m proud of you for trying again,” she said.

“Thanks,” I said. “I am, too.”

“Panera is doing the food bags this race,” she said.

“Oh believe me, I know,” I laughed.

We talked about what we wanted after the race. “Coffee,” she said.

“No way,” I responded. “Coke for me, please.”

“Look how fast we’re going,” Hannah said later.

“We’re killing it,” I answered.

“Mile 20, whoo hoo!” she said.

“I’m proud of us!” she said.

“You are so awesome,” I said.

“There’s a huge hill in Mile 22, did you know?”

“Ohhhh no, I didn’t. But we’ve got this.”

“Yes,” she said. “We totally do.

“Keep going, you’re doing great!” Hannah called to a runner doubled over on the side of the road.
Halfway up the huge hill she had mentioned (and it really was huge), my lungs and legs were asking to stop, but Hannah wasn’t stopping.

“I’M A BADASS WOMAN, RUNNING UP THIS HILL!” she shouted. And I marveled that she was able to force that much air through her lungs. But I didn’t walk either.

Hannah was the embodiment of hope on that run. She was positivity and sunshine. She was a helpful distraction and a personal cheerleader. She made me laugh and helped me pull the best out of myself that day. I crossed the finish line with her with a smile on my face.  (And – yes – I got my food bag.)

In the finisher’s chute, I thanked Hannah, and she thanked me.

We both rang the PR Bell.

I hugged her.

I’ll probably never see her again, but her voice is in my head.

I’m proud of you.

We have a lot of voices in our heads, yes? The loudest one is often the Inner Critic. That’s the one that tells us we’re not enough. But there’s always another voice in there, too. It’s usually quieter. But it’s there. It’s the voice of the Inner Mentor. The one who whispers encouragement. Shouts it sometimes, too, if we’re tuned in. But isn’t it true that we sometimes shut that voice down? Be quiet. You’re wrong. I don’t need you and I’m NOT enough. I’ll do this by myself or I won’t do it at all.

I’ve been working to stay in touch with my Inner Mentor more this year. Maybe I should name her Hannah.




Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Voices

I ran a half-marathon recently.

It was hard.

The air was extremely humid and knee pain shadowed every step. I didn’t run as fast as I had been training. I had to walk a few times. But I was able to smile and wave (albeit weakly) at my family and friends who came to cheer me on. I finished and it felt so good to sit down, pour some water down my back, and rest my head on my knees.

I knew I wasn’t at my best, but overall I was proud and happy. 13.1 miles is a long way.

A couple days after the race, I received an email link to the pictures of me the race photographer had taken around at various points around the course.

These pictures were a visual confirmation that I was not at my best.

I recoiled when I saw them.

And a familiar voice started rattling in my mind:

"Wow. I look like shit in pretty much all of these. Why didn't I even try to smile when I saw the camera guy? What's with that look on my face? Too bad my shirt was riding up the entire time. I look so pale and just done. And look at this one. I am only at mile 7. I really looked about as garbage-y as I felt. Wow. Ugh."

This self-deprecating rant is one I'm familiar with.

It’s usually one-sided dialogue. I usually just sit there listening to that berating voice, that mood-crushing voice. And I shrink.

But I've learned to make this a two-way conversation, that I actually have the option to come back at that voice with kindness:

"Look at you, how hard you were pushing, how tough that really was, how you didn't quit even though you wanted to. Look at how strong your arms look, that's definitely new. And then please look at this second picture, and don't say a word about your goofy smile. Sure, it's not one of the "official" race pictures, but let's talk about a different lens. How do you think the kids saw you? Not ugly, not skinny, not terrible, not struggling. They saw: strong, amazing, proud. And you know that's so much more important than analyzing these race pictures for every flaw you can find."

I've never been friends with pictures of myself, but I'm starting to find ways to be okay with them.



Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Essential

I feel like I've gotten things pared down pretty well lately, fitting into my day all the essential extras that have become important to me. I've got my morning pages (sometimes), walking the dogs (all the time), working out every day, extra writing time when I can squeeze it in between the lines of everything else, a few stolen minutes of meditation, and some pages of reading at the end of the day.

These things are largely done before the day starts or after it ends: these essential-non-essentials book end my days. Sometimes one thing or another is woven into the regular flow of the regular day, but I get a pulling sensation whenever I do this. Hand my four-year-old the iPad so I can meditate, ask the 11 year-old to babysit so I can run. I trade things, negotiate, sometimes steal time to make space for these things I need-don't-need to do. Because these non-essentials are really as essential as eating, sleeping, working: they keep me engaged, keep me from imploding. They are the bracing joints that keep my lungs inflated.

But I don't like for there to be tightness around these things. I don't like when I'm making dinner and it's taking longer than I thought because --

step 1 cook the chicken,
step 2 make the sauce,
step 3 remake the sauce because it burned in step 2,
step 4 the seasoning,
step 5 the other sauce,
step 6 roll the enchiladas,
step 7 do so many dishes,
step 8 figure out what else to feed the kids because the enchiladas are definitely too spicy too cheesy to red-saucy --
               
-- and I thought this wasn't going to take this long and the window I had for running is closing and I'm about to slam it on someone's fingers, the next person who asks for a glass of juice while I'm cooking dinner in my bare feet wanting my socks and shoes to be laced and already carrying me out the door.

That's the tightness.

It doesn't let up until I'm two miles into my run and I realize I started out too fast and I'm pushing against the ground instead of floating over it and the heat is high in my face and the blood pounds in my ears and

I notice this and --

pull in a deeper breath and --

work against this tightness like a knot: drop my shoulders, open my fists, shake my head a bit.

I look around. It's a beautiful evening.

When it's time to walk I let it be slowly. I watch my breath come down. My heart rate slows enough to wait for me. I walk back into myself. I had been hanging onto the backs of my shoes, carried along almost against my will, a shadow glued there.

When I come back in the house I'm dripping in sweat and something else too, something that's melting. It feels good running down my spine, down the backs of my arms, dripping and pooling on the floor.

I could even smile.

I could even wash the rest of the dishes without breaking any at all.

Not even in my mind.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

memory lane

Snow cakes the treads on my shoes. I have no traction. I hope I don’t slip.

With Claire secured to my chest in the carrier and my coat zipped around her, my body temperature rises as I walk. I take off my hat. The cold air feels good against my neck.

The playgroup starts in ten minutes. I underestimated how long it would take me to walk two miles on these snowy roads. Claire shifts in the carrier, pressing her hands against my chest and leaning back. 

She looks up at me, blinking against the snow flurries that want to settle on her eyelashes.

“I know you want to get out,” I tell her. “But we’ll get there much faster if you just let me carry you, okay?” Claire is 14 months old. Walking is her thing.

She starts to whine. We still have a long way to go. Sweat trickles down my spine and I wish we would have stayed home. But I know getting out will be good for me. For both of us. It’s been a long year.

Friday, May 13, 2016

still practicing

The dogs are staring at me. They are willing me to take them for a walk. But I’m going to finish writing these morning pages first. It’s something I need to do. All three pages today.

Sawyer’s eyes are locked on my face like he’s influencing my thoughts with a Jedi mind trick. Harley thinks a simple Force choke will make me drop my pen.

Sorry, guys. I’m not done yet.

But they’re not settling into their waiting. Harley paws at me. Sawyer yawns at me. They pace.

The dogs are like my mind, moving around, anxious about something.

I’m working on noticing when I get distracted. I’m working on reeling my mind back into my body. My breath turns the wheel, 
   reminding, 
       grounding, 
            pulling me back in until I am close enough to focus on the scrap of light living in the center of my chest. The moment I recognize that light, it begins to expand to fill my body. It spills out into the space around me. It radiates in all directions.

I’m trying to see that light as infinite, limitless, but my mind presses up against boundaries. Solid walls it doesn’t know how to climb or dissolve. I keep practicing, though. Pushing.

I believe that at some point I’ll be able to experience the vastness of my own mind, how big I really am, how little I have to fear.

Because –

Why?

I don’t have the right words. My time is up. Three pages almost full. I’ve hit the outskirts of my imagination and my mind cascades back into itself. The spell has broken.

But I’m not done practicing.

When I walk, I see the full arc of the sky. The sun is still low, still climbing out of bed, and the light angles through the trees and warms the color of Sawyer’s fur. The dogs sniff and zig zag across the path in front of me. My lungs are full and I am right here.


Monday, May 2, 2016

seeing, looking, noticing

The wind comes from every direction. Any direction. Strands of myself are blowing out, billowing, wrapping across my eyes, getting stuck in my partially open lips.

My mouth is dry.  I am at the center of a tornado. It is loud. Chaotic. Dark. But I'm not fighting. I'm not trying to get away.

I am still, in here.
I am still in here
I am still.
I am here.

I can see
even though my eyes are stuffed with sand
because
I'm not looking with my eyes.

When I look with my eyes I see:

laundry
  dog hair
    a very patchy lawn
      lunchboxes
        coffee cups
           my computer

When I look with my Self, I see:

the grain of wood on the floorboards.
the wrinkles in my pillow,
       crumpled crisscrossing lines
           that I wake up with on my face.
the faint lines on the bottom of Rose's foot when I check for slivers.
   life lines
      lines that will stay with her for life.

This is the kind of looking that makes me feel alive, unclenches my jaw.
__

A child is crying. My blood pressure is rising. A backpack needs to be zipped, hair needs to be braided, the bus stop needs to be arrived at. But my eye falls on the bookshelf with its evenly spaced boards and the books leaning at every angle. Order and the disorder existing together. I take a breath a remember that I am here. Now.

Seeing, looking, noticing like this is a lot like dropping my fists when I'm running, opening my palms, stretching my fingers, shaking my hands out like I'm letting something go, so when I fall back into my stride there is a looseness where tension used to be, clarity where the fog had been settling low, and a few full, long breaths that go all the way to the base of my lungs before settling back into a rhythm that's comfortable again, a rhythm I don't have to think about for awhile.  


Friday, April 22, 2016

the space between

It's December. John and I take the kids to see the new Star Wars movie, and it's the first time I've been to the theater in quite awhile. Movies in the theater are a luxury on many levels.

The theater has been updated since the last time I set foot in it, so I am surprised by the wide lounge chairs. Individual recliners for each person: the extravagance!

Rose, our youngest at age 4, wants to sit next to me. Her three sisters file in ahead of us, and John sits on the far end. Before the lights go down, everyone gets a lap full of popcorn. As we pass the bucket down the row, I catch John's eye and we both smile. I know he's seeing the three full body lengths between us, what with the new, wide luxury seats and all four kids. Even if we both stretched toward one another, we wouldn't be able to touch.

I think about one of our first dates, how he picked me up in his mom's Crown Vic and wore that blue sweater with the stripe across the chest and gripped the steering wheel with both hands. I liked the thickness of his wrists. The front seat felt wide and there was a lot of space between us. I was nervous. Movies are easy, though; you don't have to think of anything to say, and you can creep closer together in an accidental way. You can find each other's hands in the dark without really meaning to, without having to acknowledge anything except the feel of skin on skin, a slow thumb circling my palm.

Now, though, there's a football field between us, and his grin tells me he sees the absurdity here, and the awesomeness, too.

The lights go down and Rose is very quickly in my lap, the big girl seat suddenly too big for her in the dark. The scene is instant action -- and loud. Storm Troopers are on the ground; there's a fire blazing and Kylo Ren shows up, and I see his mask and hear his amplified voice through the filter of Rose's tense body. She's squirming and asking to leave.

We talked about John taking the older girls and me staying home with Rose, but Rose loves Star Wars: she thinks Darth Vader is great. We decided she wouldn't tolerate being left behind.

"This part will be over soon," I whisper into her ear. Her eyes are closed and I'm sure I'll have to walk out of the theater before the story even really begins. But the next scene is lighter; it's daytime and we meet Rey. Rose relaxes into my lap.

The popcorn bucket comes our way again, but it's empty except for a layer of crumbs. Rose eats every schnibble and wipes her hands on my jeans. She drinks a lot of water.

We are in the climax of the movie when she has to go to the bathroom. I take her, and she talks loudly in the bathroom stall about BB8 and -- that girl. "Rey?" I offer. Our voices echo in the empty bathroom.

During the drive home, John fills me in on the part I missed -- it was a key scene, of course, which would have been nice to see -- and the girls make sure to add their reactions and experiences, too.

"Well, we'll have to buy the movie when it comes out so I can see it," I say, and a cheer erupts throughout the car. It sounds like we have more than four kids.

No one is hungry for dinner when we get home. Popcorn at 5pm will do that.

But I am full and happy with good stories. The made up ones, of course, because they can carry us away and bring us together.

But mostly I'm grateful for the tale that fills the space between then and now. 

It keeps unfolding ahead of us.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

In defense of the sweaty selfie

When I first joined my online fitness accountability group, I posted an after-workout picture (aka sweaty selfie!) a few times, but it made me feel extremely uncomfortable.

Listen, I don't really like pictures of myself even when I'm careful about the way I stand, the grade of my smile, or the color of my shirt. After I work out, my hair is a mess. It's usually 5 a.m., so my eyes are still hung with sleep. And yah, there's sweat. Why would I want to share my image in such an unguarded, undone moment? What could possibly be the point? I decided early on this part was not really for me.

Yet I appreciated seeing the steady stream of sweaty selfies from the group in my Facebook feed. Knowing that others were getting their workouts done encouraged me keep up with my goals, and seeing their smiling, glowing faces connected me to the group in a way that words on their own wouldn't have done. I started to feel like I knew these ladies who were sharing their struggles and goals, being brave in their skin and strong in their resolutions.

But still, I couldn't participate fully. If I took my own picture, I'd see one eye bigger than the other. Hair that's always awful. Look at those dark circles! And, sure, my biceps are bigger, but aren't they kind of freakish? Veins and elbow bones and ugh. Delete.

This boils down to fear. Old fear. That admittedly teenage fear of being judged, of not being accepted.

But as I continued to follow along with the group and post my text-only check ins, I started to wonder who I was really helping by holding myself back. Was I really sparing anyone something awful by not posting my picture? This couldn't possibly a big deal. Why did the idea of sharing myself with a safe, supportive group of women make me feel so uncomfortable? What would happen if I tried? Not just once or twice, but every day?

Try.

This was my guiding word for 2016. A resolution of sorts. It means:

--try new things
--try again
--try harder
--try, instead of thinking so hard
--try, even when you'd rather not

I decided to give it a go.

It's a simple practice, one that might seem silly to some, but it is a practice.

It's like this:

When you are training for something -- a race, maybe, or a performance of some kind -- you repeat the same action over and over to keep improving, to take yourself to the next level. One set of push ups isn't going to be the thing that breaks the 4-hour marathon for you, but it's a step toward a stronger body.

This picture, right here, cannot erase my self doubt, but sharing it today is a step toward putting myself out there. Letting go of my own insecurities. Being brave enough to claim every inch of myself, inside and out.

This is me. This is how I look today. Right now. I woke up at 4:30 and pushed myself hard in my workout and snapped this picture. I'm raw and real. And in sharing myself with you, I'm taking a step toward total self acceptance. I'll practice this over and over until I really, truly feel it.




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

snapshot

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.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

my mind at midnight

It's midnight. The dog needs to go out. I stumble through the house, fumble with his crate. The kitchen floor is ice under my sleep-warm feet. I open the door. Winter exhales right in my face and my goosebumps push back against the cold. The dog goes out.

The dog comes in.

I tuck him back into his crate and tumble back into my own covers. I close my eyes.

But sleep must have slipped out the open door and gotten stuck in the snow somewhere. My mind decides to stay sitting up in bed, wringing its hands in the dark.

Worry.

Say the word aloud: it sounds like spinning wheels. Questions that poke into the past and prod into the future. Places where a midnight mind never belongs.

It's nothing. It's everything. I toss. I turn. It takes me a long time to remember what to do.

Breathe.

Deep and downreaching. Slow and the single most important thing in the room.

I am surprised how different a deep breath feels. Shallow breaths are constricted, pressured, urgent, demanding. Deep breaths are full of space in all directions. In all dimensions -- even time feels more open.

My mind fights against my breath. It wants to keep spinning tightly, winding more and more questions, predictions, and admonishments around my chest until I am crushed.

But my breath is patient, stretching at the bindings until my thoughts float above the surface of my skin and sleep settles back in, a cushion between my body and mind.

Everything goes quiet.

I sleep.

In the morning, everything is fine. Of course it is. But I am reminded again how easily I forget about my breath. I'd like to remember it more often.

This is something I have to practice.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Seeing is Knowing

This is not news: I lack self confidence.

I always have. Despite support. Despite success. I don't know why. It's part of my fiber, I guess.

This has been getting better lately, though. I'm really working on it. It feels good. I feel like I'm on the rise.

Yesterday I had what felt like a break-through-the-glass realization. My skull pressed against some invisible, solid barrier and it broke through. I'm out of my own atmosphere all of the sudden and I'm catching my breath. There's more oxygen out here and my eyes are open wide.

It starts here:

I've always felt somehow less-than. Lower. Inadequate because my view is so narrow. I don't travel. I have never been good at staying abreast of current events. I don't consider myself well read. I don't form strong opinions. I don't interact with the world very much. My life is not cutting edge or adventurous. I'm in my house a lot. In my head a lot. I've always felt embarassed by my lack of worldliness. Unqualified. Uninteresting. Dull.

Which always leads me here:

There's no way I can write meaningful fiction. Where is my credibility? How could I even have a voice? What do I even know?

Write what you know -- this is what they say. But all I know is kids and cleaning, chauffeuring and online tutoring. Dogs and bus stops and farmer's markets; walks, parks, dance classes. All of this is great, but I don't really want to write a story about any of it.

But then: rise, press, crack --

-- and suddenly I find myself here:

Working on a fiction piece, feeling good, feeling strong, energized by the realization that I can write anything I want. Not because I'm worldly but because I see.

I see shadows in a full moon midnight, long black slats of darker darkness cutting across the yard. I see the new day peeling the lid off the night. I see the moon and I put it on my tongue. It cools my throat. I see absence and presence and exhalations. I know love. I know loss. I know fear. I know trust.

I am an elderly man. A queer woman. A bereaved parent. I am any of these; I am all of these. Because I can see.

And it's about time I acknowledge the value in that.