I don’t know what letter I should be on by this point. Clearly I have been derelict in my blogging duties, and probably have been ousted from the A-to-Z community, but I feel compelled to write today, dereliction be damned.
Not much makes me happier than sitting in my kayak on the lake on a sunny day, except maybe kayaking after a great run. Today was one of those banner days when I got to do both, something I haven’t done for months and months.
The sun finally made an appearance in conjunction with a day in which I had nothing to do but read for class, so I took advantage and slept in, went for a run (5.26 miles or roughly 8.5K), and then spent the remainder of the afternoon in my kayak on the lake (reading my Gestalt textbook). When I looked up from my book, I got to see fish jump and hawks swoop down from the skies to pluck the trout from the water. I chased a blue heron down the coastline trying to get it to sit still while I took a picture. An unsuccessful endeavor, but majestic and rewarding nonetheless.
After a week off due to illness, I took to the trails yesterday and got in a little more than seven great miles (or approximately 11.5K). In fact, yesterday my fastest mile was the last mile. I love negative splits, and I love coming back strong after time away. Today’s run was a bit tougher, a little slower, and a tad shorter as I pulled something in my right ankle while mowing the back 40 yesterday. I had to wear my rubber boots to mow since most of the backyard is a swamp. Those polka dot fashion boots from Fred Meyer don’t have much stability or support. Now I’m sitting with ice on my ankle.
I’ve not seen the backyard this wet in the nearly 20 years I’ve been living here, but had I not mown yesterday, I would have to rent a hay baler next weekend. As it was, I had to take a layer off with the weed whacker first. And I am not exaggerating when I say there was at least six inches of standing water in places. One section of fence had fallen over, the posts completely rotted away. I suppose at some point that’s going to cost me. For now, it’s propped up to keep the deer out (little f**kers got in and ate the geraniums and pansies Mom planted last week—for more on that ongoing battle, check out this blog from a few years ago).
But today I felt great having tackled the first mowing of the season, the first run in a week, and the first kayak since October. I am a little stiff and sore, but done with the worst of it, ankle notwithstanding. I am looking forward to more (especially since I recently talked a couple of buddies into buying kayaks).
Spring is blossoming slowly in these parts this year, and today was a small taste of everything I love about the next six months: kayaking, running, my backyard, and sharing it with friends.
I was hoping to have a blog on more recent events, but I just can’t put my thoughts into anything coherent. Today Facebook reminded me that I wrote this piece two years ago today. So, here it is. It’s aged pretty well.
Lately I’ve been lamenting the disappearance of my haiku muse, and yesterday I had a bit of an epiphany about this apparent abandonment. I was sitting on the deck, inhabiting my favorite summer writing space—our gazebo or what The Little Woman has dubbed “the man cave” (since I’m the butch in the relationship, and, I guess because I occasionally drink beer out there). Anyhooo—as I scribbled in my journal, writing random lines of bad poetry, revising, creating better lines of poetry, a thought occurred to me. If I were to think about running in the same way that I think about writing, I’d just be sitting around falling out of shape instead of getting fitter and faster.
Which is to say—my running only improves because I am out there on the trails every morning (honest to god, six days a week, 8 a.m., at least five miles each day). Even on days when I don’t want to get out of bed, when I’ve slept like shit, and my feet and calves ache, I hobble to the kitchen, put on the coffee, make a smoothie (or toast), and pull on my running clothes. I tell myself that I will feel better soon. I remind myself that my running buddy awaits, that we will have coffee after, that after the first quarter mile, the aches and pains will shake out. I know that if I can just propel myself around the lake once, the endorphins will kick in and the next lap will be so much easier.
I know these truths about writing too, but for some reason I have more difficulty remembering. As much as I remind myself how good it feels to have a new piece published, whether on my blog or picked up by an anthology, I have difficulty motivating myself to put my butt in the chair and write. And really, the process may look different from running, but they are much the same thing—do the work, reap the rewards.
Last weekend I ran in the Great Sedro Woolley Fourth of July Footrace. After a bit of a dry spell, I have entered a spate of footraces recently—a few weekends ago, TLW and I ran the Camano Crab Dash with our running buddies April and Karen, then the GSWFoJFR with Cami, Bill, April and Karen and some other lovely women from The Fit School, this weekend The Chuckanut Footrace, the following weekend, my friend Cami’s Windhorse Half Marathon, and more into the future. Probably the Bellingham Waterfront 15k, and the Bellingham Bay Half Marathon, Run Like a Girl . . . and so on.
Something happened at the race in Sedro Woolley that I never even imagined might be possible—I placed third in my age group! Like my friend Kari said, that’s some compliment, being told you run fast for your age, but THIRD IN MY AGE GROUP! Usually I’m pleased to run under 10 minute miles and come in in the top half of the total field. Last Friday, I ran 5.17 miles in 44:16—that is smoking fast for me, a series of 8:30-ish miles, sustained for 5 miles! Even on my best training runs, I don’t string together more than one or two sub-nine minute miles but put me in a crowded field and my competitive juices start flowing.
Along with the competition and adrenaline, there’s another factor: I tell myself I can do anything for an hour. Anything? Anything. Hmmm, I thought to myself yesterday, maybe that mantra can apply to writing as well. And how had I so quickly forgotten what I could accomplish after two fairly recent months of writing a blog post a day? How did I let myself get so out of writing shape? What might happen, I wondered, if I sat down for an hour every day and just wrote? Might my writing muscles get as developed as my running muscles?
So, I sat longer yesterday and didn’t get discouraged when the muse didn’t show up right away. I kept writing, doing word maps, stretching and challenging myself to find better synonyms, more complex words, words I could use in double entendres. It’s the same in running—I don’t just run flat courses (though I work one or two in every so often). I generally run terrain that challenges me. My favorite course has two good hills and many ups and downs in between. No matter how often I run there, I still find the hills difficult—some days more so than others. Yesterday I ran about two miles longer than I do on an average day. These runs make me stronger, mentally and physically. When I run a race on the flats like I did last weekend, I can fly (you know, for my age).
Eventually, the muse returned to me yesterday. And here’s the thing about the muse—it’s me. The muse lives in me—she is not some external ethereal creature who decides to occasionally grace me with her gossamer presence. I own her wings and her wand, as much as I own my running shoes and shorts. And just like I drive myself to the running trail every morning at 8, I need to put my butt in the chair and flip open the computer and make my hands move across the keyboard. I need to challenge myself like I did a few months ago with the blog a day or something similar, some writing exercise that will improve my writing, strengthen my storytelling abilities, improve my dramatic arc.
I read enough writing books to know that even the most celebrated authors don’t possess a magic bullet or super secret writing regimen. No writing will occur if one does not sit and write. No running will occur if one does not put one foot in front of the other. I may occasionally find my inspiration outside of myself; I may credit this person or that circumstance for providing an impetus for writing or running, but ultimately I am the one who needs to do the work. Only I can move the words from my head to the computer screen, only I can propel myself down the trail and across the finish line.
When I was a kid (a long, long time ago), I loved this book I had called Fortunately. It starts out “Fortunately, one day Ned got a letter that said “Please come to a surprise party.” We see Ned looking happy in full color, imagining all sorts of birthday treats. The next page (in black and white) says “But unfortunately, the party was in Florida and he was in New York.”
Fortunately, a friend loans Ned his airplane. But unfortunately, the engine explodes. Fortunately Ned has a parachute. Unfortunately, it doesn’t open. Fortunately Ned lands in a haystack. Unfortunately, there’s a pitchfork in the haystack. And so goes Ned’s adventure.
My day got off to a sucky start today when Unfortunately, the neighbors’ dog started barking quite loudly at 5:06 this morning, waking me from a rare and deep sleep. This unfortunate dog barks most mornings, usually about 6:30, which while not ideal, is much better than 5:06.
I couldn’t fall back to sleep, so I got up to make coffee (fortunately I had coffee) and decided to go for an earlier-than-normal run. Unfortunately, when I left the house I ended up following a slow and stinky old diesel car all the way to the first stoplight (about a mile). I decided that if it turned right, I would continue on straight ahead and run along South Bay Trail. If it didn’t turn right, I would turn right and run at Lake Padden (in spite of the fact that it’s Mean Lady Monday).
Fortunately, stinky and slow old diesel car turned right and I could avoid the mean ladies at Padden. I drove another half mile to the Fairhaven Green and parked. Unfortunately, I had updated my Nike running app the previous night, hoping that the update might have fixed the issue with the music not starting when the run started. Unfortunately, not only did the music not start, I had to go through three or four additional steps to make it work at all. Fortunately, that was all the update broke.
Fortunately, the morning was glorious—blue sky, gentle breeze, lovely sailboats in the harbor. Fortunately, I am healthy and can run. Unfortunately, about .75 miles into my run, I had to, uhm, use the loo. (Running shakes things loose). Fortunately, there’s a bathroom at .76 miles. Unfortunately, the first one I entered stunk of cigarettes and had a large mound of , uh, a large brown mound still in the bowl. I flushed it, but unfortunately, the mound remained unmoved.
Fortunately, there was another bathroom right next door. Unfortunately, it too reeked of someone’s old stogie. Fortunately, the bowl shone empty and bright. Fortunately, I was in and out in record time.
As I ran, I tried to shake my annoyances out. I reminded myself that I was healthy, generally happy, able to run five miles. I remembered the Fortunately book, and the idea for this blog was born. Unfortunately, as I ran, I encountered many smokers, at least one of whom I suspected was responsible for the aforementioned smelly and clogged up bathroom. Fortunately, I can hold my breath while I run a few steps. Fortunately, my second mile was faster than my first (negative splits baby), and my fourth mile was the fastest of all.
Fortunately, I was able to make the run up Taylor Dock without stopping. Unfortunately, I did have to stop and catch my breath once I got to the top. Fortunately, I took this great picture of this amazing view. Fortunately, I had less than a half mile left in my run.
Unfortunately, when I finished my run, two smokers were sitting right on the steps where I usually stretch. Unfortunately, the grass cutters and leaf blower guys were there. Unfortunately, as I decided to stretch on the other side of the green from the smokers, the leaf blower guy motioned for me to leave. Fortunately, we have a parks department that cares for and maintains our many green spaces. Fortunately, I decided to listen to him and save my hearing. Fortunately, I drove home.
Unfortunately, I ended up in the middle of the Fairhaven Middle School morning traffic jam. Fortunately, I had decided to write this blog and so I didn’t get too annoyed. Fortunately, I didn’t have anywhere I needed to be at a specific time. Fortunately, my children are all grown up and no longer in middle school. This fact is a big, big plus.
Unfortunately, I did have to go home and write a paper. Fortunately, I was able to focus and finish a decent first draft by 1 p.m. Fortunately, I have a kayak and a Jeep. Fortunately, it was 88 degrees and sunny today. Fortunately, I could go to Lake Padden to read my textbooks while I floated on the lake in my kayak. Fortunately, I finished my reading. Unfortunately, my water bottle exploded all over inside my “dry” bag. Fortunately, I had a large towel in the bag and it absorbed the water and my books stayed dry. Fortunately, I had a great text conversation with my oldest daughter while I floated on the lake. Unfortunately, our discussion was about racism which unfortunately seems to be getting worse. Fortunately we can talk about this difficult topic. Fortunately, she is a wise young woman.
Unfortunately, the sun just became too much for me as it sparkled and reflected off the water. Fortunately, I have the good sense not to stay out too long and get completely sunburned.
Unfortunately, I headed home just as the middle school was getting out for the day and again got stuck in the middle school traffic jam. Fortunately, I still had no place to be, so tried to remain patient. Unfortunately, I thought as I watched the tweens meander by my car, middle school is a hard time for lots of kids. Unfortunately, we all have to go through those years. Fortunately, we don’t have to stay there.
Fortunately, I have a home to which I can return when I want to. Fortunately, I have a deck on which I can sit and be alone and think. Fortunately the neighbor’s children have all nearly grown up and no longer scream. Fortunately (knock on wood), she’s not power-sawing anything in her backyard yet.
Fortunately, this day improved as I decided to focus on my good fortune.
I hadn’t gone running in a few days, so the fact that it was Monday today had slipped my mind this morning when I headed out to my favorite trail. I was more preoccupied with how I was going to fare on this warm day, more interested in how well I would run rather than on the day of the week it was. But, when I pulled into the parking lot and noticed the proliferation of Priuses with Bernie Sanders stickers, I suddenly remembered.
Dammit. I hate running on Monday mornings when the Mean Ladies walk. Usually I try to arrive later in the morning in order to avoid them. I’ve been running on this particular trail most mornings for the past two years, but only in the past six months or so have the Mean Ladies become a problem. I’m not exactly sure how it all started, but a couple of months ago the issue kind of came to a head.
One of the things I like most about my favorite trail is that I see the same people there. After two years, I’m on a friendly basis with many of them. We smile and nod, wave, say “good morning” day after day, week after week, season after season. I’ve even gotten to be on a first name basis with some of the folks there: Danny, Lisa, Diane, Jeff. I often also see many people I know from various other contexts. After 35 years in this town, I know a few folks. Generally these encounters are friendly, so I’m a bit perplexed as to how I came to be at such odds with this group of ten or so mostly older (say, oh, over 60) women.
Part of the problem is that they always walk side by side and have a tendency to not move over when I either come running up behind them and need to get by nor when I come running from the opposite direction. They meander four or five abreast across the whole trail, ignoring my need to get by and presumably the needs of other trail travelers as well.
And it’s not like I sneak up on them. I am a noisy runner: breathing heavily, my water bottles sloshing on their belt around my waist, my shoes flapping and splooshing in the mud. I am not a swift nor elegant gazelle. Most people hear me coming and, if they are walking two or three across, move over courteously to let me by. I do the same for others. I run on the far right side of the path, moving toward the center only to avoid hazards or large mud puddles.
But these ladies . . . if they were cars, they’d be driving in the wrong lane. There’s a larger one, more school bus than smart car, who always walks on the left, on the inside of the path and for whatever reason refuses to get out of the way or step a bit to the right. She will not cede the right of way, and her obstinance (or obliviousness) makes me crazy. Nearly everyone treats the running/walking trail like a road—slower traffic keeps right except to pass. Occasionally someone will walk on the left, against the grain, but generally they move aside to let others pass.
A couple of months ago, on a Monday (for I only ever see them on Mondays), I met the Mean Ladies on a wider part of the trail, but it didn’t matter because they were spread all the way across. I had to step off the path and into the brush to get by. They did not budge. Of course because I am running and they are walking, I met them again during my run, and this time, I resolved I would not step off of the path. I would hold my narrow bit of ground.
Also about this time, I had been meditating in the mornings before my runs as an assignment for my Transpersonal and Eastern Philosophies counseling class. One of the modalities we were studying was Mindfulness. So, as I approached this maddening group of matrons, I had a bit of an argument with myself. “Remember the sacred pause,” I admonished. “Take a breath.” But as I drew closer and as it became increasingly apparent that linebacker lady wasn’t going to move, I lost my mind a little. And, in my defense, if I moved a foot to the right, I would, in fact, land in the lake.
I tried to make eye contact, but the Mean Ladies refused to see me. They continued walking and talking across the entire trail, ignoring my approach. I held my ground and continued running forward. I got closer and still they didn’t move, did not cede a single inch. I braced myself and continued apace, hoping for a last second miracle. But no. My left arm (where, incidentally, I wear my iPhone in a “tunebelt”) smacked into the left arm of the Largest of the Ladies.
In that moment of impact, I felt smugly satisfied and a little scared. What if she came after me? I could outrun her, sure, but I felt kind of bad. I mean, yes, she and her Matronly Mavens had Most of the trail, but why couldn’t I have remembered in that Moment to take the Sacred Pause? To be the bigger (metaphorically speaking, at least) person. Why couldn’t I have just stopped, waited for the Mean Ladies to meander on by, and then continued my run? Why wasn’t I More Mindful? I berated myself and vowed to do better.
The next Monday I again forgot what day it was and encountered them, but this time I was able to be more mindful. I managed to come upon them at a particularly wide spot on the trail that even they could not fill up, and then upon completing my first lap, I reversed direction in order to avoid seeing them again, at least that day. I took to running a bit later on Mondays for a few weeks and avoided them altogether, until last Monday when I approached them from behind. I mustered up my courage and my voice and bellowed out (nicely) “Excuse me!” And miracle of miracles, the large lady moved over. I think I surprised her, and she couldn’t see who it was coming up behind her. I plowed by, grateful, and gave a little wave of thanks as I passed. Maybe she was learning some Manners after all. Or maybe I was.
Today when I met them midway around the lake, I slowed down and made room for them—as well as I could—and again reversed directions after my first lap. I didn’t encounter them again until we all ended up in the parking lot together, where, I again gave them all very wide berth. Before I even started my car, I let them all climb into their Priuses and drive away. Then I made more than a mental note about Mondays. This time, I put Mean Ladies in my calendar. With an alert. Sometimes, being mindful requires a reminder.
Facebook reminded me of the highlights of my year yesterday. And from the photos selected, one might infer I did nothing but run all year. I know I did other things (school for one), but so far this year, I have run 1431 miles, more or less. A few months ago, I did some calculations and determined that with a little effort, I could eke out 1500 miles by year’s end. At the beginning of November, I was only 260 miles, or 130 miles per month, away from my goal. Since July, I’d been logging 130-135 miles easily, and I finished November with 134 miles, meaning I’d only have to run 126 miles in December. Piece of cake, no?
Why 1500 miles? It’s a nice, fat, juicy, round number. It represents five pairs of shoes—generally speaking each pair of running shoes lasts me about 300 miles. So far this year, I’ve gone through at least five pairs of shoes and I currently am rotating between three pairs: my Brooks Glycerin 12s for road runs, my Brooks Cascadia 10s for trail runs, and my new Brooks Ghost GTX (Gortex) for rainy days. Recently I’ve become pretty tight with the Gortex shoes—dry feet are happy feet.
Fifteen hundred miles represents about 577 laps around Lake Padden, my favorite route. Now, obviously I haven’t run all of my miles at Padden, but I’d venture to guess (oh, I don’t have to guess, my Nike app will tell me exactly) I’ve run 1105 miles around the lake so far this year or 425 laps. Damn. That’s a lot of laps! The rest of the miles have been sprinkled around a few other trails in Bellingham, in the Methow Valley, down the Oregon Coast, through Beaverton, and along the beach in Rincon Guayabitos, Mexico.
Fifteen hundred miles signifies serious commitment and translates to over 170,000 calories burned at an average pace of 9:55/mile. I’ll admit, I’m a stats whore. Honestly, as a writer, and an English major, I wouldn’t have guessed numbers would be so important to me, but these numbers have gripped my imagination, and I can’t seem to not care about them.
So, here it is, December 17th, and I’ve managed to get in 68 miles. Last month I had closer to 75 miles after 17 days. But last month did not have gale force winds and driving rain nearly every day, all day, for weeks on end. Not that the weather has kept me from running. No, mostly it’s been a scheduling problem. Only twice have I chickened out and retreated to the warmth of my bed—but those two times represent the missing miles. What I’ve discovered is that running in the rain is never nearly as bad as I think it will be. But with Christmas coming up and some traveling in my future, I’m not sure I am going to make it. I’ve been doubling down on the miles when I can manage it, and I’ve been cramming in short runs when I don’t have time for long ones. Still. I guess the question now is, can I be okay with falling a few miles short of 1500?
I had the same goal last year and I came within 40 miles of 1500. I was fine because I know that 1460 miles is still a hell of a lot of miles, far more than I ever expected I would cover in a year. In fact, in 2012 I realized in early December that if I really applied myself, I would be able to post a total of 365 miles that year, or a mile a day. Admirable, I thought then. Until I sat in a writing workshop next to a woman who introduced herself as a marathon runner. I told her about my goal, and I asked her how many miles she ran in a year. “Two thousand,” she said. “If not more.”
“Oh,” I replied. “That’s a lot.” I did the math in my head—that’s a little more than five miles a day, every single day of the year. At the outset of 2015, I toyed with committing to running 2015 miles in 2015, but then a friend reminded me that would be about six miles a day every day, and I decided, as much as I love running and enjoy a challenge, I probably did not have it in me. No sense in signing up for something I was destined to fail from the outset. In fact, even though I had amassed so many miles in 2014, I did not have the confidence that I would be able to repeat my success the following year. I have this same sinking feeling at the beginning of each month when the Nike app sets the miles run back to zero and I have to watch them slowly amass, day by day, mile by mile.
I know I might seem a little obsessed with my statistics. I do love looking back and seeing the numbers: the miles, the times, the distance. It’s not about competition, only about how far I’ve come. How much I’ve improved. And lately, I’ve forgone races, realizing I don’t need the additional anxiety, tuning more into my own rhythms these days, running in order to feel good, to quell whatever anxiety I have in other areas of my life.
So, yes, Facebook. I have done a lot of running this year. And if I make 1500 miles, so much the better. If not, there’s always next year.
July has been a slow haiku month. I had many other things going on—writing answers to all of the comments on the same sex marriage blog, for one thing. I just finished that up last night—and wow, was I blown away by the outpouring of understanding and support. I don’t think I had one seriously negative comment, not one that made me cringe or wince or get self-righteous and defensive. Two I deleted because they were rants from bible thumpers telling me how I was an abomination and going to hell, but that’s neither news nor unexpected. I decided they didn’t need any airtime.
So, thank you Dear Readers for reading and responding. I don’t have anything else nearly as deep or profound to say at this moment—I’ve been running and writing, so here is a Ragnar Wrap Up and a handful of haiku I’ve written in the past 30 days or so.
Ragnar Rocked. I seriously pondered dropping out just a week before the big race, but I couldn’t leave my teammates in a lurch, and am I ever glad I sucked up my fears and followed through. My doubt was daunting as I had no idea how I would fare riding for 36 hours in a van with six women (and one man), most of whom I did not know well at all. I didn’t know if I would even be able to run after hours in the van or at odd hours. At home, I’ve become a well-oiled machine, and my pre-running routine is down to a science. Coffee. Fiber. Rest . . . Go. You know what I’m talking about. But could I take it on the road?
Turns out, I can! I had a great three legs. For the uninitiated, Ragnar NWP is a 200ish mile relay race that begins at Peace Arch Park in Blaine, WA (at the Canadian Border) and ends at the Langley Fairgrounds on South Whidbey Island. Six- or 12- person teams start staggered by overall predicted time (the slower the team, the earlier the start time on Friday morning). Our leg one runner left at 6:45 (I think) or maybe 7:15. Anyway our team of 12 started EARLY. Since I ran legs 5, 17, and 29, I was in Van 1 with those who ran Legs 1-6 (and our driver, the lovely and patient Ryan Valentine).
Without boring you with the mile-by-mile details, I’ll just leave it at this: I would do it again tomorrow with all the same people (if they will still have me). I can’t remember a more exciting two days, honestly. Intense and amazing. The camaraderie, the can-do attitudes (especially from Van 2 which had all the super shitty middle of the night and dead of the afternoon hot legs).
We did great. We all crossed the finish line together, led by the indefatigable Cami Ostman . We got our bad-ass medals and the sticker for the back of the car. That’s pretty much the entire reason I signed up for this gig.
And now, here are just a few haiku. Enjoy!
Long, languid, lacy–
Your tendrils wrap ’round my spine.
Vibrate with this current. I
Am your conduit
Bring a map–my heart’s
Geography runs rough through
This angel has holes
In her wings; tattered, lacy
Sucking bucket of need, I
Tug your sleeve. See me.
Our silence stretches
Beyond reason. This stubborn
Drown me. Hold my head
Under your water, gasping,
Breathless. So alive.
Same love, same protections, same.
Tonight I bathed in
That potent elixir of
Regret, shame, and guilt
I am on a writing retreat as I type this. For the past two days I’ve been sequestered away with two very quiet and serious writers in a lovely home in a lovely valley. We’ve been very dedicated since we arrived, but I have to say I am having a hell of a time producing much. I need to write a paper for class by Saturday, and I am struggling. I can’t get the words out. My failure has nothing to do with lack of effort on my part. In my attempts to jar something useful loose, I’ve read books and scholarly articles, I have watched videos—some deadly boring (really, if you ever have insomnia watch a video of someone else conducting a counseling session). I’ve listened to relevant and riveting podcasts. Yet, I’ve only managed to squeeze out about 300 words. I am interested in the topic. I enjoy the class. But I’ve got a terrible block around this paper. I’ve even asked for an extension, a request about which I am ambivalent. Is it wise to extend my struggle or should I just grit my teeth and power through?
Perhaps I’m feeling resentful that all during my three-day writing retreat I have felt besieged by this paper. Rather than working on my more creative pursuits, I’ve been straitjacketed by academia. I’ve also been thrown off my game a bit because I haven’t been for a run since Tuesday and it’s now Friday. That, and you know how the digestive system can go awry when it leaves home for more than a day or two. Should I have stayed home this week? Would the words be flowing any easier if I were wrapped in the stifling yet familiar embrace of my normal routine? Doubtful. All quarter, each time I’ve sat down to write anything for either of my classes, I’ve felt this tightness, this overwhelming ennui, and a great urge to close my eyes for a nap. Yet, somehow I have managed to keep up, to crank out the papers and turn them in, complete and on time. Mostly they’ve received excellent feedback, and, upon rereading what I’ve written, I am struck by my ability to string coherent thoughts together, paragraph by grueling paragraph.
So, what gives? Why this epic struggle to engage with the material and shape it into a useful form this week? What am I resisting? I think part of the problem may be that I am emotionally engaged elsewhere—that is, my heart just isn’t in it. My subconscious is busy working on other more compelling issues. If I could write a paper on love and loss, obsession and compulsion, friendship and forgiveness, I would be nearly done by now. If I could write a treatise on the human heart, what drives us in life and love, I would ace this assignment. And even as I type these words, I realize that in a way, this is exactly what I am doing—
My assignment, for my Group Therapy class (it’s a class on how to lead group therapy/group counseling sessions), is to write a proposal for a group that I would like to lead. Since I began my Master’s program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling last year, I have written a few papers about and done more than a little research on counseling transgender individuals. The group I am attempting to write a proposal for now is a transgender support group. I have all of my information. I know the material, the issues, the format, but I’m fighting a major battle to put it all together and get it all down on paper. Why?
I decided to step away for a bit. Stripped my bed. Did some laundry here at the retreat center. I took a shower. And that’s where I was when it hit me—I need to give this paper a more personal twist, breathe some actual life into it, make it less abstract, more tangible. But how? I’m not transgender. I am a cisgendered female (biologically the same gender I was labeled at birth) with no desire to change my identity. Oh sure, every now and then I think it might be awesome to have a penis, if only to experience the power and privilege the penis inspires. Like my occasional fantasy of taking one hit of heroin or meth to experience what must be an awesome high—I ponder the sensations that must accompany the penis. How must that feel? All those nerve endings concentrated in that one place, exposed, expectant, exquisite?
I don’t want to have a full time penis any more than I want a heroin addiction, but I am often misgendered, that is, I am mistaken for a man. Even though I have no desire to change my gender, feel no compunction to make an anatomical correction, I sometimes present as something other than the culturally accepted female norm. I am not tiny. I don’t wear makeup. I keep my hair short. I sometimes wear clothes purchased in the men’s department, but mostly I wear clothes made for women that don’t have ruffles, sparkles, bows, bright colors, or plunging necklines. I eschew high heels and dresses and pretty much anything tight, clinging, or revealing. Do these preferences make me less of a woman? The occasional stranger apparently thinks so.
Last summer I had an experience that brought home for me the fear and real dangers facing trans* folk. I was dressed to go for a run—bright orange racer back tank top, quick dry shorts (men’s since they are longer and don’t ride up as I run), socks, shoes, iPhone in my armband. I parked my Jeep at my favorite running spot, locked the truck, and headed to the bathroom. It was early, maybe 7:30 in the morning. As I opened the bathroom door, a voice behind me hollered something I didn’t quite catch at first. I turned around to find the owner of the voice standing about 20 yards away.
“Did you say something to me?” I asked, genuinely curious.
“Never mind,” he said with a surprised look on his face.
As I entered the women’s restroom and headed for a stall, the words he had yelled rearranged themselves and suddenly made sense: “Hey bro, that’s the women’s bathroom.” Ah, I realized as I sat down to pee, he thought I was a dude going in the wrong restroom. Nice of him to warn me, but how could he have possibly mistaken me for a guy in these tight running clothes? I’m not some thin, lanky runner. I have, shall we say, noticeable curves.
And then the fear settled around me. What if he thinks I am trans*? What if he wants to harm me? What if he realizes I’m a lesbian? Will he think he can do with me as he pleases? What if he hates gays and trans* people (or anyone on the LGBTQQIAP–jesus, that gets longer everyday– spectrum)? What if he is one of those guys whose masculinity is threatened by our very existence? I occasionally worried about running this sometimes lonely trail by myself, but generally shrugged my fears off as unfounded. Now, seeing myself through this particular lens, I felt more vulnerable than ever.
This vulnerability is the way into my paper for Group Therapy. This vulnerability is why the trans* counseling group needs to exist. Thanks for reading. I’m off to finish my paper now.
Last year in this spot, I wrote about my toes. I thought perhaps a short update was in order. My toes are fine. I’ve logged many, many miles in the past year and the toes are holding up just fine. Very few toe troubles—no blisters, no missing nails, no black toes (knocking on wood as I type this). Most of my toes do have a touch of callous on the top, little caps of tough skin to protect them, but nothing that would keep me from putting my feet in a pair of flip flops or Chacos, no deformities that would cause the pedicurist to run screaming.
How to segue from toes to my new tattoo? There’s no smooth transition, really, so here goes: Four weeks ago yesterday, I strode purposefully into a local tattoo parlor and announced I wanted a tattoo, please. The guy eyed me suspiciously, made a show of checking his calendar and told me I needed to make an appointment for the following Tuesday. The shop was virtually empty, but I didn’t argue. I put down my deposit and entered the date and time in my phone calendar. I left him with the artwork I knew I wanted engraved forever onto my right shoulder.
When I returned at the agreed upon date and time, he looked at me with raised eyebrows, but set about readying his station and preparing the artwork. I flipped through tattoo industry magazines while I waited, patiently. What was taking so long? Did he think I would lose my nerve? Did I not appear to be the tattoo type? IS there a tattoo type? I mean, seriously, everyone has a tattoo these days: grandmas, grandpas, hipsters, nerds, athletes, moms, dads. Now it was my turn.
Finally, he signaled that he was ready and he put a stencil on my shoulder and had me look in the mirror. “Bigger,” I said immediately. “I want it about fifty percent bigger.” He raised his eyebrows again, but went ahead and swabbed the stencil off with alcohol and schlepped back to the printer, returned with a much larger stencil, and handed me the mirror again.
“That’s it. Perfect,” I said and lay down on the chair/table/tattoo bed. That’s when I noticed the razor on the counter. “Hopefully you won’t have to shave much hair off my back,” I remarked with a nervous laugh.
“Oh, I already got it,” he said. “Can’t have any hairs getting pushed in by the needle. Even baby fuzz can turn into a nasty ingrown hair.”
Ew. I turned my face away and pondered how I might deal with an ingrown hair on my shoulder. I wouldn’t be able to see or reach it on my own. How much hair was there on my back, anyway? Ew. I didn’t want to know, but I thought it was a good sign that I hadn’t noticed him shaving my shoulder. Maybe this tattoo thing wouldn’t hurt too much after all.
I have been thinking about a tattoo for a few years, but never quite hit on what I wanted permanently inked onto my skin. My life has been about words and technology, but nothing I could think of in those realms seemed worthy of a tattoo. I considered Scrabble tiles but couldn’t come up with the right words. A crossword puzzle crossed my mind, but again, the words to accompany it eluded me. I definitely didn’t want any sort of computer rendition on my skin.
Then, sort of out of the blue, this symbol jumped out at me. The Choku Rei. I came across the choku rei over a year ago when I made a book/prayer flaggy thing for a Christmas gift. I needed a symbol for health, healing, and spirituality to go with the quotes I wanted to use in the art project. Google turned up these:
I carved two stamps to use in the project, which turned out really cool if I do say so myself. And then I pretty much forgot about the symbols. But when I thought about where I wanted the tattoo—on my right shoulder—the Choku Rei made perfect sense for a couple of reasons.
First, I have been having weird and annoying sensations under my scapula for the better part of two years. Recently I discovered that the source of the discomfort is radiculopathy—nerve pain from my messed up thoracic spine. What better symbol to put on my shoulder? The choku rei symbolizes healing and power. The points where the spiral meet the staff indicate the chakras, and the symbol says “put the power of the universe here.” It is used in Reiki, a form of healing massage.
Secondly, the choku rei is not a tattoo everyone else has—it would be a conversation piece and unusual. Plus, I imagined it would look badass when I wore a racer back tank top on my runs.
These were my thoughts as the tattoo needle stabbed and jammed the ink into my shoulder: I will look badass. I will look badass.
“How ya doin’?” Tattoo guy asked, pausing midway through the interminable process.
“Hurts like a mofo,” I said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
“Yep,” he nodded. “You get used to it though. Once you have one tattoo, you’ll want another. It’s addictive.”
“We’ll see,” I said and winced. “We’ll see.”
He was right. While I haven’t quite forgotten about the pain completely, I am already considering another tattoo.
Last month my pal Cami wrote a nice piece for Adventures Northwest Magazine on running in the rain, the upshot of which was that when you live somewhere like the Pacific Northwest, you have to get used to running in the rain. Life is too short not to run in the rain. If we don’t run in the rain, we will miss many, many running days.
I don’t disagree. But, as I type this, rain pummels my roof. I set my alarm last night so I would be up and ready to run this morning by 8 a.m., yet here I am, typing away, snug as a bug in a rug in my warm, dry bed. My coffee and my smoothie sit deliciously on my nightstand next to me. I don’t want to get up to run in the rain.
I calculate the number of hours I have until I need to get in the car to drive to class in Seattle this afternoon. Then, I look at the weather app on my iPhone and wonder if it really is going to reach 70° and sunny today. Could I squeeze a run in the hour before I need to leave? Might it be drier and warmer by then? Maybe, but there’s no guarantee. If I don’t run in the rain, I may never run again.
Over the past year and a half, I have logged plenty of wet, rainy miles. I ran a 10K last fall in a torrential downpour, complete with thunder, lightning, and rivers of cow, uhm, waste. I’ve never regretted a single rainy run. I always feel like a fierce (if slightly damp) warrior when I finish, when I’m peeling off the soaked lycra and climbing back into my Jeep, dripping but exhilarated.
Still, I resist. And why? What lies beneath the resistance when I know something good awaits if only I could muster the energy and throw off the ennui long enough to push through? What reward will I find here in my warm, dry bed that is better than the sense of accomplishment and rush of endorphins that will greet me on the trail?
If I continue to wallow here in my resistance, I know what will happen. I will reread all of the bad news on CNN. I will check and recheck my Facebook feed. I will spend a half an hour down the rabbit hole that is Twitter. I’ll play a game or two of Trivia Crack. An hour or two will go by. An hour or two of my one wild and precious life.
So, here I go. Up, out of bed. Drain the coffee. Pull on the running gear. Pushing through, fighting the resistance. Embracing the rain. Life is too short not to.
Pain is a fact of running life. Inevitably, the time is going to come when a runner will be cruising along and suddenly have to pull up short with an “Ouch!” Toes, legs, knees, hamstrings, IT bands, feet, backs. At some point one or more of these parts is going to betray us.
My most recent owie has been my lower back. I believe that lawn-mowing season is to blame, that and a really fucked up spine. I’ve mentioned in these posts that I have degenerative disk disease—my thoracic and cervical spines are fubared beyond what is normal, for no apparent reason. I’ve never been in an accident, been rear-ended, or hit an airbag.
The only possible explanation I can think of for the state of my spine (besides old age, which, I am assured by those in the know, is not the case in my situation), is that I was a forest fire fighter during my college days and schlepped five gallon rubber water bags around on my back, up and down mountainsides for days on end. A massage therapist once told me that I have steel cables running down my spine instead of the expected flat ribbons of muscle.
Anyway, I digress. When I’m not running, my lower back seizes up, and small tasks (such as moving the laundry from the washer to the dryer or loading the dishwasher) cause me to grab my back and say “Ow!” Among other things.
No matter what body part hurts, one sure remedy for any sort of athletic injury is a hot Epsom salt bath. I’ve taken more baths in the past year and half than in the previous non-running twenty years or so. I’ve become a big fan of Dr. Teal’s scented Epsom salts, with eucalyptus as my favorite. Lavender and rosemary are both lovely as well.
I’ve also become one with the heating pad and a regular at physical therapy where I spend an hour and a half once a week. Lately they’ve been putting me in traction for 15 minutes after I get a massage—traction is lovely, though it sounds dire. I’d stay longer if they let me.
I know it seems antithetical, but for me at least (I cannot speak for anyone else after all), motion is lotion—the more I move, the better I feel. Just this morning (after PT), I was sitting on my heating pad feeling sorry for myself and sore. I decided to go running even though I felt kind of shitty. Running loosened me up and, so far, is keeping the owies at bay.