Becoming a Warrior of the Light & Discovering the Sacred: A Spiritual Autobiography of Sorts

Last week I had to write my Spiritual Autobiography for the Spirituality and Counseling class I’m taking this quarter. This particular assignment scared me a bit. More than a bit. In fact, just thinking about this assignment made me itch. … Continue reading

M is for Monday, Mean Ladies, and Mindfulness

No Mud, No Lotus. —Thich Nhat Hanh 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 … Continue reading

Go, Just Go! 1500 Miles by the End of the Year

milesFacebook 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?

2015 so far

2015 so far

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.

The view running along Netarts Bay in Oregon

The view running along Netarts Bay in Oregon

mexico

Running on 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.

Lake Padden Relay, ran solo. 10.4 miles.

Lake Padden Relay, ran solo. 10.4 miles.

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?

Smelt Run in LaConner with April and Karen

Smelt Run in LaConner with April and Karen

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.”

Lake Padden, in full fall foliage

Lake Padden, in full fall foliage

Whatcom Falls, running low

Whatcom Falls, running low

“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.

Tulip Run

Tulip Run

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.

Sunrise from Taylor Dock

Sunrise from Taylor Dock

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.

Cami and Pam at Whatcom Falls

Cami and Pam at Whatcom Falls

 

Single at 52. Further Thoughts on Same-Sex Marriage and Divorce

Today’s the day. Ninety days ago I signed my divorce decree, and now we can get divorced. I simply have to go to the lawyer’s office to sign the final paperwork. I didn’t know going into this divorce that the 90 days is a “cooling off” period. I just thought it took that long for the paperwork to make its way through the court system. My lawyer corrected my misperception. I said, “You mean to tell me it only takes 3 days to get married but 90 to get divorced? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?” She nodded sagely. I suppose there’s some sort of job security for her in it working this way.

I don’t know. I imagine I’d still be in the same place even if I’d had an extra 90 days to contemplate getting married. In fact, we did wait an entire year between the time I proposed and the day we finally married (to read more about that, click here). We were unraveling at that point anyway. Earlier this week I received an email letting me know that the lawyers had drafted the final decree dissolving our marriage. The past few mornings have been a miasma of mixed feelings. Yesterday I woke up with an outsized case of anxiety, and this morning I am not feeling any better.

A divorce is a death, a loss, an end. And in the hours since I received the lawyer’s notice, the past fifteen years have been flashing before my eyes as I understand happens before any death experience. The good, the bad, the ugly. The beginning, the middle, the end. Not that there’s necessarily a correlation—these things have a way of spiraling and weaving. There were signs of our eventual demise early on, had I been more aware, and we experienced moments of grace toward the end, even as recently as last week when we had dinner with my brother and his family in Seattle.

On our first date, we attended an Indigo Girls concert on the Pier in Seattle. Cliché? Maybe. I still remember what I wore that warm July night. I was on my way to her house a few months later when Al Gore lost (was robbed of) the election to (by) George W. Bush. On September 11 almost a year later, we awoke to a phone call from her sister-in-law on the east coast, telling us to turn on the television, that a plane had just flown into the World Trade Center. Together we watched astounded and in disbelief from her bed as the airplane careened into the second tower, which then crumbled. I told her how Aaron Brown, whose presence on CNN that day I found so stabilizing in a world come apart, had once been a local news anchor.

We attended at least two family weddings as a couple before we had our pre-legal same sex marriage commitment ceremony in September 2003. We dubbed it our Silly Ceremony. In retrospect, I wonder if perhaps we made a mistake calling it that. If perhaps we did not take ourselves or our union seriously enough from the beginning. We called it that because at my father’s wedding in April 2001, one of my relatives pulled me aside to congratulate me on my new relationship, to tell me how much she loved my new love, and then, almost as an aside said “But, you two aren’t going to have one of those silly ceremonies are you?” Of course. We had to after that.

I worked for the Catholics when we had the Silly Ceremony. I’d only been in my position there a few months, but still felt comfortable enough to invite a few of the friends I’d made in that time. My parents, by then divorced, came. My kids. Her sister. My brother and his family. Our neighbors. Her good friend, the holiest person we knew, officiated. We partied epically. People danced on the tables.

The temptation is to pick through the remnants, parsing out the good from the bad, categorizing events into a sort of giant, fifteen-year tally sheet. We spent many summer days playing Scrabble on our deck. And we kept score. One of the things that attracted me was her ability to string a sentence together, to spell. We fell in love online and spent our first few months there before we met in real time, exchanging instant messages and emails. She knew how to punctuate, a skill akin to tantric sex for a writer.

Even though we’ve essentially lived apart these past two years, and even though she officially moved her belongings out for good in mid-February, I am still sad to have finally completed this one last act.

We’ve been circling around the issue for a couple of years, been to couples’ counseling with two different therapists. Said the D word then reconciled again, deciding to give it one last go, at least twice. So, when I signed the decree 90 days ago, I guess it felt like anything was possible. Three months stretched out ahead in a sort of eternity. I still had 90 days worth of health insurance. We settled into a sort of amicable truce. She came up to see the cats. I stayed at her new place on my way to and from the airport. We had a few dinners, spent Easter with my family. Celebrated our birthdays in June with a lovely dinner on the Bellingham waterfront.

But this week, once we got the email from our attorneys letting us know that the final FINAL papers were ready, that we could sign them on August 21? Then I realized that this is it. The end. I know. I know. I didn’t want to get married in the first place. Marriage is a patriarchal institution. But I started thinking about having a fixed date for the demise of our relationship. In previous relationships we just sort of came apart in fits and starts. There were no hard and fast dates and times to affix to the ending. No “on thus and such a date we officially broke up.” At least not one recorded in the annals of time for all of perpetuity.

From here forward, August 21 will be complicated. One part heartbreak, one part freedom. One part new adventure. One part wistfulness. It’s particularly metaphorical that the eastern half of the state is currently on fire. We spent one of our happiest road trips in recent memory exploring the Methow and the Okanagon a couple of summers ago. We set out in the jeep one weekend and just kept driving until we reached Conconully. We drove up Hart’s Pass where I wanted to camp even though it was 32 degrees up there. I guess if I wanted to read something into the fires, I could. I was sitting in a friend’s house in Winthrop the first time she suggested (offered?) divorce, in an email. I’ve always joked about having a scorched earth policy when leaving jobs and relationships. It’s a policy I have worked to change in recent years. I would like the end of this relationship to be different. Gentler.

I’m trying to resist the urge to get sentimental, but finding resistance futile. Scenes. Memories. Events. Dates. In the course of those 15 years my children grew into adults. I forged a new career, realized my dream of becoming a published writer, changed careers, returned to school. Had a job with a Fortune 150 company. Became a runner. I found myself and so doing became many things I never expected to be, including single at 52.

U is for Unwritten

UI 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.

T is for Tattoo

TLast 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.cho_ku_rei1112

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:choku rei art symbol 1

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.”

tattoo1“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.

R is for Rain and Resistance

RLast 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. photo

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.