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.
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. By its very nature, the assignment implied that not only am I in possession of some sort of spirituality, but that I have been for most of my life. I’ve discovered over the past 15 years or so that the word “spiritual” conjures up positive happy feelings for a lot of people, yet there was nothing positive about my early spiritual development. In fact, I did not have a positive spiritual experience until just two years ago at the tender age of 51. Everything spiritual in my life up to that point came from either my parents pushing their religion on me or me trying to accommodate their wishes, or me fleeing from any and everything that even hinted of religion, spirit, or the supernatural. That’s what I have to work with: my own fear and dread regarding spirituality.
Sometimes, we get stuck in our stories, so I decided it was time to change the story. Below is what I ended up turning in as well as an art project I created to go with my paper.
It is time to change the narrative that has been my spiritual autobiography. It is time to rewrite my history from a power stance, from a strength perspective, from the view of a survivor rather than a victim. While my parents filled my formative years (ages 5-22) with radical fundamentalist christianity, and while those tenets and precepts haunted and dogged me for most of my life, I somehow found the courage to follow my own inner voice and at the age of 22 began shedding what held me back. I started to develop an ethos to call my own. I used to say that I spent the years between 22 and 51 avoiding all things that had even the faintest whiff of religious/spiritual energy, but in my reframe, I must say that I spent those years searching for a spirituality that worked for me. And, truth be told, I am still searching. Only in the past two years have I discovered the merest thread of a spirituality that may work, but when I look back, I can now identify the many sacred elements of my life that have been there all along. I just didn’t know that I could shift my definition of sacred to fit my needs. What I once thought to be profane is actually sacred, and much of what I learned early on to be sacred is, in fact, profane.
The bible served as my early foundation, and I learned god was angry, vengeful, wrathful, and to be feared. Scripture seemed to mock my most deeply held personal beliefs—equality, justice, fairness, and the right to love who I wanted. I grew up with a sense that no matter what I did, I would probably end up in hell anyway: if I took communion without all of my sins being forgiven, if I had premarital sex, if I even thought about someone with lust in my heart. If I took the lord’s name in vain. If I read “secular humanism.” If I listened to non-christian music. The world became a place not to be embraced but to be feared, a land fraught with temptation and danger. I couldn’t even love to be in nature because if I loved anything more than I loved god, I was committing an act of idolatry.
Somehow, I managed to hang onto myself just enough so that the summer before I started graduate school (the first time, when I was 22), I began to seek out other perspectives. I started reading those dangerous books and making friends with non-believers, and listening to the still small voice inside that urged me to stand up for what I actually believed, not what I’d been told to believe. I stood at my kitchen sink one morning, washing the dishes and decided in that moment that I could no longer be both true to myself and remain a christian. Christianity had to go. Thus began the journey in which I started collecting my own sacred experiences.
I started dating women. Sacred. I met and had a commitment ceremony with my first long-term partner. Sacred (and a little profane, but that’s another story). We adopted Anna. So sacred. I started therapy and exploring my feelings, wants, needs, and desires. Sacred. I learned I was depressed and began taking a new wonder drug that lifted my fog and allowed me to enjoy the world. We adopted Taylor. Sacred. I learned to stand up for myself and my needs. Sacred. And painful. When my ex had our daughters baptized without my permission after our divorce, I returned to church (I opted for the Unitarians) for the first time in ten years in order to provide my children with an alternative to mainstream religion. Sacred, though I didn’t end up staying long.
I bought a house and set about making it a home for my girls and me, an act that I now see as a step on my path to a personal spirituality. I met and married another woman and we lived and laughed and loved for fifteen years. When same sex marriage became legal, we got married with my children as our witnesses. Our love had finally been recognized and validated as sacred. Much of what we shared was sacred—some of it was struggle, and when it ended, we left each other intact, emotionally, having developed a stronger sense of what was sacred in the other.
During those fifteen years, I did not spend much time thinking about my spirituality or my soul or the sacred. From my vantage point now, I can see that I did continue to cultivate and sharpen my own sense of sacredness, however. I spent eight of those years working with for a Catholic elementary school, and I came to understand, perhaps for the first time, that not all who are religious are judgmental and/or narrow-minded. At Sacred Heart, I learned that the individuals in a religion could hold different values than the institution itself, and that community more than religion or dogma is what compelled most people to attend that church.
Also while working for the Catholics, I realized that I needed to start taking my body more seriously, that it was in fact sacred, and necessary to a healthy long life. I started working out, and found a connection with others, sacred bonds of friendship, which, for me, represented the spiritual connections with others I craved. Eventually, after I left the Catholics, I started running and found whole new worlds of spirituality open up. More connections and new friends, time in nature, the dawning awareness that my body really is a miracle in its own right. I started my runs (especially the more challenging runs) with a meditation: “I am thankful for my feet. I am thankful for my legs. I am thankful for my lungs and my heart. I am grateful for the time to run and for the money I have to buy shoes and running clothes. I am thankful I live here where I can run on trails instead of sidewalks.” By the time I got through my meditation, I forgot that running hurts.
Before I started running, I generally felt as if I were living two lives, and I often said in therapy that I needed to pull my circles into alignment. One circle represented the me I wanted others to see, and the other circle represented what I did that I wouldn’t want others to see, probably the real me. As running became paramount in my life, I began treating my running time as sacred, inviolate. Pargament (our text book author) writes that when we discover the sacred, our sense of fragmentation dissipates and the sacred becomes a passion and a priority.
As running began taking over my life, I began to wonder if it might not be time to stop taking the Wonder Drug, if it wasn’t maybe masking my (normal) responses to a difficult world. I found the new clarity to be sacred, and I redoubled my efforts in therapy to seek enlightenment, a search which led me to body work: massage, acupuncture, breath work. And on the massage table I had what can truly be described as my first encounter with The Divine. My massage therapist always finished our sessions with a blessing, her hands on my head, channeling love and oneness (that’s what she said, I just figured it was a nice way to signal the end of my session). This time, however, she stood at the head of the table, her hands hovering over my hair, and I could feel a new and different energy fill me up, a surge and a tingling from my scalp to my toes. She stood there for a good ten to fifteen minutes while something or some being left her and entered me.
Once I dressed and asked her what had happened, she just laughed and said, “You’ll have to ask Spirit.”
I wrote a haiku (that’s another sacred thing in my life: writing) to commemorate the event:
She laid hands on me Channeled a Divine spirit– Broke through to my Soul
That encounter with Spirit (or whatever/whomever) on the massage table served as a breakthrough of sorts, or at least it opened me up to the possibility of a spirituality absent of religion and a sense of The Divine unattached to the particular form of god on which I was raised. I felt pure love. And though my skepticism wasn’t completely eradicated, that experience gave me permission to explore my spirituality in ways I didn’t ever think I would want to. I now attend what I call Not Church, the local Bellingham Center for Spiritual Living, on a somewhat regular basis. They offer a 9:30 a.m. service in which there is no music and no singing, no “meet and greet your neighbor,” all things from traditional church services that tend to make me anxious. We end with a 10-15 minute meditation.
I’ve dabbled in meditation and mindfulness. Both sacred experience, and in the process, I’ve sort of fallen in love with Buddhism—the sacredness in not grasping, in letting go, in silence, in pausing. I feel as if these past two years have made up for a lifetime of ignoring my spiritual life, and if I were to describe myself spiritually, I would have to say that I am becoming a Warrior of the Light, as described by Paulo Coelho:
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.
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.
I can’t believe I haven’t finished my first blog for the A to Z challenge yet. I’ve been thinking about it for weeks, planning, scheming, writing it in my head, but clearly I’ve not put any words down yet. Until now. These few, uninspired, last minute words that seem so unequal to the task, so small and worthless and hurried.
A is for Apology, apparently. Abject. Abysmal. But I’m at AWP this week, a conference all about writing, and so, apology or not, abysmal or not, tired or not, write I must.
I am going to write about Anxiety. My plan for this year’s A-to-Z Challenge is thus: I want to spend this month writing about my experiences as a student in the Clinical Mental Health Counselor Program at Antioch University. I want to weave together a narrative, exploring the concepts (from A to Z) that I study as a student of mental health counseling and how my studies intersect with my life. How my coursework shows up in my day-to-day world.
I haven’t studied Anxiety, per se. I have taken many relevant classes, delved into the DSM 5 and learned how I might diagnose a client who presented with symptoms that fit the criteria for, say, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I learned to write a treatment plan and theorized about which therapeutic modality I might employ to best help my client regain his or her equilibrium.
Most of what I’ve learned about Anxiety comes from first hand experience. I am not one who has been plagued with Anxiety for much of my life. No, my familiarity with this particular demon has only been recent and is one of the reasons I started running regularly a little over two years ago.
I started waking up in the mornings with a pit of dread churning in my stomach and found that if I went for a run, somewhere around mile two or three, the pit of dread loosened and eventually abated. I guess the endorphins kicked in, the oxytocin released, and the runner’s euphoria lifted the anxiety. Cured, if only temporarily, I could get on with my day. The next morning, the anxiety would return, and I’d start over. Run. Rinse. Repeat.
A nice side benefit to running off all my anxiety was that I started to lose weight. I felt healthier. My blood pressure dropped, as did my cholesterol, and my pants size. But, I digress. I still woke up most mornings feeling like something horrible was about to happen. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the axe to fall, for the bottom to drop out, for . . . well, you get the picture.
Anxiety chased me into my running clothes and out of the house each morning. But the thing about being a graduate student in a counseling program is that these sort of disruptions don’t slip by unanalyzed. While one part of me succumbed to the anxiety, another part of my tapped my forefinger thoughtfully against my chin and asked, “How do you feel about this, Pam Sue?”
Some people have angels and demons sitting on their shoulders. I now have Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, or their modern day equivalents, Jack Cornfield and Tara Brach. I can have a panic attack and simultaneously know for certain that while what I am experiencing might feel real, it isn’t true.
It’s weird, living with this meta awareness. I had all sorts of anxiety about traveling to AWP this week–logistical stuff that I know I’m capable of handling but for whatever reason just kept spinning on: how am I going to get to Sea-Tac from Bellingham? To the airbnb from LAX? I can’t check in until 4 p.m., but I arrive at 9 in the morning. What would I do? These questions dogged me for weeks. I envisioned myself in dire circumstances, dragging my carryon around LA for hours, sad and alone and dazed. Yet, I simultaneously knew my fears were unfounded and not based in reality. I could make a shuttle reservation, find a friend to stay with in Seattle, even one who might take me to the airport. I just couldn’t see the logical steps in the midst of my anxiety.
Something similar happened when I realized how expensive it was going to be to eat and drink here in Los Angeles. The first day I spent way too much money on so-so food and paid $8 for a mediocre beer. So, I took myself to the grocery store, but instead of going shopping at the end of the day, when the conference was over, I went in the morning on my way to the conference and so had to schlep my groceries around the conference hall, from one panel discussion to another.
I was so anxious about not having drinking water back at the airbnb that night, I bought a six pack of bottled water and stuck it in my already heavy backpack. All the while I’m hearing Jack and Tara on my shoulders, telling me not to believe the anxiety, reassuring me that all will be well, that I will be fine, that there will be water at the conference. That the universe will provide. But, do I listen? No. I buy the water. And I vow to do better tomorrow.
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.
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.
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.