Keep Going

I fell this morning while running with the dogs. I have no idea what happened, whether I tripped on a crack in the sidewalk or if I bumped the dogs or they bumped me, or maybe I just didn’t pick my foot up high enough. Whatever happened, I soared gracelessly through the air and landed flat. I had the sense to throw the leashes so that I didn’t entangle myself or, worse, land on the pups. I uttered a series of startled yelps as I went down, knees, thighs, thank God for tatas that cushioned the blow, hands scraping across the sidewalk as I tried to shield my face, though my left cheekbone bounced before it was over.

I laid still to collect my breath before picking myself up. Assessing the damage: dogs concerned but fine; no blood, and the only broken skin was on my right palm; no rips in my clothing. I decided I could work out the kinks on my way home. I even ran a little, though the dogs seemed less enthusiastic.

I’m sore already, and I cut the distance shorter than I’d intended, but I kept going. To quote Samuel Beckett, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

I’ll decide in the morning whether I need a day off to recuperate, but even if I do, it’ll be one day. I’ll get back to it the next.

Because exercise and art are disciplines. We can have bad days. We can take literal and metaphorical falls. We can feel like we can’t go on. And we can choose to go on anyway.

Yesterday I had an all-around crap day. A family disagreement before I’d finished my coffee started things off poorly. I took myself to the gym and worked my body to distract my spinning mind; I tumbled headlong into a nap (joys of working from home); I took a call from a far-away friend; and I still felt blue.

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield describes the resistance that intends to keep us from creating:

“First, unhappiness. We feel like hell. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We’re bored, we’re restless. We can’t get no satisfaction. There’s guilt but we can’t put our finger on the source. We want to go back to bed; we want to get up and party. We feel unloved and unlovable. We’re disgusted. We hate our lives. We hate ourselves” (31).

Yes, I’m emotional AF and that paragraph describes me yesterday to a T.

And still, I wrote. I worked on my personal projects because, for the time being, paid freelance writing work evades me (hence, the doubt: will I ever again get paid to do this thing I love? Maybe I suck. I do, I suck. Of course I suck. See how this goes?). Not having paid projects means I have time to work on my own stuff. As Pressfield also encourages: “Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives” (22). And so I write.

I can’t go on. I’ll go on, winding my steps through our neighborhood streets and my thoughts into words on my computer. Even when I think I can’t, I will.

 

Cover image by Prawny from Pixabay
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Be Where You Are

For most of the last eighteen years, our family has spent one week each summer vacationing in Pacific Grove, California, a NorCal coastal town nestled between Monterey and Carmel. Many years before our annual vacations began, while we were dating and newly married, Guy and I would drive from his childhood home in Santa Cruz to walk along the rocky coast, to picnic, to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. For almost 30 years this place has inspired me with its beauty.

When our boys were little, we had to get up early to exercise them. As they got older and required more sleep, I began to get up early to exercise me. All year long I anticipate with physical longing my morning walk/jogs along the trail paralleling Ocean View Boulevard.

I am not a morning person, so it’s truly something when I can yank myself out of bed, start the coffee while I get dressed, swallow a half cup and be out the door before anyone else stirs. I’m at the beach, I reminded myself. I’m only here for a few days.

Every morning without fail I hit the trail, either walk/jogging toward Monterey or walking the longer, less even trail toward Asilomar. My body felt tired but healthy. Stronger. And my will felt stronger, too, more determined.

I told myself it was the view that pulled me outside. It was, but I wondered: if I lived here, would it motivate me 365 days a year? Would it ever grow old?

I live in a beautiful, walkable neighborhood. I love walking my dogs, walking with Guy or friends, walk/jogging myself around our neighborhood. I can take a slightly different route every day of the week, though by now they are all familiar.

But I live here, so it’s easy to say I’ll get outside later, or tomorrow. That we can take the dogs to the park, or I can go to the gym.

I came home from vacation with a new resolve to stop making excuses and get outside to appreciate the gift of living in this particular neck of the NorCal woods. And so I have put on my shoes, leashed the dogs, and gone outside each day since.

I live here, and I am going to soak it in with gratitude.

Walk the Dog

One of our family’s favorite Christmas Eve traditions has been walking the trail around the Lafayette Reservoir. Our first NorCal Christmas, friends invited us to walk it with them; that first walk led to walking it every Christmas Eve (and so many times throughout and over the years), except for one rainy Christmas Eve in the last eleven years.

Walking our bodies around the Res makes for scenic exercise; walking with a dog is even better, and this year we had the added fun of walking it with our Big Dog and our Puppy, who had achieved age+shots enough to be out on the town eight days prior. Pups took to the leash like, well, fish to water, except truly, like a dog to a walk! He still wants to bite his harness and barks at anything that moves (humans and dogs, obviously, but also birds and holiday animatronic reindeer…), but he’s getting it alongside his Big Dog sister-teacher.

Pups encountered more than his usual number of dogs/people on his first Res walk. Tail wagging, he growled ferociously cute Christmas greetings at each passerby, joyfully accepting head pats as they came. Mostly he kept trucking along at our side.

But he is a curious and stubborn baby dog and, about halfway round the Res, he became so intrigued with something the rest of us had passed that he just stopped. Calling him by name and gently tugging on the leash as Pups stumbled forward, tripping over his legs as he gazed backward, Guy said to him, “You can’t keep moving forward if you get stuck looking back.”

“You can’t keep moving forward if you get stuck looking back…” The words stopped me.

I’ve spent hours this week combing through photos, creating what will become a family album. Despite the emotional roller coaster of this past year, it has been refreshing to reminisce about the adventures and the moments overflowing with gratitude that comprised 2017.

Still, reminiscing is different than getting stuck. Pups tripped over his own feet trying to move one direction while looking another. The future keeps coming whether or not we want to face it. Looking backwards will trip us up and land us down, scratching our shins if not our noses.

2017 was not my favorite year. It held necessary, good, gut-wrenching and soul-searching work: restructuring who we are as a family in this life stage; rediscovering myself, personally and professionally, and how I live out my calling; and reevaluating relationships and social constructs that may or may not be life-giving in this season.

Thank the Lord, 2017 draws nigh to a close. 2018 holds hope for another fresh start. Each year, and each day of the year, we can make the choice to leave the past behind. To thank God for even the misadventures that led us to today. To let go of slip-ups, things done or undone, said or unsaid. To forgive and receive forgiveness, to forgive ourselves as necessary. To choose love, and joy, and hope. To live into our best version of who we are and will become.

Walking my little dog will remind me: I need to look ahead to move forward, no looking back.

This is what the Lord says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. –Isaiah 43:16, 18-19 (NIV)

Overwhelmed

I received a rejection slip! Of course I’m disappointed, but here’s the catch: all creative ventures involve risk. I took a risk. It didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped, but I took it nonetheless. I am creating, and putting my work out there, and it’s a step in the right direction. This post just didn’t meet their needs at this time, which also means I get to post it here instead. Create, and recreate, and all good. What are you creating, and how’s it going?

Bristling like an electrical storm, Teen blustered into the house—door slamming behind him—and tossed his gangly body onto the couch beside his dad. “Hey, did you know the wage gap is a myth? That women get paid less than men for the same work is just not a thing!
 
We stared in response, so he kept spouting facts he’d heard in a video on social media. He thrust his phone in his dad’s face, insisting he watch it, too.
 
Parents want their kids to think critically. At eighteen years old and soon off to college, it is good for him to take account of the world and wrestle with his place in it. But a two-minute video by some guy not much older than he is cannot be his only information source.
 
I left the room, returning armed with a book—Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte (2014: Sarah Crichton Books, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York). Earlier that afternoon I had finished the section on Work.
 
Schulte offers solid reporting and not by any definition a feminist manifesto. Yet as I read one story after another, I felt affirmed and discouraged that sexism—in the workplace as one societal microcosm—still runs rampant. My kid may be right, that women and men with comparable education, experience and skills receive comparable pay for comparable work. But nothing is ever that simple.
 
For example, researchers at Cornell University put together four nearly identical resumes: half with male names and half with female; half signaling parenthood through PTA involvement and half indicating childlessness through charitable volunteerism. Nearly 200 college students ranked fathers as “best worker,” more employable and promotable and better management training candidates than men without children, while mothers ranked at bottom, considered significantly less competent, intelligent and committed than women without children (79). To test this “motherhood penalty” and “fatherhood bonus,” they confirmed their research by submitting resumes to entry and mid-level positions and found that fathers were called back at a higher rate than nonfathers, while mothers received half the offers of nonmothers (80).
 
As I tried to explain ‘my side’ to my ever-argumentative child (oh, the responsibility of speaking on behalf of the women he will encounter in life, begging him to trade grace for an arrogant hard line), he asked, “But Mom, when have women had it better?”
 
To which I replied, “Maybe they haven’t. But, Son, look at me. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”
 
Over a post-yoga iced tea with a girlfriend, I relayed this story. She gave up her hard-earned career to be a full-time stay-at-home mom who employs her work skills as PTA president. I have cobbled together full-time motherhood with part-time employment plus freelance writing. We each have made choices that feel sacrificial. Even at our best, we both feel we will never be able to do it all well.
 
Schulte defines overwhelm as “a product of lack of control and unpredictability and the anxiety that both produce” (280). Who can calculate how many factors in a women’s life fall into “lack of control and unpredictability”? On any given day, I can only control so much: what time I get out of bed; how I fuel and move my body; the ways in which I interact with others; the work or home projects I tackle before the interruptions come. Because the interruptions come, hard and fast, predictably unpredictable: sick kids; forgotten lunches, forms, homework; overlooked deadlines, and immediately-required answers; bad news, local and global, or worse, from loved ones.
 
No wonder we feel overwhelmed! So how to squelch the rampant anxiety? Schulte includes pages of suggestions in the “Do One Thing” appendix—working smarter, not harder; time chunking; practicing gratitude; remembering that play, too, can be useful. For those too overwhelmed to read a book on feeling overwhelmed, this appendix alone is worth perusing.
 
Thankfully, my friend and I have found our way to a straight path. Exercise and togetherness. Swapping stories and encouragement. Expressing gratitude that, though we may not do it all as well as if we only did some, we have opportunities that others have not. Cherishing the truly precious moments in the mess of parenting (that an eighteen-year-old wants to spend an evening discussing real-life issues with his parents is not to be taken lightly!).
 
And taking time to read good books.

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Thankful Thursday – Love Thyself (Body, Too)

Arguably the only good thing about injury and illness is their capacity to increase one’s gratitude for health and wellness.

Almost four weeks ago I went for a run (over a year later, that I run–ever!–still gives rise to my surprised giggles). A few miles later, having run and walked in turn, feeling better than ever and enjoying each step, I limped toward home.

I didn’t fall. I don’t remember a bad step or an “OUCH!” moment, just a gradual then growing discomfort above my right ankle.

It didn’t hurt as bad, nor swell as much, as last summer’s sprained ankle. I thought I’d heal quickly. Since gentle walking helped last time, I’ve tried to carefully and regularly walk around the block.

I have to think about how I move and work hard not to limp; I wouldn’t dare run yet. My whole body has felt out of whack as it compensates. To boot, the severe drop-off in physical exertion has caused indigestion and nasty heartburn; I get hungry but I can’t eat much. My shoulders have inched up to my ears and I’ve stopped sleeping deeply. When one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts. Bleh!

Mind-body connection, of course, and I’ve been feeling (literally) lame and a wee bit depressed, knowing that I’m missing out on fun fitness and time with friends. The irony of finally discovering joy in movement and developing injuries from said movement has made me flat-out mad at my stupid body.

That’s not helpful, I know. Accepting limitations and working through them, that’s the way.

Today a friend met me for a chair yoga class. She’d never done yoga and felt nervous. So did I my first time. But if I can do chair yoga–a gentle introduction to stretching and yoga poses–while out of shape and in an ankle brace, anyone can do it.

As I had hoped, she loved it.

At the beginning of class, we set an intention. Mine was simple: Love. I was at yoga to love my friend into a safe and loving practice. And I was there to love this body I haven’t even liked much of late (historically: ever).

We stretched and breathed deeply. I felt my body realigning and muscles releasing their tension.

Later, I visited the chiropractor where, for the first time, he didn’t work on my shoulders. Instead he focused his healing ministrations on my ankle. Because my shoulders have been such a chronic pain, I had No Idea he could offer such quick relief to my stupid injury. I almost felt as though I could run out of the office.

I know it will still be a while before my ankle has healed. So meanwhile, I’ve decided to stop disparaging this lug of flesh that is me and instead be grateful. Life is good. Health is better, and I’ll get there.

I found this quote today while cleaning my desk. It doesn’t, and yet does, apply directly:

I want to beg you to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms…

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to love them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
–Rainer Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet

I have to be patient with my body while it heals, and patient with my heart as it struggles with the body’s less-than-wholeness. For now, I choose to live everything: injury and frustration and healing. Who knows what other good gifts life has in store through this process?

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Play at Your Own Risk

I’ve written about this before, but most of my life I thought I could not be a runner. Once I hit puberty, running induced unbearable abdominal cramps. Later, as a college freshman, I tore my meniscus and running hurt my knee. Sports never floated my boat, so I had no reason to run. I was the indoorsy type, content with introspection while walking/hiking when the outdoors required my attention.

Until last spring, when I had a sudden impulse to run in the rain. And it didn’t hurt. And, surprisingly, I had fun. I kept it up, increasing the frequency and length of my runs.

Until I developed allergy-induced breathing issues. Six weeks of labored breathing and an inhaler later, I got back to running.

Until I sprained my ankle on a late-July run. Three weeks of limping, and a doctor told me to start walking on it. The harder I walked, I noticed, the better my ankle felt at night. So I began running on the treadmill at the gym, “safe” terrain to build up my stamina while my ankle healed.

I’m not a good runner. I don’t far or fast but, as my only competition, I have noticed improvement. I don’t think I’m losing weight either, but that wasn’t necessarily the point. I feel stronger, more confident in my own skin. Having made way on a path that once felt impenetrable, I have gained confidence to tackle other areas of life.

Over the last few weeks, I’m finally back on the road and varying my route. Today the dog tugged in the opposite direction of my “usual” run, or even the alternate route I took yesterday, so I followed her lead.

Until about half-way through when my toe hit an uneven stretch of sidewalk and I took a spectacular fall, one that felt like flying though probably looked like something on America’s Funniest Videos. My left (bad) knee hit first. My hands slid along the ground, thankfully keeping my face off the pavement. I landed flat out on my stomach, arms fully extended above my head. Thankfully I let go of the leash and the dog had the good sense to get out of my way.hands-ouch

Already winded, I knocked away any breath left in my lungs. I stayed flat out for a minute and then, slowly, curled to sit on my rear, knee bent before me. I took inventory: road rashed hands; I didn’t tear my yoga pants; knee with bright red individual pebble gravel indentations. But I’m okay.

A bicyclist didn’t stop, but asked if I was okay. I offered, “I think so.” He smiled understandingly; he’s probably taken a spill or two himself.

A neighbor pulled his truck over and got out. He grabbed the dog’s leash, and waited as I got to my feet. He offered a ride home. I considered but said, no, I needed to walk the stiff out. He said, “Good, good for you. Walk it off, as they say.”

Right. Walk it off. They do say that.

I did my best to laugh. “Before I fell, I was just realizing that I’ve been running for almost six months…”

He laughed, too. “Great! Keep running for six more. Maybe just take a different route.” The irony… This was the different route…

Before I fell, I had planned to keep going straight, to take the long loop back home. Instead I turned at the corner to take the more direct route. My knee throbbed, and I had to think about holding the leash so it wouldn’t touch the pools of blood forming on my palms.

I walked until I came to a side-street that loops around–I turned left and ran it. It took a little more effort, but I was okay. I walked a little and ran a little. I added an extra loop to the right as well, running and walking. I kept going. I didn’t give up.

Breathing issues didn’t stop me; I take a deep breath on an inhaler before I run. A sprained ankle didn’t stop me; I wrap my ankle before exercise (and occasionally take ibuprofen after). A fall won’t stop me, either.

As I type I’m sitting in a recliner with my feet up, an ice pack on my knee and bandages on my hands. It may be a good idea to take tomorrow off. And still, I’m proud of myself. Six months ago I couldn’t have imagined running regularly. Six months ago one or another of the obstacles I’ve faced would have derailed me. Six months ago, I would have accepted the ride home, giving up.

If you want to play, you might get hurt. Play at your own risk, right? I’ve gotten hurt, and I’ve gotten back up. So far, the risk has proven worth it.

Exercise Caution

runIn March I took up running. A life-long walker/hiker who thought she hated running, I had a surprisingly good time pushing myself to more frequent runs which became faster and longer runs (still not far or fast, but my only competition is myself.)

It was fun until it wasn’t. Gulping in deep outdoor fresh-air allergy-heavy breaths, I developed breathing issues. For about six weeks I could hardly walk across a room or hold a conversation, which put running firmly out of reach.

As soon as I could I got back to it, starting right back at the beginning and yet doing it, persevering. And then I sprained my ankle. Honestly, I think I took a bad step hiking but running aggravated it. I’ve been limping for two weeks, but I hope to be running again soon.

The other night we firmly nudged Tween toward his bike for an hour-long pre-sunset solo bike ride. After a day of sitting on his patootie, he needed some exercise. He returned just before dark with silent tears streaming down his face: he had watched as one car–then another, and yet a third car–struck a baby deer (how that even happens, I can’t imagine…). He set down his bike to investigate, to see if he could possibly offer any assistance. He heard it scream, then whimper. He watched it twitch. He yelled in helpless frustration at passers-by who didn’t stop to help. Realizing he could neither put the deer out of its misery nor move it out of the way, he finally left it behind to head home.

His heart broke. He cried on and off until bedtime, and found sleep difficult.

Exercise can cause body aches and heart aches. I suppose we could all move our exercise indoors to the safety of air-conditioned gyms, a good idea sometimes but not a permanent solution. The outside world can cause all sorts of aches, but avoiding it is not the answer.

Risk is an essential part of life, the life we encounter when we close the front door behind us. Allergies, labored breathing, sprained ankles, and yes, even broken hearts, may be exercise risks, but they are risks worth taking. Strangers, violence, hardship, challenging thoughts that lead to paradigm shifts also await us beyond the safe shelter of home. And we learn and grow and become stronger people as we face each risk with courage.

I am glad Tween has a sensitive heart, and I am grateful he chose to share his sad story with us so we could cry and talk through it together. I can’t protect him forever, but for now I have the privilege to process with him life’s brokenness and beauty. I have the responsibility to teach him to exercise caution, but not too much.