Sunday, March 18, 2018

Johnny's 20th Runnin' O' The Green

I don't particularly like this race. I mean, I like that it exists. It's iconic. It's accessible to everyone, from 5 minute milers to first time 5 milers, even those who want to run while drinking beer (I don't know why anyone would do this. It seems like there is less drinking of the beer and more sloshing the beer everywhere. But I have seen people doing this every year I've run this race. And I guess there are weirder ways to celebrate the death day of an Irish saint). So it's a great race. It's just that if I'm going to pay money for a race, I'd rather it be a really long, small, snack-filled party in the woods than a short, very crowded and jostle-y party on a road. But Pete likes this race and I like Pete so here we are again this year.

How Pete prepares for a race: wakes up leisurely (at I don't even know what time since I am already out the door), drinks coffee, reads the news or looks up random things on the computer, gets dressed very slowly in stages. Stages 1-10 are mostly just him walking around in his underwear until I say something like "Nice running outfit, honey." Stage 11 is him realizing his one running jacket has a broken zipper. Stage 12 is him putting on something that is camouflage and/or says Navy on it. And then he is ready to go.

How I prepare for a race: wake up before it's light out, drink water, poop, run 5 miles to cough up and snot rocket out what I hope is the last disgusting remnants of the flu I had last week, return home to eat first breakfast (PB toast!) change into a green shirt and poop again, hug George several times, cut the top off of my hat because I never liked it as a hat and have just had the ingenious idea to turn it into a buff instead, pin my race number on 3 different ways before it comes out not entirely crooked. Wait for Pete to be ready to go.

I wasn't looking forward to this race. It was cold and crowded and those aren't my favorite things to be. Pete was like "Have you heard of prepping? It's where you prepare to have a good experience. It's nice out, it's warm..." And I was like "So, it's just lying?" It was not nice or warm (nice and warm is 75+ degrees and I can wear shorts and a tank top). But it was sunny and we were going to breakfast afterwards. He should have lead with that. Then we got hugs from Mort, who told us he was going to be announcing names at the finish line and I asked him if he would give us funny names when we finished.

Once we started running I was happy. Because running. And because I don't care about racing but I do care about running with my favorite people (or strangers who will become my favorite people). And Pete is strange and also my favorite person. I let Pete set the pace and just ran along, watching the weird parade that is a massive road race. There was colorful spandex everywhere. A spectator said "You're almost there" about 0.2 miles into the race. It was impossible to get lost because the course is literally just run out 2.5 miles, go around a cone and run back the exact same way. We got passed by a jogging stroller. Pretty typical road race stuff. During the last mile, we saw Ron out taking pictures and he captured this epic shot:

Photos Thanks to Goat Factory Media

Then he ran ahead of us and worked his photographer's magic to make us look like this:

Pete ran the whole 5 miles without stopping and without any breathing problems! This was his longest run so far this year and he said he felt good, so mission accomplished. As we approached the finish line, we saw Steven who had come to cheer, and Pete asked me if I would hold his hand. So we finished hand-in-hand while Mort called out "Megatron and He-man!" We grabbed some water, drove Steven back to his car, then went to Balsam to get bagels.

And that is how you take a day that is not nice and not warm and fill it up with miles and people and awesomeness and two breakfasts.

Lyric of the moment: "There is an answer in a question. And there is hope within despair. And there is beauty in a failure. And there are depths beyond compare..." ~Death Cab For Cutie "Black Sun"

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Surly Skier. And other choices.

Last Saturday morning, while running snow-encrusted trails at Mendon Ponds Park at the TrailsRoc group run, two different cross-country skiers had two different reactions to our presence on the trails. (Some of the trails at Mendon are groomed for xc-skiers, but we were running on the side of the trail so as not to ruin the ski tracks). As we started, one skier coming towards us asked "You're not going to run across the groomed trail are you?" Sheila explained that we were going to be on the side edges of the trail, to which the skier responded "Oh good, thank you!" Most of the other skiers we saw didn't say anything, except for one woman who angrily yelled at us to "Get off the trails!"

I've been thinking about that incident and about the ways in which people have different responses to the same situation. When you encounter a situation that concerns you or that maybe you don't particularly like or just have some words to say about it, how do you respond? Are you Sensitively Assertive Skier? Or Surly Skier?

Despite our best intentions, I think we have all been Surly Skier at times (or Silently Surly Skier, where we say nothing aloud but are secretly resentful or angry. I am so guilty of this. I'm not proud to say I have spent entire relationships wearing Silently Surly Skier boots. It's not a good look. I have attempted to move on to a better look - gold pants and elephant pants - but I'm still a work in progress). We're imperfect, we make mistakes. Life is hard and everyone has struggles. We can't ever fully know what it's like to ski in someone else's boots. Maybe the Surly Skier was having a bad day or had a bad experience with runners in the past or I don't know, was auditioning for one of those You're not you when you're hungry Snickers commercials.

But moments like this remind me that in every situation I have a choice. I get to choose how to respond. I can give people the benefit of the doubt and respond with curiosity and kindness. Or I can be defensive/judgmental/angry. I can choose to add more fuel to the fuming pile of anger. Or I can choose to see other people's defensive/angry behaviors as what they really are: the outward manifestation of their own internal pain and suffering. Then I can choose to not take it personally and to respond with compassion. This is really freaking hard to do. It takes effort and practice and continually filling up your own internal reservoirs with love and happiness. But it's the most worthwhile choice you can make.

Ski on, my friends. May we choose sweetness (and Snickers) over surliness.

Lyric of the moment: "You're around 'til you're not around. And that's all I need to know. Every time you decide to stay. Then the world will make you go. And that's all you need to know. Enjoy your youth. Sounds like a threat. But I will anyway..." ~Regina Spektor "Older and Taller"

Thursday, February 22, 2018

This Is Life: Tiny Poems

What It's Like To Live With Me
Me: What do you want to do for Valentine's Day?
Pete: Whatever you want to do, honey.
Me: No, I mean a real answer, not 'what you think women want to hear.'
Pete: Well, women do want to hear certain things.
Me: Yeah, like 'Here's equal rights and equal pay.'

What It's Like To Live With Pete, A Haiku
Don't pee in the sink
Is a thing I had to say
To an adult man

Life Advice
Live each day as if it were your last
Seems like impractical advice
Only one day will actually be your last
The rest, you will have to deal
With the consequences of those before
I much prefer
Live each day as if it were your best
Or just
Live each day 
Or even
Live each day with kindness and cookies
Those are the best things to live with anyway

One day you will learn
That in everything there is pain
That in everything there is beauty
That with courage, honesty and love
You can transform pain into beauty
Darkness into light
You can endure anything
You can find joy anywhere
If you have compassion for all beings
You have everything


I                    Do
We Said        Til Death
Do            Us            Part
Now                                We
Must                              Live It
Which                            Is So
Much                    Harder
But               Live
It        We

Lyric of the moment:"It's not what you thought when you first began it. You got what you want. Now you can hardly stand it, though. By now you know. It's not going to stop, it's not going to stop, it's not going to stop. Til' you wise up..." ~Aimee Man "Wise Up"

Monday, January 29, 2018

This Is Marriage: Day 874

We hit a milestone savings goal on Saturday. Pete thought it felt anticlimactic. I ran around the house excitedly singing a song I made up about it. Pete said nothing has changed. I said everything has changed. At the beginning of our marriage, we had three mortgages. Now we have zero mortgages and we've hit this goal, meaning we are solidly on track to retire early. That's a lot in 2 years. Pete seemed unconvinced. I remained ecstatic. When I was younger, I never longed for marriage, I never dreamed about weddings. I longed for financial independence, I dreamed about this particular net worth goal. (Admittedly, I was a weird kid. Which probably surprises no one). We didn't do anything elaborate or groundbreaking to achieve this goal. We spend money on the things and experiences that make us happy (travel, experiences, a comfortable bed, races and socializing with friends, Pete: computers/tech gadgets, Jen: 8' tall giraffe) and not on things that don't. We put money in our 401Ks and Roth IRAs. We put a sizable amount of money well sizable to us, maybe not to others) in our non-retirement investment account every month, which is just invested in an index fund. But mostly, we are so incredibly lucky (to have similar attitudes/habits about money, to have gainful employment, to have sold our 2 houses from our single lives for more than we paid for them, to live in a low cost of living area). I'd be lying if I said the money wasn't nice. I don't think money can buy happiness, but it sure can make a hell of a lot of things easier. But true wealth is not measured by the amount of money you accumulate. True wealth is living life with a richness and depth of relationships, gratitude and meaning.

I wanted to do something fancy to celebrate. But I didn't want to spend any money. So I'll have to wait and see if I can think of something creative to satiate those competing desires. In the meantime, Laura and Jon were coming over to meet George and so we could go eat at Brooklyn Ramen Rochester (which was meh) and see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (which was fantastic). Laura asked Pete what he thought when I brought George home, he smiled and said "Jen was just so excited about it." Though I didn't make up a song about it and run around the house singing it, my heart did explode in feels. We are different people. Pete wasn't expecting marriage to include living with a giant stuffed giraffe. I wasn't expecting marriage to include watching my husband sitting on the couch peeling an orange and then nonchalantly putting the orange peels on a pillow as if that is where orange peels belong (no, really, this is a thing that happened). But it's those differences that make us who we are, a fact that I sometimes forget, such as when I am horrified and frantically picking orange peels off a couch pillow. Things will change, we will change. That is inevitable. We vowed to weather the changes together, the bear markets and bull markets, our best moments and our worst moments.

The thing that I want to celebrate isn't that the stock market went up or we're saving more money, it's that we're building a life together and that life is pretty freaking sweet. Marriage is building a life together that is bigger and better than both of us.

Lyric of the moment: "And the only way to last. And the only way to live it. Is to hold on when you get love. And let go when you give it..." ~Stars "Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It"

Friday, January 26, 2018

A series of spectacular failures

I had a minor epiphany during a restorative yoga class, in a warm room lit with candles, supported by blankets and bolsters. It felt restful. I was resting. No, but like for real. I was still. And it was enjoyable. The kind of joy I usually only experience in motion. My mind had wanted to go to the gym. But my body was like no, dude, go lay on the ground for an hour. So I did. I made time for stillness, which I used to think was just a failure of motion, but now I think is a necessary compass. And it was glorious, this stillness. A glorious failure of motion, a glorious triumph of rest, relaxation and restoration.

I had a minor epiphany on a party boat, being yet again the only person not drinking in a sea full of people drinking (and playing icebreaker games. I hate icebreaker games or any sort of mandatory fun. Being forced to participate is the opposite of fun). At times like these, I feel isolated and irreparably weird for not doing the things everyone else is doing, even though I have no interest in doing those things. I feel like I'm failing the Turing Test, a lone robot amidst the humans. Then I had a sudden realization that many times when I've felt like I'm failing at everything, the only thing I was actually failing at was in being someone else. I was failing at doing the default traditional things or being what I thought I should be. Most of the time those should be things weren't even things I wanted to be, they were just what is expected or idolized by society. I was failing to be what other people wanted me to be because I was busy being who I was. (And the few times I did try to be what someone else wanted me to be, I became profoundly unhappy, which festered into seething resentment, which blossomed into relief and happiness only when I gave up and went back to being who I wanted to be). Looking at it that way, I hope my life continues to be a series of spectacular failures. In failing to be others' expectations of me, I succeed at being myself. In failing to do what others are doing, I succeed at doing what I want to do.

It's easy to get caught up in what other people are doing or all the cultural noise telling us to do certain things or be a certain way, to buy this and that and of course that too. Part of stillness, I'm coming to realize, is a break from all that external noise. It allows me the space and the silence to figure out what feels right to me, what I want to do and what I don't want to do, what will bring me joy and what I can let go. I used to rely on running for this space but now I know it's always available to me, if I pay attention to it. The external noise will still get through sometimes, but I can just think to myself "That's not true" or "I don't accept that" or "Not for me" and keep blazing my own weird, ridiculous trail to Awesometown. With stops for giraffes, obviously.

Lyric of the moment: "The walls in my mind. But I can climb. In the darkest of days, when I think I've lost my way, I step into the light..." ~Matisyahu "Step Out Into The Light"

Friday, December 29, 2017

Plantar Fasciitis: An "adventure" in 14 steps

Life gives us many gifts. Sometimes those gifts are treehouse-with-a-helicopter-landing-pad levels of awesome. Sometimes those "gifts" are like an itchy sweater that is two sizes too small. If you're a person with feet, sometimes that "gift" is the dreaded plantar fascists, I mean fasciitis. This fall I was forcibly given a golden ticket to the PF "adventure" and this is what ensued:

1. Feel the burn on the bottom of your foot/arches and pain in your heel, that is worse in the morning and after running. Run over snakes in Tonto National Forest and up and down in the Grand Canyon on your wedding anniversary trip to Arizona. Keep running until you are finally ready to acknowledge that denial is not making your foot any better. Funny how that works. Reluctantly admit you've got a case of the terrible no good very bad plantar fasciitis.

2. Visit Benson for many painful sports "massages" (read: torture). As he's working to break up your scar tissue, he says things like "I bet you want to punch me right now" and you're like "They should use this to extract information from prisoners. I would tell you any secret to get you to stop doing that" and he's like "Any secret, eh? So how much are you really stretching?" It is not a secret that the answer to that is "never enough."

3. Run 20 miles on the Lehigh Valley Trail. This was probably a very stupid idea. But it was a great run and a great day and Jen(n)s have so much to take over and so little time. So no regrets.

4. The pain continues. For obvious reasons (see above 20 miles). Find out from Mr. Internet that you can evict the plantar fascists with 2 weeks of bed rest. Since no one is lining up to pay you to lay around in bed for 2 weeks (and let's face it, there's no way you could stand to lay around for even one day), decide that is not a realistic option at this point.

5. Get serious about getting rid of this PF bullshit. Like no-running-or-jumping serious. This is a torture worse than scar tissue release. The hardest part of running is not running. (I function about as well without running as I do without sleep. Which is to say, not well, not well at all. But lamenting the things I cannot do only makes me feel worse so instead I do what I can and make the best out of my adventures in non-running).

6. Do all the recovery things. Stretching. Foam rolling. Icing. Befriending your robot-covered heated rice bag. Taking magnesium and turmeric. Wearing the Strassburg sock at night. Chiropractor. Acupuncture. Rolfing (which helps your foot and alignment, though not as much as it helps empty your wallet and your tolerance for super freaking weird experiences). Swimming, spin class, strength training and climbing the Jacob's Ladder and stair master to nowhere.

7. Bike around Keuka Lake with husband man. Start at the Finger Lakes Visitors Alliance (309 Lake St in Penn Yan). When husband man realizes he forgot to bring socks, buy socks from a nearby Walgreens (Pete: "Can you pay for these socks? I have to poop." Me: "Really keeping the romance alive there, aren't we?"). Follow Rt 54, with dips down to E Lake Rd for the scenic views closer to the lake. From Hammondsport, follow Rt 54A until you come across a road closed sign, construction workers and a giant hole in the road. Backtrack and take a detour up the actual steepest hill ever (It must have been at least 15% grade, so steep we were tired and sweaty just walking our bikes up it. At least it smelled like grapes at the top). Bike down the other side going so fast you're sure you're going to fly off the bike and die. But you don't die. Meet back up with Rt 54A and make your way back to Penn Yan, taking the scenic route through Keuka College. 45 miles later, you are still not a cyclist.

8. Bike around Canandaigua Lake with husband man. The laws of physics apparently do not apply to Canandaigua Lake because somehow it is uphill in all directions. And some of the "roads" abruptly turn into gravel death pits. And you get stuck in your pedal cages and fall off your bike and teary-eyed, tell your husband "I am never biking again." Except that you are still 15 miles from the car. So you bike again. 50 miles later, you are most definitely not a cyclist.

9. Do a planking challenge with your friends for the month of November, working up to 10 minutes of planking (5 minutes front plank and 2.5 minutes on each side). At first this seems impossible and excessive. But by the end of the month it seems possible and excessive. But it makes chin-ups feel easier so maybe you have actually managed to develop some semblance of shoulder muscles.

10. Volunteer or banana at races you would normally have run. Realize you don't feel any fear of missing out or wishing you were racing. Wishing you were running, yes, but not wishing you were in the race. (This is oddly comforting, though it confirms what I have always suspected. I am not a runner. I don't look like a runner. I'm just a person who loves to run. It's not my identity. I don't do it for competition or results or accolades, which is great since I'm not any competition and I don't have any accolades. I don't miss any of those things because I don't care about any of those things. What I miss is the feeling of running. At times I miss it desperately, like I would miss not breathing. I miss the physical act of running, the joy of it and the person I am when running (a happier, more relaxed, far more patient person).

11. Do a meditation challenge with your friends for the month of December. Fail to sit down to meditate more times than you sit down to meditate. Except it sort of starts happening to you anyway, even when you forget. Like when you finish shoveling and pause before going back inside to lay down in the snow and watch it fall onto the pine trees, not thinking about or rushing to the next thing, just resting there for a few minutes, supported by the snow and your maximum puff coat. Or when you're in the car and Christmas songs are making you sad because no, actually through the years we all won't be together and those who are dear to us won't be gathering near to us and that sucks. This is supposed to be some kind of magical celebratory most wonderful time of the year but all you can do is cry and say aloud to no one "Am I going to lose everything I love?" Then a tiny voice from within says "Yes" and it's so matter of fact and undeniably true that you laugh. And you realize this is the magic. This beautiful, brutal truth. We're here until we're not. We love, we lose, we laugh,we cry, we wear hippo pajama pants (ok so maybe that last one is just me). You have this moment, this now. Your life is a series of nows until your final now. The quality of your life depends on how you fill that series of nows. The magic surrounds you always. Will you notice it, will you let it in, will you spread it?

12. Rest. Like actual rest. More sleep. More restorative yoga (or as I call it, laying on the ground yoga). More Netflix and heating pad. More opting out of things that seem obligatory but don't bring joy. This is easier to say than to do.

13. Feel however you feel, without taking it personally. That is, feel frustrated, despondent, annoyed, or ugh at the situation, not at your body. Your body deserves to be treated like the fucking amazing miracle wizard it is. (I don't know what a miracle wizard is, there just aren't enough superlatives to fully express how awesome your body is at keeping you alive and doing cool shit every second of every day). Pain isn't weakness, it's a sign that maybe you're taking on too much, physically or emotionally, maybe you need a little more rest and relaxation, comfort and gentleness. This is easier to say than to do.

14. As your foot feels better, other parts start to hurt. It feels like you may have forgotten how to run, but probably it's just your various parts healing and readjusting. Decide to just let it take however long it takes, to listen to your body (which would be easier if your body could speak English instead of this terrible game of aches and pains charades), and trust that you will be back to your extreme shenanigans soon. It is not the adventure you would have chosen but maybe it is the push to rest you needed to have. In the meantime, buy gold leggings. Because if you've gotta live that PF life, live it in style.

I didn't choose the PF life, the PF life chose me

Lyric of the moment: "I can say I hope it will be worth what I give up. If I could stand up mean for the things that I believe. Change, change, change, I want to get up out of my skin. Tell you what, if I can shake it, I'm 'a make this something worth dreaming of..." ~Santigold "L.E.S Artistes"

Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Robot Holiday Gift Guide

My friends: it's been a dystopian nightmare/shit tsunami of a year, has it not? (2017: Go home, you've had too many White Russians, you're drunk and grabby). I'm not into the culturally coerced consumerism that runs rampant this time of year. But I'm super into the spirit of generosity and giving. A friend recently posted on FB asking for kindness as he and his family are hurting right now, and it really resonated with me. Everyone has struggles, challenges, heartaches. Everyone is hurting in some way. It takes courage to be vulnerable and ask for what we really need, knowing that people might not "get" it, that they might offer judgments or unsolicited advice instead, thus compounding our hurt. Some people might be struggling so much they don't have any extra strength to ask for what they need. Some people might not even know how to articulate what they need. So I thought I'd make a list of (in my humble opinion) the most invaluable gifts you can give to anyone, friend or stranger, at the holidays or any other time of year.

A Robot Holiday Gift Guide

  • Self-care. You need to eat, hydrate, sleep and do the things that make you happy, regularly. You need to fill up your own reserves of love and compassion, and in doing this, you will have more to give to others. The happier and more at peace you are with yourself, the more light and joy you will radiate out into the world. 
  • Presence. Undivided attention is a wonderful gift. When you're spending time with people, really be with them. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. Take pictures, even if you think you look terrible in pictures. When you're gone the pictures and the memories of the time spent together are all they'll have left of you. 
  • The Space of Grace. This is that little pause, that jolt of compassion that allows you to act from a mindset of gratitude and generosity rather than a mindset of fear and inadequacy. It allows you to not take things personally but instead to see others' unkind words and actions as what they really are - outward projections of their own struggles or hurts. Then you can choose to meet unkindness with awesomeness instead of perpetuating the unkindness.
  • Non-judgment. You don't know more about someone's life experience than they do. Let me repeat that: You don't know more about someone's life experience than they do. So when someone tells you about the way they experience the world, believe them. Don't invalidate their experience by chiming in with your own judgments and opinions. You are not them and you can't know what it's like to be them. The best you can do is listen non-judgmentally and, in doing so, you will expand your understanding of the full range of human experience. 
  • Acceptance. There is so much not-good-enough-itis going around. Give people a much needed break from the constant pressure to be fitter/thinner/richer/happier/better/etc and let them know the truth: they are so fucking enough, just as they are, in whatever body/life they currently inhabit.
  • Thoughtfulness. Gift giving, in the traditional sense (as in "stuff"), is all about thoughtfulness. If you want to give people a physical gift, think about them - about what they like, about what reminds you of them, about what would make them laugh, about what problems or struggles they have and what might ease them a little bit. Give something that shows you were listening, that you understood and remembered what they said, that you know them and what makes them happy, that you're glad to have them in your life. 

Lyric of the moment: " A few years ago, I got invited to your birthday party. I wanted to make an impression, so I walked up and down State Street to the hippie store to buy a nice present for you. I spent $34.95 on a very fancy scented candle. It smelled like strawberry Pop-Tarts and oregano. I rubbed it all over my body and wrapped it up to gave it to you. But here it is. At your garage sale. 25 cents at your garage sale..." ~Nerf Herder "Garage Sale" (This song makes me laugh. Pop Tarts and Oregano? But it also reminds me that the point of giving a gift is to give (no strings attached), and the recipient is free to do whatever they want with it - it's not for you to say or control or judge. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Things you can't say out loud. Or google, apparently.

Fair warning: I don't have anything funny or clever or insightful to say. I just have rawness and honesty and clumsy attempts to articulate it. But maybe some people could use more of that. If you are one of those people, please come in. If not, no worries, shenanigans and silliness will resume at some point, please stay tuned.

I want to rest. No, that is a lie. I never want to rest. But I want to want to rest. I think it's the thing that will make all the other things better. Usually that thing is running. But not right now. Right now my body is just like "nope." So I listen. Begrudgingly, I listen. I do my short, slow, solo runs. It's not enough. Which is probably the lesson here. The stress and emotions and struggles have been piling on lately, so much that I can feel it in my bones and tendons and joints - a pain in my foot, familiar old aches in my hip and adductor, fatigue in my back. My body, in its infinite (and sometimes infuriating) wisdom is preventing me from running away. That's all well and good, except that I mostly run towards. A better version of myself. I don't feel like myself when I'm not running like 30+ miles a week (no matter what other workouts I do instead). I feel like only half of a person, half alive. I have only half as much patience, contentedness, joy. It's not enough. I am not willing to accept it as enough. But it is the reality of now. So it is enough for now.

The path back to running all the miles I want to run involves time and rest. This is somewhat problematic as I am a restless and impatient patient. I don't even know how to rest - real restorative, rejuvenating rest. What does it entail? How do people do this? How do they rest their brains and legs and hearts? I googled 'how to rest,' expecting to find instructions like
1) get a giant bear suit/sleeping bag
2) enter woods
3) join cuddly bears in hibernation
4) it is recommended to bring a hostess gift, like a cake or pot of honey.

Or maybe just
1) curl up on the couch and bask in the warm, sugary embrace of British and Australian baking competitions
2) wish  taste-a-vision was a thing that existed.

But the google did not say this. Instead it mistook me for someone religious and returned a bunch of results about Sabbathing and whatnot. I don't need a rest from technology. Technology and I are cool. Technology found me a maximum puff coat stuffed with synthetic warmth technology instead of animal parts. It reminds me of events I want to attend and shows me pictures of cute animals doing cute things. I need a rest from the expectations society puts on women to be small, quiet, agreeable, at the expense of our own needs, desires, health. I don't want to be smaller - physically, mentally or emotionally. I want to be everything that I am. I want to be infinite. I don't want to be quiet when I am screaming inside. I don't want to be agreeable to things with which I do not agree. I don't want to laugh at things I don't find funny. I don't want to pretend not to feel things just to avoid making other people uncomfortable. I don't want to hear people bragging about how much alcohol they drank and the "hilarious" things they did. I don't want to hear another person say "at least you had a good relationship with your dad." Yes, I had a good relationship with my dad. Not everyone gets that. I am one of the lucky ones. He was a great dad. He was a great man, tree fort builder, jokester, storyteller. He was human, with faults and demons, like everyone else. He loved us and he liked vodka. He lived a good life, though it was too short. And he died a bad death - sudden, alone, of liver disease and chronic alcoholism. It's not fair. Life isn't fair. Death isn't fair. Inside all of us there is lightness and darkness. You do the best you can to muddle through the darkness and turn it into lightness you can send outward into the world. 

Grief is an invisible weight. Life goes on and so do you, except now you're burdened by this heavy, cumbersome sadness that makes everything more difficult. It cannot be fixed or outrun, it can only be endured. It doesn't ever go away, you just get stronger with every heavy thing life asks you to carry. No one else can see this invisible burden. It's different for everyone. Some people won't understand. They think you should just choose to be happy to do what they do. Some people will understand, so much so that it will bring you to tears. The good kind of tears, those you cry when you feel seen and loved for your whole messy, complicated self. You  may not have the words to ask for what you need. You may not even know what you need, but they will, somehow they will know and they will show up and give it to you. They will bring your Mozzie to the funeral home and say "my friends thought this was weird but I knew that you would love it." They will come to your house on your birthday and say "I know this is a sad day" and hug you and cry with you. And you will be eternally grateful to know these people and promise yourself that you will get your shit together and strive to be one of those people as many times as you can for as many people as you can. You don't exactly know how to do this, but you will watch and learn. And you will rest. Because even an unstoppable force cannot go full-speed ahead at all times. Sometimes the best way forward is to rest, to refill yourself with energy and patience and understanding so that you have more of it to give to others.

Lyric of the moment: "Just say something perfect, something I can steal. Say look at me baby, we'll be fine, all we gotta do is be brave and be kind..." ~The National "Baby, We'll Be Fine" (Google will not tell you this, but I will: A thing you can do when you have all the feels is listen to The National during your showers and planks. And also sing at the top of your lungs to Kesha's "Praying" every time it plays on the radio in your car. You can also cry while doing those things. It's ok.)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Lost in loss, found in friendship

I feel like I'm failing at most things most of the time. But for some reason I've been extremely fortunate to meet the actual best people. And every day I learn from their example how to be the kind of person I want to be.

Danielle called me the other day and we were talking about sadness and loneliness and how sometimes it's hard to keep in touch when you're sad because you don't want to call and just be crying on the phone. She said "I'd take you sad." And I said "I'd take you sad too."

It was exactly what I needed to hear. Society has a low tolerance for other people's sadness. You're allowed to be temporarily sad at certain places, like funerals, and then it's like enough already, pack that shit away, time to move on to more Instagram-worthy sentiments. But that's not how grief or loneliness or sadness works. Loss is a huge part of life. Everything and everyone you love you will one day lose in some way or another. Even happy life changes, like a new job or relationship or baby, can be tinged with the loss of your old life. Sometimes the choice of a new path means the irrevocable loss of a really great former path. Sometimes the losses pile up and it feels like you're drowning in it, except other people don't see it, they're walking by like "lovely day for a swim, isn't it?" Or some people do see it but make comments like "Everything happens for a reason" or "Happiness is a choice" or (insert inspirational cliché or unsolicited advice here). This is the equivalent of throwing a blanket over the drowning person. It makes the onlooker feel better by covering up the unsightly display of despair which has made everyone in the vicinity uncomfortable. But now the drowning person feels not only like it's taking everything they have just to stay afloat, but also feels alone and ostracized by their sadness. Then someone comes along and doesn't try to fix you or smother you with positivity, but just sees your pain and comes to sit with you in your sad place so you're not alone there. And that is true love.

Life is beautiful and brilliant and the best ever. But it's also so fucking sad sometimes. Tragic and depressing things are happening all the time. I don't think we're doing each other any favors by pretending everything is wonderful all the time. Yes, many things are wonderful. But many wonderful things have been lost. And giant pieces of our hearts have been lost with them. And sometimes it's just really fucking hard to get enough blood pumping through your veins with the little pieces of your heart that remain. You know you will get through it, you just have to go through it. It takes as long as it takes. And in the meantime, you feel overwhelming gratitude for those who give you pieces of their hearts as yours heals, and you try to do the same for others wherever you can.

Lyric of the moment: "Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face? Do you realize we're floating in space? Do you realize that happiness makes you cry? Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?..." ~The Flaming Lips "Do You Realize??"

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Grand Adventures in Arizona

Arizona is a land of rattlesnakes, brutal heat and breathtaking canyons (literally last breath-taking for the ~770 people who have died in the Grand Canyon since the 1800s). The toads are poisonous, the snakes are venomous, the plants are prickly and sometimes it's too hot for planes to land (you know, all the makings of a great adventure)! Bonus points for there being no toll roads in the state, so you don't even have to pay to drive towards your impending death!

Last year on our first wedding anniversary, Pete and I were on different continents so we wanted to celebrate our second anniversary (the first one we'd actually get to spend together) with a grand adventure. Neither of us had ever been to the Grand Canyon, so we decided to spend our anniversary exploring one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

We flew into Phoenix on a sunny, 102°F Saturday. The woman in the seat behind us on the plane handed us Ziploc baggies with ear plugs, Lifesavers mints and a note from baby Sophia apologizing for any crying that might occur during her first ever flight (aside from her impeccable manners, baby Sophia has excellent typing skills and good taste in mints). We spent the afternoon wandering around Old Town Scottsdale, being touristy (i.e. taking pictures of all the different kinds of cacti), being hot (Pete) and being so excited to finally be in a place where I wouldn't need pants or a long sleeve shirt (me).

The best thing we found in Old Scottsdale

Cacti of Arizona

Sunday morning we headed to Tonto National Forest and did a 9 mile loop (Pete had wanted to go to the national forest and I'd read about the loop on Todd's Desert Hiking Guide. Thanks, Todd!). We parked at the First Water Trailhead, then took trail 104 to 241 to 236 back to 104. For the first 5 miles, we saw a snake every mile, 4 of them rattlesnakes! At the end of our trip, Pete was getting a haircut and the stylist told him she'd lived in Arizona her whole life and had only ever seen one rattlesnake. On our first full day in the state, we saw 4! (We also saw a bunch of toads. I don't know if they were poisonous, but they were cute). That was enough rattlesnakes for us! Thankfully, we didn't see any more snakes (or any scorpions, which is another thing in Arizona that is trying to kill you) for the remainder of our trip.

Tonto National Forest (popular snake hang out, apparently)


We stayed at the Marriott in Mesa, which had a gold elite members concierge lounge that served free "evening snacks" (cheese and crackers, veggies and dip, pretzels, gummy bears, brownies, etc.) It was the best! So much so that the other Marriotts we stayed in, though they looked much fancier, were disappointing due to their lack of free snacks (thought the Marriott in Phoenix had free laundry machines, soap and dryer sheets, which was pretty sweet). The only reason we got to go in the gold elite lounge was that Pete spent months living out of a Virginia Marriott last year during his pre-deployment and post-deployment training. Luckily, he won't have to do that this year so his gold elite status will end soon. I will happily trade in free snacks for having Pete home.  I will also happily ride this free Pete and free snacks train while it lasts.

Monday morning we hiked Camelback Mountain, which was about 4 miles roundtrip, including the walk to/from the car (there is no parking lot, only on-street parking that was crowded). We followed the Cholla Trail, which is a bit longer and less steep than the Echo Canyon Trail. Though it's rated as "extremely difficult," I didn't think it was difficult (some people have gotten to the summit in only 20 minutes, and that I would find very strenuous/impossible). Near the top, you had to climb up the sides of big rocks and that was my favorite part, obviously. From the top you get a 360° view of the Phoenix area, which was amazing. We checked out of the hotel and drove to Flagstaff, stopping in Sedona for lunch. I saw a sign that said "Coffee / Ice Cream / Bakery" and I was like "I want all those things!" Once inside I was kind of disappointed in the bakery and ice cream selections and Pete was upset that the menu consisted of "only three sandwiches." But the coffee was good, the sandwiches were good and they gave us a tiger order marker instead of a buzzer/number. Monday night we went to the Lowell Observatory, where we got to see Saturn and a nearly full moon through the telescope. Pete also had his longest ever fart in the bathroom there (which I know because he proudly proclaimed it to me afterwards).

Sunrise from Camelback Mountain

On top of Camelback


When I woke up Tuesday morning, I went for a run in Flagstaff. I headed for the Northern Arizona University in search of a track, which I did not find. Instead I found a giant lumberjack statue which was even better. We headed towards the Grand Canyon, stopping to see Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupakti National Monument along the way. The highlight of the day was taking a helicopter (!!!!!) tour over the Grand Canyon! (This was my first ever time in a helicopter and it was awesome! Pete got to take helicopter rides through the desert last year but they were the bad kind where someone might shoot a rocket at you. This year's helicopter ride over the desert was much more scenic and we got to see elk and buffalo, none of whom shot any rockets at us).

Looking for a track, met a giant lumberjack


Ancient pueblo

We're next to a helicopter!!!!

We're in a helicopter!!!!

Grand Canyon from a helicopter!!!!

We stayed at Yavapai Lodge, which is about a mile from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. There are shuttle buses that you can ride to all the South Rim viewpoints. Walking around the Visitors Center on Tuesday evening, I was a little worried reading all the signs about the heat (in the 80's at the rim and the 100's at the bottom of the canyon). We were planning to hike the South Kaibab Trail and the signs said not to go farther than Skeleton Point (3 miles from the rim) for a day hike between May and September. There are plenty of bathrooms along the trail but no water refill spots except at the trailhead.

I really wanted to see more than 3 miles of the trail, but I also didn't want to be one of the 250 hikers who have to be rescued from the Grand Canyon each year (or one of the 250 people who are bitten by squirrels in the Grand Canyon a year. I'm not sure if these are true statistics or if all the caution notices just use the number 250, but either way I did not want to be one of the statistics). Wednesday morning I was in a bad mood. Pete was all "Happy Anniversary" and I was all "Everything is stupid here. Everything I want to do is against the stupid rules for staying alive." But we had made it two years of marriage and we were going on an epic adventure! I ate a Clif Bar, drank some Mountain Dew, pooped in the trailhead bathroom and felt much better. Once we started out on the trail at sunrise, the funk fell away and I was having a blast. To say the Grand Canyon is beautiful is a severe understatement. It looks like a painting - layers of reds, purples, greens and pinks under a blue sky - but a painting you can climb on, which is even better. We stopped to take so many pictures and just to marvel at the surreal landscape. Pete had 170 ounces of water in his pack and I had 82 in mine and we just decided to take it easy and see how we felt. Around mile 4.5 down the trail, Pete wanted to stop and rest before the long trek back up to the rim. He suggested that I continue on down to the river and he'd wait for me to come back up, but I didn't want him to have to wait for me in the heat for hours, so I just ran down to mile 6 and then power hiked back up to him. I had fun running down (I am still working on my downhill running, but South Kaibab is well maintained and not super steep) and even more fun climbing back up. This was my first time canyoning and I prefer it to mountaining because you get to go down then up instead of up then down (I always feel like climbing down from a mountaintop is anti-climactic. The climb up is the part I enjoy most). Once I got back to Pete, we headed upwards back to the rim. I was so excited that whenever Pete stopped to rest, I'd hike up ahead then run back down to him, then hike up again, doing hill repeats like a crazy weirdo. It was not a rim-to-rim or a rim-to-river-to-rim or whatever else people who are stronger and faster than me do in the GC. But we spent 6 hours and 13 miles on an epic trail and didn't run out of water or get bit by squirrels or die. That's my kind of anniversary!
Anniversary-ing it up in the GC

Having a grand time in the Grand Canyon

That view though!

We didn't die!

We ate lunch at the Yavapai Lodge's restaurant and dinner at We Cook Pizza And Pasta, both of which were mediocre (It is true that they cook pizza. It is not true that said pizza is delicious. But! I have to credit We Cook and its brochures for informing me of the existence of Flinstones Bedrock City. So totally worth the so-so pizza). I was not impressed with the food situation at the South Rim or in Tusayan (a little town close by). I don't know why but nothing really tasted good to me (I realize this is an insanely privileged thing to say. I'm extremely fortunate to be able to eat whatever I want whenever I want). Except the Swedish Fish we ate on the trail. Those really hit the spot. And the General Store's snack selection is legit.

On Thursday morning, I was up before the sun so I ran along the Rim Trail, chasing the giant moon in one direction and the sunrise in the other. It was glorious! I could look at the Grand Canyon forever and never tire of that view. Somehow all that emptiness made my heart feel really full. At JP's Stage Stop in Tusayan, we got coffee (very good!) and breakfast sandwiches (very tasteless) and most  importantly, we found in their giftshop the best book ever: Over The Edge: Death In Grand Canyon. We perused the book while drinking our coffee, then at every gift shop we saw (and there are many, many gift shops at the Grand Canyon) Pete would say "Look, they have your death book here!" I didn't really want to pay $25 for a book, but I was also fascinated by the book and did end up buying it at JP's on our way back to Phoenix on Friday (and reading it on the plane ride home. Totally worth $25. It's one of the most interesting, horrifying, incredible things I've ever read. It's not all about death - there are rescues too, those are the best parts. Pete and I joked that every anniversary we're going to go to a different national park and then I'll buy the book about all the deaths there). Valle is just outside of Tusayan so we decided to check out the Flintstones Bedrock City, a decrepit, weird, awesome "amusement park" and RV campground. We were the only visitors there. It was eerie and also most excellent. For $5, you can slide down a giant dinosaur, crawl through a giant snake and walk around cement replicas of the Flintstone and Rubble houses and other Bedrock City buildings in various states of decay. There was even a headless figure in the jail. The lady selling the tickets apologized that the train ride wasn't working since someone had mistakenly left with the key. That just added an extra layer of weirdness and randomness to this strangely awesome roadside attraction. The only thing that was not awesome was the Bedrock Candy. It looked like rocks, which was cool, but tasted like all the worst jellybean flavors, which was not cool.

Husband Man in Bedrock City

Wilma & Betty's houses

Like the train, this car was also inoperable

On our way back through Tusayan, we stopped at the IMAX to watch the only movie it shows, The Secrets of the Grand Canyon. I will sum up this movie by saying:

Things to do in the Grand Canyon (South Rim), from best to worst:
1. Hike into the canyon!!!
2. Helicopter tour!!!
3. Flintstones Bedrock City (the best $5 you can spend in Arizona)
3. Literally anything else (other than dying)
4. The Secrets of the Grand Canyon IMAX movie (the worst $12 you can spend in Arizona)

We spent the rest of Thursday afternoon riding the red shuttle to Monument Point, The Abyss and Hermit's Rest and checking out the canyon views from those overlooks. On Friday, we bid adieu to the canyon and headed back to Phoenix. Pete drove as I read aloud the best sections from the death book. Friday night we went to the Diamondbacks vs Padres game, which was neat because I'd never been to an indoor baseball stadium before.

Friday morning I ran 8 miles along the canal in Scottsdale, then we had breakfast at a restaurant with flying pancakes on the ceiling. The pancakes we ordered did not actually fly but they were quite tasty. Then it was time to head to the airport and make our way back home. No babies gave us mints on the return flight, but as we were deplaning in Rochester, a little girl behind us said to her dad "I'm exhausted. My legs don't work. Can I ride on your back?" (This is totally me after an ultra). It was a fantastic adventure out west with my favorite adventure partner. Someday I'd like to go back and see the West and North Rims of the Grand Canyon, it was just too far of a drive to add to this trip. But now both the mountains and the canyons are calling and I must go (and hopefully not end up in a book about people who died there). I know I say this all the time, but that's because it's true: I am so lucky that this is my life and Pete is my  husband and these are our adventures. I hope we get many more years of exploring the summits and depths together. Preferably with good ice cream and without poisonous snakes.

Preventing forest fires

Sadly, the only mountain lion we saw in AZ
Heart eye emojis times 87 million

Lyric of the moment: "And we roll on in the darkness. To some city far away. Lug our sorrows, pains and angers. And we turn them into play. There's no time to dwell upon it. It's this life that we chose. That made it all worth living. Through the horrors that life throws..." ~Drive By Truckers "Grand Canyon"