What a great day I had last Saturday! My first full marathon of the year and only my second full marathon ever. I won’t say I was worried about, but I did wonder what I am now capable of, since my last attempt. I’ve run a handful of half marathons this fall, and was quite pleased with my results, but wondered about the sustainability (LINK) of my new, faster, half marathon pace for twice the distance.
The race was organized by cartoonist and author “The Oatmeal” and was called “Beat the Blerch”, Blerch being one of the oft featured cartoon characters. The marathon was in Sacramento, it started, technically, in West Sacramento, one block and one short river crossing from downtown “SacTown”, as I fondly refer to it. I live about an hour west and planned my departure time and arrival time, and my related alarm clock setting, appropriately. I didn’t pick up my jersey and my bib the day before, just because of the extra round trip drive, so, I had to arrive in enough time before the start of the race to acquire these necessities. Of course, since I always allow for unexpected traffic or unexpected road work, and as there was neither, I arrived very early. I’m much happier with a little extra time at my destination, whether a marathon, an airport, a restaurant, or a meeting.
When the gates opened, I was among the first in line for my bib and swag. I found myself in line with a young woman, she was friendly and talkative and we chatted a bit . She asked if it was my first marathon, I told her it was my second. It was her first, though she appeared quite fit and looked like a “runner, not that there is really a stereotypical “runner” type; we come in all shapes and sizes, some very unlikely shapes and sizes, even.
The young woman asked if I had any advice for her. I told her to just keep going. Just keep going. She shared that she’d been training with a coach and it sounded like she was exceedingly well-prepared. We talked further of family, she a young mother of two and me a mother of two, probably not too fa, in years, from her age.
After we accumulated our respective things, she went one way, I another. I ran back to my car to deposit all the extra swag and saw the young woman again, just outside the gates, with her husband, two young daughters, and new puppy. We exchanged a quick smile and a wave.
My marathon couldn’t have gone much better, I am very, very pleased with my accomplishment and with my results. My first goal was to just finish, which when you run 26.2 mile races, is always in question. I accomplished that. My second goal was to beat my last marathon time. I accomplished that. My third goal was to finish in less than five hours. I accomplished that. My next goal was to beat Oprah. I read once, but haven’t actually confirmed, that the one and only marathon Oprah ever ran, while in a relationship with a personal trainer, she completed in less than four and a half ours. My ultimate goal is to be able to consistently finish marathons in less than four hours.
I ran strong and I ran at a fairly steady pace. I’d done the math, and to reach my most realistic goal, I needed to maintain an average pace of eleven minute miles, including any walk breaks or potty stops, for the entire race. But I was uncomfortable at that pace and I kept finding myself running about thirty to sixty seconds faster. I’ve been training with my club at the eleven minute pace. I’ve considered moving up a pace group, but have been struggling a bit, lately, with fatigue and knee pain after long runs, anything in excess of about ten miles.
Ten miles came and went during the race, and no pain, and definitely no fatigue. The way the course was designed, there was a “dog leg” from about mile nine to twenty, meaning you ran out, then ran back. It was at mile eleven that I saw the race leader running back towards the finish in the opposite direction. I cheered him on. From that point on, countless runners before me passed by, and, for each, I cheered. Once a cheerleader, always a cheerleader. But, I found in the distraction of cheering others on, I just kept going and paid very little mind to my own race.
Another couple of miles and the young woman I met in line at the stadium before the race passed in the other direction. We waved and cheered each other on. She looked strong, she was going to just keep going, like I advised, I was certain.
Marathoners often talk of “the wall”, it usually occurs at about twenty miles; you feel you just can’t go on. There was a running jersey for sale at this race, on the back it said, “I don’t believe in the wall”, on the front, “I believe in the Blerch”.
I’ve hit the wall. I hit the wall in my first marathon, shortly after mile twenty. I will never forget mile twenty, though. It was at mile twenty that I acknowledged “the wall” and sort of scanned my sense of well-being for symptoms of having hit said wall. I was fine, tired, but still chugging away. But, just the thought of the wall seemed to change my psychological outlook for the rest of the race. I glanced to my left, beyond the pylons separating the runners from the traffic. The bus, for those who’ve struck the wall hard enough to give up, was cruising nearly alongside me, door open. It was going very, very, very, very slowly. The driver was matching my pace, it seemed, in an effort to encourage me to leap into the beckoning doorway. I resisted. In fact, I was a little myphed that I may have, in any way, resembled a wall-struck soul.
This further messed with my head. At about mile twenty two, I was upon the wall. I forced myself to keep going, 4.2 miles after 22 is really, truly, nothing. I hurt and I was uncomfortable and I was tired. I was taking stock of all of these sensations when I was passed, by a woman, running, energetically. She had two prosthetic legs. I felt like a boob. And, I just kept going.
I finished that first marathon, nearly two years ago, in five hours, fifteen minutes and twenty seconds. My goal had been, first, to finish, and second, within six hours. My ultimate goal was to finish in less than five and a half hours. I just kept going. I did it.
In last Saturday’s race, I ran right past the twenty mile mark, and the twenty two mile mark. I was, yes, a little tired, but not at all sore. My pace time was actually increasing with each mile. I tried to temper it, concerned I may expend all of my energy short of the finish line.
The wall manifested at about mile 24.98746. I had less than two miles to go and had told myself I was going to just keep going, even when my walk alarm sounded, I was going to run it in and run it in strong. And, somehow, I found myself walking. Walking. At mile 24.98746 of 26.2, I was walking. I walked a little longer than my maximum allowable minute. I’d been taking thirty to forty-five second walk breaks every six to twelve minutes throughout the race, so a minute seemed an eternity. I did finally find a way to make my legs move faster for the last mile, and I just kept going, and I finished strong. My time was 4:35:40. If I had kept going a little more, a little faster at the beginning of the race, in those bits where I was trying to make myself go slow, if I had just kept going at mile 24.98746, if I had wolfed down my quarter of a peanut butter and honey sandwich while running instead of full on stopping to eat it, if I had just kept going, I’d have beat not only the Blerch, but Oprah, too!
I am proud of myself and I am fairly certain I will lay Oprah to waste in a few weeks when I make my second run at the California International Marathon. I will just keep going.
I always reward myself after an admirable feat of exertion, with food and beverage. As I used to live in the Sacramento area, I have a smattering of friends here. Of all my friends in Sacramento, there is only one that I’ve known long enough that I was reasonably assured she wouldn’t be too offended by my post-race appearance, or, worse yet, aroma. We arranged to meet for a late lunch, and, for me, a beer, too. This friend, I have known since the third grade. We were close in grade school, not quite as close in middle school, but we were in the same, tight, core group of friends in high school. We were also college roommates for a few years. We go so far back, in fact, that her mother was my Girl Scout leader and is probably a significant contributing factor to how I found myself begin a Girl Scout leader and loving the outdoors as and singing silly songs in rounds as much as I do.
The two of us chatted so intently that the poor waiter came back to our table about a dozen times before we’d managed to glance at the menu long enough to decide on food. We talked about everything. Everything. We had much to catch up on, we were, in fact, having a hard time pinpointing when, exactly, our previous visit had been. Certainly within the year, but still, obviously, far too long. The topic of conversation turned to our mothers, both still alive, both very elderly. We compared notes. My mom is older by a few years, but has been inactive for many and is, presently, quite miserable. My Girl Scout leader is still working and was still hiking and walking regularly until a knee surgery a couple of years ago. She hasn’t quite healed, which, is exactly what rendered my mom less mobile, only her knee surgery was a couple of decades ago. Since being less able to walk and hike and maintain an active lifestyle, my Girl Scout leader has aged considerably and is, well, kind of miserable.
My friend and I finished our meals, slowly, chatted some more, paid our bill, performing painstaking mathematical calisthenics to precisely account for our separate meals, tax, tip, and all (at her insistence). As we walked to our cars we laid plans to visit, again, with some of the other gals, over Thanksgiving weekend when she’ll be “home” in Napa. I told her to tell her mom hello for me, and she returned the sentiment. In our parting, we shared one last observation, as evidenced by our moms in their present states of low level misery and declining vigor; you just have to keep going.
Six days. I have six days until my first full marathon for the season. I’ve run one full marathon, in my life, and while I finished, and I finished ahead of my personal “goal”, and, so, it was successful, it was a disaster. It is now a model of so many things “not to do”. I am not “worried” or “anxious” about my upcoming race, nearly two years since my first, flawed, full-marathon. I do know that I am approaching this next race with certain expectations, certain trepidations, and, again, somewhat handicapped.
My first full marathon was in early December in 2013. I was traveling for work, which was, then, my life. The last quarter of each year is an extremely busy time for us in “training and consulting”, and it is the height of our travel season. That I managed to be in any kind of decent physical shape is still a wonder. I was living a completely “unsustainable” life, especially for someone hoping to run a marathon. The week before the marathon, I was nearly 3,000 miles from home, living in a hotel and subsisting, out of necessity, off of the healthiest food I could find in restaurants on Long Island.
Because traveling from east to west on Friday nights is virtually impossible, without spending several hours curled up on the floor of some airport, which I refuse to do, I scheduled my flight home for Saturday. The race was Sunday. I found myself on a flight with a whole bunch of other runners registered to run the C.I.M., the California International Marathon in Sacramento. The race is popular with elite marathoners, as it is flat (Sacramento is flat), and so, a fast course. The C.I.M. is a “Boston Marathon qualifying” race. If you can finish in a certain time, you qualify for one of the most highly sought after marathons in the world. The folks with whom I shared space on the aircraft were elite runners. I was a boob, by comparison. Nonetheless, kindred folk chatted, exchanging stories of races, nutrition, and training. And, through these stories, my suspicions were confirmed; I am a boob. I live in hotels, eat at restaurants, weeks and weeks on end. My weekends are spent traveling, and, maybe, squeezing in a training run here or there. I was entered into a marathon where I would have to sustain a quasi-running gate for 26.2 miles, sleep-deprived, jet-lagged, and nutritionally unprepared.
Like I said, somehow, I finished the race, alive, and in less time than I hoped. But, I was nearly physically ill the entire time. Because of the high sodium content of restaurant food (especially in Long Island) and the travel, and trying to, as advised, hydrate before the race, I was, in fact, seriously over-hydrated. I stopped at every porta-potty and felt like a water buffalo, not the animal, but the equipage by which you store and transport water; round, bulging, and sloshing with water when moved. Following the race, I had outrageous swelling from edema in my legs, for nearly a week. And, to make it worse, I was on a plane, again, Monday morning after the race back to the east coast.
This was not sustainable; my lifestyle, my training, my diet, the travel. All of it.
A few things have changed, but, again, I find myself questioning sustainability.
In early October I completed a fun little half marathon, again, in Sacramento, and one I’ve completed a few times. I’ve stopped traveling for work and have made a bit more of an effort to maintain an appropriate training schedule; though it is still a struggle, and, again, my lifestyle, currently, may have some sustainability issues impacting that. But, I felt healthy and prepared and I had a goal; I hoped to “PR”, I hoped to beat my “personal record”, to run a half marathon faster than ever before. My goal was to finish in two hours and fifteen minutes. My fastest half marathon, to that point, was completed six months earlier at two hours and seventeen minutes. In training, with my running club, we run for six minutes at a regular pace, then walk for a minute, then run again. This was how I intended to run this race. In prior races, there had been a “pacer” from our club, they would keep track of the intervals and pace whoever wanted to keep up at precisely the pace necessary to achieve the desired time. Pacers identify themselves with a sign they carry with the finish time on it. I quickly found the “2:15” sign and stuck close to the energetic and enthusiastic gal grasping it. I didn’t recognize her from my club, but I knew the race organizers provided pacers, and, well, here was my girl. If I stuck with her, she’d get me in by my goal. I’d PR.
The race started and she took off. I followed her along with a small herd of other runners. I still had my watch, and it was programmed for my desired run/walk intervals. Six minutes passed, my watch beeped, and my pacer kept running. In the next few seconds, which seemed an eternity, I had a terrible realization; she wasn’t running intervals. If I wanted to run with her, and make my goal, I’d have to run continuously for 13.1 miles. I have never trained for this. The club I run with has a certain “philosoply” and “methods”, by which we can run, sustainably. Sustainably, here, means without long term injury or wear or tear, and with optimal physical results. It’s a theory, but one I am counting on and one that seems to hold some truth. One of my coaches is 59 years old. One of my pace group teammates is 71 years old. I’d like to run for the rest of my life. I started running at the age of 48, four years ago. My knees are, so far, holding out, I think, because of the sustainable philosophy and methods I’ve been training under.
Fortunately, for me, I usually run quite a bit faster on my own, than I do in training with my club. So, I quickly changed my strategy at about six minutes and twenty seconds into my half marathon; I ran faster. My new strategy was to keep the 2:15 sign behind me. At all costs. I questioned the sustainability of this, but, I ran with it. I got ahead of the 2:15 sign a bit, took my walk break, and ran again. Repeatedly. I revised my strategy a little further, knowing with the increased pace, I may end up having to slow a bit as the miles accumulated. I needed a bigger “buffer” between me and the 2:15 sign. So, instead of running six minutes and walking one, I ran for ten or twelve minutes and walked for thirty or forty-five seconds. I knew this wasn’t sustainable for every day running and training, but for a race, one day, sure. I never saw the 2:15 sign again.
In fact, as I ran and ran and ran, I came upon the 2:10 sign, which was being carried by the very popular, well-known, and highly respected organizer of my running club. My running club is over 500 members strong, if that is any indication of the faith people have in this guy’s philosophy and methods. I passed him up and, now heady with my accomplishments, revised my goal and strategy about half way through the race; keep the 2:10 sign behind me. At this point, with half the distance still ahead of me, I, again, question the sustainability. But only momentarily. My plan, again, was to establish a distance between me and the 2:10 sign so I could take my little walk breaks and even slow my overall pace down later in the race, if necessary.
I got cocky, again, and decided to see if I could catch up and pass the 2:05 sign. My ultimate goal is to be able to run half marathons, consistently, in less than two hours. Look at how close I was! What if I could do that today? But, alas, I ran out of race before I met my ultimate goal, or before I even spotted the 2:05 sign. I did, however, finish 13.1 miles in 2:06, taking more than ten minutes off my previous, personal best. My pace and my strategy were totally sustainable.
One short week after my success in my half marathon, I found myself entered into another. Two half-marathons in two week’s time is not what many folks, runners included, call a sustainable practice. But, here I was. This was a hillier course, run in Sonoma County. I had never run this race, and, in fact, knew very little about it. I’d received an email about it, late one evening, probably after a glass of wine, and thought “what the heck” and signed up. I may also have been influenced by the fact that there was beer and wine at the finish line and that the medal was a commemorative wine bottle stopper. Whatever the reasons, I was in the race.
I have a fairly competitive spirit and the person I most want to beat in any competition is myself. I cannot imagine being in a running race and not bettering my last time. I have, in fact, only ever been in one half marathon where I didn’t do better than my last; a few months earlier, extremely hilly, and I had stayed out way too late the night before and overindulged far too much on food and wine and such. I only missed my personal best by a minute and fifty-eight seconds. I’d only ever run flat courses, and this one boasted over 1,500 feet in elevation gain. That I got within twenty minutes of my previous PR was miracle enough.
So, with another less than flat course ahead of me, and, again, the unsustainable practice of too much food and all the night before, coupled with not quite enough sleep (I can never sleep before a race whether I find myself horizontal in bed twelve hours before the race or four hours before the race), I dared myself to beat my PR, set only a week beforehand, and shattering my previous one. I thought maybe, just maybe, I could beat the elusive two hour mark. Could I sustain that pace, sustain that level of energy, in spite of hills and overindulgence and sleep deprivation? I had my doubts but figured I’d at least try. I found the girl carrying the 2:00 sign, and, adopting the same strategy from the week prior, I endeavored to put some distance between me and her so I could still take some abbreviated walk breaks and so, when the hills manifested, I’d have enough of a buffer to slow my pace, and not of a voluntary choice. On the first hill, the first walk break, she soared past me and took with her all of my confidence and spirit. My plan was not sustainable.
As I crested that first hill, I picked up my pace downhill and caught up and passed the 2:00 sign, again. This went on for about eleven of the thirteen miles and I was spent. I let her go. I ran in the last couple of miles at a pace I could sustain, and managed, again, to beat my PR, taking another couple minutes off and getting another couple of minutes closer to my ultimate goal.
My race next week is wholly twice as long as the races I ran earlier this fall. My training regime has been more sustainable, on weekends, with the club, since I stopped traveling for work. Traveling was no longer sustainable, on several levels, and I was able to negotiate a change. The change was good, but still, I find myself in an unsustainable situation. I end up working nearly every morning at some unholy hour and I let this compromise my mid-week training. I manage a run or a hike here and there, but I am most definitely not working the plan that my running club philosophy and methods recommend. My knees now hurt with the longer weekend runs because I’m inconsistent with my mid-week training. To further the practice of unsustainability, I’ve enlisted in two full marathons within a few weeks of the other. A very bad idea and wholly unsustainable. But, here I am. The moment is nearly upon me and I am trying to develop a strategy that will help me sustain my pace for an entire 26.2 miles that will be better than my first full marathon two years ago. And without pain. And without compromising the next race in, now, less than a month. I’ve done all the math, I know the numbers, I know the course, and I am just hoping it’s a sustainable plan and an attainable goal, whichever one. There are three; to beat my last full marathon time, or, to bring it in in under five hours, or, the lifetime and, I know, completely unattainable goal, right now, to beat the four-hour hurdle. The first is likely, the second sounds impossible to me from where I’m sitting at this moment, and the third, even in my lifetime, pretty lofty. We shall see.
A constant theme in my trials as a runner, as a marathoner, and as an athlete hoping to be able to sustain a certain pace, for a certain duration, for a race and for a lifetime, has been my lifestyle. My lifestyle and its sustainability. What I’ve learned is this; simplicity is sustainable.
I have always struggled with sustainability, in lifestyle. I don’t think I’m alone. I tend to overcommit in every arena of my life. As I grow older, and, hopefully, wiser, and as I accumulate more experiences to hold as example, more knowledge to draw from and refer to, I’ve come to the realization that sustainability is something that needs to be examined, and re-examined, at nearly every turn.
Sustainability applies to relationships. The big question for me, and, as evidenced by the high divorce rate, the number of very unhappy people in our midst, and the middle-aged dating scene, relationships don’t appear to be sustainable. True, there are those anomalies, the hangers-on, the “at all costs”, long-term, relationships, but, yes, at what costs? I know of approximately two long-term marriages I’ve evidenced over a time that appear to be truly and totally sustainable, at no apparent, adverse, cost. Freaks. And, yet, as I stand in the rubble of a few failed relationships of my own, I scrambled to the top of that pile of rubble and embarked on another that I hope will be, truly, freakishly, sustainable, in every respect, all benefits and no costs.
After much reading, reflection and introspection, for me, a sustainable relationship is nothing more than a sustained, mutual enjoyment of one another’s presence. Each person in the relationship is responsible only for their own happiness, and, so, enjoy the benefit of each other’s happiness. There is, and never can be, one party that makes the other happy, nor can there be that expectation. I am reasonably happy, you are reasonably happy, therefore, we, together are reasonably happy. I know it all sounds sort of Barney the purple dinosaur, but he may have been on to something. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. If you like being around the person, make them welcomed in your life for as long as you like being around them and for as long as they like being around you. I think keeping it that simple and that basic may provide better results than all the other stuff.
Sustainable relationships, also, again, based on what I’ve witnessed, and endured, and learned, can never be based on expectation. Expectation is the prescription for disappointment and failure, in relationships, and in life. In relationships, if you like the person enough to share your time and happiness with them, that is fine. If you have any expectation that the object of your desire will perform, or change, or provide you with something you desire or feel is missing, you will be sad, sorry, disappointed and the relationship will not be sustainable. The only thing you should “expect” in a relationship is integrity, love, and to not be abused or neglected, which, I think falls within the umbrella of “love”, but I like to break out, because not everyone grasps that important little bit. Simple. And simplicity is sustainable.
In our competitive, expensive, capitalist society, the topic of a sustainable career is a tough one to broach. We have watched generation after generation work their lives away to sustain a certain level of comfort, a lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed to. For each of us, this may be a different level of “comfortable”, and that may even be the catalyst for some of us to work even harder, to break out, to elevate our level of comfort, to eclipse what our parents and grandparents achieved. For others of us, it’s just to “get by”. For whatever reason we decide we must work, and work hard, we have to, again, consider sustainability. Are our careers sustainable? We cannot be happy, joyful people if what we do for a living contradicts our values or is in any way unsustainable. Truth.
This I have struggled with in the past. This I am currently struggling with. I do not like what I do. I like the people, I like that I’m good at it, I like the compensation, I like the benefits, but it isn’t what I’m passionate about, which violates my values, my beliefs, and it is absolutely, positively, not sustainable. I was able to renegotiate my position, earlier this year, to temporarily, not have to travel. I am now working 100% of the time, over the internet and telephone, glued to my chair. My days begin at different times every day, but usually very, very, very early in the morning. The reason I stated I could no longer travel was that it was interfering in the needs of my family, in my friendships, in my relationships, in my pursuit of health and fitness, all of which are the focus of my core, personal, values. My ability to focus on my family, friendships, relationship, creativity, and pursuit of health and fitness has actually worsened since I stopped traveling. Oh, and I really don’t like what I do, whether I’m good at it, or not.
If our livelihood, our career, for the sake of happiness and fulfillment, is to be something passion driven, is it realistic to expect to have the same career throughout life? Are careers as unsustainable as long-term relationships? I think so. As we evolve, perhaps what was once a match is no longer. Career, then, ought to follow the same criteria; a sustained enjoyment of what we do. Passion. Passion driven. Lest we are miserable. We do what we love for as long as we love it, then, if necessary, we move on. That, I believe is the pathway to a more fulfilled, joyful life. Simple. And simplicity is sustainable.
We have an appetite for money and will do anything to get it. Do anything to get more of it. Even compromise our values and deny our passions. And yet, money has never, does not now, nor will it ever, buy happiness. This, a lesson I’ve learned, not that I was ever wealthy, according to popular measures. But, there was always a thirst for more and values and passions were compromised to achieve that. Now that I earn a comfortable amount, I am enslaved by that denomination. My earnings sustain my lifestyle. But, again, is my lifestyle sustainable? As a society, and especially my generation, we have learned we can have more than we can actually pay for. We live well beyond our means, and, this, is most definitely not sustainable. My financial world came crashing down around me with the real estate fiasco of 2009. Very hard lessons were almost learned, and, yet, I still find I live a life that is financially not sustainable. I’ve made great strides, and can now manage to pay my debts and obligations, and feed and clothes myself, and even have a little left over to spend recklessly. But, I am a slave to my income, to my regular paycheck, which is tied to that unsustainable career.
Simplicity, again. If what I consumed, financially speaking, were based only on my simplest of needs, I’d need less. If I had less stuff, I’d require less space, which costs less money. If I spent my money only where my passions lie, less would be wasted on that which I find less fulfilling and nurturing. If I spent money only on that which is supported by my values, I’d be more at peace, more in alignment with my values, and spend less, too. Like all things, if we can break it all down into the simplest of terms, we can find a more sustainable and rewarding path to the joy we seek. I can spend less by simplifying and have more sustainable financial needs, so I can earn less and follow a passion based, sustainable career path, which will support more sustainable family, friendship, relationship, health and fitness spheres. Simple. Simplicity is sustainable.
We, generally speaking, don’t think in terms of sustainability often, or easily. The crisis our environment is in is irrefutable evidence. If we begin to look at everything in our realm in terms of sustainability, we can reform our lives, and our world.
For example, look at how most of us approach fitness. Why, it is almost that time of year, once again! January of every year, you will not find me at the gym. You will find many, many, many people at the gym, I will not be one of them. Classes will be full to capacity, there will be lines for weight racks, weight machines, and all the cardio equipment. By about February first, normalcy reigns. The swell of people in attendance in January I refer to as “resolutionists”. With the New Year, they’ve decided to reform their lives and embark on a totally unsustainable routine, some for a day or two, some for a week or two, and for the rare, it becomes a sustainable habit. I just avoid the gym in January and am grateful for the infusion of capital from all those new, unused memberships for new equipment.
Incorporating exercise into our lifestyles is a matter of changing our habits, or, as I like to say; exchanging our habits, bad for good. We must decide what it is we really like to do. Just because you can burn a shit ton of calories running doesn’t mean running will make you happy, though I could argue. We are not all runners. Find what it is you like to do, simply enough, and do it as often as you can. If you do it enough, with some frequency, it becomes a habit, and something you begin to prioritize in your life. You’ll replace other, lower priority activities with your new fitness habit, and, you’ll become more fit and happy as a result. Simple. And simplicity is sustainable.
Our health habits are unsustainable. We are seeing, for the first time in recorded history, life expectancies shorter for us than for our parents. We live and work in toxic environments, eat more chemicals than food, and lead far more sedentary lives than the human being was ever designed to endure. To rectify our collective obesity, we try one highly restrictive fad diet after the next, decreasing our caloric and nutrient intake to the point where our bodies are certain famine has hit. Food, what little we eat, is stored as fat and the weight we manage to lose is mostly muscle. Since muscle burns more calories than fat, when we can no longer stand the restrictive diet and we return to our “usual” eating habits, our body composition is now higher in fat and lower than muscle than when we went on the diet. We get fatter. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Our diets should not be a series of “rapid results” diets. How we eat, what we eat, even when and where we eat, if approached from the perspective of sustainability and of lifestyle, rather than rapid results, will provide us a far greater level of health, success, quality of life and longevity, even self-respect and self-esteem. Eating is completely out of habit; how, what, when and where. If we can exchange a habit here and there, bad for good, we can overcome all of lifelong, deplorable, dietary indiscretions.
With food, I’ve found, the simpler the better. Simple is sustainable in how food is grown, how it is processed, how it is prepared, and even how it is consumed. Keeping it simple is the habit to strive for and fosters sustainability on a personal and global level. Simple. And simplicity is sustainable.
I find even my creativity suffers from unsustainability. I simply do not have enough time in the day to write. I find my creative time tends to be early morning, with coffee, and, sometimes early afternoon, perhaps with a beer. With the rigors and hours of my current job, my family, relationship, friendship and fitness needs are all compromised, as is my creativity. I am usually working during my creative window, and, if not, work is imminent that day and I cannot clear my head enough to allow the flow. There was a time when I wrote every single day, and, I was traveling a great deal at the time, I was even traveling to sustain a relationship, and maintaining an impressive level of fitness and health. That I haven’t been able to sustain a writing practice, I think, speaks not only to sustainability, but to my level of fulfillment and joy. Creativity flows when joy is sustained. For me, my level of creativity is the canary in the coal mine. The fact that writing has become a struggle, a chore, and has become infrequent and a near insurmountable task, at times, is an indication that things aren’t as simple as they could be.
I recently went through a practice, which I exercise at least once a year, sometimes more frequently. I call it “the process”, and I have developed it by gleaning certain prescribed methods from a dozen or more authors of self-improvement, authors on efficiency, authors on self-actualization, and authors on business management. I think for each of us, this practice may vary, but I think for all of us, it should be based on our passions, our values, our roles in life, our goals, and, most of all, sustainability. It is with the recent completion of “the process” that I am, again, examining everything in my life, from my marathon next week to the fact that my alarm is set for 4:30 AM tomorrow and I want to spend some time with someone who I am happy to spend time with tonight. Some aspects of my life are far more sustainable than others. I need to align the rest. Simple. Simplicity is sustainable.
I’m reading a great book right now! I’ll rephrase that. Of the six or seven great books I’m reading simultaneously, one relates to the following story I have to share.
I’m reading “I Can See Clearly Now” by Dr. Wayne Dyer, one of my favorite authors. I’m reading it on my Kindle, on my phone via the Kindle app, and I’m listening to it on Audible in my car as I drive north, south, east and west for my various adventures and social engagements.
In a recent chapter, Dr. Dyer tells the story of a final exam he took in a graduate course where he’d studied, as I did in college, Abraham Maslow and the Hierarchy of Needs and “self-actualization”; the highest need. The professor gave the class a question and asked them to write an essay, giving them thirty minutes to complete the assignment. The question went something like this, “A self-actualized man attended a party. When he arrived everyone was in slacks, jackets, and ties. The self-actualized man was in jeans, a t-shirt, and athletic shoes. What did the self-actualized man do?” The entire class wrote their essays, all taking nearly the entire thirty minutes, filling page after page with carefully constructed details. When the professor returned, he asked each student to read their essay aloud. Each essay was roughly the same, stating that the man acted on confidence and didn’t feel self-conscious about his non-conforming attire. The professor told the class that everyone, in jest, had failed the exam. The question could be answered in exactly three words; he didn’t notice.
Self-actualizers, among many other characteristics, have a comfortable acceptance of self and others. They are also reliant on their own experiences and judgment, they are independent and don’t rely on culture and environment to form opinions or views. A self-actualized man would not make notice of his attire in comparison to the other party attendees. There would be no comparison of self to others; the self-actualizer is completely fulfilled, comparisons of self to others are unnecessary.
I went to a party this weekend, a masquerade ball, to be exact, at a popular winery in Sonoma. I was invited to the function as a member of a MeetUp group I am active with, a women’s networking group. I saw in the excerpt describing the party that it was a costume party and quickly scanned the list of attendees. A great group of gals were planning to attend, so without reading any further, I clicked “Yes!”, added the event to my calendar, and purchased the $65 ticket online, as one of the very few details I did read said the event was likely to sell out fast. I was committed.
A couple of weeks before the event, the same group of ladies had an impromptu happy hour gathering at a restaurant nearby. I attended and we all chatted about many things over snacks and sparkling wine. With the masquerade ball fast approaching, the topic of costumes came up. I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a procrastinator and I had only a few very vague costume ideas in mind. I had not even begun the process of deciding, making, acquiring, or purchasing. When asked, I mentioned that I had a great black dress that I have worn as a costume, playing the role of Morticia Addams from the Addams Family. I also had in mind a zombie school girl outfit I could assemble from wardrobe items on hand. The group organizer informed me that the masquerade ball was actually an eighteenth century masquerade ball and that our costumes should be reflective of that period. She then mentioned that her costume was going to be a twist on that theme, and would be “steam punk”. I am aware of “steam punk”, and had a quick visual image of how she might incorporate that with an eighteenth century ball gown.
I wasn’t too worried. I happen to have an entire storage unit full of beautiful sequined ball gowns, all hoop skirts and corsets and boning and the whole deal. Okay, only the top layer of my storage unit is beautiful sequined ball gowns, all hoop skirts and corsets and boning and the whole deal. I really need to go through that storage unit and get rid of stuff, but, thank you “universe”, for making me a procrastinator; I haven’t purged the ball gowns. You just never know when you’ll need a formal ball gown, right? They were my daughters, from a youth group she was active in during high school. Fortunately for me, I’ve shrunk, deliberately and with considerable effort and discipline, over the past several years and there is a good chance theses ball gowns will fit me. If not, there is, somewhere in that storage unit, an old Jessica McClintock dress in a very forgiving size that I’m sure I can make work. While I totally embrace minimalism, there are still remnants of the former quasi-hoarder lifestyle I escaped from a half a decade ago. Like ball gowns and dresses from the 1970’s. The universe works in very mysterious ways, or, perhaps, it’s just a freaky coincidence. Anyway, I’m not worried, in the least, about having a costume for the ball.
The day of the party arrives. I’ve selected the best fitting dress of the lot, and, of them all, my all-time favorite. I’ve made my own mask, which I’m quite proud of, it matches the unique orange sherbet color of my dress precisely. I am feeling so beautiful and confident and perfectly outfitted for the event, I can hardly wait to arrive. In fact, I am so eager, I arrive a full forty minutes early. I select a very strategic parking space in the gravel lot so I won’t have to walk too far in my lovely sherbet orange, ornately sequined, taffeta and tulle gown.
I sit in my car and wait for my girlfriends to arrive. And, as I sit and wait, I observe other early arrivers as they emerge from their cars. There is a man in a powder wig. Excellent. There is another man in a top hat, he looks like Abraham Lincoln almost! Perfect. A woman exits a car in black slacks and a purple and red striped tunic top. With a mask. What? More people begin to arrive and woman after woman after woman, I observe in slacks, maxi dresses, and LBD’s (little black dresses), some, quite slutty. Cute, but slutty, and, most definitely not eighteenth century ball room, masquerade ball, style dresses. I am comparing my brilliant orange, sparkly affair with the outfits of all the other women I see. I am near frantic. I glance at the clock. I live on the very western edge of Napa, if I push the speed limit, I could make it home, change my clothes and be back before the festivities begin. I seriously consider it. But, then, I remember, my girlfriends are all going to be dressed appropriately for an eighteenth century masquerade ball. We’ve discussed this. I’m cool. I hang. I continue to watch. I continue to watch and to compare myself to every other female who arrives. After about one hundred LBD’s, carefully paired with stiletto heels and a cute mask, I see one woman, about ten years my elder, arrive in a period-appropriate dress. Ok.
I never see any of my girlfriends arrive, but, it is getting darker and I am trying to observe most of this action in the rear view mirror of my car. I check the MeetUp app to see if anyone has posted their arrival in the comments section. Nothing. I see several more LBD’s arrive and no other period-appropriate dresses. Again, I glance at the clock on my dashboard; if I left right now, went home, changed and drove back, I’d be 23 minutes late for the official beginning of the party, which is known as fashionably late. I’d be fashionably late and I’d more fashionably fit in.
Why do we have such an innate desire to “fit in”? I am consumed by this need and why it isn’t at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, I don’t know. I think “fitting in” fits in to “love/belonging” and “esteem” rungs in Maslow’s hierarchy. But it isn’t at the top. Apparently, I’m not a self-actualizer. Yet. That’s a crowd I’d like to fit in to. Sigh.
More LBD’s, more black maxi-dresses, all with masks, though. Hoo-fucking-ray for the masks! None of them are orange, though, like mine, they’re all black. I seriously consider forfeiting the cost of the ticket and just going home, having a glass of wine, and continuing my study of self-actualization. I check the MeetUp app again to see if anyone has commented. That moment when you realize you’re the only one in bright orange taffeta and tulle.
The party begins in a few minutes and the organizer has commented, “Here!” Much like my RSVP to this event, I send of a rapid fire response, “OMG! Everyone is in LBD’s and I look like the frickin’ queen!” No reply. At least I have ridiculously dressed friends at the event, they’ve somehow eluded my watchful eye in their corsets and bustles, their taffeta and tulle, their colors and sequins. I am emboldened. A little. I extricate myself from my Civic, which is no easy feat. The tram has arrived and I step aboard. There are four rows of seats in the tram, each wide enough for three humans, unless, of course, they are in a period-appropriate dress. I take up an entire row and am trailing orange sherbet colored tulle behind me as we speed up the paved drive towards the winery.
Everyone on the tram is in black and modern attire, except one woman, probably twenty years my senior; she is in a period-appropriate dress. It’s black, though. But, at least we can both fret with our hoops and corsets and bustles, exiting the tram, in tandem.
The tram pulls up to the winery where a crowd has assembled, awaiting the lowering of the chain across the entrance. The party has not, apparently, officially begun. I gracefully slide off the tram seat and alight on the ground. My taffeta and tulle catch up with me several seconds later, in their brilliant sequined orange. There is a hush over the crowd and every head turns. “Hello.”
I hold my head up high, I smile, I make eye contact, and I frantically look for a recognizable face. Where are my ridiculously dressed friends? Where is the wine?
I find the wine, thank the lord. Our group organizer finds me, in her “steam punk” dress, which is actually an LBD with some anitique-ish looking accessories that could be argued as period-appropriate. She looks so gosh-darned cute, and sexy, and pretty, and I look like the Great Pumpkin from the Charlie Brown Halloween special. The organizer brought her friend with her. I’ve met her before, she’s super fun and funny and cute, with a delightful accent. I suck at accents, but it’s from somewhere cool, I’m certain. She is in an even L’erBD, with lace and leather and barely covered body bits, and a mask, of course. More wine, please.
I am having a very difficult time navigating the crowd with my very fluffy skirt. My daughter is a full four inches shorter than I, so I am struggling with why the skirt is dragging on the floor for me and it didn’t for her. I’m not good at physics, or trigonometry, oh, wait, that’s triangles, geometry, then, I guess, but I think it has something to do with the circumference of the hoop. Pi, or the square root of pi, or some derivative of, I don’t know. I do know that people keeping stepping on my tulle train which immediately halts any forward motion I am attempting. My daughter’s lovely pumpkin dress cost $500. I know, I bought it, and I really, really, really don’t want to ruin it, though it is highly unlikely anyone will ever wear it again, anywhere. My mom, ever ready for the worst case scenario, which, in my estimation, just paves the way for the worst to manifest, left, on the kitchen counter, for me, a ten-year old bottle of chemical wonder called “red wine stain remover”. So far, they have only poured bubbly, here. Per the event program, red wine is on the third floor. I love red wine, but I may seek to avoid, at the event, and just imbibe in the bottle of Zinfandel I have on my desk, when I get home. I may just stick to the first floor, all bubbly, and I won’t have to navigate the stairs or commandeer the tiny elevator, me, my skirt, and I.
My gal pals and I head for the Bubble Room, on the first floor, where they remove jackets and other outer garments to further reveal the beauty of their eighteenth century as interpreted by the twenty-first century costumes. And masks, of course. They both sit, easily, in the chairs. I move to sit in a neighboring chair, my ass hits the seat a full several seconds before my abundance of tulle settles around me. I’m sure everyone is watching the spectacle that is me. I smile confidently and adjust my chin a bit higher. Though, whether sincerely, or out of sympathy, several people have remarked on my dress, in a complimentary manner. The employees behind the wine bar, the hired dancers and musicians, and other paid individuals, are all wearing full skirts and flounces, they appear corseted and bustled, but aren’t, actually, as am I. I wonder if the other guests assume I’m hired entertainment. I decide, if that is the assumption, perhaps I shall oblige and act as though I am hired entertainment. I shift, nervously, smile more confidently, and raise my chin even higher. I am probably grimacing, by this point, and that I notice the raw beams of the ceiling suggests my chin may be held a bit too high, at the moment. I readjust.
I have two questions; where are the other gals from our group, one, and, what are they wearing, two?
We three polish off our bubbly and decide to explore the rest of the venue. We make our way out to the foyer and there are two or three other guests milling around. Where is everyone else? There were dozens of folks milling around outside before we were allowed to enter. We finally locate both the stairs and the elevator at the back of the room. We collectively opt for the elevator. When the car arrives, I gather up my yards of orange tulle and squeeze into the back of the elevator. My two friends manage to negotiate their way in, and, surprisingly, the doors close without hinderance. We exit at the second floor where the program states there is a fortune teller. There are two or three guests milling about, looking puzzled and a little bewildered at the lack of festivities, as are we. The fortune teller occupies a table and has a person seated across from her. I favor telling my own fortune, I sure as heck don’t want some acne riddled, twenty-something, making up a story that may seal my destiny. The power of suggestion is far too mysterious and too close to reality and manifestation for me to flirt with. We circle the limited space of the second floor, find no food and no wine and quickly retreat to the elevator once more.
We make our way to the third floor and as the elevator doors part we see where everyone has accumulated, not that there is a great crowd yet, but the dozens assembled out front prior to the party seem to have gathered here, on the third floor. There is food on a long table on one side of the room and every color of wine being poured a bar at the edge of the room, oh, and a juggler. I am hungry. I ran twelve miles earlier in the day and have metabolized all I’ve digested thus far, and then some. I approach the table. The mask I made, the beautiful glittery, sparkly, sequined mask I made, I decided should be of the sort that is on a stick and could be raised and lowered in a coy fashion. I did not want some mask strapped to my face for the duration of the party, smearing my eye shadow, messing up my eyeliner, or mashing my mascara enhanced lashes. I didn’t want my face to sweat. So, I am trying to manage the now empty wine glass I was told to “hang on to”, a mask on a stick, and a napkin, as there seems to be no small plates to amass finger foods upon. My very full skirt doesn’t quite facilitate approaching the buffet completely. I am a yard or so away, kind of leaning in to snatch bits of food perfectly positioned near the edges. My “dinner” for the night consists solely of some overly bright red meat like substance, some kind of salami, and thinly sliced deli variety turkey, which I despise. But I’m famished, and drinking, and must later drive home un-inebriated. I make a reach, snatch a few morsels of cured meat, retreat in an orange taffeta and tulle flourish, and scarf it down, approach the table again, and repeat. After a few repetitions, I feel adequately nourished, though not totally satisfied. What I’ve ingested thus far in food and beverage hardly accounts for my $65 admission. An occupational hazard, I try to not cost things the rest of the evening and focus on just having some fun.
There is music. A DJ. A rotund, middle-aged, DJ. He is playing music from “my era”, music popular in the 1980’s. I glance around at all the beautiful people dressed in small bits of black fabric, with masks. They all look and act older than me, but are probably “from the eighties”. There is a smattering of very beautiful, very young people, but they are loving the “old school”. There is dancing happening. This makes me happy.
I’m feeling a little the third wheel, at this point. The MeetUp event organizer and her “+ one”, aka guest, have known each other for nearly twenty years. They are very close and share two decades of shared experiences, stories, and inside jokes. I smile confidently, adjust my yards of tulle, and raise my chin a little bit. We do the girl-dance-thing, you know, when a bunch of girls really want to dance and there are no men who want to be caught dead dancing. In other words, every dance and every date and every party I’ve ever attended. We dance in the customary circular formation, each of us acting as cool as possible and yet keenly aware of just how good a dancer the other ladies in the circle are. There is unspoken competition here, but, I am disadvantaged. When in a very short, very form-fitting LBD, it is quite apparent how the hips and torso are being moved to the beat of the music. When your hips are adrift in twenty seven yards of orange taffeta and tulle and your torso bound in very rigid boning, movement is not perceptible to the casual observer. I must overachieve. I must overcompensate.
The next song is the “Nay Nay” song. I don’t know the name, or the artist, but, thank god, it is more contemporary than the litany of eighties songs. I love eighties music, but I’m craving something from the current century, I want to break out of the mold of old. The DJ demonstrates the Nay Nay dance and all the LBD’s follow suit. I do my rendition of the Nay Nay dance and only my arms appear to move. I take it up a notch, or two. I’ll admit, I am now having fun and our awkward little dance triangle has dissolved and I am on my own, free to express myself in the art of dance. I win the contest. The DJ awards me a CD of some sort I have yet to listen to. I am presently, actively, looking for the appropriate electronic equipment on which to listen to whatever has been recorded to such antiquated a medium. I mean, I have a turntable, but I don’t have a CD player. Get real. But, it, the CD, is recognition, it is my prize, and it is shiny, like my sequins, so I am happy. I’ve concluded that I won the Nay Nay dance contest, not because I was the best dancer, though I was, but because in the sea of LBD’s, I was the only recognizable dancer.
At last, we locate the other three gals from our group, also wearing LBD’s, with masks, of course. They’ve made their way to the third floor and the party can now, officially begin. They all compliment my dress. I smile confidently and raise my chin a little higher. And we dance. We dance, we dance, we dance. I am on the dance floor and every song that comes on is my jam! Sometimes there is one other lady dancing with me, sometimes two, sometimes three. The only constant, is me. I dance and dance and dance. I dance the night away and I have an absolute ball. At the ball. With my mask, of course. In fact, I dance for such a very long time that I danced to Abba’s Dancing Queen, not once, but twice! It’s my jam. The only song more my jam is the Cupid Shuffle; I love this dance, I rock this dance, I did not need to remember to smile confidently and raise my chin higher, I was high and all smiles doing the Cupid Shuffle; me and my skirt. I have, by this time, figured out exactly how to move so as to make al twenty seven yards of orange taffeta and tulle do amazing, swirly, things. I am the belle of the ball! I am the bright spot in a sea of LBD’s, the poor dears, all blendy-blendy in black, all in high heels, limping around, doing that “wincing walk” thing. You can tell when a girl’s feet hurt in her outrageously high stilettos, you can see how their stride becomes shorter, eventually a mincing little shuffle, and with each foot fall, a stifled moan and a wince. I have the most comfortable pair of flats I own on, never perceptible beneath my bountiful skirt. “Orange” you having fun?
The crowd of “older people” (people my age) is beginning to thin. The younger crowd has been rendered motionless by their aching feet. It is nearing the bewitching hour, ten o’clock. The wine has stopped flowing and the party trays are no longer being replenished. There are four of us “old girls” left, still dancing, still partying, still having fun, one has over-indulged. No worries, though, the three other gals have Ubered their way to the party and are sharing the cost to Uber, once again, from Sonoma, back to Napa. I opted to drive myself, and my twenty seven yards of taffeta and tulle, in my Honda Civic, to and from the party. I have been prudent and am in fine shape to drive the twenty minutes home. I make certain the most inebriated girl, being the one responsible for summoning the Uber ride, has successfully done so. There was a period of time in which she was lost. I finally found her in a bathroom stall changing into Birkenstocks. Well, if not Birkenstocks, something equally as ugly and at least as comfortable. You see, I could have worn Birkenstocks all night and not a soul would have known. I am feeling so right and so proper and so winning in my big, bright, orange dress. I am feeling like the Great Pumpkin, in fact. Once I got the three reunited and was certain Uber was en route, I headed for my car. I decided not to wait for the tram, but was feeling so exceedingly well, that I ran to my car. I ran, me and my skirt, all twenty seven yards of orange taffeta and tulle, and as I approached one couple from behind, the female of the pair, limping pathetically along, they turned to see what the fast footsteps behind them were all about. There I was, skirt gathered in hand, running, comfortable but cute shoes still on, down the festively lighted path, towards the parking lot. They called out, “Cinderella, did you lose your slipper?” To which I replied, “Yes, have you seen it? It’s glass, you know!” And I continued on. The woman complimented, “Such a pretty dress!” I responded, “It’s my daughter’s! And I must hurry, because if I don’t have it back by midnight, it’ll turn into the great pumpkin! Oh, wait …” And I scampered on, me, and twenty seven yards of pumpkin colored taffeta and tulle.
I had so much fun, and so many compliments, I overcame my insecurities of being different, of being “the Great Pumpkin”, and, in fact, found that the being different, if comparisons need be made, actually enhanced my experience exponentially. I may not yet be self-actualized, but I am so grateful I didn’t slink home and seek to conform. I had a ball, at the ball. With a mask, of course, in twenty-seven yards of orange taffeta and tulle; the great pumpkin!
I didn’t sleep at all last night. I was haunted in the night by the spirit of a young woman I observed, dead, earlier in the day.
I’d spent my day running with my running club. We are weeks away from our first full marathon of the season and the mileage is mounting. We ran eighteen miles. The parched state of California received some much needed rain the night before, and whether it was the mileage, the prospect of running in the rain, or the combination, turnout for our long, autumn run was very light. In my pace group, where there are often a dozen or more people, only five of us assembled. Of the five, two stated they’d only be running four of the eighteen miles before turning back. The three of us that persevered consisted of a coach, myself, and one other young female team member. It was perfect running weather; cool and a little damp, the dust of summer washed away with the rain from the previous night. Leaves were plastered to the asphalt pedestrian trail as though decoupaged there and clouds littered the otherwise sunny, blue, sky, allowing the sun to warm the morning just enough to take off the chill and to penetrate the damp.
We were just over halfway through our eighteen miles; the plan was to run upstream seven miles, back and past our origination point two miles further downstream, then return to the park. We were running, keeping a steady and comfortable pace, and commiserating about the amount of will it would take to run past where our cars were parked after fourteen full miles for the last four. I could hear sirens in the distance, which is certainly not uncommon. The parkway we run along nearly every Saturday morning parallels the American River, for dozens of miles, winding through the greater Sacramento metropolitan area, which now boasts a population of well over a million people. Sirens are common in such high concentrations of suburbia. The sirens did seem very close, though, at the moment, this didn’t really register. A man approached us, opposing us, a runner, on the other side of the trail, per proper trail etiquette. He spoke to us, half shouting something about the sirens and directing the police in the direction from whence he came. I thought he was joking, at first, making light of the sirens, as though he were running to flee some feigned crime, but then he mentioned a runner, ahead, in cardiac arrest. My heart nearly stopped, cold, at the thought. Cardiac arrest. That’s what that means; the sudden cessation of heartbeat, of blood flow, of circulation, of oxygen to the brain. Of life.
We continued to run, the three of us, at first with a few forgotten words of acknowledgement, then in silence, in shock, then in dreaded speculation. Our running club, though with a low turnout today, has over five hundred members. Our membership, especially after the impressive lightning, thunder and rain the night before, accounted for most of the athletic activity on the trail this early, Saturday morning. What were the chances the fallen was one of our friends, our teammates, maybe even one of our coaches?
We rounded a corner to find a crowd of team members around the form of a fairly young, female figure, prone, on the dirt, next to the paved trail. Our coaches are all trained in CPR, and, so, CPR was being administered by people familiar to us. I’ve been certified numerous times in CPR, in first aid, in wilderness first aid. I’ve had to employ some of my wilderness first aid skills, but, never, gratefully, have I had to actually employ CPR. In fact, I’ve never actually witnessed CPR being administered on anything but those peculiar, somewhat other worldly, vaguely androgynous, mannequins, used in practice. To see CPR in real life is shocking. The young woman’s head was, correctly, tilted back, enabling the opening of the air passage in the throat. It is an extremely artificial posture, though, and just added to the horror of the scene. Another team member was rhythmically pushing down on the victim’s chest with the force and violence required to artificially pump the blood, from a still heart, to the brain, but the force and violence required, you knew, especially with this woman’s very tiny frame, left every rib and the sternum fractured. Her face was visible, distorted by the grasp of the hands of the rescuer tilting her head back, her pallor was an alarming and very unnatural shade of blue-gray. Everyone standing nearby, the entire pace group ahead of us and a sprinkling of others, wore grim expressions and looked on from an encircling crowd, like a crowd that gathers around a particularly gifted street performer, everyone positioned themselves to better see. I didn’t want to see. I’d seen enough. Cardiac arrest. She was, medically speaking, dead. Her life force, the flow of blood and oxygen, was mechanical, artificial, and temporary, at this point.
Other than the well made up, embalmed figure of my deceased grandmother at her “viewing”, prior to her funeral, expertly made up like a Broadway star, closed eyes, lips, and rosy cheeks accentuated colorfully, I’ve only ever purposefully looked at one dead person; my father. And, really, I wish I could unsee that, it was horrid, it was dreadful, and as hard as I try, I will never forget that final glimpse. I’d said goodbye to him several days before he finally passed. I recognized the moment his true spirit left his body, some other quasi-dad-spirit inhabited him for the last couple of days; angry, confused, disoriented, surreal. I’d arrived at the hospital as quickly as I could when told “it was time”, driving nearly eighty miles, but I arrived too late. A dear and helpful cousin was there with my, somehow, disbelieving mom. I was encouraged to “take a last look”. The form behind the curtain with the twisted face and the grotesque, gaping mouth was not my father. Someone had shoved his dentures in, post mortem, giving him the look of a low budget horror film skeleton. I have no regrets in life, but for that one. That is not how I wanted to remember him, I find it horrifyingly unforgettable.
The scene along the running trail was as horrifyingly unforgettable. I wasn’t sure if I recognized her, the fallen runner, or not. I remember the absurdity of noticing how cute her argyle running skirt and hot pink compression socks were. The mind is a freaky thing. The ambulance arrived as we did, and the paramedics leapt into action, wheeling the gurney across the running trail in front of me, at precisely the moment I attempted to pass. In some almost comically awkward and inappropriate moment, I blocked the gurney and the gurney blocked me. With reflexes like frozen molasses, I realized the situation and stepped quickly around the paramedics and the gurney, allowing them access to the victim and me to access to the open trail ahead. Our coach remained behind to assist, if needed. The remaining team member and I ran on. A few minutes later, the ambulance passed us up, quickly, silently, with lights flashing. I never know how to interpret these things.
We ran on. And on and on. We chatted a little, about the incident, what else? We managed to keep a reasonable pace, coaching ourselves, timing ourselves, for nearly eight miles. We found the fortitude to pass the parking lot and run downstream the additional two miles, as planned, to turn at precisely the appropriate point and begin the final, excruciating two miles back to our originating and finishing point. A mile and a half from our destination, we met our coach, going the opposite direction, finishing out her mileage. We cheered her on, she cheered us on. Runners are awesome like that. She mentioned that the downed runner was not a part of our club. What did I say? I said, “Good.” Then quickly added an appropriate disclaimer, that it was still, all, terrible, whoever she was, but I was glad it wasn’t someone we knew. Still, it didn’t sound right, seemed vulgar and crude, but I didn’t have the faculties to articulate anything more appropriate. A hundred yards further on and my running partner gave up; she was too tired to go on at a run. I was stiff and sore from activities earlier in the week, my knee was ablaze with pain and walking was far worse than running. I couldn’t continue at a walk. I just wanted to run, she just wanted to walk. We parted ways; I ran in alone, she walked in alone. I wouldn’t have left her, alone, especially in light of the day’s events, but I knew another pace team from our club was shortly behind us and would catch up to her in moments. I kept running. I ran faster. I ran a lot faster, the last mile and a half, my speed increasing the closer I got to the end. I couldn’t make all of this end fast enough. And though, now, the run is over, and the day is over, and the fitful night of restlessness is over, I don’t think the memory will ever escape me. I have been touched by this person’s experience with death, fleeting or final. I still don’t know whether she was resuscitated, or whether she passed, nor do I have a way to find out. I don’t know if she had a known, pre-existing condition, or if she was smote down by some unknown, congenital flaw. Or was it as a result of some risky behavior? Things I’ll never know and will always wonder, if only for selfish reasons, to prevent such a fate in my own future. My brush with death. My brush with mortality. My brush with someone else’s mortality.
My brush with someone else’s mortality kept me awake. All night, every time I closed my eyes, I kept seeing her form on the ground, a crowd around her, her alarmingly blue face, smashed and distorted between the caring hands of one of her rescuers, her thin, tanned, fit legs sticking out from the adorable, argyle, running skirt and peeking, again, behind the fabric of her hot pink compression socks. Her shoes, small, bright, colorful, still laced perfectly. The ambulance, large, red, obnoxious and obscene, on the pedestrian only trail. Running almost into the gurney as it was wheeled across the paved path. The shocked look on the paramedics face, mirroring, I’m sure, the shocked and horrified expression of realization on mine as I scuttled out of the way like an unwelcomed rodent on a crowded city sidewalk. The thought that kept me awake more than any other was the connection I felt to this complete stranger, the intimacy of seeing someone’s face in the first moments of their death. I’ve only ever glimpsed my own father in such a compromised state, and that, unwillingly, hauntingly, regrettably.
It was the thought of connection that occupied my mind for much of my sleepless night, the connections we have with those in our lives we consider large, important, crucial, vital; our parents, our lover, our children, our friends, our relatives, and then the tiny connections we have with others, fleeting, momentary, mostly unrecognized or unnoticed; people we pass on crowded sidewalks, or a running path, even those miniscule connections where we make brief eye contact with another soul, or someone we smile at for some imperceptible reason, or greet, never to be seen again, strangers in passing cars whom we acknowledge in a brief moment of passing, people on a crowded subway, pushing like hungry lions towards the kill, into the car, then out again, only to disappear into the crowd, forever, on the platform at some station.
I once wrote a piece, though I’ll be damned if I can find it, about connection. I wrote it from an airplane, in the dead of night, from 38,000 feet above what I assumed was the Midwest, below. I flew in the dark of night, often, for work, and I would usually pass the time by looking at the tiny pinpoint sized dots of light below. Each dot perhaps the light of a car, maybe a window in a home, a light illuminating some moment of life for some other person. I often wondered if, perhaps, one of those people associated with some dot of light below, might just be gazing up, at me, within a tiny pinpoint of light, blinking across the darkened sky. Did we unknowingly connect in some very abstract manner? And, like some sort of synapse, would this tiny, unknown connection foster some cosmic reconnection at some point in our shared futures?
As sleep eluded me last night and my mind was filled with thoughts of a young, dead woman in a short argyle skirt and a smashed, blue face, my man slept more soundly, in my presence, than he has in a very long time. So as not to disturb his well-deserved slumber, I quietly sat and stared out the window. I stared at the dark shape that is Mt. Tamalpais, a sight that entrances me any time of the day or night. I have a strong connection to that mountain I can’t quite justify. I stared at the stars, though few, in the inky sky. There, too were clouds, or a fog, creeping along the edges of the sky. And, every few minutes or so, on ascent out of San Francisco International Airport, northward at first, to a point, then the course altered according to carefully calculated plans, to some other destination on this globe, an airplane, a small, blinking, pinpoint of light. Is it possible, that within one of those aircrafts, sat, by the window, a sleepless creature, peering down at a random dot of light on the earth’s crust, speculating some remote and tenuous connection with a soul associated with that dot of illumination? With, perhaps, even, me? Did we connect on some infinitesimal level, a future synapse set to fire?
We all have millions more connections with others than we can ever begin to count, or realize, or even begin to imagine. But what of the connections we have to those we have occasion to care about, those that “matter”. The big, orbs of bright light within our cosmic view, the swinging, swirling, searchlights that seek to draw our attention to them, constantly, incessantly. Are we nurturing those connections? Caring for them? Fostering them? Cultivating them? Or are they just a bright and annoying nuisance we wish we could block or shield from view? This is what really deprived me of sleep; am I connecting with those I’m connected to? No. That’s the true thief in the night for me; thinking that, perhaps, I am not connecting, at a level I’d like to, with just about everyone in my life. Are you? I suddenly felt very, very alone, not too unlike the downed runner in the argyle skirt, my connections suddenly and unexpectedly felt fragile, tenuous, distant, and sometimes, even, forced. Like dial-up internet.
Are we paying the appropriate amount of due to those we cherish in our life? Parents, children, lover, friends, relatives? Likely not, we are overcommitted, distracted, and overwhelmed. Though I’m certain some of our connections get more bandwidth than others, connectivity to those we love parallels the basic ISP we pay for; well-intentioned but somewhat sporadic and not nearly adequate to serve all connected. So, if we were to suddenly become “premium cable”, what would that be, how would that differ?
While money may buy you a better level of quality of internet connectivity, with our relationships, time is more important than money. With that being said, we need to make more time for those we love and, if as a result, accept making less money. Every now and then, we see something on social media that reminds us that our loved ones will be much more likely to remember the time we spent with them than the money we spent on them. Physical human needs are basic, and, really, the simpler these are met, the better, that we realize this early enough in life to make a difference is a blessing. One of the most critical human needs, next to air to breathe, water and food, is love, and, my friends, love, in its purest and most true sense, is free. It costs us nothing to hug, to touch, to kiss, to hold hands, to listen, to share stories and engage in conversation, or just, simply, to be present, and these actions are, by far, the most valuable. And like all things of great value, there are varying degrees of quality, and, quality matters.
Connection as a value vs. connection as a duty; connection is a two-way relationship. It takes two for there to be a connection; very simply, you cannot connect two dots with a straight line if there are not two dots. If one party bases their connections on value, and the other out of duty or obligation, the connection will be an effort, there will be a strain, a sense of obligation on one side and a sense of lack on the other. This is where feelings of resentment and corresponding feelings of being taken for granted arise from.
When both parties connect based on values, the connection is fulfilling and nurturing for both parties, it grows and is strengthened, it is solid and more lasting. If both parties connect out of duty or obligation, it is little more than a transaction; temporary, momentarily necessary, empty, minimally gratifying, purposeful, but only briefly, and, if not distasteful, then certainly not memorable.
After a long, haunted, sleepless night, I remembered what I’ve always known; life would be more joyful if we didn’t take for granted the deep connections we have with our lover, our parents, our children, and our friends. If we approached these vital connections from a sense of value rather than a sense of obligation or duty, they would be far more fulfilling to all involved. Why would we ever consider anything less than that? If we nurture our connections with those who matter to us most, meaningfully, on every level possible, we’d find more peace, joy and fulfillment, and so, too, would they. We simply need to touch, to hug for longer than a second, to kiss deeply, to press cheeks together, to feel one another’s skin, to hold hands, to caress. We only need to connect more holistically, to listen wholly, make eye contact, smile, ask, do, surprise. Cherish. Adore. We need to prioritize that which is most important, in the moment, and minimize that which is not; put the cell phone aside, be so engrossed in conversation that no one dares interrupt, embrace, put the past behind and future away, live only in the moment. Find joy. Life is uncertain, but certainly short, we need to connect our dots with the straightest of lines.
I watched a movie the other night, a French film featuring eighteen, five minute short stories about love, in Paris. One of the stories was about a man who was married to a woman for a long period of time. In that time, everything she did that he once found endearing, became irksome. He took a lover. He planned to meet his wife to tell her of his love, of his affair, and of his intent to leave her. His wife, instead, told him of her leukemia and that she would die. In this moment, he knew, out of duty and responsibility, he must rise to the occasion. He ended his affair and focused his energy and focus on his ailing wife. He rose to the occasion by connecting with her as he once had, he acted as though he didn’t just love her out of duty, but that he loved her as he once had, that he was “in love” with her. He found himself, shortly, as in love with her as he been when they’d first fallen in love. But, alas, she died, and he was sad and tortured and saw the things that reminded him of her, those things he once found endearing, then irksome, everywhere he looked. He became haunted by them. Yes, a tragic story, but what I took away from it is that love, relationship, connection, can migrate from endearing to irksome if we do not nurture it, always, as we do when it first sprouts. Like a plant, we water it and care for it and sing to it when it is a seedling, but after a season or two, it will no longer flower or thrive unless we continue to care for it. Such are our connections.
As an example, when you kiss your lover, on an “ordinary day”, assuming you kiss every day, is it a quick tapping together of the lips, with closed lips and eyes, like second graders in a school play, made to kiss by some cruel story plot, like the conciliatory kiss of a numb and bored couple after thirty years of bland matrimony, or the type of kiss you’d concede to applying on the lips of your great aunt, with her bad fitting, slippery, yellowed, dentures, or to someone a bit too well acquainted, recently, with onions, or not well acquainted, recently (or ever), with dental floss. I was the recipient of the best kind of kiss, just today, after my haunted, sleepless and very thoughtful night. It was warm, sweet, lingering, and loving, and what every kiss between lovers deserves to be.
What is an embrace? A hug? It is not the quick draping of limp arms about ones shoulders with an even quicker retraction, like the lifeless arms of a marionette on strings, thrust up, then dropped, with zero feeling. Do we embrace others as we would a fitful toddler, not our own, covered in snot and the remnants of chewed up graham crackers, or like a congratulatory embrace of an athlete having just finished a very sweaty feat, or of that thrifty uncle who saves money on both water and soap by only imbibing in their application weekly, or so? A meaningful embrace, a quality hug, is not too loose, not too tight, one that says “you’re welcomed within these arms, but you aren’t being controlled or forced to stay.” An embrace that is long enough in duration for nearly every sense to be engaged and nourished (though I don’t always lick people while they hug me, so the sense of taste may be optional in a “good” hug). A nourishing hug is a hug that is long enough in duration to compliment the level of intimacy of the relationship; a few comforting moments for the snotty, food encrusted, non-related toddler, and the stinky uncle, but perhaps the better portion of half a minute, at least, for your lover. While I don’t whip out a slide rule or my calculator app on my smart phone, some term of time in between is apropos for other special people in our lives.
I had the best embrace, ever, today. A Sunday morning where no one was rushed to be anywhere, me after a poor night’s sleep, and him having an unusually restful night. In the bright morning light, a mutual embrace of uncertain extent, minutes maybe, perhaps an hour, or more. Sweet, loving, wholesome, nurturing, tender, comforting and fortifying. I fell asleep in this perfect hug, four arms enwrapped, and I slept like a child after a long, nightmarish, night and woke feeling completely loved, more rested, and restored. Nearly restored.
Don’t impede opportunities for chance connections to occur; smile at strangers, say hello, hold a door open, shake hands, guide, help carry something for someone overburdened, wave at benevolent drivers, or offer someone the spot in front of you in traffic. Every connection, whether a pinpoint of light or a beacon, has some impact on your life, to acknowledge this, to recognize this and to make as many of these connections as purposefully positive as possible is the path to joy, for you, and for the other dot at the end of the line.
Life is short. Life is uncertain. Life is certainly short. I believe we are so connected with our world, with “the universe”, that things happen for a reason. I believe it is through some level of individual effort and consciousness, through contemplation, that we attempt to discern some of those reasons, those lessons. From this experience, from this story, I have become more aware of the fact that life is fleeting, life is tenuous, and life is what we make of it. Make joy. Through this experience, I realize that many of my connections, my relationships, aren’t receiving as much of my positive energy as they should. Lessons I’ve learned in the past have been fortified; I am grateful for each and every moment as they arrive and as they pass, I am grateful for the people I cherish in my life now, for the connections we have, the connections we will accentuate, I am grateful for the connections I will make in the future, both brief and lasting, and I will make every effort to focus on them, to acknowledge them and to keep practicing drawing the straightest line between two dots I can.
If you have no story to tell, something, somewhere, isn’t quite right.
Not a day passes that we don’t experience something worth sharing, whether it’s something we observed, something we heard, something we participated in, something we remembered from the past, or even something we are planning for or dreaming of in the future. We all have a story to share.
If we feel we have nothing worthwhile to share is it because we are sitting idle, waiting for life to happen? Do we wait for other people for the company, or to have enough time, or enough money in order to acquire experiences we feel are worthy of sharing? Do we dare not to dream because we fear we’ll never be in a position of “doing”? If this, in any respect, is the case, our story, presently, is a tragedy.
One of the best storytellers of the day is Casey Neistat, filmmaker and vlogger. He recently traveled to Madrid for a speaking engagement. During his vlog shot from there, in a moment of reminiscence, he recounted the story of his first trip to Spain; he was young, still a teenager, with a young child to support, he worked as a dishwasher. Yet, he managed to set aside enough of a small sum of money that he could manage to pay for a trip to Europe with his older brother. Casey’s story was a reflection of his priorities; he still supported his child, he worked very hard, and saved diligently, and he traveled and experienced, that he’d have life experiences to grow from and stories to share. He had very little time and he had very little money, but his passion for life and experience inspired him to find a way. Because of his commitment to experience and to storytelling, he has followed his passion into a self-made career as an independent filmmaker and YouTube artist.
There is a way, but it won’t likely come find us while we sit idle and wait. We must pursue, we must go forth, if we want amazing adventures to tell tale of.
And yet, stories don’t have to be of an epic adventure to be worthy of telling. Some of the best stories are relatable because they are ordinary events, just well told and joyfully shared.
If we feel we have nothing worthwhile to share, is it because we don’t have the confidence to think others will find value in what we have to tell. This, too, would make our story a bit of a tragedy. Almost any story told with confidence and passion is worthwhile. There is humor, there are observations, there are plenty a worthy tale that can stem from the most mundane of events. The success of a story has only a little to do with content and much more to do with delivery and with engagement, which stems wholly from confidence.
Confidence, much like working very hard at a job and diligently saving money for a trip to Europe, takes commitment and practice and fortitude. And confidence will serve us well in every aspect of life. Confidence is a practice, like yoga or tai chi or ballet, like singing or playing the violin, once proficient, there is always another level of excellence to achieve. It is infinite. But confidence is critical, it is a life force.
And even with experiences to share and the confidence to tell them, there will be the few who will still not hear, will not listen, and this is never a reflection on the story or the storyteller. As much as storytelling is an art, so, too, is listening. The best storytellers are the best listeners; the best listeners are the best storytellers. As author Bryant H. McGill has been quoted, “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Every story, every tale, every storyteller, will have a critic, too, from time to time. The quality of our story does not rely on the reaction of the listener, but the joy it brings us to tell and to those who truly hear. Do not be discouraged by those unwilling to hear, it is their loss, completely.
I often share stories of my simple, little life. In some cases, when I have an attentive audience, I feel I can tell the greates tale. Other times, when my audience isn’t connected or focused or willing, I struggle to even form intelligible sentences. I was, the other day, at the salon for my brow and bikini wax and as the hot wax was slathered on and the cool wax ripped off, I shared my tales of the weeks since my last visit. Here, I always find the perfect audience. May I suggest, if you struggle to find a willing audience with whom to share your stories, I have found the very best listeners, of all time, to be aestheticians. I have never had an aesthetician who wasn’t a great listener, who didn’t respond in all the right ways to all the stories I have to share. Your aesthetician, if you’re into bikini waxes, knows you in a way even your doctor doesn’t. There is a level of familiarity and intimacy with your aesthetician that can hardly be duplicated with anyone. I can get smooth and pretty and practice my craft of storytelling! Just thought I’d share.
Storytelling is a very large part of life; books, songs, movies, dance, photography, television shows, art, and poetry, are all just stories arranged into various mediums. Stories fill our every day, and, true, while many make a profession of telling a story, in one form or another, the rest of us are no less capable. We need only experiences to share and the confidence to express ourselves, and, we too, can tell a story!
Love is so hard. Being in love is hard. Loving is hard. There is only one thing worse than being in love and being loved, and that is not being in love and not being loved.
I have often joked that I fall in love too easily. I’ve joked that my criteria is simple; a pulse and male. I have a very romantic, very optimistic, very accepting and, based on some past experiences, a far too trusting and tolerant heart. I love being in love. I love being loved. As a result, I’ve made some poor choices along the way. I am also a very tenacious and committed person, so, in some of those poor choices, they’ve been long lasting poor choices.
As a result of finding myself in relationships, in love, with people who have lied to me and cheated on me and betrayed me and abused me and neglected me and, perhaps worst, taken me for granted, I’ve developed a lack of confidence in love, a general suspicion of my lover, and an overwhelming sense of foreboding doom in relationships. But, still, I fall in love like a boulder nudged from a cliff. Wham.
I am the first to acknowledge my own weaknesses, and, as a student of happiness, to explore the path to overcoming them. Every road should be a path towards further happiness, towards our personal bliss.
Being lied to, cheated on, betrayed, abused, neglected, and taken for granted are terrible, terrible experiences. But, I’ll argue, so is being in love and, for whatever reason, being insecure in that love, being suspicious, and having a sense of foreboding doom. In fact, all of that, I think is far worse than that which we are worried about.
If we are in love and someone lies, cheats, betrays, neglects, or takes us for granted, it is easy enough to recognize that and walk away. Run away. It is not worth staying and, no, things will not change. Remember, you cannot change anyone but yourself. Period. End of story. Run away. This I’ve learned to do. Eventually. We can sit on the bench on the sidelines for a moment, catch our breath, wait for the pain to subside just enough, and get back in the game. We can. If you don’t think you can, think again.
If we are in love, and all is really well, but we spend our time, our thoughts, our energy, in insecurity, in suspicion, with a sense of foreboding doom, everything is poisoned, whether in a perfect relationship, a really good relationship, or one we should be running away from. Life, in insecurity, of any sort, of any proportion, is hell, the worst kind of hell.
For some, love is blind; they are in relationships that are obviously riddled with lying, cheating, betrayal, et al, and they stay, seemingly blissfully. For me, love is hallucination, I see things, or think I see things, bad things, that don’t exist. Every comment, every text, every social media post has some secret, underlying meaning and it most certainly isn’t good. This is my mind left unchecked. Patterns have been set in the past and those habits are just that; habits.
Habits, good and bad, can be developed, and, likewise, can be overridden. The key here is to recognize that which should be overridden and replace it with that which should be developed. This can be done with a bit of thought, recognition, and discipline.
To replace insecurity, suspicion, and a sense of foreboding doom with calm, secure, confidence is no easy matter, but it can be done. Insecurity and suspicion, in love, as in many other things, is poison. Insecurity and suspicion are very powerful, very negative emotions. Negative emotions have power, very negative power. Negativity; I’m certain you’ve spent some time with very negative people and their negativity probably made that time feel uncomfortable, strained, and unnatural. Negative energy can be felt, almost tangibly, like a pair of rain soaked jeans; wet, cold, miserable, heavy, and constricting. Negative energy in love is doom, it becomes the catalyst for that which we most fear, the foreboding doom, the end of love, either with or without the rest of the nasty bits; lying, cheating, betrayal, abuse, and neglect.
What we need to know about love, above all else, is that it, like everything else in life, like life itself, is temporary. For the rare few, love lasts a lifetime, for some, a couple of dates, and for most of us, something in between. We can’t force love, it is either there or it isn’t. True, love changes over time, which some misinterpret as loss of love. It isn’t always going to be butterflies and uncontrollable lust, but it is still love. Love, true love, cannot be planned, it cannot be faked. That’s why “loving” for money, beauty, or status rarely is real, there are two hearts, there are two minds, and there are two souls, and unless they all are as compatible as the net worth, the plastic surgery, or the country club membership, it can’t be real.
So, when we find real love, poisoning it with our insecurities, with our suspicion, with the overwhelming feeling of foreboding doom, it is pure tragedy. Whether fleeting or enduring, real love is magical. Enjoy it. Bask in it. Savor it. Do everything you can to acknowledge it, to sustain it, to enjoy it, each and every moment. Remaining confident and secure in that love is the first and most important ingredient to lasting magic. Love will last for as long as it is meant to and love will only ever be present in the moment.
So, perhaps real, magical, love is more likely to endure if both parties are able to just live in the moment. The insecurity, the suspicion, the overwhelming sense of foreboding lives in one of two places; the past or the future. We are either projecting our past experiences onto our present situation, or we fear those negative experiences may occur at some point in the future. Am I right? Of course! Love can only be in the present, and unless those negative insecurities we worry about are also in the present, they aren’t real and they have no place in love.
When those negative feelings begin to arise, stop. Stop. Stop. Take a breath, hold it, exhale slowly and ask yourself; right now, this very moment, am I okay, are we okay, are any of those bad things happening right before my eyes, right now? Likely, no. Is there any irrefutable, tangible evidence that any of those bad things happened in the immediate past? Likely, no. If not, then let it go, let all the negativity go and just relax into the moment, with the person you loved twenty seconds ago before that negativity ripped the reins from your hands! Look at them, squeeze their hand, smile, and remember all those great reasons you’re so in love with them.
Being confident in love is the best love drug, no prescription, no copay required. Learning to feel secure in a good, healthy relationship is intoxicating. Being able to experience that love, with confidence, is divinity. Confidence; the number one love drug.
My co-worker is funny and witty and clever. He often says exactly what is on his mind, and, on occasion, he offends someone in so doing, but he isn’t unkind, on the contrary, he is actually quite nice. He just doesn’t know when not to say something. He often says far too much. On conference calls he will talk far too long, or ask too many questions, or in some other way make a brief meeting turn into something much more than brief. And he acts like an ass.
There are other people I am around, frequently, who act like an ass.
Sometimes, I even act like an ass, I really, really don’t want to, but it happens. I know better. We all know better.
The ass I refer to is Eeyore.
Like Eeyore, my co-worker dismisses his ideas as poor, he is rather self-deprecating, at times, and finishes almost every statement or question with something like, “I don’t know, it probably isn’t a very good idea”, the funny thing is, he even has the same tone of voice, the same manner of speaking. Like Eeyore, other asses I’m around often expect the worst to happen and just resign to it. Like Eeyore, some asses I know just assume others don’t accept or appreciate them, or their ideas. Like Eeyore, sometimes I assume the worst.
I’ve confronted some of these asses with their outlook, explained how, really, what you truly believe, what you think, and expect, will usually manifest, good or bad. It’s the old positive mental attitude thing. I’ve had an ass or two reply to me, saying something like, “it’s better to expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised when it turns out okay.” Cheery.
One ass in my life believed so completely that the worst would happen, that he became completely paralyzed by his fear, he became totally unable to act to prevent that which he feared most. And in his inability, his strong belief and overwhelming fear, his worst imaginable fears all came to pass. His negativity was reinforced, and has had a domino effect on his life. He lost everything. Action and a positive belief and confidence likely would have changed the course of things. At the very minimum, with a more positive and optimistic outlook, even if the worst does happen, we are better equipped to pick up the pieces and move on.
There will always be asses. We will, invariably, be an ass ourselves, at some point in time. Maybe at many points in time. All I know, I think being an ass, like Eeyore, seriously inhibits joy and happiness. As a student of happiness, I believe this and intend to strive not to be such an ass.
I signed up for a half marathon this coming weekend. I hesitated, but finally just did it. Why the hesitation? The course is hilly. Running uphill is hard, and running downhill is jarring. One cannot become a better runner, and we should always be striving to become better, if we don’t overcome our challenges. Or at least attempt to!
If we aren’t improving, we are falling behind. This is true for running, and for all things in life. We are meant to continually seek to improve in every facet of our lives in order to fulfill our potential. It’s this constant drive to grow, learn, and improve that helps us discover our passions, our potential, and our joy.
I went for a hike yesterday, and it was hilly. There were other challenges, like the heat, which made the hills far more intense than normal, for me. I made it back to the car no worse for the wear, and am proud of my accomplishment.
In hiking and in running, there will always be ups and downs. And, for every up, there is a down, for every down, there is an up. You cannot get back to the car, or home, or whatever your place of origin, without experiencing equal ups and downs.
Life has its ups and downs, too, and while perhaps not quite as equal as in running and hiking, they do tend to cycle fairly regularly, both in short periods of time, say within a single day, or over an extended period, say, oh, life. In life, we can’t simply decide not to register for the race because there are ups and downs, they are there and they must be dealt with. While running up a hill, sure, I can tell myself it isn’t there, try to trick myself, but my legs still work harder, my breath comes faster, my heart pounds harder. The hill is real and nothing I can do will make it go away, that is where the race course has led me.
Interestingly, in hiking and in running, and other pursuits, it is at the very top of the hill and the very bottom of the valley, that we often discover the most amazing views, the most awesome features. Life is not dissimilar, it is in the challenges and the triumphs, the highs and the lows, the ups and the downs, that we find the most growth and reward.
Don’t be afraid of the race, don’t shy away from the hills. Ups and downs are part of the course. Ups and downs are part of life. The more we practice, the better we become at meeting and conquering the challenge. Race on.
Because my life is beautiful, I take pictures. I take lots and lots of pictures. I take lots of criticism for taking lots of pictures. But that’s what I choose to clutter my life up with; pictures. I take pictures of everything I eat, for example. I do this for two reasons; to kind of keep a journal of my dietary escapades in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle and, because, frankly, I think food is beautiful. I take pictures of all the places I go, all the things I see, the people I love, that is the diary of my life and, as I am lousy with dates, it is also a record of events I oft refer back to. I can remember the month and the day, almost to a freakish degree, but don’t ever expect me to remember the year without referring to my pictures! They bring me joy and they are a ready and practical guide to my history.
I experience a certain level of frustration with some of the pictures I take, my food pictures, at home, in particular. There is so much “ugly” and so much “sameness” in my home environment, I feel they compromise the beauty of the subject matter, food, or otherwise. Like power lines across a lovely landscape, I am challenged with finding varied and lovely backdrops for the food I consume several times a day, several times a week. At home. It’s not that the kitchen, or the house, is unattractive, it’s that it is always the same tablecloth and there are cords and phones and appliances always visible in the background. There are the little piles of papers on the table I can’t seem to omit from the frame no matter how I aim the camera. Petty annoyances. Very petty. But, annoyances all the same.
When I take pictures of my meals in my room, my office, or while dining outside on the deck, I have many, I think, lovely options for backgrounds, for landscapes, to enhance the beauty of my feast. This is of my choosing and by my design. This is my beautiful life.
I believe, to my core, that I have a beautiful life, literally and figuratively. True, I am always seeking change, but I like change, I crave the excitement, I flirt with the variety, I tempt the adventure. Whether that change is moving to a new city or using a tablecloth different today from yesterday, it is change and it is welcomed. So, as beautiful as my life is, I’m counting on it to change. You can look out the same window or at the same painting, every day of your life, and it is no less beautiful, but there is so much more to see. My beautiful life, by design, will be ever changing, and this, I wish to collect in photos. Photos are the only clutter I wish to keep, and digital, at that.
What it is about the kitchen I often eat in that I abhor is the clutter and the constancy. Clutter and constancy are two things I try to hold at bay in my beautiful life. It is not my kitchen, it is my mother’s, and, as I currently live with her, in her advanced age, it is the kitchen I use to prepare and, sometimes, consume my food. My mother loves constancy and allows clutter. I’m not standing in judgement, she has a beautiful life that just differs from mine. I am mostly tolerant, but dream a different dream.
As an example of our differences, for the brief and lovely time I lived alone, after leaving my husband and the kids went off to college, and before returning home to accompany my mom, I had a few lovely tablecloths and a variety of colorful napkins and placemats. No two meals were on the same combination of linens! Each was unique and lovely and fun and stimulating. Beautiful.
My mom has two tablecloths for daily use, oil cloth and elasticized about the edge, big floral patterns that remind me of what interior designers crammed homes with in the 1980’s. There is one tablecloth for winter and one for summer, exactly like the bathroom décor for the past twenty years. May I also confess to you that beneath the everyday tablecloth is a second tablecloth, for padding, and beneath that is the most beautiful, solid oak table, cut on the quarter grain, that you will never see, like the special occasion tablecloths that only adorn the table briefly if company is nigh, or the stacks of lovely china and the sterling silver that have only seen the light of day twice, ever, that I can recall. But, really, you will never see the oak table in the buff, no matter how special a guest you are.
I came home from a business trip to find a package on the back counter. Contained in clear plastic wrap was a tablecloth, an exact replica of the tablecloth presently on the table. With grave concern for my mother’s mental acuity, thinking she had ordered the tablecloth not realizing she already had it, I inquired. She said the elastic on the old tablecloth was stretched out, had I not noticed? So, a new, an exact duplicate, was ordered as an improvement to our well-being and lifestyle.
As for clutter, I find it tiring, truly, it drains my energy and zaps my enthusiasm. I am not immune from clutter, none of us are, I have my own clutter, and pots calling kettles black, Mom and I are always intolerant of the other’s clutter. I truly believe mine is to a minimum. I moved five times in five years, I have kept only what I’d be willing to move again. I have made continual and concerted efforts to further declutter, on a regular basis. I have limited space in my rooms, my storage unit, and my life, for anything, much less the unnecessary. I find a great deal of satisfaction and a real sense of freedom in letting go of things I truly don’t need or use on a regular basis. I love to liberate things that weigh me down to become someone else’s stuff.
Mom’s clutter consists of unused items that have just always been there, décor and dated electronics, and paper. Lots and lots of paper. She carefully writes the date on each and every piece of mail that is received and files it for further handling at a later date. Further handling may consist of paying the bill within, ordering the items advertised, sending the donation requested, or letting it pile up precariously in “the office” until shredded. She shreds junk mail. She spent an entire day, a full eight or ten hours, shredding the accumulation of worthlessness one day last week. What doesn’t make its way to the pile in the office, resides on the kitchen table or on two of the four chairs around the table. It was occupying three of the four chairs until I moved home and wished to sit to eat. When company threatens, the piles are shuffled away to the office at the very last moment before the doorbell rings and are quickly returned to their respective kitchen resting place as the front door closes behind them upon the guest’s retreat. The company only tablecloth as quickly disappears. I don’t even see it happen, it just occurs, quickly, as if by ninjas.
Until I required two of the three bedrooms this house affords, those two bedrooms were for overflow. When company came, all that was about was put within and the doors were closed. I have no idea where all that stuff has made its way to, with my occupancy, but I am certain it is somewhere.
I’ll admit, I’ve lived similarly, but not entirely by choice, when I was living with my husband, who I would have to say is as close to a hoarder as I’ve ever known. Entire rooms in our various homes were “off limits” to guests, and every surface was filled to capacity with all the things. The accumulation. The stuff to be dealt with at some later date. Like when we moved, but, even then, most of the stuff, including piles of long dusty, faded mail, was tossed into a cardboard box, taped shut, labeled, moved, and never again reopened. If something of importance was buried in such a box, a copy was requested from the original issuer and then piled somewhere until dusty and faded, boxed and moved. I’m breaking out in hives at the recollection of this.
“My” kitchen, my beautiful kitchen, is in storage. All of my beautiful things, my pretty plates, my beautiful bowls, my lovely linens, and my special serving pieces. I don’t have a lot of things, just a few carefully selected pieces. Please. Remember, I moved five times in five years; I’ve kept only the very few things I absolutely adore! And, in “my” kitchen, I only have an item or two out at a time. In “my” kitchen, there are so few things, in total, that all the things have ample and generous space in a few cupboards. In “my” kitchen, one beautiful piece or another is brought out to compliment the meal of the moment, it is put away when the dishes are done, which is immediately, and the next meal is entirely differently accompanied.
Kitchen appliances bore me. True, there are some I find indispensable, a couple I don’t have I find highly desirable. But kitchen appliances, like Victorian children, should not be seen or heard, unless or until absolutely necessary. If the appliances don’t have a place in a cupboard, they don’t have a place in “my” kitchen. I honestly think I could keep kitchen appliances to a toaster and a coffee grinder. I might enjoy a really nice espresso machine, but that would be an obscene luxury item and it would require quite a bit of real estate in a cupboard. And constant care and cleaning. I gave my last not very expensive espresso machine to my son, but then, for a bit, moved in with him and had to endure its very infrequently used existence on the counter top. It required dusting. I loathe dusting.
Truthfully, as for pots and pans; I could thrive with my cast iron skillet, a high quality sauce pan, and a stock pot. The cast iron skillet serves for everything from Dutch oven to sauté pan. I yearn to keep it simple.
Knives and forks and plates and bowls and chairs and napkins; in my dream kitchen, there’d be just enough for me, for mine, and for a bit a bit of company, and no two items would match! They’d be eclectic and collectibles, new and ancient, and I’d let each guest select the color and pattern that struck them! And, when not in use, they’d be tucked in a neat stack in their appropriate cupboard or drawer.
“My” spaces would be decorated only with flowers, an ever changing bit of art or whimsy, a seasonal and varietal splash of color from a valance, a pillow, a candle, a picture book, a cozy throw, and a few photos.
Clothes and shoes, if they don’t fit in the closet or I haven’t worn them in a year’s time, off they go to Goodwill. I caught myself, only once, replacing my thick plastic hangers with thinner wire hangers so as to fit more into the closet. I can be cagey like that, brilliant, but devious.
Books are down to just the ones I am likely to refer to or reread, and, unless of a whimsical, interesting, varietal, and only occasional coffee table picture book, they are being replaced with electronic versions as can be afforded.
I am as paperless as this still paper dependent world will allow. I scan and shred daily. Mail that is not vital or relevant does not even enter the house. I subscribe to electronic statements and no print literature, and I call catalog companies who send me print catalogs and beg them to stop. I threaten to stop doing business with those who will not honor my “paperless please” requests, and I follow through.
As Mom and I “clutter bash” each other I have to remind her, like dieting versus a healthy eating lifestyle, simplifying and decluttering is a lifestyle. Simplifying and decluttering is a lifestyle you choose and that you live, each and every day of the rest of your life, it isn’t something you do for two weeks and then pray for lasting results, like the cabbage soup diet. Like choosing wholesome ingredients and carefully planning and preparing healthy meals, keeping the clutter that accumulates in our lives to a comfortable level takes commitment and a permanent change in behavior.
My beautiful life, in its perfected form, is a life where company can arrive unannounced and my world is clean and inviting, simply, effortlessly. Simple, uncluttered surroundings require so much less effort; less dusting, less scrubbing, cleaning happens daily with a quick swipe of a cloth across a smooth, empty surface. Dishes are done as they are used. Nothing accumulates. Everything has a place and is replaced in its place after use. This is so exciting to me I can barely contain my glee in describing this! This is my beautiful life, I have lived it briefly and yearn for it again.
My life now, in my childhood home, beautiful in execution, but not in aesthetics, with all that I need and all that I use, quartered in two bedrooms, with the exception of one of the two closets, and some highly contentious space in the middle of the garage floor. My beautiful things that do not fit into Mom’s home, that I don’t require regularly, are stored, at a huge expense, in a storage unit a couple of miles away. Were this house, or a house a fraction the size, vacant, my beautiful life would easily fit within, without clutter. Simply. This is my vision, it has been my reality, and it is what I lust for now. It is the lifestyle I choose, like being active and eating clean, it’s what makes me feel joyful. I love my life. It’s a beautiful life.
My best friend, doppelganger, and soul sister, Jardin D Fleur, posted a little story yesterday about cartwheels. In summary, she’d responded to a Facebook post that asked “Would your eight year old self be proud of you right now?” True to form, Jardin’s response was both insightful and funny, she said, “I don’t think so, I can no longer do perfect cartwheels. I think I’ll go practice.”
I began to think about cartwheels.
I used to be very good at doing cartwheels, and, in fact, I don’t think a day passed between my first cartwheel at about the age of six and the age when such displays became uncool, say, cheerleading aside, in high school, that I didn’t do a cartwheel.
I was a latchkey kid for most afternoons from some point in grade school, on. I was alone for a few hours after school almost every day, and almost always on Saturdays. Every day when I came home from school and every Saturday morning when I woke up, there was a list of chores written in my mother’s recognizable cursive, left conspicuously on the kitchen counter. I’d play all afternoon, watch cartoons and my favorite syndicated shows, talk on the phone with friends and do whatever I wanted, until about ten minutes before my mom was due home. Then I’d quickly do my chores and go upstairs and pretend to be laboring over my homework. One of the things that fell under “do whatever I wanted” was cartwheels. In the living room. Which was, I’m sure, forbidden.
My mother’s living room has always been this vast, unused, somewhat sterile space. Reserved only for the most important of company, we dare not, to this day, enter the room. More recently, my mother quite elderly, has become “lost”, on a couple of different occasions. I’ve been unable to find her. In these instances, both times, I’ve looked everywhere; in her room, her bathroom, the garage, the backyard, the family room where the TV is, her office, which is really where the washer and dryer were intended to go, but the old, oak roll top desk has always resided. The washer and dryer were relegated to the garage. Each time I’ve “lost” my mom, I finally found her, as Jeff Foxworthy would say, in the very last place I looked; the living room. But it stands to reason that it would be the very last place I looked! We never, ever, ever use the room. We’re lucky I just didn’t call the authorities and report a missing person before looking in the living room for her!
The living room is quite large, large enough to do cartwheels, obviously, and has a dining room attached. Fashionable in the 1960’s, the living room is “sunken”, meaning there is a tiny step, say four inches, down into the living room, then back, up, into the dining room. The carpet in the living room has always had a nap, and I think this was a required criteria for the carpet each time the old was replaced with new, which, by the way, was only ever because the color became unfashionable and certainly not because it was worn. The nap of the carpet would tattle immediately, alerting my mom to the fact that someone had trod through the living room. You can imagine what cartwheels would do; handprints and footprints, dozens of them. We won’t even mention the times I roller skated in the living room with the neighbor girl from across the street while our moms were at work!
I just included in my chores each day, a quick run through the living room with the Eureka, canister style, vacuum, carefully “laying down the nap” of the carpet. This was tricky, but I became quite skilled; you simply started at one end of the room and backed your way across, vacuuming in one direction only.
I was hiking in Marin County last weekend, outside of Bolinas. The trail I sought led to a fresh water waterfall that tumbles onto the beach and flows into the Pacific Ocean. Alamere Falls. This has been on my “to-do” list for quite some time. As I love to take pictures, and especially selfies, I’m a believer in the practice of taking routine, if not daily, selfies, I will frequently dream up opportunities for a great selfie and incorporate it into an activity. Once in a while, I will plan an activity around the idea for a selfie! My idea for a selfie for this particular hike was one of me doing a cartwheel in front of the waterfall and using my miniature tripod and the “Slo-Mo” feature on my iPhone to capture it. I’d then take a screenshot, mid slow-motion video, of the perfect moment of my cartwheel and the most epic selfie of the week would be executed. My hike to Alamere Falls occurred on a very warm, very pleasant, very popular, very crowded Saturday. Though the hike included a quarter mile of crouching through a narrow “poison oak tunnel”, and then required a rather dicey descent down a steep cliff from the top of the waterfall to the beach below, there were hordes of people on the beach. They had all somehow managed to carry umbrellas and picnic baskets and bags of food and blankets and all kinds of crap. It looked like South Beach in Florida during Spring Break. My plans for a selfie were instantly altered from cartwheel on deserted beach to a quick, opportunistic snapshot at the one and only and very precise moment when only the waterfall and I were visible in the viewfinder.
I still wanted to do a cartwheel, on the beach, selfie or no. But I was afraid. I haven’t done a cartwheel, like Jardin, in a very long time. Am I still capable? Able? What if I tried and failed? I’d be embarrassed. Or worse, maybe I’d be injured and given the state of the trail to the beach, I have to be evacuated to a trauma unit by helicopter! Not likely, I know, but I decided against it and headed back up the cliff, back through the poison oak tunnel, out to the main trail, on to the trailhead where I left my car. Failure.
I have similar fears about doing handstands in yoga class. I used to do handstands all the time, in the house, when my mom wasn’t looking. My bedroom door opens up onto a hallway and there used to be a perfectly blank wall right there, so I’d do a handstand and rest my heels against the wall. I did this for most of my childhood and even into early adulthood. As I moved back home, to the same house, a couple of years ago, to help Mom out, I’m back in that same room. However, the wall in the hallway is now adorned with a framed painting by Walter Keane that, for my entire childhood, hung from a wall downstairs in the family room. I often wonder if Mom moved the picture to thwart my secret and unstated desire to practice handstands in the hallway, at the age of 52, so I could hope to successfully perform a handstand in yoga class without trepidation.
What’s with this fear? And trepidation? What’s with the concern of being embarrassed if I mess up a handstand in yoga class or fall doing a cartwheel on the beach? I know not many 52 year old women are seen doing cartwheels on the beach or handstands, outside of yoga class, but I still want to do them.
Fear and embarrassment. So negative. So limiting. So unlike me.
I’ve thought about practicing cartwheels on the lawn in the backyard, but have been shy about it. The surrounding neighbors have two-story homes with windows that overlook our lawn. Unless I practice under a tree, they “might see me”. And what, I ask myself, would be wrong with that? They might be impressed, or amazed, or inspired! Or maybe they’d think I was odd or silly. So? So, today, this afternoon, after sitting on the deck, reading for a while, I fought back my fear, my trepidation, my embarrassment, my shyness, and I went down the steps and onto the lawn. Okay, yes, I hid under the cover of the boughs of the tree, and I very cautiously, very pensively, positioned myself to do a cartwheel. I did my little hop, skip, and then, just like being a kid; hand, hand, foot, foot. Perfection. I did another, and another, and another. I felt free, and young, and spirited. I felt amazing, I felt proud. I can still do cartwheels and shall now do them whenever and wherever I please. I will, in fact, now go down into the living room, as Mom has toddled off to bed, and I shall do a cartwheel!
Tomorrow morning, I will quickly vacuum the living room, just to lay the nap of the carpet back down.
Then, I think the Walter Keane will be occasionally removed from the hallway wall, when the TV is very loud downstairs, and I shall practice, to my delight, my handstands!