What’s Your Attitude?

Posted on March 6, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

“It’s so cold and miserable outside I have to go to the gym, do hills on the treadmill,” I complained to my boyfriend on the phone yesterday morning. “I hate the treadmill.”

I feel like I’ve been complaining a lot lately. So much so that I began to keep a gratitude journal last month. Each night before I go to bed I record five things from the day for which I am grateful. The next morning, I read that list to set my mind right.

Although I’ve always tried to practice in real time a recognition of “good” things that happen throughout the day—a stretch of green lights on my drive home, an item on sale when I didn’t know it, the rain letting up long enough for me to run errands or get gas—I am not always successful at maintaining a positive attitude. My negativity sometimes spills over onto others. My boyfriend. My mom.

It was at her suggestion that I began the journal-keeping.   struggle-gratitude

Last night after I jotted down my five, I quickly drifted toward sleep. But before I could get there I found myself wide awake, thinking about my attitude toward my morning’s workout.

If I am cultivating a mindset of gratitude, here’s what I should have thought instead:

  • I get to drive to the gym (in my own car, 10-years-old and long paid off, with a blazing heater and cushy seat-warmers, a working radio, and more).
  • I get to go to a gym (I have worked a membership into my budget without a second thought, foregoing other luxuries each month instead).
  • I get to go to the gym at 9am—or any time, really (I work from home, plan my own day, schedule my own time, and I can be up at 5:30am, working by 6 in my pajamas and slippers, hair uncombed, glasses askew, dog in lap, and then take a break when it suits me, my schedule, my day).
  • I get to run (Thank you, God. I am able to run.)

I slept more soundly than perhaps I otherwise would have, resting in the knowledge that I am luckier than I think.

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The Light of the World

Posted on January 1, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

On the lawn of my neighbor four doors down stands a panoply of lighted yard animals. A couple of moose and two varieties of reindeer, what appears to be a bear, a snowman, and a Snoopy-like dog sporting a hat and a red and white sweater imprinted with “CANADA.”

I notice my neighbor’s lawn art on the nights I drive by, one of many ornamented yards. Most houses sport tidy rows of single colored lights strung from eaves, wrapped tightly around trees, draped symmetrically over bushes. Not my neighbor four doors down. Their gathering of lighted yard animals stand united under a canopy of multicolored lights, some strands blinking red, some dripping green, all run through with a shock of white light.

As conspicuous as my neighbor’s lawn art sounds, it wasn’t until I ran by in the mornings that I saw it clearly. My favorite time to run, holiday-season mornings. The world at peace, darkness punctuated by lights that herald the joy of the season, making my heart swell with excited expectation as I run.

You can tell something about a person, I think as I wind my way through the streets, by the way they string their lights. Are the lights single-colored or multi-?  Are they strewn carefully along some predetermined line or draped haphazardly among the shrubs? What it is you can tell, I’m not yet sure, but I feel I know my neighbors a little bit better by virtue of their lights.  Chritstmas Tree

I often wonder about my neighbors as I run by, what their lives are like behind those walls, their lighted lawns or darkened windows. Are they happy? Lonely? Do the holidays fill them with joy or with sadness or with something else entirely? With nothing at all?

The trunk of the live oak that shelters my front lawn is wound with strands of colored lights. They burn incessantly, although I know you cannot always see them. No timer, no unplugging, just an unceasing rainbow sparkle.

Some days when I come home, I flinch in anguish and squint toward the tree, looking for the light I know must be there, overpowered by the light of the day. It’s not until I see a flicker of blue or orange that I am at ease, to know that my lights still burn.

I sometimes wonder if my neighbors wonder about me and my ever-lit, multicolored tree.

But what would I do, I think on those mornings I run by lighted yards and the smell of bacon frying, bread baking, laundry drying, fires burning, if there were sadness or loneliness or emptiness inside when I do not know the names or the faces of the people behind those lights?

But we are all our brothers’ keepers, I think as I run by. There is always something to do.

I ran again this morning by the panoply of lighted yard animals spread across the neighbor’s lawn four doors down.  One of the moose lie on his side beneath the ribs of a reindeer, blown over by the wind. I stopped at the yard’s periphery, a little anxious at trespassing, but I stepped in anyway, stood him up, and leaned him against the snowman. He may fall over again, but that’s ok. I’ll be running by tomorrow.

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Breaking Eggs

Posted on December 12, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

You can’t bake a cake without breaking some eggs.

I was scrambling eggs to make an omelet when the proverb came to mind.  I had run the Shiner half marathon the day before, and I woke up feeling good. The race was challenging—intermittent rain and wind, unexpected steep grades (who was the genius that decided to put a hill at mile 11?), two miles of mud—but I met one of my two goals, finishing in the top 10 of my age group.

A great race ended, another goal met, and I tried hard to be in the moment to enjoy the accomplishment that comes from hard work, a job done to the best of my ability.

Nevertheless, post-race blues were sinking in and about to be compounded by holiday-associated stress, the approach of the busiest four months of my work year, and a sick dog.

Maybe you don’t get post-race blues. It took me a few races to recognize them for what they are. When the thing I’ve focused on for 8, 12, 16 weeks or more is over and I look at the side of my fridge where my training plan hangs only to see a blank slate waiting to be filled, to start all over again. The promise of a new beginning, which is, and should be, exciting.

lemonmeringuepie_86114_16x9Yet any beginning emerges from an end. Creation is preceded by destruction. (Or as Wallace Stevens would say, “Death is the mother of beauty.”)

Before I let my emptiness cave in on itself—before Thanksgiving Day—I selected a new race, registered, and created a new training plan, ready to start December 1. But the long days of holiday-associated stress, the approach of the busiest four work months of the year, and a sick dog cut into my plan. I am not off to the best start. (Although, thank God, my dog is getting better.)

This week I stood in the kitchen beating eggs again, remembering when my mom taught us to bake. For a time my favorite was lemon meringue pie. It wasn’t the taste I so much enjoyed as the making of the pie, or, at least, the end result. So many eggs broken, vigorously whisked into tall, stiff peaks strong enough to stand on their own.

It was the beating that gave me qualms. Before they can peak, the eggs fold in on themselves, all mush and formlessness, unable to hold anything together, much less themselves.

Me, the past couple of weeks.

But you can’t bake a cake without breaking some eggs. Maybe it’s time to rise again.

 

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Ginger

Posted on October 31, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

“God,” I say staring up at the ceiling in my shower, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I think I quit.”

I’m not exactly sure what I mean by “this.”

My job? Long days, into evenings and nights. Saturdays. As much as I swear to myself I will not work on Sundays, there is inevitably a phone call. An email. Something.

My living situation? Seven weeks now with my sister, who temporarily moved in when she sold her house unexpectedly fast. With her three dogs. Added to my two. In a home office.

All of it. None of it. I don’t really know. Sometimes, as much as I am grateful for all I do, all I have, “this” can seem so weighty.

I wash my hair and wait for God’s reply.

dog listening

I used to think God’s distinct voice would sound something like a cross between John Wayne, Cary Grant, and Gandolf, but I’ve never actually heard it, distinctly. It comes across, rather, in the words, actions, and eyes of people I know, and many people I don’t know. More often, it comes across as an unclenching of my gut. A certainty that something is or isn’t so.

By the time my hair is conditioned, I get my answer:  “Blah, blah, blah, Ginger,” like my favorite Far Side cartoon. I imagine God rolled His eyes when He heard me, said here we go again, and I sounded something like that.

I translate His answer to mean, “You’re not done yet.”

“OK,” I sigh as my gut relaxes just a touch. It really doesn’t matter what I want or don’t want to do, or what I think I can or can’t do. What needs to get done will get done, regardless of me. Despite me. Sometimes, if I am listening, because of me.

Out of the shower and dressed, I survey my training log tacked to the side of my fridge and my gut unclenches completely. At least tomorrow I get to run. This is something I can do.

 

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Planting Seeds

Posted on October 17, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

THOREAU-EXPECT-WONDERSHard choices. The theme for the day’s lunch. Discuss our hard choices and what we’ve learned from them, how they’ve shaped us.

Was the choice hard from the beginning, or did hardship arise only in the middle, when we were knee-deep in, no going back? Or was it the end of the choice and the bearing of its consequences that brought hardship on?

I immediately thought of all the times I’ve moved, over twenty when I stopped counting several years ago. Some easy–a few blocks away, in college, to the other side of town, same city. Some decidedly hard, requiring the shedding of material, intellectual, philosophical things, like a snake sheds its skin, leaving me feeling naked, exposed. Another state, another country. Back again, and always the question, now what?

I’d taken to thinking of my life as if I was a dandelion spore, blown about by the breeze, landing here or there by chance. Not a lovely thing, not rooted.

Until I landed here, where I stumbled into a community, a home. A place where hope multiplies like dandelions in a field, ineradicable.

I’ve always been a fan of fields and flowers and trees, but I now understand the power of a seed.

 

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

Henry D. Thoreau

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Running Buddies

Posted on October 3, 2014. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I recognized a face or two as they came into the gym, smiling, twisting their hair into ponytails up and away from their necks to escape the stifling, pungent air. Ninety-plus degrees and the air conditioner down. I stood against the far wall trying not to move, not to exert too much energy or breathe too deeply.

Such awesome girls, the head coach had told me. Never seen anything like it. They’re so innocent and sweet.

A new season of Girls on the Run, three weeks in. Many sites still in the process of bonding, coaching teams as well as girls. It can be chaotic, challenging. I dropped by this site to deliver shoes and had asked in advance if I could stay, just a bit, just long enough to help me remember why it is I do this.

I sat cross-legged on the floor next to the tower of empty boxes, away from the circle of girls. My salmon colored t-shirt appeared to have sprung stripes where rivulets of sweat had trickled down and settled during the flurry of shoe trying-on that preceded the lesson.

StickyBuns_Article

The girls hadn’t seemed to notice either the sweat or the pressing heat. They hurried to change clothes, find and fill their water bottles, grab a granola bar, and form their circle, eager to get started. A lesson in negative vs positive self-talk, the same lesson our coaches had practiced in training. The adults had related, nodding in agreement as the lesson uncovered the ways in which we tear ourselves down, dismantle our uniqueness and achievements as quickly and easily as dismantling a Lincoln log house, and then separate ourselves into oneness.

In the very places the adults had nodded and their bodies slumped, the girls sat upright looking puzzled, oblivious as to what the coach was talking about. I chuckled, amused but mostly relieved. They hadn’t yet started that conversation with themselves.

C’mon, a coach waved me in as the girls stood up, moved on to their warm-up. You’re here. You might as well join us.

Join? I hadn’t been a joiner. But how could I say no in the face of this? High knees. More sweating. Yet the girl on the far side of the circle smiled broadly as if she had just been crowned princess instead of standing here in this gym, hiking up her knees, excited to go outside and run circles around the small dirt playground.

At last we filed out the door and I inhaled the fresh air and warm breeze. I hung back as the team walked out to the shade. Several girls held hands, vied to hold the coaches’, leaned in sideways touching bangs as they talked.

Most hadn’t known each other when they started, yet here they were sticking together like buns in a pan, oblivious to each other’s imperfections, or their own.

You all ready to run? the coach asked as she resumed the lesson. A twitter rippled through the team.

Oh! Oh! A hand flew up from the center. Can we have a running buddy? As if on cue, each girl turned to her neighbor, and they hugged.

The coach caught my eye and smiled. Never seen anything like it.

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Meditations under a New Moon Sky

Posted on September 19, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The girl with the blonde ponytail started to cry and couldn’t seem to stop. Fat tears rolled down her cheeks, plopped silently onto her desk. She tilted her head, tried to wipe them away, but they kept coming nevertheless.

There is truth with a small t, the professor had been saying, and Truth with a capital T.

He drew a giant T in the center of the blackboard and surrounded it with small t’s, then connected them to the giant T with thin, white lines.

We go through life thinking our individual truth is Truth, he continued, but it is not. Truth is what we all seek, and it’s here, at the center of things—he jabbed his chalk at the capital T. We spend our whole lives searching, but it is elusive and we cannot see it clearly, maybe will never see it at all.

I had stared at the girl with the blonde ponytail, crying, and then at the wagon wheel of t’s, the capital T at the center tethered to so many small t spokes, and imagined it rolling away.

***

I ran up the road, my usual out-and-back, under the morning’s new moon sky. New moon—no moon—invisible for a time, awaiting rebirth behind a black made blacker by rain clouds unfurling across the sky. Last week’s super moon generated such light that even the predawn hours seemed torch-lit. Now, in the new moon black before dawn, the only light shone sideways from intermittent homes, the few passing cars, or down from the occasional streetlight, wreaking havoc with my shadow.

sneaker-shadows-via-dimitridze-j1

At one turn, I chased my shadow as it grew longer than me, stretched out on the path ahead. Then, just as it gathered into a pool of blackness so distinct it seemed it would peel off the road, run away on its own, a pair of headlights sliced it open. Where there was one of me there were now many, a community of Peter Pans running from their shadows.

I turned a corner, stepped into a crosshair of light and my shadow exploded around me, each silhouette tethered to my foot as it fell, a wagon wheel of tiny me’s stretching out toward the darkness, where they disappeared into the new moon/no moon black.

He was wrong, I thought as my shadow wheel rolled, Truth with a capital T is not at the center. It is outside the wheel of ourselves, where we alone are the center, our tiny, small t that thinks it is a T. We cannot see the Truth because it resides beyond the arc of our wheel, beyond the arc of blackness, waiting.

I startled a deer as my feet hit hard under the shadow line of trees, scared a Chihuahua and its owner ambling down their drive for an early morning walk, nearly tripped on the darting dog as it leaped over my approaching shadow.

I’m sorry, the owner said. We didn’t see you.

I was wearing neon green, a green so bright I had to shade my eyes from myself in the glow of my own home.

How strange, I thought, under this new moon sky, my shadow is more visible than me.

 

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Wednesday Night Coffee

Posted on September 12, 2014. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

But why don’t you tell me a little about you, I say and raise my cup to my lips to silence myself.

Only 6:30 and a long day already, fourteen hours and still more to do. Fueled by caffeine, I have been talking since she sat down, conveying the usual information about volunteer opportunities, the usual story about Girls on the Run, barely pausing for a breath much less a response.

She sits post straight across from me, deportment suggesting a tightly made bed, sheets taut, covers smoothed, corners tucked in hospital-style, and listens politely. When I say tell me about you her eyes shift right, seek the corner, some point on which to focus other than me. She speaks quietly but directly, measuring words, and I am once again astonished by the honesty, the trust a complete stranger has in me.

coffe

I watch her face as she talks, still taut, no wrinkle to underscore the furrows of her life, like we’re taught to smooth away pain, tuck it under cover, hide it underneath so no one sees.  But for a moment a ripple like wind kissing water passes over her eyes, which widen almost imperceptibly, the only inflection to underscore the agony in broken relationships, loneliness, death of which she speaks.

Why running? I ask, although I too know the answer, but I listen for the epiphany, the connection, her need to say it.

Because it’s not self destruction, it’s another way, a safe way, a path toward community, she says. It feels like what happiness should be.   

She wriggles excitedly in her chair as she says happiness and I think of the girl another coach told me about only an hour earlier, the girl who walked out of math class bursting with joy and said, Math makes me so happy. I love it so much I just have to do it.  I had laughed when I heard this, thought how odd, to get such joy from math, and then, yes but it is the same with me and running, and how odd that must be to some.

She has stopped speaking and once again sits post straight across from me, waiting. Do I gloss over her admission of pain, her declaration of happiness, step back into my own reserve, my own tightly-made bed?

Another sip of coffee as I consider the balance of safety and risk, the imperative of which I have been speaking for weeks of open hearts and connection. One more sip and I venture in. Running saved my life, I say and speak to her of divorce and sickness and death. If only it had been shown me when I was young…

But what do you want? I ask suddenly, surprising myself, as I have not asked anyone so directly before. Why volunteer? What is it you expect to find here?

For the first time she looks me square in the eye. Myself, she says. My way back to me.

 

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But I have promises to keep…

Posted on August 8, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Sarah, go to the gym.

That’s what my friend says she needs someone to tell her, to motivate her. It’s not that she doesn’t like the gym. It’s not that deep down she really doesn’t want to go. It’s more that when time gets tight and life overwhelming, the first promise she breaks is the one she makes to herself.

She’s not alone. I can’t count the number of times I wake before my alarm, my daily calendar cluttering my mind, stealing my peace. It’s not just the tasks but the weight of it all that makes me want to lie in bed just a little longer.

So the mental calculations begin. What can I cut from my day to buy some time as I lie here, watching the slats for the first hint of dawn, delaying the inevitable? Never meetings or phone calls. Never promises to friends.

Always meetings with myself. Always promises to me.   milestogo

My workout, sometimes. More often, my writing. Always, something I like to do, just for me. So easy to back out on these things. I am not accountable for them to anyone but me.

But here’s the thing. Breaking these promises to myself, not doing the things that keep me whole, balanced, healthy, at peace with the world, ultimately affects my world and those who are in it. If I don’t take care of myself first, I am useless to others later.

I may become, in fact, a mean old lady with a sour face who lives alone with a dozen Chihuahuas in the house on the corner that’s overgrown with wild roses and thyme, the one that all the neighborhood kids pelt with rotten apples.

Or, worse, I may become a burden in my self-imposed declining health instead.

When I was in college, I visited my dad for the summer. It was his Saturday morning ritual to mow the lawn. Later in the day, he’d spend time with us. One Friday I thought I’d surprise him and mow the lawn while he was at work, free up his weekend time to spend with me.

Late that night when he came home and saw the yard shorn and flowerbeds well-tended, happiness was not the look on his face. His mouth opened, then closed. He licked his lips, inhaled deeply, eyebrows knitted downward into the deepest expression of disappointment I had seen on his face in a long time. I was heartsick and stammered to explain.

“But I like to mow the lawn,” he said. I had stolen his time, his exercise. His peace.

So I say to Sarah what I say to myself. Go to the gym. Go write or paint or walk your dog or any of the private, personal things you need just for you.

Ignore the arched brows when you go to the gym or out for a walk mid-morning, the smug comments about how nice it must be to get away and do something so unimportant when others are working or caring for kids.

Your time for you is your work. It’s your duty to yourself to be healthy, balanced, happy. It makes you more productive at work, more relaxed with your family and friends. Better able to tackle the rest of life.

I never mowed my dad’s lawn again. Now, when I mow my own, when I’m sticky with sweat and plastered with grass clippings and dirt, when I see the wake of clean lines left behind my mower and feel an immense satisfaction, an inner peace, I think of him and smile.

When I wake up tomorrow morning, I hope I remember this, the necessity to write, to run. The satisfaction, the peace. Because I have promises to keep. And miles so go before I sleep, again.

 

 

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Pay Attention

Posted on August 1, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

If I had taken a snapshot the last time I was here and held it up in front of me today, I wouldn’t have noticed a difference.  Same people. Same equipment. Same routine. Same pace. Same bodies.

I haven’t been here in months. The gym has never really been my thing. I’d rather be outside in the sun and breeze and sometimes even the rain. But I go because there are things I cannot do outside of a gym. Things I haven’t done in over six months because I have not been inside of a gym.

Half marathon training started this week. Sprints—effective, non-cheating-by-slowing-down-because-I-just-can’t-maintain-the-pace, incrementally faster sprints—is one of those things.

I chose a treadmill in the back corner, far away from other people, the weights, light, noise and glanced around while I warmed up.  Had the layout changed? Was there new equipment? If I was serious about getting back into the gym, I suppose I should know what’s actually in the gym.   cornfields

That’s when I spotted them. The Frontline Treadmill Warriors. The Stairstepper. The Nordic-Tracker.  I don’t know their names, but I know them by their routine. Months of walking, stepping, gliding. Straddling the same machine each day, never varying their routine.

I’d hear them occasionally in the locker room, six months ago and more, complaining about their lack of progress. Occasionally, they’d ask what I think. Invariably, I’d answer the same: Habits make bodies lazy. They stop paying attention. Shock your body. Mix up your routine. Even corn stops growing when the crops aren’t rotated.

The Stairstepper might try the treadmill. A Warrior might try to glide. But habits are hard to break. And routine is like our favorite pair of shoes, so easy to slip into. Before long, maybe a week, each of them would be straddling their old machine.

Six months of a non-gym routine and I’m ready to change it. I’m tired of complaining to myself about my lack of progress. Time to rotate the crops.

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