Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Reading and Riding

“The more I read, the more I felt connected across time to other lives and deeper sympathies. I felt less isolated. I wasn’t floating on my little raft in the present; there were bridges that led over to solid ground. “ ~ Jeanette Winterson*

I’m currently reading a book called “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” It caught my eye on the library shelf and has delivered the promise a title so often doesn’t live up to. You may have heard of the author, Jeanette Winterson, who has written many other books, including several for children and a book called “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit,” which later became a three-part BBC series. Winterson was adopted by a family that would frighten the bravest of souls - she survived by pursuing her love of literature and writing.

“So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language — and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers — a language powerful enough to say how it is.” ~ Jeanette Winterson*

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do was to ride my bike to the library and load up with a basket full of books. I read voraciously. Like someone in the desert desperately searching for water, I’d lose myself in the oasis of books.  I’d tote a bag full of them back home and lock myself away in my bedroom for most of the day reading one story after another.

There was “Pippi Longstocking” and characters like Wild Horse Annie in “Mustang Wild Spirit of the West.” And there was “Charlotte’s Web,” “The Wind in the Willow” and “A Wrinkle in Time.”

I couldn’t wait to get done with one stack of books so I could run back to the library and load up with another. The ride alone was a treat — that feeling of independence that came from propelling myself to where I wanted to go.

I took my time getting to the library so I could explore different streets. When I was old enough to go farther on my bike, I rode to the main county library, where they had more selections and the bike ride lasted twice as long.

The ride created it’s own story. I was on horseback, riding out west. I was riding the Tour de France. Cloud formations became mountains, as I rode through the Colorado Rockies. Creeks were roaring rivers that I had to cross over on a rickety, swinging bridge.

Books and the characters in them were my friends, teachers, and role models. The main character of a story had difficulties, but they came out okay. They told me I would too.

As I’ve been riding my bike every day during the month of April, I find that bit of magic is still there. But it’s been funny. At work and even running in to strangers, when they see me or hear about my riding, their first question is often, “How far do you ride?”

I get a bit defensive, because I don’t ride all that far. So I’ll say that I don’t really know how many miles I cover. That I’m fitting in riding between many other things I have to do. That I’ve been sick a lot in April. And that the weather has made riding difficult. But really, a physical distance is not the point and those excuses draw me away from what I actually gain from my rides.

It’s not about time or distance or speed. It’s about forgetting, at least for a time, about the destination. And just enjoying the feel of legs going in a circle, the rhythm that propels me forward, the angle it takes to turn a corner and at what point I might take it too far, too fast, and lose my grip. It’s about different things at different times, but always being there to notice where I am, even if at times I’m making mountains out of clouds, motes out of bridges and seeing sea monsters in a river’s current.

As a person who has been and still is on the quest for understanding both happiness and normalcy, I was curious if Winterson ever finds both. I don’t believe there is actually such a thing as normal except in the human mind. For those on the fringes of acceptance - who have been bullied, were never popular, and even in adulthood, it’s pointed out how we aren’t quite right - we either can continue to feel bad about not fitting the correct mold or we can embrace what is normal for us.

I am embracing…

*All quotes are from Jeanette Winterson’s book, “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?”

Monday, April 14, 2014

Stick To It-tiveness

I signed up for an event called “30 Days of Biking” that asks that you bike every day of April. I’ve made if for thirteen days now.

I didn’t sign up because I was thinking about goals to exercise or get out on my bike more often. What I was thinking was PHOTO PROJECT!

I was excited about taking a photo every day to document time spent on my bike. I wanted to experiment and make the photos unique by visiting various places and playing with lighting, motion and different angles to shoot.

I also expected (or hoped) that the photos would show the changing weather from the snowy start of April to (I hope) the emerging plant life by the end of April.

All of those expectations have been fulfilled, except maybe for the weather one. We were teased with some high 60’s, but last night the temp dropped to  25 degrees F, with a real feel of 9 degrees. WHAT THE…

Still, in some way, braving the weather has been the best part. I feel good about sticking to something I said I would do no matter what obstacles come up.

Which leads to the very cool, unexpected part of participating in 30 Days of Biking — I’ve been able to think about what has made this something I’ve been able to stick with and have fun versus so many of the other commitments I’ve made but not been able to go the distance on.

These are the reasons I’ve come up with:

Community: There are a group of people participating in 30 Days of Biking who are taking photos that they are sharing on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. With the hash tag of #30daysofbiking, it’s been easy to find other participants’ photos. I’ve seen a Colorado mountain biker coming down a rocky trail, people riding through snow, some cool sites of the city and countryside, and someone in Florida posted a photo of a sign on a mountain bike trail warning to watch out for alligators. And it's not just bike riders in the USA, there are people from all over the world.

Giving Back: For every 30 pledges, 30 Days of Biking, along with Free Bikes 4 Kidz, is donating one bike to a kid in need. What an awesome thing for them to do!

Support and Encouragement: 30 Days of Biking Participants, friends and family have all been very supportive and encouraging. That means a lot and is a big incentive to keep going. It kind of fits in with the next thing.

Commitment and Accountability: I signed a public pledge. Surprisingly, even to me, that actually means something. Plus I’d feel really lame if I quit now. It helps that the pledge is to bike every day rather than 30 miles a week or 120 miles in a month or three days a week. Every day means that I don’t have to think about it. As soon as I get home from work, I change clothes and get on my bike. On the weekends, I make sure I get my bike ride in before dinner. If I had to go a certain number of days or miles in a month, there would be too much latitude. When I didn’t feel like riding. I’d decide to do it tomorrow. And if tomorrow was no better, I’d plan to go the next day. And pretty soon, I wouldn’t be bike riding.

Daily Photo Project:  It has been challenging to try and take a unique biking photo every day. Challenge equals fun in my book… Sometimes I’m not happy with the results I get, but I’m always happy with the process of experimenting. When something doesn’t work, it usually leads to an idea of what to try next time that might work.

Bike Riding Feels Good: No matter how much I want to skip my ride because I’m tired or it’s cold out or I just feel crabby, experience has already taught me that I’ll feel better once I’m on my bike and will feel less tired and crabby after the ride. As for the cold, there is always the promise of hot chocolate when I get back home (or on the way home).

Sticking To Something Builds Trust: I have discovered that keeping my word to myself is important. When I don’t keep my promises or do as I intended, I lose credibility. Why should I believe myself when I have said things in the past like, “I’m going to cut out sugar from my diet” or “I’m going to write for one hour every day," only to lose my resolve after a few day? In fact, I have let myself down so many times that I don’t take myself all that seriously and figure I’m going to blow it as soon as “the promise” comes out of my mouth.

So sticking with biking every day for thirteen days, has helped me reconsider the idea that I NEVER follow through. It isn’t a total cure for all the years of not keeping my word to myself, but it has shown me that when I do keep my word, I feel pretty good about it and I respect myself for it. So now I want to do this with more than just biking.

I want to find a way to carry this experience over to some of my other intentions. I’m going to keep noticing what is working with my 30 Days of Biking and see if I can determine a way to apply the same kind of thinking to other areas in which I want to make a commitment and stick to it.

But for now, I'm just going to enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Is This Fun?

I was looking at my To Do list last Sunday and feeling my anxiety rise. I’d already crossed off a few things - like 'Make bread and yogurt' - deciding I’d buy them instead. ‘Clean house’ was stabbed through with a jagged black line.

Sadly, this is how most of my weekends start off. Hell, this is pretty much my everyday life — lists of Too Much To Do. I’m not enjoying things that should be fun because I feel anxious about all the things I’m not getting done while doing whatever I’m doing.

That is no way to live. I know this. But how to stop it when there is so much to do and I always feel like I’m behind. And I don’t mean behind in things that can wait, I mean behind on things like paying bills, doing my taxes, trying to find whatever is causing the putrid odor in the refrigerator, etc.

But even more frustrating is that if I just try to knock off the things that NEED to be done, I don’t have time for the really important stuff, that which makes me Maery and happy — activities like writing, horseback riding, spending time with friends...

I wish I had a great answer to this dilemma. I could then be the next person out there who has sold a million books and is invited to do a TED talk. But I don’t have an answer. All I have is my experiments that I carry out to see if I can get closer to a less anxious, more fun life.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the idea of “fun” because I’ve noticed the lack of it in my life, even with the things I supposedly “love” and can’t live without — like writing. But I’m going to talk more about writing another day. For now, I want to talk about how I experimented with fun over the weekend, which basically meant paying attention and noticing when things were fun and when they weren’t, especially when I was doing something I supposedly “love.”

Sunday morning, I drove out to the stable to see Luke. Since my friend who owned the boarding facility and who was my trail riding and bike riding and skiing and consignment store shopping buddy moved away, my going to the barn has become harder and harder. There’s less to look forward to and I end up feeling lonely and depressed when I go there. So why would I want to go?

I thought about this and decided my happiness was being screwed with because I was focusing on how things had been in the past and seeing those conditions as the only ones that would make me happy. Things change all the time so that’s not a good mind set. I knew I needed to look for what was good about how things are now. Yes, I still miss my friend a lot, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy my horsey time.

There is a certain meditative rhythm to grooming a horse and running a series of progressively finer curries and brushes over a horse’s body from the tips of his ears to the long feathery hairs above his hoofs. It’s also very satisfying in the Spring  to see a sleek coat appearing as you run the shedder over the horse and pull off the globs of hair clinging to its teeth.

My favorite part of grooming is when I remove Luke’s halter and work out the hay he has managed to toss into his mane and forelock.  I take my time, carefully cleaning around his soft, dark eyes and getting the fuzz and hay away from his nose before he sneezes all over me. I worked a rubber grooming mitt inside the thick winter fur of his ears. Luke leaned into my hand, and I imagined how good this scratching must feel.

Luke is the gentlest, most patient horse I have ever partnered up with. He softens my snarls every time I spend time with him. He deserves to have an unrushed, pleasant partner.

When I began to wish I had gotten to the barn a half hour earlier, I drew myself back to being glad I was there now. When I began to think that things were taking too long and I would never have enough time to fit in a bike ride and a walk with the dogs, I stopped myself and focused on how great it was to be riding outside listening to the glopck, glopck sound Luke made as we splashed through the puddles, followed by the shllsh, shllsh, shllsh sound as he high stepped through the snow.

At one point, I started to think about how much I want to trail ride this year and how that means I’ll have to trailer my horse by myself, which means I’ll have to overcome an extreme level of fear (imagine going sky diving for the first time). I felt this terror last summer and wasn’t able to get past it and go trail riding even once. How could I make this year be any different?

But wait. Now I was thinking about the “future” and having that screw with my present time. I drew myself back, deciding I will deal with my trailer terror (which is actually fear of backing into a parking spot that is only about two feet wider than my trailer) later.

As I’ve played around with this idea of drawing my focus back to why I enjoy doing something and being there to enjoy it, this is what I noticed and will keep in mind as I keep doing my little experiments:
  • The moments I am most unhappy and frustrated are the moments when I am rushing to get to the next thing.
  • Comparing the present to a past that is romanticized by memory or a future romanticized by dreams is ruining my enjoyment of all the great things about “now.”
  • Thinking about what could go wrong in the future by doing what I’m doing, not doing what I should be doing, or because the future holds all kinds of scary, claustrophobic, shadowy spaces filled with who-knows-what? causes a crazy, somewhat insane amount of fear. Just the way I wrote that sentence scares the hell out of me.
  • When I do stick with noticing all the sights, smells, sensations and people or animals I am with at the moment, I am a much more pleasant person to be around. Or at least I enjoy my company more, and I enjoy what I'm doing because all of me is actually there doing it!
I know this is really long and rambling -- blame all the noticing and thinking I've been doing. But I must conclude with this touching bit of beauty found amongst the music Terri Windling posts on Mondays on her Myth & Moor blog.

The song is called "Horses" and is sung by Dala (Sheila Carabine and Amanda Walther). It expresses the spirit of why animals have always held a special place in my heart.

"I saw horses from my window. They were watching all the cars go by. They don’t care that I am broken, close my eyes and run beside them."

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Flipping Through Time

Creating my birthday collage last week meant going through about six big boxes of photos, greeting cards, and other memorabilia that I hadn’t opened since I moved to my house three years ago, The boxes contained both my things and the memory boxes I had taken from my mom’s house.

My mom saved EVERYTHING! All of my brother’s and my report cards, samples of the first papers I wrote in cursive, and cards that I made for my mom and dad. There were a few cool postcards sent from two of my uncles during the Korean war and a not so cool box of funeral notices.

There was a box dedicated to my brother, who died at age 39. It held the baby blue cigar box my dad had purchased to hand out smokes to commemorate the day my brother was adopted. I found the tie my brother wore for his first communion and another tie worn for confirmation. There was a collection of photos, including those from my brother's wedding, and later photos of his daughter. And there was a copy of the service that was held for my brother's funeral.

It was hard flipping through that expanse of time. Seeing a life begin and then end too quickly.

I found myself sitting cross-legged on the floor, immersed in a time capsule of remembering, regretting, and wishing things had been different. All of my issues with aging seemed to be amplified as image after image flipped from beginning to end. Less is possible now than when I was younger, not just because of changing physical abilities but because there’s less time left to accomplish all the things I want to do.

Lately my focus has been on retirement, the next big life event, and trying to make sure I have my finances in order. Will my money last until the end? Which has me asking new questions. Like how little can I get by on? Do I work until I have a nest egg that I think will allow me to travel and have some fun? Or do I simplify what I think it takes to enjoy life and retire earlier?

What truly makes life enjoyable? And how do I learn to find those cheap thrills and start incorporating more of them into my life right now?

What do you think? Do you have a clear picture of how you want to live? It seems like that should be such an easy question to answer, and yet...

When someone opens the box (symbolically or physically) that holds the photos and memorabilia of your life, what will be inside?

Monday, March 24, 2014

They Say It's Your Birthday

They say it’s your birthday. [da dun, da dun] 
We’re gonna have a good time. [da dun, da dun]

Fifty-seven years old is kind of a boring birthday – no kind of milestone attached to it. It’s not even a catchy number like fifty-five.

I have no big plans. Nothing up my sleeve. No inspiring thoughts or big changes. I’ve been trying to come up with something wise to say for two weeks now. Nothing…

I do have a mantra though.

"Doing something is better than doing nothing."

And I’ll go ahead and steal someone else’s wisdom that I ran across last week:

"Giving up on your goal because of one setback is like slashing your other three tires because you got a flat." ~ Louise Hay

I had to laugh because moments before, I'd been jotting down my thoughts on a scrap of paper and had written this:

"I've hit a huge pothole and flattened my tire. Where the hell is the jack to hold my car up?"

(Not quite as catchy but I think the use of the word "hell" gives it some flavor)

Most of my free time lately has been spent working on organizational issues for my book. I have the problem of having fourteen years of writing to dig through and pluck out the pieces that fit and will make the best story.

To narrow things down, I hold everything I’ve written up and ask whether it answers one of these two key questions:

“What are the consequences of hiding and being silent?”
“What are the consequences of speaking your truth and not being heard or believed?”

As I write, I think there might be a third question that I’m answering. 

“What are the consequences of putting all that behind you
and deciding you don’t care how people react.
You are going to tell the story.”

- Today's post is cross-posted on Vision and Verb -

Monday, March 17, 2014

Irish Blessings

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are about wearing green clothing, drinking green beer, and watching parades. It is the day when everyone is Irish.

I’m only a quarter Irish and have never been to Ireland so I don’t know a whole lot about Ireland either. What I know is that St. Patrick was British not Irish and he didn't chase away any snakes. He basically went to Ireland to convert people to Christianity, which kind of ties into the myth about snakes (representing evil).

Yet, I imagine Ireland as this beautiful, magical place full of story. I think of writer's like John O’Donohue. One of the book's he's written is called Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, which I highly recommend. This is a short excerpt from the Prologue:

“Through the opening of the mouth, we bring out sounds from the mountain beneath the soul. These sounds are words. The world is full of words. There are so many talking all the time, loudly, quietly, in rooms, on streets, on television, on radio, in the paper, in books. The noise of words keeps what we call the world there for us. We take each other’s sounds and make patterns, predictions, benedictions, and blasphemies. Each day, our tribe of language holds what we call the world together. Yet the uttering of the word reveals how each of us relentlessly creates. Everyone is an artist. Each person brings sounds out of silence and coaxes the invisible to become visible.”

(my shot of Saturday's full moon with a bit of photo magic added)

It was hard to pick just one piece of Irish music to include in my little celebration, but below is a song performed by Julie Fowlis.

I hope you enjoy (or already enjoyed) St. Patrick's Day! May love and laughter light your days...

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Not out of the woods yet, and I don't want to be

To lift my spirits after a tough couple weeks, Steve and I spent much of the weekend playing outdoors. The temperatures cooperated by moving into the upper 30 and 40 degree range. It was amazing to walk from the indoors to the outdoors without a sudden gasp of air and a desperate grabbing for my hood to shield my face from the breath-stopping cold.

Saturday's field trip included a walk with the dogs at Woodland trails. I think we were the only walkers out there, probably because the melting snow meant that we were frequently sinking and tripping as we walked. The dogs couldn't figure out what our problem was.

Sunday's field trip included going skiing at the Sand Dunes State Forest. We hadn't gone there for a couple years and the grooming practices had changed quite a bit from the wide, well-groomed trail I remembered to the narrow, combination ski and walking trail that we found.

It was a test of my skiing skills, trying to avoid the piles of dog poop. Now, my dogs may be lacking in manners in a lot of areas but at least they are polite enough to move off the trail into the deeper snow before relieving themselves. Plus we carry baggies.

Still, the pine trees made for a secluded, towering mountain of greenery that made this swishing whooshing noise when the wind came through. Being surrounded by so many towering trees made me think of fairy tales, which are so often grounded in being lost in the woods.

I did some thinking about commitment over the weekend. You may laugh, but the thing I read that truly got through to me was the forecast for March on the PowerPath.com website. Sometimes the message we need to hear comes in unexpected ways.

A sample of what I read in the March forecast is that:

"This is a month of putting yourself 100% behind your choices and decisions. It is about setting new rules, weeding out what doesn’t work, being disciplined about what it takes to manifest your intentions, and doing your work…. It will be critical to anchor your commitments in your heart and to be clear from that perspective about what you are willing to get behind and what you are not willing to put any more energy into... When you have commitment, there is no back door, there is no turning back and there is no ambivalence… Until you are committed there is always a chance to change your mind."

And then this:

"It will also be crucial to stay out of depression, lethargy and denial this month... it is the time to commit to what you really want, from your heart, not your mind. So what are you waiting for? The mind is the trap that will try and sabotage your actions. Listen instead to what your heart says you should be committed to."

I thought I had truly committed myself to a couple things I'd selected to work on this year. But I realized I am getting distracted by problems in an area of my life that is a necessity but not one of the things I want to focus my energy on.

That distraction was causing all sorts of excuses for why I was too tired or down to do the work that I need to do. And that I need to do daily -- not just hit and miss, scrunched in between bad moments.

It isn't that I’m not already familiar with the ideas that were in the March forecast, but I was forgetting. Forgetting is that bad kind of being lost in the woods you read about in so many fairy tales.

Hearing a message you need to hear can force you to look around and see the woods as they really are -- a place of beauty and strength.



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