Throw out 50 Thoughts #25 – But I’m going to suck at this…

runnersacrificeMy seventh grade Biology teacher also happened to be the cross-country coach. One day in class, he suggested that I join the team. When he did, my classmates laughed. You see, I was the least likely person one would take for a runner. I was heavy. I wore glasses. I was non-athletic. After class, he urged me to ignore my classmates and try. “I saw your sprint times,” he said. “You’re fast. All you need is stamina.”

This is not one of those stories where the protagonist is the fastest kid in the class. I did not leave my detractors in the dust while the soundtrack swelled. I’m not even sure my teacher ever saw my sprint times, because being fast wasn’t the point. I knew exactly what would happen if I came to practice, and I think my teacher knew exactly what would happen, too.  I’d run, fall behind, puke my guts out, cry in the shower and listen to people snicker about how idiotic the idea was in the first place. And the next day, I’d show up at practice and do the same thing all over again.

I said no. I wish I hadn’t.

Let’s face it, we don’t all get our Susan Boyle moment where we make the Simon Cowells of the world eat crow. We will try, and nine times out of ten we will fall short of our desired goals. I won’t call it failure, because failure sounds so final. Failure is only the beginning.

While it might have been nice to have my movie moment, I would have learned so much more through reality. My classmates were right. I would have sucked at cross-country. The next day, however, I would have sucked a little less, and a little less the day after that. I may never have won a race, but it didn’t matter. My victory wouldn’t have been showing people that I could run like the wind, it would have been showing people that they could not define who I was and who I was not.

My son, like many teens, draws himself with thick lines. It’s a wish, I suppose, that if he stays within the boundaries, he’s safe from ridicule. I tell him to embrace suckitude. It’s inevitable, and I say it not as a cynic, but as an optimist, because the point is, SO FREAKING WHAT.

If I’d run cross country, with the expected outcome, who would I have hurt? My suckitude would have been mine and mine alone to do with as I pleased. I could have wrapped it around me like a straightjacket, or I could crumple it into a ball and toss it into the circular file. Kids laugh at others because they are afraid for themselves. Over time, they learn to avoid things they fear rather than staring fear down and telling it to shut the heck up.

My teenage self would be shocked to hear that I run every day, Yes, it’s good exercise, it’s free (except for the shoes and the blister tape and the friction reducing socks), and I get that nice endorphin high at the end. I run because I like knowing that  I can will myself to put one foot in front of the other, again and again, and watch the miles fall behind me.  I run, I fall, I get up. Evaluating my success is up to me. And that’s what I think my teacher was trying to accomplish.

So Mr. Shoemacher, better late than never. And thanks.

Photograph : Marathon Sacrifice by David © 2007 Creative Commons/Flickr

 

Letting my thoughts run – Meditation for the Fidgety Soul

WalkingmazeI wrote this piece a year ago for another blog, but thought I might share it here today, as it’s reflective of where I am at the moment.

I’ve read that regular meditation alleviates everything from depression to high blood pressure. It’s free, doesn’t require any contact with a health insurance company, and has no negative side effects. Pretty impressive stuff.

I’m fairly crunchy for a city girl. A few years in California left its imprint. I’ve followed a regular yoga practice for years, I eat organic as much as possible, and I’m a huge advocate of acupuncture. Meditation, however, does not come easily to me. I can’t sit still with my thoughts for very long. I am a restless spirit.

I went to a guided meditation session, hoping to find the solution to my inner-antsypants. It didn’t work. I listened to five or six breaths, and the ideas began to intrude.

It started with little things. What should I make for dinner? The car probably needs an oil change. Don’t forget to pick up the dry cleaning.

The thoughts grew more complicated and stressful. There’s no way I’ll have the client report finished in time. We really need to redo our will. Am I giving my son the right dose of Tylenol? Does he take child or infant?

And then the doom loop started. I’m going to get fired. Could my husband be having an affair? What if my son got hit by a bus? What if the asteroid is coming and Bruce Willis isn’t there to save us? None of these thoughts made any sense, but they barged in anyway.

While the outer world was totally silent, I couldn’t stop the noise inside my head. It buzzed and whirred until my ears were pounding. The room began to feel small and airless. Soon, I would collapse, like a star, and drag everything into the black hole along with me. I started hyperventilating, sucking in great gasps of air. The adrenaline was rushing through my system, and I was pretty sure I was about to pass out. This didn’t feel like inner peace.

The seminar leader took me outside so that a) I could get some fresh air and b) I would stop frightening the other participants. She asked me what I was experiencing, and I told her I thought I was going to fly apart. I was coming unglued, literally–the force that bound my cells together was failing and I was going to explode.

I asked if this is what it was like to experience the universe.

No, she said. It’s what it’s like to experience yourself.

When people repeat things over and over, it’s generally because they feel voiceless. Sure, the squeaky wheel gets greased, but the emotion is not about the wheel, it’s that no one hears the squeak until it gets really loud. My psyche had become a very squeaky wheel. I had ignored it for too long, and without the rest of my life there to drown it out, it saw the opportunity to be heard.

The seminar leader took me to a walking mandala, where I counted steps and breaths, and made peace with my thoughts, promising never to ignore them again. It’s a work in progress.

I still cannot sit still to meditate for more than a few minutes at a time, so I run. My husband, also a runner, lives by the stopwatch, trying to get the fastest 2 mile time he can clock. Pushing limits is congruent with his personality, intense and determined.

I run slowly, but for miles and miles, until I’m exhausted and sweaty and empty. I put on music, lock into a cadence, and let the thoughts go where they will. I don’t ponder them, or hash them through, I acknowledge them—Namaste—and let them go.

I get home, ice my knee, and write. This is my meditation. It is also my saving grace because I love carbs in any form. If one could achieve inner peace by eating Ciabatta with a good Cabernet, I’d be dining with Buddha. Since that’s not going to happen, I’ll pop on my headphones and lace up my shoes.

Mindfulness, a quiet recognition of one’s thoughts, however crazed they may be, is a beneficial practice. It doesn’t, however, have to be in lotus position inhaling patchouli incense, although I know a fair number of people who actually do it that way. Maybe your meditation is gardening, or an evening prayer. Maybe it’s just watching light shine through grass, or clouds drift by. Whatever works. It’s all good.

I don’t know if I will find satori at some mile marker, but I have found peace of mind and endless writing material, including this piece.

Namaste.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Walk Walk” by Memphis CVB © 2010 Creative Commons

 

 

To Quote Big Papi, This is our *^&#)$@ city

Boston-StrongI’ve lived all over the country. I was born in Detroit, moved to Cincinnati, and then Chicago. After a number of years, I left the Midwest for Silicon Valley where they have climate as opposed to weather. I didn’t miss the seasons. Then I moved to Boston.

I don’t know what it is, but Boston wedged itself in my heart. It really shouldn’t have.

First of all, the weather sucks. We moved into our house in April. It had been a warm winter for Boston, and Spring came early. By mid-April it was in the 70’s every day. One sunny Saturday I put plants out on our deck. Basil, and petunias and some Impatiens. I even got a sunburn.

Two days later we got two inches of snow.

Every year after that, Boston got epic levels of the white stuff. I grew up in Michigan, so I’m no stranger to blizzard conditions, but not until Boston did I understand what a white out really looked like. I remember when I was little, reading the “Little House” books, I wondered why everyone got all tragic when Pa had to go to the barn during a snowstorm. After Boston, I got it. One time I walked to the dude’s school during a storm to get him and wasn’t sure if I was even going in the right direction. I planned ahead, however. I had Oreos packed in my coat pockets. It took an hour and a half to get one mile.

Boston has  too much traffic, and the drivers are awful. I know that every city says their drivers are awful, but in Boston, it’s true. And they’re proud of it. The street names change every two miles. Giving directions is not simple. Turn left on Waltham, but then it turns into Ridge, then Forest, and then Park, but just keep going until you get to Lowell, which looks like it should be Bow, but it’s not. Just trust me. Don’t even get me started on people that run red lights, traffic circles or Storrow Drive.

The road construction was endless. There were so many detours, even the Garmin got pissed off. Recalculating. Again. What’s wrong with you people?

And yet, here I am in Virginia, and my basement wall is painted like the Green Monster. The dude has Patriots stuff all over everywhere. I stream The River, which is the only decent radio station in the universe, from every electronic device I own, and I feel a rush of pride when I hear “Dirty Water.” I miss the accent, and Wilson Farms, and Crane Beach, which is actually in Ipswich, but it’s close enough.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy in Virginia. I have an amazing group of friends that make my heart light. I can run year-round. The dude can play baseball Spring, Summer and Fall. In so many ways, I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my lifetime. Yet, when everything went down in Boston last week, it felt personal.

I will never understand the heinous things people do, or how they rationalize their actions. I do know this–they messed with the wrong city. I’m not the first to say it, or even the most eloquent. That would be Dennis Lehane.  Boston is the most stubborn, f*** you, this is me, take-it-or-leave-it city I have ever known. And in the few years that I called it home, it left a mark on me that will last forever.

Love that dirty water. Boston Strong.

The city of Boston is observing a moment of silence at 2:50 p.m. this afternoon in honor of the victims of Monday’s bombing. Find a moment today to do the same, and pray for peace and understanding.

J. B. Everett

 

 

Let’s hope at least the band-aid is ouchless

minimal shoesIt’s 79 degrees outside, and I’m one happy puppy. I just got back from a run, and it feels so good. I run during cold weather, but I don’t really enjoy it. It’s like running in a sleeping bag, while pulling barbed wire through your throat. And I don’t even live in Boston anymore. I’ve become a weather wuss.

All that padding slowed me down. I was running a lot of miles, but very slowly. I couldn’t move that fast, so I never really got to the point of pain. I didn’t go running, I went trudging. A lot of effort, not a lot of accomplishment.

Last week  I put on the running shorts and switched out my heavy winter running sneaks for a pair of minimal shoes. I was flying. There was only one problem.The shoes I ran in during the winter had thick soles and lots of padding. I wore heavy socks.  So, the calluses I’d built up throughout the year were gone. My Minimus shoes are a sole and some shoelaces.  By the time I’d reached a mile, my feet were already sporting blisters.  By the time I’d reached two, my left foot was bleeding.

I love my minimal shoes. I feel every change in terrain, the stones, the heaved up pavement, the curves and ridges along the path. My feet spread out to grip the ground, and my stride is even and natural. It’s not always a comfortable run, but it feels so much better than the slow trudge. It’s all about choosing the right path and not mistaking discomfort for pain. This morning I slapped a band-aid on my foot. I just finished four miles.

My writing experience has been similar. A few months ago, I was writing every moment. I had content enough to post every day and still have words left unsaid. I was submitting stories and poems almost weekly. I had momentum. I got rejections and moved on, knowing, as they say, that it was one step closer to yes. I got acceptances and began to embrace that my future as a writer might not be as impossible as I’d thought.

Winter came, I focused on editing my novel and I guess I got wrapped up in it. I began posting less frequently and writing less material. The steady stream of words became a trickle. I haven’t submitted anything of late, either. I’m not feeling secure in the work. It feels forced, the truth muffled behind a lot of words. I kept my writing close, so it could be both protected and protective.

Now, it is spring again, and I feel the urge to write returning. I’m shedding the layers, but it’s painful. I’m feeling the rocks and twigs and tree roots under the soil, but my footing is more secure. My writer’s soul is raw and exposed. The raw soul is where truth resides.

So I get up tomorrow, put a band-aid on it and move on. It’s cool. I have a bunch of Superman band-aids left, and Dude won’t wear them anymore. I just hope they are ouchless. Taking those suckers off hurts.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Minimalist Running Shoe” by Patrick Maloney © 2011 Creative Commons