Wednesday, September 16, 2009

One foot in front of the other

Over the past couple years, distance running has become a hobby of mine. Running frees me, and it is one activity where I can look back on the past and say, yes, I can do today what I couldn't do yesterday...or last week...or a year ago. There is a constant building of improvement that I haven't been able to see in many other areas of life.

Until this past July, when the muscles in my back decided they'd had enough of my athletic routine (running is not my only activity) and became aggravated, creating numbness in one foot and a dull ache in my back. Luckily, this was not a serious injury. There was no brace, no surgery, no days where I could not get out of bed. Just an annoyance...a bit of rest, a few sessions of acupuncture and a couple of back cracks and I was practically back to normal. I was graced with healers who insisted that complete rest was not my path, rather, pursue the activities I love to track the healing process.

But by the the time that message became clear to me, I had lost much of what in running we call your "base." Three miles felt like five, and five felt like, well, an eternity. I was supposed to be training for a half marathon, farther than I'd ever gone, and have another summer of running accomplished. But there was none of that. Instead, on those clear July evenings, I found myself at the park watching other people run, writing in my journal, and trying not to get depressed. Sure, I could do "other things." But what "other things" are there, really, when running is what you love?

I have spent the past month trying to re-gain my base. My standard fun run was a five to six mile distance. I love that distance because it is short enough to not sap up an entire day's worth of energy, but long enough to get an awesome cardio workout. Tonight was my first attempt at getting back to the full six miles. I ran at the Uptown lakes with a friend, the same friend with whom I was supposed to train for the half, and we both struggled. She is still recovering from the half, which took a toll on one of her knees, yet the running addiction is so strong she is wearing a brace and working through it. As for me, my legs just didn't want to. Once we got past the four mile mark or so, my body had had it and insisted on walking. Thankfully my friend was OK with it and we grumbled back to her apartment, begrudging the crappy run we were both having.

And then I remembered something a trainer used to say: "If you got one foot in front of the other, it was a good day." I iterated this to my friend and we both admitted we should be grateful we can go six miles on foot, walking, jogging, or otherwise. The hard part is three months ago the two of us booked around that same route, no walk breaks, just a great run around the lakes, and today, a struggle.

I realized later how metaphorical this run was: some days, we cruise around the lakes, happy to be alive and feeling good the whole time. Other days, life makes our knees hurt and we wish we could stop, but can't because of that insistent drive to keep going. Perhaps this is a sub-conscious reason for a running addiction: if we can through those painful, shitty ones, it makes the great ones seem even better. And no matter what, we always go back for more. Yesterday was tough, but today might be OK and so we get out of bed and do it all over again. Who knows, with a bit of training, the toughness of yesterday and the OKness of today might lead to a fabulous tomorrow.

Monday, September 14, 2009


It would seem healing from demons is harder than anyone imagines. At one moment, one might think the healing is over, and the next, that the healing has barely begun. It is as though we are in a constant state of flux with our past demons. They rotate in and out of our lives like cravings for foods or movies. One day, we want pizza and action, the next, sushi and drama. The same happens with our demons: the same model car your ex-husband drove cuts you off on the freeway, or the scent of a flower reminds you of grandma's gentle hug. Demons, good and bad, waft in and out. If only we could control them better so the good ones may come more often and the evil ones never at all.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Thoughts on the MN State Fair

I hate crowds, but I am a Fair junkie. So once I year I buck up my phobia, grin and bear, and let myself enjoy a crowd...and curds, and garden displays, and animals, and did I mention the curds?

It seems of all people I know, folks either really love or really hate the Fair. The haters loathe the crowd, greasy overpriced food, and overpriced beer. But once you get over the fact that pretty much everything everywhere is overpriced, and can grit your teeth through strollers and slow moving old people (let's face it, us youngin's aren't the ones holding up the flow of traffic), then the fair can actually become somewhat bearable, and hey, maybe even a little fun and a great way to close out the summer.

As always, I had to go oggle sheep, and the largest boar and sow in Minnesota. Dem some big pigs, mon! Not to mention the biggest pumpkin, which I had never made a point to see until this year. It's amazing that Charles Schultz is a native yet never thought that Charlie Brown should hunt down the Great Pumpkin at the Fair, just a little over a month early. But of all things big and small at the fair, this year my favorite moment was the giant slide. I had not gone down the giant slide since I was a kid, and the memory of it was vauge at best. For only two bucks, you get a gunny-sack like thing to sit on and push off at your own volition. And because of my adult size, well, let's say Newtonian physics worked well in my favor.
So what is there not to like? It was a tiring day, with lots of walking and standing, but otherwise it gives us all a chance to be a little silly.
NOTE: All pictures were taken with my phone, since I left my real camera at home. This is also my first attempt at putting pictures on a blog and it didn't go as smooth as I had hoped.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Artist's Way & Breaking its Rules

I'm not big on the "self-help" genre of books, but The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron has been a mainstay in my life during transition times. I have undergone the twelve-week "course" twice, and both times was able to surprise myself with the artistic output and through spiritual transformation. Each of the twelve weeks corresponds to one chapter, so in part, there is some "textbook" style learning: the artist reads a chapter a week and completes several "tasks" at the end of each chapter. The tasks are designed to uncover artistic blockages or fears that we all have and overcome them via our chosen artistic expressions. In addition, the two primary activities are morning pages and artist dates. Morning pages are three pages of freewriting to be done first thing every day. Cameron insists they must be done in the morning and no other time. The artist date is a solitary activity of any sort that is to get the artist away from normal life and into the artistic "place". Examples are museum trips or walks through the park, really the only criteria is they are done weekly and alone and somehow stimulate the inner-artist.

As I fumbled through my battered copy, I decided to undergo the Artist's Way "light." That is, for now anyway, I am not going to re-read the whole book, a chapter a week, for twelve weeks. I am going to do the artist date and the pages, but that is where the rules will be broken.

I'm changing the "morning" pages into "anytime" pages. I have learned that for myself, when I write is not as important as that the writing happens. Inevitably, the more I write the more ideas I have, which fuels more writing. My committment then is to pick up my notebook once a day and write whatever the hell I want for three pages straight. If more comes, more comes, but three pages is the minimum. This is a blatant breaking of the morning pages rules, but it's better than not writing much at all. The artist date is trickier because I already do many things on my own. I go movies alone, eat at local cafes alone, so the notion of an outing all to myself is not that intimidating. In a sense, I'm already living the "artist date" lifestyle because I often allow my inner child out to play during these solitary meanderings. However, I do need to pay better attention to the play itself and transform it to writing. Therein lies the task.

Throughout the book, Cameron has wisdom and insights to share of her own journey and brings home the ties between the artistic and spiritual lifestyles. Thumbing through the book, I find there are many passages and sentences I underlined because of how striking they were. I will close with a couple of them.

"Fantasizing about pursing our art full-time, we fail to pursue it part-time--or at all."
"Creativity occurs in the moment, and in the moment we are timeless."
"Usually, when we say we can't do something, what we mean is that we won't do something unless we can guarantee that we'll do it perfectly."
"It is impossible to get better [at something] and look good at the same time."