Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Shieldmaiden

Washington County, Maine is one of the most economically disadvantaged counties in the United States.  When I was a teenager, people used to say it was poorer than parts of Appalachia.  I’ve never been to Appalachia so I can’t really compare, but I grew up in Washington County, and I can tell you it’s not an easy place to live.

In Maine, people who aren’t from Maine are known as “people from away.”  It’s hard for people from away to understand what it’s like to live in Washington County.  At the B&B where I stayed last weekend, a tourist from Alabama remarked at breakfast, “If you stayed here more than a week, there wouldn’t be much left worth seeing.” 

On Saturday, Beagan and I explored the shops and galleries on Eastport’s main street, and everyone we spoke to talked about how hard it was to keep a small business going.  The lady in the candy store had decided to close up shop for the winter because it wasn’t worth it to stay open year-round.  Although she said she’d stay open until the last cruise ship came into port because she thought it would be nice if people had someplace to go when they got off the ship. 

We stopped in at Heather Perry’s jewelry shop.  Beagan is a fan of the Shieldmaiden Collection.  Shieldmaidens are the women-warriors of Scandinavian mythology.  Heather’s silver and brass jewelry is fashioned into shapes of shields or blades and textured with lace.  Metal and lace.  Strength and femininity. 

I wanted a pair of earrings.  I was acutely aware that, to the untrained eye, I might resemble a middle-aged woman from away about to drop a fair bit of money on a pair of earrings in an effort to get in touch with her inner shieldmaiden.  The twenty-year-old Washington County me would have rolled her eyes and added up how many boxes of blueberries she’d have to rake to buy that pair of earrings.

I bought the earrings.  The design is called Freya’s longblade.  Freya is a goddess associated with love and sexuality.  Don’t mess with me, these earrings say.  I will cut you, and you will thank me for it.

At the wedding that night, my friend Jeff told me a foundation executive in New York City once told him, “Forget New York.  If you can make it in Washington County, you can make it anywhere.”

All night long, my friends and I kept saying, “How is it possible we all look exactly the same as we did twenty years ago?”  I thought of all the baby boomers I heard saying things like that when I was young, and how deluded I thought they were.  Here’s what I’ve learned since then: We are all creatures of heartbreaking complexity, and our struggles and victories are largely invisible to anyone but ourselves.  I’m a forty-year-old middle class urbanite, but that twenty-year old Washington County girl still lives inside me, too.  I’m lace and metal.  I’m a desolate main street in a town kissed by the sea.  I’m a shieldmaiden, damn it.  Don’t mess with me. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

When I Was Carlita

Twenty years ago this fall, a redheaded Italian boy from New Hampshire poked his head into my dorm room and became one of the great platonic loves of my life.  The year Micah arrived at school was, coincidentally, the year I quit the volleyball team to focus my energy on writing poetry.  It’s hard to describe the magical feeling of that year.  I put down my volleyball and found the creatives on campus—other writers, artists, musicians.  And there was Micah, like nobody else I’d ever known. 

Micah could get me to say yes to anything—a late night trip to the beach or frolic in the snow, eight o’clock class be damned.  He wrote cryptic, funny poems.  One, I recall, was called Heaven’s Gift Shop.  (My parents died and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.)  He made all kinds of art.  He’d show up at sporting events wearing a homemade hat in the shape of a clipper ship, the school mascot, and once even came dressed as the pope, complete with cardboard pope-mobile.  (Were we playing a Catholic school?  I have no idea.)  Tired of hearing me complain about not having a boyfriend, he made me a puppet-boyfriend.  (I named him Jean-Paul because that was the semester I learned about Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.)  When I took guitar lessons, Micah brought his guitar over and tried to jam with me even though I didn’t know what I was doing, and when I left to study abroad, he sent me off with a serenade.

In those years, people called me Carlita.  I’m not sure why everyone suddenly started referring to me with the Spanish diminutive long before my semester in Spain.  But that’s what people called me.  I was Carlita.  Carlita the poet.  I read my poetry at open mic, and my friends read theirs or played their music, and we all cheered each other on.  It was the only time in my life I belonged to that kind of creative community.  It inspired me.

This weekend those old friends and I met up in Eastport Maine, a tiny coastal town even more remote than the one where we attended college, to celebrate Micah’s wedding to the lovely Emily.  It was, seemingly, the event of the year in Eastport, and everywhere I went I encountered someone else who’d known me when I was Carlita.

On Friday night I stopped into the local bar to see my friend Duane and his band.  I’d been there five minutes when I spotted E.J., who’d been an English major like me.  E.J. asked, Are you still writing poetry?  When I said no she told me, I found one of your poems recently from that summer poetry class we took.  I remembered that class.  I’d taken it the summer before I quit the volleyball team.  It was part of the reason I quit the team.

Saturday night I saw Jeff, who went to both high school and college with me.  On the dance floor (yes, the dance floor, a place I have not visited since the Kappa Mu Alpha spring semi-formal circa 1996) Jeff asked me, What do you want to be when you grow up?  The question surprised me.  Out loud I said, I don’t know, but the true, unspeakable answer bubbled up from my heart, the same one I would have given twenty years ago.  A poet.

Jeff said, No.  You’re never going to grow up.

After the wedding reception, my girlfriend Beagan and I went back to the bar to see Duane for the second night in a row.  Taking our leave a bit later, we stopped to say goodnight.  This time it was Duane who asked, Are you still writing poetry?

No, I said, but after tonight I might be inspired enough to start.

Monday, September 28, 2015

So Long, September

Yes, there are still three days left in September.  But I am so eager for this month to be over, I'm bidding it farewell now.  Don't let the door hit you on the way out, September.

Here are the things that happened to me in September: My summer romance ended.  I had the busiest month at work that I can remember having in at least a couple years.  I got sick.  It could have been worse.  I remind myself that four years ago in September I was recovering from surgery, and running half a mile was a big accomplishment.  Everything is relative.

Here's how I did on my goals:

Bout eligibility.  I did manage to meet all the requirements to be eligible to skate in our bout, but in hindsight, I should have just taken the month of September off from roller derby and focused on work.  I haven't made it to practice once since the bout and won't until practically Columbus Day.  (I'm going out of town next week.)  Still, the bout was fun.  My team was so far in the lead that I got to skate in the jammer rotation the whole time, which is something I never do.  I quickly realized I have no jammer skills to rely on when brute strength isn't enough.  But it was still a lot of fun.

Get back to the gym, but take care of my back.  I went to the gym only twice this month, which really bums me out because I so wanted to start making progress with lifting again.  The first time I went, a couple weeks ago, I just did some light squats, bench presses and dead lifts.  Happily, my back felt fine.  A few days after this, I found out about a powerlifting competition in Maryland in November.  Frak urged me to sign up right away because these competitions fill up quickly.  So I did.  With one day of lifting under my belt after five weeks off.  And then I proceeded to get busy at work, and then sick, and I didn't go to the gym again for the rest of the month until today.

October and the State of My Psyche.  I'm not gonna lie, I'm still feeling a little under the weather, and I don't think it's the lingering effects of my cold.  In fact, when I think about how disappointing (romance-wise) and stressful (work-wise) this month has been, it's not surprising I got sick.  But honestly, even if the cold hadn't kept me home, really all I have wanted to do for most of the month is hide in my apartment and eat ice cream.  Clearly this is not a sustainable proposition.

My schedule isn't going to return to normal for another two weeks, and I'm learning from the mistakes of September and just taking the full two weeks off from derby.  The only problem with doing this is that when I get back I will have only three weeks of practice before the entire league goes on break for two months.  (This break was not planned back when I decided to take my two-month off season, otherwise, I might have made a different decision about taking that time off.)

My plan between now and Columbus Day is just to survive the work stuff, get my gym time in, and enjoy the wedding of one of the people I love most in the world, which is the reason I'm going out of town.  After that's all over, I'll make the most of those three weeks of skating practice and stay focused on getting ready for the powerlifting competition.  Frak was smart to encourage me to sign up because it really is the only thing that is motivating me to face my gym angst and get back in there.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Stories We Could Tell...

Penelope Trunk wrote a post about storytelling and about how her narrative of surviving 9/11 has changed over the years.  She writes about storytelling as way to process trauma, a way to integrate personality, and a way to affirm meaning and purpose in our lives.

September is the month I revisit all my old stories, too.

I few months ago when I wrote this, Brian asked me when I would ever make peace with my past.  But telling stories is how I make whatever peace there is to be made.  I mean, that's one of the things you're supposed to learn in therapy--how to reframe the narratives that are making you miserable.

So today I was thinking about how important it is to change the narrative if the stories we are telling ourselves are stories of fear.  I can tick off all the failures of my life and tell a story of not being good enough.  I can catalogue all the broken hearts in my past (my own, included) to justify avoiding the risk of getting hurt, or hurting others, again.  Or I can tell a story that is about learning to love better and more wisely.  A story about who I am and who I want to be.

That's the story I'm working on telling myself.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Observations from My Closet

I've gained seven pounds since I started tracking my weight and calories daily and trying to eat more five months ago. It's not muscle.  How do I know?  If it were muscle, all the skirts in my closet would still fit me.

This weekend I went through my closet, and here is what I found:

  • Number of skirts that fit me last year and don't fit now: 15
  • Number of skirts that fit me now: 6
So I'm having a fashion emergency and a body image emergency.

Today was my two-year anniversary of power lifting.  Since I started, I've gained fifteen pounds and a dress size.  I'm not happy about it, and I know I shouldn't care, and knowing I shouldn't care just makes me feel more unhappy and embarrassed for being a bad feminist.  Meanwhile, I can't even lift because of my back, so I'm unhappy about that, too.  I'm not feeling my best these days.

I've been trying to figure out what I am going to do about my nutrition.  I am thinking it may be time to consult a professional.  I don't want to gain any more weight unless it is muscle, but I do want to optimize my nutrition for roller derby and lifting, and I want to keep making strength gains in the gym.  Clearly, I don't know what I'm doing, so maybe I should find someone who does.  I've always touted the benefits of personal trainers, life coaches, etc., so why not a nutritionist?

While I think about that, to preserve my sanity, I'm going to stop weighing myself every day.  It just makes me feel bad.  And I'm pretty sure starting every day of my life feeling bad about myself is counterproductive.

I'm also going to stop tracking my macros, except for protein.  It seems like all I think about anymore is what I should eat, when I should eat, how much I should eat, how many more carbs I have to eat to hit my goal.  I think this has been driving me to eat too many calories overall, especially since I have been doing less cardio the last few months during my off-season.  For the time being, I am going to focus on: 1) Hitting my daily protein goal; 2) Trying to get some high quality protein and carbs at each meal; 3) Making sure I eat some carbs before and after working out.

Lastly, I'm really going to work on my overall mindset.  That means being patient with myself, giving myself the space to ease back into derby this month while taking care of my back and dealing with many demands at work.  It means focusing on what my body can do rather than how it looks.  And it means acknowledging that I am doing the best I can at all of this.  I may not have it all figured out yet, but every day is an opportunity to learn more about how to optimize both my overall health and my athletic performance.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

August Review and September Goals

August didn't turn out quite the way I'd hoped, fitness-wise.  I had trouble following my program in the first two weeks of the month, and then I hurt my back a few days before I left for vacation.  I rested my back and did no physical activity, other than walking a little bit, that first week in Maine.  At least things turned around in the last week of the month for my hiking extravaganza in Acadia National Park.  (Although I'm not sure the hiking and the sleeping on the ground was great for my back either.)

While I was out of town, my roller derby league held tryouts for the travel team.  I asked to be considered even though I was unable to attend the tryout.  Unlike last year when I missed tryouts due to illness and didn't make the team, this time I made the B-team, the National Maulers.  I'm very excited to be back on the travel team and looking forward to improving my skills alongside some of the best skaters in our league.

So now I'm back, and it's time jump back into roller derby.  My self-imposed off-season is officially over!  September isn't going to be easy, though.  I am still catching up from vacation, and I have a really big work conference coming up that will require some long hours in the next few weeks.  My goals for the month are not very lofty.  Mostly, I just want to get back into the rhythm of derby and make it through this work event.

Here are my goals for September:

Bout eligibility.  There's a bout in three weeks, and I have to make sure I've met all of my league's eligibility requirements, which include participation points for completing tasks associated with running the business of the league and practice attendance requirements.  Because I've been away, I'm a little bit behind on points and attendance, so I've got some catching up to do to make sure I can skate in the bout.

Get back to the gym, but take care of my back.  My back is much better, but it's still not 100%, and I haven't tried lifting anything since I hurt it.  Starting next week, I'm going to get back in the gym, but I'm going to take it slowly.  I'll try some assistance work and see how that feels.  If I squat or deadlift at all, it will be with light weights at first.  I'll also keep up the high intensity intervals on the Airdyne bike, probably increasing this to twice a week.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Some Thoughts on Patience

I spent the second half of my Maine vacation on Mount Desert Island, hiking by day and sleeping alone in a tent by night.  I was looking forward to some quiet time to reflect on the summer and get myself centered for the fall.  

I'm not much for meditation.  I'm too restless and results-oriented.  Instead, I walk.  I walk until I am too tired to worry anymore, and then I let the problems of my life swirl around in my subconscious and wait to see what new revelations emerge from those murky waters.

This year, I was thinking about patience.  It's not something I possess in large quantities.  I like to make things happen, force them into happening if need be.  The brute force method, my ex-husband used to call it.  This strategy has not served me particularly well.  The problem with brute force is that it causes damage.  It breaks things.  

Halfway up Dorr Mountain one day last week it occurred to me that in order to have patience, you have to believe good things will happen in their own time.  If you truly believe that, then you don't have to force anything.  Patience is about believing in abundance.  

The brute force method, on the other hand, is about trying to force good things to happen because you don't trust that they'll happen any other way.  The brute force method is about fearing scarcity.

This fall, I will affirm my belief in abundance.  I will focus on cultivating patience.