Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dating My Friends

Since returning to DC but not (yet) returning to skating or lifting, I have had to figure out what to do with my time.  I've had plenty of introvert time--reading, going to cultural events and now starting to work on my writing.  But I also realized that I need to direct some of my focus to maintaining my friendships.

Remember last fall when I was sad about my broken heart?  My friends were there.  And this summer when I needed emotional support in Maine?  My friends were there.  Including my DC friends who were there from afar.  I am lucky to have people in this city who care about me.  But I realized a couple of things while I was away.  First, I haven't always shown up for my friends (in good times and bad) as consistently as I could have.  Second, because I don't live that close to most of my friends and because we are all awesome people with busy lives (especially my friends who are still playing derby), fun does not usually happen spontaneously.  I don't think I realized the latter while I was skating.  I thought fun didn't happen because we were all too tired and busy to do things that weren't organized around derby.  (Which was also partly true, at least for me.)

So I've decided to start dating my friends.  I mean, let's face it.  What's better?  Another horrific OKCupid date, or a nice, enjoyable cocktail with someone whose company I actually enjoy?  Right.  I did realize, though, that part of why I haven't made an effort to reach out like this before has to do with fear.  This came up when I was talking to one of my friends about how people flake out on things at the last minute.  It's a thing.  But when it happens to me, it makes me feel like people don't like me.  (And Lord knows, I already have enough insecurities!)  But what is ironic about this is that I know, as an introvert, I flake frequently.  Especially at the end of the day or the end of the week when I lack the energy to deal with people.  I flake on people I really care about, and I know it's not about them at all.  It's about me and my own energy level.

So I've been making an effort to remind myself that just because someone might be busy when I ask them to do something, or they might end up working late at the last minute or something, it doesn't mean that they don't like me.  And now I'm just going to admit that writing that sentence made me feel like an idiot because it seems like a thing that an adult woman should not have to remind herself. But I do.  And I honestly think I'm not the only one who feels this way sometimes, which is why I'm writing this.  And also why I'm making a conscious effort to be less of a flake myself.  So if you're reading this, and we're friends in real life, and we haven't had a friend date in awhile, let's meet up.  I promise I won't flake.  Unless I really do have to work late.  I mean, it is DC after all.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Spinach and Sweet Potato Frittata

In my never-ending quest to make vegetables enjoyable, I give you this sweet potato spinach frittata!

It's full of protein and two of the most nutritious vegetables around!  Also, you can reheat it in the microwave and it is still delicious!  Perfect for any breakfast, lunch or dinner on the go!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Artist's Way

My friend Amy recently put out a call to see if anyone was interested in working through the Artist’s Way with her.  I had heard about this book over the years.  People often recommended it to me when I told them I had seemingly lost the ability to write poems.  I ignored the recommendations.  Although I knew absolutely nothing about it, the painting of Mount Fuji on the cover made it seem a little too new age for my liking.  I really like hanging out with Amy, though, and I have been wanting to start trying to write again.  In my new post-Maine mindset, I thought why not give it a shot?  The worst that could happen is that I finish it and I’m still not writing.

Around the same time this was happening, another friend suggested I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, which is about cultivating creativity.  The last time I read an Elizabeth Gilbert book, I got a divorce.  What could go wrong?

The Artist’s Way is basically a twelve-step program for artists.  The premise is that everyone possesses creative power, and that creative power is directly connected to the creative energy of God or the universe or whatever you happen to believe in.  The exercises in the book are designed to facilitate reflection and introspection.  The author, Julia Cameron, calls it withdrawal.  She writes, "Ordinarily, when we speak of withdrawal, we think of having a substance removed from us.  We give up alcohol, drugs, sugar, fats, caffeine, nicotine—and we suffer a withdrawal.  It’s useful to view creative withdrawal a little differently.  We ourselves are the substance we withdraw to, not from, as we pull our overextended and misplaced creative energy back into our own core."

The program has several foundational elements that Cameron calls “basic tools.” 
  • Morning pages are stream of consciousness writing you are supposed to do when you first wake up.  (I’ve done this before in writing workshops.  Maybe my old writing teachers read this book.)  They are supposed to help clear out mental clutter. 
  • Artist’s dates are weekly solo excursions to nurture creativity.  They can pretty much take any form you like—a walk, a museum visit, a reading, anything as long as you do it alone. 
  • There’s a contract you sign committing yourself to the program.  I thought this was dumb, but then one of the members of our group told us there’s research to suggest that signing a contract actually does help change behavior.  So I signed the contract.
  • Lastly, there are weekly writing exercises.  They’re sort of therapy-like.  Questions and writing prompts that help you investigate the negative emotions and limiting beliefs that might be blocking creativity.

Our group had its first meeting last week.  We’re not going to meet every week.  Instead we have a facebook group where we can support each other, and we’ll get together periodically.  One of the things we talked about was how we saw ourselves doing with the basic tools.  Most of the other group members have young children, and they worried about finding time for their artist dates.  I, on the other hand, realized that with the exception of the roller derby years when I didn’t have time for anything but skating and cross training, I have been doing artist dates for basically my entire life.  They are my primary form of entertainment, actually.

Still, as I prepared to start the program, my inner pessimist kept taunting me with the obvious questions.  What if I fail?  What if I do all this and it doesn’t work?  What if I’m just really not a poet?  What if I am really just not good enough?

But the insight about the artist dates, as well as insight from Gilbert’s book helped me shift my thinking.  Big Magic isn’t just about being a writer, it’s about living a creative life, which Gilbert defines as “living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.”  Thinking about creativity as the triumph of curiosity over fear helped me think about all the ways in which I do live creatively, even when I’m not writing.

I have spent a lot of time berating myself for all the hours wasted in the last twenty years not writing.  All that wasted creativity!  But now I can imagine my creative power as a tiny flame deep in the hollow of my heart, and I begin to understand that all these years I thought I was not being creative because I wasn’t writing, I was still doing things to keep that flame alive.  All the journaling, the books, the art museums, the book talks and poetry readings, the hikes in the country and the walks in the city.  Maybe even my fitness journey (and this blog) which are, after all, about creating the version of myself I want to be.  And certainly my job, even though it may look bureaucratic to an outsider.  For instance, a colleague and I spent a lot of time this summer developing a new training, and the process of pulling those training ideas out of the air and bringing them to life in a hotel conference room didn’t feel that different from the process of writing a poem.

So maybe instead of feeling bad about all the wasted time, I can congratulate myself for feeding that flame so faithfully during all the years I wasn’t writing.  And maybe I can trust that the flame is bright enough to light the way as I turn my attention back to putting stanzas on paper.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

On Invisibility and Politics

In the wake of the infamous Donald Trump tape, women have been sharing their stories of sexual assault on the internet.  I didn’t think I was going to do it, even though I, like pretty much every other woman I know, have stories.  There’s the old man, impeccably dressed and seemingly harmless until he felt me up and kissed me on a walking trail in Spain.  The stranger who groped me on the corner of 12th and New York here in DC.  The high school boyfriend who hit me while we were having sex.  Although I think I consented to the sex before he started hitting me, so maybe that just makes it regular assault, not sexual assault.  I don’t know.  I’m not a lawyer and, more importantly, I shouldn’t have to weigh questions about what type of assault my boyfriend perpetrated upon me.

But these are not the stories I set out to tell tonight.  Tonight I just wanted to talk about what happened to me in a bar in my neighborhood, where I met one of my friends for a drink. 

The friend got up to go to the bathroom, and a guy immediately came over and took his seat.  There was something aggressive about his manner so I had that fleeting moment where I had to think about what I was going to say that wouldn’t make him angry.  This is a thing that women have to worry about because an angry man, we have learned, might be a dangerous man.

The man said, “What’s your name?”

I said, “My friend is actually sitting in that seat.”

The man stayed in the seat and said, “I won’t be long.”  He then proceeded to try, again, to chat me up.  The bartender saw what was happening and came over to tell him to move just as my friend came back and asked for his seat back.  The guy got up and said, “Sorry, man” to my friend.

Sorry, man.

Sorry for hitting on this girl who is here with you.  But not, apparently, sorry for ignoring the actual words that came out of my actual mouth when I told him the seat next to me was taken.

When I was overweight, I was invisible to most men, which meant that I was used to being treated as if I did not exist.  When I started to lose weight, I thought that would mean I wouldn’t be so invisible anymore.  However, what I have come to understand is that even when you attract the male gaze, to be the object of that gaze is, in fact, to be invisible.  I am somebody’s daughter, somebody’s date, somebody’s aunt, somebody’s sexual conquest.  What I really want to ask, in a tone that would probably be characterized as “bitchy” or "hysterical" or "angry" is when do I actually get to just be me? 

This is not just about politics although my politics are a surprise to no one.  It’s about more than just Donald or Hillary.  It’s about every fucking man who thinks he knows better than I do what is good for me, my body, my life.

And, yeah, the personal is political.  So when you look at those maps that show how Trump would fare in the election if only women voted, if you do not understand why women are so angry, I need you to please, please, please go and ask a handful of women to tell you their stories of assault, misogyny, sexism.  Vote for whoever you want, but after you’re done voting, please try to understand why those comments hit such a raw nerve.  Because that rawness, those feelings of fear and shame and helplessness and frustration are a part of our everyday lives, and that won’t change on November 8th regardless of who wins this election.

I told my friend what had happened.  I said, “It’s like the words that came out of my mouth had no meaning whatsoever.”

My friend said, “You should have grabbed him by the balls.”

Monday, October 3, 2016

What Pain Do You Want in Your Life?

After recovering from a medical condition that caused extreme physical pain for about a year and a half, my friend Kelly quit her job and went to Spain.  She's blogging about her experiences there.  Today she wrote a response to a Mark Manson article that asks the question, "What pain do you want in your life."  The basic idea is that nothing positive comes without hard work and struggle.  There are some things we want in life that we are willing to suffer for, and there are other things we may say we want, but we aren't willing to suffer to get them.  Maron gives the example of the musical career he liked daydreaming about more than he actually liked practicing music.

I have said so many times on this blog, you have to learn how to feel your pain.  The only way you learn that pain won't kill you is to let yourself feel it.  Once you've learned to do that, the pain of whatever path you choose to pursue in life becomes a little less scary.  But still kinda scary.  Which is why it's important to be conscious of the choices we are making and the paths we are taking.  If we are going to suffer, we ought to be suffering for whatever feels most meaningful and fulfilling.

What I love about Kelly's post is that she is very clear about what pain she will take, and what pain she won't.  And that kind of clarity is a beautiful and powerful thing.  I think sometimes we feel guilty about the things we walk away from, but there is no shame in saying no to the pain of something that is not right for you.  

Today, I spent some time thinking about what I will and will not suffer for.

I will suffer (sometimes, maybe, a little too much) for the people I truly love, but not for anyone I don't, or anyone who doesn't love me as much as I love them.

I will suffer the sometimes soul-crushing bureaucracy of my job because I also get to work on compelling and challenging projects that I know make a difference.

I will suffer to have a body I can count on to do the things I love.  At the moment, I am still working on figuring out how much pain I will tolerate to be a powerlifter and roller derby skater again.  I probably am not willing to suffer as much as it would take to be truly great at either of these sports.

I could work on tolerating more pain in the area of cultivating friendships--having the courage to reach out and the stamina to go out when the introvert in me wants to stay home.

I haven't been very willing to tolerate the pain of the creative process for quite some time.  Since coming back to DC, I have been wanting to start focusing more on writing, but it's an active struggle.  Just last weekend, I had an idea for an essay I want to write, I had time on the calendar that I knew I could spend writing if I wanted to, and I chose to do everything but.  It was fear, plain and simple.  Even so, I know that I was very brave as a young poet, and I can be that brave again when I decide I'm ready to take that pain.

What pain do you want in your life?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

On Shame, Grief and Running

I've been back in DC for three weeks, and I haven't written anything about my fitness program since I got here.  I haven't written because I haven't trusted myself not to fail.  And while this blog is sometimes great at keeping me accountable, occasionally even I am bothered by the prospect of accounting for my inadequacies in public.

The first run I did, on my first morning back in town, I followed the running pattern I had been following in Maine--alternating between six minutes of running and two minutes of walking.  I thought it would be a lot easier on my nice flat run through Capitol Hill than it was on the hilly roads of Maine, but it wasn't.  It was hard and miserable and depressing.  So I did what I have done every time I've been in a fitness valley--I returned to my old standby, the Couch to 5K running program.  My 6:2 pattern was similar to the beginning of week five on the program, which alternates five minutes of running with three minutes of walking.  So I decided that's where I'd start.

In my experience, weeks five and six of the program are the hardest.  The first time I did the program, I got stuck on week five for nine months.  But I also knew that if I could make it through those weeks, I could finish the program.  I'm now in the middle of week seven (25 minutes of running), and while every run feels like a struggle, I know it is more of a mental struggle--pushing through the discomfort, remembering how to do that--than a physical one.

Part of the mental struggle is dealing with the shame I feel about having lost so much ground.  I think about the things I could do at the height of my fitness, and how good I felt, and I feel ashamed that I let it slide.  But today while I was running, another thought came to me.  I was thinking about all the emotional struggles of the last year, and about other times in my life that were hard.  I realized that this year is different than times past because this is the first time I've lost so much.  The year my dad was sick, he got better.  And when my marriage ended, I was the architect of that loss.  It was something I wanted. As I ran, I ticked off the losses of the last year:

  • The loss of the relationship I'd hoped for with the Summer Romance of 2015
  • The loss of not one, but two, sports that had been integral to my health and my identity
  • The loss of my mother, and with her the loss of the hope that I would ever be loved in the way a mother is supposed to love a daughter
Well, when you put it like's a lot.

I say this also feeling a little shame.  Because I know that there are people in my life struggling with much more--sick children, terminal illnesses, grinding poverty.  Then there's the soul-crushing trauma  of war and poverty and natural disaster visited on innocent people throughout the world.  So, yeah, my emotional struggles are a first-world problem.  But they are real to me.

As I thought about this list, my breath quickened.  I could feel tears coming.  I knew they would ruin my run.  I looked at my watch: Five minutes to go.  I focused on staying calm, on not crying, on keeping my running form and pace.  I thought about how those five minutes were so representative of what I've had to do this past year.  I finished the run.  It felt like a victory.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Four months ago this week, I was in Barcelona.  I'd heard from my father that my mother had been discharged from the nursing home.  I couldn't understand why they were sending her home.  I didn't realize they were sending her home to die, although I knew that she was dying.  I was expecting to see her a couple of weeks after my trip to Spain.  I didn't know that I would never see her again.

In the chapel at Santa Maria del Mar, I prayed that whatever happened to my mother, she wouldn't be in pain.  Her life had been hard enough.  I prayed for blessings for the rest of my family.  And I prayed for myself, that I would know what to do when someone needed to know what to do.  I prayed to be wise and loving, and I cried.

Today, I flew back to DC after three months in Maine.  I don't know about wise, but I do know that love is the fuel that kept me going all summer long.  I didn't always know what I was doing, but I did the best I could.  I did what I had to do to help my dad, and I feel good about that.

At the beginning of the summer, I wrote, "Sometimes you change your life, and sometimes life changes you."  I don't know, yet, the effect that this summer will have on me.  I know I feel a little stronger, maybe a little more clear about my priorities.  I feel sad about leaving my dad.  Mostly, though, I feel numb and exhausted.

Remember that time I gave myself the gift of a year?  I don't think I can commit to another whole year of doing nothing.  But maybe a season.  I want to spend this fall taking care of myself, seeing people I care about and doing things that make me happy.  My year of doing nothing led me to roller derby.  I look forward to seeing where this fall takes me.