Friday, November 27, 2015

The Crone

A few weeks ago I went to see Patti Smith sit for an interview with NPR’s Maureen Corrigan and read from her new book, M Train.  As her time onstage came to a close, someone brought out a microphone stand, and Patti Smith stood up and led the audience in an a cappella singalong of Because the Night.  Before she started singing, she remarked on how awkward, and even a little scary, it was to stand up there and sing without any backup.  Then she did it anyway.  

And that is exactly why I love Patti Smith.

Patti Smith is 68 years old.  Her husband has been dead for more than two decades.  Her new book, which I am in the middle of reading, is a testament to loss and solitary journeys, both spiritual and temporal.  In her interview with Maureen Corrigan, Smith made an off-hand comment about orgasms—I can’t remember exactly what she said and don’t want to misquote her, but I gathered she is not particularly concerned with having them anymore.  That made me a little sad, but it’s none of my business.

Smith said she wrote the lyrics to Because the Night for her husband, Fred Sonic Smith.  Watching her sing them in this video, her long hair streaked unapologetically with grey, I cannot help thinking she has become the quintessential crone.  Nor can I help thinking what a subversive act it is for the crone to stand onstage—not young, not nubile, not beautiful according to the standards of the time—and mouth the frankly sexual lyrics of that song.

Patti Smith is the sort of woman who would probably have been put to death in Salem not so long after the first Thanksgiving.  In this day and age, we’re more progressive.  We don’t kill our crones.  We simply render them invisible.

But not Patti Smith.

I had a birthday last week.  I am nearly three decades younger than Patti Smith, and still the fear of becoming invisible is so real to me, an undertow that pulls at my daily existence.  Sometimes I think it’s already happening.   Sometimes I think I am howling into a microphone in an empty house.  The vicious circle turns and burns.  I keep my mouth close to the mic, a slow, steady growl.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Shame Hangover

It’s been a rough week.  It started with last Sunday’s crying incident, which may or may not have included what I recently heard Dan Savage call an “attention-seeking meltdown” with the Summer Romance.  Like most meltdowns, it didn’t make me feel better.  It only left me feeling embarrassed, ashamed and wishing I’d kept quiet.  So I spent the rest of the week with a shame hangover. 

Shame.  It’s one of the primary themes of this blog, and it’s back for another round.

After my last post, one of my friends wrote to say, “I just think this degree of sadness means something.  I admire your guard against narcissism, but I also don’t want you to slip into self-directed shame or anger.”  My friend is wise.  The sadness does mean something, and the shame risk is real.

I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to figure out what the sadness means.  I’ve been beating myself up a lot about the fact that I’m a grown woman with the emotions of a teenager.  I’ve survived a divorce, for heaven’s sake, and now I’ve come undone over something that lasted four months?  Perspective, seriously.

But the truth is, this particular romance touched many layers of complexity in my psyche.  First of all, the Summer Romance and I run in the same circles, and the places our lives intersect are deeply connected to my identity.  It’s painful to be there now, but leaving those places would be even more heartbreaking.

Then there is this disappointment that is tied to the end of my marriage and my subsequent romantic life.  I have always thought of myself as a woman who was built for big, extraordinary love affairs.  I’m ambivalent about commitment and monogamy because, for me, they were tepid waters.  I left my marriage and dismantled my entire life so I could be free.  But it hasn’t worked out in quite the way I anticipated.  Apparently we don’t all get to be Anais Nin.  Sometimes I think about how, once, I was loved so deeply and so well, and maybe that was the only time.  Maybe all I have to look forward to now is an endless, tedious parade of emotionally unavailable men who don’t have the first clue about how to love, or be loved by, a woman who has nothing left to lose.

That’s a lot of meaning to attach to a four-month romance, which actually makes my shame over the attention-seeking meltdown that much worse since I know so many of the feelings I am dealing with are actually about me and my own fears, and not necessarily about the Summer Romance.  It’s not (all) his fault I’m such a mess.

So, how do we deal with shame?  Compassion.

The day after the attention-seeking meltdown, I sat on the bus on my way to work hashing it all over, and the only remotely positive self-talk I could manage was simply to remind myself over and over again, “You are human.”  As I repeated that mantra, I began to think about how easy it is to behave badly when we’re in pain.  I hoped the Summer Romance would understand that, too, and that his view of the attention-seeking meltdown would be tempered by grace and compassion.  Lastly, I thought about how maybe the next time somebody treats me less than impeccably, I can treat them with a little more grace and compassion, too.

It is so much harder to extend compassion to yourself than to other people.  But taking that step, simply acknowledging the simple fact—you are human—is itself an act of grace that connects us to our universal humanity.  Let’s remember that, dear readers, and let’s all try to be a little bit kinder to ourselves and to others.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

On Narcissism

Did you know it is actually possible to give yourself a headache from crying?  I did it yesterday.  To be fair, I also started my period yesterday, which probably accounts for, like, 70% of the crying and at least 50% of the headache.  At any rate, I spent yesterday afternoon and evening crying and writing hysterically.  If it were the 80s, I would have been Lili Taylor’s character in Say Anything.

I cried myself into a headache, and then I went to sleep and woke up with an actual hangover from crying.  Not to mention the puffiest eyes ever and a black cloud of self-loathing that followed me all the way to the office.

When I say I spent all that time writing, let’s just clarify.  I was not writing anything of literary merit.  Just my feelings.

My feelings!  My feelings!

Now that the black cloud has lifted a bit, I begin to marvel at the vastness of my own narcissism. 

Since when did my feelings become the center of the universe?  Don’t get me wrong.  It is important to feel your feelings.  I have written about that a lot on this blog.  But at a certain point, you also have to get over yourself.

My feelings are not the most important thing in the world.

So let’s hope last night was the turning point.  I hope so for your sake, dear readers, because you are probably getting tired of hearing about how sad I am.  I know I am tired of talking about it.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Last Twenty Percent

The last hour of my five-hour tattoo session was really rough.  If I’d known how much that last hour was going to hurt—fine detail work on skin that was already irritated when my nerves were already shot from processing pain for four hours—I probably would have stopped and told the artist I’d come back in a few weeks.

It’s really the last twenty percent of any challenge that counts.  Well, that and even getting started in the first place.  But once you’ve started, and once you’ve gotten eighty percent of the way to your goal, that’s when the fatigue and the doubt start to conspire against you.

It’s certainly true with exercise.  Lately I have observed that it is true in my poetry writing as well.  I’m just as out of shape at writing poetry as I was at running back in 2009 when I started the Couch to 5K.  I’ve been doing ok so far.  I’ve managed to get some good lines and some decent images down on paper, but by the time I get to the end of that first draft, I often find myself a little bit lost and kind of exhausted.

When you’re new to running, it takes a long time before you get to a point where you have energy left for a final sprint.  At the moment, I am just congratulating myself every morning for lacing up my metaphorical running shoes and getting out there.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Back to Basics: Status Report

At the beginning of November I said my goal for the month was to move every day, and I said I was going back to fitness basics like running and boot camp style strength training.  But I’m going back to basics in other ways, too.  Here’s what I’ve been up to so far:

Exercise:  I’ve done some sort of physical activity every day except two.  I’ve been running and cycling and have taken a number of extremely enjoyable walks in the fall sunshine. 

Nutrition:  I have spent the last three years or so trying to eat like an athlete.  That has meant different things at different stages of my training.  Having put on some weight eating like a weight lifter while I was no longer training like a weight lifter these past couple of months, I realized that going back to nutrition basics means chilling out with the “eat like an athlete” business and eating like a normal person for a change.  I’m loosely counting calories, aiming for a solid 2,000ish per day.  Trying to get protein and vegetables at every meal but not counting my macros at all.  It’s kind of a relief.

I’ve also been taking advantage of the extra free time afforded by roller derby off-season to experiment with cooking.  I’m trying one or two recipes per week with the goal that I’ll have a better repertoire of healthy meals I can cook and freeze when I resume the hectic life of a rollergirl who needs to eat but doesn’t have time to cook.  I’ve been looking specifically for recipes that include both vegetables and protein, since you can never have too much of either when you’re training hard.  So far this sweet potato shepherd’s pie was a big hit, and it would be even healthier with ground turkey in place of the ground beef.  This crock pot veggie lasagna was also pretty great and super easy, although I’d use about half the mozzarella next time, and even then I’m not sure the vegetable to cheese ratio is solid enough to consider it a healthy meal.  But it sure was some tasty comfort food!

I’ve also been looking for ways to sneak vegetables into sweet treats.  For example, these chocolate avocado cookies are amazingly delicious and have a ton of fiber and healthy fat.  The perfect afternoon snack to keep me out of my boss’s M&M stash.  The jury is still out on this sweet potato breakfast pudding.  The original recipe needs a little something…maybe some spices…but I’m not giving up on it yet.

Sleep: I’ve been working on getting back on a good sleep schedule so I can get up early enough in the morning to have time for both writing and exercising.  (Yes, writing!  More on that in a minute.)  I’ve been getting up at 5:45 am, fixing coffee and a quick breakfast, sitting down to write by 6:00, finishing up by 7:00 and either heading out for a run or reading for awhile if I’m planning an evening workout, and then getting ready for work.  Of course, to maintain this schedule, I have to get to bed at a decent time, which kind of fell apart over the weekend, but I know I can get on a good schedule if I keep trying.  Even though I’m not a morning person by nature, I am always thrilled with how much I can get done when I get up early.  

Writing:  Yes, I’m trying to write every day, and even more than that I’m trying to write a poem a day.  So far I have, in fact, written every day, and all but two of those days I wrote a poem. The poems are not that great.  In fact, a couple of them are really only a couple of lines, but that is ok because I just consider this training for better things to come.  The goal is to a) write for an hour or b) write until I get a solid first draft on paper, whichever comes first.

Gym Review: Flywheel

Tonight I went to a cycling class at Flywheel in Dupont with my friend Nellie.

I checked out Flywheel's website after class and found it interesting that their marketing approach places a strong emphasis on competition:

At Flywheel, every ride is a race to the top...Riders can compete to set a personal best or challenge others in action-packed races that elevate every rider's game.  With integrated technology on our bikes, in the stadium and on our website and app, we offer a truly athletic, thrilling approach to indoor cycling that helps build strength and resiliency through the power of competition.

That totally wasn't the vibe I felt tonight, which is cool, because I have enough stress and competition in my life.  I don't need my cycling class to be stressful and competitive.  

Here are some of the things I liked about Flywheel:

The space.  Like many other cycling classes, Flywheel classes are done in the dark, which I love because I don't have to worry about other people judging me.  Flywheel also has a stadium setup with the bikes on risers, which gives everyone a good view of the instructor.  It also makes the space feel a little less claustrophobic--even though the bikes are still close together, you don't feel quite so smushed together.

The logistics.  You can reserve your bike ahead of time, which means if you want to hide in the back corner, you can make that happen.  Which is exactly what Nellie and I did.  They also give you cycling shoes so you can clip onto the bike pedals.  (I think that's the right term.)  When class is over, you throw your shoes in a big bin to be cleaned.  I've never been to a class where they gave you shoes--I've always just done class in regular sneakers.  It felt nice and secure to be clipped in.

Performance Measures!  You know I love me some performance measures.  During class, there is a "TorqBoard" posting the metrics of riders in the class.  You can opt out of having your details posted, which I did.  You can also see your metrics on your own bike, so you can still compare yourself to other people if you want to without broadcasting your stats.  I guess this is where competition comes into play if that's your thing, though.  I did notice that there is also a TorqBoard on the website that highlights the top performers for the week, and apparently top performers can also earn prizes.

The main performance metric is a "power score" which factors both resistance and RPM into a single number.  This is actually quite brilliant as it would be very easy to watch that number over time and see how you are improving.  You can track your performance data through your account on the Flywheel website, although my stats from tonight's class haven't shown up yet.  I think this may be because the TorqBoard went down during class, so maybe there was a problem with the collection, as well as the display, of the data.

Company.  As much as I enjoyed the class, the best part was working out with Nellie, who is always such a supportive workout partner.  We haven't done a track workout together since the summer so this was long overdue.  (And as awesome as that was in its own right, I should also note that I have been feeling a lot of love from many of my teammates lately.  In my mind I've dubbed it Operation Cheer Up Surly.  It makes me happy to know I have friends who love me.)

The verdict.  I'd go back to Flywheel.  The downside with all of these boutique fitness places is they're expensive.  One class at Flywheel is $28.  (I went for free as Nellie's guest tonight.)  They did send me a promotional offer of 5 classes for $75, which is much less than the advertised rate of $130 for that package on their website.  Although I can take spin class for free at my gym, I'm also willing to pay the discounted rate for the change of scenery, the comfortable environment and the chance to work out with Nellie.

Monday, November 9, 2015

On Pain

When I first moved to DC, I dated a man who was interested in pain. I was interested in finding out if I was interested.  Experiments were conducted.  Empirical evidence was collected.  It turned out I wasn’t particularly interested.

In addition to learning I’m not a masochist, I also learned that I was capable of processing a surprising amount of pain.  At the time, I was struggling with running, and the experiment helped.  I realized that running did not even register on the pain-o-meter, and every time I started to feel uncomfortable during a run, I would remember what real pain felt like and keep going.

I also learned how profoundly the experience of processing (consensual) physical pain can connect us to emotions we’ve hidden from ourselves.  Maybe it’s the deep concentration and the careful breathing, like meditation.  Maybe it’s that the energy it takes to process pain leaves no energy left for fortifying our emotional defenses.   Whatever it is, physical pain can help us release emotions we may not have been willing or able to access.

Last Tuesday I went to get a massage for the first time in about a year, and partway through some especially intense moments, I found myself crying on the table.  The massage wasn’t even what I would call painful, just kind of intense, but there was a sad song playing at the same time, and I suppose it was just too much.

Following that experience, I was a little worried about how much of a mess I might be at my tattoo appointment on Friday night.  I hadn’t planned the timing of this tattoo to coincide with my own personal Blue Period.  I’d been trying to get an appointment with this artist, Fernando Prudencio, for two years.  It’s just coincidence that it happened at this particularly vulnerable time in my life.

I spent five hours on the tattoo table.  At a certain point, I realized I was surprised I hadn’t arrived at any sort of catharsis.  In my past experiences with pain, that’s kind of how I knew when I’d had enough—when the emotions start to break free, that means I’m getting closer to my limit.  I wondered how it was possible I’d cried on the massage table just a few days before, and here I was in actual pain with no emotional response. 

Weird, I thought.  Sometimes the things you think are going to get to you...don’t.  And then something you didn’t expect to hurt at all blindsides you.  Immediately my thoughts flashed to the summer romance, and how I had completely underestimated the effect it would have on me.  Cue the floodgates and the self-pity.

So then I cried for awhile on the tattoo table.  I tried to do it quietly so Fernando wouldn’t know.  My nose had been running the whole time, anyway, so I figured he was used to hearing me sniffle.  I wonder if other people cry when they get tattoos.

The sadist, the massage therapist, the tattoo artist.  I would say they lead us into our pain like spirit guides, but really the journey is our own, and it takes a lot of courage to undertake it.  It’s therapeutic to see where pain can take us, what we uncover and what we can release.