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Damsel Rescues Self

From 2002, when I was a senior in high school. We chose (without looking) a random object out of a bag and had to give a short speech inspired by it. I chose a doorknob.

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Have you ever wondered how on earth Rapunzel got into the tower? I mean, when you think about it, it just doesn’t make sense. I can understand that once she was in, the witch would climb up Rapunzel’s hair and through the window to bring her food and whatnot. But I’d really like to know how Rapunzel got in in the first place. Surely there was a door. Which then begs the question: why didn’t Rapunzel just leave? Maybe the witch magically sealed up the door; I bet witches could do that. Still, they never do tell you that part of the story, and it seems pretty important to me.

I know a girl that thinks she lives in a tower, too. She’s always at home, and doesn’t have very many people she can talk to. She’s been in this tower for so long that she doesn’t remember how she got in—and doesn’t know how to get out. I think sometimes that we build towers for ourselves when perhaps there really wasn’t one to begin with. This girl is so convinced that she cannot leave—she doesn’t even try. She just sits and waits to be rescued.

Enough of metaphors. I am that girl. And there is no tower, no witch, no Rapunzel, no rescue. But there is a door. And there is no room for doubt with doors; you’re either on one side of it or the other. Inside, or out. The doorknob in my hand—that’s reality—that’s rescuing myself. Why be a damsel in distress when you can walk out the door and into your own damn sunset?

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore. Instead—since I’m constantly making resolutions within the glowing pages of this blog—I use the turn of the calendar year to reflect on my resolutions made, my resolutions kept… and my resolutions that seemed like a good idea at the time.

So here they are, resolutions from this past year (even the vague ones):

  1. January 26, The Pleasure of Inferring — “If I can ease into the moment and appreciate the pleasure of inferring, I may even learn how to learn.”
  2. March 14, In the Long Run — “The trick here is to maintain, to keep going (and also to stop thinking that my torso is the only indicator of health).”
  3. May 3, Black Skinny Jeans — “I’m done obsessing. I’ll buy a smaller size if and when I get there.”
  4. July 12, Moving on a Whim / Shut Up and Write the Book — “I don’t want my writing to be irregular to the point of it being a pleasant surprise when something comes to fruition. I want a routine. Slowly, finally, I think I might be getting there. Make a space. Write every day. Shut up and write the book.”
  5. September 24, A Calculated Sheen — “I think I’d like to write more openly about dating, relationships, vulnerability, and love.”
  6. November 6, Anatomy of a Run — “I plan to go running again on Friday.”
  7. December 1, Afraid — “Before I can build trust with others in my life, I need to build trust with myself.”

I didn’t run that Friday. I didn’t write every day. But I did make a space, and I have been building more trust with myself, and I really am much more successful these days at easing into the moment. Some of the clearest indicators of presence are things I haven’t written about: I stopped gchatting, I’m more focused at my job, I’m less addicted to my phone. On the subway and walking around the city I don’t listen to endless music; I am more comfortable in my own mind. I do write more often and more openly about love—and plan to keep doing so.

I might still be obsessed with my weight. Or, at least, I still pay quite a lot of attention to it. But ever since writing the post “Afraid” (where I talk about improving my diet), I’ve tried to be happy with my body right now as well as make healthy choices right now. I’m eating a lot less sweets a day, walking more, and focusing on delicious meals instead of a quick sugar fix.

I can imagine all the different parts of me lining up, checking in, ready for love and work and art. This blog has brought me so much healing. There is more to be done—I feel the familiar tendrils of anxiety even as I write these words—but this year I learned how to show up and do the work. And when you know how to show up, nothing feels quite as insurmountable as it did before.

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Previous episodes of “Resolution Round-Up”:

2012 – Of Sound Mind and Body
2011 – The Person I Want to Be
2010 – New Me Resolution Round-Up

heartbreak

Afraid

I wrote almost a month ago about the anatomy of a run. The post concluded: “I plan to go running again on Friday. Is there a feat of changing-your-nature that you’re working on?”

But I didn’t run that Friday… or that weekend. Or the next week. Or the week after that. It’s embarrassing to admit this, but I haven’t run even once since that 22-minute run in the cold.

The loss here isn’t the running itself. I recently realized that I love walking—especially what I deem “epic walks”—and that long walks combined with yoga will be good enough for me right now. I may even try to walk to work some mornings.

No, the loss is something else. The loss is breaking a promise to myself. Before I can build trust with others in my life, I need to build trust with myself. Will I do the things I say I’ll do? Perhaps I’m not giving myself realistic goals. Perhaps something like running regularly (especially in the winter, especially without a gym membership) wasn’t the right fit for me in the first place.

Breaking a promise with myself means that doubt creeps in as I make future promises. It’s particularly difficult when no one else is holding their breath for me, like with writing: Will I submit to that poetry contest? Will I really write that new play? 

And sometimes, a different feeling creeps in—fear.

On Monday, I went to my doctor to talk about my weight and about exercise. While I am a normal weight for my height, over the past two years I’ve been gradually gaining a total of twenty pounds and three pant sizes. I was tired of Googling health advice, and of crowdsourcing from friends who offer attractive and contradictory opinions.

Also I thought that my new yoga+epic walks plan would get a straight-forward thumbs up from my doctor. I imagined her saying that the weight would naturally come off, or, if not, that it actually doesn’t need to come off at all.

She said I have to lose some of the weight. Not because I weigh too much, but because my steady increase is of concern. “You’ve gained six pounds since February,” she said. She didn’t give me an exact number to lose—though she felt that at my lowest I was probably too low—and she didn’t give me a time-frame. But while she approved of my exercise plan (“The best exercise is the kind you like doing”), she said that in order to lose weight, I have to also address my diet.

As I left the doctor’s office, I realized that I have never really tried to change how I eat. Sure, I’ve flirted with giving up sugar or eating more vegetables… but in general, I stick to my labels of “generally fine” and “have a sweet tooth”. But I know I eat too many beige foods, too much chocolate, too much processed food. I guess I’ve felt like if I toss a salad in here or there I’ll be okay. I walked to the subway already mourning the food I wouldn’t be eating.

Mostly, I’m afraid. I’m afraid I won’t be able to change how I eat in a meaningful, sustainable way. I’m afraid I won’t lose any weight. I’m afraid that I will lose the weight but that I’m doing this for my wedding and am just pretending that I’m doing it as a lifestyle change. I’m afraid I won’t go on epic walks. I’m afraid I’ll keep writing about my fitness plans and continue to break my promises in this public, vulnerable space. I’m afraid I’ll reach physical health at the expense of mental health—I’ve struggled before with anxiety and obsessive thinking.

I know with writing that when I get afraid, the good stuff starts to emerge. I’ve learned to write even when I’m terrified of what will come out because the thing that scares me is what I really want to explore.

So here we go.

Anatomy of a Run

There’s that old saying “The heart wants what it wants”—penned by Emily Dickinson and made infamous by Woody Allen—but what about when the heart wants what it doesn’t want? How do we reconcile ourselves when we want something and don’t want it at the same time?

Yesterday morning I ran outside for 22 minutes. This may not seem like a feat—especially in the wake of Sunday’s marathon in New York—but I’m really proud that it happened. For one, the weather has recently turned, and it was cold out. (I’m a newbie to running outdoors, and hadn’t previously run outside when it was less than 50- or 60-something degrees.) Also, I was by myself and not meeting a gym or running buddy; there was no accountability in the moment if I decided to chuck the plan.

Mostly, I’m proud because I simultaneously really wanted to run and really didn’t want to run. Waking up early to run outside in chilly weather is a textbook example of the opposite of my nature, along with activities like: bungee jumping, wearing stilettos (I couldn’t even spell “stilettos” right the first time), and cooking anything that involves raw meat.

I’ve been thinking about how our natures can evolve. About how habits form, and how they can be replaced. I’ve been thinking about willpower, and read about it, too. I know it’s a bit silly to wax poetic about a 22-minute run, but the example of that little run allows me to concretely examine some of the history and energy and habits behind what it takes to change.

So here it is, the anatomy of a 22-minute run in 40-something degree weather:

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1. Couch to 5K — Gives me a structure and clear goals.

2. Previous gym and running buddies — Made me accountable and took me to the gym (or to run in the park).

3. Shared Google Spreadsheet with Becca — We log our fitness plans and what we end up actually doing. This is what currently holds me accountable, and also shows me the whole month at a birds-eye view.

4. Realistic schedule — I’m also trying to write in the mornings, so now I alternate. I think I found a good groove… we’ll see.

5. Mental tricks — I kept moving the goalposts by telling myself I only needed to run five minutes, then ten, and so on. Even before that, I told myself that if I put on my running clothes and still didn’t want to run, that would be okay.

6. A fitness Facebook group — I don’t use it frequently, but I’m part of a fitness Facebook group that is sweet and supportive and has the option of tracking via a shared Google Spreadsheet. That definitely inspired the spreadsheet I have with Becca.

7. Yoga — My fitness plan became more clear when (thanks to a friend) I started going to a nearby yoga studio. I wanted to find a complementary physical activity that was more embodied than running—and yoga is the perfect match of embodied fitness and meditation, which I also need.

8. Not wanting to join a gym — It feels stupid to pay money to run twice a week when I can just… run twice a week.

9. Trying it — I hated the idea of running in cold weather, but realized I had no idea what it was like. And actually I was really warm by the end.

10. Warm clothing — Speaking of being warm, it’s hard for me to get out of bed in the mornings, especially if it’s chilly in my room, and even more especially if it’s to do something initially-horrible-sounding like going for a run. So I picked all of my running clothes out in advance on Monday night, and put them under the covers with me. Voila! Warm clothes on Tuesday morning.

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I plan to go running again on Friday. Is there a feat of changing-your-nature that you’re working on?

Your Elusive Creative Genius

This is a fantastic TEDtalk by author Elizabeth Gilbert on the pressure we place on creative people (including the pressure they place on themselves)—and her delightful, spiritual reframing of the notion of “genius”.

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So I just lifted my face up from the manuscript and I directed my comments to an empty corner of the room. And I said aloud, “Listen you, thing, you and I both know that if this book isn’t brilliant, that is not entirely my fault, right? Because you can see that I am putting everything I have into this. I don’t have have any more than this. So if you want it to be better, then you’ve got to show up and do your part of the deal. Okay. But if you don’t do that, you know what, the hell with it. I’m going to keep writing anyway because that’s my job. And I would please like the record to reflect today that I showed up for my part of the job.”

— Elizabeth Gilbert

New poem.
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Love has a way of replacing itself—
I loved one but today I love another.
So too with regret:
He was once my one that got away—
Today I miss another.

I wonder if our hearts feel the weight
Of others’ tears and hopes and sighs,
I wonder if a heart that has never been loved
is heavier or light,
I wonder if the day will ever come
That I will stop and love just one
With all my heart and soul and might.

I’ve loved before and the love went cold.
I wonder what keeps love warm late at night
When no one else is awake
And thoughts wash the shore of your mind
And you worry the tide will never
Recede.

But love has a way of replacing itself.
So does regret. And heartbreak. And healing.
Sometimes the corners are worn down,
So that you can think about old loves
Without hurting yourself.
Sometimes it’s better not to think of them at all.

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