Better & Bolder, the Blog

Gifts. Christmas.

Confession: I’m always super glad when Christmas is done. There is so much attention around this one day and the preparation lasts for weeks. I realize for some people the preparation is gleeful anticipation. For me, it’s facing my big issues.


Big issue one: desire. It’s just tricky for me to want things. I want things a lot. I feel uncomfortable about wanting things. I bought myself some big things this month: an iPad mini, an iPhone 5, and a new sound system for my car. Now I can listen to my iPhone on bluetooth and my phone never leaves my purse. I am tickled pink whenever I get in the car, and the music just starts playing! I’m like, whoa, technology is so cool that it’s like freaking magic. I geek out and I get to drive more safely. I am really enjoying this gift I gave myself, and I also feel guilty and slightly ashamed. After all, I had a working sound system. I didn’t need this thing. And it’s a thing. Perhaps I shouldn’t lust after things at all. 


But, oh, lust I did. The iPhone is beautiful. The iPad mini is so much better for me than the iPad. Here’s what bothers me. I justify the purchases. Selling my iPhone 4 and iPad 2 means my new purchases didn’t cost very much, so maybe it’s all right that I spent this money. The money isn’t the issue. The desire is the issue. That’s what makes me ashamed. I wanted things.


I want to be at one with my lustiness! I want to desire, embrace the desire, and then act on the desire. Acting on desire doesn’t mean buying whatever I want or doing whatever I want. I might act on the desire by sitting and desiring and not doing anything more. But wanting is as uncomfortable as hunger. It makes me want to stop that feeling and change that sensation. Consumption -- food and things -- changes me to a different state. 


Big issue two: I’m just not good enough. I know, I know. These are not unique big issues, but they’re mine and they’re old and every holiday season, I wrestle with Enough. Did I buy enough presents? Did I do enough to be festive and merry for all? I don’t buy one present for each member of my family; I get a pile. The stockings must overflow. I remember one year when my kids were still in elementary school. I woke up early on Christmas day and decided I didn’t have enough for the kids’ stockings. I thought Wal-Mart would be open 24 hours, even on Christmas (hey, they’re Wal-Mart) and I drove in the 4am dark and snow to the nearest one. It was closed, and so was Walgreens, and I ended up getting a bag of sunflower seeds at a gas convenience store. I remember how bad I felt that I hadn’t bought more that year, as if that were a failing. As if having a lot of stuff to give others somehow validated me. That’s just wrong. I feel really sad for that Me those years ago. I want to pull Me aside and tell her it really doesn’t matter. I want to comfort her.


This year, I got just a bit better. There were fewer gifts. When I didn’t make latkes for Hanukah, it wasn’t a big deal (it wasn’t nothing, but it wasn’t big). So I made them for Christmas. 


Yet I still end up on Christmas day feeling very relieved that life is returning to normal. I am so happy not to be building up to this thing. I am tired of eating food that’s too rich and oily (Latkes, I’m talking to you), and I am tired of thinking about gifts. Christmas is a month long monster for me. It takes up way too much of my thoughts and energy. 


There’s something very peaceful and rich about not-Christmas. Then it’s just me and winter, staring each other down, as I will myself to do the things winter calls me to do: make soup, drink tea, rest and read. I’m called as well to get out, dressed warmly, to walk or run, instead of cursing the dark and cold. I’m called to light candles. Perhaps I’ll make it to hot yoga. I’ll take another bath. I will be tired. I will experience the heaviness of this season. 


Gifts 10

Gifts. Ten.

Feel free to think “duh” at all the appropriate places.


I was really surprised that acupuncture helped my achilles heel. Cindy has helped me tremendously with allergies and perimenopause, which can be a roller coaster of symptoms. One day I finally mentioned the achilles pain, and she said, sure, two sessions and it would be much better. It took 3 sessions, though perhaps that had something to do with my refusal to cut back on my running miles (were you ready with your first “duh”?). 


I cut back on my miles for a few weeks and then went back up again. It’s just really really fun to go and go. Okay, that’s not all. I’ve begun to compare myself with myself. I want to be on a constant loop of improvement. Nothing in nature does that. Everything grows and declines in cycles. Against all that is natural and normal, I want and expect constant growth. It can’t happen that way.


Duh.


At one point, a 7 mile run was long for me. Then I went 8 miles, then 9, then 10, then 11. Then injury. It turns out the cycle may work better like this: increase a bit, hold out at that new increase, cut back for a week, go back to what you were doing before, and then increase again. Oh. Cut back for a week. I missed that part.


Now if I run 8 miles, it’s a normal run, not a long run. But, worse, 4 or 5 miles feels like I’m wimping out or something. I ran last week on a cold cold Friday morning. I passed a woman going north, and then took a side detour. I passed her again going south. Then I finished my run and she kept going. I was thinking that my run wasn’t good enough because hers was longer. What kind of random crazy thinking is that? That’s like looking for reasons to beat myself up. Worse, it makes me less happy about my 5 mile runs. Only the 9 mile runs count as hard work. I must not be working hard enough. I should make all the runs 9 miles. I want to run 10 miles, 12 miles, 13. 


When the achilles got better, I began to experience heel pain and pain under my feet, like plantar fascitis. I kept running. Then I got a strange pain on the top of my left ankle. I took my shoes into the running store, and we looked at how I’d beaten up the first pair. I blew through those shoes in 200 miles (most last at least 300, and this should have gotten me through 400). If that’s what was happening to the shoes, what was happening to my feet? At night, my feet would ache, not so much that it was terrible but enough that I knew I was beating myself up. I’d go to Nia and feel so much better and think, wow, Nia really is a sustainable movement form. I feel so great doing Nia. Why am I running? 


My feet would ache and I’d feel as if I wanted to put needles in my feet. I wrote on my calendar “Call for acupuncture appointment” and each day, I wouldn’t call. Last Sunday, I ran long. At mile 8, the sharp pain developed on the top of my right ankle this time. Instead of walking, I kept running. You know how I felt when I got home? Happy! I’d run 9 miles, averaging 8 1/2 minutes per mile, and my hamstrings and quads weren’t aching. Heck, I’d run sprints during the last half mile. I would have kept going except that the pain in my ankle was warning me that I probably was doing damage. I knew my ankles had suffered and all I wanted was for them to behave and let me run. 


On Monday, I called Cindy and made an appointment and she fit me in for the next day. When I got there, I told her maybe my achilles was still tight and affecting my foot. I described the heel pain and pain under the foot. She said, oh no, that’s not the achilles. The heel and plantar, that’s kidney deficiency, same as with the perimenopause.


It was like a slap. It was a hit upside the head. Whoaaa! Lookee here, my mind and body are connected! I’d been treating my feet as if they were just feet, and the feet bones were connected to the ankle bones, one body part to another. Here’s what I should know. The feet bones connect to the heart strings. The ankle bones connect to the digestive enzymes and fluctuating hormones. The shin bones connect to the flights of fancy. There’s a reason why one week I run and feel fine and another week I run, and I’m vulnerable. That’s because I’m running with all of me, not just my legs.


This was very, very exciting news, though it shouldn’t have been news to me at all. In seeing my feet’s injuries as systemic, I have a whole range of ways to address these aches and pains. Emotionally. Spiritually. I also feel a lot more compassion for my feet and ankles. Their story is much more interesting now. The journey -- hey! really! we’ve been trying to tell you something and you’re resisting! we are going to shut you down until you hear us! -- is more compelling.


In Western medicine, we treat inflammation with ice. Twice a day! Ice the ankles! and I just knew it wasn’t right for me. Cindy tells me to soak my feet, wear comfortable shoes, stay warm. As we get older, we deplete our kidney yin reserves. So, here we are, nudging at the edge of menopause, running out of eggs, and we start to feel a bit drained. Exhausted perhaps. We may even cover up our yin deficiency by acting as if we had excess yang. Go, baby, go, push it, more, you can do it, go go go, you got this, keep going, keep going, do some more, one more, one more, just a bit more. That’s how I like it. Man, that’s what I love.


I have to be willing to rest a bit more. I have to be willing to run fewer miles and achieve less in the short term, knowing that if I pace myself, if I keep restoring my energy, if I don’t max myself out, then I’ll be able to keep doing all the things I love to do. I can’t keep beating myself up. 

Gifts 9

I was unreasonably unhappy yesterday. 


When my daughter accused me of ruining Christmas, I felt put upon. Why do I have to make Christmas happen for everybody? Didn’t I just make Hanukah happen? Really, why can’t you all be festive and merry and I get to go along for the ride? 


And, she’s kind of right. I let my discontent show. I grumble. Instead of exclaiming that I can’t wait for our tree to go up, I let slip that I could live without a tree in the house this year. It’s like a pin prick in the balloon. If others were excited before, my lack of enthusiasm is deflating. I can fuss about it but that’s the way it is because I’m the mama -- and that’s the way it is. 


Perhaps I’m just tired, or maybe I have to admit that winter, which isn’t even here yet, is already kicking my butt. It feels as if I’ve been thrown off center so that everything I do is just 5% not right. I got a lot done yesterday but not the two things that should have been at the top of my priority list. By the end of the day, though, it hadn’t mattered. Those things will get done today, and it wasn’t as crucial as I’d imagined that they get done yesterday. I had a perfectly nice day, taking care of business in my own time, and I still managed to feel not okay about it.


After class, I stopped at Whole Foods for the amazingly good Autumn-Something-or-Other apples. The cashier asked how I was doing -- you know, the standard greeting. I really wanted to complain. I wanted to moan about how my foot hurts and I should be cutting back on my running miles and I don’t want to. I wanted to gripe about feeling stressed instead of enjoying my time off from work. That was my first instinct: complain. Instead, I said I was doing well. Then, I said, no, actually, I’m doing great. Here I am, buying apples flown in from Washington state. I have more food than I can eat. I’m going home to a warm house where I’ll take a hot shower. Everyone in my family is safe and sound. My goodness, it really doesn’t get any better than this. I am so lucky to have all these comforts and blessings. That’s the truth. All my complaints are so achingly minor. Get over it, find a way around whatever’s troubling, and focus on the rich and big stuff. 


I didn’t really want to dance to Christmas tunes for class yesterday. The beautiful thing about dancing Nia is that I don’t have to start out wanting to do it because once I start, I’ll fall in love again. It’s a lot like sex that way: we just have to be willing, and once it gets going, it will be good, or at least good enough, and then it’s healing and nurturing and pleasurable. Ella was singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” There’s hope and melancholy both in that song, written during (though not about) wartime. It’s very comforting to sing and dance to this. It’s comforting to recognize that even if it’s not the merriest, jolliest time, well, things will get better. Spring will arrive.  Let your heart be light.

Gifts 8

IMG 0656

Okay, let’s do this.


Yesterday’s gift blog included this line: “I was never a particularly beautiful girl or woman.” 


I thought there might be some “oh no you’re beautiful” responses because people are kind. Moreover, we’ve been trained that we’re all beautiful in our own way. 


I’m not buying it. I mean, I’ll gladly take your kindness -- thank you! I value highly that you are expressing love and affection for me, and it’s that affection that makes me beautiful in your eyes. 


But, if you didn’t know me, and just saw a picture, would you be like, wow, that woman is beautiful? Maybe you’d say I was healthy or even vibrant. But if I were just another face on this page, one you didn’t know, I argue you’d pass it by. Because I’m average and not particularly beautiful. And that’s okay.


I don’t believe we’re all beautiful in our own way. I don’t believe we’re all beautiful. I’m not holding on to some negative story or warped self-image. I’m not ugly. I’m not beautiful. My looks are average. Just like most of us.


I’m forever grateful to an essay I read, which I can no longer find, that argued against the idea that we’re all beautiful in our own way. To read this was a relief. Everything clicked. Yes, I’m beautiful on the inside. Yes, it’s what I do and say that makes me beautiful. Yes, when I smile, I’m beautiful. Yes, beauty is tied to culture and varies by epoch and region. And yet, beauty is quantifiable and something on which we can agree, at least in broad strokes. I’ve never heard anyone claim that Hillary Clinton is a beautiful woman. She’s an amazing person and an average-looking woman.  And that’s okay. Millions of women sigh over Hugh Jackman and far fewer are into, say, Tobey Maguire. Maguire’s smart, he’s talented, and that boy is average-looking. Let’s be real. 


Some people are tall, some are short, some are gifted at running fast while others can instead run far and long. Some people are beautiful and some are not. It’s not such a big deal. We are not all beautiful. As long as we don’t over-value beauty, it’s not a big deal. 


I have benefited greatly by being middle class. My skin is clear; my teeth are good. So if I am beautiful, some of that has been bought. But, honey, let’s face it. My lips are small, my eyes are small and my nose is big. Beautiful women today have big lips, big eyes, and a small nose. It’s okay, really. When I smile and I’m all dressed up and my make up is good, I’m attractive. I have my moments. In some pictures, I look quite nice and it’s a pleasure to me to look at those pictures. I dress up and get compliments, and I like that. Looking good is important to me, and I am delighted and tickled when my pictures get a FB Like or someone tells me I’m looking great. That I’ll believe.  


I was never particularly beautiful. I am, on the other hand, smarter than average, stronger than average, more focused than average, and aging better than average. Happy now? I also gave the world two beautiful kids. I value all of that more than beauty. 


Sometimes, I look in the mirror and wish I could change my face. That kind of rumination is unhelpful, vain and silly. Sometimes, I see pictures of myself and I’m horrified (those selfies we take on the iPhone are startling, though the one with my unicorn hair is too good). There are other times, though, when I’ve got on jeans and boots and a cute top and just the right jewelry and I feel fly. Presentation is important. Attitude counts. 


The point of yesterday’s blog was not that I am not beautiful and that’s a shame. The point was that I’m enjoying the addition of grey hairs. I like feeling like me, and I am 49 and aging. I believe younger people in general are more beautiful than older (I just do), and I believe older me is at least as beautiful as younger me. I didn’t start out particularly beautiful, so I haven’t lost traditional beauty. Older me knows how to dress, has better attitude and clearer skin, and brings more self-awareness. Older me is at least 15 pounds lighter than high school me. Older me kind of rocks. I didn’t say I wasn’t particularly hot. I said I wasn’t particularly beautiful.


Then there’s this: When I dance, I’m beautiful. I am transformed. I am animated. Perhaps you, my friends, hold that image in your mind. When you see me, you also see what you’ve seen when we dance together. You see me through eyes of love and it’s a very flattering filter, and I’ll dance to that.

Gifts 7

Gifts. Seven.

I’m enjoying watching my grey hairs come in. It’s a daily gift I give myself. It says I’m aging and I’m going to look older. There’s some freedom in that. I was never a particularly beautiful girl or woman. That’s okay. I’m aging well. I flatter myself that I look younger than my age because I’m healthy. No matter how healthy, though, age happens, sag happens, wrinkles appear. There is a divine ripeness to youth. Even those few with not much sag or many wrinkles cannot glow the way we may have when younger. So my grey hairs glow now, bright and wiry and defying order.

Gifts 5 and 6

Gifts. Five. 

Here’s a gift I don’t want. Thank you, weird foot pain that might be plantar fascitis. I’m so  much more aware now of my foot to heel to achilles to hip to shoulder connection. That’s great. Thanks. Really.

This injury has made me back off from my training. I was increasing both distance and doing speed work at the same time (and having a blast, by the way). This is exactly what I said I wouldn’t do, though, and, thanks, injury, for reminding me why not. I really want to run, and I’d like this injury to heal. Now. 

Thanks for the rest days. Can I go out and play yet?

This injury forces me to focus on exactly what needs to get loose and what needs to get strong. I have to study my body. I also have to be willing to study not just what everybody says I should do but what my body needs. Ice? Not so much. Heat? Thank you, yes, I’ll have some more please. 

I don’t have that much time, Injury. Every day, I’m getting older, and slower. Everything is getting slacker and more worn out. I gotta run now.

An injury doesn’t feel like just an injury. It feels like the sign of things to come. It’s scary. When I’m running, it’s not so painful that I can’t keep running. I just wonder if I’m doing more damage. My foot aches and I feel sorry for it as if it were a separate and wounded animal. 


Gifts. Six. 

Right when I get to the point that I feel defeated is about the time I get to the point of clarity.

I spent three hours researching online and looking at my shoes to see how they’re worn.  

I saw my right foot supinates and my left stays fairly neutral. It’s actually kind of cool to see that. For the past six months, I’ve been talking with Valerie (who has rolfed my body for more than 20 years, before I married, after I had kids, through injury, and now through running) about the lack of movement in my ankles, especially the right. Most people pronate; the foot rolls in just a bit. I don’t get that movement, and instead I supinate just a bit, running on the outside of my foot. It’s one thing to talk about it, and it’s another to get it. I finally got it. I’m a sucker for learning. It’s fun to get things.

Last night, instead of stretching, I spent 45 minutes rolling out my tight hamstrings and calves. Afterwards, the ache lessened. It was an immediate confirmation. Yes, the tight hamstrings are one reason the calves and feet are tight, and when I put pressure on the muscles (kind of like self-massage or finding pressure points to release), then the related muscles are free to relax and release as well. I got it. I get so excited about the discovery that I forget to be bummed out about having to roll out my muscles every day. I'll wait for tomorrow to be bummed. 

Today, I went for a run. It was cold so I bundled way up. I have layers and layers to wear; I bought plenty of cold-weather running clothes as I have been waiting for this day, the day I would want to run and it would be really cold and I was gonna run anyway. It was a bit like Christmas. I had all these special things to wear, things I bought just for me. 

I knew I wouldn’t go out for long. I had to take Lola with me (I wasn’t gonna run and then also walk, and she had been dancing at the door for a walk since morning). 

I haven’t had my shoes for all that long but already I’ve worn down the outside of the right shoe with my supinating ways. So I placed an insert meant for the left foot and put in on my right. Since most people pronate, inserts are meant to help them supinate a bit more. By switching sides, the insert helps me pronate a bit more. It worked! I was giddy with relief. 

I was excited I’d made this discovery. It’s been a creeping knowledge. I love the arch support of Chacos but end up sore. I put in inserts and then they bugged me. I kind of knew that inserts weren’t working quite right for me. It surprises me how long it takes me to really get it, to make sense of my body’s feedback. I think my expectations get in the way.

I had a blast running this afternoon. I was running into the wind, which was pushing me back, and instead of frustrating me, it was invigorating. Whee hee! It was way cold, and I knew I wasn’t gonna be out for long; it was a short run. It was a three mile run with stops to wait for Lola to sniff and pee. I had no goal other than noticing how it felt to run with this insert. I wasn’t running for time. I wasn’t running for distance. I was running because I really wanted to get out of the house and go for a run. 

Gifts 4

Gifts. Four.

Years ago I got a pamphlet that has written on it the blessings for lighting the menorah. “Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King (and Queen) of the universe, who has kept us alive, and has preserved us, and enabled us to reach this season.” It’s so simple and basic: thanks for keeping us alive another year. We light the candles, just as we did last year, and give thanks for another year of life. 

I add that Queen part, by the way. It’s not a groovy pamphlet. 

My family and I read the transliterated blessings, in our botched Hebrew, “Bo-ruch A-toh Ado-noi” and whatever we can remember that comes next. I did not give my children much of a religious education. My daughter knows more about Hinduism at this point than Judaism. Yet there was something immensely comforting in hearing her recite the blessing tonight. 

As soon as the candles were lit, she took off for a friend’s house and Ailin, too, took off soon after, while Hugh and I watched an incredibly bad Sci-Fi movie (Prometheus, which was abysmal). So it’s not like were all religious up in the house. It’s just that one minute together, lighting the candles and saying the prayers.

The pamphlet reminds us that “these lights are sacred” and “we are not permitted to make use of them, but only to look at them, in order to offer thanks and praise.” I love that these lights are for joy, for reflection, for gratitude, not utility. Here’s a holiday that’s based on being grateful for being alive and a bit of hope -- the light grows! a bit more each night! 

Sara says some research shows that religiosity is genetic, like, maybe there’s a God gene. Apparently, Sara’s adopted son Solomon has the gene, and he’s been making up prayers since he could talk. I love that he found just the right family, one that will nurture this in him and let him express it his way. What a gift.

Gifts 3


Gifts. Three. This was direct. I messed up something and in messing up, hurt someone’s feelings. Upon realizing my error, I took steps to rectify it, including apologizing and making it right. 

Once that was done, I went directly to chocolate. 

I was not hungry. I did not crave food or chocolate. It was like going to the medicine cabinet to grab an aspirin when I’ve got a headache. Feeling a bit stressed? Take two bites of chocolate and call me in the morning. It was a bit funny to watch myself. There was no thought to it. It was pure impulse.

I suppose I could have gotten a hug, though Ailin and Hugh are both in the middle of watching some movie in which men are shouting loudly in Chinese and hurling weapons at each other. Not exactly a “give me a hug” moment. That’s the nice thing about food: it’s always there for me, never too busy or otherwise engaged.

Thank you, food, for being more than fuel sometimes. Dinner tonight was dark greens and sweet potatoes and lentils -- so nutritious! so nurturing! warm and satisfying. All of that’s all right. Don’t get in the way of my chocolate. I need that gift, too.

Gifts 1 and 2

multi A

Gifts. One. 

I gave myself the gift of carbo loading last night. A Rice Dream treat after dinner and then I still put away big handfuls of granola the hour before bed. I slept great. 

I wanted to run first thing in the morning but it was cold and instead I gave myself the gift of sunshine by running later in the day. 

Before I went on my run, though, I was feeling tired around noon, and I -- get this! -- lay down to nap. I didn’t fall asleep, of course, but I rested deeply. I was glad to listen to my body and not plow through my morning just because I can. So often I will do something just because I can. If I’m sick or tired, I’ll still go to work because I should and because I can. 

Perhaps I have something to prove, though often I think I’m just proving that I’m not a bad person. I’m not proving I’m a good person; I’m proving I’m not a bad person. I start with that big a deficit. So taking a day off, sleeping in the middle of the day, trusting myself that I can get out to run later when it’s warmer, those gifts are really the gift of saying that I’m a good person deserving of good things. 


Gifts. Two.

I have freakishly high expectations for myself. 

I used to think I was more forgiving of others than I am of myself, and I’m thinking maybe I was deluding myself on that one. I’m judgmental about others, too, and they know it. They feel it. My friends and family know I love them, and they know also that I hold these same very high expectations. Perhaps they do not feel loved as they are, loved unconditionally. Ouch.

My daughter makes a mess in the kitchen and I flip out. It’s as if that mess were really important. It’s as if the 99 things she did beautifully that week count just a wee bit less because she also did not clean the kitchen. If out of 20 meals, she doesn’t clean up after one, I’m saying she never cleans the kitchen. Freakishly high expectations. 

My daughter received today a Christmas card from the White House. She volunteered for the Obama campaign this year. I was in my 40s before I knew as much about politics as she knows at 17. She can’t even vote yet and she was on the phones, canvassing the neighborhoods, discussing the issues. I’ve never gotten a Christmas card from the White House. She was like, that’s cool, no bigs, but it is big. It says she did something important this year, possibly something more important than cleaning up the kitchen.

I read a wonderful blog from a woman who explained she loved her body unconditionally. I realized when I read her words, that I love my body conditionally. I love my body when I’m healthy. I love my body when I’m at the weight that makes me happy. Lord help me the day I’m injured or ill because I use movement to pick up my mood and feel good about myself. Can I feel good about myself while at rest? That means feeling good about me as me, not as the person who does things. 

If I want to receive who someone is, I need to quit nitpicking and looking for trouble. That goes for me, too.

Happiness

There’s a book I didn’t love called the Happiness Project. Each month, Gretchen Rubin chose a different strategy for increasing her personal happiness. She had all the blessings in life she needed -- family, health, home -- and she wanted something more. She wanted to feel happy. That’s reasonable, and she has some nice insights in her book and on her website. Sometimes she’d detour into discussing philosophy or brain research to support what she was doing, and I didn’t like it. That worried me since my Better and Bolder blogs are much like that -- personal story, here’s some science, wrap it up and take it home, goodnight. I also wasn’t sure I liked the structure of switching to a new strategy or goal each month. As Amazon describes it, she’s methodical. She sets a goal and, by gum by golly, goes after it. There’s a bit of a hate group on Amazon as 60-some people bash her for being uptight, wealthy, and even boastful.


There is a backlash, too, against the happiness movement in general, though perhaps this should be distinguished from the positivity movement (oops, here I go, into research mode). Martin Seligman says happiness is understandable, obtainable and teachable. That’s kind of what Rubin does -- figures out what makes her happy and then makes sure she follows through. The difference, I suppose, is that positivity studies point us to areas that make all of us happy. For instance, exercise increases the level of dopamine in the brain. Exercise makes us release happy hormones. I get that not everyone enjoys exercise but there is science to show us that, as biological creatures, we’re all meant to do it and get rewarded for doing it. No matter what we’re feeing or thinking while we’re exercising, our bodies and our brains are getting healthier. We don’t have to like it or enjoy ourselves to experience the benefits. You see the difference? It can make me happy even if I don’t like it, which means the things that are pleasurable to us are not necessarily the things that make us happy.


I don’t need to be happy to be happy. I can be sad, angry, remorseful, or blissed out and be happy. Those emotions are temporary. Happiness is how I live. Happiness is a mindset (positive, optimistic, grateful) accompanied by action (exercise, prayer, expressing gratitude) that lead me to a healthy state of being. 


This is really kind of exciting. Just as we know intuitively that someone can have money and things and health and friends and family and still feel not quite happy, just as Rubin did when she began her project, someone can be sick or alone or broke and still be happy. 


While I might argue that we can’t be truly healthy without exercise, we can be happy without it. For me, it is the single strongest behavior I intentionally employ to bring me to a state of happiness. Second to that is getting outside and being with nature. Third is hugs and time with loved ones. Dead last on my list is meditation. Studies show meditation makes us happier. I’m sure it does. I just am not going there right now. Maybe later. My affinity is toward exercise and movement as well as nature. These are deeply satisfying.


The 30 Days of Gratitude was a way to play with one of the strategies we can employ to make us happy. I posted on FB so I’d have to post every day. It was about accountability. Making it public also ensured I found my way to a gratitude with a minimum of fuss and whining. When I write for myself, I can spend too much time beating myself up and deciding I’m stuck. In FB, I knew I had to end a post positively and that there was a limit to how long I could go to get there.


I was heartened, humbled, surprised, and a bit overwhelmed that people actually read them and not only did some of my friends like them, they looked forward to them. The posts helped them feel a bit more grateful, too. That is one of my biggest happiness-makers, which is when I hear or see that something I’ve said or done benefits someone else. I’m not the kind of gal who serves food to the homeless or who volunteers to work with the sick or the elderly. I’m not the first to offer to help you move, either. I am a bit worried that I’m selfish and lazy that way. So it’s extra special nice that when I’m doing something for myself -- writing about gratitude -- perhaps it sparks something in others that helps them along. 


I’m honored when someone tells me he or she is having a hard time. This happens on FB and happens in class. I like being trusted with the truth.  I feel I’ve been given a gift. If I share something that helps someone else, that means I received the gift. 


I am a bit stuck here in that I know I’m supposed to be “giving” something when I share a song in Nia or write a post on FB that supports someone. It just doesn’t feel that way, okay? It feels like I’m doing my do, maybe selfishly, though certainly open to the idea that others will benefit, too. 


I’ve decided to keep writing for a while, though I’m not sure of the rules of the game. November was every day, and that worked beautifully for me. I had to write. It was 11 pm and I could barely see, and I had to write. There couldn’t be a day 17 and day 19; I had to write day 18 as well. Having rules for a game is what keeps us doing it when there are so many other things, from laundry to sleep, claiming our energy. Structure and habit are essential to making things happen that don’t absolutely have to happen.


Here’s the theme in December that I’m too chicken to tackle. Enough. Enough food, enough things, enough clothes, enough work. I’m too enmeshed in my struggle: the desire to desire is fighting with the desire to not desire. It’s like I haven’t made up my mind, though the desire to desire has been winning every single day. Maybe I can go there in January, after the December debauchery. Maybe it will creep in anyway as I write in December.


Here’s the theme I feel pretty happy to write about in December: giving and receiving. Like gratitude, it’s a feel good topic and it’s a practice. When I write about it, I practice it more and the more I practice, the more it becomes a habit. Game on.





Black Friday

It's Black Friday. I kind of don’t know what to do with myself today. I don’t have to teach anything to anybody anywhere. My only plan is to get out for my long run, which, truthfully, takes a bit of planning (when I eat, when I rest, plus it’s over two hours of get dressed to run, go run, recover from the run). 


The worst for me is that Black Friday calls to me, and I wish it didn’t. I am one of those people who actually enjoys the process of shopping. I like new things, too, so even when what I have is perfectly fine, I want something new. 


I was looking at dresses on Victoria’s Secret online. They look fantastic. It turns out, put it on a Victoria’s Secret model, and anything will look fantastic. I’ve bought on eBay a Victoria’s Secret dress that I had eyed online. It wasn’t very well made. It didn’t look fabulous on me. There wasn’t a specially trained dresser who was pinning the dress and making it fit right in all the right places so instead it just kind of ruched and sagged wherever it liked. 


So I know the dresses on this site are over-priced and not fantastic, and still I cruise the site sometimes. Yesterday I saw one dress and fell in love -- love! I tell you, I must have that! -- and on sale it’s $98. I like a $25 dress. I will go up to $50 when I am truly in love or it’s a dress I feel pretty sure I will get $50 of pleasure wearing it.  Even for something extra special, spending $98 is tough. Here’s the kicker: I went to throw on something for Thanksgiving dinner and I pulled a dress that’s a bit like the one online. Do I really need that $98 dress? Would I love it more than the one I threw on for dinner on Thursday? 


I had to talk myself out of it. For the rest of you perhaps this is no problem because first of all you’re not shopping online and second of all, you see $98 and know it’s not gonna happen. I know it’s not gonna happen yet I still use some of my brain space and time and energy to think about how much I want it and how great it is and I wish I could buy whatever I want.


I spend a fair amount of time looking at things that it might be nice to have and then talking myself out of them. Once in a while it’s fun but often it’s a monumental waste of time and energy. It makes me feel bad about myself. I suppose it is not any worse than wandering the net looking for funny things to read or even sitting down with a book. But reading a book feels virtuous. Shopping so does not.


I got this third-hand from someone: if you want to buy something, it should sing to you. The sun should part the clouds and beams of light come down and you just know this is the thing for you. Sometimes I wait until I hear the siren song. Sometimes I’m enticed by lesser harmonies. I talk myself into purchases. This is special, I think, because of this detail here or this color. I really will wear this more than whatever’s already in my closet, I reason, because of some virtue this new item possesses.


I’m going through my closet, which is a process I enjoy. I like buying and I like taking things out of my closet that I don’t wear. It’s a bit distressing when I remember what I was thinking when I bought something that, it turns out, I didn’t want to wear. That Gap shirt with the pocket? I thought the color was great and I didn’t love the pocket. The color is good, not great, and the pocket is a deal-breaker. I never wear it. Why did I listen to the “great color!” voice instead of the “I wish it didn’t have this strange little pocket over the right breast” voice?

Gratitude, Days 26-30

bon at Daby house

Day 26, 30 Days of Gratitude. The things for which we are grateful are simple and repetitive: family, friends, our homes, our work, our health, the natural world. There is little else.

When I ask my students to write in class, I ask them to write for longer than is comfortable. They'll write two sentences or two minutes and stop. They've said all they want to say. I'm convinced the interesting stuff comes right after we're sure we're done. The deeper stuff reveals itself once we get through all the stuff on the surface, the stuff we get done in the first two minutes. Writing what makes us feel grateful once is easy and is joyful. Writing it each night, night after night, challenges me.

I can write, easily, that I'm grateful for my friends and family, my health, my home, the beautiful place where I live. I can write about the lovely Lola, who is just plain funny and loves to move and always inspires me with that love. I can write about it, and the trick is to feel it, not just say it. There are nights when I'm so tired and so done that I'm not sure I left room for feeling truly grateful.

So, I'm digging for the deeper stuff. For what, tonight, right now, do I feel most grateful?


Day 27, 30 Days of Gratitude. So this one student has been really bugging me. "I don't get it," he says, again and again, about everything. "I don't get it." I'm thinking all sorts of negative things, like he's just making it more difficult than it really is, or he would understand if he hadn't gotten so far behind during the term. Because, guys, really, when the handout says "Choose one of these two essay prompts" and he says, "I don't get it," I don't even know what he doesn't get. Read those two prompts, and choose one -- yeah? Get it? No? Really really no?

And then it hit me tonight: wait, what if he really doesn't get it? What if he's not just insecure about his understanding but what if he really can't process anything? What if something is going on in his brain that's new and different -- an illness, a shock -- and it really is interfering in his ability to understand things? What if I took his words at his value rather than at mine? 

Tonight I'm grateful for compassion. I'm feeling a bit compassion-fatigued, which is to say, I'm feeling tired all around. I've learned that I don't have to have a whole lot of whatever I need, whether it's kindness or forgiveness or optimism or passion. I just need a moment. 

This is the busiest, most intense week of the term for all of us. I'm evaluating papers fast and furious, stacks of them, while students anxiously wait for my feedback and judgement. They're tired, too, and they feel a lot of pressure to succeed at the same time as they're feeling burned out, ready, toast, done. I don't worry that I won't do a good job evaluating; every year at this time I worry that I'm gonna get a little bit bitchy. I want more moments of compassion, even if they're just flashes, and moments in which I hear my students' words instead of my judgements.



Day 28, 30 Days of Gratitude. On my run today, I had that moment of bliss: sunshine, blue skies, running through the trees in the bosque, and feeling so grateful for another day of running, knowing that it's a gift, knowing it's temporary.

Yesterday in Free Dance, dancing to "Perpetuum Mobile," aware that I was still thinkingthinkingthinking and yet my body was moving away from that thinking, moving with the music, inspired, delighted, captivated, and I decided it was okay if I was still thinking so much as long as I was aware of my dancing body and my delight and the beautiful beautiful music. Four minutes, thirty seconds of transcendence. 

86,400 moments in a day. If even a few of those moments are as deeply satisfying and life-affirming as today's run or yesterday's free dance, then I'm all good. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6E3znZoFnN8


Day 29, 30 days of gratitude. Today is a rest day. It is the second day in November where I have neither run nor taught Nia. It's possible that 2 rest days a month is not quite enough, and it's more likely that for me in winter time, it's not enough. Never mind that it's not even winter yet and that we're still hitting low 60s during the day. I know it's colder, and mornings are cold, and it's darker. 

My achilles hurts, too. It's mostly the running, though I think teaching Firedance was a stress, too. I just might make tomorrow a rest day, too. Two days in a row. I don't think I've had two days off from movement since April. I like to move and I don't particularly like rest days, and I don't particularly need them often. The trick is to know when I need them and be willing to take them. It seems such an easy thing, and it's not for me. 

That run I took yesterday? I kind of knew it might be too much. I had enough energy to run but not much energy left after that. Then I didn't sleep well. I got up today knowing that I'm right on the edge of moving from being tired and almost sick to being yes, darling, you're really sick. 

Here's what I was supposed to do today: go to work, afterwards grocery shop at Trader Joes, run copies for Nia, walk with a friend and our dogs at 4, teach Nia at 5:45 and then take a Zumba class. Mmm hmm. I canceled the walk. Then I went home instead of grocery shopping. Then I got a sub and skipped Zumba. The world continues to turn. I am unnecessary in the short term, and all is well. Everything I'd planned can wait for another time. Really, it's okay.

I'm rarely that smart. I still don't get an A+. I'm not in bed, resting and reading. I'm working at the computer and grading papers. 

I'm grateful for getting just a little sick, just enough to prompt me to bring down the volume on my life for a day or two. I'm grateful when I'm willing to listen to what my body needs. I'm grateful to have a great Nia sub (thanks, Diane!) and grateful the weekend is almost here -- how lucky is that?


Day 30, 30 days of gratitude. It was SRO at the Outpost tonight. Hugh and I are here to watch Siobhan perform with Carpe Diem. We’re sitting on some steps with him on the step up behind me and arms wrapped around me, a kind of sitting version of spooning. So, already, it’s bliss.

The first group is the Sandia Prep HS jazz band, and I’m enjoying that Hugh’s enjoying it. The last band of the night will be Viking Nightclub, which is a half dozen of the guys from this jazz band, except they go full-tilt 80s mix of rockabilly, ska, and nu wave. The lead singer is a blast. They’re all having fun. The whole room is up and dancing, and the parents are hopping about, too. 

In between this first band and the last is a stand up comic, some guy named Feldman who tells us he’s Jewish, for which he gets applause, and whose jokes are funny though hard to hear; he swallows every punch line. He’s nervous and new to this and he’s up there, doing it, bless him. The guy next to us on the stairs came just to see him. He’s the Gifted Science teacher at Hoover MS, and Feldman asked him to be there, and he came. You follow that? A student likes his teacher so much that he invites him to his performance and the teacher, bless him, wants to be there and comes out on Friday night to hear his former student perform. There are some crappy teachers out there who don’t care and there are some phenomenal, inspiring teachers -- my kids have been blessed to have a few of them, too -- and I got to witness that tonight: a teacher who inspires and allows himself to be inspired. 

I wish I could have heard more from Society Unknown, or whatever they were called. They were warming up with Pink Floyd and the guitarist was ready to have fun. He just radiated it. He wanted to play. I wanted to hear him play just seeing him wanting to play. They were the back up band for a singer and it was a mismatch, kind of disappointing. 

Next was a girl and her guitar, and as she sang, I looked around the Outpost, remembering when it was our dojo. My husband and I helped build that dojo. My husband hung from the rafters in that very space. On opening day, the first day of practice in our new dojo, I was still bleeding after having miscarried. I was determined to practice. Another woman, older, already a mother, was furious with me; she knew I was supposed to be resting. But I was mad. I was heart-broken. And I was going to practice on opening day of our new dojo. 

I was pregnant again soon, this time with Siobhan, and after she was born, I brought her with me to the dojo. I’d warm up with her in my arms and then place her in a pen (she couldn’t even crawl yet) for the rest of the hour while Hugh and I flung each other across the mat. By the time I was pregnant with Ailin, I just couldn’t do it anymore and Hugh left the dojo, too, some time after that. 

Some years later, our dojo became the Outpost, a performance space for jazz, bringing in great artists for intimate performances and holding events such as this teen night. Volunteers run the sound and lights and take in our 3 bucks at the door. Kids get the chance to get up in front of a pretty big crowd and see what they can do, test out their possible future.

So I’m listening to girl-with-a-guitar and remembering that my girl, who’s next up to sing, was first in this space as a baby, 17 years ago, and, well, yes, of course, I’m crying. Then she’s up there, introducing her group, joking about being nervous in front of a large crowd. There is a particular pride that a parent has in seeing her child perform. It’s a silly pride. In Yiddish, it’s naches, this particular pride. It’s also the awe of seeing a child be herself. That’s because this is public. Others see her, too. She’s not my daughter; she’s herself, Siobhan. I’m seeing her as others get to see her at the same time as I’m seeing that’s my baby up there. I remember her being a baby in this very building and I couldn’t imagine, couldn’t guess, what she’d be like 17 years later. That’s the thrill. I just do my thing parenting, often just staying out of her way, and she does her thing growing up. Then, there she is: it’s her.

I’m grateful for date night and cuddling on the stairs. I’m grateful Ailin came to watch his sister along with a bunch of his friends, some of whom hope to be next up to perform -- and I want to be there to watch them too. I’m grateful Bon’s best friend, Carmen, got a full scholarship to Vassar: you go, girl! I’m grateful I got to hear Siobhan perform -- really, their version of “Sail” is awesome, especially with the cellos -- and she was happy we came to see her. I’m grateful Tom Guralnik founded Outpost and hosts events like these; it’s a lot of work and it keeps music in ABQ growing. Blessed, blessed, blessed.

I’m grateful for 30 days of writing these blessings. I’m grateful you’ve read them and liked them or commented on them; you are so kind! and sweetly indulgent, even, as I managed to turn FB posting into a blog. I’m grateful that being grateful has become for me a natural response to whatever happens each day.