At the center of everything that I'm grateful for in my daily life glows these three shining lights. I tucked the girls into bed for the first time ten Thanksgivings ago. They were all single digits and glitterbombs, all dolls and painted nails, all make believe and dances. They were so gangly and immediate in their emotions, when they looked to me for some guidance, I think I stepped into adulthood for the first time. They came into my life with a lot of love, but I'd be lying if I said I came in knowing anything about being a stepmom, or that being a parent of any kind, especially during early teen years, is simple. To our girls' credit, it's not easy having two houses and four parents all poking into their business, and they navigated it pretty well most of the time. They made it a little easier for us too: they'd switch around, and one of them always kept our house in laughter even when the other went to the dark side.
Somehow - we might have hit the jackpot on this one - they're both shining pretty bright right now, full of creative energy, navigating the middle and late-teens with drive, inspiration, love. Nowadays, with Em already out in the working world, it's generally some combo of us - rarely all 4 - in the same room at the same time. Our house is a whirlwind of the arts - Es always bent over her drawing pads, Em off at auditions or modeling shoots, Darby surrounded by his synths and drum loops, and me working out songs on the guitar.
Just in a wee little social media post I couldn't possibly say how much these three inspire me, but Thanksgiving always means a lot to me because of them, and I keep trying, in my songs and stories, to do them justice. I still tuck them in at night with lights-out talks and back massages. So deeply, deeply grateful to these three for bringing me into their family ten Thanksgivings ago.
As complicated as parent/child relationships can be, stepparenting has this additional challenge:
There is no guarantee of love. Not at the beginning of the relationship with the kids, not through the years, not from the kids toward the stepparent, nor the other way around, at any point.
Stepmothers, in particular, are difficult and complicated for children, because there are loyalties and alliances to the biological mother that the children must navigate. Most times, if the stepmother is there after a divorce in the first family, and there are two households that the children orbit around, the children must learn to adapt to different values, different rules, different cultures, different expectations, different dynamics.
Those differences in households are likely some of the factors that led to the divorce in the first family to begin with, and so the stepmother and biological mother frequently do not share values, leading to dynamics between the two mothers that the children must also navigate. The partner - biological dad, in this case - can get caught in the middle as he himself negotiates between his former and present partners. Children always come first, which means that stepmothers must many times bite their tongues, step aside, acquiesce.
When the stepmother has come to the family without her own biological children, as I did, she is simultaneously childless and a mother. She may, as I did, have deep desire to nurture the stepchildren as she would have nurtured her own. She may find that the children simultaneously accept some nurturing and reject others -- because, after all, they have a biological mother living not far away. The stepmom in this case must find a tenuous, untrod path to walk that is not depicted in any fairy tale, movie, book, or pop culture touchstone. If she doesn't want to be the "evil stepmother," and cannot be the "good mother," she must invent her own role, and move against every depiction she has ever seen of women's roles in the family.
This is what I want to say here:
I have found that the greatest gift of stepmothering is a gift that doesn't come easy. With no guarantee of love, many times a stepmother can close her heart, turn away, reject the child and the biological mother and, in some way, her spouse. In that case, no one wins. The other way is harder, but I have to thank Darby for supporting me in my efforts to always choose an open heart. To soften when I want to flare. To talk when I want to shut down. To go upstairs and give love to those girls when I have wanted to hide.
There is no guarantee of love for stepmothers, but ten Thanksgivings down, I don't doubt the love between me and my girls. When I say that they have been my greatest teachers, this is what I mean: They have taught me again and again, every day since ten Thanksgivings ago, what it means to choose love.
Pray don't talk to me about the weather, Mr. Worthing. Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else.
And that makes me quite nervous.
- Oscar Wilde
In the spring you can find our front door with your eyes closed. From the driveway, smell your way to the rose bush. A step or two later, pass between the narcissus blooms under the bird bath and the lavender, which has gone crazy since I planted it beneath the kitchen window box a few years ago. On the right, at the wall of blossoming jade, which started as a tiny clipping from the bush outside my former apartment, lift your foot for one, two, three steps. Here, open your eyes. Though you stand nose to twig at a wintery handmade wreath I found on Etsy a few months ago, there is no fragrance. I should probably find a new one for spring.
You'd better have a key ready, even if you hear voices clearly from within. Even if you knock, the door will not open without your effort. Even if you can report the very movie being watched on the other side. Even if you see through the window beside you the figure of a teenager as she passes from the living room through the dining room to the kitchen for a snack. You could try banging a hefty and frantic boom-boom, as she does every single time she comes home, but it's easier to just use your key. It's not as if you're in a rush: A whiff of orange blossoms floats over the roof from the backyard. Somewhere a finch sings.
Inside, a barrage of new sensory input. The 13-year-old is in her chair three feet from the television, ten from the front door. You say "Hello!" in a cheery voice, imagining that perhaps she hadn't heard your car, your steps, the key. Her response is teenagery-dull. You pause for a moment to assess. The Matrix is on, 1, 2, or 3, you don't know (are there more?), but her head is bent over a sketch book. You attempt another greeting. "Whatcha watching?" as if you couldn't tell. "Whatcha drawing?" because sometimes she'll say. Maybe something radical like "How are you?" in another pleasant tone. The elements of simple communication that work so well with adults fall flat. "It's nice out this evening," you say, kicking off your shoes, knowing full well that she doesn't give a damn about the weather, the news, or connecting.
I used to resent small talk. The low-hanging fruits of weather seemed only to pertain to the mindless, surface chatter of adults. It neither said anything nor did anything, I reasoned, and I suspect our 13-year-old feels the same, annoyed with the unsubstantial filler. There's an arrogance to her dullness. A judgement, I imagine, that raises her above petty niceties. Say something worthwhile or stop wasting my time. Like the writerly advice from Strunk & White: make every word count. Though she's more likely thinking, Just shut the fuck up.
To her, I imagine small talk about the weather seems worth about as much as packing peanuts. Thirty gallons of the Styrofoam kind go for $9.27 at Walmart, so peanuts are basically worthless. Filler to brush away as you root around for the good stuff. Trash them or leave them to dissolve in the sink. They merely take up space and disappear. Like small talk.
And yet, $9.27 is worth something, isn't it? People spend it gladly to cushion the good stuff. Olive oil. Porcelain. A vintage keyboard. Even our thirteen year old wouldn't think of shipping a delicate object unpadded to rattle around in a box, take every hit. I'm trying to think of something that's precious to her, an object to name here, but nothing comes to mind. She draws and writes, but appears to care little about anything else. Or this: she is precious; that gruff affect is her peanuts. The disdainful glances, dour responses. She's a newly-minted teenager, fresh out of childhood, en route to adulthood, jostled around at every bend. Her mood is her $9.27 of bubblewrap. It's the hard shell of chrysalid, because maybe she's gone completely to goo inside and needs a stern exterior to ensure her safety. It's scaffolding, because didn't you see the signs? Construction Zone! No trespassers!
I get it as best as a forty-something-woman/former-girl with faulty memory can get it, but it's been a minute or two since I was thirteen. Thank the stars. Some day, when she's less gooey on the inside, I wonder if she'll see how stark the chasms can be between two individuals. How we've all been thirteen, all've been goo, but no two goos are the same, and how do we start from that? Humans might be a social species, but how on earth do two people who have been spinning in their own separate orbits all day long possibly begin to connect?
Though I used to resent small talk, it's really kind of beautiful, isn't it? Those slender cords of niceties, weather. "Look at that rain": a rope thrown from one to another. It's a hefty job that a beautiful day commands. Wind, clouds, the jasmine in the air: Delicate as they are, their forces are greater than us. I don't know how your day is, nor do you know mine. So let's talk about the weather, enter carefully into each other's orbits, and look up at our shared sky.
You drop your bags, prick your ears for the others. Music from the studio: Darby is working on a tune. A scrape on the stove: the 17-year-old is cooking. Meaty scents. It's hard to tell whose dinner, with vegetarian sausages lately so close to the real thing. You make your rounds greeting them, then duck into the bedroom for a quick costume change. The backdoor is open to the early evening. In an old Dr. Pepper bottle on the dresser, Darby's put a twig of orange blossoms, white blooms, green leaves.
So much churns and rises to the surface during the night. A few days ago, I sat with my coffee and journal as I do most mornings, trying to capture my waking thoughts. As usual, only after my inner compass steadied could I turn my gaze to the headlines and other people's stories. Though I am enamored with the world, I don't know what magnets may swing too near my needle as I sleep so nearly every morning I do this scan of my inner horizon, as if it's an object on my nightstand, to ensure true north is where I left it the night before. If I can engage the first half hour of the morning with my pen steadied over the page, I rein in some otherwise missed understanding of the world. I write, listen to the hum of the refrigerator or the chatter of finches across the street, and sip my coffee. Sometimes, when there's little to sort out, I just write about the refrigerator and the finch. I aim for at least three pages of anything, and no matter what I write, mornings like that start out well.
The break of a new year is much the same. As one year's clepsammia thins, I hold my inner compass to the events of the previous twelve months. How does my living measure with the map I envision for my life? Have I lived aligned with my values? When the hourglass inverts, I face the future and envision how to rebalance lopsidedness from the previous year and further build on past progress.
As I began to write my way across the transition from 2017 into 2018, though, I noticed a distinctly uncommon wobble in my journaling. My compass seemed to be spinning. When I asked What did I do with my time? I felt unmoored, and then understood: The November before, not to over-play a broken record, had named the loser of the popular vote the winner of our last presidential election. Though I believe people can change, I don't think Trump will, and I didn't buy some commentators' hopes that his election season manner would temper after his swearing in. Instead, the weight of all the injustices ever wrought against women -- the silencing, the harassing, the violence, the unfair narratives, the pay gap -- pushed at my back and pummeled me through the gates of that new year. I had crossed threshold with a heady mix of anger, fear of the unknown, and a whopper of an election hangover.
Between the election of '16 and the swearing in last January, with my usual New Year's reckoning, I somberly acknowledged that the creative and professional plans I had thought would be my focus of 2017 had been based on an election outcome much different from what came to pass. Instead, I saw, 2017 would be not a year of embarking on new journeys, but on rehashing tired arguments for why, dammit, women need access to reproductive care; why, dammit, people for whom skin color has been the primary correlating factor for economic disparity should benefit from affirmative action; why gender expression or sexual orientation should make no damn difference when it comes to employment, military service, marriage, bathroom access, safety, or equal rights of any kind; why health care, particularly for the very old and very young and very sick and very poor -- and every child, like ours, with Type 1 Diabetes -- should be, in every civilized and wealthy society, guaranteed, accessible, and affordable; why we must be aggressive and progressive against industries that exacerbate climate change; why we must be diplomatic in our foreign relations; why we must encourage and support advancements in science, the arts, and education; and why, dammit, the individuals we choose as representatives should represent us at our best, not just for political reasons, but because, for god's sake, the children are listening.
This week, as I tried to clarify my retrospective of 2017 in order to create my vision for 2018, I saw too well that the past year, instead of moving forward, had been spent going back over the leaks in the boat we'd already built and had thought was airtight. That was the wobble. It came from the gravitas and boredom of battles re-waged. It came from tamping down celebrations; pulling back recording projects; setting aside money for the ACLU and NARAL and other organizations with other letter combinations; and delaying creation of new books in order to have time to consume more articles analyzing what had caused this great ship to dip, and how to simultaneously bail out the water and repair the leak before we all go down.
You many think I'm being overly dramatic, but that's part of what I love about you and me: we are not identically the same in our passions. And sometimes we are.
Still, the point is that 2017 has ended. To honor it, Darby and I chilled a bottle of prosecco and holed up in his recording studio to reclaim what was left of the new year. We staked out the final hours and marked them as our own, getting back to making music and writing stories.
We finished the year like that, never getting to the Prosecco, and woke up on January 1 to continue our work, which is on the Bliss Drops record that we first started over a year ago. Never mind the past. Through this New Years Eve and Day, we picked up where we left off before the election fiasco of 2016, with what is called "the Guru mantra," a Sanskrit chant that I've put to melody and chords, and which Darby has dressed up in groove. Gu = darkness. Ru = remover. Seems a fitting way to start anew: removing the darkness to bring in clarity, truth, healing, and joy.
"By reciting this mantra with a sincere heart," activist, musician, writer, and yoga teacher Sharon Gannon writes, "you will see that the power that enlightens is all around you at all times. [...] The guru is your own self, the inner guiding light."
To you, dear reader, I wish a very happy 2018, filled with love, joy, good health, creative inspiration, and the light of truth so that you may see more clearly in the darkness.
Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru devo Maheshwara, Guru sakshat, param Brahma, tasmai shri guravay namaha
Brahma is the force, or guru, of creation; Vishnu, that of preservation; devo Maheshwara is behind the trials that transform us. There is a remover of darkness nearby (Guru Sakshat) and one beyond the beyond (param Brahma). I make my offering (tasmai) to the beautiful (shri) remover of my darkness, my own ignorance; I honor that guru with my life (namaha).
The other day, while running errands and thinking of Lovember, I passed Vendome, a local wine and liquor shop. Vendome is a few blocks from my house and I drive by every time I head to Trader Joe's, but I've only stopped in once or twice. This shop is interesting because set up inside is a little grass-roofed wine bar. Call me sheltered, but I have never seen another liquor store with a tasting room. I'm not a wine connoisseur - far from it - and have been curious to try out some tastings. As I drove by, I took note of the tasting hours.
Did I explain Lovember? I'm courting my man. Lovember is my dedication this month to take things more slowly. Savor time. Be more mindful in some areas of my life. Lend attention to my love for Darby. Like so many things, if a relationship is to flourish, it must be nurtured. Darby, his love for me, and our relationship together are some of the greatest gifts of my lifetime. Thankfully, I appreciate what I have while I have it, but to paraphrase Hafiz, the one regret I do not want to have when I get to the end of my life is that I did not kiss my sweet man enough. We've had a busy few months. Now that we're in the savoring, slower, mindful month of Lovember, what better time for a wine tasting? On Sunday, I asked Darby out on a date.
We were the first ones to arrive for the tasting that evening, so for a while we had Smiley, Vendome's Sunday wine enthusiast, to ourselves. He put Miles Davis on the stereo, and as he poured told us stories about his life. Sip, talk, sip, talk. We were having a marvelous time, but I won't bore you with a play-by-play. Actually, after trying eight or ten wines, I don't know if I could. However, I do remember one moment in particular. Darby and I were sitting back, tasting the best Rhone of the evening. We were deep into Kind Of Blue. I eavesdropped on Smiley and some of the other tasters discussing Panama hats. Is there a word for the appreciation of being able to appreciate something?
I bet the French, a culture so steeped in wine, have a word for this. Miles Davis on the speakers, good wine, listening to Smiley's stories and having no need to tell my own.... In my younger days I don't think it would have felt poignant, but lately everything shows its layers, complex and beautiful. If youth is a smile, adulthood is the laugh lines that reveal a person's history. Another regret I do not want to have when I get to the end of my life is that I didn't smile enough. Perhaps it's from the slowing down of Lovember. Lately I have been rejoicing in time.
Recently, Darby and I sat together enjoying a rare Saturday moment when both kids were settled in with friends and didn't need to be picked up for another hour. The conversation paused for a breath.
"Do you know how beautiful you are?" he said, looking at me from across the table.
When Darby tells me I'm beautiful, I listen. I take it in when he compliments me. I press his words into my being like leaves between the pages of a book. I want to hold them for later, but I also want to interrupt the other narrative - the negative one, the one that says I am always on the verge of failure. I've been practicing to linger on the good stuff, and let the critical mind-chatter roll away. Lately I've noticed he tells me I'm beautiful more frequently.
"Am I imagining it?" I asked him.
"No," he smiled. "You're not. It used to trigger you when I said so. You'd resist it. Now you seem to take it in."
Trigger. Nearly thirty years ago I was riding in the car with my mom through our neighborhood, when we paused at an intersection.
"Mom, do you think I'm pretty?" I asked. I was perhaps ten or eleven.
It was a hard question to ask. At its root, the question is really, Am I likable? Am I worthy? Am I enough for the life that I want? Will life be good to me? Will it open to me, revealing treasures like love and appreciation and comfort? So much hinged on her answer to my simple question. I'm sure every kid wonders this kind of thing.
"Your mother is so beautiful," teachers and sales clerks said to me all the time. It was true. She was in the prime of her beauty just as I was beginning to wonder about my own. She was 5'8" and wore 3" heels. Her eye shadow was purple, her lipstick red, and she got her nails manicured every two weeks by Violet who had two daughters in my school. The answer should have been fast and easy. Yes, you are pretty, she should have said.
"Ana is pretty," she began. Ana was Violet's daughter, and indeed one of the prettiest girls in my grade. "So is Risa," she said, mentioning another girl I was close with. "You?" She paused. "I would say you are more striking."
I didn't know what that meant. I still don't. That day in the car, though, I was fairly certain of one thing: striking wasn't pretty. And if I wasn't pretty, could I still be likable, worthy, and all the rest? It felt like my life hinged on this one question.
I can imagine now how this conversation might seem from her standpoint. In all the years she was told she was beautiful, my mother was also a voracious reader. She was a baby boomer dissident. She was a latent academic who, despite dropping out of high school has now earned her PhD. She got married young, had me soon after, and offset her career aspirations. I was a bright kid with my life still ahead of me. There would be limitless career options looming after college. Perhaps she thought striking was a greater compliment than the commonplace pretty. Perhaps she thought it would keep me safe from making the choices she made. Maybe it was a feminist decision.
As that scene in the car passed through my mind, I knew what Darby was talking about. Trigger. It used to be, when he'd say "You're beautiful", I would brush it off. I didn't know what to do with it. I'd laugh or shrug or make some self-disparaging remark. I couldn't decide if he was saying it out of obligation, or if he really thought I was. Of course now I see how ridiculous that is. After all, the man and I fell head over heels in love. To me, his is the most beautiful face on the planet. I imagine he feels the same about me. But he would tell me I am beautiful and it would stump me every time.
When we live under the spell of not-good-enough, we don its cloak. We hope it's invisible to others, but when someone truly loves us, they see all the layers, and they know that beneath the stories is the true self. They see youth and wrinkles, and the beauty of time. They see our successes and our struggles. 2009 was a good year. 2008 not so much. They see how far we've come, and what it took to get here. They know the tattered edges of not-good-enough, and do what they can to fray it more.
That Saturday I looked at Darby sitting across from me. I didn't know it until the other night, but he has been stealthily tugging at the holes of my cloak. It's a strange thing to realize that sometimes the best way to show love is to hold back. He's older than me by thirteen years. He knows better how to bide time. I'm learning.
At Vendome's on Sunday, as Miles Davis was replaced by Traffic, I let the 2009 wine roll over my tongue. I turned to Darby and said, "I just love being an adult." I was trying to say how much I appreciated everything about that moment, including all the years that came before. Shot through that, I also appreciated my ability to appreciate it. That's the best way I knew how to say it.
This morning, as we were laying in bed listening to the morning awaken outside our bedroom door, I think he may have expressed it better.
"Do you think," he asked, "there's a month of Lovecember too?"
It's been an exhausting week for more than a week. To be sure, I haven't had consecutive nights of full sleep, and I've been a little busier than usual, but my tiredness seems to go beyond those details. This is the kind of exhaustion that wrings a body out.
The past few days have been like this:
Morning: I pack a bag with my running and swimming clothes, and head to work.
Lunchtime: Meetings. I skip the run.
Afternoon: I contemplate, "Shall I go swimming after work as planned?"
Evening: Errands. I skip the swim.
But let me make this clear, it's been more or less my choice to skip the workouts this week. I could have managed to squeeze them in if I really wanted. Generally I'm a gal of adventure, and usually the pool or a run helps me to clear my mind. For vacations, I'm the type who chooses a hike or exploration over a cruise. However this week I find myself fantasizing about a remote island, the sound of the tide, a hammock strung up between two shady palms, and a blissful breeze rocking me to sleep. I want to pass out for days without end.
So, last night I did not go to the pool. Instead I went to the library, got myself a long delayed card, and took out a few books. I laid them on the nightstand on my side of the bed, and then headed to the kitchen to do some chores before I could finally collapse. Usually it's accidental, but last night I fully intended to fall asleep reading.
The truth is, on top of being tired, I was heartachy. On Sunday morning I went to the memorial service for a friend's mother. It was a beautiful, touching service. The stories that my friend and his siblings shared were charming, and although I never met their mother, I understood how extraordinary she was. She was a woman full of appreciation for life and gratitude for the people she was blessed to share her life with. I didn't know her, but I am dear friends with one of her sons, and through the memorial service stories I finally came to understand a little better where my friend learned his own deep gratitude and love for the people in his life. I left the service feeling blessed to have gotten even that little glimpse into his mother's life.
But later that day I drove my sweet man to the airport. He had to be in Texas for a few days to take care of his mother's estate. Dropping him off at the plane just a few hours after the memorial filled me with a sense of loss. It's morbid, but every time my sweet man goes away I feel it is a mini rehearsal for a deeper grief later in life. It was only a few days, but by last night my heart was aching for him.
And I was grumpy. The sink was piled with mixing bowls and cake pans from days of baking. The bed sheets were in the laundry, so I couldn't lay down in comfort until they were done. I had been up since six in the morning, my eyes were glazed with sleepiness. The last things I wanted to do were chores. An inner rebel in me screamed at the very prospect. But even more than not wanting to do them, I wanted my man to return from his trip without piles of undone chores laying around the house.
So, standing over the washing machine, I poured the detergent over the clothes and turned on the water. And I began counting my blessings. The washing machine. The clothes. The water. The water heater.
I started with the solid things before me, and then moved on to appreciation that I was even capable of doing these tasks. Of standing. Of working. Of baking. Of teaching. Grateful for my jobs. For the skills. For the physical ability to do them. For financial security that gave me shelter, food, comfort.
Then I moved on to the things I usually think of first when I count my blessings: my man, his daughters. But more than just gratitude for them in my life, I thought of how grateful I am for their health. For their happinesses. For their security. For their love. For their incredibleness. Appreciation for them even if I never knew they, just because they are magnificent beings.
And then I circled out: to my friends. My immediate and extended family. For all their healths, happinesses, securities, loves.
By the time the chores were done and I crawled into bed on newly laundered sheets, I found that I was grateful even for the very chores, for they had given me the opportunity to rise above my exhaustion and realize how wonderful and blessed my life is.
It's easy to get caught up in things. Last night I remembered that *that* is a good time to think, "I am grateful for...".
Last night my blessings carried me all the way to sleep.
THE INNER VOICE
At the risk of alienating all two people in this blog's readership (I'm optimistic that perhaps there is one person out there other than my boyfriend who is interested in reading this, but if in fact that is not the case, I am not too proud to count myself as one of my readers), today's post is about The Marathon.
Okay, okay, I know the joke:
Q. : How do you know if someone is running a marathon?
A. : They'll tell you.
There's a part of me that doesn't want to talk about it. That's the shy part of me, the one that is sure you've heard it all before, that in fact you have run a thousand marathons back-to-back and at twice my speed, that my mountain of an accomplishment is a molehill in the grand scheme of things. That's the same part of me that also doesn't want to come across as too self-involved (yes, I am aware that I have three blogs and am at work on a memoir, but still...).
But then I'm reminded of the Marianne Williamson quote:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Your playing small does not serve the world. Man, doesn't that just hit you in the gut? Time to toot the horn then, so to speak, right?
This quote reminds me of a core feeling I've had since I was a little girl. It doesn't matter that I am not a religious person, I have long felt a distinction between the sacred and the profane. To me, there is a type of blasphemy that has nothing to do with taking deities' names in vain or saying bad words. It has to do with not celebrating this finite time we have. It has to do with wasting this precious gift of life.
These 70-, 80-, or 90- years we get will run out one day. Already they may be half gone or more, and what have I got to show for it? That question inspires me more than anything else to rise to challenge, to reach past my personal comfort zone to find the edges of my potential. It reminds me to appreciate people, nature, and moments. It's a brand of spirituality not tied to infinity, omnipresence, and endlessness, but rather to imperfection, brevity, loss. I know that sounds like a downer, but it's not to me. If I will never be perfect, I am more willing to try, stumble, get up, and enjoy the process as I try harder again. If life is brief, I will embrace it with all that I have, to love it so hard that at the end I know I lived every drop I was given. If I will one day lose everything that I have and cherish, I want to appreciate it to the upmost now, the easy and the hard, the happy and the sad, and I want to shower the people I love with love, show them the way that I feel (thank you, JT).
Besides, over the shy voice there's a slightly louder voice in my head that says, "Even so, given all the other things we each hope to achieve in our lifetimes, a marathon is not nothing. This is something."
And there is a beating heart and a joyful place in me that joins the chorus with that slightly louder voice, singing, "YES. You ran a full marathon on Sunday, and it was amazing, and this is Very Meaningful to you, and so you should write about it because, perhaps, even though you have been talking about it for days now, the two people in your readership will still want to know. Will want to remember this. And in any case, if you want to write it, you must."
And so, here it is:
I ran a full marathon on Sunday.
It was my first, and this is the story of my experience.
First, one thing you should know is that for the past month I have been concerned about what I call "The Knee Issue". The pain began during the 18-mile Door to the Shore run on April 27 (which I have been remiss in recounting for my two-person-readership, perhaps because we were both there), and since then has hurt in every run over five miles. In my attempt at healing The Knee Issue, in the four weeks between D2S and M2B, this was my training:
week 1: Two 5-milers, one 2.5-miler. Spin classes and yoga.
week 2: A 16-mile run/walk. Spin and yoga. Two shorter runs.
week 3: An 8-mile run. An easy Sunday afternoon bike ride with my man. Two spins, and yoga.
week 4: The Marathon.
Translation: I ain't been running much, duckie. In fact, my miles this month only come up to around 75, about 25 fewer than last month, and that's with the 26.2 from the marathon.
The week before the race, I didn't run at all. I iced my knee, I took Advil, I popped vitamins, I foam rolled, I did yoga, I walked, I went to spin, I ate, I hydrated. But I did not run. Not even a step.
One more thing: I didn't follow any particular training schedule. In fact, I only signed up for this marathon four weeks ago, just after I completed the Door the the Shore run. Once I did those 18 miles relatively injury-free (besides The Knee Issue, which I hoped would resolve quickly), I realized I was ready to try for 26.2. I looked around, found the sold-out Mountains 2 Beach race, thought it looked nice, and found someone who was happy to sell me her registration.
DAY BEFORE THE RACE
On Saturday the kidlets and my man offered to go hang with a friend so I could nap. Finding myself suddenly in a quiet house all to myself, instead of napping I made a peach pie, kale chips, chocolate and coconut-dipped bananas, and popsicles, and rehearsed for an upcoming gig.
I promised myself that at least I would get to bed early. I laid out my race clothes, packed my bag, got directions, futzed around on Facebook, freaked out, calmed down, and then finally laid down at 10. This is how I spent the next hours:
10:15 pm: "I love you, sweet man."
10:30 pm: wrestled with my pillow
10:45 pm: flipped over
11:00 pm: listened to the mockingbird
11:15 pm: used the bathroom
11:30 pm: got some water
11:45 pm: "breathe, breathe, breathe"
Midnight: "one, two, three, four, five, six..."
1:00 am: checked the clock
1:30 am: checked the clock
2:00 am: the alarm went off
Translation: No sleep.
I poured myself a mug of coffee, dressed, kissed my man good-bye (he couldn't sleep either), and then at 2:20 am headed out the door. In the dark driveway of my house is where I met Strange Man #1.
Okay, scroll back for a moment. There are a ton of compelling reasons to carpool, right? I think we can all agree on that. For me the tops were:
1) Middle-of-the-night road trips are better with company
2) After the race someone else could drive back and I could rest my little legs
3) Gas $
The race was located about 90 minutes north. I didn't want to go alone. In lieu of that, I opted to meet up with two men I'd never before met in the middle of a dark, deserted, desolate Los Angeles night. Given the two choices, wouldn't you?
Rono (Strange Man #1) and I met Strange Man #2 (Ijaz) at the empty Pierce College Metro parking lot at 3 am.
As it turned out, neither of them are psycho killers.
In fact, even better, Rono and Ijaz were a hoot. They were the perfect companions for a short road trip up to Ojai - good natured, upbeat, chilled out. I drove and chatted with Ijaz while Rono dozed in the back seat. We hit no traffic (of course - it was 3am) and got to the finish line area by around 4am. We found parking, I ate a quick breakfast of rice krispies and soy milk, Ijaz took some photos, and then we found green vinyl bench seats in the school bus shuttles and headed for the start line.
It was dark and chilly, around 52 degrees, when we arrived at the waiting area near the start line at the top of the point-to-point course. The almost-full moon was brilliant and high in the sky. Down below it, in the parking lot, we made small talk. Laughter, last minute bananas, gear check, and port-o-potties. Then 2500 runners headed to the start.
There were three corrals which were to be staggered through the start with two minutes between each. My memory is a little dim on how we were broken up, but I think it was "Under 3:30", "Between 3:30 and 4:30", and "Over 4:30". Ijaz took the first or second corral - he was anticipating a sub-4 race. Rono and I settled into the last corral. I knew I wouldn't be the last person through the finish line, but even if I subscribed to magical thinking, I knew it would take me at least 4:30 to run the course. There were some Boston Marathon race shirts scattered about (mostly in the faster corrals) and a jolly couple next to me taking funny-faced photos of themselves.
There was a calmness all around that felt lovely, much different from the three half-marathons that I've run in Los Angeles. The air in Ojai was crisp, the sky was lightening over the mountains and fields, and it was quiet. There were no bands playing, no energy-pumping DJ, no frilly costumes, no first-timer chaos. It was peaceful and beautiful, and when our corral began to run, it was just a quiet pitter patter of feet on the asphalt like a gentle rain.
I was not nervous, I was not concerned, I was not thinking about the finish line or time. I was smiling. I said good morning to the sleepy-eyed coffee drinkers standing in their driveways to wave us on. I felt immensely grateful to be moving my body in such a beautiful location on such a peaceful morning.
At the Mile 1 marker, a friendly paint-splattered sign in the shape of a surf-board, I thought, "That felt good. I just need to do that 25 more times." And I felt sure that I could.
At the Mile 2 marker I thought, "I still feel good. I can do this 24 more times."
At the Mile 3 marker I thought, "I am starting to feel the effort, but that's fine. It's a beautiful day."
As the sun rose, there was the silhouette of distant mountains beyond the ones that encircled our immediate area. Between us were fields, gilded with the brightening light. Birds sang from branches. Every house had a swing hanging from the front yard trees. There were horses stabled amid golden hay, and two runners slowly caught up to me, talking about the horse trails, and then continued their conversation as they passed me, leaving me with the quiet pitter patter of running feet.
Within the first 8 miles there were two small hills - barely hills compared with the one I usually train on. It felt good to climb a little, and then settle into the net-downhill course.
At Mile 5 or 6, The Knee Issue arose. I was already going slower than my usual 9-minute/mile, but I slowed some more and pulled out two Advil that I'd tucked into my fuel belt the night before. I ate a few Sport Beans and, in a first, took out my iPod. Once, a few weeks ago, I tried listening to music while I ran and found that I preferred the environmental sounds to any songs, but in anticipating The Knee Issue I'd decided to bring my iPod along with some NPR podcasts in the hopes of drawing my focus off of my knee. It worked. I listened to This American Life for about half an hour. When I put it away, my knee felt fine.
At Mile 8 the course veered off the loop that we'd been on, and began following the Ventura River. By then most of the runners in my area had spread out. I could see a few ahead of me, but for the most part we each were running our own race, with our own thoughts. Here the course was on a paved bike path mostly surrounded by trees, with occasional peeks into backyards. I listened to the roosters beyond the trail, rustling of leaves overhead, and bird calls. I had the sense of feeling continually blessed, so appreciative of my body that was capable of carrying me through such a beautiful place.
I didn't realize when the half-marathoners joined us around Mile 14, but saw their Mile 1 marker and laughed out loud, thinking, "wow, that was the longest 1 mile ever...".
Around Mile 15 or 16 I heard music for the first time. The Bangles. A white pickup truck was parked along the parallel road with a couple cheering us on as they blasted "Walk Like An Egyptian". The upbeat song infused me with energy - hard to believe now that I'd been running for so many miles by then - and I danced as I ran past them.
Soon we were running in a more industrial-looking area. There were graffitied concrete structures, and oil pumps closer than I'd ever seen. At this point I was filling my water bottle at every-other station and eating Sport Beans whenever I remembered. I also started texting my boyfriend at every mile marker. 16! 17! 18! His texts back kept me buoyed up in joy.
Mile 19 marked the furthest distance I had ever run. We had descended from the mountains in Ojai and were now in Ventura, approaching the beach. I felt a sob arise in my throat which immediately choked my breathing into shallow asthmatic gulps. I swallowed my sobs with some water and brought my breathing back to normal. Seeing the Mile 19 and 20 markers made me realize, with no question, that I would finish this race. My knee felt fine, and while I was tired, I was passing other runners.
Mile 21 I felt a surge of energy. Perhaps it was the salty air. The scenery at the point was totally changed - we were parallel to the Pacific Ocean, and there were a hundred or more surfers laying belly-down on their boards awaiting a wave. I wondered if I could pick up my pace, and then I did and felt strong and amazing.
At Mile 22 there were two runners ahead of me. The man was energetically leaping over the orange traffic cones that divided the race route from the actual road that we were following. I laughed out loud as he leapt over another. The woman called back to me, "He's not running, he's my support pacer." We all laughed together, and grabbed some pretzels from a woman cheering us on from the sidelines.
Mile 23. This was where it got hard for me. I wouldn't call it "the wall". I've heard runners talk about that, but this was not quite what I imagined it felt like. My knee started really hurting at this point, and I worried that I was doing some real damage. Then I grabbed some of the electrolyte drink from the next station and felt it hit my stomach. I slowed to a crawl and just told myself I could run as slowly as I wanted, but I had to keep running. I looked at my watch. I didn't know how fast I was going, but I figured somewhere around 10 or 12 minutes per mile. I took it in 10 minute chunks, just willing myself to get through the next small increment of time.
I kept texting my boyfriend: 23 24 25. These miles seemed endless, I couldn't even punch in the exclamation point in my texts. The 10 or 12 minute chunks of time crawled by, and my running was more like a shuffle. The scenery was not as pretty, we were in full sun, running along the bike path with other beach-goers. I started to see the finishers, walking by with their medals. They clapped and cheered, and I leaned into their enthusiasm knowing that if they were here, the finish line couldn't be far away.
I don't know when I passed Mile 26. I don't think there was a marker, but there was a woman. Vanessa was my 2-hour pacer for the Hollywood Half Marathon back in April, and as I passed her she cheered me on, "Just another quarter mile! You've got this, girl! You're doing great!"
And then I saw it, the white banner with the bold word FINISH, hanging in the distance. I kept my eye on that sign. I ran, and when I got close to the magnetic strip that clocked our times, I raised my arms in the air once again and sailed through the 26.2 end.
Out of 2500 runners, I was 1089. Four hours, 51 minutes, 38.9 seconds.
Translation: A Mountains 2 Beach marathon finisher. My first full marathon.
On a yoga riff variation, I keep thinking, "the accomplishments in me recognize the accomplishments in you."
Namaste, my friends.
I have been reading Ernest Hemingway lately. He writes in "A Moveable Feast" that he would go to great lengths to think about writing only when he was actually sitting down with pen in hand. The rest of the time he'd allow his subconscious to do its work by distracting himself with social engagements and the books of other writers.
I understand the subconscious, or at least the theory of the subconscious. Oftentimes I wake today with the solution to yesterday's elusive idea, or emerge from a yoga practice with the clarity I had been missing all day. I've resisted this blank page all morning because I have two thoughts swimming around and I haven't been sure which one to explore. The result, of course, is that I have been mining the internet for articles to read, looking for complete distraction and hoping that while my back is turned one of the two ideas will emerge dominant.
During this year of The List I have also discovered that running and writing have been consciously and intrinsically linked. I'm fairly new (again) to them both as a disciplined practice, and The List has entwined them as both near-daily practices. During my solo runs I often turn my mind to a story that I am trying to work out. The thumping of my feet on the pavement somehow loosens my mind to ideas. Throughout the Odessa months I walked through Texas conversations while running my route here in Los Angeles. I'd write in the mornings, run at noon, and sometimes write again in afternoon or just let it go till the next day. For better or worse, about 2 months ago, just around the time Odessa was finished, I found a running buddy. This has helped immensely with my mileage increase, but now many of my weekday runs are spent in conversation instead of quiet contemplation.
So, the two thoughts that are swimming around in my mind today are Time and Running. Running, because I have already posted here about writing (and will surely continue to do so), and as I said, they are intrinsically linked. Time, because earlier this week I received this email from a friend:
I woke up in the middle of the night thinking this: you have a full-time job in addition to cooking, blogging, singing, teaching yoga, writing, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera? Where do you work full time and how do you do that, if you don't mind me asking.
While I slept and allowed my mind to soften into subconscious problem solving, my friend was losing shuteye over my schedule. And so here we have it, it looks like today I am writing about Time.
By the way, have you seen this poster?
This manifesto is on one of those magnets I see at Whole Foods or on a friend's refrigerator. Maybe it's on your refrigerator. Our fridge is a jumble of report cards and drawings, but if I were to find space for a reminder-type magnet, this might be the one I put up. I generally hate being told what to do, especially when it brings up that "no duh" reaction, but this is one of those calls-to-action that I love to read in the checkout line, partly as a reminder and partly as a positive reflection of my own life.
It's that line in the second section that really speaks to me.
If you don't have enough time, stop watching TV.
And the one before that, about the job and quitting.
With all due respect to my friends who work in the entertainment industry (I'm included in that group, actually), and with all recognition that there is some excellent programming out there, TV is useless. Unless you are an actor or some other creator-type who can learn from active TV-watching, it is a waste of time. Most of us tend to watch TV passively, so when I say it is a waste of time I mean it in the big sense - TIME. Our precious 70 years. Our 25,550-some-odd days as humans. The divine gift of life. The likely one chance we have to exercise our true nature as creators. The active choice of how to live. The act of being alive.
Who cares about life after death. Let's talk about life before death.
Now I must pay attention to one of my chatty inner voices. This one wants me to apologize:
I don't mean to insult you. What do I know? I get up on my blogosphere soapbox and think I have the answers, but perhaps I am just a different bird. This is the way I choose to live. We all have to make the right choices for ourselves, and truly I do not judge someone for watching a show. But then, you did lose sleep over my schedule last night, and you did ask the question...
It's just that until I left home for college, I watched way too much TV. By my senior year of high school I was already feeling the crunch of time and the regret of wasting my early years with something that distracted me from my real work. The work that my spirit longed to do. My soul path. My creative life. I don't know how to say it any other way, and I can't get more specific than that. It has less to do with specificity of project and more to do with intentional living. As I packed my bags for college I wondered how much better of a musician I would have been if not for the sitcom-squandered early years. Time is all we have, I knew that at 17. I left home with 2 duffels, a trunk, a new laptop, and my trusty clarinet. I never regretted leaving that old black and white set my folks had saved for me. My dad still doesn't get it, but all I can say to him is that I love my very full, but very creative, intentional life.
So, here were my thoughts as I answered my friend's email:
1) WHAT TELEVISION?: Everyday I look at the clock and know that I will spend 8 hours at my office day job, exchanging precious time for peace of mind. I run for an hour during lunch. At 6pm I will get in the car and either drive to teach yoga, and later do my own yoga practice, or just get right to a yoga or spin class. Afterwards would I rather sit in front of the TV, or read aloud to the girls, connect with Darby, work on songs, edit photos, tweak recipes, read Hemingway?
The weekends hold endless soul-filling activities, some of which I get to almost weekly like the farmers market, some of which happen only occasionally, like gardening or visiting the arboretum or hosting a party at our house. Would I rather watch a movie? Yes, about six or twelve times a year, I would, and I do, snuggled up with Darby on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn and a bottle of hot sauce.
Luckily all we have is a flat screen and a DVD player. Have I mentioned how Darby and I are perfectly suited for each other? It was almost seamless when we merged our homes.
2) FINANCIAL VERSUS CREATIVE NEEDS: Since my post-college days I've been trying to find the balance between my creative and financial needs. I've bounced between the walls of creative endeavors (with no income) to financial endeavors (with no creativity). During 2006, when I was a full-time touring musician, I realized how my peace of mind and dependability of income are related.
The salary from my day job is, shall I say, not a hellavulot. As it turns out, that's been somewhat of a blessing. It only meets my basic financial needs, but along with the company health insurance, that's a pretty good foundation. It meets my foundational needs -- financial well-being, physical health, food, and shelter. My other three careers - writing/performing music, teaching yoga, and personal chef/catering - are all creative and bump up my income enough to satisfy my cravings for buying gifts for the people I love, taking little holiday escapes with Darby, and good olive oil.
I don't have a lot of unscheduled free time. I prefer generosity, but for right now I parse out my time carefully. Big projects take longer. The relationship between creativity and financial satisfaction is a balance I am still trying to work out, but there's an energy lately that I dig. This period of my life is the first in which I truly feel both creatively fulfilled and financially stable. Eventually, as more of my income is derived from creative sources, I will be able to find more balance in my schedule.
3 ) WRITE LIKE A MOTHERFUCKER: I'm dedicated to writing for a couple of hours a few times a week, at least, which means getting as efficient as possible with my work. I've always been a morning person, and my best writing happens at 9am. My intention is to write Monday through Friday. Sometimes I can organize my day-job work to allow for some writing time, sometimes I cannot, but most importantly I strive to not allow the internet to become what TV used to be. Even on a day like today when I have been a bit scatterbrained, I consider a day spent writing, time well spent.
4) KEEPING THE VISION: when I feel exhausted and a bit overwhelmed, I try to keep my vision on an upcoming short getaway with Darby. It helps on the weeks that hold tons of cooking, teaching, and music gigs. They are all things I love to do, but when I'm a bit low on sleep and quality time with Darby, it helps to have Big Sur on the calendar.
5) WORK THAT BODY: I exercise at least once daily, often twice, with a 5 mile run during lunch and/or a spin class/yoga practice in the evening. The running thing is a direct result of The List, but even before that I always went for walks. On the weekends I usually just get a long run Saturday and a good yoga practice Sunday. Our bodies were meant to move, and being a writer/musician is sendentary work. Our minds work better when our bodies work well. Also, despite the time commitment, I find that in general I am more productive when I am getting regular exercise.
6) THE TOP: Darby. He's the pirate's booty. He's the treasure chest of gold. He's the top, he's the tower of Pisa, he's the smile on the Mona Lisa... I deconstructed my life with the tiny glimmer of hope that there was a relationship like this for me in this lifetime. There is. I have it. I know I've won the jackpot, and I do not take it for granted. Darby is the single most important priority in my life. He and I both know that essential to having a healthy relationship with each other is having a healthy relationship with ourselves. Together we support each other in finding and creating our individual visions of the lives we want as individuals and as a couple.
All that said, we have just booked a one-night getaway to the beach. Sure, the beach is only about 15 miles from our house, but we rented a little cottage in Venice Beach for one night next weekend. Completely unscheduled for one night and the two days on either side of it, we will lose track of time, soften our gaze, and breath a little deeper.
#57 -- spend a lazy day at the beach
Sometimes it only takes a 15 mile drive to get a world away.