We’ve got flocks of crows in the neighbourhood. Occasionally, they choose the trees in our yard and gather in the bare branches. Even when they are silent, their wings rustle heavily, a sensation of suspended watchfulness. It’s hard not to think of them as being a sign. Though of what? I often hear them calling loudly in the early morning. On a less poetical note, their poop is everywhere.
This early morning my alarm went off, and I thought, no, I don’t feel like swimming. I’m fighting a cold that has claimed part of my voice, and I’m on the mend, and somehow submerging my head in cold water for an hour didn’t seem terribly wise. So, as my friend Nath would say, I “logicked” myself out of getting up, turned off the alarm and napped restlessly for another twenty minutes. But I couldn’t return to peaceful sleep. Apparently I’ve now trained myself to be AWAKE at 5am, alarm or no alarm. Exercise every day was the mantra that shoved me out of bed. I didn’t feel like going to hot yoga, but went anyway. I wanted to be doing something that amped up the lungs and the heart, rather than strengthening and stretching and being all zen and calm and whatnot.
This will be good for you, I told myself.
And I won’t deny that it was.
Sometime in the future, however, I can imagine rising early to write. Yes, it’s early, but I feel so AWAKE. The house is so PEACEFUL. I could write for four hours and it would only be 9:30 or so. Then I could nap. Then I could meet someone for lunch. Then I could exercise. Then I could write some more. Then someone would make me supper. And do the laundry and the dishes. (The children would be able to care for themselves.) Wait, this is turning into full-fledged fantasy.
Clearly something at which I excel.
Here is the crow just landing, or just taking off, from the larger photo above. The wings are a blur. There is something about the colour and tone and the scratchiness of the branches that looks like brush-strokes on mottled paper. The density of the silhouette.
This morning I’ve been taking pencil to page and crossing out words here, pointing arrows there, timing myself reading passages out loud and noting the times down. I’m turning this copy of Juliet into my reading copy. I’m not sure whether I’m just landing, or just taking off.
Every Monday morning my alarm goes just after 5am and I wonder, why am I doing this? Less than two hours later, I’m showering after a good swim and the answer is loud and clear, because it makes me feel terrific. And just like that the new week begins with good energy and a sense of momentum.
This winter, I’ve really pushed the early morning exercise, aiming to rise early at least four mornings a week. Last week it was five. Surprisingly it was not that difficult, though it did result in an unplanned crashed-out nap on the counch at 7:30 on Friday evening. Still. Worth it? Yes.
I took this photo on Sunday afternoon following my second post-injury run: sixteen short minutes of snowy bliss. I felt just like this: like I was flying, like my feet weren’t even on the ground. Monday morning, after the swim, I went for my first physio appointment and the news was good: dedicated strength work should balance out my muscles and make me faster and stronger in the long run (pun intended). I’ve been feeling rather down on myself, questioning whether I’m too old, whether my quest to become fitter and faster has hurt rather than helped me. But that wasn’t the physio’s take. She sees me as an athlete who needs to focus and hone my training in order to support the good things I’m doing for/with my body. It isn’t silly to dream of getting faster. It’s a perfectly natural goal, and achievable too.
Momentum. Sometimes I think sheer will can get me anywhere. Sometimes I know that’s bull. But will does wonders. Sometimes I feel arrow-sharp, aimed at a goal. Sometimes I feel indecisive and anxious. But even on the most indecisive morning I can get up early and swim, and I do. That’s the sheer will I’m talking about. And if nothing else, it gets me off the ground.
This week’s unoffical theme has been the free trial. In order to fill holes in my exercise life, I tried out two different classes at two different gyms/studios. It was all about trying new things. I lifted kettleballs. I took an aerobics class. And my specific conclusion is that aerobics classes are not for me. Swinging kettleballs just might be. My more general conclusion is that trying new things is really not that hard. You just show up. You accept that you’re the newbie. You might be wearing the wrong shirt (a touch too flashy for this morning’s t-shirt-style aerobics class). You don’t know where to stand. And apparently you can’t get your arms to coordinate with your legs (aerobics class again; really really not for me). You look awkward. At least a little bit.
And that’s okay. Just make the appointment, set the alarm, and show up. If it’s a fit, you’ll know it, and if not, it was a unique experience you’ll never have to repeat.
What I learned in this morning’s aerobics class is that looking fit and toned is not a powerful enough goal for me; I kind of looked fit and toned even before I was. The luck of genes. Nope, what motivates me is the desire to stay sane, to take the edge off, to channel my nervous energy and competitive nature toward semi-useful ends like marathons and triathlons. It is also a way to inhabit my body and to get out of my head.
Which I need. Pretty much daily.
A photographer came this morning to take a shot to accompany yesterday’s interview (it will run a week from Saturday in the KW Record). He seemed slightly disappointed by my ordinary setup: desk, computer screen, chair. He said he’d imagined me scribbling into a notebook reclined in a comfortable chair. He did pose me with pen in hand, which happens next to never since I can’t read my own printing. It got me thinking about how the writer gets imagined — when you think writer, what do you see? Tortured soul? Drink in hand?
Running may be my version of drinking. Here’s hoping kettleballs will suffice too.
This morning I had my first interview related to The Juliet Stories. Because the book is so new, because I am not a workshopping writer, because these words have really only been read by my agent and by editors up to this point, I am awfully terribly anxiously hungry for responses. The interview was an early response, a hint at what might come.
And it was a kind response, and a generous one, and I am grateful.
Writers don’t get to tell readers how to read the book; that’s not part of the deal. But I can’t help wanting to hear — to understand — how it’s met a reader. What happened at that intersection. How the words were received.
Walking home, I passed this empty lot not far from my house. I saw how much sky there was over the lot, and how blue and clear it was. I don’t often carry my camera outside with me. I wonder, will I see this empty lot differently for having seen it through my lens?
Over the past few nights and mornings I’ve watched the moon wax to fullness and begin to wane. In the evening, it stares in the back window of my office as it rises. It is setting as I drive to wherever that morning’s exercise is occurring. I get to see the same moon twice, on different days. It’s felt like an odd little miracle.
I’m not pulling my thoughts together this afternoon. I’m just writing them down.
And in that vein of randomness, good news to share: Yesterday, my sports doctor cleared me to start running again. Slowly. And in very small doses. I would have high-fived him but he was too busy impressing on me how short short is: ten to fifteen minutes, three times a week. Now that’s short. I’m planning my first run tonight, during goalie practice. I will wear a watch. I promise not to push it. I can’t promise not to high-five anyone who crosses my path during those fifteen minutes, however. You’ve been warned.
muddy Sunday in the woods
Quiet house. Beans soaking on the stove. All children at school or nursery school. Empty coffee cup. Just breathe.
Every day holds so many in-between moments. January felt like an in-between month. February has the same feeling. Is it because I’m not working on a definitive project that will box up the scraps and tie things together? Last night I dreamed we owned two houses, an imperfect one in which we were living, and a perfect one to which we were thinking about moving. The catch was that the perfect house would take us away from our friends. In the dream, I kept listing off the perfect qualities of the perfect house — on a lake; huge sweeping lawns; quiet street; a separate guest house — but it always came back to not wanting to leave the imperfect house we already had.
Nothing about this year so far has been perfect. But it’s a frivolous aim anyway, isn’t it? Perfection. When I look at the photo above, taken on Sunday afternoon, I see an in-between moment. And I see the potential of the in-between moment. Balance is fleeting, but not elusive. Lift arms. Pause. Breathe.
I am not running right now. My last attempt was a week and a half ago, a long weekend run of 15.5km on a bitterly cold and windy afternoon. The light was thin. My hip cried the entire time. That necessitated a frank assessment of my physical limitations, and a visit to my family doctor, and his request that I refrain from running. For now. I see a sports medicine doctor on Friday and the truth is that I’m holding out hope that his opinion will be otherwise: Go ahead and run! It can’t do any harm! (Hope hurts.)
Meantime, I am getting by with extra yoga classes, which seem to be helping. At the very least, I am strengthening and stretching and practicing my breathing. I am also continuing to swim, though not quite to the distances I’m used to: I stop when it starts to hurt rather than pushing on (the opposite of my usual style). And there’s spin class once a week.
But as mentioned in a previous post, none of those activities gets me outside. I’m missing not just the endorphin magic of a good run. I’m missing the bitter cold, the snow, the wind, the purposeful entry into the elements, even (and maybe especially) into the unpleasant elements. I’ve gone for runs in the dark, in cold rain, in hail, in blazing sunshine, in humidity. I also run in less extreme conditions, but it’s those more adventurous outings that stick with me, that please me most, that seem like tests of will and determination; there is a thrill to just sticking with it, hanging in there, going on. I could see how that sounds psychologically revealing; and not everyone’s cup of tea. And I accept that this injury may teach me many good things that I couldn’t learn otherwise: such as the value of stopping rather than pushing through; and patience. That too.
On Sunday, I went to my daughter’s soccer practice. It was a clear sunshiny afternoon, bright with snow on the ground. I could not run. But I decided not to sit by the sidelines indoors. Instead, I dressed for the weather, took my camera, and went for a hike in the woods. The trails were so familiar, trails I ran on all last summer and fall. And I was able to walk briskly without pain. It wasn’t like a good run, no, but it’s not fair to compare. It was exactly what it was: a walk in the woods.
Many of the photos came out with a melancholy feel (as above; do you agree?). I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the wintry landscape, the bare trees. Or maybe it’s the eye that was seeing the wintry landscape and bare trees. Whatever was captured, melancholy was not what I felt upon returning home. I felt better. Just plain better.
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