The race brought up some unexpected and deep emotions. It was inspiring. It was healing. It gave me a new perspective on myself. It brought up thoughts like: if I can imagine doing it, I can set myself on a path to be able to do it. This is going to sound like typical motivational gobbledeygook, but it made me ask: what are the barriers I’ve erected in my own mind that are preventing me from doing the things that I want to do–that are preventing me from even imagining and glimpsing the things that I want to do? It’s too easy to say, oh, that would be hard, that would be impossible, I don’t have the time.Yes, it’s been hard to train myself into a different and more athletically capable body. But it hasn’t been that hard. It certainly hasn’t been impossible. The time is now.
My larger thoughts are still amorphous and vague. But my most concrete thought is this: I already have the skills to do great/good/helpful things. I don’t need to retrain and gain a new skill set. I’m a writer. It’s what I do. Being a writer is similar in a lot of ways to being a runner. It’s an individual journey. But even the individual, within the larger collective of a race, or a running group, or a yoga class, has the opportunity to affect the larger community–either negatively, neutrally, or positively. Think of the good energy you can receive when you practice with a committed group of yogis. It is so much bigger and more inspiring than practicing on your own–but your own practice is important too, and you need to build it and strengthen it in order to give back to the others around you.
So. I’m thinking of my writing in those terms. I’m thinking: where can my writing be of use? Where can I find homes for it? Where is it needed? How do I want to change the world? Small changes, big changes, radical changes, subtle changes? And how can I use what I’ve already got to push for those changes?
Also, I think one of the stumbling blocks to change is knowing that one will be changed–but not knowing how. That can be scary. For example, I did not know, when I started the triathlon project, that I would want to run long distances, too. The idea of running a half-marathon, let alone a full marathon, never occurred to me. I also couldn’t have predicted or guessed that the training would turn me into someone for whom 5:15am is a happy hour of the day. I like rising early. I love my naps. I can’t undo figuring that out, even though it means sacrificing a lot of late nights in order to enjoy the early mornings.
And change is slow. That’s the other factor I continue to keep in mind. Patience. Slowly, slowly, the accretion of work and discipline, and the unexpected, will change you. Being curious, exploring along the way, testing things out, being willing to drop things that aren’t helpful or are blocking the way, accepting opportunities that arise, being spontaneous: these all make the slow and steady journey interesting. The goals, the end-points, those markers are going to change along the way, too. How fascinating is that?
Before. I was smiling, but feeling pretty anxious to get going.
After. Best feeling ever (well, right up there). It was a beautiful day for a run on country roads. Sunshine, breeze, birds chirping. I almost burst into tears at the beauty of it about three kilometres on. And I’m pretty sure I grinned the whole way. There were moments when it got hard, such as around 18k when I realized that I could probably finish in under two hours if I could keep up my pace. The last two hills took guts and slowed me down, and the final sprint to the finish could have been a bit more sprint-like, but it was pure joy to cross the finish line, to see my family waving and shouting, and hear my name on the loudspeaker, and see the time. My new personal best (okay, my only possible personal best), first half-marathon: 1:55. Yah. I’d do that again.
(If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty details, visit my triathlon-training blog).
He agreed to turn three. Briefly. On Monday evening, he was talked into being a big boy by his big brother, who regaled him with the many advantages thereof. In the morning, he held to the new age, telling me, in a whisper, that he was three. But when I asked him for a photo holding up three fingers he balked, frowned, and regressed. Not three, he decided. Still two.
Are the expectations too heavy, the demands of being three? I kind of get it, actually. It is scary to get older, to be asked to do more, to be given new responsibilities, to age.
As many of you know, I will be running my first half-marathon (that’s 21.5k) on Saturday. If you are interested in sponsoring me, here’s the info. Wish me luck. I’m starting to feel just a little bit nervous. Trying to keep this thought in my mind, as my focus: whatever time I get, as long as I finish the race, it will be my personal best.
Little wee writing thought to record for future use (I hope) … I’ve noticed that I write the good stuff, the inspired stuff, in small batches, often unexpectedly, though also often when I have the time to hang around and spiral slowly down deep. The corollary of that phenomenon is that I spend many a writing day fooling around, sitting around in front of the computer, slightly bored, not inspired, and writing nothing of any substance or use. (And I don’t mean blog entries, because I consider those relatively useful, and, even, occasionally, substantial). I mean, I write nothing of use. Period. Type, type, type, only to realize that a particular story or a particular take on a story is not meant to be; worse, that it isn’t a necessary story. It doesn’t long to be. (Though sometimes these ideas get recycled many years later). (So, maybe not useless, or not always useless).
Ahem. Nice circular thinking here, OCM. Very clear-headed at 10:41pm, after a good night run around the snowy neighbourhood.
My point. I had one. I want to give myself the freedom to do something else on those writing days of useless effort. Because the writing will get done–it gets done when a necessary story arises and must be told. It does. That’s how I write the keepers. Yet I feel guilty because only a few days each week are meant for writing, and I go to great effort and some expense to clear the house of children, in order to write. And then along comes a writing day when I’m not inspired, not at all. What the heck to do? Can I free myself of the guilt and …. and there my imagination pulls up short. And, what? Go for a walk or a run? To a yoga class? Play the piano? Read a book? Write a letter? It has to be something spontaneous, not planned, something flexible. It doesn’t have to be the same something every time, either. I’m terrified of losing my discipline; but maybe all this discipline is robbing me of experiences, of sources, of alternative creative outlets that could create connections in my mind; and it’s the connections that invent necessary stories.
Maybe there are some new year’s resolutions waiting for me after all. I am a generalist, and I wonder what it would feel like, what it would take, to be passionate about something more specific. Being a good writer is a fine and lovely thing, but being a good writer without a subject is futility itself. The book I’m writing has a very specific subject, and it’s occupied my mind for a number of years; and I’m seeing an end in sight. What comes next? What are my obsessions, my subjects, my loves?
Word of the year … I’ve got one; but I’m holding out for another post to share it. I don’t have that post in me tonight.
As we exit another Christmas season, I want to take time to note down, quickly, and for future reference, what worked for me this year: the rituals that held meaning, and why, and the little things that drew me into the magic of the holiday.
1. Cooking and baking. Yes, it’s a lot of work to make sticky buns fresh-baked for Christmas morning. And turkey dinner, and cookies, and treats, and all the rest of it. And I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing as my offering for the holiday.
2. Christmas eve service. This year, we attended an informal children’s service on Christmas eve. I’d been so busy all day with last-minute preparations that it was tempting to drop one thing off the list–and the service jumped to mind right away. No, I thought one beat later. And we went. And it was so lovely, and such a reminder of what Christmas celebrates, for many of us.
3. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I read this to the kids all in one gulp one evening leading up to Christmas. Everyone loved it. Of course, I cried at the end, and Fooey, perturbed, comforted me. This could be the beginning of an annual ritual.
4. The Christmas Story. Could it be Christmas without a viewing of that classic movie?
5. Songs. Getting to sing while my sister played piano, and one of my brothers played bass … for hours. Couldn’t be better. Even though it was nearly midnight, I wished we weren’t at the end of the songbook.
6. Music. The CBC played wonderful Christmas music all of Christmas day. I ate my first sticky bun to the Messiah. And I was peeling potatoes during the reading of the birth story, and found myself filling up with mystery and joy at the words of Luke 2:19: “And Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”
7. Ebb and flow. The best family events have a slowness to them, time to come together and drift and come back together again.
8. Gifts. I don’t know. It’s so much work. But I do love choosing gifts for family, and giving them. I prefer that the gifts aren’t the main focus of the event, but I do appreciate giving and receiving. I like making gifts, too. (And since my speciality is page design, photography, and writing, my children gave homemade gifts in that vein this year too: Albus made everyone a poster with a photo of one of his Star Wars Lego ships on it; and AppleApple wrote and touch-typed a new version of Noah’s Ark, and took photos to illustrate it using Playmobil figures; and then I laid them out, and my brother printed them at his press).
9. Not drinking too much. I didn’t. And I felt better for it.
10. Exercise. I managed to squeeze in the occasional run or yoga class, and always felt better for it.
11. Decorating the tree early! A month of Christmas.
12. Baking and delivering treats for neighbourhood friends.
Things we didn’t do, that I would like to do next year: daily advent calendar activities; a night lantern walk on solstice; decorating a tree outside for the birds; Christmas cards for family and friends (sorry, family and friends, it somehow did not happen this year!).
I also have a list of things that didn’t work … but that sounds like grousing. Now, today is my birthday, and I am celebrating by heading out for a few hours on my own. I look forward to a little time of uninterrupted reflection (she says, as her youngest climbs the stairs yelling, “Mommy where are you?”).
Sometimes it’s the smallest of changes that make room for a happier daily life; it’s also easy to forget the small changes, and assume that life has always been just like this. But as I puttered around my kitchen this morning, in the pre-dawn, I realized, no, life has not always been just like this. This would have seemed unthinkable a year ago. What’s changed?
1. Sunday night scheduling. Sounds dull. But how incredibly helpful it is to sit down with Kevin and discuss what’s on the menu (literally and figuratively) for the week ahead. I jot down meal ideas for each day. We plot out car use, and any blips in the routine. No longer am I stuck for meal ideas. And we find or make extra time.
2. Exercise. Guess what I do with my extra time? Some of it is spent going to yoga, or running. I am currently holding steady at two 90-minute yoga classes each week, and two 6-8km runs. This would be unthinkable were it not for advance planning. And because it’s scheduled out, I’m much less likely to skip the chance to go, knowing what I’d be sacrificing.
3. Date night. Part of our problem, typical of partners working and raising young children, is that we are often like two ships passing in the night (is that the phrase?). Kevin plays hockey and soccer, both fairly late at night. My yoga classes are over the supper hour, so on those days, he runs in the door, and I run out. I also schedule evening outings, occasionally, with my siblings, and, about once a week, with friends. So when do we get together to be ourselves and not just to talk about schedules and kids? Earlier this fall, we began booking a regular sitter, and committed to taking one evening a week just for the two of us. Marriage is for the long-haul. We need to stay connected beyond schedules and kids, because before we know it, it will just be the two of us rattling around our house, reminiscing about these crazy busy days.
4. Getting out of the house. This could have come first, actually. It’s a huge change for me, not really a small one. During my early years of motherhood, I was a hard-core stay-at-home mama. I could go months without leaving the kids for an evening (and, no, that is not an exaggeration). I wanted to do it all myself. I loved that time with them and did not resent it. But this new stage is good, too. I think the rule of thumb is: to thine own self be true. And know that part of being true is recognizing shifts and changes within one’s own self, as they happen. The kids have become so accustomed to me getting out of the house, without them, that it’s old hat. I kiss them goodbye, and they know and trust that I will come back. No drama. No fuss. (And no, it wasn’t always like that; and all the fuss and crying and drama made it so much harder to get out).
5. Nursery school. As a hard-core-stay-at-homer, I didn’t even consider nursery school for my oldest kids. I provided them with crafts, puzzles, baking projects, singing, playdates, regular trips to the library, park, Children’s museum, and swimming at the rec centre. But after eight years, or so, I was growing weary. I realized my interest and enthusiasm were flagging. Those two youngest were not getting the enriched childhood they deserved. Almost exactly a year ago, I landed on the idea of nursery school. It was a HUGE leap for me. CJ started a year ago in January, one morning a week, which by April I’d upped to two mornings. And this September, I cheerfully threw him into three mornings a week. I would consider sending him daily next September when Fooey heads off to first grade. (She’s also gotten to tag along to the nursery school experience, going every other Friday when she’s not at kindergarten). And here’s the thing: CJ loves it. I’m not saying the older kids were deprived. But I would be the last to judge or criticize either version of early childhood: either/both can work.
6. Spirit. My word for this year. Bless that word. I don’t know whether I would have necessarily turned down experiences were it not for that word (turning down experiences is not in my nature), but I may not have sought out so many experiences related to the spirit. I don’t know why I need permission or nudging to move me in certain directions. Maybe I don’t. But I like having projects. Especially projects that spread over a long period of time, and require regular attention. The 365-project falls into that category. As I approach this solstice season, and Christmas, and my birthday, and the coming new year, I want to take time to reflect on the projects ahead: small and big, new and old. What word will come to define this year?
7. Confidence. As I walked past my own reflection in storefront windows yesterday evening, I realized my self looked unfamiliar to me: older, probably. I looked like a grownup woman, occupied, on her way somewhere. And I thought to myself, how interesting that as I grow older, I am becoming more and more known to myself on the inside, while on the outside, I know myself less and less. Maybe that isn’t entirely true, given the 365-project. Or maybe it’s just this: the outside seems to matter less. I’d like to believe that who I am shines through, and always will, no matter how much I change on the outside.
8. Portfolios. One last small change. This brilliant, brilliant, brilliant idea, which I may have mentioned before, came from friends of ours, who split up the household tasks, and call them “portfolios.” Bathroom cleaning would be an example of a portfolio. Dentist. School lunches. Kevin has taken over those last two portfolios, and what a difference it’s made in my life (and maybe in his, too).
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