Stasis and momentum.
Slept in this morning. Did not enjoy it. Wondered: should I be setting my alarm and rising at 5am every morning?
Have meant to go for a run all day. I am finally dressed in running gear. Still feeling resistant. Why? Because I know it will be hard. “Get your head right”: something the spin instructor says, for which I am occasionally resentful. I don’t want to. Why don’t I want to, when I know it will make me feel better?
Because it’s hard. Because I’ve been hanging around all day, taking the day off, a little holiday, relaxing. Put all of those into quotation marks. “Hanging around.” I’m lousy at hanging around! “Relaxing.” I’ve cleaned both bathrooms and vacuumed! How to relax? Maybe I’ve forgotten? Maybe relaxing feels like stasis to me. Or I’ve mixed the two up in my head.
And I crave momentum.
In my head, I’m lying on a picnic blanket in the sunshine surrounded by my children. In reality I’d be digging up the weeds. (Plus, it’s too chilly out there, despite the sunshine, for picnics.) Okay, in reality, I’m heading out for a run in the cool sunshine. I don’t know if it counts as relaxing, but I’m doing it. Right now.
P.S. I’m back from that run. I feel amazing! (As predicted). It was hard! (Also as predicted). But I ran 7.5km in 34 minutes flat. Here’s what I heard a kid in the park ask his dad as I ran past: “How fast is she going?!”
I had a happy fantasy around the sixth kilometre. I thought that I would like to take a year, some while in the future, and train five or six hours a day — and run an ultramarathon. It wouldn’t serve any particular purpose. I’d do it just because I want to. (Is that a good reason to do something?)
The girls made cupcakes.
We used my Grandma’s mixmaster.
This was the hardest part …
… filling the cupcake papers as evenly as possible.
Waiting for the buzzer.
No photos of the decorating and sprinkle and icing-sugar frenzy that followed. And actually, I lied. The hardest part was getting the two girls to agree on a baking project they could do together. I did not chronicle the frustration, the multiple cookbooks consulted, the wishing we had special ingredients, the frustration, the accusations, the tears, or the way we’d almost given up on the idea when suddenly I came across a cake mix in the cupboard. Yes, these are cupcakes made from a mix. But who cares. We did it. They did it. And that made my heart glad.
Playing wii at Grandma’s.
My heart got even gladder when I dropped the kids off at Grandma’s house for an overnight extravaganza. Unexpectedly, plans shifted, and I suddenly had 21 consecutive hours completely to myself with nothing particular to do. Nowhere particular to be. No one else’s interests or needs to consider. Can you imagine? What would you do?
Here’s what I did.
I went to yoga and laid in shavasana for as long as I wanted. I took food to some sick friends. I ran in the park. I played the piano and sang. I went out for sushi and to a silly movie with a friend. I invited my siblings over for a drink on a whim (an after-midnight whim, no less). I slept in. And then I got up and behaved responsibly and cleaned up the sprinkle/icing-sugar frenzy, vacuumed, washed dishes, and listened to the radio without interruption, enjoying particularly the conversation on The Sunday Edition about the Canadian publishing industry. And then time was up. And that was just fine. Because I felt so much better.
1. Giving away food. On Tuesday afternoon I cooked a giant pot of pasta sauce using my home-canned tomatoes. We ate some for supper and I froze three containers. And then along came Friday, a beast of a day; the worst of it was not what was happening, but how I felt I was handling what was happening. Performing poorly all around; know the feeling? By the time 3pm arrived, I was feeling downright down. And then an opportunity presented itself: to provide not one, but TWO meals to families in need of a little extra help. And I had these containers of frozen pasta sauce, plus lots of extra pasta on hand. It was the best part of my day, I’ll tell you honestly. Packing up food and giving it away. A reminder that being asked to help is a real gift, not to be taken for granted.
2. One good run. I ran super-fast on Friday night. My leg didn’t trouble me, and I covered ground quickly: 6km in under half an hour, at a pace of better than 5 minutes/km. Speedy! As speedy as I’ve ever run. In truth, it was probably too much, too soon, because yesterday afternoon’s follow-up run was slow and pained; good news tempered by bad. But at least I know speed is still there, waiting for me; and I feel certain that if I can retrain my muscles, I will be able to run faster than before. Plus just being outside, no matter how chilly, is a small good thing in itself.
3. Downtime. Friday night, Kevin and I finally spent some time together, just the two of us. And thankfully we both wanted the same thing: to rest our weary minds. So he made us each a martini with big juicy olives, and we vegged on the couch and watched Downton Abbey. An ahhhhh, thank you, Life, moment.
4. A nice review in the Montreal Gazette this weekend. A couple of really lovely things about this review. a) The reviewer remembers Hair Hat, which he read eight years ago; it stayed with him. b) He’s rooting for Juliet: “It will be interesting to see how this book, at least as mature and powerful as several recent major award winners, performs in the marketplace.” He’s rooting, but he knows the reality. Juliet is one in a crowd. Will she break out and be found? He thinks she has a chance, if people pick her up and read her. (Is it weird that I’ve started referring to the book as if it were a person? Hm. I’m just going to file that observation away rather than subject it to analysis.)
I had another physio appointment this morning. It’s hard work retraining these muscles. My physio says she expects it to take another four weeks of work (and that means daily exercising at home too) before I can run without pain. And only when I’m running without pain will she begin to address some of the more technical problems with my stride. I’m grateful to be running again, if only for 20 to 30 slow-paced minutes a couple of times a week; but I’m frustrated by not being able to push harder, to run faster, to challenge myself at the pace and speed and distance that I could just a few months ago.
So I feel in between. Very much in between. In a kind of quiet zone I’d never planned to visit let alone linger in.
It occurred to me this morning that I’m in a similar place with my writing. Last year I worked so hard on the specific project of Juliet. In parallel, I worked so hard to become a long distance runner and triathlete. I achieved both goals. And then I fell into this in between zone. And I’m lingering. And I’m impatient. And I’m anxious to get training and working hard again.
For my writing, the in between zone is the launching of the book. It’s done. It’s ready. Here is its chance to enter the world and sink or swim on its merits. I feel a great responsibility toward it, and toward those years of effort. I want to help it find its way. It’s my job, too, to spread the word, to share the words. And that takes time. And mental energy. And painstaking work that feels a little bit like those strength exercises I’m doing every day now. Tiny repetitive muscle motions that are much harder to do than it would appear.
What I hope for, with both of these lingering lulls, is to emerge on the other side stronger and fitter, with muscles retrained and fresh ideas gained and the pent-up angst of a forced rest period channelled into positive energy and drive. Writing a book and training for a marathon are similar exercises. Both require intense commitment to a goal, and the ability to keep working toward that goal even on off days, even when the point of the goal feels temporarily lost. Will this forced wait renew my commitment? Return me afresh to work that can seem, at times, tedious and interior?
I don’t know for sure. But I can hope.
Run, run, as fast as you can. That snippet of verse is in my head, running too.
I ran this morning. I lost track of the time and we ran for forty minutes. A bit over my limit of 10-15, but my hip felt okay. Not perfect, but okay. Then I went to my physio appointment where we looked at video of me running on the treadmill last week. Fascinating. To see my stride slowed down. To see my right foot turning out on every strike, and my hip drop at the foot lifts (both sides). “Wow, my calf muscles look so strong!” I said.
Apparently there’s a reason for that. My very strong calf muscles have been providing the lift for my stride rather than the much larger glutes, which should be engaged to a far greater degree. It may not even be a weakness in the muscle, but a habit formed. I will need to teach my body to use different strengths.
I have a brand-new mantra. It’s very small.
Exercise every day.
Doesn’t matter what. Just so long as every day I do something. This injury has opened to door to new activities. So maybe I do my strengthening exercises after a short run. Or try a Pilates class. A recent article in the Globe and Mail reported on a rather remarkable study of 40-year-old to 80-year-old triathletes. The difference in muscle tone and size was virtually indistinguishable between the 40-year-old athlete and the 70-year-old athlete. A sedentary 70-year-old, on the other hand, had significant decreases in muscle mass and increases in fat tissue around the shrunken muscles. The exercise needed to be four to five times a week, and needed to involve the entire body: cardio, strength training, and weight-bearing exercise in equal measure. The message is not eternal youth, in my mind. It’s that we can and should use our bodies all the days of our life.
Rather than focusing on injury, I’m going to focus on ability. If I can learn how to swim at age 35, I can learn how to retrain my running muscles at age 37. I’m confident.
And I’m running late. Again. Run, run, as fast as you can.
This was meant to be a post about our Family Day hot-yoga-in-the-living-room experience, wherein we turned our living-room into a hot yoga room using steam, a heater, and sunshine. Photo above. Family Day at our house has translated into “Do Everything Together Day.” I struggled a little bit with this notion, but I was the only one. I tried not to be a spoil-sport. And slipped away to my office for a few breaths alone only a few times …
my view, bedtime
I’ve been reading A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh to the kids before bed. Lights have to be out by 8:30 in the little kids’ room, so some nights that means we don’t get much read. When the big kids were little, we read through the classics before bedtime: the Little House on the Prairie series, Charlotte’s Web, Roald Dahl, some Narnia Chronicles, the entire Harry Potter series (Kev read those to the kids), Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and more I may be forgetting. The little kids are now getting old enough to hear these stories too, but our schedules are so different just a few years on. Evenings have shrunk to make time for extracurricular activities. Sometimes bedtime rituals amount to little more than toothbrushing and tucking in. Lights out.
So when I picked up Winnie the Pooh a few weeks ago, it seemed like the bare minimum. The bar was set pretty low. What I’ve seen is how all the kids crave this time. Crave being read to. It started with the two littlest. The older ones were just passing by in the hallway when they heard laughter: “What’s going on in here?” Room was made in the bunks for them too.
When I looked up from the page last night I saw the most beautiful picture. The photos do not do the scene justice. CJ likes to lie facing me, hands holding chin. Albus brought homework, listening in with one ear. AppleApple was giddy with laughter. Fooey was half-asleep, content and warm under the blankets.
“What time does the clock say?” I ask the kids, and one of them will usually tell me honestly. At 8:30 the last paragraph gets read, the page turned down, the book set aside. Lights out. When we’re done with Pooh, I will pick out another book, for sure.
Aside: Albus is bored with the books he’s been reading and re-reading, and I want to tweak his interest again. Any suggestions? He’s ten and a half and capable of reading quite complex chapter books.
Today I spent an hour at physio, working on strengthening exercises. I also ran on a treadmill for 8 minutes and oh my goodness how I wished it were longer. But I’m supposed to continue doing what I’ve been doing — slow, short runs — for another week.
Today I did not get up early for a swim. I read for an extra hour last night, and slept for an extra two hours this morning (7am versus 5am; makes a big difference). While I regretted not starting the day with momentum, I need to get work done, and with physio knew I’d be hard-pressed to squeeze in a nap too. Brain must function.
Yesterday, I read this post from the Afterword on the fraught business of publicizing one’s book, by fellow Anansi author Robert Hough (and now I must read his new book!). Today I am working on posts for the same venue, to run next month. Topics are wide open, which is rather daunting.
Also, today, I am thinking about the time I have to write. The actual literal time that is available to me. Next year CJ starts kindergarten. But it won’t change my life very much. Except for Tuesday afternoons when the two of us are home together, he is either in nursery school (mornings) or with a caregiver (afternoons until 3pm). My work day ends at 3pm. That will change very little when school starts, or going forward for years to come. The school day is really very short. Several afternoons a week, I pick the kids up for after-school activities that require me to organize and ferry them around (swim lessons; piano lessons). On the other afternoons, perhaps I could shut my office door, lay out snacks, and let the kids fend for themselves until 5pm, in order to gain a full working day, but … would that work? Here’s the thing: by 3pm I’m revved up and working well creatively. It’s painful to shut it down at that moment, day after day. Starting earlier is not an option, not if I want to work out before dawn and see the kids off to school.
How do people work full-time? How? I want to know. I want to be able to do it too. I’m sensing there are no easy answers, just more compromises. So I will count my blessings and be grateful for the time I’ve carved out. (This is worthy of a larger post. When I finish the biography of Mordecai Richler, which I continue to read as if mining for hints and clues to writerly success, I will get to that larger post.)