Sometimes I forget. I forget what it is that feeds my soul, that makes me shine, that brings out my light. But lately, lately it is all that I can remember and it is these memories that are shaping my new realities, my new ways of moving through the world, moving through myself.
I shine when I am happy and I am happiest when I am fully in my body, aware of all the sensations, interacting with the truest part of the world, the earth and all its delights. I can live too much in my mind and living in the mind is not necessarily a wrong way to live but I can take it too far especially when I have had so many experiences that made it easy for me to disassociate from my body, made me want to disconnect from my body, things like being violated against my will, giving birth to twins that died and blaming my body for not being able to keep them safe, you know that sort of thing. I clung to these words for the longest time,
“It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinions, it is because they only know their side of the question.” (John Stuart Mill).
Following the Greatest Happiness Principle, I could justify my pleasures of the mind, my appreciation for my bookworm tendancies, for artistic endeavours over any sort of bodily pleasure. But really, deep down, I knew better. And I am not going to get into Descartes’ Mind-Body Dualism or the Mind-Body Problem because this is not a dissertation. This is a realization that I have had since I started training.
My body is a crucial part of who I am. The ways in which my mind and my body interact are meaningful and together they shape me, who I am and how I am and how I feel and so on and so forth. When I was 7, my sister was born and when she was born, she had a seizure which scarred a part of her brain and left her with cerebral palsy and not a mild form. Of course this affected who she was and how she moved through the world and not necessarily in a bad way. She was love and light and all things beautiful (I say was because she died at the age of 27) and that is because she was loved, very much so but all who knew her. She was never able to walk, to feed herself, to talk with words in strung out sentences, to do any of the things that I take for granted on a daily basis. She needed 24/7 care and our family and friends and loved ones ensured she had that and more up until the day she died. Her life was often filled with pain but it had so much beauty to compensate for that. She had a good life. But this isn’t about her, it is about me and I think because of growing up with her, I tended to have a love-hate affair with my body, which is to say, I appreciated it and was always incredibly grateful for my abilities but at the same time, I suffered a great deal of guilt over the fact that I was healthy.
And as these photographs that I recently came across show, even prior to my sister being born, I was more than happy to slop around in the mud. In fact I was quite ecstatic about it. Clearly I was not ever a girly girl though I do also like many girly girl pastimes. We are all so much more complicated than even a single shade of grey. I am the girl in the piggy tails, obviously. And no, that is not at the beach but rather a mud pit in a playground, the result of a long rainstorm.
I have no idea who the other kids in this photograph are her than the cute little boy sitting next to the girl holding the crying baby. He is my brother. Clearly, I didn’t want to sit still for this photo, “Take the damn picture and let me back in the mud please!”
Before I even started triathlon training, I took stock of how I wanted to approach it. In 2009, I took a learn to run clinic in the hopes that running would help me lose weight. It didn’t. And I believe that is because I went into it with a bad attitude. I was still grieving, lamenting the pregnancy and grief weight gain and I hated running. Hated it. It was hard and I hated it. I did run a 5 k that year but it was painful and I was slow, chugging and breathing hard, shin splints and after the race, I never ran again. Well until this year.
I wanted it to be different this time. And it already was because I wasn’t doing it to lose weight, not at all. I had already lost a lot of weight and I didn’t really care about that anymore. I was no longer grieving and I thought I was embodied again. As it turns out I was wrong about that but I didn’t realize that part of it until I started deep into my training and discovered what it was to actually be embodied.
embodied. In philosophy, the embodied mind thesis holds that the nature of the human mind is largely determined by the form of the human body. Philosophers, psychologists, cognitive scientists, and artificial intelligence researchers who study embodied cognition and the embodied mind argue that all aspects of cognition are shaped by aspects of the body. The aspects of cognition include high level mental constructs (such as concepts and categories) and human performance on various cognitive tasks (such as reasoning or judgment). The aspects of the body include the motor system, the perceptual system, the body’s interactions with the environment (situatedness) and the ontological assumptions about the world that are built into the body and the brain. (wikipedia)
I wanted it to be fun. I did a lot of visualization before I even strapped on my running shoes. I remembered playing Tag, Bloody Murder, Kick the Can, Sardines and such when I was a kid and remembered what it felt like to run and scream and laugh, my hair flying behind me as my feet danced over the streets and large fields of dandelion green grass. I remembered running up and down the white sand beach of my lake and biking all over town, racing to keep up with my dad, skidding on my face bloody knees when I would fall over a rock until the day that my dad finally let me bicycle out to my grandfather’s ranch with him and my uncles and how that felt like the greatest day of my life (it was a very long ride for kid (40 km) down gravel roads on a road bike because no one had mountain bikes back then). Swimming was easier to visualize, I had always loved swimming from the time I tipped my toes and then threw my whole body into the lake (when I was barely walking) to the years and years of competative swimming, lifeguarding, teaching lessons and coaching. I didn’t really need to spend much time visualizing my love of swimming, it was firmly entrenched.
I guess I wanted it to feel like playing in the mud. And it did. And it does. Not always, there are really hard days when it feels like work but a good 80% of the time, it feels like I am out there playing with a big ol goofy smile on my face. And reconnecting to my inner mudgirl, that in and of itself makes this journey I am on already worth everything. to me.
April 1st is the birthday of my Poppa, my Grumpy, my Grandpa. So today felt like a good day to finally get around to posting this. I wrote it almost 2 years ago and when I came here to blog, today, I saw it saved in draft form, found sometime last November in the archives of my hard-drive. So, yeah, I guess a double post on my first day back to blogging. On April Fool’s day. No joke.
They came to Canada, crossing that imaginary border, a fire in their belly for a land that had yet to be worked over by too many hands. My grandpa, born in Idaho, moved to the shores of Slave Lake when he could barely toddle around on legs soon made strong by crisscrossing the bush with traps while drilling holes into the frozen lake ice of winter, small hands grasping the eyeballs of inquisitive fish. My granddad, born in Missouri, eight years before my birth, packed up my grandma and seven kids moving across the land until he found himself in a valley of towering trees, muskeg and papery thin birch. He made camp by the river, water flowing from the lake that holds softly the roots of my truth.
My grandpa was a boxer. He also won an arm wrestling championship when he was in his sixties. I watched him standing beside this much taller, 30 years his junior, muscled up man as the organizers handed out trophies. Beside that second place winner, my grandfather looked small, old and fragile. This man, who would fight a grizzly bear for a moose, who knew his way through the bush and across the lake and around the winding spaces of my granny, looked unimaginably fragile to me. The first time my grandpa put boxing gloves on me, I felt awkward and unstable and in need of protection as though wearing the gloves made me less invincible, more vulnerable.
My little town had far more boys than girls, young men working the oil rigs and cutting back trees rooted deeply in rough-hewn hands and the promise of freedom. I was the only girl in a sea of boy cousins yearning for the swirl of a pink frothy dress hiding behind a spunky, feisty attitude fueled by the red neck anger of something I didn’t yet understand, the clinging hands of poverty. I wore it in darkly drawn on eyeliner and big black boots topped off with a sullen scowl and bright orange hair, a splattering of freckles across the bridge of a broken nose, invisible boxing gloves not quite hiding ragged fingernails.
I watched the orange glow of the fire as I tipped the bottle and felt the burn of vodka, music floating over me as the trees towered above. One of the ever changing bush party sites was a campsite directly across the river from my granddad’s farm, black angus breathing out snot and snorts, stomping the earth. By the time I was old enough to party at the site known only by his last name, he had long since died.
When I was 12, my granddad died quite suddenly of a brain aneurysm. It was my first experience with death, so different from my son who, by the age of 12, had watched his great grandpa; aunt; and two brothers die. It was unexpected and brutal as death often is. My mother told us he was at the hospital as we drove out to the farm and in my head, I knew he was dead. We pulled up alongside the river, drove up the long driveway parking in front of the white picket fence, incongruous from the sturdy buildings and knotty wire fences separating the pastures filled with drying cow pies. I sat on the light blue velvet cushions of the van, sweating in the beating heat of all those windows, in the knowing and I could see him – a battered cowboy hat, scuffed boots, strumming his guitar, fingers cracked and dry from wrangling the bull and birthing the baby calf, blue eyes staring down the moon.
Vodka hit my brain, warm waves hovering above the lick of orange flame and shadow illuminations beneath the fuzzy stars of “I love you man.” I watched the stars, separating myself from the drunken laughter, the endless conversation but I could feel the collective pull as chalky smoke drifted up from across the river. A larger fire, bright orange ribbons dancing, distracting from the wooden pallet campfire at my feet. Young men, drunken sways in the night air, stumbled over themselves, over the bridge, weaving towards the shape of my uncle, begging to help, to be of some service. Stars collided with the knowing. It was a normal burn, controlled and necessary. I wondered where were those helpers at that other party, under the towering jack pines, soft spongy ground coated with white sand icing as I lost my virginity, torn open under a full moon, pine needles sticking into my ass like an acupuncture I didn’t ask for, screams lost to the howls of the owl, the fire crackle too far away to see, drunken laughter splayed in the distance. The boys were busy doing what boys do, tending the fire.
I rode my bicycle with streamers on the handlebars, staring up at the bright blue sky as the fire bomber planes soaked trails behind them. My grandpa tugged my pigtails reassuringly in the sunlight of his driveway swept clean of pine needles and bits of soft sandy dust and I was reassured that the fire was out there and towns didn’t burn the way that the bush was prone to. I promised him, that last time, hollowed out cheeks laid white against the hospital sheets, that I would quit smoking, the burning ember flickering between my fingers, smoke rings blown out.
When the fires hit my home town this spring there was a shattering. My parents had been visiting for the weekend, back yard barbecues and greenhouse shopping. Flowers and seedlings lined my patio waiting to be planted into the fresh spring earth. They were on their way home when my phone began its incessant buzzing and sometime after midnight, we opened the door to their weary faces, tired eyes.
The summer following the fire, I walked through the town where I grew up and saw the devastation, burned out vehicles piled high on top of each other next to blocks of emptiness, piles of rubble sitting next to a sunflower patch, face turned towards the sun, smiling as though it had never happened. Even though I had heard the stories and saw the photographs, it was still jarring to see, to feel my memories eroding and changing and I wondered at the memories cleared away, razed down in a blackened fight of smoke and flame.
There was no one left to tug my pigtails reassuringly as I admired the poppies in my mom’s front beds, her lawn grass green. I tried to imagine the smoke so thick that my uncle could barely make it down the street, floating embers landing on concrete as he rescued their dog shaking in the farthest reaches of the darkest corner. I looked over at my grandpa’s pretty wood slated house, spared from the fire that took out blocks of houses in seemingly random disorder. I always found it hard to believe that the house started its life as two skid shacks pushed together and that my granny left a perfectly good hospital to trudge miles through the snow to give birth to my father in the cold of winter’s night in what became the kitchen where I learned to bake bread. The house had been sold years before and when the new owner gutted it, he proudly walked me through the rooms pointing out the new features and I took a Polaroid photograph of the faded linoleum that my grandfather installed for my granny when I was still able to reach up and pluck the mints out of his front pocket, white peppermints that cleared his throat during the long days at the lumber mill.
Fire is a fierce and powerful force fueled by wind, the summer storm of lightning strikes and cigarettes carelessly thrown out of cars moving as fast as the conversations that threaten Bambi and the field mice scurrying across the jack pine floor. Dead and old trees are burned to make way for the dense green of the new. There are pine trees that need the heat of fire to open up their cones, to create the seeds that repopulate.
I wandered along the ridges of the beach road, the sun dipping into the lake, blackened trees reflecting her light even as fresh new green swished in bright tutu layers and I breathed in the clearing of space.
A fire rips through me and sparks out of my fingertips as I clear away the dust and debris, the interfering clutter, the frayed edges of my boxing gloves held together by a thin band of leather string. The fire is burning away the last of the deadened branches and cracking open pods, releasing new, soft seeds and I look down and smooth my fresh new green skirt.
And high above the bright lights of the city glow … I watch the stars, the grandfathers tending to the glittering fire.
Sometime in early December 2013, I chose a word as I always do and every single year that I have done so, I find myself surprised by the direction my life goes. Perhaps my subconscious knows a little bit more about what I need than my conscious self.
I chose “awake”.
Because I felt at the time that I had been curled inwards sleeping for a couple of years now. That is my perception and my perception is often skewed so I take it with a grain of salt. I wasn’t really sleeping per say but I had been focused on what was exactly in front of me, figuring out this new life with a son that was grown and again finding myself with a lack of friends who were in my particular situation. When I had my son, I was the only person I knew who had a baby and now I know so many people with babies or children but no one who was on the brink and in the ‘empty nest syndrome’. So I rearranged my house, cleaned my garage, continued the ever ongoing landscape/gardening/outdoor beautification projects; remodeled and decorated my basement; concentrated on work; adopted a rescue dog who has enriched my life beyond belief (in 2013, my word was enrich and said dog came into our lives mere weeks into 2013); embarked on a crazy assed budget which altered the way I spend money and consequently altered my lifestyle (and also brought my shoulders down because saving for a future and getting a grip on finances is a real stress reliever) and spent a lot of time just walking around my neighbourhood and breathing into my solitary thoughts.
Life is good and when I chose the word ‘awake’, I thought I would re-enter my creative life even if I wasn’t sure what form that would take, would I pick up my cameras again? Would I start writing again? Would I play with the shelves and buckets of art supplies? No clue. As it turns out, this new creative journey that I have embarked on looks nothing like I thought it would.
Since 2011, the weight that had continually spiralled upwards since the pregnancy and death of my twins, suddenly started melting off me. I still have no idea why, not really. Perhaps because I was shedding the pain and grief, time has a way of getting you through. I knew that I was no longer depressed or manically happy and then manically angry and then manically sad. My emotions had leveled and my life was quiet. I shedded a lot of my commitments along with the weight and I pretty much just felt lighter all the way around. While I had lost a lot of weight, perspective is everything and while I was lighter, I was still heavier than I had been for most of my life.
And then. One night about a week before Christmas, my son texted me about his working out and seemingly out of the blue asked, “Do you want to do a triathlon with me this spring/summer?” And I instantly typed back, “yes. I am in”.
And then I woke up. Turned to my husband the next morning and asked, “good grief, did I really say yes to that?” I had. Here I was a newly turned 45 year old woman who had done zero exercising other than hooping since 2009. I walked a lot. That was it. And I was still a good 35-40 pounds overweight even with all the weight loss.
On January 1, 2014, I laced up my running shoes, layered up and went for the first run I had attempted in almost 5 years. I did a combination of run/walk obviously but I went for 30 minutes and it felt almost good. Almost. Mostly it felt hard and I wondered, could I really do this? I had no idea. But I was going to find out I suppose.
I celebrated (well I didn’t actually celebrate at all, in fact I completely missed it) my 10 year blog anniversary last July (2013) and then save for a couple of blog posts here and there pretty much stopped blogging and nothing at all in 2014 up until today. It isn’t even that I have nothing to say but how to write when you are in the deep change, the deepest change. But I sort of miss coming here and I realized that I want to sort of document this new journey of mine that may seem like it is about completing an Ironman before I turn 50 but is really about so much more or at least that is what I have realized in the 3 months that I have been training.
So this is the sort bare bones of the backstory. There really is so much more to it and I am going to attempt to come here more regularly so that I can get it all out for myself, for anyone who might be interested. I have been googling a lot triathlon blog stories and reading a lot of books about people who run marathons or ultramarathons or triathlons and I find it both incredibly inspirational as well as interesting to read about the personalities and backstories of those who embark upon this sort of crazy and there is no doubt in my mind that it is a little bit crazy, mad even while at the same time making more sense than anything else in my rambling life.
yesterday it was snowing snowing snowing and so i donned my skipants, my long feather puffy grandma coat, a scarf and a toque and sheepskin lined boots and went for a walk into the frosty air because the cold and snow gives me cabin fever and i thought a walk would do me good.
i pulled out my phone in the alley to snap a photo when this black truck came down and stopped beside me. in the truck sat a man with a bruised and stitched up face. he introduced himself. we shook hands. he told me he fell off the roof. i imagine he was clearing the snow because we have had a lot of it. he said the red berries against the white sky that i was capturing were beautiful and that life was beautiful.
then his broken face broke into the biggest grin and he said he got engaged over christmas. to a cree woman. she has 7 kids and he has 3. 10 kids between them. he said that is the beauty of life. then he wished me merry christmas and happy new year and said, keep capturing beauty, that is what life is about. and off he went.
a shining face bruised and splintered in the white endless drifts of snow.
and i was grateful for the short walk through the white snow, bruised red berries against a white sky.
and the flakes continue to drop
star sparkled and stark like the bones beneath fragile faded skin
of the smoothed skin child that grows into the soft fragile vein
and of the ones that die against your strong heart
and another northern winter
gloves and pulled hair caught in zippers icy grip
stamp of boots
slide of car tire
that there is only one choice, to be
hearty and strong
chapped lips and ice dripped lashes
rosy cheeks lashed by the whip of her howl
and your howl wells up and
answers the call
These days it is the small simple things that bring me comfort, a hot cup of coffee that started with the careful grind of whole beans, the smell wafting up around me before the water is perculated and a pumpkin cream cheese muffin that brings me back to baking the pumpkin and scooping out the meat and blending up the ingrediants to bake again, the warmth of the heated oven and a good book’s words swimming in the fragrant air.
There are so many things in my day to day life that I have no control over ranging from the dip in temperature and light, the actions of other people, the lies manufactured by a society that sometimes leans too far into the darkness for me to comprehend emotionally and so I hold fast to those simple things that I can affect, how I spend my spare moments, how I chose to eat and live and spend my left over hard earned dollars, who I listen to, how I move in the world, how I react to who I have to listen to, to read and discuss life with along with the careful words I chose to identify with my self.
There is a fragility that exists alongside the strength that pours down the spine of this life, this living and I have fully begun to realize that the small and simple things are not so small and simple afterall, they are the strong thread that ties me to my choices, to the core of myself.
where have the past two months flown in drifting colours and leaves raked up again and again and that first frost and that first snow against a grey sky turned pale blue. and where was i during it all reveling in soup’s bubble and the draining of the garden heated and then put under the artificial frost of the freezer. words pouring over me embedding themselves across my skin and revealing themselves to my heart. the strings plucked and the last corners licked in an amazed slather of colour and light.
where have the past two years flown in changes underneath my skin pricked and poked and woken up again and again until i can’t remember what it was to be numb. even though i was for such a long time. but when i read through the pages documented, it doesn’t show at all and the blank spaces reveal the oddity of where i have been most alive.
my blog contradicts my life so acutely that i wonder what is real and what is make believe. and i see her and remember her and what it was like to be her but i am no longer her, not at all, only in the memories that brought me back to me. right here. right now.
and really that is all there is at the end of the day.
during the past two years, i have sorted and organized and painted and built and cleaned and re-organized and somehow it all came together and became a life. the work is never done but that work, that work is done. the learning how to live after the shattering, that work is done. and i find myself opening the door tentatively which is a new thing, a new way that i now move through the world. the insecure jump of a shattered life is over replaced by this need to move slowly backed up by a confidence that i never knew existed in this old body of mine. next steps are careful and slow, a snail that eventually gets to where she is going and you can follow the wet trail through the garden if you look closely enough. there are no loud proclamations, no banging and tears cry look at me, a softness that is angled waiting and watching and living in the motions of quiet work.
i am quietly working and quietly living and quietly shining
in my little corner of the universe. and it is good.
I wrote this whole post to go along with this photo. and then I hit publish. And then it was gone. Just like that. And I have no idea why but I was writing about those perfect moments and there was a line which I really liked and I cannot seem to pull it back out of my brain. Something about the way the light caught in my throat but that wasn’t it, not at all. It might drive me crazy because it was a pretty sentence and I couldn’t help but admire it for a moment but not long enough to capture anything about it but the emotion, not long enough to capture it within the hazy maze of my memory.
And now, I am too tired to try and recreate the sentences that flowed out of me like water drifting over a rain gutter during a fresh summer storm. And I suppose it means, I shouldn’t write about the fleetingness of perfection, of light and of how tending my garden teaches me about me. Or maybe it means that I shouldn’t grow attached to those moments but just appreciate them for what they are much like I shouldn’t grow attached to the words that drain from me and I should let them find their own way, soaked into the soil’s fertile moistness, seeds for something else, a different kind of beauty. A beauty that rises up to meet the late august sun as I fumble around, sleepy eyed, rushing off to start a day but stopping briefly to capture a beauty that causes my soul to gasp in wonder.
The reminders are everywhere, heavy in the deep green of deep summer even, the reminder that everything is fleeting. I need to hold on to that this next year and really for the next few, maybe for the rest of the years that I have on this earth. A reminder to really be in those moments of perfect joy and excitement, to hold the feelings of that with reverance because they are fleeting. A reminder that the hard emotions are also fleeting and maybe they deserve their own reverance, their own careful sacred holding because those painful emotions have their own lessons, their own reminder that I am alive.
And the seasons are in constant flux. I see the changes, the growth and the death always in motion. and I am part of those seasons. I am alive and changing, constantly in flux, slowly dying even as I live deeply.
light and dark and lazy days of gin tonics take up residence in the sky and i am content even as i flounder
back and forth
between the light and the dark.
is everything and nothing.
bills mount and repairs on my old house feel endless, a clinking of dollars floating out of my grasp. and the sun shines. and the rains deluge. and snow is foreshadowed in the plump green of the trees. i cut my finger slicing an onion and juice runs red from the freshly plucked tomato still warmed from the sun.
and i stare at the sky. poke my brush into paint and colour the sky across my walls. and i wander in my head sometimes smiling at the ease of my interactions and sometimes wanting to run screaming into solitude at the pain of my interactions.
and i stare at the sky.
wondering where peace resides even as i know that it is a subtle swing, a lightning bolt and a resounding clash of grumbling thunder. a release. a warming. a simmering below the surface. a hug of love. a word of anger. a mistake. a loss. a fault line through the fertile earth. a weed that has taken over the orderly dissarray of blooms. a wish in my soul bloodied by the last article i read relegating me back to the fear.
and we walk this earth for such a finite time, the skies infinitely just a gaze away.