This is not just about a marathon

I’ve been talking with my therapist about my body a lot lately. I’ve been questioning my right to take up space, my ability to feel beautiful, and my inherent worth outside of my corporal form. These things have resulted in a lot of stress and uncharacteristic obsessive behaviors over my “health and fitness.” The most ironic thing is, I signed up for a marathon before any negative feelings had surfaced.

I trained really hard—probably too hard—to prepare for the most challenging thing I could think of. In the middle of training, I felt that I had to do everything possible to be fully ready to run that far. In hindsight, I know I trained so hard because I didn’t believe that I could really finish—or that I deserved to.

Ugly doubts manifested themselves after I started dealing with some knee pain on an easy day just a few weeks out from the race. I felt defeated. I had done everything to prepare but had gotten myself injured. Because I completely considered myself an imposter, I did not rest properly and continued to push my knee more than was helpful. I was so concerned that my body would not be a “marathoner’s” body by the time my race came that I spent time swimming laps, doing yoga, and trying to run a mile or two all in a day. The result was a lot of tears and finally being forced to take a full week off before the race.

Although the course was harder than I had expected and I was in more pain than ever, I finished the marathon in 6 hours and 27 minutes. Running the race was an incredible and individual experience, but the aftermath was even more curious. I spent the weekend believing that I deserved to take up space. I did not feel critical of my body one time. I felt like I was worthy of whatever good thing came my way. The crazy thing is, I was still essentially the same person as I was before the race. I had just done something so monumental and challenging in my eyes that I decided to give myself permission to live a few days feeling worthy. It was all up to me in the first place.

I’m always learning that as humans, we are more than what we do. Finding out what that “more” is sometimes means putting ourselves through intense discomfort or facing impossible challenges. I’m not done discovering myself and I know I have more (even longer) distances that I want to run. However, I am so interested in putting my energy towards permission giving and taking up space and believing my power exists outside of any action. I would encourage you to do the same. Look at how you allow yourself to be in this world. Consider how much you do to “earn” your presence on earth and let go of it.

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Give

This fall, I volunteered with an organization whose goal is to empower and unite girls. I entered the term so pumped. I had visions of amazing discussions, close bonds of friendship, and giggling. I also felt like the years I have spent working with children (specifically girls) was ample training for a few hours every Monday.

Of course, I was wrong. It’s been a minute since I was in middle school, so I wasn’t ready for the girls I encountered. The first meeting, my partner and I couldn’t get their attention long enough to even play name games. Fifteen minutes from the end, one girl raised her hand and asked: “So what is this program, exactly?” I realized then that I had way more on my plate than I planned. The weeks that followed, I cried after almost every group and my heart rate was through the roof upon entering the school. Try everything became my motto. More games? More free time? More consequences? More debates? My partner and I were desperate to connect with the girls in a real way.

IMG_0829I wish I could say that we turned out like a pamphlet story: Girls are rough, leaders show them kindness, girls eventually soften, everyone is giving each other verbal affirmations and hugs at the end. However, the story did not pan out that way. But that’s alright! I got to look closely at how hard it is to be a twelve-year-old girl at a low-income school. At some point, I let go of the curriculum because I saw that these girls had so many big points of tension in their life that they had no capacity for truly caring about community action. Could I blame them? No.

I think this lesson is in there somewhere: give something of yourself to people that you know are not going to give back. It may be a little unhealthy emotionally, yes. But if you’re aware of that possibility, it is an amazing way to practice selflessness. The seeds will be planted by your words and actions. I still think about strong women in my life that gave me the gift of just being on my team, no questions asked. They are the heroes that inspired me to volunteer in the first place.

IMG_1498You know what is interesting? After three months of spending time telling girls to get off their phones, keep the conversation relevant, and journal about their ideas instead of writing the names of their boyfriends, I am signed up for another term. You know what is encouraging? A girl who came in during week eight and cried to my partner and I that she didn’t have any friends has signed up again too. I can only hope it’s because she knows she’s got an ally.

I wanted to end this on a lighter note, so here are some of the questions I was asked this term: “What contour kit do you use, Mary Emily?”* “Why aren’t there Meninists too?” “Are you a feminist?” “Will this affect my grade?”*** “Do we have to?” “I’m having a lot of feelings today, can I go out in the hall?”****

*I was not wearing makeup that day.

**We were asked this maybe three times a meeting. They seemed to think feminists were people that yell at you if you want to get married or have children.

***This was an after-school program that was not graded. They seemed to not believe me.

****I let her.

Trust yourself

Since I graduated college, I have worked seven different jobs. These jobs have ranged from freelance work to slinging espresso in a café. I am hoping that someday when I am fulfilling my purpose through meaningful work (I can dream), I can show my good friend my job collection and say “this is what it took for me to get here.” For now, I’m just quitting my current occupation (again) and organizing my shell collection (again).

Next Thursday is my last day working at Pratt & Larson. I haven’t written about it much, but for the past seven months, I’ve been painting tiles in the polychrome department of a major tile factory.* On paper, it has been the most consistent, hands-on, and art-centric job I have ever had. In reality, it has been the most isolating, dehumanizing, and disheartening job I’ve ever had.

Crazy, right? Anyway, due to health complications** and overall good timing, I finally made the move and put in my notice. I have nothing lined up and I’m waiting for the Holidays to simmer down before entering the “job market” (again). Should I be nervous? Yeah. Am I? Nope. Why?! Pretty much for the first time in my life, I am really listening to my intuition. Translation: I am doing what I want without having to make excuses for myself. That sounds so selfish (trust me, I cringed while writing it) but it is the beautiful truth.

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As someone who was raised in a traditional Christian household, the idea of “trust yourself” seemed like a cardinal sin. I was taught that as a flawed sinner, I needed to trust in the Lord my God and lean not on my own understanding. After having a textbook “Crisis of Faith,” I honestly did not know who or what to trust in and spent the better part of this year bitterly confused. Since I began really searching for God again in October, I have felt empowered by diving more and more into the notion that God is not only in me, but is me. I’m not saying I am the Creator of stars and music (I’m literally envisioning Fantasia), but I am a divine channel of that Creator. Therefore, I need to trust myself.

Now, the idea of “trust yourself” is extremely calming, empowering, and important. Trusting myself is what led me to quit a job that I am immensely unhappy at, told me to start going to church again, caused me to get serious about getting well, made me call my sister, and twisted my arm into getting more intentional about doing things that make me feel alive.

The wonderful thing about trusting oneself is that anybody can do it. Should everybody? I don’t know. Outside counsel is helpful and some people are crazy. However, I feel pretty confident in suggesting you try it out. If you are a seasoned human who is smarter than me, you most likely saying to yourself “maybe try the wise counsel, first.” But if you’re a barely formed adult like myself, hell! Give it a try. Trust yourself. You’ve got the potential of vast intelligence and judgment and the highest vibrations of Spirit in you. Make some decisions!*** Later on in life, we can compare our boxes of old postcards, jobs, boyfriends, and artistic endeavors and talk about how glad we are we learned this lesson together.

*Fun fact! P&L did the tiles in Robert Downey Jr.’s new vacation home! Sad fact. None of them were painted by me.

**Nothing super serious. Long story short, I might be allergic to everything and can’t really eat like a normal person right now and that makes me hungry a lot and have weird energy levels. So cool…not.

***Don’t hold me to their outcome, please and thank you.

Moving is healing

I have Fridays off now. I always thought I could manage a traditional full-time work schedule, but I am learning that I really can’t. What I really crave is flexibility with my time. I want to be able to make scones and tea on a Friday morning and watch the rain fall with my cat. I want to go to yoga or the gym in the middle of the day to boost my mood. And above all, I want human connection to be at the center of my work.  I learned all this and more while running my half marathon on Saturday.

Last week, I ran 13.1 miles across the foothills of the Sisters mountain range in twenty-degree weather. I was undertrained and mentally underprepared. However, I gave myself permission to surprise myself. And I did. I set a new personal record, didn’t get injured, and did not run the whole race alone. In the last few miles, when the pain started to set in, I began throwing around mantras in my mind. I tried Robin Arzon’s classic: I am. Didn’t help. I tried adding something to it: I am strong, beautiful, here. Still no mental relief from my throbbing right calf. I rounded a boulder and it came to me: Moving is healing. I whispered it in rhythm with my stride for maybe a minute before my eyes started glazing over with tears. I realized then that I had been struggling to stay static and I had been impossibly hard on myself. But I wanted all along was movement, because that’s where I thrive. Moving is healing.

I have never been good at being an employee or student, although I enjoy working and studying. I haven’t stuck to training regime ever and I have only recently gotten more disciplined about finishing monthly challenges. My point is, I do best in transition. I have struggled with that part of me for most of my life. It feels good to finally celebrate the fact that I always have new things I’m into, I like being a beginner, I like learning new skills at different jobs, I like not having a plan, I like going new place, and I like moving my body in new ways.

I knew that running my race would be transformative in some way, but it truly left me vulnerable and raw. This whole week, I have felt some amazing things happening inside of me and I have a fresh outlook on my future. I have movement to thank for that and I am eternally grateful.

Thank you for participating in this journey. I started this blog to help document my training for a race that I ended up missing completely and share my search for a sense of faith that I continued to lose.

Yes

Second only to “love,” “yes” might be one of the most used and written about words in history. “Yes” is an essential part of our existence and thriving as human beings in the tragic world we live in. I keep on learning that it’s not only important to say “yes” to things but also to surround yourself with “yes” people. Honestly, this is not an easy task. Being a busy millennial who is recently curbing her over-committedness in a fairly disconnected city makes it hard to meet and invest in people. But it is not impossible. IMG_9758

We have all heard the studies-who you surround yourself with effects your quality of life.  The best way to attract “yes” people is to be one, right? Here is a short list of things I am trying to do to become a better “yes” friend:

  • Say “yes” to texting/calling back within at least 24 hours (sooner is preferred) . This seems like a given, but I can count numerous occasions where I have been confused by radio static. If someone is worth your time, don’t leave them hanging. If I work long hours and need to sleep instead of replying to what was said, I’ve been challenging myself to at least send an acknowledgment saying “I see this, I can’t deal with it yet, sorry.”
  • Say “yes” to making plans. I live in a generation where people throw around “let’s get coffee sometime” like it’s a Facebook thumbs up and not a genuine offer. I am trying to find people who say those things and aren’t surprised when I reply “Yes! When?” Conversely, I am trying to push to make plans when possible.
  • Say “yes” to new things. Don’t like theater? Try a play out. Going hiking? Don’t be afraid of a new route.
  • Say “yes” to new people. This is tough for me. I’m not a good small talker. I like to dive deep, cut to the chase, and find out if we’re compatible quickly. However, you never know who is your new soul friend, so take chances.
  • Say “yes” to boring adventures. This one is also challenging, but I’ve always found it to pan out gracefully. Too tired to go out? Invite your “yes” person over for tea at your place. Your apartment too messy? They probably won’t care.
  • Say “yes” to big adventures. Stop saying “let’s get a cabin somewhere, sometime” and just do it already. Case closed.

IMG_9648This list sets high expectations, I know. But as a person who has a small handful of “yes” people, I know that it is worth it to find them. There are friends that will take hounding to get to hang out with you. There are friends who will just say “yes, when?” The first group is good for light fun, but for something real, you and I and everyone needs a “yes” person who will seek us out, too. We’re worth deep friendships and real connections.

 

 

Encountering Change at a coffee shop

How awkward to run into you like this.

Wait,
Let me say something:
I miss your chaos.
You see, I can’t settle down
-can’t be settled.
I need you in my life.
I have been routinely and sure,
but also profoundly unhappy.
I owe everything to you.
So can I buy you a cup of coffee,
maybe a danish,
and we can talk about us.

Yes, us.
Even when I am convinced I don’t like you,
I think I’m actually in love with you.
I feel most myself when I’m with you,
So what do you say?
Can you abandon the leaves this Autumn?
Let them stay green and half golden!
Maybe let the wind blow only in one direction?
I want all of your attention.

Hear me out, I love you.
We make a great team.
Remember when we moved after college?
Driving across the country together,
watching mountains go by,
with Jenny in the passenger seat.
It was good.
We were good.

Yeah, you’re right.
Life has also been hard,
there have been a lot of challenges.
I am not a fan of last winter,
parts of the summer,
a couple days last week,
and this morning pretty awful,
but I believe in us,
don’t you?

Oh, you don’t.
You think I should just move on.
Funny you say that,
I have met someone new,
named Growth.
He resembles you,
but to be honest, he is kinder.

I won’t ever forget you, Change.
See you next season,
maybe when the winter wanders in,
I’ll wave at you from the window near my desk.

*To see the corresponding video to this poem, click here

Girl

I discovered
I was “just a girl”
while growing up with brothers
in football country.

Years passed before any woman showed me
that girls are extraordinary
and “just a girl” is cruel fiction.

The girls I have admired lately
are real characters,
she-ros who loom large.

Like bell hooks
who told me that
I should not be diminished.

Or Julia Hill
a butterfly woman
who saved ancient trees
by making them her home.

Or Devon Yanko,
who can run one hundred miles
-mighty and determined-
but cries on camera
because her real strength is tenderness.

Or my friend Jenny
who understands
the immense courage it takes
to be an excellent listener.

Or me, a woman
who is also a girl
that raced a white horse on her bike
across a Texas dustbowl;
a girl who has burned up and begun again.

Or you,
girl,
with powerful magic in your mind,
immeasurable strength in your body,
and a rose garden in your heart
-what incredible things are to come:

the highest peaks,
the fastest speeds,
the kindest actions,
and journeys to desolate places
where just girls are imperative.

*Short video to accompany poem can be found here