Currently: not running

I was out with my friend Kammie the other night and I mentioned this blog and she said “Oh, I haven’t read it because I’m not a runner.” I felt a little surprised and then I realized, I need to make running more relatable to other parts of life! Or maybe I need to write less about running? Anyway, if you are here and you are not a runner, welcome.  Thanks for making it this far. I promise my posts are not always completely about running. I also promise that most of them are one hundred percent nonsensical and unedited thoughts.

As of when I am sitting down to write this, I haven’t run in two weeks. Two weeks! That is the longest break I have taken in a long time. I felt a little niggle in my knee about a month ago. I thought it would go away, but it persisted. I kind of trapped myself into having to take time off and, let me tell you, not running has provided me with more challenges than I thought.

The first challenge I expected: mental breakdown. I know that sounds so dramatic (even for me), but the mental game that goes into running step after step is supremely difficult. The reward of endorphins and catharsis is worth it. However, when that rush was stripped away, I felt anxious. I felt restless and unfocused in all of my other practices. I stopped wanting to write. I stopped trying to meditate. I became helpless and a little hopeless. That story is probably not news to you and it certainly wasn’t to me.

The second thing I have experienced: an identity crisis. I have found myself challenging my identity as a strong and healthy person. Remember when I finally was at peace with calling myself a “runner?” When I had to stop running, I asked so many questions about who I was:

If I’m not running, who am I? If running is where my power, individuality, strength, health, etc. lies, then what happens when running is stripped away. Do I become a powerless, nameless, weak, unhealthy woman? I openly talk about running, does this make me an imposter without it? Have I been faking it the whole time? Am I letting myself get too wrapped up in running? Will I be injured forever? Should I just decide to quit?

I harbored all of those thoughts (and more) in my mind for over a week without knowing they were there. When they came to the surface, I was ashamed. I was ashamed for thinking thoughts that seemed so silly and I was ashamed at letting myself get so stressed out about something so privileged and trivial as running. I spent the better part of yesterday working out what fighting that shame looks like.

 I have found that, for me, the best opponent to that shame is play. Someone who is playful is not concerned about always fulfilling expectations. Playfulness lets plans be malleable and identities be fluid. Playfulness looks at not running and says “Oh bummer, I can’t run! What new thing do I get to try?” Play is so full of joy, hope, and lightness. It seems like when I am choosing to be playful with my plans, nothing can get me down.

As of when I get post this and leave, I am going on my first run in two weeks. My knee is feeling a little better and I am chomping at the bit to get back on the trails. However, I am approaching the whole thing with a playful spirit. If I can’t run the whole distance, I’ll walk. If I need to stop early, I’ll do it. If I get to the trailhead and don’t feel good about the whole thing, I’ll skip it altogether. I am a powerful, individual, strong, and healthy person without it. And so are you! Whatever that “one thing” that’s yours is, let it go for a while. Abandon your practices and see what playfulness comes out in your life. There might be a few moment of darkness, but there will also be lightness and healing.

Body talk

It’s been a while and honestly I dislike saying that every time I blog so I vow that this is the last time that I will say that. Period.

It’s been a while.

Anyway, I’ve had a lot on my mind lately. I am starting training for an adventure race in June (that I will not miss) and I am starting a new job in a couple of weeks. Spring might actually be springing here in the PNW (!!!) and there are big, cool things in the making. All that said, one of the most lovely developments lately is my relationship with…myself. (please don’t stop reading) (just kidding) (but not really)

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Going through training for my last race and being so dedicated taught me a lot about what my body can do.  However, I still find myself faced with the challenge of accepting how my body looks. For some reason, I am able to completely separate the shape of my body from what it is capable of. I have read so many articles about body-positivity and loving yourself and etc. that you would think I would’ve gotten the message by now. But honestly, it wasn’t until reading this post by Kelly K. Roberts that it dawned on me-I have been doing an incredible disservice to my body by hating on it. When I started running again last fall, I felt slow and heavy and unsure.  Every time I ran, I would get discouraged by how different my body moved and looked than other runners I passed (let’s get real, mostly they passed me). Luckily, I was running in the winter, so I found comfort in covering myself with loose sweatshirts and (most often) rain jackets. The real test happened a couple weeks ago when the temperature rose.

I was on an easier run with David and the sun was out and I made the decision to run in just my sports bra and running tights. I was completely unaware of the liberation that would ensue. Growing up in a (super well-meaning and wonderful) conservative household, I was taught to cover up. I can still hear “modest is hottest” and other such sayings in my mind. I never felt suffocated by my upbringing and carried a lot of the principles of modesty into my adulthood. However, while I was running with David, I felt so fast and so free. More importantly, I felt beautiful. By “uncovering” my body, I was embracing my own strength.

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I’m not telling you to run in your sports bra because that will fix all of your problems (LOL what if I was just telling you that.) I am telling you to give your body a chance. Don’t make excuses for it, just love it as it is and be proud of how it is shaped. I am still working on giving my body the admiration it deserves and that journey might never end. But I am fully committed to being a part of the #sportsbrasquad (weather permitting) and I am never looking back.

P.S. As an exercise this week, I wrote an objective love-letter to my body. I honored it for its hard work and beauty. I told it that I love it. Not “I love you body, no matter how you look.” Or “I love you body, even though you’re not the way I want it to be.” Just “I love you body.” I made myself look at myself how others see me. I wrote thank you’s to every part. It felt narcissistic and weird, but the discomfort was worth the healing.

for the joy of it.

It has been a hectic two months. So hectic, that I didn’t realize it had been two months until I checked when the last time I blogged was. Sheesh.

Last weekend was a big first for me. You know that race I mentioned in my first post? Well, I missed it. I mean, I didn’t sleep in or get sick or anything. In fact, I was incredibly prepared and pumped. I just went to the race a day late! David and I pulled into McIver Park’s parking lot last Sunday expecting a plethora of runners and weird, too-loud music. Instead, there were two people taking a leisurely Sunday morning stroll in the rain. I was so crushed.

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We both spent the next hour upset and trying to process how this happened and what to do next. “You want to race next weekend?” David asked. I looked up prospective races, but it didn’t feel right. I kept thinking “Today was supposed to be it. The milestone.” To be honest, I was being a little drama queen in my head. But the race felt like it was supposed to be special. In fact, the race was supposed to be something special, but I was looking at it all wrong. After the disappointing morning, my friend Jen (who visited from Chattanooga!), David, and I went on a cold adventure to salvage the rest of the day. I guess Oregon rain and large waterfalls tend to get my mind back where it needs to be, because everything in my head and heart was at rest by the end of the hike.

Somewhere between the raindrops, I:

  1. Realized something supremely important that (of course) I had learned before but never seen illustrated so clearly.
  2. Asked myself a supremely important question.

IMG_41491. There is a cliché about the journey being more important than the destination that honestly causes me to involuntarily roll my eyes. But when multiple people consoled me through sweet text messages and comments (I forgot to mention: social media was definitely involved in this humiliating experience) saying that I had “done the work” and already had something to be proud of,  that cliché rang true. As I have mentioned before, I love to run and that is a new experience for me. Something about this race was going to solidify that in my mind. For instance, if I raced well and had a good time to show for it, this new way of living would really begin. That is equal parts ridiculous and understandable. Racing is so satisfying and needed to keep fueling that competitive nature that resides inside of me. However, racing doesn’t mean a thing. Missing my race made me look back on the time I’ve spent training and be proud of that instead of a personal record. And man, I am so proud.

2. The “supremely important” question I asked myself was “Why do you run?” I am not an extremely competitive creature. I don’t run to win races. I do run to beat the clock, feel alive, reduce stress, etc. However, I learned near the end of my training that running is only a purely positive force in my life if I am first and foremost running for the joy of it. That outlook has crept into my other hobbies and passions and jobs and all of a sudden, my whole world is transforming. The only way I could make it through the last few miles of long runs was to remember that. The only way I could go for a run this week (I am not going to lie, I was tired and still disappointed) was to remember that.

What’s the moral of the story? First, don’t let yourself go two months without blogging. Because your skills get rusty. But also, the journey is more importan-just kidding! I think I would definitely say, be proud of hard work even if the “end result” is less than satisfactory. Hard work is well, hard and I respect the cuss out of people who are disciplined enough to try something new. Finally, find something to do just for the joy of it. Better yet, rework joy into the heart of something you’re already doing. I promise you it will only do you good.

Weekday Reading

I have no good excuse for not posting in a week, so I’m just going to jump right into last week’s book (which I actually finished):

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Week #4) A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

I have repeatedly heard from various outdoorsy buddies (including David) that Bryson’s book is a great read. I kept unconsciously avoiding reading it after the movie came out and while I was working at an outdoor retailer. Last week, while moving things out of our flooded guest room, David’s copy of the book caught my eye.

A Walk in the Woods was not what I expected. The book is definitely the fairly humorous account of two middle-aged guys hiking the Appalachian Trail that one might think it is after reading the back cover. However, Bryson also gives the history of the trail’s formation, delves into the politics of conservancy, explains extinction of animals, relays stories of black bear attacks, etc. I learned so much about the trail from this book and would recommend it to anyone who is curious about hiking the AT. Bryson’s narrative is not glamorous (*spoiler*: in the end he and his buddy don’t even complete the trail) but it’s honest and relatable. Reading A Walk in the Woods sparked my interest in Bryson’s many other books (especially A Short History of Nearly Everything) and fueled my fire to get out on Oregon’s many trails to walk, not just run.

Warmly,

Mary Emily

p.s. I have NO idea why a grizzly bear is on the front of the book. There aren’t any grizzlies in the Appalachian mountains.

Weekday Reading

I am feeling a little off today. I think it is because I slept in, or maybe because I skipped church (I am a creature of habit), or maybe because I had diet coke and pizza for breakfast. Regardless, I am here at Either/Or (one of my favorite coffee shops) and I’m trying to get my juju back.

I tried to read two books over the last two weeks. I am sad to say that I didn’t finished either title. One book I didn’t finish on purpose, the other I am reading a lot slower than I thought I would. Because they are unfinished, I will not number them among my 50 books. But since I like to write about everything and coffee is finally in my system, I figured I would tell you about them anyway.

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Falling Upward by Richard Rohr

This book is a treat and I am planning on finishing it this coming week. I first listened to Richard Rohr speak the beginning of this year. He was on one of my favorite podcasts (Comedian Pete Holmes’s You Made it Weird) and I knew we were kindred spirits. It’s a good episode and worth the two hour listen. Anyway, I picked this book up at the library last Monday and am only on the 39th page. Rohr dives into the notion that humans have a two-part spiritual journey with some sort of “falling” in the middle. The book is relevant and inclusive to people of all faiths. Here are a couple of my favorite moments thus far:

People who have never allowed themselves to fall are actually off balance, while not realizing it at all. That is why they are so hard to live with. Please think about that for a while. (p 28)

and

Our Western dualistic minds do not process paradoxes very well. Without a contemplative mind, we do not know how to hold creative tensions. We are better at rushing to judgement and demanding a complete resolution to things before we have learned what they have to teach us…This is not the way of wisdom. (p 36)

I can tell that Rohr and I will be fast friends at the end of all of this.

Scary Close by Donald Miller

So this is the book that I have no plans of finishing. I am usually a Miller fan (I even mentioned him in my previous post), but this book fell a little flat for me. Miller’s tone seemed to not be as warm or inclusive as his previous titles. Part of my jaded attitude might be the fact that he spends much of the time talking about being real and open with your partner. I know I have so much more to learn in marriage, but David and I started our relationship off as two broken human beings making clumsy mistakes. Even at my most guarded, I am awful at hiding my flaws or faking confidence. So I guess Miller lost me a little bit. I think when I’m a famous author with some large businesses and a public presence to maintain, I will feel the same as he does.

Honesty is the best policy when it comes to challenges and resolutions, so thanks for bearing with me and forgiving me and sending me love and maybe some chocolates and a new pair of shoes.

Warmly,

Mary Emily

 

 

Wait, what is this called?

I hate to admit it, but I am an anxious person. Even when things are smooth, I will have a moment where I open my eyes and look around me at what I am doing, who I am with, where I am, how I look etc. and get dizzy with worry.
I received a little insight into my experience with anxiety lately while trying to run during Portland’s “Snowmageddon.” David is always up for adventure and luckily decided to come with me. Foolishly, I looked at my weather app and thought that 40 degrees didn’t sound that cold. I layered my running garb irresponsibly. We wore crampons on our shoes and felt like things might be easier than our previous attempt* to run in winter weather. The run wasn’t long and shouldn’t have been too difficult except for the unprecedented foot of slushy snow still covering the trail. We ran when we could, but running through the deep snow in inadequate clothing proved to be impossible. So we started walking.

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The cold wind blew maybe once before I became panicky. I was so chilly and I was supposed to be running. I complained repeatedly to David about how I had wanted to get a certain amount of miles in and had not anticipated having to trudge along at such a slow pace. Any time negativity enters my vocabulary, I swiftly turn to self-judgement. The next time I complained about how slow we were going I also said, “I’m sorry for being to so insufferable.” Which then turned into me apologizing for pretty much everything I’ve ever done in my entire life.

After a few awful miles, the trail cleared off enough for us to jog a little. I think warmed enough to get in touch with my brain at that point and I began to dwell on why this run was bothering me so much. This run. Run? I had been approaching the snowy adventure all wrong. I got so obsessed with its name -a run- that I got really upset when I couldn’t run. Instead of adapting and treating it like a fast hike with my best friend, I fixated on what I thought it was supposed to be. Apparently, my anxiety only needs a slight misnomer to use as an entry point.

“What’s in a name?” Unwaverable power.

I think I have intense moments of worry because I am calling my experiences and identities by the wrong names. I get concerned about whatever my occupation is at the time because it is a “job.” A messy apartment can make me slightly lose my mind because it is my “living space.” Being a “wife” can be daunting and being a “daughter” is almost impossible. Stir these strictly labeled things together with their connotations, put into an oven of minimal outside pressure, bake for almost three seconds and you get a muffin tray with rows of steaming bouts of anxiety.

I remember reading a great book by Donald Miller in high school. It is called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and totally worth checking out. In it, Miller asserts that all of our lives are stories. That thought comforts and motivates me tremendously. If I think of “life” as a “story,” it becomes way less intimidating. A story  is something I love and can relate to. Life is too big and adult for me to grasp. All of those smaller things that I have trouble naming are just commas, characters, transition sentences, disguises, ellipses, dragons to defeat, periods, and quests to complete. If my life is a story, there is an interesting writer and a good editor. There are page-turner moments, but also lots of ordinary dialogue.

I wish I could say that David and I finished our run with positive attitudes and a cup of hot chocolate. The truth is, we finished it incredibly freezing and in bad moods. Well…mostly I was in a bad mood, David can be almost too cheerful in hard situations. I will say that I learned to be much more careful about attaching my expectations to what things are called.

Since then, it’s exciting to embark on a new day and ask the question “Wait, what is this called?” What name I decide to answer that question with can dictate my whole attitude: A story. An adventure. A gift. A dance. A walk. A race. A task. A pleasure. A life. A friend.

Being

We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have – for their usefulness. -Thomas Merton

“So…what do you do?”

That is my least favorite question, but I find myself asking/being asked it so much these days. It may be because I’m a little awkward when it comes to small talk, but I think it goes deeper than that. I used to ask “What do you like to do?” but people would truly get so thrown off that I would almost feel bad for asking. As a creative, I envy those who can answer that question without clumsy further explanation. If someone my age is on a real career path, no one side glances with questions still in their eyes. Their inner dialogue is like “I get it, they save lives.” But when I am asked what I do, I perform a complex explanatory dance just to end up saying simply “I’m a nanny.”

What is that all about? I think I feel the inherent pressure to succeed because I’ve gambled my life on art. I have spent the last two years trying to validate what I studied in school. And trust me, being a nanny is certainly a strange place to show that my education was worth it.

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I have been surprised by what I’m currently doing with my life.  Part of my job as a nanny is also taking care of a small, ragamuffin farm. I have pruned fruit trees, cleaned coops, weeded ceaselessly, and (my personal favorite) turned compost. All these things become automatic pretty quickly and provide me with perfect opportunities to consider my own existence. I know that sounds a little navel gazy, but I believe it’s a privilege and a practice we could all use a little more of. When I am struggling to shovel unmentionable waste and rotting veggies, I am also giving myself time to just be. I’m not sitting cross-legged on a pillow (although that is also something I wholeheartedly encourage), but I am meditating and diving deeper into what it means to exist.

I have been curious about the more mystical side of spirituality for as long as I can remember. I was raised in a traditional church, but loved yoga the minute my feet touched a mat. I read excerpts of things written by mystic monks and gurus with the same enthusiasm. One of my favorite things that I have gleaned from these teachers is the importance of giving yourself the permission to simply live. Thomas Merton (one of my absolute favorites) lived and died without seeing a super-computer phone or the internet, yet he still thought we all needed to let go of “usefulness” and look at existence.

I know I am not original in saying we need to relinquish what we are doing and focus on who we are. I also know that we need to be reminded that we are so much more than what we do. That is only a small fraction of the beautiful garden of self inside each of us. Merton’s quote is my thesis for living this year. I am planning on returning to school with the hopes of teaching. I will write. I will keep on running. I will create art. But I will also remember that I have time to breathe, to live, to just be.

So here’s to a new calling: Being. Focusing on that will better enable us to love others for not only their usefulness, but for who they are.