Replenish

I didn’t write yesterday, Friday, at all. I taught classes, we had a birthday in the family and presents to acquire, one marching band performance, one orchestra chili dinner, cycling laundry, and I crashed into bed hard. I thought about writing, approached it a few times when the schedule had a lull in it, but it never felt natural. I’m all about goals, but it has to feel like a fit. Yesterday written words just never fit into the flow.

I woke early this morning to go on a fun bike ride through our city with friends, returned to help wash dishes at our coffee shop, went home and showered and now the birthday celebrations extend into today with some time at a trampoline park. This is when I sit and try and write although there are so many people to watch, and I’m kind of jealous of those people over there in those massage chairs. Sweaty boys are requesting gatorade and water and we talk about electrolytes and why your body needs those replenished. My son has sweet friends and it makes this afternoon enjoyable.

I’m thinking about the word replenish now - to fill (something) up again. Thinking about all the ways a human, this human in particular, can replenish herself. With writing and a rest from writing. With cycling and a rest from cycling. With peanut butter nutty bars, the only food I’ve had so far today, and with coffee and water. With scheduled time in my future to simply sit and talk with friends. With photographs of acorns and spiders and tiny details that catch my attention while I flow, flow, flow through life.

This is actually an easy place for me to write, even though there is so much activity buzzing around me. Handshakes, high fives, hugs, coughs, nose-blows and squeals. So many moms with babies. How did I ever do that? I notice the pattern on the floor, speckled whites, reds and greys on a black background. It reminds me of a bowling ball, and it helps calm me in the middle of all this energy. It is nice to see it, but to not have to be swept up in it.

I think about the high five I gave my husband last night because we finally got our fourth and last child a phone for his birthday, and that felt like a chapter finally closed. Now we can communicate, all 6 of us, as we go our separate ways, and there are a lot of separate ways these days. And it is interesting how it feels nice to complete a milestone with my youngest. Getting a phone in fifth grade has seemed like a sort of rite of passage for each kid, and when you do it with the last it deserves its own hurrah. We made it to this point right here, and that’s really something. I don’t want time to slow, but I very much want to enjoy it on the way. Eleven years old feels special, especially for the little guy who isn’t little anymore.

The girl besides me doesn’t like how her socks feel, and she is crying. I had a daughter that used to do this. It feels like ages ago. When she talks it about it now she says it still bothers her she just matured and so is better equipped to deal with it. Life is like that you can’t handle a thing no way, no how until one day you surprise yourself and realize you can. I remember being in high school and having little things in my life that I just couldn’t seem to remember, and my mom would have to remind me, and I would think, “When will I ever remember?” or “How could I have forgot again?” And then one day I just got it, and it was easy, and I felt so proud of myself and I thought my mom must be thinking, “Finally!”

Fear is the same way. Each ghosty so unique and particular and daunting in its own right. I stare it down and I feel cold and hollow inside, gulping my way into a conversation with it. Bravely walking forward and thinking if everyone around me even knew how trembly I am, but walking anyway because ghosties don’t like to stand still. “Move with me,” they say, and so I move and think how can others be so nonchalant about this; I will never be nonchalant about this. And then one day, today actually, I am nonchalant about that very particular fear that used to wring me out and leave me proud (for trying), but whipped.

This morning I rode bikes with a woman who started riding after me, and has progressed so quickly and with great determination and a joy and ease about her that is contagious. I told her on one particular stretch of road that I used to always struggle hard on this part and fall off the back of the ride because I couldn’t hold on to the speed at which they took some of the turns in the windy road. It made me so proud of her, and I wanted her to know how very, very hard that section was for me. The people I rode with never told me how hard riding was for them at one time, once upon a time. They seemed to just always have ridden bikes and ridden them fast. They seemed to just always be helping me, waiting on me, being patient with what felt like all my DYING on a bike. But this woman was, doing it. Hanging on. It is a big deal to hang on. A really big deal.

When I rode on Thursday night of this week, I felt that familiar dread of getting as far as I can get and then watching the people pull away. But now that fear is familiar rather than unknown. This sort of fear is much more manageable. I know that it is part of it and that being there is how one makes that “getting dropped” happen less. A consistent showing up and letting the process be what it is. Difficult, challenging, and natural. This is how I better myself.

These words are serving their purpose of replenishment. I realize the ride this morning was replenishing as well because it was chill for me. Not every ride has to pin me to the wall with, “oh my gawd I can’t handle much more.” The edge is where I grow, but the the maintaining of my baseline fitness is healthy, steady, sure on repeat. It is enjoying my body and its new level of normal. Trekking down old familiar routes shows me how the bar has been raised. How it is always raising. It is so slow and sure it is almost unnoticeable day in and day out. But today was like waking up and realizing my sock seams don’t make me cry anymore. And I sort of smile with nostalgia at that woman who used to death grip her bike on the turns on the trail that wind around by the airport.

Replenishment is celebrating milestones, high fiving the moments we make it “here” and accepting that what seems hard now for me is actually hard now for me, even if it isn’t for anyone else. My hard isn’t just imagined. I’m not quitting when I hit my wall. I’m just hitting my wall. I’m pressing into a landscape of my abyss just that hard. It feels nice to know when things get hard that what you are doing is actually hard. Replenishment is accepting that the wall is where it is and it doesn’t have to be slammed into every single day to make progress.

There is a family of four little girls sitting at the table with me now, trying to get there shoes on and find their coats and the husband and wife are tag-teaming the approach to getting them out the door. The dad asks, “Are you guys happy? Are you all happy?”

A group of teenage girls try and get a group photo. One girl keeps sticking her tongue out, the back row keeps giggling. Re-take after ret-take, trying to get everyone smiling and looking at the camera for the photo.

A group of elementary boys keep screeching into each other’s ears. Finally a mom asks them to stop, my ears about to bleed.

A man motions to me, can he use the empty chair at my table. I nod, he smiles.

The boys come back and tell me about their adventures. They drink their drinks and compare stories. Life is good.

Post Malone’s Sunflower song comes on,

 “I know you're scared of the unknown “

and it seems like a good ending to our time here, i.e. my writing.

I think about the boy in art therapy who can beatbox the intro to Sunflower perfectly, but how annoyed all the other kids get in the class when he sings. We are all bodies trying to navigate a life.

I want to navigate to the most enjoyable waters I can find (away from the shrieking children.)

I have managed to find myself writing again when it is dark outside, and I am in bed. Not for long though. I am the chauffeur to a birthday present hunt and then a high school birthday party. I am in my baggy sweat pants, but I’ve kind of gotten used to being the taxi and getting to hear snippets of my kids’ (and their friends) lives. I’m kind of astounded at how rich our life is as we push to our edges. We’re not good at everything, but nobody goes half way in the things that they care about. We’re nothing if we’re not all in, all in, all in.

I”m going to settle into this weekend surrounded with family and friends who challenge me to be my best me. I am surrounded by the healthy competition of people who are obsessed with being their best and giving their all. I am coming to see that even the conflicts have something in it for me. It is not about the other person at all, it is about me and my take away. How can I be replenished by this new clue about myself.

I am resting hard until I’m ready to push to my edge again. I will know when that moment comes.

1752 words.

My Known

My friend Josh is a co-worker at one of my school’s I teach at. He is also an artist. We’ve gotten to know each other at school and this summer we spent more time together as I helped him put an art show together at our coffee shop. He’s been working on these masks for about 6 months now, each one representing a different god in his Mvskogee Creek/Seminole tribe. Over the Summer he put on a fashion show with these masks. I was bummed I wasn’t able to attend. He is doing another one in a couple weeks and this one I am committing to attend.

He stopped in my room today to let me know how the preparations are unfolding. I asked if he still was on the hunt for models to wear his masks. “Yes!” He said.

I struggled to put my next sentences together and he looked at me with a confused, anticipatory stare, as I tried to get the words out.

“Do I, ummm, well, are you looking for, uh, do I have to actually be able to model?”

He laughed and swatted his hand towards me and said, “No. I only used that word because I don’t know how else to be clear about what I need.”

“Because if you just need a body, I can be a body!”

“I just need bodies,” he said.

I find it difficult to commit to dates, especially dates that personally tie my schedule up, but not of the rest of my family. We live our life so last minute that scheduling something in advance can prove problematic, as I am the typical chauffeur to all kid-life events. Who knows what will come up on this particular evening that I have committed. But having missed the last one, and having really wanted to support Josh’s vision, and thinking how cool it would be to not just go to the show, but be a part of it, I decided this needs to happen. I’ll find a way.

I asked other people I thought might consider modeling with me. And after they respond, or don’t, I may ask more. How fun to get to be involved in this! My ghosty did appear today, both in the act of committing to the day, asking other people to get involved and offering to model myself. There is a lot of unknown that goes along with this, but what I keep tethering too is that this is my friend Josh, and I trust him, and I believe in his art. He is my known in all the unknown of this future night. Missing his show last time was really hard for me, and that too helps me know that I need to be at this one. I am way more excited than I am fearful, which is a good way to gauge if it’s worth the risk.

I saw a face in the back of a car today while driving. Not as in a person starting at me through the back window, but as in the break lights were eyes and the bumper was a mouth and there was a triangle that looked like one little vampire tooth. When I saw the face, I thought, this is my ghosty for today. A ghosty who wants to talk to me about modeling deity masks and, oh yeah, riding my bike.

The other thing I had some anxiety about earlier today was riding my bicycle tonight. It iwas the first time in 3 weeks that I’ve been to a Thursday night ride, and now the route has changed to accommodate a safer and a little warmer night ride due to the colder months and less daylight.  It is a ride I haven’t done before (although it is around a lake which I’ve ridden around plenty of times before) and the Thursday night ride is a fast ride, the goal being in certain sections called hot zones, to ride as hard as you can and sustain the effort as long as you can until the hot zone ends. I haven’t done Thunder Thursday, as it is called for good reason, since I injured myself in a race. So yes, I felt a little nervous.

When I showed up I was the only woman there, which wasn’t surprising since the temperature was 37 and it is a night ride. But I didn’t jump into conversation with the guys present by verbalizing all the ways I was scared or all the reasons I shouldn’t be there. Instead I felt confident that I knew where we were riding, and I knew who I was riding with, I know how to ride in the dark, and I know how to ride a ride that has hot zones in it. These were my knowns, and they made facing the ride very doable and the fears minimal. I am thankful that I have enough history riding that I am familiar with all these aspects of riding, and I don’t have to be scared about EVERYTHING, just some things. Just the unknown things.

The ride ended up fine. I dropped my headlight on the ride to the lake, and even though I asked them not to, everyone waited on me…twice. Once so I could pick up my light and once again because I couldn’t get it on properly. Ugh. As for the ride itself, I did not perform well. The guys who are used to riding with me were a little surprised I wasn’t hanging longer than I did, as was I, but alas my injury flared up way more than I expected it to, causing me all sorts of problems with going fast. I was in tears stretching it out after the ride. The nerve pain takes my breath away. Still I had a lot of fun and am glad I tried something new and faced my fears of attending a new ride. It’s always good to see I can do something unknown to me. Very satisfying.

What isn’t satisfying is my performance. The last time I did Thunder Thursday 3 weeks ago, before I got hurt, I was able to hang on for so long. It was a really rewarding experience to see all my work over the Summer finally give me some results. So I have to say I was pretty bummed to get popped so quickly from the group this evening.

At school today I had one of the women I work for come observe me teaching in the classroom. I introduced her to the teachers I work with and the principal. She was very complimentary of me to the principal and again in a text she sent me. It felt so good to be told I was doing great at something. I work really hard at my job and always aim to be getting better, so it was so rewarding to be affirmed in what I strive for. I am surprised as an adult how few of those moments I get. Growing up in school it was a very common thing for me to be praised for my hard work. I love love love words of affirmation and respond well to them, but they sure are few and far between when you leave school and go about your adult life.

This is why cycling was starting to get more and more fun because I have worked so hard to get where I am, and I have a pushed through a hell of a lot of scary things for me to have so many riding options accessible to me, and I was starting to see results. Goals achieved and PRs had and encouragement and even pleasant surprise from my teammates. So realizing how debilitating this injury is to my progress, and how slow it might take to heal, was a little sock to the gut this evening. My ghosty shows up because I think I’ve lost my competitive edge, and I don’t foresee it being a quick return to me. The was my leg feels, it’s going to take time. I have time, all the time in the world, I just wish it didn’t have to go this way.

But I can do this. I can visit with my ghosty, see what it has to say and then pivot into my known. I know my leg won’t feel like this forever. I know I have yoga and physical therapy to help. I know even with my leg flaring up I still got a PR tonite and faced fears and was the only woman riding. I know that enjoying my riding is still my number one goal, and I had a lot of fun tonite. I felt myself being more calm, more sure, more confident in my own body and its abilities…both when I can hang and when I can’t. It’s nice to feel okay with being me, just as I am on this particular day. I know these people I get to ride with are awesome. I know I am doing the best I can. I know my legs are sore from a leg/lifting workout I did last night (I keep forgetting about that) and getting strong will help prevent future injuries. I know I have more to my life than cycling, and it was nice to feel good at being an art teacher today because I have come a LONG way with that too and have pushed through enormous amounts of fear to stand in front of humans and teach them art. I know I have tortellinii spinach sausage soup on the stove, which I was motivated to make when I realized I was going to be riding in 30 degree temperatures tonite, and I know that a second helping of that soup is sounding pretty good right now.

It is late, and I am tired, and I am hoping I have enough words in my words count goal, but I am so damn proud of this day and what I have sat with and worked through.

One more thing before I leave, earlier today I sat in a parking lot that overlooks a memorable place for me. I went there for some inspiration and maybe some closure, as writing as brought a lot to the surface of my life lately, and life in general has been very trying the past three weeks. Upon getting out of my car and having a look at said memorable place I realized with complete disappointment that the place has been neglected, and is now overgrown with weeds and overgrown trees and debris. I went back to my car and tried to summon some nugget of wisdom from this once sacred sanctuary, but nothing came to me. Nothing but, I’m tired and empty and have no energy today. I’ve been doing so much soul work, my soul needs a nap.

Then it dawned on me this was closure. The overgrown pathways, this was not a place I needed to come to anymore. This was a door closed. A path completed. Time has moved on, and it is time for me to do so as well. I thought about my door I fasted for earlier this week, and realized that going through that door was all about not letting myself be hurt by my past anymore. This memorable place for me was special, but it was also tied into some painful things from my past, some things that I needed to set free so I could move on, on, on.

I know what bitterness can taste like, bitterness when I hold onto things that no one else can change for me because they already played out like they played out. It is time that I be my own hero and make the much needed 180, like I did in the parking lot today when it became oh so very secret message clear that the past was overgrown, and I was no longer needed there.

Time for soup, a word count check and sleep.

2016 words.

I See Faces

It’s been awhile since I’ve done yoga. I can’t remember exactly when it slipped away from my normal morning routine, but feeling the soreness in my body from this recent injury reminded me that yoga is how I deal with and prevent my body hurting, and I haven’t been regular with it. This morning when my alarm went off at my ideal wake-up time I was able to get up, not sleep for another hour. I know the recent time falling back is working to my advantage. I got a glass of ice water and headed straight onto my yoga mat in my garage. I opened you tube on my phone and pulled up the Yoga With Adrienne channel. There in the new videos was a yoga practice for writers. For writers! Of course there was a new yoga for writers video and of course I found it on this my day to return to this practice. A secret message uncovered just for me.

At the outset of the video I didn’t think I could pull it off. My heart was racing so fact in my chest and my breathing was shallow. My mind felt like my dog Buddy used to look after I had provoked him to such a high level of chaos that he would growl and lunge and bark and run fast in circle around the room, set off by merely the turning of my head and an intense eye-to-eye glare. As the video started in a lot of stillness, it became obvious to me how much I needed the intention of taking pause.

I am eating on my lunch break now at school while I am typing this. I scarfed down the second half of my chipotle saved from my dinner last night, and as I started in on my banana I thought again how I could sure benefit from a moment of pause right this minute.

<P A U S E>

3 deep breaths.

As I laid in my garage this morning, I noticed a familiar shadow on the wall cast there by the track for the garage door I believe. I need to draw that shadow, I thought. I’ve seen it many time, but never thought of it consciously, and now I want to capture it. It is a long skinny body with two eyes a surprised mouth and arms outstretched as if it say, “Wait, don’t go.”

Seeing faces like this is very common for me. In fact, when I lay on my yoga mat, above me on the ceiling there is another face. This one I did capture during my recent participating in Inktober. I imagined how these different faces that appear to me, that have appeared to me all my life, could be personifications of my ghosties. They do have a sort of haunt to them as they are always faces oddly pieced together in shadows and highlights, in machine parts, stains, bits of nature, food, etc. It makes me think of the boy who sees dead people. My ghosty faces just appear in the woodwork. Like literally the woodwork - in the bark of trees and the wood grained paneling in my childhood bathroom. It helps to give fear a face, or several faces, and these work especially well as ghosty faces since these are the sort that are here and then gone depending on how I piece together the details around me. Is it a tree or is it a face? Is it a shadow or is it a being? Am I seeing it, really seeing it, or is it in the outskirts of my unconsciousness, a pattern that hits me again and again and again until one day I take pause and breath slowly long enough to say, “Oh hey there little guy. You’ve been there a long time, and I’ve never actually acknowledged you and said hi.” To notice fear you have to take pause and sit with it and get really familiar. Even now as I type this I don’t think I could draw this skinny little shadow from memory. I just have a faint idea of what it is I saw.

At some point during the yoga practice this morning I realized I had started breathing deeply again, and my heart had stopped racing, and I could keep my mind still. I believe the practice itself was a little over 20 minutes, so I wasn’t there long, and it was relief that I could calm myself down. It made me excited to return to my mat again later this evening or tomorrow morning. It made me wiling to make the extra effort to get myself there because it felt so good. Later when I was washing my hair in the shower I found myself being more mindful of my own touch. I wash my hair nearly everyday. How long has it been since I’ve actually felt my own fingertips on my scalp? It’s hard for my mind to go gallivanting off into the never ending abyss of fears when it is sensorially committed to this moment right here and now. When I am lost deep somewhere in the abyss perhaps the reminder to feel the touch of my own fingertips on my scalp, lock eyes with the shadow man on the wall or put down my banana mid bite so I can chew, pause and breathe will give me something solid to touch down on. Making friends with my ghosty is a matter of pausing, acknowledging and choosing to not get swept up in that frantic energetic current that used to set off my dog with a head turn and a vicious eye stare. Sometimes I can stop it before it takes me away, sometimes I am not mindful enough to notice. Even knowing this is helpful. Bringing it to light, writing about it helps me to be more aware next time and the time after that.

Last night in art therapy I taught my little people how to draw and paint a ghost. We used fluorescent paint, oil pastels and chalk that all glowed in blacklights. While they worked I read them the book How to Make Friends With a Ghost. On one page it talked about how you can’t find a ghost. The ghost must find you. And that ghosts usually come to people who are kind. One of the girls in class, sucked air in and whispered, “I’m kind.” She paused and then she said a little louder, “But this is fiction.”

I related so well with the way she responded to the book. I could see myself as a little girl whispering the exact same thing - “I’m kind” and contemplating if this ghost finding me thing could really happen. I’ve been thinking about the sort of kind that I am, and why me as a kind person would have so many ghosts that find me. I think it is because my sensitivity is what makes me kind, and my sensitivity is also what makes me alert and open and accepting of new discoveries and secret messages. Fear wants to show itself (not show up, but really show itself in specifics rather than generalities) to a person who cares enough to learn and listen and change. This is the sort of person who won’t ignore the ghost, run from the ghost, blame the ghost or minimize the ghost. I actually believe my fear can be a powerful teacher and motivator, as long as I am dealing in specifics and looking that ghosty in its eyes.

The book also talks about growing old with your ghost. Of course the ghost itself doesn’t age, but what struck me in thinking of this ghosty as my fear, is that my fears will never leave me. Sure they may morph, ebb and flow in intensity, taking on new faces, showing up in the woodwork and shadows, but as long as I am breathing and growing my fear will be a constant companion. I can see it as a friend and asset and confidant or I can see it as a ghoulish haunt out for my destruction and insanity. I choose to see my fear as in my best interest. A lucky little friend showing up every time I take a risk. It cheers me on when I want to proceed. It puts its cold little fingerless arm on my shoulder every time I need to take a deep breath and say, No. It honestly doesn’t expect one thing or another from me, it just points me in a direction, like a weather vein. It is knowledge about myself. See enough ghosties, or spend lots of times with the same few, eventually that knowledge grows into wisdom you can build on.

I’m finishing this piece of writing up from bed once again. I’m thinking besides going for a cup of sleepy tea and a a piece of toast with butter and honey as a bedtime snack, I would like to go visit my yoga mat one more time to end the day. Just a short little practice in gratitude for all I’m learning about listening to myself, my body, my ghosty. My friends will be there - on the ceiling, on the wall, and my mat will serve as a touchpoint and an honoring ground for just how much I am learning about myself through this writing and releasing process. Every day is a day worth healing…just a little bit more.

One thing I failed to mention about my morning is that I spent a good hour tracking down something in my life that was bothersome to me. I wanted to know where it was stemming from. There were feelings to sift through - anger and really maybe with that anger a propensity to shut down as a defense mechanism to keep from getting hurt again. The more I unpacked it I found that closer in and deeper down there was fear. Fear is at the center of all my growing and expanding right now. I remember reading once that when all the other emotions have been stifled, a single one takes over - fear. I wonder if learning to feel all the feelings again could have an effect on fear, lessen it maybe. It’s worth a try. So I spent what time I could give it this morning tracing it back and further back. Getting to some of the roots. Or at least close. It felt good to dig. It felt good to get specific. To see some of my ghosties right in their face.

I paused in the last few paragraphs of writing this for some yoga. I finished my toast. I’m back in bed sipping on my tea. Honey Vanilla Chamomile. Healing comes in the specifics.

1802 words.

Get Specific

I think there something to be said for getting really specific.

The last few days I’ve been so proud of myself for writing. Many of the days I have had to finish in bed when I am ready to be sleeping, but there has been motivation to hold onto my goal of meeting 1667 words a day. And really this is what this month is about for me. Showing myself I can write something substantial everyday. It is a way of making sure my artist’s heart is fulfilled. Creative expression is my favorite concoction of healing pulled from the shelves of a dimly lit apothecary that hides in the recesses of my life.

That said, I’ve not necessarily been pleased with the quality of writing. Part of that is the choice to flow with this stream of consciousness sort of writing and not having ample time to edit it afterwards. The other part is dancing around a topic instead of diving in, and this is where I believe specificity is an asset to writing. It is also an asset to dealing with fear.

Let me touch on the fear aspect first. When a ghosty shows up, hovering its presence over my life, it can feel as though it is massive like the Corpse Bride with her flowing veil and red beady eyes, towering high in the sky above me. If I ignore her, letting her continue to moan as the distant soundtrack of my days, the noise and my propensity to fear appears to grow. It doesn’t have a form, it doesn’t have a clear outline or shape, it just is big and generally spooky. But as I turn to look at the fear, as I choose to say this ghosty is here to light the way of a very specific landscape in my abyss, I can, with time, get a much clearer picture of what I am dealing with. With this I see the fear diminish in size and take on clear boundaries. Writing helps me do this. Take the billowy nebulous cosmic sort of apparition and turn it into a teeny little specific detail that fits in the palm of my hand. For example feeling sick about the thought of getting back on my bike and all sorts of horror that could befall me, vs. actually getting on my bike and taking one specific pedal stroke at a time on one specific stretch of road next to one specific person. There may still be fear, but it is of a very specific nature, bite-sized and approachable.

Now let me talk abut writing. While I have been writing consistently the past four days, and that writing has helped me hone in on my fear, I can feel myself getting back into the familiarity of this art form and wanting more from it. I don’t want it to just generally be talking about my life, my fear, my ghosts. My words thus far have felt like the outer stretch of fence on 100 acres of land. I want to zoom in and show the very three hairs that are standing up on my arm. The specific black Chaco hiking boots I am shaking in. Writing gets better when it gets into the details. When it puts you there, right there, so close you feel as though you’re sharing physical space with the writer. But writing is also more vulnerable this way. It is the difference between seeing a person speak on stage under the spotlight, versus shaking their hand afterwards in the lobby. You see grey hairs and wrinkles, uneven smiles or crooked teeth and skin blemishes. Showing the details puts you there, but for the details to connect they must be honest, not polished and at stage distance.

To be less cerebral, less stuck in my head where fears can multiply, I have to connect to my present now and the sensory details there-in. This is what grounds me in my actual life, vs. my out there, do you suppose, ghost-haunted mystery of what could be. I have to look the ghosty in the eyes and let it teach me. What is my actual?

To be a good writer it is the same. I have to stop swooping around the subject and hone in, so you can smell my coffee breath like I fear my art students can today. So you can see that while the static makes some of my hair fly away, I also have this one tiny braid pinned to the side of my head and it makes me happy when I look in the mirror, or absentmindedly touch the side of my head and feel its presence that makes me feel feminine and soft while also wandering and wild as though I could at any minute run off into the woods for the fun it.

Specific lets you know I have 5 minutes until my next group of fourth graders will enter my art room and paint sugar skulls with glowing paint under the blacklights I have plugged in around the room. Specific lets you know that my head feels spacey and dizzy like I haven’t quite healed from the stomach bug I had last week and like I’ve been squinting in the blacklights all day. Specific lets you know that I am fasting today because I’m holding out for a metaphorical door that is going to open in this day, a door that will bring on opportunities and significant change. Specific lets you know the fasting part was decided when I realized mid-morning while sipping on my coffee that I hadn’t packed a lunch or afternoon snacks, so I decided in order to keep me ready and alert for that door to show up, I would not eat. Specific lets you know these words will not get to be finished until later tonite because today is my long day and I teach until dark.

* * *

It is after dark now, and I walked into the house to my husband telling me he had ordered me food. I am currently breaking my fast in my pajamas by candlelight in between typing sentences. I realized on the drive to the evening art therapy classes I teach that today is “Remember, remember the 5th of November,” which makes sense to me now why I knew this was a day to find a door and slip through it. The fifth of November is a very powerful day indeed. I looked up V is for Vendetta quotes and this is the one that was mine for the taking today:

“The past can't hurt you anymore, not unless you let it.”

This morning before school I was planning on prepping dinner and putting it in the crockpot. As the morning unfolded I realized how stressed and jammed packed it was going to make the morning if I tried to squeeze in this dinner prep. Could I do it? Yes, of course I could, but at what cost? I went back and forth in my mind several times until the time drew close to when I needed to leave, and I decided to forgo it. For the first time since I’ve started these night classes, I left with absolutely no plan for my family for dinner. I knew they had food. I just went to the grocery yesterday. I knew they could be creative and fend for themselves.

On the drive home tonight I thought again about how difficult it was to make that decision this morning. How I didn’t feel good about not making them dinner plans, but how I felt even worse about forcing it into my morning and then being late and rushed to teach. Wait a minute, I thought, I knew which choice made me feel worse. I knew which choice I wanted to make right away, I just didn’t feel like I should get to make that choice because of course I was capable of making them dinner if f I just cut into my personal preparation time of my day. I thought about my decision yesterday to not race, and how my body had known I wasn't ready to race again, but I had felt like I couldn’t listen to my body because I was capable of racing if I just sucked up my fear of getting hurt and looking stupid. Why is the choice I want to make always the one I don’t get to make simply because I am capable of doing what I don’t want to do.

I have a history of taking responsibility into my hands. I have a history of training myself to suffer and willingly take on inconvenience, discomfort and extra weight so that others don’t have to encounter it. That is a past pattern, but it is not a present belief. Old patterns need to be be broken and I need to be retrained to accommodate my new beliefs.

This door that I was holding out for today is the door of specificity. It is the door of looking things, as they are, right in the eye. It is the door of seeing this past habit of living does not match up with my current belief system. I no longer have to feel the pain of debating over making the right choice.

The choice is easy. I know right away what I want. I did in the dinner making and I did in the bike racing. Why do I make it difficult by hunting down all the ways in which I could hurt myself to make it happen? Why not stop at, “It’s not because I can’t but because I won’t. I won’t do that to myself.”

Mary Oliver wrote, “If it is your nature to be happy you will swim away along the soft trails for hours, your imagination alighting everywhere.”

Her words are beautiful, and it could be shortened and made simpler and easier to remember as this:

“If it is your nature to be happy, you will.” That’s what the V is for Vendetta quote was saying to me. I can’t be hurt unless I let myself be hurt. I can be happy if I want to be happy.

“If it is your nature to be happy, you will…” could also be a writing prompt, finished up by specific details, because remember, the writing is better with the specificity. So is the living.

If it is in your nature to be happy, you will eat half of your Chipotle by candlelight and save the other half for tomorrow’s lunch, so you won’t have to fast for another day in a row.

If it is in your nature to be happy, you will turn forgetting lunches into a scavenger hunt of a fast in which holding out for a metaphorical door will cause you to remember the 5th of November, no longer be in shackles to your past and realize your new found decision making power that will acknowledge your fear while also saving time, energy, and obliterating self-doubt.

If it is in your nature to be happy you will end this sentence with confidence that you have in fact written yourself to your writing goal for the day which makes you wildly ecstatic and ready to close the door on this day, having successfully walked through it. Now you will swim away in your dreams along soft trails for hours, your imagination alighting everywhere.

1892 words.

Free Air

I am sitting outside on my back porch swing which faces the West. The afternoon sun is just enough to keep me warm. The most pleasant of temperatures. There aren’t nearly enough days in Oklahoma with just the right temperature for back porch sitting, so I am thankful I somehow managed to be right here for twelve minutes in between putting groceries away and marinating the meat and going to sit in the high school pick-up line. I know all of today was different varieties of me living, but it sure feels good to get to this moment when I get to express myself creatively.

I was stopping to get gas in my car on the way home from the grocery store, and I noticed that little metal box with the round red button. The box says on it, “Free Air.” I smile softly, and my eyes fill up with tears. it gets me thinking about how creative expression is like air to me, and I feel I need air the most when I am scared. When my ghosty pays me a visit it reminds me to slow my breathing, ins and outs at a long rhythmic pace. One appreciates free air when air feels costly and hard to come by. Judging by my tears today, I am thankful for this pause to consider what my ghost is telling me.

It’s a ghost of anxiety I’m feeling today. Anxious for a new week beginning, a week in which I am grateful to get back to a more normal schedule, but with that comes the fish out of water sort of feel because I haven’t been full throttle at normal life for a bit, and I’m wondering if I can take it all on again. This is what I wrote about yesterday, that sickening sort of feeling I get when I’ve had some time away and then I have to return. The momentary pause of sure I did this before, but can I do it again? What if I can’t do it again? I guess it feels like past success has heaped on expectations for my future, and I forget that I am capable of this, and the only way I can completely reassure myself is by going through it and then saying, “See, I told you you’d be okay.”

I’m also feeling anxious because it’s been a couple weeks since I’ve raced bicycles (I’ve only done 3 bike races in my life ever, and they’ve been in the last 5 weeks), but I know there is a bike race coming up this weekend, the last one I could do this cyclocross season, and I’m wondering if I want to do it. (The last race I did I injured myself running and fell once, so those have their own haunts.) Again time off the bike and away from racing has given time for fears to fill the gap. I don’t know I how I feel about racing this weekend, and so I am having to leave that question unanswered for now. An unanswered question with a deadline for decision is like a pot you know is simmering and you have to keep remembering to come back and check on just in case. It’s okay, but it divides my attention and keeps me alert in the background while managing other responsibilities. I can only ride my bike if it is fun, I remind myself. So yes, I have to give myself some time and think, is this race going to be fun? Am I up for it?

I’m scared of falling again. Scared of hurting again. Scared of looking stupid because I cannot navigate things that I feel as though I should be able to navigate if I am going to race in this sport. There are technical aspects of bike handling that this sport, called cyclocross, contains, and I’m not very good at it yet at all. I also need to be able to get on and off my bike fluidly and this dismount of mine just doesn’t feel natural yet. It is awkward. I am awkward. My body doesn’t feel supported. It feels fragile. Like joints and muscles and nerves aren’t prepared for the challenge of maneuvering tights turns and steep (for me) inclines and descents. I don’t know how to prepare for this. I have gotten lots of advice, but this is a matter of how my own body feels and weighing all of these fears with all of these facts about my newness.

I wish I was less new so I didn’t have to fall. I wish I was less new so I had gobs of experience and knew what to do when I come up against some unique challenge in the race course. I wish there weren’t people watching, but then again, it is wonderful to have people, my people, cheering for me. I keep thinking about this one part of the race (because I have seen the course a few years ago when I went and watched my husband race it) where there is a deep ravine and a steep climb up through rocks in the woods. People stand there, more than anywhere, to cheer, but I keep thinking of coming to that point and then crashing in front of everyone. I wonder which I am more scared of, falling off my bike or falling in front of people.

So I don’t know if I will race and that is how I am leaving it for now. Maybe I will ride a little in my backyard some this week and get a feel for it again. Or maybe I should let it go until next year. Give myself a break. Give myself time to get stronger. We shall see. For now it is inhale and exhale. Free air. Typing words and realizing I have overstayed my welcome on this back porch swing, and now that the sun drops lower and is nearly blinding me, I am reminded that it is school pick-up time, and I will be late, but it will be okay because the girls don’t come out on time anyway. Nothing has to happen right on time. Things can have wiggle room, that’s where we make room for pleasure. It doesn’t have to all be so dialed in. Little ghosty, thanks for showing up to say it doesn’t have to all be so perfect. If the expectations weren’t so high, maybe the fear levels could drop.

* * *

I’m returning to this written piece much later in the evening on the same day I started it. My hair is wet and dripping down my back, sending cold chills down my spine. I went on my usual Monday night shop group ride. I talked to a few people about my dilemma with racing this weekend, and before the ride was even halfway through, I’d decided I’m not going to race. I realized it did not sound like fun. I was pushing myself too hard, wanting to believe I was just battling fear when actually my body doesn’t feel ready for it. I have to listen to that. This is more than about pushing through. This is about listening to my fear and realizing the levels are enormous. More than just nerves, this is, “Hey I’m not ready yet! Will you just let me not be ready yet?”

The ride we did tonite, I did for the first time last year at this time. And I struggled a lot to hang onto the group. It was really hard for me. Tonite it was simple. Easy. I could talk during the sections that last year I wouldn’t have even been able to ride without falling off the back of the group. It was so incredible to see my growth compared to this time last year. I realized how far I have come, and also how new I still am to riding my bike like this. It put things in perspective for me. I don’t have to rush into doing it all. My journey to get to this point as been slow and steady. My journey into racing can be similar. I have to know that I will let myself push pause when it gets to be too much seriousness and not enough fun. By not racing, I’m proving to myself I will listen to my fears, weigh them and make the right decision.

This past Summer I was hanging out at my in-laws pool with some of my cycling friends. One of them was talking about how her sister had called asking for advice. Through the course of conversation I mentioned that I don’t ask for much advice. “How do you make a decision then?” Another woman asked me. “Do you meditate?”

“No,” I said.

I didn’t have a good answer for her, but I have thought about it from time to time since then. Writing is one way that I process my life and weigh my options and make decisions. Writing is a tool that takes me logically from one step to the next. It leads me to revelations. Especially when I write stream of consciousness like this, not editing while writing, but just letting all the words that want to come out, come out. It may not be the most riveting piece to read, but sometimes I say things that surprise myself or shine light on the dilemma. Today typing the sentence, “My body doesn’t feel supported,” was very telling for me. I have felt this in my body, but writing it brought it from subconscious to consciousness. I want to be someone that listens to my body and stops when my body says stop. Not every fear has to be pushed through.

And now I can breathe again. Free air. I pushed that red button the moment I said no to the race. I hope some day the more fun option will be to do the race, and on that day it will be a joy to push the red button and get after it. But if I don’t get there, that is okay too. Enjoying my life is the goal.

I took my shoes off in my closet when I got home. Using one foot, I tried to slip the heel of my shoe off the other foot. I felt a lot of pain in the back of my right leg, which is what I injured in my race. It was the perfect confirmation that I was doing the right thing by not racing. I’m not fully healed. It’s easy to think that I am until I do something to trigger my symptoms. Healing takes time. It is a daily event. I don’t need to be in a rush.

1792 words

When Time Has Passed Since the Last Time

I’m tired tonite. Even though it is a weekend and time to write should be greater than normal, I didn’t get great sleep last night, and have been dragging all day, that and I had other things that took priority today. I’m okay with that. Writing, creating, it can’t always be my number one.

I rode my bike this afternoon, and I think that is adding to being tired. The last two weeks I haven’t been riding nearly as consistently. I had a couple hiccups in life that threw my schedule off from its usual normal and riding has been one of the many things that have had to take a backseat for a bit. I was quite grateful for the chance to ride yesterday and again today and start to ease back into more time on the bike. While riding today wasn’t horribly hard, it also wasn’t easy and my fatigue is setting in hard. Let’s throw in the fact that the time changed and it is pitch black outside. Zzzzz.

Something interesting happened today. My ghosty showed up on the ride very early on, and I think it was for a couple reasons. 1. The route we did is one I haven’t done for a long time, and the last couple times I did ride that route I really struggled to keep up, largely because of the open exposure to the wind. Today was especially windy too. 2. Time away from the bike is time for fear to sink in. It took awhile to feel comfortable again on the bike today. I felt timid, anxious, unsure. It felt like I was a bit of an exposed raw nerve out there again. Not as bad as previous times, but definitely familiar old fears were creeping back in.

Yesterday I was writing about brand new starts - being a beginner and trying something for the first time. But today was another case entirely. My ghosty showing up because I have done this before, and I do know some of the risks, and I have counted some of the costs. Old fears resurface because now I know enough to be aware of my own previous struggles.

About mid-ride it dawned on me that writing is a lot like this too. I’m not a beginner writer. I’ve done it for years. I’ve done it enough to know my own personal ghosty that comes out to play. The fears become very familiar, almost rehearsed. When time creeps in and widens the gap between the last time and the next time, it can make beginning again that much harder. Because now you know what you’ll have to overcome to get going again, and you’re out of practice, you’re just not as sharp and in your flow. The awkwardness of a restart is rather unnerving when you know what a sense of ease you had gotten yourself to previously. Gearing up to throw yourself back into the work it will take can be a rather daunting endeavor. 

Anyone who has ever started lifting weights again after a long time off can attest to this. Muscle soreness is real telling of how hard it is going to be to return to your previous status.

Today I felt timid for the first few miles of the ride. Cracks in the road seemed more deathly. Did i overdress or underdress? I wanted more space between me and the other riders. Going around curves through a neighborhood seemed sketchy. My hands felt tingly in my fingertips. Could I trust my bike, my handling skills, my fitness to do what it could do two weeks ago? Could I trust the people around me? Did I drink too much coffee and it was giving me too much anxiety? Did I even like riding bikes anymore?

Many times I have asked that question of myself - Do you even like riding bikes anymore? When my ghosty shows up as things starts to get hard, I start to give myself an out. If this is not what you want anymore, you don’t have to do this. I don’t want to burn out and then give up cycling for good, so I like to have these check-in points to make sure I am still having fun. Still riding because I want to.

These familiar fears today didn’t last too long. I remember at some point I smiled and said, “This is fun, and I’m okay now.” It was nice to see how they came and then went. I didn’t struggle nearly as much as I have in the wind on that route before. So even though I may be weaker than I was a couple weeks ago, I am stronger than I was the last time I was on those roads. And that’s not just an assumption or a hope. That is truth. I know because I have metrics to measure. The numbers don’t lie. The ride was faster than the previous rides I’ve done there and I had personal records today on different sections along the way.

I’ve come to think of these moments like the poet Rilke’s “widening circles.” It looks the same, but it’s different because I’m different. I’ve passed by this Landscape of the Abyss before, and so it only makes sense that memories associated with fears wave their hands up and beg for attention. But today I got to make a new memory, a more positive one than the last. I rode myself into my proof that I am improving.

With writing I have so many memories and familiar fears. The fear of getting behind. The fear of writing being too all-consuming in my life, meaning less sleep or poor eating choices or using a little bit too much of the margins of my life so that life felt rushed and chaotic. The fear of an audience and all that entails. The fear of asking why why why would I make myself so vulnerable as to share this publicly when I don’t have to. The fear of no one reading at all because it isn’t interesting enough to keep attention. A history of writing means a lot of bumps and bruises along the way. A lot of work that didn’t always translate into reward. As you do the hard thing and the fears start talking, you sudden remember how bit by bit it was easier to stop than it was to keep going. Fears and those fears coming true have a heavy weight to them. It’s hard to want to try again, again.

I found myself the last two mornings waking up and thinking, “Why am I writing again? After all this time, why did I sign back up for this?” I felt upset to my stomach, anxious that someone or no one was writing and that I was putting too much of myself “out there” where I can’t protect myself. But that hunger I spoke of yesterday, that hunger of desire, it is bigger and it drives me on. It makes me write thought my eyelids are heavy. It makes me ride though my legs feel like lead. It beckons me on though the tips of my fingers feel tingly at the thought. My chest feels tight too, but what am I going to do, quit? I don’t want to. I know there is something for me on the other side of this blog post, just like there was for yesterday.

Sometimes my ghosty feels like a hand extended beckoning me on a conveyor belt. The conveyor belt doesn’t signify blind action without thought or intention. The conveyor belt is a metaphor for continuing to move forward doing what you have to do. I knew I wanted to do this ride today, so instead of focusing on my ghosty that wanted to start voicing its concern, I focused on picking out shorts and a jersey and socks and shoes. I focused on the things I’ve done so many times I can do them without thinking. Charging lights and finding my sunglasses and clipping my helmet on tight. If I can just keep moving, I can get myself so far into something that I realize I’m no longer afraid and it is all so familiar again.

Next thing you know you’re 1321 words into a piece of writing that you thought you were too tired to even write.

There is one more thing I learned about fear today, sometimes I can tap into old confidence rather than old fear. What I mean by that is once you’ve done something long enough you not only start to have lots of familiar fear you also start to have lots of memories of overcoming that fear or having success. You start to ride (or to write) like someone that is meant to be there. Someone that has put in their time and learned some things and proved themselves. Someone that has some clout.

Feeling a little uncomfortable at the closeness of someone I was riding with today, mainly because I wasn’t as familiar with the route we were riding and desired some distance in spacing to account for anything unforeseen in the road, I found myself getting pushed further and further into a tight spot. I felt small, fearful, kind of like a wild animal being trapped in a corner and out of options. Instead of continuing to ride that way I readjusted myself on my bike into what felt like more of a power stance, my elbows a little wider, my grip more sure and I put my bike where I needed my bike to be to feel more comfortable. The person beside me adjusted accordingly. I have found you can do this on a bike as long you move slow and steady, not jerky and unexpected. Adjusting my position just a little and riding more confident like I could put the bike where I needed it to be, instantly made my ghosty flee the scene. This is something I never could have done as a beginner cyclist, but having ridden in tight spaces on faster rides, I have some experience now with navigating around other bikes. Sure I haven’t ridden quite as much over the past two weeks, but the muscle memory clicked in and I was able to pull on past experience to propel me over a current fear. That was nice.

And when a fear gets overcome, I trust my abilities a little more and the ride becomes more fun and I can relax and enjoy myself instead of being on so high alert. I have tot think the more times I do it the more times I’m racking up experience points for myself. The more experience points the quicker I can get the fear back out the door when it does try to stop in uninvited and stay for a long visit.

This is why writing stream of consciousness this month is so helpful for me because it is about getting reps in. Getting practice in. Getting words out, out, out, so I can see waking up each morning and feeling silly and vulnerable and exposed is just part of it. Eventually I can get enough muscle memory to just jump on that conveyor belt and keep moving forward rather than it putting a wrench in my plans. I can type with tired eyes and tingling fingers. I can ride with heavy legs and tingling fingers. I just have to show up, let the familiar actions get me moving and let the next thing lead to the next thing. Basically I have to just not stand in my own way.

1887 words.

Beginner’s Bend

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It was around May of 2018 that I did my first cycling group ride that started from our bicycle shop. It came with a little bit of coaxing. At that point in my life exercising with other people didn’t particularly interest me because exercising is such a release for me. I get time to think or turn on music and not think, but I don’t have to interact with anyone else. I can work out all of my tension and the workout can begin and end when I determine. It was something I considered as “time alone.” Although I did, on occasion enjoy riding with my husband or my kids as it was a fun way to spend time with my family.

But I was very new to riding a bike. Sure, I had learned to ride a bike as a kid. It was transportation to a friend’s house or the candy store, and sometimes my family did rides around town, but it had been years since it had been a regular part of my life. In the first few years of starting the bike shop when  asked if I rode bikes, my standard reply was, “Yes, my bike has a basket and it can carry a quilt, a book and a bottle of wine.” That was my idea of a ride.

As I started to show a little more interest in riding for fitness, I didn’t get rid of my basket bike, but in addition I inherited a hand-me-down from a cyclist in our community. A bike with gears and better positioned for longer endurance rides. We affectionately called it Ol’ Blue. My husband gifted me a pair of Rapha cycling shorts for Mother’s Day. Knowing enough from his riding that Rapha was an extremely nice, high quality brand, I told him, “I haven’t ridden enough to warrant these.” To which he told me that was exactly why I needed them. “If I can keep you comfortable, I can keep you riding.” I cherished those shorts and wore them on rides by myself or with him and/or my kids. I feel this is important backstory so it is clear just how little I personally was into bikes.

So here is how my first official group ride came about. A woman cyclist and racer named Katy, whom I had never met before, but knew my husband and our bicycle shop, had a Women’s Cycling Club she led for our city. She offered through that club to lead an every-other-week Monday night group ride for women only. It would begin at our shop, ride with traffic on the road to a nearby lake, do one lap on the trails around the lake and then return back to the shop with traffic on the road. I think the distance was around a 12-13 mile ride. My husband told me Katy was starting it and suggested I give it a try. Which is of course the precise moment when I started thinking about how exercise is my time alone, and I didn’t grasp the desire to ride with other people. I wasn’t looking for social time.

BUT, on the other hand, I did have a bike, nice cycling shorts, AND I had ridden just enough to have my interest peaked, both as an athlete and as a human being who loves a personal challenge and an opportunity for growth. What would it be like to ride in a group? On the road? With women cyclists? Independently from my husband? What would it be like to take my own personal step closer towards that progression with cycling I had watched my husband go on for the past 10 years?

What was hardest for me to come to terms with was that below the very true layer of “I don’t want to exercise with other people” there was an even deeper layer of “Oh my gawd, I know enough about this cycling world to know that there is TONS that I don’t know. And it is really easy to speak the language and play just wise enough to blend in like a wallflower in the cycling world from the sidelines, but it is an entirely different thing to suit up and throw yourself as a participant into the spotlight which harshly reveals just how clueless and helpless and fearful and oh yeah unfit you are.”

Here is where my Ghosty comes to play. Starting something new is terrifying because as a beginner you <gasp> look like a beginner. I was scared that the other women would be mean, catty, experienced, cliquish. Scared that a lot would be expected out of me if people knew I was the shop owner’s wife. Scared that I would reflect poorly on the shop. Scared that I would wreck. Scared that I would cause other people to wreck. Scared they would go to fast. Scared that my tire would go flat. Scared that I didn’t know how to take a drink from my water bottle while I was riding. Scared that I had regular tennis shoes and flat pedals (I didn’t know they were called flat pedals then) instead of special clip in shoes with clip in pedals. Scared that I was too scared to learn how to clip into my pedals, and therefore couldn’t save face even if I wanted too. Bottom line? I was scared that I would look stupid.

I never thought about this so systematically at the time. These were all very separate anxious thoughts that would hit me at random times and stack up like a leaning game of Jenga. It was like my Ghosty showing up to rattle chains in my attic or knock, knock, knock in my basement, or moan in the walls of my mind, but every time I’d start to get close to the source of the noise the noise would stop and I’d go back to other more pressing moments of my day that needed my time, energy and attention. I guess what I am saying is for all the fear there was, the fear was manageable. It didn’t stop me from going on that first group ride with women.

This is why writing is so therapeutic for me. To write all this out. To tell the story. To see how this piece fits with that. To pick a theme, like this - my theme of making friends with a ghosty. To focus in on this aspect of fear in my life and see why it is so prevalent, when it occurs, what it causes me to do and what happens as a result. To help me reverse engineer the past, so I can accept the now and change the future. Writing has for years been the powerful tool that gets me to push through my fears, but as writing at some point snuck in as one of my fears, I wasn’t writing at the time this cycling journey began. I know I found other creative ways to befriend my ghosty because there have been so many fears faced along the way. For whatever reason, a year and a half into this cycling journey, writing became a necessary tool that had to be re-summoned and with it a whole surprising suitcase of fears handcuffed to it.

I love the parallel stories here, as I share with you what led me to my first group ride, and as I simultaneously share my first “group write” in sometime (which is just a punny way to say “publicly shared piece of writing.”) Writing is helping me keep riding. And riding is helping me keep writing. Also funny if you know about my history with trying to figure out these two pieces of myself that have often felt at war - the athlete and the artist.

This is why I love the idea of thinking of fear like a ghosty friend instead of a blood hound hunting you down. Because if you can just hang on long enough to let each fear take you where it wants to go, it turns out to be one step closer to you becoming your most glorious self out loud. This is not towards death, as it can feel at times, but towards life. This is all towards life.

I rode that first group ride because my curiosity won out over fear. I was hungry with the desire to be better on a bike. I was pacman eating up the ghost of I don’t want to look stupid. I don’t remember everything about that night, but here is how I remember it. I remember before the ride I was introduced as the bike shop owner’s wife (so much for being a wallflower.) I remember sharing verbally out loud how scared I was. I remember I had my fashion sunglasses from Target on and someone complemented me. I remember a woman on the ride fell on a hill at a stoplight because she failed to unclip from her pedal. She was not hurt, but I remember being validated in my decision to NEVER clip in. I remember the local police helped us get safely through traffic on the busiest road, thanks to my husband asking ahead of time if they would be willing to do so. I remember the ride being chaotic at first with nothing really explained and everyone going different speeds and riding different distances apart from each other and carrying on separate conversations. That part was unnerving. It made me feel out of control and I didn’t like that feeling. I didn’t like not liking that feeling, and so that gave me a new fear to overcome. (A reason to return!) I remember everyone was kind. I remember still not being sure if it was preferred exercise, but I had a sense of personal independence and accomplishment in doing something I had never done before on my own albeit in a group. (Another reason to return!) I remember being relieved that I made it back without needing a drink of water because we never stopped to get one.

Sometimes I am still so shocked that I was brave enough to ever go on that very first ride because I know how heavy the leaning tower of Jenga was stacked against me, and I know how noisy that moaning, rattling, knocking ghosty had become. It didn’t matter how much expectations others or myself had of me, I still had to be a beginner and to feel like one. That is such a crucial point of awareness for me to uncover through writing. To know that my ghosty friend has a pattern in where it shows up. Beginner’s Bend, I might mark it on my Landscapes of the Abyss map. It is The Fool card in the Tarot. It is where the ghosty shakes my hand and says, “How do you do?” Time after time after time.

1824 words.

The Abyss

Because I Want To Write and I Haven’t For So Long

I have an assignment that is due for my teaching job. It won’t take long, just a quick report to share what we have been working on in Art Therapy, complete with a short summary and some photos. It was due a week ago, but I can’t bring myself to work on it because every time I get a moment to myself, like I have right now, squeezed between art classes, all I want to do is write.

This is exciting energy for me. It has been a long time since I have wanted to write or have even felt as if I had anything worth sharing. If I am honest there have been times over the past couple years where I have wanted so badly to want to write that I would open my laptop and stare at the blinking cursor and wait for something to come. Words always come, but they often felt hurky jerky or forced and they never felt like words I wanted to share.

I realized this morning that the sharing has been my biggest hangup. It is the sharing that I don’t wish to dive into. At the very same time I want it more than anything. I am surprised that when I ask myself I do believe that art, like living, is meant to be shared.

When my students finish an art assigment in class, sometimes they will try and hand it to me. “Here, it is for you,” they’ll say.

“No, I want you to take it home,” I say.

“I made it for you,” they’ll try again.

“Nope. This piece goes home with you,” I say with added emphasis.

I have seen their work. We have labored on it together, often pushing through some difficult moments to come out the other side with success. Now I want them to share it with someone. Show it off. It is difficult  for me to think of it not making it onto other eyes. It feels like part of the art life cycle to me. But sometimes it is easier for me as the passionate art teacher to understand this need for art to carry beyond the classroom. For the artist himself or herself if the piece didn’t go quite like they planned or if they don’t feel like they have a receptive audience at home, sharing their art can often feel daunting, overwhelming or useless. Some of the students think, “If I can just give it to the art teacher I know at least she’ll like it. She seems to like all the art.”

When I pull out of my neighborhood, there is an inflatable Halloween decoration in my neighbor’s yard. It is probably 20 feet tall, a ghostlike woman with a flowy veil. I call her the corpse bride - tall, skinny and ominous. The gargantuan ghoul is all white save a beady pair of glowing red eyes. One time in the car my husband made the remark that she was staring into the abyss.

When I express myself with written words and then share it I feel as though I am tossing myself into the abyss and then staring down into it wondering where it has tumbled and why I sent it off on such a treacherous journey. Why didn’t I just keep my treasured words there safe with me on the edge of all that unknown? Why do I want to sling it? Does this make me a poor word parent?

I feel a similar feeling as I send art assignments home with my students, as though I am tossing them into the abyss, especially with some students more than others. Where will they land? Is the journey treacherous? Into the Abyss they go.

A week or so after my husband made that comment about the abyss, I realized the tarot deck that I pull from for Fall and Winter is called Landscapes of the Abyss. I’ve never noticed that before. It is a deck by an artist named Mary El, and I have always referred to it as the Mary El deck. This awareness of the title Landscapes of the Abyss is a timely find. I’ve never thought of the “Abyss” as having potential landforms before. Of it having something chiseled, earthy, grounding. Of my eyes being able to adjust and see physical masses. Of the terrain being mappable with flags for discoveries. An Abyss Cartographer could make excursions, find dependable knowledge of what lies around the bend.

The words Abyss seems more akin to outer space or the deep, dark ocean. No where to rest a toe or a head. No where to get ones bearings. My body needs bearings to feel as if I am actually showing up here as me. I don’t want to float through life with no sense of why or where. I am an artist that wants to make my life with intention. Throwing my words into an abyss can seem haphazard at best. Winging it. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I don’t have to fling words, cover my eyes and hope. I can write

I can get to know my way around. My towering Corpse Bride, my ghosty I’ll call her, as this is the word I’m currently using for my fear, can be my tour guide, holding up a lantern to illuminate what is actually there versus what I feared might be.

If I know making friends with my ghosty has lessons and learning and treasure and expansion in it for me, I’m more likely to give it a go. If I can get to know my way around the Abyss and familiarize myself with it, like learning the ways of the fire swamp in The Princess Bride, I’m willing to venture in. I need to know I have some ownership in the matter. That I am not throwing myself into a game of chance. My life isn’t worthy of a gambling game. There is so much good at stake here. But let’s be honest, there is also risk. It is why my ghosty shows up in the first place. Whether it be tingles down my spine, butterflies in my stomach, a paralyzed body or a cold sort of numbness starting at my core and spreading to my fingers, my body knows when the ghosty is present and it sets off all my bells and whistles to alert my entire system.

Upon considering my commitment to the 2019 National Novel Writing Month I was already triggering all the ghosty feels, therefore I knew I wasn’t asking “Is there risk?” Instead I was asking myself “Is this worth the risk?” To say yes to befriending a ghosty as my tour guide to the Abyss I had to accept that the current version of myself wanted to grow outside of what I had designated as safe with my writing, and that I wanted to write more than I wanted my known web of safety. Even just writing it out like that clearly and logically helps me. It gives me my first landmark in the Abyss - my dropping in point if you will. Here is a clear designation. I don’t know for sure what lies ahead (although this isn’t my first rodeo), but I do know that letting words pour out of me again is so meaningful to me and had been such a powerful tool of self-expression, self-healing and self-discovery in my life that I want to open myself to those things again, even with a large heaping side of the unknown. And of course I have a hunch the ghosty can and will be cordial and that this will all be taken, as in any journey is taken, one day at a time.

Last night as I was setting my alarm I noticed an email from NaNoWriMo with Anne Lamott’s name in the subject line. Anne Lamott holds a warm place in my heart as a writer. When I got to hear her speak in person a few years ago with a close friend, I was so excited to get her to sign, not her newest book at the time which I’d purchased as part of the event, but rather her much older Bird by Bird book which, if you don’t know, is all about writing and taking it one day, one word, at a time. So to see her name last night, the last thing I would see before this writing goal began, was the perfect secret message. Like the tall ominous ghosty one, her veil whipping in the wind, stooped down low to whisper in my ear, “You’re doing just fine. No need to change your mind. We’re going to have a splendid time.”

I paused in my writing to go grab the book from the shelf just now. Bird by Bird. Sigh. Relief. It is still there where I remembered it. It has been so long. And yes, there is her signature on the title page. I opened up to the introduction, knowing I was hunting, searching for just a bit more magic. If I want it, it will be here. One more piece to show me I am headed in the right direction. Then I see it, right after she talks about her dad also being a writer and hanging out with his writer friends. “Usually in the afternoons, when that day’s work was done, they hung out at the no name bar in Sausalito…” I paused, squinted my eyes. Did I read that right? But I knew I did. Of course it says Sausalito. Of course.

Sausalito - my favorite place we visited while in Northern California last September with my husband. We visited a bicycle shop and ate at a cafe where the food was so good I remember writing the simple flavors down in my journal so I could make something similar when I got home. We drove up, up, up the windy and steep roads with the most beautiful homes. It felt like they were treehouses. I bought a cowgirl hat from a local artist studio and we ate at the Napa Valley Burger Co sitting at a bar at the front windows that looked out over the street. I drank my beer as we waited for our food and I watched the cyclists come down off the mountain on their commutes home, and I thought, I am so inspired to ride my bike more. If they can ride on the road in traffic, I can do that too. I can remember them doing it and not be so scared. And if I can ride alone, I can get stronger and faster so eventually I am able to ride in group rides. I want all the rides to be accessible to me. I want all the options.

Of course it says Sausalito, Anne Lamott. Of course it does.

Bars in Sausalito. Bicycles in Sausalito. Facing fears with writers and cyclists in Sausalito.

Isn't it fitting I am ending this sentence tonight, so I can sleep and ride my bicycle in the morning tomorrow?

1836 words.

I am on the right path, straight into the Abyss.

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This Is A Test

This is a test. This is a test to see how long it takes me to write 1600ish words, which is what my daily goal will be each day starting in November.

It has been a long time since I have written with any sort of consistency. I did NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) one time in November of 2009 or 2010. I did complete a novel then, a bad one, but what I loved is that it trained me to make time every day to write. I want to do that again. 1600ish words a day, 50,000 words for the month of November.

Just over a month ago I started receiving emails from NaNoWriMo. I had not received them for years. Somehow I got back on their mailing list, and I might not have thought anything of it, except that I had already committed to participate in InkTober - a challenge where you use ink and daily prompts to draw everyday during the month of October. Wouldn’t it be easy to replace the time I have given to InkTober to NaNoWriMo? I thought. And besides, haven't I been feeling the tug to write, write, write again?

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Words have been hard to focus on for me over the past year. Reading and writing have been a struggle. I haven’t felt my familiar draw to devour them or divulge them. But over the past couple weeks they have started to cycle back through for me, as I’ve pulled out some familiar favorite books and as I’ve reconnected to some of my favorite writing voices. Perhaps there are still some words in me. Perhaps I can muster up the umph to share.

I am thinking I will post the words here on my blog. It is helpful to me to have a catch and release, so it feels like I am actively flexing my self-expression muscle by taking that vulnerable step of sharing the words. It has been so long since I’ve shared words in this way. It feels like a different lifetime, and I’m wondering if I can hurl myself hard enough at that brick wall to bust through my writing block labeled platform 9 and 3/4. I am not scared of if I can write words, but whether if I care to let the words I do write be shared with others. There is a me that I hold so dear, and I know the cost of making that me visible isn’t for the faint of heart. I know it well. I know I don’t have to share a thing. I know that even in baring the pieces of myself that I can, much of me will still remain unseen, and that is maybe the hardest part of all. People can only see what their story makes rooms for. If my story has grown outside their perimeters, they simply won’t be able to see those parts of me. For all that work of sharing the best and most truthful version of myself, something for many will still get lost in translation. Something for which I have absolutely no energy to correct.  Ah well. Maybe there will be a few who can hear me. There is something stirring inside me and once it gets stirred (not shaken) I have to see it through. I can already feel myself seeing it through. This is the way of art. It comes through at all costs when it is time for it to do so.

I read a children’s book recently called “How to Make Friends With a Ghost,” and it struck me that this is how I address fear in my life, as a little invisible ghosty friend (I can see her, but no one else can) that accompanies me anytime I seek to grow larger than my known borders. I am actively growing larger. My soul knows no limits. My body does its best to keep up. Such a good sport.

I need to pause and say two things here. 1. I will not be writing a novel for NaNoWriMo. (More on that soon.) And 2. I will be writing stream of consciousness. It is the form of writing that feels most true to me. This style of writing was developed in my Senior year of high school thanks to studying Peter Elbow in Creative Writing class. There is an essay I can point you to if you’re interested. I think of it every few years and look it up again and read it. It is a way of writing that helps me write truer. And not only truer, but also, more importantly, with more pleasure. When I write stream of conscious I feel great pleasure, and this is what I am really after these days in my art - my own pleasure.

Ah, Mandy, doesn’t that feel good?

Why yes, it does thank you very much.

And so on I go.

I will not be writing a novel because I don’t want to. I will be writing memoir I suppose. Essays about me and my ghost friend. I will be writing blog posts here and there, as the words spill out and as I relax into opening, opening, opening up to this process once again. I will be writing so as to open up my fingers, one knuckle at a time. Can my hands be open to giving myself this gift of pleasure - to write and to also release? It is something like a meditation. Me showing up and doing my part. Me willing. Me not clenching onto the words when I fear they won’t mean on the outside what they mean on the inside. This is such a life-giving experiment. I feel alive knowing there is a risk and fear and a facing it all.

It is actually riding my bike that made me think about writing again. Riding my bike the past year and a half has been so scary, and the fear came to its pinnacle when my body recently went paralyzed as I stopped on the edge of a small hill and refused to ride down. I can’t. I won’t. Not yet. I’m not ready. This instance made me think of other instances I have felt this sort of fear in my life - when I started teaching, when I started a job at a coffee shop, when I first started a blog, when I started writing a book. Do you see the pattern? Upon STARTING something NEW, my ghosty shows up and wants to play.

I've actually missed that feeling. In a weird sort of way, that paralyzed feeling in my body is associated with warm memories of showing up for myself and doing something externally that was blazing internally, even though I wasn’t sure about succeeding, and I wasn't sure that I wanted to be seen by other people. When I challenge myself to noticeably show up in my life as a new and improved expanding version of myself, I get terrified. I also get hyped. I haven’t felt this sort of hype in a long time, and feeling it again on my bike made me hungry for more in other areas of my life.

I am not a thrill seeker, but I am quite the pleasure seeker. Just as I believe it is the little things that make a life so special, I believe it is the little daily risks that add up to making a fulfilling and pleasurable life.

I’m stopping to count words now. The rain is coming down outside. The temperature has dropped since the sunny and 70’s of yesterday. In a moment I will be wrapping my trench coat tight around me and buttoning one button so it stays put before walking to my car (why did I leave my umbrella in my car?) But for now I am stopping to count words to see if I am anywhere close to 1600 and also anywhere close to believing this November goal is actually in my grasp. It has been so long since I’ve written.

1479.

I’m at 1479, and I haven’t even broken a sweat.

I’ve still got it. This dream is on. This goal is set. This is happening.

I just smiled to myself because I found it humorous that what is really to be discovered through all this writing is not how unfigurable out that I am (yes I will be making up words.) What I mean to say is perhaps the fear is not that others won’t understand me, but that they will feel they know me in a jiffy. That really I am just so very, very simple and my way of living is so very very easy and the ghosty is so very very tiny and my path is so very very ordinary.  This is the real challenge, to take all this simple me in this simple life and portray, with a few choice words everyday, how I feel so extraordinary and massive and immortal. How my soul inside me feels like a great and powerful genie squeezed into this tiny lamp of a body and how my role here is to let that all come out in this tiny little package of a life.

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The fear is that everyone will find me just like them, so relatable, when really I am something bigger than anyone else can ever be because I am myself. It is all the grandeur that I fear will go missed. I do not write to make me small, I write to let all the big come forth. Because I walk around with all this bigness inside of me and it wants a place to go. If I don’t write about it I can stay the legend that I am in my own mind, but to talk about it I become a simpleton on a shared course with humanity and oh but aren’t we all just one afterall.

I write to say we are not all one, if by one you mean the same, the collective, the unison voice. I write to say I am me, and I don’t care to dilute that in the waters of “me too.” I don’t care for that at all.

I don’t wish to be a symphony. I wish to be a solo. Don’t you? Don’t you?

This is the part that makes my bike so very paralyzing to ride, because even with my team jersey on, I ride the bike alone. The hill is mine to descend. The hill is mine to climb. The falls are my body to bruise. The speed is mine to maintain or increase. It is my head to get into and to get out of. It is my own caution that must be exercised and when it is time, my own risk that must be taken.

All I care about is letting all the genie-sized potential out of me in whatever exit path it wishes to take. I am small, but I am mighty. I am here to tell you just how mighty I am.

1983 words. I will call this a bold start.