Monthly Archives: September 2011

“Is it getting better?”

“Is it getting better?” I’m starting to hear this question. More insidiously, I’m starting to ask it of myself. Shouldn’t you be feeling better by now? Shouldn’t you be getting used to this? Isn’t it time to “find closure” and move on?

NO.

It doesn’t work that way.

A family member who was suddenly and tragically widowed many years ago explained it to me this way: You NEVER really get over it. Your loved one with whom you spent so many years has become an indelible part of you — part of the person that you are and will always be for the rest of your life. Will it get better someday? Maybe… I hope. But will it ever become a fact with zero emotional content? NO.

Even when I think about my first husband — it was a short, awful marriage that I knew was never going to work even while I was embroiled in it — there is a part of me that carries a part of him with me. He was a musician. I still listen to recordings that he participated in, and I still feel his music and feel myself being there as it was created. My relationship with him, flawed though it was, forms a core part of the person that I am today.

Is it getting better? NO. I think I’m doing fine but then I cry myself to sleep almost every night. I want to pound walls and scream sometimes, but I don’t. Instead of doing those things I go running. And I am now feeling the physical effects of overtraining.

So I’m gratefully telling myself that I’m now in “pre-race taper” mode, and I really don’t have to do much running between now and the race October 9 in Victoria. I’ve seen the signs of overtraining — my resting pulse is elevated and I need to sleep after I run — but I didn’t realize how over-fatigued I’ve become until I got the news today that the half marathon I’d planned to run on New Year’s Eve has been canceled. This came as a huge relief. I’m now only registered for two half marathons between now and mid-February, not three. My current plans have me doing my running events approximately four months apart over the next year. I think I can handle that. I think it will bring my running back to a level where it is a fun, stress-releasing activity rather than an obsessive attempt to drown out the voices whispering to me, “Shouldn’t you be feeling better by now?”

One step at a time.

I am not a machine; I have real muscles and real joints, and real emotions. My body-mind are inseparable, and both are deeply, actively engaged in the grieving process. I can’t orchestrate this process or be logical about or detached from my experience, even though I wish I could. I need more than five hours sleep a night, which means that I’d better hit the “publish” button now and call it a night.

Thanks to all of you who truly listen and care… you sustain me more than you know.

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There’s no place like home

4000 miles and two weeks later, I am home.

I am not bi-platial by nature; buying the condo in the desert was Kurt’s idea, his dream, and I went along with it after he told me just how hard the Pacific Northwest winters were on him.

I spent four nights in the condo this past week, was utterly sad and lonely, had a headache almost the entire time, and hated the heat (not that we’d ever planned to be there in September). I do intend to spend this winter there because I have this place and can’t sell it, so I figure I might as well use it. Besides, I admit I don’t like dealing with ice and snow all that much myself, and I’m registered for two half marathons in the Coachella Valley, so I’m kind of committed to being there. I’m hoping that once I spend more time there on my own, it will start to feel more like a second home and less like a place of nothing but painful memories.

I wore myself out on the trip home, but got up this morning with optimistic expectations of a 10-mile run, which was going to be my last long run before the Victoria BC half marathon in two weeks. It was supposed to rain, so I put on a long-sleeved shirt. As it happened, it rained before and after my run but not during. I got warm, tired quickly and decided to call it a run at 7 miles. I have a history of peaking too soon before a race, and I fear that I’ve done it again. I am simply physically and emotionally exhausted after the travel without Kurt and all the land mines that blew up in my face every time I did anything new that we previously would have done together.

So I’m now in big-time taper mode, and will do only short, easy runs between now and the race on October 9. I may or may not achieve my target time, but with good quality rest, nutrition, and sleep, I think I can still manage a personal best for my slow happy running career.

I came home after my run and crashed. I took a long nap, and when I woke up I was surrounded by cats so I had to grab my iPhone and take a picture. I think Chips (on the right) and Salsa have forgiven me for going away. Phoebe was nearby as well but not close enough to get into this shot. It’s good to be home with my family!

A little less whining

I went a little overboard with the pity party last night. I know I’m not the only person in the world whose husband got sick, died much too young, and left me all alone. Still, this is my life, my experience, and I’m smack in the middle of having this experience. Sometimes it’s just really crummy. It helps a bit, in those moments, to rant about how crummy it is.

This morning my head, neck, and shoulders all felt 90% better and the temperature was down to a mere 75 degrees, so I decided to try for a 3-4 mile run. I chose an out-and-back route through a very nice neighborhood where the homes have high privacy walls and trees, both of which offer some morning shade. The route includes some hills of both the long-moderate and the short-steep variety, but it also allows for off-the-clock rest periods at four major street crossings.

I started out slowly and happily and did the first short-steep hill reasonably well, but before the end of the first mile my heart rate was already way higher than I wanted it to be. Oddly, going down the first long-moderate hill didn’t have much effect on my pulse, and I was really feeling the heat even with the shade. So I slowed down some more. At 1.7 miles out the road leaves this neighborhood and there is no more shade, so I decided to turn around there. I ended up walking a good portion of the long-moderate uphill, but willed myself to run up the short-steep section. The rest of the way back the shade was already gone for the day, and I got very hot, so I took it very easy and was grateful for the rests at major street crossings.

It was 80 degrees when I got back. I’d run exactly 3.4 miles; my GPS watch is quite accurate. My heart rate recovered quickly in the relative coolness indoors, but I still felt overheated and did not do much for the next hour. I googled “what are the effects of running in the heat?” and learned that a higher than usual heart rate is the primary effect, and that the only way to deal with that is to slow down. So I was pleased to learn that I’d done the right thing! The other thing, of course, is the risk of heat stroke. I have no way to monitor my internal temperature but I now know that letting my heart rate be my guide and drinking water (which I did) are the best defenses against heat stroke while running.

I’ve never run before in temperatures as warm as 75-80 degrees. It should be at least 25 degrees cooler in Victoria in October, which should make everything much easier.

When I’m running, I don’t think about missing Kurt or being lonely or washing my car or what I should do with this condo or how I will cope with global climate change or global economic collapse. I don’t think about anything but putting one foot in front of the other. In the act of taking one literal step at a time, I seem to regain the strength and the will to keep taking the next metaphorical step in my life.

Silence

I’m sitting here by myself trying to understand how silence, which was wonderful and almost magical at Wupatki, is so oppressive, sad, and lonely here in the condo.

Of course it’s far from silent here. There is the constant sound of traffic, and beginning early in the morning there is the sound of planes taking off from the nearby airport. Yesterday there was a crew doing some sort of repair work on the roof. And there is the relentless roar of my two-day headache that has stopped me from even thinking about running.

The lack of silence here is superficial, and overwhelmed by a deeper silence. I am all by myself in a place I never really wanted to be, trying to deal with the remnants of the life of the person who so badly wanted to be in this place.

When we last left here in mid-May (which turned out to be less than a month before he died), I had encouraged him to leave some of his things behind, ostensibly to simplify packing but really to give him an incentive to return. As it turned out, he had left very little — a brand-new pair of jeans still in the package, two pairs of shoes, a pair of gloves, several combs, a few bottles of vitamins, and some magazines and books. I kept the books and some of the magazines, but threw away the combs, vitamins, and miscellaneous small stuff. I took the rest, along with a bunch of hangers and his shower seat, to Goodwill this afternoon. They seemed to be most excited about the hangers.

Of course this place is still full of his things and our shared memories… from the furniture to the floor tiles. But there are fewer land mines here than when I first walked in a week ago.

It was sweltering hot yesterday and today at 106 degrees (neither of us ever intended to be here at this time of year). The heat makes it hard to think clearly and harder to contemplate actually doing anything. I almost never watch TV, but I might have watched it here except that I couldn’t get the TV, surround sound, and cable box all talking to one another. My iPod works with the surround sound receiver, however, so I have been listening to music, reading, and giving myself permission to drift off to sleep.

I am still hopeful that my headache will ease overnight and that I’ll feel like running at the crack of dawn, as it’s my best chance for turning off the screaming silence. But it’s 87 degrees on my patio at 10:30 PM, so it’s going to have to cool off a lot between now and tomorrow morning. I’m telling myself that I’m supposed to be “tapering” my running now anyway, with the Victoria half marathon only 18 days away, but I’m craving the zen quality of the movement.

Besides running, tomorrow I have to try to take care of things I haven’t had the energy to do yet: wash the car, sweep the patio, pack things up or put them away, and get this place ready to leave for X number of months until I decide to return. The good news is that I’m supposed to have dinner with friends, so I won’t be completely alone.

Another postcard, with photos this time

I’m back in a place with secure internet access, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts about and photos of recent events. My first major Porsche Club event without Kurt brought me some wonderful moments (so good to see old friends again) and some awful ones (the final words at the closing banquet when I suddenly realized that an entire PCA Escape had come and gone and Kurt wasn’t there, not once, not at all). I remember having similar flashes of shock after my mom died 18 years ago from the same horrible disease… time simply stopped for her, but for me it was a day, a week, a month, and finally years when events continued to happen without her.

Now I am here at “Kurt’s Folly,” the condo that he wanted so badly, that I named. He accepted the name good-naturedly, the same way he went along with all my little foibles.

This is a very sad and lonely place. Maybe it will feel less lonely when I return for a longer period with my three cats. I am really missing my cats tonight.

But enough of this sadness. I promised a postcard with photos!

Here is my car at the Hackberry General Store, bascially a Route 66 museum where people take lots of photos and sometimes buy things (I didn’t):

The first thing I did the morning after I arrived was go for a run. I did indeed feel the 6900-foot altitude; I only managed 2 miles, and I was nearly two minutes per mile off my usual sea-level pace.

Then I spent an hour doing a quarter-assed car wash before the “fun car show.” I only did a quarter-assed job because I knew it was going to rain later. Here it is ready to go:

Here is my car in a prime location at the car show (first time ever “off road”):

Here are a bunch of cars including mine in the background… in the rain:

That was the end of the rain for the week. Early Friday morning I joined about 30 other Porsche drivers for a tour to the Grand Canyon. I haven’t been there since I was very young. The crowds at the prime tourist spots distressed me so I walked 2+ miles on a trail along the rim and enjoyed nearly the same views with fewer people and no guard rail. I kept thinking that Kurt (with his great fear of heights) would have been screaming at me to get back from the cliff, but I really enjoyed it. Yes, those rocks in the foreground of this photo are right at the edge:

The trip back was wild and wooly. As people had scattered to various places, the pack diminished to about half its initial size. I started near the back and then watched the 3-4 cars behind me disappear as we drove briskly. I decided to just go with the flow — even knowing that being in a large yellow vehicle at the back, I’d be the one that the highway patrol would stop. Fortunately I saw no highway patrol cars, but I did see some extended triple-digit speedometer readings. It was fun, but not something I plan to do again any time soon.

Friday night I went out to dinner downtown with a bunch of friends old and new, and kept another promise to Kurt by raising my glass and toasting his memory.

On Saturday my friend Colleen drove up from Las Vegas with her husband. Colleen has a keen interest in and considerable knowledge of southwest native American archeology. We went to Wupatki National Monument, which was stunningly beautiful and almost completely tourist-free. We visited several sites within the park, and she pointed out subtleties of architectural and cultural significance that I would otherwise have missed. As impressive as the ruins were, what really amazed me were the brief but frequent moments of utter silence… no human voices, no cars or airplanes, not even a breath of wind. Just silence. If I believed in magic, I’d say it was a magical place. There is a sense of timelessness here that makes 3 1/2 months, or even 18 years, seem like a mere moment.

Here are a few photos that attempt to capture the solitary grandeur of this place:

 

Saturday night was the closing banquet, at which I sported a new turquoise-and-black poncho (soon to be seen at a Port Angeles “art walk” night) and my lovely blue Vibram Five Fingers shoes. Even though my car didn’t win one of the people’s choice awards, I did fine until collapsing into the aforementioned puddle of tears at the end.

Sunday morning, while others were packing up and heading out early, I went for another run. Still slow, but I did 4 miles at 20 seconds per mile faster than my Thursday pace, and finished feeling reasonably strong. I guess I acclimated somewhat to the altitude. I came back, showered, packed, ate breakfast, and didn’t leave town until 11:00. Six and a half hours and 400+ miles later, I arrived here at Kurt’s Folly.

So here I am, for a few days before I resume my traveling adventures. It’s stifling hot in this desert. I woke up with a headache and didn’t get much done today, but I’m hoping to recover enough overnight so I can go out at the crack of dawn and run for a few miles. One foot in front of the other.

A postcard from the road

I had a goosebumps moment today. Literally at the very moment that I exited I-40 to join old Route 66 at Kingman, AZ, my iPod chose (out of 1206 randomly-ordered songs) to play the Rolling Stones’ version of “Route 66.” I was stunned. It was the nearest thing I’ve had to a  message from Kurt that things are going to be OK.

I’d already taken back roads for part of the way, and my Porsche loved the “dippy dippy roads,” as we called them when we were kids. I stopped at a couple of historic Route 66 sites and took photos, but I don’t have the technology to post them right now.

After I returned to the interstate at Seligman, my car and I sailed through torrential downpours when I could barely see the road, and then over a 7,335 foot summit. With all the ups, downs and turns I still managed over 25 mpg. I love my Cayenne Hybrid!

Now I can look out my hotel window and see my car nestled in amongst lots of other Porsches… and most people won’t arrive until tomorrow. I’ve already seen old friends and made new ones, and I’m looking forward to more of that.

Oh, and going running! I did 3 miles this morning in a hot, uncharacteristically steamy desert and did fine, so now tomorrow I’ll find out how I do at 6900 feet. There is a two-mile loop trail within the hotel grounds that is going to take priority over washing the bugs off my car. The only question is how many times I’ll do the loop before I go make my car all beautiful for the “fun” car show. I suspect that “fun car show” may be strikingly similar in execution to the “fun run” with a world record-holder that I passed on last night. This is the Porsche Club, after all.

Powerful places and odd events

As some of you may know, my dissertation dealt with the lived experience of being in a place. I have always been a deeply “platial” person, in the sense that I get attached to places and attach meanings to places in a very conscious way. Over the past couple of days I have had the opportunity to experience a series of roads — which one might normally think of as neutral conduits that serve merely to take us from one place to another — as powerful, evocative places in their own right. I now know that certain road signs have the ability to reduce me to a blithering idiot right in the moment of barreling down the highway at high speed, simply because they refer to places that were special to Kurt and me and to which we repeatedly returned.

Thinking about this, I realized that over the past three months I have begun to acclimate to the idea of Port Angeles without Kurt. I have nearly nine years worth of experience of Port Angeles with Kurt, and now I am beginning to create new layers of experience of Port Angeles after Kurt. But while traveling, I have been hit with an ongoing series of shocks, and it’s as if I have to keep getting used to the idea that he’s not here with me, over and over again. It’s like the inverse of that cliche zen phrase: not “wherever you go, there you are,” but “wherever I go, you’re still not there.”

I had time this morning and took the opportunity to stop and take a few photos of my car in a place that is highly evocative not only for Kurt and me, but for many people. The Porsche people reading this will know exactly where I took this photo and why it’s such a powerful place. Following it is another photo that I took in that same spot nearly 20 years ago, this one showing a borrowed Porsche that was the beginning of a lasting friendship with the person who loaned us that car. It looks like the tree is a little bigger now.

Tonight I’m in a place with almost too many layers of meaning to bear, but it’s oddly different than I’ve ever seen it before. Over the past couple of days there have been a series of thunderstorms here where it “never” rains, complete with lightning-caused palm tree fires early this morning. This afternoon I stood outside in the rain listening to the thunder echoing around the valley.

I went to a promotional event for the half marathon that I’m running on New Year’s Eve, which by amazing coincidence just happened to be scheduled for tonight, here. Josh Cox was there as the celebrity atraction. I had no clue who he was but now Google has informed me that earlier this year he set the US record for 50k (31.1 miles) and was just 8 seconds off the world record for that distance. He expects to break that world record within the next year. We were all invited to go out for a “fun run” with Josh, but I was too tired to even think about running. I read later that he led people on a 5k run at a “fun, easy” 8 minute pace. I’m slow and happy — that fun run would have been impossible for me! I did take advantage of the 20% off store promotion and picked up my next pair of running shoes at a good price.

I then went on to have dinner at one of Kurt’s and my favorite restaurants on earth, and I managed to enjoy my food and eat most of it even through my tears. This place has a loyal local demographic that Kurt and I didn’t fit, but we loved it for the food and the memories of our special occasions that he and I celebrated there. I had gotten used to walking in and being one of the few females in the place, so it was a minimally-threatening place to be a female by myself… but it was still very tough to be there.

Tomorrow I’ll be off again on further adventures, but I’ll return later to spend more time here — and I’ll run a half marathon not far from here on New Years Eve. Slowly and happily.

Adventures ahead

I’ll be writing a bit less frequently over the next few weeks (try to restrain your applause), as I’m about to embark upon a series of adventures that will render me somewhat internet-deprived and keep me busy doing real-life things with a lot of friends whom I haven’t seen in a while. I expect to keep running along the way, as the Victoria BC (that’s in Canada, for the benefit of my vast audience of global followers) half marathon is only four weeks away. I figure throwing in a bit of heat, high altitude, thunderstorms, and possible combinations of two or more of the above should make for some interesting final training and pre-race taper experiences. It should make running 13.1 miles on a brisk mid-October morning on a flat, sea-level course seem like a piece of cake, yes?

We shall see. I ran 7.5 miles this morning. It was warm for this part of the world (mid-70s at 10:00 AM!). I focused on maintaining a reasonably steady, sustainable (SLOW) pace — check! — drinking all the water I’d brought with me — check! — and not letting my heart rate spike too high in the heat — check! If nothing else, I am learning self-discipline… while ever-so-gradually becoming not-quite-so-slow.

I’m being deliberately vague about exactly when and where I’m coming and going. While I’m in and out and about, my house and my three cats will be in the good hands and under the watchful eye of friends, neighbors, and my trusty home security company… so don’t be getting any ideas.

I’ll write when I can about interesting things I might see and do, and maybe even post a few photos.

It’s nice to have adventures to look forward to, but it’s really weird to be doing them without Kurt. We had planned on having some of these upcoming adventures together, and I’m now keeping my promise to him that I would go, with or without him.

One step at a time.

Changing light bulbs

My project for this afternoon was changing light bulbs. I know what you’re thinking, so go ahead and laugh — I’m laughing along with you! This is Home Ownership 101, right?

Well, my house has literally dozens of ceiling light fixtures, mostly of the canister variety, but some of them are the old kind where you have to unscrew the three screws just enough to release the glass fixture without dropping it, then unscrew the light bulb, screw in the new light bulb, and then carefully rescrew the three screws so the glass fixture will stay put, without dropping it or cracking it. That’s assuming I can reach them — when the stairway lights start burning out, that will be a job for a handyman-to-be-named-later.

There are so many light fixtures that I can hardly walk into a room without seeing one burned-out light bulb, so I tend to wait until there are several and then tackle them all at once. Most of the ceiling canisters take large phlorescent spotlights, but a few take smaller phlorescent spotlights or LED lights of various sizes. Then I have several fixtures that take standard 60 watt bulbs or their phlorescent equivalents. So the first order of business is to find the right bulbs for whichever fixtures need attention on that occasion.

Then there are the outdoor lights. I hadn’t changed any outdoor lights at this house before (that’s what husbands are for), so I didn’t know what to expect. There are two lights at the garage that burn out repeatedly. These fixtures probably need to be replaced and/or rewired, as I suspect they are getting zapped by moisture. I didn’t try to do anything with them today. Then there are a series of wall-mounted lights that run up the walkway from the garage to the front door. All of these had burned out, and as we’re now much closer to the autumnal equinox than the summer solstice, I really needed to get those lights working again so I can find my way home at night.

So out came the ever-so-cute day-glow-green power screwdriver that I bought a few weeks ago because the thought of rummaging through Kurt’s messy toolbox was just too painful. I had two different types of outdoor light fixtures, and I had to figure out how to take each one apart and put it back together. The task unfolded as follows:

  • Go to the garage to get the footstool
  • Stand on the footstool
  • Find and insert the right screw bit
  • Figure out which direction to rotate the power screwdriver
  • Figure out how to take the light fixture apart
  • Identify the bulb in question as a 60 watt standard bulb
  • Recall that I am fresh out of 60 watt bulbs
  • Go in the house, observe three 60 watt bulbs installed in the dining room
  • Remove two of those bulbs
  • Go back outside with soon-to-be-repurposed bulbs
  • Successfully install one bulb in the more accessible of the two fixtures I was trying to repair
  • Get back on the footstool for the more difficult one
  • Drop one of the two screws and realize that it had vanished, apparently in the same place that socks go to in the dryer
  • Go in the house, rummage around, and find a screw that looked like it might work
  • Go back outside
  • Go to the garage for the ladder because the footstool wasn’t high enough to reach the top screw that needed to be done first if I had any hope of the whole thing holding together
  • Successfully re-screw the original screw in the top position
  • Try without success to screw in the substitute screw in the bottom position
  • Say nasty words
  • Look down and see the lost screw hiding in plain sight
  • Screw in the second screw
  • Put the ladder away and call it a day… because I had no more 60 watt bulbs to cannibalize from anywhere.

So tomorrow I have to go buy 60 watt bulbs (I need at least 6 to finish what I’ve started, so I figure I’d better buy a dozen), get out the ladder and the ever-so-cute day-glow-green power screwdriver, and try to finish this job.

One step at a time.

Practice

Just a few brief thoughts tonight, because writing is a practice, and like any practice it requires conscious, regular attention.

I had some errands to run this afternoon and found myself downtown with 30 minutes before my next appointment. I might have driven around aimlessly. I might have gone home, only to sit for 15 minutes and then go out again. I chose instead to go to City Pier, park my car, and walk slowly out to the end of the pier and back. I was wearing my Five Fingers shoes and I noticed the difference in feel between the hard, flat asphalt and concrete of the parking lot and sidewalk and the slightly softer wood timbers of the pier. Each wood beam, although visually on the same plane as all the others, had its own angles and bumps, each one asking me to pay attention. The pier took on a life under my feet, which I’d had no idea was there before today.

It was a perfectly calm, nearly 80 degree afternoon. I stood at the end of the pier and watched the Coho ferry coming in. I noticed the ship’s red-and-white reflection in the water, ruffled by its own wake.

I walked back to the base of the pier, where the water is only a few feet deep and I could see the bottom near the mouth of Peabody Creek. I noticed the small waves that found their way into that far corner of the harbor. I noticed the way the waves broke up the sunlight and created moving patterns of bright light across the seaweed and rocks on the bottom. I watched that moving light for several minutes.

Then I walked back to my car and drove on to my next errand. I felt refreshed, calm, and grateful for the few moments I had created for walking and paying attention.

Life is a practice, and moments are what we have.