Monthly Archives: November 2011
I not only got myself out the door to run this morning, but I ran past that house — and actually ran past it — up and down both hills in each direction, out and back. This is the same location that I described in this post from last September (the house in question is just below the place where two uphill streets meet at a 90 degree angle). Back then the temperature was 75-80 degrees, whereas today it was only 55-57, and I know that makes a huge difference. But still I am going to give myself all kinds of credit for finally mastering those particular hills. No walk breaks for me today.
Once I got past the two major street crossings, there were no humans around except for several gardening crews, one other runner, and an elderly couple walking very slowly. He was helping her use her walker, and when he shouted to me that I made him feel guilty for not running, I replied that he had a good reason for walking and that it was great to see them out there.
These hills, that house, and another couple of up-and-downhill miles through that neighborhood will comprise about a third of the otherwise flat course of my next half marathon in February (this was the site of my first half marathon in February 2010). Knowing now that I can run those hills that were so challenging before is going to be a big psychological help for me when I start increasing the mileage of my Sunday morning training runs.
Although I’ve been tempted to peek through the gate for a better look at that house, I didn’t need to stop and rest at that point today, and besides there was a gardening crew just arriving that I didn’t want to bother. I’ll go back some other time at a slower pace and simply stop there and take it in. There are other houses in the neighborhood that I need to find again as well… I’ll have to look up the street addresses again, just as Kurt and I did when we went out gaping together two years ago. I had gotten a little blase about the architecture here, but at the moment it seems to be important to re-establishing my sense of place so I’m going to let myself enjoy it.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the fresh grapefruit that was waiting for me when I got back to the condo, and I didn’t mind the time I spent doing laundry and sweeping the patio this afternoon. I ate in tonight and felt a little lonely, but it was not too bad.
Tomorrow I’ll be at work again (I love the fact that as a remote worker, I can work anywhere) with back to back meetings beginning at 7:00 AM. The almost idyllic quality of the past two days will fade and then I’ll just be here, working and eating and running and sweeping, almost as if this were normal life.
With today’s run I also achieved a milestone I’ve been working on for a while — I earned the Bronze level Presidential Champions award. I’ve managed to log 40,000 points for physical activity, which puts me well on the way to Silver status at 90,000 points. I stumbled upon this program back in May, when I committed to doing regular exercise and logging my activities for points. At first I sometimes gave myself credit for “lifting and hauling” (pushing Kurt’s wheelchair, hefting oxygen tanks, and such), but these days I really only count running, hiking and (when I’m in this place) swimming, so I probably could have hit the 40,000 point mark a bit sooner. But like Foursquare, it’s a game that I play with myself to make sure that I’m getting out there, seeing other humans and doing things that are good for me instead of staying home and becoming a hermit.
I’m not writing so much about grief lately, am I? Yes, it’s still there, but it’s no longer eating me alive, and that is a great relief.
I’ve done the migration thing, and now I’m here and not there. My house back there is safe and sound under the watchful eyes of friends, neighbors, the local police and my home alarm company. Now that I’m here I don’t have to worry about ice or snow when I go running, so if I can summon the energy I’ll be out tomorrow morning at the crack of dawn to run before it gets too warm.
My cats recognize this place and seem perfectly comfortable here, or at least they are glad to be somewhere solid after three days on the road. As for me, it’s bettter than it was in September when I spent five days here and the walls were screaming at me, “Kurt is not here!” My subconscious mind seems to be accepting that Kurt is not here (or anywhere) but that I am still very much here and in the process of creating a new life for myself.
Now I just need to make some friends here, a few more than I have now.
This seasonal migration thing was never my idea, and at the moment I’m thinking that I don’t want to live this way but I’m willing to give it some time. Meanwhile I confess that I am enjoying Mexican food, sunshine, fresh-picked grapefruit and the prospect of an ice-free morning run. I spent some time today driving around town simply soaking in some of the world-class mid-century modern architecture and relishing the idea of running past a couple of those icons tomorrow morning. How’s this for inspiration?
Good thing I stopped wearing the heart monitor. My pulse probably goes way off the scale when I run past this house. It almost makes me forget, if only for a moment, about running along the waterfront with bald eagles and harlequin ducks and the mournful cry of loons. When I am here and not there, thinking about there is almost too gut-wrenching, and vice versa. I really want to be deeply rooted in a community… and yet there is always the pull of novelty, the restlessness that I absorbed from Kurt’s gyspy-like approach to life. As I drove south on that three-day trip, I saw thousands of migrating birds (including a flock of 50-80 white pelicans in low formation flight, which was one of the most amazing wildlife sightings I have ever had), and I sort of understood their seasonal pull to fairer skies.
What I need to do now is simply let myself be here, and enjoy it… or not. In any case I am running a half marathon here in February, and the route goes past the aforementioned house twice — the only hilly part of the course — so I’d better get out my door and resume my interrupted running schedule first thing tomorrow morning.
I was thinking about architecture the other day. Architectural theory played a big part in my dissertation on the experience of being in a place, as how can one have an experience of being in a place without having places, whether natural or built, in which to have one’s experience?
I love modern architecture, especially of the mid-20th century variety with its flat roofs and blank street faces opening to walls of glass and and inside-outside views to the rear. I was re-reading some passages in the book Thinking Architecture by the Swiss architect and architectural theorist Peter Zumthor, in which he quotes and openly credits the philosopher Martin Heidegger’s concepts of building, dwelling, gathering, place, and space. This was the “missing link” for me as I attempted to form connections between complex philosophical concepts, their realization in architecture, and the lived experience of those of us who dwell within built places.
In the brief quote referenced in the title of this post, Zumthor is speaking on behalf of a building, imagining how it sits and feels at home in its surroundings:
To me, the presence of certain buildings has something secret about it. They seem simply to be there.We do not pay any special attention to them. And yet it is virtually impossible to imagine the place where they stand without them…. They give the impression of being a self-evident part of their surroundings and they seem to be saying: “I am as you see me and I belong here.” (Zumthor, 2006, pp. 16-17)
I like this quiet statement of confidence and at-homeness. It is a seemingly simple yet consciously composed sense of presence, self-acceptance, complete and coherent in itself. “I am as you see me and I belong here.” To me this is the ideal, the essence, of being in a place. I strive to feel this way in my skin. To varying degrees, I feel it in my two homes, very different yet born from the same aesthetic sense. I can feel completely at home in either place while I am there. Sometimes I feel torn between the two places, which represent two quite different ways of being in the world. My heart belongs to the Pacific Northwest, but I have to say I appreciate having the option to go elsewhere when the winters get too dark, cold, and damp. It certainly is easier for me to go out the door at dawn to go running when the sun is shining and I have no worries about ice underfoot.
I belong here… but can a bi-platial person ever fully belong to either place? I wonder.
I haven’t written here for several days. I haven’t done much running either. I tend to get demotivated about a lot of things when it gets cold and dark. I start worrying about having to to go out and get around on icy roads. I’m a bit of a cold-weather wimp I guess, but in the past when I had Kurt I could send him out to fetch things, or at least let him worry about doing the driving when we went somewhere together. Now if I want or need to go out, I have to summon the will to take myself out. So I’ve been burrowing for a bit, and thinking, and trying to figure things out.
I didn’t run the 5K I’d registered for yesterday, as it was snowing on and off at my house and I didn’t think it would be all that much more pleasant down along the waterfront. This afternoon I got back on my treadmill, but decided I’d had enough after only 3.5 miles. It seems that what I want to do right now is rest, relax, and let go of things — stress, bad memories — as much as possible. It’s the season to lie fallow, perhaps.
While it may be several more days before I write again, it’s not that there is nothing going on in my life. It’s just that what is going on is going on within me and needs some time to do whatever work it’s going to do.
Yes, it’s boring, and I’m much rather be running along a summery-warm, calm, tree-canopied waterfront trail seeing and hearing waterbirds, harbor seals, and the parade of passing ships. But it’s not summer, it’s not calm, and there aren’t enough daylight hours to do much running here during the work week this time of year.
My treadmill is about as basic as they get. I had a tiny space to work with (a space that had formerly been occupied by a small refrigerator), and I had to measure carefully and buy the smallest compact treadmill I could find. That’s one of the reasons why my running stride is so short, and hence why I’m slow. I learned to run in a very small space. I can’t vary the incline; it’s either dead flat or propped up by a few degrees, and it must be set one way or the other in advance and then left that way during my run. I usually leave it dead flat, as it tends to wobble a bit when it’s propped up.
Still, when I get to the point that the itch to run outweighs my boredom with the silly thing — when the itch becomes greater than the anxiety that had me feeling too tired and shaky yesterday — I can still get on my treadmill and feel better a few miles later.
I did 4 miles tonight and feel refreshed and alive again. As it happened — not that I’m OCD or anything (it’s a great thing to have a good running plan/spreadsheet that will keep me healthy en route to my running goals) — when I finished those 4 miles tonight I had run a total of 1,312 miles since my first tentative little treadmill jog just over three years ago. I have now run the equivalent of 100 half marathons (or 50 marathons, for the truly math-obsessed). I’m on track to complete my first 500-mile year in 2011, a feat I never could have imagined three years ago. I’ve now run further than the distance between Port Angeles, Washington and Palm Springs, California.
It’s amazing what you can do if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, finding and re-finding the strength to take the next step, while always keeping an eye on the horizon unrolling itself out there ahead.
It’s often said that life is strange, oh yes,
But compared to what?
~~ Steve Forbert, “January 23-30, 1978”
This business of creating a new life is complicated, messy, sometimes really scary, and most definitely nonlinear. Every time I think I’ve started to figure things out and take some steps in the right direction, something weird happens that distracts me, confuses me, or smacks me in the head on my way over the cliff.
The past few days have been like that. I’m really making an effort to get out, try new things, see and talk to real people face to face. It can feel fun and natural one moment and terrifying the next. As an introverted person, being in a crowd of people has has never been easy but it is especially hard for me now because I can’t go find Kurt when I get freaked out. I can feel comfortable and at ease in a large room full of people for a few moments, and then suddenly see or hear or feel something that makes me so overwhelmed with Kurt-memories (that I didn’t even know were ever present in that room) that I have to leave. I get that strangling tightness in my throat that my doctor insists is directly caused by anxiety (he told me that the “lump in your throat” feeling is a literal, muscular phenomenon associated with anxiety).
Usually, when it’s not too bad, the best cure for that sort of anxiety is to just go out and run. All the shaky, fluttery feelings vanish once I settle into my running stride. But this weekend I didn’t even feel motivated to run. I seem to be one of those people who is affected by rapid changes (up or down) in barometric pressure, and by the winds that accompany those rapid changes. Wind makes me a little bit crazy; it always has. So I could not even consider going out this morning, but I was so unsettled, tired, shaky, and headachy that I couldn’t look at my treadmill either. Maybe tomorrow after work I will feel more like it. Maybe the wind will stop blowing. I’m registered to run a 5k “turkey trot” race next Saturday, and I intend to get out there and do it unless there is snow or ice on the ground… which there very well could be.
I want my life to move in the direction of a “new normal,” but I’m also aware that “normal” is an illusion; everything and everyone who is alive is changing all the time. “Complex adaptive system operating far from equilibrium” is a reasonably good definition of a living organism. If I want to keep living (and I do), then I have to accept that there will always be lump-in-the-throat moments, and that those very moments, no matter how strange, are the “stuff” of our lives. Life can be painful or just plain weird sometimes, but it’s also exciting to live in the midst of such strangeness, especially in the context of the “compared to what?” existential question.
One step at a time.
Now that we’re back on standard time, it’s really dark by 5:30 in this part of the world. Even with a full moon, it’s dark. Even with a headlight, it’s possible to step into potholes and break your ankle in the dark. Even with a highly-reflective vest, it’s hard not to feel a little vulnerable.
I didn’t break any ankles or get hit by any cars, but I did slow down quite a bit. I slowed down not only because it was dark, but also because I dared to try running without knee braces for the first time in almost two years. Kurt had bought me those things way back, before my first half marathon, because my knees were bothering me a lot. I now know that these knees are probably going to be touchy forever, so I’ve continued wearing the braces even though they are now so worn out they probably aren’t doing me any good at all anymore. The reason I dared to try running without them tonight was because I finally bought myself some compression running tights, and the pair that I got are SUPER-optimized for knee support. I felt fine while I was running, but I won’t really know how well they worked until I get up tomorrow morning and try walking down the stairs!
The beer and socializing afterwards was great again. Then I repeated last week’s social whirl by turning up, tights and all, for the downtown art gathering. Everyone else in the room is actually artistic; I was goofing around on my iPad and now I’m blogging. Now, if I can get this app to do it, I’m going to be very brave and share my amazing artistic creation. Washingtonians may recognize this as my interpretation of the 14 Hands wine label that happened to be sitting in front of me.
Writing this, I can’t help but notice that it sounds like a perfectly chatty account of a perfectly normal life. Oh no, I’m almost boring! It’s rather good to relax and just have fun for a few hours when I can. Those moments are happening more often. It’s getting better.
First, I want to thank everyone in what I fondly call my vast global audience, for your comments, suggestions, and supportive vibes as I contemplated and then lived through what should have been my 25th wedding anniversary in the absence of the other party to that anniversary. It was a very weird day, but thanks to you it was a good day in an odd sort of way.
I really can’t tell you how much your good thoughts lifted my spirits today. Thank you yet again.
I got a wide variety of suggestions ranging from (and I’m exaggerating a bit now) “go to bed and pull the covers over your head” to “go out and party hearty with champagne and loud music.” The applied social scientist in me suspects that each one of those suggestions was a projection of the personality of the person making the suggestion. I would have done the same thing if you had asked me what to do about your situation.
As I lean well toward the introverted end of the scale, my solution was to develop a headache by mid-afternoon and sneak off to take a nap in my favorite chair — almost but not quite pulling covers over my head. When I woke up I felt better, so I set about making myself some comfort food — homemade mushroom-cheese soup accompanied by local organic rye bread and a couple of glasses from a very nice bottle of local wine that I’d put away a couple of years ago. Except for the wine (Kurt stopped drinking years ago) this was a meal that Kurt would have loved. He didn’t always rave about my cooking. I’m a vegetarian, he wasn’t, so we often ate separately — which is one reason why we ate out so much. But he never failed to love my vegetable-cheese soups, no matter what the vegetable was. My only problem with today’s lovely meal was that I didn’t make enough (no leftovers!) and I used a little too much cheese (but Kurt would have loved the gummy cheeseballs that formed).
Then I decided what I want to do for a vacation next year. I guess it was those comments about “think about what you and he loved doing together” that made my decision not only possible but necessary today.
I want to do a running-related vacation, and I’d been thinking very seriously about doing the Marathon di Tuscany: a staged marathon in which participants run 26.2 miles over the course of several days in several locations in Italy. It sounded perfect — run, eat, and drink under the Tuscan sun. But I’ve been concerned about developing socio-economic-political disruptions in Europe (and globally). The promoters kept promising to open registration soon, but kept inexplicably delaying.
So today I was thinking about what sort of vacation would have worked for both Kurt and me. It was hard to imagine him getting excited about going with me to Italy, as he hated to fly, and we’d also agreed that our first trip to Europe would include a visit to the Porsche factory and museum in Stuttgart.
Then it struck me — the same promoters also lead an Alaskan running cruise.
Living where we do, Kurt and I watched Alaska cruise ships pass by every summer and promised ourselves that we’d do that some year. We were so close to going in 2009 that I actually mentioned our plans in the acknowledgements section of my dissertation — “now it’s finally time to take that Alaska cruise.” But think back, if you will, to the economic conditions of late 2008 and early 2009. It was not an auspicious time to commit several thousand dollars to a dream vacation. So we didn’t go.
Well, now I’m registered for the Great Alaskan Marathon Cruise on July 28 through August 4, 2012. Economic conditions are no better, but what the hell! At least this trip is largely domestic (we do stop in Victoria BC on our last afternoon, from which, weather permitting, I can see my home town across the strait). Thanks to tour organizers “the Penguin” John Bingham and his wife Coach Jenny Hadfield, I’ll be running in places like Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan, seeing glaciers up close (before they’re gone), and hopefully seeing lots of my beloved orcas and humpbacks as well. I’ll have to learn to run trails (yikes) and some major hills (big yikes!), as well as develop the resilience to run, walk, or crawl 26.2 miles (in four stages) under a variety of less-than-ideal conditions. The photos from the 2011 cruise show rain, BIG swells during the on-board deck race, and a really scary-looking flight of stairs in (I believe) Ketchikan. They also show lots of mega-smiles and some absolutely gorgeous scenery.
Besides all that stuff, it’s also a cruise, of course, and I smile now as I imagine Kurt doing all the things we dreamed about and putting up with the things I want to do: at the buffet line eschewing all that healthy runner food, relaxing in a deck chair or at the movie theatre, and cheering me on at the finish of four totally amazing races. I so wish he could have been there, but he won’t be. My life will go on.
Happy Anniversary, Kurt! Today was a good day — you would have liked it.
I’ll try not to get too maudlin, as frankly I’m getting tired of it and I suspect you are too. But I am sitting here tonight honestly unsure how to handle the event I’m facing.
November 8 (which is still tomorrow in my time zone) would have been Kurt’s and my 25th wedding anniversary. HOW do I acknowledge this milestone? I can’t celebrate OUR anniversary — as we are no longer a we — but 25 years is still a huge milestone in MY life (almost half of my life), and I’m still the person who married my best friend and true love 25 years ago. Time is still passing for me, and milestones seem to want to be recognized in some way.
I can’t think of any way not to be miserable tomorrow. I can’t celebrate (try and imagine taking yourself out to dinner and toasting yourself with a glass of champagne!), but I don’t want to simply sit and try to pretend it’s some other day. I literally don’t know what to do.
I may be wrong about this (I’ll find out over the next two months), but it seems to me right now that November 8 is going to be even harder than Thanksgiving or Christmas. Neither one of us (especially me, and especially over the past few years) has been big on holiday celebrations. It’s always a challenge for me to get through the “holiday season” sane, so this year may be not all that different… we’ll see. But OUR days — our anniversary, our birthdays — those are really tough. They will probably be tough for a few years to come.
I only have a few badly faded photos from that day. Here is one.
Look at us! We look so young and earnestly in love. We got married in our back yard. We had 14 cases of Anchor Steam Beer in a big iced-down tub; nine of them were consumed that day by ourselves and our guests. We played beer pong in our garage. For our honeymoon we drove to the California coastal towns of Carmel, San Francisco, and Cambria in a 1983 944 (our second Porsche), which we’d bought about a week before just so we could honeymoon in a Porsche. We ended up returning many times to Carmel, and at one point bought a lot in Cambria with the intention of building a house there someday (we sold the lot a few years later, probably to buy another Porsche).
So many memories. This is my life. It is not fun to contemplate a milestone anniversary alone.
Still, this IS my life and I will go on from here, after a pause and a long sigh.
Want to hear a funny story? Today Kurt received a letter from a computer at the REALLYBIGBANK where I closed Kurt’s account the other day. The computer wanted Kurt to know that REALLYBIGBANK had honored the cashier’s check I had been given by the courteous employees at the local branch — even though according to the computer, there were insufficient funds in Kurt’s account to cover that check. The computer assessed a fee of $0.00, but warned Kurt that he could be subject to additional penalties if he did not fix his current balance of negative $9,999,999.99.
I am not kidding.
Given that one of the courteous employees at the local branch had called me Saturday morning to confirm that the account was closed, and had not complained about that pesky $10 million, I intend to ignore this computer-generated letter. But what a great send-off from REALLYBIGBANK!
And what about my slow happy running career? I spent another weekend mostly sleeping, and didn’t get out to run at all. This evening I did 5.5 miles on my treadmill, which was really boring but beat running by myself in the dark. I now have a reflective vest and reflective running tights to go with my headlight, so I’ll grin and bear it and run with the beer runners on Thursday — but I refuse to run by myself in the dark.
I’m starting to feel like maybe it’s time to… fly south for the winter???
It’s still subtle, and a lot of 2-steps-forward-1-step-back, but I can feel things continuing to shift for me. It’s no longer “How will I survive?” but something more like “How shall I live?” There is a future out there and I have the controlling say in how it will unfold.
Major life transitions are a subject on which I’m rather well-read, but when you are actually in the grips of living through one, it doesn’t help all that much to know the theoretical models or even to recognize where you are on those models. I’m not talking here about the overly-simple “five stages of grief,” but rather about life transition models (like William Bridges’ “ending/ neutral zone/ beginning” model), or developmental models (like Robert Kegan’s five-stage cognitive complexity model).
Per Bridges’ model, I went through my first major life transition as I was leaving husband #1, dealing with my simultaneous feelings of intense relief and massive guilt. It took months to years to fully leave that “ending” behind and fully grow into the new “beginning” with Kurt. I struggled mightily at times with the completely-unmoored experience of that “neutral” time. I had my whacko moments, but looking back now I can see that time as a healthy process of reclaiming my self-esteem.
The second major life transition would have been the year I had to work part time from mid-1995 to mid-1996, while I finally dealt with the grieving I’d deferred from my mother’s death in 1993 and the emotional after-effects of some health issues I’d had that same year along with major changes at work in 1994-95. I spent my two non-working days each week trying to make an herb garden grow in a rocky, windy, hopeless site, and developing a vision of the person I wanted to become. It was a vision that I eventually managed to make real in virtually every detail. That rocky “garden” was healing, and I emerged from that period a stronger person with a dream and a desire to grow myself.
Losing Kurt has clearly been my biggest and most challenging life transition so far. It was such a dramatic, caught-up-in-the-tide-of-events ending, that I had to spend a lot of time simply processing that the end had indeed happened — that the answer to the “what just happened?” question that I kept asking myself was quite simple: “He has died and left you alone, and now you must figure out how you will live for the rest of your life.”
Nearly five months later I think I’ve fully accepted the ending. I’m still very much in the neutral zone, where everything is scary and shifting underfoot, and the safest thing is to hunker down and let things simmer for a while. But I caught myself at dinner with friends last night laughingly imagining a first date with an unknown someone new. They were teasing me about the spreadsheet I’d have to create, with qualifications like vegetarian, runner, not afraid of heights, loves to travel. In case I have any secret admirers out there, I can guarantee that an invitation to go out to a movie is not going to win you a first date with me!
When I thought about it some more today, I found myself adding more qualifications to the list: well-educated, politically liberal, and so on — until I suddenly realized this was a highly narcissistic list! So much of the strength of Kurt’s and my relationship lay in our differences: he was outgoing, relentlessly optimistic, and opinionated; whereas I am introverted, cautiously skeptical, and (although opinionated) prone to see any issue from multiple perspectives and wind up saying only, “it depends.”
Which brings me to Robert Kegan. I loved his five-stage model of cognitive complexity partly because the last time I thought about it, I was a high-4 rapidly becoming a 5, which puts me in rather rare developmental territory. I’m no longer thinking so much about what’s good for me as what’s good for society, the species, all species, the earth, and beyond. Kegan says that it takes more than one life transformation a la Bridges before people can begin to make those transpersonal connections. A good social sciences graduate program that emphasizes critical thinking and making distinctions between epistemologies (ways of knowing) will help that process unfold as well. I can never look at anything through only one lens ever again… which sometimes has the effect of making seemingly easy decisions overly complex. Watch me grocery shopping and you’ll see what I mean!
I like to talk about my “epistemelogical crisis” in my second year of my PhD program; it was a genuine, crushing moment of realizing that I could not affirm that anything was objectively, indisputably “true,” because all “truth” is provisional pending future validation or refutation — but if I was ever going to graduate, I needed to find one thing that was true for me and build something from there. It was my Descartes moment, but instead of “I think, therefore I am,” it was “the earth feels solid, real, and meaningful to me — now, what is the essence of that experience and the meaning that I make of it?”
As I’ve written here before, I started running as I was finishing my PhD, because I didn’t like the ten pounds I’d gained, wasn’t happy with the physical therapist’s verdict that I’d never walk again without pain, and needed a new goal to stave off the post-degree depression I’d been warned about. Running became yet another way for me to make contact (in a quite literal way) with the earth, to experience and spend more time in beautiful places. When Kurt got sick, I kept running because it kept me (in a quite literal way) grounded.
Now I run because I really like running. I like getting leaner, faster, and more limber. I like that I’m standing a little taller. And I suppose, in a tiny corner of my mind, I like running because I have a glimmer of hope that somewhere out there, there is a someone resembling a well-educated vegetarian runner who is not afraid of heights, loves to travel, and might be looking to run into someone who is sort of like me.
A girl can dream. And I know what powerful things dreams can be.