Category Archives: Writing

A year of Slow Happy Runner

Exactly one year ago today I started this blog.

It’s difficult for me to articulate how far I have traveled in that year, but since this is at least nominally a blog about running, perhaps I could begin by expressing it in terms of miles. Thanks to my penchant for spreadsheets, I actually have this information readily at hand.

Since August 28, 2011 I have run 607.78 miles. I ran those miles in Washington, California, Arizona, Oregon, Alaska, and British Columbia. I completed half marathon races in Washington, California, and British Columbia, and I ran a staged marathon in Alaska. I ran barefoot on the beach, and I ran on rocky mountainsides. Given that my per-week mileage is continually increasing, I figure I’ll run another 300 miles before the end of 2012.

Since I started hiking in February 2012 I have hiked 131.59 miles. So far the hiking has all been in Washington and California.

My bicycling career is still in its wobbly infancy, but I have ridden my bike 44.50 miles so far.

All together, my non-motorized miles add up to 783.87. That’s over two miles a day for a year!

Finally, I have driven my car approximately (I can’t be precise here without going out to check my odometer, but I don’t really need to be that precise, do I?) 16,200 miles. I’ve driven in Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, and Arizona. I drove most of those miles alone (except for my three cats).

That’s a total of approximately 16,985 miles. That’s a long, long way to travel.

Oh yeah, I flew a couple thousand miles and rode a cruise ship approximately 2,105 nautical miles (2,473 land miles) too…

During that same year I sadly “celebrated” what would have been Kurt’s and my 25th anniversary. I got through my first birthday and my first holiday season as a widow. I decided to sell the condo in Palm Springs. I quit my job because it was holding me back from doing the healing and growing that I needed to do. The condo in Palm Springs finally sold. I came home to new friends, new interests, and a new love.

Meanwhile, you came here to read and follow my blog. I’ve written 111 posts (this is number 112) and had 6,175 page views as of this moment. There have been 782 posted comments by my 63 followers and others. WordPress’s very effective spam blocker has correctly identified and blocked 1,215 spam comments! I have used 18% of my allotted free photo storage space from WordPress.

I’m no longer as slow as I was when I named this blog a year ago, but I am very much happier.

“Slow Happy” has become a formula for how I am trying to live my life. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other. Amazing things start to happen when you dare to begin.

John Bingham said it better than I can: “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”

Thank you all for running, walking, crying, crawling, hiking, biking, driving, flying, and boating all those miles with me. What a year we’ve had! I can’t wait to see what lies beyond the next bend.

On writing versus living

I love to write. I really do. I have been writing almost as far back as I can remember.  In my pre-teen years I wrote short stories, mostly about horses. As a teenager and young adult I wrote moody poetry about feeling out of place and yearning for a beautiful place in nature that I was sure would make me whole. I have journaled off and on since I was about ten years old.

One of the reasons I did well throughout my educational career was my ability to write clearly and crisply (the other reason is that I have a genuine knack for taking multiple choice tests). I developed my scholarly writing skills to a fine point as a graduate student. One of my dissertation committee members, a man who is notoriously hard to please, gave me his highest praise when he told me that my writing did not get in the way of my thought process… he could clearly see my brain thinking through my words on the page.

When I ended my corporate life this past February, one of the things I was most excited about was having more time to write. I literally blocked out two hours a day on my calendar for writing. I had ideas for a couple of books. I was going to blog more frequently. I was finally going to live the life of a writer.

Six months later, I’m blogging much less frequently than I did while I was still working. And I have done exactly zero with the book ideas.

This situation bothers me… a bit.

There are days when I look back in the evening and can’t figure out what on earth I have done with my time. There are other days when I know very well what I’ve done (slept in, ran, hiked, read, whatever), and I’m satisfied that I’ve had a wonderful day. Yet I regret not having found time to write.

I tell myself that I am not yet done detoxing myself from corporate life. There is some truth in this. I am enjoying being lazy, simply gazing at the water or the mountains. I am enjoying not forcing my body to wake up on command in the middle of a sleep cycle just because the alarm clock says it’s time to get up and go to work.

I think there may be a deeper reason why I’m not writing very much right now, and on balance it’s a positive thing.

During my poet years of my teens and early 20s, I took myself very seriously as a poet. Some people work through their adolescent angst by acting out and doing wild and crazy things. I kept my turmoil mostly to myself and worked things out metaphorically on the page through my poetry. As I grew older and some things began to resolve themselves, the irrestible urge to write faded. I still wrote, but I found myself crafting poetry rather than writing it from my heart. My poems became stale and artificial, and then they finally stopped coming at all.

My journaling career has taken a similar course. I journal feverishly when I need to think through things or get unstuck, and set the journal aside when I’m ready to fully reengage with life.

When Kurt was diagnosed with lung cancer, I started the blog for him as a gift to both of us. He used it as a convenient way of keeping family and friends informed of his treatment progress. I used it to provide my perspective on his condition. At first we both blogged, but when he got sicker I became his voice. We would come home from another unpleasant procedure or another trip to the emergency room, and as soon as I made him as comfortable as I could I would fly to the keyboard and get it out of my head and out there as a physical object that was then somehow separated from my experience. Writing it all down and then clicking “publish” could be a genuine insulation against the pain.

I started this blog (a year ago next week!) as a place for me to grieve, to relearn who I had been before the diagnosis, to learn who I had become during my caregiving year, and to try to figure out who I might become next. Running was the thing that had held me together during that year, and so running became a strong focus for this blog. My readers have been friends, other grievers, other runners, and (to my surprise) those who found me through the series of posts I wrote about mid-century modern architecture in Palm Springs.

We are complex beings, we humans, each of us with our own constellation of interests, passions, fears, and the things that happen to us along the way.

This slow happy runner has become less slow and a lot more more happy.

When my life is full and I am happy, I don’t feel the urge to write.

It’s the tag end of a short but glorious Pacific Northwest summer. The snow had hardly melted when I left for the cruise three weeks ago, and now already the wildflowers have peaked, the meadows are turning brown, and the maples have their first hint of fall color. I should be up there hiking for all I’m worth, but there are so many other things to do.

I’m getting into full training mode for my two upcoming half marathons. My 4-5 mile midweek runs have become 6+ miles, and my long runs are 8+ miles. I went down to southern Oregon a week or so back to test-run about 9 miles of the course for the Rogue Run. It’s not nearly as “all downhill” as the course profile diagram implied, but it is a beautiful paved trail along a river. I do hope the weather is cooler by then; running in 85-90 degree weather was pretty brutal. Yesterday, back on home ground and 60-degree weather, I ran my fastest 9 miles ever (in just over an hour and a half) despite including some major hills on my route. I’m feeling strong, and I am fully “owning” the fact that I am truly, completely in love with running.

There will be more time to write when the days are much shorter and the nights are cold and dark. But now? This is not a time for reflection. It’s a time for doing. It’s a time for enjoying my life as fully as I possibly can.

I’ll leave you with a couple of photos (from more than 500) from my Alaska cruise.

This is one of the more “interesting” sections of the 10-mile trail run in Juneau. It’s a steep area that gets frequent avalanches and landslides.

This is me with running guru and writer John “the Penguin” Bingham, one of the group hosts, on the same trail in Juneau. When I stopped running to get this photo, I realized just how wet I actually was. It was pouring!! (And yes, we are coincidentally wearing the male and female versions of the same hydration pack.)

It’s a glorious day outside. I think I’ll click the “publish” button and go outside to enjoy it. I hope you do something wonderful with your life today as well!

If I had all the time I needed…

How would I invest my time?

This is a question that is starting to arise in me. At the center of this whole idea of “life goes on,” “creating a new life,” “finding my way one step at a time,” and all those things I’ve been writing about (when you thought you had signed up for a blog about grief, or running, or whatever brought you here), there is a deeper question that is starting to emerge.

What do I really want to do with my life?

What adventures are waiting for me, things that I have not yet done, been prevented from doing, been forced to postpone? What dreams are still boxed up gathering dust on some shelf somewhere that I meant to get back to but could never find the time? Are any of them still worth pursuing? Or what new dreams (and realities) might unfold if I could clear away all of the dust that surrounds my present life?

Well, I think I have at least two books waiting to be written. There is a book that will come out of my dissertation research and all the thinking I have done since then about the experience of being in a place. There is a book about what it’s really like to be a caregiver for a terminally ill loved one (and I have a wealth of data from my blogs to draw upon for that one). Maybe there is even a book about running and/or blogging one’s way toward a new life. So if I suddenly found myself with an endlessly blank calendar, the first thing I would do is block out a few hours a day for some serious writing.

No, wait! The first thing I’d do is block out at least eight hours a night for sleeping. I’ve lived on 4-6 hours of sleep a night for so long, I can’t even imagine how much energy I might have if I ever got caught up on sleep. My natural body clock would love to go to bed about 2:00 AM and get out of bed around 10:00 AM. So the writing would be #2 on my to-do list, after staying up as late as I want and sleeping in as late as I want.

What else? I’d get more exercise. I’d walk or hike or bike on the days when I don’t run. I would drive less. I would spend more time among mountains, beaches, forests, and other wild places.

I’d get more serious about gardening. As a vegetarian, I’m curious to learn how much of my own food I could actually grow, given time to devote to it. I’ll never be able to eat completely locally in Washington state (I love lemons too much!), but my bioregion is amazingly diverse in terms of what can be grown. I’d like to learn how to make growing things thrive, and I can see myself teaching (or at least inspiring) others to make growing things thrive.

I’d make more friends. I’d get involved in local community-building and volunteer activiities. I’d dabble in art, music, and/or theatre. I have no idea where my beyond-writing muse(s) might lurk, but I want to try things. I see a local arts scene beginning to grow in my remote small town, and I think we have a shared interest in nurturing this growth.

I would take a whole bunch of photographs of the meeting of earth and sky, and of the way light pervades and transforms spaces.

I would spend money more intentionally, and I would recycle/resuse more carefully. While I may always be a gadget geek, there are no rules that say I have to hold onto every single obsolete, unused gadget… or collectible object or keepsake for that matter. I would get rid of a lot of stuff and create more space in my life for experiences.

I would live as consciously as possible in the moment, in each moment, because I know that the number of our moments is finite.

I would laugh more. I would play more. I would hope to love again. I would have fun.

Looking back at what I have just written, I wonder… what am I waiting for?

What about you? If you had “all the the time you needed” (along with the awareness that your time is, in fact, precious and finite), how would you invest your time?

Tonight’s post, take 2

It seems that from my too-comfortable position in my reading chair, I accidentally hit the “publish” button much too soon. The full post that I intended to write is out there now, if you are interested…

Versatile Blogger Award

This post will be a work in process, as I haven’t yet found and followed all of the 15 other bloggers required to fully accept my own Versatile Blogger Award, but I figure it’s better to get started now and then update this post as I go along. 

Rules of the Versatile Blogger Award:

1.  Thank the person(s) who shared the award with you by linking back to them in your post. 

2.  Pass this award to 15 recently discovered blogs and let them know that you included them in your blog post. 

3.  List 7 things about yourself.

1. Thank you Running Thriver for this award — your story of overcoming domestic abuse is inspiring, and your extreme running feats are astonishing!

2. I would like to pass this award to (in no particular order):

  • The Pudgy Runner – I first bumped into you on Twitter, where I enjoyed your series of upbeat tweets counting down to the Victoria Half Marathon. Only today (when I went looking for worthy blogs to recognize) did I discover your wonderful blog. Your story about your grandmother was very touching — thank you.
  • The Obfuscated Jogger – great name, warped Aussie sense of humor, and I think you were my first follower whom I don’t know personally.
  • RunOnPurpose – another inspirational runner whom I first found on Twitter.
  • Cake Walks & Ice Cream Runs – this is a new running-focused blog by one of the people that Running Thriver brought to my attention.
  • Ms993 – she doesn’t blog frequently but I’d like to encourage her to write more often, as she’s witty, inspirational, and dedicated to growing her circle of strong female friends.
  • Ahimsamaven – UPDATE!! Ahimsamaven weaves together post-modern philosophy, first-person experience from deep yoga practice and running, and life’s everyday challenges — and manages to be both insightful and entertaining along the way.
  • TBD
  • TBD
  • TBD
  • TBD
  • TBD
  • TBD
  • TBD
  • TBD
  • TBD

3.  Seven things about me (yikes, this gets tough):

  1. I currently have three cats. I’ve had three cats at various times over the years, and I think three is the ideal number: entertaining, dynamic, while still remotely manageable. The way these three gallop around my house, I’d be afraid to have any more.
  2. Yes, I’ve really owned 19 Porsches, but I love the one I have now and I fully intend to keep it for a very long time.
  3. I’m left-handed, but the older I get the more ambidextrous I become, which is really weird.
  4. My favorite subject to photograph is the meeting of horizon and sky.
  5. Notable celebrity encounters: I once spent an entire evening in a bar sharing pitchers of beer with Arnold Schwarzenegger; I chatted about local organic produce with John Wayne; and I mistook Dyan Cannon for a cocktail waitress.
  6. Speaking of cocktail waitresses, long ago I once nearly quit my job to run off to a small town in Colorado and become a cocktail waitress. I’m glad I decided not to take that road.
  7. Although I loved being a graduate student, in retrospect I can now say that blogging is a lot more fun than writing a dissertation.
Related articles

What is the Versatile Blogger Award? (versatilebloggeraward.wordpress.com)

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.

Not another thousand words tonight, I promise

Well, I did tell you that writers write, didn’t I? Writer’s block has never been an issue for me.

But tonight I’ll truly try to be brief. It was a good-minute, bad-minute sort of day. Remember that book Who Moved My Cheese, about how change is constant, and not to be feared, and those who scurry off into the maze will find the new cheese place, and then life will be good again, as long as they remember to be prepared for the next time someone moves the cheese? I had to sit through a discussion about that on a team teleconference at work, and all the time I was thinking: But what about when they move the maze? What do you do when the maze suddenly goes over the edge of a cliff?

Today is August 30, another one of those hellacious anniversaries. One year ago today Kurt and I got the official word that his cancer was stage 4. Remembering that day produced a lot of bad minutes, and I was feeling rather awful when a friend called with really GOOD news about something that had just happened in her life. It was good enough news that she, her husband, and I all went out to celebrate, complete with a bottle of champagne. Lots of good minutes, and long-overdue good news for my friends!

I guess that’s the way it’s going to be. One step at a time, up and down, turning this way and that.

I’m really looking forward to going running tomorrow afternoon, after my usual 3-days-post-long-run recovery. My middle-aged knees appreciate a few days’ rest, especially after I worked them extra hard on Sunday with a 9.38 mile (15 km) run along the waterfront. I figure I’ll do an easy 5 miles tomorrow, and right now I’m feeling fairly confident that I’ll run another personal best at the Victoria BC half marathon on October 9.

Grief is always there, sometimes quietly at the margins and sometimes sitting on my shoulders and screaming. But life DOES go on. One foot  in front of the other.

Writers write. Runners run.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Aristotle

I’ve been a writer for as far back as I can remember; my fondest memories of elementary school are about the short stories that I wrote and the positive feedback that I got from teachers about them. During my high school years I took myself ***very seriously*** as a poet. I’d convinced myself that poets and other creative types were special because they were all sensitive, depressed, and a bit crazy — and my adolescent self felt a special kinship with anyone who was sensitive, depressed and a bit crazy.

I took a few creative writing and poetry classes in college, which improved my craft as a writer but caused me to question the authenticity of my voice. Did I really have anything new to say as a poet? In all my other classes, I had to learn to write in a scholarly way, objective and unemotional. Eventually, I lost whatever potential I’d ever had as a poet.

Yet I never stopped writing. I have kept a personal journal since I was 12. It has seldom been a daily practice, but I have journaled my way through relationships, job changes, parenthood, buying and selling all those cars with Kurt, packing and moving and unpacking and trying to create places that felt like home and packing and moving again. I journaled my way to the insight that I needed to go back for the long-deferred graduate degree (and then another, and another). I journaled my way to a detailed vision of a career change, and then I made that career change happen. The idea for my dissertation was born in my journal. My dissertation was a three-year writing exercise, which I did both alone and with others, spiraling inward and outward multiple times and going a little deeper each time.

When Kurt was diagnosed with lung cancer, I journaled my way through that, and I shared that journal with friends and family. Writing is how I process things. Writing is how I learn.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Theodore Roethke

Writers write. So many people talk about “that novel I’m going to write someday,” but writers don’t just talk about writing. They write.

When I started to run, I did not dream of calling myself a runner.

For my 53rd birthday I asked Kurt for a treadmill, as I wanted to walk off the ten pounds I’d put on as a PhD student, and I hoped that walking might help relieve the chronic foot pain and weakness I’d suffered from a half-successful bunion surgery followed by a broken foot. The ever-chivalrous Kurt indulged my request, expecting that it would be garage sale fodder soon. I proved him wrong. I did 146 miles on that treadmill, first walking and then cautiously jogging, before I dared to go out in “the real world.” I did another 90 miles before I finally bought my first pair of running shoes (sandals and hiking boots weren’t working so well). That was April 2009. I had registered to run a half marathon in June, but I still wasn’t thinking of myself as a runner.

Not having a clue how to properly train for a half marathon, I injured myself and missed that first race, but I didn’t give up. I was still doing mostly treadmill time, but when we went down to Palm Springs in the fall of 2009 I had to decide if I was serious enough to run on the streets at the crack of dawn. Apparently I was. I ran my first half marathon in Palm Springs in February 2010. I was slow but I finished. When we came back home to Washington I ran the North Olympic Discovery half marathon in June, beating my PS time by 5 minutes.

Then in July we found out Kurt was sick. Soon afterwards I realized that I genuinely enjoyed running and needed to run. I had to make time for it, but it was time that I got to spend not thinking about him, or us, or what was going to happen to us… time to just put one foot in front of the other. At some point I began to think of myself as a runner — well, let’s qualify that — as a slow happy runner. I’m not fast, I’ll never be fast, but running makes me very happy. Running helped me cope with the stress of nearly 24×7 caregiving, when I needed every scrap of happiness I could find.

With the help of good friends who provided respite care for Kurt, I ran the North Olympic Discovery half marathon again this June. I didn’t know he was going to die four days later, but I don’t regret the time I spent training for and running that race. I beat my previous year’s time by 10 minutes, and I took every one of those approximately 23,000 steps on sheer will power. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, made best-selling hay out of the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become good at anything. Want to learn to play a musical instrument? 10,000 hours of practice. Invent the personal computer? 10,000 hours of fiddling with electronic gadgetry.

Since October 2008 I have run 1,206 miles, and spent a mere 260 hours doing it (go ahead and do the math – yes, I’m slow and I’m happy). I am but a mere babe as a runner (a spring chicken, as Kurt would say). But I’m picking up the pace now, consistently doing three times a week, doing more long runs, finding my way step by step.

Runners run. I am a runner.

Writers write. I am a writer.

What do you do? How do you spend your finite measure of hours? Who are you?

Traveller, there is no path,
The path is made by walking…

Antonio Machado