fitness

Ask Fieldpoppy: January

(I introduced the “Ask Fieldpoppy” column in December. I will tackle any question about health, fitness, life purpose, cats, menopause (or pretty much anything else) with my unique combination of compassion and strong opinions. Leave me a question in the comments or via the FIFI facebook page!)

Dear Fieldpoppy – what’s a girl to do when it’s cold out but not enough snow for many winter sports, the gyms and pools are closed because of that blasted omicron and you’re not feeling the love for an indoor yoga challenge right now?

— Restless swimmer

Dear Restless,

As we head into This Year of Our Covid 3, many of us are feeling a real drying up of the ol’ creative movement juices. Sit with what’s most important to you — getting fresh air and being outside? Feeling agile and not all tin-man-rusty? Feeling some sense of purpose for some part of the repetitive, dull days?Just injecting some damn joy into your life? Then be a little creative.

Last winter, I bought an apple watch, which came with three free months of apple fitness. I didn’t care for most of the classes, but I took a shine to the 20 minute Latin dance workouts. This is not a thing I have ever done before, but having a lithe Cuban chap teach me cheerfully how to lambada took me out of my funk. I felt so grateful and festive and WAY MORE INTERESTING than my usual self (well, until it got dark out and my condo windows acted like a mirror — but never mind).

You don’t have to start Latin dancing, but find something that has an element of play — and that will shock the stuck pathways in your brain and routine. Instead of yoga, play twister. Set up a hopscotch course in your hallway. Go outside and throw a tennis ball against the wall. Run around the block in exuberant spurts, like a kid (or like Phoebe running through the park on that one episode of Friends where Rachel runs into a police horse). Let go of the notion of challenge and fitness and just move. And remember that this too shall pass.

Dear Fieldpoppy,

I had an emotionally draining week plus perimenopause. I went for my usual Sunday morning run. About half way through body felt too “heavy” to keep jogging. Normally running shuts off my anxious brain but not that day. I don’t want to start a pattern of letting myself stop running in situations like that. But I walk/ran the rest of the way home. Did I still go for a run? Am I starting a bad pattern? Am I still a RUNNER?

Dear Fieldpoppy,

I‘ve just started the “222 in 2022” workout group and I’ve noticed some people are counting a walk as a workout. I’m a runner, but I’m injured, and I’m really struggling with thinking of a walk as a real workout. If I’m a runner, how does a walk count as a workout?

Dear Runners,

Aw, guys. You’ve both honed in on a key consequence about the identity of Being A Runner — the ineffable thing that can happen when you take up running, where you go from thinking of yourself as jogging around the block, marking the progress by adding lamp posts, to being the kind of person who knows your kilometre pace, tracks and adds distance methodically, and trains for events. But then when you’re not doing those things, does your running “count”?

There is a huge industry aimed at having people develop the identity of Being a Runner, leading to becoming the kind of person who talks about your 10K personal best at parties (remember parties?) and pees in full view of 10,000 other runners . (See the very successful Adidas “runners — yeah, we’re different” campaign a few years ago).

Being a Runner is great. You get stronger, you get to tap into that amazing sense of personal accomplishment when you do something you never thought you could do, and if, like me, you were a bookworm of a child, you can gaze upon your adult self as if you secretly had a superhero identity all along.

But! For many, many people, Peak Personal Runner Self is a fleeting (hee, pun) thing. The hegemonic discourse of Big Running would have you believe that running is the Ur-movement, and that if you are doing anything other than running, you are less than who you can be, and you are settling for something deeply inferior. (Except, maybe, if you switch teams to its cousin Big Cycling. And even then, aren’t triathletes REALLY the ones who know it all?). But do we have to let Big Running shape our existential sense of self?

Here’s the thing: some bodies can run, and that’s magnificent. And some bodies can’t run, because of basic physiology, or aging, or injury or emotional strain or weather or hormones or whatever-the-eff it is. And even if we can run, as we age, most of us slow down. (Most of us — the guy I used to train for marathons with is now winning global masters duathlons; I go for 4km jogs about twice a week. Either one is okay!) The trick to being an integrated human is to know when that sense of heaviness or “less than” is something to lean into to honour your full self, and when, maybe, it’s an appropriate time to push past it.

If you run, even a little bit, you are a runner. The end. And if you aren’t a runner — ever, or anymore — that’s okay too. You’re still a secret superhero.

Dear Fieldpoppy,

I live in a basement apartment, and our heat is controlled by the people who live upstairs. The thing is, they’re both women in their late 50s and they’re never cold. (I’m 24 but I’ve seen my mom deal with this hot flash thing). Can I ask them to be too hot so I’m not too cold?

— Wrapped in blankets on zoom

Dear Blankies,

Oh, the thermostat wars, once confined to office spaces and now transferred like everything else in our lives, into our homes. I would start with using your words and nicely letting the people upstairs know that you’re freezing. As your landlord for a (safe) space heater. But if they really can’t warm you up without melting themselves — and god knows I empathize, as an almost 57-year old post menopausal human — enjoy your collagen-abundant skin and invest in one of these walking-around sleeping bags. I’d add slippers tho.

Dear Fieldpoppy (via text): Alex wants me to do a 4 minute wall sit and a 4 minute plank, help.

Dear Help: Why are you texting me instead of letting Alex boss you around in accord with the natural order of the universe?

Ask Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is trying to cope with another winter lockdown in Toronto with jigsaw puzzles and cats.

fitness

Dear Fieldpoppy

One of my not-so-secret not-so-guilty pleasures is a daily and weekly rollicking through various advice columns, including Alison Green’s excellent Ask a Manager, the venerable Carolyn Hax, and the gang at Slate including Dear Prudence. At their best, advice columnists are in a free-flowing dialogue with people about their worldview for living (or working) at your best. At their worst, they are ridiculous exercises in “that cannot POSSIBLY be true” (and sometimes they are not). There something about the optimism of people asking a stranger for how to make their lives better — and the willingness of the stranger to step in — that I am compelled by. So I’m introducing Ask Fieldpoppy, where my blog persona will give advice about any fitness or health or existential question. (And welcome to any newbies reading us for the first time!)

Dear Fieldpoppy,

It’s effing dark out. And cold. And the wind blew my dog away so I can’t even walk her. I just want to lie on the couch with a book and netflix. How do I get motivated to move my body?

– Does drinking tea count as exercise?

Dear Tea Drinker,

Make a blankie fort and curl up in it until your body tells you it’s time to come out. You’ll be ready when you’re ready to move, and sleep and rest are part of balanced fitness. Enjoy.

Dear Fieldpoppy,

I’m in the middle of menopause and all sorts of nonsense is happening in my body. I can’t seem to do pushups anymore without hurting my shoulder, this skin thing I’ve had forever is in a major flare and I can’t comfortably ride my bike, and my back is weird. My clothes don’t fit anymore and I have insomnia. I keep comparing my fitness to myself from 10 years ago and then I get even more paralysed. How do I cope with knowing I’ll never do the things I used to do again?

— Do hot flashes count as active calories?

Dear Hot Flashes,

Try to believe that you are the wonderful you in the body you have today — be kind to yourself, and be honest about where you are. If you can bend, do some bending. If you can walk comfortably, walk. If you can stretch, stretch. See a body worker if that’s a thing you do — chiro, osteo, physio, accupuncture, whatever is your jam — to make sure your body is as injury free as you can be, and then make friends with the body you have. Your body is keeping you connected to the world in a bonkers time in history, at a hugely transitional time in your own physical life. Thank it and celebrate it. And know you’re not alone.

Dear Fieldpoppy,

How do I get a body like Jennifer Lopez? What tips do you have?

She is so lit

Dear Lit,

Be Jennifer Lopez.

Dear Fieldpoppy,

How do I become a morning fitness person like you?

– Always hitting snooze

Dear Snooze,

Set an alarm. Complain about it. Set your coffee up the night before. Complain about it. Set three alarms. Complain about it. But just get up. Or don’t. You do you.

Dear Fieldpoppy,

What are the best exercises to get in shape?

— Want the best Return on Investment for my precious time

Dear ROI,

All of them, in random order, while dancing, as long as nothing hurts in a bad way. Just find something you like and move your body. And enjoy it!

Dear Fieldpoppy,

Yoga is stupid and boring. And hard. And I hate people telling me how to breathe. Why do people keep telling me it would be good for me? And why do people waste their time doing it?

— I’m not a cat, dog or cow

Dear Cow,

I free you of any obligation to do yoga, ever. But I don’t free you of the obligation not to judge other people.

Dear Fieldpoppy,

I was at the gym the other day and I noticed a woman doing back squats. I went over to spot her and to give her some tips and she told me to go away. She was kind of a bitch, frankly. What’s wrong with her?

– I just wanted her to smile

Dear Just Wanted,

Dude. Duuuuuude. This woman is not at the gym to be: your fantasy hotness object; attractive or appealing to you or anyone else; patronized by dudes; your improvement project; a place for you to show off your manly knowledge. She IS there to do her own thing, by herself, for her own reasons.

Listen carefully: if someone wants you to give them advice, they will ask. (See: Dear Fieldpoppy). Until then, keep doing your own thing and I won’t come over and tell you to do some yoga.

Dear Fieldpoppy,

I go to the gym 8 days a week and there’s this girl I know is into me but she’s playing hard to get. I’ve tried getting on the treadmill right beside her, giving her advice on using the weights, and even taking the equipment I know she likes so she’ll have to talk to me. But it’s not working. Got any tips?

Changed my schedule to match hers

Dear Changed,

Now you’re just trying to piss me off.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and devours advice columns in Toronto. If you have a question you’d like them to answer, post it in the comments.

fitness

Is there a relationship between gratitude and health?

I’m not sure how November became “gratitude month,” but I’m kind of grateful for whatever meme-maker started it. Sam is too. At first, it seemed like the provenance of bullet journal-makers and the people who teach mindfulness in the workplace, but I have realized through my coaching practice that focusing on gratitude can actually be a meaningful intervention to shifting our ability to cope in complicated or difficult times. There is, it turns out, even literature to support this.

It’s been known for a while that interventions like gratitude journaling can have a positive impact on stress and a sense of wellbeing in many contexts, including parenting, school and work — and there are hints that “gratitude interventions” can have a positive impact on physical health, including improving management of asthma, cardiovascular health, and other forms of chronic illness. This is especially so when gratitude is part of a social relationship — i.e., expressed to or by someone else.

So — why is this, exactly? There are a ton of researchers looking at this from a lot of different angles, including measuring brain activity in relation to various gratitude experiences. There is some suggestion that experiencing gratitude may lower your heart rate (certainly in comparison to experiencing resentment or a threat), and that gratitude ignites neural pathways that are related to (my words here, not theirs) the same parts of our brains ignited by belonging or caring for other people.

What is the relationship between focusing on the things you appreciate in your life and better managing your diabetes? There are two different types of processes involved.

The first is your own individual motivation. One group of researchers suggests it goes something like this: if you develop positive affect (i.e., a sense of appreciation or happiness) about your life in general, we feel less stress and have more energy to do the things that make us healthier (like exercising, not smoking, not drinking excessively, sleeping well), which helps reinforce unconscious motives for healthy behaviours, which leads to further engagement in healthy behaviours. It’s not as simple as individual choice and free will, of course — you need a social context and environment where healthy behaviours are possible. But there definitely does seem to be a relation between stress and misery and the deterioration of emotional and physical wellbeing.

The other set of factors is “prosocial” — i.e, related to how we experience ourselves in communites and relationships. Amplifying our sense of gratitude leads us to appreciate the people around us more, and to participate more fully in our communities. And “prosocial behaviour” — ie.., feeling like we belong to a community — has a well documented positive impact on our health.

So all those memes? They actually mean something. Cultivating a practice of quiet gratitude on its own supports our own emotional and physical wellbeing; telling someone else you are grateful for them amplifies it.

I’m going off now to send some texts full of gratitude. And I’ll leave you with a yoga I was grateful for yesterday, when I made the time to comfort and nourish myself.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is particularly grateful in this moment for her cats, her functioning body, her home and all the people she loves.

fitness

Yellow golf balls and an orange van

There I was last Sunday, hitting golf balls in the drizzle on a driving range. The satisfying CRACK as the wood hit the yellow ball, propelled it into the air. An unfamiliar ache in the muscles in my forearms as I tried to remember what I learned about holding a club the last time I golfed, in the mid 1980s.

It was an impulse, to stop at this driving range. I had an hour to make some use of late on Sunday afternoon, the liminal time between leaving the cosy, perfect tiny house that was my base for sleeping, reading, writing and hiking for a solo retreat for a few days, and catching the ferry off the magic of Salt Spring Island to the mainland.

Earlier Sunday, I did my final walk through the seaside forest trail on land belonging to the Tsawout First Nation, my final climb up Reginald Hill. I’d eaten an unexpectedly delicious turkey dinner, had a local cider and some pumpkin pie, and now, with an extra hour to savour, I’d found myself pulling into the golf course.

I learned how to golf when I was a teenager. Driving ranges were a thing my dad and I did together, looking for a shared activity for our awkward non-custodial time. My dad died when I had just turned 27. Golfing was part of my adolescence, time with my dad, my uncles, the men of my childhood who died early deaths. The men I needed an activity to hang out with.

In this in-between space on Thanksgiving Sunday, some force I couldn’t name had propelled me into the golf course. I’d found myself in a warm, well-lit pro-shop that was surprisingly open for a time when most people would be eating dinner with their families. A guy named Nigel rented me a wood and an iron ( $2, “give me something for someone with sense memory and zero skill”) and a bucket of yellow balls ($4, “I think small will be plenty”).

I dropped a couple of the yellow balls into deep puddles as I walked out to the driving range. They were both lighter and more solid than I remembered. The range was brand new, according to Nigel. It had a covered overhang, and one tall young guy was fiercely hitting balls as I walked up. THWACK. Sailing far away. THWACK. I left a two spot distance between us, daunted by his skill, knowing I’d be terrible.

I was terrible. A few times, my club went right under the ball, caught the tee and left the ball right there. I hooked several balls into the woods. I played with my grip, realizing that what I’d learned at 12 in 1977 didn’t really apply anymore. Connected with two, three, four balls. The perfect noise, as soul-satisfying as hearing the lids pop on perfectly sealed canning jars. They didn’t go far, but they moved. I felt the force, an unusual sensation for person who never does anything involving balls.

My companion fished one of his balls back in from where it had flopped and said to me “I can’t end on a bad one.” He looked at me. “I just come out here and… hit. It’s kind of meditative.” He hit the rescued ball long and hard, past the markers. “That’ll do,” he said, and stowed his clubs.

I picked ball after ball out of the basket, kept hitting, thinking about my dad. He would have turned 80 a month ago, if he’d lived past 50. What would an 80 year old Tony have been like? He was a creative, emotional being, a high school English and drama teacher. He liked baseball and amusement parks and the kinds of experiences — like getting lost in a cave — that made for a good, long, hanging-on-your-every-word story over a bottle of wine. He liked comedies, and the poetry of Led Zeppelin. He liked a poem or a play that reminded you that life is absurd and love is possible.

I finished the bucket, and, alone on the grey range, fished a few more out of the ditch for myself. A small bucket wasn’t quite enough, as it turned out. My forearm was aching, but I tried to connect with every ball, figure out the twist of my hips that made a difference.

As I walked back to the pro shop to return the empty bucket and the clubs, an elderly orange VW camper van putted by. Tony’s iconic vehicle, the 1972 van he drove for nearly 20 years. I petted Nigel’s dog and asked his name. “Louie,” he said. My dad’s family dog name.

Outside again, I stood still for a moment, in the rain. The universe felt small, enfolding, connected. “Thank you,” I said.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is back in Toronto and still feeling a sense of magic.

fitness

Scary stories around the menopausal campfire: vaginal atrophy

BOO!

Popular culture is full of scary stories about menopause: hot flashes. Night sweats. Losing your mind. Body shape shifting. Loss of libido. Drying up.

But you know what no one talks about?

Vaginal atrophy.

I’m kind of the menstruator-emeritus around here, and I’ve written plenty of posts about vaginas. (My old post about still menstruating at 53 still shows up in the top ten almost every month; my post about strengthening my pelvic floor using a cute little app game also has legs). But even I — deeply interested in uteruses and vaginas since I my Are you there god, it’s me Margaret, days, didn’t really know about vaginal atrophy.

I knew — from sitcoms and from Susan’s mom — about General Dryness and Lubrication issues. But like most people, I think, I assumed that this was just a sex-related thing, and would be easily remedied through good old fashioned lube.

The thing is? It’s not a sex thing. It’s a life thing. When Jen Gunter wrote about it for the New York Times a few years ago, the headline writer called it “the incredible shrinking vagina.”

What happens makes sense: as most vagina and estrogen-having people know, at menopause, your hormone levels decrease. As with other parts of your body, the skin of your vulva and vagina become thinner and lose elasticity. Your labia minora can also reduce in size. This is … not comfortable. (Gunter notes in the NYT piece that the appropriate medical term now is “Genitourinary syndrome of menopause” or GSM. Catchy, isn’t it? Yeah, “atrophy” paints a much more graphic picture).

I was mentioning my Vaginal Atrophy (as I do) at one of my few post-lockdown in person gatherings. The person I was talking to — a couple of years younger than I am — said “you know, my vagina is talking to me too. And my doctor keeps testing me for yeast and other bacterial things. But it’s NOT THAT. And she’s not listening to me!”

NO ONE TALKS ABOUT IT.

I am now officially in menopause, at 56. It’s been a year since I had a period. (Which is kind of sad. You don’t get to mark the last one like you do the first one!). Throughout the fall, I had constant hot flashes — like literally 20 a day — insomnia and night sweats. Really fun while in zoom all the time and experiencing global crisis.

But I also had this persistent burning, pain and general irritation in my vulva, especially in the top part of my labia. I didn’t even want to wear underwear, let alone be touched.

First I took some meds for yeast, and cut out sugar and took a lot of probiotics. I started wearing padded bike shorts for all of my zwift rides on my spin bike — even the short ones (Somehow it felt pretentious to put on bike shorts to ride in my house? Who knows the mind of the person living alone during lockdown). But it wasn’t yeast, or an STI, or friction. It was my shrinking vagina (and vulva).

So I did some googling, and finally came to understand what was happening. My vagina. Was losing. Its mind. (Well, its elasticity, but it amounted to the same thing). And it Wasn’t. Temporary,

Do you remember the Dr Who episodes with Lady Cassandra, who is only skin with a face stretched in a frame? Constantly bleating “mositurize me!” That’s what it felt like. A taut, anxious rasping situation.

I could have lived with the hot flashes. I’m old friends with insomnia. I’ve made peace with my slowing down body. But “taut and anxious” is not what you want in your vulva. I made an immediate appointment with my primary care provider.

My doc offered me various options for hormone replacement therapy. It’s not for everyone – some people don’t want it, and some have contraindicated risks. But I wasn’t in a risk group. And I took it all. An estrogen patch (Oh, estrogen, how I am beguiled by your sensual ways). Oral progesterone, a large round ball that regularly gets stuck in my esophagus, to protect me from reproductive cancers. (And to hit me over the head with sleepiness). AND estrogen cream for the vulva. (Which has less risk than patches and pills, for the record).

After a few weeks, I felt better. The hot flashes simmered down to one or two a day. I was sleeping the sleep of the righteous. But Down There? Better but not stellar. So I did some more googling. And came across vaginal and vulvar moisturizers. Kind of like lube, but more like a time release overall tissue humidifier.

So I went to the drugstore. You have to go to the aisle where they keep the tampons and condoms and yeast meds, and then bend waaaay down, right to the floor, sort of hidden away. A little selection of gyne gels. Nectar.

So now, the combination? Hormone replacement therapy (the full bouquet) plus whatever innocuous set of molecules makes up this fake lube? The patch and pill every day and gels and creams alternating a few times a week? For me, it’s the right mix. I’m comfortable. I’m… maybe not … juicy… but I’m Alive. And more important, not in pain, not irritated. And not a taut, anxious villain begging to be moisturized.

I’m a persistent person who doesn’t mind talking about my vagina in public. I suspect that a lot of other people are less comfortable talking about it. So here. It’s a thing. It’s normal. And there are options. Full HRT isn’t for everyone, but creams are lower risk, and the over the counter gels have almost no risk. All you have to do is bend down to the almost-hidden shelf.

What about you? How have you managed?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is now obsessed with the images of flora and honey that show up when you search for images of vaginas.

fitness

The jeans you wore when you were 21?

So I came across this piece in the Guardian this morning: “People who can’t fit into jeans they wore at age 21 risk developing diabetes

That headline turned me inside out with rage. What kind of bullshit shaming of aging is this? How does this researcher know what size jeans anyone wore at 21? Should I have been recording the shifts in my ass size over the past 35 years?

Basically, this doofus is saying that everyone who has type 2 diabetes should lose at least 10% of their body weight, even if they are a “normal” size. (Just think about that for a moment). Then he adds “If you can’t get into the same size trousers now [you wore when you were 21], you are carrying too much fat and therefore at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, even if you aren’t overweight.”

And what the fuck kind of scientific measure is the size of your jeans?

Martha replied: “It’s the Patriarchal Measuring Standard or PMS for men.”

I started thinking about how my jeans size changed as I got older, even as I weighed the same. BODIES CHANGE, PEOPLE.

I think what made me so mad is the offhand way both the researcher and the reporter implied that normal body shape changing is dysfunctional. I don’t see in this piece anything about knowing what size people actually WERE at 18 or 21 or whatever — just some really misguided, offhand comments assuming young = thin = healthy and anyone else (older, larger, female-er?) is inherently unhealthy.

And this nonsense is based on measuring pancreatic function of people consuming only 800 liquid calories a day. As Nicole says, “Even if what the jerk is saying is true, it’s not a reasonable intervention to expect people to live on an 800 calorie liquid diet for any length of time.?

Catherine said: yet another case of stupid journalist making a clickbait headline, outright fabricating shaming messaging not found in the presentation. There’s loads of scientific evidence that people with borderline or mild type 2 diabetes can achieve lower biological metrics (e.g. A1c– blood sugar level) with even 5–10% weight loss. But they can also achieve it through exercise, especially those with higher BMIs. There are many paths to improved metabolic states, and many tests to determine improved wellness. None of them involve stonewashed jeans. Just saying.

I think I join all of us in saying GRRRR.

fitness

Softening my completist personality: biking in Bulgaria

I went to Bulgaria in August, for three weeks. It was supposed to be a fairly epic solo bike trip, with some sprinkling in of time with my friends who live there. After two nearly impossible days of riding, I realized I had to flip the script — it became a train and seaside trip, with some riding. And that turned out to be perfect.

Here’s the thing: I’m a well known completist when it comes to physical activity. When I go out for a run, I run the distance I set out to run. I have ridden across entire countries by myself, and am the one who always has to set (and complete) a target like “150 km for the 150th anniversary of Canada.” I spent the pandemic winter grinding through nearly every route in Zwift (a few more await me for when the darkness settles this year, but I still have my little paper record I’m crossing off). Every time Sam adds a kilometre or two to a bike ride to get to a milestone number, she tags me. It’s a thing I’m known for: persistence, and doing what I set out to do.

And yet? When I realized that the bike trip I’d planned on paper (with the help of a local guy) in Bulgaria was, in real life, a painful, overheated slog that had actual risk of injury or heatstroke, I pivoted. I did the first two days as planned, and then, while sitting at a table on the cobbled street of a medieval town and eating an excellent breakfast, rethought my plan. I could keep doing it — but why?

So instead of riding far into the mountains on days 3 and 4 to meet my friends, I took a train. (Which was no easy task in and of itself! — loaded bike, stairs, sudden changes of train I didn’t understand? Not exactly chill). We rode through a delightfully flat city, ate lunch, then drove to the base of the mountain and J and I took this cunning, rickety chair lift up. (Also dangerous when my jacket got caught as I tried to jump off and I nearly got dragged back down). For the weekend, as planned, I hung out with my friends and a gathering of their friends in a covid-indifferent world, slept deeply in the thin air of the balkan mountains, hiked with little kids, watched the sun set over layers of peaks with my friend, thought about what to do about the remaining 10 days in the bike trip.

In the holiday village at the top of the mountain, there was a ropes course J wanted to do, along with another of her friends. I encountered my new, less persistent self here too. I dived into the course happily, but realized right away that it was harder than I expected. When Rosa got stalled and frightened on the third leg, I didn’t feel impatient — I was grateful for an excuse to move to a lower, easier course. It still took work — and it was fun.

It was a clue to rethink the rest of my trip. Now, I love the elemental essence of a bike trip where I’m alone, with all my stuff, pulling into a simple hotel room and wandering in a late afternoon sun in a strange small town to find some food. I love the complexity and the problem solving and the slowed down time of navigating a new place by bike. I love the kindness of strangers, just as Joy wrote about on Monday. And I love the sense of accomplishment and completion when I finish a planned ride, tick off another successful day, can say “I rode from Riga to Tallinn!” I had expected to be able to proudly say “oh yeah, I rode my bike across Bulgaria!”

And yet. On this trip, the plan wasn’t actually so great. I had decided I wanted to ride in Bulgaria, so I found a guy who does bike trips there. I randomly declared I wanted to ride from Sofia to the sea, then said, wait, I want to also ride ALONG the sea. He suggested a route across the south that he does often; I decided I wanted to ride through my friends’ town, which took me through the hillier north. Then my friend said, oh, come to our mountain village instead, which took me deep into the mountains. My bike guy did his best, but with all of these “needs,” I ended up with a route with very long days and ridiculous amounts of climbing. Because there isn’t actually a route along the sea that bikes can ride on, the seaside route was jagged and long and haphazard. I had decided to hire a bike instead of bringing my own, partly because I worried about successful shipping during COVID and partly because one of the reasons Deyan agreed to plan my trip was for the bike hire. Because the days were so long, he gave me the lightest possible bike, but which turned out to have nothing resembling the gear ratio for loaded climbing.

Oh, and it was also 40 degrees C. And a year of training inside, while going through menopause and lockdown constraint and anxiety, had left me heavier and less conditioned than the last time I got on a loaded bike, two years ago. Simple truths.

Like someone chopping off a mass of untamed hair that got too thick during the lockdown, I took the clippers to my planned bike trip. I looked more closely at the descriptions of each day. 18 km of gravel road? Onto the train. “Sharp long climb?” Skip the monastery and take a shorter route. Dangerous patch into town? Onto the train. Route that took me far away from the sea because there were no safe roads? Onto the train. Day ride to a town we wanted to see but on a route that involved the motorway for 6 terrifying kilometers? Into a cab for the return trip.

In the end, after the mountain hut weekend, I only actually followed the plan as written on one day. I skipped difficult bits in the middle of the country and took a train. I rode half the distance planned to the beautiful Sozopol, stayed my planned time, including some long day rides, and rode back another half-distance to Burgas. 40 km rides with the loaded bike were plenty — the roads were broken and weaving, the days were hot, and there were occasional terrifying forays onto the motorway, sometimes facing traffic. It was plenty. And the place was magical.

The view from my balcony in Sozopol

I stayed in Burgas, a beautiful beach town, for five days, riding around the city, doing day trips with J, going to the beach with the kids, reading diverting novels under an expensive hired sunbrella, going for gentle runs along the seawall, eating things from the sea. Feeding random cats. Taking the kids to the little amusements in the park. Bathing in the “healing” lye ponds and slathering ourselves with black mud.

Then instead of navigating northward on the now creaking bike (everything needed de-sanding), I took a train. The changes were still complicated — at one station, I couldn’t know the right platform until the train pulled in, and there were stairs to change platforms; people stuck their heads out of trains and yelled incomprehensible commands at me where to put the bike — but it all worked out. It always does.

I came home tanned and rested. I came home grateful to have spent so much time with J and B and the kids, and grateful to have had a respite from the constraints of the past two years. I also came home with a cold, just like in the Before Times — but unlike the Before Times, I didn’t power through the cold, didn’t try to do all the things. I let my body recover.

Mostly, I came home with a much more mellow sense of what it means to be persistent. I love my persistence — it’s enabled many many things in my life. But I also appreciate the sense of discernment that is getting stronger as I get older — sometimes, persistence and completion, exactly what I need. And sometimes, it’s enough to ride, to seek, to climb just enough to move your body, see a new part of the world, be with someone who matters to you. Let your body rest when it needs it.

What’s your relationship to persistence and completion?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is back in Toronto and remembering the sheer indignity and unpleasantness of fighting even the most benign virus.

fitness

Anticipating the need for Grit: Planning my first post-lockdown bike trip

I’m leaving this afternoon on an airplane. To fly across an ocean. To a totally different country. One I’ve never been to. That has a different alphabet. To ride a bike. Far. By myself.

Riding bikes in foreign lands is a thing that I do — or at least a thing that pre-Covid Cate did. But usually, I train a little bit more than I have this time. Or a big bit.

For a whole bunch of reasons — work, rainy days that lined up too closely with the few days I’ve had fully available, trying to see people who’ve been far away through the endless months of lockdown — the furthest I’ve ridden outside since last summer was 70 km.

Starting Monday, I’ll be riding across Bulgaria — which has a lot of mountains. And every day of the riding looks like this.

Note that little marker in the middle that says “BALKAN MOUNTAINS.” And the little gradation thing that shows a day of nearly 1000 m of climbing over 84km. That’s an average day — one day is nearly 1400 m of climbing.

I’m trying not to psych myself out — this is just me and a hired bike, no van to pick me up, places to sleep booked along the way. I have friends in Bulgaria, which is why I picked this country, but they won’t be riding with me. I’ll see them once on the route and then at the sea after I’ve finished riding. BUT THOSE LITTLE GRAPHS WITH ALL THE HILLS. A FOREIGN LAND WITH VARIANTS RUNNING AROUND.

So I’m taking a deep breath and thinking about grit.

I’ve written about grit before, when Susan, Sam, Sarah and I did a cold, rainy trip in Newfoundland a couple of years ago. Coincidentally, Mina mentioned grit in a post about mountain biking yesterday.

I love the word grit, because it perfectly conjures up the idea of “I feel so uncomfortable, like there’s a damn piece of sand in my eye or a stone in my shoe, but I’m hanging in there anyway.” I know I know how to do this — I rode nearly 3000 virtual kilometres in Zwift over the winter, including a 4.5 hour marathon Uberpretzel; I’ve run actual marathons; I’ve ridden through heat and hypothermia. I am old enough to have experienced a fair bit of emotional turmoil that requires grit to get through. I’m strong. I know how to do this. I just have to remember.

In our Virtual Superhero workout on Tuesday, I had another opportunity to explore grit. Alex gave us a challenge of holding a plank for “2 minutes or as long as you could.” I put myself into the pose until, at 3+ minutes, I thought I should let go, since there was more workout to go. I was fully present to the sensation of galvanizing my whole body into the hold, all of the quivering and girding and breathing. It wasn’t comfortable, but I could sink into it. And just be with it. I could have stayed longer.

Afterwards, Alex and I had a sprawling conversation about what it means to be with that kind of discomfort, and how we learn endurance. We ended up in a super metaphysical conversation about Buddhism, the inevitable pain of living, the importance of distinguishing between pain or discomfort that you can live with, soldier though, by being deeply present — and actual harm, that you should not try to grit your way through. Simone Biles, of course, is the glaring avatar of this right now — there’s grit (pretty much everything she’s ever done, including stepping onto the beam earlier this week), and then there is the wise, brave choice of knowing your body and the circumstances around you well enough to know that gritting your way through something is dangerous. Which is, of course, a different kind of grit.

So here I go, masked, vaxxed and armed with a negative PCR test. Sunscreen and a good 2 L hydration pack. And a lifetime of knowing that I can put my head down and keep going — and that if I do need to say “nope, that is going to hurt me,” I can flag down a passing driver. It will be okay. It will be transcendent. It will be hard and it will be perfect.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who has is grateful for the privilege to ride in many countries.

fitness

On “cancelling” Canada Day

Sarah, Sam and I had dinner together on a patio last Saturday, the first time we’d seen each other in person in a year and a half. It was wonderful and emotional to have them in the flesh, all three of us weathered a bit by the time, the lockdown, the COVID anxiety, the shifts in our moral urgency about our relationship as White people to racism, to structural inequity, and especially, to our identity as settlers. We were talking about the #CancelCanadaDay conversation, and our server overheard us.

“Nope! No Canada Day!” she said, confident about interrupting, emotional. “Not this year. We are finding dead babies everywhere. Just give it a goddamn MINUTE.”

For the non-Canadian readers who haven’t been tracking, unmarked graves of hundreds of children have recently been exposed on the sites of former “residential schools,” cultural assimilation centres for Indigenous children that operated in this country for more than a century, the last one closing in the 1990s. Much of the coverage of this horrifying story — two sites of unmarked graves with 1000s more expected to come — casts these discoveries as relating to “a dark part of our history.”

But it’s not history. And that’s why we need a day to pause and reflect on what this project of “Canada” is all about.

These centres were part of a multi-century program of cultural genocide against Indigenous peoples that continues today in many forms, including persistent appropriation of land for pipelines and other reasons, the federal government fighting Indigenous human rights claims in court, the Catholic Church refusing to acknowledge its substantial role in residential schools, a failure to provide clean drinking water in Indigenous communities, Indigenous children being deemed “at risk” and disproportionately taken from their families, the “silent genocide” of missing and murdered Indigenous women, profound health inequalities for Indigenous people, and overt racism in the health and mental health systems, with Joyce Echaquan being just the most recent and prominent example of an Indigenous woman mocked for her pain and left to die in a hospital in Quebec. And all of this doesn’t begin to acknowledge the intergenerational and cultural trauma that every Indigenous person in Canada carries.

The discovery of the graves of children in cultural assimilation centres is not an anomaly; it’s incontrovertible evidence that the project of White settler colonialism in Canada has, at its centre, cultural and actual genocide. We cannot look away. As our server put it last weekend, “give it a goddamn MINUTE.”

Today is officially Canada Day, the anniversary of confederation. Since “Canada 150” in 2017, there has been a growing movement to inflect the day with reflection on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to be with the truth of Canada’s history and presence along with celebration, gratitude for the many things that are good about this country, appreciation of the natural land. This year, that movement has blown fully into a call to #CancelCanadaDay. Many municipalities have called off celebrations, rallies of solidarity are being organized, and many people have suggested spending the time writing letters to politicians or listening to the voices, art and stories of Indigenous people. (A great place to start the exploration of Indigenous voices is the Downie Wenjack Foundation site, which is also sponsoring “a day to listen” with radio stations across the country. Blogger Kim suggests becoming familiar with Indigenous activist artists like Tara Beagan, Kim Senklip Harvey or Article 11. I have also found this book really meaningful this month).

I know that “cancelling Canada Day” feels like an overreach to some people. My mother expressed scepticism, pointing out of course this is all terrible, but we’re also coming out of a horrible pandemic, and we need to feel a little hope. Our prime minister is trying to walk a line between acknowledging the horrors of dead Indigenous children, reflection and “looking forward to a time when we can all be proud to celebrate Canada Day.” For many newcomers, Canada Day means something important.

I get it. Acknowledging that the structures, the country, the culture you are embedded in, you identify with — that these are also directly accountable for incredible harm? This is extremely difficult. It’s a paradox — how can we be a country that cares about human rights, does good in the world, creates safe spaces for LGBTQ people, is one of the most diverse places in the world — and also be a country that profits from colonial structures, glosses over or reinforces persistent racism, fails to examine our own biases, turns away from pain. We want to distance ourselves from the overt racism from the past and not acknowledge the persistence of more subtle, harmful dynamics. And dismiss the more overt ones like the death of Joyce Echaquan as anomalous, not “us.” Fundamentally, we want to be able to “address wrongs” while maintaining existing power structures.

“Listening” means unlearning. It means letting go of what we think we know, even what we think constitutes “knowledge.”

A few years ago, I helped convene a forum on Indigenous Health for about 150 of the most senior scientists in Canada. Throughout the day, every speaker coming from an Indigenous perspective underlined the message that addressing chronic health issues in Indigenous communities isn’t about the specifics of individual diseases, it’s about forming relationships that enable each community to create its own solutions, in partnership and with the support of western medicine. That the root of chronic disease like diabetes isn’t about individual food choices, or even about community access to food, but about the very relationship to one’s body and health that evolves out of generations of trauma. That an intervention that works in one community isn’t transferrable to another, that each community’s unique engagement with healing IS the intervention. The science was solid and the voices were moving. And one after another, older, White scientists (usually male) stood up and made little speeches about how the problem was diabetes, or that diabetes requires intervention X or Y. As though they hadn’t even been able to hear this challenge to their version of evidence and knowledge.

This unlearning is a lot of work, and it requires vulnerability. Listening and trusting that the people who are telling you their truths are telling you something important. Even if that “something important” is deeply uncomfortable or disorienting.

During the Canada 150 celebrations, I did my own micro-reparations by researching 10 Indigenous organizations and activists and donating $150 to each of them. I continue to support most of them financially, but my relationship to those donations has shifted. I think I used to see it as my sharing my privileged resources with “marginalized” groups. A power relationship in and of itself. Now, I still see my accountability to support these groups. But I also see that money as (insufficient) compensation for what those organizations, what those artists and activists, have contributed to my learning.

During Canada 150, my friend Raven, an Indigenous, mixed race, 2-Spirit multidisciplinary artist and activist from the Anishinaabek (Ojibwa) Nation, Treaty 4 in Manitoba, was documenting their experience of Canada Day. They talked about walking around with their camera, feeling huge distress at the spectacle of people publicly “celebrating genocide.”

I will admit that at the time, my quiet reaction to that comment was that it felt … overblown. Surely no one was *consciously* “celebrating genocide”? Surely we were celebrating the parts of Canada that we value, the very parts that could enable us to own our accountability, acknowledge our racism?

Somewhere in there, I shifted. I let myself listen to Raven instead of letting my reactions filter theirs. I see the truth in what they said. Celebrating the historical Canada IS celebrating the very structures that built those schools. The “fathers of Confederation” were literally the architects of the residential school system. Canada Day creates yet another opportunity to mentally gloss over those structures, mentally compartmentalize “celebrating that which is good about Canada” while temporarily laying aside the dark bits. (Although I don’t know when we actually dwell in the dark bits — that part is not institutionalized). That glossing over might have been easy to rationalize four years ago. It’s not possible to rationalize in the wake of the discovery of the graves of potentially thousands of babies taken from their families.

As my friend Alice said on facebook the other day, “I feel like most people I know can commit to a “genocide trumps fireworks” moral hierarchy.” I think that’s true. But recognizing this hierarchy is work, and we all have to do it.

Susan and I will be at her cottage for Canada Day. There is an annual “tour around the lake” festival. We talked about how participating would be more of a signal of being part of the lake community than it would be celebrating Canada Day, that we could hang our intersectional pride flag on the boat. We fantasized about handing people flyers with land acknowledgements on them. We talked it through.

“You know,” I said. “I do want to hang out on the lake, But I think I just won’t be able to see people joyfully tooling around with Canadian flags without being upset. And in the end, it’s not actually meaningful to “cancel” something unless it’s something you WANT to do.”

She agreed.

If it’s not pouring, we’ll go for a bike ride on Canada Day. We’ll do some reading and reflecting on our settler identity and shame. Consider concepts like “who does that land we call “crown” land really belong to?” And we’ll think hard about how to keep doing the unlearning and relearning that matters so much.

Cate Creede is a White queer Canadian directly descended from the earliest French settlers in Southwestern Ontario, who were part of the founding of Fort Detroit. She lives in the part of Toronto that is covered by Treaty 13 signed with the Mississaugas of the Credit. It’s the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

fitness

A Day to Listen

I’ve written a post that will be published on Thursday about what Canada Day means to me in the context of our reckoning with centuries of cultural genocide against Indigenous peoples. A big part of my own evolution of understanding of my role and identity as a White settler is listening to Indigenous voices, experiencing Indigenous art.

On June 30 (today!), the Downie Wenjack foundation is sponsoring “A Day to Listen,” in partnership with radio stations across Canada. This is an important opportunity to immerse ourselves in the truth and listening part of reconciliation.

Look for more information here: https://downiewenjack.ca/a-day-to-listen/

And while you’re at it, here is a great book to understand more about the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canadians: Indigenous Writes, by Chelsea Vowel.

What are you doing for reflection and listening on the eve of Canada Day?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is directly descended from the first French settlers in Ontario. She lives in the part of Toronto that is covered by Treaty 13 signed with the Mississaugas of the Credit. It’s the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.