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.

fitness

Rumspringa!

There is, apparently, a thing in Amish communities where some youth have a kind of gap year where they experience life in more mainstream environments, away from the constraints and expectations of their communities, called “rumspringa.” The loose translation of the german-derived word implies “running or hopping around.”

I’m not sure how much understanding I actually have of the Amish concept, but “unfettered running and hopping around” sure applies to what’s been happening in Toronto over the past couple of weeks. Finally freed of the longest consecutive lockdown in the world, rapidly vaccinating and releasing into perfect early summer weather, people are suddenly EVERYWHERE. On patios, on beaches, in parks, on their bikes.

Most of us still have a veil of COVID anxiety — is this REALLY okay? is this too many people? is this going to come back and bite us in the ass? — but it’s also just blissful, just delightful to see people moving their bodies outside of their homes and into the world. We’re still in Step 1 — no indoor dining, no hair, no pedis, limited shopping — but outside! Outside is OPEN!

Last week, I did yoga in the park, I did an early Saturday am spin class in the alley, I went for a long long bike ride in the country where I passed people just jammed onto beaches, like a beach blanket movies from the 1960s. I felt like oxygen and light were literally infusing my cells.

I also noticed a few post-lockdown consequences as I stretched into my skin like a little groundhog emerging from my hibernation den.

  1. Yup, many of my summer clothes don’t fit. Some of the bike jerseys are a little tight. And I’ve grown extremely impatient with any clothes that aren’t 100% soft and comfortable, so some things that do technically fit are just plain irritating. 16 months of COVID reshaped me a bit, all that anxiety and limited movement and comfort eating, and I’m relearning my body. But that’s okay — I’m strong, I’m sturdy, and I survived a pandemic. I’m an effing superhero.
  2. Buying the perfect pair of training-but-not-running shoes online is impossible. Pre-pandemic, I had a perfect pair of Nike somethings that worked for strength classes, supported walking around AND looked sporty but okay with business casual type clothes. And of course they stopped making them. I have ordered now 9 pairs of similar-looking shoes online, and all were truly terrible. I ended up with a pair of allbirds as a walking around compromise, but they don’t work for the days I want something while I’m deadlifting or skipping. THIS is something I need to go into an actual store for.
  3. Riding nearly 3000 km in zwift this winter on my bowflex kept me fit and mentally sound, but it doesn’t directly translate into fitness for outside riding — never underestimate the effort of paying attention to the road under your tires, the weight of the sun, and the energy of actually having to track the traffic around you. They are both good, but they are not the same.
  4. My face has aged more than the usual 16 month pace in COVID times. I am lined. My eyelids are drooping. I look older. That is okay too, but it takes a little getting used to. I see selfies and can’t fully recognize that person with the pandemic hair, the edged forehead, the softer jaw. I am still making her acquaintance.
  5. Finally, all of this working out on my own — running alone, zwifting alone, yoga and strength training in zoom — has erased a lot of my inhibitions. When I did yoga in the park last week, I heard myself making … noises. Ooof. Ummhp. Siiiiiigh. Owwww. Ooof. A little soundtrack of old person body moans. I suspect it’s not as endearing as I imagine it to be. It’s a good thing we’re still well-spaced while I relearn social norms. In workouts and other contexts.

There is a lot of relearning in this rumspringa time — remembering the absolute privilege and joy, for example, of being able to take myself out for dinner on a patio after a long work day, and eat a pizza and an interesting eggplant and capers thing someone else made. How to decide what I want to do outside in the world and what will stay in the comfort of my little nest. How to be among people.

I was talking about the joy and anxiety, the bubbling over of the social world with my yoga teacher when we were in the park. “Yeah,” she said, “though I was at a thing on the weekend where I thought, this is just waaaaay too many people.”

“If you were outside and not touching, it was probably okay,” I offered.

She lowered her voice and leaned forward. “There was a SLIP AND SLIDE.”

Okay, maybe don’t do that yet. But revel in moving your body outside.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is flexing her outdoor muscles in Toronto.

fitness

How I spent my pandemic lockdown

Last week Susan wrote a beautiful post about the lost year that wasn’t really lost. She invited others to talk about what we’ve gained over the 16 months of covid we’ve lived with — this frightening, confusing, cosy, exasperating, awakening, exhausting, languishing, enraging and clarifying year. (BTW, in case anyone’s counting, we’re still in full lockdown in Toronto. We’ve now had the longest continual “no restaurants (even outdoors), no hair, no gathering, no toes, no gyms, no swimming, no touching, no non-essential shopping, mostly no schools, NO TOUCHING” lockdown in the world. Our third wave is now behind us and we’re vaxxing like mad, but our premier is now locked in his own paralysis of doing the wrong thing. But never mind about THAT).

So what am I taking from this year? What were, as they say, the unexpected gifts?

  1. A stupid little daily walk really does help my stupid physical and mental health.

Cheryl posted this meme in our 221 in 2021 workout group a few months ago, and we started using the hashtag #slwfmspmh in our group for our daily constitutionals. It’s a thing. I do it almost every day. I feel better. It counts as movement.

2. It took a pandemic to really lock my body down into menopause. My now three year old post on still menstruating at 53 continues to be in the top 10 most read posts every month, but I am no longer the menstruator emeritus. Being trapped at my desk in zoom while being lashed with 20 hot flashes a day eventually drove me to hormone replacement therapy (and let’s not even speak of the vaginal atrophy — more on that horrifying phenomenon later). But I’ve crossed a milestone into cronishness, and I like it. As a friend said on facebook the other day, “the less estrogen I have, the more honest I become.” I concur.

3. Time really does move along like a son of a bitch, so you’d better get on with the things that matter. Facebook memories kept popping up this year reminding me of the Before Times, and they were always waaaay longer ago than I remembered. Wasn’t that trip to Bhutan just last year? Have I really had my little Georgia cat for four years? That — plus, you know, global doom — triggered a little tick tick tick in my head of time passing, and I finally — finally! — started working in earnest on a book I’ve had in me for a long time, about my experience with the project I’ve been running in Uganda since 2008. I’ll be blogging here a little less because of it for a while — from once a week to once a month — so I can really focus. It’s in my head even when I’m not working on it, which is the best place to be.

4. Little latin dance workouts are actually fun, and it doesn’t matter what I look like. I got a new apple watch a couple of months ago, and I was immediately enamoured. I like being bossed around by the rings, and I like the illusion of accomplishment even on days when I’m essentially pacing like a hamster in a cage. I didn’t leave my house, but I closed my rings!

I already knew I was motivated by “badges” — what I didn’t know is how much I would appreciate the free three months of apple fitness + that came with the watch, I quickly flicked away the yoga (I got my own peeps for that), the strength training (the beloved alex), the core, the spinning. But the dance workouts. The dance workouts! 20 minutes with Jhon doing a fake merengue and I’m transported to a carnivale in my head. And I’m alone, so I can pretend I’m even good at it. I feel like an 8 year old dancing completely unselfconsciously. That, I did not expect.

5. Cats can get eczema from stress. That’s not really about me and my body, but it’s really interesting, isn’t it??! Poor Emmylou had all these gross head scabs until I got a little pheromone thing to destress her. It works.

6. When you’re 56, your body needs careful tending. Over the past year, I’ve developed a shoulder impingement, Morton’s neuroma in my left foot, an unnerving infection in a finger after I had acupuncture for an arthritis node and something got in the wound, two different rounds of sciatic pain (different sides), and occasional knee pain. On top of the hot flashes, insomnia and other unsavoury menopause symptoms. But I’m a little less … annoyed… by these things this year. I tend to them — with chiropractic, stretching, release, rest. I thank my body for letting me do the things it does. And I’m grateful — so grateful — my good, strong body has gotten me through this pandemic.

My hair was so much shorter in January!

7. Yoga is always a good idea. I’ve written a lot about doing the Yoga with Adriene January program, and my teacher Amanda, and learning to do bakansa, and how the concept of drishti really helps me stay focused. I’m not always 100% consistent, but my mat is almost always ready in my living room, and that continual invitation has brought me so much deeper into my practice, into my comfort with stillness, into my body. My body has changed this year — age, menopause, stress, lockdown. All the little fiddly problems. My summer clothes from last year don’t quite fit. With my current pandemic ponytail, greying roots and cat’s eye glasses, I look like my own great-grandmother. But yoga is always there to bring me back to the essence, to show me my strength, my resilience, my adaptability, how I can keep growing no matter what.

My beloved bombtrack, with the coca cola I only drink when I’m on a long ride.

7. And finally…. my bike will always be my best friend. I got through the winter riding a spinning bike more than 2000 fake kilometres through the simulated world of zwift. I was so grateful for that. But when I got on my bike and pedaled alone on country roads last weekend? Found a place that was willing to sell me a curbside cheese sandwich? Ticked past 55 real kilometres for the first time this year? Then I was really home. That will not change.

What about you? What were the unexpected aha’s you experienced this year?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is still in lockdown in Toronto, but was able to go on a solo adventure near Beaverton last weekend.

fitness

Transcendent movement: An interview with Amanda Donato

During our interminable lockdown in Toronto, I’ve come to appreciate classes streamed from two of my usual workout providers even more than I valued them in person. I’ve written at length already about the wonderful Alex and the community they’ve built in our morning workouts that Tracy, Kim and Susan also do. In another zone, I’ve also really come to appreciate live streamed classes from my local studio, Chi Junky — and in that context, have actually discovered my favourite yoga teacher of all time, Amanda Donato. There is something about her teaching and presence that simultaneously makes me feel like I’m exactly perfect as I am as well as inspiring me to reach even deeper and into more complex spaces than I ever have in my 25 years of practice. Via zoom. When I’ve never met her in person. So I asked if I could interview her to try to understand.

Amanda doing the pose that I fell on my face trying.


1.  Can you just tell me a little bit about your background?  I know you’re a dancer, but how did you get to the yoga space you’re in now?

I started dancing at 3 years old at a school specializing in Ballet and Jazz examinations in Scarborough. In my adolescent years, I jumped around a few studios as a recreational dancer, with a burning feeling that I needed more. As I transitioned into more vigorous hours and competitive programs in my teens, there were many contradicting moments where I considered quitting. The whole idea of needing to “know” your future at such a young age confused me. Still does. I was also extremely hard on myself and influenced greatly by external voices whispering: “an artist’s life has no promise or stability”. 

I studied Psychology in University (still a dear love of mine, and an academic path I hope to continue on), and kept up my dance training as I began working professionally. There was, however, a breaking point in my second year of Undergrad. A perfect storm of neglected anxiety, childhood traumas, and self-induced pressure bubbled to the surface… and I lost my grip on reality. 


I don’t remember my conscious decision-making process, but I knew there was a yoga studio down the street from campus. I also knew that a bodily practice had the potential to pull me out of my mind. At least I’d be training my alignment, strength, and flexibility regardless. This was all in addition to seeking a therapist. 
My resonance with yoga was not instantaneous by any means – but it felt like an anchor. There was challenge and grit and sweat (shout out to Queenie Phair’s classes)… and it was void of performance pressure. There was freedom. (This eventually leaked into the way I experience dance now). I intuitively completed my Yoga Teacher Training in the summer of 2015, and my reasons for sticking with Yoga are deeply-ingrained… and ever-changing.


2.  Do you have a philosophy of teaching?  What do you want people in your classes to experience?
I think my teaching has always been enveloped with a deep understanding that yoga has existed long before me, and will exist long after I’m gone. 
I have the responsibility of holding space and guiding bodies when I teach – but I never feel like I’m not a student too. I wish for people in my classes to tap into their life energy, creativity, and agency. I wish for them to feel safe and to embrace curiosity… to connect to joy and playfulness. I see the physical challenges I propose as gateways/catalysts for this.


3.  Do you have a way you describe your orientation to yoga?  What’s the intention or purpose of solo practice for you?  What about practice in community?   (I know these are BIG QUESTIONS that change day to day — whatever comes to mind is fine ;-)).

Connection is the first word that comes to me here. A solo practice is a way for me to remember how multi-faceted I really am… and it pulls me out of how small my mind likes to make me. The wavering openness after a practice is unbeatable: length and space in my joints… my limbs… my heart. My movement practice does not feel like an epiphany every time I step onto my mat, but showing up feels necessary and keeps me creatively accountable. 


Growing up in dance studios… supported by a web of teachers, mentors and peers… was my lifeline. Moving and sweating in a room full of people is still one of my favourite things ever. The energy is unbeatable and community is everything. 


4.  What do you experience when you’re teaching in zoom — how do you stay in your body AND connected to the people on the screen?  How do you stay in your sense of community?

I am in full belief that the in-person class experience cannot be replicated. The subtleties… the nuancing is blurred out with online classes. I also believe, however, that the practice transcends all limitations. When I start a Zoom class, I trust that my intentions and energy will penetrate through screens, and that students will get to intuitively fill in the blanks. I work from a place of celebration: that everyone has gathered at the same time to move in their own spaces. The best thing we can do (especially in these trying times) is to stay with it and remember that we’re not alone. The whole online teaching experience has been this personal case study of how much I can soften, surrender… and proceed to serve my community. I am grateful to every soul that shows up to these classes. 


5. What is it you think you uniquely bring to your teaching?  I keep trying to articulate why it is that I feel so free to explore with you, what the source of my sense of confidence is.  I think part of it is that I feel like you are somehow IN your own body, not self-conscious or something like that, and it invites us to be in the same way.  You are extremely good at cueing verbally — I rarely have to look at the screen to figure out what you’re doing — even when you’re encouraging us to try something I haven’t done before.   You are very conscious of all of the different planes and edges and sensations in your cuing.  And you have all of this confidence that the “hardest” versions of poses are available to us over time — like flying lizard — but I never feel that just staying in the simplest version is “wrong.”  Somehow I feel like I and my body can exist in multiple dimensions in time and space and the same time in your classs, lol — like the Cate today isn’t doing flying lizard but she could if she just focused.  It’s how I managed, in your class, to do a flow from crow to headstand, back to crow and then a graceful chataranga.  It amazed myself.  It’s also why I fell on my face trying to do pincha mayasurana.  LOL  — I forgot I couldn’t do it.

Wow! Thank you, Cate! I am letting your words marinate. Riffing off of what you are saying: 


I feel like I am indebted to the movement I am teaching. What I teach isn’t really “mine”, but something moving through me. I don’t plan specific cues or sequences prior to class, which keeps me incredibly present in my communication… and open to what the people in class are needing that day. I no longer resonate with the “right” or “wrong” dichotomy like I used to. Apparently this comes through… hence you feeling limitless going for pincha! No doubt that I am often negotiating with my default perfectionism and rigidity… but the practice feels so much bigger than that anyway. It always wins. 

6.  Is there anything else you’d like to share about your teaching or your practice or your experience of movement?

My life is enriched when I peel back the thinking mind’s expectations of what “counts” as practice/training and what doesn’t. I’ll go a few weeks without practicing yoga on my own… but immerse myself in running or biking instead. There are times when I feel like I’m choreographing a piece while layering a lasagna and listening to great music. Sometimes reading a book feels like a full-body experience too. 


It’s this constant revisiting… listening… softening…. Grateful for it! 

Amanda is a professional dance artist, educator, yoga instructor and choreographer from Toronto, Canada. You can find Amanda at her website: https://www.amandadonato.com, where you can sign up for a streamed yoga class or just watch incredible videos of her body moving in dance.