On Thursday evening, I had signed up for a spinning class, but as the afternoon wore on, I was suddenly blearily tired. Half an hour before the class, I “late canceled.” (This means I don’t get my money back but they will free up a space for someone else if there’s a waitlist). I also bailed on dinner with one of my best friends.
Instead, I laid on the couch in my spinning clothes for half an hour, one cat at my head and the other at my feet, and went to bed at 830.
My post yesterday was about the power and importance of re-engaging with the fundamentals of the things we think we’re good at, partly to really tune ourselves to what our bodies really need. What I needed yesterday, clearly, was rest. I was actually sick last week and took three days off life altogether. I’d worked out a few times this week, including a spinning class that felt great, but apparently, I wasn’t quite ready to jump right back into full-bodied pace.
Like Sam, Catherine and a whole bunch of other people, I’m doing the “218 in 2018 workout challenge” again this year. That spinning class would have actually been workout #282. Last year I hit 221 in total — and this year, it’s been fascinating to me how easily I passed the 218 goal. This was partly by incorporating a lot more yoga, and partly by shifting from asking myself “can I fit in a work out today?” to assuming I was going to work out, and consciously deciding when I would take a day off. (And when I posted that I was taking a rest day on the group, another guy high fived me and said he was too).
Deciding not to work out yesterday was an intentional, conscious decision to rest, to recover. There is definitely a part of me that has a thrust to keep pelting forward — I’m so close to 300! Isn’t that a powerful and impressive number!!!!??? But paradoxically, part of what I’ve learned by trying to move my body as many days as possible in 2018 is when to rest. The part of me that has learned how to listen knew that yesterday, lying on my couch and going to bed early was what my body actually needed.
I’ve been thinking a lot about prioritizing rest and recovery this year, and I’m not alone. A few years ago, “FOMO” — fear of missing out — was a ubiquitous hashtagable phenomenon.. Over the past couple of years, it’s been supplanted by FOGO (“fear of going out”) or — as the big sign in the reception area of my spinning studio say — “JOMO,” the Joy of Missing Out. I keep reading things about the joy of canceling plans and how to listen to your own instincts about managing social energy. (There are even etiquette guides on how to flake on plans without ruining your relationships). Wellness blogs all over the place tout sleep and rest as the single most significant aspects of health, and there are whole industries built around encouraging intentional or purposeful rest. Just as I started to write this post, I got an email from one of my former yoga teachers who has started a new wellness practice over the past year or so, flogging a restorative yoga deck. You don’t even have to leave your house to do the yoga that will relieve your stress — and the tagline is “remember to rest.”
As I was writing this post, I paused to go to a yin yoga class, and the teacher started the class by talking about the “triad of nutrition, exercise and rest,” and how we are perpetually rest and sleep deprived. She had us pick cards for inspiration, and I got one that emphasized “difficulties arise when we demand of ourselves things that don’t match our current vibration.”
Now, I’m not a very woo woo person. But if I really believed in “messages from the universe,” these would be pretty vivid. To be in balance, we need to rest. I know it’s a privileged position to be able to just forfeit my spinning class fee, or to seek needed rest by paying someone $20 so I can lie on a bolster for 75 minutes in a series of set postures. And I know it’s a different kind of privilege to know that your friends and social world will “always be there,” even when you suddenly realize your body and soul need quiet, not interaction. But for me, right now, this is the stretching time of really learning how to be more choiceful about what and how I plan things, about what it really means to integrate movement and health into my life every day. Between 2017 and 2018, I built a habit of moving almost every day. Next year, I’m hoping that my moments of rest will be more intentional too.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and lies on mats in Toronto.
Two weeks ago, I spent three days in a coaching fundamentals workshop, re-immersing myself in the basics of creating generative space in a one-on-one conversation. Last Sunday morning, I went to a yoga fundamentals class and immersed myself in the most essential elements of what happens inside our bodies when we focus on our shoulders for an hour.
In a flash of synchronicity, a friend of mine who is a coach — who trained in the same program I did the workshop in — showed up to my yoga class. She just moved into my neighbourhood but we hadn’t had a chance to see each other yet, but I’d sung the praises of my studio.
After class, I asked her what she’d thought — I’m always a little nervous about whether people I’ve recommended something to will like it. “It was amazing,” she said. “You have to be so. present. to do this kind of class — my mind never wandered.”
That comment really tied together both of those “fundamentals” experiences for me. Coaching isn’t my core work, but it’s an important aspect of it. I’ve developed my skills through a weave of different kinds of learning over two decades, ranging from facilitation training, a graduate certificate in dialogue, a phd in communication, lived experience and meditation teachings. But I’ve never done a core fundamentals workshop on this kind of really basic model. I’m a pretty good coach, but focusing for three days on the basics of simple questions, letting go of your own agenda, treating the other person as “creative, resourceful and whole,” surfacing the bottom line, being fully present to where they are — it reshaped my practice immediately. It made me examine where my mind wanders, how needlessly complex I can make things, how much my own beliefs influence what I hear. I had to face stuff that isn’t as seamless as I want to believe it is, and it changed me, almost immediately. I got more… patient, more present. And that brought a lot of joy to my work over the past couple of weeks.
That yoga class was the same. I do yoga fundamentals occasionally, but this one really focused me. This was a teacher I don’t go to very often (a sub for the usual teacher at this time, whom I don’t totally love), and she was … perfection. Every move was intentional. We focused on shoulders and upper arms, and I found my shoulder blades in new ways, felt ropiness I’m never in touch with, heard clicks and pops I’m not in tune with, struggled with holding my arms in warrior two in true, full presence. From the outside, we did very little that would look like “work”. Inside my body, I was fully involved and engaged in the experience — feeling my right arm so much more mobile when raising it to the side, ache in my shoulders when I folded my arms across my body and grasped my shoulder blades with my hands, trembling in my legs in a simple squat. I was IN my body in a way I rarely am, related to it differently. (And ached the next day).
(My friend Grace took pics of me doing some of our poses at the end of class. I don’t usually practice in a tshirt and socks but I was cold ;-).)
I’ve done a lot of yoga this year, and I’ve posted a lot about the experience. I’m trying to make meaning of this deep pull I have right now toward engaging so much in the kind of movement that emphasizes presence, stillness, a comfortable acquaintance with what’s *really* happening in my body. I think it’s part of a years-long shift toward movement that truly matches what I need — and really inquiring into what that need is.
When I was 30, running far and faster was what I needed, for a lot of reasons. Following a typical “10K training program” or another kind of externally defined program made sense, and served me well. But as I’ve navigated various injuries, gotten older, slowed down, gotten busier and more tired, what I “should” do according to some expert model doesn’t work. When I dabble in the bootcamp or barre classes in my gym, do a video HIIT workout, try to keep up with someone else’s running or cycling pace, it doesn’t work for me. I hurt myself, fall out of rhythm, just quit, fail.
What I seem to be discovering is that I need to reshape my deep listening to my body, find movement I can do for the remaining decades of my life, do the things that will strengthen me, not harm me. That’s an ongoing practice, not a one time definition. I’m pretty happy that I have gotten stronger in bridge poses, in balancing postures, in handstand this year. But the continual engagement with the fundamentals of things I think I already know — that’s what’s had the biggest impact on me. In my movement, in my work, and in my presence in the world.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto when she’s not wandering the world. She blogs here on the second Friday and third Saturday of every month, which weirdly fall on sequential days this year. Stay tuned for tomorrow!
Last week, I wrote about my relationship with yoga as a practice that goes well beyond the physical. I didn’t mention that my current studio is actually called “spirit loft,” and they are less of a yoga studio per se and more of a “movement lab.” They are very focused on form and on mobilizing and activating your full body — which fits me.
I have done a few movement classes, but I don’t love them. I like the idea of moving in a more freeform way, finding new arcs in space, exploring the edges of my ability to crouch into a deep squat, reach into a starfish shape as I roll. But actually doing the classes challenges me in the wrong way — one teacher is sweet but too young to understand how to modify for aging bodies, and I hurt my shoulder when he had us helicoptering our arms too much. In another class, I dislocated my thumb moving it around a pole thingy. And in most of them, there is partner work where I always end up feeling clumsy, bad at following directions, and inept. That is not what I want in a fitness class.
But — I do like the concept at the essence of these classes — to go deep into the fundamentals of noticing how we move our bodies. There is a yoga fundamentals class I really like, where we can spend an entire class opening up our hips in a certain way, rolling a little hard ball miserably up and down our hamstrings, finding deep alignment.
This fundamentals stuff is more and more appealing to me because I’ve been struggling with some weirdness in my quads, hamstrings and knees. I’ve had odd knee pain in both knees, and my massage therapist has identified one part of my quads that is under-developed and therefore pulling me out of alignment. I’m hyper fretful about my knees — I already have some cartilage damage and I don’t want more.
Last week, I noticed that the person who teaches the fundamentals class was teaching a version of the movement lab for “midlife and beyond, though everyone is welcome.” I know that teacher (also one of the studio owners) is vigilant about precision and attention, so I scraped time in my Friday morning to go to the class.
So basically, we spent 90 minutes getting in touch with the hinge at our hips. Moving a rug around in different directions with one foot while keeping the other firmly on the floor, bending with a dowel held to our backs in three places to see our real range without curving our backs, working up eventually to picking up a kettle bell from the floor with a very specific range of motion.
So here’s the thing: it was fucking HARD. Twice in the past month — in this class and from my massage therapist — I’ve been reminded that just because I have strong legs and can do a lovely forward fold in yoga, pull my foot up onto the seat of my spinning bike to stretch — this really doesn’t mean I’m flexible. My hinge range is about 45 degrees, not 90 — after 45, I start to curve my spine (even when my knees are bent). That dowel thing was humbling. And I thought I was doing a great job with the kettlebell until the teacher came and gave me a little yoga block to help me out.
This might seem esoteric, but the point of the movement for life class is to put you in touch with how the way your body moves affects your quality of life as you age — we will need to pick up things off the floor until we die. Being able to touch your toes is great — but preserving true agility in your hips is even more important — for recovery if you start to slip on the ice, for support for your back when you pick stuff up, for strength and alignment for your knees.
I liked the class, though I felt like it revealed all of my illusions about my own fitness. I’m strong and powerful in many ways, but there are more dimensions when I go deeper inside. And that’s a whole new journey in and of itself.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works, and moves a blanket around with her foot in Toronto.
I lift my heel and flex my toes in high lunge, and feel every part of my foot flicker to life.
I roll down into forward fold and I flash through an inner dialogue of hips taut, hamstrings tight, feet turned in a little too much, fibrous muscle catching over my left knee, piriformis sore, toes further away than last week.
I sit in dandasana and feel hips, thighs, spin, neck race into position, work to constellate into an upright, strong posture.
I sit in hero pose at the beginning of a class, legs tucked under, looking like I am doing NOTHING, and my quads fire into agitated life, screaming to be released. At the end of class, I sit as comfortably in this pose as in a chair.
I balance in warrior three, feel my leg root, glide forward in complete equilibrium.
I’ve been doing yoga at least once a week for more than 20 years now. These poses are “easy” asanas — but I was reflecting in my class on Monday that I experience them fresh every time. I discover my toes anew every time I step on the mat, am present to these little bits of my body that work for me all day, every day, but which I never really feel or pay attention to until I’m directly engaging them. I feel like different parts of my body literally greet me when I fold, stretch, balance — hello calves! hello arthritic big toe! hello side-twisty bit!
At the same time, I experience the poses as familiar, attached to a story — “oh, interesting, I’m so much stronger and deeper in chair pose than I was six months ago” — and as completely new — “how do I fold in suryanamaskar A in a way so it really feels like a flow? how do I curl over my toes from upward dog to downward dog in a smooth motion?” I’ve literally done 1000s of sun salutations in my yoga life — but every one has its own life to it, its own story, is a new question.
I recently had a conversation with a friend who was contemplating going to her first yoga class ever, and she was reluctant because she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to follow it, wouldn’t be able to “do” it. I found myself quite passionately describing my experience of yoga as “never easy,” that there is no “right” way to do it, and that good yoga classes are always about never comparing, about going deep inside your own possibilities, being okay with the fact that you have been doing yoga for 20 years and still cannot do some of the things that other people can do easily. For me this is getting my heels down in downward dog, doing Utthita Hasta Padangustasana without falling (grabbing my big toe with one hand and extending my leg out straight while balancing on other leg), comfortably doing eagle pose. I have done these poses 100s of times, and they are a new, imperfect challenge every time. As I said to my friend, “the joy of yoga is that there is simultaneously no failing and it’s all failing — it is never perfect.”
Other people doing variations on a pose my massage therapist tells me to do and which continues to elude me.
My meditation teacher Jeff Warren once said that yoga is a “spiritual trojan horse” — that many people start doing yoga for fitness or stress reduction, and then find themselves “deliciously, inexorably, sometimes alarmingly – moving along a course of spiritual development they never expected.”
That has been my experience with yoga. Not in a namaste and sanskrit tattoo kind of way — I have strong feelings about the cultural appropriation side of yoga. But I do know that a guided meditation during shivasana back in 1996 was the first time I really experienced the connection between my body and a deep felt sense of “mystery” — the first time I had a somatic experience of my self and all of its yearnings for meaning. Over time, I’ve developed language for these yearnings, journeyed through meditation, reflection, solo pilgrimages, all the “work” to face my demons and look as unflinchingly as possible at what it means to be a present, emotionally honest, flawed, vulnerable human, capable both simultaneously of inflicting harm, of weaving golden connections, of great generosity.
Yes, yoga is a way to keep my aging body more supple, to build strength and agility in the muscles and connective tissues that get worn and frayed through daily life, through sitting, through running and cycling and walking in the wrong shoes. Anyone who thinks it’s “not real exercise” is misguided — I rarely go to hot yoga, but I always need a shower after a class. It’s physical WORK.
But there is also a meta-experience of that physical work that always brings me back to the mat. Yoga is lesson after lesson.
On the mat, I do the same kind of observation and noting of what is happening in that very moment that I seek in meditation — the unexpected stubbing of my toe as I hop back to the front of my mat, the ease and depth of triangle, the three breath limit for full bridge pose. Presence reveals an endless flow of news, slows me down.
Every time I do handstand, I have a moment of hesitation, a prick of fear about turning myself upside down. That flicker of hesitation is a continual re-engagement with my own courage, with the intertwining of self-aware strength and vulnerability to strive for in my entire life.
On the mat, I am often simultaneously deeply engaged and deeply bored, fully immersed in what I am doing and impatient at the same time, resisting checking my watch. This is my monkey mind life, unable to stay still. Yoga shows me this tendency, cautions me about it, reminds me that it just gets worse.
On the mat, I sometimes feel the deep vulnerability — the sadness, the hope, the loss, the fear — that is squelched in real life. I am reminded to listen.
Every time I fall out of a pose, or can’t reach for something I’m aiming for, I’m reminded about letting go of attachment, of not taking what’s in front of me for granted. This has helped me through losses and irritations, reinforced my gratitude for my body’s changing strength and agility as I age.
More than anything, yoga reinforces “beginner’s mind” for me. Every time I’m on the mat, I discover what is true for me that day — can I hold a pose longer, or bend further, or is there restriction? Can I hold that multi-stage balancing posture, or am I going to tip? I am never the same yogi from one session to the next. It’s grounding and it’s freeing. It’s a reminder that I can fail in one moment and there will always be another posture, I can succeed one moment and not have the same experience next time, I can be triumphant — see my handstand! — and I can be humbled — see me suddenly unable to reach my toes in a simple forward fold on a stiff day! I am human and I am present to that human-ness.
When I learn these things on the mat, I learn them in my body. When I manage to hold onto the wisdom off the mat, I am a better human.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who blogs here the second Friday and third Saturday of every month, and other times she needs to say something out loud.
These bright, quilt-like images are from cloth decorating the outside of yurts in Kyrgyzstan
Now I’ve seen everything.
I mean, I really have.
I have been privileged enough to travel a lot — closing in on 60 countries, with some truly amazing and magical and rare experiences. I’ve seen wild jaguars and polar bears and the Sahara and the himalayas. I’ve kissed a wild grey whale on the head. But one place I’d never been was Central Asia. And when two of my good friends moved to Kyrgyzstan for a year, I thought it was a great chance to see it. And then Bo said “come for the world nomad games!”
“Okay!” I said. Then: “what the heck are the world nomad games?”
Basically, the world nomad games were started about six years ago (the one this September was the third event) to revive some of the traditional sports of nomadic peoples, especially in Central Asia. The NYT did a great piece with some fantastic photos on its history last month:
The sports are the sort of things that whisper around the edges of your dreams — familiar events like wrestling and arm wrestling and archery, but then veering into the mythic, like hunting with eagles and dogs, on horseback and on feet, a sort of bocce-like game involving tossing bones and — most spectacularly — kok boru. Kok boru can be looked at as the “hockey” of the world nomad games — but this is hockey that includes these rules:
The teams will play semi-final and final games. If there is a draw during the regular time, the teams will play an extra period. During the extra period there is a golden carcass rule. If the teams play with an even score, they have a shoot-out.
According to the results of Kok Boru, the Great Kok Boru Player and the Great Kok Boru Horse will be determined. The Great Kok Boru Player will be determined based on the largest number of carcasses.
Yes, that says carcasses. Kok boru is basically polo on horseback, where the “ball” is a headless sheep or goat carcass. The field is big, and there is a lot of tugging and wrestling and yanking the carcass by the legs, culminating — for the skilled — in hurling an obviously heavy, unwieldy carcass into a “well” that looks like a huge dog dish.
There’s a reason the World Nomad Games immediately became a hit six years ago: this is primal, numinous competition — written on the souls of centuries of life where people are entwined with the land, with horses, with other creatures.
The games were on the banks of Lake Issyk Kul in northern Kyrgyzstan, a pilgrimage from Bishkek in itself — we stayed in a yurt camp on the way, and I slept better than I ever have.
The opening ceremonies were in Kyrgyz without translation, but the narrative was clear: first there was the land, and then there were people, and then there were horses, and then people forged metal and they became one with the horses, and the world as we know it began.
Even without words, the opening ceremonies were incredibly moving. And I didn’t expect that the parade of nations would include more than 80 countries — including a Hungarian team in full medieval battle armour, a kok-boru team from Wyoming, and a small contingent from Canada.
The Canadians walked under the Canadian flag in the opening ceremonies, but when they showed up on the archery field, they waved a Mohawk flag. Which made sense to me. But when I talked to them, they seemed to be perhaps one indigenous person from Canada and a collection of Hungarian-Canadians, supported by private funds from another European country). Somehow all of this seemed very… Canadian.
The people in the hotel room next to us — a French couple now running a hotel in Uzbekistan — told me later that during the opening ceremonies, they were moved by the adjacency of the Iranians and Israelis, the Syrians and the Russians, the possibilities of human connection that surpasses the idiocies of politics that always seem to open up on a sports field. I had my own moment of that watching an Iranian woman and an American woman arm wrestling.
My photos aren’t great — I only had my phone — but that one illustrates the best part about these games — the intimacy. Apart from the opening ceremonies, there were no tickets for the games — you just show up and if there is room, you have a seat. With the arm wrestling, I was able to worm my way right to the front of stage. (And, by the way — arm wrestling is shockingly compelling — the women try to psych each other out and defeats are quick, within 20 seconds usually; the men can get locked in mutual battle for long, intense minutes, the victor often falling to the ground with the effort).
Half of the events were at the hippodrome on the shores of the lake, and the rest were in a valley about an hour away. It was transporting — half broad open plain, archery and hunting with dogs and eagles, and on the other side, a cultural village filled with people demonstrating the crafts and food and dance and openness of centuries.
That intimacy showed up again — we were able to scootch right in between the people throwing bones and the hunters, close enough to touch eagles, catch the breath of the hunting dogs as they ran off from their handlers, meet the only female eagle hunter, who put down her big heavy purse for five minutes to compete, then picked it up again. She’s not the same one as the subject of the documentary people have told me about — that woman is younger — and I don’t know this woman’s story, but I do know her face, and I know her confidence in this field of men.
We only had three days at the actual games — I had to come back to Canada and my friend I was traveling with went on to India and other adventures. But we all wanted to spend days watching kokboru, wandering among the women in the cultural pavilion, watching the archers dozing between their sets. Everything felt timeless, like time was stretched, like the earth had opened up to offer us a time when everything seemed possible.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who blogs here two or three times a month. Here she is after breakfast in a yurt camp in northern Kyrgyzstan.
My cousin’s daughter won a big pole vaulting title this summer, and I thought it would be fun to interview her about what it’s like to be a 15 year old pole vaulter. She turns out to be super-wise, so I’ve just captured a slightly edited version of our conversation to let her words speak for themselves. My questions are in bold.
Basically the blog is about women’s relationships with sports. Like starting when they’re young, and how as they get older, that changes. And so you are one of the people I know who’s the most successful at sports. It’s true!
Wow! Thank you!
So I thought, I wonder what Issy would say – as a 15 year old – because I don’t look at you and think, pole vaulter! You’re just my cousin. So tell me about how you started pole vaulting.
I don’t know when I started. Maybe the start of grade 8, and I’m in grade 10 now.
So how did you even – did you see people doing this, like on the Olympics, and think, I want to do that, or?
I started out doing track and field with horizontal jumps, like triple jump and long jump. And then… before that I was a gymnast. I started training with U of T for the horizontal jumps. And then they were like, oh my gosh, you were a gymnast – come try pole-vaulting! I think I was actually one of the younger people they’ve ever taken to try it.
Right. But you were jumpy – you were good at jumping – because of the gymnastics?
Most of the people I train with are gymnasts.
So the first time you ever did it, what did you feel? Do you remember?
Well it kind of started out like – I can’t really remember the first time that I actually got height – because when you start out, you kind of go forward, and you slowly start inching your way a little bit higher – so I can’t really remember the time that I just started pole – because there’s so much more. You just kind of build up.
So what was your first meet? Like when did you decide, I could compete in this?
I think I started in the winter of one year, so it might have been the entire next winter that I had my first meet.
Had you already done, like, horizontal jump meets?
Yes, yeah, the winter that I started pole vault, I was competing horizontal jumps with the same club, but because I’d just started pole vault they weren’t about to put me into a meet.
So tell me then – let’s fast forward – so you did all these things and you could kind of feel like, I’m actually kind of good at this. When did you first feel like, I could do this!
Oh… I don’t know! I think I was… I kind of like this! I like the people that I train with! And I was like, this is fun! I don’t know—it’s fun!
What makes it fun – versus some other thing you might have done. Like is it more fun than gymnastics was?
No – probably not. Similar! Both of them – part of it is the people that I do it with, the people that I train with. I have a lot of fun with them. So that’s fun… And .. it’s like it’s just fun, flopping onto a mat!
Once you get over – you’re just like, Oh yes, I MADE it!
How high have you gone – tell me your latest thing. You won the women’s under 16 national. Amazing!
It was the national meet that the Royal Canadian Legion runs.
Who were you competing with?
Well pole vault’s not that common in my age group, right? So I was only competing with like 6 other people.
Still – that’s the best six in Canada!
Yeah…. Two others of which I train with (laughing).
How high did you get?
So at that meet, I think I jumped 3 metres and 10 cm.
Okay, and how tall are you?
You’re like my height, right? And you’ve jumped 3 metres and 10 centimetres – that’s a LOT. How did you do that?
Well the pole helped me!
What did you feel when you landed?
Okay… well it was a bit of a story because… pole vault works so that if you knock it down you still get two more attempts on each height. So you want to make it over on your first time because it counts against you if you don’t.
You get more points if you get it on the first jump?
Yeah. But I was the first in line though. And I just made it over… I can’t remember… it was at 3 metres, I made it over and two other girls made it over. Then at 3.10, I was up first, I think I made it over on my first one. And the other two girls still had three more. And none of them made it over. So there wasn’t really a jump where I officially won it? Where if I’d made the jump I would have won? I made the jump and then nobody else made the jump, so I won.
You had to wait.
That’s not the same thing, right? It’s not like you made the goal in overtime –
No, not really!
Then you looked at the board and it said your name?
There’s no board.
So how did you know you won – some guy with a marker?
You kind of pay attention – you only stop if you’ve knocked over three in a row. So once I had one, I still had to keep jumping. So once I was the only one jumping, I was like, Oh, I won!
But also because pole vault’s not that popular – at the same time, my other friends who are in the older age group – I was still jumping with them.
Did they jump as high as you?
Oh, they jumped higher! Not the ones in my age group, but the other ones, in the older age group.
So how high were they jumping?
That was actually really exciting because one of my friends, she got the new Canadian record for under 18 girls.
Yeah, 3 m and 92 cm.
So that’s 80 cm more than you? That’s a lot! That’s like almost a whole metre.
So what do you have to do to maybe gradually work your way up to that?
It would help if I was taller. But I can’t really control that. (Laughing). Kind of just technique, then.
So how do you learn that? Tell me what it’s like to train when you’re doing something like this.
Well our training consists of – in the fall we do a lot of base training – like building strength, and just conditioning. A lot of running stairs and everything like that. And then once we move inside, we do a lot of just jumping. Just jump after jump after jump. Just slowly fixing little corrections.
And so the coach says, well try this? Or do you know what’s wrong?
Sometimes you can know what’s wrong, but sometimes the coach is like, this is what you’re doing wrong, and you just kind of think about that the entire day while you’re jumping, and you are like, Oh, I didn’t do that this time. Or, oh I did that this time.
So how do you deal with – sometimes when people’s coaches tell them things like that it makes them mad? Like, does it ever make you mad, or do you just see it as this is helpful?
I don’t think it makes me mad because they aren’t constantly being like, oh you did this and this and this and this and this wrong. It’s just more like, maybe do this instead.
And they don’t – they won’t overcorrect me. They won’t give me too many things to think about at once.
So that’s helpful.
Do you apply the same thing in other parts of your life, do you think? Like are you good at learning in other parts of your life, too?
I don’t know… … it’s probably taught me that I work hard. I don’t think it’s like, not like, I work hard at pole vault, I have to work hard at English.
It makes me wonder if you know how to work hard automatically now?
Yeah! I would say so. Maybe not so much pole vault, but when I was younger with gymnastics – it was a lot of, I was quite a competitive gymnast when I was really young, I was like an overly hard worker, so it was like, work hard, work hard, work hard, that was all I knew – so of course I did that in school.
That’s one of the things about young women in sports that we always wonder about right – like what are you learning about, like, resilience, if you don’t win? How do you manage that? Do you throw the pole and run away, or do you just go, okay, that’s just today, and maybe tomorrow… then can you apply that to another part of your life, if things don’t always go your way, can you learn to say, okay, next time it will be okay, or I’ll work harder, or….
Yeah, I think – again, I have a bunch of friends I also pole vault with, of course if one of us don’t win, we’re still all going to be friends, and we’re all going to work hard, and train, and hopefully we’ll do better next time – and usually if I get beat, I get beat by one of my teammates – so I’m happy for them too, right?
That’s amazing – what you’re learning – like how to be happy for your friends, no matter what you’re doing, and how to keep working, even when you’re not super-successful – and you may not know this, but that’s not something everybody learns. It’s actually a really important thing!
So what’s next? Are you going to keep competing?
Probably for the rest of high school.
Do you see like the Olympics, or…?
You’re clear! This is more for fun.
Yeah, it’s more like a fun, extra-curricular thing – I feel like I would rather do other things with my life than pole vault my whole life.
Like it’s a fun little side thing to do instead of having to worry about school, I don’t think I’d want to keep going forever.
On this blog none of us are professional at sports, but our life is all about how to have balance, how to have fun activity.
That’s why I keep pole vault!
I’m just very impressed with your ability to keep going and trying things. When I was your age I was very intimidated by competition and things.
I think I get it from my dad’s side of the family!
So you’ll keep in touch with us and I’ll catch up a year later and see what you’ve done?
Like a sequel!
Thank you Issy!
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who writes regularly for this blog twice a month and occasionally when the spirit moves her. Issy lives in Toronto and trains with the University of Toronto track club. Click this link for a video of Issy jumping.
One of my roles in this Fit Feminist community is to be the backup, backup administrator for the FIFI facebook page. That page is mostly Sam, with Tracy as her second — and a few months ago, they added me so someone else could wade in occasionally.
One of the things that shocked me when I started paying more attention to that page is how quickly the comments can escalate from 0 to vitriol in about 5 seconds. That happened yesterday, and Sam wrote about it here. (Usually we don’t even notice until someone messages us, sometimes to alert us and sometimes to yell at us for not dropping everything else in our lives and jumping in sooner).
You can tell from Sam’s post that it’s … hurtful and deeply disappointing to have this experience. Sam posted something she thought was sort of funny, probably without a ton of thought because, you know, she has a GIANT FREAKING JOB, and posts on this blog at least four times a week, and has a large family with diverse needs, and just moved, and is trying to maintain some fitness while tending to a major injury that has been very difficult emotionally. And she had reasons for thinking what she posted was funny. And the thing is, anyone who reads this blog — or posts on the FB page — knows this. But the second she (or any of us) posts something that other people get upset about, she ceases to be the Sam who has put so much of her life energy into creating a space for this very important conversation and community, and becomes this faceless object of fury. When people react to something on this page or the blog, boom, they forget that there are other people behind every act on that page, and they zoom to fury, to name-calling into a faceless, dehumanized void. I have noticed that people even stop using our names, even when our names are obvious — they talk about “the writer” and “the poster,” not “Sam” or “Tracy” or “Catherine” or “Cate.” We stop existing as people.
The point of this isn’t to defend Sam, per se — although I would actually argue that she didn’t make “a mistake” yesterday — she just did a thing that some people disagreed with. That’s not a mistake, that’s a point in time, a perspective that other people took a different way. That shouldn’t have degenerated into absolute fury.
No. The point of this is to argue that when we slide into instant vitriol with people we already believe widely share our worldview — we’re on a feminist fitness facebook page, for crying out loud! — I literally despair of our ability to bridge any of the intractable divides in the world. How we talk to each other matters, even if it’s just on a silly facebook page. What we do to each other in conversation has consequences. It has consequences for how we see ourselves, and how we see each other.
In my little corner of the communication theory world, we recognize that what we say matters, but so does how we say it. And by that I don’t mean tone and all of that, although that is part of it. What I mean is that we need to look at two big dynamics. First, how we are positioning ourselves in a conversation? How are we positioning the other person? And what is the consequence of that? And second, what are we making here?
What that means in practice is that when I’m tootling along through life, dum de dum, reading a facebook page, and I come across something that triggers something for me, I have a lot of choices. I can pause and decide whether or not to engage — and if I decide to engage, I can decide whether to just immediately whack the person, or I can inquire about what they are saying and look for common ground. If I whack the person, I am positioning them as either Bad, Stupid or both. Definitely I am positioning them as a person So Different From Me we cannot even SPEAK. And I’m positioning myself as a Righteous Bully. (And who do we know in this world right now we think of as a righteous bully? Is that who we want to emulate?)
The second question to explore is “what are we making here?” By this I mean, what is the relational consequence of this interaction? For example — an adult reading a child a bedtime story isn’t delivering information about green eggs and ham, but is making love, connection, comfort. In our facebook interactions what are we making? Community? Uncrossable boundaries? Winners and losers? Are we making invitations to respond, or are we making hurt creatures who are going to slink off to their own corners and reload?
Why does this matter? It matters because we are actually engaged in a global pattern right now that cannot end anywhere good. And what we are doing on our facebook page is exactly the same pattern of interaction we are doing globally.
Bear with me for just one more burst of theory. There is a dynamic in social psychology of “othering” — meaning that when we talk to and about another group as though they are fundamentally different to us, we position them as “other,” and when we other people, we move through a pattern of seeing them first as inferior (stupid, not worth talking to), then less human (dirty, untrustworthy, criminal), then ultimately, inhuman. Once we move into the sequence of othering, we latch onto our own same-group identities and can no longer see the other group’s perspective. We stop seeing them as someone we can affiliate with in any way.
We see this dynamic written in giant skywriting letters every single hour of our politics right now. We can label the divisions we have in the world right now in any number of ways — left/right, liberal/conservative, homogeneity/pluralism, self-interest/communitarianism, protectionist/global, traditionalist/progressive — the labels don’t matter. But we immediately know which of these we affiliate with.
With this increasingly entrenched affiliation, you cannot have a conversation based on logic or argument. Both of you have an allegiance to your group that means anything you say is heard only as the “other side,” impenetrable to your perspective. (And I will fully admit I fight the tendency to “other” the right every minute of every day. It is HARD).
So what does it have to do with the fights on our facebook page? Surely that’s just “the way of the internet?” Aren’t we feminists “the good side” in this global tension we are currently in? Aren’t we just giving each other useful criticism? I’m clearly ridiculous arguing that there is a link between someone shouting at Sam for posting a meme about cycling that made them angry and genocide, no?
No. We are perpetuating the same dynamic. If the only way we can disagree with people with whom we MOSTLY agree is to position them as offensive idiots, we have zero capacity to start a more generative kind of interaction across bigger divides.
This post is starting to become far too long, so I’ll wrap it up. But I am just going to make a pitch for what is called “dialogic communication.” This means communication based in inquiry, and the assumption that the other person has a valid reason for their point of view. (Ironically, after I wrote this post last night, CBC’s The Current had a piece on exactly this thing). Understanding that the other person is coming from a place that is logical to them might enable us to soften toward them. And therefore, soften the divide.
What does this look like? Well, on our page, be aware that you are on a feminist page, but we all know that this not a kind of fundamentalist feminism. There are many variations that can be held under big tent feminism. (Don’t even get me STARTED on skincare. Or sugar). So if you are in that context, and you think “this doesn’t feel feminist to me,” why not get curious instead of police-y? Think maybe, huh, I wonder why Sam thought this was a fit on this page?how does her version of feminist differ from mine? ASK her — This triggers something for me, why did you think this had a feminist lens? Ask yourself — how can someone I otherwise agree with have this perspective? What am I missing about why they might have posted this? And even if you do understand and disagree, think about what this says about the wonders of multiplicity and how two people can differ and still respect each other and have more in common than they don’t.
(Sidenote: There’s a group in Boston that had its origins in great work in dialogue communication with two groups on the other side of reproductive rights at the height of clinic bombings, getting the groups together not to agree but to see a bit more about the grey in each other’s perspective — and to see each other as more human. Go read about them for more on dialogic practices).
The most important thing my beloved mentor Barnett Pearce taught me was the concept that dialogic communication is the ability to live in the tension between holding your ground and being profoundly open to the other.
It is not easy. I know that. And yes, I know all of the indignant arguments that boil down to “why should I listen to them, they’re not going to listen to me.” And the fear — the great great fear — that makes us hammer harder at our points because we are so anxious and worried that our voices can be suppressed, or because we cannot stand watching pain and injustice unfold. And yes, women and non gender conforming people are very angry at this point in history, and that is not a bad thing if it makes us disrupt the shitty historical patterns that inexplicably continue into this moment. But if we turn anger on each other, you can observe right there and then how we stop listening to each other. And we just slink off into hurt and righteous indignation instead of banding together. That’s not taking us anywhere.
I was thinking about the absurdity of this: I was trying to moderate an out of control comment section on the facebook page a few months ago — trying to leave some dialogue without deleting the whole incendiary post — and I asked people to just be a little kinder to each other. Someone called me a fascist. Because I was asking people to be kind.
That’s just fucked up. We need to be kinder, and we need to weave together across our grey areas if we are going to counter this very very dangerous othering. And there’s no better place to do this than on a page about using our strength wisely.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who has a PhD in social construction communications, and has had this pent up post in her for a while. And she invites people to agree or disagree thoughtfully and kindly.