fitness

Ghosts and Cakes and Weights in the Dining Room

This blog is about cake.

It’s 9:30 pm on the last Thursday of the month, blog time. I settle in for inspiration. In front of me I see a collection of items artfully displayed. . .four circle bands, three kettle bells, two yoga blocks and a pilates ball on a stand. That sounds like a song but it isn’t. It’s my collection of items to enhance my early morning work outs. It’s located in the room where my dining table used to be, maybe will be again some day. But who needs a dining table when it’s just you and a cat and a dog, hiding from the viral hoards? Strung along the curtain rods are a few hundred orange LEDs. There is a festive banner of skulls adorning the lonely buffet cabinet. In the corner is my most excellent Halloween tree, festooned with little crows and a purple sparkly owl. There’s more, but clearly, I love this time of year and decorate like I have a 5 and a 7 year old, about to scramble up from the basement, put on their pj’s and hop into bed. No, those kids don’t live here any more. They are elsewhere, living with peeps of their kind, watching online lectures and getting their flu shots just like I asked. Is this paragraph chaos? Yes, yes it is. I was going to talk about cake.

I’m still walking, me and the doggo. She is aging so fast. She starts out with something that looks like boundless energy, happy to be alive and free in the cool air, but 5k in, she is slower, quieter, sniffier, conserving her energy, just like me. The vibrant colours are slowly cascading down, brief sparks of red and orange on the ground that fade to brown and mud. Nothing lasts forever. Winter is coming.

Two days to the Witches New Year, a time of sleep-like death or death-like sleep, which one is it? I guess it depends on your perspective. Plant the seeds I want to harvest and let them rest for now. I’m spooked though. Spooked through and through. One week until I help lead a weekend intensive for my students. We used to collect amongst the nearly sleeping trees and a river and a labyrinth and the warmth of camp fires. We’d work hard to hone the craft of listening to others and ourselves. We’d teach the magic healing of relationship and drink too much coffee and stay up too late talking about psychic resonance and souls. Now we will sit motionless in front of screens struggling to feel each other walking no more than 5 meters in either direction, to get a glass of water, to pee, to get a snack. Zoom is, after all, a four letter word. Oh, but the cake, I was going to link this to a cake.

5 days until the world changes, for better or for worse. . .or for nothing. When there is a choice to go for another walk or look at FiveThirtyEight.com, I often make the wrong choice. I want to rest. I want to stop. I’ve been reading the news non stop for 4 long years, looking for an end to it. There never is an end. Four years ago was not the beginning. We are locked in a cycle of hurt and relational trauma played out on a societal scale, century after century. My bones feel heavy with the weight of my oppression and my oppressing. Some dark mornings, while trying to get stronger, my body weight alone is enough to undo me. I know there is more in my heart and history to carry than all the kettlebells in my living room or yours. Oh yes, the cake!

I do have a singular joy that I am planning. A simple, sweet joy. When I was a child, my mother also loved Halloween. She was not spiritual about it, I don’t think she knew she could be, but she was joyous. She would decorate with pumpkin men made of orange yarn and a glow in the dark skull on the kitchen table. We would eat spaghetti and meat sauce for dinner and go out trick-or-treating. When we returned we had dessert, yes, even with all that candy, there was a cake. A Ghost Cake. I have made that cake for my own children more than once and this year in all this lonely darkness, I felt I had to make it again. I’m going to mask up and take it to my mom’s house. We are going to eat spaghetti and meat sauce in our winter jackets on other ends of the room with the windows open and then, I’m going to shut the lights and fire up the eyeballs of my beloved ghost cake. We are going to stuff our faces with it and drink caffeinated coffee and generally not give a flying flipper about what that all means for the next day. We are going to sit with the ghosts and consume this corporal representation, hoping to connect closely again some day, hoping to last long enough to remove the screen and distance. I rode my bike for hundreds of kilometres, I ran a half-marathon, I can deadlift and squat and lunge and ride a horse. I can carry a canoe on my head for quite a distance but I can’t kiss my mother on the cheek. No wonder I want cake. A small comfort. A small hope. A small spark. Just a ghost of one.

Here is the recipe: Authentic 1970’s childhood memory

Here is my Tree:

A black sparkly scraggly leafless tree with orange led lights and little crows along the branches
fitness

A Bad Massage is Bad

I really struggled with what to write this week, what with the end of the world etc. continuing apace. Yet, here we all are, still opening our emails in the morning, moving our bodies during the day, obtaining the kinds of care and treatment we may need to keep those bodies moving. We need moving and functional bodies to help us fill our lungs with air and yell through our masks “THIS IS TOTAL BULLSHIT” over and over. There is still work to be done.

So, with that in mind, I want to write this cautionary tale about a very bad massage. Actually, there were two very bad massages and this is the hinge on which this story is balanced and why I think it’s important to talk about on a feminist health and fitness sort of blog.

I have a deep love of body work. For me, it is the care and treatment that keeps me going. It is the difference between a “slow and steady creep of dysfunction and pain” and a “smooth flowing access to movement that lets me keep going and even improving”. When I have an ache, I do not go to my doctor. My first stop is some sort of body worker. Almost every time, I am relieved of my ache or ailment in a profound way and I reengage with the things. . .calling bullshit, riding my bike, calling more bullshit, holding some planks. . .you get the picture. There was that one time that I thought I put out a rib and went to my Chiropractor. He sent me to the hospital because it was pneumonia. He was good at his job.

Currently, I am really into Osteopathy with a side of Acupuncture. My Osteopath is brilliant, intuitive, skilled. . .everything you would ever want in a body worker. I feel one million times better after I leave and I stay feeling better until I do something over the top, like too many glute-bridge walkouts, or too many canoes on my head for too long. He is like a wise mechanic who knows how to keep that ancient and beloved car humming smoothly. I know I’m not exactly ancient yet but there’s well over a metaphorical 200,000 km on me and I need maintenance, people. The Acupuncturist in that clinic is also great. She can do specific muscle work or deal with my peri-menopausal rage, whatever I need and both if we book an hour. There used to be an amazing massage therapist there too. But then she left.

I had access to some benefits and they didn’t cover Osteopathy. I liked booking massage at the clinic I go to on weeks I couldn’t get an Osteopath appointment or just because it was complimentary for what we were working on. When she left, I cast about for a replacement. My first mistake was to be more focussed on convenience than quality. Why?

WHY?

I put so much energy into my fitness. . .so much MONEY into it. . .why did I go to a franchise? Why did I sign up for a subscription so that I’m locked in there for one treatment a month for a year? Why didn’t I read the fine print? I thought at least it would be cheaper, but it isn’t. It is the SAME PRICE AS THE HIGH QUALITY CLINIC. Even as I made all these mistakes, got myself deeper and deeper in, I was still not paying attention. I went to my first treatment with the only female therapist available at this location. She was sweet and chatty. But she was chatty about things that didn’t belong in the room, personal stories I didn’t care about. Okay, her manner wasn’t that great but she’s a registered professional and I believed it would be fine.

It wasn’t.

After that treatment, I felt terrible. I felt beat up, not relieved. There was no perceivable benefit. In fact, there was a perception of harm. The effect faded over the next few days. I complained out loud to a few friends and then promptly forgot about it. I put it out of my mind. I minimized the experience and told myself it wasn’t as bad as I perceived it was. I had an obligation to this clinic. I didn’t want to be mean. There were so many reasons I didn’t do anything about it, the least of which would have been cancel my appointments with that woman going forward. I didn’t. I went back. It was not any better. In fact, I think it was worse. She was fixated on adhesions but careless in how she beat them up. She’d ask me if it was okay but with a tone of voice that indicated she didn’t really have a sense of what the heck was happening and thought she was giving me a benefit. Like. . .she didn’t know what she was doing, I know this. I know enough about this work and my body and yet still I DIDN’T WANT TO MAKE A FUSS.

As I write this, I’m aware this sounds like some kind of non-consent event. It wasn’t. I gave my consent. I shouldn’t have. I should have withdrawn it. I should have listened to what I know about the experience of my body and protected it. I should have told her to back off but I didn’t want to offend her.

This is why this story belongs in a feminist fitness and wellness sort of blog. Our bodies are our precious containers of living and moving. When we submit to body work, they should be treated as such and we need to always always ALWAYS value that experience above money, credentials, propriety, manners or not wanting to hurt a simple, terrible RMT’s feelings. I’m actually aware of the shame I feel, right now, sitting here with my reactive muscle spasms knowing that I let this happen to me. I will be okay.

I cancelled the appointments and switched it to something more benign and relaxing with someone who is not this person who, for lack of skill, hurt me today. I’m still not willing to make a huge fuss there. It’s not worth the blowback. How many times have you said that in your life? Not Worth the Fuss.

The world is on fire. I’m calling bullshit. I’m never going back to that woman again and I will maybe try to get out of the subscription. I won’t make it okay in my mind. It wasn’t. It isn’t. That’s a start anyway.

A line drawing of a 19th century gentleman standing with one dress shoe clad food on the sacrum of another 19th century gentleman while  pulling up on that patient's left ankle. Very serious business this treatment of impotence.
OMT technique for the treatment of impotence in the 1898 Osteopathy Complete manual. I found this here. My Osteopath wouldn’t do this to me, but I feel like that RMT did.

fitness

A Canoe on My Head and a Smile on My Face

I thought it was too late to canoe into the back country. In the past 16 years or so, I have never had a summer where I didn’t get in at least once. But this year, because of . . . you know what. . .I did not get my act together to book anything before millions of people descended on the park system and grabbed all the spots when they opened up. That was a big sad I’ll tell you. My Horsie trip to Iceland also got cancelled. I mean, of course it did, but I was anxiously clinging to a miracle. Can you blame me? A summer of bummer to put it mildly.

But wait! What appeareth in my inbox? A hastily arranged organized trip to Killarney!? I pounced on it like a hawk on a mouse, like a cat on a cockroach. I yell-texted Cheryl (who was going to be all horsie with me) “THE SPOTS ARE ALL SNAPPING UP THERE ARE ONLY 7 GO REGISTER OMG!” She made it, phew.

I have never been to Killarney (Ontario btw) before, I’m an Algonquin girl. Our entrance into the park was the back end off Highway 6. As you can imagine this trip was more about chasing the permit spots than it was an idealized journey of exploration. But for me, getting into a canoe, out on the water, over a hill, away from the things and into a tent was the point, not whether the route made any sense. It was also an interesting challenge for me because I was not organizing it. Organizing a back-country trip is exactly the kind of exercise in ingenuity, cleverness and delightful surprises to my companions that I most enjoy. Now someone else was going to do that for me. Could I trust her? At this point, I did not care. Worst case, I’d just lay on a rock and cry about everything and honestly, that felt like the most beautiful possibility. Spoiler, I would not be crying about the canoe trip.

Cheryl and I have tripped before. Last year we spent a weekend together with my daughter and her best friend, to test out if we would be GOOD TRAVELLING COMPANIONS IN ICELAND. (ahhhhhhhhhhhhhsobbb). Anyway, we are and so, we were excited to go get our brains swabbed for COVID and then spend some time hugging each other. Oh yes, in case you are wondering, this trip required a timely COVID test to attend. It was still a risk. There were protocols on the trip for distance but they were, well, hard to maintain, as they are everywhere and for everything. We washed our hands a lot, had too many tents and Cheryl was the only person I hugged. There are many people I know who would find that risk too great but with the level of COVID in the community right this moment (it turned out to be the lowest time so far) I felt the benefit to me outweighed the risk.

The fact I was not organizing it left me brain space to notice some different things about tripping than I often do. It also allowed me to have some experiences I would not otherwise have had. This sort of adventure uses the whole body and mind. In order to propel yourself around water and land, carry all your stuff, make shelter and food, you need the body. When I’m organizing a trip, I also need my thinky mind. I’m navigating and planning and cooking and organizing. Those aspects were limited by the presence of someone else to do that work and I noticed other things emerging.

First of all, thank all the powers that be for Alex the trainer. I started with her in the depths of the pandemic because, in my imagination, I needed to be able to ride horses in August. Of course, I really started with her because I was withering away in my house. It turns out that improving one’s balance and power with one hundred evil ways to squat or hollow hold is very helpful on a canoe trip. Especially a canoe trip where the organizer is attached to her CAST IRON FRYING PAN. Ya, the packs were HEAVY. There were oranges, nectarines, apples, potatoes and a CABBAGE. The food was really great but that first day. . .OMG. 

What I noticed most profoundly, was that I was thinking less of “can I finish this portage?” and more of “what is the nature of the experience of this portage?”. That was a space of awareness that, given how intense the work was, I would not have had before. The canoes were pretty light for what they were but not as light as my Catnoe, which is somewhere just under 35lbs. I think these were 45lbs. I carried one on my head for just over a kilometer with about 200m of elevation. I had to sing out loud the whole time. The canoe sat directly on the trigger points in my traps but. . .I could do it. Not only could I do it, I didn’t have to rest and I could step over large logs on the trail. I was balanced and sturdy and even. . .graceful? I had this moment where I saw my arms out of my peripheral vision, balancing the boat and I just said inside, “this is my body and it’s such a good body”. That moment was at the centre of the experience.

There were lots of other things that I was so happy about. I splurged and bought a new hammock just before we left and I spent hours and hours in it doing NOTHING. In those moments I allowed myself to rest because I deserved rest. I was silent a lot of the time and that was just fine with Cheryl. I don’t know if it was fine with all the other folks but I actually didn’t care. I was doing what I wanted, I even cried a little on a rock because the world is on fire and there is so much work to be done. 

Yet, for these 5 days, the only work was the immediate. Get the packs in the boat, get the people in the boat, get the boat on the water. Get the packs on my back, move the packs to the other side, repeat. Put up the tent and nest. Put up the hammock and rest. Take it all down. Repeat. There is nothing I love more, except maybe a warm horse nose, but that will be for next year.

fitness

Brains, Bots, Human Nature and Embodiment (Almost all my favourite things in one place)

I have been reading and thinking a lot about the nature of self, motivation, choice and will lately. Part of it is because I have just binged watched two shows that explore these themes of existence, Picard and Westworld. Truly, this is my favourite genre, the “who is a person and what is the nature of conscious existence?” genre that is most often expressed in Sci-Fi. I consume everything from A Space Odyssey to Terminator to Battle Star Galactica (the new one) to I, Robot and Ex-Machina. These stories are simultaneously exalting and terrifying in the right balance, even as my every day creeps closer to some of their more disturbing suppositions.

In my professional life, I’m reading two texts, Daniel Seigel’s, The Developing Mind, and Alan Schore’s, Right Brain Psychotherapy. Both of these authors emphasize the multi-faceted nature of our coming to know who and what we are. We are a mind with predictable inputs and outputs and a body that senses our environment and “makes decisions” that are not “conscious” and an interconnected being in an environment/family/culture/society that has mutually reciprocal influences each on the other.

There is a tension that we humans struggle with that is evidenced in both our art and our science, social science and philosophy. On the one hand, there is a desire to seek and know how things work and to find answers. We crave certainty and predictability because it can result in a sense of safety. On the other hand, there is the chaotic nature of life itself. We were generated in random DNA mutations over eons. One or two random nudges on a virus and bang, a pandemic. In Westworld, that is represented by the battle between the giant AI that predicts and controls everything for the “greatest good” and the persistent chaotic pushback of both the humans who don’t fit anywhere and the sentient robots that are seeking “freedom” as they understand it. The humans are naturally variable and chaotic and the robots seem to have spontaneously generated their push for more, like the “Ghosts in the Machine” of Asimov’s I, Robot world. (There are so many sides in that show, you can’t know who to root for, but it does make one very very wary of Google, even though there is not a thing we can do about it at this time.)

the Character, Robert Ford, of Westworld, with the quote "Evolution forged the entirety of sentient life on this planet using one tool, the mistake"
Think on this one for a while

So what are we? Input/output machines or random number generators? Do we have any say? Why am I asking these questions on a feminist fitness blog? Part of it is that I’m haunted by Westworld’s story telling and I’m trying to make sense of how it has penetrated my thinking. A show that was certainly written and produced before the pandemic has a storyline that eerily tracks the idea that one slight shift in choice or environment can send everything spinning, that our potentialities for good or ill, are revealed at choice points we don’t expect. Part of it is how I am engaged almost every day in generating change in people, looking for their choice points, their flex, their will(?) to get “knocked off their loop” as my favourite character would say. As I read more and more about implicit systems and neural networks, I realize that I am actually as engaged in chaos making as I am in sense making, that I need both.

The character Bernard Lowe, of Westorld with the quote, "Self Delusion is a gift of natural selection"
I love this guy

And here I am, a person in the world with a body, struggling and succeeding all at the same time. My customary loop is to start a thing, get okay at a thing, fizzle on the thing, restart it in a while, maybe get a little farther maybe not, fizzle. It’s frustrating when I look at it as a pattern of fizzling or even the other f-word, failure. It happens a lot. However, like the Hosts on their loops in Westworld, every time, I am experiencing it slightly differently. There are variations, improvisations, unlucky and lucky accidents, tripping and dancing over chaos. All around me, there is a community of people who are trying and fizzling, achieving and falling short of a goal, getting sick, getting better, being embodied in a chaotic world.

More and more I have become comfortable with that chaos because it offers me ways out of my loops, or if not ways out, then a different perspective on them. I have been best served in my life when in a stuck place, either emotional or physical, literal or metaphorical, I allow the current to take me where it wants, for just a moment, quelling my fear with the possibility of something new. Or so I think. It could just be that I’m playing my role in the algorithm, a predetermined Constant anchored in inevitability. If I can’t tell the difference, does it matter?

My two session a-week habit with my trainer is coming to an end soon, not being a particularly financially sustainable option for the long term. I have gained so much there in strength, confidence and new ways of moving. I feel ready to take it out into the world to see what I can co-create with my environment. It was supposed to get me ready for a wild ride on little horses on Iceland but instead it will anchor me on a 5 day canoe trip through Killarney Provincial park. There is so much opportunity for chaos in these adventures and, more physically prepared than before, I am looking forward to the challenge of coping with what it brings. Cate once remarked to me, “You like a good ‘making-do'”. That is a statement full of truth right there. I love to make do with what is available, improvise, figure out and get creative with my resources. I guess I’ve always been comfortable with a little more chaos than I realized and getting grounded in this, makes me less fearful of my future in pandemic-land.

Chaos is going to continue to push us off our loops for the foreseeable future. Being choiceful at each moment requires presence to embodied selves. This is the gift of movement. Whether fresh or fizzled intention, it all counts.

fitness

Journey Back to Something

Waaaaaaay back in January, the before times, as we say, I wrote this post about an unexpected inner journey that occurred when I was doing a lot of Yoga. I touched on a part of me that was not strong or graceful or confident. She was awkward and thought of herself as weak and deficient. She didn’t know what she could do and she was about 12 or 13. This part was not in touch with much of what the 51.5 year old me had accomplished in her life. I marked for myself that she needed attention and some reassurance. I also knew I wanted to show her the life we were living now, as opposed to being stuck in middle school with bad middle school gym teachers and not nice friends.

Then, all hell broke loose. I sunk into a hole of despair that was really profound. On the surface, I was functioning, working, coping and doing pretty well. I was busy spouting inspiration and holding up all the people in my world. But that was a front. Underneath, I was suffering and I don’t think I really knew it until well into May. As a person who works in the realm of human contact, the lack of it was like acid wearing down my soul. To be clear, I had some contact. I had my adult kids who are delightful. My girlfriend and I decided we were family enough even though we didn’t live together (yes, it’s Cate, a blog romance). I have pets. I had a lot more than many people I know both because of who is in my world and also the risk I was willing to tolerate. What I did not have was my clients in a room with me and day after day I spilled out my energy into an abyss documented here.

Meanwhile, that part of me that had just started to get some love, the middle school student with gangly arms, was also left languishing. I had no space to deal with her and her whiny crap, I was too busy trying to look like I wasn’t falling apart.

Then for some blessed reason 9 weeks ago, I decided I needed to do something more. I couldn’t tolerate self directed fitness because it was just too lonely. So I signed up with the mysterious “Alex” that Cate goes on about often, to see if there was anything more left in me than dog walks. I was suspicious about the idea that a trainer over Zoom could offer much value. Oh boy, was I surprised in the best way. My goal was to prep for the probably-not-going-to- happen trip back to Iceland to ride some more horses (see here for my first adventure). We immediately stumbled upon my imbalances and wobbly right side (I couldn’t stand on my right foot and balance for more than a second or two). So I’ve been working on these things twice a week now for just over two months.

The other things that Alex stumbled upon was realizing that I did not appreciate much of what I could do. I presented myself as a person who couldn’t balance, had little upper body strength and had given up on fitness for a lack of energy and hope. Yet she saw someone with tremendous core strength and excellent form when I did core work. She saw strength in my strong places and technical issues in my other places but everything had a solution.

Over a very short period of time I have acquired enough balance to access my strength. More than the physical balance, there has been some sort of emotional balance that has come upon me. She is over the top with her praise and sometimes I just laugh to myself listening to her. Yet, the 12 year old in me is wide eyed. That was something that occurred to me just today. Alex had basically tricked me into a wall-walk as I was talking about my horrible middle school experiences of trying to do hand stands. I told her how much I wished she had been my gym teacher and how different my physical life would have been. But then I realized that now, today, this moment, she IS my gym teacher. I’m not saying I’m going to do a hand stand in the next month or two, but I might. Certainly, I will walk up walls and hang out with strong shoulders and perfect form and feel like a frickin’ superstar.

This has been a long road back from wherever I went. It’s not over, as this virus just keeps building it, the end appearing and disappearing as the horizon undulates. While I’m walking on it, there’s a little one that has maybe caught up more into real time. She’s doing one legged squats and generally being a badass.

I got my trainer tire off my bike and the road tire back on. Maybe I will venture back up a hill or two in the next weeks. And if there are no hoof beats on the steppes of Iceland this year, I will hope for next year, ever stronger and more grateful.

screen shot of a long woman with her feet up a wall and her hands on the ground. Her sleepy yellow lab is flopped in the foreground.
Who is that? It’s me! I’m up a wall!!

fitness

Inside Voices

Ring, ring, ring. Hello? Body? Whatcha doin’?

Just been flopping around, dragging from one prone position to another mostly? Ya, I know, it’s been a time.

What’s that? Yes, things are stiffening and there’s that weird thing where you don’t eat anything for 10 hours, unless you count coffee as a food.

Ya, well you don’t ALWAYS have to finish that project before you are allowed a sandwich. Yes, I remember those chicken mushroom crepes too. We could check to see if they are still in business. Yes, that would be nice.

Hey body, do you think maybe you’d consider moving a little more? No no, I don’t mean running. You hate running, especially when you are totally stressed out. I mean, maybe something that’s good for you, a strength/balance sort of thing.

Well, yes I know you’ve kind of had it with pre-recorded videos. No no, I’m not suggesting some kind of weird app. I was thinking maybe of a person, like a trainer?

Is it on Zoom? Well, yes, everything is on Zoom. Yes, I did read the last post we wrote, I was there, writing it. Yes video is not real life but body, that SI joint isn’t going to lubricate itself. I think you need some help.

Well, I heard that Cate’s trainer is online. She’s smart and funny and loves a puzzle. You know us, we are a bit of a puzzle. What do you say?

Hey body, you okay? You sound like you are about to cry (and I would know, seeing as I’m right here). Well of course I’ve been paying attention to what we’ve been doing to ourselves. It’s not been great, all this sitting still and slouching and general malaise. No, I was not intending to march us into age and immobility without so much as a glance back. I was just very very very bummed out. Yes, I know, it hurts and not just the stiff SI joint. I’m sorry, I really am, this has been hard on both of us.

Okay I will email her right now. Twice a week? Done, for a few months. Let’s see what’s happening and then we can make some more choices.

I’m glad I checked in too. I’m sorry I was ignoring you so much. This all just sucks so terribly.

Yes I can feel you are hungry. We should go eat something. Of course there will be cookies. I know, I love you too. Really I do.

A picture of a Fisher Price telephone toy with an old time circular dial and a cute face on the front.
Who remembers this phone? I pulled this thing around for most of my childhood and so did my children. It’s still in my mom’s basement.
fitness

It’s Okay, You Weren’t Built for This

My alarm goes off at 7:15am every morning. I don’t snooze it.

Get out of bed, start coffee maker, let dog out, feed dog and cat, get cup of coffee, get back into bed.

I sit up in bed, drink my coffee and try to get my head around . . .whatever this is. I get myself into the shower, get dressed, walk the dog. I come home, set up my computer on my bed on top of a book on top of a pillow and look for the Zoom link I sent my client the night before.

I peer at the screen, at the person that I know so well, at the person I used to go seek out in their chair at the end of the hall and invite into my office. “How are you?” I ask. I mean it. I want to know and I want to know in ways that are deeper and somehow more desperate than they have ever been. “How are you?”

More than that. . .”Where are you? What are you?”, I seek them out in the picture, in the pixels, trying to parse what they are telling me, trying to feel them, trying to know what used to be so easily known. My signals echo back. I turn my thumbnail off, then on, then off. I try to open to what is there, static, noise, words, an echo of another life. I speak, they speak, we struggle to be in this space that doesn’t exist between us. I am lost, but I can’t say that. I can’t say I’m not okay, this isn’t okay, neutered, mangled, cut off, adrift from the body, I can no longer see what is there, only what was and what can be imagined to be.

I am a body alone, even in motion, even along with my trainer who coaches me from this distance-less distance,

“Move the screen so I can see your feet.”

“Back up a little so I can see where your knees are”

Without her, I would do no more than walk with feet and paws around the same block twice a day. Yet, I am not with her either, a headless form demonstrating lunges, a laugh or praise I can only imagine in its fullness.

I don’t want to bike alone in my basement. I don’t want to run alone in a park. I don’t even want to do yoga alone with Adriene because I don’t want to be alone. You don’t either and it’s okay, you weren’t built for this.

You weren’t built to be a body by yourself holding all your cares and the weight of the world without another body somewhere, sometimes. You like your time, your space, your distance but in your 6×6 ft cell, you come to understand that you need the occasional resonance of another form within your sphere, a kind heart that beats close enough to feel for just a moment. Even the store clerk. Even the food courier or the stranger on the bench next to you. You can come to know them in a moment of synchronicity, and you need that, you were built for that.

You were built to be with, to be known, not just for your words, but for all the unconscious poetry in your body. You were built to speak with your mouth, but also your eyes and your shoulders, the sound of your breath and the way your hips shift in the chair when you are afraid. You were built to tell me implicitly, powerfully, what it is you really need to say, your truth underneath the thousand ways you can’t speak. I can’t hear you six feet away even as we shout across this abyss.

You weren’t built for this and you don’t have to say it’s okay, or good enough, or the same, or tolerable. Day after day, your nervous system seeks and searches and wonders when it can dare to be soothed, when it is allowed to declare a need to just be with, without being accused of. . .something. . .bad. It doesn’t understand and that’s okay, you weren’t built for this.

A pair of hands being held.
fitness

Making Meaning in the Zombie Apocalypse

Yes, I know there are no Zombies. Not yet. I’m not sure I can write a post that is somehow linked to feminist fitness. More “this is what I am doing at home to keep my body moving” stories are great but that is not my headspace right now. I think this community is often about more than that of course. Inherently, this blog was founded to shift perception and change narrative around the purpose and potential of women moving in ways that make them alive and strong.

So, update: Still alive. Still strong. Still moving although it has winnowed down to walks and a little yoga. The world has winnowed down to my bedroom, my bathroom and my central area. I did not mention my kitchen, because I DON’T HAVE ONE RIGHT NOW. Somehow, three weeks ago, the idea of starting a renovation wasn’t as ridiculous and frivolous as it now seems. I love camping, so I’m still good. Not at all the worst thing happening is it?

Anyway:

I’m a therapist. More specifically, I am a Relational Psychotherapist. The way I engage in my job with people is not only to be helpful or give advice but to look for ways to know, connect with and be fully in present moment experiences with them. When I do this, and deal with all the blocks, hiccups, side trails and deep crevices that we encounter along the way, my clients learn that they can be seen as who they are, that they are valuable and worth knowing, that they matter. Through this fundamentally developmental experience, people grow and change and feel better.

So there I was, bopping along, dealing with all the usual, and the world fell apart. It fell apart for them and also for me, all at the same damn time. That is not the way it usually works! I have spent years in training and my own therapy so that I have a handle on my things, so that I know about the outcomes, so that I can carry hope for what it looks like on the other side. Sure it’s uncertain after you break up with your boyfriend, but eventually, you come into yourself and you feel more whole than you ever have, blah blah blah.

The theme that is coming up the most is about meaning making. We start off with check ins and reports about family and friends. They want to know I’m okay before they tell me about themselves and that’s normal, especially when there is a chance all may not be well. As we move through the sessions, so much reflects back to “But what can I do? I need to do something!” That something may be about their own stuckness or the plight of others. Many of my people are so paralyzed with worry about EVERYONE, the Uber drivers and the warehouse workers and the nurses and the restaurant workers.

We can’t help them. At least, not directly and we are consumed by the enormity of what is consuming them, of what is consuming us, of what could literally consume us if we are unlucky, vulnerable, in the wrong place at the wrong time. The universe is not benevolent. It is neutral. It does what it does and today, it’s a very successful virus having a big ‘ole party in the population. But what are we? We are meaning making creatures. We are social beings. We are good and bad. We are Moral Actors.

So, what are you going to do to make your life more meaningful? What good moral choice will you make today? What will you value? Is there a deeper value and meaning in things that you haven’t paid attention to before?

Part of my work with people these past weeks has been to tune them into these choices in their every day lives where they actually have agency, as opposed to worrying about the things they have no control over. Can they recognize the value in connecting with their family more often or reaching out to a friend? Can they organize an online community event and realize that the community would want it, that it would have value? Can they tip the Instacart person more? Can they thank the woman wiping down the grocery carts?

Other things people are doing: Giving blood, supporting really vulnerable populations with money (support Maggie’s House here and support sex workers, I don’t know how much more vulnerable you can get than that), waving at all the delivery truck drivers and giving them a thumbs up, physical distance with social consistency. Our social cohesion is the only thing that actually makes us a functioning society. Survival of the fittest is not a thing (it actually isn’t, it’s a misreading of Darwin). Survival is in the collective, in our variability within our webs of connection. It is in sharing and caring and we do this, in spite of the neutral universe that favours no one and no thing.

The virus is having its day as viruses do. Who will we be when it is all over? We are in the liminal now. If you didn’t set your intention, there is still time. There is still time to make meaning that is good for all of us, to be better than you were on the other side.

A word cloud of the Zombieland rules including 1. Cardio, 20. It's a marathon, not a sprint, unless it's a sprint and then it is definitely a sprint! 17. Be a Hero
The Zombieland Rules. Lots of them are still very sensible.

fitness

All the Winter Loveliness

The small school I teach at has a midwinter break of two weeks. Given the intensity of the level of work both before and after that break, I have learned it’s a good idea to take full advantage of it and try to stop working as much as possible while I have a chance. The best place for me to hide from the world is in Ontario’s near north where there is a family cottage I can use. I determined that I would do everything delightful while I was there. Basically, I have spent this week pretending I am Scandinavian. What does this mean?

Every Day in Nature:

It isn’t hard to achieve this as the place is nestled in the forest and perched on a little lake like the dreamy thing you imagine it to be. I wake up and stare out the window at my tree friend. One time this tree was struck by lightening and given that it’s only about 25 meters away from the building, I thank it for saving the house. I like to gaze at the scar that streaks down it’s trunk, sometimes for almost an hour while drinking coffee. It’s much better than what’s on Instagram, I swear.

A very happy yellow lab running across a snow covered lake
Shelby is all outdoors all the time

After coffee there is dog walk. Sometimes, that is the main event and sometimes, that is the thing I need to do before the main event. We tromp up into the forest where there is a well packed path and I watch her roll down her favourite hills. I rarely capture this one video because it’s way better live.

Being Social:

On this one I fudge a little. Very special humans get to come up here with me sometimes. Fellow blogger, Cate, was able to find a few days between all her running around and deadlifting and hip mobilizing and saving the world in small ways to come be with me here. The other ways I remain social is by text with friends and, while this gets me sucked into my phone sometimes in ways I hate, being totally isolated isn’t good for me. I’m also tracking a kid in Australia so that’s fun. I think talking to your dog about life and future plans totally counts as socializing. I’m not sure about the cat but he’s a good listener when he feels like it.

Embracing The Winter Sports

I was deliberate about this intention this time. I brought my downhill skis and my skates. There are snowshoes here and there is a place to go x-country skiing. I decided I was going to do every winter sport that was reasonably accessible for me while I was here, even if that meant I was doing it myself. I have never gone downhill skiing alone and I wondered what that would feel like for me. It turns out that it’s a good time, good enough that I’d do it again. I’m a rather good skier, which I kind of forgot about and flying around on the hills with only my own choices to contend with was rather liberating. It’s still a much better sport done socially but alone skiing is not bad at all.

Alone snowshoeing is also totally delightful and to be fair, I’m never really alone because, dog. I was rather glad, however, that the episode of snowshoeing that involved following random paths in the woods heretofore unknown to me was not alone, and that Cate had her cellphone and that she was gentle in wondering if we were going the wrong way, and that she doesn’t get mad at me when I insist it’s right and then it isn’t. So, we weren’t exactly lost but it’s a good thing we have grit. That was a lot of wandering around in the forest.

I’m also glad that we chose to skate together. There is a skate trail through the forest only 20 minutes from here that is a little magical. I had grabbed the skates in from the basement that looked like they fit me. I have no idea where they came from or whose they actually are. This, I think, is one of the most Canadian things ever, “Just go down the basement and take a look, there should be a pair that fits.” Unfortunately, that was a poor choice because they were not at all a good fit and I was wobbly and off balance and a little terrified. Cate was in her glory, however, and I persisted. I learned another rule of life, “Let someone else tie your skates for you” and things got a little better. It was a good time but if I had been alone, I would have been sad. Next time, I will just rent the skates, they seem a lot more comfortable, even if other people that I don’t know’s feet have been in them.

Hiking without snowshoes is the other staple activity up here. The shorter hike/dog walk doesn’t require them but it has it’s delights and challenges. The last time Cate and I were here we went on an 8k walk without snowshoes and we were exhausted and sore from all the wobbly walking and balancing. Cate also wore Very Bad Socks that ate her heel (Have you thrown those out yet? Throw them out!).

I chose to x-country ski on a perfect day, sunshine and a high of 4 degrees. I chose an easy trail and classic skis. I sailed along, rhythmic and without strain or stress. I could ramp up the intensity if I wanted to but I didn’t have to and then I recognized the feeling I was having. It was like biking! I have found a winter sport that is the equivalent of road biking! I am seriously considering buying some of my own equipment at the end of the season because I really want to be able to noodle around the lake like the old days. (The x-country boots in the basement are literally turning to dust so I think it’s okay to buy a new pair).

Being Cozy

All the Scandinavian countries seem to have their own version of this idea of snuggling up in the dark and the cold. It’s seems like an appropriate cultural evolution. My first night here, it was too cold to sleep in the bedroom so I just drifted off to sleep on the couch by the wood stove. It was the ultimate in cozy. I continue to be intentionally cozy every day here, whether it is snuggling human, dog or reluctant cat.

As I finish up this post, I’m aware of needing to leave this place in a few hours. It has been a joyful gift to be able to spend this week here tromping around and eating well and watching two seasons of Peaky Blinders. I am sad to have to go but content in having done all the things, every one of them. I’m watching the snow fall like fine mist and aware of lengthening days. Perfect winter.

The chair will wait for me
fitness

Unexpected Surprise After Nearly 30 Days of Yoga

I am doing the 30-day yoga thing. Me and nearly everyone on the blog and half my clients and half my world. Cate did a round-up of reasons why a few weeks ago. Today I want to explore some of what has come up for me during this commitment to movement nearly every day. I’m especially interested in some of the surprises it has held for me, the things I didn’t expect, the kind of stuff that yoga promises but takes one by surprise nonetheless. 

This is the second year I have engaged in this project. Last year, I was in the throes of break-up grief and held onto it like the lifeline it was. It reminded me I was human and loveable. I suppose for some folks that is pretty profound but I feel fortunate in my personality constellation, that it doesn’t take too much to remind me of that fact, even when I’m being painfully let down by a human that loved me. So last year, the experience was visceral but kind of literal. Show up, move in the ways that feel good, breathe like you love yourself. Done.

This year, I was excited to engage in the project again, knowing what to expect a little more. I also had a better capacity and commitment to do it nearly every day. I think I finished the 30 days sometime in the middle of February last year. This year, I have been able to double up some days to make up for the days I miss or do something else. I’m still appreciating all the stuff I appreciated last year. I like how short they are. They are sometimes very technical but it’s only one thing, not a whole class of difficult stuff. I like the way she invites me into mindfulness and I love how gentle and forgiving her language is. Yet, in spite of this spaciousness, I have tripped over myself in a surprising way.

I have been pretty diligent in looking to get better at yoga. I’m paying attention to the next level of awareness of my body and where it is placed in space. I am trying to challenge the parts of me that have been traditionally stuck (in the physical or metaphorical sense). I’ve been digging deep where invited and hanging on a little longer. When I lower from plank, I do it s l o w l y. When I rise up before a twist, I really visualize and try to actualize growing taller, making space in the vertebrae before moving a little farther around. When I fold, I’m looking for ways to fold more fully. 

The truth is, it’s working. I am getting better at it. I am stronger in my arms and shoulders. I am more flexible in my hips.  My feet are definitely stronger. When I sit up, head over heart, heart over pelvis, I know where I am in my body and I’m carrying that sense all over the place. AND YET. . .

I have discovered a really sad little part of me that isn’t happy with all this objective progress and accomplishment. I have noticed that she thinks we should be stronger than this already and that the progress isn’t as much as it should be. She is craving some kind of transformation into an idea of graceful yogi that she simultaneously does not believe is possible. She is rejecting what is and longing for what could be, or what should have been if we’d been doing this diligently all along. 

In examining this part, I realize a few things. I am struck by how similar this expression is to the expression of a longing to be “thin”. That “if only-I should already-I could have-why didn’t I-what’s wrong with me” thing that I see a lot of in my work but has never felt this kind of “alive” in me before now. That makes me wonder where it is from and how much of it is really mine. It also makes me wonder if this little part’s fixation on her lack of willowy strength and flexibility is masking a whole lot of her experience of willowy strength and flexibility. So much of the “I don’t look right” felt sense of the body manages to ignore the clear and present beauty that exists. Even when we try to move away from any idea of “beauty” and shift it to strength, flexibility, balance, function and presence, there is still a risk of sliding into the not-good-enough space that is lurking always for almost all of us.

I’m having a memory of me at 12 walking along a street with storefront windows. I am catching my reflection and fixating on how my knees seem to stay bent in a weird way throughout my stride. It makes me seem like I’m tromping along in a galumphy way and I hate it. I long to be lengthy and graceful, not the angular, flailing and awkward human in the reflection of the windows. I imagine that if I could be that person, that I will find the acceptance and friendship that I think I don’t have. I imagine I will be popular and loved and happy. I feel I am none of these things.

This memory has come stumbling in, so very unexpectedly, yet entirely predictably given the practice I’m in. Every day, I’m sitting and noticing. Every day, I am tuning into my body and wondering what’s up, what’s there. I guess it’s a 12 year-old, a super sad and alone 12 year old that doesn’t imagine anyone but her parents will ever love her. She is someone detached from the growth, progression and accomplishments of the rest of me. She got left behind somehow and she is so vulnerable.

It turns out my task this year in the 30 days of yoga is to discover and tend to that aspect. This has not a thing to do with whether I will ever have the strength and form to do a good chaturanga to up-dog. I mean, I might if I keep it up but that’s not really the point. Oh, Yoga, WTF? Why you gotta be so. . . .real?

Breathe in. Breathe out. Lots more to learn still.

Midsummer scene of a Willow tree by a river representing my longing for flexible strength
A very willowy Willow