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Category: Bravery

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Community

I’ve never really run with a group. I have a vague memory of attempting to be part of the cross country team while in middle school and epically failing at it, and as I’ve aged, I haven’t done any better at developing a community around me. I saw an advertisement at a specialty running shop for training groups and dismissed it out of hand. First of all, I can do this all alone, thank you very much. I don’t need to pay someone else for this. Also, I’m too slow. I’ll hold everyone back. Finally, they’ll all know each other and I won’t know anyone, and who wants to go back to high school anyway??

Look, I never said it made sense. The brain is a strange creature.

Training group cycles came and went at Fleet Feet, and I continued not to join in. Finally, I went in for a new running bra or something, and picked up a flyer. The dude behind the counter answered all my questions and before I knew it, I was seriously considering joining up. Notice I’m still not ready to commit to something as basic as a running group, or as easy. I have commitment issues apparently.

So I go to the first workout and struggle. I mean, I really, really struggle. I’m not used to running with other people, I’m not used to running at night, and I’m not used to talking about my workout. I was fully and completely outside my comfort zone. And that’s not even taking into account the discomfort inherent in running itself, right?

This was maybe two months ago (mid-January) and yesterday I got to run 8 miles with my friends in the running group. We shared our energy chews, encouraged each other, watched each others’ backs, and cheered on the unofficial mascot (Pressley is her name – she’s a doodle of some description – very tall and leggy. She could be a model).

As an aside, I believe that Straxi could perform mascot duties alongside Pressley (apparently the duties largely consist of patiently sitting and waiting while we warm up, then trotting at Joe’s side until time to stop and poop, then resuming trotting by his side) and I’m shooting for getting Straxi to the point where she can be a part of a group like this, too. Oddly enough, I seem to have passed my inability to engage with others socially on to my dog. And all she has to do to get to know someone is sniff their butt. It’s not like she has to make sparkling conversation or anything.

My dog is not a social butterfly.

I’m so excited that I was able to do this – running that far is a first for me, and running with a group is now becoming a real treat as opposed to something I actively avoid. I love running on my own with Straxi, but at the same time, having people to run with (my own pack, as it were) is awesome.

I regularly read (and listen to) Ali on the Run, and she has talked on her blog and podcast a great deal about the November Project.  I wish we had a tribe here, because I think this is something I could really get into and enjoy. Plus, the summer gets ass hot and that’s just as bad as being super cold and I always need motivation to get out there and work. I’m not going to start a tribe on my own, though. I know I don’t have the staying power to establish a set schedule like that and stick to it – having other people depend on me at work and at home is enough. I don’t want to get that sort of crap into my exercise life, too.

I feel really protective of my running, now, in a way I didn’t before. I have multiple things I’m doing to make sure that I improve my running as much as I can (I’m seeing a sports-oriented chiropractor and a nutritionist, among other things), and I am careful about cross training to avoid injury but still improve my cardio ability, blah blah blah, the same stuff we hear and read all the time. But my running seems like it’s just so much in its infancy, I’m afraid that anything I do is going to knock it off its stride, if you’ll pardon the really bad pun.

But this is about improving, which is at its core, about change – what we were yesterday is no longer enough and we want to build on it and make it even better. So I’m trying to blow on the little spark, and keep it alive, even when I have really hard runs, or runs that aren’t really that great. I have never had a bad run, now that I think about it. I think that’s a good sign.

 

Green Inside, Green Outside

Green Inside, Green Outside

The first time I gave more than a passing thought to what was actually behind the plastic wrap and on the Styrofoam trays in the meat section of the grocery store, I was a thirty-something mother, recently returned to college to complete my bachelor’s degree. I had lucked out and gotten into a history class with the best professor I had ever encountered, and his classes consisted of him strolling in, jotting some notes on the board, and then talking off the cuff (it seemed to me) for 50 minutes while I struggled to write down every word that fell from his lips. Dr. Hunt was brilliant.

During one of these encounters, he used a video clip in class (and this was in the days before YouTube, before the advent, really, of the internet as a far-reaching influence) and as he popped the VHS cassette into the VCR, I continued my frantic scribbling.

I stopped, though, when I realized what was taking place on the screen – it was a video about chickens, and the only thing I remember about it was the conveyor belt they were on, the little chicks, and the fact that part of their beaks were being snipped off for “safety” reasons. I thought to myself that they would likely be much safer if they were outside, doing whatever chickens did, rather than being transported via conveyor belt to whatever unpleasant experience awaited them. I was horrified to further learn that the male chicks were killed, since they could never lay eggs or produce anything.

This clip had a profound effect on me, and so began my journey into attempting to eat in a way that was in step with what I felt was right. I had never thought about food or eating in moral terms, other than the typical, “I shouldn’t eat this because it will make me fat.” That’s a considerably different moral stance from “I shouldn’t eat this because it used to have a face.”

My kids refused to follow me down the path of the meat-free existence I was trying to forge for myself and my family; I think it had more to do with fear of tofu than anything else. I was not a courageous cook, and so I bought a lot of Boca burgers and beans. I slipped TVP into the chili I made and didn’t tell the kids – I still occasionally gloat about that to this day. A vegetarian meal without complaining from the kids:  a win for me, and blessed, blessed silence with freedom from having to justify my choices for just one meal.

Once the kids were moved out, I attempted to return to a vegetarian lifestyle a few times, ultimately with poor results.  Much of my lifestyle was unhealthy, and the decisions I was making regularly in other areas of my life could not be offset just by eating a few salads.

A slow approach seems to be what worked for me, in that I began probably 6 years ago to move towards a more Paleo approach to eating. I managed to taper off the really unhealthy foods, and junk food of the non-vegetarian as well as vegetarian sort began making fewer appearances in my daily life. I watched a few more movies relating to healthy eating, and bought the diet book written by the fireman – Engine 2 – and watched his film as well. My husband and I ate a largely vegetarian/vegan diet, but I still was not losing the weight I wanted, nor was I feeling as healthy as I thought I “should” because of my virtuous eating.

Around this time I also attempted to create smoothies for myself and my family, with one memorable attempt being at the beach during a vacation, when I failed most epically to create something even close to palatable. My mother’s pained expression upon trying a bit of my concoction haunts me to this day.

I went from Paleo, to vegetarian, and then discovered a nearly fully meat based diet, which was low carb and introduced the concept of ketosis to me – those of you who lived through the Atkins craze(s) know how seductive the thinking can be. Ultimately, the keto diet I followed allowed me to finally break free from my attachment to white flour and sugar. I still found myself binging on doughnuts, cake, and cookies during particularly stressful times in my life, but I was largely ok.

Until I wasn’t.

One day, after listening to a podcast by Rich Roll, an endurance athlete who advocates for and follows a plant-based lifestyle, I suggested a meat-free day to my husband. He was enthusiastic, and so we ate a largely plant based diet that day. The next day, when we got up and discussed breakfast, we decided to do it again. Then again. I’m not sure when that was, to be honest, so I can’t say “I went to a plant-based diet on X date,” because it was so…well, understated.

And it felt really natural, and positive, and most importantly, like how I was supposed to be living. I have become much more courageous when it comes to food and cooking now (I know how to make kale chips!) although I still regularly encounter things in the beautiful produce sections of the grocery store that I simply cannot fathom how one would use in a recipe.

Now I feel much more balanced – the food choices I make to fuel my body are in step with the morals I have for the rest of my life, and I am rejoicing my return to all things green.

Green is everywhere in my world now, and I love it. My life during my years in Texas (those long and frustrating meat-filled years) was brown, drab, hot, and awful. In contrast, my life now is vibrant, green, and feels right. There is no conflict in what I think is the right way to consume and the choices I make in the kitchen.

I can see my smoothie as more than just a pumped up milkshake: it’s fuel for me, and it bears no resemblance to the smoothies I made years ago. It’s green, for one thing, and it’s actually healthy, rather than just masquerading as healthy. I feel closer to the world around me, as I run on the trails near my house with Straxi – the plants growing around the path might represent food, but the animals I encounter most definitely do not. I am brave enough to put kale AND jalopenos in my smoothie at breakfast, and I love it.

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Fire Extinguisher

Fire Extinguisher

tumblr_o8xrcr0DaD1u8zsmfo1_400So part of my summer vacation was intended to be work on how I can best recharge my batteries during the semester. I do a very, very bad job of self-care, I think, and am in a constant state of forgetting that if I do not do at least the bare minimum of self-care daily, I am in actuality doing a detriment to not just me but my students. I have to remember the old “put the oxygen on yourself first” adage – I can’t do for others if I am not at my prime ability.

I realized at some point over the last few weeks that I had no idea as to what self-care actually meant. Does that mean doing what you feel like doing at a particular given time? Does it mean doing stuff that doesn’t necessarily seem “fun” but that you know needs to be done? That makes it sound less like a soul-recharging task and more like, well, a Pap smear or trip to the dentist.

So I turned to Dr. Googles and looked it up (exactly what I exhort my students, my father, my son, anyone who asks me to educate them on something without having done the bare minimum of work themselves to do). I was surprised to see that self-care is a little more specific and real than I had understood previously. Before I searched, when I heard the term “self-care,” I envisioned things like long days of video gaming, maybe a hot bath, reading…essentially all the things my Type A mind considers to be “goofing off.” But those things don’t necessarily replenish my batteries in the way that I am looking for. Yes, all those things are good for me, in moderation. When I video game, I am able to release some aggression, do some creative work, and leave my day-to-day world for a bit. When I read or soak in the tub, it’s another way for me to block the “real world” for a while, which I find very important and something that I need, rather than just like. The trouble comes if I do it too much, or with non-revitalizing mediums (spending too much time on Reddit is a real problem for me, and it’s not healthy in the slightest).

So that’s how I understood self-care:  essentially having cotton candy for dinner, you know? This is wrong, wrong, wrong. Here’s how Dr. Googles explained it at the top of the search:  “In health care, self care is any necessary human regulatory function which is under individual control, deliberate and self-initiated. Some place self care on a continuum with health care providers at the opposite end to self care.”  This was singularly unhelpful for me insofar as figuring out how exactly to do this self-care business for myself. What it did do for me was help me understand that this is a more substantive thing than just “goofing off.”

I found loads of helpful writing on self-care, including the frequent exhortations to get outside, into nature, around some green stuff, and to think about and reflect on the beauty around you. This is something that I do regularly when I run (unless I’m on the treadmill, and I really dislike running on the treadmill, honestly, but when it’s hot as Satan’s testicles outside, I don’t have much of a choice). I love spending time at Fisher Farm, with Straxi, running or walking, taking pictures, or just looking at how beautiful the world is. When I’m running in town, I’m overwhelmed frequently by how fortunate I am to live in a town that is as soothing and beautiful as Davidson is. I feel so terrible for people who are not surrounded by the beauty that I am so lucky to experience, and I include that in my gratitudes every time I consider them. Just the ability to look around and see thriving nature is a boon, and being able to go outside and interact with that beauty is a recharge for me. Those folks who can’t see that beauty because of poverty or other social/class factors are poor in ways that exceed financial ways, I think – even the wealthiest of the world who are unable to appreciate what they have are included in my understanding of poverty. Of course, that’s a completely different discussion, but financial poverty is a form of violence, imo.

I recognize that I have a great deal of privilege in being able to live where I live, do what I do, and exist the way that I exist. Whatever quirks my life has and that the world tosses at me (like a bouquet or a hand grenade), I am still so incredibly fortunate.

But I seem to have wandered a bit from my discussion of self-care. I ran across this Atlantic piece, “The Internet Wants to Help You Take Care of Yourself,” and was…well, stunned, honestly, at how succinctly the author has related my own experiences with thinking about and attempting self-care.

The author, Julie Beck, opens her article by describing the self-care tag on Tumblr as being similar to coming in from the rain and being offered a towel and umbrella when you didn’t realize you were drenched. I spent some time flipping through the posts (I have very little experience with Tumblr) and gasped when I ran across the one I have featured here – it captures my own struggle here with this concept really well.

The author shares a link (I have basically bookmarked the essay, the links in the essay, and have spent some time with all of it just as I am trying to write this) in which the user is guided through a checklist of things to think about when trying to establish why she might feel bad (“You Feel Like Shit”). For someone like me, without an active group of friends (okay, okay, without any friends) upon which to call when having a shit day, this is very similar to what I remember of sitting down with Courtney and saying, “Yeah, I am having a hard time.” It’s like the internet equivalent of a cup of coffee with a friend. This is alternately cool and depressing to me. I ran through the initial part of the flow chart and was reminded to take my meds as I was doing it (Thanks InternetFriend!).

Towards the end of the article, the author discusses whether or not we really are discussing this self-care concept more, or if it’s just a trick of the eye. She writes that she believes “that there’s a growing acknowledgement of the fact that there’s little about modern society that prioritizes, encourages, or facilitates caring for yourself or treating yourself well. It’s all, ‘Buy more things!’ ‘Work harder and at any hour of the day!’ ‘Click back and forth uselessly between the same five websites and call it leisure!’” This is where my own (mis)understanding of self-care comes in. Basically, I had conflated consumption and self-care.

Self-care is a task that is intended to make me stronger, better, more capable of finding and nurturing the me I need to become. Whether I need to become that me for the purpose of being of better service to others, or just to be of better service to myself, or a little of both is immaterial. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t all try to understand who our best selves are, and to make those best selves a reality (other than the obvious ones – it’s hard to do anything outside of survive when survival is a real question). I’m finding as I research this that self-care for women can have a political and activist aspect to it as well – we aren’t encouraged to care for ourselves at all. We are, actually, encouraged to do the very opposite:  to engulf ourselves in flame, use our self as tinder and fuel for a flame intended to benefit others.

Self-care is not multi tasking.

Self-care is a radical act for a woman, especially a woman of color.

Self-care is not accessible by everyone, regardless of what we might think.

Self-care is one of the most important things we can do for other people.

Self-care is the most important thing we can do for ourselves.

Self-care is made up of both large and small actions, and is not always comfortable.

Self-care is daily gratitude, daily affirmations, and specific goals that I can reach.

I am worth the time and effort that self-care takes. I am not kindling for someone else’s warmth.