North Country Rejuvenation

  morning on the dock.jpgThis morning is my last at the lake for this trip. The Adirondacks have received more than their fair share of rain over the last month or so and we've experienced some of that weather during our two weeks up here. On the mornings that have allowed it, I pour my coffee and walk down to the dock to take in the quietest part of the day. The gentle lapping of the water against the rocky shore and the ruffling of the leaves in the breeze accompany the slight rocking of the dock.

On the rainy days, I've scribbled out some stories and curled on the couch to read books. But most days, the weather allowed me to paddle out on my beloved red kayak. One day I saw a gaggle of geese. I wondered at the chicks' innate ability to line up neatly between two adults.

gaggle of geese.jpg

When I walked my dog, I noted again the rock cairns that someone has created. They hold a mysterious benevolence to me.

cairn.jpg

One sunny day, when my arms were tired from so much paddling, I hopped on a mountain bike to explore a park that we've driven past many times. What I found enchanted me. Narrow, but well-groomed trails barely held off the lush greens of ferns, firs and birch. Wooden bridges crossed bubbling streams packed with moss-covered rocks. When I learned that the park was conceived and built specifically to accommodate wheelchairs, I loved it even more.

John Dillon Park.jpg

On July 4, we walked to the town beach to enjoy sausages grilled by the Fire Department and live music. When evening began to fall, we returned to our dock for the fireworks.

evening.jpgfireworks.jpg

Though this morning broke gray, the clouds are moving fast and the sun is peeking through. I hope for one more paddle before we begin to pack up for our return home. If not, I can take the peace of this place with me, knowing that I will return.

fire.jpg

 

More Alike Than Different

Maybe you’ve seen the iPhone commercial featuring Maya Angelou reciting her beautiful poem, “Human Family.” Some people seem to think that the use of the poem to sell iPhones somehow diminishes the poem. I disagree. I love hearing Angelou’s distinctive voice over the many images of human beings during the course of the commercial. Over the weekend, I was reminded of that poem. My husband and son were running the Philadelphia Half-Marathon in support of the Alzheimer’s Association. The morning broke clear and crisp and I rode my bike through our glorious Wissahickon Park to the area where the race was taking place. cresting-the-hill

Finding an excellent viewing spot just after mile 7, I parked my bike and waited for the first runners to crest the hill. Before the first runners, were the paralyzed athletes using handcycles to propel themselves up the huge hill. We cheered them on. A bit later came the leaders: three slim black men running 5 minute miles like it was no big deal. We cheered them on. Later, more runners climbed the hill. Young men and women like my son and his friend, well-conditioned from cross country season. We cheered them on. Then I jumped on my bike and parked myself at mile 12, just 1.1 miles from the finish.

zach-and-friend

Soon, I saw my son and his friend. Then my trainer. Next, my husband. I cheered them on. As I waited for my son and my husband to join me, I continued to cheer. I had watched as the participants morphed from ropey runners in tank tops and shorts to, let’s say, more round runners in running tights, long-sleeved shirts and headphones plugging their ears. The front of the pack runners made it look easy, like they could run that pace all the way to New York, if need be. The runners at the end of the pack were fighting for every step.

 

But every person out there was there for the same reason: to complete 13.1 miles that day in Philadelphia. Black, white, brown, beige and pink. Tall, short, thin, fat. Running on two legs, running on two blades, running while juggling. Propelling themselves on recumbent bikes, walking fast, walking slow, hobbling on a sore leg. Wearing race gear, wearing tutus, wearing a Captain America costume. Kids in middle school, adults well past retirement age and everyone in between. They all showed up to do the same thing. In these post election weeks fraught with fear and anxiety, I was struck by the common purpose of these 12,000 individuals and I cheered them all on. I agree with Maya Angelou. We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike. We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.

drummers

Human Family

I note the obvious differences in the human family. Some of us are serious, some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived as true profundity, and others claim they really live the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones can confuse, bemuse, delight, brown and pink and beige and purple, tan and blue and white.

I've sailed upon the seven seas and stopped in every land, I've seen the wonders of the world not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women called Jane and Mary Jane, but I've not seen any two who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different although their features jibe, and lovers think quite different thoughts while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China, we weep on England's moors, and laugh and moan in Guinea, and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland, are born and die in Maine. In minor ways we differ, in major we're the same.

I note the obvious differences between each sort and type, but we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.

Abundance

I've heard the old idiom: Enough is as good as a feast. I understand the sensibility behind it and I do try to live my life so as not to take more than my fair share. At the same time, that phrase doesn't exactly sing to the soul, you know? Enough sounds restrained and slightly worried. So it shouldn't have surprised me when I realized recently that I relish abundance. Hope Roses.jpg

As I walked the streets of my still-sort-of-new neighborhood through the early summer season, I was enchanted by unabashed roses bursting forth in gorgeous pastels. As summer moved in with purpose, I was greeted by heavy-headed hydrangeas, bold Black-eyed Susan's and bright crepe myrtle. I loved these rich displays of nature everywhere I turned.

MNYK Hydrangeas.jpg

I saw abundance in a bowl of red, ripe cherries; a miles-long trail beneath a lush canopy of leaves; a creek rushing with water; a loaf of fresh-baked bread.

IMG_0408.jpg

 

I wondered: was my response to abundance just greed in disguise? Should I settle for enough? To me, greed feels needy, like there's a hole inside that craves to be filled. Greed says there's never enough. My love of abundance doesn't feel like a sort of Mr. Potter need to grab everything for myself. My response to abundance is more like joy at the possibility of what could be. Abundance hints at promise and hope, while enough is, well, it's enough. Maybe it's a privilege to relish abundance. Or maybe it's a matter of perspective. If enough looks like abundance, then maybe enough is truly as good as a feast.

 

Accidental Trail Run

81 The other day I was scheduled for a long run, the longest of this training season so far, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. I’m up at the lake and as beautiful as it is up here, there are few quiet shaded roads that go for miles and miles. Not to mention that there’s nothing that remotely resembles flat. It is, after all, the Adirondack Mountains.

After plenty of procrastinating, I set out and cobbled together several miles on some of my favorite roads and then resigned myself to running the second half on Route 30, a major road traversed by logging trucks, RVs and motorcycles. A little more than a mile on Rt 30, I saw the entrance to a park where we’ve cross-country skied in the winter. I trotted in, worked my way past the many campsites and found the snowmobile trail. The sign, with an arrow and bright orange trail marker, told me that the trail ended near a familiar trailhead. Running the mileage calculations, I figured that the trail, plus the run home from the trailhead, would get me to my goal.

I didn’t give a second thought to embarking on the trail because I knew that if it seemed dicey, I could simply turn around after a mile or two and complete my run as planned. Once I’d gone beyond the two miles and I was committed to completing the trail to its endpoint, I admit to feeling a bit nervous to be running on an unfamiliar trail with no phone and no one aware of my location. While that’s not the safe way to go — everyone knows that the first rule of hiking alone is to let someone know where you’ll be and when you plan to return — the risk was small (weather forecast was good, the route was short). After skimming the nervousness off the top, waiting like a kid on Christmas morning, I found exhilaration, bringing to mind that Eleanor Roosevelt quote about doing things that scare us.

Right away, I realized is that running on a new trail is tricky – at least for me. While keeping my eyes on the trail to avoid rocks and logs, I wasn’t keeping my head up to watch for trail markers. Several times, I paused, nervous that I’d lost the trail and reminded that I had no phone and no map and then I’d see the bright orange marker and I’d continue on. The mountains must have gotten quite a bit of rain in the days previous. At first, picking my way around the sloppy mess, I worried that I’d reach a part so flooded that I wouldn’t find a way around it, but eventually I was committed come hell or high water. The route was almost all flat, bursting with ferns, and much of it ran alongside a lake. Even in my imagination, I couldn’t have dreamed up a greener, more peaceful environment to complete that long run. At one point, my foot landed in a mucky soup of mud and I found that when I slowed to a walk, deer flies found me delicious, but that was the worst of it. When I landed at the trailhead and the road that I run on most often, I experienced a swell of pride. I’d tried something unexpected and it ended up even better than I’d hoped.

The thing about Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote is that we find magic when we push past our comfort zones and the go beyond the familiar. I don’t believe, when she said that famous sentence, she intended that every day we must climb a mountain or leap off of a 20-foot ledge. I think Eleanor meant that each day we have the opportunity to take one step outside of what we know and possibly find out who we are. What could you do today that scares you a little bit?

(image from buymeposters.com)

The Unfamiliar Breeds Inspiration

Inspiration often strikes not despite the fact that it’s unexpected but because it’s unexpected, so in retrospect, it should not have surprised me to have been struck with the lightening bolt of inspiration while sitting in a Jury Marshalling Room waiting for my number to be called for a jury. Jury duty is not actually as bad as all that.

The bit of serendipity of the day showed up in the form of a woman who had recently joined our somewhat faltering writing group. Her work and parenting responsibilities prevent her from attending as often as she’d like, but the passion is there.

We waited and waited - first in one room with cushy chairs and then in a waiting area on plastic ones. We talked and talked, getting to know one another in a way that we couldn’t at our group.

The Jury Officer who ran the show took the podium and began calling names for the first of the three cases for which they needed juries that day. Neither my friend nor I were picked. We breathed relief and waited and talked some more.

Staring at a wall of names, I mused, “Look at all these names. How could I ever have trouble creating a fictional one?”

She shared with me some of the oddest names she’d come across in her time as a professor at a local university.

“My favorite of all the names,” she said, “was Basil Motley.”

“That one needs to be the star of a graphic novel,” I said.

When we sat for more waiting, I pulled out paper (because if there is going to be waiting, I’m armed with at least one of the following and frequently all three: paper, a book, a laptop).

“We’re going to write a scene with Basil Motley in it for ten minutes.”

There was a smidgen of fear in her eyes, but she bellied up to the bar and without a moment's hesitation began writing and writing.

Here’s something I’d forgotten: free writing is fun! At the end of the ten minutes, we swapped papers and giggled over the predicaments into which we’d placed poor old Basil. Not ten minutes later, the Jury Officer took the podium again and announced that we were being dismissed.

th-2

Now, I’m not so self-centered to think that the whole point of that morning was for me to connect with a fellow writer and be reminded of the joy of writing. Nonetheless, an hour later I sat at my laptop writing new fiction for the first time in weeks. Despite all of my knowledge about writing and creativity and despite the support of friends and family members, it was time spent with a new friend in a foreign environment that offered the jumpstart that I sorely needed.

Any situation that jars you from your current state has the potential for fostering inspiration. The question is how to remain open to it.

(Jury Duty  image from thebsreport.wordpress.com via Bing.com; free write image from attorneymarketing.com via Bing.com)

I Drank the Kool-Aid -or- My First Residency at VCFA

I've just returned from my first residency at the Vermont College MFA Program in Writing for Children and Young Adults in Montpelier, VT. This is what they call a 'low-residency' program meaning that students spend 10 days on campus at the start of each semester and those days are packed chock full of lectures, writing workshops and reading.

I wasn't at all sure about dorm life. It's been quite some time since I lived in a dorm and I didn't see the point. But the program coordinator told me it was and important aspect of developing a sense of community so I acquiesced. My vacations in New England have been spent largely at Rockywold-Deephaven Camps in New Hampshire where we stay in a rustic cabin overlooking a pristine lake and all meals are served in a family dining room. When my mentor told me the accommodations were humble, I figured I’d be fine.

But humble and rustic are not precisely the same thing and my mentors description was much more apt for the convent-like space which was to be my home for ten days. The desk lacked drawer pulls and the bed was easily older than me, and considerably more worn. Indeed, a new classmate stood in the doorway, surveying the space and dubbed it ‘Joseph Pilates prison cell’. That gave me hope, maybe my stark space would allow me to access creativity to create something new.

The real genius in the humble dorm was twofold. It pushed all of us together through the shared experience of living in unfamiliar and not altogether comfortable surroundings. And it encouraged us to attend as many lectures and readings as possible where we could sit in an air-conditioned room and have our minds cracked open to possibilities.

The lectures, too many to mention, offered up perspectives on various aspects of the craft of writing – they were informative, motivating and often amusing. The workshops, in which each student’s work is critiqued for an hour, illuminated for me areas for improvement while also highlighting what I do well. Readings allowed me to hear new work from faculty and completed work by graduating students. I was at once inspired and daunted.

A highlight for me was Holly Black’s talk on world-building during which she guided us through her process for creating a logical and believable world for her newest book White Cat.  (Great book, btw.) A big fan of her work, I was thrilled just to see her but I walked away with solid information on how to proceed with my own work.

The unexpected gift was in the friendships I developed over the course of ten days. I went off to VCFA prepared to learn to become a better writer. An island of sorts, ready to work and learn and not seeing the need for friendships or community.  But I left there feeling connected and supported in ways that I didn’t know I needed.

Here in my own home, back to my real life, I’m considering the pile of work I’ll be sending my faculty advisor each month and I know that I’m no island. And I’m glad for the new connections I’ve made as I embark on this two-year odyssey of writing, researching and – dare I say it? – self-discovery.

Time to start typing.

Olympics, Running and Inspiration

You know, there's no substitute for visual media when it comes to covering the Olympics. As an NPR junkie, I'm a confirmed fan of radio journalism. My longish work commute gives me plenty of time to become informed. So it was on my way home from work that I learned that Lindsay Vonn won gold in the downhill - the first American woman to do so - on a harrowing course that snatched the Olympic dreams from at least two competitors. That night, I watched the Olympics on TV. Even though I knew the result, the radio report could not compete with the visual horror of watching a woman go down on the course, tumbling and skidding at breakneck pace. Nor could they truly capture Vonn's breathtaking finish and the tearful celebration when she realized she'd won. And then there's Shaun White's open defiance of the laws of gravity.

Each time the Olympics roll around, I think I'm not interested. Then I tune in and I am captivated by the raw talent and flinty determination of these athletes. I'm reminded that it takes both to make dreams come true - the talent and the hard work. There isn't much that can make up for the lack in one or the other.

Today, with the Olympics on my mind, I went for a run outside - my first outdoor run since the blizzard hit last week. Since I have a treadmill, I can avoid running outside in challenging conditions but after too many days pass, workouts on the treadmill get old. I continued to think about the Olympics on my run. So much so that I think I came up with a new Olympic event. Since I'm not fast enough or young enough to hold an Olympic dream, I'll outline my idea here for you.

Olympic sports have no-nonsense names so we'll call this one Obstacle Running. The concept is simple: the athlete to complete the course the fastest is the winner. As in many sports, it's the course that's the bugger so what follows are directions on how to create an effective and challenging course for Obstacle Running, should you choose to try this at home:

1. Dump 2 to 3 feet of snow on an urban or densely populated suburban neighborhood. The area should be large enough for a 6.2 mile course (because a 10K sounds good).

2. Shovel no more than 75% of all sidewalks. Ensure that thin coating of ice exists on at least 50% of shoveled sidewalks. All sidewalks must dead-end in a snowdrift. Minimum height: 18 inches.

3. Clear wide roadway at start (to give athletes and spectators the illusion that the course will be easy). As course progresses, shovel increasingly narrower areas so that two-way roads become one-lane roads fit for a Prius. Allow all roads to be open to traffic, especially large SUVs and delivery trucks.

4. On at least half of roads, build snow up to 4 foot drifts on both sides.

5. Course must include at least one bridge (because they freeze before roadways, of course).

6. Any athlete wearing Cramp-ons or other such devices to enable ease of running/walking in icy conditions will be eliminated. No exceptions, no appeals.

Since I'm a purist, I would give the gold to the fastest athlete but you could also add points for technical merit. For example, you could rate how high the athlete jumps out of the way of an oncoming vehicle. Or you could note the finesse with which s/he handles the icy downhill of the course. You might consider the form with which the athlete can negotiate the snow piles at each intersection. Really, the possibilities are endless. And can you imagine the drama?

ANNOUNCER 1: Bob, did you see the control of American Jane Smith when that Mercedes grazed her? ANNOUNCER 2: She must have nerves of steel. No small feat after her teammate bought the farm in that 5 foot snowbank while trying to avoid a UPS truck.

(Okay, so I admit that my run today was challenging but at least I kept my sense of humor!) What I want to know is: How are my fellow runners faring in the Northeast this winter? And what inspires you?

Finding A Bit Of Joy

Runners seem to be of two minds about runs during vacations at the beach.  Either they love it and crave it or they hate it.  I'm ambivalent.  While I sometimes crave the flat roads of the Jersey shore, more often than not, I miss the hills and trees of my home.  The last time I was in Avalon, the threat of a hurricane made for oppressive humidity and increased, though not unmanageable, winds.  On this particular morning, it was somewhere along the third mile that I remembered I had chosen to do this.  No one held my feet to the fire.  I wanted to go for a run but I wasn't experiencing joy. It only took a split second to consider where I might find that joy. I turned down the quirkily named 'Lois Lane' and headed toward the beach.  Cresting a small hill, I was greeted with the wide expanse of the ocean.  The beach in the early morning is an entirely different thing than hours later, filled with families.  In the morning, absent of people, it is raw, unclaimed, wild.  Today, the hurricane, hundreds of miles out, was whipping the water into a frothing frenzy and I watched, mesmerized, as it rose curling in on itself and then crashed at my feet.  The tendrils of the tide reached upward, grasping grains of sand and luring them into the depths.  I resumed my run, marking my progress with familiar landmarks: the church steeple, seen just over the crest of the dunes; the water tower; the pier.  Running on the beach is like running in dreams - or nightmares.  The destination never draws closer until suddenly it's right there.  I dug deep to reach my last marker, the lifeguard stand at our street. I stopped, panting to catch my breath, and stared at the ocean.  With barely a formed thought, I kicked off my shoes and slid off my tank top, dropping both in the sand by my feet.  I strode into the water and as I dove through an icy wave, I found what I had been missing on the early part of my run. Joy.