Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Sun Also Rises

Random, I know. But this Veteran's Day seems like a good day to re-post the lessons I learned during M*'s deployment that I had on my deployment blog.  Years and have come and gone, but even now, looking it back over, I think anyone with a deployed loved one can learn from this. :)

So here's how YOU get through it, ladies.

1.         You’ll have plenty of time to cry after he leaves, and each time after you hang up from every phone/Skype call from 11.5 time zones away.  Not only is it a waste of time to sit around teary-eyed in the days, hours, minutes before he departs, or in those precious minutes on the phone, it does neither of you any good to send him off to theater or to the next mission with any grief/pain/sadness/worries/doubts. So just don’t do it. Happy times, always.

2.         Go with the flow and make use of technology (email, Facebook, pictures, Skype, IM, etc.). Use the time physically apart to get to know one another in a new way and learn how to communicate with each other in a way and on a level that not many people ever have the chance to develop. 

3.         Separation is less about geography and more about communication. When he’s at drill, training, or deployed, he’s only as far away as the next telephone call, email or text message. If they come several times a day, he might as well only be an hour from home - that's what it feels like, like he's just right there! NBD. But deprived of communication for weeks, he may as well be on the moon, with no hope of return. Be prepared for those varied feelings. Also, the old adage that “no news is good news” provides zero consolation when you’re on the receiving end of silence. It's scary as shit. Be prepared for that, too.

4.         But, in reality, no news actually is good news. If there’s a blackout and you haven’t been contacted, that’s a good thing. Really. So while as tough as it is to not hear from him, the longer that blackout lasts, the better the odds are that your soldier is safe and sound. Without going into too much detail, the Army is pretty good at contacting NOK and those on the soldier's contact list. 48 hours, 72 max... if that time passes and you haven't heard, he's okay. He's okay. Take a breath.

5.         Turn off the news. I know you're voraciously curious and want to know what he's going through and experiencing day-to-day, but suck it up and get that information from him and him only. Do not search the internet for reports of fighting/attacks/casualties in the province(s) he’s working in. And don’t even think about going to to see how many were lost yesterday, and compare his province to other provinces to see just how dangerous his really is. You’ll drive yourself crazy. Oh, and if he's in the Kunar Valley, don't even think about watching Restrepo. Especially don't watch it twice, or three times. And not at work, where you might get caught paralyzed staring at your screen, white-knuckling your Starbucks coffee....

6.         Don’t spend energy wondering if you two will grow apart or focusing on how much the situation stinks. Stand up straight and walk through the experience a little bit everyday. Above all, keep moving. Like a friend of mine once said, “If you’re going through hell, don’t stop, keep on going!”

7.         Dealing with deployment is at times, a very one-sided seeming experience because a man at war doesn’t have the luxury of catering to your every womanly need.  Don’t get too hung up on your “rights” – what you’ve chosen to do will at times be nothing more than an act of selflessness. It in no way equals the selflessness it takes to put your life on your line for your country or for another soldier – so pull up your big girl panties and be grateful you are the one safe at home, eating at your favorite Hillstone restaurant, working out in an air-conditioned gym, drinking Zinfandel and getting pedicures. Quitcherbitchin'.

8.         Always try to remember that no matter how hard it is for you, that he probably has a lot of the very same loneliness that you do, except he’s also in a combat zone, and he has to compartmentalize all of those emotions in order to protect his sanity and keep himself safe. Strive to accept these rough patches with womanly grace, not the grief of a child. The world doesn't revolve around you, sweetheart.

9.         Don’t sweat the small stuff or every detail of his communication pattern with you or the lack thereof when those times come (and they will). Relax and rest in faith that you WILL have the opportunity to talk to him again, and the grace of another opportunity where he's recovered from being outside the wire or whatever event caused the blackout and is now "back to normal" again so that you two get back on course. I say this because you’ll see many others panic in the sometimes choppy seas of deployment. Ride out the waves, sister, just as you might if you were lost at sea, and remember that kicking and screaming when you think you are going to drown only brings you that much closer to doing so. Try not to lose your head, know what I mean?

10.       Stay busy. It’s useless to pine away for him while he’s gone when there’s so much you can be doing to challenge and improve yourself. I just told you that the world doesn't revolve around you, but guess what? The world doesn't revolve around him or this damn deployment, either. Do you! Train for a marathon. Take a class in a random subject that interests you. Read a huge ass novel or join a book club. Climb some mountains. Learn a new language. Try out some new crafts. Make new friends. Start a dinner party group with existing girlfriends. Develop yourself professionally. I did all these things. Don’t let the Army life define you; define yourself.

11.       Plan for the unplanned.  If you're living this Army life, you're already familiar with the delays and cancellations Army life brings. But deployments bring it to a whole 'nother level. For instance, I didn't believe he was really home from *anything* until he was standing… on the ground… in front of me. Didn't matter if it was just that day's shift, or drill, training, pre-deploy, or the deployment itself. Until I could touch him in the flesh, things were subject to change. Expect that you might hear phrases as, “I’ve been extended one more month,” for fourth months in a row. Expect that you might have to cancel everything from a homecoming party to plane tickets to wedding venues as a result of this mysterious military life you lead, so expecting the unexpected tends to be the safest bet.

12.       Every time you feel like you want something from him to fulfill something missing inside of you, think instead of what you can do for him and the voids he must have being so far away from the colorful landscape of America. If you feel unloved or ignored or sad, do something that you think will make him feel loved, wanted, less alone. Instead of focusing on what things are like for you, try to think about walking in his boots a little bit every day. It's scientific fact that doing things for others makes us feel better about ourselves. This is a two-fer that has soooo much benefit. Do it.

13.       Listen to him, accept him, encourage him, appreciate him, and remind him that he’s strong, he's got this, he'll be home soon, you're there for him, you're proud of him, you're not going anywhere, send him lots of cookies and all of his favorite things in care packages, **give him a break**, and don’t weigh him down with unrealistic demands that he somehow be the kind of partner he could be if he were here in person. He can't be. Concern yourself with how you can be his “best friend.” Have his back. 

14.       Know that you too are a soldier of sorts. Take pride in knowing that very few women are woven from the kind of cloth that shrouds you. It takes a very strong, independent, secure, adaptable, emotionally wise woman to handle this life. You were made strong when you were made for him. If I only had a dollar for every time I’ve heard "I could never do that…" or "I could never be with a man who..." Just like our soldiers are part of a brotherhood, we too are our own sisterhood. It's why, in a way, we're both welcoming of the new girls and intolerant of the cry babies who are all "me me me!" - we know you won't make it if you don't toughen up fast. We do what we have to do for the people we love. I didn’t seek out this life, but I fell in love with a man who did. When I hear these types of comments – innocent as they are – it makes me wonder what choice I really had, or what kind of woman wouldn’t keep her commitment. Well, ok, I suppose I could’ve said, "Nope, sorry, I’m out!" when the orders were cut or things got too tough, but my commitment – our commitment – always ran deeper.

15.       The honeymoon phase has an end. Coming off the homecoming high to the realization that life has gone on without him is a tough pill to swallow for your soldier. Something as silly as a piece of furniture being in a different place could upset him; he wasn't included in the decision, after all. You have to switch back in to couple-mode, meaning you’ll find he’d like to see you home from work before X hour, whereas you had the freedom to come home whenever you wanted while he was away. There’s another person around to have to “deal” with and get used to having around and sharing space with again. You’ll learn to anticipate this transition period, though, so while still difficult, approach reintegration with greater sensitivity for each other.

16.       No. It doesn’t get easier. It just gets different. There's a new normal. Every deployment is hard. Every school is hard, every training exercise is hard. Heck, every day he goes to work can be hard. And PTSD is a very real thing, but there is help (confidential, anonymous, will-never-touch-his-military-record-help, reach out to me if you need contact info) available for both your soldier and his loved ones to help him manage it. But your minds and hearts are resilient when they need to be.

17.       When you can’t touch him, sleep next to him, talk to him, laugh with him, or tell him you love him, pray for him. There is a real power to sending those good vibes out into the universe.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Up in the Air

Brad* was tall, dark, and handsome.  A gentleman who knew how to make me laugh and knew how to wield a solid kiss.  We were looking for the same thing, shared (the important) common interests and values, and I could tell he was a guy of real integrity.  I was really enjoying getting to know him, and excited to know more.  Eventually, we got to talking about what had been missing from our previous long-term relationships.  He shared some pretty personal stuff that I could totally relate to.  When it was my turn to share, one of the things I said was (paraphrasing here):

"I'm a pretty generous person when it comes to the sheer commitment and emotional energy I put into relationships and doing things for people I care about.  This might sound silly but... Despite all the travel I have done over the years, both for business and pleasure, I have never had "him" - whoever "he" is at the time - waiting for me at the airport when I get back.  Sure, I've had guys drop me off, or pick me up at the curb after I've grabbed my bags... but I've never had a guy actually park, enter the terminal, and wait for me at the bottom of the escalator.  I see people do this all the time for their loved ones, but it's never happened for me.  With each new relationship, every time I land, a part of me is secretly hoping that, just once, he'll surprise me and be there at the bottom of the escalator, welcoming me home with open arms.  But he never was, even though I told him every now and again how much I'd love it if he'd be there."

Essentially, I've always been the giver who pays attention to my guy's needs, and does what she can to meet them.  I hope to find someone who'd finally return the favor every now and again, if only by "showing up."  His response?

"When's your next flight?"

I beamed, and told him.  He said he'd be there, at the bottom of the escalator, and that he'd drop me off as well.  As he heaved my huge ski bag out of the back of his truck and onto the curb at Terminal B and kissed me goodbye, I believed him.

However, in the mere four days I was gone skiing with friends, I sensed a change in him.  A woman's intuition is a powerful thing, and I began to wonder if he'd even remember to come get me at all, let alone the real point behind his promise.

Upon my return, when the plane landed and I turned my phone back on, up popped an iMessage:

Let me know when you land. I'm in the free waiting area. I'll drive up.

And that's when I knew that he wasn't going to be there, at the bottom of my escalator, literally or figuratively.  After he got me home, he explained why.  His reasons had nothing to do with me, and I understood completely, and wished him well.  And ironically, I'm glad he didn't make fully make good on his word, only to bail a short time later.  He allowed me to keep this little secret wish safe, for someone else to make come true.  Gotta thank him for that one.

Brad won't be there, but some day, when I find Mr. Right, there will come a time when I'll be certain that he will be there when I hit the ground, whether it's a crash landing, or greased on.  Until then, I'll happily remain wheels up, up in the air.

*C'mon, you know I don't give real guy names.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

She's nice...

A good friend of mine is getting married in about a month.  When he talks to me about the wedding and his future, I can literally see the fear of death rush across his face.  I mean, the dude is scared to death, to the point I finally had to ask him, "If you're not comfortable with this, then why in God's name are you marrying her?" I expected him to say, "I love her, I'm just scared I'm not going to make her happy or we're going to grow apart, old and fat..." or something along those lines.  Instead he responded with, "Well, I'm 35 years old, I've been with her for a couple years now, all my friends are either married or engaged or seriously dating someone, so I guess it just seems like it's the right time to grow up and settle down... and, well, she's a really nice person."

I had a very similar conversation with another friend a few nights later, about a stunningly attractive girl he's recently started dating and can’t stop making out with in public.  When I asked him, "So, are you, like, totally in love with this girl yet?"  His response?  "Well, I do like her... she's... nice."

God help me if this is the way the object of my affection ever describes me to people!!!  "She's nice"?!  BLECH!  That's what people used to say about my Great Aunts.  That's how my friends describe my mom... and even my friends throw in a "really nice" not just "She's nice."

Perhaps my expectations are simply too dang high, but I'd like to think that when you meet someone you like enough to date (and certainly love enough to marry!) that you'd see something more in them than just "nice" to draw you to them.  Then again, if that's all it takes to wow you, then maybe your expectations aren't high enough.  I don't consider myself insurmountably picky, but I do have some standards, and just being plain 'ole "nice" ain't gonna cut it.

If "nice" is sufficient, maybe you're lazy.  "Nice" will probably never challenge you to grow as a person and a partner (isn't that the whole point of relationships?), but you won't have to worry about her ending things with you because she's perfectly content being "nice" to you, thus cutting out any modicum of work you might need to do to keep her around.  "Nice" will make you feel more like the King of your domain without ever having to go to war to protect your estate... your very boring estate.  "Nice" is comfortable, but not in an "I can talk to her about anything, and I mean anything, and I know she won't judge me" way or an “I trust her with my life” kind of way, more of an "I'm too lazy to do laundry so I'll wear my favorite holey underwear with my hands down my pants while she shows friends our new house" kind of way.

When the future love of my life describes me, I'd like to think he'd use some of these phrases: "She's wicked smart, makes me laugh out loud on the regular, and proudly wears her sassy pants to keep me in check, but she's also compassionate, incredibly thoughtful and generous, and has a huge heart that she wears proudly on her sleeve. She's full of life and doesn't know a stranger, she's the best travel companion, and would bend over backwards for her friends and family. She's got the best laugh on earth, I could kiss her all day... and most importantly, she respects me and admires me as a man and a partner."  It would be okay if he threw in "she's pretty cute" too!  Anything but "nice."

"Nice" is for the non-living souls - the ones who don't have the guts to go after what they really want, who are too scared or insecure to be assertive.  "Nice" is for the Steady Eddie who doesn't want to change his routine and just wants to find someone who will fit into his world without much effort.  "Nice" is for someone who is intimidated by someone who is more their equal. "Nice" is settling.

My future companion will be confident enough to take a leap of faith with someone like me.  He'll see me as someone who can add beauty and dimension to his life, not just fit in it.  He won't be scared to share a bit of his spotlight with me on occasion.  He'll appreciate my versatility.  He'll be proud to have someone with a strong mind by his side, who appreciates his in return.

And he'll never use the word, "nice."

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Yoga is a liar, and I hate liars.

I think I hate yoga.  I think it's mostly because of all the privileged white people living in East Sac who are obsessed with the uber-trendy Zuda Yoga saying "namaste" in badly accented Hindi, to be honest.  (Or it could be that I’m just insanely envious that all of these aforementioned hard-bodied people are currently residing in the East Sac homes I want to live in but can't until they move out… but I digress.)
Don't get me wrong, I LOVE exercise. I have been a gym rat since I was 15 (until mid-August I had THREE different simultaneous gym memberships!).  I live to ski in the winter.  I also love torturing myself with CrossFit, and have come to learn that I really, really like running.  I dig kickboxing, and bootcamp-like classes.  I also get a kick out of weird classes where you jump up and down on bouncy ball shaped things and an instructor yells at you.  I even like exercise that's designed to increase your flexibility - dude, I love the torture device that is a Pilates reformer. I just don't want to confuse "exercise time" with "relaxation time," which is EXACTLY what yoga instructors seem to do, given that they always seem to be smiling and whispering "relaaaaaaxxxxxx" and "breeeeeaaaattthhhheeee" to the class.

Relax?  No.  No, because this is not relaxation time.  This is exercise time, and while I do spend considerable exercise time thinking and processing and clearing my mind, my idea of real exercise really isn't a relaxing event.  It shouldn't be!! Are you curious about why that's the case?

Here are some things I do to relax:

Take bubble baths, sans ducky

Get rubbed on by virtual strangers (aka, take advantage of Massage Envy membership)

Play Angry Birds (actually, sometimes that makes me angry, scratch that)

Play Words With Friends

Cook or bake something that doesn't involve any kind of chopping (chopping can equal stressful, "Am I going to mess up and cut my finger?" thoughts...) ("Yes! You are!")

Sit on the patio with a white wine spritzer (don't judge!)

Stalk G$ on Facebook (she likes it, trust me)

Look up pictures of long-coat chihuahuas online and contemplate whether or not I should get one (everyone (especially Lil' Keev) says yes!, but my schedule says nooooo, but then the little Gizmo gremlin face always says, "Let's go have some adventures together!")

Watch season after season of Mad Men on AMC

Here are some things I do not do to relax:

Hang around upside down trying to balance on my sweaty hands as they slide on my yoga mat with one leg pushed so far up in the air it hurts – seriously effing hurts.



(Yeah, that looks "relaxing.")

Pretending that exercise is anything other than "a somewhat painful ordeal we go through to look and feel better inside and out" strikes me as being suspiciously like… "lying."  And I have an aversion to lying these days, even if it's for my own good.

Given a choice, I would much rather deal with an irate drill instructor at McKinley Park screaming at me that I'm "a pathetic weakling" or that I'm "really crazy slow" than someone saying in some sort of pseudo-hippie voice "be at peace and fully yourself."  I know I'm a slow, pathetic weakling!  I mean, the "pathetic" part seems unnecessary and sort of mean, but "slow" and "weakling"?  Sure!  Yes, I am slow and weak-ish!  But I'll show you!  That is why I am here!  You are no liar, irrationally angry bouncy ball lady! And for that, I will work for you!

If I wanted to be fully myself I suppose *I personally* would go climb or ski a mountain or take a humongous Eagle Creek backback through the streets of Prague, but I imagine a yogi telling me that in order to be with myself I need to meditate or sit and… tear apart blades of grass? What do people do when they are being "real?"

I'll give you a clue: they don't mutter "be the change you want to see in the world" while people are pulling their hamstrings out of whack.  Because the change I want to see in the world is not everyone dropping $20 bucks on a single yoga class and $150 on an overpriced Lululemon outfit so they can sweat 10 pounds off in an overheated room that smells like feet, only to regain it all the moment they drink their $3 Smart Water. That might be the opposite of the change I wish to see in the world. I think that's roughly categorized as "nightmare world."

But mostly I hate all the soothing, meditative stuff because it makes me feel like I must be doing something wrong.  Because for me, yoga is anything but meditative (until the very end, when you're lying still).  Rather, most of yoga hurts.  About half an hour into a class, after the instructor asks me things like, "Doesn't it feel gooooood?" when I'm pushed deeper into a pose (ouch, no!) against my will, I will genuinely believe that there's something wrong with me because I don't find lying on my elbow with one leg stretched up relaxing. "My body must be made of bad… body stuff? Am I... defective?" I'll think to myself.  No one likes to think of themselves as having flaws, man!

Then I'll look up and realize that the instructor is not in some weird bendy pretzel position.  She is able to calmly intone "relax" to the class and ask them to "feel their breathing" because all she is doing is walking around the room laying the flat of her hand on people's backs!!  Yeah.  That IS relaxing.  If there was a recreational "walk around touching people's backs class" I would… probably not sign up for it. It sounds sort of invasive and uncomfortable.  But I would find it more physically, if not mentally, relaxing than yoga.

Because yoga is the worst - just completely made out of lies about how you are changing the world by raising your leg up like a urinating dog.  You aren't.  You might be temporarily losing ten pounds of water weight, but you are not changing the world, anymore than you are when you are doing any recreational activity - like WAKA kickball on superhero- or 80's prom-theme night.  C'mon.  Get real.

Though, you know, if I could find an exercise class without all the lies? One that actually says, "This isn't gonna be easy, in fact... it might even hurt, but it will hurt good, and you're gonna sweat, and sweat like crazy, but you're gonna make major personal progress and you’re gonna be proud!" I think I might actually enjoy it.  

Oh wait, I already did!  Tonight, it may have only been a measly five miles on my feet, but it was an honest five miles.  And whaddya know, an hour later, post-shower... now I'm relaxed and one with myself.

Take that, downward dog.


(The above was drafted in late 2011. The author would like to happily announce that she's since found the ability to enjoy yoga. However, she still doesn't believe it's "exercise.")

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Perfect Ponytail Paradox

(Guys without ponytails [I hope that's most of you that have a Y chromosome!], bear with me, keep reading... you'll get it.)

Ever notice how the perfect ponytail - one that's not too flat or lumpy up top, and has the right amount of body and curl or wave in the tail, with just enough oomph that shoots right out of the elastic - only happens by chance?  Over years and years of trying, I have come to find that it is physically impossible to create the perfect ponytail the moment you want it.  It's literally only when you're about to sweat it out at the gym, or you're home alone about to crash out, or spending all day at the office combing through boxes of evidence where no one who really matters (the cute guy you like) will see you, that the perfect ponytail will magically manifest.  Not only that, but it takes time for the right circumstances to naturally evolve into the perfect environment so that your dang hair will cooperate to create such a perfect hairdo.  If you want the perfect pony for a special occasion, it just ain't happening.  Dream on!  Maybe tomorrow, when you're not so eager for it to "be," it will in fact, "be."  The perfect ponytail is serendipitous! 

I've recently come to recognize that the same principle applies to many of the most important things in life and love.  Families don't come together in the ideal form, with the perfect nuclear family and white picket fence that we all dream of, but "families" - often chosen families, made up of good friends from far and wide - do come together all the same, and are there for you when it really counts.  Career mishaps leave near-disastrous black marks that we think we'll never get away from, but those same blunders eventually lead us to much more fulfilling situations, opportunities and places.  Races that are disasters of epic proportion turn into valuable lessons, teaching us the value of sticking to our training and doing what we know is right and giving us a level of pride we never otherwise would have had when we kick the race's ass.  A steep slope sucks one day from wind-blown crust, only to be covered in gloriously fluffy powdered sugar a day later after a decent snowfall, and conveniently after all the Bay Area road warriors have gone home.  What you thought was commmitted love doesn't last, but eventually your heart leads you to someone new who gives you an absolutely thrilling and yet absolutely terrifying feeling of "this just might be 'the one'...", part deux. Or trois.  

I mean, let's face it: like they say, "We plan, and God laughs."  The best laid plans go awry, things get messed up (even worse if of our own doing), we fall from grace, we disappoint ourselves and others... But when we just let things be, we come to find something really freaking amazing is right under our noses, and we survive, most often for the better. 

Not many people have the intestinal fortitude and emotional resilience to dust themselves off and get back in the game, or to climb back on the very same horse that bucked them off.  I am proud to say I'm one of them.  For those of us who are blessed in that way, we fall seven times and stand up eight, never giving up.  What other option is there, really?

So tomorrow, it's my hope that on that eighth try, the perfect ponytail appears. But if not, I have a pretty good inkling that I'll still be rockin' a kick ass hairdo.  :)

Friday, May 9, 2014

Sans Training Wheels

Last summer, knowing I swam competitively in high school and had obviously gotten the hang of the whole running long-distances thing but was beginning to suffer some over-use injuries, one of my coaches suggested I take up triathlons.  The idea had always intrigued me, but I had convinced myself that my deep dark secret would prevent me from ever checking Iron(wo)Man off my bucket list.  “Yeah, that would be awesome... but, uh, well, you see... there’s one teeny tiny problem with that,” I cringed, not wanting to admit it or receive the expected reaction.  “I don’t know how to ride a bike.”  The look of shock on the faces around me, combined with water spray from mouths that could not contain their amusement, suggested that I should somehow be embarrassed.  "You need to learn," he said.  

Duh.  But... how?  I'd told countless people over the years that I didn't know how to ride a bike in a *wink-wink-nudge-nudge* hapless way of hoping a volunteer would come forward, including people close to me who were greatly inconvenienced by my inability to ride a bike, such that if it were easy to teach someone to ride, I assume they would have.  The fact that they didn't suggested that learning as an adult, or teaching an adult, was really hard.  I also had nightmares - I mean painful memories - of my corrupted college roommate's attempt to teach me how to snowboard on a gorgeous bluebird day at Squaw (I've never looked at High Camp the same... just the thought makes me want a beer to numb the pain).  Maybe it was because she was "Goofy" and I was "Regular" (or maybe the other way around, as the very term "Goofy" definitely fits me better than "Regular") so that when she told me where she was putting her weight, it "didn't quite work for me" (translation: "I biffed hard," as she has affectionately referred to my plentiful falls on- and off-snow over the 18 years we've been friends).  Still, Jessica deserves a pair of wings for her valiant efforts; bless her heart, that girl has the patience of Mother Theresa.

In any event, while many people have rightfully told me I need to learn, after my experience with snowboarding, the thought of relying on someone to teach me how to ride a bike seemed like an untenable and frustrating combination of "too much vulnerabilty" for me, and "a torture session" for my would-be instructor.  One blogger has flat out stated that learning to ride a bike in her 30's was terrifying and humiliating, and would not allow her boyfriend to teach her, refusing to "supplicate him to such a trust exercise."  I could relate.

So, I started where any reasonable, independent, information-gathering woman hoping to learn a new physical skill would: Google.  Just follow the instructions from, right?  I searched phrases like "learn to ride a bike as an adult," and watched YouTube videos of awkward Prius-driving ex-pats attempting to learn on grass, covered in knee/elbow pads and helmets 2 sizes too big, crashing into each other like bowling pins.  I'm not a fan of intentionally putting myself in a position where I look like a special-needs adult, so I was greatly displeased by what I found.  "That looks a like a LOT less fun than giving myself a concussion on snow," I thought.  Le sigh.  

Then I came across a class at REI designed specifically for this purpose.  Having taken other classes or tours put on by REI, I had some semblance of faith that they could help me - and maybe have me look relatively cool while doing it.  And help me, they did!  I learned fairly quickly, in part by scooting myself along sans pedals between chalk drawings on the ground from the day's previous "kids only" class.  ("Now, scoot yourself down to the scary bear, and then turn around and come back to the happy bunny!" my instructor coo'd... next pass through, I got my pedals! Yesssss!)

But then I didn't do a damn thing about it for the next 8 months.  I didn't go anywhere near a bike, not even a spin class with stationary bikes.  What did I think would happen?  That a bike would magically appear for my use and I'd be able to cruise around busy Midtown streets while intoxicated without any trouble or nerves?  My friends amped up the chatter about our plans for this summer - bicycle pub crawls, biking around Tahoe, rides from Davis to Woodland and back, taking that triathlon clinic that got be started with this whole biking thing in the first place - and the wave of discomfort stemming from my lack of bike skills washed over me again.  Ah, crap.  I'm gonna have to figure this shit out. 

Thanks to the help of a special (not of the short-bus variety) friend who's more familiar with bikes and riding than anyone I know, I'm now not only the owner of my very own bike (in one of my favorite colors!), but I can ride in a straight line!  I still have some (read: a lot of) work to do on the whole slowing down and stopping thing, but I am confident I'll get there... eventually.

So there you have it!  I am now an athlete in transition!  A runner-turned-hopeful-triathlete!  I feel like a whole new person with this new skill!   

Over the past couple days as I've practiced my skillz on my shiny new bike, I’ve come to realize how transitioning from using your body to run to using your body to ride is analogous to other transitions in life.  Pedaling around the undeveloped portion of my neighborhood (also in transition, you could say) yesterday, I thought about all the people I know who are in some sort of transitional period in their lives.

Some are pregnant or new parents for the first time, terrified of how their lives are going to change, how they'll handle parenthood, whether they'll fuck up their kid literally or figuratively, but experiencing indescribable joy and connectedness that comes with bringing a new life into the world.  Others have 17- and 18-year old “babies” who are graduating high school and moving on to college, leaving them with a lonely empty nest but a second leash on life to do all the things they wanted to but couldn't while focused on raising their kids.  Some are making big career changes – huge promotions, changing fields, or going back to school - and essentially changing their identities as they know it, hopefully for the better.  Others are leaving their careers entirely by taking a well-deserved vacation for the rest of their lives via retirement.  Some are moving across the country to a new, big, unfamiliar city, and having to transition to a whole new way of life, if only figuring out how to buy and get 10-bags worth of groceries up to the 10th floor of their NYC studio.  Others are learning how to handle the day-to-day stressors that come along with being separated from a loved one due to deployment, or preparing for their return just after having gotten used to them being gone. 

The transitions I've observed most often and with which I am the most familiar are those who are experiencing significant changes in their relationship status – that is, those who are getting engaged/married, or those who are going through a divorce.  Newlyweds are negotiating their new lives as a legally-bound couple (they say the first year is the hardest) with the goal of both parties getting as close to their ideal vision of the marriage as possible, whereas those dealing with the painful ordeal that is divorce are, along with fighting over finances and/or children, having to relearn what life is like as an uncoupled person (again, they say the first year is the hardest), kicking tires, testing waters, figuring it all out. 

All of these transitions are so similar to learning how to ride a bike as an adult.  They're not really something you're ever fully prepared to do; no matter how badly you might want to transition, you're always a little scared.  It feels awkward and unnatural at first - What do you do? How do you do this? This feels weird!  When you first push off, you're afraid of getting doing it wrong or getting hurt, so you go so slow that you wobble in a jerky way, wildly from side to side, totally unbalanced; you think you just might look like Elaine’s awkward "dance" from Seinfeld, so you hope no one is recording you looking like an asshole.  You desperately want to put your two feet back on solid ground, where you know how to use them and where they feel most comfortable, but the advice you're given tells you that in order to keep moving forward and keep your balance, you’ve got to have a little faith and pedal a little faster to turn the wheels.  Soon enough, you agree.

You learn to look both ways for anything coming at you too fast, and to avoid obstacles by realizing that if you focus on something you're afraid of, you’re going to head right towards it - a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.  A few times you find yourself taking your eyes off where you want to go, distracted by cute little things along the route, and then just as you are giggling and smiling wide, a bug flies into your mouth.   

Eventually, you find yourself cruising along, the wind from your speed cooling off the sweat on your brow.  You're proud of how far you've come in such little time.  So, you pick up a little speed, confident and feeling an ease that you're finally "getting it," only to realize you don’t know how to slow down or stop without near disaster.  While your friend watches with trepidation and grimaces, half-expecting you to injure yourself, you laugh as you stumble.  You start again, this time with the recognition that you're going to have to practice having the type of control that lets you set the speed with which you're most comfortable.  And without a doubt, you concede that you need help from people you trust to get you through it.

The long and short of it all is this:  We all have something we strive for, something we want, someplace physical/emotional/relational/professional/familial we want to end up, and we all undergo a major transition at some point in our lives to get there, whether by choice or when forced upon us.  Getting through it to the other side always requires some level of risk, some patience, some time, some effort, some trial and error; but waiting until you're 30 years older than everyone else going through the same thing before you try really won't do you any favors, as 30 years of riding will have passed you by.  So, take the training wheels off, grab a trusted friend, and just go... skinned knees be damned.

P.S.  If I have any hopes of checking Iron(Wo)Man off my "Things to do by 40" bucket list, I guess I need to start looking into doing some open-water swims.  Cripes.  Anyone got a wetsuit?  Or maybe just a life preserver?  Anyone?  Anyone...?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

It's Time to Begin, Isn't It?

I can really love the shit out of music when I'm in the mood.  But see, I tend to get lost in my head and think too much, which is why when it comes to music choices, I tend to go for the over-simplified, no-hidden-meaning country, pop and R&B music.  I mean, there just isn't a bad day that can't be cured by a little Luke Bryan ("Girl, you make my speakers go boom boom!" makes me beam every time), or an awesome day that can't be made even better by Zac Brown Band ("So we live out of our old van, travel all across this land, me and you"), you know?  But it's actually the more complex stuff, that can and will be interpreted and "seen" differently depending on the listener, that really gets me good.
On my way home last night I heard "Crash" - the popular song that we all know and love by DMB.  I remember the the circumstances under which I first heard Crash song as though it were yesterday: it was during my first date with my first college boyfriend - the Abercrombie employee, house-party-throwin'  soccer player who loved to take me dancing (and as as side note could dance better than anyone I have ever seen to this day).  Thereafter, DMB quickly became "our music," if you know what I mean, and especially this song.
Anyway, breakups are never fun, and this one with Abercrombie boy was no exception.  For a while afterward, I couldn't really listen to DMB without feeling slightly sick to my stomach - it hurt too much.  Over time, I returned to DMB concerts and regained the ability to thoroughly enjoy the music, but for a long time it still brought back a slight twinge of angst and regret.
I had a similar experience with the first Dido and Nelly Furtado albums, circa 2000-2001 (aka First Time Living in LA as an "Adult"). Don't ask me why - there were far too many reasons - but during that very tough year, these two albums were on HEAVY rotation.  Once I removed myself from the situation I was in, I couldn't bring myself to listen to either of these artists without feeling ill, panicky, and full of anxiety, all horrible feelings, so I avoided hearing their music at all costs. 
The Bravery also had an eery way of bringing on strong emotions.  Driving up to Skiman's family's home up at Squaw, once we hit Donnor Lake, we'd start to blare The Bravery's "The Sun and the Moon" album and blare it all the way until the turn onto Winding Creek Road, and after waking up the next morning to avi bombs, hopping in the Tahoe for the 3.75 minute drive to the Red Dog chair, they would continue on repeat.  The Bravery had a Pavlov's dog effect on me.  See, I was a pretty new skier back then, pretty terrified actually, so the act of careening down a mountain for the first time at 30 years old (that is, at an age when I recognize danger!) was both terrifying and exhilarating, and the feeling in my stomach demonstrated it.  To this day, every time I hear "Time Won't Let Me Go," I can literally feel myself sitting in the seat with the view of the Face and village and the sensation of booting up and navigating that expansive parking lot in boots without landing on my arse... in short, it makes me nervous and super excited all at the same time.  It reminds me of purposefully scaring the shit out of myself, and loving every minute of it!!!
This may sound really cheesy, but music really is like the soundtrack to our lives, ya know?  I'm not talking about, "Oh yeah, remember when Color Me Badd was THE SHIT!!??"  I'm talking about music that has in some way shaped how our personal "movie trailer" has played out.  I don't know about you, but in many respects, music is what keeps me sane.  I put my soul into not just hearing its sound and feeling its vibrations, but really, truly LISTENING and LIVING it.  I can form a story in my mind with every single song, real or imagined.  Sometimes it just floats along beside me, serving as a backdrop for long lost memories (such as DMB), and other times I find myself figuratively giving the music my emotions so that I don't have to feel them or remember any longer (ala Dido and Nelly Furtado), and even still at other times it takes me to a place where I felt totally ALIVE (Bravery).  Hey, it's better than relying on booze or liquor, right?  Either way, there is certain music and certain periods of my life that are inextricably linked, such that if there was ever a movie made about my life (how do we feel about Reese Witherspoon as the lead, by the way?), those songs would have to be included in the soundtrack.
Years ago, I used to think I'd always have a bit of an "ouch" feeling when listening to DMB, but really now I'm just ALL smiles.  I remember the good times spent with Abercrombie boy, and man oh man, there were plenty of them - sometimes I think all we did was laugh!  Thinking of memories like that is like living a flashback, or a snippet of a was all sweetness and sunshine and laughter, not one ounce of negativity (despite the fact there was plenty of that as well).  I remember the day we met, the first time he took me out onto a Sigma Chi dance floor (to Cake's "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps"), making batches and batches of Jungle Juice, soccer games and kissing in the pouring rain - all good times... and that all comes to mind from a simple song.
I'm also now able to listen to Dido and old school Nelly Furtado and think, "that's the year I survived."  Even better, when I hear anything by The Bravery, I only think, "Hells yes! I'm gonna tear it up, Blue Square Style!" Ha.
So, what's on the playlist right now, you ask?  Well, of course there's some Luke (because I LOVE HIM), and there'll always be some ZBB and Mumford for good measure.  But I've got a couple on repeat for a long time that are clearly meant to be in a scene in my movie, or maybe the trailer, or the end credits.
The big one is Coldplay's "Life in Technicolor" (the instrumental, NO WORDS).  It speaks to how I try to live each day, and my life on the whole, and I how I secretly hope people see me, because it's how I see myself.  Just listen to it, and let it soak in.  It starts softly, with a little old-school synthesizer action, and builds slowly, and lingers, making you curious about what you're hearing and what sound might add on next.  Musical voices slowly join, one after another, making the sound more complex and vibrant, adding layer after layer at the right moment (not too soon, not too late) to make it even more interesting.  What you think you hear changes.  It wakes up like a morning flower turning to face the sun, opening petal by petal until it's fully exposed, and just continues to get prettier and prettier and the sun heats it.  It never bores you, you feel anticipation of what's coming next, even though you already know what the expect.  It builds and builds until you feel the urge to start bouncing your head, tapping on the steering wheel, dancing in your chair, maybe some full body action, "Oooohhh ooohhhhh!"... and then BAM! it's done and gone.  And you hit repeat, because you want to hear it again.  And again.  And again.  And each time, you hear it a little differently; it's never quite the same.  Doesn't it just make you feel like... "Hot damn, my life is awesome!" ??  Yeah, that one's definitely the trailer version of my movie.

Next up, Imagine Dragon's "It's Time."  This one starts off with the most awesome clapping and tinkering, that reminds me of being a giddy child excited for new adventures. That's the hook, y'all. But then the complexity of the lyrics hit you and it takes a deep turn, making you have a little existential conversation with yourself... but then, what's that?, there's the giddy clapping and tinkering again. I feel like I'm on the cusp of something big, like something life altering (in a good way) is right around the corner, so this one has a special place for me.  I could write five more pages about why, but I think I'll keep that to myself for now.

And finally, Daughtry's (don't judge!) "Start of Something Good."  I actually heard this very recently for the first time, and found it quite fitting.  I had an interesting week.  It started off amazingly well, then there was a major let down, and then a very pleasant random surprise reincarnation occurred.  Who knows what it all means, or what will happen - it's all up in the air.  But oddly enough, this "needs to know!" girl is choosing to let go, and just think positively and know that "it" will work out as it should, whatever this beginning actually is. And, well, Daughtry just just looks so damn good...

What's playing on your soundtrack?