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...?

Friday, February 14, 2014

She's nice...

A good friend of mine is getting married in about a month.  When he talks to me about the wedding, 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 33 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 nice."

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 picky, but I do have some standards, and just being plain 'ole "nice" ain't gonna cut it.

Or 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" 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, witty, funny, sassy, compassionate, thoughtful... she's full of life and doesn't know a stranger, she's the best travel companion, and would bend over backwards to help a friend or family member in need, she’s got the best laugh on earth... 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."

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

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 were 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 6, 2013

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.  :)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

"I'm better, thanks!"

It's been a year.  Imagine yourself, a classy, elegant lady, sitting quietly in the front of a classic convertible with a bench seat, being driven by a new handsome companion through the Santa Cruz mountains under blankets of trees, heading towards the coast. You've got a cute little sundress on, kept warm by a fitted little jacket, your carefully coiffed hair kept neatly in place by a silk scarf from a distant land, a precious souvenir brought home safe by someone you once loved.

You feel stifled, and roll the window down to get some fresh air, but find that's not enough. You push the button to put the top down just as your companion turns out of the trees and onto Hwy 1, the Pacific ahead in full view.  You tug off your jacket. You climb onto the back of the bench seat and sit, delicately yet confidently perched by graceful balance and strength.  As the car winds along the coast, you take in the awesome transparency and roar of the huge crashing waves, the smell of the salty air.  Your companion laughs with you.  You slip the scarf off your head, shake out your hair, throw your head back and open your arms wide to feel the warmth of the sun and the ocean air curse over your entire body. You gently wave the scarf and its dainty sequined edge in the air like a flag of freedom, its kaleidoscope of colors and sparkles shining in the sun, shadowing your view of the sun's rays for just a moment... and then your fingertips purposefully separate, and you let it go...

Instead of giving you that description, if you were to ask me how I feel today, I'd probably just say, "A lot better, thanks!" There's always more under the surface in those pleasant responses... :)

Monday, April 1, 2013

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.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Where the Magic Happens

WOOSH!  Hockey stop.  "Ahhh, sh*t!"  I wasn't just looking ahead anymore, I was looking *down* a steep pitch.  My heart started beating fast, I could feel my hands start to sweat in my gloves.  I looked around.  I reasoned that I could scoot back about 20 feet, and keep going down the easier slope I'd gone down before, or I could just... go down this one - this crazy steep looking (to me!) monster in front of me.  I thought back to about 20 minutes prior to the complete yard sale I had managed to pull out smack dab in the middle of a run, conveniently under a chair loaded with snowboarders.  Skis and poles scattered fast, I punched myself in the boob, and I skid for quite a distance.  When I finally stopped moving, I heard laughter, and it wasn't from the folks hanging overhead - it was coming out of my own mouth.  I had survived that (and actually managed to enjoy it?), so this should be okay... Right?  Still, I was scared.

WOOSH!  Hockey stop next to me from some random dude.  "You okay?" he asked.  
"Yeahhhh, I'm just nervous.  This one isn't like all the other steeper stuff I've been doing today."  (I mean, seriously - this pitch was nothing like the others! Just when I was starting to feel like I was getting better, this jumps in the way. What kind of cruel trick was Breck pulling on me?!)
"I guess they don't call it 'Shocker' for nothing."  
"Uggggh.  But this is the fastest way to get where I need to go; I don't want to have to go back that way," I said as I looked back over my shoulder to the continuation of the 'easy' run that I'd veered away from.
"Well, I'm gonna take it slow. I can go down ahead of you a little bit if you want, and make sure you're okay," he offered while pointing with his pole.
"Nah, I'm good. Thanks though!"

Off I went.  It felt like forever standing up on that edge, but in reality it probably only took about 20 seconds to make that decision.  I got to the bottom and turned around to look at what I'd managed to come down, and I gotta say: I was impressed with myself given my self-perceived limitations.  I'd just shattered them all by myself.  I thought back to my days literally c.r.a.w.l.i.n.g. down the Shirley runs, and thought, "I'd make those old Squaw runs my b*tch! Ah ha!"  My frozen chubby cheeks hurt from smiling so hard for the rest of the day, and I think I may have even puffed my chest a little bit.  I accepted a pole tap from Mr. Random Dude when he got down, and then took off to take another lift and run to meet my friends for a midday celebratory cocktail. 

Later, I went after a part of the mountain that someone told me was "scary," suggesting I couldn't do it.  And then I went back and did Shocker a few more times, just to prove to myself that it wasn't a fluke.  I'm still faaaarrrr from being an expert, and still slow compared to nearly all my buddies... but damn, it felt good.

Stepping out of my comfort zone just that one time, on that one edge, carried over for the rest of the trip.  The next day at Vail, our group made its way to the back bowls in blizzard conditions.  I'm a self-proclaimed princess, fair-weather skier who doesn't enjoy white-outs; I'm a blue bird kind of girl... or so I thought.  I blindly followed (literally, I couldn't see), and next thing I knew, I found myself in knee-deep powder (I thought I hated powder, turns out I don't!), freezing my toes and cheeks off, taking face shots and narrowly avoiding hitting trees through "glades" (at very slow speeds, don't you worry).  I ended the day completely spent and yet giddy and high on life.  

The next day at Keystone, I was one of three lone rangers who were hell bent on getting as much time on the mountains as possible (and a variety at that).  I looked at the map solely for purposes of figuring out which lifts would get me to the Outback, but paid no mind as to what was blue (love) versus black (still scary), groomed (love) versus moguled out (hate), etc., like I normally would have.  I just... went with it.  I had no idea where I was going or what I was going to encounter, and I had THE BEST TIME EVER.  Admittedly, I am pretty sure I have the Colorado snow to thank for my stellar time, but I still expect (hope?) I'll keep this fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants skiing up next time I hit up a Tahoe resort.

Why is this blog-worthy, you ask?  Well, skiing is just one (albeit huge) example of who I am now compared to who I used to be.  See, once upon a time, I was a girl who played it safe - in every way.  I resisted change and the unknown; I lived inside the box; I preferred the tried and true.  I preferred someone else lead so I could simply follow, and I wouldn't go after something unless it was a certainty.  As such, I never had to buy any risk.  Because I always knew what to expect, it was safe, it was comfortable.  Life was easy.  I was never challenged, scared, uncertain, vulnerable.  And you know what?  I was BORED (oh, God... so bored!) out of my ever-loving mind and, in retrospect, leading a pretty unfulfilling life.  I will *never* let myself get back to that place.    

Slowly over time, I grew up and evolved into who I am now: the gal with gumption who seeks adventures of all sorts.  Like Rome, I wasn't built in a day.  It was a slow process - baby steps of trying new things, challenging my personal status quo and letting go of former rules, and truly enjoying every minute of it.  I can't quite pinpoint when it all came to fruition, but when a friend challenged me to be the kayaker in her Eppie's Great Race team 10 days before the race when I'd never even kayaked before (I wasn't even sure I knew what they looked like - a canoe?), and the idea of "going through rapids" in a kayak, by myself, surrounded by people determined to beat me to the finish (they might poke me out of the way with a paddle and make me drown!), scared the sh*t out of me... and instead of laughing in her face, I accepted her challenge and did it, and despite getting stuck in a whirlpool had one of the best times of my life (at that point)... that's when I knew I'd truly changed.  That was the first time that it all just... clicked. 

Since then, I've stepped out of my comfort zone time and time again - from obvious physical feats, mental challenges, and professional endeavors, to being open and honest with my heart (that is, wearing it on my sleeve), spontaneous trips without a map or knowing if I have a place to stay, or something as simple as trying some crazy new food, and everything in between.  Some of those things I'm fairly certain you'd roll your eyes at, as they're really not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things.  But to me, each instance has produced great results simply because it's made me a little bit more excited about living this awesome life and what other awesomeness lies ahead... and it's each time I ski that I'm reminded of just that. That's why I love it so much! 

I guess the whole point I'm trying to make though is this:  Nobody ever feels 100% ready when an opportunity arises - whether that be facing a steep ski pitch, a potential promotion, a fledgling relationship, getting a dog or having a baby, buying a home, you get the idea - because most great opportunities in life force us to grow beyond our comfort zones, which means we won't feel comfortable at first.  Discomfort is necessary.  An otherwise strong and confident person actually needs moments of uncertainty and vulnerability to feel alive, to lead a fulfilling life, and to be truly happy.  It's where the magic happens.  Why not go out on a limb?  That's where the best fruit is.  I think, anyway (and Mark Twain agrees).

"You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage.  
Just literally, 20 seconds of just embarrassing bravery, and I promise you, 
something great will come of it." 

In short, I've been doing my best to live by this philosophy as of late - and not just with skiing. Not even close. I've been living with insane courage. Potentially embarrassing bravery. I've really just... pushed the envelope. Put it out there. Shot from the hip. Dropped in. I hope I have the opportunity to do it again, and again, and again, because damn, it feels good.

The results aren't available for every risk I've taken, and until they are, I'll have to savor delicious uncertainty.  But if this past weekend is any indication, yard sales are often followed by some pretty sweet stoke.

Get after it, folks!


Thursday, January 31, 2013

God and the SuperBaugh

While sitting in L.A. traffic this morning, I tuned in to Kevin and Bean on KROQ (one of the few things I miss about LA).  In light of the upcoming SuperBaugh hype (that is, the Harbaugh brothers facing off as coaches in SuperBowl XLVII), my favorite radio dudes were talking about a survey about people's views of football.  The survey asked a random sample of 1,033 adults a bunch of questions about the NFL.  Most of the responses aren't all that surprising or even remotely interesting (Lots of people watch football! Even more people watch the Super Bowl! Wow! Breaking news! Where's Brian Williams when you need him?!), but two specific questions and results are worth highlighting.

Perhaps the most shocking is that 27 percent of those polled - more than a quarter - believe that "God plays a role in determining which team wins a sporting event." This means that if you're watching a game with three of your buddies, odds are that one of you wholeheartedly believes that God has a vested interest in the outcome of the game, and will influence it to get His way. This could really throw off Vegas's lines, and next year's fantasy football leagues, don'tchathink?

There's more.  You know how athletes, in postgame interviews, often thank God?  They believe God is specifically looking out for them and their health and made them win the game over the other team, and a majority of Americans agree.  According to the survey, 53 percent of respondents believe that "God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success." 

As they pontificated the significance of the survey's results, some lady called in to the show.  She said that God has already chosen who the victor will be, and that He may change his mind, but that the players' destinies are already predetermined based on who has the most faith, and that it is the most righteous men who will be successful on the field - every time.  When Kevin asked her, "What about BYU? They suck at football, and they're like the most God-like guys around?", she answered: "They must not be. They must be truly evil inside, and just pretending to be good on the outside."  I'm sorry, but - WHAT?

Really?  How does any of this make any sense?  Do these people really think that God created a game of two teams, and then, what, picked sides? And made it so? You know, I could rationally and analytically tear apart the theory that whoever wins the SuperBowl (or the outcome of any event, really, especially where there is a "loser" or someone harmed) was decided by God. As an incredibly brief glimpse into that narrative, I offer you this:  If we are all equal in the eyes of God, if we are all children of God, if God loves us all the same, *and* if our destinies on- and off- the field are in fact predetermined by God, then why are our actions here on Earth determinative of whether we go to heaven or hell?  Does this mean God decides before or at birth where you're going in the after life, if there is one?  Wouldn't that make us versions of pre-programmed robots, or chess pieces, at best?  

Or do we control our own destinies through our thoughts and actions?

Now, I was born and raised to be a good little Catholic girl, and I grew up with the fear of God strongly instilled in me (does he look like Zeus in your mind, too?), but I refuse to believe that anyone has control over the path I follow, even God. (And that's NOT because I was subsequently kicked out of Catholic school and now avoid organized religion of any kind.)  The higher power that I call "God" (or my Grammy watching over me) might advise or nudge or spiritually inspire me in a particular direction, but at the end of the day, I am a human borne of free will.  I am capable of virtue or sin or a combination of the two, by my choice.  I just typed that sentence of my own accord.  In fact, the fact that I'm typing this at all proves as much, because God, if as powerful as that 27% believe, controls all, well then He wouldn't let anyone besmirch His prowess this way.  Right?

No.  If God created football, then in my mind's eye he created the game and threw his hands in the air and said, "I'm out! Y'all figure it out, I'm fixin' to see how y'all handle this fiasco I've created."  Then he'd sit back with his Bud Light and boneless hot wings (my God drinks, that's why there's the sweet nectar called “sparkling wine”) and enjoy the game.  He wouldn't root for one team (his children) over another (also his children) - who would his home team be, anyway?? - or control the Refs.  While it does seem miraculous that the victor of these athletic final feats have their team-specific "CHAMPIONS!" hats and jerseys and other paraphernalia on their persons within seconds of the clock reaching 0:00 and long before the confetti has even settled on the field or Erin Andrews has shoved a mic in their face, God doesn't control who wins.  The guys on the field do.  I think, anyway.

Let me take this further.  I think believing that your future is completely predestined by God, that is, that it's all the result of fate, makes you lazy.  What's the point of living if it's already laid out for you?  If there's nothing to be learned?  If there's no growth to be had? 

While it's true that energy is never lost, and that for every action there is a reaction, "everything happens for a reason" is simply a lame excuse to not have to deal with the tougher questions and realities of life and the interconnectedness of every action, of every person to every other person, of every bit of energy out there.  So when things don't go our way, some immediately use this excuse instead of taking ownership of their mistakes, tweaking their actions or thoughts, or simply trying harder.  Instead, they immediately quit, thinking it "wasn't meant to be," instead of thinking they had some semblance of control over the outcome.  How… sad.

I recently found myself in a professional situation that didn't appear as though it would go my way, and at first I was tempted to say to myself, "Oh well, everything happens for a reason."  But then I stopped myself and said, "NO. Screw this! I want this, and I'm going harder after it, if it's going to happen it's going to happen because I make it happen, not because I just believed that it would eventually miraculously happen," and guess what? It worked!  Obviously, I won't always get the outcome I desire, no matter how much I desire it to, but I think it's a lot more productive to believe that we have some modicum of control over how our lives evolve.  And it's only if we have that control are we able to take pride in how we’ve grown, what we’ve overcome, what we’ve accomplished, what we’ve made of ourselves.  If our fate it out of our hands, what’s the point?  Where does happiness come from?  It really does come from within, right?  Right.

I think that as long as people try to make the best of their life at a particular moment (by looking for and learning from the lessons each situation does in fact present), it will lead them to the right path for them, and to a happier life. We are all going to do what we do. While I do believe in a higher power, and I do believe in a special type of "magic," and that it would be "nice" if I could just sit back and wait for all the good stuff to happen to me without putting any effort in (that is, let fate take its course), I just really don't think that's the way the world works. I can easily change my mind and make a right turn instead of a left turn without being chased by bad guys in fedoras like Matt Damon encountered in The Adjustment Bureau.  I believe relying on "God's plan" or fate is a lazy excuse.  It's also a really messed up thing to believe when really messed up things happen to good people.  You can't control what other people do, they control what they do, and you can come up with excuses all day for what they do.  But do you really want to make YOUR life just another excuse?

Or do you want your life to mean more than that?

Now, I realize that in The Perfect Ponytail Paradox, I recently talked about how sometimes things don't go as planned, but actually work out for the better in the long run.  Some of you may throw the whole, "See, everything DOES happen for a reason!" line at me with that one, claiming that how things have turned out was fate working its magic.  But the two really aren't inconsistent: PPP involves acceptance of things that happen, whereas this involves acknowledgment that you have some control over those things, or at least how you respond to them.  I really do believe that in the end, things do work out the way they should.  But at the same time, “a river cuts through a rock not because of its power, but because of its persistence.” ~ Jim Watkins.

Anyway, it's getting late.  I suspect I might edit this later, once the NyQuil wears off.  Just keep in mind that on Sunday, more than one-in-four of your fellow Americans will go to bed convinced that whichever team raised the Lombardi Trophy only won because God willed it.  I, on the other hand, am going to choose to believe that the better team (that day) won.

Go Niners!