distraction might not mean death

I had one big project on my list this week: figure [this thing] out. In fact, after a brutal end- and beginning-of-year travel season, I had planned to take the week off, but then realized I had a whole week with no meetings scheduled and thought it would be better and I would be happier if I could get to the bottom of [this thing] once and for all (or, at least, for the time being).

I limited my meetings and tried to keep a clear head and get decent sleep, so that I could crack the puzzle of [this thing]. I found a pencil and made little charts. All week, I’ve been writing and erasing and heaving great sighs and making notes to myself and clearing my desk of eraser shavings and generally feeling like I haven’t gotten anywhere and would never be able to solve [this thing].

I should probably note that I’m a bit of a stickler about glueing myself to my desk to solve problems, since wandering leads to distraction leads to moral decay and a life of laziness (obviously).

This morning, in the midst of this mental turmoil, I thought I should make tonight’s dinner. I’m going to the gym this afternoon and rehearsal after that, and so it was a right and productive thing to do to make soup now, to avoid buying pizza later. So, I stepped away from my desk and my eraser shavings, and stood in front of the stove for a few minutes.

And somewhere between “saute the vegetables” and “add the wine,” I knew what I needed to do about [this thing]. I knew how to word it, I knew where to look for a similar example, I knew how to frame it, and I knew that I would be able to work with it.

I got the sense that everything was going to be okay. That I wasn’t an imposter, after all, that [this thing] was manageable, that I was capable, and that smart people would help make sure [this thing] was the best it could be.

So there you have it.

best year ever

Today was my last workout of 2018 with my Eugene CrossFit family. I’ll be so sad to miss the next couple weeks of workouts, but will try to keep up some semblance of a routine while I’m on the road. I’m really bad at burpees. I might do a lot of them, to try to get better. We’ll see.

It’s been a very hard year in many ways.

But for my mental and physical fitness, for my feeling of accomplishment, for the realization that I can do very hard things in the very hard years, this has been the best year ever.

So many friends have encouraged me over the years, and I appreciate them softening the ground for this year of incredible discovery. Running Roxborough hills with Kasey, tabata at the YMCA with Beth, lightpole runs with Dorrie and Deirdre, trail running in the Wissahickon…all of these experiences showed me that I could decide to do something a little out of reach, work for it, and do it.

I never expected to love Eugene CrossFit. I never expected going there to be the highlight of my day. And yet, that’s what it’s become: home, a place where I surprise myself, a place I always leave feeling better than when I arrived. It’s only December and there’s a lot of winter left to go, but I’ve found a thing that helps keep the hound of depression at bay.  I love the calluses on my hands, the ache in my shoulders, the salt on my skin. I love that I can run faster than I could earlier this year (a little), that I can jump higher (a little), and that the assault bike doesn’t scare me anymore (at all). I can pick up heavy things, and carry them. I can scale a workout, but I won’t cut corners, and my brain will always always always be clearer when the clock stops.

This has been a hard year, next year may be harder, and I’m so grateful for this little haven where I don’t have to be in charge, strategize, or worry about much, where I can just show up, do my best, and have a hell of a lot of fun along the way.

Clyde (January 2005ish – December 11, 2018)

Clyde came to Giehl and I by way of a co-worker, Elizabeth, whose probably well-meaning neighbor had adopted a big, brindle puppy, not realizing that being bounced from home to home as a young dog had left this particular canine in quite the bad mental state. Elizabeth decided she was better suited to find Clyde (then named “Tyson”) a permanent home, brought him into her already-crowded apartment, and began her search.

We met in the PETA dog park and it was love at first sight. A “trial weekend” turned into thirteen and a half years of incredible companionship.

Since Giehl had already made it known that he wanted to pass his name to a future male child, I decided I could stake my own family heritage on this big, neurotic goof and re-christened Tyson “Clyde,” after my father and paternal grandfather.

Clyde was a hot mess. Six homes in his first six months of life had left him devoid of faith that we would ever return when we left the house. He relieved himself indoors whether we were gone twenty minutes or two hours. He chewed through every piece of wood or upholstered furniture he had access to. The cat-agnostic behavior I observed in Elizabeth’s apartment was soon replaced by a vehement interest, necessitating a dozen years of careful separation of cats and dogs in every home we’ve occupied, a reality that was only changed after we moved to Oregon in 2017.

But oh my God, we loved him so.

Clyde was a big dog, full of enthusiasm for food and squirrels and sticks and adventure. He loved visitors, greeting them with enthusiastic jumps, his enormous paws too often leaving red welts and scratches (we tried to train him, we really did). He could run like the wind, circling the dog park or the backyard with incredible speed, just barely brushing by obstacles. When Giehl put up a five-foot-high temporary fence in the backyard to try to let a few blades of grass grow, Clyde trotted outside, took a look at the fence, took a look at Giehl, and then leaped right over. One summer afternoon, while Giehl and I were at work, Isaiah’s babysitter answered the front door and Clyde took the opportunity to explore the neighborhood. By the time I got home, a youth group who had been painting the house next door had managed to corral Clyde, circling him and using a large zip tie as a makeshift lead to get him back home. When Norfolk winds would cause large tree debris to fall into our backyard, Clyde would enthusiastically pick up a ten-foot-long, four-inch diameter branches and trot them around the backyard, his beloved prize.

One day, we came home to find that Clyde had eaten a box or two of dried pasta. Another day, it was tealight candles that we’d left out on a windowsill, plastic casings, metal wicks, and all. Housesitters who didn’t heed the warning to not leave anything out that they wanted to hang on to lost undergarments, hats, and electronics to Clyde’s giant jaws. Those zooms around the yard sometimes resulted in gashes that never seemed to bother him, but that necessitated many trips to the emergency vet, Dr. Smithwick, who he loved.

Really, Clyde loved all people. He was an enthusiastic fan of humans, even though he’d been treated so poorly by them in the early part of his life. And he was an enthusiastic fan of us, even though we were too often impatient with him. Ten years later and I still regret making too-quick trips home at lunch to let him out, only to get frustrated and angry when he wouldn’t come back in right away so I could go back to work. He just wanted to soak in more of the sights and smells of a world full of possibility. He loved to lay in the sun, from his earliest years to his last days.

When Isaiah came along, Clyde and Emma had to give up their sleeping spot in our room. But they didn’t seem to hold it against him. As big, and to some, scary, as Clyde looked, he was an angel with Isaiah from the moment we brought him home to the moment they said their last goodbye. Perhaps he was especially grateful for all the food baby Isaiah would drop on the floor, for the oatmeal bowls he would leave half-eaten during morning cartoons, for the peanut butter and jelly sandwich leftovers after school.

I have worked mostly from home for the better part of a decade now, and Clyde was my constant companion. When I spent too long at the kitchen table or in my office with my laptop, Clyde would whine until I came and sat with him on the couch. During the last few months of his life, he would pace outside my office door, coming in to lay down only if the (cat) coast was clear, or if I moved Friendly off his bed.

Clyde, you see, always knew where he wanted to be, whether that was on our bed, in the middle of any room, cuddling with one of our other pups, or in the exact spot on an otherwise empty sofa that was already occupied (by human or dog, it did not matter). Many of our photos of Isaiah growing up include the nose- or butt-end of Clyde. He wanted to be in the middle of all the action.

And if you did not notice that Clyde wanted to occupy a particular space, he would stand and stare at you, back up a few paces, and then start to whine. If no satisfactory response was immediately forthcoming, the whines would quickly escalate to short, perturbed barks. “Hey!” “Hey!”

Clyde was a very good communicator. Mostly this communication centered around food. He let us know what he liked (food) and what he didn’t like (not having food…also most lettuces, but sometimes lettuce was okay). He appeared whenever the peanut bar jar came out of the fridge and was incredibly easy to train (except the jumping) because of his high motivation to receive as many treats into his mouth as possible. In his golden years, one of his favorite ways to pass the time was to spend a couple of days hauling around a nearly-empty peanut butter jar, working to get the last morsels out, determined not to waste a drop.

And so when Clyde became a picky eater, when we had to convince him to eat, and when he finally simply could not be bribed even with the tastiest of treats, we knew he was telling us it was time to go. That puppy no one wanted, who’d accompanied us on five moves, through countless bouts of depression, and the first decade of our child’s life…that sweet old man had reached the end of his very well-lived journey.

Clyde, Clidsypoo, Poodle, Clyd-e-ola. I will love you forever. I miss you like mad. I’m sorry for the times I failed to give you the love you deserved. And I’m so grateful for the love you gave to me. I will see you again, you very good dog.

 

 

 

40

Here I am with my mother and my mother’s mother. I am okay with these genes.

Today, I turn 40.

I don’t particularly remember the year I turned 10, though if I were slightly less lazy, I’d go out to the garage, pull out my childhood diaries, and reflect on the similarities and differences of adult and child Sarah.

The year I turned 20, I was deeply depressed. The year I turned 30, I had a newborn. So this is the first “0” birthday in a while in which I have felt clear-headed and capable of reflection.

Turning 40 was supposed to be a really big deal. This was the last-stop year my high-school friend Matt and I picked as the one we’d get married if neither of us had done that by now (we both have). I thought I should mark the occasion with a 40 day trip, or 4 ten-day trips, maybe to Europe and South America, to cities and countries I’ve longed to visit but have never quite been able to get to.

But this was the year my kid needed braces. And the year I started spending more money taking care of myself on a regular basis. And the year I realized two of our animals are getting pretty old. So, an extravagant trip was out of the question.

This was also the year I took a real break from work, a five-week vacation, after decades of never taking more than a week or two off at a time (and those not being exactly restorative). It’s been the year of re-discovering how much I like my nuclear family, after fifteen years of living across a continent from them. It’s been the year of watching my kid start to develop into the kind of human who will love God and others, set and meet goals, and take brave risks. It’s been the year of seeing my husband build a business and a livelihood on his own terms. And it’s been the year that three people, three peers, who we were close to at different times of our lives, have died…far too early.

We grew food this year. We met with an accountant and our financial advisor. We kept up with laundry and dishes and meal planning and appointments. We had family dinners, morning coffee and chats with my dad; took a road trip to see my grandmother, uncle, and sister in Boise; showed Giehl’s parents the coast and mountains of Oregon. Went on hikes and bike rides and for swims. It’s been a year of pretty ordinary things, which I am finally starting to see as extraordinary.

I’ll mark the actual day of my fortieth birthday (today) by drinking coffee, doing the Sunday crossword (it’s a board game theme! so fun!), going to the gym, and playing piano at tonight’s worship service. This would have been my Grandpa Clyde’s 99th birthday, had he not also died way too young. So, I’ll also spend some time feeling grateful for the family who made me. It’ll be a pretty mundane day without much by way of orchestrated pomp. No breakfast-in-bed or fancy dinners or elaborate surprises.

But that’s okay. Everyday is okay. Mundane is hard and extraordinary and beautiful, if we let it be.

For a long time, I think I carried a lot of anxiety about my life, about its impact. I wanted to do good in the world, to make the world a better place, to make a difference. I’ve written books and am helping to start a nonprofit that may fundamentally change the way the church thinks about animal creatures. I think I was afraid that me, just being me, wasn’t enough, wasn’t good enough. And truthfully, this is still a daily struggle. But it’s changing. Easing. Being replaced with a (slightly…ohsoslightly) increased ability to breathe.

I don’t know what the next decade will hold. I’m still determined to backpack around the world for months on end. And I’m still determined to do what I can to foster a world “on earth, as it is in heaven.” But I’m starting to realize that one of the most powerful ways I can do that, and one of the most rewarding, is to simply try to love the people and other creatures around me well, to do what OA tried to teach me so long ago: “what I can, when I can.”

I’m going to fail a lot at that, so apologies in advance for the days and weeks I anxiously steamroll over whatever obstacle is in my path.

Here’s some good advice for this decade from Walt (Whitman, not Disney), courtesy of the wise and wonderful abby:

“This is what you shall do: love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning god, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem…”

Amen.

difference

“It’s different there,” they always said. They placed their faith in difference, which is to say they placed their faith in the idea that there had to be at least one place in this world where life could be lived in accordance with the plans and dreams they had concocted for themselves.

Dinaw Mengestu, How to Read the Air

crossfit

I was going to wait for my one-year anniversary to write this little confessional, but something happened that made me want to get it out earlier.

Late last September, I started CrossFit.

[I now grant you three minutes to make all the evangelical vegan CrossFitter combination jokes you can make, I realize the temptation to resist will be too great].

I’ve got a lifelong history of starting ambitious workout programs and quitting within a few weeks. I donated to Planet Fitness for two years and only darkened the gym door four times (once to sign up, twice to work out, once to cancel my membership). That is just the latest of a long list of examples. Signing up for races and training to run them kept me active when I lived near the amazing Wissahickon park in Philadelphia, but moving to Eugene put me too far from the nearest trails for a daily routine.

I’d heard people talk about “drinking the CrossFit kool-aid,” but knew nothing about it. As I researched gyms in Eugene, I was increasingly drawn to the website of Eugene CrossFit. The video and photos on the website showed people of all ages, shapes, and sizes. The workouts looked varied. And I liked the idea of trying something new.

So I went for an introductory workout with the owner, this super peppy dude named Jeremy. A women named Becky was there for the intro, too. She was wearing a t-shirt that said, “Be kind to animals or I’ll kill you,” so we were destined to be pals. Also, she’s the best vegan baker on the planet. It was one of many signs that this was the place for me.

The workout was fun and I was a little sore the next day. OK. A lot sore. It felt good. Despite feeling nervous about making an 18-month commitment after one date, I signed up for a two-class-a-week membership. When I was a kid and wanted piano lessons, my parents made me practice for months on my own before they agreed to pay a teacher. Turns out, they know me pretty well. I took the same approach here. For the first month, I took two classes a week. The next month or so, I bumped it up to three. And then, unlimited.

In first five months of 2018, I worked out 121 times. 121. Most weekday afternoons, I shut my laptop lid, change my clothes, and go spend the best hour or two of my day at Eugene CrossFit.

Let me now enumerate a few of the things I love deeply about this place:

  1. I show up and do what I’m told and it’s always something a little new. Even if I’ve done the moves before, I’m working toward a higher jump, a heavier weight, a faster time. I’m competing against myself, my brain, my doubts and I’m kicking my own ass.
  2. The people. Being anonymous doesn’t work for me. When I don’t show up to Eugene CrossFit, someone notices. My neighbors go to different classes and it’s fun to stand out on the street and commiserate about whatever crazy hard thing happened that day. The people in my classes are kind, supportive, funny, strong, inspiring, and so much more. I love the people.
  3. The coaches. Oh my gosh, the coaches. They see us as individuals, and they respond to our particularities. Workouts can be scaled or modified, no problem. If my form is off, they take the time to help me figure out what’s wrong and fix it. They push and encourage me without shaming, and they are as happy about my accomplishments as I am.

Speaking of my form…I am so bad at so many things. Like, really bad. My shoulders are all locked up from years at a laptop. My knees are old and rickety. My burpees are slow. I’m usually good at things I try, perhaps because it has been my MO to try things within a limited range. But in this case, there are a lot of things that I simply can’t do.

AND THAT’S OKAY.

I am bad at these things now, but I am getting better. In the meantime, don’t hate myself for not being able to do what other people can do, or what I want to be able to do. I actually understand and accept that it will take time to improve, and that improvement won’t come magically, but through consistency and hard work. It’s incredibly satisfying.

And it’s not just physical. I mean, it’s physically taxing and I kind of want to die sometimes, but I’ve been surprised at how much of the experience is mental discipline. Almost every time I lift more weight than I’ve ever lifted before, it’s because I look at the bar and tell myself, “Pick it up, don’t stop lifting, you can do this.” Sometimes I get halfway through a workout and think there’s no way I can continue, but then, you know, I do. I finish. I get stronger. My form gets better. I get a tiny bit faster.

And I come back the next day.

Fair warning: I’ll be writing more about my newfound passion. I can’t help it. It’s too amazing to keep to myself anymore.

 

choices

I remember the first time I realized I’d never be able to read all the books ever published. Actually, the first lesson was that I wouldn’t be alive long enough to even read a list of all the titles of the books ever published. It was a sad day and I was reminded of it recently as I perused the shelves of a local used book store. It’s overwhelming for me, that volume of choice. My brain spins and heart yearns to read every word on every musty page, but the reality is so very different: my eyes glaze over as I wander through the stacks, barely taking in every twentieth title…stopping not when I see something new, but when the stream of letters form a name or title with which I am already familiar.

I was reminded of this decades-old pattern yesterday when I re-enacted another little dance of mine: career roulette. This time, I was skimming my gym’s copy of Becoming a Supple Leopard (which is the real name of a real book, I swear). Fascinated by the mechanics of the body, still high on the endorphins from a good workout, I started to daydream about going back to school and getting a degree in exercise science. How interesting it would be to learn more about bodies and how to care for them. My daydream continued and, on the ride home, morphed into the idea that I could perhaps study the psychology of exercise. Why are some humans motivated to move and others not? What is it that tells some people they aren’t cut out to be athletes and should stick to the books? How do people who want to move develop the habit, even when their brains fight them?

You might not be surprised to learn that I only finally ruled out law school as an option a few months ago. Or that I looked at requirements for PA (that’s physician assistant) school as recently as last summer. Or that a PhD in comparative literature or theological ethics is still on the table (the latter being a far more realistic option, which is, in itself, pretty funny). And hey, turns out my third-grade dream of being the first female President of the United States is still in reach.

But I think I’m living into my calling now, working to raise awareness of farmed animal welfare issues among Jesus followers. I know that’s a good purpose, and that I’m uniquely suited for it.

Choices. Roads taken and not taken. How can I, who feel like I have a million choices, spread some of that opportunity around to people who have none? Is it reasonable to feel restless so often? How does a person honor that restlessness and maintain some semblance of stability?

Listening for answers. Headed out to the gym.