Deconstruction

Carl and I are at the Georgian Bay Hotel celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary (!!) and departing for the Scandinave Spa in about 45 minutes. I’m lying in a king sized bed in a suite that seems huge, and he’s on the balcony meditating.

Things have changed for me. Last night, we were weighing our dinner options, with a really nice looking restaurant on the premises and no children to consider…and we ordered in pizza. That was just fine with me. I’ve been privileged to eat really good food in my life, most of it professionally when I was at More and Canadian Living, but some of it before my budget included childcare. But lately, I find my tastes are gradually shifting towards what I am starting to think of as my tea and toast future. It’s not exactly boring, it’s more that the ordinary things are increasingly extraordinary to me. Yeast. Gluten. The way some peaches taste like sun should.

Bianca Andreescu won the U.S. Open yesterday, we learned, waiting for that pizza to come to the room. I loved watching the highlights, the power in her and Serena Williams’ bodies, the naked language of victory and defeat. Game, set, match. I watched a few outlets’ responses – the jerseys from other teams, politicians, movers and shakers.

I spent the trip up here enjoying counting Tim Hortons, watching the trees get bigger, seeing the Blue Mountains — Carl, B.C.-born, just laughs — appear on the route from Wasaga Beach to Collingwood.

My own book is breathing well; I wrote 400 words in 40 minutes yesterday, without needing a long entry into finding where I’d been the day before. I find the deeper I go into my own places, the less noise I can tolerate. But here I am posting.

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Voice Lessons

I’ve been writing fiction quite a bit lately, thanks in no small part to a small but mighty writer’s group a few of my friends from high school and I formed at the start of the year. We all wanted to be writers when we grew up, and lo, here we are doing it. My goal is to complete the draft of the first book in my Fairy Princess trilogy* by the end of the year and although this goal involves writing/wading through notes at the page of about 5,000 words a week from here to December 31, I think it’s achievable.

I love these women, in my group, and their writing, and I feel accountable to our collective hopes and dreams.

What will suffer is sleep, housework, and my workout schedule. I can handle that.

I keep writing blog posts in my head, but they rarely land on the page. I could blame child-rearing, working, smart phones, or anything else. But mostly it’s habit and practice. It’s strange now to think that I used to blog (pseudonymously) once a day with no concern at all.

A few notes on the last few months:

  • I had a big cancer scare this winter. During that scare, I received a lot of clarity. As a result, I went on a road trip this summer, just me and Noah and Liam as Carl couldn’t take the time off work. It was amazing, although I missed Carl tremendously. I now know why parents take road trips with their kids. It’s because they really do provide that mysterious in-this-together feeling, all day, every day. Our trip was charmed – great weather, more to see and do than we could take in, and a very nice stop with my sister and her family. I’m hungry for me.
  • I’m very glad I made the career move that I did, because getting away from media/marketing/stories for the last two years has given me the breathing room to find my own quirky spin on things. Working at the Academy has pushed me backwards through my career’s full skill set right down to my very first job,  and at the bottom of it all, well, here I am. That said, if anyone thinks smaller business means being less busy, I have an eye opening experience for you!
  • Working mostly with young people makes me much more optimistic than think pieces on the Internet do. That said, I do worry a lot that the voices of ordinary people who want to, for lack of a better phrase, do good…be kind, live a good life without doing harm to others…are gradually becoming faint in comparison to people who would divide us. All the more reason to work on that voice thing.

*Probably not exactly what it sounds like.

Byte sized #10 – author love

“I will never enjoy simplicity again; it will never be good enough for me. I require so many more ingredients; I require so much more technique. I need to be danced for and entertained. I have made the region of my delight a tiny head of a pin. Did anyone tell me that it would be this exhausting to get older?” – an older piece at Saveur.com that I just discovered. Taffy Brodesser-Akner is one of those writers where I always will click on the link and have never yet been disappointed. I love her profiles but I also love when she gets personal.

(I am exhausted being older but something, somewhere underneath, is making me a little younger. I may just be coming out of the U-curve, (The Guardian) or it may be something else.)

I can’t believe it took so long, but thanks to Noah’s grade 8 curriculum I finally read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Amazon.ca link) and it made me cry for its unflinching, writing-so-direct-it-stabs-you content, but also because books have power, books have power.

“But knowing, in that immediate and unmediated way, what people thought about my writing felt . . . the word I keep reaching for, even though it seems melodramatic, is annihilating. “ (The New Yorker) Kristen Roupenian has a book coming out this week, you may have heard.

Okay, I think I’ll have to start using my Goodreads account. 🙂

I actually got quite hot under the collar this week over this Instant Pot article (article on capitalism? On feminism? On home economics?)..not because it’s a bit meandering or because I’m an Instant Pot fanatic, but because Someone on the Internet complained that it didn’t acknowledge that men cook too. In any case, I love my Instant Pot and just made these Gigante beans for dinner today.

 

 

 

So how’s the midlife crisis going?

This week Brené Brown’s The Midlife Unravelling has been hitting my feeds, and it’s well worth a read. I’ve been thinking lately that my crisis isn’t actually over and it was both validating and annoying to read something that made me realize…it never actually will be.

With this understood, I can get on with the job of living. From my front lines:

Physical Goals: I should be able to start running again this month, but I am taking it slowly. I’m using elliptical machines right now and I find I get to a point where the spot in my leg that actually broke hurts, somewhere between 25 and 30 minutes. So I stop.

This new method of respecting pain sits uncomfortably with me, because in the past I’ve had two modes: The “I’m too wounded/fat/stupid/uncoordinated/hurt” to do this mode, and the “to hell with it” mode where I would just push through any, you know, feelings until my body gave out and then rue it the next day. Finding the middle spot has been hard.

However, in doing a lot of upper-body work, I pulled a muscle, and that actually stopped me from doing some martial arts this week. My concern wasn’t so much the injury, but not doing both certain leg and certain arm things. I tell myself it’s because I’m staff and I have to present a higher standard of participation, but it was also just not wanting to look stupid.

I have found a new yoga class and it’s very different from gym yoga. Each class focuses on one sequence of moves, going deeper into them — not like yin yoga, but really working to perfect the understanding of that particular hatha cycle. I like it a lot.

Food-wise I’ve been eating medium-well; lots of veggies and generally whole foods, but also some snacking on Girl Guide cookies at night and a samosa/sweet onion roll addiction are not helping as I discovered Canbe Foods, which I have been driving past for about 10 years. Our farm share starts in two weeks. I keep not blogging so I hesitate to promise but I hope to post how that’s going.

I pretty much have had to give up alcohol, even beer and cider. For years I have pondered the mystery that I don’t get hangovers and tried to be careful not to drink too much because there were no natural consequences. Well, ha, ha, ha, now if I have even one drink my sleep is disrupted and I find that I am actually a Cranky Person the following day. This has led me to trying out Kombucha as something to have on the patio at the end of a hot day.

Family: I continue to enjoy the golden age of parenting when my kids are both old enough to amuse themselves a lot of the time and young enough to still want to be amused by their parents. (Although Noah is aging out of this rapidly.) I got to take a leadership course with Noah over the last 10 weeks and watching him participate and seeing different hints of the man he’s becoming was…amazing. I also hang out with Liam in the schoolyard each morning (no rush for the GO Train) and as one sample, he started talking to me about his take on Arthurian legend, in a fake Scottish accent no less, and it was…pretty glorious.

I can’t say that I’m engaged with work for fewer hours, but the geography changes things so much. I’m more present.

I gave up my gym membership (well I actually still have to do the paperwork, oops) and we got a family membership to the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. We’re there a lot all together and that’s…amazing.

Mentally,  one thing about leaping into supporting a martial arts organization as a career that I really hadn’t thought through what it’s like to work with a team that includes many late teens and early 20-somethings. I always joked that my career aged backwards like Merlin (note Arthurian reference): Seniors’ site, magazine for women at midlife, magazine for women, education-focused arts institution. But right now I find that my colleagues have aged backwards as well.

I have very few Gen X-Millennial conflicts to report; martial arts seems to bridge the gap. I do find myself reflecting more on the time in my 20s when it seemed like everyone I knew online was moving to Silicon Valley and sharing apartments and working weird new Internet jobs. I find my 20-something colleagues have the same sense of, well, chosen family that you might find historically documented in Microserfs, but they also seem more connected to their actual families than I remember feeling. But I was mostly getting married, so I was a bit off the usual track there.

I haven’t been writing as much as I would like to, but I have been writing more than I had in the previous oh, 5 years, so that’s a bonus.

Proprioception, or how to exercise when you hate it and you aren’t any good at it.

The last month, when my leg has been mostly ready to go, I have been struggling to get back into martial arts training, which isn’t really great for a martial artist! But I was reading a question on a chat community from someone who wants to exercise but feels like they are just no good at sports, never have been, never will be and I wrote a response that I think is actually to myself.

I was that kid, for sure. Looking back I’ve realized that I loved to move my body. But I wasn’t “good” at most sports, and my family’s approach to exercise, as I have joked throughout the years, was pretty much “walk to the library or bookstore, get books, walk home.”* Reading is great, and has given me very much joy indeed. But I wish I had discovered martial arts or something equivalent as a kid. Instead, in elementary school I was picked last for teams (remember that tradition?), ended up holding the skipping rope more than jumping, and was bullied for a lot of things including being really clumsy.

The emotional why of how that changed is pretty complex and would take a few blog posts, but the steps I went through aren’t.

Issue 1: Out of breath no matter what I do. A lot of what I hated about exercise was that out of breath feeling. When I get out of breath, I can start to panic, and when I start to panic, all I want to do is go hide somewhere and possibly eat chips. I read a blog post waaaay back by DoctorMama which changed how I approached aerobic exercise, and that worked for me. Go slow. Super slow.

Issue 2: Lack of coordination/clumsiness/”I’ll never get my body to do this, ever”/How come everyone else can do that? There’s a magic word for this, besides the usual practice/try harder/do more, and it is proprioception. I learned this word in physiotherapy and it was an aha! moment, because about 4-5 years ago, I suddenly became confident that if I took an exercise class it would be okay. I never, in 40 years, had that sense before. Looking back I think it’s because I had started to improve my proprioception. The Wikipedia article talks about how to do this, but I of course recommend martial arts. Or yoga. Or, frankly, a few sessions with a physiotherapist.

Issue 3: Mental space. So let’s pick your favourite friend or young person and ask them to learn a new skill. But while they are learning this new skill, someone is going to stand behind them and tell them they are no good at it, never going to get good at it, and basically be the bully that I had in elementary gym class. How quickly do you think they will learn and how much will they enjoy it? Right? Well, this is what I did to myself every time I went out for a bike ride or to run or to try aquafit or whatever. It’s hard to stop. I banished mine mostly through listening to podcasts while running (I started with the New Yorker fiction podcast because then I was a writer who happened to be running while thinking about literary greatness, rather than someone trying to run) but if you have a way to banish negative self-talk, please comment.

I also worked with a trainer at Venice Fitness for a while who was great at talking against the talk. But that’s probably another post. It helped a lot but didn’t stick for a while.

Issue 4: Anxiety while exercising. Besides that issue where when I got out of breath, I panicked, I also spent a lot of my adult life in fitness classes, which I would sign up for and go to twice and then abandon, waiting for the bullying to start or someone to touch me inappropriately. Last fall I went to a Parent Council conference that introduced me to Dr. Stuart Shanker and he did a talk about anxiety in children and teens and how that shuts down their brains so they can’t learn. That was eye-opening about learning.

But it wasn’t until last week when I took a bad step on my injured leg in martial arts class, and then couldn’t get through a set of basic blocks, that I realized that it wasn’t just self-critical thinking or lack of coordination that made exercise classes so hard for me, it was anxiety. Which is highly ironic, because I was there in part to try to address anxiety and stress. Anyways, again I do not have a solution other than the one I found which was to stick with a particular class (in my case it was yoga) for over a year, twice a week. By the end of the first year, out of sheer boredom I think, my self and my body (the last probably being more important) finally accepted that no one was going to come up to me in class and bully me.

I mean the reality of most adult classes is that everyone is there for themselves, fitting in it as time allows, and they don’t care about other people but…even with my brain knowing that, it took a year of going to the same place and the same movements and the same routine and the same changerooms to start to be able to learn freely.

(Weirdly while I was writing this post, my gym called my home number. I didn’t get to the phone in time so I have no idea why, but that’s odd, isn’t it? Considering they don’t call. I just noticed the time and if I scoot quickly, I can get to a martial arts class, so here I go.)

Enslaved and Empowered

I was speaking with my mother-in-law Judy over the weekend about mediums and the concept of an afterlife. To picture this conversation you have to understand that I was in the backseat with my crutches and my Air Cast and wondering how I was going to cope with the buffet-style meal my youngest chose for his birthday dinner. It was also the second time I’ve left the house for anything other than medical appointments or work since December 4.

One of the comments she made was along the lines of where does all our energy go when it’s no longer constrained by our bodies. The assumption kind of was (or at least I took it as) — we’re bigger on the inside than the outside.

I was brought up short by my own reaction. My hastily written note:

Gifted with body

I spent most of my time in my 20s trying to get out of my body. My body, especially as it had been used by others, was a pretty shitty place. I played PernMUSH back in the day, which was kind of a proto-World of Warcraft game, except you didn’t kill things, you just pretended to be someone else, on some other planet. Dragons were involved. One of the best parts of it, for me, was that I could interact with other people without having to deal with fingers, toes, clumsy actions, too-loud laughter, ugly smells.

There’s no question that if you had asked me about my beliefs at the time that I would have insisted that my body was one of the smallest parts of me. A regrettable necessity.

Being knocked on my ass by my broken leg, though, I realize how much that’s changed. Since getting going on my martial arts journey (and really several years before I knew I was on it), I work out to grow and feel my strength. I stretch out to feel the earth and the hum of the world around me. I breathe to connect with, yes, the energy that comes from some wellspring I can only touch and never describe.* I move because I love going ahead. I’ve been really frustrated with my limitations. But nowhere in the last 7 weeks have I wanted out of my body. (Except maybe the period between shock wearing off and painkillers, before my leg was set – I will give anyone that!)

The idea that I would be bigger after death doesn’t sound so right any more. I’ve held my daughter as she died, so I know something changes that isn’t just about breathing or heart rate, but about – for lack of a better word – soul. But I’m no longer sure that’s larger than life. Life is pretty big.

Years ago I cried in the bathroom because I had to go to a PR event that involved a pedicure, which meant baring my feet in front of colleagues and having a stranger touch me, and I did not think there was any way I could make it through that experience in one piece. (I survived, even though it made me feel like I’d lived on the wrong planet forever, and the icily polite person dealing with my unpampered heels clearly agreed.)

Yesterday I went to physiotherapy for the first time, and people touched my feet and poked and prodded, and we talked about what I can do and what I can’t do, and what I should do…and what I want to do. I felt great. Also my leg was all hairy. And I didn’t care.

I feel pretty lucky I came to this in my 40s, because I can see how the hill crests here somewhere and then it’s back downhill. Good thing there will be so many awesome books in the world.

* Being of Gen-X, you can pretty much substitute The Force for energy.

No Man’s Land (1)

Sometimes when we lose our heroes we lose ourselves. And the corollary holds.

Growing up I frequently got through the day (hour…minute) by fantasizing constantly. My mind was full of The Bionic Woman, Star Wars, Star Trek, Arthurian legend, V, Pern…pretty much anything other than the there and then. I could call it fandom, or I could call it fantasy-prone personality, or I could call it a creative connection to archetypal myth and legend.

But mostly for the last two decades I have tried not to call it anything at all and focus instead on being an ordinary human being.

I suppose it’s either understandable or cliche then that my midlife turning point came in the middle of watching Wonder Woman. I have been waiting for a decent female superhero movie for literally my whole life, The Incredibles notwithstanding. Lots of people wrote about this movie last summer, but I didn’t. I did talk about it with my friends but I didn’t invest too much money in themed merchandise or start writing fanfic.

I just quit my very nice arts-related job and became the operations manager at The Academy.

My adolescence spent hanging out at the Silver Snail and spending money on Alien trading cards is apparently nothing when weighed against the amount of perimenopausal havoc I can wreak.

I particularly blame the No Man’s Land scene. I cried through it every time I watched it in the theatre, and I found clips on YouTube and watched them, and now I have the movie via iTunes and I watch it still about once a week.

It wasn’t that it was Diana’s first steps towards becoming a warrior for humanity, although that will also do. And it wasn’t watching a female-directed movie allow a flock of men to support a woman’s vision, although that will do as well.

It was the moment Diana turns away from Steve with an absolute commitment to her own vision.

Steve: We can’t save everyone in this war. This is not what we came here to do.
Diana: No, but it’s what I’m going to do.

I’m turning 47 next week. I was raised in the days of Free to Be, You and Me and I grew up believing William Wants a Doll and Parents are People and all those things. And I gradually took fewer STEM classes, and came to hate trigonometry, and I studied literature instead, and I got several jobs and got promotions and got new jobs and got promotions. I spent 8 years working for mainstream women’s magazines, in time for geekery to become cool.

I have worked with many amazing women. And for many years I believed the time would come when the women that were a decade or two ahead of me, the stellar and ambitious ones, would be the CEOs and I would follow in their wake.

Instead, I have watched women I highly respect get worn down. Worn down by sexism and the old boys’ club. Worn down by harassment. Worn down by life-work balance that still meant they were responsible for the second shift at home, or caregiving for elderly parents. Worn down by the low-grade drip of having their ideas continually put down because they had breasts, or had taken maternity leave, or any number of reasons.

But worn down mostly by watching mediocre men get promoted past themselves.

And that is why I cried. Because Diana is – unbowed. And she did not wait for approval, or try to argue her team into listening to her or changing their mission. She just climbed the ladder and walked into the hail of bullets. Because that’s what she was going to do.

(And then, the men followed her.  Which will be another post some day.)

I didn’t leave my job to train Amazons exactly, although I have said on Facebook that a part of that decision was that I kind of did want to at least be able to say that. (My job is not instructional, and martial artists are not Amazons. But we do have swords and bo-staffs and perhaps even want to change the world.) It’s because that’s what my gut was telling me to do, and I listened to it, and then I got off the corporate ladder.

This is either one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done in my life or one of the smartest, the jury’s out. But it was a recommitment to…my own quirky freak flag.

My job is still new enough that I feel a bit like I’m at the phase where Diana is under her shield. I know I can hold my own. I’m not quite sure, yet, how best to move forward. (Also Diana heals super-fast and I am still sitting here with my broken leg elevated.)

I still watch that scene and cry.