community, Fitness, Mindfulness, neighborhood, Parenting, spirit

This Bubble, Spinning and Viscous

world-edwin-hooper

Our governor gave us the stay-at-home order yesterday. With presumptive positives surpassing 1000 in the state, it’s a wise directive. That said, judging by the volume on I-66 right outside my condo, only a handful of my fellow Virginians are complying. And no, they still have not finished replacing the sound wall as they ravage the land around us for new express lanes. Which means even as spring explodes from the tulip poplar and cherry trees all around the complex, my balcony door stays sealed tight.

I am ashamed to admit that even after listening to the Governor Northam’s press briefing, I headed out. When home is the office, closing out the work day means throwing a bolt across it. At 5:00 every evening, I heed the call to flee. Yesterday, I headed to the W&OD trail and ran a hard 4-1/2 miles alongside dozens (hundreds?) of my neighbors. The sun’s glory and run’s boost notwithstanding, that was my last afternoon visit to the trail. It’s impossible for swiftly moving humans to maintain a 6-foot distance on a recreation path no wider than a train track. That sprinting cyclist breathing hard as she passes a hair’s breadth from my shoulder? How much of her exhalation is landing on me as it falls to the ground?

We’re finally seeing all the neighbors outside. Everyone. All the preschoolers on training wheels, parents jogging with tweens, old women held steady by their daughters. Everyone outside, yet everyone a possible vector. Everyone floating inside their personal outdoor 6-foot bubble.

I notice that inside my outdoor bubble, I keep my eyes down. When passing someone even at the recommended distance, my gaze shifts away. It’s as if the call to keep ourselves physically apart has translated into pulling back emotionally, relationally. Pulling back attention. Pretending we aren’t sharing a physical environment which we very much are. As if the bubble has actual material dimensions.

The effort to combat this turning away, to push against a calcifying of the walls, is momentous. The long days teleworking alone with the dog tax my spirit. On the other long days when the kiddo is here and the partner comes back early, I feel crowded and irritated and desperate for space. I want quiet so I retreat to a corner with my book. I curl up inside the bubble, then immediately grow squirrely, lonely, and end up scrolling messages for connections with friends.

None of the emotional responses make sense. Of course, the entire world is topsy-turvy, so maybe a little discombobulation is rational.

Every institution is cracking along the fracture lines that have been deepening for decades. Our national leaders are a bunch of buffoons drunk on power and hoarding wealth. Feeding our most vulnerable children requires them to be in school. Having health care requires us to have salaried jobs. Protection from a deadly virus only applies to that small percentage of the professional population whose work involves no direct contact with people. Education, income, 6-foot distancing, social connections with mental health support or recovery resources all require a home environment with privacy, high-speed internet and functional devices for everyone who needs them. Our prisons and immigrant detention centers can’t even protect their wards from sexual assault and violence, let alone from a viral infection that thrives on crowding and lack of sanitation.

So yes, it is understandable that mind is troubled. That the heart hurts. Of course I both long for and recoil from company. Of course the bubble both protects and suffocates.

And yes, it makes sense that staying inside and fussing over the kid’s writing exercises feels like an utter waste of energy.

Which is exactly why staying inside and fussing over the kid’s writing exercises is what I need to be doing.

In times of upheaval, small acts of service matter most of all.

The big world is reeling, and no one of us alone can set it right. What we can do is create a little order, healing, and spiritual nourishment in the places we touch. Even if it’s just a little pocket of goodness touching down before alighting again. Even if it’s just staying home.

I have been trying. I will keep trying.

With the thirteen-year-old, we set up a loose structure for schooling and implemented it at the end of last week. He does a little reading every day. He writes 150 words on any topic he chooses. He engages in some creative activities (so far, all have involved cooking or baking). We engage together in learning activities across subjects available through our county’s school website. We even have PE every day, which so far has involved bike rides around the neighborhood. After all this and a few chores, he can Google hangout with his girlfriend or chat with his gaming buddies on Discord.

Meanwhile, I am back to setting work goals for every day. I write them big on a piece of unlined paper and cross them off aggressively (and joyously) when each is done. When I reach the bottom, I give myself a check+. Gold stars are next.

I have also begun The Artist’s Way again after my last attempt 11 years ago. Julia Cameron’s magical re-introduction to the creative force is exactly the structure my simultaneously spinning and viscous brain needs. Her morning pages and exercises are working their way past my defenses and into my stubborn spirit. Every day, the writing comes, even though it is about nothing more than my complaints, my bad dreams, my terrors. No matter. It is writing, it scatters wildflower seeds all over the muck and stuck-ness of the deep places.

The body also requires its care. My partner has seen me doing my living room dance fitness and has decided to join in. We have gone back to the beginning, learning the basic Zumba steps and giggling breathlessly as he oils the hinges in his long-rusted hips.

Other small quarantine activities in our makeshift family: We play board games, prepare meals we’ve never had before (lentil dal, shahi chicken), make bold yet ultimately failed attempts at the pastries we’re most craving (brioche muffins, cinnamon rolls), take long walks with the dog, participate in Zoom conversations through church and with our dear ones, and read side-by-side at bedtime.

And I will keep trying.  Trying to lift my vision. To make eye contact with the other human walking a dog on the other side of the street. To hold the gaze. To breath through the porous, lumnious, transparent skin of this protective bubble, which is only a temporary creation. I will keep trying to pay attention to what’s blooming outside the sealed balcony door, to name what’s gone missing, the to grieve the losses that are coming.

I will keep trying to welcome the world as it changes. And keep trying to notice — and honor — how each of us, even at a 6-foot distance, is changing the world.


Image: Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

body, community, Fitness, gender

Boxed Out

alora-griffiths-strength

Unfolding from a plank on a mat, I see his sneakers approaching.

“Are you done with your workout?”

“I’m not sure.” I pull back into a child’s pose and then flop over.

“You look like you’re done. Did you do your weights?” A dark heart of sweat blooms across his chest.

“A few. I just don’t like it here tonight.”

He looks around. Our gym. The place we come almost every free Tuesday evening after he picks me up from the metro. “You don’t like it here?”

“Not tonight,” I say.

“Okay,” he shrugs. “We can go home anytime. Let me know when you’re ready.”

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Adventure, body, Fitness, Poetry, Relationships

Lacing Into

May 24, 2013

He twines black ribbon around his wrist. With a yellow strand, I mirror him. Weave slips around the thumb and passes through open channels between fingers stretched wide. Twice around and across, the dressing lays itself over the bumps of knuckles where once we counted days of the month. He is finished with both of his before I am even halfway around the first. His fingers turn my hand and graze my left palm just before mummifying its living flesh beneath warped satin dressing.

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body, Change, Fitness

Conversion

spine

Some people have spiritual journeys. Like the woman at the pool today. She gave me a copy of her book, the one she’s self-published about her awakening. Praise and bible verses sing their glory from the pages. She told me Satan still tempts her sometimes.

I’m going to have to read this because we’re neighbors. We need each other more than I need the security of my convictions. I’ll learn about her journey. No matter how indirect its impact on my life, a person’s story is a big deal. Reading a slice of it is a small task.

Lately, my journey has strayed far from the spiritual. I’ve gone on a physical detour, as if I’ve stumbled upon some hidden hatch and tripped into my own body. I wander through this wondrous machine, in awe of what I’m witnessing. Connections! Understanding! Everyone needs to hear about this transformation — You! Yes, you! — because it could be this good for you too! Really! This one simple set of practices could give you back life you didn’t even know you’d lost!

Because who doesn’t love hearing yet another opinion about how to improve oneself?

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body, Fitness

Bouncing Back

streb fly 2
STREB/Ringside: Photo by Lois Greenfield

Maybe the talisman doesn’t save us after all. Maybe something suitable just happens to be within reach at the moment we need to be saved.

When it comes to rescue, coincidence can look a lot like fate.

Several months ago, I “threw my back out.” An uber-intense workout involving a particularly brutal instrument of torture called Jacob’s Ladder twinged something in my lumbar region. Within hours, pain immobilized me.

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body, Fitness, Learning

Power Forward

shavanaas

I take a deep breath and add another 2-1/2 lb weight to either end of the chest press bar.  These “graduation” days are bittersweet.  Each crossing of a threshold puts the lie to the comforting narrative that I’m only so capable, only so strong.  If I keep surpassing my own limits, I might start to believe that most of them are self-imposed.  How in the world can I avoid living my full life under those conditions?


Image: Mary Ellen Mark’s Photograph of Shavanaas Begum, the Indian Circus Strongwoman, 1989

body, Fitness

Lapping at Edges

Triathlon

In the neighboring lanes, retirees walk the slow churn. Sinew writhes under mottled hips, hearts chug in their loose cages of hollowing bone.  We turn the creaking millstones of our musculature and send low ripples along the surface.

Mid-afternoon is a world apart from evening here.  During the late rush, fierce middle-aged racers tear a wake between ropes.  Teen divers knife skyward before the plunge.

Now, the most animated bodies in the water are a half-dozen preschoolers gripping swim bars and kicking with all their might.  The rest of us sway.  We are seaweed, we are prey.    Continue reading “Lapping at Edges”

Determination, Fitness, Relationships

Boxing Day

Hand Wraps

His daughter sits on the basement floor and colors, if what she’s doing can be called that. The enchanted forest book was among yesterday’s Christmas loot. Green ink creeps in swirls as she embellishes the narrow space between the veins of a leaf. She barely registers the music screeching past as it thuds thuds in time to leather gloves pounding a heavy bag.

This is his three minutes. I squeeze into a corner of the blue mat on my back. My clasped hands are wrapped in ragged strips of fabric and swipe at the air as I curl into crunches, press towards 50 and then surge past. Close to my exposed flank – too close – he jolts and slips and ducks. The weight falls off as beads of sweat hit the mat. Shadows of sinew cut into his shoulders. Ropes braid his neck. He dances with power thrumming along every string.

The earlier chapters are carved into flesh hidden beneath skin. The tongue is lost but the meter of those verses is translation enough. Ghosts jammed their grappling hooks into his jaw and temple and laid their weight against the cables. Claw over claw, they tried to draw him with stubborn resolve down into that pit where they boil the tar and hemlock, where they chant their cold spells. Mother Gothel learned her arts there before planting her garden. You may know the place. The more you lean in, the stronger the scent of oblivion.

On the floor near my shoulder, his daughter chooses a darker green for the branches. “They’re supposed to be brown,” she says, “Like a tree. But I want them to be vines.” She paints the fine strands like jungle dusk.

He keeps his fists in his line of sight. I see how he grows muscle from sources both clear and buried. He laces up gloves and running shoes, of course. He pounds it out on canvas and asphalt. Yet under that, a core strength comes from a deeper exertion. He strains up, always up, forcing momentum to reverse against the compulsion to surrender, resisting that sweet temptation of relief.

To those whose bodies are matched to the pull of gravity, this effort is incomprehensible. But look closely and you’ll see the corrugated skin and voice, you’ll see the cuts like scars across the force field he emits from the moment he wakes even before the sun. You’ll see how his light’s flickering tempo jabs back against the black box of night.

He invites you into that basement where he does battle with an appetite for extinction. He powers up some deeper engine and keeps it running, makes it growl against the silent pulleys they use to draw him in. He keeps it humming, makes it fire, even when the key has gone missing, he pushes it from the hill and pops the clutch. He finds a way to spark it to life no matter how thick the rime obscuring a barely remembered green.

His daughter switches out jade for fern and loops spirals along the wings of a bird. She looks up, pausing to watch her dad’s fists fly against the bag. “Can I have a turn?” She asks.

“Sure, babygirl,” he pants. “Let’s get your hands wrapped after this round.” He smiles in her direction before turning a scowl back on the bag. It sways, creaking its displeasure at the assault.

I bend sideways to force my obliques into submission. I face him now, watch his bare feet shuffle over the mat as he circles his unyielding crimson opponent. He is strength here, he is courage. He is also their opposite. He is the admission of weakness, the acknowledgment of fear. He knows what is at stake. He’s felt the reeling sensation that comes when every treasure escapes his grip. He’s seen how close a man can come to failing to save the most precious.

He chooses fierce. Both coach and fighter, he splashes cold water in his own face and wakes the weary champion. He plays as if brave knight-errant, as if he was born for this, because he’s covered enough earth to know he is not. None of us is, and anyone who believes otherwise is Don Quixote, all fool and bluster.

This is why I love the softness there under the corners he’s trying to chisel back into his armor. Those tender places are just as welcome in my grip as the cut and thunder. Plenty of men are blind to their weak seams and show only scars that come with a good story. They have not been tested yet. They have not broken. It is always only a matter of time.

I want to see bulges and the crude patch job. These are the places where he stuffed whatever gauze and rotgut he could find. These jagged seams map his crossing, and they show him which way to turn if he finds himself back on that familiar route. The stitches hold the reminder of what happens when he loses his footing, when he almost falls so far he can’t climb back. I want to know he’s visited that place. Even if he stayed long enough in that pit to become a citizen, he chose to give up its Neverland promises and rise back up to life.

Evidence of that ascent is written into him. I see the callouses on his hands and know that he keeps them in shape both to hold his domain among the living and to keep climbing, even now, even when he could be justified in saying this is far enough.

The bell clangs, end of round. I stand. He lets out a breath and taps my hip before ripping off his gloves. I pull the straps tight on mine, bouncing on the balls of my feet as I wait for the seconds to tick down to my beginning. He touches his daughter on the head. She lifts her eyes from the twining vines and tangled leaves now waking to lushness across the page. “Let’s get your wraps on,” he says. “You’re up next.”

 

 

Determination, Fitness, Mindfulness, Things I Can

95. Things I Can Trust: A Room of Want and Plenty

Door Out

I was putting groceries away in the tiny kitchen when I opened a cabinet down below the silverware drawer. Empty. Large, deep, and completely bare. This was six months after I bought my home. For half a year, I had stood in front of this cabinet and chopped vegetables, rolled out pizza dough, stacked plates. I never noticed it.

For a condo dweller, this was gold. Free real estate had edged open new possibilities in my tightly packed world. My joy clanged through the house. I remember laughing as a whooshing sense of openness coursed through me. All that time I was fighting for room, this open place was right here!
Continue reading “95. Things I Can Trust: A Room of Want and Plenty”