Two Miles a Day

20140828_172757_1I never played a team sport except when I had no choice at school, preferred the dingy high-school weight room to the track, and was more likely to be found smoking cigarettes and doing Russian homework at Bonducci’s, the cafe in town where a motley crew would congregate in the afternoons, than on a track, trail, or field. One year, I even finagled my way into getting P.E. credit by taking an evening Aikido class at a local dojo.

In fact, I didn’t own an actual pair of sneakers until I was 18, in college in New York City, when I inadvertently discovered that running + Doc Martens = shin splints. Not long after that first impulsive run in Riverside Park, though, I bought my first pair of proper running shoes. I’ve run on and off for the 22 years since.

Even when I’m not writing much, I am a writer. It’s in the way see and perceive and interpret and integrate my experience. Can I say the same of running? During periods when I’ve stopped, when I’ve lost the rhythm of lacing up and heading out to run two (at times over the years, three, occasionally four or five, one amazing ten-miler in D.C., and once–once!–13.1) miles, I am not so sure. To be a runner, doesn’t one have to run?

But as a base line, or a bass line–a steady beat–I always come back, whether the hiatus lasts weeks or months or even years. At some point, the need to move overpowers the inertia of not moving.

This past week, I ran two miles, five days in a row. Post-coffee, pre-shower and work. My pace errs on the side of very slow. No headphones, no music, no fanfare, no frills. I was actually a little scared about running after months of not running. Scared as in, “How bad is it, doc?”

What a relief, when it wasn’t SO bad. Everything in moderation. Ha. Even moderation. That little p.s. to the saying is more my natural pace.

To not begin at all would be to neglect myself, a set-up for forgetting who I am and how I want to love and live. To be ambitious would also be a set-up, for falling off the map of staying calm and slow and steady in the midst of so much motion. In other words, two miles a day helps me keep my shit together.

In a few weeks, the Book of Life will yawn open, as it does every year when the leaves change and the nights and mornings get chilly. It’s the time of t’shuvah, atonement, or more accurately translated in my experience of it: Returning. Turning back, to assess who and how and where I’ve been, asking forgiveness and making amends, clearing my heart before beginning again.

This reflective season also happens to be insanely busy with an unexpected move, the semester starting up at work, the beginning of a new school year for three kids under our roof, and a wedding. My wedding! It’s like some kind of weird cosmic encouragement: You can do it all. You don’t have to do it all. Just return. And so two miles a day it is. For myself, for everyone near and dear to me, I’ll run.

The Beginning of My Obituary

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Aviva gave me my Hebrew name, Chava. She was four.

At dawn, my parents pulled up in front of my house, for me to drive them to the airport. The Aquarius supermoon, setting in the East, followed us as we drove to Bradley. On my way back north, I watched the sun rise, fog resting over cornfields, the river clear and still. Mani was still in bed when I returned with lattes, her soft, warm skin the best welcome home.

Yesterday, I had a conversation that will stay with me for a long time. I dare say, forever. I went to talk to our rabbi, over coffee on his covered back porch. I had initiated the meeting, and was surprised when he offered up Shabbat morning for me to come over. But as it turned out, this was no working meeting; it was “holy talk” we were doing–talk of life and work and direction and the Jewish journey I have danced with and around for many years–twenty at least, or quite possibly twice that, since I came here all squinty-smiled and curly, with a heart full of history.

You can dance all we want, and sometimes, when you stop dancing, that is when the thing that won’t let you go flows over and out in the form of words, or wordless tears, the tears of knowing, of calling. Of love and of fire and of not having answers, only openings, invitations, initiations.

He told me a story, about a mohel (this is the person who performs the brit milah, or ritual circumcision). This mohel had a helper, a woman, who carried his bag of instruments and ritual objects. She carried the bag for him 500 times, assisting and watching, before becoming a mohel herself.

My parents stepped onto the curb by American Airlines with their two suitcases and a bag of snacks, including a taste of the wedding cake we tasted yesterday. I was impressed by how little they had packed for their 10-day trip to visit my father’s brother. “If it doesn’t fit in here, it stays home,” my mom said.

The rabbi gestured around his house. “I’m a simple guy,” he said. “This seems pretty opulent to me.”

How much do we need? I wanted to offer, right then, to carry his bag–for the baby namings, the weddings, the hospice visits. To help rewrite the translation of the confession offered to and spoken by the dying, that they might end their life with a clean heart. To build something. He asked me to write my obituary, as if today was my last, and another set five years from now. “Can you not picture it, where you want to be, what you want to have done, in another five years?” I stumbled, and then remembered–we are moving towards Elul, that month of introspection and reflection, when the season turns and a quiet mind replaces confusion or grasping at answers.

When I stopped dancing, he spoke. And I listened, feeling the truth of who I am and what I’m doing here. It was such a gift, in that moment. To be seen, and known.

After, Mani and I drove, first to a Chipotle, our new favorite (and only) nut-free eating-out option, and then to taste wedding cake. We chose the lemon with lemon buttercream filling and vanilla frosting, and two little fondant birdies on top. We trolled around TJ Maxx and Mani got a workout shirt and I got a lime green silverware organizer and a Boston Red Sox lunch box for Pearl. We read Aviva’s latest letter from camp, filled with hearts and exclamation points and news and miss yous and love yous. Mani read a Nathan Englander story out loud as I drove west on Route 2, and we ate more cake when we got home, calling it dinner. We fell asleep around 11:00, and I got up at 3:45am to get ready to bring my parents to the airport.

Life is like this, profound and mundane. Dancing through the days, busy, and then sometimes, suddenly, the lid comes off, and I go inside to trace the light from my pelvic floor to the crown of my head. That’s when I pray–I do, I pray, in my way–to tap into that place of opening, where truth resides and wants to emerge and shine. My nature (is this human nature?) is to want to know how, and when. What to do next. To figure things out. But the prayer is for something other than this, which is to say for quiet, the stillness of staying present to what will surely unfold, not without work but in a way, without effort. To schlep the bag, both humbled and lit up by how much I don’t know and the hunger to learn and do.

It’s early now, not yet 7:30am. But not as early as it was a few hours ago. And the moon is just now setting a few times zones west of here as seven billion moments happen around the world, all of us doing something, thinking something, feeling, needing, wanting, hoping, planning, grieving, sleeping, waking, losing, loving something. We each have a part, a reason for being.

I haven’t settled in to write my obituary yet, but I can tell you how it will start: With my Hebrew name.

Stop Picking Your Nose, or, Reclaiming Your Creativity in Stages

unnamedWhen I was a teenager, I made little books of poems.

These days, I work, spend a lot of time with my girls during the half-the-week and every-other-weekend they are with us, take out the recycling on Tuesday nights, and do my damndest to get cash into the appropriate envelopes on the first of the month.

But at sixteen, I spent hours and hours printing poems in my father’s study, figuring out pagination (probably the most mathematical thing I did in all of high school), cutting and pasting and assembling words onto pages, choosing cover art from whatever magazines were in the house, and walking to the copy shop in town to use the coin-operated machines. I wrote little blurbs About the Author on the back, and inscribed every xeroxed copy of each book to someone–a family member, a boyfriend.

I used to be. A bookmaker. An artist.

And then. Life happened.

What does this have to do with picking your nose and reclaiming creativity, you ask? Click over to the Dominate blog to find out!

Go Between

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Walking across the grass to a tangle of branches
under a spot of grey to the edge carving field
from the woods dense with life we call wild,

the softest rain began falling as I remembered
two fawns prancing towards the safety of trees,
the monarch landing on your heart as we talked

yesterday and I cried just a little, enough to slip
into that liminal space where words are soft
and vulnerable is to roots what these sparrow

poems are to the breathing body. Who among us
decides the order of things: Love and trust, trust
and truth, truth and tongue? I know the invisible

beckoning to translate bare bark and skin smooth
and rain cleansing and the canopy protecting me
from the elemental feelings of being a small human

with a heart I thought was unknowable and now
see was preparing me, for everything and nothing,
by growing wings and gliding, bravely, between.

Image: The Rain Room exhibit at the MoMA (2013)

Partners in Crime

To break from the past is to be free. A thousand poets and survivors have said it better–that the only prisons are the ones we create, the ones we chain ourselves inside of, lamenting or angry or bitter or sad.

Sometimes you have to visit in order to sift through what you left behind. And there also comes a day when you can stop visiting, when the past can rest and the present can breathe. 

A daring jailbreak sounded good to me on Saturday night, to light a match and walk away after the ash smoldered and the flame went out.

To claim freedom is not to disown but to honor how you got here, and to create space for what wants to come into being.

– From The Past as Prison: Burn It, Bury It, Leave it Behind

302836_10152277497465438_726291443_nEarlier this week, Mani and I announced that we’re getting hitched not only in September under a chuppah, but as business partners at Dominate: Creativity Consulting.

Throwback Thursday to 2003: A nursing Aviva joined me in Providence for In the Bones, the last of five intensive workshops with the Coaches Training Institute. Soon after that, I left my Hillel job and hung a shingle as a life coach. Strong Coaching was born.

Over the next many years, I alternated between self-employment and traditional employment, welcomed Pearlie into the world, and experienced myself grow and change in ways I always knew without knowing I would. (How’s that for a funky sentence? No matter; I like it.)

When I got laid off from my last full-time position in 2012, I didn’t want to rush into the next thing out of flailing and fear. I devoted about a month to putting together and self-publishing many years’ worth of poems, which ultimately became Don’t Miss This. I collected unemployment, applied to the required three jobs per week, and balanced keeping the faith with fretting about the mortgage. Mani and I had been a couple for about six months at that point, traveling between Phoenix and Burlington as often as humanly and financially possible.

I wound up accepting a position in the career center at Hampshire College here in Amherst, a godsend if there ever was one. I plunked a “For Sale” sign in the front yard of my house, and started making arrangements to move. The girls’ dad, whose self-employment offered a degree of flexibility–agreed to move, too. And so it went. Bittersweet. Timely. Necessary. Life happening.

During those on-again, off-again years as a free agent, I did quite a bit of fishing around for a business partner-in-crime. Someone whose skills, talents, ideas, and drive would complement mine, whose positive energy would light up the room, and whose presence would motivate me to bring my best to my work and life–a distinction I’ve always resisted making. I explored all kinds of collaborations, but ultimately, nothing ever really clicked.

What I didn’t know was that I had already found her–or she me–and that our creative relationship would be so woven into our intimate one that it wouldn’t even feel like work.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you probably know that I can be a wizard when it comes to  wordy retrospectives. I’m prone to degrees of rehashing and nostalgia that really serve little to no purpose. Lot’s Wife and all that.

From this day forward, I’ll be building Dominate: Creativity Consulting alongside Mani, the collaborator of my dreams. We’ll both be working with clients (like you!) and bringing all of our shared passion for creativity to the content we offer. As far as I can see, the connections only grow deeper and the circles wider.

Zadie Smith said it well: “The past is always tense, the future perfect.”