Controlled chaos, at the very least

I think I’ve figured it out. The reason why I’m in a very frequent state of existential angst. I feel like I’m going up a creek in many areas of my life. I’m looking for solutions, even proposing solutions, but very few seem to be picking up what I’m putting down. It could be me. But I have reasons for why I think it’s not just me.

Recently my sanctuary has been my couch, with cozy lamps and candles and husband and pup. Not to mention a bastion of blankies (pitties love blankies in case you didn’t know). I’ve been watching a lot of TV. Granted, we both were feeling under the weather this week. We had very little motivation for household chores or cooking or really anything.

And that’s okay. It’s okay to not be back to (ever) running a million miles an hour to get everything done…. for what purpose? Just to be busy? I don’t know. But I do know that I’m welcoming the shorter days and longer nights with open arms. I’ve been totally fine with heading upstairs to go to bed just short of 8 o’clock. This acceptances comes from the understanding that 1) I am an animal whose body responds to the amount of daily sunlight there is and 2) I learned some shit from the pandemic.

I can’t say the same for society. I am freaking disappointed about it, too. Everywhere I turn there is mass chaos, and I’m not exaggerating. Just come to the school where I work. Come to my local grocery store. Walk down the sidewalk adjacent to a busy road. Chaos is everywhere. (And excuse me for being a little vague in this post about from where exactly the angst is originating.)

One of the aspects of this particular chaos though is that it can manifest itself as quiet, insidious. It looks different than kids shooting up schools and assholes going 95 on 95 and EF-5 tornadoes in December (although we know that’s happening too…). This chaos looks like people not learning a damn thing from the pandemic. Being all too happy to “get back to normal,” as if their normal were actually good. It wasn’t. (Maybe I shouldn’t judge?) It was comfortable. It was easy. It’s much much more difficult to actually look at your pandemic-and-stress-riddled complexion in a mirror and decide to change your ways. It looks like doom-scrolling as if it’s your part-time job. It looks like bitching and complaining about things you could either change or walk away from. It looks like people still being marginalized and discriminated against.

While I don’t particularly feel a strong vibe of all types of chaos everywhere I go, I feel different aspects of it manifesting at different times in different places. Least of all in my own house. So that’s where I feel safe, that’s why it’s my sanctuary. And try as I might to bring some of this into the world, the world (or at least, my world) is telling me in so many words that they don’t want it. They want things to be “normal,” which in my experience is boring, irrelevant, too expensive, exclusive, pedantic. I don’t want that normal. Normal be damned, I say.

A great thing to come out of this pandemic is a lot of people like myself who are looking for something better. We’re trying to change the things we can, and when we’ve exhausted all resources trying to get people on board, we’re going for change.

Don’t look down

It’s what people say when you’re at an uncomfortable height. It’s advice and admonishment. It’s a warning against the inevitable void that will entice you to fall. It could be a bend from reality, a willful ignorance of what actually exists.

At some point, we have to look down and get real. We have to accept reality and take responsibility for our fear. And then we have to make a plan to face and conquer it.

I think this looks different for everyone, but I can surely tell you what it isn’t, especially as we move into what I call the “post-COVID” era. It’s not: not taking care of your body, not nourishing your mental health, not encouraging and lifting up others, not showing gratitude, not driving dangerously on the morning commute, being a continuous source of negativity.

This global experience is tragic, yes, but as Richard Rohr writes in Falling Upward, “Life is inherently tragic.” It’s a fact that too many have either not realized or blatantly ignored. What I see is an experience that has the potential to bring us together as humans. With seven billion people on the planet, what experience do we all have that is actually similar? Welcoming new life, grieving death, filling our bellies. That is what we all share, and can also be described as the human condition.

This is a unique time to be alive. But with this unique landscape comes unique responsibility. We have more evidence now than ever of what trauma can do to a person. We have multitudes of resources for mental health. We have the potential to be connected to practically anyone anywhere in the world.

What does “Don’t look down” look like right now? It looks like us harnessed in safely to the side of the mountain, prepared with all our gear. Helmet, rope, someone who can help us in an emergency. It looks like knowing how exactly high up we are and accepting the possibility that we are in a dangerous position. It looks like having enough training to be able to help another climber navigate to safety instead of being the reason they fall.

Let’s get it together, folks.

My constant companion(s)

Mental illness is a bitch. She’s the shadow behind you when you look in the mirror. She’s the one who whispers, “I’ll always be with you.” And she’s not wrong.

I had a stark realization that this will forever be with me. I can’t shake it. You name it, I’ve tried everything. Prayer. Medication. Meditation. Yoga, all kinds. Therapy. Hot baths. Cold showers. Running marathons. Running in the woods. Retreating from the world. Writing my thoughts with pen and paper. Turning up the music so loud I can feel it in my bones. Playing “Moonlight Sonata” with all my heart and strength. Focusing on work. Distracting myself with alcohol, sex, TV. Watching sunrises and letting the hope of a new day dawn. Scanning sunsets for ways to make the light last longer so I don’t have to start over.

I guess there are things I haven’t tried. Drugs. Cigarettes. Sleeping around. But I know better than to dabble in those painful pleasures. There’s an indelible line that I won’t cross, a glass wall. I’ve been observant enough to see others go down that road, and to then see the pieces of themselves that come out on the other side.

When I was a young teenager, when all these ups and downs were new, the roller coaster was admittedly a little intoxicating. I felt such strong feelings as the pendulum swung and caught me in its arc. Back then I thought it wouldn’t last forever. That it was part of adolescence, a rite of passage that a percentage of people went through. It wasn’t treated seriously, and I surrendered myself to the god of achievement. I flayed my heart open on its altar, all for a chance at acceptance. And it delivered, until it didn’t.

As a young adult, freshly and acutely aware of my responsibility to the world, I realized that the dark clouds weren’t going away. Oh, I desperately wanted them to. I thought there would be a wind that would finally blow them away. I was taught that if I prayed enough, had enough faith, really truly believed that God could heal me, that it would be gone. But I still trusted in science, in sound logic, in the words of people who were smart and got degrees in things like medicine and counseling.

I opened myself up to a counselor at the health center at my university. I tried Prozac and then Celexa after Prozac gave me crazy nightmares. Finding a medication that worked was not easy, but it was worth it for the relief I felt was coming. There was a moment where I thought, “Will I have to take these for the rest of my life?” A big component of the depression and anxiety back then was situational. If only I could get into some new situations, things would be better.

Situations arose, but not necessarily good ones. Depression and anxiety found me in the valleys of military life and infertility and losing loved ones. Anxiety found me at their gravesides, worried about my fate, wondering how their genetics might live on in me. Still, I thought I could pray it away. Or that if I could just get through the grief, happiness and freedom from illness would be waiting on the other side.

I’m here to tell you that they’re still here, those long-suffering companions of mine. Maybe a therapist would say that I shouldn’t personify them, that doing so gives them power. But they’re part of me. I see my reflection in the way they enter my mind, color my vision, convince me of half-truths. They already have power, but their power can be measured and analyzed only in the light. The dark casts shadows that hide their true form.

And the truth is that they’re not going away. The spiral can still catch my heel as I struggle to get free. It can still tap me on the shoulder when the sun is shining and I least expect it. Or it can be a black hole, and drag me down so deep that time stops and it feels like I’ll never be free.

Today I had one of those spirals take me down. While I’d been entwined in its throes before, it hits you the same way the exhilaration of zero g’s hits you on a roller coaster. It can feel like a slippery oily hug, comforting like a blanket but snuffing out the light when you turn your head to catch your breath. It can make you think that the present experience is all there is. You stand on the porch and look at the storm as it comes for you. There’s a beauty in the power, and colors become saturated. That pendulum falls and catches you and pulls you along effortlessly. You know after the storm, there will be sun. It’s the law of nature. No matter the damage from its path, the sky will turn from sickly green to scary gray to brilliant blue, all within a matter of minutes.

These forces within me are as much biological as they are psychological. I have been the constant in the Universe’s fucked up experiment. I know this because of all the things I’ve tried to “fix” it. And nothing fixes it. So it must be inherent in me. So don’t feel pity for me, don’t try to tell me that it’s not me. It is me. And the sooner I realize it, the sooner I can treat it, the sooner I can come to terms with it and try to find its blind spots.

I can sleep at night knowing that I will come through; I always do. There’s never been a time I’ve seriously contemplating taking control of that outcome. I can rest my head on the pillow knowing that I will never pass on this shitty biology, these genetic curses. The students and children I work with see the best of me. They see the strength that rises from the ashes of the Universe’s arson on my soul. For those things I am grateful.

Helping our inner child find the way

When you are a child, the eighteen years you spend as a child feels like eternity. I can’t tell you how many times I thought, I can’t wait until I’m out on my own. Until I can do whatever I want. When you’re an adult, the years you spent as a child grow smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror, and all those worries and desires seem insignificant compared to the worries and desires of adulthood. However, something I’ve observed and learned in my own experience is that the years we spend as children drive the trajectory for our adulthood, maybe forever.

Recently I cried myself to sleep. I don’t say this for pity or sympathy or to be dramatic. It’s just a fact. I cry a lot – when I’m sad, when I’m happy. Basically anytime I’m moved emotionally, I cry. Sometimes the most appropriate and safe time for me to show that much emotion is in the dark, amidst the white noise of the fan, wrapped in blankets and comfort. While I’d cried myself to sleep many times in my time on Earth, this most recent time felt new. Instead of spiraling down, down, down to the pit of hopelessness, I began telling myself a narrative, a story if you will. I began parenting myself.

We all internalize the narratives and stories that our parents tell us, either verbally or nonverbally. They weave narratives with their actions, words, stories about their pasts, how they react to our transgressions and moments of impatience. We go out into the world with these stories that seem to be complete. As time goes on and we experience life for ourselves, we begin to find the incongruencies and missing parts of those stories. This can happen whether we grew up in the most loving, supportive household, or if we fled from an abusive home when we were young, if only mentally. It’s not a matter of the type of home that bore us as children; it’s the activation of our unique DNA, which can experience and receive a story from our own lives.

I looked at The Other…fragile, exhausted, disillusioned. Controlling and enslaving what should really be free…trying to judge her future loves by the rues of her past sufferings.”

By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept, Paulo Coehlo

I found myself soothing myself in my own head. I soothed the four-year-old Elizabeth who couldn’t quite grasp abstract concepts and reasons for “why,” and I soothed the fourteen-year-old Elizabeth who, with her smart mouth, drummed up a retort to pretty much any comment or directive. By soothing all the versions of myself, my almost-35-year-old self could then take a deep breath formed around a resolution and drift off into a restful sleep.

I’ve been in touch with the young Elizabeth more in the past couple of years than I ever have been. Maybe it’s the distance that makes young Elizabeth clearer; maybe it’s the reflection and retrospection I employ to look at my life in the past. As I soothe those other long-gone versions of myself, I feel a healing taking place. A rebirth, a mending.

Just as I need to reassure my inner child, I also need to steel my present self. Recently during a yoga practice, I was astonished by a meditation given at the beginning of a practice. Esther Ekhart, the yoga teacher, brought attention to her legs and arms and body and made the point that when we remember how strong our bodies are, we can remember that we are adults and we are able to take care of ourselves. When we aren’t in the present, we’re stuck in the past and in the future. For us, our inner child sometimes lives in the past and reminds us of past hurts and follies.

Paulo Coehlo, renowned and beloved author, says in By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept, “Remember that human wisdom is madness in the eyes of God. But if we listen to the child who lives in our soul, our eyes will grow bright. If we do not lose contact with that child, we will not lose contact with life.”

Therefore, we cannot ignore the inner child and we cannot let them play us like a violin, either. There has to be a balance. Just as a parent shows their children a balance of love and discipline, we must do the same for ourselves. It’s a way we can become whole.

Feeling at home during COVID

I’ll be honest: I’ve always scoffed at people who walk to get exercise. 1) Being honest is all I’ve got, and 2) I was a pretentious asshole. I mean, I’ve run marathons. What benefit could there be to walking over running?

I remember being a teenager and going for walks occasionally through my neighborhood. I’d lived there my whole life essentially, so there was nothing new to see. I hadn’t yet become aware of what “being present” felt like, so it really was just boring.

In college my friend and I would get together in the late evening and walk at the park. The city I grew up in has a beautiful park with a man-made lagoon. The sidewalk around it measures about half a mile, and we would usually do 4 or 5 laps. And she walked fast! Then, I walked because it was a good way to get exercise and socialize. Same when my husband and I were dating – there were very few places we could hang out and be alone in peace, so we went for walks in parks.

It wasn’t until the pandemic hit that I started going for walks. It even felt different coming out of my mouth at the end of a work day, words winding their way up the stairs while I put my headphones in, “Babe, I’m going for a walk.”

Last year, I took a running sabbatical (mostly). This means I didn’t train for any big races or have any sort of plan for my running. I ran when I felt like it. Like so much in my life, I got burnt out and figured since the earth was groaning and yearning for a change, so was I. So in the beginning of COVID-induced quarantine, being outside was one of the safest activities there was. I put on my running shoes and went out the door.

Before I knew it, I was walking for about an hour. That’s how long it takes to walk down to the water and back, even at a good clip. And because nearly all the streets in my town are north-south, east-west, there are endless routes to take to the Bay.

The weather improved as spring gave way to summer, and my body craved the calm but industrious energy that walking brings. Running doesn’t do the same thing – your heart and lungs and legs are working too hard. When I run, my thoughts really don’t have the space to wander – they’re usually too focused on pace and cadence and not tripping over perfectly flat concrete (yep, I’ve done it).

But with walking, the world moves by a little slower. I had the time to really look at the neighborhoods I was walking through, at the houses new and old, but mostly old. Some run-down, most with an addition or two. Some with balconies and crazy colors that could probably be seen from kayakers on the river. Some with garden decorations or old paint-chippy fences. All molded by character and curiosity.

A most valuable experience was walking the same neighborhoods as seasons changed. I wore the same shoes, but first donned a hoodie for fall and finally a coat for winter. I found that I could “run errands” during a walk, too. I could pick up or drop off a book from the library. I could stop at the post office to get stamps or mail a package. I could patronize my local coffee shop…. (yes, that counts as an errand – gotta keep local businesses afloat!). Some afternoons in the winter as we approached the solstice, the angle of the sun indicated it was almost time for twilight to meld into darkness fit for a cozy sleep.

Before COVID, I hadn’t really settled in our town, despite buying our own old-but-updated house. But walking allowed me to breathe the same air, wave to and chat with neighbors, and really feel like I am a part of this city. And for such a crazy year and having moved around as an adult, feeling at home is what I really needed.

Choosing to not drink is easy; sobriety is hard

I don’t mean that the act of not drinking is so difficult. I mean, it can be, especially on the Saturday of a long weekend where I just feel good all day, and what could make it better besides a lovely cocktail or two? In all honesty though, overall it hasn’t been difficult for me to choose to not drink.

That said, after posting this at the beginning of November, the de facto start to the American holiday season, I did imbibe on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. Neither time was crazy. I had maybe two glasses of good wine. No hangover, not really any disrupted sleep. But it felt empty. Kind of pointless without the high.

So since Christmas Eve, I’ve abstained. And the difficult part has been the actual state of being sober. The fact that I’m not using alcohol as a proverbial lidocaine to numb my feelings feels a bit like drinking water from a firehose. Emotions are no longer dampened or delayed. They scream in your face, wanting attention, wanting to be dealt with and examined. Right. Now.

Sobriety and self-regulation go hand-in-hand. In my experience (your mileage may vary), you can’t navigate one successfully without the other. It doesn’t have to be sobriety as in abstinence from alcohol, either.

Back in March of the ill-fated year of 2020, I remember feeling like finally all my hard work in therapy had paid off because the world was closing in around us (that’s quite hyperbolic… but that’s 2020 for you) and I felt sober of mind. I felt like I could see the world from up above, and observe my own actions and thoughts rather than be my actions and thoughts. And it was freeing and overwhelming at the same time.

I remember thinking that even beyond work done in therapy, I had come a long way, being able to withstand an undetermined amount of time of isolation at home. Uncertainty everywhere else. I’d come a long way from the child or teenager who when she just couldn’t stand it anymore (pick whatever it you want) she went to her room and slammed the door. Or walked out of the house and slammed the door. I slammed doors a lot.

The slamming of a door, proverbial or literal, is a symptom of emotional dysregulation. As a teenager, I let the annoyances, sadness, and frustrations pile higher and higher because “You will be Little ladies,” and “You don’t need a nap during the day,” and “I’ll give you something to cry about,” and “Do you want an attitude adjustment?” Instead of trying to enter the conversation, I was intimidated by whatever consequence awaited me (and I assumed there would be from prior experience). So I just grinned and bore it. Or didn’t grin. But definitely had to bear it. And then it would get to be so much that eventually I would yell so loud and slam the door so hard and cry so uncontrollably as I walked as fast as I could to my friend’s house across the church parking lot and present my emotional dysregulation volcano or dumpster fire or whatever metaphor you want. I made it someone else’s problem because I wasn’t given the skills or the safe space to practice. There was very little room for error, and especially since I was a high-achieving, super motivated student and responsible member of the family.

So now as a grown-ass adult, I am doing my best to realize when I am getting ready to slam a door, and being completely sober can make it even more difficult. But I don’t like slamming doors, or yelling, “I hate you!” or “I never want to see you again!” or “You don’t understand me and you never will!” so I try my best to make sure it doesn’t happen.

I’m still learning how to self-regulate. The third week in January, a four-day work week I might add, was one of great emotional dysregulation. By that Friday night, every single grief, worry, sadness, emotion was turned up loud. And the only way I knew how to navigate it was to just pull the plug from the wall. I’m still learning how to turn the volume dial.. like back in the day when you got a new boombox and the volume or tuner dial were oh-so-sensitive. Or when you accidentally gun the rental car out of the airport parking lot. Nothing under 90, amirite?

The problem with using alcohol or any substance to soothe is that the practice of regulating yourself is delayed. You might think, Yeah, I need to work through this, but not tonight. It’s been a week. I’ll relax tonight and deal with it another time. But doing that is only putting a kink in the hose. It’ll straighten itself out at some point and then where will you be?

I think one reason I don’t turn to alcohol when I’m confronted with negative experiences or emotions is that it isn’t my only coping mechanism. I think this is key. I write. I read. I go for a walk. I go for a run. I message a friend. I have other ways of turning down that dial, and those things have aided in my entire journey with alcohol.

Spending time with Past, Present, and Future (no, this isn’t my version of A Christmas Carol)

I look at houses online, a lot. Maybe too much. Sometimes I look at houses in my neighborhood, sometimes in my hometown. Sometimes I look at houses in places I’ve lived before. I pore over lot size and price per square foot and judge the lighting or staging I see. But mostly I imagine what my life would be like in another place.

If I were to sketch a pie chart that shows the time I spend living in the past, present, and future, it might look like this:

Past and Future live in my head rent-free, and they never leave. Just like I have been for the past almost-year, they are hunkered down, their butts have made inroads on the couch cushions, and they’ve been raiding the pantry. To be fair, I live there with them. I even made them food and bring it to them while they remain couch potatoes. I bring them a blanket when they’re cold, and water when they’re thirsty. But if I’m being honest with you, Past and Future need to be evicted.

It is difficult for me to settle down and live in the present, and the time I spend looking at houses online is a symptom of that. If I have a goal in my head that I want to read on the couch with a cup of tea in the evening, it will take me at least a couple hours to get there. And even when I physically get there, it takes me more time to quiet my mind. (I know you’re going to suggest meditation…. line up behind my therapist for that one…)

Once I’m in the present, I enjoy it. But there is a constant buzzing in my head, maybe anxiety, maybe not. It’s like I’m afraid of getting caught in the Matrix again and losing my awareness. I’m hyperaware.

I was thinking about why I might be like that.

Growing up, I was always thinking about the future. It was an imperative put on me by my parents. We talked about it a lot – how to be successful in school, how important college was, how education was the way to have financial success (we did not have a lot of money for a long time). I think that mindset paired with an active imagination served with a healthy dose of anxiety spurred my mind into overdrive, and thus creating thought patterns that stuck with me for 30+ years.

I think it’s time for new thought patterns. Ones that allow me to fully enjoy the present without worrying about tomorrow. A caveat is that yes, it is important to think about the future at times – that’s how I keep things like my car maintained. I can’t just not get an oil change; I have to plan it. Or keeping food in the house so I can cook good meals. Or adding money to my investment accounts so we’re not broke in retirement.

But truth be told, those action items do not take much time. The energy I spend taking care of those and similar things can be compressed into minutes, honestly. Maybe a couple of hours. But not during the day when I’m trying to focus on work, or at night keeping my awake during a holiday break.

I see the habits and ways I’m spending my time right now as how I will spend them, forever and ever amen (a-woman? JUST KIDDING). For example, if I really dive into reading more books for 2021, in my mind I think, I cannot “let myself go” because I will become addicted to reading and then I won’t want to hang out with people so then I’ll lose friends and then I’ll be really upset and lonely.

Um, what? All of that doesn’t even make sense. It’s irrational at its core. Each part of our life is a separate phase – a season – a gift. I am in a new season right now where we are in a, say it with me, glo-bal pan-dem-ic. There is a lot happening that is not “the norm.” And it won’t last forever.

I read a lot of memoirs and biographies. Currently I’m a bit obsessed with the quest for the Northwest Passage in the Arctic in the mid-1800’s and all the fun and folly that come along with it. There are sailors who devoted upwards of 40 years to their sailing careers. Some of them were lucky enough to live into their 70’s and 80’s. While they spent 40 years doing one profession, per simple arithmetic, they didn’t spend their whole lives doing the exact same thing at the exact same pace in the exact same way.

I think having that realization can help me get over this hump of spending so much time with Past and Future. If I stop my irrational spiraling way of thinking in its tracks, I can probably spend a lot more time with Present. Let’s try it. And maybe my pie chart will end up looking more like this:

Simple life in 2021

If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that we humans make life so much more complicated and difficult than it needs to be. Is there anything more basic to life than waking up with the sun, eating, and observing life around us?

As I write this, I’m taking advantage of (probably) seasonal spring-ish weather in the Mid-Atlantic – 50* on a random day between Christmas and New Year’s. Just a week ago we were anticipating a torrential rainstorm followed by a hefty shift in the temperature. The result of this warmer weather is that I’m on my porch with a hot cup of coffee, noticing that the sun’s angle is behind me (I’m facing east) and maybe just a little bit higher than it was only a week ago on the Solstice. I can see the Susquehanna River, its waters a little lower than a few days ago. No speed boats, no tug boats – just a wide swath of blue.

Peaceful. Just sitting and observing is peaceful. And simple. But necessary. Do we really need to sit with a screen in front of us upwards of 8, or maybe 12, hours a day? I know the science is out there – that can’t be good for our brains. It certainly isn’t for me.

To take a wider view, my week-to-week activities BC (before corona) were busy. So busy. So many activities, driving here and there, so many long-term commitments that I didn’t sleep on before agreeing to. Sure, my mind says, Oh, that will only take an hour each week… without adding up the time driving to and from, prepping for said activity, and alllll the mental space that said activity would take up.

I’ve realized a lot about myself this year, and one huge realization is that I really can’t focus on so many things at once. When I’m involved in so many “people-y” activities, I not only spend time doing all the things I mentioned previously, but then add on replaying many interpersonal interactions in my head later… while brushing my teeth, while getting ready for bed, while laying awake in the middle of the night.

At the core of its economy, being so busy and so committed is inefficient. I don’t get the return on investment most of the time. I end up being tired, worn out, and on the brink of throwing in the towel. That’s not good for getting returns on other things that really matter: the work I do every day for a living, close relationships with family and friends, things that keep my life moving forward like cooking and cleaning and maintaining our house.

I want a simpler life in 2021. This does include keeping so much off of my calendar… and actually, it would be nice to not be involved in so many things that I actually don’t need to reference my calendar that often. I have to make transition time in my day – time to grocery shop, time to eat, time to cook, time to clean up, time to relax and unwind…. really relax and unwind, preferably without a screen.

This means that I might fully give myself over to books. My mind, a fragrant offering, if you will. Reading is something I love to do, and more than that, I love the conversations and new ideas that transpire as a result. I love transporting myself to new worlds and new lands, meet characters I never knew existed. And understand myself and my fellow humans more than I did than when I initially opened the cover.

Reading Goals and Contemplations for 2021

Here we are, another day, another post about reading. I’ve never really regularly written about my reading… ever. I think when I was younger, I was so unsure of myself as a reader, and trying to pretend I loved reading when it was all I could do to pay attention, read the Cliff Notes (for some books), and regurgitate information in class.

I was actually in the high-level English classes in high school, but I think it was because I was a really good test-taker. If I were to be asked to provide exposition about a particular book, I’d fall flat on my face. I relied on my smart classmates to provide that for me so I could jot it down in my notes for the eventual test.

To be honest, I’m not sure what all has changed in the past few years that I’ve been so interested and devouring books, especially this year. Maybe I’ll do a post soon about my 2020 stats. I’m still balls-deep in the Mistborn trilogy. Today is my first day of winter break (perks of being a teacher!) so I will definitely spend a chunk of time reading. I have so many thoughts…

Besides perhaps being more mature, one thing that has helped immensely in my rekindled love of reading is that people are out there talking about books. Some of our Maryland friends are huge readers and so they talk about things they read. I have discovered BookTube. My husband has been reading fantasy since he was a wee lad. My immediate family are big readers, too. So I have a lot of great influence and accountability, if I want it.

So… 2021. What’s on tap? With a gift card I received for Christmas I’ve ordered The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, The Lies of Locke Lamora, and Ship of Magic. These are all well-regarded books in the adult fantasy genre, ones that I’ve heard mentioned over and over. I generally don’t buy books, especially hardcovers, when I’m not sure if I will like it or not. A house project we have coming up is to install better bookshelves in the front room – so, of course more beautiful books to fill them won’t be a bad thing.

With the books I mentioned, I will delve into the writing of three new-to-me authors: V. E. Schwab, Scott Lynch, and Robin Hobb. I don’t know much about V. E. Schwab other than her books are lit. Scott Lynch wrote the introduction to a book I read recently for book club (Dragon Waiting by the late John M. Ford), and I won’t lie: I was so excited about his writing style that I wished the actual book had been written by him! I have also heard nothing but great things about Robin Hobb, a female author. Maybe I will also read the Farseer trilogy that she wrote.

I have also preordered the new Sarah J. Maas book that I think will be released in February, A Court of Silver Flames. This is the fourth book in the Court of Thorns and Roses series that I absolutely devoured end of 2019 through the beginning of 2020. Naturally, because it will have been a year since I completed those books, I should reread them, not only to have the events and characters in my mind, but also because they are such fun books to read.

I anticipate that I will read much more fantasy. Who knows.. maybe I’ll get into more of the Cosmere and read Way of Kings et al. I will be beginning two series with the Scott Lynch and Robin Hobb books, so I’ll have a natural TBR set up if I like those. I might continue with the Outlander series since I’ve had the fourth book on my monthly TBR for, well, months.

And then, of course, is the book club I belong to where we read award-winning fantasy and sci-fi. The first book of 2021 will be A Memory Called Empire, a space opera with indigenous Mexican vibes. I’m here for it. Never thought I’d say that about a fantasy or sci-fi book, but here we are. I will probably get started on it soon after I finish Mistborn.

As far as a number of books to read, I’m unsure about this goal. In 2020, my goal was 40 books, which for me at the time was realistic but still pushing it. So far, as of December 23, I’ve read 64 books. What. The. Heck. That’s more than a book a week. Even if I don’t include my DNF’s, that’s still more than a book a week. I guess 2020 was made for reading.

In 2021, I will also aim to discover more about why the genre of fantasy has appealed to me so much outside of the fact that it’s a convenient and fun escape from the current world we live in. It’s certainly not the only reason, though. Stay tuned!

Running is for humans

Early on in my running journey, I did anything and everything I could to not think about what I was actually doing with my body. I kept abreast of cracks in the sidewalk and gusts of wind. But if I could distract myself from the physical duress I was voluntarily enduring, I did.

Many times, though, I was convinced that my choice to run was not voluntary. It was some sort of cruel punishment for eating too much, or in anticipation of eating too much (Turkey Trots, anyone?). It was to get my body ready for a very long race that I had impulsively signed up for: marathons come to mind.

At first I felt so self-conscious running up and down University Street, a very busy thoroughfare with four lanes. I thought, surely people are wondering why this tall slightly overweight girl is flailing her arms and legs about. But what I learned is that no one cares, or very few people do. And the ones who do aren’t worth my time. I have my music up so loud I can’t hear them anyway.

I grew accustomed to the feeling of badassery and triumph upon completion of a run, whether it was 2 miles, 5 miles, or 15 miles. I’m a purist, so I relish the roundness of the number on my round watch face. I also loved the self-confidence that running imparted to me.

At the beginning I spent a lot of time choosing specific songs to add to my playlists, first on an iPod and finally on Spotify on my regular smartphone. There were many times, either running outside or working out at the gym, where forgetting to charge my phone or headphones would leave me mentally unable to hang with the planned activity for the day. And then guilt would enter, and then the next day I would work twice as hard to work off my guilt, and so on.

The other day I had an absolutely beautiful run. When trying to decide to go for the run or not, two things were not factors in my decisions. I ignored my slightly sore legs from walking and hiking the few days prior, and I ignored the blustery wind I saw from my home office window, bringing down the next-to-last stubborn leaves, not quite given the opportunity to complete their cycle.

As soon as work was done for the day, my physical body matched what had been going on in my head for a couple hours, and I stepped out the back door and pushed “start” on my watch.

Cue exactly 3.10 miles (I’m a purist, remember?) of bliss incurred by the combination of the autumn angle of the sun, a cool breeze off the river, the perfect pace, and the perfect music. I celebrated the best run I’d had in a long time and I’m sure my husband could tell you that my mood was elevated for the entire evening. I was high.

The high didn’t come from a manufactured experience like it did early on in my running days, nigh on a decade ago now. I wasn’t purposely trying to distract my entire being, physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional, from what I was choosing to put my body through.

No, I was one hundred percent present. I was present with the leaves on the ground, their crunch barely audible above the Mumford and Sons song blaring in my ear. I was present with my breathing, very labored at the pace I was maintaining. I was present with the contact of my shoes on the sidewalk, then on the board walk, then on the road. I was present with the fact that so many people cannot run because they are sick with this virus ravaging the human race.

And then, I was present with my own thankfulness running up and down Union Avenue. For being alive, for being at the very heart of it, human. And that’s why I run.