Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sun Salutations

I never understood the meaning behind a sun salutation, a ritualistic set of yoga movements. I went through the movements in countless yoga classes with a distracted mind, much like the rest of life, forgetting that, like the sun, some things burn bright and disappear unnoticed. That is, until sleeping in the desert.

Our Thanksgiving break didn't have turkey, stuffing, or bickering family members. Instead Dave and I were mountain biking among campfires and mile high red desert cliffs. The sun was strong enough to break through the frigid mornings but our breath was still visible long after our coffee was drank. Our first morning we woke up to icicles on the tent as we struggled to open our eyes to the dark morning. Having slept with the sun, we had been in the tent for twelve hours and couldn't stand it any longer. On the count of three we scrambled out of our warm bags, threw on the running shoes and dashed out of the campsite with yelps like hyenas stepping on hot coals. The air was so cold! We raced up to a rocky outlook, ran and hopped down rocks, and raced our dog, Moose, around the sand and cactus plants. From across the dirt road we saw the blessing of the sun inch over the sky high rock wall and flood over our tent. Still in the dark on the opposite side of the road, we looked at one another and took off racing for the sun. One step into the light and I felt the warmth wash over me. The dark menacing rocks now glowed orange and yellow and the blue of the sky popped only like morning sky can. Together we reached our hands to the sky, centered them to our hearts and down to the earth in my first sincere sun salutation. After a frigid night I fully understood my dependence on the gift of the sun - all its warmth and all the beauty it has to show me. My hands and feet felt the rocks and sand beneath me as I lifted my head in thanks to a gift I had become so unthankful for. Our coffee had never tasted better, a laugh never felt so great, the sky never looked so beautiful.

And then I got the phone call.

We were far back in a desert canyon with spotty cell service, just the way we like it. After not looking at my phone for awhile I noticed I had several messages reading "Call me ASAP." I panicked and my mind flashed back to that March, sitting in my Minneapolis living room when I got the call.

"It's not good," he said.
"Jared....he passed away yesterday. A train...a train..."

We hopped in the car and flew silently out of the canyon. I thought, of course this is probably just a false alarm. It's probably just two friends arguing over a song lyric or some movie trivia question. I watched the clouds drift pleasantly over the rocks miles above me, feeling protected in the narrow walls. It really is a gorgeous day, I thought.

"It's Dustin...he...he..." she couldn't finish her sentence.
"What? Just tell me!"

It was Thanksgiving day. I pictured my mom setting the table and my dad checking the temperature of the turkey. They were having guests. Where would they put the dogs?

"Last night he shot himself."

The clouds stopped. Really stopped. I asked questions, she answered. I said, 'We went to prom together,' she said, 'I know,' and I wondered about my parents' dinner guest who didn't like dogs.

"His roommate found him."
They'll bark if they're left alone.
"No note, no answers."
They'll really hate it. They'll scratch the door. So where will they go?
"I mean, we knew he was upset, but..."
They need attention too!
"Was there anything we could have done?"
Where will the dogs go?!

I swerved in and out of the lines on the way back to solitude and isolation, Dave having to bring me back to the task at hand: staying alive.

Staying alive. Is it really that black and white? Alive and dead? Dustin flipped a switch, as insignificant as entering the kitchen and hitting the lights a thousand times. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off. I couldn't shake the image of a light switch. It haunted me, the amount of control we all have to flip the switch.

I don't even remember the rest of the day. Did we mountain bike? Did I like it? Did we make jokes and forget about it? Did I cry? But I vividly remember the sun erasing itself over the jagged silhouette of cliffs, and sucking the warmth away with it.

Dave quietly built a campfire, clinking the logs together as the familiar cricks and snaps of the burning kindling started up like an old engine. He said nothing, letting the fire tell the first story. We held our beers like security blankets and let our gaze comfortably lose focus in the flames. I'm sure he expected me to talk about Dustin, about the pain, or about losing two friends in eight months.

I broke the silence. "That summer in Jackson Hole changed my life." Even I didn't know where this was going. "I tasted my first sip of alcohol. I got a tattoo. I climbed a mountain to the top." Out of the corner of my eye I saw the fire's reflection dance on Dave's cheek as he turned to look at me. "I could do anything. Seriously, I felt invincible. There's no way I'd be who I am without that summer: the hiking, climbing, discovering new things. Do you ever think of where you'd be if certain events in your life never happened?"

It was a lofty, philosophical question for someone I had spent almost every day with for the last five years. We knew everything about each other and our conversations were moment-driven, usually about dog walking or what happened at work.

He answered quicker than I expected. "I think about life in the church." I watched him fall back into memories I would never know as he told me about questions he has growing up, people who had influenced him, and mistakes he made along the way.

With the fading of the sun came one star after the next, forming familiar shapes around a welcoming moon. Our conversations and memories spun a web around the flames from religion to philosophy to politics to arguing over which is actually the North star. The desert night introduced me to a new person that night, a person with whom I would worship the sun with the next morning and many mornings after, who would remind me that even something as insignificant as the light of morning can remind us of the fragility of life. On. Off. On. Off. On.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Confessions of an Over-Educated, Recession-Wrought, Happy-Go-Lucky Generation Y-er

First you grow up being told, with bitterness and resentment, "wait until you get to the real world!" Adults would speak these words as if they were sinking into metaphorical barcaloungers in baggy sweat pants, with a long bucket list of things that never got done while they should have been 'living it up' in the fantasy world of adolescence.

And then the Emo movement had everyone believing "there's no such thing as the real world," (thank you John Mayer,) and suddenly we were free to self-reflect on this new aspect of life called, well, "life." The real world wasn't real; it was an evil, corporate, greed-filled world of ladder climbers and soccer moms fooled into thinking they were the "normal" ones. Yes, the pop-punk Emo cultural wave produced some dark days for happiness and stability, (but who would actually want that anyway?)

So what is this time in my life, real or not real?

This past summer I made some very "grown-up" decisions as I moved across two states with a very large couch and a stack of cookbooks to a house with a yard, which I have to mow, for a 9-5 job with a Dell computer. Now tell me this isn't the ever-aniticipated, socially constructed "real world." And you know what I think?

I love it! I get eight hours of sleep, I look forward to my coffee every morning, I'm on a "normal" schedule for the first time, and I get to plan out my weekends with other real world victims. Personally, I work well on a schedule so some may call me a boring cog in the American fantasy story, but whatever - bring it on - I'm having a blast!

This "real world," or whatever it is, requires a schedule in order to pay the bills and pack in the fun, and  somewhere inside of me it has triggered a little obsessive compulsive behavior when it comes to setting my personal standards very high. Suddenly this la-la "whatever happens" girl, (me,) is finding competition quite appealing, particularly in the field of running. I started running leisurely in order to get my daily exercise into my schedule with the rest of society, but somewhere it turned into running up mountains, trying to beat personal bests on each new jaunt, and signing up for races in preparation for bigger and longer marathons. Where did this come from?! Ten years ago I had a high metabolism, hated working out, snuck out of gym class in high school, and ate french fries and milk shakes for midnight snacks. Now? I eat quinoa almost everyday, drink coconut water, and have set a new goal of running an Ultra: a 100 mile trail run. That is an obsession, I mean discussion, for a different day.

Sure I'm probably over-educated for this job and not making enough for investments, (not like I actually know what a stock is anyway,) but I look forward to Mondays, I get to talk to amazing children everyday,  I laugh more with my co-workers than anyone, and I have the assurance that what I do is truly making a difference. I'll gladly trade a few stocks for someone telling me, "thank you so much for everything you do."

Regardless of what you call it, whether I've succumbed to the drone of society or not, I have a jam-packed schedule of amazing life-changing events every single day and I am soaking it up. Yes, I do love this 9-5 "real world" life, even with the bumps. Watch out, I may even be caught whistling a tune while I throw laundry in the washer at the end of a hard day.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Romantic To a Fault

Within a year I have earned a masters, swam at the lakes, moved to the big city, run a marathon, rocked some pool parties, presented at a national conference, applied to hundreds of jobs, planted a garden, painted two pictures, went to the fair, dressed up as Mrs. Potato Head, skied fresh powder in Montana, backpacked in Costa Rica, lost a dear friend, and made old friends new again. All the while I only felt inspired to write my blog twice. Two times, that’s it. How quickly creativity can leave, but how quickly it can come back again and pass once more if you’re not paying attention. So I'm taking advantage of this wonderful rainy day in the city to clear some things up.

I have relished in the heartbeat of the city, commuting by bike through the towering businesses, sipping coffee while watching canoes drift by on the inner city lakes. I mean, I am a romantic – to a fault – which is why I thought I would love the guys in skinny jeans riding fixed gears, the girls in leopard flats and fingerless gloves, the fact that chefs are more popular than NFL players, and how the sound of jazz winds itself out of the saxophone  on the street corner and into the ears of city dwellers.

But it fizzled out. Square peg, round hole. That is how I feel in a city that has really captured my heart. Something just doesn’t quite fit. Ten months after we moved into our trendy uptown apartment we are leaving for something new. No matter how I say it, it sounds trite: a new adventure, a new chapter in our life, the next leg of the journey, back in the saddle again! No matter how it’s said, our lease is up in a month, we are quitting our jobs, and will be listening to records and the sound of “ccckkkkkiiiik…!” as we rip piece after piece of packing tape, boxing up our city life.

I constantly hear, “Why don’t you just stick it out?” Stick what out? It’s hard to level with someone who would rather stay in a mediocre job with a semi-comfortable lifestyle, than risk everything to be genuinely happy. Stick it out? We have no house, no kids, no pets, no real jobs, pretty much no money. The possibilities are endless! I had someone this year tell me that I move so much because I am unhappy, that all I'm doing is searching for myself, and that I will never find happiness traveling. I’m sorry if it makes you uncomfortable, but traveling certainly brings me happiness. Dave and I are not searching for the true meaning of life, nor are we trying to “find ourselves” across the map of the world. When we are bored, we move. When we are satisfied, we try something new. Unlike many people, we are not afraid to make our lives better.

So why aren’t we sticking it out? Seeing if it gets better? I’ll throw another cliché out: Life is short. If you’re not happy, change it. We’re constantly changing and loving every single minute of it. So Minneapolis, you are beautiful and you have been good to us. So long, farewell, and until next time.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Generation: Revolution

I live in a very quiet world in my apartment with no television, no radio, and no internet. I have a record player and the sounds of the alley to keep me company during the day. For the most part I thoroughly enjoy not having to keep up with the Kardashians, or stress out over what unintelligent thing a certain Minnesotan representative is going to say next. But I have regretted falling behind on news concerning the Occupy movement and what amazing things are going on across this country and around the world.

...do you realize we are in the middle of a revolution? A REVOLUTION!

Young people, old people, liberal, conservative, rich, and poor are gathering together because they're sick of it. Sick of inequality, an unequal distribution of wealth, increasing debt, a constantly widening division in Washington, complete apathy towards the 99 percent of the country, and just plain sick of not being listened to.

They used to call us lazy. What about now?

The Occupy movement has been criticized for not being organized and not presenting a clear list of demands and wishes. That's not what this is about. It's not about finding a leader, creating a new cabinet of leaders, sitting down with politicians, and politely asking for a change. This is about saying "We want change - NOW!" So what do these Occupy protesters want? What are they "occupying?"

I can only speak for myself.

I don't want to pay $30,000 + / year so I can get an education in this country.

I don't want to have to wonder that if I choose to make an investment, whether or not that money will be embezzled or stolen by some rich CEO.

I am frustrated that after six years of school, two degrees, and literally hundreds of job applications later, I am a waitress at the age of 27.

I am angry that, while our country is a democracy, no one in Washington is listening to what I have to say. No one is willing to stand up, risk their careers, and do the right thing!

I don't want to watch campaigns that are funded by the rich, the corporations, the 1%. Hey politician, who are you, but just another tax write-off?

I want to feel the power and enlightenment that so many young people across the Arab world are feeling as they take back their country. This is our country! Why aren't we able to elect people who deserve to be in office? Vote on things that truly matter to us?

So who are we?

We are the 99%, we are the people you see at the grocery store, we are in your classrooms, at your gas station. We are the doctors, the teachers, the unemployed, the disabled, the young, and the old. We are the ones voting, the ones paying the taxes, the ones working, the ones following the rules.

We are the ones without a voice.

Ask yourself: are you afraid of a revolution?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Another chapter: City Life in Minneapolis

Having never truly lived in a city I'm not sure how city life is supposed to feel. Or sound. Or taste. It's loud, that's for sure, but there' s a sort of serenity to the white noise that comes with buses whizzing by, sirens in the background, children with backpacks laughing and yelling on their way home. And crickets. Yes, in Minneapolis, above the gentle roar of the waxing and waning of the city you can still hear the peaceful sound of crickets coming alive as the sun sets over the lake and the fluorescent-lit skyline.

Certainly it's been an adjustment moving to the city. I spent over a month living on a couch, driving hundreds of miles looking for jobs, trying to find belongings lost in so many moves. A curling iron here, a frying pan there. It felt like a dream with countless resumes sent out, trips to the grocery store, anticipating interviews, being told "sorry, but no," and the sound of a cracked beer in a quiet kitchen at the end of the night. And then, just as life always happens, I was offered a job and asked to start the next day. (Back to the wonderful world of serving rich people in a restaurant...more about that on a later day.) I had only the clothes in my car, Dave was still four hours away, and we had no home. The next couple of weeks were a test to our relationship. The miles racked up on our vehicles, we spent a lot of money, argued over the phone, and wondered whether or not to believe the mantra "everything always works out."

But here we are, finally settling into a drastic new chapter of our life. Dave finally found a job that he's content with, one that gives him enough time to play music and pursue dreams he has had since he was old enough to hold a guitar. And after weeks of looking for a place to live we met a girl who said she was leaving her apartment in six days and we could take it. We now live in a tiny (and when I say tiny, I mean it,) apartment in Uptown on a tree-lined street one block from the hullabaloo of the hipsters, the homeless, and the hurried happenings of Hennepin Avenue.

I actually love it.

Sure I miss the mountains, the peacefulness of watching people fly-fish on the river, and the wonderful Montana air. But here I still walk to the grocery store, ride my bike for miles around the city, and am able to find a quiet spot to read my book. I used to wonder, with amazement, how some people never ventured out of their comfortable circle in life. How can they not explore the world? How can they not care? I used to think. But now I look at the culture here, the diversity, the abundance of - for lack of a better word - life, here, and I am singing a different tune. I never had it all figured out, none of us do. There is so much to explore where you are, so many stories to hear. Don't believe me? Spend the afternoon in Minneapolis's Department of Motor Vehicle center. Talk about a trip!

So overall everything's great. We have enough to eat, jobs to get us through, and time to ride bike and have a beer with friends. No, it's not what I planned or even imagined life would be like right now, but when is it ever that way? If you bear with me I will try to document the wild life of Minneapolis and my professional demotion back to a restaurant server for women with diamonds and men wearing loafers with no socks. But like I said, that's a story for a different day.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Reflections of A Virgin Marathoner

4 hours and 51 minutes later I crossed the finish line with a huge smile, arms in the air, and breathed a huge sigh of relief. And then the floodgates of tears opened. I cried because I was so tired, so excited to be done, but also so emotional that I could check something so big off the bucket list.

And it all began eight weeks ago.

I'm not sure what possessed me to wake up one morning and decide I was going to run a marathon. Somehow I felt inspired to lace up the running shoes, go for a jog, and decide that I would start training right then and there. I never stuck to the training schedule (as you may have read in previous blogs,) but I endured cold weather, blizzards, being chased by dogs, getting stuck in drainage ditches, and the most painful shin splints.

And all for what?

Since Sunday I've been asked many times, "Was it worth it?" and "Would you do it again?" People just shake their head and laugh as they watch me hobble by in pain, wondering why anyone would ever put themselves through this. At first I didn't understand it either. Some days it would be so hard to get out and train and I would almost convince myself that it wasn't worth it. But now I get it. While everyone in the race is unique and runs for different reasons, I feel like there are two types of marathon runners: those who race, and those who run. I am a runner. I am not in it to win it, or in it to accomplish a certain time; I simply run until I stop. As I ran on Saturday I watched people around me and saw myself in so many of them. They were in the zone, practicing what they had worked for for so long, and telling themselves "you're almost there." Many shirts said "Running in remembrance of..." or "In it to finish." I ran behind one girl for almost 22 miles and her shirt said "The feeling of pain is nothing compared to the feeling of quitting. Keep running." I read that one over and over again to myself. Just keep running.

I felt very moved and inspired by all the spectators on the streets of Fargo and Moorhead. People smiled and cheered us on, many of whom I'm sure knew no one in the race; they just felt compelled to cheer on thousands of strangers. My bib had my name on it so it was quite surreal to run by and hear "You can do it Jenny!" "Come on Jenny, you're almost there!" I was sweating, red in the face, and breathing hard but I didn't care because I was surrounded by thousands of others just like me. Every racer was putting his or her pain on display for the whole city to see. Raw pain, humility, passion, and desire.

And then it was over. I crossed the finish line alone, completely elated, and then stopped. I thought I would be so glad to stop running, to be able to sit down, but it didn't feel right. I felt like I should keep running, just keep moving. The rest of the day was hazy and surreal. Everyone kept asking me, "How was it?" but explaining the experience was like reliving a great dream. Details were blurred, time seemed irrelevant, and I felt very alone, but in a good way.

So was it all worth it? Imagine waking up from a great dream and being able to slip back into the wonder of it all a second or third time. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Wouldn't you?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

7 days to go...

Whew, it's been awhile since I've written but let me tell you - life has not slowed down for a second. In the midst of all this training for a marathon I managed to finish my thesis, write a 15 page final exam, present my research to the department, organize a going away party for Dave and I, pack up the entire apartment and move back to the midwest. I got a few runs in here and there but there were certainly more days I just said "Ugh...I hate running." It's been exhausting and I've been less than motivated. Let's take the run I did two weeks ago as an example...

I planned on doing a 14 mile run, mapped out the whole thing, stretched, and prepared the night before. Oh boy, nothing could have prepared me for this treacherous run. It started out alright, albeit slightly chilly. The road I was running on started to head out of town which, in Montana, means the shoulder disappears. I was running on a road where cars were driving 70 miles past me, dust was flying up in my face, and the temperature was dropping. Suddenly, at about 4 miles, two vicious dogs came running out of their house, barking violently at me. "No!" I was yelling and commanding them to stop. "Sit!" They kept barking, coming closer and closer and I had nothing to do, so I ran faster! "NO!" Imagine me running, yelling at these two dogs to "sit! go away!" as cars were racing past me without hesitation. And then it happened again another mile down the road! An annoying, ankle-biting chihuahua came racing out of its trailer park, barking and foaming at the mouth (ok, that may be an exaggeration,) trying to bite me. Luckily I could just kick that one out of the way.

I thought the worst was over, but I was wrong. I reached a bridge that I could not run across without risking my life, or at least a few limbs, so I thought to myself, "well, I can just hike around it. The ditch doesn't look that bad." So I climbed over the bridge and into the ditch, which quickly dropped off into a marsh of broken glass and barbed wire. I found myself avoiding thorny bushes, questionable bags of garbage, and climbing over drainage pipes, all the while balancing on an extremely steep embankment. Finally I made it out, said a few curse words, and finished the first half of the run. I was planning on running in and out but after the disastrous start I thought it would be better to take another route home.

I dipped under the interstate and decided to take the frontage road home. About half a mile into it the wind picked up to a steady 60 miles an hour. Road signs on the interstate were shaking, debris was flying out of the ditch, and my shirt kept coming up as cars drove by. "Are you kidding me!" I yelled to the sky. "I hate running!" Each step felt like I was lifting a twenty pound weight on each foot. I could hardly move my legs, I was freezing cold, and a slight drizzle had started to pelt my face in the gusting wind. Cars whizzed by and I secretly hoped one would hit me so I could be taken to the hospital where they have warm beds.

But I finally made it, after a couple of walking sessions, lots of loud yelling into the wind, and maybe even a few tears. As I was walking the last block back to my house my neighbor rode by on his bike and yelled, "Come on, you baby - run!" If I had a stick, it would have been thrown into his bike spokes.

I hate to say it, but I have hardly run since then. I am staying with my parents right now and the temperature has been near freezing with pouring rain. How am I supposed to train in this? It's far easier to sit back and watch "I Used To Be Fat" on MTV. But today I bought new shorts and an amazing zebra tank top from the 1980s, (which I will proudly sport during the race,) and it has inspired me to get back in the game. So tomorrow is a biggie - 18 miles. My dad is going to meet me half way as an "aid station" with water. (I told him to ride his bike so I'm not tempted to jump in the car.) After that I am going to focus on biking and endurance training, trying not to injure my legs before Saturday. I feel like I have the endurance to complete this thing if my legs and hips can withstand the pain. That means lots of massaging, ibuprofin, energy gels (yuck,) and motivational words. Any positive reinforcement is encouraged!

7 days to go....wow.