Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cheaper than therapy

So, I've been struggling with something unusual and fairly disturbing lately...

Feeling bored while running!

My gosh. To my friends out there who frequently tell me I'm crazy and they have no idea why I enjoy running, I think I finally understand you. I have no idea what to blame for this unprecedented emotion, but the vast majority of my runs recently have just felt...dull. And mostly me just thinking about wanting to be done. Tired feet, tired body, feeling like I'm just dragging it through the motions. And resentful that I have some big races in the next few months (starting next weekend!) that I have to train for, so just not running if I don't feel like it is not really an option; I'm committed to those races.

Okay, maybe I have some theories:

1. I've been running in shoes that I've put over 1,000 miles on. Footwear faux pas/fail...and I should know better.
2. I've been running almost exclusively on pavement around the city, rather than out on trails in the mountains.
3. I made a New Year's resolution to run more regularly; not necessarily more miles overall, but changing my running habits from 1-2 ridiculously long (10-25 mile) runs/week to 3-4 shorter (3-7 mile) runs/week + the occasional longer one. The problem is that my runs usually don't start feeling good until 7 or 8 miles in...the first few miles always hurt and make me wonder why I do this to myself again and again. But then, inevitably, I hit my stride, my runner's high, and it all comes flooding back to me, and I can't wait to do it all over again. But of course, ridiculously long runs take ridiculously large swaths of available daylight hours - of which there are few these days, between work, school and January in Seattle.

Nevertheless, it's been bothering me a lot. Running gives me energy and pride and identity. Running makes me feel strong. Running is cheaper than a gym membership and cheaper than therapy. Running lets me eat whatever the heck I want and not worry about it. Running has helped me get to know Seattle in and out - its multitude of diverse neighborhoods, its parks and canals and bridges, its "backcountry" trails, its hidden public stairways, its best mountain views, its prettiest places to watch sunsets, its most hardcore hills, its nicest waterfront areas, cafes and bistros and independent shops tucked away in residential areas to go back and explore later. Running has romanticized the city for me in so many ways. (That's thanks to Amsterdam, the city which truly made me fall in love with running..., and where I learned the joys of exploring cities by (fleet!) foot.)

I don't want to be bored with running!

Fortunately, I've had a couple good runs this past week that have given me back some confidence. Maybe I do just need to rescind that New Year's Resolution, because the good ones were both 2+ hour runs, while all the meh-runs have been the much shorter ones. (This is why I always tell non-runner friends: If you don't like running, the solution is to do it more! The more you run, the more fun it gets.) One of the stellar, ah-I-DO-still-enjoy-this runs was at Cougar Mountain, my first serious trail run in a good while. It was raining, and the rain fell increasingly harder as the hours passed. I ran through so many washed out trails and mud puddles, and was soaked and chilled to the bone at the end of it - but deliriously happy! I felt like myself again: rejuvenated, alive, content.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep...

Then today, I planned a long urban run between work and class - one of my favorite routes around the city, starting in Belltown, running alongside Lake Union, through Fremont, along the ship canal trail (so reminiscent of Amsterdam - bikes and drawbridges included!), through Magnolia, around my favorite loop trail around the wild Discovery Park with stunning waterfront views of the Olympic Mountains, then back and to Gasworks Park for a good skyline view, and around the east side of Lake Union again. Did 17 solid miles today, and took the following set of cell phone pictures of all the reasons running was not boring today.

The sun finally crept out from under the clouds.

Bald eagle(s) sighting! See if you can see the pair of them hanging out in the tree. Seeing them in the wild out here still stops me in my tracks, every time.

Sunset reflected on Lake Union, with Space Needle in the fuzzy background. No colors digitally altered here in any way. It truly was spectacular.

So, I guess I'm still a runner.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Are we home yet?

(From my journal) August 31, 2009 - "I think I underestimated how lonely a new city can be...starting from scratch. Meeting new people who are all nice and friendly, but really just missing the close friends of my past, doubting if I'll ever be able to forge those kinds of connections anew again...
"Home" is so lost and distorted for me by now, with pieces of myself scattered across two continents and more cities than I can count, in the hearts of so many people I've met along the way. I just have to have faith that this place will work out, too; it just may take awhile."

I find myself coming back to the theme of home again and again in my writing. (It's been nearly two years since the last time I wrote about home, so I figure it's time again.) I've been reflecting on it a lot lately, because I've now been in Seattle a full year and a half, I am training new hires at REI (many of whom, like myself, are Midwest transplants), and I have begun to have friends who've come to Seattle even more recently than myself.

What a pleasure, finally, to feel like I have a good grasp on this place, that I no longer have to print out Mapquest directions to get to somewhere else in the city, that I can share my favorite cafes and restaurants and parks with newcomers, and above all, that I have cultivated the kinds of friendships here I feel are going to be friendships for life.

It took some time, though. Even with Alan here with me, and Seyeon in Seattle when I first arrived, the first few months (and then some) were often hard. Despite the excitement of being somewhere new that I felt confident would someday feel like home, the truth was that it didn't right away - far from it.

October 2, 2009 - "I took a shower in hopes that it would feel cleansing and rejuvenating, and it did, sort of...but mostly I just rubbed my eyes in frustration, feeling the hot water beading up on my back, and imagining myself years down the road when I'll look back on this time in my life and remember how lonely the city used to make me feel once upon a time. Cities ARE lonely. I'm so in love with this place, but what of it without Seyeon? I miss Ohio."

Am I homesick for Kansas? I get asked this. I have the same reaction that I see from many other new arrivals in Seattle when asked if they miss where they came from - a sort of scrunched up face, then: "I miss my family. And friends. But otherwise, no, not at all."

Don't get me wrong. I feel grateful for where I grew up - in a nice house in a beautiful neighborhood, across the street from woods and a creek and a hundred continuous miles of forested bike path, within walking distance of my elementary school and Chipotle and a Starbucks-knockoff coffeeshop, with a pond and waterfall and huge old trees in my backyard.

Me + Kansas = Home, Version 1.0. (Photo by Kelly Anderson.)

I regret that I ever found amusement in the bumper sticker "Kansas: As Bigoted As You Think It Is" (a play on Kansas' admittedly silly state motto, "Kansas: As Big As You Think It Is" (what? Coast People can't even point to Kansas on a map; they have no preconceived notion of its bigness...and even if they did, since when is "Big" a sought-after quality?))*, because in spite of a few intolerant people I grew up going to school with, there's no use in perpetuating unproductive stereotypes.

Truth be told, Midwesterners are great, and I maintain a fondness, and even protectiveness, in my heart for my home state despite my lack of desire to ever move back. I'll defend Kansas if you're Coast People and make flyover jokes. I am offended when you think Kansas and Ohio are next to each other. I get excited when I see KU bumper stickers on cars out here. Many of my favorite people in Seattle are from the Midwest (mostly Iowa!); I fell in love harder with Ohio while at Oberlin than I did California while I was at Stanford; I brought my born-and-raised-Midwesterner boyfriend out here with me. Yes, I feel an ache in my heart for wraparound porches and big skies and affordable houses and all-you-can-eat buffets and feeling safe running alone at night.

Me + Ohio = Home-like love, but not lifelong home-like love

But with all that said, I feel deep, deep in my soul that the Pacific Northwest is home for me. It's been a gradual settling in to this place, an exercise in patience, in finding my groove, in training my body to love running hills, in learning to take Vitamin D supplements to help make it through the gray blanket of winter. I thoroughly enjoyed the honeymoon phase while it lasted, and now am warm with the enduring comfort and affection I feel on the other side of that. I get to relive that discovery and share it with new Seattle arrivals, while ultimately appreciating the way Seattle has, for me, developed the ragged Realness I learned about once upon a time from the Velveteen Rabbit - the kind that's brought about only by real love, and never goes away.

Me + Washington state = Definite home-like love

Those of us that chose to move here, we were all drawn to the Northwest for different reasons. Nevertheless, there is a single and persistent thread that's brought so many of us out here, and it's one that can weave a home for anyone who simply has the patience.

May 3, 2009 - "I feel connected again, and a part of this world! So many times since I've moved here, Seattle has felt big and lonely and maybe not the right place for me after all - and nothing is scarier than wanting to crawl back into your own cocoon, into something familiar and safe again, only to realize that that home base has disappeared and you've no choice but to squint into the sunlight, spread your wings and fly. But today, right now, Seattle feels like home."

The lonely entries tapered off and ceased altogether a long time ago; it's hard to even identify with them anymore. Nearly a year since that last one, I feel content and comfortable here as though I have, in fact, spent my whole life delicately tucked between the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade Mountains, nestled next to Puget Sound, living where the highway signs point to either Vancouver or Portland, and I feel darn lucky to be sandwiched in what seems to me to be pretty much the greatest place on Earth. I am grateful for all that this city has given me in the past year and a half. Thank you, Seattle! I'm still in love with you.

*With apologies for the double parentheses. Annoying, I know. Couldn't help it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

On the unfolding conundrum of life

I have been woefully inattentive to my blog of late - but not for lack of having things to write about, but rather the opposite...too much! Too many adventures! Too many ideas! I've had the hardest time sleeping lately, because my mind has been overactive since the start of the new year.

I love new years. Metaphorical or not, new beginnings are powerful places from which to draw out change, to make new commitments, to drop old ones that aren't working anymore. December 31 is always a catalyst for me, and this year was no different.

As I sat down a couple weeks ago to write my annual epic New Years journal entry (a tradition I have kept steadily for one full decade now), I reflected on 2010 - its triumphs, its ground-breaking or otherwise memorable moments, its times of transition, and the unfortunate few things that persistently stressed me out a lot! As is my tradition, I try to turn as much of my rambling year-end commentary into productive insight and fodder for a better year ahead. My overarching conclusions for this time around?

I'm proud and invigorated by many aspects of 2010:
- holding down several jobs that have both given me great pleasure and taught me infinitely about myself, the way I relate to others, and the business of life
- traveling to do what I love: meeting new people, taking photographs, and writing stories
- taking on a new level of commitment to long distance running that carried me to many beautiful mountains, trails, and islands in pursuit of the runner's high
- taking the time and energy not only to go back to school but also to figure out what continuing education program would truly stir my soul (and then going for it!)
- making the most of this beautiful city and state I live in, and not taking this landscape for granted
- focusing new energy and investing in my personal health and wellness
- cutting down on the turnover in my life that practically defined it during my college years...i.e. thoroughly enjoying the fact that I am still living in the same apartment, with the same wonderful person, enjoying the same amazing friends, working for the same great people, and waking up each morning to the same mountain range on the horizon, that I was last year. Three cheers for the first full year in nearly a decade that I haven't MOVED.

...but for all the good, there have been things at which I can do better, too. My number one priority for 2011 is to stress less. It's really been spectacular, reflecting now, how quick I've been to develop huge amounts of anxiety over the most mundane things. I didn't always used to be this way. If I trace it back, I think it generally goes back to senior year of college, the first year I tried to balance school, work, AND single-handedly organizing a community 5K race in Oberlin. While the school/work balance would have been okay, the race-directing thing pushed me over the brink of acceptable stress levels, because for the first time in my life, I felt that there could be no relaxing; if I had a moment to relax, it needed to be devoted to something productive. And I haven't really managed to get off the Efficiency Train since, which, though sometimes useful, generally moves too fast for its own good...

What stressing less looks like:
Excuses to share a few photos from recent months with my non-Facebook friends:

At my good friends Cam and Avey's wedding in October

80s-themed holiday work party.

First foray into winter hiking, Washington-style

Snowboarding for the first time in Washington! Mt. Baker

Snowshoeing on Christmas

Me and the parrot, hanging out at home.

So, not only for my sake, but for the sake of friends and loved ones around me who have occasionally suffered, too, at the hand of my stress levels, I am committing to stop that nonsense in 2011. This will mean: less perfectionism, less procrastinating, and less pressure on myself. (Out with the P's!) So far, so good.

With that said, I will NOT let go of the urgency I feel in my daily life - the urgency to get to work on the things that matter in this world - so that when I leave this Earth, expectedly or unexpectedly, 70 years from now or tomorrow, I can leave in peace with the confidence and knowledge that I did everything in my power to leave this place better than I found it. It is on that note that I will bring in the holiday, and take this moment in the blogosphere to reflect on the man we remember, honor, and celebrate today.

I am borrowing the following quote from Seth Godin's blogpost today - and Seth Godin, of course, borrowed these words from Martin Luther King, Jr. How powerful words are when their relevance transcends the boundaries of era or generation. The urgency King speaks of is what makes great leaders, and it is what I will continually strive for in my own life as well.

"We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood -- it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, "Too late." - MLK

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Snowshoeing in the mountains.

Future string band.

Sunrise this morning.

I can feel it in my bones; it's going to be a good year.

(More regular blogging to resume soon.)