Fat Lady on a Bike: My Journey to Peace and Fitness

Join me and my wonderful Electra Townie bike on my continuing journey to inner peace and both inner and outer fitness.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fathers' Day Musings

Today is Fathers' Day, and Facebook is full of warm and loving tributes to all kinds of fathers, both living and dead, as was the Sunday newspaper.  As I read the interesting and often heartwarming tributes, I found myself suddenly catapulted into the dark place I inhabited after my father died, 20+ years ago.  In Jewish tradition, a mourner "sits shiva" for seven days after the burial, and it is customary to sit on the floor or a low stool -- not for punishment, but as an outward indication of internal discomfort.  I sat on the floor that week and tried to figure out how I could deal with the liturgical presumption of honor and love for a parent when I felt neither of those things for the man who had sired me.  I finally figured out that while I felt nothing but anger and bitterness towards my father, who had betrayed me, I could genuinely mourn my daddy, who had given me life, taught me values he couldn't live up to himself, and encouraged me to be myself and stand up for what I believed.

My daddy was a loving man, quick to hug, who loved to play.  We spent hours in the back yard, playing catch or badminton, and he seemed to enjoy helping me with school projects.    He was funny and outgoing, and loved to argue about ideas with me.  He believed that I could do anything I set my mind to accomplish and that the whole world was open to me, not just the parts officially labeled "for girls." He taught me always to tell the truth.  He loved me unconditionally, or so I believed.

My father was a weak man, whose supposed principles were subject to considerations of expediency.  He had great ideas and intense passions, but never followed through on them for very long.  Our basement was littered with remnants of his previously all-consuming projects.  He seemed to value a peaceful life above justice and fairness.  Under the influence of my wicked stepmother, he stole from his parents.  And he disowned me, not once, but twice.

Thank you, Daddy, for giving me life and helping me become the woman I am.  On this day of reflection and remembrance, I miss you more than I can easily express, torn away as you were not by distance or death, but by your own misguided choices.  I wish I'd had you longer in my life.

A hui hou.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Road Trip!

Tomorrow, I'm leaving to drive 1300+ 78rpm records out the the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where they are going to be the centerpiece of the Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture.  This represents a small fraction of my total collection, so this is only the first of many such drives, I suspect.  I've gotten the records loaded into the car (bless MiniMoves and More for their willingness to do such small jobs -- small for them, huge for us!) and all the electronic files safely stored on an external drive.  Now all I have to do before leaving tomorrow afternoon is get all my personal stuff together.

I love road trips.  Since I was a child, taking pride in helping my dad navigate, following the AAA Trip-Tik and keeping track of the family's expenses, I've loved the feeling of anticipation and adventure of setting out in the car.  I could sit for hours (and did), looking out the window, trying to imagine what life was like in all the places we passed.  When I became an adult, I loved doing the driving, especially the ability to leave the designated path if something interesting caught my eye.  In our travels, Carol and I especially love going to the ends of roads whenever we can.  There's something very satisfying about that.

During my younger years, driving also became a supremely comforting activity.  During the tumultuous years before Carol and I got together, I would spend hours driving around New England by myself.  I'd turn on the radio or listen to tapes and follow the most circuitous, scenic pathways I could find, barely stopping to eat or take care of bodily functions.  This was, in fact, pretty much the only time I successfully comforted myself regularly without food.  I don't know exactly why it worked, but it did.  Then I became a gigging musician, playing with the Wholesale Klezmer Band, which was based in Western Massachusetts, so I had to do a lot of driving for both rehearsals and gigs.  While I usually enjoyed the drives to the venues where we performed, the drives home were less thrilling, especially in the middle of the night, and driving kind of lost its charm.  Since I quit the band, most of my driving has been strictly functional, and the fact that until last month, our cars were both aged and kind of uncomfortable didn't make the prospect of taking to the roads very appealing.

But now, I'm filled again with that early excitement, and a brand-new, comfortable car with incredible amenities (XM radio, a fully-functional iPod connection, adjustable lumbar support) increases the likelihood that my imaginings will resemble the reality of the ride.  I look forward to the long hours by myself, free to listen to whatever catches my attention in a moment, or to be still and think, or not.

In my younger years, when I hit the road, all I had to do was throw some clothes in a bag and walk out the door.  Things aren't so simple now.  Somewhere along the line I became incredibly high maintenance!

I have to pack all my medicine and nutritional supplements, enough for the  whole time I'll be gone.  I have to pack my CPAP machine and mask.  I have to pack a fairly comprehensive selection of food, since my recently uncovered sensitivities make eating at the roadside service areas, or even most convenient restaurants, next to impossible.  It will probably take me 10 minutes to pack my clothes, and 2-3 hours to get everything else ready.  I guess that is one of the consequences of aging.  I'm trying to feel grateful that I can take care of myself so well on the fly, rather than weighed down by all the restrictions and imperatives.  But whatever I feel, tomorrow afternoon, as close to 2pm as I can make it, I'll be behind the wheel, heading west.  And I'll be grinning my head off.

A hui hou.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Spiritual Geography

Yesterday was amazing, meteorologically.  I was awakened in the morning by a tremendous clap of thunder, and my bedtime was delayed by one of the loudest, brightest thunderstorms I can remember and some serious concern about the possibility of a tornado.  Then this morning dawned clear, sunny, breezy and mild, a perfect early summer day.  It was peaceful, pleasant and perfect.

As I drove around doing errands and enjoying the sunlight and the breeze blowing through the window, I found myself musing about how the storm and its aftermath were a great metaphor for the upheavals and accomplishments of the inner work I've been doing.  So often it feels as though when I go through the really hard times, the interludes of soul-baring, acknowledging painful feelings and the like, it's like the violence and power and, yes, grandeur of that huge thunderstorm.  But when I'm through the soul-baring and the pain, I expect the clarity and sunshine and peace to follow.  Often they do, but only for a little while.

In geographical terms, it feels as though the storms of Massachusetts should be followed by a permanent move to the perfection of Hawaii.

Unfortunately, the sunshine and peace never last.  Already this afternoon clouds rolled back in and the temperature dropped 15 degrees.  And it seems as though the struggle and the learning are never done, either.

The real question is, much as I love Hawaii, would I be happy living there all the time?   I enjoy the occasional bluster, and the deep clarity of a cool, autumn day, and the changing leaves.  I enjoy the transformation from the bleakness of winter to the blossoming and budding of spring.  I enjoy the occasional violent thunderstorm (though in fairness, I have to point out that this year we had a few of those in Hawaii as well, not to mention an annual tsunami warning). 

Anyone who has ever been an English major, as I was, is familiar with William Blake's ideas about innocence and experience.  Experience, with its harsh reality, always seemed to me preferable to the blandness of innocence.  If my journey takes me through the occasional bout of howling darkness, I can embrace that darkness because of what it teaches me.  Still, I love waking up every morning in Hawaii knowing that 99 days out of 100 the sun will be bright and the sky clear.  And knowing that it will cloud up mid-afternoon, only to be bright and clear again in the cool of sunset.  I would love to have that kind of certainty about my life and health right now.

In the end, I guess my two homes suit me very well, both physically and spiritually.  As I love them both, perhaps I can learn to be happy whatever my internal climate brings me.

A hui hou.

Where, Oh Where Has My Little Blog Gone?

You may have noticed that I haven't been writing much of late.  I've noticed that, too.  As I've thought about why that is, I realized that it's mostly about shame.  At first I thought it was about that famous river in Egypt; certainly in the past, I've avoided dealing with unpleasant things, difficulties and challenges by choosing, either consciously or unconsciously, not to acknowledge their existence.  But the fact is, in the two months since we've been back from our winter home, I've been very much aware of what's bothering me and actively working to try to make life better.  Denial was really not a factor.

And then it struck me that I didn't want to be blogging about what is going on with me for the simple reason that I was mired in shame.  During the period this winter when my CPAP mask wasn't functioning properly, I lost the ability to recognize and respond to cues about hunger and fullness and ended up gaining some additional weight, which was not enough to affect me while I was still in warm weather attire, but catapulted me into despondency as I made the transition to long pants and tee shirts.  The physical discomfort I was feeling in those clothes, many of which I couldn't wear at all any more and the rest of which were all elastic, overwhelmed me and cast me back into a state of shame and guilt and paralysis that I didn't expect to experience again on this journey.  And feeling that shame made me loath to write, which gave those horrible negative feelings all the more power.

You wouldn't think that there would be much I could be ashamed about, given all the feelings and situations I've share in this blog.  Clearly, it isn't about the feelings and situations themselves, but how I feel about them, and about myself.  The fact is, I wrote the preceding paragraph with a light heart just now, whereas last week I was unable even to look at the bookmark for this page on my browser toolbar.

What changed?  I bought some new pants.

This seems like such a small thing to do, a small practical task.  But it actually was so much more than that.  It was a conscious step away from self-flaggelation and towards kindness to myself, towards acceptance of who and what I am in this moment. 

And so, I am back, with much to share and process and celebrate.

A hui hou.