Tag Archives: childhood

rustic


rustic adj. of, pertaining to, or living in the country, as distinguished from towns or cities; rural.

khaki scout

Spiders, bugs, ticks, snapping turtles, geese poop, cold, wind, rain, ticks and wet socks…these are all the things that make me cringe when I think about spending time outdoors, specifically, in the country. A decade ago I would have said the opposite of myself. I used to be a seasoned outdoors-woman, the kind you see in Patagonia catalogs – complete with handmade hemp necklace and Teva tanned feet. Girl  Scouts served as a refuge for my difficult childhood / teen years and I came to enjoy the beauty of the natural world. It became my comfort when I had no other. I knew how to survive, how to pitch canvas tents with stakes and start campfires with one match. I taught boating and canoeing, was a certified waterfront lifeguard who swam under docks during drills. I could repel, hike, brave rapids and cook a mean shepherd’s stew on an open fire. This past weekend as I listened to myself whining about the hard mattress I had to sleep on and the bug bites on my ankles during our annual trip out to my in law’s lake house, I started to wonder what had happened to make me so much different from the girl that used to count the days until the next camping trip…and more importantly, how to get some of her back.

My son is well on his way to becoming a lover of nature and the outdoors. He caught his first fish this past weekend and loves throwing rocks into the lake for hours on end. His knees are eternally bruised and scraped from running and climbing outside. He sat at the fire circle this past weekend and I could see in his face joy as the light from the flames danced across his cheeks. I knew that joy once too.  The nights of singing silly songs and acting out skits that only my friends and I thought were hysterical. The memories are as sweet as the piles of s’mores we ate and the sticky tree limbs we left behind from all of the charred marshmallows we roasted.

I also remember the not so pleasant things about living in the woods. The way you had to let yourself get completely bitten up by bugs and mosquitos for the first few weeks of the summer in order to become immune to their venom. The rolling over in the morning to find a squished daddy long legs on your pillow when you woke up. The rush to tie up tent flaps when a thunderstorm ran its path through the woods. Walking to the latrine in the middle of the pitch black night with a small flashlight and hearing the hidden animals around you rustle. I endured these things summer after summer, year after year, always returning to camp eagerly, yet now I scream at the mere sight of a spider.

To enjoy camping and the outdoors, you have to surrender control to a thing much bigger than you, that thing being nature. And these days, that scares the hell out of me…but I really, really want to find a way. I suppose at 36 years old, I have a lot more to lose than 17 year old me did. Still, I don’t want to be the suburban housewife standing idly clutching her handbag and reading texts while her husband buys their son their first mess kit. I feel that would be selling myself short. So in the next few months, I am going to try and give it my all. I am not going to turn this into an REI shopping spree either. No gear will be bought, no books other than my old scout handbook and some Google searches are needed. I’m going to go deep and find that person inside me that used to do all of those cool, outdoorsy things. This will be the most important badge I’ve ever worked for.  Hopefully I don’t hurt myself or anyone else, but I’ll have to face it if it happens.  There are bags of marshmallows waiting and wood teepees to build fires for them to roast on. But most importantly, there are all of those amazing camp songs I know are being wasted on bed time when they sounds so much better echoing through the forest, the way they were meant to be sung.

 “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…”
John Muir

 

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remembrance


remembrance n.  the action of remembering something

remembrance

Rosemary is for remembrance. I know this because we gave out small potted plants of rosemary as favors at my wedding. I’m coming up on my 11th wedding anniversary so it’s fitting that I chose this word. There was quite a drama over our photographs that day and although it is almost laughable now, 11 years later, I still have the same hang ups about photos. Photographs are totems of remembrance. When I think of this word, I recall the scent of musty photo albums and boxes of photographs all curled together in stacks that you peel apart, revealing a moment, a second in infinite time, long forgotten. When I find these boxes in the back of a closet, I could sit for hours sifting through them, looking at the people and trying to remember them. Remember the smells, the noises, the feeling of that polyester cat face sweatshirt I was wearing at that birthday party in the 5th grade. What I notice most, though, are that most of the photos, the best ones, are not posed, arm-over-shoulder -types. They’re more candid, casual, in the moment. These in my opinion are the very best photos.

Photos are sacred to me and so is the act of taking them. My father was a photographer and I lived amongst his Hasselblads and Minoltas and all their accoutrements which existed in the time before digital. You used to have to work much harder to take a photo back then. You had to know how to manually focus a lens. Just getting the roll of film into the camera was difficult because you could expose it, let alone the difficulties of developing it. There was a sense of waiting that used to exist when you took a photo. If you went on a trip you would have to sometimes wait weeks to see how your photos came out, praying that you at least got one or two good ones. Taking photos required patience, perseverance, and sometimes, luck alone. I remember all of my cameras with nostalgia. My first camera was a purple Le Clic that I got as a gift for my very first trip without my parents to Washington DC with my girl scout troop. My favorite camera was my pink Polaroid that I would bring to school and sneak photos of everyone with, especially my secret crushes. My most treasured is my father’s manual Minolta 35mm he gave to me when I wanted to “get serious” and I struggled with it for a good while learning how to use it, getting used to its ticks. These days I wield a 6 year old Nikon D60 digital camera. I like to switch it to manual and make myself work for my photos just to see if I remember all that my father taught me.

A month or so ago we took my son to an Easter egg hunt at our parish. When we arrived there weren’t many people there and my son was hell bent and determined to eat as many of the free munchkins he could grab. But as people arrived rapidly I began to notice something that really bothered me. Instead of letting the children roam and play, their parents were grouping them together in front of things and taking posed photos….dozens and dozens of posed photos – in front of brick walls, next to trees, with friends, with family, with the creepy girl/guy in the Easter bunny costume…constant clicking and so little living in the moment. It made me sad to see that they were ruining the natural beauty of children just having fun.

It set me to thinking about how we remember moments and how photographs stand for so much. Wouldn’t a picture be worth so much more if it captured the intangible seconds of time that aren’t perfectly set or posed? A photo should be a queue for the memory – an icon that sets our brains wild with memory, filling in the gaps that the photo doesn’t show. And so what if we remember it not so perfectly?  Remembrance isn’t something you can hold in your hands anyway.  The beauty of a photo is its ability to capture a second of time forever for you to return to whenever you want. With such power why would you choose to control it with posing, standing, and rigid smiles? You miss so much living with incessant clicking and directing. Life isn’t a movie, its life – breathing, screaming and laughing living. If a photo is blurry it’s because it should be.

There is a photo of my wedding that was taken on the porch of the house we rented for our reception. It’s a huge photo of my husband’s entire family with us, the happy couple. I don’t think I’ve looked at it since I received it from a family member shortly after the wedding. Months before I had specifically asked that the posed photography be kept to a minimum. We felt very strongly about it, but despite my wishes on my wedding day, the gathering still occurred. If it had been the only instance, I wouldn’t have cared. But it wasn’t. A few guests even stood next to the actual hired photographer and took the same pictures he was taking. It doesn’t make me sad any more that this happened. To be honest, I was not at all surprised. Yet sitting next to the rosemary plants on each table were disposable cameras for the guests to use to take their own photos of the day. Although many of them are blurred and some of them just didn’t develop, those are my favorite photos – and the ones I cherish above all the posed and professional photos. When you put them all together, they may be blurred and I don’t always look the way I would choose, but you get a sense of how much fun we had that day, how young we all were and how much was going on.  They give me many more minutes of remembrance than any posed, family picture. In those blurs and imperfections, I let my memories step in and fill in the spaces between. That’s what a good photo should do.

Long ago it must be

I have a photograph

Preserve your memories

They’re all that’s left you.

 

 

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petrichor


petrichor n. the smell of rain on dry ground

feet

It’s a rainy day. The sky is gray and the clouds are all smushed together, blocking the sun. The city air is embalmed with petrichor. As a lover of perfumes and scents, I’ve always noticed that “rain scented” perfumes don’t smell like petrichor at all – at least to me. It is true that they capture an essence of it, but I always feel that the imitation version smells much too nice. Petrichor seems to smell a little bit more like soil than the man – made versions do.  I think the world tends to glamourize petrichor with the high language of music and poetry, but quite honestly, there are some days where the rain on the pavement kicks up the scent of feral cat piss more than it makes me wax poetic about the odor in my nostrils. NYC  petrichor can smell like China petrichor to me – mildew and dirty. Suburban petrichor is a mix of cat piss, cedar chips and fertilizer most of the time. I would guess the petrichor of the forest is probably the best there is, the one closest to the imitated version, but couldn’t it be confused with mountain air or just the scent of the woods? In general, smell is an odd and wondrous thing not easily described or pinned down.

The other day my son and I were playing “pee-yew” feet,” which is mostly just me taking his nasty socks off after a long day at daycare and pretending to smell his genuinely stinky feet. He thinks it’s pretty funny for me to say “pee-yew feet” and repeatedly stick his feet in my face. We both crack up laughing over and over again. On our way to the kitchen to have the 3rd yogurt of the day, I started thinking about whether he understood the meaning of “pee-yew” or even smell at all. To my knowledge, he’s never complained of a smell to me. I wonder if he knows about smell. I know he can taste, so I am assuming he can smell as well. But how can I describe it to him? It’s not like sight or sound or even taste. Those senses seem so much more tangible. Smell is like the umami of senses. You just know, I guess, but it is frustrating to not have the words to describe since it’s actually quite an important part of life.

I remember the way school smelled on the first day of school. It was a mix of chalk dust, the teacher’s perfume and fresh paper. I loved that smell.  The smell I hate the most from my life are the medical smells – hospital cleaning solutions and iodine. I remember the pungent odor of chemo and alcohol swabs. I dread those smells the most and almost enter into a panic attack just thinking about them. When we were house hunting not too long ago, I always noticed that the houses smelled similar, as if there was a prescribed “clean” scent that they all achieved. It must have been some sort of Glade air freshener that was popular or possibly a mix of lemon Pledge and bleach. That smell means “clean house” to me now that I own my own house. The treasured chlorine reek of an indoor pool makes me warm and happy just thinking about it. I used to love swimming in that smell and then satisfyingly showering it off after as a reward for my efforts. But the smell of art supplies – paint, conte crayon, rollerball ink – these are among the most intoxicating for me. They signify freedom, relaxation and excitement for what I am about to create.

One day my son will understand what smell is and he will have his own opinion on petrichor. I will just give him time. For now he can enjoy our scentless game of “pee-yew” feet for everything but the smell.  I hope someday the memory of stinky toddler feet reminds him of me and our silly “pee-yew” game.

Smell

by William Carlos Williams

Oh strong-ridged and deeply hollowed 
nose of mine! what will you not be smelling? 
What tactless asses we are, you and I, boney nose, 
always indiscriminate, always unashamed, 
and now it is the souring flowers of the bedreggled 
poplars: a festering pulp on the wet earth 
beneath them. With what deep thirst 
we quicken our desires 
to that rank odor of a passing springtime! 
Can you not be decent? Can you not reserve your ardors 
for something less unlovely? What girl will care 
for us, do you think, if we continue in these ways? 
Must you taste everything? Must you know everything? 
Must you have a part in everything? 

 

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anopisthographic


anopisthographic  adj. having writing or printing on one side only

desk

“The only thing that makes one an artist is making art. And that requires the precise opposite of hanging out; a deeply lonely and unglamorous task of tolerating oneself long enough to push something out.”
― David Rackoff, Half Empty

I have to admit that lately I haven’t been scouring the OED as much to find words. I cheat a bit here and there and look at sites on the web that list strange or rarely used words. Anopisthographic is one such word that was found in this manner.  When I found this word, it made me recall what it was like to physically write on paper with a pen…for pages and pages…and how I rarely, if ever, do that any longer. It is in the physical “pen in hand” practice of writing that I feel I am working the hardest at creating something. Typing just doesn’t match up. If you are writing with a pen and you make a mistake, you have to work to remove it. You really have to think about what you are going to put down on the paper as it isn’t very easy to remove or rearrange it. In a way, you physically live your story. If you want to move a paragraph, you have to cut the paper and move it. If you misspell a word, you have to scratch it out or erase it. It leaves a mark as a reminder of your mistake.  If your pencil breaks or your pen runs out you have to sharpen or find a new one. I often think about the fact that I rarely physically write and if I did that it might strengthen my words that same way exercise strengthens my muscles, gives me stamina.

The act of writing on paper is also quite therapeutic. About a year ago I started “The Artist’s Way” because I was suffering from a creative block and just general malaise caused by being a stay at home suburban mom. The first thing you do when you start the Artist’s Way is wake up and write. You basically rise from a dead sleep, open a notebook and just write whatever it is that comes to mind. They are called “morning pages.”  At first it starts out as gibberish and doesn’t make a lot of sense. If you keep thinking of the same word over and over again, then you just write it. You’re not supposed to judge it.  It’s supposed to be a sort of cleansing of your “artist soul.” Sometimes it felt like a continuation of my dream and I would start in one place and end up in another. Other times, it was a struggle and made me angry. Rarely, a phrase or sentence would happen and start the creative journey. I haven’t gone back to read what I wrote in some time and I probably should. I didn’t get through the entire process of the Artists Way. I never created a masterpiece.

When I wrote my morning pages I filled up both sides of the page. Not writing on the other side felt wasteful and this has always been my feeling about writing on paper in general. I suppose it comes from a desire to fill up a page or pages the same way I do so many things in my life – my fridge, my closet, my brain. Having all of the pages embossed with lines of penmanship makes me feel accomplished, like I reached my creative quota, tangible proof that I made something.  I love pressing hard enough on the page so that the lines create a relief map on the other side and crinkle the paper, making it look worked over.

This word also makes me think about the old wooden school desks we used to write on when I was in elementary school. Every student was assigned their own, permanent desk each year and they were quite old. Each was like a time capsule from all of the other students who had sat at that desk before. Despite the constant warnings from teachers not to vandalize them, we still did. We had to leave our own mark. Random carvings on the wooden tops, crusty dried up bubble gum caked along the underside that looked like little upside down mountain ranges when you stuck your head under and looked up. Secret messages and love notes scribbled in permanent marker, sometimes in hidden places. We’d always have to write on top of workbooks or stacks of loose leaf to avoid inadvertent impressions on our vocabulary exercises. The surface of the desk was almost like the other side of the page coming through the one we were writing on. Like secret messages the desk was sending us about its history, its life story.

It makes me sad to think that my son won’t know a desk in the same way. That a white screen with buttons will be his most familiar definition of a page. It is up to me to ensure he  experiences the physical act of writing on paper despite the fact that the world we live in is making it obsolete. I want him to know and understand the meaning of “page” outside of an LCD screen. I want him to know how to create them in his own hand and have his own style of handwriting the way I have mine. I want him to have both sides to write on.

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jibe


jibe v. to be compatible with or similar to

Realistic

There’s a song that they sing when they take to the highway,
a song that they sing when they take to the sea,
a song that they sing of their home in the sky, maybe you can believe it if it helps you to sleep,
but singing works just fine for me.

-James Taylor, Sweet Baby James

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve heard this word a number of times in my life and not exactly known what it meant…well not enough to explain it with words. I sort of knew, but I think I thought it was “jive” and didn’t realize it was a B instead of a V. It always reminded me of dancing or catching some musical vibe. In a way, jibe is a combination of jive and vibe and I consider it a pretty musical word.

I listen to music a lot. With my depressive personality, it’s pretty much a form of self-medication. I love wine and I love music, and I love them together, but I would give up wine before music. I don’t think I could ever do without music…ever. I think I’d rather die. There are a few things in life that serve as fuel for my melancholy soul – music, exercise and books are three of them and in order to “jibe” with me, you need to agree with at least one of them. If it’s music, you’d be considered a close friend.

When I was a teenager, I didn’t have an abundance of friends. My parents didn’t have to time to drive me back and forth to school, so I walked a lot. It wasn’t a short walk either. My first “Walkman” was not a Sony, but a Radio Shack Realistic brand that was about the size and weight of a VHS tape. It had a cassette player and AM/FM receiver and it came with a pair of cheap foam covered, tinny sounding headphones that didn’t fold up and broke in a week. The kind with the metal adjustment sliders that caught your hair in them and hurt like a bitch. Nonetheless, I’d tape my favorite songs off of Z100  or HOT97 and keep that cassette in it or I would sometimes buy a single cassette from time to time to change things up. Sometimes I’d listen to the radio, but for the most part it was pretty homogenous and there wasn’t a lot to listen to. Whatever it was I was listening to created the soundtrack in my head as I walked. When I first started this practice, I listened to a lot of Belinda Carlisle and the GoGos. Later, I was really into hip hop and rap. Whatever the genre,  I would walk a daydream set to my soundtrack the entire way home. It relaxed and balanced me for all that I had to face. I still walk this way to and from work every day. Those foam headphones have been replaced by purple Beats and it’s my Iphone playing a curated playlist or shuffle instead of that old brick of a Realistic. I’m a seasoned practitioner now, but my tunes still get me through whatever the day holds.

My memories are also cataloged according to music and some days when I feel like the world is just being a bitch, I can pull them out like shelved records and play one to feel better. Just the other day someone was describing how Billy Joel no longer sings “Uptown Girl” because he divorced Christy Brinkley. I really didn’t want to hear this conversation so I just took that single down from the shelf in my brain. In my mind I was transported to my living room, to around 7 years old, listening to that song and getting ready for school, dancing around in my plaid uniform and knee socks. I remember having seen the video on television with Christy Brinkley in a sleeveless black dress dancing cheesily around with Billy Joel.  I wanted to be the uptown girl. Sometimes I still do.

Then there’s the Barbara Streisand, Barry Gibb “What Kind of Fool” memory of what I believe was my brother’s christening party at my Grandmother’s house in Bergenfield. It was in the basement – which was awesomely disco. It must have been around 1981.  I remember hearing this duet while watching the purple, plastic, beaded curtain sway amongst cocktail carrying relatives wearing fabulously large polyester collars. I can still see the red velvet wallpapered walls and burgundy sombreros that my aunt used as decoration. (She loved Acapulco.) I was playing with one of those plastic slot machine toys that squirted water in your face when you hit the jackpot and remember faintly of someone trying to explain to me what the party was all about. I apparently had a brother…or whatever that meant. Years later I heard this song in my head while we packed up that old basement and I carried away crates of old records that are now a personal prized possession. I feel authentically 70’s when I reminisce on this one.

But my most treasured, catalogued song is by James Taylor, whom my husband hates. It doesn’t bother me that he hates him and doesn’t enjoy this particular song, though. This song belongs to my father and I and I’m not interested in sharing it with anyone, so it’s fine that we don’t particularly jibe on this tune. When I listen to it, I feel like he’s with me the way he used to be, driving along in our beat up old Isuzu Trooper singing along on the way to who knows where. The sound and the sentiment embody who my dad was and listening to it feels more like a hug than a collection of harmonically pleasant notes.

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home


home n. the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.

boyer_family_old_01

I am often frustrated with my surroundings…especially when it comes to the place where I live; the place that I call home. When I lived in my childhood town of Teaneck, N.J., I wanted desperately to leave to go to school in Rhode Island. Providence was the place where my dreams were waiting for me. For the most part, this was true. Independence, my husband, my dog, my first real house – all of these things began, fittingly in a place called Providence. But after many a harsh winter and a dwindling economy without career growth in site it lost it’s luster and Brooklyn was where I was bound. Brooklyn – with it’s too small apartments and hipster neighbors. The flash and fury and life outside my door was home for a time. Yet after years of being stuck in subway tunnels and walking past piles of sewage smelling garbage, I ended up full circle back in Jersey with an expansive yard and looming maples – the picture perfect version of what every person thinks they want. Now I stand in my quaint, eclectic home with my husband of 10 years, 2 year old son, 9 year old dog, piles of things I have collected and made in order to call this house, this place a “home”…and yet I am still not sure that it is. My past homes beckon and the unknown future homes tempt…often. When I think about where I am right now, I don’t want to be here 10 years from now (good thing my husband agrees.) I used to think it was the places that I lived that made me bored and tired, yearning for change, but now I think I have a different definition of the word home than the sage and wise, old OED. Home is not just a “permanent place” – it is many things…

 “Hot and heavy pumpkin pie
Chocolate candy Jesus Christ
Ain’t nothing please me more than you”

Perhaps it is my Italian heritage and upbringing, but home involves a combination of good food and people I love. One cannot exist without the other. Home is a sensory experience – the smell meatballs roasting in the over, musty old books on the shelf, the cadence of voices echoing off of the walls during a quiet night. The clanking of the heat in the winter and rain storms battling the glass of the skylights. My home is also filled with the people I love and the good and bad memories we make within the confines of our walls. It’s the times when the baby was sick and we spent the whole weekend in the family room playing with Duplos despite the beautiful Spring weather. The special occasions and family parties that bowed out the walls with people. Or just the evenings curled up on the faded leather sofa with the dog, some cheese and a few glasses (or bottles) of wine. These moments and sensory experiences don’t happen because I live in a 3 bedroom bungalow. They happen because we are home.

“I saw the streets all ripe with jewels
Balconies and the laundry lines
They tried to make me welcome there
But their streets did not feel like mine”

Just like every other 25 – 65 year old with some extra cash and living in the tri state area – I love to travel. I won’t bore you with my impressive list of cities and countries or tell you how I reminisce over the intricate ceramic tiles of Lisbon over glasses of Fonseca Tawny. That would be annoying, not about “home”, and just like every other New Yorker you know.  I love to travel because it makes me leave my home. It makes me appreciate how fortunate I am on a daily basis. In some ways, the places I travel to feel a little like home in a few days, but never fully the way it feels when I actually am home. I’ve walked down countless cobbled streets and fallen in love with too many European alleyways. During my travels, I often daydream about what it would be like to make some of these new places my home, always leaving out the actual toil and strife that would ensue if we ever did make that decision. Because the grass is always so much greener and my brain seems to leave out the memories of how much work went into where I have ended up. In the end, I always look forward to being back; returning to hugs and familiar smells, dirty floors and dog hair squalls. The good and the bad that make up the everyday that I take for granted so often.

I suppose the word “permanence” is important when defining the word home. The fact that I can count on all of the things I return to and leave from every morning and night still being there at -my will – as long as I can get there – even if only in my memories. When you speak with someone about home, they often go back to their childhood or a time in their life, a memory or feeling they had that creates their definition of home. I remember my father speaking fondly of growing up in Manhattan and my mother lovingly of her childhood home in Leonia, NJ. The stories were rich and filled with countless memories and stories. Home is permanent in that we can remember it forever. It is not the city, the edifice or the bric-a-brac that make a place a home. Home is the stage, a diorama for our minds –  set for memories to be made. Our permanent and portable journal that inspires us, challenges us, forces us to leave and come back, teaches us how to love.

It’s where I want to be.

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locomotion


locomotion n. movement, motion, moving

chariots-of-fire-w1280

About a week ago my one year old took a dive into the bottom of my bed frame and opened a quarter inch gash in his forehead. Being new parents, we took our blood covered toddler to the ER immediately, where they closed his wound with 2 stitches – all the while, my son trying to continue the sprint he started at home around the empty emergency room. Later in the day, as I went for a jog to clear my head a little bit, it occurred to me that locomotion – specifically running – has been an ever evolving practice in my life.

One of the first things my mother said when my son started walking is that I never walked as a toddler – that I only ran. So it seems my son has inherited this trait from me. He walked for a few weeks and then quickly gained speed and now it seems he only runs. When I was about 4, I was put out into the yard because, understandably, my mother had had enough. I ran, played tag with neighbors, rode my big wheels and usually returned to the house at dinner time covered entirely in hardened filth. My parents bought me roller skates – the great old kind with the key – and I taught myself to roller skate on the gravelly concrete, knocking the wind out of myself quite a few times but keeping myself busy for hours. I was always moving.

When I was in the first grade, my school’s CYO started a track team and my parents were very enthusiastic about getting me signed up. My father had run the Steeplechase in high school and was tall and lanky and loved to run. After or before practices in Votee Park he would race me and I still crack up thinking about the time he lost his footing and fell flat on his face. Saturdays were always my track meet days as a kid. My mom would pack up a picnic lunch and lawn chairs and we would head to a day long track meet with other St. Anastasia Blue Knights. Back in those days there was no stigma about little girls and body weight. We were put into heats based on our weight, and since I was rather portly, I ran against older, faster girls. I placed a few times, but it was just fun to run as fast as I could for 50 or 200 yards. Although, the relays were the most fun. For an 8 year old, learning how to pass the baton mid sprint was learning the true meaning of team work.

In high school, I was a sprinter at a very competitive sprinting high school. Running became more of a worry on my mind, juggling a part time job and school work. Like so many things as I grew older, running became much more complicated. I had to make certain splits to qualify for the invitationals on the weekend and to be in scoring heats for inter mural competition. The girls that sprinted at my high school were thoroughbreds – the best in the state, even the country. I was always in their dust. I used to have nightmares the night before meets thinking about the starter pistol and the blocks that could add whole seconds to your time if you tripped up. Perhaps it was this complicated mind game that led me to injury and not competing. Nonetheless, my sprinting days ended in high school, but the way I would run as an adult began.

I attended Providence College – a division 1 distance running school and I am pretty sure everyone ran – in between beers and keg stands. Providence was a great, hilly city for running and I remember my long runs to the East Side near RISD and Brown. Running became a way to get out of my head. Where sprinting and competing once caused me stress, going out on the road and not worrying about time or distance was heaven. After a few weeks of conditioning and getting used to a slower, natural gait, running became my haven during some difficult times. It still is to this day.

When I was young, I wore shorts and a t shirt – nothing wicking. My sneakers were the fanciest thing I owned. I remember my first pair of New Balances and how great they felt when they were so new and bouncy. I used to have a bright yellow Sony Sports Walkman loaded up with a mix tape of music that I had recorded off of the radio. These days my 34 year old body needs a lot of gear to get up to a 5K distance a few times a week. I don head to toe wicking layers under a wicking, thermal fleece that has 3 zip up pockets – one for my Iphone, one for tissues, and one for my wicking gloves, which inevitably end up coming off mid run. I wear a head band, ear buds and if it’s sunny, sunglasses. I top it off with an occasional knee brace or compression cuff for my groin..all so I can be comfortable while running…a sad imitation of what once came naturally.

My son’s running has earned him 2 stitches in his forehead…a fitting entrance to a life of locomotion.

I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way.

I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way.

And where does the power come from to see the race to its end? From within.

– Eric Liddell, Chariots of Fire

 

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joy


joy n. a feeling of great pleasure and happiness

ravi-shankar-horizontal-gallery

The word joy is inevitably being said more these days as it is the holiday season. “Joy to the world” yadda yadda yadda. I was thinking about joy today while eating lunch. I must have heard it on some Target commercial or perhaps on a sign somewhere. In my mind, joy has a more profound meaning than just “great pleasure.” I feel like I often feel happiness or, more often contentment, but joy seems somehow more pure and untainted. I think we all have moments of happiness in our lives, but our moments of joy are far, far fewer and yet more crystalized in our memories.

I think the OED may have fallen short in defining this word so broadly. I associate joy with childhood. It is happiness that knows no cynicism – pleasure in its purest form. When we are children, we find joy in simple things – like climbing trees or being tickled. The idyllic childhood has you feeling this happiness in an unfettered, unspoiled way. The longer your span of enjoying this joy – or untainted happiness – the happier your childhood. When we are young, we haven’t experienced a lot of evil yet – hopefully. We are naive. We aren’t looking around the corner for the catch or the ghost that spoils it all. It’s a lot like the way a child runs – with complete abandon – because they don’t know to expect fatigue or pain yet. The moment is singular and completely in the present.

When we grow older, we collect the moments when our joy was abbreviated, either by the course of nature or by other people. We become cynical, hardened, expecting our happiness to be short lived or false. We are far likelier to experience contentment – joy’s smug, adult counterpart. Contentment is what we settle for when we are adults because joy is so fleeting and hard to attain intentionally. In this day and age childhood has been expanded far into the twenties, but I don’t think that childhood joy endures. It morphs into a strange hipster irony – almost a reflection of joy – that mocks its existence because it’s easier to be cool and impress people than to get to the unattainable joy.

There are moments in my adulthood when I have experienced joy like I used to as a child. It was not on the day my son was born. Watching him fly out of my body into the arms of my doctor while my husband held my left leg and stared in horror is not what I would describe as joyous. It was a wonderful moment in some ways, but there was too much fear and surprise involved to call it joy. I most often find joy in music…and I’m not talking Beethoven or a Puccini opera…although those would work. I find joy in just listening to all sorts of music and just being there, in the moment…or sometimes singing in the car while Graham bops around. It could be Katy Perry or Metallica, there’s just something about music that brings on a moment of joy for me.

Today marks the passing of a great musician, Ravi Shankar, who I became familiar with when I was 19 years old. My father was very sick from radiation treatment for his brain tumor and I had a job working in a factory soldering circuit boards. I was supposed to be a freshman at Providence College but had to stay back a semester because my father’s health was so precarious, as was our financial situation. I used to go to the public library after work and check out CDs from the basement music department. I had heard sitar and raag in the Beatles music I sometimes listened to so one day I checked out a Ravi Shankar CD. I brought it home and listened to it over and over. There was something very relaxing and quietly joyful in the strings, something I really, really needed during that difficult time.

My father’s tumor was in the occipital lobe of his brain and he had lost a great deal of his eye sight when they removed the tumor and could no longer read books – which was one of the ways I am convinced that my father found joy. I remember sitting in our small living room listening to my CD on a set of headphones when my father asked to hear what I was listening to. So I played him the Ravi Shankar music that I was so fond of. I like to think that that moment was one of joy for my father – just existing in the music the way he used to escape in his books. We played it many times after that and it became our habit to listen to music in the same way we used to share books. There was something about the sound of the sitar that healed both of our pain. It was like listening to audible peace. The memory brings me joy whenever I hear those strings.

R.I.P Ravi Shankar

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cacoethes


cacoethes noun an irresistible urge to do something inadvisable

At first I thought, “Oh…this word is the same as spontaneous” and then I stopped to really think about it and it isn’t the same at all. I think the key to the difference is “the irresistible urge.” Like an itch you cannot help but scratch. I feel like that in spontaneity there is not an urge, you simply just do something…and it could be inconsequential. Cacoethes has two friends – the urge and consequence – that make something totally different.

I think a cacoethes is a bit like an out of body experience that occurs in adulthood, but is discovered in childhood. In kindergarten I bit a girl because she was reaching over my arm to take the rotary phone I was playing with away. I just had this irresistible urge to hurt her and so I bent my head down and bit her forearm. I was fully aware of the fact that I was going to pay dearly by missing recess and having to stand in the corner for a week, but I couldn’t help myself. For one split second it felt so good to be bad.

If you’re going to talk about cacoethes, than you have to talk about that evil split second of delectable urge. It is really at the center of why people love to be bad. It’s that short moment that feels like a match striking in your chest causing a momentary, wondrous burst of flame. In that moment, you feel incredible, rebellious, powerful…and then it goes out as quickly as it lit. You marvel at the embers and smoke of sweet, sweet rebellion and then the air just clears…and the consequences begin. Much like an orgasm or binge, you do something reprehensible to achieve that feeling knowing that you most likely will regret it later.

Cacoethes has a lot to do with addiction as well. It would seem to me that if you come to the consequential portion of the “cacoethan cycle” and launch right back into the urge – not taking the time to acknowledge the consequences – you are some sort of addict, always chasing that evil split second of bliss. The consequences just continue to pile up like undone laundry until you have nothing left to wear, naked and exposed. I suppose when you get this far into it you make a decision to live or die – to end the cycle and face that pile of dirty laundry…or to stay naked in the world chasing that urge until you die.

At least I didn’t become a biting addict. But I still remember the girl’s name who I bit that day. This song reminds me of my first memorable cacoethes. So perhaps I am still paying a small consequence to this day…

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eudaemonism


eudaemonism n. a system of ethics that bases moral value on the likelihood of actions producing happiness.

I have always fought a losing battle with the concept of “happiness.” I’d like to think that someday I will find the true, innate meaning of the word, but I doubt it. I read a fair amount and know that few people really find the core, “holy grail-like” meaning of happiness. That is why this word truly intrigued me. To have a system of ethics that bases moral value on the likelihood that it will produce this enigma we call “happiness” is absurd – like the infinity symbol…some never-ending loop. Happiness doesn’t seem to have just one definition. It means so many different things to so many people. To a starving child in the Sahara, happiness is endless clean, cool water and food as compared to someone diagnosed with a terminal illness where happiness might be a night without pain or 10 extra days of their life to be lived with their family. Donald Trump deems happiness a much different thing than I do…or does he? It would seem that as life gets increasingly happy, the bar rises – like an addiction, a drug that makes us believe that we deserve much more than we actually do – but is that the case? Is happiness much more simple than one would think? Maybe Donald Trump find his true happiness in a box of Malomars while I dream of a yacht sailing on the mediterranean.

And then there is that lucky place in life where happiness becomes monotony. Where we reach a certain level of what we call “happiness” and expect that it will exponentially grow from that point. Somehow we begin to think that the world owes us the next level because we have earned a certain amount of points or reached a certain threshold, like a game. That is where things most often fall apart. This is the juncture of where happiness meets its counterpart – not sadness – but gratitude. Every truly happy person in life at some point must come to terms with gratitude. At the height of our life’s bell curve where we have reached the highest arch of happiness and when the line gradually descends, gratitude begins – where some turning point make us turn away from the easy happiness we have and make us grateful for ever having experienced it at all. This is the point where people find their greatness, their groove, their reason to live. I fear that there are few of us who get to this point. I believe the majority of people either find stasis and accept their level of happiness or – worse – constantly strive to a higher, unattainable level – possibly leading to greed and arrogance.

To follow the curve downward is much harder. Seemingly it leads to things like gratitude, humility and humbleness. I believe only the great can follow this path – Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa. It’s a completely selfless place – perhaps a power greater than ourselves – where we surrender things over and are happy just to experience life.

Or maybe, happiness is inconceivably simple…like a surprise party or unexpected treat. No bell curves or expectations…just a feeling of joy that seems so rare in life because it is meant to be truly enjoyed and not dismissed like every other minute we live – like that little kid feeling you got running down the stairs to see what was under the tree at Christmas. It didn’t last long…probably only as long as it took to rip that first piece of paper off the first package…just a few seconds. That fleeting, giddy sense of exuberance that makes your heart race and your face beam without trying…like the day your child was born…or the day you fell in love. That intangible feeling of being fully and totally appreciative of life and what is happening in the present – and not thinking about the future or past.

For me, true happiness is found in that short, fleeting moment and I am learning to accept that in the totality of my life, I may chase it relentlessly to only experience it a handful of times and constantly strive to be grateful for those hard earned moments.

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