Saturday, June 21, 2014

Five Things that Don't Suck, Poet Fest Edition

1. poets coming to my house again
2. poets going out back to see the bees
3. how smart my poet friends are
4. and funny
5. and talented

Friday, June 20, 2014

Five Things that Don't Suck, Friday Pool Party Edition

1. baking snickerdoodles. You know. For the children.
2. taste-testing said snickerdoodles
3. getting my walk in early
4. watching the birds
5. patio umbrellas

Thursday, June 19, 2014

On Taking the Compliment

I know I've been relatively quiet, friends, for months even. I realized, while out on my run this morning, that I passed the second anniversary of the FTTDS lists on June 1 and didn't even notice. I just made my list and moved on with the day, which I suppose was part of the point to begin with.

Running has not been easy for me, either, in recent months. I had a series of minor-but-annoying injuries. When I felt better, I hit the treadmill and found just how much fitness I'd lost. When May brought the end of my early mornings on campus and the return of my outdoor (and morning!) running season, I realized just how bad it had become. I couldn't find a pace. Far from being able to run ten or twelve miles, I had to take a walk break on a two miler. It might have been related to my inability to find a pace, it could have been that I'd slipped that far behind—it's likely a combination of the two. But I've been running steadily again since mid-April, and I'm starting to find myself again, and it feels fantastic.

Which is one of the reasons I had such a hard time last week when a missed step on an otherwise strong four miler resulted in me hitting the pavement on my hands and knees, then my right shoulder, then my right cheek. Luckily, I was only about a quarter of a mile from home when it happened, so I cut the last mile from my loop and took the shortest route I could. My face was bleeding as were the heels of my hands, and one knuckle, which had scraped against the ground when my water bottle rolled out from under my hand. It was so bad that I didn't even notice that my knee was scraped and bloody until about five minutes after I got home. I didn't notice my shoulder until I tried to take off my shirt so I could get into the shower.

Anyway, apart from spending a day or two making friends with a bottle of Advil PM so I could get some sleep, I was fine. I'm a quick healer for one thing, and I was lucky for another. I didn't fall into traffic. I didn't break my ankle. I didn't land on my teeth or my nose or my chin. I was a little banged up, but just hours after my fall I was on campus, helping out with new student orientation, and I was back on campus for the five days of orientation that followed that. I spent my first post-tumble evening at our nephew's lacrosse state championship game (they won!), and then at dinner with the Foley clan. I posted pictures to Facebook, talking about what a badass I am.

And I am.

But I also spent a week not running, again. Yes, I was in the middle of a six-day stretch on campus. Yes, my body needed the rest so that it could heal properly. Yes, for several days I could feel every step I took reverberate in my cheekbone (that's weird, for the record. We're not really supposed to be aware of our own cheekbones that way). And I spent some time paying attention to how other runners were talking about their running.

Runners risk being a little obsessive. Running is one of those things that people tend to hate until they love it. We want what's next. We see lots of improvement in the early days and want the next step to come NOW. It's one of the joys of beginning to run—watching your endurance rise from a minute to 90 seconds to two minutes, building and building each week until all of a sudden you can run a mile for the first time maybe ever, then two miles, then three. I built on that joy until I was completing a 10 – 12 mile "long run" every weekend. There's something about running, about knowing that no one, including possibly yourself, is completely convinced you can do this, that is incredibly empowering. I hear versions of my own story a lot. I hear variations on that story, where people tell me that they decided that if I could run, they could run. That's always cool. Those people have been, up to now, exclusively women, and I think it's cool not just that they've decided to try to take care of themselves a bit better, but that they also thought to tell me about my part in that decision. The world could use more of us telling each other we think we're awesome. Or inspiring. Or badass. Choose your term.

The dark side of that story, though, is something that's begun to trouble me more and more. Let me preface this by saying that I'm only interpreting the meaning behind the actions I'm going to describe here: I could be wrong, because I'm not in these women's heads. But I don't think so.

Women punish themselves with exercise. And with food. Or with food deprivation. Or any number of other things. But having more couch time than usual has given me more time than usual to hang out on Pinterest and Facebook, looking in horror at the pictures women share, pictures using words like "skinny" (a word I personally despise) or, worse, "fit." Because often those pictures are of women who look incredibly unhealthy to me. Post after post of "skinny" versions of real food—often using ingredients created in a lab somewhere. Post after post of 1,200- or 1,000-calorie eating plans. Post after post of "everyday" exercise plans and meal-replacement shakes and women hating themselves for what they are.

I also see posts from runners (or people with other exercise plans, but most often runners) that make it clear that exercise isn't a part of health for these women. Women who run every day, giving their bodies no time to recover from the damage they're doing (because when anyone talks about "building muscle" or "strengthening" or "improving," what they're really saying is "doing minor damage so that the muscles/tendons/bones heal stronger"). Women who run every run—every run—with their heart rate monitors in order to ensure every single workout is as hard as it can be (I'm not a health expert, but I have yet to read anything by any expert saying, "Do all of your workouts at maximum effort"). Women who claim to hate all other forms of exercise (running burns a ridiculous amount of calories) and who don't warm up or cool down because it isn't "work." Women posting pictures of themselves from angles designed to minimize the size of their hips or maximize the difference between waist and hip measurements, or pictures of themselves half-hidden behind a running partner, or pictures that leave part of their bodies out of frame.

What disturbs me most about these particular pictures, though, is the expression on these women's faces. I know this is subjective—I know it is—but when I look at these women, it feels like they are desperate for acceptance. I see plenty of pictures of joyous women—finishing a run, getting ready to start a race, otherwise taking pleasure in their accomplishments—but the pictures I'm talking about are different. The women don't look comfortable in their own skins. Their smiles do not contain joy or triumph. They break my heart. Nothing they do is ever good enough for themselves. Running the way they do isn't going to change that and in all honesty, I've stopped thinking that even they believe it will.

Someone—I have no idea who—said it's impossible to hate yourself into becoming a better person. It's true. Also, I know healthy, well-adjusted women who exhibit one or more of the behaviors I've listed above. I understand a lot of the motivations: warming up and cooling down can feel inefficient, so I have to treat it as a non-negotiable part of the workout, which means if I'm pressed for time, I shorten the run, not the walk. I force myself to, because once I let the you're-not-good-enough part of my brain gain traction, it's very, very difficult to dislodge. I worry about how lumpy I will look in a picture. I calculate whether I'm the largest person in the room despite the fact that since I started running, that answer is almost always "no." I feel for these women, I do. I understand the thought patterns. I also understand that sabotage can often disguise itself as a plea for moderation—I have been told I was "getting too skinny" (at 200 lbs!), offered a size-22W blouse (at a time when I was wearing a 14 or 16, depending on the cut at the bust line), and given what was described as a celebratory bag of chocolates, by three different friends, all in the same week. I understand that would-be saboteurs do not always recognize their own motivation. Mostly, though, I have come to the conclusion that it's all part of the same cycle, a cycle rooted in the idea that we, as women, are never enough.

My friend Julie was here the other day, and she said something about how good I looked. I blew her off, saying that I was still a few pounds up from where I was last summer before my string of injuries and general slugginess derailed me a bit and that my clothes weren't quite fitting me the way I wanted to yet. We went back and forth for a bit until she yelled, "JUST TAKE THE FUCKING COMPLIMENT!"

She was totally right. So here's what I'd like you to do, friends: give a compliment today, maybe even to yourself, and force its acceptance. If you can't cut the negative self-talk in yourself, try to catch it in someone you love, and point it out to her. Tell a woman you care about that she's talking to herself in a way that she wouldn't talk about her friends—or allow anyone else to talk about her friends. Tell her why she's awesome. Tell her why she's an inspiration. Tell her why she's a badass. Tell her to take the fucking compliment.

Five Things that Don't Suck, Damp but not in Spirit Edition

1. seeing an oriole while out with the dogs this morning
2. being married to a guy who cheerfully heads out to Logan to pick up a friend whose flight gets in at midnight
3. some cooler (if wetter) weather for my morning run
4. the prospect of the Elephants game this afternoon
5. getting the house ready to see some poets on Saturday

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Five Things that Don't Suck, The Girls Are Back in Town Edition

1. keeping jet-lagged people up too late
2. telling stories
3. laughing
4. sangria
5. learning I'm a pretty famous poet in certain circles in South Korea

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Five Things that Don't Suck, Elephantine Edition

1. FIFA logos involving an elephant holding a soccer ball with its trunk
2. having a goalie named Boubacar
3. winning the two highest-scoring shootouts in international soccer competition*
4. team captain and high-scorer Didia Drogba**
5. fĂștbol

*not that I looked up the Ivory Coast team on Wikipedia or anything
**again, mostly because his name is awesome

Monday, June 16, 2014

Five Things that Don't Suck, At Last Edition

1. getting out for a long walk for the first time since my fall
2. trying to figure out what flower is in bloom at the beginning of the last mile (can't see anything, but the scent is amazing)
3. the big pitcher of iced coffee in the fridge
4. how busy Bee Beach is already this morning
5. sunshine

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Five Things that Don't Suck, Father's Day Edition

1. dads
2. men who are dads to other people's children*
3. Old Spice gift sets
4. giant Special Dark bars
5. ties

*whether they have their own children or not