Category Archives: Writing

September (FALL/AUTUMN) is Here, and I Couldn’t Be More Excited

Pushups for Veterans

I was challenged by friend Shon Byrum, the Mayor of Winchester, Indiana, to a Facebook challenge. I don’t typically partake in Facebook challenges, because I fail to see how they do any good, since they focus on some effort that neither raises money for, nor provides a solution to, whatever problem the challenge is supposedly addressing. This challenge, though, raises awareness about a problem that I think is particularly important.

Why is it that so many of our honorable veterans come home, only to end their lives shortly thereafter?

For the particular challenge Shon invited me to do, the acceptor of the challenge is required to do 22 pushups for 22 days in honor, or memory, of the approximately 22 veterans per day who commit suicide because of PTSD or another mental illness. I’ve done two days worth of pushups, and I’ve challenged two other people to the same challenge, which is a part of it. They are then requires to pass the challenge on, so awareness is spread via the viral nature of social media.

Starting tomorrow, I’m raising the bar on this challenge for myself. I’m putting 50¢ in a fund toward a veteran’s charity that helps with mental health care services for members of the military who are returning from war. By the end of the challenge, if my math is right, which it may not be, I’ll be donating a total of $220 to help our veterans who’ve been damaged by the effects of war. I haven’t yet decided which charity I will chose, but I’m doing research. I’m leaning toward The Soldier’s Project; my only hesitation is that their help is only available in limited parts of the country.

Starting tomorrow, I’m also going to include a different link to a different charity each day in my post. I’d love it my friends and family would also make small donations to those charities in honor of this challenge. Then, I think, I’d feel like I’m doing more than just raising awareness of a problem, but I’d also be helping to provide a solution to the problem as well.

Goals

Running: I’m doing it, and I’m enjoying it more, so I guess that’s progress. I’ve also started swimming again. Merideth and I started with a four day a week pact, but four days is a bit daunting along with running, too, so I am shooting for three days a week from here until the end of October.

Compassion: I’m struggling right now to articulate my spiritual beliefs. On the one hand, I do so love the Jesus, but on the other hand, the things I love about Jesus feel more Buddhist to me than anything, so I am reading a lot about people who have a similar struggle that I do. And there are many of us.

I’ve slipped bit on the vegan front, and I even ate a bit of meat when I was in Texas for training for work. I regretted it immediately. I wanted to breathe the life back into the cow, but I couldn’t, so I just cried instead. Into my hotel pillow. How sad.

Looking back, I’ve lumped a bunch of things into this category of compassion and the one that doesn’t seem to fit is meditation. But it does. I mentioned the other day that meditation has helped me more in my adult life than prayer has, that isn’t really true, I suppose, except that meditation is helping me become friends with myself in a new way. By focusing on my very existence—my breath—  I’m able to recognize my absolute physical impermanence, and through prayer while running, I’m able to contemplate how to use my newfound settledness, inner-peace, or contentment to love in a new way. (I’m sorry if this seems a bit scattered or not really well articulated, but I’m trying to find a way to describe some feelings that are utterly foreign to me.)

To focus my meditation, I’ve been using a mala that I made from a bunch of beads I’ve had since college, but today I ordered a new mala made of jade. Because I use beads when I pray, I find to be especially helpful—but in very different ways—to use beads when I meditate. Meditating each day for nearly a month now has helped me to empathize with people more easily, to pause and give space in conversation, to not have to talk as much, to be able to listen more, and to be able to have unbridled compassion and love.

It’s really beautiful.

Social Media and Creativity: I came back onto Facebook, because I missed some of my friends. I’m learning to balance it and my other activities, so that I am not consumed with comparison (Facebook envy), anger, and an irrational need for feedback and approval. I haven’t done any art, and I’ve done little writing. I have done quite a bit of listening to Podcasts, which are feeding my imagination and making me think differently about the world in which we live. And I’m still reading quite a bit, so I’ll call this successful for now.

Finances: I’m paying things down. Slowly but surely. Not as fast as I wanted, but it’s happening.

Pay It Forward: I’ll be in Canada during the classes for the sexual assault advocacy, and now that I really think about it, there are probably other volunteer opportunities that will suit me better, ones that won’t cause me personal distress. I’m open to suggestions of things people might see me doing, so if you think of anything, I’d be happy to hear about it.

Fall and Autumny Things

Most people know that fall is my favorite season of the four. The air is crisp, the trees are filled with color, and everything looks and feels like it might just curl up and take a nap. Fall is filled with apple cider, hot chocolate, bonfires, and pumpkins; all of which make me extremely happy. I get to have impromptu coffee and writing time with fine people like Ico, and the drive to work doesn’t feel so bad with bright red and yellow trees guiding the way. Essentially, everything is more amazing in the fall.

The two most exciting things for me this fall are that my friends Julie and Alan are coming to visit this weekend and we’re going to an apple orchard/pumpkin farm, and then a couple of weeks later, I get to vacation in Canada with my beautiful wife and my amazing little brother. What’s most awesome about our vacation is that we’ll also get to spend time with Merideth, Josh, and T-Bean in New York.

The end. 

Basically, my life feels like it is on an upswing. I’m working hard to help this be a new way of life for me,

  • one in which I have a balance between setting goals and achieving them, or not.
  • one in which I have personal health, and a healthy way of interacting with other.
  • one in which I am serious, and also feel free.
  • one in which I respect those around me, but I also respect myself.

Peace. Grace.

My Hips and Knees Are Sore, So I Must Be Running Again

If you follow me on here, you know I set a few goals for this—my forty-second—year, and you know I said I’d check in on each goal every month on this day. I have to admit that I am not super inspired to write today, but I am going to give a run down of how my goals are progressing.

RUNNING: Let’s start with running, since that was the goal that sparked all of this. Running is both a blessing and a struggle. It’s frustrating to me when I look back at old photos and see myself 50 pounds lighter and a lot better at running, both faster and farther. But I’m doing it. I’m building my way back up to being a runner, instead of someone who simply wants to run and never does. This morning, for example, I ran 48 minutes on some fairly difficult trail at Afton State Park. Don’t ask how (not that) far I ended up going in that 48 minutes, because I’d be embarrassed to tell you, but I did it. I got up. I went to the park. I ran. That goal of running 26.2 in less than 6 hours seems so far off, I can’t even fathom it at this point, but I know I can do it. With my friend Molly supporting me and cheering me on, I can do nearly anything, even if my hips and knees get sore.

COMPASSION: The vegan diet part of this one is going really well. I’m kind of disgusted with the meat industry, so this part of the compassion goal is much easier. I never have a problem having compassion for animals; their sweet faces make it so easy to love them. Self-care and compassion is always a bit more difficult for me. Have I been to church regularly since I wrote these goals? No. And every Sunday, I say I’m going to go and then I don’t. I need to try harder in regards to my spirituality. I’m letting a lot of opportunity fall through the cracks. It’s a good thing I’m checking in on these goals I’ve set, because I have been neglecting a lot about this compassion goal: I’ve not been meditating every day, like I planned, and I haven’t been praying while running. Here is a place where I can do some serious focusing and bear down to accomplish wellness.

PAY IT FORWARD: Now that I look at this goal, it’s closely coupled with my goal of being more compassionate. I’ve been focusing on the work part of this goal, and trying to look at each customer with the love, grace, and patience I’d show my grandma. God rest her soul. I’m finding that my vocation to love is becoming easier and easier to practice, even when people can be difficult. Recently, I’ve been more able to think about how we all can be difficult and about how we all have faults. Whenever I think about how irritated I am able to get with other people, especially if my irritation is over someone’s inability to understand, I am reminded that I am likely irritated with my own insecurities more than I am irritated with that other person. In fact, I am reminded of this Thich Nhat Hanh quote: “If you are not yet able to love yourself, you will not be able to love your enemy. But when you are able to love yourself, you can love anyone. When you do this, you will see that your so called enemy is not more or less than a human being who is suffering.” The more I work on my own wellness and self-love, the more I am able to love those around me.

SOCIAL MEDIA AND CREATIVITY: I have been off of Facebook for over two months now! And, I am finding that I really don’t miss it at all. Do I miss some of the people I interacted with through Facebook? Yes, but then I think about how easy it is to find other ways—ways that are less invasive and less public—to communicate with them, and I know I made a good decision. Have I written any memoir or drawn any illustrations? No. Have I read read any books? Yes, I have been reading so much that I finally remember what it’s like to simply read for the sake of enjoyment, instead of reading to analyze text. Of everything I’ve changed in my life, reading more is the best part! I even joined the library!

FINANCES: Um, yeah. These are goals, and, um, I am certainly a work in progress in this regard. We’ll just leave that there.

Peace and cheers!

43 years = 43 kilometers and some goals

My 42nd birthday is coming up shortly, in about 12 days and 6ish hours. I was born at 2:26 AM on July 22, 1974 with fat cheeks, squinty eyes, and a full head of very dark hair. Given my disposition, it is very likely that I was crying, or at the very least, making noise. Lots of it.

I’m excited to turn 42, so, naturally I decided to set some goals for myself, things to accomplish between now and the age of 43. For some reason, probably The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, 42 feels like some kind of magical year. Forty-two certainly can’t be worse than 41, or at least the last few weeks of 41 have been, and I’m banking on 43 being even better.

As I was thinking about what types of goals I could set for myself, I asked what was important to me. I came up with a few answers: running and fitness, compassion and leaning into my spirituality, making the world a better place, getting away from social media, reading, writing, and arting more, and moving toward a more healthy financial situation.

GOALS FOR THE 365 DAYS BETWEEN MY 42ND AND 43RD BIRTHDAYS

  1. RUNNING: I thought I’d be clever and set a goal for myself to be able to run a certain distance by my birthday next year, and I thought I’d be clever and make it however many kilometers I’ll be turning. I decided to commit to running 43 kilometers, which also happens to be roughly 26 miles, which also happens to be a marathon distance. And, as luck would have it, there just happens to be a trail marathon around Grand Island on Lake Superior in Michigan on my 43rd birthday. And that trail marathon just happens to have an early start for slow-ass runners like myself.If that isn’t Providence guiding my goal, I don’t know what is.
  2. COMPASSION: Compassion is an idea that comes easily to me, but a practice that comes much less easily. I talk a lot about being compassionate, and I practice it as well, but I could use a lot more practice, if you know what I mean. I especially find it difficult to feel compassion for people who I don’t think deserve it, which is entirely not what compassion is about.
    In order to work on the practice of compassion, I am committing to attending church as often as possible, to meditating each morning after I run and on my way home from work, and to using my time running to pray for those who need prayer.

    In addition, I plan to maintain a strictly vegan diet for the year. How can I practice compassion without thinking of the animals I love so much and consciously avoiding eating them?

    Finally, I am going to practice some self-compassion by working on my mental health.

  3. PAY IT FORWARD: In October, I plan to attend a series of training to become a sexual assault advocate. I am not entirely sure what this entails, but from what I can tell, I will help to intervene in situations where people have been assaulted and act as their advocate as they navigate the reporting of, medical care during, and figuring our the aftermath of being assaulted. My goal of making the world a better place starts here.I am learning that my worth does not lie in my job, but I can use my job as a means to make the world better. My vocation, grace, can be practiced anywhere with anyone.
  4. SOCIAL MEDIA and CREATIVITY: I am finished with Facebook. I’m hoping to use that time reading, writing, or doing some kind of art. My goal is to write something I am proud of, to read one book, and to complete one piece of art each month this year.That’s twelve chapters of memoir, along with twelve illustrations, and twelve new literary adventures in the 377 days. I think that’s doable.
  5. FINANCES: I need to work on paying off some credit card debt. My goal is to pay $4300 off of my credit card debt by the age of 43. That’s paying an extra $350 each month and not charging anything new, which I can do if I am really frugal, which will be really hard for me.This may be the most difficult of all these goals.

As part of this goal-setting for the year, I plan to check in on these goals every 22nd of each month until July 22, 2017. Hopefully, that last check-in will come after I’ve taken a dip in Lake Superior after completing a 26.2-mile run around an island.

Here’s to birthdays and the ways in which they require us to rethink our priorities. Cheers and peace.

Choosing Life and Breathing Love

I’m sitting here in my pajamas at 10:19AM on a Saturday before I work from 1PM-10PM at the Apple Store in the Mall of America. I’m drinking expired Caribou Blend coffee that I earned by working at Caribou one day a week. I’m helping my grandchildren, the twins, put my Riley Hospital address stickers on their shirts. The address stickers are almost as cool as band-aids, probably because they get to have limitless address stickers, and we’ve had to limit them to only one band-aid per visit, ever since that visit where they used two whole boxes of band-aids in about 20 minutes. We’ve already watched Mickey Mouse Road Rally, and eaten breakfast and second breakfast. They’re now taking their Mamo to the park to play, then to the river to throw rocks into the water, then to the post office and grocery store. This is pretty much the perfect start to a day.

I’m taking advantage of an increasingly rare and special mood of my own and writing a bit. I’ve not posted anything here for almost six months, because I was trying to give myself some distance from my writing process and from sharing all the things about me, which I hadn’t (and possibly still haven’t) sorted out. Sometimes writing provides clarity, and sometimes the process just muddies the waters in a way that isn’t the least bit helpful. I also read back through a lot of my blogs, and realized that I was on a wild cyclic path, one I hadn’t been dealing with, and one I wasn’t sure I could deal with. The cyber-trail here indicates a lot of swinging from really good moments to really deep, sad, depressed moments.

And, being more honest than I am comfortable with, some of my darkest times aren’t even recorded here, because I was embarrassed that I had no control over my feelings, because I didn’t want to burden people I love, and because I didn’t want the stigma of being so sad I’d contemplated taking my own life. Many times in my life, I just wanted it all to end. My darkest moments were the 18 to 24 months surrounding my move to Minnesota, from March of 2013 until January of 2015.

I needed to move in order to really see how sad I’d been. I needed to move to get a new lease on life. No one was at fault for these moments, and most of you didn’t even know I was having a hard time. I hid it well.

Some of us, for whatever reason, are just prone to depression, suicidal ideations, sadness, loneliness, or the like. For some of us, this can happen even when it seems as if everything is going amazingly well for us. I’ve struggled with this since I was about 12-13 years old. For me, there are a string of reasons—none of which I am ready to divulge to the general public—for my depression. For me, my depression is coupled with addictions or obsessions of various sorts, loneliness even in crowds of people, feeling misunderstood or not good enough, feeling like no one will ever really understand me, and simply not wanting to walk outside of my house to face the world.

But something keeps me going.

A glimpse of hope?

A bit of grace?

A kind word?

A tattoo that says, “Give me hope in the darkness”?

I’d like to say that I am in a place where I will never have to struggle with any of this again, but I can’t be certain. I can say that I haven’t had a suicidal thought since early last spring, but I can’t say I never will again. I am learning to take each day one day at a time, and I am learning to set reasonable and attainable goals to keep myself focused on the joys of living.

Here are some of my long-term goals: to be alcohol abstinent for a while, to run three times a week and swim three times a week, to go hiking once a week, to find the joy in small things, to not allow the bad things in the world overtake me, to write more, to remain vegetarian, to find a therapist and work through some of this, and to tell someone if I start to feel sad, overwhelmed, or otherwise not right.

I know deep down that living can be a joyful and beautiful thing.

At my best moments, I love life. I love to have fun. I love feeling on top of the world. I love running, hiking, swimming, biking, disc golf, and the simplicity of a walk. I love the fine arts. I love rivers, lakes, and the ocean. I love crunching fall leaves under my feet. I love humanitarianism. I love sacred beauty. I love secular beauty. I love my family. I love my friends. I love a nice blue sky. I love people and their idiosyncratic behaviors. I love watching life be beautiful.

I love all of this.

When I can.

As hard as I can.

Because, in those moments, I recognize the joy, the hope, the grace, the beauty, the love.

Writing and Art; Cranes; 70.3; Eating Vegetables

I spent this past weekend with my friend Sarah A. Chavez while she was up here in the Cities for AWP 2015, and I sort of hung around the conference wishing I’d have spent the money for admission to it. I was thankful I was able to attend so many offsite events, since the readings are really the best part anyway. Sarah and I met and had breakfast with our friend Ahyicodae (Ico), who lives up here, and with whom I get the pleasure to have writing and workshop days now that we’ve made that connection. For me, these connections are the writing equivalent of my artistic connections with Lyn and Tish.

I get all fired up and excited about writing and art when I am around other people who are passionate about being creative, so once again the creative fire is lit under my smoldering and lackadaisical behind. I’m not making excuses, but it’s easy for me to become complacent about art and writing (they are a lot of work!) when I am not making art, not talking about art, and not feeling inspired. I am blessed to have many, many creative friends, both writers and artists. I am blessed to continually meet folks (like Nell, who was one of the first non-work people I met up here) who make the world more beautiful through their creativity.

I know I am flash-in-the-pan and have almost zero stick-to-it-ive-ness (what a word!), but I wrote a rough draft of a poem today and I started a short creative nonfiction piece this morning as well. I have the ideas for some artwork, and I know I just need to do it. The theme I am currently stuck on, and I blame the liturgical calendar and where I am in my life, is resurrection, rebirth, and reconciliation. I feel like I’ve died and come back to life, like a cliche little phoenix.

*

Here’s part of the CNF piece I started this morning: “Whenever I wash the dishes, I always look out the window toward the Mississippi River, which is about two blocks west of our house. Sometimes if I strain, I can hear the barges pushing their freight, and sometimes if I pay close attention, I can see interesting water fowl low in flight as they land or take off from the water, even though I can’t really see the river. Today I was standing by the back window in front of the sink washing the dishes from last night’s culinary success while thinking about everything I wanted to accomplish today. I noticed a hawk and a couple of other birds flying in an odd pattern over the neighbor’s house. I wondered why the birds were behaving so sporadically and scoured the ground for the neighbor’s dog, which sometimes runs along the street in front of their house. No dog. I traced the flight pattern up into the sky and was humbled by what was making the local birds behave so strangely. The sky was marked with the unmistakable giant white bodies and long, black-tipped wings of the whooping crane, a cast of about 50 of them in fact. My day became glorious in that minute of awe, and I continue to thank God that I am still here and that I am so blessed.

*

The thing I am struggling with the most in my life right now is the desire and energy to train for this half-marathon in June and the 70.3 in July. Neither race is going to be pretty. In fact, I think they are going to be very, very ugly. More factually, I think I’ll be lucky to finish them both. I am having a difficult time with running. I have the desire. I can remember what it felt like to be able to run 9 miles at a stretch with virtually no difficulty and no soreness the next day. I can remember what it was like to run 15 miles on a Saturday, being sore the next day, but not dying from it. My body wants to be there again, but with everything is so psychological. My mind says, “Remember how bad your legs and feet hurt after work and standing for 8 hours at a time. You can’t run after that. You need to go home and put your feet up and watch 97 hours of Murder, She Wrote. You don’t need to write or do art or run or swim or do anything but be a slug. You’ve earned it by working so hard.” I’m trying to focus my meditation and prayer, now that Lent is over, on positive self-talk in regards to triathlon-related and creativity-related pursuits. Today, I am going for a three-mile walk. Tomorrow, I am going for a swim and run. My goal is to never turn on the TV or open a book until I’ve accomplished my goals for the day. That sort of relaxing is my reward. I don’t read for a living anymore.

*

I’ve been vegetarian again for two weeks now. Psychologically, I feel 100% better. I always forget how clear my mind becomes when my life isn’t held in a balance based on killing creatures for sustenance. Physically, I feel about the same. My body is still store from work, and I still think I need to just lay about (see above). I think it’s worth being a kind-hearted eater to not have dreams about dying animals, and I think it’s worth it to be adventurous in the kitchen again. We’d gotten in the rut of eating the same five or six meals over and over again, but we’re shaking it up a bit these past few days. Yesterday, I made my first batch of saag paneer, and it was delightful and filling. And, I am mostly past a point in my life where I am willing to do pretty much anything to lose weight. I’m not. I’m more interested in living a consistent ethic of life, and a life lived well and not on the backs of innocents.

*

Now I am off to buy a cheap table to use for my printmaking lair upstairs in the attic.