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2016: Dream Casting and Goal Setting

Every year at this time I start thinking about how I can make the world a better place in the coming year. I reflect on the last year, both my accomplishments and shortcomings, and I envision the coming year and the possibilities it holds. For 2016, I am dream casting and goal setting in similar, but more realistic ways.

My biggest goal is to become an Expert at Apple and to help my store continue to be the best with an eye toward becoming better. This goal is certainly attainable, and I feel as if I am well on way toward it. I know what my strengths are, and I’ve named for myself a few areas of opportunity. I’ve begun working on those areas with the help and support of my colleageus, and I am confident that some time within the year, I’ll attain this goal.

I have five other goals that I will be focusing on for this year. Seeing as how I overshot my goals last year and fulfilled a grand total of none of them, I’m being a bit more realistic this year. And, quite frankly, some of my goals are the same as last year, because they are things I really need to do in my life, but I didn’t succeed at last year.

Goal: I will be vegan in my own kitchen this year. For my friends’ convenience, I am going to simply be vegetarian when it comes to going to other folk’s houses or out for dinner. I continue to desire to leave a less violent footprint on our world, and I continue to be pro-life in all regards. One way I can live out a peaceful and life-fostering ethic is to minimize my consumption of animal products. If you want to know more about why I am chosing this lifestyle, here’s a well-written article about ethical veganism.

Goal: I will volunteer one day a week. Going along with the focus on life and peace, I have requested to switch my availability at Apple to have Thursdays off, so I can volunteer at 360 Communties after I work at Caribou. I filled out my application for volunteerism on their website yesterday, and now I am just waiting to hear back from them about where they can use me, or whether they can use me at all given my limited availability. I plan to participate in some other volunteering opportunities with my colleagues from Apple, and I’ll still raise money for other causes like Polar Plunging for the Special Olympics and dedicating some of my bigger sports events I’ll be participating in to causes like St. Jude’s Children’s Hospitals or Mile in My Shoes.

Goal: I will to continue with prayer and meditation as an integral part of my spiritual life. These two practices center me and enable me to practice peace, grace, and love in a way that I can’t do without slowing down my brain to focus on my breathing or to focus on God. By doing either of these practices, I am allowed the time I need to be away from this world, transported to another place where I can just be.

Goal: I will exercise my body. I have two main goals in regards to this goal: Big Shoulders 5K Open Water Swim (September) and Afton 50K Trail Run (July). I enjoy swimming, biking, and running, and I’ve previously killed that joy by making an unattainable goal for myself of exercising every day or of trying to get in my two or three workouts of each type each week. This year my goal is simply to keep the joy in moving my body. I want to do each sport enough to be in shape, and I want to pepper my weeks with hiking with my love. I don’t want training to become a chore. Incidentally, my far-reaching goal is to finish Ironman Wisconsin in 2017.

Goal: I will abstain from alcohol and caffeine. This will perhaps be my most difficult goal. I’ve (nearly) succussfully abstained from alcohol and caffeine since October 10, drinking caffeine three times and having a couple of beers in that time. Those beers showed me, though, and I ended up hives both times. I am attempting this abstinence for no other reason than both alcohol and caffeine are powerful drugs. I’ve noticed in the time that I’ve been abstaining from them that my moods are more even, and that my sleep isn’t nearly as messed up. I can get on board with all of that.

Finally, though I don’t consider it a measurable goal, I want 2016 to be the year I live with grace, peace, love, joy, and kindness in all situations, in all ways. This year I will be more Christian, and more specifically more Wesleyan.

John Wesley said that Christianity could be boiled down to three simple rules:

  1. Do no harm.
  2. Do good.
  3. Stay in love with God.

 

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.

A New Sabbath Day

I want and need a Sabbath, one day each week that I can count on to be strictly my time to spend with God, family, writing, and art, so the one day I said I wouldn’t work at Caribou is Sunday. Fortunately, Caribou eases you in to a full schedule, so I had yesterday and tomorrow off as well. Today we tried out our new Sunday thing, plan, routine, whatever you want to call it. Since Bec and I have radically different ideas about what we like in church, we’ve decided to have the best of both worlds and just attend two services. First, we get up early and head to St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in St. Paul, and then we head to Awaken Community in Lilydale. It’s a nice balance and nice way to start the Sabbath. And we get to see the children and grandchildren at Awaken, so that’s a pretty nice bonus. After church today, we came home, had lunch, and then napped. We’re exciting, I know.

We (Bec, Ann, and I) spent yesterday going to the Uptown and Powderhorn Art Fairs. We walked forever and looked at lots of amazing arts and crafts. I bought a card for my mom, a birthday gift for my brother, and an anniversary gift for the Combers. And if any of them read this, I just spoiled the surprise for them all. As we walked, I kept thinking about how God has honored my heart’s desire to have time off of work and to have a job I don’t bring home with me. I couldn’t get the image of myself, sitting in one of those booths and selling my own artwork, out of my mind. Even if it’s only a dream for now, since I have just begun sketching, it’s the freest I’ve felt in a long, long time.

For my first little venture back into the art world, I plan to create a set of prints based on this poem by Wallace Stevens. There have been several interpretations of this poem created by several artists in a few diverse cultures. Artist Joan Colbert hand pulled my favorite set of linoleum block prints that is currently in existence. You can see them here. However, I think there is still room for me to add my voice into the mix, because my style of block printing has a bit more texture in the white spaces, and I plan to print both black and white on brown paper, adding some pastel work into the final prints.

*

I got to Minnesota about three weeks ago. Today is August 3, and I arrived on July 11. Just after I got here, or more specifically on my 40th birthday, I made some simple goals, things I’d like to improve upon in my life. Here they are (again): quit smoking and drink only on weekends or not at all; eat primal with one “cheat” day a week; no ice cream; get a job; capitalize on quiet time (read, write, art); and run/walk, bike, swim. Since setting these goals, I’ve accomplished several and am still working on others. I struggle with the ice cream thing. It gives me joy. I’m going to keep eating ice cream for a while. I’ve started adding a brief bit of meditation into my morning routine, and I hope to add it into my evening routine as well. Meditation helps me to quiet my busy mind in a way that nothing else does; I can release my anger and sadness and cultivate compassion and joy through the simple act of breathing.

I’ve created one new goal in all of this, which I mentioned before, but I am going to mention again, and probably keep mentioning. I want to finish the Muncie 70.3 for my second time next July. I want to do it again to prove to myself that I can and to get a better time than last and to just be healthy again. I’ve been running and biking, and I will start swimming later this month, so I know I can do it. I just need to stay focused and remember that I am doing all of this to take care of myself and be well.

Day 6 of Year 40: Things Are Looking Up From Here

In the interest of keeping this blog space for reals, I’m going to be honest and say that the last week has really sucked. Starting with my job-related meltdown during a supposedly romantic walk with my wife through the second I’m-all-alone-on-my-40th-birthday meltdown and ending with my third I’m-a-big-baby-and-nobody-loves-me-because-I’m-fat-and-work-at-Caribou-Coffee meltdown Saturday morning, this past week has been a giant crap sandwich of self-pity and self-loathing. Cue the Marilyn Manson soundtrack, or maybe the Smiths for those of you who kick it old school.

Let me go back a bit. Since March, when we knew we were moving to Minnesota, I’ve been praying for a job that will allow me to relax, have fun, get my smile back, and let me have my home time be home time. This is not a teaching job. I prayed specifically for a job in a bar or a coffee shop. I preferred one that was close to home. When I got to Minnesota, I started my job search by applying for teaching jobs, and not getting any, I started looking at other options. I applied at Trader Joe’s (not cool enough to work there after two interviews), I applied at a local brewery (not cool enough to even get an interview), and I applied at Caribou Coffee (where I was hired on the spot). For $8 an hour.

For $8 an hour. This simply wouldn’t do. I needed money. For those of you who know me, this probably seems quite strange, because I am the woman who sees money as green pieces of paper that float in and out of my life like snow. But I need to be able to pay the bills I’ve accrued while attaining my Oh, So Valuable Education. So I balked at this gift I’d been given. A space to relax, to make coffee, to be myself. See I thwarted the desires of my heart from the get go. Somehow working in a coffee shop or a bar seemed beneath my dignity. After all, I do have numerous graduate degrees. Somehow my own self-worth came only through a professional job; we do, here in the US of A, value people based on their livelihood. And I was now a coffee maker, a job I could’ve done straight out of high school. I had bought into all the classist assumptions I’d been taught to deconstruct. Apparently, I thought myself too cool to be working class, and too entitled as well. I deserve to teach because I have the degrees. I bought the system and all the hype I’ve always critiqued. Apparently, I bought into the capitalist machine. My job, whichever cog I was in the machine, determined my value. And I wasn’t a very valuable cog.

But wait.

My value does not come from which cog in the machine I am.

My value does not come from any external source.

My value comes from who I am and how I treat other people.

But I didn’t just get there from my pit of despair. It took some scratching and clawing, some chatting with friends, and some serious soul searching. God had just given me the desire of my heart: a job that doesn’t define me and that doesn’t follow me home. And I told [Them] to piss off about it. Seriously, God had given me what I asked for, and I was more than pissed about it. So, on the romantic walk with my wife, I was upset to the point of emitting a guttural cry. I couldn’t contain it, the tears poured, the sobs surged forth, and my body shook. I was hyperventilating in sadness. The system had betrayed me: I had multiple graduate degrees and I couldn’t find a job. I had played the game, and it screwed me. But wait. I had prayed for this job and gotten it.

So then, on my birthday, which was the day after the Great Deluge, I was all alone. In my house. In Minnesota. And I was turning 40. By myself. Did I mention that I was by myself? And, again, I was pissed and sad, and felt betrayed. I could have gone out and made a day of it by myself. I’m not afraid to be alone, and I’m not afraid to explore on my own. But I chose, instead, to sit in my living room and wallow in my own self-pity. I chose it. Willfully. By the time Bec got home from work to take me out, I was a basket case, and them we went to my favorite restaurant, and it was lovely and the funk started to reside. I made an effort to open my heart on our walk we took after dinner. And it helped.

So then, again, on Saturday when the funk came back, I wasn’t expecting it to manifest in an angry tear against the woman I love, but it did. I was angry at her for bringing me here. And I was angry with her for everything, basically, and it wasn’t her fault. But I said it was. And I was mean and ungrateful. You know, your typical self-centered asshole. And everything fell out: “I am fat, fifty pounds fatter than this time last year. I work for minimum wage at a fucking coffee shop. Do you even want me here? Do you even want to be with me?” Only instead of it coming out like that, it came out all accusatory and ugly and horrible. And we both cried. And it was awful.

But something clicked in me through the day yesterday. And kept clicking. It said to look at the beauty in my life. To focus on what is good and beautiful and wonder-filled.

My value does not come from which cog in the machine I am.

My value does not come from any external source.

My value comes from who I am and how I treat other people.

And right at those moments, my value was swirling around the bottom of the toilet bowl. I’ve been an asshole. You see, I think most people think that moving has been the biggest stress for me, leaving behind family and friends and familiar things. While that has been stressful, my biggest stress has been figuring out who I am again. I have been given this beautiful opportunity to rebuild myself from the ground up and I almost blew it on building myself into the same bitter jackass I was for the past couple of years in Muncie.

So who am I?

I am Corby. I hope to be a triathlete. I hope to be an excellent Caribou employee. I hope to love deeply. I hope to give grace. I hope to show much compassion. And I hope to be able to receive and recognize all the blessings in my life.

In accordance with my goals, I have quit smoking (okay, I had two on Friday Cheat Day); I have quit drinking (okay, I had three beers on Friday Cheat Day); I have a job at the ‘Bou; I went for a bike ride, and I went for a run, and we take a walk every night; and I’m working on the quiet time…

Here’s to love and life and beauty.

Sunday, Sunday and Mystic Monday

Well, I know you’re surprised that I got a bit behind, but, well, it happens. My mind races 90 miles an hour, but I’ve always been a slow moving person. The combination can be almost deadly. I’m a sloth with ADHD. Not pretty.

Sunday, Sunday

Since I forgot, or didn’t have time or motivation, to write yesterday, let me just mention briefly here that several of my goals go hand in hand and they are slowly beginning to be realized. Here are the goals, then I’ll tell you how I am realizing them: run a marathon, finish the Racine 70.3, ride a century ride on the bicycle, and swim the 5K at Big Shoulders in Chicago. This may seem like a lot to accomplish for most folks, but for me, the only one that even makes me nervous as far as completing it, since I’ve never completed one before, is the marathon. I swear on all that’s holy (sort of) that if I start this marathon in October and don’t finish . . . I’ll just try again next year. I’m nothing if not resilient. Or dumb.

I’ve signed up for the Medtronic marathon in the Twin Cities, the Racine 70.3. When I get paid on Friday, I’ll sign up for Big Shoulders and Headwaters 100. Of all of these events, I look forward most to Big Shoulders. I’ve never swum a 5K before, and I’ve never swum in Lake Michigan by Chicago, so it’ll be all kinds of new stuff. I’m most worried about Racine 70.3 on a “how will I look level”, because I think I’ll have to rent or buy a wetsuit, and squishing myself into a wetsuit is conceivably my very worst nightmare.

Imagine if you will: a giant caterpillar trying to shed its skin swimming in a lake.

Body segments and all.

That’ll be me in a wetsuit.

Eek.

I’m getting ready to ramp up my activity to train for all this mess. In fact, I’m adding swimming and biking back in gradually, so I can move up gently now that I am no longer sick. I swear I’ve felt drained for about three weeks, and I was really sick for about four days, which is really unlike me. It’s cool. Now if I can get some of this weight off and keep my foot from hurting, it’ll be a miracle.

Mystic Monday

“Listen. Look. Suffer and be still. Release yourself into the light. See with intellect. Learn with discretion. Suffer with joy. Rejoice with longing. Have desire with forbearance. Complain to no one. My child, be patient and release yourself, because no one can dig God out from the ground of your heart.” —anonymous, “The Silent Outcry”

I’m not really sure what to make of this little pamphlet of guidance. I understand what each sentence means, but when they’re thread together, I get nervous about what the writer means and how her advice might affect my daily life. I have no problem listening and looking, but that’s about where it stops. When I read “suffer and be still,” I think of people with mental illnesses who think suffering in silence is their best option, and I want to scream out, “No! Don’t suffer and be still. Tell someone you’re suffering.” I suppose, however, this writer refers to a spiritual suffering, not an emotional one. In which case, what does it even mean to suffer? I am unsure that I have ever actually suffered. For anything. In any regard. I move forward in the text and see three phrases that intrigue me, but mystify me as well.

“Release yourself into the light” could mean a variety of things. Does this text refer to the moments just before death? Given that the hearer is asked to listen, look, and suffer in silence, possibly the writer is speaking about death. But We can do all those things while wholly alive and well, too. “See with intellect” and “learn with discretion” appeal to me in every sense. And, of course, it reminds me a bit of the transcendentalists, who ask their readers to really see things, to look beyond their mundane usefulness and to locate the beauty, to really see the objects and to really understand them.

The writer then brings the text back around to suffering, longing, desiring, and complaining. The long and the short of this bit of advice seems to me to be that we should revel in whatever is happening around us, that we should simply be grateful we’re alive. Additionally, this part of the text seems to highlight our human need for binaries: suffer/joy, rejoice/longing, desire/forbearance, and complaint/silence. We’re to fully experience both emotions, so that we can rely on God. The last line of the excerpt above illustrates where the readers strength is supposed to come from: “no one can dig God out from the ground of your heart.” You may suffer, you may rejoice, you may experience desire, and you may not be able to tell anyone, but for certain, no one can dig God out from your heart. Like Psalm 1 says, “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.” Likewise, contemplatives, mystics, people who seek to follow Jesus are like those same trees planted by the waters, wherein God is also like who is planted inside them. Listen, look, suffer and be still. Let the silence break the silence and rejoice in whatever comes your way.