creativity is a need

When the words don’t want to come, I soon discover that my other creative endeavors are stymied, too. 

When I feel a block in my writing, I think to myself, “I need to stitch,” or, “I need to paint.” I gather my materials, feeling assured that the project will kickstart my writing again, only to find myself staring at my supplies. I find I’m stuck in that area, too.

The muse does not discriminate. If I am feeling resistance to writing, it’s creative resistance across the board. And this is a problem. Creativity is a need, not a want, in my world.

Fortunately, I have learned a few things from such moments. I don’t know how others do it, but they work for me.

Discipline. The thing about writing, for me, is you just do it. You just show up and start. It might be a rough start, but you generally get into gear at some point.

Running/walking outside. Probably the biggest single source of activated inspiration in my life. Meditation in motion, in nature, rain or shine. Goes hand in hand with discipline.

Nature. Just getting out in it always nurtures:  breathing the air, feeling the sunshine or wind, noticing all the colors, scents, and sensations.

Permission #1. Importantly, I must give myself permission to be creative, affirming that it is a legitimate and desirable activity for which I am perfectly qualified. I wrote a little about this topic here as well.

Permission #2. Every now and then, I also realize I need to step away for a moment because something is percolating. In those times, it is best to let go and allow the space. Good time to go for a run, huh?

Pretty simple stuff, but it works for me. Maybe you have some tricks of your own?

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Stand for Freedom

bananas

I knew it was not going to be my best race. Diane really wanted to do this 5K with a buddy though, and how could I say no? I laced up and tried to get my head in the game. 

Just like that, we were off. After the initial rush of the start, Diane pointed out a runner ahead of us, and we silently agreed to overtake them. Once that was done, she picked another one.

Before I knew it, we could see the finish line ahead at the top of a rise. We knew what we had to do. Diane and I had a longstanding pact that we must pick up our pace for any hill. We grimly glanced at each other, then laid on the coal.

Breathless, we sailed across the finish line. Panting and sweating, we gratefully grabbed the bottles of water held out to us. As we walked off the race, we each snagged a banana, too.

Finally, we tumbled down onto the cool grass in the shade of a big tree. We looked at each other with goofy smiles. 

Diane held her banana up in the air.

“To your best personal time ever!” she proclaimed.

I held my banana up, too. “And to yours!” 

We clinked our bananas together in happy celebration.

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Many thanks to Eugi’s Causerie for another great prompt!

the transformative power of a run

A to Z challenge, theme: anatomy, day 12: L
Flash essay, 100 words 

I linger over my coffee, brooding. I’m sluggish, resistant. I sit half-heartedly fighting the ennui that keeps me in the chair with my melancholy thoughts. It would be so easy to just … not.

Somehow, I manage to make myself lace up, get up and out the door. I walk fast. Finally, I’m running. 

Legs pumping. Feet feeling the ground. Air in my lungs. Eyes soaking in the trees, the sky, the path ahead. I feel my aliveness with joy and gratitude, aware of my heart of compassion, my kinship with all of life. Creativity blooms. It’s a beautiful day.

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earth and me

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I keep a wary eye on the darkening clouds as I head out for my run. I know it can’t be too long before the weather unleashes, but, damn, I need to run. So, off I go.

At first, it’s just a few drops of spattered rain. Big deal. Maybe the whole thing will just skirt past. I’ve got my phone in a baggie.

I keep going until all of a sudden the wind whips up, and there’s a rush of rain, a clap of thunder. I duck into the high school baseball team dugout as the weather moves through, just a few minutes. We’re right on the edge of it.

When I step out of the dugout, and onto the asphalt trail, I notice the bright green sprig that’s fallen there. The wind whips it, but it remains in place. It looks so fresh and so beautiful, so alive against the asphalt.

I pick up my pace because I can see the clouds amassing, not thinning. They are angrily piling up and darkening, and I head homeward, disappointed that I won’t get more miles in.

I’m not all that far from home when the skies break loose, exploding with a sudden violence.  Wind, rain, lightening. I dash toward a school building. There’s an awning reaching out from the entrance doors. I head there and find just a little shelter. The wind is driving rain everywhere.

I feel so exposed, so defenseless as nature lets go. All I can do is stand and watch as lightening strikes and thunder claps, over and over.  The wind pushes the rain into unexpected places. There is nothing to do but watch, and be amazed.

It’s bigger than me. And yet, I feel connected right through my feet as the thunder rolls. I am soaked with the rains. I am awed and humbled, scared and honored.

When the fury subsides, I trot home, thankful, taking nothing for granted. 

the long month of february

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Contrary to the simplistic assertions of the calendar, February is, in fact, the longest month of the year. Ask any Michigander.

The cold, the snow, and the dearth of sunshine conspire to thwart our typical notion of time. Where once life carried on with abandon, now the terrain is silent, stark, and foreboding. The snow is piled up into formidable mountains under heavy, grey skies. The short days of winter are long and wearying.

Rarely does the sun emerge from behind those walls of gray clouds to beckon us to venture forth. It’s cold. Really cold. All the time.

Precious few dare a walk or run. It’s a lonely endeavor. Still, for some of us, there’s an instinct that compels us get out, to move one’s limbs, to feel the whole arc of our selves.

Sidewalks are generally a thing of the past, of course. Where folks made the effort and actually did clear their sidewalks, those turn out to be the most treacherous stretches for walking anyway – they have turned into unmaintainable ice sheets.

As a result, one walks or runs in the road, and at their peril. The roads themselves leave little space for a pedestrian. The snow and the ice encroach on the traveled portion of the pavement, forcing one to be wary and nimble, always prepared to negotiate oncoming traffic. It’s a sketchy endeavor.

It’s actually not strange to be forced to stop now and then just to figure out how to get from one point to another, like across a street. There may be such an amalgamation of dicey ice and snow mountains and traffic that it demands to be puzzled out in advance. Sometimes, the best course of action is actually to turn around and go back.

Nevertheless, those of us committed to walking or running persist. It remains, always, uplifting to get out into the air, if frigid. To see the trees, to hear the birds and be amazed by them. To spy the squirrels, still about their business somehow. To observe the dark river push its way through the stark landscape, sometimes carrying icy chunks. To feel the freedom of movement in space. To simply allow one’s mind to relax and expand beyond the confines of indoors.

I admit to feeling restricted to walking. The roadways are just too unpredictable and hazardous for me to feel safe running. And I am anxious to run. I need to run. I have considered an indoor track, but I yearn for the outdoor one. It’s how I feel whole.

Regardless of my petty needs, the reality is that February just carries on. And on, and on, and on.

I know, however, how these long, bleak days finally transform, making the wait somehow worth it. The little clues begin to show themselves before spring arrives and revives all of the life of this strange, harsh, sleeping world. Then, the long month of February becomes a fleeting illusion, a dream half-forgotten on waking.

It won’t be long. The calendar is proof of that.

the power of positive feedback

veru1_25_19My new ukulele now sports two bright-colored ribbons. Every time I look at it, I cannot help but feel a little burst of inner smile.

Yup, I showed up for the music shop’s beginner ukulele club this week. I had no idea just how marvelous this experience would be.

There were eight of us in the group that evening. It was a mixed bunch of folks ranging from teenagers to oldsters.

I was the only new person in the group. The instructor brought over an electronic tuner and walked me through a proper tuning of my ukulele.

As everyone else in the group swiftly launched into strumming, I was handed a piece of paper with three chords shown on it, and their use in the tune, “Happy Birthday.” After some pointers on hand position, the instructor walked me through the song, and then bid me to practice it a bit. Then, he was off to listen to the other strummers.

The whole room hummed and swayed with all the strumming. No one was playing the same tune at the same time, and yet there was nothing displeasing or chaotic about it. In fact, quite the reverse.

I kept strumming away at “Happy Birthday” until the instructor eventually wandered back and asked me how I was doing. He leaned in and listened and watched closely as I gave him a run-through. Much to my amazement, he told me what a great job I did. He gestured toward two gongs, one big and one little, and invited me to choose one to strike.

What a funny moment that was. I almost declined the invitation, but, in truth, I was delighted. So, I went up to the big gong and gave it a gentle whack with the mallet. As I turned back, I found the instructor happily approaching me with a bright yellow ribbon which he tied onto the headstock of my ukulele.

I was pretty stunned that I managed to acquire a second ribbon later in the evening after successfully managing to play “Let It Be.” The instructor got me started on my third piece, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” by the end of the evening.

I floated on air as I headed homeward into the snowy dark. A little bit of encouragement goes such a long way!

It reminded me of the first time I went running on a track with a local group. I was the slowest one in the bunch, daunted and beleaguered, but, damn, if I didn’t hear a bunch of folks call out “Great job!” as I panted my way over the finish. Several reached out for a high five. I looked into a group of folks genuinely smiling at me without a hint of condescension.

That’s one of the things I really love about runners. There is always so much mutual encouragement. Even out on a trail alone, there’s nothing strange about coming along another runner you’ve never met before, and hearing “Good job!” as you pass.

The power of positive feedback – you gotta love it. Seems like the older you get, the less you hear it, and yet, the power of an encouraging word is undiminished.

Definitely feeling empowered on my ukulele path, I am happy to practice and really enjoying my “homework.” I’m also looking forward to earning some more ribbons. 🙂

hey, it’s a start anyway

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New Year’s Eve day we had reports of a snowstorm moving in. So, that morning, I am happy to say that I did get out and on the move, hoping to beat the storm. During the first mile, I began to feel the cold pings of sleet, but forged on. It picked up, but never got overwhelming. It turned out to be a great, invigorating run.

The snow didn’t materialize according to schedule. First, there was the long, steady sleet, and eventually it was rain. At a couple of points, it was actually raining pretty hard, with puddles and all. It wasn’t until late in the evening when the rain finally turned to snow. That, of course, meant ice.

I had originally planned to participate in an organized hike on New Year’s morning, one of those First Day Hikes, at a place I had never before visited.  When morning actually arrived, however, it was pretty clear the roads were really too treacherous to get to the starting point. 

Nevertheless, I still made myself venture out on foot. It was a tentative, careful exploration. It was indeed very icy everywhere.

I slowly headed for one of my familiar routes nearby and I just walked, rather mincingly. I knew running was out of the question, but I carefully and gradually picked up a little speed. Most of the time, I crunched my way through the grass since the sidewalks and the roads were really not safe.

I crossed paths with a couple of teens who were delighted to discover just how slippery it was out. They weren’t making much headway, and one took a tumble, but they were getting a good laugh out of it.

All in all, I covered about five miles, albeit with much retracing of steps – happily meditative. I noticed my own footprints as I came upon them, and felt that apparently I actually had made my mark, if ephemeral, on the world.

My New Year’s outing wasn’t fast, but it was good. It made a cheerful compromise, in keeping with my plans for the new year. Staying in motion is so important for my physical and mental/emotional health.

I consider it a good start to 2019.

winter challenges: food and running

veru12_7_18-e1544183475255.jpgAll summer long, salad sat at the center of my eating patterns. I mean, you can pretty much throw anything in a salad, after all, and it works. It’s nutritious and tastes great.

Summer did not involve a whole lot of effort going into cooking anything, except for pasta, grains, and the occasional veggie burger.

Then, snow and ice arrived, and it seemed that my whole palate changed.

When I came in from outside, all bundled up and still cold, the thought of making a salad made me shiver. I just wanted to warm up.

The greens began to wither in the fridge as my food thoughts ranged to all things warm, like the vegan meatloaf  I wrote about here – the perfect winter comfort fix.

Chili quickly became a go-to meal. Vegan mac and cheese became an imperative. Lasagne became compelling.

Comforting, filling food took center stage. I wanted stuff I could cook ahead, too, since all I wanted to do at the close of the shockingly short daylight hours was curl up in a blanket.

That whole shorter day thing turned out to be problematic in other ways, too. Along with the snow and ice, it quickly became harder to make myself get out there for my runs. After breaking my shoulder a couple of years ago, I found myself very reluctant to run in the dark, and it’s pretty hard to find time during the day.

veru12_7_18bSo I was into this winter mode of operation – slowing down and filling up – just long enough to notice how it makes me feel different. I don’t like it, either.

I’ve been feeling kind of sluggish and full and sleepy and uncomfortable and like being a couch potato. This is not my style.

Worse, this whole winter thing is just barely getting started. We’ve got months to go.

As I sat and listened to an acquaintance the other day discussing his two heart attacks, diabetes, and various hospitalizations, it occurred to me that I need to be proactive about my unhealthy winter stagnation and feeding tendencies.

The first thing I did was bring salad back. I need my salads. I missed my salads. Comfort food is great in small doses, but salad has to be the main dish for me.

I also did a reset on my hydration, which I realized had become reduced to pretty much anything warm – coffee, tea. I’m back to drinking water in more summerish quantities.

Running is more problematic. I am an outside runner – that is how I get zen. Nevertheless, I may have to resort to using the local indoor track if it’s too frickin’ cold or messy or dark out. This is hard for me to do.

On the weekends, I can make my outdoor runs work – or at least walks or hikes, which is fine if that’s all I manage. The point is to keep moving all through the winter.

I’d like to remain on the move at least five days a week, even if it’s shorter distances than I’m used to.

Since my running is hampered, I can give more love to core and strength exercises. Something to shoot for anyway. Maybe even break down and return to yoga.

Given my current couch potato frame of mind, this is actually a pretty challenging agenda. It’s so important, though, for my physical as well as my mental/emotional well-being.

Wish me luck. Brrrr.

a different path

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After some pretty frigid temps, there’s been a nice respite in the weather. It felt good to get out on the city park trails which wind along next to the river. Didn’t even wear a hat.

In the summer, the trails are pretty busy, but right now they’re basically deserted. It’s a little eerie.

Still, I was able to hear birds singing, and see them flitting among the brush. Spotted two squirrels practically cuddled up on a branch together. Ducks were cavorting in the river, splashing, and riding the current.

At one spot, the train tracks run across the trail. What do you know, a train came. I stood there close enough to feel the rumble under my feet.

As I crossed through the abandoned park expanse, I saw a man approaching. As he got nearer, I could see that he was carrying something in one hand, but kind of shielding it from view. It made me uncomfortable. As we passed, I looked back. I could clearly see that what he was carrying was a large wooden club.

veru11_25_18bI wondered if the city trails are more dangerous than I know. Or if this is just a man who is a little paranoid. Either way, I think carrying something like that actually does make the city trails more dangerous, and it serves to make one a little paranoid, too. Certainly bothered me.

That brief, uneventful encounter alters things. Regardless of my intentions, I realize I already feel less inclined to return to the trails for a run, despite the fact that I truly love the access to nature there. It makes me mad that on a perfectly pleasant day, people feel compelled to arm themselves to be out in it. 

I am sad for our loss of community, for the distrust and fear with which everyone lives now. It is time to find our way back – to find connection and purpose and joy in our shared experience on this earth instead of the manufactured violence and separation that greedy capitalism fuels.

I believe it is possible, too, but it takes vision, intention, and personal effort to move to recover true and functional community. It won’t come from the top. It takes each one of us to make it happen. It takes courage, too, at the very least, to choose a different path than the one we’re shown and herded along.

The birds and the squirrels and the ducks – they’re on to something. Beautiful, peaceful coexistence within nature. Why wouldn’t we?

chilly run

veru11_10_18cI admit it. I really kind of had to fight with myself today to get outside and run. But, hey, it was so worth it!

At issue was the temperature. It was below freezing.

Even though I fully expect to run through at least most of the winter with lower temperatures than this, I looked at the temp this morning and was just. not. feeling. it.

I put my running gear on anyway. Laced up.

Then, I proceeded to mill around my place, finding a variety of tasks to facilitate my procrastination.

I eventually noticed it, bucked up, and headed out.

Even though we had quite a snow yesterday, the sidewalks and streets were clear. Yay! 

My gear was just right, and I didn’t even go through that awful frozen-at-the-start phase. I felt pretty good.

First thing I noticed was a snow fort. Haven’t seen one of those in years, and it was awesome to see that some kids were inspired by the snow to build one yesterday. Totally cool.

As I passed the snow fort and headed along, a man approached me rather deliberately. He wanted to know how to find the soup kitchen.

Made me thoughtful about other folks’ struggles, especially in this cold season.

Even though the sidewalks seemed clear, I studied the pavement as I trotted along, checking for ice or slippery patches where the leaves were still piled up. I broke my shoulder a couple of years ago, and really don’t want to repeat that experience!

For all my resistance, the weather actually felt good. It went from cloudy to flurries to sunshine and back to cloudy while I ran. The cold made me keep on at a decent clip. It was invigorating.

I was having so much fun that I spontaneously broke out into song. Funny part was that it was my count I was singing. One thousand one, one thousand two, etc. up and down and all around the scale. Go figure.

Four miles down and I headed for home, feeling awesome.

Chilly? Bah!