Saturday, September 1, 2018

What I Did This Summer

The heart of the BS 3000 is our time tested and contractor proven piston paint pump. Designed for spraying 2500 gallons per year, this pump is used daily by thousands of painting professionals worldwide--with a reputation for trouble free performance that’s unmatched in the industry. It’s compact, easy to use, and quick to clean. Even changing colors is a breeze. Stripe with water-based paints made for athletic fields or traffic lines. A professional quality spray gun is mounted on a multi-position spray arm. Great balance and light weight make it ideal for a one-man operation. 
--from the BRITE STRIPER 3000 Instruction manual

The BRITE STRIPER 3000 is my colleague, my therapist, my companion in the stark sun, a test, a coach, a whiny child, an unbidden challenge and unpredictable buddha. I spend long days in vast stretches of parking lots and fields, painting lines in white and safety yellow, and the BS 3000 soothes me. No thoughts are possible beyond this line and then the next, a clearing of the mind with each permanent mark. Stay in the moment. Leave your last mistake behind. At first I would try to cover over an errant line, but this served only to dare it to show through the extra layers of paint. Don't cover your mistakes; leave them be. There is always another opportunity to try again.

I never imagined I could learn so much from a machine.

My confidence, as with the lines, extended only to a point, and then the bright shock of it simply disappeared.

What Color Is Your Parachute?, a manual for job seekers, predicted that I would work with ideas, not things (aside from "florist," which was offered as an option). It did not foresee the need for side jobs when the ideas wouldn't yet sell at a sustainable level, nor did it know I was not made of matter that could sit at a desk for eight hours. I have to go hard. I can't use the easier gear when I bike, and I can't throw light punches at the boxing gym. For jobs, manual labor was an answer. I spent the early part of the summer sanding floors and repairing bleachers; later, pushing against the weight of the BS 3000 would comfort me at some base level, giving me a support I didn't know I need.

My day begins with three to seven buckets of paint, which first of all need to be opened, a chore that grabs the forearms from a deep sleep and wrestles them to submission. They need to be mixed with a hammer drill, and they must be carried to the lift of my truck, risen, then slid into the bed. They weigh about 57 pounds each, and the handle is thin and cuts into your hand even as the bucket scrapes against your leg. I need buckets of water, too, and their weight at 40 or so pounds is a relief. I carry water in one hand and a gasoline can in the other as a balance.

The BS 3000 itself then needs to be assembled, the spray gun and its accessories retrieved from their overnight soak in a bucket of water. This first assembly will never be exactly right, somehow, either due to my sleepiness (it is well before 7) or because the machine is not quite awake yet, either. The behavior of machines isn't necessarily consistent between the spectrum of working and broken, I would learn. Some days the hot sun thickened the paint and jammed the line; this was a logical progression of events. But some days everything would be fine and then, suddenly, it was not. And so I learned to deal in things (let me take this apart and clean and reinsert a part or borrow a part from the old piece) rather than ideas (if I call someone, they will save me).

The men--they are all men--are patient. They do not ask if I've done this before, and I don't tell them for quite some time that I am a personal trainer at a gym the rest of the week. They do not know that I have a theatre degree, that I have taught courses for graduate credit, nor that I am a freelance writer with a published book. None of that matters, which is as refreshing as water on these starkly hot days. There is just one other person in the department who has worked the BS 3000 for any stretch of time, and he teaches me. Where I would make a stronger point with someone such as myself, he simply states the information. When I ask, "Is the truck hard to drive?" he says, "I personally don't think so." When I tell the story of a mistake, he says, "I've been there."

These concepts troubled me less now that I had cultivated the art of doing one thing and then the next, relinquishing control over random air bubbles in the line which destroy the illusion of perfection.

In two days' time, the men would go directly to their trucks in the morning rather than help me load mine. This sign of trust carried me through the times when light shone on my inexperience. I felt like a fraud, but was I? I had more knowledge and experience of the BS 3000 than most of the men in the department. I had finished many lots by then, plus a couple of football and soccer fields. My confidence, as with the lines, extended only to a point, and then the bright shock of it simply disappeared.

And yet I found my power. My arms, which have always felt heavy with muscle, took on a solidity from my fingertips to my shoulders. My wedding ring barely fit over the engaged tendons of my hand. I could not endure the fatigue of most jobs, the tedium, and yet these days passed quickly as I put down solid line after solid line. Each day I learned something new--the function of a part, how to back up a new truck. For a time I skipped curves, as I had made a spectacular mess on my first try. But during a lot's worth of lines, a meditation, the answer became clear. Lock the wheel into the forward position. Use the wheel lever while painting but don't touch the gas. Squeeze the lever just before the turn, as the line will want to jump.

Above all, turn off your fear and proceed with confidence.

There is no mention in the manual of a switch called fear.

The regular act of testing and pushing my own buttons released that fear

The regular act of testing and pushing my own buttons released that fear--of making curves but also of facing my son's transition to adulthood, the burden of my ex-husband's actions, of how long I could sustain such hard work. These concepts troubled me less now that I had cultivated the art of doing one thing and then the next, relinquishing control over random air bubbles in the line which destroy the illusion of perfection. I did not, in those long hours, think about my sons or my ex or my checkbook at any length; the concentration and the exhaustion renders such thinking impossible to sustain. And the humility of manual labor dropped the intensity of my emotions down a notch; nothing was worth that much fuss. A job this tough built me up, just as its invisibility--people would drive over my lines even as I stood there--turned the internal noise down to a quiet hum.

But the bright sun is causing muscle spasms in my right eye, and my low back isn't happy. Insomnia--from the stress and exhaustion--overwhelms me. I go hard until I am done, and I am done now. And of all the revelations that poured from the BS 3000 in spurts, bubbles and lines, the most surprising to me is that no one wants to hear them.

When I say I spent the summer doing manual labor, they look away, as if embarrassed for me. But I know I've done what many couldn't. I am capable of more than I thought.

I can live with my mistakes, now.

I am able to turn off the fear and walk a straight line, or take a curve when that is needed.

Because of the BS 3000, I can fix what's broken. And what I did this summer fixed what's broken in me.

Saturday, August 11, 2018


I'm using my storytelling skills for good! 

Read about my new venture here, and see Sarah's story here. It was an honor to write on such a vulnerable subject, and I appreciated her trust. Joe's photos are a perfect accompaniment to this raw, tender account.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Manual Labor and Exercise: should there be one without the other?

My first experience in a manual labor job brought up all sorts of questions for me as a personal trainer. Is this how it should be? Should exercising our bodies have a tangible purpose of, say, carrying a toolbox from here to there because someone needs a wrench, rather than suffering the monotonous repetition of weightlifting sets? Exercise felt pointless to me for a time, even though I knew that I was able to perform the tasks because I was in good shape. I also knew that I was tired at the end of each eight-hour day, and that the last thing I needed was a workout.

Before throwing in the sweaty towel on personal training, I wanted to talk to Bill Griffey. Bill's a personal trainer who teaches physical education in the public schools, and he coaches football and track and field. I was right: he was the one to ask. Read on for some insights on how to strike a balance in activity levels between work and the rest of life.


Bill, you and I are both trainers who worked in the same gym, but we've also shared an office and a desk job. I remember you saying that the men in your family joked about you sitting at a desk—that someday you’d get a “real” job. Can you speak to the importance of physical work to your family?

Growing up, all the men in my life worked manual labor jobs. My grandfather on my dad's side was a heavy diesel mechanic. My grandfather on my mom's side worked in a factory building parts for Navy ships. Both of my grandfathers were WWII veterans. My father's profession was a truck driver, and since he delivered locally, he was required to help unload the trucks, as well. I remember my 6’ 3”, 250lb father often coming home exhausted from a long day at work.
It was important for my father to instill a hard work ethic in his children. We were required to complete many chores around our property, such as cutting and carrying wood, lawn care and house cleaning. Along with our chores, we were expected to work a job for local farmers or anyone else who needed help. 

My first job was at 10, for a furniture-making business. I was required to load and unload flatbeds with lumber. Until I was 17, I worked for local farmers during the summers bailing hay, milking cows, carrying large rocks from fields and various other duties.

My father did not attend school beyond eighth grade, so he always felt insecure in his influence on our education. He wanted to teach his children how to grind and be proud of our work ethic and accomplishments. I will always cherish his influence.

I'm guessing that your exhausted father did not pursue recreational exercise in the way that you do today. You coach football and track, but you also advocate for exercise as an end to itself in your role as personal trainer. Thinking about your dad and people who do similar labor, what would you say is the role of exercise for those who already move all day? Does it depend on the job? And as for the rest of us, do we need exercise simply because our days do not include the unloading of trucks?

Exercise prescription for someone who performs manual labor for a living can be vastly different, yet eerily similar, to someone who sits behind a desk all day. Unfortunately, many people who work manual labor jobs suffer from chronic pain due to overuse of certain tissues. In my experience, many people who perform manual labor do so with improper form which leads to dysfunction.  

Of course, by learning how to hinge, brace, squat, and rotate efficiently, many manual laborers will avoid debilitating chronic injuries. My primary goal as a trainer for someone like my father would be to improve the primary movement patterns (squat, hinge, press, pull, lunge, rotation, gait) and improve mobility in problematic areas such as the hips, low back, and thoracic spine. The training sessions would look like a blend of physical therapy and functional strength training.

Also for those of us who are not blessed to have a job that keeps us physically active, we need exercise and N.E.A.T. (non-exercise activity thermogenesis), which is a fancy acronym for our need to move around more. Exercise prescription for someone who does not perform manual labor can be tricky, because you are looking for a way for them to adhere to the plan. Most movement feels unnatural and uncomfortable, so programming can be a challenge. It's an art form as well, because you the trainer need to find methods and exercises that will motivate your client to stay active even when they are not in a session.

But let's say the job is fairly balanced in its demands on the body. I recently finished my first week in a manual labor job fixing school bleachers. I climbed a ladder to reach the bolts up high, and I crawled underneath the lowest steps. I used my abs, feet, and triceps to scoot between these tight spaces. Sometimes I'd grab onto anything I could and raise my body in a pull up in order to move, and of course used external rotation of the shoulders to check and tighten thousands of bolts. The old bleachers needed to be pulled out by hand, so I'd hip hinge and drive through my feet. Pushing them back in was almost more difficult, but I remembered technique from my experience in strongman pushing trucks, and used that. We'd have to track down custodial staff in each building, and that involved a lot of walking while carrying a heavy toolbox, extension cords, lights and a ladder.

All in all, I faired pretty well, short of a little elbow strain on the arm that usually held the wrenches, and a little lower back discomfort from those spaces where I didn't need to crawl but couldn't quite stand up in, either. But that elbow often gives me trouble, anyway; it's an old boxing injury.

When I train others and when I program my own exercise, I always emphasize functional movement patterns, and these served me well in this situation, though I'm fully aware that my time working was brief and not day in and day out. I'm remembering a conversation I had with a kid who worked for a moving company. I had been thinking that such a job could keep a person very fit--you're lifting heavy things every day!--but he said that every morning he woke up and was miserable. Carrying odd-shaped heavy objects through changing spaces was taking its toll.

So my question is this: if a person has a well-balanced workload in his/her manual labor job and has a good sense of how to move and load his body, does he need exercise outside of work? Did your dad need exercise, or did he fulfill his lifting requirements at work and then loosen up by throwing a football to you?

Will someone who has a well-balanced workload have a "need" to exercise? Yes and no. I can think of a few of my uncles who have worked as general contractors their entire adult lives and have maintained a lean physique and reportedly have been given a clean bill of health from their doctors. But if one them came to me with this question, I would answer by describing how regular exercise could drastically improve their performance at work. I would also describe the mental benefits of having another physical practice outside of work.

You teach physical education to children in a very purposeful fashion: practicing the primal movement patterns to make sure their bodies move well and as designed. A kind of preventative occupational therapy for the laborers in your midst?

Yes, I teach the primal movement patterns with my elementary students. I also teach an hour at the middle school; three days per week are dedicated to a group workout highlighting a fitness component such as speed, strength, endurance or flexibility. Then I talk to my students about the lifelong benefits of having an efficient aerobic system, or balance, or strength. After each workout, the students write in a training journal about how they felt about the workout and which fitness components were emphasized. 

Over 80% of my class are non-athletes. so this may be the only education they receive about health and fitness. I'm excited about our commitment to lifelong fitness.

Me too, Bill. This is how it should be.

Find Bill on Instagram: @runningbear2

Monday, March 19, 2018

Who Did This To My Son

My son watched "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" and said, "It's amazing how they got you to like the main character by the end."

Mildred's daughter has been killed, and she rents three billboards to challenge the chief of police to seek justice, as the case has stalled. The billboards are seen as insensitive--the chief has cancer--and the town rebels in ways that are aggressive (Mildred is confronted in the gift shop where she works), passive aggressive (the chief suggests he'll keep her too busy to work and therefore be unable to pay future rent on the signs) and stupid (high school kids throw cans at her car).

Mildred, in turn, is also stupid (she kicks the high school students in their groins, even the girl). The billboards themselves, in their stark black lettering against a red background, are a passive aggressive act (RAPED WHILE DYING / AND STILL NO ARRESTS? / HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?). And she is aggressive in the face of danger; when the dentist mentions the signs and lunges with his drill to remove a tooth he's barely examined, Mildred closes her mouth and uses his force and momentum to drill something other than her tooth.

Throughout the film you are held in the tension between empathy for a mother who lost her daughter, and thinking, "Couldn't she have drilled through only part of his thumbnail?" Mostly, there's empathy and respect. She's fierce and she seeks revenge because she's been hurt. Mildred is not without heart; she turns on a dime when the chief, in the middle of taunting her, coughs up blood; she calls him "baby."

But she wants to know who did this to her daughter, and no man will stop her.

My son saw only a vengeful woman. "I mean, she didn't need to hurt the dentist like that."

Who did this to my son?

Why would my my son sympathize first with aggressive and passive aggressive men over a fierce, wounded woman? This is a smart, sensitive kid. This is a kid I ask to proof my professional writing because he sees deeper layers. He's in touch with his emotions, though he's young.

Who did this?

We have many talks. We clearly needed another one.

I talked him through the dentist scene.

"You saw that he didn't really look at her tooth, right? You heard him mention the billboards? We got the sense that he was angry and also irresponsible. She was in danger, though he hadn't made a move yet. She had to act or she'd be hurt."

"You need to understand that men have power over women--even small men, and even strong women."

The other day I was taking off a jacket, and he had said, "Man, Mom, look at your arms. You could totally mess someone up." I told him that I probably couldn't, for all my muscle, nor would I want to. He's got this idea that I'm strong and tough, and I'm good with that. But he needed to know that most men are stronger.

I told him that I've been in situations where I knew I was in danger because a man was angry. I told him about the chiropractor who raged at me before taking my neck in his hands for treatment, and how I knew to wait it out rather than run. And then there was the much bigger x-ray technician who told me to take off my pants in front of him, and how I demanded a woman be brought into the room while I looked around for something to swing.

I told my son that I've been in a variety of situations and have had to act differently each time, as Mildred did. I told him that I've had a knife to my face but I knew the young kid had no intention to use it, so I played dumb and was let go.

And I told him that one of the toughest female boxers of all time, Christy Martin, who hit like a man, was beaten and shot by her then husband, and left to die. She didn't have a fighting chance.

Strong is good in a woman, my son, but it won't get you very far. He would have hurt her. And did you notice how the men used different ways to verbally abuse her? She handled each man differently. Her ex-husband choked her and she had to let that go. Did she think she deserved to be choked because she had just made a snarky comment about his teenage girlfriend?

Do you think she deserved to be choked because she made a snarky comment?

I didn't tell my son that I spent ten years thinking I deserved to be hit.

His father and I had been arguing; he was walking around the bedroom while I reclined in bed. I don't remember what was said, only that he raised his hand as if to hit me and then slammed the headboard next to my face instead. Later, he would apologize, saying that he regretted the moment, and adding, "but the way you rolled your eyes."

The incident never bothered me. He'd apologize every few months in the same manner, and I'd think, Hey, it's over. Nothing happened. I forgot about it, eventually.

And then I got together with my current husband, and I remembered. Being with Joe makes me feels safe, which in turn has made me more afraid. Or, rather, more aware: it's as if I can finally see the danger around me now that I've relaxed into safe arms.

And when I relaxed, it hit me: for ten years I believed that because I rolled my eyes, I deserved a hand to my face. I was spared what I deserved. I didn't require an apology.

I didn't tell my son, but he knew. In the worst way, he knew.

Recently, I told his father that I'd write about this event someday as a way to heal and understand. When I brought it up, he didn't protest or look surprised; instead, he said, "I don't remember that." And then he added, "What do you mean I tried to hit you. I missed?"

My son, I will find a way to tell you that this is not how real men act. This is not how to treat a woman--even strong women. Even women who drill through fingernails. No woman deserves to have power lorded over them in actions or words. I will tell you it's not your fault that you saw only what you knew. That I'm sorry you weren't raised in a way that would have helped you see this more clearly. It's taken me years, too, to see the tall black lettering calling out for justice.

Monday, May 22, 2017

What Meatheads Want You To Know

You're thinking one of two things, we know.

We're all thick necks, us lifters, with no conversation topics at hand other than the circumference of our biceps... in proportion to our heads.

Or you might believe that each of us secretly wants to be you: lithe, flexible, able to scratch our own backs without help from the nearest door jamb.

That would be nice, admittedly.

Probably won't happen any time soon, though.

So let's talk about why our mantra is "pick up heavy things and put them down," and how lifting is our meditation. Pumping iron is, to us, a lot like what yoga--or maybe running, church or talk therapy--is to you: a mindfulness practice. Since the 6th century, when Milo of Croton built his body carrying a growing calf up a hill, we've been grunting our way to Nirvana the only way we know how.

Check in with your body.

Yoga class starts with that, right? Or maybe "meet yourself where you are today?"

We check in, too. Some of us have little tests to see if we're up to lifting, if our nervous system can handle it that day. One-minute arm hang, maybe, or checking our temp and resting heart rate when we wake up. Or just looking at the weight: seem heavier than usual? A true meathead knows there's something that can be done today if the dumbbells gained pounds or if he has an injury. He respects that.

Set an intention.

Most of the time our intention might be phrased as "get it," but that counts: we're dedicating our time and efforts to improving ourselves in some way.

And it's not always about the pump. Strongwoman competitor Elizabeth Carpenter dedicated her recent training to a powerlifting friend and coach named Jules who had passed away in February. Missing this special person reminded Elizabeth of who she was because of him, and honoring Jules's memory doing what he loved makes sure he lives on.

"Jules inspired people to be better than they were the day before, in ways far beyond lifting," Elizabeth says. "He helped me understand how to minister to others by being strong."

Some lifters choose to spend an entire session on mobility or form, knowing that practice, even at light weights, makes perfect. Which reminds me...

Practice mindfulness.

Yogis have got this one down, we admit. What with the hypnotic music, a prayer pose and focus on the exhale, yoga's hard to top when it comes to integrating mind and body. However, us meatheads stand flexed and ready to explain why Slipknot, a lifter's wedge and the valsalva maneuver can turn our attention inward, and not just toward the mirror.

Tyler Santiago is a bodybuilder from Grand Rapids, Michigan, who holds a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He's the guy you notice in the gym, and not just for his backpiece tatts and symmetrical lats; he's also pretty noisy. Not the dropping weights kind of noise, though he's won the honor of having set off the Lunk Alarm in the Judgement Free Zone known as Planet Fitness. Think self-talk: Tyler calls out body parts like they're his next opponent.

"Rear delts only," he'll say out loud. "C'mon!"

Tyler takes less anxiety meds now that he's active, and that's not uncommon; exercise is a proven solution to a range of problems. But here's where it gets tricky: when someone's got anxiety or something like PTSD, standard advice tells them to relax. The logic is there--calm down all those ramped up feelings with gentle exercise, like yoga--but, truth is, it doesn't always work.

"A significant percentage of PTSD clients may become more anxious from relaxation training," writes psychotherapist Babette Rothschild in The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment. "In such cases, building or maintaining muscle tension is preferable to relaxation."

Rothschild says that being tense has gotten a bad rap, and that the positive outcomes of muscle tension are all but ignored by those outside of the gym. Building muscle can, for some, contain those strong emotions and manage them.

Here's Rothschild on how to do it:

For this kind of muscle building to be effective, it must be done with body awareness--with attention to body sensations generally and to the muscles being exercised specifically.

And here's Tyler on how he does it:

I'm actually engaged in the lift; I'm not just moving the weight. There's the mind-muscle connection. I lift to center myself.

You go, lats.

The day I got married, I weighed 120 pounds and wore a size 7.  On the day of my divorce twenty-three years later, I was 160 and a size 10. The difference on the scale was mostly muscle, and this was no coincidence. After decades spent knowing no one had my back, I had a strong desire to grow my own.

Bodybuilding forums filled with users named "BigSwole" and "SmeelMyBut" don't help the meathead cause. But we're here to say that what we do is just as mindful and therapeutic as any yoga practice.

Not that we diss you yogis. Here's Sabrina Schutter, who holds a 1443 powerlifting total (that's total pounds moved, by the way, in the squat+bench+deadlift) in the 198 weight class:

As a powerlifter and busy gym owner, I have always struggled to find motivation to do cardio. Yoga has not only given me a way to get my heart rate up but also has given me a mental escape where I don't stress or worry for whatever amount of time I spend on my mat.

Yoga as cardio. Lifting as mindfulness practice. We all do what we need to do. In a true judgment-free zone, you'd see dumbbells heavier than 80 pounds, and downward dog instruction somewhere between the tanning beds and HydroMassage chairs.

To each his own.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

He is not here

A jury of peers interrogated Captain Sully after he saved the lives of an entire plane.

Save five weeks in 1959, God left Mother Teresa for the duration of her fifty-year ministry. ...the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see,--Listen and do not hear--the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak ...

Trump became president. Prince is gone.

Abraham Lincoln was shot, Martin Luther King, Jr, was shot, the BBC's Mary Watson, a skilled former agent, was taken down by a bitter old hag.

The pattern is there since the start of time and yet it is only now, in my 47th year, I have seen and understood that things that shouldn't happen do.

I had spent much energy fighting this reality, which is curious because I have a Guest House approach to most of life: allow things to happen, let visitors and new experiences penetrate and meld you, don't think you have more control than you do. Yes, I work in the fitness field and make sure my clients know they will get stronger and feel better under my care and through their own agency, and yet anyone who hires me knows I am intuitive and not pushy. I accomplish what I can within the natural ebb and flow of a body's natural rhythms. I do not promise the world, but often hand a chunk of it over.

And yet I found myself shattered last week at Lincoln's tomb. I am like a child--or a fundamentalist or a innocent, a sociopath or a scientist, in that I expect that a certain A equals a certain B. That having a thinking, witty man in the White House crying over the war ensures he will stay the course.

Lincoln shouldn't have been shot. But Lincoln is dead.

Prince shouldn't have overdosed on fentanyl. Prince is dead. He is not here.

An autistic man I met was burdened after Prince's death; he had come to process and endure each day's sensory onslaught only through the star's music. Prince had died. Unbuttoning his shirt to reveal the large purple symbol on a chain, he told me there would be no more new songs from Prince. The permanence of this reality rendered him vulnerable, and exposed.

There was a period of time following my divorce when every conversation I had with my kids sounded as if we were on a lifeboat in the high seas, ready to sink. It started with Trump: I needed them to know that women aren't objects to be grabbed. And then their father was caught with his married assistant--caught, warned, caught, fired--and I couldn't rest until I knew these two teenaged boys understood that married women are off limits, that positions of power are not to be underestimated, and that above all, if one is capable a high level of deception, something deep inside has broken. Catch that radar early if you ever fear it's off, I told them.

I had to make sure they were equipped to have healthy relationships of their own. 

I had to provide that mirror therapists talk about, to help them see what they were seeing.

I had to tread carefully, to maintain a distance between the act and the actor. I chose my words with care and precision. Addressed the issues and not the agent, and only at intervals. Mirrored what I needed to mirror because this, this was everything that would shape their future and their outlook and their beliefs. I couldn't not talk about it.

There were so many had to's. I was so weary of this.

As I kicked against the goads, I grew hoarse with the sound of my own voice. 

Finally, a new disrespect arrived, one I had to swallow, not mirror, in order to protect them from knowing. Sully saved everybody and was treated like a criminal, and now, I couldn't breathe. My shoulders came forward to protect the breast that had lost its air. Right then, I stopped fighting the reality that is the Buddha's first noble truth: Life is suffering. I acknowledged the trauma that was surfacing in my body, presenting itself as flashbacks and not flight or fight, but freeze.

Later that day I gave my last captain's call. 

I need you to know that I will never avoid any opportunity to prepare you to be adults on your own. And I need you to know that I believe your dad is a good dad. 

With that, I grew quiet. They looked at me, searching for that woman who, with passion, helps them process their world. She must be somewhere behind that new, vacant stare. And she was--is--but she's tired.

Because there are battles I can't ever win. Things that shouldn't happen do.

Without the fighting I feel more vulnerable. If I don't fight, won't injustice always win? Or Lincoln dies no matter if he had sent away his bodyguard or not?

I saw the tomb: Lincoln is dead. As is my grandmother, who had prayed for me every day of my life. I had expected, I suppose, that once she was closer to the source my blessings would grow, but I have felt a growing coldness, instead. She is not there. He is not here.

Nobody's praying for me now and I'm not safe, I told a coworker on a rough day, through tears. She said, very gently, that I could do it, I could pray for myself.

What I didn't say is Mother Teresa is dead, and He is not here.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Books Read in 2016

Twenty-one books! This is the lowest record yet, and I'll just go ahead and chalk it up to a divorce year, where time was spent reading court orders and custody guidelines and not as many New York Times bestsellers.

Instead of dividing the books into random, invented categories, as I usually do, let's stick with two this year: titles--actual wording of titles--I could apply to my year of divorce, and the others I couldn't. The latter category is smaller than the former, which is why this experiment is so interesting. I mean, come on; I finished "When Things Fall Apart"! By coincidence! Nicholas Sparks could not have planned this better.

Titles I Read That Coincidentally Could Easily Be Applied To Said Divorce, and Require Some Use Of Your Imagination
• When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron
• Promise Land, Jessica Lamb-Shapiro
• The Woman Who Walked In Sunshine, Alexander McCall Smith
• The Red Parts, Maggie Nelson
• Bluets, Maggie Nelson
• Between The World And Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
• Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham
• The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Stephen Adly Gurgis
• Tribe, Sebastian Junger
• The Door, Magda Szabo
• All At Sea, Decca Aitkenhead
• The Magic Finger, Roald Dahl
• How To Be Here, Rob Bell
• Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible, Stan Lee
• Home, Marilyn Robinson

Titles I Can't Readily Stretch Into The "This Relates To My Divorce And Everything That Followed" Category
• Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train, Stephen Adly Gurgis
• The Pharos Gate, Nick Bantock
• Esio Trot, Roald Dahl
• My Name Is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout
• Negroland a memoir, Margo Jefferson
• Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls, David Sedaris

In My Name Is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout writes, "You will have only one story. You'll write your one story many ways. Don't ever worry about story. You have only one." After 2016, I did try to write my story, and at the same time found myself in the words of others, which is entirely the purpose and beauty of the art and craft of writing.