Monthly Archives: August 2012

You are not a blank.

There was this dream.

I entered a house–wood frame, a bit tumbledown–built halfway into the side of a hill.  People I did not know milled about the front room, then organized themselves to queue up in front of a desk with a large ledger.  I waited patiently in the line for my turn, then took up the pen.

(This is how registrars dream, I suppose.)

Write my name–that was my intention. Register my presence.  Simple enough–done it millions of times before.  In my family, I’m the designated form-filler-outer (another job-related weirdness–I love filling out forms), so this was just the necessary business of getting to whatever was in the house, right?

But what came out of the pen–over and over again, I watched my hand write it as though it belonged to someone else–was not my name.

I am a blank.

I am a blank.

I am a blank.

Oh, my counselor had a field day with this one.

10 years ago, I was in a year of deep mourning for our mother, who had just passed from her final battle with cancer.  In my grieving, I had struck out at people I loved, the acid splash of long-suppressed “issues” boiling up and burning all around me.  I began meeting with a pastoral counselor in northern Virginia once a week; as a result of that inward work, my dreams had become vivid, powerful, shake-you-awake monstrosities to which, I was ordered, I must pay careful attention.  These inward voices and images would speak truth.

And here, with perfect calm and clarity–in my own handwriting–was mine:

I am a blank.

I did not recognize until I spoke it out loud to my counselor, the full-force horror of what I wrote, what I was saying.  Children of alcoholics and PTSD sufferers will recognize the pattern:  so many years of walking on eggshells, trying to stay as small and still as possible–to become invisible.  To become a blank.  If I didn’t, I might be the target of whatever rage, or worse, was shaking the house at that moment.  In blankness was safety–but I had drawn the safe zone too wide, too deep.

I am a blank.

I am remembering this dream now, because 10 years later–40 years after that message came to be embedded in my soul–I still struggle with the fears that surround and feed this part of me.  In my career, my relationships, my hobbies–every part of my life–my pattern is to withdraw from potential conflict and failure, to find the safest, quietest path to walk.  To stay “under the radar”, in calm waters where I can control and extend my safe zone.  It’s how I kayak.  It’s how I train with kettlebells: know my safe limits, and stay there.  No danger. No pushing the edges. No possibility of failure.

And then Cruel Jamie shows up.  She’s not putting up with any of it.

In my training prep for the HKC workshop in Pittsburgh in September, Jamie has focused not just on technique, but on developing my strength as well–in particular to knock down those fears, one by one, that tell me I cannot, no way, never in a million years pick up that 16k kettlebell and snatch it over my head. Or deadlift 30 lbs more than my bodyweight? Are you crazy? Do you know how OLD I am?  I amazed that she has not lost patience with me, but that’s what makes her so good.

She doesn’t mince words, though:  “Oh shut up. You can do it.  Pick up the bell and get busy.” (I might be paraphrasing.)

So, this past weekend, I did.  Picked up these impossibly heavy weights, and just like she said–I did it, just like that.

Tangible evidence that this old voice, this old message–it’s beyond outdated.  It holds me back and shrinks me down so that I can see only my limitations, my safe edges.  We internalize those old messages, and we receive and nod assent to other messages–my faith, my family and their love, my various successes at work, when I have them.  But I needed to have that message embodied–incarnated, in my own flesh and blood.  

(Sounds like a thing some crazy desert god would do, doesn’t it–put into flesh, into the body the most important Message He could send us so that we would finally, finally, get it?  Because sometimes we don’t see the truth any other way.)

This is why this stuff has become so important to me.

I’m learning to get strong.  I’m learning to trust my strength.  I’m learning to listen to the voices that say, “You matter. You are sufficient to the task. You are not a blank.”

I’m learning.


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Filed under Kettlebells, strength training, Spirituality, Writing

Stand Up!

So I had a day off.

This is a relatively rare occurence, not because I am a workaholic (well, OK, I am), but because I know that the work stacking up for me while I’m gone will make my return to work a miserable slog–which stresses me out no end just anticipating it. Which negates the good of a day off! So I generally just keep my head down and shoulder to the wheel, you know? Easier that way.

[Insert long sad story about Plan A, then Plan B, then Plan C for my semi-historic day off being cancelled . . . Sigh. This is the story of my Crazyplate life.]

I could’ve just taken the cancellations as a sign from the universe to pack it in and go to work already, but you know what?  I was *determined* to have a real day off, daddurnit!

To the rescue! Comes this tweet from River Riders, a local outfitter and adventure company:

@riverriders: This weekend is perfect for a water adventure! Visit our website or Call 800-326-7238 to book…

So’s I did.

For the past couple of years kayaking on our rivers, we had been seeing more and more folks on stand-up paddleboards. Every time I’d see one, I’d suck in my breath, ooooooooh, and declare that I’d have to try this one day!  And then, just this summer, River Riders announced that they were adding stand-up paddleboarding to their activities, including a lesson!  I knew the day was getting closer.

That day, as it turned out, was Friday, August 3, 2012. Which JUST SO HAPPENED to coincide with my one single, stubborn Day Off That Refused To Die.  So let me tell you about my great experience with this company. Local WV and DC-area folks, you need to know about River Riders!

First of all, I love that River Riders makes such great use of social media.  And why wouldn’t they? They hire some of the best and brightest young adults in the area, who are all tech-savvy and no doubt keep the online interaction with locals and clients (or potential clients) immediate, current, and responsive.

So when I jumped over to their Facebook page to find the parallel posting (also good social media practice) and to get some additional info, I was pleased but not all surprised when I got a response right back. Yes, they had openings for stand-up paddleboarding (and then they gave me more information than I had initially asked for–prices and times, anticipating my inevitable next questions).

Then, when I called and found out that not only were there openings for stand-up paddleboarding, but that my son and I would be the only two to sign up all day long–they did not cancel or waffle or charge us more.  We would have a lesson and a river guide all to ourselves for three entire hours! There was an additional transportation fee they generally charge when shuttling such a small group, since fuel prices are so high, but Amanda (the helpful person behind the phone, and a Shepherd alum!) readily waived it, since SUP was a new activity and not well-known yet. (She just asked that I write a review up–which I’m doing!)

The reservation and payment was all handled by phone, pretty straightforward, and then Isaac and I loaded up and headed out. We needed to be there an hour ahead of time for legal paperwork (waivers for participating in dangerous activities–we won’t sue them, in other words), and the required water safety video briefing (wear shoes, don’t drink alcohol, don’t be stupid–I might be paraphrasing).

The place was packed, and while I was happy that a local business was doing so well,  the one concern I had (job-related eyeballs on operations wherever I go) was that it was unclear to us whether there was a line to get into, or a specific place along the counter for folks with reservations to report to. So people milled about, and I totally missed a spontaneous line formation, and ended up behind people who had come in *after* we had arrived.  I was not going to waste my day off being upset, but I could see how, say, a mom with five kids to manage might get pretty exercised about that. Just a thought from an office management perspective . . . Maybe some signage to help direct people, or separate areas of the counter for different kinds of customers (Got Reservations? Check In Here). That sort of thing.

Once we got through all of that, and the shuttle was loaded (another couple was being transported to the same place for a different activity, so it had full usage), and we were on our way.

We put in at the River Riders campground, one of their several new offerings–great work, folks!–on a wide, deep stretch of the Potomac.  It looked like a lake instead of a river! The sun was out, the sky was clear, and it wasn’t too awfully hot–a perfect day to be on the water with my boy.

Our personal guide, John, gave us some verbal instructions about the paddleboards, then waded with us into the river to demonstrate and teach us the “onloading” procedures.  We waded through a couple of feet of pretty deep river muck, but THIS IS WHY YOU WEAR SHOES (and preferably water shoes that will not be sucked off your feet by swift currents or deep goo, both realities of river life).  A belly-flop onto the board, a kneel, pivot, a squat, and a careful straightening (hey, kettlebell training coming in handy already! This is part of a Turkish get-up!) and I was standing on the water. Isaac did fine, too–neither of us ended up face-first on the board (or in the water).  Paddling strokes and turns came next while we were in shallower water–and then we were off.

We headed upstream, away (thankfully) from the noisier crowds in tubes.  The river got very quiet, disturbed only by the happy shrieks of people on the zip line canopy tour, yet another part of River Rider’s expansion of adventures this summer.

And the jet skis.  Sigh.  I suspect I might end up alienating a good portion of fellow water-lovers whose enjoyment of the outdoors involves revving up gas-powered engines at high volumes and speeds, scaring (if not injuring) the wildlife, and ruining the peace and quiet for everyone else.  But it’s a risk I’m willing to take.  I also suspect they’re not busy reading blogs like these.

Despite the jet skis–who have a perfect right, probably guaranteed in the Constitution somewhere, to be as obnoxious as they wanna be–it was beautiful.  I loved the view I had into the water from the standing position, seeing to the bottom, seeing the limestone ridges that form the spine of both river and mountain.  I loved the view of the Blue Ridge against the sky. I loved that my son was with me. I was happy, and quiet, and happy to be quiet.

[I didn’t love that I had forgotten the sunscreen, or water to drink.  I think those were in the safety video, which clearly I should have watched *before* we left the house. Duh.  That sun was pretty strong, despite the breeze and cooler temps. I was schvitzin’, lemme tell you. And both of us were pretty crispy the next day.]

We paddled for about an hour and a half, trying the different positions on the board that John suggested, and demonstrated, for when our legs felt fatigued–and they did, believe me! Every muscle, big and small, from my feet up to my core, was working hard to find stability on an inherently unstable surface:  the ever-moving surface of a river. Great workout, but I needed to take breaks–so I learned to kneel-down paddle just fine, and Isaac enjoyed sit-down paddling and even bellyboarding for a time!

The turnaround trip, going back downstream to the campground, was much faster with the current assisting us, although the wind kicked up a bit and supplied some chop just to keep things interesting. We were ready for lunch, and cold water, and naps, but couldn’t help feeling a little twinge of regret when we saw the campground come into view.

The whole time, John treated us with great professionalism and good humor. I was surprised to learn that this was his very first summer with the outfit! This speaks highly of the caliber of employee the company hires, and the training it provides.

Will I stand-up paddle again? I’d like to, so that I can move beyond my first-timer tentativeness, start to build confidence in finding my balance (there’s that word again, so important to this blog!). I do think in the end that I’ll prefer kayaking for a couple of reasons: you can stow stuff in a kayak, and you can go fast!  I like some wind in my hair, and I just seem to be at the wrong angle to generate leverage or speed on the SUP.  And though I like the view from higher up (just like when we bought my first SUV), I like the stability provided by the lower center of gravity of a kayak. It’s all a trade-off in the end.

So, another adventure, another toy, another good thing on the Crazyplate that is my life–and many thanks to the good people of River Riders for making it happen on such short notice!  We’ll be back!

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Filed under Kayaking, Life in the Balance

The Dogs Do Howl . . .

I don’t remember much of my first 10 years, spent in a little white house with black trim on the corner of the block in a little town in central Texas.  I remember helping to scrape the house every year when Dad mobilized his junior army of painters–my six siblings and I–to freshen the trim.  I remember all of us, at some point, being banished to the back yard to pull weeds as punishment for one transgression or another.  I remember hordes of scab-kneed, sunburned children massing in the street for hours-long games of dodgeball, scattering for the occasional car bringing its owner home from work.

I remember walking to and from school, waiting for the day that a pomegranate growing on the other side of some unknown neighbor’s fence got big enough and red enough and close enough . . . just a little closer . . . to snag it and break open the rough skin to get at the ruby sweet inside.

And I remember dogs.

Our “backdoor neighbor” had two big lanky dogs–they might have been greyhounds, for all I know or remember–that had run a barren, dusty track around the perimeter of the chainlink fence that enclosed their yard. For hours in Texas sun these dogs would race, stopping only to drink or eat or occasionally snap and wrestle each other to the ground.

And as they ran in circles . . . I remember that they barked and howled, almost as if it was hurting them. But they couldn’t seem to stop–they just kept running, and howling.  Even worse, their ruckus would get the neighbors’ dogs going on either side, and then they would upset the dogs next to them–and soon the entire block was in full roar. Worse, each new contingent of doggie madness would enter the fray at a higher volume, more shrill and frantic than the others.

For hours.

I also remember that Dad was always mad; but now that I think about it, I don’t blame him, if he had to listen to those damn dogs all day long.  I could block my ears and run inside the house to escape the maddening clamor when it got going, but Dad was a gardener and outdoorsman, and the back yard was his refuge. He couldn’t escape.

I’m remembering all this today, because lately I’m getting the same feeling that I remember from being a little kid: wanting to put my fingers in my ears and crawl away from all of it.

The ridiculous Chick-Fil-A posture-fest. The political games and one-ups-manship.  Faith, government, education, work, the environment–in every circle, it seems as though the best we can offer each other is an extended howl of outrage about the latest sound bite–which invites someone else’s bellow in return, ad infinitum, until we’re whirling around each other, snapping, surrounded by cloud of noise and dust and hate.

It’s not just the noise, then, that spiraling competition to out-bark the other dogs. It’s the bared teeth. The hate. The reduction of our brothers and sisters, neighbors and co-workers to ‘them’–whatever the group is currently under fire.  There’s a violence there–violence in and to the spirit– just as surely as in the streets of war half a world away.

I stopped watching broadcast news because I hated this growing tendency (and because of the atrocious grammar); and then had to give up reading online news because of the trolls frequenting the comment section.  Everywhere I turned I saw the worst of people, no matter the issue or which side, yammering away and not changing anyone’s mind–not even trying to change opinions, really.  Just get the skewer in. Reach for the throat.  Get the dig in.  Wrestle them down to the dirt.

I didn’t want to feed that particular dog anymore.

And I’m about to give up on Facebook, too.  One of my sisters already has, and I don’t blame her a darn bit. She reports being happier and having more time for real reading and other essentials–and who wouldn’t want those things?

So here’s my howl for the day:

I’m one of the last Timeline holdouts–shhhhh, FB hasn’t found me yet.  But when it does find me and slap that monstrosity on me–I’m outta there. It’s just one of the howling dog tracks, but it’s a way to start turning the volume down somewhere. Shut the dogs of war up already.

Pax vobiscum.


Filed under Life in the Balance, Spirituality, Writing