Saturday, January 14, 2017

So, so, so and Sarahs

The soundtrack to this post is "Looking Too Closely" by Fink. Put it on. Put it on. Put it on repeat.
There's a piano. I'm always a sucker for piano.

Lately I've been reminded how important words are. This is no surprise, considering I'm a writer and, though actions are important, I can't tear myself from the word - written or spoken. I think it is important. This morning Sarah Eddings wrote to me and reminded me how things that people say stay with you. Sometimes they stay with you your whole life, and sometimes you begin to say them to yourself, too. This is, almost always, punishing. As I looked out across a cloud-covered Denver from my apartment window, I thought I could feel the chilled air on my skin and I felt very present in that moment. This is a feeling, or rather a state of mind I have been trying to be in since Wednesday's (shameless plug) free yoga-and-wine class at the prAna store in Denver. The instructor told us that the class was a reminder to be here and present, and that everything before and after class must be let go of and not bothersome to the mind.

When I started Graduate School in Flagstaff I lost my words. You can imagine how troublesome this was for me, and as my eyes would rapidly search the table I had my elbows on, as if for some sort of answer, I got nothing in return. Throughout all of my schooling I always had a strong voice; not only in writing but in class discussion as well. I don't think this is any surprise to readers that know me in the flesh, as this is something I'm almost known for. I'm honest, I'm open, and sometimes I can push boundaries - sometimes too far, resulting in an immediate flutter back with an apology (but is it really?). 

So when I went to participate in class discussion at a freshly 26 years of age I was shocked when I could not. I felt my heart rate accelerate, beads of cold sweat formed on the back of my neck, my blood throbbed through my temples and my tongue felt so big in my mouth that I was certain I must be in anaphylactic shock from whatever I had just eaten. Of course this was not the case. I was having an anxiety attack every time I was trying to speak. For the first time in my life, I was silenced.

I've always been a panicker - ask my mother. Until I was an embarrassingly grown age of 24 I suffered from lilapsophobia (fear of tornadoes). Growing up in the Midwest, tornadoes were (are!) a serious threat, but every time a thunderstorm drummed itself up, I was certain we would all die a horrible death of shrapnel from a tornado ripping apart whatever building I was trying to find shelter in. My mother and I both have reoccurring dreams of me and her and tornadoes. Hers is that we're in a city and she loses me (great) and a tornado comes roaring through the streets (fucking great) and she cannot find me, still, despite her desperate searching and screaming (really fucking great). Mine is that we're standing in the kitchen at her house, the house I grew up in and she still lives in, overlooking the lake. She's doing the dishes (which means just putting them in the dishwasher) and I'm staring at the lake, watching the rain come across. If you have never witnessed such a thing, rain coming across a lake looks like a thick white curtain closing in on the shore, and you can see it envelope you down to the last few feet. It's fascinating, mesmerizing and it's beautiful. In my dream I am watching that, and then see a water spout start to form. 'Water Spout' is the term for a tornado coming across a body of water. I try to get her attention to look at the tornado and see it, and tell her "We need to get to the basement! Now! Mom, we have to go, come ON!" And she's saying "Now, now, just a minute, Kels, just a minute." and I'm laughing as I'm typing this but in my dream this is not a fucking joke. I slap my hand on the countertop and beg for her to look up, and the windows eight windows and two sliding doors that face the lake start to shake violently and sound like exactly how you would think windows shaking in a tornado would shake because somehow I know this and I wake up. 

The point of you knowing my reoccurring dream, is that this is the sensation I lived with every time it thunderstorm in Michigan, so I am no stranger to the feeling of anxiety. I am no stranger to thinking that in this moment, this irrational moment, your world as you know it has crashed around you and all logic is out the goddamn door, along with the ability to even recognize that logic. These are times when living in the moment can kill a version of you and bring about one that you do not know. 
So when this happened in a class full of 11 people during a discussion of a piece of Literature that I had such very important things to say and yes I agreed but what about _____, I was beside myself. It became such an issue that I sought advice from my professor. 

I found a part of my answer in a yoga class. I had taken yoga classes before, and I never cared for them. In fact, I took an entire semester worth of yoga in undergraduate. I understood the practice and appreciated it, but felt as though it wasn't for me. 
But in Flagstaff, at the Northern Arizona Yoga Center, I would learn to move slowly, breathe slowly and deeply, focus, control, focus on my control, control my focus and be completely present in that moment. I learned what it felt like to feel the floor fully beneath my feet, to feel like your heart, that muscle, is 'opening'. 

Moving to Flagstaff was so very hard for me in every aspect. Adjusting to life at 7,000ft felt impossible and I thought it was ruining running, which was my only outlet. I think I knew my relationship wasn't right, I think we both knew it. I was accepted into Graduate School because I didn't know what else to do with myself, and proving my worth as a student was so important to me. Sarah Eddings helped me through so much of that, and she will never know how important she was and still is. That blonde-hair blue-eyed Texas native would be someone I would turn to when I didn't know what to do, or when I would have to break up with the person I moved across the country with, or when I just wanted to get wasted on a couple bottles of Tempranillo or Pinot Noir. She was the person that came over and sat on my bed and ate cheese and drank wine with me after I put Cohen down. She was there that night, and let herself in, because she knew I couldn't really move. And sometimes I think we make these people pillars in our life and forget the moments that made them so important. I hang on to these moments. I go back and live in these moments, because I can't live without them. 

Yoga helped me slow down. It helped me learn to breathe, and to find control in my breathing, and ultimately, over my life. As I gained control over my breathing, running got easier. And when running gets easier, or better, or finally back to normal, life gets easier, or better, or finally back to normal. When I presented my final paper in that class in December of that semester, I cried hot tears of anxiety in the restroom before class started. When I stared at the Times New Roman 12 point font and tried to read it, words were blurred and I forgot my entire thesis. I forgot my entire point. I forgot my purpose and my reason for Graduate School and I forgot my worth. But as I took a three-part shaky breath in, I started to read aloud, and owned every word. I took an entire breath in and out after every sentence. I told myself that what I had to say was worthy of being heard. I told myself that, despite living my unknown, I had something to say. And I was saying it. 
And it sucked. And it was hard. And I cried after. And I wondered if I got my point across. And I wondered if I made sense. And I wondered if everyone hated it. And I wondered if everyone thought I was stupid. I wondered if I was validating myself to myself. I wondered if I'd ever feel confident again. 

I still have these feelings. When I'm not consistently running, I have them all of the time. When I'm putting in the miles and allowing my brain to be quiet, I have them less. 

When I came back to Denver, and since that day I came back to Denver, I've felt rushed. I feel like I have an interrobang slamming against my skull and radiating through my brain, as if my head is a pinball machine that doesn't stop. I've turned back to yoga to help me remind myself to slow the fuck down. To stay, to appreciate the moment, especially the still moment. 

28 years is so young. To stop and think that a grey sky can be beautiful is fine. To spend a half hour having a dance party in your underwear instead of bidding on freelance jobs is fine. To build a training plan instead of a curriculum is fine. To high-five with the toe of your Guide Tennies instead of a rushed 'goodbye' is important. To stand with your fingertips in your chalk bag and think seven more times about a move on a climb is fine. To lay and let your ripped muscles heal for a couple of hours is okay. To spend twenty extra minutes in bed in the morning light should be encouraged. Taking the time to laugh before explaining why you're laughing is important. A phone call with your sister is more important than trying to be 'productive' in an hour. 

There are so many moments that people miss - that I miss - from focusing on the forward. I put a lot of emphasis on moving forward, on wondering what is next, what will be important and how things will work out for me. Sometimes you have to just stop. 

You have. To just. Stop. 

Photo credit: Giselle Fernandez
You're allowed to miss moments. I miss this one. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Holding The Atmosphere

I want to title this post 'Returning', but that term implies that one comes back to a point they were in the first place, and I don't see life that way. I don't think you can ever get back to one spot or time or feeling or space. Not truly, and not completely.

But it was a particularly warm afternoon in December while I was walking to work and standing on the corner of Seventeenth and Blake, staring at my feet and noticing an 'E' is missing in SEVENTEENTH that is imprinted with some sort of metal in the corner of the street sidewalk. Not all 'E's are relevant. You can leave one out of my name and it still makes sense.
As I stood there I felt a small, old and familiar feeling of wanting to leave. I wanted to leave that street corner, I wanted to leave my job, I wanted to leave Denver and I wanted to leave the life I had let myself slip into. I had only been back for six weeks. I felt a moment of panic at the recognition and immediately pleaded with myself to not do this. Not again.
I was listening to Stick Figure's "Fire on the Horizon" and I wanted to be back in California. I scolded myself and felt angry for leaving the coast in the first place. I came so close to turning around and walking back to a closet full of my things and packing it all again that I almost believed I was doing it, had traffic not brought me back to reality. Ridden with a heavy heart, on the corner of anxiety and Sevente_nth, I searched for any other kind of emotion I could dig up. I thought about returning to California and having eyes full of tears and what I would say to everyone. What exactly would that sound like? "I"m here. Again. I screwed up. Again. I'm out of place. Again."
I thought the last time I was that frustrated with myself was in Joshua Tree on a climb that I knew I could do (because I had just done it earlier that day) and was stuck. All of my weight was on my trembling right leg on the wall behind me, with my left foot out to balance, and I let out some sort of profanity - likely a "Fuck/What the fuck/Fuck this climb/God fucking dammit" as I looked up the crack and saw blood from someone who had climbed before me - myself, Giselle, Max or Ben. In a moment of defeat I sat deeper onto my right leg and let the rock scrape my back up.
"Kelsey, get mad! Get mad at it."
And I did. My skin lit on fire with not only scrapes, but fury. And I got up that crack.
Giselle has the best advice.

So after that memory recall, I got mad.
I felt a little better.
But it was a bad Sunday night.

And that was the start of me being sad. This is a terrible word, right, sad, because there are so many different kinds of sad, and one should be far more specific when describing a feeling. But I can't let you all in that much, but I can tell you that every time I go back to Michigan, I arrive a bit broken and leave a bit more settled. When my mom caught me off guard by running up to me in the train station in Kalamazoo and swooped me into a hug, I let a tear of relief fall.

I was able to be home for six days over Christmas. I attempted to leave my Denver feelings in Denver, but unfortunately you can't peel them out of you and leave them on a cold wooden floor.
I'm very close with my sister, and we talk often, but we hadn't seen each other since last Christmas, and our time apart has never been of that length. Still, like an old favorite song, it is lovely in any point in life.
I haven't been running a lot since I've been back in Denver, but I ran with my sister while I was home. We generally run together on the roads surrounding the lake, and it is mostly the same. I feel miserable because I am constantly trying to keep up with her and keep conversation at the same time, and when we return home our mom will ask "How was it?" and Sarah will say "Fine" and I will gasp "Awful".
And in the awfulness, there is greatness, because even if it is six miles, it is a reminder that running is powerful, and a very large part of who I am, even if I never talk about it.
Is that what a 'Runner's high' is?
For six days I got to hang out with my sister and my mom. I laughed insanely hard, I sat by the fireplace so much that the warmth on my back turned into an itch, I didn't read any of my book that I brought and I gave up asking why were we eating so much cheese? and ate it anyway. I wrapped myself in my sweater and sat on the couch and let myself sink into the feeling of being surrounded by people who were happy that I was just simply there. I drifted asleep one night thinking about how incredible that feeling is, and I think it is the definition of love. In the moment right before sleep it was compounded with the realization that feeling had not been around for me since the corner of Sevente_nth and Blake.

The next morning I woke up and had a text from Giselle that she had finished the video (It's right here, and incredible, please watch it). I couldn't press play fast enough, and I have no idea how many times I watched that video that day. I felt the urge to make everyone watch it and exclaim "Look! This is what I have been trying to tell you with my words for the past two months. This is what I'm talking about, this is what it's been all about."
That evening, in perhaps the sixth or seventh viewing of that video, I saw my own happiness and clenched my jaw to fight tears as I felt the absence of it. Giselle had captured everything of importance in those first 12 days. There's a clip where I'm running downhill towards her and flailing my arms in happiness to just be running in the mountains, and there's a part where I'm laughing while holding the climbing rope, and there's a part where we're sitting at our campsite in Moab and she tosses something in a moment of exhaustion, frustration and hilarity. I don't know what she threw, I can't remember, and I don't know why. But I remember the feeling, and it still makes me laugh when I watch it.

I watched Kalamazoo get smaller and smaller from my window seat on 28 December and thought about the idea of returning, or the idea of the impossibility of it. Every time I go back to California I learn about myself and what I want. When I returned to Denver from California I learned that you can't expect or hope for anything from one person. I remembered the risk in not having a guard. When I returned to Michigan I re-learned the importance of missing pieces - whether it be love or running or single track or callused fingers.

While my head was against the cold window on the airplane, I listened to The Lumineer's Cleopatra album - specifically "Sleep on the Floor". It is the first track, and I still think this is one of The Greatest Songs of All Time. I felt anxious about all the things I had to do when I got back to Denver. I had to make a training plan, I had to reach out to people I didn't know, I had to have a certain conversation and I had to start constantly reminding myself that the world is bigger than Denver, my life is bigger than being sad, and I had to make a decision of where to put my e(ffort)nergy.

So at the end of this piece, I encourage you to shove earbuds into your ears and listen to "Sleep on the Floor" as loud as you can, to each and every word. And I invite you to put your hand in mine and skip shuffle laugh learn summit cry and decide through 2017 with me.

Or not. But I don't just write for me. I write for you, too. Because I and we have something to say.

Photo by Giselle Fernandez 


Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Bookstore

Bookstores are interesting. They're rigid with classifications from length to genre, from pictures and words to used and new. There's an everlasting, insurmountable mass of thought circulating within the walls; what is more drastic is amount of untouchable thoughts you'll never reach with your mind, even though the opportunities are in front of you. As much as we wish we could lie around in the bookstores and read an endless amount of books and live through the written words, and despite the book itself being of the physical world, there is something that demands living outside of the pages. And I find it odd that we feel as though we're 'really living' when something in the physical world knocks us into an emotional and mental state that is undefinable.
I think it is the knowing of that feeling that makes us human, and makes this all relatable.

Sometimes I struggle with memory. I don't struggle to recall things, but I recall them too well and get lost in reminiscence and fear loss of appreciation for the present moment. I am immediately drawn to the 'Staff Picks/Staff Favorites' sections of bookstores. Though I appreciate wandering about alone, I love to know what other people are reading and why they feel a certain way about a book. On sabbatical I went to a bookstore (if not multiple) in every town I was in, and I noticed that the Staff Recommendations have a lot in common, as do the contemporary fiction display tables. I picked up All The Light We Cannot See because the title was so familiar. After starting to read the synopsis on the inside of the front cover, I transported to where I had read it before: The Last Bookstore in LA. And as the murmurs of people around me drowned out, I remembered the high ceilings, the separate 'Art' room, and the artist studios lining the second floor and the tunnel they had created out of books. I remembered what it was like to be lost in a bookstore and not feel pressured by the person you're with to 'hurry up and decide', but to know that the time in a bookstore is often not a matter of decision but a length of awe. I recalled the coffee table book I had picked up in LA, Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores. I wished I had bought it. And I thought of the artist on the second floor of that bookstore that I now follow on Instagram and have exchanged heartfelt messages with. I remembered the book I actually left The Last Bookstore with for $4, and the conversation Giselle and I had in the car immediately after.
"We should get gas."
"Eh, we can probably make it to Venice."
"It says '0 miles to empty'."
"Oh. ...Yeah. Ugh, dammit Tina."
And for a moment the coat that I was wearing in Denver was replaced with California sun beating down on my bare shoulders.

And as I stood in Tattered Cover on 16th Street in Denver, I closed the copy I was holding of All The Light We Cannot See and the memory quieted as I placed the book back on the shelf. I turned my head and my ponytail rested to the left of my neck, and half-expected Giselle to come around the corner with a book, telling me to "Look at this!" in the exclamatory yet hushed voice that advocates use in bookstores. Not everyone appreciates bookstores, and that's fine. I have a friend that is visiting LA right now, and when we had brunch before he left Denver I told him, with a rush of excitement, that he had to visit The Last Bookstore. I realized immediately that it was a waste of a recommendation, and was disappointed in myself. Maybe a record store is a bookstore for him. Or maybe he doesn't have a bookstore. Either is fine.
(it's fine, i'm fine, everything is fine.)

I walked around corner and came upon a tiny booth that was unoccupied. I slid in, bookless, just to sit. I tried to listen to every voice around me, but they blended together and became one with the buzzing of coffee beans being ground behind the counter to my left. I put my headphones in, searching for a song for my moment. Spotify chose "Late Night (It's Okay)" by VHS Collection for me, which is from an eight and a half hour playlist labeled '4KG', created by Andrew Wisniewski. This playlist played an important part on sabbatical for me, and as my eyes let the grain of the table defocus I went back to the beach on Highway 1 just north of Big Sur, which was the last time I had listened really listened to this song.

My drive down Highway 1 was all cloud and drizzle, and it was somewhere around the first "It's okay," line that I found tears streaming down my face as I stared out at the ocean through my windshield. I rested my forehead on the top of the steering wheel and watched as drops of tears slid down the silver VW logo and wondered why I was crying. I clenched my jaw and tried to stop, to no avail. I felt completely alone in that moment, and tried to completely feel. This is something I'd been chasing, been fearing, been ignoring and am [(un)fortunately] still staggering in and out of. When the song ended I got out of my car and dragged my toes in the sand, feeling the humidity curl my hair and letting the smell of salty water create a memory. I'd tell you how long I did that for, but time wasn't a measure to keep track of when I lived out of my car.

"Late Night (It's Okay)" came to a close and I yanked my headphones out of my ears and slid out of the booth because that was enough of that. I walked through every section in Tattered Cover, gazing up often to get lost with the high ceilings and beautiful pillars, the options of being in countless different worlds wrapping themselves around me. I bought a book and waited in line to pay for it. I walked down 16th Street with the book held tightly to my chest partly because it was cold, partly because I was excited: because I had a new book, because 16th Street is lined with Christmas lights, because there was a horse-drawn carriage, because it's the holidays, because I get to see my family soon, because I have memories. I shuffled along with my eyes down, and with a small, simple smile, because bookstores bring humanity two-fold: by being a bookstore and the enormity that entails, and by giving you the experience you're about to live while reading a book.

five stars. 


Monday, November 28, 2016


You shouldn't read the "Gear Reviews" page yet, because there's nothing there. Because I work in explosive segments, and then leave it to rest until I'm ready to go at it again. This website is killing me, and it's hard to keep throwing energy into it on a regular basis. But you have to do things like that, because if you don't, you fall into this rut where something is half-finished and though you're facing it head-on, you're intentionally looking the other way.

Today I made substantial gains on my book. I have to tell everyone I'm writing a book, because if I don't, it won't be done. And it must be done. I had to re-install Microsoft Word, because I needed a platform that I thought was worthy to keep track of everything. I have an exceptional amount of photos and video footage on my computer, and in order to re-install MS Word (Office, unavoidably) I had to delete some files. A lot of files.

I inquisitively watched all of my unnamed videos from questionable dates. This one was from almost one year ago, mid-December of 2015. I had just moved into a new apartment in Flagstaff, and I took a video tour of it to send my mom. At first I cringed and said aloud "Is that what I fucking sound like?" and then took in a short breath when I heard my video-self say "Dammit Cohen, move." And the video pans down to him, his head at my hip as I'm trying to navigate myself around him. You can also hear him whining softly in the background, begging to be pet and for attention to be paid to him. It's a sound I'll never hear again, and I wouldn't have been able to replicate in my mind if not for that video. I then thought of when Giselle and I were walking around downtown Ventura, just a month ago; I saw a man walking a Great Dane, and I turned to Giselle and drew a breath to say the words "I used to have a Great Dane." and stopped myself, because of course Giselle knew that. She lived with him. Giselle knew Cohen quite well. She knew me when I had Cohen. I still remember the day I told her I had to put him down. We were at Beta (the best climbing gym in Flagstaff), and I still remember the wall we were standing in front of, and I swear to god I still remember the climb we were working on. It was a traverse, and it was a V2. I remember saying the words and clenching my jaw at the sting of tears, and not being able to look her in the eye, because I knew I'd lose it. She was leaving for California the next day, and we both knew she wouldn't be there for it. We both knew I'd be alone for it.

So as we stood on that corner of two streets in Ventura and I told her what I almost said to her, I remarked on how odd it is that I'm at a point in my life where most people I interact with know me without Cohen by my side. I think there are few life events that distinct one version of yourself versus another, and that's one of mine. I wrote a blog post this past summer, early summer, about my experience putting Cohen down. I haven't had the courage to reread it until tonight, and I love it. It still rips me apart, and it's sad, but it's a very raw part of me that I am proud I wrote about. It was the worst night of my life, and I had the guts to not only relive it while writing about it, but share it with everyone I know + more. If you haven't read it, I encourage you to. Or reread it. For Cohen. And for me. It's titled "We write to taste life twice...".

This brings me around to my favorite quote of all time, which is from (my favorite author of all time) Chuck Klosterman. I've referenced this so many times before, but here it is again:

"When you start thinking about what your life was like years ago - and not in general terms, but in highly specific detail - it's disturbing to realize how certain elements of your being are completely dead. They die long before you do. It's astonishing to consider all the things from your past that used to happen all of the time but (a) never happen anymore and (b) never even cross your mind. It's almost like those things didn't happen. Or made it seems like they just happened to someone else."

Isn't that great? I tried to recall it once, recently, when I was drunk off of more than a bottle of wine. I butchered it, and I was so frustrated with myself. I don't even have that book anymore, but it's my favorite book. Chuck Klosterman has this beautiful way of intertwining his philosophies with music he listens to and his physical actions in the world. If you haven't read Killing Yourself To Live, I encourage you to. It should be at the top of your list.
The title of that work itself is striking.

The two days before Thanksgiving I spent in Moab, and it's the first mini/day-trip I've taken since my month of sabbatical/living out of my car on the west coast. I used to hate the desert, and that is so comical to me now. I still do not like running in it, but in the past year I've learned to love climbing in it, and also standing on the edge of a rock and looking out over it. There's something that happens to the soul when you see the sun rise over red - truly red - rocks that are mashed up against the Colorado River. The hues of purple and red and fiery flames it sets to your heart cannot be matched. I finally know what Evan meant when he said Moab helped heal him after his father died. I heard a stream babble from so far away, and when I got to it, when I approached this so very tiny body of running water in the desert and the one-inch fall that was making so much noise; I stuck my hands right in it and was shocked at both the frigid temperature and the sting it brought over my skin. I lifted my eyes and became incredibly aware of how restless I had felt before being there. When you are in the desert you're reminded of how powerful the Earth is. When you stare at a plant struggling to grow in-between rocks and the dry, red dirt you're reminded that sometimes growing into life is hard. And when you look at the brilliantly green leaves on that plant, you're reminded of how far your soul has come, and the enormity of a life truly lived.

And you strive for it. You strive for what you've previously felt, the extravagance of what a 24-hour day truly feels like. And you get it back. And you remind yourself that even though you live one thousand different lives while you're alive, you know what it feels like for your heart to be completely full.
And you chase it. With everything you have.