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