Tag Archives: Personal Development

My Irrational Love of Running

I love to run. I wasn’t built for it – short, muscly, a little knock-kneed and uncoordinated. canstockphoto1568459I started to run in high school track. I was slow, but I could finish the race. I got put on the 3000 meter run, because regardless of placing, you’d get points for the team at a meet if you finished. During the track award dinner my senior year, the coach said “Michelle gets an A+ for effort”. At the time I thought it was damning and faint praise. Now I think it sounds like a pretty good gravestone epitaph.

One year we were challenged by our coach to run 100 miles over the course of the winter. He called it the Arctic 100 challenge. My brother and I were going through our Rocky phase, swallowing raw eggs and bouncing around like we were fighters and then we’d run through snow, slip sliding on icy small town sidewalks, the snot freezing inside our noses.

In the Army, I ran a lot of hills because I had to and the Presidio of Monterey was nothing but hills. I could finish. And I was still young enough that the late night binge-drinking and that early morning cigarette before P.T. didn’t incapacitate me.

Afterwards, in college, I lived in an apartment building surrounded by prefab condos and hills. I was trying to quit smoking for the 492nd time and decided to start a regular running program. The very first stretch of the run was a steep uphill jaunt. I was usually sucking wind by the time I got to the top, but I knew if I made that hill, the rest of the run would be okay.

canstockphoto20579326In my 40s, I started training in taekwondo. With a lot of heavy footwork and kicking, running had to take a backseat to the many injuries I was getting. My sparring partners tended to be teenage boys about a foot taller than me. I ended up with a black eye, turf toe, pulled muscles, wrecked quads. Running just made it worse, since I was using many of the same muscle groups.

My dojo (school) closed and I decided after four years of having the crap kicked out of me, I was done as well. To compensate, I took some circuit training classes, which included a lot of jumping and knee work, until I could barely step off curbs or go down stairs without stabbing pain. The injuries to both knees took months to recover and I was depressed about the idea that I might not be able to run again. Again, this caught me by surprise.

It strikes me as odd, this running thing. I’ve never been fast. I don’t look like a runner. I don’t even have any competitive ambition except against my last time or distance. I sweat like crazy, my face turns all red and at nearly 50, there are parts of my body moving independently of any muscle. Still, as soon as I felt ready, I started to run again.

Today I finished an 8 week 5K training program. I did my last run slowly, steadily, and strongly. I’m starting a 10K program next week. It makes no sense to me – this love that I have for something I’m so incredibly unsuited for – it has become this touchstone that I return to again and again.

Perhaps it is my unsuitability, my lack of speed or grace, my inability to wear stretchy, breathable running clothes with aplomb, the lack of competitive drive, that makes it all appealing to me. It does not require much from me except that I show up and that I keep going. Sometimes that seems like a pretty good metaphor for life.

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Is there something you love to do that makes no sense to you?

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The Things We Carry (and Must Learn to Leave Behind)

canstockphoto20086498In 1993, I dropped out of grad school after one miserable year. I was a failure, barely surviving academically, juggling three jobs, in over my head in so many ways. I make jokes about it, but when I pitched a nonfiction proposal to an agent last week, she asked about my education. I was truthful and while she was interested in my proposal, I could tell that I did not have a good “platform”.

For nonfiction proposals, agents and publishers want someone with a platform. A platform is the writer’s expertise, background, and being a known entity and expert in their field. I was a little proud that I could pitch an idea on the fly, except that it really wasn’t that spontaneous. And it was never my first intention.

While in grad school, I came across the published journal of a Russian woman who had disguised herself as a man and fought in the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s. She was the first known female officer in the Russian military. She had a difficult upbringing. Her mother hated her and at one point, had tossed her out of a moving carriage. She survived, but from that point on, her mother had no part in her care.

The story appealed to me not only as a veteran, but also as someone who was engaged in an ongoing battle with her own mother. It found me at the right time and stayed with me. For nearly 25 years, I’ve kept notebooks, collected research materials, and always planned to write a historical novel someday. The agent pitch I did at the conference brought clarity to me. I didn’t have the chops or the credentials for writing nonfiction history.

I went to the library last night to work on a writing plan to follow up with various agents. While I’m still working on a novel, I thought I’d take a look online to see if there were any other research materials available for a fictional work on Nadezhda Durova. I sat back, stunned. An American writer had written and published a historical novel about her just six months ago.

Dreams, delusions, disenchantment. I’m quite adept at spinning my own story. A story I’ve carried with me all these years – of failure and struggle and the possibility of writing my way to redemption – a story of rationalizations and justifications. Of never fully feeling the pain of the moment in which I am told or learn, once again, that I’m not good enough. All these years, I’ve been disappointed in myself, maybe even a little ashamed. But I had a good idea and maybe that would redeem me.

canstockphoto9159128bI am always reminded of that line by The Talking Heads “How did I get here?” The tale of my academic life is one of happenstance. When I joined the Army at 17, being clueless and uninformed, I wanted to be a French linguist. I had four years of high school French and being a linguist sounded more enjoyable than company clerk or truck driver. The demand for French linguists in military intelligence was, of course, not particularly high. They needed Russian linguists. Okay then.

After spending a year in intensive Russian language training at the Defense Language Institute, I moved onto more training, a permanent duty station in Germany and when my four years was up, I gladly left. The shortest way to a degree meant taking Russian, because I was able to transfer a lot of Army credits. So there I was, on track for a degree in Russian studies. As far from parlez-ing as I could be. Even further from writing.

I finished a four year degree in a subject that had never been part of my “when I grow up…” narrative. With no clue as to next steps, I applied to grad school. In the English department. The admissions rate was about 7% at the time. Applying to a program tied to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop was like spitting in the wind. I didn’t get in, but I did get accepted into the Russian Department.

It took me a year to realize that I hated my life, hated school, hated getting up at 3:30am to do a janitor job, go to classes, put in my hours as a research and translation intern, and then head to my job at Target.

The final straw was after I had to do a presentation on Russian morphology. In Russian. canstockphoto8727525The professor pulled me aside at the end of class and said that he was going to do me a favor by giving me a B-, instead of the C that is considered failure in grad school. I was going through complete misery just to scrape by on someone’s favor. And paying thousands of dollars for the honor. Time to quit academia and start working fulltime.

The years that followed were progressive administrative jobs, still carrying my notebooks and research materials from Iowa to Minnesota, into a home I share now with my daughter and husband. Since focusing on writing the last few years, the possibility of writing that historical novel seemed closer than ever. Until last night and seeing that Linda Lafferty had written The Girl Who Fought Napoleon.

I didn’t feel crushed or disappointed. In some ways, it was liberating. Carrying that novel idea was more than just a writing project. It was justification for all that education in Russian language and history. It was redemption for having failed. It was a reason for having wasted so much time and money doing something for which I had little passion. Even the kernel of complicated mother-daughter relationships has dissolved in the face of relative peace I’ve made with my own mother over the years.

canstockphoto10806366Last night, I dreamed of getting divorced from someone other than my husband. I woke up feeling sad and disappointed and bemused. The person didn’t have a face that I recognized, but this morning I surmised his name was Failure. 25 years is a long time to carry shame and I think I’m ready to put it down. There are other stories to tell.

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Leaning into the Fraudian Complex

canstockphoto17112100I’m a writer.

I speak several languages.

I am fit and active.

I love my family.

I believe love is the right choice.

But, but, but…

What about the fact that I’m none of these things consistently or expertly?

What about the fact that I don’t spend each and every day honing my writer’s craft? And that despite working on a novel, 80% of my reading is nonfiction?

What about the fact that if you ask me any question in the languages I know well on paper, I’ll have a blank look on my face?

What about the fact that I don’t look like an athlete? Or that I eat enough for four athletes…of the Sumo kind?

What about the fact that on Monday morning, I’m glad to see my family out the door?

And for all the love I purport to feel, to advocate for, why am I repeatedly calling fellow humans jackwads and dipshits while driving?

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I had the good fortune of hearing the author Elizabeth Strout (Olive Kitteridge, 2009 Pulitzer Prize), give a lecture last week. She talked about the value of fiction and why it’s important to readers. She spoke about how fiction gets to the truth of characters and in turn, to the truth of ourselves. I took notes and all I could think was – as a writer, I’m a complete and utter fraud. This is a bad thought to have a week before I’m scheduled to pitch my novel to three literary agents. But it’s bad in a way I have learned to value.

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When I started tutoring English learners, one of the students asked me in front of the class what languages I spoke. Ever eager to sound like I knew something of value, I muttered “I speak a little Spanish, German, French and Russian.”

It was, to my knowledge, true – if you wanted me to count to 10, list the colors of the rainbow or ask you where the bus station was. I’m proficient in asking for another beer in German or talking about military tank positions in Russian. I can accurately describe cows or the children at the swimming pool in French. In Spanish, I have a terrific food vocabulary, because Mexican food is the bomb.

So, in the back of my head, I really felt like I was telling a lie, even if I’d get off on a technicality. Lies bother me. Especially my own. I intone Jean-Luc Picard in my head Make it real. Since starting tutoring a few months ago, I’ve been relearning or building up languages. I start off every day on DuoLingo. It takes canstockphoto993916me about 20 minutes, but in the last two months, my language skills have improved exponentially. I started enjoying it so much that I’m ramping things up a bit with workbooks and online websites in those languages. I frequently wander the house repeating nonsensical phrases, sometimes mangling all four languages in the same sentence. International incident, here I come.

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I have never in my life looked like an athlete. I’m solid, but short and round. All my life I’ve been fairly active. I look in the mirror and it never reflects back at me who I think I am. This disconnect between how I feel and how I look frustrates me to no end. Years of martial arts, running, tromping around in combat boots hauling packs, endless numbers of push-ups, weight training, and in the end, I still look like a disheveled hausfrau. This time my body is a reflection of the lie.

canstockphoto2201991I’ve only ever dealt with half the equation – exercise. The reality is that I eat like a horse. A horse who could eat its own body weight in mashed potatoes. I eat well – really, really well. From my twenties on, I’ve resisted dieting, mostly to my benefit. But as my income grew, so did my access to all the foods I loved – foods that I didn’t get growing up and foods that I generally couldn’t afford or have access to during my Army and college years. Simple foods, even some that are quite healthy, I eat in large quantity.

My truth is that if I want the outside to truly reflect how hard I work, how much training I’ve done, I have to come to terms with the mentality I have, that whatever is in front of me now might be gone tomorrow, so I better get while the gettin’s good. I went through an absolute culling of personal belongings and clothing over the winter and found the same mentality at work. If I liked something, I bought two or got all the colors, because tomorrow it might be gone.

I want the reflection in the mirror to look like how I feel inside. I want to make it real. So I’ve begun doing that most mundane of dieting tasks – tracking calories and setting a target goal that I get all my servings of fruits and veggies. I just started Week 6 of an 8 week 5K training program. I’m starting to see results. My humble brag is less about the particular goals than it is about the fact that the lie had become untenable for me to sustain. It has simply become easier to make a lie the truth, than deal with the angst of wishing it to be so.

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Elizabeth Strout said it’s the job of the writer to be bring honesty to the reader, because it helps us get in touch with our own truths. That’s been rolling around in my head the last few days. My own truth is that despite all my experiences as a human, I am not an experienced writer. I have not, like Ms. Strout and so many working writers, spent my days and nights learning the craft.

Next week, when I sit in front of my first literary agent ever, I will be out of my depth. And that is the truth.

canstockphoto6167076Somehow, even confronting that truth head on, I find it invigorating. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Because when that conference is over, when I’ve gushed out the verbal vomit that will be my pitch, I will return home knowing that I need to make it real. I’ll spend my days and nights learning what other writers already know. My path is one of retroactive truths, but truths…eventually.

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A State of Readiness

I’m waiting at my daughter’s orchestra practice and one of the groups is playing the national anthem. canstockphoto3482506Without fail, it brings tears to my eyes. Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light…It’s an odd patriotic twitch, much like praying to a god I don’t believe in when I’m scared. It’s reflexive indoctrination which serves religion and country well, keeping the machinery of industry and institution well-oiled.

My practice of critical thinking, looking at as many perspectives as possible and making sure that I am cognizant of my own irrational emotional reflexes, has brought me to a detente of sorts. I’ve never felt more uncertain of my future, of my child’s future and of this country’s future. My thinking has become more apocalyptic in nature. I feel the gears of my life subtly shifting toward preparedness.

How does one prepare for the unplanned or unexpected? And is it healthy to always be in a heightened state of concern about what might happen tomorrow? I’ve always been a planner. That is why the shift is subtle, a slight extension of the organizer inside.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been working harder than I have in a long time. I started a new running training program. I’m focusing on finishing my novel rewrites and looking at what I’m actually doing with my writing. It no longer feels like a creative impulse, but a desire to strengthen skills and rhetoric for income and for civic engagement.

canstockphoto1380247Garden planning is on the horizon. I’m working on learning how to grow more year round and with a few different methods – grow lights, cold frames, and hydroponics. I’m strengthening my language skills, readying to speak French in Canada and Spanish in Mexico. And my Russian is cold war ready. I’ve made sure our passports are current.

I’ve tested our water for lead and our air for radon. Long term health seems more critical than ever. I’ve started to cut some of our household expenses, putting more money in savings and college plans, redirecting more money toward the environment, children’s causes and education. I added more volunteering hours, joined a civic organization and have started to attend more community events.

I do not have enough of an imagination to see linchpin moments around every corner, nor do I have patience for any more partisan hyperbole. The click bait from both the left and the right is tiresome and demoralizing. Somewhere in the middle, I’m trying to figure out what it is I need to do to be more prepared, stronger and more technically agile for the future, over much of which I have little control.

canstockphoto8461096Perhaps the shock of the last year – the vitriol, the conspiracy theories, all the Twittering and freaking out by wingnuts did what chaos has always done to me – forced me to find order and structure and calm within. I did not know so many people were so angry. And it has made me sanguine. I did not know so many people blamed others for the problems in their own lives. And it has made me seek more personal responsibility. My response is Newtonian in nature – an equal and opposite reaction.

My life is small and only a measured success, depending on one’s metrics, but as I approach 50, I have come to appreciate the moment I’m in – this fragile time in human history. The big picture does not look good, but I am here. Even though what I do will likely have very little impact, I have decided to do what I can where I stand, with the resources that are at my disposal.

canstockphoto13259787Common sense deems that we are a rapacious lot – locusts that consume everything in our path. And everything is not an endless supply. At a time when we need science and academic pursuit to find innovative solutions for energy, antibiotic-resistant disease, and natural disasters, education and intellectualism are being denigrated. When population controls are needed, access to reproductive and family planning resources are being circumscribed and supplanted with religious ideology.

I don’t believe in an afterlife. The reason I don’t believe is very simple – it’s too easy. Too easy to ignore life on the ground. Too easy to do a trust exercise, falling back into the arms of an imaginary being and not stand on my own two feet. I don’t trust easy answers. Life is complex and challenging. If somebody is giving you an easy answer, they’re lying. If they’re giving you an easy answer when evidence suggests otherwise, they’re lying with an agenda.

These days I’m a bit of a humorless git, but hard work makes me happy. It also takes me away from the world of what ifs to a world of what is. I don’t know what the years ahead will bring. I cannot separate out the truth from all the untruths, nor accurately predict whether we’ll thrive or have our lives reduced to shadows of their former selves. I do know that I’m not waiting to find out, nor expecting other people to do the work for me.

canstockphoto21101753Perhaps it’s all a mirage, an indulgence of the quiet anger that I feel constantly beneath the surface. That we exist at the whims of people more powerful, more armed, more moneyed. That our existence may become paltry or cease entirely because lucre has become the law of the land and war the god we serve. It angers me and so I study, train, conserve, and strengthen. It may all come to naught in the end, but it beats the hell out of waiting.

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And Then I Said…Wait, What was I Talking About?

It’s unlikely I’ll come up with coherent blog posts for the next month. I’m running down the clock on my novel and frantically trying to get my shit together for a pitch conference next month. I finally dumped 10 drafts out of the blog pile and am just giving in to writing pithy, disjointed posts. It will be gratifying to short attention spans (mine included), but it’s not a long-term intent for the blog. Until then, LOOK – SQUIRRELS!canstockphoto20383793

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They said, they said

Words mean a lot to me. I’m a writer, so I spend hours agonizing over turns of phrase, the rhythm and bounce of sentences, the thumping of my own little drummers. I’ve been reading George Orwell’s collection of critical essays All Art is Propaganda. 72 years ago he wrote the essay “Politics and the English Language” and it’s still relevant.

I don’t watch award shows or political chest-thumping as a rule. It’s false prophets, cynical staging, coordinated applause, and forced laughter. A public manipulation. Give me the bullet points. Then I’ll know what other people are referencing at the proverbial water cooler.

Mostsquirrelsign.jpg speeches sound like a bouillabaisse of vagaries. Actors go for canned laughter and scripted informality. Politicians buy into the algorithm that if you use certain words repeatedly, the crowds will adore you and call you presidential. Since we’ve heard our current president’s “telling like it is” talk for the last decade (well, it felt like it), we know this is just marionettes at work. But kudos to him for finally learning how to use a teleprompter.

But that is neither here nor there. Politics and entertainment – two arenas where words don’t seem to matter, except that people buy into them. I’m skipping the recycled nationalism and the inflated self-importance and reading the transcripts instead.

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My Zeitgeist

I’m becoming an anachronism and I’m not sure how I feel about that. After cancelling Netflix and Amazon Prime, I am formally cut off from television culture. I stopped watching regular television ten years ago. I haven’t seen a movie in six years. I’m re-watching DVDs I’ve purchased over the years and sending them to new homes.

canstockphoto30711839The decision to disconnect, even more than I already am, came on the heels of several conversations with friends and family. What we watched, what we were going to watch, what we thought of what we were watching – it made me think about how I might be pissing my life away watching fiction.

Perhaps, too, it’s the midlife thing. Vicariously living through others, be it watching sports or watching actors present stories, seems empty. I’d rather kick the ball than watch someone else play the game. I’d rather write the story than have someone else telling me tales.

I began to wonder if this was a natural regression. I am, in so many ways, still my teenage self inside. Introverted with a tinge of defiance and the need for solitude. The other day I was sorting through pictures and realized that the clothes I wear now are exactly like the clothes I wore when I was a teenager. Jeans, t-shirt, flannel shirt. They’re bigger of course, and some of them are higher end (as in more expensive, but more cheaply made).

In between then and now so much has happened. The lessons, so many lessons. All the different people I’ve met and all the places I’ve traveled. How is it that at any moment I feel like I might slam the door to my room and write bad poetry about the cute boy in 6th period? I have returned to the most comfortable version of myself.

And sometimes it feels like everything else was just a detour.

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Degrees of Intolerance

Tolerance is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days. I consider myself a fairly intolerant person. It’s not something I take lightly or am proud of, it just is. My recognition of this fact has come with time and is tempered by a little wisdom.

canstockphoto1399043My intolerance starts with the sensory issues, mixes in a stern grammar marm and ends somewhere around a bellicose drill sergeant. I am in a constant battle with myself not to lose my shit at grocery stores, the gym, in the car (I’m not winning that one), parent meetings, coffee shops, offices, classrooms and here, online. Since I’m not doing time, one might say I’ve exercised an inordinate amount of self-control.

The sensory issues have always been a part of my life, but it’s only been in recent years that I’ve recognized why I constantly seek solitude and sanctuary. Under stress, I feel overwhelmed by sound, distracted by color, nauseated by smell. My practice lately has been to say to myself It’s my problem, not theirs. It’s my problem, not theirs.

Yesterday, as I gasped through a treadmill run at the Y, a woman got on the treadmill next to me. She smelled like she’d just come in to take a break from smoking. As an ex-smoker, I’m feeling some karmic resolution. I felt a little nauseous, but made myself keep running, instead of flouncing off in a huff to another machine. It’s my problem, it’s my problem.

The lady on the other side of me started talking to herself. Or was on her phone. Either way, I whipped out a side eye before I could even stop myself. My side eye also includes a visualization of me punching someone. It’s my problem, it’s my problem.

My sensitivity to smell has not always been a negative. Last week, I may have even saved a life or two when I smelled aldehyde outside. Aldehyde can be a by-product in the exhaust of an inefficient furnace. After the gas company checked all our gas-burning appliances, they went over to the neighbor’s. Their furnace was not working properly and CO levels were building up in the house.

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Back to putting my shoulder to the grindstone and getting this damned book done. I say that with some affection. There’s miles to go, but it feels like a good place to be.

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That Oxygen Mask: Self-Care When You Feel Like You’re Drowning

canstockphoto17316349For some people, self-care is reflexive – a function of healthy esteem and respect. I am not one of those people. On a sinking ship, I’d lower the lifeboat and wait for everyone else to get in. It’s not altruism. It is that I tend to put myself low on the list of priorities. Everything and everyone else comes first. There are scenarios where this is lovely and heroic, but in most cases, it just means at some point I’m going to be drowning and I won’t understand how I got there.

I tend to learn the hard way, but as I round the corner to fifty, my self-care skills have improved. Not stellar, but improved. I have a cue card on my desk to remind me of daily self-care habits. It seems strange that an adult woman who is fairly confident and self-aware would need to cue herself to floss or read a book or take vitamins, but I am easily convinced that doing the dishes or volunteering an extra shift is more important than taking time for my mental or physical health. It’s a bug in my system and it’s too late to rewrite the whole program, so I find workarounds.

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This is my cue card. It’s laminated. I’m weird.

I’ve used this card off and on over the last six months. It took me a long time to figure out priorities. The red ones are critical for me. When I don’t do those, my brain and body functions decline and my judgment is impaired. I imagine that this card would look different for each person. I don’t do everything on the card every day, but I do more of them than I would without the reminder. It’s about bringing mindfulness to one’s life. Lately, I’ve been forcing myself to really adhere to it, just to right the ship.

A lot of people are experiencing anxiety right now. I ingested the toxicity of politics and it left me depressed with bouts of anxiety and insomnia. I tried to counter with action and will continue to do what I can, but the detachment I’ve begun to feel from my country and fellow citizens tells me that the grieving stage is over. I’m stepping back, re-orienting myself and getting back into the fray with more thoughtfulness and less fruitless engagement.

canstockphoto469949That being said, I unraveled quite a bit. Sleeplessness and anxiety will do that to a person. I had to remind myself that I’m no good to any person or cause if I’m letting myself fall apart. My self-care dropped to minimal standards. Good job on that shower, lady.

As someone prone to depression, listening to and reading all the hostility and feckless commentary meant that it was internalized and became universal in my thinking – the world seemed full of horrible, hateful humans. That thought would bring anyone down. Detaching from everything sounds suspiciously like not giving a shit, but I’ve come to understand that space and boundaries are critical to one’s mental health.

When I was in the Army, one of the training exercises involved reacting to a flare attack under direct fire. Flares turn night into day and can be very disorienting. The key strategy is to move out of the illuminated area through a series of rushes and crawls. Once out of the lit area, you regroup and reorient to continue the mission.

canstockphoto13687973Regroup and reorient. It’s mission critical, whatever your mission might be. There’s a lot of disoriented people running around striking out at any moving target. Even the proverbial winners of this election seem a little discombobulated, still hollering campaign insults and meming away.

On a personal level, rest, decent food, exercise, connections with the people we love (who aren’t still acting like politically deranged assholes), this is the way forward. We don’t owe our mental and physical health to political entities or causes. Get off Facebook and Twitter. Take a moment to breathe. Go outside. Take a shower. Get some rest. You can’t save the world if you can’t save yourself.

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Catalysts and Dogmas: Cultivating an Open Mind

When I got pregnant, it was neither a surprise nor unwelcome. I was slightly terrified, as it was clear to me that while I had the advantages of a partner and financially stable home, I was completely unprepared to have a child. I started doing what I always do – I researched, reading every parenting book I could get my hands on.

canstockphoto22961553That’s when I started buying organic food. We had the income, organics somehow seemed like a moral choice and we lived in a metro area where it was relatively easy to obtain. Twelve years later, we’re still buying some organics, but in that time the discussion surrounding our food has changed significantly.

Corporations own most of the widely known organic food lines. It has been shown repeatedly that the USDA certification of Organic has been degraded by loopholes and the use of natural pesticides, some of which are more deadly than the synthetics. Production of organic food requires more land, especially as the demand rises.

Ever since nutrition became a science, we’ve screwed up how we eat six ways to Sunday. Shopping carts have become moral edicts and just another way to judge ourselves and each other. Go to any nutrition or food forum and people are squabbling away a like political rivals. And are just as useful.

canstockphoto15362073Spring is a few months away in Minnesota and I’ve begun thinking about our garden. I’ve been a haphazard gardener for years. We have blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, grapes, tomatoes, green beans, lettuce, spinach, peppers, peas, broccoli, onions and herbs each summer. It doesn’t all get eaten, because we also have a lot of rabbits, squash bugs, birds, squirrels and Japanese beetles. We don’t spray and we try to use composted soils, so our garden tends to support an ecosystem all on its own.

I’m not great at it. The food is delicious, but I have yet to master when to plant what when. I forget, when sowing all those optimistic seeds, that I’m the only one in the family who likes tomatoes and peppers and that everyone else really loves green beans (blech). Our spring weather is inconsistent and I have to approach planting with all the knowledge of a soothsayer, which is to say, I guess. Does it smell like rain or frost? Are the birds and bugs coming to life?

canstockphoto15476528The last couple of years, I’ve been trying to up my game – putting in structures and fencing, rotating where things get planted, using companion planting guides, and really working rich stuff into the soil. I’m learning, but also developing a greater appreciation for how challenging it is to grow things. The produce from our garden seems to taste better than store bought, likely because the distance from garden to table is so short – less storage time in a warehouse. Often, the food doesn’t even make it to the table, as we stand about grazing in the garden.

My feelings about food and the dogma that surrounds it is changing, not because someone bullied or lectured me into it, but because I literally and figuratively dug in – learning how food is grown and pursuing all venues of information regardless of what side of the fence it grew on. I read the research, mindful of who paid for it and why. I read opinion pieces, paying close attention to what the writers’ agenda served.

canstockphoto1569360I’m not ready to give up on finding or growing high quality food. I think our food and water supplies are critical issues. But I no longer assume government labels and price are the end-all, be-all. I don’t look at others who buy cheaper produce and think, well…anything. They might be the smarter shopper. There is a whole industry set on confusing the hell out of us. Most of us are just doing the best we can, whether it’s shopping on a shoestring budget or focusing on what might be the “best” choice for ourselves and our families.

So, this brings me back to the whole point of this post. Listening to the “March for Life” speeches from yesterday, I searched for a point of commonality. This is where dogma ends and change begins – searching for the humanity that we share.

I thought about the babies born who get discounted as adults. The homeless, gun culture victims, the people who are mentally ill, or alienated and abandoned. I began to think about how humans are locusts, devouring everything in their path and that more is definitely not better. And I remember all the hateful rhetoric about the sexuality of women and how they deserve to die if they get an illegal abortion or even use birth control.

canstockphoto28695545And then I began to think about my own daughter. How my world is so much better with her in it. How I’ve become so aware of my own choices and role in the world, because I want it and myself to be better for her. Life is, indeed, a miracle, but less so as scientists manage to recreate it in a Petri dish and we learn to care for adult humans less and less, because we are so attached to our beliefs that we dehumanize each other.

I remain pro-choice. I am not for abortion, but I am for caring about the humans who are already born, including those teenage and adult women who know what they can and cannot bear. Purity in belief systems is easily dismantled with facts. When Vice President Pence says that “Life is Winning Again in America” while his cohort promises military buildup and suggests that he might send Federal troops into American cities, I know it is a lie. Life is only winning for some. For some already born humans, violence and harm has arrived or is on the horizon.

Still,  I understand why people feel so strongly on either side of the debate. That I want to stand in between them and listen with both ears, is the best I can do at this point. That I try to read research studies and editorials is one way to cultivate an open mind. I don’t have an interest in screaming and shouting at people, nor the patience to allow them to scream at me. I do have time to listen to civil discussion, to consider, to research and to believe that we all think what we’re doing is right and good and the best choice.

canstockphoto9531862Humans aren’t all that bright. After all, we’ve been squabbling and killing each other since the beginning of time. The human brain adapts and seems to evolve at a painfully slow pace, but we can give it a boost if we do the real work of critical thinking and listening. Because the logical end game of the relentless pursuit of dogma is that we’re all dead and no one wins.

Thank you to Greg, from Almost Iowa, for providing food for thought in the comment section of past posts.

Have you changed your mind on a particular issue? What was the catalyst?

If you have softened your stance on an issue, what convinced you?

Administrative Note: This post contains 2 for the price of 1 hot button issues. It will be moderated. Please understand the subject is dogma and how we deal with our own. Any proselytizing and/or incivility will be promptly shut down. Please see my comment policy. My hope is for a discussion about how we change or soften our minds about strong beliefs. I’m curious about it. Aren’t you?

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