Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Brief Ramble

    A brief Ramble, set off by my last post. I truly believe the reason for my current and future state of contentment and health (mental, emotional, and physical) is because I stopped looking for love and affirmation outside of myself. I have learned to be great company for myself. I enjoy my days in solitude. I have fantastic conversations inside my head (and with my dogs, but that is another matter entirely). I have done so many projects in my little corner of the world to surround myself with cool shit that brings me joy. When I am unhappy with a situation I find a way to change it. If I can't change it, I learn to look at it from another perspective. I choose to live a simple life, a happy life. I have learned that I have the power to control many aspects of my destiny. My hand is at the tiller, I control my path. Too often it is easy to let life pull us along, blaming our woes on everything and anyone, feeling the victim. We can go through life, unhappy, stuck in situations that make us miserable, or we can take charge and make the changes we need to make. No, I don't believe that I can make life all rainbows and kittens by wishing it so. And yes, life still has disappointments, stress, anxiety. But it is how I choose to handle all that comes my way that makes a difference. I have simplified my life on almost every level. I love myself. I love where I have taken myself over the last few years. I don't need anyone to make me complete, make me whole, a yin to my yang. I am complete, whole, amazing, capable. I really do Love My Life.

Four Years Ago, The Gate To Hell

    Thanksgiving weekend, four years ago, I was in the middle of life changing chaos. Self inflicted chaos mostly, but chaos nonetheless. For the first time in my life I was living totally alone. My sons were grown and making lives of their own, which made me lonelier than I had imagined. I missed having a houseful of teenagers geeking over video games and still playing with Legos. I was in the middle of trying to buy my own home. My very own house, that I already loved. Going through the process alone, with no partner or significant other to shore me up through the ordeal. Thanksgiving weekend was supposed to be my moving weekend. I was packed, most of my stuff was in storage in anticipation, boxes were everywhere. I didn't even have enough kitchenware to contribute a dish for a potluck dinner I would be attending. I had lined up several strong, willing victims to help me move. I had given my landlord 30 days notice at the beginning of the month and the rental house I was leaving was scrubbed, repainted, and ready for the next tenant. I had already changed the address on my driver's license. But the deal wasn't done yet. Glitches and hitches in the inspection and appraisal had brought everything to a screeching halt, and threatened the whole process. It would be weeks before I would have the keys in my hand, if the whole deal didn't fall through. My stress level was over the top.
   Add to this the fact that I had finally brought about the long-needed dissolution of a toxic relationship, and was still reeling from the backlash. No matter how badly you need to extricate yourself from someone who makes you miserable, after a decade of having them in your life, you go through the stages of grief, over and over. Thanksgiving Day, a long phone conversation, while I was maniacally scrubbing the kitchen, listening to the negativity and complaining coming over the line, I knew I had made the right decision. My head knew this, my soul knew this, just as you know someone is dead, but parts of you think they will walk through the door and all will be back to "normal."
    For the first time in nearly two decades I was not hosting a holiday dinner. It made me feel even more removed from the rest of the world. I felt so alone and lonely, as if the rest of the planet was moving along without me, leaving me as a remote, desert island in the middle of a vast river of humanity.
    The stress and grief made me lower my guard. Even though I was still working out religiously to help stave off the bulk of depression, my eating habits had fallen to hell. I was at the heaviest I had ever been. I stopped weighing myself when I hit 245. Yeah, you read that number right  Two-hundred and forty five pounds.  Holy hell. This added to my feelings of isolation and dejection.
    An interesting point, looking back, with 20/20 hindsight. As tough as it was, as miserable and stressed as I felt, it really was only the beginning. I was heading into six months of the worst time of my life. I have suffered depression over the years, but it was nothing in comparison to what was coming. Later I would be diagnosed with severe depression, borderline bi-polar, reactive attachment disorder, anxiety, and insomnia.
    But that Thanksgiving Day, for some reason really stands out in my mind as a turning point. It was a day full of bitter disappointment, isolation, depression, anxiety, and stress, stress, stress. But it was also the day  my resolve to keep moving forward was made concrete and absolute. Winston Churchill said, "If you are going through Hell, keep going." I would learn to put one foot in front of the other. If I couldn't walk, I would crawl. I would move forward inch by agonizing inch. I would not give up my dream of owning the little house that was destined to be mine. I would learn to love being single, and living free and alone. Heart would mend, Brain would balance, Spirit would soar wild and free.
    It has been four years, and every Thanksgiving I think back on that day. That singular day that stands out in my memory as a Life Lesson. I walked through Fire, fell into the darkest Abyss, but kept moving forward even when I felt like giving up. Now, for the last three and a half years I have been 85 pounds lighter, single, vegetarian, no meds, content, happy, Free. I am fitter and stronger physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually than I have ever been at any time in my life. I can look back and see that day as the Gate to Hell, and even knowing the fire I would pass through, I would still walk into it, eyes wide open, knowing I would come through cleansed by the flames.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Gentle Dance

    I make no bones about it, I am inclined to jump in feet first, "Leap Before I Look Girl." This is fine when I am just interested in play, which has been my M.O. in the world of relationships for quite some time now. I haven't felt I had the time, patience, or interest in anything serious. Honestly, I haven't had what amounts to a "serious" relationship in about 2 years. And it wasn't all that serious. Since then I have had a mutually beneficial FWB agreement that worked fantastic for about a year. Then, I decided to just dabble, play. I have not had time nor the inclination for anything more than the occasional friendly encounter. As a matter of fact, I stopped putting out any feelers, vibes, or whatever you want to call it. I finally reached a point when I just decided to open myself to The Universe, and let whatever comes come. In all honesty, I came to a quiet understanding with myself that in all likelihood I would be single the rest of my life. This may still be true, but suddenly there has been a shift. An oh so subtle shift. Subtle, and yet it seemed to send a tremor to the core of my earth.
    Now, I am content to take time, go slowly, allow myself to be wooed and courted. And it seems to be a reality. I had almost forgotten what it like to meet someone in my day to day life. Meet and begin to know and understand. It starts so quietly, simply, casually. It is nothing, until you stand close and feel the hairs on your arm rising as if wanting to touch the strong arm that is so near. Then it is the smiles, greetings more exuberant with each day, eye contact that last longer than is necessary. Curious, this slow build up. I had forgotten what the mating dance can be like out in the real world. A clever ploy to make sure we exchange numbers, he was sly, shy, and charming. Then, a hug, standing in the pouring rain. A full body hug. Then a goodbye as we both got back to our respective obligations. Simple, platonic (almost).
    Now, the light touches as we talk. I touch his arm. He touches my hand. I am at work, he is a customer, it is professional, mostly. He reaches across the counter and holds my hand. My brain scrambles to near dysfunction.
    We talk of so many things, sharing brief glimpses of our souls. There seems to be a core compatibility. Shared dreams, parallel experiences, mutual understanding.
    Still, it is platonic (mostly). A fledgling friendship with the warmth of chemistry. It is interesting, this gentle dance out in the real world. Total strangers a few months ago, with a chance meeting, neither looking, and yet here we are. I do not know where it will go. Maybe nowhere. Or maybe somewhere new. Somewhere I have never had the chance to go. That place where I am The One. Not The Girl On The Side. Not The Runner Up. Not The Default Partner. Not An Interesting Diversion. Maybe this time, when I was not looking, when I had decided that I don't care if I am alone (because I am very good company for myself). Maybe, this time? Who knows? I have zero expectations. But the gentle dance is interesting.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


    Fire. Even as it destroys it enthralls. Sunday. A day long hyper autumn cleaning and organizing, nearing OCD levels. I made myself stop at 6:30 so I could get in a solid workout. I spent an hour on the bike, grinding through a double set of gearing pyramid, followed by 5 minutes of Tabata sprints. Then an hour of upper body and core work with resistance bands, hand weights, kettlebell, and medicine ball. I topped off my day with a nicely vegan dinner of green lentils, quinoa, and rice, with a side of yam, and a cup of Rooibos tea. I had just finished eating, was sipping my tea and pondering a much needed shower when my pager went off. I checked the text from dispatch: Structure Fire. Okay, chances were high that we would be recalled before we got out of the station, but then you never know.
    I sped towards the station. Coming up the crest of the hill I saw It. Across the field, flames leaping into the night sky. Damn, this one was close. I would lie if I said I didn't get a surge of adrenaline. Just enough to make my heart beat a little harder, not enough to make me nervous. I did press the accelerator, just a little. At the station, my usual small band of brothers. Big Ed was already climbing into the Tender, we were going to need a lot of water. We pulled on bunker gear, climbed aboard my beloved Engine 485 with Cap'n Eddie at the wheel, and headed into the night with lights and siren announcing our approach.
    It was a short ride. We were first engine on scene. The house was fully engulfed at this point, so it was going to be all defensive and fought from the outside so we didn't need to donn airpacks. Captain Jim tells us to grab the 2-1/2" hose, Cap'n Eddie will man the pump, so it's me and Joe on the line. I admit, I am much fitter than Joe. We pull the crosslay, I grab the nozzle and run up the driveway with Joe on my heels. The fire is so damned hot I actually got a blister through my gloves. The heat is amazing. I'm cursing myself for not pulling my hood up all the way, it is just around my neck, but my helmet is doing its job and keeping me from really feeling fried.  We get the hose stretched back to the corner, it is fucking hot. Fire is hot. Fire is also mesmerizing.
    I call for water and watch the hose swell as the water rushes up the hose at 100psi. I kneel and brace myself, knowing just how much power comes out of the 2-1/2". It is not a hose to easily handle solo. I yell at Joe to back me up. I open up. The pressure pushes me back, but I know its coming so I'm braced and ready. As much water as is flowing, it is still one hose, and a lot of fire. I feel ineffective against such a creature. And g'damn, it's hot. I'm aware of a bulky figure joining us on the hose, almost unrecognizable through the smoke, Paul had come in his own truck. He braced me from behind, a strong, solid guy to have at your back. I yell a greeting to my friend.
    It wasn't long before we were joined by Station 9, with Station 3 hot on their heels, and Station 1 just moments behind. Funny thing though, and I've noticed this at other fires; I notice the arrival of other crews, but my focus is so intent on the job at hand that the rest of the world kind of falls away. With our District out in full force it didn't take long to bring the fire under control. We turned our hose over to another crew so we could go grab water and a quick break, the work was just beginning.
    What most people don't know about a fire is that dousing the flames is just part of the job. Then comes overhaul, the mop-up. Rubbish hooks and pike poles, tearing down sections of wall and roof to get to hot spots. Looking for smoke, because as they say, "Where there's smoke..."  Tear down, rip up, spray with water. Poke around, climb over debris, find coals, spray with water. I worked until I was exhausted, then worked some more. Tear down, rip up, spray with water. The Chief came back and watched Paul and I work. There was a back corner that just kept smoldering, I was beginning to take it personally. I kept tearing shit up, Paul would soak it down. I climbed over piles of wet, black, charred debris, digging with my pike pole, finding coals, having Paul pass me the hose, and soaked that fucker. Then I tore down the remnants of the roof, with its layers of old cedar shingles and covering of newer asphalt shingles. Tear down, rip up, spray with water. Finally, the smoldering stopped. I had won. We had won.
   One highlight of the evening was when we all stopped to watch the truckees with the Ladder Truck, up on the ladder, extended over the skeletal remains of the house. With sheer water power, shooting a master stream, they knocked apart the chimney to remove it as a potential falling hazard. As the chimney fell, a cheer went up. Our crew in action. Yes, we love what we do.
    Finally we cleared the scene and headed home to Station 8. Engine 485, being first on the scene, had been used to her fullest. Damn near every hose and tool had been pulled off of her and now had to be cleaned and restored before we could go home. As always, being the big happy family that we are, crews from the other stations came by to lend a hand. Hoses washed and reloaded, engine washed and water tank refilled. I was so tired at this point that I couldn't lift my arms above my head. It was 2:30am, Monday morning. Someone brought cookies. They tasted like manna from heaven.
     By the time I got home I felt as if I had completed an Ironman. I was tired from head to toe, in ways that no simple workout can ever duplicate. I was wet, cold, and reeked of smoke and sweat. Yeah, I loved it. The hot shower was glorious. Shampooing twice to get the smell out of my hair. Scrubbing my whole body twice with bodywash to remove any potential carcinogens. I ate a simple meal of tea, a bowl of rice, a vegan protein smoothie, a multi-mineral, and an electrolyte capsule. My alarm would be going off in 3 hours, work would be tough enough, the least I could do was refuel my body as if I had done an Ironman.
    One of the best decisions I have ever made was listen to that inner childhood dream and become a firefighter. True, I have only been on a few structure fires. Most of my calls are simple medical calls. I tell people that my super power is Hand Holding. But no matter what the call is, I love that I get to go. I love that there is something I do that makes a little bit of a difference in the world. And besides, I get to ride in a Fire Engine!!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

When Things Go Wrong

    At the pool this evening, after a long day, letting the water wash the stress from every cell. Lap after lap, the Zen of swimming. Stroke, stroke, breathe, stroke, stroke, breathe. So mellow. So smooth.
    Let me insert here a small quirk about the pool where I swim. It is standard 25 yards long, but only about 4 lanes wide. There is only one lane roped off as a dedicated lap lane. The lap lane doesn't have a line on the bottom, has curved corners where the walls meet the floor so it messes with depth and distance perception. It is also where the heated water enters the pool so it has a hot spot in the shallow end. None of the lap swimmers like swimming in the lane. When I got into the pool I had the place to myself, so picked the second lane, with no lane divider, an the blue tiled stripe on the bottom. Where I always swim.
    Then a father and tweenie son get in the pool. Tweenie gets into the roped off lap lane, dad gets in the lane on my other side.  Using a large, neon pink ball to play volleyball with my lane as their net. What the hell?! True, they stopped slapping the ball back and forth when I would get close. But several times I had to pull my start because I thought the ball was about to get airborne. They were oblivious to my glaring stink-eye, maybe the goggles masked the fury. I let this go on for a bit, getting riled and furious.
    Finally, I stopped, and tried to be diplomatic, "Hey, you know that isn't good pool etiquette?"
    The dad, Mr. Oblivious, "What?"
     I speak a little louder, "Tossing the ball back and forth over a lane when someone is lap swimming is really poor pool etiquette." I even add a hand gesture. No, not  that  hand gesture.
    He sputters a bit, as if in disbelief, "We stopped when you got close."
    All I can do is shake my head, give a grunt of irritation, and get back to my swim. No longer mellow. No longer smooth. I am nearing volcanic. The internal dialogue starts to roll, unimpeded. Playing back what I said. What he said. What I wish I had said. What I still could say. They keep playing for a few minutes. Then thankfully move their game to the other side of the pool, relieving me of the arduous job of being the net.
    I keep swimming. My brain is playing the situation on endless loop. Am I in the wrong for not having taken the roped off lane to begin with? No, tweenie took it over the minute they got in the water, and showed no desire to leave it. I really don't like that lane. It has a hot spot, and I get too close to the wall, and it sucks, and I am whiny. I don't want to move over and look like I am giving into their boorish behavior. I want to be on the just side here. Endless loop. Stress. Confrontation. Anxiety. Anger. This swim sucks.
    Yes, this is where my brain goes  When Things Go Wrong.  I felt myself on the hamster wheel of doom. It was up to me to get a grip, rein in the brain, and get on with my swim. This is where I had an epiphany: All too often on Race Day, or just in Life in general Things Go Wrong.  Bad shit happens. Life goes awry. Relationships go south. Jobs go away. Flat tires. Sprained ankles. Falling branches. Mud puddles. Dog poop on your shoe. The difference between a good day, and misery, is how you deal with it. Don't dwell. Let it go. Choose to stop the endless loop. Move forward. If you can't move forward then side-step. Do what needs to be done to rectify the situation. Your race, or life, is in your hands. This was actually an excellent opportunity to practice a vital race day skill: Getting Back on Track After Things Go Wrong.
    The first thing I did was get into the lap lane. I would concede that point. Yes, the hotspot is annoying. Tough shit, I wanted to swim. I had to silence the rant in my head. It wasn't going to go down easy. I tried thinking of a few favorite songs, but none of them had the right tempo for my stroke, and it was just screwing with my timing. I tried thinking of what to make for dinner. Nope. That wasn't doing it for me, either.
    So I narrowed my focus even tighter: Stroke Mechanics. I could control what my body was doing. I was in control of every aspect of arm movement: smooth entry, long reach, good catch, high elbow pull, palm facing back, long follow through, thumb grazing my thigh. Now my mind is sliding into the near meditative dialogue that often accompanies my swim when I am focused on technique. Stroke, stroke, breathe. Suddenly I am enjoying my swim. My rhythm has returned. I am mellow. I am smooth.
    The endless loop is broken. The simple fact that I recognized where my brain had gone When Things Go Wrong let me take the steps to change the pattern. I have had ample opportunity to practice this particular skill, and I get better at it all the time. It really is a vital tool in the race day kit. It is so easy to let one incident completely blow apart a race, turning a joyful adventure into a pit of black despair. Life is too short to waste on what if, if only, I should have. We hold the power to change our race even When Things Go Wrong.

Sunday, November 1, 2015


    It is a weirdling sort of day. Torrential rains yesterday washed the world clean. Today the wind flirts with both sun and heavy rain. Not a day to be working out of doors, so I have attempted to turn my energies indoors. The garage is in dire need of a gutting and reorganization so that I can build racks for the building materials accumulating in my backyard, under the trees. That is an onerous task. I made a few feeble attempts, and then was drawn into sorting through boxes.
    Why do we pack around boxes full of the detritus of life? I have boxes that came here with me during my move nearly four years ago. Boxes with dubious labels like, "Misc crap from desk."  Really? What was I thinking? But these are boxes I have peered into on occasion and then closed up, with the thought that I would deal with them "later."  I think that today is this often uttered "Later."
    I have worked my way through four boxes so far. It is mostly a martyr-worthy purging of paper: ancient tax forms, titles to vehicles long gone, multiple copies of course handouts for classes I will never teach again, notes for projects from a past life. It is a job that needs doing. so far, 90% of what I have sorted is destined for the burn pile. The other 10% is memorabilia worth holding onto a bit longer.
    Blended into the 90% are mementos from my past. A past so far removed that it seems to have belonged to another person. There are some things that made my eyes sting with a hint of regret, like the love letters between me and my then new husband who was away at boot camp. They were sweet, naive letters. But they reminded me of a good marriage, a good man, and the sad truth that people just change over time. We both changed, and decided we would part on good terms. We are still friends, but the letters reminded me of that innocence of youth that is long gone.
    More mementos from a relationship that is best tossed on the burn pile. I was surprised to find and scraps left, I thought I had purged them long ago. There is a satisfaction to knowing that these are the last dregs of a time that since I can't purge it from memory, at least I can turn them to the ashes they they need to be.
    There were also so many bits from my last 20 years or so. A life that was fun, educational, and made me many friends. But it is a life I have removed myself from almost entirely. It is time to lose the reams of research material, scribbled notes, sketched designs. I won't be revisiting that world any time soon, and if I do, I deserve a fresh start.
    Of the 10% that will be kept there are some that bring sad memories. I found the AKC papers from my dearest Torc, who was taken from me too soon. But then I found the adoption papers for my beloved Hugo, who never would have come into my life if I hadn't lost Torc. It is the balance of loss, love, and life. The give and take. The dark and light. There are folders with drawings made by my sons when they were young. A handmade birthday card from Sean. Photos, old band posters, mysterious film negatives. I admit to the sense of pride when I found the original loan papers, and real estate listing for my snug, little home. Buying my first home, all on my own, was a life changing event. And I found a printed copy of a novel manuscript of mine that I thought was long lost after a computer crash erased the file.
    Sorting through my past, rifling through it like a tattered library, or an archaeological dig. So many emotions to sort through on a blustery, grey day. I think I need to stop for tea. Earl Grey, I think.