Returning to Pain

It continues to be a time of deep reflection and soul searching.  The moments can get so overwhelming that I can only hope that I’ve hit an era of purging, of watching the wrecking ball go at old outdated structures, and clearing the way for something new.

One of the biggest pitfalls for Type 4 people on the Enneagram chart is dwelling.  But I don’t necessarily need a personality analysis to tell me that.  One of my biggest pitfalls has always been dwelling, of coming back to bad experiences and over-identifying with the pain & hurt — of over-identifying with getting hurt — and finding myself in a world of sad songs & tears & unresolved issues.

Sometimes things come on their own volition.  They’ll show up like uninvited guests, under the guise of giving me a clearer view on things — things I glossed over as they were happening only to now reveal themselves in full.  Moments that hit me all at once with how terrible, how unfair, how manipulative they really were — moments where I am furious with others for what they did and furious with myself for allowing it to happen.  I harness that — or try to, at least — and say, “See how this makes you feel now? Use that as fuel to make sure you never get into something like that ever again.”

But sometimes I call them over like a vulnerable lover in the middle of the night.  I invite them back in and relive moments and feel the heartache and grief and anger and pain.  Relive, and then perversely proclaim, “I never want to feel that way again for as long as I live!”

…But how can I proclaim I never want to feel that way again and yet revisit the feeling like an old friend?

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An Ode to Hiking (pt 2)


I’ve been trying to up my hiking game this summer.

My teaching schedule — once a scattered mess that had me teaching in smattering amounts every single day — has consolidated, leaving me my Thursday mornings and weekends free.  I’ve been dedicating that free time to solo hikes and group hikes, quick jaunts around local trails and longer expeditions further north.

I hiked avidly as a kid, I barely hiked at all when I lived in Boston, and I only hiked sporadically during my first few years in New Hampshire.  With each passing year, I try to become a little more deliberate, a little more focused.

My parents are/were members of the 4,000 Footer Club — a designation for those who’ve climbed all the major mountains in New Hampshire.  If I’m doing the math right, I’m now the age that my mother was when she finishing scaling the last of the 4,000-foot summits.  I don’t think that’s influenced my uptick in hiking, but given the connection between hiking and that untainted purity from my past, I won’t strike it out.


I don’t know how to explain hiking to those who don’t find resonance with it.  It’s a lot like running: either you get it, or you don’t.  It looks absurd on paper: devote a morning, a day, multiple days to a hill, to scrambling up that hill — surrounded by bugs and oppressive humidity, with a handful of snacks and worst-case-scenario provisions in a sweat-collecting pack, until your legs quiver with fatigue and you can’t ever seem to catch your breath. And all for…pretty vistas?  Calorie burning?  Blatant masochism?  What, then?

I can talk about being in nature and challenging the body, but it all falls short.  I’ve already sung an ode to hiking essentially this time last year, and perhaps that should be enough.  But, still, it feels like it’s only scratching the surface.  It’s a pragmatic explanation to something a lot more visceral.


I remember studying what the mountains and the woods meant in one of my literature classes in college.  Shakespeare’s characters would retreat to the woods for mischief and scheming and fantasy.  The mountains were a source of mystery and peril and adventure for medieval characters.  Modern characters used the woods to disclose secrets or have affairs or find salvation.

There has been and continues to be something encasing in the wild.  Something larger than life.  And we are able to step right into the middle of it.  Even if we don’t believe in anything else, the forests have this feeling of enchantment, as if the Fae could actually be lurking behind each tree, watching you on the trail.


I continue to be knee-deep in the Enneagram personality types, if only to have that avenue where aspects of myself can be validated (while other aspects get the calling out they need).  Type 4s tend to dwell on the negative.  I tend to dwell on the negative.  I’ll go back and replay bad experiences and then play out lengthy (typically dramatic) conversations in my head.

My solo hikes are never fully solo.  The hypothetical conversations always seem to join me.  My head fills with dialogue that hasn’t happened and probably never will.  Every “how could you…” and “who the fuck are you to…” and “do you have any idea how…” swims around my head.

It’s not unlike any other time in life.  The hypothetical conversations can sometimes be a constant companion, filling my head with the words I never said.  Sometimes they can be redirected into dialogue for a manuscript.  Usually they just drain me.

But it’s different on the trails.  It’s almost as if the trees absorb everything my mind comes up with, to the point that, by the descent, all the hypothetical conversations have lost their potency.  All the “if you only knew…“s eventually silence themselves, tagging behind at a distance before getting lost on the trail.

It’s part of why I love to hike alone as much as I do.  Let everything bubble to the surface.  Let the woods take it in.  A cosmic reset button, in some ways.

Your pack naturally gets lighter on day hikes.  You drink up the water you lugged along the trail.  You eat the snacks you packed.  You might even start wearing the layers you brought with you.

But something else gets lighter.  The things that hang like weights around your neck start to fall by the wayside, if only temporarily.

I think of a 16-mile hike I took the summer of 2015.  At the risk of showing that Type 4 side of me — revisiting and dwelling on old, negative experiences — the summer of 2015 had been one of the hardest times of my life.  My father’s decline was in freefall, my family’s dynamics were in shatters, and practically everything else in my life had just blown up.  I was a frenzied mess of anxiety and dread and heartache and pain.

I remember that hike vividly.  I had gone with my husband and two of our friends.  I remember burning brightly with that anxiety and dread and heartache and pain as we drove through the White Mountains, as we set off from the trailhead.  I remember how candid and wonderful the conversations (real, actual, non-hypothetical conversations) were, how the trail just seemed to take in the burning I was radiating out, how the world felt surreal and hyperreal at the same time.

And I remember — somewhere, somewhere on the return — feeling this acceptance of it all.  Acceptance of where my life was at in that moment.  Acceptance that things had gotten bumpy and the trip was far from over.  Acceptance that my heart had been breaking and probably would break a thousand more times before I could even think of picking up the pieces.  Acceptance that things were changing and there was no going back.  It was a feeling I held dearly and carried for as long as I could, holding it long after I shrugged my pack off my shoulders, praying it would stay with me like the dirt on my shins.

In some ways, that day was a miracle.  Days of acceptance and peace were few and far between in the months leading up to my father’s death.  And in some ways my hikes pay homage to the fact that the trails can perform magic, even if the spell is temporary.


The longer the hike, the more it feels like a spiritual journey.  In a world filled with anticlimaxes and loose ends and unresolved cliffhangers, the hike has a set beginning, middle, and end.  A crescendo and a decrescendo.  Challenge and a payoff.

Especially on the solo hikes, I emerge from the forest feeling like something has been exercised and exorcised.  I bask in that somewhat bewildering feeling, when you leave the trail and find your car and vaguely remember that the real world awaits.

I turned on my car after a recent hike, the preview songs of Kesha’s upcoming album beginning to play through my radio.  Her song “Learn to Let Go” started to play as I set up my GPS and took one more swig from my water bottle.

I was a prisoner of the past, had a bitterness when I’d look back.

I had preordered her newest album on principle alone — making a statement with my all-mighty dollar that I support women who fight to get back what had been taken from them.  But the album speaks to me outside of that context, outside of Kesha’s battles with the studio and her abuser and the court of public opinion.

Another thing the Enneagram validated for me was my almost obsessive need for music.  Type 4s use music to amplify what they’re feeling.  If they’re unhealthy, they’ll find sad songs and use them to stay in a depressive rut.

But, if they can stand on both feet and get back what’s been taken from them, they can spin it to their advantage.  The music can amplify something more positive.

So I think it’s time to practice what I preach
Exorcise these demons inside me
Oh, gotta learn to let it go.

And that feeling — that surreal euphoria, that precious hold on what the trails brought me — lingered as my GPS started to navigate me home, snaking through the smalltown roads until I’m on the highway I know by heart.

Meek, Strong, Big, Small – A Story of Strength in 7 Snippets

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I.

Scene: It’s 2006.  19-year-old me behind the register at a local pharmacy.  My summer job until I return to school for my sophomore year.  A woman comes into the store and starts perusing the aisles in a peculiar, suspicious manner.  My supervisor — a petite, blonde girl, who is maybe a year older than me, at best — has me follow her.  Standard retail procedure: pretend to clean the aisle, to put things away, yet all the while a presence around a potential shoplifter.

The woman doesn’t purchase anything, but she also doesn’t steal anything.  She just leaves.

“Thank you so much for doing that,” my supervisor said. “I would’ve done it myself, but you’re so much more intimidating.  I’m too tiny — I wouldn’t scare anything.”

I smirk self-consciously.  Me?  Intimidating?  I’m 5’11”, but the idea of me holding any weight or space is foreign to me. Continue reading

Type Four

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I’ve been blessed in my adult life with people who are primed to dive deep into the waters of the human condition — from all walks of life, these incredible people who are willing to admit we don’t have as much knowledge or control over who we are as we’d like to think we do, and that it’s vital to learn our own authentic story before — as Jeanette Winterson puts it — the story takes us in directions we don’t want to go. Continue reading

Urgency 

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I can’t do beach vacations.

At least, not the type where you lay in a lounge chair all day (to quote Bill Engvall: “With a mai tai in hand, and keep them coming until I fall over.”)

To paraphrase Eddie Izzard, I’m a running, jumping, climbing trees type of person — even when the location is tropical.  Even in Puerto Rico — at a resort made for relaxing on a lounge chair with mai tai in hand — I had to keep moving.  The idea of being idle all day sounded like hell.

“I’ve got an hour of laying on the beach in me, tops,” I say to my husband, as we’re discussing our anniversary trip — a trip that has, not once, been a beach vacation, despite that being the #1 way my husband relaxes.

“Why would that be so difficult?” he asks.

“Because…I’m anxious,” I reply.

“But, why the anxiousness?” My husband asks, his usual inquiring.  There’s nothing accusatory about it.  He simply wants to better figure out how I tick.

“Because…there’s an overwhelming sense of urgency,” I say.  “I’d spend the entire time feeling like I should be doing something. I’d feel like I was wasting my time. There’s nothing relaxing about that.” Continue reading

The Adventure

The flight to Orlando goes off without a hitch.  That much we get.  At that point, the most annoying part of our journey is the fact that our connecting flight in Orlando — which will bring us to our first destination in Salt Lake City — was delayed by 45 minutes.  But we board without issue and I’m already looking forward to when we land — when we can pick up the rental car and drive to our hotel and rest our travel-weary heads before embarking on our mini-road trip across Idaho and into Montana.  I’m already looking forward to the dawning of the next day, when the sun will peak over the mountains of Utah and we start our adventure.   We’re two days out from our 6-year wedding anniversary and my head & heart are filled with what we will do.

As we’re preparing for takeoff — as we are literally preparing for takeoff, plane on the runway, engines firing — the captain comes on and tells us we have to turn back to the gate.  Something is wrong with the air conditioning system.

We return back to the gate.  We wait in the plane, all the while a very upbeat captain with a slight brogue tells us that it shouldn’t take long — and that he doesn’t want to deboard the plane over something as minor as making sure the cooling and heating systems are working.

Twenty minutes later, we have to deboard the plane. Continue reading

To Do With Myself

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On Sunday — on Father’s Day, no less — I finished my in-person exam/practicum, thus completing my 300-hour training in yoga therapy.

It capped off an amazingly busy May into June; a time where there seemed to be so much going on at once that I could focus only on the most immediate deadline.  From my maid of honor duties, to my best friend’s wedding; from leading workshops, to taking them; from hosting dinners & barbecues, to my in-laws coming in from Ohio.

It also capped off a gently transformative and evolutionary 10 months, a time where things fell into place — where light was shined where it needed to be shone — and everything tumbled into the exact spots they were always meant to be.  It was a 10 months that were never calm, never linear, never one-thing-at-a-time. Continue reading