Slow is a Good Look

Fort Lauderdale, in some ways, feels like homecoming.

It’s only my fourth time here, but perhaps it’s in the same way just a few trips to the midwest can create a homebase. Sometimes your soul just knows what and where (or who) home is, where it can rest its head in the tumult of the world.

But it’s also my fourth time here, and that would usually get me antsy. I’ve already been here. Let’s see what a new town is like, new state, new country. There’s too vast of a world to tread the same soil multiple times. It’s an insatiable wanderlust that I’ve been trying to reckon with, try to balance out, try to calm down and smooth over. 

Yes, it’s a vast world, but what parts of it will really soak in if your eyes are constantly on the horizon, the next bend in the road.

I was the one to suggest it. Come down to Florida for our annual vacation in June. Come to the very spot that introduced Florida to me in the first place, introduced me to a version of the Atlantic that wasn’t always cold, beaches that weren’t filled with rocks. It was partly pragmatic, partly a tradeoff (how many vacations of ours have been adventure packed, even the so-called low-key ones?), but largely a practice in slowing down. I don’t have to constantly be darting all over the map. It’s still a foreign concept to me, but sometimes homecomings can feed the soul, too.

I keep collecting seashells while I’m at the beach.

A part of me rebels against it. You have enough shells at home. They fill jars and glass containers throughout your house. Artwork you made with them still hasn’t been hung up. You. Have. Enough.

But sea shells are a lot like good memories and adventures. Whatever quota you think there might be, there isn’t. And just like good experiences, when one is within reach, you grab for it, make it yours.

This time around, I’m drawn to two types of shells: the ugly and the smooth.

I pick up ones shaped by harden barnacles, that look more like misshapen pumice stones than anything else. And I pick up the ones shaped by the waves and the sand, that look more like opaque sea glass than anything else.

There’s a metaphor there. I know it. Isn’t that what writers are notorious for? You can find the metaphor in everything. To maddening levels, noticing the metaphor in everything.

And the immediate is there: beauty in the unconventional, the character that lays in the imperfections, etc, etc, etc. But I also think of sea glass, of the piece my best friend wrote for me in my time of hysterical and dire need. A piece that reminded me of the creation of sea glass — that, if you find yourself shattered upon the rocks, let the ocean do what it needs to do. Let it churn you over time and time again, bring you to the shore only to pull you back out, until you’re what you were destined to become.

The blog that had the piece has long since been taken down, but it’s by far one of the most memorable posts I’ve ever read, and one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received. 

I took the metaphor a step further a year or two later, comparing sea glass to the pieces that are still new in their brokenness. That, if you find yourself shattered on the rocks, allow the ocean to do what it needs to do, and don’t try to escape it early. Pull yourself from the tumult too soon and you’ll still have your jagged, cutting edges, and you’ll make whoever tries to pick you up bleed.

I’m not sure, exactly, what the metaphor is this time around. Perhaps that the tumult can soften and transform you, but it also can take away your texture if you don’t know when to extricate yourself. Or to find that fine line between the sea glassed shells and the barnacled ones. Or that the same force that can soften your edges could add more on. Who knows.

But then again, I’m not picking up these shells for their metaphors. I just think they’re pretty.

Three days into Fort Lauderdale, and my husband gazes quietly at me in the elevator.

“Florida is a good look on you,” he says.

“Is it because I’m all sunkissed now?” I ask.

“You’re Irish. Standing under a 100-watt bulb gets you sunkissed,” he jibes. He adds: “No, it’s more than that. You look relaxed. You look at ease.”

I think of the few other times I look at ease. After a few drinks, when the muscles in my face relax. In the middle of a hike, when I apparently (and unconsiously) smile. It’s nice to see a middle ground, between moderate annihilation and physical exertion. There are other ways to drop what you’ve been carrying, if only temporarily.

2019 has been about release. Releasing things that have been held for a few months, a few years, an entire lifetime in some instances. And in that release, I’ve also been trying to let go of that need for speed. To allow life to be slow. Let a Sunday be a lazy Sunday. Lay in bed when you can. Go on vacation and go to the beach and sit in exquisite indulgence as you read an entire book in three sittings (it’s been months since I devoured a book this quickly). Wade into the water and gently swim alongside the school of little, shining fish. Stand in the waves and let the fish nibble at your ankles. Sit out on the balcony and listen to the waves and feel the warm breeze.

Perhaps the slower approach is okay to wade into from time to time. Let timelines be the timelines they’re going to be. Enjoy the music without wondering when it’s going to end, or what the next song will be. Don’t crane my neck to see what’s beyond the bend, even when I feel desperate for what the horizon has in store. Be with the scenery of now. Look around and appreciate everything within arm’s reach.

Maybe the slow approach can sunkiss my skin like a Florida afternoon.

Maybe I can find homecoming in the present moment. No matter what that present moment is.

Five days into our vacation, and we find our lone piece of seaglass on the shoreline. It’s long and rectangular and looks almost like a crystal. We find plenty of barnacled shells and smooth shells and the conventionally pretty ones, but no other pieces of sea glass.

“I don’t know if I should be shocked we didn’t find any more,” says my husband, “or shocked that we found one in the first place.”

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Cleanse

The sun is out and I can barely stay inside.

Let’s go on a hike. Or a run. Or a walk. And a drive. Maybe just sit on porch and take in the breeze through the trees as the neighbor’s cat rubs up against my legs and hisses at my own cats indoors.

If I’m inside, every shade is up, every window opened. If I forget to close them, I wake up with the sun, regardless as to what time I got to sleep, as if my own circadian rhythm is going, “How dare you stay asleep when the world around you has awoke?”

The power of the sunlight drifts into the night, and the warm air and a bonfire are plenty substitute for a noonday sun. I still feel the energy, as if skin pinkened by the flames is the same as skin warming under the sun.

I try my best to mitigate how the winter’s weather affects me, but beautiful days remind me that it works in the opposite direction, too. I don’t realize how much energy I can have until the literal fog is lifted. The fog and the rain and the mist and the cold, dreary air.

On a Saturday that I’m wracked with the flu, the rainy spring gives way to a perfect day, and I’m so convinced the weather is enough to energize me that I go for a drive with the windows down. It wipes me out so terribly that I spend the rest of the day in bed, windows up, the gentle spring breeze passing over my fevered skin.

A Saturday later, and I’m driving back from a walk around the city, deliberately picking uptempo songs and tapping out the beat as I drive. It’s one of the kinder heirlooms from my father, the staccato drum solo against a steering wheel, an ability to get lost in the song while you’re driving. I’m not fully recovered but now the sunshine can supplement what my immune system hasn’t been able to provide.

And on a Monday holiday, I’m by a lakeside dock with my feet in the water. I didn’t want to fall asleep the night before and I didn’t want to stay asleep once the morning came. It’s me and the sun and the loons calling in the distance and they’ll be my only companions for a while. The house is asleep but the world is awake, and three hours of fitful rest feels like nothing against the ripples I make in the water.

It’s spring. It’s finally spring. And already toeing into summer. And I’m okay with that. Summer is my season. Summer is when I return to the mountains. Summer is when I travel. Summer is when something in my soul cracks open and the crisp lines of winter give way to the saturated colors of summer.

It’s going to be a lighter summer than it has been in a while. I know it. I’m making sure of it. I don’t think it’s coincidence that Marie Kondo’s show and “Thank U, Next,” came out and became such hits at the beginning of the year. This has been a year about clearing things out, removing what doesn’t bring you joy, creating space for the things that do. Of saying, “thank you, but next,” and letting go.

My pantry and closet have been cleared out. Maybe not in the Marie Kondo way, but it still got the job done. Now food spoils less often. I’m surprised with what I actually have available in my wardrobe.

Sometimes you don’t clear out just to make space for the new. You clear out to be reminded of what good things you already have, things that might’ve gotten lost under the clutter.

I have plans for this summer, as I always do. The sun energizes me. I’m solar powered like that. I’m finishing the 48 4,000-footer list. I’m releasing another collection of poetry. I’m going to keep trying to find representation for my two manuscripts — ones that are just waiting in the wings, brought out for dress rehearsals as I edit them yet another time. Im going to keep submitting my work even when it feels like I’m sending them into the void, a black emptiness that feels like a new moon on a cloudless night.

I have so many things I want to do. So many things I want to see flourish. And, by the same token, so many things I’m glad to let go of, glad to put behind me. Glad to admit they don’t bring me joy and release them. Anger, regret, resentment. The unkind and unwelcome heirlooms that might’ve made life a little difficult, now and then. The past. Anger and resentment over it. The vicious cycle it creates.

Letting them go. Making space. Both for what the future will bring, and for the appreciation of the present moment. There are too many things that bring joy in my life now to grant the clutter any more space or consideration.

In some ways, clearing it out all has been the southern swell that pushes the clouds out to sea and send a warm breeze into the night.

How dare I stay asleep, when the world around me is starting to wake up.

Slog

It’s the slog runs that are the important runs.

That’s what I try to tell myself on a miserable Monday morning, lacing up my shoes, running around my neighborhood yet again because the trails are iced over, because I don’t have time to drive somewhere new.

The easy runs, the simple runs, they’re maintenance. It’s the slog runs that matter. The ones that are dreadful, the ones where all you can think about is the end. How you run when it’s a chore defines the kind of runner you are.

Slog runs are important runs. And every run these days has been feeling like a slog. Between injury and illness, I haven’t been able to train, and I feel like I’m starting from scratch over, and over, and over again.

It makes me wonder if there’ll ever be a time when I’m not returning to the start. If there will ever be a time when I can get past all this and really progress forward. Continue reading “Slog”

Connection

“I don’t think you’re an introvert,” says my husband. “I think you’re an extrovert who got the extroversion beaten out of her.”

I’ve learned to take these insights from him seriously, even when they run in stark contrast to what I actually assume about myself. The number of times I’ve heard him pose such an insight, and I’d swear that it’s not the case — only to have life gently (or, at times, not so gently) unfold to me the truth behind reality. I’ve learned to hold such assessments with both hands and with cared regard.

An extrovert who got the extroversion beaten out of her. “But, like, not literally beaten,” I’ve said when telling others about it, like the only way a spirit could get crushed is under the weight of swinging fists. Continue reading “Connection”

Shift

I have a nasty habit of falling into old habits.

I train up too hard and too fast when I run. I get stubborn about my mileage, my pace, my frequency. I get impatient when I feel I can do better. Taking it easy is akin to giving up, and I handle both concepts with equal grace (or lack thereof). It’s how I sprained a hamstring tendon five years ago, trying to train for the Chicago Marathon — and how I turned that sprain into a minor tear by attempting a yoga class the day after and forcing a stretch where the muscles had locked up.

The injury took me out of marathon training, and out of mid-distance running in general for years. But recently, I’ve been trying to get back into it. Run more than 5 miles, or 6, or 7. I sign up for a 200-mile relay. I research local half marathons. For the first time in over a year, I hit 10 miles. For the first time in who knows how long, I’m hitting sub-8-minute miles on pavement. Right in front of me was a new set of goals, expectations, including maybe, just maybe, finally keeping my promise of running in the Chicago Marathon.

And then — not even during the run itself, but during a very, very gentle stretch, after a run that was anything but gentle — I feel a ping in my left hamstring. Not enough to have fully re-injured myself, but enough to awaken an old monster. Enough to remind me that tendon injuries never fully heal. Continue reading “Shift”

Marked

Afternoon has settled long and heavy on my shoulders,” Sarah Bareilles sings about December, and I listen to it the same way one bites down into a lemon wedge.

December has a way of leaving things raw. It has a way of sharpening the lines and heightening everything on one side and the other.

December has a way of making you feel like you’re about to pick up a heavy weight — or perhaps more like you’ve just been reminded of the weight you’ve been carrying all along. And I still don’t know if all the White Christmas and Jingle Bell Rock help push back against it or if it creates a glare with their tinsel and lights.

It’s a heightened time. It always is at this point in the year. The sun seems to shine brighter, more sharply. The overcast days bring more of a sense of gray. The darkness from the setting sun is saturating and dominating. The music pings a little more at the soul, the resonance lingering in the air just a little bit longer. The wind cuts a little harder than its January and February counterparts. Every sensation is just a little more alive, for better or worse.

May all be heightened and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.

Continue reading “Marked”