I’m one of those women now

Ten years ago, I never thought I’d become one of those women who preached love and light and empathy (think Liz Gilbert and Tara Stiles), but here I am.

Not only did I used to think they were full of shit (oh, young me), I also thought I’d never be able to, you know, surrender to the flow of the universe. Or whatever. It seemed like some hippy bullshit. Surrendering was giving up.

I grew up in a world where women are supposed to be nervous and insecure so they are quiet and obedient and buy shit to fix themselves. To compensate for that, I latched on to a masculine mindset and became a drill sergeant to myself.

Over time, I can to realize the culture was wrong, and it wasn’t that being a woman was the problem, it was the stupid cultural rules that were the problem. Women like Liz and Tara aren’t arrogant, they are authentic. They break the rules. And I wanted to be like that, too.

I worked at it for years, and it was a journey that was never easy. But last summer, I finally understood. Sometimes it takes just one event to break through those emotions, and that happened to me. Thankfully, I took advantage of that event and realized I wasn’t completely accepting of myself.

On New Year’s Eve, I celebrated with friends and we took fun photos in front of a beautifully-decorated and lit wall (that’s what you do when the host is a photographer).

She made a portrait of me that’s not only the best-ever portrait of me, made me realize I am one of those women now. I’ve crossed to the other side.

(Melanie Maxwell)
This is how I feel on the inside. (Melanie Maxwell)

You guys, it’s the absolute best.

I’m still me. I make mistakes and struggle. I swear, obviously, and I’m not graceful, and I love reading about and thinking about the darker sides of life, such as struggle, shame and sorrow.

But I have finally, completely accepted who I am. That’s what it is. I’ve surrendered to the person I am. Hallelujah. I’m not fighting and resisting myself; I’m working with myself. That’s how you get shit done.

Why I broke up with my purse

One of the things I dislike most about carrying a purse is the way it gets in the way.

Even the purses with the long shoulder strap. I can’t stand the way it bounces against my side and twists around as I walk so it’s hitting the front of my thigh.

Somehow, every bag turns into some Mary Poppins-esque magic carpet bag I can’t find my keys in. Even the one that’s as small as a wallet manages to swallow my stuff.

A few weeks ago, I had enough. I put my ID, credit cards, cash, chapstick, earbuds and some safety pins into a small change purse I bought in Turkey nearly 11 years ago. I put it in my coat pocket, and I was free.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about women’s clothing and fashion. I’m not alone.

My friend Caitlin Constantine put a post on Facebook with a link to this great piece about ridiculous shirts. The dozens of comments were outstanding—women saying, “Enough of this shit. Give us clothes that fit. Give us pockets. And forget about shirts that necessitate a goddamn strapless bra.”

Oiselle’s CEO, Sally Bergeson, has written and talked about the powersuit and enclothed cognition. She writes about clothes that hurt us: “These acts of oppression that we don’t even see because they are deeply embedded in our female souls.”

The purse is one great example for me. I’ve never been excited about bags or brand names. The only reason I carried a purse was because women’s pockets are all but useless for, you know, using.

And do I need all that crap I lost in my purse? No. I didn’t use most of it. Dutifully, I carried a Piccadilly notebook with me with this romantic idea that I’d stop on a park bench and write poems or whatever. But I rarely did without planning ahead of time. Most of the time, I write at my desk or sitting on the floor while leaning against my bed.

This rebellion against the rules of women’s fashion has spilled over into other areas of my life. I no longer care whether my wardrobe is varied enough (it never was, but I was still concerned). I wear three pairs of shoes to work year round. I can’t remember the last day I haven’t worn the same pair of bad-ass grey boots to work (October?). Don’t get me started on bras. Forget it. I’m not interested in those torture devices. Thankfully, Oiselle has me covered. I haven’t stopped wearing the Lux bralette, and have ordered another one.

Maybe I am a bra-burning feminist now. Don’t even care.

I want my clothes and gear to work with me, not annoy me. I want to move easily and freely.

Not carrying a purse has been liberating.

Michigan had it’s first 70-degree day today, and I stuffed the small, red change purse into the pocket of my skinny jeans, put my keys and phone into other pockets and walked into the grocery story without some stupid bag pestering my side. Free.

Memo to self: I can’t carry the world on my shoulders

I had planned a 10-mile run for today, but I’ve been hurting.

This year is getting to me. Stress shows itself in me with physical symptoms of fatigue and weakness, and it makes running and swimming way more difficult than they are when I’m feeling good. We’re all familiar with this.

Today I decided to let myself off the hook. I didn’t want to run, and I’m not training for a specific race, so eff it. I’m not going to run.

I drove to a nearby state park I’ve never visited and went for a 3-mile hike instead. Nature is always a place I go when I need to relax and unwind. Unfortunately, a recent car crash deprived me of a weekend up north, and I haven’t had a fix in a while.

The walk was rather like an exorcism. My brain pulled old memory files that I’d rather not think about, and my heavy winter boots dragged on my legs. Even my shoulders felt weak.

After about a mile, I yanked back control over my mind. I paid attention instead to the sun on my face, the cool breeze on my skin and the sounds of raucous chickadees in the forest.

This was the prettiest spot on my walk.
This was the prettiest spot on my walk.

Above all, I sat with the discomfort of all my emotions and let them be. And I realized I can’t carry the world on my shoulders. That’s not going to end well. Stress and anxiety are tricky. They sneak up on me and suddenly, I’m feeling terrible and I don’t even know why. After all this time, those bastards still surprise me.

Being concerned about the world and wanting to do my part to improve it is one thing, but I can’t take this on as a solo project.

The walk wasn’t actually that much fun. The park was fairly boggy and it wasn’t that pretty, but it did the trick. I felt lighter on my drive home.

Letting myself off the hook for not getting in the miles helped, too. I can’t add to my stress by being mad at myself for not running. Maybe I’ll take a week off and go for daily walks instead. I’ll forgive myself for it because I can write my own rules. Life is hard. I’ll take the pressure off myself and not make it harder than it is.

Pause. Deep breaths. Reset.

January was a tough month.

While it started very successfully as I worked on forming new habits, it got a bit chaotic.

My truck completely broke down an hour from my home, and I had to get that fixed. What a mess.

Two weeks later, I got into a crash on the highway. Thankfully, I was not hurt, and my truck needs only minor work. But fishtailing across I-75 and slamming into a median was not a great way to spend a Saturday night.
Seriously, I should start carrying a toothbrush with me because I was stuck overnight twice without one.

I also working an hour away from where I live on a temporary assignment in Detroit. Let me be clear: this is so much fun. My colleagues in Detroit are great to work with, and I love getting to know Detroit better. However, the commuting time drain is significant, and a new routine upset the one I was creating. Getting in my runs has been a challenge without as much access to daylight as I’m used to, and I haven’t been able to swim at all. The drive and the worry about my fitness adds stress to my life.

With all of the other things going on in the world, I’ve been feeling a bit harassed. Even my newly-cultivated mindfulness was struggling to handle the concern about all the money I’ve had to put into my truck. But it’s OK. I’ve thankfully had help in dealing with all these truck-related problems.

January reminded me to pause, take a breath and reset. February already feels refreshing because the sun came out for the first time since December in Michigan. We’re all sun drunk up here.

And there were some good things in January. I’ve been working out and doing yoga daily. Lots of push ups, more consistent lifting weights and strength training, and I’m already feeling the difference. The other night night, I was doing core work with a Swiss ball, and I could do more reps. I also discovered a fun method of fitness through some stress relief: shadow boxing! I pummeled the air like a mad woman and damn, I was sore the next two days.

So deep breath, pause. This is a reset. I’ve got work to do.

When things don’t feel different

Usually this time of year has me reflecting on what’s happened and thinking about what’s to come.

There are the deep forms of reflection, which I love, and then the magazine version of “new year, new you!” Barf.

But not 2016. Not now. Unlike most years, I have no sense of rebirth and new beginnings.

Look, a peaceful cedar swamp.
Look, a peaceful cedar swamp.

I don’t feel much like reflecting specifically on the year beyond considering I’m not so much interested in thinking about what went wrong and what went right. That’s always going on in my head. At this point, I don’t feel like thinking about what I want out of 2017 beyond what I’ve thought of already because I’m focused on the moment.

I have finally, truly learned in 2016 we bring our baggage with us, and that shit is tough to dump.

I know because I tried. For six years I tried to get rid of emotional baggage only to learn I was still carrying it with me, and I didn’t even realize it until I had to look it in the face. At which point I maybe got rid of it, but I’m still not sure and that’s OK. This to me is a realization to celebrate. I feel free because I can finally admit I don’t know what I’m doing.

While I did make some strides this year when it came to decreasing my penchant for outlandish expectations (goals = good, ridiculous expectations = not so much), this doesn’t feel tied into the calendar year.

I’m not going to hold myself hostage to a number to enact change and then be disappointed when I don’t do things exactly as I’d imagined in all my New Year hope.

This isn’t a call to have no goals or expectations. It’s just going a bit easier on myself because I’ve gone way overboard for most of my life. DO ALL THE THINGS RIGHT NOW! I WANT THINGS TO LOOK THIS BEAUTIFUL WAY! After rushing forward at an unsustainable pace, I’d fall over and weep about how I can’t do it. That doesn’t work.

Life is messy, and real change is slow and difficult and doesn’t fit neatly on a calendar. I’ve got goals, for sure, but my primary goal is to put myself in the position to do the best I can and let the outcome fall where it will. Like I did in this year’s Marine Corps Marathon.

Going into 2017, I’m still me. Now that I can accept that, I can get on with life.

Not another existential crisis, please

My motto is that great quote from Thoreau: “I wanted to live deeply and suck out all the morrow of life.” This is essential for me, and I believe I have to be vigilant about it so I don’t get caught up in a life I never wanted.

One of the most difficult aspects of living a life well-examined is the frequent, humbling existential crises.

For heaven’s sake, I have so many. It seems I can never find my feet because I’m so concerned about whether I’m living the best life I am capable of. This doesn’t feel like the fear of missing out to me, but rather, whether I’m being creative enough. Am I authentic enough? Am I working hard enough? Digging out of my comfort zone enough but without overdoing it? Am I doing enough for others while still taking care of myself?

Worry has been my natural state. It’s exhausting. I’m burning myself out trying to do the best I can, which is taking away from everything.

Every few months, it seems, this hits a point where I feel like I’ll have to overhaul everything in my life to live the way I want. Move, look at a new career path, change my habits. It’s escaped me until recently this is a sort of perfectionism that had escaped me.

And I’ve recently realized these crises, while well-intentioned, were ridiculous. I can’t do this anymore. This is too hard, which has been a pattern with me that I find I can’t get out of. I’ve always tried so hard at everything without realizing I could try easier and find success.

Thing is, I already know what to do. I’ve been a runner for a long time. We find success and reach our goals through the regular and consistent training. While I know changing a habit requires small, daily efforts, I didn’t see this as a path to creating the life I want most. It didn’t seem like enough.

But life consists mainly of small moments.

And you know, I’m 28 years old, and I’m doing pretty fucking well. So far I haven’t fallen into a trap of having a life I hate. I’m going to let these crises and the anxiety go as well as I can and focus on chasing and trusting joy.

Pure joy
Pure joy

A note on happiness: It feels like too much of a burden, while joy is lighter and friendlier. When I think about trying to be happy, I think of happiness as a permanent destination. That’s not realistic. Life is hard. But joy I think of as fleeting, and so I appreciate it that much more.

I’m looking for joy everywhere I can, and I’m letting it guide me. This isn’t new. It’s Jennifer Pastiloff’s beauty hunting, or Cheryl Strayed’s tiny, beautiful things, or Elizabeth Gilbert’s crumbs of joy.

The existential crises emptied me. Moments of joy fill me up. That’s how I know I’m on the right path.

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The parallels between running and hunting

I’ve taken up a new adventure: deer hunting.

Outside of my family, people in my circles tend not to be hunters, so it might be a surprise for some readers.

Nearly every single male and some of the females in my family hunt, so hunting is a tradition I’ve been close to all my life. When I wasn’t eating meat (except fish) for five years, I decided I’d hunt if I started eating meat again. And so now I have.

Throughout the past year, I’ve gotten outfitted for the November gun season in Michigan. I spent the week of Thanksgiving in a deer blind, and I found a few useful parallels between hunting and running:

  1. You’ve really got to be able to be bored.

Sitting in a deer blind for some six hours a day means you’re going to be a bit bored. The deer weren’t moving too well by the second week of gun season, so I didn’t see much. I took out my phone and my iPod. While I did listen to Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen’s death bed albums a little, I tried to stay away from technology. Like anything, it was tougher at first. By the final few hunts, I didn’t touch my phone or iPod and enjoyed the meditative time in the woods.

Any runner will know it can be a similar story while putting in the miles. We run the same routes and have to keep ourselves entertained. I don’t run with music or podcasts to give my mind a break from technology. A lot of the time, running is a fairly boring enterprise. It’s always worth it, of course, and I think the dullness of it is good for me. Being in the deer blind was good practice.

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2. You’ve got to be comfortable being uncomfortable.

That’s one of the best gifts any running can give her or himself. Deer hunting is no different. I sat for hours each day in the cold and on an upright wooden chair. My gear was good, but the third hour of sitting in 30-degree weather certainly puts it and myself to the test. That’s something I always welcome. The more I can work through discomfort, the better I’ll handle every aspect of life.

3. We put up with the above for a few good moments or a perfect day every now and then.

The evening before Thanksgiving, I had a wonderful time. Eight deer came into the area. I watched twin fawns play groom themselves and each other, and watched a big doe chase away a buck several times. While I can’t say I was happy with the doe, it was pretty funny because usually it’s the bucks chasing the does away. That evening it snowed, and I walked in without a headlamp because it was so bright in the woods. The time seemed to pass quickly that night, and I certainly didn’t want it to end so soon.

Another morning, I didn’t see a single deer, but I saw a coyote hunting the same bait pile I was. It’s always cool to see a coyote in the wild.

Throughout the week, I saw nature close up. I heard owls and saw hawks. When I’m in need of a rest, nature is the best prescription.

These twin fawns were so cute.
These twin fawns were so cute.

I didn’t get anything in the end, but I enjoyed myself. It’s exciting to take up two new things in 2016, adding a little something good to an otherwise dreadful year.