Going Nowhere, Slowly

Somebody asked me recently if I was a runner (because I was talking about running, or possibly shoes, or gaits) and I said, “Um. Not compared to actual runners.”

I am slow, and my “runs” max out somewhere below 5K. Also, I take a lot of breaks to walk and catch my breath. Occasionally somebody wants to join me for one of my tiny start-and-stop interval runs, and I always put those caveats around it. Also, “You don’t have to stay with me if it’s too slow.”

But I do run, sort of. And since I’ve been doing it, sort of, for nearly 20 years, I guess it might be time to admit that I do this thing.

I started with one of those “Learn to Run 10K” programs. It was ostensibly 13 weeks long. It took me over a year to get through it. I ran 10K, once, at the end. It took me 88 minutes, it was miserable, and I didn’t run again for… oh… at least a couple of years.

But somehow it has come back over and over again. Every couple of years, I have dug out that 13 week program and started over from scratch. I usually get about 6 weeks in and then hover at that level for a few months until something stops me (winter, extended travel, or becoming passionate about some new hobby that takes up most of my spare time.)

Every time, it’s a little bit easier.

I started when I was 28, and between babies. I had been working and commuting and going to school and not getting enough sleep and eating crap in my car between my too many obligations, and I had put back on all the “baby weight” without any actual baby.

I could see where this was going, and I didn’t like it. I like hiking. In particular, I like being able to look things that you can only see by walking to them, and I was rapidly losing that ability.

So I signed up for an adventure race. (Like ya do.) And then I said to my body, “Alright body… in five months somebody is going to drop us off in the wilderness of Quebec, and we’d better be able to walk back.” Learning to move my body in ways that would get me back alive became a high priority… I started walking and biking multiple hours a day, several days a week, in sleet and snow and dead of night. (I started in February and I was still working full time.)

My teammates (who were all relatively fit and had made more sensible lifestyle choices than me – which is to say, not grad school and working full time at the same time…) said, “Hey, maybe we should do this learn to run program.”

“Sure,” thought I. “How bad can it be, compared to walking, which I do lots already?”

That first 30 second interval was So Bad… 30 seconds is not a long time, unless you are running for the first time in 13 years after gaining 40 pounds when you sucked at it even when you were a fairly slim teenager, in which case it is an eternity.

I thought, “Oh, I’m in trouble.”

Over the next few weeks the intervals got up to 12 minutes, and then 15… but somewhere around 8 minutes, every time, I started thinking, “This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. I could be reading.”

Somewhere around 8 minutes, every time, to this day, I start thinking, “This is dumb. I could be reading.”

I have to keep reminding myself that it’s a temporary sensation, that I will eventually “hit my stride,” but it’s astonishingly compelling.

I’m toddling along, wondering, “Does everybody else feel this bad? Does it always hurt to breathe this hard? Those people who keep going for hours… do they feel like this for hours? How does anybody do this for hours?”

Every. Single. Time.

It’s as if I’ve never before fallen into the rhythm or gone through the transition where it starts to feel good to move my body.  I’m wrestling with my own mind, telling myself stories about quitting, navigating the stories, trying to remember what is true other than what I’m feeling in this moment.

And still… so slow.

There hasn’t been much else in my life that I have carried on with despite a lack of much improvement. Generally, I either get better at things, or I decide that I’ve learned enough about them and set them aside. This one I just keep plodding away at, like cleaning the house day after day.

I probably won’t ever enter a running race, not even one of the ones they call “Fun.” I don’t want to make people wait at the finish line until I get there, eventually. I don’t want people annoyed at me, because they could have gone on to the beer-drinking part of the day if I hadn’t showed up to slow things down. And I don’t want pity applause.

People drive past me while I’m running, and I wonder whether they are making fun of how slow I am… then I remind myself that, while I might be slow, at least I’m out here.

30 seconds no longer feels like an eternity, even though I’m nearly 20 years older than I was when I started this game. I’m in better shape, and I’m happier, and I can still get to places that I can only see by walking there, which was in fact the point of all of this.

Also, I made it back from the wilderness of Quebec. So, let’s call it a win.


Your (My) True Calling

I had so much success with last year’s projects prompted by Quest 2016, that I’ve decided to do it again. Join us at http://quest2017.com.

Today’s prompt is from Krista Tippett (1). As the host of On Being, she challenges us regularly to consider the mysteries of human existence.

“What is your vocation, your sense of callings as a human being at this point in your life, both in and beyond job and title?”

In 2009, when I started this blog, it was titled, “On The Quest: A Woman in Love with The World” (or something to that effect). But the world is a difficult thing to love. It is messy, and complicated, and prone to violence. People are even harder, especially in groups.

For a long time, I doubted. I wrote sideways, and obliquely, and worried that people would think I was daft, or naive, or merely uninformed. But I still have this deep pull in my heart toward what Charles Eisenstein calls, “The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know Is Possible.”

I was, to be honest, in love with The Universe, in the abstract, more than the world in all its complexity. With cosmology, with physics, with philosophy. I love ideas. I love an elegant turn of phrase, and the challenge of grappling with a new worldview.


Yet I also came to know that people don’t experience the world in the abstract. We experience it subjectively, through bodies and minds that are entangled with the messiness, but trying to make sense of it at the same time. It is beauty and pattern, chaos and connection, tragedy and ecstasy, all at once. Sometimes, everything lines up, and sometimes it all comes crashing down around you.

And meanwhile, you still have to eat.

For the last couple of years, my subtitle has been, “Experiments in Living with Uncertainty.” I’ve adopted many many worldviews over the years, because to truly understand something (even if I ultimately reject it), I felt that I needed to see what the world looked like from inside this perspective.

I’ve been on an exploration of spiritual practices, while, in parallel, trying to figure out the question of Right Livelihood. This is an astonishingly difficult problem, this livelihood (especially in the light of spiritual practices). How do we make something of ourselves, maintain our ability to eat and stay warm, participate in our communities, flourish rather than merely survive, and do so in ways that don’t adversely impact the ability of others to access their own deep paths?

In the midst of this prompt, fearing that this blog post would take the rest of my week, I recorded this video:

I may not know you (yet), but I want your life to be amazing.

I want you to feel fulfilled, and connected, and loved. I want you to look in the mirror and see the beauty of creation. I want the trees in your yard to bear abundant fruit, the air in your community to be clean, and the water in your rivers to sparkle. I hope for your relationships to be replenishing, and your quest for meaning to be just challenging enough.

I want you to be whole.

I want to be whole. I want to live in a world full of people who are whole. I want to live in a Whole World. I want to do everything in my power to bring that about.


1. who happens to have the same last name as my paternal grandmother, and the great-grandmother after whom I was partially named, and therefore I wonder whether we are related

My Imaginary Life

We always held that books contain ideas, and ideas need air to survive.


I come from a long line of wandering tinker/librarians. We roamed from town to town in our horse-drawn wagons full of books, bringing the mysteries of life to all who needed them. It was a non-agrarian life, but we were well-versed in the ways of machinery, and each village we stopped in was delighted to see us. They brought their small appliances that needed repair, and we were also provided with ample food and drink, not only for our stays, but to tide us over on the road. In the evenings we put on shows and readings, and hosted great conversations on the meaning of life.

We operated our library on a one-in, one-out policy, so we had an ever-rotating supply of books, and people competed to tell the most compelling story about the book they had just contributed. We kept these stories on file to share with the next reader, and those files provided threads of connection all throughout the land. Sometimes when we stopped in a city we would pick up 20 copies of the same book, knowing it was wanted in many places. We tried not to leave too many copies in one place, so that neighbours would move the books around rather than leaving them to gather dust. We always held that books contain ideas, and ideas need air to survive.

The hardest part of growing up was having to leave. Our tribe had a strict policy of sending its young people into the world to explore and try other things before we were permitted to take up a permanent position in the tribe. (I realized later that this was partly to bring in new blood… there were remarkably many people in the broader world who were enchanted enough to marry into this way of life.)

I couldn’t quite bring myself to settle down, so I signed on with an ocean-going exploration as a kitchen assistant. When they discovered that I had the ability to “talk to” machines (really, I could just read mechanisms the same way I could read a book), I was quickly moved out of the kitchen and into the mechanics’ crew. It was grand, except for the fact that I became seasick one day in three, and the sleep schedule disagreed with me. Bu the end of three months, I was desperate to get back ashore, and since my “job” was to see-the-world, I allowed myself to be put ashore in a far-off sandy realm where I did not speak the language.

No matter; the laws of machines are unvarying even if their forms are diverse, and I could negotiate repairs-for-food (and housing!) even if I didn’t get a lot of choice in what I ate while starting out. My sojourn in the sandy lands was longer than I planned; by the time five years had passed, I found myself once again literate enough (in my new tongue) to be known as a writer of some repute… People took great pride in having their machines repaired by the author of, “Seven Weeks Lost, Ten Years Found.”

I’ve always intended to return to the tribe of my youth, but the warm, dry land agrees with me, and I haven’t yet steeled myself against the months of illness. Perhaps I shall send them a contribution for their libraries by merchant ship. And one of these cunning machines as a gift…

This is an exercise from Barbara Sher’s year-long club for Scanners. I liked the outcome so much I decided to share it. Any resemblance etc.