Monthly Archives: June 2013

protagonist parting words

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The first chapter closes and many of you ask me, “What have I learned?” “Do I feel any different?” “What do I think of this so far?” Well the answer to pretty much all of these questions is …

Dunno yet? What I do know, is that the past four weeks have been a lot of fun. (Minus the absence of ice cream and chocolate from my diet – that is not so fun) The process has been positive, it generated great conversations, helped me widen my network of amazing people, convinced at least 4 people I know to start jumping rope and motivated a few others to start their own personal growth projects.

What about long-lasting outcomes? Hmmm…

After giving this first month a go, I am not sure yet if 4 weeks is enough time to create entirely new habits or fully break others. I can’t say I have come to any illuminating or drastic change. But the month has told me that I don’t think drastic change is required for progress to occur.

I am going to continue on with pieces of this first chapter, as much as I am able to, moving forward. The simple healthy diet is definitely a keeper. It really only took a bit of pressure and a few suggestions to realign my eating habits. I’m not sure whether its the actual food choices or the process of making these choices that is making me feel better, but it is working so l’m sticking with it! (with the addition of ice cream of course) I also want to stay active. I mean I can not fathom how I would ever sit at a computer for more than 2 hours again and NOT get up to jump rope or at least walk around the block? And a weekly yoga practice (if not daily) is necessary for both my muscles and my mind.

But, like Joe, running is not my cup of tea. I know I only devoted a miniscule amount of time to it, but I am pretty sure I will not independently choose to incorporate it into my lifestyle. When the doctor told me to stop jogging on the sore ankle – I can’t say I did not feel a bit relieved along with a bit of guilt knowing that Joe was still loyally making it around the track daily. But when he told me that I had to stop jumping rope, I felt really frustrated! This new activity brought me joy and just as much heart pounding action as the jogging did. I just found jumping rope a lot more fun and easy to fit in my day. I surprisingly found that I wanted to make more time in my day for jumping rope, swimming, yoga and walking rather than feeling like I had to do it.  So the jump rope journal will continue when my ankle is properly healed.

It took my bum ankle and an extremely unusual wild card before I realized the main lessons for June though. The take-away for me is this; if I become even a bit more intentional in my actions and if I truly listen to what my body is telling me through the senses rather than the surface, I will be and feel healthier. This of course was simply spelled out for me on day one, in Joe’s chapter, but I guess I had to hear it (or in my case feel it) for myself to understand fully.  With one lesson learned, I am excited about what the upcoming challenges will bring.

As the confidant noted, the most difficult aspect of all of this thus far, has not been any of these specific tasks, but the overwhelming change of going from leading a relatively private personal life to a very public one online. I have been struggling a bit with this. “How can I create a project about dealing with personal growth without becoming fully transparent and honest?” “Am I truly capable of opening up to a sea of strangers?” And “Can I do this without becoming self-absorbed or stuck on my own experience?” (I mean, I have never been one to post my breakfast lunch and dinner on a social media site before – I have to say it’s a bit weird) However, like in performing music – whether I am use to this yet or not, it seems to me, there is much more to gain than to lose here in sharing experiences with others in this way.

Joe used loyalty that he has to just one person (me) as a guide to help push himself around that track. I feel that the more people engaged in “living chapters” can only create a stronger accountability, and support system for me as I am faced with the new challenges in the upcoming months. So thank you for holding me accountable, following along and being a part of the story thus far. Looking forward to seeing you next month.

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Visit the June Gallery for more images and videos from the Body and Kinesthetic chapter.

 Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about.

Visit the Living Chapters facebook page for more updates, images and day-to-day activities.

the confidant conclusion

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For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Roles and the Rules for this project, the role of the confidant is the role that all can confide in.  The confidant can be trusted by all and is true to the project itself and all of its participants including the public onlookers.  Her primary role is to be a sounding board and support for the protagonist outside of the project – listening to any concerns, excitement, or confusion as it arises with each new challenge.  She will also be there for any concerns or questions that the wild cards, the writers and the referee may have.  She is bound to honesty and will answer any questions players may have about the protagonist in their process of guiding her monthly activities. If the other roles in the project have a dilemma they can call on the confidant for advice. She will share monthly conclusions to each chapter. Feel free to post your questions or suggestions to the confidant here.

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This month, Beth focused on her body, her health,and her muscle memory with added challenges to self-discipline, literal self-reflection and the physical and mental demands of an activity routine. I focused on listening and occasionally challenging and pushing the limits of Beth’s interpretation of her chapter and herself!

My experience of Beth’s journey as confidant and friend? It began with mild panic, evolved into a path with organic boundaries, and resolved in a fascinating creative exploration of “self” and “exercise” — of the mind and body. (I’ll never tire of seeing Beth engage in an idea or project – at first, she wraps her head around it and looks at all facets of it – then she dives in… usually with a great deal of optimism and spunk. And, once she’s in, she’s in, driving herself, pushing herself within the boundaries set out for her. She is filled with adrenaline and drive until she completely owns and defines the shape of that space, creating something unexpected out of it.)

This month, our normal hangouts (which used to involve hours of talking, drinking boxed wine and not necessarily following through on our ambitions to attend yoga class) shifted to include jogging in the mud, jumping rope in public, and exploring the broad range of activities that could stimulate the mind, creative soul and body. As observer and participant in Beth’s living chapter – I know involving the public in her performances was a unique challenge. I learned that pushing your limits is an extraordinary thing if you know when to stop. (Doing so publicly, even more so.) And, striving to be perfect by anyone’s definition other than your own is damaging to both body and soul! Well played, Beth. You listened to your body when pushed too far, created your own definition of health and balance, and when striving to meet new challenges, embraced them. Hope your muscles remember all this, as you approach your next chapter.

Visit the June Gallery for images and videos from the Body and Kinesthetic chapter.

 Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about.

Visit the Living Chapters facebook page for more updates, images and day-to-day activities.

 

Joe’s parting words

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After making a pact with Beth on jogging in June, I have to say that I hate jogging. Can’t stand it. But the lesson I learned may have more to do with exercising my Will rather than my body. Also, I gave my word to a friend and that’s something that has to be taken seriously.

On the brighter side, I have met my goal of jogging twice around a quarter-mile track. Trouble was, and I heard this from Beth and my girlfriend, Cora, that I was running too fast. I didn’t have the endurance to endure such punishment. So the other day, as I was walking down the street muttering, “Crap. Crap. Crap…” I decided I’d slow down and do the 2 orbits, which I did. The next two times out I also accomplished this awesome feat, one that once seemed so unattainable…

The biggest tragedy, however, was that poor Beth was sidelined with a bum ankle and had to abandon the Jump Rope Journal and jogging… But her recent spate of guitar playing is a great thing. I, too, have picked up my guitar more frequently and have learned some new songs. My latest, Stand By Your Man, a lullaby that is piquant when put in the right hands and can reduce a grown woman (Cora) to tears.

Anyhow, I actually want to thank Beth for this. For making my June a different kind of month.

Looking forward to July’s Living Chapter…

Joe - Jump! Cora - Jump!

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about.

Visit the Living Chapters facebook page for more updates, images and day-to-day activities.

performing: with pride or prejudice

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This month, I was tasked with the challenge of working on my muscle memory as well as my muscle tone. Chapter one writer, Joe Gall, requested that I dig out my old guitar, bring it aboard and retrain my fingers to hustle up and down the frets while attempting to hold clear and open chord sounds. I decided, early on 3 weeks ago, to up the ante of this challenge and not only give my fingers some exercise, but give my courage and confidence a work out as well.

The task I gave myself was to “perform” a song or two in front of an audience. Thus far during this challenge, I have found my best audience to be a 1 year-old baby who danced to anything I would strum or hum, along with a few supportive onlookers in my favorite café in Western Maryland. With only a few days left in June, I don’t plan on hitting up any local open mic nights, but I have accomplished playing in front of about a dozen people here or there over this past month testing out my playing and singing skills.

Looking back, I am not quite sure why I decided to put this performance promise out there, but it somehow seemed appropriate considering public speaking or being in front of an audience is truly one of the most uncomfortable and avoided experiences for me. It is one of the few non-strenuous related activities I can think of that really does drastically change the physicality of my body itself. Sweaty palms, racing heart, stuttering voice, shaky hands are just a few things that tend to happen when placing myself in front of a crowd. Even when put in front of a camera, or a recording device these symptoms arise, if I am the one that is being focused on.

So as a first step into this discomfort zone, I started taking short videos and making sound recordings of my new regular guitar practice. Doing this has been extremely painful! Making the recordings on my own is not so bad – but watching the recordings brings back all those same sensations that happen when standing in front of a full room (it may possibly be even more upsetting.) The only thing worse than caring about the judgment from others is dealing with the judgment from yourself! Do you remember what it felt like to hear your voice recorded  for the first time. “Is that me talking?” Well imagine what it feels like to listen to yourself play new guitar chords and put your best singing voice forward. How can I sing in tune when I’m not even sure how to tune the guitar? I will tell you… it feels like I have chosen to star in my own bad early 90’s folk music video. Not a pretty or necessarily appealing feeling… however, I am working on getting past this initial reaction and judgment that I’ve put upon myself.  There are positives in performing that I am starting to see and feel.

I actually really enjoy singing and playing guitar. When I take the camera away I genuinely feel pretty happy doing it, it calms me down and passes the time in a way that always leaves me feeling satisfied. I have to go back to the original intent behind Aaron’s wild card request, which is, to keep listening to myself and do what feels right, not worry about what looks right. (or in this case, what sounds right)

My mom would tell you that when I was little, I would wake myself up singing in the morning. She tells me that I loved to perform musically and dramatically. There are actually many pictures proving that I loved to ham it up in front of the camera.  (I’ve included a few pics below that my Dad conveniently sent me this week reminding me of this time). I do find that time a little hard to remember today though, as I start stumbling over song lyrics when someone intently starts to listen, or watch me. How, why and when did that free confident performing spirit and desire to share get dampened along the way? What do I need to do to get it back?

on grandpa's pianooh so pretty?

I guess there is some evidence of that love of performance still present today or I wouldn’t be sharing so much of myself with all of you through this Living Chapters process.  I think one of many reasons I decided to do any of this publicly was really to try to rekindle that fearlessness of sharing openly that we all did so effortlessly at age six. I am starting to realize that there may be much more to gain through that boldness than we actually have to lose.

If I knew that at age six, can’t I feel the same thirty years later?

Post Script: Thanks to Josh, Brown, Andy Cook, Joe Gallo, and friends at the Water Street Cafe in Friendsville MD for supporting, teaching, and encouraging me in my guitar playing and performing this past month.

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about.

Visit the Living Chapters facebook page for more updates images and day-to-day activities.

surface and subconscious

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It’s been a week since I have tried on Aaron’s unique wild card challenge.  And I must admit, I have failed miserably at the task.  Yes, yes I took the mirror off the boat with the best of intentions and then literally minutes after reading the post, walked into the marina bathroom and immediately caught myself peering back  from that conveniently located space above the sink.  Ok – Day one – strike one.  I started keeping track.

Breaking any routine is hard, I guess, and it will take some time getting use to shifting any part of the involuntary daily bathroom routine.  So I started by standing beside the sink to wash my hands and brush my teeth: this could be done, right? That afternoon, I walked into town, and maybe an hour later: Argh strike two! The door to the coffee shop was glass (caught myself… checking out my hair).  I went to check my phone messages and Bam! Strike three – caught the reflection on the phone’s screen.

After returning to the boat that evening, I managed to steer clear of gaining anymore strikes hanging out on the deck free and clear, I thought, “this must get easier the more I think about it, and get use to it”. But somehow it didn’t.  On Sunday I counted 4 strikes.  Monday-6, Tuesday/Wed-5. Thursday back to 3 and Friday-4.  Now, some of these strikes were mere accidental sightings (not spending time lingering, admiring or agonizing) but in some instances, I noticed these unconscious yet intentional movements of my body seeking to “check myself out”.

I knew this would be a very difficult challenge, but had no idea it would make me think so much.  Why do I need to check myself out so much? Is this an unhealthy obsession with my surface appearance, or is it more a subconscious desire to check in. It’s not like I have ever spent hours in front of a mirror doing my hair or make-up each morning (I actually never even learned how to properly put on make up and I still don’t own a hair dryer) But I am now noticing this magnetic draw to the surface of mirrors… In the car, I’m moving the rear view mirror, and then…there I am – checking myself out.  I walk into a public bathroom – argh the entire wall is a mirror! I open my computer lap top ah there I am working hard reflected in the screen. Store windows, windshields, rearview mirrors etc.  I am finding myself everywhere calling out to myself to fix my hair, adjust my glasses, smooth my brow.  Geez for thinking I am not a very vain person, I am beginning to question this habitual desire to check in with myself and “fix things” or making sure everything is alright.

What is that need or instinct to want to see myself? Why is it so strong? It’s as if I need to know that yes “everything is ok” and my eyes need to spend a second or two reflecting on them selves staring back for some kind of validation or approval? In my case, I do feel like it’s more of an approval from myself rather than caring about others’ opinions – but for others it may be a different motivation.

Honestly though, I didn’t really notice different feelings from within without the mirrors, that is until Monday morning.  I was sleepy-eyed, tired and needing to get ready for work.  “Did I have sleepys in my eyes?” I sure felt sleepy.  Did my eyes look as heavy as they felt? I moved past these feelings, washed my face picked a comfortable sundress to throw on and did my hair by feel and left.  Easy peasy… I actually got more compliments on my hair that day than when I had tried intentionally to style my hair in the past.

This has been difficult task to take on because it’s just something we all do without thinking.  But it’s definitely worth trying. The attempt alone, has helped me become a bit more aware of these actions and question why I am making them.  “Is this out of my need or is it coming from an external influence?” It’s hard to break an ingrained habit that may have been a part of us from a very young age, either built by the design of our environments and/or built by our society.  Why have we been told to look right more than feel right? I would bet that this is a habit that every one of us shares to some degree. It may be interesting to trace back where it may have come from.  Don’t tell me you don’t check yourself out at least 3 times a day! The question is why? I am going to reflect on that for the rest of this challenge.

Post Script: Thanks to September Wild Card Grace LIchtner for taking the blind mirror photograph of me!

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about.

Visit the Living Chapters facebook page for more updates images and day-to-day activities.

grounded

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So I rarely visit doctors, I actually consider myself a pretty healthy person and have very few ailments outside of an occasional cold. Honestly, I often avoid doctors because I feel that I come out of their offices with more problems than I had when I went in.  But yesterday I succumbed and visited the health clinic closest to my mother’s house in PA where I was visiting.  June is after all the month to focus on the body and health, with the ultimate goal of becoming more intentional about how I treat my body, what I put into it and how I take care of it. I find it a bit ironic though, that somehow through this process I ended up in a medical clinic.  Besides the horrifying co-payment that my insurance will not cover, at least it was the most efficient and friendly clinic visit that I have ever made.

I knew that beginning any kind of exercise routine would be a new experience for me.  After all the whole point of this project is to do something that I would not choose to do on my own, something  that would push my boundaries and comfort zone. When my ankle started hurting last week, I just thought in a way that the discomfort was merely pushing a new comfort zone.  I thought the soreness was another “new sensation” that came along with all the other aches and pains that arrived with the awakening of muscles that hadn’t been utilized in a while.

So, sore ankle or not, I was committed and continued in my activity routine, running, jumping, hooping, swimming, yoga etc. Throughout the week some of the other aches and pains disappeared, but the ankle got worse. And just over the past few days the jumping got slower and more painful – I realized that my dedication for fulfilling this task was drowning out the goal of the chapter, and the recent wild card suggestion, which is “listen to what feels right – not what looks right”. Yesterday, when I actually started limping and realized that it didn’t feel right or look right, I finally gave in and went to get it checked out.

Before seeing the doctor, a nurse first measured my height, took my blood pressure, temperature, heart rate and weight. She finished this procedure in minutes and said. “You’re perfect!” “Perfect?” I questioned. “Yes, your blood pressure, temperature, and heart rate could not be better. You’re in great shape”

Ah, I felt like I had just gotten an A on a quiz or something. However that feeling didn’t last long, as the doctor who came in was about to flunk me on a simple logic test.

D: What is the reason for your visit?

Me: I have a pain in my ankle. I can’t seem to walk on it.

D: When did the pain start?

Me: About a week ago.

D: Have you been doing anything stressful to the ankle that could have caused this injury?

Me: Ummm … jumping rope?

D: Jumping rope?

Me: Yes.

D: You’ve been jumping rope this whole week?

Me: Yep

D: Why are you jumping rope?

Me: To be more active and feel better?

D: Good idea. But does jumping rope on a sore ankle feel good?

He proceeded to poke and prod at my ankle and foot to prove that it wasn’t broken. Found the sore spots and quickly diagnosed an inflamed tendon that could potentially be a sprain. He then told me to stop jumping rope for a while. (to be specific – he said I could start-up again on July 4th – I felt as if I just received punishment and was grounded ) If I continued to jump on it, he said could cause a sprain or a fracture. He applauded my efforts and enthusiasm but said that anything in excess is not always good for the body, especially when you’re easing into a new routine.  He warned, “Don’t be like the runners who think they are going to be able to train for a marathon in a few weeks… and then end up in the emergency room before the finish line.” I think maybe that is what I have been doing metaphorically. (Thank goodness Joe didn’t ask me to train for a marathon!) I have to remember that the finish line is not the important thing, it’s what I learn along the way. I will never make it through these 12 chapters of improvement challenges if I end up hurting myself in the first one.

So doctor’s orders are: Rest the ankle for the next two weeks – ease into these activities, don’t jump into them. This pains me in more ways than one as I was getting quite fond of my jump rope journals. I will just now have to work hard at getting others to keep up the journal for me until my ankle is better. (or attempt jumping rope with one foot?) I will also have to focus the rest of the month on my guitar playing, upper body strengthening, and sharpening the senses. It seems I will still have a lot to keep me busy.  But can’t help feeling like I am shirking some of this month’s tasks because of a bum ankle.  If you have ideas for ways to stay active without my right ankle – please share them. I still have my hoop, access to a pool, and a desire to keep yoga in my life daily.

Please keep the jump rope journal alive! Buy a rope, start jumping and post your pictures!

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about.

June Writer Response: Joe Gall

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Before I begin my account of jogging for Living Chapters, I want to thank Beth for coming up to Boston for a visit. Together we commiserated about the downside of running and we agreed that the aesthetics of the jogger. It is something neither of us aspire to or really appreciate. The t-shirts (with or without the stupid slogans), the shorts, the white socks, the sneakers, the visors, and baseball caps, etc. The whole thing is embarrassing and, although I have gotten over it, I still prefer to run anytime between 5:30 and 6:30 in the morning.

To prove to each other that we were in this together, Beth and I set out to jog in the late afternoon after a night at a party at which the drinks seemed to be deceptively free of alcohol. In other words, although we didn’t drink much, we wound up drinking too much. We went to a party and Beth did not have any pizza and miraculously stuck to her diet. Andy (another Living Chapter writer) was on hand to document Beth’s stay in Boston and is responsible for recording a few of her Jump Rope Journals as well as some footage of me and Beth discussing our aches and pains and general disdain for exercise.

I have to say that Beth’s dedication to this project is amazing. She brought her jump rope everywhere, did her stretching exercises daily, and has committed to jogging / running / walking for over 30 minutes per day.

My own experience has been pretty good. I go down to the high school track close by, and run / jog / walk 6 times around a quarter mile track. I alternate: 1 time around walking and jogging followed by a complete revolution around the track. At first my sides ached, my breath was short, and my legs felt incredibly heavy. After running I’d go back to bed, lie down next to my girlfriend and recover. At first it took a full hour to feel human. Then the days when I wasn’t running I’d feel my body pulsing as the muscles sought to stitch themselves back together (if that’s what muscles do). This was my experience the first 4 times out. Then something happened the last 2 sessions.

The body is an incredible thing and I can’t help but marvel at how I’ve assimilated even this much punishment into my system. I can now run without feeling like I’m going to die. This morning I even felt “good” after my workout and I am actually looking forward to running in a day or so.

My goal is this: To run two laps in a row, a full half mile, by the end of the month. So far this project of Beth’s has forced me to confront my withering will when it comes to stuff like this. By giving my word to a friend, I feel responsible and cannot let her down. Especially after I saw how much she has given herself to living out these chapters.

I’ll check in at the end of the month…

Thanks for reading,