March 3rd marked the third anniversary of a condo fire that burned up every last thing we ever owned. It was made worse because we’d just moved to Dallas ten days prior to The Fire and didn’t know where anything was or how to get there. Being upended was disconcerting and weird, and time was distorted into feeling endless (why is it still March?) and evaporative (how is it 4pm already?) at the same time. Most of us have this feeling in our current Coronavirus lockdown. I wrote a book about dealing with being upended and uncomfortable. It might help you, as it’s often funny, a guideline to getting to the other side of a bad bit. Plus yum comfort food recipes, so you really can’t go wrong.*
Being isolated and having people-oriented activities curtailed isn’t particularly hard for me yet, except for one thing which I’ll get to in a minute. I like being by myself. In fancy-shmancy terms, I’d raise my hand and qualify as an extroverted introvert. I like people on average, and can handle large crowds if necessary, but must return to solitude to recharge. Recharge in this example means that if I don’t get peace and quiet, I may rip your head off after first removing your arms and legs as you lie pinned like a hapless butterfly, thanks. I chalk these violent tendencies that crop up when too long in the company of others to being both an only child and cats-eye-glasses-wearing/teacher’s pet unpopular for my first 16 years or so on the planet.
The one thing I truly miss in these self-insulating times is swimming. It’s my exercise of choice, the one that helps my mind as much as my fitness level. All the pools I use are in public buildings, so that option is closed. Faced with becoming chronically cranky and doughy, I’m forced to take the only option open: “jogging.” It’s in parentheses because what I do barely qualifies as real jogging. It’s more like a shuffle where my feet barely clear the road, and involves a lot of heavy breathing. I haven’t “jogged” for a long time and was never very good at it. Plus I despise sweating. That’s probably why I like the pool, you can’t tell you’re sweating in there, you just feel all glow-y and happy when you’re done. Wet, but a different type of wet.
My first runs that weren’t part of some dumb gym class happened at the tail end of college. I worked as a server** at La Tour, a ritzy restaurant in the Park Hyatt hotel opposite the old Water Tower in Chicago. Every other Saturday we’d get a whippet-thin man in for breakfast who was a bit of an anomaly at the time – he was an ultra-distance marathoner. He’d order up sixteen large pancakes (4 regular orders), no syrup, just butter and steadily work his way through the entire stack, leaving nary a crumb. He was carb-loading, which a thing back then. I wouldn’t think it is now, but that’s what he was doing prior to the long 80 to 100-mile runs he did every other Sunday. He confided in me that he always just ate one meal a day, but at that meal he ate anything he wanted. Of course this idea inspired me. Not the running forever part, but the eat anything I want bit. I learned three core things after a steady running effort for a few months: a. 6 miles was far enough for me, b. clearly my body would never ever take on whippet-form, and c. that eating just once a day is no fun at all.
Since that time, I’ve periodically gone back to lacing up my sneakers and heading out to “jog.” It’s not pretty. While my efforts aren’t as awkward as that of a turtle upside down on its back, waving its little reptilian legs in a futile manner to right itself, hoping one of its turtle friends will hustle over and help it flip back over again, it’s close. I don’t like being sweaty either, and you have to do it early in the day, so three strikes against “jogging.” Luckily, there are more upsides to it than down.
I like being out in nature. I don’t wear headphones, so I can hear the birds singing, although there seem to be less of them than there were a few years ago. I also don’t wear my glasses, as they slip down my nose in a most annoying fashion because, you know, that sweating thing. With no glasses, everything is pleasantly indistinct, with blobs of color like an Impressionist painting. I wonder if all of them were nearsighted. It’s like having my own living blurry art gallery that I am moving ever-so-slowly through. I also like saying hello to everyone else out there slogging along, it gives me a sense of community, and I feel like I’m doing everyone a good deed being the worst one out there, and everyone can feel good about themselves in comparison.
The best bit as a recovering mean-to-myself critical person is that my self-talk through the process is unwaveringly positive. I don’t expect anything of myself other than finishing. I talk my way through each jog. “Okay now just get to the mailbox, now to that set of trees, you can do it. You can get to that crack in the sidewalk for sure! You did it! Whoo! Okay now just to that curve in the road. You made the stop sign! Great job, I’m so proud of you.” It’s my verbal version of those gold and blue and red stars we used to get on our papers in grade school. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember these. They used to come in the licking version, and then later switched to self-sticking. I loved getting those gold stars as an affirmation of a job well done. Also the endorphin rush after you’re done lasts all day. There’s a sense of accomplishment in doing something hard, even if it was done ungracefully. I hope you’re finding ways to get yourself gold stars, perhaps trying something new or hard you’re willing to do awkwardly for a while. If you are, let me know, I find that so inspiring. Or if you need a little push to get yourself righted, I’m happy to come do that for you too.
*My book, “On Rescue Dogs and Losing Everything” is available on Amazon in kindle or paperback form. Half of all proceeds go to support animal shelters and rescues.
**you know it’s a fancy restaurant when you’re termed a “server” instead of a plain old waitress, or hash-slinger.