Running Up That Hill


During my Monday run I thought a bit to the few times I enjoyed running in gym class, which despite my high energy and general mobility, was a rarity. I don’t remember my exact age, but when I was in elementary school I realized I could run quickly, and I think at least one teacher did too. My joy found in excelling in something (school at that time was a miserable experience where I was bad at everything) I was stifled in a way I hadn’t anticipated. While running laps on a field day a group of boys formed a horizontal wall blocking my ability to pass them. Were they blocking me because I was a girl? Were they blocking me because I was already an oft bullied awkward kid? Were they just bored kids playing out the kid of systematic barriers we all experienced as poor kids in a poor district where shit just sucked? Most likely all three.

This memory lingers as a vague disappointment. I don’t point to it as the reason I gave up running. Bullying and childhood sexism were pervasive enough that I sort of folded in that experience into ‘mean shit mean kids did to me.’ Running played out quickly as a possible interest not too much later, after my first long distance run ended with me puking afterwards because I did not understand (nor receive training) on how to actually pace myself. Also I was already engrossed in ballet (which was a lot of my world from 5 to 15) at a school where Ms. Katz, my ballet instructor through the entire decade, warned against any other physically demanding interest lest it ruin my ‘dancers form.’

I have been running three years. Like any hobby, or good habit there are are stops and starts and pauses. Sprained ankles, wet winters, and weeks thrown for a late night concert all share the blame with my own lagging motivation, Running is great for the reason I got into it: you don’t have to buy a bunch of crap to do it (although I won’t pretend it is not a heavily marketed ‘hobby’) and you can go at your own pace. There is gross messaging around fitness, mobility, and the competitive nature of sports, but because running at 6 in the morning isn’t the same as thumbing through an issue of Runners World (which actually isn’t a horrible publication).
fitspiration and thinspiration is gross bullying equating a persons physique, mobility, and fitness with moral worth. At the same time (because the world is wider and far more beautifully complex than yes/no) I have to stop getting in front of myself. Excuses to not run now line up in front of me like those little boys. Running fills me with joy, my body feels better, my mood is better, meditation is deeper and my work is more focused. I need to get past all of the motivations for my excuses. The cultural noise, the self sabotage, the laziness, and the body hate.

On Trigger Warnings, False Claims of ‘Cut Off Culture’ and Finding Our Boundaries

In this post I speak from my own experiences growing up in an abusive home, and later abusive relationship. I am by no means the lone voice on this subject, or the way to approach it. Because I will also delve into spirituality let me be explicit: religion is not the answer to coping with abuse. Yes it is part of my work, but I do not assume my path is everyone’s. What I want to speak more to is how we must find the ways to affirm our personal choices and respect other’s. Also note, I will be using DoNotLInk for any articles in this post because I do think a lot of this is click-bait.

Last week there was a ‘article’ about the use of Trigger Warnings on Twitter. Actually it was more specific – the article was not addressing some big trend on twitter, interviewing several folks on their use and explaining their decision. The post also didn’t broaden to larger topics such as the choice of academia to begin to use trigger warnings. Instead the post seemed to isolate on one person (the writer Jessica Luther)’s choices of using TW and micromanage their use of twitter. Then, today the writer Meghan Murphy likened trigger warnings in academia to censorship (thus my assumption that this is all ‘clickbait’).

I follow Ms. Luther (@scATX) and I had noticed she had used the TW before during, and after the series of tweets. Because of the head-space I was in at the time reading those tweets I just skimmed past them. Mentally I might have made a note to consider the use of ‘TW’ in my own posts… but at no time had I thought her posts was anything more than providing a heads up to those of us who found certain things really painful.

For a moment, let me be explicit about that pain. In the late 90s, when I had only a cursory knowledge of feminism, and began realizing I was in a really toxic situation I had my first experience with art that triggered me. I was watching the movie Sling Blade and a scene in that movie (which I can no longer remember, thankfully) had me paralyzed. It was not that I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t just feel ‘sad’ or ‘disturbed.’ It was that I felt trapped, sick, my heart palpitated and I did not know what to do. I felt like a small trapped animal. While I was at the time living in a pretty horrible situation with a partner who was the opposite of compassionate, that scene took me back to some childhood memories that weren’t buried – but did not to be relived. Now I enjoy movies that have a lot of depth, and character development, and gravitas. At the same time I avoid anything that is going to make me feel the way that Sling Blade was, especially on days I am already taxed. It is why I don’t do roller coasters – I have panic attacks already, I’m not going to sign up for that gross drop in the stomach feeling – it isn’t fun for me.

I view ‘Trigger Warnings’ wherever I happen upon them as a bit of a heads up, so that I can then decide ‘do I proceed.’ Last year I took a class on Domestic Violence. The whole coursework was upsetting, but my professors specific trigger warning about some audio of a DV police call helped me prepare for listening to the recording. Today, related to this dismissal of a tool that some victims/survivors use to navigate the world I saw float across twitter a post from November of last year where a man is claiming that a partner who no longer wanting to converse with him is part of a larger ‘cutoff’ culture. I read more than half of it, and then had to increasingly skim over his words as they too much mimicked the same arguments my abusive ex made. When he and I broke he refused to respect my wishes that we not talk anymore, dragged on the process of us settling bills, and the exchange of items out of each other’s new residences and he refused to stop coming into my work saying it wasn’t fair that our break up meant he couldn’t buy music where he wanted (this is after we had to call the cops on him). At every turn when I would state a boundary, or a need – he would explain to me how that need hurt him because of his feelings, his childhood, his lack of support system. I was apparently not only responsible for my own life, but all of his as well.

I spent a long time having either all of the boundaries, or no boundaries at all. This culture’s gendered assumptions of what is expected of me (or what a friend describes as being the ‘emotional hostess of a room’), my childhood, and early romantic relationships all discounted my need for boundaries. I’ve inhabited a lot of spaces that have helped me recognize this pattern, and reclaim the space I too often give up. The work I have been doing lately has been focused on recognizing my center – taking care of my own emotional well being and connecting that to whatever boundaries I need, and whatever space I am taking up. Recognizing a need for stillness in meditation in the morning, solo-runs, and quiet time after stressful activity like Clinic Defense, has helped me access my needs for boundaries, and be more open and less guarded when I want.

I was just tired today after reading that medium piece. I was tired to the bone – of all of the ways I see others question the very real need for boundaries some of us voice. The lyrics from the most recent Tori Amos album (the title track Unrepentant Geraldines) was echoing about my head today:
I’m going to free myself from your opinion…
I’m going to free myself from your aggression…

So let me plainly state it, as I see it:
There is no fucking cut-off culture. If someone doesn’t want to speak to you anymore, it can hurt – but they are not responsible for your unresolved feelings, no matter how much time you ‘give them.’ Similarly, individuals who provide context that an article, or movie might be triggering to someone because of its theme are not performing an act of censorship. There are those of us, who are using our words, and whatever other means are at our disposal to say ‘stop right there.’ And that – needs to be respected.

Beltane and Bread and Roses

“As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler — ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”
–from James Oppenheim poem ‘Bread and Roses’

The two words ‘May Day’ evoke dual images – folks gleefully dancing around a maypole, and workers striking in the street. These are not dualities in the sense that they are opposites forever in conflict. These are simply the images of today – both downplayed in the U.S. where fertility holidays have been absorbed by the Easter rabbit, and the idea of agitating for workers rights are considered a relic of a bygone era. But these are both images, and sorts of celebrations I claim today. I herald the budding flowers and the protest sign. I welcome rainy spring days, and the leafleter. I want my bread, and my roses.

Growing up in a social justice Catholic family religion and community involvement was forever intertwined. Admittedly at the pulpit of our family church there wasn’t a lot of talk about workers rights, or equality. At home though, my Mom (a CCD teacher), my Grandmother (played organ on Sundays), and my uncle (a cantor and shop steward), Jesus’ good works and union organizing were invoked with the same sense of nuance, and reverence. Granted some of this was self-care, my union family members helped my family overall do better (aunts and uncles paid for clothes and food for me and siblings during the lean years) but it was seen as a way to collectively help a community of workers. Many protests I have attended have been joyful – with dance, and celebration, and at times a religious experience.

May Day/Beltane has never been a holiday I have sought out group ritual for. Perhaps the symbolism of the Maypole has just been too obvious for me, but my connection to this holiday’s reverence for fertility and sexuality has been a slow evolution. Honestly I need for it to be a bit more than heteronormative versions of fertility, and the occasional dick joke. I don’t want it to be somber, or without joy – but it needs to be immersive in a way that speaks to me. What then, is this holiday to me in the religious capacity?

During my run where rain still clung to the trees, and I could hear the gutters rushing with the overflow of last night’s flash flood I thought about the lush greenery around me – how the chirp of the bird and the slow sunrise are all too often squandered. As my calves ached and my feet pounded against the road I realized I had left my pedometer home and laughed at my internal complaint that I wouldn’t be ‘getting credit’ for all of these steps. I plodded on, and once home – sweaty and sore – I stretched then sat in meditation breathing in the further stillness I try to begin each day with.

Some work is joyous – and full of fertility in its own ways. The glory of a new seedling breaking soil, the beauty of art performed live, the taste of warm bread on your tongue. So much work goes into each of those moments, and not all of that work is treated equally. The field worker who is barely paid (and often stripped of rights), the artist who has to work 3 jobs just to afford the luxury to create, the baker who works at a non-union shop because all of the union grocery stores were pushed out of town.

What work, and who’s work do I choose to honor? What do I call work? While fighting for a more equitable society will I fall into the trap that work can only be valued if it is paid, or logged/recognized in some formal fashion? How can I hold both of these truths – people deserve a living wage for their work, and our work is not made valid by the dollars associated with it?

On my altar this evening I will have bread and roses- to honor the sustenance and beauty that should make up both of our lives. How will you honor these things today?