Monday, October 30, 2017

Music Share - Fall + Love

I've resisted the onset of fall really hard this year because, as always, summer went by way too fast with far too little beach time.  Now, however, I am all in.  The wind, the leaves, the football - I'm eating it all up.

This is the season when I moved to New York eight years ago, and it's the season I fell in love with Marc eight years ago.  I'm a strangely seasonal person when it comes to music - Joni Mitchell in the spring, Janis Joplin in the summer, Mumford & Sons as summer hangs on tight before fall.

Today I'm sharing a playlist based on new and old fall favorites, some with a special significance of being songs listened to on repeat by either me or Marc (or both) as we fell in love eight years ago.  Wild is the Wind and Picture in a Frame for him; Make You Feel My Love and Can't Help Falling in Love for me (although full disclosure, I most often listened to the Elvis version.  Ingrid is just too pretty not to win the playlist war).  And we spent many a goofy night dancing to You and I in his old Steinway apartment.

One of my all-time favorite songs to listen to in the fall is Mystery by The Indigo Girls.  Some of the most gorgeous lyrics and harmonies ever, as only they can do.

Plus, new-to-me-music!  Thanks to one of the most heartfelt, emotional, beautiful, and flat-out fun weddings we've ever been to - our fantastic Philly friends who got hitched two weeks ago - I'm now unable to stop listening to Tom Petty's Wildflowers.  (Yes, I'm terrible and didn't know it before.  RIP, sir)  

Check it out and enjoy.  Pairs well with a home yoga practice, windy walks through the city or the country, and mugs of the hot drink of your choice.


Monday, October 23, 2017

Book Report: Dangerous Boobies

Yes, you read that right.  Boobies.  As in - boobs.  Breasts.

Caitlyn Brodnick's book Dangerous Boobies:  Breaking Up with my Time-Bomb Breasts is a funny, relatable, compulsively readable memoir of her relationship with her breasts, cancer, and cancer prevention via a preventative double mastectomy.

Personally, I wasn't touched by cancer too much as a child.  I had grandparents suffer from it, but as a child I sort of viewed it as a consequence of smoking (as most of these cancers were) and something reserved just for very old people.  I wasn't touched very much by people closer in age to me or to my parents going through it.  As I've gotten older, though, it has struck more and more in my circle - and younger and younger victims.  Family, friends, grandparents, parents, children - you name it.

Caitlyn Brodnick's experience of cancer, though, began before she was even born.  Her father's entire immediate family had been struck down by the disease in various forms, and she grew up in fear and hatred of this disease that had taken so many important people in her life.  When she finally got herself tested to see if she was a carrier of the breast & ovarian cancer gene (which Angelina Jolie brought into the public conversation back in 2013) and saw that she was, she was faced with choices - none of them particularly fun, easy, or appealing.

Given the intensely serious subject matter, you wouldn't think 'fun' and 'appealing' would be words that describe this book, but they absolutely do.  Brodnick is a comedian living in my very own neighborhood here in NYC, and a friend of one of our fabulous Astoria Book Club members.  We had the opportunity to not just read this wonderful book but to meet and have an author talk back with her in our 'hood last week.  Her voice in the book is just as she is in person - self-deprecating but very knowledgeable, vulnerable but grounded and courageous.

October is, as we have all seen by the fact that everything is spray-painted pink, breast cancer awareness month.  What better time to buy this book and share it with all the women you know?  It's an amazing read no matter what your relationship with cancer, and as packed as it is with humor and silliness, it's also incredibly moving and incredibly informative.  She balances it all with seeming ease and at the same time, creating a space for a conversation about health, prevention and choice at an age where many of us still think we're going to live forever.

Buy the book here and share it with your mom, your sister, and your friend.

I mean, come on.  It's called Dangerous Boobies.  You know you're curious.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Shared Humanity

Funnily enough, it was while watching Titan Theatre Company's fantastic and bloody Richard III this past Friday night that led me to start thinking about compassion and the fact that we as humans always have far more in common with each other than we think.

There is a scene between three of the powerhouse women in the show where enemies realize their mutual grief binds them together and puts them as members of the same club.  They don't exactly put their differences (or, you know, blood feuds) behind them and become best friends, but they relate to each other as fellow human beings.  It's an amazing scene of grief, reluctantly shared humanity, shared desire for vengeance, and ultimately human connection.

The idea that people on such polar opposite ends of a spectrum - again, blood feud - could have a moment of commonality is always striking.  These days, we all too often are ready to be divided amongst ourselves and to disconnect from others on the opposite side of a debate.

The current controversy about people kneeling during the anthem is a great example - folks on the right claim that kneeling dishonors our troops.  Folks on the left claim a huge part of the reason our service men and women fight in the first place is to protect our right to peaceful protest and freedom of speech, and that the kneeling is a protest of racial inequality, not targeted toward soldiers.

As for the troops themselves?  They don't all hold the same opinion about the subject.  Many have spoken out saying they view it as highly disrespectful.  Many have also come out to say they fought to live in a country where people can't be legally forced to stand for the anthem - and that there are far more substantive ways to respect or disrespect the troops than what you do during the anthem at a football game.

I don't bring this up to get into that specific debate, but merely to illustrate the point that within this one issue we have "other'ing" happening - for example, the "patriots versus the non-patriots."  There's also an attempt to lump one entire group of people together and assume you know the mind of each and every one of them - "the troops."

It's just as misguided to assume that someone who views the issue differently than you is a terrible person as it is to assume all people are the same because they belong to a particular group.  Apply that to...women, black people, hispanic people, men, yoga teachers, liberals, Christians, doctors, Muslims - you name it.  There is always been and will always be a massive amount of diversity within any easily categorized group of people.

The Internet makes "other'ing" and lumping groups of people together (I really need a one word name for that) all too easy to do.  When you're forced to have an actual face-to-face conversation about an issue, though, and are thoughtful about what you're saying and feeling instead of being reactive and assuming, it's much easier to develop understanding and empathy of another person's differing viewpoint.  The meeting last year between Colin Kaepernick and Green Beret Nate Boyer is a an example of two people discussing their differences in person and each coming out with a greater understanding of the other.

It all makes me think of a quote from Maya Angelou that I've long wanted to write about but never quite known what to say about it.  I believe it to be true, but at the same time - I don't want it to be true.

"We are all human; therefore, nothing human can be alien to us."

Any emotion or thought or action any other human being in the world may feel or think or do - if it exists in one person, it has the potential to exist in every person.

This quote makes me more than a little nauseous.  It's not pleasant to think of my shared humanity with, say, Hitler.  Or Kim Jon Un.  Or any of the perpetrators of mass shootings.  Or Donald Trump.  Or your every day sociopath.  Or the asshole who shoved past you on the subway the other day.  Or the man catcalling you on the street.

It's more comfortable to call them monsters, to think of them as villains, and to demonize them than to think of them as fellow human beings, who just happen to possess a darkness that I do could potentially possess. Sort of a "there but for the grace of God go I" situation.

I think the point of the quote, aside from attempting to demonstrate compassion and understanding instead of judgement and blame for those different from us, is to keep us humble.  Innate biases mean that we always think better of ourselves than we perhaps deserve (unless you have cataclysmically low self esteem).  But we are all possessed of flaws and darkness too.

Conclusions are my weak point as a writer - always have been.  This is a big bunch of ideas I've been marinating in my head for quite awhile as the country's divisions have widened and widened over the past years and I've tried harder and harder to live a more spiritually connected life in the midst of it.  I don't have a flash of wisdom to tie this all up into a bow - but that quote keeps coming up in my head and forcing me to look at things in a less black-and-white, less comfortable, less easy way.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Monday Mantra

My favorite meditation technique has always been, without question, the use of a mantra.  In life, I'm pretty much always talking, reading, or writing.  I love words, and they have a much more powerful effect on me than trying to focus on a visualization or reflect on an idea.  In addition to (or in place of, sometimes) New Year's Resolutions, I like to find one word or phrase to use to help shape my thoughts, goals, and actions.

So - I have a lot of mantras floating around in my head.  Some are just handy reminders that I can think of during a stressful time, and some are more like life mottos for myself.

Recently, this one popped into my head:

"Everything is a blessing."

After a day which had started out easy and peaceful and dissolved into, I believe the technical term is, a bit of a shit show, I made it through a last minute change in plans which I had allowed to stress me out unnecessarily (which I sadly do all the time), I thought to myself that things had actually worked out fine and that perhaps the change in plans was a "blessing in disguise."

It immediately occurred to me, though, that what I assign as a "blessing" is just a matter of perspective and what I choose to focus on.  It's easy to see a pay raise, a new relationship, or getting something we want or need as a blessing, but the things that challenge us or even hurt us always bring at least some benefits along with them - they're just hidden more deeply, and usually take a longer time to reveal themselves or for us to have the ability to see them.  If what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, then what doesn't kill us blesses us.

I realize the term "everything happens for a reason" does not sit well with a lot of people - and I can see where this "everything is a blessing" won't, either.  If you're dealing with something truly tragic - a family member with a terminal illness, suffering from a natural disaster or senseless violence - I 100% acknowledge that these sentiments can seem not just useless but insulting.  If you're still in survival mode or shock or true despair, this can seem wildly trivializing.

If it does work for you, though - it can really work for you.  Life is cruel and unfair and does not discriminate (thank you Hamilton) against who it can kick in the ass from day to day.  All we have is how we respond and how we see things.  If you can step back, take a second, and choose this as your thought, instead of "Why me?" or "This sucks," it can make a world of difference in how you perceive your challenges.

It doesn't mean you don't feel frustrated, experience suffering, or still fall into what may be lifelong habits of losing your temper or playing the victim (or both! yay!), but a mantra is a powerful technique of perspective change.  Embracing the use of mantra as a tool to help you choose a different internal and external response to challenge has the power to make you not just happier but healthier by reducing inner drama and stress.  It can shift your focus from the negative event to what positive things can come out of it, even if those positive things will take a little while to materialize.

So - try it.  When the week throws curveballs your way, when the news makes you want to pull your hair out (for me, that's the hardest area to apply this one!), when you fall into a usual trap of road or subway rage or judgement, repeat this in your mind until you can believe it:

Everything is a blessing.


And as they say in the South - have a blessed day, y'all.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Laura Runs & Eats

Happy October!  Even though it's already been fall for a couple of weeks, it hasn't really felt like it i NYC.  After this stunner of a weekend, though, and the turn of the calendar along with the turning of the leaves, it definitely feels like fall is here.  Fall is, for me, the best running season of all.  The cool, crisp temperatures, the gorgeous leaves, the blessed reprieve from humidity, the slow and steady breakout of colder weather clothing - in honor of it all, today's entry is totally running-focused!

I've had a bit of a stop-and-start start to my 5K training.  I'm continually paranoid about re-injuring myself, yet also tend to be inflexible toward altering my running schedule.  I'm doing my best to force the former side to overrule the latter, so I've had a few days where I've skipped a run and replaced it with swimming or biking at the gym, or just strength work incorporated with some jump rope and hated burpees.  It's a constant challenge to actually listen to my body and let go of my ego.

I also got new shoes which I unfortunately realized too late were really not the best pair for me, so a new pair better suited to plantar fasciitis sufferers is in the mail!  I hope to be back on a regular roll soon, and this weekend's wonderful long run with my best friend Laura was a great start to that.

Laura and I have been friends for over ten years.  She's always been supportive of my running goals, and then got into running herself a little over two years ago now and has fallen just as deeply in love with it as I have.  She has turned into my Brooklyn Half partner in crime and my running wife, and I could not have possibly asked for a more encouraging, generous, and steadfast pillar of strength and support during my injury last year.  I am forever indebted to her for that.

Laura is an actress, and has a larger than life personality (which if you've ever met her, you don't need me to tell you).  She's been blending her on-camera skills, huge personality, and passion for running in her hilarious and inspiring YouTube Channel, Laura Runs and Eats which you should immediately go subscribe to.  She's training for the Goofy Challenge at the Disney World Marathon Weekend this January - which is the half marathon one morning followed by the full the next day!

I've been watching her videos from the beginning and she's now at the halfway point of her training where mileage kicks up considerably.  It's something I always know I can turn to if there's a point in my week where I'm feeling blah or stressed or down - it's guaranteed to cheer me up and inspire me.

Laura also just recently was the featured guest in a podcast she introduced me to - the Team Shenanigans Podcast, the podcast for a nationwide running club of which she's a member.  The fact that she's gone from fan to taking over an episode is just so her - and the episode is hilarious.  Check it out here to learn about the intersection of yoga, Pilates, and running - and lots of pelvic floor talk!

Her most recent video is below - where she recruits her husband Lenny to taste test Gu's as she starts to plan for mid-run fueling in her training.  Remember to subscribe - Lenny will train for & run a half marathon if she hits 200 subscribers!  And happy running, or happy yoga-ing, or happy pumpkin spice latte - happy whatever your fall-happy-place is!




Grieving to Believing

I took a bit of a blog hiatus recently - we've had a lovely few weekends with Marc's family and with my mom coming to visit, and I&#...