26.

I have always loved my birthday. For as long as I can remember, the month of June with the number 14 trailing behind it has given me a special little thrill. When I was working in an office and would come across the date on a random piece of paperwork, I would smile to myself and think, “That’s my birthday.” Historical events that took place on that day seemed to carry special significance to me when I heard about them (though admittedly they’d fall out of my brain almost immediately afterwards). I was almost inevitably disappointed every year, no matter how good my birthday was, because my expectations of awesomeness were so high, as I counted down the days with arm-flailing excitement (I remember one year in high school, I started counting down the days at 65).

This year, my birthday kind of snuck up on me. I blinked, and it was June 5. I blinked again, and it was June 12 (the day that I am writing this). I didn’t have time to anticipate my birthday with aggravating single-mindedness, I guess. Or maybe I’m just growing up a little.

My obsession with my birthday is a bit of a paradox when I think about it, because I look upon the passage of time with such deep-seated fear. I am forever scrambling to hold onto the passing moments, lamenting the speed with which days slip through my fingers. So one would think that I would abhor my birthday, marker of the passage of time that it is. But I don’t. Despite its tendency to disappoint me over the years, I can’t think of a single birthday that was less than good. It is still my favorite day of the year. Maybe it is because it comes on the cusp of spring and summer, when I tend to be fully emerging from my winter-induced depression coma. Maybe because it is a time when things get to just be about me. For whatever the reason, I continue to look forward to June 14 with child-like excitement every year. I wonder how long that will last, if I will always adore it the way I do now. Our society says no, that we are to fear aging with all the strength we have, and that women in particular have an expiration date, and I should wail and tear my hair at the thought of getting older. But I don’t. While I still think with discomfort at how quickly the years are passing, and that I am now in the late half of my twenties, I am grateful for the time that I have already been given, and hopeful that I will be given much more. Aging, after all, is a privilege, and one that I hope to take full advantage of.

This year, our plans were simple. We saw Jurassic World at the VIP theatre with my brother- and sister-in-law. We went to Julio’s Barrio for bulldogs and amazing Mexican food with a few good friends. We headed back home to Sylvan Lake to hang out with my family for the day, nothing special, just the people I love, a home-cooked meal, and a pie. Simple pleasures that weren’t killed by sky-high expectations.

So June 14 has passed for another year, and I am staring 26 in the face. I have a feeling it’s going to be a good one.

How do you feel about your birthday? What did you do for your last one?

26.

I am a runner

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It is the last half mile of my second half-marathon. I am on track for a 2:30 finish. I let myself slow down, just a little. The 2:30 pace bunny passes me on one side, a lime green clad volunteer on the other. “Come on, Jessica!” she yells. “You can catch the pace bunny!” Yeah, I probably can. I don’t even really think about it; I just pick up my pace, and within seconds, I’ve done it. 0.45 miles to go now. Maybe I can keep this speed up. It’s been 20.57 km, and, amazingly, there is still some left in me. I push on, hitting a faster pace than I’ve hit all race, my feet slapping the pavement, each breath rasping in my lungs, and there it is, the finish line, and then, there it is, behind me, and I’m done. Someone loops a blue-banded medal over my head, someone else thrusts a bag of snacks into my hand, and that’s it. Months of work, and I am done.

I am a runner, you see. Maybe I have always been, but I’m not sure. Do you remember the fitness tests they used to do, in junior high and high school? They ran you through your paces on a bunch of different exercises, and then they’d make you run for a while, I can’t remember how long, but you just ran and ran and ran, for as long as you were able. I remember one of the tall, lithe, athletic boys springing around those pylons like it was his job, no, like it was his passion, making it look so damned easy. And there I was, dragging my ass after only a few pathetic rounds. But still, I was running, even if it wasn’t very quick, even if it could barely be called running. Maybe it started then.

For a while, before I discovered my competitive streak, I was that girl in gym class who stood off to the side with my best friend, talking and giggling and giving the soccer ball dirty looks if it came anywhere near us. I’d always been a somewhat chubby youngster. Not necessarily overweight, but not a pixie, either. At some point, I transitioned from using my body in every way possible without a second thought, with real and unfettered joy, to thinking that I wasn’t athletic, I was out of shape, I jiggled in all the wrong places and therefore I shouldn’t really try, I shouldn’t embarrass myself by pretending that I could do things like run a mile without collapsing and probably dying on the gym floor. So I didn’t.

At the end of my high school career, I rediscovered running, but it didn’t awaken anything in me. It was something that I did because I wanted to be fit, I wanted to lose weight. I did it only occasionally, when it occurred to me, or when my outer body was feeling particularly out of proportion to how I wanted it to be. I slogged my way through joyless runs with the sun beating down on the back of my neck, wondering what the hell I was doing.

Running and I continued this way for several years, until, one day about four years ago, something clicked, and suddenly, running felt like joy. I started working on the Couch to 5K program, and I loved watching my distances increase. I loved plugging my headphones in and setting out from our apartment building at a brisk clip before picking up the pace and darting through the river valley. (Though “darting” might be overstating it; I’ve always been a bit on the slow side.) I tentatively ran the Run for the Cure instead of walking it like I usually did.

Then two words changed the trajectory of my running career forever: Mud Hero. I found myself registered for a 6k race replete with obstacles alongside my best friend. I looked towards that day with equal parts exhilaration and trepidation. I had never done anything like it. I didn’t know how it was going to go. Would I collapse halfway through and beg for mercy, having to be carted off the course by grim-faced first aiders while everyone turned their faces away so as not to witness my shame? Would I fall on my face while scrambling across the hoods of abandoned cars, soaked in mud, resulting in the same fate? None of those things happened, of course. What happened was this: Bri and I ran those 6k together, easily conquering each obstacle as it came to us (except the one where we had to use a rope to climb up the sheer face of a black diamond ski hill; my ass hurt for the next four days because of that one). I had to stop for a few walk breaks, but I easily crossed the finish line, and I was amazed with myself for what I had accomplished. My younger self would be astonished.

Maybe I was a runner after all.

So I started looking for bigger challenges. Last year, I ran my first half-marathon. It wasn’t a resounding success; I finished in 2:57:30. But it wasn’t a failure either; I finished. This year, I was determined to be faster. I was determined not to flake on my training for the month before the race like I did last time (I have really brilliant ideas sometimes). I was going to focus on getting stronger. I was going to push myself. I was going to do those 21.1k in less than 2:45.

Then, five weeks out from the race, halfway through an easy four mile run, I was in so much pain that I had to stop. I limped home, blinking back tears, frustrated with the pain in my right shin that had been growing worse and worse over the last few weeks. My doctor referred me to a physiotherapist. After my first visit, handsome and British, he told me I wasn’t, under any circumstances, allowed to run for the next week. I accepted his recommendation with the air of someone being handed an execution sentence. My race was five weeks away! I needed to be running!

wpid-img_20150531_103556.jpgBut I didn’t. I got on a stationary bike several times a week instead. I lifted weights. I tried to make sure that, even though I couldn’t run, my overall fitness wasn’t going anywhere. I went to physio twice a week, doing stretches and massages and ultrasounds to break up tissue. I changed from my beloved barefoot running shoes to the lowest profile sneakers I could find. Eventually, I went on no more than two runs a week, no more than six miles at a time. By the time race day came around, I hadn’t run more than eight miles straight since last summer.

As soon as I started running, though, I remembered it. The rhythm of my legs, the thudding of my heart, the feel of the early morning air rasping in my throat. I remembered the amazing feel of blood rushing through my veins, of pavement bleeding away beneath my feet, of sweat sliding down my nose and beading on my hairline. I remembered the times that running woke me up again, reminded me that I am a living, breathing, warm-blooded human being. I remembered that to run is to feel truly alive.

And I realized, finally, fully, that I am a runner after all. Maybe even an athlete.

 

I am a runner

the transformation of dreams

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…and it can be really hard to admit.

I have long dreamed of many things: traveling extensively; living abroad, in many different countries; being a published author; having children. Some of those dreams have stayed the same, while others have morphed and transformed. For a long time, I wanted to move to Vancouver. I thought about it all the time, often searched for apartments for rent and available jobs in my down time, and fantasized about all of the amazing things that we would do when we were finally there.

And then one day, not too long ago, I realized: Lately, I’ve been having to talk myself into wanting to move to Vancouver. 

I would forget about it for a while, and then remember, and then go, “Oh, right, Vancouver. Because the winter is milder, and, uh, the mountains! And the ocean. And, um…other stuff that they have there.” I discovered that, because I had always wanted to move to Vancouver, some part of me thought that I had to always want that. So when that part of me realized that it wasn’t really something that I wanted anymore, it tried its best to talk me back into it.

But I have realized that, sometimes, dreams change. And that is okay! If dreams didn’t change, that would mean that we were the same people that we had always been, and there are few situations in which stagnation is a good thing. Changing dreams means that we are discovering new things about ourselves, growing and changing as people, and re-evaluating our world and our wants and needs accordingly. How could that be a bad thing?

I know that it can be scary. I know that it can seem like having to let go of who you thought you were, or some idea of who you should be by now. It does mean that. Letting go of preconceived notions of who and what we should be is supremely difficult, and I do not dispute that. But embracing who you are now and how far you have come and how the things that you want out of life have changed because of that is very empowering, and I gently suggest that you try it, if you haven’t already.

I no longer want desperately to move to Vancouver, but I am not opposed to the idea if the opportunity arises.

I no longer want to live abroad in Australia, but I am absolutely down for a visit that lasts a month or two.

I no longer dream of a big house full of stuff, but am happily fantasizing about the tiny house that we are going to build.

I no longer want six children, but am very excited for the two we will eventually have.

Throughout our lives, our experiences change us. That is a good thing. It stands to reason, then, that our dreams changing is a good thing, too.

What dreams have you let go of because they no longer serve you?

the transformation of dreams

Who Am I?

Standing in the kitchen the other morning, unloading the dishwasher, I started to cry. Unexpected. And. Uncomplicated. I cried with the overwhelming knowledge that I love my life, that I have never fully appreciated it, and that I have never felt so happy and at home and complete, ever before in my life, the way that I do these days. I am used to struggling against the edges of my existence, desperately stretching to scratch an itch I can’t quite reach, rubbing up against anything and everything in an attempt to alleviate the aggravation.

But here, in Calgary, in this apartment with the killer view of downtown, where I wake up next to the love my life at the ungodly hour of 5:45 AM every day to go to a job that I love with a fierce joy, I have discovered a home and a belonging that I didn’t know I was capable of.

It’s not perfect. Nothing ever is. But it fits me like a glove.

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Who. Am. I.

What makes up “me”? What do I believe in? What do I value?

I believe in helping those in need, in the best way that I know how: I know that I am lucky, and I believe with my whole heart that it is my responsibility to share that with others. Volunteering is critically important, and one relationship, one person, can change someone’s life forever. I want to be a force for good.

I often feel like a victim, though, like life and other people are messing me around on purpose, like I’m being buffeted by a cruel power that just likes to watch me suffer. How often have I found myself under the covers in bed, drowning in a depressive episode, moaning that it’s not fair, why do I have to be this way? How often do I get annoyed with people when I am not heard, though I do not try again? How often do I swear at people on the road, when I could just let it go?

I need to embrace my personal power more. Look what happens when I do: I end up crying in my kitchen out of pure joy. Two months ago, that was unthinkable. Two months ago, I was crying every day out of pure misery. I changed it. I made it different. We always have the power to choose. I can choose to take things into my own hands, or I can choose to languish. I can choose to get angry or I can choose to let it go. I don’t believe that gratitude is enough in and of itself to change a bad situation into a good one, but it sure as hell sets us on the right path. How are you supposed to embrace new opportunities when you’re entirely focused on how stuck you are?

I worry often that I am simply restless, that I have a restless soul and will forever be trying to find something else. Something other. But when I sit with myself in the quiet and listen to the thrum of my heartbeat, I understand a few things. I know that that restlessness does not come from the core of me, but from looking around at what others have and feeling envious, of thinking that I need to live up to other people’s expectations, that I need to live like someone else that I admire and look up to. I know that what I have is more than enough. That it doesn’t matter if I never see the world or achieve cult writer status. As long as I have love, as long as I have some reason to wake up in the morning, I will always be just fine.

I am ruled often by fear. We are not friends, but master and slave. Like most, I fight a constant battle for my freedom with fear. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I lose. But I truly believe that one of the most important things I can do to live a full life is to constantly push up against the boundaries of what I can do, to test myself, to push back against the fear and see what happens.

I am afraid of being a writer, so many days I avoid my desk completely.

I am afraid of rejection, so I hold myself back from people, protect my vulnerability, nurse my envy instead of my love. I don’t reach out to them if they don’t reach out to me.

I am afraid of being wrong, of not being the smartest person in the room, and so I get angry very quickly, I cut people down and treat them with disdain instead of meeting them with open, reasoned discussion. I act as though anyone who doesn’t agree with me is an idiot.

I want to be more open, more kind, more full of wonder. I want to be less angry and afraid.

I value love, friendship, vulnerability, creativity, compassion, and adventure. I will cultivate these things in my every day life more, pulling away from the negative things that are holding me back.

I will ask the girl at work to go on a coffee date.

I will work on listening more to others’ opinions with an open heart.

I will learn to let things go and be kinder, in thought, word, and deed.

I will lean into my fears. I will not let them control me.

I will do things that I’ve never done. I will take a new way home. I will bring little bits of adventure into my day to day life: a new workout, a new spice, a new, homemade shampoo.

I will lean into who I am, and what I value, and I will be better for it.

Now. Who are you?

Who Am I?