An open letter to anyone struggling with a life threatening diagnosis

This post is the result of a personal request I got from the AHA to help a person who reached out on behalf of a younger person struggling with a diagnosis of a type of heart failure. It was written as a letter to that person in care of the person requesting help. I felt that the only way to encourage someone to face themselves was to tell them the story of the advice I had gotten from my aunt and then my two-year process of digesting my own diagnosis two years ago. Hopefully, this will find its way into the right people’s hands when they need it.

Hi,

The day after I got home from the hospital after my heart attack in 2015 I called my other mom. She’s my aunt who lives in a very small township who has challenged me since I was a teen to see things in a different light. I was a very stubborn kid who had it all figured out. Her husband, my uncle, has been fighting an aggressive form of cancer now for over ten years with the help of the new immune-therapy protocols. They’ve had many close calls and have become close to sheer panic on a dime over that period. She told me to look into the mirror every morning while I was brushing my teeth and tell myself “I had a heart attack.”

You see she knows me and my natural distance from anything emotional or things that challenge my ideas of the world around me and how I am the master of everything because, and I’ve actually used this phrase at work in Dallas, “there is no problem I can’t solve.” I actually believed that too. So when I was faced with a heavy dose of reality I needed the help of my aunt, my spouse, my friends and colleagues to get me through the mind shift I was faced with in adapting to a new way of thinking. One that was more accepting of my own failures as a man. As a husband. As a friend to so many. It was crushing but I made strides to get through it. This time not by my own force of will as I would view that in the past but with the help of all those around me.

After I went through my recovery, and then cardiac rehab program, I had to redefine things like how I exercised and ate. I was a born again lifter, after returning from a sedentary 6 years in Dallas, and before my heart attack. I could throw my body weight around on the bench press and lift heavy things with my legs. I was also in love with BBQ and fried foods. So I made slow steps toward learning how to love running. In fact, some of my early emotional hints that I was changing were times when I’d be out on the running trail. Training runs between 5 to 15 miles. Outdoors in the woods without a shirt in the Ohio humidity. Solitary, breathing hard with a heart rate over 160. Then I’d find a fresh stream of tears on my face and a frog in my throat. These huge waves of what I thought was sadness but later came to think of as gratitude that I was still here. That I could run in the rain. That I had a career and a family as part of my life. Like I said before I am not an emotional person so this felt like weakness to me or something must be wrong in my head so I hired a shrink.

The shrink walked me through the grief process. The anger, denial, bargaining to acceptance kind of stuff. For me, that’s going to be a lifelong endeavor because my old self is a son-of-a-bitch that does not easily let go. What I’ve learned is that’s OK. We don’t change overnight and life is not simple. It’s funny. With two years between me and my heart attack, and all this damn work in between, I still have moments that make me mad. Like I was rushing to a meeting one day. I have a LOT of meetings like sometimes 13 in a day. I’m walking in an outdoor courtyard by the arena downtown and I heard this Tim McGraw song “Live Like You Were Dying” playing on the radio speakers. And it was like on my run. It just unleashed this flood of tears. I had to veer off to a side street to collect myself because I related so hard to the lyrics. Life threatening diagnosis/experience, and for me… I climbed two mountains in Portland Oregon, one of them Mt Hood, three months after my heart attack. I nearly drowned in the Columbia river swimming with a buddy. I’ve run 5 half marathons and a ton of smaller races but including a 20-mile race. I’ve gone to couples counseling and have become a better husband. I switched careers to challenge myself to change my path.  I’ve also gotten my entire back tattooed and I’m headed to the rest of my upper body for total coverage on my arms and torso. I’ve always wanted to do these things and I figured now is the time to do it. Today is all we really have. So as cheesy as the McGraw song was, and I knew it, it was the theme of my past two years. It struck a nerve.

The other change I mentioned of two was to go vegetarian. Which sucked. Nobody told me I had to do it but I wanted to be aggressive, again old me, and do everything I could to stay alive in my eyes. The point is that I made the shift to running and vegetarianism and emotional work real slow. I didn’t dive into stuff because, as an experienced weightlifter, I was wary about people who “yo-yo” and do more harm to themselves than good.

In the end none of this is a guarantee. In my case there is no known cause for my diagnosis of cardiac artery disease. It just is and I had to accept it. And here’s the trick. While I had to accept it… I did not have to be defined by it either. I was alive and I had choices to make and I could. I had guides and support to get me to that point. I’m not sure I would have done as well as I have without that help. In fact, I would probably have tried to one up the disease and double down in the same forceful way I lived my life before the event. I was master of my universe after all.

We all have different conditions and circumstances. Like my uncle and his cancer or my aunt as my uncle’s wife and best friend. Which reminds me of another thing she told me on that phone call. She said that while I now have a chronic disease that could very easily kill me, that I would find that for what it took away from me, it would also leave me with gifts. I’d like to think that the feelings of that McGraw song are my gifts. All of the changes I’ve made. Choices and challenges. Yes, some failures too… but I’ve learned to start to forgive myself rather than beat the Hell out of my soul because of my own perceived weaknesses.

The gifts of my heart attack have included two years of life that have been radically different than all the decades before it. No, it’s not a picnic. Mine came with anxiety and depression. But I’ve also learned to cope with that. And still I’m doing remote hiking and camping now and sleeping under the stars for the first time in 40 years. That’s a pretty damn good gift when you are on your back looking at the night sky shining above you showing you just how small, and connected, we really are during our short experience in life.

No one is going to tell you what to do but I would, very humbly suggest, that you look at yourself in the mirror every morning when you brush your teeth for a month and tell yourself you have whatever condition you have by name. Start your journey slow and be good to yourself while letting others inside and share the strength.

Your ally,

Jeff

Posted in personal

First tent camping trip in 30+ years

This is a recap of my first tent camping trip in 30+ years. I will attempt to explain both my motivation and how I prepared for the trip in this post.

It was 2015 and I had a close call with drowning in the Columbia River while at a clothing optional beach in Portland Oregon. Yeah, that read right. Both the part about being fished out of the river by a former lifeguard, and the nude beach. You see it was a few months after my life flipped upside down and moved a little to the left. A heart attack will do that for you. Two years later and here I am. Having methodically collected some starter camping gear now over the past four months. It was time to put my money where my mouth was. “Jump in,” so to speak.

With the memory of the guy who pulled me out of the Columbia River, I decided to look around for some local gay campgrounds for my first trial run. I have to admit my goal with being outdoors is to face my anxiety. I’m a city dweller. I lived smack in the middle of downtown Dallas Texas and I am now enjoying the same life in vibrant Columbus Ohio. More to the point though, I live just several blocks away from my hospital. I work in the same zip-code of it as well. I usually wear a Med ID bracelet and carry 4 emergency aspirin with me when I run. Always.

Anxiety is ever present but I have learned to dance with it a bit. Running was my first refuge from its constant dialog. Then came meditation which really helped me to learn how to observe objectively and stop short of reacting. Of course seeing a therapist helped. He gave me the frameworks I use constantly to personify anxiety and deal with it like I would any person in a meeting. Acknowledge, be polite, listen and then moving on to my next task… leaving anxiety behind until our next meeting.

As I’ve posted about before, I’ve been facing my fears this year. And yet it was this weekend when I met a younger man who was “doing things he’d never done before” when it struck me that we are all on our own journeys. Culturally my choice of locations was perfect. Freedom Valley. Has a nice ring to it. Oddly enough it was voted #2 gay campground in the Nation. It was safe, friendly, well thought out and the weather was crazy perfect for the end of July. Almost chilly at night but sunny and breezy during the day.

With my goal of hike/camping in State Parks, gear is very important as my brother Aaron has mentioned. This being my starter kit, I wanted to spend as little money as possible in case the whole thing ended up being a disaster and left me hightailing it back home. The most expensive thing I bought was the cooking kit which is called a Jet Boil. This thing is super compact, lightweight and efficient. Cooking with it entails boiling water then either making instant coffee, that took me a little courage to warm up to, or pouring it into packs of dehydrated food. It was pretty astronaut.

 Gear list with things I cut out of the repack for the next trip based on this experience in red.

  • 2 Led Lamps (1 next time)
  • Tablet viewer with movies preloaded (leave this at home)
  • 2 Books (1 next time)
  • Journal & pens
  • Headphones & Fitbit
  • Toothbrush & paste
  • Instant decaf coffee
  • Red wine
  • 3 shirts, 1 pants, 1 shorts, 2 underwear, 2 socks, swim trunks, running shorts (this will be paired way down next trip)
  • Good REI Sandals & running shoes
  • Warm flannel shirt
  • 5 dehydrated meals by Mountain House (3 would be fine for a non-hiking 3-day trip)
  • Fruit and nut bars (I bought a lot of these but only had 2 in the end)
  • Rain jacket
  • Tent lining tarp
  • 2 person Coleman tent
  • Jet boil & fuel
  • Enamel bowl & cup
  • Headlamp (didn’t use it but this is a handy item to have)
  • Compact tripod chair
  • Sleeping bag, thin air mattress, pillow
  • Compact water bladder
  • Water
  • Lighter
  • Off Mosquito Repellent Area Candle (optional)
  • Two types of Mosquito body & clothing repellent (go with one next time)
  • Plastic bags
  • First aid kit (pack this down into a smaller package)
  • Paper towels (I will not take a whole roll next time)
  • Shower towel
  • Body wash (use a smaller container)
  • Sun block
  • Flowers for Eddie to let him know I’d miss him
  • Backpack for testing (mine is on the heavier side but still lighter weight – I am going to repack and walk around the block with it packed sometime between now and mid-August when I go again)
  • Weekend bag (this ended up being for overflow which is a bad idea for hiking camping)
  • Medications (packed by type but next time I’m going to pack by time of day to save space and complexity)
  • Phone charger (I need to add a solar charger here as power was always something I needed to find)
  • Hammock & hooks/straps

So while I packed comparatively minimal to other folks I met, I suppose our goals are somewhat different. Once again I chose this spot to help me with the anxiety of being outside of the City overnight outdoors under the stars in the open air with heart disease. To hear the wind in the trees and see a star filled night sky. It was perfect. I made a few new friends, had some really great conversations with down to earth professionals. All of us just decompressing and having a tree bath. People with strong opinions and open minds. Kindred spirits.

And back to my gear, I packed too much for my goal of hike camping but for this trip, it was totally OK. I came back with enough information to help me to edit with and, of course, lessons learned about sun block. Yeah, there was a pool. And while I could only wade waist deep as a result of my back tattoos, I had a great afternoon sunning and talking with a group of very cool strangers. Some of whom became friends through the process. While I applied SPF 50 to most of my upper body, I used “man logic” to tell myself that my legs would be fine because of all the hair. Yeah… I won’t do that again.

So I’ve repacked my backpack, everything now fits inside, it’s lighter and ready to go. I’d say this trip was pretty fantastic. A success on many levels and a great way to reconnect with a part of myself that has been long absent during my adult years. While the heart attack introduced me to anxiety and depression, it also brought me back to play and mindfulness. Just like Aunt Lora said the week after I got home from the hospital, “it may seem like the world is ending right now but you will find that this experience gives you strength and unique gifts.” This weekend, half marathons, a reinvention of my relationship to food, meditation and intimacy are all part of my journey.

Lora was right. As evidenced by the feelings I experienced while laying on my back and looking at the tree tops blow in the wind as the starlight filtered down through the tree canopy. It felt like home. Like peace.

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Posted in personal

Meal & workout plans

It’s Saturday so that means meal planning and grocery shopping. This week I pulled out my trusty copy of “The America’s Test Kitchen Complete Vegetarian Cookbook” and flipped through that while having coffee this morning with a friend visiting from Chicago. We caught up on the doings at our mid year checkpoints. His recent push back to making artwork, some of which spoke to his experience with prostate cancer, various things he’d been doing to his house and then house plants as I am interested in getting one for my bedroom for the air quality and green aspect of them.

Another topic I researched today was the mixing of weight training and cardio. I think it’s time for me to get more comfortable lifting weights on a regular basis because it was something that I used to really enjoy. That said I’m also toying with the idea of trying, for a third time, to train for the Columbus marathon so the right amount of cross training will be something to consider. Anyway, I read this long post on timing those two activities which was pretty helpful. These days my weight training will either be at home on my bench with dumbbells, maxing out at 40 lbs right now, or at the Audobon Park on one of my runs to do pull-ups, push-ups, possibly handstand practice, outdoors. I guess the main thing for me is that I’m looking forward to seeing my workouts evolve a little bit. Just like my meditation practice, I guess. I’m finding that good things happen when you loosen your grip a little more.

Basic CMYK

After a bit, I came up with the following list of dishes for the next week’s meal plan. And while my pattern has been breakfast, snack, lunch, snack and then dinner. I think I will try to mix in more protein, including MRP shakes and nuts/seeds/bean/lentils/quinoa/brown rice this week. Keep an eye on the fat intake a little tighter… because I have to maintain heart health. And of course, berries with psyllium husk fiber, spirulina, and Maca.

  • Cucumber, red onion and tomato salad (summer classic)
  • Braised beets with lemon and almonds (page 282)
  • Sesame glazed bok choy with noodles (page 284)
  • Broiled eggplant with basil (page 297)
  • Sautéed mushrooms (page 304)
  • Baked sweet potato “fries” (page 317)
  • Sautéed summer squash (page 319)
  • Pizza dough for any kind of mix we have (page 331)
  • Korean BBQ tempeh wraps (page 360)
  • Various forms of tacos and quesadillas to reuse leftovers and various produce
  • Salads – mostly spinach but with some fruits, nuts and cucumbers or peppers
  • Oats or huevos rancheros tacos, using egg whites and 1 egg yolk, for breakfast

So here’s to tasty meals and sweaty balls next week.

Posted in food, running, workout

Arturo, one complicated cat

Cat psychology is an interesting thing. I have a 1 year old cat that is on some kind of personal journey right now. He’s our little black rescue named Arturo.

Adoption Shot

We lived with a family of three cats before in our 20’s and mid 30’s. One of Eddie’s art school friends found a female stray behind a rock’n’roll club one night called Stache’s. I mean, literally in the alley. Just a kitten. Eddie put up a struggle but lost to how cute the kitten was and how persistent Carrie was being. Thus it was that the Mighty Samson came to live with Eddie. I entered the picture a few months later as Eddie and I started dating. Well, not really at that time. This was “sex date” phase. As the years rolled along we ended up living together.

One night Samson got out of the house and we just assumed that she was gone. But no, our neighbor Ted Rau found her with a Tom cat flagrantly doing the nasty on our doormat. So she was returned, deflowered to our home. Shortly thereafter she ended up having two male kittens who we kept and named Utah and Giesela. For whatever reason the names suited them. And with the exception of the time when we moved to Clintonville where there were raccoons, opossums and probably lesbian bears on the loose because of our proximity to the ravine… they never had an issue with marking territory.

Life is short for everyone and after about 15 to 17 years these cats died in quick succession, teaching us lessons about letting go at the right time along the way. We waited for a year before adopting a male cat named Monkey when we lived in downtown Dallas from the SPCA. A year later we got him a sister named Princess Helen Sophia from a co worker who had been displaced from New Orleans post-Katrina.

We moved back home to Ohio and after about two years. Helen and Monkey had turned six, you see they are the same age offset by a couple months, I started looking at shelter cats again. Three. The number just had such a good ring to it. Pretty quickly, this little fluff of a cat with beady eyes and fur as dark as the night came to my attention. And so it was that tiny little Arturo came to join the fold.

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Over the first year, we noticed some odd behaviors and skittishness, a seemingly unanchored territory in the house and so on. But they all got along famously, playing, cuddling, evolving and enjoying the life we could provide them. Some of the odd, albeit gross, acting out came in the form of marking my bathroom sink. Which was “fine” because I could bleach it. Or the time when Eddie threw a black jacket on the floor in a strange place only to be marked later by Arturo. Or this mid century modern love seat which he became bizarrely drawn toward. Thank goodness for enzymatic cleaners, but I will get to that in a moment.

Things got worse in a short period of time. I had been meditating on an increasingly frequent schedule and finally took the dive into meditation pillows. They were awesome. One big flat square base and a round one to fit on top for my butt. Within hours Arturo had marked them. WTF?!?!

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At this point, I was still not using the water bottle to spray or otherwise punish him. Not because I had any instruction regarding that but because I just didn’t have the heart to do it. That all changed however when I was working at my desk one night and heard a scratching. He was on my bed seemingly trying to find a spot for a nap. Then he squatted. OMG… he’s pissing on my bed I thought. I leaped up, scooped him up and sure as fuck, there was a wet puddle. Ripping off the sheets and pad I got to it before it stained the mattress. Needless to say Arturo was scolded, shouted at and sprayed down with our water bottle. He hid for the rest of the day.

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We got anti odor stuff and kept a close watch on him from there on out. He marked a few more things but it was not until I woke up one morning with a wet spot between my feet on my mattress that I cracked. I pitched the mattress out to the dumpster and started sleeping on my camping gear or on the sofa. I did some Googling. It told me to not punish him as that would only aggravate the situation. It could be nerves. Shouting and water bottles would only serve to reinforce those feelings. I also discovered that there might be a physiological problem with him so a vet visit was in order. Additionally, it told about having more than one litter box per cat in the house. We had two for three cats. So I made my vet appointment and went out and bought the third box.

While my sleep suffered the marking was dramatically reduced. When I got to the vet I learned that he checked out as very healthy. She was encouraged that his marking had abated with the third litter box and then gave me some key advice. There’s a thing called FeliAway that mimics a mother cat’s pheromones which in turn relax and encourage cats, not to scratch or mark. So we got an emergency diffuser and some refills at carpet baggers price locally and then, after noticing that it 100% stopped the behavior for over two weeks now, two more at a helluva a better price on Amazon. The last thing was the introduction of enzymatic cleaners which completely break down cat urine at the chemical level to where no trace is left behind. We are using one by Nature’s Miracle.

Another resource our vet left us with was a site dedicated to indoor pets, both dogs and cats, in Spanish and English, that OSU runs. The Indoor Pet Initiative. And let me confess when I had a moment of weak resolve that If I could not “control” Arturo that I would have to let him go… resources like this are massive because Arturo is part of our home now. He’s part of our family. I don’t give up a fight like that easily. Resources that help us all live together in harmony are everything during those times.

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In the end, I bought a Casper mattress, a bed frame, an area rug and a weight bench mat… all of which I didn’t have before. I think I wanted to mark my own space with as much of a minimal but functional flair as I could afford for myself and to create a space of comfort for everyone around me in the process.

I’m grateful for the advice I got from the vet. So far, complicated 1-year-old cat not withstanding, things are going well. Is he a handful? Yes. But he is making Helen playful. Monkey is 200% more interactive and it just feels right in the house. That does not mean I will not have a pheromone diffuser in each room long term, a bottle of enzymatic cleaner and piss proof mattress pads, handy at all times to totally erase the effects of bad behavior.

While cats are not comparable to the deep psychology of human children, they are little mental furry mysteries of nature. Giving an armful of them a better life experience while Eddie & I are alive has been pretty rewarding. Both on the give and take. Sometimes it’s easy, other times, well, it takes outside help and a little resolve to not give up on the cat.

Posted in personal

Garlic meditation

I met a woman yesterday who wanted to learn how to meditate. It was clear that she was interested and yet questioned whether or not she was capable of the practice. And then she said it, how do you clear your mind? It’s funny, this is the same notion I had about a year ago when I first sat down to “empty my thoughts.” It failed of course.

It was not until I started running on a regular basis that I began to appreciate what it meant to practice. When you are running it sometimes feels like flying, other times it feels like trudging up a mountain side in a harness while pulling a wooden cart behind you. I remember a run where I was going along the Olentangy Trail and made it to the junction where it splits off North, to OSU, and West, to Grandview. I was feeling good so I kept on going all the way out to Grandview for a 12-mile trek. But the thing I remember most was the feeling of presence. Breathing steadily. Feet hitting the trail in a rhythm. The sun falling through the tree tops and across my shoulders. Thoughts aligning to the effort and then giving way to peace.

That’s the moment I knew I could actually meditate. All I had to do was to stop fighting it and just let whatever happens on the meditation pillow actually happen. So I got a couple books by Stephen Levine and his son Noah, subscribed to a meditation app which acted as a coach, and restarted my Yoga practice. It’s funny what happens when you just listen to your breathing. Focus on a single part of it. Maybe count the in and out breaths. Anything that will keep your mental metronome ticking as your head erupts in continual thought. Yet it’s those moments where you anchor back on your breath between the minutes of beautifully chaotic thoughts that you actually practice meditation. It’s just a few handful of moments of empty space, but it’s the stuff that trains, no… reprograms, our minds to observe and not react.

That’s the point of the Cloud Meditation, which I read about first in an illustrated children’s book while doing research for a talk I put together for the Columbus Web Group on mindfulness in the workplace titled “Being There.” Anyway, the cloud meditation teaches us that our thoughts are like clouds. All sorts, shapes, colors, and sizes. And the point of the meditation is to help us to realize that we are the empty space in between all the clouds. That we are the sky.

And while I’ve been coming closer to a regular practice I’ve also been forcing some of it. It still does not come naturally, but that’s probably because I’m also struggling with an anxiety condition which is, to say the least, the exact opposite of mindfulness. But I will say this. Yesterday while I was on my stomach on the table with my shirt off and the tattooist’s tools painting my back black with big dark patches along the design that I meditated at points. I had made huevos rancheros from my new cookbook “A Modern Way to Eat” earlier that morning. It called for garlic so I had chopped two cloves of elephant. I love garlic. Breakfast was just for me and it was fantastic with lots of black beans, the eggs, guacamole and toasted tortillas with strong decaf coffee. So as the sound of the various devices Andy used yesterday got progressively louder, indicating more needles per head so that it could do painting versus smaller I started to struggle a bit with the pain. And that’s when I smelled the garlic on my hands still. That one memory brought me back to a clearer place, like with listening to the breath, just long enough that I was actually able to relax into the experience and just let it happen.

The point is that everyone can meditate. And that the practice is different for everyone. That we don’t have to be seated on a meditation pillow with incense and a candle all the time. We can be in a meeting. Debating with a colleague. Coaching ourselves through a panic attack. Or on the tattoo table.

There is a sense of humor within change. Even as I feel like I have gone on the warpath with lifestyle change towards a heart health, I have to laugh at myself for approaching everything like medication. It may not be what I wanted, but I realize these give me a better chance of survival. Funny thing for me is that I slipped into meditation so naturally yesterday. The simple influence of the smell of garlic which pulled me outside of the moment and into a feeling of enjoyment. So even though it still feels awkward at times, it’s now part of my life. You see, if I can do that so can anyone. Smell is one of the most powerful conduits to memory. I think my next challenge, after talking with the psychic, includes work that will help me to open the solar plexus chakra so that I can visualize beaming that positive feelings out to everyone around me. Well, that and relaxing around this two-year-old lifestyle change that shook everything about myself up… one clove of minced garlic at a time.

solarplexus

Posted in personal

On shading & chakras

Bad days and life wasted in meetings aside, I’ve always believed in people. Teen years to now. It was back in Marion where I decided that Religion was not part of my view of the universe in my late teens. And I never looked back. Not once. Ever. That does not say that I don’t resonate with the feelings of those who do pray, experiencing something they can’t explain or, like my aunt talks about, memories we have from somewhere else beyond our own experience.

Today was the fifth session with my tattoo artist Andy, from Long Street Collective, for the back piece I am doing for my 50th birthday coming up early next year. The story I’m telling is, by very nature, about a deity, choices, doors, gratitude and paying it always forward after every threshold I cross. It was a good day as I used Band Aid Hurt Free for the first time. It did not remove the pain but it helped disconnect my brain wiring from the anxiety of the constant feelings the needles cause. For the first time, my fists were not clenched and cramped by the end of this session. It’s an incredible experience to be in tune with some one to the degree that they know you enough to write a story on your body. Now that the pattern is complete it’s all about the larger format tools to do all the shading… and there’s a lot more to do.

After that, I went to a psychic fair where one of my long term friends, someone I view as a Dowager Empress of parties in Columbus, read me. It was not Tarot or anything. Just a bunch of rocks on a board cross sectioned by what makes the human experience, well, human I guess. Just like he did for Eddie and I before we ripped our lives apart for a company in the process of a sale. When we jumped across the Country to relocate to Dallas. The warnings were there. Bruises and lessons were garnered over our 7-year experience in Texas. Still, we had the strength to come back to Ohio. The home where people called us by our names.

So when he’s telling me that these rocks are telling him that I have chosen to create a big noise in my sector of something about wanting to teach/mentor/communicate it sort of reminds me of writing these blog posts, or that session I did for the Columbus Web Group on mindfulness in the workplace and most especially my work with the AHA on the Support Network. He told me that my throat chakra is super engaged with hearing, smell and speech but at the tail end of a spiral of my life like some childhood game of “spin the chain” with my intellect and community stones at dead center. All this kind of talk makes me a little uncomfortable because it’s not my natural language. Like tattoos, I mean to approach life, however short or long it might be, with a “let’s fucking do this” attitude.

Yet I have to admit that I have treated meditation as medication. TA’s rocks today made me think that, maybe, there’s more to it? He told me that my upper 3 chakras were absolutely on fire. Yet my solar plexus chakra was basically cranky. So I’ll be reading up on that soon I guess.

At the end of Saturday… this is exactly how I want to live it. Thinking, celebrating, conversing, feeling de-groovy, painted on by needles and observing where the stones fall while having a good time in the process.

session5

Posted in personal

Dancing my pants off

This past weekend came with a chance to spend time with two people who are incredibly dear to me and to do something I said I’d never do again.

When I was a teenager I entered the 9th-grade science fair. I was part of the last class that would go to the “Freshmen Building” which was the old High School re-purposed for a single grade meant as a transition between grade and high school. It was awesome. Very old with a classic gymnasium, oppressive cafeteria and a big classic study hall complete with a punch card system and more modern TRS-80s.

Anyway, it was that year that I decided to put my fascination with dad’s slide rules to use and spin up a project to talk about this calculating marvel and it’s applications in the past. I won the local and went on to go to Tiffin for regionals where I was weeded out. The thing is that not very many people enter for math. Funny thing is that math is definitely not my forte, even today.

This particular memory resurfaces because I won a medal in a 5k for the first time ever this weekend. It is the same race I did when I was 17 staying the week with my Aunt Lora and Uncle Dave as part of my growing up years. I still remember feeling horrible and defeated like I never had during those short young years at the third leg of the race. When I finished I swore I’d never run again. And I didn’t until 3 months after a heart attack at the age of 47. When I re-ran that race, at 49, three days ago I had a collection of flashbacks that ran through my head on Saturday morning in Forest. The people. The road. The smell of the air. That really sexy shirtless local guy with his dogs at the start of the race. The views of the farm field I was running around for the third time now. The beautiful lady who told me she tried to keep up with me and that I was her pacer. Specific miles and the thoughts of me two and thirty-two years ago running the same course.

Tree Town Trot Route

If a challenge can feel like home this was its realization.

So I spent the morning with my aunt and uncle after I did a quick clean up not expecting to win anything. Just happy to be where I wanted to be with the people I love in a place that felt like family. We caught up on a lot of what has happened during 2017. Did some theorizing and boundary pushing as we always do. You see that’s one of their strengths. Challenging norms and breaking down walls in people’s heads. They did that for me as a teen, truth be told, I would not be who I am without them.

Gormley Park

So I felt like braving a topic with my Uncle Dave about how do we draw the line between or fight for health and quality of life? You have to have a picture of Dave now. He’s this huge formidable bear of a man who was a lineman and worked for the fire department all his life. His sense of humor knows no bounds and he has a talent for storytelling that puts me to absolute shame. Even now he exudes a charisma and strength that is palpable and strong and 100% him.

Me? I’ve been struggling. Two years now as a vegetarian. Rewarding myself with camping gear for not eating cheese. Yet “cheating” with French fries and chips. Bargaining that one set of choices can cause X number of results. Which is no doubt true, however, at some point, there’s life that happens in between. Dave told me his thoughts, after having battled cancer, like some mythic Paul Bunyan type 100% straight-vulnerable-strong, for so many years now, about guys pushing their bodies to become stronger. He had my attention immediately with this thread. He was talking about guys who push so hard for perfect isomorphic bodies to the point where they break bones and restructure their faces from the sheer volume of HGH they keep pumping into themselves like some form of weird physical-insecurity-candy. So the question becomes not only one of health … but what gives your life meaning? How do you feel? What is truly important to you?

I went from there to my parents home in Marion. But with Dave’s words in my head, I stopped by this place that is a local institution called the Jer-Zee. For better or worse, I’d been craving the experience of having a chocolate and raspberry milkshake and a pulled chicken sandwich on a white bun. That’s one of my childhood summer things. So I got a decaf coffee for dad, a peanut butter milkshake for mom as she’s having some mobility issues and has not been out in awhile, and a milkshake with a pulled chicken sandwich for myself. Bad stuff or not, it was really enjoyable and I was right there in my hometown, visiting with my parents and having an adult conversation at the same table which was such a land mine field for all of us while I was growing up. But Saturday we were all equals and grateful for one another’s company. Not to mention the actual love that we all shared our experiences together.

I was homeward bound after that and back to Columbus. My husband Eddie and I had a good and low key dinner together over a movie. This is the guy who came with me across the Country to rebuild a life in Texas. The artist I knew as a young man with French genetics making him sexysuperhairyawesome. Our conversation wound up around, sideways and across many topics until he was tired and I was finally ready for an actual shower after the handcloth cleanup I had earlier that morning in Forest. While I wanted him to go out with me to a local dance club he was beat and I understood. Hell, I probably was too but was still riding the endorphins of the day in general I guess. So I went out to see if tonight would be the night I finally braved the dance floor again. Like getting tattoos… dancing, which I suck at, is one of the things I wanted to face as a fear this year. I have not danced since my 20’s. I signed off. That’s “not me.”

But you know what? I really enjoyed it. Moving to sound and rhythm with a group of people simply enjoying life and expressing parts of our individual experiences together as a big sweaty moving mass of collective joy. Well, that’s what I remember from my Tradewinds, Eagle and Garage days anyway. So when I got to the bar I was surprised to find it was “bear,” usually meaning stout hairy guys, underwear night at the dance club.

Dancing

After a couple beers, and around midnight, I’d heard enough electronic songs that are on my running playlist to reinforce the “why” of being here. Which is gratitude and what Uncle Dave said about choosing to do things that make you feel good because they are for you. It was around then that I lost my shirt, along with pretty much everyone else, and the body started moving. Scenes from Seinfeld come to mind with Elaine scaring everyone around her with her contortions.  It made me laugh at myself. That was my inner dialog anyway. Especially at 49. Shirtless in public. Laser lights and fog machine bellowing out ambience everywhere. Breaking all of the Emily Post rules. Well, maybe not all yet.

Dinosaur Underpants

So it was I found myself dancing with old rusty moves among a group of diverse men of all ages and colors shapes and sizes … in their underwear. Which is when I thought about the luxury of life. I survived a heart attack. Won first place in my age group in an emotionally important race earlier that day. Had a great time with both of my parents together, and there’s a ton of history/baggage there, recaps with my husband and now this. It was a pretty damn perfect day. So, I did the “when in Rome thing” and dropped my pants, leaving them with my shirt, along with the rest of the guys and proceeded to dance in my underpants for the rest of the night and into the morning. Dancing? First time in couple decades. Dancing in underpants? First time in public ever. Oddly enough, my Fitbit HR Charge 2 tracked the dancing as walking which made me laugh a little more afterward.

Fitbit's take on dancing

I’ve thought about Saturday now for a couple days. Life is truly short. Yet we have all that time in between where we can realize, express and share who we are. Love one another and shine. Just like Lora & Dave in Forest Ohio with so many long nights and friends over the decades. Having the courage to bare all with others and laugh? Well it’s everything.

Posted in personal, running

Tattoo Session 4 & a crisis in the UK

Complicated weekend with my fourth session today completing the pattern for my entire back piece. The design work is done and a Metraton Cube is permanently drawn upon my back along with Ganesha by Andy at Long Street Collective. It’s funny too because I began the day coaching a person in the UK regarding cardiac anxiety as she was desperately reaching out the to the group of us. This is where a Sense 8 situation would be really awesome in real life. Some live stream way to grab the help of someone you are connected with to support you through one of your darkest hours while gripped by the very real fear of death. Unfortunately for her, she got hers through the FaceBook based group we are private members of… and then, sadly, beat herself up for having had a weak moment. All I could tell her is that I understand. I understand your breakdown completely. I go to the same dark places. More than I’d like.

But not today. And I don’t care how damn much tattooing or marathon training hurts. Both are awesome and exactly where I want to be. Living.

It’s really the very meaning of my back tattoo. The doors that were opened for me and the gratitude of having had a chance to step across so many thresholds. The lady I was talking with earlier was a part of the Cardiac Athletes group based in the UK. However most of my experience is with the AHA Support Network as a volunteer moderator and peer emotional mentor in the heart attack community. These folks are my family. They are triumphant, sometimes afraid yet overall grateful, just as I am, to have another day to wake up and make new choices and connections with the amazing diversity that surrounds us all. What makes us whole? What constitutes a day? If this was your last year on earth, and you knew it, what would you change? How would you choose to live?

So far, for me, that’s meant a fire that raged through the City of my old life. Everything burned. To the ground. But from the confusion I found things that were gold. Little bits of metal that shone among the ashes. Even as my own friends began to check out from natural causes. Kanik, Ted, Tom, Rob, Chuck, among so many others. Grateful to be on this tattoo artists table with two women on the other tables in the shop with a chance to hire a professional to paint a story on our bodies that interpret what we were able to communicate between two people as client/canvas and artist.

It reminds me of this lady though this morning. She was absolutely desperate and flailing out to anyone who would respond. Panicked. In the hospital. Being monitored for a heart incident and afraid that every minute would be her last. I get it. I’ve been there with Eddie. My blood pressure was in the neighborhood of 200+/150+ during my heart attack. So what did I do? I called my friends. I called Lisa, Nick, Doug and my parents with Eddie constantly by my side. And to everyone in the same situation I’d like to say that I would love nothing more than to at least validate what you are experiencing. The map I’m having drawn on my body, over the next two years, will hopefully represent this in some form. I understand and I wish I could be with you just as I wish you could be with me when I need it too.

Instead we live very separate lives. Connected yes. But here we are. One big beautiful community of billions on a the big blue ball that I visualize when the tattoo artist does shading on my back, which hurts like a motherfucker, and gets my mind to let go of the pain and accept the moment a little easier. Just like I told the lady in the UK this morning. Try to change you focus to 5 minute increments. For each one that passes say to yourself “I’m OK.”

Sometimes that’s all it takes.

session4

Posted in personal

Pushing boulders, & harsh emails, up mountains

There is a person I used to know who was not one of my favorites. I saw him again last week in a meeting where he seemingly experienced a blood pressure spike after learning about a growing threat to two of his projects.

The teams were doing great, self organizing, planning, working the cards they had scheduled already. All except for one of the most critical work streams that just happened to traverse both projects with a very real potential of cutting into actual project time even as executive leadership was talking about cutting the project time lines.

This guy listens, builds the picture, scopes the issues, identifies the members and then delivers the harsh truth with as little bias as possible because these kinds of messages are always difficult. He knows that these are people and it’s going to hurt to hear someone tell them that they have a problem delivering or even prioritizing their work. But the two multi million dollar projects were at stake and, well, it was his job to raise a flag.

It’s funny that after all the meditation, running and breathing exercises that I’ve come to practice over the last two years I still find myself reverting back to my old Dallas self and feeling the emotional cost of it for days. One of my old Texas AS400 buddies used to call me a “smart ass” because I would not hold back or back down from an argument with a colleague. Hell, sometimes I would instigate them just to try and push an idea forward. When you are in tech for as long as I have been you visit many quasi “religious arguments.” Yet that person I used to be reminds me of the Greek myth about the guy who was cursed with pushing a boulder up a mountain forever. Anger and conflict are like the boulder. Having to be the guy that delivers this kind of information, even momentarily as with last week, just wears me the fuck out. Saps all my balance and inner strength.

So yeah, that was me. My teams and leadership thanked me for the effort, I heard back from the individual and that leadership branch and then backed away as the gears began to spin. Hopefully in a direction that will be beneficial to all players involved. But, last week, I felt sick afterwards, literally, from the stress I internalized over the incident. It’s why I have always suspected that, while I can definitely step up to the management place, I’m not necessarily cut out for it. I think way too much about how the other person is going to feel, react and actualize the feedback. Truth be told I’m a much better coach and mentor than I am a manager. And that’s OK. We all have our strengths these are just two of my personality components I guess.

That’s where the lesson comes in for me. Given the above, I think I will try to delegate the formulation of these kinds of messages to other leaders. Provide the same level of detail and remediation advice but bow out on being the person responsible for ruining someone else’s week before a Holiday. Another thing to remember is to use the techniques we see in meditation and breathing so that we can more objectively observe a chain of events. Even ones that spell disaster, missed deadlines and budget blow outs. Just observe, reflect and report. That’s all.

Back to the tattoo shop this afternoon feeling a little reflective about the week still but looking forward to the rest of the weekend and then my first camping trip at the end of the month. In the mean time I have begun a course of study consisting of something that has always challenged me. Front end web development. I figure I need to make a technology jump and learn more modern ways to write HTML, CSS and JavaScript in addition to all the really great tools that people are using these days.

Next week? I plan to remain calm, observe and push where I can but not so hard that it hurts again.

Sisyphus

Posted in personal, professional

Independence Day in Trump’s America

My husband came home tonight and told me a story of being at a convenience store with around six people in line earlier today. An African American man was managing the shop. While in line Eddie saw the manager approach one of the white male customers in a very direct manner taking an item from his hand and telling him to “get out.” Evidently there was some previous infraction which caused this reaction. Eddie frequents this spot on a regular basis as it’s in the orbit of where he works. I should note the most shocking part here, this was in Clintonville.

The white male customer of course protested. Lobbing some of the worst racial insults possible at the store manager. Yet the thing that stuck with Eddie & I most was that the white guy yelled back that the manager that he should be more careful because he was in “Trump’s America now!!” As a direct threat. A clear reference to personal harm.

Meanwhile I learned that a close family member confided in my mother in law her hopes for the day when economists, scientists and general industry trends would magically reverse to 150 years ago when coal was an industry in America. That Trump would be, somehow, proven right when coal came back in roaring force in the United States. As if to spite any advancement that could further our competitive edge on a global renewable energy market giving us a chance to show that innovative spirit we once commanded during the Space Race of the 1960’s. Or the Internet explosion of the 1990’s. No, she’s perfectly hoping that we turn our back on all that in favor of pure spite and the populist message that she, and so many other of Trump’s Americans, are consuming en mass thanks to Fox News and Brietbart not to mention scores of other anti Democracy, or worse, conspiracy theorist outlets.

It’s stark to think that we have come to such a sharp split between educated thinkers and, at best, misguided populists, at worst … outright sociopaths distrustful of their own shadows clinging to guns while standing with backs to the walls in public spaces.

My thoughts dwell on Independence Day tonight. I have to wonder. Are we?

We_want_white_tenants

Posted in general

Activity

  • Morning Run
    On August 15, 2017 6:24 am rode 3.48 mi. during 00:36:07 hours climbing 117.13 ft.
  • Weight Training
    On August 14, 2017 4:58 pm rode 0.00 mi. during 00:30:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Weight Training
    On August 8, 2017 6:32 am rode 0.00 mi. during 00:20:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Afternoon Run
    On August 7, 2017 4:27 pm rode 4.07 mi. during 00:41:34 hours climbing 152.23 ft.
  • Lunch Run
    On July 26, 2017 11:31 am rode 3.37 mi. during 00:35:23 hours climbing 71.85 ft.
  • Yoga
    On July 25, 2017 7:30 pm rode 0.00 mi. during 01:30:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.