Louisiana, Running, Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

A 5k in Southeastern Louisiana

a-5k-in-southeastern-louisiana-wwwp5k-dianaklein-com

This week, I took part in the World Wide WordPress 5K, during which bloggers are encouraged to complete a 5K and blog about it.  I walk, and sometimes even run, every day, but I don’t always quite get to the 3.1 mile mark.  Yesterday, however, under the guidance of the Runkeeper app (more about this next week), I went for a 3.5 mile run/walk—alternating a half mile of running with a quarter mile of walking.  Here is an approximation of that excursion. 

I start just after 6 am. It’s gotten a little cooler lately—only 73 degrees.  Of course the humidity is still at 95%, so I know I will be doing some serious sweating.  As I run out of my apartment complex, it’s still quite dark.  Only a few people are stirring.  I bounce across the squeaky wooden bridge that is slowly rotting away as everything wooden here does and into the business park car lot.  I am grateful for the street lights that light my way.  I like the flurry of insects dancing in their golden glow.  But I also enjoy the mysteries of the shadows—how everything is transformed by the dark, becomes more or less than it appears in the light of day.  I find the darkness comforting.  I feel held by it.

I cross the boulevard along which I will continue my jaunt. It’s a quiet artery, connecting several domestic subdivisions.  I take up the path—a few yards from the road—that will lead me alongside the street.  I am grateful for the trees that accompany me on both my left and right—the towering ponderosa pines, the flowering crepe myrtles, the sturdy live oaks, and all those others whose names I do not yet know. I glance briefly at the first drainage pond, often home to various water birds, but it’s still too dark to make them out.  During this first half mile, I groove to the strains of Lady Gaga and Rihanna flowing into my ears and delight in the slight rush of air my movement through the predawn causes.

As I reach each subdivision, I inspect the decorations hung on their signs.  It’s football season and they are mostly decked out in Saints black and gold and LSU purple and gold.  The combinations often come off as a bit funereal, once prompting my mother to amend the Saints slogan from Who Dat? to Who Died?

I’ve past a few other early exercisers already, but it’s three quarters of a mile in before I see any of the regulars: The speedy woman walker whom I often come up on and to whom I gently call out, “On your left.” She always squeezes her arms into her body to take up less space, preparing for any onslaught I might bring.  “Good morning,” I say as I pass her scenting her gentle baby powder aura.  Good morning,” she always beams back—as though her eighty odd years have done nothing to quell the joy that determines to exude from her body.  I want to be like her—not when I’m eighty, but right now.

I also see the adventure dog and her owner. She’s a small terrier mix (I think) who always seems to be moving forward toward a thrilling future.  Her real name is Jazzy.  She typically walks with an older retriever-like dog, but I guess she’s home resting her hips today.  Their owner—a fairly fit man in his fifties—usually has some wisecrack to lay on me.  To which, I all too often, I pull out an ear bud and reply cluelessly, “Excuse me?” making him have to repeat the joke.

I walk some and run some more until, almost a mile later I see my sister at the bus stop, where she has just sent one of her children off to school. We chat for a few minutes.  I love when I see her and my nieces and nephew when I go out in the morning.  I love those unimportant accidental meet-ups that can only happen because we live in the same town.  I turn around at the 1.75 mile mark.  My teenage niece and I exchange smiles on my return trip.  I let my hand rub against her back as I trot by.

It has become much lighter by now.  The streetlamps still smolder, but the sun is rapidly making them redundant.  I greet a few elementary school children in their navy blue polo shirts and khaki shorts.  I gaze at the vines that have conquered wooden fences.  I note the progress of the kumquats and satsumas on their respective trees.  I spot another older woman across the street with her spoiled, little brown poodle, also called Jazzy (we’re just outside of New Orleans).  I wave and she lifts her cane at me.  I see the grey minivan that every day conveys a golden retriever, his head protruding from the open window, proclaiming how wonderful everything is.

As I approach more high school students, an habitual debate resumes in my mind: do I inflict my hellos on them? I often wonder if I am being annoying to these teenagers who have plenty of other irritants roiling in their sensitive brains.  I usually settle for a smile and a quiet blanket good morning as I travel through the groups of students—though I tend to hold my breath a bit when I get to the cloud of cologne and body spray emanating from one particular gaggle of boys.

It’s not long before I return to the second drainage pond and see the various geese and ducks. Right next to it is a gazebo where the Catholic school kids gaze at their phones while waiting for their bus.  During my final walking interval I look up into the sky to find a great egret flying over me.  It looks as though its wide wings are flapping just past the moon whose face still shows in the now light blue sky.  I search the trees’ green leaves for the barred owl I spied a few days ago being chastised by crows, but no luck.

I begin the final bout of running and think about the day ahead.  There is breakfast to make and food shopping to do.  Oh, and let’s not forget a thorough shower.  My predictions were correct.  My clothes are soaked, my body is glossy, and my face—thanks to my Swiss heritage—is a feverish red.  As I run back through my apartment complex, I am passed by several cars leaving, people on their way to work.  I startle a bevy of birds and one squirrel who have been taking advantage of one of the tenant’s birdfeeder.  The white cat across the way peers enthusiastically through her window as they scatter before me

My app informs me that my “workout is complete”.  I stop and stretch a little.  I allow my face to cool a bit. I let a weeping willow tickle my shoulders as I walk toward my apartment, and I look around once more.  The world has come completely alive in the last 40 minutes.  The veil of mystery is lifted and the sun begins to burn in earnest.

Have you done a 5k recently?  What was your experience like?  

Reconnect Little Art Card | dianaklein.com
Art & Crafts, Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health

Reconnect

Reconnect Little Art Card | dianaklein.com

This is a little art card (a part of a larger project that I plan to post about in months to come).  I made it a few weeks ago and subsequently tore it up some days since. Why?  There’s no very good explanation.  It was mostly because I was having one of those moments in which I wanted to lash out and this is the part of the universe that got it.  The card wasn’t precious.  Just an inexpertly made little piece of almost nothing made from cheap supplies and leftovers.  It wasn’t  big deal.

But I was a little sad. I had liked the little piece of almost nothing.  And the irony of my destroying a card bearing the word connect was not lost on me.  I have had some difficulty connecting—particularly here on this blog (it’s been almost a year since I last posted) and even more in other venues—especially considering the current political climate and the fact that tomorrow is the anniversary of the terrorist attack that took the lives of almost 3000 people—including my brother.

I often feel that talking about my brother’s death is self-indulgent (though this may be untrue), and I’m not even sure how many of my social media friends even know that he died on 9/11. I don’t want to burden them, or bring attention to myself, so I say nothing.  On Facebook this morning, I began to see the commemorations, and I thought, “I guess I’ll be logging off for the weekend.”  Some people will use this anniversary as a call to arms, a reason to be angry, to exclude and to hurt others.  Some people will aggrandize their own connection to or participation in the events in order, perhaps, to make themselves feel bigger somehow.  I usually stay silent about these things, too.  I reason that everyone has their own viewpoint; I cannot dictate how others should feel or react.  People should not have to tiptoe around me and my feelings.  Even if many of the posts in my feed make me nauseous and angry and sad, I say nothing.  I don’t want to fight.

And that’s still true. I don’t want to fight.  What I want to do is connect.  Yesterday, I dug the four shards of my little piece of almost nothing out of the garbage, and I sewed it back together with black thread and ugly stitches.

Reconnect Little Art Card Back | dianaklein.com

This is how reconnecting happens: with small, awkward steps, with the knowledge that damaged ends will never match up perfectly, and with the acceptance that you may always see the place where the break occurred.  The funny thing is how strong my little piece of almost nothing is now.  The stitches have reinforced it, making it, in some respects, both more durable and more flexible.  Also, I like it better than I did before I ripped it up.  Which again, is funny, because I was ashamed when I did it—that I had let my temper, my grief get the better of me.  I feared it was a sign that I had not progressed as far as I had thought or hoped, that I was less than, once again.  But I remember now, that we all have those moments—and we can all rebound from them.  We can, with a soft and open heart, rescue those precious bits we think we have lost, come home, and reconnect—if only, but possibly most importantly—with ourselves.

 

Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health

How to Celebrate an International Day of Peace

Every year, beginning in 1982, the UN has observed today, September 21, as an International Day of Peace. Peoples in conflict, all over the world are called upon to cease combat, if only temporarily, so that, in the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, we may “create space for lasting peace.”

For those of us who are not intimately affected by war, this kind of plea can sound very far off and inapplicable to our daily lives, but for me, it could not have been more apropos.

Just last night, I once more looked at myself disapprovingly in the mirror, seeing all the faults, the failures, the could-have-beens, the wrinkles, the fat . . . falling deeper and deeper down into the abyss of self-hatred.

All of a sudden, I couldn’t help wondering, “Why do you insist on making war on yourself?”

The answer is simple: It’s a terribly misguided attempt to protect myself from the pain of others’ possible condemnation and to spur myself into life-changing action.

But it doesn’t work. Heavy rain cannot intimidate seeds into growing faster. It will simply wash them away. And harsh sun will only dry them out. It is only with the gentle encouragement of these elements that a seed may eventually find its way to blooming.

So last night, I vowed to make peace with myself. To be kind. And today, realizing the significance of the date, I make the vow again. Because sustainable world peace is an inside job. Each of us needs to decide to stop fighting—not only each other, but ourselves.

Deep peace of the running waves to you.|How to celebrate an international day of peace| dianaklein.com

Nature & Spirituality, Prose Poetry, Sickness & Health

The Sighs of a Little Grey Cat

Sometimes, I think I live only for the sighs of my little grey cat.

I breathe solely for those moments when she creeps cautiously onto my tender abdomen as I lie on my bed, worn out and vulnerable.

And she discovers that the crevices in my body meld perfectly to her own. She finds that all boundaries between us are purely artificial.  Her fur, my clothes, our skins become completely permeable. She relaxes her muscles into mine, allowing her very essence to seep down into my being. Our blood vessels become a greater network, somehow effortlessly pumping through feline and human without care for the difference.

She feels all this and she knows that she is home. She knows that she is safe. And because of this, she exhales completely, allowing every, last, tiny cavity of her body to be emptied. She saves nothing. She holds back no secret store to guard against some future scarcity. She lets it all go. All that she needs, all that she will ever need is here in this moment, on my belly.

She tells me this with her sigh, and I cannot help but be moved and awed by her trust, her faith—in the whole of this kaleidoscope universe—and also in the subtle rising and falling of one human stomach.

CFS, Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health

Make Way for Compassion!!

I think I’ve probably written this here before, but I’ll say it again: I don’t like to talk about my being sick. It feels like I’m making excuses or just complaining. I find myself extremely boring and self-conscious when I do. But it’s a fact of my life, so, in order to be authentic, sometimes, I just have to suck it up and do it.

This happened recently when I met up with a friend that I hadn’t seen in some 18 months. It was uncomfortable, but I decided to tell her a little about how hard the previous 6 months had been—that I’d been having trouble stringing together more than two okay days in a row. She paused, looked at me deeply and said with great sincerity, “Diana, that’s terrible.” I felt myself start to squirm in the face of this expression of true compassion. For that moment she had placed herself into the trenches with me, feeling the mud and the cold and all the nastiness. I was both awed and made uncomfortable by her reaction. I could feel my defenses starting to rise. Defense against compassion! I realized how ridiculous that was, so I deliberately attempted to relax into the feeling, dissolving the walls that thought they were keeping me safe, but were, instead, cutting me off from kindness. I tried to allow her compassion to wash over me, to touch the parts of me cowering in the hidden caves of my psyche.

A few days later, in conversation with a new acquaintance, the fact that I have health problems again came up in passing. With little information and without asking for more, the woman I was speaking to offered the same kind of compassion my friend had—open and encompassing. Again, I was awed, but this time, I didn’t try to brush it away. I just said, “Thank you.”

A week ago, I was able to “pay it forward”, so to speak, when the young woman who was dishing out the prepared salads at the deli told me she had been suffering from insomnia. When I expressed concern, she replied, “It’s okay. I’m young.” “No,” I countered, “it’s not okay. It’s lousy!” I don’t know if it made her feel cared about or, in any way, better, but we shared a smile that felt genuine and heartening.

These experiences taught me two things: 1) Expressions of compassion do not have to be longwinded or elaborate. They just need to be made with earnestness and presence. And 2) All the compassion in the world won’t do you any good, if you’re not willing to receive it.If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. - Mother Teresa|Being Present with Compassion|dianaklein.com

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Nature & Spirituality

What Happens When Mindfulness Gets Twisted

Woops, there goes your heart . . . maybe you wanna follow it?|What Happens When Mindfulness Gets Twisted|dianaklein.comSomewhere along the way, I’ve gotten it a bit wrong.

I started practicing mindfulness about five years ago. I have found it so helpful—in falling asleep, in coping with difficult emotions, in enjoying small things in a big way. On my path to healthfulness, mindfulness has been my greatest guide.

However, during my studies in this vein, when I was learning about how desires so often cause suffering, and about how we take false refuges in food and drugs and busy-ness, and all of this was making a ton of sense to me, I started to tell myself that I shouldn’t want anything. Because wanting was, at best, unhelpful and, at worst, lethal. I began to read all wanting as dangerous—including any inner spurring toward the pursuit of joy or a well-lived life. This too, I decided, would cause the same kind of suffering as always wanting just one more cookie.

Somehow, I forgot that it’s not so much about desire, but attachment to how things turn out. I also forgot that it’s not just the body or the mind that wants things; it’s also the soul. And all the soul really wants is to express itself, in the words of a movie from 1990 title: Truly, Madly,(and) Deeply.

Our souls whisper different things to us. They give us dreams of being star athletes, successful bakers, or great parents. They tell us these things so that we may experience life to the fullest, so that we may share our light with others. And, yeah, we can distort our souls’ desires. We can become so attached to them that we begin to believe we are less than nothing if we don’t achieve them. We can become so consumed by their pursuit that we have little mind for any of life’s other beauties. But that doesn’t mean they’re not important.

I have spent quite a lot of my life—even before I started studying mindfulness—trying to make myself smaller, trying to quiet my soul’s messages, telling myself: these are things I should not want. After all, happiness isn’t getting what you want, it’s wanting what you have. Right?

On the other hand, as I start admitting my dreams to myself, as I begin to know that believing in them is not only okay, but right and proper, I find that I do want what I have. I want these dreams. I want the work they ask of me. I want the fulfillment they bring. Even if it doesn’t all have a storybook ending, I find that they are not bringers of suffering, they are deliverers of life.

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Reading, Writing & Reading

At The Crossroads of Should and Must

At The Crossroads of Should and Must | dianaklein.com

I recently finished a lovely book called The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find And Follow Your Passion by Elle Luna. In the introduction she writes: “. . . I’ve found that things appear at the ideal time. Not before. And not after. Consider the possibility that this book made its way into your hands because you wanted it to. Because a part of you has seen a crossroads in your life, and you’re ready for the journey ahead . . .”

This seems to be the case for me. I found it while poking around a book store at Newark airport and thinking about how I was going to step forward into pursuing my passions. I had all this energy from my trip to The Somerset Folk Harp Festival—and that felt great, but I was worried. Would I simply go home and fall back into old routines, ignoring what mattered most to me because I was too scared to do otherwise?

There’s a lot of the how to find your passion in this book—which, at this point was not of much interest to me. After years of trying to deny my dreams, I was finally at a place where I could acknowledge completely what I wanted. What is special to me about this book is not the how, but the why. Some weeks ago, I commented to a friend on Facebook, who is in the process of making the huge life change of moving herself and two dogs from New York City to Malta: “So psyched for you and your bravery. I think that when any one of us lives her best/dream life, we all win.” And I believed this—about her—but not about myself. Following my dreams was okay, as long as it didn’t interfere with being the as perfect as possible daughter, sister, aunt, niece, friend, cat caretaker . . . you get the idea. Because, people are more important than dreams, aren’t they? And really, it’s not like I could ever achieve those dreams, not really. What I failed to realize was that this way of thinking was starving my spirit and, as a result, depleting my resources for being a loving relation. Which is especially sad, since connecting with my friends and family is one of my passions, too.

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself, what a man can be, he must be.” Scribed in watercolor in The Crossroads of Should and Must, this quote from noted American psychologist Abraham Maslow brought me nearly to tears the first time I read it—and the second. I could feel that after spending a weekend immersed in music—one of my main passions—I was somehow more alive than I had been in months. And here was the reason why: by moving toward what I might be able to be, I was finding not only peace, but vitality. And from reading this book, I began to find the notion of following a dream becoming less about being selfish and delusional, and more about living the best life a human can live.

The other thing I got from this book was the confirmation that following ones dreams is not all brownies and kittens. It can be tedious, backbreaking, and frustrating. It’s also effing terrifying! The questions of worthiness, the vulnerability, the doubts that one inevitably faces in ANY heartfelt endeavor can seem insurmountable. And it was nice to hear someone say, hey, if you’re in pain or panic while you’re doing this, that’s totally normal. It doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong track. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. It just means what you’re doing means a lot to you and because of that, the stakes are high. And, in a way, that’s a really good thing.

Have you read The Crossroads of Should and Must? What did it mean to you?

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Harp & Voice

Audacity Lessons

Deborah Henson-Conant Business Card |Audacity Lessons| dianaklein.com

When I first saw electric harpist extraordinaire Deborah Henson-Conant on stage, I thought, “Really? You’re wearing that?” Okay, so I’m not terribly enlightened. My friend said to me later, “I really admire people who aren’t afraid to be different.” I thought I was, too, and, maybe it was just the mood I was in that night, but the black mini skirt and the bejeweled bra more-than-peeking out from underneath a black vest seemed a little much to me. Her first song, however, helped to change my mind—a little. Sung in robust, joyful and bluesy tones, Never too Late is an anthem about how we may not be able to reach the highest heights of certain professions (like being an opera singer at the Met), but that, no matter how late in life it seems to be, one shouldn’t be afraid to live one’s dream the best that one can. I liked that idea, but I still didn’t get the outfit.

It wasn’t until the next day when I was in her improv workshop that I began to understand. The outfit was a way of making herself ready for the stage. And gosh darn it, why shouldn’t she wear that if it worked for her?

The workshop as a whole was very useful, and I can’t help but imagine that Henson-Conant’s online classes (though I have not tried them) are equally helpful. I also really appreciated her candor and humor. She told us stories about times in her career in which she had been assured by well-meaning members of her circle that she was going to ruin her career if she did x, y, or z (some of which had to do with her, ahem, stage garb). She revealed that she has faced what we all face, the fears of not being accepted and the painful choice between following what feels like our true path—which is often winding and incalculable—and the assurances of success so often offered by “playing it safe”.

But what struck me most about what Henson-Conant had to teach us was her insistence that it doesn’t matter what your level of proficiency is. What matters is knowing what your good at, working from that place, and allowing those abilities to bloom into bigger and better things. Shoot for the moon, always remembering that you are already made of stardust. |Audacity Lessons| dianaklein.comBecause, by reaching for abilities that are (for the moment, at least) beyond our grasp—believing that only when we can accomplish certain things will we be fulfilled—we discount who we already are and all that we already have to offer. So yeah, shoot for the moon—always remembering that you are already made of stardust. And if you feel like wearing mini skirts and spangles, then go for it—and enjoy the heck out of it!

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Harp & Voice

Rethinking the Traditional Way

If you’ve been reading this blog lately, you know that I recently returned from the Somerset Folk Harp Festival in Parsippany, NJ. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with some old harp friends and meet some new ones. It was also an opportunity to learn—a lot. And not just about playing the harp. One of my favorite lessons came from the amazingly talented and wonderfully warm, Cuban born, Paraguayan harpist, Alfredo Rolando Ortiz. A friend and I were taking one last stroll through the exhibit hall on Sunday, when we happened on Dr. Ortiz (he also has a medical degree) playing one of his many intricate (not to mention speedy) compositions in his relaxed, effortless style. When he finished, we complimented him, expressing our doubts that we could even approach his level of mastery. He waved this away and proceeded to give us technical instruction on how to play ascending passages with more comfort and ease. “It’s not the traditional way,” he told us.

Ortiz went on to tell us about his joy when he witnessed a classically trained pedal harpist (pedal harps are the big ones that play in orchestras) using his fingernails to play a complicated piece—in much the same way that Ortiz himself does. Again, this was a departure from “the traditional way”. Most pedal harpists would never dream of growing nails that extend beyond their fingertips, let alone use them to manipulate a harp. After this fantastic performance, Ortiz found himself among a group of pedal harpists who were raving about this man’s performance. But when Ortiz mentioned proudly that the performer had used his fingernails, they said that couldn’t be possible. When Ortiz assured them that it was, someone said, “You know, I knew there was something off about the performance, I just didn’t know what.”

How often do we do that? Put limits on our enjoyment of something based on our expectations? How often do we tell ourselves that the “traditional way”, the accepted way, is the best, and, perhaps, only way?

I’ve always tended to be a rule follower. There’s a right way of doing things and a wrong way. (The right way is usually more demanding, mind you.) You have to do A in order to get to B. No exceptions. I was already challenging these notions when a few days ago, I watched an interview of artist Julie Fei-Fan Balzer on Sue Wojtkowski’s website Irreversibly Moi. In it, she said “The rules are there to help you. If they’re hindering you, if they’re inhibiting your creativity, then you need to get rid of them.”

Sometimes you need to follow directions—sometimes that is the best way, but it’s important for me to remember that that’s not always true. Sometimes those directions, that “traditional way” is just getting in your way and preventing you from exhibiting your greatness.

Dr. Ortiz, his beautiful harp, and me!
Dr. Ortiz, his beautiful harp, and me!

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Travel

The Gifts of Travel

The Gifts of Travel | dianaklein.com

I remember being 25 and sauntering off an airplane. I remember wearing a red sweater with bell sleeves, dark jeans with a subtle sparkle, and my favorite black, lace-up boots with rubber heels—the ones that my Chinese best friend had to wait forever for me to take off whenever I visited her home. I remember wearing a maroon velvet hat, bought some 10 hours earlier at Heathrow Airport. The hat probably didn’t go with the rest of the outfit, but I didn’t care. I felt good. I walked nonchalantly to the arrivals gate and found my parents’ faces.

“You look different,” my mother told me. “I almost didn’t recognize you. I saw this elegant woman walking toward us and thought, ‘That can’t be Diana, she’s not that tall.’”

I nodded, knowing that my mother had noticed some meaningful change in me that I sensed, but didn’t fully understand. Now I realize the accuracy of her remark: I looked bigger, because I was bigger. In some unexplainable way, I had expanded.

That isn’t the only time traveling has done this for me. In 2010, when I returned from a two week tour of Ireland and Scotland, I again felt enlivened—by people, by scenery, by possibilities. This trip, as with any of my traveling adventures, was not perfect. Nor was it without heartache and tears. Amid the many wonders and joys I experienced, I also felt loss and confusion and desolation. Some of this was fueled by my fear that this would be my last big trip anywhere—that this was as good as it was going to get. Even so, I returned to American soil ready to try, to work, to become. I believe it was on the strength of this energy that I completed my first novel and began to play the harp.

Now, having returned from a much closer trip to the Somerset Folk Harp Festival in Parsippany, New Jersey, I again feel that creative energy, that desire to be more—or, not more, but myself, completely—no bigger, but no smaller either.

This, for me, is one of the gifts of traveling—the opportunity to find out who you are when you’re not among familiar, accepted surroundings and situations. It’s the freedom to allow yourself to see the hidden parts of yourself—and perhaps, even begin to cherish them, believe in them, and act from them.

What are the gifts of travel for you?