Thursday, September 15, 2011

30 Things I Love Right Now

...written by me, and brought to you by TJ Beitelman (cruise his's awesome).

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Quiet Work

Today, I came across a comment from a July post that I'd missed. It's lovely (you can read it following my post "Taking It up a Notch"). I don't know who it's from but this sentence from it got me thinking and inspired me to write this post (in which I have no idea what I will say):

"Thanks for reminding me what lovely, quiet work it can be to stay away from the long slide down..."

That's almost more than I can ask for...being that my life, my writing, my friendships, my teaching.

I have not yet published a book, or gotten out of debt, or had children, or fixed the dent in the side door of my Subaru, or had success in lasting love (tho M. is still picking berries for me, even if from afar). I will turn 40 in less than two months. I can't do lotus position anymore. My hips are bad. My employment situation is up in the air. When I write a paragraph like this with so many "I"s I worry I'm still overly consumed with my own problems.

Those are the things that can plague me on a bad day, a day I forget what it was like to live at the bottom of that long slide down. I forget how I clawed my way up and out (I thought *I* was doing it but I had more help than I ever thought I'd need). It doesn't seem necessary to say more than that.

Except maybe that it's the little things we start with that save our lives. For me, at one point, it was doing the dishes.

Today, it's taking walks.

I read this just an hour ago in an interview with poet Mark Doty:

"The inner life happens in the body and the body is always somewhere. For me, it's the vehicles the world provides, what Whitman called 'the dumb beautiful ministers' that allow us to see the soul."

My "dumb beautiful ministers" right now are my sneakers and the trees and the pots in my sink which last night sat one inside the other--the soapy water flowing over the sides of the smallest, and into the next and the next. A dumb beautiful fountain. Just dirty pots. In my sink.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Oh, the delays, the procrastinations, and the putting-offs!

Do you know how many blog posts I've written in my head over the past weeks?

Since my last post about going up Alander, I have walked, hiked, trespassed, sat in front of a waterfall, eaten more wild berries, made granola, taken more pictures of flowers, and taught three poetry classes.

I also got to experience a Great Barrington parade in honor of the town's 250th anniversary! And what a parade it was.

My pictures don't quite capture the full spirit of the event―how it felt to walk slowly down Main Street, floats and tractors and clubs of all shapes and sizes, and run into people I know (as much a part of parading as the parade itself). A year ago, it wouldn't have been so. Stopping here to talk to Joan. Stopping there to sit on a stoop with Sarah and watch the gymnasts front-walkover by. I got my first real sunburn of the season. Had a cold drink.

Good old-fashioned summer fun. (And all out right outside my door.)

Boys with rhythm:

Women with rhythm, and really pretty dresses:

A big man in a tiny car.(Who are the Shriners, anyway? And why do they drive around in miniature autos?)

A cool video of a cool-ass bike. Some kind of antique bike club...


The most rockin' float of the parade by our local samba enclave:

And, of course, you can't have a parade w/out Smoky:

So that was Great Barrington on July 10.

To come: More pictures of flowers. Because I can't stop.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Taking It up a Notch

So today my friend M. took me up Alander Mountain. 6 miles round trip. A good percentage of the tract is uphill and good percentage of that tract is *steep* and uphill.

Today was also hot and humid. And the trail was still damp from the last rains we had so it was buggy. I also felt a hot-spot forming on my heel (underneath the moleskin I'd applied before the hike). Joy!

Then we got to the peak. The reward. Panoramic views of NY, MA, and CT all in one shot.

The next reward?: A really good avocado. Then an orange. Then half a Cliff Bar. And some half-melted dark chocolate. Then water, water, water. Then...M., a berry expert, picked me a handful of wild blueberries, tiny and sweet. And I ate them two at a time staring out at the Catskills.

After the descent, a big and healthy lunch. A good day all in all. I feel tired and worked in the best way possible. If I hadn't been taking my walks the past 6 weeks, I'd have suffered going up that hill. As it was, I was challenged, but not embarrassed. :)

My legs felt strong. And my body able.

Nothing else inspiring to say today. The pictures tell the tale.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Graffiti & Gratitude

When I take the Castle Hill route, I have to walk under the train tracks, through a little tunnel, and up a set of stairs.

This morning, with the light and my mood, the coolness in the air (54 degrees and the first day of July!), I spent a little time with the graffiti in the tunnel. It's a mix of once polished mural and gritty Great Barrington teen scrawl (despite what some may think about Great Barrington, it does have just takes a minute to see it):

This one is a good directive for this new life of mine that includes walks:

(In gold spray paint on a rusted-out banister: free your inner [couch] potato. Easier to listen to this way, an affirmation with edge.)

This one, tho, is my absolute favorite. I think it's brilliant. I love most the little monster-alien's left chicken-scratch hand:

Then I came up and out of the tunnel and found this:

And this:

And this one I took special for you, my favorite big old tree:

On today's stroll, I also ran into a friend who stopped and talked with me, while her car idled. While we were talking a big-ass utility truck slowed near us, looking for a downed power line. I knew just the one he meant (I thought) and pointed him in the right (wrong) direction. He eventually found his sister truck just up the block from where my friend and I were having our spontaneous morning meet-up.

Once my friend drove away, I got to walk past the utility mania and interact with the burly dude from National Grid. I apologized for leading him astray. He said it was okay. He smiled. And was chewing gum. And adjusted his hard hat. He said they needed to know about that other one too (at the bottom of Castle Street, at the top of the stairs that lead back down to the tunnel). It's outside of a house that no one seems to inhabit. It's been there for weeks: a big branch pinning down a gather of wires and cables.

I am now delighting (that word again) in the fact that I live in a place where I can run into someone I know, who stops their car to say good morning. And talk to a friendly and appropriately macho telephone worker man.

I've lived other places like this. But not for a very long time.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Morning Fog

Whenever I wake to fog, I always think of Carmel Valley, California, where I grew up (pictured here) like Great Barrington was at 7:00 this morning. On my walk, the fog-shrouded hills looked like thoughts that had not yet come to the fore. Back there somewhere, getting ready.

So. My walks. I'm doing them. I'm still, some mornings, forcing myself out of my apartment (when I get enough sleep, I'm usually more eager) to get my sneakers on. I'm still in awe of early morning and the fact that I'm out in them walking around. I promised myself 4 times a week, and I've not made bad on that promise yet.

Some things:
The birds delight. Every morning. Boisterous and busy and constantly distracted.
My legs are getting stronger.
I don't get as out of breath when I walk up Castle Hill Rd.
I'm always, always glad that I went.

There are more things I want to do to make way for more delight:

*Like turn my computer off MUCH EARLIER at night, and get more sleep, and hence increase my walking eagerness first thing. (I need an RA, like in a dorm, to enforce quiet hours!)

*Give myself more time for reading (I'm embarrassed to tell you how long it's taking me to get through the last third of Carver: A Writer's Life, and it's one of the better biographies I've read).

*More poetry. Always more poetry. My own, and others.

On that note, take a listen to this poem from one of my current favorite poets (tho he's been around a long time, I've just only discovered him), reading one of my favorites (it's hard to get out of your head afterward: "...a grain and an inch, a grain and an inch and a half.."):

"When You're Lost in Juarez in the Rain and It's Eastertime Too" by Charles Wright

Friday, June 24, 2011

What I Listened to on My Walk

I brought my I-pod with me this morning on my walk, on the East Mountain route. It was the only way I could get myself out the door today. It was a messy battle between Determined Laura and Grumpy Laura.

Heed my advice: Get out the door as fast as possible. Do not wait. Do not ponder your wardrobe. Do not stand in front of your stove and enter into a decision-making process about espresso? or no espresso?

I came to my senses (divine intervention?), grabbed the I-pod, and got the hell out of there. I had my ear buds in for just a few minutes, trying to figure out what kind of music I was in the mood for.

The only answer I could come up with was: espresso.

Thankfully, I kept hearing birds and couldn't stand the separation between me and the place I was walking through, so I took out the headphones and put the whole thing away.

Before long, tho, my own internal i-pod, was playing a poem (how I wish it were my own), in my head, one I've been listening to over and over in my car on the way to and from work (thanks to the invaluable anthology CDs from The Academy of American Poets).

"Matins" (#7) by Louise Gluck. I've read it before, years ago The Wild Iris. But it never struck me. In fact that book bored me to death at the time. But I'm looking at it again, and it's striking me.

A lot of things are striking me. And I'm telling you, it's because of these walks. Well, maybe it's because I'm teaching writing again and because of the walks and, maybe in this particular case, because I'm 39 not 22.

Something new is afoot, that is for sure (and this despite a recent slew of rejections from magazines).

I suggest, if you can, to read this out loud, and slowly. Matins, if you don't know, are morning prayers. And this is the last, I believe, in the series (each poem titled the same, "Matins").

Matins (#7)

Not the sun merely but the earth
itself shines, white fire
leaping from the showy mountains
and the flat road
shimmering in early morning: is this
for us only, to induce
response, or are you
stirred also, helpless
to control yourself
in earth's presence--I am ashamed
at what I thought you were,
distant from us, regarding us
as an experiment: it is
a bitter thing to be
the disposable animal,
a bitter thing. Dear friend,
dear trembling partner, what
surprises you most in what you feel,
earth's radiance or your own delight?
For me, always
the delight is the surprise.


For me, too.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Big View

(This picture was taken from the apex of my Castle Hill route.) When I want walking yesterday morning, I decided that no, it's not really about whether it's early or late (as mentioned in my last post), it's about the fact that I'm moving my body.

Once I got to the top of Castle Hill, I re-decided: no, it's not that either, it's about interrupting morning habits I've collected and strung together inside my apartment (not that they are necessarily "bad" habits, but they are habits and can dull my day).

When I got to the point on my walk where the view is greenest and best, I decided this is what it's about: The Big View. The kind of view required for my peace of mind.

And I have been getting this view on my recent walks--whether or not I'm standing looking out on East Mountain, or walking away from it. It's all of it: the moving, the getting out of my apartment, the old canopied trees. It's the dogs and the people and the houses and the neighborhood. It's saying good morning to people. It's watching people say good morning to each other. It's being there early enough to watch orange plastic-wrapped newspapers being tossed out of a jeep (people are still reading print news!).

All of this=the big view.

I'm not trying to put a pretty bow on all this and say how happy I am and ain't life amazing? It's not like that.

For a time, a long time unfortunately, I was a sad and unhappy person. Or maybe more accurately, I suffered a great deal. We've all suffered a great deal I suppose. But relative to my life now and my life then--a great deal was a great deal.

I couldn't *feel* the simple things. I couldn't watch my mood change from beginning of walk to end. Couldn't watch how over a period of a week, and many morning walks, my thinking was different. Couldn't enjoy the cool air. Didn't know what unadulterated delight felt like.

Nothing helped. Nothing worked. Until it did.

Now, on the other side of the small-view days, I enjoy a lot of things. Feel a lot of things. Notice a lot. And I think of where I grew up. Mostly here, on this plot of land where my parents built us a house:

Actual views like this one are so key to remembering what we're actually walking around on.

And that's what happens on my walks. I remember.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sunday, Sunday

This morning I woke to a battle-free zone.

I'd had only 5 hours of sleep, and couldn't get back to it, so at 7:30 am, morning air coming through my window, I thought: I have to get out there. Not to exert myself, necessarily, but to get out in it. I was missing the morning.

Up until a couple of weeks ago, this thought would have been so small and so quiet and the enactment of it so unpracticed, that it would not have entered the realm as something I'd actually do--get out of bed and put comfy clothes on and get out in it.

When I got to the top of Castle Hill and started walking toward Lake Mansfield (I'm embarrassed to say that even after living here for over a year, this is my first glance at Lake Mansfield) I knew what the problem was with yesterday's walk, why it wasn't as enjoyable: I'd walked into the end of a morning rather than into the beginning of one. Granted, this morning I was not up at sunrise or anything, but yesterday, when I started my jaunt at 9:00 a.m. or so, the world had already opened shop. I was a latecomer, and walking to walk, to know later that I'd done it.

When I go earlier, like I did this morning, and when all I want to do is be out in the early air, it's not about exercise. It's about being outside, inside the morning, seeing what's happening.

And I was so rewarded. It was BEAUTIFUL out. Cool. Green. Blue skies. Hazy. The trees busy with birds and squirrels. A little wind. A few dogs out with their people. Two neighbors--a burly guy in his late 40s with a tool belt on and an elderly woman with her pooch--talking about the water that had gathered on the fairway where he'd golfed the day before.

That was the image I walked with the rest of the way: "Water on the fairway" (in a heavy Boston accent).

I am surprised (and sheepish) about how little I know of this town. Every day, so close by, I am walking into neighborhoods I've never been in, down streets that are completely new to me. I see people I've never seen, ever, anywhere (that I know of).

I feel like a visitor--in a good way. A visitor getting to know her town.

(p.s. I tried to find a good image for this post, but decided next time I'll just take my own pictures.)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Mom Knows Best

I could write about my walk this morning (I took the long route, in the direction of East Mountain), and the super cute dog I met named Saki, and the elderly couple on their porch in their robes talking about the plants in their yard, and how the hints of humidity and heat in the air along with the occasional mutant-giant-sized fly dive-bombing my head brought on some dread about the onset of summer, but turns out that sharing what my mom has to say about her experience with getting herself out for a stroll is going to be way more inspiring than me whining about Northeastern weather (there's plenty of time for that, afterall).

My mother has been diligently reading my recent posts about walking. Here's an email exchange we had. (She gave me her permission to share it.)



GM (Grumpy Mom) is putting on her arch-rocker flex-plus sneakers and going for an after-work walk around the clinic before heading home. Thanks to DL [Determined Laura]. Hrumph!



Me: Fantastic! How'd it go?


Mom: It went about the same as your walk. For the first quarter mile I contemplated walking faster so I could get it over with sooner, but then...I started noticing the cool breeze, and the orange daylilies, and the birds... So--I guess you could say it did what we all know, but try to deny, it's sure to do. Make me smile. Make me a little gladder to be alive.


I think my writerly inclinations must live in my genes. Thanks, Mom! I want to see some orange daylilies.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Biggest Battle Yet

This morning Determined Laura had to pull Grumpy Laura out onto the streets of Great Barrington by her hair.

It’s just walking so I don’t understand the logic behind my resistance. All I know is that when I’m fuzzy with sleep and still in my pjs, the world out there feels like it’s on the other side of an obstacle course (a psychological one in this case). Those who have no trouble exercising and getting themselves going, those who jump out of bed ready to face the day, may roll their eyes at this.

But I’m guessing if this were easy for most people, everyone, on a whole, would be much healthier and happier than they are.

In my case, DL had to grab GL and drag her out there. Which she did. And we walked.

God I was in a horrible mood. I had a headache, felt stressed about work, about the seemingly brief battery life on my new expensive phone (really, this is a main worry? Time for me to roll my own eyes at my own self…), about getting “everything” done (what the “everything” is I have no idea).

And my mood and stress stayed thus for about 60% of the walk. But then the thing that always happens--at some point--happened. I was walking along the sidewalk, gaze down of course, and noticed this tiny white flower poking up from some weeds. I didn’t stop or linger, but a small surge of delight followed.

Grumpy Laura was like “Seriously? A flower… What’s happened to you?” Then as I looped back over to Castle Hill Rd to start my return descent, I walked by this house I love: Three stories. Pale yellow. Light blue shutters. No one’s ever there. No cars. No signs of life.

There’s something about this house that makes me feel calm. I was trying to figure out what it was when it hit me--it’s the huge old tree that sits in the front yard and hangs over the whole scene. I think it’s a maple tree--but I’m not good with trees, and don’t know if maples can get this big.

The rest of my walk, all I noticed was just how huge the trees are in this neighborhood. Reveling in this, I realized it had happened. That this big beautiful tree was unarguably bigger than my bad mood.

I felt calm. I felt better. I felt good. I didn’t feel suddenly relieved, but it was as if thinking about other things, good things (big, old, beautiful trees), for long enough for my brain to loosen its grip from work stress, from worries about my ridiculous phone, from “everything,” and deliver that relaxation effect that Gretchen Rubin reminded me of in The Happiness Project.

Mission accomplished.

I do wonder, as a side note, if my intense resistance is exactly for this purpose. I mean, if I started my morning walk feeling awesome, ready to enjoy the wondrous neighborhood behind the old train station, and the walk ended badly, like with a headache, I’d be hard pressed to do it all over again the next day.

This way, I’m encouraged. Inspired. And I hope, if you're reading this, you will be too.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Oh What a Beautiful Morning

On my walk this morning:

  • I saw a smushed days-dead frog in the road.

  • And a black Corvette that had been so long in one spot its tires were sunk about 4 inches into the earth.

  • And a crazy cute dog covered in mud from his chest down and the happiest creature I've ever seen.

  • I obsessed about the new smartphone I just ordered. It's going to be bigger and heavier than any phone I've owned, and I worry how I will cart it around. Can I get a chain for it and wear it around my neck? Some wheels and a leash? If I hook it to my waist band, will it even out my mal-aligned gait? A girl can hope...

It was a gorgeous morning for a walk--post-rain, everything glowing green, cool air. I took a different route this morning, heading west instead of east, so no Wheelchair Man today, but I stopped on the bridge and looked out over my town's small river and felt very lucky to be here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Woops, I Did It Again

I went on another walk. I know. It's crazy. It takes all of Determined Laura's brute force to get me out of my apt. And once my legs are moving, I'm in disbelief. Do you know how many mornings I've thought: I should go take a walk. Just as many mornings as I didn't.

And I went early enough that I beat Wheelchair Man to the pavement. He was idling in his garage when I walked by and waved. "Good morning to ya!" he yelled. There's not many people I'd describe as jolly (especially since I don't really like the word). But Wheelchair Man is jolly. He doesn't have a belly or a round face, but he nonetheless exudes the quality. I predict we will become friends.

I was reminded this morning of 1997 thru 2001 when I lived in Alabama. Everything in the neighborhood I walk through here in the Berkshires is sagging from the weight of humidity, sagging and lolling about. Birds. Squirrels (the squirrels and I in Tuscaloosa had an ongoing battle). Fuzzy firs. Maples. I feel weirdly homesick for that now-tornado-wrecked town.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Talking then Walking

This morning, after a horrible night's sleep, I uncharacteristically got myself out of my apartment BEFORE I HAD COFFEE to go on a quick jaunt.

Here's why: I started reading that damn book The Happiness Project--a book I'd never have read except two women friends, both brilliant writers I respect, recommended it.

In the book, Gretchen Rubin talks about how even walking can trigger the body's relaxation response and reduce stress. She talks about exercising for energy not vanity. Not that walking is really "exercise" per se. But it's something. It's more than nothing. Once I read it in black and white--especially during a time when I feel somewhat stuck and uninspired in my life--I couldn't get it out of my head.

I started changing into walking clothes all the while carrying on a conversation with myself:

Grumpy Laura: "You're not really going to do this are you?"

Determined Laura: "Shut up. If I think about it too much you'll win and when I walk out of the building in two hours into a beautiful morning to go to work, I'll feel that pang of regret that I didn't get outside before having to go inside all day."

Grumpy Laura: "But it's 7:15 in the morning!"

Determined Laura: "I know."

Grumpy Laura: "But you haven't even had coffee yet! YOU. NO COFFEE. How is this even possible that you're moving around like this?"

Determined Laura: "I'll have my coffee when I get back. We can wait until then. It'll be that much more enjoyable."

Determined Laura won. She went on a walk in a beautiful Berkshire morning.

To tell you the truth, my mood wasn't all that fabulous--but it was nice to be out and about. I saw four different people out walking their dogs. One woman sweeping her sun porch. Another guy doing push ups on his sun porch, and a dude in pajama pants and a fleece in his wheel chair zipping around the neighborhood trying to find reception on his cell phone.

I felt like it was my first day joining some club. The Club for People Who Take Care of Things (themselves, their bodies, their dogs). The Club for People Who Are Up and Moving Before 8 AM. The Club for People Who Want to Get a Jump on Things. Who Have Lives. Who Have Routines.

So I did it. A 20-minute walk before 7:30 AM without coffee. Hooray.