I See Dead People.

How’s that for a sensational title? I thought it was fitting for the spooky holiday that’s upon us; “dead” might be a bit overkill, perhaps, but the alarm that I feel when I see and work with so many compromised bodies is not—I could just as well be surrounded by dead people.

I was talking with my mom yesterday after a lovely session of alignment work (in the comfort of her own home!) about a big concern of mine: that our modern world is creating decrepit skeletons in all of us and this decrepitness is happening in younger and younger generations, and that a laundry list of ailments are associated with the gradual deviations in our skeletons, and that these ailments are afflicting younger and younger bodies. Case in point: my beloved 11-year-old niece spent a night with me this week and in spite of being a “typically” active kid, my niece also sits (slumped in the sofa/chair/school desk) for the vast majority of her waking hours, which is evident in how she carries her body. With a few assessment “exercises,” (most are super-simple; bend over and touch your toes, is one) some of my suspicions were confirmed: I learned that she can’t keep her feet from migrating out into a “duck foot” position, nor can she spread her toes very far apart, and her ability to flex her ankle is limited; she can’t untuck her pelvis or bend over to touch her toes without compromising the curve of her lumbar spine or bending her knees; when she reaches overhead, her ribcage is dragged along for the ride. All of these things tell me that many muscles in her young body are extremely tight (many in the back of her body). She is unable to move her hips and her shoulders and her feet through full range of motion and instead, relies on other, less mobile parts of her body to pick up the slack. SHE IS ELEVEN YEARS OLD, PEEPS. This kind of shit shouldn’t be happening to her joints/muscles for decades. My niece isn’t a lazy kid, mind you—she plays tennis, she’s a blackbelt in kung fu, her family life is a frenzied blur of activity, much like any average American family—yet like many average Americans, her body is rapidly conforming to the shape that her body is in the majority of the hours of her life—that of a chair. And the really scary thought is, she’s not alone.

In my training and experience and continuing education as a movement teacher, I witness these and many more transgressions of alignment in various bodies, in clients I work with, and out and about in the real world. When I say “dead people,” I really mean that we’ve become a culture so out of touch with our own bodies, we don’t know what it means to move naturally any more, if we ever did in the first place—we are living an “out of body experience” kind of existence. In my classes, I call the entire back of the body “No Man’s Land,” or “Unchartered Territory” because so many people simply cannot engage the muscles necessary to restack their spines up to neutral (big chunks of the spine are immobile in many of us) or get their shoulders out of their ears to save their lives; they cannot fully extend through their hip joint (instead, their low back does all the work), they can’t untuck their pelvis (hamstrings are chronically shortened) or unbend their knees (more tight hammies and calf muscles). My parenthetical statements are just guesses; likely, the lack of mobility is a combination of many things happening in the body.

As a culture, we’ve separated “exercise” from the rest of our life, and never the twain shall meet again in our first world. I am one of these bodies, a dilemma of motion and stillness. In my last post, I talked about my feet and how my health has been impacted by my sassy-yet-seriously debilitating footwear. I also talked (at length—hey, it’s what I do best) that I am taking steps to address and mindfully, effectively change these transgressions, and that these changes aren’t coming about through exercise—not that it can’t; rather, that the changes in my body are happening faster and more effectively because I’m integrating the mantra of “making my life my workout” into my life. Knowledge and awareness are mighty powerful motivators. So is chronic pain and quality of life.

Why does any of this matter? you might ask. Because our pelvic health matters. Whuwhudda ya mean by that, you ask? I mean dysmenorreah and/or mennorhagia (painful and/or heavy periods), prostate issues, organ prolapse, sexual dysfunctions, urinary and bowel incontinence—are all affected by our alignment (it’s the premise behind the Squatty Potty craze. Squatting to poop is AWESOME! Hell, squatting itself is awesome! Except it’s a LOT more effective and beneficial to our overall health to integrate squatting naturally in our lives, vs 80 squats in a kettlebell class or Crossfit class, especially if body parts that are meant to facilitate a squat don’t know squat (ha—get it? GET? IT???), and other parts end up doing the work (low back, and knees? I’m talking to you). And let’s be real—when in life would you ever expect to squat endless times overandoverandover again, a la Typical Fitness Class?! That’s called Recipe for Repetitive Stress Injury, folks.

Our ability to squat is affected by our ability (or inability) to use the muscles in our pelvis and legs to move (and stabilize) the leg and pelvic bones they way they were designed to move into a squat, which affects pelvic health, fer shut…but I digress—this post is once again growing way longer than I expected, go figure). Let’s get back to the point (yes, there was one. I think) and why any of this matters: because osteoporosis and bone density matter (hint: the kind of exercise you do and how you execute it matter BIGLY if you’re trying to build and/or maintain bone density). We need weight bearing movement, not just exercise—as in, simply, first of all, the ability to bear the weight of our own body upright, like what could be happening when we walk, not like what doesn’t happen for most of us when we walk because all our body parts have been left unchecked for so long, our heads jut forward, our torso is so far in front of our legs, we’re essentially falling forward, step by step, to get from Point A to Point B, rather than using the strength of our legs and core to propel us. Let me repeat: our alignment matters SUPER BIGLY when we walk, if our goal to make/keep strong bones. Because our joint health and arthritis/other degenerative disorders matter. Because our digestive functions, respiratory capacity and cardiovascular heath matter. Because our mental/emotional state matters. Because our immune system matters—get what I’m saying, peeps? EVERYTHING matters because EVERYTHING in our body is impacted by our sedentary lifestyles, which impacts our alignment. (I prefer the word “alignment” when talking about our skeletal structures, btw, vs. “posture,” which is more of a learned/cultural/familial/artificial/forced way of arranging our body parts). While we may not actually be dead, a lot of our tissues and organs and body functions are dying a slow death under the weight of our collapsing scaffolding we call skeletons.

With the hopes to make this point even more vivid (if I haven’t freaked you the hell out already with images of organs falling out of you and painful, bloody periods and breaking bones—what can I say? it’s Halloween!—let’s embark on a little math problem (don’t worry, this won’t be hard—it’s yours truly here making up the problem) to see if we can figure out just how many hours of our day we actually move our bodies well—that’s the operative word here, kids: well.

So, we all have 168 hours in our week. How’d you come across that number, Jen? maybe you just asked, already skeptical, and I can’t say I blame you—me + math = not always a pretty or accurate outcome, as evidenced by all the white-out smears in my checkbook register. But stay with me here—I got a calculator somewhere, we’ll check my work as we go along—it’s more about a concept rather than precision. As a friend I used to work with used to say, “Counting isn’t an exact science.” Easy-peasy, George and Weezy—I took the number of hours in our day—24, if you’re living on Earth—and multiplied it by 7, the number of days in our Earthy week. Ta-da! My calculator confirms the answer is 168. Now, for simplicity’s sake, let’s say this is a perfect world and you get those blessed recommended 8 hours of sleep every night: 8 hours x 7 days/week = 56, so let’s subtract those 56 hours of restful, restorative slumber from our 168 hours in a week, which leaves us 112 potential hours in which to move our bods.

But, wait. Let’s say you have a full-time job outside the home; again in our make-believe world, that would be 40 hours of those 112 hours, which means (spoiler alert: here’s a hint about where I’m going with this big ol’ numbers mess): for many of us, we’re sitting at a desk, not moving our bodies a whole helluva lot beyond the sitting-in-a-chair position for those 40 hours (extra credit: see if you can recall the last time you actually raised your arms overhead or lowered your body into a true, deep squat. Just checking.), leaving us now with 72 hours in our week to move.

Maybe you have an hour commute to and from work 5 days/week (again, more sitting, sitting, sitting—in a car, in a bus, on a train, in a plane, with or without green eggs and ham—I HOPE you have SOME semblance of a nourishing breakfast to start your day right, btw): 2 hours (to and from work) x 5 days a week = 10 hours of more sitting, less moving which now leaves us 62 hours. Let’s be a little optimistic but also realistic and factor in one sit-down meal a day (the others are shoveled into your face while driving to work or working through lunch, if at all), to account for another 7 hours of sitting in our week, leaving us with 55 hours—’scuse me while I run to my calculator and check my math…okay, I’m back. Yep, so we’re down to 55 of our 168 hours. See a pattern begin to appear? Not a whole lotta moving going on in our bodies yet, and we only have 55 hours left of our week …

Are you a TV watcher? Yes? Let’s pretend you’re an “average” viewer of television, which means, according to Nielson data, you watch (this statistic makes knots in my stomach just typing it) FIVE hours of TV A DAY. Not a week, peeps. A DAY. That’s the AVERAGE. (Thanks a lot, Jackass Who Invented Binge-TV-Watching-As-A-Thing. As if we don’t have enough problems in our world.) I’m going to assume, for my own peace of mind, that this figure also includes online time, because to think there could be even more hours for online activity (kind of an oxymoron there, “online activity”) on top of all this TV watching is almost more than I can bear. And, I’m going to be generous and say these 5 hours happen over the course of 5, rather than 7 days, so 5 x 5 = 25. 25 hours from 55 is 30. Whoa. We’ve already used up 138 hours just on the act of “living” (i.e. “sitting”) in our modern world, and we have yet to incorporate anything we modern world dwellers would recognize and label as “exercise.” We are barely moving. Maybe we really are all zombies. Scared yet? Hopefully alarmed, even?

Well, let’s say you interrupt me to say you’re a “crazy-active” person, and by “crazy active” you mean you hit the weight room and/or yoga class and/or Pilates studio and/or head out on your bike/run/walk SIX DAYS A WEEK, for an HOUR AND A HALF each visit, okay, Ms. Bossypants (my mom called me that several times this weekend, btw)?! This “workout schedule,” or a variation on the theme, isn’t unrealistic for a lot of people. So that makes 9 WHOLE hours that you’re “crazy active.” (compared to the 138 hours of sleeping and sitting, sitting and more sitting. Not sayin’ anything here. Just sayin’…) And we still have 21 hours left—I didn’t figure in preparing meals, driving kids to various activities, house keeping activities and yard work (if you own a home), real social activities (actually leaving the house to go out for dinner/movie/etc vs. Instagramming yourself in front of your bathroom mirror), or any of the tiny yet significant time-sucking variables (constantly checking Facebook, “engaging” in Pokemon-Go while disengaging with actual society) that consume our remaining hours yet still offer very little in movement variety from our sitting position, which appears in the form of duck feet, tucked pelvises (pelves?), hyper-curved backs, rounded shoulders, jutting heads, feet that barely move, aching knees … “BUT!” you protest, “DIDN’T YOU HEAR THAT I’M CRAZY-ACTIVE IN THE GYM/STUDIO/FITNESS CLASS/DAILY RUN FOR NINE HOURS IN MY WEEK??!!” Yep, I heard you. Those nine hours are pretty lame, however, when we look at the mind-boggling missed-movement opportunities we have in our lives … and speaking of “BUT(T)S!!! in spite of those 9 hours in the gym/studio/whatever and the 8 million “squats,” yours is still looking pretty damned flat, which tells me your butt isn’t doing a wholelotta anything, in spite of your “crazy active” lifestyle. And let me ask you, how are your knees after those crazy-active 9 hours of working out, btw? Your low back? Your shoulders? Your hips? Your feet? Yep, I thought so.

My little “math problem” isn’t scientific, I well know—we all have wildly different lives with infinite variables that would result in any number of unique inputs for the equation.  However, in spite of those variations, my hypothesis is that we would arrive at similar conclusions: that the inputs don’t matter—our sedentary hours vastly outnumber our active ones, even for those of us who are “crazy active.”My point is to start taking notice of the discrepancy between the number of hours we’re not moving, or barely moving (even when we “move,” we barely migrate from a slouched, sitting position—again, just wondering—when did you last raise your arms overhead or go barefoot for any extended period of time, over varied terrain?) and the number of hours we’re active. And take note of the stunning health issues our culture faces; indeed, first-world problems of the truest definition.

In my example, that ratio is stunning: 138 hours of barely moving vs. 9 hours of “crazy active exercise” (which is demanded of bodies that aren’t able to move through normal ranges of motion). I’ve been this person, too, the crazy-active workout person, who “kicked ass” in the gym but lived in high-heels outside the gym, in a body I could barely configure into an upright position, with chronic, often debilitating pain in her right hip, in her feet and low back, for years. Oh, I got “strong” and “fit” in the gym alright, but “fit” isn’t the same as “healthy,” I can assure you. There’s a YUGE difference. I don’t believe working out in a gym or a studio or however we chose to get our fitness fix is a bad thing in and of itself; what I do believe is that those 138 (give or take) hours outside the gym matter more, however, as far as our quality of life is concerned. I also believe, deeply, in the profound, whole-body (mind, body and spirit) benefits of integrating real, natural movement into those 138 hours that we’re not “exercising” but rather, living. Maybe in another post, I’ll wax poetic on the freedom that comes from letting go of the idea of “exercise” and embracing the “movement” movement, Oh, the places we can go, when we are able to move well, without pain or restrictions …

That an orthopedic and fracture clinic is one of the biggest sponsors of a local marathon is an irony not lost on me. img_2831Nor is the three-story banner at United Hospital in St. Paul, near where I used to live, proclaiming the opening of its new joint replacement center. Nor is the fact that, instead of getting out of our stiff, immobile shoes and transitioning to shoes that allow for full ranges of motion throughout the 33 joints in our feet and eventually maybe even barefoot more often (at least part time—I’m a work in progress, too!), or start strengthening our back and hips instead of demanding more CRUNCHES and OBLIQUE WORK in our Pilates classes, we’ll just continue to ignore the root causes of our knee/back/foot/hip pain, and instead, add a a stiff, immobile orthotic to do the work of our leg/foot muscles, or a brace to hold our knee together whenever we run, or eventually succumb to surgery to “fix” that herniated disc. And after surgery, we’ll prolly continue to live the way we did before surgery, doing the very things that caused the surgery/orthotic/brace to be needed in the first place because no one told us otherwise … Reactive medicine, rather than restorative, proactive approaches, is our modern world response to ill health. We’ll take surgeries and pills over addressing root causes, over changing lifestyles, nearly every time. 3-story high banners proclaim this. It’s the American Way.

What if we were to slowly shift our perspective from seeing “exercise” as a separate, quantifiable activity that must be scheduled or planned and instead, start finding the infinite opportunities for a varied diet of movement throughout our daily lives? What if we simply began moving our bodies often, and in a variety of ways (beyond what we’re already “good” at)? Instead of slumping for hours on a sofa (at our desk, on the treadmill, on the bike, in a fitness class), what if we were to start by stacking a pile of pillows on the floor and introducing our chair-shaped bodies to a new position? And what if, in doing such things, we, by our own efforts, begin to heal our deteriorating skeletons and (this is no accident), improve our overall quality of life and health/well-being (intricate, intimate, inseparable facets of life)?

By performing a few simple assessment movements, like I did with my niece and my mom, what I do with clients in my studio (what I’ve done and continue to do with my own body and movement profiles), we can discover valuable information about how we are, or perhaps more accurately, are not moving our bodies. This information is enlightening and empowering, and with it, we can begin to take back ownership of our own bodies and health by becoming a mindful, active participant and advocate in our own health and healing journey.

So did I send my niece home with a bunch of stretches and corrective exercises to help get her and her body back on track? No (not that that would have been a bad thing—sometimes corrective work is where we need to begin, to start moving well again if we’ve adapted too well to a sedentary life). She’s a kid—we did what kids do best (and we adults could take a hint from): we went out to play. I gave her my pair of Merrell Vapor img_3503Gloves tennies to wear (she came to my house wearing a clunky pair of boots) which gave her whole body more freedom to move and navigate and translate the wild terrain of the great outdoors (yay!! We’re the same shoe size which means my shoe collection has now doubled! Wait—that means I’ll be wearing purple and pink tennies and moon boots…okay, nevermind…). We took the dogs out for a long hike through Minnehaha Off-Leash Dog Park where we were all overcome with joy, running through the woods, climbing over rocks, balancing our way across fallen trees, slopping though muddy creeks…the best way to restore lost movement to body parts is to start moving the body back in the direction of its divine design—a lot, and in many different ways … Happy Halloween, all. Watch out for dead people. xxoo

These Boots (and Feet) Were Made for Walking

fullsizeoutput_719Okay, lemme get one thing straight. The vision, hope, dream of my blog in this incarnation was not to share my life’s drama with the world (been there, done that, do NOT want the t-shirt) but rather, to intersect my writing with my emerging (haha. get it? GET? IT?) passion/mission/obsession with whole-body-health-wellness-through-movement-and-while-Pilates-is-one-way-to-get-you-moving-an-even-better-way-is-to-get-your-ass-off-the-couch/recliner/chair-of-any-kind-and-get-out-and-start-tree-climbing-cartwheeling-barefooting-or-heck-just-push-and-pull-and-reach-overhead-and-squat-for-stuff-throughout-your-day-not-just-in-a-gym-or-Pilates-class-ALL-of-which-Joseph-Pilates-far-more-than-he-ever-“did-Pilates” brand of religion. And, in the process, perhaps inspire a few others to think outside the “exercise” box and begin integrating whole-body movement throughout their day … a paradigm shift from “quantity” to “quality” where our movement, and ultimately—our lives—are concerned. The challenge has been trying to get all of that on my new business card. Gonna be pretty small print. On a really big card.

But then the world had to go and get all up in my business, hijacking my mission and my plans and skirting me off-track for a few weeks or so…

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But a girl can’t go into hiding forever now, can she? God knows I’ve tried for the past five years or so, but the peopley-things just won’t let me. Nor will my dog (if I could toilet-train him, we’d never have to leave the house). But, “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans,” a very wise man once said, so the peopley things gotta be dealt with, which always takes more time than this girl wants to spend on peopley-things. For the record, it takes an enormous amount of time and energy and resources to confront an unethical landlord, break a business lease, haul studio equipment into a storage garage, scramble to find a new location (in a church, of all places!), sign a new lease in a space far smaller than the one recently vacated, clean and paint the new space, and then haul aforementioned equipment out of storage and into the new space (did I mention it was a church?!), and overhaul a website and online scheduling program, get a new logo designed and new business cards and brochures printed, reevaluate and rewrite the business plan/mission—oh, and at the same time, move to a new house and start reading books and writing stuff for grad skool that resumed this fall (six credits shy of thesis, peeps!) …. today, safely on this side of the shitstorm, all I can say in my defense is that it was a good idea at the time. And, that I didn’t do the confronting and lease-breaking and moving and painting and moving again all by myself. Friends and family and even strangers have been mind-blowingly supportive and encouraging and helpful beyond words … my advice to anyone trying to get on in this world, no matter what you’re facing is this: surround yourself with good people. In every aspect of your life, personal and professional. And by “good people” I mean others who genuinely want to help you, lift you, who go high when others go low. Oh—and be a good people yourself. For no other reason than because you want to. Period.

(At some point, I will write about the whole nasty ordeal with my ex landlord—the parallels between my experience and the hair-raising vaudeville show called the 2016 US Presidential election is disturbing and unsettling—the dangerous attitudes, beliefs and behaviors brought to light by this election need to be addressed. However, my story will likely end up as the final essay for my independent study coursework this term at Hamline, not here on the blog. But who knows—as my dear mom likes to say, “My women studies classes at MSU taught me that I always have the right to change my mind …”)

As of last week, I’m finally settled in the big ol’ church that so warmly opened their doors to me and my business (as they do for anyone and everyone. Unconditionally, without judgment, without motive. Good peeps at UBC—did I mention how important good peeps are in life? Very.), and I’m ready to take appointments and teach small group classes. I’ve joined the Dinkytown Business Association and as soon as my new biz cards and brochures arrive, I’ll be taking a li’l stroll through the ‘hood to start spreading the good Pilates and Nutritious Movement news. But the invitation is open to all, Dinkytownian or not: Please come and visit me in my new digs! Not only will I give you a

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The psychedelic church gym.

Pilates/movement session like no other (though, if you’re looking for a gym-like “workout,” you may want to look elsewhere, as that’s not my brand of health and wellness—I’ll make you sweat and tremble and curse at me, no doubt, but you’ll barely be moving when we begin; it can be rather humbling, albeit profoundly enlightening and life-altering work, if you’re up to the challenge), I’ll also give you a tour of the massive edifice in which my business now resides—the brilliantly graffitied gym, the real-live baptistry in the

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Not the actual UBC’s baptistry, but close; image stolen from the internet.

sanctuary, the Assembly Room where the Roots Cellars Music Series happen, all the way down into the deep, dark shadowy bowels where the massive steel monstrosity they call a boiler shakes, rattles and heaves hot air up into every nook and cranny of this precious old soul of a church…) We might get lost, which is half the fun!

But, back to our regularly scheduled program: the point of this blog, if there ever was one, is to help others contemplate and maybe even eventually embrace the concept that movement needs to happen—a lot and in myriad ways—throughout our days, throughout our lives, not just in the few hours a week we hit the gym or Pilates studio or yoga class or wherever our “fitness” world lives separately from the rest of our life. Whadda ya mean??!! Move ALL the time??!! Yes, I can hear your thoughts. Bu-bu-but what about my habitual binge-watching TV habits that I’ve so intentionally cultivated??!!!  you might find yourself desperately asking. Radical concept, this “move a lot, throughout your day,” I know. Hard to imagine, much less implement. I get it. So, I’ve decided to break the blog down into smaller parcels—body parts, if you will—to make these ideas easier to understand and hopefully integrate. And because so much of our overall health (and by “so much of our overall health,” I mean basically every. last. thing. in. our. bodies) reacts, responds and depends on the condition of our feet (and vice versa) I thought we should start there.

Specifically, we’re going to talk about my feet, but also your feet, by association. And that twenty-five percent of the bones in our body reside in our feet, which creates a mind-boggling thirty-three joints in each foot. And that the joints of our feet should be as mobile as those in our hands (which isn’t saying much for many of us, because nowadays, our hands and wrists and fingers are also chronically stiff and achy and aren’t nearly as strong or mobile as they could be, thank you, O Modern World with your seductive computers/smartphones/conveniences that are creating and reinforcing an insidiously sedentary, chronically-debilitating “new normal” lifestyle, which many of us brutally subject to periodic bouts of “exercise”) and that the mobility of our feet, made possible by muscle and tendon and ligamental engagement that creates our arches (not those artificial orthotics you’ve sent in to do the work of your muscles), is what allows our feet to mold around the varied surfaces upon which we walk (which again, is severely limited for most of us, so accustomed to our flattened, asphalted modern world terrain…), creating a constant rush of neural messages passing throughout our body, keeping everything alive and nourished—joints spacious and mobile, muscles flexible and toned, blood flowing freely, core strengthened, all beautifully, naturally…But that for many of us, our feet behave like two stiff paddles at the bottom of our bodies, woefully immobile because they’ve been trapped and contained and distorted by shoes for so many hours and days and years of our lives, and that other joints in our body (that aren’t  nearly so naturally plentiful or mobile) have to pick up the slack of the slabs we call feet and these poor joints—our knees, our low backs—can’t carry this burden for long. It’s too much to ask of a couple of flimsy body parts to do the job that is divinely designed to be orchestrated by our entire being—and that if we don’t address the state of our feet, we make it difficult, if not impossible, to address other issues within our bodies (tight hips, unstable pelvis and spine, misaligned shoulders and neck…). Remember that ol’ ditty, “Dem Bones?” It’s true, every word of it. Nothing is random, everything is connected.

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Pedicure, circa early June 2016. It’s now the end of October.

My feet are the consequence of many things—a long-overdue pedicure, for one. Sloppy painting practices (tape-schmape, man). Decades of living in heeled shoes—not just the obviously, dangerously-heeled stiletto, wedge or platform (which I still love, love, LOVE, though I wear less, less, LESS) but also more “sensible” or “healthier” varieties: flip-flops, clogs, athletic shoes; Borns, Aerosoles, Clarks. The consequences of these well-heeled (seriously, I’m on a roll here kids, and it’s not even noon!) transgressions are evident in my feet: chipped polish and ragged nails (wait, that’s the consequence of pedicure sins, not footwear). Uneven callouses (callouses are not inherently a bad thing, btw; where they are can give us some good info on how we’re using using our feet which can, in turn, tell us which muscles in our legs/hips might be weak or over-worked; the wear on the soles of our shoes can give us similar information). Paint splatters across my toes and stuck to my soles (yes, I’m standing on a tarp in the foot photo. I’m also likely standing on slopped paint, which was may or may not have been imprinted in little tracks not across the tarp, but across my studio floor). Bunions. Crooked toes. Stiffness. Aches and pains that start in my feet and travel all the way up to my cranium. But these things are dissipating (the aches and pains, that is, not the unsightly toenail polish) as I’ve been moving from a heeled-lifestyle to a more barefooted (read: more overall movement-based) one. My transition has been slow; inadvertent to begin with, but is becoming more mindful and intentional as I learn how profound the health of my feet is to my entire body.

A heel is a heel is a heel, y’all, in terms of shoes and how the rest of our body must contort and distort to adapt to our heel of choice to keep us upright—sometimes in barely-discernible micro-adjustments, sometimes in huge, desperate measures—all which have a profound impact on our overall wellness. High heels get a bad rap because of their very obvious impact on the body; however, even the heels of our “healthier” lower-heeled athletic shoes and loafers cause these reconfiguration of our bone, on a smaller scale. In heels, joints must reconfigure and become compressed (which in turn, compress and compromise the soft tissues around the joints) to adjust our whole body to the pitch-forward of heeled shoes; muscles grip and tendons and ligaments become stressed and stretched to desperately hold us upright without face-planting. Over time, after years of living in this compromised alignment, previously mobile joints become stiff and unmoving, previously stable joints become hyper mobile in order to adapt to this unnatural environment. Our bodies are stunningly adaptable; however “adapting” doesn’t necessarily mean an improvement.

In my hairdresser lifetime, I precariously hovered over clients for 8-10 hours a day, 5 days a week in 2-4 inch heels, for nearly 20 years. I used to brag about my astounding high-heeled feats (as the owner of the salon, not only did I tend to clients’ needs, but I was often balancing on a ladder, changing tube fluorescent lightbulbs or shoveling the walk in front of the salon or engaging in other various maintenance duties between clients), often and proudly quoting cartoonist Bob Thaves, “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backward and in high heels!” Those years, incidentally, overlapped my “hyper-exercise” days, too (a topic for another blog post at another time). What I didn’t brag about were the aches and pains I was dealing with, from the bunions and corns (YES. I said “CORNS.” ON. MY. LITTLE. PINKY. TOES. Like my GRAMMA used to complain about. God help me…) of my feet all the way to my head (headaches, neck aches) and parts inbetween. I developed sciatica-like symptoms in my right leg that became so debilitating that I sought medical help, spending a small fortune on various doctors’ visits, physical therapy, chiropractors, massage therapy … I’d find temporary relief, but the pain always came back, often with a vengeance. Not once did any health-care professional look at the shoes that I walked into the appointments with, and say, “Okay, your first exercise is to GET THE HELL OUT OF THOSE THINGS ON YOUR FEET. NOW.” Even if they had, would I have changed? I wonder. Like many people, I might have said “No way. I LOVE my heels. I look taller and slimmer in heels. And I’m short—I can’t do my job effectively if I can’t reach my clients’ heads! I want an easier/better/more convenient answer.” The “easier” answer, rather than being held accountable for my behavior (i.e.: footwear choices, in this case) comes in the form of medication, orthotics, more therapies, eventually surgery …

As luck (?) had it, events in my life ended up making this decision for me (though I really don’t believe life happens quite like that; again, another post for another time). When Bob got sick, I gradually transitioned from my beloved, preferred 3+-inch heels to flat footwear because 1. I quit working to care for him full time and I found out quickly that my new job of racing him to the ER 3x/week didn’t allow the luxury of picking out which shoes to wear with my outfit du jour (which quickly evolved from fashion to function, as well), and 2. teetering on high heels as I paced the halls of the ICU or the 7th floor of the oncology wing at the U of M for weeks on end or caring for Bob was conducive to basically nothing as far as his health was concerned. Incidentally, as I researched online for alternative therapies to help improve his quality of life while he was battered by cancer and the horrific things the medical world calls “treatments,” I also picked up bits and pieces about how I could slowly change things in my own life. I talked with friends who were also on similar paths (“same but different,” one dear friend often says), I read about the whole-body benefits going barefoot more and swapping traditional shoes for “minimalist footwear,” and how that simple act could be the single most impactful thing a person can do right now to improve overall health (why? Short answer: Shoes, especially heeled shoes, distort the geometry of the foot bones and inhibit natural movement of our feet—if our feet can’t move, other body parts will bear the brunt—parts that aren’t designed for great mobility–ankles, knees, low back. If our feet can’t move well, it’s very likely we have limited range of motion in our hips, as well. Without heels interfering with the body’s alignment, the whole body has a better opportunity to move through greater ranges of motion in a more balanced and controlled—read: natural—manner. Yes, that was my short answer). Joseph Pilates knew this, he wrote about it, he not only preached it, he practiced it (the whole premise of his work concerns whole-body alignment—he even invented specific apparatus to address dysfunctions of the feet, among a host of other ingenious tools to address other weaknesses and imbalances in these divine vessels carrying us through life).

When Bob was sick, I bought my first pair of Merrel minimalist shoes, and that was my literal first step toward whole-body wellness and an eventual shift from my sassy shoe collection (and incidentally, my “exercise” mindset) to better health via more “healthful” footwear. Today, my preferred foot state is “unshod.” Yep, I said “unshod.” As in an animal. As in freedom of movement. Except in places that post “No shoes, no shirt, no service.” And with this shift, in a relatively short time frame, the sciatica in my hip began to resolve. The corns disappeared (bunions still with me, still waiting for them to fall off in my sleep. I’m also waiting for my “un-delicate ankles” to suddenly become slender and gazelle-like). As the range of motion available in my feet increased, inversely, knee and low back pain decreased. This is no accident, I assure you, but it didn’t suddenly happen the day I slipped the Merrel shoes on my feet.

The more I learn about the body and its divine design, the more I realize how much our alignment matters to all our body parts, and it begins (but doesn’t end) with our feet. I had a discussion with Joe (my Joe, not Pilates Joe) recently; he said, “You know, you teach Pilates but I don’t ever see you work out,” and I had to think about that—to be honest, I can’t tell you the last time I actually “worked out.” But every day, throughout my day, I try to “work out” my body by integrating full-body movement with everything I do. I might very well do more deep squats throughout my day—to unload the dishwasher, to pick up a dropped pencil or my dog’s poo, and yes, I have and use a Squatty Potty—than most people do in an hour long workout. I likely also reach overhead more times in a day than most people do in a year. I’ve purposely begun rearranging my home to facilitate this enriching movement (a heart-felt shout-out to Katy Bowman of Nutritious Movement, for that genius idea, and another to my Pilates teacher-mentor-friend, Rebecca Leone, who doesn’t “do” Pilates, either; she “LIVES” Pilates every minute of her life and it shows); instead of placing items that I use on a regular basis at chest-level (read: requiring little movement), I’ve rearranged some of my cupboards so I have to reach overhead or squat low to get them. I sit on my floor more than I do my sofa or chairs. But, there is a transition period to this way of living, like I transitioned from a heeled lifestyle to a predominately unshod one.

My personal mission is to integrate more movement so naturally into my life that “working out” becomes synonymous with living in my life. Not in a gym or even in a Pilates studio, but “out there,” in the real world. The way nature intend (hey—someone should use that line in a commercial).

The photos above compare and contrast the multiple-personality of my footwear collection. Yes, I still own many heels that live in my closet more than on my feet, and are slowly, pair by pair, finding their way from my closet to Goodwill. By 2020, I expect my closet to be free and clear of all heels. Except my red patfullsizeoutput_8d2ent leather Carlos Santana pumps. Even if I never wear them again, I will be buried in them.

Like anything in life, this is a transition and it takes time. I don’t expect anyone to suddenly empty out closets of heeled shoes and invest in all zero-drop shoes—for most of us, the resultant (whoa—wait. Is “resultant” a real word or is it a Donald Trumpism, a la “bigly” and “braggadocious?” hmmm…) shock to the body that has adapted to heels would be a lot to handle. Then again, I’m not you, so who am I to say it can’t be done? Take it slow. Go barefoot at home when you can. Start wearing a lower-heeled, more flexible shoe (with more room for the toes) now and then. Introduce new terrain to your feet (roll your foot along a tennis ball, or other surfaces).

My feet have come a long way in the past five years or so. My whole being has come a long way in the past five years or so, the result of a lot of work that began unwittingly passive and is evolving toward mindfully intentional.

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Are you ready, boots? Start walkin’.

Next time, I want to talk about “core work” as it pertains to Pilates and to life—it was hard for me to write this piece about feet and not wander off into “but I’m not moving mindlessly, moving just for the sake of moving” territory, which is integral but a whole ‘nuther subject unto itself…until next time, xxoo

The Lord Moves in Mysterious Ways

I could waste a whole lotta space rambling on about the process that led me to my new studio location, or I could just tell you that Emerge Pilates will be opening soon within the beautifully inclusive, warmly welcoming arms of University Baptist Church, at 1219 University Avenue SE, Minneapolis, smack dab in the heart of Dinkytown and the University of Minnesota. And you could stop reading right now, because that’s all the important deets I have for you at this time. Or, you could pause a moment, consider the words “beautifully inclusive, warmly welcoming arms of University Baptist Church” a moment, maybe even think “WTF did she just say?!” And then kick back for another rambling story from ol’ Auntie Jen. Cuz that’s what I do best. Ramble.

Let me just say that the many layers of irony of my new studio location are not lost on me, peeps. She who declared in her last post, “I’m not conventionally religious—hell, I don’t even know if I’m unconventionally religious,” she who talked a lot about her nephew zipping ’round the U of M grounds on Bob’s old bike, she who doesn’t talk much about how the U of M is a source of very sad memories and intense emotions, if she allows herself to go down that path too far …

But as I was analyzing my options for my studio going forward, one recurring vision/urging/idea was to explore options outside of the traditional commercial rental situation. And then I came upon this Craigslist ad: “Bright, peaceful office space in in historic church.” Which made me go, hmmmm I could use peaceful right now, but that word, “church” … that makes my skin crawl, but evidently not enough to stop me from sending an email of inquiry about the space, which resulted in a phone call from a woman named Sheila, who said she was from the University Baptist Church and would be happy to show me the space. Which then made me go, hmmmmnot just church, but Baptist? Shit…

Truth be told, I have very little first-hand experience with Baptists; the one and only personal encounter I had was with a prom date back in 1984 who was Baptist, whose mother freaked the hell out because he was taking a Catholic girl to prom (little did she know I was of the very diluted, “half-assed” variety of Catholicism, which may or may not have helped my case) and wouldn’t give my date—her own son—financial assistance for prom expenses or allow us to show up at their home for pictures (my mom took plenty of Polaroids to make up the difference—the two of us standing stiffly side-by-side, drowning in a sea of nauseating, horrifying pastel—me in my lavender, billowy Gunne Sax dress—bought on clearance with babysitting and rock picking money, at Jean Nicole in the Mankato Mall, topped with a dollop of a white straw hat and dab of lacy fingerless gloves!—he, in a powder-blue suit cinched with a big, fat striped necktie which may very well have belonged to his father because this was the 80s, when skinny ties were TOTALLY what dudes were wearing at the time. But not this dude. His mother missed out on some fabulous photo ops…). He picked me up in a limousine borrowed from his church  (he drove the limousine, I sat up front <–original definition of awkward); he also had a trunk full of booze and a hotel room rented in Mankato for post-prom festivities—who was worried about whom, Overly Protective Baptist Mother? If my own mother had known what was in store for me as that smog of pastel waltzed out of the house, you can bet she would have called her utterly-despised-yet-overly-protective-gun-toting-ex-husband ASAP, fer shur…

For the record, I ditched my date before the night’s end, though I have no doubts he still had a grand time, probably better time without me, evidenced by the liquor-fueled strip poker game raging as I and my many layers of lavender flounced out of the hotel room. So yes, perhaps my opinion of Baptists are slightly influenced from that experience. And maybe by those deplorable, hate-filled Westboro Baptist folks. But for the record, I was moved to tears by the Rev. Steve Daniels Jr., of the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in St. Paul, who delivered the highly emotional, earth-moving sermon at Philando Castile’s funeral in July, at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Which is all to say that maybe, because of all that, I had some reservations about the space. Mainly because it’s a church. It’s no secret, the centuries of awfulness of the world that has been done and continues to be done behind the shield of so many churches. But I was willing to check it out, because personally, I didn’t have a lot to go on, Baptist-wise or studio-wise, and c’mon—who doesn’t like a good adventure?

I decided to do a little background check first (praise the Lord for the internet!), so I hopped online to see if University Baptist Church had a website. They do, and to my surprise, the first photo I saw was a sanctuary draped in rainbow flags. Which made me go, Whoa—WAIT. Are those real, live rainbow flags? As in LGBT rainbow flags?! Or is this congregation so out of touch that they think rainbows are nothing more than cute li’l ol’ rainbows?! Digging a little deeper on the website, I found this statement: We are a faith community with a noble tradition of supporting full equality for LGBT people. UBC was the first Baptist Church to appoint an openly lesbian pastor, the Rev. Nadean Bishop, who served from 1992-2000. UBC belongs to the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists and American Baptists Concerned for Sexual Minorities. S.T.F.U. For realz?! Digging deeper, I found a beautiful statement on same-sex marriage that you can read here. Then I found this: (a list of partners of the UBCMN).  And this: (an impressive monthly music series held in the church basement). And this: (the worship theme of 2016-2017 at UBCMN is “Just Mercy: Proclaiming Peace and Working for Justice” based on the book by Bryan Stevenson, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption”).

Multiple congregations, alongside Baptists—Episcopalian, Methodist, Pentecostal, and others—worship under this roof. Nondenominational, social justice programs operate under this roof—take it away, UBCMN: We value our involvement as individuals and as a congregation in issues of importance to society at large. We use our large building to house many groups including Restorative Justice Community Action, theater groups, five other congregations, and local activists. We structure ourselves in Ministry Teams. These teams are passion-driven. If you are passionate about it, we empower you to do it. As long as it fits within our mission and vision, use our name, invite people to it and thrive. Some Ministry Teams are more formal than others. Some are episodic. The point is that we want people to do ministry that feeds their passion. This is where the Spirit is most active and obvious. Our Ministry Teams include the knitting group, the Worship Planning Team, various study groups, the garden team, the Loaves and Fishes meal program and so on. You do not have to be a member of the church to be on a ministry team. The only time you would ever have to ask permission for anything from the church is if you wanted to use the building or you needed financial resources. We want people to be involved in ministry. Go for it.

Various professionals rent office space in the rooms that used to be classrooms. A gigantic gymnasium that used to be used by the church’s school that reminds me of the “old gym” of my high school, that most recently was used by an alternative high school that blessed the church with its presence by wrapping the walls in stunning graffiti, is below the sanctuary. Why this place calls themselves a church is beyond me—churches, by definition (mine, anyhow), exclude. This place not just includes, but warmly, genuinely welcomes with open arms, everyone. A.B.S.O.L.U.T.E.L.Y  E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E. All they ask is that you are passionate. If that’s the case, then sign me up, Jesus!

Maybe all these words in this post are coming on the heels of the disturbing Presidential debate I watched last night…thoughts of, “well, okay, I know I have some preconceived notions about something or other, but often, if I take some time and do a little investigating, maybe loosen the binds of conviction a bit, I find that previously held notions aren’t as true or precious as I once thought…” or you might hold on even tighter to those convictions as a result, or you might be thinking “Our world is going to hell in a hand basket…” Whichever way, it’s always a choice. Please, be passionate (and careful, and considerate) with your choices.

I’ll shut the hell up for now and just say that serendipitous encounters continue to happen, again and again, prior to and since finding this space. And here are a few photos. Church, smurch. xxoo

 

 

Filed under: Random Messages from Your Brother that Make Your Day

This past week has been emotionally, mentally and physically taxing and I’m still trying to process everything that has transpired—from the point of signing my lease for my new studio to all the hard work that went into the space to the frantic frenzy of hauling my shit out and into a storage locker because of a situation that escalated so fast, all within a few short weeks—right now the only word I can come up with to define the events is surreal…when I finally shake it out and sort it all out, I’ll share the deets with y’all (incidentally, my ex landlord said, early in our short-lived relationship, that he wanted to read some of my writing—won’t he be surprised to find himself as the main character in my next essay), but until I find the time and energy to do craft that piece, I thought I’d share this sweet li’l story with you all, instead. It’s stuff like this, happening all around us, all the time, even in the midst of shitstorms—especially in the midst of shitstorms—that keeps me going.

So, I got a text from my brother, Kurt, today, telling me to check my email inbox because he’d sent me a message about a story he thought I’d enjoy. He’s right, and here it is:

Hey big sis! 

Just wanted to drop you a line to let you know about a pretty cool thing that transpired out of helping you move your stuff last week…at least I think it’s pretty cool. As you know, I rode up with Mikey and his boys last Saturday and our conversations ranged from mundane to the bizarre…as is apt to happen when you talk about Mikey’s life! 🙂 
Well, at one point we started talking about Noah and his college experience so far and at then I made mention of the fact that Noah was looking for a bike to make it easier to get around on the U of M campus. We actually had been looking around for a bike for him for a couple weeks, but really hadn’t found anything. 
At that point Mike made mention of the fact that he had Bob’s old bike, that you had given him a few years back, and while Mike’s intentions were good about riding it, he said he never really got around to it. He said it has just been hanging up in his garage for a couple years and that it was Noah’s if he wanted it. 
Well, long story short, I took Mike up on the offer the day after we helped you move. Then, after some fresh air for the tires and some light maintenance, Teresa, Shea and I hauled that two-wheeled beauty up to the U last Sunday and Noah has been wheeling around like a mad man around campus…the same campus Bob used to roam. 
Noah said it has been working like a charm and has cut his 25-minute commute to his furthest class to just 8-minutes, not to mention making it easier for him, living on West Bank, to access the parts of campus way on the other side of the river. He said it’s pretty special wheeling across the Washington Avenue bridge with the wind at his face and the beautiful view in the distance — a view I’m sure Bob appreciated often during his collegiate days. 
Anyway, just wanted to share that little story because I kind of got chills thinking about it last week. I’ve also sent you a picture of the Bike of Bob that Noah shot of it on campus and to let you Noah is well aware of the connection this bike has .  
Have a great weekend and hopefully we’ll see you around soon!
Kurt
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Bob’s old bike (and I mean old) and its 2nd life as Noah’s Wheels at the U…

First things first: For the record, I am younger and smaller than my brother Kurt. Second, it warms my heart beyond words to know that another piece of Bob in his earthly form has infiltrated a loved one’s life, bringing joy and happiness to said loved one, and has cut this loved one’s commuting-to-class time from 25 minutes to a mere eight. #winningatthiscollegethingy
Second things second. You may or may not know that I don’t have conventional religious beliefs. Hell, I don’t even know if I have unconventional religious beliefs. But I do know that I’m continually questioning life—no special reason, just the way I am—and as such, I’m in a state of constant awe because so many random, beautiful things that keep on happening in life, even when things feel especially challenging. It almost gets to the point where I feel the need to stop and cry out:  STOP IT ALREADY, UNIVERSE. I MEAN IT—I CAN’T KEEP UP, OKAY??!! Which causes me to think that there has to be a purpose for our being here on this planet, otherwise, why the hell care about anyone or anything?
I was sharing my story of this past week with a dear friend the other night over dinner, a friend who also lost her husband to a long, gruesome battle with cancer. She had such kind, loving words of wisdom to share with me: “Don’t allow this asshole of an ex landlord to extinguish your fire, Jen.” That was the first part of her message. Which was plenty good and plenty true. And could easily be a bumper sticker for life in general: “Don’t let the assholes extinguish your fire.” I wryly commented, “You know, Deb. It’s times like this that I get so pissed at Bob for up and dying on me—abandoning me—to deal with the unnecessarily stressful shit of life all by myself.” I laughed and said, “I know that’s irrational and immature and completely untrue—I’ve had so much help and support and for all of that, I’m so grateful—but still…
Deb then said, “You know, Jen, maybe instead of thinking that Bob abandoned you, you could look at it as a way that Bob protected you from a potentially devastating situation…” Her words reminded me of the letters Bob and I used to write to each other; so many of his were signed, “Always with you.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “What the hell do any of us really know, anyway?” But when I let everything else go and simply believe those three words, for a few quiet moments of clarity, I have peace in my heart and I truly believe I do know a helluva lot more than I give myself credit for. We all do. The evidence is all around us, making itself known in so many beautiful, subtle ways—literally showering us with these tiny acts of awesome wonder—but we tend to overlook them in our frantic hoping and wishing and praying for the massive miracles of the dazzling variety…my red-head nephew zipping around the U on Bob’s bike is evidence. Dinner with a dear friend and the gift of wise words, evidence…an opportunity to regroup, reorganize, redo, more evidence…
Moving forward, a quick, vague update: my studio and business plans are being reshaped, redesigned, revisioned. Emerge Pilates, still, coming soon…xxoo

Helpful words of the day: ASK FOR HELP, DAMMIT.

So along with this new studio comes a rekindling of my relationship with Home Depot and Menard’s and the neighborhood corner hardware store—some days, I’ve made at least three trips to the DIY-havens and employees now recognize me by sight. I’m working hard to keep my expenses manageable and gratefully, my studio space doesn’t require major build-out (unlike the salon I had a lifetime ago). My landlord has a crew of handy-guys who’ve been able to help out with painting and other odd-jobs for me—a god-send, indeed—but a lot of the work I’m doing myself because I can and I have to, but it does take valuable time that could be better spent on things like promoting my new biz, updating my website, etc. #firstworldproblemsarestillrealproblems… Every now and then, I feel that little bit of panic start to bubble under the surface of my heart, a quiet reminder that right now, I’m paying rent but not bringing in an income (I’m not good with numbers, but even I can do the math on that one …) and wonder if any of my family members might have room for me and my neurotic dog in their basement…

The other day, I got all teary-eyed about how much work there is yet to do and how will it ever get done and will I ever be able to start teaching and what the HELL am I going to do about that godforsaken f*#@ing back room and maybe I won’t even be able to use that godforsaken f*#@ing back room because it’s a veritable f*#@ing WRECK right now and I’ll never be able to pay rent because I won’t be able to work here and then I’ll get cancer and die (which is so not a disrespectful, flippant comment, for anyone who doesn’t know me) and lose my dog and this is the worst f*#@ing idea I’ve EVER had, evereverever (see how I’m censoring the f-word, Mom?!), and almost called my landlord to exercise the two-month “buyer’s remorse” clause on my lease.

Then, I recalled that lifetime ago, when I’d signed the lease for my salon and hired a formerly-recovered-but-newly-off-the-wagon meth addict to do the work on my space (which is another story for another time, kids—he was on the wagon when I first met him, a sweet and riduculously-talented-turned-tragic-story of a man). The ensuing stress from that relationship ended in a screaming match—well, it was just me screaming—at this six and a half-foot, heavily tattooed, very gifted but firm-in-the-grips-of-addiction man and kicked him out of my salon with promises to call the police or worse if he ever showed up in my doorway again (whatever worse was, hoping like mad he’d never call my bluff, which gratefully he never did). Yes, this could be worse, I thought as I wiped tears with the back of my grubby hand. And, this is my choice—no one is forcing me to do this. I want to do this, was my next thought as I resumed scraping the f*#@ing paint off the f*#@ing floor…remember this story, kids, on those days you want to quit your cushy, six-figure, full bennies, corner-office-with-a-helluva-view, company-picnic and holiday-bonus job, is all I’m sayin’. (And just for the record, in case anyone here doesn’t speak hyperbole, I’m utterly beyond grateful for this choice.)

So, speaking of that f*#@ing back room, my new studio space has this wonderful, big garage in the back that takes up maybe a 1/3 of my space and I have high hopes of using it for group classes (either that, or I’m paying for 1/3 of my space to be a black hole). This photograph is from August 17, around the time I signed my life away my lease which beautifully and accurately illuminates the raw, natural potential of the space:

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As is, it’s perfect for a speedy-oil-change biz/meth lab (my Plan B), but can’t you literally and figuratively feel the potential oozing from this space? I mean, if you look beyond the multiple layers of peeling paint on the floor. And the big, grungy garage door with the gargantuan gaps in weather stripping and strange space-taped rectangles and giant upside-down V gash on the left side (where firefighters hacked a big hole that they didn’t actually use to gain access to the space when a former tenant’s space heater caught fire in the basement, my landlord tells me). And beyond the grease and paint and glue and holes that mottle floor. Oh, and the grungy, yellowed walls. And let’s not talk about the spiders that I can’t kill but I will make my brother catch and release outdoors, m’kay? Let’s all take a huge, collective cleansing breath and focus on THE. POTENTIAL. What can I say? I see beauty in everything. Or maybe I’m delusional. A fine line (matter of perspective?) between the two…

My first thought was to simply paint the floor. My landlord suggested laying down inexpensive VCT tile (the kind you’d find in your average hospital, elementary school classroom or other institution—because that’s what I want my studio to feel like—a place that you’re forced to go, against your will). Then I remembered that Minnesota winters get mighty cold and bare concrete or tile would be like walking barefoot on ice cubes in January. Not conducive to the warm, inviting Pilates studio I wish to create.

So I started researching (and by “researching” I mean, grabbing a cuppa Joe, settling down and firing up the Google): “how to make a concrete room inhabitable” and learned that some type of rug/carpet on concrete is imperative to adding warmth to a cell block-like dwelling. Then I went to my brother Mikey’s for a Labor Day picnic and saw that they had installed lovely carpet tiles in their basement and was told it was “super easy!” When I got home again, I researched “carpet tiles in a garage” (scoffing, “who would actually do such a thing?!” as I typed into the oracle, Google) and discovered that there are, indeed, all kinds of people in this world who purposely carpet their garages, and park their cars in them, and have no problems with it! I don’t intend to park vehicles in this space, but I do want to hold classes here. And what I read is that before laying down carpet tiles, the floor has to be PRISTINE, or the tiles will shift and peel up and look like crap before you know it. So I got down to work, and after four hours scrubbing with super-heavy-duty Simple Green later, this is the result of my hard work:

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A week later (Sept 7) after hours of more of the same, but with bigger guns (Rustoleum Degreaser-Deskinner-something-or-other) and a paint scraper (on my hands and knees, I feel the need to mention this important detail):img_3266

And today (Sept. 8), with gasoline, a blow-torch and bulldozer:

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I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, Jen. After four days and countless hours of scrubbing and scraping till your knuckles are bleeding and you’re bent over like Quasimodo and the neighbor’s trees are spindly charcoal sticks—hey, wait! Are those new curtains in the front window?!”

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And to that I say, “Yes, they are, and thanks for noticing, but fuck you.” (sorry Mom, I have officially snapped). Seriously. Everyone and everything that has ever existed in this universe and every universe that has ever been and ever will be forever and ever amen. I’m so ready to wave the white flag, because my knees are black and blue, my hands are crumpled into claws and I’ve got this strange, itchy pea-sized lump under the skin by my elbow and—then—slowly, ever-so-quietly, like the voice of little Cindy Whoo of Whooville, the tiniest sliver of reason wafts up from the deepest recesses of my senses and suggests (ever-so-politely, pre- and pro-luded with an apology, of course) that perhaps I should call Mikey and see if he has some words of wisdom to shine on this dark cavern of doom. And right at that very moment—I KID YOU NOT—my phone lights up with a text message from—not God. Better than God (don’t judge—my God has a wonderful sense of humor). Mikey. (insert angel chorus here) “How’s the flooring going?” his message casually asks.

“Spooky! I was just about to call you–can I call?” I quickly text back.

“Sure,” he replies.

To make a long story even longer but as short as possible, I spill my sob story, Mikey tells me that he just happens to have the day off and can come up to assess the situation. I cry tears of gratitude, and here’s a photo montage of what happened today (it’s called a “floating floor!” Like a magic carpet, guys! And we didn’t have to glue or tape anything down onto that still-grungy, impossible-to-clean floor):

Words of the day, people: Ask for help. Dammit. The “dammit” is emphasis for me and anyone else who might have a bit of excess stubborn in the mix…There are always angels waiting in the wings to swoop in and carry you when the burden becomes a bit too heavy…Always. And please remember to reciprocate the help…Always. xxoo

inaugural post…

Welcome! I posted the following on Facebook today, along with the above photos, and decided it would also be a good starting point for this new blog. Thank you for indulging me on this beautiful May day.

Five years. Feels like a heart beat and a lifetime ago, at the same time. Even today, five years later, some of my thoughts are so fresh and raw and real its like it just happened. I mean like, JUST. HAPPENED. And other days, I think about my life with Bob and wonder if it’s someone else’s life I’m remembering, the memories feel so out of focus and not real. I’m not a big “sharer” on fbook — no reason, just not my thing — but today feels like Show & Tell Day on Facebook for me, so here you go. It’s not a treatise of grief — if I were to write that book, it would be pretty short: “Lose your f’n mind. The end.” No, these are just some random thoughts about a very important person in my life whom I loved and still love deeply today, who also happened to die 5 years ago today.

I marvel at the endless paradoxes of life, to be so immersed—drowning, it feels like some days—in thoughts and feelings that pummel us relentlessly in the wake of a loved one who has died, and the bewildering, disorienting landscape the world becomes without that person, and that we’re somehow expected to navigate our way through this muck and mire and get on with our lives, eventually. Oh, there are plenty of books on grief, but really, when it’s your own, books don’t cut it. At least not for me. We have no choice but to move forward, really — the world will move on, with or without us, Facebook makes that glaringly clear. To think that, somehow, it’s actually possible to end up not just okay, but in a pretty wondrous place on the other side of that muck and mire at some point beyond the loss is tough, especially in the very early days (or months, or years) of loss. It’s not an easy road to navigate, there’s no magic switch to flip, no magic pill (I was stubborn those early days, priding myself on “getting through” this ordeal without any medication. Just don’t ask me how many bottles of wine it’s taken … but, hey. Whatever gets you through the night, ‘s all right, in my book…) and in spite of many well-meaning folks who want so desperately to help you get through this crap a little faster in whatever ways they thing might work, the harsh reality is you gotta do it on your own timeline, in your own way. There is no other way. I could wax unpoetically about all that, but I’ll spare you the gory details and just say that in spite of the shit and maybe it’s because of the shit, it is possible to end up in a place on the other side of the immense chasm of loss that’s almost unbelievable, that’s almost (dare we say?) more beautiful that it was before the loss, but it’s a tough thought how that could ever be possible, when we first start this shaky, tenuous journey …

Since Bob’s death, I have been at the bottom of a loss so deep, there were days I honestly didn’t know if or how it would ever end. (Those are the times that never found their way to Facebook—they’d far outnumber the “life is good!” photos and posts, for sure, at least for a good chunk of the past 5 years.) I witnessed a person I love immensely suffer unspeakably for nearly two years and there’s tremendous trauma involved in that. And then this person I loved so deeply, who had SURVIVED SO MANY GOD-AWFUL THINGS, I THOUGH FOR SURE HE’D LIVE, DAMMIT, went and DIED on me. What a JERK. (it’s okay, y’all. Bob and I have this AMAZING relationship now—I can say WHATEVER I want to him and because he’s in a place of PURE LOVE AND PEACE AND UNDERSTANDING — Prince and David Bowie and all your loved ones say “hey” btw— he doesn’t throw his hands up and walk away saying, “GOD. You’re SO DRAMATIC.” He simply smiles at me with all the peace and love in the universe. It’s SO COOL.) I lost a tremendous number of friends after Bob died (just happens, no one’s fault), I lost a career, I lost our house, I lost our beloved dog, Gaia. My life had literally, not figuratively, become a really bad country song. BUT. Along the way, I also found myself doing things that I’d often dreamed of because I never had the courage or the time or the motivation or the whatever it took to do them. And I met SO MANY people along the way—reconnecting with old friends (many by the MIRACLE of FACEBOOK! … insert angel chorus here…) connecting with new friends, all of whom seemed to appear out of NOWHERE, stunning encounters that left and leave me breathless… It’s humbling and sobering, a drop-me-to-my-knees kind of thing, when I think that so much of what my life is today would not have happened or be happening, if the beautiful man in this photograph hadn’t died. It stops me dead in my tracks, even today, to acknowledge that thought. For a very long time, years, literally, it made me cry for days (I’m still utterly astounded at HOW MUCH and HOW LONG a person can cry…) those thoughts of “all of this is happening because Bob DIED.”

Yet, oddly, at the very same time, when I thought, “All of this is because my husband died,” once in a while, my heart would suddenly become SO HUGE with love and gratitude and even a calming peace — I swear, I could actually FEEL it pressing against the inside of my ribcage—that BECAUSE I met Bob and had a life with him for nearly twenty years and then he died—because of everything that’s entwined in that, I am now doing all of this stuff, and now, all of these amazing people are in my life. Holy shit, Batman… Bob used to sign letters (kids, this was back in the good ol’ days before cell phones, when people used to use these artifacts called PENS and PAPER and ENVELOPES and STAMPS and MAILBOXES to communicate. And IT TOOK FOREVER. but was SO WORTH THE WAIT.) to me with the words, “Always with you.” And I found that if I let go of all my earthly shit and hold those words close, the truth of them envelops me. Tightly. I know that probably doesn’t make much sense and by now y’all are maybe thinking “umm, it’s a little early for the Jameson, don’t you think, Jen?” but I’m telling you, it’s straight black coffee this morning and all of this is true. And besides, not a lot in life does make sense when we really stop to think about it, does it (two words: Donald Trump)?

At first, it came in just little slivers (I’ve always been a stubborn woman, and skeptical on top of that. And a control freak. So we’re dealign with some issues right out of the gate), this sense of love and peace and gratitude for my time with Bob. But I find that the more I let go of my earthly shit (SUCH a hard thing for a control freak to do, ’s all I’m sayin’) and allow myself to believe in things like owls and “Always with you” and such, the more stunning life is. Things happen that blow your hair back. Truly. It’s a mind boggling thing, to experience such beauty in the midst of heart-and-gut-and-mind-wrenching loss, but it happens, and I still don’t know it happens, but it does.

I’m not saying the journey suddenly gets easier. Not at all. Some days, still, in spite of these slivers of beauty, are pretty damned ugly, frankly, but hey. It’s life for all of us. The shimmers of hope that leak through the ugly parts are heart-stopping things to behold, and the more of those I acknowledge, accept and collect, they start adding up to create a breathtaking tapestry of life… Oh, and these flashes aren’t always of the earth-shattering, burning-bush variety. Most are usually a lot less flashy, more subtle in making their presence known. But they’re all around us. I swear.

Today I will think a lot about the beautiful man in this photograph and the impact he had and still has on my life. I will think about how very different my life is today from what it was five and more years ago, and marvel how the hell I even got here, and where will I go from here. And try to remember that ultimately, I have no control over any of it (which is asking A. LOT. from a control freak). I will remember the endless stream of angelic people who swept in and carried me for what felt like a very long time as I stumbled to try and gain a foothold in life again, with a huge part of my landscape missing. And of the people who are in my life today, who make the smile on my face real and the laughter in my voice authentic, and the love in my heart as big as the love I will always have for this man in the photograph. Life can be sofaking awful, and sofaking beautiful. All at the same time.