The Treadmill of Life

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Life during a pandemic is like going for a run on a treadmill.

When you run on a treadmill time passes, you go a distance.  You burn calories. You sweat. When you are done you have done something, and yet, you are exactly in the same place as when you started.

Life in the pandemic has been eerily similar. Time has passed. We’ve accomplished many things. We’ve done things that have been on our to-do list for years, and we’ve made new discoveries. In reality, we may have been more productive in the last three months than we were in all of 2019. Yet there is this restless feeling of nothing happening. We see the things that we have done just like we see, on a treadmill display, the distance we have gone. But it doesn’t feel the same.  The feeling of accomplishment is dulled.

The saying: “Distance makes the heart grow fonder,” comes to mind. Perhaps movement and distance make the brain efficiently satisfied. I have done such a stack of things I should be ecstatic. Me, the productivity princess, have leveled up to task completer queen consort. But I don’t have this feeling of a job well done. I don’t feel relieved that things are off my list. I just have this insatiable urge to look around and say: “Now what?”

At the time of originally writing this, it’s Saturday at 3:20 in the afternoon. I have gone for a bike ride, called my parents, prepped dinner items that need to chill and marinate. I have made ice cream batter and churned a batch of gelato. I have made tea and done the dishes. The laundry is completed. The house is clean. I have painted and read. I now sit here wondering what in the hell am I supposed to do-particularly when I’m done scribbling this.

It’s such an odd time because I’ve done so much and yet I feel that I’ve done so little because I’m in the same place I started, and having so much time to still pass, my brain thinks I couldn’t possibly have been productive.

I don’t like running on a treadmill and while I like working from home, I don’t like pandemic quarantines. They, like running on a treadmill, have a purpose of which I can appreciate and make myself perform when necessary but are a poor substitution for the real deal of living life and running outdoors.

I know that officially lockdown has come to an end. Restaurants are opening as well as salons and other less essential places of business, but I know we aren’t out of the pandemic woods yet. As bored as I periodically find myself, I can’t bring myself to take these re-entry steps yet. And so, like I do on blustery wintry mornings, I will continue on the treadmill of life for a bit longer.

The Relativity of Normal

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What’s so great about normal?

It seems everybody these days keeps yammering on about how they cannot wait until things get back to “normal.” I think what people really want are things to get back to being predictable. Isn’t that the true root of normal?

A normal day for me pre-pandemic looks a lot different than a normal day for a farmer or an actor or a surgeon. However, what we all have in common is that the farmer, actor, surgeon and I could tell you what we expected to see, do, and experience in a given day.

Personally, I find normal bunk and if anything, when all this is over, I’m most concerned and scared that things will go back to “too normal.” We won’t show our growth, our discoveries, our learning. Normal isn’t about doing what’s best or doing what’s right.  It’s about what we’ve accepted as individuals and as a whole. It’s what we are used to and comfortable with. We know it. We can process it. We can handle it. So, we think it’s okay; it’s fine the way it is.

This pandemic sucks hard. But I’m grateful for the time that it has given me. In the last nine weeks, I’ve pushed myself more than ever. I started painting. I had this love of painting, but I was always too scared to try. Now I do weekly projects, and I don’t dread them because I might screw up. I feel this nervous, anticipatory excitement I’ve never experienced with painting before.

I bought a bike. I wanted a new bike. I kept putting it off. I grew up in the country where one didn’t have to contend with traffic and stop lights and pedestrians. With the lakefront trail closed, I have to ride on the street and it’s scary, but at the same time exhilarating. I’m getting myself to learn and try new things.

I’ve done more for my writing career in the last nine weeks than I have over the past two years. I wrote and submitted an essay. I’m working on my pitching game. It’s not going super well, but I’m trying. I’ve re-discovered meditation. I’ve come to the realization that my to-do list making is harming my sanity instead of helping it. I’ve realized that a walk can do just as much for me as a run.

We used to bemoan normal. We abhorred the commute trudge. We whined that we didn’t have enough time to do all the things we wanted to do. Now many of us have no commutes and all the time in the world and somehow, we are still upset about it.

Yes, it would be nice to run and not dodge people like the zombie apocalypse. It would be nice to go to the grocery store without a mask and see all the shelves be full. I would love to go to a bookstore and peruse all the lovely titles or grab a drink with a friend. These things are great, and these will return. And “normal” will return because we are human and creatures of habit; however, I just hope this reincarnation of normal is one that’s more thoughtful. One that is less about going through the motions of life and accepting things the way they are because “that’s the way they have always been.” I guess you could say I want normal too, just different than the norm.

Yada, Yada, Yada

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What did I talk about before the pandemic? I can’t seem to remember. All I’ve been discussing for the last eight weeks has been COVID and working from home. I talk to my parents once a week, and I feel like a broken record. There is nothing new to say. Because, there is nothing new. We are staying inside like we should be. I’m reading books, watching movies. I bake. I’ve taken up painting. None of these things are particularly discussion worthy.

Last week, I went and bought a bike something I’ve been thinking about doing for almost a year.  This was my breaking news of the week, but besides a headline: “I got a new bike.” There wasn’t much else to say. It was expensive. I like the color which is a bit newsworthy since there has been a run on bikes and stock is low.

My life currently isn’t bad. I enjoy working from home for many reasons. I’m stoked I’ve re-discovered painting. I’m spending more time writing. I’ve gotten back into meditation. I read a book that has been sitting on my shelf for over a decade. I’ve made two different kinds of gelato and completed three puzzles. Things are happening at the Conner household, but not discussable topics.

The pandemic is awful. The President is an idiot. Congress sucks. And I don’t like going outside, but I don’t want to talk about any of these anymore. I want to talk about “normal” things, but I can’t seem to remember what any of those are. What the hell did we say when we got together for a good ole chin wag?

I guess this is perspective. This is the realization that most of the “notable” stuff in our lives really wasn’t all that notable in the grand scheme of things. Or perhaps this is just a symptom of over-zealous connectivity. We are so afraid of being held at a distance from our fellow humans that we are obsessively Zooming and constantly yammering to pass the time and cling to our perceived hallmark of humanity that we’ve just talked ourselves out.

We are grasping at communication straws which is clearly evident in the topic of this post. Have we in a pandemic officially transcended to Seinfeld-dom? A nine-season show about nothing has come to pass. Yet somehow it was terrifically entertaining; so perhaps we can channel our inner Larry David find our cue dots in public establishment perfectly spaced six feet apart and improv the hell out of this via awkward silences and a lot of yada, yada, yada.

No Touching

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I’m sitting on one end of the couch.  My husband Scott is sitting at the other end. Our 120-pound mastiff, Tank is laying on the floor facing away from us looking toward the kitchen, loudly chewing on his buffalo horn. His great, giant paws are wrapped around the one end, and he is focused on crushing the other.  He’s so into it with toenails scraping the side as his teeth clack loudly that we’ve turned up the T.V. to hear over the ambient noise of his endeavor.

Scott reaches over and grabs my hand. He squeezes ever so slightly, and I respond in kind. Tank immediately drops the horn and cranes his massive head around. He has sensed touching; unauthorized touching.

He gets up, tail wagging, and comes to the couch. Scott and I lift our still interlocked hands up, so Tank can get to his spot between us. We place our embraced hands on the back of the couch. Tank takes his nose and starts working our hands apart. Tank cannot abide by any touching. Touching is forbidden.

When we got Tank, I was aware of his super sonic nose and ears. I knew there would be dog hair everywhere, and he would have odd quirks (like he only eats his food when I’m in the kitchen.) Never did I think he would have a third eye to human touching human.

He can be snoring away on the couch. Scott and I will be in the office.  Scott will get up and move around. We can talk, but as soon as we embrace. The snoring ceases, and we hear the jingle of his collar as he hurriedly jogs down the hall to break-up the touching.  If there is affection to give, it must be given to Tanks.

Tank has learned that hugs aren’t bad. The first time Scott hugged me; Tank jumped on Scott repeatedly herding him away. He then came back over and sat if front of me. “No worries, Mom. Tanks will protect you.” These days he simply doesn’t like them.

When Scott and I sit next to each other on the couch, Tank will climb up on the couch in the space left. He will huffily lay down and then proceed to stare at us as if we are the worst most abusive parents with what, Scott describes as, the Sarah McLachlan face. Tanks is supposed to be in the middle.

Sometimes he walks up to us and just starts climbing between us. When the battle is between two sitting humans and a 120-pound massif who gets his front paws on the inch of space between them, who do you think wins?

Or if he can’t get between us, he will just smash us into one couch corner. The three of us have all been crammed on to 1.5 couch cushions before.

When we got him, we assumed and where told by the shelter, he would be the dog that liked to be in the room with his humans but still want space. He initially was aloof, and pets were fine but whatever. He kept his poker face for the most part. However, after a year with our good boy, he has realized that we are here to stay. We aren’t unreliable assholes. And he has decided to let his mastiff reserve slip and make up for all that lost time. So, by edict of Tank who clearly runs our house: There will be no touching unless it is for petting Tanks.

Post-Marathon Ponderings

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Last Friday, I ran my first marathon. It didn’t go as well as I had planned. In fact, it was bloody awful.

At mile six, I knew that this run wasn’t going my way. My muscles were already starting to feel clunky and sore. By mile 13, halfway through, I had to pee terribly and had a blister on my right pinky toe that encompassed the entire appendage.

After peeing in the woods, bandaging my foot as best I could, and putting on dry socks, the running began again. I started to fall behind over the course of the next three and a half miles. At 16.5 miles, I was in severe pain, sobbing on the phone with my husband as I tried to walk/hobble forward.

I was upset that my body was struggling so much. I felt that I had done everything right, so why wasn’t I able to run at least 20 miles before breaking down. I felt that I had failed because I was walking, because I wasn’t going to get done in five hours. My husband said he would come get me. I told him I was going to finish.

From that point on, I ran/walked those last 9.5 miles. My friend Adam came on his bike and found me around mile 19. He stayed with me those last seven miles since I didn’t know the trail and was running an unsupported marathon with no volunteers or spectator, no aid stations, and no course markers.

Five hours thirty-seven minutes and thirty-six seconds after starting, I hit 26.2 miles. I had made it. Everything in my body hurt and while I felt grateful to Adam for helping me get to the “finish line.” I generally felt defeated. I tried to think positive. I tried to give myself credit that despite how I was feeling I didn’t give up, but I just felt ashamed of my time. Why didn’t I push myself harder? Why did I have to walk so much? Why did I punk out at only 16.5 miles?

I’ve spent the last few days ebbing between acceptance of the result with self-compassion and blood boiling self-loathing. I know this was my first. I know that I ran it in unusual and difficult circumstances, and yet, I can’t seem to be satisfied with having completed a marathon distance despite my time.

I think most people learn in their first marathon how much stamina they have and how much they can do. Mine showed me, my positivity and confidence seem to be tied to results and not effort. I could only think about how slow and how much I walked.  Instead of the fact, I toughed it out and finished.

But then, not finishing never crossed my mind. Deep down, I never thought I couldn’t go 26.2 miles. So, I’m upset I couldn’t do them the “hard way” by running all of them. I think I thought most people thought this way so feared judgement. It didn’t occur to me that finishing it was something perhaps others wouldn’t do, so to me, it seemed less of an accomplishment.

This first marathon has brought to light that my perspective is a little out of whack and my inner critic has a megaphone. I ran 16.5 miles before hitting the wall and had to walk on my first marathon that I was basically running alone and unsupported in a damn pandemic but continued to run and walk until I finished. In what world does that make me a weak failure? Mine, apparently.

As my husband pointed out as I was tottering down the trail crying on the phone, most people don’t run marathons or strive for hard goals because they are afraid to try. I realize now that out there on the trail I had forgotten some solid running advice: “The only bad run is one you don’t go on.” This thinking would lead to: “The only bad marathon is the one you don’t do.”

So…in five hours thirty-seven minutes and thirty-six second, I ran a marathon. And that, isn’t bloody awful at all.

One More Day

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It’s been 123 days. I’ve done approximately 87 workouts. And I’ve run 388.9 miles. It’s all been for one day. That day is tomorrow, where I go the distance and run the elusive 26.2.

I say elusive because currently, it feels pretty elusive. The farthest I’ve gone is 20 miles and it was a fight. A tad more then six miles to tact on the end of that seems impossible. And yet…every long run after 13 felt that way during training until the morning I went out and did it. Tomorrow will be the same.

The worst part of tomorrow is today. The anticipation before such a feat is excruciating. I have all the things planned that I can plan. I have pace plans, post run plans, eating before, during and after the run plans. I have a post-marathon workout recovery plan. I know what I’m wearing. I have it laid out along with all the other gear I’ll need for running such a long distance. My water pack is packed with band-aids, dry socks, an extra Clif bar, etc. So now I wait…

Waiting is troublesome. Because when there is waiting, there is thinking. And where there is thinking, there is questioning. This can lead to dark and angsty places. Attempting to combat with exuberant positivity just heightens the awareness that something big is going to happen.

Keeping busy and in a routine is the only hope of battling through until race day. Once the race begins everything gets so much better. But all I have left is one day. And then those 26.2 miles will be obtained. They will no longer be theoretically possible in my world; they will be my reality.

Just one more day. And then I run.

The Perks of Social Distancing

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I’m an introvert and well this whole pandemic is the shit. The social distancing part, not the people getting sick and possibly dying part. No, that’s terrible. I said I was an introvert not a sociopath.

I’ve been practicing pandemic protocols my whole damn life. And now people have to do it, and they are freaking out. For all of you extroverts out there, this is how introverts feel daily. For once, we don’t have to make an excuse of why we aren’t going out socializing.

But because introverts are forced to practice extrovertism, we are surprisingly better at adapting to various situations. Extroverts haven’t been perfecting the art of the hermit at all and thus may be struggling a bit.

Part of my ability to kick ass at being anti-social is due to the environment in which I grew up. I spent the first 18-years of my existence living on a 40-acre farm in bumblefuck, Iowa. I was an only child. The internet didn’t exist, and until I was a teenager, we only had 3.5 television channels. Not to mention that all my friends lived a minimum of a 20-minute car ride away.

I know this sounds very… “back in my day I had to walk up hill to school both ways”-esque, but honestly, I didn’t mine. Probably because I didn’t know any better, but these years of solitude gave me skills. Skills I didn’t even know where really skills at all. For instance, I can sit in a room for hours and not look at a screen or need to have any sound. I don’t need the T.V. for background noise. I don’t need to put on music. It doesn’t occur to me to listen to a podcast while I do the dishes or fold laundry. I just do it. I don’t worry if I don’t talk to family and friends for a couple of weeks. They are still there, and they know I’m still here.

Space and quiet time are not bad things. There are books to read. Puzzles to put together. There are crafts and baking. And because we do live in a world of technology-there are free online workout classes, virtual meet ups. You could play old school video games from your youth. You can learn a new language. You can take the time to unsubscribe to all those annoying ad e-mails. You can re-finance your house. Do crosswords or logic puzzles.

This is a time to perhaps realize that you don’t necessarily always have to be going and doing stuff outside of your house or immediate family unit. We can make a lot of new discoveries from the comforts of our own homes. It’s funny because in a non-pandemic era everyone would bemoan of not wanting to put pants on and leave the house. Guess what, you can now live your best pantsless life. What a dream come true!

Also, everyone in normal existence whines about not having enough time to relax and not enough time to do those little annoying at home projects like cleaning out the pantry or alphabetizing your inherited vinyl collection. Here is your chance to sit in your skivves, listening to some great tunes as you finally sort through those hundreds of family photos you got when great aunt Edna passed.

I get that, in reality, this does suck. To have an invisible menace hold us hostage in our own homes is terrible, but if we commit to staying put. We can get this over with sooner. I understand that I’ve had a life that has hardcore trained me for this, so I have an advantage. But try to see the bright side. Relish the non-commute and the very relaxed pants-optional dress code and see what amazing things you can experience without even leaving your house.

Marathon Cancelled but Still Running

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My sports watch vibrates when it automatically pauses as I heave myself over the cement barrier on the lake front path. The park district has put up barriers on parts of the path for safety due to winter trail erosion; nobody heeds them. But they are an extra challenge that on these long runs, I don’t need. I take the buzz as permission to take a moment to rest. I’m only eleven miles into this week’s training run. I have seven more to go. I don’t feel good.

I feel tired and sore. I’m worn out from other heavy workouts and the burden of a pandemic. I’m also feeling defeated. Yesterday, the e-mail came. The e-mail that I knew was inevitable. After three months of workouts and nearly 300 miles of training, my marathon has been cancelled.

I’ve never run a marathon before. This would have been my first. I’m still going to run 26.2 miles. The race organizers have cleverly changed my marathon into a virtual one. I have until April 30th to run a marathon distance and log my time on their website. I will still get my medal and all the swag. But in many ways, it will be just another long run.

There won’t be hooting bystanders, mile markers, aid stations. There won’t be a swarm of fellow runners. I won’t be running in a new place or to an after party filled with food and music and a single well-deserved beer.

But I’m not throwing away all those runs, all those morning battles I won when I got out of bed to go running in the bitter Chicago wind. All those boring and arduous treadmill workouts where the weather made running impossible outdoors. All those loads of laundry to be prepared for the next workout. All those strength workouts and stretching. All the stress and worry about getting all the training done and eating right.

I can’t throw it all away. I’ve given too much, but I need to give a little bit more. Today it’s only seven miles.

I sigh heavily. I start my watch and force myself to start running again. My legs burn. My ankles are feeling floppy from use as if they are nodding off to sleep. There are times when I don’t understand why I do this. I can’t comprehend why I keep going, but there is something in the idea of accomplishing my goal for the day; in realizing that I can do more than I thought.

My marathon has been cancelled and yet I still run… because I set out to run 26.2 miles on April 11th, 2020 and goddamn it, that’s exactly what I plan to do.

Day One of the Work from Home Bio-Hostage Situation

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I’ve worked for the same company going on nine years. It is a law firm and, until recently, staunch in its no working for home policy. However, this virus is teaching us that old dogs can indeed adapt to pandemic situations, but that some of our processes with the court are hopelessly tactile. It is what you would call “a work in progress.”

Nevertheless, three hours in the new set-up, we are discovering things right and left.

Discovery number one: People are logging-on and working from home as directed. There was concern from certain firm overlords that closing the office would just result in people not working at all. Based on this morning communiqués via various electronic channels, people are putting their noses to the 9 to 5 grindstone.

Discovery number two:  Two computer screens are something I have been taking for granted. It was several years ago when I went to dual monitors at work, since I’ve never worked any other place than my desk in my office I hadn’t realized how incredibly fantastic my desk digs are.

Discovery number three: It’s going to take some serious self-control to not be constantly raiding the pantry, cupboard, fridge, or snack hiding places. At work, I have to bring all my food and thus access is limited, and self-control is non-existent. This is demonstrated when someone brings bagels in and I without hesitation partake in second breakfast.

Discovery number four: The commute time is amazing! However, this has a downfall. I was pre-occupied with getting bread in the oven this morning and almost signed in late which would have been ridiculously upsetting given my office is in the middle of house and less than a few yards from any other room. But have no fear, I got on with six seconds to spare.

Discovery number five: The dress code is the best thing ever! I was a good girl and got up and showered and put on a brassiere, but the yoga pants are sooo much better than pencil skirts.

This is going to be an interesting social and martial experiment (my husband is sitting a foot a way at his own desk), but I think we shall be able to manage for the greater good. Stay safe folks and wash your hands.

The Discovery of Homemade Pretzels

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Food was no-nonsense around where I grew up. It had a purpose. If it tasted good that was a perk.  But the main objective of food was to nourish; it was not a decadent culinary experience.

It should be made quickly and efficiently. One did not lolly-gag in the kitchen sipping wine and seasoning soups or pondering plating design. For convenience and speed, many things were store bought.

As an adult, I’ve learned that some things are worth the homemade effort- bread. And some things don’t actually take a lot of time to make on your own-taco seasoning. Yet, I still discover there are things that I can attempt to make homemade that for what ever reason I never thought I could or would.

It never occurred to me to make soft pretzels. These were manufactured. You delighted in them at football games or the mall. You didn’t make homemade pretzels. It wasn’t a food for home. Nevertheless, when my husband saw a recipe for them suddenly the world and my kitchen was opened to the possibility.

The recipe wasn’t difficult. It was just like any other bread dough. Or course, why wouldn’t it be. Pretzels are, in fact, bread. You mix and knead. You let it raise. This is followed by shaping, dunking (this part is unique) and baking.

Twelve minutes later golden pretzel-esque things came out of the oven. I need to work on my shaping skills, but dang they taste like pretzels. The verdict came back 10 out of 10 would do again. My husband and I came to the unanimous decision that exactly zero pretzels would be shared with others. We are generous folks, but we have limits.  Apparently, our generosity ceiling caps at homemade pretzels.

I completely understand why the cooking of my youth was so straightforward. It was an issue of time, resources, and knowledge. However, I’m so delighted to have found another view. It has opened a new path of learning, creativity, and connection. It makes me excited for what I’ll discover next.