Claiming your blessedness

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We still have a dog! She is good and sweet and quiet. Here we are on a family walk in a field.

I have been seized by an inexplicable urge to decide the names of the rest of our sons. I am convinced that if we have other children, we (a) will only have boys, and (b) must determine their full names posthaste. I cannot explain either the origin or urgency of this feeling.

. . .

Unexpected consequences of parenthood thus far

  • We have become extremely concerned about other babies, even fictional babies. We were watching a comedy series that shall not be named, and Jason Sudeikis left a baby in another room with swords hanging on the wall. The baby was not a critical character in the scene, but Guion and I looked at each other and said in unison, “Someone better go check on that baby!”
  • We cannot listen to music with any high-pitched crooning, wailing, or wind instruments, because it all sounds like an upset baby—specifically, our upset baby.
  • We have separately taken on various baby grooming tasks with such devotion that now the other parent does not know how to do the task. Guion trims Moses’s nails, and I give him baths, and we cannot switch duties. I do not know how to trim his nails, and Guion does not know how to give him a bath. I am sure that we both could learn, but we are too far gone in these individual areas of expertise. We will likely carry along on this trajectory until the boy is a teen.
  • We have effortlessly and guilelessly become those parents who show people photos of our baby that they did not ask to see and have no desire to see and then wait for them to affirm what we know to be deeply, unquestionably true, that he is The Cutest Baby to Have Ever Lived. We have likewise become incapable of detecting dismay or boredom in the faces of our captive audience. We think everyone sees with the same love-blind eyes that we do.
  • We have started saying things like “It’s such a fun age” without a trace of sarcasm.
  • We cry whenever someone talks about Mister Rogers.

. . .

“Not claiming your blessedness will lead you quickly to the land of the cursed. There is little or no neutral territory between the land of the blessed and the land of the cursed. You have to choose where it is that you want to live, and that choice is one that you have to keep making from moment to moment.”

— Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved

. . .

This baby is almost seven months old (sob) and recently discovered the incomparable joy of a teddy bear.

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A match burning in a crocus

Walk home from the office
My walk home from the office.

Thought: Perhaps part of what makes city-folk aggressive is the anonymity of urban life. I was thinking about this while watching people gripe and shove on the Tube (a few weeks ago, a large woman actually pushed me, as in, a hand flat across my back, into someone else so that I’d get out of her way). In little Charlottesville, I wouldn’t attempt much public rudeness, because the chances are strong that I could run into that person again. Maybe she is my postal office worker. Maybe she is my future financial adviser. But in the big city, cause a scene, yell, or shove, because you’re a free agent; no one knows your name; you will never see these people again. You’re not accountable to anyone. Anonymity, I surmise, tends to make people assholes (see: almost every comment section on the internet).

Correlated thought: And YET. I think London is an infinitely more polite city than New York? So far? At least, it is quieter. People stick to a strong sense of silent decorum on the morning commute.

Neighborhood strolling(The title: Love this line from Mrs. Dalloway. I think, if I recall correctly, it’s from Septimus or Lucrezia looking at newly sprung flowers in Hyde Park.)

Women walking

A Shaker woman with her dog, from the LIFE Magazine Archives.
A Shaker woman and her dog. Source: LIFE Magazine Archives.

Women have routinely been punished and intimidated for attempting that most simple of freedoms, taking a walk, because their walking and indeed their very beings have been construed as inevitably, continually sexual in those societies concerned with controlling women’s sexuality.

— Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

Since finishing Rebecca Solnit’s lovely book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, I have continued to reflect on the pleasures of a good, long walk.

Specifically, I feel breathless when I consider the large number of barriers that still exist to women who dare to walk alone.

(1) In history, any woman who was on the street alone was a prostitute (a street-walker). Even today, any woman who exists on a street unaccompanied by a man could be accused or suspected of prostitution. In some countries ruled by fundamentalist religion, it is still unlawful for a woman to exist in public without being accompanied by a man. (I recall Malala Yousafzai laughing about the absurdity of this rule in her memoir; by law, she had to be accompanied by a man on her errands in her Afghan village. But that “man” was her 4-year-old brother, who she was just baby-sitting on the way to the market. But by Taliban order, he fulfilled the law and was “protecting” her.)

(2) Furthermore, women are daily subjected to sexual harassment if they deign to exist on a public street alone. Regardless of attire, women come to expect some form of verbal or even physical harassment on the street. A woman alone on a street? Surely she deserves to be ridiculed and disgraced for her existence, for her outrageous boldness to possess a body! So men may yell at her, shout obscenities at her, do whatever possible to make her feel belittled, ashamed, and used.

(3) Women’s clothing has also been a barrier to free movement. And even though women no longer have to wear corsets and yards and yards of fabric to pass the muster of common decency, we are still hobbled by high heels and mini-skirts. Woolf puts the sartorial tension between the sexes perfectly in Orlando:

Thus, there is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us and not we them; we may make them take the mould of arm or breast, but they mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking. So, having now worn skirts for a considerable time, a certain change was visible in Orlando, which is to be found even in her face. If we compare the picture of Orlando as a man with that of Orlando as a woman we shall see that though both are undoubtedly one and the same person, there are certain changes. The man has his hand free to seize his sword; the woman must use hers to keep the satins from slipping from her shoulders. The man looks the world full in the face, as if it were made for his uses and fashioned to his liking. The woman takes a sidelong glance at it, full of subtlety, even of suspicion. Had they both worn the same clothes, it is possible that their outlook might have been the same too.

— Virginia Woolf, Orlando

(4) Accordingly, violence against women is commonplace, and so a woman alone is constantly thinking about being mugged, assaulted, or raped. And yet this threat of violence is also used to keep women continually living in a state of fear; to live under the constant reminder that you are never safe, you are never whole unless you have a male protector from male violence.

It is simple, societal examples like this the mere consideration of something as mundane as walking that makes me ASTOUNDED when people say that we have no need for feminism, that our feminist work here is done. Or when supposedly intelligent women eschew the term “feminist” as if it were an epithet; it really and truly blows my mind.

Solnit writes in Wanderlust that she had been followed by a man who was yelling vile sexual proposals to her. When she finally turned around and told him off, he was livid and told her she had no right to speak to him that way and threatened to kill her. She writes:

It was the most devastating discovery of my life that I had no real right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness out-of-doors, that the world was full of strangers who seemed to hate me and wish to harm me for no reason other than my gender, that sex so readily became violence, and that hardly anyone else considered it a public issue rather than a private problem. I was advised to stay indoors at night, to wear baggy clothes, to cover or cut my hair, to try to look like a man, to move someplace more expensive, to take taxis, to buy a car, to move in groups, to get a man to escort me—all modern versions of Greek walls and Assyrian veils, all asserting it was my responsibility to control my own and men’s behavior rather than society’s to ensure my freedom.

So, what is a modern woman to do if she wants to take a walk?

Simply, I think, keep walking.

I have also found that having a pair of German shepherds is a benefit. For better or worse, I never feel my typical whispers of fear when I am walking solo if I have Pyrrha and Eden at my side. In general, people don’t try to eff with German shepherds. (Even though the worst my dogs would do to you is jump on you and maybe bark in your face.) But they are my constant walking companions. Scary or no, they improve my mental state. There is nothing quite so enjoyable as a good, long walk with a dog at one’s side.

My feminism posts always end with this note of grim reality, a recognition that women are still not free. It drags me down, but I am resolved to keep thinking and walking, regardless of cultural mores, and take the dogs with me.

Exercise for the person who hates exercise

If I’m being honest with you, the most physical activity I get during a week is when I walk the dog.

Rivanna Trail hike
With Pyrrha by the Rivanna River.

Clearly, this is not sufficient, and I need to do more. I’d say that we eat quite healthy (meat only once a week, lots of vegetables and fruits, no desserts, no soft drinks) — although I’m sure we could eat less cheese, which is not really something I’m really willing to sacrifice, owing to the immeasurable joy that it brings to my life. That aside: I need to get moving.

I have a standing desk at work, which is already something in my favor, according to every fifth article you see these days. But aside from taking P-dog for strolls, that’s about it.

I’m also the athletic black sheep of my family. My dad plays hockey or some other strenuous sport almost daily. My mother has a six-pack and goes to these super-intense workout classes every other day. Kelsey (and her husband) are impeccable physical specimens; Kelsey is a champion hockey player and Alex is a titled martial arts master and surfer. Grace, as I mention below, is a certified yoga instructor and all-around badass. And Sam is also a champion hockey player and possessor of generally remarkable abs.

And then there’s me. The one who doesn’t even LIKE exercising, much less is trying to fit it into her life. So, personal assessment time.

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Hiking with Christa in some beautiful park, July 2009.

Favorite forms of exercise that I’ve tried:

  • Walking. I love walking; I really do. People laugh when I say that, but it’s such a pleasant, mind-clearing activity. I’m looking forward to walking to work soon and continuing to walk around the neighborhood and to the Downtown Mall. We’re lucky to live in a very walkable place. And having a dog as a walking companion is the best possible thing.
  • Hiking. The fittest I’ve been in my life is when I spent a summer living in Denver and went hiking multiple times a week. I actually had muscles! I hardly ever go hiking in Charlottesville (like, once a year), which is a real shame.
  • Ballet. I took two ballet classes this year and loved them, even though I’m a wretched dancer.
  • Cycling. I love biking around town, but I need to get a bike first. Goal for next year!

Things I’ve tried that don’t work for me:

  • Yoga. I really like the IDEA of doing yoga. It appeals to me so much: breathing and twisting your body around in a quiet room with a bunch of sexy women. But I am TERRIBLE at yoga. So terrible. Even though my little sister is a certified yoga instructor, I have a wildly different body type. Where she is muscular and compact, I am long and weak. My legs are disproportionately long, my arms are spindly, and I am the least flexible person I know. I’m always the person in the room who needs “special help” from the teacher. So I don’t practice yoga. Because it makes me feel bad about myself.
  • Swimming. Ever since my parents forced me to join the neighborhood swim team when I was young, I’ve despised the pool. My coaches told me that I had lovely strokes, but that I was just way too slow. Just the slowest. I hate smelling like a pool and I hate the notion of swimming laps.
  • Zumba. No. Just no. This is my personal hell.
  • Running. My father was a champion professional runner, and he likes to tell me that I was “built to run,” but I just cannot make myself do it. Again, I like the idea of being great at running, but I lack so much motivation. I think part of me is also reactionary to the prolific running culture in Charlottesville. Not participating makes me feel like a curmudgeonly rebel. (“You ran 10 miles this morning? Well, I sat on the couch and looked at my dog.”) Also, everyone I know who runs all the time is constantly in and out of physical therapy, which is not something I’m particularly interested in trying. I think I could make myself run in moderation in temperate weather.

I’m generally quite lazy, and so partner accountability and public shaming do wonders for me. Also being a part of a class. Having paid for a class (as with ballet) where I’m expected to show up each week and where my friends are counting on me (to at least give them rides) is helpful.

Based on this information, what do you think would help me? What is your weekly fitness regimen, and why does it work for you?

Week 12: Daily walks

In honor of my sister Grace, I am imposing a set of weekly challenges on myself. For 12 weeks, I will attempt a different “challenge” each week–to do one thing every day for seven days, ranging from serious to silly. At the end of each week, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Welcome to Charlottesville
Walking around town.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve completed twelve weeks of challenges. They’ve ranged from serious to silly, but they have all been fun and often enlightening. I’ve learned a lot of little facts about myself and about my process of making and following ritual. Some of the challenges have been incorporated into my daily life and I hope I’ll continue some of them in the future.

For this final week, I wanted to take a stroll. Now that we’ve skipped spring and gone straight into summer, a week of daily walks has been really enjoyable, if occasionally sweaty.

If I was a good blogger, I would have taken pictures from all of these walks, but I’m not, so you’ll just have to deal.

DAY 1.
Guion and I walked downtown to meet our Bible study friends Mark and Christina for Chap’s ice cream on the Downtown Mall. It was a hot and breezy afternoon and a little cup of Chap’s made it feel like heaven. I love strolling around the Mall and we walk there often. It’s less than a 10-minute walk from our apartment and it’s always packed with dogs. What’s not to love?

DAY 2.
I had to do some research for my boss at SNL Financial, which is also downtown. I parked the Jeep at our place and then walked over. Got there a bit early, so I strolled around the blocks behind the building and looked at all of the historic houses that now feature the offices of real estate agents or lawyers.

DAY 3.

Watching "Gosford Park" with my bestie.

My weekly walk with Bo turned out to be something of an exhilarating misadventure. I head over to Liz’s to pick him up and we chat about how silly it is that her team’s soccer game was canceled because of a thunderstorm/tornado warning. Yeah, absurd. I walk Bo downtown and we’re having a fine time until I feel a spattering of rain. Then I look at the sky. It is not gray. Or dark blue. It is black. Slate. Full of doom. Bo and I then run–sprint!–across the Belmont Bridge and make it back to my front porch right before the sky bursts open. We had amazingly good timing, because a second after we got inside… thunder, lightning, torrential rain, minor flooding, wind howling, the whole deal. Thankfully, Bo isn’t thunderstorm-phobic (like Emma was) and so he chilled with me in our apartment. He helped me do the dishes and then started watching “Gosford Park” with me until it cleared up enough to take him home. I think he’s the perfect dog. I confessed to Guion and Liz that I am now worried about getting a dog because he or she may not be as amazing as Bo is. I love him.

DAY 4.
Despite starting out rather rough, it turned out to be a very beautiful evening and so I took Bo for another walk. Guion joined me this time and we went wandering through the charming and eclectic Belmont neighborhood. We daydreamed about houses we’d buy and dubious ways we’d coerce current residents to move out and give us their gorgeous homes with manicured lawns and sprawling gardens.

DAY 5.
Guion joined me on a walk to the Downtown Mall to buy cupcakes from Cappellino’s for Cate’s royal wedding princess party. He was a bit astonished at the price of gourmet cupcakes. Aren’t we all.

DAY 6.
Our lovely housemate Hannah joined us on a late morning walk to the Charlottesville farmers’ market. We ended up buying delicious mint tea, baklava, and a babe in the wood, and therefore nothing really healthy or valuable for the rest of the week. Oh well! From there, we wandered over to The Garage, where Stephanie and Emily were hosting a tag sale. Guion went off to brew day for the rest of the afternoon; I went to Mecca, aka Target. When Guion got home, we walked downtown again to eat at Miyako for dinner. Quite excellent, if I do say so.

DAY 7.
Win came! We walked downtown with him and went to church and it was awesome. We’re crossing our fingers that he moves here…

That’s all, folks! It’s been a fun way to welcome spring. To be honest, it will be kind of nice to not worry about weekly goals, but I think I will try to keep some of these habits on regular rotation. Thanks for reading; talk to you soon.

Week 11: Wear a dress every day

In honor of my sister Grace, I am imposing a set of weekly challenges on myself. For 12 weeks, I will attempt a different “challenge” each week–to do one thing every day for seven days, ranging from serious to silly. At the end of each week, I’ll let you know how it goes.

I have always loved dresses. My mom says that when I was tiny and she’d try to dress me in pants or shorts, I’d pitch a fit, tear them off, and insist on wearing a dress, like any proper lady. I love dresses. I have amassed a decent collection of them over the years. During my senior year of college, I recruited about a dozen friends to join me in a “No-Pants April” challenge, during which we only wore dresses or skirts for the month of April. This weekly challenge is a natural step down from that, but wearing a dress every day has felt like the proper celebration of spring. And a proper motivator to start shaving my legs again…

DAY 1.

Dress from: Target

This is a great dress for work. It’s breezy and a bit unusual, too.

DAY 2.

Dress from: Target

Not super-exciting, but very soft. Goes with almost every cardigan I own, too.

DAY 3.

Dress from: Banana Republic

This is one of my favorite dresses, even though it is worn out. The hem has fallen out and the stitching around the sleeves is also coming undone. I started holding it together with tape, Liz Lemon-style. Mainly because I am too lazy/unskilled to sew it properly. I should just throw it away, but I love it too much.

DAY 4.

Dress from: Gap

This is my quintessential summer dress. It’d also be a great pregnancy dress. Stretchy like no one’s business. And it has pockets!

DAY 5.

Dress from: Target

This mini-dress will always remind me of our honeymoon.

DAY 6.

Dress from: Target

OK, FINE. This should just be called “Week of Target Dresses.” I can’t help it! They’re cheap and usually cute! I bought this one for my birthday. It’s summer-sexy-casual.

DAY 7.

Dress from: Anthropologie

Happy Easter! This is one of my all-time favorite dresses. My mom bought it for my birthday three or four years ago and I still love it. This photo really does not do it justice.

Next week, ladies and gents, will be the last week of my 12 weeks of challenges! Hard to believe! I’m going to be taking a walk around town every day. And it will be great. Especially if a certain Golden Retriever will accompany me…