Meteoric thoughts

As I write this, the sun hasn’t yet come up, and I’ve been awake for two hours. Willingly. Well, mostly willingly, at any rate. This is wrong on so many levels.

And right on some others.

My social media (and traditional media, too) has been filled with the Perseid Meteor shower for the past few weeks, and if you listened to the hype, you’d think that there would have been stargazing parties everywhere in the wee hours this morning, the so-called “peak” of the shower.

You’d be wrong. At least in my corner of Boston. No one was out watching the meteors. They were sleeping like sensible people.

But I’d committed. I’d set an alarm, hauled my bleary-eyed self out of bed, and determined that the cloud cover wasn’t too bad, so I was determined to see it through.

I’m aware that living in Boston, there’s lots of nasty night pollution, so Sadie and I hopped in the car and drove a few miles out of town to one of our favorite parks, built atop a landfill, actually, but with a big open field and parking close enough to the field that I felt I could escape with my life if I was threatened by marauding meanies just looking to attack random people in an isolated city park at 3:30 am. For the record, I was completely alone and safe – more on that later.

Anyway, as insects hummed and a little breeze stirred the incredibly soupy air, I spread out a blanket and looked up.

Everything I’d read said it would take a while for my eyes to adjust to the dark, and I have to admit that it really wasn’t that dark to begin with. There was low cloud cover ringing my field of view, and so the sky was actually pretty light. But I could see stars, some of my favorite constellations, and I did see meteors. Maybe 10-12 of them over the space of an hour or so.

Not the shower of magical streaks I’d hoped for (clouds, ambient light, and I should have been out around 1am instead of 3:30), but enough to prompt all of the existential thoughts that you’d expect of an introspective girl alone in a field, stargazing.

Thoughts about how long 20 minutes is when you’re doing nothing but staring at the sky.

Thoughts of how hard it is to just stare at the sky and not think.

Hamilton lyrics. Always, always, Hamilton lyrics these days.

Thoughts about how my field of vision, even when directed upward with total focus and clarity, can’t come close to seeing the whole sky. At least 75% of my meteor sightings were outside of my direct field of vision; just a streak of light that vanished before I could look directly at it. Teasing me as if to say “You sure about that? You sure?” (that’s a metaphor for life and business, in case I didn’t make that clear).

Thoughts about fear, and how fear kept me from completely relaxing, because even though I knew I was totally alone, and I knew I had a dog next to me, and a pocket knife at hand, and a phone that could dial 911 in moment, I have been taught that I should be afraid because I’m a woman alone in a park in the dark. That’s kind of crappy, but it didn’t stop me, which I think is kind of cool.

Yummy thoughts about the last time I stargazed for real, more than 20 YEARS ago, lying next to my first college boyfriend, on a hill on a chilly early winter Maine night. We had our first kiss that night. I remember it was awkward, but the memory is also sweet and romantic and delicious.

Thoughts about why didn’t I choose to be an astronomer? (that would have required math and science courses, obviously) and how the hell did early explorers make sense of the stars enough to make sure they didn’t fall off the edges of the earth? Answer: math and science.

Thoughts about what the sky is going to look like next weekend when I’m as far from city lights as I can get, high up in the mountains of Utah and Wyoming. Eeeeek. I can’t wait. I feel like my 8-year-old self counting the days until Disney World, when 7 days feels like, literally, FOREVER.

Thoughts about where I belong in the world, where I’m going in life, how much I wished I had a bagel and some tea. You know, the important stuff.

Anyway, it’s now light outside my window, and I’m pondering heading back to sleep for an hour since I have to, you know, be an adult and a boss for one more day before the glorious weekend arrives.

It occurs to me that very little of this morning was about actually seeing meteors. I guess that’s the wonder of stargazing; it’s really not about the stars at all. It’s about us, and if we have the guts look up, feel small, and think all the thoughts.

 

When Mt. Monadnock kicked my ass

As I sat down to write this blog post, my first thought was:

“Crap. I need the power cord to my laptop. I’m not sure I can get up to get it.”

Luckily, it was next to the bed (yes, I type this from the bed, because it’s an oven here in Boston and my bedroom is the only room with AC. That’s how we do it up here in the north).

But then I thought:

“I need my phone” (for photos)
“I need my camera” (for better photos)
“I need a glass of water” (because, well, read on)
“Well, I guess if I get all three an once, I can justify getting off this bed. Just hope my legs agree.”

Because, damn, y’all. I just got my ass kicked by a mountain.

Let’s back up a bit. Those who follow me on the socials may know that I’m heading out west later this summer to feed my addiction to epic views. Naturally, I am both excited and nervous about this, because, well, the mountains out there…let’s just say they are a wee bit taller than even the tallest we can muster here in New England. And, well, if today’s adventure is any indication, I might have some issues climbing them.

Mt. Monadnock is legendary in these parts. In fact, I met a bunch of visiting teachers on the hike, from all over the country, and they said “We had to hike THE mountain, right?” To which I agreed.

This wonderful little trail connection moment happened just past the 2 mile mark, when I was still filled with joy and bonhomie prompted by my first glimpse of a view and a relatively easy…well…tolerable hike.

Whoops, getting ahead of myself again.

Ahem.

Mt. Monadnock = legendary; it’s one of the most frequently climbed mountains in the world. Check. Mt. Monadnock = moderate to difficult to hike, which translates to, for 98% of the population, “holy-hell-this-is-tough-i’m-gonna-die-will-I-ever-get-to-the-top?”.

I encountered many of the 2% on this hike. You know, the folks whose steady, upward cadence never varies (even when they just hiked the same section that you basically crawled up and are now “admiring the view” from the nearest rock while sucking oxygen frantically into your lungs) or who glide down over the boulders as if the boulders were water and their boots were Jesus. This while you are sliding down the boulders on your butt in order to avoid, well, dying.

In case you haven’t guessed, I’m in the 98%. I’m with the poor lagging teenager who, when I told him there was a nice view up where his friends were, pleaded “is it the summit?” I had to tell him it was nowhere near it.😦

I suspect I might be in the bottom of the 98%, because I struggled mightily on this hike. I took the Birchtoft (no that’s not a typo) route, mostly because I’d read it’d be less crowded, and it was about 7 miles roundtrip with some difficult sections, which is what I wanted to try to get my hiking legs a little more under me before I go west.

But, enough exposition. Let’s get to the narrative.

It’s worth pointing out that I woke at 5am for this adventure. Just so you know I’m committed.

I reached the parking lot around 8am, and was greeted by a super-friendly ranger who did his best to make sure I understood that A) it was cold on the summit and B) I’d better bring lots of water. I assured him I had both of those covered, plus a poncho in the case of rain, a first aid kit, a multi-purpose tool, a map, a combo whistle/compass/thermometer, and someone back in Boston who was on standby to call him if I didn’t check in at the appropriate time. Hashtag responsible solo hiking for the win

Birchtoft was pretty easy (it’s rated a 2 for difficulty) – just a nice 2 mile stroll in pretty woods with the occasional hill. Oh, I won’t lie, it got my heart rate going, but nothing I couldn’t handle. It started off so hopefully – 3.4 miles ain’t that bad, right?

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But then…Birchtoft ends and eventually links up with the Red Spot Trail, aka Satan’s trail (not really, I just made that up).

The last 1.4 miles of this hike, in a word, completely slayed me. The steep part started off ok. I mean, this doesn’t look THAT bad. Plus, the ferns!

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But after a few of these teasers, the “trail” became basically nothing more than giant granite boulders strewn on a slope that felt like more than a 45% angle. But by far the worst, worst moment was when I trudged up a rock face, thinking I was near the summit, and saw that, no, I was not, in fact, anywhere near it.

image3I might have said some bad words at that point.

Standing there, I honestly considered turning around. I was miserable. I felt like such a loser, unable to climb a mile of rocks without my legs shaking and my heart pounding. The 2%, and several of the higher-level 98%ers, were passing me by. I had to stop and rest every few feet, it seemed. It was both pathetic and not a lot of fun.

I almost turned back about 50 times over the next 1/2 mile, a scramble over granite slabs and cool little tidepool-like puddles, on the way to the summit. But eventually, I made it.

The payoff of Monadnock, at 3166 feet, well above the tree line, is 360 degree views of six states. It’s pretty epic. Admittedly, I was shredded, and found my way to a comfy rock recliner and sat there sucking down water and eating trail mix before I had much energy to enjoy the views. It was also very, very cold and windy. I’m happy to report that my new hiking shirt performed admirably.

And did I mention the views?

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Monadnock4 (1 of 1)

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Just after taking the requisite squinty selfie, I turned to the east (once on the summit, it’s easy to miss the trail…I ,however, was prepared and knew my landmarks as well as used my compass) and sobbed inside at the thought of clamoring DOWN those horrible, horrible rocks. I mean, I like downhill as much as anyone, but I haven’t developed enough trust in my own legs to skip down at a fast clip, letting momentum take me. I’m still convinced that momentum is gonna kill me, so it was a long slog. I mean, really, does that look like a TRAIL to you?!

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I did swear a bit. I did crush the dreams of a few upward bound folks who asked hopefully if they were near the summit. I did grab a few trees, and slid down a few rocks on my butt. I did wonder if my legs would hold out long enough.

And yet, I managed to make it to the bottom in one piece, with no ankles rolled and no knees scraped. The sign at the base said hikers should allow 6 hours for the hike, and I finished in about 6:15. So I guess I didn’t do too bad.

And now, I sit on my bed in Advil-induced bliss, after stopping for a meatball sub (the best one I’ve ever eaten, period), taking a long, glorious shower (seriously, a post-hike shower is one of my top five things in life), and attempting to replace all the sweat I lost with copious glasses of water. Sadie’s snoring beside me; I missed her on this hike (dogs not allowed). I haven’t moved from the bed in a while, and I feel pretty good. Mid-way through those rocks (in both directions), I seriously wondered if I’d ever hike another mountain again. Back down at sea level, I know I will, but I think I might stick to the more moderate stuff.

Maybe.😉

Black Lives Matter

When I first started blogging, I found myself in a community called Arkansas Women Bloggers. It was new for me, to be part of such a group. And boy, did I feel like an outsider.

I wasn’t a wife. I wasn’t a mom. I wasn’t a craft blogger. I wasn’t a food blogger. It seemed like there was no one else in the group who blogged as I did – without focus, without a clear purpose, without a real point of view.

Many times, many more than I am proud of, I found myself resenting the women in the group. I sat through workshops and sessions where women exhorted each other to “find your voice” because “your story matters” and my first, uncharitable, gut reaction was some variation of this:

How in the world can a woman who is happily married, with kids she loves, a good job, a huge house, and perfect hair, claim that she isn’t fulfilled? She has everything…why does she need to “tell her story” and “feel validated?” I am ALONE, I have no kids, no partner, I do everything myself…why is SHE claiming my space…and why does her story matter more than mine?

I am not proud of this reaction. But I am human, and humans are flawed, and therefore I understand it. And I know that I have to fight like hell to change my own mind, because here’s the thing: this might be my gut reaction, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. 

Donald Trump is a master at manipulating this part of our human psyche. He plays to it; sure, it feels good to blame immigrants or Muslims or political correctness for all that is wrong in your life. But that doesn’t mean it’s true. And it doesn’t mean it’s right to do so. That’s why we have the ego and the superego, if you believe Freud.

I’m spending all these words on this because I’m trying to find a way to talk about Black Lives Matter.

First, a confession. I’ve been unwilling to write about this because, well, I’m scared. Because I know that people I care about who are reading this might disagree with me. Because we don’t talk about “the politics”. Because it’s too divisive, too hard.

But here’s the thing. I may be scared of talking about this, but I am not scared of dying if I get pulled over by the police. And at this point, this is about more than politics. This is about life. I didn’t go to college and read books and work hard to be a better person just to clam up because I’m afraid of a little confrontation.

So let’s talk about Black Lives Matter. As a marketer, I’ve gotta say that a really good tagline shouldn’t need to be explained as much as this one is, but this isn’t an academic exercise.

First, it’s worth pointing out that many caring, decent white people have a really hard time knowing what to do about discussing race. I’m not looking for pity in that statement – I’m just saying it’s true. I have read several dozen articles over the past few days about how I, as a member of white America, should be responding – they are all different. So there’s that.

2nd, most us white folks cannot truly place ourselves in the position of our black friends and colleagues. We simply can’t, because regardless of our own struggles and triumphs, our skin color has given us certain privileges in today’s world. We can do our best, we can have empathy, but we will never really understand it on a visceral level.

And finally, let’s be totally honest here. When talking about horrible things like shootings and violence, the gut reaction to #blacklivesmatter, if you’re not black, could very well be “sure, but doesn’t my life (or the life of my friends/family) matter, too?”

Let’s go back to my blogging example. My first reaction to being a part of that community was selfish. It was based on a gut feeling; if someone else’s story matters, than that somehow means that mine doesn’t.

When you think about this in terms of blogging, that reaction seems pretty silly. And luckily, the story doesn’t stop there. I was able to recognize that someone else telling their story doesn’t hurt me; that both of our stories could matter, even if hers was the one getting all the clicks.

It’s the same with Black Lives Matter, although in this case, we’re not talking about blog stats; we’re talking about people’s LIVES.

So when I say that I believe that Black Lives Matter, I am not saying everyone else’s lives don’t. OF COURSE I’m not saying that, and neither are the majority of the people who are saying it.

I am acknowledging that many black people still face a society that hasn’t fully welcomed them as equals.

I am acknowledging that my friends, who are raising black children, have to teach them what to do to not get shot if they get stopped by police. Let me say that again. I have friends who are teaching their kids to never put their hands in their pockets when talking to the police. This is real…and it’s not ok.

And let’s just be clear on this. I am able to do all of this and also mourn the police officers who were shot for doing their jobs two nights ago in Dallas. I am able to mourn the soldiers who lost their lives all across the world as they serve in America’s military. I am able to mourn those fighting disease and hardship. I am able to honor all of those people for their heroism in the face of terror. I am able to hope that we can work to make things better. I am a human being, and we humans really do have the capacity to hold more than one thought in our heads at any given time.

I wish we didn’t have to, because honestly, it hurts to have all of this anguish and fear and despair in there.

But we have to try.

So I’m going to learn more about how the police work.

I’m going to not be afraid to tell my black friends that I stand with them and that I want to help.

I’m going to acknowledge that I might not say or do the right thing. My first reaction (and my 2nd, and 3rd) might be wrong.

But I am not going to let that keep me from trying.

6288 feet up and still searching

It seems that lately, I’ve become a bit of a view whore. Selling my soul, or at least my free time, in a quest for vistas that take me out of the daily and into the sublime.

Maybe it’s my own version of seeking something bigger than myself…

Maybe it’s because working in classical music makes my brain tired, and views are like coffee…

Or maybe I just like the how the world looks From the Top of Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast, also home to the Worst Weather in the World. I managed to leave my camera card at home AGAIN (3rd time I’ve done this in the last year – grrr), so these were captured with my aging I-Phone.

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Count the layers of mountains

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This is what I want in life. Preferably with me and someone significant in the other chair.

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A famous trail that I might climb someday…maybe.

PS: Astute readers will note a “mistake” in the capitalization of a part of this post. Chill out, grammar police, I meant to do it. You’re welcome, Robin.

Of Gorillas and Guns and Expertise

It seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? You remember, that time when we all became experts on gorilla behavior. And parenting. Boy, did we bring out the self-righteous pitchforks on that one.

Then, we got distracted from our armchair zoology by a 3-month sentence for a young man who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman, and suddenly we all became experts on judicial sentencing. And, it’s worth mentioning that, all sarcasm aside, there are far too many women who are experts at dealing with the devastation of rape and sexual assault. Far, far too many.

Then a woman made history by becoming the presumptive nominee for President for the Democratic Party. And of course we had to point out all the reasons we shouldn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t allow that historical milestone to be celebrated. Because, you know, we’re all experts in political strategy and recent American political history.

And now we are wrestling with a horrible mass shooting, targeting those who really don’t deserve to be put through more than we’ve already put them through. And now we’re all experts on gun control and the 2nd amendment and LGBT issues.

To be honest, I’m tired of everyone being an expert.

The truth is, most of us aren’t experts at anything. We’re students of life. We’re observers. We’re laypeople; we can do our best to try to understand everything, but more often than not, we fail. Because we’re biased, because we don’t have all the information, and because sometimes, the information we have is wrong.

What we ARE experts at is far less noble than we think it is.

We are experts at judging people.

We are experts at wild speculation.

We are experts at listening only to those who speak to our particular bias.

We are experts at being mean, at cutting down others, at fostering fear of people who are different than us.

And we’ve gotten really, really good at crying out in pain, and having no way to channel our righteous anger into positive, forward-thinking action.

I usually try to end my blog posts with some sort of “but here’s how we could do better!” cheeriness. But I don’t think I can on this one. I don’t really know how. I guess I just want to say that I’m not an expert at any of the stuff we’re talking about these days. To be honest, this “un-expertise” has kept me from writing about all this stuff to date, because, really, I know nothing, Jon Snow. So I should just shut up, right? Maybe. But I do know a few things.

I know that I wish some real experts would step forward and help us figure out some of this out. You know, using facts and data and research and all that crazy, rational stuff. And I wish we had the guts to listen to them.

I know I’m grateful for my friends who ARE experts, and are doing all they can to help people.

I know it’s really sad that there is one less endangered gorilla in the world. And that it’s very good that there’s a little boy who’s still alive.

I know that I want to tell parents to give yourselves, and each other, a break – your jobs are hard enough without the world telling you all the ways you’re doing it wrong.

I know I must help the young kids in my life grow up to care for and respect each other, so maybe there will be fewer lives ruined by sexual assault in the future.

I know I will always remember the day Hillary Clinton smashed that glass ceiling and reminded us all to be thankful for the women who came before, who paved the path.

And I know that my heart is breaking for my friends in the LGBT and Muslim communities who are experts at being made to be afraid to live in their own homes, neighborhoods…and even their own country.

Maybe if we all became experts in taking care of each other, we’d do better. Maybe.