Monday, July 29, 2013

Participant-Centered Approach

I just finished helping organize aspects of the Appalachian Trail Biennial Conference in Cullowhee, N.C. It brought together more than 900 people to hike, learn, collaborate, maintain, and cultivate awareness for the Appalachian Trail. Among the activities of this event are guided hikes, more than 150 of them. Many of these hikes are lead by people who hike all the time; they are strong hikers who easily churn out a 3 mile-per-hour pace. However, not everyone who attends these events are capable of hiking quite that fast. This requires modification on the part of the hike leader to only hike as fast as the slowest hiker, a motto I learned well as a Girl Scout and practiced as a Girl Scout leader.

As a dance teacher of a modality known as The World GROOVEMovement, I was trained to facilitate dance. This means that rather than strictly governing “right” and “wrong” on the dance floor, I permit people to explore a simple move their way to get to the heart of their authenticity. This type of fitness class is counter to what most Americans are familiar with these days, with an expert instructor dancing at the front of the room, with everyone else striving to emulate her without success. The disconnect created in this situation with the leader as the center of focus means that it’s difficult for students to access what is actually happening to and inside of their bodies as they move. Instead of observing, they’re flailing and trying valiantly to keep up.

I see similarities with the traditional group exercise model and the model of hike leadership with a lot of groups who are taking people out to hike. Instead of aiming for success (after all, everyone can hike and enjoy it if it’s at a pace they can achieve and enjoy), we can often be led by our strengths – to charge ahead – instead of letting our newest participants set the pace, explore the territory, and guide their own experience.

As a model of leadership, how can I facilitate this kind of awareness in our volunteers? How can our clubs identify the interest and level of its members and cultivate their exploration and turn it into dedication (newbie to die-hard)? How can we change club culture from exclusive club to inclusive experience? 

It's about all of us. Each of us, individually and collectively - my other takeaway from the Biennial that I'll post separately. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Weekend Getaway: Joyce Kilmer

Last weekend a group of my friends and I set out to backpack a lollipop trail, one that leaves from the trailhead and soon splits to make a loop that returns to the access trail leading back to the cars. Maybe there’s another name for it: spoon or lasso? The trip through Joyce Kilmer and Citigo Wilderness areas was beautiful, challenging, and rewarding. The whole weekend seemed to be tinged with the magic of the old growth forests, or the serendipity of life on the trail itself, when everything just works out.

Despite our attempts to arrive at the trailhead at varied times, the three groups of folks coming from different locations arrived within minutes of each other at about 8:45 p.m. We finalized gear to include in packs, laced up boots, and as is commonly the case when backpacking with my aptly named friend Last Minute, we set off onto the trail just after nightfall. We slipped onto the trail just over a guard rail, then turned sharply right to walk parallel to a landslide before crossing a bridge at a 45-degree angle that slid from it’s higher purchase on the mountain, to settle firmly enough in its current location. The trail connected with a wide road bed that we followed, walking in clustered sets of two or three, headlamps and conversations breaking through the dark forest as we slowly and steady ascended Bob Stratton Bald. 

We awoke in our little thicket of trees on the bald, packed up, and set out for the trail that would take us to Hangover Rock, along the spine of the ridge. We initially missed the turn for Hangover Rock but quickly recovered from the mistake, turning back after one descending switchback, to take the high point. The slight delay allowed us to perfectly time our arrival on the scenic overlook with the sun’s first appearance of the day, revealing the Great Smoky Mountains, Fontana Lake, and the forests and ridges we would cover in the next days. We snacked, snapped pictures, and rested before descending steeply to Big Fat Gap

Around mile 5 or 6 of our 9-mile hike, I noticed our dog Annie’s fatigue. Compelled to lead or unite the group at all times, her enthusiasm for her role overshadowed her fatigue for most of the day. I instated longer rest breaks for us in looking out for her best interest. 

We navigated trail intersections, crossed Slickrock Creek, scampered down to swim in Wildcat Falls, and then climbed steadily to our ridge top camp. During one break during the climb Annie laid down in a mud hole and slept with her head still high. Poor dear. Hot and tired, she’d taken to cooling herself like swine.

At camp, Annie ate immediately and slept. We pitched our tent, ate dinner, and gathered round the campfire to celebrate Last Minute’s birthday with s’mores and moonshine. The sudden pelting rain around 9 sent us scattering to our tents. Thunder and lightening prevailed until around midnight, and the rain stayed on until morning. I awoke at 6 from more thunder, lightening, and what I could make out as the break of dawn with the dense cloud cover. Talking commenced between the nylon walls of tents. We ate our breakfasts staying as sheltered as possible between the intermittent rains and the wind that blew more off the leaves above. When we’d performed every last possible morning ritual to delay packing and walking in the rain, there was a break in it. It lasted just long enough to deconstruct our tents and organize the essentials back into backpacks. Just as well-timed as the break in the rain was the sudden, pelting onslaught that followed, so we slung on our packs, cinched them tight to our rain jackets and hit the trail. 

The rain persisted all day, from the time we got on the trail at 8:30 until we got off the trail at 2:30. I regulated my temperature with adjustments to my clothing. Rain jacket off for the big climbs, with my body pumping out enough energy to keep me warm. Rain jacket on for descents when the wind pierced through every bit of my wet clothes to prick my skin into goose bumps. The lightening would shatter the darkness of the forest (the darkness of forest in the daytime entertains me because it’s so novel) then I would count the seconds to know the distance of the storm. This happened again and again throughout the day, as if the storm gods were lining up to take their chance at seeing how wet we could become with each downpour. So much so, that I would find myself noticing in my soaking wet state that, indeed, “I think I just felt water travel a new route down my backside. Had it been there before?” Of course it had, but the rivulet that streamed down my body on this downpour was greater than before, it seemed.

As I walked through sheets of torrential rain, in one moment I felt my sheer insignificance in the world. Encased by the magnificence of the thunder, the bright illumination of lightening, and the world in all its complexities of nature, I realized that I am nothing but just that: a flash of light, passing energy. Here. Then gone. This precious life. So fleeting. My part here so small. 

Marcus, Annie and I were apart from the group, hiking steady through the fog and rain until we reached a junction where we waited. It seemed longer than the ten or fifteen minutes we stood there. There wasn’t a place to be out of the wetness or the cold. We drank hot tea I still had in my thermos I had prepared that morning. It helped. When we forgot, briefly, that we were waiting, they appeared. We walked out the last mile on that wide trail of a forest road through deep puddles, talking about food, but no one mentioned our next adventure. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Struck Mute by Fear

Bill says he knows I was scared because I was so quiet. 

As an extreme extrovert, I hardly ever am noticed for my quiet demeanor. When he pointed this out, I knew it was true.

My otherwise bubbly, verbal chatter languished while an internal dialogue of fear raced inside my head, from the "what ifs" and "is this really designed properly?" to the self-soothing words to squelch the distress.

I've been zip lining twice and each time it takes more zips than not to overcome my fear. I stand on the platform, knees literally knocking (on this last trip, I suspect it was the persistent cool wind that fueled it most), before jumping off into the air, trusting the harness, my guides, and my own skill to remember to stop using my right, leather-clad palm behind me on the wire.

My friend Desiree posted on her Facebook page this morning, "Everyone's scared.
Few carry on. Keep calm, The Universe." She also posted this: "
Your fears won't keep you safe. They will keep you small." 

She's a wise friend, and while I suspect she'd talk slightly differently about the fear that eclipses a soul on a treetop platform of a zipline course, I will still apply them here. They're relevant metaphors for this life experience. Zip lining, like hang gliding, like backpacking, life, or running one's own business has inherent things we perceive as dangers, places to slip, and points for failure.  But, if we never step off the platform we won't know what we can accomplish. And, once we're off, the rewards, the adrenaline, the celebration when we succeed what we set out to do absolutely rock!

Bill has lost more than 160 lbs. He knows. Hard work. Trust. Attitude. These things matter for any obstacle. Daily, he's forging new territory: zip lining, dance classes, dating, seeking out challenging and new life experiences.
Scott, me, Laura, Bill

Right now I'm facing fear of the unknown. I'm standing between the ever present challenges of self-employment and the equally challenging commitment to full-time work with an organization that is as close to my own heart as the blood in my veins. While the path ahead of me isn't quite clear, I know that I must trust and step boldly off the platform, so that I can land somewhere new. It's growth. It's evolution. It's life.

Friday, March 22, 2013

One Week, Two Restaurants

In January I moved in with Marcus. The final and most “official” piece of my move-in wasn’t the bed, it was my coffee mug. Since our cohabitation began we’ve been sinking deeper into domesticity. We brought Annie The Dog home from our early-February travels. We’ve planted flowers, shrubs, and trees, built raised beds, and established, at least in theory, a household cleaning schedule. We’ve gotten the “family plan” for our cell phones, which feels to me like a really big deal because our data and payments are now hitched; this just feels like commitment (even more than moving in together).

With all we’ve done to mesh ourselves and our stuff in the 340 sq. ft. of this house, I think the thing I enjoy most is cooking together because making meals, nourishing our bodies, and collaborating over kale is frugal, healthy and fun.  Needless to say, between my explorations of the finer points of rehydrating and cooking dried beans (I still haven’t gotten it down pat) we haven’t eaten out too much. So, it’s with delight that we explored not one, but two, new restaurants in Asheville in the past week.

Because we so often return to places we know and love, it’s a perk that both restaurants at which we ate were new to us as well as being new to the Asheville community.

Last Sunday, ravenous from thoroughly cleaning our tiny abode then visiting friends in their new home, Marcus and I popped over to ZIA Taquaria. I ordered two tacos, a shrimp and a carnitas. Marcus ate a barbacoa plate. We ordered at the counter and found a table on the patio (farthest from where someone was smoking). The chips and salsa hit the spot for knocking off my immediate hunger, and I really liked the flavor of the salsa. 

In short order our meals arrived. I ate my shrimp taco first, and it was pretty good. It didn’t knock my socks off, but it had a pretty good flavor. The carnitas, on the other hand, was pretty gross. I ate a few bites of the greasy taco before I realized I could actually pour out all the oil that had settled into the bottom of my flour taco. When I talked to the waiter, who I believe may be a co-owner, about the grease in my carnitas he exclaimed that it’s meant to be that way. In my experience it’s not, especially because the fat didn’t seem like animal fat, it seemed like vegetable oil. It was odd and not particularly tasty. 

I thought Marcus’s barbacoa was pretty good, mind you, I’ve never eaten barbacoa in my life. I rated his meat as a B. He graded it at a C based on his experience growing up in Texas and traveling to Mexico a lot. His accompanying beans and rice were off somehow, though neither of us could tell how. It tasted like the cook got his hands on some Goya Adobo seasoning and used that exclusively for the beans. I’m glad we went to see what all the hype was about. I may get back that way for a margarita, chips and salsa at a future date, but I’ll refrain from ordering anything more substantial.

While our meal at ZIA was disappointing, we had lots to celebrate after our meal at Magnolia Ray in Woodfin last night. We went to dine out for the Y yesterday since 10% of certain restaurants’ profits were being donated to the YMCA Healthier Communities Campaigns. The ambiance, attentive staff, and the food were all top notch. Marcus ordered a Magnolia Ray Burger that came with caramelized onion and bacon. The burger and bun were melt-in-your-mouth delicious, topped with spinach, goat cheese, and properly caramelized onion. Most importantly, it was cooked to order, served medium, just as he asked. I ate Zucchini “un-tagliatelle” with chicken. The generous portion was well-seasoned, fresh, and hearty pasta-alternative meal. I had intended to hold back from eating it all in one sitting, but I just couldn’t stop myself from enjoying it all hot from the kitchen. Several friends I saw there that evening had shrimp and grits and reported satisfaction with the deliciousness of their orders (maybe I'll get that next time).

So, I’m back to bit of blogging, restaurant-dining and home-making. I hope you’ve been well.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Settling Into a Pace

I went for a run today, my first solo run in a very long time. Honestly, I was a bit apprehensive about it before I started. My hesitance came from not running frequently and the inclination I have to compare where I am now with where I was last year in regards to my fitness.

In any event, I was going. Marcus and I agreed that he would drop me off at the Orange Peel after we ran a morning errand so I could run the 3 or so miles distance back home. I unzipped my white fleece vest and left it in the passenger seat; I wouldn’t need it since the temperatures were already approaching 60 at 10:30 a.m.

I started to run, and I felt a tinge of ache in my right knee. This is something I’ve observed more regularly at the outset of my dance workouts. I worried for a split second about it, then noticed the employee of the new brewery Wicked Weed sweeping up cigarette butts off the sidewalk. And, as it happens, I slipped into a comfortable pace, churning up the slight hill of Biltmore toward Pack Square, past cute dogs on leashes, over top of the textured concrete of the new ALoft Hotel, and the bustling Bomba on the corner of Patton.

I zipped west on Patton Avenue, remembering as much as possible to soak in the perspective of the mountains that nestle this city and her residents close, providing nurturing, comfort, sustenance – like a good, round mother.

I cut through the used car lot and onto Clingman where gravity added ease to an already light run. I hadn’t even broken a sweat.

Over the French Broad on the Riverlink Bridge, I started the ascent of Haywood. As easily as I’d come down to the river, I was met with the challenge of climbing away from it. The gradual hill felt manageable at first, but as it extended beyond my sight, turning in a bend in the road, my mind said stop. And, in response, another strain said “it’s not how fast you get there, it’s that you get there.” Automatically my stride shortened. I took on a measured pace to more strategically tackle the long obstacle of my course.

It’s not how fast you get there, it’s that you get there.”

I was talking to a woman at the Y the other day about hiking. She said she’s all for big vistas with sweeping views. If a hike doesn’t have that, she wants no part of it. Now I’ve always liked hiking in the forest, feeling safe and sheltered there. Despite the fact that I am just as happy without a view or a waterfall as with one, I shared with her a nugget of wisdom from my Appalachian Trail thru-hike that relates to my own revelation today, “it’s the journey not the destination.”

You can start the Appalachian Trail, but never finish it (or not finish it in the timeframe you intend). You may run a race but not finish it at the goal time you set. You may commit yourself to exercise but not see results as rapidly as you’d like.

It’s not how we do any of these things, but that we do them in the first place. That we try is they key, and that, in trying, we focus on where we are at, by noticing our surroundings, greeting people along the way, remembering to make it feel good will get us farther (and ultimately faster) than if we have to stop.

Often the lessons I gain on a run or on trail are messages intended for the rest of my life. I’ve been facing challenges lately that seem like long, winding uphills, where I just can’t see the end of where this path will take me. So I’ll figuratively shorten my stride and settle in to tackle it just as it appears.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

15 Minutes A Day

I set out to write a blog post a day in 2012. It’s December 12 and I’ve reached the grand total of 44 posts. That’s an average of 3.6 per month. If I could look back on the me that started the challenge in January, I would probably feel disappointed that I didn’t make my goal. But the me that’s sitting in the now of falling short of my intention feels totally fine with my shortcomings – if I should even consider them such.

I realize that it was important to have the goal to strive toward. I did do more writing in the early part of the year, before I started dating Marcus, before I started writing even more for hire, and before I undertook more consulting projects.

I know that writing is an important exercise. Especially writing for myself. Writing my stories. Writing my experiences. Writing my truth. That’s something that writing for hire can’t do. When I work for someone else, it’s in my words, my style, my ideas on structure and organization, but it’s not the same as deciding this is 100% the most important thing to share with the world. It’s not necessarily my optimism, my joy, and my hope (though I do strive to find work projects that allow the good to shine through, because we have far, far too much bad news in this world).

This morning I was at the gym reading a magazine, and I read something about a woman who wrote ten books while working a full-time job. Ten. She wrote these ten books by writing for just15 minutes each day. 15 minutes. Every day. Her work. Her projects. Her books. She didn’t spend the whole day on it. She didn’t have time. She spent what she could eek out. Perhaps it was the first 15 minutes upon waking, or 15 minutes after a morning run, or 15 minutes after dinner. But the accumulation of 15 minutes, daily is 91 hours and 25 minutes in a year.

Really her challenge was not much different than the one I set out to tackle at the start of this year. A book, like a blog, is an accumulation of words, thoughts, and ideas. A book is a bit more refined because it’s organized in a cohesive manner, but a book and a blog are the same beast. They’ve got the same bones.

I return, again, to my 15 minutes.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Courage of Discourse

I got a handwritten letter today. The letter came from someone I’ve never met. Carol lives in the nearby town of Marshall.  While I’m not sure how she got my address, I’m glad she wrote.

She wrote me this letter, explaining some of her decisions to vote democratic and for Obama in the upcoming election.

A letter from Carol Dixon
Before I opened the letter I considered it. I wondered if this hand written envelope enclosed a letter from someone espousing political views. Before I even opened the letter I thought about the fact that we do need to be using our voices, our pens, and the tools of communication to share our opinions with our neighbors.  We don’t have to agree, but we should feel empowered to discuss our ideas, even if those ideas are different from those of “our” established political party lines. This is the power of democracy that I feel is commonly overshadowed by media pundits, the commentary of editorial talk-show hosts, and the pervasive and simplistic arguments of “We’re right. They’re wrong.”

Not knowing what the letter would be before I opened it I decided that no matter the position presented, I would reply with a letter that acknowledges her feelings and opinions, and thanking her for writing to start the dialogue.

Thankfully, I opened the letter to find it expressed her personal opinions. Based on her life and family experience she intends to vote a straight democratic ticket.

What I didn’t find was a finger pointing at me with “you should” or “what you don’t know…” that I feel has slid into political discourse. That kind of dialogue devalues the listener. It supposes you are incapable of a decision. It supposes that you’ve given no thought or consideration to your experience and what you witness in your life. We all have opinions, experiences, and feelings. If we tune in to what’s inside us instead of repeating arguments or ideologies conveyed by the media, we’d be much closer to the democracy we claim to be part of as Americans.

I love that she wrote to start a conversation among her neighbors. I love that she wrote for what she believes in, based on her experience, to members of this county that are largely republican, and I love that she spent her hard earned money on the paper, envelopes, and stamps to send this mail to people.

I deeply respect that she has opened herself up to the dialogue with her neighbors, those who agree, and those who disagree. It may produce mail that is filled with vile and bitter tones, rather than a calm response of personal opinion in opposition that makes up a true discussion. Regardless, she has knowingly opened the door to this discourse, and I admire her courage.

I talk politics sometimes, but I generally do it in the company of close friends or relatives. I don’t generally use Facebook or Twitter for sharing my political opinions because I believe its purpose is to connect people, not divide them (and our current political structure is very divisive). But Carol’s letter reminds me that as long as what I present is my opinion, my feelings, based on my experiences, it’s a fine idea to talk politics, because this type of discourse is the cornerstone of our nation.

Perhaps, I’ve taken to heart the expression to not talk about religion, politics and money (or is it sex) in mixed company, to garner a more peaceable existence. Then again, if I do that am I short-changing what it means to live in a democratic society?

What do you think? Do you talk politics with your neighbors? Why? Why not? 

(I seek a civilized conversation. All comments are welcome as long as they are thoughtful arguments rather than combative assaults on a difference of opinion.)