Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Work in Progress: The Power of (Thinking You're) Being Watched

I don't know about other people (though I have my suspicions), but I definitely find that one of the great uses of social media is accountability.  Post something on Facebook and a blog, and the world might not care, but the poster thinks it does. Sure did work for me this week.  After months of inactivity, one post about updates and additions, and suddenly the goals have moved back into focus. And so, happily, there is progress to report, and upcoming activities to invite friends to join. Here's the report.

1. Rock climbing. The unacceptably long stretch of no outdoor climbing finally came to an end on Saturday when two of the Hall-of-Famers of the original year of 52 New Things, good friends Amanda and Josh, joined Jon and me for a day of outdoor climbing in Rumney, New Hampshire.  The tricky part about Rumney is that, unlike top-rope friendly nearby Bolton, where I have climbed outside most, it's all bolted for sport climbing.  This means that, instead of casually walking to the top of the cliff and suspending a climbing rope, someone has to "sport climb" from the bottom, fixing the rope in place with the bolts and pieces of equipment called quick draws.  Then, someone else climbs up and unclips and removes ("cleans") the quick draws and then anyone can climb up while tied to a rope from the top ("top roping").  The lucky part of this is that 1. Jon was able to do the sport climbing on the routes we wanted to top rope, and 2. we all got some practice sport climbing some of the easier routes.
Climbing Frosted Flakes was fine, once Jon had nicely done the lead climb to set it up.

Added bonus: swimming and playing with the slack line Josh brought in the nearby river after we were done climbing. Here are Josh, Amanda and Jon contemplating our next move.

2. Figure skating.  Ironically, this is the most time-dependent goal, with my test looming in the future on Saturday, August 22.  So of course, this is the goal I did the least on this week, though it's partially not my fault.  I take lessons twice a week, Friday mornings in Waterbury and Monday nights at Leddy Park in Burlington's New North End. But my Friday teacher has been in Scotland, and an evening meeting made me miss my Monday lesson.  In recognition of this fact I hit the public ice time at Leddy on Sunday afternoon.  There were lots of kids and milk crates, but I was able to carve out some space to practice back outside edges -- one of my weaknesses that I will be tested on.

3.  Getting (and getting better at being) outside. Getting the blog back going has been a great incentive to put some summer hiking into high gear. Two weeks ago I did three hikes in three days -- none very taxing, all with fire towers.  They were Spruce Mountain, Mount Elmore and Mount Cardigan in New Hampshire.  All of them got me outdoors with cool people and two of them were in places I'd never been.  Then last week I had another first -- having a whole peak to myself.  A great thing about blog accountability is that it challenges me to be more independent -- if I say I'm going to do something and no one wants to do it with me, I can learn to do it by myself.  That was the case on last week's early morning hike up Stowe Pinacle.  This had the lovely side effect of having the whole top of the mountain to myself. I really like hiking with friends, and the opportunity it gives for long conversations out in nature, but it's been fun to discover that I can hike any time I feel like it since I don't have to wait for someone else to want to join me. Yesterday, though, I was back to hiking with friends, in this case, Camel's Hump with Katie B.    So, five hikes in a little over two weeks; feels like this one is coming back together.
What I didn't know about solo hikes is that it also hones the fine art of taking selfies.  When you're the only one on top of the peak, it's up to you to take the picture.
Katie and I beat the crowds when we did a morning hike up Camel's Hump.

4. Yoga and acro yoga.  I'm feeling a little frustrated that I've fallen so far behind on this one.  Acro yoga is lots of fun, but at least in my case, it's hard to progress because that means being willing to fail before you succeed -- with a partner.  It's one thing to try something and fail ten times all by yourself with no one watching.  But with acro, everything is with a partner, and a spotter as well, so there are two built-in witnesses to the failure.  It's a good way to work on fear of failure and self-consciousness generally, but I definitely find it challenging. Still, I'm doing a little better at making both yoga and acro more regular in my life, so maybe the next post will show some real progress.

No, I can't do this one.  But it sure looks cool, doesn't it? Nick and Ashley were working on this one while Steve and I were doing some more mundane work on "tick tocks" near the Winooski traffic circle.

5.  Becoming a better (more grateful, compassionate and mindful) person.  Some cool developments on this one, particularly the establishment of a Facebook group for an on-line book and volunteering club.  There are twenty members, and it's not too late to join.  We just voted, and the first book we're going to read is Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron. I need to write my first couple of thank you letters this week, and figure what this month's volunteer opportunity will be.

What's Next

1.  Rock climbing.  Climbing outside at Rumney was a great motivator to get back to climbing a lot more, indoors and out.  I have a rope and anchoring equipment -- if anyone wants to go to Bolton or Falls of Lana in the next week or two, let me know.  In the meantime I'm also shooting for climbing indoors at least twice a week.  Jon and I usually go on Friday evenings, and welcome others, and if anyone wants to go another evening or during the day, with a little advanced notice that can definitely happen.

2.  Figure skating.  My Friday teacher is back from Scotland, so lessons await on Friday morning and Sunday evening.  I'm also up to do Sunday open skating at Leddy this coming Sunday between 4:15 and 6, and maybe a more expensive (non-public) practice session during the week.  If anyone wants to join, send a message, please.

3.  Getting outside.  Don't think I can do any hiking this weekend, but next week I'm definitely game.  I might join the Peak-a-Weekers on Wednesday night, or do another early morning hike on Monday, Wednesday or Thursday.  If anyone wants to join, let me know! 

4.  Yoga and acro yoga.  No big plans here.  Lots of acro yogis are headed to New York City this weekend for an acro festival, but hoping that people will be up for some pick-up practices in the next week or two. 

5.  The Be Better Book and Volunteer Club is up and running with 20 members!  We're starting with Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron, and the first on-line discussion will be Wednesday, August 27.  Not too late to join, send me a note if you'd like to. I'm also taking suggestions for my first volunteer experience, which needs to be completed by the end of August.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Work in Progress: Update and Addition

One of the greatest things about good friendships is that they help us keep on track.  When we stumble and struggle, good friends are here for us, and when we stray from the things we said we'd do, they're around to remind us to get back on track.  This post, the first in a very long time, is a grateful response to my good friend Leah's not-so-subtle nudge that I've been slacking.  She's right, and it's time to get the Work in Progress moving again, and to add another component.

Back when I started this blog, these three fabulous friends and former students -- Jamila, Leah and Siham -- collectively came up with about half the things I did.  I'm glad Leah recently pushed me to start a new iteration.

A Work in Progess is the most recent iteration of this blog, which began as 52 New Things, a tracking of the 52 (one a week) experiences, places and challenges I took on in the year of 2010. The blog then extended into 2011 with more New Things, and then became a travel log for the year I spent teaching and exploring in the country of Jordan.  A Work in Progress was envisioned to focus in four areas of activity that I started during these earlier projects: learning skills and appreciating the outdoors; rock climbing; figure skating; and yoga and acro yoga.  The idea was to see how far I could get in these areas before my 50th birthday (December 10, 2016).

I'm still committed to those four goals (although I've done a terrible job working on or documenting them up till now), but recently realized what was missing.  All four of these goals are important to me.  But when I hit 50, I went to simply be a better person.  I want to be more compassionate, feel more gratitude and be more mindful. So, I'm adding a new goal.  Here it is: 5. Work on being a better (more compassionate, mindful and grateful) person.

My hope is to borrow shamelessly from the wisdom of others to get there.  I sm pretty sure I can't just wish to make it so, so I'm going to take three action steps on a regular basis.  They are:

1.  Actively seek to support my own community as a volunteer, like my friend, the talented acro-yogi, Steve Kuhn.  Steve volunteers all over the place and is one of the most generous and compassionate people I've ever met.  I think it's not a coincidence.  My goal is to find and complete a new volunteer experience at least once a month between now and when I turn 50.

2. Cultivate gratitude by thanking people to whom I'm grateful.  The inspiration for this one is my friend Ginger, and I hope she won't mind me blatantly copying her brilliant idea.  She told recently that when she turned 50 she celebrated by writing 50 thank you letters to people who had helped her become the person that she is.  I love that idea, and I have 17 months to do the same thing.  Fifty thank you letters for fifty years of living.

Ginger, looking off into the distance from the top of the Spruce Peak fire tower. She's a wise one.

3. Read and learn from the wisdom of others. One of the unrealized goals of previous years was to start a book club.  So, I'm circling back to that one, with a twist.  All the books I want to have for the club will be selected with the criteria that they offer wisdom on becoming a becoming a better person.  I have some authors in mind I've always wanted to read -- Parker Palmer, Pema Chodron, some I'm curious about -- David Brooks (don't agree on his politics, but found his essay taken from his new book, The Road to Character, really good), and some I've found helpful before like Melody Beattie and Brene Brown. When I suggested a book club on line a couple of years ago, a bunch of people were interested.  I'm hoping some still are, and we can hold a once-a-month online discussion on that month's reading.  But even if it's just me, I'm going to read a book a month to make me a better person.

In previous years of this blog, probably my favorite thing was that almost everything I posted about I did with friends -- current and past students, colleagues, family and old friends, some people I barely knew and some I knew incredibly well. I'm hoping that will happen again, and so, like in the Year of 52 Postings, I am going to have a listing at the bottom of each post. It will be called What's Next.  It will say anything that's coming up on each of the 5 goals, in the hopes that people will want to join in and do things together (and let me know that, please).

So, thanks again, Leah, for pushing me to get moving again.  Hope you'll want to sign up for some of what's next!

What's Next

1. Get outside. Haven't done nearly what I should, especially given that it's summer in Vermont, which is as good as it gets in terms of a time and a place to be outdoors.  But I started to turn it around a little last week when I did three hikes in three days: Spruce Peak with Ginger and the Peak a Week club; Mount Elmore with my friend and former student, Kyra; and Mount Cardigan in New Hampshire with another former students and friends Kate and Ben.  I'm hoping to do a hike on Wednesday morning and/or Thursday afternoon.  If you're interested in joining, give me a shout, please.

Kyra was my rock climbing/Wilderness Program co-conspirator.  She graduated in May, but I'm glad she's still finding her way back to Vermont to get outside together.

2.. Yoga and acro yoga. This goal is in terrible shape, but I'm at least getting back on track with the yoga side of it with Tuesday and Thursday morning classes at the Y with my friend Paul.  I'm also hoping to start going to classes at Sangha Studio where I took acro yoga classes.  If there are friends interested in doing some acro yoga in the next two weeks, let's plan some!

Haven't been doing much acro yoga at all, but when I was in Michigan a couple weeks ago, my niece Tigist was loving it!  I might need to find another 50 pound partner to keep things easy.

3. Figure skating. Last week I took a big step for me and signed up for my first official figure skating test (Pre-Bronze Adult Moves in the Field).  Now I have a month to practice and get ready.  I have lessons on Monday night and Friday morning.  There are open skating sessions on Sunday and Tuesday afternoons I need to start attending to practice.  Who wants to come?

4. Rock climbing.  Another place where I've really dropped the ball.  I haven't been climbing outdoors this entire summer, and haven't been much inside either.  But I want to.  If people are up for either, shoot me an email, and let's get going.

5. Be a better person. As noted above, there are three activities here: 50 letters, once-a-month volunteering and the book club.  If people are interested in any of the three, I'm going to start a private Facebook group people can join to keep themselves accountable, share ideas and plans, and post thoughts for the book club.  If anyone is interested, let me know.