Episode 13: Secret Shames, Part 1

We are a day late on the podcast – again. I figure late twice out of twelve is pretty good!

This week I am divulging some of my secret shames. The stuff I do that no one else knows I do. We all have them…. right? Otherwise this podcast is going to get pretty awkward real quick.

This is also another opportunity to participate in the podcast! What are your secret shames? To contribute your confessions, I mean stories/confessions just call our voicemail box: 415 275 0551

You can call and be anonymous, or not, you can tell me a long story, or just a short 1 word explanation of what your secret shames are. Don’t be afraid! If there was ever a place to overshare without judgement – this would be the place. Let us cringe with you, laugh along with me and everyone else.

Call the voicemail box by Wednesday, March 30 at noon Pacific time to be included! 

Margaret & The Big 3-0

A few days ago someone said (or maybe I read it, or maybe it was even like an inspirational mug and/or greeting card) something about the things that inspire you. What inspires you? I thought about making a list. I started a list in my mind. And within the top 3 was Margaret.

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Margaret who I went to grad school with.

Margaret who sticks to working in non-profits even though it can be limiting and frustrating in the shit economy we all popped out of grad school into.

Margaret who is definitely a better writer than I, who pushes me to be a better writer than I think I am.

Margaret who teaches writing on the side.

Who is always up for adventures, who emails me about writerly/bloggy drama, who gets why I am actually fascinated by online writerly/bloggy drama, who listened to me wail about how I would never have built-in shelving…. like EVER… when a massive blogger showcased HER built-in shelving and Margaret totally understood my despair. She got it, ya know?

She was an amazing friend to me when I dragged myself back to San Francisco after 9 months in Seattle post graduation. When I was unemployed and living in Kamel’s sister’s living room on a blowup bed. She hooked me up with her temp agency, and eventually I made my way to her little trailer in the middle of nowhere to work in a room next to her, lamenting our under-employed, over-educated state. We’d go out for long lunches to Thai Food, laugh and cry to Ask Sugar, play Words With Friends on Facebook – constantly refreshing refreshing refreshing waiting for the other person to make their next move.

When she finally moved back to Minnesota we took her out for her goodbye outing and tried to out drink the boys we were with. It didn’t end particularly well. I cried in the car all the way home, big terrible sobs. I was going to miss her so much.

This is not a sad story though! It’s a great story! She came back and visited and we ate more thai food this time with our boyfriends and almost got trapped in Yosemite under 10 feet of snow.

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The power went out and the water stopped working and we lit candles and made the best of it.

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We went hot air ballooning into the epic epicness.

And now she is 30! Like a grown up or something!

Over the next year there will be a lot of 30s happening in my world. And it’s important to me because big birthdays mean something. Every birthday means something, but the big ones are special. And I’m just so lucky to have a Margaret. I am a better person for it and I am so happy she exists. Happy birthday on your 30th year! It’s going to be an amazing decade.

Ellie and The Beach House

Maryland was a big tobacco colony.  We still grow it.  Miles and miles of it, the corn of the Chesapeake.  Except we also grow corn.  And you stop for corn on the two hour drive to Scientist’s Cliffs in Calvert County where your grandparents live.

The beach.  Beach houses.  Usually people who use these phrases mean the ocean, and they mean waves, and sand, and a big house with beachy furniture.  Growing up, the beach meant jellyfish.  And sand, but not very much of it, and it was really more rocks than sand. And a long gravely walk either barefoot and carrying your shoes, or wearing flip flops or jellies.

My grandparents bought the beach house sometime before I was born. I know this because there are pictures of everyone there and my mom is pregnant with my older sister.  So by the time I came around, the youngest of fourteen grandchildren, the beach house was one part beach fun and three parts strange old person house.  (There was a bathtub in the bedroom, and a half bathroom in the hallway closet. The only full bath upstairs was in the kitchen. Strange.)  It smelled, probably faintly in the beginning but strongly as I got older, of some weird combination of dust and mold.  There was nothing that wasn’t weird about the beach house.  The downstairs had a shower and a half bathroom, separate, and a weird step up to the toilet that gave it a magestic throne like quality.  It also had a window into the bedroom, because all bathrooms should have that.  The downstairs had been outfitted into a guest suite – a fold out couch and two single beds.  Attached, but outside, was a “camper”, which is a suite with a full sized plastic covered mattress and screened in windows which overlooked the carport.  It is not a feature I’ve ever seen on another house.

I don’t remember now exactly what it feels like to be stung by a jellyfish.  I was not stung by a bee as a child, only as an adult, but I think the pain was similar.  Somehow the adults in our lives always acted as if we should just go swimming in the bay and just somehow…magically avoid the jellyfish?  I don’t understand how this is possible when they wrap themselves around your legs.  As an adult, I have a healthy fear of jellyfish. In that I will not get in any water that has them unless I’m wearing a full skin or wetsuit.  If the water was warm enough to swim in, there were jellyfish. Otherwise, it was too damn cold.  If it was too cold, you would just look for shark’s teeth, because Scientist’s Cliffs held dozens, hundreds, of fossilized shark’s teeth.  I think the biggest one I ever found was about the size of a nickel, most of them were smaller than a dime.  All of our beach toys lived in a ramshackle green hut with a broken padlock and an awful lot of spiders.  Digging through the spider filled beach hut (which was, by the way, overgrown with poison ivy) for a good bucket and shovel was one of those things that I think parents in the early 90s believed built character.

I am fairly confident that all of our parents would be in jail today for letting us go to the beach alone.

When I was in high school, my grandparents moved from The Beach House, with all of it’s strangeness, to a senior living community which, on the whole, made a lot more sense for an older couple, half of whom was beginning to suffer from pretty severe dementia and both of whom were unable to navigate the rickety steps from the carport, and neither of whom should have been driving the hour and a half from where their doctors were to where the beach house was.  So my family and I packed up the Beach House and moved about half of the contents to a storage facility.  The other half got thrown away, as it should have.

I met my husband in college.  So he has no understanding of this huge part of my person, this place I used to go.  He doesn’t understand why, when we go to the beach, the real beach, on the shore of the Atlantic, I can spend hours standing in the jellyfish free water, frolicking in the waves, running around on the sand.  We all kept a few items from the Beach House – I have the shamrock suncatcher that hung on the back door, a package of long fireplace matches that I was never allowed to play with that sat on the mantel, and the Irish Parking Only sign that hung in the carport.  It is probably the memory I can never truly share with him, and the one I want to the most.

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Flow by Elissa

For the longest time, I hated New York City. I told people it was because my first visit was with my family at the trying age of sixteen – one of those hot summers, you know, and the shops wouldn’t let you in to use the bathroom unless you were buying something. I’m from the South, where store attendants couldn’t care less if we bought a ware or just went in to pee. When people asked me why I didn’t enjoy New York, I would say emphatically, “The people there don’t let you pee in the store so everyone just pees outside!” So we – my mom, my dad, my sister, and myself – trudged along on the sidewalks which radiated heat through our shoes, the sun beat down, and no matter which side of the street we were on we couldn’t seem to walk in the cooler shadows of the buildings, and the acrid scent of baked urine permeated every step.

I was a late bloomer. I read Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret when I was in elementary school and wanted to know what menstruation was like. Years passed before I went through puberty. My older sister, knowing how terrible I felt about my non-existent breasts, bet me $50 that I would have some semblance of womanhood by the end of sixth grade. At twelve, I developed tiny buds of breast tissue that looked like points poking out of my t-shirts and she declared herself right. At fourteen, I finally got my period for the first time. And, oddly, at sixteen – much earlier than I expected, but it made sense at the time – I was in an amazing relationship with an amazing person and lost my virginity.

This trip to New York, and the added trek to Maine to visit family, was the first month post-virginity-loss. I was due to expect my period any day, so as I walked around Manhattan with my family, I was wearing a fat diaper of a sanitary napkin in case I started bleeding and couldn’t use a fucking public toilet and feeling miserable and bloated.

What I hadn’t learned at that age, though I’ve talked to other women since, is that a woman’s body freaks out a little after its first fuck. Periods don’t come exactly on time. I was never regular – at that point, I wasn’t on birth control pills, though I had had sex ed so we knew to take precautions – so I was guessing about my start date.

So I hated NYC because I was sweltering with a hot pillow between my legs, and every time I remembered that New York trip I recalled the uncertainty I felt: Am I late? We used a condom… Shit, am I pregnant? It can happen…

My family and I drove to Maine. One of the attractions, my dad told us, was a whale-watching boat. Would we like to go see the whales?

All of our cousins and aunts and uncles were going. My great-aunt and my grandmother were going to see the whales. My uncle brought along his camcorder to videotape the whales.

As soon as we stepped on, I knew it was a mistake. The wind was blowing, the waves were choppy. The boat left the dock and the people aboard wavered about lightly. “You’ll get used to it,” I was told. But the unsettled feeling in my stomach grew and grew, like a fist opening and closing.

The first dolphin sighting had all of us scrambling starboard. My uncle, at the bow, held his camcorder up and watched the waves through the viewfinder, hoping to capture the dolphins. Without warning, he vomited, throwing flecks of yellow downwind. It was almost funny: the flecks, like short little ribbons, floated across our collective vision and plastered onto a teenaged girl’s sweatshirt. When we all realized what it was, every head turned from right to left to find the vomiting culprit. Then our heads moved back from left to right to see how the girl would react.

It was as if Uncle’s sickness had opened a floodgate: the group rippled as people suddenly leaned over the edge of the railing and barfed into the waters below. Ship crew passed around waxed paper bags, which people used then held onto, as there was no trash bin. I ran to the stern and sat with my head between my legs, feeling the pillow of absorbent cotton against my crotch, which was damp with only perspiration and no blood, and I thought: I’m late, this is late, I’m feeling sick, oh FUCK I am pregnant.

The cold Maine water looked really inviting then. I wouldn’t throw myself in, but I did think about it for a split second. Ultimately, caution won and my sister ambled over to pat my back, as I’m sure I looked like the pinnacle of misery.

You know when you wrestle with queasiness, and you’re in that no-man’s-land between keeping your food down and chocking on bile? I was there, in that moment; sandwiched between my sister and mother, watching the waves. My stomach clenched and unclenched; my mouth filled with hot saliva that I kept swallowing. And all at once, I knew which side was going to win.

I jumped up and tried to run to the toilet a few feet away. Mom followed me, to hold back my hair, I thought. As soon as I began to heave, however, she had to sympathy-vomit. She pushed me out of the way and took over the toilet for herself. Panicking, tears in my eyes, bile rushing hot on the back of my tongue, I groped wildly for the doorway, and instead someone gave me a paper bag. I puked.

We didn’t see any whales. Most of us huddled on benches welded to the boat deck and waited to dock. We stayed in Maine a few more days, drove back to New York City, and flew home.

Four days later, two weeks late, I started bleeding.

Constant by Sarah

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Growing up in Southern California, the ocean was a constant. A place you could go on a whim, day or night, and never give much thought to. There when you wanted it, hanging out in the background when you weren’t paying attention – it just was. Easy to ignore.

As a kid, especially in the summer, we went once a week or so. Running across the hot sand as fast as possible so you didn’t burn your feet, dodging clumps of seaweed, racing to see who could swim past the most waves before getting stuck in a riptide, complaining when sand inevitably made it into your sandwich. Using a freezing cold public shower because you were NOT allowed in the car all sandy. Falling asleep on the way home. And forgetting about it until next time.

In college we were a 10 minute drive away from one of the most popular beaches in the area. That first few months we were there CONSTANTLY: walking, sunbathing, surfing badly, flirting with each other. And then classes picked up and we didn’t go as often. The couple nights here and there we spent listening to the waves dwindled into nothing. 2 miles away and we went once a year. Might has well have been 200 miles.

Living in San Diego as a young adult meant the beach was the background to everything: first dates, runs with the dog, picnics, break ups. The best pizza in town. A good place to sit and watch fireworks on the 4th of July. A fantastic photo op – my engagement photos were taken on the most secluded beach we could find. Not because it was special. Just because it was pretty, and it was there.

When I moved across the country in 2009, I knew there were a lot of things I would miss: the people, the heat, easy access to all the things I loved, the sheer glut of fast food options. The ocean wasn’t on that list. Water is everywhere, right? No big deal.

And yet – 5 years later, the longing still catches me off guard. Instagram sunsets are killer. Pull out a sweatshirt stored from your last trip, and the smell of the sand will overwhelm you. Watching a tv show set on the coast can make you catch your breath (Graceland is especially guilty of this – the B roll footage is a love story to the Pacific ocean and areas it sustains.) You start plotting how you can get your best friend to have a bonfire for her birthday. The wind and temperature get just right, and all that’s missing is the salt sticking to your skin.

And you realize that it’s more than just a place. Because all the words you’ve used to describe it (easy to ignore, constant, background to everything) can all be used to describe something else as well, and you start to realize they’re one and the same: home.

Sarah lives with her husband in Washington DC, where she works in the alternative energy industry, and spends evenings trying the cocktail menus at various new restaurants. It’s really a bit of a problem. Her blog “Little Pieces Everywhere” has been sitting ignored for a long time, but if you bother her enough she just may start updating again.

Oysters, A Love Story by Shaelyn Amaio

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Sometimes, oysters taste like triumph. Like when my fifth grade teacher challenged my class to eat a cold, slimy oyster at the raw bar in Quincy Market during a field trip to Boston. He didn’t think any ten year-olds would take him up on it, but I did. I don’t remember what it tasted like, really, but I do remember buying 10 dollars’ worth of fudge from another vendor with my winnings to cleanse my palate.

Sometimes, oysters taste like fancy. When I was 26, one of my best friends led me through the expansive main dining area of the Grand Central Oyster Bar, past the long, white counters, under the soaring Guastavino tiled vaults, into the Saloon, a tiny, wood-paneled bar. Nautical décor adorns the walls, and aproned waiters make their rounds to a dozen or so red-and-white checked clothed tables. It felt like we were sneaking back in time, back to the mid-twentieth century. It felt like secrets. It felt like Man Men. It felt like I might see my parents there as they once were – young, vital, fresh-faced. The bartender was an older gentleman, with that particularly brusqueness-that-almost-seems-like-rudeness I was used to in my New York City life. We ordered a massive amount of oysters in pairs from places near and far, and compared them to each other while sipping light, crisp beer. Grand Central Terminal is a place always in motion, with its own currents and tides, as true as any body of water (at least until a train breaks down). When we walked out of the restaurant, our bellies full and our heads swimming just a bit, I felt the glee of being with a friend in a sea of strangers, alone and together all at once.

Sometimes, oysters don’t really taste like anything except what you put on top of them. Six months ago, I moved to Alabama, where there are plentiful oysters, but they’re all from the Gulf of Mexico. Supposedly, there are different kinds in the different bays of the Gulf, but to me, they all just taste like warm-water oysters (so, like nothing). They often have a million other little shellfish stuck to their shells. Once, we went to an oyster bar downtown to head off the Sunday afternoon blues, and I felt something odd on my tongue as I went to slurp down an oyster covered in cocktail sauce. It was a tiny, grey pearl. I kept it for luck. Mostly, I felt lucky that I hadn’t cracked a tooth on it.

Mostly, oysters taste like memories. My mother spent her formative years in Maine, where most of her family still lives today. After my father died, my mother, my little sister, and I journeyed north from Connecticut for a string of summers, staying with my grandmother and making the rounds to visit all of my mother’s cousins. My mother is of French, Irish, and Scottish descent, so she burns just thinking of the sun. We never spent much time at the beach growing up. However, in Maine, my mother could read in the house while we swam in the lake ten feet from the front door, or send us to the beach with the army of cousins surrounding us.

Summer in Maine is magical. Warm days, cool nights, hoodies with shorts and flip flops. Maine was the first place I had French fries with malt vinegar on them, bought at a stand on the boardwalk. I’m pretty sure the ocean water in Maine never really warms up; in August, it can still make your lips turn blue if you’re in too long. New England beaches are harsh and rocky. It can sometimes feel like a triumph to make it to the water, where more rocks and sharp shells await your feet. Our motel rooms at the beach always smelled like the ocean. At the end of a day playing in the ocean with my sister, I would suck the salt out of the wet ends of my hair.

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There was a time when my husband didn’t eat oysters. We were out at a bar that had them available by the dozen, and I tried for the hundredth time to convince him to try them. “They taste like summer,” I said. “They taste like the perfect day on the beach.” Now, he’s an oyster fiend. We went to Atlanta for a concert a few months ago, and stopped in at a dimly lit bar late at night. They had oysters. Oysters from Nova Scotia. We ordered some, and chatted with the man who was shucking them while we waited. He told us jokes about people from Alabama, which, I didn’t have the heart to point out, is basically the same as Georgia.

Why do ducks fly over Alabama upside down? There’s nothing worth crapping on.

I put the tiniest bit of horseradish on one of our exotic Canadian oysters, and put it to my lips. Immediately, I was back in Maine, sun warming my summer-browned skin. I was in Queens, where, twice a day, the tide would bring saltwater and the scent of the ocean up the East River and into my neighborhood. I was 17 and skipping school in May to go fry on an empty beach with my girlfriends. I was 28, my husband had moved 1100 miles away to Alabama, and I was with those same girlfriends – who now had spouses and babies – drinking too much in a tiny house a block from the beach, sleeping on a second floor deck with a view of a tiny sliver of ocean beyond the clotheslines. I was that gloating fifth grader in Boston. I was sitting on a patio in Alabama at 28, wondering what the hell I was even doing. And I was just me, tipsy on local beer in a tiny bar in Atlanta, eating oysters, wondering what was next.

Shaelyn Amaio thinks everyone is weird to everyone else. She spends most of her Internet time on twitter, Instagram, and tumblr, where she mostly gabs about quirky attractions, theme parks, museums, and her cat. Shaelyn lives in Montgomery, Alabama with her husband, but is still mourning her recent breakup with New York City.

Going Coastal by Erin Gettler

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I was born in Illinois, where the only waves I knew rippled across miles and miles of corn tossed by the prairie breeze. I was born with a little drop of saltwater in my heart. And as like calls to like, that little drop of saltwater drew me eastward from when I was small, always tugging to rejoin the bigger ocean it belonged to.

The first time I tasted saltwater, it was pretty clear to me it was the wrong ocean. Not even an ocean at all—the Gulf of Mexico is a great, big salt lagoon for all intents and purposes. I was in Florida with my class for our senior trip. I’d slept on the floor of the bus on the way down with everybody else, piled like puppies in the aisles.

One of my friends got a one-way ticket to fly home after he was caught sneaking back from a fight night at a local club. The rest of us were wildly jealous. We’d spent the night making sand unicorns after curfew ourselves, but that wouldn’t have gotten us a flight to Chicago even if we’d been caught. We might have tried harder if we knew it was an alternative to another 20-hour drive. At any rate, the saltwater at Clearwater Beach was tepid as bathwater, and about as lively. It wasn’t my ocean, at all. I hoped it wasn’t all oceans, but I had no way of knowing.

About four years later, I joined a teaching program in Philadelphia. Orlando was the only easterly place I’d ever been until then. I caught a ride with another member of the program, a girl who drove cross country from California, someone I’d only met on the internet, long before meeting people from the internet was a thing. We road-tripped to Niagara Falls. We stayed in KOA Campgrounds along the way. She drowned her phone by accident. Her directions were wrong. She didn’t have an atlas. She said, “You can buy a map for yourself, but I’m not spending the money.” I didn’t have the money. We ended up on Long Island, New York to visit a friend she knew from college, after phone started working again.

It never occurred to me that Long Island was so long. Or that it had saltwater.

The friend took us to dinner in a small town on a still bay. My nose perked up with the cold, green, salty scent of the water. After dinner that night, with new directions in hand and only a day left to reach Philadelphia, I leaned over the end of the dock, and whispered, “Hello, Atlantic. I’ll be back soon.”

What I didn’t know then, was that months later, I would meet a Long Island boy in Philadelphia. I didn’t know that Long Island boy would be game to go on a hairbrained weekend trip I planned with friends to a (lame) strawberry festival back on the Island. Didn’t know he’d offer to let us stay at his grandmother’s house by the beach.

I definitely didn’t know, when I bought a bikini and shaved for the first time in eight months, that the ocean in May on Long Island is freeze-your-tits-off-cold. I didn’t know he’d join me for that Antarctic swim, walk me out past the breakers smashing around me, bob in the calmer water with me where the cold (was it the cold?) took my breath away.

I didn’t know that I’d marry that Long Island boy four years later, that we’d come back to live in that same Long Island town. The beach where I first met the ocean—the real ocean— became my beach. The little drop of saltwater I’d carried around in my heart since birth would come home. And so would I.

Erin is a naturalist who writes at The Familiar Wilderness and takes amazing photos of moths (mothing) on her instagram. Her novel (very exciting) is currently on hold, but Erin is doing freelance nature writing in the mean time. 

Olivia, Her Grandmother, & The Coast

Since before I can remember, my maternal grandmother has regaled us with stories of the coast. For her, it was the coast of New York’s shores, as she spent her teens years in Rockaway Beach during the 1940s. She spent her days attending to her younger sister, reading books, and people watching the renters who would rent out rooms in their home, close to the water, as if it were a hotel. She claimed, and still claims to this day, that salt water is the cure-all. Emotional, physical, financial, whatever your ailment is: the sea can surely cure it. She is at peace and at home in the ocean, with the sand under her feet. To this day, her favorite activity is still walking along the boardwalk (now a slightly different coast), watching Connecticut across the misty water as she softly hums songs and smiles at passersby.

So, it was no question that when my siblings and I were old enough, it was my grandmother who would be introducing us to the ocean. This time it was the coast of Long Island; the rocky on the north, sandy on the south island. My grandparents owned a lovely beach house, and we would have to boat across a small body of water to the even smaller island on the other side. The island, consisting of houses and a small boardwalk, always felt like an adventure. The house was old, and had been passed down through my grandfather’s family. The relics smelled of endless years of sea water and salt. She would pack tuna fish sandwiches, as we held our cherished baby dolls, life jackets constricting our small bodies, braids in our hair, and my sister and I would run up the creaky wooden stairs, turn around fast, and see the water in front of us, the real world on the other side of the sea; we were safe there, and felt like story book characters.

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It was my grandmother who brought us to the big beaches and after laying down towels and beach bags, took our hands and led us right into the water. She made it very clear that one does not fight the waves, but instead, embrace. Let your body be taken by the water and the water will be your guide. As we slowly learned this lesson, we let the waves lift us up, and crash us down. We learned to love bobbing in the water, the semi-large waves making us feel like we could touch the sky. This was never a question in my grandmother’s eyes: you must love the ocean, you must adore the coast, you must embrace the sea.

So, it was no question who I wanted to introduce the ocean to my son was my grandmother. On an unseasonably warm March day, when my son was around seven months old, the old crew: my grandmother and sister, and a new member, my son, packed into my car and headed to the beach. As soon as I got the stroller together, and my son strapped in, my grandmother quite literally took the reigns and walked off with my son. It was a moment in my life I will never forget. She strolled him down the boardwalk, pointing out the seagulls, sea glass, and strewn about french fry containers. She let the wind touch his face, so he could smell the sea. She told him all about Connecticut, and about how his father (my husband) was living there when mommy met daddy. We did not go down to the water that day, but nevertheless, this was my son’s spiritual baptism into the world. The queen of the coast, the siren of the sea, my grandmother, was inviting her newest sea guppie into her world.

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Olivia M. Howell has been writing stories in her head long before she knew the alphabet. Born and raised on the North Shore of Long Island, where she currently resides, Olivia spends her days with her husband, Eric, and son, Weston. When she’s not writing about the trials and tribulations of new motherhood, she is tutoring Latin and history. Olivia is also an avid quilter, paleo cook, and fan of moving living room furniture around on Saturday nights. You can find her at her website, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

Lakes I’ve Known by Margaret LaFleur

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There is the obvious first one, the one the suburb I grew up in is named for. If you left my childhood house on a bike and turned right, then right, then left (and stopped for your best friend on the way) and then right and went about a mile, you’d hit it. The beach was slightly rocky and the strip of sand along the edge disappeared in rainier years, but if you went at night or after summer vacation was over you could climb up the lifeguard stand and scan the water for imaginary swimmers.

On the other side of town was a slightly smaller, prettier lake with an island in the middle. A boy who was a couple grades ahead of me lived in the single house on the island, and every Christmas he held a debate team party that required us to walk out across the ice. His house had a bearskin rug and a room draped with black curtains and a huge movie screen. I was scared to walk across the frozen lake, but I made it, each time. Maybe it was overcoming that fear that made it so easy to sit next to my debate team crush in that movie room and let our knees press together, as if rejection or icy waters didn’t exist below.

There was the lake at summer camp, and the lakes where friends’ families had cabins, each dotted with docks and boats and the occasional jet ski. I canoed on these lakes and swam in them. Some lakes gave me swimmers itch or a deep fear of leeches. In the sand along the shore I buried my legs and arms, marveling at how cool it could be underneath when the sand on top nearly scorched the bottom of my feet. Later I would stretch my teenage body along towels and brush grains of sand from my skin as I turned upward toward the sun.

Up North, as we say, there is the largest, coldest, Greatest lake. It has been the unlikely destination of a Spring Break road trip, the background of my niece’s first summer and always there, a steadfast horizon melting into water.

There is the lake closest to my mother’s house, one of the many that makes our city the City of Lakes. It is shaped a little like a cherry, with a skinny stem atop a rounder bottom. I’ve walked around it a hundred times if I’ve walked around it once, and there are bends in the path that make me wince even in memory after we spent a difficult summer circling it once a day.

Not that the lake minded. I threw every disappointment and angst that I could against the surface and it continued to lap quietly. Kayakers slid past. Ducks landed.

There is always a lake, freezing in winter, rippling in the summer, reflecting sky and bits of life back at us.

Margaret is a writer living and working in Minneapolis, MN – The Land of 10,000 Lakes. You can find more from Margaret at her tumblr, on twitter, and on instagram. She is also writing about the new HBO show, The Leftovers, at The Stake

No More Running

I used to run. I don’t think you could call me a runner – my goal was always three solid miles, but running was my main work out and I attempted at least 3-4 times a week. Wow, 3-4 times a week of running? I can’t believe that is true…! Anyways, I used to run. I wasn’t good at it, but I did it for years. I mean YEARS. I started running in high school and kept it up all through college, all through adding in yoga and pilates, kickboxing, team sports, etc etc. I was also running.

And then, when I moved in with Kamel running became really difficult to maintain. He doesn’t run, doesn’t really know how to run – and yes, knowing how is pretty important and not something everyone knows how to do. Getting up in the dark to go outside, in the dark, to run in the cold wet dark became unbearable to me. So we started working out in our living room with the kinect. This I could do in the dark, in the comfort of my house, in my underpants if I so chose. For a while my thinking was still, “Well this is just a place holder and I will go back to running in the spring.” Except I didn’t, I never went back. I got way more out of my little living room 40 minute to an hour sessions than I ever got, physically, from running. The convenience was astonishing.

I have always had anxiety over my body. Always. And honestly, it’s all about control. For a long time I didn’t feel like I was in charge, I felt like some unforeseen force was constantly messing with my weight, making my body unpredictable. I felt like I was doing the best I could, I was running 3-4 times a week! I was trying very hard to eat well, but if I wanted a cookie why should it also mean I can’t button my pants the next day? Why should it also mean I feel uncomfortable in my own skin – puffy, tight, awkward, embarrassed, self-unconscious, yuck. There were times when I didn’t want to leave the house because I didn’t want people to see me. There were times when I would try on every piece of clothing in my closet in a sweaty, anxious panic trying to find something that I thought looked ok, that I felt physically comfortable in. Sometimes I could calm my ass down, and others I couldn’t. Sometimes I would cancel plans, cry into my pillow, vow to do things all differently starting tomorrow, go for a run, yell at myself in my own head over how I need to be running faster, farther, better. This lasted years. YEARS.

Working out in my living room helped. Once I got to a stable weight, something manageable, something predictable, I felt sane.

Then I got pregnant and working out came to a screeching halt. Also, my eating changed (as it does when you are growing a human) and I put on 50+ pounds. And towards the end when I saw the scale very very near, mere lbs from 200, it did make me feel like, “oh, god… really? what have i gotten myself into?” But in a different way than before, a measured way. It’s not like I didn’t know what this was, I just wasn’t sure how it would all be once the baby came out. But then the baby did come out, and it was all kind of magical, oh my god how cool is this body stuff.

I didn’t hate on myself, all of the changes and the attempts at reversal post pregnancy didn’t make me anxious. Even while on leave, with my odd little not-pregnant-but-still-look-kind-of-pregnant body I was out and about and I felt like I looked awesome. I mean, I wished that I could wear pants that weren’t maternity, but it wasn’t something that occupied my mind very much. I lived in sweatpants for two months and felt like I was doing just fine in the body world. I was doing more than just fine – my body and me, we were excellent.

And now it has been 3 months, a little more, and I still wear maternity pants to work – nobody can tell. We have had guests in town and our routines have been a little wonky so the last time I checked I had 10 more lbs to lose to be back at my pre pregnancy weight, but I haven’t gotten on the scale in a few weeks so that number could have fluctuated one way or another.

Before I had a baby this would have made me feel horrible: You mean, I had a cold and couldn’t work out for a couple days? And then we had people over and ate out a couple days? What if I have set myself back 5 lbs?! I will have been a FAILURE.

But now, when I think about the flux of weight gain, of weight loss, of muscle gain and loss, being in shape/out of shape, toned arms or saggy butts – I just see an ocean of time. I am no longer running. Sure, I run through my day at work, I run through loads of laundry, I am hustling. Moms hustle. But, as far as my body is concerned, me and it, we’ve got time. I’ve got time to have a cookie, and take a day to sleep if I need to sleep and not work out, I have time to lose 10 lbs, 15 lbs. I have time to fit back into my pants, or I have time to go buy new ones if the old ones will never fit quite right again.

Running, I see now, was terrible for me. It’s this big epiphany I’ve been mulling over while I listen to the radio in the car, or take a minute to look out the window of the train. Running was terrible for me. It was awful. It made me feel like shit about myself! I was never going far enough, never running good enough, walking a bit too much, never running enough days. It was a perfect example of how I was sloppy and lazy. I worked full time and went to grad school full time – I wrote a fucking book and yet… I was always yelling at myself on the inside: Go go go go go, you can do better, don’t stop, what are you doing? You are going to regret this later. And on and on and on.

Now I don’t do that anymore. I thought I would. I thought I would bully myself back into my old jeans, but I’m not. I don’t run. I work out in my underpants because it makes me feel strong and happy. Sometimes I have a cookie. Or a Reese’s peanut butter cup. Sometimes I don’t. I’ll get to where I’m going, I’m not worried about it, and that is my favorite part.