Gathering Life As I Go

My life now is different than it was a year ago. I moved during the pandemic; settled into a new place closer to work and surrounded in three directions by wooded hills. When I agreed to take the apartment I did not know how much I needed to be right where I landed.

I’ve spent most of the summer break here in my new home. Aside from a couple of getaway weeks in July, I’ve hunkered down comfortably in Neuwaldegg (the name of our neighborhood, pronounced NOY-Vahld-egg). To my delight I’ve found a new rhythm of movement that has helped me find a top-to-bottom joy I wasn’t sure was still possible.

Gathering life as I go

I wake up, drink water, put on my running stuff. Think
to myself what the route should be.
Schafberg, Heuberg, Exelberg, Hameau?
In any case, all routes will lead uphill.
Sometimes there's a stretch on the sidewalk before 
I can turn off and reach a trail. 
Other times, it's a walk along the periphery 
of small garden homes, now refashioned into pricey
real estate bordering on the Vienna woods. 
Houses on hillsides, a few with ridiculous views
overlooking the city.
I walk through these spaces on my way to the trails
that criss-cross these hills.
At the start I sought out marked paths,
keeping my eyes peeled for stripes on trees:
white-yellow-white, white-green-white, white-blue-white.
By now I have a handle on which trails lead where.
Each trek takes me a bit farther afield, not just up the hill 
but also down and around
until I circle back another way.
I try out the occasional unmarked trail 
and note how it links up with my familiar route.

I begin with the long walk,
pausing where I please, listening
lending my ear to the birds, bees and 
all the other life gathering itself.
I look up at trees
even though I can barely call them by name
I thank them for their shade,
I salute their resilience and adaptability.
I can hardly imagine how tired they must be 
of humans.
The paths are varied: combinations of rock, mud, roots,
gravel and packed leaves.
Weather adds variety: soggy, slippery 
after last night's rain;
parched and cracked following three days' 
baking in the sun.
I note these details as I go,
measuring changes that sharpen my sense
of scale and belonging.

While I walk, I let my mind wander.
Ideas get tossed up.
some stick 
in my mind;
others follow that dragonfly or catch me up
before I trip. I'm open to what comes
lingers and fades. 
these moments feel expansive
I savor my aloneness, the quiet, a peace.
There are few others out and about
so far, a couple of mountain bikers,
walkers, with dogs and without; runners. 
We greet each other and keep it moving.
I'm glad not to share
I am relieved of any shame
of being too slow
or too fast;
of going too far,
not far enough.
Every day I can make up my own pace;
determine my own course,
change my mind
as often as I like.
I'm giving myself this gift 
and I always make sure to receive it.

At some point it's time to turn around,
to head back to where I came from.
The route may be the same way
or the other half of a loop.
It's usually a descent
so I jog.
And as I jog I complete this puzzle 
of a gazillion micro decisions about where
to place each foot
to leap the puddle, clear the roots,
to dodge the brush, hurdle the log.
On my way down I feed my brain. 
Eyes are on high alert, 
ears attuned for potential scare.
As trails become my friends 
I can anticipate their tricky curves 
and slippery rocks.
I know I can't afford injury
so there's caution and daring accompanying
my every step.
When I work my way back to solid ground,
to forest drive, the sidewalk home
my pace is steady and pushing it
just enough
to know it's working;
I am accumulating a new sense
of self and place. 

I reach the entrance to my building
a sweaty mess and proud.
This is what it means to hit my stride.

Like A *&%$# Boss

If you’ve read my blog or my tweets before, you’ll know that I use swear words only sparingly. That doesn’t mean I’m not thinking them or using them in more private contexts, I am simply cautious about when and where I write them out or share in other people’s posts for public consumption. But this morning, however, I had an experience that was swear-word worthy, in a good way.

I tweeted this as part of my thread of #delights:

I was feeling so damn confident!

In my late 30’s I lived with a bike messenger for 4 years and he taught me how to ride my bike like I belonged on the road. Once, I shadowed him for a half day and it was certainly one of the best forms of teaching I have ever experienced. We were riding assertively, intentionally with speed, drive and adequate caution. While getting shit done. I live that learning every time I jump on my bike now.

I was thinking of that this morning and how my well of confidence is largely rooted in my body – my body’s ability to perform. In my early thirties I had a phase as a competitive runner. I ran road races and on the track. The 800 ended up being my favorite but my 400 and half marathon best times are objectively the more impressive ones. As a competitor I learned to trust my preparation, to risk more than I thought possible and also to cope with the disappointment when it didn’t work out the way I wanted.* In those countless processes of trials and testing and proving, I enjoyed some great successes. My efforts were rewarded more than a few times. I won some races, picked up my fair share of trophies.

This makes a difference.

I know how to win.

I know how to kick ass

and enjoy doing it.

So now that I’m this older lady and spending time on very different pursuits, I note: the roots of my confidence extend deep into the soil of so many wins. Not only the physical ones, also the intellectual and academic successes along with some professional and personal highlights. It also means that I have learning templates that allow me to grow confidence.

This summer I’ve been doing more inline skating. I’ve got a nice routine that involves about 30 minutes of biking and 50-60 minutes of skating. I LOVE IT! Every time I repeat this exercise, I get a little better, a little stronger, more enduring, more confident! As a middle aged person I chalk this up as a big friggin’ win! It’s something I’m doing for ME! Because I WANT TO! And in those brief shining moments when I can feel the full effect of all that healthy growth and striving and satisfaction and reward – all of that coursing through me while I pedal or push off – well, you better believe I am gonna celebrate LIKE A BOSS!

Glory Days indeed! I was on the poster because I won it in 1999.

So the next time someone wants to disparage you for thinking back to your glory days of whatever, know that they are missing the point. Glory Days remind us of who we really are, what we’re capable of and that we are here to do the thing! Check your confidence roots. How are you feeding and nourishing them? Are they housed in the right soil? Do you require a repotting, replanting, relocation or, in other words, a significant change?

Writing this post felt urgent, probably because that sense of badass confidence tends to be so fleeting.** I don’t usually wake up feeling like this but I do know it’s possible. I’ve learned how to increase the probability that it will show itself again. And again. Getting on my bike often works a charm. It’s a little lesson and extremely effective. Find your confidence roots, friends. Especially my friends who identify as women. Make sure you own some confidence somewhere. And feed it. I’m here to support that.


*On this vidcast with Rissa Sorenson-Unruh, I got to talk about the background to this understanding which I hadn’t thought about in a long time. Our general topic is self-care but the elements contributing to growing confidence run throughout our conversation.

**This is simply too true. I could barely get this out before I felt someone actively stealing my joy. (Perhaps not intentionally, but still.)

“Läuferzehnkampf” = Runners’ Decathlon – 4 days of track races: 60 -1500 -400; 100 – 3000 – 800; 200 – 1000 – 5000; 10K

The Day After: A Reckoning

I shared:

I was happy to disclose the positive result after the fact. Now it’s the day after and I’m wondering.

My learning

I’m still OK although running this distance untrained was punishing for my joints, especially my knees.

I would actively discourage my friends of a similar age from doing any such thing.

Nevertheless, I signed up (without telling anyone) because I think I know my body. We have a long history together, have even run this course several times in the last 25 years. And while I know I’m not in “running shape”, I know that I have remarkable fitness reservoirs – considerable leg and upper body strength, well tuned joint and muscle flexibility, plus a baseline cardiovascular fitness level that is highly adaptable. I also went into this race with years of experience. I knew how to pace myself for a safe return, how to build in recovery during the race and also let go of any other expectations beyond completing the course in good health.

That’s important. At almost 54, with two knee operations behind me and a job which requires substantial physical investment, I could not run “as if there were no tomorrow.” On the contrary, I ran precisely with tomorrow and the next day and the day after that in mind. I took it slow from the outset. I paid attention to my limbs letting me know if something was amiss. I let myself speedwalk with a smile in some spots, or jog backwards downhill to relieve pressure on my knees. All of these techniques worked.

The final 4 kilometers are a steady downhill in familiar territory. I was able to run the last bit with surprising energy. As I got closer to the finish I was reminded of the hundreds of training runs I had done on this same stretch over the years. I let those layers of muscle memory carry me through the finish line.


My body

issued a few murmurs of regret this morning, especially my knees.

My knees and I went for a neighborhood walk up through the vineyards and back down past the posh houses and apartment buildings. The left knee wore a brace and both were forgiving since I wasn’t making extraordinary demands like yesterday.

I may keep the brace for a couple of days just as a comfort measure. I owe my knee that much courtesy.

The rest of me appears to be fine. I never struggled to catch my breath yesterday. Slow and steady didn’t win the race but it did return me to my car safely.

My ambition

grows contextually explicit.

My husband runs long distances more regularly. I don’t envy his training rhythm as much as I might. I had my time in the competitive limelight of middle and long distance running. I won’t be back. Knowing this is a help and relief. It leaves me open to surprise myself at will.

My ambition now consists of outrunning the menaces one comes to expect in middle age: the prospect of disease in one form or another. Not even the healthiest lifestyles are immune to disruption by illness. I think of this often when I choose to spend time writing on my laptop rather than hitting the trails for a hike, bike or other outdoor exertion. It’s not that it has to be either or. My point lies in acknowledging the scope and efficacy of my efforts wherever I apply them. Like my peers, I have no guarantees or significantly better prospects of a longer than average life.

I do have a body that mostly still cooperates with whatever I am asking it to do. That constitutes a blessing in every sense of the word. My ambition becomes one of seeking agreement with my body and its blessings. Satisfying needs, curiosity, and even spontaneous wants – my body, mind and heart are in constant negotiation with each other. Middle age seems a season built for keeping such negotiations as positive and mutually beneficial as possible.

That may be what I wanted to achieve by participating in an event for which I had not specifically prepared and yet could hardly have arrived better prepared to enjoy the experience the way that I did.


Choosing alone as a feature not a bug. I didn’t ask anyone to join me. I did not recognize any other runners as in the past. I spent most of the time pleasantly on my own while moving along. I appreciated the space to be alone in a dispersed mass.

My inner dialogue during the run was much gentler, forgiving and encouraging than in my competitive days. What a glorious discovery to make!

Given the time without other commitments (son & husband away for the weekend), it was a pleasure to challenge and surprise myself almost secretly. (I only shared the outcome with my husband hours later.) Maybe it’s a guarded selfishness, a way of preserving dignity in the event that the outcome is not so rosy. I’m not sure but I will say that I derived an odd satisfaction at revealing an unexpected morsel of news about my accomplishment.


I’m moving a bit slowly today and need sufficient warm-up to walk smoothly. That said, I am curious to see where my curiosity may strike next.

It rained and I did not melt.



Fitness: My New Terms of Engagement


  • I teach physical education. I advocate for fitness, being fit, leading a healthy lifestyle and enjoying those aspects of being alive.
  • I have a history of movement success from an early age up to now.
  • I have also lived in a body that has largely cooperated with whatever I wanted to do. No significant illnesses or incapacitating injuries. I’ve mostly been able to recover well after setbacks.
  • I have landed safely in middle age with few physical complaints and with the accrued social capital that derives from thinness and a visual indication of relative fitness (muscle definition, ongoing participation in various sporting activities).

Here’s what’s new: after 40, after 50 keeping that extra kilo or two at bay requires seemingly 1) more physical effort and 2) much more restraint in what and how I eat.

My last marathon is 13 years back. The last time I was in the habit of riding my bike to and from school 2-3 times a week over hill and dale is at least 8 years back. Running on a regular basis? 4 years back.

So I’m not doing as much as I used to but during the school year my work schedule means that I’m on my feet a lot, have occasion to work on my strength along with the kids and I feel strongly about being able to model capable movement. I enjoy throwing myself into a steady headstand (or making 4 attempts before I get there). It pleases me greatly that I can pull off a cartwheel without fear of injury.

But. Once that work day is done I want to sit down. I want to write and read and be as sedentary as my schedule will allow. I also now think a glass of wine or some pre-bedtime ice cream is not entirely undeserved. So I indulge.

And here’s what I do now instead of what I used to do:

  • I take myself for a walk/jog around the neighborhood. It’s fairly green and it doesn’t take long to get up some hills.
  • There is no rhythm to this. I go when I can and when I feel like it.
  • I do sprinting drills along the way (high knees, kick butts, soldier walk and several others). The last thing to go will be my flexibility, at least that’s what I’m banking on by keeping up this habit of drills. I’ve been doing them since I was 12!
  • If I decide to run some, I look for a nice incline – not too steep – and do a few strider runs. Not full out sprints but I do focus on good form: strong arm swing, high knees and quick cadence in my footfall. I love these when I do them. I remember who I am.
  • I walk backwards downhill (good for balance, takes pressure off the knees) and uphill (nice strengthening effect for quads).
  • Sometimes I do a few cycles of Sun Salutes at home which also make me feel flexible, capable, not entirely like gone-to-seed.
  • I like to hold the plank (push up plank, not elbow) for 2 minutes or a little more sometimes before I go to bed.

All in all, I’m not ready to give in to the march of middle aged, round the middle softness but I understand that it’s here anyway and how I come to terms to that will be instructional.

I have no desire to lead a fitness cult. To discover 1000 ways to beat the odds of aging. I do want to be able to continue teaching well and enjoy activity both at work and at home. Maybe I’ll choose to compete at sprints a couple of times per year. And I want to savor the time I get to sit and think and write and still stay healthy.



Deciding to Race When I Thought I Was Done

I recently decided to enter some races on the track. A good friend encouraged me to try coming back to sprinting and I did. He’s 55+ and I’m 52. For our respective ages, we’re in pretty good shape. I hadn’t run a track race in about 15 years.

So yes, I reactivated my track club membership and signed up to run the 100m and 200m sprints in the Vienna Masters championships. Here are some of my observations from the experience:

  • When we say age is nothing but a number it’s true and it is also true that numbers can have meaning.
  • Running at 50 for me is very different from how I ran at the end of my competitive middle and long distance career at 36. My body doesn’t want to go too hard or too long. Recovery gets priority.
  • As an older athlete, enhancing performance = staving off and postponing decline. I won’t get faster, per se, so the trick is to avoid getting much slower.
  • I prepared for these races by aiming to do ‘just enough’ and not more.
  • Instead of running all the time I opted for inline skating or walking while adding some technique drills along the way.
  • It is a reality that I wake up stiff and my first steps out of bed are tentative and cautious. This is true whether I work out quite a lot or very little.
  • Arm flexibility and strength will likely be a greater factor in racing success than leg speed over the long haul.
  • My goal going into this was to race without getting injured and I almost made it.




Hitchhiking or just ambivalent?

I don’t have any previous experience with this aging game; I’m just feeling my way. So far, so good. One of the highlights of participating this weekend was seeing folks (mostly men) much older, 70 – 80, running, jumping and throwing, too.  You see what’s possible and what the sport, the camaraderie can give a person.

Meanwhile, my spunky super athletic 9 year old proved to be a vocal and somewhat critical spectator. That said,  I don’t doubt that it made him proud to see his mom step up onto the top spot and receive a medal. According to him my start in the 200 wasn’t so great but then I was really fast in the curve but at the very end I looked like Voldemort, so yeah. Modeling takes many forms. Impression made.

On the first day I was nervous – like ‘had to go potty numerous times’ nervous. It was a strange throwback – to feel that physical expression of performance anxiety, before a ridiculous 100m race! And in the blocks I messed around with different settings which prompted the starter to give me a few tips. (Mind you, I have been teaching block starts to athletes for over 20 years.)  And then it was, “Auf die Plaetze, Fertig, *boom*.  Behold, I started just fine.

Gearing up for the 200 on Sunday I took a second to think of one of my most coachable athletes who has stellar starts. I was channeling “KL cool” stepping into the blocks and that gave me a little smile. It also reminded me how wonderful and fulfilling it can be to know something so well – this process, the commands, my response, the tension, the release – even after all these years it is still a mystery and an intimacy. That was a gift.

To sum up I want to borrow some words I read in the New York Times recently:

“…that was super-duper…that was very much more than normal…and do you know what else was nice? – It was limited. You know, it was two hours…It didn’t go a whole day. … You don’t want to leave but you have to … the whole thing, it was an incredible thing.”

It was all “an incredible thing” and probably worth attempting again. I learned that I enjoy the tension of competing. I can be “in it to win it” but winning is broadly defined: finishing, staying healthy, following through.

If this is what I’m saying at 50+, I can only wonder what my next decades may bring.

If I’m lucky, more of this.  (Humblebrag, I made my very first GIF!)


image: (c) Me, my, mine. Thanks.

Shifting the Baseline: Thoughts on Mature Fitness

The skates await.
The skates await.

When I was 30 I had some very firm ideas about what I wanted to accomplish as an athlete. I had target times I was shooting for, ideal racing distances, and a humane training regimen that left adequate space for family and work commitments.

By 36 the bulk of my athletic curiosity was satisfied. I had a fairly strong sense of what my body was capable of in light of the sacrifices I was willing to make or not make. I had accumulated sufficient medals, trophies and PRs to enjoy a sense of accomplishment that made stepping out of the heavy running scene feel like a natural step.

In my 40’s I aimed to “look the part without paying the full price” which is another way of saying, I maintained a baseline level of fitness without committing myself to any specific performance outcomes. The odd road races or other sporting events I entered were occasions to have fun and enjoy the scenery. Friends and acquaintances still asked about my running intentions during marathon season as I gently reminded them that I was fully out of that game.

Now, at 50, I have set my sights a little differently. Honestly, I am no longer interested in running a new marathon PR or seeing how I match up with masters in the 400m. Rather, I’m thinking longer term. What do I want to still be able to do at 65, 70, 75? And not just be able to do but enjoy doing and feel good doing?

Here’s my initial list:

  • Walk briskly for up to 2 hours on trails or hilly terrain.
  • Speedskate on ice for 1-2hrs.
  • Comfortably do 6-8 cycles of sun salutes and up to 1 hr of gentle yoga
  • bend at the waist and touch my toes.
  • Cycle on gently hilly terrain for 1-2 hrs.
  • Do some push ups
  • Do a wall walk and/or handstand against the wall
  • skip rope
  • skip, gallop, and grapevine
  • swim for 20-30 minutes

I say this now because these are movement capabilities I almost take for granted. While I have my little aches and pains here and there, I enjoy the benefit of tremendous health and well being. Given that context, aging doesn’t seem like such a big deal. On the other hand, I recognize how suddenly matters can shift: through injury, prolonged illness or significant life changes. When I look at my list, I see a need to remain ambitious and accepting; optimistic and also forgiving.

Being fast, faster or fastest feels out of place. Rather, the desire to be fluid, graceful, balanced, and at peace rushes to the foreground and sets the tone for whatever follows. This is how a new baseline fitness idea evolves. No longer mired in besting what was, my new baseline aims to bolster and extend what is. I don’t know if I intended to be a lifelong runner when I was racing in my 30’s. I think I’ve decided I won’t be. I think I’ll be a lifelong mover, shaker, and dancer instead. Sounds like more fun and less hassle. Which, at this age, also seems to make a lot more sense.



*I entered the title after writing the post (a pattern of composition, I dare say). Fitness and Aging seemed odd. Fitness and Getting Older, stranger still. 50 still feels too young to be writing about aging or getting older in most contexts, although we are all doing it at every age. So I opted for that wonderful middle age euphemism: “mature” to describe all things past the age of 50. If you have a better title idea, please let me know.


Spikeball for Everyone?

I’m not sure I really want to write this post. Part of me says, “c’mon, get over yourself.” While another part is saying, “it’s bothering you, get it off your chest, move on.”
Here’s the deal. I like fun, I like movement and games, I like people from lots of different backgrounds – put all those together and I consider myself extremely fortunate to be working as physical education specialist in an international school – all the bases are covered.

Recently, I learned about a new product which looks and sounds particularly interesting for middle and high school students. One of my PE tweeps showed some of the positive student feedback she got after introducing the game. Cool! So I found the company’s twitter profile which led me to their website which told and showed me all I needed to know about the game, the product and options for purchase. For further orientation, I clicked on a couple of their videos to see the game in action.

This is where my internal conflict kicks in. The videos that I watched featured young fit males and one or two young women in the 18-24 age range I’m guessing, all white. Several clips show players on a beach but there are clips of people playing in other spaces, too. Everyone in the videos is white. Everyone is the videos seems especially physically adept and coordinated, to the degree that I wondered, would this make any sense for less athletic school populations?

I was reminded of an article touting the benefits of an anti-obesity program entitled “Operation Pull Your Weight” where I couldn’t help but notice that the promotional video included no one who could be considered obese. Product marketing I suppose often produces such messaging mismatches: saying one thing, yet showing something else. In the case of Spikeball I pick up the message “This game is for everyone” and we’ll only show it being played by white guys.

My point here is not complain or point fingers of accusation. I am simply noticing and observing. The target demographic of this game appears evident and as such, their current marketing materials absolutely reflect that. As someone who does not fit that particular demographic, yet finds an interest in the product and the novelty it may offer students, I note a peculiar reaction. Not seeing people like myself or my students or my colleagues represented among the product’s demonstrations, I take away the feeling that this game is not really intended for us (people of color, people over 40, less coordinated players). We do not belong to the intended audience, so no great loss to the company if we don’t purchase or promote this particular game (That’s my gut take-away).

At the same time, I see a familiar trend. This is a new product, aiming to build its user community quickly. The founders appear to be young white dudes who are crazy enthusiastic about their product and the sport and they seem poised to appeal first and foremost to folks of similar backgrounds: white, college educated, athletically inclined and socially active (because you do need friends in order to play). Neither their strategy nor their visible reach so far should come as a surprise. They seem to be fully on course for doing what they’ve come to do: popularize a trendy new sport and sell the inventory.

If we’re simply talking markets here, catering to the caucasian college crowd may be all this company needs to claim success. Good luck to them. What strikes me is how the experience simply reinforces my sense that this is the norm. White people play certain games and enjoy certain forms of entertainment with other white people, while Blacks do their own thing and Latinos do theirs. And so the marketing of everything from beverages to TV shows to popular games reflects this “differentiated” or “targeted” approach.

To be fair, while writing this, my PE buddy encouraged me to seek out some of the instructional videos on the company’s YouTube channel. I found some and while still very vanilla, I at least could see kids playing and the game introduced in a more approachable fashion for beginners. Here’s a sample clip created by high school students: and here’s a group of junior high kids playing.

In many ways, it would be so easy to just skip over this episode. And that’s exactly the point: for most of us this is normal. We don’t find it odd that there are no people of color and few women or girls to be seen playing this game in the company’s videos. But this time, I just needed to say something.

I bet I’ll like Spikeball just fine if I ever get a chance to play with students or my sons. It looks like fun and like something you can easily find new ways to challenge yourself over time. Maybe the sport and the Spikeball community will grow its diversity over time. Even though this may present a challenge.

Woman. Black. Fit. Angry. (In)visible. All of the above.

Two essays this week caught me unawares and have left me restless in their wake. The first is “Yes, I Am An Angry Black Woman” by Stacey Patton, published in DAME magazine and the second is “Fitted” by Moira Weigel in The New Inquiry. While it is easier to guess the thrust of the first essay based on the title, the second is less overt.  Weigel talks about the rise of FitBit and other activity trackers and their association with a whole new brand of female productivity. Both of these essays spoke to me in significant ways. And their separateness from each other presents me with an internal dilemma I hope to solve by writing about it now.

First of all, I encourage you to read Stacey Patton’s stirring call to attention, whoever you are. With her words, she invites the reader to inhabit her simmering state of mind in all its complexity, fervor and power. On the day after the Charleston Massacre she describes her ride on an East Coast train:

…The news of Charleston was difficult to process, even more so while riding a D.C.-bound train packed with White people, most of them dressed in business attire, who seemed oblivious to the tragedy. It took everything I had in me to keep from erupting with rage in that Amtrak car.

I thought about racial terrorism and its larger history while a nearby White woman worked on a New York Times crossword puzzle, and sipped her Starbucks coffee. I raged thinking how not even churches are safe from the pathologies of White supremacy. Others talked on their cell phones about trivial shit or tapped on their laptop keyboards and tablets.

It was clear I was not among friends or a community that shared my sadness, anger, or angst about what it means to be Black in America in the 21st century. A pair of women sitting behind me chatted and laughed loudly. They were free of worry, they were fearless and enjoying their privilege to live, to exist apart from the horrors of racial violence. Their joy made me resentful. Fighting waves of grief and tears of sorrow, I got up to change seats to get away from the noise of White privilege. – See more at:
“The noise of white privilege.” yeah, that landed.
Patton goes on to describe the historical roots of the Angry Black Woman stereotype. And this stereotype, while familiar to me, is the very one I have sought so carefully to avoid. Although I  have a temper and can get loud, this tends to happen within the safe confines of my own four walls among family, where I’m allowed to be just angry me – minus the socio-political layering. In my professional life and among friends, few would readily identify me as ‘that angry Black woman.’  And yet I know and feel the anger about which Stacey Patton speaks.
Far too long, we have been fighting to dispel the Angry Black woman stereotype. But that’s not the solution because the truth is, we are angry. Our rage is righteous. Our ire is understandable. Yet our anger is misunderstood.
And she makes the brave suggestion that we learn to see our rage as a creative power for change:
Let’s stop viewing our anger as a negative and appreciate it as a gift. Neuroscientists’ research reveals that anger is a powerful means of social communication, and a natural part of any person’s emotional resources. Anger helps us reach our goals, allowing us to be more optimistic, creative, and to solve problems. Anger is a source of fuel for motivating us to meet life’s challenges and persuade others to do the right thing.
It’s at this point in the essay where I get on my feet and start to wave my hands: “Yaaaasss!”
 She closes with this:
To feel our anger at injustice is to be wholly alive. Our ability and willingness to express that anger, is to be committed to progress. To wield our anger strategically is the key to the justice and freedom. And to fully embrace our anger is the most healthy, sane, self-loving, nurturing thing that we can possibly do – See more at: (Do read the whole essay. You will thank me.)
“To feel our anger at injustice is to be wholly alive”  provides a frame for why I engage here at all. It’s not always because I am angry, but often enough  I am astonished, flabbergasted or amazed at the injustices we tolerate and let pass without addressing the root causes. There is plenty to be up in arms about – channeling that energy to agitate and push for change is what movements are made of.   Stacey Patton’s statements remind me that I may have to let go of the need to put on my happy face when I decide to engage for change outside of my precious four walls.
And then there’s this second essay, “Fitted” which after “Yes, I Am An Angry Black Woman” reads a bit like “the noise of White privilege.”  Moira Weigel, however,  expertly describes both the allure and burden of embedding 24/7 activity tracking in her own and other women’s daily lives.  She talks about the act of tracking emerging like a new, fully personalized religion. The sharing of one’s most intimate data regarding movement, food intake, sleep and even sex in pursuit of constant improvement becomes the new vehicle towards salvation. The desire to not just be better but to also show off your new “better” is fueled  by competing and commiserating with fellow activity trackers.  While I consider myself a modest fitness enthusiast, this more recent trend of constant self-monitoring remains foreign to me even if I can understand the various motivations behind it.  All of these elements tied up with our  cultural notions of what fit femininity looks like and how it is assessed in the current media climate made the essay a deeply compelling read for me. And as I read and re-read the essay (which is a repeated pleasure) I was struck by  how very White it all feels. Even if  I know that FitBit users come in all colors, shapes and sizes, the folks who best conform to Weigel’s  distinctive portrayal strike me as most likely to be White, straight, upper middle-class  women.  After describing the new beauty/fitness ideal of our times as exorexic, she clues us in as to how this  movement trend is likely to play out in practical and ideological terms:

Today, the ideal woman is exorexic.

In Ancient Greek, orexis means “desire” or “appetite.” The prefix an means “not.” A true anorexic wants nothing. Ex is Latin, for “out of”; arcere means “restrain.” “Exercise” meant to break out of what is holding you, and to push the limit.  The exorexic craves a challenge. Specifically, she aims to work her way out of desiring itself. …

Today, the exorexic eroticizes work itself. The army of women in Lululemons and Nike Frees who bound purposefully along the sidewalks of more and more American cities proclaim no specific taste, but rather an insatiable appetite for effort. They wear the uniform of an upper middle class for whom the difference between leisure and work is supposed to have disappeared.

Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life. When the guidance counselors say this, they suggest that if you work, you will be loved—or at least deserve love. Make yourself lovable first, they say, and sure as day you can trade that strange coin, ability, in for happiness later. They do not tell you the principle that follows. Love work above all and you will never rest.

Granted, I am enamored of this particular passage.  Weigel’s subjects present themselves vividly in my imagination: they are ambitious, well-educated, weight conscious and (to my mind)  oh so very White. These are some of  those same women who go on to become helicopter perfectionist parents, I suppose. (Cliché  I realize, but irresistibly so.)  I, too, am ambitious, well-educated and weight conscious. I enjoy feeling productive and disciplined and operate much better in the world when those two characteristics are visible. The plot thickens, however, when I consider that my White sisters’ ambition and effort will be judged and assessed quite differently from mine based primarily on  well-worn yet  invisible unconscious bias.

As a black woman, my work is consistently cut out for me.   The way the world tends to view my effort and the body I produce with that same effort is likely to be  perceived differently than those of Weigel’s “army of women”.  My muscles have often been interpreted as defying femininity. I get to be “strong” but not “pretty”.

That moment when you realize you're not invisible. (1997)

That moment when you realize you’re not invisible. (1997 Frauenlauf Wien)

I am good at my job; yet to advance beyond my current status can seem more like a mountain to climb rather than the logical next step it might be for an equally educated and experienced candidate from the dominant group. This realization has been decades in the making:  It’s not just me and my personal inadequacies, there are systemic factors at play. Being female and Black pose barriers that I previously did not wish to acknowledge. And my identification with and understanding of the dominant group’s ways of being and functioning help and hinder me in unique ways.

Weigel sums up the significance of  the FitBit mania for her particular demographic in the following way:

FitBit users remain, above all, productive, in our data and our visibility. We do not succumb to that wan, sick decadence, the aggressively infertile unproductivity of the true anorexic. This is female labor becoming frictionless. The point of the game is to just not disappear.

That’s it! That’s the critical difference I have struggled to name. For Weigel’s exorexic women “the point of the game is to just not disappear.”  Of course!  Weigel’s “army of women” is highly visible. They are prominent, ubiquitous – seen everywhere you look from screens to billboards, to print media; in the majority of our retail spaces.  For me in my Black female physicality and intellect, the point is to appear, to become visible, to cease being invisible.  Aye, there’s the rub! To be a black woman in majority white spaces so easily becomes a form of invisibility: either in the way that we bend over backwards to assimilate into the dominant culture and its going narratives, or we stand out through our behavior or appearance which become the excuse for Whites to look the other way and ignore our very presence. This feels like a revelation. This is where my path diverges from Weigel’s  hyper-productive women  and draws me into Patton’s harbor of validation and understanding.

In my struggle to be seen for all that I am, for all that I offer – I face barriers that are not of my own creation. The work-arounds, passwords and gatekeeper relations I develop are original and unique to me. Both Weigel and Patton offer me insights to both the world that I inhabit and the world that I am. Both authors open my eyes to fresh perspectives and for that I feel deeply grateful.

So for the record: I am Black. I am a woman. Sometimes I am angry. I am fit. I am an educator. I am a coach. I am a runner. I am a parent. I am a reader, writer, thinker, listener, observer. And more. Always more.

Fully Personalized and Valuable Summer PD

My 7 year old son and I have been having a great week. We’ve visited several sports spaces around the city and he’s participated in floor hockey, tennis, long jump, gymnastics, climbing, swimming, badminton, table tennis and skittles (similar to bowling). Most of this he has been able to do for free, thanks to a great set-up by the City of Vienna. Of the 28 sport offerings available to kids from ages 6-10, 24 run every week of the summer vacation, 18 are free of charge, and 7 can be enjoyed in more than one location. Add to that offerings in arts and crafts, theater and dance, science and outdoor adventures, kids’ college, music and film and you’ve got a summer of amazing possibilities. Some activities do cost a few Euros but it is clear that great efforts have been made to insure affordability and easy access.

From our few outings so far, here are some of the things I’ve noticed:

  • When kids choose their own activities they can often manage extremely well by themselves. Depending on the context, adult moderation/intervention is often unnecessary, once the games are underway. (Amazed watching my son play pick up floor hockey with boys almost twice his size.)
  • Most of the children I observed were highly respectful of each other, of the adults present and generally pretty friendly, welcoming, and easy-going.
  • It has been surprising to see how underused some of the offerings are, especially those which are absolutely free. Great spaces equipped with prepared adults are often ready and waiting for interested folks to show up.
  • The opportunity to observe others giving instruction has been edifying and eye-opening. I picked up some great new cues and activities from the gymnastics warm-up as well as from other sites.
  • At the skittles club, several club members were on hand to work with the kids and get them excited about the sport. Nearly everyone greeted us personally and provided lots of encouragement throughout the 2 hour session. My son can’t wait to play again. Nor can I!  The magic worked.
  • At each of these venues there seemed to be a healthy balance between instruction and freedom to explore. Trying everything was okay. Leaving one thing to go do another and later return was okay. This is something that struck me as extremely child-friendly in these settings.
  • The vast array of offerings has motivated me to stretch myself by venturing into unfamiliar parts of the city to find a gym, field or park.
  • My son’s enthusiasm has stoked my own: to become more of a movement explorer, to try new skills, risk looking silly, and have lots of fun doing it.
  • To all this I must also add our recent discovery of which is a web-based platform for movement videos designed for kids. It started with “Pop See Ko,” a follow-along song he learned in summer camp and every day since we’ve tried everything from yoga stretches to Zumba to coordination challenges to free movement dances like “Cookie Boogie.”
  • The beauty of this arrangement is that I get to test and explore all these online possibilities with a real-live kid.  His responses give me some indication of which episodes will likely find favor with which age group and help me determine which ones I would enjoy using in class. Much to my own surprise, GoNoodle may become an avenue to “flip” parts of my lessons.
  • These experiences remind me that Professional Development need not come from a conference, book group or online course. Observe someone else giving instructions to others anywhere: in a video, at the doctor’s office, in your yoga class, in a museum. What can you appreciate about the delivery in the given context? What makes the situation appear challenging or easy? How might you approach the situation if you were charged with the same task?
  • There is so much learning to be had simply in venturing, doing, observing, and reflecting. Regardless of what you teach, or your role in education, all of us are primarily in the people business. The more we study and learn about people, beginning with ourselves, the better equipped we will be to handle whatever demands come our way.

I’m looking forward to quite a few more days of high-action movement with my youngest this summer. We’re following an open curriculum. Our essential question is derived from Phineas and Ferb: “What are we gonna do today, Ferb?”


Mid-Life Fitness

  • Do something, anything.
  • Do it more than once in a while.
  • Stretch frequently.
  • Find opportunities to wiggle, hang, swing, jump.
  • If you like to be around people, go find some folks who are doing what you like to do and join them.
  • If you don’t like people so much, enjoy working on your own without an audience.
  • Go easy.
  • Even when you go hard, take it easy.
  • Pain means that something hurts. Stop and find out what it is. Deal with it sooner, not later.
  • Think injury prevention. Always. (Warm up well, wear safety gear as necessary, calculate risk reasonably)
  • Spend some time with kids between the ages of 3 and 10. Play something outside.
  • There are lots of ways to build strength. Free weights engage your system more thoroughly and naturally than machines. Using your own body weight provides other benefits.
  • Do things that you enjoy. There are no medals for longest endured drudgery.
  • Sleep more.
  • Pay no heed to the airbrushed images on the cover of fitness and health magazines – movement is for all of us and can take hundreds of forms and do plenty of good.
  • It’s not about the gear you’re sporting, the membership you’ve acquired, what your friends think.
  • Keep showing up even when you have your doubts, reservations and tight hamstrings.

Here’s where this list came from. Many of my adult years have been deeply involved with fitness in one form or another: Initially as a track coach, then as a teacher of physical education, as a competitive runner and more recently as recreational speed skater.  People who meet me often make assumptions about my take on all things fitness. They guess that I must be an especially healthy eater, that I run every day, and that I consistently push myself. All false assumptions and for years, in fact.

What is true is that I have a good sense of what my body is capable of. I am aware of my strengths and weaknesses and understand how these can change over time and also be shaped. Up until recently I didn’t have to worry much about diet or weight and through my work I have had consistent access to both the time and facilities to practice movement in multiple forms.

Having made it to mid-life in reasonably good shape I’ve taken the opportunity to re-evaluate what it means to be fit, how I want to live my fitness for the long haul, and what beliefs and behaviors I may need to adapt to this later phase and understanding. The list above presents a smattering of my current thinking about mid-life fitness. Above all, I’ve come to realize that the things that mattered to me at 30 and 35 do not hold as much currency any more. I’m not interested in monitoring or programming or comparing my physical activity in the same way. I want to either enjoy myself immensely or be clear that the reason I am NOT enjoying myself immensely while moving is a conscious choice to act on another, perhaps different priority.

Back in my competitive days, I was “in it to win it.” When I use the same phrase today, “winning” can mean a whole host of things: showing up, following through, experiencing pleasure, banishing guilt. Also as a full time teacher of physical education, the importance of modeling healthy movement attitudes and approaches remains top of mind. My students discover fairly early on that Ms. Spelic is still learning how to do things -how to juggle a soccer ball, for instance. To their eyes, it often appears that I can do about anything. At mid-life I am proud of some of the things I can do and am getting better at and I have a healthy respect for the skills and tasks which continue to dog me.
Traditional aspects of fitness – flexibility, strength, endurance – start from the heart and mind these days and feed my soul as well as my body. I want to remain flexible in my thinking, strong in my commitment to being all of me and enduring in my capacity to love when it feels hard to keep loving. There can be no technology to measure my progress in these domains. My mid-life fitness remains distinctly my own: independent, fierce, compassionate and present.