may 24/RUN!

3 miles
river road trail, south/winchell trail, north/river road trail, north
71 degrees/ 90% humidity
dew point: 69

For the past few weeks, my left knee + left quad has been sore. After my run on the 17th, when my knee hurt enough to make it difficult to walk, I decided to take more of a break. Today is my first day back since then. Sunny, still (at least it seemed still), humid. Wow–90% humidity. Summer running. Ran at 8:30, which is not my favorite time to run. Too warm already + too many cars on the road, making crosswalks difficult and drowning out bird sounds with their whooshing wheels.

I felt a little stiff and over-heated, but it was a good run. Very happy to be back out by the gorge, admiring the river and assessing the progress of the leaves and the wildflowers. No mosquitos…yet…or sex-crazed gnats. I remember hearing a loud cardinal in some tree on the edge of trail, rapidly trilling and calling out, “what cheer what cheer.”

Things I Remember

  • almost slipping on the muddy, wet leaves at the edge of the concrete steps leading down to the Winchell Trail
  • not hearing the sewer pipe near 44th and my favorite retaining wall curve, but hearing it gushing at 42nd
  • feeling the glow of the water below out of the corner of eye as I ran on the part of the winchell trail without railing that seems too close to the edge of the steep bluff–I turned briefly to glance down at the bright water
  • noticing more bikers than runners and walkers on the trail
  • wondering when the bugs and the cottonwood fuzz will be arriving
  • breathing in through my nose for 3 beats, out through my mouth for 2
  • feeling a little anxious about my knee and my left IT band, hoping that I took enough time off

Here’s my bird poem for the day:

Of Being is a Bird/ Emily Dickinson

Of Being is a Bird
The likest to the Down
An Easy Breeze do put afloat
The General Heavens — upon —

It soars — and shifts — and whirls —
And measures with the Clouds
In easy — even — dazzling pace —
No different the Birds —

Except a Wake of Music
Accompany their feet —
As did the Down emit a Tune —
For Ecstasy — of it

It’s helpful for me to read through The Prowling Bees’s analysis of this poem (linked in poem title), although I still don’t totally understand ED’s words. I’m struck by her use of easy twice. Ever since I encountered Mary Oliver’s use of easy in her poems (first mentioned on April 14, 2021), I’ve been thinking about the differences between easy and difficult and about how easy is dismissed as immoral or not noble and not nearly as good as difficult. If it’s too easy, you’re not working hard enough, or you’re taking the easy way out, or you’re lazy. I’ve been thinking about it even more after reading Richard Siken’s “The Language of Birds”–see below–and his line about it being easy to ask how, much harder to ask why:

Why paint a bird? Why do anything at all? Not how, because hows are easy—series or sequence, one foot after the other—but existentially why bother, what does it solve?

Why does everything have to hard to be good? Can easy ever be better? Can we fetishize the difficult–making things more difficult for ourselves than we should?

may 18/STIFF RIGHT KNEE, HARD TO WALK

Yesterday, after taking 2 days off from running, I ran again. Not too long after I finished, my left knee felt stiff and sore. Not a good sign, but, surprisingly, I’m chill about it. Just need to take more of a break I guess. Maybe the whole week? If my knee feels a little better tomorrow, and I can walk without limping or tensing up, I’ll try out my bike. After 2 years in the basement, it’s time bring it outside to test it out. Will I be able to see? Eventually, I’m sure, my brain will adjust enough.

Spending a lot of time sitting today. Started early-ish (7:30) this morning by sitting cross-legged on a cushion on the deck, trying to not move much. I was inspired by the wonderful essay I read about “just sitting” yesterday: Private Practice: Toward a Philosophy of Just Sitting/ Antonia Pont

Then I sat at a chair and listened to the daycare kids next door playing outside. I’m not sure how long they were outside, but I took notes about their interactions with the unprepared, harried daycare worker. A lot of fun (not for the daycare worker) and a great exercise in paying attention and taking notes about it. At one point, they played “Ring Around the Rosie.” I wrote in my notes: plague rhyme. I wondered, what other cautionary, plague-related rhymes do children still chant? Googled it and became increasingly skeptical about any nursery rhymes that claim to be about plagues. Then I found this very helpful source–Ring Around the Rosie: Metafolklore, Rhyme and Reason from the Library of Congress. Lots of interesting information about why it’s doubtful that the ring around the rosie is about the plague.

Refreshed my memory of a poem I memorized last summer–Love Song of the Square Root of Negative One by Richard Siken. Love this poem and love Siken. Found another great poem in the same collection (War of the Foxes): The Language of the Birds

The Language of the Birds/ Richard Siken

1

A man saw a bird and found him beautiful. The bird had a song inside him, and feathers. Sometimes the man felt like the bird and sometimes the man felt like a stone—solid, inevitable—but mostly he felt like a bird, or that there was a bird inside him, or that something inside him was like a bird fluttering. This went on for a long time.


2

A man saw a bird and wanted to paint it. The problem, if there was one, was simply a problem with the question. Why paint a bird? Why do anything at all? Not how, because hows are easy—series or sequence, one foot after the other—but existentially why bother, what does it solve?

And just because you want to paint a bird, do actually paint a bird, it doesn’t mean you’ve accomplished anything. Who gets to measure the distance between experience and its representation? Who controls the lines of inquiry? We do. Anyone can.

Blackbird, he says. So be it, indexed and normative. But it isn’t a bird, it’s a man in a bird suit, blue shoulders instead of feathers, because he isn’t looking at a bird, real bird, as he paints, he is looking at his heart, which is impossible.

Unless his heart is a metaphor for his heart, as everything is a metaphor for itself, so that looking at the paint is like looking at a bird that isn’t there, with a song in its throat that you don’t want to hear but you paint anyway.

The hand is a voice that can sing what the voice will not, and the hand wants to do something useful. Sometimes, at night, in bed, before I fall asleep, I think about a poem I might write, someday, about my heart, says the heart.


3

They looked at the animals. They looked at the walls of the cave. This is earlier, these are different men. They painted in torchlight: red mostly, sometimes black—mammoth, lion, horse, bear—things on a wall, in profile or superimposed, dynamic and alert.

They weren’t animals but they looked like animals, enough like animals to make it confusing, meant something but the meaning was slippery: it wasn’t there but it remained, looked like the thing but wasn’t the thing—was a second thing, following a second set of rules—and it was too late: their power over it was no longer absolute.

What is alive and what isn’t and what should we do about it? Theories: about the nature of the thing. And of the soul. Because people die. The fear: that nothing survives. The greater fear: that something does.

The night sky is vast and wide.

They huddled closer, shoulder to shoulder, painted themselves in herds, all together and apart from the rest. They looked at the sky, and at the mud, and at their hands in the mud, and their dead friends in the mud. This went on for a long time.


4

To be a bird, or a flock of birds doing something together, one or many, starling or murmuration. To be a man on a hill, or all the men on all the hills, or half a man shivering in the flock of himself. These are some choices.

The night sky is vast and wide.

A man had two birds in his head—not in his throat, not in his chest—and the birds would sing all day never stopping. The man thought to himself, One of these birds is not my bird. The birds agreed.

may 20/ABLE TO WALK, CLICKING KNEECAP

Feeling much better today. I can walk almost normally, even if I have to remind myself how to do it when I start: bend the knee! I was planning to get out my bike and try it on the trail, but it’s raining, so maybe I’ll bike inside and watch another Dickinson? I want to take a break from running until next Monday, I think, just to be safe. Hopefully that is enough time to recover from whatever happened to my knee. Sitting in the front room, with the windows wide open, I’m enjoying listening to the rain hitting the pavement. It’s a soft, steady, gentle rain. I also hear a siren a few streets over.

Returning to this post, a few hours after I wrote the previous paragraph: Took Delia for a walk around the block and did 30 minutes on the bike in the basement while watching the ITU Yokohama Men’s Triathlon. Most memorable moment: It was a tough, hot race–30 degrees celsius (86 F)–and racers were exhausted at the finishing line. As the commentary continued, I could hear several racers puking in the background. No mention of it by the commentators. Gross, yet a good reminder of how ridiculously hard these races are and how much these racers have learned to push their bodies. I’m troubled by and in awe of that ability.

Thinking about Richard Siken’s “The Language of the Birds”:

1.
A man saw a bird and found him beautiful. The bird had a song inside him, and feathers. Sometimes the man felt like the bird and sometimes the man felt like a stone—solid, inevitable—but mostly he felt like a bird, or that there was a bird inside him, or that something inside him was like a bird fluttering. This went on for a long time.

I love this first stanza. Thinking about ED and “Hope” is thing with feathers. Also thinking about MO and some great lines from The Leaf and the Cloud, which, when I found them again, I realized were even more fitting with this poem or at least my reading of it right now:

from “Gravel” in The Leaf and the Cloud/ Mary Oliver

6.
It is the nature of stone
to be satisfied.
It is the nature of water
to want to be somewhere else.

Everywhere we look: the sweet guttural swill of the water
tumbling.
Everywhere we look:
the stone, basking in the sun,

or offering itself
to the golden lichen.

It is our nature not only to see
that the world is beautiful

but to stand in the dark, under the stars,
or at noon, in the rainfall of light,

frenzied,
writing our hands,

half-mad, saying over and over:

what does it mean, that the world is beautiful–
what does it mean?

What is alive and what isn’t and what should we do about it? Theories: about the nature of the thing. And of the soul. Because people die. The fear: that nothing survives. The greater fear: that something does.

Siken’s poem isn’t really about a bird; it’s about metaphor and representation and the work of doing something useful (meaningful?) with the noticing of a beautiful bird. And it’s about the doubt an artist/writer feels when they try to create something in response to that bird, and about what language does to the artist’s connection to the bird, the distance it creates between “experience and representation.” And, it’s about asking the question: why do anything at all? “existentially why bother, what does it solve?”

And maybe it’s also about not answering this question, not trying to find ultimate meaning, not trying to solve “it”–where it = the problem of death/that everyone dies, or it = the overwhelming “vast and wide” night sky,” or it = our inability to capture/own a bird in our representation (painting, poem) of them.

Yesterday, when I looked up “The Language of the Birds” I discovered this: The Mantiq al-tair(Language of the Birds) of 1487. I had discovered this Sufi poem earlier in the month when I looked up conference of birds, which is it’s more known title. Very cool. Here’s some more information:

Attar (ca. 1142–1220), the author of the Mantiq al-tair, is one of the most celebrated poets of Sufi literature and inspired the work of many later mystical poets. The story is as follows: The birds assemble to select a king so that they can live more harmoniously. Among them, the hoopoe, who was the ambassador sent by Sulaiman to the Queen of Sheba, considers the Simurgh, or a Persian mythical bird, which lives behind Mount Qaf, to be the most worthy of this title. When the other birds make excuses to avoid making a decision, the hoopoe answers each bird satisfactorily by telling anecdotes, and when they complain about the severity and harshness of the journey to Mount Qaf, the hoopoe tries to persuade them. Finally, the hoopoe succeeds in convincing the birds to undertake the journey to meet the Simurgh. The birds strive to traverse seven valleys: quest, love, gnosis, contentment, unity, wonder, and poverty. Finally, only thirty birds reach the abode of the Simurgh, and there each one sees his/her reflection in the celestial bird. Thus, thirty birds see the Simurgh as none other than themselves. In this way, they finally achieve self-annihilation. This story is an allegorical work illustrating the quest of Sufism; the birds are a metaphor for men who pursue the Sufi path of God, the hoopoe for the pir (Sufi master), the Simurgh for the Divine, and the birds’ journey the Sufi path.

One of the valleys the birds have to travel through is the valley of wonder/astonishment/bewilderment. This makes me think of the Sufi poet Rumi and their focus on bewilderment, which I discovered through Fanny Howe. Here’s “Bewilderment” by Rumi:

Bewilderment/ Rumi

There are many guises for intelligence.
One part of you is gliding in a high windstream,
while your more ordinary notionstake little steps and peck at the ground.

Conventional knowledge is death to our souls,
and it is not really ours. It is laid on.
Yet we keep saying we find “rest” in these “beliefs.”

We must become ignorant of what we have been taught
and be instead bewildered.

Run from what is profitable and comfortable.
Distrust anyone who praises you.
Give your investment money, and the interest
on the capital, to those who are actually destitute.

Forget safety. Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.
I have tried prudent planning long enough.
From now on, I’ll be mad.

Since I keep wanting to put these bird poems in conversation with Mary Oliver and Emily Dickinson, I’ll add that Mary Oliver loved the poetry of Rumi. In her interview with Krista Tippett, she describes how she reads a different Rumi poem each day. And, the last line of “Bewildernment” reminds me of this ED poem:

Much Madness is divinest Sense – (620)/ EMILY DICKINSON

Much Madness is divinest Sense –
To a discerning Eye –
Much Sense – the starkest Madness –
’Tis the Majority
In this, as all, prevail –
Assent – and you are sane –
Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –
And handled with a Chain –

may 21/WALKED 2 BLOCK ON A SLIGHTLY STIFF KNEE

My left knee continues to improve. The kneecap still shifts and clicks, but I can bend and move my knee without pain. I continue to remind my knee how to walk. Rain on and off all day. Showers then sun then showers with sun. Will it ever end? Pumped up the tires in my bike. It’s still in the basement, but soon I’ll bring it upstairs. Heard so many birds this morning: cardinals and woodpeckers and black-capped chickadees and robins. Heard a metallic 2 note song in a neighbor’s tree as I walked around the block with Delia the dog. Was that robin too? Also heard a rapid trilling that sounded like a car alarm. I’m pretty sure it’s a cardinal.

Finishing up a great book, Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl. Here’s one of her essays? prose poems? that uses one of my favorite words: still, which can be used as an adjective (not moving, calm), a verb (to calm down, to quiet), a noun (a period of calm or silence), and an adverb (up to a time, to an even greater degree, nevertheless).

Still/ Margaret Renkl

I pause to check the milkweed, and a caterpillar halts midbite, its face still lowered to the leaf.

I walk down my driveway at dusk, and the cottontail under the pine tree freezes, not a single twitch of ear or nose.

On the roadside, the doe stands immobile, as still as the trees that rise above her. My car passes; her soft nose doesn’t quiver. Her soft flanks don’t rise or fall. A current of air stirs only the hairs at the very tip of her tail.

I peek between the branches of the holly bush, and the redbird nestling looks straight at me, motionless, unblinking.

Every day the world is teaching me what I need to know to be in the world.

In the stir of too much motion:
Hold still.
Be quiet.
Listen.

sept 29/HIKING

Took a great hike with Delia the dog this morning on the Winchell trail. Walking on the river road path between the 36th and 35th street parking lots, we walked under several trees lining the path. They seemed to be greeting us or maybe heralding the beginning of our walk, the opening to a ceremony or sacred ritual. I need to write more about this stretch of the path.

The marathon is on Sunday. Mostly, I’ve accepted the fact that I can’t run it, but I still can’t wait until it’s over so I can move on. Thinking about it, I composed to quick poems:

Consolation Prize

Maybe the best consolation
I can take from getting injured
and missing the marathon
is that right now,
sitting at my dining table,
a little over 24 hours before the race,
I’m not undone with anxiety,
overwhelmed with the what ifs,
unable to imagine how a human body
can run for more than 4 hours.
It’s a very small consolation
but I’ll take it.

Missing

almost 2 months ago
I misplaced my kneecap
only for a few minutes
it was gone
it came back
but not before
misplacing my marathon
I found the kneecap,
but not the marathon.

sept 28/HIKING

I can’t wait until I can run again–next week, I think. Until then I’m walking a lot more and biking occasionally. Today, I did both. Biked 4.75 miles to Minnehaha Falls and then hiked to the river. What a beautiful fall day. Walking on the dirt trail, through a grove of trees just starting to turn yellow, I briefly wondered if I should take a picture. But I didn’t. I’d like to spend some time, sitting on a bench, and find words to describe it. But what words? I need better ones, better than “beautiful.”

Here’s a poem I discovered the other day.

O Autumn! Autumn!/Effie Lee Newsome

O Autumn! Autumn! O pensive light
and beautiful sound!
Gold-haunted sky, green-haunted ground!

When, wan, the dead leaves flutter by
deserted realms of butterfly!
When robins band themselves together

To seek the sound of sun-soaked weather!
And all of summer’s largesse goes
For lands of olive and the rose!

I like Newsome’s trick twisting flutter by into butterfly. And the phrase “to seek the sound.” And I like her enthusiasm. I’m usually too restrained, so I appreciate someone willing to gush and overuse exclamation points.

Words other than Beautiful to describe my view:

  • aesthetically pleasing
  • alluring
  • appealing
  • attractive
  • dazzling
  • gorgeous
  • grand
  • handsome
  • lovely
  • magnificant
  • wonderful
  • splendid
  • resplendent
  • radiant
  • awe-inspiring
  • transcendent
  • sublime
  • poetic
  • vibrant
  • vivid
  • intense
  • aetheral

sept 26/WALKING

Walked with Delia the dog and decided to record my observations. Here’s a transcript of what I spoke into my iPhone memo app for our almost 20 minute walk (update: I turned it into a poem):

Sounds and Things I Pay Attention to on my Walk

The squeaking of the garage door
The glistening reflections on the wet pavement
The trickling water from the fountain in somebody’s backyard
The low, electric hum of the cicadas
An occasional chirping bird
My footfalls on the wet pavement
The trickling of the water in the sewer after the rain
The wheels of the stroller approaching me, almost feeling hostile and threatening
The whoosh of the water under the wheels
The clanging of Delia the dog’s tags on her leash
The big orange construction cone on the driveway, amidst the grayish brown wood and cement blocks
An occasional drip of water, sometimes a plop, sometimes just a drip
The traffic way in the distance
Some unspecified hums
A single yellow leaf falling off a tree already having lost most of its leaves
Burgundy and yellow flowers next to pink and light purple ones
Small puddles on the sidewalk
Darker black asphalt patches where the sidewalk has been repaired
Drips from the trees on my hat
A squirrel running quickly across the street even though there’s no danger of a car
Water rushing in the sewer
The not bright blue, not powder blue, maybe cornflower blue, Adirondack chairs
A runner running by, out in the street; fun to watch their stride—so graceful
and relaxed
The ugly purple leaves on the ground
A car just in the middle of the road for some unknown reason
Some cars approaching me with their lights on, some without
the Furry fuzz
Clanging from a truck, unloading scaffolding perhaps,
unloading some sort of equipment that I’m not turning around to see
It echoes in the otherwise calm, peaceful morning
Talk radio birthdays: T.S. Eliot, Ira Gershwin
I keep listening to hear what kind of talk radio it is
An interesting bark from a dog, deep and low and then high pitched and whiny
A gray car that’s been in an accident
Milkweed pods, some black and dead, others still green and ready to burst
A bright yellow school crossing sign
A slightly paler yellow seat, rope swing on a big tree with gnarled branches
A plane overhead
Walking through clumps of wet, dead leaves on the sidewalk
A bright red chair in front of a green house
The crunch of a walnut shell or a stick under my shoe
A squirrel running ahead of us on the path
Another bright red chair
and two red cars
A truck backing up
somewhere nearby
but not that close.
More drips.
Beautiful mums in pots on the front steps
The light from a front door still on. Was it left on by accident overnight, or is it on because it’s darker this morning?
A squirrel overhead, rustling in a tree branch
More planes and crows

Devoting my time to looking and listening to my surroundings and then describing them into my phone meant that I had no time for any broader ruminations. What would a walk where I randomly spoke what I was thinking into the phone be like?

sept 25/XT

bike: 25 minutes
bike stand, front room

In addition to biking for almost half an hour, I took my dog on 3(!) walks without my knee brace. No knee brace! Very exciting. I still can’t run for another two weeks, but it’s exciting to feel confident enough to walk without the brace. My knee and leg are getting stronger.

I have 2 weeks left before I can start running. I’d like to take that time to revisit some of my thinking about walking. Although I was very happy to be walking so much today, none of my walks were particularly transcendent.  Most of my time was divided between making sure my knee felt okay and making sure that Delia the dog kept moving. No brilliant thoughts. No poetic lines. No problems solved.

What did I notice?

  • The gigantic cottonwood trees that made my neck ache and my head dizzy as I tried to look up at them.
  • The huge hostas that encircled another cottonwood tree, a little further up the street.
  • The burnt gold of the leaves of another tree. A maple, maybe or an oak? For the past few years, I’ve mostly seen glowing yellow leaves; these were golden.
  • The bright pinks and yellows of the zinnias.
  • The crows cawing as we walked through the Dowling community garden.
  • The wooden camel lawn ornament in the yard of a house right next to the garden.
  • The buzzing of the cicadas–more intensely electric in the morning, a slower hum in the afternoon
  • A police siren.
  • The walnut shells, broken up and discarded, that looked almost like mounds of poop, at least to me.
  • The stillness of the air and the Mississippi river. No rowers on the river.
  • The bright blue lights that framed the inside of the front window of a house.

That’s all I remember. How different would this list be if I had composed it right after getting back from my walk, or while I was on the walk?

sept 22/FINAL PT?

This afternoon, I have another physical therapy appointment. I’m hoping that this will be the last one and that I can start running again. Mostly, I feel optimistic because my knee doesn’t hurt and I seem to be able to walk normally, but I’m still nervous. My knee clicks a little and sometimes aches a little. What will my physical therapist tell me?

Started a new poetry class this week. So exciting! I’m really enjoying taking writing classes. For the assignment this week, I had to write an homage poem. I chose, “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” partly because I discovered this poem last spring and had created a writing assignment for myself using it as a model. Here’s what I posted:

13 Ways of Looking at a Tree While Running

1.
Among the veil of green
The only noticeable thing
Was the red leaf on the tree.

2.
Through the effort of running,
I was of no mind,
Absent, like the leaves on a tree
In midwinter.

3.
The tree sizzled in the hot breeze.
Mocking the already overheated runner.

4.
A runner and a path
Are one.
A runner and a path and the trees
Are one.

5.
I do not know which to prefer,
A mystery concealed
Or a mystery revealed,
The tree leaved in summer
Or bare in winter?

6.
The humidity hovered above me
With thick persistence.
The canopy of the tree
Trapped it on the running path.
The visibility
Lost in a fog
Of hazy air.

7.
O fit runners of Minneapolis,
Why do you seek inspiration from shiny PRs?
Do you not see how the tree
Releases oxygen
Making inspiration possible?

8.
I breathe out in jagged fits
And in steady, even rhythms.
I breathe, also,
Because the tree
s
Need me to.

9.
When the tree was no longer in view
The runner imagined
What it would do,
Now that she was not looking.

10.
At the sight of a towering tree
Swaying violently in the storm,
Even the most ardent nature-lover
Would reconsider hugging it.

11.
She ran below the tree
Grit crunching under her shoe.
Once, she freaked out
When she thought a falling walnut
Was a branch.

12.
The river is moving.
The trees are not.

13.
It was humid all morning.
It was hot.
And it was going to be hot.
The tree stood
Offering no shade.

Here are a few other versions that don’t quite fit Stevens’ structure:

1.
In the summer
the floodplain forest
at the bottom of the gorge
is covered with leaves—
a veil of green
almost, but not quite,
concealing my view of
the blue river as I run above it.

2.
When it rains
that same floodplain forest
glows in soft greens
and rich browns
dripping
thick
wet
mystery.

3.
Running by,
I never stop to study the trees.
If I did,
could I see them breathing,
their leaves acting as lungs
inhaling carbon dioxide
and exhaling oxygen?

4.
At a certain point
during my run,
I’m in a daze,
not seeing the trees
so much as feeling
how the shade of their leaves
cools the air.

5.
After a violent storm,
I cautiously ran under
the fallen limb
precariously propped
against another tree.

6.
Red or gold or orange leaves
are pretty on a tree
but not on the path
where they conceal
debris that lies in wait
ready to twist my ankle.

7.
Never trust
a path
without trees.

sept 19/OPEN SWIM!

open swim: 350 yards
bike: 8.5 miles
air temp: 75 degrees
water temp: 68 degrees

I didn’t swim much, because the water was pretty cold and it was very windy, but I swam in the lake again today! And I might try again tomorrow.

Listened to an on being episode with Maira Kalman and they talked about how wonderful trees are. I like the line: “We see trees. What more do we need?” I think I’d like to use that as the title of an essay about trees or as a line in a poem. I can’t wait until I can run by my favorite trees again.

sept 15/OPEN SWIM!

open swim: 1/2 mile

Overcast. Calmer waters. Probably the last swim in the lake until next June. When I was done, I stood in the water, absorbing the view. First, staring at my open swim path across the blue-gray water to the little beach. And then, the tops of the trees, lining the shore all the way around. Some of the trees have already started to change color.

The only other people in the water when I was swimming were a couple of children, their caregiver and two guys in waders with metal detectors. It’s cool to hear the sound of the metal detector clicking (or would I call it scratching?) on the bottom of the lake as I swim by. I’m not sure that I would ever want to use a metal detector, but I can see the appeal. What an intimate knowledge of the lake floor they must have, it’s terrain—the dips and divots, the drop-offs—and the treasures it contains—coins, goggles, bobby pins and the two nose plugs that I lost this summer.

After swimming, I met up with Scott and we sat on the bench for a few minutes, barely talking, mostly looking out at the lake. We left when we smelled cigarette smoke. Later in the parking lot, Scott mentioned that the smoke came from the cigarette of an old guy in a wheelchair being pushed around by a nurse, probably a hospice nurse.

Overheard on the beach, just after exiting the water: “and that’s one thing you never do wen you go to an all-girls college!” What was the beginning of the story? What is the one thing?

Also overheard, from the metal detectors dudes, just before entering the water: “wow! that’s a big one! maybe one and half feet tall!” At first, I thought they were talking about a fish, which made me nervous about swimming, but later I decided it was something else. But what?

sept 14/OPEN SWIM!

open swim: 1 mile
biking: 8.5 miles

What a gift, to be able to swim three days this week at the lake in mid-September! Swam a mile today. The water was choppier during the second half of my loop, which made me to feel even more disconnected from the world. Couldn’t see or hear much. Just water rushing over me. I like that feeling of being disconnected. Occasionally had thoughts of some random lake creature emerging from the depths to eat me, even had visions of being the girl at the beginning of Jaws. It’s so funny how I can swim across the lake, way out into the middle, and never be worried about what’s swimming below me. But, swimming 70 or so yards out, on the edge of the swimming area, I imagine things lurking.

I’m working on a collage involving ritual, routine and habit, playing around with what constitutes the sacred and how running might allow me to access it. Here’s what I have so far: Ritual/Routine/Habit

sept 13/OPEN SWIM!

open swim: 1/2 mile (880 yards)
bike: 17 miles (to the lake twice)

Another 82 degree day at the lake. Windier than yesterday. Choppy water with waves. At one point, swimming far out, by the white buoys, at the edge of the swimming area, about 70 yards from the beach, some bigger waves rolled over me and I wondered: is this a bad idea, swimming alone and so far from shore, in this rough water? But it was fine, except for when I swam into leaves and vines. Or did they swim into me? With no warning, a red leaf suddenly appeared on my googles and freaked me out. Because the water was so rough, I modified my route: 2 loops next to the buoys, swimming with the waves, one direction, and against them the other. Then 2 loops from the shore out to one buoy, with the waves rocking me side to side both ways. Sitting on the beach after finishing my swim, I looked out at the water, struck by how ordinary and calm it seemed. Unless I had been in it, I would have had no idea how rough it was.

 

September 12/OPEN SWIM!

open swim: 1200 yards
bike: 8.5 miles

Last night, after lamenting to my family how open swim was over for the season, we drove by Lake Nokomis on the way to somewhere else and I noticed that the white cylindrical buoys were still in the water. So, today I biked over to the lake and relived summer for an hour. Air temperature: 82 degrees. Water temp: ? But it felt wonderful. Bright sun. Just a slight breeze. Freezing water for only the first 5 minutes. Why does summer have to be over? And why didn’t swim every single day at the big beach? Every year I ask that question and promise myself that I will do it next year. And of course, I don’t. But I did manage to swim at the lake several times every week this year. So maybe next year will be different and I’ll keep my promise.

I still have another week and a half before I can start running again. I’m ready to move and to write words that move too. Looking back over past log entries, I’ve been observing how my writing seems less mobile these day, just like me. No different versions of the wind or leaves noticed on the trees by the gorge or reporting on how I’m breathing or how humid it is or what critters I’ve witnessed. I need to get back out there on my favorite path. I am reminded on Nietzsche and his way of assessing writing, which I found in Frédéric Gros’s A Philosophy of Walking:

It is our habit to think outdoors–walking, leaping, climbing, dancing, preferably on lonely mountains or near the sea where even the trails become thoughtful. Our first questions about the value of a book, of a human being, or a musical composition are: Can they walk? Even more, can they dance?

 

 

sept 8/2 more weeks

My knee is looking better, according to my physical therapist, and, “in theory,” I should be able to start running in 2 weeks. Definitely not time to prepare for the marathon, which I already knew, but time to run by the river during the fall when the leaves are yellow and orange and flaming red. I’m excited to be inspired by the colors and the smells and the crisp, electric air.

Last week, after reading several poems that talked about changing your life, I decided to make a list.

Things that cause change:

  • Moving from Michigan to North Carolina to Southern Virginia to Northern Virginia to Iowa to Minnesota to California to Minnesota to Georgia and then back to Minnesota, for good.
  • Getting up from a chair too quickly, twisting your knee wrong, temporarily and partially dislocating your kneecap.
  • Being exposed to new ideas
  • Moments of clarity, moments of wonder, moments of calm
  • the seasons
  • the end of something: open swim, the summer, the semester, a book
  • the beginning of something: winter running, an online class, a poem
  • Giving the cashier a twenty dollar bill when what you’re buying only costs $18.50.
  • Breathing deeply.
  • Breathing at all.
  • Not breathing ever again on September 30, 2009.
  • the uncontrolled division of abnormal cells
  • Deciding not to cut your hair and seeing how long it can grow.
  • Binge-watching Community instead of Parks and Rec
  • Going to an animal shelter and adopting a dog
  • New presidents
  • a faulty gene in chromosome 11 (region 11q12-q13) which is also known as VMD2.
  • turning 42, then 43
  • new schools
  • leaving the house and turning to the right instead of the left when taking the dog for a walk
  • slowing down
  • accidentally spitting toothpaste on your shirt when brushing your teeth
  • erosion as the result of wind, water, freezing temperatures, a clogged gutter, a dangerously incompetent, narcissistic and hate-filled leader
  • no longer eating meat
  • switching from Avenir to Helvetica
  • asking a question: the right one or the wrong one
  • wetsuits, better goggles, nose plugs
  • changing the water filter in the refrigerator
  • choosing to laugh instead of cry
  • Memorizing a poem.
  • Swimming an extra loop at open swim and experiencing the glow of the sun lower in the sky.
  • Paying attention to the trees and their leaves
  • Cataloging the sounds and the smells and the landmarks on your run

sept 7/Better

This week I’ve been biking for 30 minutes every morning with my bike on the stand, in the front room. I’ve also been walking the dog twice a day. My knee is feeling much better. So much better that I was able to email my physical therapist yesterday and tell her I didn’t think I needed a doctor’s appointment or an MRI. Hopefully she’ll agree when she sees me tomorrow. I haven’t been as good at posting on this log, but I’ve continued to write and post on “my running stories” page. Here’s what I finished this morning: Better Words

sept 4/1 MONTH

One month ago today, I stood up too quickly and temporarily displaced my knee. I had temporarily displaced my knee several times before that without knowing it, sometimes causing injury, sometimes not. This was the first time I felt a lot of pain and knew that something had moved out of place.

This month has been very difficult. Not running. Not walking without a brace. Not knowing what was wrong or when it would stop being wrong. My current status is not quite known. I have one more day to decide if my knee is recovering enough to continue physical therapy or to schedule another doctor’s appointment and an MRI. Most of the time, my knee seems better, but then I’ll be walking and my kneecap will unexpectedly slip.

The best way for me to describe how it feels to walk around with a messed up kneecap that might suddenly, without warning, pop or pang or slide or shift, is this: Sometimes in the winter, when the sidewalks are covered with new ice, or covered with old ice that is hidden by freshly fallen snow, or covered with ice that was melted snow that refroze over night in jagged patches, I walk too carefully. My whole body is tense, waiting to fall. I ache in anticipation. My legs are tight. My movement forced, unnatural. Right now, in the first week of September, I am walking like it’s winter and there’s ice on the sidewalk.

Sept 1/RECAP

A Recap of the Week

  • Still not able to run.
  • Swam on Monday.
  • Biked to the State Fair and walked around it all day, then came home, not-so-smartly walked the dog without my leg brace and felt something pop again on Tuesday.
  • Biked to the lake, ripped my wetsuit as I was putting it on, took it off and swam around the buoys by the big beach anyway, then went to physical therapy and was told that my knee was still pissed and that we’d give it one more week and if it wasn’t better, I’d need to see the doctor again and probably get an MRI and maybe have knee surgery on Wednesday.
  • Took the dog on 2 walks, mowed the lawn, cleaned the house, went for dinner with my dad and his wife on Thursday.
  • Biking to the fair and then walking around it again today.

When the physical therapist mentioned an MRI, my first response was: will I have to be fully enclosed? I’ve never had an MRI and for years it has been on my list of things I never want to do because they will freak me out. Being trapped, unable to move, in a confined space? No thanks. But not being able to run again or to walk without my knee popping out is not an option, so if I need an MRI, I’ll get an MRI. To prepare myself for this possibility, I decided to derange the MRI, to take away some of the power of the letters to haunt and terrify me by rethinking the acronym.

MRI officially stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. But, it might also stand for:

Must Read Incessantly
Magical Realism Included
Musty Rusty Incubators
Mile Runs Impress
Mighty Rosie Inspires
Maybe risk injures?
More restored instruments
Myopic readers irritate
Must resist incumbents
Must resist injury!
Miniature Rhinos Incite
Monster Roosters Incant
Moody Radicals Impinge
Mustard Relish Infusion
Muffin Roll Invasion
Moldy Reed Infirmary
Musk Rat Infatuation
Minneapolis Re-evaluates Infrastructure
Mississippi River Island (Rosie’s suggestion)
Massive Recalls Impending
Mauve = red + indigo (Scott’s suggestion)
miffed redneck implodes
Multiple raisins ingested
Made really irate
Mountain rappelling Idiot
Mutant rats infiltrate

A note about mutant rats: this acronym was inspired by Scott’s story about how warmer weather is allowing rats to have longer breeding seasons and to produce bigger rats that could grow to the size of infants. Rats the size of infants? This will surely haunt my dreams sometime soon.

august 28/XT

swim: 1100 yards
bike: 8.5 miles

Swam at the lake in the afternoon while the kids were finishing up their first day of school. I’ll only be able to swim outside a few more times this year. It will start getting colder and, after next Monday (or sooner?), they’ll remove the buoys. Too soon.

Worked on turning my injury log into a non-linear story. A collage? I need to review my notes on the different forms to determine its form. I’m tentatively titling it, Subluxation, 16 Emotions. It’s a combination of lines of poetry, taken from the poems I memorized while recovering and fragments from my injury log.

august 23/XT

swim: 1450 yards
bike: 8.5 miles

No running at all this week, so I’m biking and swimming instead. What a beautiful morning to be at the lake! Swam in my wetsuit and my knee didn’t bother me. I love swimming in the lake. I will miss it, when it’s over, which is soon.

Here’s something I’m working as part of my recovery through poetry project. It’s a Cento, combining lines from many of the poems I’ve memorized over the past few weeks. I’m using Simone Weil’s essay “Attention and Will” as a way to frame it.

UNMIXED ATTENTION IS NOT WILL


UNMIXED ATTENTION is prayer is belief is faith is love is a million unopened fountains is obedience to a mystery is sweet scented stuff when the breeze draws across it is pausing to attend to the goldfinches who have gathered in a field for a musical battle is touching the face of every blossom, not choosing this blossom or that blossom is heeding the call, harsh and exciting, of the wild geese and the world is swimming one day in August is going down to the sea for the deepening and the quieting of the spirit is walking into words that have been waiting for us to enter is listening at his heart—little, less, nothing is grieving over golden grove unleaving is counting five mountain ranges, one behind the other is thinking of a sheep knitting a sweater is not clenched jaws is not stiffening muscles is not pride is not a miracle just beyond our heavy-headed grasp is not imagining that trees just stand and look like they look when we’re looking when we’re not looking is not walking, on your knees, for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting is not telling one’s name—the livelong June, to an admiring bog is not seeing all spoiled is not praising this but not that, loving this but not that and IS NOT WILL.

And something else I liked, that I read this morning, by Wendell Berry:

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of silences, like prayers
prayed back to the ones who prayed,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

And a few words I wrote down in my journal to describe the wind, which I listened to–did I, as Mary Oliver entreats, “listen convivially”?–yesterday.

Versions of the Wind

  • shimmering
  • sizzling
  • shshshshshshing or shushing
  • whooshing
  • swirling
  • coming in waves, swelling up and down, rolling over the trees
  • undulating in the air
  • agitating the air, stirring up the dust
  • a natural white noise machine
  • crackling, electric
  • wafting

august 22/PT

Physical Therapy

Some things I learned today at my physical therapy appointment:

  • I have a high tolerance for pain, according to my therapist.
  • I am particularly proud of the fact that I have a high tolerance for pain and I’m not totally sure why or if I should be proud.
  • I have an extra bony anatomy which makes me prone to subluxation of the kneecap.
  • My kneecap will probably be partially and temporarily dislocated again. And maybe again after that.
  • My first injury almost 2 years ago, was probably not the result of a bone spur, but a subluxation.
  • I should not run for the rest of the week.
  • I should not run through pain, even though my doctor told me I should.
  • My doctor and physical therapist have very different approaches.
  • My kneecap is pissed off at me right now. Strangely, I am not pissed at my kneecap. I’m not sure what I feel towards my kneecap. Concern? Love? Acceptance?
  • It typically takes about a month to recover from a subluxation of the kneecap.
  • Right now, I’m at two and a half weeks. If I have to wait a full month to run again, that would be September 4th, just four weeks before the marathon.
  • I might still be able to do the marathon. I might not.

Subluxation: partial dislocation
dislocation of the patella/kneecap
sub (nearly, slightly, partly)

dislocation: disruption, disturbance, disengagement, disconnection

A new fear introduced: subluxation. It could come back, you know. It’s possible this episode was not even the first. Perhaps my injury, a year and a half ago, was two injuries, two separate instances of subluxation?

Subluxation.
A sub par performance with no
sub-8 minute miles.
A substitution: speed out, stability in.
Now subject to more delays and derailments.
Submitting to the will of an extra bony anatomy.
Subliminal arguments between my right kneecap and the running path.
Subtraction and Addition: less grip and more gripe.
A subdued soul,
A submerged spirit.

A partial and temporary dislocation.
Out of the groove. The patellofemoral groove.
The fall to leap more groove.
The let a flap or a mole groove.
The poor tall female groove.
The fall poem or tale groove.
The tell a floor map groove.
The late morale flop groove.
The poet, leaf or mall groove.
The located on your femur bone between two bumps (femoral condyles) groove.

august 20/RECOVERY

Recovery mode.

Day Sixteen

Swim: 2750 yards
Bike: 8.5 miles

I biked to open swim and then swam 2 loops (2400 yards) with a wetsuit and then an extra 350 yards without one. I was even able to kick with my right leg! A week ago, I never would have imagined that I’d be able to swim again this summer. I feel such gratitude.

Sunday open swims are tough because you have the sun in your eyes when you’re swimming out to the little beach, where there aren’t any big landmarks. Today, I swam blind for probably 200-300 yards. By blind, I mean that I couldn’t see anything but water. No big orange buoys. No sandy shore of the little beach. Just blue-gray water and an endless tree line. But I was fine. I didn’t panic or get upset or stop and try to get my bearings. I just swam straight, like I knew that I could, and eventually I saw the orange buoy, 20 feet ahead of me.

Was able to lift my straight leg off of the ground a few times. Very hard.

august 18/RECOVERY

Recovery mode.

Day Fourteen

Now that I know it’s okay to feel pain, I’m okay pushing myself more. I’m realizing that sometimes I’m too cautious. I was so afraid that I would injure it more that I wasn’t willing to push it at all. Pushing through the fear is such a good thing for me. I don’t mind feeling pain, pain I can handle, as long as I believe that it’s not damaging me and that it will go away. Random: I use the word “that” a lot in my writing. I’m noticing it as I memorize poems by Mary Oliver. She hardly ever uses “that” but I frequently insert it in her lines as I recite them from memory. I want to eliminate unnecessary thats.

Repeat, minus the “thats”

I know it’s okay to feel pain now, so I’m okay pushing myself more. I’m realizing sometimes I’m too cautious. So afraid to injure it more, I was unwilling to push it at all. Pushing through the fear is such a good thing for me. I don’t mind feeling pain, pain I can handle, as long as I believe it’s not damaging me and it will go away.

Repeat, more refinement

It’s okay to feel pain. I know this now. So I’ll push myself more. I’m too cautious, too afraid, too unwilling to push past what’s seems safe. Pushing through fear is good for me. Pain is good for me, as long as I believe it’s not damaging, I believe it won’t stay forever.

Repeat

Pain is okay, sometimes. Like now. My pain doesn’t signal an injury, but muscles complaining as they wake up again. I won’t be afraid of it or tiptoe around it. I’ll embrace it, work though it, live with it. Pain is a part of living; it will end eventually.

I did the straight leg raise! I did the straight leg raise! Damn, it was hard. Hard to believe, but it took all my effort. And it hurt. A lot. Not a sharp pain, but a steady, uncomfortable one. But I did it!

Did a 2 mile walk with Delia the dog—my new favorite way to write her name. Tried to walk as briskly as I could. The one mile I timed was 20 minutes, although probably slightly faster if you don’t count the stops at corners to cross and the few times I let Delia the dog sniff something. Still slow, but progress.

Did you know that elite race walkers, the women and men, can walk much faster than I can run? My best 5K time is 24:54/8 minute pace. While racing for 20K or 50K, their 5K splits are 19 (men) and 22 (women) minutes. Wow. I had no idea. I know I’m not that fast, but under 25 minutes for a 5K is not slow. Can you imagine running a race while they walked it and having them lap you? What a sight! I almost want to see that.

Pain will you return it
I’ll say it again – pain
Pain will you return it
I won’t say it again (Depeche Mode, Strangelove).

Other words for Pain:

  • ache
  • irritation
  • discomfort
  • soreness
  • strain
  • burn
  • tenderness
  • twinge
  • crick
  • distress
  • pang
  • annoyance

I like pain when it gives off a slight warmth, when your muscles ache from use. This type of pain is not irritating or unwelcome. I like it and long for it, when it’s missing. Swimming is the best way I’ve found, to achieve this sort of tender, gentle burn.

Thinking about pain and reading Eula Biss’s essay “The Pain Scale.” When I first started teaching, I’d ask my students at the beginning of class, “How are you feeling, on a scale from 1 to 10?” I stopped, after one student said, “Can we not do the 1 to 10 thing? It reminds me of when I was in the hospital and the nurse would ask me that every morning.” I can’t remember what, if anything, I did after that to gauge people’s moods. Maybe nothing. Maybe I shouldn’t have stopped.

When the doctor told me that fear of pain was preventing my brain from sending the proper signals to my quads to activate, my first reaction was “wow.” Mind blown. I never would have expected my brain, and not my knee, to be the real problem here. So much to think about in terms of the relationship between the mind, the brain and other parts of the body. At the outset of my Run! writing project, I wanted to experiment with how I imagine and experience the relationship between mind and body. I wonder where, if at all, the mind fits into my current quad problem? Is there a conscious element to the fear of pain and the brain? Or, is it unconscious? Is a lack of will the problem, at all?

“During your recovery period your brain has mapped out a new neural network for pain-free walking, which has become a habit.” Uh oh. Is that why my brain has done? Is that why I can’t lift my leg? I don’t want a new neural network, I want the old one!

“When you run your brain creates a ‘neural map’ that, through repetition, will dictate your ‘natural gait’.” There is nothing natural about my current gait, with my right leg that won’t quite bend (source).

Search words to use: “neural map running injury” “running injury body maps”
another source.

Neural map
/Body Maps (the virtual body): “When you practice a movement, the body map representing the physical body part involved grows in size. However, if you stop using a particular body part, e.g. when you are injured and/or in pain, the body map for that particular body part becomes ‘blurred’ (also referred to as ‘smudged’).”

Biked for 30 minutes in the front room then tried to lift my straight leg again. Did it, but just barely. So difficult! Not just pain, but something more. A strongly resistant body. I’m sweaty and out of breath from effort.

A few hours ago, I figured out when I swing my right leg forward, it’s not straight and the knees not locked, which is what it’s supposed to do when you walk. When you run, your knees are bent, but when you walk, they should be straight. I do not know this because I’ve noticed it when I walk. I know this because I researched the biomechanics of walking a few months ago. And because I watched a replay of the 2016 Olympics 20K race walk a few days ago and the announcers kept talking about how the swinging straight leg was critical for a legal gait. No straight leg earns you a penalty and, eventually, disqualification.

Took another walk with Delia the dog. Rosie joined us this time. Then drove over to the lake and swam half a mile. Then went shopping with Scott and Rosie and walked a lot. I’m tired and sore.

Before going to bed, tried to do raise my straight right leg off of the ground again. Almost did it once.

august 17/YES!

Knee injury.

Day Thirteen

Today is the day that I hopefully find out what is wrong with my knee and how much longer I will not be able to exercise. I’m really nervous.

To help with my nerves, decided to write a poem. Today I’m trying out a ballad. Before writing my own, started to memorize “Casey at the Bat.” Only made it through the first stanza:

“The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day.
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game.”

Went to the doctor and I’m feeling much better. Got the best news I could hope for. I can start exercising right away. Swimming, biking and running. Yes, I can start running right now, as long as I can handle the pain. I begin physical therapy on Tuesday.

Decided to finish my ballad, combing stuff I wrote before and then after:

Before

She sat there in the waiting room, staring at her book,
wond’ring what would happen, when the doctor took a look.
Would he watch her as she entered, walking with her limp
and notice that her knee was swollen, blown up like a blimp?

Blimp is not quite true, I’d say, but swollen nonetheless.
Just enough to make it hard to walk without distress.
She would tell this when he asked, and others things as well
like all the times her knee gave out, and when she almost fell.

By all the times, I might add, she just means one or two
.
Sometimes when she tells a story, facts aren’t wholly true.
This happens when she’s nervous or is trying to make a rhyme.
Besides straight stories bore her, she hears them all the time.

Would he tell her to lay down and do the straight leg test?
Would she fail again and he’d say, “1 year of bed rest!”?
Oh, that dreaded straight leg test, haunter of her dreams!
Surely failing it cannot be as bad as seems?

After

She just met with the doctor, and could you even guess,
the outcome of the visit was almost pure success?
Her kneecap had slipped out, but then slipped back in place.
No lasting damage happened, she only needs a brace!

Things she heard were not all good, like the part about pain.
And how the quad’s not firing due to fear and the brain
refusing to send signals to tell the quad to move.
She’ll have to do lots of work to get it to improve.

She isn’t bothered by this news, she can take the pain.
All she cares is that the doctor told her she could train.
She won’t be running fast, or even every minute,
but, ‘bout the marathon, she still gets to be in it!

I swam a loop at open swim! I swam a loop at open swim! It was very windy and choppy. At one point, it felt like I was being lifted into the air. Pretty cool. I love swimming in rough water. Some day, I’ll have to swim in the ocean.

What I did today after finding out that my knee was okay and that any pain I felt was normal and not a warning of further injury:

  • Took Delia the dog on 2 walks.
  • Swam almost a mile.
  • Walked up and down the steps at full speed, and without bracing myself on the railing.
  • Walked over 4 miles total.

Answers to the questions I asked yesterday:

When can I start running again? NOW!
When can I start walking for more than a few blocks again? NOW!
When will I be able to swim again? NOW!
When will I be able to be outside again? NOW!
When can I walk my dog again? NOW!
When will I be able to stop reminding myself, every time that I get up from a chair or the couch: “nice and slow, Sara”? MAYBE NEVER, WELCOME TO 43 SARA.
When will I be able to write about more than injury or how stiff my leg is or how I failed the straight leg test again or about how long it’s been since I ran? NOW!
Is there any possibility, that if I walked most of it, that I could still do the marathon on Oct 1? YES!

Knee status: Much better. Feeling more pain because I’m pushing it harder.

Treatment: no RICE, just a brace and physical therapy starting next week.

august 16/?

Knee injury.

Day Twelve

Woke up a little sore, as usual, but managed to walk down the steps using both legs. Progress.

Had difficulty deciding which poem to memorize this morning, finally settled on the one I had intended, since yesterday evening in the car, to memorize: “Luke” by Mary Oliver. My method for memorizing is not to pick the most important poems ever!, but the ones that I want to keep. Tomorrow, I think I want to memorize another dog poem, this one by Jane Kenyon: “After an injury, walking the dog” (https://poetrying.wordpress.com/2011/05/27/after-an-illness-walking-the-dog-jane-kenyon/)

I love all of “Luke,” but especially:
and easily
she adored
every blossom,

not in the serious,
careful way
that we choose
this blossom, or that blossom—

the way we praise, or don’t praise—
the way we love
or don’t love—
but the way

we long to be—
that happy
in the heaven of earth—
that wild, that loving.

I have not run in 13 days.

Biked for 26 minutes. Felt pretty good. If I can’t run, hopefully I can keep biking.

Questions I’d like answered by my doctor, my body or both.

When can I start running again?
When can I start walking for more than a few blocks again?
When will I be able to swim again?
When will I be able to be outside again?
When can I walk my dog again?
When will I be able to stop reminding myself, every time that I get up from a chair or the couch: “nice and slow, Sara”?
When will I be able to write about more than injury or how stiff my leg is or how I failed the straight leg test again or about how long it’s been since I ran?
Is there any possibility, that if I walked most of it, that I could still do the marathon on Oct 1?

I’m hopeful that my drs appointment will go well tomorrow. My leg does seem to be getting better. What’s wrong with it, I wonder? Why can’t I pass the straight leg raise test? I’m sure it’s something that I couldn’t even imagine, something that I’ve never heard of or thought of.

Knee status: stiff, but better. can walk, mostly. failed straight leg test again.

Treatment: RICE

august 15/BORING

Knee injury.

Day Eleven

Seems like the rest helped some yesterday. My leg is feeling better. I think I might be getting a bit bored of writing about injury, since not much is happening with my leg.

I have not run in 12 days. 
I have not swam, more than a few hundred yards, in 14 days.
Will I be able to swim across the lake, at least one more time, before the end of the season? I hope so.

Memorized Robert Frost’s “Out Out” after randomly encountering it while browsing poets.org. Reading the first line, “The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard” I remembered that I had memorized this poem in high school. Was it for English class or just on my own, during the summer when I memorized poems and then recited them in the Iowa cornfields while detassling corn?

Biked for 16 minutes in the front room, with my bike on a stand. Watched the 2009 5000 meter women’s world championships. Felt good. After I was done, walking seemed a bit easier. Still trying to avoid walking too much today. I’m planning to try swimming again this afternoon.

Went to the lake to swim. Hard to kick, still. Managed to swim 400 yards by kicking with one leg and dragging the other. Not sure if my knee will be okay before the end of open swim season, but even if I can’t swim, I can go to the lake to walk in the water. I can almost walk normally in the water. It’s calming, even when it’s freezing, which it was yesterday. Reminds me of the lines from Mary Oliver’s poem, “Swimming, One Day in August”: “It is time, now, I said/for the deepening and the quieting of the spirit/among the flux of happenings” and “I went down in the afternoon/to the sea/which held me, until I grew easy.”

Knee status: walking must closer to normal, still slow but even less limp-y than before, can’t do a flutter kick in water without pain, failed the straight leg raise again.

Treatment: RICE.

august 14/REST

Knee injury.

Day Ten

3 days until my doctor’s appointment.

This morning, I memorized two more of Mary Oliver’s poems: “Swimming, One Day in August” and “Invitation.” I’m currently enamored with Oliver and her focus on attention and the natural world. Both of these poems come from her collection, Red Bird, which I love.

I’m hoping to do more resting and less walking today, especially stairs. I wonder, could this help me to heal faster? It’s so hard. How does one sit still and not go crazy?

Right now, I have too much
Energy.
Sitting still is so hard. I
Twitch my
Left leg, the non-injured one, repeatedly.
Every part of my body wants to move. I want to jump out of my
Skin! Who can just
Sit in a chair without moving?

This last acrostic poem is brought to you by restless legs, a little bit of anxiety and a lot of coffee. Maybe I would be less restless if I didn’t drink coffee in the morning?

I’m trying not to walk too much today. Finally am forcing the kids to walk the dog. Spent the morning on the couch with my leg straight. Reading Sophie Hannah’s Agatha Christie murder mystery, Closed Casket. Now, it’s the afternoon and I’ve moved upstairs. Sitting on the bed, with the computer on my lap. Writing and then reading. I hope this helps, because it’s no fun.

Knee status: still a bit stiff, doesn’t hurt at all. Continuing to walk slowly. Failed the straight leg raise again.

Treatment: more RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevate), with an emphasis on the rest.

august 13/DNF

Knee injury.

Day Nine

Today is the triathlon, the one that Rosie and I were supposed to do together. The one that would have started a tradition of racing and training together. We’re not racing, mainly because of my injury but also because we hadn’t trained enough. I am less disappointed and more resigned to the inevitability of our failure. If we attempt to do this again next year, we will need to train earlier.

Memorized two poems this morning: Emily Dickinson’s “Nobody” and Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese.” Now I want to experiment with putting them together into a found poem:

You only have to Love.
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you— Nobody—too?
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
tell me about the mountains and the rivers,
the clean blue air, the livelong June, an admiring Bog.

Whoever you are, no matter how good,
the world goes on, harsh and exciting.
Announcing despair, over and over, it calls to you.
How dreary! Don’t tell!

You do not have to advertise.
You only have to love the world
as it offers itself to your imagination:
the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain,
the landscapes and the deep trees.

You only have to love the family of things:
a Frog, the wild geese,
the soft animal of your body,
Somebody!
Nobody!

Walked around the block with Scott and Delia, the dog. So slow, but less limp-y. Discovered that uneven ground is difficult. Why is that? Tried to walk more than a block but my knee felt like it might give out, so we turned around.

As of noon, still can’t raise my straight leg. I’m invested in this test as a marker of progress, but is it? I wonder what the doctor will tell me on Thursday?

Tried biking, but it seemed like a bad idea, so I stopped.

Knee status: most likely not a quad tendon rupture, still sore and stiff, occasionally gives out, can walk very slowly, still can’t do the straight leg raise.

Treatment: RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation), don’t try to do too much walking even when the dog looks at me with her big eyes, hoping that I’ll chase her around the house. Keep reading, crafting and memorizing poetry.

august 12/Relief

Knee injury.

Day Eight

Fluctuating mood. Fear and resignation, then optimism. It’s a rupture. It’s a tear. No, it’s neither. Something worse? Something better?

Memorized Shel Silverstein’s poem, Sick. So fun! I’m surprised at how much it has improved my mood and my energy level. I think I should memorize a new one every day.

Scott is running his 18 miles this morning. He’s almost done. I know this because I’m tracking him on my phone and because he’s been posting pictures to Instagram every time he stops to walk. I love his pictures. I’m slightly jealous, but only slightly. Those really long runs were never fun for me. Always a struggle. I’m a little relieved that I don’t have to run one this weekend or next weekend or until…? I’m also relieved that I can just appreciate and celebrate his effort and not worry about how my runs compare to his.

Walking feels scary. Like every step could do irreversible damage. Could it or is that just my overactive imagination? Thanks google and all of your “helpful” search results. Is there a word or a phrase for the hypochondria that is fueled by looking up conditions on google? Why yes, there is: cyberchondria. Wikipedia defines it as: “the unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptomology based on review of search results and literature online.”

Are my concerns unfounded? No, but they could be a bit exaggerated due to the number of times I’ve read over and over again that not being able to raise your straight leg while sitting on the ground is really, really bad news, which is something that I absolutely cannot do right now.

Decided to text my good friend, who happens to be a doctor, and get her opinion on my knee. She doesn’t think it’s a quad tendon rupture. Very relieved. Could be something with the patella tendon, which is not great, but doesn’t seem as bad as a quad rupture. She did not tell me to drop everything and get to the emergency room, which is all I care about right now. My doctor’s appointment is for this Thursday. I’m fine waiting to see a doctor until then. I feel instantly better knowing that it most likely is not a quad rupture.

Straight Leg Raise

  • rise starlight age
  • arise, great slight!
  • large tight raises
  • I light a grass tree
  • I get light as tears
  • eight large stairs
  • sigh, great art lies.

Knee status: most likely not a quad tendon rupture, still sore and stiff, occasionally gives out, can walk very slowly, still can’t do the straight leg raise.

Treatment: Chill knee with ice. Chill anxiety with bad television. Avoid Dr. Google. Keep reading, crafting and memorizing poetry.

august 11/Rupture?

Knee injury.

Day Seven

To race or not to race, that is the question.

Uh oh. I googled “knee injury can’t lift leg straight” and not being able to do this seems to be a bad sign. Fractured patella? Quadricep Tendon Rupture? I’m trying not to panic, but both of these usually require surgery.

I’m not experiencing much pain, so I think it’s doubtful that I have anything too severe. Other than the first few moments on Saturday night, I haven’t had much pain at all. Just stiffness and soreness. Even so, it’s stressing me out.

The big problem: my quad muscle isn’t working at all, or not firing, which is how they phrase it in injury-speak. It’s kind of freaky to test it out and to see how I can’t get it to contract at all.

Biked 3.5 miles with daughter to drop her off for her camp, then biked back. No pain. Except for when I had to unexpectedly stop and land on my bad leg. Not excruciating pain, but pain. I think I’ll spend a lot more time with the bike on the stand. It feels good to bike.

To race or not to race, that is not the question. To pick up my race packet even though I’m not racing, or not to pick up my race packet, that is the question.

Okay quad. 
Fire when ready.

Just requested a doctor’s appointment to make sure that I didn’t do anything really bad to my knee.

I don’t
Need this right now.
Just leave me alone, you
Unnecessary derailment. You
Repugnant spectre.
You destroyer of dreams.

I might be overreacting. Stirring up
Needless worry.
Judging every twinge of pain or limp as if it signaled my
Undoing, which it doesn’t. Not
Really. I’ll run again or swim or something.
Years from now this will make a good story.

When I hear rupture I think of spleens not quad tendons. 
Of course, I’m getting ahead of myself here. 
Who says I have a quad tendon rupture? 
No one. Yet. Or maybe never.

rupture: 1. open hostility or war, 2. tearing apart of a tissue, 3. sudden split, burst, complete break. Open hostility between mind and body. A battle between fear of what might be and a desire to stay calm and not worry until I actually need to. A ripping and shredding of the tendon and the possibility that I can race the triathlon with my daughter on Sunday. A bursting of a marathon bubble?

Knee status: until doctor’s appointment, unknown. My assessment is too distorted by fear and anxiety over whether or not I have a rupture and will need surgery and will be recovering for 6-9 months. If I hadn’t learned about this possibility, I’d probably say I was doing okay. Stiff, sore, not much pain. Walking without crutches.

Treatment: Remind yourself several times a day that it is very unlikely that you have a rupture and that you shouldn’t assume the worse until you meet with the doctor. Take lots of deep breaths. Distract yourself. Write, read and memorize more poetry.

august 10/BRRRR

Knee injury.

Day Six

My movement continues to improve. Still stiff and walking awkwardly, but not as much as yesterday. Feeling better, happier.

Progress!? Went swimming again with daughter. My knee felt weird and stiff and it hurt, a bit. What was wrong? Was it that I couldn’t bend my knee to do a kick? Or was it hard to have my knee extended while horizontal in the water? Not sure, but I mostly swam with my arms and, occasionally my left leg. I might have been upset about this but I wasn’t because when I got out of the lake, my knee felt much better than before I got in. I was able to walk over 1/2 mile with my daughter. I’m hoping to go swimming again this evening.

Maybe I’m feeling better because I had a good morning. Inspired by two separate online essays, I memorized a poem: Gerard Manly Hopkin’s “Spring and Fall.” I remember first reading this poem in high school and loving it. So fun to memorize. Trying to find a poem about injury/illness, I came across Shel Silerstein’s “Sick”: “I cannot go to school today/said little Peggy Ann McKay….” I think I need to memorize it next.

Today’s poetry challenge: Rondeau
15 lines: 1 quintet, 1 quatrain, 1 sestet
8-10 syllables
refrain (r): first few words or full first line of quintet
rhyme scheme: aabba aabr aabbar

A Morning Swim, After the Rain

The water is too cold today.
No sun to warm it, not a ray.
A drop of water hits me and
makes me long for warm, dry land.

Yet, knowing that I have no say,
that I must swim, I must obey,
I bravely enter as I’d planned.
But the water is too cold.

Just feet from shore, I feel dismay.
My googles fog, the world looks gray.
My hurt knee cries out a demand
of pain that is too much to stand.
That’s it! I leave without delay.
Besides, this water is too cold!

Swam again in the afternoon. This time, 440 yards. Knee still hurts to swim. Not sure why. Decided it was too risky to do a loop. What if my knee popped out in the middle of the lake? It was tough not to swim.

Discovered while sitting on the ground with my legs extended that I can easily lift my straightened left leg, but my right one refuses. It will not lift. And when I grab my right foot to raise it, it hurts. Is this a bad sign or just the last of the injury?

Knee status: continued improvement, still walking slowly, swimming is difficult.

Treatment: ice once for 10 minutes, no ibuprofen, loosening up leg in cold water.

august 9/Stiff

Knee injury.

Day Five

My knee felt a little sore in the night, but it seems okay in the morning. Mostly stiff, a bit swollen and occasionally weak. I feel like walking is easier and that I should try to stretch out my legs and work on walking normally, but is this a bad idea? Is it too soon?

Last night, walking all the way from the parking lot to the beach was challenging. I had to walk so slow! Or was everyone else walking too fast?

There once was a girl who felt free,
she could run, she could fly, she could be
then her knee she did hurt
shortly after dessert
now she’s stuck to the ground like a tree.

The theme for today is: stiff. I’m tired of using that word, over and over and over again. What are some other words I could use?

stiff.
if 
stiff 
is too stiff, 
and boring and tedious, 
why not try other words instead:
rigid,
tense,
firm,
inflexible,
graceless,
resistant,
tight,
unyielding,
unbending.

So many of these fit, but today, I think graceless works best. A lack of grace. Awkward. Clumsy. Forced. Inelegant. Rough. Ungainly. Today, my walk is graceless.

I googled “ways to describe knees sore legs,” hoping I might find some creative inspiration. Most of the top search results were about how to describe knee pain to your doctor. I should probably read through these articles because I’m always explaining things wrong. Or too oddly. I get strange looks from doctors and not too many answers. There’s a problem here: I like strange descriptions that are weird and wonderful and imaginative. And some part of me is stubbornly attached to this strangeness, making it hard to express myself clearly or simply. But, it would be nice to be understood, at least sometimes.

Walked with Ro and the dog to Ro’s old school and back, which is 1 1/2 blocks each way. 3 blocks in total. 3 graceless blocks that I’m very grateful for.

In gratitude:
today I walked 3 blocks.
3 graceless blocks.
that’s about 2 more blocks,
than I could walk yesterday
and 2 3/4 more blocks
than the day before that
and the day before that,
the day when my knee firmly decided
that walking was not happening?
3 more blocks than that day.
oh, these simple accomplishments!
so satisfying when noticed,
so taken for granted when ignored.
today, I noticed.
how could I not?

If day four is tedious, day five is dangerous. Feeling a little better, I could try to do too much. Feeling a little more hopeful, I could move beyond the is to the as, turning my actual feelings of pain, swelling, injury into simile or metaphor or life lesson. It would be easy to reduce my injury to a valuable and necessary reminder that I have limits and that I should always pay attention to my body and how I move it in the world. As Foucault says in one of my favorite lines of his: this shift to metaphor isn’t good or bad, it’s dangerous. Metaphor produces distance. A sense of removal. They offer a space to reflect and assess but can also signal a refusal to dwell in the discomfort and to, as Marie Howe explains in her interview with Krista Tippet, “actually endure the thing itself.”

Walked from the car to the studio at a pace that felt slower than a snail. Thinking about the super sprint triathlon I’m supposed to do with Rosie on Sunday. How will I be able to run—or even walk—a mile by then?

Did 15 minutes on the bike in the front room. Watched Alma Ayana, the Olympic champion, dominate the other runners in the 10000 meters at the World Championships. Wow! She lapped about half the field and finished almost a minute ahead of the next racer. My knee was okay. Actually, I enjoyed biking, except for the last few seconds when I felt a sharp pain. Was it my knee letting me know I was done biking?

Knee status: stiff, slight improvement in mobility, walking, but snail slow or sloth slow. A few incidents of my knee buckling without warning. For one of them, I (only slightly) hurt my shoulder and wrist as I braced against the oven to avoid falling. Increasing optimism.

Treatment: Ice knee 3 times for 20 minutes. No ibuprofen, extra beer instead. Try to not take out frustration on others. Watch and sing along to High School Musical 2 with daughter.