Sunday, December 7, 2008

Bitterness?... Just Bag it!

Something in my life has come full circle. In the past, I really felt lost and often abandoned. At the conservatory I went to, I was always let down by pianists. Abandoned. As a child, my mother always managed to sit quietly while other parents bragged about their kids and say nothing. Even though my accomplishments were on a much higher level. Lost.
"Mom why don't you tell them about the competition I just won?"
I was 16 and had set winning this competition as a goal, the prior year.
"We'll let them read about it in the paper. I don't like to toot my own horn."
Ok. I felt crushed. Hidden. Like she wasn't proud of me. Almost disowned.

The paper never printed an article.

It made me bitter. Mostly it made me hurt. I love and admire my mom a lot. She's done many incredible things, and saved lives. But when it comes to her children's success, she kind of drops off. However, she is great when we're down.

So I've sought a cheering squad for most of my life. And I have it. But often, when I've needed friends for concrete tasks, I've felt let down. They are there for me emotionally, but for a helping hand (or two when it comes to pianists) somehow the stars just don't line up. I used to think it was because they didn't love me enough, but that is most definitely not the case.

More bitterness. I would lob zingers.
"Well mom, you've had dad paying the mortgage (actually not quite true.. he retired 13 years ago and she's been paying it) and you have help with everything."

Why don't I have some fucking help? Replacing lightbulbs. Painting the bathroom. Repairing broken appliances. Mowing the grass. Yardwork. Maybe I am traditional, because I'll cook a gourmet meal in a flash, and scour down the kitchen, fold underwear, and decorate with Andy Warhol flair. I just didn't want to do the "guy stuff," like yardwork.

I hate yardwork. My neighbors know it.
"Look at raking leaves as exercise. You're active."
Bite me. It's not a trail.

Over the summer, I did have some help. At the end of the summer, my brother showed up and completed a landscaping project in front of the house, and continued around the house. Everything was neat and tidy. I was tempted to just pay for a plane ticket for him, and have him come deal with the leaves.

I thought the fall leaves were a little lackluster this season. I'd mentioned it to one of my friends, who agreed. And it sort of went along with my mood. All the components were there, and I'd see an occasional vibrant tree, but things just weren't quite lining up.

I live in a beautiful historic neighborhood in Topeka. A man named Tinkam Veal designed it. Who names their kid Tinkam? That's beside the point, though. He used to work for J.C. Nichols and the neighborhood is reminiscent of Mission Hills in Kansas City.

"Wow, I've never been in this part of Topeka before. Impressive."
My friend Tim, a photographer at Action News in KC, was in town. We'd both run the Topeka to Auburn half marathon, and he stopped by afterwards for some warm, homemade soup.

The streets of Westboro are lined with giant, old oak trees. Lackluster or not on the color, the leaves look the same on the ground. Dry, dead, brown, and a real pain in the butt. They trigger my allergies too. Something I didn't mention in my Rock Creek race report, was that my lungs felt like snot.

"Sophia, what are we going to do about those leaves?"
My real estate agent was gently telling me to bag my shit.
"Curb appeal is important, Sophia."
It was unavoidable. I had to come to terms with doing something, I very much don't enjoy. Two weeks ago, I tried to put myself on a schedule. 3 bags a day. It never happened.
Why don't I have any help? Where are my friends?

I had to make a funny bargain with myself to get this done. When the alarm rang to get up and run with the MudBabes in Lawrence, I turned it off and slept a little longer. The deal? Get the yardwork finished.

"You know Sophia, you can hire this done. I've got a yard guy."
My friend John and his friend Tim were over, and offering their version of "help".
"I am unemployed. I have time. I am not going to spend money on getting this done."
"He's cheap."
"NO! I can figure this out."
"Yeah, sounds good. He's kind of a douche bag anyway."
"Ooo yikes. I hate douche bags. I like assholes."

The guys were over to help me start my lawn mower. Earlier, I filled a bag using a rake
The leaf per bag ratio was way low. It was as if I had done nothing. Not a dent, not a pimple. I cried. Seriously. Went inside, poured a cup of Sumatran Velvet coffee, sat under the skylight and wept.

I was going to have to figure out the lawn mower. A neighbor passing by had suggested it, as had Jay, my real estate agent.

“Pick up the sticks, and put your mower on the higher level.”

Fear. All the stereotypes were plaugeing my brain. Women are not mechanical. They can't fix things. Fortunately, my life coach had me take a test a year ago, that showed I had some decent concrete skills. I also remembered a portion of Scott Peck's book "The Road Less Travelled." He wrote about how he always deemed himself “unmechanical,” until he was forced to fix of all things, a lawnmower. Instead of throwing his arms up and saying bah- humbug, he took the time to see what was broken and fixed it. It took him much more time than someone with a natural propensity for mechanics, but he could do it. Let’s face it, unemployed—I have a lot of time, so I took the journey out to the garage.

I tapped into my concrete skills and committed to spending the time to figure this out.
“I am concrete. I have a tool box that’s marveled men.” Seriously.
“I love your toolbox, Sophia. It has everything you need in it.” It's true. Wrenches, phillip's screwdrivers, flatheads, spackle, spackle knives, exacto-knives, hammers. Even a drill and drill bits. You get the picture.

Back to the mower.

Hello mower. I start encouraging myself internally. I breathe evenly. I’m scared. Unbelievable. Scared of a mower. No shit, I’ll take the cougars out at Wyco any day. At least I can run from them on a trail. Something I’m wildly familiar with.

Unfamiliarity is terrifying—even if it’s a mower.
Gotta get the bag off. I observe. Oh by the way, if I had the owners instruction book, this would be much easier. But the mower was assembled by someone with far greater concrete skills, and the little book is nowhere to be found. No big deal. I’m patiently, calmly looking.

I get the bag off. Now I need to raise the mower setting. Hmm. Yes a gift! Words! My world. Familiarity. My little suck and blow Cub Cadet had written on the front:
“Single lever adjustment.” Great, just find the lever. Back to concrete, but I’ve got it.

Here’s where I had the guys come over. Didn’t quite have the physical strength to get the cold mower started, so they fired it up. I did have the mental strength though to get the job done.

During the process, my neighbor Alisha drove into her driveway.
“Hey Alisha, I’ll sweep those leaves off your driveway later. I can’t believe how I put this off.”
“That’s why I got married, so I wouldn’t have to do leaves.”
“I’ll be ok. I’ve got the system down now.”

I now have 35 bags of leaves on my curb. I did this job well. Swept the walkway and even bagged up the leaves in the street gutter.

Bitterness, turned to success. Abandonement to accomplishment. Alone to self respect.

I’m going to sidestep into a conversation I had with Brad Bishop during the Friday Hookie run.
“Sophia, which are the more regularly attended runs?”
“Well it’s tough to say, it kind of goes in waves.”
Brad is just out of college, and entering a world where he doesn’t have a “team,” to rely on for support. Feeling a little lost and abandoned himself he’s finding his place within a new group.

“I always had the cross country team before.”

I started running late in life so never had a group, really until now. Something I’ve learned about running, is that if you’re vigilant yourself it creates an energy that people want to be around. All of a sudden you have people to run with, because they know they can count on you. But first you must be able to rely on yourself for inspiration and help. It worked with the leaves.

The phone rang on Saturday. It was John and Tim, the lawnmower starters.
“Hey Soph, why don’t I just come over tomorrow with my Honda and help you with the leaves.”

Interesting, an offer of help.

“Thanks, but I’m on this now. I’m itching for the sense of accomplishment.”

Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Take care of yourself, help yourself and others will follow. And if you're feeling bitter... just bag it.

Muddy Hugs.

To my green friends: please forgive me for the gas and extra bags I used doing this project. I will carpool to my next race to make up for it.


Greg Vaughn said...

WooHoo! I'm apparently the first person to post a comment on your blog (since you changed the security settings, of course)! This makes me wanna go out and rake some leaves! It also makes me miss having a house right now. If you're ever out of hope finding someone to do the "guy stuff", then give me call. I'd never turn down the opportunity to help out a MudBabe! G

Anonymous said...

quit trying to make it work... don't you remember the days of making a fort out of the leave piles? Doesn't change when you get older.... even with your hired help... ask them to make a huge mountain of leave for you to jump in... or even better.. save it for me. ;) - Andy

Lee said...

Good job, Sophia! For someone who is a huge inspiration to newbies on the trail, this is not a surprise!

Anonymous said...

Pretty much the same advice you gave me in high school and just as timely. (Twenty years ago, it was "sloth breeds sloth" and "c'mon, get up - we are going to take a walk...") You can never underestimate the lasting positive influence that small things can have in someone's life. I'm sure you don't remember, but I do and that's the point. I would help you sack leaves any day... Hope all is well with you!
Tootie Tatum