By Boat

There are three ways to get to the Ross Lake Resort. One is via boat, truck, and a little more boat. This is the option you would choose if you happen to be in charge of the cooler probably.

You can get there by hiking and a little bit of boat. You would choose this option if you particularly like old, fast boats or particularly dislike heights and are not in charge of the cooler.

The third way to get to the Ross Lake Resort is by walking the whole way. You would choose this option if you particularly like walking over disconcertingly tall man-made structures or have a particular affinity for doing everything the hard way. The Engineer identifies with both and managed to not be in charge of the cooler.

If you chose the third way, you’d leave the truck and walk about a mile down to the Ross Dam, where you might peer tentatively over the sheer edge with your rigidly outstretched arms braced on the seems-too-low-to-reliably-keep-you-from-plunging-to-your-death concrete wall.

You would NOT become one of those people who dies taking a dam selfie.

From the dam, you would see across the short expanse of lake several small cabins floating along the far shore. You might think to yourself that you can imagine a quaint Scandinavian fishing village looking just like that.

When you step off the dam, without even a hint of irrational relief, and onto the far shore you’d follow the trail up. You might huff to yourself that the cabins are at lake level and that you don’t see the utility of the trail switchbacking so far UP. You may be forced to acknowledge at that point that you’re a bit hangry.

If you happen to be walking this trail at dusk, you may come face to face with a rather assertive toad in the middle of the trail. This toad may stare you down boldly as though she’s sure she’ll win this stand off. She’d be right of course, and you’d click your headlamp on as you tip-toed tentatively around her, trying not to make eye contact.

You probably wouldn’t glance briefly up the steep slope and think of cougars as the light continues to fade.

Eventually, the trail would fork to the right and you’d switchback down to the elevation at which you started with absolutely no trace of irrational indignation.

You may, depending on the level of the lake, scrabble down the scree left between the high water line and the patchwork of floating docks that hold the little cabins. You’d almost certainly be greeted with a hearty, “Welcome!” as though the stranger sitting outside the first cabin has been waiting for you.

If you’re very lucky, a group of warm and funny people will be waiting for you. You’ll be handed a beer and a plate piled high with something delicious. Depending on your perspective, you may be coming “home” (in a manner of speaking) to these people, or you may just feel that way. Either way, you’ll spend the evening laughing over silly anecdotes and shared memories (though new to you, you’ll feel included).

You’ll likely fall gratefully into the almost-too-short single bunk bed (definitely-too-short if you’re the Engineer) and sleep for 8 hours without moving.

If your luck continues, you’ll wake up and sip coffee that is your favorite everywhere, but tastes especially good from a splintery Adirondack chair on the narrow strip of dock. You’ll listen to the lap of gentle waves under the floating docks and marvel at the view that reminds you so strongly of the most magical place you knew as a child that it will make you scan the far shore for a glimpse of Bigfoot.

You might take a cold, noisy ride on a definitely seaworthy plywood fishing boat. You could, again if you were very lucky, spend an afternoon conquering a 1000-piece puzzle with new friends. You may, if you’re a little less lucky, discover that the second-hand 1000-piece puzzle is in fact a 999-piece puzzle. You’ll still feel a sense of accomplishment and high-five your new friend because you so cleverly identified the missing piece together rather early on.

Perhaps you’ll read some of the three books you carried in, but only a little because you’ll be repeatedly drawn into interesting conversations. You’ll very likely relish the absence of cell phone service and internet.

If you’re smart, and of course you are, you’ll savor every moment in this special place. You’ll hope, somewhat fervently, that you’ll have the opportunity to come back next year.

A story about a boy and a girl

In a galaxy far, far away and in a time long, long ago, a girl met a very cute boy during the final days of her senior year of high school. This girl and that boy went on their first date to the Keg and decided they should put an “and” between their names. For the next two decades, they knew life only with that “and.”

The boy and the girl spent those years loving each other the best they knew how, which was pretty good most of the time. In the middle the “and” moved between “Mr. and Mrs.” Over their years together they accomplished great things. They were partners and confidants and best friends. They learned new things together, bought and then remodeled houses after they swore they wouldn’t do that again. They survived financial crisis and law school, which are more similar than different. They loved together and lost together a sweet little brown dog. They rode bikes and went on adventures. She taught him to ride a horse and he showed her how to begin living without fear, mostly by teaching her to dangle from ropes in high places. She hasn’t yet mastered this skill physically or metaphorically.

They moved to a mountain together, on top of the world. And from the top of that mountain they realized the ways they saw things were very different, even though they were standing in the same place. Neither was right, and neither was wrong, but the fact was unavoidable that the time had come for their “and” to end.

As they had done nearly every other adult thing, they said goodbye to the mountain top together. They packed the last of the things into trucks headed to different destinations. They said goodbye to the endless views and the smell of pine trees and all of the rather annoying woodland creatures. They did a high five because neither of them got eaten by a cougar. They said “see ya later” to the indescribably wonderful neighbors. They took a picture together to preserve the memory, because that’s what they’ve always done.

They hugged, and she cried. They got in their trucks headed to different destinations and promised to meet for beers soon.

Get off my lawn

Sammie lifts her head, looking balefully out the window. Aero tenses.

“Not again,” Sammie grumbles. Penny doesn’t stir.

“I’m standing by, ready to freak out as soon as you tell me to, if not before!” Aero is focused intently on Sammie’s face, his whole body rigid.

“How. Many. Times. Do. I. Have. To. Tell. You…” Sammie slowly rises.

“GET OFF HER F*CKING LAWN GET OFF HER F*CKING LAWN GET OFF HER F*CKING LAWN!” Aero never looks away from Sammie. This is his job, and he knows it well.

Penny bursts off the couch from a dead sleep, “LOUD NOISES I HELP TOO!”

“GET. OFF. MY. F*CKING. LAWN.” Sammie will not tolerate this disrespect.

Clearly, the man and the little dog get the message, as they don’t even consider pausing on the sidewalk outside Sammie’s house.

“Good,” she huffs. “Don’t let it happen again.”

Face down in the arena

I’ve been able to see the consequences of my worst decisions coming from a mile away. In the book, Rising Strong by Brené Brown, she calls these “face down in the arena” moments. That’s supposed to be a metaphor, but for me, one of the clearest lessons I’ve ever learned in trusting my instincts landed me literally face down in an actual arena.

In the winter of 2017, I fancied myself a bit of a horse trainer. I had bought a horse from a good friend (and actual trainer) that had been rescued from the slaughter pipeline. My friend had given her a chance at life. She was untouched when she came out of the “kill pen” and I watched as my friend gentled her, taught her to wear a saddle and to carry a rider. Her name was Fiona.

Fiona was absolutely stunning. A Morgan-Belgian cross, she was stout but floated when she moved. She had this goofy, sweet, calm demeanor. She took to her training beautifully. I already had a horse, but she was perfect for my husband who I had convinced needed one of his own. 

A couple of months after we bought her, the snow was melting and she started acting strangely. She would stomp, back up, and refuse to move with a rider on her back. Prior to this we had been riding her without any issues. We immediately stopped riding her and began looking for a problem. We consulted our vet, tried hormones, got her treated by an equine chiropractor, and gave her special herbs over the period of a couple of months. Exhaustively, we ruled out any physical issues, and the vet gave me the go-ahead to ride her again.

Spoiler alert: this is where I went wrong. And I knew it. I put a saddle on her and took her out to the arena. I asked one of the trainers at the barn if she planned to be around for a while, “in case I end[ed] up on the ground.”

I mean, come on!

Out in the arena I placed my left foot in the left stirrup and swung gently up into the saddle. I sat there for a moment and patted Fiona on the neck. I asked her with a subtle shifting of my seat to move forward. She stood still. I rocked my seat a little more insistently, asking her to step forward. She stood like her feet were rooted into the ground. I wiggled my hips forward and back and vibrated my legs. Nothing. I started gently tapping the sides of my feet against her side with escalating intensity. Still, she stood. Finally, I gave her a solid kick with both legs.

Well, that did it. Fiona took four quick steps forward and then launched at least 13 feet in the air. I don’t remember if she turned in the air or if she landed and then did a hard left and bucked again. Either way, I launched off her back at a 45 degree angle from our initial direction of travel (she went 90 and I split the difference).

I did my best impression of Superwoman after four gin and tonics, flying through the air with my right arm leading. My right hip hit the ground first in a burning white flash of pain, followed a nanosecond later by the back of my shoulder and outstretched right arm. My head bounced next to my elbow. Lucky for me, my mom had drilled the helmet rule into me long enough to form a habit before I started making my own bad choices so I got away with that.

The pain in my shoulder was blinding, disorienting. I struggled to my knees on the verge of hyperventilating. I was sure my collarbone was broken. Reflexively, I pressed my left hand against the front of my right shoulder. I felt a nauseating thunk as the ball of my humerus slid back into its rightful place. I inhaled sharply through my nose and stood up as the world closed in. I screwed my eyes shut and repeated to myself, “Kristin is watching. YOU WILL NOT PUKE YOU WILL NOT PASS OUT.”

Fortunately, that was the first time I was right all day.

Pain has this wonderful way of making lessons sticky and casting memories in sharp relief. Today, my shoulder has healed, and my pride has always been pretty bouncy. But now when my gut whispers at me to listen, my shoulder chimes in, too. And I tend to do so a little more reliably than I have in the past.

In the Arena

This isn’t my first attempt at blogging. I’ve had many, many false starts. One of the reasons I’ve failed in the past is from fear of putting my creative product out in the world for judgment by others. That is still terrifying, and something I have to overcome with every post. I can hardly bear to promote it on social media. I can’t help but translate potential judgment of my writing to judgment of me. In theory, I know that’s irrational. But I’ve never claimed to be particularly rational about these sorts of things.

It’s been three weeks of writing and posting nearly every day, and I can’t say it has gotten much easier. In fact, I can’t even take that much credit for being this consistent for this long. I’m sure I would have come up with an excellent excuse by now for not writing every day or not posting every day if left to my own devices. Every reluctant creative needs at least one person in their life who refuses to listen to excuses and holds them to task to reach their full potential. I’m extraordinarily lucky to have one of those people. So I write and post (mostly) every day even when it’s hard and scary.

In conversation yesterday we discussed the topic of “trolls.” This isn’t a problem I have to deal with at the moment, but my blog hasn’t exactly gone viral yet. I mentioned that I had heard the following quote,* which I was desperately trying to internalize from Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 “Man in the Arena” speech:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; … who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

We agreed that worrying about what other people think, for the most part, isn’t worth my energy. Especially when those people criticize from safe and comfortable places. I wondered about a hypothetical future in which my work gets criticized by someone “in the arena.” He responded, and I’m paraphrasing slightly, “That would be great! We’ll celebrate that day, because it means you will have gotten the attention of someone who matters.”

Gulp. Cheers to that!

*From Rising Strong by Brené Brown.

We’re all just doing the best we can

Imagine a person you’re really mad at. Someone who has wronged you. Someone, perhaps, who has acted selfishly or unreliably or inappropriately. You’re no doubt telling yourself a story about why that person acted in that way, and perhaps you’re the victim of that story. How do you feel? Frustrated? Angry? Hurt? Betrayed?

Now imagine knowing without a doubt that person is doing their very best.* They’re handling the situation the best they can with the tools they have. They’re using the information they have, the resources they have, and the coping skills they have to do their very best. Imagine you absolutely know that to be true. Does that change how you feel about this situation?

It does for me. Shit.

It is so much easier to stay angry with someone when you can assume they’re just a terrible person. That they’re out to get you. If you assume they’re just doing the best they can with the tools they have, you might have to feel something else. Responsibility? Guilt? Acceptance?

This is not to say you should allow yourself to be treated badly. After accounting for your own responsibility, someone else’s best may not be right for you. It may not meet your needs. It may cross a boundary you have set (or need to set?). But accepting that we’re all just doing the best we can with the tools we have allows us to do something important. It allows us to move past hurt and anger and start the process of forgiveness.

*This exercise comes from a book I’m currently reading, Rising Strong by Brené Brown. I highly recommend it.

On vulnerability

I’m learning one of the keys to success in relationships, any relationship really, is vulnerability. To truly connect with other people, you have to let them see you. And they don’t really see you unless they see all of you, including the metaphorically messy, smelly, less-than-perfect bits.

This isn’t a particularly groundbreaking insight. But, there’s more to it. To truly master vulnerability is to allow space for vulnerability in your partner. This is most relatably framed in the context of romantic partnerships, but in my opinion, applies to all relationships.

This is way harder than it sounds, I think. There are some deeply ingrained gender expectations that impact vulnerability in relationships. Under traditional gender roles, men are simply not allowed to be vulnerable. Even the most enlightened woman, if she’s honest with herself, may be instinctively uncomfortable with displays of vulnerability by a male partner. But I would posit that anyone who is uncomfortable with vulnerability in others of any gender isn’t truly mastering their own vulnerability.

You’ll likely hear a lot more from me on this issue in future posts. I’ve recently been turned on to the writing of Brené Brown and I’m currently devouring her work. If you’re interested in the topic of vulnerability, I recommend checking her out.

And speaking of vulnerability, I’m collecting stories of relationships that have transitioned. If you would like to practice your vulnerability, consider sharing a story (anonymously if you wish!) here.

The hard things

It’s going to be okay.

The hard thing you fear, it’s not going to be so bad. The heavy panicky feeling that has all but displaced the air in your chest will pass. The sticky thick dread that clings to the back of your skull won’t last. You’ll feel the last punch of adrenaline right before you do the thing, but on the other side will be a businesslike lightness and sense of relief.

This is true pretty well regardless of what hard thing you’re dreading. The dreading of the thing is the hard thing. Even if the thing seems really, really hard. Taking the first step will make you understand that it’s survivable.

I’m here to tell you, it really is going to be okay. Quit the job if that’s the right call for you. End the relationship if that’s what you need. Have the tough conversation, fire the employee, break the lease, move across the country. You already know what you need to do, don’t you? It’s the doing that you’re struggling with.

You’ll take the first step and then second step will reveal itself to you. There might be a third and a fourth step. This may become a series of hard things you have to do, but that’s okay because now you’re used to doing. You survived the first thing, you have experience. You know what it takes and that you can do it.

For now, all you have to do is the thing you know needs to be done.

In search of failure and terrible ideas

The road to success is paved with failure. Or something like that. Also, the way to have good ideas is to have many, many bad ideas. I believe this is true, but thinking about it makes my face all scrunchy. I don’t like having bad ideas, and I sure as hell don’t like failing. I think that paralyzes me. Trying to avoid bad ideas results in avoiding ideas. And the only way to avoid failure is to avoid action.

I’m not going to let fear of failure keep me from moving forward. It’s time to start having lots of bad ideas.