Risk

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The inevitable emotional emergency

Monday, June 15th, 2015

Well, it finally happened. I freaked out and lost my mind.

Back in January, I applied for a job that I was eventually offered in May. This means that for the past six months, I have lived with the possibility (and now plan) of leaving Colorado – and even after making the decision, it’s felt like a whim. Oh sure, I’m moving across the country, I’ve thought. Everything will come together. I’ve had the poise of Kate Middleton, if not bigger thighs, and moved through my days with a serenity that, as it turns out, I am not qualified for.

I’ve been sailing off into the sunset, only to wake up this morning and panic that THE EARTH IS NOT ROUND I WILL FALL OFF THE EDGE.

I am still three weeks away from starting my new job, but I will only sleep at my house for four more nights. On Friday, I’m picking up a moving truck and loading all of my worldly possessions into it, then driving to Minneapolis alone. I’ve hired men to help me unload my stuff into a storage unit, where it will stay for over a month while I fly back to Colorado, go to a wedding, celebrate my mom’s birthday in the mountains, leave my dog with my dad, drive all the way back to Minnesota, temporarily move in with friends, start my new job, and eventually, hopefully, close on a new house – which will result in a reunion with my dog and a second moving of all of my stuff at the end of July.

In the meantime, I am hemorrhaging money, picking at a rotisserie chicken carcass for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in an empty kitchen, and wishing for everything to be different. Easier. Safe.

But like Mary Engelbreight reminds us:

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 7.12.36 PM

(I promise never to do that to you again.)

In all seriousness, risk is risky. Adventure and discomfort go hand-in-hand. But aren’t you curious? Don’t you want to know what might happen if you just step out into the unknown? For all of the mystery, I would rather walk forward into the unmapped and uncharted than know exactly what tomorrow will bring. (Because after all, it’s probably rotisserie chicken off the carcass.)

When it comes down to it, come August, I’m going to be unpacking my clothes into a closet with Foxy at my feet, and readying a guest room for you to come visit. And if you need further persuasion as to why Minneapolis is worth a look-see, help yourself to these articles:

“The Miracle of Minneapolis” – The Atlantic
“Minnesota’s New Cool Image as ‘The North'” – The Wall Street Journal

It’s going to be great (she says, after a good cry, some frozen pizza, and 20K+ steps on her Fitbit).

Why I’m doing what I’m doing

Monday, June 16th, 2014

Are you stressed? Aggravated? Fed up? Worn out?

Call Annie Parsons – the Bullshit Exterminator.

This is what one of my beloved co-workers called me today – a moniker I proudly accept.

Listen, life is too much these days. I’m inordinately stressed at work. I’m in the midst of an insurance battle over my roof. I cannot for the life of me get a single lawn service company to call me back. Foxy came back from our weekend backpacking trip with a “small wound” that had to be treated at the vet. Projects just keep not getting finished. My inbox is overflowing, my patience is dwindling, and today, I couldn’t take it anymore.

Shaky rage-voice was used. Emails went flying. I put my foot down. I took action. In essence, I exterminated the bullshit.

I am *thisclose* to teetering off the edge – so it’s a good thing that I leave on the Colorado Trail in just 12 days. I am so ready – so so so so ready – to close my computer.

Am I ready to be alone in the mountains for over 4 weeks? Who knows. But it’s happening – and it’s happening soon.

To be clear, my lack of emotional bandwidth is not solely about my job. For most of us, work is stressful – I’m not unique in this regard. It’s about so much more than work.

The further I grow into being a so-called grown-up, the more I feel myself bucking against the absolute nonsense that “adulthood” tends to bring with it. Some days I feel that I’m losing the person that I once was, the person that I want to believe that I still am, the one with dreams and passions and gumption and guts. I love Annie the Risk Taker. What happened to her? She’s been bound and gagged by what others have told her is “reality”: worst case scenarios and doomsday forecasts and fiscal cliffs and snowballs of disppointment and never, ever getting your hopes up.

But I know better than that.

It’s time to steal my life back. It’s time to remember all of the things that used to make me come alive, that used to make my heart skip a beat.

Who knows if walking alone into the mountains is the way to do it? But it seems worth a shot.

mountain

Adventure

Monday, January 6th, 2014

I’ve been thinking a lot about adventure. So many of us crave it – but what is it, actually?

Is it doing something crazy – quitting your job and selling everything you own and taking off for parts unknown? Is it doing something risky – hanging from cliffs and diving out of planes and willingly allowing your life to hang in the balance? Is it doing something gigantic – traveling around the world and living large and turning heads?

All of those things certainly count as adventure – and my life has included some of those moments. But could it be that the experience doesn’t have to be berserk in order for it to make you feel alive?

Because I think that that’s what adventure really is: an experience that makes you feel alive. Something that snaps you into the present, a place most of us are more comfortable avoiding. Often, all that takes is doing something out of the ordinary, something different than usual, something that you’re not exactly sure will work out.

I woke up on Saturday morning, the only thought in my head, “I don’t want to stay home.” I love my little house, and am usually perfectly content to spend time within the four walls, but something about this weekend had me itching to get out. The weather was inopportune, as the snow had started overnight and was continuing to come down, blowing in blustery circles, slicking the roads and driving people inside.

But I needed an adventure.

So I grabbed my snowshoes, loaded up Foxy, and drove west.

snowshoe

If you live in Colorado, you know that I-70 is the worst place to be on a weekend morning. The ski traffic is merciless, and when you add bad roads into the mix, it can be aggravatingly slow. And about 30 minutes into my drive, that’s exactly where I found myself: bumper to bumper, creeping along at less than 5 mph, wheels grasping for grip on the ice.

“This is stupid,” I thought. “I should turn around.”

But something in me said to stick it out. I wanted to find out what might happen if I just kept going for as long as I could.

After an hour and a half, I reached Idaho Springs (a mere 30 miles from Denver), and then turned south onto an unplowed mountain road. I drove for 14 dicey miles until I reached my intended destination. And Foxy and I headed out into the winter air, where we explored in complete stillness and peace.

snowshoe1

I thought back to the moment I had wanted to turn around, and realized that that’s when the adventure began. It’s the moment when you’re not sure if your plan is going to work, or if it will, how. The decision to keep going despite the unknowns, heading into something out of the ordinary, is unsettling and exciting (two things which often co-exist). And often, the “getting there” is just as much a part of the adventure as the destination itself.

So cook something new for dinner. Take a different road home. Sign up for the art class. Throw your name in the hat – for a job, an opportunity, a relationship. Loosen your grip on control so your hands are free to grab life and enjoy the shit out of it. Foxy will show you how.

snowshoe2

How to be Social: A Guide for the Introvert

Monday, June 17th, 2013

I love a big party. I’m far from shy. I can carry a conversation, nail a job interview, draw a stranger out of her shell, and tell a good story.

But I am also an introvert, which means that if left to my own devices, I would hang out by myself basically all of the time. I don’t hate people, I don’t hate fun, I’m not (always) socially awkward – I’m just more content than the average person to be alone. I like being alone. I need it. When I’m alone, I feel creative, laugh out loud at jokes I make up in my head, drive my car in silence, and sort through my emotions like a boss.

But just because I’m an introvert doesn’t mean that I’m immune to loneliness. And just because my tendency is to choose solitude doesn’t mean that it’s always the best thing for me.

So I’m learning how to occasionally combat my natural disposition, because I believe that people are actually pretty spectacular creatures and it’s worth it to spend my time with them. Go figure.

So without further ado, here are my thoughts on How to be Social (and So Can You!).

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PLAN AHEAD
When it comes to social activity, introverts aren’t the best with spontaneity. For example, if I drive home from my open floor plan office where I’ve been within arm’s reach of people all day long and I don’t have any evening plans, chances are that I will turn down any last-minute invites to spend time with friends because LEAVE ME ALONE.

But when an introvert puts something on the calendar and has an opportunity to mentally prepare, the chance is greater for social success. So I’m trying to project out a week or two in advance and agree to at least one event each week. And then I spend the days before gathering up every ounce of energy I can muster in hopes that I’ll be happy and personable when I attend the event. Sometimes it works, sometimes it…

Sometimes it works.

TAKE RISKS
I don’t like to do things that I don’t know I’m going to enjoy or be good at, so I tend to stick with what I know. I eat the exact same thing for breakfast every single day, I don’t go wakeboarding, I ignore volunteer opportunities, and I hike alone so there’s no chance of awkward conversation with a companion. Then again, there’s more chance of death by bear mauling. I suppose that’s the trade-off.

But I’m learning to just say yes, even if I’m not so sure about it. Go see a band I’ve never heard of? Yes. Look a stranger in the eye at the grocery store? Yes. Head downtown to an event even though I don’t know exactly where to park? Yes. The little risks add up, and all of a sudden, I’m meeting new people and doing new things and the story of my life has literally changed.

HIDE IN THE BATHROOM
When I find myself surrounded by people, I’ve decided it’s okay to take breaks to clear my head. I politely excuse myself, shut the bathroom door, and lean my head against the doorframe like a crazy person about to lose her mind. It’s okay.

But I’m not allowed to escape out the window, and neither are you.

Take a deep breath, fix your hair in the mirror, and get back out there. Take it from me: introverts are fabulous, and it would be rude to withhold ourselves from the world.

SPEND TIME ALONE
Counterintuitive, yes. After all, aren’t we talking about how to be social?

But introverts are wired a certain way. We will self-destruct if we don’t take the time to refuel in solitude. If we pressure ourselves to DO MORE! SAY MORE! HANG OUT WITH PEOPLE MORE! all of the time, we will fall apart and probably be a miserable person to the people we’re trying so hard to interact with.

Hole up sometimes. You’ll thank yourself later.

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Yesterday, I didn’t leave my house until 4pm. I spray painted a picture frame and played guitar and watched three episodes of “The Bachelorette” (a topic for another time) and wrote a few emails and organized my bathroom and did laundry and reveled in extravagant silence.

Then, when it was time, Toad and I walked out the door and we drove to a party in Boulder. I chatted with people I had never met, caught up with the few I knew, and put two chicken breasts on the grill so I would have dinner for a week. Later on, I drove to Lafayette and walked into a house I’d never been and met a bunch of new people, and I took out my guitar and we all played songs and sang, and I learned 4 chords on the banjo so I could be as backwoods as I’ve always known I am, and I whispered about heartbreak to a new friend, and when the clock read close to 11 and I finally left, I put Toad back in the car and we drove through the darkness in silence and I thought, “Whatever today was, I want more of it.”

Wanting

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

There’s nothing like being on the brink of a major life decision to make a girl have a meltdown.

Over the weekend, I was working fast and furious toward something that I thought might materialize, only to find out that the dream was dead on arrival. On Monday night, I called my mom in tears – not so much about the thing not working out, but because I was crashing from the adrenalin rush of almost, almost making a significant change.

Big decisions are a big deal whether you’re making them alone or not, but I’m reminded that I don’t always like carrying the full weight of those decisions by myself. Sometimes you just want an arm around your shoulder.

It’s a scary thing to admit that you want something, because all of a sudden, you’re admitting that it matters. And once you admit that something matters, the potential for disappointment exists: if it doesn’t happen, it could hurt.

But these days, I’m wanting – I’m wanting a lot. And I’m learning to admit it. I don’t know where this wanting will lead, but whatever happens, I would rather want and risk pain than be safe but numb.

Today, I’m flying to LA for a crazy-busy few days of work. My hair is looking okay and I’ve done a great job packing my suitcase, which is always a personal victory. I’ll be back in blogging action next week – until then, channel your inner Ariel and don’t be afraid to want something.

If you only read one thing today

Monday, March 4th, 2013

read this.

Longs Peak

Monday, September 10th, 2012

On Saturday, I climbed my 31st 14er, and my toughest one to date, Longs Peak.

Believe me when I tell you that two days later, my entire body hurts.  Not just my quads, y’all – my entire body.  I’m talking about the fronts of my ankles, and the tops of my shoulders, and that fat little hand muscle below the thumb – the one that I imagine would taste like a buffalo wing.  (Consider yourself warned: if we ever find ourselves together in a life or death situation a la “Alive,” I’m going for the buffalo wing.)

The day started just two hours after I went to sleep.  My alarm went off at 12:30am, and I drove to meet the band of strangers that would be my companions for the day.  The only girl in the bunch, I introduced myself, ate a Pop-Tart, and at 2:30am, we were off.

The first 4 hours were in the dark, our path illuminated only by our headlamps and a half moon.  At one point, we turned off our lights to look at the stars – and I can’t remember when I’ve seen stars that bright.  Despite my lack of sleep, I was energetic, and kept up with the men just fine.

As the sky began to grow light, the mountain started to reveal itself.

Longs Peak looming large

And I turned just in time to see the sun come up.

Sunrise

Six miles in, we approached the Keyhole, a huge rock formation that serves as the gateway to the last mile and a half to the summit, and the game changer in terms of terrain.  Up until the Keyhole, it’s just a long hike – but everything from the Keyhole on is a tricky and challenging climb, with an abundance of narrow ledges, loose rock, and near vertical ascensions.  My dad’s advice to me the day before was to “manage my emotions”; he knows me all too well.

The Keyhole - Longs Peak

The Keyhole – Longs Peak

First came the Ledges, a series of vary narrow ridges along a cliff edge.  Hearing that I’ve historically harbored a fear of exposure, our fearless leader Mark gave me the advice to always keep a hand on the rock wall and to never look down.  Now usually, when presented with the command of “don’t look down,” I almost always look down; ever pragmatic, I want to know the grave reality of my circumstances.  But this time, I took Mark’s advice – and I made it across the Ledges with no moments of panic.

Next was the Trough, a 600 vertical foot couloir (a word that my fellow climber Jim taught me – one that makes me feel très French).  The gully is filled with loose rock, which made the wisdom of our climbing helmets all the more obvious.  At the top of the Trough, I was tired – but we weren’t to the summit yet.

Photo by Dan Biro – and that’s my booty

Then came the Narrows, a constricted ledge that took us across another vertical rock face.  Whoever named it “the Narrows” was not messing around; nothing forces you into the present moment like the potential of falling to your death.  I found this video that gives a brief glimpse of the path – and it’s even more dizzying than YouTube makes it look.

Finally, we came to the Homestretch, a polished granite slab at a nearly 90 degree angle.  Hand over foot, it took about 15 minutes to climb 300 feet – and by 9am, we were at the summit.

Homestretch

Photo via iorg.com

We had gorgeous weather, and stayed on the summit for a full hour – longer than I’ve ever hung out on top of a mountain.  I had a brief moment of cell service, and posted this picture for the world to see – bright eyed and proud to have conquered Longs Peak.

(And for those who are keeping score, yes, I realize that this is the exact same picture as the one I took on the summit of Mt. Elbert last summer.  Apparently it’s my signature mountain look.)

Believe it or not, the descent was tougher than the ascent, since we were basically forced to crab walk for a mile and a half back to the Keyhole.  Try climbing off the top of a mountain down steep, sheer rock faces – it’s not for sissies.  Many accidents occur on the way down from a summit, since it’s easy to think that “the hard part is over” when, all the while, your body is that much more tired.

When we made it through the Keyhole and back to the trail, I was exhausted.  It was hard to lift my feet, and my legs felt wobbly.  The miles stretched on and on.  With every twist in the trail, I hoped to see the end – only to be met with more of the same.  It felt like it would last forever.

But 6 hours from the summit, after talking about everything from snowshoeing to dating to “Brian’s Song” (note: if you want to see grown men get emotional, just mention “Brian’s Song”), we emerged from the trees.  We were finished, back at the cars, pulling off boots and peeling off socks.  No matter what you go through, I can tell you this: nothing compares to putting on sandals after a 15-mile excursion.

I was so fortunate to climb with a great group of men through the Colorado Mountain Club – seasoned mountaineers who were encouraging, experienced, and pleasant company – and I am more than proud to check Longs Peak off my list.  It’s a mountain that had given me stress dreams for weeks, as I read first-hand accounts of the challenges (and occasional deaths) along the trail.

But I was encouraged to find that my last few years of mountain climbing have strengthened my courage and confidence; as with so many things in life, experience builds backbone.  I didn’t have any moments of panic, never hyperventilated (something that has happened to me on mountains before), and hand over hand, step by step, focused on one move at a time. This climb forced me to live only in the present moment – which is the only place that life happens, anyway.

Chalk it up to another real life lesson learned in the mountains.

My one wild and precious life

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

On Friday morning, I went skydiving – and I smiled the entire time.  Do you need proof?  Oh, I have proof.

Here I am with my dad beforehand.  Smiling.

Here I am about to climb onto the plane with my instructor/partner/my-entire-life-is-in-your-hands guy, Matt.  Smiling.

Here I am in mid-air.  SMILING LIKE IT’S THE BEST THING THAT’S EVER HAPPENED.

(Come on, is that not the HAPPIEST you have ever seen me?)

And here I am, windblown but safe and sound on the ground with Matt.  Smiling.  Smiling.  Smiling.

As one with a historic fear of heights and smashing and death, skydiving might seem the wrong activity – but I can honestly say that my fears never came into play that morning.  I showed up calm, put on a jumpsuit, pulled my hair back into a ponytail – and then, jumped out of an airplane.

In a culture full of suspicion and defense, it’s a magnificent thing to trust a perfect stranger with your life.  I had no idea what I was doing – didn’t even read the release form as I signed it (which is probably for the best) – but I never questioned the instructions I got from Matt.  I took him at his word.  And as vulnerable as that may have made me, I never felt afraid.

I did, however, scream involuntarily for long stretches of time.  I couldn’t help that part.

Mary Oliver asked, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  I hope that my answer always includes an amount of risk, the extension of trust, and falling face-forward into whatever may come… wearing a gigantic smile.

A beautiful maybe

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

“Is it okay for me to jump?” he yelled.

I watched him pump his legs back and forth, swinging higher and higher until he was holding steady at a significant height. He and his brother had formed their own sort of Olympic game, gaining momentum and then jumping from their swings to see who could fly the furthest and “stick the landing.” Up until now, he’d been playing it safe, never risking too much, choosing to jump only from a reasonable altitude.

But now, I could see him wanting to push the boundaries, to go even higher, to let go even when it might feel crazy – and he wanted me to tell him if it was okay.

I watched him, wild eyed and wild haired, 7-years old and still so innocent. School has brought some exposure to the real world, with all of its ugliness and injustice – but mostly, he is unmarked. The thought of anything bad happening to him wrings my heart down the middle like a dishrag.

“I don’t know, buddy. How do you feel about it?”

He kept pumping his legs; he hadn’t lost any height. He looked at his brother swinging next to him, and then back at me. “Is this too high?”

I thought back to that feeling, swinging high, waiting for the perfect moment to leap. How do you ever know when the time is right? And how do you explain that feeling to someone else – all of the little confirmations that lead to the confident risk? I realized that I couldn’t answer the question for him.

“If you feel like you can jump from that high, then you probably can.”

His face flashed fear, courage, and a beautiful maybe. And with one more pump, he let go of the chains and sailed through the air, landing solidly on both feet, fists in the air.

I’ve never seen a smile so big.

Shavano & Tabeguache

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

As some of you may know, I’ve spent the past few summers climbing as many 14ers (mountains over 14,000’ high) as I can.  There are 54 in Colorado, and while I’m not sure that I have a goal of climbing every single one of them, I love the challenge and adventure that each one brings.

As of Friday night, I had climbed 26 14ers – just one away from having bagged half of the total 54.  I really wanted to make it past the halfway point, so I planned to climb two mountains on Saturday, Shavano and Tabeguache.  These mountains are just outside of Salida, which is a good distance from Denver, so I was driving by 4:30am in order to hit the trailhead by 7:30 or so – which already felt like a late start, but the best that I could do.

The 3-hour drive was uneventful, and I psyched myself up for a long day of hiking.  But when I finally pulled up at the trailhead, I was met with a gigantic sign: “NO TRESPASSING. VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED.”

I was crushed.  Ever a rule-follower, I didn’t dare take that trail – because it would be just my luck to be met by a man with a shotgun, or worse, a man with a banjo.

Defeated, I thought, “I should just drive back to Denver.”

But then I thought of how much money I had spent on gas, and how I’d eaten a gigantic piece of banana bread and needed to burn it off, and how much I wanted to check another mountain off of my list – and I decided not to give up just yet.  I pulled out my 14ers book and searched for another path up the peaks, and when I found one that looked promising, I drove 30 minutes around the mountain to a different trailhead.

By this time, it was after 8am, and the sun was high and bright.  As one with a healthy fear of afternoon storms above tree-line, I had some reservations about starting so late.  “What if I get struck by lightning?” I thought.  “Who would take care of Toad?  Who would water my basil?  I should just go home.”

But again, that slice of banana bread taunted me.  As is the case with so many of my decisions, if nothing else, I needed to burn some calories.  So I decided to start hiking and just see how far I could go before it got too late in the day.  Maybe I would make it to the top of the first peak – maybe – but I tossed aside any illusions of being able to climb both.

I wound up making great time (fine: I tore up the trail, passing every grown man in my path, and felt a little bit smug about it), and was at the top of Shavano in less than 3 hours.  That alone felt like a victory – I had climbed my 27th 14er, and was halfway to 54.  I could go back to the car and feel decent about my efforts.  I texted my dad and told him that I was at the top of Shavano, and was done for the day.  I strapped on my pack, and turned back the way that I came.

But then I looked over at Tabeguache.

It was so close – only a mile away – and yet so, so far.  To reach the summit, I would have to climb all the way down Shavano, and then all the way up Tabeguache – and then I would have to turn around and re-climb Shavano in order to get back to the car.  That would make for three summits in a day.  I didn’t know if I had it in me, but…

“I could do it,” I thought.  “I could do it.”

And you know what?  I did it.  Before I could talk myself out of it, I booked it off of Shavano, scrambling over boulders and scampering down the trail like a – I was going to say a “mountain goat,” but probably a more accurate description would be a “really gigantic, loping mountain troll” – only to reach the base of Tabeguache and have to go straight back up, only to reach the top of Tabeguache and go straight back down, only to reach the base of Shavano and go straight back up, only to reach the top of Shavano and go straight back down.  The thunder and lightning started as soon as I reached tree-line, and it poured for the last hour of my hike.  By the time I arrived back at my Subaru, I was sopping wet and shivering – but so happy.  I was happy to be finished and happy to be alive and happy to have climbed 27 AND 28 – meaning that I’m over halfway to 54.

Even when you’re positive you know how something is going to turn out, maybe you should try it anyway.  Maybe instead of turning around, you should keep going.  Maybe you should risk a little rain just to see how far you can make it, just to see if you can outrun the lightning, just to see what it feels like to surprise yourself.