Posts Tagged hope

The Art of Running in the Rain

I woke up today at the usual ungodly hour. After silencing one of my many alarms, I heard the hushed sound of falling rain outside. It was a scheduled day for a run. As I began going through the daily morning routine, I weighed my options. Yes, I have run in everything from blizzards to hurricanes, but with the current pandemic of flu circulating, I preferred to reduce my risk of lowering my immune system and tempting fate. After further consideration, I decided to go out for the run.

For the twenty plus years I have been actively running, some of my best runs have been in the rain. I really cannot point to one reason why, it is just the way it usually works out. People who are not avid (read fanatic) runners often ask why anyone would go for a run in the rain during near freezing temperatures, while the runners just smile and nod. Perhaps it is my knowing that during those days I will only see the most diehard runners out there and we will nod and wave in a mutual understanding; or maybe it is more that I know that I will rediscover the reason or reasons I run.

Over the past few years I have been dealing with a few nagging injuries, the latest one sidelined my running for several months. Recently, I have begun slowly working back up to the speed and mileage that I had prior to the injury. It has literally been a process of re-education on the basics of running; mentally and physically. Running in the rain presents additional challenges like avoiding puddles, potholes, and drive-by tsunamis. Throw in the fact that at this time of year I run before daylight and the logistics can be more than a little disconcerting while recovering from an injury.

Still, I embraced the challenge. As I set out on the run, the rain fell lightly, without any discernable breeze to complement it. The temperature was well above freezing, so ice was not an issue. Out on the road, I had to plan my steps well ahead of time, avoiding all that I could without the benefit of ambient light. Only two cars passed me around West Chop, normal for this season. I began to get a feel for where to step and where to avoid, even while correcting my stride and pace for my still recovering injury. While the run was challenging, I felt more confident with every passing mile.

I continued to run past my initial turn that would have ended my usual loop. With my confidence bolstered and my stride having become quite comfortable, I decided to extend the distance just a bit. When I did turn to begin the final leg of the run, I had the energy and rhythm to increase my pace ever so slightly; something that had not been the case for quite some time while recuperating. At the end, I felt tired, but not spent. The rain continued to fall as I went inside the house to stretch and cool down.

Once again, one of my best runs happened as rain fell consistently, challenging conventional thoughts otherwise. As I reflect on that run, I find the parallels to my life of the past several years, persevering through conditions that many others might falter or concede. The fact that I (or anyone) simply continues on and deals with whatever life doles out is a testament of the human spirit. Sometimes we can sidestep the puddles, other times we just need to splash right through them in order to reach the other side. Whatever it takes, just keep running.

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Five Years, Six Figures, Nine Lives

As I type this, I am thinking back to the lowest points that I have known in my life. None have really been life threatening, but a few made me shudder. One of the lowest was the aftermath of the house fire that left me questioning what my next step would be, when actually it was just taking one day at a time. The fire was in January of 2006. Planning and rebuilding took longer and cost more than expected, as it usually does. By September of 2007, I had finished the apartment, but not the main living space of the new house. It was also about this time that the economy started to sour and credit started to dry up, just when I needed it most.

I had maxed out the equity of both houses I owned, borrowed all I could from my family and friends, and finally resorted to my credit cards. Of the nearly dozen or so credit cards I had open, some had begun lowering my credit limits, and others closed them altogether. I used up the credit on every one that had funds available, to the tune of more than six figures. This was in the form of convenience checks and EFTs directly into my checking account in order to pay my contractor’s invoices during the construction process. When September rolled around in 2007, my contractor presented me with two invoices that had been a long time coming. He had said he needed more time to put them together, but when he did, they were a great deal more than he had estimated. I remember standing with him in the unfinished kitchen, looking at the invoices, turning to him and saying, “Stop. Stop everything your guys are doing and leave. I’m broke. I cannot pay these invoices. We’re done here.” His jaw dropped, he stammered, and I stopped him, saying, “I’m broke.”

Several weeks later, as I sat in bed in the apartment, my mind raced through all that had happened since the fire; my business slowing down, my credit lines disappearing, the uncertain financial future. I had begun commuting to New York City every week in order to work with clients there, as well as the clients I had on Martha’s Vineyard. I dreaded the long commute. I felt as if I had no alternatives. I lay back and stared at the ceiling, listening to the wind outside. In less than a week, I had more than ten thousand dollars in payments to banks due and not more than a hundred dollars left in my savings and checking accounts combined. I could not think of a more dire time in my life, financially or otherwise.

When I got out of bed that next morning, I took a deep breath and vowed to never give up. I worked deals with every client that would take my call. I cut deals for packages paid for weeks, if not months, in advance. I called the bank that was handling my home equity line of credit and applied to refinance my mortgage from another bank with their line of credit into a new mortgage. I floated my personal accounts into my business accounts and transferred, consolidated, or restructured whatever I could until things stabilized. Smoke and mirrors, whatever it took to get by until the next payments were due.

So earlier tonight I made the final payment on the last credit card that I had maxed out. It took five years to pay off six figures of credit card debt. Straight up, no special programs or deals with companies that want a piece of the action. I went all in and made it out alive. One day at a time, that was all I had. I wonder how many lives I have used so far, how many I have left?

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Lather Rinse Repeat

The past few days have been unseasonably warm on Martha’s Vineyard. Track & Field season has begun. All signs point to the beginning of the busy season for my schedule. The mental list of things to do will soon morph into a daily routine that will eventually become a grind sometime in August and continue until the tourists decide it is over. We all have our routines that we follow; morning coffee, time in the gym, reading before bed. Whatever the routine might be, it is always good to consider whether you shape the routine, or the routine shapes you.

Often is the case that we continue to do something a certain way because “that’s just the way it’s done”. The zombie-like movements proceed without much thought or consideration; making coffee, driving to work, folding laundry. Still, why can’t it be done differently for any reason, if not simply to break up the monotony? I admit it, I get so engrossed in the processes of my routine that it can sometimes appear obsessive-compulsive at times, but it works for me; so why would I mess with it?

Among the many sayings that I can think of that would explain why one should always question one’s perspective, I favor “seeing the forest through the trees”. Often it requires us to take a step back from the process in order to see it for what it is; mechanical, uninspired, and tedious. Other times someone outside of the process will bring it to our attention that there seems to be something lacking in our routine; energy, awareness, or passion. Whenever or whatever brings this revelation to light, proper action should be taken, as soon as possible.

The actions taken to revamp one’s routine, whether they are subtle or revolutionary, they should reflect the need and subsequent anticipated reactions to the changes. For personal changes, it might mean just taking a few extra moments to chew your food at mealtime. Professional changes might mean reconsidering your employment situation, but if you are where you want to be, redesigning your business card or website might be enough.

Where all of this is leading should be toward improvement. After all, progress in life is the ultimate goal; professional, personal, or otherwise. So take a minute or two, breathe a little deeper and look around to see where you are, what you are doing, and decide whether a few small adjustments are needed to make things a little more interesting. Life should be more than following the same steps throughout the day, every day.

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Hibernation in the Fortress of Solitude

Well January passed rather quickly this year; must have been the mild weather. As February came over Martha’s Vineyard, those of us left here suddenly realized that here is a winter planned for us and we should not expect otherwise. It was too good to last really; sunny days, little wind, mild temperatures. Still, we have only had a few bitterly cold spells and the odd day or so where the mercury hits 50 still happens. The days are getting longer, but it will be some time before thoughts shift to a sunset picnic on South Beach or in Menemsha. No, this is the time of year when most of the year round residents tend to hibernate.

Now, I have been known to “call people out” when they call themselves year round residents. Their cars still wear the plates of other states, they disappear for warmer climes between January and March, and complain about needing to “get off this rock” before they go insane. Tenderfeet people that they are, they talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. If you want to call a place home, take it for all it is; warm summer days, bitterly cold winter nights, weeks of isolation. They remind me of the tale of the ant and the grasshopper; but I digress.

There are an overwhelming number of artistic and literary type people left in this vast wasteland of winter during the most desolate time on Martha’s Vineyard, and that suits them just fine. Me, I’m just a recluse; days might pass before I emerge from my house. Neighbors cannot even tell if I’m at home. I designed the house like a cocoon, insulating me from all that which I wish to avoid. The internet and the advent of social media have permeated my life, but I need only switch off the various devices to achieve seclusion once more. It can be a blessing.

Festivities do happen here, even now. The Annual Chili Fest just lured hundreds of people to the island with promises of judicious libations and spicy omnivorous delights, but it was for only several hours. Soon hundreds of ectomorphic runners shall descend upon the island for the annual 20 Miler RoadRace, no matter what the weather shall hold for them on their epic run through the course. Other, smaller events will also be held; a film festival, the odd community dinner, etc. For the most part, the people remaining here for the duration appreciate the state that the island remains in at this time of year.

The slower pace allows the smaller, more intimate gatherings for quiet dinners or discussions. For others, it is a chance to work on literary pursuits or artistic endeavors. For me it is a time to hibernate in my personal fortress of solitude and contemplate what ways I might better myself; physically, culturally, financially, intellectually. Never settle, always strive for something more because if you do not, you will miss all of the glorious things that exist in this world, even if they reside in your own mind. Understanding how to discover all that could be sometimes requires a certain time, in a special place, in a proper state of mind. I have found that to be now, on my island, in repose. Now go do the same for yourself before life passes you by.

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Once Upon An Island

It has been a short fourteen years of living on Martha’s Vineyard. What amounts to more than a third of my life has flown by at a speed that I can scarcely imagine that it actually happened. During my time living here I have been witness to so many changes; people, stores, laws, economies, fortunes. I have grown older, hopefully wiser, definitely maturing as a result. As I traverse the island on occasion, my memory recounts the changes, obvious and sublime.

I celebrated a rather subdued New Year’s Eve, swapping memories and anecdotes with a few friends. I recalled the “Get A Life Café”, Louis added that he owned what is now “Zephrus” on Main Street in Vineyard Haven before opening “Louis’”. We all commented on the bed & breakfast “Martha’s Place” just up the street, now a private residence. Yes, many of the businesses had changed hands or disappeared over the years; the Red Cat Café, The Feast of Chilmark, Bowl & Board, The Ice House, etc.

Most of the businesses changed hands, others just closed. Still others suffered from the financial downturn that currently afflicts the nation, even though we felt the pinch a bit sooner than the rest of the nation, as our economy is based on a resort economy, for better or worse. I noticed the difference back in the 2005 season. All of the numbers were down, not just with my business, but with the majority of shopkeepers I spoke with concurred. The previous five or six seasons had been so strong, there was really nowhere to go but down. The vibe of the island changed back after the 2001 season, after the September 11th attacks. The Clintons were not the summer regulars they had been, a new sobriety set a pall over extravagant vacationing, and once the financial collapse happened, the season shortened significantly.

My first season on Martha’s Vineyard, I paid $22 one way to get my car to the island. There was “guaranteed stand-by”, meaning if you were in line to get your car on the ferry, they would run ferries until the line was empty, weather permitting. Even though gasoline was not cheap on island, it was less than $3/gallon. I used less than a tank of fuel the entire season, riding my bike everywhere. I didn’t own anything on island other than my car, I was free of debt, and I was free to travel; a twenty-something with endless opportunities. The island was an idyllic paradise, an endless summer. Reality was a swift and cruel harbinger of the future; the end of summer.

They say that all good things must end. On Martha’s Vineyard many feel that happens at the end of every season. Others feel that the end of the season is just the beginning of another season. The only real constant, in my opinion, is change. Time waits for no one, but in our memories we cherish all that we hold dear. Living on this island I have gathered memories of people, places, and things that I will never forget, both happy and sad. To be a part of a place where so many others travel to just to be a part of for even a short period of time is very unique.

What are your memories? What was something that you remember so well that no longer exists? Whether it involves the original Humphrey’s location up island or a romantic weekend at an inn that is no more, the memories are yours to recall and share.

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That Was Then, This Is Now

As I type this blog, a full moon beams down through the large windows of my living room, Cassandra Wilson and Jacky Terrasson provide the music, and I think of an approaching anniversary. On January 14, 2006 my life was interrupted. Not just a minor annoyance like a traffic ticket or a failed romance but a slam into the wall, dead stop. A house fire took all of my possessions and destroyed them. Worse, it took my canine companion of six years, Dabo. Things can be replaced, companions not so much. What could not be measured at that time was what other elements of my character would be altered by the event, which lessons would be learned, and how long it would take to recover and to what degree, because I have come to learn you never completely recover from certain aspects of such a tragedy.

The fire started at a wood stove that got too hot and ignited what surrounded it, as simple as that. I had gone to work a few hours earlier and returned home for lunch. All appeared normal until I opened the front door to a wall of smoke. From there it was all just a matter of calling 911 and waiting for the emergency responders to arrive. A call to my insurance agent brought him to the scene shortly thereafter. After a few hours there was nothing to do but leave. I went to my office and made some incoherent phone calls. I had a place to stay for the night and that’s all I knew.

The days and weeks that followed were tough. Being January, the island was a quiet place and I called people to let them know what had happened. There was no social media back then; no face book, no twitter, no smart phones. I can count on one hand the people that helped me rummage through the remnants of my life and acted as a support system outside of my immediate family. My story was a blurb on the radio, a couple of paragraphs in the local paper, not much else; life went on. After a month or so, rather than repeat the entire event to people that asked “how are things going”, I simply replied that things were fine. I didn’t know if they knew what had happened and I didn’t really care if they did. I just wanted to move on at that point. Most of the people asking that question were clients that asked as casual banter, not of genuine concern.

Rebuilding my life, both physically and mentally proved to be challenging. The financial crisis hit just as the cost overruns for the house went 30% over the estimate. It nearly bankrupted me and my family; the banks cut my lines of credit, my income diminished, the house was not completed. It should be noted that the insurance companies give you two years to either repair or replace all that had been claimed or forfeit the full value for reimbursement, including the house itself; not very realistic.

Now, nearly six years later, I still have yet to even come close to where I was before the fire. Obviously I am not the only person facing financial difficulties, but considering the trials I have faced, I think I am holding my own quite well.

Last weekend, on New Year’s Day, a friend of mine also had a house fire. She was lucky to escape with her life. She had no insurance of any kind. She lost all she owned, quite literally; it’s gone. But she has friends, lots of friends. We are all going to help her through this tough situation. We are organized on face book, twitter, and through blogs like this one. This is how it should be, a community coming together in a member’s time of need. One friend at a time, doing whatever they can to help her out; because it’s the right thing to do, because she would do the same for any one of her friends. Do YOU want to be a part of the Martha’s Vineyard community? Start by helping my friend, Paola Fuller.

http://www.facebook.com/notes/friends-of-paola-ayala-fuller/paolas-story/249569381779176

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The Brooklyn Chronicles, Part 5 (A Weekend in Connecticut)

(Originally posted 10/30/2007)

While I may be writing this series chronicling my transitional move and daily strife, I mean life, inBrooklyn, there must also be the contrast of my time away from the city, as that time has become that much sweeter. Although I had to again endure many hours on trains, both MTA and Amtrak, I knew that a much anticipated respite awaited me inConnecticut. Nearly two full days without having to deal with clients, scheduling, or business in general was something I had not had since sometime in May, over six months ago. Still, I had plenty to do and I could at least spend some of that time with my parents, who I had also not seen since May.

Fall has always been my favorite season. The fall foliage and the crisp air stirs memories of returning to classes at school, the end of the hot summer days and, because I grew up in a farming community, harvest-time from the local orchards and farms. Just driving around the towns that have always been so familiar to me was comforting, but to see all of the fall colors framing the countryside was exhilarating. To try and explain what it means for me to buy apple cider from Clyde’s or apples from Holmberg’s would be like explaining buying bagels in Brooklyn to a New Yorker. Each person has a special ritual or memory that they revive when they have the opportunity. The fall harvest of apples in Connecticut is mine.

The train into New London would meet my parents’ ferry from Fisher’sIsland, but I had a good half hour to stare at a glorious full moon on a rather mild evening for late October. I enjoyed the quiet time and took solace in the absence of sirens, which seem to be ever present in the city. When the ferry finally did arrive, it was well past 8 PM and it was a short drive home. The odd fact that both my parents and I spend the majority of our time on islands is simple irony. We might be a family of people seeking solitude perhaps, but we are a family none the less.

Of the many tasks on my to-do list over the two days, the one shopping for furniture was the most bittersweet. It was not that I had to spend the money that I do not have that was irksome, but rather the reason I was buying it. I had lost everything in a house fire and either had to replace everything by the second anniversary or lose the depreciation money from the insurance company. While I may be furnishing my home with some wonderful things, I would much rather have back what I had lost. Even after I had selected so many pieces, the task of measuring the spaces in my home would prevent me from completing any part of this tedious task.

Unbeknownst to me, my mother would be attending a graveside memorial service for someone I had known. In a town as small as ours, it is not whether you know someone, but instead how well you knew them. In this case, we knew the family better than the person. A short service on a yet another glorious fall day made the service easier in every way. A fall funeral somehow seems more appropriate than those at other times. Perhaps that is just my opinion.

Over the years, my family has gone through times where we would eat meals together on a regular basis, but in more recent years it happens mainly on holidays. On this rare occasion, there were more of us there than not. We could eat our fill, give each other a hard time then finish by recounting our most recent travails. I had the experiences on the subway system to tell, including the gestures and expressions that had accompanied the subjects of the tale. Finally, we would plan our week ahead and see where our paths and plans would cross or mingle. An evening that could hardly be surpassed by one riding the 4/5 Train back to Brooklyn during the rush hour.

The next day began with a trip to one of the local banks to closeout yet another of my dwindling accounts. Long dormant and rather paltry in size, it still took longer than it should have to close it out. No matter, as the money was already spent, as all of the money I will be making for many years to come has already been appropriated for accounts I owe. If only those people that owe me money would settle-up, I would not be in such financial despair.

Speaking of settling-up, it was time to pay the mechanic for the work done on the infamous Honda. Totaling over $1100.00, the work solved the problems that had weighed heavily on my mind during the long drive fromConnecticutto theCape. While it did not make the car any more presentable, the repairs would get me where I needed to go. As I drove away from the shop, all I could do was to try and convince myself that the car would now last much longer than I would have a use for it. Either that or that it would last until I could afford to buy another car, one with air conditioning.

I decided to drive over to my house, the one I rent to tenants. The tenants fall into the category of those individuals owing me money. Rather than seeing if they were home, I simply spent a few minutes walking around the house, taking note of the trim that I would need to paint in the spring. I had lived in the house for several years, working on it and rehabilitating the long-neglected home until I had decided to return to college for yet another degree. The income from the house paid for more than just books. Now it was barely holding its own. Although there may be different tenants and it may be different times, it is still the same house.

Ending the day by driving to the train station is not really any sort of comfort. I remember a similar ritual during my college days, when I would drive home on weekends. That drive was more enjoyable, as I looked forward to my time in college classes. The current travel has become more travail, as I hardly know what the next day will bring. As I waited for the train at the station in Old Saybrook, I thought back over the past few days and took solace in the fact that I do have my family to back me up in my current situation, as best they can, however they are able. That knowledge gives me hope that I will make it through the next few months with my sanity intact.

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