patience, patience

When I first went to a rowing class, our instructor said one of the challenges of rowing is to keep form that is beneficial for the energy you need. She suggested we tell ourselves "patience, patience" as we come back in and prepare for another round of movement. I try to think of that as I work to get back into shape and re-form healthier habits. Practically anyone who knows me can tell you that I'm not a patient person. I'm quick to frustration, to anger. I hate waiting in traffic, at the grocery store, at the post office. I have to work at not being completely and obnoxiously impatient. We live in a world of constant stimulation and on-demand media. I can listen to almost any song I want, whenever I want. I can watch the most recent TV show in a completely different location and time than in front of my TV when it airs. In fact, football is probably the only thing I watch live. This cultural shift compounds my impatience. I'm like Veruca Salt in WIlly Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: I want it now!

Julie Dawn Cole as Veruca Salt in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." Warner Bros.

It's difficult when trying to form a new habit, to retrain your thought processes, how you feel. M likes to tease me that I think about food a lot, and it's true. I like to think about my next meal, plan out what I'm going to cook or eat or where I'm going to go and what I might have. I pore over recipes on Pinterest and spend hours researching restaurants for trips we take. It's enjoyable to me. The kitchen holds a significant place in my upbringing and the food that was prepared and eaten was part of that.

Growing up, food wasn't about the nutritional value, it was about the company with whom you shared your meals. For the women in my family making meals was also about the process. Cooking for days to get the roux built up just right for gumbo; shopping several markets for the best fish or shrimp, and haggling with the guys for the best price aren't represented on recipe cards, but they're just as important as the temperature settings and ingredients.

It's funny that I emphasize the importance of the process for research, for writing and composing and yet, I am not patient with myself. I expect the ideas to come when I need them; I want to see results on the page, on the scale, on my body. I want my work to pay off, and it's hard not to be discouraged by setbacks or challenges or interruptions. Yet, I'm part of a profession where at the end of each day, I may not have tangible results of my work. My brother can point to something he built or designed. He can look at his hands with grease, callouses, stains and see evidence of his work. I don't even have inky fingers because I grade and comment online now. I have students' essays, blog posts, quizzes and I wonder when I read them if we're making any headway at all. Of course there are emails and office hours and conversations with students who say, 'thank you' or 'I get it now' and responses years later of appreciation for a course I taught or book we read in class. I love my work. I love that I'm involved in students' college experiences, that I get a chance to try and focus and direct their energies, philosophies, thoughts on various topics. I enjoy teaching, but I don't always appreciate the patience it requires. I constantly have to redefine for myself what a successful day, project, semester looks like. And I have to make peace with the intangible nature of what I do as my life's work.

So many days lately, I've begrudgingly taken myself to the gym. I do not know what it is about the getting dressed, lacing shoes, getting in my car, driving and parking process that is so difficult. I have to go through the motions, and sometimes kind of trick myself into getting off the couch. It's so easy to be lazy, which is why I am in this place of starting over on my quest for healthier living. I know what it feels like, physically and emotionally to be lazy in my habits and I don't like any of those feelings. So, what is my useless mental block for gym-going?

Once I'm there, I become lost in the process of rowing; I think "patience, patience". I listen to my playlist. I breathe. I do not think about class, or all the work I have left to do in the day. I don't write grocery lists in my head. I don't think about food. Okay, sometimes I do. Sometimes I look at the calories burned and promise myself ice-cream or cheese as a high-five. But for the most part, I'm completely focused on the process. Even when it's hard and I want to quit, I don't. Even when I catch a glimpse of my red, sweating face in the mirror and I want to run away, I don't. There is something about the process, and what it leads to that keeps me there. Maybe it's the promise that eventually, I will see results of this work, that when I'm done I will feel exhausted and exhilarated, or maybe it's the promise of ice-cream. Whatever it is, I know that I'm the only one who can push past the "it's easier to just stay here watching Netflix than go to the gym" attitude, or the "you can always go tomorrow"  that some voice inside me keeps whispering.

When I was in my Ph.D. program and going through a particularly rough time, my therapist suggested that there was a part of me whose mission was to sabotage all of my good intentions. It is a part of me who believes I am not worthy of whatever positive things are happening in my life. This part is small but fierce. When people say things like "you have to get out of your own way," I'm not sure they fully understand what that means. I think we all fight ourselves in one way or another. We hide our insecurities in a million places. We aren't kind enough, or patient enough with ourselves. We miss one day of going to the gym and our whole plans are wrecked. We give up easily when met with obstacles. But we're resilient and stubborn and can fight our way back. We can quiet those voices in our head.

But it's going to take some time. And we have to be patient.