This is how to pick the perfect exercise for you

This post was inspired by my mom. She was talking about what it’s like being a woman in her 60’s, trying to stay healthy and active.

And she gave me the greatest tip for choosing a form of exercise.

Instead of looking at the young people who are involved in whatever you are thinking about, look at the people who have been doing it for decades. Don’t just focus on what it will do for your body now, think about what is coming on the road ahead.

All this to say – in her age group, the ‘yoga ladies’ seem happiest.

It’s worth noting that my mother doesn’t actually practice yoga, so this isn’t a quest to convert others to what she is doing, but instead an observation.

Many of the runners she knows find themselves struggling with a string of injuries. . Or people involved in competitive sports find themselves frustrated as their bodies age and they lose their edge.

Of course first and foremost, you should do what you love, what excites you, what gets you out of bed. Not everyone can love yoga.

But if you’re on the fence or feeling unmotivated, seeing the difference it can make to your life in the years ahead is a great reason to get involved. Don’t just look for who is fit – look for who is happy.

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash


I was too prickly, too wild,
Too thorny, too demanding,
Too aggressive,
Too unruly,
Too chaotic,
Too big.

Maybe if I hadn’t grown quite so high,
Or foolishly trailed my branches down to the ground,
Maybe if I had stayed exactly at eye-level
In easy reach…

Maybe if I had smoothed away my sharpness,
Pared back my leaves,
Plumped my juicy fruit,
Or curled appealingly into little bunches,
Maybe if I had been all sweetness,
Or had calibrated my tartness
To individual taste…

Maybe then my blackberries
Would not have been left
To wither on the vine.
Shrinking into tight little corpses,
Like insect shells,
Clinging to the stem,
And each day losing more life.

I produced
A plentitude of perfect berries,
Tumbling forth,
Heavy on the branches,
Filling the air with their luxuriant scent.
But your hands stayed unstained.
You left me there to dry,
Letting my prime and promise
Slip away
Day by day.

Does no human want berries
Free for the taking?
No friendly squirrel?
Or hungry bird?

Why have I been left with these gifts
I grew for others,
Which alone, I cannot use?

Maybe if I had been sweeter,
Or easier,
Or milder,
And let you strip my bushes bare,
I would not be faced
With a bitter cornucopia
Of untasted berries.
But maybe something would have been lost
In that unlived future, too.

And there is something to be said
For knowing that I grew
Not to please anyone,
Or satiate another’s palate.
My fruits were grown,
In the end,
For no one else,
Except me.

I proudly hold up my blackberries –
To the gaze of all who pass by.
They shine like jewels in the sun.

Photo by A.C. Smith

Feeling lost after treatment

Right now, it seems like so many people in my online cancer groups are struggling. Some of them are in the midst of treatment, some of them are years out, but there seems to be a general trend towards people feeling low, fatigued, depressed, or lost.

I think there are bigger trends contributing to what seems like a mini collection of crises. I don’t know if this is due to the days getting shorter. I don’t know how much of this connects to the broader struggles affecting so many people during this pandemic.

For me, it’s a bit up and down. Most days, I am generally happy, even though my energy levels have been flagging a bit lately. It’s taken nearly a year since chemo to find this kind of equilibrium. I don’t feel like I am struggling in the way some of these folks are experiencing, though I recognise the feelings they describe. And I know I will probably find myself circling back to that place again at some point in the future.

When I’m able to let go of the idea that I should somehow be doing better/more, it really helps.

There is a brilliant article called After the Treatment Finishes by Dr Peter Harvey, which was also shared with me again by a counsellor who specialises in supporting people living with cancer.

He outlines that this is a three stage process: recuperation, convalescence, and rehabilitation. We expect to be able to jump ahead, but we have to be patient about moving at the speed of our bodies’ healing.

I struggled to pull out a few favourite takeaways, because the whole article is so valuable. But I particularly liked this bit:

“In our enthusiasm we often forget just how complex and difficult this life business is, and it’s only when you have to get back on the roundabout that you realise this. Sometimes I think that living is like competing in an Olympic event – but because we take it so much for granted we forget how demanding and tiring it can be, even at an ordinary, everyday level. Let’s take this analogy further and pretend that we are all Olympic sprinters – a rather farfetched concept in my case, I should add – who have had a serious injury. We would not consider getting back to running the 100 metres until we had fully recovered. We would put ourselves on a gentle retraining programme, beginning with gentle walks rather than sprints. Getting back to living life should be done in the same way. A gentle build-up to the main event.”

It is only bit by bit that seeds can take root and grow, and that as living beings we can find these changes within ourselves.

But actually, I think the best sum up came from a woman named Amy in one of my cancer groups. She gave me her permission to quote her comment in this post – I can’t really think of any better way to sum it up myself. This a response to a post from someone who is really struggling:

“I think a lot of us seem to be feeling like this recently. I also feel as if I had more mental energy and a better outlook last year, closer to finishing treatment than now.

I think when I am struggling mentally I have less physical energy too.

I also feel that family and friends expect me to be better and ‘back to normal’ now.I explained this to my consultant and she said that young women in particular, expect themselves to be back to how they used to be very quickly, I suppose just because we are expected to get back to normal life.

She reminded me the extent of the treatments I – and we – have had and that the body has taken such a knock it will take a while.

She also stressed to be kind to myself and listen to my body. Take some time out and do something relaxing and for you. Don’t feel as though you are failing at recovery, because we are at just the right stage in recovery as our bodies are ready for (if that makes sense). Everyone’s recovery is different and is done at our own pace.”

May we be gentle and kind with ourselves. And may we also remember – even though it doesn’t always feel this way – that there are more people out there than we can even imagine who care and understand these issues, and are there to help us pick ourselves up when we stumble on the road to recovery.

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Odds and ends 5

America’s Most Widely Misread Literary Work by The Atlantic

‘Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” is often interpreted as an anthem of individualism and nonconformity, seemingly encouraging readers to take the road less traveled… But as Frost liked to warn his listeners, “You have to be careful of that one; it’s a tricky poem—very tricky.” In actuality, the two roads diverging in a yellow wood are “really about the same,” according to Frost, and are equally traveled and quite interchangeable.’

Photo by John Barkiple on Unsplash

What Happened to American Childhood by Kate Julian in The Atlantic

‘As I contemplate the likelihood that my kids’ lives will be more stressful than mine, my mind keeps wandering to two children’s drawings reproduced in the pediatrician W. Thomas Boyce’s book The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive. Both depict California’s 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which killed dozens of people—and also, as chance would have it, occurred midway through a study Boyce was conducting of whether stress increased local children’s susceptibility to illness. Naturally, he and his team expanded the study to incorporate their reactions to the disaster, and they asked each child to “draw the earthquake.” The kids’ responses varied dramatically. Some produced cheerful pictures—“homes with minor damage, happy families, and smiling yellow suns”—while others generated scenes of destruction and injury, fear and sadness. To Boyce’s fascination, children who drew darker scenes tended to stay healthy in the weeks that followed, while those who drew sunny pictures were more likely to come down with infections and illnesses.

Boyce now believes it was protective for children to create “honest, even brutal depictions of a no-doubt-about-it disaster.” We talk about things that scare us, he ventures, “because it makes them gradually less scary; about sadness, because it makes the sadness diminish a little each time we do.” ‘

Researchers Doubt That Certain Mental Disorders Are Disorders At All by Alison Escalante (from Forbes)

‘Mental health recovery in part, depends on whether patients believe they can get better. Telling our patients that their symptoms may be tied to a healthy response to adversity could be very encouraging.’

Welcome to the New Midlife Crisis by Corinne Purtill (from Medium)

‘In a completely hunch-based and unscientific analysis, I think there is a high correlation between people who find the protagonists of midlife chronicles like Fleishman to be insufferable, self-indulgent narcissists, and people who don’t feel they have permission to allow much room for their own emotions. Listening to middle-aged people bitch about the stress of fundamentally comfortable lives can be an exercise in patience under any circumstance. If no one has extended that courtesy to you, it can be intolerable.

But to brush off introspection at this stage can be as shallow and short-sighted as upending one’s life to indulge it entirely. “When we trivialize the rough patch as a ‘middle-aged cliché,’ we are actually trying to find a way to disarm the intensity of the forces we are grappling with,” Daphne de Marneffe writes in The Rough Patch: Midlife and the Art of Living Together.’…

In Midlife: A Philosophical Guide, the MIT philosophy professor Kieran Setiya offers some deceptively simple advice for navigating the doubts and questions of this phase: Invest energy in causes greater than oneself and find joy in the process of doing things, rather than striving for glorious ends.’ (underline mine)

David Bowie quoted in To Reach an Audience of Millions, Create for an Audience of One by Srinivas Rao (from Medium)

“Never play to the gallery. Never work for other people in what you do. Always remember that the reason you initially started working was there was something inside yourself that, if you could manifest it, you felt you would understand more about yourself. I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other people’s expectations.”

Oliver Burkeman’s last column: the eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life by Oliver Burkeman (from The Guardian)

The capacity to tolerate minor discomfort is a superpower. It’s shocking to realise how readily we set aside even our greatest ambitions in life, merely to avoid easily tolerable levels of unpleasantness.” (bold his)

Lest we forget that we are animals

Lest we forget that we are animals
I run my fingers through your silky fur
I feel the heat from where our bodies touch
And nestle close to hear your rumbling purr

Our lives are bound by rules and promises
By forms and customs, cunningly designed
We follow patterns hidden to our eyes
And seek our own path, carefully divined

But muscles ripple underneath our skin
And blood still pumps to power every move
We’re ruled by instincts rooted in the flesh:
The truth our bodies’ architecture proves

The things that we call human are the least
Important part of love between two beasts

Photo by mana5280 on Unsplash

Losing an icon: Chadwick Boseman

I’m still getting to grips with my shock and my news over his death.

When I first saw the news, I thought it was a hoax.

How can it be that an artist who burns so brightly and with such energy can be taken by by this devastating, wasting disease? And how on earth did he create that body of work while undergoing what was no doubt a gruelling treatment regime for colon cancer?

It feels scary and sad to see a young person struck down by cancer. But part of why it feels so upsetting is the sheer shock of the news. He was an actor seemingly at the top of his game – and now he’s gone. It’s incredible that he was able to kept his illness secret during his lifetime. I can’t imagine how heavy that burden must have felt at times.

I came across a quote recently that fame requires an ability to carry other people’s projections. I feel that Chadwick Boseman had that quality – but with something more. There was a reason he played so many icons – and iconoclasts. He had the strength and charisma to carry the dreams and desires of so many, but without ever letting anyone else tell him who he was. His integrity was always visible, and something I deeply admired.

What always struck me most when looking at his work and the way that he talked about it was his seriousness of purpose as a person and as an artist – and the impact he made is stunning, particularly in comparison to his years on this earth.

Rest In Power. Those words have never felt more appropriate.

Photo by David Hogg on Flickr Commons

I want to bloom where I am planted

I want to bloom where I am planted
But these stones are far too rough.
I want to send forth searching roots
But oh, this ground is tough.

I want to blossom verdantly
But the soil is parched and dry.
It all seems such a struggle
And I can’t understand why.

For all around me flowers bloom
In vibrant, luscious hues.
Why can’t I thrive like they can?
I shrink, and sulk, and bruise.

But I celebrate the victory
Of every growth and gain,
And when the clouds assemble,
We all share the taste of rain

I cannot choose where I am planted
Or move my roots elsewhere
But I can keep on dreaming
And send my seeds into the air

Photo by A.C. Smith

Do you find it painful to keep to a schedule?

Do you find it painful to keep to a schedule?

I do. At least, as a general rule.

I feel like I have so many plans or schemes I have set up and abandoned.

Whenever I try to set things up, there is a feeling of rebellion, an urge to paint outside the lines, and follow my spontaneous interests and desires instead of adhering to the schedule I had set up.

But lately, something seems to have started to shift. I’m finding more satisfaction in making a plan and sticking to it.

I realised today that an important mindset shifts seems to have happened for me.

Traditionally, I have loaded my schedule with things that I am supposed to do. All the shoulds, obligations, and requirements.

I don’t know if it is a side effect of being trapped at home with quarantine, the result of emerging from the cocoon of cancer, or just some simple growing up, but I’ve stopped approaching my schedule that way.

Rather than setting it up as a list of things I have to do, I’ve started seeing it as a way to fit in the things that I want to do.

When I approach it from the perspective of making room for the things that I want to prioritise or that feel important, planning out my time feels, dare I say, almost pleasurable?

Because it means I can see how each of the things that are important to me can fit in my life.

And somehow, I find it much easier to be realistic about how long things actually take (answer: longer than you think) when I am approaching it from a pleasure-based perspective rather than a never-ending laundry list.

And I’ve been surprised – those ‘shoulds’ haven’t fallen through the cracks, because they feel important, so I make room to tackle them.

But instead of dominating my schedule, they fit in alongside the other things that are important – time playing with Rosie, time making creative work, or time to just sit and do something fun, even if it’s just for fifteen minutes.

It seems like the key is taking a dynamic approach, doing a gut check on a daily basis about whether what feels important has changed, and leaving enough space to adapt when the unexpected arises.

It feels like it works best f I start with a list, in order, of the things that feel really important to accomplish in that day. The key is to approach this from the perspective of the big picture of how I want my life to look, rather than working form an existing to do list – although it’s helpful to give a list of lingering to do’s a quick scan to see if anything really urgent has been left off.

Once I know what is important, it’s just like doing a puzzle around the fixed pieces, and working out how they can fit.

I suspect I will drift back into old habits eventually, so there are are some useful questions to have ready to ask myself:

Is your schedule a tool to discipline yourself?


Is time planning a way to make sure there is room for the things that you want in your life?

(FWIW: It’s worth noting that this felt like an absolute impossibility when I when I was in my absolute most stressed time trying to hit tight deadlines for my radio project without any childcare. You have to have some measure of control over your own time for this to work, but I think the mindset shift would be helpful even during the times when I have less say over my own time.)

Photo by Lukas Blazek on Unsplash

Odds and ends 4

2020 Commencement Address by Marlon James (for Macalester U)

“So if it’s not about talent and it’s not about effort, what is it about? It’s hunger. How badly do you want it? It’s stakes. How high are yours? If your stakes aren’t high enough, fake it. It’s how hard are you prepared to work? That’s not the same as effort. Scratching a butt takes effort. Hard means the lasting systemic change, or even a paycheck.” (Worth watching the whole thing!)

Working on your relationship to work by Sarah Kosar (for Old Vic)

“I set out to critique a world where work is our entire being and identity. Then I started working on that play as though it was my entire being and identity.

I was pretty confident that I knew the game plan, the route, the way through. I approached writing my play like I was at my office job: project managing very practical moving parts. Doing and not feeling.

But plays are felt.

Of course there are practical elements and they need to hit a deadline. But if you offer no vulnerability or real self-reflection in the process of creating characters and worlds, nothing has been felt and art isn’t created.”

When black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs by Tre Johnson (in Washington Post)

“The confusing, perhaps contradictory advice on what white people should do probably feels maddening. To be told to step up, no step back, read, no listen, protest, don’t protest, check on black friends, leave us alone, ask for help or do the work — it probably feels contradictory at times. And yet, you’ll figure it out. Black people have been similarly exhausted making the case for jobs, freedom, happiness, justice, equality and the like. It’s made us dizzy, but we’ve managed to find the means to walk straight.”

Roger Robinson: ‘Poets can translate trauma’ interviewed by Anita Sethi (in The Guardian)

“Poems are empathy machines.”

Dear Therapist: My Boyfriend Won’t Let Me Have Male Friends by Lori Gottlieb (from The Atlantic)

We all have unhealthy patterns we repeat – an interesting reminder of why.

“Sometimes people with trust issues choose untrustworthy people, because those people feel familiar to them. Similarly, people who have angry parents often end up choosing angry partners, those with alcoholic parents are frequently drawn to partners who drink quite a bit, and those who have withdrawn or critical parents find themselves married to spouses who are withdrawn or critical.

Why do people do this to themselves? It’s not that people want to get hurt again. It’s that they want to master a situation in which they felt helpless as children. Freud called this “repetition compulsion.” Maybe this time, the unconscious mind imagines, I can go back and heal that wound from long ago by engaging with somebody familiar—but new. The problem is, by choosing familiar partners, people guarantee the opposite result: They reopen wounds and feel even more inadequate and unlovable.”

Lili Taylor Interview by Hadley Freeman (from The Guardian)

On Julia Roberts: “Everyone knew, she says, that Roberts would be famous when they made Mystic Pizza. “She had this thing that famous people have, this capacity to carry other people’s projection. For some people it gets too much and they die, but some people can just carry it,” she says.”

Photo by James Zwadlo on Unsplash


For Zachary

I lost myself yesterday
Drowning in the ever-oncoming waves
My head slipping
Slowly but surely
Beneath the surface
Nothing but water
As far as the eye can see

When you appeared
I thought you would pull me to shore
But instead
You filled my mouth with breath
From the metal tank carried on your back
You took my hand
And said with a twinkle:
“Come on”.

We dove down into the ocean
To its dark and mysterious depths
We watched the strange fish
That circled around us
In a magical, slow-motion dance
The sea plants tickled our feet

Everything was possessed
Of a poignant magic
You placed a shell in my hand
Glimmering and sleek
A perfect tiny pattern
Beauty in the deep

I had been fighting so hard to swim
But I didn’t need an ever-shifting, sandy shore
I needed the cool certainty
Of standing on the sea floor

When we came back up
And our heads broke into the salty air
I was no longer afraid
Of the water
Of the waves
Of my own thrashing helplessness

I opened my hand
And watched the shell
Fall slowly back down
Into the darkness
Where I could not see it anymore

I smiled to know
It would be waiting for me
The next time I need
To turn away from the struggle

To rest on the seabed
Surrounded by treasures
Undreamed of by those
Floating in boats above

Photo by Mostafa Ashraf Mostafa on Unsplash