Millennials: A Keystone Generation?

I was born on October 10, 1980.

Depending upon the source you consult, this most often puts me on the older end of the self-absorbed, entitled Millennial Generation, but occasionally I’ll be lumped in with the counter-culture, self-starting Gen Xers.  Increasingly, I might be classified as an “Xennial”, or part of the Oregon Trail Generation, covering those born between 1977 and 1983, raised doing book reports with actual books, but among the first to take advantage of the modern technological revolution.  If I had to choose, I feel like I fit in mostly with the Millennials.  

I’ve become interested in what it means to be part of a generation.  What common traits do we share?  Where are we most divergent from our closest generations?  Within our generation, what axioms are most truthful, and which are just stereotypes that don’t accurately portray the majority?  Where do I fall into?  I do agree, to a certain extent, with some of the generalizations assigned to my generation: specifically, that we are self-centered, tied to our electronics to the fault of expecting instant gratification, and entitled.  What I hope we’ll be remembered for, however, is being a generation that was aware and that cared – about the environment, human rights, and our future generations.  If we can catalyze that caring into actual progress and change, we just might not be dismissed as the Selfie Generation.

First, a couple of disclaimers: though I enjoy reading articles and books on the subject of the human experience and characteristics of generations, I would not consider myself an academic on the topic, though I have peppered some links that I find especially interesting and credible.  Admittedly, my perspective is built mostly upon personal experience and observations from my own life; I’m biased.  I’m not trying to speak for my generation, just myself.  Second, I will be using the word I a lot.  I am aware that this is a word strongly associated with Millennials and their purportedly self-centered ways.  I’ve read articles where the author has denounced himself for the numbers of I’s he used.  Tsk tsk.  Sorry in advance if I use too many I’s for your taste.

Now that that’s all cleared up, let’s get back to my generation, also known as The Me Generation.   The first and foremost characteristic that may come to mind when one considers a Millennial is self-centered.  Celebrities become famous by being self-centered; our social media pages are filled with images of ourselves celebrating our hobbies, talents, and skills.  I do not think we are all as self-centered so much as we are misunderstood.   From an outsider’s perspective, I could see how we might seem self-centered: we spend hours on our hobbies; we make special requests for everything from our coffee to whether the painter we hire uses non-VOC paint or not; and most of us share every last detail of our lives on social media.  We were raised with a strong sense of self, and a focus on self-development.  Most of the friends I knew growing up had multiple awards and pictures throughout their homes from all of their milestones and sporting events (my home included).  We were celebrated for just being ourselves.  But we focused on doing what we loved to do.

I realize that doing what you enjoy doing can make you come across as self-centered.  In the contexts of the Baby Boomer and The Greatest Generation above me, I would likely be viewed as self-indulgent.  Starting a blog just for fun, because I feel like it?  You’d better get your priorities straight, they might’ve told me not so long ago.  But thanks to the powerful fight of so many before us, it is considered acceptable if not encouraged today for someone to pursue their passions, whatever they may be, whatever age they may be.  Our generation may be a bit less apologetic about making time for those interests.  We enjoy enriching ourselves intellectually, physically, and emotionally.  

Today, there are people in my generation who make a living by explicitly living out their dreams: outdoor athletes who travel the world, sponsored by big brands (rock-climbers, surfers, snowboarders, etc.); bloggers who resonate with millions like a ripple on the internet; people who have invented something.   We Millennials love our hobbies like family and fiercely defend our time with them.  There are so many interesting things to explore and learn about in the world, and that’s what I’d like to spend my short time on earth doing.  Is that so wrong?  Can’t I still show good civic duty while perfecting my mountain biking skills?  Doing what you love to do doesn’t make you entitled, self-centered, or lazy.  It makes you happy.  Which leads me to a counter-argument against being self-centered: Millennials may be nicer (see article Why Millennials Are Generation Nice).  A result of spending so much time making ourselves happy, and being raised in a comparatively more tolerant society, may be the nurturing of kinder, more accepting people.  Certainly this isn’t the case for all of us, like when you throw the blanket of stereotype onto a group, and some are left with their toes uncovered.  They don’t belong under that statement.   Every generation has its bad apples.  But I know many like-minded Millennials who do what they love, and are overall happy people who are kind and conscientious in their actions toward others.  Millennials just may be the generation that truly considers its successors: many of us want to leave the world a better place for the next generation.  We’re enjoying our time here, and want others to have the same opportunity.

It’s a theme I’m seeing more among not only my age-group, but all generations today: caring more.  We are aware of the plethora of serious problems facing our world, and care about them.  The friends and family I have all share a deep concern for the state of our ecosystems and communities. They care deeply about the environment and animals, human rights, and making progress as a human race.  They take little actions in their daily lives to make a collectively large difference, and consider their impact on the planet.  We donate to charities; we volunteer at beach clean-ups and the like.  We recycle every last bit of what can be recycled, use our own reusable mugs, water bottles, and cloth shopping bags whereever we go; we try to support Fair Trade businesses with sustainable farming or organic practices.  We stay up to date on the latest news articles, and read the newspaper everyday.  We watch the news fastidiously, to a fault, especially in our current political climate, and curse every step backward from environmental progress.  We cry when we hear yet another study about how the record has been broken, yet again, for the hottest year ever, or when we read about yet another polar bear found drowned amid wafer-thin icebergs in the Arctic.  I’d like to think I fit in with this group, even as images of Kleen Kanteen-swigging, big-bearded, techie hippies on a restrictive diet probably come to mind.  Again, we all are affected by stereotypes, myself included.  I can’t say that all Millennials care more.  But I know the ones I hang out with do, even if they’re only in my bubble.  

We are certainly not the only generation to care about the environment (Hello environmental rights era!), or care about endangered Amur Leopards (of which there are roughly only 60 remaining at last estimate), or donate to charities with a text from our cell phones (which anyone can do, obviously).  But we almost have to care more: we see the consequences of human impacts all around us; they are no longer a future projection, but a reality harsher than our predecessors surely ever planned for.  Since most of us plan to stick around for at least another seventy years or so, we’d better figure out how to fix them.  

To most of the people I know, there is an obvious, scientifically grounded, and direct link between human activities and climate change, and the multitude of ecological disasters unfolding.  I am sure I don’t need to inform you of them, but I’ll list just several of the most pressing environmental issues of the moment: climate change from increased global carbon-dioxide emissions, which brings its whole slew of side effects including, but not limited to, rising sea-levels and displacement of large populations of humans; species endangerment and extinction (we are currently causing the Sixth Mass Extinction event on planet Earth); access to clean groundwater (exacerbated by industrial wastes, including those produced from natural resources extraction processes like fracking); shifting agricultural zones, bringing food shortages and famine; widespread drought and extreme weather events, like Superstorm Sandy; biodiversity loss from monocultures (like palm oil), and invasive species inhabiting new niches as our climatic zones shift; widespread pollution of every state of matter – land, air, and water – particularly with neurotoxins and carcinogens, plastic pollution that is poisoning us and destroying our oceans, especially among the 5 Gyres; and at the root of most of these problems lies the pinnacle of human overpopulation.   

Down yet?  Or have you, like the rest of us, inured yourself to them like just another weather report?  There’s a famous Tim McIlrath quote: “If you aren’t angry, then you’re not paying attention”.  Words couldn’t summarize it better.  There are some days where I feel so down and depressed about the state of affairs in our world; about the lack of significant progress toward ameliorating this seemingly infinite laundry list of problems; about my perception that most people just don’t care enough to change their behaviors to affect any real change.  I can be a little bit fatalistic, thinking everything is just kind of doomed for most living things in the immediate future; that only Deep Time – that healing of millions of years – will cover the scar that Humanity left on Earth in the short time we were here; how in just about one hundred years time, we’ve stripped the earth of its most precious resources, degrading its intricately woven, complex ecosystems, thinking it wouldn’t matter.  But we quickly learned it did matter; our government established departments (the US Forest Service, the BLM, National Park Service, the EPA, etc.) to protect and manage our natural resources after years of unfettered logging, mining, and fishing took place, collapsing the local ecosystems in many cases.  There has been progress in renewable energy sources, toxic remediation, land-use management, and habitat restoration, but the bottom line remains the same: we’ve got a giant mess which will dominate for decades to come.  

We have the opportunity to take measurable actions to ebb the tide, and progress is being made.  Many in our generation, though raised with the silver spoons of materialism, are embracing the adage Less is more.  I hope that we’ll be a generation that shows you don’t need so many things to live happily; that we can strike a fine balance between enjoying electronics without being ruled by them.  Millennials are known for being obsessed with their phones and electronic devices; many of the twenty-to-thirty-somethings I see prove that on a daily basis.  You can do a lot of cool things with your phones these days: watch TV, order food, shop for anything under the sun, get a dopamine hit from your social media alerts.  We’ve come a long way from the early days of the Internet.  I remember being a junior in high school, spring of 1997, and our class was going to the brand new computer lab to go on the World Wide Web!  We used Netscape as our web browser, and explored some government archives or something related to that.  It took awhile to load content, undoubtedly, but it was the coolest new thing.  I remember our teacher highlighting the significance of the moment: You guys are some of the first students using this; you’re lucky!  We soon learned how much was at our fingertips.  We were living on the crest of a new technological revolution, one which would prove to be a constant source of companionship for most people.  We went from having to pore through books and articles for information, to googling that shit (or gts in textspeak).  

We are never “alone” when we have our phones and devices present, it would seem, but really we’re drifting further apart from common social graces.  Say “Hello” to someone in an elevator?  They may just completely ignore you and keep looking at their phone, using it as an excuse to separate themselves from the strangers they share such a small space with.  Patience?  It’s hard to come by these days.  We’re spoiled.  Everything comes too quickly; we are overconvenienced. People’s people skills are worsening with every day spent not speaking and interacting with people face-to-face.  None of what I’m saying is news.  Less human interaction equals more distance between us; more human interaction equals less.  Praise?  It’s common to see it online, but it means so much more in person face-to-face.  Kind words delivered eye to eye sink in that much deeper than a pixelated posting.  

Speaking of praise, our generation may have gotten too much of that growing up.  A common joke of our generation is, “Everyone gets a trophy”.  Many of us were raised with no shortage of praise, pomp, and circumstance at life’s every event.  We were told we could be anything we wanted to be, and that the world was our oyster to enjoy.  And many of us ate it right up, believing the world was ours for the taking, and that we could truly do anything we wanted to.  So we went after our dreams, with positive self-affirmation, and perhaps, too much confidence and naivete.  We had expectations, and it made us entitled.

I remember when I graduated from UCSC, excited to have my BA in Environmental Studies. I thought I’d be off on some impactful career saving owls in no time.  It wasn’t that easy, and  I’ll never forget going for an informational interview with an environmental consultant who was kind enough to give me a few minutes of his time.  

“Get experience,” he advised.  

“How do I get experience if no one will hire me?” I asked.  

“Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but did you think you’d just graduate college and get a job right away, in Santa Cruz no less?  Try interning; volunteer even.  Keep at it, but it’s cutthroat around here for jobs.  Don’t expect any handouts”.

He was right.  I waited tables for a year and a half before landing an entry-level job at a groundwater quality consulting firm in Santa Cruz, only to leave within the year to pursue my teaching credential.  His frankness stuck with me, though.  I didn’t want to be seen as just another entitled Millennial who expected to be handed a job fresh out of college.  It humbled me a bit, and reiterated a valuable lesson first posed by my father: no one owes you anything.  Don’t be entitled.  Prove yourself through your actions.  Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk.   I believe in a strong work ethic, despite my entitled whines about wanting to retire.  

Recently, I won my first First Place award at a mountain bike race for the Beginner Women’s category.  There wasn’t an awards ceremony that day, so I didn’t get a medal (pure gold that I’m sure it was!).  I emailed the race director, asking if it could be mailed to me, but got no reply.  There could be multiple reasons why, but part of me wondered if he just laughed at the request: Entitled Millennial wants her trophy, I could imagine him saying.  Or my email just went to his Junk folder, never to be read.  

Either way, when I think about Generation X, which I am on the cusp of depending upon how you look at it, the words that comes to mind are cool and fun; it’s actresses Alyssa Milano on the hit 80’s TV show Who’s The Boss?, Christina Applegate from the equally popular Married…With Children, Brenda and Kelly on the cult 90’s hit 90210. These were the cool chicks I wanted as my friends, out having fun and living like there was no tomorrow.  There was a carefree spirit, but not an innocence.  This generation had a skeptical edge to them.

They might look at us Millennials as something like a flea: we keep bouncing back, we annoy with our incessant self-centered bites for your attention, and there are simply millions of us.  That’s because Gen X’ers were a little too cool at times, aloof and unimpressed by our bubbly, look-at-me ways.  This is the generation who challenged the status quo; this is the punk generation.  They embody cool.  I have friends who consider themselves firmly among Gen-X, and they’ve honestly said before how much my generation bothers them.  Our narcissism, whininess, and entitlement are among the reasons given.  We speak in annoying uptone, or voicefry downtone.  We’re not always very cool, especially how we overshare.  But we’re so close in age, I think there is a lot of camaraderie and harmony among Gen X’ers and Millennials.  

How do Millennials compare to Baby Boomers (including my parents, born in 1950)?  My father has worked not just a steady job, but usually overtime, in construction for most of his life.  My mother worked hard raising us three daughters, and in her career in real estate.  Together, they taught me to work hard if I wanted something; to be self-sufficient and prepared; to take risks and learn from them.  When I tell them how much I’d like to retire, albeit in fantasy mode, I wonder if they think I’m being entitled?  Someone in their generation was probably less likely to voice that dream, let alone with conviction and faith, less fear being laughed at or thought of as lazy.  

I knew the word impose from a young age.  I recall my mother gently reminding us not to impose when we went to our friends’ houses.  

Mom, can I spend the night? I’d excitedly ask over the phone from my friend’s house.  

She’d reply with something like: Well, yes, if it’s okay with her parents, of course.  I just don’t want to impose.  It wasn’t that she thought I was an imposing child, I’m sure, but she did teach me to ask permission, respect boundaries, and not be entitled.  She was raised with a strong emphasis on etiquette and social graces, and it was important to her that we act accordingly in certain situations.  Her good manners and upbringing helped shape me into the conscientious person I consider myself to be today.  

My father was also similarly on-key with my mother.  He definitely didn’t want me to impose on anyone, or be a spoiled brat, so to speak.  I remember having so many conversations with him, especially in my high school years, about life and how to live it.  I forget how this one particular conversation started, but I got some sage advice from him during it; he said something to the extent of, No one owes you anything in life.  No one has to do anything for you, just because you want them to.  You can’t control people.  It wasn’t that he was saying you as a darted, personal you at me, per se, because I knew he didn’t think I was a controlling, entitled person.  But the advice spoke to me in a powerful summary: Just do you, is basically what he was saying.  Just take care of me and what I’m doing, without putting pressures, expectations, or stipulations upon others, and don’t stress over what others do or don’t do, think or misunderstand about you.  If you want something, go after it with full ownership.

Both of my parents raised us to be respectful, conscientious, self-sufficient, and ultimately, empowered, women.  I’m sure there are some Boomers, and those from other generations, including mine, who question why a woman these days doesn’t want to get married or have kids; or why one would rather travel the country living out of her car (that always sounded cool to me).  That only reflects the reality they may have grown up in, when it was socially expected to follow a more typical “American Dream” pathway.  Of course, mavericks exist in every generation.  But I think there was more pressure in their generation to walk the line.

What about the Greatest Generation?  I don’t claim to be an expert on our most esteemed, wisest of the country.  I’d gamble that they most definitely think Millennials are lazy, entitled, and self-centered.  When they were growing up?  It probably wasn’t common to spend hours on sports and hobbies.  If you did, you might’ve been called selfish for pursuing your hobbies with the regularity that people today do.  Pragmatism, selflessness, and a steely work ethic are some of the traits that come to mind when I think of my elders, grandparents included.  My grandmother, Sheila Prentice Craig, has often referenced a wonderful saying, which I try to live by: Don’t complain; don’t explain.  It’s simple, but it works: keep it positive, don’t whine and be negative. And don’t feel like you have to justify yourself to everyone.  You don’t have to explain yourself, and it’s okay to say no just because you feel like it.   

Living through the Great Depression shaped them into some of the toughest, most steadfast generation.  Through struggle, they persevered.  Perseverance gave them resilience, which would serve them well in future challenges, providing a grounding faith and quiet strength.  When I compare today’s youth to my elders, the main difference I see is in their perseverance.  

Today’s youth?  I taught sixth grade Math & Science (11-12 year olds) from 2006-2016, before switching to seventh grade Math & Science in 2017 (12-13 year olds).  I’ve watched this age group go from the dawn of the I-Pod, one of the first no-no’s to be snuck into class my first year of teaching, to the I-Phone, a bread-and-butter staple of almost all of my students today.  This newest generation, of which there is no official agreed upon name for yet, would be in the roughly twelve to twenty-two age range.  In the time I’ve taught this age, I’ve observed some overall trends, many of which have already been expounded upon by expert sociologists.  

First, the obvious: they want instant gratification, too.  If we can have it now, why can’t they?  With technology and the internet, they’ve been raised getting what they want with the push of a button.  If the answer isn’t found easily, spelled out in black and white, they may give up on finding it.  They don’t always know how to persevere.  I’ve had kids google “What is global warming?” when they were asked to explain it in their own words.  Surely I’d hit the concept hard enough with them, right?  I pondered.  Why did they feel the need to consult Dr. Google when asked for a simple summary?  I was disappointed.  

But then again, how many adults, of all ages, don’t enjoy the impressive computing power now available to us?  Haven’t we, too, become a little accustomed to instant gratification?  It’s hard to say if it’s a sign of the times, or a sign of the generation.  With every year that passes on, it certainly feels more like a sign of the times.

Second, they are more self-centered.  Pot calling the kettle black, you may ask?  I realize how hypocritical it may sound for someone who doesn’t want to be called self-centered calling another group of people that very same thing.  It’s what I see, though, and some of it is almost inherent within the context of technology.  Because of their smartphones, because of the Internet and social media, this upcoming generation is by default more self-centered.  They spend more time looking at things that interest them specifically; they can spend hours watching YouTube videos on any hobby that exists.  They spend time updating their settings and preferences on their devices; adjusting their screenshots and profile pictures.  Screentime is driven by interactions on social media platforms, participation seemingly required less they miss out on something.  Yes, other generations, including mine, do this too.  The difference is we weren’t raised doing it as children and teenagers during our formative years like they are now.  Being raised among our new Internet reality challenges our youth because they are forming their identities in the process.

In the eleven years that I’ve been teaching, I have seen a devolution in both overall awareness of others, and expressing interest.  They’d often rather sit with their computers among each other than actually get to know each other.  Few questions are asked.  I used to have several students ask me how I was doing, or what I did on the weekend.  Now?  Virtually none of my students ever ask me how I’m doing, or what I like to do when I’m not teaching.  I’ve had times where I decided to share something, and had my students ignore me from the very start: they open up their Chromebook or silent-reading book; the binder opens to the classwork.  I know it’s part of teaching middle-school aged children, but sometimes I wonder if this is a sign of their generation.  Are they really this self-centered?  Is conscientiousness a rare-earth mineral now?

Conscientiousness.  It’s the trait I try to foster in my students.  Conscientious means being aware that you are not the center of the universe, nor the center of anything; that you share your surroundings with other equally important beings, human and non; that your actions, large and small, affect others.  It starts with awareness, and focusing on what’s happening around you; being less self-centered.  

Their physical awareness of their bodies seems to have diminished as well.  I’ve had so many students walk into each other (or me) because they were looking down – not at their phone, but just in that habit of looking down and not paying attention.  I’ve seen people get hurt walking into objects in and out of the classroom – the playground at recess, after school as they walk around town.  There is a tendency to look down and not look up in front of them as much.  As they adapt to looking at their phones more, their overall focus shifts downward, too.  To be fair, there are many students who do not follow this behavior; however, this is the overall theme I see.  

Lastly, their perseverance is in decline.  This goes partly with the whole instant gratification idea.  Being used to getting things so easily has created a misconception that everything in life ought to be that way.  As a Math teacher, I struggle with this a lot.  A student will struggle on a concept, surrender, and give up trying.  Despite what any research says about methodology, pedagogy, or theory about mathematics instruction, the bottom line is a student is only going to get better by practicing more often.  They have to put in the hard work, the blood, sweat, and tears, so to speak.  And it can be like pulling teeth to get them to take ownership of their efforts.  When they do have that ownership, however, it can be the difference between mastery and proficiency.  Calculators?  That’s a whole different topic, but I personally think math through Pre-Algebra doesn’t need it.  My kids hate me for it, and go crazy on the rare occasions when I do allow it (large number statistics and data analysis problems, typically).  It would be so much easier if they could just use their phone calculator on their homework, but alas, I enforce a common math teacher policy of “No work, no credit”.  The answer doesn’t have to necessarily be correct, but I need to see the process used to get there.  It’s in the process that they learn the perseverance.  

Perseverance doesn’t just pertain to academics, technology, and daily life activities, but spirituality and emotional well-being.  How connected do today’s youth feel to nature and the environment?  I hope most of them do.  Perseverance isn’t just getting through something hard, it’s having the integrity to stand strong and trust yourself through dynamic situations.  How many of today’s youth spend time outdoors in challenging situations that test their mettle?  Again, I’d like to hope that it’s a lot, but I think many of them may be on their electronics inside.  The same could be said for my generation, though; many of us were raised with Nintendo, Sega, and X-Box.

There are moments when I am truly inspired by my students, when I believe one of them just may be the one to invent a better plastic substitute, or develop some new kind of nanotechnology that will break down all the waste we’ve already produced.  I have to believe in their potential, because my future lies partially in their hands.  How they treat the environment, are informed, and care will influence the next generation.  It’s a domino effect.  If I can get them to care about the environment, and to take some accountability for doing something about its infinite problems, I feel I’ve done my most important role as a teacher.  I’ll never forget the times my students make important connections.  There was the day when a girl asked, quite matter-of-factly, “So, they’re putting toxic plastic microbeads in our toothpaste?!  Like what we use to brush our teeth and put inside our bodies?!  That’s disgusting!  How is that allowed?!” Bam!  She hit the nail on the head, and it was one of my most inspired moments teaching.  There’ve been other equally astute observations made in class that sometimes gives me a sense of promise within this next generation. I believe they will find their balance between using technology and having real human interaction.  They sure do make me laugh, though.  Middle-school is never short on sarcasm and humor.

It’s All Been Done…Just Not Like This

As unique as I’d like to think any generation is, or this particular time in history is, part of me who believes another old adage: It’s all been done.  When you look back in time, the same themes play out over and over; the same roles are played, only by different actors and actresses.  The emotions range the same, whether you lived 1,000 years ago, or live right now.  There has already been a “Katrin” just like me, so when I write about “my generation”, I do so knowing how fleeting, insignificant, and unimportant my words are.  None of them will mean anything in the not too distant future.  

But what will matter is how we leave the planet for the next generation.  That hasn’t been done yet.  

As much as there are similarities among age groups and people, each generation is given the privilege and opportunity to impart their footprint in their own unique way.  We ought to consider not only our children and future generations, but the future of all living things on Earth.  What kind of legacy do we want to leave for the future?  A nuclear wasteland; a toxic dead zone?  How we treat the organisms we share this special home with may determine our future success or failure; how we manage our natural resources, and their wastes, is paramount to sustaining a large, technologically dependent human population.  We haven’t done the best job yet in meeting these challenges, but, sometimes, I’m hopeful.  

I invite everyone to consider what they can do to reduce their impact on the environment, and help leave a better planet for our future generations.  Whatever generation we are part of, we ought to consider the next.  We ought to be aware of the trends, problems, and challenges of our times, and care deeply about tackling them.  The issue of our time is our environment, and we all should be doing our part to help.  Do the “little things” on a daily basis that add up to make bigger differences; take whatever action you can to reduce your footprint.  Stay informed.  

Be aware.  Care.

I hope that Millennials will be remembered as a generation who genuinely and effectively cared about the environment and the next generation; that instead of being just a bunch of selfie-posting egomaniacs, we actually knew our place in the big scheme of things: we were just a small part of something much bigger.  I hope we’ll be remembered for using our voices to make a difference on the environment and the advancement of human rights, building upon the efforts of the courageous generations who came before us.  We are merely a puzzle piece among the jigsaw of Humanity.  Whether we are a keystone in that puzzle, or just a small detail piece, remains to be seen.  Being a keystone isn’t about being important or recognized, but actually helping to strengthen the planet and our civilization for our predecessors.  Like the keystone of an archway, it helps bridge and strengthen; or a keystone species, like a sea otter eating urchins in a kelp forest.  Take away the otter and the urchins will overpopulate, eating away the kelp’s holdfast, eventually making the entire kelp forest ecosystem disappear.   If there are not enough urchins, on the other hand, the entire kelp forest community suffers. The sea otter has a crucial niche to fill as a keystone species, balancing consumption and production.  Like the otter, we too must find our balance.

We ought to aim to be a keystone generation.  


Breathing In The Slow Flow of Summer

I love every season.  Each has its own flavor, enriching the year and bringing festivities. But there is one season that I’ve always associated with freedom: Summer.  Since childhood summer vacations from school, the slow rhythm of California in the summertime has long rocked my heart.  

I just finished my eleventh year of teaching.  Being a teacher has kept me pretty much on the same schedule I’ve had since I was a child in school, and my summers are now a monumental part of the year that I look forward to with earnest.  I had Summer jobs before, but that changed when I started teaching full-time.  After my first year, I taught Summer School Math; I didn’t feel recharged when I began the new year in the Fall.  After that, I decided to just take the time off and enjoy it for what it was: vacation.

This Summer in particular feels especially needed: after ten years of teaching sweet, innocent sixth graders, I moved to seventh grade last year.  I had new Math and Science curricula to teach, and a slew of challenging social dynamics to figure out.  What a difference one year makes.  I felt like I’d finished a marathon by the last day of school on June 8, exhausted and emotionally spent.  I was ready to sink into sweet summertime.

As a teacher, Summer is fundamental to recharge myself.  These 9+ weeks are sacred; I cherish everyday.  There is such beauty in the simple freedom of not having to do anything.  Lifting the obligations of work buoys my spirit and inspires me to seize my free time to the fullest.  Knowing that I am committed from late August to early June every year, start to finish, day in day out, is enough to make me really appreciate every day off in the Summer.  

My job is so time-bound: I must follow a bell-schedule with 47-minute time periods; I must plan and pace my curriculum so as to cover all of the required standards, and decide just how much time to spend upon those content areas.  Restroom breaks are strategically planned around the brief reprieves of passing periods.  Everything about my job is time-oriented.  And I know that until the last day of school in early June, I am responsible for my sixty-odd students and their learning of Mathematics and Science. Therefore, when I reach the end of one school-year, I really like to celebrate just being done.  I don’t want to look ahead at next year’s kids, or plan my first days; I want to take a breath and reflect upon all I’ve just completed.  I love being done.

Free time, choice, opportunity.  What a gift to wake up in the morning after sleeping in to my heart’s content, a promising blank slate of a day greeting me with so many choices.  Beach day?  Trail running day?  Getaway trip to ride somewhere new?  Living where we live presents a plethora of recreational choices to choose from.  I love California, and the Santa Cruz Mountains where I live.  

Choices also include doing “nothing”, which I am a huge fan of.  Unstructured time to yourself is a beautiful thing.  There are days on end in the Summer where I may not even leave my driveway.  Hours are spent moseying around the house contentedly bouncing from one project to another.  This is truly precious time.  Although I certainly get out and stay active in the summertime, I find these stretches of homebound time really ground me.  Long yoga sessions, gardening projects, and harmonizing the house fill a Summer day quite nicely.  After all, how many times during the school-year do I think to myself, I just want to be home?  Therefore, I soak up this opportunity to really be at home.

I think of Summer as a bit of a hibernation, despite Winter being associated with that process.  As a teacher, this is my least social time of the year if you consider the amount of interactions and talking I’m doing each day.  September through June, I give so much of my energy to my students and my job.  I must speak often, interact with many different people of all ages, and overall be “out of my shell”.  This is the one time of year where I can focus on what I want to do everyday, planning not thematic units but enriching activities of interest.  Going “in the shell”, so to speak, allows me to reflect and rejuvenate.  

It all starts with slowing down.  The slow pace of Summer is one of its most therapeutic effects.   I mean really slowing down, like taking an hour to read the Sunday newspaper with your coffee, or strolling through a forest at a snail’s pace birdwatching, in no hurry at all.  Not having a schedule allows such freedom.  This slow flow invites us to enjoy the simplicity of life, all the little things.  

Slowing down is also a conduit for gratitude.  Only now, on July 16 in the middle of Summer, am I truly feeling that deep sense of appreciation for exactly how things are now.  Over this last year, I’ve used the word “more” to describe my general attitude on life.  “I want more!” was pretty much how 2017 kicked off for me.  I was feeling very happy with my life and the way things were going: in 2015 I got married to the love of my life, Ron, and we bought a house in Ben Lomond that same year.  We had a great new life in the Santa Cruz Mountains with our cat Beau.  I was healthy, and having fun with my hobbies.  My job teaching was admittedly at a shifting point; I’d had many changes over the last two years with new curricula to teach, and moving from teaching sixth to seventh graders last year.  Certainly I was feeling a bit of burn out.  

I was also feeling really tired of getting up early.  I know that may sound spoiled, but I have a medical reason for it: sleep apnea.  I was only diagnosed in 2015, after a friend recommended I see a doctor based upon her friend’s similar symptoms.  It explained so much: why I always hated waking up early for school as a child (especially as a teenager); why I still as an adult hated waking up early so much, sometimes so much I am angered by it.  All those mornings where I kept snoozing my alarm clock; mornings of sleeping through my parents yelling at me to get out of bed, or often announcing that they would be leaving in ten minutes with or without me.  Falling asleep in class.  My occasional night-terrors made more sense; my doctor said many people have them who have apnea, and they are often linked to episodes of hypoxia, the moments when I am not breathing.  

Not breathing.  Not breathing is my biggest fear in life, a fear I share with many others, surely.  Allow me to digress about that for a few paragraphs now.  

When I was two, I was saved from my grandmother’s pool by my older sister Mary.  I had apparently sunk to the bottom of the shallow end, and was just sitting there holding my breath at the bottom of the pool.  No one was directly watching me in that moment, but my sister took notice.  She remembers it clearly; I actually remember how the water and sunlight danced as I sat there on the pool floor.  She grabbed me out of the water, and I was fine after coughing a bit.  But if she hadn’t noticed me, things could’ve gone a lot differently.  I owe my sister my life.

Then, when I was around six years old, I was learning to waterski with training skis that were tied together.  There was an attached rope which an adult was to hold onto in the boat, letting go upon the skier falling.  There was a separate training rope with a handle for me to hold onto, which was connected to the skis.  But I had no control over the rope attaching me to the boat, and was relying upon my mom, who was holding the other end, to let go of it should I fall underwater.  I wore a life-jacket, of course.

My dad checked that I was ready, and I replied with his preferred signal to go: “Hit it!”

He slowly pulled the boat forward.  My feet tightly suctioned within the skis, I pushed as hard as I could, doing what I’d been told.  Lean back, Katie, they told me as well.  But nothing was happening except for my head and entire body were being dragged underwater at a suddenly faster speed.  The water was rushing over my skin so forcefully I remember my skin felt like it was flapping in the wind or something.  I wasn’t scared at first about having my head underwater; just keep leaning back and pushing, I told myself (and my parents were probably thinking that, too).  But after about what felt like ten seconds passed (mind you this is a six year old’s memory, so I may be off on my timing), I felt the need to take a breath.  But my entire head was still underwater.  I tried in vain to get my head above water for a breath, only being pushed further back by the force of the water.  I tried again, glimpsing my family on the boat, my mom holding the rope.  Why aren’t they letting go?! I remember thinking.  That’s when I started to panic, and desperately started trying to move my arms above me in the air and bob my head out of the water, anything to alert them.  I was consciously in a survival mode, aware that I needed air and could drown if they didn’t let go of that rope soon.  

And then I was free; the rope let go of.  My life-jacket’s buoyancy helped surface me, and I took a huge gulp of air, swallowing some water from the big wake, coughing as I struggled to catch my breath.  By the time my dad had circled around to retrieve me, I was crying and panicked.  

“Why didn’t you guys let go?!” I angrily cried.  

They apologized and said it wasn’t that long of a time; that sometimes it takes that long to stand up on skis.  Clearly it wasn’t on purpose; they didn’t mean to scare me.  But I was shaken by that experience.  However, I didn’t let it keep me from the water.  We went boating often, as my parents were waterskiers, and freshwater was my home.  We belonged to Las Trampas swimming pool near our house in Lafayette, going there often in the hot East Bay summers.  We played often in Las Trampas Creek behind our house.  Water was my home, and I wasn’t going to let one experience keep me from it.  Resilience was the lesson here.

A few years later, when I was eight, we were houseboating at Bullard’s Bar, an awesome lake in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California.  I was kneeboarding, and had the knee strap wrapped around my thighs.  Being a tiny little eight year old, we had to make it as tight as it would go, and it still was a bit loose.  

“Hit it!” I hollered to my dad.  

Off we went, just the right speed – a cool 13 mph, probably – and I was kneeboarding with a smile on my face.  I’d done it before, but this time I was going to try going crossing the wake for my first time, not a particularly easy thing to do as a child when the wake is nearly as big as you sitting down.  I made it over the left side of the wake to the sound of cheers from the boat.  I took my time enjoying being outside the wake in the relatively glassy waters, proud I’d made it.  But now I had to go back inside the wake.  I angled my board subtly toward the wake, making progress back toward it.  I made it over the peak of the lip, but nose-dived on my way back down, flipping forward and upside down attached to the kneeboard.  

I felt like I was trapped.  My kneeboard upside down, me stuck to it underwater.  The strap was wrapped tightly around my upper thighs by now, and my head kept hitting the kneeboard when I tried to come up for air.  I tried to unvelcro the strap, but either I didn’t have the strength to undo the full length of it, or I was too focused on trying to get my head above the water for air that I simply couldn’t undo it.  Within seconds, I made my head up again and gasped for air, catching a glimpse of my dad jumping off the boat and into the water to come help me.  He swam as quickly as he could as I flailed, panicking, trying to catch a breath.  He flipped me over quickly, unstrapped that darn knee-strap, and I immediately started coughing, breathing hard, and of course, crying my eyes out.  I was so scared.  But my dad and sisters were really comforting to me afterward, and I was kneeboarding again the next day (we forwent the knee-strap, and I just stayed in the wake).  But within a year, I was actually kneeboarding: crossing the wake, using the knee-strap (around my knees, and carefully so), and learning to do a 360 (it took a few seconds for me to turn around and go backwards first, then whip back around, but I still called it a 360).  

Again, resilience was the lesson.  

I kept going in the water, frequenting our local creeks, and traveling often to lakes and rivers with my family.  When I moved to Santa Cruz as a 17-year old to attend college at UCSC, the pervasive surf-culture beckoned me to the ocean.  I was more timid in the ocean, however; most of my water experiences had been in freshwater, not the ocean.  My god, the ocean was a whole different beast.  Sure, we went to the beach as kids occasionally, but freshwater was always our main gig.  It took me some time to reorient myself as an adult with the ocean and its dynamic, awe inducing power.  The fear of drowning in it lingered, especially because currents and waves were capable of rendering you powerless, not to mention it was so huge.  I felt out of control in it, not in a scary way per se, but in a way that didn’t make me want to go in it that much.  Little by little, I got more comfortable being in the ocean.  Wearing a wetsuit offers some buoyancy, and having a leash attached to your board makes the experience a lot more comforting.  I love both the ocean and freshwater now, though freshwater still feels like my first home.   

I must take a moment here as an aside to offer gratitude to my family, whom I was blessed to share so many formative and fun memories with as a child.  I am extremely thankful to my parents for taking us on so many cool vacations as children!  We traveled throughout California, camping and boating at so many lakes and cool places.  When I reflect upon my childhood, the overarching theme that dominates is being outside in nature having fun.  How cool is that!  Go Mom and Dad!

Back to the gist: I have a deep-seated fear of not breathing.  I know I’m not alone in that; it’s a very common, and natural, fear to have.  But when I found out I had apnea, I literally almost fainted at the doctor’s office.  As soon as he showed me the sleep-study graph of the times I weren’t breathing in the night – Here’s the first twenty-three seconds where you’re not breathing – he explained, I felt all the energy in my body empty through my feet.  I laid back on the exam table, and the accompanying nurse quickly asked was I okay.  I took a deep breath and said, “I feel like I’m going to pass out”.  She quickly got me some water, and the doctor turned his attention to me.

Tingly and light-headed, I said, “I just need to breathe for a second”.

There it was again: that breath that I so desperately needed.  I closed my eyes, taking deep breaths, my doctor’s hands on my wrist, assumably monitoring my pulse.  

“It’s okay; a lot of people get anxiety in the doctor’s office.  Have you ever had an episode like this before, like where you felt like you were going to faint at the doctor’s?” he gently posed.

“Well, I used to almost pass out when getting my blood drawn; I’m better about it now, though.  And apparently when I get big medical news.  When I saw that graph of me not breathing…and heard you diagnose my apnea…I think I just got really scared.  Not breathing is already a big fear of mine”, I explained.

The nurse and doctor were extraordinarily kind to me, taking the time to explain what it really meant for me (it’s common to have apnea), and what some potential solutions were.  Knowledge is the antithesis of fear, so I read up on it further.  I tried the CPAP device with another sleep study about a month later, but I felt completely claustrophobic with it, and kept ripping it off in the night.  

For now, I have settled on not doing much about it, except for making sure I get about 9-10 hours of sleep per night to accommodate for all the times I wake up in the middle of the night to catch my breath.  Although I never consciously wake up during these moments of apnea, my doctor explained how they interrupt your REM and sleep cycles, leaving you feeling exhausted in the morning.  Finally, I had a reason for naturally wanting to sleep in most days that I’m not working.  On a more somber note, I am not happy to know that sleep apnea increases your risk of heart disease, and can contribute to other health issues.  I may explore some other treatment options again in the future, but for now, am just trying to make sure I get enough sleep.

Which ties back into finding the balance between wanting something more, and having gratitude for exactly what is now.  

Over the last year or so, the resounding theme was that I wanted something more.  I wrote about it in my journal, talked about with friends and family, and thought often about what that more really meant to me.  I generally do the things I want to do soon after thinking of them, and this year, I certainly did more.  Once I have a goal in mind, I go for it with urgency and intense focus; I’ve always been that way.  I signed up for my mountain bike races, and trained harder for them.  I started this blog; I’m sharing the words I’ve longed to share, and it has been an amazingly powerful catalyst for self-reflection, discovery, and human connection.  I gave more to my marriage and husband; gave more energy to keeping up our home and garden.  I tried harder to take better care of myself.  I had my maiden trip to the Carrizo Plain for the wildflower superbloom; went snowboarding 17 awesome days this Winter season at Kirkwood.  I’ve been mountain biking like a machine; and writing happily, if not compulsively, at times.  Toot, toot, I know.  

But still I wanted more.  And then I realized exactly what that more was:

More time.

It was that simple.  

I just wanted more time to do the things I love to do, to be with the ones I love, and to learn all I can about our incredibly awesome Universe.  Yes, I wanted more money, and yes I wanted to travel more and do more with my life.  But all of that was nothing without the time to do it all. I know that, again, I probably sound a bit like just another spoiled Millennial, but I don’t want to work anymore.  If I didn’t have to work, I would actually have more time to do the things I love to do (that’s where the desire for more money comes in, knowing that with just the right amount, I could retire).  As I’m getting older, I’m realizing just how much we don’t have more time to count on; there’s no assurances of tomorrow, let alone ten years from now.  Time offers no guarantees, no promises, and certainly doesn’t go easy on our physical bodies over the years.  It’s cliche, but I’ll repeat it: all we truly have is now.  

We may not have more time in life, but we can definitely have more gratitude.  

Once I realize that, I feel perfectly content with everything exactly as it is in this moment.  Then I might forget a few minutes later when I get a bill in the mail to pay, or I find myself cursing last night’s burnt-on spaghetti sauce from the stovetop as I scrub it away.  We’re only human.  I admire people who can stay in this state of “now”, of meditative mindfulness, constantly throughout their lives.  I certainly try to, but I’ve definitely got some room for growth.  

Which is why Summer is such a gift: by giving me all of this time off of work, I can realize, yet again, how precious life is.  Feel true gratitude.

It all begins with breath.  Slowing down, enjoying each breath; deep and full, without stress.  

There’s a fantastic line from an even more fantastic movie, As Good As It Gets.  If you’ve seen it, you’ll likely remember the scene where Jack Nicholson is in the waiting room of his psychiatrist’s office.  After poking some fun at the variety of patients, he asks them: “Don’t you people realize?  What if this is as good as it gets?”  

As good as it gets.  That line spoke to millions of people, no doubt, and it was just one of many poignant yet wry lines from a phenomenal movie.  

It really spoke to me when I first saw it.  This is as good as it gets.  I can’t say I’ve always felt that way about my life; I’ve often felt the need for something more, or accomplishing the next goal.

The older I get, though, the more that line starts to resonate with me.  Maybe this really is as good as it gets.  Maybe I don’t need anything more.  Maybe all I really need is to just slow down and take it all in – flowers, butterflies, warts and all.  Maybe I just need more gratitude.  It’s life, and it’s happening all around me all the time.  And it’ll be over before I know it.   

So I’m slowing my flow and soaking up the summertime.  It’s alright to want more, but I must appreciate what I’ve already got right now.  Things don’t have to be “perfect” in life. As long as I have my breath, I have my body; and as long as I have a sound body, I have the opportunity to seize the day and make the most of my short time here on Earth. Having gratitude for life is really what it’s all about.

However you may be spending your Summer, I hope you’re enjoying it whole-heartedly. Whether you’re on vacation or not, we all can appreciate this time of year.

Now time is ticking; get after it!    

Some Songs I Wrote

A Collection of Songs by Katrin Deetz

I’ve been playing the guitar, singing, and writing songs since I was twelve years old.  The following is a set of my top 20 songs written thus far, and are from different ages and times in my life.  Most have chords to go with them, but I wanted to publish the lyrics as a start.  I’m not saying they’re any good, or sound any better when I sing them.  I also apologize to anyone who actually knows about songwriting that they’re probably not formatted correctly.  But I’ll tell you I’ve loved every second of writing and crafting them. Music is a passion that connects us all on a deep level, and I’ve always dreamed of being part of something greater than myself.  I hope you will find something you relate to in my words.  If you want to listen to some pretty old (and slightly embarrassing) recordings of a few of them, check out my relic of a MySpace page here.

All songs written by Katrin Deetz.



[Verse 1]

I am begging to shine

A light from deep inside

It’s been awhile,

But I know it’s still here in me

Dull and dusty, like old china

Resting on the shelf

In an abandoned house

Forever forgotten


But I am sterling silver, 925

Polish me up and let me shine


Shine, shine, shine burning light from the inside

Shine, shine, shine like 925

[Verse 2]

At the pawn shop,

All the others look so nice and shiny

Compared to me, I’m not sitting so pretty

Oh but I’m sterling silver, 925

A pretty good conductor of electricity

If you wanna give it a try

Dust me off, polish me up

Bring me into the light to shine



[Verse 3]

I am begging to shine, shine, shine

Like perfectly polished 925

Sterling silver so bright

Just like a mirror

Sometimes in life

We get a little dull

All we need’s a little bit of

Love to shine again





[Verse 1]

She was only eighteen, living a dream

Big dreams, big smile

Big plans, going somewhere

Passport to anywhere she wants to see

It’s time to celebrate living big


How did fifteen years fly by like the night?

Somewhere along the way I gave up the fight

What ever happened to livin’ big?

[Verse 2]

Started with the rent check,

Became so much more

Just scraping by, forget about living the dream

Want to live big

But I’m just trying to survive

Years are flying by like the cars on Interstate 5

Relentlessly remind me I am running out of time



Is growing up growing out of your dreams?

I wanna live big, big, big

[Verse 3]

Thirty-three, so it be

All I have is now, it’s all on me to see

What I need to believe

That I did not let fifteen years fly by in the night,

No that’s simply not me

Finally I see, I am already

Living the dream

[Chorus – modified]

I don’t let time fly by like the night

I live my life…big


“Blank Slate” 

[Verse 1]

I looked ahead down the road today,

Turned around, smiled at how far I’d made it

When suddenly out of the warmth and grace,

Stared me squarely in the face, a blank slate


Life’s looking me right in my eyes

I can’t just sit and watch the days pass by

Gotta go out on my own and fill that blank slate

[Verse 2]

Turned back down the old path for just one more day

Acted like the queen of the world, had so much to say

Then daybreak reared its pretty little head,

Time to move on face the music ahead



A giant vacant path lies ahead

Demanding my attention like a baby that just won’t go to bed

That glistening blank slate, so blinding

[Verse 3]

Years long ago, memories engraved in time

Like pictographs in desert stone

They’ve all got a story to tell

Now I’ve got a blank slate to fill, new picture to tell new stories




[Verse 1]

Wanna shut the world away, be myself today

Need some faith, even just a taste

I’ve been livin’ in misery, stuck behind this wall,

Wanna tear the fortress down, watch it fall


Breakdown, breakthrough

Make my way out to something new

Breakthrough, breakthrough

[Verse 2]

I can smell the roses, on the other side

Tease me like a little boy, go run and hide

Wanna the quiet the noise in my head,

Wanna live but I feel dead



Stone wall, but piece by piece not so strong

[Verse 3]

Eyes run dry like the Mojave sky

Can’t cry no more

I am nothing more than dust,

Time weathers me like rust



“Barely Hanging On By A Thread” 

[Verse 1]

Wake in the morning, to the same old story

You’re lying on the couch, I’m getting ready for work again

It’s been a long year, of getting nowhere near ahead

He’s one in ten, out of a job


And it feels like we’re hanging on, just a spider web in the wind

Loosely connected, I’m hoping that we make it


(Cause now) I’m barely hanging on by a thread

Longing for the life we once knew

Barely hanging on by a thread, unraveling

[Verse 2]

I’ve been waiting, but my faith is fading

Away just like the sunset in your eyes

Don’t know whether it’s just the stormy weather

Or is it your fault we’re drowning in the rain?




I can’t save you, I can’t make everything alright

Can’t fix it, though I’ve tried

[Verse 3]

I can’t change you, I can’t make you

Want to spread your wings and fly

You’re my best friend,

Nothing less than

The one I want to shoot across the sky

So when it feels like we’re hanging on,

Just like spider webs in the wind

Stay by my side, and I know that we’ll make it




[Verse 1]

I try to push it down below

But it’s everywhere I go

Wanna burn it all away, yeah

Send it out to sea

Let me get back to feeling like me


(Oh) I need another distraction

To numb my reaction

I’m falling down like dominoes again

[Verse 2]

I walk the maze

My head in a haze

Just counting the days that you’ve been gone

It’s not enough, to say you messed up

You’re gonna pay the price for rolling the dice again



Time is up, I’ve had enough

Can’t fake it anymore

[Verse 3]

Try and stand up on my own two feet

Walk on and show the world I’m fine

Pretend that all my dominoes are lined up neatly

That I’m not suffering inside



“Dream Legs” 

[Verse 1]

Dream legs, mushy feet dragging

Clumsily toward the unreachable end

Paralyzing every muscle

Bursting with anticipation


Trying to run forward but still I remain

Treading water with my dream legs


Dream legs, holding me down

It’s time to get a move on but I can’t get out

Stuck in these dream legs, dream legs,

Feels more like a nightmare

[Verse 2]

Frozen solid in my tracks

Feels like I keep sliding back

The light gets further away

Sinking into darkness and decay




The siren is blaring, fire’s ablaze

Time to run, here’s your chance to escape

[Verse 3]

If life’s all about how you see things

Maybe my vision just needs adjusting

Maybe I’m not as stuck as I perceive

Maybe these dream legs aren’t my burden to carry


[Chorus 2]

Set free from these

Dream legs, holding me down

Was paralyzed, but look at me now

Running like a horse let out the gate

Running free from those

Dream legs


“Glass Ceiling” 

[Verse 1]

Lately I’ve been feeling, oh

Just a little unsatisfied

Tired of waking up to the same old rut,

Living hand to mouth

And I’ve started believing it’s all I’m worth

Waiting for the payback that says I’ve made it

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could have a slice of the pie

So I can do everything I want to do before I die


Staring up through a glass ceiling

Beneath the party, party, party where I belong


[Verse 2]

I watch them all, celebrating their riches

Living like they’re the center of the world

Truth be told, I’ve had it both ways

And the richest one is the kindest one, always

But wouldn’t it be nice if I could have a slice of that pie

So I can do what I need to do before I die



The kindest one is the richest one

Happy with no strings attached, so free

[Verse 3]

Feels like treading water,

Every month a struggle

Living on a shoestring budget

Hoping the car doesn’t break down

So wouldn’t it be nice if I could have just

A little slice of that pie

Just another way to do all the things I wanna do before I die




[Verse 1]

She opens up her eyes,

Suddenly aware of all the lies

She knows it’s time…

Memories fall, like waterfalls

Pouring down the cliffs of yesterday

Pouring down, down, down


If home is in my heart, I can’t find it here

Jeckyl and Hyde, both screaming in my ear

I am homeless, homeless

[Verse 2]

By myself again,

Left you alone at the corner

Once together, now undone

History runs deep, but now feels so shallow

Just memories in the past, there is no now



I don’t know where my home is anymore

But I know it’s no longer with you

[Verse 3]

I hurt you like a lion kills its prey

Sharp claws are those words I say

They strike you down, lightning on the sea

You never saw this side of me



“How Long?” 

[Verse 1]

I’m trying to shed my skin

I want to break out of this prison I’m in

Winter wind’s howling, leaves flying past

High tide’s rising, water’s coming fast


How long?

‘Til I set myself free

Open my eyes, see the signs around me

It’s time to say goodbye, time to say goodbye

[Verse 2]

You sure like to tell me, how I’m almost good enough

If I just change who I am, then maybe you’ll give me your love

But now I see, your shadow’s come to light

Everyday’s just the same, it’s not worth the fight



My eyes are open wide, and there’s no reason now

It’s time for this bluebird to fly away, fly away

[Verse 3]

But I wake in the morning, to another cloudy day

To the silence between us, things we need to say

Held down in the blue water crashing overhead

Hold my breath and count to ten, somebody give me some air



“I Can, So I Do” 

[Verse 1]

The sound of my voice

Never sounds good enough for me

Always straining for something more

Never seem to stay on key

But there’s a true love

I simply need to, I must

Even if I’m the only ears

Listening with rose-colored headphones


But I can, so I do

Because I want to, need to, love to, have to,

I can, so I do

[Verse 2]

I push too hard

For your uh-huh

Trying to find where I stand among the crowd

Do I fit in here?  With the real housewives of Anytown?  

I find myself alone all the time,

Just me myself and I

Because I’d rather sing the truth

Even if it only falls upon my own ears


[Verse 3]

With every single day that passes

Time’s running out for the things that we love

Like spring wildflowers, bursting with life

Then fading away

Though I may sing off key, though I may try too hard

As long as I’m here

I’ll be doing what I love to do

Because I absolutely need to



“Only You” 

[Verse 1]

Only you can decide how you live your life

You gotta let your fears go, know it’ll be alright

You’ve got friends and laughter, it’s the good life you’re after

Just remember along the way…


Only you can choose

To spread your wings and fly

Only you can choose

How to live your life

Only you, only you

[Verse 2]

May you learn it’s okay to be imperfect

Though you may struggle it’s all part of it

It’s never too late, to start over again

You can change your mind when things don’t go to plan



You’ve got everything you need

To do as you please

All the power’s deep inside you

[Verse 3]

The easy road is a thief in disguise

Robbing you from becoming wise

Take a stand for yourself, don’t wait for someone else

Your power lies inside you


You’ve got everything you need

To do whatever you please


“Rising Above” 

[Verse 1]

My eyes are wide open, I finally realize

What it’s all about, Finally got it right

Feels like I’m making up for lost time

Thinking back on all the days I wasted, long gone


Now I’m rising above you,

Taking back my time

Rising above your disguise

[Verse 2]

I was drowning, sinking deeper and deeper

I was hanging onto, my only friend

Now I’m no longer down, no longer your keeper

Feeling freer and freer, now you’re not around



Look at me now, Standing on solid ground, solid ground, solid ground

[Verse 3]

Now I’m seeing clearer and clearer, Living back in the real world

Feeling so good now that you’re not around, yeah

Better and better, beyond measure

Flying higher than ever, you’re not pulling me down


[Verse 4]

I gave you years of my life, How quickly it passes by

Sneaking up on me like a cat stalking his prey

Little by little, my power just faded away

The light in my eyes dimmed to a smoky haze

So far away from myself, so consumed by you


I’m in no hurry, taking my sweet time


“Roll the Dice” 

[Verse 1]

I rolled the dice, I didn’t think twice

Before I threw all my chips in

I took my pain and sent it through my veins

Rushing like a driving train


It’s a long, long way, back home

To the love I had known

[Verse 2]

Stood in the rain, I just couldn’t explain

Everything I’s feeling inside

Crawled in my skin, committed a sin

Just looking for a place to hide


[Verse 3]

Looked in the mirror, tried to see a bit clearer

The fire burnin’ from my eyes

Down on my knees, heart’s aching to breathe

Drowning in a sea of lies



“Sick and Tired” 

[Verse 1]

Driftin’ along, got no place to be

My bank account’s steady losing steam

Gotta piece of paper, says I’m good enough

To get that dollar, but I ain’t seen a dime


Hard times fallin’ on us

Standin’ in line, waitin’ for a piece of the pie

(But) the line keep’s on growin’, well

We’re just growin’ sick and tired (x2)

[Verse 2]

Everybody’s strugglin’, tryin’ to get by

One paycheck away from the poverty line

If it’s all relative, no we’re not poor

But to make it here, we need something more


[Verse 3]

They’ve got a trillion dollars, throw it at their wars

Show each other who’s really in control

Once was a dream to have so much more

But now it’s all a memory



“Song for AG”

[Verse 1]

Born under a bad son

Out of the pain he was the one to succeed

He was my lover, he was my friend

But now he’s reached the end

A confused and rebellious boy,

But he somehow made his way

But all the anguish led him to decay


Fly away, somewhere you won’t be in pain

Fly away, somewhere you won’t drown in vain

Oh Adam, you know you’re cynicism kept you strong

[Verse 2]

Through all you masked to the world

I loved you even when you were cold

Cause deep inside you were warm

And that’s how I remember you

The boy at the football game

That I kissed behind the bleachers

You wouldn’t let me have white candy

On Halloween cause you knew it would hurt me

You really cared enough to stop me



“South of Mission”

[Verse 1]

Like a headwind on your downhill

Where we live south of Mission

On the lower Westside

Where the homes are old

But neighborhood’s filled with pride

South of Mission

Cracks in our sidewalks

Boys hangin’ out in front of the liquor store


We are South of Mission, where we call home

South of Mission, we’ve got heart and soul to give

South of Mission, that’s where we live

[Verse 2]

Head North up the highway

Not too far until the fancy cars

Land of castles, separated by just one mile

But it feels like you’ve gone to Mars

North of Mission, oh

The land of opportunity

North of Mission,

Where I’d kind of like to be


[Verse 3]

Living so closely

To the world of the mighty high

Sometimes makes me feel like

I’m South of all those people up there

But South of Mission’s where

We’re down to Earth

Living each day for all its worth

South of Mission’s where our heart beats with love



“Summertime Chime” 

[Verse 1]

Sittin’ in the shade, sun is creepin’ closer

Just another inch and I’ll have to move over

It’s hot as jalapenos on your tongue,

Hot as jalapenos in the sun

Wind!  Chimes!  Blowin’ in the wind

Chimes don’t rhyme with my musical rhyme

Wind!  Chimes!  Blowin’ in the wind

Chimes out of time with my musical design


Summertime, summertime chimes (x2)

[Verse 2]

I’m kickin’ up my feet, not going anywhere

Spend the day just doing what I care

The birds in the trees all agree with me

Singing along in perfect harmony


[Verse 3]

Wind!  Chimes!  Blowin’ in the wind

Chimes don’t rhyme with my musical rhyme

Wind!  Chimes!  Blowin’ in the wind

Chimes out of time with my musical design




[Verse 1]

Only thirteen, baby of three girls

Look into the mirror, see my dark eyes

Sinking into a velvet sea of escape

Makes it all feel better, til it fades away


A skinny little girl looks in the mirror

Only thirteen, my perfect world is gone

[Verse 2]

Look into my eyes, I’m crying out inside

Save myself the pain, go for a magic carpet ride

I don’t feel a thing, floating high above

Until the morning crashes down



It’s not okay, I’ve lost myself in the storm

Need a lifeline

Somebody to save me from myself

[Verse 3]

Can I go back to the days, when I was just a little child

When the world was right, everything all right

But people die, mothers and even fathers cry

Our family’s broken, I’m holdin on to thin air



“Yes You Are” 

[Verse 1]

Sometimes she gets tired, tired of being tired

Working at a dead-end job

Dreaming of a life,

She has visions in her mind

Living in a big house, traveling the world

She wants to be a rockstar, rocking hard

Rock, rock, rock star


Yes you are, yes you are,

A real rockstar [x2]

[Verse 2]

Trying to make every dollar last

Stretch it out to connect the dots

Just think positive, Mama always said

But it’s hard to do when you’re living on a thread

She wants to be a rockstar, every night she’s rocking hard

Lost in a happy world, playing that guitar



She’s looking for an answer, looking for a savior

Doesn’t she know it’s all within her

Honey it’s time to rock and roll



California Enduro Series MidTour Update: A Beginner’s First Mountain Bike Racing Season

This year, I am racing my first season of the California Enduro Series, or CES.  After years of riding, I am finally dipping my toes in the world of mountain bike racing.  I did the Sea Otter Classic enduro races the last few years, and the Santa Cruz Old Cabin Classic as my first races.  This year I committed to doing seven races: the 2017 Sea Otter (see previous blog post Flow of A Ride: Sea Otter Classic 2017), and six of the eight CES races.  I’ve been learning lots of valuable lessons along the way, and committing to the series has certainly changed the way I’m riding in my free time these days.  Now that I’m half-way through the series, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect upon my progress thus far.

CES Round 1: Mammoth Bar: May 6, 2017

On Saturday, May 6, the series kicked off at the Mammoth Bar OHV area near Auburn, California.  To get a sense of the race, watch this short Video Here.  

Pre-riding a course seems like an obvious thing to do before racing it.  I had rented a car on Friday, leaving work at 2:30 p.m. for Auburn.  Silly me.  The Bay Area traffic has become insufferable at certain times of day, proving to be the case.  I sat in line for the 680 North onramp from Mission Boulevard in Fremont for 25 minutes, moving literally about 10 feet, all the while watching SigAlert get redder and redder as the minutes crept on.  It would probably have taken me about six hours to get to Auburn with the traffic that lay ahead.  I decided then that I would turn around and go back home, forfeiting my opportunity to preride the course, but saving my attitude and happiness.  I was back home to Ben Lomond in less than an hour, and riding my bike that evening.  Of all the things in life that really bother me, which I’d like to think of as very few, traffic nears the top of that list.  In hindsight, I should’ve taken the day off of work and driven up in the morning when the roads were clear.  

Lesson #1 learned on this tour: go up the day before (or sooner) to preride the course whenever possible!  

I woke up at 4:30 a.m. the next morning, pouring my coffee and heading out by 4:45.  At that time of day, traffic is virtually non-existent.  As much as I hate waking up early, I admit I love this early hour for road travel.  I made it up to Auburn in a few hours, but got a tiny bit lost finding the Mammoth Bar OHV Trailhead where the race was due to start.  My GoogleMaps directed me to some park headquarters office a few miles down the road, so I hied it back to the actual start after calling my husband for some guidance, who was able to quickly look online at home versus me waiting for spotty mobile data to load on my phone.  By the time I found the trailhead, all of the racers were lining up at the start of Stage 1.  I parked my car, kitted up as quickly as I could, and set out up the steep, paved hill I’d just driven down to the start of the first stage.  

Upon my arrival, I was the last of a handful of Beginner Women, my racing category, lining up to start in 30-second intervals.  I exchanged a few brief hellos with the women, who seemed more welcoming and cool than my admittedly stereotypical presumption that most racers have some level of attitude: that in-your-face, I’m-better-than-you-and-I-know-it presence I’ve seen among some riders on the trail.  Perhaps this is just a misperception on my part, judging by how nice these girls were.  There were 10 of us total, and I went last.  The first stage was pedaly and relatively flattish, meandering up and down crumbled metamorphic rocks.  I passed one girl, and finished just behind another.  I felt pretty good for my first run in a new place.  

The Enduro racing format is based upon your cumulative Stage times, so once you finish a timed stage (you wear a computer chip to log your runs), you can relax a little on the untimed transfer stages in between.  I climbed what I heard others begrudgingly called the Mile of Terror, or something like that; it was essentially a relentless climb up a fireroad, which many people were pushing their bikes up.  I enjoy a good climb, so climbed that fireroad all the way up to the top without stopping.  Although it felt good to pass people on the way up (“They should have a category for fastest to the top!” I silently mused), it didn’t help me in the long-run: my Stage 2 start time wasn’t for two more hours.  2 hours to kill sitting around, watching the Pro’s, Experts, Sport, and Beginner Men’s categories all go before us.  There were water jugs and port-a-potties, and about a couple hundred riders waiting around in various groups.  People shared the 411 on their gear; debates about whether 27.5” or 29” tires were better for the course carried on.  A group of energetic teenage boys jeered each other playfully, poking fun and psyching themselves up.  One of them looked very familiar: it was my former student from the sixth grade, Conor!  Always a nice kid and a great athlete, I was happy to see him here at the race.  

“Miss Craig!” he recognized me.  I still love hearing my maiden name, seeing as how it’s barely been two years since I’ve been Mrs. Deetz.

We said “hi” and chatted about the race before I went down to a viewing area alongside the trail.  About thirty or so people were lined up along a drop in the trail, and the riders were coming through on the verge of control every half minute or so.  We all cringed as a few of them lost control and flew over their handlebars, eating dirt before quickly getting up and continuing along the course.  Lesson #2: If you fall but you can still ride, by all means get up and keep going.  Bruises, cuts, and scrapes can all be cleaned up, iced, and elevated later.  Surely you’ll know if you’re too hurt to keep on riding.  I’ve had a few minor falls in races now, and each time I hurried back onto my bike and kept going, losing ten seconds or less per time.  The end-goal would be not to fall at all during a race, of course.  But that’s simply not the reality for most riders, professional or beginner, I’m learning.

By the time the second stage was due to start, I was hungry, tired, and my muscles were cold and tight.  I’d been talking with the girls in my group, relaxing as we all agreed to have ghost riders for the rest of the race, since we were the last to go.  A “ghost rider” adds an extra 30-seconds behind you, so instead of the next racer starting 30-seconds behind you, they start one-minute later.  It reduces the chance of them catching up to you, which, for many of us beginners, can be a disconcerting feeling.  Being passed can be nerve-wracking.  You hear the buzz of the cassette coming toward you like a dragonfly; you immediately look for a safe place to quickly pull off the trail and let the approacher pass.  However, there aren’t always convenient places to do so, and it can be tricky to pass.  The few times I’ve been passed, I had good places to pull over, and clearly communicated that with the incoming rider, allowing them to flow past me without slowing down.  One of the things I get nervous about is interrupting someone’s flow by bogging on a pass.  So taking a ghost-rider is a great way to reduce that chance.  

The second, third, and fourth stages of the race all flowed like butter.  Despite being new to the trails, I felt at home on the style of mountainous terrain.  I really enjoyed the shale rock, dense yet crumbly, finely ground to a silt in the depths of trail corners.  The last stage #4 was the most fun: a flow-trail of well-banked berms and turns through oak woodland, finishing down at the race headquarters, where the smell of barbeque beckoned us from the hilltop.  

After finishing the race, I felt like I’d flown through it.  

“I think I might’ve won,” I thought to myself.  I had some lunch and hung around with people after the race before they announced they didn’t have it together to have a Podium awards ceremony that evening; I wouldn’t get to find out how I placed or if I won.  Around 4:45 that afternoon, I got in the car and headed home, feeling happy with how the day went.  

When I got home and saw Ron, I was telling him how the race went and how I felt like I might’ve actually won.  “By a minute and twenty-nine seconds?” he asked (he’d gone online and seen the results, clearly).  That’s when I knew: I had won first place!  Not only had I gotten first in my Beginner Women’s category, but I also would’ve placed first in the Sport 35+ category above that.  I jumped around my living room emphatically celebrating, pumped up like I’d won money or something.  This was my first time winning any kind of official race, and it felt amazing.  Finally!

After winning that race, I signed up for the rest of the series.  From that point on, I was committed.

Mammoth Bar 3Mammoth Bar 2

Mammoth Bar 1
480 is #1!


CES Round 2: Toro Park: May 27, 2017

Watch the Video Recap Here to get a sense of this course.

Toro Park is part of Fort Ord National Monument near Salinas, California.  I’ve ridden the trails of Fort Ord several times; the Sea Otter Classic is held across the park closer to Monterey.  These trails are notoriously sandy: loose, beach sand style pits sneak up on you and trap you; slide-outs on the corners are almost unavoidable.  Sand is not my favorite soil type to ride on.  The trails I ride in Santa Cruz are mostly a nice loam (clay, sand, and humus blend, heavy on the humus with all the redwood forest duff).  The clays compact and make the trails tacky and trustworthy. Sand, on the other hand, keeps you on your toes; you can’t fully relax riding in it, or you’ll likely fall (like I have, many times).  I’ve been riding a place called Bear Mountain near my house which is known for its sandy trails just to get better on the sand; it’s helped, but I’ve still got some work to do.  

I managed to pre-ride half of the course the Friday before the race; Ron (my husband) and I went down after work and rode stages 2 and 3 (there were 4 total stages).  

On race day, I showed up nearly late, again.  Lesson #3: Give yourself plenty of time to get ready for your race.  I hurried up to the start of Stage 1, and had a small slide-out in a sandpit.  I was fine, but my left elbow was literally sandburned.  I kept going, but was humbled by that fall from there on out.  I was more timid in my approaches, although I did get a stage win on Stage #2.  I finished the race feeling like I could’ve gone a bit faster, especially on the last stage, which was a pedaly surprise to me.  

I placed third in this race.  Although it was nice to place so high out of 16 women, it didn’t feel as good as winning first.  I admit I was a tiny bit disappointed.  But I only had myself to blame: I lived an hour away, but how much had I pre-ridden the course?  Just once, and only half the course.  Sand may not be my home in terms of dirt, but there’s only one way to get better at something.  Again: pre-ride whenever possible!


CES Round 4: China Peak: July 1, 2017

Check out this video of the action: China Peak Recap

Of all the stops on the tour, China Peak loomed like a fogbank.  Stories of untrustworthy, loose rubble, and awful crashes sprinkled my narrative.  I’d never been there before, but heard it was one of the gnarlier stops on the CES tour.  Everyone from the pros to the beginners seemed to have a horror story to share about falling there, and on race-day, arm-slings, bloody clothes, and tales of flying over the bars were all the buzz.  Such a comforting way to begin a race somewhere new!  

I’d planned to drive up on Friday 6/30 to preride the course.  But snag after snag held me up at home, starting with snoozing my alarm at 6:30 a.m.  Slept in til 9:00; woke up to my back tire leaking air; 4th of July holiday weekend traffic was building up.  I basically blew my chance to get up early and preride.  The worst part was I would have to figure up how to make that four hour drive by 7:30 a.m. the next morning…

I woke up like a zombie at 3:30 a.m. Saturday morning; poured my coffee, jumped in the car.  No one was on the road, and I made it to China Peak in only 3.5 hours!  Epic time. Got my race-plates and wrist chip at check-in; attended the Racer Meeting at 7:45.  It was already hot and sunny, and the altitude of 7,000’ at the base of the mountain was reminding me to down more water.  Hydration is always one of my top priorities.  Water, water, water…just like a fish.

I had time to take a short one-hour power nap in the back of my Outback.  This helped recharge me for the race.  Our start time was 10:45 a.m., and at about 10:00 a.m. I loaded my bike onto the chairlift to get to the top of Stage 1 (this was the only stage of the race where we’d get to ride the lift).  I met some cool girls at the top of the stage who’d preridden (smartly so) the day before.  I got some trail beta from them: watch the deep, silty corners that can grab you; stay right on the rock garden section about half-way down; look out for the deep mudpits and board bridge at the bottom.  I had watched several YouTube videos of the race in the week prior, and felt intimidated by what I’d seen, and now what I was hearing from the girls.  I really felt like a dumb-ass in this moment for not making it up to preride.  Especially when I read it on the China Peak recap: “China Peak is not a place to ride blind”.  Duh.  But it was too late.

I made it down Stage 1 with relatively good flow and grace for being blind on it.  No falls or close calls.  The dirt surely was loose and kept me far back on my bike, but so far, so good.  Stage 2 was a bit harder, but I felt more comfortable on the terrain by this point. Upon finishing the second lap, the climb up to Stage 3 presented itself like a laughing clown: “Haha, all you mountain bikers who think you’re in such great shape!  See how you do against my wall of a crumbly climb in this heat, at this altitude!”  I’d heard it was a tough climb, and it proved so right away.  People were pushing their bikes up the steepest sections (myself included); the little amounts of shade that spotted the trail were occupied by weary, sweaty riders trying to regain their composure.  

By the time I made it to the top, I was definitely feeling exhausted from my alpine start and long morning.  I felt like I could take a nap.  I sat for about 20 minutes in a shady spot, eyes closed every now and then, to just really unplug and rest.  This might’ve been the wrong move, however.  By the time I lined up for my last lap at the top of Stage 3, I felt too relaxed, tired, and hungry: all I could think of was food waiting for me at the bottom of the mountain.  To add to my feeling of being underprepared, riders started telling me about the lap: it was the hardest lap of our race (mind you the Pro’s and Experts also road a 4th and 5th stage, which were even harder), and lots of people had crash stories from a particularly challenging rock garden section.  Awesome.  All I could do was try it and do so within my limits; I didn’t want to lose control and crash.  

I started Stage 3 with loose, tight turns, and about halfway down the mountain, the granite started to appear.  Entering the rock garden, I thought to myself, “Keep right”.  I was far left, however.  There was a crowd of people lined up alongside the trail watching and cheering, which can be distracting.  I lost my flow and grace and took a little fall here, nothing bad but enough to lose about 10 seconds.  Quickly got back on the bike to keep going, but as anyone knows who’s fallen, it’s sometimes harder to get going again once you’ve lost that flow.  Sure enough, I took a small fall again just a few feet later.  Argh!  Another 10 seconds lost of recombobulating myself.  Surprisingly, I navigated the rest of that rock garden with some poise, actually taking a graceful line down one of the sketchiest sections.  Some redemption for my falls at the top.  There was a huge boulder at the end which you had to ride straight over the top of, or risk falling down the side of if you weren’t careful.  Cut over that like a waterski on water, nothing slowing me down.  Kept on until the finish of the stage a few minutes later, where I happily rested with some food and water among the finishers.  

I placed #2 in this race, not bad for riding it blind on little sleep.  I stuck around for the podium awards for my first time, and got to stand up there with my fellow Beginner Women to get our awards.  I was happy with my results, and contentedly exhausted.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of being done with a race.  I think it might be one of the best feelings around.  Before a race, there is so much anticipation.  Not quite anxiety-inducing, but enough to keep you up thinking about all the different variables (What’s the dirt like?  What kind of tire pressure would be best?  I hope I do well!).  There is so much preparation: booking hotels or campsites; planning the drive; packing up the car; bringing back-up supplies just in case; mentally making sure you’re feeling confident, calm, and in charge.  So by the time the race is actually done, that relief is a huge reward.  It just feels so good to finish something you started!  Especially something hard.


After the race

As I reflect upon my race progress halfway through the CES, I’m definitely learning a lot on the way.  Not just practical lessons (like the importance of preriding a course), but emotional, mental, and physical lessons as well.  The obligation of having to do something?  I admit it’s made me rebel subconsciously; I find myself making excuses here and there for not riding.  When I’m supposed to do something, I have a tendency to rebel against it, which is funny, because I’m the only one telling myself I’m supposed to!  It’s not like anyone’s making me do these races.  I find my old rebellious ways coming back, and I have to laugh at myself; more importantly, laugh and then get back on the bike.  I’ve had to remind myself that regardless of how I place in these races, I love riding, and that’s really all that should matter.  Yet adding in the element of race-training has definitely changed my rides a bit.  I work harder; I try to climb faster.  Tightroping between your top speed and staying in control is a constant balancing act for any rider. Surely, speed is important for winning a race.  But it’s nothing without the control and grace to get you to the bottom in one piece.  

I am not overly concerned about being the “best” rider out here.  My main challenge with racing at the moment is purely mental: how can I tune out the background noise and distractions?  How can I bring my A-game to any venue, anywhere, in any conditions, and still demonstrate flow and grace?  How can I focus on riding my best, despite how my competitors are riding?  Learning to just stay in my zone is one of my main goals during this competition.  

Occasionally I wish I’d gotten into mountain bike racing at a younger age.  Looking at the U-18 groups of teens, and I can see myself among those boisterous, youthful riders.  I don’t spend a lot of time regretting things that can’t be changed in the past, but do sometimes wonder where I’d be if I’d started this journey at a younger age instead of 36 years old.  I suppose the same could be said about other hobbies and interests.  But at least I am trying now.

I currently rank #2 overall in the Beginner Women category, and would love to finish in the top 3 by the end of the series.  Here’s hoping!   Of course, I would love to “prove” myself competitively.  Winners are determined by taking your top 6 race results (out of the 8 total races).  I have three more stops on the tour: Round 5: Big Bear “Crafts & Cranks” Enduro, Round 6: NorthStar, and Round 7: Kamikaze Bike Games in Mammoth.  Until next time…back out to the trails!

Where Is The “Top of the Hill”?

Acme. Summit. Apex. High point.

In life, we all have times of feeling on top of our game, at the top of the hill, so to speak. What defines these peaks depends upon many facets: physical health, intellectual vigor, emotional well-being, and active creative expression.  The latter three aspects are fluidly available for edification at all times of our lives, from age seven to age one hundred and thirteen.  But the first – physical health – is finite, its looming shelf life throwing all other aspects of my life into question.  

At thirty-six years old, I ponder the age-old question so many have wrestled with before: “Am I at the top of the hill?”  We all know what’s after that peak: being “over the hill”.  On the other hand, can my potential emotional, intellectual, and creative growth collectively outweigh the physical decline of my body?  How much of my happiness depends upon my physical well-being, and to what degree so?  

Until about a year ago, I felt like I was sixteen years old – no injuries or major physical ailments.  I could go for a long mountain bike ride, play a full game of soccer, and garden into the evening with energy to spare.  Though I had occasional muscle soreness, I never felt like I was aging until I turned 35.  Insidiously, my left hip and shoulder began aching more and more.  There was a new level of exhaustion I hadn’t felt before after a long run.  Suddenly it hit me: I was getting older.  Time was running out to accomplish the things I wanted to do in my short life.  

I learned recently that even if you live everyday as your last, even if you really appreciate your life and don’t take things for granted, time still passes by; there is an end to everything.  Even if you enjoy yourself as much as you can, nothing lasts forever.  There will be an end to that peak, that summit of life.  I feel like I have lived most of my life with this awareness.  I have a zealous appreciation for life, taking advantage of most everyday, realizing how little time we actually have.  But now that I feel my body starting to slow down, I see the “end” getting closer, and I admit it kind of scares me.  

When we’re young, it seems like we have years upon years ahead of us to look forward to.  Time is no concern; we’ll be able to do anything we want to do.  As we get older, those years become less and less; suddenly, looking ten years into the future means looking at a whole different decade, not just more of the same youthful continuum.  

I should take a moment to briefly summarize my overall philosophy about life: I am a nihilistic, optimistic realist.  

I truly believe that nothing really matters over the long-run.  Deep Time, measured in eons, not centuries, provides a calming, comforting perspective.  I like knowing that I am not even a register in the timeline of Earth; that in two hundred years, I will likely be completely forgotten forever.  No problem really matters.  The universe is so vast, and its magnificent magnitude show me just how small I am.  This isn’t being cynical or depressed, but having a detached perspective that has kept me afloat over the years, and kept me from sinking during difficult times.  Believing that nothing really matters has made some things easier to overcome, right or wrong.

Although I never look forward to going through a good old hard time in life, more often than not, getting through them can create a new gratitude and passion for life.  It’s a very long story that I’d like to get into more someday, but I had a rebellious, hard time as a young teenager; specifically, my eighth grade of middle school, and freshman year of high school.  There were challenging circumstances in both my own actions, and within my extended family.  I felt like nothing mattered, and that I certainly did not matter.  I guess you could generalize it as common teenage angst paired with some real-life tragedies, and both spiraled me into a hard period of time with some poor choices.  Long story short, I persevered on my own accord, starting my sophomore year of high school running out of the gate, full-speed all the way on to graduating with Honors and going to UC Santa Cruz for college.  I even received a scholarship from my high school for “overcoming adversity”.  I also received the Physical Education Merit award for my commitment to fitness.  I realize now just how meaningful those two awards were.  

That time as an early teenager ultimately instilled a rock-solid faith within myself.  I trust myself like the sunrise after some of the challenges I’ve risen to.  From my nihilistic tendencies a realistic optimist was born.  Believing that nothing really mattered freed me to really appreciate, to live fully, and to be more open; to be honest, real, and authentic.  It invited me to curiously observe things as they were, realistically.  I realized that life wasn’t always rainbows and daisies, and that was okay.  The complexity of life is what makes it interesting.

It also made me realize that things do matter, while we are alive and experiencing them at least.  We feel that they matter, and that can be all that matters sometimes.  Keeping a Deep Time perspective all of the time is unrealistic.  While we’re here, we make all kinds of meaning of our memories and relationships with others.  Everything feels incredibly important.  And it ought to, for living with that sort of vivacious commitment to caring about one’s own affairs can lead to great happiness and satisfaction.  Our relationships with others create a network of vitality which sustains us throughout our lives.  In the time since my teenage years, I’ve grown far more appreciative of my life and loved ones.  Living like nothing matters doesn’t work so well as a married adult with a job and mortgage.

Which brings me back to aging.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to value everything in my life more.  Which leads me back to the essential question of this post: how much does physical aging affect our ability to live life with the vigor, lust, and happiness that we have grown to love so much over the years?  Am I at the “top of the hill” right now?  

If you consider the wealth of wisdom, experience, and knowledge that an older person often has, I’d like to think they are still sitting happily atop the summit of life; that despite any misgivings of their physical health, they are mentally, emotionally, and spiritually more fulfilled than they were at my age.  Consider the faces of some of the happiest older people you may have seen: they smile from within, emanating light, peace, and acceptance.  Surely they are unhurried due to some physical slowing from age, but that unhurried pace also bestows a great awareness, a real “living in the moment” approach to life.  I look upon my elders with respect and awe, hoping to glean some grace from their ways.  

I also consider the endless breadth and depth of knowledge, known and unknown, in the universe.  There is so much to learn about!  Every time I pick up a new book, I am floored by something new I never even know about.  This discovery is exciting and motivating, keeping everyday full of possibilities.  When I think about legends like Stephen Hawking, who is arguably the poster-child for perseverance despite physical challenges, I am inspired beyond measure.  He is just one of many heroes in my eyes who simply awe me.  

I am not at the top of the hill, then, if I consider self-actualization as the definition of being there.  There is so much more I could always be!  Although I consider myself a happy person with a calm, content nature, there are many things left I’d like to accomplish and experience.  Though I am a teacher of eleven years, and have hopefully inspired at least some of those twelve and thirteen year-olds I’ve taught, I wonder if I could have a greater impact on the world. This sense of wanting “more” from life emerged about the same time I felt age paint its permanent lines on my face.  And as I begin the Summer of my thirty-sixth year, the urgency of time’s finity is at the forefront of my mind.  

I am actually running out of time to do some specific things.  As a woman, this particular age adds another element to aging: declining fertility.  I have no children yet, and I obviously don’t have many good years left to do so.  Whether Ron and I will have children remains a huge consideration for both of us.  At ten years my senior, Ron’s age definitely adds to my concern.  But we love our lifestyle together – we’re free to go for bikerides together anytime we want, go on snowboarding trips to Tahoe, stay up late – and we both highly prioritize recreation and fun. Some might call this “selfish”, but I see it as self-seizing.  We are seizing everyday, taking life by the reins.  Though we greatly enjoy the company of children, neither of us has a burning desire, at least not yet, to have our own.  However, we don’t want to look back on our lives and regret not having children when we had the chance.  I, especially, am struggling with this issue right now, since I am the one with the expiring shelf-life within the next ten years or sooner.  As we explore this life-changing possibility of having kids, I’ve got my eye on those sand grains passing through the hourglass.

Then there are the other things I’m running out of time to do.  I’ve already reconciled that music will forever be a hobby of mine, never a career of mine; it took me awhile to let my rock-and-roll fantasy go.  I also have reconciled with my gray hairs, which can make me look older than I feel.  I’ll never have to worry about being carded again (though I don’t even drink).

What I haven’t been able to reconcile with quite yet is the fact that I won’t be as physically fit as I am now forever.  A lot of my identity and personality are tied to physical activities and sports.  The threat of losing the ability to do those things is not appealing.  I admit it gives me some anxiety to think about losing my skillful ability to flow with grace over the land, whether it be on a snowboard, mountain bike, or my own two feet.  I feel most powerful and free when I’m in the groove of a physical activity.  The joy from that movement is spiritually fulfilling, making me feel more connected to the earth.  I hope I am lucky to live long into my life with full motion.  I may not be mountain biking downhill at ninety, but if I can still walk around on my own volition, I think that would be enough for me.  

Does everyone feel their identity is closely tied to their physical prowess?  Whether you’re cooking a mean chili, designing a gorgeous ballgown, or moving your chesspiece in a move of checkmate, you need your body to do those things.  You don’t need to be a pillar of physical fitness, but you need your fingers to do the work.  Moreover, we need our bodies in our day-to-day lives.  When we can no longer do the things we want to do, I don’t think there’s any sugar-coating the frustration and disappointment that will surface.  Despite the sharpness of mind, happiness of heart, or elevation of spirit, this physical decline will be a tough pill to swallow no matter how you cut it.  However, I recall the old adage: getting old beats the alternative (the alternative being death, of course).  I wonder if I’ll feel that way should I be lucky enough to live into older age.

There’s another factor to consider in all of this: the unknown.  We never know how much time we have left, how many “good” years may lie ahead, or when our time is up once and for all.  I could die tomorrow, or at 113.  Just another reason to live life to the maximum every single day;  to appreciate just how far we’ve come, no matter where we are on the path of life.  It’s not a race to the end, after all.  The older I get, the more all the old cliches ring true: life’s a journey, not a destination.

Getting older does affect what kinds of possibilities are left for us in life, to some extent.  But does losing those possibilities put me “over the hill”?  Or will the combined future growth of my emotional, intellectual, and spiritual sides outweigh that physical decline?  I’d sure like to think the answer is yes.  As I sit here in my thirty-sixth year, seemingly the top of my physical “hill”, I hope it’s not downhill from here on out.  The success of the esteemed elders before me would certainly indicate otherwise.  

What do you define as your “hills” in life?  Which kind of “hill” is most important to you?  Most importantly, I now consider the question: are there not an infinite number of possible “hills” for us to triumph over the course of a lifetime?  Blessed may it be so.