Here is the eight-minute video from Arctic Entries where I tell the story of meeting my husband Nick:
"Mommy did you know people with my color skin use to be mean to people with darker colored skin, like Zion's."
"Tell me more, Olive."
"Well, like they use to order them around and tell them they couldn't do stuff, but thats just not fair."
"You're right Babe, its not fair at all."
"I mean Zion's the same as me. And Aleisha. And Fatu. And Eva and Elaine. And Isaacc, I mean his skin's really dark, even darker than Zion's."
"And he's a cool kid who wants to play, just like you."
"Yeah! Its not fair."
This conversation happened over a month ago and I didn't say, "Olive it still happens today." We talked about people working to change society, to make it more fair for everyone, including her friends with dark skin.
I didn't tell her racism is still alive and well today--I didn't have that conversation with my daughter.
Its part of the privilege I wear, with my mostly white skin, not needing to prepare my children, as young as six, to encounter racism daily, from individuals and institutions, in all their interactions with the world.
Letting my daughter think racism is part of our history, something to be studied in school, the week of Martin Luther King day perhaps, and not a current reality that we benefit from in all aspects of life.
This is my privilege too.
The way I can drive over the speed limit, knowing if the police pull me over the worst that will happen is I'll owe the court some money; and its just as likely I can smile pretty and be off with a warning.
The way I don't have to speak for being "white". The way "white" is not used to describe me when I move somewhere new.
"You know Christy, she's that short white girl."
The way I am trusted when I walk into a store not to shoplift. The way people smile at me when we pass on the sidewalk instead of crossing the street.
This is the bare bones beginning, a mere whisp of what it means to be white in the United States, today.
The world is wide open open to people who look like me, and yet so many of us white folks claim this as reality for everyone, not seeing the way doors open with ease for our ivory skin, trying to explain to people of color that they just got it wrong, if only they tried harder, if only they didn't take it all so personally, if only they didn't make it about race, if only they talked differently, if they only they dressed differently, if only they were more white like me.
I'd like to go back to that conversation with Olive and not just talk about all the kids she loves who were "once" considered second class citizens, but let her know that the world today is still unfair.
I need to tell Olive that its not a "use to", that in 2016, many people with skin the color of ours still believe they are inherently better than men and women with darker skin-- that an old tape still plays in the back of my mind, one I need to rewind, rewrite, erase, that says my white face is somehow purer than mahogany or ebony, redwood or sapphire.
Nothing will change without the unpacking of biases, absorbed, like breath, through my fair-skinned pores, stored in the closets of my back brain.
Racism is my problem.
Racism is a white person's problem.
I owe it to my daughter to have this conversation, to help her understand the privilege she wears, so she can unpack it, and work towards dismantling the powers that be, as she becomes an even better ally for her friends with skin a darker hue than ours.
After racing up and down 3,022 feet, with 300 other women, on the 4th of July, before 1,000's of cheering fans, my children still expect me to be at their beck and call. Thank god for Nick who keeps saying, "Just let your Mom rest. She just ran up a mountain."
The women's race didn't begin until 2:30 p.m., which made a long day of waiting, wondering what I was getting myself into by committing to this crazy event, a mountain race without an official trail, with cliffs and scree and snow, competitors kicking rocks loose, well-documented injuries, even a death, a history of grit and lore, the second oldest footrace in the United States, that legend says began with a bar bet, one drunk friend boasting to another: 'I bet I can run up and down that thar mountain in under an hour."
Even before the official race began, over a hundred years ago, Sewardites ran up Mt Marathon to scout for incoming ships, racing each other down to be the first to bring the news to town. A ship is coming, a ship is coming...
Nowadays, we run the mountain for fun, or so I had to remind myself, partway up the 34 degree slope, on a humid day, stuck in a line of women, all sweating and breathing hard, hands on our knees, heads bowed. I chose to do this, I repeated, as I started to think: What the fuck am I doing to myself, I'll never do this stupid race again.
Self-torture on a mountain side.
Thank god for the spectators with water bottles who camped along the so-called-trail. I can't tell you what any of them looked like, but I graciously accepted their offerings, barely getting the magic words out as I trudged onwards, ever up.
When we broke tree-line, and the halfway mark, and I could feel a breeze coming off the bay, and my legs stopped screaming at me, I finally really did start having fun, finding off-paths to pass, a few women at a time, catching up to the first wave that started five-minuted before us, muscle memory putting one foot in front of another, years of hockey and soccer preparing me to push beyond comfort, to dig into my reserve energy, to leave nothing on the field of scree and stones.
"What's your name?" a woman in front of me asked.
When I passed her a few minutes later, she said to my back, "You go Christy, go get em."
Before I reached Race Point, the peak of our climb, I heard the wave of cheers from almost 3,000 feet below, tens of thousands strong, for the front runners who had already scaled up and down Mt. Marathon and were running the half mile-through town to the finish line on 4th Avenue.
Holy shit, they're already done, I thought as I gave everything I had to the mountainside, climbing hands and feet towards the peak, 3,022 feet from the street, to the rock I would run around before turning to run back down.
The descent begins with a long snow field, which I fell into and slid on my ass, slowing myself with my right heel so I didn't hit the woman in front of me who rode with more apprehension than me, thanks to my friend Mary Beth, a seventeen-time finisher, who showed me how to ride the snow and gave me tips on different routes, teaching me about a diagonal crack along the cliffs at the base of the mountain, that I selected as my way up, reaching the base within the top ten of my second wave, after sprinting the half-mile up the street so I didn't have to wait in a line of women to ascend, already tired and winded, wondering how the hell I was going to climb a mountain after running that hard on the road--but I did, and now I was on my way down, off the crunchy snowfield and onto the scree, broken up and soft from the men racing before us, ski-running, side to side down the steep slope, going as fast as I felt safe to travel on my 43-year-old knees; when a few 20-somethings from my wave passed me easily I wondered for a moment if I could go any faster down the slope to the cheering crowd below, and decided just as quickly: No.
My family's down there, I repeated, I want to reach them in one piece. My family's down there, waiting for me...
After the scree comes the stream bed, the most technical part of the descent, with small waterfalls to jump or in my case slide down, wet rocks and mud, all at a steep pitch, that leads back to the cliffs, where with tired legs I again traversed the crack, hoping the rock holds as I made my way down to the claps of the safety crew waiting at the bottom.
"Thanks for clapping," I managed to say after I made it down the hardest part.
"Thanks for racing," one of them said.
"Its my first time."
"Well enjoy, you're almost there, watch your step down the last bit of rocks and then you're on the street."
And I turned the corner to see hundreds of folks at the base of the mountain, with thousands more waiting along Jefferson and 4th Ave, and my old sprinter legs kicked in and I'm racing down the road, smiling, even high-fiving kids with arms reached out. I lost steam halfway there, as I did on the uphill, 400 meters my race back in the day, not the 800 as I struggled through now, after a mountain climb, but the cheers of the crowd kept me going, and when I was close enough to the finish line and could see the clock, I pushed with all I had, totally missing the smiling faces of my family and friends who cheered my name, but crossing that coveted line in one hour, fourteen minutes and 58 seconds.
I finished 84th out of the 282 women that actually finished the race, 16th in my age group, and if you ask me if I'll race Mt. Marathon again next year my answer is: "Hell, yeah!"
Its just good you didn't ask during the first half of the climb, when I questioned my sanity for imposing such a physically grueling task on myself, I mean, isn't my life hard enough without racing up a mountain on top of it all?
Oh, but how much harder it would be without mountains to climb, without opportunities to beat up this body of mine, to feel both weak and strong in the same hour, to sweat and bleed, strain to breathe, and come through it all, a little more alive than yesterday.
After months of relative calm, the volcano has returned, flaring up in our boy, never quite sure when he'll explode, tears of rage over a Dot to Dot book with pages torn out--I want Olive to put them back in now--Elias swatting his Dad just for walking past, grabbing his sister's arm, hitting his Mom.
Last night after a baked ham dinner at David's table, Olive feeling grown and helpful, cleared the dishes with me, and made the mistake of reaching for her brother's plate. Elias squeezed her small hand in his toned one, now thicker and stronger than mine. When David and I both mentioned that his behavior could cost him dessert, he stood up and clomped to the freezer, grabbed the tubs of vanilla and chocolate chip and thumped them on the counter. I picked them up before he could, holding them up high, and he came at me, all hot lava and ash, until Nick picked up our twelve-year-old son and carried him to the porch, forcing him out as Elias tried to hold onto the sliding glass door.
It sprinkled on us, light raindrops, like tears, as Nick and I blocked our boy from bringing his fire back to David's house.
Nick eventually carried him sideways to the trailer, where he cried and threw his bag of clothes to the floor, before forcing his way out and making it back to the porch, where I attempted to hug-hold-restrain my boy, saying softly: "I love you, Elias, you're safe."
"Let me go! Mom, let me go!"
"What do you want to do?"
"I want to hit you!" His voice a rumble from the deep.
"You want to hurt your own Mom?" I ask, hoping he'll say no.
Just an hour earlier, Elias picked a Lilly from our neighbor's cabin, with prompting from their gentleman friend, and handed it to me with the words: "I love you Mom."
"You don't really want to hurt me, Elias." And I know this to be true, even when he wants to, even when he reaches for my face, hands aflame.
"Yes I do!!"
Nick stands above us with a jug of water, hopeful a technique that worked for me last week might work again. Elias had charged after his sister, over what, I can't remember, and when I stood between my children he hit me hard in the chest. As my own fire welled up, I made an impulsive decision to dump the cup of water I planned to drink on my son's head.
Better than hitting him back, I suppose.
Elias's aggressive flow down the mountain stopped, as he stared down at his wet fleece, stumped. Olive and I walked towards the shed, her eyes wide, a hint of glee overtaking the fear from a moment ago. When Elias ran after us calling my name--Mom, Mom, Mom- I turned, forced light into my voice, and said, "Well, that was just ridiculous. What was I thinking dumping water on your head?"
"I don't know?!" Elias said in a voice between laughter and tears. Olive smiled at her strange Mom and brother and the situation shifted, just like that, as our smoke dissipated into the clear air.
Back on the porch, after the explosion over lost ice-cream, with Elias writhing around on the splintered wood, as I attempted to contain him with my arms and legs, Nick held the jug of water over Elias's head and dumped again, only this time my boy's eruptions grew deeper and more dangerous.
Nick heaved Elias up, his sweatshirt half over his head--Dad No! Dad stop!-- and threw him in the back of our car. Elias opened the door and tried to jump out but Nick forced him back inside, hopped in the driver's seat and started the Honda Element. Out of habit, Elias put on his seatbelt, forcefully and without grace, and Nick drove away, around the corner and up to our clearing, where my husband jumped out of the car and locked our son inside. It took Elias a bit of time amidst his rage to realize he could unlock the doors from the inside, and when he emerged he was no calmer, all spit and fire, so Nick left him there, amidst the Alders and Spruce, and drove the few hundred yards back to David's place.
As I stood on the porch to meet the car, I saw Elias far behind, at the bottom of the driveway, walking without shoes, without canes, over gravel and stones, dirt and sticks, fully on his own.
No longer on fire, but alone.
You find its easier to part with jewelry than seashells, you let go of silver earrings tarnished and tangled with beaded necklaces in an old wooden wine box that you decide to keep because you've always had a thing for wooden boxes. And shells. And rocks.
You find a photo album with ultrasound pictures from the day you learned, 18 weeks into your pregnancy, that your first child would be a boy, the day you learned your cervix was opening, a risk to the boy you had yet to imagine, the day you learned "slow down" meant lying down for days on end in hopes gravity would keep him safe.
You find the album alongside your incomplete wedding album, the one you started working on during your days in bed, when the only time you were allowed to leave the house was for subsequent ultrasounds, the black and white photos tucked neatly behind the plastic sleeves continue for a few pages, six weeks of appointments, till...
Pages as bare as the nursery you thought you'd have more time to finish, the rest of the album as empty as your arms on the day Elias was born.
You find a gift certificate to Lucky Wishbone for half-off a jumbo cheeseburger and soft drink dated 2/10/04, eight days after your son was born at 24 weeks with an APGAR score of zero, a stroke at birth, no breath, machines keeping your baby boy alive-- and you know why you didn't crave cooked beef from the classic 5th Avenue burger joint back then, during your first weeks in the NICU, but wonder why you held onto the half-ass gift card for so long, over twelve years. You take a picture and recycle it.
You find your time for writing limited, despite holding more ideas in your mind than the previous months combined, and so you tuck your stories into your wooden boxes, alongside your striped stones and oyster shells, your heart shaped rocks and moon snails, you pack your thoughts up for fall, folding metaphors and reflections alongside tablecloths and dresses, and imagine yourself dropping your kids at school at the end of August and heading to the Seward library that looks out over Resurrection bay, or to ResArt, a historic church turned coffee house, with your laptop and notebook, and the image of mornings, instead of late nights, spent writing and reading makes the sorting and packing of all this stuff somehow worth it.
You find it emotionally draining to hold all these relics, new and old, past and present, to turn them over in your hands and ponder: Keep or give away? Toss or donate? Store for later or hold out for now?
You find yourself walking around Seward feeling hopeful about the place you will soon call home. You find yourself walking around Airport Heights feeling wistful about the place you have called home.
You find yourself wanting to just lie down, amidst all the boxes, to pick up your book and fall into someone else's life for awhile. Or to take a moment to write and reflect instead of deciding and packing.
And so you do.
My first list of ten:
1) I need to put my phone away at night, and return to my forgotten practice of reading actual books. I was always a reader, until parenthood and smartphones, and until I forgot how much I love losing and finding myself within the pages of a book.
2) If I want to write a book, I can begin by writing one good chapter or essay. If I want to write one good essay, I can begin by writing one good sentence.
3) The Alaska community of writers, both published authors and those that strive to be, are an inclusive lot, more apt to share knowledge than to hoard it as their own.
4) I need to be able to tell an agent/editor/publisher what my work is about in two to three sentences. My elevator speech, as they call it, is not yet formed despite thinking about it all weekend.
5) It's not really writer's block, more like "writer's pause", as silence is necessary in the creation of art. Sometimes we have to trust that even if we aren't writing, other people still are, and so the work continues, words turning into sentences or sonnets, alliteration or allusion, narrative or reflection, words penned by another's hand, as we pause.
6) I need to put my phone away in the morning and begin each day with written words, my own or the work of another, my emails and Facebook messages will still be there by late morning or afternoon.
7) Writing about my own writing is almost as painful as looking in the mirror after a particularly bad fall, the open wounds, the blood and puss, so hard to describe.
8) If I do write a book, when I write a book, I need to be able to explain where it fits in the landscape of published work. What authors influenced me? Who am I in conversation with? Who would I want to meet for a hike or a beer?
9) Write not to make the world better, the world is beyond improvement by me, by any of us, write, craft meaning out of words, not to affect, but to participate in this experience we call life.
10) It is a privilege, not a burden, to live with this desire to write; it means I am not merely surviving but able to reflect on what I do each day to survive.
Dear readers, please share books you've read that you think either my writing style, or my story, or just who I am as a person could relate to, as I'm recommitting to myself as a reader, as a writer who reads, and anticipating more time to do so. Thank you for your help along the way.
And for more about the Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference, please click here.
I can't seem to keep up with all the grief in the news, all the lives shattered, the loss that bleeds through my newsfeed, another victim of rape, another mass shooting, another black teenager killed.
When said this way the people behind the story disappear from view, the young woman with pine needles in her hair, the nightclub dancers thinking the first shots fired were part of the show, the young kid with a hoody just walking home.
All children, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, moms, dads, family, friends, souls-- interrupted.
The headlines come too quickly, like driving on a speedway through heavy snow, story after story, my eyes can't see the hearts of all the people amidst the speed of the delivery of pain.
I sit here in a small hand-built cabin on East End road in Homer Alaska, surrounded by tall grass, Cows Parsnip, Spruce and Alder trees, all I hear is the water of the creek as it smooths stones in its wake, as it travels sea-bound, always.
Water flowing like so much blood, bullet holes and vaginas probed.
I am so far removed from an Orlando nightclub-- 1'000's of miles, geography, solitude.
And yet sitting here, I can almost hear the victims' screams within the gurgle of the creek.
I am that young woman lying amidst the pine needles, eyes flickering closed.
And the water keeps running, keeps running, there it goes...
As I run down the side of Mt. Marathan-- so steep my heels didn't touch the ground on the way up, my calves screaming at me--I try to find that fine edge between caution and speed.
That line where I let my body go, while remaining in control.
Ready to react when the surface beneath my feet shifts from rock to sand, dry to wet, soft to hard, adjusting the way I bend so I don't break.
And then there's the visual dance of looking somewhere between the distant and the near, finding that sweet spot where I see both the path as my feet touch the ground as well as the trail to come.
My shoes fill with small pieces of scree and I understand why the racers duct tape around their shoes or wear gators to keep the rocks out. I'll be one of those racers next month, so I'm here trying to learn the mountain.
Three miles, 3,000 feet up with an average slope of 34 degrees, there is nothing easy about this race, the second oldest footrace in the United States, that according to Seward lore began with a bet in a bar.
(I bet I can run up and down Mt Marathan in less than an hour...)
The first time I watched the women's race, standing on the sidelines among thousands of cheering fans near the finish line on 4th Avenue, I thought: I want to do that someday. What I saw were sweaty, dirty, women, some bleeding, some grimacing, many smiling, making their way down the paved road after running up and down Mt. Marathon. I didn't actually see them on the mountain, just the glory of the finish.
As I make my way down, I worry about my knees and ankles as I not so gracefully head towards the shoot where the "trail" becomes a creek bed with wet rocks and mud. Not quite running now, more of a fast scramble I try to push myself, but not too much.
"I don't like you doing that race, " my Mom said to me earlier. "Remember you are a mom and a wife and a daughter..."
And an aging athlete who still needs to push myself to feel alive.
Who is a better mother, wife, and yes, daughter, because I do crazy things like attempting to run down a stream bed on the side of a mountain.
As I started down from the top, I passed a couple working their way up, intent faces, hands on their thighs as they pushed their legs up the steep slope. They'll probably pass me on the way down, I thought, they look like real mountain racers.
And sure enough, as I cautiously climb down a small waterfall, they literally leap past me and disappear around the bend.
They must not have kids, I think, humbled by their speed.
And yet there was the woman who I saw at midway, who asked me if I made it to the top.
"I did. Its foggy but there's no wind at the top, so its actually warm up there. Its pretty cool."
"Of course," she says. "I just got a text that my daughter is sick, so I need to head down."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
This exchange took place as she rested at the halfway point, where the junior racers turn around, and I worked my way down the scree slope.
She soon was on my heals and apologized as I stepped aside to let her pass.
"No worries, you have a sick daughter to get home to."
"Yeah, maybe my down time will be faster," she said, as she put distance between us with her long legs and sure footing.
So maybe the key to running fast down the side of a mountain is either not having kids or needing to respond to the needs of your kids. Having nothing to lose or everything to lose--or maybe, the folks who passed me are just superior mountain runners and it has nothing to do with children.
For as I slide down a boulder, its just me, in this body of mine, hoping I land alright.
When I finally reach the parking lot, and dump all the rocks out of my shoes, I fall into conversation with an older man, a first time racer as well, and that couple that bolted past me, jogs by as they get ready to climb the mountain again.
"Do you know who they are?" he asks.
"No, but they were like gazelles on the mountain," I say.
"That's Eric Strabel and Denali Foldager, two of the top competitors in the race."
I recognize the names and smile, of course they should fly past me on the chute. This is what they do: run mountains.
I'm a mom and a writer and an athlete who's name just happened to be picked in the lottery and so I have the honor of giving Mt. Marathon a try.
My strength lies in the uphill climb, years of soccer and hockey have gifted me thick solid legs and an ability to push myself even when tired.
I know I can keep putting one foot in front of another, even when its hard to breathe. Its what I do as an athlete, as a mom, and even as a writer.
Just keep going, even when its hard, especially then.
Its the downhill that I struggle with, finding the balance between moving unleashed and the restraint needed to keep from falling. Letting go and holding on as my feet slide over loose gravel and sharp rocks, slippery boulders and mud banks, this push and pull on that wire ridge of control.
A familiar uncomfortable challenge in this unexpected life of mine.