Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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Sur/real: NPR Invisibilia w/Story District!

Woo hoo!

This past spring I was honored and overjoyed to be part of NPR Invisibilia’s first live event with Story District.

My Sur/real story of the summer of 2005 –navigating the space between the mystical and the manic — was one of six selected.

I felt a bit like an impostor – included with other heavy hitting storytellers I am in awe of. Working with Amy Saidman, Story District’s Artistic Director is an exercise in the craft of first class storytelling.

Each eight minute story is the end product of several coaching sessions, rewrites and rehearsals. It’s a rare and rewarding collaborative creative process.

And finally my knee-knocking performance April 17th at the Lincoln Theatre in front of a packed audience. Yikes!

Exciting for me but also I really hope my story might resonate with yours. All those listening who also have the gift of a bipolar brain. And those whose spiritual life lights up their world. This one is for you!

So take a listen to 47 minutes of great stories.

NPR Invisibilia Live with Story District Podcast

Or watch the the Sur/real performance on YouTube!

And please share! (I’m a shameless self promoter!)


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“Besties, Bromances & Soulmates” -Post-Election Therapy

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This time last year, I was feeling “Bookish”.

Having met Meredith Maslich, at the Story District rebrand bash, I was psyched to learn that she heads – Possibilities Publishing – a unique, boutique, partnership approach to the book trade.

Maybe I could turn Unorthodox & Unhinged into a book?  A radically manic idea! Meredith and I met over coffee to discuss the possibility. But the journey, from blogger to author, is in reality a gargantuan leap.

Long story short: U&U has not morphed into a book.

But short story long: U&U has made into a book.

A reflective piece I wrote, Make New Friends and…, is the opening chapter in Besties, Bromances & Soulmates, this year’s Possibilities Publishing anthology. Between its covers, half a dozen writers explore “pivotal relationships” and the gift of friendship through short story, essay, fiction and non.

So is it any wonder that”Thank you for being my friend”, the old Golden Girls’  theme song, is ringing in my ears. And this post election week, it rings all the more dearly and resonates all the more deeply.

Our country has just come “through the great ordeal”. Well, we are not actually through anything.

Post election, I am experiencing waves of grief. I am stumbling, disoriented as if awoken from a bad dream. My bleeding heart liberal sensibilities have been overwhelmed. Knocked down and beneath these waves, I struggle to come up for air.

How about you?

As a coping mechanism, I have poured myself into my work. In just two days, I plowed through two week’s worth. I have stayed up later and gotten up earlier, cramming 27 plus hours into my day.  Possibly by abandoning sleep, my busyness will belay my fears.

Mania, for a day or two or three, is awesome.

Mania, for a week or two or three, not so much.

So how do I – do we – rein in the mania when we are feeling so unmoored?

Well, very simply, by tightening the ties that bind.

By calling friends,

talking with friends,

having coffee with friends, dinner with friends,

walking with friends,

hiking with friends,

biking with friends,

Netflix/Hulu binge watching with friends,

cocktail partying with friends,

road tripping with friends,

book clubbing with friends,

bar hopping with friends,

pew sitting with friends,

praying with friends,

couch surfing with friends,

shooting the breeze or catching a movie with friends,

cooking with friends,

baking with friends,

crafting with friends,

board gaming with friends,

protesting with friends,

witnessing with friends,

volunteering with friends,

peace making with friends,

reconciling with friends.

Common ground, mutual support, trust, concern and compassion.

Love, respect, and admiration.

Friends restore one another’s souls and revive one another’s spirits.

This art of “befriending” is fueled by our tending to our friendships. Befriending the other, the new, the stranger, in this post-election season, is desperately what we need. Not rushing to an easy or happy-clappy reconciliation, but working towards deep, honest, life affirming connections.

Working towards a radical “we”.

Which brings me back to Besties, Bromances & Soulmatea perfect little book to honor a friend or tuck into a Christmas stocking (or for Chanukah, Kwanzaa, etc.). These half a dozen stories celebrate the  pivotal relationships in our lives.

Friendship begets friendship.

Love begets love.

December 11th at 4:00 PM, this little book is going to be launched. Its a friendly affair with author readings, book signings, and refreshments at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 1608 Russell Rd in Alexandria, VA.

Bring a friend, a family member, an acquaintance, a coworker. Invite a Muslim friend, a Mormon friend, a Jewish friend, a Buddhist friend, an agnostic friend, an immigrant friend, an LGBTQ friend, an African American friend, a Hispanic friend, an old friend, your BFF, your next door neighbor, or the new guy who just moved in from across the street.

Ask a Hillary voter or a Trump supporter to come along.

It’s the Christian thing to do.

The price of admission? New warm hats/gloves/mittens/scarves in all sizes for our friends at Carpenters Shelter in Alexandria. Click here to RSVP.

A friend in need is a friend indeed.

JoaniSign


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The Pseudo-Librarian, the Priest & Her Wardrobe

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1963. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Brown courdouroy smocked dress and white puffy blouse. Navy blue polka dot shift and striped Danskins. Parochial school uniform and Peter Pan collars. Mary Janes, saddle shoes, and Keds.

1973. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Peasant dresses, halter tops, and army jacket. Denim cutoffs, bellbottom pants, and macrame belts. Parochial school uniform and Oxford cloth shirts. Platforms, flip flops, and saddle shoes.

1983. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Pleated skirts and cardigan sweaters.  Padded shoulders and tailored slacks. Designer jeans, and tasteful flats.

1993. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Khaki trousers, corduroy jumpers, and denim overalls. Cotton turtlenecks, kilts and tights. Embroidered vests and cable knit sweaters. Black flats, brown flats, and tennis shoes.

2003. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Target basics and Talbot’s work clothes. Cotton sweats and running suits. Clergy shirts and clerical collars. Random flats, Birkenstocks, and flip flops — in every color under the sun.

And thirteen years on.

2016. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Funky tunics and interesting tops. Comfy leggings and skinny jeans. Prints, patterns, and primary colors. Autumn hues and basic black. Dressy dresses and dresses just for fun. Lululemon trousers and button down shirts. Bits of ribbon and bits of lace. TOMS, saddle shoes, ASICS, and a multitude of multicolored flats.

I have both lost and found myself in my wardrobe.

Middle child, parochial school girl, head of the class.

Flower child, high school nerd, and rebel without a cause.

Computer programmer, working mom, sometimes a wife.

Seminary student, kindergarten volunteer, and Del Ray mom.

Parish priest, divorcee, and mostly manic.

Half marathoner, storyteller, blogger, irreverent reverend, and pseudo-libarian.

I have lost and found myself in my wardrobe.

Clothes are the window dressing of the soul. Spiritual expressions of our psyches and personalities. Creative expressions of our passions and our moods.

In my darker days, my wardrobe was all solid colors. No prints. Basic and boring. I would buy three colors of the same pants and the same sweater.

All the better to hide in. All the better to disappear.

Those dark days are long — and hopefully forever — gone.

How do I know?

Because my wardrobe therapist tells me so.

My therapeutic fashion consultant, Stephanie Hernandez, helped me work through my closet issues.

Stephie is a very good friend of my awesome daughter Colleen. Stephie is a young LCSW with a passion for style and an entrepreneurial spirit. She’s the founder of  “Look Good, Feel Good” — “a therapeutic approach to finding your personal style.”

A brilliant idea! This bipolar soul signed herself up right away!

Personable, warm, and observant, Stephie first sat down on my couch and we had a chat. I walked her through a “regular day” so she could learn about my bipolar life — both at work and at play. I gave her a one minute tour of my condo and then we took a thirty minute walk through my wardrobe.

And then for the next half hour, we played dress up. Mixing and matching funky and flattering combos, Stephie helped me come up with outfits that I can wear just about anywhere: @ LOC, @EEC, walking Del Ray, or strolling DC.

Working with Stephie made me feel so much cooler and so much cuter than I actually am!

It was very therapeutic.

It was so much fun!

“Look Good, Feel Good Style”

It’s not just a catchy slogan, it’s fashion philosophy.

I recommend Stephanie Hernandez and her new enterprise most happily!

So friends, what’s in your wardrobe?

JoaniSign

Note: Also posted on Sex & The Single Vicar: Tales of Ecclesiastical Dating

 

 


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“My name is Legion”, The Bipolar Dictionary Redux


The fifth chapter of the Gospeller, St. Mark tells the story of a haunted soul. And a haunting story it is. Jesus finds a man depraved and living among the dead. So haunted is he — he is shackled with fetters and chains. Night and day among the tombs he cries. With stones he beats his breast – in hopes of banishing his demons. Jesus calls out an unclean spirit. And then asks him “What is your name?” The Gerasene Demoniac answers, “I am Legion, for we are many.”

Now history has a legion of haunting stories to tell. Stories about the relative locked up in the attic. Stories about the aunt in the asylum and the sister at the sanitarium. Stories about the brother taken to Bellevue and the cousin committed to St Elizabeth’s. Stories of poor souls confined to St. Mary’s of Bethlehem – from where “Bedlam” gets its very name. Haunted souls like Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights. Haunted spirits painted in shades of gray and darkest night.

And history also has a legion of names it labels these haunted souls. Some are quite descriptive and some quite derogatory. This is my own DSM-V — my somewhat humorous and yet honest — Bipolar Dictionary – laid out in alphabetical order.

“All in your head” Yes, it is all in our heads. It’s called your brain. This phrase is often used to mean “It’s all in your imagination.” Well, nothing is farther from the truth. “It’s all in your head” is a scientific fact.

“Bats in the Belfry” paints a particularly scary picture where your skull is an empty bell tower and your brain is naught but flapping bat wings. Haunted and frightened and all in the dark no less. This is a phrase best left buried in the Dark Ages. See also the derivative “batty”.

Bonkers” Rhymes with “Yonkers”. This word implies that you were “bonked” on the head as a baby and so not quite right. This notion is completely bonkers.

Certifiable” Supposedly a clinical term where a clinician has categorically categorized a person as insane. And we all know that sanity is a relative term and insanity is virtually indefinable.

Cracked” Like Humpty Dumpty who fell off the wall and had a great fall, the person is cracked and cannot be put together again. While cracked a person’s brain may be, clinically speaking, it can indeed be put back together again.

Crazy” This universal term is universally applied by universally everyone to all things in the universe that can go wrong with our brains. This catch-all term is better used by the people who are crazy than the people who would call them crazy.

Cuckoo” As in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, both a book and a movie full of truth and full of fairy tales.

Demented” Rhymes with “fermented”. People may wrongly assume that a confused person they call demented has been drinking drinks fermented. Not necessarily so. A broken brain can shatter one’s thoughts as surely as a shot of bourbon.

Insane” Categorically indefinable but often used to describe a person devoid of reason and incapable of discerning right from wrong. Neither of which is true of the Bipolar Brain. The Bipolar brain is brilliant and it’s moral compass true. Well just as brilliant and as true as anyone else’s.

Loco” Not short for locomotive, but the Spanish equivalent of “crazy”. The employment of this term is often accompanied by a hand motion — circling the ear with one’s index finger. A bit loco, don’t you think?

Loony” This term is likely derived from “luna”, Latin for moon. And we all know the dangers of exposure to a full moon — lunacy. It will turn you into something like a werewolf — politely referred to as a “lunatic”. For more information see “Looney Tunes” and specifically “Daffy Duck.”

Maniac” Now we’re getting somewhere. Maniac is of course the noun for someone in the throws of mania. But what could be used as a term of understanding instead implies that the maniac’s behavior is absurd and beyond all understanding. So don’t go around calling anyone a maniac.

Melancholy Baby” Once again we are on the right track. “Melancholia” is an ancient diagnosis of the soul. It literally means that our bodily humors are out of balance. Truer words were never said. But just don’t call me “Baby”.

Mental” This one word phrase is shorthand for someone who is believed to be mentally ill or for someone who should be in a mental institution. Most of the persons who use this term know nothing about mental illness or mental health institutions of any kind.

Not playing with a full deck” A poker metaphor that implies that a person missing the Ace of Spades is forever at a disadvantage. Sometimes Bipolar life is like a game of “52 Pickup” where all the cards are dropped and not all the cards get picked back up. Or at least they get picked up in a very different order. Reshuffling the deck is often a good thing.

Neurotic” This is where we insert a photo of Woody Allen. Obsessively self absorbed he over analyzes his every waking moment and crazily (yes crazily) interprets his every dream. See also “narcissism”, a disorder of the personality. Not a disorder of the mind.

Off your rocker” Now this one has a nice bipolar ring to it. Rocking back and forth and to and fro between the ups and the downs. The person who uses this term however doesn’t realize that they too ride the same rocking horse.

Out of Your Mind” This phrase I am especially partial to — as long as I can apply it to myself. As in “Mary of Magdala, Seven Times Out of her Mind” (see May archives). Yes, five times I have lost my mind and five times I have gotten it back. I am batting a 1000. See also “out of your skull”.

Possessed” As in the Gerasene Demoniac, an ancient and biblical understanding of mental illness that implies possession by evil spirits. Well — my bipolar brain is possessed by my spirit and by my spirit alone. And my spirit is possessed of a superior intellect, great compassion and an awesome sense of humor.

Screw loose” This mechanical metaphor implies that the brain is made of widgets and gears held together by screws. When a screw is loose the gears go flying out of control — hence the derivative “screwy”. The brain is the most complicated machine, the most complicated anything in the known universe. Downloading only a few synapses requires digital resources to the gazillionth, gazillionth, gazillionth power. Only a simpleton with a screw loose would use this simplistic metaphor.

Touched in the head” This is not the same thing as “Touched by an Angel”. Touched in the head implies inferior brain-power and irrational thinking. “Touched” by who or what is not at all clear. Whoever thought of this is most certainly themselves touched in the head.

And my favorite … .drumroll…..

Unhinged” a door swings freely but unpredictably off its hinges. A hinge is one of those elementary machines like a pulley or a plane. Unhinged, the bipolar brain, like the door, is free and unpredictable. Elementary mixed up with exemplary. Here is where you insert a picture of Joani.

The names are legion and the names are many.

So friends, what names would you like to add to the Bipolar Dictionary?


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Jesus loved women.

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Jesus loved women.

Women loved Jesus.

This is not a half-baked truth from a Dan Brown novel. This is the Gospel Truth according to Luke.

And nowhere is this more true than in the story of the woman with the alabaster jar — the most sensuous story in all of the New Testament.

Jesus arrives for a dinner party. It’s a friendly invitation from a Pharisee –  but also fraught with tension and excitement. Rumor of Simon’s special guest travels fast.

There is a woman from the city – whose sin we do not know. She slips quietly forward. As if invisible, she kneels behind Jesus and inches  forward to touch him — risky indeed for a woman of any kind. She starts to cry — to weep – again we do not know why. And with her tears, bending down she washes Jesus’ road dirty feet. She kisses them tenderly  anointing them with oil – the oil from the alabaster jar. And then she dries them – not with a towel or the hem or her skirt. No, she lets down her hair – “in a deeply intimate gesture” – and with her tresses dries his feet.

We do not know her name. We do not know her sin – only that her reputation precedes her. Put down by society – she is looking up at the world from the lowliest of places. And what this simple woman with the alabaster jar does for Jesus, no first century woman dare would do. As a woman, as a sinner, she was doubly unclean.

Unseen, Simon notices her only when she disturbs his dinner party. “Jesus, how could you let this woman touch you?”

Out of love, Simon. Out of love.

You invite me to your home and you give me no water to wash my feet. This woman, she bathed them with her tears. She  dried them with her hair.

At your door,  you greeted me with no kiss.  But since I sat at your table, this woman has not stopped kissing my feet.

When I arrived, you neglected  to anoint me.  While this woman, this uninvited woman, emptied her alabaster jar upon my feet.

Her sins may be many, but all are forgiven. For she has shown great love.

Intimate, gentle, courageous, sensuous, risky love – holy love.

Jesus loved women.

Women loved Jesus.

Along with the twelve, women were prominent among Jesus’s disciples. He was their rabbi, their healer, their exorcist, their Lord.

And these women provided for him, not just food for his table but for his travels and his ministry – out of their own resources – out of their own pockets. Mary of Magdala was attached to no man and Joanna was a woman of means.

And these are the women who stayed and stood at the foot of his cross. These are the women who anointed his broken body and wrapped it in cloth. And among them – remember — is the first evangelist, the woman who wept at his tomb in the Gospel of John.

“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” But then he calls her by name “Mary”. She stops in her tracks. “Rabbi, Teacher!” and reaches out to embrace him. Heaven bound she cannot touch him. And so she runs, runs to tell the others, “I have seen the Lord.”

Mary of Magdala, the first evangelist.

Mary of Magdala, the first to preach the good news.

Jesus loved women.

Women loved Jesus.

So what the hell happened  the last two thousand years?  How do we go from Jesus to a patriarchal and hierarchical church – where women were seldom seen and barely ever heard?

Well the church neglected the gospels.  The Church with a capital “C” set aside the teachings of Jesus for the trappings of society. . Imperial Rome triumphed and prevailed in a culture  where women were subjugated, silenced, diminished, denigrated, and marginalized.

Growing up in the Catholic Church, the only women permitted behind the altar were the Sodality ladies who ran the vacuum. And the official teaching of our sister church, the Church of Rome, still teaches that women cannot fully represent Christ at the altar.

Dead wrong. So wrong. How do I know? Because the bible tells me so.

Yes, women. Jesus loves us.

It’s 2016. We have come a long way, sisters.

In this Episcopal corner of the Anglican Communion — in the Episcopal Church –  there is no ministry closed to women. Vestry, deacons, priests, bishops – and presiding bishop – God bless, The Rt Rev Katherine Jefferts Schori who just completed her seven-year term as PB  – the first woman to hold the office.

But all is not perfect, of course. We have not long been on the side of the angels. Human and made of clay, all is not yet as God fully intends.

In our 21st century world – women are still treated as objects and trivialized. Women are marketed as commodities. There are corners of the globe where women have no voice, where girls get little education, where laws protect the men who beat them, where doors are closed to them simply because of their sex. There are still are many, many places where women have few, if any rights.

And right here in our own back yard, we are backsliding in our conversation, in our attitudes, in our public discourse. Somehow, its okay to laugh and excuse the coarsest kind of language about women. Its just a joke. They don’t mean it. It’s the 21st century and women are still being measured by their measurements.

All the more reason, to preach this gospel, to celebrate this gospel, in this misogynist milleu. For the sake of our mothers, for the sake of our sisters, for the sake of our daughters.

Jesus loves women, respects women, blesses them and welcomes them as his disciples without exception, without conditions, without reservations.

And so this week in our prayers, let us give thanks for all the women in our lives. — for their gifts, for their strength, and for their love. And in our prayers, let us pray also a more difficult prayer. Let us pray that God turn the hearts of those who hold women back, misuse and abuse them. That they may repent and come to know and experience the gospel truth.

Jesus loves women.

And as Jesus loves, with God’s help, so shall we.

JoaniSign

 


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Dirt Therapy Redux

Mary Magdalene and the Gardener

Resurrection stories. U&U is an ongoing collection of resurrection stories — that before too long I would like to turn into an actual book. It seems that now I may just have carved out some time to actually do it.

Last week I chose to leave a job that I loved. You see the garden in which I so lovingly toiled had become a bit too overgrown with weeds. Weeds suck up all the water and crowd out the sun. Its hard to stay healthy and whole in a garden choked by weeds. Its nearly impossible to grow.

So I decided to uproot myself and with God’s help, to plant myself anew in life giving soil.

“Now the green blade riseth” is my favorite Easter hymn.

So it seems very apropos to repost Dirt Therapy once again.

So here we go….

Once upon an Eastertide, a little boy came home singing the Pete Seeger song: “Inch by inch, row by row, Lord, please help my garden grow”. At school the little boy, along with his class, had planted bean seeds in jelly jars. Each day they tended their little glass gardens, checking the moist dark earth. Some of the children drowned their seeds with love. While others, their seeds withered from neglect. While others, theirs actually and miraculously sprouted and grew.

Tiny green shoots poked their heads into the fluorescent light. Slender green vines wound around the inside of the jars.

And then one day — the little boy proudly brought his home and set it down on the kitchen table. His mom asked, “Okay, my little sweet potato, what’s this?” And the little boy replied:

”That’s Jesus, mom. That’s Jesus in a jar.”

It wasn’t exactly “Now the green blade riseth” but it was sweet indeed. That sweet little boy was my son Jacob (now 28 years old!). Sadly the little Jesus vine did not survive very long — but don’t blame Jacob. Sadly, you see, plants often came home to my house to die.

Even though I quite ironically once worked at plant store called “Great Plants Alive” most of the plants that crossed my threshold sadly met an untimely death.

And back in the day when I still had a backyard, I was quite happy to just let Mother Earth be my gardener. So whatever grew — grew –and whatever withered – withered. My yard was a little city patch of green. And since I had no green thumb, this was my rule:

If it’s green let it grow.

My lawn was covered with crab grass, wild violets, clover, and dandelions. The fence was covered with tangled honeysuckle vines, ghetto pines, a struggling maple tree, and poison ivy. Plastic baseball bats and dead tennis balls dotted my lawn. A sad little wagon and outgrown bicycles littered the grass.

Occasionally I would attempt to tame this wilding place with my lawn mower and a weed whacker. But much more often, I would retreat and recline in a plastic chair on the patio to read a good book.

If it’s green let it grow.

My manic-depressive mom, Mary Lou was quite the gardener. While I have been blessed with her bipolar brain, God did not see to bestow upon me her green thumb. And hers was very green indeed.

When I was growing up, my mother could lash out like lightning just as easily as she could erupt in joy. Her highs and lows were beyond her control. My mom did the best she could.

And she did her very best in the garden.

Mary Lou was totally at home in her rock garden. She relished her trips to the local greenhouses and she spared no expense at the nursery.

The back of the station wagon would be overloaded with peat moss and potting soil, flats of flowers, hydrangeas and azaleas, and a shrub or two — or three.

The lawn would be littered with empty plastic pots, as she dug down deep in the dirt planting geraniums, petunias, and marigolds. I have a snapshot of her doing just this. Her sun kissed skin is freckled and bronze; her auburn hair peaks out from her kerchief; and golden hoops dangle from her ears. Gorgeous.

Resplendent and radiant, digging in the dirt, all is right with her soul.

Digging in the dirt is therapy.

Sowing seeds is therapy.

Fertilizing the soil is therapy.

Watering the ground is therapy.

Gardening is therapy.

Dirt therapy.

Wordless, holistic, holy, hopeful, dirty therapy.

My mother’s daughter, namely me, no longer has a backyard. But I do have a little balcony. And each Eastertide I plant my little English garden in half a dozen clay pots. I am partial to bright colors: Shasta daises; hibiscus; and geraniums. I am partial to plants of the forgiving kind, the kind that forgive me if I don’t water them as often as I should.

A little Miracle Grow, a little sunshine, a little dirt, and all is right with my soul. At least for a little while.

In the beginning, the Creator walked in the cool of the wet garden at the time of the evening breeze. God made us out of the dirt of the garden. God made us out of the dirt of paradise.

And so in all the deaths we die — both large and small — we return to the Garden. We go down into the dirt like seeds forgotten and buried in the dark earth.

So as we are in the beginning, we are in the end. The Alpha is also the Omega.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary of Magdala, came to the garden and she saw that the stone was rolled away. And there stood the Gardener, the same Gardener who had walked at the time of the evening breeze. Mary did not know him until he called her by name. And then she knew. Here stands the very tiller, the very tender, the very lover of my soul.

Now the green blade riseth.

Dirt therapy.

JoaniSign


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The Avid Pedestrian Handbook

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ASICS size 7 1/2 in elegant black.

Over the last year and a half, I have logged 5,989,993 steps on my Fitbit.  That’s about 2,537 miles or 4,083  kilometers.  I also earned a bunch of badges to stitch onto my long lost Girl Scout sash, most recently one called Monarch Migration.

I am especially skilled at putting one foot in front of the other – on mostly paved surfaces. I nearly lost my life, discovering the hard way, that I am no hiker but a walker.

I am quite the avid pedestrian. I embrace it as a lifestyle. My wardrobe, my schedule, my reading, my writing, my socializing, my moods, and my prayer life all revolve around my walking.

Proper provisions for my daily constitutional are a must.

I carry a very compact backpack packed with enough stuff to keep me alive for a couple of days. More like keep me entertained for a couple days —  should I become stranded at some urban outpost.

Inventorying my bag (and without exaggeration) these are the essentials:

  • Wallet, sunglasses, keys, and chill pill box,
  • Colored pencils and sketchpad,
  • Colored pens and notebook,
  • Tissues and cucumber face wipes,
  • Throat lozenges and ginger mints,
  • Kindle or paperback book,
  • Checkbook and chargers,
  • Lip gloss and mascara,
  • Hand cream and sunscreen,
  • Kind Bars and water bottle,
  • Iphone

I am so prepared I put Boy Scouts to shame. Who knows? I may need to stop and sketch the next Mona Lisa. I may need to stop and write the Great American Novel.

And of course I have to look fabulous. I may meet some dark and handsome stranger along the way.

So yes, it is also critical to be properly outfitted.

In order to maximize walking opportunities I always take a change of clothes with me wherever I go. I either take my walking clothes to work or work clothes to change into after I walk. I don’t leave home without them.

Shoes are most important. Mine are size 7 ½ ASICS Nimbus. Proper socks are also a must – either Feetures or Belega. $12 a pair and worth every penny.

Sweats and jeans are way too heavy and slow you down. Running tights for freedom of movement, breathable high tech undershirt, lightweight, water repellant jacket, thin gloves, and a hat. Knit in winter, brimmed in summer.

You can shop at Target or Lululemon depending on your budget. Lululemon is pricey but their stuff wears like iron and lasts forever. This is a lifestyle choice remember.

The goal is to be as fleet of feet as possible.

And don’t forget to accessorize! A little jewelry is appropriate.

First and foremost is my Fitbit Flex.

I never take mine off (except to charge it of course!). I shower with it, sleep with it, grocery shop with it. It keeps me honest and motivated. It sends me weekly report cards in my email and gives me badges for a job well done – which greatly appeals to the third grader in me.

A wrist rosary and Tibetan prayer beads.

My two-decade wrist rosary is a souvenir a dear friend brought back from Assisi. The Tibetan prayer beads are from off the rack at Ten Thousand Villages. I pray with them as I walk. I pray with them on park benches. Both are great for sidewalk contemplation traipsing around God’s creation.

St. Christopher Necklace.

Yes, he is a totally bogus saint, a pious legend from the 13th century, but his name literally means “Christ carrier”. The medallion reminds me that when I am out and about that every driver, every cyclist, every pedestrian carries the sacred within them. Every single living, breathing thing is holy. So watch those traffic lights and look both ways before crossing the street.

NO earphones. NEVER.

The only soundtrack I want to hear is the sound of the streets. Oncoming cars, horns honking, birds singing, wind in the trees, street musicians playing, people talking, children playing. The sound and rhythm of my own footsteps on the pavement.

And so where do I go?

Depending on the weather and my moods, I change up my destination as much as possible. The best routes are both away from home and close to home — different and interesting but also doable. I rarely, if ever, walk in my own backyard.

But I do have favorites.

The Del Ray Loop

Starting at High St, down Russell Road to the train station, King Street to the river, and back again.  4.2 miles. Favorite stop: Killer ESP for latte and Hotrod Potato pie.

Old Town Riverfront

Starting at Jones Point Park beneath the Wilson Bridge, walk the Potomac riverfront through Old Town Alexandria up to Tide Lock Park, and back again. 4.5 miles. Favorite stop: Carluccio’s for coffee and scrambled eggs.

Huntley Meadows Park

Starting at the visitor center, several turns around the woodland and wetland boardwalk trails. 3.5 miles. Favorite stop: Observatory tower that overlooks beaver dams, wild geese, and cattails.

Roosevelt Island

Walking with my steady, Teddy is the best. Wetland and forest trails through this memorial wildlife preserve dedicated to our 26th President, father of the National Parks.  4 miles. Favorite stop: Photo op with the great man himself at center island.

Hometown, Downtown DC

Yes, I am a native Washingtonian. Subway to Metro Center at 12th and G streets. walk 10th Street to Pennsylvania Avenue, up to the Capitol, East Capitol Street to 8th, ending up at the Eastern Market, and back again.  4.6 miles. Favorite stop? So many to choose from: Ford’s Theater, Madame Tussaud’s, the National Archives, The Botanical Gardens, and be still my heart, The Library of Congress. (And coffee, or course, at a variety of cafes along the way.)

Walking has become my spiritual discipline, my philosophy of life.

Find a path and walk it. Investigate all the twists and turns. Do not be afraid. Change direction as needed. Pay attention. Listen to the rhythms of the street. Pause and talk to strangers you meet — entertaining angels along the way. Breathe the breath of life into your lungs — bus fumes and all.

And not to worry — it is perfectly okay to get lost.

In the life of an avid pedestrian, that’s what God, and therapy, and Google Maps are for.

So strap on your shoes, my friends, go outside, and take a walk.

JoaniSign