Tag Archives: reflection

Rainy Day Thoughts

It’s cloudy, cold, and drizzling rain in Florence. I think I’m going to skip my run today, because it’s only 3 miles, and I think 37 is enough for this week, don’t you? Of course, if it rains again on Sunday, I’ll suck it up and do my 20 miles in the rain, but today all I really want to do is make hot tea, have an early dinner, and curl up under the covers with a book.

On rainy days, I think about three things: tea, reading, and writing. I can’t focus in class at all. I feel cold and unsatisfied unless I’m cozy at home. I crave soup. I really act like I’m sick with a cold when it’s raining out, even if I’m not. I want to take care of myself, and be taken care of. But it’s also a craving for solitude. Rainy days seem like the excuse I need to take an “introvert day,” not talk to anyone, and do exactly what I want.


I also think about painting. I really want to have a room somewhere that I can go to, that is just my painting room. I haven’t painted in years, and I doubt I’m any good at it, but I read this interview with Richard Siken yesterday, and he talked about how he would write until his poetry would leave off, but he would still have more to communicate, so he would pick up his paintbrush and go on like that. I can really see how that would be helpful to the creative process, and also an extremely enjoyable outlet.

Until I get home, a couple of writing quotes, for thought:

“Carried by light,
images remain

while sensation
is so evanescent

as to be always beyond

-Rae Armantrout

“The work of the poet
is to name what is holy”

-Diane Ackerman

Nice, no? Anyone else become totally reclusive and poetic when it rains?

If you’re sitting at home, too (or wishing you were sitting at home but required to attend another class, like me), here’s some reading material:

Stock up on your Monster Supplies.

Learn how to make apple cider doughnuts.

I love Anne Emond’s illustrations (ubiquitous in the blog world right now). Her website and blog.

Only the best thing I’ve ever seen: dedicated to women reading.

Speaking of reading, what are you reading right now? I read so many “classics,” and I’d like to dive into something more contemporary soon. Any recommendations? I always adore Ian McEwan, and Corinne gave me The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society; the book now feels like almost as good of a friend as she is. Also I’ve heard this is great, from several sources.

A really great phrase, one of my mom’s favorites.

This might be my favorite living room photo I’ve ever seen. As a design blog obsessor, that’s saying a lot. Big windows, French press coffee, lots of comfy pillows, simple palate, a globe… swoon. And this might be my favorite blog.




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Talking to Myself

Lots of times, when my friends learn that my after-school plans include 16+ mile runs, they wonder how I don’t get bored. The thing is, I look forward to those 2-3 hour blocks of time once a week when I don’t have any assignment but to jog around this beautiful city and get lost inside my head. A long period of time when being introverted and reflective is sanctioned? Yes, please.

So what I do is think. To get warmed up, I usually listen to music because the first couple miles are always the hardest. Then I just think: about my surroundings, about my day, about the Italians or tourists I see, about things my friends have said to me, about where I want to take my parents in Florence, about where I’ve been the past weekend, about anything bothering me, about anything I’m excited about. If you can release your focus on the physical and any tiredness associated with running, and let your mind take you where it will, it passes the time. And quite productively, I’ve found. I’ve begun many a run anxious, tired, confused, homesick, frustrated, or unsure of myself, and never failed to arrive home with a peaceful, centered mind.

Also I try not to blog or write to my friends/family unless I have something to say, and runs are my time for processing the world and helping me articulate my thoughts and experiences to those who I correspond with. So, here are some of those thoughts, a couple of lighthearted lists (you know I love my lists) that have been adding up in my head recently.

Things I Love About Italy

  1. The uniformity of the architecture
  2. Eating dessert for breakfast
  3. Walking, walking, walking
  4. The ease and economy of travel
  5. The beautiful language
  6. How everyone lives outside because of the premium on space
  7. Small children speaking Italian
  8. The things it makes me appreciate about America
  9. Piazzas <– not pizzas.
  10. Views of Florence from any high place
  11. The fruit. Especially the green grapes. Yes, they have seeds. Yes, the seeds are worth it.
  12. How un-intimidating / un-official-sounding the sirens are
  13. Being spoiled. My host mom sets out a tray with a mug and breakfast pastries every morning, and leaves French-pressed coffee in the fridge for me to heat up. Then she cooks me dinner every night, cleans my room and bathroom, and does my laundry. She insists on doing all of that too! It’s Italian culture. I offer to help do dishes all the time but have never been allowed. The best I can do is thank her all the time.
  14. The fact that I’m in Italy, particularly Florence. I get annoyed with its city-ness sometimes, but forget all of that when I can just walk into the Uffizi or Santa Croce or Palazzo Strozzi in my free time.

Things I Miss About America

  1. My family :)
  2. Men with manners
  3. Peanut butter!!!
  4. Soy lattes
  5. Ice
  6. Screens on windows
  7. Video streaming– both Youtube and TV episodes online. Netflix instant doesn’t even work in this country! The injustice!
  8. Cascadian Farm granola sprinkled over WF 365 organic lemon yogurt with half a sliced banana, slivered almonds, and a drizzle of local honey. Specifically. <– you know what I’m gonna be eating as soon as I return to the US!
  9. Cooking and baking
  10. Lululemon and yoga classes and my friends at Lotus
  11. The fact that I’m going to miss Thanksgiving.
  12. The fact that most of the things on this list are food-related, even though I’m in a country renowned for its food

Things Training for a Marathon Has Taught Me

  1. Your boundaries are 75% mental. With proper physical training, diet, and TLC for yourself (see #2-3), plus an unshakably positive attitude, you can do anything.
  2. My body was telling me something by loving dark chocolate.
  3. When you’re given a day to rest, rest. Take a slow stroll. Watch a movie. Eat a plate of pasta….
  4. …..Because the next day won’t be a rest day anymore.
  5. How to listen to myself. To my inner voice, to my body, to my cravings (more for protein and veggies these days… no shortage of carbs in Italia!)
  6. How not to listen to other people. That sounds odd, but I’ve found that peoples’ inclinations (even my parents) are to tell me I’m running too much, pushing too hard, etc. With peers here at school, it’s usually because if I ran less, they would feel better about themselves. With my wonderful Mom and Dad, it’s because they’re concerned about my well-being. But whatever the reason, it’s important to ignore all of their advice and keep after my goal.
  7. That around the first 18-mile run, you no longer feel surprised about long distances. The question becomes not, can I do it, but, when will I fit these annoying long things into my busy schedule?
  8. Uphill climbs make me feel strong.
  9. Downhill slopes make me feel like I could keep running forever.
  10. All foodies should be marathoners. It keeps you trim, and knowing you earned your meal gives you a greater appreciation for it.
  11. I’m more independent than even I thought I was. The possibility of traveling to Greece on my own to run this no longer scares me.

So there’s a peek into what I talk to myself about on long runs. Sometimes I don’t even try to keep up a monologue– I just observe and appreciate where I am. Sometimes those turn out the best and most beautifully surprising, anyway.

Pictured above: View of one of the towns in Cinque Terre; mountaintop yoga; sailboats on the Mediterranean at Cinque Terre




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Meeting St. Francis

Because I promised: some reflections on my lovely day at Assisi, exploring the Basilica di San Francesco and taking in the view. I’ll be brief, because really I’m brimming over with excitement about my next post……

I apologize that there is some overlap between the messages I’m transcribing, but it’ll give you a sense of my preoccupations:

To Jeff:

“I wrapped myself in the beauty and wonder of the world by spending almost three hours in the Basilica of St. Francis. The walls and ceilings are covered with splendid frescoes by such artists as Cimabue and (it’s debated) Giotto, depicting the lives of Jesus, St. Francis, St. Martin, St. Mary Magdalene and more. The Romanesque and Gothic arches are covered in bright geometrical designs. The choir seats are made of intricately carved wood. The altar on the second story is directly above the altar on the main floor, which sits directly above St. Francis’ tomb in the crypt. Countless pictures of sick family members, scribbled prayers, and other tokens have been pushed through the iron bars on the sides and back. Several Italians were kneeling there, gripping the bars, fervently praying. When I think that they have sought out this saint, to help their loved ones or themselves, it fills me with wonder and admiration. I thought to myself walking back up the stairs, what if everyone trusted in God the way they do? The world would probably look a lot like it did in the middle ages, but supposing everyone in the 21st century world had entire, unwavering faith in whatever creed they chose, for just one day? I would really like to know what that would look like.

“I could go on and on about Assisi. I’ve attached a picture of the town from the fort on the hill. No photos are allowed in the church, which was a relief, because I was able to sit and let my gaze travel over the walls and ceilings, without worrying about the lighting or my zoom. I remember once you asked me, when I see something beautiful, do I just soak it in, or try to take a picture? Lots of times, with views and quaint things in towns, I photograph them. But I rarely carry a camera on my walks around Florence. I guess I have the luxury of plenty of time here, but as I used to tell the kids at work this summer, “your eyes are your camera. see what you can observe.” In the Basilica, the no-photography rule was a relief, because I got to really be present there. Now, not only do I have a picture in my memory of the church itself, but attached to that picture, I have all the feelings and thoughts associated with my experience of exploring it. Wasn’t finding presentness the whole point of coming to Italy and running a marathon in the first place?”

To Paul:

“The thing I crave is not grandiose gestures but people simply showing that they care. That’s what I started thinking about after exploring the glorious, bright upper nave of the Basilica of St. Francis, with its colorful frescoes, its stained glass, and its intricate wooden carvings on the choir seats, then descending to the more somber but still magnificently illustrated lower nave, and finally going down underground, to the crypt that houses St. Francis’ tomb. I got so much more of a sense of the power of God from the humility of the friars in quiet prayer, and the everyday Italians who made a pilgrimage here to grip the iron bars of Francis’ tomb on behalf of their loved ones or themselves. The three kneeling on the tomb itself were so deep in conversation with God that they didn’t even register the presence of the tourists tiptoeing around them. Upstairs, in all its glory, they had to keep annoucing over the speaker, “SILENZIO,” but in the crypt, no such measures were necessary. The presence of God was so strong that no one dared say anything.”

To Nate:

“When I descended from the colorful upper nave of the Basilica of St. Francis, filled with daylight, into the somberly lit but brilliantly illustrated lower nave, to the silent crypt that houses St. Francis’ tomb, and observed the candlelight, the friars kneeling in the pews, and the ordinary Italians gripping the bars of Francis’ tomb in desperate, fervent prayer, I experienced a longing for the kind of faith that built this magnificent church, and the kind of faith still held by those who, on bended knee, seek out St. Francis in their suffering. And beyond that, I longed for that faith and love to fill every soul in the world. That feeling, not what I felt gazing at Cimabue frescoes or the view from atop the mountain, is the one I keep returning to in the days following my trip.”

Now you can see, if you think I never shut up in my blog posts, it’s not any better in my emails. I should hire an editor.

Have any of you been to Assisi or any pilgrimage church? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Love to all,



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Comfort vs. Suffering

A week or so ago, in one of our email exchanges, Jeff got me thinking about a choice that was first introduced to him during the humanities program at Davidson. And that question is: “do we go out and experience the world, risking suffering, or do we stay in our “comfort zone,” at home or at any place that feels like home?” He said that Dr. Epes pointed out that experience can include reading a book we would not otherwise expose ourselves to (a plug for the Humes program, ha, ha) but Jeff and I both agree it’s unfamiliar experiences in real life that are crucial.

Take us with a grain of salt, though, because we’re both commencing extended stays abroad and are inclined to think our choices are the right ones, so before I segue into a summary of my thoughts on the subject of comfort v. suffering, I’d like to hear your opinions. Mom and Dad? Mrs. Waterman? Friends? When does going outside your comfort zone go too far? Is that even possible? What is the role of that sense of comfort and home? Does home have to be a place, or can it be a person/people? Can somewhere that was once a place of discomfort become a home? Or the other way around? What should the balance between comfort and suffering be? And let’s talk about intellectual comfort v. suffering, too; just like I’m always seeking new physical experiences, I’m always pushing my mind and hardly ever let it settle into a comfortable place. Even the movies I choose to watch for pleasure are thought-provoking.

Even the amount I’ve been thinking about this topic and my decision to try to start a discussion on the blog is an example of my inclination toward suffering. (Not suffering as in excruciating pain, mind you, but… I might be confused about that boundary too, being a distance runner. Ha.)


Because I was adequately articulate on this subject in recent correspondence, here are the highlights:

To Jeff, in response to the original message:

“The reason I’m uncomfortable here at times– certainly not suffering; how can you, in Florence?– but definitely uncomfortable, is that I like order, I like familiarity, and I like things that make sense. Essentially, I like my life to run smoothly and in a way that I can easily make meaning out of it. I’m scared of the silliest things here! I’m apprehensive about buying a train ticket and traveling solo, and the only reason is that I’ve never done it before. I get so, so nervous about the marathon because it’s complicated to get high mileage in such a small city (and to keep my pace slow to prevent burning out when I feel compelled to go fast, because everything else is moving fast… but I’ll touch upon that in a moment.) I’m nervous both walking and running in the street alone because of the culture of men catcalling American students, even though I’m conservatively dressed. And mostly I’m uncomfortable because I don’t have the vocabulary to communicate even the most basic thoughts and ideas. I think we need to strike a balance between comfort and suffering. I am most certainly daring to experience, as are you, and I’d like to hear your thoughts on this once you’ve lived in France for a few weeks, but after a certain period of daring experience, I’d like to go home.”

To Paul:

“I’ve been contemplating the idea of comfort v. suffering quite a lot in the past couple of days, and come to the conclusion that we (you and I; most Davidson students) put ourselves through a lot of ‘suffering,’ namely, pushing ourselves outside our comfort zones, setting lofty goals, striving for self-improvement, etc. The idea of comfort for us registers as apathy or complacency. But I’ve been thinking and I decided that, like most other dualities in life, we need to strike a balance between them. If we keep pushing and working and striving, we’ll run ourselves down. When we take time off to be comfortable, we need to be fully present in that moment and do good things for ourselves. For me at least, I have a lot easier time being present when I’m studying or working toward a goal, than I do when I’m supposed to be taking a break. Instead, that break will be spent planning my next move towards achievement. What I was thinking about as a good example of comfort was last Christmas break (sophomore year). I completely chilled out with the family, slept in, cooked and ate, went on adventures with Dan, spent hours in bookstores, and generally did as I pleased. What I did not do was create a battle plan for second semester, and I’m so glad I didn’t, because that break is one of my best recent memories. In Italy, my consciousness of ‘suffering’ is heightened, in the cultural discomfort, so my appreciation for comfort is sharper. I realized that allowing myself to be comfortable isn’t slacking. It’s what I plan to do, and can’t wait to do, when I return to the United States this winter.”

I wrote each of those messages almost a week ago. The problem with my very diplomatic proclamation of “it’s very simple, you see, you just have to strike a balance” is that since then, Florence has become more of a home, and feels more comfortable every day. As I fall more and more deeply in love with this city, I’m already feeling nostalgic for the day I’ll have to leave it behind.

So tell me, O Wise Readers, what are your thoughts? Comfort or suffering?



P.S. The red peppers are my favorite picture I’ve taken so far.

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There’s No Such Thing as Coffee To Go in Italy

Sitting in my room for a few moments each morning with a caffe latte (that just means coffee with milk here, no fancy $4 Starbucks concoctions), checking a few emails or just gazing out the open doors, listening to the city wake up, is a routine I’m coming to depend on. And an afternoon cappuccino on campus has the same effect, I discovered today. Having coffee here is taking a breath. It clears your mind, energizes your whole body, and rejuvenates your spirit.

Though this is a small town, it runs like a city. Because of the premium on space, slender streets are crowded with foot, bike, motorcycle, and car traffic. You have to always be on the alert, walking, and being in the street tires out my senses. I like neatness, and the city is chaos. But another thing Italy is teaching me is to relax amid the chaos. Yesterday Paul said something about Italians’ ability to relax and its effect on their economy (you fill in the blanks) but it’s certainly true that no one’s in a hurry in this city. Though it seems like streams of traffic are always rushing by, if you accidentally step into the street, they’ll stop for you. And though I rarely check my clock anymore, I somehow always arrive at school in plenty of time.

I think that’s because I paused for my morning caffe. It sets the pace of the whole day. When you’re patient, everything else falls into place.


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The Value of Silence

…… I couldn’t resist. :)

So the other day I read this article, “The End of Solitude,” by William Deresiewicz, which Jeff sent to me because it was pertinent to one of our conversations.

I’d wanted to think and read and reflect a whole lot throughout this semester, and already suspected that the way to do that for real was to turn off the outside noise. Not just the radio, but the news, the cell phone, Facebook, email, even reading other blogs, and just take some time to go inside my own head.

It was the best idea ever. I’ve made little changes like driving in silence, reading more of the Bible, copying down favorite passages and poems of mine into a notebook, and asking myself what my concrete goals are and then writing them down. It’s really incredible– how much my brain will do when I stop feeding ideas conceived by someone else into it. I’ve already made progress on a project I wanted to realize this school year, finished more books in the span of two weeks than the rest of the summer, and improved my self-discipline.

And that glorious recovery run I took on Sunday? Completely in silence. If my music had been blasting, I wouldn’t have been able to hear St. Margaret Mary chime, children laugh in the park, or the “hellos” of other runners.

I really recommend reading that article; it opened my eyes to all sorts of things that can be achieved in solitude, and in silence.

More to read that will make you think:

The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

The Jargon of the Novel

What about you… do you have music/texting/television going all the time or do you give yourself alone/quiet time? Is there a point when that becomes too much alone time?

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Yin and Yang

I did an easy 3-mile recovery run today, and it reminded me why I’m doing this and why I love it. Just being out, taking it easy, moving my body, and feeling the sunshine was so beautiful. This run made me appreciate the days when it does feel easy. And I wouldn’t have that awareness of ease if it weren’t for the pain, boredom, and exhaustion of my long run yesterday. There really is a yin and a yang to marathon training: three easy days, three moderate days, and one really effing hard day per week. When I look it like that, it’s totally manageable.

I think about my two best runs ever.

One was along the “lake trails,” a favorite seven mile loop along Lake Norman that I took with Hannah Marie and Olivia one evening in early spring. We got to the turnaround right as the sun was setting over the water, kicked off our shoes, and waded in. It was March, I think, and the water was still frigid. We were all wearing jackets in shades of pink or purple, and stood facing the sunset, holding hands, and let it wash over us. We still joke that it’s the best picture that was never taken. By the time we got back to campus, we were so energized and running at a quick pace that we frolicked and cartwheeled across Chambers lawn to celebrate the joy of the run, and all the love in our friendship.

The other was after finals but before graduation, when Paul and I were hanging out one afternoon (I was procrastinating on packing) and decided to do the cross-country trails. As soon as we got into them, it started pouring rain. We were both soaked and elated, splashing through mud puddles, racing (he always won), playing tag, slipping and sliding. It was so wonderful to be silly and carefree; there’s something about being all wet that releases other inhibitions and allows childlike play.

Those two runs would not have felt nearly so glorious if I hadn’t slogged through long, hot, parched runs that made me feel that doing house chores would be a reprieve. This evening was the yin to yesterday’s yang. Coming up over the pedestrian bridge (“the dragon”), I had St. Margaret Mary’s bell tower in sight, and coming down the other side, the low sun blurred everything in my vision except for the flower beds in Memorial Park, which it sharpened and backlit.

I know I’m waxing poetic, but running is poetry. I remember once, when Christine Marshall asked me how Poetry Club was going (my beloved Kathleen, Linda, and Jeff) and I sheepishly admitted to her that we didn’t read so much poetry anymore, but talked about pressing issues on our minds instead. She reminded me that talking about poetry doesn’t necessarily mean talking about poems. I’ll never forget the distinction again. But I digress.

Yin and yang… I was questioning Nate about love the other night. I asked him whether he believed in soulmates (I don’t, but still love Before Sunrise and Before Sunset), and then I questioned how we identify when someone is a right person, even if the right person doesn’t exist, and his ultimate conclusion is that you find someone who’s the yin to your yang. They just fit. As he put it, they complete your innate brokenness with theirs. I like that way of putting it.

Besides the serious stuff, hell, I wouldn’t appreciate my Mint Soy Lattes (or punkin spice! swoon.) if I didn’t usually opt for black coffee. I wouldn’t appreciate reading in a hammock if it weren’t for hours studying in the library.

I think a lot about balance and talk about it with my friends constantly, and I’m coming to think that real balance is swinging back and forth between focusing full attention on work, to relationships, to play, to hobbies, to exercise, etc. Going with the flow. And it works, as long as you circle back to each of those things that matter most. Balance isn’t constantly staying on the mid-line, because the mid-line is mediocre; it’s doing everything halfway and nothing fully.

So I’m going to remember that next Saturday, when I run eighteen miles. I’ll give it my all, then when I get a recovery day and a full rest day, I’m going to recover and rest with a purpose. Live the yang to its fullest potential– the fullest expression of the moment, as we say in yoga– and then enjoy the yin because you’ve earned it.

What are your yins and yangs? How do you keep a balance? Do you believe in soulmates? Let’s discuss!

xoxo Jane


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