Author Archives: MaryAnn McKibben Dana

Ten for Tuesday: Featuring Yours Truly


1. Art, Inspiration and Justice–a conversation with… well, me.

My friend and fellow improviser Marthame Sanders was in town recently, and we recorded a conversation for his podcast, aijcast. Give it a listen! Thankful for this conversation.


2. Slo-Mo Inside a Giant Water Balloon

Gosh that’s spectacular.

It’s as if the makers of Jackass recreated that scene in Two Towers when Saruman is breeding the Uruk-hai.


3. The Spirituality of the Ordinary is Luminous

Yes it is. I’m typing this on my back porch, surrounded by the twittering of birds. Simple. Lovely.

The post quotes extensively from Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of my favorites, including:

The surest way to suppress our ability
to understand the meaning of God
and the importance of worship
is to take things for granted.


4. Is Your God Dead? — NYT

So, is your God dead? Have you buried God in the majestic, ornamental tombs of your churches, synagogues and mosques? Perhaps prosperity theology, boisterous, formalistic and mechanical prayer rituals, and skillful oratory have hastened the need for a eulogy.

Challenging. For many of us.


5. Jupiter from Juno

What we’re looking at is “enhanced photography projected along Juno’s orbit trajectory to give a Juno’s eye view of its closest approach to Jupiter. Nothing added other than color & detail passes to enhance what is there in original photography, otherwise Jupiter would look like a beige ball.”


6. Guide to Weight and Body Image, from the Girl Scouts

I can’t remember which of my friend posted this, but I’m so glad they did. Really good advice here, especially on what not to do.


7. Letters from Former Enslaved People to Their Former Owners

Wow, these are fascinating. I loved the first one in particular. It seems frivolous to characterize it as being full of sick burns, but well, read if yourself and tell me if I’m wrong.


8. These 10 People Wake Up at 5 a.m. (or Earlier) to Work Out

One of these 10 is a friend!

As a committed 5 a.m. runner (at least once or twice a week), I like these stories because they show how a seemingly bizarre decision can often be the best option. With tips on how to make it work, which can be applied to many areas of life.


9. I, Too, Am America

This image came to me recently, but it’s actually from before the election. A full-page ad in the New York Times reserved for a poem by Langston Hughes:


10. Inside the Museum of Failure

I recently posted this on my new personal and professional coaching page, ZOOM! Coaching. (More on my coaching gig in a future post, but I invite you to like my page for interesting content like this.)

What would you put in your own museum of failure?

Learning to Love the Ice Maker

I’m a sucker for the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. So many iconic scenes, but probably my favorite is one that goes by in an instant. I love it because I can relate to it so strongly.

George Bailey lives with his family in a big drafty house that’s got its share of quirks. And because George is an Order Muppet (as opposed to a Chaos Muppet), these quirks cause him no end of frustration and angst. The scene I love is when he goes to walk upstairs but the bannister knob comes off in his hand:

The picture doesn’t do it justice, but George looks at that knob, and you can see on his face that the knob isn’t just a knob. It represents everything that is messy and slapdash about his life. It is a symbol of the utter pandemonium he lives with, as a father of four who doesn’t make quite enough money to feel secure, and who feels the weight of the family business and indeed the whole community on his shoulders. How can I save the Building & Loan when I can’t even get this stupid home repair done??

A bannister knob represents all that? Yes, because Jimmy Stewart is a great actor and he makes that three-second scene work.

And because I’m an Order Muppet too and I have worn that look.

The house we inhabit is in pretty good shape–lots of pending and possible projects, as always, but basically fine. Still, the disorder takes over sometimes, usually when I’m feeling tired and overwhelmed. That’s when the pile of unfolded clothes becomes The Pile of Unfolded Clothes: a visual reminder of life’s tendency toward a chaos that will never be tamed.

My most acute source of angst has been the water/ice dispenser on our fridge. It’s one of those single-spout things in which you must press the button indicating what you want, water or ice. 90% of the time, one wants water from the dispenser, which in my mind means you should flip it back to water after you’ve dispensed ice. To me it’s the equivalent of putting the seat down on the toilet. Restore it to its default position.

The people in my house are either agnostic on this point, or they agree with me. But they do not do it, or perhaps not consistently. So I’ve been battling my family over this irritation since we moved into this house. Just switch it back to water! I say, ice all over the floor because the cubes don’t fit in the narrow top of the water bottle I’m trying to fill. With water.

I tell you this, not because I’m right and the family is wrong and I want to enlist you on my side. But to confess to you that I have carried around frustration over this issue since August of 2015.

Think about that. This has been a source of annoyance and griping for almost two years. And at some point it ceases to be my family’s problem. It’s my problem.

Or it was, until I remembered a section of the improv book I wrote (yes, I am audience member #1 for my books). It’s about the serenity prayer:

In addition to being a vital mantra in twelve-step programs, I’ve decided that the serenity prayer is also the prayer of the improviser. To me it’s the essence of yes-and: What can we change? What can we not change? OK, now what?


For some bizarre reason, my constant nagging has failed to alter behavior. (What?!? But it seemed so foolproof!) So now I’m working on reframing, like George Bailey does at the end of the movie, when he’s had his epiphany and he goes bounding up the stairs, but pauses to kiss that damn bannister knob. Because now it represents home and family and messy reality that he wouldn’t trade for the world.

Now when I go to get some water and I hear that familiar grinding of the ice machine, I think about the smoothies Robert makes in the morning, full of protein powder and fruit and kale (KALE?!?), and how they give him energy to work out and thrive at work and be present for our family. And I think about my kids, and how they drink ice water without complaint, despite probably preferring us to stock a bunch of soft drinks. I think particularly about my nine-year-old son, who comes home from school, gets himself some graham crackers and a string cheese, fills a big glass with cubes of ice, and proceeds to suck on them while he reads, his legs tucked underneath him on the couch.

I would say this reframing is successful 42.7% of the time. But it’s a start. And major progress for this recovering Order Muppet.

Ten for Tuesday

Here we go!

1. Downhills at the Tour de France Test Cyclists Against Time, Danger and One Another

This story is a couple years old, but a friend posted it in a multisport FB group I’m in. Fascinating story about the harrowing downhills that cyclists face and how they handle them. And I get freaked out by a 7% grade! I can’t imagine 70 mph on a bike.


2. Free Yourself of Your Harshest Critic, and Plow Ahead

Sound advice for people who want to create:


3. Enough “Virgin in the Volcano” Theology

Our churchy link of the week. My friend Jim Somerville offers a pointed critique of the idea that God demanded payment for our sins through Jesus’ death on the cross.


4. My Body Doesn’t Belong to You

My girlfriends lean in a little closer and say: “Oh Heather, please tell the story again. Tell us how you and Lyle met.”

“Well,” I begin, taking one last sip of Bloody Mary. “I was walking down the street when Lyle drove by and yelled, ‘Hey, baby!’ and asked me to have sex with him. And I thought, ‘This one’s a keeper.’”

Such behavior is not about me. It’s not about love. It’s not even about sex. It is about fear and power. What certain men gain from feeding on such things, I do not know, and I do not want to know.

Riveting and real.


5. Philly OB/GYN Delivers Baby Gorilla

This is so wonderful, and a great example of improv: taking the tools and skills you have for one task and repurposing them for something else: “For the most part, I was in the moment, doing what I do every day.” Yes. (And.)


6. Dad Said When You’re Gone, You’re Gone. He Was Wrong.

This is a beautiful reflection about the people who leave us, but who also stay indelibly behind.


7. Man Fashions Fabulously Tiny Hats for Toad Who Visits His Porch Every Day

And why shouldn’t he???


8. Adam West Saved Batman. And Me.

NPR’s Glen Weldon is one of my favorite writers and commentators on pop culture. I wasn’t a big Batman fan, but this is a touching article.


9. Polluted Water Popsicles: Faux Frozen Treats Highlight Taiwan’s Water Pollution Problem

Art at its most subversive:

Focused on environmental change rather than flavor, art students Hung I-chen, Guo Yi-hui, and Cheng Yu-ti from the National Taiwan University of the Arts concocted a line of “frozen treats” titled Polluted Water Popsicles. The group collected polluted water from 100 locations in Taiwan, first freezing the collected sewage samples and then preserving their creations in polyester resin.



10. C.S. Lewis’s Greatest Fiction Was Convincing American Kids That They Would Like Turkish Delight

What would the perfect fantasy treat look like? Depending on where you’re from, probably not this.

What did you imagine Turkish Delight tasted like when you read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe? I read the book for the first time as an adult (I know, I know) and I don’t remember having any opinion or image in mind–maybe a baklava-ish thing. But when I was a child, I imagined that the biblical “manna” tasted like crumbs of Duncan Hines yellow cake.

And, “almost-solid perfume” is the perfect description of how Turkish Delight tastes to me.

Monday Runday: Montclair Sprint Triathlon Recap

Yesterday Robert and I competed in the Montclair Sprint Triathlon, my second sprint tri and his first.

It was a hot and humid day, but the race was superb. We had a great time, and it turned out to be a significant race experience for me:

That’s a third place medal. What???

More on that later.

Race Logistics and Review

This is my first Revolution3 race, and I was very impressed by the communication and logistics of this race. I got a personal call from the staff the week of the race, asking if I had any questions and thanking me for registering. The 10-minute race preview video was helpful, and the athlete guide was very complete.

This would be a great first race for a new triathlete, especially one in the DC area–Montclair is south of Woodbridge near Quantico, so it’s convenient. There’s also a Splash and Dash for kids, which makes for a nice family-friend festival atmosphere. The Montclair community seems to take a lot of pride in hosting this race.

And the swag! Participants got a t-shirt, hat, and Rev3 neck gaiter (yes, we’ve got a long hot summer to get through, but then it will get cold enough to need a neck gaiter again). The participant medals were nice. You also get a latex swim cap, color-coded for which type of swim start you do. That isn’t really a race premium, but it’s nice to have backup caps.

The swim is 750 meters in a lovely tree-lined lake. Athletes seeded themselves based on 100yd pace and entered the water two by two, except the speedy speedsters who did a traditional wave before the rest of us. The race is small enough that you don’t have to worry about being mowed down in the water, though I did have a guy t-bone into me while doing the backstroke. (Backstroke? Really?) Buoys are large and plentiful, with lots of safety patrols in kayaks. The swim concludes on a sandy beach, but then it goes to grass, so by the time you get to transition your feet are mostly cleaned off.

The transition area was spacious enough, and the racks are labeled with athletes’ numbers AND names, which is a nice touch. People were friendly and helpful, though I find the intimidation factor to be high in triathlons. Something about the expensive bikes and bullet-shaped helmets make me feel totally out of my league, what with my basic swim unitard, and also Clifford the Big Red Bike, my serviceable but un-flashy ride that a friend gave me as a hand-me-down. And unlike running races, there are no costumes, nor even amusing shirts. I get that swimming makes a tutu hard to wear, and you can’t fit a jester hat over a helmet, but you kinda get the feeling that the tri community isn’t here to play. All well and good, just different.

The 12-mile bike ride consists of a double loop. It’s hilly, but the hills are mostly gradual, and anyone who trains in northern Virginia would be well prepared for them. The bike begins with a nasty uphill, and the race announcer made a point of reminding people to park their bikes in a low gear, which was a friendly thing to do. The route was shady most of the way, which made a huge difference in comfort level.

The 5K run is also hilly, but again mostly shady. The first half was on the sidewalk alongside part of the bike course, and someone had written various jokes and sayings on the sidewalk in chalk. Thinking of 15 words that rhyme with “run” kept me mentally occupied for quite a while. The second half of the run course is on neighborhood streets as opposed to the main drag. There were at least two water/Gatorade stops, and perhaps a third if memory serves.

The finish chute is on the beach, and the announcer read each name as the person finished. I love when races do that. Crowd support was sporadically placed but enthusiastic, with neighborhood folks offering signs and encouragement.

Post-race amenities included various packaged snacks, plus thick French toast with little packages of syrup. This race also had several computers set up where you could print a receipt with your race time and standings. This was so cool, and I hope more races move to this. It did create a little drama for me personally, which I’ll explain in the next section.

Overall I’d give this race an A. I’m already excited to come back next year.

Personal Goals and Recap

I hadn’t done a triathlon since last August. I hoped to get a PR, but my main goals were modest and tactical:
1. To do freestyle for the majority of the swim segment. I had a goggles fail in August, which meant I had to breaststroke the whole way. And I’ve really been working on FS endurance.
2. To cut down on transition time
3. To push myself on the run leg, which despite being my main sport was the weakest of the three legs last time, at least in terms of relative standing in my division.

How did I do? Well, I did freestyle the whole time and felt strong–but ended up swimming the same pace as I did doing breaststroke last year. Which could mean that my breaststroke is comparatively fast… OR more likely, I need to work on freestyle form, considering I learned as a kid and have never really worked on technique.

I cut way down on transition time by picking a shirt with wide arm holes to throw on over my unitard suit, and slipping on my running shoes while keeping them tied. (I don’t clip in. I’m a big weenie on the bike.) I also borrowed a race belt for my bib, but I lost some time when I stepped into it and the bib ripped. Had to reattach it using diagonal holes. Later Robert said, “Don’t step into it, just put it around you and then hook it.” Duh. This is why you practice transitions.

As for the run leg, I used every mantra I knew to keep going in the heat. I ended up with a 3-minute PR overall, thanks to faster transitions and a faster run leg. I definitely have room to grow–in all three legs, really–but one of my mantras was “as good as I am,” and yesterday was as good as I could be that day.

Regular readers know my angst over whether to register in the Athena category, which is for athletes over a certain weight. Ultimately I decided to go for it. I love that recreational athletes come in all shapes and sizes, and it felt good to take a small stand for positive body image. The race had all the Athenas racked together in transition, and they were funny and badass.

When I printed out my finish time, they had sorted me into my age group rather than as an Athena. They got that figured out, but then it turned out they hadn’t categorized any of the Athenas properly. While they were sorting that out, I printed a result that said I was 3rd out of 6 in my division. I was excited to see that 3–that meant a podium award–but I knew there were more than 6 of us. So there was a long time of waiting and wondering whether another Athena would knock me off the podium, and practicing the art of holding outcomes loosely. Something I kinda stink at.

Finally they got things worked out and I printed my final result:

And that’s when I started to cry.

I have never won anything athletic in my life. My body was the thing that toted my brain around, and that was about it. I was the last kid picked for the team. When I played softball in middle school, I was a passable second base player on the last team in the league. Even today, I am a mid-pack runner on a typical day. And yesterday it was so hot, and I was so tired. And yet I had done something that for me would have seemed impossible even 7 years ago.

The podium finish was bittersweet. Very few triathlons have an Athena category, and I only have one more race on the calendar this season, and it’s not an Athena one. And I may not even qualify for Athena much longer–I’ve been slowly losing weight over the last several months, and unless I stubbornly plateau, I’ll be knocked out of the division next year. Which I have mixed feelings about, to be honest. I love the Athenas I race with, whether we call ourselves that or not.

But either way, I’ll still be there on the starting line of Montclair next year. It was a great race. Though I wouldn’t turn down a cool snap that day…

Feeling Frayed?

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I recently got back from a week in the Texas Hill Country, where I was keynote speaker for the Mo-Ranch Women’s Conference. We had a Tuesday-Thursday session and a Friday-Sunday one, with about 300 women total between the two groups. (I also got some running done, as you can see!)

I usually prefer it when event planners come up with the theme themselves, and this one was a winner: A Durable Fabric: Frayed But Not Afraid. The fabric imagery provided numerous opportunities to explore the theme—threads, if you will…

Our leadership team (music leader, worship leader/preacher, and me) met several times via conference call. From the beginning, we knew we wanted to do something with burlap. We ended up cutting a bunch of burlap squares, which we gave to the participants on the first night of the conference. The first night’s keynote was titled “A People A-Frayed,” and we explored various aspects of our frayed-ness: a polarized country, brokenness in relationships, information overload, the pace of change, and a sense of overwhelm. Participants were encouraged to “worry” their burlap cloth—fraying the ends, removing strands, creating holes.

At the end of the first evening, our worship leader invited us to hold the burlap up to the light and look through. It is in our frayed places, she said—the holes, the unraveling spots—that the light is able to shine through the brightest. (A nod to Leonard Cohen!) And for the remainder of the conference, we made an intentional choice not to talk in terms of repairing our frayed places. Instead, we explored various tools that we have at our disposal as we live within the frayed-ness that on some level is always with us. Our lives are complicated and imperfect—there’s no simple way to patch them up. Better to embrace what is, and to seek God’s healing and grace in the midst of it all.

These tools for the journey included faith, empathy and courage. I talked about faith as a practice—a process of embracing mystery and living within limitations. After all, if we know exactly where we’re headed, and we have everything we need to get there, we don’t need faith!

We viewed and discussed the wonderful TED talk from artist Phil Hansen, called Embrace the Shake. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth the ten minutes to see it. (It’s also very entertaining to watch!)

For the next keynote, we turned to the practice of empathy. I told the amazing story of Keshia Thomas, an African-American high school student from Ann Arbor who threw her body on top of a white supremacist and shielded him from attack during a protest. And we watched a video featuring Brené Brown in a discussion of empathy, and talked in small groups about how to show authentic compassion for ourselves and others:

The final tool we explored for living within frayed-ness was courage. Our worship leader/preacher took the lead on this session and preached a dynamite sermon based on the Pentecost scripture text—the story of the Holy Spirit being poured out upon a bunch of unwitting disciples.

Throughout the weekend, participants were invited to embellish their burlap with buttons, beads, feathers and yarn. We displayed these burlap creations, which turned out more beautiful and poignant than we could possibly have imagined:

One woman who had recently been laid off decorated hers with detritus from her purse, including a now-outdated business card (obscured for privacy) and a bandaid to represent the need for healing:

Another woman came to the conference with a knitting project, a prayer shawl for a loved one. During the weekend she felt moved to knit strands of the burlap into the shawl—a visual representation of the frayed-ness we all experience, and the ways that those frayed places can still be woven into something whole.

This is why I love what I do. During retreats, people leave their everyday world behind, breathe deeply, and engage their lives completely differently, and I hope, return home renewed and ready for the transformation of the Spirit. It was a joy to be part of this gathering!

No retreat on the calendar? How about a DIY option? I invite you to spend some time thinking about your own frayed-ness. Maybe find a piece of cloth and “worry” it. Decorate it with symbols of your life. And consider the tools you might need to move forward: faith, empathy, and courage.

Peace, joy and Yes.