Surf the Problems

Recently I read an interview with George Miller, co-writer and director of 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, a phenomenal but brutal-to-watch film. Miller was talking about a pivotal scene in which Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, receives some devastating news: the Green Place of Many Mothers, where Furiosa had lived as a child, and the place to which she and Max (Tom Hardy) have been trying to escape, no longer exists. Furiosa had been clinging to hope that they could find refuge there from the dystopian hellscape that had bound them. The destruction of the Green Place is also the destruction of her hope.

How would Miller capture Furiosa’s reaction to this news? He knew he wanted to film her from a distance, with barren sand dunes all around her. Unfortunately, the wind in the African desert where they were filming that day was blowing, well, furiously.

“Instead of cursing the wind,” Miller says, “I looked behind us and saw that the dunes had this wind blowing sand across them and the sun was getting low in the sky. I thought, ‘She could walk across the bridge of the dune and into the sun and just respond however she would, having completely lost all hope.’” 

With that vague instruction, and not much of a plan, Theron staggered onto the dune like a wounded animal, dropped to her knees, and screamed into the sunset. In an epic film, full of bizarre and arresting images, this one may be the most iconic—and wrenching:


What struck me is that Miller called this approach “surfing the problems.” The expression resonated with me instantly. I also realized, it’s probably my biggest growing edge as I think about what it means to improvise life.

I know people who surf the problems well—I’m married to one, in fact—who come alive amid a certain amount of chaos, who are at their best when things are at their worst. Sadly, that is not me. In my good moments—in my very good moments—when life is going well, I can approach my life with flexibility, playfulness, and intuition. But what about when everything’s going haywire? That’s when improv is needed the most, and that’s exactly when my resistance takes over, when my need for control and my sense of justice flare up. (Who cares what’s “fair”? What’s happening is what’s happening.)

Today’s reflection doesn’t have a pithy wrap-up, because it really is something I struggle with. Instead I’m wondering, what comes to your mind when you think about “surfing the problems”? When have you done this well? What resources helped you along? Who are the people in your life who show you the way? And what might the world around us look like if we embodied this approach more fully? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


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Monday Runday: You Can Do This Hard Thing

[Yes, I'm a day late posting this. But Tuesday Runday doesn't have the same poetry.] Back in May I attended a concert with one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Carrie Newcomer. She sang a new song that was inspired by her (now grown) daughter, who attended a Montessori school. When the children were getting ready to do something new that was going to be a stretch for them, the teachers would say, "You can do this hard thing." This phrase acknowledged both that the task was difficult and that everything they'd previously done had prepared them for it.

I shared this phrase with my Moms RUN This Town group after the concert, and I've been happy to see it take on a life of its own. As group members set goals, run marathons and come back from injury, people are now reminding one another "you can do this hard thing."

Here's a video of the song. It's not a pump-you-up running tune, but the message is still there.

Tomorrow morning I will run 1/2 mile, the longest distance I've run in 12 weeks. If all goes well, I'll continue running that short distance every other day, then gradually, oh so gradually, increase the distance. (If it doesn't go well, we're gonna need to go on MaryAnn Mental Health Watch, because enough already.)

It will be a hard thing. But I can do it. And let's face it, there are harder things out there, which is important perspective too.

I loved this story from this weekend's New York City Marathon:

Kyle and Brent Pease have completed two 140.6-mile Ironman events together, so they felt more than ready for the New York City Marathon on Nov. 1. Of course, this was before the right rear wheel on Kyle’s wheelchair broke into pieces after the 12-mile mark.

Kyle Pease has cerebral palsy, and the brothers have been competing in racing events for several years now.

Brent carried Kyle for about a half mile before he realized that wasn't going to work. Then the NYPD escorted them to a nearby bike shop, but they weren't able to come up with a good solution. And then:

A fellow runner named Amy noticed the brothers struggling with steering, so she joined Brent’s side and steadied the chair as he pushed it forward. Shortly after that another runner named Cameron joined the team and helped stabilize the other side of the chair.

Image courtesy of Amanda Gordon / The Kyle Pease Foundation

“The three of us shouldered the weight and helped cover the remaining miles together,” Brent said.


To find out more about their foundation, click here. And go do a hard thing today.