Friday, September 30, 2011

I'm my own personal book club.

Rather than write a bunch of separate posts about the books I've read lately I decided to lump them all together. That way if you want to ignore them, you're welcome to, and if you are curious about how I liked them, you're welcome to scroll through.  My per-month reading quota is about to go through the roof now that I'm in school, so I decided maybe I'd try grouping reviews together.

This is definitely an eclectic bunch.

Light Years by Le Anne Schreiber

K lent me Light Years and I'm glad she did.  It's not a book I would have found on my own.  My experience with reading memoir is so limited.  It's amazing how much I didn't know existed back when I was in college.  Too bad I didn't have great non-fiction in my life until now--I really like it.  (This makes me immediately aware of the holes in our high school English curriculum.  Hmmm.  I need to start passing out memoirs, stat.)  Since I'm taking a Creative Non-Fiction Cross-Genre course (like a minor in Creative Non-Fiction) this term I need to read a lot of it.  This was a sweet little book.

In Light Years Schreiber writes about her life surrounding the deaths of her mother, father and brother.  She wraps each experience in an awareness of light and the natural world; her descriptions of fishing alone gave me a momentary longing to head up to the river and cast my line.  With some careful consideration, though, I realized it's not the action itself that I love in good writing:  it's the author's enjoyment of and fulfillment by that action that brings me such joy.  Schreiber writes about fishing, walks, and time with her cat in a way that's insightful and enjoyable to read.

There were dark parts of this memoir, but always an awareness of light.  The metaphor was carried throughout and brought a sense of peaceful unity to the entire book.

My recommendation: A good read for writers, people who like writers, or people walking through the early stages of grief.

Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Sometimes the way a book finds me is almost as interesting as the book itself.  This is another book that I never would have read if not for a passing curiosity.  Tonja posted a quote from this book on her blog; I believe she saw the quote elsewhere and reposted it.  I did the same, since the quote stuck with me.  After several days thinking about it, I decided I'd look up its source.  My internal monologue went something like this:

I like that quote.
I wonder where it's from.
Hmm, it's from a book on meditation.
Cool. I should read that.  I could probably use a book on meditation.

I've talked about meditation before and how it helps my anxiety, so why not read this book.  That's what I figured.  I liked it.  It's not life-altering or mind-blowing, but I found it to be a nice primer on the ins and outs of meditation--some familiar and some not.  Some of the little exercises it suggested were good.  Some of them were obvious.  Many of them included quotes from various intellectuals who I'd studied in high school. (This book left me wanting to read more Whitman and Thoreau.  Somewhere my 11th grade teachers are smiling.)  It wasn't the most scintillating reading I've done lately, but it was good learning-reading.

My recommendation:  If you're curious about meditation you might want to give it a read.  It's quick and simple.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle was an Oprah book, which I will admit turned me off of it for some time.  I don't know why Oprah's recommendation had that effect on me but people seemed willing to scream and cry over anything she put her name on and I didn't want to get caught up in it.  That said, she did a lot for literacy and for modern authors, so it is possible most likely that my opposition is completely unfounded.  Anyway.

I really enjoyed this book.  My friend Leah recommended it after she read another of my favorite books, The Art of Racing in the Rain.  As a dog person, she said, I needed to read Edgar Sawtelle.  What I didn't know until I stumbled upon an AP English teacher forum this summer is that Sawtelle is a modern retelling of Hamlet.  So I was definitely in.  I added this to my reading list for my fiction class.  I am so glad that I did.

The Sawtelles are a family of dog breeders.  Their special dogs were raised and trained to be different from other breeds.  Their boy, Edgar, is unable to speak though he can hear well.  Edgar's life intertwines with those of their dogs, one of whom seems to act as both his guardian and his voice.  The prose in this book was so comfortable and easy.  I don't tend to like books that are overly descriptive just for description's sake, and I am definitely not a Hemingway-style subtext kind of girl.  I like a little meat on the bones of each paragraph.  This book satisfied my craving for poetic description without feeling overly wordy.

Keep reading if you want to know the rest of the review.  I didn't want to spoil anything for people who might like to read it in the future.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Don't tell E, because I'm pretty sure it will make him raise an eyebrow about how much time I'm devoting to my reading so far (he'll say you're not supposed to like school, it's school...), but I am really enjoying this new MFA deal. Granted, I'm only four days in and nobody in a writing group has crushed my hopes and dreams yet, but I spent two hours reading for school tonight and I just couldn't shake the feeling that I shouldn't be enjoying it this much.

Or maybe I should.  Is that the point?  Or maybe I should not question why I am enjoying myself so much and just let myself steep in it a bit so I'll get through the dry spells.

Yeah, I should do that second thing.

I guess I am discovering that joy that comes with 1) knowing what I really want to do, 2) being older and understanding myself and my own natural schedule a little better and 3) not being tied down by BS that's unrelated to the one thing I really want to absorb--reading and writing.  I have so much work to do, but it's so independent.  It's basically this: read a lot.  Write a lot.  Check in with me when you are finished with the second part.


It helps that I've created my own reading list and will be asked to do that for the duration of the program.  Don't worry, I'm not sitting on my laurels.  I finished a lovely memoir on Tuesday, I'm listening to a crazy-good audio book when I run, and I'm about halfway through another beautiful, heart-wrenching novel that I borrowed from my grandpa.

I'm reading my patoot off.  But it's all great writing; it is warming me from within like the steady heat of a wood stove.  I'm reading a ton but it doesn't feel the same as freshman year at UC Davis, when I was plodding through Paradise Lost and Robinson Crusoe.  I've been there--and I'm glad--but now I feel like I'm on a scavenger hunt to find my voice.  I'm narrowing my sense of like and dislike with a distinct purpose.

It's making me so incredibly happy. I'm going to enjoy it for as long as it lasts.

Goodnight, Internet.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mean people suck.

My junior year locker was across from the Career Center, just inside the shady hall of the Library Quad.  I didn't use it much but that day I needed to switch books for some project.  I leaned my knee into the blue-grey wall of lockers so I could balance my backpack on top of it.  Leaning and reaching, I spun the dial.

I tried not to look at the couple sucking face just inches to my right.  Their gazes were locked; they didn't look much like they'd want anything to do with me.  The proximity of my locker with hers forced us into each other's space, though, so I hurried to zip up my Jansport and move on before they made any babies.

Just as I walked away I heard "yeah.  Heather... she's a whore."

I recounted that story today as I talked to a student who's being bullied.  We talked about how jerks will always be jerks whether you provoke them or not.  I talked about how words can hurt even if they're untrue.  She talked about how hard it is to be a teenager--and I didn't disagree.

I brought the locker incident up to her because as a kid it stung--badly.  It didn't matter that I was the anti-whore of eleventh grade.  It didn't matter that anyone who would have heard that would have laughed it off as the most ridiculous sentiment ever uttered.  It mattered that she said it, I heard it, and it was mean.

I wished I had the right words.

I struggle also to soothe Addie's hurt when she comes home upset by mean kids.  The other day a fifth grader told her on the playground that her dress was ugly.  Consider the source, I told both Roo and the student.  It gets better, I promise.  But I didn't feel like there was much I could tell either of them to make the hurt go away.

And I know it does get better.  I know that the most awful thing about bullying is being trapped and unable to leave.    As long as we're in school, we're stuck.  The great thing about life beyond high school is freedom of choice, particularly the choice to leave or to stand up for yourself without having to see the other person again ad infinitum.

I just wish that mean people would knock it off.  Being a kid is hard enough.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cut this sheet out. Right now.

The extra folds of fabric cling to the bottom of my legs like saran wrap against the wet top of a potato salad.  Every time I roll I tangle myself more and more between loose layers of white jersey.  What had once been snug, soft and smooth is now a saggy, ballooning excess of sheet.

For some reason unknown to me, E and I thought it would be a good idea to put our old king size t-shirt sheets on our queen size bed.  All the queen size sheets were in the dirty laundry pile--err--wash.  I'll just tuck them in tighter, I thought, it will be fine.  Yeah, that didn't exactly work out.  Cut to me, cocooned in a straight-jacket of excess fabric, struggling like an angry meal worm atop the one corner of fitted sheet that WILL NEVER STAY UNDER THE MATTRESS.

Needless to say I have sheet-related rage.  There are few things I love more than my bed (and pardon the pun), but last night I decided that I was so done with this sheet.

I've been meaning to write about my sheety angst for a few days.  I even wrote about it in my super-swanky new idea notebook:  9/25  Baggy sheets.  Saran wrap.  Hate.

Photo on 2011-09-27 at 19.42
This notebook is so cute that any idea written inside is guaranteed to be genius.
I felt like I couldn't write about it until I did something about it, though.  Today at promptly 3:00 I smoothed a nice tight layer of pale-green-and-high-thread-count cotton across my mattress.  All better.

While we're on the subject of the great mysteries of nature, I wonder this:  why is my love of fresh clean sheets the direct inverse of how much I loathe changing them?  One would think that an affinity for clean sheets would come with a complimentary and eager attitude when it came to their installation.

Not so.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Necessity, hopefully breeding invention.

It's all chaos until I have a system.  Chaos means worry; worry blooms into Crazies.

Wouldn't it be nice if Crazies looked like purple tulips, though?

It took nearly ten years of teaching for me to learn that I need a daily task sheet in order to remember the basics each day. It took near divorce for me to realize that I should have a detailed calendar of my whole week visible in the kitchen, one including what I needed to run, cook, clean, prepare, and do each day. It took seven years of parenting for me to realize that my kids need a daily morning, afternoon and evening checklist or I'll find them playing naked Legos when it's time to leave for school.

All those lists, charts, task sheets and whiteboards are great, though.  My stress level is so much lower than it was just three or four years ago because I don't feel like I have to carry all the worry in my head.

The new worry about my MFA program is less about my ability to do the work--I will make myself do that--and more about my ability to remember to do the work.

Getting things out of my head and onto my Google calendar means I can forget them for a moment.  Checking off a list satisfies my need to accomplish.  I know now that handling my schedule in small doses makes it easier to carry around.  I never look to closely at more than the week at hand.

How then, am I going to manage long-term due dates?  Can creativity fit neatly inside a column or ignite with the beep of a text reminder?  I hope so.  The first thing I'll produce has to be some kind of scheduling system for school, though.  Not having one is overwhelming me.

Efforts toward this end:

I started a notebook for writing ideas.  I'm carrying it around in my purse so I have a place to deposit all the goofy thoughts that come to me about what to write.  Most of my frustration about writing comes on days when I stare at a blank Word document, unable to remember a single thought I ever had.  Since I am thinking, re-thinking and over-thinking ALL THE TIME, it is a waste of productivity to forget it all.  So... new and improved PDawg, now with more writing it down.

Tonight I'm deleting some programs from my DVR-recording list.  I know that having unwatched shows will make me feel like I've got work to do--and I would rather that pressure came from the unwritten story than the guh-gung of another banal TV drama.  Many favorites will stay but I've got to pare it down.  Love for TV shalt not dominate one's free time so as to affect her MFA grades.  11th commandment, right? (Here's how I'm viewing this not as a failure: less TV equals more time to read more good stuff.  WIN.)

I'm going to try to let go of petty/political idiocy about my job.  Easier said than done, but there are plenty of other people willing to take up the mantle of "this isn't okay" to fight the good fight while I focus on Big Girl School.  I have a feeling that just like "now I'm going to practice saying no" this will take a while but be worth it even in small doses.

More focused prep work for teaching.  I have years and years of lesson plans now--no need to reinvent the wheel.  If I can just make sure I'm prepped to use what I already have--that is, no more days like today where I am reading the lesson plan as I am writing the agenda on the board.  (I went back to school with the monkeys tonight for 2 hours to prep the rest of the week.)  Any help I can give myself in the area of not feeling flustered or unprepared will make me feel more at ease (ergo, more able to handle the reading and writing I'm going to face).

I can't shake the feeling that I need some structure in place to help me remember or "see" the work for the MFA.  For now I've got due dates and reminders for school integrated into my Google calendar... I need them somewhere I can see them all together, though.  The trick will be figuring out where and when I do most of the work.  I haven't blocked out my schedule for school time since I don't know what kind of daily commitment I'm facing.  I'm sure once I know it will be easier.  Perhaps I need something on the desktop of my laptop. Who knows.

I'm sure this was the most fascinating post you ever read on a blog.  Thanks for listening to me ramble through it all--that's what I needed tonight.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ten million little things...

on my mind right now.
  • I wouldn't mind fall if people would stop having such a geek-fest over it.  It's not hot anymore, I get it.  You must not feel comfortable wearing shorts and being barefoot.  Some of us liked summer though. You love pumpkin and oatmeal and football and your GD apples.  Don't come crying at me when it starts to rain and doesn't stop for like six months and you have the snots from November to March.
  • Winco is pretty cool.  Where else can you test the limits of your own patience, people watch in relative discomfort and get a boatload of snack food?
  • It's finally starting to feel great to get carded rather than insulting.  Today the cashier carded me when I bought a six pack of Pacifico with my Mom Cart full of groceries and I almost laughed at him.  Oh, you're serious.
  • I opened my first syllabus (of three) today and it said I'd be reading 16-20 books in the next six months for that class alone.  (I have three.)  This is in addition to the 10-20 pages and the 2-4 book critiques I have to turn in per class per month.  I had my first oh dear sweet Baby Jesus, what did I do? moment this morning.
  • In a related note, I've been reading up on mindfulness and meditation. So I'm trying to go with the flow.  T-R-Y-I-N-G.
  • I realized this morning that in order to make my reading goals for the MFA (i.e. read all the required material so I don't flunk out) I'm going to have to give up some TV.  This realization made me very, very sad.
  • I spent a significant amount of time and a similarly significant amount of money last night at The Limited, buying dress pants, pencil skirts and fall tops.  This seems to have predicated an intense desire to buy some new boots to go with my new fall-nice work outfits.  I'm going to resist the urge, though, because I'm pretty sure I spent enough for a while on me.
  • There's about one month left until I go to New York with our school's Mock Trial team.  I. Can't. Freaking. Wait.
  • I am really enjoying Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  Like, a whole lot.  It's really causing me to hope that I can write with a powerful sense of voice and character in the near future.
  • I have to develop a reading list for both my fiction and non-fiction classes.  (We mostly come up with our own.)  No pressure there...
  • Last week (following the marathon) was one of the hardest weeks I've had teaching in the last few years.  I had literally no energy left.  Since I'm trying to save sub days for my December residency in Palm Springs for school, I toughed it out.  For that, I'm feeling pretty good; I did need a four-hour nap yesterday to reboot, though.  I didn't have time to get to the science experiment that was my kitchen until today.
  • Training for races aside, I really like to get out and walk.  I want to enjoy that as much as possible before Mother Nature decides to be a total butt-head and rain all the time.
  • I need to go back and see when I got my running shoes.  I'm beginning to wonder how many miles are on them.  I thought I was tracking that in dailymile, but I screwed it up.  Surprise, surprise.
  • I learned how to make potato salad this week.  Booyah.
  • Hugh Laurie can actually sing pretty well.  Starbucks had one of his new songs as a free download the other day.  You go, House.
  • I am on the "I heart Adele" bandwagon. You know, my daughter Adele and the singer Adele.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Bourre, bourre, bourre, prep-and-uh-up! turnturnturnturnturnturnHOLD--and-prepare!
Bourre, bourre, bourre, prep-and-uh-up! turnturnturnturnturnturnHOLD--and-again...

My first partnering experience was on the grey Marley floor of a church fellowship hall, on a hot July day in Mississippi.  Ballet Magnificat's 1996 summer program was the first time I encountered ballet boys.  Oh, Lord.

Bourres and pirouttes: exercise number one.  Those poor, poor boys.  Positioned each day in a single line before the gaggle of girls, they'd assist one after another after another.  There were never enough males to go around so they did quintuple duty. With each start of the piano they would shuffle another girl forward, awkwardly pushing each one at the sides of her waist to spin her like a basketball.  Most of them were too embarrassed to even look us in the eye.

At seventeen nothing was simultaneously awkward and magical as being spun upon my own pointe shoe by a dude.  The boy attached to the hands was awkward, lanky, and honestly kind of gross; still I gave myself over to this new exercise.  Soon we graduated to promenades, and--my favorite that summer--bluebird lifts.  In a bluebird lift one steps into her partner, kicks forward and pivots mid-air just as the he scoops her up.  Her hips rest on his shoulder, her head and feet creating opposite ends of a high crescent in the air.  I was a giant at 5'7", and just glad there was a boy strong enough to lift me.

My first thought, post-bluebird (from my new vantage point atop Mount Ganglypartner): How do I get down?

Partnering for ballet is about trust, but for the girl there are clear expectations about keeping up your end of the bargain.  One can't expect to be lifted or turned if she's not holding her own.  Lifting a sloppy slug of a dancer is near to impossible.  For ballet lifts to work, the girl has to jump with great force. The man extends her effort and twists her work into something new or surreal.

I didn't partner much again until I apprenticed for Sacramento Ballet in 2000.  There I learned the value of a skilled partner and saw how pas de deux was actually supposed to work.  Suddenly the hands knew where to lift or how to spin; it was something else.  Of course all of my parts were in the corps or were character bits, but they sometimes came with a partner.  When we got to dance together onstage or in technique class I loved it.

God, to do just an assisted sissone or a fish dive again would rock my world.

Then when I started to dance contemporary dance as an adult, I learned to let go.  I discovered improvisation and then contact improv, the art of free movement and trust within a group of bodies.  It is a phenomenon I wish everyone could experience once.  Contemporary is unique in that it asks the dancer to retain her technique for when she needs it--when being lifted, or spun--but then to release it just as quickly, like an exhale, or a scarf dropping to the ground.

In contemporary I learned that I am actually not very protective of my personal space.  I realized how positive it can be to move when close or touching.  Once I trusted the company I felt supported emotionally and physically and I began to look forward to improv.  To run and jump at someone is awesome.  To know that you can support someone else's weight and carry it into new movement gives you an equally awesome sense of responsibility.  If I miss anything about contemporary dance, it is this trust in touch--nothing else in life comes quite close to improv as an act of silent, supportive interaction.

And why is partnering on my mind?  It's funny, lately I think mostly of improv--partnering--when I get a massage.  As a non-dancer its probably the only time that someone besides an immediate family member crosses into my personal space.  All I can think about it every time I go to the local reflexology place, as I did last night, is how to be a good partner, how to best play my part in that improvisation.

In ballet, one has to be poised.  Ready.  Helpful, even.  In contemporary one has to be steady, controlled, but creative.  As I lay in the dark and the therapist pushes at nerve endings in my shoulder, I do my best to lay slack.  Corpse-like.  Free of tension or perceptible breath.

Why, though?  I always wonder where that came from.  Nobody has ever told me to play dead.  I'm not particularly sensible about my role in other venues.  I don't give any special thought to being a good partner at the dentist.  In fact my anger there often makes me obstinate, annoyed, (subconsciously?) less-than-helpful at keeping my jaw open for drilling.  At the doctor I'm tense, wound up like a string of Christmas lights.  When I get my hair cut I never want to talk, so I feign tiredness and sleepy eyes.  But when I get a massage I concentrate--hard--on appearing to be dead as a doornail.

Last night the therapist slung my arm over the side of the chair and my fingers slapped at the tub underneath.  It startled me out of noodle-mode and I realized I no longer trusted her to partner me well.  Still, it's the closest I'll get to shared movement for some time. Interesting that the chicken wing and the calf-squeeze have replaced the pirouette and blue bird.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Quote | walking

TRY:  Bringing awareness to walking, wherever you find yourself. Slow it down a bit. Center yourself in your body and in the present moment. Appreciate the fact that you are able to walk, which many people cannot. Perceive how miraculous it is, and for a moment, don’t take for granted that your body works so wonderfully. Know that you are ambulating upright on the face of Mother Earth. Walk with dignity and confidence, and as the Navaho saying goes, walk in beauty, wherever you are. 
-John Kabat-Zinn, from Wherever You Go, There You Are

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Some thoughts after the first one.

Anne Lamott says that being a writer gives you an excuse to do things.  This is perhaps the best thing about it.  Sitting down to the computer can be an amazing experience of losing time and trying to chase the tail of an idea, but mostly it's work.  Work I really like, but work.  Hard work.  The doing is really the best.  It gives me an excuse to watch and pay attention.  Then I feel like I have to race home back and record it all for posterity.

In this spirit, I'm continuing to reflect about the whole marathon deal.  What it means.  What it was.  Why.  What now.

And today I'm mostly thinking about my knees.  My knees don't usually hurt after I run, but today they're on fire.  Even when I had my hip injury last year I mostly felt a tugging at the side of my knee, but I knew that was more about the ol' IT band being kind of whackadoodle.  This is something weird: pain under the kneecaps on both sides, like I had some Tonja Harding tire-iron-therapy.  Today I'm thinking about them a lot--knees don't seem to matter much until you can feel 'em.  Every step hurts.  Thirteen (or fifteen?) miles of gravel did a number on all joints from the waist down.  Ouchie.

I thought that running a marathon would push me (at least immediately after) to start kicking my legs against the floor, screaming NEVER AGAIN.  Not really.  I joked with Kelly once in the race about whose idea this was, but the moment never came where I wished I didn't do it.  I definitely felt that moment during my first race ever, the now Urban Cow (née, Cowtown) when I ran it in 2009.  At about mile 9 I was cursing the very idea of running and wondering why the heck I did this to myself.  But even though NorCal was one of the hardest things I've done, I didn't get there.  I didn't want to undo it.

In fact for the last two days I think I just have a better sense of perspective on running.  I still really like it.  God knows I never thought I'd say that.  I really do, though.  I need to keep doing it if I want to stay sane, so there's that as an added bonus.  Helps with the Crazies.  But apart from its benefits in the mental health department, it's just nice.  I think running the marathon has just removed a sense of urgency for me.  Until I did run one there was always this thing in my head about how I hadn't reached that milestone.  I think I probably will run one again but I don't feel any need to rush it or to make it happen soon.  On the flip side, I'm not ready to quit running.  I don't want to do a 22 miler every weekend, but I know that there's a sweet spot of about 12-16 miles that I really like.  I know that if I train well again for another one someday (and for the love of PETE if I make sure the next one isn't on gravel) I'll be fine.  I'll survive.  That's a nice feeling.  I could never do it again or I could; either way I know I'll be fine.

It's a lot like my peace of mind following Addie's birth.  Boy, that was hard, but it ended up being okay.  I could do it again.  It's the confidence of knowing what something is that makes it easier to understand.  Yes it was hard.  Yes I can do that.  It's nice.

Right now I'd be most happy, though, if my knees would take a chill pill.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Nor Cal Marathon | 9.18.11

Let's start at the very beginning. A very good place to start...

All day Saturday I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself. Since we weren't doing our usual long run on Saturday morning, I ended up watching about four hours of Bath Crashers on DIY. Random. But I packed everything up--I tried to keep it in one bag so I wouldn't be obnoxious. By noon I was ready to go.

The essentials:
Running clothes
Gu & beans
Water bottle


No, Cookie did not get to come, although she assured me she was essential.  I saw through it as a ruse to get out of the house and go back to her wild roots. Weirdo.  I ended up bringing a little bit of random stuff--like a book I didn't read and papers I didn't grade, but I had all the necessities.


The kiddos wished me good luck and I was off for San Jose.  I have to admit I liked SJ more than I thought I would.  I don't think I've ever had any reason to be there before now and between being lost in the car and running I think I saw just about all of the city.  Not a fan of the freeways, though.  Confusing.

Kel and I killed some time by finding a Reflexology place in SJ.  Holy moly, it was awesome.  Same $20 deal as here, but way better.  After that we cleaned our greasy selves up for dinner and headed to PF Chang.  I told Kelly that my one caveat for a pre-race dinner was no cheese.  I was a little worried about my tummy. PF Chang was perfect.  Rice, meat, veg.  Sold.  Apparently fried things are okay in my tummy when I run.  Score.

I am proud to proclaim that my favorite part of marathon training is the pre- and post-race EATING. We did some serious damage.


How much damage?  Um... lettuce wraps, crispy fried green beans, Kung Pao shrimp, crispy honey chicken and brown rice, GONE.

Hey, all in the name of fitness.

So at dinner I took a Benadryl (fondly known around here as Mr. B).  That gave me about one hour to remain awake--just long enough to navigate back the hotel, change my clothes and pass out.  I'm glad that in my training I always took a Mr. B before a long run so I knew it would make me sleepy (and I'd get a full night's sleep before the run).  If I took it early enough I wouldn't be tired the next morning, either.

The morning of the race was pretty laid-back.  I wasn't nervous at all about running.  All along there was only one thing that worried me:

Love the porta-potty line before the start.  NOT.

Bathrooms.  I can't do anything for five hours without having to visit the little girl's room, so I was afraid.  It's hard to know what's going to be available along the course and I didn't want to sacrifice time in lines during the actual race.  I was also afraid that my dinner might reassert itself at an inopportune time.  Sorry.  Gross.  But these are the things that give me the Crazies.  The one thing that can ruin a run for me is the need to find a bathroom.  I knew I needed to go before the start just so my mind would be clear.

We got to the race at about 7:00 for a 7:30 start.  It wasn't that busy near the starting line, and I quickly discovered it was because God and everybody were in line for the porta-potties.  I told Kel I had to go; if I don't go before a race it will become all I can think about (even if I don't have to go) which will ruin my life and basically be the worst thing ever.  We got in line at 7:10 and there were a good 30 people in front of us.  I was so nervous we were not going to make it.  Kelly assured me we'd be fine, though.

Finally the line began to move and one opened up--I stepped inside, flipped the latch and... Where do you think I was when that air horn went off, signaling that the race started?


Oh, the humanity.  Yep.  That's right.  I was in the porta-potty when the race started.  Please hold your applause for my awesomeness.  Way to start your first marathon, P.

Luckily they chip time these things, so your time doesn't start until you cross the start line.  I knew that so I figured taking care of business was priority numero uno.

It turned out to be a lucky thing, starting a tiny bit late (I'm talking maybe one minute) because the start was not all jammed up with eleventy billion strollers and walkers rolling ten deep that I'd have to hurdle over.  I usually hate the start of races and this was nice and calm because we were beginning after things already thinned out.  And honestly, I didn't worry anymore that I'd need to find a bathroom.

I really enjoyed running through downtown San Jose and the surrounding neighborhoods.  Very cute.  It reminded me a lot of running Urban Cow--a cool morning and lots of older homes.  I was using a plan generated by this site to pace myself.  Basically I had divided the race into three chunks and I was running negative splits.  (My plan for the first chunk: Miles 1-2 @ 12:00/mi, miles 3-9 @ 11:30/mi)  For the first chunk I did so well.  My priority at the start was not to go too fast, and I am proud to say that I held my pace exactly as I wanted it for the first 9 miles.  I felt great because I was conserving energy and walking the aid stations each time.  I couldn't have asked for a better start.  I was loving this race.

We wound around a nice park that was close to the airport.  I really enjoyed watching the planes take off and land--it was a nice distraction.  At about mile 6 we hit the first section of gravel path.  "I don't really like running in gravel," I told Kel, "it's too hard on my legs.  I hope we're off it soon."  I couldn't wait until we were back on pavement.  Little did I know that we'd get a quarter of a mile of pavement and then it would be loose gravel again from miles 9 to 14.  No bueno.

We continued to try to hold our running pace (about 11:15/mi for this chunk) but we started really feeling the fatigue in our joints.  My feet and hips were killing me; Kelly's quads were screaming.  Pretty soon I was having knee pain which is basically a text message from God saying: WHAT YOU ARE DOING TO YOUR HIPS RIGHT NOW IS BAD NEWS, HP.  In short, stop slipping around in this Godforsaken gravel.  Since I couldn't stop we had to take more walk breaks.  Not the end of the world, but it was really frustrating.  We didn't train on gravel, nor did they advertise this as a run-on-gravel kind of race.  It was so defeating. We started to see people running back on top of the cement wall next to the path.  I know now that they were willing to chance a fall because it was easier on the legs than the ol' slip and slide routine on the rocks.

After a while we were off the slippery grit, but since the course was a long out-and-back we didn't have a lot of hope for it being easy when we returned.  After several bouts with locked bathrooms on the course (2) I finally found an open one at mile 16, the turnaround.  I should mention, too that for most of this course it was just me and Kelly all alone.  There were 900 people running the half marathon, but only 400 running the full.  It was like Mad Max Marathoning--we were all alone in some dusty end-of-the-world battle.  At one point I asked Kel if maybe we'd been misdirected and we were just running on our own through the janky parts of San Jose.  But every time I'd start to think that we'd find another aid station filled with volunteers telling us to "keep going."  Duh lady, thanks.

By this point we still felt okay, though.  She wanted to stop and take a pic at the turnaround.  I'm glad now that we did:


Ten more miles.  Scheeeez.  When I think about how tired I was here I don't know how we did it, especially since this time we knew that we had 6.5 miles of gravel waiting for us that we had to cover again on the way back in.  It felt like the gravel would never end.  Every time we'd go under an overpass and we'd get a shady little stretch of firm cement our feet would practically cry out to us.  But we pushed on.  Suck it, feet.

People talk about hitting the wall in marathoning.  Mine was at about 19, I think, and the fight I was feeling was mostly just anger about being unhappy with the terrain.  I tried to think about this meditation book I'm reading.  This is all there is, I kept saying to myself.  Basically, there is no other place I am supposed to be in the world than here right now.  I tried to take in the experience.  I tried hard to think about all the things I was grateful for in marathoning--grateful my legs will let me run, grateful my heart will keep beating and my lungs will keep taking in air, grateful for being outside, grateful for the opportunity to prove I can do something this big, grateful for kids who I knew were cheering me on, grateful that Kelly wanted to do this with me.  I kept myself going and tried to run when I felt little bursts of energy.  It was getting hot.  I didn't feel like talking.  I was not being an awesome run buddy.

Somewhere in there Kelly hit a similar wall--I think after me.  But I was back to wanting to lay down and die again at mile 25.  I kept dividing the mileage I had left by familiar landmarks in my neighborhood.  All you have to do is run to the drinking fountain and back, that's all this is, I told myself.  Still at 25 when we came upon the first patch of shade in miles, every cell in my body wanted to give up and lay down on the cement.

We started to approach the finish and I could see volunteers by the HP Pavilion.  When one told us we only had two blocks to go, I could have kissed him.  I wanted to see my kids; I wanted to be done.  I wanted to have my kids see me be done, and have them see that I didn't give up.

The toughness of the gravel meant we came in much later than we anticipated, and since there were only 400 marathoners, the place was pretty empty.  Really empty.  I'm so thankful though because there right at the front of the fence were my two smiling monkeys waving their arms and yelling "Yay Mommy!"  I couldn't control myself and I cried like a big ol' baby.  I was so overwhelmed by the experience.  To have them right there cheering for me was just about as good as it gets.  E was right behind the finish line and everyone was close enough that I could touch them immediately.  I was grinning when I ran across the finish.


Finished!  6:00:01.  About a 13:30 pace.  Not fast by anyone's standards, but it reflects so much hard work that I am as proud as I could be.  I gave every single ounce of strength I had to this race.  I keep thinking about what my mom and dad used to say to me as a kid:  Just do your best.  That's all that matters.

I feel like I did.


My two best cheerleaders.  I hope they remember this day.

Me and Kel--we worked so hard today!

Running buddy, motivational coach, fellow gossip and amazing friend Kelly.  I am so grateful I had her there with me every step of the way.

Me with the fam.  Nothing better than running to that finish line and seeing their faces.

E and the kids.  Never have I been so happy to see the three of them.  I can't even express how much it means that he brought them.  I was overwhelmed.

So am I going to run another one?  I am officially not deciding that until the leg soreness dies down.  I know I have to run another half in two weeks because I am all signed up, but it's Urban Cow, which I love.  When we got to 13.1 during the marathon I remember thinking that's it? so I know it's not going to make me feel like I got run over by a truck.  I think I'm just going to run it for fun.  We'll see.  I want to see what the legs feel like in the next few days.  They're a different kind of sore that I am sure is a result of unplanned trail-running for 13ish miles.  I feel like all the little strings inside that stabilize things are buzzin' right now.  Trail work is a different animal, and I certainly didn't train for it.

I feel like I can check a box on my bucket list.  Not that I really have one, but this ranks with hiking Half Dome, graduating from college, getting married, having kids.  Run a marathon:  check.

Next up: don't flunk out of grad school.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Knowing I'm enough.

(From Cool Runnings:)

Irv: Derice, a ... medal is a wonderful thing. But if you're not enough without one, you'll never be enough *with* one.
Derice Bannock: Hey coach, how will I know if I'm enough?
Irv: When you cross that finish line tomorrow, you'll know.

I set this to auto-post at the start time of today's race.  Right now I'm beginning my first marathon.




Saturday, September 17, 2011

Slow marathoning, explained to freshmen:

Ladies and gentlemen,
write the agenda.  We'll
start in one minute, okay?

Can I ask a question?


Why running? Why slow?
That's boring! And weird!

To them it's punishment, pain.

I don't run to win--quiet please,
Sir I'm waiting--I run to
beat my own best.

Don't you want to win though? What if
like one time they gave up?
or fell... and you won?

Well then--stop talking, young lady:
agenda!--I'll tell ya,
I wouldn't feel any more proud.

So you do want to win?

Not so much. I'm just proving
I didn't lose yet, that I can.

Lose what?

Never mind.

But not being first, being slow
that's still losing. Why would you still run
if you'd lose?

Hands, please--I win 'cause
they can't take this from me,
not ever, like college or kids.
What if we only ran races we'd win?
Should only one person try?

Hmm they say because this is a thought.
I remind them--agendas, friends.  We move on.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Two days 'til marathon numero uno.

I hope!
I'm leaving tomorrow to drive down to San Jose for my first marathon ever (exclamation point!).  I bought my Gu after work today.  So what I should be doing right now is:

1) digging the running clothes out of the hamper
2) washing the running clothes
3) laying out all of my race clothing and shoes, accessories, etc.
4) planning what to pack for the night in SJ with Kel
5) gettting off my patoot

Instead of doing any of that, I had a beer and some sushi.  Well, first a lot of potato chips.  Then the beer-shi.  Then a bath.  Now I'm laying in bed like it's my job.  I'm pretty sure I ain't getting out of bed for the rest of the night, so... yeah.  Procrastination, thy name is PDawg.

I'm not leaving until noon tomorrow anyway.  That's pleeeeeeenty of time.

I keep forgetting (kinda) that the race is actually on Sunday and not tomorrow.  We usually do our long runs on Saturday, so Friday is always my don't-drink-go-to-bed-early-think-about-running-don't-eat-cheese night.  So in some way I feel compelled to hit the sheets before it gets dark.  The thing is, the race is on Sunday, in another town, and it's not until 7:30 AM.  If you've read any of my posts about our long run adventures, you know that's late.

So... yeah.

I should mention that I'm feeling really good about running the race.  I feel very much the same as I do when I am going to attempt a new distance.  Nothing unfamiliar here.  Yet.

I am going to just accept that I don't really know what to do with myself while I fill time until tomorrow.  I'm going to read and scan my DVR for awesomeness.  I might even do a little Google-surfing and Facebook-judging.  Who knows.  Come by my house, I'll judge you too.

No, don't.

I have papers to grade, but let's not go completely insane.  I'm not that bored.  As I left my classroom today I was thinking about how it's going to take me about the same amount of time to run the marathon as it is to grade four class sets of essays... and I'd totally rather run the marathon right now.  Score!

Before I go, here's a bit of cute... in keeping with my more-tortoise-than-hare theme for the race:


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Roo made me a sandwich.

It was the best sandwich I ever ate. I could taste the love, the effort, the earnestness.

It was a half sandwich on whole wheat bread from Costco.  She cut the bread in two uneven halves with a butter knife.  It had mayo to the edges just like I like--thin, but covering a lot of surface area--and mustard in the same way on the other side.  No cheese.  I'm not really sure why not, but it didn't matter.  I just don't think it seemed like a cheese kind of day to her.

Nestled between those two pieces of bread was one gently folded piece of turkey.  Last week I cautioned her against using half a pound on one sandwich for herself--we've now gone to the other extreme.

I can't get over how sweet it was that my eight-slash-almost-nine year old made my lunch for me today because I was running late and mid-french braid in the bathroom.  What a sweetie pie.  I had a little misty-eye going when I ate it.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ameoba brain


I've got writing on the brain. It snuck past me like some kind of amoeba in my drinking water; now it's here to party.  (I think I pushed that comparison a little hard just so I could use the word amoeba.  I like words with the o-e combination because they look so cool.  Honestly if I let myself think about it real hard there's a great synesthetic color thing for the letters o and e* that just feels right... but I don't let myself go there or I'd feel too completely nutso.  And also, where are my other fellow children-of-the-1980s?  Are you also picturing Bill Cosby talking to a sick Rudy and saying "party, party, party..."?)

Writing is consuming me.  I'm starting the MFA program at UC Riverside next week.  I just finished reading Bird by Bird.  I'm reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close because I got all spun up about this article about fiction and stories of 9/11.  I'm instructing seniors on autobiographical writing for their college application essays.  My freshmen just finished a reflective essay.  All I do is talk about writing or make people do it.  Mer.

Write time, right now.

Maybe since I'm still nervous about starting school I'm trying to surround myself with writing, writing advice, talk about writing... there's no possible way I can anticipate what this will be so there's a bit of straw-grasping beginning to happen.

This must be the verbal equivalent of buying cases of canned corn and rolls of plastic sheeting because G Dubya told you there might be some anthrax in your mailbox.  Word nesting.  Word hoarding.

Oh, and remember that one time I signed up to run my first marathon the week before I started grad school?  Yeah, about that...

Maybe it's just a happy accident that everything I do right now--teaching, reading, coaching Mock Trial--seems linked up like some shiny charm bracelet from The Man Upstairs, a way to remind myself that I already have what I need--readiness-wise--to survive this new challenge (and/or as I've said before,) Dorothy Gale need not go looking any further than her own backyard.  Who knows.

I'm ready for so many things right now.  Ready to push myself as a writer.  Ready to run my marathon.  Ready to be done with running a marathon.  Ready to turn down the volume on the voices of doubt that keep me from really writing about what I really feel.  Ready to get better at this, but first to get really, really, abysmally and embarrassingly bad at it.  Ready to step away from being Mrs. P and the girl from the small town--at least about once every six months or so for eleven days.

Most importantly though, I am SO ready to go to bed.

*If you really want to know, o is white and e is clear.  Hope you can sleep better tonight because you feel glad you're not as crazy as ol' PDawg.  I feel like I just told the world what color chonies I have on.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tahoe Together

Grandpa and all his great-grandkids
Grandpa's legacy is nature: wild animals, hiking, respect for life that grows from the ground. Crisp veggies. Oddities like onion bread with jam or salted fruit. Exploration. Reverence for creation.

Grandma's legacy is home: generous meals, crafts, gifts wrapped in love. Games, puzzles, a special day remembered. Gentleness and a listening ear. Comfort. Warmth. Appreciation of blessings.

Their shared gifts to us are faith, storytelling and tradition.

Our generations are the reconstruction of their qualities, each iteration in different quantity and order. The gene sequences arranged like variations on a theme, a melody of kinship weaves through us all with such decided similarity.

This past weekend we stayed in Lake Tahoe to mark Grandpa's 80th birthday. The euphony of our chatter and game-playing spilled out of the large house. More than twenty strong we gathered, ate, teased, laughed and celebrated for four days. Ever-competitive, ever-creative, ever-glad to be together, we hiked and read and played and made new memories.

We ate and ate and ate and ate and ate.

I feel so lucky to come from a family of brave cooks--Grandma had her say in making each of us capable, creative, equal to the task of serving others. And just as amazing is Grandpa's green thumb, extending from each of our hands. Fresh produce and flowers are part and parcel to our nature. We've been taught by both to make and to nurture, to appreciate and to sacrifice for others. What a treat it was to eat amazing food and enjoy the beauty of Tahoe together.

I am blessed to come from a family of love, a functioning, caring symphony of talent. It was a weekend full of stories to be told again and again. I am so appreciative of the experience.

Custom hiking sticks from Grandpa and new backpacks from Grandma
More puzzle--Eric is now obsessed... Mom (Mary) and Grandma Lila join in...
Bruce and Dave's smoked tri-tip
Cascade Falls hike
Sun through the clouds -- Angora Lakes hike
Uncle Dave went over to the big rock, so of course everyone else had to...
Sat 9.10.11 - 45
Uncle Bruce had to ferry everyone across so they wouldn't get wet--this is Addie
Tyler too
Sun 9.11.11 - 03
So mad this came out blurry.  :(  Mom and Aunt Anne cooking up the BEST BREAKFAST I HAVE EVER HAD.  Ever.
"Christmas morning" cinnamon rolls a la Mom
"Christmas morning" quiche a la Aunt Anne
Sunday brunch
There we are... Everyone (minus Kayla and Beau, they had to leave early). What a wonderful weekend with family, celebrating Grandpa's 80th.

Monday, September 12, 2011

...and I would write 1000 more...

I had the whole beach to myself!
This is my 1000th post.

I can't believe I've hit "publish" a thousand times any more than I can believe that there are any people out there who want read what I have to say.

I started this blog entirely for myself in a dark and lonely time.  I stumbled across another blog that was so refreshingly honest about single motherhood that I felt like I might not be alone in how I was feeling.  I felt like it might be okay to write and tell the truth about how crappy my life was.

Then things got better.  I wrote about that too.

And then after "better" life kept going.  So I wrote about that.

By then it was a habit, but also an outlet.  I couldn't stop.

Getting to know people entirely through this venue has been a wonderful gift.  It has helped me to have a starting point for conversation with people already in my life.  It has helped me to get rid of the Crazies.  I'm grateful for the connections I've made.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to write every day.

I'm grateful that my blog has helped me discover what I want to do from here.

So now I'm going to go away forever.

Juuuuuuuuuuuuust kidding.

But I thought 1000 warranted comment.



Sunday, September 11, 2011

A wonderful little book, reviewed

I've been away all weekend, but before I do any kind of recap I want to write about the book I just finished in the car. I love it. It's my new favorite, and not just because it's the latest thing I've read and everything is always my new favorite. Okay, maybe.

But I liked it and maybe somebody else might too.

Or maybe you're just indulging me talking about things I like all the time, in which case we're still cool.


Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird?  What a weird name.  That kind of kept me from reading this for a while. Really.  I know that's not any kind of reason.  But I can say this book surpassed its strange name.  Why does that name sound like some kind of strange children's chant?  Moving on...

This is a book about writing, but it's not a textbook or a manual.  It's a book about writing that's told in little vignettes from the author's life.  It's good writing about writing.  It's good writing about life.  I feel like the fact that's it is about writing will make most people not want to read it, but I think it's full of interesting little bits of humor that would be enjoyable for anybody.  And really, it's about being yourself and finding your own thing whether it be art of writing or music or dance or whatever and learning to navigate the tightrope that is needing to express yourself while hovering over fear, doubt, criticism and potential failure.

This was a reassuring book.  It's written for people who (I think) have never given thought to the actual process much beyond getting published.  One thing I think has strengthened me as a writer has been blogging--little assignments for myself every day--and work toward just improving my writing for the sake of improving it.  Lamott recommends something similar.  I don't have a goal about publishing, but I was happy to see that she focuses on other ways that writing can be a good thing--whether it's for the writer or the one who the writer writes for.  I liked that she talked about writing being a gift that you can give to others.  That is definitely how I see it.

On a practical note, there are a lot of things I can take away from this book.  There's lots of concrete advice that I'm sure I could write down and use in my daily efforts at writing words that make sense and make me and/or others feel good.

I totally enjoyed this book.  It did not feel like work to read it--it was the most delicious kind of reading that feels like sitting down to a cup of coffee with a friend.  I am definitely adding Lamott's Traveling Mercies to my Wish List.

My recommendation: A great read for writers or anyone who wants to create.  This is a good one.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

I remember | 9.11.01

It’s impossible to write about September 11, 2001 without clichés, without sounding maudlin or false. I’ve avoided writing about it for those reasons, but this year I realized I’m teaching students who were five and eight years old when it happened, very near to my kids' current ages. Most students have little to no understanding of that day. Some day I’ll have to explain it to Addie and Henry, who were born after it happened, and they'll want to know where I was, what I felt.  Even the ordinary, the same, deserves remembering and telling. For that reason, I’m including this memory in my blog.  After ten years there’s another piece I’m ready to write about, too.

Like millions of other people, I woke up to a phone call that Tuesday morning. It came just after the first plane hit. I was twenty two, home sick in my dark bedroom on a planned absence from student teaching. The early phone call woke me in my bed. My first thought was that I was in some kind of trouble for taking a rare day off.

“Turn on your TV,” Brian said. I complied with curiosity and tried to understand what I saw on the 13-inch screen. I scooted to the foot of my mattress to get a better look. Frantic reporters tried to make sense of a gaping mouth in the side North Tower of the World Trade Center. I remember talk about what kind of plane could have flown into a building. There was speculation about a small aircraft, a general lack of immediate suspicion, and for a moment: at least the appearance of calm.

I stared at the news crawl across smoking tower, wondering what this was.  I recalled the enigmatic hysterics of my French teacher during the 1993 and 1995 bombings at the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City; for some reason this resonated with the same hollow tone. The intensity of the reports started to turn. Trepidation crept into the voices of reporters like dye through water. The second plane hit. It seemed like another camera angle of the first until I realized there were now two jagged gashes, two plumes of smoke. I held my breath, stunned at having watched people die. The tenor of reporting turned, decisive. From that point I couldn’t leave the TV.

Time stopped, but the devastation continued in what felt like an endless chain of dominoes. A plane hit the Pentagon. The South Tower collapsed. Another plane, down in a Pennsylvania field. Then the North Tower curled in on itself sending a second shadowy cloud of decay across Manhattan. I was scared to be in my house alone, scared to be seeing but scared also to turn it off. I felt torn. Should I go in to school? I knew if I went, I’d be in the way--useless--another worried soul for my master teachers to corral. I wanted to stay home where I wouldn’t have to be brave. I wanted to be with E. I wanted to believe that what I watched on TV was not real, that such absolute mortality wasn’t unfurling, live, before the eyes of the entire country.

For three days we watched the TV together, half expecting the rest of the world to unravel like a threadbare sweater. Time and streets were still. People only looked each other briefly in the eye as if to say “I know.” We stared at the TV screen in our apartment until our eyes dried and there was nothing left for reporters to say. The devastation was unimaginable. The country was numb.

Our concern became E’s parents who were in Alaska on a cruise. Their flight, like many others was canceled and painstakingly rescheduled. I’ve never been so happy to see someone at the gate, so relieved to have them on the ground at home. Even the drive to and from the airport made me nervous. Like so many that weekend we headed to church looking for answers, peace that might make this bearable. It didn’t come.

Most of my memory of that time is so universal and common. Nothing about my experience is remarkable, but I remember the entire morning I heard the news.  There is, though, one small piece unique to my recollection which makes remembering that fall all the more painful. Somewhere in the time around 9/11, E and I conceived our first child.

I can’t say with any truth if it was before or after, but I suspect in the “after” of the tragedy, we didn’t have much concern for things like birth control. It wasn’t a planned pregnancy, but it wasn’t an unplanned one either. I can’t imagine why we made that choice during that horrible few weeks, but I do know that life narrowed to a pinpoint; family and home became the focus for everyone. E and I had each other. Perhaps that’s why. I don’t know--but I do know it happened somewhere in that cloudy time.

The memory stings because I miscarried that child in November of 2001. Though we moved joyfully out of our small apartment and into a rental house in the short time I carried that small life, losing it bookended the confusion and uncertainty of the September tragedy. Those months were once again a time of fear, of feeling unsure about what was ahead, of feeling like certainties could not be counted upon. The miscarriage was surprising, drawn out and painful. I wouldn’t take pain medication for it. I needed to feel the loss, but it surpassed my tolerance for emotional and physical pain. Though that tiny loss was nothing compared to what so many endured across the country, it shook me because it represented uncertainty in my own home. I settled deep into a depression the likes of which I have not experienced in the rest of my adult life.

In the ten years since, distance quiets both memories. I can’t say either is forgotten, because each left a deep imprint: a fear-memory and a pain-memory. Both events left me feeling helpless. Both marked, in a way, the opening of a door to adulthood, different than marriage or graduation. Both events showed me how life takes unexpected, painful turns. There’s nothing more adult than death, nothing else which demands with such certainty that we look beyond our assumptions and keep moving forward.

What I try to remember about the fall of 2001 is how people came together, how even in fear and shock, man is basically good. I try to remember how people reached out to help those in crisis. I try to remember how no one bad thing is forever.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Marathon countdown: 2 weeks

My first marathon is in two weeks.  Holy sandwich baggies.

On Wednesday of this week (barring disaster) I'm also going to hit 500 miles run this year.   What the what?

I'm still in disbelief.  I'm excited for the race to get here.  I'm ready for lower mileage on the weekends for a while.  I'm ready to test myself to see how this feels.  I'm ready to push through what I know is going to be something challenging and see if I can do it.

And yet when I think about other lengthy, challenging experiences I've endured, I know I can.   Being pregnant?  Ugh.  Labor (for 26 hours, thanks Addie) was no picnic the first time, but I just did it until it was done.  The same goes for Act II of Swan Lake.  It's no walk in the park.  But you dance and then you stand in B+ until your leg locks up like a stone pillar and then you gently shift your weight against the corner of your pointe shoe until the music changes and you can switch feet.  You just do it and you put this look of peace on your face because for a while it's what you're doing.

I've spent all weekend looking at my data from my long runs.  Thank God for my Garmin, or I'd have no flipping idea what I was doing or what I was capable of.  I feel, thankfully, like I have a really accurate sense of how fast (and slow) I run, what effect starting too fast has on my pace, and what heart rate I'm shooting for.

I also spent a while this morning Googling negative split calculators.  If you're not a runner, that just means running the first half slower than the second.  It might seem counterintuitive, but when you're trying to run for 26 miles you want to save some juice for the end.  At least I think that's the point.  In the past when I've used a negative split strategy for long runs I've felt much better when I finished.  I don't have a time goal but Runners World's Smartcoach (which has been right on the money about my pace for 18 weeks) says I should be close to 4:45.  I think it's more like 5 hrs, but anything that starts with "I finished and I didn't die..." is a win in my book.

The most surprising thing about training for a marathon is that I don't hate the training.  I guess you have to get to that point--or I did.  For a long time before I started I thought it was about getting myself to do something that I hated (run) for a long time.  I thought it was about talking myself into doing this awful thing.  It isn't.  I got to a place where I had to come to terms with whether or not I wanted to be running or not.  I did.  If that was the case I had to figure out a way to do it that was tolerable.  Sometimes tolerable means uncomfortable, but no more uncomfortable than other things I do all the time--like work, get off the couch, put dishes in the dishwasher.  For what I put into it, it pays off, bigtime.

Running has showed me that so many people don't want to be uncomfortable--ever.  Interesting, right?

And while I feel like this race is the beginning of something--marathoning, as a verb--it's also looming in my mind as the end of summer, the end of training, the end of my pre-MFA life.  Since I don't know a lot about what life is going to look like once I start school, the marathon sits on my calendar like a sentry guarding the mystery that comes after.  It's a known that comes before some unknowns.

I can't wait.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Book review: Sarah's Key

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Not understanding the danger of the Vel d'Hiv roundup, Sarah locks her younger brother in a cabinet until she can return to release him later that day. She is then held captive with her parents, a few thousand adults and an astounding 4,000 children in the Velodrome d'Hiver stadium for days. From there men are separated from women, women from children, and each group is sent eventually on toward Auschwitz. Sarah is haunted by guilt and worry for her brother--this compounds the farther she gets from home. Sarah's story is interwoven with that of Julia Jarmond, a modern journalist seeking answers about Sarah as she tries to redefine her own life.

It's interesting how books find their way to you; the timing of the thing can matter a whole lot. Just a few weeks ago I finished Suite Francaise, Irene Nemirovsky's novel about Nazi occupied France. Last night I finished Sarah's Key, a fictionalized account of a little girl whose family was caught up in the very real Vel' d'Hiv Roundup of Jews by French police in July of 1942. At the time I read Suite I was surprised by its occasionally positive depiction of French feelings for their Nazi occupiers. As I said in my review, I suppose no one brush can be used to paint any human experience; no generalization holds true all the time. Also, though Suite's author, Nemirovsky, was Jewish herself (and ultimately died at Auschwitz), the book seemed glaringly absent mention of French anti-Semitism or complicity in the fates of Jews. It bears mentioning, here, that Suite was only several parts of an imagined five-part piece, ostensibly one which would have included a more complete picture had the author's life not ended tragically.  But it was a strange omission.

For that reason it's interesting to have read Sarah's Key so close to Suite. Sarah's Key is compelling because of its subject matter, but it is not on the same level with Suite Francaise when it comes to writing. I was unfamiliar with the Vel d'Hiv, and if the book is to be believed, so are most people. The book looks at French complicity then and French indifference to the past now.  For that reason I find it interesting, too, that it was written by a French author.

This book held my attention and was a quick read; I can't say it was a masterful work of prose, though. I was much more invested Sarah's narrative than that of the journalist. It wasn't easy to empathize with modern problems when they were interlaced with the stomach-turning tragedy of the Holocaust. As a mother and a wife I understood Julia's plight, but Sarah's firsthand account of certain death, mothers being torn from their children, fathers weeping helplessly, children enduring what no adult could reasonably bear--those things tore at my heart on a different level. The juxtaposition of the two made the modern seem trite, when in reality some of the things Julia dealt with probably would not seem so, if they were in a book of their own.  I honestly would have preferred a single narrative about Sarah--those chapters were more compelling and would have easily stood alone.

Symbolically, the modern journalist faces a decision that I believe is meant to mirror, or at least echo, that of the Jewish mothers in 1942. But it left me feeling guilty that there are no real modern comparisons to what happened. Some things defy analogy.

This was a good story and a fast read. I hated the end, though, because it was not on the same level as the rest of the book. The end seemed predictable, sappy, (to use an English teacher word--) jejune. I am still glad I read it, though. It's another reminder that there are so many pieces of the Holocaust left to understand or bring to light. In college, as part of a Holocaust in Literature and Film class, I read The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal: a short narrative and a "what if" that asked modern contributors what they would do in the author's shoes. Since high school each book I've read on this subject matter has the same effect on me, one intensified exponentially by motherhood:  I am constantly trying to put myself in the shoes of those I'm reading about, and I am constantly humbled by what I know is my inability to comprehend such tragedy, pain, and loss.  It's hard to read things like this because of what we have to feel, but doesn't that mean we should?

My recommendation: Read it.  You might be a little frustrated at the end but it's a compelling story.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Climbing Mount St. Rubric


Peet's makes better coffee.

I'm addicted to Starbucks, though.  Not for what you'd think--caffeine--but for the opportunity to sit and grade papers for hours at a time on a single cup of tea.

I can't really grade at home.  I have an entire routine where I bring the papers home, then back to school, then home again and never get much farther than the first paragraph of the first essay.  There are too many distractions in the house, too many to-dos needing a do-er.  My chores never get more attention than when I'm exhibiting the avoidance behavior that comes in the week after I collect essays.

Today the kids were gone but I knew staying home wasn't going to cut it.  I have a bad head cold that was enough to defeat the high hopes I had for grading after lunch.  When I woke from my phlegmy nap at 3:30 I realized I needed to high-tail it to the 'Bucks if I was going to get anything done.  If I stayed home I was going to back to bed for approximately 86 hours.

Instead, for four and a half hours I graded.  Time doesn't seem to pass the same way if I can sip on Zen tea and listen to my headphones.  I'm able to shut out the world; customers provide a momentary distraction if I need one, but not a full enough diversion to pull me from my work.  I grade better if I can do a full batch at once.  There's something about holding the full rubric and knowledge of each paper in my head that makes the task more thorough.

I've never been a I'll grade ten papers a night kind of teacher.  (Just like I'm not a I'll read one chapter a night reader.)  It's all or nothing with PDawg... most nights that means nothing.

These marathon coffee shop days are enjoyable, though.  Today Pandora's Mumford and Sons radio station was getting it all kinds of right.  I had a good pen.  I made lots of comments.  The tea was not too hot or too cold.  I got the good chair and--once I needed a change of posture--then the booth.

I tore through five class sets of essays in one sitting.  Finished my summer work.  Graded an autobiographical essay I just collected in my freshman classes yesterday.  (Seriously, I never grade anything the day after it's due.)  Scored my AP kids' first timed write.

I feel like I am queen of the world right now.  Grading papers is the pits, but for five minutes after you're done you get to feel like you climbed Mount Everest.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Yes, I'm still bitter. (On second thought maybe that title sucks.)

It was the worst of those kind of wait until your father gets here kind of situations.  I had my fair share of those at home, but hearing Heather, you need to sit here until he comes to get you when I was at daycare was a different animal.

The thing was, I wasn't sorry for what I said at all.  I was kind of amazed at the power of it, how affected she was, how angered my words could make an adult.  I wasn't old enough to hurl insults--which was a problem--but I knew it had an effect so I clung to it, committed.  It was the best kind of outburst I could dream up, not having the fine vocabulary of cheap shots and swearwords I would possess in my adult life.  The insult had no applicable stereotypical meaning; I just grabbed for a word out of thin air that sounded really bad.

I called her a monkey.  I called the director of my daycare a monkey and it was the worst thing I'd ever said to a grownup.  An analogy of simian similarity was not what I aimed for, but I lacked the finesse to explain my disgust with how she treated kids, just how unreasonable she was.  I was enraged.  She was inhuman; she meant nothing.  I was--I don't know?--all of eight years old.  Old enough for outrage but too young for righteous anger.

When you're eight nobody lets you feel slighted.

That was the part of my life when people would say of me, often, thinking I was out of earshot: she's difficult, or, what a "spirited" child.  Nobody ever means spirited in a good way.  They mean you ask too many questions, you won't be controlled.

So I waited in my plastic seat of shame until he came, sat in the old converted Sunday School building and tried not to scream.  Probably watched some kids play M.A.S.H. on the dusty blackboard or shove stale crackers into their yawning mouths.

That's what I remember about daycare:  the angry monkey woman, an ancient blackboard, dry Nilla Wafers and boredom.  The hours were endless.  Every afternoon I'd settle into the blue van with broken radio controls and glare across the parking lot at the lucky kids whose parents picked them up from school--green from my spleen, I was so jealous.

Daycare was a necessary beast.  I see that now, from the other side.  Both of my parents worked and daycare had nothing to do with their affection for me.  But at the time it felt like the slap of life's hand assuring me that fair wasn't really part of the deal.

I hated it.  I was angry almost every day I spent there.  I swore up and down I wouldn't make my kids go when I was a mom.  It was misery and monotony.

It wasn't until E and I started to talk about childcare for Roo that I realized some people actually had positive experiences in daycare.  E went to one in the country and though he sustained a few injuries out in the fields while he ran free like a jackrabbit, he felt a sense of happiness about his situation.  He had wonderful memories of time spent playing there with his friends.

I don't think that I was in a bad place, only that I must have come up against the limits of what I could do there pretty early.  The clock seemed to run backwards.  I remember (mostly) kind caregivers who would do things like let us organize shows and play school.  But a lot of it wasn't great.  I remember repetitive, cheap snacks.  I remember there not being any place to be quiet or alone.  It was hard to concentrate on homework.  It always seemed dirty.  I remember board games missing 30% of their pieces.  I remember kids who talked about things I shouldn't have been hearing yet.  I remember being harassed by a bully until my cousin stepped in.  I remember missing my mom and dad.  I remember a lot of kids more "spirited" than I was, but better at being sneaky.  My combination of honesty and "spirit" meant I landed more frequently in hot water.

But I was wrong about my own kids, too.  We had to have Henry in daycare for a short time last year.  Choosing a safe place for your kid matters more sometimes than how bored they are.  That sucks, but it's important and it has nothing to do with how much you love them. But the whole time I felt the ache of guilt.  I am positive I painted his facility with a brush colored by my own experiences.  I felt wrong leaving him there even though he seemed relatively happy.  But a few months in he started to complain about being bored, and I knew.  Luckily circumstances changed quickly enough that he didn't have to stay.

My dad made me apologize to the monkey woman that day, even though I told him quietly how I wasn't sorry.  I forced it out through clenched teeth and we left.  Shortly thereafter we changed daycare centers.  I'm pretty sure they asked us to leave... asked me to leave.

Kicked out of our church daycare.  Yep.  That's talent, right there.