I am not a runner. Let’s get that out of the way first. I’m pretty much the opposite of a runner. But I’m married to a runner, a man who has completed more than 25 marathons, two of them in Boston. He ran it just last year when the oppressive heat had him considering forfeiting and running this year instead.
That is where my mind goes when I think about what happened in Boston yesterday. (Or, it’s one of many places to which my mind races.) Chris could have been there. But then it feels like a stretch, like a manufactured fear. A way to inject myself personally into the tragedy. Or is it a way to feel connected? I don’t know how to tell the difference.
I think about the fact that, over the years, I have been a spectator at a dozen or so of those marathons. I know the madness of trying to navigate your way through the crowds to get from point to point in the hopes of getting a glimpse of your runner and cheering them on. I’ve been with Chris in Hurley, Wisconsin for the relatively tiny Paavo Nurmi marathon, where the trees outnumbered spectators the entire way. I’ve been with him for Chicago, DC, St. Louis and, yes, Boston – all packed to the gills with people milling around, bands playing, runners in crazy costumes.
In other words, I also think: I could have been there. I could have easily been a spectator. It could have been me. Is this the most selfish line of thinking? Or is it just human nature to personalize tragedy? I don’t know how to tell the difference.
Marathons are curious events. There really isn’t anything like them. You know that if you’ve run one, or if you’ve shown up on the sidelines or if you’ve even groaned at the inconvenience of giant crowds shutting down the streets in your town. I’m aware that the tendency at this moment is to glorify, but there is a spirit to marathons, something really tangible.
Runners train for marathons with a dedication I simply can’t fathom, no matter how many times I’ve watched Chris go through the process. It is, to a bystander, nothing short of insane. On race day, friends, families and loved ones of runners come out to support them, along with total strangers to form a crazy community that feels strangely titillating and invigorating. These are, for the most part, not professional athletes. They are normal human beings, pushing themselves to the limits. The struggle and the victory shows on their faces. It is, at times, unspeakably moving.
And Boston is not just any marathon. It is the marathon. Legendary. The holy grail for many runners. It is the world’s oldest annual marathon, dating back to 1897, attracting amateur and professional runners from across the globe. About half a million people come out every year to cheer on the runners. Half a million. Winning Boston is like winning no other race.
April 16, 2013
I’ve been disinclined to post here lately, largely because I’ve been overwhelmed by battling a general sense of reluctance – to take care of myself, to take care of business, to do anything at all during this never-ending winter. As I’m clawing my way out of it the past few weeks, my main focus for my limited energy has been on writing. Which is a welcome change of pace for me, and a tremendous relief.
It feels as though, for months, I have been stuck, experiencing the most persistent and baffling case of writer’s block. (Which, as I understand it, is really more accurately something like writer’s fear or writer’s reluctance.) And then, thanks to encouragement from my MFA mentor and giving myself permission to write shitty first drafts, there was an opening – which felt like nothing short of a miracle. So progress is being made and when I’m putting all my energy into writing one thing, others – such as this blog – fall by the wayside. I am not complex enough to spread the wealth around, so to speak.
But what I have been able to do, in addition to writing, is read. Something about enrolling in my MFA program has changed the way I approach it, too. I don’t think I noticed that I’d stopped reading like a writer, that I’d lost that intense passion for story and characters, that I’d lost that hunger to read more, more, more.
Yet it appears that I did.
March 25, 2013
I’ve been trying to write a novel, as you likely know all too well, for a number of years now. (Is she still talking about that?) And the main obstacle in my journey seems to be: I’ve never done this before. Well. I suppose we could say the real obstacle is the millions of fears dusted up by the fact that I’ve never done this before, but that feels a bit like splitting hairs.
The thing about me as a writer is that first drafts come easily to me. I write quickly and decisively in the early throes of inspiration. Whole chunks of exposition and dialogue present themselves to me at one time and I scramble to transcribe them before my brain moves on. I’ve always been – for better or worse – a binge writer, as opposed to someone with daily discipline. (I’d like to be the latter. I would. Although not, apparently, enough to actually do it.)
I may have mentioned briefly in my prior “catch-up” post that I’m getting my MFA. Getting the help and the discipline I need to finish this novel was one of a few key reasons I had for pursuing that. Before I enrolled at Antioch, I had what was maybe a second draft of my novel and while I knew that there were giant holes needing patched and bridges needing built, I couldn’t seem to figure out for the life of me how to approach them.
Now I’m in graduate school and I’ve figured it all out and gotten the book written and it’ll be published any day now by a respectable imprint.
No. Not really.
But graduate school has made me re-committed to finishing this novel. It has made me re-committed to learning all I can about writing and, to that end, especially, I am devouring books like a reader as I haven’t in years. It’s clearer to me now what I like and what I don’t like and how to make some of the jaggy-edged pieces fit in just so, how to spackle some of the holes.
And one of the real blessings is that I get to work with a mentor for each project period, or semester. Having someone focused on my work in its entirety and for more than a few days at a weekend workshop is proving priceless. I need a little hand-holding right now. Or, if not hand-holding, then I need someone shining a flashlight on the path for me.
Recently, I found myself, though not producing many new pages, finally figuring out not just what needed to be fixed but also (I think), how to fix it. It didn’t come to me in a dream. No, it came together – as much as it has, so far – mainly because I gave myself permission to consider the Thinking portion of events as valid as the Writing portion of events.
I kept having to silence that loud voice in my head insisting that what I was doing, thank you very much, was actually procrastinating. Overcoming that negative self-talk might have been the biggest struggle of all. Yet, at the end of it, I had sat down, figured out a new timeline of events in the novel, made notes of all the places that need tweaked, the things that needed added and/or removed. It was a monumental moment for me as a novel writer and, so, of course…I freaked.
I became catatonic. Because it is quite one thing to finally have broken through and created for yourself a blueprint and another entirely to then have to do the work. I am not a person, it seems, who loves to do the work.
I arranged to have a phone meeting yesterday with my kind and generous mentor to discuss my blueprint and, perhaps more importantly, how to get unstuck. She helped me figure out a concrete plan for approaching this next draft – I’m to make a list of everything that needs to be done; rank each item as either “easy,” “medium,” or “difficult”; commit to tackling a certain number of these items per week; and when I sit down to work on them, choose whatever I feel like doing at the time.
All of that was – is – of course supremely helpful. But then she also made another suggestion, almost an aside, and it is, naturally, the thing that has most stuck with me since. She suggested I change the way I’m thinking about the writing. I’ve obviously got myself bogged down with thinking of this as a task, something large and unwieldy that I have to do. Instead, she suggested I approach each scene, each change asking myself, “Where is the opportunity to discover more?”
And then she said this: “Try to get back to the joy in the writing.”
The joy in the writing? It has been so long since I framed this book as anything other than a task I had to finish, a thing I had to do, that I had completely forgotten – as embarrassing as it is to admit – that there is supposed to be joy in writing. Pleasure in discovery. The thrill of hammering out a good sentence, the feeling when a new character shows up and you know she’s what you need. Joy.
When did I get so far away from that? How do I move back? I’m not sure yet. It’s probably worthy of an entire blog post of its own. For now, though, I’m again giving myself permission to Think about it. The joy in writing. What a strange, obvious and wonderful goal.
March 1, 2013
I’ve been mulling this over for months – how to return to a stagnant blog. Whether to return to a stagnant blog. Now that Vegan Fever has passed, what will be my focus? Do I need a focus? (Everyone else says “yes,” by the way. Everyone may be in for some disappointment.)
Do I need to play catch-up? To tell you where the months have taken me since that last, sad entry? Do I mention that they took me to Kentucky when fall was at its most beautiful?
Or then to Costa Rica for absolute perfection over my birthday?
And what about after that, when I went back to California, this time to Los Angeles – to return to graduate school after graduating from college half my life ago?
Should I tell you what that experience is like, all the reading and writing and studying and the fear and exhilaration of being back in school?
Probably. Probably I should try to catch you up on all those things and more. But I’ve been corresponding this week with a friend who has suffered a profound and complicated loss, and in the midst of his grief he has discovered the most incredible freedom. Freedom, especially, not to look backwards, but to look forwards. To stop defining his life by what he sees in the rearview mirror.
So I feel less obligated to fill in the details about where I’ve been. The thing is, I’m here now. I’m not sure I need to know what I’m planning to write about. I do know that I want to give it another shot, showing up here on the page on a regular basis. So here I am. Let’s see where we go.
February 15, 2013
I needed all of it. I needed the cypress trees at Pfeiffer Beach, the way they stretched, low and dense, a canopy across the sand. I needed the eucalyptus, how it invaded the air and made breathing seem like something entirely new. I needed the sailboats on Monterey Bay and the vastness of the water stretched out before me. I needed the glimpse, in the distance, of the white puff from the whale’s blowhole then, briefly, its tail before it disappeared back into the deep. I needed the redwoods towering above me and the strange, ropy patterns in the sandstone along the Pacific Coast Highway. I needed the craggy coastline and the crashing surf and the fog threatening to swallow it all.
I needed every bit of beauty Northern California could serve up to me.
I knew I had needed to make the call to let my cat go, my buddy of 17 years. I knew it wasn’t fair to him to play out some fantasy, keeping him alive until I could get to his side. Even though making the decision from 2,500 miles away seemed impossible and surreal.
When I left the redwoods and the ocean and the waves crashing on cliffs behind me and came home, I needed to keep his bowl where it was for the first day, just as I needed to pick it up and put it away the next. I needed to toss out the ratty towel he used to sleep on behind the bathtub. I needed to keep the tuft of his white fur I found resting under my desk chair.
I needed to go out into the garden and pull out the last of this year’s tomato plants, sobbing as I did, knowing it was the end of growing season, that we’d done all we could here. The plants were spent.
Later, I needed to be in the kitchen, my hands wet with the juice of the last tomatoes, cutting, roasting, coaxing them into a sauce.
I needed to feel my hands in flour, to cut butter into tiny pieces and pulse it into a dough, marveling how a few ingredients and a little electricity produce such a thing. I needed to peel the apples, toss them with lemon juice and sugar and place them in the dough.
I needed to make things. I needed to have things become, rather than go away.
I needed to cry, a lot. I needed to tell people that he wasn’t just any cat. That I got him the last year of my drinking, the darkest and loneliest time in my life. I needed to tell people that he was the first thing I was able to take care of outside of myself, to make amends to. I needed them to know how, when my mother died, he sat with me as I made strange animal howls of grief.
Everything in life comes down to what we need at any given moment. That is how, I think, we get through what we get through – needing from minute to minute.
And that was what I needed, this week.
September 29, 2012
I am writing this post at gunpoint. Knifepoint. Somethingpoint. My new therapist says to write something, stream-of-consciousness, no editing. My new therapist says to take action, to just engage in the act of writing, ego and outcome be damned.
Many other people, of course, have given me the very same advice. But I’m not paying THEM an arm and a leg to tell me the obvious, am I?
I react well to financial investment in self-improvement, apparently. In other words, I’m afraid of going broke, so I need to feel I’m getting something concrete out of therapy.
I don’t want to write about what I’ve been eating lately, for which I’m certain some of you will be grateful. It’s not that I’m eating horrendously. Nor am I sticking to my food plan 100%. I’m firmly entrenched in the process of figuring it all out and I am bored, bored, bored of talking about it.
I keep asking myself what to write about here and the answer that keeps coming is: pain, pain, pain. It’s not that I want to write about it. It’s just that it’s so bad right now I can’t really see past it. It’s like an annoying, distracting flashing neon sign so bright in my eyes I can’t see anything else.
A couple of months ago, I went to see a pain management specialist. I have a rich history with pain management specialists – largely that I have a tremendous fear of them. So many times I’ve been told that I don’t have fibromyalgia, that it doesn’t exist, only to then be diagnosed with it. So many times I’ve been trotted off to the ineffective eight sessions of PT my insurance covers or pushed out the door with muttered instructions to eat better and put heat/ice on whatever ails me.
Doctors, in general, hate it when they cannot help you. Writers, in general, hate it when they cannot edit their own writing. This stream-of-consciousness directive is killing me.
September 11, 2012
It is probably self-evident that when I fail to post for about a month, particularly where my eating plan progress is concerned, it can mean only one thing: things have gone off the rails.
So, yes, let me put it out there first and foremost. Tear off the band aid, if you will. There has been meat. There has been cheese. There have been many, many technically “vegan” items consumed that did not, in any way, shape or form, qualify as plant-based whole foods.
Who knew you could eat so much crap and still call yourself a vegan? (On that note, I need to qualify that when I say “vegan,” I mean “eating a vegan diet.” My shoes are still leather, yo.) I’m beginning to understand why Engine 2 doesn’t describe itself as a vegan diet – because, believe it or not, identifying as vegan doesn’t necessarily mean you’re eating many whole foods or even plants.
In the interest of being gentle with myself, I’m going to go ahead and say I’m in an experimental phase. I’m trying to figure out the practical applications of the whole-foods, plant-based diet in my real life. I’m trying to balance what I need and what I want, and sometimes the battle ain’t pretty.
In addition, I should note that Chris and I have eaten meat-free and dairy-free about 98% of the time since mid-May. That’s the part I’m trying to focus on these past couple weeks when opening the Cheese Door seems to have caused some nutritionally disastrous results.
I may be an all-or-nothing gal.
I don’t want to be an all-or-nothing gal. I don’t want to live a life without some real feta or a pizza with strings of good-quality mozzarella cheese. I’m just having trouble figuring out how eating cheese occasionally does not become eating all the cheese in the world.
August 1, 2012
So, a million years ago, when I began boring you with tales of this new whole foods, plant-based eating plan, I mentioned that the basic goal was to try and bring my cholesterol into check. As I mentioned in a previous post, part of the problem with me has been managing my expectations, which I was concerned were growing completely out of control. I have been known to start a food plan and throw in the towel when I failed to lose 20 pounds in two weeks.
It was not too far afield to think my expectations of the Engine 2 Diet’s cholesterol-lowering powers would be equally unrealistic.
As it turns out, not so much.
First, let’s go back to the beginning, shall we? Back to my starting numbers, my lipid portfolio of shame – which I never did quite get around to telling you about, did I? I knew I’d have to eventually, but I was embarrassed. So let’s start with the worst…
Let’s start with what I weighed…
June 16, 2012
I had so many great plans for how I would write about the monumentous reaching of Day 28, the last day in the Engine 2 28-Day Challenge. I wanted to write about the Tater Tot Debacle of Day 26. I wanted to write on Day 28 about what a tough, unrelenting physically and spiritual journey I’d just completed. (I may or may not have just read Cheryl Strayed’s lovely memoir “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.”) I may or may not have been over-identifying with her.
Because, in fact, only one of us set out to traverse a tremendous stretch of land, crossing multiple treacherous terrains, many for which she was unproperly prepared. I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t me. But I’m a projector and as I read her book – fairly devoured it, actually – I’m not ashamed to say I did feel the slightest thread of comradeship. Maybe thread is too strong a word. But what’s less than a thread?
Either way, if you will stop laughing long enough at that comparison, I will embarrass myself further by trying to explain what I mean. My journey was unknown, as was Strayed’s. I wasn’t sure what I was in for and sometimes found myself woefully unprepared, just like Strayed. I encountered impenetrable walls of ice and crossed paths with rattlesnakes and bears. Just like…oh, forget it.
But it was hard in its own way and, I will confess, when my enthusiasm flagged around days 26 and 27, it was reading Strayed’s book that injected me with instant perspective. How am I going to complain about not eating cheese when I’m reading about someone trekking in hundred-plus degree heat with half her body weight in supplies on her back?
Don’t worry. I did complain about it. Plenty. The book just made me feel like more of an ass for it.
I had all these thoughts about what Day 28 was going to look like, feel like. What it would mean. You know, heavy thoughts, man.
But none of that navel-gazing really came into play because Day 27 found me laid out with a cold/flu virus the likes of which I hadn’t known. Two days of exhaustion, shakiness, dizziness, pain swallowing, headache and nonstop sneezing. (Now am I on par with Cheryl Strayed? Still no? Sheesh.)
There were no big Day 28 feasts. No parades. No celebratory phone calls or embarrassing deliveries of flowers. Just me, on the couch, feeling puny.
I think, in a way, that’s a good thing. Because by the time I came up for air, albeit unsteadily, a couple of days had gone by and we were still just eating the way we had been eating. Without much fanfare, we decided to stay the course, soldier on, sallyforth.
And that, I think, is something even Cheryl Strayed might admit we have in common.
I’m traveling right now and still getting my sea legs, but when I feel better I’m sure I will write more about my conclusions from this adventure – and what it’s going to look like for me in the next phase. I’ll also get my blood tests work back from the doctor and we can see how effective just 28 days on this eating plan can be for lowering cholesterol.
Anyhoo, you’ll just have to be real patient, won’t you? Perched on the edge of your seat, even.
June 14, 2012
There will never come a time during the 28-day Engine 2 challenge where I say, “Yeah, but I just wish I could spend more time cooking.” Within the past couple of days, though, I have found myself really missing baking, which had been one of my favorite hobbies throughout the winter and spring. I was getting close to mastering my pie crust and had just started to figure out cakes.
So I decided to jump in and try a few low-fat vegan baking recipes and see what shook out. I started out braving the recipe entitled “Blueberry Dumpster Cobbler” from the Engine 2 cookbook. The book provides an explanation about the name, something to do with a dumpster fire being the fastest kind to put out and this is a quick and easy recipe. Still, it’s an unfortunate choice for the name, especially since I can think of a host of other reasons to call it a dumpster cobbler.
I should have known better when I checked the list of ingredients – whole wheat pastry flour, baking powder, vanilla, soy milk, agave and blueberries. I thought, “Really? Can that add up to something that actually tastes good?”
And the answer is no. No, it cannot.
The cobbler part was dense and flat and had a strange chemical taste to it. Perhaps it was just the weird flavor combination of the soy milk and wheat flour. Maybe it was the taste of impending death. Who’s to say? Either way, I’m not sure the reason we eat baked goods is because we want to invest a good amount of time trying to get used to the taste.
(It should be noted, however – and expected, by anyone who knows my husband well – that he ate the entire cobbler anyway. In which case, I think he becomes the “dumpster” in the cobbler name.)
Undaunted – or daunted, but eager to get that taste out of my mouth – I moved on to the Low Fat Vegan Black Bean Brownies featured on the Happy Herbivore site. I’ve heard good things about using black beans in regular brownies but, my expectations dashed by the Great Dumpster Cobbler Disaster of Aught-Twelve, I didn’t have the highest expectations for these.
June 1, 2012