I run my first race tomorrow — a 5k. I am excited to find out my race pace — I have been running alone so much that it will be good to get a feel for how I place amongst others. I know it’s not about the numbers, but the numbers are the best way to show progress — and with several weeks of running behind me, some empirical proof of how far I’ve come will be nice.
But doing new things stresses me out, and the best method I have for dealing with that is learning as much as possible about what I’m getting into. I know the race course well, which helps immensely; I read about someone’s experiences running earlier races in the series and looked up the finish times for those earlier races; emailed the organizer to double-check something that wasn’t clear but pretty obvious; I got two coworkers to come and race with me so I could double-check all my uncertainties with them. So I’m ready to face it (I’m hardly even nervous now which is unusual), and more than ready to run the distance.
I ran 10k last Saturday. Every run is always hard — even the slow, easy ones, especially on the treadmill — but it’s the kind of hard where the pleasure of overcoming it far outweighs the discomfort. There are always flashes of ‘Why the hell am I doing this?’ but then I realize that I’ve been running for ten minutes and I’m not even out of breath and I’m finally getting warm and my legs are stronger than they have ever been in my life. The mental work is as hard as the physical work. As I get into longer distances (I’m hoping to get to 20k by the end of the year), I expect my brain to undergo the most changes. I think I’m prepared for the rest of it — I have read up so much on long-distance running now that it feels inevitable to aim for a half marathon next year and for a marathon the year after. If you can run for an hour it seems only a matter of equipment and safe training to go longer, but it’s the patience and strength to withstand the constant inner voice of doubt and fear that I most look forward to learning.
It’s been more than a week since I Became A Runner which I’m going to take as license to write about it. Co-workers peer-pressured me into signing up to run 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) in a three-person relay race next March. I went for a jog once about nine years ago and have otherwise never gotten close to Being A Runner, so this is a big deal for me. Saturday before last I started what might, with a giggle-snort, pass for training.
Running — and in general physical activity other than playing ultimate — has been on my mind for a while now, so although I refused the race several times before I finally accepted, when I did I threw myself into it. Downloaded RunKeeper, researched training plans, thought out my routes, considered my shoe & clothing & gear needs. Did my first run the next day, which involved more walking than I was prepared to accept, but I planned to keep it easy to start anyway and after more research decided that I was allowed to walk. With ultimate frisbee I’m used to many short bursts of sprinting with minimal sustained running during the games with lots of breaks between points and for subs, so it will take me a while to build the endurance for longer runs.
I am surprised at the side of myself that suddenly emerged once I committed to the race. As usual as soon as something gets my interest I become obsessed with it — so let’s hope I don’t lose interest before March — but I wasn’t expecting to be looking forward to running, to actually wanting to get out of bed early on the weekends to go for a run. Predictably, I have an intense interest in tracking my numbers and working to make them look good. I was planning to run four times a week at first but right now the so-called rest days are making me impatient for improvement so I’m thinking five or six days now. I haven’t pushed myself to the same level of sore as after the first ultimate game back in the spring after doing nothing all fall and winter, but I don’t want any injuries and I have lots of time before the race so I need to be kind to myself.
This interest in taking fitness more seriously has come and gone over the last several years. The idea isn’t necessarily to lose weight or feel better about my body — the usual reasons people start exercising — but to push myself beyond the limits I’ve been happy staying within for so long. I joined an ultimate tournament team earlier this year for the same reason — this was my 13th summer playing ultimate, but I’ve been more or less the same kind of player for the majority of those years. I’ve become a smarter and better player in some ways, but essentially I’ve been playing the same game. Then I was invited to play tournaments with a new team and now I’m learning to apply concepts I know in theory and have seen in practice but never took seriously in my own game. I’m learning to be a handler! And a short cutter! That’s a big change for me because I was so comfortable playing the mid-deep and deep cut that I lost all confidence in doing anything else, especially handling the disc. But now I’m figuring out new things and learning to be a better, more flexible, more responsive player. Seeing my own progess in ultimate over this summer also encouraged me to have faith that I could progress in other ways too. I signed up for the race before even going on my first run, which sounds like the last thing in the world I would do, but it felt like exactly the commitment I needed to make to get serious about it.
Instead of listening to music on my runs, I’ve been listening to audiobooks. My first choice is a pretty simple novel (The Cocktail Waitress by James Cain) which means parts of the narrative can disappear beneath RunKeeper’s audio cues without leaving me in the dark story-wise. I’m halfway through and have a Parker novel lined up once I’m finished, but after that I’m not sure. A lot of books won’t work because being detail-oriented I’ll miss too many undoubtedly crucial details while listening breathlessly for my latest average pace and negotiating with myself when to take my next walk break. I’m taking recommendations.
“Work, paradoxically enough, is a comfort. One wakes up wanting to cut one’s throat; one goes to work, & in 15 minutes one wants to cut someone else’s — complete cure!”—Philip Larkin in a letter to Winifred Arnott, 16 November 1976
"Nothing could blacken my name in Maiden Eggsford. I’m much too much the popular pet ever since I sang ‘Every Nice Girl Loves a Sailor’ at the village concert last year. I had them rolling in the aisles. Three encores, and so many bows that I got a crick in the back."
"Spare me the tale of your excesses," I said distantly.
She sits with her back to the door and lately when someone knocks she turns around with a look of annoyance, of aggrievedness, of righteous anger, of cowering fear, of weary surrender. Her brow may be thunderous or pitiful but never smooth. In the act of turning she realizes what her face must look like and she does not care, but then she sees the faces of her visitors. Their reactions vary but regardless they induce guilt for the unattractive emotions she allowed herself to show, and as soon as she can but always too late she relaxes her expression. There is no reason to broadcast her unhealthy state of mind to the friendly people she works with and induce them to display concern, regret, fear, or defensiveness. She didn’t mean to cause them to have as little control over their own faces as she has, these days, over hers.
One day a visitor tells her that the very act of smiling, even without emotion — but with the appearance of sincerity, without that glint of desperation in her eye — will be enough to make herself think that she is happier than she really is. She thinks that this is ridiculous and that it is probably true. So she practices smiling alone at her computer monitor and, when she hears footsteps coming down the hallway or hears the dreaded knock on the door, she relaxes her face and brightens her eyes and draws her lips up at the corners, but she can’t tell what she feels.
When we visited with the family at my parents’ house today, I didn’t take a photo of my mom because I was too busy playing with the children. There are so many of them, and they are so adorable! So loveable! Their mothers, these women who gave birth (or not) and have devoted so much of their lives to their children, they are amazing. Having even one child must be as challenging as having six, like my mom did.
My mom is always the one to take photos at family gatherings and add them to her innumerable scrapbooks, and I am one of few she relies on to prove her own existence at these events, because I have the camera out almost as often as she does. Today I failed her. But I did bring her flowers — tulips that had not yet fully opened — although I’m not sure how that’s supposed to make up for it. Next time, Mom, next time. And thanks for making sure I turned into a decent human being.
I’ve been looking through some of the copious amounts of writing I did in the early 2000s and found the following in a pseudo-hidden diary entry from August 2001:
So, I’ve been thinking about writing a novel. It would be about a cup, a blue plastic cup who only ever sat on the computer desk beside the monitor because no one would put it away. The blue (please keep in mind that this is a light, slightly-darker-than-baby-blue kind of blue) plastic cup, however, managed to make a friend: the short pretty glass! The short pretty glass had also been left on the computer desk for an upsettingly long amount of time—the liquid in her bottom had already begun to harden!—and when they began to converse (silently, so the big scary curvy creature sitting at the computer desk [i.e., me] wouldn’t hear), they found that they had much more in common than just the dust they had collected during their really long stay on the desk. They did, eventually, fall in love. I would end the story by having them brought downstairs (not by me, however, no!) and being washed and then separated in their separate cupboards, separately. Or perhaps the short pretty glass will break somehow in the dishwater, while the blue plastic cup looks on in horror and despair, not being able to do anything to help her. The last paragraph could contain: the short pretty and broken glass, covered in suds and slippery water, is carried off and dumped unceremoniously into a garbage bag. The blue plastic cup contemplates suicide, but is horrified beyond all horror he has ever horrifyingly experienced at the realization that it’s not possible to kill himself.
I’m not sure whether, as a writer, I’ve changed much since then.
My little sister had her first baby last week. This is the sister I shared a room with for most of my childhood, the one I played Barbies with when I was too old, the one who didn’t kill me when I gave her dolls what I thought were very cool haircuts, the one I am still sometimes surprised to remember is no longer a fun, energetic teenager but is instead a fun, responsible adult with a partner, two step-kids, a gigantic dog, and a house. (Often when I think of my siblings — particularly younger siblings — I default to the time when I knew them best, before I moved out of my parents’ home, which is getting close to ten years ago now. Surely this must improve with age, not worsen.)
The baby is Callie, four weeks early, not even four pounds. People keep referring to her as a peanut, which is actually apt, so that I have come to think of her as a peanut too. One of her middle names is after our grandmother, Carol. Callie’s arrival was announced on Facebook, but I didn’t see the update until after my oldest sister called to share the news. There are new pictures of the peanut every day, and I am probably imagining that she is already getting bigger. All of my sisters have babies now. Everyone is so happy.
In the last week’s mornings at the bus stop I’ve noticed a woman who reads a book while walking down the street. I’m too far away to guess what it might be, but it’s a large book, hardcover. Not a textbook, I think — maybe a novel. At the corner she looks up to wait for the light to change, and she closes the book before she crosses the street, while she passes someone coming in the opposite direction. She wears shoes suited for spring, with skirts and bright colours, and her bag is yellow like mine. Something makes me think that she is calm and content and warm, and that something about the book makes her so.
I still wear a winter coat, scarf, and boots, because I wait for the bus in the shade and the spring wind is cold. There are others with bare legs and arms. I don’t read on the way to the bus stop — the sun is too bright when walking east, and I prefer to keep my hands in my pockets where I can hold my ticket and tighten my fists. But in the evening when it’s not too cold for bare hands, I can manage a few pages, slowly, a finger holding down each line. One moment, forgetting that I am still moving; another, looking ahead for obstacles.
It is 2001 in New York City, in the lull between the collapse of the dot-com boom and the terrible events of September 11th. Silicon Alley is a ghost town, Web 1.0 is having adolescent angst, Google has yet to IPO, Microsoft is still considered the Evil Empire. There may not be quite as much money around as there was at the height of the tech bubble, but there’s no shortage of swindlers looking to grab a piece of what’s left.
Maxine Tarnow is running a nice little fraud investigation business on the Upper West Side, chasing down different kinds of small-scale con artists. She used to be legally certified but her license got pulled a while back, which has actually turned out to be a blessing because now she can follow her own code of ethics—carry a Beretta, do business with sleazebags, hack into people’s bank accounts—without having too much guilt about any of it. Otherwise, just your average working mom—two boys in elementary school, an off-and-on situation with her sort of semi-ex-husband Horst, life as normal as it ever gets in the neighborhood—till Maxine starts looking into the finances of a computer-security firm and its billionaire geek CEO, whereupon things begin rapidly to jam onto the subway and head downtown. She soon finds herself mixed up with a drug runner in an art deco motorboat, a professional nose obsessed with Hitler’s aftershave, a neoliberal enforcer with footwear issues, plus elements of the Russian mob and various bloggers, hackers, code monkeys, and entrepreneurs, some of whom begin to show up mysteriously dead. Foul play, of course.
With occasional excursions into the DeepWeb and out to Long Island, Thomas Pynchon, channeling his inner Jewish mother, brings us a historical romance of New York in the early days of the internet, not that distant in calendar time but galactically remote from where we’ve journeyed to since.
Will perpetrators be revealed, forget about brought to justice? Will Maxine have to take the handgun out of her purse? Will she and Horst get back together? Will Jerry Seinfeld make an unscheduled guest appearance? Will accounts secular and karmic be brought into balance?
We walked side by side each not knowing where the other was going. I veered to the right to give her room and she pushed onward that way, veering further and further right until we were on the other side of the street. She assumed that I was going that way, which I was not, and I in turn assumed that she was going that way, but she was not. We stood at the corner talking, and I waited for her to start to cross the street so that I could say that I was going in the other direction. When I said finally that I was going the other way, she said she was too and we apologized and walked on together.
At the next corner the same thing happened again as I watched the bus I wanted to take pass by. We talked on while the stoplight changed over and over again, but this time I leaned to the left where I was headed, where I knew she wasn’t headed, and this time I was faster to point in that direction when the stream of words let up for a moment and I could withdraw. We apologized again and said goodnight. I walked the ten steps down the sidewalk where I waited with aching shoulders for the bus.
The whole time we talked about the same thing, the same topic run over and over again, smoothing the creases and sanding the rough patches and aligning the edges. We stood at the corner waiting for each other without saying anything the other didn’t already know.
“On New Year’s morning this year Claire got us to drive to the ocean to watch the sun rise. That outing was what made me suddenly understand that I needed to start reading Robert Service again and getting up early — that New Year’s outing combined with the time a few months ago when I took the night sleeper car from Washington to Boston and woke up in my bunk and pulled the curtain to look out the window and saw that we were in New York City, and I realized that I was passing through a very important center of commerce without seeing a single street and that something similar was happening with my life.”—A Box of Matches by Nicholson Baker
Graduated with an honours BA after 8 years! Still yay! Now what?
Read over 100 books. I was secretly aiming for this all year but never declared my intention because I’m just cautious like that. So on average I read just under two books a week, which pretty much I read two books every weekend, which sounds about right. After April, 2012 was the year of sitting on the couch all weekend reading books. I even managed to write abbreviated reviews for some of them, which was a big deal because writing about books usually makes me feel dumb.
Came closer to starting to write stories and stuff again on a regular basis, although it still scares the shit out of me for no good reason. Did a lot of thinking but not enough writing. But I feel like I’ve cracked my knuckles and wiggled my fingers over the keyboard enough now so maybe I’m ready to get down to it.
Spent more time with my nieces and nephews. The older two (Alexander & Isabel) are such lovely kids and we always have fun with them when we see them. We’ve babysat them at our place a few times now and they are a delight. I’ve been spending more time with the twins (Ethan & Moriah), mostly weekly since September, and it’s taken awhile but we are finally getting to be friends. Just a couple of weeks ago was the first time ever they both sat in my lap calmly (drinking their bottles or listening to me read them a book), while their mom was in the same house. It was a more momentous occasion than it sounds. Look, I can see those faces you’re making at me but I am ignoring them, okay?
Got an iPhone, which translated into spending way less time on the computer but more time on the internet. Still getting a feel for it because it’s kind of a different place on a phone. Still feeling a little lost because it just keeps getting bigger.
Some things I’m looking forward to in 2013:
Writing more for other people to read; focussing on a project and reaching an actual goal, and then moving on to another project and finishing that, and onward.
Two years ago, I would have died a slow painful death before agreeing to sing by myself on the internet (see also here, here, here, and here). I still hit the right notes as frequently as I ever did, which is not all the time, and my singing voice still sounds as good to my ears as my speaking voice does, which is not at all, but something has changed. I have no illusions but I also have much less fear than I used to. I’m more aware of how much I enjoy singing than I used to be, and I’m fed up with being shy and embarrassed about it. Some people have none of these inhibitions, some people never grow out of them, and I’m just starting to grow out of them.
Some notes, in no particular order, from our trip to and from Florida for American Thanksgiving with Scott’s side of the family:
We found a used book store in Jacksonville, FL called Chamblin Bookmine where we accidentally killed a couple of hours. We had to cut short our lunch hour in Gainesville to make it to Punta Gorda in time for dinner. They had all the Barbara Pym I could ever ask for! I actually had to sort through multiple copies of her books to figure out which one I wanted. And even better, they had A Very Private Eye, Pym’s biography. And then there was an entire shelf of Dorothy L. Sayers, and I wanted to take home different editions of the Harriet Vane novels, but I already had a gigantic armful so I had to put them back. I also got some Anthony Powell, Elizabeth Taylor, and Cyril Connolly. I didn’t have time to find some of the other authors on my list. A big gaping hole was, of course, Ivy Compton-Burnett, but I may have been looking in the wrong spot. I know these authors are easy to find online but I like to buy books in person and these authors are rarely available in stores.
Earlier, on our first day, we visited Visible Voice Books in Cleveland, OH after having a few too many of those tiny American pints of beer. Seriously, did you know that American pints are smaller than Canadian (British) pints? It’s true. Beer is so much cheaper but you do get less of it! I bought two Salinger books (I really loved Nine Stories which I was not expecting and now I have to read everything else) and a Nabokov.
In past years, Scott has done most of the driving, but I did more this year, which meant that I had a tiny bit more say in the music we listened to, which meant that we listened to Meat Loaf for a good stretch of our last day on the way home. Sorry, I have no apologies. We went in alphabetical order through all 190 or so tracks I had on the Nano, skipping the ones I didn’t want to hear. I am an excellent driver of course but sometimes I get a bit freaked out about driving in the suburbs and cities of America, but with Meat Loaf blasting I could not have cared less.
Waffle House was not as good as I remember from last year.
We listened to Mitch Hedberg, then Hannibal Buress, then (early) Patton Oswalt. That was exactly the wrong order to listen to them in, if the theory is that you listen to the least funny first and go funnier from there. Hannibal was underwhelming after Mitch but then after early Patton he seemed much better.
There was a house on fire right on the side of the interstate near the PA/OH border, and I mean smoke pouring out from all sides of the porch and roof ablaze. It was sobering.
I was by far the least helpful person at Thanksgiving dinner. Sorry, everyone. I’m not really sure what I drank but whatever it was, it was a lot. I was supposed to help with the dishes but ended up talking with my sister-in-law Kat at the table while Scott and his mom did the work. I feel guilty but not that guilty. I would probably have broken something. And I really like talking with Kat.
On our last morning on the road in Lexington, KY, a woman at Waffle House on her way back to her table from the bathroom asked me where in Ontario we were from. I stared at her trying to figure out why on earth she was asking me that when she explained that she saw us with our Ontario plates pull up next to their car. They were friendly types, from Kitchener. Suddenly it felt like we were staying at a bed & breakfast.
It was snowing in New York driving home in the dark on I-90 and we were listening to Mitch Hedberg again but I was so tense that I was having a hard time finding anything funny. We finally stopped at an epic and strangely bustling rest area reached by foot via a bridge across the interstate. Of course as soon as we crossed the border into Ontario, it stopped snowing and the roads cleared. Now that’s a homecoming.
There were some long and involved and occasionally hypocritical discussions about courteous driving.
We spent way too much time in Columbus, OH at a mall where I bought some things for my feet, including a pair of the biggest, bad-assest, warmest boots I have ever owned.
I had way too many vanilla lattes from Starbucks, but Scott needed his red-eye fix and I can never decide what to get because everything’s equally bad. I did try a salted caramel hot chocolate once and my teeth nearly fell out.
One of the best times to listen to Tom Waits is during tense night-time drives through the black looming mountains of Tennessee and Kentucky.
We unfortunately saw Breaking Dawn Part 2 at the theatre on Sunday night in Jacksonville Beach, FL. I’m not sure why. It was my fault. I’m sure I had some beer-fueled thought that since Jacksonville Beach seemed to be the exact same temperature as it would have been at home, why not go inside somewhere warm where we would be discouraged from staring at our iPhones? The only word I had to describe the movie afterward was “wretched.” The highlight was seeing Bunk as the dude with the passports.
On the first two nights of the drive down, I fell asleep without hesitation about 2 hours earlier than usual and managed to stay deeply asleep until I woke up 2 hours earlier than usual. After that I couldn’t sleep through the night and had some horrible dreams about huge bugs and spiders. But those first two nights were really great.
“You just emptied the gas tank to pass that guy.” “Well, we’d better go back and do some more wiping.” I couldn’t stop laughing and I’m not sure why.
Every morning the construction at two different sites a block away sounds like fierce weather. When I’m half-awake I wonder why the windows aren’t creaking. This morning we were out of milk so I ate a dry breakfast, inadequately washed down with orange juice. The other side of my office is empty now, who knows for how long this time. In the bathroom the drain plugs up randomly and the faucet drips aggressively; no cell service but the wireless works. Tonight I was supposed to kick off earlier than usual but I slipped something under the wire and hunched over waiting for consequences that never came. Neighbours in the elevator, neighbours in the hallway. Standing in the kitchen and scrolling with my thumb, scrolling endlessly.
"Mount Albion Falls" tells the story about Evelyn Dick, a woman who allegedly chopped up her husband and deposited his body parts in the woods. Only his headless torso (no head, no arms, no legs) was ever found. The author wraps up the chapter with this unintentionally hilarious image:
"Evelyn Dick has not been seen since her parole, but some suggest that her husband’s tortured ghost still prowls the mountainside near Albion Falls in a futile attempt to collect his still-missing body parts."
Poor Mr. Dick’s headless torso’s ghost wriggling across the forest floor, nudging at fallen leaves and bushes and ferns in search of his other body parts! But without his head, how will he know when he has found them? And just think of the ghosts of his head and limbs which are surely also still wandering the paranormal plains in search of their torso and each other.