Monday, January 27, 2020

Pace of play

In baseball, pace of play refers to how long it takes for individual plays to happen and the overall length of the game.  It's also the thing that most people complain about when they complain about baseball.  In response MLB keeps tinkering with the game to try to speed things up and make it more palatable to a society that wants everything to be in warp speed at all times.  As far as I am concerned, they are ruining the best part of the game. I love that with baseball you never know how long a game will take.  Two hours?  Five hours?  No way to know!  So get a beer and a pretzel, and get comfy.

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You have to love a sport where it is totally acceptable to just stand around chatting while everyone watches. 

I have not always felt this way, believe me.  I also like fast, efficient things in life.  I don't want to waste minutes of my life watching the pitcher look around all the bases fifteen times, or some of the elaborate pre-batting rituals that have developed.  On average the length of a baseball game has increased about 30 minutes in the last 50 years, and I suspect that a significant amount of that added time is directly related to the insane amount of commercials that are part of watching professional sports these days.  But there are definitely a lot of player shenanigans that make the game drag on as well.  I used to get really annoyed watching games.  

Then I actually started to watch baseball.  Not just have it on in the background, but actually go to the park and sit in the sun (and rain and wind) to be a part of baseball.  It made me realize that I am just watching someone else's passion.  And I feel strongly that you can't rush passion in any context. 

The Ultimate Guide To RunningNot only that, but between baseball and getting older I have come to appreciate that there is beauty in things that take time.  Everything in life moves so fast, and it only seems to speed up as you get older.  As a kid, summer felt like it lasted forever but now it is over in a blink.  This is a real psychological phenomenon  that is related to the fact that our lives as adults become more and more routine.  The irony here is that the routine is often made up of time sensitive things (like getting to work or making deadlines) which give us the sense that we have less time in our lives.  It is a terrible confluence that warps our perception of time, which we then turn into an anxiety about how long things take - things that should be enjoyable, like watching baseball.  

And running.

I often get caught up in the daily grind and the need to "get in my workout" before going off to do a thousand other things.  I am irritated when my pace is slower than what is convenient for my schedule or for winning a race.  If I let it, that irritation will sucks the joy out of running and turn it into a "job."  I have been trying very hard to get over that irritation and give myself the space to let me pace match the work I am doing, rather than judging the value of that work on pace.  

Over the past year, I have been working towards running longer races, which means longer training runs.  It takes up a lot of time but I am working very hard to let go of the anxiety that brings.  As someone who is always worried about everything, that has not been an easy mindset to adopt.  But I know that it is helping me to be happier and healthier, and to truly enjoy more of my runs because they don't feel like something I have to fit into a specific window then move on with my day.  It is helping me to be more appreciative of the act of running and I do feel as if it is helping combat the increasing sense that time is moving more and more quickly each year. 

I run because it is my passion; it is my game.  Like baseball it's my time to be outside, in the sun, often with my friends.  Why would I want to rush that?  Of course, sometimes I feel compelled to get home to Matt who I know is waiting for me, wondering when I will be done.  But that's mostly because he has to wait for me to break into the pretzels and beer.  :) 

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Sneak peek of my future blog all about how to refuel after a long run.  Or short run.  Or a nap of any duration.  


Sunday, July 21, 2019

Here and Back Again: A Race Recap of Sorts

I rarely write about specific running events or races, because mostly this blog is about what I think about when running - and that is almost never the race. Plus, I seriously doubt that anyone who follows this blog wants to read a race recap.  I mean, I run races and don't like to read race recaps, why would I write one??

Except this time I am going to write about a specific race, although it is not really a race recap.  It is more a reflection on what it means to grow up somewhere, and what it means to come home. 

AKA, shit is going to get deep.

Sometime during the last Ice Age, I was in high school.  I grew up in a very small town and was with the same 45 or so classmates every year from first grade through high school.  So my sophomore year my parents let me GTFO and I went to a very small boarding school in Lake Placid; Northwood.  I spent three years at Northwood, and so, like anyone who was influenced by their teens years (aka, everyone) much of who I am today is wrapped up in my time there.  For example...

Every year, we got woken up one random morning, told to put on hiking boots, were handed lunch in a bag, and were dropped at the base of one of the many, very tall Adirondack Mountains.  This tradition still exists, and we call it "Mountain Day."
If you are not into mountains or surprises, or surprise mountains, it probably doesn't sound awesome to you.  But as a teenager trying to figure out what I loved, let me tell you - I figured out really quick that I love mountains. 

Our headmaster (John Friedlander, who was drafted by the Packers and is the reason that they are, to this day, my favorite team) felt that sports were essential to a well-rounded student (I do not disagree) and so we had to do something active every day.  With very few girls, the fall was soccer; there were just enough of us to field a team and have a handful of subs.  In the winter, we could ski or we could do "Rec Sports" which was the catch-all for anyone not on a team or on the mountain.  I went to the mountain a lot - our local ski spot was Whiteface which was the home to the Olympic Winter Games twice, and the school bused us over every afternoon.  I learned to ski, and enjoyed that for a few years until I broke my arm on the final run one afternoon.  After that, I switched to snowboarding and never looked back.  I was not exactly what the kids would call "good" but I really enjoyed being on that mountain, even though I learned at an early age that it could seriously wreck me if it wanted to. 

Rec Sports was a haven from being chewed up by the mountain, and the blistering cold that came with being out there, and it was a way to avoid having to do other team sports like tennis (OMG, I was so bad) or go Ice Climbing (yes, really - I went to high school in the 90s before anyone knew you were supposed to keep students alive).  And for me, rec sports was always running.  My junior year, two of my favorite teachers (Mellor and Brody for my fellow alums following along at home) ran a marathon.  They came back with stories of wanting to die at mile 23 and ending up in an aid tent, and I thought "I need to see about this!"  (Yeah, my fundamental personality has NOT changed.)  So I started running.  I would check myself off campus and run around Mirror Lake everyday, which is about 3 miles.  The first few times I went, I could barely run, and would have to walk big chunks of it.  But over time, I got stronger and faster, and I ran around that lake almost every day in my senior year.  It was in Lake Placid that I became a runner. 

That was in 1996.  Since I graduated, I have rarely had the chance to come back to Lake Placid to run, or to visit Whiteface.  But this weekend I got to do both, and it taught me LOT about who I am and how much my time living here made me that person. 

Today, I ran (LOL, no, walked) the Whiteface Sky Race.  If you're too lazy to follow the link, let me give you the short version: it was 15 miles of Vert.  We ran to the top of the mountain, back down, did a little loop in the woods, and then went up and over the mountain again.  Shorter still version: it was a race over a mountain, twice.  Shortest version: OMG so much vert. 

It was essentially a three loop course: an Alpine loop that was about 5 miles with 3200 feet of elevation gain then loss, a 5-mile Flume Loop, then a second crack at the Alpine Loop.  At the end of the first Alpine loop, I knew I had vastly underestimated the course, and I went into the Flume Loop - which was mostly flat - already running on glycogen fumes.  I made it about two miles until I had to walk, and I really struggled to do more than fast walk through most of that 5-mile section of the course, which was by far the easiest section.  At about mile 9 I decided I was not going to do the second Alpine Loop.  But my family was there, my husband told me they "would wait as long as I needed, go have fun" and of course, off I went.  Within 500 yards I was already planning my DNF.  I sat down a LOT.  Including to take some pictures.

About15 minutes in I met a guy coming down who had DNF'ed and said "just check in at the aid station up ahead and let them know."  I didn't realize the aid station was .75 mile away!  But when I got there, I told them I was done.  I sat under the chairlift for 10 minutes, drank some water, and stopped my watch to begin my decent (Strava integrity and all that).  The aid station workers tried to talk me out of quitting, but I was bonking hard and knew I was not going to make it.  We joked about having them call me a helicopter and I started my slog of defeat. 

I made it about 500 yards.  And then I stopped.  And said Fuck It, and turned back up the mountain.

And that is when I knew that this place was a part of who I am, even if it has been almost 25 years since I lived here. 

I love that stupid mountain, even though every time I am there, it puts me in my place.  And I love running. And I was not going to stop running just because I was tired - not when I would have been leaving behind a few more minutes (okay, hours) with the mountain. 

On the final decent, when I was trying not to just tuck and roll down the mountain (pretty sure I would have been disqualified for that), I spent a long time thinking about what it means to me to be back in Lake Placid, and to have the chance to be in a place I love doing a thing that I love.  Today was not a good race for me; it was hot and I was a lot slower than I had hoped.  But it helped me remember how much I love being outside, and how important being active is for me to be a happy person (thank you, Frieds).  I learned all of that here in high school, and it is something I have carried inside of me and nurtured for the last 25 years. 

There are obviously a lot of other things that high school taught me (lol, that's a whole other blog post!) and that I have learned from my years of running.  But today was a rare and helpful chance to spend some time reflecting on how this all started, and how much I have not actually changed since I was 15 years old.  And of course, how much I have.  15 year old me would have quit 20 minutes into the first Alpine loop, but 41 year old me only quit for a few minutes, and not until mile 12.  :) 

And it was totally worth it because it felt really good to cross that finish line, and not let that mountain beat me today.


Friday, June 7, 2019

The Motivation Myth

I spent several years of my life (like the last decade) studying and applying theories related to motivated behaviors, mostly in the context of school learning.  In education, we are really worried about motivation and engagement - we want students to be active participants in the learning process, which makes sense because you really need to be paying attention to something in order to learn it and your emotional state when you learn something is crucial to your memory.

But I think that perhaps this idea that we all need to be motivated all the time, and that that is the key element to success, might be slightly exaggerated.  Okay - like a lot exaggerated.  It's great in school because school is filled with new things that you have to learn, and we want to instill in students a mindset of loving to learn.  (Although I would also argue that children already have that, then school sort of ruins it and then has to find artificial ways to replace it.... but I digress.) But most of our lives, we are not in school.

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This state brought to you by too much caffeine.
Instead, the majority of our time on this planet is spent getting up every day and having to make decisions about whether or not we are going to do the things we know we should do, even when we don't want to do them.  And relying on motivation every single day to get shit done is not a good plan because it is impossible to always be motivated; that is just how it works.

For one thing, motivation is a state, not a trait. Just like you are not always tired or hungry (okay, I am aways both of those things, but I am sure you are normal), you are not always motivated.  It takes the right situation to trigger that sensation, and even when you are motivated to do something, it is a lot more complicated than that usually.  Mostly it is complicated because we are rarely singularly focused on a task to the point that we don't have competing motivations.  We usually have lots of goals we want to attain, and sometimes those goals are in direct conflict with one another.  Like losing weight and eating cake - you have to choose one, even though both may be things you are "very motivated" to do.  In the end, one of our motivations wins out, and that is the goal we move towards. 

Of course, that is not how motivation is sold to us in popular culture; we tend to think of it as a personality trait - people are either motivated or they aren't.  For people those of you who have been accused of being unmotivated, let me take a moment to defend you: everyone is motivated for something.  If other people are telling you that you are unmotivated, chances are there is just a mismatch between what you want to do and what they want you to do.  That said, if your only motivation is to do as little as possible.... how did you even end up on this blog that is mostly about running?  Are you lost?  Shoo... 

Instead, I want to talk to all my running (or not running) peeps who are usually motivated but find themselves in a rut.   I am in that rut right now. Instead of hopping out of bed to get after it, I slog around the house putting off my run until I don't have time to go as far as I should.  On Wednesday nights, I drag a hockey bag's worth of excuses to track practice so that I don't have to admit that I just don't feel like running really fast in circles for an hour. 

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Yeah, like the joy of sleeping and getting through whatever I am doing.
I think of this as the rut of despair because it is filled with guilt and panic and feelings of inadequacy. Usually I am SO F-ING EXCITED about running, but lately I am just lower-caps, no profanity excited.  This makes me feel guilty because I feel like I am cheating on running with sloth and I feel bad for not wanting to do workouts or be happy about talking about running.  Then I panic because what if I always feel like this - what if my motivation never comes back?  If I cannot get back into training with enthusiasm, then I am going to get slow and old and people are going to notice that I am not good, and then I will have to find a second hockey bag to hold all of those excuses!  Too much baggage; I just am going to crawl into bed instead.  Which is when the rut of despair becomes the rut of ruin.  It ruins my mood, it ruins my relationships, and it ruins the one thing that brings me sanity*

*Yes, yes - I am aware that this is probably the least appropriate word because I do enjoy that nonsense where you get in a van and then don't sleep or shower for two days.  Sanity is a very relative term here. 

The rope-ladder out of the pit of despair is remembering that it is okay to not be motivated.  It happens to everyone, and is a function of having so many competing demands that you run out of energy to be excited about all of them. Just like motivation is a state, being unmotivated is also a temporary state. It is a temporary state that sucks the life out of you while you are in it, but that doesn't mean a period of low motivation has to tank my training, right?  Instead, I have learned to reframe my panic into a new challenge because shiny new things often help my motivation to rebound - like buying fun new shoes or registering for a new race! And that can work for any runner when we hit that rut of despair.  Reframing your goal, finding a side angle to kick-start your motivation, and accepting that sometimes you are just not going to be feeling it are all ways to bring yourself back up out of that funk.  The key is to find the right shiny new thing to remind yourself of what it feels like to be motivated. 

In my case the shiny new challenge is "shut the fuck up little voice that wants to quit; the schedule says 10 miles so get your shoes on and let's go."  For me, taking choice out of the equation and adding in a healthy dose of self-spite works every time.  Because let me tell you, I am pretty motivated to shut that voice up and get out of this rut so I can get back to loving what I love to do. 


Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Pain Cave and maybe bears

Craters of the Moon, Idaho
The caves are actually lava tubes. 
If you have never had the pleasure of visiting, the Pain Cave is a very real place that runners and other endurance athletes go to, in their own heads, during long and difficult events.  It is a place where you find out who you are and what your limits could be (Side note: you will most likely never know your actual limits; most of us don't. But that's a discussion for another time.)  Athletes are familiar with the pain cave, and as Sam Robinson discussed in his article for Outside, some of us are obsessed with how long we can spend there.  There is even a Podcast about it, with this cute little logo!
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But as glamorous as this article and podcast makes it sound, the Pain Cave can be a terrible place.  Because it is not a cute little cartoon cave with whatever that cute little blob is supposed to be. It is the dark place that you go to when you hit the point where your body wants you to stop, for the love of all that is holy just stop, what you are doing and lay down on the side of the road.  Everything hurts; some things might be bleeding or burning.  And it is very dark in here. 

For many people, one trip to the pain cave is enough. It is a scary place, and it could be filled with things that might eat you - like bears!  They never go back.  They never even go near it again.  But caves can be beautiful.  Dark places often hold incredible secrets, if we are willing to explore them.  Bears will definitely eat you, but they are so cute and humans can't help wanting to snuggle cute things! So some of us move right in and make ourselves at home. 

The pain cave is the true training facility for endurance athletes.  If you cannot stay here, you are never going to know what you might be capable of, or how far you can push your body beyond its comfort zone.  So when you find yourself in the pain cave, you have to make it a place where you can be comfortable for long periods of time. You have to push forward into the darkness to see what you can find.  You have to be willing to find bears. 

This fall I ran two marathons.  Most of my training and both races were uncomfortable for various reasons (more on that later), and I found myself spending more time than usual in the pain cave.  As I said, it can be a dark and scary place.  When I found myself there I would panic and look for a way out. Do not do this.  The more you look for the exit, the more elusive it will be.  Your panic at finding yourself in the pain cave will blind you to the way out, and is likely to drag you deeper into the darkness.  Instead, you have to make yourself at home.

Sometimes I imagine it like an episode of some HGTV show where the starting house is a disaster.  The carpets are moldy and have creepy stains.  The walls are cracked and water is seeping in from some indeterminable source.  It is cold, and the lights don't work right, and you cannot imagine that this place could ever be lived in by anything other than raccoons - and even then, you suspect that they have higher standards than that.  It is not a place you want to be for any length of time. 

Craters of the Moon National Park, Idaho
Not a painful cave. 
But here's the thing: this is YOUR place. You bought it and now you have to live here, if you want a roof over your head.  Walking away means giving up everything; you have to make a choice.  So you stay.  You knock down walls and replace the floors.  You paint and fix the lights.  You get comfy furniture and decorative plants.  You turn it into a place that reflects who you are, inside and out.   And then you move in.  You are okay living in your pain cave, because it is YOURS. 

About a year ago, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.  Most days, I am in pain.  Usually it is not intense, but often it is widespread and persistent.  It is exhausting physically and emotionally, especially since I have always been a person with a high pain tolerance.  I have yet to find a pharmacological treatment that works without problematic side effects.  It interferes with my training because some days I cannot tell what is a real injury or sign of overuse, and what is a harmless neurological impulse blowing up my central nervous system for no good reason.  It has been frustrating and demoralizing.

And I find myself spending an enormous amount of time in my pain cave, sometimes before I even lace up my running shoes. This has forced me to get comfortable in here. I have had to spend a lot of mental time and energy making my pain cave a place where I feel safe, not scared; a place where the dark is calming instead of terrifying.  Of course, this doesn't always work.  Sometimes it is too much work, and I stay in bed feeling sorry for myself.  But I have found that this is worse; I need to move.

I have been hesitant to write about this, because I am 100% sure there are people who have this condition in a much more extreme form than I do! I am not complaining or looking for sympathy.  (Okay, maybe a little bit.)  I can and do run regularly, although I find myself needing a little more rest than before, and not being able to move as quickly for the first few miles. Running has taught me a lot about what I can withstand, physically and emotionally.  Years of finding my way into the pain cave by choice prepared me for these days when I am here against my will, stuffing down the rising panic when I cannot find the exit.  In fact, I am often best able to deal with the pain when I am running.  For whatever reason, I find it less terrifying when I am moving.  When I am sitting quietly that the pain overwhelms me, and I allow it to take over. 

And so I keep running, even when I find myself in the pain cave at mile 5 of a 20 mile run.  Which is good, because I had been planning to spend more time here anyway!  I have some big races planned for this year, with a two (maybe three) year goal of working up to the VT100.  I am going to run up mountains, and through the night, and spend a lot of time in various vans.  This past year, I have learned a lot about what I can and cannot expect my body to put up with.  Fact: it can deal with a lot more than I give it credit for, as long as I take care of it. 

I know that I am going to hurt.  But that's okay and I am curious to see what I find in my pain cave.  Hopefully, nothing too scary.  But, if I do find a bear, I hope it is this one because he seemed pretty awesome! 
The bear that waved to us at Yellowstone Bear World, Idaho 


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Death Collector

There are running posts, books, websites, and books about all aspects of running. Except one. No one ever talks about how much death runners see.

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The Life of Death
Maybe it's not everyone. In fact, until I moved to New Hampshire and started running on roads without sidewalks, I didn't see nearly as much death. But now? Every day.  Mostly it is squirrels and chipmunks. Where I live, they are everywhere and they just dart it into the road without forethought.  A few weeks ago I actually saw a squirrel run into a car -right into rear tire!- then jump, turn 180° in the air and run back to safety.  But he was the lucky one; before him, I had seen several of his cousins squished in the road.  

Most mornings when I leave my house for a run, I see death. I'm not going to tell you everything I've seen because you don't need to have in your head what I have in mine. But sometimes it's upsetting and horrible. And sudden. Roads that were clear when I leave my house are covered in fur and guts an hour later, as I loop back on my return. 

I don't enjoy having feelings- they're uncomfortable and draining, but every time I run past a squirrel, chipmunk, bunny, tiny mouse (I think those are dropped by hawks- they aren't even squished!!), or bird I can't help but say "oh Buddy, I'm so sorry." I wonder if they have babies waiting for them at home, and I feel sad in a way that stays with me for miles.

This is the reality of running. When you're out there you see everything. And a lot of that isn't the beautiful vistas and bucolic views that are so prominently featured in RunnersWorld each month.  No. Instead there is trash (seriously! Is it so fucking hard to keep trash in your car until you get home?!??!) There is weird stuff; shoes always make me wonder, but I've seen seen headphones, cellphones, underpants, and I can't even remember what else. Do people just leave stuff on the roof of their car? Did your kid chuck it out the window? Didn't you want that travel mug anymore?? 
And there is death. 

As a runner, that's a reality I have to accept and have to force myself to be aware of each day. Because here's the thing: I could be that squirrel. It just takes one person not paying attention; one car that cuts a bend in the road too close, and I am the one who doesn't make it home. Every time I leave my house, I accept that it could be the last day I tie my sneakers. 

I can't let that stop me from getting out there - and you shouldn't let it stop you either. We all have ways we stay safe: running certain routes, wearing bright colors (especially during hunting season- it's unsettling to hear gun shots while running, but it's my reality), and always wearing my road ID.  And that doesn't even include the extra steps women take: mace, self defense, group runs in inconvenient locations, etc.!    

Related imageSpending so much time with death does have a way of making you both comfortable with it and terrified. Dead things don't bother me - which, weirdly, is helpful at my job where I sometimes have to move chicken carcasses that vultures have left in our yard.  Even though I don't eat meat, I can deal with dead animals, and I'll happily take mice from traps (although I'm judging you for using a trap in the first place) or clean a turkey.  But death itself? I have a healthy aversion.

It's not the unknown. I am pretty sure when we die, that's it. It's not very romantic, but I believe (know - because I know stuff) that our sense of being is just a creation of our brain, while really we're just complex a pile of meat that gets tricked into emotions by chemical reactions. However, knowing that doesn't mean our experience of life and reality isn't real.  Our perceptions form our reality, and that is what matters - not what is "true" but what we experience.  And that is where my aversion to death comes from: not any fear of what does or doesn't comes next, but a deep value for what is happening now, and what I am still capable of.  In fact, if I thought that after death there was another life of sorts, I might not be so worried about it: I could always finish my projects, or learn a new thing, or whatever it is I still want to accomplish in the afterlife.  But I don't think that is the case.  Instead, I think that we just have this one life to do things that matter to us, and to make the best use of our bodies and our time while we have both.  

That is, I think, what makes me so sad for the little things that I see each morning: they never got to do whatever it is that makes a squirrel life long and happy.   It makes me more aware of my own day, and the ways in which I can make sure that I am present in my own reality.  It helps me prioritize doing the things that are going to make me healthy and happy, and to get things done that are important and valuable.  And for me - that is running.  I know that there are days when I will see death and I will be sad; I know that there is always the possibility that something bad could happen to me.  That is also true every time I drive my car, or do 100 other things.  I am 100% certain that I will die someday because we all will. 

Image result for happily ever after images death
I wish that runners talked a little more about the death we see, and how we collect it in our minds and carry it with us in weird ways.  It is an inevitable part of being a runner, and a human, and I don't think that we should pretend it is not there.  Instead, we should share our sadness for the little things that didn't make it across the road today, and let it remind us to be more mindful of them and of ourselves so we all can live happily and healthily ever after... while we can.   

Friday, October 20, 2017

Would you rather

A few weeks ago a friend at track asked me one of those"would you rather" questions.  Unfortunately this one wasn't about Ryan Reynolds versus Ryan Gosling, because I've got an answer for that.  But similar to Ryans' abs (not a typo on that plural possessive, btw) I can't stop thinking about this question. 

Would you rather be 45 years old* (*This was the age he gave me but I think it was based on an assumption about how old I am and that 45 would be a significant jump) but get a million dollars OR be 10 yesterday old again and know everything you know now??  

Obviously, my first answer was "I'd take the million dollars than use it to buy the organs of young people and stay young forever."  

I know - that's a terrible answer.  For one thing, organs are hella expensive, and I probably couldn't even get a better spleen for that much.  Also, it's gross, a little Sci-Fi-esque, and illegal.  Not that any of that bothers me particularly.  

But since he asked me this, I have been thinking about this dilemma on most of my long runs, at least for a while.  It's a really interesting problem, especially given my deep interest in time travel.  So of course I over-analyzed it, and came up with all different pros and cons for each scenario before making a decision based purely on emotional response.  :) 

But let's start with the rational stuff first, because it is super important to consider.  

A few basic assumptions about how time works in this thought experiment: A) If I take the money, I become 45 now, I don't jump ahead into the future to when I would am 45.  B) If I go back to being ten, I go back in time - I don't become ten now (because that would be super WEIRD - where would I go?  Who would take care of me?) 

Option A: Take the Money

Pros: I have $1M.  

Cons: I have to pay taxes on that; $1M is like basically nothing in today's economy so the only way that money really makes my adulthood better is if I do super-responsible stuff with it like pay off my mortgage and then invest the rest of it, so really where is the fun there?  Oh, and even though it is not a lot of years, I jump ahead to being 45 and then I am older, and deeper into my next age group for racing - totally skipping over the first five years when I am the "young person" in my division.  That's a lot to give up.  

Option B: Be Young Again

Pros: I am ten years old again, and have my entire life in front of me - all during which I know everything I know now!  That means that I could go to college for all different things this time and I would be significantly better at college-ing while I am there, so that's a nice bonus.  There's a lot of dumb stuff I would not have to do because I already did it, and know what happens.  

Other good stuff: I don't have to pay a mortgage or make my own meals or buy clothes or really any of that.  Of course, if I actually knew what I know now, I totally would do those things because I would also understand how much work it was for my parents - so probably I would not actually do much less of that stuff.  I mean, this is less of a pro for me, and more one for my parents, but if I really went back knowing what I know now, I would have been a MUCH better teenager - probably because I would not have thought my parents didn't know how hard life was, and other stupid, stupid things that I said at 16. 

I could/would be even more unbearable to all of the girls my brother ever dated in high school, because I would know that none of them are going to last.  (LOL, I knew that the first time, too.) 

There's some stuff I would "invent."  I would have made an effort to learn more about computers, and I would invent Facebook, but with better emojis.  I might also invent the Roomba, just so that I could then also invent videos of cats riding on Roombas.  So there is a fair amount of potential good I could do for the world.  

Cons: The Cons here are really the cons of time travel in general: you cannot go back without totally screwing up the future.  It would be one thing if, in this thought experiment, I just got to go back to being ten years old, none the wiser.  But - that's not how this works; in this scenario, I know everything that I know now.  And while that is great for all of my education and personal experience - WTF do I do with what I know about the world?  Because here's the thing: if I go back to 1988, that's before SO MUCH BAD STUFF.

PLUS - I would be a ten year old telling - who???  If I start telling my parents that I know all of these things, what do you think they are going to do?  I mean, I know my parents pretty well.  I am guessing they would not bundle my brother and me into the car for a fun trip to Quantico where I can tell them everything I know! No; I would have been medicated.  Which is nothing against my parents - why would they think I was not making it up??  So I just cannot imagine a scenario in which anyone takes me seriously if I start trying to explain the things that happen in the world between 1988 and now. And even if I could make someone believe me, it could make it worse.  

It's like the dilemma in 11/22/63  - if you go back and try to prevent even a single bad thing, it can irreparably change the course of history in ways you cannot even imagine.  Even if you have the best of intentions, you cannot possibly know the scope of the consequences of your actions.  I am going to use homegrown terrorism as my example here (because, as you probably don't know - American terrorists were something I was very interested in during my undergraduate, but when I finished school and was looking for potential avenues for doing something productive with this interest, there was no federal interest - Ugh, how's that working out, guys??): let's say I could make someone in the FBI believe me about Timothy McVeigh, and they were able to stop him.  On the one hand: saved lives and took a terrorist off the streets.  But I am also aware of what can happen when a larger group perceives a threat from the government, based on the singling out of a member or leader - it could just have easily provoked another Waco-style standoff (which is exactly what McVeigh was retaliating against). So history may be changed, but it could be just as bad if not worse.   

Obviously this is an extreme and dark example, but that's the point - you don't know.  And that is why time travel is such a bad idea.  None of us can see the totality of the universe, or how even small decisions ripple out to create change over time.  Returning to 1988 with what I know now could potentially mean that 2015 looked just like it was imagined in Back to the Future or it could mean a 2019 that looks like Blade Runner.  Or both.  

So yeah - on balance, from a purely rational perspective it certainly seems like taking the money is the way to go!  

But, as I said, I decided this one for myself based on emotions, not rational thought.  Because as much as I like to consider all the evidence and use data and blah blah, the truth is that I am just a squishy mass of feelings (ugh).  Luckily, my emotional decision is the same as my rational one: take the money.  And not even take the money, just ... don't go back.  

Yes, it would be amazing to be young again, and have a chance to learn more and do more; to travel more and see things and all of that.  

But I would be alone.  A do-over is only exciting if you get to try new stuff, and that means you may never cross paths with the people who come into your life because of choices you make.  

I met my best friends after 1995, because of my choices about high school, college, and graduate school.  If I did my life over, I would never see them again, or talk to them again.  Yes, I would make new friends, but I would also have to live with the loss of people I love deeply now, and I would never get to see what their lives become.  It would be a huge, gaping hole.  

I definitely would not be married to my husband.  Not because I would not want to be, but because love is an organic, amazing thing - and if I went back, and had 18 years of our relationship with me, when I finally cross paths with him in 1999 our relationship would unfold in completely different ways, that probably would not bring us to where we are today.  How could I walk away from all of that, and from him?

The truth is, I would rather be older but share my life with the people who are important to me now, than to give them all up to be young again.  Yeah, to get a million dollars would also be nice, but I don't even need the money.  As hard as getting older can be, I would not change it for anything.  I have done cool stuff, and turned into a person I like, surrounded by people I love (yes, even my brother).  I have no interest in leaving any of them. 


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Five Minutes

So I don't know if you have noticed, but the world is CRAZY lately.  And not just in terms of politics (although those are certainly at a level that I don't even have a meme for), but life in general has just gotten sort of overwhelming.  There are so many things we have created - as a species - that are really incredibly useful but those things are often also taking away from our ability to live quietly, to have time to ourselves, to figure out who we are while the planet goes whipping around the sun, over and over...

Image result for maze puzzleIn my Psych class, I like to do a little experiment with my students.  I usually do this about halfway through the semester, when they are comfortable enough in the class to be honest in their writing because they know I am not going to collect it, and even if I did I would keep it confidential.  So I hand out a piece of paper to everyone in the class - half of them get one writing prompt, and the other half gets a different prompt.  The first half is asked to spend 5 minutes writing about the little things in life that make them happy, whatever those things are.  The other half gets a little blurb about how smartphones increase stress, and about the expectation from employers, friends, family, and pretty much everyone that you will always be available because of technology.  Then I ask them to write about what is stressing them out.  When everyone has written for 5 minutes, I asked them to put that away and to try a maze puzzle.  I tell them it should be fun and give their minds a break before we go on to the next topic.

The differences are amazing.

The students who wrote about what stresses them out get ANGRY at the puzzle. They get angry at me (a lot of them accuse me of giving them an impossible puzzle or of the task being dumb).  Several of them finish it, but it in a "f-you puzzle" sort of way.   They say that the puzzle is easy, but stupid.  They don't enjoy it. When they have to start over, they slam down their pens and puff out their cheeks, and generally look like they would rather be sticking hot pins in their fingers.

The students who wrote about what makes them happy?  Here's the interesting part - they tell me the puzzle is hard, most of them think it is impossible and are genuinely impressed when someone finishes it.  (For the record, it is hard - mostly because the lines are really small and the puzzle takes up the whole page, so it is doable but takes forever.)  But they don't care!  They laugh when they make mistakes.  They keep trying over and over, but they don't get angry.  They ask their neighbor for advice; they come up with strategies like using different colored pens to keep track of routes they have already tried.  They have fun.

I am sure you are like "Duh, everyone gets angry when they are stressed."  Yes I know.  That's not what matters here - what I want to point out is how quickly I can do this to my students.  They write for 5 minutes.  Half of them don't even actually write for that long by the time they find a pen, read the prompt, check their phone, realize everyone else is actually doing the work, and get started.  FIVE MINUTES.  And their entire attitude shifts - for better or for worse.

Circling back to where we started: the world is crazy and overwhelming 24 hours a day.  It is hard to get away from things (thanks, internet!) but it is ESSENTIAL that we learn to carve out space to take care of ourselves, and to disconnect from the things that are stressing us out.  Even for five minutes.

I know!  If you have spent like more than 30 seconds with me, you know that I am the LAST PERSON who should be preaching about relaxing and unplugging.  My cats won't sit with me because they know as soon as they sit down, I will get up and start vacuuming.  I can't make it through a half hour show without wandering around and Googling things like "How much does my hair weigh?" I work too much (and I enjoy it).  It is physical effort for me to relax my muscles.  But lately, I have been trying to be a lot better about this whole self-care thing, especially in light of what I see in my students during this activity, and in myself as I have gotten busier and busier at work.  It is not pretty.  There are days when everything is a "f-you puzzle" and I don't want to be like that.  I like challenge, but I also want to enjoy it.

So I have been trying to take better care of myself.  It has been a struggle.  I read a bunch of stuff about it.  Most of them suggest meditating.  Reading about sitting still makes me antsy!  So that is not for me - at least not yet.  I have made changes in my diet (okay, sort of, in my head, I PLAN to make changes in my diet, eventually).  I take naps. Which I did before, except now I claim they are "essential to my mental health" and not just what I do every day when I get home.  How you talk about these things matters!  But it is still hard, because I am not used to taking care of myself, and sometimes I have to remember that it is not the same as being weak.

The biggest place that I have had to make a change is in my running.  If you know me, you also know I run a lot.  I used to be really competitive, mostly with myself.  I get upset when I don't hit a specific pace, or run a boatload of miles each week.  That is a challenge that I enjoy, and don't want to give it up.  But - I have also come to realize that running is how I take care of myself.  It is my time to unplug.  Inevitably, when I run I end up thinking about work, and what color I want to paint my bathroom, and whether or not my hair weighs enough that if I cut it could I get any faster.  But I am also making a conscious effort to think - for at least five minutes - about how amazing running is.  About how much I love my sneakers, or about the cool things I get to see because I am exploring a new road, or just about how much fun my next race is going to be.  I intentionally try to make pockets of time to stop thinking about the stuff that swirls in my head all day, and instead to silence everything except the fun things.  So that when I get home and find I didn't hit my target pace, it's okay. And when there are 15 new emails, I can deal with them without feeling like I never have time to myself.

I am not good at this yet.  I probably never will be; it will always be work.  That's cool thought because I like work,  I like a challenge.  And if you know me, you know I am a challenge - even to myself.   But I can do anything for five minutes.    

Pace of play

In baseball, pace of play refers to how long it takes for individual plays to happen and the overall length of the game.  It's also the...