Monday, November 21, 2011

The Last Good Hiding Place

This past weekend, I spent an evening with several of my closest friends and (this is the weird part), their children.  I know!  Crazy.

One of the funniest things happened at the end of the night, when Bethany tried to sneak off into the bathroom by herself, for just two minutes.  It took about 10 second for her son to barge through the door to "Hey!  I'm in here!"  We all laughed (obviously, it was hysterical), but it also made me realize that the one thing we have to learn to let go of, as we get older and open our lives to spouses and children, is privacy. 

This realization did not just come to me last night.  I have been noticing a significant lack of personal space for many years now.  The more and more of myself that I share with Matt, simply through cohabitation, the fewer and fewer private spaces I have left.  (I am speaking metaphorically here, relax!)  For a while, I thought that it was just us; we have been together forever so I figured that we just had a weird relationship that precluded personal space.  But a few months ago we came up to VT (this seems to be the place where I have revelations about things) and Brooke asked us, "So, how long were you two together before you were able to read each others minds?"

And Matt and I just laughed.

Because we CAN and do read each others minds sometimes.  It is FREAKY.  I will be in the car thinking about something, in the privacy of my own mind, and he will say that exact same thing out loud.  AHH!  Get out of my head!!

I think that when you live with someone, and especially when you have children, there is a reasonable expectation that physical space will cease to be personal.  No room in the house, no location on the planet, will ever truly be yours alone; that other person can and will invade (that is sometimes exactly what it feels like--and invasion) that space.  However, there IS an expectation that the space inside your own body, especially the intangible "space" that is human cognition, will remain private.

For as much as we may sometimes think that we want to be able to read minds, the truth is that true telepathy would be uncomfortable and would probably make us insane.  Not only would you constantly be bombarded with other people's thoughts coming at you, those people would be able to read your thoughts.  Sitting on the T in the morning, commuting to work, you could no longer think about your fellow commuters--they would know exactly what you were thinking.  And you would know exactly what they were thinking about you.  It is more than creepy, it feels invasive and horrific.  Our minds, our thoughts, are the one thing that we can keep to ourselves when we choose to do so.

But once you have spent enough of your life with someone, that changes.  Your mind stops being a private place, and suddenly it is a shared space.  It does feel invasive and uncomfortable.  Yes, sometimes it is great.  You are out somewhere and see something: you want to make a snarky comment but fear being overhear.  You can use your ESP to share a joke without risk.  But, it is not a selective power; there is no way to turn it off later.  So an hour later you are riding home in silence and the other person makes a comment that mirrors your thoughts.  And it is weird.

This is for me, perhaps, a weird and uncomfortable thing because I like my privacy.  (Oh the irony of the blog about privacy is not lost on me, don't worry.)  Of course, if you have met me you know that I love to talk.  But I also like the illusion that I have control over when and what ideas I share with someone.  Sometimes, I do need to spend time alone, to have some personal space; it is not always possible to be physically alone when you live with someone.  So you turn to the one last hiding place you have: your mind.

And the other person is there.

Lurking.

Thinking the same thoughts at the same time.

Of course, this never works the way that it should: I think "pizza" and he says "chinese food."  I have yet to successfully compel him, using my mind, to fold laundry or vacuum spontaneously.  (For the record, verbal commands are pretty hit-or-miss too, so...)  But ever so often, I will think that I am alone in my mind only to find that I am not!

Once upon a time, I believed in privacy.  I believed that I had hiding places left in this world.  But hiding places are only as good as the barriers you build up around them.  Those barriers collapse as soon as you choose to share your life with another human being.  You cannot simultaneously maintain the walls and the relationship, and so you must choose which to let dissipate.  If you chose the relationship, that is your loss.  Yes, you will always have privacy, but at a terrible cost.  If you chose to let the walls fall away, you are acknowledging that there is genuine value in allowing others into your hiding places.  As uncomfortable as it may be to squeeze in there together, it does ensure that you can never hide for too long in that place--you cannot get lost in the dark there.  You have someone who knows where you are hiding, who can come in and drag you out of your hiding place, and bring you back out into the world. 

Although, as important as that is, it is still very nice to at least have two minutes, every now and again, with some privacy!!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

BFFEWYLION (Best Friends Forever and Ever Whether You Like It Or Not)

First, let me say how much I have missed writing.  This fall has been incredibly busy for me, much more so than I had imagined.  I spend an enormous amount of time reading other people's writing, so it has been difficult to find time for my own writing.  But, starting today, I am going to make a concentrated effort to write at least once a week (we'll see how that goes)!

Okay, all that said I don't really want this post to be all about how busy I am!  Instead, I want to talk about a question that has come up in several, separate conversations over the past two weeks: what does is mean to be "friends" with someone?  And how do you know when someone really is your friend?

This question started in my writing class last week.  We watched a video about social networks, and a discussion started around the word "Friend" as defined by Facebook.  According to Fb, a friend is pretty much anyone you have ever had contact with, however fleeting, and sometimes friends can be people you don't even know.  Which is sort of the amazing thing about social networks, right?  You know a few people who know a few people, which creates a connection; these connections spiral out to create links between you and hundreds of other people, potentially.  In the video we watched, the presenter talked about the benefits of social networks: you can meet a variety of people, it can create a sense of community, it makes our world closer than ever before.  The down side?  You are connected to all those people: one virus (computer or zombie), and everyone has it.  The other downside?  A false sense of who your friends are.

In class, we talked about the difference between "friends" and "Facebook friends."  We talked about the difference between the people who you actually speak to (even if it is just a few times a year), the people you would turn to in an emergency, versus the people who you know but haven't spoken to in years, or the people you have never actually spoken to but you went to high school with someone who knew them at summer camp and they always make funny comments so you friended them.  Definitely not the same kind of relationship, so why do we use the same word for both?

A few days after this class, Renee and I had a follow-up conversation while running.  Now, for those of you who know me, or Renee, or both of us, you know how we can be: we are not quick to make new friends.  Which is not to say that we are not friendly, nice people.  We will talk to anyone, but that (as we discussed) is not the same thing as being friends with someone.  So lately, I have been thinking about what it means to be friends with someone.  I know that it is not just based on a few passing conversations, or on some cyber connection.  But what is it based on?  How do you know when you have actually become friends with someone?

As a kid, you think of your friends as the people you hang out with, the other kids you play with or eat lunch with or have things in common with.  But, those things are not always enough as you get older.  As we grow up, we develop different levels of relationships with people, and it gets more difficult to tell the difference between people you hang out with and real friends.  Then, when I was in high school, one of my friends said something to me.  She was talking about another friend of ours, and how they had spent time together over one of our breaks.  She was describing how she knew they were really friends because they had spent time together and didn't feel the need to talk to each other.  It was sort of a revelation for both of us, this concept that you don't have to talk.  (Yes, I know that by that definition I must have no friends at all... haha.)  For some reason, that has always stuck with me.

In a lot of ways, that is a good place to start with determining whether a person is a friend or not.  Can you just be there with them, without feeling that silence is awkward, a void that needs to be filled?  For a lot of us, this is the test that people never pass.  They aren't the kind of friends that we can just be with, in silence.  But other people we know do past this test.  They are the people you can ride in a car with for hours, or run 20 miles with, or even just sit at a bar with and not talk.  And that not talking is okay.  In fact, with our very close friends, the not talking is important.  Sometimes, we all want to be with someone, but without having to talk to them.  Maybe it is at the end of a bad day, but there is that need to companionship but without the effort of being friendly.  And so you turn to those few people in your life who you can just be there with.

Of course, with friends it is not all sitting silently; there is lots and lots of talking, too.  That is how you get to know the other person--what they like, what they think, all those details that determine whether or not you are fundamentally compatible.  That is the other myth about friendship that comes to light as you grow up.  As children, you and your best friends like all the same stuff--you have the same favorite color, food, book, game; whatever it is, you feel exactly the same way about it.  If you come across something that one of you doesn't like, it is unthinkable.  But as you grow up, you start to develop your own ways of thinking, your own ways of seeing the world.

At some point, your views come in conflict with those of your friends.  And that is when you learn who is really your friend.  Your friends are not the people who always agree with you, who only tell you what you want to hear, and think exactly the way you do.  Your true friends are the people who will call you out when you are doing something stupid, who tell you how the world really is, and who see things from a different perspective and then share their insight with you.  I remember having an argument with a friend in front of students once (on a field trip to DC that one of my readers may remember); later on that trip the student said to me that she could tell that I was friends with Ms. Parrot because I didn't yell at her, but Mr. Delena and I yelled at each other so we must not be friends.  How do you explain to a 15 year old girl that your friends are the ones you DO yell at?  And that the only reason I didn't yell at Ms. Parrot was because she wasn't the one driving like a crazy person in a school van?  But if she had been I would have yelled at her, too! 

Sometimes these differences lead to fights, even epic fights (especially when the difference in perspective is about a significant other).  Maybe you and your best friend don't talk for a while: a day, a week, a year or more.  It happens.  If that person is truly your friend, though, you get over it.  It might not be easy; there may be an awkward period where you don't know what to say, or how to act.  It is hard to reach out to the person, to repair the friendship.  But, like a broken bone, once you rebuild the friendship, it is that much stronger; it can never break in that way again. 

But different opinions don't always lead to fights.  They mostly just lead to conversations, sometimes heated ones, about values, beliefs, and assumptions.  This confrontation is what makes us better people.  Not necessarily more moral people, or nicer people.  But, cognitively better.  When our world views are challenged, it forces us to think about why we believe what we do; it forces us to take another person's perspective.  That causes us to grow cognitively.  It gives us the skills to think about problems from more than one view point, to take other people into account, and to live with ambiguity.  And there is a whole lot of ambiguity out there in life.  As kids we think adults have all the answers.  As adults we realize that there are no answers, and the more you are able to navigate that truth, the better off you are.  That process of challenge helps us in that navigation.  But challenge only makes us stronger when it comes from someone we respect and love, like a best friend.  If someone you already discount challenges you, it is easy to write that person and their views off as crazy.  When you are challenged by a friend, it makes you a better person.

Over time, your friends may come and go, both physically (as people move) and metaphorically (as people move on with their lives).  Friends are not forever things, despite all notes from middle school that were signed "BF4Ever."  That is another thing that we have to learn to accept as part of friendship; it ebbs and flows.  But, with those people who are truly our closest friends, we tend to find each other again.  Ironically, Facebook--the great diminisher of the word "friend" for a whole generation--is one of the best ways to reconnect with old friends.  Through it, you can find people who you may have thought you would never talk to again, and you can rebuild old friendships.  Sometimes when you talk to old friends it is awkward; you find them to be completely different from the person you remember.  You have lost whatever it was that held you together.  But other times you get lucky; you take a chance on reaching out to an old friend and when you connect, it is like no time has passed, even if it has been years and years.  You can pick up where you left off, chat here and there, and know that you are a part of each other's lives still, even if you live on other sides of the country or the world (or even one state over but you are both so busy that you never see each other!). 

Friends are a weird and complicated thing.  When you start dating someone, there is that period when you don't know if you are together or not; it is not a good feeling.  But at some point you have the talk, where you decide that you are together and you can start calling each other boyfriend and girlfriend.  It is not like that with friends; there is no special dinner when you ask the other person to be your friend, and not just Facebook friends, but real, best friends.  Unless, of course, if you are hanging out with a crazy person who says point blank to you "We can be best friends or mortal enemies; what do you want to do?"  and then you are crazy enough to pick best friends.  For most friends, it is a slow process that ends in a moment of realization.  Sometimes that realization comes during a moment of silence, or after a fight when you miss each other, or at the end of a bad day when you immediately reach out to that person, or even just when you see their name in your chat list and all you say is "Hi."  Whatever it is, I think that in the end, it doesn't matter why or how we know who are friends are, the most important thing is that we know who they are and that we have them in our lives.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Art of Easy

(In my mind, this post is intimately connected to my earlier post titled "Purpose with a side of cheese fries."  I am not going to make that connection explicit; you need to do the work.)  

Last night while running, Renee and I had an interesting (and, honestly, ironic) conversation about going easy. 

If you have ever met me, you might have noticed that I do not naturally tend to take things "easy."  I tend to be a total spazz about everything, and typically overextend myself to the point that something (physical or mental) snaps.  And Renee makes me look relaxed.  (Seriously, it's scary.)

This conversation was particularly ironic because of all the other conversations we have (like, at the beginning of our run yesterday for example) about running ultra-marathons, and doing crazy things (we particularly like to imagine ourselves climbing distant snow covered mountains, or surviving on bugs in the African savannah while we save baby cheetahs and elephants; things like that).  We read stories of people doing impossible things and think "Oh, I could totally do that; I'm gonna start training tomorrow.  And while those sorts of discussions are sort of ludicrous, we do have a tendency to do some pretty not-easy things on a daily basis. 

Although our lack of "easy" permeates our lives, it is easiest to describe in terms of running.  Mostly, that we are always doing it.  Renee and I have talked about how we don't really "believe" in being hurt or getting sick.  We have both shown up for runs on some pretty awful days.  Renee, for example, will run in ANY weather, even when it is thundering and I am pretty much screaming at her that we are going to die (which, FYI, just makes the run more fun).  I tend to run through more physical challenges (okay, hangovers).  But no matter what happens the night before, if we say we are going to run we do.  Even when we probably shouldn't.  Like, this winter when I slipped and landed on my head (because my arm was already in a cast, so I couldn't use it to break my fall), and definitely had a concussion--3 miles into a 10 mile run that, yes, I finished.  And that is just the most recent example.  (I am sure there were other things before the blow to the head, but I can't seem to remember any of those...) 

I am not saying all this to point out how bad-ass we are (but we are).  I am saying all this to set up the irony of this conversation, or maybe to illuminate the weird maturity we came to suddenly. 

Because yesterday we started talking about taking things easy, and about how important it is to have easy days.  It started with my saying that I have learned to listen to my body.  I know that sounds like nonsense to any of you who are not runners, but it is actually an essential part of being a life-long runner without being a constantly side-lined-by-injury runner.  The hard part is learning how to listen, and learning how to tell the difference between general whiny complaining and serious complaints.  And the key is knowing where they come from.

We all have days when we whine while we run.  We have days when we don't want to be out there, and every step is a hassle, and all we can think about is how everyone else is home in bed.  But those complaints aren't coming from your body--they come from your brain.  Your brain (my brain especially) is LAZY.  But most of the time, if you tell it to shut the hell up for a minute, you can hear what your body is telling you.  Usually, it is saying "yeah, I'm good, just a little tired, but I got this."  Every now and then, however, it is saying something more like "Why the hell are we out here?  I am broken!  Stop moving and get on the next f**king bus you see!"  Those are the days that you need to listen to your body.

Here's the problem with a runner's brain: it tells you stuff that is not always that helpful. For example, my brain likes to tell me that if my pace is not below a certain point, I suck.  It also likes to tell me that if my mileage is not above a certain point, I am a let down.  And sometimes, when I finally convince it that something is broken, it convinces me that I am a baby for resting and to get my ass to the gym.

Some days, having a brain like that is awesome.  It doesn't let me slack off or bag on runs.  When I need some extra incentive to get my ass in gear, it always gives it to me.  However, there are also days when having a brain like this is a problem, and those are the days when I need to learn to tell it to shut up so I can hear what my body has to say.  And once I learned how to do that, my body told me that my brain is a dumbass (I sort of suspected as much).

Here's what I learned by listening to my body: I don't have to be wicked fast every day; I don't have to run a million miles; I can take a day off if I need it.  And the crazy part?  The more I listened to my body, the less I needed to take a day off, and the less my brain has been yelling over my body to keep me going.  Now, I have learned to be easy.

For a long time, I figured that long, hard runs were the only kind.  But, they're not.  Long easy runs, short hard runs, short easy runs (okay, I still can't really convince myself of those); they are all necessary to being a life-long not-injured runner.  Sometimes, it's okay to go slow, and even to stop to stretch and walk.  It's okay to take a day off and rest, as long as you take the day because you need it, not because your brain is making excuses for you.  There is an enormous amount of pleasure in an easy run, with no watch or plan, especially when you can share it with someone else, someone with whom you can plan a trip to Everest for example. 

Like all my other great revelations about running, this is all easier said than done.  There are plenty of days that I don't listen to my body, and I let my brain talk me into doing stupid things.  Like squats.  And I certainly still go out for long, hard runs.  But I can enjoy them a lot more now because I feel like I am out there because I want to be, not because that is the "only" way to run (translation: I have to be).   And of course, when I get home and calculate my pace, there is always a part of me that wishes I had been just a little faster, or wonders if I was taking things too easy.  Because this whole "easy" thing is still a pretty new concept, and I am still not totally comfortable with it.  Even with Renee and I in it together, we are not exactly good at it yet. 

But then I look at the big picture, and ask myself the big questions: did I have fun?  Can I get back out there tomorrow? Can I keep getting out there every day until I decide it isn't fun anymore, way after I would have burned out if I listened to my brain every day?  As long as I can say "Yes" to all of those, then I am happy, and being happy makes EVERY run easy, just the way it should be.     

  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Over Rivers and Mountains

While trapped in the car on Friday, making my slow way across MA and NY, I had a lot of time to think about how I ended up in Boston.  Most days, Boston (okay, Somerville) is a great place to live.  We have lots of stuff there, and all that stuff is easy to get to.  We have some really good friends who we love.  But every now and then, I leave the city.  And as soon as I get out past the 95 corridor, there is a switch that goes off in my head, and I am able to see all the things that I am missing by living in the city.  Mostly, I am missing rivers (seriously people, the Charles is cool, but if you can see both banks at the same time, it is a stream) and mountains (the Fells in Winchester?  Hills, if that). 

I am spending this week at home, in Northern New York.  I grew up in the Thousand Islands region of the state which, for those of you unfamiliar with anything past White Plains (shame on you), is waaaaay up near the top of the state.  The town where I grew up is about 90 miles north of Syracuse, off the last exit on 81N that is still on the American mainland.  It borders the St. Lawrence River, one of the longest and largest rivers in the world, and also the only river in the world besides the Nile that runs north.  It is filled with water from the Great Lakes; the end of Lake Ontario is about 30 miles upriver from us, and then the river continues north into Canada.  Now that you can locate it on a map, here's a picture:

Up close, it looks like this:

If you are wondering, yes, Thousand Islands Dressing IS just like the place where I grew up; the dressing was invented there.  There are about 15 different stories about it, but the most common one goes like this: one weekend a train was heading up from NYC (more on that later), and the chef on the train realized that he had no salad dressing in his kitchen.  So, he mixed a bunch of condiments that they did have together, and called in Thousand Islands Dressing.  Personally, I think the stuff is nasty.  
So, now you are thinking, "You live in the middle of no where, why would anyone want to take a train there from NYC, which is way cooler?"  Well, we have more than just a river here.  We also have thousands of islands!  And those are pretty freaking cool themselves.  And about a hundred and fifty (give or take, I am not a historian) years ago, it was very common for the wealthy people of NYC to own islands, and to spend their weekends and summers on those islands.  In truth, not much has changed.  Lots of people still own islands, and many of them do not live in or around NNY full time.  

Some of the islands are huge, and have huge houses on them, like this:
Ha ha, yes that is actually a castle.  Boldt Castle.  The man who built it, George Boldt, at one point owned the Waldorf Astoria in NYC, strengthening the link between the to ends of NY state.  Then, before the castle could be completed (the outside is done, but the inside was uncompleted) his wife either died or left him for someone else, depending on which version of the story you believe. 

Other islands are very small, like this one:

Seriously, I went past this house / island every summer for years.  I have never seen it flood, although it must happen in the spring when the river is high from all the melting snow.  It cracks me up.  The people who live there basically tie their boat to their front door.  Oh, because that is the other thing that you sort of have to have to live here, and not even just on an island: a boat.  

I grew up being on boats, all the time.  I was on a boat before I rode in a car.  This is not the exaggeration you think it is, because the hospital where I was born is only a few blocks from where we lived at the time, and in the 70's it wasn't like they made you use car seats or any of that.  So, my parents just walked me home.  Then, since I was born in the spring, put me on a boat.  (Okay, maybe not that quickly, but something like that.)  

Being home reminds me of about a million stories (those are for other posts) from my childhood through college years.  Some of them, many of them, involve the River.  Jumping off rock cliffs with my cousins and brother.  Taking boats out after dark and hitting shoals because we were looking for buoys to either side but not directly in front of the boat (then blaming a bent prop on someone else and totally getting away with it).  Lots and lots of nighttime swimming!  But also just lazy days on the river, driving in and out of the tiny nooks between islands on the American and Canada sides of the river.  It is hard to grow up here and not have the River, and water in general, become a part of who you are.  

My childhood until I was 15 was spent here, in the Thousand Islands.  At the beginning of my sophomore years of high school, I decided that I needed to get out of here, and I went to boarding school.  Yes, it sounds wicked snobby, right?  Well, let me explain: I went to a tiny, tiny boarding school in Lake Placid, NY.  If you have not been there, Lake Placid is smack in the middle of the Adirondack Mountains.  They had the winter Olympics there twice (1932, and 1980--when the US hockey team beat Russia and it was a BIG DEAL; I have even had a chance to skate on the hockey rink where that game was played!).   The town, and the lake it is on (which is actually Mirror Lake) look like this:
See those mountains in the background?  Those are the little ones.  Whiteface and a bunch of others are on the other side of the lake.  During high school, there would be days when classes would be cancelled and they would put all of use (well, there were maybe 125 of us) onto buses then leave us (and a lunch) at the bottom of a mountain with a teacher to lead us.  And we would spend the day hiking.  There was an Outing Club, and they went hiking and rock climbing year round.  Looking back, I wish I had done that, but I spent my fall playing soccer, and the rest of the year I spent (surprise!!) running around Mirror Lake and snowboarding at Whiteface.  Obviously, this was not a hard life. 

While I was in LP I fell in love with the mountains.  I have to admit that I could be pretty whiny about some of it.  I was, after all, a 16 year old girl with better things to do, like seeing what the boys on the hockey team were up to; you know, important stuff!  But, without realizing it, the mountains became almost as important a piece of existence to me as the river was.  So when I went back to the flat land of NY for college, in Geneva, I missed them.  I had, of course, the Finger Lakes right out my front door.  By joining the crew team I even found a way to spend hours a day on the water all through college.  And so I gave up the mountains to be back near the water.

After college, I moved back to the mountains, a little farther east than LP, in Vermont.  For you geographicaly disinclined, VT is the Green Mountains.  Although, I prefer them in the fall when they are red, yellow, and orange.  This time, I just lived in them; I didn't really make an effort to get out hiking, although I did a LOT of snowboarding (which I love--it is mountains and water together!!  Yes, the water is frozen, but that is actually how I prefer it, so it makes me extraordinarily happy).   If you have never been to VT, no picture I find on Bing Images is going to do it justice.  Then again, the other pictures have not exactly been amazing representations, so I will try (extra points to the first person who identifies the mountain in the picture): 
Again, none of these pictures really do justice to the places I am trying to explain to you, and they certainly can't capture what those places have meant to me.  Like the Thousand Islands, Vermont is full of memories and stories. New Year's Eve parties in Montpelier filling our friend's car with Christmas lights.  Lazy trips to Cold Hollow Cider Mill to buy an unreasonable amount of cider donuts.  Late nights in Burlington, wandering down Church Street.  About a million different local beers and cheeses.  None of those things are in this picture, just like none of my memories of being in a boat or of being a silly teenage girl in LP are in the earlier pictures.  

By this point, I am sure that you are thinking, "These are nice pictures, Kirsten, but why are you telling us all this?"  That's a good question.  I guess my drive across two states, making my slow way home, brought back a lot of memories for me.  This trip coincides with Matt and I moving--we are just going across town, but the process has made us have a couple of conversations about where we actually want to end up.  So as I drove along the bottom of the mountains and up towards the river, I started thinking about where I have been, about the places I have called home.  So, I started thinking about rivers and mountains.  I started thinking about my journey across New York and down through VT to finally end up in Somerville, where we have neither rivers nor mountains.  (Again, the Charles and the Fells do not count.)  And I started thinking about where I want to be, and what "home" means to me, what I want my home with Matt to be 

This is not going to be one of those posts that ends with me making some big life decision, don't worry.  For one thing, because choosing between rivers and mountains would be like choosing between different parts of my life, different versions of myself.  Who can do that?  But also because I am not ready to choose.  For now, Somerville is perfect for us.  And when the city gets to be too much, we can always go home--one of our homes.  We have family here in NY, along the River.  We have friends who are as close as family throughout VT, in the mountains.  So, I can put a decision off for a while.  

But that doesn't mean I don't miss home, sometimes painfully so.  On those days, I can run along the Charles, or hike in the Fells, up in Winchester, and think to myself, "You call this a river/mountain?  Seriously, people?  Let me tell you about my home, let me tell you what it should REALLY be like..." 
 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Purpose, with a side of cheese fries.

When I talk about running, particularly about running ultra marathons, most people say (or at least think) "why the hell would you do that?"  So, I started thinking about an answer. I started thinking about the purpose behind my running, and that led me to starting thinking about what is--and isn't--really important to me in my life.  I came to the realization that my purpose is directly related to my happiness, which comes from the act of running itself and from the time I spend with the people I love (which, lucky for me, often coincide).   

Here's the thing: if you have ever spent more than 30 seconds reading online articles about running, you will see that many of them are directly related to weight loss.  This makes sense; running is a form of exercise that people often come to in an effort to lose weight, and it is very good for that.  At one time, I ran to lose weight--at some points in my life I have run obsessively in order to lose weight, and paired it with calorie restrictions and a generally unpleasant attitude.  But, somewhere along the way, between bouts of weight loss and regain, I fell in love with running.  The purpose was no longer about being thin, and was instead about how I feel about myself when I am running.  

Over the past few days I have had a series of conversations with friends about how they need to get skinny, and how they work out twice a day, especially at lunch so that they aren't eating at lunch time.  This struck me as the most ridiculous thing ever, really.  First of all, because none of these people are fat to begin with, and second because (as anyone who knows me can verify), I do not believe in skipping meals.  After having these conversations (and a big lunch), I went out for my afternoon run and started thinking about what exactly it was that propelled me out the door twice yesterday, and what I wanted to get out of all this running.  And I realized, as much as I would like to be in shape, I don't--can't-- run for that reason. 

A few months ago, I ran a marathon.  I trained for months, running upwards of 40 miles a week on a fairly regular basis.  I loved (in a loose sense of the word some days) every minute of it.  But I didn't lose any weight.  In fact, I specifically didn't try to lose weight; that wasn't my purpose in running the marathon and I didn't want to compromise my health by restricting calories while I was training.  That is not to say that I followed some incredibly healthy diet, either.  I ate more than my share of Doritoes and cheese sticks, and drank plenty of beer.  I became a vegetarian and had to deal with all the changes in my diet that went along with that.  But, through it all, I never purposely tried to lose weight through running.  Not that I couldn't have done so, I have certainly used running to lose weight in the past, but somehow the goal of the running itself, the marathon, was much more important to me.  And equally important was the time spent with friends, during training and at post-training meals.  For the first time in years, I didn't care how much I weighed, and I was really happy.      

Let me take a second to clarify: I definitely have not had some weird nirvana moment where I suddenly have stopped having "fat" days or anything like that.  In fact, there are plenty of days when I look at my mileage then I look in the mirror and I think "WTF?  For how much I run, shouldn't I be a lot thinner than this?"  It is incredibly frustrating; I hate feeling squishy when I put my hands on my hips and I hate being touched by other people because I am worried they will feel the same squishiness.  So yeah, I have my own baggage about my weight. And I could easily become obsessed about using running to lose weight.  I have done so in the past, but it never works out the way that I want it to.  Because there are still days when I feel gross, or I get on the scale and don't like what I see.  Knowing how hard it is to lose weight, I don't want  the frustration and guilt that goes along with dieting to suck the fun out of something that I love.  So, I (completely unintentionally, although I now realize it was the best thing I have ever done for myself) have separated the two things in my mind.  

There is, of course, the other side to all of this: the eating.  I love to eat almost as much as I love to run.  Umm... okay, maybe even more.  As I said, when I was training for the marathon I ate in proportion to my mileage, and it was great.  I realized, listening to my friends who talk about not eating to be skinny, that I love to eat, and I can't imagine not doing it--any more than I can imagine not running.   Here's the thing: running makes me happy; eating makes me happy.  Dieting, worrying about my weight, and feeling fat don't make me happy.  I live under the assumption that being thin will make me happy--happier than I am now.  But, as I was running around the pond this morning, I started questioning that assumption.  Would losing weight really make me happier than I am now, because I am already pretty happy.  So I started thinking about what parts of my current life I would have to change to lose weight, and would the happiness balance out in my favor? 

There are a few specific things that I would have to give up, the way I see it.  First: Friday nights at the Burren, specifically the beer(s) and cheesesticks.  I would also have to give up nerd nights, particularly Sundays with Ben and Leah, which typically include snacks, drinks, and ordering sandwiches from Deli-icious with a side of cheese fries.  Then there are all the random nights (or whole weekends in Maine) that include a bag of Doritoes, blueberry pies, and S'mOreos.  Basically, I would have to give up all the best days I get to spend with my friends, with the people I love.  You know, the days that make me happy. 

The truth is, a text message that says "We're at the Burren, let's get drunk" is just as appealing to me as a text message that says "Let's do 13 miles tomorrow, I'll see you at 6:30am."  Those are the things that make my life the life I want to have.  And those are the times when I feel beautiful.  I saw a quote recently from Molly Barker, who is the founder of Girls on the Run International: "Running is the space in my day when I feel the most beautiful--when I don't feel judged by others.  And that is what I want for all little girls."  I know exactly what she means.  When I am running is the time when I don't worry what other people think, or even what I think.  I can feel my muscles working, and that helps me worry less about all the squishiness that jiggles around over them. 

Wow, it would be amazing to be able to feel like that all the time, not just when I am running.  It would mean no more frustration over my weight, and no more guilt when I have a cheese stick with my beer on a Friday night.  Of course, that is easier said than done.  I have spent years (most of the past 33) worrying about being thin; it isn't easy to just stop thinking about that.  But, I am going to try.  For the next month, I am not going to weigh myself.  I am going hide the scale, the body tape and fat calipers (oh yes, I bought those in a fit of motivation only to find them to be a true instrument of evil), and I am even going to turn the full length mirror around so that I can no longer stand in front of it and poke at every defect I see.  At the same time, I am going to try to take care of myself: eat healthy, run and go to the gym, things like that.  But I am going to do those things purposefully to make myself happy, to do things that make me feel better inside rather than as a desperate (and ultimately un-enjoyable) attempt to fix everything I think is wrong with me.  Again, probably easier said than done, but I think that it will be an interesting experiment for me to try. 

On those days, which I know will come more often than I want them to, when I feel gross and frustrated, I will focus on doing things that make me happy.  Going for a run, or even a walk.  Spending time with my friends, or just reading a book.  And when I get the overwhelming urge to poke at my belly and get angry at it for still being there, I am instead going to look at it and say "Oh hey there; we've had some pretty good times, huh?  Blueberry pie in Maine!  That crazy Friday night at the Burren when I let everyone draw on my stupid pink cast while I ate cheese sticks!  Yeah, those were good times.  What do you want to do this weekend?  Chinese buffet?  Yeah, I think so, right after we go for a little run..."   



Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Different Kind of Status Update

In case you didn't know, thirty years ago today Sandra Day O'Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court as the first female Justice.  It was a huge deal at the time--a time when women were almost unheard of in positions of such moral and philosophical power.  If you follow the link, you can read the interview in which Justice O'Connor talks about the letters she got upon her appointment, including one in which one enlightening member of American society tells her to "get back to your kitchen."  But she didn't.  She accepted Regan's appointment to the Supreme Court and in doing so changed the role of gender in our legal system.  It has meant more to women in the U.S. than I think we realize, not only within the legal system but also in terms of beginning to provide powerful role models for girls in this country.  It's was and still is a big deal. 

But wait, you say--didn't we already do that like, a hundred years ago?  Wasn't that what the Seneca Falls Convention was all about?  Women can vote, and work, and go to war.  I mean--we won, right?

Not exactly.  Also, if you think this is about winning you are missing the point; stop reading now and save yourself the mental strain. 

Yes, women have made an enormous amount of progress in the last 150 years in terms of equality and equity (for a really good description about the difference between these two terms read this blog post about education, and then think more globally about gender, sexual orientation, etc).  But that doesn't mean that we have achieved equality, and we certainly haven't achieved equity in this society.  Here is the point where a lot of people think "Oh, she's one of those crazy feminists" and stop reading.  And you're right--it is a natural (although erroneous) leap to blame the other gender when issues arise.  But this isn't about men versus women.  Perhaps at one time it was; there was certainly a hierarchy of power in this country in July of 1948.  However, now, in July of 2011, it is less clear who is to blame.  And there are some very powerful women in this country, women who would argue that much of what remains unresolved about gender equity in this country stems from women, women who think that we "already won" and there is nothing else to do. 

Perhaps one of the most powerful speeches I have read recently came from the COO of Facebook.  Yes, Facebook.  And yes, COO.  If you are unfamiliar with the C-Suite of any company, the Chief Operations Officer is basically the number two at any company (just below the CEO, and just above the CFO).  The COO basically handles all of the day-to-day operational responsibilities.  So, this woman is Zuckerberg's right hand.  While he is out hunting his own food, she is running Facebook.

In May, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg gave this address to the graduating class at Barnard.  In it, she talks about the dearth of women in positions of power, particularly in the fastest growing sector of American business--technology.  In a similar interview, Google's Marissa Mayer talked about essentially the same thing.  (For those of you who don't know, Mayer is essentially Sandberg's counterpart at Google.  She started with the company when it had 12 employees, and has seen it through to the megalith that it is today.)  My sincere hope is that you will take the time to follow both of those links, and to hear what each of these women has to say in her own words.  However, if you don't, I will at least sum it up for you here:

Sandberg and Mayer both talk about how there is still a significant lack of women in high ranking positions in this country.  Mayer talks about this being the result of women not seeing technology as a viable option for women but instead as a male-centered world, particularly because of the cultural stereotypes of  computer geeks.  Sandberg talks in more general terms about the unbalanced number of men and women in high ranking jobs in government, education, and corporations.  While she admits it is vastly better than it was 30 or 40 or 100 years ago, she clearly states that it is still not good enough.  And that is the important piece to take away from either of these articles: we have done some work, yes, but we still haven't done enough.

And it is, in a lot of ways, our own fault.  Because we, as women, believe that the Seneca Falls Convention was "the work."  Or that when women finally started leaving the house and getting jobs in schools, factories, and business, that that was "the work."  But it was only part of it.  There is still a great deal more to be done.  Women are still overrepresented in the care industries (teaching and nursing, for example) and underrepresented in politics, the sciences, and technology.  There is still an enormous gap in gender equality and equity in this country.  As women, we have to be willing to continue doing the work of creating a more equitable culture.  Which is not easy work.  As both Sandberg and Mayer discuss, it is uncomfortable work.  It is the work of taking a job where you are the only woman on the payroll, where you don't feel like you have the background, or where each day presents a unique challenge.  It's the work of taking those jobs until the day it is no longer special or interesting that there is a woman in that position.  And even then, there will always be more work to maintain an equitable work culture.  That's just how it goes.

Some (a lot) of this stems from persistent cultural beliefs about gender roles, not only for women but for men as well.  While it is important to advocate for women to feel they have the power to leave the tradition role of homemaker if they so choose, it is also important to support men in assuming that role.  It is, after all, an extremely important role in a healthy, functioning society.  We have to be vigilant that we do not create that gap through our work for equality, as it serves no one well, least of all the next generation.  And this is where that subtle difference between equity and equality is so important.  We should not just be striving for a culture that is "fair."  Instead, we want one where each individual has access to the resources and the lifestyle that he or she needs to be successful and happy.  And that means supporting both women and men in their roles in and out of the home.

If you still haven't, now is the time that you really should read Sheryl Sandberg's commencement address, and Marissa Mayer's piece in the HuffPost.  There are about 15 really important things in each of them, and they are something that I intend to come back to in future posts.  For today, however, I think this is enough to think about.  For some people, that thinking may be limited to "Oh man, she totally IS one of those crazy feminists!"  But hopefully, for most of you, the thinking you will do today will be about the choices you make in your day to day life, and whether or not they contribute to equality or equity.  Maybe you will also think a little about what work you can do today to make sure you do contribute.

But whatever you are thinking by now, just don't think that someone else has already done the work, because they haven't and they won't.  It is up to you and me.  So, get to it.         

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Dog Story

One of the things that I love most about running is all of the other people who are out there with me.  It is not just other runners; in fact, other runners tend to be the least interesting because they are intent on their workout, most of them don't even smile let alone say good morning.  The people I enjoy seeing are those who are out each morning walking their dogs.  Those people, even when it is insanely early, have some sense of joy about them; and the dogs are almost always happy.  (Except for this morning--I passed a woman whose tiny dog apparently becomes so enraged by runners that she literally had to stop, bend over, and cover his little tiny doggy eyes until I passed.  I was brilliant.) 

Of all the bike-path dog walkers that I see on a regular basis, there is one that sticks out to me.  No, more than that.  There is one that I hope to see; a person who I know will make me smile, whether I am having a great run or a terrible one.  I call him the Old Dog Man.  He is, after all, a very old man.  I am not good at guessing people's ages, but I would wager that he is in his late 80s or early 90s.  He walks on the bike path between Davis and Mass Ave almost every morning, unless it is very cold or icy.  I have seen him on and off for two years now, and he is by far my favorite bike path walker. 

When I see him, whether I am coming or going, he always cheers me (and any other runners) on a little bit.  His favorite comment is "You go get 'em!" But he often throws in a "Lookin' good!" or "Keep it up!"  And he seems so genuinely supportive and cheerful that it is impossible not to smile and say thank you, or good morning.  Some days I see him on my way out, when I am not too tired or sweaty and I can say good morning.  Most often, however, I see him on my way back, when I am feeling like I would like to stop running please, and the most I can offer is a smile and wave.  But it is a sincere smile, and seeing him often gives me that little extra motivation to make it home. 

When I first saw the Old Dog Man, it was two summers ago.  At the time (as is the case this summer), I was not working, so I would typically run around 8AM.  Every morning, I would see him walking with his ancient chocolate lab.  They always made me smile, these two old me teetering down the bike path, smiling and cheering on runners who went by.  I saw them almost every morning that summer, and when the cold weather came and they were no longer out, I missed them. 

The following spring, I saw the Old Dog Man again, but the Old Dog was no longer with him.  The first time, I thought perhaps it was a fluke.  But the second time, I knew that the Old Dog was no longer around; he hadn't made it through the winter.  This should not have been a surprise; the dog was incredibly old and decrepit.  But it still made me incredibly sad, and I felt for the Old Dog Man who--even without his companion--continued to take morning walks. 

Over the past year, once I started working normal hours, I started running hours earlier than I used to, and I have not seen the Old Dog Man in months.  But, with my summer hours (as in, I sleep in like it's my job, which it pretty much is because I don't have a real one right now), I have been running a little later.  And yesterday, for the first time in ages, I saw the Old Dog Man! 

I was running through the section of the bike path between Davis and Mass Ave where all the dog owners gather in the mornings.  There were several dogs off their leashes, running and jumping and generally being dog-like.  I am never too concerned with this; I see those dogs all the time and they are so incredibly disinterested in chasing runners that it is almost insulting to me.  But as I came past them, two of them--a yellow and a black lab--went sprinting ahead of.  When I looked, I could see that they were heading straight for an old man.  A second glance revealed that it was the Old Dog Man.

At first, I was a little concerned that they were going to jump on him, but as they came closer he held out his arms and greeted them, the way a parent or grandparent holds out their arms to catch a child running towards them.  And the dogs!  They were so happy to see him, too.  They wagged their tales and cuddled up to his feet expectantly.  Then, even more like a grandfather, the Old Dog Man pulled two dog treats from his pocket and gave them to the two dogs, who gently took them before scarfing them down.

The absolute joy on the Old Dog Man's face as he was greeted by these two labs was something you almost never see.  I know that he must miss his old friend terribly, and until they are together again, the Old Dog Man spends his mornings sharing his love with other friends he has made on the bike path.  And everyone there is better for it. 

As I ran past them a second later, he looked up and smiled at me and said "Looking good!  You go get 'em!" 

And I thought "I will, I promise I will, until the day that I can't anymore." 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Next Incarnation

Now that I am done with school (finally, I know!), people keep asking me, "What are you going to do now?" Apparently, I was supposed to have a plan. 


Well, surprisingly enough, I do not have a plan. 

Which is not to say that I don't have things to do, or things I want to do.  I have a job that I enjoy, and that keeps getting better every day.  I have more courses to teach and will hopefully be leading a faculty / student research group in the fall.  I also have lots of running plans!  And I am looking forward to spending time with my friends and family, because I know I have not done enough of that over the past year.

Despite all these "plans" though, I also feel that there is a change coming.  Possibly a significant change.  I don't know what it is, but this is the year for it.  There is a little numerology behind this assertion. 

My lucky number is 6.  I was born on the 6th day of the 6th month, and each year that my age has totaled 6 has been a year that has brought significant change into my life.  For example, the year I turned 6 we moved from NJ to NY; if I had grown up in Jersey I would be a completely different person.  The year I turned 15, I left home and went to a boarding school in Lake Placid, which again significantly impacted the trajectory of my life.  When I turned 24, I went off to get my MA in Somerville, which led me to UNH and the life that I have now.

So this year, once again, I hit an age that totals 6, so I anticipate change.  And I am ready for change, whatever it might be.  I doubt that it will be a move across the country, or even across MA since I have a job that I love and live in a place that I love.  I think that this time the change will be more internal than external.  Each of my past Year-6's have coincided with a change in physical location that led to a new path.  This time, I am thinking the path will develop from personal change and growth.

Usually, I am a very anxious person, and change worries me.  For some reason, I am excited about this change.  I can feel it coming already in my workplace, as I am handed new responsibilities every day and am given plenty of supportive opportunities to test myself.  I am also anticipating change in my personal life.  In three days I will be running a marathon for the first time.  I plan to do a lot more of that, and to hopefully become strong enough to start running ultra-marathons as well.  I am also looking for new, fun things to try out.  I am going to start rock-climbing this summer, for example--even though I am terrified of heights.

But I know this isn't all of the change that is coming my way.  There will be new adventures and new friends that I can't anticipate.  I know that some of the years between now and the next Year-6 (OMG, I will be 42!!) will not be all fun and adventure; there will be loses and rough times and all the things that the past 9 years have had, and all the years before that.  But each of those things are important way-stations along the path; they make it more like a hike through the mountains (ups and downs, beautiful views--I trust you to follow the metaphor from here) rather than a straight drive across Kansas (which I understand is very flat and not particularly exciting unless you really, really like fields).  And hiking more mountains is also one of the things I intend to do with myself in this new incarnation!

So... I probably should end this with a witty remark about making sure I have a compass so I don't get lost on my new path.  But, I'm not going to.  Because I think that getting a little lost will make it more exciting.  And that is what you--my lovely friends--are here for, so that I am not out hiking by myself the whole way, and so that if we get a little lost together, you can help me back onto the path.   

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Perfect Asymmetry

After my previous post, this interesting RadioLab was brought to my attention (thank you, Leah):  http://www.radiolab.org/2011/apr/18/

In this episode, the hosts are exploring different aspects of symmetry, including Aristophanes' theory of symmetry in love.  He, through Plato's Symposium, told the story of our original forms, before Zeus split us all into two, and fated us to spend our lives looking for our other half.  If you read my previous post, you can see why Leah would have brought this episode to my attention.  I have been, after all, trying to understand why we feel so immediately attached to some people, while others pass through our lives almost unnoticed. 

But for every philosophical explanation there is also a scientific one, which the RadioLab hosts go on to explore.  They briefly discuss the possibility that our connection to others comes from similar brain patterns, but this neurological theory is too new, and too unexamined to provide many answers.  And so, they decide (naturally) to go all the way back to the beginning to try to find the roots of symmetry. 

What they find is that all life, indeed all matter, is purely asymmetrical.  In fact, without asymmetry we would all cease to exist.  And that is just about the coolest thing ever as far as I am concerned. 

Immediately after the Big Bang, the energy (a whole incredible lot of it) in the universe was so hot that it basically flew apart in two directions: particles and antiparticles.  (For a more scientific explanation, see my source: http://www.slac.stanford.edu/pubs/beamline/26/1/26-1-sather.pdf)  Now, if the universe was perfectly symmetrical, each particle would have an antiparticle.  As the universe cooled and these two halves came back together, they canceled each other out.  "Poof!" So, here you can already see where symmetry is actually a problem.  If the universe, immediately following the Big Bang, had actually been symmetrical then it would have ceased to exist; all the particles that could have become matter would have been annihilated by their symmetrical, antimatter counterparts. 

But we're here, and so is the Earth, all the stars, trees and birds and oceans and Dunkin Donuts.  It is all here because the universe and the very particles that make up matter as we know it are asymmetrical.  When those early bundles of energy split into matter and antimatter, they didn't split evenly.  For each 1 billion antiparticles, there were 1 billion + 1 particles. 

Okay, just stop and think about that for a second.  Think about EVERYTHING that is out there, made of matter (again, that is everything) and then be awestruck by the theory that it was all created from 1 extra particle of matter out of every billion that was destroyed by its antiparticle twin.  If you are really thinking about this, your brain should be doing something every similar to what the universe did at the moment of its birth: exploding. 

Since that moment, all living things have continued to be profoundly asymmetrical.  You should listen to the podcast for a better explanation, but essentially all living things are made up of matter that favors the left.  (Yes, even Republicans.)  Example: smile.  The left side of your face smiles more than your right side.  All naturally occurring molecules are built towards the left.  When scientists monkey with them and engineer molecules that are built towards the right, they are fundamentally different life forms that develop.  Caraway seeds (this is the example in the podcast, under the section "Mirror, Mirror") that are engineered to be right-sided taste like spearmint, not rye.  And that is just one example.  Several other harmless plants and compounds become poisonous when reversed.  All of this just points to the unexpected realization that symmetry is not ideal, but is in fact likely to destroy us. 

So, going back to Aristophanes.  If life--to begin and to continue--must be asymmetrical, why are we always searching for symmetry?  Theories of human attraction state that our brain favors faces that are highly symmetrical.  Look around at architecture, landscaping, and the way you have things set up on your desk: your brain likes balance and symmetry.  Things that have those qualities are aesthetically appealing to us, while asymmetrical buildings just look, well, weird.  (Think about some of the buildings that MIT has built on Vassar Street.)  Even the two hemispheres of our brains are not true mirror images, and there is some neurological evidence that we each favor one side more than the other (although this is open to debate at any time; email me).  So why are we always trying to create the balance that would, on a cosmic level at least, be our undoing? 

And more importantly, how does any of this rambling attempt at understand quantum physics get us any closer to understanding why we "click" with some people and not with others?  Obviously, it can't be as simply as symmetry.  In fact, it would seem that the more symmetrical of a relationship we have, the more likely it is to implode and take both people with it.  (Hey--we have all been there.)  Maybe the answer to the "click" lies in the asymmetry of the relationship.  The universe began with a very specific ratio, 1billion:1billion+1.  So, maybe that is what we are all really looking for, not just our other half, but also our extra particle.  The person out there who has everything we have, plus that extra little bit of energy that makes us, well, matter.  

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Only Rational Explanation

Recently, I have become sort of obsessed with the idea of multiple universes.  I read a crazy book and I watched Fringe all season, and those things sort of embedded this idea that there are more dimensions that the one we can see.  In the book I read (Anathem, if you are interested), the premises is that certain things filter between the barriers in the multi-verse.  In that case, it was geometry, but maybe it doesn't have to be.  Maybe there are things that are even more permeable than math. 

I started thinking that maybe that is where deja vu comes from.  When we have this overwhelming feeling that something has happened to us before, maybe it is because it HAS, but in a different universe.  When that thing happened in the other universe, there was something--some strong emotional attachment--that went with it.  And because of those emotions, the event filtered through the layers into our universe.  So, when you find yourself in the situation you have this emotional response, even though perhaps the "event" that happened over there doesn't happen here.  You get something that is like an emotional echo. 

(So, if you are still with me at this point that is amazing.  Even I am a little fuzzy about this.  And now it gets a little more insane.  Yes, I know that this is far and away the most crazy thing I have posted to date.) 

Recently, I was concerned about a friend, and Matt asked me "Yeah, but why do you care so much?"  And it occurred to me that I had no idea why I cared so much.  I haven't known this person very long at all.  But for some reason, I care. 

It has happened to all of us.  You meet someone and you feel like you have known them your whole life; you have a connection that you can't explain.  There is no weird getting-to-know you phase where silence is awkward.  You find yourself telling that person things you never tell anyone, and you don't think twice about it.  Why does that happen? 

Again, I think that it is the multi-verse.  Just like mathematical truths filtered through in Anathem, I think that our emotional connections to people filter through, if they are strong enough. 

In some other universe, that person that you just met who is suddenly your best friend really IS your best friend from childhood, or your sibling, or the love of your life.  The connection you have with that person over there so strong that it makes it all the way over here, and you feel its remnants across space, or time, or whatever it is that separates that universe from the one we are in now. 

So the next time you meet someone like that, think about how amazing it is that you found each other not just there, but here too, and maybe in countless other universes in between. And in each one, maybe you have a slightly different relationship, but all with strong enough emotions that you can feel them as soon as you meet that person. 

Of course, all of this could just be rambling thoughts I am having because Ben, Mason, and Reid broke my brain when they gave me all those sci-fi books.  Hmmm... well, I will get them for that in the next universe!   

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Extinct Carnivore

This is how the conversation always goes:

ME: I'm not eating meat anymore.
SOMEONE I'M TALKNG TO: What?  Why the hell would you do that?
ME: Because... (then I list off a bunch of reasons that are vague enough to prevent too much conversation on this topic; I don't really want to talk about why because I am not entirely sure).
SOMEONE: Well whatever, good luck with that.

Three days later:

JUSTIN: So, you're not eating meat?
ME: Nope.
JUSTIN: Okay, that's what I thought so I made you some chicken.

First, chicken IS meat.  Second, I cave and eat the chicken. 

In the past, I have tried this "not eating meat" thing various times.  I usually make it four days at the most before I give up.  I have given up for a variety of reasons: it's difficult to find vegetarian options in a lot of places, it makes it challenging when other people (who do eat meat) cook dinner; meat is a good source of iron and protein, which I need as a runner.  Mostly I gave up because I like the taste of meat.

Or at least, I did.

This year, finally, I have managed to stop eating meat for long enough that I no longer want it.  In all those diet articles they always tell you: if you can go two weeks without something, you won't crave it anymore.  Of course, what they don't tell you is that those two weeks are really freaking hard to get through!  As soon as you give something up, that is all that anyone around you is eating, and their food always looks better than yours.  It is also THE thing that your body starts screaming at you about.  Okay, maybe I should be speaking in the first person here--I don't know about other people, but that is how it has always been for me.  And so I have always caved under the pretext of "listening to my body, because it knows what it needs."  Yeah, right, just like it "needs" tater tots and cheese sticks and beer.  What is warning from Portal that they made into a slightly humorous Woot Shirt?  "The cake is a liar."  So is my body.

Finally, though, I have made it through nearly three weeks without any form of meat other than fish.  Yes, I do still eat fish, which is why I hesitate to call myself "vegetarian."  But I don't feel bad about it because, as I said before, I need the iron and protein and I really like tuna melts.  The amazing thing is that I really don't miss eating meat.  When my husband gets a burger, I don't look at it and think "I have to have that right now, even if it means clawing his eyes out to get to it."  And when people invite us over for dinner, I have no trouble saying "Just so you know, I don't eat meat anymore."  Yes, that is annoying.  But, I don't mind bringing something for myself: have box of mac-n-cheese, will travel.

Obviously, this change has brought with a whole slew of dietary obstacles.  I have to be careful to get enough protein and iron from non-meat sources, which is not always easy or tasty.  I also have to be especially vigilant about not just replacing meat with cheese, because that sort of undoes any health benefits that my no-meat diet might afford me.  But these are "good" challenges.  They make me think more about what I am putting in my body when I make food choices.  Without getting too soap-boxy (I like to save that for face-to-face conversations), I think an essential part of any meal should be thinking about where your food came from and why it--of all the things you could have had--ended up on your plate; and when you answer these questions, you should feel good about your choices.  I didn't feel good when I looked down and saw meat on my plate, and so I stopped putting it there.

So, after a few weeks of battling the little voice inside me screaming "Get a cheeseburger, STAT!" I have finally been able to move on and become a non-meat eater.  Am I saying that I will never again eat a piece of meat?  No, of course not.  But, I am saying that I don't want to eat meat anymore, and that I am happy that I don't.

And the next time Justin asks me if he should make me chicken "instead" of meat, I will be sure to say "No thanks, I'll just bring a PB&J." 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Post-Doctoral Education

People always ask me why I study reading, and the easy answer is "because I love it."  And I really do.  I can spend an entire day just sitting and reading, and I am perfectly happy.  When I have free time, I enjoy loitering in bookstores and reading errant chapters of unfamiliar novels.  

Of course, reading in graduate school is not the same as reading for fun.  Over the past seven (yes, seriously, seven) years that I have spent as a professional student, I have read thousands of pages.  I have read books, journal articles, reviews, drafts of my peers' and my own essays--so much stuff!  When I look through my filing cabinets and bookshelves, I am astonished to think about the volume of text I have interacting with, and the amount of time I have spent doing so.  And it is all academic reading, things that were given to me, assigned to me, or chosen for their utility in my field of research. It was all (well, mostly) very interesting, but not exactly what I would categorize as "fun" reading.  

So, naturally, when I finally completed my dissertation a few weeks ago, the first thing I thought about was reading for fun!  For years I have been unable to spend the time I would like on pleasure reading, and because of that I am very behind in what I see as my "must read" list for my life.  In order to get moving on that list, I sent an email out to three people whose taste in literature I trust and asked them for recommendations.  

What I got was a little more intense than I had expected.  I had expected one or two titles, and because these three guys are pretty similar in their tastes and world-views (total nerds) I figured that they would all pretty much send me the same titles.  Instead, I got somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 titles in response to my initial email, and have been pointed towards at least another 10 books in random conversations.  

The majority of the books fit squarely in the sci-fi and fantasy realms, with a few outliers in Russian literature and the classics.  I happily accepted all of these recommendations, dutifully writing down new titles as they are sent to me, and blissfully filling the memory banks of my Kindle when I should be graded papers and working on my revisions.  

In the past few weeks, however, I have begun to feel that this is not, in fact, the pleasure reading book list that I had intended it to be.  For one thing, it is HUGE.  And I, having poor time management skills and almost no ability to focus on a single point for any length of time, am finding it almost physically painful to read a single book at a time.  I want to read them all, right away, today in fact.  Currently, I am in the middle of two books, and that doesn't even include at least four other books that I was already reading before this list came into existence.  
The other alarming development is the inconsistency of my nerdy mentors.  They, like me, seem unable to agree with a reasonable order for my book list.  Somedays I need to be reading Cryponomicon.  But, well, no, don't start there because you just read Stevenson's other book and it will be too much.  Read The Wise Man's Fear first because I want to talk to you about; but that's a sequel so make sure you read the first book again so you remember all the details.  No, start with American Gods because you loved Percy Jackson and we all think it is trash.  Okay, guys, seriously...just pick something already!!  But they won't, so I am reading two books at once, trying to get to a third before someone adds anything else to the list!  

And, they are becoming a little persistent about my progress.  Mostly, it is gentle reminders and questions, such as "So, where are you in [that book] now?"  "Oh, you haven't started it yet?"  Disappointed look heads my way.  "Well, I was really hoping that you would read that because A) I want to talk to you about it; B) HBO is making a show about it and we all need to watch it together; C) I told you to read it, why haven't you done it yet?"  And then the prodding becomes slightly less subtle: "So, now that you are done with school, exactly what are you doing all day?"  

I find that I have created a situation for myself here that is not entirely unlike my previous, academic situation.  I have a lengthy, challenging syllabus in front of me; I have spent an unreasonable amount of money on my textbooks; each of them has their own agenda for my reading; and they don't seem to understand that I have other things to do in my life than my reading list!!  And when I pointed this out to one of my nerdy mentors, his only response to me was...

"Ah...well we're each of us teaching a grad class. You're just the only chump to sign up for all three at once."

Friday, February 4, 2011

Vampires are for Suckers

Today I took a stroll through the aisles of Target, as I am known to do.  For whatever reason, I wandered through the books; I was maybe just trying to get some ideas for my Kindle.  Well.  I turned a corner and was confronted by a wall of vampire books.  A WALL OF VAMPIRE BOOKS.  And I thought, "This has just gone too far."

I will admit that once, when I was a tween (except it was so long ago that we were still called kids), I read my fair share of vampire books.  By which I mean any and all in publication.  I had a thing for the undead.  I saw every vampire movie--even the terrible ones--about a thousand times.  I would carefully study my canine teeth in the bathroom mirror at night, willing them to morph into fangs.  Yes, I loved Angel, and I watch Bones now just hoping that David Boreanaz will sleep with Brennan, lose his soul, and go all bad ass on everyone.  Do I love Gary Oldman for his role as Dracula more than that of Sirius Black?  You can't ask me to make that choice; those are totally different genres.  But the short answer is a firm most likely.

But here is the thing: that was about 20 years ago.  Then there were all those Ann Rice novels, which were great, but we all sort of got the whole vampire thing out of our systems when Tom Cruise played one, right?  It definitely ruined it for me. 

Except it didn't.  Because then that woman wrote that series that we all read (yes you know which one I mean and don't try to pretend you did not read all four of those books you liar), and everyone got all obsessed with vampires again.  Now there are about fifteen different series of vampire books; there is an HBO series; there are movies and TV shows.  Have you been to the mall lately?  Of course not--you are an adult.  But if you had been, you would know that Hot Topic is practically vomiting vampiristic nonsense, and so is everywhere else.  It is out of control.  Given this resurgence I actually have to conclude that vampires live forever.  And I, for one, have had enough.

Because I have to ask: why vampires?  What the hell is so special about a bunch of pointy-toothed, sickly pale, undead guys?  You know who deserves way more attention?  Werewolves.

I know a lot of you might be saying "What about Zombies?"  But here is the thing with zombies: they are rock f**king stupid.  Seriously.  Try having a conversation with one sometime; all you get is "Graaahhhhh" and occasionally "Bwains...." Unbearably stupid.

Werewolves, on the other hand, are amazing.  Let's take a look at the evidence:

First of all, there's this guy (which should be enough for anyone):

Okay, yes, technically he is a shapeshifter (which you knew because you DID read all the books).  But it makes my point.  Unlike skinny, pale vampires, werewolves are hot, and ripped, and can get a tan on a tropical vacation if you so choose.  And I do.

If that is not enough, then what about this:  Remus Lupin.  Not as hot as wolf-boy, but brilliant and funny and saves Harry Potter's skinny behind a number of times.  Also, the picture I chose is no accident:

He is bad ass in his own quiet, British way and you should love him for it.

Finally, there is this guy:
Also not really a werewolf, but seriously: look at that hair!  And I did say I was going to find a way to add him to every post from now on (until baseball starts, and then it will be Beckett).

Aside from wanting to post all these pictures, I do have a point: we need to get past our vampire obsession and learn what wonderful things await us with werewolves!  For too long, we have been transfixed with the blood suckers (which is one of their powers--never make eye contact with a vampire).  Part of this stems from how werewolves are portrayed by the media.  Take Being Human (now a SyFy channel show but originally made for the BBC, like everything good): the premise is that a vampire and a werewolf are housemates.  Guess which one is dark, brooding, and ridiculously hot.  That's right, the vampire; meanwhile the werewolf is a super dork who can't get a girl to save his life.  Even in "that book series" the wolf-boy is nice but come on, she writes in out of the picture as soon as Cedric, I mean Edward, shows up again.  Weak.

Look, I get it: we have all been infatuated with vampires,  But it is time to move on.  No more lurking in the shadows at night, no more tween books with the word "blood" in the title, no more avoiding tropical vacations because your boyfriend will either turn into dust or sparkle so brightly you go blind (depending on what version of vampire you subscribe to).  The next time you are out, and see that wicked cute but shy guy looking at you across the room, don't write him off as un-undead.  Go talk to him; you might find he is a super nice guy and you have lots in common.  Turns out you both love bunnies, and moonlit walks, and biscuits! And if you can make it through your first lunar cycle together without getting eaten, all the better.     


Friday, January 28, 2011

(String of profanity) Hot Pink Cast

If you have ever met me, you know that my general motto for life is "I can do that myself."  This guy knows how I feel; he also knows that sometimes you just need to be the one to get the job done if you want it done right:
However, I have recently become unable to do a lot of things, and the things I can do take me two or three times longer than they should, and are not done very well.  (And yes, I WILL find a way to insert Packers pictures up until and possibly long after the Super Bowl.)

This is going to break my mind.

I have always been fiercely independent.  Sure, I have no problem asking questions about how to do things, such as at work, but I don't like for people to do things for me.  I like it even less when they have to do things for me.  In collge, I dated this very nice boy, Sean, one Fall.  Over the previous Spring and Summer, we had become very good friends.  We talked almost every day, we took a trip to Canada (hey, that is what we did where I grew up!), and I really liked him.  I especially liked him because we could joke around with each other, and he treated me like a friend--not a "girl."  But when we got back to campus in the Fall, everything changed.  He was super way too nice, smothering even.  He opened every door, did everything for me.  I started to hate him.  On some level I knew that it was his way of showing me that he cared about me, but the majority of my brain was repelled by the whole thing.  A week later I dumped him, citing my impending (in four months) trip to England and fear of long-distance relationships.

Obviously, I know that my "I will do that myself" attitude is not always easy to deal with.  It is not just little things I do, but big stuff as well--life changing decisions and whatnot.  For example: buying a car (twice), deciding to go to grad school far away from home (also twice), stuff like that.  Sometimes, this is not a big deal.  But, some of this stuff is big--and when you share your life with another person, it can be really hard to make things run smoothly.  I also know my attitude makes me really impatient.  When I do ask someone else to do something for me, I expect it done immediately.  This is a cause of much bickering in my house; Matt and I do not share the same concept of time, to the point that quantum physicists could probably publish a theoretical paper about it.  Over the years, I like to imagine that we will work out a system.  For now, it just makes us both a little insane.  As a general rule, I just do the stuff that needs to be done, and if I don't have time for all of it (like the laundry), his stuff gets ignored (which also makes me crazy because then it takes him three weeks to get to it, and the whole time I can see the pile of laundry or papers or whatever.  Ack!)

Deep breath.

Recently, however, I have been saddled with this:

Yes, it IS a hot pink cast that goes from my thumb all the way to my mid-upper arm.  F**king awesome! No, not really.

First of all, I have enough fiberglass on my arm to make a boat (small, yes, but fast).  Second, I can't do many, many things while this is on my arm, because, well, I can't use a number of the very important joints and appendages that only took 45 million years for our species to develop so I guess they are pretty useful, and I am going to need those back.

I have gotten pretty good at the big stuff--I can dress myself, drive my car, and type--that I need to function.  But I can't do any of the things that make me happy. I can shower, but I can't open the shampoo bottles.  I can't do my hair or put on make-up.  (Okay, that is true any day, but it is even worse now, if you can imagine.) I am not allowed to run, because of the weight of the cast.  I can go to the gym, once I figure out how to tie my shoes, which is not looking good.  It is also really hard to eat, because I am not particularly dexterous with my left hand.  I can never get stuff on my fork or spoon.  I love to eat, and this is making it miserable.  Two things will happen:
1.  I will finally lose that last five pounds.
2.  I will freak out, buy a bunch of prepackaged junk meant to be eaten with one hand, and gain 40 pounds.

Hmmm... which sounds more like me?  Exactly.  If you love me, ignore any and all requests for Doritoes, Hostess cakes, Combos, and whatever else I try to get you to feed to me.  Otherwise, after the cast comes off there will be months of posts whining about how I am so fat I can only wear sweatpants and it will be all your fault!

Perhaps the worst thing at this moment is that I cannot clean anything; I can't wash dishes or fold laundry and I am a spaz with the vacuum because I have never done it with my left hand before.  All of this means that I am at the mercy of Matt and his cleaning schedule.  (Sound of mind bending, dangerously close to breaking.) As previously mentioned, this is going to lead nowhere good.  It has not even been a week and there are already dishes in the sink and giant balls of cat hair on the floor.  I am already thinking about staying in a hotel...

At some point in the next few weeks, I am sure I will be able to see the bright side of all this.  I will write a post about all the cool things I have learned how to do with just my left hand.  But for now, in these first days, all I can feel is the helplessness, and it is making me angry and depressed. I feel trapped by this cast, and generally useless at life.  I will not go on at length about this, because I know that many of you are also incredibly independent people (that is why we are friends, otherwise I would have slapped you by now), so you know how I feel.  And thank you for listening, and helping me feel better.

So, maybe, can you just bring me one bag of Doritoes?  Just, you know, to get through these first few days?  Also, I will need you to stay and do some dishes....

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 almos...