Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
'Twas the Night Before
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Also, they give goats.
It’s an excellent organization, and I’m excited to be a tiny little part of the fundraising. You can be a part of it, too! Following Nathan’s example, I (along with my awesome, agreeable husband) pledge to donate $1 to Heifer International for every comment you leave on this post between now and midnight on Christmas Eve. So, comment away!
Of course, I do have a financial ceiling for this donation, (which I won’t share with you, so as not to discourage comments) but let’s see if we can reach it. If you’re a lurker around these parts, now’s the time to come out of the woodwork.
You can only comment once, but if you make a comment worthy of a response, I’ll also donate a dollar for my response comment. (Hint: Ask me questions!)
In your comment, please tell me:
a) Your name
b) The corner of the planet in which you reside
c) (optional) A goal or wish for 2011
Remember Anne’s comment from my last post? Let’s see if she’s right.
And finally, my own wish for 2011 is that we all work together.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
I had just gotten off the phone with my sister who’d been telling me about her youngest son, four-years-old. It was a typical kid-story for this time of year. He’d industriously taken a stack of newspaper ads, cut out all the pictures of things he wanted for Christmas, and taped them neatly to several pieces of paper, announcing this as his Christmas list. I didn’t ask exactly how long the list was, but judging from my sister’s tone of exasperation, it sounded lengthy.
“Then he walked around the house all morning saying, ‘This is what I’m getting for Christmas!’ as if it were a done deal!” I could almost see her eyes rolling over the phone. “Every day he has a new list. I told him ‘You better start thinking about giving, or I am canceling Christmas!’”
I snickered at this, a classic, and empty, parental threat.
But Christmas lists and letters to Santa are a childhood tradition, and during that afternoon’s run I found myself contemplating a “Letter to Santa” blog post, in which I requested from Santa the following: 1. My motivation, 2. Entries into my chosen lottery-impacted races (Cool and Miwok), and 3. A new bladder for my hydration pack, which, after a month of abandonment, I had re-discovered the day before was still leaking.
As my mind wandered, I started thinking more sincerely about what I really wanted in my life, what was important to me. I thought about choices I’d made and things I might have done differently. Suddenly, my humorous blog post had taken a decidedly more serious, and personal, tone. My letter to Santa began to sound more and more like a prayer.
Sometime later, I was walking a group of my students to after-school care when a 5th-grade girl posed a question to the group, “If you could be any age for the rest of your life, what would it be?”
Yes, these are the kinds of questions 5th-graders often pose, and frankly, I enjoy the conversations that ensue (at least, when we’re not in class).
I think my answer was something like 24. Maybe 27. “But with the knowledge and life-experience I have now,” I added hastily. I couldn’t commit to just one age. (Obviously, I take these questions entirely too seriously.)
“Mine is seven,” she announced confidently.
“Seven?” I was incredulous. I could barely even recall myself at that age.
“Yeah,” she nodded, “that’s the most fun age.”
I thought about the 2nd- graders I worked with in Homework Club after school. They were adorable, but I was pretty sure I didn’t want to trade places with any of them.
Childhood looks blissfully simple to an adult, but even though their world is smaller, I think it’s at least as scary and confusing at times as ours. Maybe harder, even.
I saw a boy of about seven walking through the grocery store with tears silently streaming down his cheeks. At that particular moment, I felt very much in solidarity with this boy, and I found myself envious of his childhood right to cry in public without evoking comment. Children get a pass on public displays of emotion, while grownups are expected to contain them. Being a little contained has its obvious upsides, of course, but I still envy children sometimes.
I realize though, that my empathy for the grocery-store-boy was somewhat of an outlet for my own emotion. I so often feel like a child myself; it makes sense that they can be the ones with whom I frequently identify and connect.
Their ability to speak in simple terms, to show every single thing they’re feeling, lies in direct contrast to the complexities and restrictions of adulthood. Seeing them run around the schoolyard with their hearts on their sleeves reassures me that others do indeed feel wrought by the difficulties of daily life, as I do. And at the times that I can offer them any comfort, it tends to lighten my own burdens.
Perhaps this is one of the benefits of maturity? The ability to empathize allows us to connect with others. It keeps us from feeling quite so alone in this world.
My husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas today. The reality is that I don’t really need anything. My sister is right – I should think about giving. (Otherwise I may have to cancel Christmas on myself!)
I’m not talking about that traditional “volunteer-your-time” or “give presents” kind of giving. I’m thinking more about emotional giving. I feel so constantly barraged by the neediness of those around me, and yet, I am equally bereft. I know from experience that giving comfort can be likewise comforting to the giver. St. Francis was right, I’d say: In giving, we receive.
So it seems I went from Christmas list, to prayer, to New Year’s resolution all at once. That’s not unusual of me, actually. But regardless of label, “giving” seems to sum up my Christmas wish rather nicely– To let go of my child-like needs that are so self-focused, and instead embrace my adult abilities to empathize and connect, to comfort, to give. To love.
I’m not sure exactly how these thoughts will manifest themselves into actions. I suppose I’ll keep them at the forefront of my mind and simply wait for opportunity. I don’t want it to be merely a nice idea, and in this case, I think I’m the only one that can make my wish come true.
Meanwhile, I think I’ll call my sister to ask what I should get my nephew for Christmas. (Assuming it isn’t canceled, of course.)
Thursday, December 09, 2010
Just in Case You Already Committed to Crewing for me at Western States
Monday, December 06, 2010
What Runners can Learn from Writers
I simply love it when I recognize my own thoughts in someone else’s writing– when I jump up from my couch while reading and shout, “Yes!” while my dog lifts his head in lazy surprise, mildly concerned at my joyous exclamation.
This was just the scenario today when I pulled up Nathan Bransford’s blog to find a post entitled, “The importance of Exercise for Writers.” (Reason #122 to love Nathan, if you’re keeping track.)
He submits that exercise helps stimulate the creative mind. Having spent a week one summer in a seminar on brain-based research for educators, I’m aware that there’s some actual science behind this idea. (But in an attempt to avoid digression, I’ll consider those details as a possible topic for another post.)
Nathan concluded his post with the acknowledgment that, in fact, he is happier in general when exercising. To which I can only respond with resounding affirmation. (See previously mentioned, dog-startling yell.) If you read my post from yesterday, you'll know these were exactly the thoughts marinating in my own brain.
It may come as no surprise that I find mind and body are the yin and yang of our very existence. It’s a theme to which I return often, and one on which I have plenty more to say.
But with Nathan’s specific blog post in mind, it occurs to me that runners and writers have a lot to offer each other. So, fellow runners, consider the following bits of advice, given to and received by many a writer. You may find that your writer-counterparts are pursuing an activity not so different from your own.
Five Lessons Runners can Learn from Writers
As a writer, if you can’t picture it, you certainly can’t create a world that your reader can visualize. Writers visualize it all before they make it happen on paper. It’s even better if we can hear it, feel it, smell it, etc. Planning makes things turn out so much better.
As a runner, visualizing your goal race as you would like to see it happen will give you a better chance of making it happen. No, you can’t just visualize your way to a win, but it sure can help. Ever hear of a self-fulfilling prophecy? That’s the power of positive thinking. (Or the power of negative thinking, if you let yourself go down that road.)
I’ll never forget in high school being at a championship race with my cross country team. Our coach had us visualize the race the day before, made us tour the course so that we could, and even had us go so far as to gather on the podium (already set up) as if we had won. Guess who was among the podium teams the next day, despite the fact that we hadn’t even been ranked in the top ten?
Mix it Up
As a writer, there is such a thing as boredom and fatigue. There is such a thing as feeling stuck, frustrated, unmotivated. When this happens, I give myself a break from my current project and write something completely different, with no purpose beyond that of being fun. Maybe it’s a writing exercise, a poem, a character sketch or a journal entry. Sometimes I write with my students. Whatever it is, I give myself the freedom to enjoy it with no pressure or expectations. My brain just needed a different track for a while.
As a runner, those symptoms of boredom, fatigue, frustration or inertia may also sound familiar. Changing your routine can go a long ways toward maintaining your training. In order to stay motivated without easing up on your workout quality, try things like new workouts, new trails, or even running at a different time of day. It’s amazing what critters might be out at dawn that you miss in the afternoon, or what the evening moonlight looks like on the snow.
Set Goals and Make a Plan to Achieve Them
Given the abundance of running metaphors out there, this one might be advice from the runner to the writer. For all parties, goals should be specific (“I want to run a 3:15 road marathon” not “I want to run fast”), tough but still attainable (“I want to finish a 100 miler” not “I want to break Ann’s record at Western States”) and measurable (“I want to write at least 10,000 words on my novel this month” not “I want to write more”).
And of course, if you don’t have a plan, it’s a lot tougher to arrive at your goal. When exactly will you do this training/writing? Before breakfast? After work? How many days per week? Can you do more on the weekend? Write it down. Make a schedule or training plan, and you’re much more likely to get out the door with your running shoes on every day.
And in case you don’t know, it’s not nearly as important what you do on race day as it is what you do every day between now and race day.
Writing can be a very solo pursuit. Something that can, in fact, drive a person nuts. Writers have figured out that having a writing circle not only gets you great feedback on your writing, but also supplies you friends with whom you can share your process, ideas, inspirations and sorrows. Knowing others have a shared experience can certainly keep the crazies at bay.
As a runner, these friends take the form of training partners, running clubs, online connections and even fellow racers. Before I met other runners in my town, I signed up for races just so I wouldn’t be running alone! Training partners can push you, keep you company, keep you safe, and get you out the door just by saying, “I’ll meet you at the trailhead at 5!” Because you share a passion, they often times become some of your best friends.
Do it Because You Love It
This is actually another one known better to runners, but I read it everywhere as advice to writers. Maybe that’s because so many writers expect to be the next Stephen King. As runners we’re pretty aware that there’s no real glory in this thing, and certainly no money. People who pursue these activities for reasons other than love eventually become bored and move on to mountain biking, or P90X, or grad school, or guitar lessons.
For the rest of us, we may as well take a deep breath and settle in for the long haul. A marriage of this sort can take a lot of work, but is as rewarding as it is challenging. True love lasts a lifetime, and I’ve got a long pair of legs that yearn to move and a brain full of thoughts that need to be purged.
Sunday, December 05, 2010
Fatigue is the Heart of Poetry
In the same way that a day of rest during a week of your training cycle actually makes you stronger, a chunk of rest during your year can prevent burnout as well as injuries. Rest, however, can reach its own point of burnout.
The title of this post comes from a friend of mine who is a runner and poet. If he is right that fatigue is the heart of poetry, and I have every reason to agree, then I have been living a life devoid of poetry lately. Given how I’m feeling right now, this makes perfect sense. It also explains why, in the last two days, I have run more miles than I did in the preceding four weeks. (I won’t say how pathetically few miles that was, but I will say that it’s pretty easy to run more than zero miles.)
Last week was one of my worst in recent memory. I couldn’t cope. I tried to get out the door on multiple occasions for a run and I was simply too distraught to lace up my shoes. Finally, Friday afternoon rolled around, and as much as I just wanted to escape to my car after work and go home, awash with relief that I had held it together for one more day, instead I forced myself to change into my running clothes and head out on the trails for an easy 5 miles.
It actually wasn’t all that easy, and I can’t even say it was that much fun. I felt slow, and weak. I did not feel like a runner. But what I did feel was just a tiny bit better. Not much, but it was enough.
And that’s why I forced myself. Because after doing this for several decades, I’ve learned a few things. Yes, time off from running is important. Getting back to running is even more important, and sometimes much more difficult to do.
Running is many things to me, but right now I’m recalling what a stabilizing force it is in my life. Running fights depression. Running helps me to think more clearly, as I sometimes work my problems out best while in motion. Running can also be an escape from those problems. Running provides structure to my life and helps me keep the various parts of it organized. Running makes me feel like I accomplished something, even if it was only to get my running shoes on and get out the door. Sometimes that’s a feat worth being proud of.
Perhaps another benefit of time off is that it helps me to appreciate my time spent training and racing, rather than taking it all for granted. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Needless to say, I think my off-season is over.