Saturday, January 30, 2010

On possibility.

I’ve been lax in writing this week because, well, I’ve been running. Specifically, I’ve been structuring my workouts according to UNR Cross Country coach, Kirk Elias’ methods. I drove down and met with him this week, on the track. It brought back memories, that round red circle which is approximately 400 m around. He was there, coaching his collegiate athletes and managed to squeeze me in between the strides his athletes did across the frozen surface of the football field. 
Among many things, we decided that I should enter the Chicago Marathon-- and attempt to run a 2:47 there to qualify for the Olympic Trials. Writing that-- or saying so-- sounds downright crazy. I mean, I don’t LOOK particularly like a runner. I have no sponsors. And right now, I’m not particularly “fast.” But I recall sitting down in front of my computer on a night three years ago that was not so much different than this one, thinking: could I even FINISH a marathon? I’d just entered the Lake Tahoe Marathon-- and then, I’d had doubts my legs would carry me 26.2 miles. 
But you know what, I trained hard and I won. 
And then I ran Boston. 
And in 2008, CIM which was a great race because I achieved not only a PR, but also because I proved it to myself that I wasn’t the average age-grouper-- not when I put my mind to it, anyway. 
And so maybe 2:47 isn’t so crazy. Or maybe it is, and that’s the point. Dreams are supposed to be a bit out of reach, otherwise there would be no point in dreaming of them. 
I have to admit: I’m excited. I want to see what I can do, given the time and the training. For the first time in a year, there is possibility in the air. I wake up in the morning and I want to see the dawn, I want to feel the crisp air on my face... I want to see where this passion takes me. 
And that, even if it amounts to nothing tangible, is worth the effort.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I’m applying to another MFA program and wonder if I’ve lost my mind.

With all this running and writing, this weekend I found myself browsing schools’ websites I’d applied to in 2005. The first one, St. Mary’s College in Moraga, CA, was one of the most painful rejections. Painful, in part, because it’s not a well-known program (not like, say, Iowa) and because, while they liked me enough to put me on a waiting list, it turned out to be delaying the inevitable rejection that came a month or so later. So, when I found out their deadline is the 31st of January, a small part of me wondered, what if? 

A funny question, “what if”-- it’s been known to get me into trouble. And this might be the case, because if you haven’t guessed from the title of this post or my incredibly long lead up, yes I’m applying yet again to St. Mary’s College’s MFA program in fiction.  And yet, that question plagues me “what if?” What if I get in? What if I don’t?

I’ve never been so torn about an action of mine before. I know I can handle another rejection. It will probably just fuel my fire and make me do something insane or crazy (run an ultra? write a multi-volume novel? who’s to say?) But what if I make it, this time? 

Though four years is at time a blink of an eye, it is also an amount of time that can change a person’s life in pretty significant ways. I, for one, am not the same person who applied in 2005... not at all. If this blog’s any evidence, I’m fanatical about training. If I’m accepted, could I train there? Would my capacity for running decrease because of the lower altitude? What about my cats? What about Steve? Would I just pick up and leave-- what sort of person would that make me? 

I want to be a successful-- professional-- writer. But for the first time in a long while I’m forced to define what exactly that is. Is Rebecca the writer also Rebecca the solitary? Is the sort of happiness that comes from a relationship, or a community, one that Art (be it the “art” of a perfectly executed race or the other sort of art, painting, writing, theatre, that sort of thing) necessarily excludes? Is there no happiness in trying to be “great”? 

And what if I don’t apply? I’ve thought about that, too. But, I’d like to know in one way or another if I’ve grown enough to “make it.” So, it’s wait and see. I’ll keep you posted.

Week 5 training and notes.

This week's goal: maintain mileage and increase intensity. Also, build confidence that I haven’t completely lost my mind in trying to become a “fast” runner again (fast, of course, being a very relative term.) I learned a big lesson from Ironman, Jim Webber: ALWAYS use a 1% grade when running on a treadmill to imitate runs outside. I had no idea, and I’m slightly bummed-- I hope the past four weeks haven’t been a complete waste. 

Monday, 1/18: 10 miles in 1:14:42 on the treadmill in Tahoe City. Felt great.

Tuesday, 1/19: 16 miles in 2:05 on the treadmill. I HATE the way all my running clothes chafe the hell of out me when I run inside (because I’m a sweaty monster.) I never knew post-run showers could be so painful.

Wednesday, 1/20: 8.1 miles in 60 minutes. Then weights and abs, all while a crazy snow storm raged outside. Also, I met Patrick Stewart in Syd’s Bagel shop in town. He’s my favorite actor, so I’m taking this as a sign of good things to come. 

Thursday, 1/21: 7.2 HORRIBLE miles. I felt sick, out of breath and generally out of synch with my body. Also-- I’m not sure it’s OK to write about this online (good thing no one reads my blog anyway)-- my tampon fell out. I’ve never had that happen. It was AWFUL!! Also, I wore a heart rate monitor for the first time in years. HR: 160-171. 

Friday, 1/22: 11.5 mile in 1’30

Saturday, 1/23: 7.5 miles in 60 minutes-- easy run. I felt OK-- not great, but not awful, either. HR: 167-171

Sunday: 1/24: 8 miles total, 6 mile tempo. Times per mile for tempo run: 6:58, 6:58, 6:58, 6:53, 6:47, 6:40. Easy warm up and cool down. 

Weekly total:  68.3 miles. Too many... but overall, I feel good.  A bit fatigued, perhaps, but no pain in my legs. No injuries, so far. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mirabile dictu: there is knowledge in failure (with a literary flair)

As I work my way through one of the most inspirational athletic narratives I’ve read (In a Single Bound by Sarah Reinertsen, the first female amputee to complete the Kona Ironman, among many other amazing athletic distinctions), I’ve started thinking about my personal history with literature and athletics. Or more precisely, literature and competition. After all, the “spark” which got me running again was entirely “literary”: 12 rejections from MFA programs around the country. But before I delve into the meaning of that, I’ll take you back to my childhood, to a memory that seems relevant.

In the fourth grade, I was the “second smartest” in class. The first was a boy named Mike, a name I’ll never forget because we knew each other since the first grade and kept in touch through college. He was a smart kid through-and-through: he was a part of the GT program at school (the gifted and talented), and I was not. He played chess and found science-- and science fiction-- fun. He was the one, years later, that took me to my first Star Trek convention, where I met James Doohan (a.k.a. “Scotty”) in person,( which I have to say, was awesome.) Me, on the other hand, always had good grades, but would put aside homework for a good game of dodgeball or soccer, even in my frilly dresses and faux black patent leather Mary Janes I insisted on wearing.

Yet, when the entire class was challenged to read as many pages as possible by our teacher, I thought: “now maybe I can be the ‘smartest’ one.” You see, finally it seemed as though I was challenged to do something I love (and would do anyway) but would be rewarded for it.

I ran the entire way home and began to read.

And read.

And read.

I read so much that even on our regular trips to the bookstore, my mom began to reprimand me for reading books she'd just bought for me. “You’re not allowed to open that book until we get home, young lady!” she’d say.

I read everything I could get my hands on. Books that had been given to me that I hadn’t yet touched (Beverly Cleary novels), Judy Blume books, Anne of Green Gables and the four which followed it, and the entirety of The Babysitter’s Club series. I also read shorter classics like The Secret Garden and A Wrinkle in Time. The one, however, that sticks out in my mind is the crowning glory of them all: Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I not only wanted to “win” the challenge, but also challenge myself.

For those who don’t know, Little Women is a novel written in (and about) the Victorian period in England that traces one family’s attempt to survive poverty and hardship. Specifically, the book follows four sisters: Meg, Josephine, Beth and Amy as they grow up and out of their poverty-stricken lifestyle. It’s a wonderful story-- but let me mention that it’s over 800-pages long. For a 10-year old girl, it was a sizable challenge. I’d never read something that long before, and so I set myself down to do it in the final week of the reading challenge.

And so, I read. And read. The story engulfed me. I felt like I lived alongside those girls as they grew up, supported each other, and as they rebelled. I recall the afternoon I read the passage in which Beth dies-- I had to stop reading because I was crying too hard to continue. But I did, somehow, and I finished in time for the deadline (reading late the night before.)

When I turned in my page count, I was proud of myself. Beaming, in fact, because I’d done my best and with the number before me, I thought my victory was a sure thing. After all, hadn’t I worked hard? And doesn’t hard work guarantee success?

But you know, I didn’t win.

Once again, I came in second.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed that I hadn’t won (I wish I’d known then that in all things literary, one usually does come in second, if not dead last. The secret to success is not to give up. But-- that’s another digression.) But what kept me from getting too upset was my conversation with the person who did read the most pages. If you didn’t guess, it was Mike.

For Christmas, his parents had given him a collection of “Abridged Classics”-- each counting no more (or less) than 100 pages in length. I know this because I boasted to him that I had read Little Women.

“I did, too,” he said.

“No way, really?”

“Yeah, but it wasn’t a very good story, though.”

“I thought it was great.”

And then he reached down into his bag and pulled out a small (not even an inch-wide) paperback and handed it to me.

Little Women, the title read. And then, below it: The Abridged Classic.

So I didn’t count my loss so heavily. I actually though Mike lost-- he missed out on a wonderfully written story that had moved me to tears.

This memory came to mind today, when, after a 2-hour and five minute run on the treadmill, I wondered about my training and what sort of accomplishment it is to want to run in the Olympic Trials. What does it mean that I’m OK with just running the trials, even if I come in dead last? Or that I would be satisfied if I didn’t make it to the trials at all, knowing I’d put in runs like today’s which are a little like the experience of reading Little Women at the age of 10?

A “former me” might have said I’ve let myself go soft; that I’ve lost that "spark," that fighting spirit. But I don’t think that’s it at all. I think writer/poet Natalie Goldman states it best in her book, Writing Down the Bones (a book about the craft of writing.) She counsels:

“Understanding [the] process [of having great determination] cultivates patience and produces less anxiety. We aren’t running everything, not even the writing we do. At the same time, we must keep practicing. it is not an excuse to not write and sit on the couch eating bonbons. We must continue to work the compost pile [Goldberg’s term for practice-writing that is not necessarily publishable], enriching it and making it fertile so that something beautiful may bloom and so that our writing muscles are in good shape to ride the universe when it moves through us. This understanding also helps us to accept someone else’s success and not to be too greedy. It is simply that person’s time. Ours will come in this lifetime or the next. No matter. Continue to practice” (16-17).

So, with writing, running -- and with life -- I’ve come to believe it’s vitally important to give your dreams everything you have: your effort, your time, and your passion. In other words, to work hard for them. But the measure of success isn’t in how many medals line your wall or how many figures your salary contains. Rather, success resides in the practice of a thing: the daily life you breathe into it. I’m proud of myself for having the courage to read such a long text as a young girl. I’m proud of myself for acknowledging my love of words and literature so much that I’m, everyday, attempting to make a life out of it. And, I’m proud that I run each and every day toward a goal that I hold very close and very tightly.

In a way, I’m grateful those MFA programs didn’t admit me in 2006. If they had, I would never have known the depth of my passion and love for running, writing and life.

Week 4 training log and notes.

Monday, 1/11: 14.2 miles. Time; 1:48 on the streets of Reno, NV. I felt somewhat fatigued (more so than usual)-- perhaps it's because most of my miles, sadly, are done indoors on a treadmill. I was passed by a male runner at mile 9.. it made me feel so slow and out of shape. I need to train harder.

Tuesday, 1/12: 8 miles at the gym in Tahoe City. I don't know exactly how long it took me because I knocked the emergency stop thingy off the treadmill after I'd run a little over a mile (it was sub-eight minute pace... I do know that much.) Felt fatigued again! Then I did Bikram yoga in the afternoon and felt GREAT.

Wednesday, 1/13: 7.5 miles on the "hills" setting on the treadmill. Stationary bike: 30 minutes. Bikram yoga in the afternoon.

Thursday, 1/14: 10.56 miles in Reno, NV (outside.) I was worried about being "slow" and so pushed myself-- came in at 1:18. I wrote in my training log: "DAMN! Even when I was feeling like crap I pulled off a 7:23 pace!

Friday, 1/15: 5.5 miles at a very easy 8-minute per mile pace on the treadmill. Felt OK-- or rather, like I'm building reserve strength for tomorrow's tempo run.

Saturday, 1/16: 6.5 mile tempo run with 2.3 miles of warm up/cool down. This was my first tempo run outside and I did HORRIBLE. Total time: 45:57 not including the time it took me to vomit. I freaked out about the stomach issues, then about not running fast enough and then about what everyone who saw me must be thinking. Definitely not one of my finer moments. I think I will start wearing racing flats for these tempo runs and also begin to consistently do them outside. And I have a new rule: no more mid-tempo puking.

Sunday, 1/17: 6.3 miles on the treadmill before work. Again, stomach issues. I wonder if I'm getting sick.

Weekly total: 60.86 miles.

Friday, January 15, 2010

How Bikram yoga healed me.

Soon after stress fractures developed in my ankles, my ability to run on a daily basis deteriorated. I could run, yes, but I often did so at the risk of feeling “broken.” And yet, I ran despite the pain, limping afterward. I soaked my ankles in the winter waters of Lake Tahoe to decrease any possible inflammation in them. As I studied for the comprehensive exams for the master’s program I was in at the time, I often soaked my ankles in buckets of ice as long as I could stand it.

After a week of such treatment, however, it became clear that my ankles were injured in a more serious way than I had experienced before. I went through “running withdraw.” Or, more honestly, I thought my existence as a marathoner had ended. For nearly two and half years, running was the sole focus of my life. Everything-- from what times I slept, taught, ate, drank, what I wore and didn’t wear, what I said or didn’t say-- revolved around running. I felt so bad about my injuries I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. I stopped sleeping--in part because of the throbbing sensation that came from my ankles, and partly because of guilt-- and wondered what I as going to do with myself now that I couldn’t run. Life seemed to have lost its meaning.

One day, my running coach suggested I try Bikram yoga, a form of exercise, he said he had a “new, profound respect for” and that could possibly “get me running again.”

I didn’t go that day.

Or the next.

I put it off for a good week or two, actually.

But the day I woke up curled on my bathroom floor with the cat blinking at me like, “is she dead yet?” was the day I dug into the inner bowels of my closet and found the blue yoga mat every woman under 50 inevitably has and drove to the Bikram studio in Reno, determined to run again-- doing even yoga if that’s what it took. The website for the local Bikram studio suggested I “bring a towel” and so I’d brought a washcloth, believing I might sweat a little bit because compared to running, how could yoga possibly make me sweat?

Yet, when I arrived at the studio, I was taken aback when the instructor at the front desk laughed at the size of my towel. “You’ll need a bigger one,” she said and handed me a full-sized towel, rolled neatly.

When I entered the yoga room, though, my towel insecurities melted in the intense heat. Without much prompting (at the end of the first breathing exercise) I’d already produced little droplets that beaded at the skin and slid down to their final resting place on the white towel I paid a dollar for. The room was dark and moist, and that was where the reality of this place ended and what I now call “elsewhere” began.


In the first weeks of my Bikram yoga practice (when I was not running at all) I told myself stories about my running. I told myself that there was a place with tall willows which swayed in the breeze and pine tree tops obscured in mist. I believed I saw it once, running. A deer darted in front of the trail, moving from the golden leaves and disappearing into the mist. Or maybe I never saw any of that, but that’s how I remembered it, standing before a mirror in a hot room breathing in synchronized movements controlled by the steady voice of the instructor coming from the speaker above me.

In these moments at the beginning of class, I often had trouble reconciling my existence in those memories of running and the reality of a heated yoga room. Here, there were no willows and certainly no deer. And yet, I come here to sweat and to think about breathing and occasionally to face the multiplicity of places I seem to carry with me.

There are real places and imagined ones. But recently, I’ve discovered there’s a third category which is a blend of the two, of a place that exists but that lacks that certain je ne sais quoi unless the mind is involved. I’d be willing to bet there are more places like that than we’d care to think of-- places that are always elsewhere than where we happen to be. Perhaps it’s a classroom which makes us think of the evening before spent curled around a frozen pillow or a churchyard which harkens us back to a funeral we attended when the finality of death seemed more like a semi-colon than a period. A place that’s not quite place, in other words, but that we go to in our minds. There are places like this yoga room with mirrors sprinkled with sweat droplets, dried to the surface like fly droppings on windows-- that is how it looks, anyway. But ask me or any other yogi in here and I bet they’d tell you something different. Yoga is and then begins the metaphor, the elsewhere.

When I began practicing, the studio had four maroon-colored walls with windows lining the far side. There are two walls faced with mirrors and an ornamental water fountain that tinkled in the far corner. This will all change in a month or so, perhaps another commentary about the ephemeral nature of “solid” places. Anyway, the space is surprisingly dark when the lights are off and alarmingly bright when the fluorescents are on. The floors are covered with a gray carpet—the sort often used in public buildings that is smooth-looking and designed to hide dirt.

Really, there isn’t much here-- nothing, in fact, when the practice has ended and we shuffle slowly out into the “cold” lobby. But there is something here, in this small studio, even if it cannot be seen. It is the something that, after months of practice, increased my flexibility, made me stronger inside and out-- and that got me running again despite the odds I never would.


The air nearly boils and drips with 45% humidity while smelling (I thought at first) like the inside of my running shoe after I’d used it all summer. You wouldn’t think a room could get this hot, but the other bodies in here help it along. I’m sure that must be where the smell comes from and it lingers because nearly every Bikram studio has carpet, a nice soft surface which catches and holds the beads of sweat which fall from practitioners. There’s carpet, I’ve been told, because you might slip and die if the floor was covered with, say, hard wood. I wonder which would be worse: a fall or this smell. At first I would have said: it’s a toss up. Now, however, I miss it if I skip too many days of practice.

But what is Bikram yoga like, exactly? If it was your first time in a Bikram yoga studio, this might be your reaction: the darkness of it-- now-- feels safe. There are other bodies rustling but you focus on none of them, feeling as though you could be a fetus in a womb; or so you say to calm your mind which wonders what the ensuing 90 minutes will be like if it feels this hot already. So, you lay down on your back, straight and still, with your head pointing toward the wall with the-- oh yes, you’d almost forgotten--the mirror.

When the halogen lights flip on and you stand and face Yourself, the safety and serenity you might have felt vanishes. It’s a view of You you don’t often get. Here it is: Yourself-- the You you never see, the one who is usually clothed (somewhat) respectively and who is only seen from the waist-up at the bathroom wash basin. No, this You is dressed in shorts too short to be called that exactly (hot pants reminds you too much of the heat and so you shy away from that word), with thighs with the funny tan line which occurs two inches above the knee (where most respectable shorts fall) from all those long bike rides and hiking trips, a sharp demarcation of peanut brown to paper-white. You move your eyes over You, up from the thighs to the stomach which is bare-- too bare -- looking like those inflated chicken breasts pressed beneath the cellophane at the supermarket, a sight so horrid you can’t stop looking but somehow do (call it discipline) followed by shoulders curl too far forward and therefore resemble spaghetti noodles dangling from a chopstick and finally, a face you don’t even recognize-- Your face. Or maybe you recognize it. I didn’t because I’ve found that leaving suntan lotion, make-up or anything on the skin leads to a very annoying eye-burn after the first posture in the series which requires you to bend forward, cup the heals and sandwich your body together with the ultimate goal of touching the top of your head to your feet. In order to do so, the face is pressed to the front of the calfs and if you’re unlucky enough to have anything on your face or body, it somehow all ends up pooling your eyes. So-- either your face looks naked or your eyes are red and puffy as though you’ve been crying.

In any case, it’s a bit much, taking this all in for the first time. Or I suppose it might not be if you’re accustomed to standing half-naked and red-eyed in front of a full-length mirror on a regular basis. But if you’re like me, the first few times the sight’s shocking, to say the least.

And then there are the other bodies which surround you. With the light on, especially before class gets officially under way, there are always a few brief seconds to glance around the space and see who else is standing with you. Once I practiced near a man who wore what appeared to be his wife’s baby-blue hot pants to class. Another time, I found myself behind a man who wore unwashed Carharts from the construction site he just came from and nothing else, if you don’t count the thin layer of sawdust and oil which coated his skin. I’ve also practiced next to a woman fully clothed in layers of fleece and sweats because she could not get hot enough.
The point though, is not to people watch but to watch yourself. And in time, it’s funny-- you start to read your body like a technical manual, or I did, anyway. I judged myself less and simply used the image in the mirror to tell me which muscles were tight and needed care and which others I could stretch, compress, twist or contort a bit farther into a pose in order to receive more benefits from my efforts.

I’d even venture to say that in the hot room I always know where I stand, even literally, because after 10 minutes my feet form moist imprints in the towel I stand on. Sometimes I think people can get caught up in illusions-- remembering places as though looking at them through rose-colored glasses, constructing past selves that never were. Despite its many discomforts, the Bikram studio at least is a refuge from these. There is nothing other than what you see, looking back at you in the mirror. Or, to put it bluntly, what you see is what you get. Call me crazy, but there is a strange comfort in that.


Bikram yoga is a copyrighted series of 26 yoga postures and two breathing exercises. They are done in a room heated to approximately 104 degrees Fahrenheit and 40-percent humidity to accomplish two goals: to mimic the climatic conditions in India but more importantly to allow the muscles and connective tissues of the body to “open” and become more responsive to stretching. The founder of the series, Bikram Choudhury, claims he can heal any ailment through his copyrighted series, anything from high blood pressure to a broken heart. Having the latter in addition to bad ankles, I was a prime candidate for the practice. But then again, the more I do Bikram yoga, the more I believe everyone would benefit from it in ways they could not foresee.

Yet, I admit: I hated the practice at first. I hated the smell but even more I hated that every class was the same 26 postures, done in the same order and taught in exactly (or nearly) the same way. Even more, I hated that my injury kept me from doing many of the postures correctly, just as it kept me from running. I continually asked myself how I could heal my body and “change my life” when I had sweat in my eyes from postures I couldn’t do correctly but did wrong over and over and over again.
With time, however, the practice has come to remind me of long distance running, when each step --executed correctly or not -- got me closer to my goal of the glimmering 26.2. Through pain and repetition and perseverance life took on a meaning of its own-- and so it began to here, again.


Dandayamana Dhanurasana, or standing bow pose requires strength, determination and balance. I possess a thimble-full of each of these attributes, but not enough to do the pose correctly, even after my stress fractures healed. Picture a human being standing on one leg while the other kicks back and up until the toes are visibly coming over the back of that person’s head. The opposite arm is stretched forward and the torso is parallel to the floor. The goal of this posture is to do what is called the standing splits. It’s probably the most beautiful posture extant, even if your body forms a tear-drop shape and not the desired ninety-degree angle.

In this posture, I don’t quite hear the instructions spoken to the room full of yogis anymore-- but I don’t quite not hear them, either. I steady my eyes in their own fixed gaze and breathe. I exist in a place beyond this room-- I’m not running the trails nor do I feel as though I’m in a sweaty room. I’m not quite sure where I am. I’m elsewhere, perhaps.

Physically, I’m told to pull my body apart as though it were a bow, stretching my fingers toward the mirror where they might touch the alternate universe reflected back at me while my foot points up over my head to the ceiling. An inhale and I remain still; exhale, I kick and stretch further. It’s as though my body is extending in long lines drawn forward and up. It’s a pose which demonstrates ambition, the direction of the dreamer. Look down, totter back, and you’re sure to fall.

I stand strong and wonder, briefly, if maybe today’s my day to remain here for an entire minute. I stretch and stretch, going beyond what is “safe” and then I dare to think “yes?” But then it becomes too much and I fall forward crouching down like a child.
If anything, this is what this place is to me: it is movement without judgment. I stand, I grab my foot and I try again. Somehow I know there is no rhyme or reason for falling; it happens. What matters most is what occurs after the fall. Today, I pick up my foot and start kicking again, leaning forward, and of course, breathing until the magical word “change.”


Half the postures are standing, the other half are done on the floor. Between the floor asanas, you’re granted a twenty-second rest called Savasana which means dead body pose. I haven’t delved into the deeper meaning of this-- that for a large portion of this class I’m supposed to act like I’m dead. Or that I like it, look forward to it and linger in it when I’m there. I only know it isn’t morbid or depressing--it actually makes me feel alive, ready to face anything that might come my way.

I lie on my back as sweat trickles like tears all over my body and my eyes remain open, fixed on a spot on the ceiling. There was a period of months when I stared at the revolving ceiling fans and remembered the flickering shadows of aspen leaves on a trail I ran often before my injury. I recalled how, at the time, I thought the leaves looked like sequins on a lady’s dress and then I decided they mimicked the motion of hands clapping, cheering me on. I thought about this as the body-tears slid down me, and yoga told me I needed to take better care of myself if I was going to be a long-distance runner. Yoga led the way to a healthier diet, better hydration and the realization that every body-- even my body-- needs to recover.

As I healed, my reflections changed. Everyday I unrolled my mat and I stepped atop a towel and looked into my own eyes and I saw something different there. Soon, the body-tears carried memories and then they carried thoughts until I didn’t perceive a ceiling at all, but instead, a haze which suggested possibility. Pain in my ankles and memory faded.

With another breath, Savasana ends and I cannot remain here. So, I breathe again, sit up, ready for the next posture.


Perhaps the most difficult posture is Ustrasana, Camel pose. It comes near the end of the twenty-six postures because you have to be warmed up for it. (Not “warmed up” in the typical usage of the phrase where you jog a lap around the track and call it good, but warmed up Bikram-style which involves dripping sweat and 20 or so asanas of preparation.) Anyway, you stand on your knees with the knees six inches apart. Your feet, soles up behind you, also have six inches between them. The goal is to lean back head first and grab your heels, while pushing your hips forward toward the mirror and your chest up to the ceiling. Ideally, you look nothing like a camel but maybe a little like a square.

In Camel, your open eyes see the world upside down behind you. You might see the back wall, the baseboard or if you’re me, you can see your mat and towel. I haven’t seen my own feet yet, but every once in a while I’m been told I’m close. But the point isn’t so much what you see-- it’s what you feel.

Camel is a vulnerable posture because you are opening your heart to the world and everything which towers above you. Emotions surface in this posture. Sometimes I’ve heard people laugh. At times-- many times, actually-- I’ve nearly cried after having remained still in this posture for a minute. The first time I did it, I was very sorry I ate that hamburger in 1984. It felt like I might just have some of it left in a yet undiscovered region of my digestive tract.

But that sensation soon fades as you melt back onto your mat and there is the breath and then nothing else-- no wall, no mirror, nothing but me poised before an abyss, a suggestion of something greater. There is no thought which surfaces in the posture, only the residual tides when I return, again, to Savasana. Blood flow courses through the body as I lay there, still as a log, and the floating-happy-nauseous-dizzy sensation fades but it does make me wonder where I just was. I certainly was not in a studio, nor was I in my memory of running. I left the earth for a breath. I search in vain for that non-place as I lay, looking at the ceiling but already, it is gone. I can’t find a trace of it. A second, a blink and I know I was elsewhere.


Every place contains within it a version of another-- a copy that never quite was and never will be. It’s not imagination, but it’s not entirely real, either. I think you have to enjoy those places where you might not really be you; where I see myself running painless across a misty-mountain trail with deer. I don’t know if I ever did, but the image comforts me and says more about my dedication and my love of a sport than it does about my actual performance. The yoga isn’t real, either. It is in a certain sense, but after I’ve left the room, my practice too becomes a fiction, but one that is necessary. I see myself standing in bow-pulling pose in perfect angles, my breath moving softly. The image points to yet another place, one of hope, a place that’s coming: another elsewhere.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My journey, so far.

Week "1" :

Monday, 12/21: 10 miles + weights and Bikram yoga.
Tuesday, 12/22: 5 miles,m tempo run (AM); 4 easy (PM)
Wednesday, 12/23: 6.2 miles (AM) on the "hills" setting on the treadmill; 3 miles (PM) 2 x 7' 1 x 6:43'
Thursday, 12/24: Rest Day.
Friday, 12/25: 10 miles run outside in Reno, NV. The best Christmas present ever-- to run outside again.
Saturday, 12/26: 6.8 miles (AM); 4.2 miles (PM)
Sunday 12/27: 8.5 miles

Weekly total: 57.7 miles

Week 2:

Monday, 12/28: 14.5 miles. Around 100' on the streets of Reno. Cold at the end-- but hopeful.
Tuesday, 12/29: Spinning for 1'02 (around 7 running miles.) Felt awful.
Wednesday, 12/30: 8.1 miles total. 5 mile tempo run: 7.18, 6:53, 6:53, 6:47, 6:31.
Thursday, 12/31: 7 miles (in 51'. I had to be to work early and the gym was closed after I finally closed up shop.. I was sad. I wanted to do more miles.
Friday 1/1: 9.7 miles. Holy crap. Much more than I thought I'd do running outside today for 1:16. This is my time after an emergency bathroom break and a fall on slippery ice.
Saturday, 1/2: 6 miles (AM); 4 miles (PM)-- (4 miles just under 28')!!!
Sunday, 1/3: 9.5 in 70'. @ 7:18,7:1;3,7:03,6:39. Am I getting fitter? By golly, I think I am !!

Weekly total: 58.8 miles

Week 3:

Monday, 1/4: (My Birthday!) 13.2 miles in Reno in NEW SHOES!
Tuesday, 1/5: 7.5. Felt sick and sore.
Wednesday, 1/6: 2:15 spinning. Ankle feels OK... I wish I could have run today, but I didn't want to risk being injured again. (Approx. 16 running miles.)
Thursday 1/7: 5.77 miles (AM); 4 miles (PM) I'm still sick and my ankle's a bit sore. I assume I might have a light case of tendonitis.
Friday, 1/8: 10 miles. 6 mile tempo run. 2 mile warm up; 2 mile cool down. 40:22 for six miles. I rock .... and my cold is subsiding.
Saturday, 1/9: 8.09 miles. A DT loop in Reno from Walden's Coffee House. Average pace: 7:32."I believe, I believe" I wrote in my training log about this run.
Sunday, 1/10: 10 miles.

Weekly total: 58.56 miles.

On fueling the body, mind and soul.

Perhaps it was the complete darkness or the silence that comes from recent snowfall, but this morning I have been moving slowly. Usually by eight I’m ready to drive to town so that I can run on the treadmill to get in some AM miles. Today, however, I found myself still dreaming at 7:00 am and not quite awake fifteen minutes later. And what was I dreaming about, you ask? Peppercorn-crusted portobello mushrooms, the mainstay of a meal I’d prepared a few days before.

That dream, coupled with requests from friends on facebook, inspired me to *finally* blog a little about what I eat when I run 50-60 miles a week. There’s really nothing secretive or special about my diet (I’ve had people ask if training for marathons requires a special diet-- it doesn’t, aside from the general guidelines you’d give to anyone about proper nutrition.) For reasons that have to do with health, fitness and my conscious, I do not eat animal products (no meat, dairy, etc.) Many domestic animals are raised in cruel environments, and that cruelty and suffering is passed on to us, those who consume.

I never gave that line of reasoning much thought until early last year, when I read the following passage in The Raw Truth, a book about raw eating. Author Jeremy A. Safron writes that: “Eating involves intent as well as nutrition and life force. When we eat foods made with love, we are inspired; when we eat food made with anger we get upset. The way food is handled and cared for also affects its general energy. Food is sensitive to energy: intent and action either help keep the food pure or corrupt it. Grandma’s soup doesn’t heal because it’s soup or because of the recipe-- it’s Grandma’s love that heals. A romantic dinner isn’t romantic because of the ingredients, it’s the love that makes it what it is. These examples help demonstrate how our intent and thoughts can affect our food. This is true for life as well as food. If we enter into a situation with positive intent, we can do anything, and if we act with negativity, anger, fear, and worry, we just can’t seem to do anything right. Remember that your words and thoughts make up your world and that our bodies and lives are a reflection of our mind’s experience of itself. We are what we think: positive, loving intentions create positive experiences. Intention is everything” (3).

This summer I followed what is called a “raw diet.” Raw means that (in addition to being vegan) nothing--I repeat, nothing-- is cooked above 104-degrees F. Aside from salad (my favorite summertime meal), one can actually make surprising entrées without the use of heat (or meat). Among the many recipes I tried, the one I still prepare regularly despite the season is raw spring rolls with an almond-based dipping sauce. The reason I am no longer “eating raw” is not that I didn’t like the diet (I did, a lot!) but that it required a ridiculous amount of planning and preparation. Since you don’t cook anything, harder foods (like nuts) must be soaked for up to a day before preparing them. Beans-- in lieu of being “cooked” to soften them-- must be first soaked, then “sprouted” which takes anywhere from two to five days, depending on the variety of bean or seed used. Perhaps most importantly, the ingredients for a raw diet are easier to come by in the summer months, when those fruits and vegetables are producing. In the winter (obviously) this is not the case unless one purchases produce from other parts of the world-- a practice I’m not against per se, but it is nice to “eat local” as much as one can.

Now that I am no longer raw, I am still, nonetheless, vegan. Though this might be hard to believe, since dedicating myself to cooking and eating nothing but fresh, organic and plant-based ingredients, I feel healthier, more clear-minded and also very grateful. This “diet” (or way of eating, I should say) is spectacularly delish. For instance, two nights ago, I prepared a meal which comes from The Conscious Cook by Tal Ronnen, described as: “pine nut and basil seared gardein “chicken” with lobster mushroom beurre blanc, braised kale and roasted fingerling potatoes.” And there was not one single animal product in there. Let me say: it was one of the most amazing meals I’ve ever tasted, let alone prepared for myself and Steve. Another unbelievable dish came from this book: the aforementioned “peppercorn encrusted portobello mushroom fillet with mashed red potatoes and braised kale.” In one word, amazing. Even if you're not vegan, I urge you to visit Ronnen's website where he has additional recipes listed.

Another book which now has a cracked spine and little cooking splatters on the pages is Incredibly Delicious: The Vegan Paradigm Cookbook. A must-have for any vegetarian/vegan, the pages of this cookbook are packed with every sort of recipe one could imagine (breakfast, bread, soup, salad, casserole, pizza, lassagne, tamale pie, dolmas, cookies, cakes, desserts, etc... just to name a few that come to mind.) Another book worth looking into if you’re at all curious about raw food is Jennifer Cornbleet’s Raw Food Made Easy. The title, I believe, says it all.

So, for those of you still reading, here are two of Tal Ronnen’s recipes from The Conscious Cook.

Peppercorn-encrusted portobello mushrooms

For the portobello fillets:

sea salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
4 portobello mushrooms, stemmed, gills removed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar and pestle or with the back of a spoon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

Make the portobello fillets: Place a large pot over medium heat. Sprinkle the bottom with a pinch of salt and heat for 1 minute. Add the oil and heat for one minute, being careful not to let it smoke. This will create a non-stick effect.
Add the shallots and garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Add the wine, vinegar, and 1 cup water, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Add the mushrooms and cook for 1 minute. Pour the mushrooms and liquid into a shallow container, cover, and set aside to marinate for one hour.
Sear the mushrooms: [After one hour] remove the mushrooms from the marinade and press between paper towels or in a cotton dish towel to remove the excess marinade. Sprinkle with crushed peppercorns, salt and thyme, pressing the seasoning into both sides of the mushroom pieces.
Pace a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minute, then add the mushrooms in one layer, working in batches if necessary. Cook until browned and crisp, 2-3 minutes on each side.
The recipe instructs you to “discard the marinade”-- but I didn’t. I actually used it to both 1) braise the kale and 2) lightly season my mashed potatoes. So, there you have it.

Enjoy! It really is quite good. But let’s not get to hasty, I promised 2 recipes, after all.

Lobster mushroom beurre blanc (this is so rich, you won’t believe there’s no cream in it.)

Sea salt
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 shallots, minced
1 pound lobster mushrooms, cut into brunoise
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup Cashew Cream**
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
8 tablespoons Earth Balance, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
Juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Make the lobster mushroom beurre blanc: Place a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Sprinkle the bottom with a pinch of salt and heat for 1 minute. Add the oil and heat for 30 seconds, being careful not to let it smoke.
Reduce the heat to low. Add the shallots and sauté until translucent but not browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half. Add the cashew cream and continue to cook for five minutes, then whisk in the nutritional yeast.
Remove from the heat. Whisk in the Earth Balance 1 tablespoon at a time, then stir in the lemon juice and chives. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

** Cashew Cream: in lieu of using dairy cream, Ronnen suggests the following vegan solution by using raw cashew nuts:

2 cups whole raw cashews (not pieces, which are often dry) rinsed very well under cold water.
Put the cashews in a bowl and add cold water to cover them. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.

Drain the cashews and rinse under cold water. Place in a blender with enough fresh cold water to cover them by 1 inch. Blend on high for several minutes until very smooth. (If you’re not using a professional high-speed blender such as a Vita-Mix, which creates an ultra-smooth cream, strain the cashew cream through a fine-mesh sieve.)

All I can say is: this sauce is so rich, you're sure to have leftovers to enjoy the following night. :)

Live healthy and happy, my friends! And now, I'm off to run more miles.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Little steps = big accomplishments

I had planned on writing about food and nutrition today in light of some of the fabulous vegan meals I’ve prepared in the past week. This morning, however, I woke early with a stabbing feeling of guilt in my stomach that left me nauseous. It was a sensation I’ve gotten used to feeling. It creeps up on me everyday, many times a day, when I let my mind wander back to my obligations to realize that, while I’ve achieved many things (graduate degrees, PR race finishes) I have done so with an expense: a student loan.

I hadn’t planned on graduating this soon-- or into an economy not primed to support someone with my qualifications. A loan is small beans for someone with an actual salary, but with each rejected job application, the prospects of my actually paying this thing off have become, well, dismal.

That was partially why I was so happy to be hired at a locally-owned small clothing boutique. Though I swore to myself after graduate school that I’d rather be run down by a stinking bus than work retail again, this job as been a godsend. And, actually, it isn’t that bad. Located next door to the only gym in town, my job makes it “easy” to get my weekly mileage in, despite the icy and snowy roads. I wake early, drive to town, run on the treadmill and then wander over a quaint little wooden bridge to the Boatworks Mall and open shop, so to speak.

For the first time in eight months, I have a paycheck. It’s a wonderful feeling to have money moving in two directions, finally. Except for this: the knowledge that I am now obliged to begin paying back my loan. Hence, the sick-feeling. I put off calling the entity (the good ‘ol department of education) to find out exactly what I owed and when over Christmas because, well, I reasoned, it was the holiday season gosh darn it! But today, I sat down with my black tea with soy milk in it and did what I’d been dreading: I organized a payment schedule for myself; I set off on what might be the financial equivalent of training for a marathon.

And so that’s what I will write about today. There are many events and obligations and even desires in life that seem larger than life: losing weight, paying off a loan, obtaining a career, running the 26.2. All seem so impossible when you’re just starting out, or wanting to start but not knowing how. I know I was overwhelmed when I decided on a whim to run my first marathon. Twenty-six miles was (and is!) impossibly long for someone who’d only run 13 and felt like shit afterwards. Just as, this morning, I’m feeling a certain je ne sais quoi sickness when the four-figure dollar sign hovers over my head, even though I’ve never actually had that much money to my name. How do you accomplish something large?

I had only to look into the landscape of my distance running past to know the answer: little steps.

In training for a marathon, one doesn’t start by trying to run the entire distance. That would only leave (most) people crippled, sore, and let’s face it, unlikely to want to try again. Instead, one begins with manageable distance-- say five to six miles-- that one runs everyday. Or, to be more accurate, some days one might run five to six miles, and another day only four (but one would run them faster by doing an interval workout or a tempo run.) But the point is that each day builds upon the next so that one’s fitness accumulates, like lint in a dryer. Or, in other words, it’s not so much the race that counts, but the practice.

And so, perhaps other things in life are a practice, too. I know writing certainly is. Though there are some crazies who try to sit and write an entire novel during the month of November (the official “Write a Novel in a Month or Less Month”), most people take years to do so. The pursuit of health, too, is a practice. It is not eating perfect one day only to succumb to donuts wrapped in bacon the next. Instead, it is small steps toward a goal of a certain weight or pant size or whatever measure constitutes “good health” to you. And so, I have to tell myself, that paying back what I owe on this loan is another “practice” as well. Little steps (composed of little payments) will eventually lead me to a place where I won’t have a gigantic minus sign hovering over my head. Or at least, I hope so.

I have to admit, however, the scope here is a bit different than what I’m accustomed to. For example, one can train for a marathon in sixteen weeks and lose weight (healthfully) in six months while this loan (on the payment schedule I came up with) will take me a little over seven years to get rid of. Seven years (and I don’t recall breaking any mirrors. Sigh.)

And here, again, running counsels me: patience and discipline are the merits of a good distance runner. Stay the course; make monthly payments and I know, eventually (when I’m old and gray) all will be well.

Though if anyone offered to pay it off for me in one solid lump-sum, I wouldn’t dissuade them from doing so.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Reflections: re-reading short non-fiction from 2009.

Here is a short piece of non-fiction I wrote for a graduate seminar on creative nonfiction prose. The assignment was to describe conflict in one's life using whatever narrative technique we-- as writers-- desired. For me, conflict is never a linear experience: it is always riddled with twists and turns. Conflict, I have found, always has origins. And so, the following essay was written with that in mind: that nothing progresses from start to finish; that discovery is tinged with memories from our past.

I thought of posting this today because instead of logging more running miles, I instead did 2 hours of spinning intervals because my ankle-- the more "sensitive" one-- is sore again. As I sat on the spinning bike, staring into the placid waters of Tahoe, this essay came to mind. In part, I think, because I am no longer quite the woman who wrote it. I still admire its structure and the way it reveals the final conceit; yet, I don't agree with the conclusion I came to months ago about human nature under duress.

Since I've been able to maintain a semi-consistent amount of miles I see that human nature isn't as dark as I portray it here: it is many things. It is beauty as well as despair. The natural world reflects that, I think. In the forest where I live, I'm often struck by its stark beauty here: the tall trees which offer only glimpses of the sky, the gentle undergrowth that covers a still-dry ground creating an illusion of green, the small oases of water which offer reflections of the trees and sky above. And yet, here too is the domain of bear and bobcat. I saw one, a few days ago, eating a squirrel head-first from my bedroom window. I felt lucky to see the bobcat (an approximately 30-lb feline with stripped ears, a cropped tail and oversized paws) and yet its actions were brutal. It literally tore another animal apart. And so I think that's what I mean: the capacity to love is equally engrained within us as is the ability to hate-- or to feign indifference.

Or, more poignantly, I speak to my sister, finally, who is healthy and happy.

* * *


I live in what I call the periphery, which is a difficult place to be. More precisely, I live in the woods of the Sierra Nevada range, a place of silence and distance standing outside the Bay Area to its West and Reno to the East. At times, the place plays a pantomime of inner-city discordance, particularly during the summer months, but most times Tahoe City is without direction or center, a place so remote that even the wind can’t reach it, instead only brushing against the tree tops as a force to be heard, never felt. It’s odd to find myself here because I grew up in high desert, in a place with low-lying brush spread out over vistas allowing everything to be seen and understood. Or maybe it only seemed so—perhaps the various stages of human existence appear to us as landscape: as children when the world seems simple, we are desert-dwellers, looking out across wide vistas, life spread out as panorama. But adulthood beckons the clouds to obscure the sun’s light and we’re in a mist-covered grove surrounded by tall trees where we can only see a few feet around us and nothing is certain or tangible anymore. Either way, it seems I’ve dwelled in the periphery my entire life and now I’m beginning to wonder what that means.

To think I mount my bike which--on most days--takes me down Highway 89 to its junction with old Highway 40 in Truckee and up and over Donner Summit. I hear the clean click of my cycling shoe as it connects to the pedal and I transform from woman into a carbon-fiber machine made to efficiently cover distance. I lean over the handlebars and settle into a cadence. Each stroke is smooth: a pull up, slide down to a silent beat of 90 revolutions per minute. The forest is summer’s shades of green—aspens and evergreens line the paved path, resembling a highway in miniature.

Summer’s influx of tourists interrupt the silence: ahead, families obstruct the path with a trail of toddlers strung out like beads. Twenty-something couples stroll, arm-around-waist, with candy-colored hair and punctured faces while they pass retirees who totter along on rented bikes, a contraption they last rode--perhaps-- when Nixon held office. The real highway to my right is eternally gridlocked and stands still as the trees while exhaust coming from the idling cars warms the August afternoon air.

I have to pass through town before I can regain the path and do so, navigating through the midst of this sea of human bodies, talking to one another in chatter as loud as car engines. I glide by cars and pedestrians, ever-wary of the opening car door. I turn left at the only light in town, traversing Fanny Bridge to find, at last, the bike path.

The Truckee is polka-dotted with blue and yellow rafts with myriad limbs dangling from them, languidly dipping a finger, a toe or an arm into the shallow water. Empty cans of PBR clink together as the weight in a raft moves from forward to aft. Children laugh as they dawdle in swirling wading pools along the shore and then a definitive splash breaks the scene as a Labrador enters the water in pursuit of a twig thrown by a child wearing an orange life vest, standing waist-deep in the river. I glimpse a scene of two sisters, identical, dowsing one another with river water.

This landscape at once separates and unites me with my past. I have a little sister. When we were young, we acted like sisters do: I’d tickle her on the stomach with the tips of my fingers and she’d squeal and beg me to stop because she had to pee. Later, she’d poke me repeatedly on the shoulder and I’d tell her to knock it the heck off because I was doing homework and she was annoying. Or vice versa. The mundane nature of this memory makes my recalling it remarkable because we aren’t close anymore and we don’t speak. In fact, I can say with all certainly, we rarely think of one another. Plenty of siblings are like that. But it has something to do with peripheries and so, the memory tugs at my sleeve and I let it come to the forefront of my mind.

Even when she was two and I ten, I was in the periphery. Not literally, of course. I sat in the passenger seat and my sister behind me in the car as my mom navigated the highway, taking us to visit my grandmother in Southern California. My mom had tried every avenue but despite it all, the shrill cry began as we entered Inyo County and continued well past Bishop and Lone Pine until my sister could only manage dry gasps of air from her red face, a pitiful echo of her former screams. Food, water, and a walk in my mom’s arms around the shoulder of the highway for fresh air: nothing worked and the screams continued. Back on the road again, I asked:

“What should I do?”

“Just let her cry,” she responded. “You will only make it worse if you try to do anything at all.”

I almost stop pedaling when I wonder if that’s what I’ve been doing my entire life.

But I keep on, and with another breath, I return my focus to the microcosm of a highway in front of me. I’d wanted it to be long and lonely, a place to stretch every revolution of the pedal like the footsteps of giants but instead it too, is packed. Packed with yet more families, walking and looking side to side, looking at each other, looking everywhere but where they are going; packed with teenagers hauling rafts onto their glistening wet backs, the girls wearing bikinis seemingly held together by a spider’s filament; packed with wide and long cruiser bikes, moving like long town cars gliding over disruptions in the pavement as though floating. I pass the cruiser bikes on the left, not giving them a glance, scanning the scene ahead of me. But I’m again distracted--my thoughts swirl through my mind as if carried by rapids, pulling me away from the scene before me.

Three years ago on an ordinary day like today, my sister was admitted to a mental hospital for what was later expressed by her as a last-ditch effort for attention which resulted in her consumption of an entire medicine cabinet’s worth of pills. I watched as wrinkles appeared under my mom’s eyes as she’d wring her hands and ask me “why?” Later, I sat in the brown waiting room, alone, until a nurse came and opened a door once visiting hours had arrived. I stood and walked eagerly to see her. But then, I’d find her father already there, sitting on the corner of her bed. I could tell they both had been crying and everything that needed to be said had been long before I’d arrived. I had the impression that I watched everything as though I looked at photographs taken of an event already transpired; I was a stranger not welcomed and certainly not needed.

There is a family on bikes blocking the right lane. The father has silver hair and a slight pouch tucked beneath a white polo shirt and cargo shorts. A toddler sits in a trailer attached to the rear of his bike and a girl who must be about nine or ten years old rides in front of him, her brown hair curling from beneath her pink bike helmet. I pass the man but am forced to tuck behind the girl because another family approaches in the left lane. They are still far ahead but I do not want to alarm the girl and so I decide to lag behind her, dropping my speed. Yet, the other family slows and the adults pass out of sight behind a curve in the road, leaving only a young boy in sight riding in our direction. He is younger than the girl in front of me and shorter—he’s perhaps seven years old—and his bike is bright red to match his helmet. He looks at the girl then me but seems to lose interest and chooses instead to watch the revolution of shadows across the spokes of his front tire. I blink and breathe again and in that finite measure of time, he’s veered into our lane and will collide with the girl and then, me.

I watch the improbable: a sharp snap sounds as the red and pink helmets collide and the rubber front tires of each bike send the girl and boy in opposite directions. I continue to pedal until I realize that I, too, must stop before I add to the pile of bikes and bodies. I tighten my grasp to squeeze the brakes and stop, trying to unclip my feet from the pedals so I can put my bike down, run to the girl and boy and ask them if they are all right. But this does not happen. My feet do not release and I skid to a halt on my right side in the gravel shoulder of the path. I only rest on the ground for an instant before kicking myself free and run, first to the girl, panting and I ask: “Are, you, O.K.?”

Seeing them both lying there, I want to help, to offer what I can. A familiar feeling surfaces, one I haven’t felt in years. MY sister told me the day I visited her in the hospital that they didn’t let her have anything in there—no underwear, no soap, no shampoo. Everyday items were touted as luxuries and the therapists said this was done to give the hopeless suicidal a goal: smile and you get to wash yourself. To me, it had seemed barbaric and so, I came offering to bring her lotion, shampoo and soap, claiming I had extras at my apartment though I really did not. Her room was a beige box with no window and bare walls, with a bed and a door to a private, sterilized white bathroom which all smelled mildly clinical. A desk with the sort of chair you see in waiting rooms sat in the corner opposite where I stood, in the door. She sat at the desk, her father, on the bed and they both looked at me and he said: “She doesn’t need that. You don’t need to bother.” I lingered, listening to them talk but could discern an interval into which I could insert a word. I don’t think they blamed me-- but I stood in my requisite spot, near the margins just above the liminal threshold into the hallway, observing but offering nothing. And so, after my long silence, I turned away, said goodbye and went home.

“Are you O.K?” I repeat to the girl who is now standing, rubbing her knee.

“Yes,” she replies in a steady voice that sounds years older than she looks, “I’m just in shock.”

“And you?” I ask, but the boy stands with tears running down his cheeks, soundless. I look to the right and the left, and see the approaching father on one side and a mother on the other. I remain as I said I would. I continue to ask, “Are you O.K.? Are you O.K.?” though I don’t know why, and the refrain repeats until the father arrives. He stands, rests his bike against a pine tree, and runs to where we all, by now, are standing. He kicks my fallen bike and pushes past me to his daughter, who tells him, “I am fine.”

The boy’s mother arrives and he stops crying. I glean, listening to their conversations, no one is bleeding, nothing is broken and all is well. I stand at the circumference of this human circle, these two families who now laugh at one another, at their alarm, faded. The boy has removed his helmet and the girl’s father ruffles his hair. No one acknowledges me, standing there, on the bike path.

And here, I realize the periphery is painful. It’s now, standing outside yet again, that I truly know what it feels like to be a passive observer-- it’s a version of powerlessness where you can watch, think and later recount what happened and yet, offer nothing despite needing to. It’s inhuman, this periphery, this space beyond human contact, where any spoken word or action is futile. And so, I back away, pick up my bike and ride on. I continue but on the road this time, my breath not coming smoothly but insistently. I do not check my speed nor do I hear the cars as they pass by me in the margins of the real highway. A long time passes before I am aware of a clicking sound which comes from the rear derailleur and a moist feeling on my right elbow and knee. I stop and realize that I am bleeding. The cars stir up a dusty wind as they breeze by, the dust stinging my eyes and skin. I turn then, hoping to make it back home with my crippled bike and my shoulder which has only now started to ache.

I wind my way back the way I came—a distance I could normally cover in thirty minutes but that seems to take the entire afternoon, perhaps days. My breath is ragged now—not from exertion, but the curious sensation I have that I am on the verge of hard crying. I make it as far as the harbor where my boyfriend works and he seems startled to see me. I can only manage: “I was in a sort of accident…on the path.” Steve steadies me and takes me to the break room where we pull gravel from my elbow and knee, opening the makeshift bloody beads that have formed on my skin. My bike is equally injured: we discover that the derailleur is shot and he walks me to his truck. He says he’ll drive me home. I insist I could walk but I’m sitting on the gray passenger seat before my mind can sort out how I got there.

And it’s in this blur of a summer afternoon that passes in the passenger window that I realize life would be much easier if I knew that man on the bike path hated me, or if there was a moment I could identify when my sister hated me, all those years ago. Hate, at least, requires attachment and the acknowledgement that the aversion one feels is certainly not love. Hate, in other words, is feeling. But indifference is a void, a vacuum into which one pours light, words and interaction that all, equally, sink into nothingness. I think back on those two children on the bike path—it was not the accident which left me so shaken. The image that kept returning to my mind was my bike lying on its side as the man’s foot collided with it. I know the feeling well: it is the coldness of a pine tree’s shadow when the only warmth the mountain feels is from the sun.

At home deep in a grove of pines, I know I could call my sister and see how she is. But, the image returns again and this time I flinch as though the man had kicked me and not my bike and then it seems as though there has not been a single noble person in the entire human race. If pushed far enough into this shadow land of peripheries, the outcast turned out will turn inward and become a coward, donning a mask of indifference to guard the fixed expression of fear and pain. And then, I’m ashamed to find that I am this, too. Despite objections to myself, do not pick up the phone and dial her number, but instead sit on the porch on the forest’s edge and listen to the silence of echoing human voices as I tell myself to close my eyes and sleep.

Words of wisdom.

Just a quick post before the drive to the gym for my AM workout. This quote comes from the front of a card I never sent-- another one of those many regrets I have.

Here it is: "Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith." --Margaret Shepherd. There's no reason to believe I will succeed at any of the goals I've set for myself. And yet, I believe.

Is that enough?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

First steps.

So on my birthday (Monday) I drove to Reno (where it isn't so icy and snowy) to do a semi-long run. I stopped by the local running store to look into buying new running shoes. The tools of the trade-- like the tools a writer uses-- are simple, elemental perhaps. So I was surprised when Chuck, the store's owner, pointed out my shoes were long overdue for replacement. I had once been so vigilant about those things, preaching to others about the merits of new shoes every 300 miles. How had I allowed the miles to slip by? Needless to say, I bought a new pair and did an easy 13 miles that day. But I still wonder: what does it mean when we neglect our basic necessities?

This led me to question what is essential for a writer. Is it the pen, the paper or is it something else that needs "maintenance" every so often-- like, say our minds, or even imaginations? Why is it that there are months when I feel like I can't stop writing (even resulting to writing short stories on the backs of discarded receipts at work) followed my long dry spells when it's as though I'd never written a single word, ever?

Running is like that, too. Especially when recovering from an injury. In my own case, I went from running 70-80 miles each week to not running at all. I began to wonder if I'd remember how to run-- or why I ran in the first place. But then there was a moment eight weeks ago -- there always is one-- when watching television coverage of the race I ran the year before when I seemed to "remember" what running was. I remembered the hard work I put into it as well as how running made me feel more like, well, me.

And so, I started again. But I had to start slowly. And now I realize what else happens when you when you stop doing something you love. You forget. I forgot about changing my shoes frequently-- which leads, coincidentally, to injury. I forgot about my carefully kept logs, at first, and it took a few weeks for me to get back into the habit of keeping track of every mile I ran (or didn't run.) I forgot about the aches that come and go with high-mileage training-- the aches that aren't bad, necessarily, but come as a shock at first if you are not used to them.

In the same way, I think one can forget about writing-- or any pursuit-- as well. If I stopped writing, what would I forget first?  Would the need to tell a story disappear first, or the knowledge of how to construct a plot? Would the daily routine I do to keep myself in "writing shape" (reading, taking notes on what I've read, etc) be lost as well? I wonder: do lives so easily slip through the cracks, if we lazily allow them to?

So, in short: I bought new shoes and ran 13 miles. And then another 7.5 today. I want to write a short story about a runner who has to reconcile [her] attachment to solitude and self-reliance with her place within community and family. Neither act is much as far as accomplishments go, but they are steps.

In other words, I'm running and writing. Slowly staying the course. Dreaming of better days to come.