Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Resolution (A List Essay)

1. Change and stay the same. All at the same time.

2.  Eat more kale.

3. Look in the mirror and say, at least twice a day no matter what the scale says or what my hair is doing: "Damn, you're lookin' good."

4. Pet the cats simultaneously. With both hands. Synchronized. They like that.

5. Write letters. Real ones. On cards that require things called stamps. To everyone and anyone who has a place in my heart. Which will require a lot of stamps.

6. Watch more sunrises.

7. Read less meaning into sunsets.

8. Ride with the Diablo Cyclists in the bay area if only to hear Jay's banter again. I've missed hearing about baseball, about music, about anything shouted into the wind at 18 mph while I'm breathless.

9. Stop obsessing about thinness and its relation to how people see me. I am more than my body. I am my soul.

10. Read my work in public more. Let my stories breathe. Let them piss people off, let them bore an audience, let them inspire. Let them live.

11. Go blonde. Natural blonde. Back to my roots, so to speak and ditch the chemical-head. I am OK just the way I am.

12. Learn to appreciate the things I hate: running on treadmills, instant oatmeal, skinny jeans, The Today Show. Somehow, these things (too) have meaning and value in the world.

13. Learn a good joke! All mine are pretty awful-- or, they are jokes I learned when I was in elementary school.

14. Sing karaoke with my dad. It's the best thing ever. I hardly do it enough.

15. Sing. Even if I'm not good at it. You don't always have to do the things you're good at. Sometimes it's important to do the things that make you happy.

16. Learn to cook one gourmet dish. The kind where you sauté things in wine and where the mushrooms must come from some obscure store. And make that meal for the most special people in my life and tell them, again and again, they are special to me. Because I hardly ever do that enough.

17. Generally, say how much I appreciate the people around me. Students, colleagues, friends and family. I've taken for granted how much I love--and need-- everyone in my life.

18. Build a community of writers. Since I moved back, all I've said is how much I miss the bay and my writer-friends there. Maybe this is my time to help writers in Reno-Tahoe come together and form a community of our own: fiction, poetry and nonfiction. Let's see what we can do.

19. Visit my bay-area writing friends. Why miss a person if you are so close?

20. Smile randomly. Even when I'm by myself. Because life is good.

21. Stop believing "I love you" is a sacred phrase. Love is not for rationing; love needs to be shared. Love is not always romantic (although it can be); love is appreciation and truth; love is the adhesive between friends and communities, between the hard stuff and ourselves. Sometimes saying "I love you" can make a bad moment OK even if you're the only one in the room and you've been crying.

22. Forgive. Forget. Move on.

23. Don't forget to dream big. You deserve it.

24. Dance around naked. With sticks. Be brave. Scream if you need to. Paint your face with mud. Life is for the living.

25. Three years ago I wrote: "My words are the arrows I lance from the fortress of my soul." (Make metaphors. Stand by them. Love them. Revise them. But never be ashamed for trying.)

26. Trust that you are enough.

27. Cry if you need to cry. Break down, wallow. Crawl on the floor. Write about it. One of the best parts of being alive is feeling it all: the highs and the lows. And if you can't feel the lows, who's to say you can appreciate the "highs"?

28. Never be that person at Starbucks with the five-minute drink order. Or, if you are, own it.

29. Plant a garden in summertime. Nothing says "happy" like a blooming flower you helped to grow.

30. Always glance back the past, but never dwell.  Life is like a long distance run/ride or swim. It's what you make of the discomfort/pleasure/pain. Make the most of every moment and treasure each and all in equal measure. Because life ends too soon and wisdom comes in the journey, not the destination.

31. Never stop believing in old dreams. Never believe you are unlovable or ugly. I'm NOT.

32. Accept that all of this will change and by next year, I may not believe any of this. And that is OK.

Sunday, December 29, 2013


I knew this journey was going to be hard (I'm no stranger to training for an endurance event) but I'm surprised to find that the most difficult part about it so far isn't the training at all, but instead, the loneliness. Or, maybe that's due to the end of my relationship and maybe everyone who breaks up with someone they loved to the point of calling them their best friend goes through this awful sense of empty solitude.

I call it empty because I'm the sort of person who doesn't (usually) mind spending time alone. After all, my two dominant pursuits (writing and running) aren't very social activities. But something about this solitude I'm in now is different. It has sharp corners and, for the most part, it isn't very comfortable. I keep asking myself why that is: why I suddenly dread going home to the empty house that was always empty before. What's changed? To me, it feels as though there's something in the air which has worked its way into my blood, my mind and heart. I know that's not true, though. I suppose what has changed is me.

I remember those days when I expected him to call me, and he would. Or, if I was upset about something, excited about something, feeling elated or depressed or simply bored, I could pick up the phone and dial his number and he would be there for me.  And if there was something that happened (a flat tire on the bike, a garbage disposal with rocks in it because I decided to wash my running shoes in the sink, etc) he would be there, without question, to fix what was broken.

It's like somebody died, that's what this silence is like. Like all those memories are in the past now and it's just me here in this room, just me to fix what's broken, to fill the hours of my days with thoughts and words like I used to, trying not to notice that my phone no longer rings and there's no one in the world to say "I love you" or who cares for me-- at least, not right now.

I guess I'm thinking about this today because today has been mostly silent. I did my long run at dawn and watched the sun rise as I floated over the pavement, feeling about as light as a person could as I crunched over the old ice and snow in shady patches that has yet to melt. And tonight: I took the bike out at dusk to see how it felt under my feet now that it's been properly adjusted to fit my body. The sun sat low and pale in the sky, just hovering over the Sierra Nevada range as I rode West. It's a horizon I know well; a direction I used to associate with him since he lives in Tahoe City and I used to stare and those mountains and imagine sending my thoughts-- my love-- right over them, silent telegraphs lovers send.

But there's no more of that; the West is another direction among three others, arbitrary and relative. But then again, as I turn over my shoulder to glimpse the sky, I can't help but notice the vibrant hues of the sunset; the West is where the sun goes down, announcing night and the fact that I have survived another day on my own, a small victory perhaps, but one I'll have to master if I'm going to become an Ironman.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

CompuTrain... Me?

One thing I have come to appreciate lately is the bravery it takes to change. Not to change your toothpaste or your sheets; but to erase some elemental part of your life and continue living as if everything is just fine. Which is what it means to end a relationship: you cut away an existence, a voice, a body (half of YOU, really)  and pretend you never needed it anyway which is, perhaps, the farthest thing from the truth.

Anyway, I've decided to expand my social circle, at least training-wise, to include as many people as I can. After all, my favorite part of being an athlete has been meeting all the incredible, special, inspirational and exceptional folk who choose to swim/cycle/run (one, two or all three) on a daily basis to be the best they can. Why and how: all ages, abilities, styles. I've met former Olympians and stay-at-home-moms; I've met middle-age people, college-age people; rippled with muscle or comfortably plump; in short, I've been blessed with the best sampling of humanity; the good-hearted folk who love a sport (or, sports) and thank heavens for that.

So today, I expanded my social realm to include Great Basin Bicycle Shop which operates a CompuTrainer studio. I signed up for the 9:00 am class and found myself one of six who came that early (not so early since I usually train at 6am). I always get nervous before training with a new group. I always worry I will be the slowest, the most lame, the reason why they make people sign up (so you can kick them out or bar them from coming later)-- so I didn't know what to think when Rich (the "leader" of the ride) grabbed my bike, placed it on the CompuTrainer and walked me through its calibration. Or, when he said I pushed too hard with my quads, and that my body bounced too much( am I being exiled, I wondered?)-- but no, we rode and rode: me and five others (the names I can't remember. I only remember Jeni who introduced herself to me and who happens to live not so far from me so I hope to see her on the open road.) Rich had a lot of comments, true, but he only wanted to help me improve.

I've never had someone look at how I ride. I mean: riding a bike is simple right? You pedal, you move forward? But there's a lot more to it than that-- how you position your feet, how you need to pull back and up rather than down and forward. After an hour, I know I have so much to learn!  Or, I know since Rich placed me on another machine that showed me how much power each leg was producing and how. I'm only, at best, 80% efficient in my strokes because I'm accustomed to pushing "down" so much (because I'm a runner, I think). He also adjusted my seat height and its distance from the bars: my seat was much too low and too far back: crushing my power and (sorry prim and proper reader) my essential girl-parts.

BUT wow-- what a great resource-- I'm glad I ventured out of my "safe-solitary" zone today and learned something new. Maybe we all need to do that every so often.

I can't say I'm happy on my own, but I think I'm going to be OK. I'm learning new things, meeting new people and looking forward for more to come.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Ironman: A New Journey

I can’t believe it’s post-Christmas and nearly 2014... and I haven’t posted a thing on this blog in quite a while. Truthfully, I’ve been avoiding it because it’s been a difficult year and I don’t know if everyone wants to read about my problems (we all have enough of our own, right?) Plus, I was busy with the demands of teaching-- new demands that, even at the end of the semester, I was still getting used to. And, of course, the training-- but that’s hardly new. 

But I’ve also been wary of writing for another reason: the hardest part about last year wasn’t some of the things I’ve written about in previous blogs or even the end of my seven-year long relationship with S. What was the hardest, I think, was realizing that I’d lost belief in myself as an athlete... and, truthfully, in myself period

Looking back, I’m not sure I know quite how or why this happened, I only know that, day by day, the world began to darken and nothing much mattered anymore. Was it the injuries? Or, was it the time spent apart from S. because I was living in the Bay Area? Was it the move to Reno and all the drama that entailed? Was it the heavy teaching load? I only know that, by November of 2013 I felt old, ugly, and basically worn out with everything. Which is not a good place for anyone to be. 

So, I’m doing something slightly crazy, but something that I need to do because you can’t go through life not believing in yourself. Or, you can’t be defeated and sad all the time. Or, you can’t wake up and wish you could just go back to sleep again because there’s nothing you are good enough for. (Yeah, that was me.) 

What changed was something small. After too much crying one night, I decided to recite, to myself, all the things in life that I was grateful for. I started talking to myself, really, so that I would fall asleep and not cry anymore, and granted, the first night my list wasn’t very long. Ever since, however, the list has grown. It started with small things like I’m grateful for the beautiful colors in the dawn I saw today, and I’m grateful my cat purred when I pet her. But then my list also contained things like I’m grateful for my ability to write and run and swim and cycle, as well as, I’m grateful for unconditional support and love of my family. But as I said, the list grew to include the very big and the very small and all those things in between. I began to realize that there is so much in this world to be grateful for... and so much love, if only you take the time to notice it. 

And you know, little by little these inconsequential words began to change my perception of the world. The dawns became more dazzling and the time I spent with family and friends became more precious. And-- oddly-- I began to feel my old self again on the road/trails, on the bike and in the pool: that ability to push the fear and the pain down beyond feeling it, to feel powerful and strong and worthy.  

So on Christmas Day after a wonderful morning with my dad and stepmom, I took a run in an area called Franktown in Washoe Valley. It’s a two-lane loop at the tree line with ranches on one side and spectacular homes at the foot of the Sierra Nevada on the other. And out there in the pale winter stillness, a fire rekindled itself: I decided I truly want to be an Ironman. 

I have wanted to do this for a while-- since 2010, actually-- but never thought I was good enough. Not fast enough, not strong enough, not fit or brave enough.  At first it was the water rather than the distance which scared me most. Watching the waves of the Pacific break on the Kona coast on vacation with S. was more than enough of a warning and slicing a large chunk of my finger off on a stray bit of coral or the ragged rocky coast was enough to prove me right (then, in 2011).  But the doubt spread to all the sports: running was out of the question because I “couldn’t run” anymore (or, I couldn’t run 70-mile weeks which I equated to “failure”, then). And then, cycling (the old excuses: too fat, too heavy, too much of a body for the miles...). Until there was not a single reason I believed I could do anything at all.

But on that run on Christmas Day, there was none of that doubt. There was only the cold, still air and the pale sun and me on that open road. Maybe not running the fastest I ever have, perhaps not doing anything remarkable, but the thought came and it stuck: I want to be an Ironman. 

And now, the difference is that I believe I can. 

I am grateful for everything--- even the things which, on the surface, are not so great. I am grateful that I found my best friend, S.-- my guiding light who told me, again and again, that I was meant to do something incredible. And grateful for the MFA program which taught me to trust my words (I do, I do) and for all the wonderful people that have, somehow, found their way into my life (all my coaches who are also my friends, my training partners, my colleagues, my old and new friends, everyone...) For all of that-- that’s why I’ve decided to take on this new challenge. 

So many people believe in me and I think it’s really time I do, too. 

I signed up for the Boise Half-Ironman first-- a race which will be held in June where many of my teammates will be competing as well. I don’t have any specific time goals in mind; I really want to focus on training at the highest capacity I can and crossing that finish line. Beyond that, Ironman Arizona is calling me. And I hope to meet that challenge with all of me next November. 

Recently, I read an essay by David Foster Wallace (the title escapes me now) in which he claims that sports writing is (basically and essentially) sub-par because there is something about the physical-- or the physicality of elite athletics-- which necessarily escapes words. I believe that to a point, which is why I wince at the obvious metaphor I’ve committed to. I want to be an Ironman. A body as strong as iron (with a mind and soul to match.) It’s obvious and perhaps the parallels aren’t always true.

But maybe, sometimes, we need the cliché. Clichés are clichés after all, because they are so true they are the shorthand for talking about complicated things. I need to be an Ironman-- I need to do something I don’t know I can; I need to try and sweat and cry in the pursuit of a passion, a dream; I need to trust this beating heart of mine and know that I am OK just as I am no matter where I am: running, swimming, cycling, writing, sitting, single or married, young or old.  

I know this is going to be so hard, but I am ready for it. Ready for the journey, I mean. It’s a new chapter (another cliché, I know), but the page has turned and I’m in new territory now. A land of me against myself. And you know, I think we’re going to do all right.