Monday, June 30, 2008

No answers

I've been reading "The Noonday Demon", a book about depression. He has some wonderful, lyrical descriptions about the physical, visceral experience of sadness. One interesting thing the author notes is that depression follows a circadian pattern: deeper at night and in the morning, and lifting somewhat during the day. I don't know why reading that one little nugget was such a comfort for me, other than that it made me realize that enough other people in the world have had this experience to attach a pattern to it. In my navel-gazing way, I thought it was a weird quirk of my character that I wake up many morning feeling panic, a pressure on my chest, a leaden despair. I would think to myself "how can I feel this bad when nothing has even happened yet in my day to justify such feelings?" But, apparently I'm not the only one.

Another difficult thing about depression is how one's ability to care about .... anything .... just vanishes. I used to have great opinions about politics, or wall colors, or TV shows, or my neighbor, or the weather. But now, nothing.

I want to be pulled out of this, like someone rescuing a floundering swimmer. But I have to pull myself out. I have to create my own life. I have to want to feel life again. I have to want to feel.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Changing directions

I stopped writing here because I stopped running. I thought about starting another blog, but I still like the idea of "escape velocity", so I'm just going to continue here, but I won't be writing about running!

But "escape velocity" is still very appropriate. I quit my social services job last August, went to a four-month non-fiction writing workshop, and came home full of creative zeal and determination to break into the writing field.

It's been six months, and no job. Six months! I do work a part-time telecommute job, living back home with my parents in an isolated town. I've had several interviews, but the longer I go without a job the more my confidence erodes, the more I question my desires. The more ashamed I feel.

Where is the place of writing in my life? Does it need to be my job? And if not, what else can I do with 40 hours of my life every week that I can do with conviction, and that aligns with my values?

Here are some things I know I value, that give me that feeling in my chest that I identify as a deep, real, and magical sense of connection and presence in the moment:

Being with animals
Being with children
Storytelling, in all forms

I look at that list and I wonder how to take those things and turn them into a job.

But. I also know there are other things I value, that seem right now to be in conflict with my other values. Like: I want to earn a certain income. My magic number is $40,000, something I've never even approached in my previous jobs. And, I also value status, which feels shameful to admit, but it's true. I want to be impressive, I want to be successful in the eyes of the anonymous world. I want to be profiled on TV. I want to make other people think "I wish I could be her." It's true, I have a powerful and selfish Ego.

I need to figure some things out, and maybe this is the place to do it.

Friday, February 24, 2006

One happy runner

Monday, February 20, 2006

Austin Freescale Half-Marathon

Just my luck, I got to run my very first half-marathon on one of the coldest days of the year. It hovered below freezing for the entirety of my time on the course. People had frost on their hats.

Having said all that, I must say the run was also probably the most pleasant run I've ever had. The course, billed as the fastest course in the United States, was either flat or downhill most of the way and I'm sure that contributed to the sensation I had of just coasting over the road. After some muscle tightness in my legs and numb toes in the first three miles, the rest of the time I felt really, really good. No problems with energy, no problems with pain, no problems with self-doubt.

I decided in the end to stick with my running partner, and not to run with a personal time goal. I can run for time and ego in another race. We both crossed the finish with a chip times of 3:06. I'm happy with it. I got a pretty medal, I got to cheer for the awesome marathoners at their finish line and I got to eat a fat hamburger, pizza and homemade peach cobbler at the end. It was a solid, satisfying (and cold, did I mention cold?) day and everyone who participated deserves a Texas-sized star:

Friday, February 03, 2006

The heartbreak of Jeans

I've been feeling homely lately. Most of my clothes are a few years old, showing signs of fraying or are permanently stretched out of shape. It doesn't help that I've gained about 10 pounds lately, despite 6 months of fairly consistent adherence to a running program.

It has recently come to my attention that the vast majority of my wardrobe falls into one of two categories: office clothes and workout clothes. The pickings are pitifully slim for something appopriate for a night out on the town. A nice pair of stylish, comfortable, good-fitting jeans would fill this gap admirably.

Unfortunately, I don't have such an item in my wardrobe. I even question the existence of such mythical jeans. The one pair I currently own are so horrendously uncomfortable in the crotch and waist that I only wear them if I know the event I'm attending will last less than 2 hours and no sitting down will be required.

I hate shopping in general, and shopping for jeans more specifically, mostly due to the consequences of what I call the FABB phenomenom (Fat Ass, Big Belly).

Exhibit A: the FABB in action, comfortably draped in workout pants:

Let me just state, for the record, that the FABB are my friends, my faithful companions in life. I hold no grudge against their bountiful charms and have mostly fond feelings for them. But a girl can only wear yoga pants so many times to a bar before she starts feeling sadly deficient in style and good taste.

The FABB one-two punch, however, makes it virtually impossible to shop quickly or with any semblance of enjoyment, due to the Pooching, Offensive Waistband (POW!) syndrome, which will be detailed momentarily.

But first, these are my minimum requirement for jeans, which also complicates the search:

  1. boot cut or straight leg, none of that flapping flared style, please
  2. a stretch/denim blend for the all-important crotch comfort
  3. dark wash because it seems more sophisticated
  4. petite leg length so I'm not tripping over yards and yards of denim
  5. mid-rise because low-rise can only be worn correctly by 2% of the population, though, sadly, this rule is flagrantly violated on a daily basis
  6. no wierd rhinestones, distressing, white fade-outs or deliberate rips/holes/shreds because I'm not 12.

So today I set out to shop. Who would win? Sheer persistence on my part or the FABB?

Up first, a contender from the GAP Curvy line. Quite acceptable straight on:

But then, POW!:

On to Lane Bryant (by doing so I have broken a years-long boycott based on their tendency to design clothes that would only fit women who are 6 feet or taller. It's wierd). Here, the waistband gap was less obvious, even workable with a long shirt, but the jeans failed to pass the crucial squat test:

At Mervyn's, the Gloria Vanderbilt Jeans were a lovely dark wash but were still vanquished by the FABB:

At Dilliard's I tried on some Calvin Klien low-rise jeans to demonstrate the absolute absurdity of the dominance of this trend, as my butt is practically falling out of the pants:

I also tried on Levi's, Lee's "One True Fit" label, and some no-name department store brands. It all ended the same, with a resounding FABB victory. I would show you some more photos, but I figure you've seen enough of my underwear already.

FABB clearly walked out of the mall as the winner today, not I.

I suppose the problem might be solved with strategic use of a belt, assuming for a moment that I can get over my hatred of belts. When you have any kinds of hips, unthreading the whole damn thing in order to get your pants down over your hips is a colossal pain, especially for me since I mainline water and visit the restroom a jillion times per day.

Taking jeans to a seamstress for waistband alteration is also an option, though I have my reservations about what the final product would look like.

Truly, I don't expect ready-to-wear, mass-produced clothing to fit everbody, but surely the FABB phenomenom is not limited to just me. Surely, somewhere out there is a pair of jeans that will embrace the FABB. A girl can dream.

Round Two: boobs vs. the button-down shirt.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Thirteen Miles

Saturday was my longest training run on the schedule – 13 miles, practically a half-marathon, minus a measly 0.1 mile.

On the way in the pre-dawn to the starting site, my stomach flipped a few times with nerves while my mind ticked off potential pitfalls. Should I have switched out my shoes by now? Did I eat enough breakfast and should I tweak my standard meal (honey nut cheerios, soy milk, toast, peanut butter and chocolate soy milk)? Were there going to be any spectacular, humiliating bathroom emergencies along the way?

I huddled with a friend in her car until the last possible moment – the temperature was perfectly tolerable, in the low 50s, but a bitter and constant wind caught us all by surprise. And then the group directors lead us all to the ersatz start line and what had been a mass of people quickly stretched out into a ragged line along the dark road ahead of us. We cheered for ourselves, for the marathoners running 21 and the halfers like myself tackling 13.

Our route was mostly along an interstate access road, along a section that we’d never run before. This turned out to be a blessing, because without familiar landmarks, I couldn’t mentally calculate and analyze and countdown my progress – I just had to keep running. I expected to hang with my friend Amie, who has kept pace with me throughout the training program, both of us perpetually, and blithely, bringing up the rear. But from the beginning, we both kept pace with three other women in our group, sometimes chatting and laughing, sometimes thinning out into a pace line, which buoyed my spirits, as it felt like we were working in unison, lockstep in silent camaraderie.

As has begun my habit, I took an electrolyte caplet and half an energy gel after an hour. I’ve come to understand that my body is pretty regular – without fail, at mile 5 or 6, it’s time for bathroom break, this time at a chain restaurant along the interstate. I lost about 10 minutes here, and also separated from Amie, whose pace had slowed. I’ve wondered about this on race day – we’ve become friends, and I feel a sense of loyalty to her, but sometimes our pace is exactly compatible and other times it’s not. Should we agree to stay with one another, or should we each run our own races? It’s something to discuss.

Regardless, the group of three other women had pulled ahead at the bathroom break. I “sprinted” for about twenty minutes to catch up with them, on what I later realized was the most hellacious part of the route for most of the runners – a steady incline directly into a headwind. When I finally caught them at a water stop around mile 7, a gnawing hollow of hunger had opened in my stomach, a dive in energy that would dodge me through the rest of the run.

My group had pretty much run out of talk at this point. At mile 9 I took another electrolyte pill and finished the other half of my gel, grabbing some gummy bears and delicious orange slices from the water stop, along with some animal crackers. Still, I felt like I could sit down right there and eat and eat and eat for hours on end.

My energy solidified for a few miles, up more hills, still buffeted by the winds. The final turn was in sight, and the pit of hunger was back. The last water stop didn’t have any food, but I downed some energy drink and instantly regretted it as it bottomed into my stomach, twisting into a cramp. Now it was just me and one other woman running together. We had two miles to go, along a windy, gradual climb that seemed to continually round a curve. It was a cruel sight line: we couldn’t gauge when the finish would appear, and this proved to be the biggest mental challenge of the run. Another friend running the 21 miles told me later that she felt like a deep depression set in at this point in the route. My energy was completely gone by then, and only sheer stubbornness and the fact of running with another person kept me from stopping to walk or take a nap. My left hamstring had tightened up in the last few miles and the soles of my feet ached.

But then the finish appeared, with a few of the early finishers (including those who had already finished the 21 miles. Sheesh!) cheering. I was feeling lightheaded and my left arm was tingling oddly. A few steps more, and we were done, in almost exactly three hours.

I felt tired, and quietly satisfied. And hungry.

This is what I ate almost immediately following the finish: more orange slices, pretzels, a sausage taco, a slice of chocolate cake, a bagel with lox, tomatoes and cream cheese, and coffee.

Now I know this half-marathon is something I can handle. I also know that I need to fine-tune my fueling strategy, get new shoes and be careful not to drastically change my pace during the race.

And I think I’ve also found that I really like longer runs. Eight miles seems a perfect distance, a mileage that allows me to hit a rhythm while avoiding precipitous drops of energy. I’m thinking that after the half in Austin I’ll try to incorporate one long run per week into my cross-training plan. That would be an ideal, but I’ll have to work on the motivation aspect of that plan.

The best thing about this weekend’s training run is that I feel absolutely confident that I’ll finish the race. And that makes all the difference between anticipation and dread.

Update: The job decision has been delayed, so I have no news to report. But thanks for your insights. I still don’t know my own mind (or heart, or gut) regarding the issue, which has always been an eternal problem of mine when making decisions. I always seem to consult with everyone else except myself. But I did cry, which may not seem like a big deal, at least not until you consider that the last time I cried about anything other than a movie or book was five years ago. So, there’s that. An emotional breakthrough!

One thing that I’m always walking around telling people is that “I’m not ambitious.” I still think this is true, that the ambitions I have don’t mesh well with traditional ideas of career paths and professional success, but I also think I may be using this line of reasoning to not do much of anything, including pursuing some of those alternate paths. So look to this space for some musing on those alternate paths, which have always seemed so pie-in-the-sky, but are maybe more in reach than I’m willing to apprehend.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Being True

I’m writing this entry about my job plans a little earlier than expected due to a curve-ball I got at work today.

My department director called me in unexpectedly to ask if I would take on a special project, of indeterminate length with indeterminate duties. I would receive a temporary pay increase of 10% as long as the special assignment lasts. The job description is vague, but it entails things I’ve never done before: coordination among different agencies, networking, creating social service plans, managing politics and personalities. It is not something on my own that I would ever choose or seek out.

I have until tomorrow to decide.

My plan for this year has been to stay in my current position at least through October. The rationale for that decision is that in October I will be vested in my retirement plan, which means that if I left this organization anytime after that, the money could sit in the retirement account, earning interest, and when I turned 60, I could withdraw that money and the plan would match all contributions and interest at a 2:1 ratio.

Here are the numbers: if I stop making contributions in October that money plus interest would grow to an estimated $40,000 by the time I was 60. The system would match that amount at the ratio and I would have $120,000 available to me. I know that’s not a lot of money, and probably will be small change due to inflation in 30 years, but still, it would be some form of retirement, of security, if I decided to become a flunky and never pay into any kind of retirement plan every again, aside from Social Security.

I am not happy in my current job. I have found myself on an increasing basis feeling resentful, cynical and apathetic. But I decided I would stay at least 10 more months as part of a long-sighted vision for my own future. I did decide, however, that I would seek another position within the same organization, which I have done, and I even interviewed for a different position last week.

And now, out of the blue, I’ve been offered this special assignment. I’ve been a weepy wreck tonight, because I don’t think this is a job that would make me any happier than my current position. The truth is that I don’t really know, because the job description is so vague. I do know that it will be more hours, more stress and lots of frustration. I also know that as of this moment, I have no clue as to what sort of job --any kind of job -- would bring me satisfaction.

But I realized tonight that one reason this has brought forth such emotion is that whatever decision I make, I am still being an impersonator in my life, spending a great deal of my time doing work that feels duplicitous. I do good work and I know that I have the ability to do a good job with this special assignment. I have skills that I put to use in my work, but only because I have a work ethic and a sense of personal responsibility. Otherwise, I feel sometimes like I’m walking around with one of those carnival plywood cutouts – the one with the painted body of a character with your head superimposed on it. I’m not being true to myself, I’m marking time.

And yet, I think deciding to mark time in this case is a prudent, wise, rational, conservative, pragmatic, boring decision. I think I should look towards my future retirement. If this vestment issue were not a factor, I think I would be looking furiously for work outside of this current organization.

How do I make it through the next 10 months without feeling completely fraudulent? How can I feel that I am remaining true to at least some part of myself? How can I not feel like my daily life is akin to an out-of-body experience?

Everybody makes compromises in life, the question is, which compromise is too far? Which one will damage you? Is not our character, our moral fiber, made up of the daily decisions we make?

What will the decision I make tomorrow say about me?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Blogus Interuptus

Big Brother was making some rumbles at work, and I got spooked and stopped my blog reading and writing. But now I’ve got a home computer set up, and so I’m back, though I fear having the Internet at home may cause me to develop a raging Ebay or porn addiction. I am, oddly enough, much more productive at work latey.

Here’s a random recap of the past few months:

  • I took an Amtrak trip to Dallas for kicks. It was long and slow, but I expected that. My seatmate on the trip up was a conspiracy freak who at one point got so excited that she yelled at the top of her lungs a diatribe about “whores and the blow jobs they have to give because of the patriarchy” followed by some choice words against George W. On the trip back the train was full of families catching the connecting route to New Orleans for Christmas. I also discovered a small town in Texas which is apparently the secret nexus for cute boys, as several cute boys deboarded and boarded at that stop. I fully plan to return for a more in-depth investigation. Also, the backyards of small-town America are filled with forlorn plastic toys, trampolines and above-ground swimming pools. At least one backyard in urban Fort Worth has a horse.

  • We are having a beautifully mild winter. Scootering everywhere has been a pleasure, and I have loved starting each morning with a brisk ride just as the sky is lightening and taking on a clear, sharp blueness. I’ve gone on a few more scooter rallies and really am stoked about being part of that community.

  • Except, that my scooter was stolen two weeks ago. From the exact same spot from which my bicycle was stolen. The rat fink bastards. Now I’m back to using my feet and the bus to get around, which in the grand scheme of things, is nothing to complain about. But damn, I’m really pissed about the scooter. I’m waiting for the news on my insurance claim and then I can decide if I’ll go for another scooter or grit my teeth and kiss my budget goodbye by getting a car. As for a new bicycle, the model I want to buy sold out almost immediately across Texas, but a new shipment is due in February, so hopefully I’ll have some sort of wheels by then.

  • There was a dark, foggy period during the holidays in which I was possessed by a slothful, cranky alter-ego. Attempts at runs were scarce and half-hearted. Three weeks ago there was a truly horrendous attempt at a long run, wherein I felt weak as a rag doll and had to quit running entirely after the third mile, and after which I bleakly considered throwing in the towel. But somehow the mental and physical cobwebs have cleared, and I’m back to a semi-regular running schedule. I’m definitely not following the training plan on my FIT calendar, but I’m running enough that I was able to finish 10- and 11-mile runs in the last two weeks, respectively, with energy to spare. Holy shit, I’m going to run a half-marathon in 5 weeks! My pace hasn’t increased at all, and may in fact have gotten slower, but I’m shooting for a finish time of three hours, give or take. I have concluded that I’m not enamored of running, but that after the half-marathon I will incorporate it into an as-of-yet-devised cross-training plan that will hopefully involve biking and dancing.

  • I walked in today's Martin Luther King march, which is apparently this biggest march in the country. We chanted peace slogans and sang songs. People held signs. Two young kids held signs that said "Dope Ain't Shit" and "We Still Poor". Why don't I do things like this more often? I loved it. I loved being part of a mass of people and I loved walking down neighborhood streets of my city, being part of a public activity. I wish everyday the street were full of people and goodwill, like they were today.

  • My New Year’s goal for 2006? To quit my job and move on. I have some more to say about that in another entry, but it’s time to walk a few blocks to Walgreens to stock up on cereal and cat food.

A happy (belated) New Year to everyone!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Race report; Winterizing

I didn't set any land-speed records this weekend during my 5k, but I did do something new this race: I pushed and picked off people in front of me, one by one by one, throughout the whole thing. It was great fun to train my sights on someone in front of me and slowly gain on them and then finally kick right by them. The fact that I was able to push past people and not feel exhausted by the effort is testament to the long, slow training principle I've been practicing.

Of course, while I was enjoying my own victories as I passed each unsuspected person in front of me (take that, sucker!) the half-marathoners and marthoners sharing part of the course were busy lapping us. They were golden steeds, with their fast legs and slick bodies. The race marshals on bikes would come up behind us toiling 5k'ers shouting "move to the left! to the left! leaders approaching!" and we would all herd over only to bask in the reflected glow of the leaders as they dashed by on their rubber limbs, surrounded by a phalanx of more bikers protectively ushering them along.

Later, I scootered over to the turn-around point and ran a few miles with a friend doing the half -marathon. Here again, the race leaders of the marathon lapped us, already on the second loop of the course. I shouted out encouragement to the female leader as she passed, yelling her name, secretley pleased I recognzied her by sight as a local running phenom (I'm part of the club, yes I am! Let me in! Love me! Love me!). But I immediately regretted doing so, struck by guilt, convinved that my cheering -- coming as it did from an obvious, rank poseur -- might break her concentration and doom her race. Fortunately she ended up blasting the field as usual, easily winning the marathon. Watching these elite runners I was truly star-struck, and am certain that were I to have occasion to speak to one of them in person I'd be incoherent with nerves.

So, my time: 34:45.


Yesterday, winter arrived. Two days ago it was nearing 90 degrees and last night it neared freezing. I do not deal well with winter. I am ill-prepared and surly about it. I pout. We don't really have winter, just a series of cold snaps, but still, anything below 50 degress makes me whimper.

Here is the sum total of my winter wardrobe: one heavy sweater, one thin jacket, one pair of cordurouy pants, one pair of heavy socks, one pair of sweatpants and one pair of closed-toe (non-athletic) shoes. My reasoning for this meagerness has always been that there is no financial justification to spending money on clothes I'll wear less than three months out of the year. I'd simply rather freeze than spend money or face the grasping, overlit maw of the department store or Target. A clothing exchange program with someone in the Southern hemisphere would be the ideal solution. Anyone know a size 14 Peruvian woman? I'd pay for shipping.

So the dire situation of my winter wardrobe was icily brought home to me yesterday morning. I had the day off and had signed up with the Sierra Club to go hiking at a park a few hours outside of town. It was around 45 degrees, and due to some poor logistical planning, the scooter trip to the carpool meeting site took an hour. I'd borrowed a thin pair of gloves from my landlady, but was so miserable halfway through the trip from the strong, icy wind gusts that had me clutching the throttle that I had to stop at a Whatburger to run my hands under some warm water. Then while riding along the highway access road I drove over some water gushing from a broken water main at the precise moment a heavy-duty truck passed on my left, sending a cascade of water all over me.

At least the long hike was lovely.

So, winter action steps for 2005:

1) go to the thrift store and buy more warm clothes.
2) buy motorcycle gloves and face shield.
3) figure out how to best configure the gas heaters in my apartment so that the whole house is warm.

Here's the deal with the heating situation the last two winters in my apartment. I either lay immobile under a heap of blankets or sweltered in sauna-like conditions. This is in between obsessing about carbon monoxide poisoning or calculating my renter's insurance claim were the apartment to burst into flames. I grew up with central heat and air, so these gas heaters flummox me completely. They're the kind where you turn on the gas lever, light a match, insert it into the grate and WHOOSH!, flames appear. Here's a schematic:

As you can see, the back of the apartment has no heat. Should I move one heater into the dining room (though this would require the purchase of the proper connection and some sort of tool)? In winters past I've shut doors and just heated the front two rooms and eaten cereal for three months straight for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Is the appropriate method to open the gas lever full-throttle and blast the room with heat before turning it down to regulate the temperature? Should I use the ceiling fans somehow to circulate the air (and do I have to set them to rotate in the opposite direction of how they rotate now)? Why do I always see pictures of buildings in New York City, in the dead of winter, with windows cracked open? Is there some method to heating that involves ventilating with an open window? Do I leave the heaters on low while I'm gone all day?

All I know is that I've never been comfortable during the colder months and can only live in two rooms. I suppose any money I save buying warm clothes at the thrift store can be plowed back into my heating bill.

I know you Northerners scoff at my sob story, but I'm telling you, I cannot deal with the chill. Cannot. Deal.


Eight miles this weekend. When I think about this run, I get a mental image of myself in a boxing ring, bouncing on my toes, shaking out my arms from the shoulders, my body canted foward in anticipation and readiness. At the risk of sounding cliched, bring it on, baby, bring it on.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Picture entry: Day of the Dead and Scooter Rally

Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos is a pretty big celebration locally, marked by several days-worth of events. I went to a mass and an altares/ofrendas exhibit in honor of the dead last week, and ran into the group I used to dance with, dressed up for their annual show:

This weekend was the 3rd Coast Scooter Rally, and I joined in on one of the rides along the Mission Trail. I met lots of interesting folks, and it was really fun to ride with a group that felt like a miscreant scooter gang. One of the stops was at Mission San Juan:

There were about 20 or so riders that day, but only about three women driving. Here's the lineup, in front of the Mission:

We also stopped at an historical and still functioning aqueduct built by the mission inhabitants. This is a view beneath the aqueduct bridge:

On the road, past the San Antonio River:

If you look close you can see some of the bee stickers I've used to decorate the scoot:

Afterwards there was a competition of sorts, in which I was immediately disqualified because I have no turning skillz:

It was a good weekend, jump-started by my Virgin Territory run of 7 miles, which actually came in around 6.5, so I feel like I can't really fully claim it as a full-on, bad-ass run. It didn't feel virgin enough. I have 8 miles in two weeks, so even if that course is short, it'll still be one I can feel like a tough chicka after.
Regardless, the run went well, and I kept to a 12 minute pace. I am on the prowl, though, for easily digestible pre-run meals. For this weekend's early-morning run, I had a banana and some soy milk (for the protein), but I was starving by mid-run. I'm just used to a full breakfast by that time, but I also get runner's trots pretty easily too, so I'm experimenting with non-distress breakfasts. Any suggestions are welcome! I'll be running a 5K next weekend at the San Antonio Marathon, so I'll have a race report then. I'm planning on actually racing, so I'm curious how all this slow, aerobic distance training will affect my time in comparison to previous 5k's.

(I'm turning on the word verification screener because the spam is driving me batty.)