Friday, April 29, 2005

Home, sweet sweet home

My parents just sold the house that we moved into when I was 7. They are moving to a town an hour outside the city.

I am somewhat freaked out about this, even though I've known about it for months and months. Aren't I supposed to be an independent, healthily-functioning adult? Wasn't I weaned from my mother's breast eons ago?

Apparently not, because I am still freaking out. And also, crying into my soup a bit.

Change sucks and I do not deal with it well.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

I'm in a spacey frame of mind

Today, I picked up a Hershey's Kiss, unwrapped it, stared at it a moment while a disembodied voice in my head intoned "Let's see what life is like without sugar today, mmmkay?" and then rewrapped the chocolate morsel and put it away.

Clearly, there is a rip in the fabric of the universe and I am trapped in an alternate reality. As long as I'm floating along in some parallel universe, I fully expect my high school Physics professor to call momentarily, apologize for being a colossal jerk and offer to turn my "C" into an "A++". After that, all my coworkers will surprise me by handing in wonderful versions of the grant proposal I'm currently laboring and cursing over. Then I will close my eyes and attempt to transport myself into the arms of Commander William Riker.


Monday I found out all about the dreaded shin splints. I thought I knew what they were, but I've since concluded that I had no clue and probably confused them with side stitches, which are nowhere near the correct anatonomical region. Duh. Never in my life have I experienced the painful sensations I felt Monday.

Coach seems to think that my calves are (too?) strong because of my bike riding, and that this somehow is contributing to the pain. And let me tell you that stretching out the calves hurts almost as much as shin splints. So, needless to say, Monday's run didn't go very well.

I'm worried about today's run and hope that the dreaded splints don't show up today. As Captain Picard might say, "Make it so!"

Monday, April 25, 2005

Permutations of Pretty

Sunday was not a Pretty day for me.

By that I mean I wasn't feeling particularly attractive. I had had a string of sleepless nights, so when I woke up exhausted Sunday morning I promptly made the executive decision to spend the whole day in bed, reading. I happily finished two books.

But I was aware of feeling unattractive, sort of fleshy and pale and dumpy, all day. At one point, I put on my bathing suit and walked around the house, which is something a single girl living alone can do without anyone thinking her weird. But after posing in the mirror a bit (hand on hip, sideways, sitting in a chair, looking over my shoulder) I decided it was still not a Pretty day so I put my pajamas back on and took to my bed again.

In between napping, shoving the cat off my chest and eating PB & J sandwiches and cereal I started to think about "pretty." I realized I have many embarrassing preconceptions when it comes to my ideas of Pretty and the rights and privileges it confers.

For example, I have a friend who I consider to be stunningly attractive. She is also slender. When I first became her friend, I had a hard time believing any stories she told me about her insecurities or her daily struggles. I often found myself thinking in response to any problem she confided "But… you're pretty!" It truly boggled my mind. Surely, being beautiful made her life easier. After knowing her a few years and having a better understanding of the source of her insecurities, I still find myself disloyally thinking that her normal trials and tribulations should be mitigated by her prettiness. I hate that I think this way, but I do.

Conversely, I have a neighbor who periodically will have really, really loud sex for hours and hours such that I'm surprised that the local Code Compliance officers haven't issued her a noise citation. But when I see her in the neighborhood, I find that she is an average-looking woman. Baggy clothes, hair ponytailed, a bit chunky. She confuses me as well, because surely someone so unremarkable shouldn't be allowed to have loud sex for hours and hours. Only the Pretty people are allowed to behave in this way. I hate that I think this way, but I do.

I hate that my reactions to Pretty, or the lack of, are often uncharitable.

Obviously, I concluded, I have some twisted notions of what conventionally pretty women and "average" looking women can and cannot do. Then I became curious about my own definitions of beauty. What do I consider to be physically attractive?

Two images immediately came to mind. Not surprisingly, both my current images of pretty are tied to athleticism. One is imagined, the other is real. Interestingly enough, one is white and the other is black.

So, let's examine the two pretties:

First up, the fantasy woman: The Blond Girl of Summer

This is a girl who lives in my mind's eye and who I see when I think about my ideal image of health and beauty. This girl has a lot to do with sunshine and shampoo commercials. She is a woman of long limbs, flat belly, tanned skin and Botticelli blond hair. She strides along rivers and meadows and mountain paths and beaches. Mostly she is barefoot, and she has fantastic feet with strong tendons leading to the toes. Her hair gleams in the golden light. She eats berries and shellfish. Her legs go on forever. When she strides, the muscles in her thighs are defined and sleek. Sometimes she twirls for no good reason (cue "The Sound of Music"). She is perpetually young, perpetually blithe to the passage of time. She tackles life with physical exuberance. This is the image that comes to mind when I breathe in the scent of heat and sunshine, when I myself feel active and attractive.

Now, the real-life woman: The African-American Bombshell

During an airport layover on my recent trip, I was entranced by a black woman waiting in the same terminal. She was tall, with gorgeous skin, wide, wide hips and thick, strong thighs. Think Queen Latifah meets Serena Williams. She was wearing jeans and a belly-baring shirt. I wanted to look at her forever. I admired this woman's body and her physical presence -- something about her was very attractive and made me intensely curious. I tend to crush out on other women, not strictly in a sexual way, but certainly in an emotional way: I want to be their best friend, I want to hang out with them, I want to hold their hand and share confidences. But this crushing out process always starts with some sort of physical fascination.

In this case, this woman was striking and commanded attention. Now, imagine my giddy horror when the woman and her husband ended up having assigned seats next to me. She was so gorgeous! I was slain by shyness. Eventually, over the two-hour flight, we did exchange some pleasant conversation. I listened to her tease her husband and laugh with him. It became important for me to find a way to tell her that I found her to be beautiful. I know that it's important for a woman -- especially one who is not conventionally pretty according to Western terms -- to know that she is attractive.

So at the baggage claim, while her husband was catching their luggage, I marshaled my courage, and blushing madly the whole time (because I was, in a way, flirting), told her that she was, in my book, gorgeous and shapely. She thanked me very sweetly and said it was always good for mother of three like herself to hear such compliments. Then I turned tail and ran.

So these, lately, have been my two touchstones for beauty. Both fetishized, no doubt, but still yardsticks of sort for my own aspirations.

Strong. Sleek. Muscular. Shapely. Unconcerned with the world's opinion. Engaged in the world.

That's Pretty for me. I wasn't feeling it Sunday. I'd like, this week, though, to have some Pretty days. Some Sunshine Girl days and Bombshell days, or at least the 5'4" and brunette versions of them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Meatball Tribulations & other sundry items of note

My upper body strength is so pitiful I can't even get a plastic meatball to shoot out the mouth of a plastic man.

I had to take a First Aid course for my job and part of that was practicing the Heimlich maneuver on a dummy. Everyone in the class easily got the damn meat on a string out of SmooshyBoy's gullet without any trouble, but I had to practically molest the poor fellow to get it out. Not once, but twice: first for the meatball, and then again for the hot dog.

Sadly, the fact of my questionable usefulness in a hotdog emergency has not provided enough motivation to get me back into the weight room on a regular basis.

I ran my third 5k this weekend. Here is the chronological comparison of all three 5k's:

December 4th, 2004: 35:04
February 19th, 2005: 33.20
April 16th, 2005: 31:16

I consciously pushed myself in this run, and felt a bit nauseous for my efforts. It was a crazy fitness day anyway, because I rode my bike a few miles to get to the race, then road my bike downtown to the YMCA to take a spinning class with a friend for the first time. That spinning class was hard! I could barely stand on the pedals for 30 seconds at a time and at a few points had to drape my entire upper body across the handles to give myself a break. And also, my ass hurt.

That just reminds me that I can't get too cocky about the small strides I make in my running performance, because then things like the Heimlich Incident and the Spinning pop up to show me that I'm not quite the Ironwoman of the Year that I imagine in my head.

I was out of town the last few days on a business trip to Minneapolis. I hardly ever get to go on business trips, so I treat them like mini-vacations and try to cram all kinds of things into my available free time.

I loved it! My extended family lives in Minneapolis, so I've visited many times, but it's been a while. It's a gorgeous city in the springtime, and seems like a fitness junkie's paradise. There are extensive greenway and trail systems all over the city; there are bike lanes downtown and plenty of people using them (but put on helmets, people!). There are urban lakes where actual swimming is allowed.

It was very vibrant and swarming with active, attractive people. Not to mention the beautiful architecture and stunning homes and fascinating mix of Scandinavian and immigrant cultures.

I always tend to fall in love with new places I visit. I'm smitten.

I went for a 45-minute run my first morning to an urban park in perfect 50-degree weather, and then walked and walked all over the downtown and university areas when I had free time. I even almost missed my flight back home because I wanted to try Ethiopian food and trekked for an hour and a half to find the restaurant (which ended up being yummy and worth the hike).

The only thing I couldn't schedule time for was a bike rental. I could have conquered that town on a bike!

I love urban cities that bustle like this and have a vibrant inner core. It's inspired me to start a "Tourist in My Hometown" project, where I will explore my city with new eyes. It also gives me an excuse to make a massive list, which always makes me happy.

Next up: another 5K this weekend to kick off a huge downtown parade. I think I might be too busy acting goofy and waving to the crowd to actually PR, but it should be fun. In years past I've participated in this parade as part of a dance performance group and enjoyed myself tremendously, so I'm glad to have found a way to participate again.

Happy Fiesta!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Food, a love story

When I was growing up my private shame was the armfuls of historical romance novels I checked out from the local library. My taste ran to novels set in Regency England, peopled with heroes and heroines who engaged in witty repartee whilst dancing waltzes or while meeting clandestinely in the conservatory.

The paperbacks were stuffed into a swiveling rack at the library, and I used to lurk near it, pretending to be looking at the serious literature on a nearby shelf when really I was squinting to read the titles of covers that featured dashing young bucks or demure damsels tricked out in the latest stare of fashion (and showing a fair bit of forbidden ankle for the ladies or a well-muscled thigh for the gentlemen).

Mostly, my 14-year-old heart beat in shameful anticipation of finding a sex scene buried on the 200th page, laughably tame in hindsight but suggestive enough to rivet me to the page. I still remember my desire to flee as the elderly volunteer painstakingly stamped the due dates on my books while I silently urged her to "hurry, hurry" before a person with Important Literature to check out lined up and saw my books with titles like "The Duke and the Governess" or "The Bluestocking Bride".

There are a ton of cliched tropes in this kind of formulaic literature. There is also quite a bit of anachronism. Many of the heroines in historic romance novels are budding feminists, firebrands of intellectual thought and progressive politics, fighting against a restrictive, narrow-minded, patriarchal society. These are women who often literally shed their corsets and tight lacings in order to ride bareback on horses or tramp across the fields. These are women who rebel.

At some point I noticed that the authors of these novels -- all modern women -- where also engaging in commentary on body issues. Specifically, I came to identify a trope I'll call the Hearty Eater.

Now, the Hearty Eater is a woman who -- unlike the boring, brainless society misses surrounding her -- digs into her meals of watercress sandwiches and kippers and teacakes with unusual gusto. Her intellectual passions are such that she is heedless of displaying gauche manners by taking a second helping of jellied chicken or cold tongue. So lost is she in the rigors of the table conversation that a bit of marzipan from the dessert tray may linger on her chin, tempting her lovesick swain. She might even -- egad -- forget herself enough to lick her fingers. She may even be daring enough to knock back some after-dinner port or Madeira.

The hero often comments on the beguiling nature of the heroine's appetite and on her alluring curves and plump face. He may bring her treats and sweetmeats to show his approval of the obvious pleasure she takes from food.

I've been thinking about this trope lately in reference to myself. Because I am a quintessentially Hearty Eater, 21st century style.

I dig into my food. I roll my eyes with appreciation. I may groan when something particularly yummy passes my taste buds. I ask for seconds. I have been known to rub my hands together in anticipation and dance in my chair when confronted with the prospect of a well-made meal. I soak up sauces and gravies with bread. I run my finger along the rims of bowls and plates to get at that last lovely bit of food. I drink beers and wines until a warm relaxation permeates my body and my head lolls back against the chair or couch. Good conversation makes this table experience all the more pleasurable.

Men I have eaten with seem to like a woman who digs into her food. Many have said so out loud. I find that men like to watch a woman eat. They like to encourage another helping or the indulgence in a sinful dessert.

It feels like a defiance of sorts, to be a person -- a woman, more to the point -- who publicly adores food. There is clearly a sensual association with having a strong appetite. For me, at least, I associate eating well with having a certain power over men.

Somehow eating this way makes me feel more intellectually powerful as well. Because by enjoying my food I'm not in company with one of those other vain, silly, shallow women who pick at what's on their plates. I am not one of them, those silly, deluded gooses. I associate enjoyment of food with a feeling of intellectual capability because, over time, the best meals I've had were the ones where the conversation flowed and ranged and pricked at all my senses so that I tingled with aliveness and a sense of heady power in the attractiveness of my own personality.

I'm at a place where I've realized that I equate a hearty appetite with being a woman of feminist, intellectual heft. A person who embraces life, not one who restricts it. A person who talks and eats and thinks and eats and eats some more.

I was having a conversation last night with a female professor about how humans are creatures of routine. How our patterns of thought are set early on and it takes sometimes seismic events to shake up our perspectives. We wake up, we eat our regular breakfast, we go to work, we come home and watch TV, take a shower and go to bed. We do these things because that's just the way things are done. That's the way life is lived.

I like my routine and recognize its value. But I often want to do things differently. One of my favorite words in Spanish is gustar because it is a flexible, encompassing word that can be used to indicate a whole host of pleasurable feelings: the pleasure of meeting someone new, the delight in a favorite activity, the classiness of something done in good taste, the flight of fancy that leads to an amusing, delectable encounter. The word also refers to flavor, to the physical sensation of taste.

I want to live life con gusto. I want to live the way I eat: not inside the bounds of what is strictly necessary for survival but instead curiously, ravenously, sensually.

I think this is why I resist so much the idea of changing my eating habits. I find the idea threatening to my whole concept of myself, of my personality. I'm that girl -- the Hearty Eater. The thrilling, slightly rebellious heroine of my own amusing, clever, sweetly sexy storyline. Take away that, and I'm just an empty dustcover.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Veggie Tales

I did something this weekend I hardly ever do: I bought broccoli.

I have no clue why. Call it a mad impulse, if you will. An act of temporary insanity brought on my the alarming lack of phytochemicals in my system.

I currently have in my refrigerator in a state of semi-rot, the following forlorn veggies: green peppers, romaine lettuce, mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, cucumber and cauilflower. I also have some very freeze-addled peas lounging in the freezer. Added now to this motley collection is my arch-nemisis, the aforementioned brocolli.

I have no problem with fruit. Fruit is aesthetically pleasing. Fruit is portable and does not require cooking. Fruit is sweet! Exhibit A:

It's just the veggies that continue to elude me gastronimically. They are oddly shaped and shame me with my inability to cook them into anything other than mush. I just don't see eye to eye with them. They are from Mars, I am from Venus. There is no meeting of the minds between us. We need an interpreter. We need a neutral third party to mediate. I'm thinking the United Nations of Tempura Batter might help.

At least my veggie shopping was a workout. I've finally figured out a grocery-hauling system that works to my satisfaction. I submit Exhibit B:

The only problem came when I unloaded one side and the bike promptly fell over. The only casualties, though, were some bruised strawberries. That just means I have to eat them sooner, is all.


In other news, I bought a pedometer to see if this will help motivate me to exercise on the days I don't run.

This weekend I ran 6.1 miles for the first time, in 75 minutes. That's a 12:17 pace, according to the pace calculator.

The next morning I ran 3 miles for the first time in a group of other women. They were doing a run/walk session of 5 minutes running and 1 minute walking, which was interesting for me. The women completed a marathon last winter this way.

My knees hurt the rest of the weekend, and my hamstrings were incredibly tight. I was hobbling around everywhere. I'm going to try a Pilates class this week, just for kicks.

And then the weirdest thing happened. All this time I've been running, my clothes have still fit the same. I haven't seen a noticable difference in any of my pants or skirts, which are mostly size 14. But this weekend I went clothes shopping for the first time in over a year for some new skirts, and I had to go down to a size 10 in all of them to find a good fit.

I don't understand why my own clothes fit the same, but new clothes don't. Weird. In perhaps a positive way, but weird nevertheless.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Turning 30 in the Land of Tuba

I'd like to do something special for my 30th birthday in May. Lately, I've been thinking of doing something illegal, even.

I'd like to travel to a country that rhymes with "Tuba". Since I'm positive that Big Brother reads Blogs -- especially mine -- I will not refer to this intriguing, forbidden place by name.

I have some ideas on how to accomplish this goal. And, if I end up getting busted, ya'll will help out with the bail, right? I can even put up a nifty PayPal button and everything.

If Project Tuba doesn't work out, I still want to do something out of my comfort zone for my 30th. Something that's always been on my "someday" list. Because as Marla says, Someday is Now.
Some random observations:

I've come to the conclusion that my entire office is cleverly constructed out of cake and cookies, like some marvelous Willie Wonka fantasy. If I took a bite out of the corner of my desk: cake. If I licked my stapler: tootsie roll. If I munched on my post-it notes: sugar cookies.

Why don't they market chew toys for adults? I've realized that I have a strong oral compulsion to have something chewy in my mouth at all times. My personal adult chew toy would be pink, squeaky and cookie-flavored. When particularly excited, I might even flail my head back and forth, grrrrrring happily. If I had a tail, I'd wag it.

These are the most inspired lyrics ever: Food Glorious Food.

Monday, April 04, 2005


So Coach is having me work up to six miles. I'm not getting faster, though, and thus no closer to my goal of running with the club. I'm sitting at 11 minute miles, and the running club he operates runs 10 minute miles.

I realized this week what a great deal Coach is providing. I think he feels sorry for me! His normal individual sessions cost $35/hour or so. His fee for me basically works out to $4/hour. I also have a prime 5:30 p.m. slot.

He must like my company, as he does a fair bit of flirting and off-color joke telling.

I think it's innocuous, but I'll say straight up that I have terribly instincts. What if this whole cheap coaching deal is some kinky quid pro quo situation? What if I set some boundaries and I never get to run with the club because I piss him off? I just want to run with the club, people.

So I've decided to push myself a bit more over the next weeks to see if I can get to that magic 10 minute mile mark.

My motivation will be not having to deal with the weird machinations of men. Dudes! Quit it!

It's amazing how much mental concentration it takes to commit to a fitness routine.

I haven't been weight lifting in three weeks. Three weeks! I got bored. I'm going to try something new by switching my lifting to my lunch hour twice a week at a gym across the street from my office. Coach says all really need to be doing, though, is sit-ups and push-ups. He's a military man, and into minimalism.

I'm in a distracted place right now. There are other things clamoring for my attention. And I'm feeling a bit petulant, honestly, about the time that fitness planning takes.

But I'll get over it. At least I feel positive that these recent distractions aren't a clever way to say I'm quitting. Not at all. They're just distractions. When I think of the next weeks and months I still envision myself running, biking and playing throughout the movie reel that unwinds in my head.

I just need to focus the image some.