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“Be grateful for anything that still cuts. Dissonance is a beauty that familiarity hasn’t yet destroyed.”

Richard Powers, Orfeo

1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (English translation published 2011, surrealist science fiction)

“It’s just that you’re about to do something out of the ordinary. And after you do something like that, the everyday look of things might seem to change a little. Things may look different to you than they did before. But don’t let appearances fool you. There’s always only one reality.”

I have found an echo of myself in the work of Haruki Murakami, who explores the Japanese psyche in an unaffected yet intricate style. When I initially finished this masterwork, I wrote a bit about it here. Told from three different points of view, exploring the themes of love’s redemption, alternative realities, how we make art, religious cultism, and violence, 1Q84 has changed my way of seeing the world forever. Gobsmacked right in the gut. As I read, I felt I had lived my whole life just to be reading this novel at the moment. One of my favorite pieces of fiction, ever…

Which is curious, because this novel has vocal detractors. One review called it “stupefying.” Others hate the style, deride it as repetitious, find the ending a bit cliched. I see these criticisms, and I can identify the places in the novel that lead to them.

The most curious part of reading Murakami is that I can’t shake the distinct feeling that I am reading his mind itself, not ever just the book. I am as much taken by the way he writes as I am with respect to what he writes. After reading his running memoir last month, 1Q84, and then his nonfiction account of the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway, I hear him so clearly in whatever genre he is using that it seems that his way of looking at the world is itself the book—the grand book—that he just happens to be writing in all these various works he publishes. To a lesser extent, I feel that way about Richard Powers, too. Yes, both authors have their favorite themes and motifs and hallmarks of style, but what I am talking about here seems to go beyond that. Murakami has a voice unlike any author I’ve ever encountered, one that rings true and consistent from work to work, one that builds on itself. He’s in the work, I feel. Other authors, Powers included, hold themselves at a bit of a remove; one senses, in contrast, that Murakami is not separate from his words and cannot be.

Added to this, I find myself resonating greatly with the version of the Japanese psyche that Murakami presents in his books. Sort of stoic and self-effacing, but to the point of an almost grave naivete and innocence that cannot bear to be lost, while at the same time entertaining a highly intelligent awareness of the world’s deepest damnations and not-so-improbable perils.

1Q84 is, I feel, a book that must be read. Of course it has thin lines of connection to Orwell’s work, but I think the real demand on us as readers is to force us to confront both our role as the audience in constructing meaning when we experience art, as well as our agency or lack thereof in constructing the narratives of our own lives. 1Q84 is a tome at almost 1000 pages, but I feel it must be tackled. Bill polished it off this month, too, upon hearing my wild raptures of praise for it. Not entirely sure what his mind has done with it yet… This work seems to be one that drips through the system, slowly creeping through every vein, forever. I’ll be making sense of it for awhile.

2. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (dystopian fiction, 2005)

“The problem, as I see it, is that you’ve been told and not told. You’ve been told, but none of you really understand, and I dare say, some people are quite happy to leave it that way.”

This novel, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, came to me as a recommendation from my sis-in-love’s mother. So my mother-in-law-in-law? Ha ha, I don’t know…we’re all family, that’s what I say! Lorraine’s apt recommendation was a perfect follow up to 1Q84, from which I had to emerge.

Never Let Me Go had to be one of the more disturbing dystopian novels I’ve read, I must say. It’s so subtle, but I think that’s why Never Let Me Go works as well as it does. I kept asking myself why it was so bothersome. I think, for me, it’s because the characters are so resigned to their fate and so docile. Tommy’s angry outbursts begin to form a rebellion of a sort, but he, too, accepts the social plan in the end.

In most other dystopian novels, at least one character is fighting—they see the truth plainly and reject it—but Ishiguro’s characters instead emphasize and celebrate their own conformity. Ruth wants to mimic the gestures of other couples, for example, and Kathy is also so passive. There is constantly a sense of giving up in this novel.

Also, while reading it, I felt very contained. There is almost a quiet claustrophobia inherent in the setting, to me. From the squalid conditions of The Cottages to the ruin of Hailsham to the foggy and windy Norfolk Coast to fields of weeds fenced in with prickly wire, there is a sense that everywhere the clones turn, there is no escaping.

I started wondering why no one fought. Or what would happen if the main characters did rise up. What kind of government is in the background of this novel? So many unanswered questions…. Ishiguro is so subtle. I think it is a brilliant book in this respect.

One of the bigger themes, though, can apply to all of us as well. If we all die in the end, what is the meaning of our lives? What is our purpose? All of our schooling, our lessons, our failed and thriving relationships—does any of that have a point? What would Ishiguro say about that?

3. When Plague Strikes: the Black Death, Smallpox, AIDS by James Cross Giblin (nonfiction, history of science, 1995)

“Some British clergymen played on these worries. In a sermon delivered in 1722, the Rev. Edmund Massey cited Job, who suffered terribly in the Old Testament but never challenged God’s tests of him. ‘The fear of the disease is a happy restraint to men,’ Massey said. ‘If men were more healthy, ’tis a great chance they would be less righteous. Let the Atheist and the Scoffer inoculate. Their hope is in and for only this life. Let the rest of bless God for the Afflictions He sends among us, and grant us patience under them.'” 

Uh, okay. Scary, huh? Particularly since we’ve (inexplicably and irrationally) returned to this debate (and variations thereof) in the modern 2000s. I think I will let this quote mainly stand on its own. I’ll be taking my vaccinations (not inoculations at this point in our technology), thanks, and making sure my children have them, too.

This book, which is from 1995 and therefore not written as a response to the anti-vaxxer movement, offers extremely relevant information to the science minded and to the anti-vaxxers alike. Particularly if you are an anti-vaxxer, it is worth looking into an objective historical treatment of the science behind vaccination. People forget what it was like…

4. Golden Legacy: How Golden Books Won Children’s Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way by Leonard Marcus (nonfiction, history of publishing, 2007)

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I am collecting those Disney mugs, too. This one is my Bambi mug. If I can, I like to come home from my training and sneak in a bit of reading time and a few sips of coffee before my children wake up.

Golden Legacy was a gift from my friend Steve when he stayed last month for his Spartan races. I had claps of excitement when I received it because I noticed right away that it was written by the same scholar who put together and edited Ursula Nordstrom’s letters in Dear Genuis, which I read last June and which is one of my favorite reads of the year. Nordstrom was the children’s books editor at Harper Collins for years, and the voice in her letters is so greatly enjoyable.

Marcus has put together another engaging study here. Because I grew up with Golden Books, and because my children and I have dozens that we’ve read again and again, turning the pages and finding the history of particular authors and books was a real treat. Reading about Eloise Wilkin and Richard Scarry and Garth Williams was terribly exciting, since they are like friends to me.

Surprises:  1) how vocally librarians were at first against the rise of Golden Books, considering them “cheap” non-literary books; 2) Western Publishing’s work with Disney; 3) the unintended consequences of Golden Books giving authors like Margaret Wise Brown leverage in negotiating contracts with other publishers like Harper Collins.

The reproductions of art in this book are AMAZING. Not only is the history intriguing, but to have some of the best Golden Book art in one place is beyond thrilling. I know almost every book and author mentioned in this celebratory book (we have a children’s book library at home that is fairly over-the-top, I have to admit), so reading about them felt cozy, homey, and familiar.

5. Orfeo by Richard Powers (fiction, 2014)

This Powers book made it to the Man Booker Prize long list, an honor I believe most Powers novels deserve. This one tells the story of 70-year-old avant garde composer Peter Els who has retired from teaching and composing and who spends his time biohacking musical compositions into bacteria. This attracts the attention of the government, and Peter Els flees across the United States while being unable to flee his history with music and relationships with the women in his life.

Orfeo was, by far, the most demanding work I read this month. Readers of my various book lists know by now that Richard Powers is one of my favorite writers and thinkers. His polymathic ability in seeing and rendering the world is unparalleled. He generates quite a bit of criticism for being too erudite and too obscure at times. To that I say: phhhhhhht. He takes work, yes. A reader doesn’t just hop into a Powers book looking for a beach read. I read Powers because he is demanding. He is the only author I read who still will use a word every now and then that I don’t know: I think we need to search out what is new and challenging. Bill and I read Powers with reference books at the ready. It’s easier on my Kindle because I can just quickly look up anything I need to know… His magnum opus is probably The Gold Bug Variations (1991), despite it being one of the first. Orfeo takes up similar themes, but if you want the most distilled taste of classic Powers, head for The Gold Variations first.

Powers is not capable of writing a boring sentence, I don’t think. I’ve certainly never seen one in his work. He often has so many layers going on that keeping up requires all my focus. Orfeo was a labor of love for me, because of how frequently Powers employed not only musical terms in this book, but how frequently he applied musical metaphors. No doubt, this included his overall structure, too. Forget about having Powers tell you directly the significance of this title, too. That takes more research and thinking…

Music, biology, computer science, redemption, frailty: common themes across his writing. He expects his reader to know…stuff. Quite a bit of stuff.  And if we don’t know? We have to learn as we go, or the book is lost on us. I love that he demands this. If we meet our obligation to him, we are richly rewarded. His writing is beautiful. Complex, intelligent, intense. I want to make it through all of his books: I’ve read six. I have to take breathers in between them!

6. Gender Born, Gender Made: Raising Healthy Gender-Nonconforming Children by Diane Ehrensaft, PhD (nonfiction, psychology, 2011)

“To be gender nonconforming is to risk being killed, but on a daily basis it more likely means being harassed, confused, and misunderstood in the community or maltreated by mental health professionals who traditionally have wanted to pathologies and fix, rather than explore and support, the gender-creative children who come to them.”

Since I definitely have a gender-creative child—to what extent yet, I do not fully know—I am beginning my education. I think I won’t go into too many particulars at the moment, other than that I love and support my children unconditionally and am glad I personally do not have a preexisting system of beliefs that would make it difficult for my children to be their authentic selves, or to feel fully loved and not condemned.

In the past month I have given this child a bit of freedom even in public to have that expression. It’s hard—I, selfishly, don’t want to be looked at, but to myself I say….tough beans, Sarah. Mostly, though, these forays have been positive, and at times when I have felt almost gutless I have had to ask myself hard questions, such as, “What social comfort could you possibly want more than your own child’s happiness?” And then I buck up. I realize now that everything I have ever lived or been through (a sense of ostracization in middle school and early 9th grade for loving school, dressing in certain ways, doing my homework, and answering in class, for example, or having judgment put on me from others who want me to follow their belief systems, or any kind of peer pressure I’ve ever rejected at all) has been gearing me up to be the mother bear for my child/children. I’m up to the task, if it turns out I need to be. I’ve already lost my innocence with respect to what human nature can be. What I fear most now is guiding my children through such a gauntlet. But I would fear that anyway… It’s just more difficult a task when the circumstances are a bit different, as this could be.

7. Underground by Haruki Murakami (nonfiction, history, English translation 2000)

“And what am I to think when our collective memory of the affair is looking more and more like a bizarre comic strip or an urban myth?” 

“The truth of whatever is told will differ, however slightly, from what actually happened. This, however, does not make it a lie; it is unmistakably the truth, albeit in another form.” 

“The Self is what should be discovered, not discarded. Terrorist crimes like the gas attack result from this process of easily giving up on the Self. If the Self is lost, then people will become completely insensitive to murder and terrorism.” 

In March 1995, religious cult Aum Shinrikyo released sarin on several trains in the Tokyo subway system. I was in 9th grade at the time, and I do not remember this event at all. Reading about it now horrified and fascinated me, especially within the context of all the religious cultism that has sprung up ever since. Just like ISIS, Aum began to fancy itself a key instrument of the end times. Unbelievably, to me, so many of the Aum renunciates were educated University of Tokyo men with science backgrounds, who happened to feel disconnected and disenchanted with culture and the world.

This is a quintessential Murakami work in that, of course he is drawn to the story inside all of the interviews he conducts. Even the idea of the underground system is a motif he uses widely in other works. The releasing of the gas evokes Murakami’s Little People in 1Q84. 1Q84 also prominently features a religious cult, which is implied but never directly stated to have the control or semi-control of the dystopian world in that novel.

What strikes me most about Murakami’s write up here is, first, how deftly he manages all of the people he interviews, including former Aum members. Murakami is more curious than critical, though every once in awhile he will ask a logical question and try to probe more deeply into one of his interviewees. From these interviews, he tries to reconstruct—a little—what happened that morning, but he is artfully carefully never to make the story linear. He writes it with the same sort of dreamlike world in mind with which he wrote 1Q84.

The Japanese psyche here called to me. What comes across is the importance many of the commuters place on work—to the point of staying in their train even after starting to feel the effects of the gas. There is a stoicism, a disbelief that anything truly bad could be happening. No mass emergency systems were in place. The trains continued to run for a time, even after the mysterious packages were removed. Hospitals and law enforcement did not communicate. A sense of isolation definitely permeates this whole work. It is a perfect companion piece to 1Q84, and I would recommend them both together.

8. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (fiction, 2015)

“My mother used to tell me that I had an overactive imagination…” 

“Twice a day, I am offered a view into other lives, just for a moment.”

Published just last month, The Girl on the Train is a Hitchcockian page turner that I could hardly put down. Hawkins makes the most of classic Hitchcock motifs: trains, peeping in windows, the voyeurism of character and reader/viewer. The themes of secrecy and murder and suspense are well done in this quick, light, read-for-pleasure book.

It drew me in initially because I’d read that the narrator was completely unstable and untrustworthy—a technique that fascinates me (I am thinking now of Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby, Holden telling us forthrightly that we can’t trust him and the latter having a narrator who swears up and down we can trust him when we really can’t. Another great one for scewy narrators is Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, one of my favorites). I had an intellectual curiosity about how the author would structure this narrator—who turns out to have help narrating from two other characters—and organize the mystery. Something dreadful happens, and telling it without telling it completely at first is really a work of skill and art.

I’d recommend this book for the sheer pleasure of it.

I have started another collection of essays from Edge.org thinkers, the most recent collection actually. Not sure I am totally committed yet to it…I’ve had a busy week and left off the reading a bit the past couple of days. This had to be one of my favorite months of reading since I began this goal at the end of last June. So many of the themes, again, seemed to dance around one another and play with each other in both expected and unexpected ways, making for a robust thought-life this month.

Happy reading to all, for the upcoming month of March!

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Up at 3:40 AM this morning to tend to an Eric who called out after a bad dream, I cuddled him for twenty minutes before my alarm came due. After settling him, reading a news article or two, scrolling through my newsfeed, and dressing in layers, I went out into the darkness, the forty-two degree cold, and laid down my morning base miles for the day (“base miles” for me usually means anything between four and five miles, knowing I will run again later either for speed work or distance). By 5:33 AM, I was three minutes late to the opening of the pool, peeling off sweats and parka in the icy air, and getting into the water.

Particularly on Tuesday mornings, it seems, there are thoughts of “I don’t feel like doing this right now” that I work to push out of my head as I drag my body to the front door. Those thoughts appear again in the CRC parking lot, knowing that the cold air hitting my cheeks will soon scold my entire body right before I jump into the water…and that it will take me at least four six lengths of the pool before my core starts to kick back in. And on Tuesdays, I know, no matter how much work I put into my goals in the morning, I still have to keep my game face and game mind ready for harder work at the end of the day. A day in which I have taught two young children ten different subjects (accounting for skill levels) all day. And cooked and cleaned and picked up.

This morning I had a sigh in my chest as I walked from my car to the pool gate. My keys always jingle in my hand ever since Eric put a bell on the ring to help me find them—I am forever losing them, often in my purse. The bell has helped. I wish I were in bed right now, I think. But not really. I know I want this life more than I want my bed. Just get in there. The hour will pass you no matter how you use it, so you might as well use it moving through the water.

The time will pass anyway. Might as well be taking care of my business. The thing is, I really love swimming and I really love running, during and especially after. I rarely love either right before I start. How to stay motivated?

I did go through a period right when Bill took over my training and enforced rest days in which I wanted to crawl out of my skin and couldn’t WAIT to run. My discovery has been this, though: when I work myself over well enough during my training days, I actually look forward to Saturday, my rest day. I have come to look forward to waking up without an alarm (still usually during the 6:00-hour) and getting to stay warm!

So this morning as I headed toward that water, I fell back to the scripts I run in my head when the little imp on my shoulder starts whispering words of temptation (Don’t you want to be warm? Don’t you want to go back to sleep? Wouldn’t you rather be reading?) in my ear. The time will pass anyway. Might as well be moving. And then: After your 2500 yards, you get a shower with your favorite shampoo in the hottest water you can stand.

My favorite shampoo in hot, hot water.

It really is that simple, sometimes.

And it got me thinking about rewards, the importance of rewards. How do we reward ourselves? When do we reward ourselves?

Used to be that I rewarded myself in all the wrong ways and at all the wrong times. Got up today? How about baking some cookies for that accomplishment? Made it through another day of motherhood? How about sleeping in, missing sending your husband off with a kiss, and overdoing breakfast by about 500 calories? Made it through some stress? How about a comfort meal? Take it easy, spend hours unwinding surfing the Internet, have no real schedule.

How we reward ourselves and with what and when: that can say quite a bit about how much we value ourselves. How do we balance future and immediate pleasures? What do we deny ourselves, and what do we give ourselves in return? What is the nature of difference between eudaemonia and hedonism? How we dole out pleasure to ourselves invites judgment from a modes of thinking that seek to ascribe moral value to pleasure for the sake of control and gain of power. Pleasure is not wrong, but it can cripple us when we take too much of a short term view (versus a long term view) of what constitutes happiness.

Short term rewards, though, have been essential to making progress on my journey. An impossible journey without a sense of very long term objectives and the awareness that true happiness comes through challenge to body and mind…but we can’t short change the role of those short term pleasures. I think willpower feeds on the balance of two questions: “What am I working for far, far down the line?” and “What will this action give me right now?

Sometimes the action gives me the right to use a shampoo I keep only in my swim bag. I bought some lotion, too, that I get to use only after a swim. Those little carrots. Of course, the act of swimming itself must be rewarding or I wouldn’t keep it up so arduously over the long term. Indeed, once in the water and going I enter a meditative zone, which is a self-reinforcing pleasure. It’s more abstract and long term, though, and admittedly that zen zone isn’t always the first carrot that comes to mind when it’s freezing and every cell rebels.

Running is so ingrained in me right now that I often look at long term goals first when ushering myself out the door. Upcoming races. Shaking out my legs. The fact that I am a runner and I am not willing to abdicate my self identity. A promise to myself that I will never let myself out of getting out there. Weight maintenance. The neurochemicals that bathe my brain in contentment.

But it used to be: a new song or two on my iPod (when I trained with music). Even now, when I am trying to psych up the night before, I think of which route sounds the best and I actually think of my run as a process of “checking up to see how some of my favorite places are doing.” Sometimes I feel like I am running to make sure all is well along my favorite paths, like a Keeper of Things.

On Sunday I had a long run scheduled (10+ miles). That’s always daunting on Saturday night, even though I take a long run (usually between 9 and 12 miles) every Sunday morning. Sometimes I try new routes or find something cozy about old ones that gives me something to grip onto. This past Sunday, I had an easy task. Last week on our family date to the Rose Haven, I encountered some of the most deliciously scented roses I’ve ever encountered. They’d been on my mind all week:

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So I decided to run to the Rose Haven specifically to smell these roses right here. It was a long way to go just to find a certain rose, but it’s truly the simple beauties in life that mean the most. People have done crazier things for love and beauty. Life needs to be lived as poetry writ large. I stopped the Garmin and wandered the Haven, greeting the early morning, smelling these, feeling the slight raindrops on my face that morning. Let myself be breathless in the wonder of it…then hit the road again.  Short term reward, made forever a part of my person.

For weights? (My least favorite training activity, and one I just realized I have been short shrifting this week). I allow myself to watch those coveted TED talks only while lifting. I set up my laptop, or I stream to Apple TV so the kiddos can partake more easily. I don’t allow myself to watch a talk—however intriguing it looks—unless I am lifting. Gotta dangle something… I think the key is to know ourselves well enough to admit we need the dangle sometimes and go right for the heart of it.

Okay, and sometimes, I still dangle the promise of food. But this time around I think of it as healthy fuel. I put all that work in: what can I eat that will complement all that effort? And help to fortify me properly for the next effort?
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Current favorite (indulgent) breakfast on a big training day: 1 frozen acai packet, half a banana, fresh berries, raw unsweetened coconut, a dash of PB2, goji berries, a couple of medjool dates, bee pollen, and some of my “quick granola.” (I often make proper big batches of granola slowly in the oven, but when I want to have just a quick bit of it, I dry toast oats with cinnamon and a scant bit of agave or honey). This is good stuff right here. I had it today, in fact.

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Lunch from another day last week: dry toast with mashed avocado and topped with a boiled egg from our girls. Salt, pepper, no mayo or butter or anything like that. A 0% Greek lemon yogurt. A bowl of pickled beets, so tangy and sweet at the same time. And a cranberry kombucha.

Those are two of my favorite meals right now, I have to say.

All day I have been trying to think of how else I reward myself. I do love a new pair of running socks right before a race. Occasionally I treat myself (like this week) to some new running clothes, or my favorite sweat pants for use right after swimming.

I’d like to say I am motivated solely by the newfound energy I have with, and for, my children and my husband. Or that I am powered simply by the overarching goals of bettering myself each day. Those motivations are there, but they don’t always get a person out the door.

Amelia Earhart once correctly observed that:

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure , the process is its own reward.”

TRUE! This is completely accurate, I’ve discovered. But we can give our tenacity a boost.

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A day at Disneyland is often one of my favorite boosts!

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And tonight: I got to try out the new all-weather track at TVHS. That track is so, so, so sweet. I looked forward to this experience all day, to the extent that I was even excited for the ladders Bill had planned (I knew he would do the ladder today, but I didn’t find out for sure until he came home. That’s another trick, by the way: I have learned not to ask my interval assignment, which always comes with target times over target distances, until right beforehand. That way, I don’t fret all day about performing it correctly).

What short term rewards give you a boost? What do you to reward yourself as you pursue your most challenging goals?

Until next time,

Sarah

“‘The time has come,” said the Walrus, “to talk of many things: of shoes and ships—and sealing wax—and cabbages and kings…”‘

LEWIS CARROLL, The Walrus and the Carpenter
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“Music forecasts the past, recalls the future. Now and then the difference falls away, and in one simple gift of circling sound, the ear solves the scrambled cryptogram. One abiding rhythm, present and always, and you’re free. But a few measures more, and the cloak of time closes back around you.” -Richard Powers, ORFEO

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“Flashing lights and we, took a wrong turn and we/Fell down the rabbit hole/You held on tight to me/Cause nothing’s as it seems/Spinning out of control/Didn’t they tell us don’t rush into things/Didn’t you flash your green eyes at me/Haven’t you heard what becomes of curious minds/…We found wonderland/You and I got lost in it/And we pretended it could last forever…”

-TAYLOR SWIFT, Wonderland

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My Katie on our walk tonight said this moon reminded her of the Cheshire Cat’s smile. As we rounded the corner toward home after a stop at the park, the sky streamed out behind this moon in striped mauve and grey.

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When Katie goes for a walk, she dances. And sometimes sings. “Take me to church/I’ll worship like a dog on a Saturday night.” Close enough! By the way, have you seen this? It’s been making the rounds but bears another share. Sergei Polunin’s performance here as he interprets Hozier’s song is one of the most beautiful performances I’ve ever seen.

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Since the iPod jack in my car got kiddo’d awhile ago, I have returned to albums in the car. That’s okay: I prefer to have the album artwork and liner notes. Hard to take a girl all the way out of the 90s! I treated myself to these albums last weekend.

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“They say we are what we are/But we don’t have to be./I’m bad behavior but I do it in the best way./I’ll be the watcher of the eternal flame./I’ll be the guard dog of all your fever dreams./I am the sand in the bottom half of the hourglass./I try to picture me without you but I can’t/’Cause we could be immortals, immortals/Just not for long, for long…”

-FALL OUT BOY, “Immortals”

Evenings at the track, pictured above in a photo from this past Tuesday, have increased to two sessions per week as I near my March races. If the bulk of my winter training has thus far been to build base miles (with some intense 40 to 50 mile weeks with double-run-days, plus swims), then as we head into spring (THANK THE STARS!!!) I am digging deep for the speed that has been sown with consistently bashing my sleepy face against the dark, cold, unforgiving mornings of some of my junk miles. I had started to worry that my speed was leaving me—it’s been a grueling winter, but I have run sheerly on a wholehearted trust in the process—but now that I get to dig, I find I have more speed than I have ever had, by quite a significant amount. The two speedwork sessions are murdering my legs weekly, but by the next week I find more gain. Occasionally, there is a third session of hill repeats at threshold on Friday mornings before I swim. Today my legs were WAY too thrashed for the hill repeats (although I did some “shake out” base miles this morning before pool laps, my legs were so thrashed that they woke me up repeatedly last night), because last night I did a series of 880s on a ten mile day at beyond race pace. I negative split those suckers, actually. That was kind of a proud moment, after a week of hard training… That gives me hope for how I might perform rested and tapered.

I’ve been training for a YEAR for a couple of repeat races next month. I am seeking improvement… It’s kind of crazy to have this huge goal in mind all year and be so close to having to prove myself to myself. I don’t feel too many nerves quite yet, but I have a very focused determination brewing right now. When I think of the hundreds—more like a couple thousand, maybe—of miles I have run in a year to get to this point, I feel more determined than ever to finish training as best as I can, which includes cross training properly and eating the right fuel. I’ve run over 260 miles since January 1st, alone. That’s what Bill reported last week, so after this week, it’s fairly close to 300 miles since Jan. 1st, I think.

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In contrast, as of last Friday I finally made my first 25-mile sub-goal (and then some) for the 100 mile swim this year. I swim just three days a week and get between 80 and 100 laps each of those days. I am at 30.7 miles as of today. Next stop is 50. With taper weeks and vacation/travel, I am still hopeful I can complete this objective no later than October. A couple of swimmers have already gone past 100 miles since January 1st, and I think the pool must be their primary source of training. I see some truly beautiful swimmers. One of the reasons I love to swim (outside of how great it feels) is that I get to witness all these tributes to human athleticism and power down there. One woman (I have discovered through careful online stalking) is actually this incredible triathlete in the 50-55 range. She gliiiiiiiiiiiiides. I try to watch her without watching in order to pick up technique. Some man today did so many across-the-entire-bottom-of-the-pool lengths in a row that I lost count. That lung capacity! Can you imagine? The pool has been busy lately. I’ve been circle swimming a bit more frequently than usual. The real treat last week, though, was that Bill had a four-day weekend, with both Monday and Friday (two of my three swim days) off. That meant I could go for 140 laps (2 miles) each day instead of having to rush home by 6:55 AM.

My mornings are busy. What’s strange is how I never used to do any of it, or get to bask in the sunrise, or hear the birds wake up, or feel like I was starting the day powerfully…and now I would miss all of those early mornings of exercise so very much, and they have become a fundamental part of my identity. My skin has come to know how light (not temperature, but light itself) feels different to the touch depending on the time of day. I cannot imagine not smelling the scent of dawn, which has the most beautiful scent, I think, of any time of day. I cannot imagine letting go of the hush that falls in the night, even though cars are bustling. I find it strange that I spent so many years not knowing these mysteries…when now I couldn’t live fully as myself without them.

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On Monday—a non-school day—I declared “Monday Fun-day!” and after I got home from the pool, we packed a lunch and went for a 4+ mile hike at the Santa Rosa Plateau. I am thinking about trying to get out there again this weekend, we’ll see. It’s lovely, and I am ready for sunshine and spring. After the plateau, we decided to see the new version of “Annie” at the local theater. LOVED IT. I have never fully clicked with the original, but this one has won me all the way over. Normally I dislike reboots (even the concept, let alone the content) for some very serious reasons, but this one? Perfect. On the way home, we picked up a frozen pizza and little ice creams for the kiddos. I think we all agreed it was a favorite day.

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Learning some new hairstyles and braids for Katie-girl…

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Art project this week: render the five mathematical patterns that recur in nature (spiral, meander, explosion/fractal, packing, branching).

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We do art in the house, but we have tried to turn our garage into a bit of space with an art-studio feel.
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Katie’s “explosion”

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Eric took this unbeknownst to me one evening during my practice sesh. This is the face of intense concentration, I tell you! Oh, and jammies!

“The only way you can know, you gave it all you had/And I hope that you don’t suffer but take the pain/Hope when the moment comes you’ll say/I, I did it all/I, I did it all/I owned every second that this world could give/I saw so many places, the things that I did/With every broken bone, I swear I lived….”

-ONE REPUBLIC, “I Lived”

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Eric, while coloring today, noticed that his red went out of the lines at the top of the duck. He quipped, “Look! The duck has static electricity!” He’s hilarious!

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Katie’s been doing the bulk of menu planning and cooking this week. She loves her Annabel Karmel “We Cook Together” cookbook. Tonight she made honeyed salmon skewers and rice (I made a Caesar salad with homemade croutons). She has also made us a chicken and corn pasta salad and chocolate truffles. My favorite meal is pictured above: she made Greek wraps with curried chicken and a layered strawberry dessert. She loves to cook! Thanks to her, we’re eaten well this week, that’s for sure!

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Valentine’s Day math journals: estimation of candy hearts in an area

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Lovin’ on my babies with rainbow heart pancakes on Valentine’s Day.

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Boccone dolce for Valentine’s Day dessert—my favorite dessert! Three layers of meringue, with whipped cream and berries in between each layer, topped with more whipped cream, berries, and drizzled dark chocolate (and mint). We had my parents over for dessert and had an otherwise mellow day. I took Katie and Eric for a long stroll/wander/walk/scooter (4-5 miles), and then I got home in time to watch the Millrose Games with my love, my one V-day wish. The next day after my long run, we set up the xBox, and for the first time in seven years, I got to play Guitar Hero with Bill, Eric, and Katie. (Last epic sesh was for four hours the day before Katie was born)! Fun! We also grabbed some Jamba Juice and went on a little family date to the Rose Haven.

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Tonight on our we-try-to-daily walks. I get my exercise in the morning, but the kiddos need some, too… We’ve been trying to do a couple of miles at least in as many just-before-dinner walks as we can manage in a week. Difficult, on interval days—can’t wait for the days to be a bit longer, even though, generally, I prefer the night.

Our schooling is going the best it has ever gone, and Eric is almost fully bought in to our structure now. I don’t know what we’re going to do with him: he is slightly above beginning-K level in reading and phonics, is onto addition and time telling in math, and works at Katie’s level in science. Katie’s moved out of her second grade history book (we are deep into the Rev. War), and out of her science book (following their Earth science outline, but really extending it). We’re psyched to be studying rocks in depth right now. We started today one of four rock labs I have planned (turn dolomite into a source of crystals), and they spent time earlier this week studying rock types (igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic). We’ve made a model of the Earth’s layers and are excited to have the promise of so many labs with this unit.

Katie has also delved into multiplication, and that is going well.

We’re doing an author study of William Steig.

Every morning, she begins with the same set of warm-ups without fail: four pages of Explode the Code (level 6, though she finds it easy); a MAPS lesson (after she polished off the second grade level weeks ago, I skipped a level and went straight to Level D for harder map skills); and a set of grammar corrections from Daily Language Review. We then have a math review assignment for both kids (which might be in their Math Journals, or not), then a math lesson with new material.

While we used to do the core (English, math) daily and then alternate history and science, we now strive to do all subjects daily. French gets short shrifted now and then. They practice piano daily. It’s busy. I often have more lesson plans ideas I am excited about than I can do, but the nice thing about homeschooling is that I can fit things in on weekends. We’re always reading, talking, experimenting… It’s good. We’re currently in a rhythm that is working well for us, probably the best it has ever worked. I’ve been apprehensive about doing two kids at different levels, but with Eric getting well into his reading phase, I have hope that he will slide into his K year ready to roll. We did also cut back on a couple of extra-currics, and the “extra” time at home is such a bonus. Slowing a day or two down has been a good strategy. It’s not so much that the extra-curriculars themselves take time (the content is beneficial anyway); moreso, it is the accounting for transitions in and out of those activities that can suck the time up. Balance, balance, balance.

Have a great weekend, all!

“The moon had been observing the earth close-up longer than anyone. It must have witnessed all of the phenomena occurring – and all of the acts carried out – on this earth. But the moon remained silent; it told no stories. All it did was embrace the heavy past with a cool, measured detachment. On the moon there was neither air nor wind. Its vacuum was perfect for preserving memories unscathed. No one could unlock the heart of the moon. Aomame raised her glass to the moon and asked, “Have you gone to bed with someone in your arms lately?”
The moon did not answer.
“Do you have any friends?” she asked.
The moon did not answer.
“Don’t you get tired of always playing it cool?”
The moon did not answer.”

Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

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Today: a new distance PR for Long Run Sunday of 17.12 miles. Finished by the light of the moon. The mind in its blissful void turns everything over at a distance, just as my legs turn over and over. After awhile, there is no sense of discomfort. There remains just the place in the mind where colors, sounds, smells, and memories are keenly interesting and vital, though nothing sticks for too long. It is the place where I observe my own body, my own mind. What a funny creature. The void is limitless potential, a womb of creativity. Senses merge, almost synesthesially: the color of the sunset becomes the pulse in my quads. The rhythm of my breath is wind. Worlds, or perhaps just more dimensions of this world, seem to lay themselves bare. There is pain, until there isn’t. And then the rushing sensation that these thoughts could carry a person forever over any terrain…

As I sit sipping my jasmine tea, this feathery tickle in my chest finally seems to be losing its fight. I spent a few days febrile but missed only my intervals and managed to claim my weekly 40 miles by Friday afternoon. The craziest stunt I pulled this week was swiggin’ a dose of ibuprofen at a 100.6 degree temperature on Wednesday and making up the two swimming miles I had lost on Monday (by choice, as I was in Newport) and Tuesday (by force, as the pool had flooded). My dad came and watched the kids, and I let the cool water caress my warm cheeks for 120 lengths. I am at slightly over 17 miles of pool laps for January, so I am on pace to meet my New Year’s goal of 100 miles this year. I am building padding so that I don’t fall behind on taper weeks or times when I am traveling.

In the end, it wasn’t even this respiratory ailment that wrecked me this week.

It’s a book. A book has turned me inside out this week. It’s been awhile—perhaps never—that a novel has so utterly laid me out. When I started Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 last weekend, I knew I would never finish it in time for my January reading list…at almost 1000 pages. I was right, but just. I finished it last night at twenty-past-midnight. I stayed up too late. Between my reading hangover and my drippy nose, I didn’t feel quite good today until the first three miles of my run.

1Q84 has changed me, forever. The thin membranes of the mind that separate a reader from an author and from characters and from real and fictional worlds have been so carefully permeated that I am sure these words and characters shall stay with me forever. To say I become involved with this work of fiction would be to speak in understatement. 1Q84 is one of the top five books in my life that has pushed me intellectually. It is lodged now right in my core.

I told Katie a little bit about the plot and signifiers when I was about 80% of the way through. “So,” she intuited, “it sounds like it’s a book about making art.”

Yes, indeed. And about the triumph of love over dystopian elements.

Japanese and Kafka-esque novelist Murakami is also a distance runner, and I read his running memoir last month after my friend Steve brought it over during a Spartan weekend. This is significant primarily because I think this is the kind of fiction that may well spring from the mind of a man who runs and runs and runs and knows the void. He runs at least one marathon a year and is a triathlete as well.

If there is only one piece of fiction ever to read, it might well be this novel here. My innards are still splayed out as I try to figure out, “How did he so artfully construct the rules of this world—these multiple worlds, in fact—such that within those parameters I as a reader was able to accept some of the more implausible moments?” If one starts looking at the words and structure as a sort of code, it is intellectual fodder for days. The fact is, his fictional worlds begin—through literary analysis—to seep over into this one. If this is a book about self, identity, conceptual/shadow selves, reading, authorship, and words themselves then, in fact, it can’t not permeate this world. AHHHH!

I can’t even stand how much I love this book. One febrile night, I tossed and turned and every time I woke up, my mind was trying to work out the significance of “The Little People.” Murakami places this signifiers in the book but gives them almost no signification—are they symbols, allegory, literal, what?? One whole night every hour or so I would wake up and think, “What if they are us, the audience?”

What if I had lived my whole life without reading this novel?

I am on now to another dystopian work, Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. This was a recent recommendation by my sis-in-love’s mom Lorraine, and I am about 20% in. Great recommendation. It is more than up to the task of following 1Q84.

Katie, Eric, and I are also reading a long nonfiction science and history work about plagues. So far we’ve covered the Black Death and smallpox and have moved on to HIV/AIDS. We keep it cheery over here, folks!

No, seriously, in light of what’s been happening with the resurgence of the measles and the anti-vax movement, I want my children to have a historically and scientifically accurate understanding of the need for vaccination and social health measures. What I have found is that the reasons for not vaccinating (outside of the debunked autism link) in the 18th century are the same as now. While science and modernity has moved forward, as it should, contingents of people have remained stuck in 18th century modes of thinking. The primary source excerpts are astounding in this respect—how little things have changed, for some.

The relevant thing to know about this book, too, is that it isn’t some propaganda piece: it was written in 1995, before the new wave anti-vax movement even gained steam. It is just a pretty straightforward, dyed-in-the-wool historical and scientific text laying out some information. To read it in 2014 has been eye-opening and only reaffirms my current thoughts about how we should handle vaccinations in the future. Would we like to see humanity survive, or not? Or is it all about the individual, even if it means undoing all the rest of us? How far do we let fear run before we take steps as collective citizens of humanity to act in the best interests of our species?

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The kiddos and I also took a long hike in The Meadow this morning before lunch. We pretended it was an arena from The Hunger Games and that we were all from District 12 and planning to thwart the government and not play their games of fear. Katie was, of course, Katniss. We discovered how much fun it was to pretend The Meadow is an arena, by the way. I have a feeling this will be a new pastime for us.

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At the start of the week, Monday, we got a bit of kayaking done. Great cross-training, but I did miss my pool laps. On Mondays I can swim for an hour…and it is a place to enter the void, the meditation zone. But here, we did see Katie’s swan friends over by Harbor Island, and that was exciting.

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On Friday, Katie turned in her writing competition narrative. She wrote about a girl who discovered a secret message at Monticello and had to decipher it.

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“In this world, there is no absolute good, no absolute evil,” the man said. “Good and evil are not fixed, stable entities, but are continually trading places. A good may be transformed into an evil in the next second. And vice versa. Such was the way of the world that Dostoevsky depicted in The Brothers Karamazov. The most important thing is to maintain the balance between the constantly moving good and evil. If you lean too much in either direction, it becomes difficult to maintain actual morals. Indeed, balance itself is the good.”

-Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

“I move, therefore I am.”  (1Q84)