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Sarah’s Mighty List of Things Not to Do When Attempting a racing PR:

* Sign up last minute
* Hike 3.5 hours the day before
* Do a trail run
* Wear trainers instead of racing flats
* Come off two weeks of intensive training, untapered
* Eat falafel

After Falafel-gate at the Billy Mills’ 10K a year ago in June 2014 (also a last minute idea and also after miles of walking and touring around the state capital), I thought I had learned my lesson about racing deliberately instead of spontaneously. Even though I placed in the Billy Mills, an evening post-dinner race, I didn’t quite feel good about not turning out my best performance. And regurgitating falafel nearly the whole way.

That kind of thing tends to sour a gal on racing with anything but keen intention.

Which is why, when I came downstairs at the family’s Newport Beach house on Saturday afternoon after 3.5 hours of hiking Buck Gully dressed in my suit and ready for more exercise at the beach, my eyes went bug-eyed for a moment when Bill said, “So, I have this wild idea…there’s a 5K tomorrow near here. I was thinking you could run it for some speed as part of your Long Run Sunday mileage.”

“You could sign up tomorrow morning.”

“You wouldn’t have to worry about your time…it would just be a way to get a fast 5K chunk tomorrow, and then you can run the rest of your mileage.”

As Bill sat smiling in the chair, I almost looked at Coach-Husband in disbelief. Race the next day?! I had standard mileage last week, but Tuesday and Thursday’s speedwork sessions were both demanding and intense. By Thursday, the 5 X 1K set had murdered my legs; they were done at 20 seconds faster per mile than what my race pace per mile turned out to be. I had swam over 6 miles last week, too, doing my first Ironman distance on Monday (actually, slightly over at 2.5 miles instead of 2.4), adding speedwork on Tuesday to the last 1/2 mile of that 2 mi swim, and then finishing a third 2 mi swim on Friday morning after my run and absolutely using up the last ounce of any pop left over at all (which by Friday morning was not much) while pushing off the wall 140 times.

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Hiking Buck Gully with my Katie and my mom, we decided to go off trail a bit and cross this stream. In the words of Thoreau and one of my life mantras, “All good things are wild and free.” Indeed, yes.

RACE a 5K??

But I studied the man. He’s never steered me wrong. 

I immediately started qualifying: You know this wouldn’t be for time, right? I wouldn’t disappoint you? You know my legs are probably still dead? This would be just for a fun little memory, yes? A memory of running near Newport? (The race was in Costa Mesa). I don’t even have my flats! I hiked all morning!

Oh yes, yes…just a way to add some speed to your 9+ miles tomorrow.

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So we went. My parents watched the kids and helped them with breakfast. 

This was the 18th annual Pancake Run, sponsored by the Orange County Track Club. Proceeds benefitted the local track team, many of whom were there. Even though the race was small at about 200 people, there were runner bodies everywhere. I watched the 19-year-old girl (seven state championships to her name) who would eventually beat me; I picked her out right away during warm-ups, as her turnover was absolutely wicked. A running team showed up, as did a running club of competitive high schoolers.

We were at Fairview Park; the course wound through the reserve trails. I think this is the course used by Eustancia High School’s XC team. 

Because I came late to running, I have never run a high school XC course. This run started on grass and was all trails, with a gnarly hill, with a gravel part at the end. To run it made me feel wistful (as a devoted runner now, I think about all that I missed out on not being a high school and college runner), as well as overjoyed that I get to experience a proper XC course now. It’s never too late, right?

Surprisingly, this race went well. Like, very well. PR well. Completely unexpected and crazy. I have been aiming to break that 19:00 barrier for the 5K for many months now. (Always been a goal, recently within striking distance this year). I was disappointed in myself for not doing it at the Carlsbad 5000 this past March (time was 19:11 on that flat course), despite clocking a PR at the time.

18:53. My first two miles were sub-6:00. The hill on the third mile slowed me down to 6:33 for that mile. Bummer. I charged that sucker and went full guns, but I still couldn’t keep it between 6:00 and 6:14. More hill sprints for me! 

2nd place women; 1st in division; 11th out of about 200 overall.

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Huh?

Ever since Butte to Butte this past 4th of July, I’ve been working really hard. I had my first 20 mile run at a 7:35 pace and my first 60 mile week. Intervals have been intense. I increased my swimming (since Bill doesn’t have to get to work) to a minimum of 2 mi per session. I swim three days a week. Bill doesn’t coach my swimming (which is more of a recovery/cross-training type of pursuit, or has been so far), so I diddle around with it myself. I’ve added sprint work on Tuesday swims (why not try to get faster? I mean, right?) and added “Long Swim Monday” (2.5 miles). I know that I entered a greater level of fitness shortly after Butte to Butte; my track times have indicated such against the running tables. But I didn’t know how fit that was, for sure. Butte to Butte worked wonders on my confidence: breaking that 40:00 barrier was a big step. 

As exciting as that was, though, in many ways this Pancake Run performance is more athletically fit than Butte to Butte. During the awards, the announcer had the first place boy and first place girl speak a bit about themselves: they are decorated runners whose actual 5K time got slowed down by nearly a full minute on this trail/hill course. That means it slowed us ALL down by approximately the same degree. The next Carlsbad 5000 could be exciting for me, especially with months left to work on it.

After the run, I finished up the rest of my mileage around the area, coming in at slightly over 9 miles for the day. 

That meant I missed all the pancakes (but I didn’t check too hard) and WORSE, I missed all the Starbucks coffee. (That I did check thoroughly—all gone)! The boy who won the whole thing also went for the rest of his distance run, returning just in time for his award.

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Receiving my first place in division medal. There were audible gasps when I went up before this for 2nd place woman, when the announcer read my time AND my age. It wasn’t too long ago that I was 62 pounds overweight, but this 35-year-old (old?!?!?) mama of two can throw down, track boys. I have always liked surprising people. I’ve noticed, actually, that some of the best competition comes from women my age. Something about our relationship to pain and to life has changed (a result of having children, or just natural maturity of the female body/mind?).  I love my 30s. I’m the most fit I’ve ever been even including as a youth, I have made my family to completion, the children are a super fun age, and I feel like all of life is around the corner for us to explore both together and as independent minds.

I did learn something on this run, too.

Ever since midway through high school, I discovered the secret of turning all competitive instincts inward. I swear by it. It’s both a philosophy, a way of being really, and a tool: I think competing externally with others can actually hinder our performance in significant ways and can also erode the meaning of what we do. There are venues in which competition with others is appropriate (Mock Trial, sports) but HOW we compete with others has to be carefully monitored. There’s much that is extremely negative about competition, and I am sure all of us have encountered those ultra-competitive types that compete about small and very personal/subjective things, giving the rest of us heebie-jeebies. No one enjoys people who are overtly comparing/contrasting themselves with everyone else. At least I don’t. So in essence, I haven’t liked competing, or being competed with. In the proper venue is one thing, but all too often competition spills out when it ought not to.

My basic line for 20 years now has been: focus on taking care of your own business. It’s yourself you must hold to a standard of constant improvement. We measure mainly against ourselves. So what if a teacher will grant an A for knowing 95% of the material. Shouldn’t we hold ourselves accountable as much as possible about a subject without the reward of a grade, or even of anyone maybe noticing? I feel strongly about doing all things for pure reasons; so often competition becomes solely about beating someone else and not about the integrity of what we’re trying to learn or master or do. I don’t want my existence about trying to beat others just to do it; I want to pursue learning/sports/etc for their own sakes.

There is room for all people to be successful. Keep striving and being better than YOURSELF the day before. Measure where we start, and where we get to…then keep setting higher goals. We don’t need other people to be part of that process. 

One person’s success never detracts from anyone else. 

Don’t we want a world in which everyone is ardently trying her best?

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When I do compete/race, I mainly race myself and my own clock. And when I race, I hope to goodness that everyone else around me has her best day, TOO, and has come fully trained and ready. I don’t want to race against people having a bad day on the course. I don’t ever hope that someone is going to fail. I want everyone to be at the top of her game—if we have to compete, let’s do it purely. I want authenticity, in all things.

However, in the absence of feeling like I could compete with my own 5K time in this race, though, I realized I had to channel my sense of competition outward. This race became entirely about staying with those teenage track boys and then picking them off. I won’t even make a pretense about that. I wasn’t even really thinking about a PR time. I wanted to pick, pick, pick them off…and I think that drive really helped, unexpectedly. I felt nothing negatively personal toward these fellow runners, but they were like big running target signs. It was strange channeling that a bit more overtly, and I liked that feeling perhaps a bit too much. However, I know they were competing, too, and perhaps that friendly atmosphere makes us all push a little harder and do a little better.

Maybe external competition isn’t entirely a negative, in the right context. My friend Michelle Cole, a college women’s volleyball coach, phrased it well. She said that we have to use all of our “mental weapons” and that “good competitors celebrate challenges without any pettiness.” There may be a purity and glory in that—especially in her descriptions of it—that I haven’t recognized or given much credence to for many years. I don’t think we need to compete at board games, or in the so-called “Mommy Wars,” or with huge cars, or who can hunt the most glorious creatures for trophies (Cecil the Lion). But there just might be beauty in a group of people who manage competing while cheering their competitors on. Even the announcer made a joke of it when he asked the award recipients about crushing the competition—it was light and fun and jokey.

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At the starting line, talking with a fellow runner and crushin’ on her abs. So fierce. What a gorgeous runner.

Pancake Run, you may have marked a turn in my running career. You taught me a bit more about the art of racing and the “mental weapons” I might need. You were also an unexpected memory in a weekend full of memories: kayaking, paddleboarding, hiking, strolling, playing at the beach, boating, and reading. Seeing that sub-19:00 will be a favorite moment in life, I think.

Now to drive home and publish this… I am composing on my laptop in the car under a favorite tree at a park, just a few yards from where I swim. I normally take about half an hour to read here after swimming, but I thought I might get this race written up instead. We have an art class with our music teacher today, and I need to work on unpacking and getting ready for Eric’s 5th birthday this weekend.

But first: breakfast! And guess whose PB2 got delivered from Amazon yesterday? Just in time!

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De omnibus dubitandum.

Everything must be doubted.

California-bound from Eugene near the end of our road trip couple of weeks ago, in between reading a Tom Swift Jr. book and ancient history to my children and husband, I finished Christopher Hitchens’ Letters to a Young Contrarian (2001). This little collection of essays from provocateur, ideological dissenter, writer, and columnist Hitchens explores the importance of disagreement not only to personal integrity but the progress of humanity itself.

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He writes letters to an anonymous young contrarian, a potential gadfly like himself. Hitchens explains,

It may be that you, my dear X, recognise something of yourself in these instances; a disposition to resistance, however slight, against arbitrary authority or witless mass opinion, or a thrill of recognition when you encounter some well-wrought phrase from a free intelligence. Do bear in mind that the cynics have a point, of a sort, when they speak of the “professional nay-sayer”. To be in opposition is not to be a nihilist. And there is no decent or charted way of making a living at it. It is something you are, and not something you do.

The ultimate professional nay-sayer, Hitchens died of cancer in 2011, and his friend theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss spoke of him:

The moment you entered his house you were overwhelmed by a single obsession — books. Books were everywhere, on every surface. On the wall, on the floors, on couches, on tables, and in bathrooms, but unlike for many of us, myself included, the books on Christopher’s wall were far more than window dressing. They were arranged according to subjects and ideas in a way that made it clear that the books were regularly read. All of them. And consulted. That the knowledge contained within them was used in the sense that few of us really adequately exploit. It was humbling to witness close-up an intellect that was so capable of surrounding any subject, relishing it, exploring it for its own sake, critically soaking up everything that’s worth knowing. He was ever ready to incorporate this wisdom, to shed light upon old ideas or critically examine new ones, with the full weight of a lifetime of intellectual exploration combined with the playful and curious excitement of a child in a candy store.

Those are the two features that were most crucial to what I admired about the man. It takes courage to speak out against injustice and ignorance wherever you see it, no matter whose sensibilities you ruffle. But it takes far more courage to do that when you realise that the odds are overwhelming that you will lose; that stupidity, prejudice, superstition, hatred, power, and money generally win. But it doesn’t matter. You can’t give up. But it’s that second feature, that unadulterated joy of ideas of the human experience, the need for irony and humour, and the recourse to the full banquet of human knowledge and culture that set Hitch apart from so many of the rest of us.

“The playful and curious excitement of a child in a candy store…”

“…that unadulterated joy of ideas of the human experience…”

So many viewed Hitchens as an iconoclastic polemicist—at best. He rankled. He pressed. He bantered. He made a career of saying the words so many do not want said. His was the language of dissension.

I do not speak a harsh language of dissension, but I do speak one. Some of my favorite people are those who think constantly in the mode of satire; one of my favorite people from college who now works at Google regularly posts savage commentary while often making mincemeat of herself as well. No one retains immunity; she is one of my favorite thinkers on my Newsfeed, even on the days she sends up stay at home moms. She’s ironic and intelligent, with a gift for calling attention to folly and foible.

But she’s not a snark, nor a troll. We’ve all known those. There is a difference between those who eviscerate out of insecurity and mediocrity and those who embrace an informed and rational dissent in hopes of pulling, pushing, nudging, and scrabbling the world into progress. Hitchens isn’t for everyone, and nor is this woman from college. She regularly notes her defriendings. I came close once a couple of years ago, until I realized that she and I were far more alike in our aims than not.

We choose to fight the fight with different strategies.

But each of us are more of a black sheep than not, in our different ways.

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See? Black sheep sweater. Proof, incontrovertible obviously.

Last July (2014) as I sat at swim lessons with my children, I hand journaled quickly a few note-like thoughts:

“On my mind: loving the heck out of life as an act of rebellion. Complaining is easy and arrogant; choosing, working for, finding, and contributing to happiness takes much greater effort.” 

In his fifth letter, Hitchens writes about the significance of living “as if.” (All bolded words are my attempt at highlighting the most key ideas in a wholly important passage).

The “People Power” moment of 1989, when whole populations brought down their absurd rulers by an exercise of arm-folding and sarcasm, had its origins partly in the Philippines in 1985, when the dictator Marcos called a “snap election” and the voters decided to take him seriously. They acted “as if” the vote were free and fair, and they made it so. In the late Victorian period, Oscar Wilde – master of the pose but not a mere poseur – decided to live and act “as if” moral hypocrisy were not regnant. In the deep south in the early 1960s, Rosa Parks decided to act “as if” a hardworking black woman could sit down on a bus at the end of the day’s labour. In Moscow in the 1970s, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn resolved to write “as if” an individual scholar could investigate the history of his own country and publish his findings. They all, by behaving literally, acted ironically. In each case, as we know now, the authorities were forced first to act crassly and then to look crass, and eventually to fall victim to stern verdicts from posterity. However, this was by no means the guaranteed outcome, and there must have been days when the “as if” style was exceedingly hard to keep up.

All I can recommend, therefore (apart from the study of these and other good examples), is that you try to cultivate some of this attitude. You may well be confronted with some species of bullying or bigotry, or some ill-phrased appeal to the general will, or some petty abuse of authority. If you have a political loyalty, you may be offered a shady reason for agreeing to a lie or half-truth that serves some short-term purpose. Everybody devises tactics for getting through such moments; try behaving “as if” they need not be tolerated and are not inevitable.

By behaving literally, we act ironically. We behave as though human dignity and decency are a given. We behave as if others are honest, will not cheat each other, want to evolve. We behave as if beauty overcomes the atrocity. We behave as though the best of our nature can triumph over the worst of our nature.

Even within—especially within—ourselves.

We who live in this subjunctive as-if state embrace the grammar of our position. We grammarians know the as if/as though subjunctive construction indicates an unreal or even improbable event in the present or in the past. We look to, and use the language of, the future. We acknowledge its lack of likelihood. And we refuse to surrender.

I think surrendering looks like gratuitous judgment of others. I think it looks like writing a review of a book or a film half read or watched and summarily dismissed. I think it looks like taking a picture of a man with a mismatched outfit on the subway and calling it out for no reason other than promoting pain. Snarkiness is conformity; anyone can whine. Anyone can say: I don’t like this situation in which I have put myself, and I am stuck like a victim in the tar. Rebellion is not the chip on the shoulder without the substance.

We need the agitators. But we also need those of us who live “as if.” I live as if you will be fair with me, and I with you. I live as if this day can be better, wilder, more passionate, more curious than the last. I live as if love is real and enduring. I live as if disillusionment with some is not disillusionment with all. I live as if I can be a good person. I live as though I can be more than my flaws, as if you can be more than yours.

I wonder when we decide that frowning and tsking and loathing and pointing becomes preferable to the myth of Pan. When we try on adulthood, the results are almost always disastrous. I am not talking about assuming responsibility: even children can do that. Perhaps we think that sheer lament, or even anger, gives us greater gravitas. Certainly there are world horrors both to lament and rage against, and I might be wrong in believing that a language of love will do anything to rectify those. I haven’t lived long enough, or experimented enough, to know for sure.

Would that we could always have the heart of children: full of wonder, naturally rebellious and stubbornly optimistic. (Have you ever seen a toddler ask again and again for something he or she desires)? They live as if the world and all who are in it are full of limitless potential. As if mama had eight arms. As if everyone will be just when it comes to taking turns on the slide. As though the beauty in their minds can exist as easily as they breathe.

I choose that rebellion. It is, forevermore and always, a choice. There is a fine line between cynical and jaded, between skeptic and snark. Do we believe anything can be? Or do we believe we’re to settle in to righteous anger? Will we hear? Will we accuse? How much of our own happiness/unhappiness are we willing to assume ownership of? How much of our power are we willing to give away either to the supernatural, or to the belief that nothing can change the course humanity is on?

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Do our words make beauty? Do we live with an insistence not only on finding the good in everyone and everything, but also with the insistence of trying to create that which is good?

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June 26, 2015: double rainbows on the McKenzie River Trail on the way to the Koosah and Sahalie waterfalls. Even nature celebrated the progress of the landmark SCOTUS ruling. Progress is possible.

Bill introduced Katie and Eric to Minecraft yesterday. They have spent a couple of hours here and there building their worlds. I wonder how much is too much, but then I think: this practice of building worlds is such a metaphor. What is it that we hope to build? Do our words edify? Even if they must sometimes be harsh, do they also construct?

Those of us who are contrary may not always be obviously so. Perhaps we look like pleasers, or chipper naifs who know nothing of the world’s true darkness. No. We know. But in a world where so many are angry, self-righteous, indignant, judgmental, hopeless, and victimized; where most world religions teach us that we are pathetic and never will amount to much; where talking heads fuel the flames of political division: to dare to live as if the world can be one of beauty and joy, too, is to be the ultimate rebel.

To say I hated it would be far too easy.

And from the point of view of a literature analyst, I don’t. There’s fodder for days not only in the text of Go Set a Watchman itself but also within the dialogue it creates with To Kill a Mockingbird. My mind is certainly entertained.

As a reader and teacher who formerly loved the TKAM unit possibly the best of all with my 9th graders, however, I absolutely loathed this text. Plainly, much of it is absolutely not well written. Dialogue driven, rushed at the end, and filled with characters who are absolutely repulsive, Go Set a Watchman is one to skip skip SKIP if you have but a passing interest in Mockingbird. It’s possibly even one to skip if you LOVE Mockingbird and don’t like to live with regret.

I’d never give it as a present, let’s put it that way.

But there is also this: texts do not need to be loved, or even tolerable and tolerated, in order to be effective art. While I cannot for the life of me figure out how and why Harper Collins published this book—other than cha ching!—they did and now my eyes cannot unsee it. We are left with the train that has overshot the station (a semi-developed metaphor in the early chapters), and I am not sure we can ever walk back into the dreamlike idyll of Maycomb again.

Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman dropped onto my Kindle last night. It took every ounce of discipline to get this morning’s training done (4.3 morning base miles, 3500 yard/2 mile swim) before jumping in. As soon as I left the pool, I drove a few meters away to the sports park and started reading. Between the time I had before my children woke up, their swim lessons, and then fifteen additional minutes, I made it through 53% of the book in about 1.5 hours. Then I mothered for awhile, finally heading off for “errands” which included a forty-five minute stop at Starbucks in Old Town to make further progress. Another forty-minutes later, and here I sit. 10:41 PM on July 14th.

SPOILERS BELOW! SPOILERS BELOW! SPOILERS BELOW!

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You’ve been given the caveat.

Now, were I working up a proper essay here, I would be much more cautious and thorough. I’d take out my TKAM (which I know so much by heart anyway), and I would properly quote sources. There would be, in short, much more to this. As it is, since we’re neigh on 11:00 PM, I am going to hurriedly type out RANDOM THOUGHTS.

In this effort, I am more alike to the end of the novel than not. Har har.

1. Atticus repulses me. There, I said it. Midway through my reading, I had to confront the possibility that he’s really always been this way. Was this a man who had a great white hope savior complex all along? We’re told in this novel that he lives according to the law, and this, in effect palliates his clinging to the old southern ways. BY THE WAY: Anyone else get a strong Gone with the Wind read here? Early on, we’re told also about Atticus’ arthritis and his general declination of health. At first, Lee almost seemed thisclose to the laying the ground for Atticus to have entered a period of dementia. Would that it were true.

2. The anger in this book is immense. Lee appears angry at several of her own characters. Characters are angry constantly with each other. Racial tensions are palpable. There’s very little softness here. Maybe that’s the point. If the TKAM Atticus embodied the aspirations of racial harmony and justice, perhaps the point of the new Atticus (“new” is fallacious, because this was written before TKAM) is to provide biting commentary on just how immature those aspirations are when so racism still so plainly and blatantly exists. In this anger, and in this shaming of hope, Go Set a Watchman reads quite currently.

3. But the dose of realism ultimately fails because it rests on the grown up Jean Louise coming back to town and—-suddenly!! oh my stars how suddenly!—realizing that everyone around her is a bunch of racist, misogynistic jerks, even the women. Jean Louise has been living in cosmopolitan New York for years. She’s an adult. She’s well read and studied. Her naivete is utterly implausible. Uncle Jack has to give her a long-winded history lesson—how could she not have known any of that? Lee tries to draw a THIN foundation for Jean Louise’s apparent consistent out-of-touch innocence of the ways of the world with a recollected scene in which Scout gets her first period, is kissed by a boy, listens to the Cunninghams give an inaccurate description of birds and bees, and believes for OVER nine months that she is pregnant—a belief that propels her to the top of a structure where she contemplates suicide. This is further explained away as having had no mother… Jean Louise’s character is just not fully developed here, which is why this was a rough draft. Her character cannot yet sustain the demands being put on it to carry a book of this weight.

4. This was a rough draft for a reason. The strongest portions, the above example notwithstanding, are the flashbacks to Jean Louise’s childhood as Scout. The editors made a solid call, at the time. As an adult, Jean Louise’s naivete does NOT work. But putting that innocence into the character of a child does. For the LIFE of me, though, the adult speaker (Jean Louise grown up) in TKAM possesses in no way a tone of voice or mood of the Jean Louise in Go Set. The timber of tenderness is missing. From all over this novel, really. It’s hostile.

5. The BEST scene in this novel by far is that with Calpurnia. I choked back tears. “‘Tell me one thing, Cal…just one thing before I go—please, I’ve got to know. Did you hate us?’ The old woman sat silent, bearing the burden of her years. Jean Louise waited. Finally, Calpurnia shook her head.”

6. “Well, I certainly hoped a daughter of mine’d hold her group for what she thinks is right—stand up to me first of all.” Should Jean Louise cut ties with her father and Hank because they are morally compromised? The novel asks this. Is part of Atticus’ motivation to test his daughter? (Really?) Another quote: “We wondered, sometimes, when your conscience and his would part company, and over what.” Parts of the ending read like a laboratory experiment on Jean-Louise, and yet her father’s hypocrisy still is genuine. After their argument, Atticus says, “I’ve killed you, Scout. I had to.” Ostensibly, this follows the theme of Jean Louise’s loss of innocence, though note that it is her younger even more innocent self Atticus feels he must kill. Did Jean Louise never really grow up or awaken up until now? That question begs to be answered quite a bit. Is she the hopeful who never can quite see the depraved humanity around her?

For me, though, this line seems to me to be one of the authorial slips I noticed in this text. You get the feeling that Lee notices she has written herself (perhaps semi-literally, if she is the basis for Jean Louise) into a corner during this awful fight between Jean Louise and Atticus. Perhaps it is the first moment of recognition that girlhood Scout cannot exist in this particular draft. (There is also at one point, the random use of an “I” narration when no one is talking. It is the author herself, inserting a comment about something being hot).

7. Wordsworth comes to mind: “The child is father of the man.” Certainly true on many levels with this book and pair of books. This is the parent draft; in TKAM itself, child Scout becomes the woman Jean Louise who narrates. In Go Set, Jean Louise’s changing perceptions of her father in effect give birth to our understanding about who he really is.

8. A take away: there are no perfect heroes, and each of us must be the watchman of our own conscience.

9. “Hell is eternal apartness.”

10. Characters hide behind the generic rallying cry of “states’ rights!” in order to excuse universal moral travesties (slavery, segregation, racism). Exceedingly similar to some of the political and rhetorical arguments being used presently in our country with respect to controversy (vaccinations, gay marriage).

11. “Dear goodness, the things I learned. I did not want my world disturbed…” Several times, I noticed how the very act of reading this text was something akin to Jean Louise’s process of disillusionment. There are at least a dozen quotes to pull to support this. That’s where this text gets interesting for me… Whenever we can conduct a analysis of characters, syntax, structure at the text level and then draw a parallel between that analysis and the meta level of the acts of reading or narrative construction, that’s when I get jazzed. I like the analysis OF the book to start to inform an analysis of how the reader engages WITH the book, or various other deconstructionist concerns. In this, Go Set does not disappoint. Plenty of fun to be had with those literary analysis games.

I am sure I will have more thoughts as I continue to think about this reading. Or, I may just try to put it out of my mind. However, that dreamlike wish for everything to be just fine may be exactly the state of mind Lee condemns here. Publishing this book, if in fact Lee gave her blessing in sound mind (definite controversy there), may have been the artistic decision to impel her readers to wake up and look at the mess we still have around us.

Do I recommend this book? No. Yes. At this point, not to read it would be to remove oneself from the literary and cultural discussions that have commenced around it. And we have to wonder: can a canonical work like TKAM remain unaffected by something like this? Do we believe that an author’s intentions extend forevermore? Does the book take on a life of its own irrespective of what the author later contributes? To what extent is TKAM so mythologized and ensconced at this point that it is untouchable? Or can works of art be altered from a long reach into the past? Should a rough draft be considered a legitimate part of the narrative? Or are rough drafts always lower class citizens of the book world? Does simply publishing something give it weight?

These are the questions we’re asking. And that conversation—if you care about art and its power—is reason enough to read this book. Engagement in the conversation. You will probably loathe it.

But who said our love was ever required?

I’ve been a runner for three years, as of last month.

I’ve been chasing a sub-40:00 10K (6.2 miles) time for approximately 1.5 years.

Had to put the work in first, though.

Like, a TON of work.

That’s why running is my sport: it gives you back exactly what you put in, no more and no less. There’s no way to fake around the work. No way for people to cheat (although I’ve seen them try mid-course) really. You can’t say you trained, when you didn’t: it shows. And it’s you, and your mind. The competition is entirely internal. There will always be people faster (Olympians, professional runners) and there will always be people slower: none of that matters. It’s about you, and the clock, and the work you did or didn’t do. It’s an honest woman’s sport. To lay it all down takes more than mere juevos; going to get that pain day in and day out in order to progress and then throwing it to the wall on race day takes nerves of steel and a will of iron.

Runners know: being faster than someone else doesn’t get us up at 4:00 AM. There’s no way it could. Wanting to master our own self, does. If running were a competitive sport with others, I would have abandoned it long ago. Trying to best others is not what I choose my life to be about. Breaking myself down repeatedly? Feeling the pukey nervous gut-wrenched tummy before a big race and rising above it? Everything. It’s been said that all that we could want is on the other side of fear. True. That is the reason I race. My body likes to run; but its my mind that loves this sport. It’s a mental game. You have to make the body fit, sure, but this is a sport played largely in the mind.

How good can you be?

How good do you want to be?

No. How good are you willing to work to be?

I ask myself that daily.

What am I willing to give up in order to be good? Or one day, better than good?

At last year’s Butte to Butte, I placed third in division, 13th out of women, 114th overall. My time was 41:31, an exciting PR at the time. My pace was 6:41. What would it take in a year to shave off enough to go sub-40:00 on that course?

I gave up TV (already on the chopping block, but now definitely out). I added swimming to expand lung growth (and can now officially swim 2.28 miles at a time…I suspect I can eke out more, but have yet to prove it—I am in danger of breaking a personal rule here, though: never ever talk about achieving something BEFORE you have actually done it). The swimming helped enormously with lung expansion, I have to say. I keep strict control of diet and maintain race weight even when not racing—which means giving up quite a bit of food that I wish I could be having! (For reference, I burn a mere 80 cals per mile when I run…not much. Runners cannot eat whatever we want, despite wishing to). I am up at 4:00 AM, at times 3:45 AM if I have a hill sprint day when I am swimming, too. I’ve added “doubles” most days of the week. Mileage is high…but not nearly as high (yet) as that of a professional runner. These lifestyle adaptations have taken me far.

Wanting is not enough. Hard work can be. I am not a gifted runner and came late to the party. As I should given my lack of experience/work, I routinely place behind the professionals (the winner at this year’s Butte to Butte for the women is a pro for Skechers) and the Olympic trialers who have decorated college careers (the other women in front). But to come from absolutely NOTHING and to be right behind them three years in? It’s not a natural talent, at all. Hard work only. Which means anyone could do it. That’s the great thing about running. If you want to excel, the roads are waiting for you to come work them.

The one natural element I possess (besides slow twitch fibers) that helps with distance running is my weird combination of personality traits. I love to be alone in all of my introversion and never get bored just thinking and thinking for hours on the pavement or track. I see the greater purpose in pain. I am rebellious and stubborn enough to fight against discomfort. Even the thought of giving in—to anything, ever, especially discomfort—makes me angry. Weakness in myself makes me hungry to fight. And my mind likes the eternal challenge of trying to rule over my lazy, hedonistic body and impulses. Who will win today? The mind likes always to win, at this point.

So. Butte to Butte 2015.

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It’s been an awful lot of this, on Friday mornings in the dark all year. I usually run 6 mi before swimming (have to be done and home with all of that before 6:55 AM, when Bill leaves for work), 2 miles of which are hill sprints/charges on repeat. Doing hill sprints in the dark (full moons were always a treat) is kind of rough. Not something I look forward to. But the opening gauntlet of Butte to Butte is the Donald Street Hill. It’s a dramatic hill, brutal, nasty. It’s so nasty that there is prize money for being the first to top it (for both men and women). People come out and line Donald Street just to see that part of the race. There’s even donuts, if you want. And often, a band.

I was the 4th woman up it this year.

I even passed Stroller Dad in the same spot as last year. And then, a mile later, he passed me in the same spot as last year. We’ve both been training.

A word about Stroller Dad. He has a real name, and I have surely stalked him. He’s awesome. A surgeon. His baby girl was a year bigger this year, so he’s hefting around additional poundage. His existence makes me happy. I laughed when he passed me because I am a weirdo who likes excellence in others, even when (especially when) that excellence goes beyond what I can do. Why? Because it means there is more. More to do, if I only work. It’s inspiring. Competitive streaks are death knells to inspiration. It’s better to live a life of awe and possibility, I think. Stroller Dad was with me in my mind when I had my first sub-6:00 mile on the track at Thanksgiving. He runs in my imagination with me all the time, along with a handful of others. We’re friends. I thought I might go past him this year (a litmus test), but I thought it was funny that I didn’t. Mirth is the proper word. The universe was in order then. Without a stroller? Oh yeah, he was a college powerhouse. 33:00 for a 10K. Having a stroller makes him a bit closer to my time.

I saw Stroller Dad show up when I was sitting under my special pine tree waiting to do my strides before the race. There were several other familiar faces, too. I love that about Eugene.

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We were in Eugene for four days the week of Bill’s birthday (which is the week before Butte to Butte), then went to Portland and Astoria and then to Ashland for two days, and then back to Eugene. During the initial four days, I got to train in Eugene. I swam, and I ran a bunch (my last week full on before taper), and I also got to run a hill sprint on Donald Street and do intervals one day at South Eugene HS. After 8X400, I took this picture with Spencer Butte in the background. These memories, plus all the memories I made with my children during those four days, became incredibly important in developing my mindset on race day.

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How and why? Well, Bill had four days of all-access tickets to watch all of Nationals at Hayward Field (this was his seat). I was on my own with K and E for almost all that time, sometimes late into the night. So, I embraced the utter freedom to explore. We hiked. We swam. We saw a movie. We hiked more. We rocked climbed up Spencer Butte. We had picnics at Skinner Butte. We went out late for fro yo. Every night. We went to the Cascades Raptor Center off of Fox Hollow (a street that’s part of the course). We truly lived all we could in Eugene. We made every memory we could.

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Silly faces at Skinner Butte (the ending site of the race).

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Total inspiration from the masters across from Hayward Field. These men and women rock my world.

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I ran to Pre’s rock and paid homage. Legends never die.

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“To give less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” (Steve Prefontaine)

On that first Sunday long run, there was SUCH a vibe of camaraderie among all the runners. Such an air of celebration. Eugene is a runner’s paradise. I had a blast running/training all over it. I am homesick for it, in fact.

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I ran Pre’s Trail and greeted the sunrise. He used to run right here…

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You know what Frost says about two roads in a wood…

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Love to the masses. This phrase on the bridge over the Willamette would become important to my mindset.

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Racing is largely about mindset, I find. You have to train the body, yes, but it is the mind that must be under control. Even the night before, I was still unsure about the mantra and mindset for this race. Often they come to me, but this one hadn’t….even as late as getting off the shuttle at Spencer Butte! Every race is different and asks something different of me. This race hadn’t spoken to me yet. Only when I sat down and touched my pine tree at Spencer Butte Middle School and looked toward the Butte did the final piece fall into place about an hour out.

“I am at peace, and I am connected.” It sounds woo-woo, maybe, but almost as soon as I placed my hand on the bark of my special tree, this mantra came. I am at peace, filled with happiness to be here in Eugene. Filled with joy to be a runner among runners. And I am connected…to Eugene. To the earth. To its trees. The sky. To the people I recognize from last year. To the raptors on Spencer Butte. To all of our memories here. To the footfalls I made here. To the beauty of this place. I will run to my husband and children at the other butte, to Skinner Butte where we had picnics and spent last year’s July 4th. I will run toward that connection.

Yep. Definitely woo woo. But authentic. And we know it is authentic, because it worked. Legs, mind, and heart working as one.

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This year: 39:46. 3rd in division (hardware is coming in the mail); 6th woman overall; 53rd out of men and women. This time represents the clearing of a threshold. I am looking for an all comers meet now so I can get an official (flat) track time. Setting goals and achieving them are essential steps toward happiness, I believe.

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Being married to my coach helps, too. Thank you, William, for your magnificent brain. With you, I can fly. Thank you for helping me to be my best version of myself.

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My stride was breaking up here, a bit. The last miles were hard, because I had gone out a bit fast (just like I did last year, DOH!) to power up that hill. I did not run too evenly the last couple miles and I feel a bit irritated at myself for that…but my coach says to lighten up and just celebrate the sub-40:00, so okay. I’ll try. Perfectionism dies hard, though, I will tell you that. There is so much that goes into making a race “feel good” or “perfectly run” not just the clock at the end. I know there were strategic decisions I could have tightened up here. Something to work on…

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I did end up in the Sports section of the Sunday newspaper, though. That was cool. I’ve been in the newspaper a fair number of times in my day, but never in the sports section until an unidentified pic appeared in one after Long Beach this year (does that even count?). This is the first time I know about that my name has appeared. Sports section? Me? What a plot twist in life!

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After the race, there is a huge pizza and chocolate milk party sponsored by Track Town Pizza. I look forward to this slice every year. Runner party!

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I do not usually ever have “real” pizza, so this is a treat! I chose the olive. Thought about this ALL YEAR.

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Then we played a bit at Skinner Butte Park (their favorite park in the world thus far).

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And then we hiked/walked up Skinner Butte. It is no where near as demanding as Spencer Butte, but still was a good way to shake out my legs a bit.

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See that butte over there across the way? Butte to Butte. 😉

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Then, the rest of July 4th. We went back to our lodgings, changed, I walked to the market to pick up a picnic, and then the kiddos and I went back to Skinner’s Butte to picnic, play, write, and rest for about 5 hours. Then I took them to dinner and then we picked up Bill and set off FIREWORKS. I love July 4th in Eugene. Love it.

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Our July 4th picnic. It was pleasing, and a tad surreal, and comforting, and poignant to realize that we were in this very spot last July 4th as well. Our special picnic spot near the Willamette at the base of Skinner Butte, where we are now layering memories from one year to the next. I miss it. I look at this picture and my heart sighs a bit. I have so many memories in this place with my children and to be so far away from it is strange, sometimes.

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So, what is next? Well, it is strange not to have any races scheduled right now until Long Beach in October. I like having goals out there, and breaking 40:00 at Butte to Butte was a very big goal all year. I took last week to do whatever I wanted training-wise (lots of mid distance runs, but once a day, swims, no intervals for recovery). This week and for most of the summer session, we’re focused on training goals. This week I had/have a couple big training goals coming at me down the pike.

I met the first one today, on Long Run Sunday: 20 miles, at a 7:35 pace. Never have done 20 consecutive before.

The idea is to start doing some of the classic training Joe Henderson dubbed “long slow distance” (although he did not create the program). The general theory is to run more mileage but at slower paces. I was probably out today a bit fast; it might have been better to hold the pace to 8:00 or even 8:24. I did a comfortable, easy 7:20 pace for the first 10 mi, then water stopped. The back 10 miles were, of course, harder, and my pace slipped. I completed the half marathon today in 1:37-something, a better time than my first Long Beach, and just nice and comfy. With 7 more miles to go, I noticed that by mile 15 I was at a 7:27 pace, and then it slid from there. Three miles (17, 18, 19) of hilly-ness on tiring legs is harder than it seems. From mile 19 to 20, though, I kept thinking of the General George S. Patton quote I love, and chanted to myself on repeat, “It’s the mind. It’s the mind. It’s the MIND!!!”

I got it done, and my legs were frizzled at first, but as the day has gone on, they seem to be rebounding a bit. I had PROMISED Eric to make pancakes with him when I got home, and boy, we sure did. I had that in mind, too, this morning, every time I felt like quitting: “NO! YOU HAVE TO RUN HOME TO YOUR BOY. You promised. Don’t make him wait long.” We had the best time. He wanted chocolate chip pancakes today and helped with every step. I enjoyed one with the kids, but mainly my body has craved other things after that run—it knows what’s in store, no doubt!

Katie’s dearest wish today was to go swimming. So then we walked to the pool and swam—and that felt great! I think the light activity helped to drain some of the lactic acid a bit. I feel pretty good. We’ll see about tomorrow, though… That could be nuts.

The idea will be to run every day this week to get to a certain mileage. I might have to avail myself of the evening swims so that I can get my totals done in the mornings. Or, I might split up some of the mileage and do doubles; I am sure Bill has speedwork on tap.

Some have asked if I plan on marathoning this year. That’s not in the plan right now. My focus is still my favorite race distances: 1oK and half. I have unfinished business there before moving on to a new event. I really want to see what I can do with those distances, how far I can push it. Any long slow distance right now is in service to those goals, as is the swimming. Eventually I do want to branch out a bit but not right now. I could see where it would have been possible to go another 10K this morning, perhaps at great cost (since I am untrained) however doable. But, I would really want many, many more runs at 20 and more before racing a full marathon. Get that distance nice and comfy. I am sure in a couple years or so, I’ll have more of the background to make that a natural progression. So many fun ways to use our bodies, though!

Until next time,
Happy Racing,

SLM

“Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

~ William Saroyan, Pulitzer Prize author

(NB: Please feel free to skip this rather long intro to get to the lists at the end)
To be a reader is to live multiple lives. Perhaps I am greedy, but I seek to pack as many imaginary lives as possible into this single mortal one—because these 100 or so (if I am lucky) years are all I have coming to me. We can spend time hoping for more, or we can try with every cell to make the most of the days we’ve got. I must have words to be whole, just as I must have the stride of my legs and the morning cleansing of my lungs.

Last July I set a goal to read 60 books in a year, realizing how much my intake of text had dwindled in the bustle of motherhood, homeschooling, and time mismanagement. From the very time I can remember, I had books in my hands. In my crib! When I could first write, I scribbled out stories: the first was all dialogue and had a character named from one of my parents’ albums, Sammy Davis Jr.

In Powell’s City of Books last July 2014, armed with a journal and on a solitary wander while Bill watched our children, I saw the stacks and stacks and stacks of books before me as confirmation that I had lost some touch (if not all) with the vital life of the mind. It wasn’t that I had ever stopped reading, or that I suddenly no longer had interest in philosophy or current events; I just realized that I hadn’t been progressing or evolving intellectually in ways I once had. I had done something proactive about the health of my body, but what about the health of the intellect? The health of the curious, learning mind?

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Last year, in the process of reassessing myself and making new goals, determined to reinvigorate the life of the mind

Bill offered me a solitary wander this year last week when we were in Portland. We really didn’t have the time, though, and as we sat in the coffeeshop, I realized: I don’t need a solitary wander through Powell’s this year. I didn’t need to find myself; I had done that last year. (As it was, I ended up with two hours of alone time to browse while my family took in the children’s section at length). The realization stunned me. Instead, I saw book after book that has become a part of me this year. If last year I entered Powell’s with a certain wistful wishing, this year I entered as myself, as I have always been: an engaged and voracious reader.

As it turned out, I finished 82 books this year, 22 books over my target and well over a one-per-week average. Where has the time come from? I’ve axed TV for myself altogether (except any I might happen to view with the kids); I rarely watch movies. I do read quickly once focused on a text. I have been known to (tsk tsk) shirk sleep now and then. Although I keep a private journal, I tend not to blog as much, and generally, have tried to limit my online time much more. I try to sneak in reading whenever I can. While I know people who can polish off far more than 82 books in a year, it represents a dramatic increase for me.

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So, what were they? First, the long Master List… (More specific lists will follow).

MASTER LIST

1. Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, collected and edited by Leonard S. Marcus (letters, 1998)

2. The Transhumanist Wager by Zoltan Istvan (sci fi novel, 2013)

3. Jane Austen, Game Theorist by Michael Suk-Young Chwe (nonfiction, philosophy, economics 2013)

4. Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi (nonfiction, memoir 2011)

5. The Man Who Loved Only Numbers by Paul Hoffman (nonfiction, biography 1998)

6. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig (1974, philosophical nonfiction)

7. Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou, art by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna (2009, graphic novel, philosophy, math).

8. Mindset by Carol Dweck (2006, nonfiction, psychology)

9. Ada, the Enchantress of Numbers: Prophet of the Computer Age by Betty O’Toole (1998, nonfiction, biography, collection of letters

10. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (fiction, 1964)

11. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (Laura Hillenbrand, 2010)

12. Guide to Distance Running (ed. Bob Anderson and Joe Henderson, 1971)

13. Pre! (Tom Jordan, 1977)

14. Why We Run: a Natural History (Bern Heinrich, 2001)

15. The Science of Running: How to Find Your Limit and Train to Maximize Your Performance (Steve Magness, 2014)

16. Anti-Intellectualism and the Education of High Ability Learners (Thomas S. Hays, 2010, nonfiction, education, history)

17. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (Elizabeth Kolbert, 2014, nonfiction, science, environmentalism)

18. The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway, 1952, fiction, novella)

19. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness (Susannah Cahalan, 2012, nonfiction, autobiography)

20. The Meaning of Human Existence (Edward O. Wilson, 2014, nonfiction, science)

21. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery, 1943, fiction, parable)

22. Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials the Shape Our Man-Made World (Mark Miodownik, 2014, nonfiction, science)

23. The Art of Living (Epictetus, philosophical text, AD 55-135)

24. This Will Make You Smarter (ed. John Brockman, essays, science 2011)

25. The Giver (Lois Lowry, 1993, science fiction, dystopian)

26. The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution (Walter Isaacson, 2014, history)

27. Generosity: An Enhancement (Richard Powers, 2009, fiction)

28. The Opposite of Loneliness (Marina Keegan, 2014, essays and short stories)

29. What Are You Optimistic About?: Today’s Leading Thinkers on Why Things are Good and Getting Better (ed. John Brockman, 2007, science essays, philosophy)

30. Seneca: Letters from a Stoic and Biography (Doma translation, epistle, philosophy)

31. Bedknob and Broomstick (Mary Norton, 1943-1945, fiction)

32. Orphans of the Sky (Robert Heinlein, science fiction, 1963, short stories published separately as “Universe” and “Common Sense” in 1941)

33. The World of Null-A by A.E. Van Vogt (science fiction, 1948)

34. I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language by Lyndia Denworth (nonfiction, 2014)

35. Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon (nonfiction, 2012)

36. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (fiction, 1843)

37. The Book of Nice: A Nice Book About Nice Things for Nice People by Josh Chetwynd (nonfiction, compilation, history, trivia, 2013)

38. I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (nonfiction, historical, 2014)

39. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandburg (nonfiction, 2013)

40. George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War by Thomas B. Allen (nonfiction, history, 2004)

41. War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (science fiction, 1898)

42. March of the Microbes: Sighting the Unseen by John Ingraham (science, nonfiction, 2010)

43. Genie by Richard Powers (fiction, short story, 2012)

44. Abel’s Island by William Steig (fiction, 1976)

45. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir by Haruki Murakami (nonfiction, 2008)

46. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (English translation published 2011, surrealist science fiction)

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

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

49. 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)

50. Orfeo by Richard Powers (fiction, 2014)

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

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

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

54.This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin (science, nonfiction, 2006)

55. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks (psychology, nonfiction, 2007).

56. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (science fiction, 1962)

57. Stuart Little by E.B. White (fiction, 1945)

58. Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman (science fiction, 2013)

59. Odd the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman (fiction, mythology, 2008)

60. Best Easy Day Hikes: Eugene, Oregon, pub. by Falcon Guides (nonfiction, instructional, 2011)

61. This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories That Are Blocking Progress, ed. John Brockman (nonfiction, science, essay collection, 2015)

62. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (science fiction, short stories, 1951)

63. Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish by John Hargrove with Howard Chua-Eoan (March 2015, nonfiction)

64. Tangled Webs: How False Statements are Undermining America from Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff by James B. Stewart (2011, nonfiction, social science)

65. A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing by Lawrence M. Krauss (2012, nonfiction science/physics, math)

66. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (March 2015, nonfiction, history, military history)

67. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck (1945, fiction)

68. Homer Price by Robert McCloskey (fiction, 1943)

69. Should We Eat Meat?: Evolution and Consequences of Modern Carnivory (Vaclav Smil, nonfiction, 2013)

70. Thinking, Fast and Slow (Daniel Kahneman, science, neuroscience, psychology, nonfiction, 2013)

71. Inferno (Dan Brown, fiction, 2013)

72. Holes (Louis Sachar, fiction, 1998)

73. Meb for Mortals: How to Run, Think, and Eat Like a Champion Marathoner (Meb Keflezighi, nonfiction, 2015)

74. Waiting (Frank M. Robinson, science fiction, 1999)

75. The One and Only Ivan (Katherine Applegate, fiction, 2013 Newberry Medal)

76. A Hitchcock Reader (ed. Marshall Deutelbaum and Leland Poague, 1986)

77. Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman (short stories, February 1, 2015)

78. How to Raise An Adult: Break Free of the Overprinting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims (education, sociology, June 9, 2015)

79. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (novel, sci fi, released May 19, 2015)

80. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (sci fi, dystopian, novel, August 2011)

81. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey (sci fi, dystopian, January 2014)

82. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (novel, sci fi 2007)

Here are links to find all of my write-ups and reviews about these books:

July 2014 books

August 2014 books

September 2014 books

October 2014 books 

November 2014 books 

December 2014/January 2015 books 

February 2015 books 

March 2015 books 

April 2015 books 

May 2015 books

June 2015 books

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Some numbers: 47 of these books are nonfiction. It surprises me that it is that few, as most of what I prefer these days tends to be nonfiction. However, I read primarily fiction with Katie and Eric, and I love a good sci fi dystopian/post-apocalyptic novel (my favorite fiction genre).

15 of these are books I read with my children. So we did a little over one book a month together, beyond our school books and all the other children’s books we read all the time.

8 of these books were re-reads for me.

Okay, now to have fun sorting them into other lists!

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TOP FAVORITES

1. Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom  (The book that started it all, the book I picked out that day on my Portland wander. The voice of Nordstrom reminds me STRONGLY of one of my English teachers and then colleagues, and not whom many of you might expect….)

2. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (Thank you DAVE DEMPSTER for this recommendation. One of my favorites of all time).

3. Generosity: An Enhancement (Richard Powers is a favorite author of mine, and this might be my favorite work of his)

4. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir  (Thank you STEVE CHARIYASATIT for introducing me to Murakami)

5. 1Q84 (Another Murakami, another favorite author of mine)

6. Holes 

7. Cannery Row (My favorite reading experience of the year, as well, as documented in the blog for April’s reading).

8. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

9. Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials the Shape Our Man-Made World 

10. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

11. Seveneves

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THESE WILL MAKE YOU GROW AS A MODERN THINKER (Books that will help you contribute to relevant modern issues)
1. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (Thank you CHET MCGAUGH)

2.Thinking, Fast and Slow (Thank you BILL MCGAUGH)

3. Should We Eat Meat?: Evolution and Consequences of Modern Carnivory (Dry, but gotta do it)

4. Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish

5. Mindset 

6. any of the John Brockman collections of essays from today’s leading scientists

7. How to Raise An Adult: Break Free of the Overprinting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success

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GOOD FUN LEARNING

1. Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth

2. Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials the Shape Our Man-Made World 

3. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

4. This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession

5. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

6. The Man Who Loved Only Numbers 

7. Why We Run: a Natural History

8. Underground

9. George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War

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MANDATORY IF I RAN THE WORLD

1. Thinking, Fast and Slow

2. Should We Eat Meat?: Evolution and Consequences of Modern Carnivory

3. When Plague Strikes: the Black Death, Smallpox, AIDS

4. A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing

5. Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish

6. Gender Born, Gender Made: Raising Healthy Gender-Nonconforming Children

7. The Meaning of Human Existence

8. Mindset

9. The Transhumanist Wager (Thank you, BILL MCGAUGH)

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BEST FUN WITH KIDDOS

1. The Mysterious Benedict Society

2. Holes 

3. Fortunately, the Milk

4. Bedknob and Broomstick

5. Homer Price 

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FUN FICTION PAGE TURNERS

1. The Girl on the Train

2. Never Let Me Go (Thank you LORRAINE RYBA)

3. Ready Player One (Thank you DAN CAMP)

4. Inferno

5. Seveneves

6. Waiting (Thank you BILL MCGAUGH)

7. The Girl With All the Gifts

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BEST FOR BOOK CLUB

1. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

2. Orfeo 

3. Seveneves

4. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

5. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

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BEST OF SCIENCE

1.The Meaning of Human Existence

2. I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language (Thank you REBECCA MATICS)

3. A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing

4. Thinking, Fast and Slow

5. March of the Microbes: Sighting the Unseen

6. Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials the Shape Our Man-Made World

7. The Science of Running: How to Find Your Limit and Train to Maximize Your Performance

8. all of the Brockman collections

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Despite, and perhaps because of, these 82 books, there are so many more in my virtual stack right now. My friend Beth C. has recently given some suggestions that I am hoping to follow through with in either July or August (Euphoria). Of course we have the new Harper Lee coming out, and it is all I can do to wait patiently—as I know is the case for many of my friends. My friend Melissa has been recommending a beautiful book that takes place in a lighthouse; that’s in my stack. It’s one of her favorites, and that alone makes me want to read it. My friend Amber, who is also a passionate reader, has sent lists of her own and they all look good! Friends Rosa and Dan have ardently praised The Martian, and I am thinking of pausing Astoria (current nonfiction read) in order to enjoy it. I am working my way through books in my bookshelf as well, that I’ve meant to read. You know the ones, right? I need to read the Elon Musk bio just to keep current with one of our leading innovators; Bill’s got a whole library of science and neuroscience and stats/probability on our Kindle. I have fingered The Goldfinch many times, and I have some Murakami waiting for me, as well.

For the coming year, I am going to continue to set the target at 5/month. No sense in stressing myself out by setting it higher. I am intending to augment my training in preparation for Long Beach and next year’s slew of races, too, and Eric is officially starting Kinder so I will have two students and all their lessons very much on deck, and heck, there’s only so much time in a day. If I can read in the coming year on the order of this year, that should be just fine: I always had a book going and made steady progress.

Returning to “voracious reader” status was a huge personal goal this year, as big for me personally as breaking 40:00 for the 10K at Butte to Butte (which I did, post to come). I’ve been working on it all year. We must always fight for ourselves; it is easy, perhaps, to be swept away sometimes and not remember all that we are. Keeping in touch with who we were as children is vitally important, I think, to our happiness. Whatever we’re passionate about we must protect. Our passions—and how we spend our time—determine who we are.

HAPPY READING TO ALL!

We came back yesterday afternoon from two weeks on the road in Oregon, the majority of those days spent in one of my favorite places, Eugene. We did take in two plays in Ashland (Much Ado About Nothing and Antony and Cleopatra), spent a bit of time in Astoria, and of course enjoyed half a day in Portland—most of which we spent at a bookstore. Where else?

It was in Portland last year on a solitary wander to Powell’s City of Books that I recommitted myself to the life of my mind, to the reader’s life. Bill had Katie and Eric at a nearby park, and over a latte and some journaling I decided to set reading goals for myself just as I had set health goals. I’d never quite stopped reading, but my turnover had sure petered out in the bustle of my life. Motherhood, homeschooling, Internet time, time mismanagement—all had chipped away at my reading. I had lost part of myself, I felt, if not entirely than at least enough to feel out of balance as a thinker and participant in modern ideas in the modern world. I did still read, here and there, but that reading lacked direction, purpose, and priority.

So I set a goal of five books a month, a modest goal given how I used to read. Over a year’s time (using July 1st as the marker), that would equate to 60 books.

I ended up reading 83 books this year, which averages to well over one per week.

It is amazing what a person can get done when she gives up TV entirely! I was already mostly off of TV anyhow, given my training schedule, though I would still watch the occasional movie after the kids were in bed. I don’t watch many shows or movies at this point anymore—I’ve had to decide what I want more for myself, I guess. I’ve also had to tighten up computer time. Due to lifestyle changes, I also don’t spend nearly the amount of time I used to baking/cooking/pouring over my cookbooks—that turned out to be a big hobby that I’ve been able to replace and that naturally needed replacement anyway for my own health. Homeschooling and planning for homeschooling still takes a CHUNK of time—I approach it like a 40+ hour job. There’s always stuff to do. But I’ve had to figure out what I can give up in my life in order to pursue these other goals, and it turns out it is possible to carve out quite a bit of time when we want to. It helps that I also read fairly quickly, I will say that! We just have to decide what we want MOST, for the self. I think it is different for everyone, but whatever we pick, well… I think we need to know first that we ARE choosing and second we need to know WHY we are choosing what we choose.

What I want most? Mens sana in corpore sano. A sound mind in a sound body. I’m pursuing this ideal with everything I’ve got at this point, after years of excusing myself on all counts with “I’m too busy” and the like. Setting goals in various areas of life is important, I find.

At some point, I want to write a little round-up of my favorite books of the 83 this year. Would I have liked to have read more? Oh yes. But it sure was a good feeling to walk into Powell’s City of Books this year and see book after book that I either had read in my past or, moreso, have come to know this year. Last year I almost cried in Powell’s with how out of touch I felt and remember choking back tears. This year? Totally different.

So, here are the June Six:

1. Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman (short stories, February 1, 2015)

I wonder, Are fictions safe places? And then I ask myself, Should they be safe places?” NEIL GAIMAN, introduction

Gaiman is one of my favorite authors (the kids’, too—his genre varies). Nothing is terribly safe about the short stories here. Recommended, if you like mash-ups of sci fi, fairy, myth, and haunting sorts of tales. Favorites: “The Thing About Cassandra,” “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains,” “The Case of Death and Honey” (a Sherlock Holmes homage), “Nothing O’Clock” (a Doctor Who installation), “Feminine Endings,” and “Black Dog.”

And thanks to my friend Rosa for the recommendation! I’ve been trying to pay extra attention to what others are reading, especially my friends. I think we know people better when we know what they read. I have several recommendations from people that I’d like to get to in the next few months. My friend Beth is a fount of good ideas, and I almost picked up the hard copy of Euphoria in Portland. I think I can read it digitally for less expense, though. Anyway, we love Neil Gaiman. This short story collection will keep you turning pages. Short stories are especially lovely at the beach.

2. How to Raise An Adult: Break Free of the Overprinting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims (education, sociology, June 9, 2015)

“We want them to be thinkers. But too many schools today promote rote memorization and regurgitation, and in our homes we’re doing too much overcorrecting, overprotecting, and hand-holding. We end up doing way too much of our kids’ thinking for them. They need to think for themselves…”

I first met Julie when she was in-house counsel in the Office of the University President at Stanford and I was working in his mail room. She then went on to become a Dean, and then in a totally inspirational move, left her job to return to school for an MFA. From there, she began working on a book based on her experiences as a Dean at Stanford and on current events happening at Palo Alto high schools and in the community.

As a recovered/recovering helicopter parent (a recovery that started when I got my health and life together three years ago), I had been anticipating the release of Julie Lythcott-Haims’ book for nearly two years. It released on June 9, and even though I was engrossed in Stephenson’s latest Seveneves, I dropped all other print in order to read it. Which I did, from cover to cover, throughout a single day.

Julie’s highly readable book positions itself vitally in the conversation WE NEED TO BE HAVING on a large scale about American parenting, while forming a dialectic with Carol Dweck’s work, offering practical advice about how to foster self-efficacy in our children, challenging the pathways that lead to “brand name” colleges (Julie is a fellow Stanford alum, as well as a former Stanford Dean), and looking gently but decisively at the harm we may be doing in the constant supervision and scheduling and management of our kiddos’ lives. Took the book in quickly but will be pondering it for some time. Such an important topic that I may blog more about this read soon. Much I winced to hear, but much I also cheered. Many moments spoke to some of my own anecdotal discoveries these past few years. Parenting is HARD. Read this, especially if you’ve got school-aged kiddos.

3. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (novel, sci fi, released May 19, 2015)

“The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason. It was waxing, only one day short of full. The time was 05:03:12 UTC. Later it would be designation A+0.0.0, or simply Zero.”

At 861 pages, this tome earned a position of priority on my summer bucket list. This book was its own goal. It took ten days of various dedicated reading levels, because at the front of the month I had quite a bit going on.

What’s it about?

Setting: present day annihilation of humanity on Earth (what WOULD happen if the moon spontaneously broke apart?) to 5000+ years in the future. First two thirds are orbital mechanics, social and political ramifications, plans for humanity to try to survive, lots and lots of “hard” science fiction (the good stuff). Back third is Stephenson’s imagination gone gloriously wild: inventing words and worlds. A modern answer to _Lord of the Flies_, writ large. Within the last two (!!!!) pages: set up for a sequel, for SURE. Incredible.

I have tried to select several works this year that deal with the potential end of humanity/evolution of humanity/end of Earth. This book is essential to such a reading list. Loved the female kick-butt power, too. (The titled parses as “Seven Eves”).

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Although I read this one digitally, I found a hard copy at UCLA during Bill’s dorm reunion late last month. It becomes increasingly strange to see the actual copies of books in real life that I’m reading on the Kindle.

4. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (sci fi, dystopian, novel, August 2011)

“I’d come to see my rig for what it was: an elaborate contraption for deceiving my senses, to allow me to live in a world that didn’t exist. Each component of my rig was a bar in the cell where I had willingly imprisoned myself.”

My friend Dan recommended this book to me, and I loved it. Bill also had it in our library and read it years ago during the period where I was out of touch with current reading material. Ah well, books find us in their own time I think. Definitely a favorite of mine this year. Dan’s rec was right on point!

What is the nature of reality? This book is fabulous fun for this 80s kid: the premise is that a multibillionaire has hidden a virtual Easter egg (the key to his entire fortune) in a massive online world. There’s a big gamer, geekazoid scavenger hunt with clues from 1980s pop culture. WarGames, Rush (the band), Schoolhouse Rock, Rubik’s cube, Family Ties—all play a role. Incisive social commentary, too. Fun read, despite the fact that I’ve never been a huge gamer past some of the classic Nintendo stuff. I loved the music, film, and literature references. Spielberg is set to direct the coming film. I’d read it while you can, before the movie hits.

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Finished this goody on the first day of our road trip last month.

5. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey (sci fi, dystopian, January 2014)

“Melanie said she didn’t think it was right to blame Pandora for what happened, because it was a trap that Zeus had set for mortals and he made her be the way she was on purpose, just so the trap would get sprung.”

Another sci fi post apocalyptic thriller for me (clearly my favorite genre)!

Although the overall premise of this book is, at this point, a bit hackneyed (I am OVER zombies despite their more interesting sociopolitical origins), and although it structurally follows The War of the Worlds and therefore makes me question originality, I have to say the prose was HIGHLY readable, the ethical questions inherent to the genre were solid, the ending gave reward, and the relationship to Greek myth offered interest and pleasure. Great road trip book. Held my engagement despite the more trite moments. Certainly a variation (though not done as well) on the themes in Seveneves. Rec? Overall, fun but not essential to a reading list. But sometimes fun is good enough!

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Took this book with me on a solitary wander around the U of O for a couple of hours one night on our road trip. Bill had been spending all day and most evenings at Hayward Field to watch the Nationals, and so I had solo duty with our kiddos. We got up to all kinds of shenanigans (three hikes, swimming, two waterfalls, rock climbing to a summit, a movie, fro yo, picnics, all kinds of adventures!) and although I relished the time with them. by the third day Bill had an early day and I really craved a bit of alone time. So I got to walk and read, and I found this awesome huge pine on U of O’s campus near Fenton Hall. I went underneath it and sat on a stump and read hidden in the pine. Oh, it was a secret lovely world. One of my favorite memories in a trip of favorites. Kind of a creepy little story to read at twilight under a pine tree, but so much the better!

6. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (novel, sci fi 2007)

“You must remember, family is often born of blood, but it doesn’t depend on blood. Nor is it exclusive of friendship. Family members can be your best friends, you know. And best friends, whether or not they are related to you, can be your family.”

Summary: group of genius little kids overthrows a potential dictator in slightly dystopian, present day sci fi world. Looking for one to augment/teach substantial vocabulary? Girls and boys both in the role of hero instead of princess? Homage to learning, education, and clever intelligence? Celebration of friendship and the way a powerful group has many different personalities to contribute to it? What a great read with children! Katie, especially, loved solving some of the embedded puzzles/riddles, learning Morse code, and the abundant word play (there is a character named S. Q. Pedalian). Looking forward to the others in this NYT Bestselling Series. Highly recommend.

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Reading to my children at Nana’s house one day last month, as we celebrated her birthday.

And the promise of intellectual excitement to come:

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Our haul from Powell’s City of Books. I’ve already polished off the Hitchens, and the kids and I have been loving the others. I am working through Astoria (history, nonfiction) right now, but I might divert into something else for a bit. Eric ADORES “The Book with No Pictures.”

The life of the mind is as important as the health of the body; I’d venture to say at this point that, for me, they are necessarily developed together. I am a better athlete when my mind is primed; I am a better reader/thinker when my body is worked and full of proper nutrition.

Eager for more reading this month, and I need to work on a list of my favorites this past year.

Off to swim lessons this morning for the kiddos! It’s great to be back home: I had my first run (5 mi) and swim (1.5 mi) this morning back in Temecula. I miss Eugene, but these are my home training grounds. Butte to Butte went so well (post to come), but I have work to do and less than a year now to do it!

Happy Reading to all!

What daunts you?

Last July, midway through the month after returning from two weeks in Oregon, I took a plunge into my first lap swim at the CRC. Learning to swim sustained laps earned a place on my Summer Bucket List last year; moreso, I wanted a way to cross train and to try something that, to me, seemed a bit out of my reach. Or, at least, new.

Last year’s blog about that experience showcased my newbie status: I swam my first laps without a cap and goggles. 1000 yards (it’s a yard pool) seemed like quite bit. It was autumn, or close, when I reached 2500 yards—on a “long day.” The 40 to 60 lengths I eked out last summer were challenging. I had never had a circle swim, the thought terrifying me; now they are standard on a busy morning at the pool. I never ventured into the locker room, wanting to sneak in and out as surreptitiously as possible. The thing is, though, when you’re new, you’re new. Part of this whole journey—and the use of social media in reporting about it—has been to be open about the struggle.

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To be transparent: it takes an awful amount of work to become what we hardly dared imagine we could be. There are days I don’t want to work. Runs that are not so great. Moments when I am just getting through it. I am the first to say: I am not the strongest, fastest, most naturally inclined at running or swimming. Other than the DNA that evolved to give our bodies some advantage in these areas, I would say most of us start out on a fairly equal playing field. There are some muscle fibers and variables that certainly contribute to sheer talent in some individuals; I don’t think that’s me at all.

But I don’t want to be known for talent alone, anyway; I’d much rather leave to my children the legacy of my work ethic. I’ve always said, with respect to every accomplishment in my life, that what I feel I lack in talent I make up for with really hard work. I may have some proclivities, as we all do, but none of those mean much, or will amount to anything, without these two traits: loving to learn, and not quitting easily. In the past three years, I’ve had to remember that about myself.

So: when at the pool, it’s okay to look the fool. It’s okay ALL of the time, really.

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Struggling means work which means effort. I knew a kid in school (more than one, really, as time went on) who was convinced that showing effort meant he would come across as less gifted. He cultivated a myth about himself that he never had to work; years later, I found out that all that time, he went home and spent hours studying. Why do that? Pretend, I mean. There’s honor in putting in crazy effort, which often means putting it all on the line. If we stay where it is easy? I don’t want rewards for that. Better to look like a newbie, working her way through with committed passion.

Anyway, by autumn I would swim about 3.5 miles a week, maybe doing two 1750 yards and a 2500 yard a week. During Thanksgiving break, when Bill was home, I took one morning and went 3500 yards (140 lengths, 2 mi) just to see if I could. For the rest of December, it was back to my normal routine.

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I had read that the city aquatics department does an annual 100 Mile Swim challenge from January 1st to December 31st. All of December, I pondered filling out the paperwork and signing up. Did I really want to set that goal? (Because once set, it must be done). Would it be a genuine step for me in the direction of other goals? Would I feel overwhelmed? Could I be patient enough? Could I even finish it?

Mentally, I had to try. Calculating my then-current routine, it seemed mathematically doable. I had a moment of panic thinking about how I would need to miss a few scheduled days for pre-race tapers in March and again miss days while on a road trip (the miles had to be done in a Temecula pool to count toward the 100).

Still, 100 miles seemed FAR away. A reeeeeeeeach. Some estimates put me at October, and that would have been about right if I’d stuck with my autumn routine of swimming three mornings a week at 3.5 miles a week, I think.

I’m the girl who gets the syllabus in college and wants to try to read everything right away. You know?

So those first weeks in January, it was almost torture to watch how slowly my boxes filled up. One small box equals 20 lengths (500 yards). Four small boxes together would be 80 lengths. A “mile” is about 70 lengths. This challenge soon became less about the physicality of it, to a degree, and more about the mental discipline: I had to put myself into an ultra-patient and methodical frame of mind. A whittler. Trust the work. Trust the training schedule to get it done.

Trust myself. Cultivate endurance.

On my first swim in January, I swam 70 lengths. The rules are that you can shade a fraction of a box, so for 70 lengths, I shaded 3 whole boxes (20 x 3) and half of another box.

NOOOOOOPE. My Type A kicked into high gear that morning. The half box tormented me; no, I am not exaggerating. Half a box felt so…incomplete, messy. I couldn’t WAIT to get back to the pool, make up the ten remaining laps and then swim in whole sets of 20 from then on out.

So right away, my swimming changed. The goal mechanism already affected it. I no longer ever swam 1750s (70 lengths) from that day forward; I always had to reach at least 80 in order to keep my neat-freakazoid side content with the box coloring process. (OWN those neuroses, come on people!). Life at the pool operates for me in whole sets of 20. That meant a base line swim was just over a mile.

At some point I realized I could swim (physically and logistically) 2500 yards (100 lengths) every scheduled morning and still make it back before Bill had to start to work if I got up super early to fit my runs in beforehand and got to the pool at 5:30 AM. The boxes started going more quickly.

Shortly before Valentine’s Day, I reached my 25th mile. 50 miles came the Monday following the Carlsbad 5000 in late March; 75 miles right before Mother’s Day.

And today, though it seemed so very far away: 100 miles!!!

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It is like swimming from the CRC to the Santa Monica Pier. 400 times around a track. 7,040 lengths of 25 yards each in the pool.

In contrast, since January first, I have put in 840+ miles of running on roads the past 5.5 months.

Here is a sample of last week’s training log:

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The 100 mile challenge in the pool has taken hours. I can do 2500 yards in about 54 minutes. 100 miles is 176,000 yards, so we could calculate hours if we want to. It has meant plunging in at 42 degrees or colder outside. Getting up when I don’t feel like it. Running super early and then swimming in the dark of winter. Doubling up one day while Dad watched the kiddos because I had been out of town on the morning of a scheduled swim day. At times when I felt my own personal motivation flagging, the goal chart has been out there as one little extra push. I don’t NEED a chart to do my work, but after being uncertain about how genuine this would be for my training, I can honestly say that this goal has in the end made me a better swimmer and just that much more accountable to myself. How many mornings have I thought, “Well, it’s sure frickin’ freezing and I’m tired as heck….but I have to go color my boxes!”

I never kept track of my swim miles in an organized way from last July to December 31st. But this has made me want to start.

With 6.5 months left before the December 31st deadline, my new goal is to see if I can double my mileage to 200 miles. Eh, it’s a little daunting putting that goal out here, but at the same time, goals are powerful once stated. I know I can keep chipping away. I’ll keep track at home. Hoping Bill makes me a huge chart of boxes…just kidding, honey!

And I received this cool shirt:

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It looks like I am the 13th person to have completed this so far this year. Tom C. had it done in a few weeks; he did it first last year, too. He swims. A lot.

I went a bit wild now that Bill’s home for summer. Last week I did 10, 000 yards over three days (a 2.28 mi, a 2 mi, and a 1.5 mi). It occurred to me a week or so ago that if I ramped up, I could finish this goal before Oregon. Kind of too tempting… Yesterday I did another 2.2 mi (8 boxes worth), which means I had 7 boxes (3500 yards, 2 mi) left today.

After running five base miles early (I do another five or so of speedwork on Tuesday afternoons always), I was at the pool at 5:30 AM. As I started, I reminded myself not to be impatient, just to sit inside the moment of the swim, enjoy it, feel it. The time will pass anyway. I had to get into a zone. I remember feeling a bit like I felt when birthing Eric: wanting the reward of getting to the goal (holding him that day) to the extent that patience was an issue as I labored on his birthday. So I really tried to cultivate a sense of determined, calm patience this morning and let the laps unfold.

By the last 100 yards I got more emotional than I would have thought. I started tearing up in my goggles. Crying while plunging your head in and out of water and inhaling deeply is harder than it sounds, so really it ended up being more of a feeling in my chest. Like, whoa, you couldn’t swim laps hardly at all last year and now you can (fairly easily) do 2+ miles at a time and your big goal is just strokes away.

Hard work and commitment are EVERYTHING. I promise.

Whatever we think we’re bad at? Nope. We do not have to stay stuck. We can learn. If we make the effort, and keep at it, we can learn.

So I made a conscious effort to study the sky and the way the rising sunlight glittered the water droplets flicking and flecking off my arms. My arms, which used to be so much weaker. My body, which used to carry an excess of 60+ pounds and could do none of this. Could feel none of this.

Freedom.

Joy.

Abundance.

100 miles.

And everything was gold, gold, gold in the bright blue rise of day.

When my friend and colleague Sandy and I used to teach The Hero’s Journey paradigm to our 9th graders, we lingered on the idea of “helpers”—characters in a  work of art that propel the hero along, perhaps giving him advice, or the talisman. But, we often pointed out, a helper does not necessarily need to be a positive one. Would Odysseus have evolved away from his hubris without Poseidon honoring the curse of Polyphemus? What about those naysayers who propel us along, giving us fodder to prove wrong?

If life is the ultimate work of art, then we are all on epic journeys of our own. Sandy was always wonderful, and I can still hear her gentle and encouraging voice telling our young students that we always get the journey we’re ready for. If we choose not to take it, then it waits for us. Certain parts of our lives we can embrace, or ignore for only so long.

Some people respond to the praise and pleasing of positive helpers, and to be anything less is to crush them into a thousand pieces. There is no doubt that, at least in school, I wanted to please my teachers; those who got the best from me—or rather, those who showed me what else I was capable of doing—often were those who were the most demanding, even to the point of cultivating a disagreeability. I never had a “mean” teacher, surely. I count myself fortunate, indeed, though to have had teachers who didn’t give praise often, who got surly when an assignment wasn’t quite right, and who gave real grades for real work. Yes, AP US History teacher, I’m thinking of you. As well as a couple of others… The real gift of these helpers: teaching you how to WORK as hard as you ever have to help yourself. Setting the bar so incredibly high that there was room enough to amaze yourself in meeting a challenge you did not know you could meet before you began. Keeping it real, rewarding precision, work, and true knowledge (as opposed to just effort).

I love the tough lovers.

We cannot, I don’t believe, reach excellence in a hunky dory world. Okay, maybe some can. Not me. Yes, I need the faraway inspirations: the Deenas, the Shalanes, the Mebs. I find inspiration in the the local friends and rockstars who keep it real and create a climate of active goal setting: the Jen P.s, the Rachel G.s, and more. There are people who were training and posting on social media that inspired me long before I was ready, without even knowing the positive effect: Lori B., doing her stadium stairs early on a  Saturday morning and Naheed, kicking butt and taking names with her daily workouts and meal prep; Tiffany G., who once gave an interview before a fitness competition about being able to resist even holiday cookies in favor of her goals (at the time, years ago, I couldn’t even understand that and now I look back with total respect and understanding); Katie H. M., who stays fit and toned and who can scale a huge rope even after six kids… I could keep the list going. I need the example of my dad, who ran his first half marathon a few years ago after conquering not only his weight but also himself.

These are all heroes in their own right, to me. My daily helpers. My husband/coach, gives full encouragement even on days when I don’t perform as well as I want to. My husband’s role is to make me feel loved and appreciated, and he never fails. As a coach, he is matter-of-fact and keeps our discussions hopeful but realistic. I have to work for him, too.

But I need, too, the Maria Kangs of the world. The “So, what’s your excuse?” people. The people who state the problem plainly. Those people? You can trust them. They do not enable, not a single bit. Those harder helpers, even the naysayers? They are very realistic: anything of real value, you must earn. No sugar coating. No pats on the back when you sabotage yourself. No praise just for breathing.

They are helpers, the nudgers.

And to them, I sing a song of thanks.

When I was about halfway through my pregnancy with Eric, I saw a P.A. at the practice with whom I have had a long, good history. No problems with her at all. Mad respect, especially now.She said the hard thing, but I wasn’t ready to hear it. My gain with Eric was tremendous, more than the tremendous gain with Katie. Even halfway through. My thinking at the time, already not clear on the matter, allowed pregnancy to become a reason for a free-for-all eating fest.

I remember she asked me about my weight. I stayed smiling and polite but inside was self-righteous and indignant! “Do you eat a lot of fast food?” she asked. NO! Who was she talking to? I explained that I just like to cook, French…and almost all the time. Cooking is my hobby, I explained. I’m a foodie. Homecooking for my family.

“Um, could you maybe try cooking things that are a little healthier? Maybe you could like that kind of challenge. Maybe less butter and cream? Maybe more plants?”

She tried.

I smiled politely and was quiet.

It wasn’t like she was totally slender, either, I argued with myself. (Illogical ad hominem counterargument). And I am pregnant. I need to eat for the baby. How can she even SAY this to a pregnant woman?

Oh, I reasoned that one right away. By evening, her entreaties were SO FAR in the back of my mind that I am sure I was plotting my next dessert with cookbooks spread around the couch.

Those words never left, though. She was 100% accurate. She said the hard thing. I’ve had to let go of my food driven hobbies, for the most part. I don’t watch cooking shows (we get drawn to what we surround ourselves with), I don’t often open my old cookbooks, and I really don’t cook anymore as a hobby. I can’t. It would be like a recovering alcoholic going to a bar. But when I do, I allow myself the enjoyment of the challenge: transforming recipes into healthier versions, learning how to cook as an athlete. She said what I did not want to hear, but now I think of it and live it every day. At the time, I was just mad. No one likes excuses called out, right?

To this day, even now that I know by sight so many more people at the 5:30 AM pool session, I cannot identify the man who spoke to me one day in early September.

Bill had just started back at work, which meant that I had to start waking up at 5:00, run, get to the pool for a couple sets, and then come back home. I was still doing between 40 and 60 lengths at the time, SOMETIMES 70. (During the summer, I had worked up to 80 lengths and even 100 lengths once, but with the new school schedule, I was doing what I thought I could). Time was an issue.

It was a Friday. I had come later to the pool and fit in 40 lengths. Go me, I thought, go me!

And then: “You are already getting out?! That wasn’t very long!”

Just like that. No diplomacy of presentation. (And you know what? Sometimes there doesn’t need to be).

Oooh boy, I thought, TALK TO THE HAND! My neck and shoulders and hand almost swiveled and went up in disbelief.

He said what?

Days of insecurity swallowed me. I can’t swim in lanes next to these triathletes. I’m not good enough. They probably ALL think I am a slacker. Yes, I had tried explaining quickly to him that I had run and had only time for a few laps because my husband needed to go to work and and and and…

And then one day, it was clear. He was right: if I wanted more, I had to be willing to WORK for more, to sacrifice for more. 40 lengths isn’t very long, not in the scheme of what most people down there do. It’s just a fact. It represented growth, for me, a new swimmer since July… but if that’s all I gave time for, I would never improve or build endurance.

But I could fit in more laps if I arrived right at 5:30 AM, when it opened. Far more laps.

So I set my alarm for 4:00 AM. Fit the runs in. Arrive at 5:30 AM, or within five minutes of it.

Whoever that man is—and he probably still swims there, but with swim caps and goggles people are somewhat in disguise—he pushed me. I think he meant to. I think I needed it. Hated it at the time, but was he not speaking the truth?

Tough love jolts when we don’t expect it. Tough love, though, can be the best thing that ever happens to us.

Where were you when you first read your favorite book?

On a summer lawn with August sunflowers towering above the wooden fence? (J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace)

Swinging in the hammock in your parent’s backyard? (Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the second time)

Resting on the playroom couch with your son growing inside of you? (Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the fourth time)

Bound and riveted to the huge yellow cozy chair in the family room from early morning until past midnight, getting up only to urinate and grab quick portable snacks, many months pregnant with your daughter? (J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the day I heard the delivery drop thud on the doorstep)

On the side of the 1 in a school bus in Big Sur, during a relay marathon with your family? (Steinbeck’s Cannery Row)

In bed, tucked in against the cold December air and the even colder thoughts after a miscarriage, glad you put up the decorations after all, looking for escape into a time and world nowhere here? (Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind)

Reading saves us, shapes us, makes us. Books contain their own narratives, yet how and where we read become narratives of their own. The experience of reading forms a dialectic with the text. We as readers manifest the world of the book around us; the text forever changes us. To what degree may depend upon how well the words connect to us, but even our least favorite books alter us a slight degree. We engage with the thought-life of the author, making it our own through interpretation and questioning. We live whole worlds in hours; we bring the author’s world into our own. I love the experience of reading almost as much as I love the words themselves.

I experienced three page-turners this month, out of eight books for May. Don’t you love that feeling? The call of a book. Nothing like it in the world. Those books might be deep, they might be light, they might be a combination of the two: the call of words to come play, to find out, to submerge. For some, the reading experience became its own story, part of a larger memory and narrative.

Others were informational, and I will start with one of those:

1. Should We Eat Meat?: Evolution and Consequences of Modern Carnivory (Vaclav Smil, nonfiction, 2013)

“In a rational world, consumers in the rich countries should be willing to pay more for a food in order to lower the environmental impacts of its production, especially when that higher cost and the resulting lower consumption would also improve agriculture’s long-term prospects and benefit the health of the affected population.”

The writing style is as dry as an arid desert in Hell, and I paid an arm and a leg to read it (even digitally). BUT! Smil, a polymath prof at U of Manitoba (details in comments), presents a dispassionate offering of statistics and data in order to treat the subject of meat consumption highly rationally. In some ways, as laborious as this text truly is—informational to the extreme, filled with data sets—it is extremely important, I think, as a means of understanding the consequences of decisions we make and taking responsibility for the world as consumers. Punchline: he concludes that we might be best off with a highly vegetarian diet with very occasional and rational meat consumption. That is the conclusion Bill and I have come to on our own, but without the sheer data crunching to back it up.

No matter your view of vegetarianism (I certainly get plenty of flack about it from some of the die-hard carnivores in my life—and I even do eat chicken and fish once in awhile!), this book is worth the read. Shouldn’t we know what we’re doing and why? If we’re eating without taking the time to study, I just don’t think that cuts it in the modern world with the environmental concerns we’re facing and the data to back it up. If you are conservative minded, I am sure even that statement sounds like I am a happy hippy. The fact is, we have an ethical imperative to understand what we do and why (not just with respect to eating), and how our decisions affect everyone else, as well as our planet. We don’t just get to go stomping around acting like kids on benders, taking or doing whatever we want without assessing the ramifications.

The good news is that, as demanding as Smil is as a reading project, this is not an ideological tract: refreshing, since we live in a world where the norm is to make passionate arguments for the sake of arguing  without working toward a reasoned middle ground. This book appeals to the Vulcan in me. And to the numbers girl. My consumption still may not be perfect, but I consider myself an ongoing student—of everything. The more we take the time to learn, the better we can be.

Smil, by the way, is Bill Gates’ favorite author. There was a work-up on him in WIRED a couple of years ago.

2. Thinking, Fast and Slow (Daniel Kahneman, science, neuroscience, psychology, nonfiction, 2013)

“The difficulties of statistical thinking contribute to…a puzzling limitation of our mind: our excessive overconfidence in what we believe we know, and our apparent inability to acknowledge the full extent of our ignorance and the uncertainty of the world we live in. We are prone to overestimate how much we understand about the world and to underestimate the role of chance in events. Overconfidence is fed by the illusory certainty of hindsight.”

Kahneman, Nobel Memorial Prize winner in Economic Sciences, as well as psychologist focuses on human rationality in Thinking, Fast and Slow. This book is on my “If I ran the world, this would be required reading” list. His premise? We all fool ourselves all of the time, and he gives several mechanisms by which we can understand and assess for this. On the chopping block? How we continually construct fallacious narratives. How we make economic decisions. The role of luck in business and how the most successful CEOs look at the long range picture and not the success of individuals. Topics: regression to the mean, prospect theory, endowment effect, risk policies, heuristics and biases, rare events, and so much more. How do we assess what we don’t know? How might training ourselves to view the world and human interaction/events with a more probabilistic eye help us to better understand reality?

This book is for anyone who wants to know herself, especially her limitations as a thinker and free agent. All kinds of mechanisms influence what we think we know. In fact, what’s jolting is how susceptible we are to brain worms.

Makes a person remember: 1) A position of humble fact-finding socratic inquiry is probably the most stable  one to take with respect to any topic; 2) It is possible to use reason to conduct self-assessments of rationalization and delusion, but we have to take even a step beyond that to guard the guardian; 3) A gentler treatment of all human beings, especially when we err, is a high expression of empathy

3. Inferno (Dan Brown, fiction, 2013)

“…consider this. It took the earth’s population thousand of years-from the early dawn of man all the way to the early 1800s-to reach one billion people. Then astoundingly, it took only about a hundred years to double the population to two billion in the 1920s. After that, it took a mere fifty years for the population to double again to four billion in the 1970s. As you can imagine, we’re well on track to reach eight billion very soon. Just today, the human race added another quarter-billion people to planet Earth. A quarter million. And this happens ever day-rain or shine. Currently every year we’re adding the equivalent of the entire country of Germany.”

I don’t read Dan Brown for the mellifluous prose. Brown receives a great deal of heat—deservedly—for his writing style. But hey, he’s a best-selling author, and I’ve written nothing published, so there you go. I do not find any joy or verve in his prose and pretend to myself that I am, essentially, reading a work up of a film script. With that in mind, it all becomes bearable. Even so, Bill had to promise—promise!—that the philosophical pay off would be big enough to justify dealing with the style.

Some of our discussion themes this year (in an ongoing e-mail convo with Bill and two of his brothers) have been extinction, care of the planet, technology, transhumanism, and more. We’re also in the middle of a vaccination debate in California—well, not really a debate but more of a rebellion back toward science as a determiner of public policy. It’s heated, if you judge by Facebook. Interestingly, two of the books I read this month make the argument that, actually, our planet might be better off in the long run if a virus or two DOES reduce the population. That’s pretty wild to read about, being an ardent pro-vaxxer.

And, of course, we had this article a few days ago: Bill Gates warning that we might well face a virus more decimating than Ebola.

Whatever your view, Brown’s book adds to the discussion. I finished this on this cozy, rainy afternoon by the fire.  Much more ethically complex, this one, than I would give Brown credit for normally. Topics: Transhumanism, overpopulation, bioethics…and of course, all that juicy and delicious history/art history/literature business for which Brown is known. I loved reliving my personal travels with his descriptions of Venice and Istanbul. I am left pondering the ethics of the ending, with no resolution soon. 465 pages, and an absolute page turner.

Fiction can be an entry point into complex philosophical topics best augmented with science. Brown’s work accomplishes that, and no doubt he is a master at plot. Worth the pleasure.

4. Holes (Louis Sachar, fiction, 1998)

“When the shoes first fell from the sky,he remembered thinking that destiny had struck him. Now he thought so again. It was more than a coincidence. It had to be destiny.”

I am in love with this book for eternity. One of my favorite books EVER. I read this with Katie and Eric, mostly cuddled in one of their beds. It was a rainy time of month, and we had the warmth of each other and book we could hardly put down.

Though I cannot believe I missed this book for all these years (it came out just as I was about to go to college), I believe that our favorite books find us in their own time. When the time is right. Even  last year, I saw it at the UCLA bookstore and almost bought it for Katie and me to read, but I thought, “No, not yet…it just doesn’t feel right yet.”

And now, it was right. I am not talking about the reading level or topics (she has been grappling with substance for some time). I mean: the book itself. Books come to us. They have a perfect moment.

For us, Holes will always be one of those special memories. Katie can, does, and often does, read chapter books on her own, but goodness, I hope we are still reading together even when she is 17. Those shared reading memories are precious. Eric liked this one, too.

The morning we finished, we made Kissin’ Kate Barlow’s spiced peaches and streamed the (excellent!!!!!!!) film version on Netflix.

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5. Meb for Mortals: How to Run, Think, and Eat Like a Champion Marathoner (Meb Keflezighi, nonfiction, 2015)

“After church is social time, with coffee and doughnuts. I’ll look around and see everybody—small, medium, large—having a doughnut. I think, ‘None of these people ran 10 miles this morning. And I still have an ElliptiGO ride this afternoon. But I’m almost the only one here not eating a doughnut. How sad is that?’ When I tell this to my buddy Rich Levy, he’ll say, ‘Well, that’s why you won the Boston Marathon.'”

Meb works HARD. He is one of the most accomplished runners in the world, and he doesn’t let up. He is a technician, one ascertains, and he is all about form and form drills (which I should start incorporating). He says he is not the most talented runner, but he will work it and work it and work it. He embraces the running lifestyle, a lifestyle which, for me, has become a philosophy beyond just the exercise.

I consider myself an eternal student of my sport. I think reading books about our sport is part of becoming a rigorous and accomplished athlete, part of our mental training. Meb’s book was highly readable, very quick. The most useful parts, I felt, were all the graphics and details about his various drills. I have much to discuss with my coach as we revise training plans for next year before October.

Pick it up? Sure, if you run seriously with a dedication to making improvement and full commitment to the runner lifestyle. There are others I would read first (many of which I have mentioned in my booklists), and Meb does often state the obvious (as in the quote above…I totally relate!). Still, it’s a good little read.

My memory with this book remains special: I was up early on Saturday morning in San Francisco a couple weeks ago. I didn’t run Saturday before Bay to Breakers, but my body still woke up at 4:00 AM. So: I read the whole book in nearly one go, starting in our hotel room finishing over Blue Bottle Coffee at the Ferry Building at breakfast. An inspiring read the day before a big race and in an amazing city on a special trip with my husband!

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Picking up a couple of treats for Katie and Eric (who did not come with us on this trip) at Miette; then, settling down to a Blue Bottle capuccino in the Ferry Building in San Francisco to finish up Meb’s book

6. Waiting (Frank M. Robinson, science fiction, 1999)

“You should read your morning paper more often, Artie. Your species is monstrous when it comes to hypocrisy: you keep telling yourselves how much you prize human life when it’s obvious there’s nothing you value less. You love violence, you adore it…”

Could. Not. Put. This. Down.

This one takes place in San Francisco, the home base for Robinson himself. Imagine another species of human beings hiding on the planet for 35,000 years and waiting to take over the planet. This one was recommendation from my husband, who has impeccable taste in reading material. A good summer/beach read, Waiting explores the topic of the 6th extinction and probes themes of illusion and reality. Both suspenseful and intellectual, this page-turner is pure pleasure.

I read a paperback copy, too. As much as I have come to love the Kindle, feeling a book in my hands and smelling its scent are pleasures that I will never want to miss.

Put it on your list? YES. Especially if you are a sci fi fan and know San Francisco. It zips along.

7. The One and Only Ivan (Katherine Applegate, fiction, 2013 Newberry Medal)

“Gorillas are not complainers. We’re dreamers, poets, philosophers, nap takers.” 

“It’s not so bad, I wanted to tell the little boy. With enough time, you can get used to almost anything.”

Read this one with Katie and Eric.

Most of the book, a fictional look at a real silverback kept alone in base captivity at a mall circus for years before rescue, rendered our heart into pieces. It’s narrated by Ivan the gorilla who is also an artist, and discussion opportunities are rich indeed. Eric liked Holes much better, but Katie responded viscerally to the strong elegaic feel of the syntax and structure. It’s a story about how we make art and why, kindness, and selfhood. Definitely recommend for the library.

Find out more about the premise here.

So much wisdom and insight in this book. I could quote it all day. Applegate based this text on a real gorilla (there really was an Ivan!). So compelling, especially as we consider travesties like keeping majestic orcas in too-small spaces just to make a buck. There is a definite agenda with this book—you will like it better if you are more animal-conscious—though it is an agenda with which I very much agree.

Caretakers. We human beings, with our evolved intelligence, have a responsibility to be good stewards here on planet Earth. This has been a theme in much of my reading this year. It’s not just about us, though all through history we have wanted it to be, as a species. (Everything in space revolving around Earth, right? The heresy of Galileo!). We have invented narratives to make us the center of all existence, and we live with the inheritance of this hubris. I think it is time for a new way… To see ourselves as we really are, part of a long chain and not the end of the chain, either. Maybe we will become a gentler species if we do think about this perspective.

8. A Hitchcock Reader (ed. Marshall Deutelbaum and Leland Poague, 1986)

“A central characteristic of Expressionism (as a cinematic movement) is the distortion of the “reality” the camera records or the creation of a world phenomenologically remote from the reality recognized by our senses; a central concept of montage theory is the creation of concepts that have no necessary phenomenological equivalents in what was actually presented before the camera…”

Okay, this one is for the nerdiest nerds. The Hitchcock oeuvre is a pet project of mine. Around the time Katie was born, I had watched most of all of his films (even the old ones, yes). Some are difficult to find. I read as much criticism as I can find, as well, though I recognize Hitchcock is only on the edge of the canon. I am noot sure he, as yet, would command enough heft as a thesis topic at a major university, though I think scholarship has been heading in that direction.

Regardless, he is one of my favorite directors, and through this project I have learned much more about film theory than I once knew. At the same time, I will never be a true film theorist; my fascination with Hitchcock stems much more from his themes and imagery and social commentary.

So this book here. I scoped it out years ago and realized a copy could be obtained at Berkeley—it is a textbook, essentially, of 25 incredibly detailed analysis essays compiled for the first time into one volume. This book was being used for a film class, and at the time, my brother was still finishing up his degree at Cal. My mom and brother coordinated to bring this book home and give it to me for Christmas.

In fact, I did read many parts of it right away, particularly using it as a reference for the films I was involved with at the time. A perfect gift. This month, though, I re-read it, focusing more time on essays I had not covered as thoroughly originally; this book is a way back into my hobby. I don’t prioritize much time for films these days, unfortunately in this case. Still, I got to thinking that I should try to see some of the films I haven’t viewed yet… But whether I do or don’t, or wait until the children are grown and no longer homeschooling, I really loved letting my mind dwell in some old-school critical theory and art analysis. Lots of Freud stuff in this one—very pre-90s!—but that didn’t detract from the sheer pleasure it is to read and write criticism/analysis about any work of art. This was probably the most esoteric and niche-specific of books I read this month. I wouldn’t recommend it at all, unless you have very particular interests.

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And that was May! Happy JUNE everybody. A couple different titles being released in June for which I have been eagerly waiting. And I just got a recommendation from a friend for a new Neil Gaiman (a favorite author) release of short stories, which I bought this morning at 4:30 AM before my swim training. (I skipped ahead after reading the introduction to one of her favorites, and it was GOOOOOOOOD)! Also, the kids and I are in the middle of The Mysterious Benedict Society—already on pace to be another favorite of ours this year. June is shaping up to be a good month of reading! Excited, definitely.

Happy reading, everyone!

Writing up this race might be as wacky as running it. The constant refrain of Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” plays in my head whenever I reflect on today’s event. “Shake it off” has to be my theme for this one:

“I never miss a beat/I’m lightning on my feet/And that’s what they don’t see/…I’m dancing on my own/I’ll make the moves up as I go/And that’s what they don’t know/But I keep cruisin’/Can’t stop, won’t stop grooving/It’s like I’ve got this music in my mind/Saying it’s gonna be all right…I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake…shake it off…”

I could spend this time cataloguing all the variables that made this 10K a wackier (apparently this is THE most apt word I can concoct, since I keep using it) race even than the notorious Bay to Breakers, which at the seeded front line was quite professional and clean, last Sunday. I could. I could talk about how it rained right beforehand and sprinkled during. The streets were so slick they made the trail portion of the course seem like a easy desert trek.

The craziest part happened within the first mile. To start with, the course followed a markedly different route than it did last year, so none of us knew it. All of us out in the front line followed the course biker…who then proceeded to bike us half a mile (that’s significant in a 10K) off course. YEOWZA, baby. I knew we were in trouble when the first few people turned without cones, and we started doubling back.

Even crazier? The lead man, pegged to win this easily, did another mile or so and then stepped off the course. He might have sustained an injury, but he also seemed none too pleased about the course issue.

To see the course front man step off, and to have the Garmin clicking off miles a full 800 m before the mile markers…well, it turned this into a huge mental battle. I felt rattled; I think we all did. Whereas last week I celebrated feeling a mental triumph, this race felt like constant mental patching against the dam of shaken thoughts that accompanied the start of the race, even though my first mile was identical to Bay to Breakers at a 6:08.

I should be professional enough to have a mental procedure for this, but this off roading marked my first experience with such a thing. I went into this race with a certain imagery pattern, and nothing was similar at all (course, weather, etc). It was pure grit and trying to adapt as quickly as possible to variables I did not predict. I imagine we were all facing that, to a degree. One man who caught me toward the end responded to my “Good job!” with the commentary, “This has been a hard race.” Indeed.

Bizarrely enough, this was a USATF regional championship event (like they will ever come back to that course, ha ha!) for San Diego-Imperial. I really wanted a solid run, not only to PR, but also to have an official 10K regional championship time.

But because the course was supposed to have some heft, some talent came out. I ran with some awesome, world class women at the front today. Two were Olympic trialers with amazing PRs at various distances. One maintained fitness from hardcore collegiate days. Another is a nationally ranked triathlete.

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The morning began with kisses for my babies. Mama bear, first and always.

Pre-race routine: Clif Bar nuts and seeds bar 2-2.5 hour before. Coco Vita mango peach coconut water (sip alternately with water). Power Crunch bar 45 minutes before. 1 caffeine tablet 1 hour out. 1-2 mile jog in sweats. Take off warm-ups and hit full strides until legs feel bouncy. Stop water 15 minutes prior.

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Susan and her family came to race this morning, and I loved seeing her again. We were both teachers at TVHS in the English Department back in the day. We are both mamas of two, and Sue is fierce. She is completing the Triple Crown for the first time this year. It was a difficult race for both of us (we prize a good mental game), but we took two of the top five spots in our division. It will take more than weather or a funky course aberration to knock down the Golden Bears! TVHS English Department RE-PRE-SENT!

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Ready, set, go!

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Seriously, these women. From left: Rachel is a super collegiate runner, who totally went after the first place woman. (The first place woman is not pictured here. It was her first race back after a two-year drug suspension. She is an Olympic level marathoner. I was about 2:00 behind the female winner. Rachel came in second. Megan, the woman in bright yellow, is a rock star. This Olympic trialer looked familiar. Only when I was home did I realize who she is… I had an OMG moment in my bedroom. Months ago, in one of my running magazines, there was a La Jolla woman profiled as one of the fastest “mother runners” (along with Kara Goucher in that list).

That woman talked about her approach to hills. Do you have any idea how often I have remembered her words to myself alone in the dark at 5:00 AM, 4:30 AM? Doing hill sprint repeats on Fridays? IT WAS HER!!!!! How could I not have connected that?? OMG! I just wasn’t connecting it… I have quoted her to myself so many times. It’s ridiculous. I should have asked her to sign my bib.

The third woman in this picture is a national level triathlete. She came in 6th, and she was on me for quite awhile. Last year, she kicked my butt, and I couldn’t catch her then. An amazing athlete.

All of them are. Unreal to be in this field. Unreal to be chatting with them at the end, feeling a sense of belonging. What a plot twist in my life, huh? When I told myself three years ago that I was going to try my best to be something I never thought I could be, I meant it. Try my best. Commit. Work. I have a way to go before I can hang with these 6:11 and 6:16 women, but I am working on it. My pace today was 6:28. One day, one day… I will be better than I am now.

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So, results: 4th woman in, this year. 13th person overall. 2nd in division. I did end up with a PB at 1oK.

But it’s unofficial. Bill had to talk me off the ledge in the car when I was getting in the mind to pursue any 10K within striking distance from Temecula as an “unfinished business” race. That would be quite a new narrative: the “axe to grind” race. And even though I PB’d, I was 7 seconds off what I WANTED to PB. At least in the online results, the timing company has notated that our calculations and reported times are based on a 6.7 mile (instead of 6.2 mile) course. It added 3+ minutes to my time.

Looking positively, though, I maintained my fitness from Bay to Breakers last week and didn’t backslide. It may not have felt like the same breakthrough that I experienced during that race, but I maintained what hopefully will be a new “normal” with room to grow before Butte to Butte.

Still, phhhtt. My narrative this time was to run thinking about the love my husband and I share. I wanted to dedicate this run to him, and to post a time we’ve been dreaming about and working on. Instead, both of us were reeling from the course business. Bill knew within 4 minutes when the first man should have gone by at Bill’s position that something had happened. Instead of focusing on our love, I had to fight off annoyance and anxiety. I did start running my positive scripts and trying to write a new story as I went. I don’t dwell long in the negative; I’ve got the training for that. Still, it was hard not to be mentally focused on the race in the way that I had expected to be. Not my favorite race, mentally. I came home and watched footage of Bay to Breakers (Bill purchased some of the race package as a gift a few days ago) to cheer myself back up, ha ha!

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Blowing kisses to my babies. I make the most dork-tastic faces when I run. I could be the poster child for the statement, “Running is HARD!” Looks like I am in a constant state of torment, LOL!

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Then Katie and Eric had their races (a 1 mile and a 1/4 mile, respectively). So proud of my girl. I have been crushin’ on her sprinter hands. She said her legs “felt like bicycles.” She went into race mode and seemed to finish this more quickly than her work on the track lately.

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Eric in full stride. Love this person. He was hilarious—he got away from me (I ran with him), weaving by other participants. He told me later that he paid attention to the cones and knew where to go. He wanted space to go fast. I got pinned back away from him for awhile. He was like a rocket!

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Eric finishes happily.

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You know, their races made it a good day. Every race is its own story, a runner friend of mine once advised. Indeed, that is true. We grow when we take the right lessons away from a race, whether the best or the worst. I am sorry but not sorry for the many variables today: I know I will turn them around and use them to grow myself as a runner and as a fighter. In the meantime, I get to be proud of these two and to share this amazing journey with them. What could be better?

Look for the good. It’s almost always there. Until then: joyful legs, everyone!