The Weekend

“You Do You,” or the Xterra Ogden Triathlon

Hooooboy. It has been *such* a long time since I’ve written a race report. The last one I did was for another triathlon. I think it was two, three years ago.

I was relatively fit then. I know this because I did a 10K the day before I did the sprint tri, and I felt fine starting the race and ending it. This time…not so much. I last ran three miles in July. I last rode my bike more than 10 miles in…I dunno. May? May? Seriously, yes. I was still doing a reasonable amount of swimming on a daily basis when I got into the car with Jim and my bicycle September 14, but I wasn’t going to Utah to race.

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Here is the lovely Utah landscape and some mountains I did not think I was going to be running up or down or anything like that a few weekends ago. 

I packed my sneakers, my bike stuff, and some run stuff, because a friend of mine was going to meet us there. Our husbands would race, but I had decided it was going to be a weekend of doing the _other_ things I like to do: reading, writing, finally getting back to my watercolors, pootling, just pootling on the bike and in the hills, maybe. I did spend the first morning at our shared condo doing those things, while everyone was out getting registered, but then when they got back home, the first thing my friend said was, “I registered.”

Oh! My heart sank. Oh, how lonely I felt just then, how quickly and sharply I remembered the previous year, when I drove Jim’s parents around the course while Jim and our friend Donna raced. Oh, I recalled the jealousy from watching them flop on the couch after their post-race showers, looking very slightly sunburned, tired enough to take forever to crack open their beers.

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Here is the shirt I should have worn all weekend so no one (especially myself) bothered me about racing. 

People, there ain’t nothin’ like race day–and there ain’t nothin’ like post-race either, when you stumble across the finish line and know that, whatever it is you eat or do the next couple of days, you earned it.

I took another couple hours to think about it, but after we’d taken a quick recon ride on the race course, I was pretty well convinced. So I got big numbers plastered on me and ate a nervous pasta-ish meal and then we all went home and got ready for the race.

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Here is the proof that I did something very stupid the day before a race: I registered. 

Folks, I know how to swim, bike, and run. I’m reasonably skilled on a mountain bike, and I really enjoy being out on it. Running is a necessary evil that I used to enjoy. But nothing can make up for months of lying relatively idle for a few months straight.

Well. This is where you say to yourself, Surely this is one of those stories where she surprises herself with her fitness, and there is joy and angels’ choirs and something like a halfway decent time, right? This is where she digs deep, a story of inspiration and blahbbity blibbity lip flap etcetera, right? No. No. Sorry. This is not one of those stories.

You see, untrained muscles are just that: Untrained. That whole “muscle memory” thing? That’s not about your muscles remembering how to be strong. That’s just about them remembering what it was like when they were strong. This muscle memory, by the way, makes you incredibly frustrated with yourself, and your muscles incredibly frustrated with you, when you have to hobble along next to your bike because both quads have cramped up. And then, imagine their further frustration when your muscle memory also says, “Oh! We know how to fix this cramp! Just pull your ankle up to your butt and–WHAT WHAT O HEY NOW WHAT IS THAT AGONIZING CRAMP ON THE BACKS OF OUR LEGS NOW WHAT WHAT OWTCH.”

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Here are the bananas I should have eaten because they might have saved my legs from cramping. Okay, not. Anyway. 

You begin to see the problems. Suffice it to say that, by mile 10 or so of the 12-mile bike, I was knelt on the ground by my bike; ass on ankles, helmet on the gear ring, focusing on breathing. (Somewhere in the back of my brain was the line from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” where he’s muttering to himself, “The penitent man shall kneel; the penitent man shall kneel.” Oh, yes, I was penitent, all right.) People looked at me concernedly. Other competitors asked if I was okay. Passersby asked if I was okay. It was one of those.

All right. Fast forward past the run, to the finish line. (Let’s just say that on the way to the finish line I was passed by an amputee doing a course that was twice as long as mine was; a seventy-year-old, some kids, and a great many more people, and that doesn’t count the people who got out of the water way faster than I did. Also, I finished a good two hours behind the prior finisher in my age group. Mmmhmmmm.) Flop flap across the line, lie on the grass, pant moan etcetera. Did not even have the energy for normal post-race beer.

Now, when I told this story to a bunch of college students last week, I used it to illustrate a cardinal writing rule of mine. I said the rule was “You do you.” And I still stand by that. We should all be doing our own thing; we shouldn’t be writing shit because the market says we should write about wizards or whatever; because our moms say writing legal briefs is more lucrative than writing poetry. Neither the market nor our mamas is lying, but if our hearts do not want to write legal briefs or books about wizards, we will not be happy and our work really will be for shit.

Also, just because your friends are doing a triathlon, you should not also do a triathlon.

But–I was happy out there on the course. I did not enjoy the cramping, but I enjoyed the ride itself. I did not enjoy the shambling shuffle that passed for my run, but I liked being in the woods and sticking to the dirt and feeling competent on the course.

The swim…I did not like the swim at all. The swim can bite me.

But oh! Triathlon. Oh! The outdoors. Oh! The muscle memory of being tired, smug, happy, with a cold beer in your paws, crab-like from shifting some gears that will not shift, and clutching at Gu packets. Even my gigantic age spot cannot keep me from loving this.

Yeah. “You do you” apparently means that not even the flat-out fact that I am not ready for a triathlon can keep me off the course. I kept on saying, “You know better than this,” and you know what? I did not care. So I am going to have to get back on the bike and back in the water and back out on the hills. It may take awhile.

But it is time. Because apparently I’m going to do a triathlon no matter what my brain says is smart, so I might as well be ready. I guess that’s just me, as me.

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Here is the position in which I hope to never finish a race again: The beer, she is missing. 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

A Real Wookie of a Father’s Day

I went to a high-school graduation the other week.

Bonita High School Graduation

Bonita High School Graduation

The crowd was amped. The parents never stopped looking for their children, and when they picked them out among the sea of green or white gowns, there was frantic waving, shouting, and something uniquely American: the “Wooo!” that is the hallmark of any excited person living in these United States.

Woo! It took me ages to learn how to do this, with varying levels of success. The first time I tried it, I adopted the Julia Roberts version, the one where she’s at the polo fields in “Pretty Woman”? In that spotted brown dress with the big, big hat? “Woof! Woof! Woof!”

I had to try, you see, because the Woo! had not made its way into our family. Certainly it never came out of a woman’s mouth. Men, in my family, express approval with stern nods, compressed lips, vaguely approving eyebrows, I think. No one ever smiled. Certainly no one ever whooped. So I had to work on it, make it sound casual, make it sound like I really meant it.

But here in America, we whoop. We whoop at everything. We whoop at goals; we whoop when people get married. We whoop when we have managed to land a Cheeto into our moths after tossing it into the air. We whoop when we have manage to get on-board a flight at the last minute.

I know this, because after many, many years of practicing, I have developed a passable “Wooo!” and I deploy it at will. With impunity, whenever I damn well feel like it. Sometimes I think I might even Wooo! more than I high-five. (At best, it’s a close call.)

Now that I am 41, I can “Wooo!” with the best of them.

Anyway. I digress. When it was my turn to graduate high school, like five thousand years ago, I was kind of…trembling. Not from excitement. No, I was worried that when I crossed the stage, there would be crickets. I wasn’t especially popular; I had fought with all of my best friends during school at one time or another, and I knew my parents wouldn’t make a peep. I didn’t have any visiting family, either, not that they would make a peep. Sure enough, they didn’t.

But I was lucky; apparently I did have friends, and they whooped for me, even if the size of whooping was smaller than it had been for our homecoming queen or princesses, or that girl who was so nice that everyone liked her even if her accomplishments were questionable and she missed all the college application deadlines by accident.

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may have dreamed this. But I think, months later, my parents commented on how enthusiastic Americans were, how happy they were. How awesome it was to hear all the noise, how joyful these parents were for such a small accomplishment as graduating high school. What, after all, is there to be proud of? Almost everyone graduates from high school.

I think I may have smiled weakly.

Anyway. Maybe it wasn’t by coincidence that, not long later, at a baseball game, with my brother and I yelling at the players and me occasionally get poked in the leg by my Ma, who was not excited at all to hear her daughter yelling, “You suck!”* at a random player on the field, my dad got up and did the wave. And out of his mouth came a noise that made me freeze solid. It was a cross between a cow in some kind of pain, although it sounded like it wasn’t actually sure if it was in pain, and Chewbacca. “Uuuhhhhhh! Whuuuuuuuh!”

I stared. My dad was  cheering. He was working on it, just like I was working on my Woof.

Four years later, I graduated from college. First, I heard my brother. “THAT’S MY SISTER!” and that was awesome, but then, everyone already knew my brother is capable of generating awesome. Then, the dying-cow-choking-Wookie noise. “Uuuhhhhhh! Whuuuuuuuh!”

My dad, cheering for me.

Never was a sound so welcome, ever.

Here’s to the dads. The ones who buck everything they know, everything they think they know, just to make a kid feel special.

*I no longer do this. The PollyAnna in me says “Everyone is trying their best on that field.” And then, “Oh, look, hot dogs.”

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Snippets

It has been what feels like an obscenely long time since I’ve blogged.

In the meantime, my book had its birthday and we had ten days’ worth of houseguests, and then I went to Seoul to participate in the Rotary International Convention on behalf of ShelterBox, and then I had a most extraordinary time being carted around South Korea, talking about writing and publishing with interested parties all around.

Truly, I lead a charmed life.

On the last day of lectures, a grueling 4 hours of talking broken up by a pleasant hour-long lunch, I got a note from one of the attendees in the audience. Having evidence of the work we did together outside of Instagrammable, social media fodder in my hands, a tiny little craft-paper envelope with precise writing on it, still warm from her hands, is such a present. I, too, may take to carrying around little cards, the better to thank people in tangible fashion, on the fly. How much we can learn from each other!

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Over my three days with the Embassy, I met some other characters, people I’ll forever be grateful with for making it so obvious that sharing what I’ve learned with others is bound to be a most gratifying existence.

The Old Storyteller: He comes to many of the American Corner Daegu’s events. He speaks pretty spot-on English and has stories he wants to pass on, but he’s 85 and wanted to know what I would tell someone like him, someone who’s tried to write but can’t seem to do it. Time is short, he says. “When should I quit trying?”

The Anxious Girl: “You said we should write every day. Well, I draw every day. Is that okay?” Later, meeting me one-on-one, her hands shook as she tried to turn to a page in her notebook. I mis-stepped, asked if she wanted an autograph, like her classmates, but no, she wanted to show me her drawings, and boy! Were they something! Reptile claws over a planet overgrown with trees and scrub and vines; silhouetted people standing at the hearts of planets, trees rising out through their heads…Yes, yes, write every day, but geez, don’t stop doing these, ever.

The Concerned Citizens: “I wanted to know if you consider yourself a feminist.” And “You say we should fight the efficient fight when it comes to unfairness in the workplace. What is the best way for writers to do this?” And, “As a writer, do you think Donald Trump is exercising free speech?”

The Enthusiastic One: “You’re my very first author ever.”

The Worrier: “I think I carry around so much of what people say in critiques. How do you know what to take and what not to take?”

The Interpreter: Did you know that, during simultaneous interpretation, interpreters have to switch out every ten or fifteen minutes? It’s that grueling.

The Single Girl: My handler over the three days in Korea was this amazing young woman who has no plans of getting married and no plans for kids. She’s truly a career woman, a person who’s constantly curious, always living, it seems, whether that take the form of hiking up Seoul’s beautiful hills or scouting locations for visitors like me or enjoying whatever it is she’s eating. I wish we could have spent more time together.

The Veteran: “Could you sign this for me? I want to show our young people what we can do with our creativity. And I want to show them what we Orientals [sic] can do when we go abroad.”*

What a terrific three days. How lucky I am!

*No, I’m not offended. It’s a dated phrase, and the guy was near 80.

 

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Brain Flotsam 3

Welcome back to the weekly digest of things I saw, heard, or encountered this week that I thought you might like, too!

Check this awesome museum out: It’s the museum of endangered sound. Yes, sounds like the fax shriek, the AOL sign-in, and other things guaranteed to bring you back in time. via Stefan Bucher.

I liked these New York steps the way they were when I used to live at the top of them.

This cover, of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” from Linkin Park. What I love about this is how much the crowd gets into the song, singing along with the chorus. Some music transcends genre.

We went to visit Monterey this weekend, and checked out Heart Castle along the way. Here are some faces I noticed at the castle:

By the way, Hearst collected sarcophagi. What a weirdo. More importantly, the architect for Hearst Castle was Julia Morgan, one of the U.S.’s first female architects. Very cool.

And then we went to the aquarium. Otters. Octopuses. Lovely views of the water. And I bought this book, all about the sea. Stay tuned for a capsule review over at Tahoma Literary Review at the end of this month. sea

That’s all for this week. What did you see, encounter, hear, read?

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Brain Flotsam

Here are some things I read or saw this week that I really loved.

First, some people playing Adéle’s “Hello” on a surfboard. (Thanks to Audrey for the tip-off.) I love so much about this: the way the guy on the end spots the cymbal on the ceiling before he nails with with a high kick (high hat! high kick! ha!); the voice of the girl in the middle, standing on a block to be the same height-ish as the others; the [SPOILER AHEAD] way the guy with the longer hair loses his hat from rocking out. It’s a nice five-minute break. :)

 

Second, here’s some interesting reading (h/t Dave Nichols) about why U.N.-spec tarps are the way they are. We use these tarps at ShelterBox, in our ShelterBox ShelterKit.

I remembered suddenly the very last breakup meal I had, in January or February of 2000, and how much I paid for it. It was at Le Zoo in Greenwich Village, and I paid $75 for the two of us, because I had invited the guy out, and I also got to say exactly what I wanted to say (we all know how rare that is). After we’d broken up–“I never said I loved you,” he said–he reached for his wallet. “Don’t add insult to injury, M—,” I said. “I invited you out.” But I still got dumped. :)

The McSorley’s snack. Last Wednesday I had a friend over. We sat on my floor and she brought over beets on Alouette over a bed of micro-greens; I had a brainwave, New York-related again, that took me back to sawdusty floors at McSorley’s Ale House, where some friends and I used to drink, along with the rest of the world who ever visited New York. Their standard bar snack was sliced white onions, cheddar, and a sleeve of saltines. I did mine with Tilamook extra-sharp and water crackers, but I forgot the mustard. IMG_3587 2

We went to Santa Barbara this weekend. I liked this random collection of textures:

Early in the week I saw this comic-book caption in real life (Ka-POW! Blam!):

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I mean, what the krunk?

That’s all for this week: Tune in next Monday for more brain flotsam.

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What’s Your Birthright?

We’ve been in California now for a little over a year. I grew up here, moved away for 17 years, and then came back to fulfill what I see my as my filial duty: both of my parents are getting older, and I’d like to get to know them better.

The days run into one another here. The seasons are never changing, especially now that we’re in a terrible drought. (MILITARY SHOWERS, PEOPLE! Just an aside.) We’ve gotten to the point where we chart what month it was by who is visiting, since there’s no weather to provide a memory aid. But there are some days that stand out more than others.

One day, in the summer, for instance. Late in the evening, verging on night, with the sun low across the foothills behind our home. Jim and I are struggling up the hill on our mountain bikes–well, I’m struggling, he’s not–and I’m executing a military move up the hill (veering, left, right, left, right) because that seems like the best way to get ‘er done, when finally, the hill, and the false hill behind it, ends, and we’re at the ridge we’ve climbed so many times before, only this time, something is different.

The sun has just reached the edge of Johnson’s Pasture, on my right, which sweeps away in what can only be described as a textured golden-red sea of sorts, and the “city” of Claremont lies to my left, looking verdant and plush, and my legs have gone loose and free, having conveniently forgotten about the agonizing climb, and a memory triggers somewhere in the reptilian part of my brain, which is the only part that works when I’m exercising, I guess. I’m searching for it, trying to figure out why this feels so damn familiar, and I figure it out just as an overwhelming urge takes me: It’s a scene from a f***ing REI catalog.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Turning over a new leaf

So I turned in my revised thesis to my adviser a little while ago. A little under a week ago. Since then I’ve felt adrift, kind of like I did after Ironman, like I’d been training forever for something and then the thing happened and suddenly I had nothing to train for and nothing to worry about.

Which, really, isn’t very true, because I still have to pitch the thing and write query letters and I still have to go back to school and my second reader has to approve it. But–the bulk of the work is done.

Since I turned the thing in I’ve been twiddling my thumbs insofar as new work goes; I even kept the big thermometer chart and all the index cards that were my thesis outline up on the wall, just in case–what? just in case I had to rewrite the whole damn book?

Right. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Still, I couldn’t stomach taking any of it down. I  have another idea I want to write about, even, but–anyway.

But then I went to the Lake Tahoe area for a writer’s retreat. There were great editors there and other writers, folks who have published or are working on publishing, and there was this:

And I got to talk to an editor and other writers about this idea of mine, which actually has a first-draft manuscript attached to it, and I got to meet Ami, who is awesome and who I’ve previously only known because of the Interwebs, and that was awesome, and then I got stuck in Reno overnight.

And I was annoyed.

But I called it research, because part of my thesis takes place in Vegas, and I had forgotten about the noise the clinkety clank jarring of the casino machines, and also the weirdness that is a casino on a Sunday night and then, subsequently, on a Monday morning at 8AM. And then I went for a jog along the Truckee River:

and saw these guys:

and then even when I got to the airport and I realized that my flight was going to be delayed by 2.5 hours, I still felt okay, because I was antsy for the first time in a long, long while; antsy to start something new.

So when I finally got back home and I had had a shower and a nice night’s sleep and I could see straight, I went to my wall and I took down all of the index cards and my thermometer chart and tapped all my notes and marked-up MSs into a pile and put it all away. This week and next I’m reading novels in the vein of the one I’m getting ready to write, and the week after that I may start writing the outline.

Maybe it’s something about being near the water. (Now that I live where I live, being around water–pools of it; good rushing streams of it–is really nice, and rare.) Maybe it’s something about being in great company.

Or maybe it’s just about it being time. Any which way, I’ll take it.

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Verbagram 2, the Raw Fish edition

Our good friend Tim came to visit. We had a packed weekend that somehow managed to include some downtime on our couch and four episodes of American Horror Story, before it jumped the shark. It was fantastic.

It also gave us an excuse to go visit Cousin Richard at his incredible sushi joint. And that gave me an excuse to think about another food-based Verbagram. Because, you know what? I am sick of people describing sushi-grade fish as “like butter.” People. That’s disgusting. Seriously, would you ever eat a stick of butter? Or a pat, by itself? This description makes no sense to me.

Here:

Sometimes, you eat something and it tastes like the place it came from. By this I do not mean that when you eat a piece of steak, it tastes like a barnyard smells. I mean that sometimes you eat something and you get an evocation, an impression. Piece of steak, again: Big, open fields, as far as the eye can see. The occasional tree, and a few lone cows, standing here and there, with a bird of prey streaking across the sky. See? Steak tastes of largesse, of generosity, and even maybe of excess, depending on whether or not you get the crumbled blue cheese on top.

Take sushi: The texture: creamy, practically, even though the fish is arguably solid, sitting there on its rice. It yields to the bite easily; maybe because it’s ribboned with fat, if you’re eating a nice piece of salmon. Or maybe, if it’s yellowtail, just because that’s the way a good fresh fish should be.

You don’t get any flavor at all, really, in that first bite. If anything, the vapors of wasabi and fine rice vinegar are the first to hit your palate; and then, finally, an absurdly clean finish, a little bit like you’ve rinsed with really cold seawater.

Your salmon should evoke the day you spent on the banks of a river in Maine, with the early-summer sunlight dappling the current. And your tuna will take you back to the day you spent on a party boat in Brooklyn. Your uni will remind you, briefly, of the time you got washing-machined by the wave you weren’t expecting, that afternoon in Rhode Island.

For Grier, a photo. Because you requested it.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Instagram Rebellion

…Okay, I have a confession. I’ve never used Instagram. And I’ve never had even the slightest urge to. Partly this is down to the fact that I know I take crap pictures. Also, I have no desire to make my crap photos look like more than they actually are, which is … crap photos.

I haven’t given this too much thought, except this weekend I had the following Twitter exchange:

gooddirt

gooddirt: After incredible pea, poached egg, and crostini lunch @littledoms, have terrible craving for smashed peas!

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littledoms: @gooddirt attach pic next time. Yum!

See, here’s the thing, okay? Even more than taking crap photos and passing them off as “vintage” or whatever, I hate amateur food photography. It makes me squirm to see folks taking pictures of their food at a restaurant. I don’t understand it, however I might appreciate the results, or “like” them on facebook or retweet them, or whatever.

So I have an idea and a challenge for myself: Each time I come across a dish I like, I will, instead of taking a photo of it, take a verbal snapshot of it. That is, I will write a little ditty describing the dish. I will post the results at my Tumblr as well as here, starting with the aforementioned Little Dom’s dish, above. Here it is:

From a purely literary standpoint, there was no music to it. Even the manager of the joint couldn’t be assed to dress it up: “It sounds really weird,” she said, grimacing apologetically. “It’s peas, poached egg, and pea tendrils on crostini.”

“Hell,” I thought. “Sounds just ugly enough to be right.”

“Right” it was, like a dame in heels and seamed stockings, or coffee, black. The “pea tendrils” were wilted into the crevices of the crostini, much as the yolk from the poached egg sank into those same crevices, and the peas were smashed enough that they fit neatly over the fork tines after you’d loaded the thing with egg, bread, and veg.

For an old hand like me, sustenance could be an art form. But when flavors work well, quotidian matters like “art” disappear.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

On Whidbey

On the island I am covered in words. They are pestery things: it’s a little bit like the imagery and acquaintance conjured up when he said he woke up “covered in a Wookie coat” of mosquitos.

This is not as bad as a Wookie coat of mosquitos, but these words, they pique and annoy. I wake up with them rolling around my brain, which means I wake up feeling like I’ve been in a bowling alley all night. I roll over and notice I’ve burritoed myself into the covers of the ginormous bed I’m in here at the guest house we’re renting.

As I’m trying to get out, I push away the novel I’m studying for my thesis class, it being what I love to fall asleep to, and the crinkling noise tells me that I’ve rolled onto the jewelry catalog a friend has brought for me to peruse. I love the words in this catalog; they are throwaway ones, meant to evoke orgies of consumption.

The walk to the bathroom is only a few feet–two steps and I’m there; another step and I’m in front of the sink–but I can’t seem to make the distance without a book in my hand. I grope around under the covers–ah! there it is, the slim volume of poetry I’ve become interested in lately–and crack open a random page as I take the one, two, three steps to the sink.

The vanity to the sink is large enough that I can set the book down while I’m brushing my teeth and washing my face, but I’m mid-poem now, and I don’t want to end it yet, so I stand in front of the mirror with the book in one hand, and try with the other to squeeze the toothpaste and brush my teeth while I’m reading the poem. It’s not a pretty sight, but it is a nice poem.

I cannot do this while I am washing my face.

Today we are on day 7. Yesterday was graduation day. It was lovely and I cried a lot, but that’s OK. I was really moved by the charge to the students and our friend Mandy’s response, and I it occurred to me that maybe the reason I get so weepy at these things is because we all know what the graduates have been to to get to this culmination of skill and diligence.

It’s a gorgeous morning out as I type, and I’m feeling the need to get up and about. I have a thesis meeting in a half hour or so, and then tomorrow I have to go back to managing the workday as well as managing my own writing.

In short, it’s just another workweek. But here, the work feels like a definite unwelcome intrusion.

 

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