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The People in My Neighborhood: MFAland

I love sport. I love doing it, training for it. I love introducing friends to it.

I love race day. I love the pre-race energy; I love the random camaraderie that springs up on the course. (People ask how you’re doing; people help each other with transition areas; people give each other race food or water when a hard bonk happens.)

I love most of all watching people I know and care about cross the finish line.

I love writing. I love the process. I am learning about the craft. I love the hours when I am in the moment and banging out something I care about.

I love encouraging people to find their voices. I love watching a writer use his voice effectively, when he finally finds it. I love seeing people I know and care about publish the work they’ve worked over and over until this phrase, or that, linchpins the whole thing together.

This past February a Whidbey MFA graduate posted that there was a triathlon the day before residency, and would some of us like to do it with her? Several of us signed up. Hell, we thought, we don’t have a football team, why not do a triathlon together?

So we did it.

I didn’t come to MFAland to make friends. I came because something was or is inherently broken in my writing, and because I needed motivation. I know all too well that when your critique partners become your friends, or when you ask friends to be your critique group, you might run into problems.

But as I watched people I know and now love cross the finish line, and as we celebrated a classmate’s first-ever publication last semester, and as I goggled at the numbers of fellow MFA students and staff who were not racing but who came to cheer and feed us beer and cheese after, and as we mourned the death of a classmate’s brother and another classmate’s close friend, something clicked: You cannot embark on things you love, and invite people in, and not make friends.

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

7×7=one grateful blogger

Awhile ago, my Whidbey colleague Charlotte Morganti nominated me for a 7×7 link award! I wish I knew what the origins of this award was, but more important, I’m just happy that I’m getting an award! It’s my first!

Also, one thing about Charlotte, before I go on to the requirements of the award–she’s by far the most diligent blogger I’ve ever come across. She decided she was going to start a blog, and then, bang! She’s been keeping it up, regularly, with great writing tips and interviews with luminaries like Alan Rinzler. She also does great book reviews, and is the author of an as-yet-to-be-published hardboiled detective novel in the vein of Dashiell Hammett. So yes, you must follow her blog doings.

Now. On to this award. I must do several things in order to account for this award. I must list seven items in each of three category.

First, seven things about me you probably don’t know:

  • I don’t like very spicy food. That is to say, I don’t like things that flame your nasal hairs out and make you sweat. I’m much more apt to buy a mild tomatillo salsa than I am an “extra hot” salsa, for instance.
  • I am a sucker for the American Standards songbook.
  • I can’t dance.
  • I struggle with my weight. Part of this is my inherent laziness. The other part of it is my love/hate relationship with exercise. The final part of it is genetics.
  • I think everyone should have their own personal style. This is not to be confused with trendiness.
  • I adore button-down shirts and in general prefer neat dressing to slovenliness.
  • I love to cook. And I prefer to do it with friends in the kitchen or nearby.

Now, 7 posts from my own blog that I like:

  • Chris Hondros, in Memoriam: Chris was the photographer for one of my first-ever feature articles. He died in Libya almost a year ago.
  • Book Review: Moonlight Mile, by Dennis Lehane: I write book reviews at my site every once in awhile, but I like this one because it deals with something I think is super important in books–characters one can identify with. Also, it gave me a chance to write a bit of a love letter to Dennis Lehane’s characters. And okay, maybe Lehane himself. :)
  • Speaking the Gospel: This is a brief roundup on why everyone should try public speaking. I almost never write posts about business, but this is one of those things that I’m both good at and that I feel strongly about, so I did this one. It’s just a list of reasons everyone should love to speak publicly. And yes, you read that right.
  • Iron Girl, Iron Guy, and the Iron Maiden, Part I and II: This is the story of our Ironman competition. We trained for six months and had a blast, and I’d readily do it again. I loved this race. It was awesome. (Yes, yes, okay, in retrospect.)
  • A Phone Conversation: This is exactly what it is, a phone conversation between me and Mr. Gooddirt. I think it’s hilarious. It pretty much pegs Mr. Gooddirt.
  • Track Rats: This is part of a series I’m writing called “The People in My Neighborhood.” It’s about the folks who populate my life. This one is about the people who first really made me feel like I was a part of my physical neighborhood.
  • An Open Letter to Do-Gooders: I’ve deployed to Haiti twice as part of the ShelterBox Response Team. While I was there I noticed a few things. This letter is obviously not from ShelterBox itself, but it’s my perspective of what people who really want to help in a disaster situation should and shouldn’t do.

Phew. That was hard. This next one will be easier. 7 blogs I like, and, in turn, pass the 7×7 award on to:

  • GrassDirtCorn. My friend Hollie Butler is very special to me. I’ve known her since I was 18. We were camp counselors together. And we used to write letters. Now Hollie tackles some good things–and not-so-good things–in her blog on food, health, and general life. I love it.
  • DaphneUnfeasible. My friend Kate Schafer is a great literary agent. And she has good, important things to tell writers, on her blog.
  • ChelsKnorr. My friend Chels Knorr just started her blog. She’s off to a bang-up start. I think what she has to say is intriguing. I think the way she says it is beguiling. G’wan, take a gander.
  • Manhattan Nest. I’ve just started reading this one. I almost never have patience with blog posts that are this long, but I love Dan’s sensitivities and his design sense. So he’s hooked me. If you like mid-century design–or design at all–you need to take a look at this.
  • The Sherman Foundation. Thomas Sherman makes great, pithy remarks about things that matter to me–art and design and marketing. I appreciate his respect of my time and attention span, but more important, I respect his wide-ranging definition of design.
  • Harvey Briggs. Harvey’s been involved in advertising everything from cars to pantyhose. I can’t remember how I found him, but I’m thrilled I did. Another master of pithy copy, Harvey often points me to really interesting advertisements, but more important, he has interesting, commentary-provoking things to say. Every. Single. Day.
  • Kate Gale. Is a librettist, an editor, a smart, smart woman, and a wicked conversationalist. Again, short, loads-of-fun commentary. Well worth a peek.
  • Nancy Norton. I’ve written about Nancy before, but I think you should go over and take a peek at her blog. She spends part of the year near Toulouse, France, and aside from the part of me that’s an inveterate francophile, I’m always amazed at the things Nancy ends up doing and seeing–and sharing with us.

Okay. That’s it from me. Thanks to the blogosphere in general for this, and, more specifically, thanks to Miss Morganti.

 

 

 

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

A Phone Conversation

Me: Hello?
Mr. Gooddirt: Hi. I just thought I’d tell you that I qualify for extra life insurance.
Me: That’s fantastic! Congratulations! They approved you even with the extra layer of pudge around your waist from our trip to Taiwan?
Mr. Gooddirt: Yes. Especially because of the extra layer. They said it would protect me from impact injuries.

<3!

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

White Plains at Night

I like photography a lot. When I have a visual record of things, I feel much more complete. Because I’m a writer professionally, I sometimes feel confined to my chosen medium, so it’s nice to step out of it some days.

On my way home from a day in the city the other night, I snapped a few photos with my Blackberry that I think evoke a side of White Plains that most folks never see. At night, White Plains virtually shuts down. Except for the water fountain in front of the Starbucks and the traffic lights, there’s very little that’s moving.

Last Wednesday night it was misty and foggy and I was a little bit drunk, which added to the mysticism of the whole thing. Here’s what I saw.

Main Street, just after the train station.

The aforementioned water fountains, with police cars adding a little something.

The passage and street beneath the Galleria Mall.

The gaudiest storefront on the planet.

I always liked this logo and evocation of a favorite sammich.

Streetlights and trees.

A normally busy thoroughfare goes utterly abandoned at night.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

The 30-Day Experiment: How’d It Go?

About a month ago, I told you all that I was going to do five things for 30 days straight. So, what were the results?
Here:

  1. Drink a glass of water every morning: 100%
  2. Make our bed every morning: 100%*
  3. Write a one-page diary entry longhand every day: 93%
  4. Go to the gym or do something physically strenuous every day: 76%
  5. Read at least the headlines of one entire section of the newspaper that arrives at my door each morning: 0%

So what now? Well, let’s look at why I picked these five items to begin with.

The water thing was about the fact that I woke up dehydrated every morning. That and the making-the-bed thing were also both about establishing a mini-routine that would help me to feel more organized in the morning. (Somehow, brushing my teeth, washing my face, and making coffee wasn’t enough of a routine.) And then, it’s kind of nice to walk by the bedroom and not see a rumpled mass of sheets and blankets every time I go past it.

Numbers 3, 4, and 5 are all about things I badly want in my life but hadn’t found the focus for previously. To be more specific, I’m more organized when I can take five or 10 minutes each night to jot down what happened during the day, and clear my mind of any extraneous garbage that might disturb my sleep, like pissiness over the way a meeting went, or the way a friend’s been treating me, or the way I’ve been treating a friend.

Working out every day was sort of a physical experiment. How long could I keep that up for without a break? And what would it do to my body?

Reading the newspaper was about being a better citizen of the world. And about cutting down on waste. Every day that I do read the newspaper, I find something I care about, something of interest.

So. Here are my conclusions.

1&2. I like starting the day with a little automatic movement and routine. I’ll keep these habits and probably build on them. In the last week of the experiment I started getting up at 6:30 with Jim and walking to the train station, where he catches his shuttle to work. Sprocket got an extra two miles–and I got an extra-early start to the day, which meant I could knock off earlier and not feel guilty if I was sitting in a beam of sunlight, reading, at 4PM.

3. I liked bookending my day with a focused task like this. It was nice to recap the day. There was a time when I wondered how people could fit everything they thought into one day, or even half a page.

really? merely a page for a day? yes, but not with restrictions like this. Photo: Levenger

But I could see how it would be soothing, to know that you only had to get to the end of the page and then you could stop or go on. And, unlike my previous practice of making lists for the next day each night, this freer form allowed me room to rant if I wanted to. I still like the night-before list. Good way to ensure that everything’s out of mind and safely on paper where you won’t forget it. But you can’t rant, or worry, or muse, on a list. You can with a nice blank sheet.

I used to do stuff like this all the time. What happened?

4. I have a love-hate affair with fitness. I’ve raced in countless events and even done Ironman. So what’s my block? I still don’t know, but I believe I am closer to solving the puzzle with these 30 days. I kept up the streak for 12 days straight. And then I had to travel one day, and that sort of screwed the pooch. But do you know what? I was so much stronger for the day off. I know, DUH, right?

Still, my experiment reinforced the need for balance. I love being outdoors, and often, a walk in the woods is so much more rejuvenating than a session on the Cybex. And then, friends also make everything so much better. Towards the end of my 30 days, some friends signed up for a June triathlon. I tagged along. Getting outside with friends reminded me how important it is to have people to train with, and folks to egg you on.

Linda, me and Jim on North County Trail

Then, too, it’s been very wintry here, so the days I was tempted to go outside were limited. I’m still not sure what I want to do with this, but now that it’s spring (although it’s snowed here for the past two days, or sleeted), my options will include many more outdoors miles. Either way, I’m stronger for this past month. In total I skipped seven days out of the 30, two of those for illness, two for travel, and three cos I was just plain lazy and couldn’t be arsed.

5. Oh, my newspaper. my beloved newspaper. I can’t give this up. I get so much out of it when I do sit down to it. But it almost never happens. Must approach this with renewed vigor. Maybe with looser parameters. But at which point do I abandon ship and just go to e-version? This would make me cry, by the way. I once had a nightmare about giving up the newspaper. Yes, really.

There are varying opinions on how long it takes a habit to form. One article I found said 21 days; another said 68! My take is that the habits you form are the ones that truly, deep down, do something for you.

I have a new challenge for myself. This one is just because I’m curious. Starting today, I will write down everything I eat each day. Will I calorie count? Maybe. I *am* curious.

Here’s the takeaway from my 30-day experiment.

*I don’t seem to be in danger of letting exercise either run my life or escape from it entirely. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.

*So, too, for the glass of water, the making of the bed, and the daily longhand diary.

*I’m giving the newspaper another crack. I’m just not willing to give up the feel of it.

And here’s what I’ve consumed today, so far:

(2) eggs in (1) tblsp corn oil + 1/2 c salsa

(2) cups coffee w (2) tabls half and half

(2) packets emergen-C w 16 oz. water.

Are you bored yet?

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Kickstart My Heart, Part II

So. While I was headed down to the gym earlier tonight (at 10:30! What a joke!) I was struck with the most certain terrifying thought that if I didn’t write down all of the wedding weekend festivities, I’d just…forget.
I mean, hey, we all say things like, “It was a night we’d never forget,” but…well, a girl gets old. Stuff falls out and between the cracks. And besides, I want to share this with peeps who weren’t able to go.
So I’ll give you the rundown of the weekend now. But in the interest of space and your own sanity, I’ll save the rumination for later. There’s a lot to think about.
Got that? Boring timeline now; potentially boring reflections later.
Okay. So when last we left this blog, it was Wednesday afternoon and Lara and I were picking up Ms. Jody. We collected a bizarrely baggage-less girl, and although gullible me just shrugged when Jody waved her small carryon backpack at me and said, cheerfully, “dress and shoes, that’s all I need!” it proved to be that the airline had lost Jody’s luggage.
So we spent part of the trip out of Vegas trying to find mobile phone spots in which Jody could bark at the airline, trying to figure out when her luggage was going to get to Death Valley. We had a minor detour during which we stopped at WalMart and Michael’s to pick up some odds and ends*, and then it was finally, finally off to Death Valley. We checked into our individual rooms, said hi to Jim and Scott and Nichole (Jim’s best man and our officiant, respectively), and then, delight of delights, got a text that Peter was already at the resort, family in tow.
We met Peter for drinks and some light eats at the Corkscrew Salon, and then hot-footed it back to my suite to put together gift bags. This included some small disappointments: The letters I’d had the resort print out came out in a different, decidedly non-1920s font, despite my spending some time having chosen a specific look, and I forgot to add the location of the post-race BBQ to said letter, so Jody spent some precious time and energy writing the location on each of the 52 gift bags. Nuts. This might be why the scene in our room looked like this:

[photo: Jody]
In the end, though, everything looked OK.
photo: cousin Rachel, wicked w a camera
It felt a little bit surreal. I’ve never undertaken such a large-scale “craft” job, unless you count the time I made all those bracelets for Terry, and that was just with Jim helping. This time, having two of my closest friends nearby, felt strange, especially with Kim Kardashian yammering in the background. I still don’t know why Lara chose that channel. But I said I wouldn’t ruminate.
Okay. So. The next morning we gathered for breakfast and then showed Lara and Roj (he’d arrived earlier that morning) and Jody around the ceremony and reception site, and then, with Scott and Nichole and our friends Kathy and Jeff in tow, we finally set off a little after lunchtime for a trip to the nearest sites available to us, Badwater Basin, the Artist’s Palette, and…something I can’t remember right now. Oh, right, the Natural Bridge.
Here’s Badwater.

Photo: Lara


Yes, yes, that’s me and Roj tasting the water. I daresay, I think my plank is better than Roj’s, although I will confess I had a dangerous time of actually getting up from the dip that was required if I was going to taste the wine of the desert.
Here, I like this photo:

Photo: Lara


And here’s a photo from Lara’s camera of our group. Lookit all the friends!

Jody and Lara and Roj and I went back to the Inn, where Jody and I went to sit by the pool and chatted up the race director, and then we ended up deciding that it was a good time to head up to the bar with Lara. The text messages started coming in then; Jen and Ken; Kara Andersen, and Jim stopped by, and I know there were one or two others, but I cannot remember now.**
Dan and Audrey arrived then, and we had drinks up in my room, and then eventually my parents and my brother and sister-in-law pulled in, and after getting them all settled in, we went out to dinner down at the Ranch, where we ran into a whole bunch of other friends, like Ed and Kathleen and Peggy and Amalia and some other people*** and it began to sink in just a little bit that everyone was gathered here for a reason.
It was a most delicious sensation. But I digress.
The next day was race day. We got up and dragged ourselves down to race start, where, oh! joy of joys! My parents AND Kara’s were waiting, to take pictures of the race start, and we heard that Lara had indeed decided to undertake the marathon with Jody and Jim’s brother Jon and his trainer TJ. The half-marathoners were me, Roj, Kathy, Jeff, Kara, Rachel, Ed, Kathleen, Peter, and Dustin. And Jim decided he was going to do the 10K. Here’s this lovely lovely race photo!

Kathleen and I ran almost all the way together. I’m sure I was holding her back, but by mile ten my hamstring was seriously jacked up and I told Kath to go on. We had a nice run together, anyway, and I enjoyed the company and stopping to take photos and the scenery and all of it. I do love that race.
I came in nowhere near where I wanted my time, but there’s not a whole lot you can do about crap training.
Roj won his age group, and Jody won her age group in the marathon, and and and … well.
After that, we stumbled back to the hotel and did stuff I can’t remember, like…ummmmm. Gosh. I really don’t know. This is awful. I know I was with Jim. Maybe we were looking for my parents. Maybe we hung out with my brother? Maybe we hung out by the pool again. Or maybe I went down to the Ranch to hang out with Jody. No, that’s not right, cos I was back at the Inn in time for rehearsal.
Yes, rehearsal!!
Here was our wedding site, pretty much:

Photo: Alan


If you look real closely you can see all the chairs set up for the ceremony in the upper right hand corner of the photo.
So rehearsal happened, and then there was a post-race BBQ where there was a ton of roasting and a ton of laughs and just some really good times and apparently the cameras didn’t come out until, at 8PM, it got windy and we all repaired to the bar at the Ranch.
Oh. My.
It was crazy buffoonery and there was rather too much drinking for the night before a wedding, but hey, what the heck. You only live once.
Jim went to stay in another room (why? why? I will never understand this), so when I woke up hungover then next morning at 5:45, having been awakened by the howling whistling wind, I totally freaked out. And I called Jim.**** This is the problem with outdoor weddings, you see. Things could Go Wrong.
Well, they didn’t go wrong. The wind died down, we took our pre-wedding photos, which included a little bit of this:

Photo: Nichole Donje


and some of this:

Photo: Scott Allinson


and finally some of this:

and then we went back to the Inn and put our feet up for a wee bit, and then there was a ceremony and some vows and then there was this:

Photo: Matt Siber

Photo: Scott Allinson


And then there was an Epic Fricken Party with the best friends in the world and a pretty good after-party, and that’s all I have to say about that for now, cos this post is SO LONG.
But I will risk a bit of rumination and just say here that it was one of the two best weekends of my life, for a few reasons. One, everyone who was there mattered. Really, really mattered. And two, it was the best ever for its normalcy. Think about it: We had drinks and dinner, we ran a race; we had a post-race BBQ, and then we had a big event and everyone went home happy.
This is the way every weekend should be.
Next post, some Deep Thoughts. Well…some thoughts, anyway.

*these included some gift bags and an item of clothing which I will er, reflect on later.
**See? How awful is that? I’ve already started to forget! If someone out there is reading this and was there, could you remind me?
***Seriously, brain is for shit.
****It would have been so much easier if we had been together, so I could have just pounced on him and yelled, “MAKE IT STOP!” instead of doing it over the phone.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

A brief intermission and a public announcement

Aside from the basics off eating breathing, drinking water, I’ve never done anything for 30 days straight. Not in my recent memory, anyway, and not anything that I’ve known would be good for me. Maybe in my angsty college years I kept a daily diary for 30 days straight, but that’s hardly a challenge when you’re angsty all the time.
So, inspired by an acquaintance and a fellow writer, I’m challenging myself to do a few things over the next month, the next 30 days. They are things that have eluded me, and although I’m not up to challenging myself to doing something every day for a year, like the kid in Brenda’s story did, I think I can manage a scant month’s worth of time. And who knows? Maybe that month will lead to a year. But let’s not get ahead of myself. Here’s my list. I invite you all to either check in with me or make up a list of your own. Leave your lists in the comments below, if you like.

1. I will go the gym or do something physically strenuous every single day.
2. I will write a diary entry in longhand every day. It only has to be a page, but it can be more than that.
3. I will start each day with a glass of water.
4. I will make our bed each morning.
5. I will read at least the headlines of the first section of the newspaper that arrives each morning at my door and often goes straight to the recycling bin.

Okay, that’s my list. Now I’ve told you all, and I have no excuses, really. Some of these things are so simple! Who knows? Maybe this will be the start of something great.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Kickstart My Heart

Last night, one of the students in the class I’m teaching on the essay wrote about one of the moments that she’ll never forget in her life. She relived the two days leading up to her wedding, and how special they were, in part because of her father’s cancer’s remission and the homespun nature of her wedding. These things combined allowed her to experience her father as if they were just leading casual normal lives, instead of prepping for a major life event on the heels of a narrow scrape with death.

Her recounting prompted me to recount my own wedding week, although I’m not one to air things like planning details and information on color choices and whatnot. After all, Jim and I have been together for so many years; it seemed almost a superfluous task, to tell everyone we know and love that we’re  together and committed. It’s hardly a newsflash.

But that’s another story, another argument, and the fact is, when we set out to plan this event, we did it with the full knowledge that what we were planning was an event to honor our friends and family, and the role they’ve played in our lives. What we got was so much more than that, and so quintessentially us, that I fear we’ll never be able to plan a better event.

The whole thing started, as do so many, with a sporting event. I’d run the Death Valley Marathon two years ago, and been rapidly enamoured of the place and of the event; it’s a low-key gig with no starting gun, no big finish banner, no TV coverage. The landscape is ridiculously gorgeous, the entire venue, indeed, perfect, and we wanted all of our nearest and dearest to experience it.

So we planned our wedding around the race and around the Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch.

Lemme tell you, there is something tangibly delicious about sharing something you love with people you know will appreciate it. As always, there was some worry, because Hello! Death Valley?? Even the name is off-putting. But whatever.

Wedding week started off with insanity. I didn’t know if I’d make my flight out because of a massive storm that was brewing and threatening to cancel a ton of flights, so I left twelve hours early. That was interesting in and of itself, and if I needed any more proof that Jim’s practice of making lists was the way to go, well, let’s just say that if I hadn’t made the list, I’d probably have forgotten everything that mattered. It turns out I didn’t forget anything–quite the reverse! I had so much stuff that we couldn’t find one or two things.

I got into Vegas, where Jim was already spending time with Scott, his best man, only three hours late. Not bad. Crashed into bed and slept for a whole three hours before I had to get up for a 7AM conference call; then went back to bed. Vegas was CHILLY. So not cool. I mean, cool, but not in the way I wanted.

Jim left the next morning to get to Death Valley, and I was left with a nice quiet day with which to wander around our hotel, get to know it, book appointments and hunt down various needs, and then, after an hour or two of work, Lara arrived. Oh, joy!! We’re in touch quite a bit via things like chat and Twitter, but we only get to see each other once a year, so it was nice nice to have her in person. Our suite at the Hard Rock had a wet bar and some nice stereo system, so we chilled with a beer, and then, just as Lara was needing to really get to sleep (it was 4 AM UK time), we went out for dinner.

There is something really heartbreaking about watching a friend fall asleep in her salad. We each had a margarita and then crashed into bed at around 9:15. Yes, yes, we did.

And if that doesn’t sound very Vegas to you, guess what we did the next morning? We ordered room service, admired the view of the parking lot from our hotel room, finally tottered off to our manicure appointments, and then spent the rest of the day in the strip malls looking for things like craft supplies and outlet malls.

We did, however, find a gorgeous dress for Lara and a really cool top for me, and then it was back to our suite for a quick change and a civilised glass of wine, and then off to see “O” at the Bellagio. Dinner later at Noodles, and then back to our suite again, where we sat up and chatted until midnight.

How lovely!

Do you want to know why there are no pictures of our brief time in Vegas? I’m convinced it’s because we were too busy taking advantage of the proximity of good friends. That, and the combination of too many things to do and the need, for me, at least, to preserve the memory in my head and heart rather than on film nullified the desire for photos.

We did room service yet again the next day, quite happy to be lolling about in our big fluffy beds with pillows all around and the weak February sunlight filtering through the screens, meandering from room to room when we felt like it. It was lovely. Really and truly lovely. And then, before we knew it, and after a lot of messy packing on my part, we had just enough time to scoot over to the Bodies exhibit at the Luxor.

So here’s what I’m saying about experience vs. photographic evidence. Obviously, photos are meant as memory aids. Some really skilled photographers can produce evocative evidence of the things that happened. But in some cases, the photo just can’t even come close to the actual experience, and it’s even depressing to think of how do try and capture, at least for a lumpily unskilled sort like me.

Case in point? The Bodies exhibit. Obviously we weren’t allowed to take photos in there. But I’ll never ever forget discovering it with Lara, each pointing out the sheer wonder of the things, and marveling at the beauty and work of some of it. I also will never forget me sniff-sniff-sniffing, faucet-head-o-rama, and Lara going, “Do you want a tissue?” I don’t know why. It was a particularly tender moment, only underscored by the fact that Lara didn’t, in fact, have a tissue to offer.

Eventually we went to go pick up Ms. Jody at the airport. And I’ll leave the rest of the trip for another post, because the rest of my day beckons.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

The People in My Neighborhood: The Track Rats

These are people in my literal neighborhood, not people in my imaginary neighborhood. I know a couple people already, like the crossing guard who says hello to Sprocket every morning (she says it makes her day) and the woman with the delicate Italian greyhound who plays like it’s a much larger dog.

But it wasn’t until I spent two hours on the track, two weeks in a row, that I felt a part of the neighborhood. The track is 1/5th of a mile long. It sits right below Eastview Middle School, which was built in 1929 and still retains most of its architectural charm. Jim and I have run around the track before, in the summertime, but we were not partaking of many of the activities that were going on. Rather, our activity–the dull pounding of pavement in a loose oval, around and around–seemed downright odd, and totally unpleasant, compared to the fun going on in the center of the oval. Families picnicked. Friends brought volleyball nets to play what my brother, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in South America, fondly calls “Ecuaball.” Kids rode their bikes around the track, dodging boring people like me and Jim. Soccer was had, and rubber balls were bounced, and even though there was a big sign saying NO DOGS ALLOWED, there were one or two who ventured onto the field and gamboled about with the children.

It was a community space, and we felt like intruders, robotically moving around, and around.

But recently, as the days have been getting shorter and I have found myself with no safer option than to put in two hours at the track, I have discovered another set of people. They are another type of authentic neighborhood person, and being there with them has helped me to feel more a part of this community.

I have run into them each once, and some of them twice.

  • The Boxer. The Boxer is pretty amazing. When I got there, he was already on the track, and he didn’t leave until an hour later, I don’t think. He wears a heavy sweatshirt and leaves his hood up, and he runs on the outer side of the track, which might account for why I am able to lap him. He jogs loosely, arms sort of flopping. He never sprints. What he does that absolutely makes me want to stop and watch, though, is use the straightaways to practice a few footwork moves. He jabs and spins, stays on his toes. In the deep dark of the night, with snowflakes falling all around and the wind whipping them into a fine smoke at your feet, there are few things more magical.
  • The Loner. I’ve seen this guy each time I’ve been to the track at night. He’s OK with two people on the track, but when the number boosts to three, he vanishes, and you think he’s gone, until you see his grey hooded sweatshirt on the turfed level above as he completes his lap. Each time, you can see his face turn towards the track–the point at which you can see him is also the only point at which he can see the track–and you know he’s checking, either to see if you’re still there or to see if the track has become less, um, crowded.
  • Le Flaneur. An older gentleman, he arrives in a car coat and a fedora. He wears a red plaid scarf and walks a mile or so, five laps. He executes a very slow jog sometimes, slow even by my standards, presumably when he gets cold. He waves when he arrives and waves when he leaves if you’re within sight.
  • The Hooligans. They are inevitable. The first time, I arrived on the track at 6PM and predicted someone with nothing better to do would show up around 7. They did, right on the nose, screaming and pushing each other around in a shopping cart, which they then left. As hooligans are wont to do, however, they left within fifteen minutes.
  • The Football Star. He takes up only one part of the track. He runs on the grassy part of the track just inside the oval and sprints hard, running drills, with an imaginary football under his arm.
  • The Heartbroken Greaser. He wears a leather jacket, motorcycle boots, clomps along the track. Huge on-ear headphones. Moping. Lots of hair. He walked a good two miles before he left, and that was only to run down into the parking garage, where they were ticketing cars and his, apparently, was wailing. I guess he hadn’t had enough of soul-sucking walking in the dark beginnings of snow, because he came back to do another two laps before he left.

Some characters, right? I’m rarely alone on the track. I guess that’s why I don’t mind it so much. Why would I ever consider a treadmill again???

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