The People in My Neighborhood: The Cyclist

The Daily Life Text

I still remember the first time I ever saw Aileen outside of our usual haunts. We were both on the Upper West Side. She had a plastic carrier bag in one hand and was standing in front of a plate-glass window looking at some clothing items. The shop was Clothingline, when they used to have a brick-and-mortar, and I remember standing just near her, wondering if it was the same girl that…

Yep, it was. We exchanged hellos, and then some random platitudes. I can’t remember when we started hanging out after that, or if we actually did. I do know that when we did actually start shooting the shit together, it was in ways that were so far removed from the way we actually met that you might consider it lucky that we met at all.

So enough dancing around the shrubbery–how did we actually meet?

Answer: On bikes, both strong as can be, both confident, both just discovering, I think, what kind of a person extreme competency makes you.

Aileen and I met in 1997, during training for the 1997 Boston-New York AIDS Ride. I did it with my then-boyfriend, who lived in Boston. I was living in New York, and I trained for the thing largely in my living room, on a hydraulic trainer. But I did go on one or two training rides, and it was there that I met Aileen. We would both go on to complete the 1998 AIDS Ride together. Aileen would ride in support of an AIDS Vaccine across Alaska later, and I would ride across Montana in support of the same cause the year following.

Like I say, I’d never seen her in anything other than spandex before the day I saw her standing in front of Clothingline, but I do remember thinking that this woman of bright smile and open demeanor was one to keep track of.

We floated in and out of each others’ lives for years; and then we lost track of each other. Later, we floated back into each others’ orbits, and have known each other through a fair number of birthdays. I have spent two New Years with Aileen. One was a year in the height of my social life, when I had to hit five New Year’s parties, dragging along a boyfriend who wasn’t too keen on all of the shuffling. It was just before Aileen moved to Colorado.

Aileen was, at the time, the coolest person in my immediate circle. She was the quintessential New York girl, the one I wanted to be, with a terrific apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, two cats, her bike stored neatly away. She had a bar at which everyone knew her name. She knew the firemen and the guys who rode Harleys; her hairstylist was her best friend; she introduced me to lots of different people. She played the guitar. Her friends were vastly different from her. She picked up and moved to Colorado, a couple years after I was considering, and eventually not ready to, move to Montana.

Later, she would be a rock in what might be the absolute most confusing time in my life. But I had no way of knowing this. In fact, Aileen has been there through the Married Man, the Cocaine Addict, the Ego-Maniac, and countless friend rotations. (Why do we give our ex-boyfriends capitalized nicknames, but not our ex-friends? Maybe I should start. Well, there’s Dead-to-Me, but that’s about it…)

I also didn’t know, at the time, that Aileen can write. And if now I am eternally frustrated that she doesn’t do more with her writing, I also know that our relationship is indicative of the way I’d like to approach life, and my fragile wish that more of the world will eventually know Aileen’s writing: what’s meant to be eventually will be.

Aileen’s bike is in a corner now, and has been for a little while. It’s a lovely hat-rack. But it’s kept free of dust, and Aileen knows it’s a beautiful machine. She also knows that she’d like to get back on it. Wouldn’t it be nice if, one day, Aileen and I got to ride our bicycles again together?

The People In My Neighborhood: The Teacher

The Daily Life Text

Almost at the bottom of my second cup of coffee. In accordance with my self-imposed rule of posting more than once a month on this thing, here’s a series of posts about the past week and the people in it. But really, it’s about the varied people in my life, and how they got there.

On Wednesday I went down to my friend Alan’s school, Bronx Science, to talk about ShelterBox. Alan and I have been trying to put this together for a long time. He managed to squeeze me into his Comparative Government class, all seniors, all two and a half weeks from graduating.

The awesome mural at the entrance of BxSci HS (photo: BXSci)

People, can I just say how incredible it is to watch a friend teach? Even if it’s just taking brief command of a class and then turning it over to you; there is something remarkably moving about the process of watching someone you know and love; someone who’s lived a long and storied life, part of which you’ve been there for; stand in front of a class of students who could be unruly, but aren’t, in his presence.

Alan’s students are thoughtful and kind; smart and curious; loving and giving. They are reflections of Alan. Anyone who’s ever doubted the influence teachers have on their charges should witness something like this.

Later Alan took me to lunch. We had mac and cheese in the school caf. I love school cafs. We were in the teacher’s cafeteria, but whatever: same food. I only wish there were fish sticks and tater tots. Alan looks unimpressed here.

I, however, was impressed by the milk cartons:

Hello! “El Moo!”

Would you like to know how Alan and I met? It is a classic New York story. It was early summer, 2001. Maybe even late spring. I was working in advertising sales, and living in Astoria, Queens.

I liked it there. On this particular late-spring day, I dashed down the subway stairs at 59th and Lex, eager to get home, and ran into a wall of people. This is always a bad sign; it means the trains are bogged down someplace and we will all get home a little later, after a sticky subway ride all the way back.

I breathed out, “Ugh,” and looked at the guy next to me, doing a crossword puzzle. “Wow. How long has it been like this?”

He looked up from his puzzle and shrugged. “Dunno. Just got here.”

“Oh, okay.”

I opened my book (Carl Hiasson, but I can’t remember which), and he went back to his crossword puzzle. Not long after, our train arrived, and I looked at him. “Not bad after all,” I said, and he nodded.

We got on the train and I promptly fell asleep, which I did often in those days. You get to knowing where your stop is and your body figures out pretty quickly how long you can nap for, but the crossword-puzzle guy had no way of knowing that. So he watched, nervous for me, as stop after stop went by and I slept.

At the last stop, he got up and reached for my foot to shake me awake, but I snapped awake just in time.

“Oh. I was just about to wake you,” he said, and I grinned.

“This is my stop!”

We walked out together, and he asked about the book I was reading. We made small talk until I got to my corner. He lived only a block beyond, and it seemed we’d been living in that small radius for the past two years or so.

We didn’t exchange information.

But we ran into each other steadily for the next few days, weirdly enough, returning books and videos; picking up stuff; things like that.

We never once exchanged information, and then there came a stretch where I didn’t see him. And then came moving day.

I was moving into Manhattan, and I took the day off to do so. I tried to pack up and then, at around 10:30, realized that I still had dry-cleaning to pick up. I locked up my apartment one last time and went down the street. I turned the corner, and bumped right into Crossword-Puzzle-Carl-Hiasson-Book-Video-Library-Train guy.

“I’m moving today!” I squawked, or something like that.

“I’m late to work!” he returned.

“Okay, we have to do something about this,” I said, and finally, finally, we exchanged information.

We’ve been friends ever since. Alan was with me in the days after 9-11. He’s seen me through breakups and worse; several job changes; he’s been a constant shining star in my life.

I know his students feel the same.

yes, the only photo i have of us together. so lame!

‘sTrueth! A good time was had by all.

The Daily Life Text

Jim and I spent the weekend at the Trues’. I had a ridiculously busy Friday that involved a ton of networking (which, it seems, could be a full-time job even if you’re not actually following up on any of the networking with anything concrete); took some time off for lunch with a friend here in White Plains; and then bolted home to throw some final few things in a bag and drive up to Boston to squeeze in an overdue visit to an old friend before heading out to Melrose via the convoluted-but-beautiful Route 1. (Evans: Are you reading this? You are next.)

(Only in Boston would a relatively straight course end up looking like a misguided bowl of noodles.)

This route goes over the Tobin Bridge, by the way, which is stunning, to say the least.

photo: Estrip.org

Anyhow. We went to visit my friend Sarah, who had her baby boy, Jesus Jr., back in late December. I don’t know why there is only this photo of me, Jim and JJ and none of Sarah, me, Jim, and Jesus Sr. It seems people disappear when there are babies involved.

Baby Jesus is cute. He is just like the teddy bear he looks to be, warm and squashy and round.

Jesus and Sarah took us to the really great Village BBQ, where I had beef brisket, and Jim had…something I can’t remember. Jesus had hot wings whose flames could only be quenched by tequila, and Sarah had an entire rack of ribs. Have I mentioned that Sarah is but a mere waif? I never understood where she put the food. For that matter, I’m not sure where she put Jesus Jr.

Then it was off to the True household for a promised weekend of mountain biking.

That didn’t really happen. I mean, Jim and Colin went, and came back suitably muddy. The story is that Jim executed an awesome endo, but there were no photographs. However, as these were the photos that happened that night, I think it’s obvious that everyone had a good time. Indeed, Jim look properly relieved to have gotten out of the afternoon with nothing more than a good endo story to tell:

We girls went to hot yoga instead. It was very, very hot, although I know it wasn’t the 100 degrees on the thermostat. It was aggressive and I had some sort of aggressive woman next to me who flexed her hands wide open when she was doing Warrior and jumped back and forth with an annoying plip plopping noise whenever our instructor said to “jump or step back into upward facing dog.” You could see her tendons and she seemed to be very competitive. Anyway, Carli lost the lid to her WaterBox and it went rolling in a lopsided confused way underneath me before she caught it, which sent me into fits of snorting laughter that, thankfully, no one but Carli heard, I don’t think. This must be why Carli and I look so composed in this photo, because all of the giggling snorts had been sweated out of us.

Lily is a right proper angel.

Most days Carli is, too. I said most days.

Later on that night there was watching of the most ridiculously gleeful movie ever, The Hangover. Bradley Cooper has incredible hair in that movie. And that’s all I’ma say about that.

Photo: David Gabber, TopNews.in

Er. What happened just now? I got distracted. Oh, right, the weekend.

Perhaps one of the most cliché-and-yet-not moments of the weekend was when Colin dragged out his home videos, made back when he was, oh, I can’t remember, eight or so. People. You’ve never seen home videos like this. To be fair, they were shot by someone I think was an aspiring filmmaker (not Colin, but a childhood friend of his). There are sound effects and visual effects and great costumes and fake fighting and everything. They are from “Peter/Paul Productions,” with a proper nameplate, and they. are. hilarious. Seriously. I think I might have liked watching clips of those better than I liked.

Bradley.

Cooper’s.

Hair.

What? Ahem.

Okay, so we knocked off to bed shortly after that, as Jim had to get up the next morning to ride in the King of Burlingame time trial race. People. Watch the video. Sometimes I cannot believe Jim rides this stuff. Sometimes I am sick with envy.

King of Burlingame Time Trial

Other times I look at that and go, “Agh, mud, trail erosion…eeeEEEeee…bridges!” In this case, I was not around to see the actual race; I was inside the car, trying to get a head start on editing the newspaper. We left shortly afterwards, and stopped on the way home to consume what would eventually be The Bane of Our Existence.

Doesn’t it look benign? And lovely?

It was, at the time. And then, four hours later, it was not, as Jim and I were rapidly overtaken with horrible food poisoning. I still haven’t decided if I can write up a Yelp review of this restaurant. Jim has fond memories of it from his days working in Groton, CT at Pfizer, but…oh, le sigh.

Anyway. So our wonderful weekend fizzled to a stop, as we both, in separate rooms, moaned our ways through the night (we didn’t know if it was flu and didn’t feel like passing it back and forth to each other). Jim gamely went to work Monday morning and I moaned my way through all of Monday and into Tuesday morning and now finally feel 100%. I am convinced that the hot yoga which made me sweat out all of the water in my system contributed to a slower recovery time for me.

Anyhow, we’re already halfway through the week, and I ahve a ton of work to do, because I have a houseguest coming Friday and things to do in the city tomorrow evening, I think, and then I am going to Haiti on Sunday.

Yes, I’m going to Haiti on Sunday. More on that later.

Bradley Cooper’s hair!

What?

P.S. Carli made this thing out of WikkiStix. I have never heard of them until this past weekend, but I was suitably impressed:

Florida, and what I found there

The Daily Life Text

Almost exactly a week ago I began a long trip to Florida via Philadelphia. I met my friend Bill in Philly so we could catch a plane to Florida and ShelterBox USA’s winter workshop meeting. It was terrific to catch up with Bill and spend some quality time with him, and to see other friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, and meet some people I’ve been communicating with on the telephone or by e-mail.

Really, really cool stuff. Of course, today the work begins–I’m back to scheduling stuff and just waiting, waiting, to go on deployment while I steal a few moments here and there to devote to my other clients.

“Other clients”–ha! as if ShelterBox is a client! Still, I find the work they’ve set upon me interesting and a natural extension of the work I’d be doing anyway. However, now that I know I have some folks depending on some productive results, there’s an added extension of pressure. At the moment, I’m itching to deploy. It seems all of my friends are going! Agh. Nothing to do but move forward and wait for the call.

In the meantime, here’s some of what I saw in Florida.

nickjimmies

Erica picked me up from the Winter Workshop. We got locked out of her car–it was still running!–and E’s brother Nick tried to make it right. Three older folks (we were in Florida, after all) stopped by to help, and two hours later, the locksmith showed up.

This bird seemed to think it was such a good sight that it stuck around to watch how we did.

birdWe had lunch and then we went back to Erica’s place, where we walked Russell, Erica’s dog, and I met all of Erica’s various pets and friends:

erussellstarThere is no photo of either bunny, the cat, or the fish cos, respectively, I am a bad photographer; the cat and I had a raging fight and I have started to referring to it as North Korea, a la Erica’s boyfriend Kevin; and I did not want to scare the fishies with the flash on my camera.

Anyway, E and K went off to Tampa to celebrate Valentine’s Day and I proceeded to spend the rest of the night editing, watching the Olympics, and fighting with the cat.

I went to volunteer at the ShelterBox USA offices the next day. Good fun. Busy. Crazy.

The following day E and I went to the Ringling museum to check out the Norman Rockwell exhibit. It was way, way cool.

eringlingCool, right?

And then I go to meet Lindy for lunch! Lindy! Lindy! Lindy from my ARFE life! Crazy! She’s started up her own company based around Nordic Walking…we had a really lovely day on Siesta Key, and I realized that I need sunglasses if I’m going to do this kind of thing. I mean, I have them, but I’ve been wearing my spectacles a lot, and I wanted to see everything crystal clear, so I went without on this bright day. What a moron. Needless to say, I went and ordered a pair of photochromic glasses then next morning.

melindyWe walked about five and a half miles along the incredible sands…they were beautiful. I was so grateful and happy to see Lindy. It’s not that I had despaired of ever seeing her again, but I didn’t know if we would stay relevant to each other after she left her job and I left ARFE. But personalities don’t change with jobs, and I always liked Lindy. Along the way we did this:

shadowand saw a bunch of terns lined up like a runway:

ternrunwayand also discovered these things:

seablobLindy says they’re “seablobs.” Jim is informing me over my shoulder that they are actually jellyfish, and that he and his friends used to throw them at each other when he was growing up in Rhode Island. Yuck!

That night I had dinner with some ShelterBox USA board members and then drove home to hang out with Erica, read, watch some Olympics, and have a glass of wine.

Next morning, last day of my stay in FLA, Bev, another SRT, came and picked me up. We had lunch at Simon’s, a lovely little whole-food joint. I had some gorgeous haddock wrap thing with smoked gouda and a mango salsa. Yum.

mebeve

it was an hour ride to the airport filled with terrific conversation, then, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I had a great time. It was well worth the effort to go down there. If I hadn’t, I doubt I’d be either as energized or as overwhelmed by the work ahead. In the end, the added energy and sense of cohesion about the organization–and face time with key folks, friends, and admin alike–make it all worth it.

In the mud

The Daily Life Text

I have read a lot of words these past few days, working on the local paper doing some copy-editing and writing for them, and then reading a working draft for a friend of mine. Busy is good, but the past few weeks have left me with very little inspiration for my own work, or even my essays, which are due in a work or so for the MFA applications.

So here’s a photo dump.

We went home on the 22nd for the hols and spent the night before going back to Claremont with my brother and his fiancee, Laura, making sugar cookies.

They were not the most perfectly shaped things:

Xmas trees, not shrubs.
Xmas trees, not shrubs.

And then we frosted ’em.

finishApparently I enjoyed myself.

pigI also got smacked down for making this cookie, which was, in Laura’s words, “Not your best work, Yi Shun.” Hmph.

To be fair, Laura added the weird white drizzling.
To be fair, Laura added the weird white drizzling.

Then we went home to Squaremont on the 23rd. We went to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden, where I’d only been once before. I thought it absolutely gorgeous. There is something really magical about a desert garden and the sheer variety of desert plants.

I've forgotten what this is.
I've forgotten what this is.
This is a manzanita berry shrub. Isn't it gorgeous?
This is a manzanita berry shrub. Isn't it gorgeous?
Winter sage, paired with manzanita berries. Love the contrast!
Winter sage, paired with manzanita berries. Love the contrast!
Fishbowl!
Fishbowl!

My town is best known for Mt. Baldy, which serves as our everyday backdrop and has nice bowl skiing when it’s not dusty and dry out. I haven’t been there in years, but the view of it is always in my head.

memtbaldy

Adrianna spent the night on Christmas Eve (we banished mom to the living room and Jim, Adri and I cooked). Mom got drunk later. I didn’t get nearly drunk enough.

testing the tonality of her wine glasses.
testing the tonality of her wine glasses.

We had a very active Christmas Day. We all exchanged presents and then we went for a walk in the hills with like, a gazillion other people who all had the same idea.

pneguinparents

My parents look like bookend penguins in this photo. adorable. I look like a treetrunk.

And then we picked up Kara and went to Laguna Beach to sample some incredible Japanese food. First we had more exercise in the form of a nice walk along the beach.

I love this photo! Two of my favorite people are smiling!
I love this photo! Two of my favorite people are smiling!

When we finally got back to New York, our friend Dave was happily ensconced in our place awaiting our arrival. Then Dave left and Jody arrived. We spent a lot of time doing this:

sitting on the couch in our PJs, I mean, not picking at split ends.
sitting on the couch in our PJs, I mean, not picking at split ends.

And then there was New Year’s Eve. Alan and Helene came up to a very loud place in White Plains. We ate a lot of food and had some margaritas and then we exited the madness, but not before this photo was taken.

NYE2And then the next day we went to Jen’s for a New Year’s Day party

NYD

And I think that’s quite enough photos for today, don’t you think? Meh.

Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009: New person

The Daily Life Text

New person. She came into your life and turned it upside down. He went out of his way to provide incredible customer service. Who is your unsung hero of 2009?

I am really, really behind on this one. I’ve been thinking about it for a really long time–there are several new people in my life currently, people I’d really like to give a shout-out to here, but I must confess that the person who sticks out like a big bruised thumb is not new at all.

I speak of one Colin True.

typicalcolin
this is colin. yeah, he's my person of the year. you got something to say about that?

Why pick Colin? The answer is manyfold. First, our relationship is indicative of the randomness that makes up the best of friendships. (I met one of my closest friends to date on a subway platform.) Second, I am a firm believer in serendipity. Third, I am also a firm believer in asking for something you want. Fourth, I believe in networking. Finally, I believe in the concept of working on your true passion.

Here’s why Colin fits all of these parameters:

1. Random humor: We met while I was working on ARFE, a not-for-profit dedicated to making the environment a key priority for outdoors athletes. His company, Timberland, was a key sponsor via their SmartWool and GoLite brands, and Colin was a part of that. One day, in confirming a meeting, I riffed off some random old English–something stupid, like “My good sir–I am herewith confirming our rendezvous at the hour of blah blah and at the watering hole of so-and-so…” Imagine my surprise when Colin replied in like fashion, even throwing in a farmboy (The Intern) and signing himself Lord of GoLite. I about crapped in my pants laughing. I wish I’d kept that stupid e-mail.

colinjimyi
Among Colin's favorite activities is mocking dead people!!

2. Serendipity: Years later—and I do mean years—I was sitting at the airport in Phoenix, on my way to Las Vegas for Interbike, when I had a thought: Would GoLite or Timberland, and therefore, Colin, also be going to Interbike? I sent a text message. Alas, Colin was no longer with GoLite or Timberland, but he was in the Phoenix airport. Yeah.

Here is just a glimpse of what happened at Fat Tire Narnia. Don't you wish you were there???
Here is just a glimpse of what happened at Fat Tire Narnia. Don't you wish you were there???

3. Just ask: Colin and his lovely family included Jim and me on an invitation to Fat Tire Narnia. We speak, of course, of the famed weekend that involves mountain biking, good beer, and friendship. Of course we said yes. I never expected that we’d be included in Colin’s initial invitation, but I’m glad it happened. Much hilarity ensued. You never know who’s going to say yes, and what will come of it, but you’ll really never know if you don’t ask. Jim, too, learned a lesson here: Be brave, get to know new people. Perhaps you will meet someone who will kick your ever-lovin’, mountain-biking patootie, finally.

4. Networking: Ours is a winding path–ARFE had its heyday in 2006!–but I’m glad we stayed in touch. There are many new opportunities, some work-related, others not, to be had if you just ensure that you stay in touch, and life is so much richer if you can let your brain free-associate. People are whole packages, gifts to be opened. Everyone out there has something to offer you, and it behooves everyone to consider that in our everyday interactions.

5. Work can be your passion: Colin is a trail-runner, a mountain-biker, a snowshoer. His family shares his passion for all of these things. More important, in the time I’ve known him, Colin has worked on Timberland, GoLite, at CitySports, and now is a key player at a new company called Waterbox. Waterbox is going to be a raging success because Colin and Canice, the founder of Waterbox, live the lifestyle they’re preaching, at the intersection of style, art, and the outdoors.

Family True. Happy! And outdoors! Imagine that!
Family True. Happy! And outdoors! Imagine that!

Colin’s wife Carli is a teacher, and she, too, follows her passion. I hope their daughter Lily does the same with her life. She’s got great role models.

Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009: Tea

The Daily Life Text

Yes, yes, I’m late again. But some of these things don’t strike me. I don’t have any idea how I should categorize 2009 in a word, although I think I’m beginning to get a feel for the word that would be most appropriate, given the fact that I have fifteen minutes to write this before my next meeting: hectic!

Anyway, more on that later.

My tea for the year is one that I drag out for all special occasions. It’s called Montana Gold, from the Montana Tea and Spice Company.

goldbagI first discovered it sometime in the mid- to late-90s, when I was pondering a move to Bozeman, Montana. Look! Isn’t it pretty?

mt_bozeman04I mean, I literally was going to up and move from my little apartment in Astoria, New York, to a beautiful little pad smack in the middle of town. I went to visit for a week, and loved it. It was where various writer friends from my tenure at Audubon magazine lived, and they were all awesome people and very good to me. I was about to cut ties. I was about to embark on an exciting career as a mountain girl, living in the shadow of the Bridger Mountains, skiing every day of the season and writing about outdoors stuff until it came out of my ears. Maybe I’d learn to telemark! Maybe I’d finally be cool!

Over my week or so in Bozeman, I got very, very drunk with some select people, had a blast, and, when I’d come back to New York after signing the lease for my new Bozeman apartment in the old post office, sat up bolt upright one night and knew that that was not the life for me, at least not yet.

Thing is, I wasn’t that good of a skier, and I was not so enamoured with writing for the outdoors world that I could–or knew how to–make it my career. And, I found myself saying, an awful lot, when interviewing awesome people doing awesome things, “Man, I’d like to try that, instead of writing about it.” Some people are awesome enough to do the double duty, but I was not capable.

But that doesn’t mean that some parts of Bozeman did not worm their ways into my heart. The mountains have imprinted themselves on me. I continue to find wilderness where I can. I aspire, at some point still, to lead the mountain lifestyle, in a little mountain town. And I continue to drink this tea, which I found at the Leaf and Bean in Bozeman, pictured here:

leafnbeanThe tea gets dragged out whenever I am feeling blue. It is a mix of rooibos, cinnamon bark, orange peel, and some other magical stuff, like hope, freedom, and spice. It comes out when a good friend is over and I can foresee a long afternoon chat. It comes out when someone is in need of comfort, or when someone looks particularly joyful and in a mood to celebrate, and usually when I care about someone enough to impress them with something wonderful.

looseleaf

I guess it’s not the best tea of 2009. It’s kind of the best tea I’ve ever had.

Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009: Album

The Daily Life Text

December 10: Album of the year. What’s rocking your world?

I have purchased only a few albums this year, and a lot of them aren’t new. I guess I look at music the same way I look at books. There are so many great ones out there already that I don’t feel like I’m missing out on too much if I don’t purchase it right away. Consequently, I still have a copy of Vanity Fair on my bedside table, and most of my book reviews are about books that were published several years ago.
Anyway, I bought one this year that I really like and that I haven’t yet tired of. It’s called Bitter Heart, and it’s by a young artist named Zee Avi
zeeavi_music_cd.
I like this album for its music, sure, but I also like it for its circumstances:
Me and Jim, in a car, on our way someplace.
Bright, sunny day; car humming smoothly under us.
Hound in back seat.

It may have been a day like this...windows open, hound-hair blowing...
It may have been a day like this...windows open, hound-hair blowing...

NPR on the radio, and me reminding myself why I love NPR so much. It makes me feel like I’m learning something, all the time. I especially like it when Jim is with me because he makes noises while listening: “Hunh!” and *snort* and laughing.
As for the music itself, well, I like the fact that it evokes nostalgia and modernity all at the same time. This is a girl on the ukelele, or on the piano, with classic instruments like the horn weighing in at some point. She’s barely even old enough to know anything about life, at a young twenty-something, and she’s singing about age-old things like addiction, unrequited love, fitting in. Her songs have Filofaxes, satellites, mobile phones in them. She recounts these stories in a beguiling island tone, and the lightness and lilt of her music belies the sometimes-heavy subject matter of the songs.
But–yeah. It’s the remembrance of that day, so like many others in my life this year, that makes this my favorite album.
roadtrip. standard view for me. :)
roadtrip. standard view for me. 🙂

Here’s another photo of another good day. This one was filled with good friends and a lake. Wonder what that soundtrack would have been like?

gratuitous hound photo
gratuitous hound photo

Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009: Challenge

The Daily Life Text

So Gwen Bell is doing this project, okay? It’s not really about getting people to read your stuff, it’s more an opportunity to reflect on all of the things that have happened over the course of 2009.

http://www.gwenbell.com/blog/2009/11/30/the-best-of-2009-blog-challenge.html
http://www.gwenbell.com/blog/2009/11/30/the-best-of-2009-blog-challenge.html

We already know that I’ve been terrible about blogging this year–yes, yes, let’s face it–and that’s largely because a lot has happened. So I’m going to take up Gwen on her December project. I’m late (they started December 1), but I think this will be good for me. Perhaps I’ll fill in days 1-8 as bonuses later.

In the meantime, although it’s December 10th, I’m starting with her December 9th question: What was your greatest challenge of the year?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Was it Ironman? Was it moving? Was it ShelterBox, or the only really honest novel I’ve written of the four currently gathering dust on my desk and in my hard drive? I have been turning all of these things over in my head, and the winner is ShelterBox.

But you know, it wasn’t the extensive interview and training process, or the fact that I think training for the physicality of the thing was worse than Ironman training; or even that I’m finally a part of the disaster-relief community at large, that makes this stand out. It was more the fact that I learned to trust myself.

Something I haven’t really spoken about when I talk about ShelterBox is that when our teams hit the ground, we’re autonomous. We make the decisions; we tell HQ to send more boxes or keep them back; we deal with whatever problems arise. Obviously, this mean you need to carry around a certain amount of trust in your own decisions and actions.

This is not something I am good at. I mean, I know I’ve done good things and made good decisions; it’s just that, much of the time, I do the thing first and then spend an inordinate amount of time fretting over it, rather than just saying, “Right, okay, you did the thing, so just shut up and carry on.” I don’t know what excuse to offer for this lame, hunted-rabbit-like behavior, but then again, the time is long gone for excuses.

some days i feel like this. sheepish AND nervous in a rabbity way.
some days i feel like this. sheepish AND nervous in a rabbity way.

I don’t know how ShelterBox HQ eventually saw through the fluff, crap, and mutterings I go through while I’m reaching the right decisions, but they did. More embarrassing still is the fact that I *knew* when I was in a place where I didn’t feel secure. At those moments, I was loudest, most strident, uber-aggressive. Awful, and not the way I want to live my life.

The whole experience has taught me an invaluable lesson: If you waste time faffing about with should-I-shouldn’t-Is, well, you’re not only wasting time, but energy, too, and I need all of that I can get. Also, that you are your own worst betrayer: even if you think you’re exuding confidence, if you’re feeling insecure, it will show. This isn’t pleasant for anyone, and it’s absolutely awful to recollect.

It’s hard to learn to trust yourself. Sometimes it takes nine days in the woods with angry British people screaming at you to pack up your kit before the tsunami hits to help you figure it out. But it’s worth it in the end.

Shelterbox SRT Training 113
My graduating class, and the day I learned not to bark at people.

Oh, look. It’s the end of the tunnel.

The Daily Life Text

Well, it’s the end of one tunnel, anyway. I believe I am finally fed up with being inactive.

What happened? This:

pizza-main_Full

I mean that quite literally. Over the course of the day yesterday, I ate an entire pizza. I mean that I had a slice of cold pizza for breakfast, two slices for lunch, two slices for dinner–and I think I must have padded the rest of the day–and my waistline–with it.

It was a bizarre, other-worldly experience. I’ve never done such a thing before. I think I might refer to it as a milestone from now on. I’m not sure what I was trying to prove. Suffice it to say that after I had polished off the last piece, at around 9PM last night, I felt quite ill and realized, with some horror, that exactly yesterday a year ago–and about that same time, 6PM PST, I was toasting my first-ever marathon with a well deserved glass of pinot grigio. Sigh.

dv14I mean, crikey! Look at how happy I am! And healthy! Here’s another one, just for nostalgia’s sake:

deathvalleyLookit me, with my dorky little running belt and my loping gait!

Now, I’m not implying that I’ve grown an extra chin, or extra hips (or maybe I have; some photographic evidence speaks to the contrary), but I must confess that it has been an extraordinary experience to see just how little I’ve done since July. It *is* fascinating, however, that I didn’t really miss the activity. I seemed to be perfectly, shockingly happy to Loaf.

Until yesterday, the Day of Galloping-Galooting Gluttony. And then I realized what I miss the most about training. I miss being healthy. I miss knowing that I *can*. Can what? It doesn’t matter. Here follows a short list of things I could do when I was training.

  • Eat whatever
  • Drink, without considering totally useless calories
  • Sleep well, and all through the night
  • Swim two hours at a time
  • Run a half-marathon every weekend
  • Ride 40 miles at the drop of a hat
  • Manage my time better

Heck, back then, I could eat a whole pizza and not take another second to think about what it was doing to my health. ‘Cos back then, then answer was nothing. If I wasn’t eating the pizza to make up for energy burnt during that day’s workout, I was fueling up for the following day’s workout. I hadn’t thought of my activity as adding so much to my life. I only had previously thought of it taking time away. The truth is, I became much more efficient, all the way around, when my time was limited. I was happier. I miss that.

And so, without making too much of a fuss about it, I believe I will go back to being happier, thank you very much.

By the way, here’s a photo of Dan, Audrey, me, Jim, Flat Stanlina, and Sprocket in front of Dan’s Christmas tree. I like to think of it as our alternate family photograph. And…wait a minute. Is that a double-chin I see, hiding behind Flat Stanlina? …

treephoto