Things I Acquired This Weekend

The Daily Life Text

BICYCLE!
Head and chest cold
Bruises
Questionable photographs
New vernacular

HOW does one acquire so many fabulous, varied, tangible and intangible things in the space of one weekend, you ask? The answer is simple: FAT TIRE NARNIA. What *is* Fat Tire Narnia?
Well. Let’s just say that it involves mountain bikes and the never-ending search for good places to ride. Yes, yes, I know I said, particularly after Isabella was stolen, that I really didn’t know if I was going back to mountain biking. i’d invested what I saw as a fair amount of time and never really gotten any better at it, after all. But then, see, Friday afternoon, we crossed the border into Massachusetts, and the leaves were gorgeous and crunchy, and somewhere deep in my physical memory there was a buried a sense of woods, trails, and the curious, fragrant crunch that occurs when you fall off your bike into a pile of soft, welcoming leaves. There was speed, and crisp, cool air, and the joy that comes from being out on your bike in the woods in the deep of the fall. It’s different from riding in the summer, you know. Anyway. Jim and I pulled into Colin and Carli’s house in the early afternoon, and we mucked about Melrose for a bit, getting to know the town. Chris came in later that evening, to a nice seafood dinner at Turner‘s and some nice local microbrews to boot, and then we all called it a night.
The next morning, after some faffing about buying groceries and getting fueled up with coffee and whatnot, we packed our cars and headed off to East Burke, Vermont, home of Kingdom Trails, only to get stuck in a lot of leaf-peeping traffic.
Here is proof of the pretty foliage.
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There are no pictures of awful leaf-peepers or the traffic they caused, ‘cos there were’t any when I took this photo. That’s ‘cos I figured out too late that the white screen my camera was showing was indicative of a smashed LCD, rendering my camera useless. So I pointed it around and took random photos of leaves, but it didn’t much feel right (my camera doesn’t have a viewfinder).
I took a bunch more like this:
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and then gave up. Sigh. Too bad, because there were some really good times that weekend. Good thing Boyd had a video camera, and Colin is an inveterate shutterbug.
Anyhow, we pulled into East Burke, Vermont at around 3:30 that afternoon, just enough time for the guys to squeeze in a late-afternoon ride, and Carli and I packed up Lily (Colin and Carli’s gorgeous little 3-year-old girl) and Sprocket and went off to the campsite to set up camp, but not before I looked shiftily at the local bike shop and tried to talk myself out of buying a bike right then and there.
At camp, Carli and I encountered several problems: the campground was shaped like a circle with a couple of off-shoots that we didn’t see at first, making finding our site a small adventure; Sprocket kept on trying to explore the greater area; the hammock Colin had thrown into the car at the last minute turned out to be not-a-hammock, the ground was almost too soft, so on, so forth. By the time we got everything set up, it was time to meet the boys back in town for dinner.
I just about made up my mind to get a damned bike when all three boys came rolling across the street on their bikes, covered in mud, faces covered in shit-eating grins the likes of which I’ve never seen, not even on athletes crossing the finish line after a long race. Cos, see, finishing a race is still work. There’s a very different feeling to doing something that you’re just good at, something that doesn’t involve winning, that just involves being out with friends and riding to your skill level.
We ate at the local pub, finding some terrific beers on tap and discovering the crap service that exists in a small town that revolves exclusively around mountain bikers and locals, and then we went back to camp to experience the hell that is starting a fire in damp weather.
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I put my Leatherman to good use (also, some handy skills that I picked up from watching Bear Grylls on TV–shut up), shaving wood into teeny tiny bits for tinder and then dumping the entire pile of shavings into the dirt just shy of the fire pit (blame too many micro-brews). At the end of the night, it fell to Jim to save the evening, since he apparently breathes sheer oxygen from his lungs, where the rest of us mere mortals exhale only a shallow mix of useless CO2 and other pointless gasses. At any rate, our dismal fire fell prey to the damp in the air and an eventual rain as we slept that night.

my hero!
my hero!

I woke up feeling groggy and snotty, but rallied enough to drag my arse up to the bathroom and brush my teeth. Sprocket came with me, hellbent on saying hello to whoever was in the bathroom stalls. Good thing mountain bikers have a good sense of humor. When I came back we’d decided on abandoning the oatmeal-in-a-camp-pan breakfast and settled on a hot breakfast somewhere in town, thereby putting me in striking distance of the bike shop again.
I wandered in with our friends, trying to stay casual, loose, but then I found a real steal, and, bolstered by four people who clearly weren’t going to let me out of there without a bike anyway, I walked out with a ride I really like, a new pair of shoes, pedals, and cleats, all for a nice price.
Carli and I left the boys for a ride while we drove Lily into the neighboring towns, hoping to get her to sleep, and then we went back to camp for lunch and then geared up for our own ride.
Colin, Chris, and Jim returned with predictable shit-eating grins again, and we suited up, left Sprocket and Lily with Colin, and proceeded on our own ride.
It was a sheer joy being back on the bike again. There’s nothing really unrideable, even for me, about the trails at Kingdom Trails, and I’m hoping that we’ll go again before the season’s out. I executed one stunning crash on a run that involved some banked berms and chose to peg-leg my way down the rest of the trail, but that’s OK–I’ll get better as time goes on.
The rest of the afternoon’s kind of a blur. Our time on the trails went by in a ridiculous flash, all woods, leaves, laughing, and Carli taking out a small defenseless tree, and then we headed off to dinner in a neighboring town and back to the campsite, where the fire lit successfully and we chatted into the night.
It was a terrific trip. There is something really cool about getting together with people you don’t really know, making that leap into friendship, committing yourself fully to an experiment, only to find a good match all around. Lots of laughs and automatic inside jokes, things that can’t be posted here because they won’t make sense to anyone else.
For Jim, I think it was an extra-sweet trip. We know only a select number of people who can keep up with him on a mountain bike, and while he always enjoys riding with me or our mutual friends, it’s not the same as actively pushing your partners–and being pushed–while still having a great time. Onward and forward, to the next Fat Tire Narnia.

Great beer: Switchback, Trout River, Magic Hat, Flying Dog, Dogfishhead

Great food: Poutine! Poutine! Poutine!!! Powerfood on a plate!!

P.S. Congratulations to Laini Taylor, whose book Lips Touch is a National Book Award finalist.

They do things that they’d never do on Broadway…

The Daily Life Text

I am fighting some kind of wacked-out head and chest cold. It is making my thought process fuzzy, but perhaps that’s more the incredibly long weekend I had.
It started on a Wednesday, you see, with some visits with old friends from college and one much more recently and regularly in touch. With the former I’ve kept in only spotty touch, but the latter’s been on and off, sharing adventures and catching up every once in a while. Really, really nice. Breakfast with one, lunch with the other, and, shock of shocks, when I stepped to have lunch with Kate and spotted her jotting thoughts down in a journal, I became instantly aware that I don’t do this myself anymore, if at all. I carry around a notebook that I use to write, uh, notes in, but I’m nowhere near the pages I used to collect for myself each day, noting down minutiae of thought and occurrence. Oh well. It doesn’t fit my current life, quite possibly because I’m spending much more time at TheGoodDirt.
Anyway. I then went to my favorite airport terminal in the world to catch my afternoon flight to Chicago’s Midway, where I took notice once again of the awesome depth model of Lake Michigan, and, also, noted this:
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It’s an enormous bird, made of tiny, tiny aircraft. Here:
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But the crowning grace of this work, which hangs suspended from the ceiling at Midway, is the silhouette that the bird casts, which is made of the weights that hold the artwork in place.
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Can you make out the silhouette? It’s an airplane. Very, very cool.
Anyway. It was a minor thing to get from Orange Line to Brown line and back home to Dan’s, where I was staying for the night, and where he’d offered to host me and Audrey in an eerie reprise of many, many evenings we’d spent previously at Dan’s house, before Jim and I moved. It felt curiously like nothing had changed, except that I was walking around in a pair of boots that I’d ordinarily never wear to Dan’s house because I know he’s got a loose shoes-off rule in the house, and who wants to deal with mucking around in boots just to take ’em off?
Er. Dinner that night was a casual affair, with pizza from Art of Pizza next door and some glasses of wine, and then it was off to much-needed sleep.
Thursday was breakfast with Kristin, which was really nice, and felt, once again, as if I’d never left; then lunch and an exploration of the Art Institute with cousin John, who’s starting his first semester of law school at Northwestern.
I never tire of the Art Institute, and if I feel as if they’ve done the place a minor disservice with the installation of a new wing that feels kind of ordinary, well, it’s the art that makes the place, anyway.
Took this picture of John and myself in the reflection of the Bean, which makes me laugh every time I look at it.
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I zipped up to my old neighborhood, had a quick visit of the Southport stores, and then went to Tabitha‘s place to meet my wonderful, wonderful critique group. Here they are. I can’t believe we’ve been meeting forever and that this is my only photo of them. DSC00327
We took a look at Tabitha’s next work, which is quite good and on its way to being something much, much bigger. I am remiss in not mentioning here that Tabitha has secured an agent for the first work she had us critique, Royal Rose. Needless to say, I am stupid proud of her and equally, stupidly, keep on repeating, in her company, “SQUEEEE! You have an agent!”
Anyway. I’m up next, again. It’s a freak proposition that I’ll have this thing where I want it to be in time for our next meeting.
I went out to meet friends for drinks afterwards, again in my old neighborhood, and had a wicked good time at our old haunt, Gurthrie’s.
Crashed into Dan’s place and woke up for breakfast the next day at the lovely Tre Kroner, where I had terrific Corned Beef Hash and eggs and good coffee, and then it was off to meet Abby for lunch and David for tea and then home for a quick kip on the couch, and then off to Lisa and Ron‘s to meet up with Kristin, Audrey, Bonnie, and Jim for dinner at Babareeba, where they did absolutely right by us and set us up with a nice corner table, two pitchers of sangria, plenty of tapas, and a full round of desserts for a ridiculously small price. The conversation was terrifically good, and I’ve never been prouder to see such different people all at one table.
I often say that I’m proud of my friends, happy to endorse any one of them, but this really took the cake: Conversation never lagged, and yet, all of these people come from different walks of life. Really, really precious, to be sitting among all of the smarts, and know that these brilliant people consider me a friend.
[/End Schmaltz]
Next morning it was off to meet Tab at her place for a conversation on a potential class we’d like to jointly teach, her in Chicago and me here, and bat around ideas in her gorgeous little penthouse office, way in the trees at the top of their home. Sigh.
Then, after lunch with Alexe and Mike and Baby Kai, we were off to Ed and Kathleen’s wedding, which was, ostensibly, the reason for coming into town in the first place.
They were crazy busy, but not too busy that they couldn’t take the time to say hello and look thrilled and point us out to the friends they thought we needed to be in touch with. We love Ed and Kathleen, have I ever said? It’s funny how a scant year of living in the same house can make people fast friends or true enemies. We’re lucky to have stumbled upon the former in many situations, but truly lucky to count Ed and Kathleen as good friends, people we’d expect to hear from if things went pear-shaped, and who’d we’d expect to be able to call on if they went cock-eyed on this end.
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Here I find myself all emotionally verklempt over the fact that Chicago is truly a great city, where we had great friends, and must exit for a Kleenex, but not before mentioning that I had breakfast with the very cheery, insightful Bevin the next morning before flying home. Lovely way to cap a really, really great weekend. More later.
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The Return of the Desk Zombie

The Daily Life Text

I’m back at my desk for the first time in about a month. I can hardly believe it’s been such a long time, and I will readily admit to missing the small space that I’ve made my cubicle, with its crammed bulletin board and random toys over its working surface.
I feel like I haven’t had too much time to think. There have been very few down weekends since May, when we moved here, but the time’s been filled with good things, things that make me happy and proud, and things I’ll be able to talk about for the rest of my life–or, at least, until the Next Big Thing comes along. I’m worried that I’ve set the bar so high this year that every other year will pale in comparison.
Thing is, I didn’t really consider what a big year it’s been for me until my friend Ed pointed it out, while I was nearing the end of my deployment in Taiwan. I was moaning about post-deployment blues (which feel remarkably like post-race blues, actually) while online with him, and he said something like, “It’s been a very big year for you, Yi Shun. Turn that frown upside down!”)
I’m sure he only meant it as a flip comment, but I’ve been carrying that idea around with me for weeks now.
Post-deployment has been interesting. Certainly, my world is larger, my parameters for judgment are different, but it’s only obvious in small increments–like the other day, when I was showing a friend some photos of Taiwan after Typhoon Morakot, and she said, “God, it must have been terrible to see,” and I followed automatically with “It was a disaster area.”
I mean, duh. I can’t really say that anymore, without having the automatic snapshot pop into my mind.
Or when I found I’d gone weeks without regular TV of the brainless-sitcom (or even crime procedural) sort, and didn’t miss it, or much care. I’ve regressed to a certain level of childhood, it seems, where books were all that mattered. I don’t mind it.
Lara asked what it felt like to be in the field. It isn’t like anything, really. It’s like, you get there, you do the job, and you don’t do any processing until you get good and home and you’re way out of the situation. People who’ve never been in a situation where action counts most of all can’t understand it, and that’s OK.
Some part of you just takes over. The best, most useful part of the 9-day training course, by far, is when you’re sitting in the middle of class and someone standing just outside screams, “Fire! Fire!” and they make you go outside, run laps with your kit, unpack and repack your stuff, and then settle right back into class, as if nothing ever happened. It’s that ability to zip in and out of situations that they’re looking for: Address the immediate need, get back on track.
My patience for small things has slid rapidly downwards, although my taste for drama remains the same. I’ll still entertain calls about boy problems from my younger cousin, for instance, but I’m much more likely to snap, “Oh, Christ, who cares?” when she veers away from how he’s making her feel and rapidly into the “Why is he doing this to me?” school of thought. (She might argue that it’s always been this way with me, but I think it’s gotten worse.)
The amount of stuff in my house has become somewhat offensive to me. When you live out of one 35-litre pack for a few days and you do it just fine (okay, with meals out thrown in), you start to wonder why you have five hundred pairs of shoes, some of which you can only wear for two hours before they start to Piss You Off.
(That’s not to say that I’ll stop painting my toes before races and long training sessions, or that I’ll actually get rid of all of my shoes. Some things a girl just cannot give up. My immense bag collection, however, might do with a little pruning.)
My need for silence has increased exponentially. My preference for reading as a past-time is becoming a problem. I still love the city and all of its trappings, but I love this city most because of its lack of provincialism. I’ve been thinking about re-introducing myself to music as a past-time. (I have a keyboard, a saxophone, and a guitar in my storage room. I can only play two of those instruments, and only one of them kind of well.)
Mostly, I am tired. And hungry. For some reason I skipped dinner last night, and all of my English muffins are frozen.
And if you’re wondering why I’m thinking about the things that have happened over the last year, it’s because I turn 35 on Tuesday. Tuesday. 35. Mmmmhmmm.
Here are some photos from Taiwan.

This is the front gate to my home in Taiwan
This is the front gate to my home in Taiwan

The entryway to our Great Hall. It came down in the 1999 'quake.
The entryway to our Great Hall. It came down in the 1999 'quake.

This is one of the five dogs that runs about our house. This one's name is Ah-Huei, or "Little Flower."liberry
This is the hallway just in front of our Great Hall. In earlier times, when I was young, it was lined with chairs for receiving dignitaries and other visitors.
This is the hallway just in front of our Great Hall. In earlier times, when I was young, it was lined with chairs for receiving dignitaries and other visitors.

This is the Ameican House. We don't own it anymore, but I wish we did.
This is the Ameican House. We don't own it anymore, but I wish we did.

This is my great grandpa. I wish I had known him.
This is a small part of my incredible, happy family. Love them, and miss them.
This is a small part of my incredible, happy family. Love them, and miss them.
This is my great grandpa. I wish I had known him.

Labor Day shenanigans

The Daily Life Text

The perils of coming home from a long trip abroad on the eve of a long weekend are such: wasted hours sleeping; hours spent half-awake; susceptibility and a remarkable weakness toward the suggestion to drink. Witness last night’s labor-day BBQ at Stuart and Mhairi’s, which involved haggis burgers and a fair amount of single-malt Scotch. This is what happens when you party with the Craigs.
Here is proof:

The haggis burgers are to the right. Wow!!
The haggis burgers are to the right. Wow!!

Here is proof that there were at least five Scotch bottles out. Kara left early. More came out after her departure. We broke a lot of corks and endured the Wrath of Stuart, but I think everything was OK in the end.
I'm not sure what that look is.
I'm not sure what that look is.

We went to the lovely township of Bath, ME on Friday morning, and stayed at the really lovely Fairhaven Inn. Our room, at the top of the stairs, was nice but a little bit stuffy, and if the little perks you expect from a B&B were somewhat minimal (honor system for sodas and bottled water; popcorn microwaved instead of fresh; coffee in the break room instant; powdered creamer for said coffee), well, it was Labor Day weekend and there were only two families staying there. I wonder if it’s any more exciting in the winter. Anyway, breakfast was nice and we had good company in the form of a couple from New Jersey who I hope we’ll see again.
And the light in the mornings at this place was beautiful.
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We were in Bath to see my old friend Julia get married. It’s been a long road for Jules, and I’m proud of her and of the fact tht our friendship has seen us through so many changes. I never feel like I have to “catch up” with Julia. it’s always like it’s always been. That’s a nice thing. That, and I love Julia’s parents, so it was nice to see them, and her sister Anne as well.
I said somewhere before that all my friends are gorgeous. Proof!
I said somewhere before that all my friends are gorgeous. Proof!

Here are Jim and I, fishbowling. Jim has very long arms. I am clearly in disbelief.
or maybe I am in disbelief at how OLD i look in this photo!
or maybe I am in disbelief at how OLD i look in this photo!

In the sitting room of the B&B we found a relative of Sprocket.
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He was not amused.
front
Er. More later. On ShelterBox, yes, yes.

Irvine Hills hillbilly

The Daily Life Text

…No, not really. My little cousin Adrianna is here this week. It’s her first time in New York. I do love showing folks around this place.
Her first full day here, we went down into the city at a reasonably late hour and met Larry for lunch. His office is in one of my favorite buildings in New York, The Chrysler building. It was so nice to see it again, and have an excuse to ride the elevators, and be in all that Art Deco glory. Clearly Adrianna was less enthralled than I was–I mean, most people would be.
Larry loves his family’s family’s history. He’s taken the extra step of letting folks in on it, which is how we got to hear about his grandfather, who lost a leg in the war and spent the rest of his life as a model for war and post-war efforts. This is Larry with a blowup of one of those ads.

Larry's grandpa had a lot more hair than he does.
Larry's grandpa had a lot more hair than he does.

After a quick lunch, Adri and I wandered up to see the U.N., where it was too hot to take photos and I once again admired the architecture (are you getting the idea that this tour is more about me than my guest?) and then we walked over to Fifth Avenue and down it for a skosh before hopping into a cab to meet Anna at Penn Station.
From there we walked down to Chelsea, admiring things in shop windows and searching for frozen yogurt, and then I took them to Brooklyn Industries and we took a bus over to Chelsea Piers for a terrific boat cruise around the lower end of Manhattan, almost up the other side to the Queensboro bridge. I didn’t know this until we got there, but it’s run by the same company that did me and Jim’s goodbye party from New York in 2005 and a Girls’ Night Out event. Love, love, love them.
Here is a nice photo of Adri, me, and Anna.
When did I suddenly acquire those bizarre dimples on my cheeks? Dislike!!
When did I suddenly acquire those bizarre dimples on my cheeks? Dislike!!

Adrianna was a little seasick. Evidence is here, in this photo, and the ensuing six others, that she took of various sights from exactly this viewpoint.
I like how Lady Liberty is falling off the edge of the photo, like she was seasick too.
I like how Lady Liberty is falling off the edge of the photo, like she was seasick too.

From there we walked down the West Side Highway to get to the High Line Park, which was something I’d wanted to show Adrianna anyway, and then we walked over to meet Jim and Denise for dinner at the very nicely appointed Safran. Here’s a photo of Anna and Adri at the High Line.
My friends are ridiculously cute. You can quote me on that.
My friends are ridiculously cute. You can quote me on that.

I just loved this park. I was sorry to have missed the Renegade Cabaret, a thing started by a woman whose apartment overlooked the High Line in its abandoned glory for just about ever. When she realized that people could actually see into her apartment, right up to the laundry she was hanging on her balcony, she invited a friend over, a singer, to belt out a couple of tunes. You only get the tunes if her party lanterns are hanging out. Alas, they were not out, and we did not get our evening concert at the cabaret.
On the way back to Grand Central from the restaurant, however, we did get to see two different musical acts. This one, in an abandoned clothing retailer , was particularly charming. In fact, the fact that we were separated from the music by the glass doors made it sound very ethereal. You had to put your ear to the crack to hear it, and there were several of us, whispering so that we could get the most out of it.
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Adrianna was in town by herself yesterday with a classmate of hers, so today will be my second day with her. We’re getting a nice tour of the American Museum of Natural History for an old high-school mate of mine, who’s a librarian there, so we’re both looking forward to that. And then, after dinner with said pal, we’re off to a singer-songwriter friend‘s birthday party. Yay!

Crumbs in my keyboard…

The Daily Life Text

…bees in my bonnet.

I had a dream last night that Jim and I were in a triathlon. It was some kind of weird triathlon/adventure-racing hybrid, though, because there was underwater bush-whacking involved. My friend Pamela was there, for some reason, likely because she has been a huge champion of us during the Ironman thing and many of my previous cock-eyed projects (she is an Iron-peep herself), and do you know what?

I found out during this weird, epic race that I had not actually ever completed an Ironman. Of course, as dream thingys go, this one was in real-time, so I had already done all the things that are required when you finish a race: told your nearest and dearest, celebrated with your friends, blogged about it, told the local paper, notified the charity you’re raising money for that you’ve done it, so they can shout it from the rooftops…It was a horrible, sinking feeling. And then I thought of Pamela, waiting for us with her camera at the next TA, and my black heart sank way, way down to my bike shoes.

I did not know what to do, especially as Jim and I were getting ridiculed and laughed at by the race directors at this point in our Iron-AR, and we were neck-deep in swamp-weed, and it was nighttime.

I guess I did the only thing I could do: I woke up, feeling out-of-sorts and not remembering why until just now.

I think all of this has to do with my work-in-progress. No, no, my work(s)-in-progress. I have three, you see. THREE! One of them, a young-adult novel, I’ve been working on since 1999. That’s a decade ago. A lot has changed about this work, and it’s actually been to editors in its first incarnation (early 2004) and agents in its second (early 2006). So it’s not exactly staid. I personally think this last incarnation is the best. But I’m calling it a WIP because it’s missing an ending.

The reason it’s missing an ending is because I had it turned into my critique group, and so had stopped work on it, choosing to wait and see what they thought of the most recent turn of changes (I went from third person to first person) before I wrote the ending to it. We’re almost there. While WIP I (call it “YA Draft”) was out with the critique group. I started WIP II, which I’ll call, for lack of a better phrase, the Women’s Literature book. I quite like this novel. It’s complete in its story arc and just needs to be fine-tuned, and then I’ll send it out to a select list of agents. I’m not really looking forward to that. But it has to be done.

WIP III was a National Novel Writing Month project. It’s a middle-grade fantasy book that rotates around some talking animals and a man-eating cabbage. It’s the reason my dog, Sprocket, has his own Facebook page. (Someone said it was a good idea to exercise thinking the way I thought my animal characters might think.) I don’t know where that’s going, although it, too, is complete in that there is a beginning, middle, and end.

Anyway. So I think my terrible triathlon dream had to do with these three books, which are all sort of looming over my head. I’m almost done with the women’s book, which I like a lot, although I hesitate to classify it in that genre. I mean, it’s about a young woman, sure. But it’s not Maxine Hong Kingston, and it’s not Barbara Kingsolver, or Jodi Picoult. It’s my own work. It’s a little bit Jennifer-Weiner, I suppose, but only in that there’s some contemporary conflict.

So, according to my dream, the rub boils down to this: I’ve been telling people I’m a writer and that I’ve been working on some fiction. And I am, and I have been. Just Google me, you’ll see. But clearly, some part of me feels quite incomplete. Best get done with these things, then, before they end up doing me in with more dreams of incomplete aspirations. (“What? You mean I never actually graduated from college? Crap.”)

I think, too, that my brain has been on overdrive. I’ve been reading a lot of good work (see the “Stuff Other People Wrote” section for some choice reviews) and really enjoying the added inspiration. I suppose this restlessness might be partially post-race blues, but I think, also, I’ve long seen several things as being on my agenda. Ironman and becoming a part of the disaster-relief community have each been long-term goals over my life; now that I’ve accomplished those two goals; perhaps I am just telling myself that it’s time to move on with the rest of the stuff too. Dispense with the to-do list, in short order, as it were. And then? After that? Perhaps non-fiction. A guide to lifelong to-do lists.

At any rate, my horrible dream has left me feeling high-spirited. There is a lot of work to be done, and I am looking forward to it.

Here are some more photos from Schweiz.

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I think the way one building is built into another is hilarious.

I also love this teeny tiny church, perched on a ridge.
I also love this teeny tiny church, perched on a ridge.
I am nuts about this graffiti, too
I am nuts about this graffiti, too, found in an underpass in Lucerne
and just as nuts about this photo of me and Lara.
and just as nuts about this photo of me and Lara.
i like this one the best, though.
i like this one the best, though.

iron stuff in my grey matter

The Daily Life Text

For the longest time I thought I’d feel good about completing Ironman, and not in the traditional manner of having done something big and unprecedented for myself. More, I thought I’d be relieved to have Ironman training go away completely, have it be not a part of my life any more. I have been, up until very recently, quite annoyed at the intrusion that training places on my life: the skimpy weekends, the lack of freedom dictated by a need to be physically more than I’ve ever been before, the other various constraints that are too many to enumerate.
But now that it’s really and truly all over; now that I’ve told my coach I’m done and that I’m wearing a real, true finisher’s shirt for Ironman Switzerland 2009, I feel quite bereft, and rudderless. Lara and I spent some time mucking around town the day after the triathlon, and at some point she heaved a great big sigh and said, “Eurgh. Post-race blues.” I didn’t have them at the time, but I’ve got them in full force now.
Part of it, I’m sure, is the letdown after all the intensity that comes with a full-fledged race like this. For a really long time over one day you are giving your all, even if it’s just your physical all. And then there is the immediate gratification: I can’t really describe to you what Heartbreak Hill felt like; how I couldn’t even feel my legs as I entered the finish chute and put on my ShelterBox T-shirt; how I couldn’t feel anything but the stupidly enormous grin on my face as I bolted around the last few turns to the finish line and lifted my arms high in a cliché gesture of victory. You wouldn’t know any of these things unless you’d experienced them for yourself, but I’m sure you’ve experienced something very like it.
There is, also, a remarkably heightened sense of community. As I was setting about the marathon leg of my race, tired and cranky, and falling asleep, I thought angrily to myself that the Ironman organization could do more for charity, and that I’d never do a race like this again unless I could do it as part of a team and for charity. Then I thought that nothing about Ironman meshed with my own personal ethics: there was no sense of team in this event, no sense of helping others; no sense of collective giving. I needed more, I thought; than the mere punishment of oneself for a solid sixteen hours. I watched athletes willy-nilly chuck their garbage everywhere, felt them elbow past me during the run in order to accomplish their own personal goals, and harbored a clear revulsion at their lack of grace.
But then, as the daylight waned and the hours grew on and I came dangerously close to not becoming an Ironman, I noticed something curious: people wearing finisher’s T-shirts, all along the course, straining to sound out my name, written on my bib. They give me all the motivation they could. The encouragement came in many forms: One man, sitting on a park bench, botched my name and then chased after me, calling what he thought would be the correct name: “Go, Go, Yie Shoon! Allez, allez!” He got it right the second time he saw me. A man on a bicycle with a light on it pedaled slowly next to me, blocking me from veering off the trail in a dark section of the woods, talking me down from the rising panic in my chest that I wouldn’t make it. “You’re moving at a perfect pace for this,” he said. “You’ll make it, you’ve found this pace, now just keep it and you will be okay.” A young woman leaning on one of the barriers down the final stretch of my next-to-last lap looked at me, eyes limpid and wide. She shook her head at the limp in my crooked gait, presumably. “Go, Iron girl,” she said, quietly, evenly, and I could sense her empathy, even in those three small words.
And then I crossed the finish line, and I became a group of selective individuals. You only get the finisher’s shirt, a bright red-and-white number, if you cross the line on time, and I have one now. It’s taken me until today, three days after the race, to realize what a feat it is to cover 140.6 miles by swim, bike, and run, but the significance of the community of Ironman, which I’d have never thought existed, began to strike me right away. I creaked ever so slowly away from the finish chute and had to be guided by my shoulders to get my medal and then my photo taken, but no one laughed at my hitched walk or thought my bent posture bizarre. They all knew what I’d done, even if I didn’t, yet.
At breakfast the next morning, we spotted other red shirts right away, and got to rehash the race from lots of different perspectives. We got random congratulations walking down the street. At dinner, someone also wearing an Ironman finisher shirt spotted us from far away and lifted his beer glass to us in silent recognition. And this morning, at the airport, while I slumped over my bike box trying not to fall asleep, a man idly standing by made a downward moue with his mouth and nodded slowly, lifting his eyebrows. I ignored him, thinking him just a perv of some kind, but he pointed with his chin at my chest and said, “Congratulations!” And I thought, “Ohhhhhhh…” It turned out he’d done six. We stood and chatted for awhile, and I enjoyed the company.
I suppose, as with many things in life, it’s only through others’ eyes that I can recognize the enormity of whatever accomplishment it is.
I find myself wondering now how many of us there are in this community, and interested in the fact that I’ve always wanted to be a member of some kind of insider’s club. I didn’t know what it would mean to be a part of one, and now I know. I mean, I just kind of fell into this thing, didn’t I? Lara wanted to do an Ironman, and I said okay. Jim said he’d do it with us, and together we made up a kind of small team of sorts. I added ShelterBox to the mix, and Lara added the Great Ormond Street Hospital, and that gave me the added boost I needed to make it feel as if this sport were something more than self-indulgent.
My friend John, also a ShelterBox Response Team member, said it best. He wrote me that I would use the confidence I’d gained in completing the Ironman to forward myself in whatever I wanted to do. I suppose I’m a few days late in really taking his words to heart, but I finally understand them now. Ironman is just a stepping stone, although I must not allow myself to believe for a second that it was easy, or that anyone could do it without discipline, grace, and a mad level of desire.
Will I do another one? Not without a solid team and a very good reason. Am I glad I did? Yes, yes, I am. I do not regret a minute spent training, any step of the journey, or even the missed nights of sleep. Every bit added to the final experience, which I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Am I getting a tattoo? Heck, yes. I will wear it proudly. I hope the other members of my little team will get them too.

Triathlon transitions

The Daily Life Text

I had a very good weekend, training-wise and social-wise. We took our time, sleeping in a little bit and taking our time getting ready in the mornings, since our workouts were shorter now that we’re closer to D-Day, and that made all the difference, since I’m largely a morning person.
At any rate, part of the terrific weekend was getting to know a bloke (Hi, Steve!) who’s doing some important work getting ShelterBox up and running in Denmark. He’s a British ex-pat and heard of my efforts on behalf of ShelterBox in the Ironman, and took the time on Sunday to engage in some chitchat over the Facebook transom. Talking to him made me think that there are perhaps a number of readers who don’t know exactly what I’m doing in this-here Ironman, so I’ll take some space in the days leading up to race day to describe some things like training and structure of races.
Today I’ll go over transition times. You’ve already seen some of the neuroses that happens (how many laps do I have to swim before I hit a mile, again? How many MPH do I have to hit before I can say that I’ll make the cut-off on time?) but one of the things that goes oft-overlooked is transition times. In adventure racing, the transition–the time between disciplines allotted for changing your kit around and prepping for the next leg of the race–can be incredibly slow. There’s re-fueling to be done, re-packing, map-reading, and sometimes, in the very long races, tooth-brushing.
But in a triathlon, the transition times can be remarkably fast, about two, three minutes between each discipline. This makes a relatively disorganized person like me break out in cold sweat. My friend Pamela, who is incredibly organized, is good at these things. Me, not so much. I have to practically write everything down, practice it over and over again.
So here’s what happens in a TA (“transition area”): You stage your bike, your shoes, any odds and ends you might need on the course, all the night before the race. (The Ironman organization practices a “clean transition area” policy, but we’ll talk more about that tomorrow, when I go over race structure.)
A typical transition area looks like this:
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(Assume that my bicycle is on the left side of things.)
Every last minute counts in a triathlon. In the case of next weekend’s Ironman, it’ll count doubly for me, since I missed an entire cycle of training this year, all told, and I will need every minute I can get in order to make it in under the 16-hour cutoff for the race. Transitions are “free time”: you don’t have to get stronger or fitter to execute a good triathlon, and it can save you a lot of time if you do it right.
Things get set up very specifically. Ordinarily, I’d have my helmet, jersey, sunglasses, and bike gloves sitting on top of my bike handlebars, so I don’t have to waste time bending over one more time to pick something up. You can see that my socks are already sitting in my bike shoes, ready for me to pull them on and slip into my shoes. My shoes are entirely undone. I will put these on first.
Next I will pull on my jersey, which will have my number already pinned to the front of it. You can see it’s lying front down, since that’s the way I’ll pull it on. (One time, I put the pins all the way through my jersey. I had a bear of a time putting my jersey on, let me tell you. Lessons learned.)
My sunglasses are open and my gloves are as open as they can possibly be. My feet will be wet and likely covered in grass, sand, and dirt from the jog from the lake to the transition area, so the towel underneath all my stuff will serve dual purpose.
When I come in from the swim, I’ll pull off my wetsuit and set it out of the way. I’ll be wearing a sportsbra and my triathlon shorts underneath already. Then I’ll wipe my feet and pull on my socks and shoes. Sunscreen and lip balm goes on my face and neck only, since I’ll have pre-applied over my body before the swim and it won’t have washed or rubbed off in the water; then my helmet and my glasses and gloves. I’ll probably take a slug of liquid and some salt tablets (we’ll talk about nutrition at a later date) and scarf a bite of real food, like one of the granola bars you see on the towel.
Then it’s off to the bike leg.
Many, many hours later, it’s time to run. I’ll come in, undo my bike shoes, remove my glasses, helmet, bike gloves, slip into my running shoes, slap on my visor, and go after grabbing my water bottle.
A good transition will take somewhere between 3 and 8 minutes. Well, a girl can hope, anyway, can’t she?
Tomorrow, race structure.

Manatees are far more interesting than green beans

The Daily Life Text

Certain things make a girl happy. To wit:
1. The children’s section at The White Plains Public Library is the best I’ve ever seen. I loves it! Witness “The Trove”:
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And here’s what you see when you walk into it:
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2. A few days ago there were perfect clouds outside my window. I love the views from my apartment. I wonder how it’ll be in the wintertime, when there isn’t very much foliage and you can just see the highway and the Nordstrom’s.
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3. About a week ago I made a shrimp-and-green beans dish that called for the beans to be sliced on an “extreme diagonal.” Do you know how annoying it is to be told to be extreme in your cooking? At some point I got so extremely diagonal I went vertical.
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4. It’s the last day of school here in New York. The high school across the street is lovely to look at on any day, but the noise of happy kids is hard to beat.
5. My friend Erica is a remarkably talented illustrator. I had her do this piece, of manatees shopping for lettuce, for me. I just got it back from framing. I loves it.
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6. My friend from junior high school, Jo Smith, came to visit with her Grammie Lucy. Lucy is 88 years old and sharp as a tack, nay, sharp as a sharpened tack. She is wonderful. I hope I’m as engaging and as confident as Grammie when I am 88.
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7. My morning glory plant is an idiot. I keep on threading it around my balcony railing, but it insists on making knots around itself. Time for a trellis.
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8. Today the skies are more threatening. I like this weather, but I’m sure the kids would rather a nice sunny day to play in.
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9. Today: reading, writing, a short swim at the end of the day. Nice, nice day. GoooooOOOoood day. Stay. Sit.

It’s no good, Capt’n, she’s fogged in!

The Daily Life Text

Today is one of those brilliant writing days. It’s raining like gangbusters, and I can hear the sound of the traffic on 287 because of the shusshing of the tires on the tarmac. When I finally took the time to look up from my work this morning I was shocked to see how foggy it was out, and how little I could see of the opposing hillside. I immediately opened my balcony door too see if it was just the rain on the window hindering my eyesight, and the briskness of the air outside had me pulling on a pair of fuzzy slippers right away. Fuzzy slippers! In summer!
It was not the rain on the window; I really was socked in all around.
As I type, a big boom of thunder has rattled my windows, and I’m happy I’m inside, pecking away on my computer. I’m also happy about the fact that I’ve decided to shelve my swim for today and double up on workouts tomorrow. It’s far too good of a writing day to waste on getting to the pool and back by bus and over an hour on swim.
What I’m not happy about, however, is the lack of overhead lighting in our little apartment. The grey day outside has made it obvious that I won’t be able to put off my big lighting purchase until after July, as I had planned.
I am in the market for an Arco lamp by Castiglioni. I have the name of a fairly reliable reproducer in Brooklyn, so I believe I will make that purchase sooner rather than later. I have wanted one of these lamps forever, so I think I will take advantage of the fact that we are going to be in Brooklyn this week, and pick it up. Boy, oh boy. Lighting.
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Anyhow. It’s already 9:25. On to breakfast with the newspaper and then forward to more writing and reading. Forthcoming: a review of Elijah of Buxton, and some reading of the first book in the Faeries of Dreamdark series. And, of course, pecking pecking at the keyboard, trying to make my most recent story arc work.