Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Yesterday a friend emailed me that he was impressed with my running.  People like to tell me that, any time I mention my running (which is, I admit, pretty frequently), and it is always strange.  I started writing a post yesterday morning about how strange it is, because my whole life I have been unathletic, and to have suddenly become (or, anyway, to suddenly realize I have become) a person whose athletic endeavours are interesting or impressive to anyone is odd.  I was going to detail my various misadventures and speculate on whether it was me who changed or other people, or the type of people I know.

But I got distracted and also annoyed, because I realized that I was not as unathletic as I have always thought.  True, my childhood involvement in sports was minimal and undistinguished - but the reasons for that were largely the mismatch between my parents' preferred sports-for-me (ballet, and later swimming, both of which I disliked in large part because I never had the right clothes for them) and my preferred sports-for-me (gymnastics, which was deemed too expensive, and soccer, which was deemed too masculine).  In high school, sports were just as much about social categories as about athletics, and I joined colorguard.  This is not a sport, exactly, but if you do not think it is athletic then clearly you have not spent much time running back and forth across a football field while throwing a flag in the air.  And I never played sports in college - in general I am not big on poorly-organized, competitive, large-group social activities, which is pretty much the definition of intramural sports - but I did patronize the fitness center quite regularly.

So I was confused about whether I am an athletic person.  I know I am not particularly fast or strong or coordinated, and I know that my whole life I have been told - by my parents, by my gym teachers (some of whom were almost comically unathletic, to the point of employing golf carts in order to traverse the track), and mostly by myself - that I am slow, weak, uncoordinated, and generally unfit.  But I also know that, well, I like to run.  And ellipt, spin, practice yoga, dance, lift, and hike.  And that I do some or all of that stuff regularly, sometimes with a purpose and sometimes without, regardless of what else is going on in my life.  And that a lot of people don't do that stuff, or only do it when they are trying to lose weight or fulfill a New Year's resolution, or do it much less than I do.  And that, while I will never be impressively fast or strong, I am getting faster and stronger, and I feel good about my level of fitness.  And I realized - this is like so much else.  Most of what is getting in the way of becoming who I would think I was if I were just meeting myself isn't an obstacle of preference or ability; it's mostly the rules I've made, or let other people make for me, for about who I am and what I can do.  Sometimes those rules have been convenient, but they are often arbitrary, outdated, and incorrect.  They aren't immutable, and some of them - like the one my mother made for me once about not being able to run a marathon - are meant to be broken.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Training update

This past weekend, I didn't do a long run, partly because I was recovering from several strains/sorenesses/injuries, and partly because the schedule said not to - it was a "step-back week", and the prescribed weekend run was a 5k race.  Conveniently, there was a NYRR race scheduled on Saturday - a 4-mile run in Central Park to raise money for Haiti.  I was anxious about it, because while I've run longer distances several times in the last couple of months, I haven't run outside at all, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to handle the cold, or the hills (not that Central Park is known for its mountain ranges, but even a gentle incline can derail a tired runner), or the peer pressure (there are some very very fast runners in NYRR, and I am a fairly slow runner, and I was worried there would be nobody as slow as me, and I would either be way behind everyone else or force myself to keep up and collapse in the middle of the race).  The night before, I had anxiety dreams about being late and missing the race, which ensured I had no trouble waking up in time.  Anyway, I needn't have worried; it was a good first race of the training season.  The whole event was kind of a madhouse: they threw it together in eighteen days, and set the race cap higher than usual and then, apparently, removed it altogether.  It wasn't very cold.  There were plenty of people as slow as me; the other people who started with me all had paces on their bib that were similar to mine.  I didn't run anything like my best time - I walked over both the start and finish lines (not because I was too tired to run but because there were too many people around me and they weren't moving fast enough), and finished in just over 44 minutes.  I could certainly have finished a minute or two faster, perhaps even as fast as 40 minutes, if there hadn't been so many people - but in a way, it was nice.  It was like a gentle Saturday jog with the whole city along.  Because there were so many people, and because I wasn't exactly running with the front-runners, I got to listen to people's conversations (apparently slow people like me tend to run in groups).  And since I'd been so worried about the race and so fearful I wouldn't be able to finish, I didn't mind not running my best time.  It was nice.

So that was Saturday.  Sunday I lifted.  I don't really like to do cardio in the gym on weekends because it's very crowded and all the good machines are always taken.  Today I did intervals.  I've found a nice interval workout, where I start with 1 mile at a 1 0-minute pace and then run 2 intervals of 0.6 miles, 3 intervals of 0.4 miles, and 2 intervals of 0.3 miles (all separated by walking for a minute or two) at paces that accelerate to just about a 9-minute mile.  (This doesn't sound very fast, and in fact I have run a mile in less than nine minutes in the last six months, but at the end of this workout it's really as fast as I can go.)  I like this workout because it's four miles of running, and because it encompasses both longer and shorter intervals.  My hope is that it will get easier over time and I will be able to make the intervals faster, although today (the second time I've done this workout) that didn't seem to be on its way to happening... still, I've definitely become faster since I started running again, and it doesn't seem like I've hurt myself today.  

I did a little bit of lifting after the run; I can now do two sets of leg presses at 210 pounds, although I think the machine at my regular gym is unusually forgiving.  This is a factor of about 2.5 greater than the next-highest weight I can do anything at (80 pounds, sometimes 85, on the lat pulldown).

Tomorrow, I'm going to spin.  Spin classes are notorious for aggressive instructors, and this one is worse than many.  I like the Wednesday morning class a lot better, but it's at 6:30 a.m. and I'm trying to shake off a cold that is trying to infect me.  So I will just have to do my best not to get drawn into working harder than is good for me.  Wednesday I will do a light run, or cross-train on the elliptical, depending on my energy and soreness level.  Thursday is rest day.  Friday is my long run - 7 miles this week.  I've started doing my long runs on Friday in part because of the weekend crowds at the gym and in part because it means I can recover on the weekend (this is also part of why I did intervals today rather than Wednesday).  Saturday is yoga, and Sunday is another 4-mile race, this one in Prospect Park.  I also have races the next two weekends after that - 5k and 5 miles.  Excitement!

However... it is now nearly two hours since I finished my run, and I'm starting to feel kind of crappy.  I've noticed I've been feeling tired, not just in the legs but all over, and just kind of bad for several hours after strenuous runs.  This is something I haven't experienced since training for the marathon.  I know it is probably good and means I'm pushing myself, but it's not much fun.

Friday, February 19, 2010

oh, also

Bad news:  No sooner did I say I wasn't, than I am now getting sick.  

Good news:  I talked to a friend earlier who has run multiple half-marathons by running 3-4 miles a few times a week and one 7-8 mile long run on the weekends for a period of two months. She suggested I not stress too much about specific workouts or push myself so hard that I injure myself and/or cannot climb the stairs to my apartment without holding the handrail, and instead focus on consistency.

Now, since the laundry place is closed for the night, I am going to sleep.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I witnessed an altercation today in the subway.  It was a crowded express train at rush hour, and I was listening to music and trying not to let the motion of the train knock me over, because I wasn't in arm's reach of the poles and I can't reach the ceiling handhold.  I gradually became aware of a hubbub in the center of the car, near the doors.  I couldn't see any of what happened because of all the people in the car.  A man was yelling, and he was yelling at another man, and threatening to punch him, and then I was pushed to my left as people around him backed away, and there was the sound of a punch, and more yelling.  He was repeating himself, getting more and more angry, insulting the parentage of the man he had hit, threatening in a non-specific way to attack all the other Caucasians in the car.  The empty space around him was getting larger and larger as the people on my side of the car moved as far away as they could.  We still hadn't reached a station stop, and I was momentarily afraid that he had a weapon, that he was going crazy, that we were all in danger.  I looked around and saw that most of the other passengers were African-American; a few were Hispanic or Asian.  I felt very small and female and very pale.  There was one other Caucasian woman in the car, that I could see, we made eye contact and she gave me a very small smile.

When we reached the next station, the man stopped yelling and must have gotten off the car, because a woman was yelling to stop him.  I needed to get off too and switch to the local, but I didn't want to be on the platform with the scary, crazy, violent man.  There seemed to be a scrum of shouting people moving along the platform and then up the stairs.  The doors of the car were blocked by people watching and shouting, so I went to the other end and got out.  There was still a fuss on the platform, and above me, on the mezzanine, a middle-aged man in a suit, carrying a large duffel, was running, and several police officers were running behind him.  I couldn't make sense of that and thought maybe it wasn't related.  I walked to the other end of the platform to wait for the local to arrive; there were fewer people there, and they seemed oblivious to the disturbance.  Then, two or perhaps three minutes later, the man with the duffel was ten feet away from me, and there were two police officers, and there was a man in a red t-shirt standing under the stairs.  He was young and skinny and unshaven and not very tall, and he wasn't wearing a coat.  He didn't look any more violent or frightening than anyone else on that platform, but the man with the duffel was pointing at his face, where he had a black eye, and the police officers handcuffed the man in the red t-shirt.  

I wasn't sure whether to feel afraid, because someone got hurt who shouldn't have, and it could have been worse and it could have been me, or safe, because a black eye isn't permanent and the perpetrator was apprehended, or sorry for the man who had so much anger and no winter coat, or sorry for the man with the duffel who got punched for no reason.  Mostly I felt confused, because sometimes I am the person on the subway who is taking up too much space and and sometimes I am the person who is angry at them.  And it is easy, in New York - a high-variance place, as Megan says - for a night to go terribly wrong, and end in getting punched (or worse) or arrested even if it started with a routine commute or going to meet some friends on the other side of town.  It is also easy for a night to go terribly right, and it is easiest of all for a night to go in some direction you completely didn't expect, which is what seems to almost always happen since I've been here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Item post

Item:  I remember a time when SuperBowl commercials were fun, or at least funny.  And weren't all about beer, or the vast anger men seem to feel over the fact that enjoying the benefits of civilization may actually require them to be civilized.  This is a response; I wish I could say "a hyperbolic response" or even "a funny response".  But not.

Item:  It is snowing!  Kind of.

Item:  I have a great deal of work to do.  I don't seem to be doing it. 

Item:  Probably because my gentleman caller reads this blog, I did in fact receive custom software for Valentine's Day.  It was pretty sweet - both the animated heart bouncing around in the little pop-up box, and the fact that he included the source code and explained a little bit about Java to me.  (I also received roses and fancy chocolates and a card with puppies on the front and a romantic note inside, and was taken to a very nice brunch.  This is exactly the sort of traditional Valentine's Day that suits me, and I am pleased that finally I have a gentleman caller to whom I do not have to explain how, actually, this fact combined with my lack of fear of math/science/thought does not result in some sort of unsolvable contradiction.)

Item:  We are all going to think happy thoughts now, about tendons that heal overnight.  

Item:  A lot of people are sick.  I am not sick; in fact I haven't been actually full-blown sick at all this winter.  Possibly this is because there are so many pathogens in my body from the subway and general existence-in-the-city that they have killed each other off?  I'm sure there is something lying in wait to get me sick at a crucial moment; I'm trying to preemptively take vitamins and get lots of sleep, because I know that once I do get sick it will last for weeks.

Item:  This morning I met my next-door neighbor for the first time in the almost four months I've been living here.  By "met" I mean that I know his first name and that he likes women who can wear stylish hats without looking stupid.  I kind of like that I'm always meeting new people and never getting to know them too well; it allows me to sort of reinvent myself, or at least how I present myself, with very high frequency.  And then I get to hear how I sound coming out of my own mouth and decide whether I like it.  It's as if I can be anyone, even myself, if I knew who that was.

Item:  My actual life, and also the limitations of my actual body, are starting to get in the way of my training.  Tomorrow I will do sprints, and that will be fine, but I am a bit worried about when I will be fitting in long runs for much of the next six weeks, and whether I will be able to handle them. I guess I have to follow my own advice on that and stop borrowing trouble from the future.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Part of it, anyway

It's hard.  It's hard being a person.  It's hard caring about other people.  It's hard not being completely crazy, and it's really hard to tell where the line is.  It's hard knowing who I am in relation to other people, and what I can ask them for, and what is enough, and what is upsetting.  It's hard to know when to say enough is enough, and what that means.

It will get easier.  Part of the reason I'm so constantly on edge, I think, is I haven't been owning my life.  Ever, really, or at least for a long time.  I had a therapist for a while, did I tell you that?  Anyway, she spent a lot of time telling me that my mother was a bad person and that I was just like her, and that if I didn't do something about it I would become a bad person too.  She didn't seem to have any advice on how to make my life better, or how to get what I wanted, or even how to figure out what I wanted, but she did want me to worry a lot less about whether I was making my mother happy and a lot more about whether I was making the men in my life happy.  I stopped seeing her because I realized she was making me more mousey and passive-aggressive, and I was fighting more with my parents and less with men I dated but not getting any closer to what I wanted out of either set of relationships.  I don't think I'm fixed, and my therapist made it clear I should not stop seeing her because I would just destroy my life, but I don't think having yet another view on what is wrong with me is much help.  

I already know what is wrong with me, and it is not that I am a bad person.  What is wrong is that I have spent far too little energy figuring out what I want and fighting for it, and consequently far too much energy getting upset at other people's attempts to do that.  The reason I often feel sad and empty and become extremely upset over trivialities is that I never get what I want, and I never get what I want because I don't know what I want.  Not knowing what I want means I drift.  I do what other people - usually well-intentioned ones who care about me - tell me they think is best.  They're usually not so terribly wrong that I'm forced to go against their advice, and doing what they tell me to do makes it easier for them to approve of me.  It's nice to be approved of; I like it and so, I think, does everyone else.  But being approved of - by your parents, or your peers, or your significant other - is not enough.  It's not even the biggest thing, if you have other, bigger things.  It's just a red herring, and continuing to strive for it keeps me from getting things I actually want, things that don't depend on other people changing their mind about what they want from me.

I've entertained the idea that maybe I just don't have a personality.  The way my mother puts it is, maybe I will be unhappy no matter what I do.  I suppose that is possible, but it is so unpleasant that it doesn't bear thinking about; anyway, it doesn't suggest a course of action, so there is no point in considering it.  Just because I have desires doesn't mean I know exactly what they are, but that's okay.  A lot of people don't seem to know what they want out of life.  I think the important thing is to escape from the trap of always doing what other people think I should do.  I am planning a big step in that direction, and that is a lot of what is stressing me out right now, because (a) it's a lot of work, and (b) it's fucking terrifying.

But I am going to do it.  I am going to do it and then I will feel so much better, because I will wake up every morning in my own life.  I hope that after a little bit of time of having my own life, and not someone else's life that they set up for me, I will lose the sense of anxiety that somewhere someone might not be approving of me, or might be thinking less of me than I am of them, or might have stopped caring about me.  I will stop being so dependent on other people's opinions; I will stop analyzing everything people do and say to me, every time they say they will email or call and don't, every time they don't act the way I want them to act or give me the things I want them to give me, every time I think there is something they would do if they cared about me but didn't.  It's not that those things won't bother me; I'm sure I will still care about people and they will still have the ability to hurt and upset me.  But once I am living my own life and not a life that feels indentured, every little possible hurt will stop being such a life-or-death event.

My therapist used to say, in regards to anything anyone did that I didn't like, "it's not about you".  This was a terribly upsetting thing for her to say, and totally unnecessary, because I am well aware that other people's lives are not about me.  The problem is not that I think they are, or that I think they should be.  The problem is that my life is about them.  My life has always more or less revolved around the half-dozen people who were most important to me at a given time, so naturally the fact that their lives never seem to be nearly so dependent on me is upsetting.  This is nobody's fault but my own, of course.  And, when my life starts being my own, and when I start revolving around myself, I think I am going to feel so much better.

Valentine's Day post

Item:  I went with my book club to see the movie Valentine's Day yesterday evening.  This is becoming something of a tradition, if you can call an annual event of two years' standing a tradition.  Last year we saw a rather similar (many intertwining storylines) but more cynical movie; this year's selection was much better.  Trite and cliche-ridden, but we expected that, and unstintingly good-hearted, cute, and positive.  Movies are allowed to be mindless, if they make you happy.  

After the movie we had a drink and talked about which character in the movie we each resemble (this is also a tradition of ours; it is the book-club-wide opinion that the fictional character in the chick-media universe I most resemble is Sex and the City's Miranda.  Considering the characters who populate theses stories, I could do much worse.  Anyway, the consensus is that I most resemble the Anne Hathaway character, which is not so bad because then I get to be a poet, and work for Queen Latifah, and date Topher Grace.  I personally identify with another character who is so scattered that she sleeps among a pile of papers in her office and whose major sanity-maintenance efforts are comprised of running and eating chocolate, sometimes both at once.  But I like their view better.

We also talked about our summer vacation; apparently we are going to try to take a weekend somewhere not too expensive with an ocean.  Of course we can't all agree on what constitutes "not too expensive" or even "ocean," but I'm sure these problems will sort themselves out.  I very much like my book club, and our habit of meeting every few weeks so that we're sort of background people in each other's lives.  I don't think any of us would do as full-time friends for each other; we're all different and have different lives and habits.  Instead, we're like extended family who see each other on holidays.

Item: I bought myself Vday presents.  I was at the bookstore and Love Actually was on sale, and also a book of essays by Erica Jong. 

Item: I just realized, I have grown to really like coffee.  Not, "I have grown to crave caffeine" or "I enjoy highly sweetened beverages with an espresso base".  I actually like coffee, black (unless it's from Starbucks, in which case I need to add milk to cover the burnedness), just because it tastes good.  When I first started drinking coffee several years ago, people told me it was an acquired taste, but I never thought I'd acquire it.  I drank it for the caffeine or the warmth or for something to do with my hands, and then it became a habit, and I stopped minding the taste, and then at some point - apparently - I started liking it.  This has happened to a lot of people, not just me.  

Item: I am trying to say something here, and I am not making any sense.  That is entirely because I don't really know what I'm trying to say.  That happens to me a lot.  Words sometimes seem very cumbersome, like really a poor choice as a medium for expressing oneself, but I can't think what would be better.  Colors?  Words are the only thing I know how to wield with sufficient precision to articulate most thoughts, but I'm frequently clumsy with them, or my thoughts are frequently too clumsy to be worded.  Writing a thought properly requires knowing its story well enough to rearrange it, because the way to tell the thought is not always the way you're having the thought.  This is true for any kind of thought and, probably, any kind of expression.  Sometimes, things are not ready to be said, and sometimes that lasts for days or weeks or even years.  And then you have to just go and clean your apartment and hope things will be clearer later.  At least, no matter how confused my head is, I have the solace of Swiffer.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

There comes a time, in an intense workout, when you aren't getting enough air.  Sometimes it's two miles into a 5k, or twenty-four miles into a marathon.  Sometimes it's twenty minutes into a spin class.  Sometimes it's in the third mile of a 21-mile run, and sometimes it's before you even jog out of your apartment complex.

When you run short of air, there are a few things that can happen.  One of them - the one that seems to come naturally to athletic people who don't train for endurance - is to speed up, try to get through the workout faster.  This can succeed, if you're almost done - although I think not for me; just the other day I nearly keeled over in the final quarter-mile of a five-mile run when I decided to try to make the last little bit go by faster.  It can work if you're at mile 2.8 of a 5k; maybe it can work at mile 25.5 of a marathon.  But much sooner, at mile 1.2 of a 5k or at mile 20 of a marathon, it's going to be trouble.  The air that didn't feel like enough at the slower pace is going to feel like even less at the fast pace, and whatever it was you sped up to try and avoid - slowing down too much, or walking, or cutting the run short - is probably going to happen, and probably it's going to be worse than you feared.

Another thing you can do is panic.  This is what seems to come naturally to people who don't exercise at all.  I hear so many people - young, normal-weight people who walk around New York in ridiculous heels all day - say they can't run even a mile because they run out of air, and it seems to me like unless they all have respiratory problems, they just don't know how to deal with being short of breath.  This is not an easy thing to deal with, actually, and running is a pretty stringent test - it's simply harder than many other forms of exercise, and the difficulty is more sustained (in, say, a spin class - even a really really hard spin class - there are rests and breaks, and if you can't handle it you can back off without a qualitative change, whereas for many people (including me, when I haven't been running) maintaining a biomechanical run for more than a few minutes is a challenge, and then only way to make it not a challenge is to walk).  It's very easy, when your body stops having enough air, to get worried, to think about the minutes and miles still ahead of you, to panic that you won't make it, and to let that panic become part of your pain and expand it, and then instead of just running right now you are also trying to run two and ten and twenty minutes from now, and it's too much, and you have to stop.

The third thing you can do - the best thing, and the only way a slow and not very athletic person like me gets through a long run - is to  just, well, deal.  You can't let your mind get away from you.  You can't start borrowing trouble from further along in the run, worrying about how you'll make it through the next mile or the miles after that.  You have to only think about the little bit of the run that you're in.  I count things, sometimes - footfalls, up to the number of mile-hundredths or seconds I have left - or watch the distance shift up every 5 or 6 or 7 seconds.  I listen to the music.  I monitor the goings-on around me out of the corner of my eye or in the mirror.  

I know my tendency is more to panic that I can't do something than to become overconfident and try to go too fast.  I know I tend to get overwhelmed, and that my worry becomes a bigger thing even than what I'm worrying about.  I've been beaten before, by my runs.  On a sixteen-mile training run I sat down on the sidewalk about thirteen miles in and cried, because I had gone so far and it hurt so much and there was still so far to go and I had to go up another hill, a steep one, and even walking up that hill was painful.  I had no idea how I'd make it to the end of the run, but I knew I had to, running or walking or somehow, because that was the only way to get home, and just knowing I had to - that I didn't have the option to hit the stop button and turn off the treadmill and give up - made me sick with fear.  It was hot and my sweat had left salt trails on my legs and I was running out of water, and I sat on the deserted sidewalk and drank half of what I had left and put my head on my knees and cried.  The crying didn't help, though, because I still had to get up - and getting up was hard - and walk up the hill and then jog and walk and jog and walk until I was home.  

I was pleased with myself, getting through my five mile run the other day, not needing to walk at all and going faster than I was expecting.  I was a little embarrassed about being pleased with myself, because I remember a phase in which running five miles seemed trivial, even insulting.  But I also know there have been, and likely will be again, times when running three miles was something to be pleased about, and there are people - people I respect and like - for whom running half a mile is an accomplishment.  It's weird to me, although perhaps it shouldn't be, how different hard things are independent of each other, how I can marvel at a woman who manages to look perfectly turned out - wearing pearls and making them look natural - on a Saturday afternoon, and she can marvel at me training for a half-marathon.  It seems to me that, for a woman so incredibly together, someone with perfect stylish accessorized everything, running five or fifteen or a thousand miles should be a breeze.  But I suppose this is not what she thought, and perhaps she looked at me and thought that a woman who can run a marathon really ought to be able to dress herself.

I have been doing hard things.  One of my enduring concerns, in writing this blog and generally in trying to talk to everyone, is that my life seems trivial.  This business of figuring out who you are - well, isn't that just fodder for the whining, self-indulgent rants of spoiled people?  I know it is, and that virtually everyone I know thinks my life is trivially solvable (although they all seem to have identified different trivial solutions), but it still feels hard.  

I have to pick a career soon, for instance, and it is practically all I think about.  Running and icing my sore muscles and worrying about whether I have seriously injured the outside of my left calf is a fun break from thinking about what I am going to do for a career.  And it sounds very silly because I am thirty years old and don't I already have a career?  Except not really, and I have to pick one, and I have to make it pick me too, and I have no idea how.  This entails not only pursuing jobs in two very different lines of work, preparing for two kinds of interviews, and reading two sets of literature, but also making a decision, which is so difficult for me that I have postponed the matter up to, and quite possibly beyond, the point of no return.  The decision will affect where I live and who I spend time with, how I'm treated at work and how the world regards me, the level of freedom and supervision I have at work, what I'm expected to put into my job and what I can expect to get out.  It will also affect what I do all day at work, although not, I think, as drastically.  So it is a Big Life Decision, and probably an irreversible one, and the way I've coped with such decisions up until now is just not to make them, which is actually a series of really big (but sneaky) decisions in itself, and that's not working out as well as I'd like.

So life right now is kind of like a really hard run, with a lot of hills, and I don't know exactly how I'm going to get to the end of it (not of life, obviously, but of this bit of it).  It could be that a series of miraculous events and lucky breaks will lead to an easy decision in two weeks; it could be - it almost certainly is - that a long and steep path is waiting, and that two or three or four months will pass before I know where I'm at.  I could fail at this; I could make a decision that is not good for me and that I know is not good for me, just because I'm scared to find a path to something better or because the path is hard.  There are obstacles; I have to read a lot of things and convince a lot of people that I'm smarter than I'm entirely certain I am, and then - no matter what I decide - I'm going to have to disappoint and upset people, and some of those people will be people I care about.  At the end of the run, things will be better, or at least easer, but I can't rush all the way to the end - I'm simply not close enough; there's too much work still to do.  I could panic, and that would be easy; I could say this run wasn't really what I wanted to do, that I only meant to run two miles after all, and stop the treadmill and call it a day.  But I can't go try again tomorrow; if I stop this time, I've made the choice not to do the run. So I just have to deal.  I can slow down when things get a little rough, I can list the tasks ahead of me and take them one at a time, I can map out which worries are for now and which worries are for the future.  I can't escape those tasks, and I will have to do them all if I am going to get through this.  But if I think about them all at once - if I think about all the books I need to read and all the people I need to talk to, the interviews and the interview questions and the interview suits, the different talks I need to give, the different ways I need to sell myself, all the people I have to impress and all the people I have to disappoint, all the expectations I'll have to create for myself and all the expectations I'll have to give up - if I think about all of that at once for too long, I won't be able to do it.  So I just have to do it bit by bit and hope that when I get to the hard parts they won't be hard anymore.

Friday, February 5, 2010


I'm getting rid of my plates.

I've had the same dishes since I graduated from college.  When I moved to the Midwest for grad school, my parents gave me a bunch of furniture and housewares they were no longer using.  Chairs and a side table and patio furniture that became a kitchen set, and dishes.  All of this was stuff I didn't have, and most of it was stuff that my roommate didn't have, except the dishes.  

The dishes were the ones my parents had used as their milk plates (they keep a kosher-style home, which involves no actual kosherness but a full helping of kosher-related anxiety, arbitrary rules, annoyance at anyone who doesn't know the arbitrary rules, and guilt) until I was a teenager.  They weren't fancy china, but they weren't inexpensive.  They were also... well, not ugly, but they had a very distinctive cherry-blossom design, and they were sort of speckly and very heavy, and they really just reeked of the seventies, which made sense since that's when they were from.

So, I moved to the Midwest with about half a set of plates.  My parents wouldn't let me take the whole set because they said I wouldn't need it; I got about half the dinner and salad plates and saucers but no bowls or mugs.  That was fine, since my new roommate had a full set of plates, which were both less expensive and less ugly, and we mostly used those.  When I got my own place I used my parents' plates, but since I felt guilty putting anything with meat on them I had to buy a couple of cheap, ugly plates at Target. 

When I moved again, my parents gave me more plates.  Their neighbor was replacing hers and they brought the whole set; there was eight of everything.  They weren't my taste, but they were newer than my parents' plates - and that set, already fairly small, had been further diminished by two interstate and several local moves, several roommates, and various other misadventures.  For a couple years I used and enjoyed the neighbor's plates, especially the part about having bowls and mugs that matched.

For my first year in New York, I had roommates, and the roommates already had a cupboard overflowing with plates.  The kitchen was small, possibly even small for a New York kitchen, and there wasn't a lot of storage space in the apartment.  I couldn't bring everything, and whatever plates I chose to bring wouldn't be used.  The neighbor's plates didn't have sentimental value, so I gave them away and packed up my parents' plates.  They sat unused for a year, and then they moved with me into my current apartment.

I still don't like them.  They no longer have sentimental value, really, because all my memories of them are memories of using them on my own, not at my parents' house.  My parents still have the mugs and occasionally use the matching soup bowls, but the bowls are a lot less ugly (no cherry blossoms).  The plates are heavy, and several of them have been broken and glued together, and they make a horrid sound when they slide over each other.  Worst of all, every time I use them I am reminded that these are the plates I have because my parents bestowed them on me.  They are weighted with all my parents' expectations that I feel obliged to try, constantly and with no success, to fulfill.  I didn't choose them, and my parents didn't select them for me.  They were given to me because I needed something at the time, and every time I've suggested to my parents that I might get new ones at some point they've said I should wait until I have a home of my own.

I'm done waiting.  I know that by "a home of my own" they mean a house with a mortgage, preferably also inhabited by a man they approve of and a couple of children for them to disapprove of my parenting of.  I know that they don't approve of my life, or - as they call it - my lifestyle.  I also know they probably don't mean their plates to be a constant reminder of the impermanence of my life, of how I'm making do with things other people have discarded, of how I'm waiting for something to happen to mark me as a person who is in charge of herself, but that is what they've become.

No more.  I'm not in college.  I have real furniture now, and the less-real furniture is at least stuff I picked myself.  Plates are not expensive or scarce, and I don't have to buy a house or get married in order to deserve them.

Today I was at Bed, Bath and Beyond picking up toiletries (they're cheaper there than the drugstore) and I stopped by the dishware (what are plates called?  silverware is flatware, right?) department.  They have many plates, some beautiful and very expensive, but some quite simple and useful-looking.  I bought four salad plates (which I use for almost everything) and two dinner plates (for cooling things, or if I make a big meal or something).  They are white and circular with a broad rim.  They cost $26.

They aren't beautiful china.  They probably aren't the plates I'll have in twenty years, but they're simple and appealing.  I like that they don't have to last.  When one breaks, I can replace it easily.  

You will think this is ridiculous.  You will think it was silly and wasteful to buy new plates, of lower quality than the plates I already have.  You will think I should be grateful for the plates my parents gave me.  But I'm tired of being grateful for things I don't want.  I am going to go right now and unpack them and put them away, and I am going to be done with the other plates from now on.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hey, Blogland: Settle a Bet!

Today's query: Is custom software romantic?*

I submit that it is.  Or rather, I submit that custom software can be romantic, subject to its content.  Moreover, I submit that custom software is more romantic than the equivalent non-custom item.

This seems obvious to me.  Handmade is always more touching than purchased, all else being equal.  A flowery store-bought card is romantic,** but not as romantic as identical sentiments composed by the bearer.  Buying your boyfriend his favorite cookies is sweet; making his favorite cookies is sweeter.  Giving someone a sweater from Macy's is nice; making them a sweater is nicer.  That doesn't mean all gifts should be crafted by the giver; sentiment is only one of the purposes of a gift, and making something isn't the only way to be sentimental.  Carefully selecting a store-bought gift is no less romantic, and often more so, than giving an unwanted or ineptly-manufactured item just because one has made it oneself.  

Why should software be any different?  Software is, if anything, more versatile in its romantic potential.  One could write software for one's beloved with no purpose besides expressing one's feelings (for example, an animated graphic involving hearts, or etcetera); this is analogous to composing a poem.  Or one could write useful software that would improve the recipient's life (and that presumably is not otherwise available); this is like knitting a blanket for someone who is always cold.

So I think custom software can certainly be romantic, and is potentially*** just as romantic as any other romantic gift. 

* Disclaimer:  None of this should be interpreted as sour grapes over the impending V-Day.  If you have been here a while, you know that I always like V-Day.

** I don't buy the faux-purist bullshit that store-bought cards are inherently evil or stupid or devoid of meaning.  The line of reasoning seems to be that anyone can buy a card, which is true, but not everyone does.  The card was still chosen for what it says and its visual imagery, and for a lot of people it's much more accurate and poetic to let someone else verbalize their feelings.  The argument against cards seems to be that people can choose a card that intentionally misrepresents their feelings, but of course people can lie in their own words as well.

*** I say potentially because level-of-romance depends on many specifics about the gift, including intangibles such as its intent, presentation, and nature of the relationship.  Also, romance doesn't necessarily equate to usefulness or happiness; there is a certain very compelling breed of romance that is inherently doomed.  Also mostly of all, I find it hard to compare levels of romance across time, situations, and people in any meaningful way.  I have received jewelry in a romantic context, and I have received really unromantic jewelry.  I have received romantic and unromantic flowers and romantic and unromantic chocolate.  I have given books that I intended to be romantic, and flowers and chocolates that I intended not to be.  One of the more romantic gifts I have been given or even heard of was a powerpoint presentation.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


People at the gym and the workouts they perform can be loosely divided into two categories: training and maintaining.  Training activities are those designed specifically to increase performance; maintaining activities are designed to, well, maintain one's fitness level.  People who go to the gym, jog on the elliptical for half an hour, do a few sets of resistance work, stretch, and go home are almost always maintaining.  People who lift weights at length, work with a personal trainer, or design their cardio workouts (by adding intervals or seeking a certain target heart rate) are generally training.

I don't associate training with a particular intensity of exercise.  The six months before I moved to New York, I was spending more time in the gym than ever before or since.  I was there by six every weekday; three days a week I spent an hour on the elliptical before an hour-long sculpting class, and two days I went to an hour-long spin class followed by an hour-long yoga class.  On Saturday I did two to three hours of running, step class, yoga, and sculpting, and Sunday was my rest day.  I was working hard and in great shape.  But I wasn't training.  I was working out twelve hours a week because it made me happy and because the gym was where I knew people and felt comfortable.  I liked being flexible and strong, but I wasn't going to the gym every morning with an intention to make myself faster and stronger; I was going to the gym because it was part of my day.  I was maintaining, not training.

Now, I am training.  I have a plan for my workouts for the next twelve weeks, culminating in the half-marathon I plan to run.  I have articulated goals for distance and less-articulated goals for speed.  Some of my workouts don't have specific goals, so in some ways they're like maintenance workouts - but they're part of a larger training program.  Today's workout was a spin class; spin classes are generally conducted as if the instructor is trying to jar maintainers out of a rut and force them to train for 45 minutes.*  Sometimes I like this, but as I get further into my training program, since spinning is my cross-training and is not supposed to exacerbate fatigue or any injuries, it may become a problem.

It's easy to think of training as the hard work that is done at the gym, but actually training is fun.  When I see people training, I'm often jealous of them, or wish I knew them so we could discuss their regimens.  But when I see people who are clear maintainers - people who come to the gym every weekday, or three times a week, and spend 30 or 45 minutes doing cardio at the same intensity every time, and then do their sets of leg lifts and crunches and biceps curls, and then stretch and refill their water bottles and go home - I admire them.  They come to the gym even though exercise isn't their focus, even though something else is occupying their primary intention in life - their training focus is on their work, or on raising their children, or on going to exciting bars every night, or whatever - and they do what needs to be done to maintain, and they do it again and again, without getting discouraged, for months or years.  It's that skill, the ability to persist in the absence of progress or even hope of progress, without any goal besides to continue taking care of things, that I admire, and I think it is the people who are able to do that, to maintain all areas of their life at all times, who are happiest and best off.

* It isn't relevant to this post, but I'm annoyed by the fact that female spin instructors often try to urge the class to higher levels of performance by invoking bathing suit season, which is always either coming or here.  First of all, it's hard to think seriously about bathing suits when it's twenty degrees out.  Second, the instructors especially like to do this on steep climbs, and most women who are trying to look good in a bathing suit are more focused on burning fat than building muscle, which is best done at a lower resistance level but for longer periods of time.  Third and most importantly, I don't like the assumption that we are and/or should be exercising with a goal to look good in a bathing suit.  Perhaps this is my own bias, i.e. no matter how many marathons and half-marathons I may run, and even if I am someday able to do a pullup, I doubt I will ever approach a bathing suit without anxiety, and if I do it will be a psychological and not a physical triumph.  But really I think we can all agree that there are more important reasons to go to the gym than to conform to society's ideas of how we should look in a small piece of nylon. 

Monday, February 1, 2010


So i wrote an entire blog post.  It is really long, and way more interesting (to me, anyway) and important (again, to me) than this one will be.  But it is very personal, and it is largely about someone else, and I need to think more about how much of that post it is fair to publish.  So instead, tonight's post will be a post about gear.

I have been on a gear-buying spree.  This is partly because recent streamlining has left me feeling flush (at least until my health insurance company refused to pay a routine medical bill for no apparent reason and I now owe the doctor $310, which is entirely ridiculous and unfair and I am going to call them tomorrow, but it is entirely possible there is nothing I can do about it because the last time such a mistake was made by the human resources people, who get paid more than I do for the task of keeping everyone's insurance up to date and still cannot seem to do it, I ended up footing the bill because by the time the medical people sent me the bill the insurance company's statute of limitation had expired, which has likely happened here because the medical appointment in question took place in August) ... anyway, I was feeling a bit flush, and also I hadn't bought any gear in a fairly long time, and there is the half-marathon to prepare for.

The first thing I bought was clippy shoes, which I have already told you about.  Then, I got new running shoes.  My old shoes are starting to wear out; i can definitely feel at the end of a run that they're not really supporting me.  It seems inadvisable to start a training program on bad shoes and with no backups, so I had my gentleman caller take me to Jackrabbit.  This is a very fancy place where you are not allowed to shop for shoes on your own; you wait in line until a shoe-fitter is ready for you (all the shoe-fitters are about 22, very bored, and not as athletic- or wholesome-looking as you might expect running-store employees to be) and then he records your stride on a little video camera stationed behind a treadmill and shows you how fat your calves are from behind, and also how unhealthy your stride is.  Then he brings you some expensive shoes and you try them on, and maybe he videos you again and tells you that the shoes have fixed your stride.  But, I think it was worth it, because I did notice a difference in the before and after videos, and the problems the shoe-fitter said I might have because of my stride are problems I have actually had and now maybe I won't, and also I learned how to keep my stigmata from coming back (bigger shoes), and I have fancy, pretty blue shoe running sneakers.

Finally, I have gotten shirts to wear to the gym.  This was a hard thing to actually buy, both because it has been difficult to find shirts that meet my specifications, and because I haven't been entirely convinced that I need them.  After all, I have shirts that I wear to the gym.  They are old and disgusting and have managed to both shrink and stretch, so that they are shapeless and unflattering and too-small in places, but they are not actually indecent.  And shirts are not like shoes; getting better ones won't make me stronger or faster.

But it will make me happier.  I don't work out in a vacuum, or alone in my apartment.  I work out in a gym full of other people, and also flourescent lights and mirrors.  Wearing clothes that are both ugly in themselves and unappealing on me does not enhance my workout.  I can't think of a time I've been aware of worse performance or wimping out because of my clothes, but I'm sure the psychological effect of my yucky clothing doesn't help anything.  Seeing myself in my ugly exercise clothes (my workout pants are also not the greatest things, even though they are fairly new, because it is hard enough to find pants that meet all my fit and function criteria without worrying about style, and since both my old pants managed to wear out at the same time I wasn't in a position to be choosy, but I will replace or supplement them when i find something really good, and they are black and not cropped - I do not wear cropped pants because of the aforementioned fat calves - so it isn't an emergency) on a daily basis cannot possibly be contributing to my fitness or happiness.  When my new clothes come I will have more variety and can get rid of the most offending of my current exercise wardrobe, and it will be fun to have pink and green wicky shirts to wear on my long runs.

Next, if it turns out I am not owing anyone $310 and when I get around to it, I would kind of like a heart-rate monitor.  The ones at the gym don't seem to work reliably; they tell me my heart rate is 70 when I'm working hard on the elliptical, and on the treadmill they don't work at all when you're at a running pace (by design).  It seems like something I might use intermittently for a very long time.