Saturday, November 16, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Gotham City Edition

1. Batkid
2. the paper the SF Chronicle put out
3. how completely generous people can be
4. the expression on the Riddler's face as he was being marched to the car
5. the fact that the Penguin was involved (because he's the best villain--sorry, Joker)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Random Edition

1. good news
2. friends and family who care about you
3. Italy
4. having just one week to go before your parents get here
5. thinking that #4 doesn't suck

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Off-Campus Edition

1. breakfast with a friend
2. jeans
3. the complete absence of any sort of meeting whatsoever
4. making Cookie Day preparations
5. beginning the serious prep for Thanksgiving guests

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Not-So-Random Edition

1. roasted vegetable soup with a little (or a lot of) Cholula
2. warm coats
3. hot tea
4. cute boots
5. toasty gloves

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Rain Rain Go Away Unless You Want to Hang Out a Bit Edition

1. it's not snow
2. being okay with just repeating #1 four times to fill out the list because that's how true it is
3. long skirts that feel like bathrobes but have everyone telling you how nice you look*
4. good writing weather
5. fleece-lined knee-highs


Monday, November 11, 2013

Bonus: Guest Post at Lisa Romeo Writes

Hello there, poetry friends, process junkies, and various people who think I'm funny. I've got a guest post up at the great blog Lisa Romeo Writes. Technically, it's about how to handle working with a series, but if you know me, you probably know it's more about how impossible it is to handle working with a series. I hope you'll take a look.

Five Things that Don't Suck, Poppies Edition

1. veterans
2. service
3. families and other loved ones
4. those be-all-that-you-can-be Army commercials from the '70s
5. men* in uniform

*and women. I just don't appreciate the look as much on a personal level.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Falling Off the Wagon: Was She Pushed, or Did She Jump?

When you grow up with a mother who makes her living working with recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, you learn a lot of colorful expressions. And if you're a kid, you're likely to misinterpret some of them. Fall off the wagon comes to mind as one of the most common (and least swear-ridden), and I knew I needed to write about it when I looked up the origins and the very first site that came up in my highly-academic-and-not-at-all-half-assed Google search mentioned Robert Downey, Jr. It's a sign, I thought. Then I got a little sidetracked thinking about RDJ for a while, and when I came back from my Happy Place, I was already halfway through writing this opening paragraph. If you'd like to take a minute or ten right now to think about RDJ yourself, I encourage you to do so. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Good? Good. Okay. So I guess there used to be a thing called a water wagon. It was horse-drawn, and would roll through town spraying down the streets in the summer months. When the expression fall off the wagon came into being, using the image of a water wagon to describe someone who was drinking water instead of spirits made perfect sense. When I was a kid, though, I just figured the phrase came from the idea of a sort of Western-expansion-era drunk driving: he was so drunk, he fell off the wagon. Or maybe it had something to do with that bandwagon I'd heard so much about, the one people always seemed to be jumping onto. I didn't know. I also thought the expression was doggy-dog world, which I found perplexing because it didn't seem like such a bad thing to me. What do you want? I was a little kid. Moving on.

I've been thinking a lot about whatever you want to call it—backsliding, relapse, wagon-falling-off-of—in terms of my running. Since August, I haven't run much. My weight has remained relatively stable (at my peak, I was up about 3 pounds, right at the top of the normal 5-pound-or-so range I seem to have), and while the lack of long runs lately has cut my calorie burn, it's also cut my appetite. In other words, things seemed to be holding fairly steady despite my relative lack of exercise.

This little break hasn't been entirely by choice. I lost my footing on a trail run at the beginning of August and pulled a quad pretty seriously. I'm not sure if that accident is what triggered the pain in my opposite knee, but something happened there as well over the next couple of weeks and I couldn't seem to shake it. I'd take a few days off, have a good, relatively short, run where I felt strong, and then feel pain during the next run, or during a walk two days later. I replaced my shoes. I slept with my knee wrapped in an ace bandage (it helps). I iced. I elevated. I rested.

I want to make it crystal clear here that I'm not a run-through-the-pain kind of runner. I am, and have been from the beginning, a stop-running-if-it-hurts kind of runner, because I've tried to keep a long-term perspective on my running. Running through pain might be admirable in the short term (although I can't imagine why), but if you continue to run through pain, you will pretty quickly reach the point where you cannot run. Like, at all, ever. And I want to be able to run for a very long time indeed. So when I talk about knee pain here, please note that I'm talking relatively minor pain—more than discomfort, but not enough to make me grit my teeth. I'm not a medical professional, and I've said before that you really don't want to take medical advice from a poet, even if her mom did make a living as an R.N., but my total layperson advice if you're regularly in pain when you run is to see a doctor before you run any more. Don't risk permanent damage.

This pain/no pain cycle lasted for weeks—long, frustrating weeks, yes, but also weeks where I suddenly realized that I'd freed up a lot of time. I didn't have to figure out how to stack my day so that everything could get done. I didn't have to pull dinner together while simultaneously trying to refuel, hydrate, and not cool down so much I started shivering before I could get into the shower. For that matter, I didn't have to plan dinners whose preparation included a chunk of down time large enough for me to get cleaned up before we ate. I didn't have to worry about the dogs dragging a freshly showered, wet-headed me out into the cold (because of course their favorite time to go outside, no matter how recently they've gone, is after I get out of a shower). I cut an entire load of laundry out of my weekly chore list, based solely on the lack of workout gear and extra towels. On top of all that, this break came during the beginning of the semester. I was back on campus, back to grading, back to having to fit the rest of my life in around my teaching schedule.

I was a little frightened by how easily my attitude about running shifted. Before I got hurt, I looked forward to my runs, especially the long ones. I looked forward to seeing what I could do, to persisting through a 10- or 12-mile effort, to feeling physically strong and capable in a way that I've been able to manage only since I started running. I read Runner's World and running blogs and books about running. I enjoyed the way food had become fuel to me and the way my definition of comfort food had changed. Eventually, I stopped doing all the above. It wasn't a good idea for me to take long runs, or do speed work, or hill work. Many days, it wasn't a good idea for me to run at all. And if I couldn't run, I didn't really want to read about people who could. And if I didn't have to worry about how my diet would affect my run, it didn't matter what I chose to eat.

Except it did matter. I started finding reasons—excuses, really—not to walk, not to practice yoga, not to worry about much of anything in terms of my health. My clothes still fit as well as they do these days, meaning most of them were still too big for me, so I figured it would be okay. I'd get back to the program, such as it is, when I felt better. Sometimes a girl just needs a break. The month of October was particularly bad for this kind of thinking. Yes, I needed the break. Yes, I needed to let my body do its work and heal my knee. But the thought patterns were familiar and unwelcome.

That kind of thinking began to scare me. I ate a ridiculous amount of Halloween candy, even taking into account the fact that my definition of "a ridiculous amount of candy" has changed considerably in the past two years. I ate compulsively. I ate when I was not hungry. I—and I am not at all proud of this—found myself putting the wrappers into different waste baskets in the house so that I wouldn't be confronted with the visual evidence of what I had done to myself that week. Of all the disturbing behaviors I found myself slipping back into, that one troubled me the most. It's disordered eating, evidence that I was putting having more in front of everything else, despite the fact that I did not in any way need—or even want—more. I recognized the mindset all too well. I haven't changed a bit, I caught myself thinking more than once.

And then I reached the point where I realized everything has changed. Because I stopped. I just stopped. I decided I'd try going back to the treadmill for my runs. I figured the treadmill had worked for me during the entirety of my first year of running. It helped me take off that first hundred pounds, and do so without injury. I don't like it as much as running outside, but it's easier on my knees and I console myself by catching up on television via Netflix and my iPad. Most importantly, if it worked, I knew I'd be able to find my way back to myself. I don't know how I knew this—I suspect it had to do with the hope that I'd had success with it before—but I knew it as well as I know my middle name (which is not "Danger," an oversight for which I might never be able to forgive my parents).

The difficult part was remembering that I was no longer in 30-mile-a-week shape. I used to run ten or twelve miles for my long run on the weekends; over the past couple of months, I'd been lucky to run ten miles total in a week. I needed to remind myself that, while I was still in good shape, I wasn't in half-marathon shape. I wasn't in new-speed-record shape. Two weeks ago, I started with an easy three-miler. A couple of days later, I did another one. Then a third. I watched a bunch of documentaries about vegetarianism and veganism and happiness. By the end of the week, I'd run eleven easy miles with no pain. This past week, I increased two of the runs to four miles, and logged fourteen miles total. I've moved on to watching documentaries about the amazing machine that is the human body (some of them kind of gross, but I'm okay with that. Having a nurse for a mother can do that to you).

During this process, I've reminded myself of the multiple reasons I love running. I've begun feeling strong again. Capable. In control. Jed and I were already eating better, in general, than a lot of people we know—more vegetables, less meat, less junk food—and we renewed our commitment to those choices. We added in a resolution to cut our meat consumption even further by deliberately including more vegetarian dinners in our week. We were already usually keeping vegetarian for breakfast and lunch, and usually for dinner once a week, although not necessarily through a conscious decision. I made another loaf of bread, made some more soup, walked past the half-price Halloween candy in the supermarket.

We don't always fall off the wagon—sometimes, we're pushed. Sometimes, we forget to fasten our old-timey western seatbelts and end up being tossed around a little bit but manage to stay on board. I think for the past couple of months, I've been riding on the running board of the wagon, hanging on by my fingers. I had the choice to pull myself back up or to jump off, and I chose the former. The thing is, taking care of ourselves sounds like work, and we tend to describe it in terms that evoke effort—working out, getting to work, working on myself, working on my eating, working harder, not slacking off. But I'm telling you right now that taking care of myself is far less work than not taking care of myself. "Slacking off" is what takes the effort. Making excuses. Finding time to nap because I'm not sleeping as well. Maybe feeling a little gross after I eat instead of feeling fueled. Berating myself. Worrying. I feel better when I eat well. I feel better when I exercise. I sleep better. I have more energy. I look better (or maybe I don't—maybe I just see myself as looking better, because I don't beat myself up about that particular aspect of my life).

I'm on the wagon, and I have no plans to fall—or jump—off. I love this particular wagon. I love the ride. And I love my doggy-dog world.

Five Things that Don't Suck, New Game Plan Edition

1. adjusting for a slower morning because it was raining when you woke up and you can't paint the shed
2. finding a recipe for carrot soup with coconut milk and Sriracha (come ON!)
3. baking, baking, and maybe a little more baking
4. making some time to write
5. Wes Welker*

*It's a bye week, people. Calm down. And my Tiny Little Man still doesn't suck, even if he's now not-sucking for another team (sniff, sniff).