Snail Mail, Lent and Chocolate

I will not be sad to see the cold go away.

I will not be sad to see the cold go away.

Miles run yesterday: 6

Temperature outside, with rain (my least favorite weather): 36

Bags of Cadbury’s Mini-Eggs almost gone: 1

Lent has the distinction of falling across another season: race season.

Two years ago, I was training and running my first marathon. Last year, I ran another half-marathon.

But also, there was the annual giving up of something, a skill set I am not entirely equipped to handle. And I was very, very hungry.

The year I trained for the marathon, I kept waking up in the middle of the night wanting to eat something; my stomach felt cavernous at least 23 hours a day.

One year, I gave up wine. (Not advisable.)

The next couple of years, the kids and I gave up chocolate. My kids were even more rigid than I was (“Hmmm. I’m pretty sure hot chocolate is in liquid form, which may not count.” “Mo-om!”) We were not very nice people during those days. And people kept offering us chocolate.

So this year, my kids put their feet down. Been there, done that.

They decided to add something instead of taking it away, which I find much easier. Much easier.

Each week, they are writing old-fashioned, handwritten, snail-mail letters.

My daughter whips several out in about 15 minutes.

My son sits at the table with a pen and stares at the paper. “What can I write about?”

My daughter starts listing: “The Y pool, middle school, the movie we watched, how we’re excited about summer camp, the book we’re reading…”

“Okay, okay!” My son leans over the paper and laboriously writes two sentences. “Now what?”

Last Saturday morning, I looked over my daughter’s letters. One to a friend in the neighborhood right next to ours said, “Hey, do you want to come over and play on Sunday?”

I looked over at my daughter. “Um. You do know that Monday is a federal holiday, and the mail won’t run, so your friend won’t even get this until at least Tuesday, right?”

Expression: horrified. “What? I’m putting it in the mail today.”

“Right. And… well, it’s not like email. It doesn’t get there the second you close the mailbox door. There’s like… travel and processing time.”

Disbelief. Sighs. Stomping. Re-writing.

And then, as I beg the Saturday mail carrier to stop at the corner of our road because our letters aren’t ready, my own disbelief: my daughter does not know how to address an envelope.

The address: written across the top of the envelope, no name, just an address. Barely room for a stamp. We had to send it sans name because the mail carrier was experiencing his own disbelief: Dude, is this really a matter of national significance? Just give me the mail, and let’s call it a day.

Her friend’s family received the letter and wondered, “Why, it’s a mystery! A letter for our house!”

And when her friend got the letter, she told her mom, “I got a real letter, through the mail, handwritten and everything! I want to do that, too!”

Sometimes things work out the way you think they will, sometimes things happen that you don’t expect.

I thought the letter-writing would be a feel-good, easy-to-accomplish Lenten activity. But it turns out, it may be almost as difficult as giving up chocolate.

Well, almost.

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Joe Likes Pizza! and One Big Thing

Focus. Just don’t annoy your friends and family.

Words written on novel so far: 12,344

Interviews to do today: 2

Miles run today in a delicious summer rain: 3

Hi. I’m Anne, and I’m a multitasker. If I’m folding laundry, I might do it for ten minutes, then remember I’m letting the bread dough rise. I go put the loaves in the oven, come back upstairs and think about my son’s soccer game. Are his soccer clothes clean? I pull them out and put them on the bannister. I go back to folding laundry. But I haven’t talked to my parents in a few days, so I call them while I fold. My mom teaches piano; she mentions her recital, and I remember I need to check my daughter’s shoes for the piano recital. And on and on.

But one thing I’ve noticed: most people can only concentrate on One Big Thing at a time.

When I was in college, I fell in love for the first time. It took up 96 percent of my mental energy, leaving 4 percent (if that) for academic pursuits. Here is how most conversations went circa 1991:

[Setting: dorm with four rooms attached in a suite.]

“Hey, who wants to order pizza?”

“I do!”

“Save some for me!”

“Awwww. Joe likes pizza…”

Yeah. That was me.

Another example:

[Setting: my home, over the Christmas holidays.]

“So Jimmy Bob’s mother died. She was the one who owned the pizza parlor over on Lower Roswell…”

“Awwww. Joe likes pizza!”

Yeah, you guessed it. That was me, too.

One Big Thing. It’s the thing that sticks in your mind amongst all the other multitasking you do in a day: meetings, practices, doctor’s appointments, caregiving…

My husband’s One Big Thing right now is the marathon he plans to run in November. Here is how many of our conversations go these days:

[Setting: His car, on the way home from work.]

Him: Hey–what’s for dinner?

Me: Spaghetti.

Him: Awesome. I’ll be doing my 4-miler tonight and an 8-miler tomorrow. I need the carb loading.

Me: Great. So remember: we have to leave for the soccer game at 6:45.

Him: 6:45… When I was running yesterday, my average pace was 6:45. Well, I started out at a 7:15, but then there was a great stretch, and I got up to 6:55, and then…

There are a lot of numbers involved in our conversations now. A lot of numbers, people.

When I was training for my first marathon last year, it was my One Big Thing. My daugher would sneeze, and I would shriek, “Don’t get sick!” My children were certain I was losing my mind.

I might have been losing my mind: when I would try to sit down and write, A.) sitting down was not as comfortable with my newly bony behind (this is a joke; the marathon did not help in that respect at all) B.) all I could focus on was my next hit… er, run.

My point is: you have to watch out for what your One Big Thing is. You can multitask till the cows come home, with smaller, less brain-intensive activities. But if all roads start leading you back to the “Joe Likes Pizza!” point, beware.

That is why I chose to focus on my novel for a while. Novel writing is my One Big Thing for at least the next few months. Of course, there are articles to write, deadlines to meet, miles to run, kids to take to the pool, floors to clean, laundry to fold, in-laws to entertain.

But always in the back of my mind, I’ll be thinking about my characters. Their plights, their next scenes, their eccentricities.

While my husband spouts out numbers, my mind will be calculating words, feeling the sounds on my tongue, watching strangers to see their weird ticks so I can steal them.

Embrace your One Big Thing. It’s a little bit like being in love.

What’s your One Big Thing right now? How do you keep a balance in your life? Do you annoy others when you keep circling back to your unique “Joe Likes Pizza!” theme?