Run. (A Father’s Day Post)

My daughter drew the picture; my son edited it on Photoshop.

Goodberry’s ice cream eaten today: 1

Miles run today: 3 (not enough to counteract the 1 ice cream)

Chickens my husband rotisseried: 2

I bought my husband something for Father’s Day that might not have been a great idea. He’s going to run his first marathon in November, so he can’t yet put a magnet on his car that says, “26.2.” So I got him a nifty magnet that says:

run.

After he put it on his car, I studied it and wondered if maybe I was sending the wrong message to his fellow drivers. Like maybe they would read it after he cut in front of them signaled and changed lanes and think, “Ooooh. So now this guy is threatening me. Okay buddy, I’ll run. Run over you.”

Somehow 26.2 looks less sinister.

Back when we were dating, I got worried about my future husband because he liked to help people in other cars. I decided it must be because he didn’t grow up in The Big City like I did, and also, in England, the people you stopped to help probably weren’t carrying guns.

One time, two of his friends from England had come over to visit, and we took them to the beach, which was two hours away. We spent the day there, and after getting too much sun and sand, we headed home. About thirty minutes into our trip, we spotted a couple on the side of the road who were on a little trip of their own.

“Stop the car!” he said. “They look like they need help.”

We have a word for that where I come from: foolhardy. Also, sometimes, dead.

So we stopped, and I gnawed on the dashboard because I’m not a big nail biter. I watched through the rearview mirror as the people wandered around in a fog. I reviewed the steps for flagging down police officers, administering CPR and the little I had seen in movies about removing bullets with a pocket knife.

When he ran back to my car and said, “Let’s go,” he seemed peeved that the people were so high that they didn’t care if they got help or not.

I was just glad all of his major veins and arteries were functional.

We got back home without further incident, and from that day forward, I didn’t have to allow an extra hour of drive time in my planning because of drug addicts who had forgotten to put gas in the car.

It was around that time that a stray cat wandered into his life. He named her Flo and used every extra penny he earned (not much exaggeration involved here) to pay for her food, her litter box, and the three kittens she thoughtfully birthed in his apartment.

While helping down-and-out types at the side of the road earned my grudging respect, his care of Flo and her little ones made me realize that he would make a great dad someday. For his charges, there was no expense spared and no need unmet. Those kittens didn’t know how good they had it.

Our kids may not realize their good fortune until age 30. But I sure do. He’s the most terrific dad ever.

And I want to thank the druggies who did not have the money to buy a gun all those years ago.

Happy Father’s Day, D!

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When Squirrels Attack

Coming to a suburb near you.

Days left in the school year: 3

Potential fiction writing hours available until then: 3, max

Cadbury’s mini-eggs on standby: 9… no, 8

The suburbs are rife with animals… animals who look innocent but aren’t.

Although we don’t have mountain lions, which freak me out from several states over, we have smaller natural elements close by that give us suburbanites that rush of adrenaline some might swim with sharks to achieve.

My neighbor would know. While puttering around his yard, he has been visually assaulted by snakes, crickets, chipmunks and bunnies. One day, he might be ridding the world of weeds, reach to pull back some shrubbery, and look out… BABY BUNNY!

He is certain that small creatures seek him out for their own cruel pleasure.

A feral cat now named Oreo has taken up with this same neighbor’s family after years of surviving bitter winters and fry-an-egg-on-the-pavement summers. Oreo is either A.) ticked that she’s been given the sissy name Oreo or B.) wants to show her love and affection or C.) is trying to avenge these small animal attacks. She leaves small “gifts” on our neighbor’s front porch. They represent a cross-section of the creatures who have wronged our neighbor. Coincidence, you think? Discuss.

Squirrels are a repeat offender in the ‘burbs. My running partner is convinced that squirrels are plotting to leap onto her back as she runs. We have had to nix the greenway runs because a large portion of the time is spent with her yelling, “SQUIRREL!” as a cute, fluffy-tailed squirrel scampers across the trail in front of us.

I used to think she was being silly.

But then our families spent several hours out at a local lake, and the squirrels there seemed to taunt my friend as she sat innocently sipping ice water. The squirrel contingent hovered at the edge of the woods, calling out to each other with little squirrelly squeaks, their tails twitching, lurching forward every now and then to get a reaction. I swear they were laughing.

We went out for our long run last week which takes us past posh mansions on the golf course and less well-kept homes with decaying fences, the kind that squirrels like especially much. (The bent and twisted fence boards provide more challenge for them than well-maintained, regularly-spaced wrought iron.)

So here I was, on the right hand side of the sidewalk, near the fence. My friend was running on the left, right next to the cars. You might think she was in more danger. You would be wrong. Oh, so very wrong.

I was chattering away, telling a story about being in Florida as a kid and riding in a boat at some attraction where there were monkeys on these islands that creeped me out. Trust me, it was a great story. Scintillating. I was wrapped up in it, thinking about the monkeys and imagining them waving at me…

When a squirrel bounded onto the fence mere inches from my face! It was squeaking, and its claws! They were loud and scratchy on the wood! Like a monkey’s would be! (Do monkeys have claws?)

Well, technically, it was a few feet away, but still. It felt close. Too close.

I grabbed my friend’s very sweaty arm with my very sweaty hand. It was a very close call between pushing us both to the ground in front of a car or surrendering to the hostile squirrel.

Sweat won out.

The collision of sweat brought me back to my senses.

Pfffft. Seriously. It was just a squirrel. I checked behind us. Did anyone see that? That moment when I considered biting the asphalt to avoid a squirrel attack? No?

I haven’t ended up on YouTube yet, so I guess I’m safe. And let’s get real: at least it wasn’t a baby bunny.

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?

Extroverts Anonymous

Wanna be my friend?

Chip time for recent half-marathon: 1:55 (a PR!)

Chip time for yesterday’s 10-miler race: 1:28 (a PR!)

Pace for both (odd coincidence): 8:51

Hi, I’m Anne. And I’m an Extrovert.

Much has been written in fellow writers’ blogs about writers and how so many of us are introverts. I thought maybe I could share an extrovert writer’s experience, just to Represent.

My entire childhood was a lesson in getting ahead socially while remaining unconcerned about academic possibilities: my dad was fairly horrified when I told him before first grade that I was looking forward to going back to school after the summer because of the social implications.

In kindergarten, I got a few friends excited about cutting our hair with safety scissors in the kitchen center. I may not have been able to tie my own shoes (come on, people: there were these things called buckles), but I had leadership qualities.

In first grade, I affected the future math prospects of a few large group of students who drew monsters with me instead of learning borrowing in subtraction.

In third grade, I was Witch #1 in the class play, which was a very important role, full of dramatic nuances. I had three very pivotal lines, which I’m sure people remember to this day.

When we moved to Atlanta the summer before fourth grade, I was nervous. I didn’t have any friends.

Then I met my best friend on the first day of fourth grade when she looked around the empty classroom and deduced that we were the only two people still left to get on Bus 1084. She said, very profoundly, “Are you on Bus 1084?” And because of that, we were friends and read “Little Women” together and decided to go to neighboring universities when we were 18 and switched clothes  and danced to David Bowie at Putt-Putt Golf when our class went on a field trip to Savannah.

The issue with being an extrovert is that social agenda often takes priority over, well, anything else.

Introvert writers have pointed out that being an introvert is helpful because writing consists of sitting in a chair, persevering while being alone for many hours at a time.

I’m not actually that good at that part. But here is a summary of the pluses and minuses involved in being an extrovert.

1. Running. I’m really fit right now. For me. (My triceps still wobble when I point at things, but I’ve found I can get around it by not pointing; just nodding my head towards things in a meaningful way.)

This is not to brag, but to point out that the reason I’m really fit is that I have a running partner. If she didn’t run with me, I’d still run, just not as much. And I wouldn’t enjoy it in the same way. And I wouldn’t laugh like I do when we run together, because that would just look weird and slightly maniacal.

Running is a solitary activity by its nature. But this spring, I realized that my aerobic capacity has increased dramatically. Wanna know why? Because we run for lots of miles while talking. Constantly. Then, when I run by myself, I feel like I have lots of extra air.

Slight negative: I never used to get Personal Records (PRs) at races, because I talked the whole way. I didn’t even realize I was doing it. Races are like super-charging an extrovert. It’s like running, but running on crack. People! People who like to run! People I can talk to while I run who I don’t know yet!

It’s a problem.

The races I’ve done over the past several years have made me best-running-race-buddies with: a 55-year-old surgeon who smiles a lot, a marathon pacer who my running partner dubbed Justin Timberlake (JT), a fellow mom whose kids were in college… the list goes on and on.

I ran the half-marathon recently by myself, and I talked to no one on purpose. It was weird.

At this weekend’s 10-miler, a race I’ve collected friends at in the past, I had to talk to myself: “Run your own race. Run your own race. Run your own race.” I was in front of the 9-mile pacers when we hit the Hill Challenge that goes on for one whole mile between miles 8 and 9. I felt low. I was tired. I started to walk just a little because other people were, and it looked really fun. And relaxing. And then the 9-mile pacer chick comes up behind me and says, “Come on, girl, you can do it.”

And for an extrovert, it was just what I needed to hear. We talked all the way up the rest of the hill; it buoyed me. And I heard all about her job, and how she recently got married, and how fast she usually runs… okay. Maybe this extroversion thing is a bit like an addiction. But it got me through.

2. Writing. I interview a lot of people, which means wanting to hear peoples’ stories and tell them in words on paper. It is rare that I interview a boring person. Part of this is because I find people in general very interesting. I like listening, I like calling people, I like talking to them… it’s a weird extrovert thing.

It helps the breadth of my writing. While sitting in a chair by myself for hours to get a certain number of words on a page can be a bit like eating a can of beets, I have so much experience to draw from. I have gone out to schools and spoken with children, teachers, business leaders, volunteers, crossing guards, musicians and chainsaw artists. They energize me.

I’ve heard how they speak as much as what they say. When I write, the people I’ve met inform my words. The stories are character-driven, with lots of dialogue; exactly what you might expect from an extrovert.

But if you call me and invite me to go to lunch, my characters have to wait. After all, they’re pretty patient, and who knows when I’ll get the chance to go to lunch again? Oh! Someone just emailed me about lunch on Wednesday, too! Oh, well. More fodder for my novel!

3. Networking. Networking is a kind of dirty word. When I got out of college, I wondered how something like networking worked. It seemed like a secret society, full of special handshakes and code words. But I’ve realized that a lot of networking is simply getting older and accumulating experiences.

Whether you live in the same area for years, as I have, or traveled the world as many other people have, you meet a wide range of people who have varied skills and super-cool intellectual property.

An extrovert will jump at the chance to meet a new person, to talk to them about their unique situations and life lessons. Someday, you may find that you can help someone get a job or that you know someone who knows someone. And maybe someday, I will have a book that someone wants to buy, and she will tell someone who will tell someone else.

I’ve gotta go… there are places to go and people to call. Oh–but you want to tell me about the time you fell off the tire swing? Oh, no, I’m not busy…

 

Cheating Cleanup on Aisle 2

Cost of large sweet tea at Smithfield’s: $2.08

Miles I run with my running partner per week: 22

Miles I run by myself per week: 3 to 5

I’ve never lived in a small town. I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, and no one really knew my business or checked up on me or told my parents all the bad things I (mostly) wasn’t doing. The whole Agatha Christie/small Southern-English-Swedish town thing works so well in books, and I always wondered what that would be like.

Now I know.

One weekend afternoon, my running partner was hanging out at her house, reading deep stuff like Health magazine and eating chocolate carrot sticks, when her husband walked in with something upsetting to tell her.

“Umm, Honey?” he said, after slinking in from the garage. “I, uh, saw Anne running. Out. By herself. Is that… okay?” He didn’t stand close to her in case she lashed out and slapped him (okay, I made that part up).

I was cheating on her. With myself.

She nonchalantly flipped a page in her magazine. “We’re allowed to run alone on the weekends,” she told him. “It’s okay.”

Then she checked outside the window to see if I was doing sprints or hill repeats or 6 x 800s or whatever. (I made that part up, too, but mostly because it’s too silly to imagine that I’d be that motivated.)

We live in the suburbs, but our town is only 10 square miles. Not much gets past this bunch. And it’s a little annoying, because I have to put on makeup to go to the grocery store. It’s pretty certain that when the grocery store is right out in front of your neighborhood, you will see someone you know. And without makeup they’ll probably make that comment like, “Wow. Are you all right? You’re looking a little tired.” And I would sigh and think, “Eye makeup. Don’t ever go to the store without eye makeup again.”

So I’m a little bit careful how I leave my house and when I indulge in my vice(s). You never know who might be watching.

Like the times I drive to Smithfield’s Barbecue in the summertime (okay. Sometimes not in the summertime, too.) because I cannot go another second without a large sweet tea. I know it’s not good for me, and I know it’s a waste of a perfectly good $2.08. So I’m on edge as I make my way to the drive thru.

[iPhone blues riff]

Me: [Shoot. Shoot, shoot, shoot.] Hello?

Our neighbor, on the way back from preschool pick-up: I see you, getting sweet tea in the drive thru line.

Me: What? No way. [scanning the nearby road for familiar cars]

Our neighbor: Does your husband know you’re gettting sweet tea?

Me: Busted.

Or there’s the haircut cheat… I’ve been a faithful client of my hairdresser’s for the past 10 years. I’ve followed her from one salon to her own salon to her doing haircuts in her home. She even made a chocolate milkshake for my kids when they had to sit and wait for me one time.

But I got in a bind one summer when she was out on a kind of medical leave and my hair started falling in my eyes and desperation set in. I almost gave the frou frou salon down the street a fake name. What if someone saw me? What if they told my hairdresser I cheated?

Yep. I saw someone I knew.

So when I got back on the straight and narrow, I confessed to my hairdresser right away. And she took me back and didn’t even punish me by cutting my hair all wonky with parts sticking up in the back.

I actually love living in a pseudo-small town now. Hours after my family got on a plane for England a few years back, fire engines pulled up on the street beside our home. All of our neighbors knew we were gone. And at least three of them headed towards the potential disaster to see if they needed to take action to save our house. It was a gas leak at a house two doors down. How awesome is it that they had our backs?

In the big city where I grew up, you cultivated a don’t-look-’em-right-in-the-eyes attitude. Here, I’m pretty sure they’re looking. I have to admit, there’s a certain comfort in being seen.

A couple of weekends ago, my husband walked in from the store.

“Hey… I just saw… your running partner. And she was… running. Were you supposed to be… running with her?”

“Cheater!” I screamed. Just kidding. She’s allowed to run without me on the weekend.

But during the week? She should probably know that I have my sources.

In Between the Goals: Embrace the Process

Work vs. Play. Please note that my grocery store labeled Cadbury's Mini-Eggs "produce."

Words I have written in new novel started yesterday: 1,207

Words I need to write by October: 69,003

How many ways this is a bad idea: 42 million

My son got his first goal at a soccer game last night. The look on his face was a tremendous blend of “I can’t believe I just did that!” and “I just did that! I wanna do it again!”

I can relate: I have a goal-setting problem. This may come from the same gene as my list-making one, as if by simply writing down “Mueslix,” on a grocery list, it’s as good as done.

I absolutely love short-term goals: blog posts (check!), the newspaper articles I write (check!), essays (check!), getting a 10-miler or other long-run distance done each Wednesday (check!)… but the long-term ones are both my saviors and my nemeses (is that the plural of nemesis?).

I have come to view winter as a time to buckle down and work: the kids are at school (unless they’re sick, which can happen quite a bit in the winter), the weather is too cold to beckon me into the outdoors much, and Things Get Done. This winter, in between shivering and squinching my shoulders and threatening to move to The Islands, I did some novel queries, wrote and researched a couple of longer articles, trained for a half-marathon and felt generally productive.

Summertime, on the other hand, is my favorite season. After the kiddos get out of school, they fight with each other roughly every 5.3 seconds for the first two weeks. Then they settle in, and we go to the pool, visit the family, go to the beach, eat lots of ice cream, watch movies and go on bike rides/runs. Not a lot of goal-doing gets done. Short articles, and this summer, maybe short blog posts will get completed. Don’t bet on productivity. It’s a 16:1 spread.

Then there’s this wonky time in between the two seasons: the feeling of being untethered. The half-marathon over (but a 10-miler race next weekend!), the long, hot summer stands before me. The first novel written, the next one a shimmering possibility turning over and over in my mind. Completing a goal is a complicated mix of satisfaction and… what now?

Back in my last year of college, my then-boyfriend spent some time thinking I was uptight when the end of college was looming. Senior year, for me, was like the image old cartographers recorded of getting ready to step off the end of the world. I didn’t have the problem of having no goals, because my goal was to get a job. Preferably one that didn’t involve asking the two questions: “Would you like fries with that?” or “Would you like to put this on your credit card?”

(I’m rethinking about whether this is uplifting story, since I did end up waiting tables for seven months. And I’m a little peeved that I never got Employee of the Month.)

Some form of redemption did occur when my then ex-boyfriend (remember how unsupportive he was about my freak-out? I kick butts and take names, and don’t forget it.) came over and told me he finally got it. He finished college a year later and experienced the same form of untetheredness.

I did go on to get a job, and then another job, and another job… all goals, all checked off and satisfying. But always, there is the feeling of “what’s next?”

As a goal-setter, I’m trying to learn to embrace the process; the inevitable, in-between time… the time when thoughts are swirling but nothing is getting on paper or legs are covering shorter distances with no goal race in sight. Of course, the novel will get written, the race will be registered for.

I think about the goals themselves at my son’s soccer game: there’s the whole field, lots of running, and people serving as obstacles; the goals are a pretty small fraction of the whole game space. But when the ball sails in between the posts because you had something to do with it… satisfaction.

I’m setting new goals for the fall, even if there will be some slacking off during the summer months. And I have a new tool in my arsenal: Cadbury’s Mini-Eggs are now categorized as “produce.” I can’t imagine anything more motivating.

Performance Anxiety and Redemption

Should an upcoming race require therapy?

Time on yesteray’s half-marathon: 1:56 (a PR by one minute!)

Years ago I ran a half-marathon: 6

Years I can now subtract from my age: 6 (I am not growing old, just improving like a fine wine)

Hello, darkness, my old friend.

I am not a person who thrives on racing. I love to run, but (don’t tell anyone)… races stress me out.

No one cares whether I do well. If I didn’t finish a race or bombed or peeled off down another street to IHOP for a pit stop, I am not an elite racer; no one would notice. My mom would probably be very excited that I had come to my senses and given up a silly hobby that will inevitably wreck my knees or hips. (Never mind that she has several friends who are lifelong non-exercisers who are having their hips replaced.)

Although I love running, races tend to bring out my dark side, like if I were crashed out in the wilderness somewhere, and cannibalism suddenly seemed like a nifty idea.

Before last year’s marathon, we did all of our miles; we followed the training plan to a “T.” I still arrived at race day with an overwhelming sense of dread. Maybe I wouldn’t finish. Maybe I would be one of those people they carried away on a stretcher. Maybe I would cry and have to walk and get annoyed at my running partner for her boundless energy at mile 23.

Yeah. That happened.

They say that you should do things that scare you. I agree… but you may not like what you find.

Underneath the positive mask you wear for your adoring public, there may be an evil beast that says mean things to you like when you are trying on bathing suits in bad lighting in the springtime. Things like, “You look like a pile of Pillsbury crescent roll dough.” Or when you are about to speak in front of a crowded roomful of people: “There is an accounting seminar on H143 quarterly closing, and the people in this room would rather hear about that than what you are about to say.”

You might think I’m a coward. But this year, I went for a more reasonable goal: the half-marathon. Yes, I’ve run them before. Yes, I know I can finish one. Yes, we were as trained as we could be. We ran 11, 12 and 13-milers for fun… for weeks before our race. We talked and laughed and didn’t get nervous.

When the evening before race day arrived, I was nervous. But only in the way that made me lay out each item, set the alarm clock and maybe keep waking up to make sure I didn’t miss it.

Race morning dawned, and the weather was cool but not cold. Parking was easy. Bathrooms were inside an arena, not port-a-johns sitting in mud. I wasn’t nursing any injury, and my stomach was fine.

I jogged over the start line and loved the way the day felt. I ran–fast for me–and even tried to hold back so I didn’t run out of steam. The memory of bonking in the marathon was still fresh enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth. By mile 11, I was still wondering how much I should hold back. And then I realized: I was almost there.

No cannibalism thoughts (the guy in front of me with change jingling in his fanny pack was a little annoying, though), no growing awareness of my own mortality, no hateful thoughts about the limitations of my aging body.

How refreshing.

Maybe I’m a coward, but I would run 20 more races like yesterday’s before I’d run another horrible, disappointing marathon. I’ve seen the evil beast lurking deep down inside, and I am not fond of her. I’ll take the sunny-side-up version, the one who smiles in the face of slight discomfort. The one who looks like she’s having the time of her life as she crosses the line at mile 13.1.

Me. Having fun.